Disclaimer: Gargoyles and all related elements, characters and indicia © Buena Vista Television © 1994-2004. All Rights Reserved. All characters and situations—save those created by the authors for use solely on this website—are copyright Buena Vista Television ©1994-2004.
Please do not archive or distribute without author's permission.
Author's Note: "Games" takes place just before "Ill Met by Moonlight.", and is dedicated to Lindy Hensley, Leva, Perri, Diane Levitan, and Missy Merlin because one good dedication deserves another.
"This just gets worse and worse." Brooklyn rested his chin on his hands. The night sky beyond the clock tower was choked with stars between wisps of clouds. A warm breeze blew across the city, carrying with it a weird mix of smells, of spring flowers, exhaust fumes, several hot dog and pretzel vendors, and new grass. Brooklyn thought back to spring in Scotland, which lasted about two weeks, and was dominated by the smells of mud, wet wool, and new grass. At least some things stayed he same.
"What does?" Broadway asked, spraying pretzel crumbs. The vendor on the corner was on the verge of moving his cart, despite the great business from the cops. The way food disappeared and money reappeared was nice, but just slightly on the terrifying side. Broadway had been getting creative recently, with dollar bills tucked into paper aeroplanes, and lowered via twine and paper clips. It gave them something to do early in the evening, when too many people were about to go on patrol.
"Not having any answers. Even with all that Arthur told us, that still doesn't tell us when Goliath, Elisa and Bronx'll be back."
"Yeah, but just think of it!" Broadway sat on the ledge next to the de-facto leader, gazing up at the stars with a wistful smile. "The hatchlings! I never figured we'd, you know . . ."
"Yeah." Brooklyn sighed. "Except we'll probably never get to meet them."
"Sure we will."
"How? You heard what the king said. Avalon's magic doesn't take you where you want to go, only where you need to be. Assuming Elisa, Goliath and Bronx ever come back, what makes you think that we'd ever get to Avalon?"
"I guess I didn't really think of it that way." Broadway's face fell. "I guess I kinda figured maybe they'd come here, you know?"
"It'd be pretty crowded up where with over thirty gargoyles, don't you think?" Brooklyn smiled. "C'mon, it's time we started our patrol."
"Yessir," Broadway grinned, and polished off the last of the pretzel, licking mustard from his fingers.
The street was quiet, in as much as any New York street was quiet. All the good children were tucked in bed, and all the bad children had yet to show their faces. A dark sedan was parked unnoticed in the alley opposite the pretzel vendor who was packing up his cart. Similarly unnoticed was a man in a dark suit leaning casually against a fire escape, micro-binoculars obscuring his eyes, and cellphone in the other hand. He followed the three shadows that leapt from the roof with practised ease.
"Sir? They're moving."
The child was completely awe-struck. Between her grubby fingers she clutched her passport into this amazing glittering medieval world, a sealed creamy envelope that strangely did not bear the marks of said fingers. She couldn't have been more than ten. The Eyrie Building security guard didn't even bother to wonder why she wasn't in bed. The duct tape that held her shoes together, coupled with the patched and mended jeans and jacket spoke of poverty, rather than a fashion statement. He had been on the verge of escorting the child out when she recited her message the first time.
"Lady said I have to give this to a man in the castle."
"What man might that be?"
"Yeah, right. He and the Beefeater guy are up there waiting for you—" the guard had stepped out from behind the desk and was halfway to the door with her when a voice came over his headset.
"Ask her again." It was spooky as hell how Mr. Burnett always knew what was going on in the building. Then again, the place was wired from top to bottom, the guard reasoned, maybe he just had been flipping channels at the right time.
Still, spooky as hell.
"Who you looking for again, kid? Jack Daniels?"
"Lady said Whiskey Jack. She said she'd gimme fi'dollars if I brung this to him." She nodded her head, dreadlocks bobbing in front of her huge dark eyes. The guard waited.
"Escort her to the elevator," the disembodied voice instructed and the guard shrugged, changing directions. He brought the street kid up to the main hall of Castle Wyvern, and looked about nervously.
Mr. Burnett appeared from the side door, and strode purposefully towards them. His left arm was in a navy canvas sling. The story was he'd broken his wrist in one of Mr. Xanatos' training exercises. Burnett's eyes were cool as a winter sky behind his glasses, but the kid just grinned.
"Hey mister, you Jack?"
"I believe you have a message for me." Burnett remained all business, but dropped to one knee so as not to tower over the kid.
The girl solemnly handed over the envelope.
It was of heavy paper stock, almost more like cloth than paper, and was sealed with a glob of red sealing wax that had survived its journey surprisingly well, considering the dubious messenger. Then again, five dollars is a lot of money when you're that young. The child wiped her nose, and looked up at him expectantly.
"Do you remember what this lady looked like?"
"Pretty lady," she offered, as if that would be enough. "She came to me especially, and told me she'd gimme fi'dollars if I come here and bring this to Mr. Jack."
"And where were you?"
"In the park."
He opened the envelope, and removed a single halfsheet of paper. The words "You are cordially invited to a most unusual and most private unveiling" were written across the front with ink that had dried bluish-brown. There was an address and in place of a time, it simply said "Dusk."
No signature, but he had a fair idea of who sent it. Tucking the note into his breast pocket, he removed his wallet and handed the wide-eyed child a crisp twenty-dollar bill.
"Don't worry about your five dollars."
"Wow." She crumpled the bill in her fist, and gazed up at him with gap-toothed adoration, but he didn't so much as crack a smile.
He turned to the guard, who had watched the exchange with an expression caught between disbelief and bemusement. "Please escort the young lady back downstairs, thank you." Owen said, and then turned on his heel and went back through the double doors he'd entered.
The patrol had gone well: Five muggers, two car thieves, a gang of taggers, and one overzealous hockey fan. Still, the entire time, Brooklyn had been preoccupied with worries, fears, and speculation.
What if Goliath never made it home? Sure, he'd had to face that fact when he finally accepted leadership, and he wasn't shirking his duty...
But there was so much he still had to learn. Hudson was a fine teacher, but it was Goliath's example that Brooklyn needed right now. He couldn't talk to his brothers about it. He was supposed to be leading them after all. If they knew how mixed up he was, it would only make things worse. He found his eyes drawn to Castle Wyvern, even though it had been a year since they had called its walls home. The building glowed with reflected light from floodlights and the city below. He wondered how different life might have been if the massacre had never happened. Would he still be Goliath's successor? Or would that duty have fallen to an older, more experienced gargoyle?
Playing "What if?" wasn't really satisfying, but the game did make him think. He turned to go back into the tower when a flicker of movement caught his eye.
A shadow crossed the pearly pre-dawn sky. Glancing back quickly, he did a quick headcount. Hudson was still in his chair, and Lex and Broadway were at the computer. Could Goliath be back?
Leaping off the ledge, his mind still filled with the possibilities of hatchlings, he glided towards the silhouette.
As he grew closer, he realised it wasn't Goliath but a lissom young female, pale as the moon that had already set as the world prepared for yet another day.
"Hey!" he called out to the gargoyle, and she paused and then dropped a few feet as she lost the wind. He smiled, but she swooped into a dive. Angling her wings to catch the updraft, she swooped tightly around a skyscraper and out of sight. Brooklyn did the same, but when he followed the path she had taken, she was nowhere to be found. He alighted on the roof of squat office building, and scanned the lightening sky.
"Okaaaaaay," Brooklyn said softly, and was answered only by the wind whipping through the buildings. Crouched on the ledge, he could feel the sun rising in the East. Perhaps she, whoever she was, had simply found a perch out of sight to spend the day.
Gregory Marlowe studied the black and white photos intently, the brandy in his hand forgotten as he poured over them. On the low mahogany table before him, dozens of similar photos were spread out in studied disarray, a week's work of subterfuge.
Fingering the gold pin on his lapel absently, he laid down the photo in his hand, and carefully removed it. He set it in a crystal ash tray, the eye above the pyramid winking at him in the morning sunlight.
He had yet to go to bed. The new world he had discovered was too seductive to give up when the sun went down.
Now, he knew that it only began with the first breath of night.
Now, he would make the night his.
The address proved to be an abandoned tenement near the river. Owen stepped over sleeping squatters and street people, and made his way to a room on the fifth floor. The windows faced west, painting the room fiery orange and gold. Shading his eyes, he saw a figure silhouetted against the setting sun.
Correction: saw a gargoyle silhouetted against the setting sun.
As the meridian line crept upwards, a web of cracks appeared in the stone, and as the last lick of flame went out in the West, the thin stone skin exploded outward and the female gargoyle lazily spread her wings, stretching like a cat, breathing in the night air.
Her skin was like fine marble, rosy with the rapidly fading light. By contrast, the silky black waves that fell to her waist seemed to swallow the light whole. Her wings were shadows, the colour of charcoal, the insides a dusky periwinkle. She ran her hand through her hair, smoothing it back, and then turned at last to face him.
"I wasn't aware gargoyles came with grey eyes."
Her lips twitched with something that might have been a smile, and she blinked languidly, revealing eyes like obsidian chips, the irises so dark they swallowed the pupils.
"Better?" Rowan smiled, baring her fangs.
Brooklyn awoke alone on the roof of an old brownstone, and immediately scanned the skyline in the dying light of the sun for a sign of the gargoyle he'd glimpsed last night. She couldn't have made it too far, it had been nearly dawn. He'd been lucky to find his roost, and it was a good thing very few people in Manhattan ever bothered to look up, because most Allied Insurance offices don't have tastes running to the gothic, let alone a six foot gargoyle above their entrance.
"Well, if she wants to be seen, I'm sure she will," he muttered to himself, but he didn't sound particularly convinced. He headed back to the clocktower, still keeping an eye out, though. Just in case.
"Your unfailing fashion sense has failed you, my dear." Having recovered from the initial shock of her form, Owen now turned his attention to her wardrobe. She wore a white linen shirt that fair gleamed in the dim light, and over that, a crushed green velvet doublet that winked with silver thread in embroideries that shifted maddeningly. By contrast, the green velvet breeches were positively plain. Except when she moved, they showed iridescent flashes of purple.
She looked down, brushing a speck of imaginary lint from the front of the doublet, pouting prettily.
"Can you only criticise? Not all of them wear rags. However, you do have a point. I don't want to stand out too badly." The velvets rearranged themselves into black cotton and denim. She spun around for his benefit, and then folded her arms in a mirror of his stance, cocking her head slightly, like a bird. Her eyes glittered. "So, do I pass muster?"
He made a little sound halfway between an exhalation and a hurumph . "I was under the impression, when we bid each other farewell not three months ago, that this meant we would not be seeing each other unexpectedly again in the near future." Owen closed his eyes as if he were in pain.
"Can't a girl change her mind?" There was laughter in her voice, and then she frowned. "Whatever have you done to your hand?" She pulled his left wrist from the sling, and clucked over it like a mother hen. "Did your mother never tell you not to put your fingers into strange cauldrons?"
"Rowan—" there was a warning in his tone that she blithely ignored, and after inspecting the stone hand and wrist carefully, let go. He flexed his fingers, feeling the tingle of blood rushing back into flesh, and frowned. "If I wanted to do that, I would have done it myself," he snapped. Tucking his hand back into the sling, he made a fist and again flesh hardened into stone.
"Well then, why haven't you?" she sighed, exasperated, and sat on the edge of a couch that appeared just before she settled her weight on its corner. Her talons clicked on the wood floor, and her tail swished back and forth. She was obviously enamoured of her new form.
"What manner of game are you playing at now?" He looked her over once again from top to bottom, and frowned.
"May I remind you, last time you were the one playing me for the fool." Her eyes darkened to storm clouds, but then her expression softened. "We parted on such good terms, don't spoil it. Must you always believe I am playing at something?" For a second— nay, less than that—he actually believed she was hurt, and his expression almost softened. Almost. He held up the invitation, and she giggled.
"I thought that would get your attention." She wrapped her wings around her shoulders, and then they faded, dreamlike, and she stood before him in the form he remembered from her last visit. In the cut-offs and shirt, she resembled him of a human runaway. Except mortal children had the common sense to wear shoes. She touched his arm, but he frowned and pulled back.
"It would have gotten anyone's attention."
"Don't tell me your man Xanatos knows Anishnabeng. My goodness, he is well read."
"He is intrigued by tricksters, more so since the Coyote incident."
"Lucky for you." Her eyes narrowed, and then she shed all guile. "So where is your human?"
"He's not my human." Owen snapped, and she quirked an eyebrow. "He and Fox are rendezvousing in Europe."
"And you've been left all by your lonesome." She leaned her head on his shoulder, and peered up at him through thick lashes. "Aren't you glad I've come?"
He simply glared at her.
"You've become positively dour, you know that?"
"What part would you have me play in all of this?"
"But I thought you liked to play," she tickled his ear with a lock of her hair twined about her finger, and he polished his glasses, seemingly unaffected.
"On my terms."
"Ah, of course. Call it professional courtesy then, warning you that I was entering your territory, as it were."
"Then you have completed your task, and I will take my leave of you." He sketched a mocking bow, and strode towards the door.
"Don't you want to know—"
"No, I do not."
She stamped her foot, and then rose in the warm night air, her form switching from human to gargoyle so fast it seemed instantaneous. "If you're going to be that way about it, I shan't bother you any longer." Crouching in the window, she scowled, and then leapt out to meet the young night, her wings stretched wide.
Owen paused in the doorway, but there was no trace of her now except the curiously out of place green velvet couch, until it too faded and left not so much as a mark on the floor to show it ever existed. He shook his head, and then closed the door with a soft click, and made his way back to the street below to the car. He had enough work to do in Mr. Xanatos' absence without adding to it with Rowan's penchant for imping.
However tempted he might be.
"It's not like him," Broadway frowned, and anxiously scanned the skyline. "Do you think anything happened?"
"He probably just lost track of time," Lex said over his shoulder. He was tinkering with a stereo he'd found in a dumpster near the park. It was pretty trashed, but he was sure he could get it up and running.
