Written by: Madame Destine
Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction. The characters belong to their various creators: Buena Vista Television / The Walt Disney Company and The Gargoyles Saga, and they are used without their express knowledge or consent.
"Hurry up, Jenny! Hurry up!" the doctor cried. "Get this man prepped before he bleeds to death."
Dimly, Elisa watched as the nurse moved as rapidly as she could, leather boots sticking and slurping in the heavy mud of the operating tent's floor. The cries of the wounded and the dying filled the air. She was weary, so weary, yet she hung on, unmindful of the heavy copper smell of blood or the stink of burned and ruined flesh. She no longer had strength to notice.
The nurse pushed unruly tendrils of hair under her crisp white cap with the back of a blood stained hand, readied a tray of surgical instruments, and carefully placed a small amount of ether onto a tuft of cotton wool. "Just relax, soldier," she murmured. "Everything will be just fine."
Weakly, Elisa tugged at the young woman's elbow. "Please, miss."
The nurse turned and by the way she carefully schooled her delicate features Elisa guessed she looked even worse than she felt. Still, the nurse smiled and touched her hand to Elisa's brow in a kind, impersonal caress.
Then the girl transformed. She dropped all semblance of a professional demeanor and raised the hand holding chloroformed cotton to her face. Her brown eyes went wide as she stared in horrified recognition. "William?"
"William?" Elisa thought dimly. "Oh, she means me." A jaunty smile curled battered lips and then a cough, so wracking and terrible it nearly collapsed the canvas gurney. "None other, sweet. Funny running into you here. I could have sworn we said we were to lunch at my club."
Jenny tried gamely to maintain the farce. "I suppose we must have gotten our lines crossed. That seems to be happening a lot lately." She realized her error barely in time and dropped the cotton to the mud at her feet. A sudden booming report shook the tent, and dust and debris floated down from the ceiling.
"Looks like we're in for a bit of the rough stuff." The quip came easily despite the dire surroundings and another round of the besieging cough.
The camp siren began to wail as German bombs rained down from the sky.
"Mustard gas!" the doctor cried.
Around her, people jerked gas masks off their belts and put them to their faces. Automatically, Jenny did the same, obscuring her pert nose and high cheekbones with the rubber and canvas device before reaching for the kit bag hanging next to the gurney. There was no mask among the soldiering gear.
"Gave it to a mate, love. The way things were going I didn't think I'd need it."
Savagely, Jenny ripped the device from her face, freeing her long hair from the confines of the cap. Elisa felt an uncomfortable sense of claustrophobia as her nose and mouth were covered. Heavy yellow gas began to filter into the tent. Dark eyes went wide. "No!" she cried, the protest a vague muffle.
Jenny coughed. "It's okay." A shell rocked the compound and the tent creaked and teetered. Do something! Up off the gurney. Arms around the girl like a human shield. "I'll protect you."
"That's supposed to be my line!" Jenny complained.
The humorous moment was short lived. They cried in pain, voices joining others as the tent collapsed in on itself and the heavy support beams caved inward. "No! Please! You can't leave me!" Jenny cried. Desperately, with their last breath, the mask was flung away and the lovers kissed.
"You can't leave me," Elisa muttered. She clutched at Goliath who lay beside her. He woke instantly as he scented his mate's distress.
"Hush, my Elisa," the gargoyle soothed. Though she slumbered, Elisa's chest heaved beneath the thin veneer of her creamy lace and silk camisole. Tiny beads of sweat soaked the sheer material. "Elisa, wake, my love." Goliath gathered his lover to him, cradling her body close to his. "You're having a bad dream."
Tenderly, Goliath stroked his beloved mate's brow, wondering what had brought on the spate of nightmares. Whenever he shared her bed, Elisa's sleep was disturbed by powerful dreams. They gripped her possessively, releasing her, as now, reluctantly. "Please, Elisa," he begged as he shook her gently. "You must wake."
"No, no, no. Please, don't go."
"I'm right here," Goliath reassured the sleeping woman. "It is you who must return to me. Wake up." He rolled her carefully onto her back, leaned down and kissed her. Even in sleep he found her mouth willing. She returned the kiss fervently, pressing her lips to his as she wrapped her arms around his neck to pull him closer.
"Goliath?" Elisa's eyes fluttered open. "Where?"
"Shhhh," the gargoyle soothed. "You're safe in bed with me. You were dreaming."
Elisa sat up, pulled her knees close to her chest, and hugged the blankets to her. She closed her eyes and tried to remember. Falling bombs, a brown-eyed nurse. A wave of grief rode over her so intense she trembled. Goliath reacted and pulled her close.
"What did you dream?" he inquired gently. He didn't expect a response. And he didn't get one. Elisa shook her head, her forehead brushing his chest, as she had each time before.
"I don't know." She turned her face from his.
Goliath sighed. He had hoped, as he had each time the dreams had taken his mate, that she would confess her troubles to him. He glanced out the window, confirming his internal clock. Dawn was perhaps an hour away. He would not have to leave Elisa just yet.
"Relax. I will get the sleeping medication Dr. Danvers prescribed." Elisa nodded, still lost in thought as Goliath rose, retrieving his discarded loincloth from the foot of the bed as he headed into the bathroom for the mild sedative and a glass of water. Absently, he picked up Elisa's panties, stockings and garter belt off the carpet and deposited all into the hamper. The outfit, she had said, had been the wrappings for her special gift, a night undisturbed by clan or duty. It had been a most pleasant evening.
Goliath drew a glass of water from the sink then tapped one of the tiny blue pills into his palm. He yawned, his tail lashing against the tile, and wondered if perhaps he shouldn't insist that Elisa revisit the doctor regarding her dreams. She continued to insist it was work and perhaps the pressure of preparing to testify at Yuri Petrovian's federal trial, nothing more. Certainly nothing that warranted additional medical or psychological treatment.
Elisa's work had disturbed her rest in the past, but never for so long a duration. The nightmares had started in March, weeks after she'd testified at the Russian mob boss Petrovian's first hearing. It was now May. He glanced at his reflection in the mirror. The gargoyle that regarded him had a jaw clenched with worry. His mate had been acting strangely, trying perhaps a little too hard to project an air of normality. In odd moments, like the tonight's lingerie show, it rang false. He would broach the topic again. Gently.
"Goliath?" Elisa called from the bedroom.
"Coming." He returned to her, watching as she placed the pill on her tongue then drained the glass of water.
"Stay awhile?" She beckoned to him, patting the rumpled sheet beside her. Goliath slid back into bed and Elisa crawled into his arms. "Love me?" Though Elisa's voice ended the words in an interrogative, her body issued a command.
"Always," Goliath promised. Tenderly, he kissed her forehead and eyelids, tasting the salt of tears she had cried during the tumultuous dream. With a talon he traced the outline of her face, from temple to the tip of her cheekbone down the shelf of her jaw to the point of her chin. He scented arousal pheromones and the gargoyle reacted, growling softly as the woman beside reached upward, placed her arms around his neck and pressed her body to his.
Gently, carefully, Goliath loved Elisa. She clung to him with fervency, her dark eyes never leaving his as their bodies twined. He wondered for a time at the strange, desperate urge that seemed to drive her passion. But all coherent thoughts fled as she keened his name and greedy flesh demanded all that was his to command.
As dawn struggled below the horizon, Goliath slipped from their bed. He dressed quickly, knotting a new loincloth around his hips, before placing a final kiss upon Elisa's brow. Loving had quieted her body, and the small blue pill was finally having its affect on her mind. No more nightmares would disturb his mate.
Determined to broach the subject of the doctor that very evening, the gargoyle exited the bedroom ready to greet the dawn and his own day's rest.
Fox barely repressed a smile even as she winked at the pair of hulking dark suited security guards. On cue, they had again 'accidentally' allowed several carefully selected fans out of the throng of enthusiastic well-wishers through velvet ropes and into the private alcove where she and several of her top staffers and their guests were lunching with Dr. Phineas Phelps. Phelps seemed to take the intrusions in stride, greeting each interloper with a warm smile then asking their name as he gently extracted copies of his book, some brand new, some read to the point of tatters, from trembling fingers. He inscribed them all with a precise hand. 'Tune in Tuesday at Three, Dear Friend, to KNY-TV.' His signature was equally neat, curiously old-fashioned even for a person in the later decades of life, as if he had been schooled at some very exclusive foreign boarding school where penmanship and deportment had been mandatory subjects.
As he handed the final book back to a teenage girl with the remains of bright pink party dye fading from her blonde spikes, Fox signaled to a waiter for another bottle of champagne. It had been, after all, a very good day, definitely worthy of the indulgence. Bob Daily, KNY-TV Vice President in charge of Syndicated Programming, looked as if he had swallowed both the canary and the cream. Marge Sinclair, his Pack Media counterpart, was only slightly less thrilled by the response Phineas was generating.
The crowd, first whispering, then pointing and jostling, had been a spontaneous phenomenon. It was becoming a rare day when Phelps could go anywhere without generating a mob. Fox had merely performed a little industry magic, placing a few shills among the genuine throng as insurance. It would be a public relations nightmare, not to mention a crime against culinary art, to allow anything more to disturb Chef André's brilliantly executed seven-course extravaganza.
She signaled the security guards to discreetly disburse the crowd as the waiter reappeared to offer their dessert. Fox smiled warmly at her guests and staff as she dipped her spoon into the yellow mousse that was centered in a starburst of equally bright orange coulis and a scatter of hand-peeled mandarin orange segments. Lemon, intense without being overwhelming, burst onto her palate, and the effect was as cheering as the day outside dreary with unanticipated rain. No, Fox thought as she deftly coated an orange segment with sauce then lifted it to her lips, life doesn't get any better than this.
Later, 23rd Precinct
Elisa yawned, removing her leather gloved hand long enough from the warmth of her bomber jacket to rub at her eyes. She felt groggy from the aftereffects of the prescribed sleeping pill, despite having forced herself through a grueling five mile Central Park jog and an hour in the dojo with an unreasonably cheerful Fox Xanatos. No more pills, despite what Goliath wanted. Having Fox use her to wipe the floor was more than her self-esteem could take.
She hustled up the stairs of the precinct, becoming gradually aware that something was different. Patrol officers shoes were shined with special brightness. Detective Patterson, who normally dressed like a Good Will refugee, was attired in a brand new suit.
A lousy feeling crept over her as she reached the door at the same time as Dick Halloran. He was wearing a neatly pressed dark pinstriped ensemble and a cashmere scarf that probably cost a week's pay. In comparison, Elisa tugged at her hand knitted muffler, feeling even drearier than before. "Okay, Dick, what's going on? Is it Precinct Photo Day or something?"
The senior detective bristled with excitement as he held open the door for her and ushered her inside the warmth of the receiving area.
"Precinct Phot-" Halloran looked down at his crisply attired suit and grinned self-consciously. "I'm surprised you haven't heard, Maza. The Captain did send out an advisory. You should check your email even if you are working out of the office," he chided off her blank look. "For the next week or so, we're to play host to a bunch of Hollywood types while they use the 23rd." He lowered his voice. "They might even let a few of us be in their movie.""
"Really," Elisa replied, no longer feeling groggy.
"On my sainted mother's grave."
The pair walked a short distance up the hallway past the locker rooms. On the threshold of the bullpen Elisa pulled up short. "Your mother isn't dead."
Halloran grinned impishly down at Elisa, the smile melting as he saw the unhealthy pallor of her normally mocha complexion. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah." The reply was absent, Halloran barely remembered as Elisa stared at the crowd of people in the center of the detective's office.
"Isn't it great?" Matt Bluestone said, barely containing his enthusiasm as he was suddenly behind them. "Can you believe it? In our precinct. Danny's gonna just freak when I tell him about this."
"I can't say I'd blame him," Elisa said numbly as she fought to regain her sense of composure. She needed to leave. Now. Plead a headache. Appendicitis. Anything. Just get her out of the bullpen and away from Ty Clearwater. Because if she didn't escape now, she was going to fling herself into his arms and the rest of the squad would never let her live it down for as long as she lived.
"Hey, you're blocking the door!" Bonnie Williams, unlike the rest of the squad, was dressed in her usual attire of comfortable dark summer-weight wool trousers, cotton sleeves rolled to the elbows.
"Right," Elisa apologized. "Sorry. Gentlemen, if you're done gawking?"
As smoothly as she could, Elisa made her way into the squad room, keeping her back to Ty and Captain Chavez as she filled a mug with coffee and loaded it with sugar and creamer. Maybe he wouldn't remember her. He met so many people. Maybe he'd hooked up with someone else and he wouldn't want to dwell on whatever it was the two of them shared. Maybe he didn't think about her at all. She relaxed and stirred her coffee. All she had to do now is get to her desk, check her messages, and beat it out of the bullpen. Piece of cake. Elisa took a hit of caffeine, pivoted, and confidently advanced.
"Elisa Maza, as I live and breath." She froze, pinned to the linoleum as if suddenly paralyzed. All conversation had ceased, and all eyes were upon her and the rapidly advancing Ty Clearwater.
Damn it, Maza, move your feet. Faking her most smooth, Elisa managed the last couple of feet to her station and set down her coffee cup before she turned to greet the center of everyone's attention. "Ty, this is a surprise."
An undercurrent of whispers resumed as a dozen trained observers, including her partner and her boss, witnessed their reunion.
Ty was a consummate professional, but he couldn't quite make his thousand-watt smile reach all the way to his eyes. Elisa had no doubt that her greeting had sounded equally false. Would it be any better between them if she would have had the chance to say goodbye? She picked up the stack of pink phone slips, more for something to do with her hands than anything, and took a breath. This wasn't the time or the place to dwell on the past. She pocketed one message for appearance's sake and dropped the others back onto the desk. When he reached her side, she held out her hand, barely avoiding closing her eyes in pleasure as his palm closed around hers. "It's good to see you, but what are you doing here?"
He released her hand after precisely enough time had past, though with, she thought, reluctance and shrugged. "Some would call it kismet." He glanced at the high windows and postmodern construction of the rebuilt precinct house. "Others would say dumb luck. Our director thought your precinct captured the mood of our movie."
"How about that." With deliberation, Elisa barely avoided crossing her arms over her chest. She let them drop to her sides and tried to keep from staring at the actor. It wasn't easy. The cop he was playing wasn't of the donut and burger school. Ty, already solidly built, had added well-sculpted muscle to his dancer's physique. If he had to take off his shirt for the part, every woman in the audience and half of the men would swoon. Her fingers curled inward as she remembered the contours of his chest, the pressure of his lips eager against hers. Abruptly, Elisa looked down at the industrial gray flooring then back at Ty. "Yeah, well, I gotta get to work. Good to see you." She turned away, fumbling the keys out of her pocket and leaving her coffee, which minutes before she had craved desperately, untasted. "Come on, Bluestone," she called to Matt who was standing next to the water cooler talking to Halloran. The pair of them looked like overgrown kids who'd raided the candy store, and it doubled Elisa's growing irritation.
"Maza, come back here. Bluestone, you too."
Elisa kept her face neutral as she turned away from her partner and toward the voice of Captain Chavez. The captain was attired as usual in a conservatively cut pantsuit of dove gray and a white blouse, her badge clipped to a belt loop at her waist. Standing next to Ty Clearwater, the senior officer seemed petite. "Yes, ma'am?"
"Captain?" Matt said respectfully as he joined the others.
"You've got special detail tonight. Mr. Clearwater has requested a departmental ride-along in preparation for his film role." Elisa opened her mouth to protest and the Captain shut it again with a stern glance. "I've agreed to his request. You're to follow your normal investigative routine, but if you find yourself in any kind of a hazardous situation, you are to fall back until another unit can arrive on scene to safeguard your guest."
"Captain!" No deference from the younger woman, just pure outrage at having to risk investigative flexibility to mollycoddle an unwanted civilian interloper.
"Is there a problem, detective?" Chavez asked mildly.
Elisa eye's darted from the Captain to Ty and back again. She could sense rather than see Matt's anxiety, his worry that she would screw up the coup of a film geek's lifetime if the ride-along were assigned elsewhere. What choices did she have? Risk her partner's ire and her captain's? Pretend for an entire shift that it wasn't making her crazy to be confined in a car with Ty? Pray that Matt would be so star-struck that he wouldn't notice the tension between his partner and the handsome Hollywood actor? No matter what she did, the probability was she was headed for the longest night of her life. "No Captain, no problem. Anything to promote the image of the NYPD."
