All the characters appearing in Gargoyles and Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles are copyright Buena Vista Television/The Walt Disney Company. No infringement of these copyrights is intended, and is not authorized by the copyright holder. All original characters are the property of Kimberly T.
LIFE GOES ON
Revelations of the Labyrinth, Part I (Tooth and Nail)
By Kimberly T.
Dawn was moments away, as Goliath crouched down on Elisa's balcony, caped his wings and tucked his tail under, trying to make an unobtrusive object of himself. Last night had been her night off again, and as they'd agreed before becoming lovers, he spent every moment of the night that he could with her, even to the point of staying to sleep on her balcony instead of leaving earlier to rejoin his clan on the battlements of their castle. "Sleep well, Big Guy," Elisa said as she leaned over to plant a kiss on his cheek.
He turned his head to give her a proper kiss, saying, "May you sleep well also, belov--" The crackling of skin converting to stone cut off the rest of his words, and he went to his stone rest with his head till turned towards her and a smile on his face. She smiled, tracing the outline of his own smile with a fingertip, then reached for the heavy vinyl tarp she'd bought from a hardware store last week, and draped it carefully over him. With any luck, anyone looking their way later on in the day would think she just had some patio furniture she was covering up to protect from the elements when not in use.
When she'd bought the tarpaulin, she'd also bought a few dozen fishing weights and painstakingly sewed them to the edges of it (very painstakingly--she'd stuck herself almost a dozen times. No Suzie Homemaker in residence here), so hopefully it wouldn't be blown away by the first stiff breeze. She'd thought about actually tying the corners down onto Goliath's toes or something, but he'd vetoed that suggestion (no pun intended), arguing that if, for some reason, she couldn't pull the cover off before he awoke, the stone shards would rip right through a close-tied tarpaulin. A cover more loosely anchored would have enough "give" with the impact of each shard that it would last far longer, and not have to be replaced with every sleepover. (She suspected there was also a bit more to it; being tied down even while asleep was probably just a little too reminiscent of all the times he'd been captured and held captive by various foes.) She sighed as she finished draping the tarp, wishing it wasn't necessary, but as long as those damned Quarrymen were out there, packing Quarryhammers and spreading their fear-mongering leaflets, they had to be extremely careful.
She looked off in the direction of the castle or a moment, wondering what his clan's last words had been before dawn had turned them to stone as well. Goliath had told her that he'd made it clear to Hudson and Brooklyn last night, before coming over, that they were not to expect him until two dawns later. He had his communicator with him, so they could contact him in case of emergency, but unless something came up that the clan's second-in-command and elder didn't feel they could handle on their own, he wanted uninterrupted time with Elisa. As he'd told Elisa later, Brooklyn and Hudson had all but smirked at each other before saying they understood. "I haven't told them about our becoming mates yet," Goliath had told her last evening, while holding her hand and looking deep into her eyes, "because that announcement should come from both of us together. However, I'm sure they suspect it; indeed, I'd be surprised if the entire clan hasn't guessed it by now." He'd then hinted, rather broadly, that he wanted them to have a proper mating ceremony, on the castle battlements in front of the whole clan.
Elisa still wasn't sure why she'd ignored the rather blatant hint. It wasn't as if she was ashamed to admit to the other gargoyles that they were mates; there were times when she wanted to drive through the streets of Manhattan with a bullhorn, proclaiming to everyone in the city that she and Goliath were in love. She loved him with all her heart, and he was the most wonderful being she could imagine, and it still amazed her sometimes that he could possibly be romantically interested in little ol' wingless Elisa. So why didn't she want a mating ceremony?
Maybe because Goliath insisted it had to be done at the castle, and that was a place Elisa still was highly reluctant to go. No matter that it was the gargoyles' ancestral home for over a thousand years, these days it was in the hands of David Xanatos, the one man she hated above all others for what he'd done to the gargoyles and to her family. He may have told the gargoyles that he'd turned over a new leaf, and wanted to repay all the damage that he'd done over the last two years, but as far as Elisa was concerned his word wasn't worth the breath it took to say it. He'd lied to them, played them all for fools time and time again, damn near killed them a few times, mutated her brother Derek into a winged creature that didn't dare show his head in the light of day… She couldn't just shoot him in cold blood; that would be wrong, against everything she'd sworn to uphold when she'd first put on her badge. But if the earth would one day happen to open up under his feet and swallow him whole, she'd be delighted to wave bye-bye to him as he dropped out of sight.
Ah, enough of that line of thought, it didn't do anything but shove her blood pressure up a few notches. Right now, she needed to relax, get some sleep and prepare for another night of passion with her lover. Goliath had hinted just before dawn that he had something special in mind for the next evening, though she had no idea how they could top last night; she and Goliath had spent it most thoroughly enjoying each other's company, in nearly every room of the apartment. (Funny, but she'd never thought of the kitchen counters as being conducive to romantic liaisons before. Surprise, surprise! Goliath really had quite the imagination, when it came to loving her.) She was a little surprised she could still walk as she tottered inside, closed the balcony doors behind her and toddled off to the bedroom.
On her way to bed, Elisa took a moment to check the bottom of her closet again, even though she knew what she would find there: a huge golden amulet made in the shape of a sun, done in the distinctive Mayan style of art. She had hardly believed her eyes when Goliath had presented the Guatemalan gargoyles' greatly-treasured and long-lost Sun Amulet to her last night, wrapped inside a worn cotton shawl that she vaguely remembered seeing once before, lying in a corner in the clocktower. Goliath had confessed to her that he'd been just as flabbergasted when Broadway had shown it to him the night before. It seemed that it had been resting in a museum in Manhattan for years, and no one had known it was more than just an example of ancient South American art until Hyena had broken into a museum to find it while Goliath and Elisa were in Guatemala. Broadway and Lexington had stopped her, then debated about what to do with the artifact. They'd heard Hyena saying something about destroying gargoyles with it, and they had wondered whether or not they should break it into pieces to keep that from happening, but had ultimately decided to just take it back home with them and hide it in the clocktower. And by the time Goliath and Elisa had returned home from their world travels, months later, they had forgotten all about it!