"I'm sure he can take care of himself," Hudson clapped the big gargoyle on the shoulder, and Broadway nodded, still unconvinced. Then his eyes lit up as he spotted Brooklyn's silhouette.
"Hey, sorry. I got side-tracked," Brooklyn tried not to look sheepish. He knew he had a perfectly valid reason for staying out, but he did feel guilty for worrying the clan. "You're never going to believe what I saw."
Crouched on a ledge, she drank in the night. . Why had she never tested the air on gargoyle's wings before? It was sheer delight, the feeling that she owned the darkness, the world of the night. How wonderful it must be to feel that way all the time. Or perhaps they weren't aware of it, the gargoyles. After all, they knew no other existence. Just as the Children had known no other existence, until they had been cast out.
She watched the clock tower. The young ones would be heading out soon, on their nightly patrols. She'd been watching them for days, though she had kept that little fact to herself. For all her posturing, she really was not half as capricious as she let Owen believe she was. She had devoted no small thought to this endeavour.
She frowned. Whatever had put him in such a bad mood? It wasn't like they hadn't played these games before. It wasn't like he wasn't playing them now . . .
She turned her attention back to the darkening sky, the moon slipping out from below the skyline tentatively, masked by wispy clouds driven by the wind.
The silhouettes of the gargoyles were dots now, shadows across the buildings. Smiling, she leapt from the ledge, catching an updraft and rising, the moon tracing her wings with silver. She hung back, keeping them in sight, and wondered what their young leader had told his rookery brothers about that morning.
As Brooklyn finished his tale, he realised Lex and Broadway were just staring, not looking particularly thrilled or as excited as he was. Hudson smiled tentatively, and laid a hand on Brooklyn's shoulder.
"Are you sure that's what you saw, lad?"
"Of course I'm sure!" Brooklyn stepped out from under the old gargoyle's' palm, and frowned. This wasn't the reaction he'd been expecting. Okay, he wasn't sure what reaction exactly he'd been expecting, but this definitely wasn't it.
"It just sounds a little weird, that's all," Lex shrugged. "I mean, if there are other gargoyles in New York, why haven't we run into them before?"
"What about Griff?" Brooklyn pointed out. "Yeah, it was a shock to meet him, but if there are gargoyles again in England, why can't there be ones here that we don't know about? And what about the rookery eggs?"
"Are you sure it wasn't Demona?" Broadway asked, as he flipped pancakes onto a plate.
"Positive." Brooklyn said dryly.
"Maybe she was a clone, you know, like Thailog?"
"Maybe," Brooklyn conceded, and sighed. "Well, I guess we'll just have to wait and see. If she wants to be found, she will be."
Deep down, he hoped she wanted to be found.
Gregory Marlowe stood in the window of his Manhattan town house, eyes fastened on the darkening sky. His man Clermont had already set out, just as he had for the past six nights. Ever since Marlowe had first seen the Society's files on the gargoyles, he had been consumed with passion. And Marlowe was a man of great passions.
Marlowe wanted to know, to understand. He had pursued and finally joined the Society when he was a young man, and at first he had believed the Illuminati held the keys to all the answers he sought. Why shouldn't they? Longevity alone should have accounted for half their store of knowledge, and contacts the other half. But the society was stingy with its knowledge, and the sheer enormity of the hierarchy kept him from advancing at a speed that would guarantee him the kind of knowledge he sought.
Knowledge was power, real power. It could bring you all the trappings usually associated with power. Money, influence, respect, they all followed in the wake of knowledge. Hadn't that been true up until this point? Up until his disappearance, he had been on of the most influential men in America. Even now, he still maintained a great deal of control, with holdings squirreled away in foreign banks, under pseudonyms and dummy corporations the Society didn't even dream existed. But knowledge of business, the world, men and women's minds, it wasn't enough. In the Society, he had seen the promise of knowledge of everything outside his ken. All the sciences and arts that were said not to exist, he was sure flourished under the Illuminati's hands. And he had seen the gargoyles as proof of this. The files David Xanatos had given them had been abbreviated, but enough to spark a burning desire to understand, the know this second race that had inhabited the earth in shadow and secret and near extinction for tens of thousands of years. It fascinated him, the mere idea of it.
And now, he was determined to own that knowledge. And using the gargoyles, he could storm the gates of the Society and wrest all the secrets they had kept hidden from him, he was sure of it. They were too passive, too secretive, too old and stagnant to withstand an attack. And with the Society under his control, nothing could be denied him. The world's knowledge would lay at his feet.
It was the promise of ultimate power. He swore it wouldn't remain a promise unfulfilled for long.
It was well past midnight when he finally saw her.
Lex was scrounging the dumpster behind a Radio Shack, looking for parts for his radio. Broadway was handing out behind an Armenian restaurant that had just opened, savouring the new smells. Brooklyn sat on the roof of the building, ready to call the alarm if anyone came near either end of the alley. It had been a quiet night. At least, in the neighbourhoods they had chosen to cover. Crime was happening somewhere, but they couldn't be everywhere, and as they weren't omniscient, there wasn't much they could do other than relax and enjoy the night.
Brooklyn almost didn't see her. The moon had slipped behind the clouds, and half the street lights on the block had their wires ripped out long before, and the city showed no signs of repairing them. It was why they'd chosen this block; less light meant less chance of being spotted. In this one instance, the criminal mind worked much the same way as gargoyle. But after they rousted one lone tagger, the alley was deserted.
When the light wind blew the clouds from the face of the moon, she was almost directly in front of him, crouching on the ledge of the building across from him, she peeked down at his rookery brothers. Her hair spilled over her shoulder, touched by the same wind, and she tucked the dark strands behind one delicately pointed ear as she leaned forward. The moon was reflected off her fair skin like a beacon, and Brooklyn felt his jaw drop.
"Hey!" he called out, and she looked up, frozen as her eyes met his. Then she scrambled to her feet, slithering up a drain pipe and over the roof.
At Brooklyn's yell, Lex looked up to see his rookery brother leap from his perch to the opposite roof. He scrambled out of sight, thinking someone was coming, and saw Broadway do the same. When no one appeared, they emerged scratching their heads.
"Brooklyn?" Lex called out, but there was no answer.
"Wait!" Brooklyn cried as he vaulted the low wall between two buildings and saw her disappear behind a chimney. He held his breath as he slowed, and then stopped, holding out his empty hands. Slowly, she peeked out at him from behind the chimney. With her wings folded around her, and her hair falling around them, she was a shadow except for two glittering black eyes.
Showtime, thought Rowan. She stepped out, and the two gargoyles studied each other for a long moment.
"I'm Brooklyn. My clan, what's left of us, live here."
"I didn't think there were any other gargoyles in America."
"Neither did we."
"I'm called Fionnuala."
"Are you from Avalon?"
She was so tempted not to lie. But that would mean far too many questions, so she simply shook her head, confused. "Avalon?"
"Oh." Brooklyn sat down on the ledge, and swung his feet back and forth. "I thought maybe . . . Never mind."
Lex and Broadway pulled themselves up the side of the building, and gasped.
"Wow!" Lex's eyes were wide. Broadway bumped into the back of him, and they took cautious steps forward.
"Guys, I'd like you to meet Fionnuala," Brooklyn said dryly.
Broadway was the first to shake himself out of his stupor. "Nice to meet you," he said quickly. "Brooklyn, can I talk to you for a second?"
Brooklyn frowned, but followed Broadway to the other side of the roof, Lex trailing behind.
"Are you sure this is such a good idea?" Broadway couldn't keep the worry out of his voice.
"What do you mean?"
"Broadway's right. We don't know anything about her."
"Well, we'll get to know her, then."
"But what if she's one of Xanatos' clones?"
"What if she isn't? What if she really is exactly who she says she is? Would you turn your back on one of your own just because Xanatos is a jerk?"
"I wouldn't turn my back on Xanatos . There's a difference."
"You've been watching too many tv shows. Not everything in life is a set up."
"What about Demona?"
"That was different!"
"And the Pack?" Lex added.
"Hey, that worked out all right in the end."
"I don't want to talk about Maggie."
Lex and Broadway exchanged glances, and Brooklyn glanced back at Fionnuala, who was watching with a puzzled expression on her face. "Look, if you guys are afraid, there's no reason to stick around."
"We're not leaving you alone with her."
"I can take care of myself. You guys go on back to the clocktower." He had the I'm leader, what I say goes tone, but Broadway and Lex still looked sceptical.
Rowan braided and unbraided a lock of dark hair as she watched the rookery brothers argue. She had hoped they would be more open-minded, though she had a sneaking suspicion that Brooklyn's friendliness had less to do with a trusting nature than a need for companionship.
"Where are they going?"
"They, ah . . . Celebrity hockey is on."
"Yeah, they didn't want to miss it. Richard Dean Anderson is goalie, and Rob Paulson is announcing."
"Well, perfectly understandable. Throw D.B. Sweeney on the ice, and I'm there."
"Never mind." She laughed. "I didn't know there was a rookery in New York."
"As far as we know, there's isn't. We're from Scotland, originally. What about you?" Brooklyn asked, and she shrugged.
"I came here from Ireland, I roost on a lighthouse up the coast. Not much of a story."
"What about the humans?"
"Oh, the lighthouse was abandoned. If they see the light go on now and again, the locals just figure that it's haunted, or that the some kids have gone up there to fool around. So far, it's a very pleasant arrangement."
"So why come here?"
"I was curious." And that was the truth. "And lonely." And that too was the truth.
"What about your clan?"
"A thousand years ago, my clan scattered over the earth. We are not solitary by nature, but by necessity. Over time, we forgot the loneliness, learned to live on our own. But sometimes, sometimes we need one of our own to call kin. To remember how things used to be, and will one day be again."
"I'm sorry, I've gotten all maudlin on you."
"No, I think it's great."
"Great that I've gotten all maudlin?" she gave him a quizzical look.
"No," Brooklyn became flustered. "I mean . . ." he frowned. Just what was it he was trying to say? "I'm glad you're so in touch with, you know, yourself." These was an awkward pause, and she giggled.
"Wow, that sounded lame," he slapped his forehead, and she laughed. Since she genuinely seemed to be amused by the situation, and not laughing at him, he chuckled.
"C'mon," she got up, and tugged at his forearm til he joined her. "Show me around, this is only my second trip to New York." She left unspoken this century, for obvious reasons.
Neither of them noticed a man taking photographs.
This may be because the man was particularly good at not being noticed. Or it may just have been they were too far away, as he was using quite possibly the largest and most expensive telephoto lens on the market. When one is not being noticed, it helps to not be noticed from a distance rather than close up.
"Your clan must be pretty different." They were sitting on the walls of Belvedere Castle in park, watching the world go by. Brooklyn held up a yellow bottle. "Do you like mustard?"
"Yeah," Rowan nodded, and he handed her a warm pretzel. "How so?"
"Well, for one thing, don't you miss your rookery brothers and sisters?"
"I stay in touch with a few of them. I even visit, now and again."
"I can't imagine being apart from my clan for so long."
"You look so sad," she observed, and didn't realise she'd spoken aloud until he answered.
"Some of my friends have been gone a long time, thanks to this place called Avalon. I guess I was kinda hoping you were from there, and had come back with them."
"You miss them."
"Yeah, but it's more than that." Brooklyn knew it was, well, patently nuts to want to open up to a stranger, even another gargoyle, what with clones, and robots, and heaven knows what out there. But something about Fionnuala's openness, and apparent lack of guile made him want to talk to her. And he could, precisely because at the moment they were little more than strangers. "I'm not ready to lead my clan, so I want Goliath to hurry back not just because I miss him. But because I need him."
"Who is this Xanatos that your brothers were so worried?" She sank her teeth into the pretzel, and licked mustard off her fingers.
He told her, in a messy, roundabout way, of Castle Wyvern, the spell, Xanatos, Demona, Elisa and Matt. She listened intently, looking sad, amused, or distressed at the appropriate parts, sometimes genuinely, sometimes because those were the demands of the part she had taken to play.
"Things sure were different a thousand years ago." She found her eyes had fastened on the lake in the park.
"Yeah, definitely. But not necessarily better, you know? It took the massacre for the humans we thought were our friends to actually see us for what we were. But Elisa was a true friend right off the bat, even though she'd never grown up around gargoyles. Goliath hopes that someday, humans and gargoyles can life together in peace, but I'm beginning to think that's a long way off."
"Maybe not so long as you think."
"Maybe," he agreed, and smiled.
"So, what finally convinced you?"
"Convinced me of what?"
"That I wasn't another of Xanatos' tricks."
"I'm not. Yet."
"So what's a girl gotta do to prove herself?"
"I'm not sure."
"How about I race you to the lake, and the winner is forced to trust the loser implicitly."
"Shouldn't that be the other way around?"
"Ah, you have to race me to find out." She got up on the wall, and her tail twitched impatiently. "You coming?"
"I'm thinking about it."
"Oh, so you're chicken."
"I'm not chicken!" he climbed up on top of the wall, and spread his wings.
"Ready?" she asked, tapping his shoulder with her tail.
"Set-go," he said, and dove off the wall into the night.
"Hey, no fair cheating!" she glided after him, the warm night air carrying away her laughter.
"Think he'll stay out again?" Lex looked up from his radio to see Broadway staring at the entrance to the balcony, still on the same page he'd been an hour ago of the detective novel Elisa'd given him before she disappeared. The sky outside was lightening, and the sun would be up in a matter of moments.
"You don't think anything's, you know, happened, do you?" Lex put down the radio, and they headed up the stairs.
"I'm sure the lad'll be fine," Hudson tried to sound reassuring, but when the young gargoyles had returned to the clocktower with their tale of a strange new female gargoyle, he had been just as sceptical. Brooklyn had taken to his role as leader well, better than Hudson had thought when they'd first realised Goliath was well and truly missing. He didn't think the lad would be foolish enough to get tangled up in anything dangerous over a pretty face. But then, that was a weakness Brooklyn didn't seem to share with his rookery brothers.
