Author's Note: A big thanks goes out to Josh Wurzel, creator, owner and curator of www.kicktothenuts.com, who for the second time, played the part of quasi-editor (though I'm still kind of pissed at him he went to The Gathering and had such a friggin' great time without all of us who couldn't go). Anyway, this story and a few MINOR parts are due to his suggestions, honest reviews and great help.

61 - "A Fresh Start"

November 12th, 2001
"I know, I enjoy talking to you as well." she answered honestly, her voice light, buoyant yet tinged with a regret in not being able to see him, to taste his scent on the air, to become lost in his dark, hypnotizing eyes. "Man, it's almost been two hours now. I bet Mr. Xanatos is pulling his hair out when he gets the bill."

"...Don't worry, I'm sure he can afford it..." his response held a glimmer of pleasantry, his mending heart slowly rediscovering the healing power of humor. And through the wireless connection forged between countries, did he hear her brief laughter, kindling his deepening friendship for her.

"I'm glad he did this for us...it's always good to hear your voice, Lex."

"...Same here, Rain..."

She looked up to a flitter of white confection, a swirl of delicate crystals being carried by the invisible hands of the shrill, serpentine winds curling just beyond her form. The young web-wing remained seated on a smoothed rock face against the side of the where the entrance to the Grotto clefted into the layered brick. Wrapped in a blanket and protected from the harsh Canadian weather by an overhang of sturdy granite, Rain watched each snowflake burst from the deep lavender covering of the clouds, seemingly unending and stretching themselves across the entire horizon. "Has it snowed yet in New York?"

"...Oh yeah, it dumped on us a couple days ago...but Trinity loves it...and Todd can hurl some wicked iceballs..."

"Is it snowing right now?"

"...Yeah..."

"Here too. It's beautiful, my favorite time of night, when it's so quiet, you can even hear the flakes hitting the ground." Rain resettled herself, pulling the thick blanket around her, her deep violet eyes reflecting the falling snow, a shroud of ice blanketing her native land and creating from the once lush forests and fields a silent tomb, though strangely beautiful in it's desolation. "So peaceful..."

"...Yo, Rain...I'm losing you here..."

"Shut up, Lex." she joked, hearing her American counterpart laugh at her trance. But again did their conversation turn silent, an awkward pause bringing both speakers to a quiet repose. "So, how are you feeling?"

"...Okay...I guess..." His tone held sadness, almost an anger creeping into his voice. "It's a little hard sometimes, trying to get past...what I almost...and with the holidays coming up, it gets...it gets a little lonely sometimes...especially being around all these mated couples..."

"I wish I could be there."

"...Me too..."

She lay silent, her heart beating with aching fire, of what she so wanted to tell him almost inflicting physical harm. "Uhm, Lex?"

"...Yeah?..."

"I...I-I really enjoy talking to you..." Rain outwardly cringed, cursing her lack of courage to express her true feelings.

"...Me too..."

"Well..." she laughed lightly, wonderfully. "I'd better get going...I'm sure you're itching to get back online or fix a robot or something..."

"...Well..." Lexington replied, for unknown to Rain, he was already up to his elbows in the remainder of the Coldstone cyborg, nearly complete once more.

"And we've been talking for two hours, either the battery's going to go, or we'll bankrupt Mr. Xanatos. Talk to you soon, Lex..."

"...Bye, Rain..."

"Bye..." The gargess flipped closed the cover and the phone went dead, leaving only the eerie stillness of falling snow, and her steady, languid breaths being forced into the dead of Winter night.

"Coward."

Rain swiftly crossed lavender eyes to where the entrance to her home lay disguised as a simple rock face, only to see Aurora leaning in the jagged archway, smiling knowingly, her skin of purest ivory set against the deep reds and mahogany-tinted beige. "Hey, Aurora."

"You wished to tell him of how you are truly beginning to feel about him." she said quietly, walking out and settling herself alongside her adopted daughter.

"Yeah, but I'm...scared, I guess. He's gone through so much, I don't want...to add anymore to his pain. Give him something else to have to deal with...and I'm not even sure he...he..."

"Feels the same way. And yet, how do you know that he doesn't feel this way about you as well?" she asked, feeling the diminutive gargess shrug her shoulders, her long blond bangs being brushed away by a flick of slender taloned fingers.

A shimmering sapphire emerald swathing through platinum strands, Rain was a menagerie of bright, catching colors, perhaps intended to help her stand out against the oft-stark landscape in which she was raised. "I don't." she whispered.

"Well, you two have only met once," Aurora started, hugging her daughter close, "and have known each other for barely four months. Give your friendship time, Rain, if it is destined to grow into something deeper, it will."

****************************************

November 15th
In Manhattan as well, did Winter take hold from the gentle Autumn, a vicious grip held mercilessly upon the city center and the surrounding suburbs of the irregular-shaped island. Towers of glass and iron construction were transformed into pillars of ice and blindingly white frost adhering to the steel walls, the sky-reaching spires of the business district enveloped in cleansing snow.

The cornices and symmetrically squared features of a transplanted Scottish fortress had faded, to indistinct heaps barely resembling Wyvern's former glory. Even the tallest building in the world had not been spared the first snow of the season, though it seemed as if the residents of this ancient place reveled in the soft drifts. For a young girl having constructed her first snowman, though hers possessing a crude approximation of wings and tail, would forever be contentedly marked in her greatest memories of her youth.

"Come on, Trini, let's get these wet clothes off of you." Elisa said to her daughter, slipping off the heavy hooded coat, and allowing Trinity's wings to flutter and the cinnamon membranes to open wide and relieve the slight ache in being trapped beneath a coat for so long. "Better?"

"Yuh." the girl remarked, shaking her head and removing the remaining clumps of snow and water from her long hair. Elisa helped her pull her boots off and undressed her from her snowpants and shirt, effectively stripping Trinity to her diaper.

"Bathtime." Elisa mentioned coolly, seeing Trinity's face contort. The hybrid frowned in what seemed to her an unnecessary and quite cruel punishment, ruining a night of festivity of having frolicked in the courtyard, free of any restraint, or dominion by the strict rules laid down by her parents, if only for her own safety.

"N'wanna."

"Bathtime." she raised her voice slightly, an edged tone from mother to offspring, displaying her authority.

"N'wanna!!" she screamed again.

"Trinity, you will get in that tub and like it!"

"No!!"

"Trinity Hope." A low reverberation caught both ears of the two raven-haired females, and as a massive winged shadow completely enshrouded Trinity, she noticed that of her father's unique silhouette having entered into the bedroom behind her. "It is time for your bath." he commanded in a leader's voice, though gentle for this tiny girl nearly six feet below him.

"Kay..." Trinity bowed her head and slowly tromped off towards the bathroom, her wings and tail limp as if a faithful pet scolded, with Goliath behind her. "B'buls?" she then squeaked, hoping for at least something.

"Yes, daughter, you can have bubbles." he answered, watching her scurry off and into the bathroom.

"Why does she always listen to you?" Elisa drawled, slumping onto the bed and glaring at her husband.

"She loves me more." he replied, toying with a volatile thing, that of her anger. Elisa raised a clenched fist and thinned her eyes, and Goliath quite readily took the hint. Leaving behind a teasing wink of his charcoal eye, he turned and went to prepare Trinity's bath.

Elisa fell back onto her quilt, having been brought out in the colder Winter months, and relished in the silence and calm after a few hours of running around after her daughter in the courtyard. And of course, dodging between projectiles of packed snow hurled by the clan. Todd, Brooklyn, Broadway and the twins had engaged in a war upon the cornices, and almost taken out a few innocents in some wildly misdirected shots. All she could hear now was the running of water into the marble tub of the bathroom beyond, and her husband and daughter's gentle murmuring to one another. Peaceful, serene, the chance to rest presented itself...

"HEY, SIS!!!"

"Gaaaaaahhhhh!!" Elisa shot up, and stared into the face of her younger sister. "Beth!! Jesus...I hate when you do that..."

The youngest Maza sibling hopped onto the bed beside her older sister, and as Elisa calmed her heart, did Beth's smile enlarge. "So, where's the squirt?"

"In having her bath with the Big Guy."

"I'm so sorry I missed her birthday. But I couldn't get away from that dig in Arizona. We were working on a tight schedule." she explained, her brow twisted in the guilt of being absent from her niece's first birthday. "Did she like my present?"

"Yes, very much. Except for the fact there's now thirty different colors of chalk all over the castle walls..."

Beth snickered fiendishly. "That was the point." The smile though, quickly faded, and a rare instance of solemnity appeared on her features. "I, uh...talked to mom and dad...when I got home."

The jovial mood abruptly ended, Elisa sneered and turned away, allowing the falling ebony silk to hide her hardened eyes. "And what'd they have to say?"

"They told me a lot, especially the fight you guys had, and at first...I couldn't believe it. I know they hurt you, Elisa, but are you sure you want to cut them completely from your life? I mean, you stopped them from coming to Trini's birthday party, and even Christmas..."

"They chose to have it this way..." A voice of ice, frigid and unfeeling. "Not me."

Beth crossed her arms underneath her chest, and shivered as if cold. "I know, and I just want you to know, sis, that...I'm on your side."

Elisa groaned, and shook her head. "There are no sides to be taken, Beth. It's just how they feel..."

"And...they're wrong." she countered, much to Elisa's surprise, hearing her sister so devoted to her parents talk them down. "Trinity deserves to have a good life, and both of you needed mom and dad's support. I would have never thought...they could be...bigots."

Elisa looked up in shock, pained in hearing how even her own sister described them, and the harsh reality of the actual situation sunk in. "B-Bigots? I...I never said..."

"We had this big fight after they told me what had happened...and I said some things I shouldn't have..."

"Oh Beth..." Elisa sighed, hoping not to drag anyone else innocent into what she deemed a very private conflict.

"Elisa, what's happened?" she pleaded with her older sister. "We went through so much, with Xanatos, and Derek's mutation, and the Unseelie war and your near death...but we stuck together, and after we had finally found some sense of peace..." She was close to tears, and Elisa pulled her close. "I just can't stop thinking...about Maggie. She's having a baby, and is stuck in the middle of something she thinks she's caused."

"Maggie's done nothing, and I won't allow what happened between me and mom and dad to hurt her chance for a normal, happy life. Even if it means..."

"Even if it means Maggie loses her sister-in-law?"

Elisa never answered, instead pulling her sister closer into her arms and closing her eyes, attempting to force in her tears.

And from the door furthest from them, did a massive lavender form successfully conceal himself from their notice. Goliath, though possessed of ever watchful eyes for his daughter in the massive marble bathtub, he still passed clandestine glances to his wife and sister-in-law, fitting together pieces of an emotional puzzle, one that could perhaps bring great pain to him and his family as well if ever brought to light.

He growled, and his eyes lit up the darkened section of the room. He knew now, the source of Elisa's hidden pain, he knew of what she had kept inside herself, playing protector of her own clan while taking the full brunt of the choice she clearly made. His talons nearly tore into the stone frame against which he rested, and Goliath crafted his own decision, born of anger. If pushed too far, he would make those who hurt his wife suffer at his hands. He would make them pay for ever abandoning his mate, his very soul taken physical form. He would make them pay...

****************************************

November 19th
As nights pass, and days come, the continuing dance of time plays out, often vengeful of the fragile human form. Though they fight back, human and gargoyle alike, struggling to make an existence for themselves before time eventually and inevitably catches up to them. Some see the passage of time as a predator, stalking them, breathing down their necks with heated, reeking rasps, and others view it as a companion, a friend who journeys with them, supports them through it all.

And to one, perhaps she may see it as both, now having to confront the fact she will soon perish, and her legacy, such as it is, will ultimately be forgotten. Therefore, in her haste to live and cherish each day, and after coming so very close to dying, she has tried to hard to wipe the slate clean, starting with an addiction that threatened to destroy all she had worked for.

Like a spring run-off, like the crystal waters flowing with a hint of muddy red earth diluting it's translucency, did the liquor splash against the porcelain of the sink and curl around towards the drain. Bottle after bottle was emptied from her wetbar, piling on any available surface, and being readied for recycling. Once unable to resist it's sweet flavor and addictive, dulling effects, now it's noxious scent only made her sick to her stomach, and served as a constant reminder of several months of pain.