"Good." The captain nodded curtly and handed Elisa a clipboard and a pen. "Sign off on this release and get Mr. Clearwater a vest."
Elisa scrawled her name next to that of Ty and Captain Chavez and wondered who was out to get her this time.
"It sure is a fearsome lot that Lord Oberon has summoned to council," Princess Katharine said as she drew back the quilted coverlet and sat down upon the edge of the bed. "Why, I would almost swear I saw the Grim Reaper himself among them as they entered the Great Hall."
"Aye, and even the ones who weren't dressed like they had come from a funeral looked none too happy to be here," Tom replied. "The Sisters seemed especially perturbed. In a way it makes me glad that our presence was not requested." He took Katharine's hand, offering a smile as she slipped her feet beneath the sheets and reclined beside him.
"Still," she said, "I can't help but wonder what it is they're discussing, or why it merits such secrecy." She fussed with the pillows for a moment before finally settling in. "I certainly hope it has nothing to do with the petition Angela made to the Court those weeks ago." The pitch of her voice betrayed a hint of agitation. "Queen Titania promised us that our concerns would be duly heard before any decision was made."
"She has always been a woman of her word," Tom soothed. "I wouldn't worry too much about it just yet, love. Even if the queen does find Angela's arguments persuasive, I think she's going to have a difficult time swaying Lord Oberon."
"Och, ye forget who truly wields the power, Tom." She turned to him, a frank expression of concern on her face. "'Twas her who convinced him to gather the djinn back to the island, and all the while kept him thinking it a gesture born of his own magnanimity. What's not to stop her from doing the same with the halflings if she so chooses?"
"They're not wholly of the Third Race, for one thing," he answered. "I'm no expert, of course, but I'm fairly sure that changes the rules just a wee bit."
"Our Angela, turning advocate for the halflings, asking asylum for the very same creatures who have tormented her and her clan at every opportunity." Katharine shook her head and sighed. "I do hope she hasn't let her big heart get the best of her this time."
"She's a good Egg, Katharine," Tom said. "We'll just have to be patient and see what happens."
"And the Court?"
"Let them have their secret meeting." Tom smiled and pulled the woman close. "After all, love, we can surely find our own diversions."
Katharine grinned as he kissed her. "Oh, Tom…"
Elisa raised her eyes to the waning night sky in wordless gratitude as Ty Clearwater and his driver pulled away from the precinct. As the rented SUV smartly navigated into late night traffic, Matt self-consciously dropped the hand he had raised in farewell as a pair of patrol officers passed them, clutching paper bags of diner food against their sodden overcoats.
"What a nice guy. And smart too," Matt enthused, ignoring the persistent drizzle. "Did you notice how he picked up on that nervous security guard? Caught him dead to rights in a lie."
"Yeah, Matt. I noticed," Elisa conceded reluctantly. "For a civilian he has good instincts." Better than good, she admitted to herself.
After delivering a terse, yet thorough, explanation of police policy and procedure, including a demonstration of how best to duck and cover during a hostile situation, Elisa reluctantly cleared Ty to hit the streets. For once, Matt hadn't carped about riding shotgun. Instead, he eagerly slid into the backseat next to their guest, the easier to explain about their investigation.
Elisa concentrated on her driving, and only occasionally did she allow her eyes to stray to the rearview mirror to catch a glimpse of Ty. Their task for the evening was purely routine investigative work. Interview the night shift security personnel, inspect for obvious flaws in their operations, and see if they could figure out how an appallingly large amount of consumer goods were disappearing before they made it to their final destination in shops and malls across the island.
Safe. Boring. Hardly worthy of the stern lecture she had delivered at the beginning of the shift. And yet, he hadn't complained, he just listened as intently as he had that day on the beach when she had first told him about life as a detective.
During their interviews, Ty had behaved himself, staying to the back, exuding a quiet aura of competent menace and watching carefully as they asked seemingly innocuous questions about schedules and staff rotations. He took notes during each interview as befitted his guise of rookie robbery detective, raising a eyebrow but offering no other comment as a second supervisor admitted that they had recently switched from internal to contract security services after receiving a cost-savings pitch too attractive to pass up. Evidently, the sales person hadn't bothered to mention the increased level of inventory shrink they should be prepared to accept in the trade.
He only interrupted once to comment on the expensive wristwatch one of the low-level gate guards was wearing. The stammered reply of 'gift' and Ty's follow up comment about the watch matching missing inventory from another site was all it took for the poor schmoe to crumble. He had spilled it all, as Ty nodded sympathetically and Matt took notes. Or at least as much as he knew. The next step would be to infiltrate the ring and take out the leaders. All in all, not a bad night's work.
They made their way in the wake of the uniforms up the steps and inside the precinct. A notice announcing the shooting schedule was prominently displayed in the middle of the lobby, as was an announcement from the 27th inviting the displaced officers of the 23rd to share office space. "Good," Elisa said briskly. "The sooner they get started, the sooner we get our precinct back."
"Elisa," Matt said, chagrined at his partner's lack of enthusiasm, "what's with you? You've been surly all night."
"I have not," she protested automatically. "Just because I didn't spend the entire shift trying to impress Detective John Butler," she said, using Ty's character name, "with feats of valor."
"Hey, he asked," Matt countered, not the least embarrassed. "He wasn't just making conversation, either. Besides, you're changing the subject. You hung with Ty Clearwater and you didn't tell me?"
Elisa gave her partner a sharp look. "How was I supposed to know you'd care? And when exactly did you get star-struck anyway? Next you'll be telling me you keep fan magazines stashed in your locker." Her dark eyes narrowed further. "You don't, do you?" she said, faintly shocked that she'd failed to notice this unexpected change in her partner's reading habits.
"Actually, yeah," he admitted. "There's skateboarding and video game titles too. What?" His voice jumped up a defensive octave. "They're research material." Off Elisa's incredulous look, Matt added, "You try keeping a teenager's interest for more than ten minutes."
"You're blaming Danny for this attack of second childhood?" Elisa snorted. "Lame, Bluestone."
"Don't avoid the subject." Matt rounded on Elisa, cornering her against an interrogation room door. "We were talking about your relationship with Ty Clearwater."
Elisa sighed. She kept her voice low and deliberate. "I don't have a relationship with him, Matt. Yes, we met a couple of months ago when I went out to Los Angeles on that P.I.T. trip. He was the local liaison and we hung out some. End of story." She attempted to push her way around her partner and back to the bullpen, but he wasn't satisfied.
"So why the cold shoulder?" he whispered as the janitor trundled by with his cart. "Why the weird vibe? Except for the T.O. routine at the beginning of the ride-along, you barely said three words to him all night." He stopped abruptly and stared as a thought struck him. "Did he hit on you?"
"What?" Elisa shook her head as if nothing could be more absurd. And it was, wasn't it? Nothing Ty had done could be construed as anything as crude as making a pass. "No. He was a perfect gentlemen." A perfect, handsome, funny, warm, sensitive – knock it off, Maza. "There was no vibe, weird or otherwise. I was distracted, that's all. You know I don't like ride-alongs. We always get civilians with delusions of Dirty Harry. Remember that councilwoman who brought her own handcuffs? And the D.A. with the piece in an ankle holster?"
"Point taken," Matt conceded.
Pressing her advantage, Elisa played the only sympathy card she knew would affect her overprotective partner. "Besides," she said, wiping at her nose with a crumbled tissue from her jacket pocket, "I think I'm coming down with the flu."
Her reply seemed to satisfy Matt. He gave her a close look in the glare of the overhead florescent lights. "Now that you mention it, you don't look so hot."
"Gee, thanks." Elisa sniffed for good measure. Frail health was permissible if it would get her partner off her case.
"No, seriously. I'll type up the interview reports. Why don't you call it a night? I can catch a cab."
Elisa shook her head. Despite the temptation of the offer – she really did want nothing more than to be alone to mull over the unexpected reunion with Ty – she couldn't afford the downtime. "Thanks, but it's only another couple of hours. Let's get these reports taken care of and then we can both get out of here on time."
Two hours. She could keep her mind on the job that long. Couldn't she?
Avalon, The Great Hall
"This is an outrage!" Hades bellowed. He slammed the end of his scepter against the flagstones, and a thunderous crack echoed through the chamber as the eerie, otherworldly fire that engulfed its ornately carved head flared higher. "For a mortal to obtain awareness of all of her past lives," he declared, "it is tantamount to heresy! Such knowledge is the realm of the gods."
"You mean us," Anubis said, his jackal-like ears twitching.
"Of course he means us," replied Manat. The Arabian fay crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head derisively. "Realm of the gods, indeed," she muttered. "No one has called me a god in millennia."
"Our golden age has long since passed into history," Shai stated. Her kohl-rimmed eyes twinkled with bitterness. "Your position is hardly unique."
Her twin, Renenet, nodded in agreement. "None of us are revered in the mortal world as we once were." She cast a sidelong glance at Hades. "Even the name of mighty Osiris commands little respect among the humans of this new age."
"Do not presume to speak on behalf of us all, child." Si-ming stepped forward from the small contingent of Asian fay. His long gray beard trailed down nearly as far as his lavish silk robes, and in his left arm he cradled a pair of massive leather-bound books. "Egypt may have had its day," he said, shaking a bony finger, "but many of our kind still find themselves well-regarded among the peoples of the East."
"There are over a billion humans in China," Hermes retorted. "How much of a challenge can it be to maintain a following?"
"My Children, please," Titania intoned, drawing the assembled crowd's attention back to the dais. "I fear we are losing track of why we are here." She gestured to her mirror, where the image of a dark-haired woman in blue jeans and a red bomber jacket lingered. "The past-life convergence that this human, Elisa Maza, is experiencing… is it a threat to us?"
"Mortals are not meant to know the true path their souls follow," Anubis declared. "Their minds are far too fragile."
"That sure doesn't stop some of them from trying," Morpheus said. "I've helped three more just today who wanted to be Napoleon."
"Apples and oranges," Coyote interjected. "What's happening to Elisa is no dream. It's real."
The low buzz of many voices once more filled the hall, and the Sisters traded displeased glances as they considered the matter.
"Is there not a prophesy that speaks of dire consequences for our kind if the walls between mortal lives are broken?" Phoebe questioned.
"If the veil falls for this woman," Luna continued, "what was foretold eons ago might be set into motion."
"It would be the beginning of the end for us," Selene stated direly. "Something must be done."
"Can you be so sure, my young ones?" The ranks of the Egyptian delegation parted, allowing Hemsut to step to their fore. The gray-haired elder fay assessed the Sisters with a gentle smile, then turned her gaze to Titania. "We should not be so quick to allow our own fears to blind us, my Queen. There might be other explanations, other forces at work. If the awakening of this woman's soul is but a natural event, then we would have no right to intervene."
Another rumble of discontent swept over the gathered crowd. Titania turned to Coyote, but the trickster was already shaking his head. "No," he said, "whatever has affected Elisa, I don't think it can be natural. There was something about it that just felt… wrong."
"This debate is pointless!" Hades took a step closer to the dais. "There is only one thing that can be done to eliminate our problem, my lord. We must kill the mortal!"
The fairy king shifted uneasily in his throne, and the unquiet muttering of the Court rose both in volume and intensity.
"'Kill the mortal,'" Anubis mocked darkly. "That has been your solution to everything for the past five thousand years."
"Hades has a point," Camaxtli said. The Mayan lord of fate shrugged his shoulders. "Desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures."
"No," Hemsut said firmly, shaking her head, "this 'solution' is unacceptable. We have foresworn direct interference in mortal affairs."
"If this human is potentially a danger us," Manat countered, "it would not be interference. It would be self defense."
"More like a preemptive strike," Shai interjected, "against one who may be wholly innocent."
"Unless we can be certain she is indeed a threat," Renenet added, "we will not condone it."
Coyote growled under his breath as the assembly broke into two factions and began to argue in earnest. Unable to believe what he was hearing, he looked to Titania, ready to voice a protest of his own, only to find the fairy queen appearing equally as taken aback. With the Sisters huddled up again to talk furtively amongst themselves, she turned instead to her husband for assistance.
"My lord," she implored.
Oberon nodded and rose from his throne. "This council will return to order!"
For the first time since the session had began, the Great Hall was silent. Even Gong De Tian, seated on a plush ottoman to Oberon's right, lowered her scroll and paused in her recording of the minutes out of deference to the King of Fay.
"We will consider all suggestions," Oberon declared at length, "but we will not act on mere speculation." He swept his long cape back and took his seat once more. "Our Queen's original question remains unanswered. Is the human, Elisa Maza, a threat?"
"Indeed, my lord," Titania replied. "What say you, Coyote?" Titania beckoned him forward from where he stood beside her mirror, and for a brief moment he wondered if she had sensed that he could no longer hold his tongue.
"With all due respect, my Queen," he said, making no attempt to suppress his frustration, "you know there's just no way I can believe that she is." He turned to Titania's Mirror and thrust his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket, affecting a pose similar to that of the dark-haired woman who stared back at him. "How can she possibly be the one who will bring about our downfall?" he implored, ignoring the murmurs that rose behind him. "Lifetime after lifetime, she has aided us, helping to guard the very gates of Avalon itself."
Titania placed her hand on Coyote's shoulder, and the surface of the glass rippled with eldritch light. "Will you show us?" she whispered as the image shifted. Elisa vanished, and a small encampment of buffalo hide shelters appeared.
"It happened here," Coyote explained, "long ago. Some eleven thousand years as mortals reckon time. The Western Portal had been discovered by our faction during the first Great War. One natural doorway straight to the halls of Avalon, no key needed. It couldn't be blocked by geas; any fay would have felt it from miles off. And some of the Unseelie were pretty hell-bent on revenge after their defeat. A way to guard the portal had to be found when, as they tend to do, humans stumbled onto the scene and provided the solution. The magic around the portal was strong. Strong enough that those first wandering people were attracted to the area."
"Is this story going somewhere?" Hades drawled.
Coyote turned feral features onto the far older fay. "Yeah, so just keep your shirt on. Anyway, Some of them were gifted in the ways of magic. They felt the portal and understood that it was part of something larger than their own meager existence. One day, one of their shamans fell through." Coyote grinned. "A few of you might remember that day."
There were a few nods but most of the assembly shrugged. Titania smiled.
"That shaman turned out to be the key. He was strong and persuasive, and in turn he was willing to be persuaded. The human agreed to use his mortal magic to guard the portal. In turn, Oberon agreed to provide the protection of the immortals to the new guardians." Coyote bowed. "And that's where I stepped into the picture."
Three shapeless forms appeared on a ridge above the encampment. One solidified into an old woman. The other two, to her left and right, remained amorphous.
"These are the humans."
"No kidding," deadpanned the pulsing black ball of energy to her right. "I would have never guessed."
"Why us again?" the pale gray-green glow on her left added.
The old woman, whose features resembled the heavy boned people below, glared at her two pupils. "Because Lord Oberon decreed it." She pointed at the villagers. "He needs more humans to guard the Portal. And these particular humans show an uncommon gift for earth magic. They, and the generations that will follow, will make ideal guardians. But we must persuade them to take up the cause."
"And how will we do that?" the black ball asked. He seemed bored already with the assignment and shifted his shape until he resembled a larger, rangier version of the black crow perched on a nearby tree. The crow glared back with obsidian eyes and the fay launched himself after the bird, cawing raucously.
With a wave of her hand, Grandmother brought her student to earth. "Pay attention," she scolded the bird. "There is another band of travelers advancing on this outpost."
Moments later, a group of six barefoot scouts, stripped of all but their hide loincloths, entered the clearing. Two were bloodied and carrying one of their comrades between them. Behind them trailed the rest of the group. Men, women, and children, carrying all they possessed on their backs and in crude sleds attached to tough, muscular and very feral looking dogs.
"Time to go, young ones. You-" She pointed at the swirling green-gray blob. "-quickly, choose a shape. We will join the travelers."
The amorphous form bobbed on the breeze for a moment indecisively and then morphed into a young dark-haired man clad in a short leather kilt. Grandmother gave him a disapproving look. "No. No. They know the members of their company and will mark you as a stranger. Choose another form!"
"Fine." A moment later, a large canine gave her a feral grin. "Will this do?"
"Well enough," replied Grandmother. "Now stay quiet and pay attention." She held out her hand and a heavy branch levitated to it. She leaned heavily on the makeshift cane and walked haltingly down the hill, arriving just as the travelers reached the village.
A man broke ranks from the battered group. His black, glossy hair fell neatly to his shoulders. His dark brown eyes took in every detail of the village and its people. He smiled when he glimpsed Grandmother and her animal companions. "Ancient One, I feared you were lost in the attack."
