by Merlin Missy & Tara LJC
Disney, Buena Vista, and now Nelvana are pretty much in charge of the characters and situations. Otherwise, this little winter's tale is ours. Feel free to pass it along if you'd like; just keep our names with it and we'll be much obliged. :-) This story, oddly enough, isn't set in either of our universes. It should be within TGC continuity, but since that is somewhat screwy with date stamps, we haven't a clue as to where. Somewhere midseason, most likely. What we would both give for the return of Greg, Michael, and Brynne . . . . Feedback is always highly appreciated, and occasionally even given a response.
Owen Burnett did not like parties.
He had already been forced to attend three separate Christmas parties as part of his role as Mr. Xanatos' assistant. The XE staff soiree the night before in the cafeteria had been a particularly lively one, in marked contrast to the sedate cocktail party attended by the upper management at a posh mahogany, gilt, and old leather athletics club the previous evening. The night before that had been a charity gala. Tuxes, champagne, rubber chicken and mediocre entertainment all designed to get the city's elite to make contributions before the year's end. Mr. and Mrs. Xanatos had made an early night of it, but he had been expected to stay and "show the flag."
Then there was the client party.
He didn't like to think about the client party.
Tonight, however, had an interesting twist. The great hall was sparsely but loudly populated with family and friends of the gargoyles to celebrate the Winter Solstice—the longest night of the year, and therefore a gargoyle holiday from time out of mind.
A long wooded table had been decked out with evergreen boughs and beeswax candles, and held at its centre an enormous punchbowl of hot spiced wine. The smell of cloves and pine permeated the room, and the low light only served to make the combination more heady. Despite the early hour—barely after eight—Hudson had dragged the rocking chair closer to the hearth, where a veritable bonfire blazed happily, doing its best to banish the chill. The temperature had dropped dramatically that week, and the harsh, biting wind whistled around the towers, singing a low mournful song.
Or perhaps they were not singing at all, and he was simply feeling maudlin. That was entirely possible. Likely, even.
The four younger gargoyles were perched near the table, the Trio taking turns explaining to Detective Bluestone the significance of various foodstuffs on the table, while Angela listened with rapt attention. One could only guess such celebrations were completely foreign to her.
"Okay," Matt said, "Let me see if I've got this straight. The weird bread," he held up the plate containing a large circle bread that appeared to have had the dough braided before being baked, "represents the year."
Goliath nodded. "The year is a wheel, that reaches its end and begins again simultaneously. Death and rebirth."
"Aye, lad," Hudson nodded his approval of the explanation, his eye staring off into the distance as he remembered. "When I was a hatchling, Humans used to celebrate the change of the year wheel on November first. Then they got it into their heads to change the calendar to Rome's—"
"That's not quite how it happened, Hudson," Xanatos gently informed him.
"Bah, it is as like as makes no difference, I'm guessing." Hudson muttered. "In any case, the celebrations we used to have are not unlike your human New Year's Eve."
"Somehow I can't picture you guys in paper hats, watching Dick Clark in Times Square and getting schnockered," Matt laughed.
"What are these meant to represent?" Angela had picked off one of the braids encrusted with currants.
"The little sweet breads in the double-knots are to represent the tying up of the years." Lexington picked up a matching specimen and traced around it. "See? The knot ties back into itself again."
"Yeah. Eating it is kinda like symbolically putting the old year to rest and welcoming the new one." Broadway grinned. Anything that involved eating he figured was a pretty good tradition.
Brooklyn chose one and bit into it. "Good year."
"Moebius cookies," Owen muttered to himself. Leave it to the gargoyles to put higher mathematics on a doily and call it religion.
Broadway called Angela's attention back to the big un- pretzel. "The bread is important."
"It's not the bread, lad," came Hudson's voice from the fire. "It's what it we remember when we eat it."
Elisa's head perked up from where it had settled against Goliath's arm. "You wanna clue us poor confused humans in here, Hudson?" There was just enough innocence to her tone to tell the room she'd already been told but wanted them to hear.
"I'm not in the mood to tell tales tonight. Someone else do it."
"I'll tell it!" said Broadway, excitedly, and on his heels were Brooklyn's and Lexington's echoed volunteers.