Demona smiled as she emptied the last few bottles, her task almost finished, though left for some reason for several weeks. Possibly, she had avoided this, as to forget she had been beaten by not a powerful foe, but by a simple dependency to the brown liquid. And as she approached the last bottle, she bared her fanged teeth, hoping at last she had won. But when her talons then curved around the remaining bottle, she stopped, and stared. She had to wipe away the collected dust from the surface, unadorned with any label, only a thick leather binding around the neck. "I remember this..." she whispered.

For the bottle left abandoned on the deepest shelf, was of her homeland. Scottish whiskey, hundreds of years old, inadvertently taken with the rest of the stolen foods from a human merchant when returning to her birthplace, to greet her frozen love with a kiss passed from her lips to his own unfeeling granite. Demona minded this bottle carefully, her eyes of deepest ebon fire seeing the delicate swirl of tiny bubbles, a reminder from a past she wanted to forget, and she resisted the urge to heave it into the massive fireplace near her, taking carnal pleasure in shattering glass and spraying liquid.

But the demon relented to her animal instinct, the mind composed, the poised gargess controlling herself with a tempered resolve fashioned over a thousand years. Demona cleaned the bottle's surface and dried the glass decanter, and using a leather pouch, slipped the bottle inside to keep it safe. "This...will be perfect for him. And I'm sure he suspects no one knows..."

****************************************

November 20th
As if attempting to be as silent as possible, the young redhead stalked through the corridors of Wyvern, and as always in absolute awe of her surroundings, an ancientness of stone, mortar and medieval dressings bringing almost a fear to her heart. But she ventured on, in a place of companionship and family, accepted even though she had nearly broken their safeguarded privacy, and spilled forth a good friend's greatest secret.

Iliana Starr padded softly, even with her large-soled boots, perhaps unknowing of just what, or who, she was searching for. She had finished in the kitchen, helping to clear away the leftovers of a grand feast. Her eyes still trained on a full set of armor on a decorated pedestal, she backed around a corner and collided with something extremely solid. A flash of chestnut brown fell past her vision, and Iliana whirled around and reached out to grab the object hurtling towards the ground. "Whoa!" she shrieked in surprise, snatching the prize before it hit the cold, unfeeling stone. "Oh man..." she breathed a welcome sigh of relief. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to..."

"You are very lucky this did not shatter!" came a hostile growl.

Iliana looked up, and only into the fire-filled eyes of Demona. "Oh shit...I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean..."

"You did not mean to almost destroy a priceless gift?!" Demona snapped back, while grabbing the covered bottle from the cowering woman's hands, still wary of this human, merely a young girl to her ageless being. "Perhaps if you were more careful, detective Starr..."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah...okay..." Iliana pressed against the wall, allowing Demona to pass by in a huff, a blistering scarlet haze left to fill her foremost thoughts. "Oh maaaaannn..." She steadied her nerves, knowing her grand fortune in having her insides still inside. And as she continued on in her path, now quite unsteady, she would never notice Demona's beaming smile, in having terrified the young human almost to death.

"That should keep her on her toes..." the former immortal whispered. "And keep the woman who stole a child from my arms and thrust a magnum in my face from getting too comfortable...especially around me."

****************************************

"But it's a heartwarming journey of four women and their quilting, and how they all come closer through adversity and hardship..."

Shadow winced, in hearing Delilah's description of her chosen film, read directly from the movie cover and stabbing through the dark warrior's chest with the strongest and sharpest of blades. He sighed, feigning a weakened smile and attempting to conceal his utter abhorrence of the genre of film she wished to watch this night. "It sounds...delightful..." he breathed, his lips sneering and dry.

Delilah swished away a few falling strands and glared at him, discerning whether or not his smile was forged, yet in their time spent together as lovers, she knew it was. "You don't have to watch this with Desdemona and me...if you don't want to."

"But...I do...truly want to watch...that...movie..." he continued the fraudulence, hopeful in his unpracticed performing, though hoping against hope for a battle to commence, anything to relieve him of what was to come. "Truly..."

"You're lying." Delilah countered, her eyes of once yielding chocolate freezing over.

"Yes, I am."

"You don't want to watch this particular movie."

"No I do not."

"You don't have to..."

Shadow exhaled deeply, in hearing the vindication of his time from his blossom's very lips. "Thank the dragon..."

"Don't seem too happy..." Delilah huffed. "But I thought you wanted to watch a movie tonight."

"You do not seem as fond as my choice as I do of yours." he replied.

Delilah cocked her head, raising her brows. "Fighting, killing, bloodletting...all those martial arts movies are the same."

"They are masterpieces of filmmaking and the ultimate vision of pushing one's self to the utmost limits." Shadow argued his choice of movie, against Delilah's stark, opposing attitude.

"Pointless and violent."

Shadow stood to his full height, towering over the copper clone and puffing out his chest in defiance. "Well then, if that is your attitude, I am going to watch my violent movies somewhere else."

"But every other television in the castle with either a VCR or a DVD player is being used at the moment..." she countered aptly, turning slightly and seeing from the corner of her eye, Shadow sneering and she rather enjoyed the sight of her giant love balling his fists and tensing the six hundred pounds of sculpted muscle. "Or you could always watch my movie...with me..."

"Or...you could come to my apartment."

Both Delilah and Shadow turned to peer upon Iliana behind them, hands placed demurely behind her back, and standing in the curved archway. "Pardon me?" the clone hissed.

"Well, I mean...if Shadow wants to come to my place and watch his movie..." she started, eyes of clearest ice blue shimmering and hoping at least to swell her obsession with a true, and quite normal, friendship. "I have some free time to entertain your...boyfriend."

"What makes you think he would want..."

"I have Enter The Dragon on DVD." Iliana interrupted, eyes trained to Shadow's darkened features, his mahogany eyes standing out as clear as the fullest hunter's moon, and she practically ignored the now fuming gargess.

"You enjoy...martial arts movies?" Shadow inquired surprisingly, though knowing her attitude and demeanor, it seemed to fit her just.

"Oh yeah...especially that fight scene between Bruce Lee and Mr. Han...kick ass..." Iliana mimicked a few moves seen developed and executed on the screen, and Shadow smiled warmly. "So, what do you say?"

"I would be honored, Iliana-chan." He bowed to thank her, with the rookie detective's cheeks blushing, until his eyes flashed wide open and he turned to Delilah. "Oh, Delilah...I, ah...I hope I am not..."

"Go." she said sternly. "If you really want to..."

"Thank you, my blossom." He leaned down to kiss her on the cheek, having to move the errant strands once more away from features of splendor and beauty inherited from two different women, yet fused into something even rarer, unique to his eyes, more than that of diamond and gold. "I shall be back shortly."

She watched as Shadow walked beside the rookie detective, and nearly tore apart the movie held in her talons when Iliana brushed a hand across his arm, when excitedly relaying her favored parts of the film. Delilah had never thought he would answer in the affirmative to another woman's invitation, and thus, in her naiveté, bit her swollen bottom lip, attempting to suppress her rage.

"Delilah?" asked a low, husky voice. "Is Shadow not going to view the movie with us?"

"No." she spat out towards the approaching Desdemona, complete with a large bowl of freshly popped popcorn in her hands, and unaware of what had turned her friend's eyes so cold. "He'd rather be somewhere else. Let's watch our movie..."

****************************************

"Damned be these accursed childproof bottles! They be forged by th' devil himself!!" Hudson growled, his large talons attempting to peel back the white plastic lid of his medication, his heart pills, and discovering himself beaten down. He ceased his struggle, and stared vehemently at the bottle, until he threw down the container and unsheathed his sword. "Ye dinna think ye have beaten me, do ye?!" he snapped, his Scottish brogue erupted from a cultured tongue, this rare occurrence of anger only inflamed by the fact he had to rely on this medicine to keep his aging body and ailing heart healthy.

A wave of steel, and a flicker of sterling against the lights in his room, Hudson brought his sword down onto the bottle, slicing it in two perfect halves. "Aha!" he howled in triumph. "Come here ye little beasties." He scooped up two of the enlarged yellow pills and downed them with the mug of water. "Graugh...these things ne'er be tastin' good..."

"Problems, Hudson?"

The elder gargoyle turned to see a cerulean glimmer entering into his small room, claimed as his own with Fox's approval, even though she had tried on many occasions to give it to him anyway. His brow raised at the sight, never thinking he would see her enter into his tiny domain of Wyvern. "Demona? What are ye doin' here, lass?"

"I thought I was allowed to visit the castle anytime I wished?" the gargess answered, feigning injury to his unintended accusation.

"Aye, lassie. But why d' ye come callin' on me?"

"A gift." She held up the leather pouch, and carefully placed it in Hudson's hands.

He was surprised by both the gesture and the weight of the actual product. He cocked a brow in stupefaction, and found Demona waiting patiently and silently for him to open it. Hudson pulled the leather bindings away and uncovered the whiskey bottle. He eyed his treasure with a deep-set glare, unbelieved of what was now resting in his palms. He held it to his nose, and whiffed in the pungent aroma, a strong scent of aged whiskey just ripe for enjoying to it's fullest. "Tis a grand gesture, lass, but...why?"

"Happy birthday, Hudson."

Hudson cringed, gritting his fanged teeth. "How...did ye know?"

"A long time ago, when I was but a teenager, I saw your mate give to you a gift on this very night, obviously imitating the human ritual." Demona explained her reasoning. "I asked her about it, and only with my sworn silence, did she share her secret of your actual day of birth. An egg hatched later than the rest of your rookery kin."

"Aye..." Hudson reluctantly yielded his greatest secret, never wanting the commotion and fret of a celebration in this new world, knowing at least one of the clan would try to honor him, and only end up insulting him. "A late bloomer. I be...speechless, Demona. I ne'er would ha' expected this from ye."

"Nor would I. But I know you miss her, as...do I. I remember her always being hard on me, but only to forge my strength."

Hudson's eyes sparkled with love for his fallen mate. "She knew ye would be one o' th' greatest of our kind, a warrior among th' best...I see a lot o' her within ye, lassie."

She approached and gently kissed him on cheek. "Drink this with someone you love, old soldier." Demona then abruptly turned around to leave.

"It wo'only be appropriate t' drink this with you, lassie."

Demona looked over her shoulder, only a glint in her eye and a thin smile. "I have...given up alcohol, Hudson. I believe it's time...to get my life back." She sauntered out, and left the elder warrior alone, still cradling his scotch against his chest and tunic.

"It be about damned time, lassie..." he whispered, holding his gift to the light, studying the liquor as a true aficionado should. "Hmmm...will wonders ne'er cease...Demona givin' me a gift, heh heh heh, this life be gettin' weirder by th' night."

****************************************

She landed, sending stray drifts of frozen ice to scatter into the chilled air, and shook her wings of the collected snow, and settled them about her shoulders, then effectively burying them beneath her heavy hooded cloak. Demona crept in closer to the building spotted from above, using keen, crafted eyes to study this crumbling, decaying structure, yet standing as proud as an elder should in such a state. It seemed a reminder of the gargoyle she had just spoken to moments before leaving Wyvern.

A church, it's surface of brownstone and brick intricately detailed and majestic in it's own right, she had been inexplicably drawn here without any reason to explain why. She drifted up the snow covered steps, unshoveled and as though no one was expected on such a cold, wintry evening. She peered in through the doors' leaded glass windows. Empty, and quite low-profile, seemingly perfect. Still wondering just why she was doing this, she cautiously pushed the door and slipped inside, ensuring her cloak was concealing her more obvious gargoyle features, wary of any residents of this holy refuge.

As the gargess moved down the aisle between the pews, she took in every aspect and adornment in wood, granting the rare gift of praise to the human crafters. She decided on a pew in the third row, far into the darkened corner where the numerous lit candles' dancing light could not reach, and rested into the curved mahogany bench, a varnished gleam upon aged wood. Demona edged her cowl back only slightly, to better see where her curiosity had taken her. "Why am I here?" she whispered, though not expecting an answer.

"A question frequently asked by those troubled, and lost." The reply had come, and reflecting from each wall was a low diction cast out.

The gargoyle sunk inwards, pulling her cloak together and the hood down, and moving her eyes to where this voice had emerged from. A robed woman was staring at her from across the room, and Demona held her breath. "Damn." she muttered. "Of course I would be discovered...with my accursed luck..." The woman steadily moved closer, and Demona pondered what to do, how to react to a servant of God. But when the woman moved into the light, Demona gasped, seeing the scarring down the left side of her face. Eyes of clear forest green, and a warm smile, the gargoyle sensed no danger, no hostile intent whatsoever, only serenity, and ocean calm. "I am sorry I intruded. I shall leave."

