99 - "Unprotected"
"When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability... To be alive is to be vulnerable."
"I can't believe he fucking left!"
It was the sentiment shared throughout the entire clan, but not yet put into such an articulate manner as Todd Hawkins and his caffeine-fueled finesse with the English language.
It was a still a source of contention but after a day and a half there wasn't much more to argue on, especially with several real threats still looming.
"Believe it, chin hair." Iliana mumbled over the rim of her beer. Her feet up on the table, she'd stayed at the castle for a while, allowed a few days leave to recover and it was if she wanted to make absolutely sure he was gone. "Shadow bundled up all his weapons and took off."
"But...he can't leave!" Todd protested.
"He did. Accept it."
"No, damnit! There's gotta be a way to get a hold of him. Phone him!"
Katana, who was set to enjoy her tea and the relative calm before the humans had invaded and started stomping about the kitchen, asked through the spiral of steam, "In the middle of the Nagano forests?"
"Why not?" Todd shrugged.
Iliana shot him a look, which eventually trickled upwards to somewhere above his eyebrows. "How does your skull not cave in?"
He leaned in. "I've been told it's pretty damned thick."
"He did not take his commlink." the samurai minded. "We have already left word with Ishimura if he is to ever show up, but that is about all we can do."
"We have a plane don't we? And you've," he pointed to Iliana, "already been to Shadow's village."
"And even if you find him," Katana flicked her eyes up from over the cup's rim, "do you intend to talk him into coming back?"
"I intend to give that retard a kick to the ballsack."
"You'll lose your leg." Iliana crooned.
"It'll be goddamned worth it!"
She could smell it, feel the warmth through the china and her palms, but every time she tried to savor the freshly brewed Sencha, she was interrupted. "It is not worth screaming about it." Katana said sharply. "He is gone, along with the reporter. Accept it."
"And that's another thing," Todd traded rants, wild-eyed, "who the hell let her out!"
It'd been a while since she felt comfortable enough to roam around in nothing but panties, wool socks and her faded Poison t-shirt.
There was always a pair of eyes around every corner of that castle, whether human, gargoyle or something else entirely. During the day, it was Hawkins mostly, leering with an eyebrow raised in what she thought was smoothly veiled admiration. After the sun had gone down, the gargoyles would constantly follow her with depthless, unreadable gazes. And of course, every camera lens in almost every room and hall was a window into Mother's electronic soul.
But she was free, allowed to come back down to Earth and rejoin a life that, after living with an entirely different species and suffering through death and a small war, seemed so far away when first getting home.
It was a good feeling when her key actually unlocked the place, and even better when finding out her apartment hadn't been leased out to someone else. Her rent and bills she discovered, burrowing through the pile of mail left neatly and methodically arranged on the counter, had been paid on time and in full. Her furniture hadn't been moved, her plants hadn't withered, there wasn't even a layer of dust; it was as if time had stood still.
But the bombshell was discovering the apparently well-explained secret of why she'd been missing for more than two entire months without so much as a word.
She was expecting.
Out of wedlock.
The father was a foreign national she'd once chased down for a story.
And to a faithfully and near zealously religious Christian mother, it'd nearly sent her to the hospital.
If Savannah thought she was surprised at learning what'd kept her disappearance from the public eye, it wasn't until she'd gotten in touch with her parents that her own astonishment and abject horror was proved a pale comparison.
The conversation, mostly her mother crying and screaming at her in rotation through the phone-line, had taken more than a few hours before she was able to skew the truth to a certain point, at least enough for them to believe her. There wasn't a child, there wasn't an illicit affair with a married man from a country she could barely pronounce, and she definitely wasn't converting to Islam.
At least, Savannah was somewhat thankful, the secret was kept to a small circle of friends, co-workers and family if only to cover up a potential international scandal, and to allow her some sort of dignity whenever she got back. Though she was a little pissed about the entire thing, it could've been worse, and she had to give it to Xanatos or whoever under his umbrella cooked up the lie; it had chops.
And as she bathed in the pale glow of her laptop, fine-tuning her article (doubling as a script, considering what she thought her chances were of getting back on the air) among the empty take-out cartons and a bit of dirty laundry, her payback would be in the form of either a Pulitzer or full-time anchor job.
"Gargoyles in Manhattan." she tested the title aloud, running her tongue along the edge of her teeth. It'd been used before ad nauseam, but this time it had the details to back up such a wild claim. "Mr. Marshall, I hope you've got a good contract..."
"I still can't believe you let her go!"
Brooklyn only really noticed how big his rookery brother was when he got mad. And as of right now, the edges of his eyes were smoldering, and a vein was bulging from his forehead; he was livid and looking more than particularly large with hands the size of frying pans curled at his side. "Believe it."
He leaned further in and Brooklyn swallowed the urge to burrow back into a chair that wouldn't allow any slack. "You didn't think enough people knew where we lived? You sent the reporter out to call attention to every single human on the planet?"
"I made a decision based on my conscience." he answered. "It was wrong to keep her here."
But Broadway wasn't quite convinced. He thought he'd made his peace in holding St. Nicks in the castle. "We didn't have a choice."
"Yes we did. Keep her here for the rest of her natural life or let her go."
"It wouldn't have been forever." he insisted. "Just until she changed her mind."
Brooklyn leaned on his knuckles, arcing a brow. "And when do you think that would've happened?"
"Exactly my point!" Broadway roared back. The cavern-room rung with the throaty snarl. "Now she's going to put every little secret she knows about us either in print or on the air!"
"How did it feel to hold her here?"
"Safe." he underlined.
Instead of the first, volatile knee-jerk reaction (that'd actually lasted for more than a day), Broadway forced himself to see it without the initial anger and was genuinely surprised at what he found. "Like I was the warden of a prison." he revealed.
Brooklyn tried to check the smile he knew was coming, but somehow a small show of fang leaked through. "We can't prove to her we're better than the monsters we're branded unless we prove to her we're a hell of a lot more evolved."
He sighed, "I just...I wish you would've told me about this before."
The smile was quickly obliterated. "I know."
"You chose me as Second, but it's like you're doing this alone."
"I know." Brooklyn acquiesced. "It was a spur of the moment thing. I needed something to wash the blood off my hands, and considering we've yet to see a newspaper article or news report..."
"Maybe she's just a perfectionist."
"Or she could be busy doing a little bit of damage control to her personal life."
Broadway let his face relax into a smile. He remembered, vividly, the first time he'd heard the intended lie and had to cover his mouth to stop half the sandwich in his mouth from spraying across the kitchen wall. "Who cooked up that story anyways?"
"Canmore." Brooklyn answered. "I don't give him enough credit."
The argument and every word after had sloughed off into a pause that eventually grew into a cold stillness, infused with only a bit of breath, the rustle of wings and other extra appendages and the low, melodic whir of computer hard drives. Brooklyn was ensconced in the leather pleats of the centerpiece of the computer room, Goliath's captain's chair, and somewhat undersized against a seat built for someone a head and a half taller and about a foot thicker, while his brother stood off in the corner, highlighted by a lone monitor and staring at the wall.
