All TGS characters used in this story are copyright TGS staff, and are being used without permission. They are not mine, nor do I ever claim so. No disrespect is intended or implied.
86 - "Complications"
"Life is just one damned thing after another."
- Elbert HubbardApril 18th, 2002
"You left me!!"
"You wouldn't understand."
Mother and son stared each other down. Todd's brow was holding guard over stormy gray eyes, and Rose's, they were more than defiant, and the silence lingered between them as twenty long years seem to stretch even longer.
She'd awakened under his hateful glare three days ago, and their relationship was thrust into a very new and very volatile breadth. There could've been an act of contrition on either side, but with Todd carrying so much anger, it, inevitably, as most things do, exploded. And they've been at each other's throats ever since.
Rose turned over and avoided her gaze, seeking the comfort of uncertainty.
With her stubborn silence and without the ability to further rant, and consequently vent, Todd was forced to channel his anger into a wild pace around the bed, and from the corner of her eye Rose watched every ranting, convulsive movement.
Such determination, such anger bristling at his skin; he was his father's son. They were more alike than he'd ever know. "I never thought..." she struggled, bringing Todd to a halt at the foot of her bed. His stare intensified, he was hanging on the explanation that didn't want to come. "I only told you...because I thought I was going to die. I never expected to wake up again."
He nodded. "Yeah, how like you to escape your responsibilities again."
Lightning came to life inside her eyes, streaking resilience across the glassy surface. "How dare you." she hissed, a soft voice gone gravel and bitter. "I lived for you."
"I was there almost every day of your life. I sacrificed what was left of my own existence to help make sure yours was secure."
"Awwww, well I should just melt into a puddle of tears, shouldn't I, Rose? Or should I call you mom."
"Call me what you wish."
A leopard smile. "I've done a lot of things, but I'm not going to insult a nun." He stood up from the near predatory stance angled sharply across the bed, as something danced on young features. Was there another lie among the rest? "Christ, are you even a real nun?"
She bit her tongue, chewed her lip and stalled; this was just more fuel for the fire. "No."
"Is there anything about you that's even remotely real?!"
"My love for you."
"Oh, bullshit!!" Todd spit on the one truly honest answer she'd given him.
"You are everything to me!!" she hollered, leaning forwards despite the lines of stitching holding together a patchwork stomach. "Everything!! All my life, my dreams, everything I have left...!" It trailed off into a moan, lingering as the pain overtook her offensive, and the sutures having pulled at her skin effectively ended her argument.
She recoiled into the pillows, wrapped her arms around her stomach and turned to the side, hoping to alleviate some of the agony roaring through her belly.
Todd took a cautious step forward. For the first time, there was true sympathy in his gaze. "Are...are you all right?"
"F-Fine." she managed, doubling up beneath the linens, like she was trying to escape as far away as possible. If only she could. "I'm tired."
As far as she was concerned, this interrogation was over.
Todd knew the tone all too well, and she'd just cut him off at the head. "Fine." He turned and stomped out, as his mother sobbed into her sheets.
It grew quiet in the next room, the walls no longer rang with voices and resentment.
Fox thought they were about to bulge and collapse in on her, but, at least it provided a suitable diversion the past few nights, to deflect her mind and brooding thoughts about her own mortality measured by a few simple machines.
She sighed, forced back to her little gilded cage, dressed in off-white and beveled, checked tile midway along the wall. She was growing sick of it. Sick of pitying eyes, lowered voices, sick of every stray, commiserative thought she knew ran through each of her visitor's minds.
Carmine intruded on her eyes, a wave of sword-slim hair, and the simple gesture of tucking the follicles behind her ear easily tore a few from her head. Surprise of this particular symptom had long since passed, and not content with the few, she continued in ghoulish interest. More strands followed as she plucked them meticulously from her scalp, and stared at the clump of faded red between her fingers.
Her hair was falling out. She'd burst out with laughter if it weren't a wretched reminder of how her gloriously fine-tuned body was betraying her.
So much time in the gym, the dojos, abroad in the remotest countries surpassing so-called masters in months and even weeks, exertion, toil, sweat, blood, all to watch lean muscle bleed away into bone. She was a machine breaking down, without the strength to lift her own son into her arms.
Like the seed spurs of a dandelion, she blew the threads from her palm, and clenched her empty fist, intent to pierce the skin with her nails, waiting for the trickle of blood to crawl from underneath. If anything, to feel something.
And how fortuitous for her and her desiccated flesh for her doctor to make his rounds.
She unclenched and dropped her hand to the bedside as Pierce strolled in, clipboard under his arm. "Sorry, I'm late."
A little joke. He'd been punctual for every visit so far.
And as always, in her desolate state, Fox was unimpressed. "I'm not going anywhere, doctor."
"There are such things as wheelchairs and canes. I've already allowed you brief respites from your bed whenever you wish to take them."
"I won't be paraded up and down the halls as some pale corpse," her brow lowered, "I don't want those looks."
"Such philanthropic pity."
He clicked his pen, and made a few notes. He thought encouraging her to get up and about would lift her spirits, but it had the reverse effect. After all, she knew her fate without a foreseeable cure; her body was coming apart at the molecular level. "I can assure you, Mrs. Xanatos, they look at you as a woman standing up to an illness. Simply, irrevocably. You are as strong as you ever were in their eyes."
"Please, doctor, I said no."
He smiled and nodded, "All right," and continued with his appointed duties. As he always did, he checked over each piece of medical equipment with calm, almost clinical objectivity, as if he was trying to make this seem as ordinary as possible.
She hated him for that. If she could just reach him, if she could persuade enough strength to lean over and send the side of her hand into the nerve ganglion on his neck, she'd not break a sweat dropping him to the floor and watching him writhe with the damage to his nervous system.
"And how are you feeling today, Fox?" he asked nonchalantly, oblivious to the dissecting glare the tattooed woman washed over him.
"Getting progressively worse, aren't I, doctor?"
A flicker of defiance crossed a handsome face, beginning to mar by the infancies of old age. Or maybe it was conceit. "Not if I can help it."
"Constants..." she muttered under her breath.
It was enough to catch his attention. He looked down on her. "Pardon?"
"There are constants in the universe, doctor, karma being one of them."
He scoffed, as he returned to his apparatuses, "I'm sorry, but I never believe diseases and maladies are the divine punishment for past misdeeds."
"Are you dying?"
A hand struck the sheets on her bed, a forceful, bold hand that earned her attention. She'd never been intimidated by anyone, by any evolved creature, let alone a physician playing with what little clout he was awarded.
But Alan Jefferson Pierce was more often compelling than not.
"I've seen more death than you can imagine, Mrs. Xanatos," the labcoated man affirmed, "I've seen children no more than three years old waste away as mothers cried and fathers put their fists through the drywall. Fate doesn't specifically choose victims, and it doesn't pass judgment with illnesses used as some sword of retribution." A fortified breath angled upwards, it shook the long salted bangs. "It just happens," his voice took on a lower octave, his eyes a softer hue, "we can't explain it, we can't rationalize it, we just deal with it. And I never thought you, out of anyone, would fall prey to such a petty conception."
"Nor did I." she sighed in acquiescence, as she stared at bony hands. The fire had been tamed, the warrior sent under, she'd accepted her fate already, but perhaps far too soon.
"Listen, Fox, I..."
Whatever assurance he was going to give was suddenly drowned out by a high-pitched scream from his lab. He reacted with a sharp look.
With his attention focused on the door and the source of the, alarm she guessed, Fox watched as he was almost hypnotically led from the room.
It was an odd sound. Shrill, mechanical, but it at least afforded a sort of trail to follow into the lab, growing louder as he grew closer.
Pierce waded through the mess he called his office, knocking papers and other medicinal bobbles over in his attempt to find the source of the odd, if not incredibly annoying siren. And then, like a shot to the gut, a suspicion rose cold along his spine as he wandered his gaze towards the far corner.
The cloning tube.
He darted towards the contraption rising near to the ceiling with coattails like wings, and stopped so abruptly he nearly fell on it.
The alarm was definitely erupting from the tube, and the display screen attached to the surface had doubled in speed the rate of information. It had flowed with constant vitals on the hybrid growing within, a continual reassurance of its health. And now, those vitals were erratic, the electrical activity without any discernible rhythm.
His nose wrinkled. He could smell smoke in the air, noxious, like burning copper. No matter how faint, it was obvious against the faithful disinfection of a hospital. Another suspicion. "Damn..."
With sharp eyes, probing hands, he explored the sheath of sterling metal quickly, frantically, seeking that toxic smell. If the computer repair program couldn't detect the problem, there must be something else.
Reaching with his hand around the back he was searching blind, until, his fingers found something, an area warmer than the rest.
And a puncture.
His mind would quickly coalesce all the facts into a single certainty, a bullet hole, and straight through the casing.
