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: Portions of this story appeared in a slightly different form in "All's Well" published in "Avalon Mists" and on the Gargoyles Fanfic web page. This is a sequel to "Games" (which itself was a sequel to "The Butler's Tale"). With the exception of the prologue (which takes place during and after the events depicted in "Games"), the story takes place— Confused yet? Wait, it gets better.
—during parts of "The Gathering" parts 1 & 2, "Possession" (which, itself, spans three months. Gee, thanks guys), after "The Reckoning"—and before, during and after "Hunters Moon" parts 1-3. There. :)
The Hills Come Between You And Me
by Tara O'Shea
June 6, 1996
Upstate New York
Fire. The monsters—no, Marlowe had called them gargoyles—were destroying the gestation tubes. That much Henry FitzMartin could make out as black smoke poured from the ruined circuitry, yellow flames licking out, casting hellish shadows on the metal walls.
Crouched beneath the marble lab table, Henry held a water-soaked handkerchief over his mouth and blinked away smoke tears until the gargoyles, eyes blazing white, moved onto the next lab.
Crawling out, Henry tried to navigate the lab by memory, blinded by smoke. He finally reached the refrigerated case where the tissue samples were stored and yelped as the heated metal burned his hands. Gritting his teeth, he managed to get the locked door open and carefully packed the samples in their white sterile plastic trays into his pockets. He could smell his hair singeing, and the pain in his hands was extraordinary. He fell out into the corridor in time to see a swarm of technicians in white labcoats identical to his own making their way to the car park.
Huddled around their cars, his fellows averted their eyes as the building was consumed by flames as the generators blew. FitzMartin watched as several figures stepped out of the smoke. Shading his eyes with one painfully burned hand, he couldn't tear his eyes away from the girl, her blood steadily soaking her bandage.
He'd never forget his last sight of her. She'd been sitting, hands folded in her lap and looked up at him, waiting. He'd swabbed the inside of her arm with a cotton ball soaked in alcohol, trying to smile as the needle sank into unresisting flesh.
"The blood tests were inconclusive, we need tissue samples."
"Don't explain it to her, just do it," Marlowe had snapped.
She'd never met his eyes—that Henry FitzMartin would always remember—but he liked to imagine that if she had, there would have been no anger or hatred there.
He'd just been doing his job. As the helicopter rose in the air, a whirlwind of smoke and bright orange sparks in its wake, he could only stand there, holding his maimed hands in front of him.
June 20, 1996
Somewhere on the coast of Maine
If they had simply knocked, perhaps things would have gone differently.
Perhaps. But they didn't knock. They rended and tore, and the door splintered and then fell, teetering drunkenly on one hinge. The wind off the sea came howling in, making the candles sputter, and several went out entirely.
Framed in the doorway of the lighthouse were three figures, eyes glowing green in the dimness. Their feet did not touch the ground, their hair and shimmering white dresses remained untouched by the torrent.
Rowan looked up from her book and carefully marked her place, tucking her shawl closer around her shoulders.
"Phoebe, Luna, Selene. You've excellent timing; I've just put the kettle on for tea. Won't you come in?"
"This is no social visit." Selene frowned.
"Isn't it? I thought I was being quite sociable."
"You know why we are here?" Luna asked.
"Of course. I'd have to be blind, deaf, and stupid not to have noticed. Tell me, do you take sugar?" She addressed Phoebe, who remained silent.
"It is the time of the gathering. Lord Oberon has marked your absence. We have come to take you home," Selene snapped.
"Home. What an interesting concept. Let me see if I understand the situation, as it were. One thousand and one years ago, we—with the exception of you three who were left to stand sentinel—were banished from Avalon, on the pretext that we needed to learn humility. Now we are banished from the World as well?"
"You have been from the shores of your homeland far too long, little sister. Are you not happy to return?" Luna smiled sweetly.
"I am not happy, you are correct. I am not happy, because I am not being given a choice. Obviously, Oberon has yet to learn his own lesson. Until he has, I do not recognise his authority in this matter. You may bear that answer back to our home in my stead."
"I'm afraid that is not an option." Luna shook her head.
"We were sent to fetch you, not act as courier." Selene's patience was growing thin.
"Well, bully for you." Rowan stood, hands on her hips, irked at last.
"Do not make this difficult," Phoebe cautioned.
"I'm not," Rowan sighed. "Really, it's the most deceptively simple idea in the world. I'm not leaving."
June 20, 1996
"Right this way, sir—" Owen held the elevator door open as Petros Xanatos stepped out into the enclosed balcony where the other expectant grandparents waited. "Petros Xanatos, this is Halcyon Renard, Fox's father." Owen indicated the gentleman in the wheelchair.
"A pleasure to meet you at last." Renard offered a weak handshake, and Petros noted the older man's breathing was shallow. He collapsed back against the cushioned chair and raised his hand, gesturing to the man to his right. "This is my aide-de-camp, Preston Vogel." Petros' eyes widened and he glanced back and forth between Burnett and Vogel.
"A—are you two related?" he asked, incredulously.
Vogel stiffened, obviously very put out, while Owen merely smiled tightly. "I assure you, sir, we are not."
Owen continued, introducing the striking, dark-haired woman to Renard's left. "And may I present Fox's mother, Anastasia Renard."
"It's no longer Renard. I've remarried," Anastasia corrected, smiling sweetly.
"Remarried?" Halcyon started. "When? Who?"
"My first husband," she replied.
Now that was a first, thought Petros. Owen Burnett actually looked flustered.
"I—I have some things to attend to—elsewhere," Owen backed into the elevator, looking white as a sheet. Anastasia shrugged and before Petros could ask, David appeared, smiling broadly, a new- born baby in his arms.
The elevator doors closed on the choruses of ooohs and aaahs, and Mr. Burnett was, however temporarily, forgotten.
Owen straightened his tie before the full-length mirror and frowned. Glancing from one end of the corridor to the other, he waited until he was satisfied the stone hallway was deserted.
Stepping through the mirror, he was greeted by the sound of wind and rain and the very unpleasant smell of burned plastic combined with cooling wax and ozone.
The door to Rowan's lighthouse was off its hinges and slamming against the frame with each gust. One window pane was shattered and glass crunched beneath his feet. Several candles had burned down to nubs in the living room, and the unpleasant smell came from a scorched and half melted tea kettle, still smoking atop a lit gas burner. Without thinking, he removed it from the range, a towel wrapped around the warped handle.
Tugging the door closed, he was greeted by silence.
"Rowan?" he called, and started as a small white owl came flying down from the staircase to land on the arm of an ancient wicker rocking chair next to the cold hearth. The bird regarded him with wide blue eyes serenely. It flapped its wings as Owen reached for it and smoothed its feathers.
Staring into the mirror-like pupils, memories flooded his brain. He released it, the owl streaked past him and out the window, leaving behind two feathers which floated down to the damp carpet while he clenched and unclenched his fist.
She was gone.
June 21, 1996 ( as humans reckon time)
As the masses poured into the castle from every corner of the World, few marked the glowing green spark that flitted from cloud to cloud, descending not towards the throne room, which was being readied for the reception, but to the Northwest tower. In his apartments, Oberon, Lord of Faerie, King of Avalon, unchanging ruler of the third race, raised an eyebrow as the spark grew, filling the room with a second of intense brightness before several figures solidified at its centre.
Rowan landed badly. This was mostly due to the fact that the sisters had dropped her from where they hovered, a good two metres from the floor.
"Do you need us more, my lord?" Selene asked as she and her sisters floated gently to the floor.
"No. Leave us," Oberon waved them away.
Brushing her dark hair from her eyes, Rowan found a blue hand extended before her. She batted it away and got to her feet unaided. "Funny, I would have thought you would have rather done this in the great hall. It's not nearly as humiliating this way."
"So good to see you, my dear." Oberon laughed, withdrawing the offending hand good-naturedly. Somehow, he failed to register the fact that Fionnuala ni Ahine, called Rowan, seemed less than amused. In fact, she looked downright furious, in a cold, silent way. Very unlike her, actually.
"Unfortunately, I cannot say the same. If you will pardon me, I will be leaving now."
"I'm sure you are anxious to return to your rooms—"
"Yes, your lapdogs made quite the mess of them when they abducted me. I am quite anxious to be home before the wind and rain ruin my good rug."
"My dear, whatever are you talking about?"
"Why, Lord Oberon, you surely cannot expect me to stay." Her eyes widened in mocking innocence and at last his good nature flagged, a glimmer of anger shining is his eyes.
"I more than expect it," he said coldly. "I order it."
"And who are you, to order me?"
"How dare you address me in this manner!" He loomed over her.
"I dare quite easily."
"Obviously, you have yet to learn humility."
"Oh, I see, that is the humility you expected me to learn. You expected me to humble myself before you. Whatever made you think ten centuries in exile would bring about that merry change? You have done nothing, as yet, to merit my bowing before you, let alone swearing fealty."
He struck her. She did not fall, but staggered. When she met his eyes again, her grey eyes brimmed with fury and bright blood welled from the cut where his ring caught her cheekbone to slip down her cheek like a red tear.
"Don't try my patience, girl."
"Oh, I know the limits of your patience all too well, my lord." She probed her tender cheek with her tongue and then turned to go.
"Fionnuala!" he grasped her arm and spun her around to face him. "I thought ten centuries would be time enough for you to mend your manners."
"I am no longer the girl you banished." She wrenched her arm from his grasp and, squaring her shoulders, turned her back on him and walked out of the room with even, measured steps. She glanced back, wiping the blood from her cheek absently.
"My name is Rowan."
"Hello there, little sister," Raven smirked as he entered the great hall and saw Rowan leaning against the wall, scowling. "Whatever has put such a frown on your face?"
"Don't touch me; don't talk to me; don't even come near me."
"Whoa," Coyote intoned as Rowan swept past them, an icy breeze in her wake.
"Now there's someone who spent too much time in the World, eh?" Raven laughed, clapping his cousin on the back as they got in the receiving line.
Rowan remained sullen as she avoided the knots of happily reunited brethren. She watched Odin All-Father approach the dais and then turned her attention to the milling crowds, putting faces to names, and names to new faces until a glimmer of green caught her eye. She scowled even harder as the Sisters appeared in a flash, bearing the struggling Bean Sidhe in their hands. Obviously, Oberon had a taste for public humiliation after all, as the assembled host of Faerie laughed at their fallen kinswoman.
The Bean Sidhe immediately picked a fight with Odin. Sickened, Rowan turned to go as Oberon chuckled, but when Titania's mirror swayed precariously, he put a stop to the live entertainment with a thought. Rowan could feel his eyes boring into the back of her head as he stood and approached the Child frozen in ice.
"Bean Sidhe, you were called to the Gathering and you disobeyed. Have you anything to say in your defence?" He looked out and found Rowan's eyes in the crowd. "I thought not," he said smugly. "You pride yourself on your siren voice. That pride has lead to this transgression. So we will remove your voice until we hear true humility in your silence." He pointed, and a metal muzzle fixed itself over the Bean Sidhe's mouth even as the ice melted to a puddle in the centre of the dais. Rowan watched as the helpless woman touched the metal, disbelieving, and looked away from her grinning brethren.
"The Gathering is nearly complete, my lord Oberon, save only for Queen Titania—" Luna began.
"—and your servant, Puck," Selene finished, a dangerous gleam in her eye.
"My queen comes and goes as she pleases. Puck is another matter." Again Oberon's eyes sought Rowan's, and she weathered his gaze in silence. But she could feel her heart beating wildly inside her chest like the wings of a bird in a cage that had grown too small. "He forgets that he is mine to command."
"We could hunt him down for you, lord," Selene offered, and Rowan flinched at the delight in the sister's eyes at the prospect.
"No." He rose from the throne. "You three have done quite enough. I prefer to fetch the Puck myself."
Rowan could feel the blood draining from her cheeks as he approached the mirror. She fought her way forward through the crowd and watched as Oberon held the six-holed whistle before the gargoyle beast's muzzle. "Find me the one who crafted this."
Boudicca began to howl, and Rowan could feel hands close on her shoulders. Selene and Luna smiled without mirth as Oberon leashed the hound and stood once more before the mirror.
"Now we journey to the mortal world." He looked back at the assembled host, and Rowan could feel her lips forming a single word, though no sound issued forth from her throat. "Stay put, this won't take long."
As he disappeared through the mirror, into a section of Central Park Rowan knew all too well, the weird sisters' grip tightened on her arms until she was sure if she looked down she would see purple bruises in the shape of their fingers. But she did not look down; her eyes were frozen to the mirror's surface, barely three metres from where she stood, yet light-years away, for all the good it did her.
"No..." she finally whispered as the portal closed and her own small white face was reflected in the glass. Selene released her. "If my lady were here..."
"Don't be foolish," Phoebe spoke for the first time and laid a hand on Rowan's shoulder, her smile unexpectedly kind. "Our Lord Oberon has taken her to wife once more; you will find no quarter there."
"Then I am alone."
"How can you be, with your family all about you?"
"My heart is in the World, and I fear that it will die there."
June 21, 1996 Manhattan
"But the Gathering has begun. Who would train the boy in the use of his powers?" Somehow, despite the fact that they had all been trying to kill one another no fewer than thirty seconds earlier, Oberon was not unwilling to admit the gargoyle's idea of a tutor for the child had much merit.
"What about... him?" Goliath said, gesturing to Owen.
"Yes, what about him?" Oberon glowered at his servant.
"I've got a sunny disposition, and I'm always kind to animals," Owen offered helpfully, thinking for one crazy moment how very much like Rowan he sounded. He shoved that thought away before it could do any more emotional harm that even thinking it already had.
"Puck would make a fine teacher," Titania purred. "He wishes to stay, and he is already protective of the boy."
"I suppose I could give the tyke a few pointers," Owen mused, catching on relatively quickly to the queen's ploy.
Oberon, however, was oblivious to his wife's subtle manipulations. "Very well, Puck." He smiled. "You have made your choice, and you shall live with it... Forever." The smile vanished from Owen's countenance. Pleased with this reaction, Oberon continued. "You are eternally banished from Avalon, Puck. Never again will you sample its paradise."
"No, wait! Not eternally!" he cried, backing away, but Oberon raised his hand and Owen was wrapped in chains of power that lifted him off the floor.
"We hereby strip you of all your powers, save when you are training or protecting the boy. Such is your punishment." Owen screamed with the pain, but Oberon was not moved. "So speaks Oberon."
"No... please, my lord." Owen knelt before the lord he had forsaken and pleaded—begged even. But he could not tell him why, or it would be his life he was pleading for. "Please reconsider. I'll do anything."
"Pathetic," Oberon intoned. Behind him, Titania's face was a mask. Not of anger, or even disgust, but of sorrow. Somehow, she knew.
At least someone knew.
Forgive me, my love. Owen straightened his shoulders and once more assumed the mortal form he had worn for so long, removing his spectacles from his shirt pocket. "Forgive me, my lord. You must do as you see fit." He fought to keep his tone level and serene. "I will stay here with young Alexander."
Rowan sat on the steps of the dais, staring woefully at Titania's Mirror, her cheek cupped in her hand. The hall had long since emptied out and she could hear the faint sounds of revellers elsewhere in the castle. At least for tonight, by Oberon's decree as much as by the fact that it was solstice, time passed in Avalon as it did in the World and she was not troubled by the thought that each hour Lord Oberon was away, a day passed in the World. However, that didn't make the wait any less excruciating. Still she waited, until at last she was rewarded by the faint green glow that heralded faery magic.
A weary Lord Oberon stepped through and Rowan's eyes widened as he was followed by an equally weary lady wife. She scrambled to her feet, sketching a quick curtsey.
"My lord Oberon—" she began, and he chuckled.
"Ah, so now I am your lord?"
"Please... please, my lord, what news of the Puck?"
"The Puck is banished from Avalon's shores, my child," Titania said gently.
"How long, lady?" Rowan looked stricken.
"Forever," Oberon intoned, none too pleased with losing his best servant.
"No." Rowan shook her head. She looked from her lady to the lord of Avalon, not comprehending. "It cannot be."
"He has been stripped of his birthright and will live the rest of his days as mortal as his master."
"But that will kill him! As surely as any iron blade!"
"We know that you are fond of your foster brother, Fionnuala—" Oberon began, but Rowan shook her head.
"Then you must banish me as well, my lord."
"I will do nothing of the sort."
"Why not?" she cried. "Did I not disregard your summons? Did I not show you the exact same disrespect, display the same wanton temper and for even less reason than Owen—than the Puck had? Why will you not visit the same punishment upon me?"
"You know very well why not!" Oberon snapped.
"Do I, my lord? I do not understand why you would be so extreme in your actions, or as one sided in your meting out punishments. Enlighten me, please do!"
"Fionnuala—" the queen's gentle tone held a warning, but her husband did not rise to the bait. He continued to coolly regard the seething girl, who looked as if she would like nothing so much as to spit on him and quit this plane forever, had his magic not bound her to the island. The silence was excruciating, until Rowan turned her gaze to the queen's.
"Never again shall any call me by that name. I renounce my birthright and demand I be allowed to live out my days in the mortal world."
"You do not know what you are asking."
"Foolish child, you have forgotten the true meaning of mortality. Are you so quick to wish for human death?"
"Then so be it! Or I shall throw myself from the cliffs when I quit this room and the result is the same."
"Spare me the theatrics and adolescent histrionics. We are tired and would retire to our rooms. We advise you do the same."
"I will, my lord. On my mother's blood, I swear it!" Rowan called after them, fists clenched.
"Do you think she will do herself harm? She seemed quite adamant," Titania frowned as they retired to their well-appointed chambers to break their fast.
"She won't. She can't. I will not allow it," Oberon assured his wife.
"Husband, would you mind very much telling me what exactly Rowan was going on about?" Titania asked sweetly, raising a goblet of sweet wine to her lips.
"Didn't I mention it?" Oberon began, trying—badly—to feign surprise.
"No." She lowered her fork to a bowl of melon.
"The Three were dispatched to fetch her home last night."
"Then what she said is true? She ignored the summons?" Titania set down her fork.
"Childish stubbornness, nothing more," Oberon tried to wave it away.
"She is my servant; I would know of these things," Titania's tone remained light, but her smile was strained.
"As you wish, my lady." Oberon smiled and brushed her knuckles with his lips. But she would not be charmed by him in this matter.
"I am quite put out. The girl was a most faithful servant until recently. Her words were..." Titania shuddered and then fixed her husband with a glare. "My lord, you showed undue favouritism."
"Don't be absurd." Oberon stiffened.
"She clearly defied you, yet you shrug it off as t'were nothing. But your servant the Puck—"
"Was mine to punish," he reminded her.
"And so the girl is mine. I would investigate the matter myself, my husband."
Oberon opened his mouth and then shut it. "As you wish." He bowed his head.
August 20, 1996
"Nice doing business with you, Thailog," Sevarius grinned as he closed the case on all those lovely dead presidents with a snap. "All you have to do now is decide on the programming." He glanced at the gestation tubes with a wry smile. "My advice: Keep it simple. You don't want to wind up with another you."
"My thoughts exactly," the gargoyle chuckled.
"Well, I'm late for an appointment. Do give my best to the missus." Sevarius sketched a mock bow and headed out of the lab, still grinning. Half a million dollars was a lovely chunk of change, and still more to come...
Exiting the steel and brick Nightstone Unlimited, Sevarius hailed a taxi, still grinning. "Cyberbiotics, my good man. And don't spare the horses."
"This is preposterous!" Dr. FitzMartin's normally placid blue eyes were blazing with fury as he reviewed the contents of the disk.
"Pardon me?" Sevarius feigned innocence.
"Perhaps I should have said monstrous. I shudder to think whose programming this originally was! It's beyond Machiavellian, it's— it's—"
"It was exactly what my previous client required. Clones—"
"Please. I prefer artificial sentient humanoid."
"As you wish." Sevarius smirked at FitzMartin's obviously lofty, if a bit misguided, expectations "ASHes of this type are blank slates, their minds yours to shape. I simply assumed—"
"You simply assumed, from what I can tell, that I wanted to create some kind of frightening soldier, or perhaps Frankenstein- like monster. As I have told you before, my research is much more subtle. I realise that you have no small experience in these matters, but I cannot help but consider this quite unacceptable."
"Dr. FitzMartin, the programming can of course be modified to suite your needs. Without knowing exactly what those needs are, I simply provided you with samples of my original research. I admit, working from only DNA, without actual tissue samples, they were less worthy efforts than your own ASH. I am very pleased that you managed to overcome my previous problems regarding pigmentation, for example—"
"All it took was some further modifications and methodical gene manipulation. I'm sure if you had devoted more time to the process, you would have overcome those difficulties yourself." Henry could hardly contain his disdain for his fellow biological technician.
"What are your goals, exactly?"
"You do not require that information," Vogel spoke up for the first time. "We thank you for your assistance in this project, Dr. Sevarius. And you have been adequately compensated for that research, but I'm afraid, at this time, I will have to ask you to leave."
"But of course." Sevarius fairly oozed charm as he swept out into the hall. Vogel followed, waiting until the lab door clicked shut and FitzMartin was beyond hearing before he spoke.
"Do control yourself, Doctor."
"You know, Vogel, it is ever so much nicer working with you on a strictly freelance basis. He's quite right, you know. It's a good thing dear Halcyon is so obsessed with his health now that has a grandson to look after and can turn a blind eye to the day to day running of the business, don't you think? I think it's safe to say my previous employer would be horrified if he knew what you were really up to."
"And what am I really up to, Doctor?" Vogel asked coolly.
"I haven't the foggiest, but I'm sure it's not in the interests of your fellow man." Sevarius smiled. "And now that I've been paid, I could really care less. Have a wonderful time, if you are capable of it. FitzMartin seems quite the saint, I'm sure you'll be in hell." With that parting prophesy, Sevarius strolled down the corridor. Vogel straightened his shoulders and walked back into the lab.
"Look at this!" Henry called from over his shoulder, face flushed with anger once again. "'All weakness is to be pitied and exploited where necessary to achieve your own ends.' My God, who did this man previously work for? Hitler?"
"Please, Doctor, that is quite uncalled for. Dr. Sevarius' research is critical to the success of this project. All estimates of your talents aside, his ability to produce viable clones in months as opposed to years is tremendously important to us. You can surely overlook certain—eccentricities?"
"This isn't eccentric; it borders on frightening. Mr. Vogel, I came to Cyberbiotics because Mr. Renard expressed great interest in the possibility of cloning organs for transplant. The fact that it has lead us to the replication, for all intents and purposes, of another human being puts us outside the realm of science, onto difficult moral ground. We are, in effect, creating a new life, and it is very important to me that this life be treated with all the respect and accord any human life deserves."
Preston Vogel simply pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose, blue eyes narrowing. "Of course, Doctor. I would expect no less from you. I will leave the ASH's sleep learning curriculum at your discretion."
"Thank you," Henry chuffed and then went back to weeding through the programming, brows drawn together in intense concentration. He glanced up at the figure suspended in nutrient bath in the gestation tube, half hidden by a heavy fall of dark hair, a shadow against the pale limbs.
He turned his attention back to the terminal, tweaking the language matrix here and there. But he couldn't help wondering, with morbid curiosity, just who Sevarius had developed the research for and to what use it had finally been put.
August 20, 1996 (as humans reckon time)
Rowan stared at the sea, tucking her hair behind her ears even as the breeze tried to tangle the dark strands into impenetrable knots.
"Stop that," she whispered, and the wind laughed. She'd forgotten how troublesome the breezes on Avalon could be when they got over-excited. The white-capped waves below mocked her as they crashed against the rocky shore.
She'd been quite serious. But she soon discovered if she tried to do herself harm, the breezes themselves would catch her and bear her back to the grassy slope. After one brief free fall, she decided she would have to find another way. While she realised that throwing herself from the cliffs would be a fantastically romantic gesture, it was not, at this time, practical. But she was still feeling remarkably lost, alone and despondent.
Life was not good.
She had already started back towards the castle when the reedy sounds of a flute were carried to her ear by the capricious breezes. She froze. Could it be—? Chasing the sound, she ran through the forest until she burst into a clearing.
It was not the Puck, crouched on the moss covered rock, but a young Child in blue jeans, T-shirt and leather jacket, with the smiling head of a coyote. He lowered the flute, one ear twitching, and Rowan's shoulders slumped.
"Sorry to interrupt, 'Bozho."
"Hey, I haven't heard that one in a while." The furry muzzle shrank, the hair growing darker and within seconds she was greeted by the smiling face of young Peter Maza. "Why don't you hang around for a bit?" He held up the tobacco pouch around his neck and began to roll them both cigarettes.
"I thought you'd be hanging out with Brandon." She lit the cig with a green flame from her fingertip and blew out a cloud of blue smoke.
"You don't like Raven much, do you." Coyote watched her from beneath dark brows, breathing in a lungful of smoke and releasing it in a cloud that bore suspicious resemblance to his namesake. She chuckled as the tobacco smoke coyote yipped silently and ran through the air until the breezes sundered it.
"My half-brother and I do not get along," she said softly.
"You were pretty rude this morning."
"I had reason to be."
"Why come back, if you're not happy here?"
She looked at him incredulously and then began to laugh. She laughed until tears streamed down her cheeks. She laughed until her lungs ached and she drew in dry, shuddering breaths.
Coyote watched her calmly, with only a slightly puzzled look.
"Thanks, I needed that," she giggled.
"I wish I knew what was so funny."
"As do I," a voice rang out, and the two tricksters looked up to see Queen Titania framed by two birch trees. Rowan's grin died abruptly and her cheeks were bloodless. Coyote could feel the lines of tension between them like living things.
"Leave us, Nanabozho."
"As is your will, my queen." Coyote sketched a bow. Catching Rowan's eye, he winked and then vanished through the trees.
Rowan remained seated in the grass and made no move to rise. The two women regarded each other in silence for the space of a few seconds. Then Rowan plucked a blade of grass and, pressing it between her thumbs, began to play a tune with the makeshift whistle.
"Your words were unforgivable—" Titania began, and Rowan tossed aside the leaf.
"I was not looking for forgiveness."
"And yet Lord Oberon would grant it, if you would but bow your head to him." Titania frowned. "He loves you."
"I do not return his love." Rowan shrugged. "I never asked for any special treatment."
"And it galls you that he gives it."
"What do you care?"
Titania laid a hand on Rowan's shoulder and smoothed her hair back from her brow.
"Oh, child, do you think I have no heart?" She drew the girl into a hug and Rowan felt tears smarting her eyes once again.
"Well, you remarried that idiot, after all he did. So you may have a heart, but I'm seriously beginning to wonder if you have a brain."
"Someone has to keep Lord Oberon in check. Even then, he goes to extremes. I did not want to see him banish the Puck any more than you, but what could I do?"
"You could have defied him!"
"No, child. I could not."
"But it wasn't the Puck's fault! It's mine." Rowan sank down on Coyote's rock, hugging her arms to herself.
"He would have been loyal, had I not poisoned him against his lord."
"You give him too little credit, child. I think this rebellion was a long time in coming."
"Does he know?"
"Know what, my lady?"
"How you feel."
"Yes. And I know that he feels the same, I know it in my very bones. That is why I cannot stand the thought of being banished from his sight for all eternity. For every day and night that pass here, my heart breaks that he spends the better part of a month alone. And me here three days already!" Looking into the girl's eyes, Titania was reminded of the stricken look on Owen's face when Oberon made his pronouncement.
"So you have done your best to get yourself banished to the World."
"Aye, if that is the only way, I would gladly give up my nature to be with him. I know he would do the same if t'were me."
"Now I think you give him too much credit."
"You don't know him the way I do. Owen is ever playing roles, presenting himself in the exact manner people expect of him. His true nature he shows rarely, but I have seen it. I know it well, and I trust him. But Lord Oberon is the original Janus, with one set of rules for his subjects and another for himself. He'll never grant me a boon, so the best I could hope for was a moment of heedless anger. Even he couldn't go back on such a punishment, if it were made before the assembled hosts of Faerie."
"Let us see if we cannot remedy that situation, shall we?"
August 28, 1996
There was no melodrama. No tremendous weather. No crashes of thunder and flashes of dramatic lightening. Even if there had been, the lab had no windows and was quite, quite soundproof. She woke as if she had been merely sleeping and stretched, rubbing one eye with a knuckle like a child. Then she peered around her, tossing damp hair back and squinting to focus.
"Hello," Dr. FitzMartin said as she stared at him, her lips parting to mimic the sound.
"'lo." She cleared her throat and started again. "Hello."
She looked down at the thin hospital gown and worried at the frayed edge of the coverlet. "What's my name?"
"You don't have one," Vogel said from his corner, polishing his glasses.
"What am I called?" she asked, and he started.
"Ash," FitzMartin couldn't stop the word from passing his lips, though he did raise his fingers to his lips as if to catch it after it had fallen and call it back. And the second it had, the girl before him had ceased to be the ASH, but Ash. Vogel frowned in annoyance.
"Ash," she repeated and then threw back the covers. She stepped past the doctor and stood in front of the bathroom mirror. Rather than study her reflection, however, she reached out to touch the cool glass and then her browns drew together in a frown. Then she leaned forward, touching her cheek and watching her reflection do the same. She traced the planes of her face, running her fingers along her cheekbone, tracing the curve of a brow. She widened her grey eyes, watched the pupils contract as she clicked on the light.
"Ash," she repeated, touching her bottom lip, to feel the sound. "The powdery residue of matter that remains after burning. Finely pulverized lava thrown out of a volcano in eruption. Ruins, usually of something destroyed. Remains. Vestiges. Mortal remains, physical or corporeal man as liable to decay."
FitzMartin and Vogel traded looks, the former one of disquiet, the latter a calm appraisal of the situation.
"Ash." She turned away from the glass and met Henry's eyes. "Any oleaceous tree of the genus Fraxius, specifically F. excelsior of Europe or Asia, or F. Americana, the white ash of North America. The wood, tough, straight-grained and elastic and valued as timber. Used for making regal thrones and for the shafts of weapons."
There was an awkward silence and then Henry cleared his throat, stepping forward to shake her hand. "I'm Dr. Henry FitzMartin and this is Mr. Preston Vogel."
Vogel made no move to shake her hand. Her gaze slid away from his, and Henry took her arm.
"There are some tests I'd like to perform," Henry began. "Standard medical exam and intelligence tests."
"Of course, Doctor. I'll leave you to it." Vogel left, and the girl turned her gaze back to the doctor.
"You may call me Henry, my dear."
She puzzled at his use of the endearment and then decided it must be a nuance of language. "Henry," she began again. "I have questions."
"Of course you do. And we shall answer them all, if possible. I promise."
September 13, 1996
A lone figure stood atop the walls of Castle Wyvern, silhouetted against the pale sliver of the new moon. If there had been another soul there, he or she might have for a moment taken pity on this pitiable figure. For he was not simply alone, but lonely.
Not once in nearly two thousand years had he admitted to loneliness. Indeed, he did not now. But even if he was unwilling to admit it, there was a wretched kind of loneliness in being the last of your kind in the world.
And the only other beings who might have been able to quite understand his despair had learned that they were anything but alone, having just met kindred scattered about the world and beyond.
Owen Burnett would have considered it ironic, if he could bring himself to dwell on it.
Which he couldn't.
Because if he did, well...
What would the world be coming to, if the Puck sat down and wept?
"Yes, Mr. Xanatos?" Owen turned away from the night sky to find his employer leaning in the doorway, his expression curiously blank.
"Just checking to make sure you're still with us. You seemed..."
"I assure you, sir, I'm present and accounted for."
Xanatos chuckled, though his major-domo didn't even crack a smile.
"If you don't mind, sir, I think I might retire early."
"By all means; it's a quiet night."
"Thank you, sir."
David watched Owen disappear into the stairwell, heard his footsteps, even and measured as they faded down into the blackness.
Part of him wished he had the courage to actually ask Owen what was the matter, but he feared the answer. More than that, he was afraid of what voicing the question might do to their relationship, which had become clearly defined in the ten years Owen had been in his service. He knew so much more now, and his curiosity strained at the bonds of their almost-friendship. A little more pressure and they might break. He couldn't decided if that would be a triumph or catastrophe.
September 14, 1996
Henry was simply amazed, watching Ash at the computer as she devoured anything and everything put before her. Currently, she was immersed in popular literature, Raymond Chandler to be precise. The day before, it had been juvenile novels by Yolen, Cleary, Blume and Danziger. The day before that, Shakespeare. Then there was her apparently endless fascination with Dr. Seuss. She seemed just as happy to read romance novels as what was generally considered to be genuine literature. Through it all, he was hit with a barrage of questions as she filled in from the media all the areas of human interaction that the sleep tapes hadn't covered, or hadn't covered to her satisfaction.
He'd been quite delighted when she'd noticed the parallels between Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story all on her own. He'd been frightened when she did the same with Hamlet and The Lion King, but that was neither here nor there. What was most disquieting, however, was her reaction to Frankenstein.
"I don't understand. Everyone refers to his creature as the horror, but what the doctor did was truly monstrous."
"People take away from literature what they chose. And unfortunately, years of popular media's images of the creature are what most people think of."
"But the doctor thought he was God."
"Ash, do you truly understand people's notions of God?"
"To some extent. I think. Religion is odd. I'm not sure it all makes sense."
"Matters of faith rarely do."
"Am I your creature, then?"
"Not at all. You were not born from a man and woman, but that does not make you a creature, or a monster."
"What am I, then?" she'd asked, and he'd faltered. She seemed so like a child and she was in so many other ways. She had an innocence that he was reluctant to shatter and he knew the truth would do just that. "Am I your daughter, or your experiment?"
"I don't know," he'd said honestly. And that had ended the conversation rather abruptly. She had not brought it up again, though he knew it was haunting her.
FitzMartin had never told Vogel where he'd obtained the tissue sample. If the girl Marlowe had kidnapped had been a human-gargoyle hybrid, there was no evidence—no genetic evidence—in Ash. She seemed to exhibit no unusual characteristics apart from her rapid growth, physical and mental.
She had an eidetic memory and a great understanding of most of the information she'd processed. He'd had to teach her the concept of personal space, mainly because she consistently invaded that of persons around her, which unnerved Vogel tremendously. Henry had tried to make it clear that she could not allow her innate curiosity to motivate her and had to stop touching and tasting everything. Most recently, he'd had to reprimand her for taking everything apart to see how it worked, even if she could put it back together again. After she tried this with the powerbook, he'd supplied her with puzzles to keep her occupied. Her quarters now sported a cardboard replica of the Taj Mahal, a two thousand piece jigsaw puzzle of hideously cute kittens and puppies and a gaggle of Rubik's Cubes.
She seemed to have little or no personal identity yet. Rather, she was like a sponge. More than once, he'd found her mimicking his speech patterns, mannerisms and accent. She was an uncanny mimic too, though she had only really been exposed in the little over two short weeks since her "birth" to himself, Vogel and the research staff, which consisted of two technicians and a registered nurse named Ida, who wore coke-bottle glasses, chain smoked on her breaks and had a broad Jamaican accent that fascinated the clone to no end.
"Henry, how long do I have to stay here?" She had looked up from her book, absently brushing a lock of dark hair behind one ear and was now gazing up at him expectantly.
He was taken aback. "I'm not sure what you mean."
"When all the tests are finished, will I be allowed to leave?" Her gaze was so earnest, he didn't know what to say. Clumsily, he stroked her hair.
"Ash, this is your home."
"But I have no function here. Now you know how to create more like me." Her logic seemed precise and her confusion shone in her grey eyes.
"But I need to monitor your progress, make sure you're all right."
"What if I am not all right? What if I am not a 'viable clone'?"
He froze, a hand falling on her shoulder. "We have no reason to believe that is the case. Your vitals are strong and consistent. You mustn't worry about such things." He dismissed her fears with gruff, but tender tones.
"If you say so, Henry," she replied, subdued, and then turned back to her screen. He had the distinct feeling of being dismissed and stopped himself before he turned and walked away.
"Ash, you do understand, don't you?" he asked, hesitantly.
"I understand. I understand that I am your experiment. Your property."
His face flooded with colour, and he frowned. "That's not it at all. Don't be foolish, girl. You are no one's property."
"So I can just walk out of here? Out into the street, and no one will stop me?" She stood suddenly—novel forgotten—her chair teetering. She stilled it with a hand so forcefully it marked the linoleum. "I assume there is a street, of course. I wouldn't know since I've never even had the chance to look out a window onto the world. I don't know if it's night or day. I've never felt the sun on my face, or smelled the rain, or even seen a bird—"
"Now you're just throwing a tantrum."
"And why shouldn't I? I am a child, am I not? Not even three weeks old, shouldn't I be allowed to throw a tantrum, if I wish? What will you do, Father, tell me to go to my room without supper?"
"I don't understand, where is all this coming from?"
"From me," she thumped her chest. "From the part of me that you didn't create in a lab, with your test tubes and your computers. From the part of me that you feed with novels and films. From the part of me that wants to live as all other humans live, to understand. Or are you going to tell me now that I'm not human?"
Henry stepped back, frozen into silence. What could he say? What could he tell her? That, no, she wasn't human? That she was a clone of a creature that appeared human one moment, and a gargoyle the next?
She seemed to seethe, to boil though she had not moved—had not even seemed to breathe—while she waited for his answer. It was a cold fury that utterly befuddled him, having no understanding of the source of her anger. She had never had such an outburst before, had been remarkably even tempered, almost uniformly pleasant.
"What am I?" she said softly, with steel beneath each word.
"You are Ash. You are an artificial sentient humanoid. I don't know what else to tell you."
"Why 'humanoid'? Why not 'human'?"
"It's just a phrase, Ash. Something to write in reports and on files, it doesn't mean anything."