"Hudson," came Goliath's rumble, "perhaps you should be the one." The gargoyle's eyes sparkled with mirth.
Hudson said something under his breath that made Fox crack a smile. "Fine. But I'm not goin' over there. You want to hear, you bring it over and I'll tell ye why it's important." The four youngsters grabbed the tray and settled near him. Elisa edged closer to hear better.
Hudson's faintly accented voice carried to ever corner of the hall as he began the tale. "You might find this hard to believe, lass, but when the eggs in my clutch were laid," Owen did the maths, and realised that was very long ago indeed. "there were no humans on the cliffs where this castle stood. They came to the leader of the clan before my rookery brothers and sisters hatched, and asked to put up their stone fortress above our rookery. The leader thought about it many nights, and then gave his word that our clan would help build the keep, that both the humans and gargoyles would live together in it, and protect one another."
How delightful; a touching holiday story. Owen crossed his arms, trying and not really succeeding in keeping his distaste from showing on his countenance. He only half listened to the tale, concentrating on a way of slipping past them to get to the kitchen. He distinctly remembered a brand new case of whiskey being delivered to the kitchen earlier that day. Liberating a bottle, while not a particularly puckish prank, would lighten his mood considerably.
"It wasna exactly an easy marriage," Hudson continued, oblivious to the man's scorn. "Not all the humans liked us. Many feared us, and a few hated us because they were afraid. There were a few skirmishes here and there between the two peoples, but always, the clan leader worked with the human leader, who in those days was Prince Malcolm's grand-uncle, and kept the peace. After a time, we all settled in as best we could, and despite our best efforts, learned from one another.
"One of the things we gargoyles learned was how to make bread. In the caves, we'd cooked kills over the fire, and there was a stew I remember, made from . . . " He broke off, noticed the multitude of humans, and finished lamely, "various things. But before we lived with the humans, we'd never had bread."
Angela piped up, "So, eating the bread represents getting over your differences with the humans and living together in peace!" She looked pleased.
Hudson, on the other hand, looked suddenly very uncomfortable. "Ah, yes. That's it exactly."
Broadway was confused. "But that's not the . . . " Brooklyn somewhat obviously elbowed him in the ribs. A curious look passed over Bluestone's face, and he seemed decidedly green. Hudson caught his eye and winked lazily, and the young detective relaxed, grinning.
"All right, the breads are explained. What about the oranges? You couldn't have had oranges in Scotland . . . " The young males jumped in to inform the detective, and Hudson, clearly relieved, made himself comfortable and closed his eyes.
Elisa glanced up at Goliath quizzically. "That's not what you told me," she said sotto voce. Owen turned his notice away from them, only vaguely interested in how Goliath was going to explain.
One of the reasons Owen didn't like parties was because everyone seemed to expect something of him. They were always hoping he might imbibe too much and start dancing on the tabletops or some such nonsense. He'd had a ridiculous number of tipsy XE employees — usually the young administrative assistants, though there had been that one young man from Research — throw themselves at him in the hope that some secret volcano boiled beneath his studied calm and would erupt given the right circumstances.
There was no volcano. Even before he assumed the guise of Owen Burnett, he had been more subtle about his mischief. But no one wanted to believe that. That was boring. Ordinary. Humans liked a little mystery, shades of grey they assumed must exist beneath the black and the white of things because they were jaded yet childish enough to expect it.
Mortals. And yet now he was numbered among them, and while that should have humbled him somewhat, perhaps even stripped him of his airs and faint feelings of superiority, his circumstances of late only served to strengthen that resolve. He was better than this. He'd seen too much, done too much, in almost two thousand years of the kinds of amusements, diversions, and entertainments that made up a pu'ca's lifetime to be much impressed by petty mortal games.
He realised suddenly that his mind had wandered, and Goliath's daughter stood before him, hands clasped behind her, waiting for him to acknowledge her presence.
"Can I help you?" He let his hands fall to his side, presenting the picture of a bored yet respectful servant who would like very much to say something nasty, but won't, because that would shatter the picture of what is expected of him.