Lost in thought, he was seeing something in the faintly visible lines between the fitted stones, making shapes in the dark warren of veins crisscrossed by wires and cables leading to and from the computer systems.
"Where do you think he is by now?" Broadway asked, breaking the silence.
The fluid shrug made a whine off tanned hide. "Home." Brooklyn guessed. "Probably got there the same way he got to Manhattan two years ago. Hopped aboard a cargo plane to Japan, caught a truck or train into the interior and probably hoofed it through the forests."
"And the fact we lost what was probably our best defense?"
Brooklyn quickly leaned forward, ready to leap from the chair if need be and flicked out a talon. "Conviction is this clan's best defense." he snapped. "With or without Shadow, we'll defend our home and resist anyone who wants to come and fire shots at us in the middle of the courtyard."
Eyes deep and gleaming in the stern, bluish glow, Broadway wasn't fazed. "And if he comes back?"
"You said if."
"I guess I did. But my question still stands."
He set his jaw down on a few fingers curled underneath his palm, balanced his elbow on the armrest and lapsed into the classic Thinker's pose without even realizing. "I don't know. I figure his pride will keep him away for a while, but, it seemed like he didn't really agree with our philosophy of not killing everyone in sight."
"And the punishment you'd set?" Broadway half questioned, half wondered. "Do you think he'd take it?"
"Maybe his leaving was a way of punishing himself." The chair creaked as the weight was lifted and even as Brooklyn stood to an impressive stature, he was still dwarfed by his brother. "Anyway, he's gone and we've got to go on with or without him. Right now, I want to go rattle Hawkins' head like a spray paint can and see what falls out."
"Are you sure this is even worth it?"
Brooklyn was resolute. "Yes."
He and his mate were on the couch in the recreation room, exactly where Mother said they were.
Brooklyn steamed inside with Broadway barely able to catch up, and aimed for the mismatched couple. Todd had barely a few seconds to react to gnarled brows and a voice that was getting used to barking orders. "Okay, Hawkins, let's cut the bullshit. Why don't you tell me what's been up with you lately."
He was already on the offensive. "It's none of your business."
"My clan, my home, my business."
"Not this time."
Brooklyn drew a long breath and folded his arms across his chest. "You know, I have a different leadership style than Goliath. Rather than trying gently to talk to you and encourage you to tell me when you're ready, I'm more inclined to hold you under my foot and slowly apply pressure to your skull until you give it up."
Todd stood up, holding his ground. "You don't scare me."
Brooklyn edged forward and the human took two skittish steps back, nearly falling end-over the couch. Annika put a hand on his butt to steady him. "You sure?"
"Listen," he straightened, "I'm just a little stressed with a baby on the way, and the whole thing with my mother..."
"You've seen what could have been the end of the world, Hawkins, and an hour later you were watching Spongebob in your underwear while the rest of us were too frightened to blink. And I admit being reunited with your long-lost mother and having a baby can do a number on any man's patience, but I suspect there's something else."
His toes tapped the floor in a successive rhythm. "I'm only going to ask one more time before I make you eat carpet."
"There's nothing!" Todd shouted back.
"Why don't you just tell him, Todd Matthew?"
The voice. That voice. His mother had appeared at the doorway and timed her interruption well.
"What?" The surprise intrusion was waylaid by another as he lowered his gaze and landed it on the bundle in his mother's hands. Todd nearly swallowed his tongue at seeing the old shirt he'd used to wrap up his father's gun; he thought he'd hidden it as well as he could, even where Annika couldn't sniff it out, but every mother must have some kind of naturally instilled radar (she did find his stash in the orphanage as well, underneath that loose floorboard). He grimaced, "Did you go through my room!"
"Yes. It wasn't hard to find when scraping away the uppermost layer of filth."
"That's not my filth by the way." Annika made the point.
Todd quickly gestured towards the swath of patterned fabric before it could be unwrapped. "And that's not for anyone else's eyes but mine."
Rose peeled away the covering, corner by corner until the gun was revealed.
If the sudden flash of memory hadn't kicked the back of his skull like a mule, Brooklyn might've given the weapon nothing more than a passing glance. His brows knitted together. "I know that gun..." he whispered. "Hawkins."
"Tell them." Rose pressed, offering the grotesquely modified pistol as someone would offer Kryptonite to Superman.
Broadway crossed his arms. "Tell us what?"
"It's none of their damned business," Todd skated towards his mother, his voice lowering so, hopefully, only she would hear, "and you know what'll happen if they find out. It'll pretty much neuter any chance of an offense they have."
"They are your friends," she reminded him, "your family, and they deserve to know."
"Damnit," Brooklyn burped a bit of light from his eyes, "what the hell is going on!"
Todd surrendered, grabbed the handgun and threw it to the brick-red gargoyle, catching it in his claws before it cracked him in the face.
He tested the weight of the long barreled gun, heavy-duty hardware that'd nearly put a few bullets through his head. A VP-8, dull chrome and flat black, with an extended cartridge that looked like it could hold almost a hundred rounds; it was intimidating even now, and he knew there wasn't a lot of humans who could wield something like this with such precision.
"It belongs to the leader of the Guild." Todd revealed. "The man who nearly killed you, killed this clan and killed me before he found out who I was."
Brooklyn tore his eyes off the weapon. "Do you two have some sort of connection–"
"He's my father."
No one took a breath, while a few had it catch in their throats.
Someone could've flown a plane through the castle without anyone noticing. The entire room had dropped dead silent, with Brooklyn and Broadway staring in shock, and Annika, she'd nearly laid an egg with the revelation of her (the sudden thought was like an ice cream brain-freeze) father-in-law.
Her pale pink skin bled out of any color. "I'm sorry...what?"
"He shot me from his gun barrel." he explained calmly. He'd already gotten over the shock. "Then, ironically, shoved an actual gun barrel into my neck."
Rose turned up her lip. "I wish you would stop using that kind of langua–"
Whether it was chance or kismet or his steel beard reflecting the light that had attracted her attention, she'd happened to turn her gaze ever so slightly and find Macbeth staring into the room, and lurched to a slack-jawed halt.
He was at the doorway, just arrived, hoping for a bit of companionship and good conversation and no sooner had he parked himself at the threshold did he get an unexpected earful. He'd cloaked any expression, folding the reaction within weathered skin and a lantern jaw taut around the jowls.
Todd saw him too, and let off a sigh towards the roof. He was as sympathetic as he thought he'd ever be. "Oh Jesus..."
"Pity your habit of not knocking, huh?"
"I'm sorry, Macbeth, I just learned the truth a few weeks ago myself." Rose hurriedly explained. "I didn't know how to tell you."
The former king stiffly pulled his face together, not to mention the shattered remnants of his self-respect, enough to free a feeble, "No explanation is needed, Rose."
