LIFE GOES ON
Revelations of the Labyrinth, Part 5 (Wedding Belles)
By Kimberly T.
Brentwood climbed up the wall, a large plastic sack clenched in his teeth and slung over his shoulder, and another one wrapped in his tail. Once he'd reached the ceiling, he shifted to slowly scuttle across it like a giant spider, carefully sinking each talon into the rock for maximum purchase, till he reached the center of the room. There he stopped, and his huge red eyes looked upside-down and questioningly at the person standing below.
"That's just the right spot!" Ruth said encouragingly as she looked up at him. "Now, start with the streamers!"
Brentwood nodded, then swung his tail up near his head so he could get at the sack dangling from it. Tightening his grip with one hand and both feet, he eased the other hand free of the stone and reached into the sack. After a bit of fumbling, he pulled out a thick nail that had been stuck through the ends of six white crepe-paper streamers, still bound with rubber bands into fist-sized cylinders. He set the point of the nail against the ceiling, then shoved it in with all his strength, sinking it into the rock over an inch deep. Once it was secure, he carefully hooked a talon in each rubber band to pull it off, so the streamers could unwind and fall to the ground.
"Perfect!" Ruth said as the streamers cascaded down. "Now, add on the bells! Remember, start with the tape…"
Brentwood grinned as best he could with a sack still clenched in his teeth, then shook the empty sack off his tail so he could take the other one out of his mouth and hang it there. Then he reached in and pulled out a roll of Scotch tape. Grimacing and gripping the tape in his jaws, he pulled off a six-inch length of it, then stuck the tape on his nearest talon. Then he reached in again and pulled out a large white paper bell, already unfolded to its full size. It took a bit of maneuvering and mumbling, but he was able to get the tape over the end of the string coming out of the bell, and tape the bell in place on the nail. Then he repeated the entire process with another bell.
"Pretty!" Malibu said admiringly as he stood next to Ruth, looking up from below. Burbank and Hollywood, standing with him, agreed. Delilah called out encouragingly, "You doing good, Brentwood!"
Once he'd finished attaching the second bell, Brentwood looked down at them with a grin and a thumbs-up, like he'd seen Claw do a few nights ago. Then he detached from the ceiling and flipped over, gliding down to them and landing on his feet. "Taa-daah!"
"Yay, Brentwood!" his siblings said as they gave him hugs of congratulations for his excellent job. They'd all wanted to do it, but Ruth had decided that since he was the lightest of them all, he'd have the easiest time hanging upside down without falling off. But Ruth had promised them that they would each have important parts to play in decorating the room for the big wedding tomorrow night, and now they looked at her eagerly to see what came next.
Ruth added her own thanks and congratulations, then said, "Now we're going to finish putting up the streamers. Here, each one of you take a streamer, very carefully, and back up a few feet to give yourselves room… and now we're going to twist them, to make them prettier. Just turn it, like so, and turn it again, and keep turning… Not so fast, Delilah, keep pace with your brothers so they all come out even… See how pretty they're becoming? All right, that's enough twists. Hollywood, I said that's enough twists, so you stop now. No, it's okay; just very carefully turn it back two times… And now they're ready to hang up. And we're going to do this in two teams, so everyone can help out. Here, Malibu, you take three pieces of tape… Now your turn, Delilah… Yes, Malibu, they look funny hanging off your beak, but it'll probably hurt a little when you pull them off."
She then directed Brentwood to gather the streamers from Malibu and Hollywood without tangling or unwinding them, then had Malibu stand on Hollywood's shoulders in one corner of the room. "Now, Malibu, be careful not to claw your brother's shoulders. And Hollywood, you'll have to hold yourself and him very steady, so he doesn't slip and fall."
"I can do it," Hollywood said confidently as he took a firm grip on his sibling's high-arched feet.
"Don't squeeze so hard!" Malibu complained, but when Brentwood stretched up as high as he could with one of the streamers, Malibu was able to wrap his tail around it and pass it up to his hands without falling off. The two gargoyles together were just tall enough to reach all the way to the high ceiling, and Malibu taped his streamer up in the corner and said proudly when he was done, "Taa-daah!"
"Very good, Malibu! And you held him just right, Hollywood!" Ruth praised them both. "Now, Delilah and Burbank, it's your turn."
Over on the far side of the room, taping down a long extension cord as they ran it along the wall, Peter Maza paused to look at the decorating gargoyles and commented to his son, "I could bring our old stepladder down here for you."
"Nah, the 'kids' probably think this way's more fun. Not to mention, our rickety old ladder wouldn't last ten seconds under Hollywood's weight," Derek said ruefully as he uncoiled the extension cord.
Beth came in lugging a huge speaker in her arms, smiling wryly. "Derek, I gotta tell you, I'm gonna miss being able to win my floor's Saturday night 'stereo wars' hands-down with this setup!" When Derek had first 'gone missing', her parents had paid the rent on his apartment for three months before reluctantly letting it go, packing up his belongings and storing them in their home. As much as Beth missed her brother too, she'd persuaded their parents to let her take his stereo setup with her when she'd returned to Arizona for her sophomore year of college, rather than let it just sit in the garage and collect dust. She had promised faithfully to return it with a smile whenever Derek showed his face again, but when Derek finally did return to them, showing a very different face, his primo stereo system had not been uppermost on anyone's mind.
Only when Diane had said wistfully, after informing Beth over the phone about the wedding, that it would be nice to have some live music for the ceremony, did Beth remember and volunteer the stereo. She assured her mother that with this setup's incredible volume and high fidelity, the music would be almost better than live! (Diane had privately thought she was missing the point, but had asked her to pack and bring it all with her anyway when she flew in Saturday for the wedding.)
Derek said with a sigh of reminiscence, "Yeah, I always had to be careful about playing it on days the landlord was around. But I tell you, it'll be perfect for the wedding reception! Claw and Dana will love it!"
Beth looked at him questioningly. "Um… I thought Mom said Dana was deaf?"
"Deaf as a post, as Grandpa Taylor would say," Derek said with a grin at both hers and his father's puzzled expressions. "But trust me, they'll enjoy it too; you'll see tomorrow night. Hey, did you find the right music? Mom said you were bringing that too."
"Got 'em right here," Beth said as she set the speaker down and pulled a series of cassette tapes out of her jacket pockets. "Recorded 'em myself from the CD collections of some of the music students at the university. Lohengrin's Bridal Chorus, Beethoven's Ode to Joy, Pachebel's Canon in D, Chopin's Nocturne in E, Brandenburg's Concerto in G, and a lot of other alphabetical classical stuff for the traditional 'whitebread' wedding. And after Mom called again, I even sweet-talked some buddies of a buddy into recording an instrumental version of Noel Stookey's 'The Wedding Song' for your guy down here to sing along with." She thought to herself that that was the nice thing about college students; a lot of them would do great things for only a six-pack or two of beer. But she knew better than to say that with her dad present, knowing how many of his old friends back on the reservation had poured their lives down the drain with booze.
"Ramone will appreciate that, and so will Maggie," as he accepted the tapes from her.
"Did he really used to be a professional lounge singer?" Beth asked curiously.
"That's what he says, and until he says otherwise that's what we'll believe. Down here, Beth, we don't pry too much into what people used to do before they came down here. If they want to tell us, we listen, but otherwise we don't ask. Sometimes it's just too painful for them to talk about." Derek shuddered at a memory. "I've heard some stories down here that made me realize there are actually much worse people on the planet than Xanatos, maybe even worse than Sevarius."
Beth stared at him. "Worse than the man who… Don't tell me any of those stories, okay?"
"No problem. C'mon, let's finish hooking this up and run a sound check."
While they were hooking things up, Beth said, "By the way, the wedding invitation arrived in the mail on Friday. Excellent work; who did the hand-lettered calligraphy?"
"That was Susanna; I'd introduce you to her, but she's up top scrounging right now. She surprised us Monday night with twenty hand-lettered invitations and envelopes right out of the blue. She told us she'd sold a mirror to an antique shop that morning to get money for the right kind of paper and pen, then spent all day getting twenty invitations just perfect. I tell you, we have some of the most interesting people down here… and a lot of them really like us just the way we are, fur and wings and all. Blows my mind sometimes."
"Aw, what's not to love about you?" Beth teased. "You were always such a sweet guy, and now you're cuddly too!"
Derek looked at her sourly. "I am not cuddly."
Claw came in then, hefting one of the wooden benches they'd been putting together from scrap wood and torn-apart pallets they'd sneaked away from a warehouse. They'd decided to build sturdy benches as seats for the chapel, rather than bring in their mixed assortment of dilapidated chairs just for the one occasion. Father Sullivan had been making discreet suggestions about making the chapel permanent, so the priest had a place down here to conduct services in the future.
Derek wasn't thrilled about the idea of having a Catholic chapel down here, worrying that it would make some of their non-Catholics uneasy in their own home, not to mention what the priest might say when he found out that, last time they'd done an informal census, they had a family of Buddhists, three Muslims, two Jews and a pair of Wiccans in residence. But he was hardly going to say no to the man before he performed their wedding ceremony! Beside, the average folding chair wouldn't last any longer under Goliath's butt than his dad's rickety old stepladder would. So they'd put the benches together (and Derek had decided not to ask where Tony and Billy had gotten the power tools from), and had load-tested each one by having Hollywood stand on them, before sanding and painting them a nice solid hides-the-dirt-well brown.
Claw put the bench in a row with the others he'd brought in earlier, then signed that Father Sullivan had come down for another visit. Derek was a little surprised, considering it was something like three o'clock in the morning now; a little late for another one of those premarital counseling sessions they'd been doing, not to mention the good father had said last time that he was satisfied that they were right for each other. Well, maybe the guy was a chronic insomniac, or was just too excited to sleep. God knew he himself sure was; he was getting married tomorrow! And he was going to be a father! Sometimes he just wanted to pinch himself, but decided against it in case he actually woke up.
Father Sullivan came in right after Claw, smiling as he looked about him with his good eye. "Some very nice touches! Just right for a family wedding and an informal reception." The priest thought for a moment about the wedding he'd officiated at that Saturday morning, for one of the wealthier families in his congregation; for that wedding, the decorators had also come in the night before. They had been a professional decorating team led by a professional wedding planner, and had nearly wallpapered and carpeted the entire church in expensive flowers and satin ribbons and bows, probably a few thousand dollars' worth of materials. Not counting the decorations he'd brought down a few days ago, leftovers from other weddings that hadn't been taken away or tossed out, he doubted the total spent by the residents down here came to more than ten dollars. But everything had been put up with genuine caring for the brides and grooms, and that always made it priceless.