"I wouldn't lurk in doorways around here unless you're lonely." Angela smiled shyly, and Owen stared back at her in complete bewilderment. She blushed, and glanced up purposefully. He followed her eyes to the sprig of mistletoe hanging from the wooden beam above them.
"Please, don't feel obliged," he said stiffly.
Her blush faded as she perceived a kind of perverse challenge in her present situation. "Tradition is tradition," she pointed out, and advanced on him with what appeared to be malicious glee shining in her dark eyes.
"Miss Angela, please!" he sounded stricken, and something almost like fear gripped his features as she slid her arms around his neck.
"Come on, Owen. This won't hurt a bit."
Her lips were warm against his for the merest fraction of a second, and then she released him, grinning. But her smile faded as she realised he was pale as a ghost, and almost shaking. Not with anger. It was as if his world had simply stopped, and in-between drawing one breath and the next, the empty space was filled with a sorrow so consuming it reached out to lick her cheek like a flame. She drew back, stunned.
"Owen, I'm sorry," she whispered, and it seemed to break the spell that held him fast like a fly in amber. He bolted from the room without saying a word.
The wind cut through the night, finding the gaps between cloth and flesh and raising the fine hairs along his neck and arms. He didn't notice. He didn't care. The whiskey warmed him from within, giving him the illusion of heat even as the stone leeched the warmth from his body where it touched the walls of the castle.
The stars above him were bright in the brittle air with not even a wisp of cloud to obscure them. The moon, just shy of full, was ringed with a fine rainbow of light — he'd heard it called a fairy ring once. Humans seemed to believe that meant snow, though he couldn't recall if there was any truth to such an observation. The walls of the castle were flooded with cold bright light, ice shining in patches that he had stayed well and clear of. The last thing he needed to make this holiday season even more unbearable was a broken limb.
Carefully, and with great deliberation, he poured two fingerwidths of amber liquid into the cut crystal glass, the bottle chiming as he set it on the rough hewn stone wall.
It had been such a stupid thing, really.
When he'd risen that morning, he'd showered, as always. These mortals had invented many useful and fascinating things over the years, but so far as he was concerned, their greatest achievement had been the invention of indoor plumbing. When he finally exited his private bath, the steam would roll out with him, just before the relative chill of his room would hit his bare arms and torso. This morning had been no exception, and he'd padded quickly to his dresser, gooseflesh working its way down his back. He'd rummaged through his drawers, selecting socks, undershirt, and . . . well, some mortal inventions still mystified him, not to their use, mind you, but why they'd been invented in the first place. Nevertheless, he'd also selected one of those odd little undergarments.
He'd glanced up, run his fingers through his hair to smooth it in the mirror.
Two silver threads caught and held his eyes like a beacon.
It had been a late night, and his mind hadn't truly exited from the shower just yet. Go away, he bid the two unruly hairs.
Later, when he became capable of rational thought, he realised he could easily ask Alexander to do it. Perhaps even rejuvenate the entire body with a simple spell. Mr. Xanatos certainly wouldn't object to the child learning something along those lines.
However, at that particular moment, he hadn't been thinking rationally. He'd been standing, fairly wet and mostly naked, in a mortal's room in a mortal castle in the mortal World, away from every other member of his kind, suddenly and terribly aware that he was wearing a mortal body.
He was going to grow old. He was going to die.
It had taken him the better part of an hour to stop shaking enough to finish his morning toilette.
Perhaps he should be happy it was Saturday. Mr. Xanatos and Detective Maza had spent the day sequestered in his office, planning the night's festivities, the detective's desire to make the night perfect for the gargoyles temporarily overriding her hatred of the man who mutated her brother (Actually, she would probably be distressed to note that her attitudes had softened considerably in the last two months. But that was neither here nor there), so there was no one to mark his absence.
He chuckled wryly. There was never anyone to mark his presence, for that matter. He was Owen Burnett; ubiquitous, professional, and efficient. Inhumanly so, he knew they whispered behind his back. He found that particularly ironic, considering he had never used the gifts of his birthright in discharging his duties as Xanatos' majordomo. He had taken great pride in the fact that he kept his two natures distinctly separate, and had never once been tempted. Now, of course, that temptation had been neatly and conveniently removed.