But it was Brooklyn who couldn't quite wave it off. "I think there is." he growled, the shock like a fresh welt that just wouldn't stop stinging. "How long have you known!"
"About a month now." he answered evenly and, dreading what he was about to find, turned to Annika. She was still in a state of rigor mortis, and looked a few seconds from boiling over. "The day I went into town, I met him on the street. He was a stranger, offered me a compliment on the Superbird, offered me lunch and we ran into his old partner, FBI agent Abel Sykes."
The name screamed familiarity, and not quite the good kind. "Wait? Sykes? The agent that searched the castle?"
"Yeah. More of that irony. Let's just say the meeting didn't go too well."
Broadway chuffed, "I bet."
"Why?" Brooklyn was massaging his brow with both open palms. "Why is your father doing this?"
"The accident when I was young. We..."
"We believe we were attacked by gargoyles." Rose took the bullet for her son.
"Gargoyles?" Brooklyn spit. "A clan. Here?"
A shaky hand went to her forehead, trying to ward off the images veiled in twenty years worth of dust. "I don't know. But, thinking back on who attacked us, as preposterous as it sounded before I was introduced to my daughter-in-law, it...could have been..."
"And thus," Todd added, watching as his mother suffered, "dad thinks he's lost his wife and son and goes a little gun crazy with aspirations of revenge."
Metal was tearing, a sound unheard except in the corridors of her own mind, children screaming, the driving sleet a turning a black world white and animal eyes glowering at her through the cracked panes of glass. Every time she relived that moment was another year off of her life. Sometimes, even awake and conscious in the defense of those particular memories returning, they were intense enough to send her heart into convulsions against her ribcage. "The dreams have been vivid lately. My memories of that night are...clearing somewhat."
"But," Brooklyn said, "if he knows you're alive..."
"Hatred is a very powerful bedfellow. If he's lived with the fact gargoyles killed his family for so long, it may be ingrained."
"We have to try. We could end this without any more bloodshed."
"Say that to Jon Canmore." Broadway mentioned from behind his brother's shoulder. "The hatred's become comfortable for him. It may be all he has left."
"I think the only reason the Guild haven't attacked us again...is me." Todd said. "And Rose."
Brooklyn nodded, something sly on his beak. "Of course. His little quest just had a monkey wrench thrown into the gears. He can't blow the castle from its moorings without hurting you both."
"And it doesna sound like he will." Macbeth joined the conversation.
To which, Mr. Hawkins took offense. "You weren't there."
"If he wanted you dead, you would have been long ago."
The dam broke and like the leading breaker, Todd surged towards him and stopped just short of his boots. "You weren't there!"
Despite the fact the young man was inches away, baring teeth and violent eyes and a whole load of brass he'd seen many times before, Macbeth wasn't about to be bullied by someone who hadn't yet lived long enough to truly understand. "I've shared the same pain of losing a wife and son." he kept his voice level. "Now that he knows that yuir still alive, there is a chance for redemption."
"You are so full of shit it makes me sick."
"Todd!" Rose shouted, trying to position herself between the two men standing chin to bristled chin.
"No," Todd muscled in, "I'm sick of this. I'm sick of this guy coming here and trying to inject himself into my life."
Macbeth had his hands behind his back, a show of peace for the boy's mother. "Are you angry because I have feelings for yuir mother, or because you think I'm trying to replace yuir father."
"You know, I've never kicked the crap out of a Scotsman before, but I've already gone a few rounds with a surly Samoan so I doubt a skirt wearing jackass will cause much of a problem."
Something glimmered deep behind the dark ambiguity of his gaze; it was a challenge. "Are you sure, laddie?"
It'd come from between them and somewhere a few inches below. Rose had somehow injected herself between them and let the air out of her lungs in one fell shriek. It got their attention. "You and I have much more to worry about than whom I choose to spend my time with." she said to Todd, who shrunk from her glare. "Joseph is alive, my husband, your father, and he is in a position to do us great harm, or to save us from an enemy that has already taken so much. Perhaps if he now knows we're alive he'll begin to rethink this vocation he's undertaken in his grief."
"Or he, and the rest of his buddies will become a lot more desperate." Broadway amended from the side.
"I refuse to believe Joseph would hurt us," Rose contended, "no matter how much he himself has endured."
But Todd had already suffered his father's unquestionable stance. The last words Joseph Hawkins had spoken haunted him ever since. "He warned me to leave, to take you, my wife and child and leave, or he wouldn't be responsible for what may happen."
"Does he fear losing control of his little band of zealots," Brooklyn asked, "or of himself?"
"I don't know."
"And does he know that you yourself are married to a gargoyle and expecting a half-gargoyle child?"
There had been only a few things in his lifetime that scared Todd Hawkins, a scratch in the paint, annihilation, an empty bar fridge or his wife under the threat of death. "I don't know," he whispered, and glanced at his better half, "but I can imagine his reaction."
Annika suddenly made the motion of swallowing her own vomit, put a hand over her mouth and started, quickly, out of the room, progressing into a full-blown dash towards the door. "If you'll excuse me," she managed between her fingers, "I think I have to puke."
He'd aimed for the nearest bathroom, and sure enough that's where he found her, kneeling over the toilet and throwing up what sounded like breakfast, lunch and part of her lungs.
Todd came up behind her and gathered her hair, pulling it from the path of some impressive projectile vomiting until she finished with a few dry heaves; he felt the muscles overlap each other down her back and shudder through her wings. "Whoa..."
She coughed out the last little bit and finally got a breath in.
She wiped her mouth and turned, only slightly. "A little." Annika answered, throat raw.
"Or is it a reaction to what I just–?"
An eye peeked through the strands he'd let fall back over her shoulder. It hardened, he swallowed. And if it flared even vaguely ruby he knew he was dead, but she remained calm.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"How the hell was I going to fit that into casual conversation?"
"You just do, damnit." her voice was frayed. "You know what I went through with my so-called father..."
He reached over her and flushed the toilet. "And you know how it feels."
Annika leaned on the toilet rim, propping her head up with an arm; the genetic stew in her stomach was thieving a part of her strength on a nightly basis. "And just when I thought our lives couldn't get any more complicated..."
"If he gets anywhere near you, Rose, or our kid," Todd promised, "I'll kill him."
But it came out slightly hollow. Her husband wasn't a killer. "You sure?"
She didn't get an answer. Gray eyes swirled, and flitted away, hit the mirror and moved away again, as if he didn't like what he saw in the reflection.
"If you get the chance to look him in the eyes, you might think different."
"I did look him in the eyes." Todd snapped back.
"And what did you see?"
He sighed, poured a Dixie cup full of water from the sink and passed it to Annika, along with the mouthwash. "Conflict, I guess. He's angry, like I used to be, like I am now."
She breathed out the Listerine chaser and answered, "I can see why."