When the clocktower had been destroyed by the Hunters, the cloth-covered amulet had been jolted out of its corner and nearly fallen into the crater in the middle of the floor; that was where Broadway had found it when the clan had gone scavenging for their old possessions a few nights ago. As with most of the clan, he didn't quite trust Xanatos completely just yet, and so he'd refrained from bringing it straight to their new home, instead hiding it inside an air conditioning vent on a nearby rooftop, to show to Goliath later when they were on patrol. Elisa shuddered again to think about how close the Guatemalan gargoyles had come to losing their ability to stay flesh by day, not just once but twice or even three times, then vowed again to keep the amulet safe until they could find a way to ship it back to its rightful owners.
Just around noon, Elisa was awakened by somebody pounding repeatedly on her apartment door. She groaned, squinted at the clock, groaned again and decided to get up just long enough to maim whoever it was. "I'm coming, already!" she shouted as she struggled into her favorite baggy sweatshirt and sweatpants, kept handy for just this sort of daytime occurrence. "Keep your shirt on, all right?" But whoever it was kept knocking away like they were playing a drum solo on her door. Grumbling under her breath about rude people, and if this wasn't a medical emergency then she'd by God turn it into one for her mysterious caller, she made her way to the door and opened it.
A smile full of brightly flashing teeth was her first impression; after a second or two she saw the face behind it, framed by raggedly-cut short black hair, and squinted as she tried to dredge a name up from memory. "Um, I know you… Dana, right?" One of the Labyrinth dwellers, who had appeared a little over six months ago.
Dana nodded, and her hands came up to dance and gesture in the air in front of her. Elisa shook her head confusedly, then sighed as she took the chain off the door and gestured for Dana to come in. She was a little embarrassed to admit that she still didn't know even the ABC's of sign language, even though Derek had urged her to learn it along with him so they could communicate better with Claw, the mute mutate who helped him protect the Labyrinth, and with Dana, who was completely deaf.
As she fumbled for a piece of paper and pen, she recalled that Dana had been the driving force behind Claw, Derek and Maggie learning standard American Sign Language. Before her arrival, Claw had tried to make do with pantomime and occasionally scratching words out on whatever surface was handy. Then Dana had appeared out of nowhere, wearing only a pair of ragged jeans and holey sneakers, and a T-shirt that read on the back "I'm not deaf, I'm just ignoring you." As with Claw, they still had no idea where she had come from, why she was deaf, how she had become homeless or even how she had found her way into the Labyrinth; she'd just appeared in the main kitchen one evening, made herself a sandwich and started adding pepper to the big pot of stew. (Probably to disguise the taste of rat, Elisa now realized.)
Dana could read and write, could lip read quite well, and even talked aloud occasionally (though her voice sounded very strange, probably because she couldn't even hear herself talking), so she'd always been able to make herself understood. But once she'd discovered that, though Claw could hear better than the average human, he had no voice to speak with, she'd somehow produced a dictionary and teaching guide for American Sign Language out of thin air. Either because of her disability or despite it, she had a force of personality that would not be denied, and she'd coerced the mutates and about six other prominent Labyrinth residents into learning ASL. Now several tunnel dwellers were routinely using sign language to talk with her and Claw, and sometimes with each other when the subways roared over their heads in the noisier sections of the Labyrinth.
Yawning, Elisa grabbed some paper and a pen from the phone table and handed them to Dana, only to find the Labyrinth dweller holding two pieces of paper out to her. She took it and focused at the top sheet to read:
I hope you're not too disturbed by this, and I'm sorry to have
to ask, but would you please do a little shopping for us? There are some
things we simply can't scrounge for ourselves down here, or get from
homeless shelters, and we really could use them. I'm sending this list
along all the money we've pooled together for shopping; I hope it's enough,
but it probably isn't. We'll try to pay you back later, for what the money
doesn't cover. Dana has volunteered to go shopping with you, if you don't
mind. Thank you,
Elisa sighed, and looked over the second sheet, the shopping list. Quite a list, too; Maggie and her helpers must have worked on it for a while. There were some hardware items like wood and machine screws in various sizes, drill bits, super-glue, carpenter's glue, D-cell batteries, and light bulbs. The groceries included basic ingredients like flour, powdered milk, margarine, bouillon cubes, various spices (probably to flavor those rat stews), and tins of smoked oysters (?). Toiletries included antibacterial soap and anti-lice shampoos, toilet paper, Tylenol (she seemed to remember Derek saying that he and the other mutates couldn't tolerate plain aspirin anymore; one of the many drawbacks to their mutations), bandages, hydrogen peroxide, boxes of condoms and home pregnancy testing kits. Elisa blinked and looked twice at the last two items, but decided that life went on even for the homeless, and if they were making whoopee down in the tunnels they should be prepared for all eventualities. Still, she could imagine the shy mutate blushing beneath her fur as she wrote those items down.
"Okay, I can help you out," she said as she turned back to Dana. "Just let me get—hey!" she said indignantly, and with more than a little alarm, because while she'd been reading the list Dana had decided to go explore her balcony. Like an idiot, Elisa spent a precious second or two just shouting at her before remembering that Dana couldn't hear her, and by the time she'd gone to grab her Dana had already opened the door and had one hand on the tarp covering Goliath.
Elisa grabbed Dana's arm to pull her back inside, but Dana kept a tight grip on the tarp, so it came off to reveal Goliath as she was dragged in. Elisa yelped and rushed to put the tarp back in place, but it was too late; Dana had seen who it was. Grinning, Dana reached for the pad of paper and pen Elisa had left out for her, and wrote down simply, Lover? Elisa's bright blush was answer enough. Dana grinned even wider, then wrote down, Good! Bring him down with us tonight. At Elisa's questioning look, she wrote down, Need you & him to show Claw is OK to have lover who is different.
Elisa blinked again. "You and Claw…?" Dana just grinned, and Elisa decided that she didn't really need the details just then. Instead, she made it clear that if Dana was willing to wait a little while for Elisa to shower and dress, they would go shopping that afternoon.
Once Elisa had convinced Dana that she would NOT be permitted to drive the Fairlane, the shopping went relatively painlessly. The money Dana had brought with her didn't even come close to covering the total cost, but Elisa firmly told Dana that paying back what she'd spent on them was not necessary this time, as she stuffed the receipts deep in her pockets. Their leader Derek was family, and family helped out family, so she'd split the difference with her and Derek's parents, who had said before that they wanted to help out.
