101 - "Not That There's Anything Wrong With That...!"
"You never find yourself until you face the truth."
- Pearl Bailey
The first thing she was aware of, after suffering through every molecule being torn apart and subsequently replaced, was the ball of fire centered in her stomach.
Elisa hit the ground rolling. With Trinity in her arms, she felt the thump of Isis to one side and the massive tremor that was her husband to the other and tried to keep herself from smothering her daughter and the little bit of luggage she was carrying in an ever-expanding waistline.
The phoenix gate swallowed the flames back into itself and, finished, neatly turned off and dropped to the ground. It scorched the underbrush and gleamed moonlight from its gilded edge when coming to rest.
She let Trinity slide out and crawled away, heaving for breath while clutching her stomach.
Her ears just popped, like the pressure change in an airplane and the sudden onset of nausea was doing a number on her lower half to the point she might lose her lunch. A line of spittle hung from her lower lip.
The dirt underneath her fingertips shook under what she could only guess were her husband's footsteps towards her. "...s'okay..." Elisa managed. "I'm okay."
A massive hand found the bulge beneath her shirt. Goliath leaned in close. "The baby...?"
"We're okay...I think..."
The fact his brows could've cracked a walnut in between was a sign he wasn't quite convinced, especially in hearing Elisa's ragged breathing. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, yes," she assured him, "it's...going away."
Her nails were biting into his hand, and he could see by the way her jaw was grit the pain was still there and as raw as a root canal. It took a while before she unclenched, and went limp. "Better?"
Goliath was about to swivel on his feet, find the gate and rue its existence (or crush it in his hand if compulsion happened to overrule lucidity) before something else shot up from the ground.
Eyes afire and hair blown out of her braid, Isis sat up and growled, "Why am I here!"
Goliath could've sworn the woman's crisscrossed bands of gold skin were glowing. Still, they looked familiar every time he laid his eyes on her. "We don't know, the gate must have–"
"Ever since I met you people you've been nothing but bad news and a few extra migraines! And now, we could be anywhere and anywhen in time!"
"We are alive, and could very well be closer to home."
"And who says I wanted to go home!"
Helping Elisa to her feet, Goliath stared Isis down until she had the chance to let off some of the steam. She was restless, darting her eyes about and squirming like she was about to crawl from her own skin. It was an open area, but the way she was kneading her hands together told him more than she was willing in their brief association. "What are you hiding from, Isis?"
Her answer was a scowl, and she quickly stalked off.
"She's got a point," Elisa managed, "albeit an angry one. We could be anywhere..."
Goliath wrapped one hand around his wrist and, hesitating for a moment, deeming this absurd, pressed a talon down into the mechanism buried beneath his skin. A red light was suffused through lavender, and he sighed. "Apparently, we are not home."
Shakily, his wife left his arms and managed to get as far as her daughter. Trinity and Isis both were standing at the edge of where the ground simply dropped off and gave way to a good view of the landscape before them. "No, we aren't."
It was an island cleaved from the mainland by a river and narrowing on both ends, but there wasn't a single building, road or anything else of modern design, only trees from one shoreline to the other. There were fires underneath the canopy and vaguely skyscraper-like tree line, hundreds of them, giving off a ghostly, dotted light.
"The air is clean..." Isis breathed, and looked up at the night sky. "The stars are bright, and surprisingly proper."
Something was nagging at the back of Elisa's mind; the shape was unmistakable, if not confusing to someone who'd spent her entire life here. "Why does this look familiar?"
Goliath crossed his arms, used to the view from above. "It is Manhattan."
June 5th, 2002
He'd already made a hole in the drywall somewhere in the castle.
And anger without the outlet was a dangerous thing, especially when most of the walls around him were solid stone. He got lucky once and chances were he'd do some serious damage to a hand that helped to pay the bills.
But in the moment where impulse connected to the proper synapse without a shred of consideration behind it, shot towards the nerve and moved his arm and hand into action, the thought didn't really occur. Todd spun around and aimed his fist for a good-sized block that just happened to be about chest level.
It was a few inches from impact before another hand palmed the fist, making a dull thump that harmlessly spread the blow through warm flesh. "That's not drywall."
Todd turned towards his wife; she had a firm grasp on his still-clenched hand. "You're pretty spry for a pregnant woman."
"I haven't filled out quite yet," Annika smirked in response, "and I have to be if I'm going to prevent my husband from turning his right hand into a soggy pile of broken bones."
"An impulse?" she finished. "Yeah, well I saw the hole left from the last one. This one would've broken something."
Trying to shake his hand loose, he'd noticed Annika wasn't quite prepared to free him. "Are you going to let go?"
"Are you going to promise not to do anything stupid?"
"You're talking to me, remember?"
She cocked her head to an angle, answered, "I know." and tightened her grip. "All too well."
Bones compressing, tendons distending, he gritted against the pressure she was slowly applying until, manliness be damned, he was forced to concede. "Okay, Xena...! The hand!"
Annika opened her talons and Todd yanked back, almost putting his elbow into the wall. He stood rubbing his damaged hand, and glowering.
"Now," she resumed, underplaying, "is it all out of our system?"
"Ask my mother." he spit, testing out his digits.
Annika pointed off his shoulder and behind him. "You're right," she said, "maybe we should."
He didn't even need to turn; he didn't even need to look. He knew his mother was there at the end of the corridor, standing with her hands in front of her, infinitely patient and infuriatingly remorseful, so much so that yelling at her would prove incredibly futile.
His head fell back, and a strangled noise trickled from his throat.
"I'm sorry." Rose whispered.
Todd slowly rotated, wide-eyed and incredulous, looking two ticks away from going off. "You're sorry!" It spiraled down the corridor, and all the muted light sparked fire in his gaze. "Sorry!"
"Well do me a favor, stop being sorry. I think I'm going to have a fucking aneurysm."
Rose wasn't fazed; in fact, she was actually quite surprised his reaction wasn't as bad as before. "I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised you didn't remember her..."
"My sister." He ground both palms into his forehead. "Jesus Christ, a baby sister."
"Her name was Sarah."
"Why can't I remember her?"
Rose started forwards. "She was right beside you in the car."
"Why can't I remember her!" Todd yelled out.
He was getting sick of the oversimplification, especially when it all pertained to something that'd robbed him of a life. "The accident. Of course..."
She stepped a little closer, bridging the gap between her and her son. "Are you angry?"
"I almost put my hand through a stone wall!"
"Baby..." Annika's hand curled around his forearm. "Remember, you're yelling at a nun."
Nearly putting his fingernails through the palm, Todd allowed his blood to burn off a little of the anger before responding in anything but a scream. "Suffice it to say, yes, I'm angry."
And then, in actually taking the time to think on it (a rarity), an epiphany went full steam hurtling through his brain tissues with the force of somewhere between a Berretta and a cannon. "...no." Todd revealed, surprising everyone in earshot. "Mostly at me, I guess. I can't believe I don't remember my own sister."
She slid her hand to his cheek and, again, was surprised he didn't flinch or pull away. Rose thought by now she would've blown a fuse in her firstborn's head. "You've never had any recollection?"
"I used to have dreams..."
"What kind of dreams?"
"Breaking glass, red eyes..." he whispered, and then shook it off. That was an old memory he was never inclined to share. "Did I like her?"
"As much as an older brother could like his new sister."
"So I hated her."
"After getting over your initial jealousy, you warmed to her quite quickly."
"I bet." Todd said, rubbing the back of his neck.
She laughed a gentle laugh, spurred by the memory and then, cutting herself off at the smile, her eyes fell. "This may sound selfish, but I never wanted you to recover your memories when you were young, it might've led you right back into danger." Rose explained. "But now..."
"But now..." he echoed.
"Perhaps it's time."
"I don't know," he was hesitant, "the way you talk about it...maybe I shouldn't remember."
"I want you to have something of her, more than stories and photographs."
"Well," Annika shrugged, "maybe Dr. Pierce can suggest something..."
"Jesus, how far back in time have we gone?"
Isis had her eyes on the constellations; they weren't that much different from where they'd come. Leo, the Big Dipper, it was rare to see the stars so vivid. "I don't think we have gone back in time, at least, not far beyond the twenty-first century."
