Flashbacks #-3: "The Costume"

October 30th, 1999
It was the day before Halloween, three months before her impending nuptials and a year and a day to the birth of her first daughter.

Before Shadow, before Todd and Annika Hawkins, before Infiniti, Sobek and the Guild, and before her life got really complicated.

She wasn't yet a wife and hadn't been the loosely-defined girlfriend since Goliath proposed. Being the fiancé allowed breathing room; for six months (and three already down) Elisa would bask in the freedom in between, the pressure off and no expectations to constantly meet. She had her man and wasn't quite locked into all the metaphoric constraints of marriage and despite all the grief and pain and blood they'd gone through to get this far, the thought of marriage, that last big leap, was somewhat terrifying.

Of course, there was still Fox and her mother hounding her for details on floral arrangements and dress-fittings, but she'd been a cop long enough to know how to avoid them both. Besides, Elisa enjoyed feeding Goliath to the dogs, considering he and the lady Xanatos shared a roof and she could only imagine the flustered expression he'd often get when under the weight of all the questions.

Perhaps Fox would corner him in a Wyvern corridor tonight, and keep him from getting here before she could get dressed and leave.

She knew Goliath wouldn't approve of this particular assignment, and the fact she actually volunteered for it. She could've lied, told him it was a simple cocktail party with a few suspects in attendance but would never get past that midnight stare, wheedling out every untruth with just a few seconds of exposure. So she broke down, tested their bond and flat-out told him.

He took it well. Stone-faced and silent, with a hand to his side that clenched into a fist, quivered with the exertion and eventually settled. Elisa was impressed.

That was last night, this was now and there was no turning back.

Throwing the large box onto her quilt and knowing (and dreading) what lay inside, Elisa found that she started to share the same reservations she knew Goliath wanted to voice.

And to think it all started with a simple briefing.

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Three days ago...
"You'll be going undercover."

Elisa dreaded what was coming next, as much as she was beginning to fear being called to the captain's office with every new assignment getting more and more complicated. "As...?"

"A waitress."

At first it didn't seem that bad, but by the way her boss was skillfully circumventing the dirty details of the job she suspected there was something more to follow she wasn't going to like.

Chavez leaned back in her chair, and her voice inexplicably went down a level, "It's a gentlemen's club."

"So I should prepare to be insulted and or groped."

"Maza," Maria sighed, feeling for some reason she had to gratify her best detective, "the only reason I'm asking you because you have experience undercover and you can handle yourself. I can give this assignment to Starr..."

"The rookie? No. She'll just screw it up. I'll do it."

"Well," Maria threw it out, before Elisa became too comfortable, "before you accept there's something else you should know."

Elisa's eyebrows wilted, much like her opinion of this case. "What?"

"The theme." she coughed.

"There's a theme?"

"Yes...the Playboy mansion."

Her elbow hit the desk to give her head something to lean on and she exhaled, catching a few hairs in the breeze. "I don't get paid enough for this."

"I've called ahead to McKenzie's Costumes on fourth." Maria continued. "They've got plenty of outfits for you to choose from, from contemporary to classic."

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She ended up going for a combination of the two.

Elisa pulled the lid from the garment box and revealed the costume with a sigh of resignation. Only the oversexed would want a woman subjected to this while waiting on them hand and foot, but it was all part of the atmosphere.

For a party to trade secrets as well as favors, to build alliances, sell weapons and drugs and every other dirty little deed without the need to spill blood in the streets. But more importantly, it was a party where all the boys wanted to be like Heff, surrounded by cleavage and costumes and fishnet stockings, martini in one hand and an armful of young flesh in the other.

Chavez had left the choice of color to her discretion and Elisa, deciding to make the best of it, had found herself actually running the choices through her mind as she approached the costume shop. Red, gold, she'd even considered a nice shade of lavender before settling on an old classic.

Stripping right down to the skin, Elisa let all but her panties pool around her ankles and pulled the costume from the box (complete with fluffy, white tail). The stockings went on first, up the right leg with a ginger touch then the left and she smoothed the cross-hatched pattern across her thighs, marveling at how all the running through alleys and for her life kept her quite toned. "Hmph..." she shook her head. "These do look good."