"It's my name." Her eyes filled with tears. "It should mean something, not just be a label you conveniently drew out of the air."
She turned and ran from the lab, back down the corridor to her rooms. The security guards outside the lab laid their hands on their pistols and looked at him quizzically before they stood back at attention. He could only scratch his head and sigh.
September 15, 1996
Henry knocked on Ash's door, feeling foolish. When there was no answer, he bowed his head, stuck his hands deep in his pockets and headed back down the hall to his lab.
Vogel was waiting there and glanced up as FitzMartin entered. The doctor started, then remembered that this afternoon had been their weekly scheduled progress meeting. He was forty-five minutes late, and it worried him that Vogel may have been sitting there the entire time. From the look on the other man's face, he had the feeling that tardiness was the worst of his sins.
"Where is she?"
"In her rooms"
"I see." Vogel's voice remained devoid of emotion, but Henry felt judged all the same. Judged and found lacking. His back straightened involuntarily and a muscle twitched in his jaw as he met Vogel's cool, detached gaze.
"Yes. She was somewhat agitated; we argued yesterday. It was the first such altercation, and I thought it best to let her calm down."
"How did she react this morning?"
"She didn't answer her door when I knocked. I assumed she was still angry."
"And she was actually in her rooms?"
"Of course she was," Henry deflated slightly. "I mean, I assume she was. Where else would she be?"
The hall was full to bursting with the returned Children, and Oberon and Titania sat together on the dais. After three days of receiving the renewed pledges of loyalty and fealty, there were only a few stragglers left; the line was only a dozen or so deep. Oberon looked up in genuine surprise when the last supplicant proved to be Rowan.
She bowed low, with a flourish, her dark hair hiding her face from him.
"Have you come finally to your senses, my child?"
"Indeed I have."
"Then it is my pleasure to forgive you your transgressions and welcome you back into the fold, once you have sworn fealty to me."
"Alas, my regained senses will not allow such a thing. I will not take my former words back, but say again, louder still, that you are not my lord." Her voice rose, ringing out into the suddenly hushed hall, bouncing off the stone walls as jaws dropped among all those assembled. She faced the masses, head held high. "Oberon interprets his edicts as he sees fit. Translated: he will abide by his own word if and when it pleases him. Which is to say, not at all—if it is to his advantage. I will not call him lord, nor will I recognise his authority over me."
Shaking with anger, Rowan turned back to the king of Faerie, grey eyes alight with fury. "You are no more worthy of my fealty and respect than a wretched cur in the street. Your exalted word of honour is little more than a dog's bark in the night, holding even less worth, for at least a dog is true to its nature!"
With that, she spat on him, and then waited.
Henry raised his hand to knock, but Vogel simply reached for the knob. Turning it, he stepped through and Henry followed, feeling a flush creep up his neck.
The lights were off and he fumbled with the wall switch. "Ash?" he called, as the fluorescent overheads came on, revealing the empty bedroom. He was met with silence. Tapping on the bathroom door, he heard a muffled moan.
Throwing open the door, he found Ida, bound and gagged with the remains of the shower curtain. As he untied her, Vogel removed his cellphone from his suit breast pocket, frowning.
"Security alert, sub-basement four. All stations check in, please. Subject is female, Caucasian, approximately sixteen years of age, long black hair, grey eyes. Subject is not armed, but may be considered dangerous—"
"She's hardly dangerous!" Henry balked, and Ida massaged her wrists, glaring.
"Damned girl whapped me upside the head with Webster's New Unabridged. I'd hardly call that friendly!"
"Apprehend, without the use of deadly force," Vogel concluded and snapped the phone shut. Looking down at Henry and Ida, he then turned on his heel and walked out without comment.
Oberon had sat, seething yet still, through the whole performance. On cue, he wiped the spittle from his cheek and began to rise.
However, the Queen was faster. In one smooth motion, she rose and slapped Rowan across the face. Green flames crackled about her head and shoulders and her hair was lifted by an invisible wind.
"Fionnuala ni Ahine, called Rowan, your behaviour here has been heinous. You have disgraced yourself before your lord, and what's more, shamed us all with your wanton temper. You were my faithful servant and for that I was willing to grant you leniency. But this affront is too much to be borne."
Raising her hands, tendrils of power shot out, surrounding Rowan and lifting her from the marble floor.
"You foolishly begged for banishment, so we will give it to you. We hereby strip you of all your powers, save when you are bound by geas to honour a boon. Never again will you walk upon the land of your birth. Never again shall you know the gifts that were your birthright. You shall be called Rowan, mortal and live your life as any of the human race. So speaks Titania."
With a cry, Rowan fell to the floor, human joints and muscles protesting. She chewed on her lip, eyes flitting from the frozen king to the furious queen.
Now was the true test.
"My queen has done what I could not," Oberon began, so softly that Rowan was sure only they three could hear him. "And I must stand by her edict."
"To the World with you then, and out of our sight forever." Titania pointed to the mirror and Rowan pulled herself to her feet, taking one last look back at the silent hall. The Bean Sidhe looked sympathetic, at least. The rest seemed shocked, appalled, or frightened and she wondered just how many had longed to do what only she could have done and lived.
Coyote, damn his eyes and bless his soul, winked.
Stepping to the glass, she watched as her reflection melted away, replaced by a late summer sunset in Central Park. One lone jogger was on the paths and she could hear birdsong, almost feel the breeze lift her hair.
She glanced back at Oberon, but his face was as if carved of stone. She dared not look at Titania, but taking a deep breath, stepped through the mirror and disappeared.
Glancing back through the green edged portal, she could see Titania, her back to the assembled host and her husband, smiling. Rowan schooled her expression until the portal began to shrink and only when it finally blinked out of existence did she spread her arms and laugh, twirling around in the grass like a child.
Ash held her breath as she crossed the lobby of Cyberbiotics, pushing Ida's thick glasses up further on her nose as she smiled inanely at the receptionist and tried to ignore the pounding of bootheels on marble as security guards piled into the elevators behind her. Leaning forward, she gestured to the paper shears in the plastic pencil cup and smiled. "Hey, could I borrow those? I'll bring them right back.
"Sure." The receptionist handed them over without a thought and Ash pocketed them. She focused on the revolving glass doors instead of the thudding of her heart, until she pushed through them and stepped out into the evening air.
Walking quickly and purposefully, she removed the glasses and ID badge, tucking them in the pocket of Ida's uniform before breaking into a run. She ran fourteen blocks in all, until the steel and glass building disappeared behind its fellows and the stitch in her side forced her to lean against a rusty dumpster in an alley, her breath coming in staccato gasps.
Tugging at the pins that held her hastily pinned up hair in a messy French twist, she removed the scissors. With grim determination, she gathered her hair into a pony tail and began cutting. Dropping the rope of black hair into the dumpster, followed by the glasses and ID badge, she stepped out of the alley and caught sight of her reflection in the dark window of a closed electronics store. A stranger in a five sizes too large nurse's uniform grinned back at her. Regardless of the stares of passers-by, she spread her arms and laughed, twirling around on the sidewalk like a child.
As the sun slipped below the horizon, pigeons fled in terror as the gargoyles stretched awake with roars and a rain of thin stone skin.
"All right!" Brooklyn grinned. "Fall Equinox is only a week away! Life's gonna be one big party from then on."
"I don't understand," Angela couldn't figure out why her clan seemed so utterly thrilled with the prospect.
"Starting with the equinox, the nights start getting longer," Lex explained, "until you reach the winter solstice. It's the longest night of the year.
"Yeah. Last year we were so busy trying to keep New York's finest from blowing us to smithereens thinking we were Xanatos' robots, we never got to celebrate it properly."
"And it falls close to the humans' holidays," Goliath clasped his daughter on the shoulder, "Yule, Christmas and..." he fumbled for the name of the other.
"Chanukah," Broadway supplied. "You can't forget Chanukah."
"But the solstice is so far off, why get so excited now?"
"Because..." Brooklyn began and his smile faded. "Um... because it's the equinox," he finished lamely.
"Oh." Angela tried to show some enthusiasm. "We celebrated differently on Avalon."
"Really?" Broadway asked, genuinely curious and she turned to him with a smile. Brooklyn threw up his hands and followed Lex inside the clocktower.
"Yes. Tom and Princess Katharine and the Magus wanted to keep Easter, but they couldn't figure out how it fell. Actually, I don't think the Magus was very concerned. He was much more interested in the days when the world walls were thinned and time ran the same in both directions."
"You miss him, don't you."
"There was so much I could have learned from him and I always thought I'd have the time..." Angela trailed off.
Broadway changed the subject, trying to cheer her. "The best human holiday is coming up, though."
"Uh-Huh. My favourite human holiday is Hallowe'en."
"It's fantastic! Everyone dresses in costumes and they bob for apples, give away free candy, carve out pumpkins—"
"I bet I know why you like it so much," Angela teased and he grinned. "Tell me more about this Hallowe'en."
"Well, the book downstairs in the library says that people dress up in costumes to scare away ghosts."
"Ghosts?" Angela shuddered, thinking of Hakon.
"Don't worry, I'll protect you," Broadway said, dead serious and she smiled. "What I like best about Hallowe'en is that humans and gargoyles can go out together and no one notices."
"You mean no one minds," she corrected and he shrugged.
"Do you think so? Something tells me it's not the same at all." She thought of her father and Elisa. Jumping up on the wall, she spread her wings. "I'm going out on patrol."
"You go ahead, we'll catch up," Brooklyn called from the doorway and Lex looked at him quizzically. Angela shrugged and leapt off into the evening.
Angela gloried in the feel of the warm fall wind beneath her wings. It had been sticky-hot in August, even after dusk, but September so far had been pleasant. It almost reminded her of Avalon.
She came to rest on top of a school, watching the swings sway slightly in the breeze. Tucking her wings around her, she unconsciously struck a thinker's pose, wondering why thoughts of her home didn't stir any kind of longing. She supposed she'd been too busy to be homesick. There was so much to see, so much to do. And she didn't want to leave her father, not after forty years of never knowing him. He was part of her clan and she knew that if she returned to Avalon, she might never see him again. Not because of his quarrel with Oberon, but simply by way of how time passed there, so slowly (or was it swiftly? It was all very confusing) compared to here, in Manhattan.
She missed Gabriel, of course. And her other brothers and sisters. But she no longer thought of Gabriel as her... what was the word? Boyfriend. She had just assumed, as they were growing up, that they were meant to be together. Such assumptions paled in the face of what she was feeling now.
There was still so much for her, in this world. She liked the idea of being free to make her own choices and when she had last seen him, Gabriel had been less than receptive to this idea.
"Your place is here," he had argued.
"My place is wherever I choose," Angela had replied hastily and stormed off. They had reconciled later; it was hard to stay angry with someone you had known all your life. But they hadn't apologised for their words and she couldn't blame him, not really. After all, until Tom had brought back Goliath and Elisa, she had never really believed there was a life for gargoyles off the island. It had seemed no more real than a fairy story the Magus had spun for them as hatchlings. But now she was living the reality and Avalon suddenly seemed so small by comparison.
She flushed guiltily. This was her home she was talking about here. Her friends, the people who raised her. They had done the best they could; she shouldn't be thinking such thoughts. She shouldn't even consider abandoning them. But the question of her return still nagged at her.
She was in no hurry to go. But at the same time, she wasn't sure what held her here, in Manhattan. It wasn't like she was actually looking for Gabriel's replacement. Brooklyn and Broadway were sweet and she liked both of them in different ways, but they seemed to want more of her than she was prepared to give. Especially Brooklyn. She actually found herself more comfortable with Broadway's bluff manner and easygoing charms. And after being possessed by Goliath's rookery brother and sister, she had begun to look at Broadway differently, her view of him coloured by Coldfire's love for her mate. She knew it was the flimsiest of reasons, but it did make a difference, enough of one that she found she was more confused now than she had been before she had begun examining her situation.
"Men," she muttered, taking once more to the night sky.
"Women," Brooklyn muttered as he and Lex glided above the city.
"I thought you were giving Angela 'space'," he would have put quotations around the world, if the action wouldn't have sent him plummeting to the street below. He hoped his tone would suffice.
"I am. I am," Brooklyn added quickly. "Any more space and I'll be in New Jersey."
"You know, it's not like she's the last of her kind."
"You're not helping, Lex." Brooklyn glared. "I mean, if you have a choice between Angela, Demona and Delilah, who would you choose?"
Lex laughed. "Wow, you've got it bad."
"Just wait until your hormones kick in, little buddy."
"What makes you think they haven't?"
Brooklyn whooped with laughter and Lex's eyes went white. They chased each other though the darkening sky and were in hysterics when they finally alighted on the walls of Belvedere castle.
Ash's heart finally slowed to a normal pace at the edge of Central Park. She felt as if her eyes would fall out, for looking. She couldn't stop gazing around her with sheer wonder at all the people. Families out for Sunday dinner thronged the streets and she stopped to watch an older couple walk their dog at the edge of the lake. The animal barked and ran in circles around her. She jumped up on a park bench as it bared its small, white teeth.
"Stop that!" the woman sounded appalled and tugged at the dog's leash. "I'm so sorry, he never—Binky! Binky, leave the nice girl alone!—"
"We're so sorry, miss." Her husband scooped up the terrier and Ash climbed down from the bench, cheeks flushed with colour.
"No, it's all right. I expect he's a very nice dog normally." She tugged at her shorn hair, suddenly self-conscious and watched the man's smile go peculiar as he took in the tent of a dress and jagged black hair sticking up like badly mown grass.
"Come along then, Emma." He took his wife's elbow, smile frozen on his face. Ash watched them go, her chest tight as he leaned over to whisper in his wife's ear and they quickened their pace.
They knew. It didn't matter that the specifics were beyond them, they could simply tell that something about her was not right. Ash swallowed the sudden lump in her throat and brought a shaking hand to her mouth, her eyes smarting. Glancing around at all the people, all the normal, happy people, she wanted to hide.
Giving over to blind panic, Ash cut through the park, heedless of the dangers she had read about and seen on the television. If any muggers did see her, they didn't make their presence known. Or perhaps they took one look and wrote her off as a crazy. She certainly felt crazy as she crashed through the bushes, ignoring the branches scraping her bare arms and legs.
Brooklyn caught a flash of white amid the trees and squinted to focus. Lex followed his gaze and saw the lone figure tearing through the trees.
"What is it?'
"I think it's a girl."
"Is somebody chasing her?" Lex was poised to swoop to the rescue, but Brooklyn grabbed his arm, shaking his head.
"Nah, there's nobody around." He shook his head and then his jaw dropped as he caught a glimpse of her face.
"Um, Lex? Why don't you head on back? I'll catch up."
Lexington rolled his eyes. "Man, you are a mess."
"I'm not chasing after Angela," Brooklyn replied absently, craning his neck to catch a glimpse of the retreating figure.
"Yeah. Sure." Lex took off, catching an updraft and soaring away in the direction of the clocktower. Brooklyn mentally judged the speed of the figure that had since been swallowed whole by the yellow, brown and red leaves and dove off the wall and hoping he hadn't lost her.
The Eyrie building security guard was just locking the glass doors as a young woman came up. She smiled charmingly and gestured to the bolt. He took one look at the hair down to there and leather, linen, velvet and silk monstrosity she probably called high fashion and shook his head, turning his watch face so that she could see it was closer to seven than six.
"Come back tomorrow!" he called through the shatter resistant glass and her face fell. She pushed and he yelped as the key jumped out of his hand.
"I really need to come inside," she insisted, wedging her leg in the crack between the doors.
"No you don't."
"Oh yes I do. Summer's ending and as you can tell, I'm hardly dressed for weather."
"C'mon, lady, don't do this to me—" the rent-a-cop sighed, trying to push her back out again.
"I just need to see Owen Burnett."
"Is he expecting' ya?"
"Um... definitely not."
"Out!" he shoved, but she managed to get another inch or two of leg in.
"I promise you, it'll be fine."
"Oh yeah? And who are you?"
She opened her mouth and then closed it again, frowning. "Rowan," she said simply and pushed her way further inside.
David Xanatos looked up from the minutes of his last board meeting to see a curious scene playing out on the black and white security monitor. Stroking his beard thoughtfully, he magnified the corner of the screen to get a closer look.
"Well, I'll be damned," he said softly to the empty office. It appeared to be a very agitated Fionnuala Rowan accosting his security guard. The last time he had seen her, some months earlier, she had been blind drunk and singing at the top of her lungs. He hadn't questioned Owen too thoroughly about the incident, although his curiosity had run rampant for weeks afterwards. Owen had returned the XE chopper the next morning, the bloodstains having mysteriously vanished, and appeared at their daily sparring session at seven sharp as if nothing had happened. Their lives had gone on, the matter of periodic visitations from his old friend forgotten.
However, the phrase "old friend" took on an entirely different meaning now that David had the proper context. The curiosity that had lain dormant sprang forth with renewed vigour, especially since he had it from Oberon's own lips that all Oberon's Children, save Puck, had returned to Avalon.
"Lady, you could be the queen a' England, for all I care. But you can't be in here after closing time—onna Sunday, for Pete's sake!" Burt exclaimed, trying to close the door on the intruder. "Mr. Xanatos'll fire me himself—"
"That all depends, Burt," came a voice from behind. The guard turned, keys slipping from his fingers a second time and Rowan used this opportunity to slither the rest of the way into the lobby.
David Xanatos leaned against the wall, hands shoved in his pockets, one eyebrow cocked playfully. "Ms. Rowan, I can say with complete certainty that you are the very last person I expected to find forcing her way into the Eyrie Building."
"Is that a good thing?" she asked, chewing on a piece of hair.
"Considering the events of several months ago... I'm not sure."
A slow smile crept across her face. "You can add, yes?"
"Then I can assume you put two and two together..?"
"Let's just say that I wouldn't miss this reunion for the world." David offered her his arm and, looking back over his shoulder, made eye contact with Burt. "You're right, if it had been anyone else, I probably would have fired you."
Ash slid to a halt in a narrow alleyway, her breath coming in sobs.
It was all so new, so overwhelming. So much more so than she thought it would be, even after having studied the flickering ghost-worlds of television and film and the only slightly more substantial words on paper. No one worked from a script out here. There were more variables than her brain could process and rather than try, she simply let it all wash over her. If she became the observer again, like she had been at Cyberbiotics, then she would have some small measure of control that she lacked as a participant. Yes, that sounded safe and logical.
She tugged down a fire escape ladder, slithering up the rungs past windows with delectable Sunday dinner smells wafting out on the fall breeze to the gravel covered roof. She could see the park from there and the sea of buildings, the sky darkening in the east to indigo. Sighing, she let her legs dangle over the edge, feeling the tears dry as she regained some control over her emotions.
Her eye was caught by a tower of glass that rose higher than any other on the island, and she put her hand to her mouth, gasping as she made out the shape of a fairy tale castle perched at its apex. She had never seen anything to compare, and she wondered idly who had set it there, and what kind of people lived there.
"Owen's feeding Alexander," David informed Rowan before she could ask, as the express elevator opened onto the grey walls of Castle Wyvern. "He learned it's easier to feed him first and then give him his bath."
"I imagine it must be," Rowan chuckled and then stopped again. She laid a hand on Xanatos' arm. "Please... how has it been for him?"
"He's adjusted to his permanent position with the same stoic, placid, pleasant demeanour as I've come to expect from him."
"Are you asking, does he feel alone? Lost? Unhappy? Ms. Rowan, as much as I consider him a friend—perhaps my closest friend—he doesn't share those thoughts with me. I'm sorry. But I do know that it wasn't just Avalon he lost. And I don't think it's just Avalon he mourned losing."
"You're kind, David Xanatos," she observed in a quiet voice.
"You seem surprised."
"Perhaps a bit. But then, I shouldn't be. He chose to stay with you."
David digested this fact silently and then they continued through the stone corridor towards the main hall.
Catching sight of herself in the large bronze mirror hanging on the wall near the entrance, Rowan froze. "I look..." like a human playing dress-up, she began to say, but the words stuck in her throat. Reflected in the glass was a slight human woman, hair is a disarray, large grey eyes wide. She touched one round ear self-consciously, then shook her hair forward. No wonder the security guard had tried to turn her away at the door. The court garb that had seemed plain, even subdued on Avalon now looked ragged and foolish, the weird mix of textures clumsy and somehow ridiculous. She looked clumsy and ridiculous. "I must look a sight," she finished awkwardly.
Xanatos watched the parade of emotions silently and then smiled gamely. "A sight for sore eyes, I'd say."
"Look who I found trying to break in." David stood in the doorway of the kitchen, watching his major-domo attempt to give a bottle to his son, who seemed ever so much happier aiming mouthfuls of Similac formula purposefully for Owen's glasses. From the state of him, Alex's aim was definitely improving. Fairly impressive for a three month old child, but that wasn't the only impressive aspect of young Xanatos. They had come to accept the fact that their son, for now anyway, seemed often more fay than human. As unsettling as that thought could be, there was some comfort in knowing that all was, if Owen was to be believed, as it should be.
Owen looked up, placid and serene as always, wiping off a smear of formula with a dishtowel.
Then David stepped aside, revealing a dark-haired young woman, hands clasped behind her, grey eyes shining with all sorts of emotions.
Owen just kept looking from Xanatos to Rowan and back again, his mouth moving, but no sounds issuing forth as he stood frozen with the dishtowel in one hand. Alexander gurgled happily, waving a fist in delight.
"I think he looks sufficiently surprised, don't you?" David asked.
"I'd say so," Rowan agreed.
"Rowan?" he finally managed and she laughed as he forgot for a second butlers weren't prone to wild displays of emotion and swept her into his arms. She buried her face in his shoulder and hugged with all her might. Unfortunately, he did the same.
"Ow!" She cried, startled. "Careful, we humans bruise easily." He set her on her feet, looking absolutely dumbstruck. She rubbed the small of her back and then pulled out his left arm to inspect it. "You idiot! It's still stone!"
"Human?" he asked, frowning.
"I couldn't let you stay and have all the fun without me, now could I?"
"But—who..?" Owen asked, still not yet over the shock of seeing her.
"Titania banished me. I asked her to do it. It was the only way; Oberon would not."
"Of course he wouldn't—"
"And I did finally get the last word, oh I wish you could have seen his face! It was priceless."
"I called him no better than a wretched cur and likened his word of honour to a dog's bark in the night—"
He placed his right hand over her mouth and at last she ceased her babbling. Her grey eyes sparkled above his fingers and he leaned forward, resting his forehead against hers. David lifted Alexander from his high-chair, never caring in the least that non-dairy formula was not the typical fashion accessory to Armani jackets and had started for the door when Rowan's eyes lit upon the child. She slipped from the protective and slightly possessive circle of Burnett's arms.
"Is this the wee little thing that caused such a fuss?" she asked, touching the soft red curls. "Ah, he's a fine one, he is." She laughed as the baby grabbed her finger and began to suck it, green eyes wide and slightly unfocussed. "Aren't you, boyo?" she said in a sing-song, tickling his stomach. "Aren't you, now?"
"You know, we haven't hired a nanny—" Xanatos watched Owen out of the corner of his eye.
"Sir!" Owen blanched and Rowan laughed.
"It could have been worse; I could have been from Flushing."
"So you'll say yes?" Xanatos prompted and it was Rowan's turn to drop her jaw.
"I wouldn't ask if I wasn't."
"Are you sure? My kind have an interesting track record with human babies."
"You said it yourself; you're one of my kind now."
"Oh, wouldn't that just be too pat? It would be like living a Disney film."
"It all comes down to Fox's decision, of course," he added, stroking his beard thoughtfully.
"Of course," Rowan nodded and Alexander grasped a fistful of dark hair. She carefully pried his chubby digits loose and took great delight in noisily kissing them. Alex laughed and a row of green winged giraffes circled her head. "And talented too!" She looked up in amusement at the galloping hybrids before they dissipated. "Yes you are, yes you are!" she tickled him.
Owen just kept looking back and forth between the two of them and David tucked the child in the crook of his arm and winked before leaving them.
"He's certainly... mellowed," Rowan observed as the door clicked shut and they were alone at last.
"Fatherhood agrees with him."
"Aye, it does." He could not tear his eyes from the sight of her and reached out to touch her hair. Sighing, she pulled him into an embrace and closed her eyes against the sudden tears. She was so hungry for his touch and to think she might never have known it again...
"You shouldn't have come," he said into her hair.
"How could I have not?" she asked, incredulous.
"But it is too much—"
"It is no less than I know you would have done for me, were I exiled not just from my home, but from my heart." She traced his frown with a fingertip and coaxed it into a sad smile instead. "Besides, even before I knew of your punishment, I was prepared to fight to stay here, in the World. I thought I could just say 'No, thanks' and that would be the end of it. However, I forget how... persuasive the Sisters can be when they've got it into their heads that they've a task to perform." She chuckled and he brushed her cheek with his fingertips. "At least this was my choice. I am no longer one of Oberon's Children," she said softly as he drew his hand away.
"Yet always his child, magic or no magic," he replied.
Brooklyn was about to give up, when he saw a slight figure in white pull herself up onto the roof of an apartment building and perch on the edge. The hair and clothes threw him for a loop, but it was definitely Fionnuala—unless she was calling herself Jackie these days, since from his vantage point, her ears were decidedly round. It was easy to tell, with the hatchet job she'd done on her hair.
He landed on the gravel with a bounce and caped his wings, smiling.
"Hey!" he called out and she sprang to her feet, all the colour draining from her cheeks, her hands pressed up against her mouth and grey eyes wide.
"There's my lovely boy," Fox smiled as her husband returned to the nursery with Alex.
"What does that make me?" he kissed her hair before handing off the kid.
"The man who put me through fourteen hours of labour. Not that I bear a grudge." Fox grinned. "I heard the front desk was having trouble with a street kid. All taken care of?"
"More than all taken care of, I think." David's brown eyes sparkled with barely controlled mirth. "What would you say if I told you I have found the perfect nanny for Alex?"
"I'd say, if you hired someone without consulting me first, how would you like your liver served to you? Sauteed with onions, or just bloody and raw?"
"Hear me out." David picked up the plush gargoyle from the end of the crib. It had been a gift from Melina. Actually, it had been a normal, run of the mill teddy bear. One of these days, he must remember to ask Owen exactly what events led up to the toy's current state. "First of all, it would solve two problems at once. Namely, I would get my major-domo back, which is always a good thing, since I never thought my having a son would end up meaning I lose my right hand. Owen's far too talented to spend nine tenths of his time looking after our son, you must agree." He handed the toy to Alex, who gummed it with careless abandon.
"He hardly spends nine tenths of his time—" Fox began.
"—And more importantly, the young lady I've found will not be the slightest bit put off, confused, or frightened by any of the, say, unusual aspects of our child's upbringing. As a matter of fact, she is intimately familiar with um... your mother's family."
"David—" Fox paled and he tried to reassure her.
"Relax, she's human. Completely human. Recently completely human. Twenty-four hours a day."
"What exactly do you mean, 'recently human'?" Fox looked wary.
Rowan drew back, pale.
"You cannot think I didn't know," Owen said quietly.
"He would never have let me go," she said softly, tucking her hair behind her ears.
"No more than Mr. Xanatos could have stood by and watched his own son be taken from him."
"That was different. No one was trying to take me, I wanted my freedom."
He caught her fingers, giving them a squeeze before releasing them. "Still, I can almost understand Lord Oberon's dilemma."
"Which the Queen circumvented nicely. I knew it was right for me to throw my lot in with hers, though I admit, there were times when I had my doubts."
"Then you don't regret your choice?" he said seriously and she hugged him.
"With you to share my exile? What's to regret?" There was no response and she glanced up, seeing the perplexed look on his face, beneath the smudges of dried formula. "What?" Whatever else she might have said she forgot relatively immediately as he reached out and brushed her hair from her forehead and cupped her cheek in his hand, all the while studying her features as if to commit them to memory. He traced the curve of her lip with his thumb, a ghost of a smile curving his lips as she sighed.
"Thought I'd lost you," he whispered.
"Ah, you'll not be rid of me that easy." She smiled as he bent down to kiss her and she decided this was a much more fantastically romantic gesture than throwing herself off the cliff would have been. Then she started wondering how well built the kitchen table was and then she didn't have to wonder.
"C'mon, it hasn't been that long. Or are dashing young gargoyles like me a dime a dozen on Avalon?" Brooklyn asked, smiling and the girl only stared at him, eyes blank and mouth open as choked sound issued forth. She held up her hands to ward him off and he froze in his tracks.
"It's me, Brooklyn," he held out his arms, grinning and she took two more steps backwards, trying to put as much distance between herself and this... this creature as possible. "I thought you'd gone home, I thought I'd never see you again."
"Stay away from me!" Ash cried, feeling the low wall of the roof hit the back of her legs. She teetered for a second and he reached out a hand unconsciously to steady her. She jerked away from him and lost her balance entirely, going over the side with a short scream.
"Fionnuala!" Brooklyn cried in alarm and then shielded his eyes as a bright green flash of light blinded him.
Owen made a strangled sound, stiffening and Rowan caught him as he almost toppled to the floor.
"Owen?" Rowan's voice came from a great distance, choked with concern.
"It's a long story—" David began and suddenly Fox shuddered. "Fox?"
"I think someone just stepped on my grave," she smiled and then Alex began to wail.
Rowan clutched at Owen's sleeve and the world came rushing back with amazing force.
"What is it?" she knew she sounded completely panicked, but couldn't help herself. One second they were sharing a passionate and tender reunion and the next, he looked through her as if he couldn't even see her and then convulsed. "What happened?"
"I'm all right," he replied shakily and she drew him into an awkward hug.
"You frightened me. Don't ever do that again."
"It was as if..." he whispered into her hair and then his throat closed. He could find no words to describe the intense battering of emotions, sights and sounds that had flooded his mind. "I was falling."
Rowan looked up at him, concerning drawing her brows together in a frown. At that moment, she became aware that Alexander had started crying (a fact they both noticed since the entire castle was wired with intercoms permanently tuned to the nursery now) and it no longer became an issue. "What do nannies do, exactly?" she asked as they straightened their clothing and headed towards the living quarters, all business.
"You'll learn," he assured her, still trying to shake off the lingering effects of whatever had just occurred.
Brooklyn saw spots—bright spots—and rubbed his eyes, peering over the ledge to try and see her, whomever she had been.
"Wha—" he jerked back as a white owl careened towards him from below, almost colliding with him, leaving a shower of snow white feathers as it disappeared among the buildings. He never even noticed the white nurse's uniform fluttering to the ground below.
Fox Xanatos crooned wordlessly to Alexander as he wailed in her arms. She looked up at her husband with a bleak expression and David only chuckled.
"Sometimes they cry for no reason." He took Alex from his mother and tried bouncing him on his knee, but Alex only hiccuped in-between wails.
"But he can't be hungry; he's just been fed. And he's dry. I don't think he needs to be burped." She was at a complete loss and each wail was like a knife in her heart.
"Sir? If we can be of assistance?" Owen stood in the doorway, Rowan, peeking out from behind him. Fox started and her arms unconsciously tightened around Alexander, whose face was red and getting redder by the second as he gulped for breath to scream. She looked to David, who only smiled.
"You remember Ms. Rowan?"
"Of course—" She switched Alex to her other hip, at once embarrassed and relieved. A great many things were beginning to become clear. Alex let loose another wail and Fox wiped away his tears with the sleeve of her blouse. "Shhh," she whispered, rocking him gently. "It's all right, it's all right." Alex hiccuped and began to settle, tired from his fit.
Rowan looked from Owen to Mr. Xanatos and then Mrs. Xanatos, who looked both mystified and relieved as Alex quieted. "That's my boy, that's my wonderful boy," she said softly, pressing a kiss to his ear.
"When did Alexander began crying?" Owen asked.
"A moment ago. I can't imagine what happened."
Rowan looked at him, puzzled, but he made no move to explain. She folded her hands in her lap and chewed her bottom lip.
"I take it this is the nanny?" Fox looked to her husband.
"Pending your approval, of course," David added quickly.
"And where'd you find this Mary Poppins?"
"Would you believe she was trying to break in?"
"Succeeded, actually," Rowan added, thoughtfully. "It's rather a good thing I wasn't someone unspeakably nasty, I don't think Burt would have fared very well."
"Out," Fox gestured to the men, who started. "I'm sorry, wasn't I speaking English? Out. I want a word with our new nanny."
Owen and Xanatos shared a bemused look, though it was far more obvious to both that Xanatos was amused—Owen simply lifted the corner of his mouth a fraction. Once the door was closed behind them, Fox set Alex in his crib, lifting the gargoyle teddy into his grasping hands. He chewed on its wing, burbling and oblivious. Rowan turned her attention to Mrs. Xanatos.
"Pending your approval," Rowan added.
"Yes, well, I need some answers first." She sat opposite her, green eyes piercing. "Did my mother send you?"
"After a fashion."
"I've been in your mother's service for over a thousand years. Much of that time was spent in our exile, but I was always to hand an she needed me. It was rare. The last time I was called upon to serve my function was in retrieving her mirror. I did not see her again until I was recalled—by force—to Avalon's shores."
"Why by force?"
"You may have noticed a trend among the pucks. I didn't want to go back. It wasn't so much that I was overly fond of this world, though now I am beginning to realise that I am. A bit. No, I balked at being ordered to return. I think if I'd been asked nicely... No, that's a lie. I would have said no. I have no place there any longer, even by my Queen's side."
"Do you know what my mother did?"
"Any knowledge I have is in pieces; we did not speak of it directly. I knew that she had plans and that you and your son were a part of them. But it is difficult to make any kind of plans with my—with Oberon. Or I should say, manoeuvre Oberon into his place. Because there is no guarantee that once you have him correctly positioned, he will follow the path you've set for him. He tends to go completely overboard, you see. And there is no way to rein him in without letting on that you have him on a leash."
"I know that she was trying to solve all our problems for us. Owen would get to stay, you and your husband and your son would be left in peace. I'm sure it all seemed very sensible at the time, but he is unpredictable. As I well know." Rowan absently touched her cheek, though Oberon's ring had left no scar.
"How did you get here?"
"Your mother banished me."
"Because I asked her to. Begged her to, in fact."
"Do you love this world so much?"
"No. I loved my freedom. And... and there was Owen."
"I'm not going to say I understand that, exactly. Because I don't. But then, until recently, there were a lot of things about Owen Burnett that I didn't understand. And to top it all off, it's really none of my business. He is my husband's right hand and my son's tutor and he is exceptionally capable in both capacities. What he does—or who he is, for that matter—in his free time is his own business."
"That's certainly an interesting way of looking at it," she said with a chuckle.
"How skilled are you at unarmed combat?"
"I'm sorry?" Rowan blinked at the apparent lack of a segue.
"If you're going to be looking after my son, I need to know you can protect him."
"I know enough—I think. I'm untested..."
"We've a gym. I'll expect you promptly at six."
"I'll be there."
"I'll have Owen draw up a copy of Alexander's schedule for you and you'll need some sensible clothes," Fox looked disparagingly at Rowan's court garb and Rowan had the courtesy to blush.
"These weeds I doth wear aren't quite the thing, are they."
"Maybe for the Renaissance Faire in Sterling," Fox smiled. "You'll need ID of course and a corporate credit card, driver's licence, the works. But that can wait until tomorrow."
"I don't know how I can repay you," Rowan said and Fox knew she didn't mean the clothes.
"You can work it off; I'm sure my son will keep you busy."
"He is passing fair." Rowan touched the boy's soft curls, grey eyes shining brightly. She giggled as he grasped her finger and began sucking it. "And quite a handful, I'm sure, with his lineage. I'll do my best."
"I expect nothing less." Fox glanced up at Rowan, smiling slightly. "Would you like to hold him?"
"Yes, I think I would." Rowan took the burbling baby, who made fussy noises until she sat in the rocking chair and began rocking slowly. She crooned softly to him, feeling remarkably comfortable with the boy, though her experience with human children was limited. His eyes drifted shut and she handed him back to Fox, who rubbed his back, smiling.
Brooklyn landed with a distinct thud in Hudson's chair, cloaking his wings. "The craziest thing just happened. I swear I saw Fionnuala over by the park."
"Fionnuala?" Lexington looked confused. "But I thought you told us she was gone?"
"She was. I thought all of Oberon's Children went back to Avalon."
"Avalon? I thought she was a gargoyle?" Broadway frowned and Goliath looked up from his book, completely perplexed.
"Who is this Fionnuala?"
Brooklyn realised that he hadn't exactly been forthcoming when it came to the matter of his brief acquaintance with Fionnuala Rowan and cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Um—"
"You never told us she was one of Oberon's Children!" Lex exclaimed.
"Yeah, well, I didn't exactly know at first."
"Begin at the beginning," Goliath suggested and it came off more of a command. Brooklyn sighed.
"Well, I'm still not exactly sure where the beginning is, I think I came in somewhere around the middle. And definitely left before the end. Oh yeah. " He chuckled. "Definitely missed the end."
"Why do I have the feeling this is going to be a long story?" Goliath almost sounded amused. Brooklyn hoped, by the time he finished, his clan would still be amused.
"You do realise that if you are to work here, you will have to modify your behaviour to a certain extent," Owen said as he hung up his suit jacket, brushing imaginary lint from the lapels.
"I think I can do that. I have seen Remains of the Day, you know."
"Rowan, I'm serious." He frowned at her and she smiled winningly. She had removed her somewhat worse for wear garb and stood, fresh and clean, in an oversized Rangers jersey unearthed from the depths of Fox's closet. Somehow, it was not surprising that Mrs. Xanatos' favourite team sport was hockey.
"I know you are. You're always serious."