Elisa turned, "How...?"
"The stars." she nodded upwards.
She couldn't quite tell one knot of stars from the other, but trusted in the fact a gargoyle knew the sky so well. "Ah." And then, Elisa realized. "Then we're here just before North America was colonized, or..."
"An alternate dimension." Goliath finished for her.
Kneeling, a dark-hued hand rode through a small patch of wild flowers probably extinct in their own world, trampled and dead under the foot of evolution. "Yes," Isis said, "one that doesn't seem garroted by technology and so-called human progress."
"Well," Elisa said, pointing to the campfires, "there're at least some people here."
"First Nations?" Goliath assumed, stepping to the edge of the hill and looking down into the woodlands.
"A few ancestors maybe. Wonder how they would react to a gargoyle?"
Her husband grimaced, and rolled his shoulders. His scars rippled; it was becoming a common trait as his leftover muscles were instinctively trying to flex the amputated wings. "I would like to believe they are an amicable people, but I suppose we had better reacquaint ourselves with the fine art of hiding in the shadows–"
"Hold that thought." Isis interrupted.
"Uh, Big Guy," Elisa nodded to the side, urgency in her tone, "I think we've got company."
Goliath had already detected the scent on the change of wind, had already turned and had already put himself between his family and what he sensed coming. Whatever it was wasn't human, walked in a heavier stride (on their heels) and was deliberately nonchalant.
From behind a bit of brush and scrub, a taloned hand peeled back the foliage and to the small party's surprise, a couple of gargoyles in animal-skin clothing entered the clearing. Females, one a muddy brown and the other a brighter, more vivid hue of tangerine, slipped through the bushes and continued their work unabated, even in the fact they were being watched and every action, now matter how minute or insignificant, scrutinized.
Elisa already had Trinity in her arms. "Goliath...?"
"They seem," he was intrigued more than concerned, "oblivious."
The females each held a woven basket full of berries and were peeling back the branches for more of the bounty hidden under the leaves, all while speaking a language none of them had ever heard before. Guttural sounds from the back of the throat coupled with something that seemed a medley of several human dialects (at least, the only comparison they had), Muddy Brown mentioned something offhand which sent thin-horned Tangerine into a fit of laughter.
It wasn't until they were barely a few meters from the group when they noticed their audience. The pair continued past, greeted them with what sounded like they were clearing their throat and waved.
Only Trinity waved back, the others a little stunned.
Elisa had something on the tip of her tongue, but waited until the gargoyles had moved out of earshot towards a cluster of fires near the bottom of the hill. "Okay...that wasn't what I expected."
"They did not think us a threat."
"Or, more importantly," Isis chimed in, "did not think Elisa was a threat." She rubbed her chin and smiled devilishly, chewing on a talon. "I wonder..."
"RMT actually. And yes."
Todd stared at the doctor as if he'd just grown another head. "You've got to be fucking kidding me."
"It's a proven treatment." he answered. "I've seen it done many times, and more than half the time it works and works very well."
"Maybe in Star Trek."
Alan Pierce was leaning against the counter with coffee cup half-full and slung off a few fingers, trying to make reason of this young man's hesitation. "Why is it," he started, "that when you're faced with gargoyles, cyborgs, mutants and magic it's an everyday occurrence, but when you're faced with an actual clinically proven therapy, you're suddenly skeptical?"
"I dunno." Todd shrugged, sinking into his chair. "It just sounds so...hokey."
Whatever face he'd just made, it was partially obscured behind the mug. "Hokey?"
"Yeah, hokey! It's an expression."
Pierce took a swig, swallowed and brushing away a peppered lick of hair, offered his most endearing expression, the same one a used car salesman would grease the wheels with to close the sale. "Trust me."
"Ugh..." Todd groaned. "I don't know..."
"Fine then," Pierce said, turning and sitting down in his chair with his back to the young man, "no one's holding a gun to your head. You can go back to staring at those old photos, hoping that a tiny little something might trickle out after twenty years of nothingness."
Todd didn't say or do much in rebuttal, all except produce a frown and glare with lowered brows. Something was winding the gears up top, weighing options against his own fears and beliefs. "Fine..." he muttered, yielding.
Pierce shot a glance over his shoulder. "What was that?"
"Fine." he said, defeated. "Beam me up, Scotty. Let's go hypnotic on my ass."
They let a new day pass before exploring the new world in which they'd found themselves left, or dumped according to however cynical a particular person's view was.
But just before dusk, Elisa waking and pulling herself from the makeshift tent of fir branches, two small hands and a tail (Trinity had used her mother as a blanket), she could've sworn when looking down from their hilltop campsite that she saw figures moving throughout the trees below.
She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and turned back to Goliath and Isis, each frozen in stone and painted under the colors of the rapidly changing, darkening sky. Either there were humans here, or the alternative was a little too bizarre to swallow this early in the evening. "Couldn't be..." Elisa muttered.
The last sliver of sun melted into the horizon and Goliath's prone, silent-roaring form started to crack.
Elisa deflected the shards from her daughter's face, ensuring she wouldn't get a few of the smaller pieces in her mouth as she woke to a yawn comparable to her father's.
He raked a few stone chunks from his hair and stalked forwards, plucking Trinity from the ground in one fell swoop. "Sleep well?"
Putting her hands behind her on her lower back, Elisa cricked her spine. "I suddenly miss New Cairo."
"In some aspects, I do as well."
"So what exactly are we to do now?" Isis sauntered up beside her. "Camp here, on this hilltop until the gate decides to send us somewhere else?"
"Us?" Elisa shot her a dark eye. "We are now an 'us'?"
"Apparently," she answered, "because of that damned thing," and nodded with a sharp chin towards the pouch on Goliath's belt, heavy with the gate, "I'm stuck with you."
"If we are here for the same duration as New Cairo," Goliath interjected, hoping to discourage the war of wills he felt brewing, "then we'll need better shelter."
"And food." Elisa appended. "I'm starving, and we don't have a futuristic machine that can create any meal we want. So, we go hunting, eat more wild berries or haggle with the natives."
Goliath sent his eyes down the hill and into the trees; the fires were being lit one by one across the entire length of the island as darkness settled on the massive woodland canopy. "They did seem...friendly."
"Or they could be cannibals..." Isis smirked, watching for the downturn on Elisa's lips.
"Well if so," the detective responded lightning-quick, "maybe we'll let them gnaw on you while the rest of us run away."
"Ladies..." Goliath sighed.
"I'm just not comfortable being led by your mate's endless appetite into a potentially dangerous situation." Isis spit.
To which, in typical and modern, hormone-driven New Yorker fashion, Elisa would retort, forcing down the urge to take a swipe at the ribbon-skinned gargoyle if only to set an example for Trinity, who was watching the entire exchange from three feet below, "Listen, we don't know where or when we are, we have no tools to hunt or prepare food or adequate shelter. My concern, right now, is feeding my daughter and the baby I'm trying to carry to term without proper medical care."
"And I'm forced to agree." Goliath added, gaze still on the forest and in particular, the largest concentration of flickering, orange light that seemed to be spreading. "Considering their earlier reaction, I'm inclined to think they would welcome us."
"That was only two," Isis prompted, "of what could be many."
But Goliath wasn't in the mind to listen. "I'll lead," he ordered, "but stay behind me."
It was like the Ewok village. At least, by Elisa's first impression.
Underneath the forest canopy that barely let any of the budding starlight through, an entire city had been erected from nothing more than what nature had provided. Larger wood and stone huts formed a small metropolis with stairs and ropes leading into the higher levels suspended from the massive tree trunks, all connected by bridges and walkways that faded into the branches and mists.
And the population was undeniably gargoyle, without a human being in sight.
The small party found themselves on the outskirts of town with Goliath out front, but his overdeveloped sense of caution seemed a little premature when no one really noticed them, and those who did, didn't seem to give them a second glance.
Elisa sidled up near her husband. "Wow."
"Indeed." he rumbled.
"These definitely aren't the First Nations..."
A small female excused herself past them (at least, what they thought she said), lighting torches that lined the streets of tightly-fitted stone, using a long, wooden wand to reach atop the seven foot poles. A few hatchlings tore off into the woods with a frantic caretaker trying to catch up, sluicing through and around their legs in an attempt to escape.