They stepped onto the low wall, and Lex gave the skyline one last long look. Just as they were getting ready to strike a pose for the day's rest, Brooklyn stuck his head around the corner of the rotunda.
"Uh, hi guys." Brooklyn looked a little sheepish. "I guess we lost track of time."
"'We', lad?" Hudson tried to sound gruff, but he was too relieved that nothing had indeed happened to the gargoyle. Then he gasped as Brooklyn stepped aside, revealing the young female.
"Hi," she waved a taloned hand, chewing on her bottom lip, with a hopeful expression that was frozen by the first weak rays of the morning sun.
A pigeon fluttered down to land on her shoulder, seeing with its beady little pink eyes only a collection of statues laid out in some kind of strange tableau. It hunted about for the inevitable pretzel crumbs, and resettled itself on the head of the statue to eat when its little pigeon heart almost stopped as the statue moved.
"Filthy little—" Rowan muttered, shaking her head and the flustered bird took to the skies a little shakily. "I hate pigeons."
In human guise once more, she greeted the sun with a grin. Running her fingers through her hair, she braided it and hopped down from her perch.
"Well, that's one way to avoid a confrontation." She chuckled, surveying the frozen scene. The little gargoyle looked as if it was going to have a fit of apoplexy, while the big one seemed only a little fazed. But the old warrior seemed only surprised. Rowan smiled at Brooklyn's still form, knowing he could not see her. She genuinely liked the young gargoyle. And this was more fun than she had had in positively ages, well, except for that incident in the speakeasy with the Irish mobsters during the Prohibition.
She skipped across the wood floor of the tower, towards the ladder that lead down into the precinct. Perhaps Owen had changed his mind—
She froze as she heard footfalls. She ducked into the storage closet, and noticed absently that it was no longer Coldstone's last resting place. She could taste the smoky residue of sorcery, and beneath it, the power signatures of the Gate and Eye. However, the room was now devoid of talismans and the like, and housed only some magazines, an old overstuffed chair with only three legs, a cracked bathroom mirror, and her.
Opening the door a crack, she peeked out to see a red-haired man emerging from the trap door. He checked the stove, to make sure it was off, she assumed, and then headed up the stairs to where the gargoyles roost. Curious, she crept out of her hiding place, her bare feet making no sound. She could hear him talking to himself out on the rotunda.
"Just wanted to check on you guys before I head home," he was saying, despite the fact that they were sleeping and would never know. Flush against the wall, hidden in shadow, she smiled. This was an interesting human, anyone who was trusted by Detective Maza with the gargoyles' secret must be extraordinary, at the very least.
She ducked back into the shadows as he passed by, covering a mammoth yawn with his hand. She decided to follow him. After all, she had nothing better to do today. Heading back out onto the rotunda, she began to climb down to the top of the fire escape, landing in the alley below just as the intriguing young man passed by. Waiting a second, she peeked around the edge, and waited until he was a half a block or so ahead before she set out in his wake.
"Interesting," Marlowe held up a grainy photo and smiled. "It would appear to be a mated pair. I was beginning to wonder if the female of the species even existed." He chuckled. Clermont stood next to him, in a dark suit and sunglasses. Clermont failed to see the humour of the situation. Clermont wouldn't; Margaret Thatcher had more whimsy in her pinkie than Clermont had in his entire body. However, he was very, very good at what he did, which was basically whatever Marlowe told him to do. It was a mutually profitable relationship that had existed for some small number of years.
"Sir, with a mated pair . . ." Clermont began, and Marlowe set down the photo, steepling his fingers and smiling.
"Indeed. Have we discovered yet where they sleep?"
"No sir, I'm afraid they are very careful about that. I've tracked them six straight nights, however, and am relatively sure they are in this area," he circled a ten square block area of Manhattan.
"Excellent work, Mr. Clermont. That's the 23rd precinct, isn't it?"
"Detective Maza's precinct. The woman who put, however briefly, David Xanatos in jail. And Matthew Bluestone, the Society's current fair-haired boy."
"Would you like me to pick him up, sir?"
"No, no. There's no need to involve the police in this matter, I believe we can handle it ourselves.
Matt yawned widely, and stuck his hands deep in his pockets. He'd gotten into the habit of walking home from work, though he really wished Elisa would get back soon. He didn't have a car since there was so little parking in his building, and he'd kind of gotten used to having his partner drop him off.
He hoped Elisa made it back soon. He hadn't worked with a partner since Hacker, and he'd forgotten what it was like to rely on another person so completely. "I wonder if that's what marriage is like," he muttered, and chuckled. Captain Chavez had asked him yet again today if he'd heard from Elisa. She'd gotten it into her head some time ago that there was something between the two detectives, and since he couldn't tell her it was the gargoyles, he'd just let her go on believing. It was getting thorny now, though. No one seemed to believe him when he said he didn't know why Elisa had taken such a sudden leave of absence, and that he hadn't spoken with her since her disappearance. He wished he could tell the Captain, and Officer Morgan at least. But that wasn't his story to tell, he just hoped Elisa had a job to come back to.
Turning the corner by the grocery store, he thought he caught out of the corner of his eye a figure darting behind a parked car. He stopped, puzzled, and watched the reflection of the street in the glass window of a toy store across the street. He saw the figure peek out from behind the car, and saunter back onto the sidewalk. It was only a fraction of a second, before a bus rounded the corner, full of commuters, and Matt ducked into the mouth of an alley to get a better look. Flush against the wall, he waited until his shadow reached the entrance.
Reaching out, his hand closed on the wrist of his follower, dragging the figure into the alley and pinning him against the damp wall—no, not a him.
It was a kid. Matt blinked in surprise. She looked like a high school girl, the kind he remembered from high school, not the Drew Barrymore Hollywood type of today. Her dark hair was pulled back in a messy braid, and she was wearing cut-offs and a faded black tee-shirt. No make-up, no watch, no jewellery, no purse, no wallet, no shoes.
"Who are you?" He shook her. "Why were you following me?"
"Was I following you?" she asked, all innocence.
"And I want to know why."
"Because you looked interesting," she said with great conviction.
"What is that supposed to mean? And why don't you have any shoes on?"
"Well, at the moment, I don't have any shoes."
"Don't you know it's dangerous to walk around without shoes? You could get cut, there's glass all over the place!"
"I'm sorry, I'm mildly confused. Why are you shouting at me for not wearing shoes, when a second ago you were shouting at me for following you?" Rowan gave him a quizzical look, and Matt suddenly realised he too was mildly confused.
He sighed, and glanced around. There was a strip mall a few blocks up, and he thought he could discern the familiar orange and yellow sign of a discount shoe store. "C'mon."
"Where are we going?" She sounded amused.
"To get you some shoes."
"You're kidding, right?"
"No, I'm just out of my mind." They started walking in the general direction of the mall, and Matt silently questioned his sanity while Rowan tried to keep from giggling.
When they reached the door, Matt suddenly turned around. "What's your name?"
"Call me Jackie," she stuck her hand out, and Matt shook it.
"Matt Bluestone. Detective Matt Bluestone. As in, I'm a cop, so don't try to snow me, kiddo."
"Okay, I won't try." She smiled, and he opened the door.
"What's your size?" he asked as they walked into the store. The clerk behind the counter, who didn't look much older than the girl, looked as if he was going to say something. He thought better of it, and didn't spare them a glance as they headed for the women's shoe department.
"I have no earthly idea."
Jesus, this kid eats like a horse, Matt tried to keep the naked amusement off his face as Jackie wolfed down her second Egg McMuffin and carton of milk. He'd insisted that she wear the shoes out of the store, and though he had the distinct impression she was humouring him, she'd laced up the keds as he'd shelled out the eight bucks to the clerk. Common sense told him he should head home and crash, having done his good deed for the day. But it was a nice morning, and she was a nice kid, and he had very little common sense.
"When was the last time you ate?"
"I had a pretzel with mustard at about midnight," she'd said blithely, swinging the plastic shoe store bag with the empty cardboard shoebox inside as she walked. He'd grabbed her elbow, and steered her into the MacDonald's.
"Do you do this often?" she asked around a mouthful of egg and Canadian bacon.
"Don't talk with your mouth full," Matt unconsciously parroted his mother, and sipped his coffee before replying. "Do what?"
"Rescue starving, shoeless young women and stuff them full of fried foods."
"No, you're my first."
"Wow," she waggled her eyebrows, and Matt felt a flush creep up his neck.
"Why aren't you in school?" he hastily changed the subject.
She started laughing, practically choking on her sandwich. He thumped her on the back, and she finished off her milk before replying. "Nope, no school."
"What about your parents?"
"Are you always this nosy?"
"I'm a detective, remember? You'd can't detect without being nosy. So how old are you, anyway?"
"One thousand, three hundred, and seventy-one."
"Ask a stupid question . . ."
"It wasn't a stupid question," she shook her head and patted his hand, encouragingly. The gesture and tone reminded him of his third grade teacher, Mrs. Delany. This is nothing quite like being treated like an eight year old by a teenager.
"So where you from?"
"That's up north, isn't it?"
"Funny, you don't sound Canadian."
"My accent wanders," she admitted, and wiped her mouth daintily with a paper napkin.
He shouldn't haven been surprised at all, really. Rowan simply ignored the bits of life she didn't want to deal with, and forced everyone around her to do the same. Despite the note on which they'd parted, she appeared in his office by way of the bathroom mirror all smiles, braid bouncing behind her, clutching a plastic drawstring bag.
"I had the most marvellous day." Rowan sat on the edge of his desk, plucking the pen from his hand. He took another one from his inside breast pocket, and continued writing without looking up. She noted with some amusement that even when he was alone, he left his left hand stone. He really should do something about that, although with the Grimorum Arcanorum gone, and Demona and MacBeth the only practising sorcerers in the vicinity, she could see his dilemma. With a wave of her hand, it became flesh again and though he frowned, he didn't change it back himself.
"Really?" He massaged his wrist until the tingling subsided.
"Oh yes, I met the most amazing fellow. His name is Matthew, and he bought me shoes." She laughed, delighted, and stood on one foot, her other extended in a manner only that could only have been managed by a contortionist, or a member of the Bolshoi to display a cheap canvas tennis shoe barely inches from his face.
"And very fetching they are."
"Did you know, they have a device that measures your feet? I can't quite understand it, actually, the numbers seem to have nothing to do with the actual length of my foot. My feet are hardly six inches long. Still, I thought it perfectly amazing. I mean, how often do humans buy complete strangers footwear?"
"What does your Matthew do?"
"He's a police detective." She studied a bowl of fruit sitting on the bar near the bathroom, and carefully, painstakingly chose a shiny red apple.
Owen looked as if he was trying to keep from swallowing his tongue.
"What?" she asked innocently, biting into the apple.
"You have an absolute talent for chaos." Owen pronounced, shaking his head. "Detective Bluestone is Detective Maza's partner. You are aware of this?"
She laid down on the leather couch, feet dangling over the armrest, and took another bite. "Oh, yes. He was checking on the gargoyles before his shift ended—"
"And you knew this because?"
"Because I was there, silly. Don't fret, he didn't see me. Well, not just then, anyway."
"When he tackled me in an alley and asked me why I was following him. Once we got over the paranoia, he was really quite charming. I'm seeing him again tomorrow, as a matter of fact."
She rolled over onto her stomach, and pitched the apple core into the wastepaper basket behind his desk. It was actually very aerodynamic, until it defied the laws of gravity and velocity and turned so that it landed squarely in the bin, since the bin was under the desk. "Because I like him.
He has this very entertaining idea about getting me placed into foster care. He thinks I'm an orphan from Newfoundland. I didn't disabuse him of this notion, because it amused me greatly."
"Tell me, do you actually have a plan, or are you just picking people at random to assault and bedazzle?"
"A nice balance of both, actually. And I didn't assault him. Technically, he assaulted me."
"And what exactly do you plan to do with your Matthew?"
"Keep allowing him to buy me meals, for one thing. Do you know, I'd never eaten at MacDonald's before."
"And then what?"
"I'm not sure. He's an interesting human."
"He's an illuminatus, albeit an initiate."
"You know, every time I hear that word, I picture giant walking light bulbs. I know that's not that illuminatus means, but still—"
"Rowan." Owen sat back down behind his desk, looking at her from over his glasses before he turned back to the papers he'd been going over.
"You're going to lecture me, aren't you."
"Really?" She sounded surprised, but he didn't look up from the contracts.
"No," he said curtly.
"Whatever has put you in such a mood?" she teased, but he shook her off.
"You're one to talk. Your moods are quicksilver, I grow weary following them."
"If I promised you that I would be on my very best behaviour, would you believe me?"
"The set is setting, shouldn't you be back on your ledge? Or you'd have rather a lot of explaining to do."
"You didn't answer me," she said from the bathroom doorway.
"No, I didn't."
Rowan stepped out of the mirror in the closet, and carefully removed her new shoes, and replaced them in the cardboard box. Glancing around, she stashed the box in its plastic bag behind the mirror. After all, she shouldn't be needing them until dawn. Peeking out into the loft, she saw it was empty and climbed the stairs to the balcony just as the sun began to dip below the skyline.
Resuming her place in the tableau, she waited. As the sun slipped under the horizon, the familiar weblike pattern of cracks appeared, and with a chorus of roars and yawns, the gargoyles awoke from their stone sleep with a shower of gravel. Rowan twitched the last bit of thin stone skin from her tail, and then looked back and forth between the elder and Brooklyn.
"I trust her, Hudson," Brooklyn said quietly. Hudson stroked his beard thoughtfully, and then smiled.
"Any friend of the lad's is welcome here, lass." He offered his hand, which she clasped at the wrist.
"Thank you, it means a great deal to me." She looked expectantly at Broadway and Lexington, who stared at their feet. Obviously, this was going to take some work. Squaring her shoulders, she walked over to them.