Grabbing for the bodice, she rubbed the black satin material between her fingers and sucked in a breath. She had to lose a few inches at the waist to successfully squirm into the tunic and though this modernized costume had a bit of elasticity to it, it was still rigid enough to shove her lower ribs into her lungs.

The bodice pushed her c-cups up to a d and closer to her chin, near enough to choke her. With her waist now compressed, she breathed shallow before her internal organs relaxed into their new shape and adjusted her breasts to make sure they didn't fall out when serving the thugs their drinks (she'd even briefly considered double-sided tape, to keep both the cups and goods in place).

With the obligatory wiggle to make sure everything was snug, Elisa ran her thumbs under the bottom edges of the tunic to prevent a wedgie and grabbed the last remaining pieces of the costume. She attached the cuffs, tied the bowtie collar, clipped on the bunny ears to test before fitting the wig and then, stared at the shoes on her bed.

She'd worn heels before, owned a few for the odd special occasion and got the chewing-gum stride down cold in anything three inches and under. But these things, black patent and glistening like they were dipped in an oil slick, were a full five inches and closer to a medieval torture device than part of the ensemble.

If only the employee dress code at this particular club was a little more elastic she could get away with something lower and less excruciating, but, the waitresses were meant to be eye candy, done up to the perfect male fantasy.

"Great..." she muttered, holding the heels in her hands. "Five hours in five-inch heels."

Using her bed's footboard as balance, she slipped into the shoes, her toes just slightly squeezed into the pointed tips. She was a full five inches taller and coupled with the bodice's organ-crushing fit her equilibrium was thrown off; even the thought of taking those first few steps made her cringe, considering she could break an ankle trying to force her body into an unfamiliar gait.

So Elisa decided to take it one footstep at a time, staying as close to her furniture as possible. "Okay, Maza," she breathed, "slowly but surely."

Her right foot went first, tested the shoe and its strength to keep her up and alive, and let go from the bed. She teetered at first, walking an imaginary tightrope and eventually, with a bit of patience she managed to pick up speed and not look like a two-year-old on his feet for the first time.

She was out and into the living room before she knew it, did a celebratory twirl and knew, just as her left heel snagged the carpeting, she'd become overconfident.

Elisa felt herself going back. "Oh shit..." Her only hope was a piece of furniture in the way to break her fall.

"Oh!" Something had caught her, something immense, with quick reflexes and the scent of stars and ozone. A hint of violet to either side clinched her rescuer's identity. "Big Guy..."

Goliath leveled her out and cradled her in his arms, purring from the base of his throat. His wings trembled as flesh grazed bare flesh. "I have you."

"You certainly do." she breathed provocatively.

"I had hoped to see you before you left." he returned softly, eyes roaming where claws dared to tread for fear of ruining the satin material. "The way you described this particular outfit I could not very well let my curiosity go unsatisfied."

"Mm hmm..."

He chuckled, and at his size it resonated sub-octavely through his entire frame.

Elisa separated from him and practiced her glide, sashaying on the heels with a bit of wobble halfway up the calf. "Well, get an eyeful. I hope I won't be in this get-up for long."

"This...club." he inquired, reminded of the task at hand with every playful sway of her hips. If he was as mesmerized, he shuddered to think of Elisa at the mercy of the less-than-desirable in nothing but a thin layer of black satin and nylon. "Is it dangerous?"

"Only if I get caught."

His eyes tightened, slitting beneath the brow.

She could hear his teeth against each other, and knew he'd swallowed the urge to protest this particular assignment. Another perk of being the fiancé, though he had the right to complain Goliath had also learned to suffer through her work no matter how dangerous it was. "I'll be all right."

"I know." he answered vacantly.

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"Salli, table four. The boys there want what you got."

Elisa nodded to her counterpart in the brunette and metallic blue, and carried the tray full of jugs and empty glasses to the table in the corner. She was less than a half hour into her shift and already she'd been hit on twice, involved in a fantasy, invited to a hotel room and squeezed like an overripe melon and the infamous Maza disposition when it came to sexual harassment was ready to pop. Plus, the blond wig was beginning to itch.

She approached the table and started laying out the contents of her tray, trying to ignore the lulls in the conversation and the collective leer aimed at some of her best attributes only emphasized by the bunny costume. The waitresses were encouraged to be playful, but Elisa could only take her role so far.