"Mommy...?" Trinity whispered into her mother's ear, and as Elisa turned she pointed towards a few stone pools. A creek had been purposely channeled nearby, and a pulley system fed the water into the circular ponds.
"Thirsty, huh? Me too."
She carried her daughter towards the ponds and a female sitting on the edge of the closest.
It was Tangerine, from yesterday; she was helping herself to a glass of water and found a reflection over her shoulder between the ripples. She turned and smiled, offering a cup.
Elisa took the cup, scooped out a bit of water and handed it to Trinity. "Thank you."
"Ja no-true?" the female responded.
"Ja no-true." and a few more sentences in an unintelligible language, but with Elisa's apologetic and somewhat confused expression, she gathered the visitor wasn't able to understand her. She leaned back to get a good look at Goliath and Isis, wondered if they were a visiting clan from across the horizon, having just arrived on one of the wind-ships and politely pointed towards a larger structure down the road.
Elisa followed the talon. Whatever the gargoyle was indicating and for what reason she could only guess. It was either the visitor's center or a communal latrine. "Thank you." she said, knowing the words would probably fall on deaf ears.
Tangerine simply nodded and stirred the waters, watching the oddly-shaped female feed her hatchling.
"Well," Isis crept up behind, breathing coolly across the back of Elisa's neck, "she doesn't seem to fear you, or even distinguish you as a different species."
"Which just means she's either on very good terms with humans or–"
"She's never seen one before."
It was before she even noticed the tip of her tongue between her fangs; Elisa heard the facetiousness in the gargoyle's tone. It was dripping. "What are you getting at?"
"Nothing." she fudged.
"It's not nothing."
"It's just a simple theory," Isis said, "but, well, the irony is too delicious to ignore."
Before the human's will gave way to the hormonal buildup, she decided to explain herself. "Do you ever think what would have become of this world if humans never existed at all?" she posed rhetorically. "At one point in your species' evolution, modern man at one point may have dwindled to less than ten thousand."
"What if there was a cataclysmic event? Enough to wipe out all of humankind in their infancy, and at their most vulnerable?"
"Comet, disease, natural disaster...something incredibly horrific."
Just one step behind the entire conversation, Elisa had caught up to Isis's wild premise. It was just human nature to believe their extinction was unimaginable; thus, it didn't quite catch on as quickly as it should have. "Are you saying what I think you're saying?"
"A completely gargoyle-dominated world."
Elisa was unconvinced, and stood hipshot, not an easy thing to do with a growing child in her arms. "You've got to be kidding me..."
"Like I said," Isis shrugged dismissively, turning her attention to the activity around her, "just a simple theory."
"We could simply be centuries before any human first discovered the Americas. What makes you think this theory has any proof?"
A single finger shot up. "The stars." she illuminated, and her fist opened into a languidly grandiose wave. "As, again, I said before. Five hundred years marked a lot of change to the sky and the constellations, Elisa. If we were that far into the past, they would be a little out of whack."
"That's not a lot to go on."
"It's enough for now."
She pinched the bridge of her nose. "Jalapeño..." Elisa whispered, and swiveled around to find her husband and any kind of support. But upon turning, she noticed, first, before anything else, Goliath's features compressed into the same infuriated expression he'd had only a few times before. His eyes were licked by a bit of white, as a few young and dangerously curious gargoyles had emerged, skulked closer and were staring at the scars down his back.
His tail lashed, stirring up a bit of dust from the tip.
"Daddy mad." Trinity whispered into the crook of her mother's neck.
"Yes he is."
One of the gargoyles had decided to reach out for one of the ribbons of dead flesh and seeing Goliath's muscles constrict, she rushed in, hoping to spare the poor male's life. "Big Guy," her voice was the calming influence, "I don't think they'd appreciate a stranger walking into town and taking a shot at someone whose curiosity just got the better of him."
Goliath simply growled at the outstretched hand and the gargoyle attached to it, discouraging the small group. "I suppose not."
Elisa watched them slink away, the one who almost made contact rubbing tenderly around his throat (a male that size he could only imagine the damage he was capable of inflicting). "Seems this clan doesn't have a lot of personal boundaries."
"Gargoyles often do not have such social inhibitions, but..."
"You don't want anyone touching your back, I know."
"No." he dismissed. "I do not."
"Back to the matter at hand then?" she said.
Goliath stiffened and shored up with a long, drawn breath. "Yes, yes of course. Perhaps there is a leader here."
"If so," Elisa threw her arm down the road, towards the large building Tangerine had pointed out, "I think we'd better start there."
"Why do you think that?" he asked, turning his onyx gaze towards that part of the city.
"A friend told me."
He didn't remember her stride ever being this quick, or determined.
But as it stood, he did just pull her from the first free evening she'd had for three weeks, a glass of wine and that new book she'd been meaning to read (it was on her kitchen counter and still in the store's plastic bag, complete with the till receipt). He supposed he should be lucky she was even willing to work for a reduced rate, let alone coming all the way across town at this late hour.
He admired her, for the way she'd kept relatively normal hours throughout all the chaos of her profession. She'd found balance between her two worlds while he would often lose his coffee mug in a stack of papers a few feet high.
"I'm glad you're here." Pierce mentioned idly, struggling to keep up. He was supposed to be leading her, not the other way around.
"But I still don't know why I'm here, Alan." she answered, taking a corner at full gait and, impressively, in four inch heels. "Why is it, that every time you call me, no matter what time of night it is, no matter how many patients I have of my own waiting, that I drop everything for you?"
Pierce smirked, "Must be love."
"It must be." Anne-Marie answered back. She knew he had that damned smile on her, but she refused to look, and she most definitely refused to acknowledge it. "But I don't like walking blind into such a delicate case."
"It's a simple case of trauma-induced memory loss–"
"There's nothing simple about that." she cut in.
Beaten, he conceded, "Okay, granted." and put his hands in his pockets. "More often than not, the cases I get nowadays are a hell of a lot more complicated, weird and bloody. But it's either going to work or it's not, and this may be over before Jay Leno comes on."
She stopped, almost skidded on her heels and did a 180°, letting her lips draw into a smile at her ex-husband's pride at his place in the insanity. An errant lock of hair was just begging to be moved from his brow, and she did so with a single finger. "Just another day in the lunacy that's become your life, Alan."
He cleared his throat, filling the awkward pause that seemed only awkward for him. "Yeah well, I think this kid deserves an answer to a very big question that's been denied to him for most of his life. But there's someone I want you to meet, before we start."
Intrigue gave way to a finely manicured brow arcing upwards. "You mean her?"
Pierce whirled around, and sure enough, Rose was there just behind them. "Oh." he said, surprised the nun had never made a sound. "Uh, Anne-Marie Blackwell, meet Rose Hawkins. She's going to fill you in on a few of the details."
Every misconception he'd ever had about the actual process of hypnosis were proved just that when the electrodes were attached to his head. Gone were the clichés from television and the few bad nightclub acts he was conscious enough to remember, replaced by something a little more high-tech.
Of course, the doctor with a swirl of silver in her hair and low-cut blouse checking the electroencephalogram was putting most of his fears at bay.
"Comfortable?" Anne-Marie asked.
"You bet." Todd smirked, gaze a little low for any kind of eye contact.
"Good." She dabbed a cotton ball over the end of a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, and started swabbing the flesh of his elbow.
If he wasn't too wrapped up in the view just above him, he almost would've missed the hand clasping to his forearm, nails slightly digging into his skin and the light gleaming from the needle of a syringe.
As it plunged into his artery, his scream was sucked into the back of his throat. "Gah! What the hell...!"
"It's simply a relaxant," Anne-Marie explained while emptying the plunger, all too calmly for someone who'd just stabbed her patient, "mixed with a few other bits and bobbles of my own invention. Something to make you a little more suggestive."
He clamped his hand over the wound when the syringe was pulled out. The misconceptions had returned full-force. "So, you've done this before?"
"Many times." she answered. "Repressed Memory Treatment has its share of controversy, disbelievers and failures, but it's also had many successes. The best results come from a mind that's open and non-resistant."
