90 - "Investigations: Part 3"
Angela and Broadway strolled the avenue leading back as the most direct route to Nightstone.
Or more appropriately, allowed the avenue to guide them like a river would carry a stone. They were at the mercy of Broadway street and all its infamous ubiquity, seeing what most overlook, having taken for granted the subtle nuances of neon and script, glass, stone, steel and color that seemed, for humans, to blend together into a sense of daily normalcy.
Where all the rest of the world was an oddly fluidic chaos around them, their pace was unhurried, deliberate, two against the blur of sidewalk traffic enjoying the sun, the air and freedom of humanity.
Entwined around his arm, she was secure in the reassurance he offered for the first time in a month, and their agreement to take a re-established relationship slow had settled her doubts she would ever have this again. His warmth, his comfort, just him. "You know," she began, eyes sweeping across the road before her, "as many times as I think of home, I love this city. Muggers, mobsters and all."
It was that minimal, guarded conversation they had kept up since they left the restaurant, each keeping an indistinct partition between themselves for fear of getting too close. But still, it had purpose, if only to keep the dialogue going.
"It is home," Broadway clarified, "for me at least. Nowhere else in the world would I feel comfortable. Even going back to Scotland, the castle and cliffs staring out into the sea, it's too quiet, too dark, too haunted."
"It's truly become a part of us, hasn't it?"
"The energy, the excitement, Manhattan glows from above, it's alive, and it breathes."
"And the food." she reminded playfully.
His eyes couldn't help settle on the Szechwan, Chinese and Taiwanese restaurant signs, among the other exotics and American staples, interspersed down the street that seemed to end only when it faded into the horizon. "The food, yeah, the food." he grinned. "You know me too well. Mostly..."
"I've already proved just how much I know you."
"Yes, you have, haven't you?" he sighed, and it was nearly lost against the clatter. "Little details, facts and character traits, it's like some godawful game show where my every secret is posted up on a giant board in pretty computer graphics."
"And it's still not enough to convince you. I could reveal every bit of information about you and you still wouldn't believe me."
He shook his head. "It's not like that, and besides, I don't think you could."
A fine brow arched and she directed a sidelong glance at her mate. "Really?"
"You can't possibly know everything about me."
Her fingers went out and over the material of his jacket sleeve. Angela inspected her nails while rubbing her tongue across the clean enamel of her bottom teeth; it was the motion to a dare. "Care to make it interesting?"
"What do you have in mind?"
"Test me. And if I miss one question, just one, I'll fulfill your most sought after fantasy."
She could see his interest was piqued by the way he'd turned his head only just, perhaps to see the mischievous glint running through the onyx canvas of eyes reflecting the skyline. "You know the one."
"That fantasy." he breathed in disbelief, and until now it'd been a whimsy at best with the ever-present threat of maiming or death. Brows fluttered, thoughts quickly formulated in his mind, and he looked down at his mate; he thought he'd play along never realizing Angela was deadly serious. "You're on."
"Are we dead?"
"Dead people talk?"
"We could be ghosts."
"Ghosts aren't trapped in conveniently located deepfreezes as their limited supply of oxygen runs out."
"So what do we do? There could be several hundred tons of building on us."
"Put your feet up against the lid."
"I can't even see my feet."
"On three, ready?"
The heavy, insulated lid was thrown off by the force of their legs, and light suddenly filtered into the deepfreeze.
Both agents prepared themselves against what they thought could be an inferno having breached the security of their shelter, but harmless sunlight swept across their skin with an evident, and welcome, warmth.
Ford sighed in relief, "Thank God."
But Abel wasn't about to trust his survival to some spiritual being that often caused more grief than it alleviated, until, at least, he'd found a good reason why he and his partner were spared. He crawled out from the freezer and into what looked more like a war-zone than it ever had before; a scorched, burning landscape strewn with pieces of what used to be the apartment building that now, inexplicably, was sitting quite a ways from them.
When the explosive force of the bomb had impacted against the deepfreeze, it'd launched both it and its unusual passengers into the clear. They'd been blown fifty feet clear of the building and rolled another twenty.
Ford, standing upright in the large appliance, threw an exploratory glance around him. "Conveniently located." he muttered, and hopped out, following the senior agent. "Someone's looking down on us, Abel."
Sykes didn't reply, just stared headlong into the wreckage that had layered itself over the foundation.
"Think your old partner survived?"
"Joe knew exactly what he was doing." he answered, voice grave and seeking any kind of entrance into the rickety, haphazard bastion created by five existing floors that had come tumbling down. "He never would have thrown that grenade if he didn't have a way out."
"What about the kid?"
"Joseph Hawkins could never hurt his own son." He sounded as if he was trying to convince himself of that very fact. "Never."
Ford blinked through the revelation, understanding now why the young man had been so intent on reaching the man he'd just dined with. But seeing the devastation, he shook his head in disbelief that anything could have lived through it.
He thought the earlier blow to his head had really screwed up his eyesight, considering he was seeing several hundred pounds of debris seemingly floating above as he lay face-up on the floor. It was all just lying there, motionless, and ready to drop at any moment.
Memories were jumbled.
His father had stopped firing, pulled something from inside of his coat and threw it up the staircase.
Silence, then panic-stricken footsteps above, a rush of air, then fire, and then the building shook on its moorings and came apart at the nails and grain. He remembered throwing his arms above him, awaiting the inevitable.
I should be dead, a singular thought strayed through his mind, and Todd lifted his shoulders from the cold concrete floor and sat up. "...maybe I am..." he mumbled, and shot another upward look just to be sure.
The red haze that had partially obscured his vision, the matted blood, had disguised the thin layer of energy keeping all of that from plummeting down on top of him. A forcefield; Todd had seen enough of them to recognize the energy signature.
"Move against the wall."
His father's voice, deep and impassive, drew his eyes. Standing just beneath the sharply angled plane with his arm outstretched to make contact with the surface, his father had pocketed them both under a forty-five degree slant of energy running from wall to floor.
"Move against the wall."
Todd did what he was ordered, if only not to be crushed. He dragged himself towards the foundation wall as his father did the same, pulling the forcefield inwards and allowing the debris to skim from the surface. It fell, a roar of tumbling wreckage that hit the rest of the building's remains just inches from where he was propped against the wall and Black disengaged the barrier with a simple gesture to a slim, armored gauntlet on his arm that, up until now, was hidden under both his shirt and trenchcoat's long sleeves.
"...neat toy..." Todd groaned, shielding his eyes from the sunlight and portions of open sky.
Black focused his attention on his son. "Thanks."
"Your old partner was up there." He motioned upwards with his head. "What about Sykes?"
"He's probably dead."
Todd's face registered blatant contempt. "How can you be so goddamned callous?!" he seethed disbelievingly.
"Practice. You'd be surprised how losing almost everything can make your soul numb to sentiment."
"He's dead, he's fucking dead!" His statement, however delivered, created a contrary effect in his adversary's expression; as much as his was hateful, his father's was completely detached. And then, Black turned his back on him. "Don't you care?!"
Waiting for the opportunity, Todd ran forwards in seeing his opening, the slight if not noticeable lowering of Black's guard and he swung a wildly directed fist.
The older man had heard him, dodged the clenched hand, whirled around and directed his elbow into Todd's head with near bone-shattering force. He knew the symptoms of a concussion when he saw one, and with his son's sluggish defense, taking the full brunt of his blow, knew he was suffering the effects.
Todd dropped like the proverbial stone to his knees, and wavered before falling onto his hands.
"Don't," Black hissed, "try that again."
Breathing flame and heavily, Todd's eyes smoldered as he turned. "I never thought the man who claimed to be my father...would kill one of his own friends."
Something crooked traveled the line of his mouth. "Neither did I," he said, "but like I keep saying, I'm not your father anymore."
Todd bowed his head and pressed the palm of his hand to the congealed mass of blood near his hairline, the wound slowly clotting, and then, noticed something. Dull black with a long silver body, one of the weapons used to shred half of the ceiling was lying several feet from him under a plank, and flitting his eyes from Black and back to the gun several times, he suddenly threw out an arm.
Black had seen it, moved for it, but Todd was too close and too quick.
He clasped to the stock and led the long barrel to a deliberate, retaliatory spot between his father's eyebrows, and it seemed to settle perfectly of its own desire. "Then maybe I should kill you."
Black never flinched even under the barrel of his own gun; there was a certain quality that made a murderer and his boy didn't quite have it. "It takes more than a steady hand and a bit of repressed rage to consciously deprive someone of his life, son. And you don't even have a steady hand."
"Stop calling me that!" he screamed. "You don't have the right to call me that!!"
"I have every right."
"You ran out on me just like my mother!!"
"I thought you were dead." Black replied calmly, even as the targeting laser wobbled in place on his forehead. "You and Rose, you were my world, and when I lost that...I died myself. But I don't expect you to understand."
Todd kept the aim true, but his hand couldn't keep the gun from shaking. It was heavier than he thought it'd be.
His eyes running the entire length, Black caressed the weapon with something of a connoisseur's admiration. "That's a heavyweight Super VP-8. There's enough firepower in that thing to blow out the back of my skull." He leaned in, offering a clean shot, and looked down upon his would-be executioner. "Kill me. This will be your last chance I assure you."
Todd struggled against the increasing weight of his choice.
"Do it." he urged him on, even with a matching weapon in his right hand and under the threat of death. "Pull the trigger."