Todd leaned against the shower stall, and with a squeal all the way down, sunk to the floor. "And fully committed to the genocide of the gargoyle species."
"You can't be absolutely sure of that."
"Then why are you so goddamned calm?"
"Listen," he laid it out, "I've already had my Luke Skywalker moment. I've already cried myself to sleep in the corner of a room, and...well, you didn't see the hole in the drywall."
Annika hadn't noticed the band-aid stretched across two of his knuckles until now. Considering the fact he'd always find a way to nick the skin either working on the Superbird, helping to save existence or generally screwing around, bandages were becoming as common a part of his wardrobe as a t-shirt. "You're getting good at hiding things." she answered, and then it struck her. "Wait...where is there any drywall in the castle?"
He flexed the injured fist. "Trust me," Todd assured her, "there's drywall. Or I would've broken my hand instead of making a hole and a big cloud of white dust."
"Why must you always wreck things?"
"It's my uniqueness."
She blew a few strands from her horns in a huff, and rubbed the bulge down below. Annika had forgone the white mid-riff and taken to wearing a longer tunic as her stomach slowly expanded with the pregnancy, and soon she'd be forced into a maternity dress or something equally hideous. "I hope it isn't hereditary."
As soon as it rolled from her tongue, she winced; seemed the double-entendre hit them both at the same time.
"It's okay." Todd shrugged. "Apparently Hawkins men are a complicated lot."
She leaned back on the toilet seat. "Apparently..."
They remained there, just sitting, staring and brooding, and as Annika's stomach hadn't yet settled, she wanted to remain close to the bathroom and didn't quite have the inclination to lift herself up. And her husband wasn't so disposed to leave her after the bomb he'd dropped, thus, it seemed they'd make a night of it.
His business with Mr. Hawkins not quite concluded, especially after that particular revelation, Brooklyn had followed him from the room and was trailing the scent of cologne, Jolt and Guacamole Doritos down the corridor.
But he slowed when noticing another, richer aroma and turned his head.
He saw the grin first before anything else; it led like the Cheshire cat, pulling a shape from the darkness around it in the form of a high-priced Italian suit.
Appearing from a smaller adjacent hall, it looked more like David Xanatos had seeped through the cracks between the stones, standing with a full chest and an indecipherable expression. "I don't like being left out of decisions that involve both me, my empire and my family."
Brooklyn shored up, trying to ignore the inexplicable chill down his spine. "It had to be done."
"What, because of some ancient code of honor? That, my friend, will likely get you killed in this day and age."
"It was the right thing to do."
"Even when your family is at risk?" Xanatos ventured.
"I Let Savannah go for my family." Brooklyn thought to clarify. "To prove to them I'm not a heartless despot who'll resort to anything no matter how despicable."
"Like overthrowing the leader she'd taken an oath to?" he retorted. "It you're worried what Katana thinks of you because of that, I believe it's a little too late for redemption."
Xanatos could see the gargoyle's mandibles grinding against something (and almost hear fang against enamel), but to his dismay Brooklyn held his tongue, albeit with a pair of brows that'd clenched so hard they nearly dropped onto his beak.
"Savannah holds secrets that could damage us far more than a missile to the superstructure." he continued.
But Brooklyn already had a round of ammunition ready. "It seems like there's a lot of secrets going around," he said, "like what's wrong with Fox and why she's suddenly gone, where Owen disappeared to and why your son has been a little less than respectful towards you."
The billionaire's trap had been swiftly turned around on him. He was the portrait of a child with a scraped knee, scrunched face and all. "That's none of your concern."
Brooklyn had watched for any little chink in the armor, and it seems he'd just found a crack. "If we're all so intrinsically linked as you seem to think, it is my concern."
"We are linked, from the moment I decided to wake you from your spell. What you do invariably affects me."
"Yes, it does." he agreed. "I've already apologized to my second and, if it'll satisfy you–"
"I don't give a damn about an apology!" Xanatos growled, losing his composure in a rare moment of unbridled resentment. "You set her loose into the city with intimate knowledge of your clan and my involvement."
"Yes, I did. And I'm glad I did."
"Oh?" He made a half-circle around the Wyvern leader, only to stop behind him and breathe cool air across the membranes of his wings. "Is your guilt now lifted, your soul unburdened?" Xanatos completed the roundabout, and stood directly in front, face to beak; to any other gargoyle, it would've been considered a challenge to his authority. "Part of the requirement of being a leader is to suck up whatever personal feelings you have and do what's best for your clan!"
Brooklyn closed the gap between them. "Is that what you would do?" he asked. "Disregard every good instinct, principle or belief you've ever had?"
"If it kept my family safe, yes." Xanatos didn't hesitate. "The world is quickly changing around you, Brooklyn, your enemies have evolved, become smarter, deadlier, and you have to do the same."
"Never. Not while I still breathe, I'll never become like them."
"And if miss St. Nicks decides to expose us?"
He raised a ridge; Brooklyn never thought he'd ever hear that quiver of fear in the billionaire's voice. "We've faced those rumors before. She doesn't have any real evidence, only journal entries which anyone could fabricate."
But he was relentless, especially when the subject touched so close to his personal life. "And if the public does believe her? If she does happen to renew interest in the rumors of gargoyles living atop the Eyrie?"
He was already on his way when answering, "Well, then let's just hope Canmore's as good at spinning lies as Owen was."
He burst through his office doors and slammed them closed without a care to the fact the wood was imported and incredibly expensive to produce, let alone replace.
All his rage had been pinpointed on a certain arrogant leader who didn't quite think it necessary to consider the ramifications his decisions would undoubtedly have. As if there wasn't enough for the billionaire to worry about.
Sobek had been pushing him to the brink of his patience, as the entire fleet of XE ships had yet to turn up anything from their search of practically every body of water that fit a very vague description the mutated creature had offered. And Alexander; the look his own son had given him when he explained the spell of immortality and the fact he was intimately linked with a sociopath, it had nearly torn him in two.
Fox, his dying wife separated by a chasm of magic, and Owen, his right hand strapped to that hospital bed and dreaming fevered dreams with iron nanites in his blood.
And that gargoyle and his unmitigated gall. "Damn!"
Everything had gone red for a split second, and Xanatos was only yanked back to a dark and aching reality when pain shot through his arm. He'd lashed out at the closest prize he'd plundered from another dead empire, which just happened to be a crumbling clay bust of Alexander the Great, perched on a spotlighted pillar.
The sculpture had fallen, broke (pulverized, really) and tumbled in several pieces in opposite directions.
And the same hand that'd just taken a swipe at a relic that could probably feed a small country for a week started trembling. Then, uncontrollably, developed a serious convulsion from the fingertips down, through the fabric of sinew and bone and ending mid-bicep.
And for the man who'd fanatically needed to manipulate and control every aspect of the world around him, it was slow torture.
It was either the anger bubbling through his arteries or his symptoms had returned. And when the last resort of clenching his hand and holding it between his teeth failed him (bloodying his sleeve), he staggered towards his desk and salvation in a syringe.