Somewhere in the background, Annika snorted.
"And the fact I'm being wired up and shot full of drugs shouldn't concern me in the slightest?"
"Well, the only other treatment I can think of is to repeatedly hit you in the frontal lobe with a very large mallet, ala the Flintstones."
Todd slowly rotated his head just enough to give the doctor a cynical look, framed by a crooked brow. "I can see why you divorced her."
From where he was seated, Pierce thought to correct him, "She divorced me actually."
"Oooh," he grimaced, "awkward."
Todd quickly turned back at the slightly perturbed voice, and right into something that, if anything, should've shook something loose. If there was anything that was capable of grabbing the attention of someone weaned on television and Nintendo, it was the photograph being held in front of him. A mother and her baby, newborn, wrapped in blankets, and a curious young boy with wild brown hair peeking over her left arm; the EEG spiked. "What the hell...?"
Anne-Marie held up another photo. Daddy and his little girl.
And another. A group picture, in front of the same suburban backdrop as his burned Polaroid. "Your mother's only surviving photographs." Anne-Marie answered him, and it seemed as if her voice was starting to resonate, and splinter into several of varying pitch. "A few from her private collection. I bet you've never seen them before."
The picture was blurring. But as Todd's brain starting fogging over, there was just enough capacity left to realize it was his own eyes that weren't quite cooperating. "Is that...my sister...?"
Anne-Marie sought help in the small crowd at the edges of the room, meeting eyes with Rose; she nodded, indicating in the affirmative. "Yes. Sarah Hawkins."
He was getting a little groggy; his eyes were half-lidded and skidding off center-line. "...th' only sarah I know is...th' one I did shooters with a few weeks ago..."
Annika crept forward, and tapped a claw on her husband's forehead. "While you're in there, do you think you can erase a few memories here and there? Especially that one?"
"...nothing happened..." Todd slurred. "...saw the ring around my neck an'...shot me down..."
Anne-Marie leaned in. "Todd?"
"I want you to do something for me." She held an object up in front of him. "Watch my pen."
"Yes, the pen. Focus all your attention on the pen."
There was something slim and glinting in front of him; he assumed it was the pen. "Okay..."
"Now, listen to me carefully."
"Can't...busy watching the pen..."
Anne-Marie rolled her eyes; even drugged this boy was possessed of a particular wit. "All right, never mind the pen. Just listen to my voice. There's nothing else but my voice."
"Right. My voice." She looked up, and without having to say a word, Pierce examined the equipment hooked up to his patient and gave her a thumbs-up. "You're going to go back now. Way back, before your marriage, before meeting your wife and the clan, your mother and father, before shaving, driving, girls and school, back to the very beginning."
Todd didn't reply; the drug had put him into a waking sleep, confirmed by the EEG's slow and steady wave frequency. He'd be able to respond, but only to a very direct question and that was about it.
Go back. Keep going back, to when you were a child.
Staring at the back of his eyelids, he was thrown into the darkness of his own subconscious with only Anne-Marie's voice as a point of direction.
Immerse yourself in that world. What's the first thing you remember?
Yes, the very first thing.
"Waking up in the children's home..."
I want you to go beyond that.
"But...there's nothing there..."
I'm certain there is, it's just buried. Your mind closed everything off to protect itself.
He knitted his brow. "Then why would I want to remember?"
For your sister. To finally have that last piece of your life back.
He was pretty sure he was standing, though he couldn't feel the ground beneath his feet. "I don't..." he tried. "I don't remember. I can't remember."
Just try. Think about the accident; think about everything your mother told you. The highway, the car, your family, the attack...
There were only fragments. Like trying to get a full image through shards of a mirror, everything was hideously jumbled and out of sequence. He wanted someone in the back to focus the picture, and was almost inclined to yell out at the projectionist and throw a few raisinettes at him before something in his mind told him it wasn't a movie.
What do you see?
"...I, uh...I don't see anything..."
Are you sure?
Wind nipped at the back of his neck. And snow? Was it snow? Todd felt the chill to his bones; whatever the shrink had slipped him, it was doing a number on his central nervous system. "...I'm cold..." he said.
"...And there's snow..."
It was snowing during the night of the accident, was it not?
"I don't know..."
I think you do. Where are you right now?
He found himself suddenly sitting down. It'd become warmer, almost to the point of comfortable, but the nascent dread still remained in the pit of his stomach. His left hand scraped upholstery, and his right had inadvertently followed the lines of molded plastic.
Back in the real world, Anne-Marie watched as that particular hand suddenly jerked away. "Do you feel something?"
"But I don't see anything."
He did what he was told and turned his dream-world eyes towards what'd nudged against his right hand.
Now what do you see?
"...a whole lot of gray..."
He was being as true to his gaze as humanly possible. There wasn't much there in front of him but an indistinct object amongst an even more indistinct background and despite the fact his brain was telling him something was there, brushing across the swirls of his metaphorical fingerprints, he just couldn't see it.
Something, whether it was brain-damage of the fear of actually discovering what had happened before his memory actually started, was preventing anything from becoming more than a blur made up of a hundred shades of gray.
"I don't see anything!"
Well, is there anything you DO see?
She watched as he turned his head around; he seemed to know exactly what was going to come next. "Pardon?"
What about the window?
"I think...it's going to break." he predicted, and sure enough fine hairline cracks started drawing their way across the glass.
He thought he saw a pair of eyes looking at him before it imploded, sending a wave of shrapnel in his face and the little hazy universe collapsed around him with just as much devastating finality. And just before unconsciousness gave way to consciousness, there was a wail through the flotsam of his memories.
The EEG's frequency shot off the charts.
Todd woke, frantically, like a cherry bomb had gone off under his chair. His first impulse was to scream, but nothing escaped except a slow whistle of breath off cold lungs. And his second was to jump from the chair but a hand held him down (saving him from nearly tearing the cords from the machine he was wired to in his bid to up and escape).
"It's all right." Anne-Marie quickly calmed him. "It's all right."
Another hand curled across the slope of his forehead; Annika was up and at his side without a moment's notice, plucked the electrodes from his skin and started tracing soothing circles into his temples.
"...j-jesus..." Todd stuttered. His adrenaline had easily burned off all traces of the drug. "I saw..."
His eyes were wild but strangely closed off. "Nothing." he evaded.
Anne-Marie leaned back in her chair and crossed a leg over the other. "You're a poor liar, Mr. Hawkins." she said. "But I'd still consider this a successful first try. Seems as if there are a few memories just begging to be brought to the surface."
A staff hit the dirt, and thunder struck the air.
The tremors rolled through the ground until Elisa swore she felt it through the soles of her boots. Even Trinity shivered beside her.
The large building at the end of the road had turned out to be the local seat of what passed for a government in this city, where newcomers would often venture first to meet with the circle of elders and the clan's elected leader, a great, windswept hulk of a gargoyle with gnarled horns and a dark gray hide. The gathering of all the city's inhabitants was a tradition, as was the leader's address to his people and now, with the staff in his weathered hand he took to the podium (more a boulder than a platform) and looked out on the sea of wings and colored pelts.
Despite the fact the language was alien, she could hear his earnest passion on every syllable; the audience was enrapt. More than five thousand had gathered in the main square, and a few were watching from above, mostly the younglings, their legs dangling from the rope bridges.
And while it was surprising to learn that none of the gargoyles here didn't actually turn to stone like their counterparts in her universe (no humans, no spell she supposed, if Isis was actually right), and incredibly difficult to explain to the rest of the population why her husband and Isis had suddenly frozen in place at the onset of morning (and not actually succeeding due to the language barrier), having spent less than an entire day here had already filled her with a sense of disgrace in her own species.
Being a cop, it was bred into every gene to be a little paranoid, relentlessly cutting a swath through the populace with her eyes but she'd found nothing in the last day that would even qualify as a misdemeanor, let alone an actual punishable crime. They were given food and shelter, an empty hut in the western part of the city, near the fields and overlooking the cattle pastures, without anything asked in return.
If only she could show those in her world who'd fear and destroy them this particular thread in the multiverse.
Elisa was thrown from the reverie by a roar of applause and throaty growls.