However, that did remind him of something he wanted to tell Derek and Claw. "I've spoken with the bride and groom of the wedding I'll be performing tomorrow afternoon, without giving specifics about you. They're more than happy to give to you the flowers from their own wedding, all except the bouquets of course. They also asked me to tell you that they hope your lives together will be as happy as theirs will be."
"That's nice of them," Derek said with a smile. "Wish I could thank 'em personally. That leaves only the bouquets, and Dana said she had that covered too, though she wouldn't say how." He cocked a furry eyebrow at Claw, who just shrugged with a carefully blank expression, not giving away anything even if he actually knew. Derek and Maggie still didn't know a lot about Dana, except that she'd been deaf since at least early childhood, probably from birth, and had a strength of will that could nearly turn back tides.
Claw probably knew more about Dana, since they were lovers and soon to be married in the same ceremony as him and Maggie, but if he did he wasn't sharing it with them. But heck, they still didn't know a lot about Claw's past, either; not even his real name! (They'd asked him once or twice, but he'd just shaken his head and written that it didn't matter now.) However, they knew he was loyal to the home they'd made down here, and kindly and gentle with others; more than that, they really didn't need to know.
But Derek admitted to himself that he was extremely curious about just who and where Claw and Dana had given their wedding invitations to. Claw had scrounged a stamp for the invitation and envelope he'd taken from the stack, so Derek surmised that he'd sent it to somebody out of town, but Dana had just taken five of them and disappeared for most of a day. Neither of them had to be told about maintaining the Labyrinth's existence as a secret from the general populace, knowing it as well as Derek and Maggie did, so Derek wasn't much worried about finding unwelcome guests and media down here tomorrow night. But still, he wondered…
Maggie came in the room, her face troubled for an instant before she saw the others; then she smiled so quickly and brilliantly, nobody was quite sure they'd seen the previous expression. The gargoyle clones crowded around her, excitedly pointing out all the decorating they'd done, and she praised them for their efforts. "It's all just beautiful! It looks like we're almost ready for tomorrow night."
"Hi, honey," As Derek came up to her and gave her a quick nuzzling. "How'd the fitting go?"
"Just fine; the dress is almost finished now, and she'll bring it down with her tomorrow night." She held up the box she'd brought with her and addressed the 'kids' again. "Diane gave me the altar cloth and aisle runner; do you want to help us put them in place too?"
The gargoyles were very happy to help out, and Ruth and Father Sullivan showed them where they were to go. Derek took advantage of the distraction to gently guide Maggie into the next room, and ease the door shut. Once they were alone, he said quietly, "Can you talk about it?"
"About what?" She smiled at him, but he didn't buy it this time.
"About what's bothering you. C'mon, we're getting married tomorrow night. Can't you trust your future husband, even with bad news? You know the lines: 'for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health'…"
" 'Till Death do us part.' I know." She sighed. "I just… before this," as she gestured vaguely at her mutated body, "whenever I envisioned myself getting married, I thought I'd be going down the aisle on my daddy's arm. But…"
"But you haven't even told your family about this yet, let alone about us," Derek finished gently. "Well… y'know, it's still not too late to call them. Yeah, it'll be one helluva shock, to find out everything at once, but at least they'll know you're still alive. And that you'll be back to normal in a few years, once they develop a cure for Junior," as he gently rested a hand on her abdomen, caressing their child within. "I'll bet they could even come here in time for the wedding, if you called 'em right now; there are planes going from Ohio to New York all the time." He cocked his head at her inquiringly. "Want to go back to Elisa's place and borrow her phone?"
Maggie sadly shook her head. "I can't do that. Derek, my family's pretty straight-laced; there's no way they'll accept me the way I am right now. And there's definitely no way they'll accept all the rest of this," as she waved a hand to indicate their home, "especially not on such short notice. No… I'll wait until we're all cured."
"And then show up on their doorstep years from now with a son-in-law and grandkid they've never even heard of?" Derek clearly doubted that was such a great idea either. "It's your choice, but… Remember what my mom said to me when Elisa brought them down here for the first time? It wasn't the first thing out of her mouth, but it was pretty darn close." In a falsetto imitation of his mother's voice, he said querulously, "Derek, why didn't you come to us with this before now? We've been worried sick about you; we didn't know if you were alive or dead!" Then he continued in his normal voice, "Your parents are probably thinking the same thing; they don't know if you're alive or dead right now. And not knowing is even harder than knowing. Do you really want to keep them wondering and worrying for the next five or six years?"
Maggie swallowed hard, then slowly nodded. In a very tiny voice, she said, "Come with me?"
"Always, sweets. Always."
Half an hour later, they were within view of Elisa's apartment. Maggie was shivering so hard she could barely fly straight, and Derek looked at her in concern. "You're not going to faint on me or anything, are you?"
"N-no. Derek, what if they think I'm lying, that I've gone insane or something?" She had no pictures or proof to send them, and certainly nothing she could send over the phone tonight!
Derek smiled wryly. "If they do, they'll definitely want to come out here, to get you off the streets and into a 'psych' ward if nothing else."
"That's not funny!"
"Sorry, honey. Anyway, we're here," as they landed on the balcony together. The lights were still on in the dining room, and Derek's mother was seated there at the dining room table with her sewing machine and yards of white fabric, evidently still working on Maggie's dress. Derek fumbled in his tunic pocket for the disabling code Elisa had given him, and quickly punched it in before tapping with a claw on the glass door.
Diane looked up, startled, and stared at them for a moment; then she quickly came to the door and let them in, with a finger to her lips to indicate the need for quiet. "Elisa got off work early; she's asleep now. What's happened down in the Labyrinth, to bring you up here? And no, you can't see Maggie's wedding dress before the ceremony!"
"Everything's fine, Mom, and I'm not here to get a peek at the dress, really! Maggie wants to borrow Elisa's phone… and call her folks in Ohio."
Diane's eyes went wide for just a moment before she nodded and showed them to the phone. Then she bustled into the bathroom, and came back out and handed Maggie a box of tissues. "Here, dear; you'll probably need these."
Maggie nodded jerkily, her whole body wracked with shivers, as she stood there staring at the phone. Derek snagged a chair from the dining room table and sat down in it, then pulled Maggie into his lap and gave her a hug, whispering, "You can do it, honey." He reached up and took the phone receiver off the wall, then handed it to her. "Do you remember the number?"
She did. She punched in the numbers, then waited, shivering on Derek's lap, as the phone rang on the other end. Finally, she spoke. "H-hi, Mom. It's me. …Maggie."
Though his ear was a good foot or more away from the phone receiver, Derek flinched and laid his ears back, as Maggie jerked in his lap and snatched the phone away from her ear. Even Diane could hear it, though faintly: a feminine voice shrieking at the top of her lungs, "Maggie?" Then, much fainter but still audible, as though the other woman was too excited to cover the mouthpiece, "Bill, it's Maggie! She's alive!"
Maggie broke down and began sobbing, as Derek hugged her close. "Mom, I'm so sorry I haven't called, I've been so afraid, and I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry…" Derek silently stroked her fur, his sharp ears hearing the sounds of sobs on the other end of the phone as well. Like most men, he really had no clue of what to do with a hysterically crying woman, and he looking pleadingly over at his mother.
Diane nodded and gave a wry smile as she came up to them again. "Here, Maggie; let me talk to her for a moment, while you blow your nose, okay?" Maggie nodded, and handed over the phone while Derek handed her a handful of tissues. She began weeping into them and honking her nose, while Diane said calmly but warmly, "Mrs. Reed? My name's Diane Maza. I'm… I'm the mother of the man who wants to marry your daughter, and persuaded her to call you tonight. She's wanted to before, but she's been too afraid that you'd reject her after what's happened to her, though none of it was her fault." During her little speech, Elisa came wandering out in her PJ's and rubbing her face, probably woken up by Maggie's sobs. She looked at them all curiously for a few moments, until she figured out what was going on by what her mother was saying on the phone. Her eyes went wide, and she sat down on a dining room chair with them.
The woman sounded frantic. "Why; what's happened to my little girl!"
"Well… her physical appearance has changed drastically. You might be unable to recognize her now. Lord knows, I didn't even recognize my own son at first, after it happened to him."
"What happened!" Diane could tell Mrs. Reed was only fractions away from screeching again.
"She was abducted right off the street and changed; mutated by, believe it or not, the proverbial mad scientist." That wasn't quite the truth, but she saw no reason right then to let them know that before Sevarius had approached her with his false words about a job offer, Maggie had been homeless, living on the street. "Mrs. Reed, I'm not kidding, I am perfectly serious, and right this minute I'm looking at your daughter and my son, and they're both covered in fur." Then she flinched and held the phone away from her own ear, as Mrs. Reed shrieked, "FUR!"
Abruptly another voice came on the line, an angry male one. "What's this about my daughter!"
"Mr. Reed? As I just told your wife, I'm the mother of a man who was mutated just as your daughter was. No, sir, I wish to God I was joking, but I'm not. Maggie and my son Derek, and another man who was abducted and mutated with them, are now covered with fur, looking like, well, six-to-seven-foot-tall felines. With wings."
Probably not quite believing her, they demanded to speak with Maggie again. Diane couldn't blame them, either; even after Elisa had told her and Peter about what had happened to Derek, she still hadn't quite believed it until she'd seen him with her own eyes. Still sniffling a little, Maggie told them that yes, she had fur now. And wings. And she looked like a triple-king-sized version of their old cat Snuggles. With wings. Bat wings, not bird wings. Yes, they really worked; she could fly. Well, not quite like an bird; it was really more like gliding, and she only did it at night. No, she didn't know where the mad scientist was who'd done this to her; they'd thought he was dead at least once, but he probably wasn't. And, um, Mrs. Maza wanted to talk to them again.
Diane took the phone again and said firmly, "Mr. and Mrs. Reed, as I said at the beginning, my son and your daughter have fallen in love despite all the horrors that have befallen them, and they want to get married tomorrow night. If you'll give me your address and the name of the nearest airport, I'm going to call a man who owes my family a favor, and have him arrange for round-trip tickets for you both to New York City tomorrow, so you can see your daughter with your own eyes, and be here for her wedding." Normally, she'd have refused to let Xanatos help with anything just on general principles, even though the Labyrinth residents had agreed to let him provide the food for the wedding reception tomorrow night. But this was a special occasion, so she'd tell Xanatos that he'd by God better provide them with first-class airline tickets, and five-star hotel accommodations (with a balcony view), and a top-of-the-line car rental, or he'd never hear the end of it.
At 3:15 p.m. local time, United Airlines Flight 267 from Cincinnati, Ohio arrived at JFK International Airport. William and Mary Reed disembarked with their carry-ons, the normally stolid, middle-aged and middle-class couple radiating more nervous energy than a pack of cheerleaders at their first Superbowl. Another middle-aged man met them at the gate, a man with pale blond hair and a nearly expressionless face, and one hand wrapped in bandages as he held up a placard with their names in the other hand. After verifying their identities and introducing himself, Owen Burnett picked up their baggage and escorted them to the awaiting limousine. Unsure of how much he could say in public, Mr. Reed said tentatively, "Are you… familiar with our daughter?"