"There you are, gentlemen." she said, straightening back out. "Your beers."

"Thanks, doll." one answered back, the most sober of the group.

Faking the smile, Elisa turned around to leave when something the unmistakable shape of a hand grabbed the flesh that peeked out from the bodice's bottom edge.

Elisa whirled on him. "Hey!" she barked.

He raised his hands, unashamed of being caught in the act. "Just testing the merchandise."

"You fond of that hand?"

"Only when I'm thinking of you."

She sucked back her response and to help sway the murderous impulse, thought a happy thought of Goliath tearing through the room, crushing skulls and kneecaps and carrying her off into the night ala Tarzan with a stolen bottle of Merlot in his hand.

A fantasy shared by another, where above and out of sight somewhere, talons cut into the panes of glass.

If only these Neanderthals knew what breathed onto the windows outside, they wouldn't be so free with their hands.

But Elisa, the model of self-control that she was, had choked back the impulse to put a heel through the guy's neck and forced that empty, air-headed smile all the other girls were wearing. He threw a twenty onto her tray and rejoined the conversation, and Elisa hurried off as fast as her shoes could take her, steaming. She didn't even notice the phone number scrawled onto the bill, just thought him fortunate he didn't try to stuff the cash into her cleavage.

There would have been blood.

Finding a bit of refuge back at the bar from the hands and stares and drunken proposals that would make a prostitute blush, Elisa slid the tray towards the bartender with her next order (after helping herself to the twenty as hazard pay) and started tapping her nails on the bar's swirled, zebra-wood finish. As the server poured out her order, she had time to take a quick scan of the room.

The club had been here since the start of the century, and despite the numerous renovations and modern accoutrements over the decades there was still a long and sordid history behind the oiled wood beams and walls.

It was a who's who of the criminal element in between the multi-colored bunnies; half these guys she knew from one criminal record to another. Most were small-fry, dealers and scum, but the rest were some of New York's biggest crime lords like Lucius 'Big Dawg' Barnes and Lei Zhu, resident prince of the Triads (this was neutral territory, and admittance meant leaving personal wars outside). If it weren't for the wig and heavy make-up and the reputation of the stolid detective Maza, she might have feared recognition. But thankfully, the booze flowed freely and no one seemed to be looking above her chest.

"Here you go, honey." the bartender slid her tray back to her. "And watch those hands."

Elisa breathed a cool thanks, balanced the tray on her right hand (it took a bit of practice beforehand) and started back into the crowd. A dry martini to the drug-pusher, who was trying to expand in lower Manhattan, a double scotch on the rocks to the weapons dealer, who'd wanted to celebrate another dozen high-powered rifles sold to both sides of rival gangs and a highball to a newbie with aspirations of greatness in the mafia.

But by the way he was going on, Elisa had a feeling he wouldn't make it through the week without a bullet or two in the back.

She was about to make her rounds through the seven tables she'd been assigned to, when a voice behind her sent chills down her spine.

"How about a drink?"

Elisa knew that voice, intimately, and damned the timing. Only here, only now, would he somehow show his face and she wondered if she could somehow alert her partner on the other end of her open audio connection without being exposed.

"Well...?" the man pressed, and by the tone, he was enjoying the waitress' discomfort.

She imagined a pistol might have been held to the back of her head, and when she turned around all she would hear was the trigger depressing, gunpowder exploding into energy and the final, messy impact. Elisa hesitated.

A hand grabbed for the wig and snatched it from her head. A river tumbled down with a few bobbypins that had been forcefully dislodged, and despite being tied up for hours, settled into a familiar style. "I knew the legs looked familiar." he crowed.

Elisa turned around, staring into the fox-like features of Tony Dracon.

"Hey, Sugar."

The pretense was over as soon as he got a glimpse of her without the blond. "Dracon." Elisa hissed. "When the hell did you get back into town? A few countries kick you out?"

"In a manner of speaking." he shrugged, enjoying the banter after so long. "I thought it was time to come home, considering my rep was getting badly tarnished in my absence."