Grandmother smiled. "Never worry about me, child. I found some friends in the woods." She pointed to the unusual dog-like creature and raven with her stick. "They kept me safe."
Grandmother's furry shadow ambled to the man's side. He seemed young and old at the same time, as if he had known little ease. He smelled of power. The man smiled at him appraisingly and held out his hand. Taking his cues from the other canines, the pseudo-dog sniffed it and offered the man a cheerful grin before sitting at his feet. The raven cawed in contempt.
There was a stirring among the villagers, and a second man strode confidently to meet the strangers. He was a giant of five feet tall, compactly muscled and perhaps a season younger. He regarded the band warily but did not speak.
The traveler chieftain pulled a finely carved bone knife from his belt and dropped it at his feet. He met his opposite's eyes. "We seek sanctuary among your people."
The headman regarded the stranger and the knife lying at his feet. "Be welcome among us." He signaled and others broke out from the crowd that was gathering around the newcomers. "Find them food and shelter for the night." He picked up the knife from the ground and stuck it in his own belt. "You come with me."
"So that's how it started," Coyote said. "Two groups of humans came together for the first time. Grandmother had been busy in the eastern lands, encouraging the people to migrate to the new continent. After a while, Raven and I and others got in on that act, too. But for right now, the problem was to get this particular group of humans, who'd stumbled upon a very powerful brand of their own magic, to join the quest. We argued about it, Raven and Grandmother and I, over what was the best way to get them to come on board. Grandmother took the long view and she counseled patience. But Raven and I had other ideas."
"We've been here for weeks, Grandmother," the Raven complained. "These humans aren't going anywhere. And what's worse, I think the leader of your precious travelers is starting to lose his hold over his people. Four weeks waiting out the storm has given them a taste for this easy living."
"Patience, my young ones. Ahote was well named. His restless nature will keep him moving and he will not let us down. His people will follow him to the southern lands."
Raven refused to be convinced. "What say you, Dog-face? You barely leave the human's side. Is he turning soft on us?"
"I'm not a dog," the canine protested. "I'm a coyote. An entirely new animal. And I don't know what to think. Tocho has offered to let Ahote's people join his village and some of Ahote's people are keen to take up the offer. Ahote himself is still committed, but we need more than one human, even if he is dedicated."
"All will be well, I promise you," Grandmother said as she went to join the humans.
A triumphant hunting party was entering the protective little canyon that housed the village. The men and their dogs were laden down with chunks of meat and mastodon tusks. Raven eyed the group with interest.
Coyote scratched his ear with his hind foot. "What are you thinking."
"Those humans don't want to move because they feel safe."
"Ah, that's the spot. So?"
Raven turned a beady eye on his companion. "So what if we make them feel unsafe? For their own good of course." He launched himself into the air and circled the canyon walls. After several minutes he returned. "I think it just might work."
Coyote gave the bird a bored look. "You're flapping your beak a lot, but I'm not hearing much. What might work?"
"There's a lake at the top of the mountain. And the village is at the bottom of a canyon."
"An aerial view has given you the local geography. So what?"
"So what if we make this canyon a little less hospitable?"
"By what, flooding them out? We need the villagers and their magic to survive, remember?" Coyote chuffed derisively.
The raven seemed annoyed. "So you think of something."
Coyote got up and stretched his long rangy frame. He looked at the villagers celebrating their successful hunt and cocked his head thoughtfully. "Not a flood, Raven, those things. The beasts."
"What do you mean?"
"Idiot! They're grazing nearby. What if we stampede them into the village? There won't be a hut or a woodpile standing when they're done."
The raven was silent as he mulled over the idea and then he cawed raucously. "I like it! They get run out and we get back on the road. Let's do it."
The scene faded. Coyote shrugged at the assembly. "It seemed like a simple enough plan. One herd of mastodons and a few marauding dire wolves for good measure would shake up the villagers and convince our merry band of travelers that they needed to get their show back on the road. But Raven and I hadn't counted on one thing as we set out about our night's mischief…"
The villagers and their guests danced and feasted around a great fire. "It was a fine hunt, Tocho, my brother. My people will be well supplied for the next leg of their travels."
Tocho did not reply. He speared a thick chunk of mastodon meat onto the bone-handled knife and handed it back to his friend and companion. "Are you sure this is what you must do?" It was an old question between the pair, but the chieftain asked it anyway. "Your people are happy among mine. The valley is plentiful. There is no reason why you cannot stay."
It was Ahote's turn to be silent. When Tocho had offered the ritual of family, he had accepted gladly. They were now more than mere friends, they were spirit brothers, and it would be painful to leave such a fine companion behind. "This is not our place. The Ancient One is besieged by visions. We must follow her as we promised."
"Are you sure it is not the failing of her senses that drives the old woman? To roam in the mind is a common affliction."
"I wish it were so simple," Ahote replied. "This far-off land she describes haunts my dreams. I must find it. My people must find it."
"Our own mystics have come to me, speaking of signs they cannot understand." Tocho stared out into the blackness. "Something is on the air and I confess, I do not like it."
A scream tore through the night, louder than the festival drums. It was answered by another. The merrymakers looked at each other uneasily as wolfsong echoed off the canyon walls.
The dancers stilled and hunters drew their blades as women and children huddled closer to the fire. The two chiefs rose, listening hard to the restless night. "Do you hear that?" Ahote whispered.
"The great beasts are stampeding!" Tocho cried. "Spears, torches. We must protect our homes. Everyone move!"
The festival was forgotten as people scrambled for their weapons. Away from the safety of the campfire the villagers stormed, their dogs bristling with excitement. The great tusked beasts ran blindly for the encampment, flattening everything in their way.
Ahote spared a glance at Tocho; his spirit brother clutched his spear in his hands. A determined expression set his features in a hard mask. "This is my home," he yelled through gritted teeth. "You will not have it!"
"Tocho, this is madness!" Ahote cried. "The herd is enraged. Let them come through. Your people will rebuild."
"No!" He jabbed his spear at the lead mastodon. The point embedded and broke as the creature thundered past. He tossed the broken shaft at the next animal as his people scattered for safety.
Ahote's recently adopted canine companion loped out of the darkness, his jaws slavering as he snapped and bit at the legs of the mastodon. "Ayawamat! Help us!"
The coyote planted himself in front of his master and reared up on his hind legs. The mastodon bugled but could not halt its charge. Ahote and Ayawamat leapt out of its path. Too late. The warrior cried out in pain as an enormous foot caught him in the chest.
"Ahote!" Tocho, mindless of his own safety, threw himself onto the body of the other leader and cowered while the mastodon herd raced passed. An eternity later, the great beasts were gone and cautiously the tribesmen raised their heads.
The village chieftain clambered off the body of his spirit brother. He did not seem injured, though his eyes were closed and his breathing harsh.
"Tocho," Ahote cried weakly. Ayawamat licked at his master's face and the fallen man smiled as he opened his eyes. "The village?"
Tocho shook his head. "A ruin, just as you said it would be."
"Villages can be rebuilt." Ahote tried to rise and slumped back weakly to the ground.
"Lie easy," Tocho said. "You need a healer."
The stricken man tried to shake his head. It lolled on his shoulders. "It's too late for that. My earthly journey has ended. Only on the spirit plane will I see the home promised to my people."
Tocho looked down at his friend then glanced at the ruined village. It was true; his people could rebuild, but what of the others? Ahote had dreamed of a wondrous land in the south. Could not his people rebuild there just as easily? "We will all see this Promised Land, my friend. All of our people will make the journey, together."
Ahote smiled and then his eyes closed. Ayawamat howled.
"Come, my friend," Tocho said to the great, gray-brown canine. "A journey awaits us."
"You were fortunate," Titania said as the image dissolved from her mirror. "You could not have known the one would choose to take up cause of the other."
"I was impetuous and foolish," Coyote agreed. "The migration might have died with Ahote, and all of Grandmother's hard work might have been for naught. Tocho's decision was our salvation. That's why I remained among his people, to guide and protect them."
"It is a touching tale, trickster," Hades interjected, "but what has this long dead human to do with the matter we are discussing?"
Coyote scowled at the denseness of the council. "Because, Lord Hades, the chieftain Tocho and Elisa Maza are one and the same person. When I reached into Elisa's mind to shut off the memory flood, I saw Tocho. I also saw other lives where she had served both her people and ours with distinction and honor. She does not deserve to die."
"All mortals die," Camaxtli noted. "It is their fate."
"But is it her time?" wondered Si-ming.
"Not according to me, it's not." Atropos brandished the shears of fate in one wizened hand as she stepped forward out of the crowd. "No one is cutting her thread of life until I say so."
The buzz of the debate rose in volume until no one voice could be clearly heard. Titania exchanged a troubled look with Coyote as Oberon tried to restore order to the assembly.
"Right this way, Mr. Clearwater. Phineas will be with you momentarily."
"Thank you, Trudy," Ty replied to the lush bodied brunette secretary-receptionist, then added, "And thanks again for getting me in to see Dr. Phelps on such short notice. I really appreciate it."
She smiled at the actor warmly and shook her head. "It was nothing, really. Coffee?"
The phone rang in the outer office. "Excuse me then. And please, give this weekend some thought. We'd love to have you join us." She closed the door behind her, leaving Ty alone to survey the paneled inner office. He was somewhat taken aback at the array of museum quality antiques casually displayed around the bright wood and glass room. He paused to admire a particularly fine sextant and a telescope tooled from copper before his attention was captured by a display of framed documents. He moved closer to study a hand-inked and gold-inlayed copy of Shakespeare's "All the World's a Stage" soliloquy.
"I saw you deliver that speech last year at Oak Park in Chicago. It was a wonderful performance. A pity you couldn't continue in the role to the end of the run."
Ty blushed. So engrossed had he been in studying the intricate work, he hadn't heard the door open or Dr. Phelps enter. He turned to see a man, nearly as tall as himself, fit, though not nearly as muscled with a great shock of iron gray hair and warm blue eyes standing behind him. "Thank you, Dr. Phelps. Someone told me to break a leg and I did. Literally. I slipped and fell outside the theater opening night after the show." He shrugged. "It worked out for the best, Greg Vinkler did a terrific job as Jacques, and I got back to L.A. in time to close the deal on Time to Remember. I suppose everything does turn out the way it's supposed to."
"So very true, young man. Very true indeed. But please, Dr. Phelps is what they put on the marquees. Call me Phineas, everyone does." The self-help guru indicated a mahogany leather sofa. Ty followed his lead, sat, and tried to get comfortable. He fingered the collar of his tailored cotton shirt then dropped his hand to his lap.
"So how can I help you today, Ty?" Phineas prompted. He settled easily into the matching tufted leather armchair and leaned forward into a listening pose.
"Well, you see, Phineas-" Ty hesitated again, wondering if he'd made a mistake. Did he really want to confess all to a total stranger? He needed to tell someone, he decided. His obsession with Elisa was tearing him apart, and people on set were beginning to notice his preoccupation. "There's this woman."
Phineas smiled knowingly. "Ah, a matter of the heart, is it. 'Love, the fairest among the undying gods, who loosens the limbs of gods and men, conquers resolve and prudent counsel within the breast.' Hesiod said that."
"Uh-" Ty digested the flowery phrasing for a moment and then nodded. "Yeah. Love surely can make us crazy. At least that's what it's doing to me."
Phineas nodded sagely. "Go on. Tell me about this mystery woman who's so captivated you."
Ty got up, restless energy animating his athletic form. "I don't want to seem immodest, Phineas, but I've known my share of women."
Phineas dipped his head in an 'of course' gesture. "Are you referring to socially or biblically?"
Ty colored slightly at the frank nature of the question. "Both. Though mostly the first. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't have the opportunities. Dating is part of the business. I take pretty girls to movie openings, industry events, stuff my agent books." He gave a small frown of distaste. "But the girls, they're working too. Most of the time they're too busy making sure they're being photographed from their good sides to keep up their end of a conversation."
"And you find that cools your desire for intimacy?"
"Faster than a cold shower. I kiss them for the camera and spend my nights alone with a book. Is there something wrong with me?" Worry lines creased his forehead.
Phineas couldn't help smiling good-naturedly. "Certainly not. I find your attitude most refreshing. Ours has become a disposable society. Disposable razors, disposable watches, disposable relationships. You should be commended for holding out for something more solid." He reached to the table beside him and extracted a intricately carved wood and bone pipe from the pipe stand and regarded it for a moment before speaking. "But now you've found a woman of substance, hmm?"
Ty smiled as he thought of Elisa's no-nonsense demeanor. "She's as real as they come."
"What's the difficulty then, my boy?" Phineas inquired as he began to pack the pipe with sweetly fragrant tobacco from a small ceramic jar. He paused before lighting it, waiting for an okay from his guest.
"Go ahead." The actor stared a long moment out onto the cityscape. The only sound was Phineas striking a wooden kitchen match and the quiet hiss as the tobacco caught and began to fume. The older man fussed with his pipe a while longer and allowed the actor to gather his thoughts.
"She's-" Ty said softly. And then he tried again. This time his voice was firmer, but still the ache of his loss was heavy. "She's with some one else."
Phineas sucked the stem of his pipe. "I take it, it's not a casual involvement."
Ty shook his head. "No."
"Not exactly," he replied. "But close enough. I know that if she were free we'd be together. I feel it here." He pointed to his heart.
"Hmm," Phelps replied. "And what is her view on the matter?"
Ty balled his fists in frustration. He wheeled away from the window and paced. "She feels it too but she's fighting it. I know she thinks she's trying to do the right thing, but I can tell this is tearing her up as much as it is me."
"So she's a woman of honor as well as substance." Phineas drew on his pipe. "Beautiful as well?"
"Gorgeous," the actor replied. "But the funny thing is, even if she were as ugly as a mud fence I still think she'd be incomparable."
Phineas frowned thoughtfully as he mulled his next question. "These women you mentioned. You've never been in love before. Not even once?"
Ty shook his head. "Not even a high school sweetheart. It's as if I were waiting for just this woman."
"Mr. James Joyce," Phineas said as he contemplated the bowl of his pipe, "the Irish author, once wrote that 'Love is in fact so unnatural a phenomenon that it can scarcely repeat itself, the soul being unable to become virgin again and not having energy enough to cast itself out again into the ocean of another's soul.' A bit dramatic, I will concede, but apropos all the same. I believe that you have established a genuine connection with this young lady." Phineas closed his eyes, further mulling Ty's conundrum. "Yes, indeed. The question is just what do you do?" After a long moment the author rose, set his pipe in the tray of the pipe stand and went to a carved and inlayed table that stood near the window. On it was a scattering of objects, most cast or carved of glass, displayed so they could catch the light. Among the items was a tooled crystal box. "Ah yes, this will do nicely." He gestured to Ty. "Sit down, my boy, I want to try an experiment."
Uncomprehending, Ty complied. He joined Phineas on the leather sofa and waited curiously.
Phineas opened the crystal box and extracted a silver orb on a long thin chain. At its center was a heart of pale pink quartz. "This is merely a bauble, a tool if you will, to help you relax. You're quite upset, Ty, my boy, and we mustn't have you agitated if we're to work through this dilemma of yours."
"No, I mean yeah, I am kinda keyed up." Ty nodded, already captivated by the allure of the orb. He found himself falling willingly into the pale heart of the sphere.
"You see, my boy, I've made something of a study of the soul. How it flits from life to life seeking out other souls it finds familiar. Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson put it like this; 'The soul knows only the soul; the web of events is the flowing robe in which she is clothed.'"
"Huh?" Ty said absently.
Phineas shook his head. "Never mind, we can discuss such heady matters later. Right now, just relax. Relax and let the crystal be your guide. Relax and let your true self be revealed to me. Let this shell of an existence fall away. Who are you really, Mr. Clearwater? Who have you been? And who is this fair lady that beguiles your heart?"
The orb began to emit a strange greenish light. It engulfed both men, and as one they threw their heads backward, sightless, as it bound them together and cast them back into time.
Italy: The Renaissance
The lavish marble audience chamber was filled with the finest Genoa, Florence and Milan had to offer – paintings, sculptures, castings of bronze and silver in opulent display. It was also filled with courtiers, eager to see their prince's latest find in the search for enlightenment. Men and women dressed in brightly hued silks and ermine, cloth of gold and subdued velvets. They waited, affecting an air of nonchalance befitting their rank, though the careful observer would notice that a heightened air of excitement greeted the tall, distinguished man with the shock of gray hair barely contained beneath his black velvet cap who stepped out of a side chamber and mounted the dais at the front of the room.