He was Owen Burnett. No family, no friends. One would think he wouldn't even have a shadow unless he remembered to cast it. Invisible. Unremarkable. Alone.
Great Irish whiskey was a thing to be not just enjoyed, but savoured. It should be sipped with reverence. Appreciated.
Owen tossed back the shot and poured himself another.
It was one thing to be in a small form. It was quite another to be bound to a small life, rising from that life only for a few glorious, ephemeral moments to draw another upwards into their shared splendour. Then, this morning, to be forced to face the truth: when that child became a man, so would he, for the rest of a too-brief human lifespan.
To have been his Lord's favourite, to have held his cloak and followed his plots, and done his bidding on countless errands both grand and hidden, to have stood in line proudly during the High Procession, chief of all the Tricksters, the right hand of the King Himself, the Puck, and now to be a mere reflection of a mortal, destined to change diapers and run board meetings and drive the limousine and never to follow his beloved Lord on the Hunt ever again . . .
He traced his bottom lip absently, fancying he could still feel the fleeting touch of the gargoyle's lips. She had no idea, of course, how very long it had been for him. How long it had been since he had awakened with a woman in his arms.
Nothing would stop him from taking a wife, raising a few unruly bairns of his own. Wouldn't that make a pretty sight, the Puck all a tangle with wee little ones, screaming and crying and laughing? They'd have a passing chance of being like Alexander, small vessels of power just waiting to be tapped ere it dimmed and faded from neglect. He would have to find a tutor for them; Oberon's gift wouldn't even allow him to train Fox unless it accompanied one of the baby's lessons. He'd probably have to ask Alexander . . .
He trailed off, embarrassed to find the train of thought had actually taken him outside of himself for a moment, into a place he wouldn't have been able to imagine not a few short months ago. He laughed, and surprised himself with the unusual timbre to it.
There would be no wife, no children, no little pupils to mold. That course was quite unthinkable.
He'd of course done his share of wenching in his younger days, being careful not to leave behind little mistakes to haunt him in later centuries. That had been long ago, though he could still taste the sweet salt of every kiss. Mortal maids had their charms to be certain.
But there had been other kisses, from lips molded by pure fire, and like any mortal man once given a taste of sweet faery wine, he longed for it, turning away good water and food, starving himself for a memory. Graced by a kiss from such a lass, he could never drink the breath of a human woman without a part of him longing for the cool touch of a fay hand against the back of his neck.
How easy, how terribly, wonderfully easy it would be to take one more step out. He could stand on the edge of the tower, place one more foot in front of him, and never have to worry about finding another silver hair.
He took another gulp of uisgebach instead, and almost choked on it.
Damn that overbearing . . . He added epithet after epithet to his mental catalogue of ills against Oberon, and when he was through, tossed in a few more for good measure.
Such a merry prank it had been, worthy of the King and master of all the pu'cas, to trap the most free spirit of them all in a chain more binding and deadly than iron. He fancied he could hear Oberon's laughter echoing over the cold city.
The Great Hall had moved since he'd gone upstairs, and it took him several tries to locate where the damned room had gone. He found it by chance. A very large orange thing could be seen from the hallway. A closer look proved it to be Claw, one of those mutants Mr. Xanatos had ordered made. He carefully set the bottle of whiskey down behind a tapestry, for later.
The noise which had followed his hurried flight up the stairs was muted on his way back down. The music had been turned low, and only by straining could he pick out the notes to a familiar holiday tune. He hummed along with it, noticing after a bit that his foot was tapping along almost in time to the music, also noticing that he couldn't feel the foot.
"Oh, you better watch out, you better not cry!
You'd better not pout, I'm telling you why:
Santa Claus is dead."
Somehow, it was not surprising to find David Xanatos playing Smothers Brothers cracked Christmas songs during a solstice party.
A quick peek into the festivities showed that the music wasn't the only change. The Mutates had indeed arrived, and with them, a cold chill he felt even out here in the shadows beyond the main room.
Fang hadn't come; from the bits he'd been able to gather over the past few months, this was due to his being incarcerated somewhere. The three who had shown were clumped in one corner of the room with Peter, Diane and Beth Maza, one or more of them firing glances across the room every so often. Clearly written on each face: we are here because Elisa asked us to come, not because of you.