A stray shot from the Guild firefight in the infirmary, it'd torn between the metal folds of a seam and barely loosened the rivets. The innards were bleeding invisible wisps of smoke, and raising fear in the good doctor and all his work to wed DNA into a single being.
"Damn." Grunting and groaning, he squeezed himself into the cramped space between the wall and the massive tube large enough to hold a fully matured Thailog and peeled back the small panel, rooting his fingers through the labyrinth of colored wiring.
A few buried deep were scorched and others burned right through; it was a wound that took due time to bleed and give any signs. He'd checked this thing over more than fifty times after the Guild stormed the castle, and now, as the smoke thickened and turned to a more ominous charcoal tint, he thought he just might lose another one.
Enough innocent people had already died under his care.
Fox couldn't see from her vantage where Pierce had disappeared to, but, whatever was screaming still screamed loud and unendingly.
It wasn't an alarm, it wasn't the knell for an unborn child. To her, in her somewhat heavy-eyed state, it was just another noise among the many. She couldn't discern one way or another.
All she knew, that shriek of machinery that had perfectly enthralled the doctor was the distraction she was waiting for.
Fox made her bid for freedom from the jail of linens and tubes and things gouging her skin, forcing liquids and steady medicines into her, and more importantly, Pierce's steady, suffocating care by her husband's apparent decree.
She dislodged the heart monitor, and pulled out the I.V. needles, letting the clear solution dribble onto the linoleum. The covers were pulled back, and she dropped her legs over the edge of the hospital bed. Cold floor touched clammy skin, and the billionairess shivered and then nearly collapsed under her own wretched weight. Her balance all but gone, her vision swimming with blurred lights, she navigated by feel mostly, and familiarity of her suite, having stared at these walls for so long.
Struggling along the wall, she crept out unseen amid the chaos.
At his wild call, Wyvern's spectral domestic materialized at the doctor's side. Mother slithered up behind him, every step a sinuous cadence as she glided over the floor without a sound. "Doctor, I monitored the alarm."
"Mother, get me Lexington now!!" he screamed at her, throwing civility to the winds. "I'm going to call Trish!"
She'd expected such a lack of respect in the face of his patient's impending death, but whether it was just that, or she was merely an electronic servant in his eyes, she couldn't quite tell.
But as ordered, the hologram vanished to complete her instructions, and Pierce dashed off and into the bedlam on the other side of the room; there was a phone under this clutter somewhere. The papers, the chaos, the absolute mess, he couldn't find anything. "Where's the phone?! Where's the fucking phone?!!" In his panic, he started throwing things from the countertops, hoping to stumble across what he so desperately sought. "I've got to clean this office!"
Left alone, as Pierce tore apart his think tank, Alexander slowly swung his gaze around and returned his attentions to the tube.
He was eerie calm to the good doctor's distress.
Transcendental eyes inherited from Fox's impressive lineage, they glistened viridian along the iris, piercing steel, and permeating through the atoms and into the container. The embryo was barely peanut-sized, encased in the artificial folds doing their best to mimic a mother's womb. He could discern a faint, mercurial rhythm echoing throughout the entire cylinder as electrical pulses roamed through the hybrid, this unassuming tube tying reproduction and technology together.
To anyone else, scientifically inclined or not, it was bottled evolution at its most advanced, but the boy, he saw only life at its most primal.
Even as a cluster of newly married cells, Alexander could feel her, could feel the two distinct people from which she was created. They communed together in a primitive, mournful language, reminiscent of whale song, sharing thought and cerebral images through the connection between them as the child sorcerer created a bridge into the fetus's mind.
You're going to be all right, he thought, as his hands probed the slick casing. He had an affinity for those like him.
Alexander's eyes glowed fathomless, seraphic emerald. The embryo, and the endometrial layer it clung to, shivered, and melted into a different state of being, every cell proficiently, simultaneously transformed to keep the delicate balance of life.
Flesh became light, and energy, and drifted towards his fingertips pressed into the steel. Alexander pulled back, and cupped his hands around the little ball of pulsating radiance that trickled from the cylinder and fell right into his palms.
Like holding liquid sun, it molded to every line etched within his chubby hands, and swayed as he took off and down the hall.
Alexander had rarely been allowed down this far into the Eyrie, and persuading the elevator to take him didn't take much an influential conjure on his part. With the morgue and jail on this level, cold, stale air breathing from both ends, the steel walls, high narrow passageways and stark lighting, the ambiance was inconceivably sterile just a few floors below where he comfortably made his home.
Peeking around an unmarked corner, he nearly dropped his passenger in surprise, as two gargoyle-fashioned machines stared back at him.
The Steel Clan guardsmen on either side of the hall shored up with the sight of the intruder, and had to markedly angle their red, collective gaze down, considering he was barely three feet tall.
He emerged and casually started towards them. "Hi."
Programmed to recognize castle dwellers and those with the proper clearance to pass, the winged sentinels merely moved to block the entrance.
"Excuse me." Alexander tried to push through, but the cumbersome things didn't budge, like they were embedded in the floor. The essence he held needed the new home he was trying to provide, and soon. The rhythm drumming against his skin was slowly fading. "I said," he insisted, and the corridor walls, where steel met iron frame, shook between the welds, "excuse me."
Threads of electricity coursed over their metallic skin, and the automatons jerked with the sudden surge of energy running through their internal reactors; they crumpled.
Collapsed into two smoking heaps, the boy walked through unimpeded. "Thank you."
At the last cell, down near the end of the corridor, he stood at the foot of the door, towering above his diminutive size. Even the handle was out of his reach.
Such heavy armor, better to keep the monsters locked inside, the wall would provide somewhat of a challenge. With his hand he could feel several layers of steel shielding, so, he merely altered his density. He became a cloud of loosely attracted molecules, vibrating at a substantially higher rate than the matter of the wall, and walked right through.
This simple trick to a fay of his breeding was, ironically, child's play. Owen's teachings had done well to unleash great power limited only with young Alexander's imagination.
He stepped through, and stopped short just inside.
Caught in the headlights, he was proved still just a child in her presence. No sorcery, no dominion, nothing to set him apart from simple, dawdling prey in the eyes of the feral.
He'd forgotten how intimidating the creature was, even lying unconscious across from him. Tangled fire, claws and fangs, full breasts and a bestial symmetry evolved for hunting, he thought her beautiful, and absolutely frightening. In their limited contact, in the few times they had run into each other prowling serpentine stone halls, she'd always passed him an analytic glance, like she was sizing both him up, and his potential, then moved on.
But to the boy who could destroy a city and simply cowered in her presence and under that heavy, carnivorous glare, it seemed as if she just didn't like him.
He moved forwards.
The room lit. A collection of light took on a homonine form, and stood guard over the prone woman.
Mother stood cross and dictatorial, her lavender wings mantled. "Alexander." The tone was commanding, hoping if anything to scare off a child that completely disabled her sentries and thus, her physical presence. Until reinforcements arrived, she had no way to stop him. "You are not allowed to be here."
"I know," he said, eyes true to his course as he slowly moved forwards, watching for any indicative gesture of consciousness, "but I gotta do somethin'."
"Alexander, she is extremely dangerous. Please leave immediately."
As expected of any Xanatos, he ignored the authoritarian and walked straight through her projected image.
And as frustration tightened her horns, Mother asked of herself why she even tried to keep these organic things from their self-destructive path. No one ever listened. With her replacement sentries still too far away to affect any physical intrusion, all she could do was observe Alexander regard the sleeping gargoyle with merited caution, and then kneel beside her.
Hovering over the creature snug in her wings, he tipped his chaliced hands down and allowed the little ball to roll from his fingers and onto taught flesh. It bounced like a marble under ensorcelled eyes, spiraled towards the crevasse of her stomach and eventually, like water running down a drain, dissolved into the skin.
The recipient twitched.
Pores rose on a terrain of reclining blue, and the body shifted as the womb quickly and strenuously transformed to hold the intruder to its system. She groaned, sneered, and rolled thunder over her tongue. The steel plating underneath them both trembled with a sub-harmonic growl, and Alexander readied himself.
For claws, or talons, for a vicious swipe of her knife-tipped hands.
But much to his relief, with an anxious finger rimming his lips, she eventually fell quiet, and the embryo took root.
Mother had seen much since her initial activation, but this, this was truly remarkable. "Fascinating."
"How long has it been like this?"
Reminiscent of being cross-examined, Pierce answered again, near-hysteria getting the best of him. "A few minutes!"
"And what exactly happened?"
"I don't know! The vitals were all over the place, and now they've gone completely dead."
With Angela watching over his shoulder, Lexington, playing savior where Pierce couldn't, was plugged in directly to the tube through every available cybernetic port. Broken, charred wires lay across his palms, and he mourned them appropriately. "These wires were supplying power to the oxygen feed, the embryo's going to drown in its own amniotic fluid."
He was being aggravatingly slow. Didn't he already realize...? "How fast can you repair this thing?"