"Yes, sir," was all Owen would say. "Further conversation should wait until we are en route." Once they were in the limo and moving, he silently picked up a trio of manila envelopes and passed them back to the passenger seats. Each envelope had a name written on it in felt-tip pen: Derek Maza. Claw. Maggie Reed.
With shaking hands, they opened the envelope with Maggie's name on it. Out came a series of photos, drawn from the laboratory files and from security photos taken when the mutates had lived at the castle. They had been informed over the phone, but they hadn't truly believed, and now both parents gasped in utter horror when they saw what their daughter had become. "Sh-she's a monster!"
Owen pulled over the limousine. His face still expressionless, he turned to face his passengers. "Mr. and Mrs. Reed, your daughter is not a monster. The term we use is 'mutate'. It is true she is no longer completely human, if DNA were the only true indicator of humanity. However, Maggie Reed still exists, still lives and breathes… and loves her parents. If you can not face that, can not overcome your evident revulsion and accept her new form, then I am authorized to buy you both return tickets to Ohio on the very next flight, and inform your daughter that her parents had missed their connecting flight to New York." He paused for a moment, then continued with his face still calm, but no longer completely expressionless, "However, if I may speak frankly, by refusing to accept her you will only justify her worst fears about herself and the life she is forced to lead now, and you may well lose your daughter forever." With that, he turned around again and silently waited, his eyes locked on the road.
David Xanatos should have been the one to make that speech, should have been the one to face these two people, more indirect victims of his criminal past. But the man who had previously faced down corporate execs, heads of state and even demigods, had been visibly reluctant to face two ordinary people from Ohio, whether or not they ever found out just what his role in her mutation had been. He had been getting ready to do so regardless, when Owen had quietly arranged for Alexander to spit up all over his shirt and jacket, and slipped out while he was still changing.
Now as he faced the road, Owen asked himself again just why he was showing such compassion for mere humans; in centuries past, Puck had always considered them more as playthings than real people. But he had been wearing this mortal guise for over fifteen years, often going for weeks or even months without expressing his powers and true form. That hadn't been a problem, back when it had been his own choosing, but now that it was no longer his choice, nearly every day he chafed at his restrictions and cursed Oberon in his soul. But over three thousand years of living had taught Puck that bitterness benefited no one, least of all himself, so he simply got on with the business of surviving as a mortal would. And he supposed that living day by day as a mortal was giving him more sympathy for them than ever before, hence his actions now. But he still had the Owen persona to maintain, so when Mrs. Reed finally said in a choked voice that they wanted to see their daughter, he simply put the limo in gear again and drove on.
The afternoon sun shone through the windows of Elisa's apartment. Sitting at the dining room table, Elisa, Beth and their parents were playing a quiet game of cards and sipping coffee and tea. Seated on the couch, which had been turned to face the sunlight streaming through the glass doors to the balcony, Derek and Maggie were curled up and dozing together.
For most of the day, trapped in the apartment by daylight, Maggie had been pacing nervously back and forth and chewing her claws, while Derek had tried to get her to hold still and finally had to settle for just keeping her from opening the windows and flying out in sheer panic. Elisa had tried to get them to take her bed to get some sleep while she curled up on the couch, but Maggie was just too nervous to sleep, and Derek claimed he just couldn't sleep without her lying next to him. (It was a romantic thing to say, but Elisa was willing to bet that the truth was, he was nervous too. After all, he was about to meet the 'in-laws'.)
When Beth and the elder Maza's had arrived two hours ago, Diane had taken one look at the nervous wreck Maggie had become, fixed her a cup of tea to calm her nerves and flat-out ordered her to sit down on the couch with Derek and not move for at least five minutes. Derek had nearly had to hold her down at first, but soon the combination of warmth from the sunlight streaming in the windows and her lover's arms wrapped around her had her nodding off. (Elisa privately wondered if her mother hadn't slipped a little something into the tea as well, but had decided not to ask.) Derek had fallen asleep even before she had, and Beth's whispered opinion was that the two of them looked utterly adorable curled up together, like two triple-king-sized housecats snoozing in the sunlight.
A knocking on the door startled the card players, even though they'd been expecting it for some time. The noise also woke up the sleeping mutates, and it took only 1.5 seconds for Maggie to go from eye-rubbing sleepiness to eyes-wide-and-fur-standing-out panic again. Derek hurriedly hustled her into the bedroom while Elisa got up to answer the door.
Owen Burnett was at the door. He gave Elisa a stiff nod, then stepped aside and gestured. A middle-aged couple hesitantly stepped into view, looking at her wide-eyed. She sized them up quickly as two people also short on sleep and only a few steps away from a nervous breakdown (no great surprise, considering the last twelve hours), and smiled at them reassuringly. "Hi! I'm Elisa Maza. Come on in!"
They hesitantly walked through the door, while Owen murmured that he would be waiting for them in the limo and quietly disappeared. Mrs. Reed was clutching her purse to her chest, knuckles white with strain, while Mr. Reed kept a similar white-knuckled grip on a manila envelope. He said hoarsely as he stared at her, "T-the driver said he was taking us to see Maggie…"
"She's here," Diane said as she bustled up to them. "I'm Diane Maza; we spoke on the phone last night. You'll see Maggie in a moment, but perhaps you'd like to sit down first," as she and Elisa guided them to the couch that Maggie and Derek had just vacated moments before.
In the bedroom, Maggie was clutching Derek's fur and mewling, whimpering words he couldn't quite make out. He stroked her back and wings, whispering, "Sshhh, sshhh… It'll be okay, it'll be okay. Sshhh… I'm here, I'll help you get through this. Sweet Maggie, lovely lady, I'm right here, nothing bad's going to happen. Sshhh…"
Out in the living room, Bill and Mary Reed were sitting on the edge of the couch, wound so tight that Diane privately bet herself that if she said 'Boo!' they'd shoot right through the ceiling. Mary quavered, "W-where is she? Where's our little girl?"
"In the bedroom. She's as nervous as you are." But she definitely was not little anymore, not at over six feet in height. "Mrs. Reed, my family has been through this before, with our son Derek. It's very important for you to understand this: no matter what she looks like now, she's still Maggie on the inside." Then Diane turned to the bedroom and raised her voice, calling out, "Maggie?"
Her son's voice came out instead, sounding somewhat muffled. "Uh, can you give us a minute more? Maggie, um, needs to blow her nose."
Abruptly Mrs. Reed stood up from the couch, her face and voice suddenly perfectly, eerily calm. "I've got tissues," she announced, as she marched into the bedroom with purse in hand. A mother always had tissues ready for a daughter who needed to blow her nose.
When she walked into the bedroom, the first thing she saw was a huge leathery monstrosity with no head but four legs, that was both whimpering pitifully and whispering something. Then the leathery surfaces shifted, becoming wings that unwrapped themselves from around two furry bodies, as two feline heads turned to stare at her. The huge black—whatever—swallowed hard, while the golden one started shivering uncontrollably. Then it snuffled. Mary finished her reach into her purse, and pulled out a handful of tissues. "Here," as she handed them to… her daughter. That thing was her daughter…
Down in the Labyrinth, Claw paced back and forth, silently worrying. Maggie and Derek had sent a message down with Mrs. Maza before dawn, saying that Maggie's parents were coming to town, and they were staying at Elisa's apartment in order to meet them. Claw could understand why; meeting them away from the Labyrinth kept the secrecy of their home secure, in case things went bad. But if things really did go badly, there would be no way for Maggie and Derek to get away in broad daylight without being seen by the general populace. Considering what they knew about the Quarrymen and their fanaticism, it was a sure bet that any Q-man who saw them would undoubtedly shoot first, and ask later what gargoyles were doing out and about during the day.
As he paced, he accidentally kicked at a pencil stub that had rolled off the rickety old table he used as a desk. It rolled across the floor, and seeing it reminded him of what had happened three nights ago, when he and Dana had undergone a pre-marital counseling session with Father Sullivan. The priest had gently but firmly insisted that each couple have at least one premarital counseling session with him. As he had said and signed to them all, it would help to clear up misconceptions about each other and their expectations of marriage, and gain a better understanding of each other, and even of themselves, before committing their lives to each other. "As Benjamin Franklin once said," Father Sullivan had quoted with a twinkle in his good eye, " 'A man should keep his eyes wide open before marriage… and half-shut afterwards.' "
For Dana and Claw, Father Sullivan had begun the session by giving each of them a sheet of paper and a pencil, and told them to each write down ten things they had never before told their affianced, whether they were proud or ashamed or completely unaffected by whatever each secret was. "I won't look at your papers, unless you specifically show them to me, though Dana knows well that I respect all secrets of the confessional. Before you begin writing, remember this… secrets can build a wall between you and your beloved. And if you take that wall down yourself, brick by brick, it will likely be better for both of you than if some improbable, completely unexpected event later on exposes your secret and blows the wall to rubble and ruin."
Those ten sentences had been the hardest that Claw had ever written; he'd broken two pencils from sheer stress before finishing, and once he'd been only a heartbeat away from shredding the page and running from the room. But he'd eventually written them down, and had swallowed hard before handing his sheet to Dana. And he'd seen that Dana had been blinking back tears, when she'd slowly handed her sheet to him.
Secrets had been told on both sides, that long night. They had cried, both together and at different times, and had become angry and amused and exasperated by turns. But by the end of that session, though he felt somewhat like he'd gone three rounds with Fang again, Claw was even more convinced that Dana was the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. Judging by the alternate fierceness and tenderness with which Dana had hugged and kissed him, she too was convinced of his rightness for her.
At session's end, Father Sullivan was also satisfied that this marriage would last and prosper. But he had insisted on making one minor change to the proposed wedding ceremony, just one added phrase that would, incidentally, blow one secret wide open. Claw hadn't been happy about that, but the priest had shrugged, "It's either that, or we delay the ceremony until after you're converted and re-baptized as a Catholic. I can not in good conscience conduct a ceremony with an element of falsehood in it." Claw had finally sighed and agreed.
Tonight, a part of his past life would be exposed, and he couldn't help wondering if Derek, his best guy friend in this new life, would look at him differently after his secret was out. He hoped not; after all, it didn't really affect his life now in any way, at least not directly. But still…
His musings were interrupted by an absolutely horrendous yodeling coming down the corridor, and he couldn't help smiling. Dana couldn't hear how her own voice sounded, but she knew from what others told her that she sounded very weird when she tried to speak the way a normal person would. Being a proud woman in her own way, she therefore didn't speak out loud if she could avoid it, preferring to write her words down if she had to communicate with someone who didn't know sign language. But sometimes, when she was especially happy, she would dance down the corridors, and sing. Sort of. Her 'tunes' were largely without intelligible words or melody, and an unkind resident had once compared the sounds to an oversexed gander doing an unspeakable thing with an indignant tomcat, but Claw had come to love every cracked note of it.