"I wasn't always," he said softly and she cupped his cheek in one hand.
"But you are now. Personally, I think it's kinda sexy."
"You're getting undressed; how can I not be thinking utterly lewd thoughts?"
"And we must do something about your wardrobe," he continued determinedly.
"Does this mean I get to engage in the time honoured human female pastime of shopping?"
"I see no way around it."
"Then you'll be happy to know Mrs. Xanatos has taken me under her wing and has already planned an excursion to the shops tomorrow. I imagine we will descend upon them like a plague of locusts, actually." She chuckled and peered into his closet, offering him an excellent view of her all too human backside in the process. He was certain that had been her intent and hid his smile. "You could do with a change here and there too, love. Not that blue isn't your colour, but an entire wardrobe full of navy double breasted suits is just a little on the frightening side. Have you thought of investing in a sportcoat or three?"
He caught her around the waist and tilted her chin up to meet his eyes. "We're not discussing my personal habits—"
"Certainly we are. I changed the subject, didn't you notice?"
"I can see this is going to be an interesting and possibly frustrating partnership," he sighed, and she got up onto her tiptoes to kiss him.
"You wouldn't have it any other way," she said against his mouth, and he was no choice but to agree with her, as her argument was proving most persuasive indeed.
"It's kinda hard to picture," Lex frowned.
"You're telling me." Brooklyn had the good grace to look chagrined.
Goliath remained pensive. Only Xanatos and his family knew Owen Burnett's little secret and he had been uncertain as to whether or not it was a secret he could—or even should—share, even after Puck's merry meddling with his rookery brother and sister and clan. Since it had all turned out for the best in the end, he had chosen to remain silent. But now... . This shed an entirely different light on the subject.
"You said she played at being a gargoyle?"
"Near as I can tell, it was just to see what it would be like. There really wasn't anything malicious about it," Brooklyn hastily backpeddled at the light in his leader's eyes.
"I do not like the idea of one of Oberon's Children 'playing at' being one of us." Goliath frowned. "I do not like it at all."
"I didn't think you would."
"And you saw her tonight?"
"I saw someone who looked an awful lot like her. But if it was Fionnuala, she didn't recognise me. She acted like she'd never seen a gargoyle before. Then she fell off the building."
"We seem to have that effect on people," Hudson remarked with grim amusement.
"There was a flash of light and then she was gone. If she was one of Oberon's Children, then I don't know who she was, or why she was here. I thought we'd seen the last of them, but then Puck..."
"Yes. Puck seems to be a special case."
"Maybe Fionnuala is special too. But what I really don't get is her and Burnett. I mean, he's not exactly what I would have called her type." He left off the fact that briefly, he had hoped he was her type.
"I don't think we can make any assumptions about Owen Burnett," Goliath said cryptically and Brooklyn cocked his head, wondering just what their leader knew that he didn't.
Rowan groaned as the alarm next to Owen's bed went off. She reached out to slap the offending bit of machinery and sat up, rubbing her eyes.
Owen was already dressed, albeit in white gi and looked at her expectantly. A second set of gi lay draped over the end of the bed and she dragged it on, yawning.
"My back hurts," she muttered in annoyance.
"You slept poorly?"
"What little sleep I got." She flashed him a smile, stretching. "I anticipate growing accustomed to it." They made their way down to the gym in silence, Rowan still half awake, Owen mentally reviewing the day's agenda. The workout area was empty and she watched Owen warm up, doing her best to copy his movements and found the soreness in her muscles easing and abating.
"Let's see what you remember, then," he began, adopting a ready stance and she took a deep breath.
"It's been some time," she warned him and then yelped in surprise as he came at her. She reacted out of instinct. The throw was sloppy and she had the distinct impression he could have blocked it easily as he rolled up from the mat.
"Don't humour me," she grumbled.
"You're simply out of practice."
She came at him and found herself on the mat, jarred by the impact. "Ah, but you've been practising. I think you loosened some teeth."
He did not offer her a hand up and she got to her feet, teeth clenched in grim determination as she went through the moves she remembered. They were precious few, but effective enough. He was in the process of showing her more when Fox and David arrived, leaning in the doorway to watch them as they sparred, unnoticed.
They were not evenly matched, not by a long shot. Owen had years of experience on her, thanks to daily sparring sessions with Mr. Xanatos. But she had learned well, from a master who was long dead and dust. It became a dance and indeed it was much like dancing, though her human body had new aches from being forced into movements her previous form would have managed as easily as breathing. They circled one another warily, feinting and blocking strikes and kicks. Blocking most of them, in any case. Rowan was going to have an impressive set of bruises come evening. Owen would have held off, but there was a dangerous gleam in her grey eyes, as she pressed what little advantages she could find, and managed to land a few strikes of her own until Owen swept her feet out from under her. As she fell to the mat once again, she reached out and caught handfuls of Owen's gi, dragging him down on top of her.
"Not very effective," he braced himself on his elbows and she gave a throaty laugh.
"Oh, I don't know." She kissed his jaw.
Fox cleared her throat and they scrambled up, bowing hastily from the waist in unison.
"Good morning, sir." Owen retrieved his glasses and pocket calendar from the row of chairs lining the blue mats and Xanatos chuckled.
"Looks to me like she had you right where she wanted you."
"Such an attack would hardly be effective against an intruder." He raised a brow.
"True. But a little more work and I'm sure she'll fit right in."
"A lot more work," Fox corrected and tossed Rowan a towel. "But it's a start."
Henry felt his stomach sink into his shoes as Vogel paused the video tape and removed the printout from the tray. Ash's face, a slight smile pulling at the corner of her mouth as she mastered some new trick of humanity, stared up at him, rendered in fuzzy black and white.
"But why bring the police into it?"
"Security can find no trace of her; why not have the city's finest do our work for us?"
"But—but, they'll never believe—"
"That Henry FitzMartin's niece has joined the city's legion of runaways? You do want her returned, do you not?"
Henry sighed in defeat. "Yes. It's not safe for her out there. She's in no way prepared... But is the prevarication really necessary?"
"Dr. FitzMartin, would you have me tell the New York Police Department that we have misplaced an experiment?"
I understand that I am your experiment. Your property.
"No, of course not."
"Then it's settled."
Rowan looked down at the skirt and blazer and frowned. "It's so plain." The morning and most of the afternoon had been spent gathering all the accoutrements of the modern human woman. Working from the skin out, the limousine downstairs was now full of bags and boxes containing everything from lacy undergarments to jeans and sweaters. Last, they had descended upon an exclusive clothier with the intent of picking up what Fox called "work clothes", a collection of prim and proper suits, skirts, blouses and blazers.
"Just the thing for a dowdy little nanny, I assure you," Fox said dryly, handing her a white blouse. Alexander burbled happily in the stroller and the shop girl smiled as she arrived with the next batch of slacks, blazers and blouses, all in depressingly mundane colours.
Ducking back into the changing room, Rowan surveyed her reflection critically as she buttoned up the blouse. She had foregone glasses, though she had been tempted, trying on Owen's to see how they suited her. Her dark hair was tamed into a French braid, not a lock out of place, though it was hair-spray and not magic that did so this time. She wore a bit of pale lipstick and the girl at the make-up counter had insisted on eyeliner against her better judgement and indeed it was smudged now. It would take some getting used to, these human standards of beauty.
The clothes weren't beautiful, even by human standards. They were plain, functional and though of fine cloth and good cut, not particularly flattering. Still, she was not meant to cut a fine figure, but to blend in. And blend in she would, she decided, her mouth a grim line. She was determined to live by the example set by her mate. If a peacock such as Oberon's own puck could stomach drab mortal weeds such as these, a simple jack such as herself could do no less.
Taking a deep breath, she exited the changing room and displayed the ensemble for her benefactress' approval.
"Very smart," Fox nodded, rocking the stroller a little.
"I can't abide the shoes," she muttered, glancing down at the black pumps and almost turning an ankle.
"The flats will be good enough for daily wear."
"Aye, if you wish me to survive the week whole and intact."
Fox chuckled and handed her credit card to the shop girl. "We'll take them all."
"Where to now, then?"
"Alex's grandfather is expecting a visit."
Halcyon Renard beamed as Alexander reached for his thumb and grasped it, trying to draw the digit towards his mouth.
So this is the man Titania favoured during our exile, Rowan thought as she studied Renard from beneath her lashes as he propped himself up in the hospital bed. It was hard to picture this frail, reed thin mortal as consort to a queen. Yet their exile had changed them all and Owen had told her that in his youth, Halcyon Renard had been a man worthy of such a wife.
"How are you feeling, Daddy?"
"Much better, now that you're here." He smiled, but his voice was faint and his hands shook as Rowan took the baby.
The door opened, admitting a tall bespectacled gentleman, murmuring apologies.
"Ah, Vogel." Renard smiled, but Rowan could not tear her eyes away from him. Fox watched her with amusement. But then Vogel marked Rowan's presence and it was his turn to stare. Alex began to fuss and Rowan rocked him gently, whispering quiet assurances even as she felt Vogel's eyes slide off her at last.
"And who is this young woman?" Renard broke the momentary silence with a hand raised in Rowan's direction and Fox smiled.
"Ms. Rowan has recently become Alex's nanny," Fox explained.
"It's a sincere pleasure to meet you sir. I have heard much about you."
"Not all of it good, if it came from my son-in-law."
"Daddy!" Fox chided and he chuckled.
"As a matter of fact sir, all the praise came from Mr. Xanatos and not a little from Owen Burnett, when I asked about the trench in Central Park."
"Ah. I see."
"Aye, sir, you do." Rowan smiled genuinely. But her blood ran cold as Vogel looked on her again.
"This is my aide-de-camp, Preston Vogel."
"Sir," she inclined her head, but did not offer her hand. His expression was unreadable and she was struck how cold he seemed. It was hard for her to believe this man was the model for Owen's borrowed form, but then, she was biased in the extreme.
Vogel offered no greeting, but instead inclined his head in kind, his cool blue eyes never leaving her face.
"Mr. Vogel has taken over the running of Cyberbiotics in my absence." Renard turned to Fox. "I hate to shoo you out, Janine, but I'm sure you understand."
"What's a little corporate espionage between family?" Fox joked and Vogel actually bristled. Rowan made a note to ask of it later.
"Mrs. Xanatos, if I could speak with you a moment, before you go." Vogel made to touch Fox's arm, but thought better of it.
"Rowan, why don't you and Alexander stay with my father, I'm sure this won't take long," she said as much to Vogel as Rowan and they stepped out into the hallway.
Rowan looked helplessly at the door and then turned back to the old man, who she found was regarding her curiously. Alex waved his fists and she sat in the chair next to the hospital-style bed so that he could be near his grandfather.
"How did you come to know my daughter?"
"It was quite recently, in fact. My first visit to the castle was as Owen's guest, some months ago."
That seemed to take him aback and she realised that she may have given out more information than she had originally intended. "I did not lie when I say that he speaks highly of you. He told me you are a man worthy of much respect."
"Did Burnett also tell you he used to work for me?" Halcyon said, quite unprovoked and she was startled.
"Yes. That is to say, I knew it."
"There is no need for prevarication between us, girl."
"I'm not, sir."
"How is it that you were taken on as nanny?"
"I would say I was conscripted to the task, if I was not so grateful for the opportunity. Your grandson is a remarkable child; I only hope I can live up to the challenge of caring for him."
"Vogel seems to have ruffled your feathers."
"I was... unprepared," she admitted.
"He's a good man, steadfast and loyal, if impersonal. Don't be put off by his demeanour."
"I'll try, sir."
"How long has Ms. Rowan been in your service?" Vogel went straight to the point.
Fox frowned. "She was engaged yesterday."
"Had you met her before?"
"What are you getting at, Preston? You know I don't like my time being wasted."
"I assure you, I have no intention of wasting anyone's time. There is something about Ms. Rowan I believe you should know—"
"I am completely uninterested in anything you may have to tell me, Preston. Believe me, I have no doubts about Ms. Rowan." Fox brushed aside Vogel's concerns with a tight smile.
Vogel digested this and rethought his strategy. He had been so sure, the moment he had stepped into Renard's room, that his quarry stood right before him. And yet something nagged at him. The brick wall of Fox's response confirmed that he was in fact missing a vital piece of information. He did not like that particular feeling. Preston Vogel was a man who liked to hold all of the cards before he wagered anything of himself.
"Of course, I was out of line."
"You were. Now then, you have business with my father and I really must be going." Fox opened the door and Rowan looked up. "It's time we're going, Dad. Next visit will be longer, I promise."
"I look forward to it. And Janine?"
"I love you."
"I love you too." She smiled, taking Alex from Rowan's arms and buckling him back into the stroller.
"Well, now you've met the family," Fox chuckled as the elevator doors closed on the grey and maroon Cyberbiotics hallway.
"Don't tell me you consider Vogel family!" Rowan burst out and then covered her mouth with her fingers.
"He does take some getting used to, I guess. He's been a fixture these last ten years, I guess I'm immune. Father trusts him implicitly."
"He makes my flesh creep," Rowan shuddered and Fox's eyes widened. "I'm sorry, I don't know—It's only that he rubbed me the wrong way."
Fox thought of Vogel's reaction to Rowan. Add to that Vogel's insistence that he knew something about her new nanny that he assumed she should be told of and you had quite the puzzle. Potentially dangerous puzzle.
"Your father's a remarkable man, I'm sorry to see him in such poor health."
"He'll bounce back, he always does."
Rowan regarded her curiously. Rowan was too old, too knowledgeable not to recognise the face of death so close to the surface, but she held her tongue. Halcyon Renard was dying. If his daughter could not see it, then she was not yet ready to deal with it and it was not Rowan's place to force the issue.
They arrived at the limousine and Fox went about transferring Alex from stroller to car-seat. Rowan, however, paused.
"If it's all right, there's someone I'd like to see."
Fox's brows drew together, but then she shrugged. "Dinner is at eight sharp."
"I'll be back in time." She watched the car pull away from the kerb and glanced up at the sky. The sun would be down soon, she would have to hurry to make her appointment.
"Nice boots," a woman's voice drew Detective Matthew Bluestone from the report he was going over and he glanced up.
"Jackie!" Matt damn near spilled his coffee in his haste to rise and he stopped, frozen in the act of hugging. "Um... it's not Jackie, is it."
"Just Rowan." She completed the hug for him and stepped back to get a good look. "You look exactly the same."
"You don't have wings and a tail, pointed ears, or a bullet in your shoulder." Matt's mouth twitched in an uneasy smile at the memory.
"Nope," she said softly, tucking a lock of hair behind one very round ear. And she was still Jackie, except... . He had two memories of her. The first was the almost too perfect portrait of a teenage human girl. The second was an almost elemental force, a fey creature so alien, so alluring and so heady that he had only glimpsed the possibilities her existence presented for the space of a few seconds before she dimmed her brightness for his sake. Neither portrait fit her now.
"How have you been? Where have you been? Where did you go?"
"Still as inquisitive as ever, I see. First I went home, then I was kidnapped by various members of my extended family. I was miserable, so I got myself exiled and now I'm thrilled. And I went shopping, new shoes and all." She displayed the pumps with pride.
"Better. Fairy Gold Card." She laughed. "You're looking at the newest Xanatos Corp. employee, complete with expense account, medical benefits and pension plan."
"Possibly. I've never actually minded children before, but I seem to have an aptitude for it so far—"
"Hold it, hold it, hold it," Matt held up his hands. "You're the Xanatos' kid's new nanny?"
"Was there an old nanny?"
"Oh good, I was afraid you were going to tell me something unspeakably nasty happened to her. I suppose that does in fact make me the nanny. It was very exciting, I got my picture taken for a driver's licence today. Now all I have to do is learn how to drive a car."
"Jeez, I'm a cop, don't tell me these things."
"Hey partner, you holding out on me?" Elisa Maza took in the rare sight of her partner amiably chatting with a fetching young woman.
"Me? Never. Rowan, this is—"
"—Detective Maza," Rowan stuck out her hand.
"Have we met?" Elisa shook it, looking completely confused.
"You never told me that." Matt gaped at Rowan, who shrugged.
"I'm sorry, I don't remember." Elisa's brows drew together in a frown.
"I know," Rowan said brightly.
"Why does that thought not put me at ease?"
"Well, I wasn't myself at the time. I mean, I was. More so than I am now, except that who I am now is who I will most likely be for the rest of my life, barring unforeseen circumstances and further reversals of fortune. Don't worry, I'm harmless now. Mostly harmless, anyway."
"Does she make sense to you?" Elisa turned to Matt, who laughed.
"Actually, Detective Maza, we have quite a few friends in common—That is, assuming they still consider me a friend. That's actually why I'm here."
Matt's eyebrows shot towards his hairline. "You mean, you-know-who has no idea you've come back?"
"I only got in Sunday night, I wanted to surprise him." Rowan grinned.
Elisa gave up. "Will you people stop speaking in code!"
"You never told her, did you."
"It, um... never came up. For Pete's sake, Jackie—"
"—Rowan, I didn't even understand exactly what happened, how can you expect me to explain it to other people?"
"You're a man of amazing imagination and eloquence, I trust you'll find a way."
"Elisa, can I talk to you for a minute? In private?"
"Spill it." Elisa crossed her arms and leaned against the rickety table in Interrogation Room One, glaring at her partner.
"Oh boy. Where do I start?"
"The beginning is always good."
"Okay, about three months ago, while you were off on your world tour, I met this street kid, who kinda turned out not to be a street kid. With me so far?"
"Kinda. I take it that is our reformed street kid out there?"
"Oh, it gets better. You just met the Xanatos' new nanny."
"Are you telling me the 'friend in common' was David Xanatos?"
"Why is she here?"
"Well, about the same time I met Jackie, Brooklyn kind of made a new friend."
"Brooklyn knows the Xanatos' nanny?" Elisa was horrified.
"She only got hired as the nanny yesterday."
"Okay, okay. See, she was a gargoyle."
"I'm so confused."
"No, it makes perfect sense. Well, it doesn't, but I'm doing my best. During the day, she hung out with me and then at night—"
"You mean, she's like Demona? Under some kind of spell?"
"Yes. No. Wow, this is complicated." Matt's shoulders slumped in complete defeat. "Do you believe in fairies?"
"No." Elisa's posture went rigid. "No, no, no, no—"
"What, you mean you don't?"
"No! You can't be telling me that, that—person out there is one of Oberon's Children?"
"Near as I can figure, after what you told me, yeah. That pretty much sums it up. Except right now, she's human."
"And working for the Xanatos and you brought her here?"
"She already knows about the gargoyles and them being, you know, here—and so it's okay, really."
"It is not okay! Matt, what the hell's the matter with you—"
"No, really. She's okay. I swear. Wait 'til Brooklyn can explain, he knows a hell of a lot more about this whole mess than I did. I mean, Jackie—Rowan, her name really is Rowan. She hung out with him for, like, a week."
"And then what?"
"And then she kinda got kidnapped by a rogue Illuminatus and shot. But it was okay."
"My head hurts."
"I swear, it all made sense at the time."
"My head hurts."
Rowan was sitting on the edge of Matt's desk when he and Elisa reappeared. She smiled brightly, swinging her stocking feet, having kicked off the offending heels. Sergeant Morgan shot Elisa a look as he wandered past and she put her hand to her forehead and just shook her head.
"Everything all explained to your satisfaction?"
"My head hurts," Elisa growled and stalked past.
"Oh, I think she took it well," Rowan remarked with great amusement.
"Put your shoes back on. Trust me, you don't want to get splinters." Matt grabbed his coat and they followed Elisa down the hallway, taking the left at the water cooler.
"I really don't like this," Elisa pulled down the ladder, still frowning. Rowan schooled her expression carefully.
"Detective, it will be all right. I know you have no reason to, but you can take me at my word."
They started up the ladder, Elisa first, then Matt, with Rowan bringing up the rear.
"I hate these shoes," Rowan muttered.
"Then why did you buy them?" Matt chided her.
"I was supposed to. They're to go with the office clothes."
"There is such a thing as flats, you know."
"They're in the trunk of the limo."
"Well, that was stupid."
"Oh, thank you, that helps."
"Shut up," Elisa snapped as they reached the top of the ladder, the dying rays of the day setting the wood planks of the floor afire.
"She seems annoyed," Rowan whispered to Matt.
"She doesn't like sharing," he whispered back. "I had to almost run the car off a cliff to get her to bring me up here the first time."
"And you call me stupid?"
"Hey, it worked, didn't it?"
They walked out onto the balcony in single file and Rowan raised a brow when she saw Angela's still form. Matt leaned closer. "Goliath's daughter."
"There is much that I do not know, it would seem."
As the sun slipped behind the horizon, the first tiny webwork of cracks appeared in the gargoyles' stone skin, which was shattered outward with cries and growls as they greeted the night. Rowan grinned, but Elisa continued to frown, still uncertain.
"Fionnuala!" Brooklyn cried as he spied her and enveloped her in a hug that lifted her off her feet. Almost all of Elisa's doubts melted at the look of sheer happiness on the young gargoyle's face, until she caught Goliath's disapproving glare.
"What is it?" she asked him quietly, drawing away from the happy reunited friends.
"Has Matt told you of this woman?"
"Then you know of her involvement with Owen Burnett?"
"No," Elisa's mouth dropped open. "Owen Burnett and one of Oberon's Children?"
"There is much I must tell you." Goliath frowned. Glancing back at Brooklyn, who was positively glowing, his mouth tightened into a grim line. "Come, this is a story best told in private." He held out his hand, which Elisa took. Swinging her up into his arms, he caught Hudson's gaze.
"We'll be back."
The old soldier nodded and they leap off into the approaching night, Elisa safely tucked in Goliath's arms.
Goliath set Elisa on her feet in a secluded, shaded corner of Central Park. At last safe from prying eyes or sharp ears, he began to spin his tale.
Elisa listened, with dawning understanding as well as growing unease. Thinking back on her first encounter with the Third Race, it seemed impossible and yet... Yet it made perfect sense.
"I can see why you've kept this to yourself, it's pretty big. But, Puck?" She shook her head. "It's so hard to believe—"
"And yet I saw the transformation with my own eyes and heard Oberon banish him to humanity for all eternity."
"But Burnett's so cold, so distant—"
"And the Puck the consummate actor."
"Apparently." She sat down on a bench, sweeping her hair back from her face with both hands. "That means he knows where you guys sleep during the day!"
"Has known for some time, it would seem."
"But that's crazy. If he knows, why not tell Xanatos?"
"How do we know he has not? Xanatos himself said he lets us live because we prove occasionally useful to him. The secret of our home, alas, is hardly a secret any longer. He has not attacked us yet; I do not think he will."
"Unless he's provoked."
"Man, this is the night for surprises."
"Hopefully, in Brooklyn's case, not unpleasant ones."
"It's good to see you again," Rowan admitted as Brooklyn set her on her feet once again.
"But how? I thought all of Oberon's Children went back home?"
"Aye, I did, against my will no less. But I am no longer one of Oberon's Children. I'm as human as your friend Matt here, or the conspicuously absent Detective Maza," she raised a brow.
"You, ah, told her, huh?" Brooklyn turned to Matt.
"And you told your clan. How'd they take it?"
"Oh, better than I expected."
"Yeah. Same here."
"Well, you told some of the clan—" Angela touched Brooklyn's wing with her own, startling him. "—but some of us missed it. How about some introductions?"
"Angela, this is Fionnuala—"
"Just Rowan," she slipped in and he frowned.
"—just Rowan?" he repeated and she nodded. "Rowan is a friend of mine."
Angela tentatively offered her hand and Rowan clasped it at the wrist. "So you're one of the eggs hatched on Avalon?" Rowan asked and Angela nodded. "They are a fine group, I regret not having the chance to get to know them better—"
"Wait, you've been back to Avalon?" Angela looked to Brooklyn with a look of complete and utter confusion.
"Long story." Brooklyn sighed.
"Very long story," Rowan amended, amused. "I too grew up on the island, albeit some centuries before your birth. We'll have to get together and reminisce some time."
"Wait—" Angela's eyes narrowed and Brooklyn watched understanding dawn across the young gargoyle's features.
"Yep," Rowan grinned. "I was one of them."
"First time I ever heard you admit it," Matt elbowed her in the ribs.
"It's not something she's proud of," Brooklyn added and she threw an arm around each of their necks.
"The pair of you," Rowan laughed. "Ah, I've missed you. I'm glad I came. Alas, I can't stay long. Dinner is at eight—sharp—and I gave my word I would not be late."
"Late where?" Brooklyn looked mystified and Rowan chewed on her lower lip, glancing at Matt.
"Hey, it's your news." Matt shrugged.
"I have a job."
"I'm Alexander Xanatos' nanny."
"Ow." Brooklyn closed his eyes. "Ow. ow. ow."
"Quit it," she punched him in the arm. "I'm determined to do this right and I want you to be happy for me."
"That's what friends do, isn't it," Brooklyn muttered and sighed dramatically. "Okay. If you want to work for the man, I won't hold it against you. And I guess Alex isn't so bad. I mean, he's a baby. It'll be years before he can turn into any kind of problem—ow."
She had grabbed him by the ear. "No maligning the poppet either."
"Or the wife."
"You're really taking all the fun out of this. How about the butler?"
If she had been a gargoyle, her eyes would be fire and blood and he'd be spitting out teeth. Matt covered his choked laughter with a cough.
"Right. I knew that." He chuckled and her hackles went back down. He took in the subdued suit and grinned despite himself. "You look so different!"
She spun around, modelling her new form, her long braid swinging—
Brooklyn whistled and then slapped his forehead. "Wait a sec, your hair!"
"What about it?" she put a hand to the braid.
"Then it wasn't you I saw in last night after all."
"What do you mean?" she frowned and he told her of the incident on the rooftop.
"Well, I can assure you, I have no doppelganger. At the time you would have seen her, I had just arrived at the castle." Rowan thought back and froze.
It was as if... I was falling.
"What is it?"
"Nothing," she waved his concern and her disquiet away, smiling brightly. But Angela marked it from where she stood, surreptitiously watching the happy reunion.
Henry kept his scarred hands clasped together in his lap, for fear they would shake. The detective making out the missing person's report seemed not to notice, or if she did, wrote it off as distress.
"When did she disappear?"
"Yesterday morning. We had an argument."
"And you haven't seen her since?"
"She's so young, I'm dreadfully worried about her. She's grown up very sheltered. She has no idea what people can be like."
"I'd like to be able to tell you not to worry, Dr. FitzMartin, but I have to be honest with you. This city swallows runaways whole. For every one we find, a dozen are never found."
"I understand, but I am just so hopeful that you can help. She's barely been gone two days. I'm the only family she has, she doesn't know anyone else in the city."
"Are you sure? No friends, no one she's talked about?"
"Ash has only been living with me a few months. She's a very private child. I'm afraid, living with an old curmudgeon like me, she hasn't had much of a chance to meet people her own age."
Detective Wilson glanced down at the photo paper-clipped to the report and sighed. "Well, we'll get her picture circulating and start with the areas closest to where she was last seen."
"Thank you, Detective." Henry clasped her hand. "Thank you so much."
"So what are you going to do about this?" Elisa swung her feet, making a path through the dried leaves on the sidewalk before the bench.
"Nothing." Goliath replied and her mouth fell open.
"Nothing?" Elisa repeated, shocked. "But—"
"We were not here when this Rowan first met the rest of the clan. They accepted her and she did nothing to break that trust. I must believe in my clan's ability to judge friends and enemies—"
"But that clan's been fooled before."
"Aye. The Pack and Demona. But Demona even fooled me, how can I order Brooklyn to give up his friend simply because of the company she keeps? Xanatos would have us believe he is no longer our enemy, after all."
"I'll believe that when Hell buys snowploughs," Elisa muttered, Derek foremost in her mind. It would be a cold day in hell, indeed, before she would blindly trust David Xanatos.
"Isn't your boss gonna wonder why your taxi service has wings?" Brooklyn asked as he set Rowan on her feet atop the Eyrie Building. She straightened her skirt and grinned.
"I think Mr. Xanatos has come to expect the unusual."
"No laser cannons. That's a nice change."
"You saved his son. Why on Earth would he shoot at you?"
"Yeah. I guess I keep forgetting he's one of the good guys now," Brooklyn didn't even attempt to tone down the sarcasm and Rowan frowned.
"I'll believe it when I see it."
"Have it your way, but don't expect me to share your views. Mr. Xanatos and his wife have been very good to me."
"Everything has a price."
"Including our friendship?"
"You know I didn't mean it that way—"
"I know. But I wanted to let you know that my mortality is conditional."
"I am wholly human, stripped of my powers save when I am bound by geas to honour a boon. And I only have one boon outstanding. Yours."
"Whoa." Brooklyn sat down on the stone wall of the tower and looked up at her. "No games this time?"
"Like I told you last time, no more games. This is quite, quite real."
"What happened?" His eyes were wide and she chuckled.
"You talk as if it's a punishment," she kept her tone light on purpose, but he wasn't buying it.
"Well, isn't it?"
"It's what I wanted."
"You wanted to be human," he said, disbelieving.
She shrugged. "I wanted to return to the World. That was the only way."
"Seems pretty harsh."
"Yeah, well... It's not so bad. Anything's better than being trapped on Avalon. I would have gone mad from boredom inside a week."
Rowan opened her mouth to reply, but was interrupted by footsteps on the stairs. Owen appeared, dressed for dinner. She glanced at her newly acquired wristwatch guiltily, but it was still barely half seven.
Brooklyn appraised Burnett coolly and couldn't detect a flicker of anything beneath the man's usual icy calm.
"I detected your approach on the security monitors," Owen explained. "Thank you for seeing Rowan home," he said to Brooklyn, who blinked.
"Any time," Brooklyn replied, bewildered, hopping up on the ledge.
"Brooklyn, think on what I said?" Rowan called after him and he nodded before leaping off into the evening sky. She turned back to Owen, frowning.
"You didn't have to scare him off like that."
"I did no such thing."
"Well, you weren't exactly welcoming either."
"You have fifteen minutes to change for dinner," he reminded her and she swore. Taking a deep breath, she took the arm he offered, watching Brooklyn's silhouette swallowed up by the night.
Vogel removed the video tape from the envelope and examined it for markings. There were none, but he expected that. When he had first hired FitzMartin, his investigations had proved fruitless, until he contacted the Society.
Preston Vogel was not a member of the Society.
In fact, he was among the small group of people still living who had actually turned down the opportunity to become a member.
However, he had contacts within the Illuminati and occasionally provided them with information on the unspoken agreement that if he ever asked for payment in kind, it would be provided.
Placing the tape in the VCR, he watched the two and a half minute security footage very closely. When it finished, he rewound it and watched it again.
Clicking off the screen, he sat back in his office chair and steepled his fingers. Then he reached for the telephone.
Alexander launched the spoonful of applesauce at Rowan with a practised hand and she wiped it from her cheek.
"Oh, very funny." She stuck her tongue out at the boy, who simply giggled, then looked up at David Xanatos, who leaned against the counter, looking amused. Having exchanged her new suit and heels for jeans and sweatshirt, she resembled an old-fashioned baby-sitter more than a nanny.
"I thought dinner was at eight sharp?"
"Fox is running a few steps behind. Need any help?"
"I think Master Alex and I will do just fine." She reached for a can of formula and searched the counter for an electric can opener. Digging through the drawer, she came up with something that looked like a cross between a pen knife and a helicopter. She looked at it dumbly for a moment and Xanatos took it from her fingers. He set the can down on the counter, fit the blade into the crease and began turning the key. She watched with rapt attention and then blushed as he handed her the now open can.
"I was once a creature of pure magic, of wild song and story. Lightning danced at my fingertips, the winds were at my beck and call. And now? Now I need to be shown how to use a can opener."
"How the mighty have fallen," Xanatos quipped.
"I keep telling myself not to look back. Only forward, to this new life and all its possibilities. But sometimes, my heart aches for even a fraction of what I was. I don't know how to be ordinary."
"Even as a human, I'd hardly call you ordinary. It simply isn't a word that readily comes to mind, if you'll forgive the flattery."
"Since it doesn't seem to be insincere, I'll let it slide. Besides, I know that as hard as it is for me, it was harder for him. But he survived. What's more, he thrived. I can try to do the same, for his sake. I have brought him enough pain."
"He welcomed the pain, if it meant never forgetting."
"How do you know?"
"I know him. Perhaps even better than you do."
"Sir—" Owen's voice came over the intercom, "Mrs. Xanatos has arrived and I shall begin serving shortly."
"Thank you, Owen," David leaned into the speaker and handed the can opener back to Rowan solemnly.
She examined the arcane device, smiling grimly. "Welcome to the human race, my dear," she muttered.
"So, how did our nanny do her first day?" David asked Fox over the main course.
"Not very much nanny-ing to speak of so far, considering all we did today was shop. But Alex seems to like her and that's what's important."
"What's important is how comfortable you feel with Rowan looking after Alex. Not that our son doesn't have good taste, but I'm sure you can see my point."
"Don't tell me you're having second thoughts?"
"On the contrary, I think Ms. Rowan will fit in just fine. Once she's adjusted."
"So do I." Fox smiled. She decided not to mention to David the fact that she'd gone to visit her father, or the fact that Preston Vogel had pressed her for information about Rowan. On the one hand, she was curious to what Vogel thought he knew. On the other hand, the fewer people who knew about Rowan and Owen's origins, the better. And that included one Preston Vogel, no matter how much her father trusted him. She knew he could be tempted, having done it once, albeit unsuccessfully.
Angela scanned the docks from the relative safety of a warehouse roof. So far, the night had been quiet and Lex had already headed back to the clock tower and his laptop. Angela smiled, thinking of boys and their toys.
Brooklyn had returned subdued, despite his apparently happy reunion with the human woman, Rowan. Angela had pressed Broadway for details and was unsure how to react to what he had told her.
According to Broadway, Fionnuala had appeared suddenly one night several months ago while she, Elisa and Goliath were still bound by Avalon's magic. Fionnuala had befriended Brooklyn, claiming to be from a clan that had scattered, and lived alone in a light-house up the coast. She had managed to win over the clan, who were suspicious. Then Brooklyn had followed her to castle Wyvern. He had been hurt and feeling betrayed, but she had surprised him when they were attacked by helping him fight off a dozen thugs. She had, in fact, allowed herself to be taken to give him time to get away.
One of Oberon's Children had allowed herself to be bound to save a gargoyle. If Broadway was to be believed, it was practically unheard of. Then she had simply disappeared; spirited away in the Xanatos chopper, never to return. Brooklyn had been sullen and depressed for weeks afterwards.
She was wary, her only experience with the Third Race being Oberon first hunting her across the island she had called home, then breaking his word and attacking them when they tried to defend the new-born Alexander Xanatos. It was not an impression that fostered good will, let alone trust.
No matter what Xanatos had done to her and her clan—and the incident in the place Elisa had called Arizona was still very fresh in her mind—his machinations paled in comparison to Oberon's deceits. So she wasn't sure what to make of the tale of a wayward puck who had apparently stolen Brooklyn's heart, no matter what he said to the contrary.
Broadway was more than convinced Brooklyn'd had a crush on "Fionnuala", which went a long way to explaining why Brooklyn seemed to want so desperately for Angela to like him. There was a small gargoyle population on Manhattan and he probably saw her as one of a short list of possibilities. Fionnuala must have seemed like a dream come true and she felt sorry for Brooklyn. It was hard seeing a crush on the arm of another.
But he wouldn't have appreciated her pity, that was for sure.
Finding Rowan wiping down the high chair, Owen removed his dinner jacket and hung it neatly on the back of a kitchen chair. "I take it young Alexander is tucked in?"
"Snug as a bug in a rug," Rowan replied and though he raised a brow at the odd colloquialism, Owen said nothing. Instead, he removed two plates from the oven and set them down at the table one by one.
"Ouch," Rowan stuck her fingers in her mouth. "They're hot!" she said around them, wrapping her uninjured fingers in a cloth napkin before attempting to adjust the steaming plate.
"They just came out of the oven, you nit," he chided her and she blinked at the endearment, or rather, endearing insult. It brought a smile to her lips and she raised her glass. He did likewise.
"A toast then." She smiled wryly. "To my completing my first day of mortality relatively unscathed."
They clinked glasses.
"I suppose now you'll want to go to Disney World."
"Only if Tomorrow Land includes hot bubble baths. Apparently I've offended muscles I didn't even know I had," she chuckled, rubbing her neck.
He held up his stone hand, smiling wryly. "I'm sorry I can't be of assistance," Owen remarked, cutting his meat awkwardly with just the one hand.
"I still can't believe you were fool enough to stick your arm into a cauldron without testing it first." She took the knife and fork from him and reduced the roast beef to bite-sized morsels with a "however did you manage without me before?" look on her face.
"Well, we had planned to, but it got away from us," he pointed out as she set his knife and fork back down and returned to her seat.
"Do I even want to know on whom you were planning to test it?"
"Somehow, I didn't think so."
He chuckled. "And besides, I hardly expected it to be permanent."
"Aye. Well...." She moved the cauliflower around on her plate.
There was an awkward silence, marked only by the scrape of flatware against china and then Rowan set down her fork and rested her chin in her hand.
"For what?" Owen raised a forkful of roast beef to his lips.
"Everything, I suppose. For being thoughtless."
"On the contrary. Amazingly enough, I think you think too much. Today went fine, tomorrow will go better. You have nothing to be concerned about."
"I'm not worried about the job, Owen," she sighed.
"I wasn't talking about the job," he replied, sipping his wine.
She smiled. "I think the oddest thing for me is to look at a mirror as a reflective surface and not a mode of transport. I almost brained myself in a moment of forgetfulness this afternoon, not to mention almost earning seven years bad luck."