"Shall we start again? I'm called Fionnuala." She held out her hand. The young gargoyles traded looks, and then glanced over her shoulder to Brooklyn, but his face was a mask.
"I'm Broadway." The big green gargoyle reached out and gave her hand a quick shake. Lex followed suite, and she grinned.
"Hey, have you got Doom on that laptop?" She jerked her thumb to the interior, and Lex's eyes lit up.
"I've never played, you wanna teach me?"
Brooklyn smiled as Lex followed her inside, Broadway on his heels. Hudson held back, and touched Brooklyn's shoulder.
"I should have a few things to say about your bringing a stranger to our home, lad."
Brooklyn squared his shoulders. "She's not a stranger, Hudson. She's a gargoyle."
"I said I should. But obviously you've given this a lot of thought, and I trust your instincts."
"Thanks." Brooklyn relaxed, and followed the elder gargoyle inside.
So far, so good.
"Wow," Rowan looked over the darkened library, and ran her finger along the spines of the row of books closest to her. "Pretty cool, having your own personal library."
"Yeah, Goliath spends a lot of time in here." Brooklyn settled himself of the top of the ladder, and watched her pull a book off the shelf and settle down on the floor, wings wrapped around her like a cloak. He could read the gilded letters of the title in the dim light. "Man, Myth and Magic?"
"I like the pictures." She lifted up a page emblazoned with a black and white lithograph of a scene from one of Shakespeare's plays. Tiny fairies with gossamer wings fluttered around a reclining woman with delicately pointed ears who was laying a wreath of flowers over a man with an ass' head. She flipped pages with an amused expression on her face, and then grew silent. He thought she was reading one of the entries, but when he hopped down to see, she seemed to be staring a crude woodcut of a hobgoblin, one talon tracing the lines of the figure's mischievous grin.
"Hey," he touched her wing, and she blinked. "You looked a million miles away."
"I was. Sorry."
"Where were you anyway?"
"I was just thinking about seeing someone about something that I probably shouldn't—never mind, it doesn't matter." She smiled for his benefit. "So what should we do tonight?"
"In case you haven't noticed, the sun'll be up in about an hour." Brooklyn would have raised a brow, if he had eyebrows. But the general effect was the same.
"Already?" She glanced back, and finally noticed the sky outside the high windows lightening. "Where did the night go?"
"You spent most of it kicking Lex's butt at Doom." Brooklyn chuckled, but she didn't laugh. She had the far away look in her eyes again. "Rowan, when you said your clan was scattered . . ."
"Do you have a mate?"
"Yes. No. Sort of. Why, are you volunteering?" At his stricken look, she chuckled. "Sorry, humour by reflex. That couldn't have been fair to you."
"We'd better head back upstairs."
"You go on," she closed the book, and tucked it back between its fellows on the shelf. "I just need to think a while."
"Sure. Okay." He headed back up the stairs. By the time he was at the first landing, she was gone.
Owen was in his room reading when she appeared, this time wearing her human form. He noticed she was barefoot again, apparently she had already lost interest in the novelty of new shoes. He put down his book, pushing his glasses up on his nose. "I take it you made your appointment, then?"
"Yes. Met the clan, ate some Belgium waffles, played some computer games."
She tried to keep her tone light, but the act was wearing thin. "Brooklyn is quite upset, what with Goliath and the detective off on Avalon's magical mystery tour. But then, I hear the gargoyles paid you a visit, so you must already know that. They have no idea about the Gathering, it would seem. Neither does Goliath, from what Grandmother told me, although that may have changed. I hear they've gone to Ulster, but the bean sidhe has disappeared, so who knows what they got mixed up in there." She did smile now, a little self indulgent smile. "I must say, they certainly tweaked Raven's ears."
"Ah, yes. How is he?"
"Still as insufferable as ever. He always was the over-achiever in the family. So he took a more active role in society, does that give him the right to lord it over me for centuries? I could have endeared myself to a native culture and lived my millennium so as a god among them. I simply chose not to, that's all. I avoid Canada in its entirety thanks to him."
Owen stood, replacing the book on the night stand, and removed his glasses. "I think it's time for you to go."
"Hey, I've just downloaded the latest version of Doom, where's Fionnuala?" Lex looked up from his laptop to see Brooklyn sitting with his back to Hudson's chair, skimming the Times.
"She's downstairs in the library."
"No, she's not," Broadway looked up from the sink where he was doing the washing up. "I was just down there to put the cookbook back, there was no sign of her."
Brooklyn tried to hide his surprise, and started up the stairs to the balcony, newspaper forgotten.
"Where you going?" Lex logged off and clicked the laptop closed, slipping on the dust cover.
"Just a hunch."
"It's almost dawn!" Broadway called after him, but Brooklyn had already leapt off the balcony into the rapidly fleeing night.
"I knew this was a bad idea," Lex scowled, and Hudson looked up from his section of the paper, but kept silent.
"I'm sorry, what?" Rowan kept her expression purposefully blank.
"You heard me."
"Has anyone ever told you you have an absolute talent for non-sequitors? Was that a suggestion, or something more?"
"You've had your fun, Rowan. But it's time for it to come to an end. As much as you seem to disdain him, Lord Oberon is gathering his children to him. Perhaps it's time you gave that matter the grave thought it is due."
"I see. Obviously, you've done your thinking on the matter."
"When all is said and done, beneath the glamours and illusions, when all the games are finished and done, we are what we are."
"We're not just of the third race, you and I. We and our kin, though they be small in number, its true, are more. We're pookas and jacks, tricksters and wise fools. We're kin to the coyote and the raven, not merely Lord Oberon's subjects. Perhaps you've worn that shape so long, you've forgotten our nature."
"It is not our nature that compels you to meddle, leaving havoc in your wake."
"And what havoc have I wrought? Was your precious David so much the wiser for my little visit?"
She walked around him in a wide circle, a flush rising in her cheeks, but he remained silent.
She stopped, facing him, and tilted his chin so he met her eyes. She traced his jaw with a fingertip, and felt the muscle twitch beneath her caress. "I see. So it was not your life here that I disturbed, but your heart? Is that what you're trying to tell me?"
She reached up to touch his cheek, and he caught her hand, pressing a kiss into her palm before letting it drop and stepping back. She winced as if his touch had burned. She walked over to the window, and looked out over the night sky.
"Since it is obvious you will not return to Avalon for love, whatever will you do when your master calls you home, eh?" she asked his reflection in the windowpane. "Tell him you're traded him in for a bright, shiny mortal one?"
"And do you really think that just because Oberon is gathering the Children, that you will be exempt from the order?"
She turned, her expression melting from neutral to one of contempt. Not for him, but the situation. "He's not my master, remember? You know where my loyalties lie. He's a bit full of himself. Acts more like a king than a consort."
"I think you've confused literature with reality, my dear. He's the king, your mistress is the consort."
"No, MacBeth has confused literature with reality. I, on the other hand, have remarkably clear memories of the incident. And people accuse me of being enamoured of mortals. He was positively taken with that poor besotted mortal, what did Will call her? Helen? But then, you know much more about it than I. And all the while, he professed his undying love for his lady wife, then banished her—and us, may I add— to 'cure' her of her prejudice." She scowled, and then drew herself up tall, nose in the air. "We are Oberon, lord of the third race, ruler of Avalon, first class hypocrite and horse's ass."
Owen couldn't help a smile. She did a passable imitation. She collapsed in a boneless heap once more on the couch, and rested her chin on her hands, grey eyes glittering like stars. She scowled, very prettily he thought, but then her words stole his good humour.
"I wonder what will happen when our dear Lord Oberon realises that we learned the lesson too well." She looked for a reaction, but his face was a mask. So she pushed. "He suffers us to live that we amuse him, but he is not my lord." All trace of amusement was gone now, and he knew any pretence was gone. Her words were like the naked steel of a blade. "And he would not have been yours if you did not let him rule you."
"You have selective memory."
"One of us does," she amended. "And remember who brought you to this island—"
"Have done, Rowan," he warned her.
"As if you have never set a foot wrong, when we both know just how much a lie that would be—"
"I said have done," he thundered, and she flinched.
She had crossed the line, and she knew it. Seeing his face now, she regretted it, though she had spoken true. She reached out to touch his shoulder. "I never meant—"
"You never mean to do anything, do you, Rowan," he said coldly, pulling away from her light touch. "You never mean to. But you always do."
She froze, as if she was carved of stone. He didn't even think she breathed. He knew he should make some joke, dispel the tension. But he couldn't, his mood was too black. Like a runaway train, part of him could only watch as he hurtled towards disaster at breakneck speed.
She looked as if she would say something, and then thought better of it. She crawled up into the open window frame, and glanced back at him from over her shoulder, with a small wistful smile tinged with bitterness.
"And how unlucky I must be, to love a one such as you. You'd as soon break my heart as look at me. Again, I am the fool."
"Rowan—" he stepped towards her, but she leapt out into the night, her form flowing from human to gargoyle so quickly it was a blur. He leaned out the window, and could only make out a silhouette in the distance.
"Rowan!" he called out, and gripped the stone ledge almost painfully, the rough texture biting into his palms. They were red and tingling when he finally came back inside.
That was a thing badly done. Badly done, indeed.
There was no reason to believe she'd lied. None. And yet, there he was, watching Castle Wyvern, when there could have been a million other places in the city she could have gone to. But as Brooklyn saw her leap from the window, he knew there was really only one place she would have gone, and his instincts had been right.
Brooklyn wanted to crawl into a hole and die. Instead, his mouth a grim line, he spread his wings and followed her.
Rowan felt as if her wings were fashioned of lead. She had a hard time concentrating on the criss-cross patterns of warm air that held her aloft, and was tempted to just throw in the towel and fly, but that would be cheating. And she was way too bloody minded at the moment to give in and cheat, she wouldn't give Owen the satisfaction...
"Listen to me, I sound like some besotted mortal maid . . ."
She was so busy feeling disgusted with herself, she almost didn't notice Brooklyn till he was on top of her. She smiled, but his expression was grim. They landed on a deserted rooftop, and Rowan reached out to the young gargoyle, but he backed away.
"You want to tell me what that was all about?"
"I saw you leave Castle Wyvern."
All the colour drained from her cheeks. "Brooklyn, I can explain—"
"Save it," he barked. "I can't believe I fell for this! I can't believe I trusted you. At least I found out the truth before it cost me the rest of my clan."
"Xanatos has no idea where your clan roosts."
"Why should I believe that?"
"Because it's the truth."
"Sorry, lady. That's not good enough."
"What can I say to make you believe me?"
"Nothing. There is nothing you can say, because I've heard it all before."
"From whom? Not from me, you haven't given me a chance yet, so from whom? Demona? That was a long time ago, and she's spent centuries perfecting her hate. You were not a fool for being swayed, only misguided, and you learned from it. Maggie? You took her into your home, and she didn't betray you, even as frightened as she was. Now, she's your friend. Even if she won't be more than that, you've come to accept that no matter how much it hurts you to be alone."
"How do you—"
"Know so much? I've listened to you, Brooklyn. Every word you've said I've heard and headed. Don't I deserve the same respect? The same chance?"
"Then why were you at the castle?"
"I thought there was someone there who cared for me. I know you have no reason to believe that has nothing to do with your clan. You'll just have to take me at my word when I tell you I have never betrayed you, and I never will. I'd like to think we're friends. And I don't treat my friends to betrayal. It's not my way."
"Fionnuala—" he began, but was cut off by a scream.
"It came from there," she pointed to an alley behind a grocery store, and they swooped down, landing on the roof in time to see a woman surrounded by four men in jeans and tee-shirts.
"Can our conversation wait?" she asked.
"No." he said, but then shook his head. "But it'll have to. I'll take the big two," he whispered.
"I'll take the bigger two," she winked at him, but he ignored her. She sighed, and they dropped to the alley below.
"Hey, why don't you pick on someone your own size?" Brooklyn called out, and the guys froze, backing away from the hysterical woman.
"Are you all right?" Rowan moved to the woman's side, forgetting that the sight of a gargoyle, even a concerned one, would probably not have a calming effect. Yet the woman nodded, clutching her purse, regaining her composure quickly.
Warning bells went off in Brooklyn's head, but not fast enough.
"I'm just peachy," she smiled as she stuck her hand into the almost-snatched purse, and in one fluid motion, removed and aimed some kind of particle beam pistol. Brooklyn fell, and Rowan tried to spring, but was caught in the chest with the bright red beam. The blast knocked her back into the brick wall of the supermarket. She slid down to the pavement, the wind knocked from her lungs, and saw Brooklyn do the same, apparently unconscious.
From beneath her lashes, Rowan watched as the woman tucked an errant lock of hair behind her ear, and prodded Rowan's still form with her foot. She removed a camera from her shoulder bag, and snapped a picture before replacing it in her purse.
"They down and out?" asked one of the thugs standing over Brooklyn.
On cue, Brooklyn grabbed the guy's ankle and pulled, his tail lashing out to knock the other guy against the wooden fence dividing the alley from someone's backyard. Before the woman could raise the pistol again, Rowan knocked it from her hand, and snarling, advanced. The woman grabbed length of wood from the dumpster, and swung it wildly. Rowan could hear the screech of tires, and using her arm to block, chanced a glance back to the entry of the alleyway. Her heart sank as a white van pulled up and five more thugs poured out, each of them brandishing weapons of some kind. One took aim at Brooklyn, and Rowan snatched the wood from her attacker with the next blow, and threw it with all her strength. It nailed the rifle dead on, knocking it from the gunman's hand, but his fellows were already heading for Brooklyn. One made a leap for her, getting an arm around her neck for a moment.
"Brooklyn, run!" Rowan screamed as two more tried to catch her flailing limbs, and the two Brooklyn had knocked down dove on her like she was a football at the thirty yard line. From the bottom of the pileup, she could see him hesitate, and her eyes burned green as she broke free of two of the gunmen, tossing them like rag dolls through the air. She felt a stinging pain in her shoulder, and pulled out a tranquilliser dart.