Dana came into his room, grinning from ear to ear and carrying a cardboard box in her hands. She proudly set it down in front of him, and he flipped open the flaps to look inside. Inside were the bouquets Dana had promised she would bring for the wedding, and a few other items as well. Dana lifted the bouquets out and set them aside with great care, signing that she would take them down to the main kitchens shortly, to keep cool in the refrigerator until the ceremony. Claw pointed to the remaining items and perked a questioning eyebrow at her, and she grinned even wider and signed back, Wedding gifts! This side ours, that side Maggie & Derek's.
Claw picked up one of the gifts intended for him and her; a pair of hand-dipped candles tied together with a ribbon. Underneath it lay a polished wooden box with a design of roses carved into the top. Next to that lay a… well, a gizmo of some sort, though for the life of him he couldn't tell what at first glance; it too had been polished shiny-bright and had a ribbon tied around it. Underneath that was a book of poetry, obviously old and well-used but treated with love. He signed to her, From your family? She nodded, and he signed, Will I ever meet them?
She grinned even wider, and signed back, Today they finally said okay; I take you to see them on our honeymoon!
Elisa heaved a huge sigh as she shut the door to her apartment and leaned against it. "Well, that probably went better than we had a right to expect."
"But it still sucked gravel," Derek said bluntly as he sat down on the couch again, pulling Maggie down with him. The door had just shut on Mr. and Mrs. Reed, and on nearly two hours of conversation that had veered from near-shouting hysterics to quiet, rational discussion to near-shouting hysterics again. The door had also shut on Peter and Diane Maza, who were going to follow the limo to the Reed's hotel, see the couple from Ohio settled in and then take them down to the Labyrinth, for what the Mazas all knew would be another series of shocks. It was understood by all that Derek and Maggie would have to stay here instead of giving the tour themselves, until sunset made it safer for them to fly home.
" 'Sucked gravel'?" Beth said with a quirked eyebrow from where she sat in one of the dining room chairs, which had been brought into the living room when the couch had been turned back around so everyone could be seated and see each other, comfortable in body if not in mind and heart.
"Our bro has been hanging around Brooklyn and Lexington too long," Elisa said dryly.
"Who do you think taught them how to play poker?" Derek shifted around to better embrace Maggie, who was curling up on his lap and burying her face in his shoulder. "It'll all work out, though, honey. We've just got to give them time, that's all."
"Sure," Maggie said dully. "Just more time. That's all." They could tell she didn't believe it. All during their talks, the elder Reeds had kept staring at her and Derek, but could never quite bring themselves to touch her, let alone give her a hug…
Beth shifted to look out the window, and sighed. "Remember that old saw about stormy weather meaning the gods are arguing? Looks like they're having as bad an afternoon as we've had." During the last two hours the sun had vanished behind dark gray clouds, and now it was pouring down rain with occasional streaks of lightning.
Derek took one look over his shoulder at the weather outside and said, "Good. C'mon, honey, let's go home," as he gently urged Maggie off him so he could get up
"Huh?" Beth said intelligently. "But it's not sunset yet—and it's pouring rain outside!"
"Exactly. And when it's raining this hard, damn few people bother to look up. We're going to sneak home, for a few hours to ourselves. If the parents call here, tell them we're asleep in the bedroom or something, okay?" as Derek opened the balcony door and beckoned to Maggie. She looked reluctant, but he wheedled, "C'mon, I know it'll be cold and wet, but we'll warm up again once we get home…"
"Here," as Elisa hurriedly grabbed the jar of hot cocoa mix from the cupboard and offered it to her brother. "After this afternoon, you deserve to indulge yourselves a little."
"Thanks, Sis. See you in a few hours," as they jumped off the balcony together, and vanished into the rain.
Beth sighed as she watched them go. "Hell of a prelude to the wedding, huh? But after this, it can only get better, right?"
Elisa kept her lips shut. She was absolutely not going to give the traditional reply, that things couldn't get much worse; if she'd learned one thing over the last two years, it was that saying so was an invitation to the gods to make it much, much worse.
After finishing her tea, Beth left as well, giving Elisa a little more time to catch up on her own sleep. She curled up on her bed and sighed, fingering the stone shard she kept hidden beneath her pillow, for several seconds before closing her eyes.
Sunset came to the city eventually, even if still hidden behind storm-dark clouds. The gargoyles awoke on their perches with their customary roars and shard-flinging stretches, and with their customary grumbles about waking up to rain. They didn't chill nearly as easily as humans did, but they were none too fond of foul weather either; it made for limited visibility when flying, trickier air currents and reduced lift, and in Griff's case, soaking and smelly feathers as well. Lexington summed their general disgust up with one word: "Yuck!"
"Look on the bright side; the wedding's indoors," Xanatos said from his position behind their perches, standing there in his designer raincoat and umbrella, next to a similarly clad King Arthur. Between them rested a small pile of boxes, wrapped in white and silver wrapping paper and again in plastic bags. "I've got some stuff here you can give to the happy couples as wedding presents, and there's more wrapping paper and plastic wrap inside if you've found anything yourself that you want to give them."
"Oh, good! I found a book of poetry that I want to give them," Angela said as she dashed inside.
"If you've never done it before, ask Fox to show you how to wrap it!" Xanatos called after her, before turning back to the others with a wry smile. "Want me to go over what's in the boxes, so you won't be too surprised if they open them in front of you?"
"That would be good," Goliath said dryly. "I assume you mean for us to pretend we picked out these gifts for them?"
Xanatos' smile became even more wry. "If you don't, they're probably apt to burn them before opening. Even after developing a cure, I'm still not the Maza family's favorite billionaire." There was no need to reply to that; Derek's mutation was the greatest harm done to the family, but it was hardly the only reason they had to distrust him. There were also a few minor matters such as the upgraded Pack, the entire city turning to stone for two nights in a row, the Arizona encounter… "I'll be there with the food at the reception; at least they're letting me participate that much."
"We'll be glad to deliver these, but you know as well as they'll know that there's no way for us to have gotten them ourselves," Brooklyn pointed out as he hefted one of the boxes.
"Au contraire," as he pulled out a piece of plastic which he then handed to Goliath with a flourish. "It's perfectly amazing what can be bought over the Internet, with nothing but a handy-dandy credit card. Like this one here, issued today to one G. G. Wyvern. Five thousand dollar spending limit, so don't go too wild with it," he added as Goliath looked it over curiously.
"G.G.?" Broadway asked curiously, scratching his scalp.
Xanatos coughed into his fist and admitted, "Garth Goyle. Hey, we all have our less inspired moments," he said defensively as everyone around him groaned.
The gargoyles landed next to the Labyrinth's entrance just as Elisa's familiar Fairlane drove up. Matt and Elisa got out together, waving as they dashed to the shelter of the entrance so they could shed their rain gear. "Hi, guys!"
Amidst the chorus of greetings from the other gargoyles, Griff said cheerfully, "Hallo! I must say, Elisa, you look right fetching in that dress!" as he set King Arthur on his feet. "Introduce us to your friend, won't you?"
"Sure," Elisa said with a gesture to Matt, trying not to blush at Griff's cheerful comment about her dressy attire. So she didn't normally wear dresses or other feminine clothing; did that mean everybody had to comment on it! Matt had been far worse about it, when she had picked him up earlier; he'd done a double-take at her, then demanded to know who she was, how she'd gotten her hands on Detective Maza's car and whether or not she was free for dinner later on. She shoved all that out of her head again as she said, "This is Matt Bluestone, my partner on the police force. Matt, this Griff, from the London clan of gargoyles… and King Arthur. The real King Arthur, from Camelot, and if you make a single Monty Python crack all night I swear I'll kill you myself."
Matt had gaped at King Arthur, then at her, then at the rest of the gargoyles, who were all nodding to indicate that he really was the genuine article. Then he looked at King Arthur again, who gave a regal nod to him before saying wryly, "To answer the five most popular questions: Yes, Camelot, Guinevere, Merlin, the Round Table, Lancelot and Mordred all truly existed, once as living and breathing as you are now. No, of all of them, only Merlin may be still alive today, and his whereabouts are unknown. Yes, Sir Griff and I are questing, seeking my old tutor and advisor. Yes, I wield Excalibur, though it stays sheathed tonight; 'tis most unseemly to draw steel at a wedding." Then he heaved a great sigh, and admitted, "And yes, I have seen this 'movie' by 'Monty Python', to which Elisa just now referred; the London clan insisted on showing it to me one night. And while I most earnestly desire to beat Mr. Python to within an inch of his life for the mockery, it's not the first time a king and his kingdom have been mocked by a court jester. So I am willing to let the matter rest, if you will likewise refrain." Matt finally reached up and physically shoved his jaw back into place, then silently nodded.
Just before they entered the Labyrinth, Elisa and Goliath pulled all the other clan members aside for a quick but serious talk about the clones. "Look, guys, if I can accept Delilah, then you can accept your clones as people in their own right," Elisa said seriously. "They didn't ask to be cloned any more than you asked to be hatched, but they're here, and they're learning a lot more than just 'Obey Thailog' lately."
Goliath added, "Talon tells me they're starting to patrol the Labyrinth, protecting their territory just as any gargoyle would. And the humans down here have largely accepted them already. Can we do any less?"
Hudson nodded, as did Angela, but the Trio still looked uneasy. Brooklyn admitted, "I can maybe handle four of 'em, but don't ask me to talk to Malibu tonight, okay? He still just creeps me out too much. Maybe after dealing with the others for a while, though, I'll be able to stop seeing him as a bad copy of me."
Goliath nodded slowly. "Fair enough. Each of you may discreetly avoid contact with your own clone tonight, but I expect you to at least make polite conversation with the others. And if your clone comes up and wishes to talk to you, then I expect you to at least be civil in return. No insults, no snide remarks, just treat them as strangers from another clan. Because that is exactly what they are, now; part of Talon's clan." Everyone nodded acceptance, and they caped their wings and went inside.
About thirty feet down the tunnel, Matt snapped his fingers as he remembered something, and turned to Broadway. "By the way, if you'll swing by my place when the reception's over, you can pick up my copy of 'A Taste for Mayhem.' I finished it two days ago."
Broadway perked up and said, "Great! I hope it's as good as 'A Dish to Die for.' Boy, can that Martha DuBois write a great book!"