He studied her face and then snorted in amusement. "You are a horrid liar."
"I most certainly am not." She sat up straighter, feigning indignation. But her eyes danced.
"You are. You fabricated that just to cheer me."
"I almost broke my nose; I've even got a bump," she guided his fingers to her cheek and he ran his index finger down the line of her nose and traced her bottom lip. "See?"
"Would you have me kiss it and make it better?" he inquired casually, his facade untouched by even the barest hint of a smile.
"And people say you have no sense of humour," she took his fingers into her mouth, nibbling them playfully.
The lights were still on in his quarters when Owen returned. He had stopped back to his office to check his e-mail and the progress of various projects from the overseas offices still open.
The bedroom smelled strongly of lavender bubble bath and he clicked off the bathroom light, noting with a slight smile the towel hanging to dry on the shower rod and brand new tube of toothpaste on the counter.
Rowan was curled up on her side of the bed, damp hair curling against her neck and cheeks and collar of the cream-coloured flannel night-gown. Laying out their gi on the chest at the foot of the bed, he prepared for bed. The alarm proclaimed it almost 1 AM and he dreaded yet another day with less than five hours sleep. Occasionally, he felt the limitations of this form all too keenly.
He sat on the edge of the bed and reached out with his right hand to touch Rowan's cheek lightly. She sighed, rolling over, one arm flung wide, but did not wake. Lifting the quilt, he slipped into bed and she murmured something unintelligible, rearranging her limbs sleepily so that her head was tucked beneath his chin. He kissed her shoulder through the flannel and reached to turn off the light, following her into the welcome embrace of sleep.
He didn't notice the gargoyle flattened against the side of the building, peering through the bedroom window. Either that, or he simply gave it no mind.
Henry was standing in Ash's empty quarters, turning one of the Rubik's cubes over and over again in his hands, when he heard the page. He set the toy on the desk and straightened his collar, patting his sparse grey hair into place before he set off down the darkened hallway towards Vogel's office.
The building was deserted, save for lab staff monitoring experiments that didn't know the meaning of the words "nine to five" and the occasional security guard. Henry hated this time of night. Normally, he would be back in his apartment, having fallen asleep with the cat in his lap, the television on low. Or perhaps in his chair, lab reports scattered around him as he worked out some problem that kept him from the blessed oblivion of sleep most New Yorkers experienced well past midnight.
What kept him awake tonight had driven him from his comfortable, if shabby flat, straight into the arms of guilt and the unlocked door to Ash's quarters. After the nerve-wracking ordeal of lying to the police, he had wandered the streets of Manhattan, unable to settle.
He wondered if Ash was at last getting her fill of the sun, rain, birds, all the things she'd been denied growing up in the sterile environs of Cyberbiotics genetic engineering labs. He wondered what she was eating, to whom she was talking, where she was sleeping and if she still lived at all. He wondered what was so very wrong with him, to create such an innocent and then destroy her brief life through simple carelessness and foolishness.
He raised his hand to knock, but Vogel's door was open. Stepping inside, he closed it behind him.
"You wanted to see me?"
"What experiment were you working on that resulted in the destruction of F&M Pharmaceuticals?"
Henry felt the blood drain from his cheeks. "I'm sorry?"
"It was a division of Marlowe Industries, your previous employer. As a matter of fact, it burned down June 6th of this year, three weeks before you joined our staff. Coincidentally, that same day Gregory Marlowe was admitted to a Connecticut Psychiatric Hospital with a severe head injury resulting in his mental faculties currently resembling those of a field mouse and a body identified as that of Nicholas Clermont was found shot to death in the remains of said office complex."
"Whatever makes you think that I was involved?"
"I didn't ask if you were involved. I merely asked what experiment you were involved with that resulted in the fire that destroyed that complex and apparently pushed Marlowe to kill his right hand man."
"I didn't know..." Henry sat down. "He was fine when they took him."
"And the girl?"
"I don't know what happened to her."
"I think you do."
"She was shot, I don't know how badly. He took her."
"The blond fellow," Henry thought Vogel knew, must have known... "I thought at first... I mean, you must know him."
"Burnett," Vogel said softly and then placed the video tape back in the VCR. Pressing play, he watched Henry's face for a reaction. "Then you knew."
"Marlowe believed she was a hybrid. I didn't believe him, all the evidence was inconclusive. We thought he was mad, but then they... Then they came for her."
"You know of them?"
"I had never seen anything like them. They destroyed the lab."
"Yes. Yes, that makes sense now. Are you aware of the fact that gargoyles turn to stone in the daytime? It's a biological and physiological imperative. Strictly genetic; they evolved that way."
"No. No, I had no idea."
"And the ASH?"
"Her cellular structure was—is completely human. There was no evidence that there was anything unusual about her at all, just as I could find no evidence of her 'mother's' apparently hybrid status for Mr. Marlowe. None. That's why, until I saw the tape... You must understand, I didn't come here—"
"Thank you, that will be all, Dr. FitzMartin."
"I have learned what I wanted to know, you are dismissed."
Henry shuffled to his feet and started towards the door.
"Oh and leave your keys and security pass at the front desk. Your severance will be paid according to your employee contract."
He turned, mouth open to protest, but Vogel was absorbed again in the video tape.
"What about Ash?"
"What about her?"
"Aren't you concerned with getting her back?"
"I do not require the copy any longer, now that I have located the original."
Ash was confused. For one thing, she seemed to be able to turn her head a full 260 degrees, which she was relatively certain she couldn't do before. She tried to think clearly and logically about the situation. However, she was having great difficulties, as her brain was flooded with owlish thoughts, such as I think I should like to find a nice mouse. A nice, plump, slow little mouse and I will swoop down and snatch it up in my claws and sink my beak— She shook off those thoughts with great effort.
Yes, she was an owl. Part of her seemed to instinctively know exactly how to be an owl and that was strangely comforting, yet terrifying at the same time. She was afraid to lose what little personality identity she had and yet it felt so right as she skimmed above the buildings, lifted high on an updraft, soundless, tiny feathers muting her passage through the pre-dawn sky.
Hunger consumed her, but her still-rational mind balked at the idea of making dinner of a mouse, no matter how appealing the owl side of her found the prospect. She caught a heavenly scent on the wind and followed it to its source.
Broadway blew on the forkful of blueberry waffle before placing it in his mouth and beamed with pleasure. Let his brothers laugh at his obvious enjoyment of the myriad meals the city had introduced him to in the past two years, he didn't mind. They didn't know what they were missing.
Lifting another bit to his mouth, he froze as a small white owl landed on the ledge a few feet away, its mirror-like eyes focused on his plate as it hopped from foot to foot, intent on the waffle.
"Hey there," Broadway chuckled and the bird glanced up at it, flapping its wings in startlement before returning its gaze to his meal. He broke off a piece and placed it on the ledge in front of his new friend.
Hunger banished Ash's previous fear, despite Broadway's alien appearance to a mind unaccustomed to seeing winged, fanged, taloned and multi-hued creatures everywhere. Hopping over to the morsel, she gobbled it up and looked at him expectantly. She was rewarded with another section of waffle, this one too large to be gulped in a single bite, so she rended it into smaller pieces and pecked at them happily.
"You like waffles too, huh?" Broadway grinned and got up, glancing at the sky. "Sun's coming up, so you can have the rest."
Ash hooted in surprise as the other gargoyles poured out of the clock tower window to join him, joined by a snuffling dog-like creature. She flapped her wings, taking to the sky once more and landed on top of the clock, badly shaken. She watched with fascination as another joined the seven, this one markedly female.
Angela grinned as she landed on the balcony. "I thought I wouldn't make it."
"Where've you been?" Goliath asked.
"Oh, just around." She shrugged and ignored Brooklyn's eyes on her as she took her place on the ledge. The sun's first rays broke over the horizon and they were silenced by the stone sleep that overtook them each dawn.
The owl fluttered down and regarded the eight statues curiously. Then she turned her attention back to the abandoned waffle and polishing it off in a few bites, hopped up to land on Broadway's head. Settling, the owl closed her eyes and gave in to exhaustion even as the city below them stirred to greet the new day.
Matt yawned and made an elaborate show of checking his watch. Elisa merely glared at him from across her desk.
"Oh, come on. You can't still be mad. You were gone! It wasn't like I took her up there, either. She was there when I got there."
"You can't keep them a secret forever and she's one of the good guys. I didn't mean to keep it from you, I just forgot to tell you."
Elisa dumped her cold coffee down the sink and began to wash out her mug.
Matt sighed. "Come on, you can't give me the silent treatment forever."
She picked up her jacket off the back of her chair and shrugged it on. She met his eyes and he flinched.
"C'mon, I mean... Look, if it had been you..."
She swept past him down the hall.
"If it had been you, I wouldn't have gotten all..." he called after her and then gave up as she was swallowed by the crowd of night-shift exiting the building. Growling in frustration, Matt leaned against the bulletin board, scrubbing his face with his hands.
"She can keep it up for weeks, you know."
"Jeez, give me something to look forward to, why dontcha?" He rested his head against the cork board and Morgan chuckled, pulling out a handful of pushpins and affixing the stack of flyers.
"FBI's most wanteds?"
"Nah, newest crop of runaways." Morgan's smile vanished as he pinned the xeroxed and enlarged photos of young faces to the board. "Just breaks your heart, but for every one we find..."
"Tell me about it," Matt studied his shoes and then the flyers. So many young faces, rendered in fuzzy black and white by the xerox machine, smiling out from school photos, family portraits and candids. Strangers he might later meet on the streets, or in the morgue—
Almost all strangers.
Matt's jaw dropped as he got halfway through the wall and he snatched the flyer off the board to confirm what his eyes told him must be a mistake. Matt scanned the information: Ashley FitzMartin, age 15, 5'1", approx. 106 lbs, grey eyes, black hair, reported missing 9/15/96 by Uncle, Henry FitzMartin—
"This just got brought in tonight?"
"Wilson just gave it to me. Do you know her, Detective?" Morgan asked.
"I'm not sure." Matt's eyes narrowed. "Can I make a copy of this?"
Without waiting for Morgan's answer, he wandered back to his desk, flyer in hand. Morgan shrugged and continued pinning up the flyers.
Matt dialled in the contact number under the photo and waited while it rang six times. It rang again, a short ring and he knew he'd been transferred to a desk.
"Cyberbiotics, Chelsea speaking, can I help you?"
"Cyberbiotics?" Matt repeated.
"Can I help you?"
"Yes, I'm looking for a Mr. Henry FitzMartin."
"I'm sorry, Dr. FitzMartin is no longer with the company."
"Did he leave a forwarding number?"
"I'm afraid not, Mister..." the secretary fished.
Matt hung up and then stared at the flyer.
David Xanatos almost swallowed his tongue when Owen walked through the door with the day's agenda.
"Nothing." Xanatos kept his eyes on Owen's face.
"At ten there is the Genutech board meeting. It's being held in conference room 27 B and will be followed by the quarterly management meeting. I can attend in your place, if you wish to prepare for the Electronics demo in the ballroom on the hundredth floor."
"If you would."
"Of course, sir. At two, the Japan office has scheduled a teleconference to discuss the new management. I downloaded their report to your desk terminal. This is the revised schedule for tomorrow." He handed Xanatos the file and waited while he scanned its contents.
"I'd like to move the Madrid office meeting from breakfast to lunch tomorrow," he went over the hard copy. "Have catering set up lunch up here. I anticipate a busy day tomorrow and I want to have everything in order before the governor's cocktail party tomorrow evening."
"I'll see to it, sir."
"Very good." Xanatos nodded and Burnett turned to go. "Oh and, Owen?"
"Yes, Mr. Xanatos?"
Owen glanced down at the brightly patterned cravat. "It was a gift, sir."
"I guessed as much."
Owen closed the door to Mr. Xanatos' office behind him and returned to his office.
"Mr. Burnett?" the senior executive assistant's voice came over the intercom. "There's a Detective Bluestone at reception to see a Miss Rowan?"
"Send him up to my office, Ms. Chambers."
"Can I help you, detective?" Owen asked as Carolyn showed Matt to Owen's office.
"Yes," Matt fished the folded xerox out of his trenchcoat pocket and handed it to him in silence. Owen's face showed nothing as he scanned the photograph and typed information and handed it back to him.
"I fail to see what this has to do with Rowan."
"Oh come on," Matt sat down on the edge of the desk. "Someone comes in and reports a girl missing who happens to bear a more than uncanny resemblance to your... to... the new nanny and you're not the slightest bit curious?"
"Rowan is considerably older than fifteen."
"Ever hear of this FitzMartin guy?"
"Well, I call the contact number and get shunted to the Cyberbiotics switchboard."
"I thought that would get your attention. Only twelve hours after making out a missing persons report and giving this as his contact number, the girl at the switchboard tells me he's no longer with the company."
"Perhaps we should take the matter up with Ms. Rowan," Owen stood.
Rowan landed on the mat with a thud.
"Come on, try again," Fox coaxed and she rolled over, getting to her feet.
"No fair. You're better at this than I am."
"You have to assume anyone who attacks you is better than you and adjust your strategy accordingly."
"If everyone who attacks me is better than me, then why aren't you'd showing me how to use a gun?"
"Because this is hand-to-hand," Fox smiled and then tossed Rowan through the air again.
This time she landed on her feet rather than her backside and aimed a kick at Mrs. Xanatos' midsection. Fox deftly avoided it, but made approving noises as they circled one another again.
"How do I adjust it so that I don't end up on the floor?"
"You fight dirty," Fox grinned, touching Rowan lightly above the kidneys with her elbow in a move that, had it been delivered full strength, would have probably sent her to the mat and then the hospital.
"I see. I think." Rowan grinned from the floor and Fox offered her a hand up.
Instead of rolling to her feet, Rowan tugged backwards and used her foot as a lever to send the other woman flying towards the chairs at the edge of the mats.
Growling, Fox rolled to her feet and instead of attacking, tossed Rowan a towel.
"You can use that to your advantage."
"That smile. People will underestimate you on account of your sex, size and charm. That gives you an edge. Not much of one once the element of surprise is gone, but it's good. Cultivate it."
"Yes, ma'am," Rowan wiped her face with the towel. She wondered at a world where your smile was your weapon. But then, perhaps this wasn't so different from Avalon after all....
Owen stood in the doorway. Rowan smiled, but he didn't return the smile. Instead, he stepped aside to reveal Matt.
"I'd never been to Cyberbiotics before yesterday." Rowan looked from Matt to Owen, puzzled.
"Then she must be a clone," Matt reasoned.
"A copy," Owen clarified. "Identical in every way to the original. Yes, this begins to make sense. They took tissue samples from you."
"But the gargoyles destroyed them," she recalled.
Matt yawned and then shook off his weariness with determination. "I'm going to check out this guy's home address, see what I can turn up."
"I would be grateful if you would." Rowan touched his arm. "This talk of copies disturbs me."
"Why don't you come with me?" Matt asked, impulsively.
"Matt, I can't. I have a job now, I can't just up and go."
"On a wild goose chase, you mean."
"You know I don't mean it that way."
"But don't you want to know who she is?"
"Yes. More than you can know. But I have responsibilities."
Owen watched the exchange with polite interest, but beneath that lurked an intense curiosity. Not about the clone, but at Rowan's manner. In the past, she would have leapt into the new game with abandon, yet she remained steadfast.
Carolyn showed the disappointed Detective Bluestone out and he watched Rowan's shoulders slump.
"I was clothed in mortal flesh when they took those samples of my DNA. Would not the copy also be mortal?" she asked and he stroked his chin thoughtfully.
"I'm not certain. There has never been a copy made of one of us without sorcery."
"That we know of," she frowned. "I did not lie when I said this disturbed me." She shuddered. "A piece of myself, for good or ill, is out there. Wearing my face, ignorant of all that I am or was."
Owen frowned, memories of the Thailog fiasco in the back of his mind. After Rowan left to shower, he began a cursory background check on one Dr. Henry FitzMartin.
As he suspected, before moving to Cyberbiotics, FitzMartin had been employed in a research lab located in the old headquarters of F&M Pharmaceuticals. No connection to Marlowe was evident, but then, there wouldn't have been. Marlowe had been running from the Society and those trails would have been carefully obliterated. So far as the world was concerned, FitzMartin had been legitimately employed as part of a team of researchers assigned to a supposedly benign study of genetic engineering in the use of correcting birth defects in-utero.
Cloning was neither new, nor particularly interesting, and so he skipped the numerous published papers and studies, instead bringing up an arrest record from 1979. That was intriguing.
FitzMartin was described as being in his late fifties, 5'10", approximately 200 lbs. His hair was grey, his eyes blue and according to his medical profile, he had recently acquired scar tissue on each hand, consistent with burn trauma. His employee photograph showed an older man bearing a slight resemblance to Albert Finney, with wide light eyes and unkempt hair.
Smiling at what passed for security within Cyberbiotics systems, he logged out, his smile fading slowly.
FitzMartin was a cog. A minion. A pawn.
And therefore, useful.
"Hello, little baby. What surprises do you have for me this bright morn?" She lifted Alexander from the cradle, wrinkling her nose. "A full nappy, I see."
She changed him, fastening the diaper as Fox had shown her and disposed of the soiled one in the ingeniously clever diaper pail. Would that they'd had such a thing the last time she had tended a babe, though then at least she'd had magic to aid her. Alex watched her with unfocussed green eyes, happily sucking on his fist.
She smiled back at him and picked a yellow romper decorated with ladybugs from the dresser drawer. Once he was snugly snapped into it, she lifted him into her arms, covering a yawn with her other hand. It was still far too early, in her mind, despite the fact she'd been up for two hours.
Her new wristwatch declared it half-eight and according to the schedule tucked into the back pocket of her jeans, breakfast time. On Avalon, a child would have been carried tied in a shawl around her neck and the idea manifested in the World as an odd kind of backwards backpack. She was tempted to forego it in favour of the soft lambswool blanket Petros had provided as a christening gift. Still, one must adapt, she sighed as she buckled the straps around her.
Alex nestled his head against her chest and blew spit bubbles. Rowan chuckled and pulled out the schedule. After breakfast, they would be joined by Fox downstairs in the enclosed solarium. Central Park would have been better, but the Xanatoses were very concerned about Alex's safety in public places. During yesterday's shopping excursion, they had been accompanied by four armed bodyguards and Rowan didn't exactly relish a peaceful stroll surrounded by an entourage. They were nice enough guys, for footballer types, but they lacked imagination. And verbal skills.
Matt glanced down at the scribbled address (Elaine at the DMV would be getting yet another bunch of roses this week and maybe an invitation to dinner) and checked the apartment number before knocking. His body reminded him it was way past his bedtime, but he ignored it as he waited. He could hear heavy footsteps and then the click of a deadbolt being turned and the door opened as far as the chain would allow, revealing an older gentleman, his white hair poking up at odd angles, wearing slacks and shirt that showed signs of being slept in. He looked a bit like Albert Finney and his blue eyes were rimmed with red.
"Can I help you?"
"My name is Matt Bluestone," He held up his badge. "I'm with the 23rd."
Henry blinked and squinted at the badge. Once he was sure it was the real thing, he undid the chain. Something nagged at him, but he couldn't put a name to the feeling.
Matt stepped inside and an orange cat, more fat than sleek began wrapping itself around his legs. Henry picked the cat up, absently stroking between its ears. "What can I do for you, Detective?"
Matt fished the folded xerox out of his pocket and Dr. FitzMartin's cheeks drained of colour as he recognised it.
"You filed a missing person's report yesterday—"
"Yes. I did." Henry released the cat, who wandered into the kitchen and began crunching dry food and sank into an overstuffed chair. Matt continued to stand.
"She's not your niece, is she," Matt began and Henry nodded dumbly. "What do you think happened to her?"
"She ran away. I can't blame her. There was nothing I could offer her other than life as a guinea pig, an experiment. A thing."
"Then she is a clone?"
"An artificial, sentient humanoid, yes." Henry smiled faintly. The distinction seemed meaningless now, yet he had automatically corrected the young detective nevertheless.
"Do you know who she was cloned from?"
"No," Henry lied and he wasn't sure why. "You are taking this science fiction talk of clones very well, Detective," he observed, bringing a wry smile to the young man's face.
"You'd be amazed all the stuff I'll believe."
"You're not here in an official capacity, are you, young man."
"Frankly, sir, my superiors aren't so open-minded." Nor, Matt added silently, would they believe me if I dumped a tale of gargoyles, fairies and Illuminati in their lap. "I want to help you—and help the clone, if you really do want her to be found."
"Why?" Henry's eyes narrowed. "If you'll forgive my wariness, you have come here in an unofficial capacity, possessed of information that is outside the normal channels. Why should I trust you to have altruistic motives?"
"Let's just say that I have a friend who is very concerned that someone out there is wearing her face."
Henry's face went slack with shock. He was brought back, suddenly and abruptly, to the inferno that had been F&M Pharmaceuticals. This young man had been there. He was certain of it now. This didn't escape Matt's notice and the younger man's green eyes narrowed dangerously. "Maybe a friend in common?" he asked, mildly.
"I think it's time for you to leave, Detective." Henry shuffled to the door and held it open. His cheeks were stained by two spots of colour and Matt pulled a business card from his wallet.
"If you change your mind, this is my number." Matt pressed it into the old man's hand and then stepped out into the hall. As the door shut behind him, he could hear the chain being fastened and sighed. He started down the hallway, hands in his pockets, biting back a yawn. FitzMartin definitely knew more than he was telling, that much was for certain.
Sunlight filtered in between the dense clouds, playing on the water of the fountain in bright patterns. Rowan laid down a wool blanket and began unloading the ever-present bag of diapers. She unfastened the snugli and laid Alexander on his back. He waved his fists in the air, blinking, as she removed a collection of soft toys from the bag. After careful consideration, she chose a penguin with a bright orange beak from the menagerie.
"Look, Sasha!" Rowan waggled the small soft toy in the baby's face, making it dance on the blanket. "Frobisher!"
"Frobisher?" Fox echoed, raising a brow.
"All penguins should be called Frobisher," Rowan replied with utter seriousness. She set the rolly-polly aquatic bird within easy drooling range. Alex gurgled happily and Rowan smiled down at the baby.
Fox watched the new nanny with a small smile. Alex seemed to have taken to her quickly and tonight Rowan would be put on 2 am feeding duty, mercifully allowing Fox and David their first unbroken night of sleep since he was born.
Rowan kissed Alex's stomach through the sleeper noisily and he kicked and laughed. The penguin rolled across the blanket to rest at Fox's feet. She touched the stuffed toy's glass eyes and grinned as she wiggled its beak. These toys, each and every one of them, had personality. She and David had chosen each of them with great care. She always wanted Alex to know that he was surrounded by people who loved him. Loved each other and loved him.
"Did my mother love my father?" Fox asked impulsively and Rowan's smile faded.
"What makes you think otherwise?" she asked carefully, tucking her hair behind her ears in a gesture Fox was beginning to recognise as a nervous habit.
"She said she divorced my father because no one except Oberon could hold her interest."
"Was Oberon in the room at the time?"
"You've half your answer there, then. His ego must be fed regularly, or he goes feral."
"And the other half?"
Rowan chose her words carefully, aware of how much this meant to her former mistress' daughter. "Mortal and immortal pairings are rare for a reason. It is difficult to see one you love wither before your eyes, knowing they will die while you go on. It is more difficult to love briefly and live with the memories in somewise than to live with your love for millennia. Immortal marriages have their own set of trials, do not mistake me. The emotion is not always constant and can easily slide into hatred for all the same reasons you pledged yourselves in the first place."
Fox digested this information slowly. She recognised that Rowan's presence presented a unique opportunity to finally receive answers to all the questions that had bubbled to the surface when she had learnt of her mother's—not deception, exactly, though it had felt like it at the time. It was far too easy to forget the "girl" before her was many hundreds of years her senior, for all her child-like qualities.
"But you and Owen..."
"We were not always as you see us now. We began as tutor and pupil, then colleagues, even adversaries before lovers. Friendship we knew for centuries and lust too, but love?" She shook her head. "If there is love, it has grown between us in our exile, in fits and starts until we have reached this point."
"It's still hard for me to comprehend. The two of you are so different."
"I took no role to play and made no masquerade of it. I am who I am, perhaps more so at times. But the easiest lies to tell are those closest to the truth." Rowan shrugged. "Owen is chained to that masque, but strangely, I find Owen Burnett is not so very different from the puck I first met when I joined Titania's service. He was always wily and cunning, but these years have taught him subtly and patience."
"What have they taught you?"
"To value what I have," Rowan replied and Fox realised that the other woman hadn't really answered her question after all.
Rowan was just putting Alexander down for his afternoon nap when her cell phone beeped impatiently.
"Ms. Rowan, it's Carolyn Chambers downstairs. That Detective Bluestone is here to see you again. Mr. Burnett is out of the office, so I thought—"
"That's why I gave you my number, don't worry. It's fine. Show him to the elevators, would you?"
"Yes, ma'am," the secretary hung up, leaving Rowan to mouth the word "ma'am" with some amusement. She tucked the blanket closer around Alex and then made her way to the main hall just as the elevator doors admitted Matt.
"I looked in on FitzMartin," he began, without preamble.
"And I think it's a safe bet that he's the one who took your tissue sample to Cyberbiotics. When I mentioned I knew you, he looked like he'd seen a ghost and shunted me out of there fast."
Rowan frowned. "And the clone?"
"He has no idea where she is. He seems eaten up by guilt over the whole mess, but even so, he wasn't talking."
"I see. Guilt. Well, that's something, I suppose." She frowned, playing with a lock of hair. "Thanks, Matt."
"You're welcome." He grinned. "So, what do we do next?"
"We? You go home and get some rest, you look as if you can use it."
"Then what what?" She looked at him, mystified.
"That you and I—?" She shook her head. "I'm glad for your help, but I've no need of it any longer."
"I see." His green eyes narrowed. "You're going to do something stupid, aren't you."
She mistook his grim amusement for teasing. "Oh, probably. How can you tell?"
"You have that 'I feel perfectly justified in putting my own life in jeopardy, because I know my friends Matt and Brooklyn will come save me.' look."
"I have no such look, let alone any such thought!" Her cheeks flushed crimson and her grey eyes flashed. "I got along fine without either of you for over a thousand years, thank you very much."
"Hey, don't look down your nose at me, lady. Let me guess—Before we stepped in to cover your back, you had Burnett to mop up all your messes."
"Messes," she repeated, all trace of good humour having fled. She was bewildered by his anger and felt her own rising to the surface rapidly. "How exactly do you think of me? Just because I allowed myself to be put in jeopardy once, for Brooklyn's sake may I add, that I am incapable of handling simple situations?"
"I'm just saying that I think you get in over your head because you know there are people around to bail you out."
"What makes you think I'm in over my head? Or did you just relish your role as my protector so much that you assume it's a full time job?"
"I never asked for it."
"Then you won't mind giving it up, will you," she shot back.
"Gladly. Sometimes I think you're just as high maintenance as your old man."
"What the hell do you know about my father?"
"Daddy Oberon hurt a hell of a lot of people when he blew into town this summer. People were at the wheels of their cars. Doctors and patients at the operating table. People that he didn't spare a thought when he put the whole damn town to sleep. All because he needed his ego stroked."
Rowan was shaking with anger, until it dawned on her that Matt had no idea how close to home his comment had hit. And she had no intention of letting him know just how appropriately the term Oberon's Children could be applied to her, personally.
She closed her eyes and forced herself to take a deep breath. "This isn't about Oberon."
"No. It's about the fact that you still believe I lied to you."
"No. You made assumptions about me; about who I was and what I needed. I didn't correct those assumptions, because they were useful to me. But I never lied to you."
"Jesus Christ, it's all semantics. You didn't give me the whole truth, you kept stuff from me. That's the same thing."
"Tell me, are you lying to everyone you don't tell you're a member of the Illuminati?"
"Why? My motives were the same. You didn't need to know and if you did, it would have put you in an awkward position to say the least, and perhaps a dangerous one."
"Don't tell me, let me guess; you were protecting me."
"I was protecting myself," she hissed. "Don't ascribe altruistic motives to someone who had none. You were useful to me and I genuinely liked you. That was it. Now, I'd like there to be more. I am frank about that much. Can you say the same?"
He was silent.
"You don't know me, Matt. If you opened your eyes and paid attention, rather than allow yourself to be blinded by what you want to see, then maybe you will." Her features softened as the anger seeped out of her. "You're tired. Go home. Get some sleep."
"Next time I offer to help you, do me a favour and turn me down," he snapped and then turned on his heel and walked out.
She wanted to shrug it off, but found instead a curious leaden weight had settled in her chest as she watched his retreating back.
The gargoyles awoke with the usual explosion of noise and stone fragments. Elisa grinned, her hands shoved in her pockets against the chill of the evening. She started as a flash of white feathers tumbled down from the top of the clock to land, somewhat ungracefully, in a heap of small white owl at Broadway's feet.
"Hey!" Broadway smiled at the bird. "My little friend stuck around."
"Probably after more waffles," Angela laughed.
"Those can't be good for birdie digestive systems," Elisa mused aloud and Broadway only laughed.
"Tell that to him. Or her. Or it. How do you tell?"
"Beats me, that's why I went in for a cat."
"Where's Matt?" Brooklyn shook gravel from his loincloth and caped his wings.
"He called in sick. Long day, no sleep." Elisa shrugged. Goliath raised a brow ridge in curiosity, but she pretended not to see. So he gently but firmly took her elbow and steered her towards the far end of the balcony.
"Are you still angry with Bluestone?" Goliath asked, almost amused. That seemed to tick her off even further.
"What's to be angry? The fact that he shared a secret that wasn't his to share with Owen Burnett's girlfriend?"
"I have heard Brooklyn's side of the tale and find no reason to believe Bluestone acted in error."
"Yeah, well, it was just lucky that nothing really bad went down." Elisa scowled.
"They stopped a madman intent on using gargoyles for his own personal army."
"Like I said. Lucky."
"And you think his taking the day off has something to do with this woman?"
"I don't know, nor do I care. What Matt does on his own time is his business."
"Why don't you trust her?"
"Call it cop's intuition."
"What's this?" Rowan looked up from the pile of laundry she was sorting.
"A complete file on Dr. Henry FitzMartin."
"I see." Rowan didn't open the file, but continued to fold Alexander's clothes and put them away.
"Aren't you curious?"
"Of course I am. I'll read it—when I have time."
"I must say, your dedication to your new profession is admirable."
"You are simply bringing the same loyalty and steadfastness to the position of Alexander's nanny that you brought to your role as Titania's puck."
"That's a very diplomatic reply," she observed, her eyes still on the rapidly diminishing pile of laundry. He reached out and stilled her hand with his own.
"It was not meant to be anything other than a statement of fact. I do find it admirable. However, you were very disturbed this morning, so I assumed you—"
"—would fall upon the file like a starving man food?" she snapped.
"I would not have put it that way, exactly."
She saw his shoulders stiffen and cursed herself for a fool. Her earlier argument with the detective had put her on the defensive and there was no reason to take it out on Owen. She raised his hand to her cheek and pressed a kiss into the palm. "I know. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you."
He threaded his fingers in her hair and she closed her eyes, relishing the touch. A smile played about her lips as he ran his thumb over them, blue eyes bright behind his glasses.
"I will review it, when I have time." She gestured to the file.
He nodded and tried to look stern. "Promise me you will do nothing rash."
"You have my word."
Broadway popped two waffles in the toaster and watched the owl fluff its feathers and hop from foot to foot in anticipation. He'd managed to coax it inside and it was perched on the railing like a parrot in a pirate movie.
"It's awful tame," Lexington observed. "Do you think it's somebody's pet?"
"I dunno. Can you keep owls as pets? I mean, they are birds of prey and all." He had borrowed a book from the library on owls, but could not identify his new friend's species just yet.
"Maybe it was part of the show at the Faire in Sterling? And it got away?"
"Nah, too tiny to be in the show. Maybe it just got lost."
"What are you gonna name it?"
"I hadn't thought of that," he snatched the hot waffles from the toaster and the bird hopped down from the railing to land on his shoulder. He broke off a piece of steaming waffle and held it between his thumb and first finger for the bird to gobble down. "I kinda like McGuffin."
Angela leapt onto the ledge, spreading her wings to catch the brisk fall breeze that snaked between the buildings. She was poised to leap when Brooklyn's hand fell on her shoulder.
"Nothing," she replied, a little too quickly.
"Want some company?"
"I'm sorry... I just felt like being alone," she stammered.
"I see." Brooklyn released her shoulder and stepped back. "Don't let me stop you."
She looked as if she wanted to add something, but instead, spread her wings and leapt from the clocktower.
He watched her glide away with a mixture of anger—mostly directed at himself—and curiosity. Glancing back at the empty balcony, he jumped up onto the ledge himself and took off.
Nothing rash, in Rowan's case, consisted of a trip to Cyberbiotics labs. She told no one of her destination. Fox assumed she was making use of her night out to do some last minute shopping and Rowan hadn't disabused her of this assumption. She had a feeling that accusing her father's company of cloning her, without proof, would be a great mistake. With Renard's precarious state of health, Fox was liable to react defensively and Rowan had no desire to alarm her. Not without suitable proof, in any case.
Besides, she could handle this on her own.
She never noticed the gargoyle shadow following her from the Eyrie building to the labs. Her mind was full of what she already knew about this place and what she intended to ferret out this night.
She approached the steel and glass building with a sure step, her grey eyes like bits of thundercloud in her pale face. She walked right past reception, leaving the young woman behind the desk sputtering and stammering as she headed straight for Preston Vogel's office.
She opened the door and walked in, interrupting some kind of meeting. Vogel looked up from the report he was going over and dismissed the two men sitting before him with a wave.
"I believe you have something of mine," she said, as they closed the door behind them.
"I fail to see how that can be so."
"Perhaps I should have said 'had'."
"And what makes you think I can help you?"
"I don't want your help, Mr. Vogel. I want answers. And I shall have them."
"Yes, I think you shall. But not to the questions you expect." He stood, holding out an arm to gesture to the door. She turned to it and bit back a cry as he was suddenly at her side, one hand so tight around her forearm it was like to bruise, a sharp pain piercing her neck. She tried to catch the desk as she went down and managed to brush the marble top with cold fingers as she tumbled to the floor, pain blossoming in her head as it impacted with the base of one chair. As the drug spread through her system, her eyes lost their focus until all that remained was light which faded into darkness with each beat of her heart.
Vogel disposed of the syringe in the wastepaper basket and adjusted his glasses. He pressed a button beneath his desk and several security guards came in through the side door. They picked up the fallen woman and disappeared from whence they came.
Angela crouched low atop the roof of the office building across from Cyberbiotics, her eyes focused on the revolving glass doors as Security personnel went from door to door, securing them for the night. She frowned and then almost screamed as a hand fell on her shoulder.
Brooklyn jumped back as her eyes glowed crimson, only to fade back to black pupils that flashed dangerously.
"Why were you following me?" she asked quickly, quelling the defensive streak that threatened to make her blush.
"I just wanted to see where you were in such a hurry to get to—alone." He peered over her shoulder at the deserted street. "What's so fascinating about Cyberbiotics?"
"You know this place?"
"Only by reputation. Sevarius worked here before Xanatos snapped him up. It's Renard's company."
"That explains much," she said softly.
"Yeah—except why you're here."
"I..." she chewed on her bottom lip. "I followed someone here."
Her shoulder's slumped and she pulled her eyes from his wary gaze, studying her taloned feet intensely. "Rowan."
"Why?" Brooklyn was at a complete loss and her tail twitched nervously.
"I thought... I know you trust her, but she lives with Xanatos! I wanted to make certain she posed no threat to the clan—"
"I know you had... feelings for her when she was a gargoyle—"
"Who told you that?"
"Oh man." Leave it to his hopelessly romantic rookery brother to put that particular spin on the story. "Look, we were just friends, that was it."
"But it bothers you that she and Owen Burnett are...."
"Lovers? Friends? Roommates? I don't know what is up with that, but I do know that it was the case probably long before I met her."
"But she's one of Oberon's Children."
"Was. Lots of stuff went down after she was taken back to Avalon. All I know is, she didn't want to go and she did her best to come back here—to him. I wasn't a part of the equation. That doesn't bother me. She gave up a lot for that guy and while I can't say as I understand it, I can respect it."
"But Xanatos is our enemy."
"Enemies become allies and vice versa all too frequently around here. No matter how I feel about Xanatos and his crew, where she and I are concerned, it's neutral ground."
"How can you be sure?" Angela asked, searching his face, his eyes.
"I have to be," Brooklyn said softly. "You followed her here?"
"About an hour ago. She hasn't come out."
Henry woke with an odd sense of displacement. By this hour, he was usually at the lab, going over the day's lot of books and tapes with Ash. Instead, he was still tangled in the bed clothes, his cat asleep on his feet.
He had never been a night person and it felt distinctly odd getting up after sundown. But he hadn't slept the night before and after that detective's visit this morning, he hadn't been able to. He had finally dropped off that afternoon, waking near evening in his chair and transferring to the bedroom without even bothering to change out of his rumpled clothes.
He didn't know what to do. He had nowhere to go and no one to talk to. There weren't very many opportunities available for research geneticists, but finding another job was currently the least of his worries. What plagued him now was guilt.
When Marlowe had put that poor girl in chains, Henry and the rest of the staff had simply pretended. Pretended a street kid didn't matter. Pretended Marlowe was sane and rational. Pretended their paycheques were more important than the atrocity being committed before them—but not by them. Never by them. They were just tools; pawns. No guilt could be laid at their feet, they were just doing their jobs.