Her eyes darted around to see a man in a dark suit at the other end of the alley, another rifle in his hand. Her left side was already going numb.
She tried to use her right arm and tail to fight them off, but she was tiring. "Dammit, it's a set up! Get out of here."
Finally, she saw Brooklyn shake free of his three, and disappear up the side of the grocery, red brick dust railing behind as he dug his talons into the wall to haul himself up.
The blond picked up the fallen two-by-four, and rammed one end into Rowan's stomach. The air went out of her lungs as she dropped to her knees, the dart staring to take a firm hold and she couldn't see if Brooklyn made it.
Rowan peered up through the grey fog, and managed to lock onto a face just as the sun began its climb over the horizon.
"Who...?" she mouthed, the drugs coursing through her system. As the first rays of the sun slipped over the edge of the building, she allowed her adopted nature to take over.
Clermont waved several of the bleeding and bruised men over, and they began packing the stone gargoyle into the van.
The woman reappeared, breathing hard, her particle beam pistol tucked into the waist band of her pants, hidden by her jacket. "The male?" Clermont asked, wiping a trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth absently.
"He got away."
"It's dawn, he couldn't have gone far. Start a sweep of the area with the remaining men. And I mean the entire area. If there is any place for him to hide, I want it turned upside down."
"Ten bruised and bleeding guys poking through people's back yards, don't you think we're going to be a little conspicuous?"
"I gave you your orders."
"You're the boss," she said, and limped off in the direction Brooklyn had fled in.
Rowan blinked. This would have scared anyone near her stupid, since statues don't usually blink, but she had been alone ever since the remaining thugs had unloaded her from the van, and two decidedly low-rent thugs had used a forklift to deposit her in the cell. So she chanced shedding the illusion of stone.
"What have I gotten myself into now?" she whispered softly, feeling the dull ache in her ribs from where the board had connected. If she were well and truly a gargoyle, she could spend the day mending in hibernation, but that would also mean possibly losing her only chance at freedom.
The walls were metal, and had the cold stink of iron about them. No doubt they were some kind of steel alloy meant to hold against the strength of a gargoyle, so breaking them down was out. Even if she could, it wouldn't matter. Cold iron was a problem.
Iron was like a toothache. It was a dull ache that had been there so long, you learn to ignore it, almost forget it's there until you do something stupid like bite down hard, or eat ice cream, and then you end up on the floor in a world of pain you'd fooled yourself into believing didn't exist.
A toothache with no hope of a dentist, which made it somewhat worse.
Aside from feeling claustrophobic, and slightly uncomfortable, she wasn't in pain, exactly. She was, however, very limited. Rather like swimming through jello. She certainly couldn't stay here.
The transformation sent fire along every nerve, and she bit her lip to keep from screaming, and tried to remember not to swallow her tongue.
"Remind me not to do that again," she whispered to the oppressive grey walls in-between shallow breaths, and collected herself. "If this is what Demona goes through every day and night, I almost pity her."
"Doesn't make any sense," the guard grumbled, and shifted his weight from one foot to another as he lit his cigarette. "I mean, these things are stone during the day, right? So we're basically baby-sitting a statue. I'm not even sure I believe it's anything more than that."
"We're getting paid enough to believe in Santa Claus," the other guard reminded him.
"Santy Claus don't do the kind of damage this one did. Remember the guys with Clermont? They looked like they got tossed into the lion pit at the zoo."
"Yeah, ain't you glad you didn't opt for hazard pay?" the big one chuckled.
"Hello?" A voice drifted down the hallway. "Hello, is anyone there? Anyone?"
The first guard held a finger to his lips, and padded towards the voice, removing his gun from its holster. His partner looked at him quizzically as they stopped before the locked cell. Cautiously, the guard opened the small window peered inside.
"Hey, it's a girl in there!" he whispered, astonished.
Crouched on the floor was a young girl, her grey eyes wide with fear.
The guards exchanged confused looks. The short one took out his keys, and they stepped inside, guns drawn. There was no sign of the statue. The girl flinched at the sight of the guns, and the little guy lowered his.
"You'd better come with us," the big guy gestured for her to rise. They exited the cell, and Rowan breathed a sigh of relief as the steel door was closed behind her.
"Man, I think we should take her upstairs. I mean, the boss is gonna want to know—"
"Shut up, you idiot." The taller guy rubbed his eyes, as if he was thinking hard. "I don't get it, how did you end up in there?"
"Yeah, there was some kind of statue of a monster—"
"A monster?" she repeated.
"Yeah! Fangs, wings, tail—"
"You mean like this?" Rowan smiled, and as she did so, changed.
They didn't know what hit them. She slammed the big one against the wall with a sweep of her arm, and he slid down, unconscious. The other gaped, his jaw working, but no sounds issuing forth, and he brought up his gun. Her eyes glowed green, and her tail whipped out, knocking his legs out from under him just as he pulled the trigger. The shot went wild, and she wrenched the gun from his hand, crushing it even as she slapped him with the other hand. He tried to rise, and she kicked him. He too lay still, and she checked for pulses. They were both alive.
"Ah, rent-a-thugs." She patted the unconscious guys on the heads affectionately, and then shrank back to human form. It was, after all, not yet sunset. These two didn't count. She padded down the hallway, her bare feet making no sound on the concrete floors.
"There has to be a way out of here," she whispered, mostly to herself.
"There is," a voice rang out behind her. She spun around, but the butt of a rifle descended with tremendous speed, blackness on its heels. She crumpled to the floor. Clermont crouched down and checked her pulse, and once he was satisfied, removed his cellphone from his breast pocket.
"Sir? I believe our plans have altered slightly."
"This is the security camera recording." Marlowe's man slipped a compact video tape into the player, and the small screen showed the area of hallway where the gargoyle's cell was located. There was no audio, but the picture was clear. The two guards lounged against the wall, when suddenly they stopped, and moved down the hall to peer through the window of the cell.
"I'll have them fired!" Marlowe breathed as they unlocked the cell, and slipped inside.
"Wait, sir." His man held up a hand, and they watched the men exit with what appeared to be a young girl.
"Who the hell is that?" Marlowe stroked his jaw thoughtfully, and then froze as the girl suddenly, in front of his eyes, grew wings and a tail, her form contracting and expanding until the young female gargoyle stood in the hall.
He watched the fight without a single thought for his men. His mind was completely taken by the puzzle his guest presented, and the implications. When she changed back to the human form, his hands tightened on the armrests, and he leaned forward, closer to the screen. The angle changed again, showing a new section of hallway, and the film ended with his man delivering the knockout blow. Marlowe relaxed.
"I was concerned, for a moment, that she had escaped."
"No, sir. But I thought it wise to bring this to you myself, as it contradicts everything we know as yet about the gargoyles."
"And you were right to do so. This changes everything."
Matt checked his watch for the forth time in as many minutes, and finally sighed his defeat. He didn't know why he had bothered. Jackie was a street kid who had taken him for a ride, he hadn't really believed she'd show when he'd asked her to meet him. But somehow, he'd thought she was different. She wasn't one of those kids who had had all the joy in life ground out of them by living hand to mouth, squatting in dives and maybe turning tricks or pushing dope to stay alive.
The sense he'd gotten from their lunch was that she was a survivor. Cocky as hell, but then most kids were at her age. But full of hope. When she'd agreed, she'd almost sounded amused. He'd expected her to be wary, maybe give him that "I can take care of myself" shtick that he'd heard from kids who a month later were doing hard time, or in the morgue.
He kept remembering the child-like delight on her face as she'd tried on the shoes, and danced around the tacky little store,
Yawning, he decided if she didn't show in the next ten minutes, he'd go ahead and head home to crash. Just ten more minutes.
The world came back out of focus, and painful. Her jaw was slightly swollen, she probed it cautiously with her tongue and winced at the coppery tang of blood. There was no use pretending sleep, she could hear monitors on the other side of the wall mimicking the staccato beat of her heart. As reality swam into focus, the beeping jumped as she heard the first discordant ring of metal on metal.
Iron. Or as close as it made no difference. Ankles, wrists and neck encircled by the hideous metal. She remained as still as she could, her head ringing until the echoes faded. If she tried to change now, the collar would throttle her.
"Whose creature are you?" a voice hissed from the darkness. She squinted, and made out a figure of a man. He was tall and broad, she supposed he was considered handsome by some. Certainly not to her, the intensity of his gaze, the sheer hunger, disgusted her. It was not even her he wanted. It was the secret, all secrets, the promise of knowledge that was more seductive than the knowledge itself.
This was a man who thirsted for power, and nothing else.
"I am no one's creature," she snapped before she could think better of it.
"Do not lie to me, girl," he breathed. "I caught a gargoyle last night, and by morning, you were in my trap. I wouldn't believe the transformation had I not witnessed it with my own eyes. Who made you?" he cried, and she flinched back from the naked ambition in his eyes. The iron chains rattled, and the colour drained from her face at the very sound. He mistook her reaction for fear of him, and smiled. His teeth were white and straight. His eyes were an intense blue that almost shone in the dimness with their own light.
It dawned on Rowan that he had no idea of her true nature. That thought gave her both pause and hope.
Demona had known what it was she was binding. She had summoned him, after all. But this human, this man, had no idea. Pure instinct told her that if he were to learn just what was at his fingertips, it could only bring sorrow upon all three races. A Child bound with iron was a Child bound to serve. And Rowan had no desire to serve a human such as this.
Okay, now she needed a plan.
There were three kids of shapeshifting. The first was a simple glamour, suitable to fool the eye into seeing what it expected to see, whether that was human, Child, or gargoyle. A trick of the mind more than they eye. The second was a stronger glamour, convincing all who looked that what they saw was what she intended them to see, regardless of what they wished.
The third was true shifting of shape, and was anything but an illusion. Using such means, the Children had hidden among the younger races for a millennium. It was dangerous, of course. Bury your power too deeply in your form, and you may not be able to summon it in time if faced with catastrophe.
If you chose to be mortal, you in fact were mortal until you took your own shape back. Mortal enough, in any case. That was the greatest danger. However, the benefits were often worth it. Mortal flesh proved an effective barrier against cold iron. A wound that would have been fatal to a Child of Oberon if inflicted with iron or steel was not necessarily so for a human or gargoyle.
It was a gamble. It always had been. But she had to try, before her captor realised what it was that he had caught. No matter how vulnerable it made her.
She clothed the core of her power in human flesh, tucking it away deep inside her form until it was a warm memory and little else. The oppressive touch of cold metal faded to mere discomfort once again. Most of that was psychosomatic, she knew. That hardly changed things, however.
"Tell me, and perhaps I won't simply turn your corpse over to my scientists to discern your secrets."
As that was a very real threat, she remained silent. To say any of the things that immediately sprang to mind would be not in any way a balm to her situation. She sat very still, and stared at her toes, thinking what answer would please him, convince him, and not clue him into what he really had.
Apparently she waited too long, because he grasped her by the hair and half-lifted her out of the chair. She couldn't stifle a small cry (however do humans manage, in such frail bodies?), and this reaction was apparently the right one
"Who made you?"
What lie was close enough to the truth? What lie would bring her aid? What lie could she scream that would be believed?
"Xanatos—" she stammered, and he dropped her to the pallet. She landed hard, and stared up at him with wide dark eyes full of trepidation, only part of it feigned. "David Xanatos."
His eyes went flat, and she could not read his expression. He sank back into the shadows, and she could hear the pneumatic hiss of a door. Rowan was blinded by the sudden flash of flourescents, and then was alone in the dark.
Owen fingered the opal and rose gold ring Rowan had left after her last visit absently, lost in thought. The lights were low in his office, the staff having long since left the building.
They had always had shattering rows. They tended to react in extremes. She would be even tempered with anyone but him. Only with him was she so very mercurial. Once, he too had been characterised by quicksilver moods and random mischief. He knew his rigidity now was merely a reaction to her only partly feigned recklessness. She was right, he had become dour. He was right, she was playing too many games. Dancing too close to the edge. The millennium in exile had changed both of them more than either was willing to admit. They had lost some of their aloofness, become too embroiled in the mortal world, in mortal lives. Perhaps that was what Lord Oberon had intended from the start, that his children learn from the younger races. Relearn the passions and the they had begun to only play at. Mourn the loss of what they had taken for granted, had never realised was missing until they felt the keen edge of its absence.
It had only been a day.
A long, dull, uneventful day. They had gone decades without seeing hide nor hair of one another, what was one day in the face of immortality? What was different now, that had been the same even a few short months ago?
His thoughts were interrupted by the telephone. The private line. He frowned. Mr. Xanatos would have rang the mobile, and he was not expecting any associates this late.
"Burnett," he said crisply after the second ring.
"I believe I have something of yours." It was a man's voice, tauntingly familiar, though he could not place it.
"I see." Owen reacted just as he would have to any oddity: He simply didn't. Funny how that had always worked for him. The voice on the other end of the line chuckled.
"Not yet. But then, neither do I. I need a bit more from you than what I have."
The fax rang once, and spit out a greyscale image. The photo was slightly blurred, but recognisable all the same.
Rowan paced the narrow confines of the cell, and scowled at the two-way mirror. She imagined scurrying, nondescript humans in white coats, and then she imagined shredding those nondescript humans, painting those same coats crimson with their life's blood. But those thoughts were impractical, as she was in no position to do anything but fantasise, and she needed to be practical and pragmatic and sensible and all the things Owen thought she wasn't right now.
Now then, what would a sensible, pragmatic person do in this situation? she asked herself.
A sensible, practical, pragmatic person would never have gotten herself into this situation, her self replied, rather snippily Rowan thought.
You're not helping, she told herself, and flopped back down on the bed. They had removed the chains binding her feet and hands, but the iron band around her neck was enough.
Owen was right. She was an idiot. That was about the long and short of it. Ten centuries in the World with almost no problems at all with either of the younger races, and through her own stupidity, she manages to end up the damsel in distress.
She was never the damsel in distress. Her situation would have been downright humiliating if it wasn't so precarious.