"If you ask me, it's even better than 'Dish'. And the preview chapter in the back already has me salivating for the next one, 'Sweet Lies'." At Elisa's questioning look, Matt explained, "While you were on your 'World Tour', I got Broadway hooked on Martha DuBois. She's a mystery writer who sets her stories in New Orleans, and the two protagonists are a private detective and a master chef, one of them always either getting the other into trouble or helping to bail the other out. It's the most realistic yet humorous series I've ever read, with a 'Big Easy' flavor."
"And at the end of each book, Martha includes recipes for all the dishes she mentions in her story!" Broadway added with enthusiasm. "That's where I got that recipe for oyster stew from."
"You should pass that on to Maggie afterwards," Elisa commented as they walked together. "Maybe it'll be a better way to satisfy her oyster cravings than just scarfing down can after can of them."
They found most of the Labyrinth's residents gathered in the main kitchen/dining room, across from the chapel that had been prepared for the ceremony. Claw, Derek and Maggie were there as well, and were introduced to Matt and the newcomers from England.
After making friends with gargoyles, then just tonight meeting Griff and King Arthur, Matt Bluestone didn't even blink when he was introduced to the mutates. He simply thanked them very courteously for letting him come to their wedding, and handed over the silver-wrapped boxes he'd brought with him. It had cost a few hours of his time and a fair chunk of his last paycheck to find, buy and gift-wrap them on such short notice, but after what Elisa had told him about their living conditions last night, Matt figured that a pair of 'wedding-ring' quilts would be good wedding gifts for both couples. (He silently thanked his Irish mother again, for once telling him that gifts of warmth and romance were usually better than extra blenders.)
When they were introduced to Derek and Maggie, Griff stopped dead in his tracks and stared at Maggie with his mouth open, and almost with his tongue hanging out. After handing over their gifts to the couples and kissing Maggie's hand while murmuring a compliment to her, Arthur straightened up and gave his knight a quick and subtle jab in the ribs. Griff came out of the seeming daze he was in to say, "Oh, terribly sorry! But… Miss, I simply have to tell you, you are the loveliest creature I've ever seen! An utter vision, an angel truly sent from the heavens to grace our drab existence with your beauty!"
Maggie drew back a bit in surprise and embarrassment, and ducked her head, but couldn't help smiling a little. Griff was simply being too enthusiastic, almost worshipful, to be just giving the customary compliments to the bride. She knew that Derek loved her, and she knew that Brooklyn had once been attracted to her, but she had always thought that the latter was simply because there were no other winged females around at the time. Could she really be beautiful, by anybody's standards? Judging by the earnest expression on Griff's face, and the jealous glower on Derek's as he and Claw both growled warnings at him, evidently so.
Arthur muttered to Griff as he tugged him by an elbow over to the chapel, "Complimenting the bride at her wedding is right and proper, but attempting to seduce her away before the ceremony--or after it--is not the sort of behavior I expect from my knights!"
"Sorry, old boy," Griff said apologetically, even as he craned and twisted his neck for another glimpse of Maggie. "It's just that she'd put any of my rookery sisters to shame; they'd be wearing sackcloth and ashes after meeting her! She's just so… so…" He seemed almost helpless to stop the shrill wolf-whistle that issued forth.
Arthur nearly jerked Griff off his feet as he hurried him away, Maggie giggled even as she blushed under her fur, and Derek complained to Goliath, "Did you really have to bring him along?"
Just as Griff and Arthur went away, Diane came running up, looking stressed and nearly dragging Dana with her by one arm. "There you are! I've been looking all over for you," she said accusingly to the mutates, who suddenly looked both apprehensive and somewhat guilty; the power of motherhood again. "The ceremony is in less than an hour, and you're still standing about talking instead of getting ready! You two boys go to Claw's room, where your suits are waiting, while you two come with me," as she grabbed Maggie by an arm and hustled her and Dana off in another direction. Derek and Claw took one look at each other and decided that it would behoove them to do as she said, less they face her wrath again, and apologized to the others as they quickly padded away.
"Hey, Sis!" Beth said as she came trotting up seconds later. "Have you seen Maggie? Mom's--"
"She just came with Dana and got her, and they all went thataway," Elisa said as she pointed. "She said it was time to get them into their gowns."
"Mom's really on the warpath tonight, ain't she?" Beth commented.
"She's been like this for the last week, ever since they announced their engagement," Elisa said with a roll of her eyes.
Beth rolled her eyes as well. "If she'll be anything like this when either of us ties the knot, remind me to elope."
Rather than reply to that, Elisa asked, "Where's Dad?"
"He's still with Father Sullivan, helping the Reeds get a handle on all this," Beth said as she pointed off in another direction. "They freaked out big-time when the gargoyles down here woke up, though they were already pretty freaked just from seeing Maggie and our bro. I know for a fact that we handled Derek's mutation and the gargoyles better than they're handling all this."
Elisa reminded her, "You had a few months in between seeing Derek with fur, and meeting the people he'd been remodeled after. Just so we don't let anything slip by accident, are we still all agreed on what not to talk about in front of them?"
Beth nodded. "We're still blaming everything on Doctor Sleazeball Sevarius, instead of Rich Sleazeball Xanatos." Letting Xanatos off the hook had not gone down well with the Maza family, but Derek himself had asked them to do it. If the Reeds decided to make a public fuss after all and tried to sue Xanatos over recompense for what had been done to Maggie, it would let out a lot of secrets that neither the Maza's nor the Labyrinth residents were ready to share with the world at large. "And we're also keeping quiet about the mutate cure they developed already, but darned if I know why we're keeping that a secret!"
Elisa sighed. "I know, it's weird keeping such great news from them, but Maggie insisted. I guess she's afraid they'd try to talk her into taking it right now, even though it'd kill the baby."
"So does that mean we can talk about the baby after all?" Lexington asked. To the gargoyles, that was even better news than a cure, though they knew better than to say so in front of the humans.
"Better not," Elisa said with a shake of her head. "Not until we know for sure that Maggie and Derek have told them already."
The swinging doors to the kitchen opened again, but this time the gargoyle clones came in. Absurdly, someone had convinced the males to wear neckties tonight; Malibu sported a red bow tie with his loincloth, Hollywood and Brentwood both wore black bow ties, and Burbank wore a regular black tie tucked into his jerkin. Somebody had also found a dress for Delilah, a loose-fitting bright red-and-white Hawaiian muumuu, cut extra-low in the back for her wings. The males all looked uncomfortable, but Delilah was practically dancing in her outfit, obviously proud as can be to have such fine clothing. But she stopped dead cold, eyes wide and wings flared, as soon as she saw the clan on the other side of the room. The other clones spotted them at the same time, and also froze with wings flared, clearly wondering whether to fight or flee.
It was the moment of truth, and Goliath was proud to see that that his clan handled it well. Hudson stepped forward with his wings caped about him, and one hand stretched out in friendship. "Malibu, isn't it?" he asked Brooklyn's clone genially. "We weren't properly introduced last time; they call me Hudson. 'Tis a fine occasion we're gathering for, wouldn't ye say?"
Malibu blinked at him once or twice, then gingerly brought a hand up to shake hands with him. "Here, like this, lad," Hudson said cheerfully as he corrected the grip and clasped forearms with him. "This is the traditional way. 'Tis how warriors and protectors greet each other, and I'm hearing that ye're learning to be protectors down here."
"Yes, we are! We protect Labyrinth!" Malibu said eagerly, his beak splitting in a wide grin.
That broke the ice, and the others were soon starting conversations as well. Bronx made the rounds, sniffing each clone in turn and muttering doggish grumbles, while Lexington decided to talk to Hollywood, and Broadway talked to Brentwood. Angela went over for a conversation with Burbank, who was holding his kitten protectively out of Bronx's range, while Brooklyn walked up to Delilah. "Um, hi there, Delilah; like Hudson said, we weren't properly introduced before. I'm Brooklyn. Nice dress!"
"You like it?" Delilah preened, smoothing the fabric of the muumuu against her thighs.
"Yeah, it's very bright and cheerful, and red looks good on you!" Brooklyn was a little surprised to find out he meant those words, as he reached to clasp forearms with her. She really did look great, almost as beautiful as Angela. In fact, she was really as beautiful as Angela, maybe even more beautiful in her own way. Elisa had made a great gargoyle that one time, thanks to Titania's mirror; it was easy to imagine that Delilah, instead of being a clone-daughter, was really a gargoyle sister of hers.
"Thank you! Dana found it for me. She found ties for my brothers, too," as she gestured at the other clones. Then she looked quizzically at him, saying, "Why you not wearing a tie? This is 'special occasion', everyone says so."
Brooklyn blushed maroon. "Uh, well, we didn't know ties were required at this affair. But Talon said it was okay for us to attend anyway."
"Talon is a good ma-leader," Delilah hastily corrected herself. "I am glad he is so happy with Maggie." She leaned closer and whispered excitedly, "Did you know Maggie has a baby inside her?"
He whispered back, "Yeah, we heard. Great news, isn't it? I haven't seen a kid with wings in…" Just then, he caught a whiff of Delilah's scent, since she was standing so close just now. His eyes went wide, and he automatically leaned closer and sniffed again, audibly this time. Delilah drew back, puzzled and a little offended at his behavior, but then he drew back and looked at her wide-eyed, stammering, "Y-you're… that's impossible!"
He'd said the last bit loud enough to draw attention from the others, and several people frowned at him, gargoyles and clones alike. Goliath scowled at him, thinking his remark had something to do with her half-human heritage, but it changed to a frown of confusion when Brooklyn said in a strangled voice, "Can one of you guys come here, right now, and tell me if my nose is lying to me or not?"
Lexington was closer, so he walked up and said in mild embarrassment, "Pardon me," as he leaned in and sniffed. And leaped nearly a foot off the floor in surprise, to fall back on his tail with a hard thump. "S-she's…she's…" At the same time Bronx, having checked out all the other gargoyle clones in the room, came over to Delilah. Bronx stopped dead in his tracks when he was still three feet away, his fan-shaped ears standing straight out from his head; then he shoved in closer to snuffle at Delilah's legs and tail. Then he began excitedly running around in circles, barking his head off.
Brooklyn nodded dazedly. "Yep, you smell it too. But how? I mean…" He shook his head in confusion, then jerked in realization and said to Delilah, "Your genes! You must have a human cycle, or something like that."
Delilah frowned at him, asking "Human cycle? Like motorcycle?"
By this time the rest of the gargoyles and clones were gathering around, and Broadway leaned in to take a curious sniff. Then he drew back, too, his eyes wide as saucers. "Jalapena! She's…"
Delilah was rapidly getting pissed off, evidence that she had inherited a quick temper from one or both 'parents.' "I'm what! Half-human? Well, duh!" she sneered. "Everyone knows that!"
"Aye, we knew that, lass," Hudson said slowly. "But we didn't know ye're breeding as well."