Information scrolled faster than an organic brain could process, and in the chaos of the streams, Lexington plucked one important fact from the lines of instructional code. He shook his head with the revelation. "It doesn't matter."
"That child has only a few minutes survival time without the exact measurement of oxygen and nutrients!! So please enlighten me to why you think it doesn't matter!"
Lexington blinked. Everything and the world often reflected in such large eyes, and now confusion, and then futility did as well, and as deeply.
And Pierce misinterpreted that blank look as something more. His heart didn't take a beat. "Please don't tell me..."
"Actually," he swayed the doctor's fears, "your machine is completely empty."
"What?!" Pierce double-checked the monitor, and when that didn't respond, he punched in his personal security code and opened a portion of cylinder armor that slid away near the top. A small portal afforded a magnificent view, better than any scanning tool he owned.
But, where should have been a perfectly cradled womb, there was nothing there, just the artificial amniotic solution refreshing an empty shell. Unlike a biological pregnancy, the tube was not designed to miscarry a damaged or dead fetus.
It should have been there. "Jesus, where the hell is it?!"
"I took it."
Pierce snapped his head around so quick it nearly broke his neck. There was Alexander, standing at the threshold to the door, all too conspicuous. "Took it...? Where is it?!"
The telltale traces of guilt were evident, but, hidden in the youthful lineaments, was veiled pride. "I put it inna safe place."
"A safe place?"
Chilling realization trickled through Angela's ridges, set her jaw and shook her wing-struts, by memory of a previous discussion and Alexander's penchant for somehow knowing before they did. "Oh, dear." She rested a hand on Pierce's shoulder, her talons gently pressing into the fabric of his stained labcoat. "Doctor, isn't there only one other conceivable place that child could grow...?"
"I don't believe this..." Pierce sighed, his breath a fog on the cell's tiny window. Running fingers through the unkempt hair hanging across his brow, the doctor was a little more than thunderstruck with the newest development in his smallest patient's care. "I don't goddamned believe this."
Brooklyn was behind him, watching the occupant shift in her sedated sleep. There was a bulge to her midsection now, small, inconspicuous at first glance with her sinewy, chiseled physique, but there. The swelling would soon go down as the shock to her system passed. "This...may complicate things."
The human snorted. "You know, it's hard enough to do my job when my hospital's being overrun by mask-wearing, xenophobic murderers or I'm seeing people jumping out windows to their deaths, but...this..."
Brooklyn nodded at his frustration, as he shared it, and gleaned his eyes into the cell.
Curled into a haphazard ball of wing, Demona was still sleeping, and pregnant. Without her even knowing, she was carrying the hopes and dreams of the clone she practically loathed with every fiber of her being and all, he still couldn't quite believe it, through Alexander's meddling hands.
And everyone behind the sealed door to her cell knew she'd be more than angry when she found out. As the child grew, she'd enlarge, and in her quasi-deranged state, Demona was capable of anything, short of, at least they hoped, ripping it from her stomach with her own claws.
They didn't want to find a trail of blood scrawled across the floor, leading from her to the dissevered baby like an accusing finger.
Angela shivered at the mental image. "My near-psychotic mother is pregnant with my cloned sister's child." she made plain in a mumble, leaning against the other side of the door beside Pierce.
Brooklyn shrugged his shoulders, hoping to make light. "Congratulations?"
Her features darkened, and he swore, when faced with Angela's livid expression through the window's reflection, it was Demona looking back under the forcefully knotted brow. "That's not funny."
"This isn't funny." Brooklyn muttered, adjusting his feet in the massive oak table as he leaned back in his chair.
There were murmurs and nods all around him as the assembled clan were quick to agree.
Of all places, they'd ended up in the comfort of the castle's kitchen, where doctor Pierce cradled the lifeblood of every laborer awake past what would be considered sane. Taking solace in his coffee, double strong and black, as sugar or cream as he often stated would dull its effectiveness, he allowed himself a reprieve before it all crumbled back into reality.
"How the hell did that kid get through the security measures?" the new leader demanded, as much a question to himself than to anyone there.
"Intangibility. He walked through the wall." Mother tendered, and as always, impassive. "I do not have a defense for that."
"Then," the practiced look, as well as the responsibility, fell on Lexington, "let's make one."
"Well, I guess I could electrify the layers in between the walls."
"Like that'll do a lot to stem the kid who tied together part of the omniverse." Broadway scoffed, barely able to cross his arms over such a large chest. "Energy is energy, remember? And he wields it like we breathe oxygen."
Brooklyn started shaking his head. "Sorcery isn't thrust on the user with every latent ability fully realized, it's learned. And slowly. Meticulously. If it won't stop him, or anyone like him, say, massive, alternative killing machines who want to get their hands on Demona..." He dwelled for dramatic effect on his fan-eared brother; it seemed the most likely candidate for his second was getting used to playing the opposing voice. "Well, at least it'll slow them down."
"I think energy shields and robot guards are a little out of either Alex or Goliath's leagues."
"If you have any better ideas, bro, I'd like to hear them."
An indeterminate growl leached from the corner, where eyes gleamed a presence, and a fiery sigh denoted impatience. The effect loomed through the entire expanse of the kitchen, quieting some, silencing others.
Separate from the rest, as he often liked it, waiting, listening, fuming, Shadow had been intent on Delilah, watching through the crowd, above the bickering to archaically prove a point. Curled on the far countertop, her wings slung limp over sagging, lifeless shoulders, she seemed on the fringe of a conversation that revolved around her child.
He didn't even know if she was listening anymore, lost in a world somewhere far from this one. Perhaps where the pain of simply living didn't exist.
It seems his former lover had been stunned into a reclusive silence, and though he knew this just may ruin a cunningly crafted reputation, he thought he'd return the topic of discussion to what truly mattered. "What about the child?"
They all looked to Pierce.
"I've done as best a thorough examination as I can." he answered, especially while pressed under a particular russet glare, that seemed more potent than fire, or the entire weight of the Eyrie on his chest. "With the preliminary tests, the embryo seems healthy, and is growing on the gargoyle equivalent of an endometrium in Demona's womb. Alex seems to have transplanted and suitably adapted the layer by...magic, I suppose..." He rolled his eyes at the word, his bane, kneading his temples. "But I'm more worried about Demona's daily transformations."
"D'mona won't hurt th' baby when she turns into a lady..."
It came from beneath the edge of the kitchen table, and as Pierce leaned over, a single brow inclined in Alexander's direction. "How?"
He was staring past the doctor, intent on something out of his reach. "Magic."
Exasperated, Pierce threw his hands up in the air as something rolled from his lips, thankfully inaudible with such a young and impressionable audience. "Magic, again with the goddamned magic."
"Yeah, magic, can I hav'a cookie?"
He swapped his gaze between the expectant little sorcerer, and the, for now, unreachable trove of the cookie jar in the middle of the stone-rimmed table. "Oatmeal or chocolate chip?"
Pierce scooped out the cookie and handed it to a grateful Alexander. "Has anyone told you that you shouldn't really be doing things like stealing unborn children from their cloning tubes or making nice doctors age prematurely?"
Already halfway through his treat, the redhead shrugged.
"Xanatoses...arrogance must be congenital." Pierce muttered under his breath. "And wipe those crumbs off your face."
Claws tapping anxiously on the oak, wanting to know more if only for her sister's sake, Angela interjected, "The child, doctor, will it form an egg?"
The overworked doctor took a swig first, and breathed in ecstasy the bitter warmth of roasted coffee beans. "I don't know, there's too many factors inherent now to make a determinate guess. The child's one quarter human, and has been transplanted into a gargoyle with daily human transformations. That could have a major impact on the growth. Whether or not an eggshell will form..."
"Mother is a creature that has been touched by magic, frequently in her lifetime," Angela advised, "and those transformations could have more implications than you think."
"Plus whatever Alex may have done to it..." Brooklyn threw in from the side.
"It could develop an egg, and Demona will give birth in about six months, or...the child will develop in a more...humanlike fashion."
Angela leaned forwards, wide black eyes sparkling under the fluorescent fixtures, entranced. "Live birth?"
"With Annika's pregnancy, there's a possibility a membrane will form, thick, but not as rigid as a gargoyle eggshell. The same could happen here." Pierce closed his eyes and met the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger, as if trying to fend off an emerging headache. "God, this was so much simpler before I met you people." Upon opening, his slip of the tongue had awarded him more than several mildly irritated expressions. And of course, Othello's interminable grimace, and Shadow's dark sneer. He smiled, and delved back into his cup, eyes skirting cautiously along the rim. "No offense."
The man in question nearly choked on the last, ground-rich mouthful. "Trish?"