He could have done something, a voice murmured inside him. He could have walked out; gone to the press and exposed Marlowe. He could have at least looked her in the eye, rather than avoiding her gaze for fear of what he'd find there. He could have swallowed his fears, instead of letting them rule him.
He'd thought she'd died.
Henry had assuaged that guilt by making sure part of her lived on. But even now he could see that conceit for what it was: an excuse. An excuse to pursue his work, by masking the truth with falsely altruistic motives. The truth was, it was not enough that he never raised a hand to hurt. By not raising it to help, he had harmed all the same. And not just that mysterious girl all those months ago, but her child as well. Ash had been his responsibility and he had damned her to a half-life without hope, without purpose, and perhaps she was already dead simply because he was a frightened, ineffectual, coward of an old man.
He picked up Detective Bluestone's card from the coffeetable where he had dropped it and reached for the telephone.
Rowan awoke to the discordant ring of metal on metal.
"Not again," she moaned, as the chains rattled. They were not gleaming blue steel, as she suspected, but twisted black iron manacles. Oddly, she felt not the slightest twinge of discomfort. The last time she had found herself in this predicament, she had been similarly clothed in mortal flesh. However, then she had tucked her power and true self deep inside her. Its presence, however muted, had been a comfort and strength to her in that brief captivity. Not so now. There was nothing at the core of her but human flesh and blood and bone, all too susceptible to the wants and hurts of humanity. She would have to handle this situation with great caution.
She patted her jacket pocket, but the slim cellphone was gone. Her purse sat on the edge of the bed, its contents obviously having been rifled through. Her nail-clippers were gone and her keys were off their ring. Everything else seemed to be in order, but she bristled at the thought of some goon going through the bag, despite the fact that there was little in it, and of that almost nothing personal.
Rowan probed the tender area at the base of her skull and winced as even the lightest of touches brought lightning bolts of pain radiating out from what was rapidly becoming an impressive goose-egg. She gritted her teeth and stood, the world swimming for a moment before it settled into the pattern of a dimly lit bedroom. The remnants of the drug made her feel ill and she tried to ignore the rebellious rumblings of her stomach.
Feeling along the wall near the door, her fingers found the dimmer switch. She slid it up slowly, allowing her eyes to adjust. Her caution proved bootless, as her head throbbed intensely regardless.
The room was stark, furnished with a bed, desk and chair. A box in the corner held dozens of puzzles. She picked up a Rubik's cube, all the squares snapped into place to display six solid fields of colour. She let it fall back into the box, where it clicked against a half-dozen of its fellows and tried the door.
It was bolted from the outside. Biting back a blistering curse, she sat on the edge of the bed, hands folded in her lap.
There was nothing to do for it except wait.
Matt stared at the ceiling. He had finally crashed that afternoon, but his sleep had been fitful and finally he'd awakened just past sunset and commenced staring at the ceiling. This was not how he should be spending his night off. He should be down at Kennedy's with Elaine from the DMV. He should be having fun, relaxing, so he could go back to work refreshed and clearheaded tomorrow. He should be able to drag himself out of bed, instead of continuing to stare up at the plaster ceiling, counting cracks.
It was guilt. That was it. He was feeling guilty. And it was really pissing him off, because the fact of the matter was, he had nothing to feel guilty about. She was the one who treated him like dirt, right?
Except... except she hadn't. Not until he'd been a complete S.O.B. to her first.
Why exactly had he done that, anyway?
He squeezed his eyes shut, thinking Okay, let's be intelligent here and not bullshit ourselves. We are ticked off that Elisa doesn't trust us enough to give us the benefit of the doubt. This made us start to doubt our own abilities to judge people. It put us on the defensive, when we really had nothing to be defensive about.
It made us refer to ourself in the plural. Wow, this is annoying.
He thumped his pillow and opened his eyes again. Yep, same ceiling. He'd been hurt because he'd defended her to Elisa, only to turn around and find she wasn't the same person he'd thought she was. She was right; he had made assumptions about her and then he'd gotten angry when his idea of her hadn't matched up with the reality. His pride had been wounded when she'd turned down his help. And so he lashed out.
"You're a deadbeat cop, Bluestone," he muttered, dragging a hand down his face wearily. "And you're an idiot."
It wasn't all his doing, though. Once he'd gotten her wound up, Rowan'd managed to get in some really hateful shots herself, once again forcing him to revise his mental picture of her. He'd left out pride the first two times and that had been a pretty fatal miscalculation on his part. The second he'd insinuated she needed any kind of help, her pride had come around to slap him in the face. He wasn't the only one on the defensive, it would seem.
It was just.... She'd been so cool to him. Hell, downright cold, in the end. So different from the girl he'd spent the day with, buying shoes and eating greasy french fries. And the cheerful, confident young woman who had appeared in the squadroom just yesterday bore little resemblance to the grave, sombre woman he'd met at the castle that morning. There was definitely something wrong and it wasn't just this business with the clone.
Not for the first time, he wondered just who she was and what she was really about.
The phone rang and he was almost tempted to just let it ring while he mulled over the problem. However, when the machine picked up and Dr. FitzMartin's voice followed the beep, he lunged for the handset.
"Dr. FitzMartin, I'm here. Sorry," he said breathlessly. "I'm glad you called."
"This is a bad idea," Brooklyn repeated for the eighteenth time.
"You're the one who said it was neutral ground," Angela reminded him, as clouds broke and the Eyrie came into view. They landed on the highest tower, where once Goliath had sat, stone sentinel for a thousand years. Floodlights lit the courtyard below, leaving this tower bathed in the light of the moon which hung, a silver sliver in a sky pocked with stars.
"Yeah." Brooklyn sounded less than convinced, but actually breathed a sigh of relief when the stairwell disgorged Owen Burnett, rather than Xanatos. He wouldn't have been able to handle Xanatos right now.
"Yes?" Owen regarded them with cool interest.
"Just thought you'd want to know where your girlfriend is."
"Mrs. Xanatos informed me she left on an errand late this afternoon. I had assumed she was with you."
"You assumed wrong," Brooklyn replied tersely and Angela laid a hand on his arm, frowning. He shook her off. "She went to Cyberbiotics."
Owen raised a brow, but said nothing.
"There, we've done our good deed for the day. C'mon, Angela." He hopped back up on the ledge.
"I don't know the whole history here," Angela said softly to Owen, "but I just thought she might be in trouble."
"Thank you," Owen replied, and watched the two gargoyles glide off into the deepening night. "She may well be."
Henry hesitated, and then finally screwed up his courage and rapped sharply on the door.
It sprang open, and the young detective—looking slightly rumpled—gestured him inside. He had forsaken his trench coat and button down shirt and tie for NYPD sweats, and his hair was damp. He looked about ten years younger.
"I'm glad you called," he said, and seemed to mean it.
Henry got straight to the matter. "You said that Ash's progenitor was a friend?"
"Sorta. If she's still speaking to me," Matt chewed on a fingernail, and Dr. FitzMartin frowned.
"Then you must tell her that she is in danger."
"My previous employer, Mr. Vogel, is very, very intent on finding her. And I cannot help thinking that it would be better if he did not."
At last, the door opened, admitting two security officers. They didn't speak and Rowan sat on the edge of the bed, staring at them owlishly until they motioned her to follow.
She was shown to a small office down a long hall lit with banks of fluorescent lights. She could only assume she was still in the same building as Vogel's office, but somewhere underground. It had the close feel of a bunker and the walls were reinforced concrete, no doubt several feet thick. Whether to keep something out, or keep something in, she had no idea. No doubt a mixture of both.
Vogel sat behind a utilitarian desk, a small television/vcr combination the only item. Not even a telephone. Another cardboard box sat in the corner, containing a collection of pencils, paperwork and opened mail rather than puzzles. She had the feeling the desk drawers and top had simply been emptied into it with no regard for order. Other than that, the office was featureless and not a little depressing.
"Tell me, do you always keep a hypodermic loaded with sedatives in your desk drawer?" she asked, crossing her arms. The rattle of the chain spoiled her attempt at a cool, detached demeanour.
"Only when I anticipate a need for it."
"Do you have such a need now?"
"This was Dr. FitzMartin's office. He was a trusting soul and actually quite unimaginative, really. I doubt he would have such a thing on hand."
"I suppose I should be grateful to the conspicuously absent Dr. FitzMartin then. The effects were most unpleasant and I have no desire to repeat the experience."
"I take it then that you have never met the good doctor?"
"We were never formally introduced."
"But it is more than likely that you have met, as it was Dr. FitzMartin who brought your sample to us here."
"I have only your word on that." She glared at him. "You're being damnably cordial about kidnapping, Mr. Vogel."
He pressed a button on the console before him and the television screen flickered to life.
She started and watched the two minute tape with a face of stone. When it finished, Vogel clicked it off and leaned back in the chair, his cold blue eyes sliding over her to rest on the dead screen.
"Dr. FitzMartin labours under the misapprehension that you are a human/gargoyle hybrid."
"But you know better, do you?" Rowan's eyes narrowed to slits.
"I have some experience with shapeshifters," Vogel replied and she knew he referred to Oberon's attempt to take Alexander.
Damn you, Father.
"I believe you're mistaken," she informed him coolly, trying to maintain her dignity despite the manacles.
"I don't think so." Vogel regarded her with those flat, pale eyes and she had the disconcerting sensation that he was peering into her very soul. She controlled a shudder before it could set her chains to rattling.
He stood so abruptly she took an involuntary step back. He gestured for her to follow him through an adjacent door, which, as it turned out, led to a lab.
Rowan stared at the darkened gestation tubes with growing dread.
"What? You will create more... copies of me? An army perhaps?" She was suddenly sick. Her hands shook, the manacles rattling and she clenched her fists.
Vogel said nothing and reached for the light switch. Banks of fluorescent lights flickered and came up.
Floating in the gestation tank was a man. Dark hair swirled about his face and she was struck by a flash of memory. Of recognition.
It was Halcyon Renard.
The figure floating in the nutrient bath was younger, as he must have been in his prime, but most definitely Renard. Rowan gaped and then turned to Vogel.
"Mr. Renard is dying. I wish to rectify that situation."
"I don't understand."
"His mind and soul must be transferred into this body. This healthy body. I know this is within your power to accomplish."
"Within my..." she parroted and shook her head dumbly.
"I know what you are," Vogel persisted, a hand closing on her wrist. She wrenched it away, scowling at the manacles.
"You know what I was," she corrected.
"No. No, you cannot lie to me, I have bound you—"
"The chains bind me because they are chains, not because they are iron," Rowan tried to explain, but frustration clipped her words. "I'm human, Vogel. Completely and utterly human. This is no cloak I can cast off, not any longer. When Oberon gathered his Children to him, I stood against him and I was banished, locked inside a mortal form, without access to my magic."
Vogel tried to gauge whether she was telling him the truth, or if she was playing some kind of demented game. But the ease with which he had subdued her was a point in her favour, despite the fact that such a feat had been successfully undertaken before. FitzMartin's ASH was proof enough of that. No Child of Oberon would have let herself be taken by Marlowe's men and yet she had, for what reasons he couldn't fathom. If it was a game, then she alone had possession of the rule book.
"I don't believe you."
"I am mortal. What will it take to convince you of that?" she snapped and froze as he brought up his pistol, aiming squarely for her chest.
"Die," he answered and her mouth went dry.
They stood, frozen for some time, until he was convinced he saw fear in her eyes. Even as she squared her shoulders and stared him down, she could not feign the mixture of fear, resignation, contempt and pity that shone in her grey eyes the second he had drawn a bead on her heart.
None of the arrogance he associated with Oberon's Children was there. The memory of it, perhaps. But the rest was pure human fear. He lowered the gun and she sucked in a breath, the chains rattling again. He set the gun on the stainless steel counter-top and raised a weary hand to his eyes.
"He's a good man and he doesn't deserve to die. Not this way. Not this... wasting away, feeble and brittle and pathetic."
"I'm sorry," she said softly and meant it.
"Your remorse means less than nothing to me."
"But it is all I can give. You're right. He is a good man and it is a great sorrow to me that he is dying, but I cannot help him."
He looked up, met her eyes and she was frightened by the emptiness she saw there. He had been ready to kill her a moment ago, yet it felt like a hundred years had passed in the seconds since. She didn't think he would, now. She pressed on.
"I am of no use to you as either hostage, or oracle. But I can act as messenger."
He studied her, faintly puzzled and a plan began to crystallise in her mind.
"You'll have to trust me," she counselled him and his frown deepened. Reluctantly, Vogel produced the key to the manacles from a suit pocket. The chains dropped to the floor with a clang. She massaged her wrists absently, as if to rid herself from even the memory of their touch.
"I will expect you tomorrow morning."
She glanced at him sharply. "It may take more time—"
"There is no more time. Mr. Renard's doctors say he has weeks, at best. Perhaps days."
She swallowed. "Then I'd best hurry."
"I have your word you will return?"
"I don't know how much stock you place in my word, Mr. Vogel, but you have it."
"I know where to find you, should you break it." His voice was like ice and she nodded.
Angela snuck a glance at Brooklyn and then wished she hadn't as he scowled at her and let the winds pull him farther ahead of her. She angled to catch up, swearing beneath her breath.
"I was only trying to help," she pointed out.
"Do you think she's okay?"
"She's a big girl; she can take care of herself."
"I hope so," Angela said softly. She had spent last night watching the human woman, convinced she was doing it for Brooklyn's sake. But the truth of the matter was, she had been curious. The story Broadway had spun for her had captured her imagination. Granted, it may have been more to do with who had spun the tale and how. Broadway had seen way too many movies and perhaps had put a little too romantic a spin on what had actually turned out to be a fairly straightforward tale.
When she had met Rowan briefly in the clocktower, she had seemed sincere. But then, so had Demona. Angela was still confused and upset over that entire matter, and she would have spared Brooklyn the same pain. It seemed harmless enough to just keep an eye on the new nanny.
In the few hours Angela had witnessed, she had seen Rowan bathe and put Alexander to bed, all the while singing and laughing with the baby. She had disappeared—presumably for dinner—and then retired to Burnett's quarters. Alone, she had been sombre and had spent almost an hour simply staring out the windows into the night as her dark hair dried from her bath. There had been something in her grey eyes, but Angela had been too far away to identify it. Then Rowan had gone to bed, running her hand over the empty side of the bed once before her eyes drifted shut.
In the few short months since Angela had arrived in Manhattan, she had listened to the clan's tales of Xanatos and his family and the ubiquitous Owen Burnett. For all they would tell her he was omnipresent, she had rarely seen him. Hudson seemed to have an interesting opinion of him and had even told her how he thought the major-domo had gained his stone fist.
She had come to the conclusion that Mr. Burnett was cool, but not cold exactly. Efficient, unflappable and completely dependable. True, he had aided Xanatos in many a scheme that could have resulted in disaster many times over for the clan, but it had, as Xanatos had said, never been personal. She had lived through the Archmage and Oberon. She had perspective the other young gargoyles seem to lack, being too close to the subject to be objective.
She never thought to see Burnett smile. She always thought it would make her flesh creep. And yet, when she had seen him with Rowan, he had seemed almost... human. Certainly a different person than he presented to the rest of the world.
That was one of the reasons she had dragged Brooklyn to Castle Wyvern. She had wanted to see how Burnett would react and the desire to force him to reveal some kind of emotion was a niggling itch in the back of her mind. His face had betrayed nothing, nor had his voice. But she had seen something in his eyes. It felt like a tiny triumph, but it may have cost her dear, she decided as she glanced again at the stiff lines of Brooklyn's shoulders and wings.
Matthew Bluestone burst into Owen's office, Caroline on his heels, to find Burnett by the window, his back to the door. He watched them in the reflection, night having turned the panes into a most effective mirror. The detective was dressed in his signature trench coat, but wore a dark blue sweat suit underneath, and his hair was far from neatly combed. It looked as if he had raked his fingers through it while it was still damp and forgotten about it. Caroline, on the other hand, had two spots of colour in her cheeks, and was looking most put out.
"Sir, I tried to stop—"
"It's all right, Ms. Chambers," Owen said, without turning around, and the assistant closed the door behind her, her pale brows drawn together in a frown. "She's at Cyberbiotics. Has been for some time, apparently."
"You know?" Matt exclaimed, and Burnett finally turned around.
"The gargoyles told me an hour ago," he said calmly.
"And this is what you're doing about it?" Matt was at an utter loss.
"Ms. Rowan is perfectly capable of handling herself in almost any situation. Since she chose to go to Cyberbiotics freely and without coercion, I must give her the benefit of the doubt."
"The only thing I'm doubting at the moment is your sanity. I just found out tonight that Vogel had Rowan cloned because he knew she was one of Oberon's Children. If he gets his mitts on her—"
"I thank you for your concern, Detective, and I'm sure Rowan would do the same were she here—"
"She's not here, Burnett. And she may not be here much longer if we don't do something—"
"She wouldn't appreciate it," Owen said quietly. "This may come as a surprise to you, Detective Bluestone, but I have known her for over a thousand years, and if there is one thing I know about her, it is that she neither expects help nor does she count on it. If she believed that she was in any danger at all, she would not have gone alone. She is neither stupid, nor suicidal, therefore I must assume that if she needed me, she would have made sure I was there to aid her."
They stared at one another, and Matt's anger began to slide away as he realised there was a good bit of truth in Burnett's little speech. Rowan would be mighty pissed if she thought they were mopping up her messes after her; she had proved that when she chewed him out that morning. Still...
"Do you actually believe a word of what you just said?" Matt asked, and Owen actually cracked a grim smile.
"I've almost managed to convince myself. I'm not sure what else I can do. This is not like last time."
"No. It isn't. I'm beginning to understand that now myself."
"I'm sorry to have wasted your time, Detective. Truly sorry."
"Are you gonna go over there?"
"Then the trip wasn't wasted. Think she'd be pissed if I came along?"
"Hell." Matt scowled, shoving his hands deep into the pockets of his trench coat. "You'll let me know—whatever happens?"
Owen nodded, and Matt backed out of the office, closing the door quietly behind him.
He was met with 5'1" of furious blonde secretary, and he held up his hands in defeat. "Hi, uh, Ms. Chambers, right?"
She merely pointed to the door, and he ducked his head like a truant schoolboy and headed out.
"Mr. Burnett, is everything all right?"
"Yes, Ms. Chambers. Please have the driver bring the car around, I will be downstairs to meet him in a moment."
"Where is she?" Owen walked into Preston Vogel's office unannounced to find Vogel sitting at his desk with all the lights out save for a small desk lamp.
"Where is who?" Vogel asked absently, and Owen grasped a handful of the other's man's suit jacket with his good hand and hauled him out of his chair and up to eye level.
"Do not try my patience," he said in much the same way he might report the weather. Preston remained unruffled, despite his awkward position.
"Ah. The young lady. She is no longer here."
"But she was here."
"Oh yes. She came by this afternoon, and left less than an hour ago. I imagine you have missed her by minutes."
Owen released him, and Vogel smoothed the lapels of his jacket absently, his eyes flat and empty behind his glasses.
"If she has been harmed, you will not just regret this day, but your entire existence."
Vogel merely nodded.
Owen let the cellphone ring a dozen times before hanging up and then hitting redial. There was no recorded message saying the user was outside the service area and his frustration was beginning to mount as he let it ring again.
"For all I know, it could be at the bottom of the Hudson," he said softly, clicking it off. he sat back, a hand to his forehead, unsure of what steps to take. "Dammit, Rowan..." he sighed.
"Don't start dredging the river just yet," came a weary voice from the doorway. Rowan stood there, her dark hair pulling free from its braid, looking paler than he had ever seen her.
"Where have you been?" Owen demanded, leaving unvoiced the sister question of are you all right? He stood, unsure as to whether he wanted to wring her neck, or pull her close and never let her go.
"I walked home. I needed to think." She sounded distant, distracted. "Halcyon Renard is dying. Vogel thought by binding one of Oberon's Children to him, he could save him. He was convinced that I was his answer. I managed to convince him otherwise."
"But you're all right? Brooklyn said—"
"Brooklyn was here?"
"Yes, with the female, Angela. They said you'd gone to Cyberbiotics, but that was hours ago. Then your pet detective Bluestone appeared. He told me about Vogel. I was..." he trailed off.
"You were what?" she asked, her voice curiously expressionless.
"I had no idea he was so... devoted," Owen changed the subject.
"If it were David, wouldn't you do the same?" she asked quietly, running a finger along his stone wrist and he looked at her sharply. She continued. "He let me go because I told him I knew of someone who could do what he asked."
"And who might that be?"
"Not you, love. I know what geas binds you as surely as I am bound and I would not involve Alexander in this. He is too young to know what he does."
"You would be surprised. Let us simply say the child has some experience with soul transference."
"Automatons. It is little different."
"For the soul to move from home to home, the body must first be weakened. And the participants must be willing."
"And you do not know if Renard would be?"
"I have only met him once. You have a history with the man, what would you say his answer might be?"
"There was an incident in Prague that I have heard a little of. I think he may appreciate Vogel's efforts, but that still leaves the question of who would act as catalyst for such a spell."
"His ex-wife?" Rowan asked softly and Owen's mouth dropped open in surprise.
"Their relationship was... fragile."
"He was her husband, do you not think she would find such an endeavour worthwhile?"
"I do not know. You were always more privy to her thoughts than I. What do you think?"
"I think she must have thought much of him, to bear his child and raise her as a mortal. I think that she might. But the matter of contacting her still remains."
"I may have an answer to that." He got up and went over to the bedside table, pulling out the drawer. He removed a small drawstring velvet bag and a rose gold and opal ring spilled out into her open palm.
"You kept this." Her voice held amazement and she turned the ring over in her hand, tracing the pattern carved into the gold with a fingernail.
"A reminder, when I did not know when we would meet again," he admitted. "It is still an object infused with her power, albeit a tiny fraction. But the link would be enough to open a dialogue. Are you certain this is the best way?"
"It is the only way I can think of."
"When is Vogel expecting an answer?"
"Then we have our work cut out for us. Come, it's time Alexander learnt how to talk to his Grandmother."
"Shouldn't we tell Fox about this?" Rowan asked as they stood over Alexander's crib, moonlight pouring in through the windows to make silver squares on the stone floor.
"Better to beg forgiveness..." he raised an eyebrow and she chuckled.
"Now there speaks the puck I know so well."
"You think?" he grinned and she stepped back, a hand to her mouth as the puck she had known appeared before her, the familiar form of Owen Burnett gone without a trace. No, not without some traces, she decided, seeing the same eyes and the same set to the jaw. She noted, with no small amusement, that they were of a height again. She thought she was getting a permanent crick in her neck looking up into his face, but the thought was fleeting.
He lifted the child from his cradle and held out the ring, which began to glow faintly in the dimness. "Okay, kiddo. We're going to give Grandma a ring, feel up to it?"
"Oh, I call bad pun," she whispered and Alex giggled, waving a fist in the air.
"Pay attention kid, this will save you long distance bills big time." His eyes glowed green and light poured from his mouth as he began to speak.
"Wind, hear these words I speak with utmost care,
Upon your wing let them find comfort there.
This ring that fits a finger lily white,
Hers is the ear that I would hear my plight.
Then whisper them with sweet and clarion aire,
that she would know that I require her here."
Alexander clapped, delighted, as the puck finished weaving his spell and the ring began to glow a steady white.
"Hawthorn oak and ash, that actually scans," Rowan giggled and the puck shot her a look. "Oh come now, you and I know both know iambic pentameter is bloody difficult."
"That mortal git from Stratford could do it in his sleep, you doubt I can manage?" He handed Alex to Rowan, who balanced him in her hip as he made a grab for the end of her braid and began to chew on it.
"It's been hundreds of years; I say only that we are well out of practice—"
"While I am always happy to see my grandson," a regal voice interrupted their discussion, "I can only assume you two have a reason for summoning me other than to mediate your quarrels?" The room was suddenly very no longer empty. The presence of the Queen of Faerie pushed against the very walls, as if the stone and mortar could not hold her.
Titania raised one lavender brow, her eyes dancing with amusement and the puck swept into a low bow.
"My lady." When he straightened again, Owen's form was fitted firmly back in place. Rowan found herself breathing a small sigh of relief. She was comfortable with this form, cricked neck and all.
Rowan bowed her head slightly, but it was in greeting rather than fealty. Alexander's green eyes were wide and he reached out with both hands towards his grandmother.
Unfortunately, that was when Fox entered the nursery.
"What the hell is going on here?" Fox demanded, trying to sound strident rather than terrified and only half succeeding. The nursery security sensors were set to sound a silent alarm when the heat signature jumped unexpectedly—such as when a new party popped into the room without using the door. After the first glimpse of her mother on the monitor, her heart rate had skyrocketed and stayed there all the way to the nursery door.
Rowan flushed and turned to Owen, who seemed remarkably calm.
"I believe you said something about begging forgiveness?" Rowan whispered and he pinched her. "I can explain."
"Make it good." Fox's eyes burned dangerously and Rowan handed her Alexander first, hoping that the reassurance of holding Alex would outweigh any desire Fox might have to rend limbs from happy limbs while she spun out the explanation.
"It all began in June," she began hesitantly. "No, that is too far back. I will start with this afternoon. I went to Cyberbiotics because I had reason to believe your Mr. Vogel had me cloned. As it turned out, I was correct. However, Mr. Vogel has recently come to believe that I was one of the Children and thought that by binding me with iron, he could force me to do his will.
"Here is why we summoned you, Lady. His will is that Fox's father's soul be transferred into a strong, healthy young body, which he has cloned from Mr. Renard's genetic material for this purpose. I believed him when he told me he thought only of Mr. Renard, and I want to help."
"Why?" Titania asked, taking her by surprise.
"Because I have no reason to wish to see Alexander grow up without his grandfather."
"Halcyon has lived a full life, why do you think his years should be extended beyond those allotted to him?"
"Allotted? There is no such order to things, that says a man can live these many years and these many only, when such science can give him more. Is that not so?"
"I have seen the dark side of human science even as I have seen the potential for good. Do not lecture me, child."
"I do not seek to lecture," Rowan glanced from Fox, who was looking pale and paler by the passing second, to Titania, who seemed unchanged by the plea, her back ramrod straight, chin tilted upward defiantly. "Only... Your daughter asked me this morning if I thought her mother loved her father. I had no answer for her then, but I wanted to believe you did."
"I did love Halcyon," Titania said softly, the words almost too quiet to hear and yet they were full of emotion—human emotion. "I loved him as a human woman loves a human man. Part of me loves him still, despite the fact that I have shed my mortal guise." She raised her eyes to her daughter, as if searching for something. Forgiveness, perhaps.
"Then help him," Fox said sharply.
"I must think on this," Titania frowned.
"Don't leave," Fox said quickly, shifting Alex to her hip and laying a hand on her mother's arm. "If you're going to do your thinking, at least do it someplace where you can spend a little time with your grandson."
"Trying bribery, are we?" Titania chuckled.
"Hey, whatever works, right?" Fox smiled. Hope shone in her green eyes. "Please, Mom."
"I would like to see how my little Alexander has grown," she mused.
"Then it's settled. I'll have the staff make up your room. In the meantime, I'd better head David off before he arrives with half the armoury."
"What shall we tell Mr. Xanatos about your mother's visit?" Owen asked and Fox started, as if she had forgotten he was there.
"You know what they say, better to beg forgiveness than ask for permission." She pinned the two of them with a smile and the flush returned to Rowan's cheeks as she took Alex from his mother's arms.
"It is way past your bedtime, little man," Rowan whispered to his ginger curls and kissed his temple.
"Not so fast," Titania, sounding suspiciously like the Anastasia Renard of old, headed Rowan off before she could tuck him back into his cradle. "Grandmother's rights supersede the... what is your office here?"
Titania's lips parted in surprise and then curved in a cat-like smile. "I must say, I am pleasantly surprised."
"I land on my feet," Rowan shrugged self-consciously. "Most of the time, anyway," she muttered, her cheeks hot. Owen touched her hand and she smiled up at him. "I'm doing my best. He's a sweet child and so far it's been relatively easy. I imagine once his milk teeth start coming in, it will be another story entirely."
"When Fox was teething, I thought I might go mad."
"You never cheated?" Rowan asked suddenly.
"Halcyon was mortal; his daughter, for all intents and purposes, was mortal. No, I chose to play my part, colic and all. But I was tempted. Believe me, I was tempted."
"Well, luckily in my case that temptation has been removed," Rowan kept her tone light.
"Rowan is doing an exceptional job minding Alexander," Owen's hand tightened in hers, and she leaned her head on his shoulder.
"It's only been two days," she whispered seriously, and he pushed his glasses farther up on his nose. She smiled despite herself. Oberon's queen searched her eyes carefully before turning to Owen, still bouncing Alexander on her knee.
"When Rowan told me of her reasons for returning, I was... sceptical. I am delighted to note that it appears my fears were unfounded."
At this, the smile faded from Rowan's face, but Titania ignored the girl. Her attention was squarely on her husband's former puck. Owen's blue eyes narrowed and she swore the temperature in the nursery dropped ten degrees.
"If you'll excuse me, it is late and I have work I have been neglecting. We will renew this conversation in the morning." He dropped Rowan's hand and left the nursery.
"Did you have to bait him?" Rowan frowned at Titania, who feigned innocence.
"I'm just looking after you, child." She tucked her grandson back into his cradle, brushing the red curls from his eyes tenderly.
"I hardly need looking after," Rowan bristled, "and I'll kindly ask you not to call me 'child.' You're not my mother."
"Indeed. I'm not. And it would seem that my daughter needs me."
Rowan stood in the doorway and glanced back at her former queen over her shoulder. "She has always needed you."
"What?" David almost dropped the laser cannon he was hefting.
"My mother's here," Fox repeated, taking the weapon from his hands and replacing it in the cache.
"And this isn't a problem?" he asked, wary as she led him back down the hall to their bedroom.
"You're sure," he repeated, touching her cheek and searching her eyes. She didn't appear to be under any kind of enchantment, but her mother was clever. He didn't really trust her, despite the way she had helped them. Or rather, because of the way she had helped them. And people call me manipulative...
"I saw my father yesterday," Fox said softly, her eyes filled with pain. "He's dying. Even I can see it, though I didn't want to for the longest time."
David took her hands and pulled her into a hug. The memories of his own father's heart attack were fresh, and he stroked her hair.
He and Halcyon Renard had never had anything other than the uneasiest of relationships. Renard had been all too eager to prosecute when his possession of the stolen Cyberbiotics data had come to light, and if he hadn't had the best lawyer his money could provide, David would have stayed in prison for much longer than the six months he had served.
Renard genuinely hated him, while Xanatos could only claim an odd kind of respect. After all, it was rare for a man to stand against him as long as Renard had. It was a feud that had begun when he and Fox had first met and its terms had been cemented with Owen's resignation, something which Renard had taken remarkably personally. Much more so than when Xanatos had wooed Sevarius away. Fox had even invited him to their wedding, for all the good it had done. His reply had been scathing, and had it come from anyone else, David might have taken action.
But he was Fox's father and he had stood with him against Oberon months ago. Since then, David had made a point of staying away from Renard and Cyberbiotics. He hadn't even taken advantage of the misfortunes the company suffered with the near destruction of Fortress II in the battle—which he thought was damned decent of him, considering he could have gotten controlling interest for a song.
"I hate feeling so helpless," Fox murmured into his shoulder, wiping away hasty tears with the back of her hand.
"I know." He rubbed her back and kissed her temple. "How did your mother find out?"
"Vogel tried to force Rowan to help him. He thought she was still one of them. Preston let her go because she promised my mother would help him."
"Do you think she will?"
"I hope so." Fox drew a shuddering breath. "God, I hope so."
Rowan found Owen in his office. He didn't looked up from the papers he was perusing, so she took them from his fingers and set them down on the desk.
"Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," he said tersely.
"C'mere," she pulled him into a hug and sighed as his arms went around her. "I'm sorry."
He stroked her hair and she hissed as his fingers brushed the tender area at the base of her skull. He frowned and lifted her hair from the nape of her neck to get a closer look. She bit her lip and stood perfectly still as he gently traced the purpling bruise.
"How did this happen?"
"And the needle mark?"
She raised a hand to her neck and stepped out of his reach, her gaze sliding from his. "Vogel was a little over-cautious."
"He drugged you?" Owen's blue eyes narrowed dangerously.
"It only lasted an hour or two," she tried to smile, but it faded too quickly.
"You gave me your word you wouldn't do anything rash."
"And I kept it. I deliberated very carefully how best to use the information you gave me. Vogel had the answers I needed, so I went. There was nothing rash about it."
"Perhaps I should have said foolish, then," he snapped.
"So now I'm foolish?"
"Did you really think what you were doing was wise?"
"What did you think I'd do when you gave me the information? Sit back and wait for you to solve my problems for me? I did what I thought was necessary. It was not necessary to drag you into it. It was not necessary to bring Matthew or Brooklyn into it. So I didn't. I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself."
"This is taking care of yourself?" He brushed aside her hand and touched the angry red bruise where the needle had punctured her skin. She pulled away from him.
"I am not some porcelain doll for you to set carefully away on a shelf to admire, Owen."
"You were lucky you weren't killed."
"I was fortunate Vogel listened to reason."
"And if he hadn't? What would you have done?"
"I certainly wasn't going to wait for you to storm the building with your toy soldiers. I would have managed. Or did you think my wits vanished along with my birthright?"
"Dammit, Rowan, you're mortal. You have to stop acting as if this is all some damned game!"
"I know that, you fool!" she cried and then cradled his face in her hands tenderly. "My stupid, lovely fool. Don't you understand? Billions of mortals stumble through every single day knowing how fragile they are. But they go on, because there is nothing else. I'll not live my life afraid to step off that careful shelf you've made for me, for fear I'll break."
She kissed him softly and then left. Owen looked down at the papers on his desk and swept them away so forcefully, several of them floated silently to the floor. He sank heavily into the chair and raised a hand to his mouth and then dropped it.
She spoke of her fears, but he couldn't find words for his.
Rowan woke to Alexander's cries, made tinny by the baby monitor's small speaker. A glance at the clock told her it was closer to dawn than she would have liked. Her thoughts had kept her up long past the time her body cried for sleep.
It was all like some fatal game of dominos. She had been so angry with Matt for suggesting she needed rescuing that she had approached Vogel just to prove him wrong. Or perhaps to prove to herself that he was wrong. She had gotten her answers, managing to scare Owen to death in the process. He had only been concerned about her and she had attacked him for it. That hadn't been fair.
She just couldn't stand the thought that he considered her helpless. It wasn't just her pride—it couldn't just be her pride; it hurt too much to just be petty pride... Yet part of her—the part she was desperately trying to hide from everyone—was still terrified by the reality of being human. Part of her just wanted to stay, tucked in the haven of his arms, safe and protected and...
She had fallen asleep at last, exhausted, yet still hoping to hear his footfall, feel the dip of the bed as he joined her. But the blankets on his side of the king sized bed were undisturbed. Apparently he had never returned from the offices below. Tugging on a robe, she yawned and scooped up the baby monitor on her way out.
Owen took a deep breath and removed the ring from his pocket. It glowed faintly in the dim light of his office and was warm to the touch. He knew where it would lead him and he followed its pull down the hall to the guest quarters. He paused before the door of one of the most luxurious suites and pocketed the ring before knocking lightly.
When she came to the door, he was surprised to find not the Queen of Avalon, but Anastasia Renard before him in a tasteful dressing gown, her dark hair unbound and even threaded with silver here and there. She had played the part a very long time and apparently was more comfortable in the mortal world wrapped in human flesh, though the eyes that sparkling beneath her straight dark brows still held a bit of glamour.
"Lady Titania, this humble puck would speak with you," he said softly and she stepped aside to allow him admittance.
"Humble? I should be impressed, I think. What do you wish of me, humble puck?"
"I would speak to you of Rowan."
"Ah. I thought as much." She patted the bed beside her, but he continued to stand.
"You banished her." It was a statement.
"She asked me to. You know I could never deny her."
"I knew no such thing."
"No, I don't suppose you did." Her brows drew together in a slight frown, as if she was just now seeing him. Perhaps she was, at last.
"Why? Why risk the wrath of our lord over a disobedient puck?"
"Because it was my wish to do so. I took no pleasure in her pain; nor yours either, truth be told."
"My happiness is the least of your concerns."
"Perhaps," she purred, still intent on his expressions. It was as if some dam had cracked at last and all that he had held in tight check was at last coming bubbling up to just below the surface. She had never seen him so; not as Owen Burnett, nor as her husband's puck, all those centuries ago. No, there had been that split second when Oberon had pronounced judgement...
"Did you think to make me indebted to you? Because I do not thank you for it, for all she might. I never asked you to damn her to this life."
"She hardly considered it damnation," Anastasia pointed out and he looked stricken.
"To be bounded by fragile human flesh, as like to die as any born of mortal blood?"
She rose from the bed and placed a cautious hand on his shoulder. "She chose to follow you into exile. She knew the consequences, and still she made the choice."
He shook off her touch, turning away from her, his shoulders bent. "If you had loved her, you would not have—"
"It is not a question of whether or not I love her." Her voice rose just a touch and he turned back to her, his face blank. "Any fool can see there was no one else for her, from the moment you clapped eyes on one another." She smiled, adding "Even a Fool such as yourself. She would have died on Avalon, a little at a time, every day that you were alone and apart."
"Given enough time, she would have forgotten me," he whispered, wanting to believe.
"There isn't time enough in the world," Anastasia said softly. "You know, when she first told me of her plight, I feared she had pinned her heart's hope on the wrong individual. That you were incapable of the emotions she ascribed to you." Anastasia circled him, stroking her chin thoughtfully. "I may have been wrong. I am not often wrong, but I think in this case I can concede to it without too much shame. I never thought to see that day."