The volume of murmured conversation increased, and then as if by command they silenced and the man began to speak. The words were inconsequential; Phineas had delivered similar ones himself hundreds of times to many audiences. Lofty words about the unending journey of the soul to find its one perfect mate. The courtiers hung on every phrase with rapt attention and shining eyes.
A couple at the front of the audience seemed especially entranced. The woman was well-formed, dressed in a floor length gown of blue velvet over an undergown of crimson. The rich blue kept the vibrant red displayed at bodice and sleeves from being overwhelmingly garish. She was an ebony-maned natural beauty who caused her pale, plucked, high-foreheaded sisters to fade into the background. Her companion complimented her perfectly. Tall and equally darkly handsome, he carried himself with the grace of one who had spent hours under the tutelage of the dancing master. Discreetly, he took the brown-eyed maiden's hand in his and pressed it to his lips.
"Did I not tell you, bella mio, on the night we met, we were destined to be together always?"
She smiled, eyes dancing amused at her swain, before withdrawing her hand from his. "My husband would surely protest your sentiment, Carlo. Though it amuses him to watch you press your suit." She listened to the speaker and her brow furrowed. "I do not understand. If as ll professore claims, souls chase each other lifetime after lifetime, how would they know one another?"
"Trust me, bella mio," he whispered back under the disapproving glance of the courtier next to him. "I'd know you anywhere."
The green glow faded from Phineas' office and the elder man blinked rapidly as modern Manhattan reasserted itself. "Well, well. This is fortuitous. Most fortuitous indeed. You've done me a great service, Ty, my boy."
He smiled in benign delight at the actor. Ty stared, unseeing, at a point middle distance in the room. Phineas contemplated him thoughtfully as he considered the latest turn of events. "This isn't luck, my boy. No indeed, it's fate. An omen. Do you have any idea how long I've searched? No, of course you don't. And then in you walk." He glanced again at the still unseeing actor. "Oh dear, please excuse me, I've forgotten my manners in the excitement of the moment." Phineas raised the orb once more before Ty and snapped his fingers.
"I'm sorry, I seem to have blanked out for a second," Ty pressed his hands against his eye sockets for a moment and then smiled sheepishly up at Phineas. "I'm sorry, you were saying?" He glanced at the silver orb hanging casually in the other man's fingers. "That's unusual looking."
Phineas glanced at the sphere. "Just a bauble I picked up during my travels. I find it useful at times in unknotting weighty problems." He returned the orb to its crystal box and closed the lid. "I believe you stand at a crossroads, my friend. Oh yes, I do. This woman – what did you say her name was?"
"Elisa, Elisa Maza." Ty sighed. "You know, it sounds goofy, but just saying her name makes me feel warm inside."
Phineas pressed his lips together and shook his head sagely. "I'm not the least bit surprised." Ty's eyebrow quirked sharply upward in disbelief at his host's pronouncement. "No, not in the least. You've a heart connection, my boy." He touched softly at his chest. "Not many people can say they've made that sort of a bond. We search, some of us all of our lives, for that one person who makes us feel complete. Most of the time we settle for something less. A mismatch if you will, because its part of the human condition to be loved. But the heart knows. The soul knows when it's found its mate and that's the situation before you. You know, your soul knows, that you belong with your Elisa."
Ty nodded, listening intently as Phineas warmed, pacing and lecturing his audience of one. "She, unfortunately, gave up the quest and settled for a mere facsimile. You can't allow her to settle, no, it would be a crime against fate. You have a love of the ages. Napoleon and Josephine, Cleopatra and Marc Antony, it goes all the way back to Cupid and Psyche. Neither of you will ever be truly happy until you find a way to be together. Trust me, my boy," Phineas said earnestly. "Your paths would never have crossed unless you were meant to be together."
"I knew it," Ty said softly. He looked up at Phineas, his eyes hot with conviction. "I knew there was more to this than just infatuation. From the moment I set eyes on her, I knew she and I were destined to spend our lives together."
"And you were right," Phineas confirmed. 'Love, and you shall be loved. All love is mathematically just, as much as the two sides of an algebraic equation.' Mr. Emerson again."
Ty rose and contemplated the skyline once more. "Thank you, Phineas. I've really been wrestling with this trying to decide what to do."
"Not at all," Phineas replies modestly. "Wouldn't all of our lives be happier if we could just follow our hearts?" He clapped Ty on the shoulder and gave the actor an encouraging smile as he led him to the office door. At the threshold, he extracted a business card and dropped it in the pocket of Ty's shirt. "My private line. You call me anytime, day or night, if I can do anything. Anything at all."
"Close your eyes, my love."
Elisa smiled and complied. "Another surprise?" she mused as he moved behind her.
"Merely a token," he replied, "in commemoration of the twenty years we have shared as of this night."
"Twenty years," she echoed. "Has it truly been that long?" A chill ran down her back as the dangling pendant fell against her skin, and she reached up to touch it as he drew the gold band about her neck.
"Yes, my love." His hands slipped beneath the dark mane of her hair to fasten the clasp of the necklace. "And I have treasured each and every moment."
"As have I, my husband," she replied. Reopening her eyes to examine the gift, she gave a soft gasp of astonishment as the moonlight sparkled off the jewel. "Oh my, is this-"
"Yes, my wife." Putting his arm around her shoulders, he gathered her close, bringing her into a reclined position beside him. "A diamond to last through the ages, as will my love for you."
She smiled, relaxing into his embrace, and took his free hand into her own. "You make me feel like a young girl all over again, Imhotep." A gentle breeze stirred the fronds of the palm tree that sheltered them at the oasis. The warm dessert current bore the faint scent of tana leaves. It was the fourth night of the year-end festival, and the braziers outside the temple were lit in honor of Isis, revered goddess and protector of the secluded valley where life was still lived as it had been since the days of the Pharaohs.
"Look there, my sweet Neferukayt," Imhotep intoned, his voice as smooth and deep as the Nile. She followed his gaze as he pointed into the distance. "It is just as it was on that night I first brought you here, so many moons ago."
Brown eyes, lined delicately with kohl, twinkled with delight as she spied the pair of gargoyles, silhouetted against the moon in a midair tryst. "Have you ever wondered what it would be like, husband?" she asked.
"To make love on the wing as they do?" he said, completing her thought. He considered the question quietly for a moment. "It must be enjoyable," he said at last, "but also quite dangerous."
"Mm, yes," she replied as she watched the mating pair pull out of a steep dive, the slender female riding astride the well-muscled male, "but is it not true that an element of danger often adds to the excitement?"
He smirked, sensing the subtle shift in her posture as she snuggled against him. "Perhaps you would prefer it then, my love, if I were to return in the next life as one of those handsome winged males who serve as temple guardians, so that you could test that conjecture for yourself."
Elisa chuckled and turned to him, laying a hand gently to his cheek. "My love, I will take you in whatever form the next life brings," she said. "Human or gargoyle, it matters to me not, for I am bound to you eternally, body, spirit, and heart."
"And I to you, my love." He bent to kiss her. "For all time."
"I love you," Elisa muttered from the depths of her dream.
Cagney padded stealthily across the bedroom carpet and leapt up onto the edge bed without breaking stride. He sniffed at his mistress, and Elisa roused reluctantly to the sensation of whiskers tickling her face. She blinked her eyes as the dream images slowly faded and turned her head to find the gray cat staring quizzically back at her.
"Hey, Cagney. Is it that time again already?" She sat up, checking the clock on the nightstand as he answered with a plaintive, hungry meow. "Okay, okay," she grumbled, "I'll feed you."
He hopped back down to the floor as Elisa swung her legs from the bed. She stood, slid her feet into a waiting pair of slippers, and followed him obediently from the room, glancing out the patio doors as she crossed through the living room to the kitchen. Outside on the balcony, Goliath stood, frozen in stone, waiting for the sun to set.
A knock on the door sounded a minute later, as Elisa set Cagney's refilled food bowl down before him. She spared another glance through the glass at her slumbering mate as she hurried to answer it, knowing that sunset was nearly imminent. She peered through the peephole, eyeing the clean-cut young man who waited in the hallway, a long white box tucked under his arm.
"Delivery for Miss Elisa Maza," he said as she opened the door.
"Yeah, that's me." She grabbed for her bomber jacket, hanging nearby, and rummaged in the pockets for something to offer as a tip. "Here," she said, stuffing a crumpled single into his hand and grabbing the box. She swung the door shut door before the delivery boy could offer a 'thank you' and tugged at the red velvet ribbon. A dozen long-stemmed red roses, nestled in a bed of asparagus fern, greeted her eyes as she removed the lid. Tucked among them was a small white card.
A roar from the balcony announced that Goliath had awoken, and an uneasy feeling seized her as she looked at the elegantly scribed missive.
"I have always loved you,"it read. It was from Ty.
Suddenly panicked, Elisa pressed the lid back into place and scrambled for a place to dispose of the flowers as Goliath caped his wings and turned to lay his hand to the slider of the patio door. She settled on the front closet, shoving the box inside before rushing over to greet her mate.
"Good evening, big guy," she said, wrapping her arms about him. Rising up on tiptoes to punctuate her words with a kiss, she could only hope he would not notice the lingering perfume of the roses.
Later, at the Precinct
Not even her stint on the set of The Sunny Shores Show had prepared Elisa for the combination of frantic activity and utter boredom that was part and parcel to location shooting. For the sixth time, Ty Clearwater, two actors Elisa was sure she recognized from early-morning reruns, and a gaggle of extras portraying cops and civilians charged purposely up the stairs to the precinct house.
She didn't want to be there. Anywhere, including staffing the intake desk taking citizen complaints, would have been preferable, but the detectives had been rousted from the squad room while the crew arranged lights and microphones for a later shot. So she waited, on the fringe of chaos, a three ring binder containing notes from an open case weighing her down, while Matt ran up the stairs over and over again at the heels of the man she simultaneously wanted to avoid and never let out of her sight again.
"And Cut!" Everyone froze as the director reviewed the footage from the video monitor at his elbow. "Okay, print that one. You can take five, but don't leave the area. We'll shoot Scene 25 next."
The actors and crew breathed a collective sigh and moments later the area filled with the sounds of people relaxing. Cigarette lighters snicked as butts were ignited, a line formed at the craft wagon where business was suddenly brisk. The two actors Elisa couldn't quite place called for a script assistant and began running their lines. Cell phones snapped open and a dozen ring tones broke out in discordant symphony, Matt's X-Files theme among them. Elisa threaded her way through the throng, intending to ask her partner if he anticipated doing any actual police work, when she felt rather than saw Ty at her elbow. She looked up, smiled, then assumed a casually bored demeanor.
"So this is movie making." Elisa surveyed the bright lights and boom microphones for a moment in silent contemplation. "I think I prefer real life. There's a lot fewer steely expressions and much less purposeful stair climbing."
Ty raised a hand to his heart and sighed dramatically. The overwrought pose did nothing to diminish how sexy he looked in a custom tailored pinstripe suit that no honest cop could afford. "You wound me, lady." He dropped the hand to his side and gave her one of those self-depreciating smiles that made her knees go weak. "It took days of training with a coach to learn to charge up a staircase like that. And now I find the dedication I pour into my craft goes unappreciated."
Elisa regarded Ty, bemused. There was no indication he was teasing, and actors did supposedly take lessons in all sorts of esoteric disciplines. Could stair walking be one of them? "I can never tell when you're putting me on," she said at last. "You can say the most outrageous things and your body language is utterly sincere."
"That's because I never lie to you, Elisa," Ty replied, all levity suddenly absent, his voice pitched just for her ears. She frowned and he added, "Though I might stretch the truth just a little. Most actors take movement classes. You'd be surprised how tough it can be to walk, talk and stay on your marks at the same time. Kind of like now." He gave her a shy smile and for a moment Elisa was reminded of the younger, less perfect version of the actor she had witnessed on late-night television. "Did you like the roses?"
Elisa wanted to sigh. She was going to have to let him down quickly. Hopefully a crowd would keep her would-be suitor from creating a scene. She ducked her head and studied the worn leather of her running shoes so that he wouldn't see the flush of emotion that heated her cheeks. When she was sure they wouldn't betray her, she met his hopeful expression with one of neutrality. "Look, Ty, before you start, don't. I told you in Los Angeles there couldn't be anything between us. So please stop." She held up a hand in a defensive pose and forced as much conviction into her voice as she could muster. "No more flowers. No more gifts. Just no more."
"It's not that easy," he protested softly. "What we have between us is driven by fate."
For a moment Elisa dropped her mask, oblivious to the throng of people that surrounded them. "I can't believe that. Not now."
She turned to walk away, find Matt, who had drifted from her line of sight, and retreat, but Ty restrained her, placing one hand casually yet with unmistakable firmness on her elbow. "Elisa, wait! You don't mean that."
She briefly considered using a judo move her father had taught her years ago in preparation for her first date, then turned to meet arresting brown eyes. "I do. I have to, Ty. And if you feel anything at all for me, you'll respect that."
Faint hearts didn't win fair maidens, the actor reminded himself, but this wasn't the time or the place to woo the lady. She wanted him. He could feel it. He could hear it in the forced professionalism of her voice and see it in the slight tremor of her shoulders as he touched her. Phineas had called it a heart connection. He would win her away from the gargoyle, he just needed the right approach… and maybe an ally. Reluctantly, he released Elisa and waved. "Matt, buddy. Great work in that scene."
The lanky redhead approached the pair, his step unusually light. He grinned self-consciously. "Hey, thanks, you too." He turned to his partner. "You don't know what you're missing, Elisa."
Elisa's expression was unreadable as she regarded both the actor and her partner. "It must be a guy thing." She indicated the notebook cradled in her arms and addressed the other detective lightly. "I'm going to the 27th and borrow a desk so that I can do some real police work. When you get done playing 'let's pretend', Matt, why don't you join me?"
When she rounded on Ty her voice was again firmly professional. "I'm glad I could clear that up for you." The 'Mr. Clearwater' implied in her clipped tone was omitted, Ty was certain, to forestall the questions her partner must be forming. From his ride-along Ty knew the redhead didn't miss much and he was deeply protective of Elisa. "We are clear, right?" She turned away without waiting for his reply.
"What was that all about?" Matt said as he watched his partner move briskly down the street toward the parking structure where she had left her car.
Ty was watching as well, appreciating the confident sway of Elisa's hips and the fluid motion of her long dark hair as she strolled momentarily out of his life. "Hmm? Oh nothing, Matt, just a difference of opinion."
"Actors to the set for Scene 25 please!" the A.D. called, ending the break.
Ty flung his arm companionably around the detective's shoulders. "Come on, I think there might be a spot for you in this shot."
Matt flushed clear to the tips of his ears, all thoughts of his partner's odd behavior instantly forgotten. "Really? Hey that's great!" He looked at the actor hopefully. "A speaking part?"
Hey, he had asked for it. So he'd flex that producer's credit and pull a few strings. "Maybe not in this scene," Ty soothed. "But we'll work something out. After last night's ride-along it's the least I can do." He slapped his new friend affectionately against the back of the head and broke away to speak to the director.
Goliath frowned as Elisa hurried away from the 23rd precinct, unsure of what he had witnessed between his mate and the stranger who had spoken to her with such urgency. In his belt pouch was the reason for his presence. Elisa's cell phone, forgotten in the confusion of the detective's leave taking.
He had decided to bring her the phone in person, to enter the station if he could not draw her attention outside of it. Captain Chavez had officially assigned Elisa as their liaison to the police department and he had visited her before in that capacity. His presence would cause only minor comment.
The ruse was unnecessary. It seemed half the precinct was watching the activity on the steps, including his Elisa. But why had she been engaged in such intense conversation with the human around which so much activity now swirled? Why had he touched her with such intimacy? And why did she seem so unhappy?
He would find out. The gargoyle unfurled his wings and took to the air, casting a dark shadow over the movie shoot as he hurried to catch up with his mate.
"She should be brought to Avalon for trial," suggested Athena. The Goddess of Wisdom had been called to the council chamber to help mediate the discussion among the fay who considered life and death their purview.
"For what?" Coyote snapped back. "She's the victim here. Why can't you get that through your skulls?"
"Calm yourself, Coyote." Oberon spoke quietly but there was no mistaking the menace in his tone. "We will tolerate no more of your insolent manner. You will address the members of this council with respect." He leaned forward and narrowed his eyes in warning. "Or you will be removed."