Nothing; still just the piercing stare and an increasingly trembling hand.
"Do it, do it! Come on, son, now's the perfect chance to rid yourself of all that anger you've buried deep down inside you by blowing my head from my shoulders. It'll feel good, scream theatrically, watch your life pass before your eyes and off your old man."
Todd's lip curled up, showing teeth pressing into his bottom lip. He was that close.
He'd swear, sometime later when his mind would reflect back on it, the bullets discharged before he even pulled the trigger. Todd fired the heavy weapon directly at his father, exploding violently in his hand with a kickback he didn't expect and he kept yanking on the trigger intent on emptying the entire clip.
Black never blinked, never moved, even as several of the projectiles had grazed the skin; he'd felt the shadows of the bullets sear thin trails of heat into his face and gust the long, salt-and-peppered vines of hair, most of them becoming holes in the remnants of the foundation wall behind him.
And not one had hit.
In the backlash of shrapnel and cement powder, Black smiled as Todd kept pulling the trigger on an empty clip a few more times. Then, as the boy realized he'd missed, or, more truthfully, his own disloyal conscience hadn't allowed him to hit the target, lowered his hand. "Not so easy, is it?"
Through distorted, teary eyes, Todd could do nothing but stare at him, then lower his head in defeat.
Red lenses shone in the dim-lit corridor, watching his approach.
Jason wheeled slowly between the two metal behemoths single-mindedly programmed to guard the door to Fox's private suite, and from his vantage point, they seemed even larger than the rest of the common models stored in the Eyrie hangar. The Steel Clan sentries turned their heads and eyed the majordomo as he rolled past them and into the room. And, with the somber milieu, Jason immediately became aware of that faint, almost indiscernible whine his wheels made and slowed his pace, but realized there was nothing he could do to keep quiet short of pushing himself from his chair and crawling the rest of the way to her bed.
Sitting at her bedside, he watched her take shallow breaths as several intravenous drips kept feeding her medicine, that, in all their potency, were only delaying the inevitable.
The woman had been a creature of pure exoticism. As if Titania herself had birthed a plume of fire that took a woman's shape, she'd lived a nonstop life of self-gratification until motherhood loomed on the horizon, and then, serious lessons in humility were learned, painfully and swiftly.
And now, barely a hundred pounds, her bones showing through exposed skin, she labored to breathe. A color-rich silk scarf had been tied around her bare scalp to disguise the fact her hair had almost completely fallen out, vain in some aspects, but it was mostly to preserve what dignity she had left.
Still, even in illness, Jason admired her. "Fox..." he whispered.
The prone body stirred, and an anxious, irritable purr emitted from her throat.
"I'm sorry to disturb you, but I need your help."
She opened her eyes, and above jutting cheekbones pale skin colored with a reflective viridian. A stern gaze seemed to scrutinize the visitor at her side, and disappointment perhaps, flitted through in the fact it wasn't her husband or son. "Mr. Canmore..." she wheezed, and raised an emaciated hand in greeting. "What...can I do for you?"
"I want to speak with you about your better half."
"You want to know what my husband is up to." Fox beat him to the punch.
He went to speak, but all Jason could manage was a surprised look.
A laugh was attempted, but it came out as an uneven, withering gasp. "You don't think...I haven't noticed? His behavior of late has been...quite odd."
"Then tell me what he's doing." he said.
She shook her head on the pillow, the scarf rustling with the movement. "I can't."
"Out of loyalty to your husband?"
"No," she shrugged, "I don't know."
"I'm concerned, evidence is slowly building up against him, his reputation and his assurances to the contrary."
"Doctored recordings and falsified records, Mother's subtle reprogramming, the failure of the Eyrie defensive shield and his disappearance during the Guild battle, millions of dollars diverted into inaccessible funds, half the Xanatos Enterprises naval fleet deployed on secretive maneuvers. I was trusted to protect both the interests of XE and the clan and I believe both are in danger."
Despite the running tally, loyalty was loyalty, and her trust in her husband went beyond simple wedding vows. "David...wouldn't do anything to hurt the clan...if that is what you are implying..."
"Are you absolutely sure?"
"He made a promise." she hissed, quickly turning on an earlier admission in order to defend her husband's reputation. Her voice had not broken; neither had it succumbed to the breathless, intermittent pattern of speech associated with her weakened condition. "And you'd do well to remember that. David Xanatos...does not break his promises."
"What if he was forced to?" Jason posed, and her response however subtle was revealing.
The green against the dark indigo ink of her tattoo simmered, and Fox changed position underneath the sheets. "He's one of the most...powerful men in the world..."
"And because of his association with the gargoyles, one of the most besieged." he answered, and offered a bit of truth he thought she was blinding herself to. "Come now, Fox, we both know there're outside forces more powerful and manipulative than your husband could ever hope to be, including your own mother. To believe David Xanatos is above any equal in this world is foolish, and to believe he isn't vulnerable is lethal."
She sighed, "Too true."
"Then help me."
Fox slowly turned over, facing the opposite direction. "I'm in...no shape to do so."
He sighed in frustration, and smoothed a hand across his brow. He knew she was dodging the fact and very idea that her husband would succumb to any such mundane frailty, so he thought he'd play hardball. "His hands shake, his appetite has decreased, he doesn't sleep, and earlier, he kicked over my wheelchair while I was still in it. Something is wrong."
But she didn't react.
"Of course, there's Alexander."
Fox flipped over and shot him an acidic glance, giving him the reaction he expected. "Don't bring him into this!"
"His respect for his father seems to have evaporated, hasn't it?" Jason continued. "He avoids him almost completely, even with his father's attempts to reach out. Your son has a special ability to see what no one else can, and I wonder...if he can see his own father's duplicity."
If she could reach him, or muster the strength to swipe a hand at him she would've, but the remaining wisp of that burst of anger merely seeped out in a sigh. If there was a weakness among the Xanatoses, it was, ironically, the parcel of genes between them that could crack the planet. "He...he isn't acting like himself." Fox answered tentatively. "Whenever he comes to see me, he's...short-tempered, restless, and he avoids my eyes."
He nodded. "Like he's guilty. Like he feels responsible for your illness."
"Maybe you're the lynchpin. You and Alexander, his most valuable and exploitable resource."
"If you are implying that I was poisoned...!" she started with a shout, and then, tapered off into her own sense of reason, and an animal cunning; she'd often been able to sniff out lies, and her father had awarded her the nickname of his 'little Fox' at the tender age of twelve. "The thought had...crossed my mind. A mysterious, incurable disease...David would go to the ends of the Earth to find a treatment," another strenuous breath, "he'd pull every doctor from every corner of the globe...but my only savior is apparently intended to be the lone and overworked doctor Pierce."
He relaxed his chin into a reclining hand, looking at her. An unsaid supplication swimming in his eyes, Fox weighed her choices and the price of blind fidelity.
"You're asking me to betray him."
"I'm asking you to help him, if that is indeed the case." Jason assured her. "He disappears for hours at a time, but never leaves the building. Even if I could get access to his private files from his office terminal, I doubt he'd be sloppy enough to leave any relevant information there. There must be somewhere else..."
"He calls it...his vault..." she disclosed, and quietly, remorsefully. "It's a structural hollow...in the middle of the Eyrie..."
"How do I get there?"
"You don't." she smiled bitterly. "No one does...except for David. Even I've never been there."
Jason leaned into the leather backing of his chair, his gaze off and distant.
"I'm sorry to...bring your hunt to such an abrupt end..."
"On the contrary, Fox," he smiled, "you've been a great help. It's just that every corner I turn seems to lead to more...questions..." Roaming eyes had come across the door and a small figure at the threshold doing his best to conceal himself against the silhouette of one of the Steel Clan.
Alexander would have effectively blended in with the absence of any bright light, but the unkempt, scarlet mane that hung low and just grazed his eyebrows stuck out like a well-lit fire. The boy, chewing on a fingernail with the impression of every young, timid child, had sensed someone else in the suite with his mother and with a quick scan, was ensuring it wasn't his father before he entered.
But as soon as he and Jason made eye contact the young sorcerer bolted, and the majordomo gripped his wheels and followed.
"Feel better? Get all that rage out of you, son?"
Todd snapped his head up, and gave the man above him a murderous look. There, in his eyes the color of stormy ocean sky, lay revulsion, and most of all and dangerous, anger.
"Ah," Black nodded, "I see it's still there."
"As far as I'm concerned it'll always be there."
"But not enough to kill over."
"You sure about that?"
That ocean churned in his son's inherited gaze, and he was never one to underestimate the power anger held over the most rational of men. "Well, just don't take it out on your mother."
"And what the hell do you care?!"
Black rushed forwards and, before Todd could scramble away in his lethargic condition, grabbed the young man around the throat. "I loved Rose, more than anything in this world, and don't you dare say otherwise!!"
"And what'll...she think of you now..." Todd struggled for breath as fingers pressed into his gullet, but still, the ragged voice was suffused with his unique sense of humor. "Hubby's become a killer."
Riled, Black hauled Todd from his feet and into the air, and then threw him into the pile of debris like a rag doll. He watched his son hit, roll and tumble to a stop against a support beam. "I don't care what she thinks."
He groaned, and then locked his volatile stare against his father's in a challenge with the only weapon at his disposal. "Then let's ask her..." Todd drawled, pulling a cellphone from inside his jacket and holding it up to the light. "I'm sure she'd love to hear from the husband she hasn't seen in twenty years."