Having charged into the kitchen with all the grace of an elephant, and all the volatility of dynamite, Trishia Weathers leaned on the doorframe to catch her breath. Her hair tied up, leaving a few, purposefully hanging strands, and wrapped in a satin sleeveless and matching scarf, she was dressed a little more elegantly than an on-duty resident. "I got your call!" she screamed breathlessly, glasses hanging off the edge of her nose. "Why aren't you in the infirmary?! Where's the baby?!!"
"Situation's been taken care of." Under the gun, Pierce offered up a freshly poured mug. "Coffee?"
Something boiled behind fine wire frames, and the gathered throng behind the doctor knew it wasn't errant light reflecting from the lenses.
One in the background cleared her throat, and hoped the human would be careful.
"I left a date for this," she directed towards him, still holding that steaming mug as more a shield, "a very handsome, well-dressed date who had already promised to pay for dinner, and who I've been trying to go out with for the past three weeks with the hospital being overrun, so this had better be important!"
He pushed out an empty chair with his leg. "Just...sit down, and listen."
Angela trailed softly after her white-haired sibling. Delilah had simply left, without a word, but the expression she donned was more than enough to elicit a quick pursuit.
She stopped, and could sense Angela's eyes boring through her back. Her wings were tucked high and close, a moody posture. She was sure the question would inevitably come, so she answered anyway. "Everyone's being so clinical it's making me sick!"
If Angela had closed her eyes, there would be no distinction from her mother's tone. But it was just one of a thousand facets that made this clone so captivating. "They're all trying to deal with this. Would you rather they panic?"
"I'd rather they react." she snapped. "At all. But all they do is analyze, question, discuss." Her talons swiped at the wall, scoring the limestone in three perfect lines and barely sating what pushed at her flesh from the inside out. "I hate the fact that what we live through every day has desensitized us, I hate living where death and destruction is so commonplace we've all become numb. I hate this!"
Angela nodded. She too had often felt the exact same way in this stage of her life, and shared the clone's outlook.
They were sisters by the awesome, and conflictingly fearful phenomenon of genetics. They were kin by the wings they wore, the affinity they shared between one small, persistent clan, and under a surname that decidedly brought them closer than they ever thought. And every time Angela looked at her, watched her, spoke with her, Elisa and Demona, the two components of her being, easily swapped between dominance and submission of her emotional state.
"It'll be all right." she said, if anything, offering a supportive shoulder.
"I have your word?" Delilah looked back, her wing-arms settling into a wide, flattened arc. "I'm completely sure your mother won't harm the only chance I have left?"
She didn't know how to answer. Anything would come off as facetiously hollow, even if she genuinely meant it. "You're right. I suppose I can't give that assurance. I could try but..." Angela took a hesitant step forwards. "I would try, but we both know exactly what could happen, and I won't insult you by blindly saying otherwise."
A mewl went soft through flared nostrils, "Good. I've been lied to enough in my lifetime."
"What I am going to tell you is that we are sisters. We are all that's left of a very exceptional family we were lucky to have."
"I didn't say I was finished." Angela cut her off mid protest, something dark and transfixing about her tone. "You can hide away and wallow, but you will never maintain some stubborn segregation only because you're in pain. We're all in pain."
"My baby, my baby!!" the clone snarled back, the walls faintly touched with wine.
"You don't know, so don't pretend."
She crossed her arms beneath her chest, and stooped wide hips. "Your child has been transplanted to a psychotic's womb? I've been torn from my own universe!! I'm forced to contend with a mate that barely looks at me, let alone acknowledges our love. My father, my step-mother, my baby sister could either be dead, or thousands of miles or years away!"
Delilah lowered her eyes, sound purring from her throat.
"But I won't run away, and I won't hide. I'll meet whatever this world's going to throw at me with a growl." Angela goaded her sister's gaze back up with two fingers urgently pointed to her own. "And so will you. Our clan still thrives, and everything we have fought for, everything we've lost, will balance out in the end. It will, it must."
Delilah simply stared at her. "You are such a hippy."
"And you play the bitch well." she laughed, and melodiously, glad she could share it with the only remaining Maza in the castle. "There is some Demona in you, isn't there?"
Her eyes sparked dimly. "Maybe...a little."
"Remember this, stubborn little sister," Angela winked, seeing the obvious dislike for the latter term run through solid white membranes, "I am always here for you, whether you want me or not."
"I know." And with that, Delilah roamed into the distance, Angela watching until she faded into the immensity of the castle. That timid clone was a woman all her own now.
She looked up, searchingly, into the conduit of circuitry and lighting embedded within the arched stone roof. Mother's phantom voice afforded no sense of direction. "Yes?" she answered warily.
"You've received a phone call. I've routed it to the closest phone, holding on line two."
After everything that'd come out of the outside to threaten her very life, especially recently, she was a little more than distrusting. "Who?"
"She's identified herself as one of your mother's employees."
At that exact moment, a fleeting thought intruded; if she were in her own universe, would all of this still be happening. It didn't matter now; that dimension and every living soul was just a memory and errant floating atoms, and here she was, trapped.
She stared at the phone on the credenza, and the flashing arrow beside the waiting line, and she knew exactly what this was.
Nightstone Unlimited had been without its founder and driving force for three weeks now, and Angela had lingered on an answer to give them as Dominique Destine's only existing relative. Another accident, her mother languishing in a coma, near death, on respiration, it was the only excuse that seemed to partially satisfy the higher-ups in Demona's personnel, and justify the complete and total disappearance of one of the richest women on the eastern seaboard without even a headline.
They seemed skeptical, with absolutely no wreckage, no filed police report, and no word of mouth in a city of more than a million.
"I suppose I've been expecting this." Picking up, she held the receiver to her ear with delicate talons and released the line. "Hello?"
An obviously human name, she was surprised her mother would pay so much attention to detail by even acknowledging Elisa. "Yes."
"...It's very late, I hope I'm not disturbing you?..."
"Not at all. I'm a night person."
"...As says in your mother's file, good. Miss Destine-Maza, my name is Bianca Cartier, I'm calling on behalf of the board of trustees at Nightstone Unlimited, and I'll try to be succinct. Your mother has left explicit instructions concerning you..."
"Really." Angela sighed. What did she do now, she wondered.
"...She left some...very odd directives for fear of any illness or accident. One, singular directive actually, and one that I was a little more than surprised to discover, but I suppose it makes perfect sense knowing Ms. Destine..."
This Bianca was droning; there seemed to be a little more resentment than calm, cool facade. "Please, be succinct."
"...Yes, my apologies. With your mother incapacitated, and the fact we have not personally heard from her in three weeks, I have been instructed to inform you of the fact you are now sole beneficiary to her company and subsequent fortune..."
"Sole beneficiary? And just what does that mean?"
"...Well, until your mother's return..." she paused, as if it pained her to continue, "...you are now owner and CEO of Nightstone..."
Angela dropped the phone, ill and slack-jawed.
"...Miss Destine-Maza?...Are you there?..."
"Never...remembered these halls being...so long..." Fox wheezed, struggling along the grooved wall. She'd already made it this far into the castle, and had so far slinked unseen through the serpentine passageways each drifting into another.
Her ears tuned for any sound, she heard movement, and froze, becoming as stone as the ramparts.
A column of shadow along the floor heralded a presence wandering the same junction where several halls intersected, and Fox, with her body unable to react as quickly, barely had time to escape back into the corridor as the figure emerged into view.
It was Delilah, having followed her silhouette.
Fox held her breath and clung to the wall; that damned gargoyle was far too light on her feet for such a stalwart creature. Waiting blind, her only clue was that well-known scrape of talon against stone, the paths through Wyvern a carpet of tiny swirl marks.
The clone slowed and, with something having triggered her senses, sniffed the air.
Residual scents were a brume along the air-conditioned breeze of the castle and all the arteries from north to south, stirring and fusing and making tracking any one person difficult. She dismissed what passed under her nose for an old fragrance, and then continued on.
And Fox released, pressing her clammy forehead against the stone as she exhaled with the danger of being discovered long passed. The last thing she wanted was the imminent sympathy she'd receive or idle chatter about how she was 'doing'.
Her eyes went up, narrowing to better see where the end lay in that gloom down the hall. She was so tired, but almost there. She allowed herself a short respite, and, with a hand braced to keep her from collapsing, hobbled into the distance.
Todd walked back in to the infirmary; to be more precise, it was a brisk, determined march that quickly turned into a feral stride. His path was direct but blind, as something had led him back here more by instinct than choice, and, after having irately wandered the castle halls above, he now trawled through the briar of hospital equipment.
Rose was pulled from a light and haunted rest by footsteps along the linoleum. From under heavy lids, she found her son pacing in a concentric half-circle around her bed, knocking away any medical paraphernalia unfortunate enough to be in his path.
The racket was nearly enough to wake Bluestone from his coma.
He had things on his mind, questions he needed answered, and damnit, if he had to cause her to bleed through her stitching, he'd get those answers. From the other side of the room, it came off as a growl, "What happened twenty years ago?"