"My lord!" Titania interjected. "My husband," she added, moderating her tone to conceal her outrage, "Coyote speaks as Elisa's advocate. He must be allowed to remain."
Oberon smiled benevolently. "Because you wish it, we will allow it. But only if he minds his manners."
"Of course, husband." Titania gave the trickster a warning glare. "Coyote will comply with your mandate."
It wasn't easy, but Coyote bent his neck. "My apologies, Lord Oberon." He took a deep breath and ignored the smirk pasted on Hades face. "I tend to get passionate about those under my personal protection."
"Which is why we are allowing your continued presence." Oberon turned his attention to Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, who were muttering over their spinning wheel. "Is there something you three wish to add?"
Clotho, spinner of fate, looked up, her pale face creased with worry. "My lord, something odd is happening with the threads of life. They are snarling in a most peculiar way."
Oberon, already bored with the proceedings, narrowed his eyes further. "So unsnarl them and be on your way. You've already stated your case for sparing the life of Elisa Maza."
Lachesis, ugly and bent, stepped forward and away from her sisters, the better to be heard by the council. "You misunderstand, my lord. Another is drawing the threads of life to him, including that of Coyote's ward. It is not the first time we have noticed such a convergence."
Oberon rose from his throne and loomed over the being, ancient even by his standards. "Then why didn't you say anything about this before?" He scanned the gods and goddess of fate who ranged the room and glowered at all of them. "Why didn't any of you?"
"It could have been coincidence," shrugged Shai. "It could have been oversight."
"The humans are like mayflies," Manat agreed. " They come and go so quickly. Who notices the oddities of every single life?"
"Call Apollo!" Oberon demanded.
A burst of blinding sunlight turned the chamber stark white and then died. Out of its midst, a golden-haired youth emerged. "My lord, you summoned me?"
"The convergence of human souls," Oberon stated. There was a look of distinct worry upon his haughty mien. "Repeated over the centuries. What does it mean?"
Apollo frowned. "There is a prophecy, my lord. Seven times one mortal shall bind the souls of seven more to his. Each binding shall renew his life, but the seventh shall cause the scales of ignorance to fall from his eyes and he will have perfect knowledge."
There was a collective gasp from the council.
"If a mortal knows all there is to know," Selene began.
"Then the gates of Avalon shall open to him," Phoebe continued.
"And we shall be expelled forever from these shores," Luna concluded grimly.
"My lords and ladies," Oberon said softly, all trace of his usual bluster gone. "I believe we have a problem."
Most detectives, Elisa included, loathed their monthly turn at the cold case files. Tonight, though, she regarded the stacks of folders carefully winnowed from the unsolved files as a gift. It was dull, routine police work – just the thing she needed to escape her currently tumultuous personal life.
Goliath had seen her arguing with Ty on the precinct steps. Goliath had seen her take off in a huff and naturally been curious enough to follow and ask how he could help.
It wasn't as if she was angry at her mate exactly, but suddenly his thoughtful, romantic gesture of dropping in on her at work to deliver her cell phone seemed invasive, and Elisa found herself chafing at the intrusion into her professional space. She had blown him off, claimed pressing work, using the cold case file she'd taken with her as proof, and hot-footed it inside the 27th where she had hidden until dawn.
Now she felt guilty. Goliath loved her. He had seen her upset, his protective instincts had kicked in, and she had given him hell for it.
"Yeah, Maza, you feel guilty. But what are you going to do about it?" It was becoming a tiresome question. She still didn't have a good answer.
For the moment, she was free of Ty and his movie crew. They had moved on to some other location, relinquishing the squad room but taking her partner with them. Elisa shook her head, bemused. Matt the actor. But then again, given the number of undercover assignments they'd fielded over the years, why not?
Having concluded her moment of wallowing, Elisa settled in to work. Maybe she'd get lucky and break a case. And maybe she'd finally figure out a way to make things right with Goliath by the time she got off shift.
But Elisa the cop had hours before then and a four-inch stack of folders. She'd start with her own cases first, re-crosscheck them against recent and solved crimes, look for angles they'd missed the first time through, then move on to do the same for those of other investigators whose cold cases waited for fresh eyes and new perspectives to mark them closed.
She opened her desk drawer to retrieve a fresh legal pad and pencil and paused as she found the small, royal blue gift box tied neatly with an even darker blue length of satin ribbon. Underneath was an envelope with her name written in a firm hand.
Checking to see that no one was looking, Elisa scooped up the small box and card and, tucking both under the notepad, she hurried into the women's locker room. With another guilty glance, she hustled into a bathroom stall and shut the door behind her, locking it firmly.
With shaking hands she undid the ribbon and opened the box. Inside was a broken heart on a chain of gold. She turned it over. In tiny but legible script it read 'My heart.'
"Oh Ty," Elisa said softly. She tucked the necklace into the deepest recesses of her jeans pocket, then sat down on the toilet to open the card. The same even hand that had addressed the envelope had written the inscription.
Hey Elisa Maza,
I know in my soul that we belong together but if you won't have me
then at least keep my heart safe because it will always belong to you
She brushed at her eyes, unwilling to let tears fall at the unguarded sentiment. He loved her, yet he was willing to let her go, to respect her wishes and her commitment. She pressed the notecard against her lips in a gesture of farewell then resolutely tore both missive and envelope to shreds before flushing the pieces down the toilet. The box she discarded under a pile of discarded paper towels, but the necklace stayed safe in her pocket as she splashed her face with cold water, added one more towel to the pile, and returned to her desk just as the phone began to jangle.
"Detective Maza," she answered crisply.
"You're sexy when you're officious, did you know that?" Ty's voice was warm. She could sense that his smile reached all the way to his eyes.
"Flatterer," Elisa replied pleased at the out of the blue compliment. Then she remembered it was Ty, recently of the broken heart and she sobered. "How are you?"
There was a pronounced silence and Elisa realized she knew exactly how he felt. "Never mind, I found your gift in my desk."
She waited, expecting one of Ty's self-depreciating comments. "Then you know how I am," he replied soberly. "But I realized that I didn't want things to end that way between us, Elisa, you're too important to me. We're friends, or at least we started out to be. I'd like to find out way back there if we can."
"I'd like that too," Elisa replied softly, wondering if it would be enough just to have him in her life.
"Can I see you?"
Elisa hesitated before replying. "Sure. Tomorrow afternoon okay?"
"We're shooting in Central Park tomorrow. We should be done around four."
"Four would be fine." Elisa hesitated again. He picked the time, she should pick the place. Someplace neutral. "How about at the amphitheater?"
"A stage, why not?" He sounded bemused. "I'll try not to play the fool." Then sincerely, as if she had no greater gift to bestow, "Thank you, lady." The connection severed and slowly Elisa racked the phone wondering if she had made the right decision.
Next Day, Central Park
Ty tugged at the stainless steel band of his watch nervously as the cab slowed near the entrance to the Delacorte Theater. He was late, his own fault. Nerves over meeting Elisa had influenced his performance, and he'd muffed several takes of an important scene, earning the ire of the director. Even Matt Bluestone, newly minted member of the Screen Actors Guild, had a better day on the set, and Matt had tripped over a cable in front of his girlfriend and teenage foster son, landing flat on his face.
Still, writing the veteran detective a small part in the film had been worth it for the insight into his partner. A late night bull session after shooting had covered mostly police procedure and war stories, but eventually Matt had brought Elisa into the conversation on his own volition. He had noticed something off about her the night of the ride-along and he suspected Ty had something to do with it.
Ty had played the innocent to perfection. Of course he'd been surprised to see her. Yes, he thought they had hit it off in Los Angeles, in a friendly kind of way. And yes, she did seem distracted when he was around. He hoped he hadn't done something to unintentionally offend her.
"She's involved," Matt had stated flatly. "She gets unhappy when people don't respect that."
And that's when Ty had realized he had it all wrong. He couldn't chase Elisa. She had to come to him.
The cab finally pulled to a stop and the actor wasted no time, pressing cash into the driver's hand with a muttered, "Keep the change," as he jogged toward the open-air theater.
As he closed on the structure, he slowed and affected a casual saunter, one more appropriate to the fine spring day. One he hoped that wouldn't betray the nervous beating of his heart.
Ty dropped the pose when he saw Elisa. She wasn't sitting on the steps or pacing nervously, glancing at her watch as he had pictured her. Instead, she was facing off against two burly knife-wielding thugs, circling warily as they feinted and danced around her.
Unmindful of his safety, he ran full on, driving his shoulder into the closer of the two muggers. He succeeded in knocking the knife from his hand, but underneath the grimy white tee shirt and denim vest his opponent was built of muscle used to hard wear and he rebounded quickly, sending an iron-boned fist upward into the actor's solar plexus.
It knocked the air from his lungs and he struggled to find his breath, gasping even as he lunged back into the fray.
"Ty!" Elisa shouted as she attacked the remaining thief. Her spin kick landed smoothly, knocking his knees out from under him and sending his blade flying into the stands. She kicked the downed man again twice in rapid succession, two fast blows to his legs and gut leaving him moaning in pain.
"Eyes, throat, nads," Ty muttered, remembering the lessons in street fighting taught by his favorite stunt coordinator. His fist stung and his knuckles split, spraying blood as he connected with the leathery flesh below a pale blue eye.
Before he could strike again, he was sailing backwards, fighting to keep his feet underneath him. He skipped and balanced then wobbled again on the toes of his leather-soled shoes. Finally, he lost his footing completely, landed on the seat of his new blue jeans with a thump, and slid to the ground semi-dazed.
Dimly, he recalled Elisa commanding his assailant to freeze, but she gave no chase, running instead to his side and falling to her knees. Her chest was heaving, a sight the actor realizing under other circumstances he would find appealing, as she methodically ran her hands over his body checking for broken bones and other injuries. He tried to smile but only managed to grimace at her as gently she helped him to sitting. "Come on, Ty, stay with me."
Unwatched, Elisa's victim tottered to his feet and limped away as quickly as he could manage.
"Would you consider it unmanly if I fainted at your feet?" Ty wheezed. His lungs felt like they were on fire.
"No fainting," she replied briskly, though she softened the order with gentle hands as she rechecked his eyes for signs of concussion. "You took a couple of solid blows. Close your eyes and concentrate on breathing through your nose. In, then out."
He tried, and realized his face hurt too. Gingerly he touched his jaw. "Ow."
"Ow is right," Elisa agreed. "Your makeup person is going to have fits hiding that bruise." She watched as he got his breath back. "What were you thinking diving into a fight like that?"
"You were in trouble," he said stating the obvious.
"No more than usual." She looked down at the slice mark in her pale blue tee shirt, and reconsidered. "Well, maybe a little more. Thank you." Elisa rose and offered Ty her hand. "We should get you out of here."
"Okay, but no ambulance. Just get me back to my hotel." She gave him a worried look then nodded. He hitch-step-limped over to the edge of the stage and leaned against a pillar to ride out the last of the adrenaline surge as Elisa went into cop mode, calling the local precinct to report the two muggers. He heard her promise to file a formal report and email it over as soon as she could.
"My car's over there." She pointed out the Fairlane a short distance away, hesitated, then offered her arm.
Masculine pride won out and Ty shook his head. "I can make it."
Elisa nodded and didn't press. She dug her hand into the front pocket of her jeans and retrieved her car key. "You're lucky you got out while there was time."
Ty looked at his companion perplexed. "Sorry?"
"This." She gestured toward Ty's bruises and her ruined shirt then back toward the site of the attempted assault. "Calamity Jane had nothing on me."
"Are you suggestion that loving you would be hazardous to my health?" Ty replied still confused. "You'll have to excuse me, I'm contused. Possibly concussed."
"Forget it," Elisa replied as she helped him into the red and white classic. "It's not important. Let's just get you home."
She brought the old car's engine to life and drove Ty home in silence.
Back at the Precinct
Elisa checked herself over one last time in the locker room mirror, carefully adding a dab more concealer before brushing her hair over the purpling bloom on her temple. She had kidded Ty about the bruises he had earned at the hands of her assailants, but she had caught some knocks of her own. Now that a few hours had passed and the rush of combat had worn off, she was beginning to feel all of them despite the hot shower, aspirin, and a liberal application of minty smelling muscle soother.
All in all, it hadn't been a good day. Fitful sleep had made her feel rough around the edges and certainly had contributed to dulling her senses. Already preoccupied by thoughts of Ty, the broken heart necklace, and his request to try one last time to put their relationship back on a platonic footing, she had failed to notice the two men who had rushed her until it was nearly too late.
Lost in thought, she dropped the necklace she'd been contemplating just as the thugs attacked. They had hoped for an easy conquest and had cornered a tigress instead. She came up swinging, the necklace clutched in her fist, doing everything she could to avoid the wicked looking blades wielded with such gleeful malice.
Thank goodness for Ty. He had evened the odds with his selfless act of heroics and probably saved her life or, at very least, her honor. She owed him. As she gave herself one more inspection and straightened the badge clipped to the belt of her 'going to court' pantsuit, the only spare clothes she had on hand, she wondered how exactly she could pay him back.
"Think about it later, Maza," she said to her reflection. Right now she had to pull her shift. She bypassed the coffeepot and went straight to her desk to start work on the incident report. Park patrol officers were already canvassing based on her verbal descriptions, but her statement, and the one Ty had given her while waiting for the film unit's physician, still needed to be typed up and properly filed.
But the actor refused to be driven from her thoughts even as she pulled up the correct screens to file the assault complaint. She picked up the phone and dialed the number he'd given her, then slammed the receiver down on the hook. With a purposeful shove she moved the phone out of reach and bent over her keyboard.
The heat of the day was fading as the sun nestled down between the rolling, wooded hills that fringed the western edge of the valley. Its fiery reflection glinted off the watery surface of the paddy fields, and Elisa tugged at the brim of her wide straw hat, adjusting it to shield her eyes as she gazed out over the top of the hedgerow. In the distance, the peasant farmers who tended the rice crop were gradually making their way back to the narrow levees that crisscrossed the plain. For the weary men, the onset of dusk meant another day's work was at an end, and it was time to return home to their families.
Elisa thought of her husband, out there among them, and wondered if right now he was thinking of her. Absently, she plucked another sprig of leaves from the mulberry bush and added them to the woven basket cradled in her arm, smiling in contemplation of spending the night by his side. Soon, she mused, her own day's toils would also be finished, and she too could return home.
"I think that's a wonderful idea! What say you, Ming Tieh?"
"Please, sao zi, will you join the two of us?"
Elisa blinked as a hand touched the flowing sleeve of her simple commoner's jacket. Turning her head, she gave an apologetic smile to the young Asian woman who had just addressed her. "I'm sorry, Tian Shi," she said, shaking her head, "I'm afraid my mind was elsewhere just now. Will I join you where?"
The dark-eyed woman chuckled, her voice soft and musical. "At the river, after sunset," she replied, smiling eagerly. "There is a secluded spot where Liang Hu and I sometimes go to refresh ourselves in the current. We would very much like to share it with you."
"Tonight?" Elisa looked to the other woman who labored beside her.
"Yes," Liang Hu said. "The moon waxes full this evening, and the elders will be keeping our husbands occupied. It seems the perfect opportunity to slip away for a short while and enjoy each other's company." She deposited a final mulberry leaf into her basket and gave a nod, signaling that it was time to go.
"It may be our last chance this summer, as well," Tian Shi said as she scooped up her own basket and fell in step with her companions. "The silkworms are nearly ready to weave their cocoons, and once they are finished, we will be too busy with the harvest and the spinning to find time for much else." She edged up alongside Elisa as they made their way along the dusty path, past the old granary and the barn where the oxen were stabled. "So will you come with us?"
"You are family, Ming Tieh," Liang Hu reassured. "We would welcome your company." She smiled amiably, her jade green eyes twinkling with a hint of mischievous delight. "If you wish, we could even bathe you as we did this past spring."
Elisa shivered in recollection. A ritual bath on the night before the wedding was the local custom for new brides, and her marriage had fallen early in the season. Though the women of her husband's family had welcomed her warmly, the river, fed by mountains capped with melting snow, had been practically freezing. "I don't know," she replied at last. "Will the water still be that cold?"
Tian Shi chuckled again. "Oh no, not at all," she replied. "In fact, I think you will find it to be quite agreeable this time of year."
Elisa considered the matter a moment longer. Her husband had mentioned that the elders had called a meeting of all the men in the village, but it had slipped her mind that it was to take place tonight. "All right," she said, reasoning that little harm could come of accompanying her gregarious sisters-in-law for a moonlit swim, "I shall join you."