"What day would that be, my lady?"
"The day the Puck put another's well-being before his own happiness."
"Take her back. Take her back, restore her powers, her immortality to her and I will forever be in your debt."
Anastasia regarded him gravely. How curious, this puck, this man who stood before her. She had finally struck at the core of a tangled knot and saw the threads fall at last in straight lines before her. It was that clear and pity shone in her eyes. "Though it breaks your heart?"
"Better my heart dies, than she dies because she chose me." His mouth was a grin line.
"I will not. Do not ask me again," she said sharply and he looked dismayed. She went on, her tone softening as she once again reached out to take him by the shoulders and turn his face to hers. "Go to her, instead. For good or ill, she is human now and yours. Can you not be happy, without fretting over the loss of what was freely given?"
"She could have died today."
"As could you. As could we all. The third race is not invulnerable. We die, just as the younger races die. There is no true immortality, you know that."
"I felt so helpless. I was helpless."
"I cannot change the conditions of your exile, any more than I can hers. What's done is done. Do not dwell on it. Rather, make the best of the lives you have. The life you have together."
"Is that an order, my queen?"
"Merely advice. But it would give me great pleasure if you were to heed it." Her lips curved in a brief smile. He stood there, considering it and then he started for the door.
He froze in the act of reaching for the doorknob and turned back to her.
"My lady, a favour..."
Owen slipped into the nursery, closing the door without a sound. Rowan was seated in the rocking chair by the window, Alexander curled into the crook of her arm, his head nestled in the hollow of her shoulder as she sang softly. She tapped one bare foot to keep time.
Cois a chle' mo, cois a chle' mo,
Socair sa'sta, socair sa'sta.
For a moment, Owen was content to simply listen to her voice and the rhythm of her foot on the stone. He remembered the song. Áine had sung it to Rowan and Brandon when they were still in the cradle. He could almost smell the white and purple honeysuckle of Áine's garden in the island's perpetual summer, the warm air lifting the leaves of the trees, bees buzzing lazily among the flower-laden bushes. He'd only been a boy and it was one the few memories of Avalon that he'd carried with him when he'd left its shores for exile.
He caressed her hair and she smiled up at him, lifting her face for a chaste kiss. "He's sleeping," she whispered, tucking Alexander into his crib.
Rowan looked up at him quizzically as he took her hand, a finger to his lips as he lead her out of the nursery. They walked in silence until they reached his room and he carefully shut the door behind them. They were plunged into darkness and she reached for the light, but his hands at her waist held her fast. She realised that they were both flesh and her brows drew together in confusion.
"What—" she began, but he laid a finger against her lips. He kissed her lightly and then more insistently until she could barely catch her breath. And then he kissed her again and rather than soul-stealing passion, it was filled with tenderness.
"Be my wife," he whispered into her hair. "Never leave me."
"I won't, mo chroí. I swear it." She could feel him trembling and stroked his hair and whispered wordlessly as he clung to her. The tears he hadn't dared shed wet his cheeks as she rocked him gently back and forth in the darkened room and he could hear her own breath catching. "You are my heart."
He found her mouth and she could taste the salt of his tears. Her fingers slipped inside his shirt, loosening his tie so she could kiss his neck, her lips skimming over his adam's apple as she plucked at the buttons. She pulled his shirt free, tracing the curve of his spine with her fingertips as she returned her attentions to his mouth. Her hands clutched his shoulders through the thin fabric of his shirt and tangled in his hair, a small sigh escaping her mouth. He swept her up in his arms and carried her to the bed.
"Mo chroí," he whispered against her mouth, "'s tu' mo choill..."
"'S tu' mo choill gaineach ban." She touched his hair and he slipped the shirt off. His hands trembled as he undid the buttons of her nightdress and she pulled it over her head, smiling as it landed in a puddle of cotton on the floor to be quickly joined by various undergarments, male and female, a much abused tie and a pair of slacks that really should have been set carefully over the back of the chair so they wouldn't wrinkle.
He drew back, studying her in the reflected lights of the city beyond the glass. As one of Oberon's Children, she'd had about her an intensity, a brightness and almost brittleness that translated, couched as she was now and forever in mortal, human flesh, as a slight exoticness. All the sharp edges were muted now and she appeared little different than any attractive woman in her mid-twenties, save for her eyes. No longer the hypnotic, pupil-less eyes of Oberon's Children, the irises were still an extraordinary grey. Like quicksilver, they shone with different hues at any moment. Summer storm-clouds faded into cold Atlantic swells with the change of her mood. Now they seemed light, ice flecked with shadows as she licked her lips, tossing her hair away from her brow.
He tangled his fingers in the black tresses. Her hair was so soft. He couldn't remember anything feeling so soft, as he wound a lock around his finger. It no longer smelled of apples and honeysuckle, but faintly of shampoo and his cologne.
After thousand years of lovemaking, they knew each other's rhythms; their very heartbeats were indistinguishable. She did not know where she ended and he began, as they took and gave pleasure from one another until they both lay sated, limp and warm and spent in a tangle of sheets and limbs.
"You know that I love you?" he said softly, curled at her side, the sweat cooling on their flesh. She kissed his jaw, but said nothing.
"What, silence? Have I finally tapped your reservoir of words and found it dry?"
She was indeed speechless. For all the humans gave them, vows of love were precious among Oberon's Children for their very rareness.
He brushed her hair from her cheek and she caught his hand and pressing a kiss into his palm.
"What answer can I make, in the face of such a thing?" Her eyes filled with all too human tears. "Aye, I love you. I think my heart should burst from it. I fear nothing when I'm with you. Not my father, or anything the world of men or faerie can devise to throw at us."
He kissed the tears from her cheeks and they slept, arms wrapped around one another, safe and content.
Rowan woke when the alarm went off at six. Owen stirred in her arms and she touched his cheek, tracing the curve of his jaw. His eyes opened and he caught her hand and began kissing her fingertips.
"Good morning," she breathed sleepily. She rolled over and then frowned as she noted his left hand was once again cold stone. He smiled sadly.
"It was a favour. I wanted last night...." He chuckled. "She berated me for being foolish enough to stick my hand in strange cauldrons."
Rowan laughed. "So now you owe her?"
"More than you know." He sat up and reached for his spectacles, adjusting them on the bridge of his nose. "I was a fool."
"Why? For wanting to protect me? I was wrong to take you to task for it. It would seem I do need looking after, after all. I got in over my head with Vogel. You were right; I was lucky."
"Speaking of Mr. Vogel, I believe we have an appointment to keep."
There was no sparring match that morning, by mutual consent of all parties involved. Fox met Rowan in the hall, on their way to the nursery and they blearily greeted one another in hushed tones as the morning sun continued to lighten the sky east. There were dark circles beneath her red-rimmed eyes.
She and David had lain in bed, talking until the wee hours. It seemed to her that all the pain of being Halcyon Renard's daughter had suddenly faded and what had stood out in her mind was every word of encouragement, every caring gesture, every hope that someday she would settle out of her wild ways. She had told David of those gymnastic meets she'd gone to as a teenager, and how proud Halcyon had been of her. How they had been close when she was a child and how they'd grown apart as she'd gotten older. How she'd wished things had gone between them and her pain at how their relationship had deteriorated beyond what could be fixed with a word or a smile. Yet he still tried. He hadn't been the one to cut off contact; she had.
David had listened, patiently, until she'd talked herself out and then just held her. She had finally fallen asleep just before dawn. Instead of feeling rested, she felt a thousand years old. The few hours sleep she had gotten seemed only to underscore how much more she needed. Gone were the days when a few hours caught in the plane on their way to the next job left her sharp and ready for anything. Which was just as well, she sighed. Her days as Fox, Mercenary, were beginning to feel as far away as the years as Janine Renard, daughter.
"Good morning," Anastasia greeted them cheerfully as they entered the nursery. Alex was already up, and it appeared Fox's mother had already changed him and had just finished giving him his morning bottle. Rowan didn't really want to know by which means the deeds had been accomplished: mortal or fay. The fact remained that they had been done by his doting grandmother.
"Mother, I didn't expect—" Fox began, but Anastasia waved away her question.
"Oh, I've been up for hours, my dear. In fact, I never did go to bed. I had much to think about." She reluctantly handed Alex to Rowan, who took the child and began snapping him into a romper from the drawer.
"And?" Fox asked, trying to keep her voice steady.
Anastasia pulled her daughter into an awkward embrace. "How can you doubt my answer?"
Fox let lose a breath she hadn't realised she'd been holding in a sigh and hugged her mother back. Alex fussed and Rowan kissed his cheek, smiling.
Owen appeared in the doorway, with Xanatos.
"Fox..." he began, taking his wife's hands in his. "You were there for me, when I thought... When my father was ill. And I want to be there for you."
"I know. But my father... I don't think it would be a good idea."
"Of course." He smiled sadly and gave her hands a final squeeze before dropping them.
"Mrs. Xanatos, I'll bring the car around."
"Thank you, Owen."
"Oh, and Owen?" Anastasia raised a brow. "I trust, after our discussion last night, everything went well?"
"Yes, ma'am. Yes, I believe everything is well." He stole a glance at Rowan, who had settled into the rocking chair with Alexander and seemed engrossed in tugging clean socks on the squirming child. She glanced up at him, a slight blush pinking her cheeks and her grey eyes danced though her expression remained a neutral mirror of his.
"Good." Anastasia smiled and then took her daughter's hand. "Well. Preston is expecting us."
If Vogel was surprised by the presence of Mr. Renard's ex-wife, he gave no outward sign as they were shown into his office by his secretary. However, Burnett's presence seemed to put him on edge.
It may well have had a great deal to do with the fact that if looks could kill, Vogel would have been laid out on the burgundy carpet like roadkill. Though his expression remained placid, Owen's blue eyes burned with an almost painful intensity and when Vogel stood up from his desk, Owen actually placed himself between Rowan and Vogel with one smooth motion.
"Ms. Rowan," Vogel ignored Burnett. "You have fulfilled your half of the bargain."
"As I said I would," she reminded him.
"You'll forgive me for doubting you."
"Perhaps," Rowan murmured as Preston summoned the elevator that would take the family downstairs to Renard's apartments. She and Owen watched them go, and then she reached for his hand, twining her fingers in his.
Anastasia thought she was prepared for the sight. She was sorely mistaken. When she had last seen Halcyon—mere days ago as time passed on Avalon—he had been frail and fatigued, but now he seemed positively skeletal. His skin had taken on a greyish cast and seemed stretched over his bones. His hair lay lank and sparse against his head. He was all angles, all softness stripped away by his illness, making him seem decades older than his actual age of sixty-five.
He was hooked up to all manner of machines to aid his failing organs and the noise they made almost, but not quite, masked the laboured sound of his breathing.
Anastasia reached out and took his hand in hers. His hand felt cool and dry as parchment. "We had all the world and time," she said softly and with infinite sadness.
His eyes opened and widened in surprise, his fingers tightening around hers. "Anastasia?"
She nodded, and his eyes slipped past her to meet his daughter's. Fox cradled Alexander in her arms, her green eyes bright with sudden tears.
"To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?" he asked, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth, and his voice was barely above a whisper.
"I asked them, sir," Vogel spoke up, his blue eyes uncommonly bright.
Halcyon stared at the gestation tube, his face blank. "A clone?" he finally asked, and Vogel nodded. "Mrs. Renard has offered to help. The clone has been specifically engineered. This disease can never strike you again."
"It would be so easy," he said, reading out to touch the cold glass cylinder. His slight form was sudden wracked by a coughing fit. "Too easy," he whispered, falling back against the cushioned wheelchair and pressing the oxygen mask to his withered cheeks.
"Sir—"Vogel began, but Halcyon went on as if his aid had never spoken.
"Once, not too long ago, I might have taken you up on your offer. But to start again... I am an old man. I've lived my life. I have had regrets, but I have also had great joy. Those joys would be diminished by taking the easy way out."
Anastasia didn't seem fazed, but smiled sadly. She had a feeling this was how this situation might resolve itself, though the first second she had seen the clone floating in the nutrient bath, she had been caught up in painfully sweet memories of the past. But that was where those memories belonged. Behind them.
"The easy way out?" Fox repeated, two spots of bright colour marking her otherwise pale cheeks. They were the first words she had spoken since entering the building. "This isn't about the easy way or the hard way. You're letting your sense of honour cheat you out of years, even decades. This isn't about honour, or responsibility. For one time in your life, can't you just admit that not everything is about the best way to live your life? That there are some things just about living?"
"That's exactly what I'm trying to—"
"Dad, you're not making sense—" Fox shook her head, her voice rasping in a suddenly tight throat.
"Yes, I am, Janine. I am making the only kind of sense I can out of the situation. I never wanted to be immortal. I thought I did. I wanted to make sure you were always safe and I wanted to live to see my grandson grow into the good, strong man I know he will become. But I was wrong. This isn't about cheating death. The only battle to be won was against my own fears. I'm not afraid of dying. I look at you, and Alex, and I know that the best part of me goes with you both. And that's enough. Do you understand?"
"No," Fox admitted truthfully.
"You will," he promised, and tears slid down her cheeks.
"Please, daddy. Please. I don't want to lose—I can't—" she stopped, her throat tight, and Halcyon stroked her hair clumsily, but said nothing.
Fox was beginning to wish she had taken David up on his offer to accompany her. She wanted someone to hold her, and tell her everything was going to be all right.
Instead, she stood stiffly outside her father's room as her parents shared a private word. She couldn't stay still, and so she paced. Alexander felt her disquiet, and fretted in his stroller. She lifted him into her arms, pressing her cheek to his.
"It'll be all right, Alex," she said softly as he quieted. Vogel was watching her, his own colour high, and she wondered what he must be thinking. But his face, as always, was a mask.
The door opened, and Anastasia, looking placid and unruffled as usual, slipped out. Appearances were deceiving. She pulled her daughter and grandson into a hug, and Fox's eyes filled with tears again.
"Why, mom?" she whispered.
Anastasia gave her daughter no answer, but she believed she understood. And that understanding wouldn't dull the edge of her grief, so she kept it to herself for now. And perhaps someday Fox would reach the same understanding.
The limousine deposited Rowan and Owen in front of the 23rd Precinct house just before sunset, and then sped off back towards the Eyrie building. They mounted the steps in silence, though Owen had a good idea of what thoughts were tumbling around in his lover's mind.
They had returned from Cyberbiotics that morning, and he had not seen her for the rest of the day, as she went off to the nursery and he the offices below. She had called just after five, and asked him to come with her. He wasn't sure why, but he had agreed, and there they were. The other uniforms and detectives in the bullpen seemed not to notice them as they navigated the sea of desks, but their studied indifference made Rowan uncomfortable.
They came to a stop before a cheap government issue desk spilling over with papers and coffee cups and one red haired detective chewing the end of his pen thoughtfully from behind a manila file folder.
"Hi," Rowan said softly, and he looked up, dropping the pen.
"Hi," he said, and then peered past her at Burnett, who was doing a remarkably good job of blending into the woodwork. She looked pale and tired. "Who died?" Matt tried to get her to smile.
"No one. Yet." She couldn't bring herself to smile. "I just came by to apologise. And to let you and Brooklyn know I'm okay. He came by last night—"
"Yeah, I heard."
She took a deep breath, and then plunged forward. "Matthew, you were right. What I said yesterday—"
"Look, you don't need to apologise," he said quickly. "Really. Um... I'm kinda surprised you're still speaking to me. I was a real jerk."
"Yeah, you were," she nodded and he opened his mouth to protest and then shut it again, cheeks flushed. "You want someone to need you. Fine. But I don't want that to be the defining aspect of our friendship."
"Are we friends?" he asked and her eyes narrowed. "You were right; I don't know you. I mean, the girl I met; that wasn't really you."
Rowan sighed. "Jackie's a part of me. Every role I've ever played has been one truth of several. She wasn't a lie."
"What about now?"
"Now there's just me." She grinned, spreading her hands wide and then dropping them. "What you see is unfortunately exactly what you get."
"Not everyone seems to find that unfortunate," he jerked his head in the direction of Owen, who was pointedly not paying attention to their conversation. She blushed. "So, what's the deal with Vogel?"
"We won't have to be worrying about Mr. Vogel any longer," Owen spoke up.
"Tell me he's not sleeping with the fishes," Matt deadpanned.
"He is not 'sleeping with the fishes.'" Owen dutifully repeated with no trace of a smile. "I believe his days in the near future will be taken up with Mr. Renard's deteriorating health, and the responsibilities of running Cyberbiotics, with no more forays into cloning and kidnapping."
"That's good to know. But we still have a missing clone on our hands. Dr. FitzMartin seems genuinely broken up about that."
"Does he?" Rowan couldn't keep the scorn from her voice. She didn't exactly hold him in high esteem, despite the fact that they had never been properly introduced. She wasn't fond of her genetic material being tinkered with, let alone full-blown asexual reproduction without the knowledge or consent of the parent.
"He's the one who came to me to tell me about Vogel being stuck on finding you. He didn't have to, but he did it anyway."
"Matthew Bluestone, you really are a tireless defender of the weak and downtrodden, aren't you." She chuckled.
"I always wanted to be Superman when I grew up."
"So, think the guys are awake?"
"Elisa went up there about an hour ago, and hasn't been back down yet; I'd say probably."
"And how are you and the good detective getting along?"
"Us? Ah, we're swell." Matt waved away her concern with a smile.
"She's still furious with you, isn't she," Rowan said with a knowing look.
"This is all my fault."
"Bull. If I'd told her first thing she got back—well, she still would have been royally pissed, but at least it would have blown over by now, and you wouldn't have to deal with it."
"I don't mind."
"Just move your butt, Bluestone." Rowan pointed him towards the door.
"What are you doing here?" Elisa's eyes narrowed as Rowan emerged from the trap door, followed by Owen, Bluestone bringing up the rear.
"We've been here before," Rowan reminded her. "Both of us."
"He wasn't invited," she said bluntly, jerking her head in Owen's direction.
"I will wait downstairs," he said quietly, and Rowan opened her mouth to protest but the light in Detective Maza's eyes stopped her.
"Sorry," Matt whispered.
"She's entitled to her opinions," Rowan whispered back with a shrug. "She's not right, but she's entitled," she added through clenched teeth.
Brooklyn ran over and enfolded Rowan in a hug. "You're all right!"
"Why wouldn't I be?" Rowan grinned, and if the gargoyle's colouring wasn't so dark, she would have swore he was blushing. "I, ah, heard you stopped by last night."
"Yeah, well... Angela was worried."
"Angela?" Rowan's eyebrows disappeared into her bangs.
"She's kinda been, ah, following you."
"How exactly do you 'kinda' follow someone?"
"She was worried about me." Brooklyn stared at his taloned toes, one wing twitching self-consciously.
She leaned forward, her voice pitched low so it wouldn't carry. "I know that feeling."
"Everybody worries about me. And I actually was very put out by it, until I realised it has less to do with thinking I can't take care of myself and more to do with people actually caring what happens to me. Sound familiar?"
"Yeah," he chuckled. "Hey, I was worried about you. What went on at Cyberbiotics?"
"Mr. Vogel wished to speak with me. Renard is dying."
"As much as I hate to say it, how's Fox taking it?"
"Poorly," Rowan said succinctly. "Very poorly. I think now she regrets not spending more time with him. But you cannot change the past." She turned at the sound of wings, and saw an owl perched on the shelf over the stove, watching with great interest as Broadway flipped pancakes. "This place has become a regular aviary. Who's this charming little fellow?" Rowan chuckled.
"That's Broadway's new pet," Brooklyn chuckled.
"I call him McGuffin," Broadway flipped the pancakes onto a plate with a grin. "He likes waffles."
"I didn't know birds ate waffles."
"Neither did I," Broadway confided in her, handing the steaming plate to Angela.
Rowan clicked her tongue against her teeth, and held out her arm. The bird looked up, and swooped down to land on her outstretched wrist.
Broadway whistled. "Whoa.
"I've always had a way with birds," she explained. "Aren't you pretty," Rowan cooed, smoothing the bird's feathers, then gasped as the owl's blue eyes began to glow an unearthly green.
Downstairs in the hallway, Owen was leaning against the wall next to the drinking fountain, resisting the urge to check his watch, when a small explosion went off inside his head.
It was like—yet unlike—the moment several days earlier when he had felt for all the world as if he was falling from a great height, and had lost completely the sense of who he was, where he was, and when he was.
In the midst of a shudder, he recognised the sensation. It was raw power, unfettered by spells or knowledge or even conscious desire to contain it. It was untrained, young, and ridiculously strong.
And it was coming from upstairs.
Ash had almost forgotten. Almost. Three days of thinking little owl thoughts, living moment to moment, had robbed her of the immediacy of her situation. Her weeks as a human had begun to take on a dream-like quality in her mind, soft and out of focus, while her owl-self concentrated on eating and sleeping almost exclusively.
She was suddenly faced with a mirror that brought everything into sharp focus, throwing her out of the dream as she saw herself before her.
Memory—of what it was to be human, of who she was and who she had been—came flooding back and filled her, stretching at the frail boundaries of her owl-self's awareness and finally broke through them, spilling out along her every nerve like fire.
And she changed.
Wings spread and grew, clutching at the air with tapered fingers, white feathers warming to flesh, until where once there had been a small white owl, a naked girl lay curled on the floor in a fetal position. Her spiky hair was the snow of the owl's feathers. She raised her head, blue eyes cooling to pupil-less grey below startling white brows, and locked eyes with Rowan.
They stared at one another, a distorted mirror. Then the girl reached up and her fingers closed on Rowan's forearm.
Rowan could feel the child's thoughts, like pebbles pressing into the skin of her eyelids, with a startling clarity as the clone was literally born again before her eyes. And she knew—knew with a certainty that made the hairs on the back of her arms and neck prickle and stand straight up—this girl. It was as if the clone's entire first few weeks of life had compressed into a feeling, an emotion, an ineffable something and dropped into her mind, her life, and her soul. She felt the girl's fear and confusion and relief and wonder all at once, and was giddy with it. It pushed at her seams, and she thought she might burst apart.
Then there were hands pulling them apart, peeling the girl's white fingers from her arms. The clone drew in a ragged breath and Rowan found a scream in her own throat, a small choked sound echoing from the girl's mouth as the connection was severed. The heady sensation of her mind being crowded with another's thoughts faded until it was a mere memory, like a dream, and Rowan found herself staring up into Owen's face as he shook her, calling her name.
"I'm all right," she breathed. "I'm okay."
Matt pulled off his trench coat and draped it around the child, who flinched away from his touch with a look of sheer panic. Rowan disentangled herself from Owen's embrace and crouched at her side.
"No, it's all right," Rowan touched her hand and clasped it.
"How... who..?" the clone whispered, reaching out to touch Rowan's face, trace the plane of cheek, the line of her nose, long fingers tracing the curve of Rowan's ear. Her eyes widened as she touched her own ear, which in the transformation had become long and tapered like a cat's.
"I've been looking for you," Rowan smiled kindly, and the ghost of that smile crossed the girl's face in answer.
Elisa and the gargoyles simply stared, open mouthed, at the scene playing out before them. It had all happened so quickly, and suddenly Burnett had burst through the trap door.
"Do you have a name?" Rowan touched the girl's cheek, coaxing her eyes to meet hers.
Ash opened, then closed her mouth, her eyes smarting with tears. She shook her head, pulling the trench coat closer around her.
"What are you called?" Rowan asked gently and the other girl's eyes widened.
"Henry called me Ash."
"Then I shall call you Nin."
Her eyes narrowed as the word set off flags in her memory, and she found herself speaking low, almost to herself, reflexively as she always did when she encountered something new and unfamiliar. "Ogham. The earliest form of Irish writing, consisting of short lines drawn to, or crossing, a base line, frequently mentioned in the myths and sagas. Its invention is ascribed to Oghma, god of eloquence and literature. Its use is varied throughout the myths. Mention is made of vast libraries of Ogham writing usually inscribed on the bark or wands of hazel and aspen. Over four hundred ogham inscriptions have survived, the majority being in Ireland, carved in stone. The language is an archaic form of Irish and most of the surviving inscriptions date from the fourth to the sixth centuries. Ogham is sometimes called the tree alphabet because each letter takes the name of a tree."
"What did you do, swallow a dictionary?" Brooklyn gaped, astonishment breaking through the hush that had fallen over all the gargoyles and humans present.
"Encyclopaedia. Many of them, in fact," the clone confirmed, deadpan. "Yes, I will take this name. I am much pleased by it."
"Nin it is then." Rowan looked ridiculously pleased. "I am called Rowan," Nin opened her mouth, no doubt to issue forth another lecture on horticulture, and then closed it again. She cocked her head, staring at Owen. "This is Owen Burnett. He's a friend."
"To some," Elisa muttered beneath her breath, and Goliath laid a hand on her shoulder. The detective lapsed back into silence.
"Do you know what you are?" Rowan asked.
"A Clone. From the Greek klon, meaning twig. An individual grown from a single somatic cell of its parent and genetically identical to it."
"No, child. Much more than that." Rowan touched the girl's soft white hair, pursing her lips. "As I was one of the third race, so now are you."
"The third race?" Nin parroted, confused.
"I would say Oberon's Children, but that is misleading. Unlike the rest of us—I should say, them?-you are not of Avalon."
"'What, jealous Oberon? Faery, skip hence—'"
"Yes. That would be him," Owen said quickly, and Nin took notice of him for the first time. Her eyebrows shot towards her hairline, and Rowan must have followed her train of thought, because she laughed.
"There is much we must tell you, little one. And much we shall. But not here—" she looked up and met Brooklyn's eyes. He smiled at her. "I'm sorry to cut our visit short—"
"Hey, we've got plenty of time. You're here to stay, right?"
"Indefinitely." She stood, brushing off her knees, and gave the gargoyle a quick hug. Her eyes lit upon Angela, and she snapped her fingers. "I almost forgot," she murmured, and walked up to the young female. Angela flinched, but then pulled herself up tall, meeting Rowan's eyes.
"Thank you," Rowan said softly, and Angela's shoulders relaxed, an expression of confusion crossing her face.
"But I thought you would be..."
"Upset? I have done my share of spying, and not always for so lofty a reason as to spare a friend pain. Who am I to condemn you?" Rowan shrugged, and then her grey eyes glinted with mischief. "Just don't let me be catching you at it again, eh?"
"Rowan," Matt caught her attention. "What about Dr. FitzMartin?"
"What about him?"
"He's worried sick about her. And you know us tireless defenders; we always root for the underdog. Besides, Vogel kinda turned out to be the villain of this piece, don't you think you should cut FitzMartin some slack? We should at least tell him the kid's okay."
"I don't want him knowing where she is," Rowan frowned, and Owen laid a hand on her shoulder.
"I believe that decision should be the young lady's," Owen broke in. Rowan visibly deflated.
"Of course, you're right." She touched the clone's shoulder gently. "Nin, would you like to see Henry?"
"I..." Nin frowned. "I don't know. Not yet. Is he really worried about me?" she asked Matt, her voice tinged with disbelief. He nodded. She frowned, running her fingers through her short hair, pausing once again to trace the curve of one ear. "Perhaps... perhaps later?"
"Okay. You have Rowan give me a call, and I'll bring him over to the castle."
"Castle?" Nin's eyes went wide. "You live in the castle?"
Burt gaped as Mr. Burnett led a barefoot girl, clad only in a trench coat, a baseball cap perched rakishly on her head, to the express elevator to the castle. Rowan caught his eye and grinned, saluting the security guard, who could only open and close his mouth with no sound issuing forth, and look from her to the girl and back again until the doors swallowed them. The guard looked down into his styrofoam cup, frowning, and then dropped it in the trash, rubbing his eyes.
Nin's first glimpse of Castle Wyvern's great hall took her breath away. She reached out to touch the tapestries, run her fingers along the chairs and fireplace mantel, and peer out the shallow windows to gaze at the city below.
"Have you always lived here?"
"No. I have a lighthouse in Maine, a few hours from here, depending on your method of travel. Before that... I lived everywhere. Before that, Owen and I lived on Avalon."
Rowan chuckled. "No. Much farther than that. It lies beyond the world walls. It is ruled by Queen Titania and her consort, Oberon—"
"It is ruled," Owen shot Rowan a look, "by King Oberon and his consort, Titania. Do not fill the girl's head with your curious perspective just yet, my dear."
She stuck her tongue out at him, and Nin laughed.
"I don't know which of you I should believe, but—oh!" she had caught sight of her reflection in the brass mirror, and tugged at her short hair in dismay. "Oh, my hair was black!"
"It was only your first transformation," Rowan reassured her, "and a rough one at that. You can change it with a thought. But I think it suits you this way. Don't you, Owen?" she raised a brow, and he touched his own short blond hair by reflex, before frowning.
"It is very fetching," he admitted, and looked up at the sound of footfalls.
Xanatos leaned in the doorway, his dark eyes dancing as he took in the scene. "Owen, you didn't tell me we were going to have company," Mr. Xanatos said mildly, pulling his eyes away from Nin's bare feet to her long, tapered ears.
"I shall handle the introductions," Rowan said quickly, and gave Nin's hand a squeeze. "This is Mr. David Xanatos, my employer and benefactor. Mr. Xanatos, this is Nin."
"Charmed," David shook her hand, and then turned to Rowan. "And how long will Miss Nin be staying with us?"
"That has yet to be determined, sir," Owen cut in smoothly, before Rowan could speak. "Miss Nin is rather a special case."
"I do not understand the purpose of this prevarication," Nin said, looking back and forth between Xanatos and Owen. "I was cloned from a tissue sample of Rowan, and have no intention of returning to the Cyberbiotics labs." She pulled herself up tall, and managed to look dignified despite the fact that her feet must have been freezing on the stone floor, and there was a Yankees cap clutched in her fingers.
Xanatos nodded, his brown eyes still twinkling. "As I said once before, quite some time ago, Owen; any friend of yours is welcome here. You may stay for however long you like."
"Thank you," Nin said, and meant it. She gave Xanatos a quick hug, taking him quite by surprise, and then bounced back over to Rowan's side.
"I have so many questions." Her grey eyes shone, making Rowan smile.
"And I will try to answer all of them. Come on then, I'll give you the nickel tour," Rowan took Nin by the hand and they exited the great hall, heads bent together like sisters, whispering.
"I'd say this is most definitely an interesting turn of events," David remarked as they disappeared.
"Sir, you have no idea just how interesting," Owen said dryly. "How is Fox?"
"She finally broke down this afternoon, after you left, just cried herself out. I wish there was more I could do for her; I know how hard this is."
"Loss is something we all must come to terms with. She is strong, stronger I'm sure than she feels at this moment."
"I hope so. It breaks my heart to see her in pain," David sighed.
"How long, exactly, do you intend to stay mad at me?" Matt asked as Elisa pulled the Fairlane out into traffic.
"Would it help if I apologised?"
"That would be a pretty good start."
"I guess I never really did. Look, I'm sorry I didn't tell you what all went on, I guess I kinda forgot about it. I mean, you were back, and she was gone, and it didn't seem like a big deal."
"But it was a big deal, Matt. I take it very seriously. You've seen how the city reacted last Christmas, when Xanatos had his robots out and people were calling for blood. I just want to make sure they're safe. That the clocktower is safe for them; they have no where else to go."
"Brooklyn was the one who brought Rowan back to the clocktower. I didn't even know she knew them until later. I would never do anything that might jeopardise their safety."
"I know. It's just—it's so frustrating! We can't trust Xanatos any further than we can throw him, and finding out his thug's girlfriend was bosom buddies with the clan and my partner—I just blew my stack."
"Look—you trust me, and you trust the guys, right?"
"Of course I do—"
"Then you have to trust the people we trust. You can't personally interview every friend they make, to make sure they are 'acceptable.' You knew it would happen, someday. That the trio would start making friends that they like and trust the same way Goliath first trusted you. Yeah, it threw me for a loop when I found out about her and Burnett. But Xanatos hasn't pulled a single trick since that mess with Oberon."
"What do you call what happened with Coldstone?"
"A favour. Okay, it was a really weird way to get everything to work out. But it did work out. Sometimes I think this isn't about Rowan at all."
"Oh really? Then who is it about?"
"What the hell do you mean by that?"
"You are never going to be able to forgive what happened to your brother, and so anyone even associated with Xanatos goes down in your book as no good. It's a blind spot—and I'm not saying you're not right about that. What happened to Derek and Maggie and the rest sucked, no doubt about it. But they've moved past it. Why can't you?"
"How the hell do you move past your brother's life being ruined, just because he's your brother?"
"I think you let go of feeling guilty, and try to make the best of it."
"Guilty?" she snapped, making a sharp left into a parking lot. She turned off the engine and glared at her partner.
"Yeah, guilty. Derek knew what he was getting into. You did your best to warn him, and he went ahead with it anyway. And when it turned out for the worst, you blamed yourself. Not Derek, for not listening to you. Yourself. And then you turned that anger into a nice little grudge against Xanatos that has just grown and grown."
"This apology is not going well, Bluestone."
"The apology is over, and you can accept it or kick me out of the car—whatever. But I'm just trying to say that I think you're just bringing yourself a world of pain here, and it's messing you up. You don't have to forgive Xanatos. You don't have to like him. You don't have to go near him. I just don't want you to be mad at me for still being friends with Rowan. Because that's totally separate." He rushed through the speech, and prepared for the worst.
Elisa glared at him, a muscle jumping in her jaw, and then her hands relaxed on the steering wheel and she sighed. "You make a lousy shrink."
"I wasn't trying to be your shrink; I'm trying to be your friend. So, are you gonna kick me out of the car, or what?"
"You can stay in the car. Just—just don't talk to me for a while. I need to simmer down."
"Okay, I can do that." He settled back in the seat and watched the world go by as they reversed out of the lot and back into traffic.
Nin kept examining herself in the mirror, ruffling her shock of white hair and tracing her ears with long fingers. "Is this really who I am?" She had exchanged Matt's coat for one of Rowan's brand new sweatsuits and socks, and looked all of twelve years old as she leaned close to the mirror, blinking slowly, amazed by her pupil-less grey eyes.
Rowan laughed. "You can be anything you wish to be. But yes, this is your true form. Well, perhaps not the hair."
"I believe I can grow accustomed to it," she said, making a face at the mirror and then flopping down on the bed, her feet dangling off the end. "How is it that I was born, for lack of a better word, human?"
"I was human when the tissue sample was taken. But it was not my true form."
"Is this your true form?" she asked innocently, and Rowan schooled her expression carefully.
"It is my punishment, to live out my life as a mortal. I was exiled from Avalon, but it was an exile I chose this time. For a thousand years, the Children of Oberon roamed the World."
At that, Nin's eyebrows shot upwards. "How old are you?"
"One thousand, three hundred, and ."
The girl swallowed, visibly shaken.
"But I've been told I don't look a day over one thousand, two hundred and thirty," Rowan deadpanned, and was rewarded with a smile. "I was equivalent to the human age of eighteen when we were exiled, and have spent far more time in this World than the land of my birth. It is home to me now."
"And you share it with Mr. Burnett?"
Rowan actually blushed. "There is much I have shared with Mr. Burnett in this lifetime. Would you believe he is close to six hundred years my senior?"
"But he and Mr. Vogel—"
"Mr. Vogel was an unknowing template for my—for Mr. Burnett's current form. He is quite, quite mortal. As is Mr. Burnett. By turns," she amended with a gleam in her eye. "And that is a tale best told by Mr. Burnett. My version—well, let us just say my opinions are often in marked contrast to Mr. Burnett's, and it's a mugs game to say which of us is more right in our views on the matter. In any case, all you need to know is that, for now, the two of us are mortal."
"And I am—for all intents and purposes—immortal." She sat down heavily. "That may be harder to become accustomed to than the hair."
"It's easy once you start."
"I don't even know how it started. One moment I fell off a building, the next I was an owl."
"Self-preservation is a wonderful motivator." Rowan patted her knee. "But you will need to be taught how to control your gifts, so that you don't end up trapped by the small thoughts of your shape."
"Will you teach me?"
"I cannot teach by example, but I can try. Ah, I envy you. I remember my mother giving me my first lessons in the glamour. And I learnt some marvellous tricks from Owen. This will be a delight, I'm sure. Tell me, have you discovered you can fly yet?"
"Fly?" Nin repeated, dubious.
"Come then, that will be our first lesson," she held out her hands, and Nin rose from the bed, still looking bemused and befuddled.
Rowan covered Nin's eyes with one hand, and leaned forward so that her mouth was inches away from her ear. "This is as easy as breathing, I promise. We're going to try floating first, as if you are learning how to swim."
"I don't know how to swim."
"Well, you understand the principles, though, yes?"
Rowan removed her hand, and Nin stood with her eyes dutifully closed. "All right. Imagine you are light; lighter than the breath you breathe in. Feel the air around you. Your muscles are loose, all the lines of your body are relaxed. Now, think of the air as lifting you. Everything in the universe is a gentle pull upwards. Everything is oriented in that direction, and all it takes is the smallest act of will."
Nin came up on her tiptoes, her entire body straining towards the ceiling, and Rowan grinned as her feet came a few millimetres off the floor. "It's so easy, so simple. You can do it. Just rise up, and there you are."
Nin opened her eyes slowly, and let out a whoop of surprise as she floated six inches off the cream coloured carpet. She tumbled to the floor, but she was laughing, her eyes shining even as her breath came in gasps. Rowan smiled broadly.
"Now, wasn't that simple?"
"I did it. I really did it."
"Of course you did. And that's only the beginning. When I'm done, you'll be able to hold your own against any child born of Avalon. Think you can grow accustomed to it?"