For the first time during their encounter, the glib, enigmatic Mr. Black had nothing to say. Enthralled by the phone, by the actual and only chance to touch what he'd lost, there was a moment where the Guild, the war, the hatred all vanished in the face of that damned phone and the chance it offered.
He raised his gun in his right hand, took only a second to perfect his aim and shot the cellphone from out of Todd's hand.
The small device shattered against his bare skin, and he rolled over, clutching to the appendage and howling in pain. "FUCK!!!"
"Nice try." Black chortled, every word a breath that strummed the gun-barrel's gossamer trail of smoke. He traversed the debris field and stood over his son writhing in pain, curled up in a fetal position and face down, snarling into a floorboard. As his son fought through the pain, he watched for a time with an old, tested sense of paternal pride renewed, and though it was kept on a low simmer with every one of his daughter's small victories over her illness, this was a father looking upon his son. "Looking for vulnerabilities, I am impressed."
"Since when is Rose a vulnerability?!" Todd growled back, cradling his hand. "She's your wife!"
"Yes, she was."
"If you're hoping for some kind of sentimental reunion between mother and father, you're in for a serious disappointment. It's far too late for any of that."
For a moment, his gaze softened, and for a moment, the whistle of an incoming projectile didn't register.
Black's right shoulder suddenly erupted in pain as his jacket tore open and a thin umbilical of blood followed the bullet's trail. Clutching to the wound oozing over fine leather, he whirled on the gunman only to lose his balance and lurch to the side, eventually collapsing to the ground.
Looking up, two guns urgently held him to the ground.
Sykes and Ford trained their Glocks on the fallen former agent, Abel especially livid.
Black shifted his gaze towards his weapon, but Sykes moved forwards and stepped on his injured shoulder, eliciting a low, forcefully muffled grunt.
"Don't even think about it, Joe."
"Favorite ice cream."
"Mint chocolate chip."
"A tie between Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and the original Scarface."
Broadway narrowed his gaze at her precision that seemed eerily dead on, and she responded with a deliberate smirk before turning her attention to the entrance of Nightstone Unlimited.
As soon as she stepped from the gold-rimmed revolving door, a perceptible hush fell over the lobby.
Angela's stride only faintly slowed in response as she approached the reception desk, and as he observantly roamed the foyer and the employees, they seemed to lower their heads and quicken their pace with the boss in the room. Broadway wandered behind her and instantly, was drawn to the wall behind the receptionist and the sprawling, vivid mural with Todd Hawkins' signature adorned in the bottom right corner, one of a few Demona had commissioned several years ago.
"Hello, miss Destine-Maza." the young woman behind the counter looked up, and handed Angela several letter-sized, manila folders. "I have the latest reports from the department heads for you to look at."
Angela retrieved the files and was about to walk away until...
"And miss Cartier has asked to speak with you."
"Oh," she could barely contain her apathy, "joy."
The receptionist gave her another hard look. But there was a shared mirth in her warm stare; it seemed the employees owned a similar opinion when speaking of one of Nightstone's most influential board members. "Your mother often had the same tone."
The young CEO responded with an interrogative expression.
"And that exact same look."
Angela waved the files in her hand as her appreciation and led Broadway to the set of elevators sheathed in a wall of gray speckled granite. A door fortuitously opened as they approached, and the unloading employees stopped upon seeing her, and like the Red Sea and the legend that surrounded it, parted their small crowd into two perfect halves.
She sighed in frustration as the elevator proficiently and mutely emptied around her, then allowed Broadway to enter the cab, hit the button for the top floor and stepped back alongside her mate.
"They're frightened of you." he observed.
"Mother's legacy." She started leafing through the files, and after reading for a few minutes, her features darkened slightly.
Broadway noticed from the corner of his eye. "Bad news?"
"Odd. There were several money transfers that were unaccounted for in last month's audit and review."
Her gaze gradually tapered as she read down the page, looking over the accounting department's figures. "They've been supposedly routed into R and D, but there's a discrepancy. And knowing my mother and her penchant for mistrust, nothing could get past her without being incredibly well planned out."
Broadway crossed his arms, wearing a smirk. "Maybe someone's getting a little bold without your mother here to intimidate the employees."
"And maybe I should speak with miss Cartier." Angela replied, closing the file and holding in front of her stomach. "I'd hate to see this company ruined in Demona's absence."
"This company was once used as a front to help destroy us and the whole of humanity."
"And now it is one of the leading manufacturers in the country. Mother did her part to turn it into something beneficial rather than destructive–"
"Because it was profitable."
"Because she made a promise. To me." she emphasized, a hand over her heart. "And a lot of people now rely on the products and services Nightstone provides and the funding and numerous charities it finances. And I have to have faith that she believed in what she was doing."
Broadway turned his head to look at her, observing her in an unnatural environment in which she seemed to be adapting better than he thought. "You wear your role well."
"Hard to believe you hesitated for three days in opening a window."
"I was afraid, I suppose."
"Of falling into the role expected of me, and that that role would eventually follow the same path my mother's did. But all I really have to do is baby-sit for a while." Angela harrumphed. "It was Demona who built this company from the ground up, and it's Demona who'll return to it in the same condition it was."
"If she returns in the same condition."
"She will." Her eyes roaming the elevator's interior, Angela caught her reflection in one of the chrome strips between the panels of tight-grained, Brazilian rosewood and as always, seeing that human face affixed her gaze. She noticed a few strands that had worked their way loose from her braid and brushed them behind her ear, then slowly, pensively, trailed her fingertips down the rest of her face. Strange, such obtuse features, no forehead crest that pronounced her heritage, a lack of wing or tail... "Broadway."
"Do you find me attractive in this form?"
He moved his eyes to the mirror image just slightly wrinkled with the subtle imperfections in the surface. Of six and a half billion humans on the planet, she blew them all away. "Yes." he admitted.
"I was just wondering. You sounded so sincere at the restaurant, and you did agree to the bet."
Broadway knew where this was going.
"Plaited sable hair, depthless eyes," Angela repeated, and he squirmed under his own poetic declaration, "lavender skin the color of the sky just as we awaken, an exquisite wingspan and length of tail. I see fire, passion, warmth. Were those just words then?"
Broadway grabbed her, fiercely, and she was spun on her heels in front of him; it was almost misunderstood as an offering. "No."
She grabbed his turtleneck at the chest; tiny human extremities clenched into the fabric, the rounded ends of her nails skimming the skin beneath. Reduced in stature and walking on the flats of her feet, she'd lost considerable height with the transformation and had to stand on her tiptoes to reach her mouth to his own, and nip with blunted teeth at the stubble just forming under the skin.
He found himself unexpectedly reluctant and raised his chin slightly. "Angela...wait..."
She released a lungful of air, "I know," and acquiesced, "I'm moving too fast–"
"No, it's just..."
Her breath along the strong lines of his jaw and this diaphanously human skin was arousing him to no end, like fire, like spice; he was suddenly hungry again.
A rumble involuntarily and tellingly passed through his throat. "Angela." he moaned.
His mate had had the unfortunate reputation as being prim, and proper, with a conservative upbringing under a tenth century princess, but he knew better. She could smolder when she wanted to; her eyes would melt, molten obsidian catching enough stray light to shimmer against the encompassing darkness; her mouth would twist into suggestive and silent words and promises; a shimmy would pass evocatively through her flesh, muscles tightening and relaxing under his touch so much as to tease him into willful abandon.
Their first night under a Manhattan crescent moon.
Dancing across the silver mantle of cloud on their mating flight.
Fireworks and the fourth of July.
This was the Angela only he knew, behind closed doors and secure in their privacy she seemed more like her mother in the best possible way. Heights of pleasure he never thought possible she had helped him, helped them reach.
And even in this frail human cloak, she was as animal as she has ever been.
But something still held him back.
"It's been so long, Broadway," she whispered heavy with breath, seeing his resolve wane, "an entire month without you, without your touch, and during the breeding season. It was so hard..."
"I-It's my fault, I know." he stuttered.
"I don't want to assign blame anymore. I just want things the way they should have been."
Broadway slid his hands to either side of her face and through those wayward sable strands. Expectancy played through her features. Lips grazed against the others, breath was mingling, and the scent of her was more than he could bear.
One kiss, lightly, to her lips as a test.
Then another, and she bit at him, eager to extend the sensation of having his mouth on hers. So eager in fact, her teeth drew blood along the bottom of his lip.
But Broadway either didn't seem to notice or care; hooked by the first intimate contact the kiss deepened, and the larger male pushed against the slight woman in his arms. The file folders dropped to the floor and Angela had nowhere to go but back, against the cab wall and with enough speed to hit the veneer with an audible gasp of shock and pleasure at the passion of it all.
She was delirious, drowning, her partner willing, beyond thought and all the subsequent doubt and far too ferocious to be human.
She was lifted from her feet as Broadway's massive arms enveloped her midsection, and he hungrily fed at her jawline and neck, moving his way down between the lapels of her blouse and the black lace of her bra. She snarled and laughed and snapped at the ceiling, slow-burning bliss carried on her feral mewls and pulled his head closer to her breast, grateful for the chance to have this again.
She arched her back to press as much as herself against him. "Broadway." her words were a smoky whisper, a plea in a voice not too proud to beg. "Oh...Broadway, oh!"