Her self-deprecation was cut short by the arrival of the mysterious Mr. Marlowe, and two men in lab coats not unlike the phantom doctors she had envisioned.
She sat, hands folded in her lap, and looked up at the doctor's, waiting.
Only speaking when spoken to seemed the wisest course. The first doctor swabbed the inside of her arm with a cotton ball soaked in alcohol, while the second pulled on gloves.
"The blood tests were inconclusive, we need tissue samples." The doctor's pale blue eyes weren't kind, but they at least we're cruel either.
"Don't explain it to her, just do it," Marlowe snapped. She stared at him over the doctor's shoulder, not even wincing as the lab rats got their samples. They scurried out, but Marlowe remained.
"Where do the gargoyles spend the day?" he asked, and she stared at him blankly. "Come now, my dear, don't be coy. That was why you were made, wasn't it?"
She remained silent, chewing on a fingernail as she watched him uneasily.
"I assumed you were Severius' work, though he has been missing since some incident in Loch Ness. You really are quite the amazing achievement, though nowhere near as intelligent as Thailog. Still, obviously your usefulness far outweighs that particular disadvantages. A human-gargoyle hybrid that can metamorph at will is nothing to be sneezed at. Burnett had little to say on the matter, of course."
"You've spoken with Burnett?"
"I can't say he was pleased to learn the prototype was in my keeping, of course. He was very tight-lipped about the whole thing, and well he should be. I dare say if I were in his place, I would be as well. The Society had no idea Xanatos was conducting experiments, they would be quite put out by it if the facts came to light. They frown on that kind of presumptuous research."
"Never mind, I spoke out of turn."
"So you're just going to give me back?"
"Don't be absurd. Burnett will being me the research, and then I'll have the means to unlock your secrets, what's the point in just sending you back?"
"What about Burnett?"
"What's this, concern for your jailer?"
She looked up sharply, and if she'd had fangs at that particular moment, she would have bared them.
"I'm afraid Mr. Burnett will disappear. But that's nothing for you to worry your pretty little head about. Once I have the research and Severius' accelerated growth process, you, my dear, are going to become Eve."
"Oh," he snapped his fingers, turning. "I almost forgot." He removed a pistol from his breast pocket, aimed and fired. She flinched as the trank dart hit her. She clawed at the collar as the floor rushed up to meet her.
The very last person Detective Matt Bluestone expected to find on his doorstep was Agent Martin Hacker.
"May I come in?"
"If I said no, would you go away?" Matt tried a half-hearted attempt at humour, but it came off as flat.
"I won't do the Society's dirty work, Martin."
"Have we asked you to?"
"You tell me. Why did Mace Malone want Goliath at Hotel Cabal anyway? What secrets did he want to wrest from him, at the behest of the Society? Don't give me that test of my good faith crap, we both know Xanatos couldn't provide the Society with Goliath, or wouldn't. No way Maza was going to just lead you to them. That left me, and I don't like being duped."
"It got you in."
"Shutting down Malone got me in, for reasons I still don't understand."
"I'm no fool, Matt. I know you accepted the Society's offer with every intention of exposing it."
"There's no room in this world for secret societies."
"Isn't there? The Illuminati has had a place in this world longer that you've been alive, and it'll still be here when we're both gone. And besides, you've had plenty of chances, why haven't you blown it yet?"
"Because I need answers."
Martin looked at him askance, and even Matt knew how selfish that sounded, but it was the only answer he could give.
Martin dropped a file folder on Bluestone's coffee table, and then sank onto the couch, removing his hat.
"Something we'd like you to look into."
Matt spread the contents of the folder over the glass, and gasped. Enclosed were surveillance photos. He recognised Brooklyn, and swore. But it was the last photo that gave him pause. It was of a young female gargoyle. Her eyes were closed, her features in repose and there was no way to tell if she was merely unconscious, or dead.
"What's the society want with the gargoyles?"
"Not the Society, that's just it. These pictures were taken by agents of a man named Gregory Marlowe."
"I know that name."
"He was quite the man about town, and until recently, he was quite influential within the Society."
"You said until recently."
"Marlowe went rogue. He wasn't reliable, his methods were too blunt, too traceable. The Society got tired of wasting resources on damage control, but before he could be, shall we say, put in his place . . . He disappeared. No one could find him, and you know how good we can be at finding people who don't want to be found.
"There are secrets for a reason, Matthew. Never forget that. The society doesn't want to destroy the world. It wants to remain quietly in the background, making sure things are running smoothly."
"Heh. I never thought of it quite that way before."
"Well, you'd better start. If the truth about the gargoyles got out, it would start a panic. Humans aren't ready to find out they aren't the only ones at the top of the food chain, if you get my meaning."
"And you think he wants to expose the gargoyles to the world?"
"That's what we'd like you to find out. In Xanatos' absence, you're our resident expert on gargoyles. And you have a vested interest in their safety, am I right? Don't think of it as doing the Society a favour, think of it as helping out your friends."
"What makes you think that I can find Marlowe, when the all-powerful Illuminati can't?"
"The photos were faxed to Xanatos' man, Burnett. Apparently, Marlowe thinks Xanatos Enterprises has something to do with this particular gargoyle.
We're looking into that."
"Are you telling me you have Xanatos' phones tapped?" Matt's eye went wide with the implications.
"What's the point of being all-powerful if you can't even manage an illegal wiretap? Unfortunately, Marlowe was smart. He didn't stick around long enough for a trace. Burnett agreed to meet with his men at a research facility upstate."
"Then you've got him. What do you need me for?"
"Not just you."
As the sun slipped below the horizon, Hudson, Broadway and Lexington awoke from their day's slumber with Matt standing in the doorway, his hands in the pockets of his trench coat and a grim expression on his face.
"What is it, lad?" Hudson asked, and Matt held out the photographs.
"I knew she was trouble," Lex's eyes flashed white hot as they flipped through, and then faded back to black when he reached the last.
"Huh?" Broadway swallowed, looking from the photo to Matt, and back again. "I don't get it. Who took the pictures?"
"A man named Gregory Marlowe."
"Where can we find him? If he's got Brooklyn, we need to rescue him—"
"Nobody's got Brooklyn," came a voice from the doorway, and the gargoyles turned in surprise as their de-facto leader came down the steps.
"I spent the day sleeping in a sewer, that's what happened."
"Yeah, smells like it."
"Lad, about Fionnuala—" Hudson began, and Brooklyn cut him off.
"They have her," he growled.
"I don't know. I followed her last night to Castle Wyvern, but I think everything was actually okay. Then we got jumped by a dozen thugs I'd never seen before. I have to find her, and I need your help."
"Brooklyn, I think you need to see these," Matt stepped forward, and handed Brooklyn the photos. The young gargoyles expression darkened as he flipped through, and when he got to the last one, his eyes glowed white with fury.
"If they've hurt her—"
"Wait a second, if you followed her to Castle Wyvern, how do you know this wasn't a trap?" Broadway asked gently.
"If it was a trap, why did she try and hold off ten guys to give me time to get away? I don't think even Demona would let the crap get kicked out of her just to lure us someplace. No, those guys were playing for keeps. The scene was picked clean, not a single lead to go on."
"Brooklyn, I know who they are, and I know where they are. Would you sit down for a second?" Everyone looked at Matt, and gave him their full attention.
"Okay, here's the deal . . ."
Owen snapped the briefcase shut, and stared at his left hand for a moment.
He had left the sling in his office, and wondered why he hadn't changed it back after she'd gone. He supposed he'd forgotten.
Removing his jacket, he tucked a small particle beam pistol into its holster. Re-buttoning the jacket, he took the elevator to the roof where the XE chopper waited.
He supposed he'd forgotten a great many things, recently.
"If Elisa finds out I'm driving her car, she's gonna kill me," Matt muttered to himself, and heard Brooklyn chuckle over the headset.
"I'll tell her it was my idea."
"Just don't crash it."
"Chopper's landing," Lex's voice cut in, and Matt peered through the windshield, looking for the young gargoyle in the sky before him. He spotted him as they rounded another corner and there was a break in the trees overhead.
"How far out?"
"About five minuets from where you are now, I think. Take a left at the fork coming up, and kill your lights."
Owen set down on the landing pad. The steel and glass complex looked ridiculously out of place in the middle of a pine forest. Two armed men met him at the edge of the pad, and escorted him inside. They took an elevator down to a sub-basement, where he was lead into a darkened lab. Sitting at a smoked glass conference table was a man in his early forties, blond hair running to grey at the temples, and sharp blue eyes. He was smiling, but it was more like a beast baring its teeth than any gesture of goodwill.
"Mr. Burnett, how nice of you to come. I trust you are ready to do business?"
"I'd like to see the prototype."
"Ah, and so to the point. I assure you, she's quite alive. I'd say unharmed, but she has garnered a few knocks and scrapes during the last few days, I'm sure you understand."
Owen remained silent.
"A man of few words. I can appreciate that." Marlowe turned in his chair, and pressed a button on the intercom. "Mr. Clermont, would you join us please? And bring our guest."
Matt killed the engine, and made his way down to the edge of the parking lot. Brooklyn, Lex and Broadway landed outside the circle of light from the light.
"I remember this place. It used to be a pharmaceuticals company. Went out of business two years ago, I came here to get research once on a homicide when I still worked for the Bureau. There are huge underground lab facilities below the office space."
"Okay, that's probably where they're holding her."
"There's two armed guys at the side entrance, three at the back," Lex informed them.
"Okay, we'll take the side, you guys take the back. Give us fifteen minutes, then create a diversion. Hopefully by then we'll have found her."
"And?" Broadway asked.
"And that's it. That's all I've come up with so far."
"You call this a plan?" Lex looked aghast.
"Have you got a better one?" There was a warning in his tone, and Lex studied his talons carefully.
"Okay. We'll just think on our feet."
Lex and Broadway headed around the back, and Brooklyn and Matt crept along the wall until they could hear the guards feet in the gravel.
"Hi," Matt stepped out into the light, smiling disarmingly (which is just an expression, since instead of throwing their rifles away, the guards lifted them and aimed them at his head. He pretended not to notice). "I got a flat, could I use your phone to call the auto club?"
The guards traded looks, and then got a face full of dirt as Brooklyn leapt down from the roof, and slammed them to the ground. Matt tried the door, and after checking to make sure it was clear, they slipped inside.
"Which way?" Brooklyn whispered.
"The elevators to the labs are down here," Matt removed his gun from its holster, and they began creeping down the stairs. They reached the first landing, where a hallway stretched almost a city block, elevators in the centre.
"Someone's coming," Matt whispered, and they ducked into the shadowed space between two office doors, peering around the corner. Two men in lab coats passed, oblivious. Matt let out the breath he hadn't been aware he'd been holding, and watched them swipe keycards through the electronic lock, which glowed green. the elevator doors opened, and they waited until they closed before moving back out into the deserted hall.
"I don't think we can jimmy this," Matt inspected the lock, and Brooklyn shrugged.
"Then we don't jimmy it."
Brooklyn ripped the doors off the elevator. When no alarm klaxons went off, Matt peered down the shaft. "Are you sure this is such a good idea?"
"They went down. We go down."
"Yeah, but they were actually in an elevator."
"This of this as the express." Brooklyn grabbed onto the cable, and Matt wrapped his arms around his neck. "Hold on."
"Like I'm gonna let go." Matt shuddered, and Brooklyn started down the cable.
Guard #1 peered into the darkness, and then brought a lighted match to the end of his cigarette. Guard #2 leaned against the wall of the building, and thought about how much of his paycheque he should be sending back to his mom in Alaska, while Guard #3 thought about how much of his paycheque would go to paying off his new car.
Guard #1's cigarette hit the ground a few seconds later. Guard #1 followed.
Guard #2's Mom was going to be disappointed.
Guard #3's girlfriend was going to be very disappointed, as was his automobile dealer.
Lex pulled the keycard out of the pocket of one of the fallen guards, and he and Broadway slipped inside the building unhindered.
Brooklyn watched as the elevator came to a halt on the floor below, and noting it, he dropped the rest of the way down. Matt gave a sharp yelp of surprise, and then climbed off Brooklyn's back, gun drawn. Brooklyn grasped the access hatch on the top of the car, and wrenched it open. They were greeted with the shocked faces of the two doctors in the car and Brooklyn dropped down, eyes blazing white.
With a sweep of his arm, he sent the two techs careening into the wall of the elevator, to slide down, unconscious. Matt dropped down next, and they waited for the doors to open.
The hallway was dark, lit only by small ambient lighting along the ceiling. They could hear voices coming from the end of the hall, where a shaft of light indicated an open door. Creeping silently down the carpeted hall, they listened to the snatches of conversation that drifted out.
A door at the opposite side of the lab hiss open and Clermont entered, a bundle thrown over his shoulder which he set down in the second chair. Rowan slumped in the chair, the wheels squeaking slightly as her head lolled, unconscious.
"Don't worry, she's only sedated."
Owen walked forward and brushed her hair from her face, noting the dark bruise than ran from cheekbone to jaw, and a bandage inside her left arm. But what made him scowl was the collar.
"I see you're admiring the jewellery. Remarkable piece of work. It was made by the government for prison work crews. I've adapted it for my own purposes, of course. Complete with medical sensors, tracking and monitoring equipment, and capable of administering the occasional necessary disciplinary low grade shock." Marlowe displayed a small hand control with a grim smile.
"Remove it." His hands curled into fists.
"I'm afraid not. As the young woman has a habit of slicing and dicing my personnel without it, I'd just as soon leave it where it is for now."
Owen let his hands drop to his sides, and turned to face Marlowe. "I'm sure you're aware Mr. Xanatos is not in the habit of bargaining for his personal property."
"On the contrary, I seem to remember an incident a year ago where your Mr. Xanatos was quite happy to buy back his stolen particle beam weapons. This is little different, except I'm not asking for money."
"The research means little without the prototype."