Elisa's disgust for this man's ego went through her as a cold shiver, and she'd never felt more naked than when Dracon's flinty gaze wandered every exposed curve like a roadmap, similar to what Goliath had done earlier but with less than impure thoughts. She'd puff out her chest in defiance if it wouldn't have threatened the stitching.

"Oh sugar," he swooned, "either you're hard up for cash or you're doing a bit of spying on us entrepreneurial types."

"Well, a detective's salary only goes so far." Elisa shot back, bucking her hips.

"And how many friends of yours are among the bunnies here?"

"I'm the only one, Tony." she revealed. "The rest are as naïve and vacuous as your fellow gorillas wished for."

"But that takes the fun out of it. I like a little spice in my dishes." Another pass, from bodice to heel and back again to the treacherously clingy costume that did so well to accent the detective's best features. "Where's the wire, Maza?"

"I'm wireless."

"I'm sure you are." the skunk-haired gangster laughed, and motioned to his goon squad, having slowly and surreptitiously closed in around the couple. "Escort her outside, this is a private club after all."

Two of the men grabbed Elisa on either side and started to usher her towards the rear exit. She didn't protest when the unmistakable shape of the barrel of a gun was pressed into her side.

Tony though, held one of the guys back and whispered something into his ear, then, to absolutely make sure he got it, dragged his thumb across his neck in a very telling gesture. His pet thug nodded, smiled and followed.

"Oh, and detective...?"

Elisa turned her head only to have Tony appear behind and redress her hair with the rabbit ears.

"Don't forget your ears."

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She was taken through the kitchen quickly to avoid a rescue by anyone who could be watching, but still visible enough to send a message to anyone else currently employed who'd ever thought of squealing.

They marched her through the rear exit and into the alley and the mélange of garbage and carbon monoxide. Elisa knew exactly where her back-up was but as the alley didn't run in a straight line from street to street, no one could see her or the four well-dressed grunts slowly making a ring around her.

The gun she'd felt against her kidney made its appearance, and Elisa took a breath. And to think Tony had become almost respectable in the last few years. "Ah, let me guess." she said. "You're going to kill me."

The goon grabbed her around the wrist to better keep his target from moving around. "Yes, but don't take it so personally."

"Boys, I wouldn't do this if I were you..."

A few overconfident chuckles made the circle, but Elisa didn't hear.

Trained to listen to the sky, she caught a rustle above the rooftops and talons in the masonry. Elisa smiled; she might just get the 23rd's deposit back on the costume rental after all. "They say the shadows are alive in New York."

The hand on her wrist squeezed, enough to elicit a grimace from the woman under his fingers. Whether his intent was to kill her quickly or simply drag out the execution to make his victim sweat all over her pretty costume, it was enough to spur the watcher above into action.

A bit of crumbled brick tumbled into the alley before everything erupted.

He shot in like a ballistic missile, seven hundred pounds of unbridled, nova-eyed fury that filled the alleyway with a clap of thunder. At least, thunder to anyone unfamiliar with the sound of a gargoyle that shook entire bricks loose from their mortar, fire breathed from his lungs at the sight of someone's hand leaving bruises on his mate.

It would have been dark enough to cloak Goliath's entrance if it weren't for the light pouring from his eyes, highlighting a physique like a cement truck that seemed to ripple and swell and burst from the lavender skin.

Elisa's wrist was close to breaking under her captor's meaty grasp but she could easily endure the pain with her husband-to-be descending on the small group, subtlety the last thing on his mind. Red lips turned upward; she knew he was out there, a shadow at the windows, a figure in the shadows, watching her.

She knew it wasn't just his sense of protection or something as inane as jealously. He'd wanted to join her at the party (such as it was), at all the parties she'd ever attended, share a dance, a drink, a laugh, but all he could do was press against the glass and while watching all those hands paw at her, wish for something they'd maybe never see in their lifetimes.

Goliath landed in front of his fiancé and Dracon's tuxedoed grunt and with his attention squarely on the behemoth stomping towards him, Elisa caught him in the stomach with a well-placed kick only to put him in a better position for Goliath's incoming fist. Before the brain could connect sound to mouth and run a breath through his vocal cords, pain disrupted every synapse and rung the goon's skull like the mixing bead in a can of spray paint.