The crowd cheered as the leader stepped from his podium, followed by the elders and broke up, intent to spend the rest of the night celebrating. But to Elisa, it meant a spread that rivaled her last family reunion's Arizona barbeque, and she was one of the first to the food laid-out with a plate in hand. The others gave her a wide berth, knowing how hunger can transform a pregnant female, but wondered silently of her clan and the uncommon lack of wings and tail or spurs of any kind.
She plunked down beside Isis who'd held their small table with her usual black frown, warding off anyone who'd even considered joining them. "If there's one thing I love most about the gargoyle race, it's their love of hearty foods."
Her dinner companion eyed the full plate. "Yes, well, I'm sure you're well aware our metabolism is much more voracious than a human's. At least, one that isn't pregnant."
Elisa smiled, only partly acknowledging Isis' oblique sarcasm; as it was, she'd grabbed half a small, roasted chicken (or a bird of some sort), what looked like spare-ribs, mixed greens and a vegetable medley, the food nearly spilling over the sides of the serving dish. "Yes, well, blame Goliath for that. I was going to ask for a few recipes, but I suppose that's out of the question until we find a way to communicate."
"How did you explain to them our turning to stone?"
"I couldn't." she answered. "I tried then gave up, offering them all a shrug and hoping it would be enough."
"I suppose it wasn't."
"Some of the expressions were priceless, and explaining how a few thousand years ago a human sorcerer cast a spell on an entire species is hard enough even in the same language."
Isis' dark features creased in her disbelief. "I'm still quite unconvinced about this...curse."
Elisa wiped a bit of sauce from her mouth. "And I find it surprising you've never heard of this sorcerer, his spell, or Infiniti."
She crossed her arms and a scathing grin split the inky skin. "Ah yes, Infiniti, your own personal guardian spirit." Isis teased in grand style. "I remember seeing a few scriptures regarding something like her, but dismissed it as another incredibly ridiculous, human fable."
"You know, I'm glad to see you're in a good mood tonight."
Isis twitched. "I'm just...uncomfortable."
"What? Around your own kind without a human in sight?"
"With the attention."
"Attention?" Elisa echoed, then held up one of the utensils she was given. It was delicately molded from brass, polished and even engraved, but wasn't quite the shape she was used to. "I take it this is supposed to be a fork."
Isis centered on the utensil. "I suppose." she answered. "And yes. The attention–" On the cusp of the last word, she happened to catch another male strolling past the table, flashing his fangs. He slithered back into the crowd, but not before catching a whiff of her scent on the air.
Elisa felt the hum of energy leaking from Isis' hands, the sorceress clenching beneath the table. "And here I thought a bachelorette like yourself would be in stud heaven with all these unmated gargoyles around."
"Not really." she hissed. "They're not my type."
"They have penises."
Elisa nearly choked on a chicken leg, and started pounding on her chest. "I beg your pardon."
She sighed, "I am not really attracted to...the male of the species, Elisa."
"Oh...OH! You're gay?"
She had a reaction as if everyone around her understood English, and it only took a moment for Isis to realize that no one in earshot was able to actually grasp the language. "Why does everyone respond like that?" she whispered to herself. "But yes, despite your poorly veiled lack of tact, I am gay."
The meal was forgotten. "I'm sorry," Elisa quickly blurted, "I never meant to..."
"Make me feel uncomfortable?"
"I'm not uncomfortable with an aspect of myself I came to terms with a long time ago."
She thumbed her fork, rubbing across the handle's design. "Well, pardon me."
"Then why the reaction?" Isis pressed.
"I've just...never met a gay gargoyle before."
"And how am I any different than a gay human?"
Elisa swallowed, rubbed her forehead and cringed through her shoulders. "You're not, you're right, I'm sorry." she said. "It's just..."
"Weird." Isis finished.
"No." she disputed. "I was going to say rare."
"Gargoyles are not supposed to be gay?"
"Gargoyles aren't supposed to mate with humans either." Elisa joked, but the tone was razor sharp, to where even Isis was slightly taken aback by how incisive it was. "But we both know each statement is untrue."
"If you really believe I'm some ignorant, narrow-minded human who isn't damned well accepting of almost any lifestyle choice and hasn't seen more in her lifetime than any one sane person should, then you're dead wrong. But you can live under that assumption if you wish..."
The human went back to her meal, attacking the chicken breast with the zeal of a predator on the Serengeti. She was eating with an almost equal measure of anger and appetite, and, Isis mused as she observed her companion from across the table, humiliation in the fact she'd stuck her foot in her mouth good and proper. "Apology accepted."
She watched as his eyelids drooped, and slowly closed under the drug and a few proven relaxation techniques. Todd was reluctant to go back under after last night's session, considering he'd nearly wet himself at the images uncovered but even he couldn't deny how close they were with such little effort and time.
"Now," Anne-Marie began, "we're going back again. Back to the accident."
"Back..." Todd repeated.
Remember. You were almost there, you touched on that night. The attack, going over the embankment, shattering glass.
Darkness again. Shades of gray and nothing crisp or defined, like midnight without a moon, and he was searching for something, anything that could lead him back to where he was last night. "I can't...see..."
Then don't see.
Use your other senses. The road, the sounds of the car and your family, the smells, and everything under your fingertips.
"I hear something."
"I hear...people talking..."
Your mother and father?
"I...think so." Todd answered.
A melody was drifting between the layers of the memory, building a little meat on the original skeleton. "There's music...soft, maybe from the radio..."
Good. Keep building. You're an artist, use your skills to complete the picture.
He was definitely sitting, his hands rubbing across the unmistakably coarse grain of automobile upholstery. The indistinct rhythm pulsating against his hands was more like a heartbeat he could feel all around him; like being back in the womb. "I think...I'm in a car. Yeah, it's a car."
How do you know?
"I can feel the seats, and I can feel it moving."
What do you smell?
"I don't know." Todd snapped; the weight behind his voice and the incisiveness belied the drug that slowed his mind down just enough to center on a certain part. This was frustrating enough without that little voice picking at every detail even he couldn't yet see. "Flowers maybe...?" he struggled to give an answer.
A pair of eyes glistened in the darkness. Rose had perked up, thrown into the wastes of a time she rarely liked to dwell on; one of her favorite perfumes was lilac based, and she was wearing it that night.
Look around you.
"But I can't see anything..."
Yes, you can. You yourself are preventing the image from clearing.
You're probably afraid, to go through all of this again.
Todd's eyebrows clenched, fingers digging into the material of the couch he was lying on. "I don't remember..."
Your subconscious does, and it blocked the memory from you in order to protect you. Now you have to dig it out, one piece at a time. Now, you're in a car, the radio's on, there's the scent of perfume in the air...
"We're driving. Somewhere. And I'm in the backseat..." The gray was still gray, dark and muddy enough to keep him from seeing where he actually was but Todd knew the feel of a car on a paved road well enough to figure out his surroundings.
"I don't know..."
What about the voices? What are they saying?
"I can't really...understand...it's all garbled, but they're getting louder..."
Something was wrong. The air was charged, and the serenity he'd felt had been done away by that same embryonic dread. The car hopped on its suspension, fishtailed, and the rear tires howled against asphalt. "Something's happened..."
What? What's happened?
His heart rate was increasing. "I don't know, the car's all over the road...and I hear crying..."
"No," Todd responded, "someone else."
Look. Search for the source of that crying.
It was like watching an old, grainy recording in slow motion and as Todd moved his eyes to the right of him, he still couldn't quite make out what was just beside him. It was frustrating considering he was so close. "It's a baby..." he revealed.
Can you see the baby?
"No, but I can hear it...her," he corrected, "I can hear her..."
Why is she crying?
"There's something wrong..." In his dreamworld, running the gamut between clarity and indistinctness, there was nothing more crystal than the gaze being set upon him from outside the tempered glass. He'd turned to the window, and red eyes looked back at him, strangely and eerily superimposed over his own reflection. "I think there's something outside of the window..."
That same clawed hand broke through and shredded the glass.
Todd suddenly jerked awake, ejected from the memory. He rubbed the sweat from his brow and let his head fall back on to the couch's pillowed arm. "Shit..."
He cocked a brow. "Really?"
"So, you're not surprised?"