"Why?" the nun asked, as Demona lept from her place and started towards the doors. "Gargoyles are as welcome here as humans."

The cloaked gargoyle came to a sudden stop, and turned around, seeing that damnable smile still on the scarred nun's face, as if mocking her. "You...know of my race?"

"Oh yes. Quite well. You just asked why you were here. I may be able to help you find out why..." She offered the gargoyle an extended hand, the first gesture of trust, directing her gaze to the pew.

Demona wasted only moments in choosing her path, that of leaving, or that of allowing this woman, this human to help her. She prudently edged forwards and took her place in the pew. The nun sat beside her, and they both peered up to the podium, where the candles flickered in their infinite waltz among the carved statues. Where a railing and platform once housed a choir, where their song once reached into the belfry and stretched to the lord's own ear. She found it awkward, uncomfortable in this position, for this was not her place, her strength of always being in control of her situation upheaved. "So," Demona started, her usual commanding tone softened to such a degree as to have trouble hearing, "why am I here?"

"When a troubled soul cannot rest, it seeks a place of healing." the robed woman answered, succinct in her reply and true in her statement. "You seem as if you carry a great deal on your shoulders."

This simple utterance, though intended to help Demona understand why she had risked her discovery in coming here, elicited a curt laughter from the gargess. "You have no idea...you cannot even imagine what I have gone through...what crimes I have committed by my own hands..."

"A sordid past. A troubled heart. And you wish for absolution of these crimes?"

"......No." she replied, sincere in her acceptance of her transgressions. "I wish...I could have wiped away my past, but I know it will be forever there to haunt me. And I must deal with what I have done. It's just..."

"It's never easy to deal with the choices you made, in either hatred, or pain, or even in thinking you were doing what's right, to protect those you love."

Demona was understandably startled, in hearing this woman speak as if she knew exactly what had transpired a thousand years ago, and voice so eloquently a torment that may have matched her own. "I suppose...you know of such pain."

"Yes. Very much." She looked back to the gargoyle beside her, who had shed her hood, and allowed her lengthy crimson locks to be cast into the faint candlelight, though each strand carrying it's own fiery brilliance. It then clicked, her memories of a detailed description given to her sometime ago. "It's never easy to confront past actions that have caused great suffering, but everyone has friends and family to help them through. And I know for a fact, you have those who care deeply for you...Demona."

She raised her eyes, now searing with a malice that unnerved the nun, and nearly bored through to her very soul, having released this gargoyle's identity to the open air. "How do you know my name?" Demona demanded furiously. "Who are you?!"

"My name is Rose. And I am a friend."

"Rose..." Demona echoed the word, rolling over her tongue, running through her mind. "You are...Todd's former caretaker...damn, of all the churches on this island, I had to choose that which contains the woman who raised...him."

"You're embarrassed now."

"No, I...I am not."

"He speaks about you with great affection." she continued, seeing Demona lift her head and form a sheepish grin.

"Really?" she said, a glimmer of innocence.

"Oh yes. He was troubled when...you two kissed, and almost ruined his relationship with Annika."

Demona lost the smile to her own guilt, her brow creased, and her lips pursed. "I never wanted to destroy what they had...I only...I truly don't know what I hoped to accomplish..."

"Sometimes grief and desolation can cause...misguided actions."

"I care for him so much...love him, and I was just...so alone..."

"It's hard to be alone." Rose whispered, sensing Demona's sorrow. "I know."

"But you have your family as well." Demona argued, the women meeting eyes, dark emerald to even darker ebon. "You have Todd..."

Rose sighed and looked away, her eyes containing an absolute chaos of conflicted emotion. "It seems...not any longer..."

"Because you turned down his invitation to his wedding." Demona said, this time bringing surprise to Rose's calm facade. The cerulean-skinned gargess smiled, for this time she had the advantage. "Don't be surprised. Gossip spreads extremely fast in that castle."

"I only...I only said no, to allow him to relinquish his dependency upon me. To give him a life worth living...away from me..."

"But you are his life."

She remained silent, in the face of a decision come back to haunt her, even more so than in her dreams every sleepless night. "When did this conversation become about me?" she countered deftly to Demona's statement, seeing her chosen role of a giver of faith completely reversed.

"When I realized...that we are not so different after all."

Rose winced, her expression turning featureless. "After everything I've heard about you, I am not sure that is a good thing," she paused when Demona's scarlet lips turned upwards, the cunning smile of a hunter when catching it's prey, "or a very bad thing."

"I meant it as a compliment...obviously." Demona stood up and replaced her hood, slipping past the nun and into the aisle. "Thank you, Rose. But it is late, and I have a full day tomorrow."

"Back to a life as Dominique Destine, millionaire industrialist?"

Demona shook her head with the extremely personal knowledge the nun possessed of her, knowing she would have to speak with Todd about her private life and just how to keep it actually private. "How much did he tell you anyway?"

Rose shrugged, her shoulders drooped in her impassiveness. "Like I said, Todd cares for you. And he usually spins rather unbelievable tales, especially concerning that of Annika, the clan...and you."

She casually rubbed a talon along her bottom lip, in hearing how much Todd actually valued their friendship, and how she almost threw it all away due to her self-consciousness and embarrassment. "It seems he wants to involve you in all aspects of his life. That of his friends, his family...and his...ahem, fiancé." Though unintended, it seemed even the very mention of the word brought a resentful growl to the base of her throat.

"I have helped to raise him for a long time, and hoped to give him all that he needed to build his own life." Rose replied sadly. "I hope he is happy..."

"You love him as a mother loves a son." Demona mused, standing tall in her cloak, too noticing the ironic twist in their roles, for now she was the one giving advice. "So perhaps, Rose, it's time to reconsider your decision to force him from your life, before you truly lose him forever. I almost did..."

"It's harder than you think, Demona...for what I did so long ago, I did to protect him..."

"I did such once as well. But in my misguided deed of trying to protect my clan, my family...I ended up living a thousand years of solitude." She opened the doors to the twisting winds, and disappeared back into the maelstrom of blinding platinum beyond, leaving a few stray flakes to find their way inside before the barriers snapped shut.

Rose settled back into her pew, and tended a scarred hand across her brow, her gentle ministrations relieving the ache having suffered ever since that night, the last time she had ever seen her charge. Todd's parting words, a bitter resentment towards she who turned away his invitation, and the biting memory of wiping away her falling tears in an empty church, so much like she did now.

****************************************

November 23rd
A few wires left untended, a microchip laying in a distant corner of the bench, the tiny cramped workshop claimed by one the smallest of the Wyvern gargoyles was indeed a refuge for discarded parts and computer entrails. Lexington rummaged through his colored wiring, his bionics searching instantly for the precise size and voltage needed for his finishing touches. "Perfect. This should finish that right leg joint." he whispered to himself, well aware his conversation was seriously one-sided.

Though he kept talking, his spirits high, even after the summer months, and a pain carried inside for so long finally unleashed. A contentment wafted over him, with even the smallest deeds and simplest actions, he could not shake what made him smile so the last few weeks. His polaroid, a gift from the emerald lady of the North, though covered in a few greasy fingerprints and possessed of a small number of tears along the fraying edges, still remained the focal point on the chaos of his workbench. His attention wandered once more, a dangerous circumstance, especially when working with such a delicate piece of machinery.

The Coldstone cyborg was as it appeared when made, though lacking the stone parts stolen from shattered gargoyles of Wyvern's past. And as if in a fever, Lexington had used his knowledge learned through the years and skill of hand to rebuild it. It towered over him, lacking the necessary power and programming, if only to come to life once more. As the web-wing reconstructed the right leg joint, deeply involved in such a precise and uncompromising task, his notice of his environment waned some, a weakness born from his curiosity.

"Yo, Lex...aren't you finished that thing yet?"

"Huh?" As Lexington raised his head, he abruptly forced it into the low hanging arm of the cyborg's husk. "OUCH!!! Dammit..." He rubbed his head, wincing in pain. He turned massive eyes to his taller rookery kin, appearing over him, his beak a smile, though slightly subdued in his brother's pain.

"Sorry, didn't mean to scare you." he said quietly, as Lex kneaded his hairless scalp. "So, when are you going to finish this thing? And of course, the next question is...why?"

"When? Very soon. Why?..." he trailed off, returning to his work. "Well, it gave me something to do when all you mated couples went frolicking about the town."

Brooklyn immediately sensed the underlying malignancy in his brother's tone, though perhaps unintended to come off so harsh. "Gotcha." The taller gargoyle stepped closer and viewed the Coldstone cyborg, eyes of living charcoal to a dead abyss of purest black. Brooklyn then turned around, only to see the polaroid of Rain on the bench. "But..." he started, snatching the picture and studying the seductive pose struck by the diminutive gargess. "There's a hell of a lot more important things than this cyborg now...isn't there?"

Lexington tried to hide his smile. He wanted desperately to conceal the swelling of his lips into a massive grin, knowing this gargoyle, he whom he was still perhaps a little angry at, not to take advantage. "I guess..."

"You guess?!" he snapped playfully. "You've been on the phone with her ever since August. You can't stop talking about her. Rain this, Rain that...every second sentence that comes out of your mouth somehow involves her."

"What's your point?" Lexington responded, a tone brusque enough to sway further jest, and Brooklyn eased off with a smile. "Brook?"

"Yeah?"

"Did you know?"

"Know what?"

"That I would be turned into a cyborg?"

Brooklyn gasped, dreading this question from ever coming up between them. "Yes..." he whispered, his voice broken. "I did."

"Thought so. Why didn't you tell me?"

Brooklyn paused, expecting a rabid screaming, a clenched fist to the jaw, an explosion of anger, but nothing came. Perhaps this was Lexington's fiercest weapon of choice, that of raw guilt. "If...if I had prevented the outcome, I may have dramatically changed the flow of time." he explained, or at least tried to rationalize her fears. "Without your bionic parts, and the abilities that came with, the result could have been the death of Sata and the twins...and maybe even the entire clan during the Unseelie war."

"A little dramatic, don't you think?"

"We could have lost...even with one minor change to the timestream."

"So," Lexington mused further, still continuing his work, "you sacrificed my body, my mind, my happiness...to save your family."

"Lex, I..."

A hand came up to Brooklyn's gaze, effectively silencing him and quelling further argument. "I've never been placed in such a situation, and so, I don't know what you were thinking or feeling. I guess it was hard returning to this time and seeing me, before Madoc...changed me."

"You have no idea..." Brooklyn wheezed, acting his true age with weathered eyes. "You have no idea how hard it was not to say anything...about what would happen...but I felt, I knew somehow, that you needed this..."

Lexington turned around once more, abruptly, his eyes flaring like his anger. "I needed...THIS?!"

There it was, the first spark of fire, the first display of any anger from his despairingly quiet rookery kin. "You have a greater purpose, Lex, which relies on your being more than a simple gargoyle..."

He edged close with a swift velocity, face to face, appearing as though he may attack his brother, and expunge his rage in one brutal blow. "I liked being a simple gargoyle..." he growled, his work then regaining his interest once more.

Brooklyn stared at his backside, the olive flesh scarred with a few lesions of shimmering golden steel where his very body had been cut away, mutilated by a now dead madman of once near-infinite power. "So...you're always going to be angry at me, for not preventing what happened..." he surmised, knowing this conversation had taken a turn for the worse.

Lexington visibly sighed, going limp. "A part...yeah. Maybe a part that will never trust you as much as I once did. But it's...tiring to be angry all the time. Or sad. I almost jumped off a building because I couldn't deal with it anymore. I just want...I just want things to go back to normal." He laughed softly, the first sign of mirth, yet shaded with a vestige of animosity. "But they can't, can they, Brook? Nothing will ever be the same...ever..."

"I can't ever make things right, Lex, but I can try...now that the future seems...uncertain for the first time..." Brooklyn discovered the photograph still clenched in his talons, of one person who may possess the power to bring back the brother he knew, before the sometimes crushing weight of life bore down on them both. "You have a bright future, Lex," he whispered, moving up closer, "one that may include...her." He held up the polaroid for his brother to see, allowing Lexington to take it into his hands. "If you play your cards right..."