Liang Hu smirked as they neared the small cottage where the silkworms were kept. "A decision you will not regret, my dear."
"Hurry up, girls," a new voice chided mildly as the door opened. "We are losing daylight, and we must be sure that the caterpillars have enough food to last them until morning."
"Yes, Jian Yue," the three women replied in unison. They entered in turn, eldest to youngest, inclining their heads in respectful greeting to the diminutive, gray-haired woman who was both their overseer and mother-in-law. She directed Liang Hu and Tian Shi towards different parts of the room, then placed an arm around Elisa's shoulders and escorted her to the back.
"Your silkworms seem to be faring quite well, Ming Tieh," she stated as they crossed to the long shelves bearing the shallow woven reed baskets that held the fat white caterpillars. "You should soon have a bountiful can hua."
"Thank you," Elisa replied. "I do my best." She gave a filial smile and moved to distribute the freshly picked leaves from her basket to the hungry silkworms in her care. Not until the season was over, she knew, would the elder woman be fully satisfied that her newest daughter-in-law's sericulture skills were up to par, but the unexpected compliment still filled her pride.
Jian Yue stooped to retrieve the mottled brown cat who had crept out from his corner to sniff at the hems of their long skirts. By night, he guarded the precious silkworms from mice, but by day he preferred to chase the dangling, braided ends of the decorative belts the women often wore. He gave a meow of complaint at being denied the chance to stalk Elisa's, and Jian Yue chuckled. "You see, Ming Tieh?" she said as she held him to her chest, "Even Mao-Mao knows."
Elisa paused and eyed the other woman quizzically. "Knows what?"
Jian Yue grinned and leaned forward conspiratorially. "That one day you shall be one of the best can hua gu niang in the whole province!"
"She actually said that, my love?" He laughed and pulled her into his arms. Her long hair, still damp from her recent outing at the river, cascaded down her back in a ebony wave as she tipped her head back and met his depthless eyes with her own.
"Those exact words, husband. I swear it!" Her delicate hand settled against his muscular chest, and a heartbeat later she gasped as he scooped her from her feet and pressed his mouth to hers. Her eyes fluttered shut, and her lips parted eagerly to accept the kiss. "Mm," she murmured as he carried her to the bed, "what was that for?"
He smiled down at her and trailed a finger along her cheek, gently tracing the outline of her face. "That," he replied, "was for whatever it is that you have done since your arrival to so thoroughly impress my mother. But this, my love," he continued as he pushed her robe from her shoulders and pressed his body to hers, "is for making a poor farmer the happiest man in all of China."
Being loved by him was like touching heaven, for nothing else she had ever known filled her being with such a joyful sensation of utter completeness. Even on their wedding night, with Liang Hu and Tian Shi quietly looking on to bear witness to her virtue as tradition demanded, there had been no doubt or hesitation. The same inexorable feeling had surged through her then, as if the two of them had known each other not for mere hours, but a lifetime. They belonged together, heart and mind, body and soul. And as she tumbled over the precipice of bliss, she cried out his name and he held her close.
As coherence returned, she found herself staring at the ceiling. Random patterns of light, cast by the fire flickering in the hearth, danced over the timbers. "Jun Teng?" she said quietly, breaking the silence that filled the small one-room home.
"Yes, my love?"
"If you are chosen to go, then I will go with you."
She waited for his response, the movement of the bed as he roused back to wakefulness her cue that he, too, recalled their earlier unfinished conversation. He had told her of the news relayed by the village elders. The army was recruiting work crews to assist in the construction of the Emperor's great wall, and each family was expected to send at least one man. He had stated she should not worry, for his family was quite large. But when she had pressed him for stronger assurances that they would not be parted, he had skillfully steered away from the subject and instead sought to learn how she had spent her evening.
He turned to her now, taking her hand into his. "Ming Tieh," he said gently, "you know that would be impossible. They would never permit a woman to-"
"Then I will go as a man," she insisted. "I will cut my hair short and put on men's clothes, and do whatever else I must to remain by your side."
"You would have to do the work of a man, as well," he replied, "but even in a man's clothes you would still be a woman."
"Yes, I would. But so what? A woman can do any job that a man can." She scowled as her declaration was met with a chuckle. "All right, then don't believe me. One day you will see!"
Jun Teng drew his beloved wife close and planted a kiss on her forehead. "And I have no doubt that you will one day be the one to show me."
She closed her eyes and clung to him, allowing her deepest fears to find voice at last. "I just can't stand the thought of losing you," she intoned. "I love you."
"And I love you," he replied.
"Promise me that we shall always be together?"
"I promise, my love."
Elisa sighed contentedly. It was all she needed to hear. "You and I are one," she muttered as she drifted off to sleep, "now and forever."
"Nin he wo shi yi, xian zai he yong yuan."
"Elisa?" Captain Chavez puzzled a moment over the strange utterance. She snapped her fingers in front of the woman's face, but the detective was dead to the world. Frowning, she placed a hand on Elisa's shoulder and shook her. "Maza, wake up!"
"Huh? What?" Elisa rubbed at her eyes and tried to remember where she had just been, but the images retreated in a blur, leaving behind only a vague impression of pleasant familiarity. She looked up and found Captain Chavez staring at her, arms crossed, in rapt fascination.
"I didn't know you spoke any Chinese, detective."
"I don't," Elisa replied. She rose unsteadily to her feet, wondering how long she had been out and whether anyone besides the captain had noticed.
Captain Chavez eyed the haggard woman critically. "No offense, Elisa," she said mildly, "but you look like the walking dead. Why are you even still here?"
"I was trying to finish my reports." She touched the computer keyboard to clear the screensaver, and her shoulders slumped as she realized the only entries she had managed to type before being Shanghaied by the sandman were her name, her badge number, and the date.
She offered no resistance as Captain Chavez pushed the mouse out of reach. "Go home, detective. Get a shower, and get some sleep. In a bed this time."
"And I'm ordering you to take the rest of the week off, too, so don't even bother telling me that you're fine." She pulled Elisa's bomber jacket from the back of the chair and handed it off to her. "You're one the best cops I've got around here, Maza, but you're no good to me when you can barely stand up."
"Yes, Captain," Elisa replied. As she shrugged on her jacket and exited the squad room, she couldn't help but recall that this was not the first time the captain had forced her to take a brief vacation to deal with her personal life. "I've got déjà vu all over again," she grumbled.
"Hey, Owen, wait up!" Elisa jogged the last several yards to the private elevator as the blond man held the door.
"Ms. Maza," he greeted.
"Thanks," she said as she edged in beside him. He thumbed the top button on the panel and the elevator doors slid shut.
"No, I don't think there's any point in doing another focus group. It doesn't really matter how much higher her Q-rating is, because I can tell you right now she's not going to be interested." Fox stood at the back of the car, jacket slung over her arm and cell phone to her ear. Dressed in a tailored navy pantsuit with her hair pinned up in a loose twist, she looked like she had just returned from a meeting. She acknowledged Elisa with a nod and a smile but held up a finger as the elevator began to ascend to forestall any interruption. "I know, Marge, but you're just going to have to trust me on this. " She paused. "Okay. Update me as soon as you hear anything new. Goodbye."
Fox sighed and flipped her phone shut. "Well if that doesn't beat all," she said. She shook her head, an odd smirk gracing her lips as she slipped the slim device into her purse.
"Mrs. Xanatos?" Owen prompted.
"We've been pitching Angela for over month now with no luck, but today we got a call back. Only they don't want Angela. They want Demona."
"Demona?" Elisa and Owen spoke simultaneously, and the dark-haired woman looked up, trading a glance with the staid majordomo.
Fox nodded. "Apparently, one of the vice presidents at Kidnet saw her in that Sunny Shores broadcast and decided she's got a future in children's television. She's more 'motherly and reassuring' than Angela, I believe is how he put it."
Owen raised an eyebrow. "Indeed, Mrs. Xanatos. I imagine she will be quite glad to hear the news."
The auburn-haired woman chuckled. "I suppose it never hurts to have something to fall back on if the sorceress / CEO thing doesn't pan out." She smirked, bemused. "Do you want to help me tell her, Elisa, or should we have Angela do it?"
Imagining Demona's indignation, Elisa shook her head firmly. "Pass. I've had my share of danger for today."
Fox's mouth drew down into a concerned frown. "Rough night at the office?"
"It was nothing compared to my afternoon in the park," her companion replied. Elisa watched the indictors climb steadily onward toward the castle proper. All she really wanted was – suddenly she wasn't sure. Her first instinct after Captain Chavez had dismissed her from the precinct was to find Goliath. Now that she was floors away he was the last person she wanted to talk to. How could she explain what she was doing in the park when she was attacked. Lie? She'd already skirted the issue of Ty once with Goliath, he'd know in an instant if she dissembled. Elisa folded her arms to her chest and stared at the floor.
"Are you all right?" Fox asked.
Elisa lost in her own thoughts, reacted sharply turning on Fox. "Why do people keep asking me that?"
Owen who had been standing quietly at the back of the car replied. "Perhaps, Ms. Maza, it's because you are projecting a great deal of tension. Might I suggest some time in the whirlpool followed by a massage?"
"I don't need a massage." Elisa's neck tightened and she winced as it spasmed. She pressed down hard on jumping muscles, then dug her fingers into the juncture above her collarbone. "Okay, maybe I do. But what I really need are some answers. You have the direct line to Avalon can you use it to get through to Coyote?"
"Summon the trickster?" Owen deadpanned. "Why?"
Fox turned to the majordomo. "There was an… incident when we were in Los Angeles. Coyote stepped in to help Elisa but he couldn't stick around long enough for explanations. He promised to return as soon as he could."
Owen nodded once. "I see."
"Well I don't. Why hasn't he come back?" Elisa growled. They were perilously close to the end of their assent. What was she going to do when the elevator chimed their arrival?
"Perhaps he was detained," Owen replied.
"Don't forget, Elisa," Fox added, "time moves differently there. Minutes to Coyote are days to us."
"Right. So what am I supposed to do in the meantime?" Elisa groused.
The elevator slowed and Fox hit the stop button before the doors could open. "Hang on. I have an idea." She flipped open her phone and punched up a number from memory. "Trudy, hi it's Fox. Is Phineas in-"
"Not the TV shrink," Elisa groaned.
Fox shushed her. "Phineas, remember that favor you owe me. I have a friend. She needs to get away for a few days. Wonderful Her name? Elisa Maza. You can. Excellent. Ciao." Fox hung up and pocketed the cell phone. "It's all settled."
"What are you doing?" Elisa protested. "I am not going to go spill my guts to some quack with a book."
"And the highest rated new syndicated talk show," Fox added. "Now here me out. Dr. Phelps is having a seminar aboard a private yacht. He's agreed to see you, and frankly, Elisa, you need to see somebody. Not everything that's eating you is mystical. So go. Have that massage, get some sunshine, and talk to Phineas. It will do you a world of good. And don't worry, Coyote can find you no matter where you are."
Mistress and servant looked at her expectantly as Elisa considered. A free vacation with one visible string. The offer was tempting. She did need some time to rest and get her head straight. "All right. I'll do it," she replied. "When?"
Fox suppressed a satisfied smirk. "From the looks of you, the sooner the better. Owen will pack for you while you leave a note for Goliath. He's speaking tonight before the Chamber of Commerce."
"What? He didn't say anything to me." Elisa felt a wave of relief and immediately felt shamed by her reaction.
"He didn't know himself until an hour ago," Fox replied smoothly. "David needed a substitute and I thought it would be good if he were seen in a less violent setting. Angela and the kids are getting good clippings, but Goliath only makes headlines when he's helping the police."
"You say that like it's a bad thing," Elisa groused.
Owen pressed the open button and the doors slid smoothly home. "Why don't you change into something less bureaucratic," Fox suggested. "The ship doesn't actually leave until morning, but I think an evening unwinding aboard will do you good. The car will be downstairs in an hour," the redhead added as she hurried away with Owen in her wake. "You can thank me when you get back."
A cruise. With a celebrity shrink. "What have I gotten myself into now?" Elisa wondered as she was overcome with a familiar sense of dread.
Elisa opened her eyes suddenly and went very still as she realized she was in a strange bed in an unfamiliar room. Her heart was slamming against her chest. The flesh of her thighs was slick with excitement, and the slight pressure of the sheet against her breasts was enough to make her shiver with the need for more direct stimulation. Hesitantly, she turned her head and realized with relief she had been sleeping alone. "Right. You're on a boat sitting in New York Harbor. And you've just had another dream," she muttered. "Sex and death. What is with me?" The details were fading fast, but as she cast back the sheets, pulled her sleep-shirt back down over her legs. and padded barefoot toward the bathroom, fragments of her latest nocturnal adventure teased at the edges of her memory. "I don't get it. I'm never me in these dreams and yet, I am. Slave, soldier, farmer's wife. Always some other time, some other place, some other name. And there's always a guy. Or a girl," she corrected. "I don't know why, but somehow all these dreams, all these people, are connected."
Elisa showered quickly with bracing water. Once her reaction to the dream had been tamed, she turned up the hot water tap and allowed the pounding spray to work the muscles of her still tense neck and shoulders. "I'll go talk to this Dr. Phelps," she decided as she stepped from the shower, "just long enough to appease Fox, and then I will go get that massage."
She dressed quickly in the casual attire provided by Owen – jeans, a familiar black tee-shirt and sneakers – then left her cabin in search of Phelps. On deck, she stared in disbelief and then ducked back behind a ventilation shaft, her heart pounding. She raised a hand to her cheeks and found them as hot as they'd been after her latest dream. "Ty! What's he doing here?" Her retreat was too late, the actor, his own surprise evident, was coming toward her.
Chagrined, she stepped out from her hiding place. "Ty, what are you doing here?"
He pointed to his swollen jaw and the purple bloom on her forehead. "From the looks of it the same thing you are. Recovering from our day in the park. The director ordered me off the set until they can cover the bruise on my face. Luckily, we weren't shooting this weekend anyway, so I'll probably only miss a day of work at most. And you? Who sent you packing? Not that clan of yours, I hope."
Elisa pursed her lips at Ty's worried look. "No, they tend to close ranks when one of their own is down. A mutual friend of ours, Fox Xanatos, arranged this. And at the time, getting out of town for a few days seemed like a good idea."
The freshening breeze ruffled Elisa's still damp hair in a beguiling manner, and Ty struggled to keep himself true to his new strategy. "But now you're not so sure?" He looked at Manhattan receding in the distance. "This is because of me, isn't it." He turned to Elisa, his eyes full of regret. "I'll go. It's not too late to charter a helicopter and have them take me back to shore."
Elisa looked up at him, dark eyes shining. "You'd do that for me?" She shook her head. "Ty, that's sweet, but it's not necessary. We're two adult people and we're friends. We can be on the same boat for a weekend."
"Yeah, I'm sure," she replied firmly. "Now can you tell me how to find Phineas Phelps? Talking to him is the string attached to this pleasure cruise, and I'd like to cut it as soon as possible."
Ty pointed toward the bow of the yacht. "Sure, I saw him in the main salon just a few minutes ago." Something unreadable passed over his normally expressive mien. "But what could you have to talk to Phineas about?"
Elisa regarded Ty frankly. He was, after all, at the heart of her dilemma, wasn't he? "The nature of love. I hear the good doctor is something of an expert."
It was all Ty could do to keep from pumping a triumphant fist in the air as Elisa strolled purposely up the companionway and disappeared inside the ship.
"Excuse me, I'm looking for Dr. Phelps."
Elisa had little trouble identifying Phineas Phelps. It would have been obvious to a blind man the way the half a dozen men and women adoringly hung on every word uttered by the tall, gray-haired man who puffed occasionally on a sputtering pipe.
He turned and beamed at her in delight. "You must be Ms. Maza, welcome aboard. I'm so sorry I couldn't greet you personally when you came aboard last night, but my pressing duties to the public, I hope you understand."
Elisa stepped back slightly as Phineas rose, took both of her hands in his and pumped them effusively. "Sure. Duty always calls."
He turned to his groupies. "Friends, we've had a most delightful chat this morning. I know that our exploration of self this weekend is going to be most fruitful indeed. But if you'll excuse me, I need to have a few words with our latest arrival."
There was a groan of dismay from the assembly, but they began to shuffle out of the cabin under their guru's benevolent gaze.
"Hey, if it's a problem, we can always do this later," Elisa offered, overwhelmed by her first exposure to the self-help giant.