Nin giggled. "I'm beginning to believe I can grow accustomed to anything. That was a parameter of my programming; to adapt quickly to new situations."
Rowan frowned. "I am not comfortable with such an idea. Programming to me makes people sound like machines."
"But people are machines. Biological in nature, but all behaviours are learned ones."
"You may find that some things are simply instinctual in nature, and not learned at all."
"Henry told me that."
"Tell me of your Henry."
Nin rolled over, resting her chin in the cup of her hand. "He's kind enough, and very gentle. I think once he saw how unhappy I was, he felt responsible. It hurt him, but at the same time, I do not think he knew quite how to deal with it. He brought me books and films and puzzles."
"Yes, I saw the puzzles."
"What?" Nin's eyes widened.
"There was a small case of mistaken identity."
Nin waited for more, and when it became apparent that no explanation was forthcoming, she swung her feet off the bed and began investigating the book titles on the shelf across the room. "Could I see Henry?"
September 19, 1996
Dr. Henry FitzMartin sat in the lobby of Xanatos Enterprises, on the one hundredth floor of the Eyrie Building, his hands in his lap. He fretted with the handle of his case, pulling absently at the thread that stitched the leather. Matt almost felt sorry for the guy. Hell, what almost? He did feel sorry for him. If he knew Rowan—and he was actually starting to, at last—she wasn't going to make this the slightest bit easy for the guy, poor bastard.
"They can see you now," Caroline said succinctly, and she was still giving Matt the evil eye. He gave her an extra charming smile as they moved from the reception area into Burnett's office.
"Ash!" A huge grin broke out across Henry's face as he saw the young woman in the office, and Matt opened his mouth to correct him, but Rowan was quicker.
"Wrong, doctor," she said with a tight smile completely devoid of warmth. Her long dark hair was loose down her back, softening the effect of the grey silk suit somewhat, but not enough as she leaned against the edge of Owen's desk. Mr. Burnett was conspicuously absent. "My name is Rowan. I believe we met, once. But the circumstances were less than pleasant."
Henry flushed, the smile leaving his face in one great rush, and he seemed suddenly old and frail as he removed his glasses and began to polish them with his handkerchief, as if they were to blame for his mistake. "Yes. Yes, of course. So sorry. I—I knew, of course, but the resemblance—well, it would be. My."
"Yes. Mr. Vogel also found the resemblance quite striking."
All the colour that had flooded his face seconds before drained away, leaving him positively ashen. There was a flicker of something in her face which Matt recognised as pity, and she crossed the desk to the telephone. "Owen?" she said into the receiver, and then hung it up.
The inner office door opened, and Burnett appeared. Henry's eyes widened as he caught his first glimpse of the clone.
"Hullo, Henry," she said shyly, and he gasped.
"My dear, whatever have you done to your hair?" he said, aghast, and she reached up to nervously to the short locks, but then let her hand fall, standing up a little straighter.
"I know what I am now, Henry. And I have a name."
"A name?" he parroted, confused.
"Yes." She grinned. It was a delightful, childlike smile that he found echoed on his own face. "I'm called Nin."
"I'm happy for you," he said softly, and found he meant it.
"I'm glad, Henry." She enveloped him in a brief hug.
"Are you coming home?" he asked, and knew he sounded like a lost old fool, his voice full of hope. She shook her head.
"I'm sorry, but that was never my home. And besides, Mr. Vogel would never let either of us back in the building now," she giggled, and he flushed again. He'd almost forgotten being fired. Almost. "What will you do now, Henry? Where will you go?"
"Some other company, I expect. There have to be other places out there besides F&M and Cyberbiotics in need of a geneticist. I had heard that Nightstone was hiring—"
"I wouldn't, if I were you," Rowan suddenly cut in, "Just—just trust me in this. You don't want to work there. Their CEO—You don't. Just—no." She shook her head, and Matt gave her the oddest look.
"Dr. FitzMartin, if I may make a suggestion—" Owen rose from behind the desk with a business card between the fingers of his human hand. "Mr. Xanatos is always looking for employees with your level of expertise. I cannot guarantee anything, of course—"
"No, that's very—unexpectedly, actually. Um. Thank you," Henry took the hand and put it into his pocket without even looking at it. "Well, I suppose this is good-bye, then. Unless, perhaps I might be allowed—that is to say, if you like, I could visit—"
"I don't think so, Henry," Nin said sadly. "I'm sorry."
He pursed his lips, and then sighed. "Well."
Nin hugged him again, her breath coming out in a long sigh. "I'm so sorry, Henry," she said, pulling back, and he saw her grey eyes were bright with tears. She slipped out of the circle of his arms and disappeared back through the inner door, closing it behind her. Rowan followed, leaving Henry staring at his feet awkwardly.
Nin was seated on the leather couch in the corner of the office, her hands to her face.
"Are you all right?" Rowan stroked her hair.
Nin nodded, tears spilling onto her cheeks. "It's just—I want to forgive him. And I can't, because..."
"Too little, too late?" Rowan asked softly, and Nin nodded. "You never know. Perhaps now he will change. People can and people do."
"I want to go upstairs."
"I'll have Owen take you up."
When Rowan entered the outer office, Henry was gone. Matt stood by the door, hands deep in the pockets of his coat, leaning against the frame. "Owen, can you take Nin back to the castle?" He nodded, and she waited until the door clicked shut, and they were alone.
"Where did he go?"
"Caroline took him back downstairs, and called him a cab," Matt informed her. "Is she okay?" he asked, jerking his head towards the connecting door.
"She will be."
"I feel bad for the old guy, but what can you do?"
"What can you do?" Rowan echoed, tucking her hair behind her ears. "You want to hang around?"
"Nah, I'm back to work tonight. Chavez'll have my hide if I call in sick two nights in a row. What the hell was all that about Nightstone?"
Rowan chuckled. "Someday—when we're all old and grey—ask me about Dominique Destine. But not before then."
"Thank you, Matt."
"For just being here." They walked out into the hall, and she waved at Caroline as they passed the desk.
"Hey, that's what friends are for, right?" Matt pushed the down button, and grinned.
"I don't have many, so I'll have to take you at your word."
"So what's your plan for the evening?"
"Let's see—Must See TV. Nin has quite a fondness for it. Alex gets a bath. Fox's mother is here; I expect we shall all eat together."
"Whoa. Fox's mother being..."
"The one and only."
"Sounds like fun."
"Oh, I'm sure it will be. She hasn't met Nin yet, so this should be interesting in the extreme."
"You know the curse—may you live in interesting times." He chuckled, and then the elevator doors swallowed him.
She spun on her heel, and slammed straight into David Xanatos. "I didn't hear you," she said quickly, "I'm sorry."
"No harm done."
She was suddenly flustered. "You'll have to make more noise, in the future, so I know to get out of the way."
"I'll keep that in mind."
"See that you do," she said wryly, and then realised it was the middle of the afternoon, and she was supposed to be in the solarium with Alex, who had been spending the morning with his mother. "Where's Mrs. Xanatos?"
"She's already taken Alex down."
"Would you like me to take over?"
"No, I think she needs to fuss over him right now."
"I understand. Well, it seems I have the afternoon to myself then. I'd best look after Nin, she's had, well—let's just say her meeting with Dr. FitzMartin was a bit overwhelming."
Anastasia Renard stood in the arched doorway of the enclosed garden, watching her daughter play with her son on a blanket spread across the carefully tended grass. Fox's eyes were bloodshot and her cheeks were chapped, but she was smiling as Alexander burbled happily.
"This little piggy went to market," Fox tapped his big toe, "and this little piggy stayed home. This little piggy had roast beef, this little piggy had none. And this little piggy had a big armoured tank all to himself—"
Anastasia laughed, and Fox looked up.
"Mother, I didn't see you there," she flushed.
She came the rest of the way inside, and crouched on the edge of the blanket, delight shining in her pale eyes. "When you were little, you loved to have your feet tickled."
"I don't remember."
"Of course you don't; you were an infant. Your father used to—" she stopped at the look on Fox's face and gave her daughter's hand a quick squeeze. "Your father used to hold you in his lap, and kiss your feet," she demonstrated by taking Alexander's foot in her hands and blowing a kiss into one pink foot noisily. The baby waved his arms and giggled. "for hours. I thought he was such a fool—my big, strong corporate tycoon of a husband so taken with an infant, but then I'd see you smile, and I'd be lost. Do you know, I never bore Oberon a child. I treasure you, Janine. I treasure your father, and the years I spent with you I count as the happiest of a thousand years of exile."
"I want to believe you."
"And I want you to believe me, because it is the truth. And it is amazing to me, to hold my grandson in my arms, and know that he has loving parents who can give him the kind of life he could never know on Avalon."
"Then why the game?" Fox couldn't keep the accusation out of her voice, and her chin jutted out just as it had when she was small and was standing up to the adults in her life. "There was no guarantee you would have won, and then I would have lost my son."
"I would never have allowed that, you must believe me. But Alexander needed a teacher, and the Puck needed to stay. Oberon would never have let him, unless he felt he had won something worth breaking his own laws. The Puck's humiliation was worth it, to him." There was sadness in her eyes, and she sighed. "For me, I knew only that Alexander must be taught, and not lose his magic. This world needs magic, Fox. It needs it desperately, and Oberon cannot see that. There is much that my husband cannot see, more's the pity."
"Do you love him?"
"Sometimes. Oh, when I was young, I thought I loved him passionately. So much of what the Children do is motivated by passion rather than common sense, it's a wonder we have survived so long. That was what appealed to me about this world, and the mortals that inhabited it. The curious mixture of passion and sense that Oberon's Children have not mastered, combined with an intense curiosity that we lack entirely. There are no great faery inventors, explorers, or scientists. We do not crave to know the nature of things, we bring no order to chaos. We have no innate purpose, nor need of one. The gargoyles, for example, know their purpose. They protect.
"Do not get me wrong; there are contradictions and exceptions to every statement I've made. But enough of this talk; I sound like a teacher, and you're in no mood for a lecture on the Third Race. Now then, tell me about you and your husband."
Fox flushed, and then chuckled. "Since when do you want to know—"
"Allow me to make myself clear. How are the two of you getting along?"
"Oh. Fine. David's wonderful. It's like he knows what I'm thinking. I don't even need to say anything, whatever I need, whatever I want, hell—things I never would have thought of... He's always there for me. I think Alex is the best thing that's ever happened to us. David was always an extraordinary man, but since he's become a father—it's like it's completed him. Everything means more, everything fits better. He even wants to have more kids."
"How do you feel about that?"
"I wouldn't mind a little girl," Fox said wistfully. "Or maybe a little brother for Alex to play with. You should see David's cousin Melina's boys. You couldn't imagine two children more different. Michael has these apple cheeks, and freckles, and Stephen! Stephen definitely takes after the Xanatos side. I can see what a terror David must have been to Petros when he was a little boy. Nine years old, and he acts like he has the world in his back pocket. His jaw does that thing," she gestured, and laughed as a grin broke out over her mother's face. "I think Alex'll have David's jaw. And his eyes, don't you?"
"Oh, I don't know. I think he has your eyes."
"I'll say things like 'He has his grandfather's ears.' But you can't really tell yet. I mean, I like to pretend that I can tell. Baby's faces all look alike until one day you look up a realise 'that's our son.' And it's more than just picking out individual features and attributing them to me, or David, or you or Daddy—I'm not making any sense."
"Yes you are," Anastasia assured her with a conspiratorial smile. "For example—You have your father's eyes. The colour is mine, but the shape—that's Halcyon. Every time I look into your eyes, I think that exact same thought. My baby girl has her father's eyes."
"I believe," Anastasia wrinkled her nose expressively, "my grandson needs his nappy changed." They set about searching through the ever present diaper bag for all the necessities, laughing and smiling.
"You know," Fox said conversationally as she removed Alex's smelly diaper, grimacing, "Somehow, all those years in jungles and deserts and every godforsaken corner of the earth that had a war on, I never pictured myself married with a kid, worrying about such mundane things as diaper rash and preschool."
"And you think I—Titania of the House of Madb, Queen of Faerie, Mother of the Third Race—thought I'd be working nine to five in a lab and coming home to a little girl in braces with pigtails, strawberry jam stains on her gymnastic leotard?"
"It was grape jelly, and I guess I never thought about it that way before."
"Motherhood does strange things to us all. Pass the talc."
Xanatos knocked as he entered Owen's office, and found his major-domo at his desk, staring down at a small velvet box sitting in the centre of the blotter.
"So, you're going to finally make an honest woman of her?"
"It would take a great deal more than a diamond to make an honest woman of her," Owen said with the barest hint of a smile, his eyes still on the jewellers's box. "Sir."
Xanatos laughed, and then opened it. A diamond solitaire winked at him from a simple yellow gold setting. "It's very tasteful."
"I was thinking of myself, sir. I did not want anything that could prove potentially fatal if we got into an argument. She has a wicked left cross."
"Why do you think I gave Fox the Eye of Odin?" He laughed. "So when do you plan to pop the question?"
"The question has been popped, sir, and her answer given. Such things—" he indicated the ring with a nod "—are not our way, but it occurred to me that we have to fashion new ways. I thought this might be a fitting start."
"Owen, you romantic dog, you." There was a hint of admiration in his voice. "So, when are you going to give it to her?"
"Perhaps after dinner this evening. I am still a little unsure. It is awkward."
"No reason for it to be. She's already said yes. Do you love her?"
"We love each other, as much as two people such as ourselves are capable of that emotion."
"Owen, if I didn't know better, I might think that was a subtle dig."
"Hardly subtle, sir."
"What happened to Mr. Burnett's hand?" Nin asked Rowan as they dressed for dinner. The question had been eating at her for the two days she had been at the castle so far, but Henry's reminders of personal space and personal questions still echoed in her mind.
"He thrust it into the Cauldron of Immortality," Rowan answered. "I believe the terms of the spell were thus that the only immortality it provided was if you didn't mind being statuary. I really wish I could do something about that."
"Not unless I can convince Brooklyn it's what he really wants for Christmas," Rowan chuckled and was treated to a blank stare. "The conditions of my banishment stipulate that I am without my powers and abilities unless I am granting a boon. Our friend Brooklyn has my only outstanding boon."
"Which one is Brooklyn?"
"The red one."
"Ah. Which one fed me?"
"That was Broadway."
"I would like to grant Broadway a boon," she said decisively. "Something to do with blueberry waffles. Do you think we can have blueberry waffles?"
"Certainly not for dinner," she said, and the girl's face fell. Rowan shook her head, trying not to laugh. "Perhaps for breakfast," she said solemnly. "I'll see if I can arrange it."
Nin grinned, and Rowan decided this child was going to be a delight to have around, if all it took to make her happy was breakfast pastry.
Dinner was being served—by Owen, since he wisely assumed that the appearance of their most recent addition to the roster of house-guests growing at an alarming rate might just unnerve the kitchen staff. The food had been brought out into the dining room in warming dishes, by the aforementioned staff, to save Owen numerous trips to the kitchen. He loaded the plates at the side table and then set them before each chair before taking his own seat.
Rowan, her hair still damp from Alexander's bath, came in, tugging Nin along behind her. The clone was wearing one of Rowan's pair of jeans, and the same sweatshirt she had worn the night before. Then Owen realised that Rowan was also wearing the sweatshirt, and guessed that the first lesson in conjuring had been completed with some success. The two of them looked like twins, except for Nin's ears, a fact which did not escape Anastasia's notice, her eyes widening in surprise.
"And who is this charming young woman?"
"This is Nin," Rowan informed her, watching the queen carefully as she looked the clone up and down and smiled charmingly. Rowan loved her former queen, but she certainly didn't trust her. Not entirely. "Nin, this is Fox's mother, Anastasia."
"It's a pleasure to meet you. But my former puck hasn't told you the entire truth."
Nin turned to Rowan, mouthing the word 'puck', her eyes wide. Owen chose that particular moment to start clearing away the empty salad plates.
"Perhaps I should demonstrate—" Anastasia was enjoying Rowan's discomfort enormously, and broke her masquerade for a moment, delighting in the young clone's reaction to the Faerie Queen in all her glory, "—and let us begin the introductions again."
"Nin—Titania. Titania—Nin," Rowan said quickly through clenched teeth and then gave the queen a withering look. She heard Owen rattling plates behind her, and took a deep breath. "Let's not confuse her just yet, shall we? There's rather a lot of history we have yet to cover."
"As you wish," Titania inclined her head with only the slightest trace of mockery, and Nin blinked as her form was once again replaced with that of Anastasia Renard. Rowan sighed in relief, as did Fox.
"Nin's to be staying with us for a time, until she has gained some mastery over her gifts."
"How perfectly delightful." Anastasia patted the seat of the chair next to her, eyes sparkling. "Come, child; you must sit by me so I can get to know you better."
Nin looked to Rowan, who smiled and patted her arm encouragingly.
"It's all right; she doesn't bite."
"Certainly I do. But never friends."
"Mother—" Fox said in warning, and Anastasia only laughed.
"Nin knows I'm teasing, don't you, child."
"I have not had much experience with teasing, Mrs. Renard—"
"Please, call me Anastasia."
"—Anastasia. But I believe I can understand the concept in the abstract. Do you live here?"
"Oh, no. I'm simply visiting. My husband lets me come and go as I please. And as far as he is concerned, I have been missing for a few short hours. When that turns into days, then perhaps he will start wondering."
Knowing just how long a day in Avalon was outside its boundaries, Xanatos shot his wife a panicked look, and Fox almost choked on her wine. "Mom, how long are you planning to stay?"
"Looking to get rid of me already?"
"Let's just say that the last person I want to appear on my doorstep unexpectedly is your husband," David pointed out.
"And I hardly blame you." Anastasia smiled brightly, and the salad course was taken away to be replaced by hot steaming soup. "I should put in an appearance on Equinox, else Oberon does start to fret and worry, so I will be out of your hair come Saturday."
"That's so soon," Fox said softly, David wisely remained silent. No man wants to admit anything to his mother-in-law on the subject of extended visits, be it negative or positive.
"Fox, you know if you need me," Anastasia said carefully, touching her daughter's hand, "all you have to do is ask, and I will come. From anywhere."
Fox nodded, and then turned her attention back to her meal.
There was a tap at the door, and Nin answered it in an over-sized t-shirt and socks, a yawn splitting her face. Anastasia smiled, and waited until she had her breath back.
"I thought I might stop by to chat for a bit; but if you are tired—"
"No, please, come in," Nin stood aside and Anastasia slipped through the door, surveying the guest room absently. There was a puzzle on the table, the corners and edges all set in, and pieces divided by colour all around it.
"You enjoy puzzles?"
"Oh yes, very much," Nin grinned. "Can I ask you something?"
"Certainly, my dear."
"How long was Rowan your puck?"
"Most of her life. My husband assigned her to me when she was just a girl. Jacks from her house are highly prized by some. By some, I mean I have always had time for her. Others... well, jacks are considered cheap, for all their rareness "
"I'm not sure I understand this talk of pucas and jacks. The mythology concerning them is barely above a footnote."
"The jacks are more curious than most, hence the trouble they manage to get into. And they are clever as well. But they are not held at the same level as the rest of Oberon's Children. And their lines are dying out."
"They're second class citizens?"
"More like they are misunderstood, and pitied by those who should be seen as most pitiable figures themselves. Take my husband, for example. He used to take great delight in the Puck—you know him now as Owen Burnett—his particular brand of mischief, so long as no shadow of it touched him to make him look foolish. He cannot stand to be laughed at, and would have kept the Puck as his weapon solely, tightly under his thumb. You can imagine how well the Puck took to that approach.
"And Rowan! She was a puck of an entirely different sort. The Puck wanted to be found out, you see. He liked to claim credit for his games. But Rowan, she was a sly one. You cannot get her to admit to half the things she's done through the centuries, and it would serve her just as well to never be found out. She holds her victories close, and does not care that she is the only one to know their nature.
"The two of them are quite the pair. It does my heart good to see them settling down at last. This world needs more merry mischief of the kind they wreak. But it will take some work to find another of her calibre to take her place in my court." Anastasia's eyes sparkled wickedly. "Or very little work at all."
Nin regarded her curiously, and set another piece into the puzzle.
"What are you doing?" Owen asked as he found Rowan in bed with a yellow legal pad across her knees, a pencil in her mouth.
"Are we really going to have a wedding?" she asked, and he almost dropped his glasses. He set them on the bedside table carefully, and turned his full attention to her.
"I meant what I said."
"As did I. What I meant was, are we going to have an actual wedding?"
"If you want it to be legal, then yes."
"Well, I meant—you know. Flowers, and a band—"
"You want a band?"
"I didn't say I wanted a band, but..." she sighed. "Well, I like music."
"I like music as well."
"You're making fun of me now."
"I wouldn't think of it. What's this?" he took the pad from her fingers.
"I was attempting to make up the guest list. The bride's side might be a bit thin."
"And the groom's non-existent," he added, scanning the list of names. "Nanabozho?"
"After hearing about Arizona, I'm not so certain Mr. Xanatos will be all too pleased—"
"I should think not."
"—But I'm sure 'Bozho will behave himself. You know I've always been very fond of him."
"An attraction I've never understood, myself." He raised a brow. "Brooklyn, well that's understandable. Matthew Bluestone, of course. Who is Rain?"
"My street kid. You gave her twenty dollars once, don't you remember?"
"Small child? Dreadlocks? Fleas?"
"Ah, you do remember. I'll have to find her, of course. She does the park in Summer and then shares a squat with her brothers in winter, unless Social Services picked her up. I rather thought she could be ring-bearer, since Alex's too young. Tell me, how evil should the brides-maids' dresses be? And can I force Fox and Nin into them, or should I resort to bribery?"
"I don't think you can force Mrs. Xanatos into anything and I'm not sure what kind of bribe you could assemble to tempt her. Perhaps you should settle for something tasteful?"
"So jewel tones are out. Damn and I did so have my heart set on something garish. How do you feel about lavender?"
"You are insane."
"That's part of my appeal."
"And who would give you away?" he asked, keeping his eyes on the list.
"I don't know. It is a human custom after all—"
"We are human."
"I suppose I could ask Mr. Xanatos—"
"He will be acting as best man."
"I should think, if Mrs. Xanatos is to be matron of honour, that he would."
"Oh. Well. I don't know, then. I suppose we can skip that part."
"I suppose we can," he said softly, turning out the light. She reached across to click off hers as well, and set the paper and pencil beside it as she found a far more interesting focus for her attention.
September 21, 1996
Queen Titania of Faerie was playing patty-cake. Her daughter and her grandson's nanny watched with open amusement as Alexander stretched out his small hands towards long tapered green fingers, delighting in the smacking noise Oberon's lady made as they connected.
"Oh, I am going to miss this little one," Titania sighed, pulling the baby into her arms and hugging him, then she grimaced as he got two fistfuls of long spun-sugar candy pink hair and proceeded to try and eat it. "Here now, none of that." She pulled the long strands free, and handed the child to Rowan, who had her back in a sensible plait. The great hall was bright with early morning sunlight that streamed in through the windows, making rectangles on the stone floor, illuminating dust motes like fairy dust.
"I never thought I'd say this—not after last time—but I'm going to miss you, mother." Fox smiled ruefully.
"You know I was only acting in your best interests, Fox."
"Yes, I think you thought you were. But next time, share. I am an actress, after all."
Titania chuckled, and clasped her daughter's hands. "It's been good to see you Fox. And you—" she reached over and touched Rowan's cheek tilting her chin up to meet her eyes. "Mind my grandson."
"You know I will."
"And be happy, child."
Rowan only nodded, and Titania stepped up to the full length bronze mirror hanging between two tapestries. Its surface rippled like water in a scrying bowl, the scene changing from a simple reflection of the room to a window onto green fields, a palace in the distance. Without looking back, she stepped through and the image clouded and then cleared, once more Fox and Rowan saw their faces reflected in the glass.
"I'm going out for a while," Fox said, turning from the mirror. "I should be back in time for Alex's lunch."
Fox brushed her father's hair from his forehead much as she would have done her infant son's, with a smile and a gentle hand. His eyes flickered open.
"Janine—" he whispered, and she put a finger to her lips.
"Vogel read me the riot act about exciting you, so let me do the talking," she said quickly, pulling her chair closer to his bedside. She took his hand in hers, and cleared her throat self-consciously. "I've been talking to Mom. And thinking. And I've made a decision I hope you'll be happy with. Anyway, I know these last few years—okay, this past decade, I haven't exactly been a model daughter. And it used to make me crazy, trying to live up to your expectations. So one day, I just decided to go the exact opposite way, just to piss you off. Like I said, not model daughter behaviour.
"But I want you to know that I want—I mean, I can change. I know I can. You said once all I had to do was ask for it honestly, and you'd give the business to me. I don't want it—not all of it. But I want to see it go on, Dad. I don't care if Vogel's at the helm, I want to be a part of it. I want to feel like I'm doing something you'd be proud of again."
She waited for his response, and saw his eyes fill with tears.
"Janine, all I've ever wanted was for you to be happy."
"I know." She squeezed his hand, and his eyes drifted shut. She reluctantly released his fingers, and turned to go. She gasped as she almost ran into Preston Vogel, who stood in the doorway, his face blank.
They exited to the hallway, Vogel carefully pulling the door shut. He nodded to the nurse on duty, then turned to Fox.
"Mr. Renard was already in the process of turning the company over to you upon his death—"
"I don't want it. You do. We'll share," she said in clipped tones.
"If you'll forgive my saying so, Mrs. Xanatos, I wasn't aware sharing was your strong suit."
"Careful, Vogel." Fox smile was feral, and Vogel backed away a half-step. "I'll see you at the next board meeting."
"I have a Board Meeting Friday," Fox said conversationally as she flipped David over her hip. He landed on the blue mat on his feet and came at her with grim determination in his eyes. She ducked beneath his foot, and landed hard as his elbow impacted with her kidneys.
"Sorry, my dear." He offered her a hand up, but she declined, rising under her own power.
"No apologies necessary."
"And what board would this be?"
"Cyberbiotics. I'm taking a seat. That won't be a problem, will it?"
"Of course not. How is he?"
"No worse. But he's not getting better either."
"I know," she said quietly, stepping off the mat and patting her face and neck with a towel. He frowned, and then followed suit. The time for hugs and heartfelt assurances had passed, apparently. He would adjust his strategy accordingly.
Still, he had a feeling the coming months would be interesting, to say the very least.
September 22, 1996
"I appreciate the personal attention, Detective Bluestone. But I have no idea why anyone would want to steal this particular chemical. D/I-7 is a potent concentrated disinfectant. Hardly worth taking unless you have a very large and dirty house to clean."
David Xanatos sat on the carpet of his private office, looking up into Matt's face as he tossed a blue rubber ball back and forth with his small son. Even in this position, he managed to make Matt feel like he was attending an audience with some kind of king. Matt hated that particular feeling.
Alex pushed the ball off his lap, and it rolled to Matt's feet. He picked it up, and tossed it back gamely. "Okay, Mr. X. That's all—for now. You might want to use some of this D/I-7 stuff to make sure your own house is clean."
"Can you say 'harassment', Alex?" Xanatos prompted the child, a wicked gleam in his eye.
Alexander cooed happily.
"I knew that you could."
Matt scowled and stalked out of his office, feeling Burnett's eyes following him the whole way. Halfway down the hall, he almost slammed into Rowan.
"What are you doing here?" she blurted out, eyes wide.
"Hey Matt, nice to see you, how've you been doing?" he said sarcastically. "Gee, I'm swell. How 'bout you?"
She reached out to touch his shoulder, but then stopped as his expression darkened. "I'm sorry. How are you?"
"Fine. Elisa's on day-shift, showing a new guy the ropes. So I'm all on my own."
"So, what's gone down in the big bad city tonight that draws you here?"
"Someone hit your boss's warehouse by the East River today. Know anything about it?"
"Mr. Xanatos has property all over the city. I'm afraid I don't get out of the castle much, looking after Alexander..."
"Yeah. Thought so."
"Well, it's the truth." She scowled. "What's eating you?"
"Nothing." He sighed. "The usual. I think your boss is up to something nefarious and evil and he's got his ass covered six ways from Sunday, so I'm not getting anywhere."
"Why do you always assume Mr. Xanatos is up to something?"
"Old habits die hard," he shrugged.
"What's it going to take to convince you?"
"Oh, a miracle."
"You've got statues that move. Ireland went for a decade on that." She shrugged and he cracked a smirk. "And he was, in fact, directly responsible. For here, not Ballinspittal. I don't know what the story was there."
"Aliens," he deadpanned.
"I thought those were the statues on Rapa Nui?"
"You're just too much." Matt chuckled and started back towards the elevators. "You know, people judge you by the company you keep."
"Good thing I've got a friend like you, then, eh?" she shot back as the elevator doors slid closed. Rowan took a deep breath and headed back to Xanatos' private office.
"Matthew's not in the best of moods," Rowan informed Mr. Xanatos, somewhat needlessly, as she lifted Alexander into her arms. "I think he's just frustrated."
"I can hardly blame him. He's used to suspecting me of something or another; little habit he picked up from his partner."
"His partner has been shooting both Matthew and myself the nastiest looks ever since she found out I, ah, Owen and I—well, she was livid. She actually blames Matt, though Brooklyn was the first one to bring me home to meet the family."
"Someday I'm going to pry that story out of you."
"It won't take a crowbar, and really, it wasn't much of a story." She dismissed it with a wave of her hand, but he knew she was lying.
"So, all packed?"
"Not much to pack, but yes. Nin wants to take her Gameboy so she can play Tetris on the drive, and that's about it. She's gotten quite good at conjuring her clothing. Look, are you sure it's all right?"
"I think Fox and I can look after our son for a few days. You two go ahead and enjoy yourselves. You know, Owen could take you in the chopper," Xanatos looked up from his terminal, brown eyes guileless.
Rowan shook her head. "That's all right. I need to practice driving. If I'm going to have a licence, I should know how to operate a car, right?"
"Nin and I'll just be picking up some things to bring back here and it'll give the two of us a chance to work on her skills in a neutral environment."
"I heard this spiel before, when you asked the first time." His brown eyes sparkled. "You don't have to sell me on the idea. I wish I could send Owen with you—"
"It's just as well, he'd get so far behind he'd never forgive me. Has he ever taken a vacation?"
"Not once in ten years. Although I assume he will consent to a honeymoon."
"He, ah, told you, then."
"Not exactly. Let's just say, since I've become a married man, I can smell wedded bliss a mile off. I assume you'll be having the wedding here?"
"We haven't actually discussed it yet. I don't even know when, exactly. Soon. I think a thousand year courtship is quite enough for anyone."
It was pouring down rain by the time the rental car pulled into the driveway of the lighthouse. Rowan was soaked through as she stood by the door, fumbling with the keys Mrs. Keneally had given her. The aged housekeeper was used to Rowan's comings and goings by now, especially the long stretches between the goings and comings. She expressed some interest in Nin, whom Rowan introduced as her cousin.
Finally the tumbler turned and the door creaked open.
Rowan's hands shook and she blew on them to warm them. She couldn't remember ever being so cold. She was beginning to think she'd never be warm again, as she laid tinder for the fire, struggling to lift the logs into place in the grate without scattering ash everywhere. Nin watched her curiously and Rowan jumped back as the tinder lit before she could set a match to it. She smiled wryly and stripped off her sodden coat, hanging it on the back of the rocking chair to drip and steam.
"I've some dry things in my room. I'm going to change."
She emerged from the bedroom enveloped in a giant cable knit jumper that hung almost to her knees and soft cotton gauze skirt. She'd even managed to dig up a much-abused pair of wool socks, one toe peeking out a small hole she didn't know how to darn. She rolled up her sleeves and reached for the kettle to put it on for tea.
The handle was white.
Her kettle had a blue handle.
She set it back down and walked over to the bin. At the bottom lay a charred and melted tea kettle, a tea towel still wrapped around the handle. Flattened against the side of the bin was a cardboard box bearing a photo of her tea kettle, a small sticker proclaiming this one bearing a white handle.
She turned off the tap and walked back out to the living room, seeing it as if for the first time. The rug was clean. It was her rug, it hadn't been replaced or restored. It was still faded, with that faint outline of an old stain that had resisted several attempts at removal still marking the edge. Just cleaned. As if someone had rolled it up and taken it down to Mary Margaret in the village, from whose great-grandmother Rowan had originally purchased it, then brought it back. She could see where the furniture, what little there was of it, had been replaced almost exactly where it had stood before. The couch was at a different angle and the end table was moved back farther. As if someone had painstakingly erased any sign of her abduction.
She knew exactly who that someone had been, as she touched the new hinges on the door with a hand shaking not from cold, but emotion. Caressed the repaired door jamb, as her eyes filled with tears, not from knowing who so much as when.
He'd come here, after. Not knowing if she would ever return to see his handiwork, he had come here to put her world right. This work had been done by mortal hands. If not his, then by his direction. She tried to picture him at the store trying to remember the colour of her kettle's handle. She could imagine his frown of frustration at not finding the right one, or his amusement as he chose one to suit his idea of her kitchen, rather than hers. Improving on the original model.
She tasted her tears as she thought of him coming here and finding her gone. Of him alone for three months, never knowing anything except what he could imagine from marks the violence of her leave taking had left on this place.
Nin placed a hand on her shoulder and she started. Rowan had almost forgotten that she was not alone and she hugged her fiercely as the world shook itself apart with thunder on the other side of the frail walls.
"Do you feel better?" Nin asked as they sipped peppermint tea before the now roaring fire. Rowan's eyes were red and her cheeks flushed, but she was smiling.
"Somewhat. I didn't mean to fall apart on you."
"Does it have to do with Mr. Burnett?"
"Very much so. He came here, while I was trapped on Avalon and set it to rights."
"Why did that make you cry?" Nin was puzzled.
"Because I'm a silly, emotional git." Rowan chuckled, taking a long sip of tea.
"You must love him very much." Rowan remained silent and Nin sipped her own tea. She took the silence for an affirmative and pressed forward. "Is that why you gave up your place on Avalon?"
"That was part of it. It's a bit more complicated than that. But that was a very large part of it, yes."
"Do you regret it?"
"Sometimes, I miss the power inherent in what I was, but I value my freedom more."
"How can you look on me, without seeing all you've lost?"
"How can I look on you and not see all that I've gained? You are the only daughter I may ever have."
"Do you mean that?"
"I would be proud to claim you as my kin."
September 24, 1996
"This is Jon Carter for the WVRN Special report on the destruction of the 23rd precinct house by the monsters known as gargoyles. Urban myths no longer, these creatures launched a completely unprovoked attack against our city's finest."
David clicked off the news, and swivelled his chair around. He steepled his fingers, deep in thought.
"Obviously the gargoyles did not destroy their own clocktower," Owen mused.
Alex squirmed happily in Fox's arms. "Maybe not. But anyone who saw that report is going to think they did. The whole city will be hunting them now."
David was lost in thought, and then rose from his desk.
"It seems Goliath may need a friend," he mused. "Owen, keep me apprised if the gargoyles resurface."
Surrounded by boxes and cases, Rowan brushed her hair back from her face and grinned at Nin, who was floating four feet off the floor in the lotus position. "You're getting rather good at that."
The telephone rang, and Rowan dove across the living room for her jacket to retrieve the cellular.
"Come home," was Owen's reply, and she frowned.
"The gargoyles' clocktower has been destroyed."
Rowan swallowed, and tried to keep her voice level. "Are they all right?"
"They escaped. But the city has organised a task force. Your Detective Bluestone has been placed in charge, but I am not certain he can keep the peace in this instance."
"We'll be there as soon as we—"
There was a bright green flash, and Rowan blinked. Owen stood opposite her, the telephone in his hand. "—can." She clicked the cellphone shut, and Owen set his handset back in the cradle.
"Was that quick enough?" Nin asked innocently, floating above the couch in Owen's office.
"Aye," Rowan confirmed. "I could have done no better myself. Should I talk to Matt?"
"Find out all you can. Mr. Xanatos does not want to see anything happen to the gargoyles."
"Why do I get the oddest feeling that it is less gratitude speaking, than opportunity?"
"Call it what you like; the result is the same."
"You need not teach me the game, my love. I learnt it a millennia ago. Is Fox in the nursery?"
"Yes. We have stepped security up after Mr. Carter's visit. He more than suspects Mr. Xanatos of having strong ties to the clan, and has very effectively worked the city up into a frenzy with his sensationalist reports. He could be dangerous."
"Nin, go to the nursery and wait for me there. If anything happens—"
"Hey, Bluestone!" the desk sergeant called over the din of the hastily organised task force headquarters, and Matt looked up from the scarred battle weary desk that he'd been assigned that morning. "Call on line 5."
"Got it," he pressed the flashing yellow light. "Bluestone," he said wearily.
"Rowan?" he frowned. "Where are you?"
"Back at the castle. I heard about the clocktower. Are they—?"
"We don't know. They took off. The Captain is in the hospital, and Elisa is out looking for them. They almost got Angela the other night."
"Do we know who they are?"
"We know a little. Jason Canmore—We thought the bastard was a cop?-leads them. We know he has two siblings, but I don't have the first clue where to find them. They wear masks, and there's no way the police choppers can stand up to that ship of theirs. It's crazy. No one wants to find out who these hunters are, they just want to declare open season on the clan."
"We're kinda busy here—But, yeah."
September 26, 1996
In the Xanatos' family room, the season premiere of ER played out on widescreen. Nin was draped over the couch, her feet dangling off the edge, giving over her full attention to the rather mediocre script. Rowan sat with Alexander in her lap in the rocking chair, and was barely paying attention to the hospital drama, her eyes straying to the window to fasten on the sky. Owen stood in the doorway, his eyes fastened on Rowan's dark head. His good hand was in his pocket, tracing the outline of the small velvet box that had sat in his desk drawer for near to a week.