"You called for me, doctor?"
Alan Pierce turned around at the voice intruding on his thoughts. The majordomo was wheeling into his office and trying to avoid running his wheels over what he considered a disaster, and what the doctor considered his filing system. "Yes." He held up a microscope slide, complete with a smear of red dead center. "I've analyzed the blood sample."
Jason had hoped for something besides a blind hunch that threatened his paycheck, and by the doctor's celebratory expression, his suspicion was going to be rewarded. "And?"
"He's under the influence of a very powerful sedative."
He did a double take. "I've never heard of a sedative that causes somewhat erratic behavior and violent shaking of the extremities."
"Well," Pierce shrugged, "I've never heard of this particular sedative, or seen anything like it." He grabbed a file folder and started leafing through until coming across the analysis report. He pulled the sheet and looked over the list of constituents. "It's some kind of sophisticated combination of benzodiazepines, like nothing I've ever seen."
"Except outside of Xanatos R&D." Jason presumed.
"You think his little pet Frankensteins have cooked up a designer drug?"
The needle pierced the artery and Xanatos tried to steady his arm as much as possible before depressing the plunger and watching as the liquid was pushed out and into his body.
It was always the most odd sensation in that split second when the sedative first hit the bloodstream. A burst of light and warmth and euphoria, and then, mercifully, control. As if everything he was losing came rushing back.
The last of the tremors rattled up through his arm and then stopped.
His first impulse was to lean back into his chair and bask in the elation of composure, but not content to play the part of a common junkie, he neatly repackaged his paraphernalia and stowed it in the hidden section of his desk. He rolled down his sleeve, buttoned the wrist and steepled his fingers.
He had business to attend to.
"Well, whatever it is, it's enough to drop a rhino." Pierce remarked, leaning against the counter. "It's incredibly powerful, with components that can lead to addiction and some dangerous side-effects. I just don't believe David Xanatos would resort to using any kind of drug, let alone something presumably untested."
"Unless he's under more stress than we both realize."
The doctor could see Canmore in a cast of cold reflection, iceberg eyes a way inside to the thought process that had to be running at full steam. "Are you planning to confront him?"
"Not just yet." Jason said, and started to turn himself away.
"Well, I suggest you do it soon." Pierce called at him before he could roll past the doorframe. "I can't tell how much of this stuff he's pumping into his bloodstream, but it's not good. He may not be able to keep sense of rationality he has the longer he keeps injecting himself."
It was a little late for the obvious, Jason thought.
With everyone splitting off to hunt, Macbeth thought he'd try his luck at finding wherever Rose had strayed off to. Somehow she'd slipped away without him (or anyone else in the room) noticing.
His first instinct would prove correct, when pushing back the towering door to the library and seeing a lone shape in the shaft of window-slatted light. Even against the darkness the hair was unmistakable, great lengths of curls and woodland brown reaching to the small of her back; from the distance, the mane had a patina like fine bronze.
He had barely a foot in the room before she seemed to sense his presence.
Wondering what gave him away, he continued a slow but steady pace towards her similar to what he used when stalking game in the Scottish highlands.
It could've been his scent, or the way he'd tried (unwittingly) to conceal his footsteps which only served to give him away even more, a breath, a sound unique to him or she'd known all along it would have been the former king to come and find her, but somehow Rose knew he was there. In the room with her, watching with immeasurably ancient eyes as she stood and wallowed in the self-pity that'd been her intimate for twenty years. "Why do you keep coming here?" she asked the shadow.
His eyes threw off a glint as steel as his beard. "I thought I made that fact quite obvious."
"Yes, you have." she said. "Courting a dead woman."
"That is a matter of opinion."
She let a mirthless laugh shimmy off her vocal cords; it was an eerie sound. "Oh, trust me, I am dead."
"You're also rather angry." Macbeth noticed.
"I am...frustrated." She clenched a fist at her side. "I am furious, miserable, lost...but yes, most of all, I'm angry."
"At life. My life." Rose emphasized, and turned her head slightly. She could see him by the moonlight, silver slivers highlighting the angles of his broad silhouette. "But I suppose it is petty to speak of my pain when compared to yours. Twenty years is nothing compared to a thousand."
"Pain is pain, no matter the length of time. It all cuts as deep."
"I wonder," she mused, staring into that thin, tumultuous layer of where light and sky waged a little war, "how Joseph survived it all."
"Yuir husband." He had to catch himself from spitting the word.
"Come back from the dead, yes."
"Yes..." Macbeth parroted quietly.
"It's extraordinary, and I'm at a loss in how to deal with the feelings that have arisen ever since Todd told me of his encounter. I was almost ready to call him a liar, call my own son a liar, but...his eyes betrayed him."
"They often do."
Rose had sensed the discomfort ever since mentioning Joseph; by the expression that'd carved itself into Macbeth's face and the hollow attempt to conceal it, it was obvious how much pain she'd inadvertently caused him. "If I had known from the beginning, I would have never have allowed what we have to get this far."
He nodded, and seemed to take it all in stride. "I know."
"I'm sorry, Rose." he intruded gently.
"If I came on too strong but...ever since the curse of immortality was lifted, it's as if I have an hourglass strung around my neck, counting down the ticks of every second with every grain of sand to the very end." There was a pause, another glance, another stroll through the forest of her gaze and he was suddenly remorseful in what he was being forced to give up. "I don't have the time to be patient."
"I understand." she gave a weak smile. "It was...nice, having a man pay so much attention to me," fingers traced the fire-ravaged skin, "despite my appearance. Having someone care for me despite what I had done."
"But now, yuir husband..."
"May still be dead, and a monster in his place." Rose finished. "It he truly has engineered such abominable acts, it's impossible to believe it's the same man who read to our children."
Macbeth looked up. Children?
He'd thought himself an accomplished observer of humanity. Every tick and idiosyncrasy of everyone he'd ever watched, plucking morsels from casual conversation in order to better understand an enemy or friend or someone who didn't yet fit on either side of the spectrum, and when Rose had referred to her son in the plural sense, he'd almost corrected her until the better part of valor had stiffed his lip. "I have done questionable things myself. I suppose it only takes the proper motivation."
"To become a killer? To wish the eradication of an entire species!" It was like being pricked with a pin; Rose swiveled around with every fold in her dress billowing in turn, and the nun flashed devil eyes. "I cannot believe that!"
A hand went up, to better alleviate her and, just maybe, to deflect the glare he felt boring through him. "I dare not speak for the man without having lived his life, but I've felt similar desperation. Similar anger, similar hatred. It may have been misplaced, but rage can blind you, despair can deceive you."
The anger evaporated, leaving an empty feeling she felt press against her lungs. "Do you believe he can be redeemed?" she asked, lost.
"I don't know." Macbeth shook his head, a little lost himself. This was unearthing memories he'd hoped were long buried. "But I suppose you feel you have to try."