His hand ran the outer edge of her thigh, searching, grasping beneath the hem of her skirt that kept moving upwards towards her waist and she whimpered with desire. Her scent had bloomed with the flush running through her bronze-complexioned skin; even by human standards it was powerful enough to elicit his response. Only one creature had this kind of hold over him.
This was, by every means at his disposal to confirm, Angela, and he was running out of excuses to think otherwise.
She was grinding against him, lost and unawares the elevator was slowing. "Broadway!"
"Ah–!" she choked at the noise, eyes shot open and their refuge had eroded back into the real world. "B-Broadway..." she gasped, and felt the tremor of the elevator coming to rest at the top floor.
"Shit...!" he snarled into her neck.
Angela slumped against his heaving shoulders, allowed herself a respite before the fact of opening doors and a public that would undoubtedly spread the rumor through the entire building awakened her from the stupor.
Broadway stepped back and landed her to the ground, and she quickly lowered her skirt, straightened her suit jacket and timed her breaths. Lashes fluttered over eyes to clear them of the near-narcotic haze and she stood rigidly as the doors opened.
Her mother's personal assistant was at the threshold, with a wide, adolescent gaze that imperceptibly widened at what greeted her: a few hairs out of place, a fading flush to her cheeks and the large man behind her straightening his jacket. She stifled a smile. "Miss Destine-Maza." she received her new employer.
The way this young girl stood at attention, a comparison to Owen Burnett ran ephemerally through Angela's mind. It was unnatural, and somewhat humbling. "I didn't expect to be greeted at the elevator."
"The first floor called up."
She nodded. "As per your mother's orders. She wants this company to run like a–"
"Well-oiled machine." Angela broke in and resumed the rest of her statement word for word. "Yes, I've heard the same lecture."
Candace moved her gaze down and saw the files abandoned helplessly near Broadway's feet.
The large man, presumably the husband she'd only heard about in office gossip, awkwardly darted his eyes around.
"I dropped them." Angela hurriedly explained.
There'd been a knowing shine of something in the girl's eye ever since the elevator hit the top floor, and with all the evidence placed cleanly before her, it wasn't hard to deduce what had happened behind the closed sterling doors. It was something she'd never expect from the elder Destine. "Allow me."
"But, it's..." Before Angela could finish her gentle protest, Candace hastened past her and set to collect the spilled papers. "...all right." The assistant handled the files like she was shuffling a deck of cards, inserting the documents into the proper folders with barely a glance at fragments of text. And she immediately understood how this delicate young thing had stayed so long in her mother's employ; anyone looking to climb the Nightstone corporate ladder had to impress the gargoyle by night with not only, needless to say, absolute devotion, but a little something extra.
Candace stood up, offered the files to Angela and waited for them to exit the cab ahead of her.
"Thank you." Angela nodded politely, and quickly walked out with Broadway on her tail.
"Is there anything else?"
"No, thank you." she promptly dismissed her assistant, still feeling the heat of Broadway's lingering touch spreading across her damnably receptive skin. "Take the rest of the day off, with my blessing."
"Are you sure?" the assistant asked.
"Yes!" Her pace quickened towards the double doors at the end of the wide corridor, and she cursed under her breath at the length of the hall that seemed to stretch from one end of the building to the other. Approaching the entrance to her mother's office, her hand immediately shot up towards the security keypad but couldn't quite punch in the correct code. "Come on," she condemned her uncooperative dexterity, "come on."
Broadway stood expectantly behind her, sending hot, quick breaths against her neck and it didn't quite help the process.
"Breathing on me."
He leaned closer, into the breadth of velvet and sable that had barely survived the previous mauling and was loosening from the tight braid. "I'm breathing on you?"
Her shoulders shifted, and suddenly the clothing seemed tight, suffocating, especially with the wisps of warm air being sent down her back. Her flesh was goosebumping. "Yes."
Stumbling fingers at last entered the proper code and to Angela's relief, the doors unlocked and both she and Broadway nearly fell into the office.
A swift, strong hand caught her arm, swerved her around and into the decorative pillar standing floor to ceiling near the doors. "Don't be." she growled and met him, throwing her arms around his neck and firmly slanting her mouth across his, and they resumed the kiss that had nearly warped the wood and peeled the chrome from inside of the elevator cab.
Coming up for breath after several minutes, she freed a heavy growl into his neck. His hands were clutching her shoulders enough to bruise the skin and numb her to anything but the deliciousness of his contact.
"D-Do you?" she asked on a shaken, short-winded exhale.
Her elusive question notwithstanding, Broadway knew by the ravenous look exactly what she was implying. A moment of indecision, then, "Yes."
"Are you sure?"
He made a quick and panting scan of his surroundings, until dark eyes fixated on a single point. "Certain."
The leather loveseat soused in afternoon sun and blushing a deep mahogany red, the plush carpeting beneath their feet, several unexplored rooms on either side of the cathedral Demona had the audacity to call her office; anything would have been a better place but what had been firmly implanted in Broadway's mind.
Angela followed his intense, devilish gaze towards the monolith of oak and varnish situated against the curtained window. "The desk..."
"But our bet isn't finished–"
"I don't care."
He scooped her from the floor with one swift motion and carried her to the desk. Using his free hand, he swept the calendar, penholder, letter trays and any other accessory from the oil-slick surface and cleared a path for their wantonly tangled forms.
An arm shot out from under him. "Be careful! The computer!"
"Got it." Broadway ensured the monitor and keyboard a soft landing to the floor, letting it roll and tumble from his arm and hand and returned his attentions to the woman struggling from her business suit.
As Angela wriggled from her clothes underneath him, his fantasy had begun to take form.
The boy was light on his feet, and Jason was humbled by how fast he could push his hands across the spoked wheels at his sides. He was keeping good pace with the young heir through most of the Eyrie floor until he suddenly veered left, and where any normal human would've collided with the wall, he slipped through, changing his own molecular structure as easily as anyone else would snap their fingers.
Jason allowed his chair to ride the momentum until it rolled to a dead stop in the middle of the hall, and hurriedly looked around him. "Damn." he whispered, impressed. "Alex!"
No answer, but something itching at the base of his neck told him he was being watched.
"Please, I need your help."
There was an odd vibration, and then, "I don't wanna." a young voice echoed through every wall, orifice and embellishment.
Mildly disturbed, his keen hunter's sense unable to discern a source of the voice, Jason continued, "Just talk to me."
"You know there's something wrong with your daddy. I need you to help me figure out what it is."
First a few tufts of hair appeared in the royal blue paint about three feet from the ground, then a forehead, eyes, nose, lips and chin; a chubby visage almost like a true-to-life ceramic mask peered at the wheelchair-bound hunter from the wall opposite where he'd first disappeared. "Why?"
Jason turned around and reacted predictably, with a shudder. "I want to help him."
Alexander walked through and drew near. "Why?"
"You tell me."
His dissecting stare bored right through the man, and then, satisfied Jason wasn't lying, dropped his eyes to the floor. "He scares me..." he whispered. "He's doin' bad things..."
"How do you know?"
"I jus' do."
He was adamant, and Jason didn't press further. "Do you know where your daddy goes?"
"Where the bad man is?"
He perked up. "The bad man?"
Alexander rubbed the back of his head, and his eyes seemed to glint. "He whispers in my head."
"There's a place I need to get to, down in the middle of the building and only you can get me there."
Looking beneath him, seemingly penetrating through the floor and all the stories below, Alexander was visibly reluctant.
"Only you can get me down there, Alex. Please."
He raised a small hand and pulled Jason's chair towards him in order to engulf them both in a sphere of energy, and the majordomo felt an odd tingle pass through his skin as he came apart at the molecular level. His raised his hand and watched it unravel, every atom releasing from his being continuing down his arm and then, instantly, everything turned a brilliant green. "What areee yyooooouuuuuu......."
His vision blurred, the deep cobalt of the painted walls replaced with shimmering steel and Jason found himself transported to somewhere he'd never seen. "...doing." He swore entire floors passed before his eyes in the time it took to blink. "Where are we?
"Th' bad man's place."
High ceilings, and an almost antiseptic white pallor, the chamber was massive. "Is this the vault?"
Alexander didn't answer; he was too intent on a familiar aura he could at last, after an entire month of being cut off, sense. "Uncle Owen...?"
There, in the corner strapped to a hospital gurney, Owen Burnett and the Puck swapped places, flickering in and out of each persona.
Whereas the small boy ran to his caretaker, Jason raised his head and took interest in a self-proclaimed deity hung by each appendage to a massive steel ring above him. "Dear god..." he gasped, eyes wide to the droning contraption suspended from the ceiling, and the lifeless, haggard gargoyle trapped within. He knew her from the description given. "Infiniti."
Sunken eyes opened halfway, and she tried to warn him, "...human..." she gagged her reply. "Behind you..."
"What...?" He turned in time only to be engulfed within a shadow deformed beyond even that of a gargoyle. Skin decaying or missing altogether; an exposed, distorted, glistening musculature; bony, armored plates forming a rudimentary exo-skeleton; hauntingly backlit and looming over the gaping human, Sobek pinned him down with empty eyes within a skull-like plate of bone.
Jason was virtually immobile with the sheer horror of this thing having successfully concealed itself here for so long. "Good god..."
He tried to move, but with his limited mobility was unable to escape a hand reaching towards him.