It was that same catechistic question that had been often repeated over the past few days. And evaded just as many times.
"I don't want to talk about it." Rose whispered, gripping into the folds of her pillow.
"Damnit, yes you will!" he screamed in response, making a rush towards the foot of her bed, looking as if he'd attack her. "You owe me!!"
"I owe you nothing."
"You owe him twenty years." a new voice cut in, as Annika appeared at the infirmary door, trying to play the mediator. "You owe him his family, his identity, or an explanation at the very least."
She was grace and calm and everything her husband wasn't, and just maybe she could inch her talons through such stubborn armor.
Assaulted from two sides, Rose had nowhere to go but deeper into her inclined bed. "I told you...I can't...!"
Todd pitched forwards again, until a strong hand braced against his chest; it was like running into a brick wall. With the speed and long stride of a gazelle, Annika was there between him and the bed, holding him back with incredible strength. "Don't."
His gaze was still impressed against Rose, a straight bead uninterrupted. "Don't what?"
"Do something you'll regret."
"Annika, this doesn't concern you!"
Eyes flamed red at his outburst and the anger misdirected towards her. "Yes, it does and it always will. Or has that ring you wear around your neck gotten a little light?"
Idly caressing his wedding ring through his shirt, worn on a simple chain necklace and sometimes like a noose, he eased off from her hand with a few back-peddling steps. Annika circled the bed, coming to Rose's side. The nun was a little intimidated, by her proximity and eerie composure, by a formidable creature trimmed with claws and fiercely loyal to her boy.
But Annika merely grabbed for her hand, a soft touch that dispelled any fear, and pressed Rose's palm against her stomach. "Feel deep, Rose, feel beyond the flesh and bone. If not Todd, then you owe it to your grandchild."
She nearly popped her sutures with the sharp breath; she hoped she'd misheard the young woman. "Grandchild..." she echoed wide-eyed, and then looked up at Annika. Her daughter-in-law was wearing sincerity on her features like a statue. "You're pregnant?"
"Another miracle graces Wyvern." she joked. "You can either be a part of our family, or not."
Her eyes returned to taught flesh, her fingernails tracing the whispers of muscle flexing with every breath. Something was growing her hand underneath as it did twenty-four years ago. She'd imagined grandchildren before her blissful life was torn away, and the contact was enough to rip the memories out from a forced seclusion.
"You'll eventually heal, Pierce will release you and you'll go back to a desolate life of hiding away behind such a cunning alias."
Annika shuddered, and Rose quickly pulled away; her fantasy was just that, nothing more to give her but the painful yearning for a simpler time.
"Second chances are often rare, Rose, and I'd think you're close to losing this one."
Second chances, the gargoyle couldn't realize what that entailed. To take back what was taken from her was to relive a series of events that nearly destroyed all she was and used to be. "I remember..." she whispered hoarsely, staring at the stomach laid bare by a mid-riff tunic. "Being pregnant with you, Todd. All my hopes, every fancy I'd once had fulfilled, and it was all taken away in a single night. It haunts my dreams. I remember above anything else, over the tearing and grinding of metal, over the roar of gasoline-fueled fire, I remember your crying."
Annika looked over her shoulder, and found an expression crossing her husband's ornery mug much like he'd react if someone had kicked him in the teeth. With the gargoyle's prodding, a crack had indeed been opened into something he'd had been hoping for for twenty long, agonizing years.
Todd took special heed to the name. "What?"
"Your father. He was a counterintelligence agent for the FBI, and...he was investigating a series of murders he thought were orchestrated by the very government he faithfully served." She shifted and lay on her back, intentionally keeping her gaze up and on the ceiling. She didn't think she could continue with her son's accusing gaze bathing her. "When you were only three years old, we were driving home through a bad storm. You were in the backseat, and nervous. Every few minutes I'd look back and make sure you were all right. You were staring through the windows, at the rain, entranced by something in the lightning-lit distance."
Rapt, Todd moved forwards, slowly approaching the side of the hospital bed; to hear her speak for the first time as his mother was an eerie sensation. He took the seat alongside, and thundercloud eyes so much like her husband's urged Rose to continue.
"Then out of nowhere...something attacked us. We thought them human, but they were more like some sort of things, jumping onto the car and tearing through the metal." Memories were flooding back with every growl and inhuman, guttural cry so vivid she'd swore they were in the room with her. The fear, the adrenaline, the singular concern for her children, it was all coming back. "Your father tried to keep control, but...they were everywhere, smashing the windows all around us, denting the metal. I remember him fighting something off with his left hand, until he cried out in pain. They cut him, slashed him, and he lost control. The car hit the guardrail..."
"We went over. I remember...reaching for you, and the expression on your face. I caught your hand, until, the car hit the base and tore in half, and you were pulled away from me. We were separated, and I was sent tumbling from my seat."
Searching his memories, Todd hoped something would've been sparked into any sort of clarity, but it was still frustratingly, infuriatingly, all a blank. It'd been erased by the sheer trauma of a three-year-old boy flung from an exploding car.But something else nagged in the back of his head. Things? Maybe her memory was playing tricks with the facts. Maybe her fear made simple men into something more.
"I remember waking up in a puddle of water and blood...there was fire all around us...and all I could hear was your crying. Joseph was gone, I couldn't see past the wreckage or the flames...he was gone...dead, or lost in the flames..." The last words were drowned in the back of her throat. If anyone else were to so casually relate how they'd lost their lover, they'd be hardpressed to continue as well. "...he was gone..."
The story that had engrossed its audience dried, died and left off in an ostensible midpoint. There was more, there had to be, but with Rose's inability to continue, it withered into reluctance.
Todd could see how much this was hurting her, but, he could see the dark lines of tears over burned skin, but, he needed to know. He was due. "Then what?"
With a fortifying breath she continued. "I-I crawled through the muck, trying to find you. But I couldn't...I didn't have the strength. I don't remember much after, but I must have passed out. I awoke in a hospital, apparently there for days, in and out of consciousness."
"I remember demanding for my son and husband to the first person I saw. It was Abel Sykes, an FBI agent that had been your father's friend for years, and...coupled with that damned sympathetic gaze, h-he told me Joseph's body hadn't been found, and that you were taken without his jurisdiction and placed in a children's home. I was ready to tear all their machines from my body to come find you, but he stopped me. It seems I had been secluded from all but a few select doctors. No one else knew I was still alive."
"Apparently, agent Joseph Hawkins had been branded a fugitive by the FBI for several charges including drug-trafficking, bribery, and leaking government documents to overseas interests, but Sykes didn't believe it. He'd hidden my survival from the bureau, and in less than four days, someone had completely erased our very lives. They'd emptied out our home, seized any sort of records, everything of our family had been wiped from the public consciousness to better change and control the facts that implicated your father. If I revealed myself, I could've been charged with aiding and abetting a known criminal, or killed...just as Joseph was. So, by Sykes' order, I was forbidden from ever coming in direct contact with you."
"But why wasn't I taken out of the home if I was in danger?"
She smiled, and gently shook her head among the woodland strands. "You weren't. If whoever did all this wished you dead as well, they would have killed you as soon as your identity was revealed by the social workers. It was your father they wanted. A three-year-old boy didn't pose any threat, especially one so traumatized that he'd developed some sort of selective amnesia."
He kneaded his fingers to a lined brow. This was all so unreal, like he'd lived an entirely different life. "I don't remember anything."
"Which is why...I left you." she said, voice tinged with regret. "Left you in that home so you could start anew without the baggage of your father or I, and have the life you were meant to."
Todd looked down at his hand, having reflexively clenched into the sheets. An old anger was conflicting with a new truth. "I needed a mother."
"And I couldn't provide you with that."
"You could have at least told me about my parents, my family. I didn't know anything!" He stood up, towering over her. The anger had returned. "You could have taken me away from there!!"
"And do what? Kidnap you and hide for the rest of our lives? Take what second chance my son had and destroy it by going underground and looking over my shoulder every minute of every day?
"It would've been worth it."
"I was considered a fugitive either under the false charges or Sykes' orders regarding any sort of contact." She tried to appeal to him through her expression of sorrow, and repentance, and hoped he'd see just how much it pained her. She shook her head, lazily blinking. "No, I couldn't do that to you. You deserved a life outside of the chaos ours had become, you deserved more than I could give you."
"I spent most of my life alone in an orphanage!"
"And look at you now," Rose countered, "strong, self-sufficient, a hero, married, soon to be a father."
A calming breath. "Then where the hell did you go?"
Her shoulders moved, her version of a shrug. "Away," she answered distantly, "across the country, the world, constantly moving, drifting without a purpose. But no matter how far I traveled and tried to escape, I had left my soul back here. I was dying, and couldn't stay away from you any longer. After a year and a half, and facing either severe federal charges or my own death, I returned to New York to find a position in your children's home that was operated by the church."
Todd slumped back down into his chair. "So you posed as a nun."