That particular project had been truly unfortunate, as bad ideas went. There was no way they could have kept the knowledge of just who had ordered the experiment that had changed them all, engineered Talon's "accident." They were mortal, but they weren't stupid. So until fairly recently, three very powerful winged cats wanted to rip out his master's throat. They'd have to stand in line.
Elisa must have done her best to convince them that Xanatos did seem to be, while not Santa Claus, then at least not the source of all evil. This had taken two months of good deeds and pleasant chit-chat and no megalomaniacal schemes for world domination to convince the good detective, and still it was obvious she trusted him little further than she could drop-kick him. The Mutates' very presence at this poor excuse for a party was meant to mend broken fences. And appeared to be failing on all counts.
Amazing how the whiskey seemed to have actually clarified the situation. He was beginning to wish he hadn't left the bottle. If half a bottle gave him this kind of insight, he wondered what the rest would do.
He snorted, very quietly so as not to alert anyone to his return. The mutants at least had some hope of being changed back to their human states. Gen-U-Tech's main project for the past six months had been that one task, and the preliminary results had been encouraging. Before long, they'd be as normal as they'd ever been, back to their little lives and their little jobs, and that would be one less war to fight.
He shouldn't have left the whiskey.
Fox sat in one of the two rockers near the fire, Alexander in her arms and murmuring to him, paying no attention to the Maza clan. She wore the absence of her own family around her like a shroud. Renard hadn't been able to attend the festivities; his health was failing rapidly, forcing him back into the hospital. Fox had gone to see him earlier in the day, and by the hunch of her shoulders, the cast in her eyes, she had seen too well that although he might live to see January 1997, the summer of that year would never warm him.
It was no one's fault but her own that the rift between them had grown to a chasm in recent years, though Halcyon had done little to mend the rift other than to state, over and over, that all she had to do was give up her wild ways. As if Fox Xanatos could ever be content boxed into Janine Renard's old life . . . But fathers were blind that way. As were children. She had known as long as the rest of them that his days were shorter than most. If she'd really cared, she could have spent the past few years in his company, rather than trying to take over his corporation.
At least she could go visit him now. She might not be welcome in Vogel's eyes, but she wasn't banished from her father's sight forever. She could spend the time they had left making up for some of the past. Together, they might even forgive her mother. And she had her baby, safe in her arms. She had no room to complain about the scarcity of the rest of her family.
Odd it was, how when she was just about rid of them both forever, Fox would miss her parents this much.
He turned his attention quickly towards David, who stood near enough to Fox to almost touch her, in conversation with his father. Petros had a typically disapproving expression on his face, no doubt concerning whatever his son had related to him this time. Yet, the lines of tension between them, ferrous cords which once would have been obvious even to the many psychic potatoes in the room, were quiet, almost vanished. Somehow, although the building had been surrounded in an energy field powerful enough to pause the high and mighty Oberon himself, a measure of peace had stolen through that barrier to fill the void between the father and son.
Elisa and Goliath sat directly in the centre of the room, the dividing line between her relatives and the Xanatos family. His arm lay lightly around her waist in a gesture recognisable to males of any species. Although neither spoke, it was clear they'd spent the better part of the night trying to get the two sides of the room to talk to one another, without success.
Elisa had to know very well that if she hadn't been so anxious to follow Xanatos' every move, he never would have bothered to notice her brother. Besides, she had still managed to get her entire family around her for the holiday, and if some of them weren't entirely human, she was the last person who should be able to talk, with the new branches she was grafting to the family tree. Nor did she look overly saddened to be spending the turning of the year nestled in the embrace of the love of her life. Goliath, for his part, had his ancestral home, his clan's children, his child, and a new mate in all but name. Whatever they might complain about, Fate had treated them pretty damned well.
At least someone was happy.
Make that a few someones. Bronx was asleep in front of the fire, Hudson sitting in his rocker just about to follow.
"Owen!" He froze. David came up quickly behind him, too happy to see him. "Glad to see you decided to join us." Do something his eyes pleaded.