Rose glided towards him and hesitantly, almost reverently, raised her hands and followed the deep-rutted contours of his brow and jaw. There was a moment where everything around them had dissolved and the sphere of their entire existence was a few feet in diameter and a breath between the two, and she'd nearly kissed him before realizing what that would lead to. "I'm sorry." She pulled back. "But I made a promise long ago to another man, and I will not lose him again."
He nodded. No words were necessary.
The world burst back into shadow and moonlight, and the excruciating silence save her receding footsteps.
Rose slinked from the library, and Macbeth stood as proud as he could possibly manage, resigned to putting his hands in his pockets. "Aye."
At the very least Xanatos had a good store of ales and scotch.
His own impressive collection spanning at least several hundred years had burned to the ground with his mansion, probably exploding in their bottles like rocket fuel, and drowning his sorrows in the cheap modern equivalent just seemed wrong.
This was a special kind of hurt, but at the very least, he'd prepared himself for the inevitable blow of rejection. Rose had been so closed off he was surprised if he'd eventually get anywhere beyond what she was willing to give.
Macbeth had drifted back into the dimly lit recreation room and aimed for the bar, only to find one of the stools leaning on two legs under a young woman slumped across the cherry veneer, trying its best to balance the unbalanced. As he got closer, he noticed the indicative, oversized leather coat and the small, loosely constructed castle of empty beer bottles surrounding her.
She must've cleaned the billionaire out of all the domestic and several other brands he imagined she couldn't pronounce even when sober.
The tangle of red hair spread like butterfly wings moved, showing signs of life. She'd mumbled something into her folded arms, unintelligible, but at least she was still conscious.
He laughed a deep laugh in his chest and went behind the bar, hunting through the shelves and a variety of colored bottles of half-empty liquor. He decided on the Ballantine's, grabbed it, placed it on the bar and plucked a shot-glass from underneath. While pouring, he noticed the young woman moaning; either she was ready to let out some of what she'd put back, or something else was wrong. If memory served correct, she was the girl who'd dated the ninja. "I take it yuir in the same boat I am." he offered.
Her head went up, glassy eyes peaking through the strands. "Huh?"
Macbeth rolled a glassful of thirty-year-old scotch across his tongue, and reiterated. "Relationship troubles."
Iliana let her chin drop back on her arms. "I wouldn't quite phrase it like that..."
"'Tis better to have loved..."
She growled at the quote, and wasn't quite finished deciding whether or not she actually loved the idiot. "You know, I should never have come to this castle in the first place."
"I truly don't think you mean that." he countered.
"Would you rather have never lived what you've lived the last few years?" he asked.
"What?" Iliana's spine went ramrod stiff. "Nearly getting myself blown to shit?"
"Camaraderie, kinship, protection...love."
"Is that why you keep coming here?"
He compulsively took another swig, and savored the scotch as if were the last he'd ever have. "It's rare to find somewhere to fit in." he whispered, and met his gaze against the young woman's. "I am a man out of time, detective. It is often difficult to find someone, let alone an entire family, who were raised and lived in the dark ages, who understand the solitude of a time that doesn't quite suit you and at the very least," his hand led her eyes around the stone, painted in the acrid and orange hue of a 60-watt light bulb to the side of the bar, "appreciate the décor from way back when. Besides, my house was blown up, and my basement complex isn't as habitable as it is practical."
"Well," she put her hand to her chest, "I'm a woman that's been fucked over by a gargoyle."
The irony wasn't lost on him. In fact, he would've squirmed from his skin if it weren't appropriate for a former king. "Yuir not the only one."
"Last time I checked," Iliana prodded him, "the nun didn't have wings."
"I wasn't referring to Rose."
That at the very least got her head back off of her arms, and her eyes seemed to swirl and clear for a moment. "Then...who?"
"It's long past." he evaded.
"So is my relationship, or whatever you want to call it, with that big," she turned, "dumb," and shook a diminutive fist at the curtain of stars beyond the windows, "stupid jackass!"
"Lucky man." Macbeth said low.
"Fucker took off!" she continued, pounding the tabletop. "He said he lived by some goddamned code of honor and then ran away when it got too difficult!"
"And hurt you."
"Or tried to spare you more pain."
Like he'd reached over the bar and cold-cocked her, Iliana fell silent and allowed her booze-addled brain to focus.
The Scotsman helped himself to another glass as she stared and worked it over in her mind, and then another, breathing out enough toxic fumes to spark an open flame into something that could blow the room from the castle's side.
"I broke up with him." she revealed after a while. "It was over between us."
"Are you sure?"
"He's going to have a baby."
"No," the shot-glass went down with a sharp crack, "Delilah is."
"Shadow's the father."
"He's the donor, milady." Macbeth amended, stroking the silver bristle that framed a rough-hewn cast. "There's a difference. At least, in this society of adoption and artificial insemination." He poured himself another. "You can't fault him for giving the young woman what she so desperately wanted, and what their race so desperately needs."
"I can fault him for not telling me." Iliana huffed, dredging up the particular sting of that particular confession.
"True. But is that enough to end your relationship?"
"I broke it off with him because he was still in love with Delilah, and I felt they were better off together."
"Seems to me they tried it, and it didn't work." He paused to take the glassful down in a single gulp, and the fact the booze had barely made a dent meant it wasn't as potent as the label promised, or Macbeth was a man who could take his liquor. "I shall always love my first wife, but that didn't stop me from loving others honestly and completely."
"Well..." she stumbled, and decided it wasn't worth explaining. "Damnit, you wouldn't understand."
"He's a complicated man."
"He has his share of imperfections."
"And you love him."
"Yes." It was automatic; Iliana only realized she'd just been swindled when the tasting the admission between her lips. "Wait, no!"
"And you're more afraid he'll never come back then you are angry in his leaving."
He was curt and enigmatic all at the same time, completely unapologetic at how he'd trapped her as he had another glass. But reigning in the urge to take a swipe at the vacant expression, Iliana was compelled to ask herself a question bigger than the sense of betrayal that'd settled in the pit of her stomach. Who knew it took half her body weight in alcohol and a formerly immortal Scot to trigger such an epiphany. "Yes." she whispered, staring through the bottles she'd demolished, and the prisms of light they gave off. "With Shadow around I was never afraid. Not of my job, not of the Guild, not of anything. I went back to work despite being a target because I knew that somewhere, up in the sky, on the top of every building and in every shadow he was there."
"And now, he's not." Like a guillotine, he came down hard. "Is that why you're still here?"
Slowly, her body without the strength or inclination to stay vertical, Iliana fell forwards and back into the position Macbeth had found her. "I'm both afraid to go home, and afraid that if I leave it means I've given up hope he'll ever come back."
"Lad's got to sort out his troubles on his own."
But any response from the detective was muffled into her leather sleeves. Iliana gently passed into the layer between sleep and unconsciousness, and Macbeth thought to drink a while more as the detective slept it off.