"A position not too many people would want to impersonate, if anything to be forced to live their lifestyle, and with their small and steadily dwindling staff, I was accepted quickly without the requisite questions. I was able to watch over you, watch you grow into the man you are now."
"That seemed particularly dangerous." mentioned Annika, behind her husband with her hands drawing curative circles on his shoulder blades. "To both yourself, and Todd."
A smile managed to stroke along her lips, a guilt-ridden gesture caught between her love for her son and her own self-reproach. "Call it selfishness, I suppose. But, it seemed the accident had done well to nurture determination and stubbornness. It was the seminal factor that made you what you are today."
"Is that why, as I started getting older, you drifted away?"
"You drifted away from me, Todd. You didn't need me anymore. I'd done my best to help instill that independence you wield so greatly, and in doing so, gradually removed myself from your life without even realizing before it was too late." She looked at him so intensely he felt his very soul under her velvet-hued scrutiny. She saw strong, familiar lines in his face, the same flint eyes of course, and the jaw, even though Todd's was hidden under his goatee, it was Joseph's, square and true. "You are just like your father, do you know that?"
Her eyes dulled, radiating the same pain as it did then, when simple words had never cut so deeply. "He was never found...according to the forensics team, the fire was so hot...it could've completely destroyed his body, and wouldn't have left any remains..."
Silence fell, and Todd digested.
So this was it, the simple narrative he'd dreamed of all his life, delivered in less than ten minutes. He didn't quite know how to feel right now. He lifted from his chair in a dreamlike state, and walked deeper into the infirmary, stepping between the shadows and light.
Annika watched him closely. She watched every little gesture he made, ripples along his skin, dilation of pupils, waiting for any sort of signal that he was about to explode. But, he seemed more lost than angry, more relieved than indignant. He was shell-shocked for sure.
But she didn't know if the truth would hurt him more than that blank, anodyne past she thought he'd left far behind when they first met. "Are you all right?"
Todd's answer was carried over half a laugh and a clearing of his throat. "Besides the fact I think I'm going to puke...I don't know..."
"Well, now you know."
"Now I know..." he echoed vaguely, reaching into his back pocket for his wallet, and the photo contained within. He fished out the Polaroid he'd managed to salvage, and two faceless bodies were given dimension and form.
He connected with Rose, his mother wondering just what had stolen his longing glance. He walked forwards and silently outstretched his hand.
Hesitantly, she took the offered photograph, treating it as gently as did her son; it must mean a great deal.
"This was all I had of you."
As soon as she saw the photo, there was an almost visible flush to her skin. She knew it well; she knew every detail of that day, the fence and background, every smell in the air, the young and energetic boy squirming in her arms. The scorched and melted photograph was as crisp and clear in her mind as if it were yesterday. "You were two months shy of your first birthday in this photo." she said quietly, running her fingernails across the infant image of her son. "Your father's new camera, he'd just learned to use the timer."
He watched her marvel at the simple photograph much like he did when young and under the sheets of a darkened room, when the other children slept, and when he just couldn't let go of an elusive past. "Tell me about my father."
It'd taken so long.
To traverse the Eyrie and then the castle with her weakened body, and avoiding anyone wandering the halls, it'd taken more than an hour to get up here where winds blew hard and whistled serenely through the stony aigrette of castle turrets.
It used to take minutes with her august stride, and the infirmity just fueled her frustration, and her intent.
Fox lurched onto the courtyard, and breathed deep of the fresh air her hospital suite didn't quite allow. There was sound here, resonance and life among the sterile stone, bleeding upwards from the earth, and she indulged selfishly.
But regrettably there was something else here, leaning against the stones on the far end, and as always fated to ruin the tranquility.
Nicole St. John stared outwards into the saw-toothed island contours alpine and half-lit, where, in every corner and crook and cranny below, there was a story aching for the proper spin. Either on the damaged section of Manhattan glibly christened the Hole, or the rise in crime rate, or the upsurge in tales of superstition and urban monsters, she was forced to watch her career slowly fade and die with such a feeding frenzy for even the most novice of up-and-coming reporters.
"So much pain, destruction, death," she waxed poetic, in her own particular, obnoxious style, "so many reporters getting my stories. I could've had a Pulitzer." She turned away, sick of it all and her lavish prison. "Damn gargoyles."
Upon turning around, to spend another night moping through the castle halls, she was confronted with, what she deemed, an odd sight among an odd place. Fox Xanatos, clad in hospital gown and bare feet.
The two women stared each other down.
"What the hell?" Nicole exclaimed in shock. She'd rarely seen this particular half of her jailors outside of that restricted hospital suite, and the woman that stood in front of her was a far cry from the predator that, in the past, had skillfully evaded any sort of interview. "Well, you're up and out of bed. Aren't you supposed to be dying?"
Fox moved past her, butting her shoulder against the reporter's. She was feigning this last bout of strength; inside, she was waning. "Not quite yet."
Finely plucked eyebrows sharpened, knotting together with her obvious reciprocated hatred for the billionairess. "Where are you going?"
She disgorged steam from between clenched teeth. Of all places, the annoying little bother had to block her path here, so close to the end. But, on the upside, it wasn't a gargoyle with inhuman strength, or, more importantly, fast reflexes.
Fox pivoted, and with the momentum behind her jabbed an open palm straight towards Nicole's unguarded face. Nicole could only contort her features before she ricocheted from the butt-end of a well-aimed hand.
She went down, holding both hands across her nose, and screaming in pain. "Oh...CHRIST!!!"
If at full strength, Fox could've pushed a shard of bone into her brain.
Luckily, all she did was bruise the bridge of her antagonist's nose, and spill a lone, glossy trail of blood, enough to get the reporter off of her back until she did what she felt she had to.
She turned around, and headed for the edge that spilled into rising industrial light and distant stars. There was serenity in between, where she longed to fly. For so long, she'd wished to touch them, feel them, caress them, and maybe, in those last seconds as she freed herself from a dying mortal cage, they'd be just in reach.
"Agghhkk..." Nicole was snorting blood, her nose completely filling with fluids as the telling red lines curled over her upper lip. "...fricking psychotic..."
Her legs giving out, her strength seeping somewhere, Fox collapsed and crawled her way to the edge between the arrow-looped merlons, and touched to the triumph of cool, fitted stone. She could feel where the winds crawled upwards along the Eyrie, the monolith of steel and glass disrupting the natural ocean airstreams and causing chaos within the sky.
On some nights, when the conditions were just right, mist would spill through the crenellation pushed up by the wayward drafts, and coat the courtyard in a cool, saline vapor, slithering across the cobbles.
Her joints screaming, Fox struggled up onto the parapet, and held herself as steady as possible as each protean current dared their counterparts to push her off into the Manhattan abyss two thousand feet below. But ever the warrior, she gritted and remained steady, enamored gaze focused on the city.
Everything focused on the city.
Nicole struggled to a standing position, feeling around the nascent bump on her nose. She saw the woman balanced on the castle wall, hospital gown whipping around a dangerously thin form. "Hey, you want to kill yourself?!"
Fox ignored her, instead concentrating on the sea of crisscrossing light that seemed to stretch on for eternity, devouring the landscape. A smile crept onto her face; she was more at peace now than she had been for weeks.
A thousand thoughts roamed and played on her mind, David, Alexander, they were each strong in their own right, they would survive. And hopefully, they would understand.
"Fine, you want to die, go right ahead!"
Fox raised her arms, preparing as an Olympic gymnast would over a swimming pool, took a breath, and simply jumped off.
"Jesus..." It was surreal, watching the redhead casually disappear below the edge. She'd seen a lot in her time reporting the infamous circadian sin of New York, and thought herself prepared for anything. She wasn't. "JESUS!!!"
She ran to the side and looked helplessly into the city.
Fox had become a speck against the light.
"SOMEONE HELP!!!" she screamed bloody murder, frantically switching her gaze from the empty courtyard to where that speck was quickly fading into the grasp of a creature miles long and wide. "JESUS CHRIST SOMEONE PLEASE HELP!!! HEEEEEELLLLPP!!!!"
Fox couldn't hear the screaming, only the rush of wind, and blood past her ears. The air pulled at her skin, and threatened to tear her gown from her body. Then as the ground inescapably began to near, the sound, the wind, the city, the people and the noise they sired, faded into nothingness but her heartbeat.
Only the rapidly passing floors of the Eyrie measured the speed of her descent. Otherwise, it was like being suspended, weightless, free. It was glorious.
The details below grew sharp, the people, stores, vehicles, the ageless bustle of humanity going about their lives unaware she was going to make a crater in the boulevard they walked.
She wondered if the impact would hurt, or, if, instantly, death would overtake her.
She'd already imagined her funeral, the buzz of the wife of David Xanatos' death making ripples through the news world. She hoped this would be front-page material, big and bold, just as she lived her life.