"Elisa," Goliath smirked, face half-lit by the torchlight, "I like to think of myself as an enlightened twenty-first century gargoyle."
Elisa shot him an odd look, searching through his expression for any cracks. "But, it doesn't seem...odd to you?"
She looked about to answer, but tightened her lips around something she didn't want expressed. "I don't know...damnit, never mind." she eluded, distancing herself.
"I've already humiliated myself once tonight, not to mention nearly swallowing a chicken leg when Isis told me she was a lesbian."
His tail darted out and caught her by the arm, curling around her wrist and moving so fast it'd snapped the air. He wasn't about to let her go now. "I've never known you to find something so...ordinary, so peculiar."
The appendage unfurled and released her, and Elisa took a seat near the window. "I don't, at least I shouldn't."
"Is it different for gargoyles?" she asked, and the tone almost suggested she was pleading. "Do they love as freely without regard for race, gender or even species?"
"Mostly, I suppose." Goliath answered earnestly. "Though same-sex couplings amongst my kind are not as prevalent as humans, especially in the dark ages, it is not unheard of. I never knew it to be frowned upon, except for those who believe the preservation of our race through breeding must override the contentment in our personal choices."
"Maybe this disproves some of the assholes with the picket signs and the personal phone-line to god. If it's not a choice, then it's instinct. It's normal."
"As normal as our relationship."
"Yeah..." Elisa whispered, turning and catching a glimpse of the moonlight-dappled pastures outside.
Goliath stood over her and studied the absent gaze she'd aimed into the fields beyond. "Is that what you were trying to affirm?" he rumbled. "Your choice? Our choice?"
"If I'm this surprised at Isis, then how will the world deal with us? And the very fact that I'm actually surprised scares me more than I care to admit."
He stood watching, still, letting all that weight off her chest. She'd rarely had the chance to vent or scream or pound her fists into a few scrap pieces of metal he himself had pretty much demolished back in New Cairo, thus he didn't utter a word and waited until what he sensed she wanted to let go of successfully hit the air.
"I keep thinking...what if?" she continued (proving her husband right), with her chin lazily resting on an open palm. "What if we're exposed?"
"It is a possibility. But we will deal with it when and if it comes."
She harrumphed self-deprecatingly, "I think I'm getting a new appreciation for the fear my parents live with."
He was behind her so quickly and inaudibly she nearly jumped at his voice. "Anger recedes, Elisa, often leaving clarity in its wake."
She whirled on the rhetoric and ended up eye-level with her husband's stomach. He leaned down, onto one knee, lowering several feet until they were nearly equal. "Is that how you feel about your wings?"
There was a wince behind his eyes; he'd tried, if somewhat unsuccessfully, to conceal it from the watchful gaze of his mate.
"Sorry," Elisa dipped her head, "it must be the hormones."
"It's becoming a habit."
"And it is hard to let go of something that you thought gave you such resolve."
Most likely without her even knowing, her hand lowered to her slowly expanding stomach. "My resolve comes from seeing that both of my daughters survive this little jaunt."
Goliath lowered his head, and his voice followed suit, "I wish I had the power to bring you both home, Elisa."
"So do I." she answered softly. "But I hope...I get to see them at least one more time, because I don't think I could hate them for the rest of my life."
"I'm glad to hear that."
Elisa felt a little hand pawing at her leg, and turned to her daughter who was halfway ready to climb her thigh claw by claw to get any attention. Her wings were flared much like those wide chocolate pools, which meant her curiosity was piqued. "Mommy?"
She tried as hard as she could from bursting into laughter and sending something unladylike through her sinuses, keeping it mostly confined to the palm of a hand cupped around her mouth.
Goliath sighed, "Be careful, Elisa..."
She had to think on the answer; how to actually explain this to a two-year-old where it'd make sense and, more importantly, dissuade the barrage of questions she knew might come was a complicated effort. "It's pronounced lesbian, angel, and it's a...uhm, girl who likes...other girls."
Seeing Trinity mull the explanation over, Elisa couldn't help but feel her response didn't do it justice. She never thought this would've been a topic of conversation when she first found out she was pregnant.
"I like girls." her daughter responded at length. "Ca'I be a lezbean?"
Elisa released a gentle laugh and pulled Trinity towards her, placing a hand to each cheek. "You can be whatever you want to be."
There was an itch just behind her left eye.
She already knew it wasn't the fatigue of working full days and then making her way to the Eyrie building just before sunset for three days straight. It was a warning more often than not, of something potentially precarious or infringing on her medical status. And as she pulled another empty syringe from her case, the itch only got worse.
Pierce had come up behind her, still impressed with those steady and nimble hands. "Ready?"
The sigh went straight through her shoulders. "Alan, this is the sixth attempt in three days. It's getting to the point of dangerous, especially when the brain keeps kicking him out at a certain point."
"You know we're close."
Anne-Marie pulled a dark shock of her hair from her view of her ex-husband, lingering just off her shoulder and looking grimly determined, despite the disheveled air. "He's producing so much adrenaline, he's neutralizing the drug."
"I may have been a little overzealous when we started but I didn't think we would be overdoing it to such a degree."
"But the RMT is working," he argued, "he's starting to remember and in such a short amount of time."
"That's not always a good thing."
"I know, but..."
"Damnit, Alan," her voice hit a low octave, "you know better than this, or has becoming Xanatos' little mad scientist skewed your sense of morality?"
Pierce reeled from the impact, like being slapped. He nearly jerked his head back as if there was an actual physical response. "Low, Anne, testicles low." he shot back. "But we have to do things a little differently around here, considering the patients and their particular situation."
"That doesn't mean you can throw your ethics off the tallest parapet." Anne-Marie reinforced her point.
"You know," Todd called from across the room, his head turned over the top of the couch, "I can hear you guys."
The doctors pulled away from each other, sheepishly, claws sheathed and egos still red from each other's sting. "Our apologies, Mr. Hawkins," Anne-Marie spoke first, "but Alan and I are having a bit of a moral disagreement."
"She thinks it may be dangerous to continue." Dr. Pierce appended.
"And what do you think?"
He crossed his arms, sliding his eyes back and forth from his colleague. He was trying to be as political as possible considering the tenuous relationship between them, especially when on opposite sides. "I think, with careful monitoring, it will be all right."
Todd turned his eyes a bare inch to the psychologist. "Your ex isn't in violation of the Hippocratic oath if I want to continue."
"I just want you to be aware of the risk involved in pushing yourself too hard, too fast."
"What? Brain damage?"
She nodded, "Yes, we could wait a while. I can come back in a week..."
"Listen," Todd decided to lay it all out, "I've been playing video games since I was three. Trust me, the damage has been done. Now, as much as it scares me to have to relive it, I want this shit out of my head before we have to continue this little drama far too long and besides, the doctor's right, it's working isn't it?"
Anne-Marie was begrudgingly forced to agree, and bit her lip before answering, "You're showing remarkable success."
"Then," he guided her to the chair beside him with his hand, "shall we?"
Silently, she gripped the syringe as she would the pearl handle of a six-shooter, grabbed the bottle of the sedative and started filling the needle.
Walking towards him, Todd thought he saw a split-second glint of maliciousness in an otherwise placid expression just before she jabbed it into his arm.
He was back under, drugged and delving through his memories.
It'd been almost an hour now, the most intense session yet, and Anne-Marie was insistent to either make a break-through tonight or prove to both her patient and reluctant partner the danger in doing too much too quickly.
They were about at the part where serenity would soon give way to panic and brainwave patterns that looked like a 9.5 on the Richter scale.
"You're in a car," she recapped, "your parents are in the front seat, talking, there's music on the radio, everything's normal from what you can remember."
Todd, I need you to look at your sister.
He hesitated. "I can't see her..."
She's right there beside you.
"I told you I can't see her!" he argued.
Yes, you can. She's there, barely an arm's length away. You're blocking her, you're preventing yourself from seeing her, and you're just too damned afraid to finally remove that last obstruction.
The picture had nearly focused just enough to get a few of the details that'd been lost to him before. Color had leaked into the muted, gritty grays, little bits and pieces of a conversation that would soon be violently disrupted, and even what he was wearing that night. But whenever Todd looked beside him, his vision blurred in a certain spot, like a fingerprint on the original negative. "I don't want to be afraid anymore..."