A woman, probably somewhere in her upper fifties, her perfectly matched sports ensemble reeking of wealth, turned and smiled sweetly at Elisa. "Now don't you worry, my dear, we've all had our chances for one-on-one time with Phineas before. Now it's your turn. You're very lucky, you know. He has so little time to share with individuals these days, not that I'm complaining, mind you. The world needs him so." She swept out of the room.
"Right." Elisa turned her attention to Phelps and found he was gazing at her with a paternally affectionate smile. "Your have quite a way with people, Dr. Phelps."
He tutted at her and gestured toward a pair of emerald velvet covered armchairs. "Please, my dear, call me Phineas. All my friends do."
Elisa regarded him with a cop's skepticism, "I take it you have a lot of friends. I saw another one out on deck. Ty Clearwater? He speaks highly of you."
"Ah, young Ty," Phineas enthused. "He's going to be one of the great talents of our time. Brilliant, just brilliant and such a nice young man. The girl who lands him will be lucky indeed."
Elisa couldn't help the sharp look she gave Phineas Phelps. She searched his face and studied his body language minutely, but there was nothing to indicate he was making anything more than a complimentary observation about the actor.
Phelps noticed her appraisal. "I seemed to have hit a nerve. I hope I'm not speaking out of turn, since we've just barely met, but would I be wrong if I ventured you've some feelings for the lad?"
The dark-haired woman dropped her eyes and studied her hands folded in her lap and sighed. She looked up at the kindly, gray-haired man sitting across from her waiting patiently for her to speak then dropped her eyes again. "I don't understand it. I'm in a relationship. It's a good thing," She smiled mysteriously and shrugged, "Kind of unconventional, but it works for us. We're happy. Really happy. And yet from the moment I laid eyes on Ty I've been-" She got up and paced, short strides back and forth over the teak deck. "I don't know what I've been. Until I met Ty, I didn't know my life was missing anything. Now there are days when I wish I could be two different people. I don't want to hurt the guy I thought was the love of my life, but the idea of losing Ty makes me feel like I'm about to cut my heart in half." She looked at Phineas with obvious distraught. "What is wrong with me?"
"Elisa, Elisa, my poor girl," Phineas soothed. "You're facing one of life's great mysteries. How do we appease the wiles of the heart?" He got up, found his pipe and fussed with it, cleaned the bowl, and then set it down again. He looked up at his guest and then spoke. "Our mutual benefactor, Fox, tells me that you're a police detective. Is that correct?" Elisa nodded. "Then you're used to working on both hunches and facts to prove or disprove your theories. Also correct?" She nodded again. "Good. Good. We're not too dissimilar in our approach to life, then. I, as a student of human nature do much the same. I formulate a theory and then use observation and the occasional test to prove or disprove my hypotheses. So I'm wondering, Elisa, if you'll allow me to do a small experiment."
Elisa regarded Phineas warily. "What kind of experiment?"
Phineas held up his palms. "Nothing uncomfortable or dangerous, I assure you. If you've read any of my work, you know that I've formulated certain theories about the soul. How it responds to situations in this life based on previous experiences. This is particularly true in matters of the heart."
"Uh huh." Elisa's eyes narrowed. Intellectually, she thought the notion of past-life experience was bunk, but Angela and Andrea had assured her that there was basis in fact for those beliefs. "Go on."
"I'm not going to hypnotize you. I'm afraid that even the most skilled hypnotists can't actually manage a regression, but I do find that clients who find themselves as agitated as you presently are, are less able to work through to the, excuse the expression, the heart of the problem." He withdrew a small crystal box from his pocket and from it he extracted a silver sphere on a long thin chain. "I'd like to help you relax. Just a little."
Elisa nodded her eyes, already fixated on the crystal heart of the sphere. "Sure, doc. What ever you say."
The drip, drip, drip of the water clock echoed off stone temple walls. Six naked males, from ancient diminishing to a youth, each holding a dagger, knelt somnolent around the basin, held complacent not by bonds but heavy narcotic incense that drifted sweetly from hanging censers. In a cradle, a baby mewled its discontent. Behind each, even the child, stood a shining mirror of highly polished silver. At their head, standing before an elaborately arranged altar, a toga-clad priest cast his eyes one final time over a parchment scroll before securing it in the leather pouch at his waist. He turned, murmured words much older than Greek, and picked up a beautifully wrought dagger, its blade chipped from purest obsidian. He held the blade to his lips then moved to stand before the squalling baby. He smiled benevolently at the assembly. As one, they bowed their heads reverently.
The gray-haired priest lifted the baby from the cradle by its heels and held it upside down over the stone pool. "You all wished immortality and you shall have it." He sliced the infant's throat and a gush of blood stained the water crimson. "Blood shall bind us. So it shall be done."
"So it shall be done," the six intoned as they raised their own daggers and without hesitation held out his wrist to the man next to him. Only one among them, tall, dark and battle scarred, yet still handsome with the flush of new maturity, refrained from hissing in pain as bronze met flesh.
The priest began to chant in a language stolen from the gods. The chamber filled with moonlight that spilled down from a perfect circle hewn in the roof. It struck the bloody water and transmuted into a fountain of phosphorescent blue that reflected off the silver mirrors and trapped the sacrifices in its spray. Spirit tore from flesh, and one by one bodies dropped lifeless to the chamber floor as the priest commanded their souls to his.
Abruptly the scene ended, leaving Phineas shaking as a thrill of excitement overtook him. Only one had been left standing that night. One man with the lives of seven bound to him.
He reached a shaking hand out and touched it to Elisa's hair, gently, tenderly. "For years I've sought you, my soldier. Repeatedly I summoned and yet you would not answer. In my penultimate hour, I confess I began to doubt. But fortune has smiled upon me. How lucky poor, lovesick Ty decided to consult me. How easy it was to get him to confide his every strategy." He touched the imperfectly concealed bruise at her temple. "I do regret the crude tactic, my dear. But time was growing so short, and Ty did decide to opt for a waiting game instead of taking my advice to sweep you off your feet with a weekend at sea." Phineas shrugged. "Ah well. Que sera, sera, as Miss Day once sang. Whatever will be, will be. You are here because you were meant to be as are we all. Destiny demands it."
"How can you all be so dense?" Hades asked. "The solution is clear enough to me. If threads of life cannot be disentangled, then we have no choice but to sever the lot of them!"
"You are a fool," Anubis replied. "Can you not comprehend the damage such an act would cause?"
"Do my ears deceive me," Hades mocked, "or has Death become afraid of himself?" He extended a massive hand, scowling. "Give the shears to me. I will do the deed myself!"
"You will do no such thing!" Atropos intoned darkly.
"You have no purview over fate, Lord Hades," Clotho stated.
"You would be wise to show us proper respect," Lachesis hissed, "knowing that the threads of all lives pass through our hands."
The lord of the underworld bristled with indignation. "Do you dare to threaten me, old witch?"
Coyote rolled his eyes as Athena and Apollo stepped in to keep distance between the feuding fay. The council session was entering its third hour, and still they were no closer to a resolution than they had been at the beginning. He glanced at Titania's Mirror, where the image of Elisa still lingered, and frowned. He had promised that he would contact her as soon as he could, but with the way time flowed on Avalon, almost three months had now passed in the mortal world since he had visited her Los Angeles hotel room.
"She must think I've forgotten all about her," he muttered as he touched his fingers to the glass. As the image shifted, he scented the unmistakable tang of salt water. Elisa stared serenely back at him, a blank expression on her face. She was not clad in her usual attire, but wore instead a long gown of white linen.
Worry creased Coyote's brow as the assembly continued to argue behind him. Titania lifted her hands skyward, and the room rumbled with ominous thunder as Lord Oberon rose once more from his throne to demand order. The trickster, however, paid the court no mind. He focussed on Elisa, seeking to make a connection, but the woman's mind strangely refused to answer.
"Something isn't right," he said to himself. Coyote waved his hand before the mirror and the surface rippled with emerald light. "And someone had better find out what's going on." Without a backwards glance at the council, Coyote stepped through the portal.
The one-word comment projected more frustration than pain as Coyote, trickster god of the American southwest, hovered a few feet above the cold, moonlit waters of the North Atlantic. Eyes narrowing, he examined the unnatural dome of energy that arched high overhead, barring his passage to the ship that lay at anchor a half mile in the distance.
Abandoning his human form, Coyote sank beneath the waves to see if another way might be found to reach the vessel. A school of tuna, startled by the glowing, amorphous ball of green energy that descended into their midst, darted away. As Coyote made to follow, however, he bounced once more off an invisible barrier.
Coyote resurfaced and floated wisp-like just out of reach of the waves as he considered his new dilemma. Elisa was on that ship, of that he was certain. He also could recognize powerful mortal magic when he banged his head against it. Somebody else on that ship didn't want him – or any others of his kind – to get within a thousand yards of whatever was going down tonight. It was all the more reason, he pondered, that he needed to find a way to get aboard that boat, and fast.
The clang of the ship's brass bell carried in the still air over the gentle wash of the sea. It rang three times in even succession, a summoning call that told Coyote there was no time left for contemplation. Before the echo of the final chime faded, the green glowing ball winked out of existence.
Angela peered curiously over Fox's shoulder as she read aloud the note on the sheet of paper Goliath had handed to her.
"Hey Big Guy,
The Captain gave me some vacation time so I'm heading off on a little sea cruise. I'll be back next Monday night. This was all Fox's idea, not mine, so I'm sure she'll be happy to give you the details if you want them.
"I think I would like to know where my mate is," Goliath rumbled as Fox turned the page over and examined the backside for more.
"That's all Elisa wrote?" Angela asked, her expression showing mild disbelief.
"It would appear," Fox replied. She gave the Manhattan clan leader a forced smile and handed the letter back to him. "Elisa needed some downtime, so I called in a favor and sent her off on a nice little weekend getaway."
"So where is she now?" Goliath asked.
Fox glanced at the clock. "Somewhere in the mid-Atlantic, I'd imagine. Maybe relaxing in a deck chair by the pool, sipping on one of those fruity drinks with the little paper umbrella in it." She shook her head, smirking. "Don't worry, Goliath. I'm sure she's having the time of her life."
The big gargoyle gave a growling sigh. "I would have preferred it if she had she said her farewells in person."
"Are you coming to watch the eclipse, Angela?" Broadway poked his head through the door of Fox's office, oblivious to the conversation he had just interrupted. "Demona and Andrea have arrived, and everyone else is already up on the tower."
"I'll be there in a few minutes," the lavender female replied. "Fox and I just need to finish going over next week's schedule and then I'll…"
A swirling wind stirred the papers scattered across Fox's desk, and the aroma of sagebrush and pine suddenly filled the room. "Goliath," Coyote said as he materialized from the vortex, "just the gargoyle I need."
Goliath's craggy brow furrowed in instant suspicion. "Why?"
"Elisa's in a jam," Coyote replied. "I don't have time to explain. I just need your help." He snapped his fingers, and a glowing portal rose up from the floor. "Let's go."
Without hesitation, Goliath stepped through. Coyote followed right behind him.
"…be right up," Angela finished. She paused, shook her head and blinked her eyes, as did Fox and Broadway. "Hey, where did Father go?" she asked. "Wasn't he here just a moment ago?"
Greece, 400 B.C.
"Twenty-five years," Phineas whispered as he scratched the final numerals on the papyrus with his quill. "What divination predicted, mathematics confirms. I must cast the initial incantations in twenty-five years, on the night of the fifth full moon following the winter solstice. Only by starting then will the terms of the spell be satisfied, allowing the final ritual to take place on the night of a total eclipse, falling once again on the fifth full moon following the winter solstice. Seven invocations of the ancient magic. Seven sacrifices of seven ages. Seventy times seventy cycles of the moon through the heavens to mark the time which must pass between each renewal."
Phineas stroked at his beard, contemplating the work that lay ahead. His desk, cluttered with scrolls and homemade instruments of astronomy, was a testament to his patience. It had taken half a lifetime of research, observation, and dogged determination just to get this far. Another twenty-five years would be added to the more than fifty he had already seen before he would realize the fruits of his labors, but he was surely not about to allow mere trivialities like time to start daunting him now.
He gazed at the carefully scribed calculations once more, a smug smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Not even Pythagoras himself could not have envisioned such celestial precision or comprehend the scope of the opportunity it represented. It was genius, pure and simple, exceeding even the brilliance of Socrates and Plato. "Eternal life in the palm of my hand," he muttered. "It will be a daring experiment, eons in the making. But when success is mine, the entire world will tremble before me!"
Phineas cleared his head and gazed upwards through the domed skylight of the ship's expansive salon. A blood-red moon hung overhead as the eclipse neared the midpoint of totality. For the seventh and final time, the original seven soul sacrifices were gathered. A little over 2,378 years had passed since the first time he had called together the seven souls that fate had chosen to play a part in the achievement of his ultimate immortality. The powers that be had changed the calendar any number of times along the way, but the cycles of the moon had been the only timekeeper Phineas had ever needed. Seventy by seventy times it had risen full since the last gathering of the sacrifices, and now the eclipse was happening just as his calculations had predicted all those centuries ago.
Sorcerer, philosopher, astronomer, mathematician, priest, psychologist… these were only a few of the many vocations Phineas had mastered in his long life. He was a chameleon, an expert adapting to fit the times. Shifting from one role to another was nothing new to him, and as he raised his arms and began to chant, the ancient wizard reemerged. Keen eyes roamed the room, surveying the seven mesmerized men and women who would shortly fulfil their role as the instruments of his destiny. The boy infant, now an elderly woman. The decrepit old man, now a middle-aged office manager. And five more in succession, ending with the raven-haired soldier who had nearly eluded him.
As the eclipse reached its zenith, Phineas motioned the spellbound seven near. As one, they stepped forward and knelt about the water-filled basin that rested in the center of the room. "As I have done six times before," he stated, "I bind these seven souls to mine. Seventy times the moon again has progressed seventy cycles. Seven times now the sacrifices have gathered. This time shall be the last."
An ominous growl sounded from the aft door as the seven raised their daggers. "Not if I have anything to say about it," Goliath intoned.
"Dr. Phelps, you probably won't believe this, but I think I just saw a…" Ty froze as he entered from the forward cabin and caught sight of the hulking winged creature who stood, scowling, at the other end of the room. Their eyes locked, and for a moment the bizarre tableau of Phineas and his robe-clad followers that stood between them seemed to escape notice.
"You!" Goliath snarled. "I've seen you before! What is your part in this sorcery?"
Ty didn't have time to answer as the action at the center of the room suddenly caught his attention. "Elisa!"
The cry came a second too late. Blood welled from her wrist as she drew back the knife. Time seemed to slow as the bright crimson drops fell, staining the water to the same dark, ruddy color as the moonlight that shone down on the scene.
Goliath echoed Ty's cry, but as he advanced into the room, eyes burning white, Phineas laughed. "You're too late!" he exclaimed as the basin flared with eerie blue light. "My time is finally at hand!"
As it had done six times in the past, the dark magic embraced the seven victims, prying the spirits free from the flesh. Confidently, Phineas renewed his chant, calling the souls to him in an arcane tongue.
A long table that stood in his way shattered under a crushing blow as Goliath bounded forward. "Stop this madness!"
"No! Elisa, no!" Ty was closer, and he reached her first, grabbing her as the cerulean luminescence enveloped her. Elisa's essence flew free, and her body went limp in his arms. "No," he pleaded desperately, "don't leave me!"
Goliath stopped short as the magical glow grew to encompass the man who held his mate. Ty's eyes went wide with startled realization, and a split second later they fluttered shut as his soul was also ripped free.
"Elisa!" Instinct overcame reason, propelling him forward as the magic flared. To catch her, Goliath was forced to catch them both. Eight glowing balls of white energy now orbited the room, swirling on the ethereal currents. But which one was his beloved?
Phineas continued his recitation of the ancient mantra, his form gleaming with the light of the enchantment. One by one, the freed souls spiraled down to enter him. Each one he absorbed made the glow that surrounded him grow more intense. Six souls disappeared in quick succession, until just one lingered. Hesitantly, it bounced between him and the gargoyle, its every motion tailed by an extraneous interloper. Phineas scowled and raised his voice, commanding the final soul to bind with him. Power unlike any he had ever felt before surged through him. "Come to me, my soldier," he commanded in the mystic language. "Embrace your destiny!"
Time was slipping away. Twenty-four centuries of planning had come down to these final seconds as the lunar eclipse achieved peak totality. He was so close to his goal. Elisa's soul hovered, it trembled, and then it dove.