Sobek lunged forward and clutched a massive, clawed hand around the human's face, talons embedding themselves in pliant flesh and drawing blood from each tip in thin runnels. Before Alexander's petrified gaze Jason struggled against the appendage, tearing at the forearm that began to lift him from his chair.
"You were foolish to come here, human," the mutant rasped, "and are far too arrogant for your own good. The pieces are neatly, obediently, unknowingly in place, and you would introduce a level of chaos I cannot afford!"
Sobek looked over his bony, spiked shoulder, to the child standing defiantly at Owen's bedside with an outstretched hand. "And the boy."
Small, splayed fingers engendered a small bead of fay energy, growing and crackling against his palm. "Don't hurt him!"
"What will you do, child? You know very well you cannot injure me...at least not without harming yourself."
Recognition, of what the result would be with a full out release of his powers, fluttered through his features. He knew the murmurs in his skull and soul were Sobek's own, he knew with an awareness beyond mortal comprehension of just what itched at his skin: their intimate link in which they shared personal injury.
"We are joined, and I cannot die."
The energy bled away into the air, and Alexander dropped his hand. "Don't hurt him."
Tendons pulled away to reveal fanged teeth. A twist of his wrist, and Jason's neck snapped; the body went limp and all resistance ceased. He opened his hand and the body fell to the ground with a clang that shuddered along the titanium walls.
Alexander stared in disbelief.
"Now, what to do with you..."
Alexander caught a backward glance at his mentor and caretaker and then, suddenly, before the creature could react, formed a sphere around himself and charged towards Jason's prone form.
"Listen to me, child!" Sobek screamed, moving towards him. "You may escape, and try to warn your precious clan, but if you tell anyone your mother will assuredly die."
The young boy stopped in his tracks.
"I and I alone have the cure, even your vaunted abilities cannot help her. Ruin my plans and I will let her rot away to nothing!"
Alexander weighed his options, then expanded the energy field, touched his hands to Jason and vanished with only a rush of air to fill the vacuum and wisp of steam left in his place.
Sobek stood to his full height and howled at the ceiling, knowing he could hear. "She'll die, I promise you!!!"
He was so intent on getting away from the monster that he nearly overshot the Eyrie floor from where they'd started; they could have ended up a hundred feet above the castle. Melting through the steel structure and floorboards, the sphere dissipated and both Jason and his wheelchair plunged lifelessly to the linoleum. Alexander clamped a hand to the slowly cooling majordomo and imbued his entire body with a healing energy, repositioning and mending bones, fusing his spinal cord back together where the vertebrae had sheared it in two, sending several thousand volts of electricity through his heart and brain, and, while he was at it, selectively erasing certain memories.
Jason's eyes shot open. His spinal column was no longer jutting against his skin, and he gasped for breath.
"It's all right." Alexander assured him.
"Wha...w-what happened...?" he choked out, and focused on the young child perched expectantly near him. "Alex...?"
"You fell outta your chair."
Bewildered, Jason started rubbing his neck, mysteriously sore. "I did?"
Propped up with an arm, Jason looked at his chair and wondered how, for the first time ever since he was paralyzed, he could actually fall out. "I don't remember...I was...coming to speak with you and then, it all goes blank..."
"I know..." Alexander whispered under his breath.
Jason lifted up and dragged himself towards his wheelchair, and, using the armrest and above-average upper body strength, pulled back into the seat. "I should go and speak with your mother..."
"No." The boy sorcerer's eyes suffused with ghostly light, and his voice hollowed. "You're goin' t' your office."
"I'm...going to my office." Jason repeated the words in a trance-like state, until Alexander was convinced he was no longer a threat to his mother. He shook off the fog in his mind, and grasped his wheels. "I should get back to my office. Excuse me, Alex."
Alexander watched him go, then hovered a few inches above the floor and floated away down the hall.
"Sloppy." he said to himself. "Damned sloppy."
He'd been so careful until today, twenty years of using the shadows both literal and figurative. Until seeing his son and doing the unthinkable of treating him to lunch, then running into an old friend two decades unseen and allowing a pair of government flunkies to get so close. Black had been arrested, handcuffed, thrown in the back of an FBI cruiser and escorted under heavy guard to Manhattan General where his shoulder could be tended to under the basis of a criminal's right to medical treatment.
Perfect, he thought.
In a secluded room far from any patients, he was under the gun of several agents, including Sykes and Ford, while a physician and her orderly ministered to his bullet wound.
His son watched from outside with two more guards he could just see on either side of the wire-mesh-reinforced window, gaze burning a hole through the glass.
His examination continued, of the distant little room with one exit and most especially, the guards and each of their positions. They way Black looked at them, it was like he was sizing them up, measuring every distance and trajectory, his own speed versus theirs, but for the past half hour ever since they'd arrived at the hospital under a stern police escort, he'd been uncharacteristically obedient.
A sharp pain erupted in his shoulder and he turned and smiled at the young physician assigned to clean and truss the wound, and despite the danger she knew he presented, couldn't help but reciprocate with the already illustrative blush running through high cheekbones. His eyes were potent, and ungoverned in their promise of rebellion.
"How'd you survive, by the way?" Black remarked. "That incendiary grenade should have either liquefied or atomized your flesh on contact."
From his place several feet away and leaning against a counter, Sykes answered coldly, "Deepfreeze."
Black nodded and smiled as he formed a mental image. In fact, if the guns surrounding him weren't enough, he started laughing at the hilarity of his old partner's miraculous escape. "To the man who doesn't believe in dumb luck, that must of come as quite a revelation."
"Of something more beyond what we can perceive." he sermonized, and the dark, silver-mottled curve over his eyes lowered to frame a troubled stare. "Miraculous things, frightening things."
This...ghost, this echo, as best a description as he could provide, wore his face, spoke in his voice, but Abel Sykes had never seen him act like this; whatever Joseph Hawkins went through gave the impression it had destroyed everything he was and borne something new in his place. "What the hell happened to you, Joe?"
"You know exactly what happened. Cliff, crash, the supposed death of my entire family, twenty lost years I could have had if it weren't...for them..."
Black turned in order to unite his own gaze against Todd's, breathing so measured and so heavily it left evanescent smears across the window. His eyes beneath the bandages didn't waver, didn't falter in their tacit accusation. If only he could understand. "You were supposed to look after him, Abel." he whispered. "You were supposed to make sure my son didn't get himself into any trouble."
"He grew up into a strong, capable man, and I think he's made the right decisions–"
"You blind fool!!" Black lashed out, startling the young doctor and raising the already present unease of at least one of the surrounding guards. "You have no idea what he's done, and who he's associating with!"
"And you do?" Sykes responded, unsure of just what made him lose his temper so quickly.
"He's done something very stupid, Abel, he's chosen to side against our very species, against all of us out of some kind of sentimental, or sexual attachment."
Sykes rubbed his forehead in frustration, kneading the skin just beneath a slightly receding hairline in reaction to what the average person would discern as simple deranged rambling. Perhaps it was the result of the accident, perhaps it was the emotional torment that had robbed him of his sanity. "Listen," he started, "I'm sorry it had to come to this, but I now have the unfortunate responsibility of arresting you for several charges, including attempted murder of two federal agents. I'm also considering a psychiatric evaluation to see if you're actually fit enough to stand trial."
The Guild leader tilted his head. "You think I'm crazy?"
"The thought had crossed my mind. Considering you tried to kill me."
Black moved a hand up to massage his freshly dressed shoulder. "Well, regardless, it's not going to happen, Abel."
"And how do you figure that?" Ford spat, a little too confident.
"Because, my young replacement, I planned ahead."
Suddenly, one of the guards shot the bony point of his elbow into his associate's face much like Black had done earlier to his son, and he dropped to the floor. The third moved his gun on Ford and Sykes. The orderly snaked a cloth across the young physician's lower face and forced her to breathe deeply the chloroform-soaked rag, held her as she struggled and screamed muffled, hopeless screams and then, gently, allowed her limp body to droop to the floor.
Outside, the guard closest to the door attacked the other as he stood transfixed by the well-planned treachery inside the room, and aimed his weapon on Todd.
In a matter of seconds their alleged impenetrable security had been broken from within, and Ford was unprepared if not also surprised at the sheer speed, "Jesus, what the hell...?"
"Shut him up." Black ordered, and the nearest Guild infiltrator struck his fist across Ford's temple with enough force to knock him out.
Sykes stood there glowering as he was forcefully disarmed, and watched as Todd was escorted into the room with a gun braced against the back of his head. The boy looked as infuriated as he felt, and he hoped the young Hawkins wouldn't do anything stupid enough to get himself killed. He settled on the downed agents, the physician, and then, the guns held against him. "Let me guess," he hissed, "the only reason you allowed yourself to be arrested was to better your chances at escape."
Black tapped two fingers to his temple. "I've always loved that analytical brain of yours, Abel, constantly piecing things together. You know, you really should've seen it coming." He grabbed his shirt from the examination table and strained to get it over his head with one arm unable to rise above shoulder level. "I called them just before Todd came to, and they've been trailing us ever since. I've trained them to infiltrate into almost every situation, and it appears as if I was successful."
"You should be proud."
"Don't worry," he eased the blow he knew his old partner took to his ego, "if it wasn't the hospital, then it would've been the bureau, or a holding cell, or a federal prison. You wouldn't have been able to keep me for long."
The agent crossed his arms. "Are you going to kill us now?"