"You don't know." Todd argued.
I've been digging through a lot of minds in my career. What you suffered through that night must have been horrific, but memories can't hurt you. They can free you.
He didn't answer; he didn't actually have an answer.
Now, it's about this time that something happens...
Todd already knew what was going to come. There were little signs everywhere, more and more popping up as he recovered more scraps of memory, but the most glaring was his mother, considering every so often she'd look back at him and unsuccessfully try to veil her nervousness with half a smile. "Yeah..." he agreed, waiting for the first, catastrophic jolt.
The catalyst was the shudder that rattled the car all the way to the tires. He felt the pressure of the seatbelt catch him across the chest as his momentum tried to throw him from the seat. And then, a cry; sharp and drawn out by tiny but powerful lungs. "Something's hit the car."
You're being attacked.
"Yeah, my parents are...screaming bloody murder..."
"Fighting against something..." Todd whispered. "It looks like it's got him by the arm."
Unsure even now what he was hearing, Todd had never heard such bone-chilling terror in his mother's voice. "She's scared..." he said.
"She's looking at me, looking at us...she's trying to reach for us..."
You and your sister.
Can you see her?
Then try again.
"Damnit, I said I can't!"
Anne-Marie decided on a bit of tough-love. "No! You won't! That's the difference! You refuse to see!"
Another lurch, the car off-kilter from the extra weight on top of it, shadows tearing and clawing at the metal.
You refuse to deal with it!
"I'm trying...!" he protested, his voice losing steam. Everything was going to hell in his head (it wasn't until now that Pierce noticed the jump in his brainwaves), and it was hard to focus on so much going on at once.
Not hard enough.
Every tendon was stretched to its limit as Todd's body stiffened on the couch, fingers clutching at the fabric. He looked ready to snap himself in two, and both Annika and Rose were both geared up to jump to his side, but Anne-Marie waved them off.
You're stronger than this. You've fought against immeasurable odds just to stay alive and you're now afraid to see your own sister's face?
"I'm not afraid."
Bullshit! Now suck it up and look at her!
"I can't! I can't see her!"
"Jesus, Anne..." Pierce whispered, leaning in towards her. The stress on the young man on the couch was getting closer to what he'd consider dangerous.
He was acutely aware of the irony of switching places.
The car lurched again, veering into the oncoming lane as Todd and the rest of his family were thrown around. The baby's screams were growing louder against his parents' shrieks and the high, shrill whine of metal being stripped from the frame.
You're being attacked right now, aren't you?
Todd stuttered, "...y-yes."
And what's your first instinct?
"To get away from the monsters..."
"I'm...leaning towards the middle of the backseat, huddling over something..."
A car seat? For infants?
There was something oddly-shaped but familiar under his hands; smooth, definitely plastic, he'd seen something like this in the back of Elisa's Fairlane, something Annika had pestered him about for the Superbird. "I...think so..."
Can you see your sister?
Todd was visibly upset at the fact he couldn't. "No..."
Then what do you see?
"The window." he said.
Is there something outside?
He turned again, expecting, again, the window to spider-web, shatter and explode in his face. The flicker of something red and something looking vaguely like a pair of eyes flitted outside, and he felt himself leaning in to get a better look before the inevitable happened.
He felt every shard scraping past his flesh, and turned away.
But this time the image didn't break; he willed it to stay. Todd didn't wake up in a cold sweat like he did five times before. He hung on to the last scraps of memory, if only to get a better look at what was reaching in through the broken window.
A hand, tipped with claws on all three fingers.
It caught him by the shirt and tried to wrench him from the car, but his salvation lie in the carseat strapped in with the center belt. He grabbed the plastic handle and hung on. His mother was screaming now, his father trying to control the car as it fishtailed over centerline and dangerously close to the road's grassy edge, chaos reigned, and looking up, he found himself staring into the face of a crying baby.
Anne-Marie took note of the expression; like sheer reverence. "You see something, don't you?"
"The EEG's spiking again." Pierce warned, now possibly rethinking his insistence to continue as his patient's brainwaves were getting a little erratic. "Maybe we should end this..."
Todd, what is it?
He saw his sister, just before the car hit the guardrail, did a nosedive down the slope and tore in two.
And then, he woke up, perfunctory cold sweat, nearing either a heart attack or a stroke from the stress levels (if he hadn't have come out of it already, Pierce would've intervened), and started screaming.
Thrashing, he nearly caught the psychiatrist with a size eleven to the face and ripped the electrodes off. "Get this shit off of me!"
Annika jumped towards him, trying to grab flailing limbs without taking one in the face. "Todd!"
"Get away from me!" he screamed. "GET AWAY!"
In his hysteria, Todd was able to push her away despite her greater strength and stumbled towards a corner (one without a window). He was dry-heaving between the heavy breaths, keeping down his dinner by sheer resolve and the fact that, unexpectedly dug out from somewhere in his head, he knew the carpet had to be expensive. "Oh god..."
With Annika keeping her distance, unsure of what to do, Rose plodded forwards and reached out, tentatively, cautiously, for her son's back knotting and churning under its own skin. "Todd?"
He'd swallowed back the vomit. Wracked with that single, haunting image of his baby sister and the dark figures that'd climbed over their car, Todd had most of the pieces back to make a pretty good picture of what he'd lost.
"What did you see?" she asked again.
"A baby." he whispered.
"Sarah?" he echoed. "Was it Sarah? It was...blurry, and dark, but I think I saw her..."
"No, n-not really. It was like watching a movie you only think you might have seen before." His head slowly turned, letting the thunder of his eyes over his shoulder; the gray was storming. "But I know exactly who attacked us..."
Todd had fallen asleep, in the most awkward and what looked like the most uncomfortable position the human body could ever manage.
But Annika had heard his snoring halfway down the corridor, and the first thought that raced through her mind was if the arm cocked to an odd angle underneath him was numb yet.
He'd escaped, as usual, trying to find some kind of solace away from the gawking and anyone offering sympathetic yet embarrassingly charitable words of comfort. She let him go, knowing he couldn't get too far and escape her honed sense of smell, and sure enough she'd tracked him down within a few minutes of setting out.
The drug he was fed married with the mental trauma he just relived was enough to put him quietly and completely under. Annika kneeled and watched him breathe, slowly, steadily and with only a hint of drool. She thought she might call the doctor back for a quick check-up, but her husband had the innate ability to shrug almost anything off.
The tips of her talons started tracing contours in his face, and at the delicate touch Todd started murmuring. The murmur started into a fragmented whisper and eventually turned into a full blown, one-sided conversation with what, and whom, ever was running through his subconscious at the moment. "...yeah, tha'zz right...Annika you are so hot..."
She smiled; a compliment was a compliment, no matter what the context she supposed.
"...oh yeah, rub her stomach..."
Annika's features shriveled somewhat, at the dialogue's odd turn.
"...oooh, yeah ladies...get th' oil an' get nasssty..."
"Ladies...?" she whispered, pulling her hand away. "Oil? Nasty?"
"...i'sss all right, Demona...don't be shy, give'r another kiss..."
Annika stood up, incensed and ruby-eyed, and lacking the earlier consideration. "What the hell!"
"...snnnrrrkkk...wha?" Todd was startled into a quasi-state of consciousness, between where dreams and reality intermingled. He almost thought the figure before him was part of the fantasy. "A-Annika...?"
"You're dreaming about me having a lesbian affair with Demona!"
Being caught in the act was sobering, more so than raw coffee grinds or a Tabasco chaser and Todd shot up, intent to defend himself both verbally and, if need be, physically. "What! No! No...of course not..."
"I just heard you!"
"What, just tonight? Or before?"
If there was anything he could've said in that moment, that wouldn't have been it.
"Before!" Annika echoed. "You've been dreaming about me having sex with Demona before!"
He played it cool. "No."
A low growl from her throat was the only response.
"You can't blame my subconscious! Remember," he tapped a few fingers to his head, "not quite right up here."
Three knuckles cracked in perfect succession. "Damn right it's not, nor will it be after I'm finished."