Goliath had been deliberately hanging back, knowing that he made Delilah especially uncomfortable, but now he shoved his way through the crowd. "She's what!" Uncaring for the moment of the way Delilah twitched when he drew near, he leaned in close enough to sniff as well. Then he stumbled back, his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open in shock.
Elisa stepped quickly out of his way before he backed right over her, then shoved her way through the gap he'd just left to Delilah's side, glaring at everyone else. "Guys, back off! You're upsetting her! Delilah, honey, it's okay, whatever it is," as she put an arm around her. The other clones formed a circle facing outwards, instinctively protecting their 'rookery sister' in distress, and glared at their counterparts in warning.
Brooklyn spread his hands out in apology, saying, "I'm sorry, Delilah, but you really surprised us!"
Angela stared at Burbank and Brentwood, asking, "Didn't you guys notice the difference in her?"
"What difference?" Brentwood asked angrily. "Delilah same now as last night, as all last nights!"
"Aye, she likely would seem that way, if it happened as soon as they were, er, hatched, right before the battle," Hudson mused. "Then that'd be… six weeks. Hmmm…" He cleared his throat, then asked with embarrassment evident in his voice, "Delilah, lass, does yuir old tunic fit you anymore?"
Delilah instantly burst into tears. Elisa was still mystified, but she let Delilah sob into her shoulder, while the male clones gathered even closer around. It was hard for Elisa to make out the words, but Delilah was sobbing about how Hudson was right, her old tunic didn't fit her anymore, she was becoming so fat… And finally, for Elisa, the light bulb clicked. "Oh… my… God." She stared down at her clone… her pregnant clone.
Delilah was still crying, when Elisa stroked her hair and said softly, "Delilah, you're not getting fat. You're just going to have a baby. I mean, an egg. I think," she admitted, as Delilah raised her head to look at her wide-eyed.
"A baby? Like Maggie?" Delilah looked down at herself in amazement, running a hand down the front of her dress. Every gargoyle eye in the room followed that hand down, and clearly saw the gentle curve of her abdomen outlined underneath the dress as she drew her hand across. "There's a baby inside me?"
"Not quite, lass," Hudson said, blushing. "There's an egg inside you, that'll hatch into a, well, a baby gargoyle a decade after you lay it."
"You, uh, remember what you told me and Dana, about what you and Thailog did when you were alone?" Elisa said, blushing as well. "Well, that, um, started the egg growing."
"Thailog made the egg?" Delilah wonderingly patted the curve again, then caressed it lovingly. "Little Thailog." She smiled beatifically.
Elisa wasn't the only one to close her eyes and swallow hard. After a few long moments of silence, Hudson said with determined cheer, " 'Tis new life, and that's always to be celebrated! Right, lads?"
"Right!" Brooklyn said with just as determined a smile. "Hey, we've got proof positive already that kids are usually different than their parents," as he gestured at Angela to illustrate his point. "But we're here to celebrate a wedding, right? So, let's get this show on the road already!"
In their dressing room, Claw and Derek were putting on their modified tuxedos, and Derek was putting out a nonstop monologue of complaints. "I tell you, Claw, if it weren't for Maggie and my Mom I'd just burn this thing and go out in my fur," he grumbled as he folded his wings tightly shut and stuck his arms straight back, so Claw could fit the sleeves and back slots of his jacket over them. "This is downright embarrassing; I haven't needed help getting dressed since I was five!" Claw huffed in agreement as he fitted the jacket on Derek, then brought together the zippers hidden in the back slots and zipped them shut under his wings. "At least we got her to take those stupid flaps off when she put in the wing slots. Can you believe it, she wanted us in 'white tie and tails', even after I told her how glad we were to get rid of those damn tails when they started coming off from lousy circulation!"
Claw grunted in agreement, though at the time that had happened he'd been terrified. As the first mutated, he'd been the first to notice when his tail began itching like crazy, then shriveling and blackening as the fur came off in clumps. When Fang's tail began doing the same, Xanatos had concluded that there was a flaw in Sevarius' design, but thankfully only their tails had been affected. He'd brought in a surgeon to dock them all off and save them trouble later on, since they hadn't been usefully prehensile tails anyway.
"And either this shirt collar or this stupid bow tie is too small; I can hardly breathe!" Derek continued on his litany of complaints, as he squeezed in a finger and tried in vain to give himself a little more breathing room. "Well, at least the pants fit okay, sort of," as he nervously smoothed out the fabric of the trousers, which conformed to his felinoid legs and fitted just loosely enough to allow freedom of movement. It was a little embarrassing to realize that this was the first time either of them had worn pants in nearly two years. "And at least she isn't trying to make us wear shoes, like even Shaquille O'Neal's shoes would fit either of us anymore. All right, let's get you into your outfit. 'Monkey suits', sheesh…"
Claw knew as Derek helped him dress that his friend's complaints came more from nervousness than being truly disgruntled. He supposed wryly that if he could talk, he'd be chattering nonstop, too, or maybe clammed up even tighter than normal and shaking like a leaf in a breeze. As it was, Derek's monologue provided just enough irritation to counterbalance his own nervousness, though he had to keep focusing on his wings to keep them from shivering slightly; this was probably the most important night of his life.
They were getting married! Married, after he'd resigned himself to a life of silent solitude and misery. If 1994, the year he'd been mutated, had been the worst year of his life, 1996 was turning out to be the best year ever. Had it really been only six months since Dana had walked into their lives and into his heart? And now they were getting married! His wings started shivering again, and he was reminded to hold them still as Derek fitted his arms into the sleeves and his wings through the slots cut into the triple-extra-large white linen shirt.
"All right; guess we're as ready as we're gonna get," Derek said gruffly a while later as he stepped back, putting down the mirror he'd been holding so Claw could adjust his bow tie. He picked up the plain gold ring intended for Maggie's finger, while Claw picked up the ring for Dana, and they carefully tucked them into their pockets. His father had balked a little at using the last of the money from Derek's old bank account to buy rings for all four of them, but Derek had insisted on it; he wanted this to be as much like a normal wedding as possible for Maggie's sake, but it wouldn't have been right if only he and she had rings to give at a double wedding. (It would have been nice if they'd been able to go and pick out engagement rings, too, but as Maggie had wryly pointed out, an engagement as short as theirs didn't usually merit an engagement ring as well.) He nervously patted the ring pocket once, then squared his shoulders and took a deep breath. "Let's go out and face the music… Listen, you keep me from running and I'll do the same for you, okay?"
"Hol' shdill!" Diane Maza commanded through a mouthful of bobby pins as she stood on a stepstool, so she could work on Maggie's hairdo. Maggie and Dana were expressly forbidden to sit down, lest they wrinkle the dresses they had recently donned. They had sensibly dressed Dana in her gown first, so she could help Diane get Maggie into her more elaborate gown, and now, over an hour after starting their preparations, they were almost done. "Ahmos' go'ih… Dil'yur head lef'…" Finally she sighed, and spat the last two bobby pins out with a tired but satisfied smile. "Perfect, if I do say so myself." Dana agreed with a thumb's up and a wide grin. Enunciating clearly so Dana could read her lips, Diane said, "Now, you ladies wait in here until I make sure the others are seated; you can come out to the hallway when I knock three times on the door. Then give me time to get to my seat, and come in on cue; Dana, just keep an eye on Maggie, she knows the tune I mean," she said just before she bustled out.
Left alone for the moment, Dana and Maggie just looked at each other. Then Dana smiled wryly and asked with her hands, Nervous?
Maggie smiled just as wryly and signed back, Terrified. Threw up three times today. Don't know whether done by baby or butterflies in stomach.
You tell parents about baby?
Maggie sighed. Not yet. They still too upset by fur, wings. Really, she was lucky they hadn't run screaming into the streets at first sight of her, but their unspoken horror had still depressed her for hours; it had taken a lot of 'emergency loving' by Derek to bring her back out of it. And, she admitted to herself, Griff's recent and extremely positive reaction to her had helped some as well. She signed to Dana, Maybe in few weeks.
Dana perceived her incipient depression and insisted, Time for happy thoughts! Then she grinned slyly and signed, Think of wedding night!
Maggie thought wryly that if she were still virgin, that would probably make her even more of a nervous wreck, but since that circumstance no longer applied… She thought about the especially tender way Derek had treated her that afternoon, his whispers and caresses and… By golly, it was time to get married!
In the chapel, Ramone had already done his crooning version of 'The Wedding Song' for the attendees, and they had also gone through all the classical music Beth had brought for the prelude to the ceremony. Beth shrugged when she still saw no sign of her mother or the brides, and stuck 'Pachelbel's Canon in D' into the tape player again. Derek and Claw were visibly fidgeting by the altar, and several members of the audience were impatiently shifting on their benches as well; the ceremony should have started nearly a half-hour ago. Only Father Sullivan was a rock of calm strength, murmuring to the grooms that delays were to be expected; in the hundreds of weddings he had performed in his years of service to the Lord, he estimated that less than three percent of them went perfectly on time. "I'm sure all is well, gentlemen; they're just working to make themselves even more beautiful for you. Just be patient a while longer, and you will see…"
Just then Diane Maza took a quick peek inside, seeing that nearly everybody was seated, ready and waiting; she went back out before anybody could grab her to ask about the delay, and knocked rapidly three times on the door to the brides' dressing room.
Inside the room, Maggie jumped a little, then mouthed to Dana, Show time! Dana still hadn't quite gotten the knack of reading felinoid lips, but she got the idea when Maggie picked up her bouquet.
Diane hurried back into the chapel, and took the seat her husband had been patiently saving for her. Peter whispered, "Are they ready now?"
"Give them ten seconds to get into position," Diane whispered back, looking at her watch. And in eight seconds, she lifted a hand to cue Beth, stationed next to the stereo.
Beth took her cue from her mother, and popped in and started playing the tape for Lohengrin's 'Bridal Chorus.' Then she and everyone else assembled expectantly faced the doorway.
Maggie and Dana appeared in the open doorway, and at the sight of them, everyone drew in a sharp breath. Dana, on the right, made a conventionally beautiful bride in her high-necked, long-sleeved and full-skirted white satin gown, not overly elaborate but just perfect for her, and with a white rosette tucked into her just-this-once impeccably styled short dark hair. Maggie, on the left, was an angel. There was no better way to describe her in the gown Diane had envisioned and created for her, particularly with her wings covered in shimmering white jacquard satin with a pattern of feathers to resemble angels' wings. A high neck, long sleeves and full skirt like Dana's gown hid most of her fur and her differently formed legs. There was no disguising her leonine head, but with the white satin ribbons and roses in her hair, and the radiantly happy smile on her face, somehow that was angelic too.