"I . . . had something to attend to," he said, damning the quaver in his voice. This stupid mortal body couldn't even process alcohol properly.
David sniffed, then put on an expression midway between a disparaging frown and a grin. "You're drunk."
"Yes." He paused, then remembered some shreds of his role. "Sir. I am. Indeed. Quite."
"Care to tell me why?"
David sighed. "Then I won't ask. Go to the kitchen and fetch a bottle of burgundy. Make it two. After that, you can get as drunk as you like." He glanced over at the Mutates. "In fact, I might join you. This has turned out to be pretty much a loss."
"Yes, sir." He fled the room to the main kitchen and selected two bottles of the better wine. Although the mulled wine at the table seemed to have a healthy dent in it, the guests weren't toasty enough to justify serving the cheap wine. That tradition was older than he was. He almost giggled, but caught himself in time. Giggling was most un-Owen-like.
Gingerly, he tucked the bottles under his left arm, then snagged another bottle on his way out, just on a fancy. The wine bottles clinked together as he made his way back to the Great Hall. Which had changed positions again. He made several attempts to find the proper passage, finally locating it after much swearing.
The party had not improved during his absence.
He set the bottles on the table, a bit more clumsily than usual. On his neck he felt the stares of the others in the room, who had taken notice that Xanatos' little lap dog was smashed.
Deal with it, he thought.
"Thank you, Owen," said David smoothly. He bowed his head out of habit, felt it swim in the most delightful way.
His employer picked up a bottle and read the label critically. "Excellent choice." He uncorked it with little effort, making Owen realize belatedly that it should have been his task. Bugger it. He was done for the night. He turned to go.
"Not yet," came the whispered command. He stopped, waited.
David announced, "It's just about midnight. I realise most of you would rather be anywhere but here, so let's have a toast to the new year and then we can all go back to our lives."
So that was it. He was declaring the solstice party a failure and getting on with other plans. Typical. Perhaps when the cure for the Mutates manifested, when the gargoyles forgave him the multitude of wrongs, when they all finally up and died the war would be over for good.
And he'd be dead with the lot of them and wouldn't have to feel this any longer.
Owen could drink to that.
The factions awkwardly gathered round the table, happy to be done with the proceedings. Owen thought to offer to pour the burgundy, then reconsidered. He wasn't feeling overly skilful, coordination-wise. He kept his arms at his side until David handed him a glass. The vapours mixed in his brain with those already there, making his toes warm. When all had been served, David held his glass in the firelight.
"To the new year. May it be better than the last one." Owen heard the unspoken words behind it. May there be no fifty-foot tall smurfs coming to take my son. May he likewise not be kidnapped by crazed gargoyle-hating politicians. May we find the antidote to Sevarius' mutagen. May the Quarrymen just go away.
May someone not make me choose between my life and my soul. He drank, as did the rest.
Before each group could slip away, Elisa raised her glass. "To absent friends." None could find fault with that, and they drank again.
He thought of Coyote, and Raven, and the rest of his boon companions, and sipped his wine.
Hudson offered, "Now this does bring to mind a tradition I wouldna mind seein' again. At the end of the year, we would offer somethin' for those who hadn't made it to the new year, from battle, or sickness. And for the lost ones, who left the clan for whatever reason."
Lost ones? The other gargoyles seemed to know what he meant.
Angela lifted her glass. "To the Magus." Seeing the faces of her clan, understanding from Goliath and Hudson, less kindness from the Trio, she said, "If it hadn't been for him, my rookery siblings and I would have been killed before we hatched."
Hudson added, "There should be no quarrel with the dead. No matter what mistakes he mighta made, death settles all debts to the good."
True enough, he thought. He hadn't known the fellow, but he knew part of the story. Another enchanter who'd lost his charms for the sake of a mortal. He could understand, and sympathize. He offered a long drink in the man's honour.
The first glasses emptied, were refilled.
The next to speak was the Mutate female, Maggie. "To the kids. May they waken surrounded by friends." Her breath caught, and he wondered how well she'd known the gargoyle clones.
The warmth returned to his gut. This toasting thing wasn't so bad.