He'd already been on the receiving end of that particular hand before, and Todd pushed against the couch until he realized he was trapped. Any sudden move to roll over the end of the loveseat just might trigger the primordial hunting instinct simmering just beneath her skin. "It just happens whenever I'm stressed!" he hurriedly explained. "It's like a defense mechanism that releases endorphins or something!"
"God, I'm pregnant!" Annika protested. "She's pregnant!"
"Yes, and she'd...rub your stomach, and...uhm..."
"Rub cocoa butter on you to prevent stretch marks."
"Oh, good god!"
Todd shrugged, putting on the air of an innocent. "It's all very tender and loving, I assure you! And frankly, having two very hot, pregnant women under the same roof isn't healthy for a normal male libido–"
WHAM! A pillow ricocheted off his skull; somehow she'd been able to sneak it off the end of the couch and in Annika's hands it nearly qualified as a lethal weapon, considering the power behind the impact.
"That doesn't make it right!" she growled. "And the only reason I haven't ripped off your arm and beat you with the wet end is because of everything you've just gone through tonight!"
Todd flinched at another swing, but it was a fake-out. "Well...thank you, I guess."
"Were you dropped on your head as a baby?"
"I really can't answer that. Apparently Rose was under a lot of painkillers."
"That may explain all the brain damage." She dropped the pillow and slumped beside him. "You really do have one hell of a messed up psyche, don't you?"
"Do you blame me?"
She breathed through her nose and closed her eyes. The revelations she endured with him were manageable up until the latest; gargoyles, if his recovered memories were any kind of accurate, had viciously set themselves upon his family with the intent to kill, and inadvertently, ironically, created a greater threat anyone could ever have imagined. "No, I suppose not. I just find it hard to believe..."
"Believe it." Todd was a little snide, defending what he witnessed more vividly than his own sister's face. "But there was only one gargoyle that we know of around twenty years ago in the states, and she's kind of comatose right now."
"You don't think–"
"Not for a second." he wrote it off before the thought was even voiced. "Besides, there was more than just one."
"And how does this make you feel?"
He shot up and started pacing behind the couch. He sure as hell didn't need to be psycho-analyzed by his wife. "I thought we sent the shrink home."
"I need to know." Annika urged him.
"Know what? If I hate gargoyles now just like my father? News flash," Todd leaned in and hissed, "we're nothing alike."
"Anger and loss twisted him. I just want to make sure it doesn't do the same to you."
"It won't." he waved it off, nearly taking a swing at a nearby armoire. "I'm capable of hating a lot of people, but it's kind of hard to hate an entire species."
"Right, they creep me out."
"Your sister hated spiders too." a new voice joined into the conversation.
And Todd nearly jumped out of his shorts. He swung around on someone a foot shorter and had to drop his gaze, lowering it on his mother. "Jesus..." he wheezed, clutching his shirt. "Do you have to do that all the time?"
Rose lifted one brow and its scarred counterpart. "What?"
"Sneak up on everyone."
She smiled. "The church had squeaky floorboards, and I learned to walk lightly."
Todd calmed himself as the effects of the near-heart attack started to wear off, his nerves still slightly frayed. "I guess I'm used to the telltale sounds of claws on stone."
"I'm sorry," she offered in contrition, "I was only here to see how you were feeling."
"Like I've just lost my sister all over again."
Rose knew the feeling well; only she'd lived with it for half of her life. "And how much do you actually remember?"
"Not a lot past the accident." Having unclenched, Todd scratched the back of his head. It was still a little numb in places. "It's still just a haze, and probably will be for the rest of my life."
"You can always further the treatment."
"No, living through that hell six times over is enough."
Rose rubbed her hands together. "Well, at least you can carry the memory with you of your sister, instead of a few faded photos."
"That still doesn't make me feel better about having lost her."
She could feel every pair of eyes on her ass as she headed for shelter.
Spring was over and with it, if her sense of smell was accurate, the mating season, but summer always brought with it warmer temperatures and a normal increase in the male libido before autumn would dampen a few overanxious spirits.
Isis just wanted to get away from the more forthright bachelors, who didn't seem deterred by the fact they couldn't speak of their intentions, and avoid the awkward explanation (between two languages no less) of how she wasn't quite available. The cabin shared with the Mazas seemed the ideal place.
But upon opening the door, something bronze flashed in front of her and chirped, "Isis!"
Isis stopped short, nearly stumbling over the small hybrid and going face-first into the floor. With her eyes aglow, she was trying to drop the weight of all her resentment upon a young girl who was practically bulletproof and beaming back at her. "What do you want?"
"Guess what?" Trinity said.
"I'ma be a lezbean too."
Isis nearly snorted and then, choking back the first, violent, sharp-tongued instinct in lieu of the fact it was a child beneath her, licked her fangs and directed her gaze towards Goliath and Elisa at the far end of the cabin. "What," she growled, "have you been telling your daughter?"
"That it's all right to be a 'lezbean'." Elisa defended, matching a smarmy grin to Isis' gold-rimmed glare.
"How like it for anyone straight, though I loathe using such a proletarian adjective, to reduce it to a simple joke. Oh, and with an adorable mispronunciation too."
"Oh calm down. Someone with your complete lack of tact can't be even the slightest PC."
"And if your daughter is gay?"
"Then she's gay." Elisa shrugged. "Of course, we have it on good authority that she's going to marry a rich, strapping young man in about twenty years or so, but that's beside the point."
"And," she nodded at the human's stomach, "what about the other one?"
Her smile fell, hitting floor. "Apparently, she'll be dating something worse. A Hawkins."
"And what, pray tell, is a Hawkins?"
"A creature of pure malevolence." Goliath intervened, with a pinpointed scowl. He was probably reliving a few choice memories both gruesome and maddening of his neighbor down the hall. "I cannot even imagine a world where my family may be joined through marriage to that...boy."
Seeing what trickled through the larger gargoyle's wind-cut jaw and broken nose, and seeing what could actually unflap the unflappable, Isis was more than slightly impressed. "I think I would like to meet this Hawkins."
"You do not know what you say." Goliath shot back. "He is evil."
"Goliath," Elisa admonished, "he isn't exactly evil."
"You were not at his bachelor party."
"So, is there anything else you want to tell me? Any more brothers or sisters?"
"A dog? A cat? Goldfish?"
Rose could feel the heat off his tone. It was nothing but accusatory but surprisingly less sarcastic than she'd come to expect from her son; there was actually more truth than cynicism in the statement. "Nothing more important than your sister." she said, following her son and his rant into the recreation room.
"Really?" Todd spun around. "Are you sure?"
"Absolutely sure?" he pressed. "I mean, I did just find out I had a sister..."
"Todd," Annika slinked behind him, her lips along the bottom edge of his ear for just long enough for the caress to register on his skin, "you're being a little assholish."
"He has a point I suppose." Rose said, taking a seat on the couch (careful not to stress the still healing stomach wound).
"Right, see?" Todd gloated. "I have a point."
His wife shrugged. "Yes, but, imagine how your mother feels. She's lived with the death of your sister longer than you have."
It was only now when Todd realized the impact of simple banter with a very purposeful topic. He sighed, "Listen, mom, I'm sorry...I didn't mean to..."
Rose looked up, surprised. "What did you call me–?"
Todd looked left and right for the voice, only to promptly realize it'd came from the ceiling. He raised his eyes up, without realizing how incredibly ridiculous he appeared. "What?"
"...You have a call on your personal line..." Mother responded.
"Who is it?"
"...The woman did not say, but I have transferred her to the phone in the room..."
"Maybe it's Kendra..." he muttered, heading towards the telephone. "Maybe she's calling to say she and Crash aren't moving to goddamned Paris, or, of course, as my luck is currently running, she's done been knocked up and it's a shotgun wedding!" Todd plucked the receiver from its cradle. "Hello?"
There was a slight pause and what sounded like someone having caught their breath in their throat. Irritated, and just as he was going to either bark something else through the connection or hang up, a lilted, almost frail voice squeaked through.
"...Is this...Todd Hawkins?..."
And Todd, in his usual candor, responded. "Yeah. Who the hell is this?"
"...Sarah..." the voice answered. "...Your little sister..."
Silence. Then, a neuron connected to another. "Oh."