They returned to her apartment about an hour before sunset, and Elisa whipped up a light meal for them both, while Dana played with Cagney. Normally shy around strangers, Cagney took a near-instant liking to Dana and she to him. She especially liked to cuddle him close, leaning her cheek against his body, and feeling the soft vibration of his purrs. Cagney seemed to somehow understand her disability, and cranked up his rumbling purr so loud Elisa thought she could almost see his fur vibrating.
When sunset came, Elisa made it very clear to Dana that she was to wait in the bedroom for her and Goliath to join her, and they'd go to the Labyrinth afterwards. Dana was disappointed that she wouldn't get to see Goliath wake up, but went into the bedroom a few minutes before sunset, so Elisa could have a few minutes alone with her Big Guy.
At sunset, Elisa pulled off the tarpaulin as soon as she heard the first cracklings of stone converting to flesh, and he awoke a split-second after she had it off. Mindful of his surroundings, Goliath kept his characteristic roar down to a low rumble and confined his usual vigorous, shard-flinging stretch to simply standing up and flexing his biceps, but it still made for an impressive sight. "Hey there, Big Guy," Elisa said in greeting.
"Good evening, beloved," Goliath said happily as he gave himself one vigorous shake from head to tail, to rid himself of the shards of stone skin that still clung here and there. Once that was finished, he reached for her.
Elisa happily walked into his warm embrace, hugging him as well, but when he tipped her face up for a kiss she held up a cautionary finger and said the three words that nearly every male dreads to hear after a long day: "We have company."
"Company!" Goliath was both dismayed and alarmed, as he looked quickly around him. The last time Elisa had uninvited 'company,' they'd arrived carrying Quarryhammers. Elisa hurriedly reassured him that their visitor was friendly, a resident of the Labyrinth. When she said the name Dana, Goliath nodded and said, "I remember; the one who talks with her hands."
"Right. Anyway, she came up here today with a shopping list, for some things the Labyrinth needs. We'll be delivering the stuff we bought to the East docks entrance; can you meet us there?"
Goliath was disappointed, almost pouting (which looked ridiculous on a seven-foot-tall gargoyle). "I had hoped we would have the night to ourselves."
"Me, too," Elisa admitted. "But Dana really wants us both to come down for a while, to talk to Claw especially." She coughed and admitted, "She figured us out as soon as she saw under the tarp, and, well, the good news is she's happy for us. But she expects us to, well, encourage Claw to get together with her."
Goliath actually grinned at that. "So someone has set her talons for Claw! And she wants us to be elders for her. I must say, I never thought I'd see the night when I'd be one."
Elisa eyed him curiously. "An elder? What, you never thought you'd live to old age?"
"No, though a warrior never counts on surviving so long. To be an elder for a courting couple; it's a gargoyle custom. If a young male, or female, desires another for a mate but has problems persuading her chosen one to choose her in return, she often seeks the advice of happily mated elders on persuading the male to court her for a mate. In some cases, the elders would persuade her to choose another male that would be better suited for her in years to come."
"Gargoyle matchmakers, eh?" Elisa smiled wryly. "Guess some things are universal."
"I must admit, I never thought that we would be called on in that capacity," as he smiled wryly back. "But if she believes we set a good example for them as a 'mixed couple,' then we should go and talk to him. No one should be alone all their nights," as they walked inside.
Elisa was still trying to digest the surprising information that Goliath not only understood matchmaking but was looking forward to it, when they met Dana coming out of the bedroom. She was happy to see Goliath, and asked him on paper if he'd had a good day's sleep. Goliath chuckled and wrote back that he'd slept very well, and would be coming with them to talk to Claw tonight. "And I suppose we should talk to your brother about the clones as well," he added to Elisa. "You were right, in that we can't simply ignore their existence." Dana frowned a little as he said that, evidently trying to read his lips but not succeeding too well because of his differently shaped mouth. Goliath noticed, and quickly wrote down what he'd said to Elisa for her. Then, speaking slowly and clearly to make it easier for her, he said, "I would like to learn your hand talk sometime, but it would involve several changes, for those signs that require extra fingers," as he held up his four-fingered hand to illustrate his point. Dana smiled wryly in acknowledgement.
Half an hour later, Elisa parked her car in a secluded area on the docks, and moments later Goliath landed quietly alongside. He frowned at their surroundings, saying, "This is a high-crime-rate area; not a good place to leave your car unattended."
"Dana said Derek would send somebody to guard this entrance tonight, and to keep an eye out for the Fairlane and make sure it's not broken into or hauled off to a chop shop," Elisa said as she started pulling grocery sacks out of the back. Goliath chivalrously took several of the sacks, and Dana and Elisa split the rest between them, and they headed for the entrance to the Labyrinth.
Elisa spotted the tip of a wing peeking out of a concealing shadow just inside the entrance, and called out, "We're here! Derek, that you?"
"Elisa friend-mother!" came the happy reply, as instead of her brother, Delilah stepped proudly out. She was still wearing the red leather jacket that was similar to Elisa's (except for the wing-holes in the back), but she'd evidently traded in her usual tight shirt and shorts for a somewhat baggier outfit, and her new T-shirt sported the logo of the Hard Rock Cafe. "Talon said I can stand watch here, make sure no bad men hurt your car! I am--" She stopped cold, her voice cutting off like someone had thrown a switch, as soon as he saw Goliath.
For his part, Goliath also stopped to stare; this clone in particular was hard for him to deal with. Delilah was a mixture of Elisa's and Demona's genes, made to order by his own clone Thailog. She combined the best elements of both in her body and features, and he was ashamed to admit to himself that the end result was absolutely, completely, howl-at-the-moon-and-fly-barrel-rolls gorgeous. But only Elisa held his heart, and this clone was NOT Elisa. She was also NOT Demona, and would likely end up as different from either of them as Thailog had differed from him, as he told himself very firmly. He also told himself that she at least deserved the courtesy he'd give any strange female gargoyle, swallowed hard and said formally, "Greetings, Delilah. Clear skies to you tonight."