Griff and Brooklyn both moaned audibly in hopeless longing at the sight of Maggie in her radiance, and even Broadway and Lexington looked a little wistful. Angela grabbed her father's arm and whispered excitedly, "Do gargoyles wear special dresses for mating ceremonies? Because if they do, I want to borrow that one!"
In their seats in the front row, Mr. and Mrs. Reed saw their daughter in her gown and her happiness, and Mrs. Reed sniffled and grabbed for more tissues. She clutched at her husband's sleeve and said in a choked whisper, "Sh-she's beautiful!" Mr. Reed nodded jerkily and said back in an equally choked whisper, "Like an angel…"
Seated on the opposite side, Peter Maza looked at Maggie and Dana with wide eyes, then whispered to his wife, "Sweetheart, those are undoubtedly your finest work ever!" Seated next to him, Diane gave a tired smile of pure satisfaction.
Seated with her brothers, Delilah smiled wistfully and commented softly to Burbank, "Prettier than the moon, even." Burbank nodded and agreed. Bronx, lying at Delilah's feet instead of Hudson's, lifted his head and snorted agreement as well. Hollywood began humming along with the Bridal Chorus, thinking it was a pretty tune, too.
For his part, Goliath was also struck by Maggie's beauty, and Dana's. But he spared each bride only a quick glance before looking out of the corner of his eye at Elisa, seated next to him. She, too, was looking at Maggie and Dana, and smiling wistfully as well. He occasionally had a hard time interpreting her expressions, but this time he thought he was reading her loud and clear. Elisa, too, liked the wedding dresses, very much…
Standing at the altar, Father Sullivan beamed benevolently with his one good eye and nodded approvingly. Right in front of him, both Derek and Claw were looking like they'd been poleaxed, completely stunned at first sight of their brides in their radiance. Then they straightened up even further, nervously shifting their wings, as Maggie and Dana began their stately walk down the aisle.
When they reached the altar, Maggie and Dana set their bouquets of roses and lilies (Dana's differed from Maggie's only by the tiger lily in its center) on the small table provided, then parted to take their grooms' arms. Derek swallowed hard as Maggie took his arm, and whispered to her urgently, "You are so beautiful!" Tears of joy shone in Maggie's eyes as she whispered back that he was, too. Neither Claw nor Dana said or signed anything to each other, but they didn't have to, their eyes speaking volumes.
All eyes were on the brides and grooms at the altar, and so no one noticed the two figures that slipped in through the open doors at the back of the hall. Both wore hooded full-length cloaks, patched several times over, that completely hid their faces, and while one briefly showed a flash of feminine white hands, the larger of the two wore patched leather gloves as well. Neither of the two said a word to anyone else there; they just stood in a shadowed corner and silently observed.
Beth shut the music off, and after a few solemn moments, Father Sullivan cleared his throat and began the familiar, age-old and well-loved ritual from the Book of Common Prayer:
"Dearly Beloved; we have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of these men and these women in Holy Matrimony. The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people.
The union of husband and wife in heart, body and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God's will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Therefore marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which is was instituted by God."
After a very brief pause, Father Sullivan said, "If anyone among you knows of any just and lawful reason why these two couples should not be wed, speak now or forever hold your peace."
Just to be on the safe side, Arthur kept a firm grip on Griff's right arm to keep him from raising it, while from the other side, Broadway kept a hand ready to grab for his other arm if it started to go up, and even his beak if necessary. But Griff only sighed sadly and shrugged, muttering something about ships passing in the night.
Then came the declarations of consent, commonly known as the "I do's". Father Sullivan both signed and spoke his words aloud to both couples, so everyone could witness them. He bade both couples to join their right hands, Derek to Maggie and Claw to Dana, then turned to Derek first.
"Derek James Maza, will you have this woman, Margaret Lynette Reed, to be your wife, to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?"
Derek had to swallow to clear the lump in his throat before he could say, "I will."
"Margaret Lynette Reed, will you have this man, Derek James Maza, to be your husband, to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?"
A single sob was heard loudly from the congregation, before Mrs. Reed smothered it with her handkerchief. Tears of happiness began to trickle down Maggie's furry cheeks as she said softly, "I will."
Then Father Sullivan turned to Claw and Dana. He said aloud as he signed, "Clarence Herbert Tidwell--"
An outbreak of murmurs greeted those words, growing louder and more amused as they realized that Claw was flinching in embarrassment. Elisa found herself muttering aloud, "Jeez, no wonder he never told us his name!"
"-Hereafter known to both God and Man as Claw Labyrinth," Father Sullivan said loudly as he gave the crowd a stern, Don't-Interrupt-the-Preacher glower, and they obediently and abashedly subsided. "Will you have this woman, Dana October, to be your wife, to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?"
Claw straightened up and nodded vigorously, and freed one hand to sign his assent as well.
"Dana October, will you have this man, Claw Labyrinth," and the priest deliberately emphasized the spoken words as he gave the congregation another stern look, "to be your husband, to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?"
Dana nodded vigorously and signed her acquiescence as well, grinning from ear to ear.
Father Sullivan then turned to the assembled humans and gargoyles and said solemnly, "Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two couples in their marriages?"
They all chorused solemnly, humans and gargoyles together, "We will."
There followed a brief prayer for both couples, and a recitation of I Corinthians 13:1-13: Love is patient and kind…" Then Father Sullivan again turned first to Derek and Maggie, and told them to join hands and repeat after him, as he recited the vows.
Derek's wings were shivering so hard he was stirring up a breeze as he said in a choked voice, "I, Derek, take thee, Maggie, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part. This is my solemn vow."
Maggie's voice almost couldn't be heard at first, but she cleared her throat and started again: "I, Maggie, take thee, Derek, to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part. This is my solemn vow."
Then Claw and Dana exchanged their vows. Claw was shivering all over, not just his wings, but he solemnly signed his vow to take Dana as his wife, to have and to hold from that day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death did them part. Tears streamed down Dana's face but did not dim her radiant smile as she vowed the same to him in return.
Father Sullivan then asked for the rings, and blessed them before handing them back and bidding them be exchanged between bride and groom. Derek's hand was shaking slightly as he fitted the ring on Maggie's finger and said softly, "With this ring, I thee wed."
Maggie was crying so much she could hardly see anymore, but she fumbled for the ring and his hand and said in a choked voice, "With this ring, I thee wed!"
Then Claw and Dana exchanged their rings, silently signing their vows to each other as tears streamed down both their faces.
Father Sullivan then faced the congregation and said louder as he signed, "Now that these two couples have given themselves to each other by solemn vows, with the joining of hands and the giving and receiving of rings, I now pronounce both couples married, husbands and wives, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. What God has joined together, let no man drive asunder. Gentlemen, you may kiss-- Oh, Dana, ever the impatient one," Father Sullivan chuckled, because Dana had already thrown herself at Claw and fastened her lips to his muzzle. Not that Claw was complaining!
Maggie and Derek were kissing enthusiastically, too, in their own unique way. And the chapel resounded with congratulatory cheers, roars and whistles.
Soon afterwards, the silent couple in the shadows at the back of the chapel disappeared. But one of them murmured to the other before they departed by ways unseen, "We really should make ourselves known to these people someday. We have so much in common…"
"Someday," came the sighing reply. "But not yet…"
The corks were flying from the bottles of sparkling cider all over the Labyrinth's kitchen/dining room, now part of the reception area; Xanatos had brought down several cases of it, to ensure that there was more than enough to go around. He'd originally wanted to bring down several cases of fine champagne, but both Maggie and Derek firmly vetoed the idea; too many of the Labyrinth residents had problems with alcohol, either recovering alcoholics or still firmly in the addiction/disease's deadly grip. They didn't enforce the "No booze" rule nearly as firmly as the "No weapons" rule, but they didn't want to have their wedding potentially turning into a disaster if some people drank too much. Xanatos had agreed, and thoughtfully suggested the sparkling cider as a compromise.
The wedding feast spread out on the tables was enough to feed everyone for the next few days at least, and Elisa had quietly suggested that Xanatos bring down as well a small fleet of Tupperware containers for better storage of the leftovers. He'd done so, and they'd been brought down earlier along with three more refrigerators and two deep freezers that were currently sitting one side of the kitchen, waiting for the coolant inside them to settle into place before turning them on as per factory labeling. So far, the residents agreed amongst themselves as they eyed his gifts to them, this Xanatos fellow was doing okay. (To Elisa's surprise, when he overheard that, Xanatos' spine straightened and he beamed as though he'd just been awarded the Nobel Prize.)
Sometime during the night, King Arthur had found out that most of the residents believed he was merely another man suffering from delusions of grandeur and royalty (like the toothless old lady residing with them who insisted she was actually Anastasia, the long-lost Russian princess), but they were more than willing to humor him. He'd been horribly insulted for a few moments before Griff had restored his humor, but now he smiled as he claimed his royal blood entitled him to make the first toast, and they willingly gave him the floor to do so. "To the brides and grooms: may you have long and happy lives together!" Everyone agreed and drained their glasses, and the party really began.
While the wedding party and most of the attendees were in the kitchen, the benches in the chapel were stacked along the walls, to clear the floor for dancing. When they were ready, they announced that it was time for the brides and grooms to have their first dance. Instead of both couples dancing together, Derek and Maggie went first, dancing and looking soulfully into each other's eyes to the tune of Maggie's favorite song, "You Light Up My Life." Meanwhile, Claw stepped out and came back a few minutes later with a box under his arm and a tigerish grin, then ripped the top off the box and gestured for everyone to dig in. Curious, Elisa came over and looked into the box. "Industrial-strength ear plugs?" Claw nodded and gave her a pair.
When their song was over, Derek went over to one of the stereo speakers and said with a wicked grin, "Everybody grab your earplugs; it's Claw and Dana's turn!" And with that, he tipped over the biggest speaker and set it face-down on the floor, before digging through the CD's for a particular song. Meanwhile, Maggie dug into a separate box and pulled out three sets of earmuffs, the type that are used at industrial sites for extremely loud noises, but jury-rigged to fit over feline ears. She tossed a set each to Derek and Claw, and donned a pair herself.
Meanwhile, the clones were scampering out the door, though all of them were grinning, and gesturing for the other gargoyles to come along. Most of them hesitantly followed the clones out the door, but Goliath decided to stay with Elisa instead. She gave him a pair of earplugs, saying with a wry smile, "If they're going to do what I think they're going to do, you're going to need these."
Goliath hesitantly tried to install the earplugs, and growled softly in irritation at the unpleasant sensation they made in his ear canal. "What, precisely, do you think they're going to do?" But before he could reply, Claw took Dana's arm and led her out onto the improvised dance floor, just as Derek hit Play.
"FLY ME TO THE MOON, LET ME PLAY AMONG THE STARS…"
The music didn't boom out, it exploded out of the speakers. Goliath involuntarily howled in protest as he found out that loose-fitting earplugs aren't worth all that much for hearing protection. Before the first verse was over, he decided that for this one time, discretion was definitely the better part of valor, and fled the hall to join the other gargoyles.