Re-sheathed in his trenchcoat, and despite the bullet-hole marring the right shoulder, he appreciated the comfort. "I didn't really want you dead in the first place, you just got in my way." Black answered, adjusting the collar. "And I'm not going to kill my own flesh and blood."
Sykes shifted his weight from one foot to another, and whether the subtle gesture was hostile or not it served to provoke the sharp-eyed minions. He didn't dare move further lest he suffer a wound similar to his old partner.
"But if you do get in my way, I will." Black warned, seeing how his men reacted to even the slightest of movement. "I'll kill you, Abel, I promise you that."
"We have to go, sir." one of the subordinates reported, holding several fingers to the transceiver in his ear. "We have a car waiting outside."
Black went to follow but as he neared his son, stopped and placed a hand on his shoulder (and in the back of his head, wondered if the boy would take a shot at him). "Now do as I say, take your mother, your wife and your unborn child and vanish, or I can't be held responsible for what may happen." The grip on Todd's shoulder tightened, and the young man was forced closer as Black leaned in. "And remember," he whispered, "we're everywhere."
Todd growled in response, "And just who the hell are 'we'?"
"You already know," he looked deep into his firstborn's eyes, enough to see the dawn of realization glowing against the gray, "don't you, son."
His father backpedaled from the room, and with a final look, escaped down the hallway with his followers. But Todd was too stunned to give chase or even offer a parting word, and as Sykes tried in vain to call for backup from his cellphone, he pondered that last, cryptic, enlightening statement.
He was gone.
The reinforcements had arrived within five minutes, Ford and the unconscious guards were revived, they attempted to determine the infiltrators' identities and trace back where exactly they'd penetrated every preventative measure the FBI had taken from the Hole to the hospital, but it was all one useless endeavor after another.
Joseph Hawkins was gone. He and his men, recruits, disciples, acolytes, whatever term was being thrown around by the investigative team, were gone, vanished into the city.
Sykes being the senior agent he waved most of them off with the routine examination of the room and scolded them on their security and screening processes, ordered all reports and evidence to be on his desk by morning, told Ford to go home and then, focused his attention on the one man most injured out of all of this.
Todd had been sequestered from any questions or any kind of involvement in the case on Sykes' authority, and was offered a ride back to his car abandoned at the restaurant. Abel had accompanied him, and watched as Todd climbed into the Superbird and just sat there, staring vacantly over the steering wheel. Sykes bent down and saw no movement, thus, he sent the cruiser back to headquarters, opened the passenger side door and joined his young charge.
Now, they both sat quietly, staring out through the windshield and reflecting back on the day's events. Behind them, the sky grew dim, then ruby fierce, and then to a star-flecked indigo before either of them eventually decided to speak.
"So," Sykes thought he'd finally break the heavy silence, "your father is still alive. I can't even imagine what I'm going to put in my report."
"How many people know?" Todd rasped, his voice choked with emotion he didn't want public.
"Just us. And Ford. The guards and hospital staff weren't informed."
"And your report?"
"Won't mention his identity." Sykes assured him, trying if anything to avoid a bureaucratic mess. "At least until...until we get this all straightened out. His belongings never made it to the bureau, I can only surmise they were stolen by another one of his lackeys, but the prints we were able to take from the examination room were an exact match from what confidential records I was able to save. That was Joseph Hawkins."
Todd's reaction was inert; he didn't need any kind of forensic evidence to tell him that was his father. The eyes...
"Todd," the agent's tone was apologetic, "I guess there's a lot I need to tell you."
"Like who the hell tried to kill my family."
"How did you know about that?"
He turned and his eyes faintly incandesced against the dark interior of the vehicle. "My mother told me."
There wasn't much that rattled the higher-ranking agent as already proved, but the fact Rose had risked her life and her son's own for some stupid, selfish reason firmly and visibly set his jaw. In retrospect, keeping a mother permanently from her child was a pipedream at best, especially one as stubborn as a Hawkins. "I suppose she contacted you against my explicit orders."
Todd spun his head back around towards the car's long hood and huffed indignantly, "You could say that."
Sykes leaned forwards, trying to catch a glimpse of his face sheltered by the darkness. "I don't suppose you're going to tell me where she is?"
"So you can arrest her? And either haul her ass back out of the country or into a jail cell?"
"So she's in the country."
Any kind of little victory Sykes had gotten from deducing Rose's whereabouts would be quickly dashed. "Newsflash, agent," Todd fumed, "she's been in the country for nineteen years."
"Damn..." he muttered, rubbing a few hard fingers over his stubble. "That woman...I suppose I can't be too surprised, asking a mother to deny herself her only surviving child..."
Todd caught the unusually worded comment. "What did you just say?"
"Only surviving child? I'm the only child period."
"That's what I said." Sykes insisted.
Todd furrowed his brow, searching for something in Sykes' damnably petrified glare. But the agent had an unbeatable poker face, his own eyes were icy, still and hard to distinguish anything beyond but what he wanted the young man to see. "Who tried to kill us?"
Sykes sighed, and related an old, well-worn past, "Your father was investigating a series of murders he thought were connected, and the investigation led him all the way back to the bureau, and certain divisions of the government."
Alarm registered through his face. "Are you saying our own government tried to kill him?"
"To this day, I don't know who it was." Sykes shrugged. "But they did a pretty good job of ensuring any evidence had completely disappeared."
"Yeah, I heard. They tried to wipe out our entire life."
Abel could see the detail and care put into this old vintage car, and in addition to the tone, the expression, he noticed Todd's hands gripping dangerously on a finely-restored steering wheel, the knuckles turning white. "You're angry, I know..."
"You have no fucking idea! First my mother, then you, and now my goddamned father!" His voice fell into a partial sob. "Jesus Christ, my dad...my fucking dad..."
"I really don't know what's going on with him, but he's involved with something bigger than any of us realize."
"I just wish I knew what..." Todd drifted off, as several lingering facets starting fusing together into a comprehensible thread; he never knew epiphanies to strike with such clarity. He drifted a hand to the lump underneath his jacket, and searched his memories of where he'd seen this particular weapon before.
"I take it you know how to contact your mother. Are you going to tell her?"
Sykes' voice was just barely on the periphery of his abstraction into something deep and disturbing, and Todd reacted as if a cold wind had just blown through a crack in the window's rubber sealing-strip. "I...I don't know." he admitted, pulled from his reverie. "How do you tell her something like this?"
"I'm sure it'll be as hard as it was–I'm assuming–for her to tell you the truth about who she is." he retorted. "But she deserves to know."
Todd slammed his hands on the steering wheel, and the entire vehicle shuddered. "Deserves to know what?! That her husband is alive after twenty years and is some gun-wielding, certifiable religious cult leader?!"
Sykes shook his head. "We don't know that."
"We know he tried to kill you. He's dangerous..."
"That..." He tried; he tried if anything to give the young man across from him some kind of hope in his father's miraculous reappearance into his life. But there wasn't anything he could say that wouldn't patronize him, or insult his senses. "That isn't anything I'd disagree with."
Todd leaned over to fish his car keys from his pocket, jammed them into the ignition and started the car with a roar that even Abel braced himself against. "I'll drop you off at the bureau."
"The Maltese Falcon. You never wanted to see the film until you got through the book first, and when you finally did, didn't think it 'stacked up'."
"Favorite television show."
"Shows. Iron Chef, Law and Order and Emeril Live, but you've mentioned that lately he's gotten a little pretentious."
Broadway went silent for a moment, his eyes drifting to an indiscriminate point and his hand reflexively rubbing his lantern jaw as the thought process worked its way across his brow.
Angela shifted beneath the blanket, observing. "I'm already sixty-three for sixty-three. How much convincing do you take?"
"When I shot Elisa, where did I go first?"
Faced with the question, Angela took on the air of the uninformed and for the first time didn't have an immediate answer, which in turn, gave Broadway reason to doubt. Her head propped up on her arm she simply, intently watched every faint line in his face ripple with uncertainty. "The clock tower above Grand Central station." she suddenly revealed, and enjoyed the unraveling of said features into a pleasant amalgamation of disbelief, irritability and defeat. "Do I win?"
"Well," he conceded, "I think we tied. Considering my fantasy of making love on your mother's desk has already been fulfilled, there really isn't a loser."
"Because you fulfilled said fantasy and had sex."
He nodded. "Right."
The aforementioned fantasy had always been a whimsy at best for Broadway; it had one important dynamic to create the risk, and thus, the deadly fascination that had kept it from drowning within the reality of which he lived. He'd been to Demona's office only once and then later remarked of using her desk for something that, when whispered into Angela's ear, had caused her to burst out laughing.
Now, a year and a half later, both completely spent, glazed with perspiration and both completely nude on the desk's massive surface, covered by the intricately stitched afghan taken from over the high end of Demona's chair, they lounged comfortably beneath it in the afterglow of having made the walls around them tremble.
"You do realize," Angela whispered, "she'll be angry."
Red like fire, rage and most likely annoyance raced through his imagination of what Demona's reaction would be. The possible disfigurement, the certain death; at the moment all of it seemed a distant concern. "It was worth it." he smiled at her, and nuzzled his face into the crown of her unbound hair. "But considering you practically seduced me, I'll have a good excuse if she ever finds out."
"You could have had a little more self control."
"You practically threw yourself at me!"