Elisa could've sworn the his head actually changed shape around Goliath's knuckles, the gargoyle swinging a little hard in his attempt to rescue her. Bone met bone, spit and blood and what looked like a tooth sprayed across the alley and he was unconscious before hitting the ground. She stumbled back when suddenly released and skittered on her heels to a safe place with Goliath thrashing about behind her.

Gunfire erupted, shots fired wildly into the night and Elisa hoped none made contact.

Bodies starting flying and soon the entire lane had the scent of iron, and if Goliath had taken a bullet the adrenaline would've kept his body from feeling the slug shredding through flesh and muscle. Backed up against the wall, she watched the carnage continue while adjusting her rabbit ears, gone askew when Dracon's men had manhandled her out into the alley.

On what little of Goliath she could make out with her fiancé become a massive blur of rage and movement and the dimly-lit alley sucking parts of his body into long and ravening shadows, she couldn't see any blood. That tinny smell must be coming from the men who, currently, were being thrown around like rag dolls and unable to land a decent shot.

One hit the dumpster she was leaning against and dropped to the ground, while two others were undoubtedly later to suffer internal injuries of some sort the way they were bouncing between Goliath's fists and the walls on either side of the lane.

Number four's hands were shaking so severely he couldn't reload. Blood trickled over his left brow and stained his vision, and despite the screams and snarls he wouldn't look up until the fresh cartridge was snapped into place. Click, clatch, his eyes went up and into Goliath's.

There was a moment where Elisa thought the guy was dead, considering the gargoyle had shown incredible restraint with the others. Knuckles cricked, the man mumbled a prayer under his breath and Elisa turned away from the actual impact.

One, two, three and finally, with a scream that was efficiently and frighteningly garroted, number four went down and Goliath stood up above his victim. A bit of steam went out between his teeth, the weather cool enough to show breath on the air and the glow faded from his eyes.

Elisa brushed away a wayward hair and leaned over slightly. "Better?"

Goliath was snapped from the daze. "Hmm?"

"Feel better?" she clarified. "Got all the anger out?"

He turned towards her, stepping on the thug he'd just put down. "They were going to kill you."

"And I'm grateful but..." She took another good look at the battlefield, four men twice her size in heaps and groaning piles. "Wow."

"I suppose it was overkill." he owned up, albeit sheepishly. As sheepish as the seven foot seven leader could be. He moved towards her, focused on her wounds. "Your throat...?"

She rubbed her wrist, where underneath the cuff a faint handprint done in bruise-colored burgundy could barely be seen. "Will be fine tomorrow."

The telltale squeal of hinges alerted the couple to the door opening; Tony had come out to ensure the deed was done after an inordinate amount of time had passed. He should've stayed at the party.

Goliath had the scent before he even saw the human, and before Tony even realized a gargoyle had run through and decimated his small gang he was engulfed in a shadow, felt the shift in the breeze, heard the roar. "Dracon!"

Tony didn't have the chance to properly react. That massive hand grabbed him around the collar, almost taking a parcel of flesh from underneath his Adam's apple and wrenched him from the ground. "God, not you again..."

Goliath was in close, and close enough to get a whiff of vodka and a lemon twist on his breath. There was fear in Tony's gaze; it wasn't the sheer terror he had hoped for but it would do. "Yes, me again." he growled. "How you keep appearing under every rock is a question I do not ask myself anymore."

"Same here, gruesome."

"You are a vile little creature, aren't you?"

"Do you mind?" he protested smarmily. "This suit is worth more than what I could get for your hide on the black market."

But Goliath's hand only compressed, crushing the fabric between his fingers with no hope of recovery. "You would dare harm Elisa."

"Actually, I wanted her dead–hrrkkhh!"

Goliath cut off his oxygen supply with a talon to his throat. "I should leave you on the ground like your friends."

"Go ahead...it won't stop me..."

"From what?" Elisa tried.

Tony spit, "Living."

"He might."

Muscle made an odd sound when contracting, tendons stretching, bones creaking and Tony heard the gargoyle's arm flex from the knuckles all the way up to the elbow. Goliath didn't look pleased that he'd even entertained the thought of having Elisa shot, let alone actually ordering the execution. "You...really have a thing for her...don't you, freak?" Dracon gasped.