It would be a while before anyone else would even travel the outside corridor let alone enter the room usually frequented by the clan (they were a little less than communal lately), until, before he'd even heard the footsteps, Othello ambled through the archway.
Macbeth thought he was getting a little dull before he realized the steel blue male was probably a better hunter than he was, instinctively and impressively padding his steps.
Surprised at what he found, Othello wandered in and stopped directly behind the small, slumbering human. How someone so tiny could've polished off all the empty bottles he found before him was a question that quickly grew faint when noticing the sheer number of his favorite brand.
It registered through his craggy brow, so much so the conscious human noticed.
"Problem, my friend?" Macbeth wondered.
"Did she take all of the Heineken?"
Gargoyles, he'd noticed over the years, were discerning in their spirits (when allied in Scotland, Demona had only wanted the finest). Macbeth turned and rooted through the fridge until coming across more of the familiar green glass. "Nay," he said, handing the archer one, "there's a few left."
Sporting a rare grin, Othello took the bottle and cracked it open with a single flip of his taloned thumb. "It is hard to find good ale this day and age."
"I'd say the same of women." said Macbeth.
They clinked their glasses and drank to celebrate.
With a few fingers, she wiped the sheen of perspiration away and let her senses return in the aftermath that'd nearly made her legs numb.
Maria sat up with the sheet held just above her chest, the post-coitus glow only starting to fade.
Hudson on the other hand was lying back on the bed's opposite side, arms folded behind his head and at peace with the world if only for the night. His beard tangled from where Maria had grabbed on for leverage, he was wearing an ear-to-ear grin and barely breathing hard where his partner had almost hyperventilated on top of him.
The entire room had a damp warmth just like a bathroom after a long, hot shower. It was a smaller bedchamber without a window and with the door closed, and locked, it didn't allow for much exposure to fresh air beyond the two closed vents (to muffle the sound; the castle inhabitants had great hearing, and if it weren't for Maria's tendency to get a little loud...).
"We shouldn't have done this." she confessed.
Concerned, Hudson turned to face her bare back. He was thrown for a moment, startled and maybe, somewhere deep down, slightly proud, when seeing a few red lines in a familiar pattern on her shoulder blades and near her hips. "Are ye regretful?"
"No," if there was a smile, it was carefully aimed away, "I just don't want you to have another heart attack. If you're not allowed red meat for the next few weeks, then I doubt the good doctor would approve of us spending the night in bed."
"That doctor be a quack."
His disgruntled rumble wrinkled through the bed. "Tell me."
"I don't think it's very appropriate for someone in my position to be having such...off-duty activities."
"'Tis yuir night off." he said. "Enjoy the time ye have."
"Hudson," Maria was serious, "have you ever heard the term malfeasance?"
She sighed, gathering a bit more of the sheet around her, "The more time I spend here, the more I feel like I'm becoming a hypocrite."
"Nudging universes, aye." he repeated a particular excerpt of the speech she'd given Brooklyn. "But our worlds, be they so different?"
"Depends on who and what you are." she tried to clarify. "I'm a captain in the NYPD. I'm supposed to be a pillar of honesty and integrity, of following every single rule to the letter..."
"You've never complained before."
Maria fingered the scars on her stomach, tracing the slightly raised flesh where her son was cut from her. "I had other things on my mind. And frankly, I didn't think this, us, had...a future."
The notched brow went up. "Oh?"
"You know what I mean." she calmed him before he got the wrong impression. "Our relationship only started with a magic spell and an accidental pregnancy."
Only slightly satisfied, he laid back down, resuming the comfortable position. "I suppose yuir right. I always thought ye were far too stuffy."
"I beg your pardon." Maria whirled around, nearly losing her grip on what little still covered her. "You're the traditionalist here!"
If Hudson didn't enjoy the occasional flare up so much, only surfacing when her temper was suitably provoked, he might've taken the insult personally. "An' how be mating with a human traditional?" he offered coolly, seeing Maria's eyes waver slightly and then really got into it. "Yuir personal life be just that, personal! We're both lucky t' have found one another after losing our loved ones, and I willna let you wallow in self-doubt an' some ridiculous creed of tryin' t' divide yuirself between duty and love."
She felt another rant coming on, and thought to stop it before he got too far into the middle. "Hudson."
"I love you," Maria reassured him, "I really, truly do, but there has to be a line between the two sometimes, especially when one can cost you the other."
He ground something out between his teeth. "Lines, lines, you and Brooklyn and yuir damnable metaphors. Love be not black or white."
"You have no idea how hard it is, trying to reconcile two completely different universes."
"Elisa didna find it too difficult."
"Elisa wasn't–isn't in my position." Maria argued, sick of the comparison. "She doesn't have Internal Affairs breathing down her neck about the what happened to Barnes and Lei, she isn't responsible for half a precinct worth of detectives and officers, and though we're both public officials who've fallen in love with what the state would consider a vigilante, I'm a higher rank and someone who can't hide as well among the soldiery."
Hudson blinked, "Sounds complicated."
"And arrogant, and cowardly, and a little childish to boot. But there it is, and that's what I'm afraid of, and I don't want to lose a position where I can do so much for this city."
He brandished a clawed hand. "I have a solution, then."
"Get over it!" he growled, the hand becoming a fist that looked like it could snap steel. "Or let yuirself from me bed! If you're so worried of what anyone else will think, then perhaps this," he wagged a finger between them several times, "whatever this be, willna work!"
Maria stared at him for a while, letting his breathing come back to a near-normal pace and leaned over, dressing his body with her own and nudging her mouth to his. She smelled of jasmine. "Okay."
"Oh, an' now ye listen?"
"I'm never going to compromise who and what I am, unless it's for the absolute best of intentions." Hudson could feel every word and change in tone as her lips whispered against his. "And I'm doing my best to balance my life between you and my work but I will always be a cop first. I just...wanted you to understand how I feel."
"I hope so."
"Then are ye' done complainin'?"
"I suppose. And by the way, this, I do happen to like this. Very," she kissed him," very," and again, "much."
Hudson growled under the gossamer caress of her mouth, staying tantalizingly just out of reach.
He would've almost missed them if he hadn't stolen a glance around the door and into the bathtub.
The two entwined scents were too powerful a trace for Brooklyn just to give up when finding what he thought was an empty bathroom. So, he took another step inside and discovered the couple curled up together in the tub.
No water, fully-clothed; Annika was lightly dozing against his chest, while Todd was just staring off into space.
It took a while for him to notice something a vivid burgundy hue on the edge of his peripheral vision, and it wasn't until Todd turned his head towards Brooklyn that the gargoyle fully emerged. "How long have you been standing there?"
"A little while." Brooklyn answered, and looked over the reclining pair. "Why are you in the tub?"
"I asked you first."
"It's comfortable, and private." he shrugged, and resumed his stare against the tile. He'd gathered why Brooklyn had come to find him, but didn't yet know how to breach the subject except for the usual approach, "So, you must be pissed."