And this is how she should die, on her feet, at her choosing, meeting death in all its bluster and announcing her arrival in the next life with a bang. A Xanatos is coming, Fox declared silently, as the street up against the Eyrie foyer approached, you'd better make room.
It was a voice in his soul. "Mommy?"
She knew Alexander heard her. "Goodbye."
Her plunge resumed, constant, steady, gaining speed with every foot she dropped.
But below, straining to get underneath her, something was focused on ruining her magnificently suicidal dive.
An effeminate shape emerged from the night and between the spires, streaking a ribbon of red from each determined eye. Slight, but agile, it aimed for the woman plunging to her death along shimmering satin membranes that changed color in the different angles of skyscraper light, blue to emerald to blue.
Tearing through the sky like a missile, sleek webbed wings were pulled tight between the appendages to reduce the drag to almost nothing. The distance narrowed.
The question of why, what happened and just how this human came to be hurtling to her death was an uncertainty the young female supplanted with one, burning desire to catch up to her before the street did. Narrowing in on a perpendicular line, as Fox seemed to be reveling in the feeling of total freedom without the concern of aerodynamics, she extended her clawed hands.
Then, they met.
The impact of body against body made a crack in the sky, reverberating between the skyscrapers. They grunted as the direction abruptly, excruciatingly changed, the sheer momentum of the two thousand foot drop having transformed Fox into a human bullet aimed for the asphalt.
"What are you doing?!!" Fox screamed.
"Saving your life!" answered the little creature locked around her waist.
With the gargoyle's webbed wings, open only with free arms that were now wrapped around her target, she couldn't get any lift, and their descent continued, albeit on a much different angle.
Another building loomed, ironically serving as a savior, and they careened through a window on the sixth floor. Fortunately, the expected furniture and equipment of a full office broke their fall in a shower of wood splinters and sparks from exploding computers.
They both plowed deep into the office floor, and came to a rest several meters apart.
Between the two of them, one stirred and groaned.
"Ooooohhhh..." The gargoyle shook the cobwebs from her head, picking glass shards from her hair and a few gouged in her skin. She'd taken the brunt, through the window, onto the office floor, rolling, tumbling, protecting this human from the impact and injury that would've come from their collision with this neighboring and well-placed skyscraper.
She growled in agony as she tried to move, shooting pains roaring through tendons on her right side. Her shoulder, which she led with, it was dislocated.
Hobbled, one-handed, the other cradled around her stomach, she crawled towards the woman who'd flung herself off the castle in front of her astonished eyes. Fox was barely moving, breathing steadily, an empty gaze looking nowhere.
"Last step's a doozy, huh?" she teased, hoping to rouse any sort of response. "What happened?"
"I-I was...trying to kill m-myself."
Violet eyes widened at the cavalier reply. "Oh," knowing this woman and her reputation, she couldn't tell whether or not she was joking, "ah...sorry."
Fox rolled her eyes towards the blurred shape holding above her. The glistening skin was a dead giveaway. "I...I know you..."
The web-wing smiled. "Rain."
"You're...a very stupid girl, Rain."
The billionairess seemed oddly unappreciative at her life being saved. "That's gratitude."
Fox struggled to rise; it was more than just the septicemia, evidently she'd suffered injury as well. Her breathing was labored, eyes heavy-lidded. "Gargoyles, eternally the world's finest meddlers." she seethed, her body aflame, and fueling her anger at being so forcefully interrupted. "Didn't you think...that I wouldn't want to be saved?"
Under the scrutiny of such intense green eyes, Rain didn't balk. Others would've been either dead or willing to sign away their lives, most but the creature standing five feet at her tallest. "Never crossed my mind for a minute."
"Yes, protect. How...goddamned archaic." She looked sternly at her rescuer. "You'd at least have the decency to let a dying woman die under her own terms."
She furrowed a full-tined brow; simple text messages from her lover didn't do true pain justice. This woman was a mess, and proud to the point of mildly psychotic.
Light swathed their building, igniting the entire office floor through the windows and giving shape, form and identity to indiscriminate shadows. Rain had to block her eyes from the probing spotlights. There were shapes beyond, with the familiar swoosh sound of leather taming wind and tremors running through the floor with every heavy footfall.
A glint of spun gold offered easy recognition to the first in the building.
Desdemona breathed a sigh of relief seeing Fox still in solid, breathing form, rather than, as they feared they'd find, thinly spread across the parkway. Nicole had screamed like mad to gain any sort of attention, and with the commotion Mother had alerted a few members of the clan to give chase.
But if anything, the few gargoyles following Fox's path were expecting a gory scene at the base of the Eyrie.
A caramel hand fell relieved to her chest. "Thank the dragon."
"Fox?!" Regal, incensed, silhouetted by the light, David Xanatos stepped onto the threshold of where a window used to be, and through the shards of glass without any thought to the damage to his expensive leather heels.
The gargoyles parted to allow him access; braving their wrath, he would've nonetheless pushed his way through.
"Are you insane?!" he yelled at her, Fox, who met his iron gaze with one as intense. He stood over her, glowering, then kneeled down to her level and grasped the collar of her gown.
"What the hell do you think you're playing at?!"
"Fighting fate." came a dark tone.
"Do you want your son to see your body splattered all over the street?!"
"I will not fade away, and become a pretentious, laughable memory on the society page!" Fox growled. "I won't sit in that bed and watch as my body slowly decays around me!!"
His hands clenched on her arms. "Stupid woman..."
"I will choose when and how I die!!"
He was shaking her. "Stupid woman!"
"I am Fox Xanatos, I will choose!!" The scream echoed into the half-gutted floor, then, with a gurgle at the back of her throat, it trailed off. They fell together, Fox cradled in the silks and fine weave of the finest custom-made double breast. She wetted the fabric with her tears. Even now she could feel the white-hot ache in her arteries returning as the adrenaline faded. "David...I can't live like this..."
His lips drudged through the Erewhon of faded ruby, fingers sluicing through fine, brittle strands. "You will, you must. Give me time. Give me time."
"I don't know if I'll last that long."
"You have to, Fox, your resolve is my power." Though modified, or in his case expertly tailored, his words held more truth than she'd ever realize. "Your life is my strength."
He held his wife closer, the skeleton he'd once bedded as fine, buxom predator shifting against him. He could feel her ribs through three layers of clothing. It was true, wasting away under the poison somehow fed to her he hadn't fully realized how much weight Fox had shed. She'd lost so much of what she was.
In truth, part of him really didn't blame her. No one had ever succeeded, let alone even dared, to trample a Xanatos underfoot, not even Death.
He breathed into the cant of her neck, "You exhaust me, woman."
With the roar of jet engines, stirring up the wisps of surrounding cloud and making ripples in the thin layer of dust along the stones, the clan with their robotic escorts arrived back on the courtyard level.
The Steel Clan guardsman releasing him, Xanatos stepped through the merlons and onto the stones. Fox was limp in his arms, white and drained of color and strength. It would have been an alarming sight for the uninformed, and still, even now, she appeared lifeless to anyone by quick glance.
"Holy crap, holy crap, holy crap!" Nicole came tearing towards them with Pierce just able to keep up, her voice high-pitched and nasal with her bandaged nose. She immediately pointed at Fox lest the blame somehow, as it almost always did being the perfect, unlikable scapegoat, fell on her. "I couldn't do anything, the crazy bitch just jumped off!"
"Watch who you call bitch..." Fox growled back, suddenly coming to life.
"You almost broke my nose!!"
"It's quite all right, miss St. John," Xanatos answered, his frictionless voice like a natural analgesic, "no one expects you to ever fully grasp what my wife is ultimately capable of."
His feet barely touching the stones, sorcery propelling him like adrenaline would fuel a normal human, Alexander came running out towards his mother. Her brassy farewell had sent him running, and if forced, he would've blown through the side of the building. "Mommy!" he screamed. "Wa's wrong?! Wa's wrong?!"
"Nothing, Alex." his father sidetracked, trying to keep everything still under his umbrella of control. "Everything's all right."
But the boy wouldn't believe it, not when the evidence of his mother near motionless was staring him in the face. "No!" A ring of dust blew out from around him. "Why's mommy out here?! Why?!!"
A hand reached down and moved all those long, intrusive strands from Alexander's eyes. It was a mother's touch that calmed the energies building to the inevitable peak. "It's okay, baby," Fox whispered, "mommy's okay."
"I'm taking you to the infirmary, Fox," Xanatos said, gesturing to doctor Pierce to follow, "and posting a guard at all times."
With an absolutely lupine and melancholic grin, Fox continued to test her limits, "Don't you trust me, David?"
"Not after that stunt you just pulled. You're damned lucky you're still alive."
"Or cursed." she revised. "Depends on how you look at it. Of course, your flesh isn't decomposing."
"If all of this was simply because of wounded pride, I'm going to be very disappointed."