But Elisa stayed in the hall, fascinated by Claw and Dana as they danced; they reminded her so much of that dancing she and Goliath had done together, on their first Halloween. Could it be that Dana had a little hearing left after all, so they'd amplified it enough for it to register on what was left of her eardrums? The music was so incredibly loud, Elisa didn't just hear it, she could practically feel it… And so, she realized, could Dana. That was why they'd tipped over the bass speaker; to start the floor vibrating to the beat. As Claw and Dana waltzed, Dana could feel the beat through her thin-soled slippers, and her smile was absolutely radiant with delight. Claw was wincing even with his earmuffs on, but his expression as he looked upon his bride said as plain as if he'd signed it, Anything for you, darling.
Mercifully, after that one song they turned the volume down again, and most of the people who had run from the aural explosion decide to come back in. But while everyone ate, danced, talked, laughed, drank and ate some more, Goliath had a quiet word with Father Sullivan in a side chamber, as the priest was carefully storing his vestments. When he'd finished explaining his situation to the priest, he asked softly, "Would you do it?"
Instead of answering immediately, Father Sullivan sighed and looked straight ahead at Goliath's massive chest for a moment, his face troubled as he asked himself a silent question. Then he lifted his gaze to Goliath again and said, "I don't know yet. Let me think on it, and pray on it, for a few days and nights."
Goliath nodded slowly. "Of course. I would have no man act against his conscience."
A smile flickered across the good father's face again. "Well said, indeed."
After over an hour of dancing and celebrating, Ruth grabbed the microphone and announced it was time to throw the bouquet. "All you single ladies come stand over here," she said cheerfully as she pointed, "and be glad you've got not one but two chances to be the lucky girl tonight!"
Several ladies gathered, chattering excitedly, and Beth dragged Elisa out with her to join them. As Maggie went over to join Dana, waiting on the other side of the room, she smilingly gestured for Delilah and Angela to join the crowd as well. "As far as we're concerned, if you're a single female, you qualify!"
"Qualify for what?" Angela asked with a puzzled look.
"It's a tradition," Broadway explained with a wide grin, looking both embarrassed and hopeful. "The bride throws the bouquet, and the girl who catches it is supposed to be the next one to get married!"
"But no fair using your wings or tail!" Maggie said cheerfully as both female gargoyles joined the crowd of ladies. Beth had playfully pushed Elisa to the front of the crowd, teasing that her older sister almost qualified for spinsterhood now, and now Elisa stood there with a blush on her face, wondering if she dared to go for a bouquet or not. She hadn't even told Beth or her parents about her and Goliath's new relationship yet! But she could feel Goliath's eyes on her from across the room…
When everyone was assembled, Dana and Maggie shared a knowing smile between them before turning their backs. When the rest of the room couldn't see their hands, Dana signed a quick phrase to Maggie, who subtly nodded. Then Maggie's hand went up, flinging her bouquet high into the air. Every eye in the room followed it as it went up, up, a high arc brushing the ceiling… And while they were all looking, Dana whipped around and threw her bouquet in a fastball straight at Elisa.
Elisa had been looking up at Maggie's bouquet too, and gave a startled, pained yelp when the bouquet hit her chest handle-first. She instinctively grabbed at what had hit her, and found herself with a handful of abused flowers while the other bouquet was still being fought over by the rest of the pack. She gingerly rubbed at her sore chest and glared daggers at the brides as she muttered, "Real subtle, Dana!" Dana just grinned saucily.
Angela and Delilah had gone for Maggie's bouquet along with the rest, but restrained themselves from being too enthusiastic for fear of accidentally hurting the more fragile human ladies with their sharp claws and elbow spurs. But they rapidly discovered that those fragile human females were both tougher than they'd thought, and definitely not acting like ladies! Finally, one Labyrinth resident emerged from the ensuing brawl triumphantly, holding a now bedraggled bouquet high in one fist and shrieking, "Igotit, Igotit, Igotit!"
From the bottom of the pile, Angela shouted angrily, "Great, you got it. Now get off me!"
After the 'ladies' sorted themselves out, it was time for the garter toss. All the eligible men gathered at one side of the room while Claw and Derek knelt at their brides' feet, and both Maggie and Dana sat on a bench and set one leg out, hiking up their full skirts a little so the grooms could reach under and snag the garters. Maggie had modestly left hers around one ankle (which, considering her mutated feet, was still quite high off the floor), but Dana had evidently put hers very high up, and Claw's fur bristled with embarrassment as he had to reach farther in, and farther… Half the hall was hooting and hollering by the time he finally found it and slipped it off her leg.
The Trio had all but shoved Goliath out to join the other guys waiting for the grooms to toss the garters. He'd balked at first, not wanting to be involved in anything as undignified as the fight for the bouquets had become. Then Brooklyn had reminded him, "The guy who catches a garter gets to put it on the girl who caught the bouquet. Do you really want to see another guy's hands on Elisa's leg?" But before he'd even finished the sentence, Goliath was striding out to join the pack.
Rather than try to duplicate Maggie and Dana's stunt, Derek and Claw turned their backs and tossed their garters simultaneously. But the instant that they did, since no one had specifically said he couldn't do it, Goliath flared his wings to shove at the men standing next to him, to give himself room to maneuver. Then he leaped high into the air on powerful gargoyle legs, to snag a garter before it fell within reach of the others. One man who'd been knocked down by his wings cried foul, but Goliath ignored him as he came back down with an earth-shaking whump, the garter clutched tightly in one huge fist.
Elisa was blushing bright red as she sat on a bench with the other bouquet catcher, as the garter catchers came towards them. The Labyrinth resident who'd caught the other garter started to head towards Elisa, but changed his mind when a low rumbling growl reached his ears. Still, he was grinning widely as he knelt in front of the other woman, who grinned just as wide as she hiked her skirt up and thrust out her leg for the garter. Goliath, on the other hand, was solemn as a judge as he knelt in front of Elisa, and silently waited.
Absolutely positive that the entire world was watching, Elisa lifted one foot and extended it out. Goliath cradled that foot with one hand for a moment before slipping the garter over it, and onto her leg. For one wild moment Elisa thought he was going to take it all the way up under the skirt of her knee-length dress, and maybe even farther, but he stopped at the top of her calf and left it there. Elisa couldn't decide whether she was relieved or disappointed as he let her leg go again and stood back up. Then he bowed low, took her hand and placed a courtly kiss on the back, murmuring for her ears only, "My beloved."
Angela and the Trio all cheered, while the brides and grooms applauded, and Peter and Diane Maza exchanged knowing, resigned looks. "A son with wings, and a daughter who's in love with a gargoyle," Diane sighed. "I just know that Coyote ancestor of yours has something to do with this…"
"Hey, he didn't say for certain that he's one of my ancestors!" Peter protested. "And I don't hear you saying anything about this possibly being Anansi's fault." But he couldn't deny that while Anansi's chosen form was nothing close to human, Coyote had had an extremely strong resemblance to him; possibly a family resemblance…
"Whatever. I just hope Beth settles on somebody normal, or close to it, so we have at least one grandchild we can show off at family reunions…"
Far from the warmth and gaiety of celebration, a man sat alone in a darkened room. A single lamp illuminated the desk of Oliver Grimm as he went over his corporation's financial reports. Satisfactory gains for the last fiscal year, and a strong start to the new year, despite the expenses they'd incurred in moving the corporate offices from Connecticut to New York last summer, and the more recent expenses he'd incurred while outfitting the Quarrymen with their equipment. He nodded to himself, then turned to a second set of reports: gargoyle sightings.
The first stack of papers listed all the sightings reported to the media, the police and the newly created Gargoyles Task Force; since their official discovery when the clock tower had been destroyed, the media and police had received hundreds of calls every week, sometimes as many as a hundred a night. It was impossible for even half of these sightings to be true encounters; probably less than ten percent of them were. He wondered if some of the more fantastic sightings reported, such as the one that had a gargoyle walking through the walls of an apartment in order to steal cookies off a platter, had been deliberately engineered by David Xanatos to provide a smokescreen for the gargoyles' true activities.
He would not put it past the man; Xanatos had been well known for a risk taker, incredibly daring in business deals and somehow almost always coming out on top, long before he'd inexplicably decided to befriend those creatures. Even if he had been foolish enough to offer his home to them, he had to have enough brains left to realize that a man who could not cover his tracks would be wise to make false ones to lead pursuers astray. False and contradictory sightings, and repeatedly bombarding the public with ever more improbable tales, would eventually make the general public discount even true sightings in the same way as they decried sightings of Elvis in the supermarket.
A much smaller stack of papers listed all the verified sightings. Some were by people who claimed to have been saved from muggers and rapists by the creatures, and could point to guns and knives broken or twisted out of shape, and criminals found secured to lampposts by whatever was handy, as proof of their claims. Others were by reliable Quarrymen and sympathizers to their cause, also backed up by physical evidence or by photographs.
Using those reports, he plotted them out on a city map and tried to determine a pattern. He had expected the sightings to center around the Aerie building, where they undoubtedly dwelt during the day, but instead they still seemed to center around the old clock tower. Could it be that they were still coming there to roost? No, he'd had Castaway send more teams up there to reconnoiter just last week, slipping past the police station below by pretending to be construction crews, and by all the signs that home was permanently abandoned. There had to be another reason; perhaps they were following that policewoman, Detective Maza, on her rounds. Or perhaps they had chosen a roost very near to the old home; he'd suggest to Castaway tomorrow that they should examine the surrounding buildings for likely perches.
The castle atop the Aerie building was still the most likely roost for them; if he and Castaway could find a way to circumvent the building's security, just enough to send even one man with a Quarryhammer up there… But Xanatos had tightened security so much that even a mouse couldn't get in undetected. And as much as Castaway was eager for it, right now wasn't the time for a full-force frontal assault. Not yet… but soon. Not tonight, perhaps not this month or even this fall or winter, but very soon, he would see these creatures utterly destroyed. The prophecy would not come to pass.
"Child of stone," he quoted with a sneer, a sneer of contempt that quite effectively hid, even from himself, the fear beneath it. "That prophecy will never be fulfilled! Never!"
He was alone in the room, so there was nobody else to comment on how, as he uttered the last word, his eyes seemed to glow.
It's the end of the "Revelations" story arc, but you'd better believe it's not the end of the series, or of the revelations in store for both humans and gargoyles! I love feedback, so send me your comments, your pictures of the wedding, anything except smoked oysters (personally, I can't stand 'em!) Oh, and don't bother haunting your local bookstore for Martha DuBois' stories; she's one of my characters too. You'll all meet her later on!