"Slightly, but I can understand your hesitance. I'm just more surprised than anything else."
"Tell me about it." Todd huffed.
Brooklyn drifted towards the toilet, and took a seat on the lid. His eyes were grim. "I need to know, Hawkins, everything that you do."
"That's all I know." he assured. "He's good with a gun, has a shitload of gadgets that would make Batman jealous, was willing to kill his old partner..."
His father had had the chance to pop one off into his back during the entire length of their encounter. No mess, no fuss, just a hole through his son's chest and the clear conscience to blow the castle from its foundation. But Todd couldn't speak for how long his father was willing to let him make up his mind on which side he stood. "I don't know. He offered me the chance to escape, but...if I don't, he just might finish what he started on the castle rooftops."
"And how long do you think he'll hold off?"
"I," it would've went off like a shotgun if he wasn't mindful of the weight pressed against him, "don't know..."
Brooklyn made a nod towards Annika. "You're sure he doesn't know about...?"
Todd instinctively clutched tighter, and buried his face to the nose in spun gold. "I don't think so." he whispered against the crown of her head. "But they could've found out a lot of juicy tidbits since then."
"What are you going to do now?"
By Todd's question and the tone, Brooklyn suspected he already knew the answer. But there was something in hearing it from someone else's lips that made it more real. "The same thing we've been doing since we've met these freaks."
"Are you going to kill him?" Todd continued.
"Only if he forces me to. But, your mother seems convinced we can sway your father–"
"Back from the dark side?" he joked, but it came off a little sinister. "I've already tried that. I don't need my friends trying to psychoanalyze someone who'd just as well shoot them in the head."
"I'll give you one, Hawkins," Brooklyn said, probably not truly realizing how difficult that promise may be, "until we know for sure where he stands."
"I think it's one too much."
"Well, I guess we all owe you at least that much." Brooklyn stood up, snapped his wings to get the kinks out and offered a piece of advice. "You'd better warn everyone you know and who knows of your wife to keep their mouths shut."
"I already have." he answered. Todd had warned Kendra and Crash and a few more from that party almost two years ago; no one ever saw a gargoyle, even if they touched her, laughed with her and had a few too many beers with her. But considering the chaos that'd enveloped the city recently, as anyone even remotely associated with gargoyles was mysteriously killed off, there wasn't a single person with an inclination to shoot their mouth off.
"Good." he nodded rigidly. "I can't have you going off half-cocked, Hawkins, we need you. We've already lost too many."
His sneer was mostly obscured by blond hair. "Well, unlike Shadow, I'm not leaving. I do like that half-cocked idea though, it sounds fun."
"Well," Todd looked up, "it would be pretty hard to do anything when we have no idea where the Guild is. Have you found them yet?"
Brooklyn was staring headlong into the wall, as if he was able to see right through and into the sea of light and bedlam beyond. "No, not a trace." he said. "If the Guild's out there, they've done a pretty good job of covering their tracks..."
"...Jesus H. Christ, you don't expect me to believe that, do you?..."
Savannah kneaded fingers into her forehead, trying to rub away the budding headache. She'd dreaded the reaction she knew she was going to get when first getting in contact with him, and ever since he nearly choked on the donut at hearing her voice, a dull pain had worked its way in to the back of her skull. "I was never pregnant."
But her editor was insistent. "...Listen, St. Nicks–Savannah, you don't have to explain or try and cover up the truth. I understand. These things can happen..."
"No, Vinnie." she continued, wondering if everyone was going to react like this. "It was all a lie, albeit a very well constructed, and completely untrue lie."
"...You didn't...you know...? I've waffled on the whole pro-life/pro-choice issue myself, but–"
"Damnit, Vinnie, shut up and listen to me! There was no baby, I didn't leave the country in shame, and I didn't have a fucking affair. I spent those two months in the company of a very special, ah...family."
He paused for a moment, then, "...Who?..."
She skimmed the portion of text on the computer screen, the result of nearly thirty-six hours straight of taking two months worth of journal entries and every little fragment and scrap she could remember and creating something remotely continuous and coherent enough for even the simplest of her audience. But, after a day and a half, she'd literally made herself a bible with opportunity and a little bit of revenge in every word, duplicity and respect, and a painstaking dissection of everything Gargoyle. "You'll read it tomorrow morning." she said. "Trust me, this story is going to change every single belief, conviction and opinion the human race ever had–"
A chime went through the apartment, stopped the conversation dead.
The doorbell. Her Thai food, considering she wasn't in the mood to waste any time grocery shopping.
"Damn." Savannah whispered, grabbed the cash on the counter and started towards the door. "Hold on..."
It wasn't until she actually looked through her door's peephole that the fact she never buzzed the delivery guy inside the building started to sink in. Something in a dark suit stood nonchalantly in full view with most of his face, brow to chin at least, concealed by a formfitting mask with nothing but white eyes and three thin slits on either side as distinguishable features.
It took about a second or two for her mind to dig out the particular memory of where she'd seen that mask before, but as it did, she nearly had a stroke. "Oh shit..."
She quickly latched the chain and took off for the other side of the apartment. "Vinnie, get the cops over here now!"
"...What's going on!..."WHAM!
Light and shrapnel filled half the living room as the door was nearly kicked from its hinges and swung open into a battered heap against the closet. The first one in was massive, filling the frame and those white eyes (the mask's eyeholes glowed) quickly scanned the shadows.
The phone clattered against the linoleum. Movement flitted past the kitchenette and towards the bedroom.
"There." A few more followed in identical black suits and masks, with another taking up the rear, massaging leather gloves and far too casual to be just another grunt among the ranks.
Black against black, his sinewy form nearly melted into nothingness before he turned on a lamp.
The commotion in the bedroom, screams, swearing and sass etcetera, meant St. Nicks was most likely fighting back against three highly trained ex-military men, and the Guild agent was patient enough to wait out what would probably be a brief struggle, inspecting a few photos on an end-table, leafing through a book and admiring the décor.
Savannah was eventually dragged from her bedroom, seething, frothing (and bleeding) from the mouth, with eyes like a caged cougar and every appendage restrained by the three agents who had to carry her out. They forced her to her knees in front of the fourth, and with the first instinct to rabbit or connect foot to crotch after being released, a gun barrel was nestled into the back of her head to keep her still.
"Agent Orange, agent Brown, agent Red, thank you."
"Color-coded, how cute." The first thing she noticed when she looked up was the slicked blond hair; bleach blond, almost white, brighter than any dye could get it, and the scar emerging from the top lip of the mask above his right brow and trailing into his hairline. "And are you Mr. Pink?"
"Miss St. Nicks." he said, voice slightly distorted by the mask's breathing slits.
She licked the blood from her lip and snorted, "What do you bastards want?"
Agent White crouched to her level and seized her chin in his right hand. He seemed to look her over, dissecting her, before answering, "Information."