"With the research, I can create another prototype, programmed to my specifications," Marlowe shrugged, and Owen's face remained a mask. However, he was quite sure it was not Marlowe's intention to let himself or Rowan leave this complex alive.
"We need to get in there," Matt whispered.
"We can't just walk in the door," Brooklyn replied, and then looked up, scanning the ceiling above them. He tugged at Matt's sleeve, pointing to an air conditioning vent. Within minutes, they were in the ducts above the lab, peering down at the scene through a grate. Burnett was still standing in front of the chair, all the erstwhile rescuers could see was a heavy fall of dark hair until he stepped aside, and Matt gasped.
"That's not Fionnuala." Brooklyn's eyes went wide. "It's a human!"
"Oh my God."
"That's Jackie," Matt whispered.
"Homeless kid, I bought her shoes. She was supposed to meet with me and a social worker this morning. When she didn't show, I just figured she'd taken me for a ride."
"We gotta find Fionnuala," Brooklyn started backing down the passage, but Matt laid a hand on his shoulder.
Lex and Broadway found themselves in an underground lab. Searching along the wall for a light switch, Lex clicked it on. A bank of flourescents came on, illuminating a row of fibreglass canisters the size of a man that ran the length of one wall, and continued into the blackness of the other end of the lab.
"What are they?"
"They look like the cloning tubes in Severius' lab, like the one they grew Thailog in."
"This Marlowe guys works with Severius?"
"Naw, these are different." Lex touched the display on the front of the nearest one, and read the amber on black display, frowning. "Same idea, though."
Broadway took one long look around, his brain teeming with the implications, and scowled. "I don't like this."
"What do you think we should do?"
"Matt and Brooklyn want a diversion," Lex slammed a fist through the console, ripping out a handful of wires. "I say we trash the place."
"Happy to oblige," Broadway grasped the canister nearest him with both arms and pulled. With a shriek of metal and shower of sparks, it came free.
A klaxon sounded, and Lex pulled a fire extinguisher from the wall and set about smashing the consoles, methodically working his way back until the room was thick with the sickly sweet smell of melted circuitry, and a small electrical fire started. As the room began to fill with smoke, Lex and Broadway backed out and headed for the next lab.
Rowan's eyes drifted open slowly, and she tried to glance around surreptitiously. Her heart sank into her shoes (or rather, it would have if she hadn't left them back at the clocktower) when she saw Owen's back to her, and Marlowe smiling.
Then all hell broke loose. The ceiling vent suddenly disgorged a very, very irate gargoyle, and a none too pleased New York Police detective at the exact moment the first klaxon went off. Marlowe's smile vanished, and he was distracted only for a fraction of a second. But that was enough. Owen's foot shot out, catching him in the chest. Marlowe went careening backwards, the hand control flying from his fingers. Rowan saw Clermont draw his gun. Without thinking, she slipped the rest of the way out of the chair, and pushed it as hard as she could across the linoleum, slamming into Clermont, who was put off balance.
Owen plucked the hand control out of the air, and in one fluid motion withdrew his particle beam pistol and took aim at Marlowe's head.
"Wait." Clermont cautioned, and Owen glanced beside him to see Clermont's gun pressed to Rowan's temple. Marlowe had his own .357 drawn, levelled at Owen's chest, even at Matt aimed his at Clermont.
"Everyone has a gun except me," Rowan frowned, and Clermont wrapped her hair around his fist and yanked her off the floor, the cold metal of the gun barrel jammed under her chin. She didn't cry out.
They remained frozen for a second in the grim tableau, and Owen met Rowan's eyes calmly. She nodded imperceptibly.
Marlowe got to his feet, still keeping a bead on the aid with his good old fashioned projectile weapon designed to put really big holes in people.
"Place the files and the remote on the table and back away."
"I'm sorry, that's simply not an option." Owen ignored him, and touched the controls.
"What are you doing?" Marlowe cried as the collar opened with a hiss.
"Jackie?" Matt was confused as the homeless girl grew wings and a tail, eyes glowing green as she screamed in both pain and fury.
"Fionnuala!" Brooklyn cried.
"Rowan." Owen said softly, under his breath, and she met his eyes with a half-smile.
Clermont's finger twitched on the trigger, but suddenly he wasn't holding a helpless teenage human girl, but a gargoyle. His shot went wild as Rowan spun him around, and in one smooth motion lifted him off the floor by the throat.
Then several things happened at once.
Marlowe, perhaps finally understanding that things were no longer under his meticulous control, gave a guttural cry and pulled the trigger of his .357 magnum.
Brooklyn leapt for him, eyes blazing white.
Rowan dropped Clermont.
The bullet made its leisurely way across the room (If one could call the speed at which most bullets leave their guns leisurely, of course. Most mortals in the line of fire would no doubt disagree).
Rowan slammed into Owen, knocking him out of the way, and the not so very leisurely bullet ripped through her shoulder. Her eyes burned green, her throat raw with a scream of pain and fury. She staggered back, her left arm dangling uselessly, her right hand clamped over the wound as blood seeped through her fingers. Behind her, the slug buried itself in Clermont's chest, and he slid to the floor, eyes wide and unseeing.
Brooklyn threw Marlowe up against the wall, and Matt tossed him his handcuffs before turning to see Burnett kneeling at the fallen girl-gargoyle-whatever's side. Brooklyn dropped the handcuffed Marlowe to the floor, and moved to Matt's side. They watched with a curious mix of horror and fascination as her form shrank and shifted back to human, and she cried out with both the pain of the changing surrounded by so much cold iron and her ravaged shoulder. Lying on the floor, she breathed shallowly, her blood flowing steadily down her arm. Owen tugged off his jacket and shirt.
"Just a flesh wound," she said softly, and then sucked in air between her teeth as he used his shirt as a bandage and applied pressure. "I'll be fine. You don't go out in the sun much, do you." she chuckled, and then stiffened as pain coursed through her.
"The bullet was lead, and passed through cleanly."
"Get me from this wretched place, and I will heal quickly," her voice was barely a whisper.
"I know." He lifted her effortlessly, mindful of her shoulder. Meanwhile, Brooklyn and Bluestone could only exchange bewildered looks.
"You know, he seems almost . . ." Matt gestured, unable to find the right adjective.
"Yeah, I know." Brooklyn's eyes narrowed.
"Sister, maybe?" Matt whispered.
Rowan touched Owen's cheek, and he pressed a kiss into her palm. The two of them were lost in their own world, oblivious to the peanut gallery.
"Yeah, if this were a Greek tragedy." Brooklyn scowled.
"Ouch," Matt shook his head, sympathising with the gargoyle.
"Man, this is messin' with my reality." Brooklyn could only stare.
"Your friends seem confused," Owen whispered into her hair.
"When were my friends ever not confused?" she laughed weakly, but chewed her lip. "Ah, it was a fine game. But it's become such a tangle now."
"Hey!" Matt laid a hand on Burnett's shoulder. "You can't just take her. She needs a doctor—"
"No, I don't."
"Jackie, you don't know what you need—" he began, then stopped. This wasn't some homeless girl. He stopped himself before he fell into grey eyes that shone with age and wildness and magic and more than he could put into words, and then she buried her face against Burnett's neck.
No, not Jackie at all. And not Fionnuala either. Brooklyn's shoulders slumped, and the curious looking party made their outside, where several dozen technicians had fled to the safety of the parking lot at the first sign of the flames. They watched from the relative safety of their Toyotas and Fords as their ex-employer was pushed along by a big red guy with wings, and wisely, no one said "hey, you can't do that!", choosing instead to get the hell out of there before any more cops or monsters showed up.
Neither Brooklyn nor Matt stoped them as Owen carefully laid Rowan in the passenger seat of the chopper, and fired up the engines. As the chopper pulled into the air, Brooklyn shaded his eyes from the dirt cloud the rotors kicked up with his wing. Lex and Broadway came up just as it faded off into the distance.
"Hey, wasn't that Xanatos' chopper?" Broadway asked.
"Yep." Brooklyn replied.
"So where's Fionnuala?" Lex asked.
"She's not here any more," Brooklyn said quietly, and started walking back towards the road. Lex looked to Matt, but the detective had a similar far off look in his eye.
Marlowe struggled in the handcuffs, and Matt restrained the urge to deck the guy. He was not in the least surprised when Martin Hacker appeared out of the shadows, at the edge of the parking lot flanked by two large men in dark suits.
"We'll take it from here, Matthew."
"He's my collar."
"Oh yeah? Think about it. What're you going to charge him with? Destruction of his own property, or kidnapping and attempted murder of a gargoyle?"
"He shot his own man," Matt said, but he knew it was a weak argument. All the blood had drained from Marlowe's face.
"Are you interested in the law, or justice?"
"They should be one and the same," Matt said quietly, but didn't stop the men as they took each of Marlowe's arms. Matt tossed them the handcuff keys. "Can I ask a favour, then?"
"Sure." Martin noticed the gleam in Bluestone's eyes as the younger man smiled. Marlowe was rubbing his wrists when Matt tapped him on the shoulder. The detective's fist connected solidly with Marlowe's jaw, and a thin trickle of blood appeared at the man's mouth.
"Feel better?" Martin asked.
"Strangely, yes." He looked around to see if anyone else wanted to hit him too, but the gargoyles had disappeared when the Illuminati had appeared. He didn't blame them. If he had a choice, he probably would have too.
So what did that make this, he wondered. Justice? Or just another kind of law after all?
Rowan had closed her eyes, but was suddenly aware of several things at once. The first was the lack of noise (someone really must do something about making a quieter helicopter), the second the overwhelming smells of pine and damp soil, and the third was the fact that the flow of blood from her shoulder had stopped.
She opened her eyes carefully, and was greeted by cool green shadows. She tried to sit up, and there was suddenly a hand at the small of her back and elbow guiding her the rest of the way.
"What is this place?"
"What does Samuel Taylor Coleridge have to do with anything?"
"This is the Xanatos vacation compound," Owen explained patiently, and she caught her first glimpse of what could only by convention be called a log cabin, as it was more of a log mansion by the look of it, peeking through the trees in the distance.
"Ah." Her voice sounded slightly rusty, and she cleared her throat, but didn't try again. Then she smiled.
Oh, sure, the house had a touch here and there. Almost all houses did, now-a-days. But that was the house. The clearing where they sat was completely iron free.
Rowan reached deep into her self, and found the neatly wrapped bundle of Power. Loosening the glowing green threads that bound it, she let it course through her, and then with a very deliberate flash of greenish light, she shed the human form she'd been wearing.
Owen let out a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding as Rowan looked down in disgust at the blood encrusted tee-shirt and cut-offs and with a snap of her fingers they were replaced with the linen and velvets that had seemed so absurd on her as a gargoyle so many (three?) days ago.
They looked perfect now. He didn't think she'd ever looked lovelier.
"Much better," her eyes twinkled, and she rose a few inches off the forest floor, and spun around. Humans were fun, gargoyles were interesting, but it was nice to wear one's own skin every now and again.
"So is this the end of this particular charade?" Owen asked as she alighted once more.
"I think so," she sighed, tucking her arm in his as they began the walk back to the house. "I don't want to wear out my welcome."
"Oh no, never that," he deadpanned, and she pinched him.
"However have you managed, in the same dull, boring form, the same dull boring life, for over ten years?"
"Patience, my dear. I like to do my game playing on an epic scale, that requires time."
"I prefer instant gratification, myself." She traced the line of his jaw with a fingertip languidly, grey eyes bright with mischief. He caught her fingers and kissed them as she curled them around his hand. She rose up on her tip toes as he bent his head to hers and all the doubts and fears of the last few days dissolved. For the long seconds it took for him to sweep her into his arms and carry her the rest of the way into the house, they were the only two beings in the universe.
Figuratively, anyway. But then, that's the important bit.
The sky was ablaze with colours, the thick clouds outlined with purple, orange and pink above the tree line. Owen was laying down on the couch, no doubt utterly exhausted by having to look so stern all the time. Rowan tiptoed across the room, taking great care not to wake him. It didn't matter, since he had been feigning sleep anyway. He watched her stare out the window at the sunset, but didn't speak until she moved to the mirror.
"Where are you going?" he asked, and she turned back to see him reach for his glasses. She smiled and wondered if he even noticed how ingrained the habits of the fictional Mr. Burnett had become. Probably. That was part of the game, after all, and he was so very enamoured of this particular game.
"To restore amends," her mouth twitched in a smile as his arms encircled her waist.
"Ah. Let's see, what's my line? Ah yes. Tarry, rash wanton: am I not thy lord?" he said into her hair, and she laughed.
"Then I must be thy lady." She closed her eyes as his lips brushed her neck, and then carefully disentangled herself from his embrace. "I won't be long."
He watched her slip through the mirror as if it were a curtain, and then he was alone.
As the sun slipped behind the horizon, and the gargoyles yawned, shrugged off the last vestiges of sleep and bits of stone skin, and prepared for another night of waiting, hoping, and protecting. In that order, but it was better than nothing. However, Brooklyn seemed lost, and just a bit down.
Actually, Hamlet would have looked like Bozo the Clown next to Brooklyn. He hadn't said much of anything since they'd gotten back from upstate, and Lex had managed to pry an abbreviated version of the story out of Matt, but all it did was raised more questions than it answered.
Brooklyn slipped into the closet and stood before the cracked mirror than leaned against one wall, inspecting his reflection closely. He saw what he'd always seen: a young, relatively attractive (for his species, anyway) gargoyle. Then he looked closer, and tried to see a leader, maybe a hero, and lastly, a lover. But he couldn't find them, not in this particular reflection.
He wondered what Goliath saw in himself. Then he wondered if Goliath ever felt the need to search, or did he simply accept what he was or wasn't, and then move on from there, despite what the rest of them saw in him.
"What the hell is the matter with me?" he asked the glass, but it didn't answer. He must have waited for a full minute, and then shook his head, wrapping his wings around himself though he wasn't cold.