Anger of something long past swiftly evaporated into hope for the future. "You...you think so?"

"We both know, what pain and hardship life can bring. But we also know what happiness and love it can give to us as well."

"But...she lives in another country..."

"She's a night's travel away, Lex." Brooklyn drawled, sensing his rookery brother was nervous in trying as hard to form a lasting relationship. "You're just scared..."

"Do you blame me?"

Brooklyn shrugged, and sighed. "Don't let Madoc, or the Pack, or Liz...or me...or anyone else who hurt you, destroy your chance with Rain. I know she cares for you, a lot. And maybe...with the holidays coming up, you can use Christmas as an excuse..."

Lexington cocked a browridge, his large, expressive eyes conveying a rare confusion, raw emotion in technology's embrace. "What?"

"Come on, this is perfect. Invite her for Christmas..."

The web-wing sat silently, running through his cybernetically-enhanced mind, words of a possibility only dreamt about. "Do you think she would come?"

Brooklyn slipped around the Coldstone cyborg, appearing on the other side. "Well...I guess there's only one way to find out..."

"Yeah...I guess..." Lexington answered, lost in the confines of the photograph, his talons tracing the smile left imposed on the film negative, as Brooklyn lifted back up, his plan working before his very eyes, that to help his brother, perhaps because of his own guilt. His eyes drifted back to the Coldstone cyborg, and when crossing a questioning gaze to the expressionless facade, he noticed a bare crimson just noticeably flickering in it's cybernetic pupils. "What the hell?...Lex? Are the eyes on this thing supposed to be...glowing?"

"No, why?"

"Well, because they aruurrkkkkkhh..." With lightning fast reflexes, the once immobile cyborg swiped an arm towards Brooklyn and wrapped powerful titanium-forged fingers around his neck, cutting off the oxygen to the scarlet-hued gargoyle. Lexington scrambled up, to attempt to release his brother from the grip of a monster brought to life, a horrifying parallel to the books containing such imaginative stories. "...llllleeeexxxx..." Brooklyn's throat was being crushed slowly, and Lexington frantically tried to help him.

"Let go, dammit!!" he screamed, watching his brother's eyes roll back into his head. "Brooklyn!" He pounded on the arm, even tried to peel back the fingers, but their strength was unimaginable, their power a vice around fragile flesh. "Come on!! This isn't possible..."

"What's going on?!" Another had entered the work area, and found Brooklyn's limp form at the mercy of a foe thought destroyed. "Whoa!! Not tonight, ugly!!" Broadway lept into the fray, and brought both his arms down on the android's arm, severing wires and welds, and freeing his brother, slumping to the ground. Broadway subdued the arm, forcing it down to it's side, and found the struggle growing easier, the strength being drained away, the spark doused. He watched as Lexington revived Brooklyn, and warily eyed the cyborg, it's gaze of blood red powering down. "What the hell happened here?"

"...assssk th' geniusss..." slurred Brooklyn, moderately dazed, coughing out spittle and regaining his breath with ragged exhales.

"This shouldn't have happened," Lex started, turning his glare to the silent cyborg, "there's no power source..."

"Then how, and why, did it grab Brooklyn?" asked Broadway.

"I bet...it was Lex's revenge..." Brooklyn joked, and when Lexington turned to protest, he smiled and the web-winged gargoyle knew it was yet another bad joke birthed from irrepressibly crooked lips.

"What just happened was impossible...there's no power source, and no programming. This thing's a dead, blank slate..."

"Well, it looked to me like someone was controlling it..." Broadway added, his voice cautious, as was his stance near the Coldstone cyborg.

"Seemed that way...and seemed pretty pissed..." Brooklyn cut through, rubbing his wounded neck and standing shakily on his own two feet.

"No, not angry..." Lexington whispered, using a stool to get a better vantage, to peer into the vacancy of rugged features, molded after Othello's own stoic countenance. "Maybe...just trying to get someone's...attention..."

"It succeeded...now can I destroy it?" Brooklyn sneered.

"Not after I spent months rebuilding it." The web-wing hooked up the connecting wire from the small port embedded in his neck, to Coldstone's retrieval access. Lexington jerked slightly with the sudden admittance to the flood of information coursing through his cybernetic systems. "Nothing..." he grumbled. "No information, no data files...nothing..."

"Then what happened?" Brooklyn inquired, a natural second assessing the potential hazard.

"I don't know." Lexington answered, disengaging himself and powering off the link. "But it won't happen again..." He pulled from the forehead cavity, a small chip, the master control for all systems, ensuring the cyborg would never have the ability to control it's own body.

"You sure?"

"Yeah..." he whispered, as both Brooklyn and Broadway left, wanting only to quickly get as much distance as possible from the automaton. "A random surge. Must have been." A parting look from the rebuilder, then Lexington quickly locked the door to his workroom, bathing the cyborg in utter darkness.

****************************************

November 26th
A repeating dance across the floor, from end to end and back once again, did the olive-skinned gargoyle continue his pacing. In his hands lay the instrument to which may bring back into his life, the woman who perchance saved his life upon the weather-beaten spire of the Empire state building. Lexington kept looking at the portable phone, a culmination of three days worth of anxiety, and an alarm of yet another letdown.

As Lexington passed by him, Todd looked up from his papers on the coffee table, utilizing his free time to practice his artistry, simple drawings, random sketches, most of which centered on the clan. He was sitting cross-legged on the carpeting, legs tucked under the varnished endtable. And from his art, to the television in the media room, to Lexington's trail back and forth in front of him, he blinked his eyes and struggled to focus. "Lex!"

"Huh?" He came to a standstill, staring at Todd. "Oh...sorry..."

"Are you going to use that thing, or gawk at it all night?" he questioned the gargoyle hurriedly, hoping to cease the repetitive movement.

"I'm...trying to make a decision."

Todd sighed, knowing exactly what he wanted to do, having been briefed by Brooklyn on his friend's situation, like most of the clan, and the rest informed by the incessant rumors and hearsay often plaguing this ancient place. "Call her."

"And what if she says no?"

"Then you'll know for sure..."

Lexington grimaced, his fear of rejection present on a furrowed brow. He looked at the number pad, and pressed the power button, hearing the dial tone spark within the receiver. With a breath of determination, he dialed the number of Rain's cellphone.

Todd watched intently now, his friend beginning a conversation, starting with the stuttered pronunciation of her name. He resumed his drawing, and then stopped once more, noticing a slight movement to his left shoulder. He looked up to the couch behind him, only to find Ariana relaxing leisurely on her stomach, head propped up on her hands, and she smiled at him. "Uh, Ari?"

"Uh huh?" she answered sweetly, her eyes focused directly on the human, relentless in her observation.

"Can I help you?"

"Nope. Just...watching you draw."

Todd lowered his eyebrows, his misted gray clicking back and forth between the young gargess and his art. "All right..." He continued on, though unnerved by Ariana's constant staring. He could feel her eyes on his back, a persistent glare that bristled the short hairs on his neck. His Staedler pencil began to tap onto the white paper, leaving the tiniest of marks with crushed charcoal powder. Suddenly, the art utensil went flying and Todd twisted around to the still smiling Ariana. "What?!!"

Her wings fluttered, and her smile only widened. "Nothing."

"Well then stop stari..."

"SHE SAID YES!!!"

Both Todd and Ariana directed their eyes to Lexington, now dancing in place. He hopped up and flipped over, then dragged his feet over the ground in a quasi-moonwalk.

"Okay! Before you start doing the friggin' macarena..." Todd shouted, hoping to stop Lexington's frantic prancing. "What did she say?"

"YES!!!" Lexington rushed over to him, and jumped onto the coffee table, much to Todd's chagrin, watching gargoyle claws nearly tear his fragile paper apart. "Rain said yes!!" he screamed in sheer joy, his eyes lighting up with the promise of seeing the young gargess again. "She wants to come for Christmas!!"

"That's great..."

"But..." The celebration immediately came to an abrupt end with a single utterance, and Lexington looked down on Todd and Ariana with worried eyes.

"But?"

"She has to ask...Ares."

Todd formed a wounded expression, recollecting many an angry father of former girlfriends when meeting them for the first time. "Isn't that her...dad?"

"Yeah..."

"Ooooohhh, buddy...this may be tough..."

"You think?"

"Let's see..." Todd tried to outline the severity of the actual situation. "Rain is an eighteen year old gargoyle, who has a very overprotective, and very large as I hear, father, and who is trying to get permission to leave her family and come to another country to spend the holidays by herself...with a guy?"

"No go, huh?" Lexington wheezed, at last understanding just how futile this may be. "Damn..."

"Hey, maybe...you'll get lucky..."

"Me?" Lexington opened wide his bionic implanted eyes, the hilarity of Todd's remark seemingly laughable to the web-winged gargoyle. "Lucky? Right, Hawkins...right..." His shoulders drooped, his wings limp and hanging flaccid, he exited from the room, his spirit defeated with perhaps the shattering of his hopes in seeing Rain once more.

Todd watched him leave, and found no choice but to return to his art, though his incentive had been lost somewhat.

"Hey," Ariana whispered, her eyes peering through the door and into the corridor, "it's Shadow..."

Todd looked up to see the dark warrior pass by in the direction of the elevators, leading downstairs to the Eyrie's dojo, and Ariana instantly jumped from her place. "Where are you going?" he asked.

"To watch him work out." she answered just before reaching the archway, holding her hands to her chest. "He's sooooo hot."

"Hey..." Todd cried out as she slipped away, the attention his subconscious usually craved now lacking, even if it was from a twelve year old girl with a quickly shifting infatuation. "I'm pretty hot too..."

****************************************

November 28th
Even the winds were not enough to hinder his path, for when this behemoth set his mind and body to something, he would not relent, even to nature, even to her foulest conditions set upon him with the sum of her rage and fury. His wings sliced through the air, directing the currents with great skill and guiding himself towards his intended destination. He had conquered his domain, his birthright, bending it's will to his own.

Goliath settled, and descended, when peering with honed vision on his target. He set down, and perhaps making no effort to conceal his presence from any wandering eye, he approached a set of balcony doors on ground level, of a modest two story house, effortless to blend in with the surrounding dwellings, and to that reason, it even inflamed his anger to a tumultuous degree. The gargoyle peered through the windows, to see an elder couple and son spending their Winter eve in silent repose. He did not care too much for their seeming oblivious demeanor, especially when his mate had suffered by their hands. Goliath moved a hand to the door handles, and when discovering they were unlocked, pushed through them, nearly breaking the locking mechanism in the process.

Like a stormfront, did Goliath burst into the home of the Mazas, the balcony doors being slammed against the walls, and startling the occupants inside. He stood there, chest heaving, and eyes searing with a bestial cast, watching as both Peter and Diane Maza stood to attention, with Derek alongside. "I believe," he growled, stepping closer, "we should talk."

"Goliath..." Diane gasped, thinking now the secret Elisa had kept, was out in the open.

"I thought you had some courtesy, Goliath," snapped Peter, seeing his home invaded, "I never believed you would stoop to barging in on someone's private home."

"And I would have never dreamed you would turn your back on your daughter...and my mate. For two weeks I had pondered what to do when at last I discovered...this...how to help her, seeing her hide her pain away from me and her clan for weeks...so now, I come to you. The cause of what tears at her heart."

"It never should have happened this way, Goliath." Diane pleaded, edging forwards toward the towering gargoyle, though wary of his tensed mannerisms and rigid composure. "We never wanted to hurt Elisa..."

"You betray her, and our daughter, effectively force her to chose between you and her clan, and you say you never wanted to hurt her?!" he bellowed, a growl beared from his chest, enough to frighten Diane back into her husband's arms.

"We were only trying to protect our family!" yelled Peter. "Because of Trinity, because of you, because of everything that has been brought into her life, our lives...we have almost lost her, we've almost lost Derek and Maggie...even Beth...how much more will we take?"

"You would purposely emotionally harm Trinity, because she is half gargoyle? You would allow this family to be split apart because of petty fears and bigotries?"

Peter lunged forwards, having heard enough of someone talking to him of racial intolerance. "Choose your words wisely, Goliath! My entire life has been fought in defense of my people, as has Diane's. We know the harm that can come..."

"Then you also know firsthand, that fear breeds prejudice. Prejudice breeds hatred. Hatred breeds war and ultimately, death."