Delilah instantly burst into tears. She whirled and ran back into the Labyrinth, her sobs trailing in the air behind her. Elisa, Dana and Goliath all looked at each other in consternation, before Dana handed her sacks to Goliath and took off after her. So did Elisa (leaving Goliath looking very silly, with plastic sacks hanging from every talon and the tip of his tail), calling Delilah's name as she ran into the shadows.
Elisa and Dana caught up with Delilah less than a hundred feet down the tunnel; she was sitting curled up in a corner, sobbing bitterly into her fisted hands. They both crouched beside her, but while Elisa just looked at her helplessly, Dana reached in and gathered her into her embrace. She held Delilah in her arms and rocked back and forth with her, and began vocalizing a half-crooning, half-groaning "Ooowwoooonnnn…. Ooowwoooonnnn…" It didn't sound very soothing to Elisa's ears, but Delilah seemed to appreciate the effort Dana was making, and gradually her sobs quieted.
When Delilah's wild sobs had become quiet tears and whimpers, Elisa asked her gently, "Delilah, dear… What's wrong? Goliath didn't scare you, did he?"
"N-not scared," Delilah choked out. "B-but he looks like Master!" Of course he did, Elisa realized; her 'master', Thailog, had been Goliath's clone. But Delilah continued, "Miss him so much! Miss him holding me, miss him on me, miss him inside me…"
It didn't take a genius to figure out what she was referring to. Elisa repressed a shudder, and reminded herself that Delilah had been created by Thailog to be his mate, so it naturally followed that he'd used his creation as soon as she was ready. And willing, since she'd been programmed while still in the cloning vat to love him unconditionally. Programmed to love a psychopath, poor kid!
Elisa searched for the right words to say. "Delilah… I know what it's like to miss someone. When I was new on the police force, my very first partner died right in front of my eyes, shot by a criminal." Poor Dan Caglione, dead two days before his fortieth birthday. Elisa had laid her birthday gift for him on his coffin before it was lowered into the ground; a box of those gawdawful cigars he had liked so much, even though she'd always warned him that they'd be the death of him someday… It had taken Elisa a long time to stop blaming herself for his death, and that was one of the reasons why she had resisted taking on Matt Bluestone as a partner for so long. "It may seem now like you'll be alone forever and always sad, but time really does heal nearly all wounds. You'll always miss him, but someday, you'll find somebody to love again." And please God, let it not be another criminal psychopath…
Delilah eyed her in evident disbelief, but gradually dried her tears and stood up. "I go back to guard your car," she announced as she determinedly threw her shoulders back, and momentarily flared her wings. "I keep it safe for you all night, you'll see!"
"Attagirl!" Elisa applauded her attitude as they went back to the entrance, where Goliath was still waiting patiently with their bags.
When they returned, Goliath looked both curiously and uncomfortably at Delilah, but she did her best to ignore him as she went past and took up her post at the entrance. Elisa whispered quietly that she'd explain later, but right now they should get moving, as people were waiting for their purchases.
In his cell deep in the heart of the Labyrinth, Fang brooded on the unfairness of Life. All his life, people had been trying to keep him pinned down, denying him any fun. His parents, his teachers, his boss at the bus station, his ex-wife, his old parole officer… None of them really cared about what he wanted, the hypocrites. Always "Do this! Don't do that!" Rules, rules, rules.
When Doc Sevarius had grabbed him and given him the wings and fangs and stuff, Fang had been scared shitless at first. But once he'd had a chance to get out and use those wings, he'd been thrilled. With wings, he could rise above it all, throw the rules out the window and live life like a man! After the doc had supposedly died, Fang had flown off on his own for a day and a half, wanting to use his new powers to take over his old neighborhood. He'd been cured of that ambition in a hurry, though, when a shotgun blast from old Hansen had nearly taken his head off, and while he'd been dodging that McGurty had shot a hole in his wing. He'd had to slap duct tape over the hole before he could fly, cursing at the pain all the way, back to Xanatos and the others. Then he'd had to put up with lectures from both Xanatos and Talon before they would leave him alone; more piss-ant rules.
After the mutates had broken with Xanatos and taken up residence in the Labyrinth, Fang had taken a look around at the bums and hookers who shared the Labyrinth with them and figured that this was a bunch he could handle. Most of them had been beaten enough by society already that they almost expected somebody to do it again. He'd started showing them all who was boss immediately, and he'd even had Claw mostly whipped into shape after a few days, but Talon kept making trouble, keeping him down even though he said he wasn't trying to be the boss. Finally, he'd found a way to take Talon out of the action, but Maggie had brought those damn gargoyles in, and he'd ended up in a prison cell. He'd just wanted to run things the way they were supposed to be run… Life just wasn't fair.
Five weeks ago, his old cell neighbor Demona had gotten herself sprung by her boyfriend, and they'd sprung Fang as well because they thought he could be useful. Less than a night later, he'd ended up back here again, in a new cell but with the same old routine, except now he sometimes saw one of those stupid clones going by hunting rats. Fang figured now that his mistake had been in going along with Demona and Thailog in taking out Talon and the other gargoyles, instead of just beating it for out of town the moment their backs had been turned. Those damn do-gooder gargoyles, Talon and Maggie had made the Labyrinth a dead end for him, and at the first opportunity he was going to blow this joint and head for easier territory. New Jersey, maybe. And he was pretty sure an opportunity was coming up soon…
The first Labyrinth dweller Goliath and the ladies met once they'd gone deeper into the tunnel system was Claw. He was pretending to tighten a pipe fitting on one of the water pipes, but Elisa saw right through it, as did Dana, and he immediately dropped both the pretense and the pipe wrench when she dropped her bags and charged right at him. Elisa thought for a second that Dana was going to try to knock him over, but she leaped and twisted at the last moment, and landed sideways in his outstretched arms. It strongly reminded both Elisa and Goliath of the way Elisa had jumped into Goliath's arms only three weeks ago, and they both smiled in fond remembrance as Dana reached up to grab Claw's head and planted a firm kiss on the end of his muzzle.