"This is the scene here at the condemned St. Vincent's church right now—" Travis Marshall broke into the broadcast, and Rowan's head snapped up. Alex began to fidget in her arms, and she sat him down on the couch, putting Frobisher into his grasping hands, eyes still glued to the broadcast.
"I have to—" she began, and Owen's hand fell on her shoulder.
"There's nothing you can do for them."
"But I have to—"
He grasped her shoulders. "Rowan—No." He could see understanding dawning across her face. He let go, and she frowned.
"How foolish of me," she stared blankly at some point just above his left shoulder. "You're right, of course. I'm going to nursery."
"No, it's all right. I would only hinder you. Go—please, go, and don't let the police get them. I would not see Brooklyn live out the rest of his days in a laboratory or Zoo."
"Neither would I—" a voice came from the doorway, and she saw Xanatos glaring at the television screen, where the broken windows of the cathedral reflected red from laser blasts. "Owen, we're taking the chopper."
"Right away, sir." Owen caught Rowan's eye, and mouthed stay here.
She nodded tightly, and then they were gone. She looked back to the television, unable to tear her eyes away. Alex chewed on the penguin's beak, green yes wide and unfocussed.
"Take her up, Owen," Xanatos called as the last of the gargoyles piled into the back of the chopper. "Well," he addressed Goliath affably, "would you like to tell me what all that was about?"
"Ah. I take it this is the missing D/I-7." He took the canister from Hudson's fingers. Brooklyn opened his mouth to warn him, but Broadway elbowed him in the ribs. Goliath scowled.
"She cast a spell that would bond with the chemical and sweep the planet, cleansing it of its human inhabitants." Goliath's voice was a growl. "Don't drop it."
Xanatos visibly blanched and placed the canister carefully in a transport case and then took his time fastening it to the wall of the chopper. He sat down heavily and buckled his seatbelt around him.
Rowan watched from the shallow stone doorway, shading her eyes from the floodlights, as the helicopter slowly lowered itself to the landing pad. Part of her wanted to run out and greet the gargoyles and hug Brooklyn to assure herself that all was indeed well. The sensible part of her, the part that remembered the truths she often tried to forget, slipped back inside the stairwell, her stocking feet making no sound on the stone.
"You can to stay here," Xanatos said to Goliath, "as long as you wish."
Goliath frowned, looking around at the walls and towers. "We do not need your charity, Xanatos."
"It's not charity. This is your home. The least I can do, after all you've done for this city and my family, is welcome you back."
The gargoyle continued to look sceptical, but then he looked up at the tower silhouetted against the full moon. There were memories here. Both good and bad, true. But it still felt like home in a way the clocktower, for all their efforts, never had. And now it lay in crumbling ruins, and the castle remained. "We will stay," he said carefully, "for a time."
Xanatos nodded. "I know you won't believe this, but the feud is over, regardless of what your final decision may be."
"You're right, Xanatos. I don't," Goliath rumbled, and then spread his wings, catching a thermal and gliding to the highest most tower.
"Are our guests settled in?" Fox asked as her husband appeared in the nursery, Owen at his heels. She yawned, tucking Alex's blanket around the sleeping child. He had finally dropped off again around dawn and she was about ready to join him. Xanatos was silent, moving forward to envelope his wife in a fierce hug.
"David?" Fox's voice was muffled by his shoulder. "What is it?"
"Nothing," he said softly and hugged her closer. "I hope you never know how close... I just want to hold you."
"Okay," Fox whispered, putting one arm carefully around her husband's shoulders. Behind her, Owen slipped out and she had a fairly good idea where he was headed.
Rowan and Nin were in Owen's living quarters, dressed in identical white nightgowns. Rowan's came from Victoria's Secret. Nin's came from the aether and was fashioned by her rapidly advancing skill. They were identical down to the thread hanging from the second buttonhole. They looked up as he entered and Nin smiled. Rowan, sensing his profound disquiet, stood and he enveloped her in a one armed hug.
"Is everything all right?" she asked against his chest.
"It is now." He released her and touched her cheek, brushing her hair back.
Nin blushed and Rowan smiled. So young. So very young and all of eternity before her. She felt Owen's eyes on her, and she twined her fingers in his. Nin made a great show of yawning, and backed towards the door.
"Well, I'll see you in the morning then," she ducked out the door, closing it behind her with a soft click. Rowan smiled, and then felt Owen's eyes on her. She turned back to see him staring at her intently, brows drawn together in concentration; as if he would commit her features to memory.
"What is it?"
"Demona. The gargoyles managed to thwart her, but she came so close—"
"Don't think of it—" she laid a hand on his lips, and shook her head. "Close calls are merely that. Our life isn't horseshoes."
"There will be others, and naught we can do but live each day as it comes" he growled in frustration, and threaded his fingers in her hair, pulling her mouth to his with an urgency that surprised her, though it shouldn't have. He removed a small box from his jacket pocket, and pressed it into her fingers. She opened it and started.
"It seemed the thing to do," he said, by way of an explanation, and she slipped her hand around his neck, pressing her forehead against his.
"I think, and a girl can only say this while holding a diamond I think, that it is a thing well done." She chuckled. "So, it appears that this is actually going to happen."
"So it appears."
"Funny. There was a time when I would have said you couldn't decide whether to take me to bed or to wife."
"Oh, I will take you to wife," his blue eyes sparkled with an unholy gleam as he swept her into his arms. "And you know I will take you to bed."
"That wasn't always such a certainty, or must I remind you?" she laughed into his shoulder. "This time last year, you were not so decisive about renewing our former relationship."
"You changed my mind rather quickly."
"I couldn't get you to look me in the eye, let alone... But the second—the second I came close to the truth of what happened between you and Demona, you turned the tables on me."
"So now the seductress claims she was seduced?"
"I have played that part over the centuries, I will readily admit without too much prodding."
"I don't remember you minding." He ran a finger down her cheek in a familiar gesture of affection. "And if I recall correctly—and I believe I do—were you not the one who claimed fidelity to our native soil as an excuse to break Oberon's law and steal the Phoenix Gate right from under Goliath's nose?"
"Semantics," she dismissed the conversation with her nose in the air and a casual wave of her fingers. He dropped her on the bed, and she squeaked as she almost bounced back to the floor. "What has gotten in to you?"
"You," he said simply, sitting on the edge of the bed and loosening his tie. "I've spent far too long pretending autonomy. I didn't need anyone or anything. I was the great and powerful Puck, favourite of Lord Oberon himself. But I was nothing but a jester, and that knowledge would have eaten me from the inside. But you were content to be exactly what you were. And you looked at me and didn't see a clown. I need that. I need you."
"I would have said the same thing, you know. How could I not fall in love with you? You're clever and wise, and you've always had more patience."
"Yes, that always was a particular character flaw of yours. Always so impatient."
"Everything in life that's worth something is worth waiting for." She leaned forward and grazed his chin playfully with her teeth. I'll tell you, though—I never thought I'd be the one changing Xanatos' Jr.'s nappies. Not for a second."
"You mean you weren't serious when you asked about the nanny position?"
"I believe at the time I was trying to get into your pants, and would have said anything that popped into my head that furthered that end."
"Such language." He pursed his lips and shook his head, and her shoulders shook with laughter.
"If I'd known all it took was talking dirty," she breathed against his collar bone, and teased his adam's apple with her tongue, "I wouldn't have wasted so much time."
Rowan slept the sleep of the dead. It was not too different from the sleep of the just, really. Just deeper. So it took Owen several tries tickling her nose with a lock of her own hair before she twitched, and her eyes opened a crack. He pressing his lips to hers, and then got up. She blinked up at him, confused.
"Come on," he suddenly, tugging her outstretched hand.
"Where are we going?" she asked sleepily. It had been almost 10 a.m. before they finally dropped off to sleep, and she felt as if she could have slept another eight hours.
"I want you to see something."
"Come with me. Watch the sunset."
Her eyes slipped past him to the windows. "It's started without us, darling."
"I know." He tossed her a dressing gown, and stuck his feet back in his shoes—without socks, she noted with no small amusement. He took her by the hand and they practically ran all the way to the towers. Owen tugged her up the stairs, and she laughed.
"What has gotten in to you?"
"You're lying to me," she responded with amazement. "Badly."
His only reply was the quicken the pace.
They burst onto the tower just as the sun was beginning to slide behind the skyline.
"What—?" Rowan began, and then stopped, her mouth still open. A slow grin spread across her features.
"Think of it as a wedding gift," he said simply, and she put a hand to her mouth, eyes wide.
"Oh Owen, it's perfect. How did you know?" she stepped back so she could get the full effect against the setting sun. "It's just what I wanted."
He reached into his pocket and with great ceremony came up with a compact polaroid camera.
"Oh. Oh, you're evil."
His only reply was to take careful aim, and just as the green spots from the flash were beginning to fade, she heard the tell-tale cracking noise that signalled the clan's awakening. She grabbed Owen's wrist and they headed for the stairwell, disappearing back down the stairs just as the first echoes of the gargoyles shouts upon waking reverberated off the stone chamber.
They slid to a halt as they reached the main hall, and the elevator doors opened to reveal Detective Maza. Her eyes widened at Rowan's dressing gown.
"Detective," Owen inclined his head. "I believe the gargoyles are awake and expecting you."
Elisa smiled, and headed up the stairs to the tower.
Rowan giggled, and leaned heavily on Owen's arm as she gasped for breath. They ran and didn't stop until they reached their own quarters, and collapsed on the bed, breath ragged and laughter welling up.
Rowan rolled over onto her stomach and lay the photograph out on the rumpled spread. The milky brown surface was already beginning to sharpen and clear, and she giggled as the image resolved itself.
Goliath had the most idiot smile on his face. Truly priceless, and they had photo proof.
She truly loved this man.
"Elisa," Goliath's smile was warm, and the detective felt a catch in her throat as she remembered the brief touch of his lips to hers that morning.
"Were Rowan and Burnett just up here?" Elisa asked carefully.
"We were alone when we awakened. No one was here."
She shrugged, and then stepped closer. Almost unaware of what she was doing, she reached up to brush her knuckles across his cheek. Her dark eyes were sparkling. "I missed you today."
"Elisa, we must talk." Goliath's eyes were wide, and for a second she was taken aback.
"You don't regret—" she began, and he caught her hand as she withdrew it.
"No," he said quickly, and began caressing the delicate skin between thumb and forefinger with one talon. "No." His voice rumbled in his chest, and they stared into each other's eyes for a moment, until the laughter and shouts of the trio below shattered the moment.
"Father—" Angela began as she glided up to the tower, and then stopped as she looked from Goliath to Elisa and back again. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but before patrol Broadway is going to give me a tour of the castle. I've never seen it, and he said it has a magnificent library. I just wanted to tell you where we were going so you wouldn't worry."
"Thank you, daughter."
"Well. I'll be going now. I'll see you later, Elisa."
"Bye, Angela." Elisa couldn't keep the chuckle out of her voice. Angela smiled, and spread her wings and leapt down. "Well, my guess is in about fifteen minutes, the clan will be filled in on the pertinent details."
This observation was met with a blank stare, and then Elisa did laugh. "If you were planning to keep the, um... change in our relationship a secret, that's pretty much blown now."
"Never mind. You'll figure out teenage daughters soon enough. Now then, what did you want to talk about?"
"Not here. Let's go someplace where we are not likely to be... interrupted." He offered his hand, and Elisa took it. He swung her into his arms and they leapt into the night.
Broadway watched Angela's face as she stood, transfixed by the sight of more books than anyone could read in a thousand years. They stretched from floor to ceiling, two curved stories of everything from dusty old maps and reference books to plays, novels, poetry. Her eyes were wide, her lips slightly parted and her breath came out in a sigh.
"This is amazing! Avalon's library was nothing compared to this. Oh Broadway, all the stories! The Magus used to read to us every night; he was the only one who knew Latin and Greek well enough. He even encouraged us to write out our own stories in our own language, but I had to leave them all behind when I left."
"I didn't know you wrote."
Angela blushed. "They were nothing—children's tales to amuse my rookery brothers and sisters. But this... Oh, Broadway." She grinned, and it was his turn to blush.
"I knew you'd like it," Broadway beamed. "I never used to hang out much here, not being able to, you know, read and all."
"But you read so well..."
"Only because Elisa and Matt brought those phonics books for Hudson and me. I've been working really hard, but I'm still only at a second grade reading level. I was wondering if maybe, a coupla nights a week, you could help me out—"
"I'd love to." She took his hand shyly, and gave it a squeeze. His chest puffed out a bit and she held back a chuckle. He was so easy to delight.
September 30, 1996
Matt stared at the mountain of paperwork on his desk with a growing feeling of dread. Over the week-end, thanks to the news endless reply of the footage shot Thursday night of the clan, gargoyle sightings were threatening to overtake Elvis in sheer number. Every time a cat knocked over a garbage can, he got four calls from hysterical neighbourhood watch groups—some from as far away as South Orange—convinced monsters were afoot in back gardens and on rooftops.
"Why does my life have to be an X-file?" he wailed as Morgan dropped off another stack of pink slips.
Morgan shrugged. "Hey, you're still the head of the task force."
"You always said you wanted the big time," Elisa smirked from her desk across the thin strip of linoleum dividing his organised chaos from her neat as a pin work space.
Ever since Friday morning, one Detective Elisa Maza was acting like the felis domestica that had swallowed the proverbial serinus canarius. She had actually been humming when she'd come into work Monday. He hadn't been sure, but it had sounded like "500 Miles" by the Proclaimers. He hadn't asked. It seemed... safer.
"Give me the Jersey Devil any day. This is just torture. I actually have a message here from a temp who insists her boss turns into a gargoyle when the sun goes down."
"Takes all kinds, I suppose." Elisa shrugged, sipping her coffee, and then her eyebrows rose in surprise. "You have a visitor."
Matt followed her gaze to see Rowan making her way through the maze of desks. Her hair was pulled back in a neat and tidy bun, and she even had on sensible shoes. She was wearing work clothes, and there was nary a hint of fay trickster in the suits's clean lines and simple dark green wool. But the grey eyes that sparkled beneath arched dark brows belied that as she met his gaze.
"Fancy meeting you here," Matt cleared a stack of files from the rickety wooden chair opposite his so she could sit.
Rowan grinned, and rummaged for something from her purse. She dropped the heavy cream envelope on his desk and watched his expression as he opened it.
He rubbed his chin in thought. "Are you sure?"
Rowan grinned. She couldn't help herself. "Matt, you have no idea."
He stared down at the wedding invitation and whistled. "Halloween?"
"Oh, why not? It'll give the guys a chance to not to have to skulk around, for one. And the irony appeals to me."
"Who gets married on Halloween?"
"I do. So you're coming?"
"Of course I am."
"Will you give me away?"
His eyes widened. "Um... isn't your dad supposed to do that?"
"I don't have one."
"Of course you do—I mean, everybody does—"
"We don't get along," she said quickly. "Say you will. It would mean so much to me."
"Can I think about it?"
"No," she said cheerfully.
"Jesus, you're evil. Sure. Fine."
"'Sure'? 'Fine?'" She pretended to be annoyed with him. And was rewarded with him stepping out from behind the mountain of paperwork and sweeping into a low bow.
"I would be honoured to give you away at your wedding," he said as he rose, and she reached out and straightened his necktie.
"That's better. Rehearsal lunch is that Wednesday, so you can make your shift."
"You knew I was going to say yes, didn't you?"
"Of course. Now, do you own a tux?"
"Honey, I haven't even worn a tux since my senior prom. And that was not a pretty sight."
"We'll rent you a tux."
"All the Xanatos millions, you can damn well buy me a tux—" he grumbled, and pulled her into a hug. "Hey, I want to see the ring."
"I need more women friends," she chuckled and stretched out her hand obligingly, and he whistled again. She reached back into her purse, and produced another envelope, which she launched at Elisa's desk. It landed in the centre of the blotter and slid toward the edge. The detective caught it before it went over the side of the desk, and looked up at Rowan blankly.
"It's a wedding invitation. All the clan got them. And I didn't want you to think I was leaving you out."
"You know, that never even would have crossed my mind," Elisa mused as she ran her fingers over the red wax seal on the envelope.
"Aren't you even going to open it?"
"Why are you doing this?"
"I like to make an effort," Rowan said cheerfully. "And we got off the wrong foot."
"Hmmm," Elisa stared down at the envelope, and then slipped it into her desk drawer. "I'll think about it."
"That's all I ask, detective." She turned to go, and Matt walked her out of the squadroom. "Well, that went well."
"What's your definition of 'well?'" he chuckled.
"Better than I expected."
"Ah. She'll come around."
"Perhaps. But if she doesn't, well... I can live with that. She has little enough reason to like me, I suppose."
"I like you."
"Yes, well, you're a horrible judge of character."
October 31, 1996
After much deliberation that involved everything from antique lace to a truly frightening, and blessedly brief flirtation with silk roses the size of tea cups, the wedding dress Rowan chose in the end was a simple white satin floor length gown that fastened up the back with small white buttons. It had no beads or lace, but a low, off the shoulder neckline and long sleeves that buttoned at the wrists.
"I could have lived without the crinolines," Rowan sighed as she sat, giving Nin better access to braid her hair.
"But you can't tell how full the skirt is without them, and they look so nice!" The clone gathered the smooth coils of hair low on Rowan's neck and fastened them with a murmured charm. "There. No pins."
"You're incorrigible." She patted down the last wayward strand of dark hair, and surveyed the effect in the large glass hanging behind the dressing table. Around her neck, on a slender gold chain—something new, courtesy of Fox—hung Titania's ring. The opal counted both for something old, borrowed, and blue, so all the bases were covered on that front. She wore no other jewellery save for the engagement ring, which she had switched to her right hand.
"What's the point of being nearly omnipotent, if your friends have to be poked in the scalp by hairpins?"
"How do I take it down when I'm done?"
"Oh. Um, I'll go get the pins." Nin laughed, and picked up the skirt of her own pale lavender gown so she wouldn't trip.
The door opened, admitting Owen, who stopped and simply stared for a moment while Nin pinned his wife-to-be's hair.
Xanatos stepped around his gaping major-domo, smiling wryly. "Isn't it supposed to be bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding?" Xanatos grinned in the mirror as he straightened his bow tie.
"I wasn't aware of it, no." Rowan fitted a small white rosebud into her betrothed's buttonhole while he continued to stare down at her, dumbstruck. "Sir," she added belatedly, brushing a bit of baby's breath from Owen's lapel.
"You look lovely, my dear," Xanatos clasped Rowan's hands.
"As I'm sure your wife has already mentioned, so do you."
"Men don't look lovely. They look handsome," Xanatos pointed out.
"Oh, I don't know about that." She let her eyes wander the fine figure Owen made in white tie and tails. Xanatos laughed.
"Well, I'd better go play host, and see to our guests. Don't be long."
"We won't," Rowan assured him.
Nin stood and peered curiously at Owen's stone hand.
"May I try?" she asked Rowan, who smiled, her eyes dancing.
"This would be a noble lesson." Rowan nodded and Owen looked stricken. "And a more than fitting wedding gift, I think. Don't you, my love?'
"No." It was the first word he had uttered since arriving, and it came out a croak.
"Now, Owen, be patient. She must learn how to do these things and this would be a useful thing. I'll talk her through it; some of us can't teach by example."
"No," Owen repeated and Rowan clicked her tongue against her teeth, catching him by the arm.
"Oh hush." She put an end to his protestations and sat him down on the edge of the bed. "Now then," she turned back to Nin and used her lecturing voice, "the cauldron was cast on Avalon, so its magic is known to your blood. You should be able to see the spell like threads, if you concentrate." She laid a hand over Nin's eyes and guided her hand to Owen's left fist. He glowered, but suffered the touch. "Can you see them?"
"I think... I think I can hear them." Nin cocked her head, like a bird and Rowan pursed her lips.
"What do they sound like?"
"Discordant sounds. Wait, I can see them!" Her eyes popped open and she looked down at his arm, seeing a faint trace of green lines crisscrossing the limb. "Don't I need a spell?"
"The magic is at the core of us. It is what we are, what runs in our veins. Words or music are foci only."
"I'll try." Her grey eyes narrowed and she grasped his arm in both hands. Owen grunted in pain and she let go.
"No!" Rowan touched her shoulder. "No, it was working."
"I do not want to hurt him!"
"You won't. I promise, it will be easy. Just relax. Trace the threads, see how they run. Now, see where the lines meet? Follow them in the direction the spell runs. These are the knots that bind the spell. Feel how they are binding his proper shape. Trace the knots and give them a gentle tug. They should loosen."
Nin closed her eyes, seeing behind them the delicate traceries of magic, like spider-webs catching firelight. Slowly, she began to undo them and she was rewarded by the warmth of flesh beneath her fingers as blood rushed back into the limb. She let go and Owen flexed his hand in wonder. Rowan let out a breath she hadn't been aware she was holding in a laugh.
"Don't look so surprised," she hugged him. "I told you, she has great potential."
She let go of Owen and threw her arms around Nin. "You did wonderfully!"
"I did it," Nin repeated, in a whisper, a slow smile spreading across her face.
Owen lowered his sleeve, refastening it with a cufflink. He flexed fingers that were no longer ghosts and took Nin's hand. Raising it to his lips, he kissed her knuckles with a bow.
Nin blushed, and then snatched up her bouquet from the dressing table. "Oh! Everyone's going to be here soon, and I'm supposed to help Fox seat people."
"You go ahead. And make sure Rain's not wandering about. I don't want her getting lost. She doesn't know her way around the castle."
"And no doubt she'll be into the silver if we don't keep an eye on her," Owen muttered.
"Owen! And besides, I made sure her dress had no pockets." She laughed. He picked up the wreath of rose buds and baby's breath from the dressing table and carefully place it on her head. It slipped down over one ear, and she secured it with pins.
"There. Is it straight?"
"It's perfect. You're perfect." His blue eyes danced, and he leaned down to press a careful kiss to her lips.
"Hey! You're supposed to save that for the end of the ceremony."
Rowan looked up to see a familiar face reflected in the mirror. Nanabohzo—commenly known as Coyote—floated out of the glass and landed on the floor, hands stuffed deep in the pockets of his leather jacket, a rakish smile perched on her features.
"I wasn't sure you'd come."
"Hey, it's Samhaine Eve. The world walls are threaded with cracks. I wouldn't miss this party for the world." He inclined his head to Owen. "Puck."
"There's a seat waiting for you." Rowan shooed him out the door. "Try not to annoy Mr. Xanatos too much, he's paying for this shindig."
"I'll do my best."
"That's what I'm afraid of," she called after him as he sauntered down the hall, his booted feet making no noise on the stone floor.
Rain's eyes were wide as saucers as Rowan handed her the small embroidered pillow, and fastened the wedding ring to the pink ribbon in its centre.
"Now, when the judge says, 'The ring', you give it that nice Mr. Xanatos."
The little girl nodded, and Rowan ruffled her dreadlocks affectionately.
"I can't believe you're getting married," Matt said as he offered Rowan his arm.
"Terribly normal, isn't it? It's just like one of Shakespeare's comedies. They always end in weddings." She hugged his arm, and then the music started and they began the march down the aisle to where Owen waited next to Xanatos, Fox and Nin standing with small bouquets and smiling.
Matt walked her up to the judge, and she gave his arm one final squeeze before placing each of her hands into Owen's larger ones. She could see Nin watching closely, and then the clone smiled. She looked up into Owen's face, and then turned to the judge.
"We are gathered here tonight to witness the joining of this man and this woman in the holy bonds of matrimony. Such a state isn't to be entered into lightly. Owen Burnett and Rowan, ah..." Judge Roblin faltered for a second, and then recalling the particular penchant of young women in the household for not having surnames, continued smoothly on. "—Rowan have come here to pledge themselves to one another in the full knowledge of this, and have asked you, their friends and family, to witness that pledge.
"If any assembled here should know of any lawful impediment to these two young people being joined in matrimony, speak now or forever hold your peace."
Roblin took the customary pause, and then opened his mouth to continue, when a voice echoed from the back of the hall.
"What have we here? A wedding? And the father of the bride not even invited? I believe I should be insulted."
All assembled turned to see Oberon, lord of the third race, ruler of Avalon, lounging in the doorway.
Judge Roblin was beginning to wonder why he continued to come here. The last wedding he had performed here had been exceedingly strange, and after many sleepless nights and a few double Scotches, had managed to convince himself that it had all been some kind of hallucination brought on by stress and pork before bedtime.
Then he'd seen the newsreel footage of St. Vincent's.
So, when Mr. Xanatos had asked him to return to the Eyrie to perform another service, he had agreed, albeit with misgivings. When he had arrived for the rehearsal dinner, the words "We'd like you to view a video first. The maid of honour is somewhat... unusual." had sent his stomach plummeting to his shoes. But aside from ears that looked like they belonged on a jackrabbit rather than such a sweet tempered young girl, everything had followed quite normally from that point.
Oh, the gargoyles seated on the bride's side should have thrown him for a loop, especially after the fireworks of the month prior, but Roblin was an open minded sort, and Xanatos was a good contact for a man in his position to keep.
He had relaxed.
Obviously, he should have known better.
The bride dropped the groom's hands and spun around in a cloud of satin and crinolines to glare at the newcomer. She stalked past him, and he followed, smiling lazily, while the guests assembled glanced nervously at one another.
"Father?" Xanatos whispered to Owen, but his major-domo's face was a mask.
"What are you doing here?" Rowan spat, clenching and unclenching her fists. She had brought him to the library in silence. She did not meet his eyes; she was too angry. Oberon merely smiled. It seemed more like a smirk.
"Can a father not wish to see his daughter?"
"If I had wanted you here, I would have invited you. Seeing as how I did not—"
"Fionnuala, listen to me—"
"Why, father? Why should I listen to a single lying word that falls from your lips like poison?"
"Do you know, how it was with your mother and myself?"
She looked up, and he seemed to be serious. What's worse, he seemed sincere. "I think I may be ill."
"For the brief time we were together, I loved her as the flowers love the sun and rain."
"Is that your way of telling me it wasn't just a one night stand?"
"Must you treat her memory with such disdain?"
She met that with a short bark of laughter. "How can you possibly be so stupid? It's not her I despise. It's you, my lord." She let him digest that fact, and then moved on. "Áine never had to tell me who my father was, I knew. I knew from the first moment I met you. Do you think I care whether I was born of love, or passion? Do you think I give a damn what was in your heart or mind the night your seed took root in her womb? It was her business, not mine. So she took a lover, we all do from time to time. So she caught the eye of the King's son, Oberon as his father before him had been Oberon. So he caught her fancy, I bear her no grudge for that. How can I, since it led to my birth?"
"Then why do you hate me so, child? Because I never acknowledged you?"
"But you did. Every time you bent a rule for my supposed sake, it was a slap in my face. Áine came from wild blood, far wilder than yours and that blood lives in me. I couldn't stand to be caged by your ill-conceived love not of me, but of the idea of me."
"I made you one of the Queen's Own."
"You never asked me. It was not yours to decide. I was not your pawn to play."
"Did not my queen treat you well?"
"I found a fellow in Titania, may you never realise how much of one. She was the only reason I stayed; she was a mistress worthy of my loyalty and service as you my liege lord never were."
"Because if you truly loved me as a daughter, you would have let me be."
"And see your copious talents go to waste?"
"What talents? I am a jack, father. A pu'ca, a puck, beyond your jurisdiction, your parental eye. My talents lie in mischief, merry games and simple magic. Had you left me to that, I would have been content."
"You were too wild, you needed to learn discipline."
"At Court? Are you blind as well as stupid? Your court was a mockery, a vestige of a time long past, full of forked tongued vipers and snivelling fawning sycophants. You would have bent the rules you yourself imposed on us, and on occasion did. Your justice was capricious, my lord. Your rule was a joke. It still is. How many ways must I say it? How plainly and with what coarse idiom? You're a lousy king, Dad! Until you understand that, I have nothing more to say to you."
Oberon scowled. "He has put these thoughts into your head."
"Do not," she growled. "He is the only thing born of Avalon that has not brought me sorrow. I love him, and I am his wife. Today I am his wife, and whatever quarrels you have with me are not his. Touch him, and what little wrath I can gather I will rain down on you until the wind whistles through the hollows of your gleaming white bones. The ravens will have your eyes, and I will feast on your heart, mark my words. Mark them and head them."
"You dare threaten Oberon?"
"How can you deny me this?" she cried. "You've taken everything from me. How can you deny me this one thing?"
Owen turned the corner and was about to enter the library when a hand at his elbow stayed him. He turned to see Titania at his shoulder.
"No. Let them."
"Why did you bring him here?"
"He came. I could not stop him; I didn't even try. She is his only daughter, how could I?"
He scowled, but allowed her to lead him back towards the main hall, where the guests were murmuring among themselves. Goliath in particular looked uncomfortable, and Detective Maza's dark head was bent to his in frantic whispers as Owen took his place in front of the judge.
Titania sat, a serene smile on her face. All Owen could think about was the conversation taking place without him, knowing he should be by Rowan's side.
"You could have been Queen," Oberon said finally, and Rowan shook her head.
"Avalon would no sooner see a jack upon the throne than the stars go cold in the heavens. Perhaps some day, father. But no day that you or I will see." She sighed.
"But the Puck—"
"I love him. I have always loved him. And he loves me. Can't you just let me go? Let me be, let me live my life without your interference."
Oberon scowled, and for a fleeting moment she wondered if he would simply drag her back to Avalon once more. But he came before her, setting each of his hands on her shoulders
"This makes you happy?"
"He makes me happy, yes."
"Then as you say, how can I deny you?" He leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "You may chose not to believe this, but I have always loved you, Fionnuala. And all I want is for you to be happy."
"Thank you," she whispered, and then stepped out from under his touch. She took a deep breath, and then released it. "I'm going back now. You can... you can stay, if you wish."
He nodded, and she swept past him, hurrying back to the hall.
Owen could feel the tightness in his chest disappear as Rowan appeared and took her place beside him once again. He clasped her hands in his lightly, and she caressed his wrist with one thumb. His mouth quirked up in a smile, and they turned back to the judge, whose hands were shaking as he reopened the missal. He cleared his throat, and began again.
"Do you, Owen, take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife; to have and to hold, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, for as long you both shall live?"
"Do you, Rowan, take this man—"
"My dear, I wasn't—"
"Oh, it doesn't really matter, does it?" she asked innocently, and he smiled, shaking his head.
Rain held the pillow above her head, and Xanatos chuckled as he undid the ribbon and handed Owen the small circle of gold. Owen slipped the band on her finger.
"By the power invested in me by the State of New York, I now pronounce you husband and wife." He closed the book. "You may kiss the bride," he added, somewhat unnecessarily, as Rowan got onto her tiptoes and Owen bent his head to hers.
Matthew started clapping, and Brooklyn joined him. A young man in black leather jacket and jeans grinned, and whistled shrilly.
"You are my heart," Owen whispered against her cheek as they parted, and she smiled.
"You are my heart," she repeated, pulling back and running a fingertip down his cheek, her grey eyes bright. Then she grinned, and they turned to face the guests. The smile froze for a moment as she met Oberon's gaze from the back of the hall, but then he faded from her sight, and she released a breath she hadn't realised she'd been holding.
Titania caught her eye and smiled warmly at her, and Rowan dipped her head in greeting as she swept down the aisle and out into the corridor on Owen's arm.
Xanatos grinned. "Okay, everyone. If you would like to retire to the library for a moment, we'll get this hall cleared and set up for the reception." He turned back to Judge Roblin. "You're welcome to stay, of course."
The judge paled, his eyes darting between the gargoyles, that strange green woman, and the bridesmaid currently floating three inches off the floor. He coughed, and cleared his throat. "No. No—I'll—I'm very grateful for the invitation, of course, but I really should be going."
"Suit yourself. You don't know what you're missing."
"I'm sure I'm happier that way. Goodnight." He smiled quickly, and then fled.
Matt grabbed Brooklyn's arm as they filed out into the hallway. "Who the hell was the blue guy?"
Brooklyn looked at Matt as if he'd lost his mind, and then remembered that Matt, Elisa, and every other human in New York save for Xanatos and his wife had slept through the battle that summer, and had no clue. "That, my friend, was Oberon."
"Whoa." Matt stopped in his tracks. "Whoa."
"And the chick with the pink hair," he pointed her out surreptitiously with the tip of a wing, "is his wife. Titania."
"So that's why Goliath and Elisa freaked."
"Now I know why Rowan never talks about her family."
"Yep," came a voice from behind them, and they turned to see a young Native American in a black leather jacket and jeans, rolling a cigarette. "They don't exactly get along."
"I don't think Xanatos is gonna let you smoke that in here," Matt observed, and the guy only raised one eyebrow, amused.
"Maybe. Maybe not." He grinned wolfishly.
"So, you another old friend?" Brooklyn asked, curious.
"Oh, Rowan and I go way back." He rose off the floor, while Matt and Brooklyn stared openmouthed, and flew past them to land at the feet of Titania. He bowed low, and they began to talk, their voices too low to carry.
"Oh," Brooklyn said.
"Something tells me this is gonna be one hell of a party," Matt observed, and Brooklyn nodded.
There were only four tables set up, and a large dancefloor. The wedding party sat at the high table, and below it, Elisa, Goliath, Matt and Hudson sat at one table, the trio and Angela at another, and Coyote and Titania at the last.
Oddly enough, rather than needing trips to the buffet table, Titania's table seemed to magically acquire food as it went. And, perhaps not strangely at all, it was better than what the caterers had provided. But that was neither here nor there.
As the dessert dishes were being cleared away, Xanatos tapped his spoon against his champagne flute, and the various conversations tapered off. Once the room had given him it's full attention, he rose, glass in hand.
"As best man, part of my duties include embarassing the hell outta the groom with a toast." Xanatos grinned broadly, and a somewhat tentative chuckle spread through the assembled guests. Owen closed his eyes for a second, preparing for the worst. Rowan elbowed him in the ribs. "Usually, Owen makes any job easy for me, but I found this one especially tough. It's kind of hard to find fault with someone who's perfect. He couldn't even have a bachelor party, seeing as he has no brothers, college roommates, or drinking buddies, and the guys at the office all call him 'sir.'"
The chuckle returned, this time closer to a laugh.
"But I'd like to raise a glass to him anyway, because no one could ask for a more devoted personal assistant. And I never could have foreseen gaining a more loyal friend." The chuckle died off, and in the newborn silence, David smiled, his eyes on the wine in his hand and nothing else. "I don't have many, so believe me when I say he's the rarest of the rare. A man without price. To this is a toast to him, on his wedding day." He raised the flute, and human, gargoyle, and faery did likewise. They drank.
"I," Titania stood, her glass re-filled by whim and desire, "would like to toast the bride. Sorry if you had something planned, Fox, but I've known her from before our gargoyle friends here were hatched."
The Queen of Faerie turned to her once-servent, and inclined her head. "You were my faithful servent, and for that I thank you. You were my best friend's daughter, and for that I loved you. You were always your own, and for that... I envied you. Life your life, Rowan Burnett. Live it for me, for all of us who may never know what it is to truly walk both sides of the line between our two races. Live it for your father, who will surely never know. Live it for yourself, and be happy." She raised her glass. "To the bride."
They drank again, and then there was music at last.
The band seemed to think it was odd that only half the room were in costume, but for the kind of money they were getting, they didn't voice their concerns. They fell into what appeared to be an.. unique arrangement of "Wild Rover" and Owen took Rowan's hand, leading her onto the cleared space that served as the dance floor.
"My husband," she looked up at him with wonder, and then rested her cheek upon his shoulder.
"My wife," Owen answered, with just a tinge of posessiveness. And they danced.
They had taken the blankets from the bed and spread them out before the fire in the tiny living room of the lighthouse. Candles were burning on the coffeetable, casting the room in flickering bronze light and deep shadows. Rowan leaned back against Owen's chest, the top of her head tucked beneath his chin.
"Somehow, I never thought I'd see it."
"What? Goliath and Detective Maza doing the hokey pokey?" Rowan rolled over onto her stomach, and he slid his arms around her waist.
"No, although had I know that was going to happen, I would have asked the security cameras be turned back on." His mouth quirked in a sly smile. "Now there's something to tempt a puck, no matter how reformed."
"I thought Matthew was going to swallow his tongue," Rowan chuckled, "when they switched to the macarena."
"Whose idea was that, anyway?"
"Lexington's. Too much VH1 for that child."
"What I never thought I'd see," he brushed her hair from her forehead, "was Oberon actually letting something go."
"Well, you know what they say, that timeless platitude of bumper stickers and t-shirts. If you love something, let it go."
"And if it doesn't come back freely and of its own will, hunt it down and kill it."
"Yes, I think that's the version he knows," she agreed. "It's... I don't love him. I never will. He wants it so much, and I think I understand why. After all, if he really did love my mother, he would want me close, to remind him of her I suppose. And I think he does think he loves me. But today was the first time he ever did anything out of something other than the desire to acquire, posess, and subjugate."
"Perhaps there's hope for him?"
"Perhaps. But it will take a great deal more than one good deed to convince me he's worth the breath it takes to curse him."
"Someday you will have to make peace wih him."
He kissed her ear. "Because then you can let him go."
"Hmmm." She seemed to consider this for a moment, then laid her head on his chest, absently tracing circles on his bare shoulder. "So now what?"
"Now," he leaned past her and blew out the candles," we live happily ever after."
"How does one manage that?" she
"I'm not sure. But I'm certain we'll muddle through, with our fair share of ups and downs."
"Ah," she said.
And they did.