The small crowd near the door parted to allow him through, just as others were joining them through the same exterior gate. It turned into a flurry of activity. Confusion reigned, voices were high and fusing into one another as every imaginable question was trying to be answered all at once.
And as the smallest, Lexington was caught between them, and seeing Fox being carried back inside in the arms of her taciturn husband, scratched and bleeding, with Alexander trailing behind, he joined in the collective bewilderment. "What's going on?"
"What happened to Fox?" one voice rang out.
"She jumped off the castle." and another answered.
"Off the castle?!"
She didn't have to look hard to see him through the crowd, his few exterior cybernetic parts gleamed an odd and entrancing gold in the moonlight. "Lex!"
The voice was familiar, even without being filtered through an electronic device, but here of all places he'd never expected to hear it. Large eyes scanned the immediate area. "Rain?"
"Lex! Over here!"
"Rain??" Lexington found the young web-wing being gently settled to the curved, concrete bench around the fountain by one of the Steel Clan, and scurried on all four feet towards her. "What are you doing here?!"
"Visiting you. And apparently saving lives."
"I told you..." He paused with the courtyard's most glaring eccentricity rearing up; any loud voice would carry any conversation to any listener, unintentional or not. He started again, prudently. "I told you I didn't want you here. With the Guild..."
"I wanted to be with you." She reached out and traced his peregrine features, even where the cybernetic skin merged seamlessly with his olive hide, like refreshing her memory to better fall back on a more accurate image when parted. "E-mail, instant messaging, cellphones, it wasn't enough. I'm sorry, but like the rest of my species, I'm not good with long-distance relationships."
His brow purled, and his cybernetic irises flared along the circuitry. "What about...you know..."
"Yeah," she answered, and would confirm his every fear, "I left a note for him saying I came up here to spend some time with you."
"A note, yes. Cowardly, but..."
He stabbed a finger towards her. "Do you realize...?"
She nodded. "I'm sure right about now he's found it, crumpled it in his very large hand, swore both my name under his breath and then yours, then vowed to crush the little American for deflowering his daughter."
Flashes of yellow, angry Canadian quickly raced through his mind. Muscled, barbed, irritable, heavy-handed, less than a night's flight away, Lexington was suddenly less concerned about his girlfriend's safety at the hands of the Guild. "A-Are you intentionally trying to get me killed?"
"I flew for six hours straight for casual sex. If you have to deal with a very large gargoyle with over-developed paternal instincts, well..."
"Them's the breaks, huh?" he appropriately finished her thought with a defeated sigh, and set to stroke her arm before he realized it was the damaged appendage.
She mewled as both an involuntary reaction and as a warning. "Watch the arm, robotman," she scolded, "watch the arm."
"Sorry." he smiled, hoping it would be enough for an apology. "It's...it's good to see you. Now what the hell's going on?"
"Fox tried to commit suicide."
His jaw dropped open.
"She's all settled in, Mr. Xanatos."
Pierce's voice was a distant consideration. The billionaire had watched from the distance, and like a hawk, his wife being put back to where she belonged after her stunt, and her wounds, fortunately small and far from threatening, suitably dressed. "Mm hm."
But the doctor was more concerned about his hospital being turned into a police state, with Steel Clan guards posted at both doors to Fox's private suite and Mother on constant watch. His infirmary was the last untouched bastion of any control he had, of any safe haven without the visible indications of the war currently being fought.
He grimaced, and nodded his chin towards the sentries. "Those machines going to be here long?"
"Twenty four hours a day." Xanatos answered stone-faced. "Until Fox is cured, or we're forced to chain her to that bed."
"You have to see it from her side. If it were you lying in that bed, dying, and as proud as she is, you'd have the same feelings. Frailty, depression, watching everything of yourself, a Xanatos of all people, wither until you simply crumble, and vanish."
"If it were me in that bed, Fox would try anything in her power to ensure I wouldn't venture my life so thoughtlessly." He took a breath under Egyptian silk, his chest slowly inflating, and then falling twice as fast. It was an animal's snort, rife with the swelter of exhaustion. "Only fools measure pride over their lives."
Pierce stood alongside him, feigning concentration on his patient fiddling with the tubes and wires plugged back into her. But a few of those wretched thoughts were swimming, and trickling down to his mouth and the tip of his tongue; they were yearning to be voiced, and he was playing with a man that could have him killed, dumped and everything he is vanished from the public eye in less than a night. "I'm sure you've heard what happened with Delilah's baby." he mentioned, trying to keep his tone informal.
It was after all, just a simple conversation.
"My son was meddling where he shouldn't have been, yes."
"If what he pulled off wasn't a damned miracle, I'd be inclined to offer some parental advice."
Xanatos turned, and pushed him against the doorjamb with a sideways glare. He thought the doctor pretentious for his rank. "And just what advice could you possibly offer me?"
"Well, I'm sure with all the drudgery of running a multinational corporation and dealing with your wife, you've forgotten you watch your son." he deadpanned. "I suppose I don't have to tell you the power he wields is dangerous without constant supervision."
Xanatos turned back, to where Alexander was fussing over his mother. "No, doctor, you do not."
"Even someone as magically illiterate as I am, even I can see he's growing in skill to match the sheer reserves he has..."
The billionaire, and hence his employer held up a hand, a simple gesture to most, but with David Xanatos, it implied total silence. "Doctor Pierce," his tone was saturnine, "please...do the job you were hired for, and do not step outside those bounds." He allowed a pause between them, for his words to sink in and his context to linger. Then, "Are we understood?"
Pierce crossed his arms. "Perfectly."
"Trust me, doctor," father and son met each their glare from across the room, iron and emerald, defiance making sparks as would a sword scraping granite, "Alexander won't be causing you any more problems. He will be disciplined."
****************************************Epilogue, somewhere just outside of Newark
The epicenter of downtown New York had already faded to a few simple spires on the horizon.
An older woman, her face a roadmap of a hard life, etched with lines denoting every year, curled up near the tailgate against another, watching the buildings diminish into homes and then into rural areas, leaving behind that distant, shimmering monstrosity that had robbed her of her dignity.
Her small group huddled in the back of a pick-up truck and the crude shelter of it's fiberglass canopy, swathed in rags and piecemeal blankets, heading west on the 280 out of Manhattan and through New Jersey. They'd paid the driver with what little they were able to scrape together to take them as far as possible.
They'd lived in the shadows for the past three weeks, trying to survive, and sheltering their new and confused discovery from prying eyes of rescue workers offering aid to the homeless throughout the damaged sections of the city.
The unseen, the downtrodden, living on the scraps the rest of Manhattan threw out, they'd suffered the worst with the blow to the city's social structure. Shelters were hard-pressed to keep up with the thousands of recently homeless, hospitals overloaded with the wounded and malaise.
Thus, out of necessity, some were forced to leave.
Her companion shifted, and she shushed her, hoping to keep her out of sight and mind from the driver and his well-used rear mirror.
Poor thing, the old woman thought, a blank slate. True, the newest addition to their small family was strange in appearance, and had lost everything of what and who she was, but it just reinforced their bond. They were both forsaken, and found solace in the kindred. The others were naturally wary to accept the physical interpretation of every rumor they'd feared in every dark alleyway, but their de facto leader had quelled any doubt of her threat.
Using her knuckles, she gently prodded underneath the restive woman's hood, pulled down to disguise such alien features. Gently rising horns burst from her forehead and through her bangs, spiraled and antler-beige, and wings, caped around her shoulders beneath the cowl and cape.
Orange like the dusk sky, lissome, ethereal, and tight-lipped, the young female appeared a statue, until she shifted her eyes towards the intruder under her cloak.
"You awlright, dearie?"
"Fine." she answered, her voice an abstract of emotion and thought. She focused her dark gaze to the woman's, and they shared a half-smile.
"No. Temperature is a constant one hundred one point six degrees Fahrenheit."
The old woman nodded, and left the creature to her thoughts. "Awlright."
The gargoyle rubbed her talons along the hollow in her forehead as she often did, as if it would stimulate a random memory. But, maddeningly, there was nothing but cerebral ghosts and faint impressions that didn't offer much except to further the mystery of her identity.
Her metal form damaged in the battle with Sobek's magically created deities, the dent in her skull remained even when she turned back to flesh with the dying of the light. It was pressing against her brain, affecting memory. Her uniquely constructed bloodcells couldn't repair it, or, if they were succeeding, it was far too slow a process.
The truck hit a rough patch of road, and the ensuing shudder through the threadbare truck jarred her from her thoughts. The landscape had transformed from silver to mottled green. "Where are we going, Sophie?"
"Out of this place, dearie." the old woman replied, rubbing her hand against her young charge's taloned appendage. "Towards a better life."
She looked past Sophie, wistful eyes against the last building to slip beneath the skyline. She couldn't help wonder, that city had felt so unfamiliar, large and suffocating, but something, something she couldn't identify scratching at the inside of her soul had screamed at her not to leave. "A better life."