David was next, surprising them all with, "To Thailog." He was met with bitter looks. Goliath's dark clone had no friends among them. He justified his toast. "He had his faults, but I gave them to him. I wish things could have been different."
He found little desire to drink to the clone, but as Hudson had said, there was no fight with the sleeping dead.
"To Grandpa," said Beth. Mr. Maza glanced at her and nodded.
"To Dad," he replied.
"To Demona," said Goliath. Angela raised her head in wonder, Elisa in something close to fear. "May she find peace within herself."
He couldn't resist a smile as he sipped.
Broadway said, "To Macbeth. Maybe he can find peace, too."
Another drink, another refill.
Elisa toasted Jason Canmore. Hudson toasted Jon Canmore.
Brooklyn said, "To John Castaway. May he rot in hell."
Goliath looked disapprovingly at him, but the rest of the assembled guests snickered as they drank the toast. He heard a few murmured, "Amens."
"To Hyena, Jackal and Wolf," said Fox. "May they buy a clue."
"Hear, hear," said Lexington.
He'd never had much use for the Pack, but he was enjoying the buzz.
David looked at his wife. "Are they the only ones?"
She shook her head, "But they're all for now."
The toasting was finished, but no one made a move to leave. Actually, he wagered no one was really in a state to drive or fly. They'd probably . . .
David was staring expectantly at him.
"Sir?" he blurted out before he could stop himself.
"Isn't there someone you'd like to toast?"
He was the only "lost one" of his kind; the rest were home, among friends. He knew what David was asking, looked inside himself for some kind of forgiveness for the Being who'd stolen his powers, his immortality, his birthright, his life. He couldn't do it.
"No." He set his glass down, and walked out.
He had retrieved the half-empty bottle from behind the faded tapestry, and returned to his post on the walls, the glass in his pocket. He brushed lint from its edge, and poured another shot. There was a scrape of talon on the stone, and he turned to find the young female gargoyle behind him.
"I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable earlier." Angela waited for some kind of acknowledgement of her apology, but Owen threw back the shot he had just poured, and busied himself with pouring another. "It's cold out here," she said, rubbing her bare forearms to warm them.
"Is it? I hadn't noticed." He was intent on the glass, but she noticed his hand was shaking as he raised it to his lips. "I thought gargoyles were immune to nasty weather."
"It was always summer on Avalon. I guess I'm just not used to winter yet." She shrugged.
"Sometimes we had rain." Owen said, as much to himself as her. He looked through her, her voice devoid of emotion, almost pitched too low to carry. "The flowers and plants expected it, and they can't exist on magics forever. Even fay flowers need rain and sunlight. We even would have snow, when Titania and Oberon wished it. That always cheered Odin somewhat, though it never lasted more than a day or two."
"You miss it, don't you," Angela said, wide-eyed, and he was pulled back into the moment.
"That's . . . that's none of your . . ." he stumbled over the words suddenly, shaken by a chill. He hadn't been cold until she mentioned it, and now it was as if both his hands were stone, and his feet besides. ". . . business, " he spat out a little more forcefully than necessary. He reached for the bottle of whiskey and it went skittering across the wall at the clumsy brush of his fingers to smash on the stones below with a lovely chiming sound.
"Why don't you come back inside?" Angela said with a sweet smile, and a hand outstretched to take him by the arm like some foolish old man. Owen pulled away from her, suddenly furious.
"What does it take to get through to you? I don't want your company. I don't want your pity. I want to be alone."
"Do you? Funny, watching you not enjoying the party even more than everyone else was not enjoying the party, I thought you looked alone even in a room full of people."
"Semantics," he muttered, and then laughed. It was a cheerless sound, utterly devoid of mirth. "It all began as a game. And what a game it was! Who could ask for better sport? After all, what's ten years to an immortal? What is a mortal lifetime? A day, an hour, a breath. But the stakes of the game have been raised to the height of the gallows, and I didn't want to play any more. Because . . ." he trailed off, his fire spent.
"I'm extraordinarily drunk, you know. I can't remember the last time I did this. Yes, I can. It was 1934. Remarkable party, I was positively ill afterwards. I've never actually heard of one of Oberon's children dying of alcohol poisoning. Do you know, I almost threw myself from the walls earlier? For one moment, it seemed . . . just the thing to do."