Angela smiled in defense, beaming from ear to ear and starting laughing, eventually muffling her amusement into the broad expanse of his chest. And as her fingertips grazed the deep cleft running the division of his pectorals, their skin was almost blending together without that glaring dissimilarity between wildly colored hide. "Was it strange...as humans?"
"No, not really. No wings or tail, no claws..." He ran his hand along the swell of her buttock and up her lower back, following the imperceptible ridge of her spine until she shivered at the contact between her shoulder blades. He noticed, even as the human body didn't have the repute of being as sensitive in that area as their gargoyle forms, she reacted just as she did before. "If anything, I escape the inevitable clawmarks."
Angela purred and adjusted her position, raising her leg to rub the inside of her knee against his waist.
"The only truly eerie thing is the fact your mother had a condom in her desk."
If there was anything to kill the mood... "Yes, well...she has needs like the rest of us. I suppose..." she added as an afterthought, albeit it a disturbing one at that that had just readily surfaced in the dying peak of their passion.
She strained to look over the desk's edge to see the discarded wrapper on the ground, and that small, square, torn piece of laminate foil was something she'd never expected to find, and something she'd soon hope to forget. But it served as a subtle aide-memoire of the afternoon spent in passionate, intimate form, and how she may have jumped the gun on the entire 'taking-it-slow' approach to their relationship and forced him to do the same. "I hope..." her voice dimmed in the cavity of their blanketed, entwined forms.
Broadway lowered his head. "What?"
"I hope I didn't rush you into anything you didn't want."
"Call me happy to be seduced." he deadpanned, and brushed the edge of his thumb across her cheek. "I wanted this. Trust that. I just can't believe I denied myself...this, us, you, for so long."
"I've tried to place myself in your position, to wonder what it would be like to see you die, and then be replaced by another." A haze overtook her eyes. "I understand I suppose..."
"No, you don't." his heavy tone cut through. "You can't, you won't and I never want you to have to go through what I did."
"Do you believe me now?"
They interlaced their fingers, and Broadway squeezed hard as if to prove to himself one final time this was not a dream. "Yes." Snaking his arm beneath and around her shoulders, through the long riot of hair spilling over the beveled corners of the desk, he pulled her closer to him. "You are Angela. My Angela. I've loved you since the first day I met you, and I'm sorry for–"
"Taking me for granted?"
"Yes, Dragon yes."
"Then swear to me, love me until your last breath."
"What the hell was that?"
Angela noticeably stiffened, and her brows shot up. "The computer." she explained. "New e-mail. I wanted to make sure I wouldn't miss anything."
The familiar chime had rung out from somewhere below, and the lovers pulled themselves to the desk's edge to try and find the computer monitor under the heaps of discarded clothing.
With Broadway's longer reach, he pulled his coat from a larger pile and discovered the monitor underneath.
Grabbing for the keyboard, she opened the e-mail with a single keystroke. Angela was fixated on the screen, silently reading the new message. "It's from Una." she revealed quietly. "And she's...found a spell to help Demona..."
"Keep in touch, kiddo. Here...my card. Call me day or night if you need to."
"Yeah," Todd answered distantly, pocketing the business card with several phone numbers, "thanks."
Abel kept his leaning stance over the open passenger side door, and after several uncomfortable moments, Todd had to turn his head and implore with a particular look to find out what the agent was remaining for. "Rose deserves to know." he finally said.
The anger all but evaporated in his eyes, replaced by something easily recognized as apprehension.
"For what it's worth, I'm sorry."
"So am I."
The conversation kept playing itself over and over again in his mind as he stepped from the elevator and traveled the Eyrie corridor towards the infirmary. Todd has faced many things in his lifetime since Annika chose his bathroom window to crash through, and this, this could be placed at the top of the list of the most frightening, even above the near end of existence itself just more than a month ago.
His hands shook against the lavender tissue paper used to wrap around the stems of the Stargazer Lilies he'd picked up from the nearest floral shop just before they'd closed for the night, and the telltale crinkle meant he was going to crush them before they ever got to their intended recipient.
He didn't think this would help in any way, shape or form with what he was about to do, but maybe it would soften the blow.
But as he stopped at the doorway and took a moment to peer inside, he found he'd arrived just in time to see a familiar silver-branded gentleman pull a wrapped package from behind his back and offer his mother a fresh bundle of her favorite flowers.
Lips tightened, and a young visage turned mean.
Incredibly, implausibly, as much as Todd's recent luck was running, it was the exact same bouquet.
Rose's eyes seemed to brighten against the dismal settings as she received the conical garland into her hands, and immediately breathed in the specked lilies' tropical scent. A wave of nostalgia overtook her and she nearly misted up.
"I thought ye might like them."
"Macbeth...you are something."
"Yeah, he's something all right," Todd hissed outside, dumping his own expensive bouquet into an empty vase by the door's side, "a big, steaming load of something." He stomped into the hospital room and towards her bed and as they both noticed his approach, eyed his mother, the bouquet, and then settled on Macbeth.
The Scotsman could feel the territorial resentment radiate through his gaze, but stood his ground, unwilling to be bullied by a child.
Rose though, saw something more, including the bandage over his right brow. "Todd? Your head..."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I need to talk to my mother." Todd continued, oblivious to Rose's scolding. "Now."
Macbeth peered to Rose, who in turn helplessly opened her arms as an act of contrition. He bowed and took his leave, brushing past Todd and he thought as he made his way around him, the youth was growling.
"Whatever has possessed you to treat him like that..."
"You and I need to talk." Todd cut her off.
Rose leaned over towards her nightstand and, wincing as she stretched against her stitches, gently placed the bouquet to its Formica surface. "I hope it's important enough to explain your behavior towards Macbeth. However you feel about me is no reason to take it out on him."
"I met my father today."
Rose was, justifiably, stunned. "W-What...?" she stammered, and he had her full attention. "If...if this is some kind of joke–"
"He's alive, Rose," Todd said, softly, undeniably, "Joseph Hawkins is alive."
It was a different sight, the city, seeing the light-dappled metropolis through a leader's eyes. And the weight was more than he thought possible.
And the guilt of course, of disposing his leader, a loyal friend and savior to their small clan, only to have their argument made pointless by an attack that revealed the fatal flaw in their opposition. And now his clan, his clan, the very words were odd to hear and even to think, were afraid to fly the skies.
Brooklyn stood on the edge of the courtyard, staring and brooding, and wondering if what he was about to do was for the best.
But as his thoughts deepened and his pensive gaze went up, he found two familiar forms against the heavens, and thinned his eyes to get a better look at what he thought he was seeing.
Broadway shored his wings to drop in altitude with Angela behind him, and then, quickly spread the dark pinions to slow himself and land with a tremor that even Brooklyn felt through the compactly-fitted cobbles. Whereas the leader thought that slowing so much impressive weight would streak the air at each tip of his wing in a fiery trail, Angela easily cut through the night. Her arrival was a little more graceful; she skimmed the stones and with a light scuff of her talons, took a few quick steps to steady herself and came to a halt at his side, shaking the mild discomfort from her wings before she caped them. She turned and smiled, a leather satchel slung across her arm and her powerful mate brushed an exploratory hand across her brow, as if the features alien.
Brooklyn observed their behavior, which, for more than a month now had been a little less than affectionate and he was glad for the change. He cleared his throat, and the lovers turned his way.
"I could have sworn I said to keep low and out of sight." he growled. "And you're flaunting yourselves in plain view."
Smiles dimmed. "Sorry," Angela said quietly, "we got...caught up in the moment."
"And just happened to forget about the xenophobic, mask-wearing killers that could be watching us even as we speak?"
"Well as you can see," Broadway cut in with a tone less than apologetic, "we didn't get shot out of the sky."
"Small comfort, considering you two didn't come back to roost last night."
Angela shrugged in defense, "Again–"
"The moment, yeah I got it." Regardless of the danger they had placed themselves in, Brooklyn offered a sly look; they were noticeably intimate. "Everything okay?"
Angela grazed her fangs across Broadway's cheek in a lingering, teasing kiss, whispered something the brick-colored leader couldn't hear, and sashayed towards the interior door.
Broadway watched her go. "Not quite yet," he answered, with his mind clearly on other things, "but it's getting there."
"Listen, Broadway, I've been meaning to talk to you."
He turned to face his brother and crossed his arms against an incredibly large chest. "Then talk."
His stance, it was a challenge between two brothers who hadn't quite seen eye to eye recently, and Brooklyn thought he'd approach this with caution; Broadway seemed bigger under the moonlight, aquamarine skin glowing. "Obviously, we've been on opposite sides of something that should be uniting us."
"Choosing to get rid of Goliath–"
"Is not what I'm talking about. Maybe it was a mistake, maybe it wasn't, but I think it's time to move past that."
"I don't think it is." Broadway snarled. "Damnit, Brook, you should have trusted him!"
Old, jet eyes were sharp, and every intention was crystal clear in the liquid surface. "I did what I thought I had to. And guess what, we were both wrong."
Broadway sighed in frustration; in that, his rookery brother was right. It didn't make one hell of a difference in the face of a brazen assault they barely made it through alive. "What the hell are you getting at?"
"I need a second, Broadway," Brooklyn said forthright, "and you're it."
"Me?" he scoffed. "You'd choose me over Lex, Sata or Othello? I've disagreed with you on everything."
"Right. I need someone who won't just blindly follow my orders, and someone from the...'other side' of the argument."
Searching his brother's gaze yielded the same resolute demeanor. "You're sure about this?"