Claw looked just as flustered as Goliath had felt that dawn, when he realized that they had an audience. "Oh, don't mind us!" Elisa said hastily. "We're just passing through on our way to the main kitchen," as she picked up the bags Dana had dropped. But Dana scrambled out of Claw's arms and came back for the bags, visually insisting that she had to do her share. Elisa knew how important pride was, when a person had little else to call his/her own, so she handed the bags back over, while Claw scrambled to put his tools away and walk back with them.
Instead of merely carrying the plastic bag handles in her hands, Dana strung them up her arms past her elbows, to free her hands for sign language. She and Claw were nearly walking sideways down the hall as they gestured back and forth to each other, and Elisa almost snickered aloud when the thought passed through her head that, at least with Dana, Claw was turning out to be quite the chatterbox. She covertly studied them, and concluded that they made no more an odd couple than she and Goliath did, and probably less of an odd couple when all the facts were in. In fact, her snap judgement was that Dana was probably the best thing to happen to Claw in years; she'd reopened the world for him, by showing him how to communicate with people in more than just haphazard pantomime.
The last time she'd seen Claw before she and Goliath left on their quest, he had seemed to be a quietly miserable soul, resigned to his fate but not at all happy with it. Not just as a cop but as a caring cat owner, Elisa had judged him so in part because his fur had always looked dull despite its vivid stripes, in comparison to Derek's gleaming black pelt. And there had been a downward cast to his ears and a despairing look in his eyes when he thought no one was looking, or when he was particularly frustrated over being unable to speak. She'd met him a few times since returning from the quest, when visiting Derek and Maggie or taking her occasional turn in guarding Demona (and hadn't those been interesting sessions! It was amazing how many languages and dialects Demona could curse in.) She'd idly noticed that he progressively seemed to be less unhappy as the months went by, but hadn't known the reason then.
Now, with a thick glossy pelt, his ears perked up and the tips of his fangs showing occasionally in tigerish grins, Claw seemed downright happy, enjoying life. But he'd been definitely flustered by that kiss, and not all because he'd had an audience for it; maybe he just couldn't quite understand how a normal (well, normal except for being stone-deaf) woman could possibly be interested in him romantically. Elisa could sympathize; she'd done a lot of soul-searching and self-doubting for several months, until that night she'd almost drowned while fighting the Hunters. After that, she'd thrown all her doubts into the wind when she'd jumped into Goliath's arms.
After a few minutes of (literally) animated conversation, Dana signed something that made Claw stop dead in his tracks, to whirl and stare open-mouthed at Goliath and Elisa. "I believe she just told him about our relationship," Goliath said amusedly in her ear.
"I think you're right," Elisa said with both a blush and a smile. "Um… Do you want to talk to him first?"
"As the saying goes, Elisa," Goliath said as he set his bags down, "actions speak louder than words." And with that, he swept her off her feet and embraced her with arms and wings in a deep, thorough kiss.
When he finally let her back down, Elisa felt just a teensy bit wobbly, and in need of a quick, cold shower. For a guy who'd had his first kiss only three weeks ago, Goliath was a fast learner! Looking around, they noticed that Claw and Dana had walked further down the tunnel to give them some privacy. Joking to cover her embarrassment, she said, "I didn't know you were so into PDA's, Big Guy!"
"PDA's?" Goliath frowned puzzledly. "I thought we were kissing."
"Public Displays of Affection," Elisa translated. "Somehow, I thought you'd be more the stoic type, at least when others are around."
Goliath smiled lopsidedly. "Elisa, I grew up with rookery brothers and sisters who all but flew their mating flights right over the battlements. Compared to them, I am the stoic type." Before Elisa could think of a response to that, he gestured down the tunnel and said, "Shall we rejoin the others?" He could see he'd have to have a talk with her about such "PDA's"; this was one cultural difference that might possibly cause a real problem later on, especially when the breeding season drew near and Angela chose her mate. But now was not the time for it; perhaps later tonight, after they'd completed their errands here.
It was shift change for the guard outside Fang's cell. Robert came around the corner to find Billy sitting there chewing his perpetual toothpick, with the Labyrinth's only authorized weapon, a tranquilizer gun, lying across his lap. A few months ago, while Demona had been jailed down here too, Elisa had noticed how Talon, Maggie and Claw were wearing themselves out with guarding the cells in three-person rotation for day after day after day while still trying to maintain the affairs of the Labyrinth. With the "No weapons" rule, the mutates had felt that it was too dangerous for one of the normal Labyrinth residents to stand guard over both Fang and Demona, even when she was in human form; if one of them had broken out, an unarmed human would probably end up as hamburger. Elisa had agreed, but suggested a sole compromise to the rule they'd set months ago. With a tranquilizer gun handy, even if a prisoner took his meal-bringer hostage, the guard could shoot both prisoner and hostage if need be and not have to worry about any more ill effects than a long enforced nap and a hangover-like headache afterwards.
Once the tranquilizer gun had been brought down, Talon had selected a half-dozen of his most stable people as fellow guards, and they'd begun standing watches with the mutates. (Privately, Talon hoped no one would ever learn that they'd had human guards carrying the tranquilizer gun for over a week before Elisa had finally found and brought down the right size darts for it.) As Robert came up and relieved Billy, he looked curiously into the cell and said, "What's up with him tonight?"
Billy just shrugged and said, "Dunno. He just started complaining about a bellyache half an hour ago or so." He gestured in to where Claw was curled up on his bed, visibly shivering, instead of razzing them like he usually did every shift change. "Figured at first it was the eggs from this morning, y'know? Then a few minutes ago he started doing the DT's there. Maybe he's got some kind of flu bug."
"Yeah, Maggie's been feeling poorly lately too. Hope it ain't catching." They had no doctor in the Labyrinth, just Maggie and a few other people who'd had training in first aid in their former lives. Now that Derek was running things they kept the place a little more cleaned up than before, and kept most of the food they collected in cold storage, but disease and food poisoning were ever-present threats.