The mirror went opaque, but Brooklyn had already turned his face from it and was a pace or two away when an arm shot out, grabbed his elbow, and before he could say "Wait a minute!" (he did, in fact, get the "Wa—!" sound out, but his clan didn't hear him) he was pulled through the mirror.
It was really dark on the other side of the mirror, at least until his eyes adjusted.
Brooklyn took in his surroundings, noting the fact that he seemed to be on a spiral staircase, in the dark. He could just make out Fionnuala, or rather, the human he'd known as a gargoyle he'd called Fionnuala, in front of him, and was blinded as she opened a door and white, artificial light flooded the stair. "Where are we?"
They stepped out onto a curved balcony—no, he realised, not balcony, but a tower of some kind. The air tasted of salt, seaweed, and fish. It was a clean kind of smell, even so. Different from the briny smell of the docks. It reminded him of Castle Wyvern, in the days before the massacre. He looked out, and realised he could see literally for miles.
"My lighthouse." Rowan leaned against the wooden railing (it had actually been wrought iron when she had brought the place. Some nice lads from the village had taken it out, and installed the wooden one even though they insisted the wood would warp and crack and it would be dangerous, and the iron was safer. She had smiled and nodded, and promised not to fall off the bloody thing, and that had been three generations earlier, and she hadn't yet. Fallen, that is.) and looked out over the black sea, the moon obscured by the thick clouds. The wind tugged at her hair, blowing it in her face, but she didn't pull it back. She enjoyed it, wanted to spread her wings and glide out over the sea, except she didn't have wings to glide on any longer. It wasn't that she couldn't suddenly have them again. It was that she wouldn't, not now. And not in front of Brooklyn. That wouldn't be fair to him, and she wanted to be fair. "Not everything I told you was a lie. I just couldn't tell you the whole truth."
"All I want to know is why." He crossed his arms, and watched the waves in the light from the lighthouse. He didn't look at her. She purposely scooted over so that her elbow touched his, and her hair brushed his wing. He'd expected her eyes to be black, but they weren't. He'd never get used to those pupil-less grey eyes.
"I told you, I was curious. Ten centuries in the world, and I had never once tried on a gargoyle's skin. I wanted to, before I was denied the opportunity forever. Gargoyles protect. I have no protectorate, save my secrets. I wanted more, even for only a few days. And I was lonely too." She could hear the calls of the gulls, and the rumble of distant thunder. "Do you hate me?"
He met her eyes, and shrugged. "A little."
Her face fell, and there was a silence. Then she spoke again. "Do you still like me?"
"A little." Brooklyn cracked a smile, and she laughed.
"Oh good, you had me scared for a minute there."
"What are you?" he blurted out, realising that she was most likely, after pulling him through a mirror, not a human after all, or at the very least some kind of sorcerer.
"Don't you know?" She cocked her head, and raised a brow.
"Oh, jalapena." Brooklyn slapped his forehead. "I'm an idiot."
"You're not an idiot." Rowan shook her head. Brooklyn suddenly looked wary.
"You're not going to start talking in iambic pentameter, or turn to stone and crumble right before my eyes, or anything like that, are you?"
"No. Why? Did someone do that?" Her eyes were wide, and he chuckled.
"Oh." She nodded, in sudden understanding. "You met the Sisters, didn't you. I think you should know that up front that Luna, Phoebe and Selene are most definitely not representative of my race as a whole." She sounded almost apologetic.
"Is that what they're called?"
"No, they're called all kinds of things. Those are their names." From her tone, apparently in her mind there was a distinct difference. "But if anyone asks, you didn't hear it from me."
Brooklyn laughed, and shook his head. "You don't make much sense, you know that?"
"What about your name, Fionnuala-Jackie-Rowan?"
"Those are all my names."
"But not what you're called?"
"Ah, see, now you're catching on."
"Still doesn't make much sense."
"Give it time." They sat down on the observation deck, their backs against the flaking white painted curved wall, and Brooklyn wrapped his wings around his shoulders as the wind kicked up, and the first few drops of rain began to fall.
"If you're so powerful, why did you let Marlowe catch you? I mean, why not just . . ."
"Poof, disappear? Well, I didn't want to blow my cover with you, and then once he had me, well . . . He had me bound. As long as he thought I was just a genetically engineered hybrid, humans and gargoyles were both pretty safe. But imagine someone more intelligent than Demona—which isn't all that difficult, really—with less honour than Xanatos, having at their beck and call someone only slightly less powerful than the puck."
"Seeing as how I don't really consider Xanatos to be all that honourable, that would have been a really bad scene."
"You're telling me."
"So what am I doing here?"
"You may well have saved my life. Beyond my thanks, I owe you," she said simply.
"You didn't have to tell me that."
"Certainly I did. If I didn't tell you, you'd live your whole life through never knowing I owed you something."
"Oh. I see your point." She tucked her hair behind her ears. "No, really, I will grant you a gift."
"Like Puck's gift to Demona? Excuse me if I'm wary."
"Ah, but what the puck gave Demona was no less than she deserved. You deserve better."
He hesitated, and then finally said "Can I think about it?"
"Certainly. I'm practically immortal, and as such, have plenty of time."
"Why aren't you pitching this deal to Matt too?"
"Because I didn't wrong him to the degree I wronged you. For Detective Bluestone, I have something special planned. Don't worry," she patted his hand. "I won't leave him out."
"Now you're scaring me. What's the deal with you and Burnett?"
"Ah, that's not my secret to share."
The sky opened up above them, and Rowan laughed as sheets of rain began to fall. Brooklyn raised his wings to hood him, and watched as she tipped her head back and let the rain run down her cheeks and into her hair.
"I can't figure Burnett. How was he supposed to know we was there? I mean, for all he knew, he was alone out there." Matt laid down on the couch with his cellphone, trying to massage his headache away with his free hand. Logic told him Gregory Marlowe would never have gotten what he'd deserved if he'd brought him in, and yet he wondered if what he'd deserved as to have been turned over to a society that would surely kill him just for having a reach that overcame his grasp.
Tell that to the empty bottle of aspirin on his kitchen counter, and the clock, which marked the thirty sixth-hour of his perpetual state of wakefulness. Even if it was his night off, he hadn't been able to close his eyes without replaying scenes over and over, trying to make them fit.
"Are you kidding? Who do you think tipped us off to Marlowe in the first place? And who do you think suggested you for the job?"
"You mean you don't have Xanatos' phones tapped?" Matt sat up.
"Oh no. We have his phones tapped, trust me." He could almost picture Hacker's patient smile, and sank back down against the throw pillows his very ex-girlfriend had insisted he buy, and then left him when she'd walked out.
"Burnett doesn't know me from Adam, and I thought you said Xanatos was lower echelon—"
"He is. I never said anything about Burnett."
"Man, this just gets weirder and weirder."
"It gets better: You know the human-gargoyle hybrid, or whatever she was?"
"Yeah?" Matt hoped Martin was far, far away and couldn't see the way his cheeks flushed and he loosened his collar, trying to sound nonchalant.
"Turns out she's the real mystery. Marlowe thought she was one of Xanatos' little experiments, and Burnett let him. But Xanatos denies any knowledge of such a project. And before you cast any aspersions on Mr. Xanatos' good word, trust me, we had it checked out. So if someone created her, it wasn't in a XE funded lab. All of Marlowe's data was destroyed in the fire, and she's disappeared, so it looks like we'll never knew."
"Just as well, then," Matt shrugged, hoping he was a much better liar than he felt right then. "Like you said, why waste resources on damage control?"
The doorbell rang.
"Hold on, there's someone at my door."
Matt padded to the door, and peered through the peephole this time. He didn't see anything until the little black girl who had knocked on his door stepped back to set down a box half as big as she was, and scratch her head before reaching up to knock again.
"Just a sec," Matt undid the chain, and opened the door. "Can I help you?"
"Lady said she'd gimmie fi'dollars if I brung this here." The kid wiped her nose with her sleeve, and Matt's eyes drifted down to the child's feet, which were encased in a suspiciously new pair of cheap canvas tennis shoes. He chuckled, and opened his wallet, producing a ten-spot.
"Here you go kid. Spend it on candy. Chocolate, cookies, whatever. No cigarettes, no funny stuff, you got it?"
"Man, the guy in the castle gave me twenty."
"I'm a poor cop, scraping to get by."
"Mister, you a cop?" Her eyes got really big. "I didn't do nothin'."
"It's awful late for you to be out."
"It ain't late."
"Did the lady buy you those shoes?"
"Yeah, she did. And took me to McDonald's too."
"Well, the next time you see the lady, you tell her not to be stuffing kids full of fried foods. Think you can do that?"
The child nodded, wiped her nose again, and then was off down the hallway, dreads bobbing as she went.
Setting the box down on his computer desk, he lifted the lid and chuckled. Nestled in a bed of tissue paper a pair of boots. Not just any boots, but the kind of handmade leather cowboy boots that cost about three times his monthly salary. There was a folded piece of creamy white stationary with his name across the front, and he smiled as he read the message.
One good turn deserves another.
"Hacker, what would you say if I told you I believed in faeries?" Bluestone said into the cellphone, and was met by a wry chuckle.
"I'd clap my hands. Gargoyles, I can understand. We have proof. But fairies? That's a bit of a stretch even for you, Matthew."
"Yeah, I guess you're right." Matt tugged on the boots, not at all surprised that they were a perfect fit.
Watching the rain, Owen had almost given up waiting up for her to return when she was illuminated by a flash of lightning, standing out beyond the French doors, in the middle of the lawn, just looking up at the sky. Her hair was plastered to her face and neck in swirling black tendrils. Thunder boomed in the sudden stillness. Clicking on a single light by the couch, Owen turned to the bar, and poured two finger's width of clear amber liquid into a cut crystal tumbler.
"Would you like one?" He asked as she closed the glass door behind her with a snick .
"I never became accustomed to the taste of peat." She wrinkled her nose.
"There's plum wine in the kitchen."
"You're so domestic," she shook her head, sending a spray of droplets in his direction. Her legs were streaked with mud to the knees. He wondered just what she had been doing out there in the rain. He also wondered how he was going to get mud out of the white carpet, but that thought was fleeting as she stripped off her sodden clothes.
He swallowed the scotch and set the glass on the bar. She shrugged on the green silk chemise that had appeared out of thin air at her feet, and knelt before the fireplace. The firelight painted her cheek gold as she spread her hair out to dry over her shoulders and down her back. She looked up at him as she combed her fingers through the mass of damp curls, and. The silence stretched out between them, until she held out her hand, and he took it.
"So, do you think you are ready to kneel at the feet of that pompous ass like a good little Child of Oberon, or will you stay here and change Xanatos Jr.'s nappies?" she asked sweetly as she loosened his tie.
Owen laughed. He didn't know what else to do. Even after all that had happened, she was like a dog with a bone, unwilling or unable to simply let go and have done.
He traced her smile with a fingertip. "You are a study in contrasts. On the one hand, you would defend the soil of our birth with your life's blood. Yet on the other, you spit upon our lord and master. Tell me, are you afraid that I will not return to Avalon? Or are you afraid that a millennium in the lands of mortals has seduced you into staying?"
She began braiding the now dry mass of hair. "I am afraid of being alone, it is true." She sighed, snuggling back against his chest. "And I do love this mortal world, you know I always have. Yes, I would know what you will do. And yet I also know that you do not even know what you will do until you have done it. I had hoped to goad you, one way or the other, that I might know where I should make my stand."
He sighed. So that was it. "Rowan, I do not know, yet, what I will do. That is the truth."
"Ah." Her lips twitched, as if unable to decide whether to settle into a smile or frown. "Perhaps I should stay this time, then?"
"And do what?"
"Perhaps the child will need a nanny?" She suggested, all innocence. Then she laughed. "Perhaps not. Ah, but there are so many fine games yet to play—"
"No more games, Rowan." Owen said against her hair.
"Indeed. No more games." Her arms crept around his neck, and she drew him to her, brushing his lips with hers.
"Did you say plum wine?" she pulled back, a gleam in her eyes and suddenly she was up and dashing across the room.
"Rowan—" Owen made a grab for her, and missed. Her laughter echoed down the hallway, and shaking his head, he draped his jacket over the back of the chair, carefully removed his shoes, and then ran after her in the general direction of the kitchens.
"What's the chopper doing here?" Fox asked as she and David pulled up the driveway. Fox was still running on Australian time, and if anyone asked her what day it was, her answer wouldn't have been at all reliable. They had had a wonderful week in Milan, but there was no rest for the wicked. On the flight home, inbetween naps and other diversions, David had outlined his next plan, which called for his being in New York to set the ball rolling. When the company jet had been diverted from JFK by the storm, Xanadu had seemed the perfect solution.
"I have no idea." Xanatos slipped out from behind the wheel, removing his cellular. "There's no answer on Owen's line." His eyebrows vanished into his bangs. "I don't think that's ever happened before."
"There's bloodstains on the back seat," Fox peered into the chopper.
"This can't be good."
"I went into an ale-house I used to frequent
and I told the landlady all me money was spent.
I asked her for credit, she answered me 'nay.'"
"She said 'custom as yours I can get any day '. . ."
A woman's soprano warbled from the living room. David and Fox froze in mid-stalk, eyes wide, until it was joined by a surprisingly good tenor.
"Wild Rover give over, wild rover give o'er,
and I never shall play wild rover no more."
Peeking into the living room, Xanatos was greeted by two sights he never thought he'd live to see.
Owen Burnett, hammered, and Owen Burnett, singing.
His major-domo was sitting on the floor, back against the couch, with no socks and shoes, and a half empty bottle of scotch—no, Irish whiskey—next to him. At his side, resting her head on his shoulder and gesturing with a wine glass was Fionnuala Rowan. From the state of the bottle of plum wine sitting on the flagstones, he had a feeling it had been some night.
Fox put a finger to her lips, and they slipped out in silence. Manhattan was only a few hours away, sleep could wait.
"Something tells me this is a very long story." David chuckled as they got back into the car, and started the engine.