"I need you." Brooklyn extended his hand. "Do you accept?"
Broadway hesitated and furrowed in thought, then clutched with a firm grasp against the extended hand, and his brother's browridges slightly clenched with the pressure applied. "I do."
The leader nodded, "Good. Because I'm going to need all the help I can get."
"Finding the Guild."
He couldn't find anywhere he felt comfortable but the security of his room, and Alexander sat quietly in the pervading darkness surrounded by toys that wouldn't bring him any happiness with a well-deserved escape into fantasy.
Sitting near the base of a full-length mirror, he melted his brows together in concentration, thought about the consequence of what he was about to do and leaned forwards. Using the tip of a single finger, he touched the mirror and the reflective surface rippled, smeared and undid the very fabric of reality to bridge a gap between two islands.
A woman appeared, trimmed with imperial gold, silk and beryl suede skin, and she turned around in surprise of the portal into another world. She smiled at the sight of her grandson. "Hello, my child." Titania greeted him, pride in her gaze that quickly turned to concern in seeing the lines of fear mar his face. "What is it? What is the matter?"
Alexander hesitated, and stumbled on his words. "Gramma..."
"...if you tell anyone your mother will die."
He fell silent, Sobek's threat garroting whatever courage he had left. That consequence carried a heavy price.
"Please, child, tell me. Something is wrong."
"Alexander...?" Titania beckoned, but to no avail. "Alexan–"
With a wave of his hand, Alexander wiped away the window to Avalon, and sat alone in the darkness of his room. His eyes squeezed shut against the tears, small fists clenched, and the entire Eyrie building shuddered on its base.
Rose had been adamant that that wasn't his father. She was crying, sobbing, screaming, denying, hurting, and dying all over again at everything he'd related, and by the time she'd drifted off to a troubled, tear-filled sleep from the sheer exhaustion of a three-hour narrative/argument, Todd still wasn't sure she was convinced.
He wasn't sure he was convinced.
But the ever-present weight of that weapon he'd slipped into his jacket and stolen from under the FBI and Abel Sykes' sharp eye was becoming proportionately heavier as he further doubted what he'd been through. It wouldn't let him simply disregard such crucial evidence no matter how emotionally devastating.
He thought he should be angry, punching walls with all too fragile human fists, or finding a good, quiet corner to curl into a ball, but he just felt numb, exhausted (it was well past midnight, and he'd been up for eighteen hours), and his head still throbbed from a mild and undiagnosed concussion.
But he had one thing to do before succumbing to his body's pining need for rest.
Approaching the castle's main computer room, Todd looked around him for anyone who could've been near; he wasn't actually allowed inside the literal heart of Wyvern and its systems unless under the most extreme of emergencies, but his handprint was enough to get him past the heavily armored door.
It slid open, and before him stood Mother in all her semi-transparent glory; he reacted with a backward jerk. The watchdog who lived between the seams, nothing was actually stopping him from walking right through her except his own conscience and sense of chivalry, and he remained at the threshold with a conflicted look.
"Is there an emergency?"
Todd sighed, caught. "No, but..."
"The terms of your access are clear–"
"I need a favor."
She seemed to regard him as more than a pragmatic computer program weighing the simple options of either yes or no. The full stare and forward cock of her head implored an explanation. "Yes?"
"I need to see the footage from the Guild battle."
"For what purpose?"
"It's personal." he evaded.
Mother mutely debated whether or not to allow him admittance. Mr. Xanatos had yet to place a ban on the footage, he only had her erase any segments pertaining to himself after Jason's impromptu investigation.
Compassion had never been a prerequisite to perform her duties, but something in Todd's beseeching expression struck a chord somewhere deep in one of several computer hard drives, especially with the earlier betrayal of Jason's trust by her master's wishes. The stalactite-resembled cluster of monitors suspended from the ceiling suddenly powered up behind her, and the stored Guild footage was booted from recent memory.
"What exactly are you looking for?"
Todd stepped through the doorway and towards the desk beneath the largest monitor. Reaching into his jacket, he pulled out an object swaddled in a hospital issue towel he'd stolen from Manhattan General. "The Guild leader who landed first, who spoke to you just before the attack."
The screens went blank momentarily, and then the footage resumed with a jet-black leviathan stirring a tempest of air around its sleek steel frame and landing with a gentle bump to the castle's courtyard. Mother moved her attention to Todd, and the human's reaction was subdued at the sight of the first Guild member to step off of the helicopter, but tensed, and she could detect an increase in heart rate in relation to the longer he watched.
"Pause." he ordered, and the recording froze on the Guild leader. His next breath seemed to shudder. "Zoom in on his guns."
Mother did, and Todd unwrapped his mystery object from the towel. The VP-8 gleamed against the weak illumination of the chamber.
"Would you say this is an exact match?"
Somewhere up above, a camera honed in on the revealed, sleek pistol, and a recognition program verified the similarity to the weapons in the digital playback. "Yes."
"Is it easily available as a consumer product?" his words were running together, becoming more urgent as he sought some kind of confirmation. "Or government issue? Military?"
"No, even the base weaponry in question is undoubtedly rare." Mother answered. "This particular firearm is a heavily modified design. It is not even registered in any online database."
"But...it's an absolute match to the footage." Todd said, knowing before the statement even rolled from his lips.
He released a hard breath, and moved his gaze to the screen and the paused image of the Guild leader. The stance, height, build, but mostly, the graying strands of hair tangled in the wind stood out when once they'd been an unremarkable feature at best.
"I can't die!" a stray thought worked its way to the surface, proud declarations bringing with them the thunder, lightning, sweat and fear and everything else that had accompanied that rooftop battle between him and the Guild leader. "I'm an idea, a religion, a revolution in human philosophy! We are unity by force, and peace by elimination of everything deviant that threatens humanity!"
His eyes tightened on that featureless, soulless mask, from which underneath his own father had tried to kill him.
"We can't die, I can't die, and what makes you think you will be the one to dare make the attempt?"
"I'm not bowing down to some fucking tyrant flying a Guild flag on a pile of dead bodies!"
"You can't fight the grand designs of evolution!!"
Todd slumped back into the chair, and rested his head gingerly into his hands. His father was the leader of the Guild. "I can't fucking believe this..."
Locked in the little room, he'd eventually cry himself to sleep.
He expected their eyes. He expected the rumor of his lunch date gone terribly wrong to spread like wildfire and thus, for them to stare at him as he walked the windowless corridors with an entourage respectively several paces behind.
And besides, with the source of that rumor his traitor son, they knew to keep their distance.
Black was intent for his office, to rest, to visit his daughter and remind himself just what he was fighting for and the very reason he was willing to sacrifice his firstborn.
Reaching the door to his private sanctum at the end of a gently sloping, narrow hallway, he waved off the guards and entered into a darkened chamber, navigating his way by the shaft of light spilling through from the open door towards the worn mid-back manager's chair. He fell into the leather, and made the mistake of putting his weight on his right arm. He winced, and resettled. He massaged his shoulder, and later, he'd soak the wound with a nutrient salve, promoting rapid healing until the hole in his flesh reduced to a mere blemish easily fixed by cosmetic surgery, and even later he knew he'd stare at that injury in the mirror and convince himself of its worth.
"Damnit, boy," he breathed, "it was all so much easier when you were dead. You and your mother were the guiding force behind all of this..." His head fell back and the back of his neck banked against the chair's top. "Rose..."
His head snapped up, to find a slim, rigid silhouette standing at the open door. "Agent White." he sighed. "How may I help you?"
"By telling me your son is dead."
His second-in-command had never prevaricated in their long association, and anyone else with such a debasing tone about his family would suffer at the end of a gun-barrel if it weren't for White's constancy and devotion to the mission. "My apologies, but it seems I've proved to myself I just can't kill him."
"He's allied with the gargoyles." White pointed out, as if his leader wasn't aware. "He's willing to sacrifice himself for them and you can't rid this organization one of its greatest threats because of some kind of parental ethics."
"Because the father cannot kill the son." he said in defense. "That does not mean he won't die. Do not mistake my sudden growth of a conscience as any kind of weakness, agent White."
"It is...worrying, sir. So far and yet, we've ground to a halt all at the reappearance of your son."
"Yes, yes, yes...my boy has a way of spoiling well-made plans." He smiled, and actually laughed at the memory of Todd holding his own gun at his head, the gun he found had gone missing when arriving back. "He's a sparkplug."
White tramped forward. "Your son–"
"Has also been given a choice." Black interrupted, and his eyes took on the luster of steel, stopping the agent in his place. "If he chooses unwisely, he'll die. Simple as that."
White rubbed the thin scar running from hairline, through his bleach blond eyebrow and continuing beneath his eye, to the middle of his cheek, notched by a lucky shard of glass. It had become a sign of mounting tension; the infirmary window he was thrown through by Hudson had left its mark, and the agent often stroked the disfigurement whenever he was trying to suppress his frustration. "Yes sir." He slipped out, and closed the door behind him, throwing Black into near total darkness.
He was, again, alone with and completely immersed in his thoughts, and as they were during lunch with his son, on his family.
Behind him, he never knew the door to his daughter's restricted chamber was open, allowing the rich fumes of pure oxygen to escape through a slim crack, and a pair of young, pale green eyes had widened at her father's cold-bloodedness, and her brother's intended fate.
Young Sarah Hawkins had overheard.