"Yeah. Hey, is Jimmy back from scrounging yet? He said he might have a line on some kid-sized sneakers, and--"
Fang abruptly bolted off his bed, startling them both, but instead of rushing the bars he ran the other way, and ended up in a corner with his back to them, making retching sounds. The two guards exchanged looks of concern, that changed to looks of outright alarm when Fang moaned, "Sweet Jesus, it's all bloody…" He sagged bonelessly against the wall, still facing away from them and staring at something they couldn't quite see on the floor, his carelessly half-extended wing blocking it from their sight. Even more faintly, they heard him moan again, "Blood, Christ, I'm in trouble… God, don't let me die like this…"
Robert grabbed the keys and opened the cell door, and stepped cautiously towards the corner where Fang was half-sitting, half-sprawled. "Hey, pal, let's get you back on the bed, and then we'll call Maggie in here, okay?"
"Okay," Fang said as he whipped around with a feral grin, and Robert realized too late that he'd left the cell door open. He didn't even have time to shout before Fang charged, hitting him dead-center like a linebacker taking out the quarterback and continuing his charge out through the open door. Billy had time for a shout of alarm as he lifted his tranquilizer gun, but before he could get a shot off Fang was on him like fleas on a dog.
Less than thirty seconds later, Fang was gleefully pointing the rifle and taking aim dead center at Billy's upturned butt as he said, "Say good night, Gracie!" A hiss of compressed air later, Billy had been tagged with a dart that would ensure his period of unconsciousness lasted considerably more than a few minutes. Robert got the same treatment, before Fang snapped the rifle in half and went whistling on his way. If he remembered right, this tunnel led away from the main halls and out to the docks, and from there he could kiss the whole caboodle goodbye and head for a new start somewhere else. Yep, things were looking up at last.
"Hey, Derek!" Elisa called out as soon as she saw her brother's head and wings standing out above the small knot of people gathered at one end of the large room the Labyrinth people had designated as an assembly hall. He spared her a glance and a brief wave of greeting before returning to the conversation he was in; he seemed to be mediating a dispute between two other residents. Elisa nodded understanding before heading off to the communal kitchen and dining hall they'd set up in the heart of the Labyrinth, using what had been left behind in Cyberbiotic's old employee cafeteria.
Ruth, one of the homeless people who prided herself on her cooking skills and had largely taken over the kitchen as a result, thanked them profusely for the groceries as they were set on the old scarred countertop. "These will help out a lot! Oh, good, you got the oysters too!" She leaned forward as she whispered conspiratorially, "You can't say anything about this to Maggie, because it's a surprise for her; Derek and I snuck them onto the list after Maggie wrote it up. We found a tin of oysters last week, and she just gulped them all down like they were fancy chocolates; I never knew anyone could like them so much! So we're going to save these for her birthday next month." They all smiled and nodded, agreeing to keep the oysters a secret. By the time Maggie came into the kitchen a few minutes later, the tins had been craftily hidden away as Ruth said brightly to the female mutate, "So, are you feeling better now?"
"A little bit," Maggie said with a wan smile. "Whatever bug this is, I hope it goes away soon."
"Well, now that we have the bouillon cubes, I can whip up some of my special pigeon soup for you; it's far and away better than chicken soup! Come on back in half an hour, dear, and I'll have it hot and ready for you," as Ruth kindly but firmly shooed them all out of the kitchen.
Derek met them coming out, having settled the dispute amicably, and reminded Claw that two other people were waiting for him; he'd agreed earlier to help out two more Labyrinth residents in bringing down a refrigerator that had been found on the streets that afternoon. Claw nodded agreement and walked off as Derek said to the others, "If we can get this one running, we'll have a total of three working refrigerators down here, and we'll be able to crank one all the way down and make it a freezer. With luck, we'll be able to cut the cases of food poisoning down here by half or better. Speaking of which, Maggie, how are you feeling now?" as he gave her a hug.
"A little better," Maggie told him with the same wan smile.
"If you're not really feeling up to it later, we can play cards some other night; I know Dana and Claw would understand. Right, Dana?" as he looked at her, signing a few phrases at her.
Dana nodded, then smiled impishly as she signed something back. Maggie's ears went flat against her skull in evident embarrassment, while Derek snorted with amusement. Elisa and Goliath looked curiously at them as she asked, "What did she say?"
"She just said that she wouldn't mind missing a game of Crazy Eight's, because she'd rather get Claw to play strip poker with her," Derek said with a snicker. "I tell you, Elisa, never underestimate this one!"
"Strip poker?" Goliath said to Elisa with an interesting smile. "When are we going to play that?"
That brought both Derek and Maggie up short, to stare at them both. "Did he just say… Sis, are you two…"
Elisa's blush was answer enough. Goliath laid a hand on her shoulder as he said pointedly to the others, "If you're asking whether we've become lovers, as you would term it, the answer is yes. And if you have a problem with that, say it now or say it never." He didn't growl, and his eyes didn't glow, but he seemed to grow a few inches taller as his tail tensed and coiled in anticipation of trouble.
Dana immediately jumped in with her hands flashing through the air, signing so fast they were almost a blur. "Slow down, Dana, I can't read you that fast!" Derek complained, secretly glad of a reason to avoid confronting Goliath for just a few seconds more.
Dana slowed down, but her signs became even more emphatic, hands high in the air in the deaf way of 'shouting'. Maggie said slowly, "She's right, Derek; it'd be hypocritical if you did object, considering the way you've been encouraging Claw and Dana to get together."
Derek sighed loudly and scrubbed his face with his hands. "There's a little more of a difference here… But what the hell, Sis, it's your life. We all have to make our own choices, right?" It was a bittersweet reminder of their conversation the night of their confrontation after he'd gone to work for Xanatos, and Elisa knew that Derek thought she was making a mistake, but she also knew he'd say no more about it.
They walked along for a few moments in an uncomfortable silence, before Maggie decided to change the subject by saying brightly, "Why don't we go to the Concert Hall? I don't think we've showed you that place yet!"
"Concert Hall?" Elisa asked curiously. "You have musicians down here?"
"Actually, we do have a couple street musicians here, but what Maggie's referring to is this one chamber down here that somehow has some sort of audio hookup with the Metropolitan Opera House. If you stand in one corner of the room you can actually hear what's being performed up there," as Derek directed them down another corridor. "The reception's not great, but you can make out what's being said pretty well. I've got some people who think it's due to a hidden speaker being set to the House's wireless microphone's frequencies, and a couple who say we're actually haunted by the spirits of some old stagehands, and Big Bennie's idea is even crazier than that. But either way, it's a real kick to listen to it some nights."