Goliath staggered with the impact as the glowing orb entered him and Elisa's soul bound with his. A half second later, Ty's soul followed Elisa's and entered him as well.
Phineas's scream was lost to the void as the room shattered in a blinding maelstrom of unchanneled magic. The blast threw Goliath back, slamming him against the bulkhead with the two humans still in his arms.
"Do not worry, my Elisa," he muttered right before the darkness claimed him, "I will protect you."
The explosion was more than enough to draw Coyote's attention. The miniature cruise ship pitched violently as the sea heaved beneath it. A beam of blue light shot upward into the night sky, and the energy sphere that had kept him at bay ever since he had returned with Goliath sputtered and dissolved.
"I guess that's one way of doing it," the trickster muttered. Focussing his senses, he homed in on Goliath's location. Instantly, he was beside the unconscious gargoyle in the ship's shattered salon. A black-rimmed hole in the floor was all that was left as evidence of the magic that had just been attempted, but nothing at all was left of the magician.
The deck lurched beneath Coyote's feet. From somewhere below came the creaks and groans of the steel hull buckling and the hiss of steam as the sea flooded into the lower level, swamping the engines. Seconds later, an ear-splitting crack sounded the beginning of the ship's death throes.
"That can't be a good noise," Coyote groused as the water began to lap at his toes. With a wave of his hand, he opened a doorway to Avalon, then turned to Goliath and the two humans. "Let's go before this gets any further beyond my job description."
Coyote levitated the three unconscious mortals out of the portal and set them gently on the marble floor in front of the council chamber dais. The raging debate stilled abruptly at his intrusion. "A little help here," he requested sharply to the group at large.
"What have you done?" Oberon growled. "And without our decree."
Coyote looked affronted. "Me? I didn't do anything except stop a mortal sorcerer from achieving immortality. Which, I thought-" Sarcasm colored his words earning dark glances from the assembly. "-was the point of this jawfest." He knelt over Elisa and took her hand, his worry unmistakable. "Unfortunately, I cut things a little close."
Jackal-headed Anubis regarded the trio with professional interest. "Too close. They are mine now."
"No, no," Clotho protested. She held up three strands from the spinning wheel, freed from the knot caused by Phineas' scheme. "That can't be right. These lifelines are tangled yet."
Atropos studied the threads, her shears held firmly in her withered hands. "We haven't cut them all, you know. Mustn't be hasty about these things."
"I was trying to explain," Coyote said impatiently. He gestured at Titania's mirror and a replay of Phineas' great experiment began to unfold. "The sorcerer was tearing the souls out of the sacrifices and setting them free. Elisa and that other human bound themselves to Goliath. They're all in there, trapped." The image of the two distinct life energies merging with the gargoyle's froze on the mirror's surface.
"No, no, no, we can't have that," Lachesis rejoined as she inspected the gnarl her sister Fate had set to the side while she continued to spin. "Throws everything out of balance," she cackled. "Makes a mess."
"Then how about putting them back where they belong?" Coyote challenged the Gods and Goddesses of life and death. "This is your turf, not mine."
He shot a pleading look at Titania, who then placed a guiding hand upon that of her king. "Avalon does need its warriors, husband."
Oberon resettled himself in his throne, drawing his body very erect. "Very well. Anubis. Hades. Straighten this out."
The pair nodded curtly and advanced on the mortals. For several moments they argued softly amongst themselves and then each extended a hand. Goliath's massive body arched as a white-hot charge of energy struck it. Three life forces separated and hung briefly on the air before two settled into their proper hosts with a sigh. The third remained floating before Hades.
There was a sharp snick as Atropos' shears severed the final knot in the tangled mass of lifelines. "There," she said with satisfaction. "As neat as it can be, under the circumstances." Her sisters smiled with approval before vanishing from the council chamber.
Coyote looked down on the slack face of the handsome young man who had yet to take a breath. "Wait a minute. You fixed Elisa and Goliath. Why couldn't you do anything for him? You have his soul right there in front of you."
"And that is where it belongs," Hades said simply. "This one has passed beyond the mortal realm. He will come with me." Ty's body disappeared from the council chamber floor. With a curt nod to king and queen and the others of the council, Hades and Anubis vanished as well, shepherding Ty's soul between them.
"Well," Oberon glanced at his queen. "If that's resolved then this council is adjourned." He rose and those left in the chamber bowed low as he exited.
Elisa and Goliath began to stir. Coyote dropped to kneel between them. "Take it easy, you two. You've had a busy night."
"Coyote?" Elisa murmured.
"Yeah, kiddo, it's me, your Uncle 'Yote."
"What happened?" she said as she struggled to sit upright. A few feet away Goliath was doing the same.
"Avalon," the gargoyle rumbled, perplexed, as he slowly focused on the benevolent smile of Titania. " My lady," he bowed his head and then met her eyes. "Why are we here?"
"Come on." The trickster helped the pair to their feet and opened a portal. "I'll tell you all about it on the other side."
Elisa nodded, took a step toward the portal, and then froze. "We were on a boat. The others-"
Coyote sighed. "Later, I promise. Now let's get you home."
Goliath put his arm around his mate, and together they followed Coyote back to the mortal realm.
Elisa stood alone on the parapets looking out onto the city. The faint scent of sagebrush and pine still lingered on the air in the wake of Coyote's departure. His long-delayed explanation of events weighed heavy on her mind, and she wondered if she would ever truly comprehend what had happened to her.
Six times Phineas Phelps had stolen her soul. Six times her life essence had been bound to his in a daring attempt at seizing immortality. She shivered. Had it not been for her self-appointed guardian, the sorcerer would have succeeded, her soul would have been his permanently, and she would be as dead as all the others.
She sensed Goliath behind her, his normally confident stride tentative as he approached. She turned and held out her hand. "It's okay, big guy, I'm glad you're here."
"The doctor said there appeared to be no permanent damage. But she wanted to check again."
"In a month," Elisa finished. "I know. I got the same instructions."
"Coyote. Is he-"
"Gone with the wind?" Elisa nodded. "Yeah. He said something else had come up and he couldn't stick around."
"He saved your life, my Elisa," the gargoyle said softly. "I doubt I can ever repay that debt. But I did wish to offer my thanks."
"My Elisa," the human mused as Goliath slipped his arms around her waist. She leaned back against his bulk and closed her eyes in contentment. "I really am your Elisa. And you are mine. Lifetime after lifetime, we've found each other. Loved each other."
The gargoyle shifted uneasily and cleared his throat. "Yet you were drawn to that human," he said, trying to keep the hurt out of his voice. "The one on the ship. The one whose soul bound to ours."
Elisa felt her heart clench as she contemplated the city and wondered if anyone else out in its vast millions felt as wretched. She had warned Ty no good would come of his infatuation. "I was," she said. There was no point in denying the truth, but how could she explain a cosmic screw up of such huge proportions to her lover? "Coyote tried to explain. Ty made a heart's vow, centuries ago, that he would find me no matter where I was."
"Why?" Goliath asked softly.
An echo of a dream, months old, when she was a slave named Elisabetta, ghosted through her consciousness, and once more she heard Ty's desperate cry. "He loved me. We both were about to die. His last words to me were his oath." Grief, raw and harsh, constricted her throat and for several moments Elisa was unable to speak. "It seems unreal, but he tried, over and over again, to keep his promise. We'd meet, but before he had the chance to make me his, something would get in the way."
Elisa fell silent unwilling to continue. Softly, Goliath prompted. "That brings us to the present. You met again. Where?"
"It was in Los Angeles," Elisa replied quietly. She steeled herself, waiting for Goliath's inevitable rage. "I couldn't explain it. I was so attracted to him, it hurt to be in the same room and not-" She couldn't finish the thought, unwilling to hurt her lover more than she already had.
Goliath stumbled, though he was standing stock still, as his knees gave way from the body blow of his mate's betrayal. "Did you succumb," he said stiffly, unsure he wanted the answer, "to this attraction?"
Elisa couldn't face him as she remembered the hot kisses, the frantic caresses and the sound of pearl studs flying as she tore Ty's shirt open, the better to touch his bare skin. "It took every ounce of willpower I had, Goliath, but no. No, I didn't. You can ask Angela. I thought it was a spell."
"A spell? Whose spell?" Goliath's tone was ominous.
"Demona's," Elisa replied ashamed at her earlier suspicion. Goliath growled and she added quickly, "But it wasn't her fault. It wasn't anybody's fault."
"You make little sense, Elisa," Goliath replied impatiently. "If there was no spell, then you betrayed me in thought if not in deed."
He was entitled to his anger. Elisa bowed her head but continued to explain. "Angela and Andrea said there was something in my past. I thought they were talking nonsense, but I was desperate. I let them try a mojo on me that backfired. Coyote said they opened a door in my head, revealing all of my former selves. He closed it, but not in time to stop the dreams."
Finally, Goliath thought, an explanation. Elisa might not lie to him, but she did obfuscate if she felt it would smooth things between them. "What about the dreams?"
He hadn't thrown her off the parapets yet, nor had he stormed away in hurt. She could do this. "Coyote said the mortal mind isn't meant to know anything but the present. He cut off the memories as fast as he could, but it wasn't soon enough to prevent my subconscious from absorbing those previous experiences. The dreams were glimpses of my past lives. Lives with Ty. Lives with you. For months I've been caught in the middle, wondering if I was going crazy."
"Why did you not confide in me?" the gargoyle asked softly. "Why did you not tell me of this conflict within you?"
"Don't you see?" Elisa said meeting Goliath's eyes for the first time. "In my heart, there was no conflict. Not really. I love you." The release of pent-up tension caused her words to tumble over one another. "Yes, I wanted Ty. But I told him, I told myself, that there could never be anything between us because I was with you, and that was where I was meant to be." She sighed. "Poor Ty, he could have been a good friend, but that vow he swore all those years ago kept him from seeing me as I am, not how I was."
Goliath searched his lover's face for signs she was dissembling. She was looking up at him, dark eyes intent. "Then why were you both onboard that yacht?"
Elisa's mouth crumbled in a frown. "Plain bad luck," she stated flatly. "I ran away to try and get my head straight and found out Ty had the same idea. Neither one of us knew that Phineas had been trying to get to me for years. Coyote says there's so much magic around me that I'm immune to ordinary summoning spells. If it hadn't been for the attack in the park-" Something clicked in her head and Elisa's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Suddenly that mugging doesn't seem so random. Ty knew Phineas. Phineas knew Fox." She laughed, harsh and unmirthful, and shook her head in irritation. "I just love 20/20 hindsight. I was set up. That wasn't a mugging. It was a kidnap attempt. I foiled Phineas' plan and still walked straight into his trap." She dug her hands deep into the pockets of her bomber jacket. "I suddenly feel deeply stupid."
Goliath looked down upon his mate and the ice around his heart melted. Elisa had been the universe's plaything, caught up in forces far greater than she. He reached out and softly caressed her temple. "You acted as you saw fit, my Elisa, as you always do. Do not be ashamed of yourself."
She looked at him with hope and took his massive hand in hers. "Then you forgive me?"
He drew her into his arms, then encircled her with his wings. "All of us must deal with the past, Elisa. Despite its attraction, you did not let it pull you out of the present. There is nothing to forgive."
For the first time since she had regained consciousness, Elisa relaxed.
Dr. Shelley Danvers handed off the pair of blood-filled glass tubes to the lab technician and returned her attention to her patient. The exam was supposed to be a complete physical, a one month follow up, three weeks delayed by a reluctant Elisa. It wasn't often a doctor had a patient whose spirit had been magically ripped from her body and reinserted again, and Xanatos had instructed her to document anything unusual in the name of science. She wasn't going to miss a beat. EEG, EKG, complete blood, urine, everything, just as they had the night Elisa had been carried, protesting loudly, into the infirmary by Goliath and Fox had related the amazing tale. "I'm going to finish checking you over while we run your lab work. Tell me if anything feels tender. You're doing okay, no flashbacks, nightmares, anything like that?"
Elisa grimaced, leaned back on the exam table, and closed her eyes as Dr. Danvers poked and prodded. "I've been fine," the detective insisted. "Sure, there have been a few rough nights, some nightmares. But if you had found out some nutjob was sucking your soul out of your body every few hundred years in a quest for immortality and ultimate knowledge, wouldn't you have nightmares too?"
"Hmm," Danvers replied intent on her examination. The doctor's hands were cool and methodical, working their way past her rib cage and over her belly. "Probably. What about physical symptoms, dizziness, disconnectedness, double vision?"
"I've been kind of queasy lately," Elisa said. "I can't touch the coffee at work. And I can barely keep down the stuff I brew at home."
She paused over Elisa's abdomen, pressing gently. "Hmm," she muttered again. Then with utterly impersonal fingers probed her breasts.
"Ow!" Elisa forced herself not to grab for the doctor's hand and push it away. "Okay, I have noticed those have been kind of touchy for the last few days. Swollen sort of."
"Sorry. When was your last period?"
Elisa opened her mouth to respond and then closed it. "I'm not sure. Let me think a minute." She pondered a moment, trying to remember the last time she'd resorted to using the Midol stored in either the medicine cabinet at home or her locker at the station. "I guess I have been distracted. I'm at least two weeks late. Maybe three." She shook her head. "I'm sorry, I just don't remember exactly."
"It's okay." Danvers leaned against the intercom call button. "Lily, tell Susan to add a hCG test to the panel – blood and urine – and bring me a pelvic set up." The nurse entered a moment later and the doctor snapped on a fresh pair of gloves. "I'm going to do an internal exam now, so just take a deep breath and scoot down toward the end of the table and put your feet in the stirrups. Good. Just like that."
Elisa stared at the ceiling and tried to think of nothing as the doctor inserted the speculum. "So," she asked casually, "are you and Goliath still an exclusive item?"
The question, coming from it seemed nowhere, startled Elisa. "Completely," she affirmed as Dr. Danvers again pressed gently on her belly.
The examination was over quickly. Danvers marked notes on a chart. "Just relax a minute, Elisa." She turned to the nurse. "Bring in the ultrasound."
"What's going on, doc. You're starting to worry me." Elisa tried to keep her voice neutral, but there was a definite note of unease creeping in around the edges.
Shelley Danvers regarded her patient frankly. Elisa seemed genuinely perplexed. Most healthy young women in the prime of their childbearing years would have at least a faint suspicion. But then again, with her medical history and interspecies romance, Elisa Maza wasn't most young women.
The nurse entered, pushing the portable ultrasound machine. She caught Danvers' eye and nodded. "Right. Go ahead and lift that gown up so that your belly is exposed but leave the sheet over your hips." Elisa adjusted the disposable examwear as instructed as Dr. Danvers spread clear jelly over the disc of the ultrasound paddle. "Now just relax as I take a little look."
The probe was cold against Elisa's skin, but she ignored the momentary discomfort as she observed the doctor and nurse. Both of them were staring intently at the monitor. "Snap that, Lily."
"Snap what?" Elisa demanded. "What is going on here?"
"Go ahead and sit up, Elisa. I've come across something unexpected."
"Unexpected like what? Is it an ulcer? Did all of this craziness finally burn a hole in my stomach? I've got an ulcer. Is that why I can't drink coffee anymore?"
"Not exactly." Shelley Danvers thought back to her medical school days to the long nights as an intern and resident working in clinic and hospital rotations. She'd done it hundreds of times, but delivering news that changed someone's life was never a skill that she'd felt completely comfortable with. "Not all the lab work is in yet. The blood test won't be done until tomorrow, but the urine dip, the physical, and ultrasound all confirm my conclusion. You're pregnant."
Elisa shook her head. "I'm sorry, I think I misheard you. You must have made some kind of mistake. I can't be pregnant. Goliath. I. We." She waved her hands in the air indicating a mismatch. "Two different species. It's supposed to be impossible."
Danvers shrugged. She pulled a pen from her pocket, made marks on the printout from the ultrasound, and handed it to Elisa. "Detective, I've learned that around here, nothing is impossible."
Elisa stared at the paper she was clutching between her fingers. A half a dozen times some friend or colleague had pointed excitedly to a printout just like this one. 'Here's our baby. Isn't it cute?' Dutifully, she had squinted at a lima bean shape and pasted a big smile on her face, wondering what it was they saw. Now she knew. Numbly, she stroked at the tiny form with a fingertip and dared to dream. "A baby. Our baby? Goliath and I are going to have a baby?" She smiled and toppled over gently into the waiting arms of the nurse.