"Don't tease him, Tony." Elisa warned.

"She still your girl?"

"She is my mate!" Goliath roared on instinct.

His esophagus up against his spine, Tony managed to move his gaze to Elisa.

Cat out of the bag, at least the expression on his face was enough to enjoy the moment.

If Elisa had an engagement ring she would've flashed the terrified little mobster her left hand paired with a smirk, but it said enough alone. Dracon had known about the spark between them before even they did she supposed, and would have eventually discovered the truth on his own through many more encounters. But it felt like a weight was lifted from her chest with the revelation and in that moment, marriage didn't seem that terrifying anymore.

It was liberating.

Either that or she was slowly suffocating in the bunny suit.

"Wife, huh?" he whispered, and returned his attention to the gargoyle. "Could've...done better, sugar."

"No," Elisa had to differ, "I couldn't. And now that the secret's out, we can't have you squealing."

Dracon squirmed. The lady-cop had a glint in her eye he didn't like. "You're not serious...cold-blooded murder's a line you won't cross."

"You're right, it is. But how else are we going to keep you quiet?"

Spurred by the unmitigated gall of this tiny creature he held by the throat, Goliath suggested quickly, "Perhaps I should tear out his vocal cords."

"No, too messy."

"Then he'll live with the knowledge that we will be watching. Everywhere you go, we will follow, every deal you make or illegal item you peddle we will make sure it never gets to its customer, and every time you turn around we'll be there, behind you, in the shadows."

Tony wasn't sure if he believed the freak or not, but he'd done enough to piss Goliath off to where he might just make good on his threat. The gargoyle could've done something rather unsightly right then and there if it weren't for a sound that Goliath picked up on.

Footsteps in the alley; men, several of them, were heading this way.

"Must be my back-up..." Elisa guessed. "Goliath, you've got to get out of sight."

Tony was dropped to the ground and he leapt up the neighboring building, claws gouging out chunks for a better hold as he quickly scaled the entire wall. He was out of sight before Bluestone led the charge.

He found Elisa adjusting her costume rather nonchalantly, surrounded by four unconscious men and Tony Dracon with a hand around his throat. "Jesus," Matt exhaled, stepping over prone bodies, "we lost the feed and couldn't find you!"

"It's all right, Matt." she waved him off. "As you can see, I'm just fine. Right, Tony?"

Dracon cleared his throat, trying (if not failing) to appear unruffled. "Right..."

Matt nudged one of the goons with his shoe; the guy was out cold and would be for a while. There was a bruise on the side of his face the relative size of a large fist. "What the hell's going on?"

"A few of Tony's boys decided to have their way with me and he chivalrously tried to stop them." Elisa explained, fudging the truth.

Matt looked to Tony for confirmation, though his suspicions were more on Elisa's guardian angels then a two-bit hood who'd lost his kingdom. He noticed the trickle of blood from between the fingers Dracon had clasped to his throat, and furtively covered a smirk. "Uh huh. Well, apparently the hero here was staying underground since he got back from Switzerland last week."

"And you just found out about it now."

"About five minutes ago."

Elisa smiled and shook her head. If Goliath hadn't followed her... "Thanks, Matt." she said. "Well, I believe you have all you need for a few warrants at the very least."

"You got close enough to overhear a few revealing conversations."

"Good, then I'm going home." she announced. "And tell Chavez I'm taking tomorrow night off as a reward for my services." Elisa started off towards the opposite end of the alley, daintily stepping over the grunts her lover had put down in a gesture of protection and continued on, bunny suit and all.

With his eyes on the men, Matt looked up and was about to ask her if she wanted a ride when he found she'd disappeared. Either his partner had learned to fly or her fiancé had plucked her from the concrete.

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"She is my mate!" Elisa mimicked as they landed on her apartment's balcony.

Goliath, though appreciative of the humor, wasn't too pleased with himself. Of all the secrets to actually keep a secret, he'd let the most destructive loose. "It is not amusing, Elisa, I should have had more control."

"Well, let's call it a learning experience." she offered, opening the windows to allow them access. "We're going to have to be even more careful now."

"But Dracon–"

"Tony's easy enough to deal with. He's small time, but smart enough to know not to reveal certain secrets when they could come back to bite him in the ass."