"Um, what about…" as Elisa gestured discreetly to Dana.
She wasn't quite discreet enough, though, and Dana gave her a somewhat exasperated look. She was suddenly reminded of a blind man she'd met once, an author who'd come to the station to report that his house had been broken into while he was gone. She'd been a rookie cop back then, nervous about how to do her job while allowing the man his dignity. She'd tried to pick her way through the minefield of questions she had to ask while being discreet about his handicap, when he'd suddenly slammed his hands down on the desk and said, "To paraphrase an old movie, miss, I don't need no stinking PC!" (Political Correctness—ye author) "I'm blind, and we both know it, but I've learned to deal with it, and so can you. Ask your questions, and when I don't know the answer I'll be honest about it, okay?" Dana's look said just as plainly as that author had, I can deal with it!
"If it's interesting, I can sign most of it to her," Derek said nonchalantly. "Claw does it all the time, especially on comedy nights." As if to prove that she was looking forward to it, Dana strode a few steps ahead of everyone, leading the way to the faraway chamber. Thus, when they went around the next corner, she was the first one to run into Fang.
The sudden encounter took everyone by surprise, including Fang, but he was the first one to recover and he grabbed Dana before any of them could react. "You ain't putting me back in that cell!" he snarled as he held her in front of her as a human shield.
Dana screamed shrilly, long and loud, while kicking and jerking about, trying to free herself. Maggie and Derek flared their wings and charged up, electrical energy crackling around their hands, while Goliath dropped to all fours between them and prepared to charge, knowing that he actually was faster to pounce from four legs than two. Elisa whipped her gun out of its holster and stood behind Goliath, aiming over him and right at Fang's head as she shouted, "Let her go, Fang!"
"I don't think so!" Fang snarled back as he got a firm grip on Dana's throat. "All of you back off, or I'll rip her throat out here and now!"
It was a classic standoff, and these things rarely ended well. "If you do, it'll be murder!" Derek snarled out, poised and ready to fire a blast of electrical power strong enough to knock Fang into next Easter, if only Dana wasn't in the way. "And I swear we'll never let you never leave here alive!"
"I've been dying already, cooped up in that goddamn cell; at least this way I can go out fighting! But I won't kill her, if you all-back-off!" and he emphasized his last three words by shaking Dana in his grip like a terrier shakes a rat. Gasping for air, Dana went limp in his grasp, her eyes rolling in mortal fear.
Maggie reluctantly lowered her hands and dissipated the charge, and Derek even more reluctantly followed suit. Goliath still poised ready to pounce, but Elisa slowly lowered her gun and nudged for him to move back; Fang was holding all the cards.
"Look, I don't want any trouble," Fang snarled, keeping a tight grip on Dana's throat with one clawed hand while the other gestured down the tunnel he had been following. "I just wanna get out of this piss-ant joint! So me and the deaf bitch here are going to take a nice walk, and I'll let her go once we get to the surface. Just leave us alone, and no one will get--"
The roar nearly deafened them all, and surprised everyone enough to freeze for just an instant. That instant was just long enough for a flash of orange and black to streak in from a side tunnel, and come down on Fang and Dana like lightning. It was Claw, but a Claw no one had ever seen before; not a timid mutate anymore, but the wrath of God incarnate in fur.
Before anyone could move again, Dana was sprawled on the floor a few feet away from a snarling mass of fur and wings that resolved into Fang and Claw, rolling on the floor and fighting tooth and nail (literally, with fangs and claws), as they were too close to each other to use their electrical blasts. Derek swore as he moved in to help, but Goliath surprisingly grabbed his hand and said, "Not yet. Let Claw handle this, if he can."
And he did. Fang was using every dirty trick he'd ever learned as he fought, from kneeing Claw in the groin to trying to gouge his eyes out, but every move was either countered or ignored as Claw systematically pounded the stuffing out of him. In short order Fang was sprawled unconscious and bleeding on the floor, and Claw reared back and snarled once more as he lifted one hand high, preparing to slash through his opponent's throat.
Lightning-fast, Goliath intercepted that paw before it could descend. "Enough, Claw, you've beaten him! You've won!" he said sharply. "You've won, it's over!" he repeated, as Claw looked at him through slitted eyes, still growling. It seemed Goliath was the only one who wasn't surprised that Claw could growl, roar and snarl, when he'd never made so much as a peep before now.
Dana came running up to the still growling Claw, repeating some sign with her hands as she fearlessly shoved Goliath to one side. (Derek told Elisa later, she was signing, My hero! My hero!) Claw grabbed her and hugged her tightly, unmindful of his bloody fur and ragged ear, and his growl became a different sort of rumble, almost a rough purring. Dana grinned as she stroked the bloody fur on one cheek, then grabbed his muzzle and kissed him hard.
Goliath smiled at the two of them, then walked back to the still staring Elisa, Maggie and Derek. "He's not only saved her life, but proven he's fit to protect her, both to himself and to her," he informed them with an almost smug grin; finally, he'd found a courting custom even more 'barbaric' than his own people's customs, though it was one he could still relate to. "You should be prepared to hold a mating ceremony soon."
"Mating ceremony?" Derek blinked, and finally came out of the daze he'd been in. "Geez, I suppose we'd better think of something for them. Honey, did you know that Claw could roar?"
"Uh-uh," Maggie slowly shook her head, her eyes still wide. "I… I guess he never wanted to before?"
Elisa pointed out, "He was the first one mutated, right? It must have completely changed his vocal cords to what a tiger would have, not just muted them like we all assumed. Since he couldn't talk any more, he probably chose to keep completely silent rather than sound like a wild animal, as well as sort-of resemble one."
"I suppose you're right. Umm, Claw, where are…? Never mind," Derek said wryly as Claw swept Dana off her feet and carried her out of the tunnel, down a side passage. Dana gleefully waved to them over his shoulder as he strode out of sight. "Well, so much for Mr. Milquetoast," Derek shook his head as he went to examine the still unconscious Fang. He whistled as he looked him over, and said, "Fang's lucky to be alive! This arm's got to be broken, we'll need stitches for these slashes, and I think he's got a few teeth knocked out to boot. Sis, remind me to never even look twice in Dana's direction while Claw's around from now on."