"And whose death will it be?" Peter countered grimly. "Elisa's? Our's? Derek and Maggie's? The Quarrymen, Thailog, Madoc, Sobek...Elisa's life, all of our lives are in constant danger...we allowed you and Elisa to marry. We allowed you to live your lives as a married couple. But now...it's come down to the fact we are afraid to go to bed at night, afraid that we'll hear of Elisa's death, or even be attacked ourselves when, and I do mean when, your marriage becomes public. Maria told us that that reporter woman, Nicole St. John, saw you flying towards the precinct house, and almost discovered Trinity's true parentage. What would have happened if she did discover the truth?"

Goliath softened his scowl in the recollection of the Halloween party, when his simple mistake in being seen had almost caused an uproar, had almost spilled his mate's greatest secret to the entire world.

"It's too close now. We're in danger, and we have another grandchild on the way. If it means we have to lose our daughter, to save our other children, and grandchildren...then so be it. Elisa herself left us no choice...a sacrifice...had to be made..."

"SHE made the choice?!" Goliath sneered, as he and Peter stared off, clashing in a battle of determination, if only to keep their respective families safe from harm. "As I see it, you forced her to choose." he hissed, his form appearing to expand before their very eyes. "I hoped you would have helped us bring peace to our races. I would have hoped you would be included in our lives, in Trinity's. I would have hoped to give to her your love, and experience, and teachings of life and culture. But I suppose I was wrong about you..." Though speaking to Peter, he directed his comment to all three of them, even Derek. "It is simple now. I should have seen it before. You, Peter Maza, are nothing but a racist...and a coward."

"How dare you!!" Derek screamed. "You barge in here, and insult us!!"

"Derek, please!" Diane attempted to calm the raging tempers.

"No!! I won't be talked down to by him! By anyone!! We have every right to protect what we've finally found after living a nightmare!! A goddamned nightmare that no one could ever understand!"

"You would be foolish in making this a physical struggle," Goliath warned severely, "...human."

"Quiet, both of you!!" Diane screamed, her tears released, in seeing a family gone to war. "Please..."

"I think you should leave, Goliath," said Peter, holding his wife to his chest, "before something happens that we both regret..."

"True enough...Mr. Maza." Goliath crept back, though his charcoal glare still centered on people who he was once fortunate enough to call as his own clan, but now seemingly strangers. "Perhaps Beth was right after all...you are bigots."

"DAMN YOU!!!" Peter charged forwards in a sheer moment of anger, pushing his wife away. Yet Goliath caught him effortlessly, and contained his anger in favor of simply subduing him, though his strength unleashed effected a rather brutal toss of the elder human to the floor. An accident, which had enraged the son, and pushed him beyond his limit.

Derek, pent up with anger, screamed his fury and his hands crackled with energy. He focused it to the very ends of his fingertips, and let it loose, directly into Goliath's chest.

"Derek, NO!!!" Diane screamed, but it was far too late. The gargoyle was toppled by the electrical blast, having been seething just beneath Derek's skin for months without release. Goliath was thrown into the wall, and his great weight lay cracks in the surface, and he fell to the ground. She watched in tears as he struggled to rise, a smoldering patch of burned skin on his chest.

"Oh god..." Derek wheezed, now clearly seeing what his irrational anger had evolved into. "Goliath...I'm so sorry...I didn't mean..."

"I could bring this very house down with my bare hands!!" he snarled, as he got back onto his feet. "But I am far too civilized for such an action. Consider this your last warning. You have no place in my clan. In Elisa's, or Trinity's life." He moved slowly towards the doors, and into the storm, his form melting away into the flurry of snow with a trailing vestige of glowing eyes left to burn their lasting image in their collective souls.

Diane in turn sobbed into Peter's chest, with Derek staring at his hands, still wafting with steam from the discharge of energy, that which had scarred his friend's chest. Peter watched his son collapse to the floor and hunch over into a ball, forcing his hands into the material of his sweater, as if hiding away his persisting powers from his mutation. The matriarch of a shattered family, he pondered Goliath's words, a man of honor, a man whom he had once been proud to call his son. "A sacrifice...had to be made..." he whispered. "One family...for another..."

****************************************

November 30th
"PLEEEEEEAAAASSE??!!!"

"FOR THE LAST TIME, NO!!!"

"But, Ares..." Rain whined relentlessly, pouting, hoping to affect her father with her massive glistening eyes and trembling bottom lip, that which always worked when but a hatchling. "I want to go."

"I have already told you, for the last three nights now, that you are not going to New York for Christmas." the massive spurred gargoyle answered, having stopped in his escape from his adoptive charge, and facing her, eyes thinned, dangerously close to losing his already frayed temper. "Especially unescorted..."

"But you already let me go once..."

"Only because you wished to see Trinity, and Goliath and Elisa. This time," he paused, his eyes forced open with a blinding platinum glare, "there is a gargoyle who would like nothing more than to get his dirty little talons into your loincloth."

"But I don't wear a loincloth..." she corrected him.

"You know what I mean!!" he snapped, as Rain edged back, knowing she should not have pushed that extra bit. "This matter is resolved, daughter, you are not going."

She watched helplessly as he walked away, knowing she was unable to change his stubborn mind, unable to convince him otherwise. "But I want to see Lex..."

"And so you shall, Rain." Aurora swiftly stepped past her, narrowing on her spurred mate's path, and with a quick tread and a snap of her wrist, she caught his spiked tail and held him in place with her own impressive strength. "Ares."

He turned, to see just who would possess the gall to countermand his final decision, and grasp upon his tail. "Aurora." he warned with a simple word, his tone grating, hostile. "Don't do this..."

"You are being unfair, my love." she started, releasing his spurred appendage, and standing before him, the only one of this clan who would dare such a challenge. "Why are you so afraid of letting our daughter spend the holidays with her friends?"

"Because hormones are very powerful demons." he countered grimly, seeing Rain cower at the end of the tunneled hall. "And I won't have her spending the holidays away from her clan. We are celebrating Christmas as a family."

"Who says we have to be apart? We can all go to New York."

"Yeah..." Rain squeaked, stepping forwards, only to be frightened back to the rear wall by Ares' angered gaze.

"No." he growled. "We are needed here as well, for our protectorate."

"I believe Ottawa can get by for two or three weeks without us."

"No."

Aurora huffed, pursing her iced lips and lowering her brow. Her features molded from mature beauty to a fierce animal defending it's cub. "Fine." she hissed. "You leave me no choice..." She placed two fingers into her mouth, and released a shrill whistle, it's piercing clamor screaming down the length of the halls, and filling the tunnels of the Grotto with her summons.

Only moments later, came Thrash, the orange, beaked gargoyle plowing into the tunnel with wide eyes, his long dreadlocks falling over his features in the sudden stop to avoid hitting his younger sister. "What the hell was that?!" he yelled, with Magellan and baby Crystal behind him.

"We are having a clan meeting." Aurora answered, eyes planted firmly on her mate, leader and second in command meeting their gaze, a war of will between lovers. "As second, I reserve the right to dispute your decision."

Ares was shocked. "You can't do such a thing."

"According to our clan's laws, forged hundreds of years ago, when this country was but a colony of Britain, I can and I will. If the entire clan votes to rescind a foolish command given by the leader, then it shall be abolished in favor for what is deemed best."

"No...y-you can't do this..." Ares was fighting for his clan, his very position compromised by his own mate.

"All in favor of going to New York for the holiday season, raise your hands." Aurora raised her arm, as did Rain, then Magellan, and then finally, even with Ares glaring down on him, did Thrash hesitantly complete the vote.

"Thrash..." he snarled.

"But Ares, I mean, come on...Hunter Mountain, Ski Windham, Lake Placid...Whiteface!! Just to name a few. All these hills I've dreamed of boarding..."

Ares' mean scowl peered to every single member of his clan, even his youngest daughter cradled in Magellan's arms, who seemed to sense his anger, exuding from golden skin like tiny beads of sweat.

"The clan has chosen. The clan has decided." Aurora announced. "We are going to New York."

They all stared at him, waiting for this seething volcano to at last erupt. Even Aurora, though wearing a fearless facade, still wished with all her heart, she had made the right decision. Ares towered to his full height, the spurs beginning at his brow and trailing down the length of his head, neck and back, nearly brushing against the cave's roof. "Fine..."

A collective breath held, was now released. Rain could barely contain her excitement, wearing a smile from ear to ear. "All right!!" she cheered. "Time to get me some Lex!" Her unintended slip caught Ares' ears. "Oh...I mean sex...I mean...oh god, I gotta go!"

"RAIN!!!" he bellowed, watching the emerald web-wing take off in a mad dash towards her room, both to hide away from her enraged father and to relay the good news to Lexington. He went to follow, but found his mate was intent on holding him back, all the while attempting the futile struggle of concealing her laughter. "You're enjoying this, aren't you?!!"

"Yes, very much." she mumbled through her chortling.

"Are you trying to give me a stroke?!" he yelled, only inflaming Aurora's laughter to the point where she had to lean on his braced form for support. "Because that is exactly what this family is going to drive me to. With your incessant contradiction of my orders, I am going to be left a mindless, old gargoyle, who scares the hatchlings!"

"I cannot wait to go to New York. I hear it is even more beautiful in the Winter." she mused, evidently ignoring her husband's ranting, with Ares slapping a hand to his face.

"Why did I ever mate with you?"

"Because you love me..."

"At this moment, I am not so sure about that. Rain..."

"Deserves this. And you know it. She is falling in love with him, and only wants to find someone with whom to share her life." she whispered, dragging her knuckles across his brow and guiding supple fingers down the sharp curve of his face. She smiled, knowing Ares was feigning the wounding of his self-confidence. "And for the record, you would be lost without me."

Ares sighed, yielding a losing position, and gently took her slender form into his arms, and anger washed away with her warm skin pressing softly onto his, a hide of glacial frost, though burning as if the sun itself. Her power over him magical, she was the calming influence to his explosive temper. "I certainly would."

****************************************

December 3rd
"Shadow? Where are you going?"

"The dojo." he answered succinctly, barely an emotional content whisking on a Japanese inflection.

Delilah could feel the pain waft from him, feel what threatened to burst from his skin. "When are you going to open up to me?" she asked of him. "I told you, whatever happened we can talk about it."

"Leave this be, Delilah." Shadow rasped.

"What happened in Egypt is still bothering you, even after all this time."

"It's been two months now...and it's over."

"No, it's not." she countered, stalking close, guiding a supple hand long his arm, her talons discovering each crevasse and ridge in taught muscle. "You have acted like nothing happened. But you buried something inside of you, and tried to hide it with false pretense. I mean, you even had a prank war with Todd...like you just want to forget...you keep avoiding this, Shadow..."

Shadow pulled away slightly, as if she had reached too far. "If you'll excuse me..." He started to walk away, heading towards where exactly Delilah had guessed.

"Oh, so it's off to work out again, huh?" she argued back, her power of spirit a perfect match to her lover's strength in physical form. "Trying to bury what happened in pointless exercise." She had stopped him in place, with an assumption that could nearly match the actual truth.

"I said leave it be!" he growled, his eyes on the verge of twisting in sapphire fury. "I am fine. What happened has been buried, and I have gotten on with my life."

"By ignoring everything else? Including me? Or spending time with another woman?" Her own anger translated as a caustic barb, and as soon as it left her lips, she had regretted it completely. "I'm sorry, I..."

"I have only been to Iliana's four times, only to enjoy her collection of movies...ones you refuse to watch anymore."

"I just...don't like violence." she whispered. "Or killing..."

Shadow sighed, in seeing his blossom duck her head, her eyes radiating a lifetime of pain experienced. "I know..." he said quietly, while walking away.

****************************************


December 5th
"I want those specs in by the end of this week, is that clear?" a once sultry lowing became as a growl echoed upon each wall, the office filled with the commands of the owner and creator of Nightstone Unlimited. Her employees stood in awe of her power, as they huddled around her desk, all unbelieved that such authority could exist in a slender form, statuesque and seemingly poured into her business suit and skirt. "I said, is that clear?!"

"Yes, ma'am." they answered in perfect unison, before filing out from her spacious office and leaving Dominique Destine to lean back in her chair and run a hand through her hair. She sighed, and swiveled around to face the skyline just beyond the glass, a haunting horizon borne of steeled spires and louvered facia, colored completely black with the sun suspended in the sky, a rare clear day in the midst of Winter's clutch.

"Ms. Destine?" Candace, Dominique's personal assistant had stepped in from her desk from outside the door, and with her nervous call, waited for a response.

"Yes, Candace." the disguised Demona answered succinctly, her eyes focused clearly on her assistant, a fierce emerald framed by a light eye shadow and long fluttering lashes, to hypnotize man and gargoyle alike in her air of danger and a risk worthy of taking.

"I've prepared your meeting schedules for the next two weeks, have the latest projections for the next year, and Mr. Hawkins is waiting outside for your lunch appointment."

The red-haired woman looked up, surprised in hearing her meal break would not be spent alone as it had been for a long time now. "Ah...thank you, Candace. Send him in, and that will be all." Demona grabbed the files Candace had placed demurely on the desk, and started leafing through the documents, intent on losing herself back into her company's financial dealings.

Yet the young secretary lingered, unsure whether or not to approach her employer with such a topic, she whom had rarely been approachable. "Uhm, Ms. Destine?"

Dominique looked up, wondering why her orders had yet to be followed. "Yes."

"Well, I was just...I noticed you've been acting...you seem better, the last few weeks."

"Yes, I am." Dominique answered softly. "Much better. Now please, send Mr. Hawkins in, before he destroys something valuable outside. And Candace..." she stopped her assistant from leaving, with almost a plea. "Thank you."

"Yes, ma'am." she replied, while opening the door, only to find Todd stumbling in and nearly falling to the carpet, having been resting against the mahogany grain, apparently eavesdropping, or at least attempting to through the thick, soundproof door. "Mr. Hawkins to see you, ma'am."

He straightened his jacket, and bared his teeth. "Thanks, Candi. You're doing a bang-up job." Todd remarked, winking at the assistant, as she quickly shrugged him off and left the office. "Yo, Red."

"What...are you doing here?"

"Der. I'm hungry." he said with arms splayed, as if it was explanation enough.

"I didn't think...we'd be having lunch together anytime soon."

Todd approached, slumping down into her leather couch and propping his feet onto the coffee table, with Demona's eyes still on him. "I thought I told you...that we're going to have to put all that crap behind us, and start over. I want my friend back..."

"You know how I feel, Todd." she asserted once more, still uncomfortable even with his continued presence.

"And you know how I feel. Now, just because you and Annika aren't talking, doesn't mean I'm going to cut you from my life. Okay?"

"......okay."

"Good. Now, my wallet's empty, and I'm friggin' starving. Now, how about treating me to lunch...'friend'."

The suited woman lay upon the young human a glower that could shatter glass and even crack thick granite, yet knew he was impenetrable to any of her baneful advances. "It would be my pleasure..." she surrendered.

"Uh, Ms. Destine?"

Dominique looked up to the door, where a young man had poked his head through, the long strands of dark chestnut brown hanging down to almost obscure his eyes. "Yes, Mr. Wurzel?"

A very thin man, perhaps a little over a hundred and fifteen pounds if soaking wet, with ruffled, loose clothing including an Apple Computers shirt, he stalked forwards and stole to her deskside, delicately slipping an abandoned file folder from beneath the pile left. "I, uh...forgot my notes..."

"I'm sure you'll have everything in order for our...'special project', Mr. Wurzel?"

"Uh, yes, ma'am." the young man straightened out, and swiped a hand through the falling hair to relieve the strands from his face, hoping to present himself in the best possible way to the buxom redhead. "No problem."

"Yeah, Wurzel," interrupted Todd, and the two men locked eyes, "get yer ass to work."

"And YOU are?" he snapped back with an irritable growl, as Todd raised his eyebrows, and enlarged fully his cocky grin.

"Jeez, nice employees you have here, Red..."

"Mr. Wurzel," Dominique cut through with her authoritative snarl, before the young men started in further than that of a simple verbal quarrel, "if you'll excuse us."

"But, I..."

"Mr. Wurzel."

Todd watched the young engineer leave the office, who merely muttered obscenities beneath his breath in being talked down to by an associate of his employer barely older than he. "Do I know him from somewhere?" he mused, stroking his goatee.

"No doubt another one of your friends you have gotten wildly intoxicated with, and destroyed a house or two..."

"Hmmm...I don't remember..."

"What a surprise."

"Shut up, Red." Todd snapped back, seeing Demona risk breaching her emotionless demeanor in curling her lips up and laughing softly. "Come on, let's go get some lunch...and talk."

****************************************

December 8th
"Another fight?"

"Not a fight exactly, but I suppose you could call it that..." Shadow sighed, settling his massive body into the couch beside Iliana, her presence reassuring. "It seems we are bickering about even the smallest of things. Our free time, our lives, our...friends..."

"Relationships go through rough times, and you guys...well, haven't had it that easy." she tried to calm him, and his fears.

"True enough." Shadow seethed, a bristled demeanor that brought pause to the young detective curled up on the other end of the couch. "Hopefully we can...sort things out...before they get worse..."

"Me too..." Iliana stated sadly, seeing the love he held for this woman present on even granite carved features, hoping one day she'll have the fortune to find someone like this. "So...you ready for the movie?"

****************************************

December 9th
"Come on, come on, come on..." he released his anxious chant into the cold air, eyes directed skywards, the cybernetics he was both blessed and cursed with, seeing a glint of raven steel in the swath of a cloud cover turned a deep lavender gray. Lexington swayed back and forth, barely able to contain his excitement, watching as the Xanatos' private helicopter slowed it's descent towards the courtyard landing pad, having returned from Canada with a very special cargo.

The others had gathered in the blanket of snow surrounding them, to welcome their newest guests to their home, and each gargoyle would often give surreptitious glances Lexington's way, knowing exactly whom he was waiting for. As the ebon-hued helicopter touched down, a weighted tonnage gracefully contacting the stones with gentle hands, Lexington watched for movement in the passenger compartment windows, tinted a deep smoked gray. Perhaps a flash of sapphire emerald hide, or golden locks, to catch a glimpse of his friend in the midst of the swirling snow.

Suddenly, even before the rotors were powered down, the door slid open and out jumped a young web-winged gargess, eyes of violet diamond searching for her very reason for coming across the border. "LEX!!!" she screamed when spotting him, tearing from the helicopter's side with a snap of talons against the stones, and instantly did she jump into his arms, sending them both into an embankment.

"Oooof..." Lexington wheezed, having been buried beneath the snow, the breath forced from his lungs. "It's good to see you too..."

The young gargess beamed, still laying on top of him and brushing the snow from her hair, the ivory clumps of frozen ice slipping effortlessly from the sheen of blond and mahogany tress. "It's been too long, robotman." she whispered seductively, clasping her hands to his cheeks, if only to guide his gaze to her and her alone. "Waaaay too long."

"Oh Rain, care to introduce us?" called Aurora, having stepped from the helicopter, and reunited with Goliath and Elisa and meeting Trinity for the first time.

"Oh yeah..." she breathed, hopping up and pulling Lexington from the ground. She crossed the stones with him tightly in tow, until fronting her mother and clan as if a child showing off her newest plaything. "Lex, this is my mother, Aurora..."

Lexington reached out and clasped the taller gargess' arm, and she trailed her eyes to his entire body, to better see what had stolen her daughter's heart so efficiently so. "It is a great pleasure, Lexington, to at last meet you."

"You too..."

"And this is my brother Thrash, and Magellan...and Crystal." Rain continued, with Lexington swathing through the ranks of her family with hearty handshakes and a greeting of a clawed hand through raven hair for the tiny child riding in Magellan's arms.

Then a slight shudder, as if the ground had split and fractured and the Eyrie building trembled on it's very foundation, two golden feet slammed down onto the ground, as the last of the Canadian clan exited from the helicopter. Ares stood up to his full height, almost as tall as Goliath himself, and the young web-wing craned his neck upwards to see the golden leader, his very massive form bulging, his eyes centered directly on the cyborg beneath him.

"And this...is my dad...Ares."

Lexington tentatively held out his hand, trembling slightly, and the spurred gargoyle slowly reached out and grabbed his entire hand within his large two-fingered paw. He winced when Ares applied more pressure than usual for a supposed friendly greeting, enough to relay his true feelings through the force exerted. "It's...good to meet you, Ares."

"Lexington." he rasped, unable to hold back the sneer forming on his lips.

Lexington clenched his teeth together, as his bones were being pulverized to powder. "...ow..." The golden gargoyle at last released, and Lexington breathed a sigh of relief, rubbing his hand and relieving the pain. They stared at each other, Lexington feeling as though he were placed under a very large, a very questioning, and a very angry microscope. Rain held her place near her friend, seeing her father say nothing, and through his compassionless disposition, effectively lower the surrounding temperature.

"Er, there is a feast prepared in your honor, my friends," came Goliath's voice, seeing Ares stare down his clan member with eyes he knew he had possessed many times before, especially when his own daughter was being courted, "we should perhaps head inside."

"Let us go, Ares." Aurora pushed against her mate, having to use almost all her strength to push him along and towards the door leading to the interior of the castle. "Before you do something rash..."

"Would tearing his arms from his body count as rash?"

"Yes."

****************************************

December 12th
"Man, this castle looks even better with all the decorations." ruminated Rain, a soft voice to match her eyes as they roamed the media room, prepared with adornments for the coming Christmas holiday.

Lexington sat beside her, watching the young woman cross her gaze to the ribbons and garland, and then the large tree in the corner, an eight foot monstrosity of deep forest green and a wafting scent. Barely three days later since her arrival, from awakening on the cornices with six extra gargoyles, and when the light faded and was lost to night, did they spend all available time together. From movies and games, and even an occasional patrol, they were never separated. Though a fear of true commitment kept them from exploring a relationship further than that of simple friendship. "Yeah..." Lexington breathed. "They're really beautiful..." His answer though, was not directed to the decorations surrounding them, as his eyes were centered on the young gargess, his head propped on his hand, his lips askew in his admiration.

"Yeah, they are..." Rain turned around, and abruptly, was her face placed only inches from her friend's. "...a-aren't they?"

"Uhm-hmm..." Lexington sighed, studying her features of youth and ravishing precision placement of cheekbone and swelled lips begging to be touched.

"Lex?" she asked, a plea without breath to power it. "Do you...like me?"

"Yeah..."

"I mean...really like me?"

"Yeah...why?"

She leaned forwards, a mingling of breath and fragrant aroma. "Just...wondering..." Closer they moved, until a light contact of supple skin, like electricity, and Rain closed her eyes, allowing Lexington to guide his hand to her cheek and press his lips completely onto hers, slanting his mouth across her own. Simple, unpracticed, a few touches together, then with a resolve born of swirling lavender to limpid charcoal, did they deepen their embrace into a full-fledged kiss.

"RAIN!!!"

The young lovers were forced apart by a scream released from behind them. They both looked up into Ares' glowing eyes, having appeared from behind the couch, and discovering exactly what he had feared from ever happening. "Ares..." Rain wheezed.

"How dare you!!" he howled directly at Lexington, the web-wing frozen in place on the couch. "I knew this is all you wanted, only to slime your way into my daughter's clothing!"

"Ares, you're blowing this way out of proportion." Rain defended her friend, standing up to her heaving father.

"I walk into the room, and find my daughter's mouth being cleaned out with this boy's tongue, and you say I'm blowing this out of proportion?!"

"Yes!"

"Listen, I don't think..." Lexington tried to cautiously interject, only to be silenced by Ares with merely a glare of death.

"You are lucky, boy, that I am a peaceful gargoyle, or you would be splattered all over this room..."

"Oh shut up!!" Rain screamed, having heard enough of her father's mistrustful attitude of someone she knew intimately well, in sharing their fears and very souls to each other for months now.

"I beg your pardon?" A grave rebuttal with a sound of broken, glass shards.

"You didn't even give him a chance!!" she snapped, leaning over the backside of the couch to point a finger directly in Ares' face. "You just decided to hate him without getting to know him!! I like him, really like him, and I know he would never do anything to hurt me! And by the way, DAAAAAAD," she scraped the word off the bottom of her throat and let it rise into a scream as it left her mouth, "the kiss was very mutual!!" She hopped from her place and stormed off, brushing past her adoptive father with a hard shoulder, leaving Lexington to quickly run after her, and Ares to relent his anger in the face of a brutal reprimand by his own flesh.

"What the hell was that?"

Ares turned around to see Thrash dumping his snowboard against the wall, and adjusting the skiing goggles on his wildly spiked brow. "It seems I have...made a very big mistake."

"You mean yelling like a psycho at the little guy?" he chuffed.

"That would be it, yes."

"What the hell is your beef against Lex anyway?" he asked, while flopping own onto the couch and flipping on the massive television. "He seems pretty cool. Especially all those robotic parts...he looks like a little Robocop. Heh heh heh..."

"I...truly don't know, Thrash." Ares sighed. "I just feel as though...I am slowly losing her..." He slumped his wide shoulders, and left, defeated.

Thrash shook his head, and buried himself into his television program, a rare thing, providing they did not have such technology in the Grotto. But from the corner of his eye, did he see a flash of scarlet skin, and raven hair inherited from a Japanese ancestry. A small, beaked gargess was staring at him from the doorway with fluttering lashes, and Thrash winced. "Man, she's staring at me again..."

****************************************

"I can't believe him! He won't ever let me lead my own life!!" she screamed rabidly, ranting and raving as she paced around the entire guestroom, where Lexington had at last caught up to her. "He's such a...a...a jerk!!"

"He's not a jerk, Rain," Lexington argued surprisingly in Ares' favor, "he's just...a father."

"An overbearing, overprotective, big, bully!!" Rain slumped down to the bed, moving away the twin trails of her long bangs, and staring at the intricate pattern created by the perfectly placed stones in the far wall. "I can't believe him sometimes..."

"He loves you, and he's trying everything he can to keep you safe."

"By chaining me to a cave in Canada?!" she snapped back, the malicious growl slipping from lavender-painted lips so unlike her diminutive form. "By not allowing me to spend some time with the man I lo...er, and...well...urgh, he's just so domineering!! And tyrannical!!" She was yelling now, clenching her fists and pouting her bottom lip. "And mean!! And...and...Lex, how the hell do you get your belt around your waist with those wings?"

"Huh??" Lexington was obviously startled, in the abrupt manner of her conversation turn. "Whoa, talk about a topic change."

"Sorry, but when I get mad, my mind kind of wanders too. And frankly, it's just been bothering me all week. It's like one of those optical illusions..."

Lexington sat beside her, trying desperately to sway his smile in the face of her anger. "It's simple actually, when gargoyles with my wing structure were hatched, the leaders cut slits in the membranes near the waist, so we could wear loincloths as well. And the process was duplicated when I was...changed..."

"Oh..." she suspired, seemingly exhausted from her previous yelling. "I wish I had that too, I'm stuck wearing one-pieces..."

"Speaking of getting my loincloth on, how the hell do you get yourself out of that thing?" he said, running a hand over her bright orange catsuit.

"Oh, well, there's two buckles on my shoulders. You just undo them and...peel like a banana." She suddenly burst into a coy smile, and slipped her eyes towards the male sitting beside her. "Uhm...care to try?"

His eyes bulged in the invitation, yet the better part of caution warranted his hesitation. "Not after what I just witnessed..."

"Are you sure?" she tried once more in an act of lasting rebellion, moving his hand up to her left shoulder, a slender musculature, and allowing his fingers to guide themselves over the clasp. "It's easy, just undo and pull down."

"Jalapena..." Lexington wheezed. "Let's see, risk getting my head caved in by a huge gargoyle father, or undress a beautiful Canadian seductress..."

"Not a hard choice in my books." she jested quietly, squeezing his hand, reassuring of her true feelings for him.

"Mine either..." His decision swiftly made, he then reached up, and unhooked her catsuit, and slowly pulled down, revealing her bare chest and stomach. His breathing quickened, as did his heart, when Rain wiggled out from the rest of her suit, casting the stretchable material from her arms and legs and baring her shimmering emerald skin to his eyes. "Damn." She wrapped her arms around him, and pulled him down on top of her, and without resistance to her touch, did Rain further explore his own muscled form with her talons, and close her eyes to his warm skin atop her.

****************************************

He waited outside of the door, hoping he would be welcomed, his apology taken with a full heart. Ares carefully worded his repentance in his mind, knowing he would have to attack this delicately, for he knew Rain had inherited his temper and stubbornness, like all daughters did from fathers of inheritance and blood before them. He decided to try the doorknob first, hoping to at least get inside the door before surged the sheer angered defiance he knew would come. To knock, would only nullify his attempt to make amends. Ares found the door unlocked, and pushed his way inside.

"Rain, I just came to apolo...gize..." He looked to the bed, where both Lexington and Rain broke their passionate kiss and looked directly at him, his daughter completely nude and buried underneath Lexington's body. In his fury, he ripped the steel doorknob from the door, his claws rendering thick wood and leaving a shower of splinters to fill the air and plunge to the floor.

"Oh crap...not again..." Rain whispered in total fear.

"Lexington...LEXINGTON!!!" Ares roared.

"Uhm, Lex, sweetie?" Rain said to him, thinking perhaps this may be the last time she would ever see him in one piece. "Run."

Ares lunged forwards and swiped at Lexington, as the smaller and fortuitously quicker web-wing flipped from the path of golden talons aimed for life-giving veins. Lexington rolled off the bed, and sprinted from the room, with Ares right behind him. He scurried down the corridors, bouncing from wall to wall, without the need to look back, knowing the frenzied growling echoing around him was of an angered father out for his blood. Lexington turned one corner, and found a glimmer of copper hide flash into view.

"Lex?" Elisa called out, with her husband directly behind. "What's going on..." Lexington never answered, only slipping past them and on towards the end of the hall. "What the hell is wrong with him?"

"I would guess Ares caught him and Rain in a compromising position..." Goliath mused, aiming his eyes the opposite way, and seeing nothing but a flaxen-colored battering ram bearing down on both him and his wife.

"Why do you say thWHOA!!!" Elisa screamed, as eyes of chocolate swirl barely caught nothing but a field of purest gold before Ares came down upon them, trying to get to Lexington. Goliath grabbed him, and Elisa was caught between the two massive gargoyles, trapped within rippling muscle and reptilian hide of the softest suede.

"LET ME GO!!!" Ares bellowed, eyes virtually dripping with anger, lighting up the entire hallway. "THAT LITTLE WEB-WING SHALL FEEL MY TALONS AROUND HIS NECK!!!"

"Whoa!! Ares, calm down!!" Elisa had managed to climb up and around his shoulders, helping her husband hold him back from Lexington, who had stopped at the end of the hall, and was staring at perhaps his own demise come to claim him. "Calm down!!" Goliath then grabbed both his arms and using his superior strength, subdued the angered father and held him at bay.

"I will not!! I leave them alone for a second, and they end up having sex!! I will rip his gonads off!!"

"We were only kissing..." Lexington corrected him, an unwise decision.

"Only because I interrupted you before you could go any further!!"

"Ares..." Goliath forewarned him, before glancing a fist off his chin, and snapping the Canadian leader out of his murderous rampage. "Please...if you will calm down..." He watched as Ares steadied his breaths, stunned by the blow, and yet, heeding his friend's calming demeanor. "Now, this cannot be as bad as you say..."

"I find your charge on top of my naked daughter, groping her exposed flesh and sticking his tongue down her throat...AGAIN, and you say it isn't bad?! How do you raise your children?!"

Goliath was momentarily silenced, struggling for an answer. "Well, I, ah..."

"Ares," Elisa laughed, "they're just teenagers..." Yet the laughter stopped when catching sight of her friend's furious glare. "They like each other...and dare I say, are falling in love with each other..."

"That still doesn't make it right."

"It does, my friend, when two gargoyles find themselves attracted to one another, and only wish to explore their feelings." Goliath cut through, attempting to act as the rational voice, that which Ares either lacked or had chosen to outright ignore. "There are not a lot of gargoyles to chose as mates, and both Rain and Lexington are fortunate enough to have found each other. This will only help both our clans, our race."

"This will help your clan..." he hissed. "Not mine. For if they decide to further this relationship, do you think Lexington would leave Manhattan?"

Goliath understood why Ares had been angry, when facing not just the brutal fact forced upon him of his daughter's maturity, but losing her altogether. "I know, friend, what it feels like to face losing a daughter to her suitor. But I did not in fact lose Angela, nor will you lose Rain."

"I will, for she will leave us...leave me." He knocked away Goliath's hands, and stood alone, passing his eyes to Lexington still cowering at the end of the hall.

"Our clans must be united, my friend, for the gathering will be coming soon, and we all must band together. And what better way than a daughter of one clan and a son of another to find love in each other."

The fire burst in his eyes, threatening to erupt at any minute. "Fine." Ares reluctantly agreed, staring down the web-wing. "You had better treat her right, and make her happy, Lexington of Wyvern. Or...gghhhhkkkkk..." He dragged a taloned thumb across the base of his neck, from ear to ear, displaying his intentions with a simple gesture, and Lexington assuredly got the point. He stomped off, leaving Goliath and Elisa to look at each other, and Lexington to release his breath and slide down the wall, and collapse into a heap.

"You are actually quite lucky, Lexington." came a whisper from the shadows.

"How do you figure that?!" he answered the voice, and seeing a ivory-skinned gargess sit beside him, watching her mate disappear from sight.

"You are not dead."

****************************************

She curled against his body, as a child would in her father's arms, safe, protected, her hands guided as if drawn across the wet expanse of his chest, small droplets of warm soapy, water trailing down a lavender landscape and fusing back into the drifts of cotton froth. Elisa reclined against her husband's chest, her hair tied up and piled on top of her head to keep from the warm bathwater's bubbling clutches. Wafts of steam, only visible in the faint candlelight, drifted up and collected onto the arched stone ceiling above them, then lingered slowly down the granite walls. The few placed candles flickered with even the most subtle of movement from the couple, and left their mark in puddles of wax on the ivory marble tub.

She sighed in sheer contentment, an existence no farther than this room, her life and soul wrapping his arms around her. "Goliath..." she whispered, words at last spoken in the serenity, a breathless plea to her lover.

"Mm-hmm..." he murmured, having too succumbed wholly to the comfort of warm waters lapping at his weary form, and his mate lounging in his lap.

"Can you believe Ares?" she said, laughingly, in his earlier behavior.

"Yes." Goliath replied honestly, though too unable to escape the mirth of a recollection of Lexington running for his life. "Though he acted a tad...angrier than I would have, I do understand him. Sometimes I wished I could have done that to Broadway, if only to keep him wary, and forever vigilant."

"To protect your firstborn child..." Elisa mused, turning onto her side to better her the beat of life thundering in his chest, and creating a few small waves in the still waters even with her lithe form. "Goliath? Where did you go that night?" she asked, speaking of the evening in which her husband had abruptly disappeared from their home, and confronted her parents.

Goliath fidgeted slightly, moving a four-fingered hand from beneath the suds and onto Elisa's backside, kneading the toned muscular structure. "I was on patrol..."

"You're lying." In her statement, Goliath sighed. "I saw you come home, try to avoid me...you went to see them, didn't you?"

"Yes."

"And what did they say?"

"Exactly the opposite of what I would have ever thought..."

Elisa clenched her nails into his chest. He noticed, but not of physical pain, but of her own emotional torment. "Then you know."

"Yes."

"Of how they truly feel..."

"They are afraid."

"Why?" she begged to him, her mate, he who possessed a silver tongue, of always knowing just what to say, just how to calm her greatest fears. "Why would they...ever give up on me...on us?" she whispered, merging her own tears with the tepid dampness settled on her skin.

Goliath wanted to express his anger, howl his rage to the field of stars just beyond the roof and clouds. But he held firm, for he would not lose his composure, he would not betray his true self, a leader born a millennium ago and tempered by a lifetime of battle. "Fear...can cause irrational behavior." he whispered back, hoping to pass off what he had once deemed to be cowardice, but now, with ample time to reflect, did not know just how to view this situation. "Fear is a most powerful weapon, it can act as a double-edged sword, hurting all it comes across. But they are now gone from your life, for it was they who have chosen to do so, not you. They forced you to make this decision. They forced you to choose."

"I'm scared, Big Guy, to face a future where my baby may be persecuted because she has wings...even by her own family."

"I told you once to never fear our future together." he rumbled, his voice projected even through his thick chest as a tremor with every word. "You can always depend on your clan, Elisa...on me. I shall never leave your side. Never."

Elisa lay into his torso, swallowed by his presence, engulfed by his soul and the love he offered to her. "I know..." she said sadly, an end to one life, the beginning of another. That without those who first gave her life.

****************************************

December 16th
"And then, wit' his entire army defeated, did they be runnin' from the field with their tails tucked b'tween their legs..." Hudson finished his tale, joining in on the laughter brought forth from Magellan beside him. "Och, 'twas a grand celebration that eve, till dawn's light."

"I can only imagine, mon ami." answered the elder Canadian, having settled his weary frame into a matching recliner beside the tatter-winged Scotsman, and watching the flames dance and rollick within the stone hearth of the library's grand fireplace.

"A life of war an' battle, but love, friendship, an' family. Good times...an' bad times..."

"You have lost a lot in your life as well, eh?" Magellan brooded in his brusque Canadian inflection, perhaps far more of his country than the others.

"Too many," Hudson answered, stroking his beard, and seeing Bronx shift his slumbering form beside his chair, "including she who brought me th' greatest gift...her love, and her child...my son..."

Magellan nodded, in hearing him speak of a pain only few have experienced. That of losing a mate. "You lost yours in battle?"

"Aye. A Viking attack. Yuirs?"

"De massacre that took our entire clan." he replied, and they both went silent, a topic thought dealt with, a pain believed defeated years past, only to resurface in friendly conversation. "I guess pain like dis never goes away...eh?"

"Nay, it be a reminder o' just how precious life is..."

"And how we'll fight our damnedest to keep our clans safe," he raised his glass, swirling with the last remnants of his beverage, "until our last breaths."

"Aye." Hudson toasted his friend, his mate of aquamarine skin, and his clan. They finished off the last of their liquor, and relished the flavor of aged Canadian rum, brought from Magellan's own private stash. Hudson then reached beside him, and pulled a leather pouch from the stand. He grabbed his companion's glass and his own, and refilled them both. "I was told t' drink this wi' someone I love..." Hudson commented, as he topped off Magellan's glass.

And the elder Canadian simply cocked a wary brow. "Whoa there, Hudson, I like you and all, but I butter my bread on one side only, eh."

The Scottish gargoyle laughed sharply. "Dinna worry, there be someone else whom I be wantin' to...get closer wit...but...I canna betray m'love."

"Your dead love, mon ami." Magellan corrected him, albeit somewhat blunt, but knowing his thick hide would protect him from the harsh reality they were unjustly forced to inhabit. "If it were me, and I had de second chance to find love once more, I would definitely take it."

Hudson eyed his glass, seeing two dark pools of devouring black in the rippling reflection of the matured whiskey. "Perhaps, but I suppose, it be up to her as well..."

"De only way to find out, is to ask her." Magellan then gulped down his entire glass, downing the whiskey and scraping his dry tongue across the roof of his mouth. "Sapriste! Tres smooth..."

Hudson, musing in his own world, was awakened with Magellan's sudden coughing, his throat raw and bursting with flames. "I would ha' thought you would be able t' handle yuir liquor, friend."

"Dis stuff will put hair on your tail."

****************************************

December 21st
"Oooooohh, Leeeeeexxx..." cooed Rain, standing alongside the young gargoyle, and practically wrenching him towards her.

"What?" he asked, bewildered.

Rain simply pointed upwards and found her friend staring up to a sprig of mistletoe, a splash of green and crimson berry suspended directly above the couple. He blushed, and when returning his gaze to the gargess, she wrapped around him and pressed her lips to his mouth.

And from afar, did the golden gargoyle crush the crystal glass to shards in his hands, when seeing his daughter disappear hand in hand with her newest suitor. "I swear, I'm going to kill him..." he growled, until two ivory hands stole up and stole him down towards ice blue lips. Aurora had cornered him, and with a kiss of her own, did Ares completely forget about his daughter.

****************************************

December 23rd
"That's no fair!! Look at the size of that thing!!" Annika complained, in seeing her fiancé's stocking, a red behemoth that hung from ceiling to floor.

"I know. And I've got a big stocking too..." the human answered, snickering into cupped hands, and when at last moving his gluttonous eyes from his stocking to his scowling lover, he shrugged. "Well, think of all the loot it'll hold."

"Or all the coal, uncle Todd." joked young Alexander, standing beside him, with Annika smiling, and rubbing her talons through long, unkept crimson.

"Ah shaddap."

****************************************

December 25th
"More lingerie, Todd? This is the third set you've got me..."

"Yeah, but this one is black, gorgeous. With those little frilly, lacy things. It'll look great...RUFF!!!"

"Sicko...but this IS soft material. And so nice against the skin..."

"All right, snowboard wax!!"

"And it doubles as beak wax too..."

"Shut up, Rain!"

"Brooklyn, why does this shirt say Bikini Inspector?"

"Trust me, Goliath, you'll look fantastic. Almost hip."

"Hey, Goliath, I have one just like that...it says Muff Diver. Ha ha ha ha ha..."

"Jalapena, I will look like Mr. Hawkins..."

"Why does everyone keep calling me that?!"

"Your choice of gift, daughter, is...very unusual..."

"But mother, I'm positive you'll enjoy the Twelve Studs in Speedos calendar."

"I believe Elisa is rubbing off on you too much, Angela. Perhaps you should shower more."

"I heard that, Demona!"

"Hmmm, but look at Mr. February..."

"Fox, my dear, do you think it was wise getting Alex that bike?"

"Well, I didn't think he would be riding upside down on the roof."

"Alex, please, mind that chandelier."

"Hi, Trini!!"

"Xander!"

****************************************

December 31st
Christmas came, and Christmas went. The blur of life, the passage of time often too fast to properly cherish and savor. Laughter and cheer, a gathering of family, the holiday season, the entire year was coming to an end with only the twelve chimes of midnight. The clan had gathered for a grand banquet, to toast their Canadian friends in their last days in New York. The dining hall was filled with lively chatter, from one end of the long table to the other, where a family sat and feasted, laughed and told stories from a thousand years in the past.

Goliath sat silently watching his brood at the head of the table, with his wife and baby daughter on one side, and Angela, his firstborn, and Broadway on the other. He was quiet, allowing the voices to carry to his sensitive ears. Eyes of ebony emotion cast to each member of his clan, and his friends, and even allies born from former enemies. His gaze roamed past his brothers and sisters, and the younger generation, human friends and new discoveries, even a former mate, seeming as if she had never left this clan.

He slowly stood up and used a spoon against an empty glass, the shrill rapping of valuable crystalware bringing to attention the entire room. "If you will allow me, friends," he started, his voice clear, "I would like to take this opportunity to make a toast. A thousand years ago, I and the survivors of my clan were frozen, and placed into a sleep that was destined to last for a millennium. We at last awoke into a strange world, perhaps without hope. But we fought for our chance, our lives and happiness, and now stand on a new era. A true peace is forming, though small, and in it's infancy, it has the potential to give back life to the gargoyle race. Through battles and death, we persevered, with help from allies found in the most unusual of places." Goliath looked down at his wife, holding Trinity securely in her arms. "My wife and daughter. A true union of gargoyle and human, and she who I gave my heart. Todd and Annika, yet another interspecies couple, who will soon marry, and embark on a journey of love and prospect and further aid our quest for true peace. Lexington, who has found someone to help him in his pain, and a joining of two clans. Demona..." The former mates met respective gazes, Demona seemingly unwanted of such attention thrust upon her. "A fight for a new life. A rebirth of the woman and friend we knew so long ago. And to the rest, who have dealt with personal trials..." His eyes found Delilah, and then the Xanatoses. "And have tried their best to overcome them. I make this toast to you all, my clan, my friends...my family." He held up his glass, as did the rest of the clan, and finished were their drinks.

And the feast continued on into the night.

****************************************

A still night, so unlike of what was to come in less than an hour. A celebration of a new year, yet another chance to redeem one's self. She propped herself against the cornices, her talons entrenched in the snow covered pallet of Goliath's perch. The best vantage in the entire city, where her eyes could scan as far as evolution allowed, the city appearing as a blanket of snow fixed with a million points of light, fallen stars buried in frozen ice.

"Demona?"

She turned quickly, startled by the call of her name. She found Goliath appearing from the stairs, and found herself impressed the seven hundred pound behemoth could disguise his approach so easily. "Goliath. Can I help you?" Her tone was as cool as the outside air.

"Actually, I was wondering if I could help you."

She turned back to her city, and sighed. "I was treated in that hall, as if nothing had ever happened between us. It's...unsettling..."

"I do not think so." he answered, brushing his caped wings against the stones. "They missed you. Your brothers and sisters, your daughter...me. We missed our friend."

"Hrm..." Demona cursed, sneering. "Disgusting sentiment."

Goliath smiled, laughing beneath his breath, cracking the steeled facade chiseled from stone. "I believe I may have forgotten to tell you this long ago, but...welcome home, Demona."

She froze, in hearing her final redemption at last begin, a vindication from the gargoyle whom she had injured the most. Her breaths being steadied, she lifted from the perch and turned to face him, and to her chagrin, he was still possessed of a smile. What she would not give to have the opportunity to wipe it from his face with a clenched fist one last time, but in the endeavor for peace, that which she believed in, she curbed her impulse.

"You want to hit me," he huffed, "don't you?"

"I would not be so rude. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to spend New Year's with my daughter." Demona quickly retreated from Goliath, having concealed her embarrassment successfully, until coming face to face with silky raven locks, and lips parted in a damnably wicked smile.

"Hey, Demona." Elisa greeted the cerulean gargoyle.

"Elisa."

"Going to plan the downfall of Castle Wyvern and us do-gooders now that you're allowed back in?" she joked, only to receive a growl in reply.

"I still hate you, human. Never think that's changed."

Elisa cocked her head, an indifferent response to such a threat. "I love you too, Demona." The winged amazon quickly scaled the steps with a faded grin, leaving the married couple alone atop the highest point in the city. "Hey, Big Guy, I've been looking for you."

"Oh?" he said, a playful tone. "And whatever for?"

Elisa coyly stalked towards him, a glint in her eye, that of mischief and seductiveness. "Well, the countdown to midnight is coming, and there's only one man I would like to kiss for New Year's." She braced herself against his chest, and he opened his wings to her, a snap of leather and the scent of sweet male musk carried on the gentle breeze. He pulled her close, and she instinctively drew nearer to his heart. "My husband."

"Before the end of the new year, and of this night, I would like to give you something." With Elisa watching intently, Goliath slipped a box from his belt, and placed it into her awaiting hands. "A gift for my lady...on her birthday."

"Christmas, and now this...you're too good to me, Goliath."

"Open it." he commanded softly.

She complied, undoing the ribbon and lifting the lid, and inside lay something that cast upon her eyes, making the pools of thick, creamy chocolate appear ever larger. "A music box..." she breathed, gingerly pulling out the ivory box, adorned with the purest of golden trimmings. She lifted the lid, and found a picture of her husband and daughter smiling back at her framed in gold, and the haunting melody of a song played once before when they first danced as man and wife. "Our song..."

"To forever remind you, of your family, and how we will always be by your side."

A smile, and a tear released, Elisa closed the lid, and relinquished the tune to silence. "Thank you..."

"So...how old are you anyway?" he asked, though aware of the answer, and only inquiring as to hear what reply would come.

"Old enough..." she evaded casually.

"Hmmm, yes, it seems the powers that be want to keep all of us forever young. But even as years pass, in my eyes, Elisa Maza, you will never age, or lose your beauty." Goliath swept forward, and scooped Elisa from the ground, pressing but gently his wife to his broad chest. His wings spread, darkest lavender pinions blocking out the sky in their natural-bred majesty, he was a being created from fire and granite, having broken the mold in which he was sculpted.

"Aren't we going back inside?" she whispered, her lips caressing sensitive skin, and her heated breath tickling upon the bottom of his ear.

"Not tonight." Goliath lept up upon the battlements, and allowed the winds to seize his mighty form, and he took flight. "Tonight you are mine, and forever more." They sailed into the cool, night air. And above the city they flew on, higher and higher, playing in the folds of cotton, the clouds parting to allow only them the awesome beauty of the naked cosmos. The chimes would ring on every clock upon the island, and the city below would commence into celebration. Yet Goliath and Elisa would not hear, having ventured into a world of their own, born of love and devotion, and a fusion of souls into one.

It was a new year, a fresh start.