He nodded, placated for the time being. He helped Elisa into her apartment, followed and closed the window behind them. When turning, his eyes were drawn to the black satin bunny sauntering through the living room, and he knew almost instantly why instinct had overridden better judgment.

Elisa peeled off the ears she'd almost forgotten about and only heard the movement behind her before she was swept into his winged embrace.

He breathed around her neck, "I know you don't like to be coddled when working, but I was only..."

"Concerned, I know." she finished. "And tonight, I was glad you were there."

"As was I."

Elisa ran her nails along the hands around her waist, drawing little shapes in the indented flesh. Whether she knew or not the effect it would have on the gargoyle it worked, sending shivers through him and white-hot spikes of pleasure.

He rumbled through his chest, she sensed it, leaned into him, felt the talons on her stomach tighten.

"Careful." she warned.

"Why?"

"The costume's rented."

"Then I shall endeavor not to ruin it..."

She was lifted from her heels and into his arms as he moved into the bedroom, using his tail to close the door behind them.

Piece by satin piece the costume was peeled off, the shoes flung in distant corners of the room, stockings shimmied down her legs and the only thing left was her underwear. Goliath had two talons through the loops on either side and with Elisa against the bed, he lifted her up and threw her down, slipping the panties from her body with one fluid motion.

Elisa was too busy laughing to be angry and grabbed for her fiancé's belt, pulling him close.

Later, the neighbors would complain about the noise.

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His suit was ruined.

That creature had practically destroyed the collar, shredding the material with his claws and less-than-civilized attitude. He'd have to make a run to Vito's in the morning and pad his wardrobe (can't look the part of a shabby ex-con). What Maza saw in him he'd probably never know, nor did he care to. How she and Goliath, however, actually did the deed was slightly scintillating though; maybe what he packed in that delightfully medieval loincloth was the clincher.

He'd always pegged Maza as someone with picky tastes, turns out she was just a size freak.

Tony had returned from the party with a bandage over the small puncture in his throat and a bruised ego. Elisa had vouched for him, which allowed him a free pass with the cops that had shown up and busted the party, hauling out several of his biggest rivals in handcuffs. He'd hoped to breathe new life into his reputation, one that had taken a few blows in his absence.

And now, admiring himself in the bathroom mirror of his penthouse, he was hoping the talon that'd made his neck a shish kabob wouldn't leave a permanent scar.

He knew Goliath was a closet sadist enough to leave a lasting mark. But truthfully, he wondered just how far the gargoyle was willing to take his earlier threat. Back in town after hitting the slopes and a few innocent Swiss ski-bunnies, Tony was hoping to retake the clients and territory he'd lost during his stint at Ryker's Island and didn't need the freaks following him everywhere he went.

Then came the thought of just how angry Maza could get if he revealed the identity of whom and especially what she sweated with between the sheets. It'd be nice to have some as influential and trusted as Elisa Maza under his thumb, but in some measure heeded the threat as serious.

Instinct and a lifetime of suspicion had the entire penthouse awash in every light that had a switch, but with a few shots of Bacardi calmed his nerves and Tony was good ol' Tony again, ready to take on the world and a few ornery gargoyles. Right up to the point when he saw something over his shoulder.

There were eyes in the shadows behind him, the window, and Tony's heart thudded up against his ribcage.

He whirled around quick enough to dislodge a few vertebrae, but found nothing. Darkness, and city light, suffused through the fern patterns of an early frost at the corners of the windowpane, as assuredly normal as any other night. He was slowly drawn towards the window by what could've been movement, what could've been noise, or, what simply could've been his imagination. Overwrought with paranoia and overworked by every new face on the streets that'd moved in on his turf and would rather see him in a body bag.

"Damnit..." Tony whispered. He'd let Goliath's empty threat get to him, jumping at figments and pigeons on the ledge.

But it wasn't until he turned around when he discovered it wasn't his imagination that'd had made eyes in the reflection. A message had been drawn on the mirror's surface with Elisa's particular shade of lipstick, one that simply read, We are watching.

Tony Dracon wouldn't get a wink of sleep that night, and rest assured he never revealed Elisa's secret up until the day he got a bullet through the brain.