"Don't worry, I'll make sure you don't," Maggie said dryly as she dragged a beat-up old coffee table out of a nearby chamber, to use as an improvised stretcher.
They'd just about reached the room that Derek had designated as their infirmary when, from a few corridors away, another roar came echoing out. Claw's room was in that direction, and all four of them just looked at each other, blushed simultaneously, and went on without saying a word.
The bandages and other medical supplies Elisa had bought that afternoon were put to use sooner than anyone could have expected, putting Fang back together again. "I hope he doesn't have any serious internal injuries," Maggie worried aloud as she set the last bandage in place, Fang having remained unconscious through it all. "I may know first aid from my old Girl Scout years, but I'm certainly not a doctor!"
"Let's just see how he goes for the next day or so. If he starts getting worse instead of better, then we'll start worrying about finding a doctor for him," Derek said. "In the meantime, what say we head back to our quarters?"
Rather than haul Fang back to his cell when they were finished, Derek had him simply left there in the makeshift infirmary; there didn't seem to be much likelihood of Fang running anywhere at the moment, not with one arm and both wings splinted, and bandages all over his head, arms, torso and one leg clear to the knee. (And with large sections of his fur shaved off so they could cleanly stitch the worst slashes closed; he looked so thoroughly bedraggled Elisa almost felt sorry for him.)
Once they'd come to Maggie and Derek's private rooms, Maggie excused herself for a few minutes and went into the bathroom, leaving Talon to talk with Goliath and Elisa. Derek showed them a leaflet one of his people had brought back from a scrounging foray, and Elisa's stomach tightened when she saw what was on the cover; a viciously exaggerated drawing of Goliath. It was a Quarryman leaflet, and while Derek's voice was casual his eyes were worried as he asked, "Don't suppose you've found out any more about these bozos?"
Elisa shook her head angrily. "Their leader, Jon Castaway, doesn't seem to have existed on anything but paper until just a few days before the Quarrymen first showed up and tried to kill us. If we could get his fingerprints and run them through the database at work, maybe we could find out who he really is and how the hell he managed to come up with so much weaponry so fast. Problem is, I can't get a warrant for his arrest without revealing just how we first encountered them, and the uproar that would result just doesn't bear thinking about." She sighed in frustration as she flopped back against Goliath, and he put a comforting arm around her.
"Organized crime is my bet," Derek said sagely. "Maybe Tony Dracon hired him; that's one crook who's bound to have a serious mad on about gargoyles, from all the times he's been thwarted by them."
Goliath mused that it was certainly possible, but Elisa just shook her head again. "But that doesn't explain the Quarryhammers; they're geared specifically to be used against sleeping gargoyles--"
"Though quite effective when we're awake, as well," Goliath growled as he remembered the incredible pain from being hit by them. "But I see your point; none of us are in the habit of letting our foes know of our greatest weakness. Even in this age of wonders, such a quantity of weapons would have to have been designed and made even before the general public became aware of our existence. If Dracon is indeed behind these Quarrymen, how did he find out about our stone sleep?"
"And if it isn't Dracon, who can it be?"
Since that conversation was doing nothing but raising blood pressures all around, they changed the subject to the gargoyle clones. Derek was proud to say that most of the clones were learning the alphabet fairly well, while Delilah had mastered it already and was learning to read, and their grammar was slowly improving as well. He admitted, though, that there were occasional difficulties in dealing with them, like the times when they pestered him for trips up the surface, to stretch their wings, and he had to restrict them to two at a time with a mutate as an escort. Even though they were still prone to call him 'master' sometimes, once they were in the air they liked to wander off on their own and explore the city, and he had a hard time keeping them in line and out of sight. "They just can't quite understand that not everybody in the city is like the people down here, who at least tolerate them, and I'm scared to death that one of these nights Malibu or Brentwood will just land next to a Quarryman and ask him if he wants to play."
"That would not be wise," Goliath admitted dryly. "So, you're asking me if my clan can provide… 'babysitters' for when their gargoyle nature demands they go gliding?"
"Well, yeah," Derek admitted as he scratched his ear. "But I was going to suggest that maybe you could have some of your folks stop by the dock entrance every night before they go on patrol, and take one of the clones with them. Patrolling would let them get their gliding in, while giving their protective urges a workout too."
Goliath considered it. "Right now, I believe they'd be more hindrance than help on patrol. But perhaps once they've matured a bit more… Do you have them patrolling the tunnels already?"
"Yeah, looking after some of the lesser-used tunnels on the East Side. It's prime rat territory, anyway. We haven't had any trouble from that direction in several--" He cut himself off and turned his head sharply, as did they, when they heard a crash coming from the bathroom. "Maggie!" he called out.
"I-I'm okay," her voice came echoing down the corridor. "I…slipped." Her voice sounded strange, though, and after a few seconds Derek excused himself and went down the corridor after her.
Goliath and Elisa looked uncertainly at each other for a few moments, before Elisa shrugged and said, "So, Big Guy, any plans for the rest of the night, once we're done here?"
Goliath brightened immediately, and said, "Actually, I have an idea or two." He glanced towards the bathroom, then said slyly, "And wouldn't you say we're done here now?"
Elisa snorted in amusement; whether human or gargoyle, it was amazing how the typical male's priorities shifted once he had an active sex life. But she readily agreed, "Just let me say goodbye to them, and we can--" Then her voice was cut off, by a loud thump coming from the bathroom.
Elisa and Goliath stared at each other for a moment, frowning in consternation; then they got up from the couch and walked down the hall to the bathroom. Elisa knocked on the door and called out, "Derek, Maggie, you all right in there?"
The only reply they got back was Derek saying "Uhhhh…" Elisa frowned worriedly and opened the door.
Inside, she saw Maggie sitting on the toilet seat, saying nothing and staring at nothing, with a little stick held loosely in one hand. Derek sat on the floor opposite her, saying nothing but staring at the little stick. Elisa frowned and said, "What's the matter with--" Then the significance of that stick hit her; it was from one of the kits she'd brought down only an hour ago. "You…"
Derek spoke very softly into the sudden silence. "Maggie's pregnant."
TO BE CONTINUED…