Angela remained silent, and he felt foolish, but he'd gone too far this time. Much too far to turn back now.
"I am wholly and totally alone." A single tear slid down one pale cheek, unnoticed.
"Then Oberon won," Angela said quietly.
"I beg your pardon?"
"You've let him win. Look at you: The great and mighty Puck standing out in the freezing cold, in his cups, and weeping like a child."
"I am not weeping." He brushed his cheek absently, feeling the sting of salt water on his wind-chapped face.
"Why don't you come back downstairs?" She tried another tack. "We're going to exchange gifts before dawn."
"I thought gargoyles didn't value material possessions the way humans did."
"Elisa has explained human customs of the season to Father. I think she has something special for him. So we all decided to give holiday gifts this year, in honour of our human friends."
"It would seem all my assumptions are to be challenged tonight."
"I found books behind a store, it was remarkable. They are missing their covers, but other than that they are perfectly fine."
He blinked at her, and decided not to tell her. It would no doubt offend her sensibilities to know that bookstores around the country were too cheap to send back their mass market paperbacks, and stripped and destroyed them instead. It even occasionally offended his, but that had to do with the fact that he could still picture monks copying manuscripts by hand. Guttenberg would be spinning in his grave.
And speaking of spinning . . . Owen touched the wall to keep the world from spinning around him, and then flinched away from the freezing stone. Why was he out here in the fool cold again?
"I found a cookbook for Broadway, computer book for Lex, and a wonderful novel for Father. I wasn't sure what to get Hudson, but I found a scarf in the road and washed and mended it. It's red, and very warm, I hope he'll like it . . ." She had taken his arm and was gently leading him back inside as she nattered on about the gifts she had found or made, and Owen found himself nodding despite the fact that he was no longer listening to a word she was saying.
The hall was quiet (they had moved from the Smothers Bros. to Bob and Doug MacKenzie's Christmas album and then the stereo had been turned off to the mutual consent of all present), and nearly empty. The Mazas had gone home, as had the Mutates back to the tunnels they called home. The gargoyles were gathered around the table, finishing off the last crumbs of solstice bread. Petros had put his grandson to bed, and Fox and David were in the process of wishing the gargoyles and Detectives Maza and Bluestone a good night when they froze.
Everyone was looking at him.
Angela had released his arm, and he realised she had fallen silent. She had taken one of the glasses from the long table, and was pressing it into his hand with a smile. He looked down at it, and then at her, but she kept her face blank, expecting nothing.
He filled the glass from the one remaining bottle of burgundy, and stepped to the centre of the room.
"To Oberon," he said loudly. "I win," he said cryptically, and drained the glass to the dregs. Instead of setting it back down on the table, he threw it into the embers of the fire with a single savage motion. The glass exploded in a shower of sparks and rain of glass shards, waking Bronx who had dozed off. The dog's whine and the scrape of Owen's heels on the stone floor as he fought to keep his balance after overextending slightly were the only sounds in the hall.
He took two shaky steps to the table, and held onto the edge to right himself. One of the candles teetered and fell to the tabletop, sputtering out. When he was certain the laws of physics weren't acting against him in this instance, he looked up and found that Mr. Xanatos was smiling. The gargoyle female too had a ridiculous smile on her face.
"How do you feel?"
"That really is none of your business, young lady."
"You feel better, don't you?"
"Certainly not. You're very impertinent." He sank into a chair. Or rather, that was his intent, but the chair stubbornly refused to cooperate, and he ended up on the cold stone floor, ears ringing.
David laughed, and offered his hand. "Come on, old friend. Let's find you a nice place to sleep this off."
Angela watched them go, Owen weaving a bit but otherwise ambulatory, and chuckled. Broadway moved to her side, a completely baffled look on his face, and with a wicked gleam in her eye, she dragged him beneath the sprig of mistletoe.
"Happy solstice," she grinned up into his face, and he forgot his question. And that was no doubt her intent.
May you all have a bright new year!
Tara and Missy
"Everyone else always referred to them darkly as Them, and eventually they did too." - Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett