65 - "Transition Phase"

January 24th, 2002, twilight...
With a mechanical whine of the rotor, technology evolved into but a quiet purr for such raw power forced through the engines and it's components, did the distinct sound signal the arrival of a massive object lowering through the thick cloud cover. No more just a sound now, it's presence filled the courtyard landing area, specially marked with bright painted lines, a deep yellow beckoning to the pilot of it's place, it's roost upon the highest tower lifting into the sky.

The helicopter landed with a bare caress across the smoothed rock, a skilled pilot handling controls of an insolent child, and the rotors powered down, with a young adolescent waiting intently to the side knowing his cherished friend would soon step from the passenger compartment, a privacy assured by smoke-tinted glass windows. Alexander Xanatos was restrained by an always rigid Owen Burnett with a hand to the young boy's shoulder, the young scholar of magic kept motionless on the ground, lest his excitement would carry him from the stones in an aura of purest magic.

The door slid open from the Xanatos Enterprises private transport, and out hopped a small-statured gargoyle, his few cybernetic parts visible to the naked eye glimmering a reflective gold in the exterior castle lights.

"Uncle Lex!!" screamed Alex, with Owen barely able to hold him back.

Lexington smiled to his charge, and then inexplicably turned to offer a hand inside the helicopter. A slender paw reached out from the darkened cab, shimmering sapphire emerald sliding into his hand as if a cresting stream. And instantly, did Alexander's smile fade, effectively being wiped away from youthful features with an angered scowl. Rain stepped out, hand in hand with Lexington, and smoothed away her long bangs from large, enticing eyes of lavender hue, twin rivers of molten gold swept up in the dying eddy of the helicopter's rotors. "Hey, Alex!"

Alexander merely stared, his eyes of deep-set emerald baring flames of malice towards the approaching gargess. "Dumb girl..."

"Miss me?" Lexington said, interrupting Alexander's troubled gaze.

"You said you were only gonna be two weeks!" he complained unintentionally, having waited almost an entire month for his treasured friend to arrive back home, and only to bring back the woman whom he felt had stolen away his baby-sitter.

"Well...sorry," Lexington shrugged, eyeing Rain coyly, "but I wanted to spend some time with Rain."

"But you saimmmppphhhffff..." Alexander's irritated tone became muffled, lost to the open air, with a pale hand cast across his mouth.

Owen had silenced him gently, knowing just what was about to spew from the child's tongue. "We are glad to see you home, Lexington. How long are you able to stay, Rain?"

"Until after Todd and Annika's wedding. Then I have to go back with the rest of my clan." Rain flicked away a stray hair, the bundle of winding follicles swaying from the blow and delicately swinging back into perfect place. "God, trying to get Ares to let me come back was a hard-won battle..."

"I still don't why he hates me..." Lexington huffed. "I mean I only spent the entire time I was there repairing the generators, setting up your computer terminals, communications link and security system."

"He'll get used to you..." Rain assured him, propping herself on the web-wing's shoulder and snaking around him, with Alexander furrowing his lips in an irritable glower, almost seeming nauseous at the display of affection before him. "Just give him time."

"Until he finally decides to kill me."

"Either or."

"Well, I hope your trip was to your liking, Lexington." Owen started. "I suppose you have heard about the...recent occurrences here."

"Yeah, Fox filled us in on the way here. I was sorry to hear about Shadow and Delilah...that was one hell of a spell..." Lexington indirectly trailed his eyes to the child below him, and Alexander looked down, still a present guilt in having his unlearned magic spread too far and cause so much damage. "It wasn't your fault, pal." He leaned down, running his talons through the hybrid's hair. "They had a lot of problems, and I guess...they weren't able to deal with everything that passed between them."

"I didn't mean to..."

"It's okay, Alex..." Rain attempted to reach out towards the dejected human, when he flinched and backed away abruptly. He retreated towards Owen, holding himself a certain distance away from the emerald gargess. "I'm not going to bite." Through the falling crimson, came a menacing sparkle of his eyes, though not of the existing glow of the floodlights illuminating the landing pad, but an inborn ability of sorcery growing more powerful by each passing day. Rain swallowed and backed off, sensing exactly what he passed to her with but an expression. "Okay..."

"Hey, Lex!!" It came from the battlement above, when all eyes crossed up to a lone figure having emerged into their sight. "It's about friggin' time you got back!!"

"Hawkins."

"You comin'?!!"

"Where?!"

"Der. The bachelor party!!"

Lexington's large eyes widened to better show the almost invisible cybernetic wiring embedded even in his artificial retina, having almost forgotten the upcoming celebration before the wedding ceremony. "Oh yeah...when?!!" he screamed back.

"February 11th, baby!! Right after sunset!!"

"You're damn right I'll be there!!"

"Cool..." Todd whispered, pulling out his notepad and scrawling Lexington's name. He drifted from the sight of all gathered on the landing pad, and Rain then prodded a few talons into her boyfriend's shoulder, with enough force to leave an indentation on the natural skin.

"Would this bachelor party be a night of debauchery, heavy drinking and mindless, pornographic entertainment for men?" she mused, her brow lowering, her features swelling into a distrustful pout.

"Boy I hope so..." he whispered.

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

January 25th
He possessed the room as a bare whisper, even the air surrounding him like a master of all environment, and coerced it to his favor. Where the rigid constraints of gravity played as if strings upon a marionette and attached to his talontips, he danced upon the atmosphere of filtered recirculation, the distinctive tang of technology present when crossing his keen sense of smell.

His savior was this room in the past days of emptiness, when retreating from a life lost of love and companionship. The dark warrior heeded the call of a baser need, the whispers of a thousand spirits of family echoing in his mind where taken were his skills. But even as he carried his nunchuku around in winding circles of blurred scarlet leather in each hand, he was calm. The bloodlust faded, all traces of any savagery were but a hint of what usually had taken complete control of his body and mind.

Shadow eventually ended his practice, bringing his chained weapons to a halt, catching the ends between his fingers and standing as a statue, only the golden chains of the nunchuku dangling and swaying from such exertion. Shadow stood idle, hearing his heartbeat, feeling it's power strike against the inside of his chest. And when the sudden realization hit him, he dropped the nunchuku, clattering onto the padded floor, softening the impact.

"Pointless..." he whispered, when staring at the lifeless weapons, no longer an extension of his hands, unable to feed on it's master's anger and madness in the heat of battle. "This is pointless!!" he yelled, damning the ironic twist, his constant training once helping him focus, and now, only reminding him of just how much he has lost. "A futile chore. I have wasted my life in the pursuit of perfection and ultimate control, only to lose everything I have at last gained."

"Kinda sucks," a voice answered the rhetorical utterance, "doesn't it?"

Shadow never turned his eyes towards the intruder on the dojo, knowing by the tone, and jubilant affectation, the owner instantly. "Mr. Hawkins."

"Losing a woman like that...it's fucking hard." Todd tromped his way towards the weapons rack, and pulled out one of the katana, a blade long and sharp, enticing his curiosity and outweighing the obvious danger of an implement of war created for one purpose only. "I've gone through several break-ups myself," he started, playing the blade like a toy held in a rambunctious child's hands, "and every time, I wondered if there was anything I could have done to save it."

"There was nothing!" he menaced, the grating rasp scraping along the roof of his mouth. "I betrayed her, betrayed myself and my grandfather's teachings...I became exactly what she had feared...an animal without control...there was nothing I could have done..."

Todd flipped the sword around, a circular motion of three hundred and sixty degrees, only to land the handle back into his palm with a certain skill of his own. "You sure about that?"

Shadow closed his eyes, and found the night three days ago coming back into haunting clarity. "If I would have...if I told her what I truly was...what I had done...I would have lost her anyway."

Todd sighed, unknowing what could bring the dark warrior's wings to a pensive position, and the membranes shivering, from a battle of words and flowing tears so fresh in his mind, so unwilling to let go of the constant reminder always threatening to drive the ninja mad. "Listen, I don't know what you've gone through...I don't know what you've kept inside of you all these years, but if Delilah truly loved you, then she would have helped you through it. And you know that."

Shadow thought how damnably arrogant he was, a presumption of lifetime experiences of a man younger than he, but in the ultimate irony so becoming feared, he knew the human was right. "I...I am..."

"Scared." Todd finished for him, sensing a sudden change in stance, that of sadness to anger, and he kept himself wary. "Scared to frighten her away. It's pretty basic. And you know the funny thing? We're a lot alike..."

"How so??" Shadow winced in the comparison.

"Both lost our family, both orphans, both full of anger of...being abandoned..."

"Perhaps true, yet my anger is over something much more than you could ever imagine..."

"If you say so..." Todd swiped the sword around, a snap of the wind that caught Shadow's ears.

"I would be careful with that katana, Mr. Hawkins." he warned softly. "It is sharp enough to carve the flesh from your bones, or even sever a limb without effort."

"Well, then I'll be carefu...whoa!!" Todd lost his grip and the sword fell from his hand, a direct course towards the weapon rack, and even with only it's weight driving it, the sword cleaved through the wood and fell the rack in two separate pieces. "Fuck me gently..." he gasped, caressing a hand around his neck.

"I warned you."

"Yeah, I guess you did..." Todd delicately picked the sword from the floor with only a few fingers and placed it back into the standing structure, and then started past the gargoyle, heading towards the door. "Listen, I'm extending the invitation to my bachelor party. There's a place if you want it."

"I do not think...I would be too much fun at your celebration."

"Your choice, pal. If you want to run away again, that's fine with me."

"I was far from running away..." he hissed, as Todd stopped in the doorway, shrugged and leaned against the sturdy frame. "Delilah and I...we...we are perhaps too different to ever have a relationship...that will bring happiness..." he relented, concealing his eyes away.

"Annika and I are different too. But that means we only have to work harder at it."

"You would never understand. Sometimes love...just isn't enough..."

Todd shook his head, surprised in a man who seemed so learned, so mature, and yet would be unable to grasp such a simple concept. "I may tell jokes," he said, arching an eyebrow, "or not take a lot of things as serious as I should, or even come off as a stupid, immature jerk...but I still believe in true love. Call it a quirk." One last look to the ninja, and he left. "See you at the party, Shadow."

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

January 26th
"Where are you, Shadow?" It was nerve-wracking coming here now, once a place of majesty and wonder, now where her friends had suffered, and a secret was revealed in shockingly brutal fashion. Iliana had avoided this place, after the parting of Shadow and Delilah, knowing in some way it was partly her fault. But drawn here without question as to why, to see him again, for his presence would not leave her mind, would not so easily let go of her heart. His suffering she wanted to lessen, his pain she wanted to take away with but a wave of her hand. But that would truly be a task deserved for his loved one, the woman destined to be by his side for all eternity, throughout life and even the beyond.

She carefully traversed the corridors, avoiding the main halls and peering down the corridor before traveling onwards, for the last thing Iliana Starr wanted was to run into the woman who just days ago had her worst fears confirmed in front of millions of television viewers. Iliana had avoided the hall where she knew Delilah's room was, though even in a castle this massive, with passages leading to each corner and level upon level, would fate play it's hand ever so subtly.

Around a corner in which she had decided to look right when perhaps she should have looked left. Iliana turned around and stared headlong into eyes she could have sworn as Elisa's, albeit burning with an anger only fused with bitter sadness. "Shit..."

"On your way to see Shadow?" Delilah asked incredulously, her hands trembling, the last thing she wanted when a rare escape from her room was to see the woman whom took her lover to her own bed.

"As a matter of fact..." Iliana replied sheepishly, though keeping a brave front to better quell her fear of retribution from the woman most hurt by what had happened.

Delilah looked her over, seeing she who could have been a friend turned betrayer in her eyes. "Fine. I bet you two have a lot to talk about..."

"We do. But I bet there's a hell of a lot more he needs to talk to you about."

"Shadow and I have nothing to discuss." Delilah hissed, brushing past the red-haired detective and intent on losing herself into the labyrinth of carved granite.

Iliana crossed her arms, clicking her tongue against her top lip. "So you're willing to throw everything away because of a mistake..."

"Which mistake?" Delilah responded to the show of strength. "When he killed needlessly? When he slept with another woman? There seems to be a lot of mistakes he made, and probably more...but he refuses to tell me, and I can't be with anyone who can't be honest with me."

"So you decide to make him suffer, when he's only trying to protect what he has with you...when he's so desperately trying to make things right..."

Delilah stopped mid-stride, quelling her anger, threatening to transform her against every will. "There was only one thing he could have done to set things right, and he refused to even do that."

"And because of a life he so wanted to forget, and start over with you, you condemn him!! You condemn us both!!"

"You deserve it!"

"I deserved having my private life torn open?! I deserved having a spell cast on me and destroying the relationship of a friend?! You're not the one who's getting leering stares and catcalls on the streets! Or being hounded by the tabloids, and some stupid reporter who's trying to expose your friends! You're not the one who's career is on the line because of some picture taken through my window!"

"Maybe you should have closed your drapes before taking the man I loved to bed..." Delilah snapped, a vicious humor so unlike her.

Iliana nearly drew blood when having chewed into her bottom lip. "You little, selfish bitch!"

"How dare you!!" Delilah screamed back, a rabid reply born of consuming rage. "You could never understand what I've been through, and now to suffer this..."

"And what about Shadow? If you only knew what HE went through..." Iliana was fuming, with the young clone standing near the hall, two women staring each other down, as if a contest of the strongest will. "If you only knew..."

"I tried to understand, but he kept it hidden. And in that, he destroyed what we had."

"Bullshit! You pushed him away, Delilah, because you don't give a damn about him anymore." The detective stalked closer, and thus, stood face to face with the gargoyle, slightly taller than she and feeling each heated breath released. "You pushed him away...right to me. And I'm going to take every single opportunity."

Watching her retreat, in the direction of the outside door leading to Shadow's turret, Delilah was left speechless, trembling hands clenched in both a consuming anger and a regret in perhaps allowing the man she loved to slip away. "But...I tried...so hard to understand him...but he won't tell me...he won't be honest with me...so what can I do?..."

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

January 27th
"But what can we do? She barely speaks to me anymore, let alone anyone else..." said Elisa, walking alongside with her husband and mate, the massive, lavender gargoyle towering over her, though his stride kept in perfect sync with her own.

"We cannot pry, my Elisa." he answered, throwing his enormous towel over his shoulder, to better dry a creature seven and a half feet tall. "Delilah must deal with this, in her own way."

Elisa stepped in front of Goliath, forcing the gargoyle to a halt, lest he trample his own wife in her swiftness of step. "She can't deal with this, Big Guy, she doesn't know how..." she pleaded, for perhaps her own daughter, stolen from her flesh but welcomed into her life. "She cried herself to sleep in my arms the night she broke up with him. And now she shuts herself up in her room all night."

Goliath sighed, his hard features softening when thinking of his daughter's suffering. "We can only help her if she wants help." he sighed, playing on an exacting situation experienced only years ago when having fallen in love with a human. "Let her and Shadow deal with this on their own after their anger has subsided. Only when they realize what they've lost, will they realize what they both want...and need."

Elisa swept away the stubborn strands of her ebony sheen, floating aimlessly on either side of her face, as she continued on her path from the locker room and into the cavernous pool area. "This is exactly what I was afraid of." she whispered, and even her tone kept quiet was enough to be cast upon each high wall, where lay the haunting reflection of the water's shimmering surface. "Getting into a relationship with someone so different, and not having it work out."

Goliath formed his thin lips into a smile, a rare sight usually only seen when in the presence of his wife. "We started the same way, and now look at us." he argued, as Elisa delicately slipped a foot into the Eyrie's olympic-sized swimming pool, creating a swelling ripple in the calm surface, before flicking chocolate brown eyes to her husband and seeing him flash his wedding band to her. "From friends to mates. And like we did before them, they will have to work at their coupling, and resolve their issues with each other. A true and lasting trust must be formed, and only then can they begin to repair their relationship."

"Only if they want to." Elisa sighed, sliding into the pool, following the curved, descending steps and allowing the crystal waters to lap at her body as she submerged into their awaiting warmth. Goliath followed, clad in a black bathing suit specially sized, and dipped his wings into the pool. She felt the waters push against her, displaced by Goliath's great weight, and turned around, propelling herself into his chest effortlessly. "That damned news report...next time I see St. John I swear, I'm going to put a .38 slug right between her eyes..."

"You blame the pictures released onto the television for their parting?"

She sighed, her breath drifting across the water, marked only with a slight rippling to the surface and then, serenity. "I don't know...I mean, we can easily pass them off as fakes, but...but sometimes...sometimes it gets too close, Goliath." she whispered into the breadth of his chest, her lips tasting upon the acerbity of the chemicals in the pool water trickling down his skin. "Too close to my baby..."

"It is all right, Elisa." Goliath soothed her, his tone laying soft and sweet, clutching her wet form closer to himself, as if joining together and becoming as one body to match their wedded soul. "Hopefully this will end soon, and the public may lose interest, if we don't allow anymore 'sightings'."

"I wonder what mom and dad felt when they saw that..." Elisa muttered, a fusion of dispirited laughter wafting within her voice. "It probably only confirmed their...fears. Maybe they were right..."

"They were perhaps justified in fearing harm to their family, but not of their treatment of both you and Trinity." he argued against her self-doubt, becoming her strength once more.

"Yeah...I suppose..." she voiced softly, stirring the waters and enjoying the tranquillity and infectious calm in this massive place, where only the sound of lapping waves resonated when striking her husband's flared wings. "Goliath, do you think...Shadow and Delilah can work it out?"

"I...can't answer that." he whispered, smoothing his lips over Elisa's wet hair, the overhead lights creating a blinding polish to the raven locks. "For whatever Shadow refuses to tell her, must be so truly painful to him...to risk losing her forever. And as you say...they must each chose to accept each other once more..."

"What a great way to begin a new year, and celebrate a wedding..."

"MOMMY!!!"

Elisa was torn from her husband's embrace in sudden fear, when the scream of a child echoed through the entire pool area. She looked past him, and both mother and father found their youngest daughter standing on the edge of the pool's shallow end. The hybrid was staring at them with wide eyes, wearing a bathing suit specially tailored for her wings and tail, complete with orange inflatable water-wings on both her upper arms. "Well," Elisa at last birthed a smile, forgetting instantly of a relationship fractured and close call of exposure, "it's about time you got ready, baby."

"Too far!!" she shouted, for to her, the massive pool had now turned to an ocean, separating her from her parents by a cerulean sea, bordered by smooth cement of a light gray tint.

Elisa quickly traversed the pool's length with her husband in tow, nearing the winged girl cowering near the white-tiled ledge. "Are you coming in or not?"

Trinity looked down into the pool once more, and backed away a step. "No wanna."

"Trinity Hope." bellowed gently her father, standing tall above the water's surface in the shallow end of three feet of depth. "Please come into the pool." He found the hybrid creasing her spurred brow, crouching low and prudently to touch her taloned fingers into the warm brew of sapphire sparkle, the wafting scent of raw chlorine crossing her nose.

"Too deep." she whispered, when pulling back away from the waters as if scorching hot.

"Trinity." Elisa soothed her daughter's fears, standing and walking towards her, grazing her fingers to the child's side, rubbing tenderly against the satiny material of the bathing suit. "You've been with us in mommy and daddy's bathtub, and hot-tub, and the pool is just the same. It's only bigger. Now look at daddy." she said, almost an order to the stubbornness inherited from her own blood, with Goliath extending his hands to Trinity's fearful gaze. "You know that he would never let you go. Now come on." Elisa drifted back into the waters, with Trinity holding herself still, crossing her eyes from the pool to Goliath several times, running through her mind a decision hindered by fear versus courage.

"Jeez, this is going to take way too long..." A form slipped behind the winged girl and lifted her from her feet. Trinity was pushed to Todd's shoulder, and the human and human hybrid looked at one another. "Ready to fly?"

"Unca Dodd...NO!!!"

A lasting grin was shot to her before the diminutive gargess took flight, but not of her own choosing. She was firmly tossed towards her father's arms, and Goliath caught her effortlessly, with the child clinging to the thick, muscular neck for her very life. "Now that's how I learned to swim..."

"Daddy!!" she cried, as Goliath bobbed her up and down on his broad shoulder, his chest rumbling with a deep laughter when feeling her tiny talons dig into his flesh.

"Now that was not so bad, was it, Trinity?" he asked of the wide-eyed child, unbelieved she was now stranded in the middle of her ocean. She turned in her father's massive arms to see Todd pulling a deck chair to the side and slumping down into the nylon straps stretched across the metal frame, and stuck her tongue out at him.

"Right back atcha, squirt."

"Besides helping Trinity in her swimming lesson, though perhaps not a method I would condone..." He laughed quietly when watching his daughter click her eyes around in trepidation, her youthful perceptions of monstrous waves and a devouring sea stretching on for eternity. "What brings you down here, Mr. Hawkins?"

"Just wanting to know if you're coming to the party."

Goliath nodded, settling deeper into the pool, allowing Trinity the chance to skim her tail across the surface, to better quell her fears with actual substance. "Yes, I will be there."

"What??" Elisa perked up from her place by Trinity's side, having just splashed water onto her daughter's face and hair, and receiving a welcome giggle in return in her quickly developing familiarity of the water. "This from the man who never wanted his own bachelor party..."

"My own bachelor party, where I was to be the intended to suffer at any and all humiliation." Goliath countered, a raised talon held before Elisa's chestnut eyes. "But it shall be extremely pleasurable to see Mr. Hawkins endure whatever embarrassment Brooklyn and Xanatos can dream up."

Elisa nodded as well, a devilish smile passed to the human on dry land. "You'll tell me everything, right?" she whispered to her husband, anticipating at long last, Todd's comeuppance for almost two years worth of torment and practical jokes at her expense.

"Of course."

Elisa's smile deepened and she playfully splashed her daughter again.

"Mommy!!"

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

January 28th
"But mom!! I hate that thing!"

"It is a traditional robe from my country's...your country's history, and you will look beautiful at the wedding."

"I don't want to look beautiful," Ariana pulled away from the mirror, adjusting the dress she had chosen for the upcoming celebration, a wrinkle noticed and fixed quickly with but a swipe of her hand, "I want to look hot."

Sata sighed in her daughter's sheer contempt of her choice of attire, holding the silk kimono delicately in her talons, hoping she would have graced the wedding hall with the elegance and well-bred refinement of ancient Japan. "You are thirteen years old. You are not yet old enough to look...hot. Besides, this kimono will suit you perfectly."

"I'll look like a set of drapes." Ariana condemned the robe, peering with spiteful eyes towards the silken layers, bunched together, a lavender shade rimmed with ivory inlay. "And no one will see my body...especially Thrash..."

Sata furrowed her brow, as this time would her black diamond eyes cross to her daughter, where the crimson-colored gargess modeled her chosen selection in front of the full length mirror, a reflection cast back of a young girl in a budding growth to a woman. The mother of two watched her offspring clasp her hands to her hips and bend seductively, arching her back, running her talons down her smoothed legs. "I do not think either me, or your father, would appreciate you...showing off your body in such a manner..." she hissed, now incensed with Ariana's further posing and complete scorn of her words, perhaps intended.

"But mom..." she whined, when turning around, displaying in full the short-sleeved, form-fitting gown slit intentionally too high up each side of her thighs. Stretched around her slim frame, an argentine material seemingly formed from liquefied silver glittered in the suspended chandeliers of the room, turning a blinding snow-white turned directly to the light, and allowing each admirer who may set eyes upon her without a need to result to their imagination. "I like this dress."

"And I do not."

"Well, too bad." she whispered when turning around, but unfortunately, would still fall upon the jade gargess' great sense of hearing and condemn her instantly.

Sata fumed at the sheer malicious rebellion contained in her daughter's voice. "I beg your pardon?!" she bellowed, nearly dropping the kimono.

"Well, I..."

"If I ever hear that tone of voice coming from your mouth again, young lady..."

"Stop calling me that!!" she screamed back, eyes of ebony transformed to an ivory shine. "I'm not some child you can scold anymore!!"

"Oh yes you are." she forced her will upon her stubborn child with a war of words. "You seem to forget the fact you are barely thirteen years of age..."

"And I'm growing up!" Ariana argued, her eyes betraying a wounded spirit of being considered as if still a child needing protection from the world. She swept past her mother, unintentionally knocking the kimono from Sata's arms, and headed for the door in a huff, almost a tantrum, her behavior an amusing contradiction to what she wanted so desperately. "So stop treating me like some kid!!" She slammed the door behind her, effectively displaying her anger and obstinacy in sending tremors through even the adamantine walls, and knocking a few hanging pictures from their secured fasteners.

Sata winced when the frames landed upon unforgiving stone in perfect unison, sending a spray of jagged glass across the floor. The Japanese gargoyle graced a hand to her brow, kneading the coming migraine in raising a child growing much too fast for her liking, and sighed in exhaustion. "Puberty."

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

January 29th
"Puberty."

"What was that?"

"Did you ever finish going through puberty, Mr. Hawkins?"

He mulled over the question, as for someone his age, the answer was obvious, but Todd Hawkins was perhaps quite different from the rest, set apart from the entire human race with more than a few distinctions, besides that of his imagination, his demeanor and an opinion on a species that he himself would soon mate with. "Uhm...you know, I don't think so..." An honest answer given quite candidly, the young man seemingly proud of his occasional immaturity.

"Well, according to this list of supplies for your bachelor party," continued David Xanatos, the king adorning his modern throne of an empire floating above the city, "you may be right."

"Hey..." Todd shrugged, then tipping back into his chair opposite the odd-shaped desk of the richest man in the world, and dumping his large shoes onto the desk's pristine mirrored surface, garnering only what could be called a grimace from the blond majordomo standing mere feet away, his emotionless facade at last chipped away, if only for a moment. "I'm sure you did something big before you got hitched to Fox."

Xanatos passed along an icy stare when lifting his deep eyes from the list given for the celebration, his only movement, a man carved from granite, dressed, bred and destined to be the king of those he towered over. The witticism of Todd's remark, and the unintended irony of adventures he could have never imagined, curled thin lips and set alight a glimmer within darkest mahogany tarn. "You could say that. Both before...and after."

"There, see?" he leaned forwards, tapping the at last completed list held in Xanatos' hands. "I have plenty of reason. And by the way, Fox offered, and said I was allowed to spend as much as I want." he cooed playfully, knowing there was but a few chosen that could defy the will of David Xanatos.

"That woman..." Xanatos hissed, his wife perhaps having caused the silver streak forming along his temples and forehead, though barely visible to the naked eye. "Between you and your fiancé...all right, Mr. Hawkins. The preparations will be made as soon as tomorrow."

Todd beamed with a smile stretching across his young face, launching from his chair and standing proud. "Rock on." Todd hopped onto Xanatos' desk and crouched low to extend a hand towards the bemused billionaire. "Thanks, Mr. X. You're a stand-up guy. Makes you almost want to forget about that whole wanting to take over the world stuff I've heard about."

"Yes. And Mr. Hawkins?" Xanatos directed the young man's eyes towards his once clean lectern, and the incriminatingly-shaped smudges of his shoes left behind. "If you please..."

"Oh. Sorry." He hopped down, and resumed his place on the carpeting. "Well, I'll leave it in your capable hands, and of course," Todd peered to Owen, "the iceman's as well."

Owen raised an eyebrow at his given moniker, and would have smiled if only they both knew how well he had performed last eve when causing the guardian spirit of the gargoyle race to scream in sexual pleasure. "I shall begin gathering your...supplies tomorrow, Mr. Hawkins." he offered to the retreating young man, his monotone still unnerving even as accustomed as his associates had become.

"You do realize with the volatile mixture of all this alcohol, and seven very large gargoyles," Xanatos echoed his forming fears of a very large repair bill, "that this is going to be one hell of a mess, Mr. Hawkins."

Todd stopped by the dual doors leading into the hall, baring his teeth. "You're still coming, right?"

"Oh definitely."

"Cool..."

As the doors clicked closed, leaving him alone with his employer, Owen approached the desk and quickly snatched the list away, peering over the supplies and foodstuffs for him to chase down before the week was up. "Mr. Xanatos. You do realize this is just adding to the expenses we are forced to pay for the gargoyles."

"Oh?" he answered, swiveling around in his chair, fingers interlaced and touched to his lips, the shadows played across dark skin.

"We are diverting increased funds for the gargoyles' expenditures with every passing year, especially this wedding. Food, supplies, technology, numerous castle repairs, and quite a few frivolous items..."

"Is making Trinity laugh frivolous?" he countered to his majordomo's bleak outlook with a simple expression of an innocent child's laughter. "Is helping the clan learn more about this world frivolous? Is helping a dying species' chance for life frivolous?"

"No sir, but frankly, it sometimes seems less like you are helping the gargoyles, and more as if you are trying to ease your conscience." He found the abrupt silence of his employer quite fascinating, David Xanatos made speechless and unable to answer. "You have done exactly what you promised, mended all of your mistakes. Cured the mutates, buried your past with the clan, allowed Elisa and Goliath the best chance to have a healthy child...must I go on?"

"If you were any other employee, Owen, I might have considered firing you for suggesting such a thing." he snapped, raising from his chair and fixing the jacket draped perfectly over his shoulders. "I do not bow down for anyone. I do not lower myself to catering to others' petty needs because of my own guilt. Is that clear?"

"I meant no disrespect. It was merely...an observation."

"The clan deserves everything I grant to them, Owen...only for their continued service in protecting my city, and saving my son's life."

"And thus their reward is your continued financial aid. Interesting." Owen continued, playing to perfection his entire reason for being in such a high position, his protection of Xanatos Enterprises. "Of course, it is not my money to give away so generously..."

"Owen, do have any idea of just how rich I am? This is pocket change."

"And with it, you are spoiling them."

"Perhaps." He whirled around to the window behind him, an entire wall made of bulletproof glass and granting him perhaps the best view in all of New York, where even the twin towers far in the distance seemed to him only a small and pathetic attempt to reach for his conquered sovereignty above the clouds. "How are the preparations for the wedding coming?"

"On schedule." Owen answered succinctly, knowing Fox had everything well under control, and was enjoying her task immensely, perhaps going a little overboard with Annika being more receptive than Elisa ever was. "But do you think it is wise having this many humans work alongside the gargoyles once again? Especially after recent events?"

"They have all signed contracts, forbidding them to speak about what they see to anyone, and we have hired back only those who worked at Goliath and Elisa's wedding. The workforce preparing to set up the wedding hall and reception area are Xanatos employees, and will not be exposed to the gargoyles at anytime. And only a few cooks and caterers, the band, and judge Roblyn will be involved in the actual ceremony and celebration afterwards. But you knew all of this, didn't you?"

"Just...voicing my concerns, Mr. Xanatos. I have kept the security system on full alert, and limited access of Xanatos employees anywhere the gargoyles may roam. In fact, it's surprising the gargoyles don't seem too worried anymore of the recent news program featuring one of their own. It almost exposed them."

"Did it?" he turned his cold eyes Owen's way, the majordomo having joined his employer, his friend, by the window's edge, though his breath unallowing the usual patch of steam on the glossed surface. "What has become of that entire situation, but the public's collective thought of just another publicity stunt. And once the tabloids picked up the story, Nicole's true intent became lost. And trust me, this incident was well on their minds, it's perhaps their greatest fear...exposure." He moved away, walking into the center of his office, and seeing pictures drawn for him by both his only son and Trinity, adorning the vacancy of a painted wall with great appreciation to the budding artists. "But the clan has more important things to dwell upon, Owen, like living their lives to the fullest. They go through so much, and only with their resolve and unwillingness to give up, do they persevere. And I admire them for that. But I don't think it's forgotten, especially by Goliath. He has already agreed to cut down patrols for the time being, just in case. As a leader, he is always prepared."

"For if, and perhaps when, they are exposed," Owen whispered mournfully, hoping against futile hope it would never come to that, "along with the rest of us?"

"Perhaps. But most gargoyle leaders, Owen...don't have David Xanatos in their corner."

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

January 30th
"...maybe some even have a rich billionaire in their corner, a human ally using his resources to hide them in plain sight. Like one Mr. David Xanatos, owner and CEO of Xanatos Enterprises. Though he still conceals whatever dirty, little deeds he may commit..." Nicole fumed into her digital recorder, the frustration of being turned away from the Eyrie building inherent in her voice most likely transferred into her recording. "Rather successfully I might add. Therefore I can't verify he's protecting these creatures..."

The young reporter was furthering her thoughts, getting all information gathered in the last few months on permanent record and preparing for when the story would truly break. For now, like being swept under the rug, once the tabloids had even gotten wind of the gargoyles, and any chance to amaze customers with astonishing covers and brave headlines presented itself, did her exposé fall short of it's wanted expectations. But did it only fortify her resolve, a dangerous thing when Nicole St. John was backed against the wall.

"From all the eyewitness accounts I have gathered, from criminals having been brought in on suspicious circumstances, or even left from the police at the actual scene of the crime, and street vendors and businesses in every quarter of Manhattan, I assume there are at least anywhere from ten to fifteen of these creatures in our city now. Perhaps an entire family, or 'clan' of sorts." She wandered aimlessly around her studio apartment, past photos and notepads scrawled with a day's worth of information amassed when taking to the streets. "They range in size, shape, skin color, and even their wings are different. One account states that a smaller creature with large eyes has wings stretching from his arms to his legs."

"I've recently seen two of them myself. Two very large males, respectively." she continued, strutting around her apartment whilst speaking clearly once more. "A massive lavender one, about seven and a half feet tall, with long sable hair. And another, the so-called star of the tabloids," she hissed, still angry her story was torn and frayed by publishers without even a shred of journalistic integrity, only there to grab what cash flowed in, "tall, very dark lavender skin with a grayish tint, almost black, and long white hair, and four distinct tattoos on his chest in some Japanese writing I haven't been able to translate from my photos."

"Now, these two are further separated from the rest, with the real fact they seem to have intimate relations with humans. Both detectives, both working out of the twenty-third precinct. The afore-mentioned lavender one I saw at a Halloween party, and both he and a few others, including his...wife, detective Elisa Maza, maintained the fact he was only a human dressed as a gargoyle."

Nicole paused when slipping on her heels, having to balance precariously to force her remaining foot into the stubborn shoe. When finishing, when secured in her chosen footwear, the recorder was brought back to life. "I saw him fly into the alley that night, I saw him use wings that carried him from the sky. But could I have been wrong? Could I have mistaken and condemned a simple costumed man in my excitement? I don't know. The only thing I do know is that Miss Iliana Starr is definitely keeping secrets from the rest of the world. And as hard as I tried, I can't get anything out of her, she either avoids me, ignores me or threatens me with public nuisance and tries to arrest me. And continued surveillance of her apartment has gained nothing, but she seems to be visiting the Eyrie building quite often..." The spark of deduction clicked for a mere instant. "Maybe...maybe her lover is there..."

"Which brings up another question. Where do these gargoyles roost when they're not out terrorizing the city? Manhattan's a big place, with many hiding places for them to conceal themselves easily from our eyes. Maybe condemned buildings, or even the forests of Central Park. Maybe even on top of the tallest building in the world." Nicole furrowed her brow when speaking once more of Xanatos. "I still say Xanatos is hiding something up there...and with Starr heading there every other week, it seems two plus two just may equal four after all..."

Nicole slipped into her suit jacket, and grabbed her apartment keys. "But it seems the city of New York, and the rest of the world for that matter, needs undeniable proof. Something they can touch, something tangible, something that can't be explained away. Well, it seems I have a big job ahead of myself...starting with the women with winged men in their lives..." And with her task still unfinished, her greatest story just aching to be exposed to the world, she yet ventured out from her apartment again and onto the city streets, unaware she too was being followed, the watcher herself being watched from afar.

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

January 31st
Yet venturing from her room again and into the winding pathways resembling city streets, barely allowing her tired eyes the sight beyond her own private dwelling within this ancient fortress since she had lost him. She walked languidly, traversing the corridor near the wall, her wings of ivory membrane left withered behind her shoulders, drooping listlessly and the sails swaying with each heavy footfall.

Delilah stalked the hallways without a discernible course, perhaps only wanting freedom from her bedroom, where she had remained for most of her waking hours, curled into a ball on her quilts, a delicious silence without the clatter of Japanese weaponry, or the wailing flute cast into the darkness of the black heavens, or anything that would remind her of the dark warrior. Too powerful a remembrance of him, too powerful her shattered emotions in pushing him away. She dwelled on Iliana's spiteful words, and wondered if she had acted too rash, and perhaps sacrificed the man she loved for her own sense of righteousness.

She damned her anger, her passion, perhaps ingrained into her very DNA from Demona, or possibly even Elisa's temper carried within her blood, flowing through veins strung delicately through her fragile flesh by a machine programmed by a madman. She wondered what she would be capable of, if having truly lost control, like Shadow. Would she have the power to stop herself in a blind rage, if pushed too far, or if carrying with her a hidden pain allowed to fester and tear her apart with each night she awakened. "No..." she whispered, studying her sharp talons, flicking the lithe appendages in the range of her vision. "I'm not like him. I'll never be like him."

"On the contrary," a voice, low and unintentionally menacing, had interrupted her deepest thoughts, "we are perhaps more alike than both of us ever realized."

Delilah looked up, towards a massive, spurred shadow having enveloped the entire hallway before her, coating the stones in the actual essence of oblivion. It was him, the sight of which physically caused her pain, a deep wound in her breast worsening, tightening and constricting her chest. Yet another chance encounter, perhaps mere pawns in fate's cruel jest. "I once thought that too," she answered, her voice weak from misuse, her throat raw from having sobbed each night, "until you showed me otherwise."

Shadow stepped out from the darkness, seeming to melt from that which he was named as if a wraith. "My only desire was to keep you from harm..." Shadow whispered quietly. "Both physically...and emotionally."

"That's exactly what Iliana said a few days ago. At least you two have your stories straight."

"That is unfair."

"It was unfair to me having to learn what happened from a news reporter on national television!" she growled. "And even now, you seem to enjoy her presence here. I wonder if that night was truly the end of your relationship, or just the beginning..."

"She is a friend, who is only trying to help."

"I bet."

"I never wanted to hurt you..." Shadow pleaded, seeing this conversation take a turn for the worse, guided by anger and mistrust.

Delilah trained her eyes on him, to better see how he had fared without her, her skills in observation piercing through his barrier of ice for any flaws or cracks, no matter how small. She had hoped he would have suffered like she, experienced her pain mirrored or reflected many times, perchance worse by what she deemed mostly his fault. "If you truly wanted to keep me from being hurt," she at last answered, "you would have opened up to me. Would have shared with me your life, your pain. But even after we...we broke up, you still can't do that, can you?"

Shadow raised his chin, keeping his features strong and unfeeling, his emotions under control lest he lose what control he had. "No. I cannot."

Delilah released a chirt laugh, almost a forced, malicious sigh in the continuing dance around what had shattered their relationship. "You coward..." she hissed silently, her eyes tearing. "I just...I don't even want to look at you right now..."

"Do I truly make you that angry?" he stopped her cold with his inquiry before the chance to spirit away from him would present itself.

Delilah turned away, cloaking herself in the folds of her wings to hide from him. "When I'm alone, the only thing I think about is you." she started, tracing a line down each subtle indentation and shallow crack in the Scottish granite. "But when I see you, when I'm always reminded of what you did, and said...and have refused to tell me...you're right, I'm angry...I'm damned angry!!"

"I know."

"No you don't! You don't know how I feel, especially after what you said to me..."

"My words were...ill-chosen that night." he blurted out, apologizing in his own unique way for something he knew never should have arisen, especially when born from his tongue in the heat of irrational anger.

"Ill-chosen?" echoed she, both in question and spite. And as Delilah trailed away from him down the corridor, devoured by the unearthly absence of light and a trick often used by the ninja himself, she left behind a fading assertion, a spray of venom meant as a lasting finality. "You have no idea how ill-chosen they were...go back to your little detective, Shadow, I hope she'll bring you the happiness I couldn't give..."

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

February 1st
"Ill-chosen, laddie. That's wha' me last words to her were. I shouldna left her...I shouldna ha'..." he stopped in mid-sentence, losing what train of thought possessed him, rare for someone so wise, and though in his gruff, stoutly accent, articulate to the point where women of all ages would blush with only his fleeting mention of their beauty. "Ach...who I be kidding...she nay be interested. An' I be a foolish ol' man..."

Todd sat staring at the elder gargoyle, across from his recliner on the small couch butted against the wall, his ocean crested eyes wide and skewed in an angle denoting what confusion ripped at him. "Jesus..." he muttered. "All I came in here for was to ask you to the party. Now I'm frigging bummed out..."

Hudson looked up from his television, his weathered features accentuated even more so in his recent emotional upheaval. "I didna want t' force me problems on you, lad." he apologized, stroking his beard and straightening the thick tress of steeled platinum.

"Well, frankly, you're taking this a little hard. Don't you think?"

"I be turned away by th' one woman in a millennia who I could ha' spent my life with..."

"Oh jeez, first Shadow, then you." Todd huffed, becoming irate and frustrated in his gargoyle companions' rigid and unwaveringly stubborn expectations of simple relationships made far too complicated as if by their own wish. "Haven't you ever had a woman turn you down?!"

"Nay." Hudson spit back, as if insulted by the question. "I mated with me first love, an' then she died in me arms."

"Oh." Todd was effectively silenced, by both Hudson's sexual bravado and stark realism of the dark ages in which he dwelled and survived. "Well, be angry, or sad, or whatever...just come. If you want to, you can drink by yourself in a corner."

"I wou' rath'r not..."

"What is it with you gargoyles and women?!" he snapped, frustratingly running his hands through his hair.

"Human and gargoyle mating practices be different, laddie." Hudson countered, perhaps using the distinction between the species as an excuse to avoid discussion of his past and present pain. "Very different."

"How so?" Todd then countered to Hudson's evasion.

"Well, they be...well...ach, ye too young t' understand what I be feelin'..."

"Try me."

Hudson shifted restlessly in his chair, his talons kneading the material in a swelling anxiousness. He did not want this subject pried into, his obstinate pride allowing him no quarter, no patience in having his private affairs made public. But the human had a point. "If I be comin' to yuir party, will ye promise t' leave this be until then?"

"Fine." Todd cocked a single brow, the human and gargoyle striking a deal without either of them realizing. "If you're too frigging bone-headed to allow captain 'pretty hot ass for an old chick' Chavez to distance herself, and never really know how you feel even though she most likely feels the exact same way..."

"Laddie." Hudson warned him with but a cultured growl, with Todd holding up his hands in mock defense, yet his eyes peering to him with intelligence and convincing reason. "Ye truly b'lieve...she feels fer me?"

"Of course. You can see it every time she looks at you, but she just has to get over one little thing..."

"Aye, 'tis not easy having to let go of th' love fer yer mate, even if he, er she be dead. But I think, lad...there be somethin' else on her mind right now..."

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

February 2nd
Maria tried to concentrate on her work, to lose herself in the mundane of everyday responsibilities never completed, but as her free hand graced and caressed her stomach, did she have other things on her mind right now. Lost in the piles of paperwork having stacked upon her desk, allowed to collect and linger only for her to begin the tedious process of weeding through, and finishing what task she had willingly undertaken. But as the day stretched on, did her attention seriously wane, and soon enough, she forced herself away from her desk and picked up a weary form from the shaped cedar of modern antiquity.

"Damn..." In the light of the dying sun, having settled into her office through the window unfettered of any obstruction, the warmth of Summer on a cold Winter day, an odd, perhaps rare peculiarity granted to the city of Manhattan and a reprieve from the season's merciless clutch. She drifted, wandering to the couch through the unbroken shafts of sunlight peaking from behind the skyscrapers and rising towers of the familiar skyline, her silhouette a narrow column of black edged with a blurred, platinum corona, and slumped into the warmed material.

"Damn..." She relieved her sore feet of the three-inch pumps and casually swept her hands through her chestnut tress. It had grown, sanctioned both time and the strands fortunately granted a longer lifespan to lengthen, and as such, in true rebellious fashion, no longer would it heed it's master's wishes, falling into her eyes with even the most meticulous of care. Maria burrowed deeper, attempting to find any solace in worn material, softened to just her liking after years of occupancy in this same office.

"Damn..." she whispered, unable to rest, unable to empty her mind of one plaguing thought. The sickness had come and gone, her symptoms seeming to disappear with each passing day. But after confirming what she feared with her physician, did she fill her nights with feverish dreams and agonizing bouts of insomnia. For a choice had been forced upon her. By her own choosing or not, she did not wish to linger on how or why, but in what must be done. Maria rubbed a hand over her stomach, the soft, yielding material of her blouse being pulled from her long skirt, and the thin silk barely a deterrent from flesh to flesh, where inside her now, a new life was growing.

"Damn..." Half of her, half of a man thought of as legend and myth, but now, the reality was far too undeniable, if a nightmare or dream, it was real. She stretched out and turned onto her back, long lashes, black and arching slightly upwards, fluttering when blinking without her notice. She traced her nails along the ridge of her stomach, where the subtle dip of the navel formed a whirlpool of milky white flesh. It was there, growing with each passing strike of the clock, forming a life rare of form and breed, but a child of her blood none the less.

"Damn..." And that is what caused her so much pain, twisting and gripping on her heart, for when seeing the doctor, a friend of many years, she had known by just Maria's grave expression upon confirmation, the pregnancy was unplanned, and as the conversation drifted, did the topic very delicately touch upon the ending of a life before it even began. Maria shuddered violently, as even considering abortion made her sick to her stomach, but how would a woman of almost fifty years of age raise a child perhaps blessed, or cursed, with wings, a tail, fangs and claws.

"Damn..." She and Carlos had once talked about children when late, when curled in each other's embrace, a night when protected under the covers of their berth. But his sudden death had stolen her opportunity to be a mother, stolen her future, her immortality from her with the cold, steel casing of a single bullet. But now she had been given another chance, though under circumstances she never wanted or could have imagined. Maria Chavez settled into her couch, and would soon drift off, her almond eyes brimmed with tears, until unable to hold back, released down the sides of her face in thin trails. "I don't know..." she whispered. "...if I can do this..."

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

February 3rd
"I don't know if I can do this..."

"What?" Kendra stammered in surprise. "Get married??"

"No." Annika answered back from behind the dressing screen. "Put this dress on and then have to take it off."

The diminutive blond woman smiled, shaking her head when watching the winged silhouette straighten the gown from behind the thin barrier the dressing screen, erected in Annika's bedroom. "So, Mrs. Xanatos' tailors did their job, huh?"

"When Fox sets her mind to something," Angela cut in from beside Todd's human friend, a smile born of the billionairess' determination in seeing her chosen task through to the very end with flawless precision, "it always comes out perfect."

"So, Annika, are you going to model for us?" Desdemona called out to the shadow behind the screen, the excitement inherent in even her cultured tone, a maturity lost to almost giddy agitation.

Annika heeded her friend's wishes, and slowly swayed from the dressing screen, to see three fixed expressions of purest awe in her attire. Her wedding dress finished, and now formed to her curvaceous body in ivory silk and glitter as if a fresh snowfall captured by the morning sun, she swept to the full-length mirrors and found her reflective exactly what she had hoped. The gown swished behind her, swinging from the tight-laced bodice. The lace-trimmed upper piece swelled from her stomach and draped above her breasts, with lace strips suspended just below her shoulders, and elbow length, open-fingered gloves and a lace choker completing the outfit.

"You look amazing..." Kendra gasped, her eyes wide.

"Beautiful, Annika." Desdemona gasped, with Angela staring in disbelief.

The dawn-tinted gargess was far too lost to acknowledge any comments, only accompanied by her three reflections in the tri-sided mirror, each rubbing a hand into the folds of silk and mimicking her own languid movements. Her wings trembled when set free, of excitement and agonizing anxiousness in having such a countdown forced upon her.

"Man, just wait until Hawkins sees this..." Kendra whispered to Angela, receiving a knowing nod in response. "He's going to blow something internally. Almost makes me wish we never broke up."

"Oh pity the woman who lost her man to yet another..." Angela joked.

"I didn't lose him, the decision was mutual." Kendra amended quickly. "Besides," she went on, looking back to Annika, still modeling her dress in the mirrors, "he belongs with Annika."

"Yes. Because she said so."

Beyond the laughter wafting as far as to escape from the bedroom, it was a bitter reminder of something she could not have. Seeing the young gargoyle beyond the others now in her dress was perhaps more damaging to her ancient soul than anyone could ever imagine. Demona stood near the doorway, seeing through falling red haze a woman chosen over her.

In a few weeks, she would effectively lose him, lose her last chance to be with the man she had fallen for, and still loved to this day. Yet another strike against her, destiny's favorite playmate to torture. As Demona's eyes centered on the mirror where Annika's sheltered smile spoke volumes, she knew enough the anger held towards her was legitimate, having almost destroyed what this young woman had so wanted in her own troubled life. They were alike, her sister's words ringing true, much to her chagrin.

And when the young gargess incidentally clicked her gaze to the doorway behind her, she found the former immortal, given away by the sunset flames draped around her face. Annika whirled around, and Demona then swept away, scared into the darkened hallway and heading back to the doors leading outside.

"I have to get out of here..." Demona quickly stepped outside, the biting winds nearly lifting her from the snow-covered cornices in their excitement of yet another child playing in their embrace. She lept into the air and towards her home, effectively running from the memory, and intent on entrenching herself into either a pastime or work or anything that would allow her even a moment's reprieve from her pain.

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

February 4th
The small child had entrenched himself in the games displayed before him on the screen, where his world faded and only one born of modern technology and colorful pixels would he allow his attention to focus upon, a rare thing for someone so young and full of life and oft-consuming curiosity. Alexander played his video game intently, sitting cross-legged on the media room carpeting, staring up with eyes having glassed over to the massive frame above him.

His sheer concentration placed into the activity before him, the lithe shadow looming over his form would go unnoticed, until he caught the tangy scent of cherry bubblegum wafting from behind him. The child with hair of ruby fire turned his eyes slightly to peer to the couch behind, and seeing a flash of glimmering emerald come into view. He scowled, and went back to his game, resolute on ignoring the intruder he did not want even in the same room.

Rain eyed the young heir, knowing he was scorning her presence, and sat silently, watching his game progress through level after level, a frigid silence left in the complete lack of conversation. "So..." she started, clearing her throat to better voice herself in a tone that would not easily express her anxiousness in front of a simple, young boy. "Like video games, huh?"

Alexander settled deeper into his hunched posture, his head sinking into his shoulders, as if trying to obscure any sight or sound except for that of his chosen activity.

"Okay." A first attempt, and a first failure to make friends with her boyfriend's young charge. "Well, uhm...are you looking forward to the wedding?"

Alexander continued on, though the silence he himself controlled unnerved him enough to answer. "I guess." he whispered, and even the young woman behind him could detect the definite traces of malice of a five-year-old child become too jealous of Lexington's attention to anyone else but to himself.

"Okay." she relented, at least having forced a response. "Well, I saw the seating plan, and you get to sit beside Lex."

"I don't want to sit with uncle Lex anymore..."

Rain raised her brow in surprise. "Why not?"

Alexander at last paused his game and turned thinned eyes to the gargess. "'Cause you'll be there."

As if he had punched through her chest, she was struck back, and this time, would not shy away from a child, even if he did possess the power to physically turn her inside out. "All right, that's it! Why do you hate me?!" she yelled, her lungs opening up and an unintentional animosity thrown towards him. "I haven't done a thing, except be pleasant to you ever since I've met you!"

Alexander dropped the controller, and instantly, did the room turn cold, the temperature dropping rapidly in both mood and substance. Alexander turned completely around, and bared his green eyes towards the web-wing. "I don't like you." he started, his voice not that of an innocent child any longer, distorted by an otherworldly force. "Because you're taking uncle Lex away from me."

"I'm not doing that...and you know it." Rain countered, a show of force in the face of sheer power she could sense drifting upon her skin like a soft wind, her flesh goosebumping from talon to the membranes of her suspended sails. "Alex, I care for him very, very much, and I just want to be your friend."

Even with her most heartfelt assertion, Alexander still could not fathom her purpose for being here, could never understand the intricacies of love when so young and immature. But that did not matter now. "You won't take him away." he whispered, as Rain noticed he was floating just over the carpeting. "Ever."

"I don't intend to." Rain soothed her voice to better calm him. "Listen, I know you're scared in losing him after what has happened recently, but..."

"NO!!!" he screamed, and in his tantrum, did the lamp nearest the gargess surge with electric current and the florescent bulb explode beneath the shade, a shower of broken glass and phosphorous powder dancing across the varnished surface of the endtable. Rain returned her gaze to Alexander, and found him staring straight at her, his eyes brimming with magical energy, leaking from his sockets with a crackle of unbridled electricity and raw power threatening to erupt from this being perhaps too fragile to contain his mixed heritage. "Uncle Lex won't be hurt anymore. 'Specially by you..." He eventually drifted to the floor, and walked past her, the lamp, though destroyed, heaving it's last ounce of power to the open air in a final spray of cerulean flame as he passed by, and disappeared from the room.

Rain settled back into the couch, her eyes wide and talons tapping mercilessly onto her knees in such a state of bewilderment, having seen firsthand what he was capable of when fueled by pure emotion, and what to him seemed the very real possibility of losing something rare to him, a friend. "Okay..."

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

February 5th
"Okay...Broadway's on the list..." Todd muttered, back to his notepad, with the burly gargoyle watching his name appear in a quick scratch born from usually skilled hands in a mad dash.

"Can I see the food list once more?" Broadway asked, snaking his talons towards the notepad.

Todd's vigilant gaze caught his hand, and he instantly snapped away the pad. "No!! It's already too long as it is! We're going to bankrupt the nice billionaire who gives us stuff with all the food you've added."

"But..." he pleaded, as Todd forced the pad to his chest, burying it from Broadway's grasp.

"Love." Angela cut in, surrounding her lithe form about his wide shoulders, and skimming her lips against his cheek. "If I know Todd, I think there shall be enough alcohol and entertainment at his party for you to even think about eating..."

Todd nodded modestly, agreeing wholly with Angela's presumption in the upcoming gala, and a silent assurance of what edibles and noxious beverage would fill the tables to the breaking point.

"I hope so..."

"Well, gotta go, ladies and gargoyles," Todd excused himself from the kitchen table with a wink and smirk to the women present, "more planning awaits..."

Othello, seated alongside his mate, suddenly stood and broke his reserved silence with a brave front almost concealing a wounded expression. "Ah, Mr. Hawkins..." he called to the retreating human, stopping him cold before he slipped from the kitchen tiles of deep ebony and sparkling white. "Well, ah...I just...why have you not...asked me to your bachelor celebration?"

Todd was struck dumbfounded, surprised in Othello's want of inclusion in the party. "Oh, sorry, O. I just didn't think you'd want to get completely wasted and look at naked women..." Todd's eyes then instantly caught both Angela and Desdemona's angered glares, as if striking true to his heart a mercenary assertion without words, knowing what would occur during this party, but still angered in the fact their mates would willingly be dragged in. "I mean, uh...read bible stories to orphaned children...yeah, that's right..."

"I enjoy celebrations," Othello defended his unusual desire to be included, "especially when allowing the male about to be mated a last chance at the taste of freedom."

"Oh, well, it's just...the words 'fun', and 'Othello', just don't go together..."

The dusty blue gargoyle was taken aback, and when looking for support from his mate, found her displayed of a sheepish facade, and shrugging her shoulders, having agreed somewhat with Todd's statement. "I cannot believe you think I am no fun!" he growled, especially to her with tanned skin. "What about when we go to the movies?"

"Well, my love," Desdemona started, swallowing hard in what about was to come from her own red ocher lips, "you sometimes speak ill of the actors on the screen...and condemn the action as if too implausible."

He stood tall, a stance of rigid insolence and swelling anger bringing fear to her mate. "This is absurd. I suppose I am a man forged of steel in your eyes..."

"Under the bedsheets...oh yes." Desdemona cooed, batting her eyelashes while sipping tenderly her hot lemon tea.

"This is not amusing!!" he bellowed, with the others attempting to muffle their laughter from the hunter's great ears. "I am great fun! I amuse Trinity, I am adept at poker..."

"I eat children..." Broadway cut through, mimicking the lowered brow of the taller gargoyle with Todd unable to contain himself and bursting out in uncontrollable laughter.

"I DO NO SUCH THING!!!"

"Okay, okay...you've made your point..." Todd calmed Othello, knowing with great experience the danger inherent of glowing eyes and talons being readied for the kill, especially when his own mate to be would catch him staring at another woman. "You're invited, and you'll be very welcome to get hosed with us."

"Good." Othello barked his triumph, but still found the three remaining gargoyles passing along blatant looks to one another. "I shall prove I am fun..." he whispered forcefully, turning around and clenching a fist near his white-hot eyes of a nova flame. "This will be a celebration that no one shall ever forget."

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

February 6th
"Well, this'll be a night I never be forgetting..." he mused, a settled expression, mixed of pleasure and long-lasting satisfaction in having been practically forced into her bed.

"I know I shall certainly try." she answered his assertion, though her demeanor was perhaps the opposite of his own. She burrowed deeper into her sheets, her nude form of cerulean and crimson tress nearly visible through the satiny material, but concealed in the aftermath of carnal pleasure and regaining at least some sense of intellect. She pulled away from him, settling her wings in closer to sweat-stained hide. "Haven't you left yet?"

"Ye dinna wish t' snuggle?"

Demona rose up and turned to face him, eyes burning blood red, and in her anger nearly tossed the sheets from her grasp and exposed her bare flesh to his eyes once more. "No...I...do...not."

He smiled, when incensing her rage. "As ye wish, Demona."

She stared at him, lounging comfortably beside her in her king-sized, canopied bed, his privates barely covered by a toss of the sheets, as if he was still welcome in her presence. Though she secretly admired his well-toned physique, an athletic brawn rare for someone technically the age of a millennia plus half a century and more, she centered her gaze on his damnable smile. "The door is that way." she hissed, pointing towards the exit of her massive bedroom, possessed by shades of haunting sapphire and the light of the crescent moon streaming through the bay windows.

He cocked a silver brow her way, and heeded her wish, having received more than he ever wanted or desired from this manor and the demon posing as the owner. "As ye wish." He climbed from the bed, and approached the pile of wildly discarded clothing identified as his own. He dressed and pulled his shirt over a muscular form, as Demona eyed him carefully. "I canna believe this started with me only wantin' ye t' sign these papers..." he muttered, slipping the completed forms freshly signed by Demona's own hand into his palm. He turned around, and found her still glaring, perhaps until he had vacated her home. "Are ye going t'stare at me all night?"

"Just until I figure out how you coerced me to sign those papers...MacBeth."

He came into the light, his rugged features strong, his beard of sterling bristle glinting in the moonlight. "I gave ye a night of unbridled passion," the former king answered curtly, yet playfully, "the least ye could ha' done was sign the divorce papers."

Demona sighed in contempt, the entire reason of his coming here still eluding her in it's seeming insignificance. "I'll ask again. Why go to all the trouble of a divorce? We were never actually married."

"Lennox MacDuff and Dominique Destine were by law of Paris, France, and we both signed th' legal document just before ye decided t' blow yuir...'cover'. Ye needed this marriage t' be legal in th' eyes of th' authorities as t' try an' take me money and resources by insurance fraud...before ye and Thailog resorted t' more...illegitimate means..."

"I cannot believe I thought using human law would further my own goals." Demona condemned her actions long ago, not as much for the actual deed done, but the way she went about it. "It was only a precaution."

"That blew up in yuir face. Legal loopholes be sometimes a bitch, eh lassie?"

"Please don't call me that."

He laughed, sensing the long-buried spark of humor displayed just barely before him. "As we're both tryin' t' remake our lives as, dare I say...respectable citizens, I be wantin' a divorce. A fresh start, if only symbolic more than anything."

Demona at last completely understood his want for such a beginning. For she too had desperately attempted to rebuild herself into something better, something her daughter could be proud of. She nodded in absence of words, and for only a moment, did the anger leave her eyes, leaving rare sympathy for a man who had tried to kill her on more than one occasion. "So, now do you feel better?"

"Aye. Especially after I be torn apart an' sexually ravaged by a beautiful gargoyle temptress as soon as she opened th' doors t' her manor." he teased, with Demona sinking deeper into the sheets, physically wincing in her embarrassment. "Why did ye truly take me to yuir bed, Demona?"

"I wanted sex. It has been a very long time..." an answer almost too concise in it's reply, too simple an escape from reality. "And we've almost been intimate. I didn't think you would mind anyway, having the chance to take a woman and then run back to your castle without a second thought."

"Ouch." It was MacBeth's turn to wince. "But that not be th' reason...and ye know it."

She stalled, until MacBeth leaned forwards, and forced his eyes to hers. "Fine." she relented, but none too happy. "I am feeling...upset at the upcoming...wedding." she spat out the word as if a venomous bane upon her tongue. "And just wanted one night to forget it."

"Ah. Todd and Annika's marriage...ach...lass," he stalled, an expression of pity, "dinna tell me ye have a thing fer this lad..."

She never answered, instead pulling the sheets closer to her body, his guess though correct, yet hitting too close to a sore subject she would rather keep to herself. And even in her stubborn silence, were her true feelings revealed.

"I can see it now, when th' bride walks down th' aisle and ye jump out with a laser gun." he joked, yet in his tone lay the undeniable truth, in which Demona peered up with wide, accusing eyes. "Aye, Demona. I be invited as well."

"They barely know you."

"A friend of th' clan, that was enough fer the young lass t' invite me. Especially after me defense on national television." He fell silent, seeing enough in trembling lips and quivering wings that Demona's anger was being continually fed with his own persistence. "Well, I dinna think ye ever would ha' fallen fer a human."

"Nor did I." she hissed.

"Love and relationships be tricky things, and sometimes ye dinna get what ye always want."

"You should speak of relationships." Demona matched his tone with fire ripe from her tongue. "You break off with that woman who from I've been told, could have spent the rest of her life with you. Damned fool..."

"She just...wasna what I be looking for..."

"And just what are you looking for?"

They matched eyes, granite and brimstone scraping against Scottish steel. "I truly wish I knew, Demona."

"So do I. Well..." She straightened out, casually tossing back the hairs resistant enough to defy their master and keeper. "Enough of this intimacy rubbish, I got what I wanted. I think you should leave now."

"Not even a kiss?"

"Go. And if I ever see you again, I will kill you..." She bared her fangs and swiped her claws into a balled fist before his throat. "Now that I am able to without any penance to my own being."

"As am I..." he warned of his own power over her, then received a feral growl in response. "All right, fair enough." He slipped to the door, and just before leaving, winked. "Be sure t' save me a dance at th' wedding..."

"GET OUT!!!"

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

February 7th
"Get outta here!!"

"You first!!"

It was nearing sunset, where the sky folded with fire and streaked it's colored flames across it's vast expanse of dreary gray and drifting purple mist. Where the sun of crimson ruby would slowly sink into the horizon of snow, and seem to set the world aflame, even in the last month of Winter. Maria watched the sky reclaim itself from the daytime dominion of the sun, a favored sight, in either Summer, Winter or Autumn, and a time she and her late husband would always try to be together with such conflicting schedules, if only to have that one moment last forever. To slow time to a crawl, and always have his strong arms around her until the end of eternity.

"Look out!!"

"I'll tell mom!!"

She had wrapped herself into a long jacket, fixed to a park bench in Central Park, and was startled from her reverie with the wild cries of a child. She moved her eyes away, and stared at what children graced this frozen playground in the dying light. They raced around her, flinging the snow with lethal trajectory, as their parents watched from afar, proud. They played and laughed and filled her ears with innocent chatter, enough to bring a smile to her face, and perhaps hope for the future.

"Mrs. Chavez." a voice called from behind her, masculine, enough to come through crystal clear among the children's screams.

"Maria, please."

"You know, I'm risking my friendship with them, and even the trust we've built in coming here..."

"I know," Maria nodded, and allowed her visitor to take a seat beside her, his long graying hair almost obscuring kind eyes, "and I thank you for keeping it a secret from everyone. Especially Hudson."

"He deserves to know, Maria. That you're carrying his child."

"Let me take care of that. You just take care of this baby."

Dr. Alan Pierce sighed, his breath released and curling around his cheek. "I'll do my best, but it would be easier if you came out in the open about this..."

"No!" she snapped, then realizing her voice was carrying too far for her liking. "No...just...let me do this...my way."

"All right." he conceded, moving close enough to see the indecision in her dark eyes, tearing at her. "We can do the preliminary examination during the day, tomorrow, at Manhattan General, and I want regular check-ups, the same schedule as Elisa. Though I've become the primary Eyrie doctor, I still have free use of their facilities. They're almost as advanced as what Xanatos gave to me for Trinity's birth." He looked down, gracing a hand to her own, feeling the heat of her body wafting through even her thick leather gloves. "I may not understand fully why you don't want anyone to find out, but you know the clan would accept this child...and do their best to help you."

"I know. But...not yet. Allow me to deal with the fact I'm carrying a half-gargoyle child first, then I'll tell him...tell Hudson he's going to be a father...again." Maria looked up, and crossed her strong eyes to Alan's own, an unimaginable strength possessed with such delicacy. "Promise me, you'll stay quiet."

He winked at her, granting her the comfort of a friend in this difficult time. "Doctor-patient confidentiality, remember?"

"Thank you, Alan."

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

February 8th
"Thank you, Elisa." said Goliath quietly, as she took from him his wet bathing suit, allowing the father to dry off the squirming bundle held securely in hands of iron-rending power, wrapped in the folds of a tremendous towel, now become the drifting cotton fields of raven weave. "Now, where did I place my daughter?"

Trinity fought her way to the surface and peered out from the towel, shaking the freshly-dried hair from her eyes and clambering closer to her father's chest. "I here, daddy!"

"Ah." he smiled, waving away the long, obstructing strands from her cheeks, and seeing his mate in innocent, copper-tinted features and his own hard-edged visage in eyes untamed and daring. "So, did you enjoy swimming?"

"Yuh! I go unda water!" she chirped, excitedly flapping her wings, and shaking loose the lasting beads of moisture hidden in the folds of flesh with the texture of suede.

"So you did. Many times..." he breathed softly, having bore witness to a rampant fear of the water fading away in less than a week, his baby girl growing so quickly before his very eyes.

"Daddy?" Trinity asked of him in but a word when climbing closer to him, a tone changed drastically from her exuberance, to that of apprehension for her family. "Why 'Lilah sad?"

Goliath sighed, unbelieved of how his young daughter could sense Delilah's pain, and pulled the young hybrid closer, guiding her into the breadth of his chest, as if to protect the child from all around her with his bare flesh. "Your sister and uncle Shadow have...had a fight..."

"No wove?"

"Delilah and Shadow still love each other, my daughter...very much." he tried to explain to a child of only a year and a half, knowing she could not fully grasp upon what had truly happened to her older sister. "They are just...angry, right now."

"Oh." she whispered, ducking her wide eyes away, and resting against her father's chest.

Goliath gently placed both hands to each side of her face, and raised his daughter's eyes to meet his. He leaned in to nestle his nose onto her own, giving back to her the smile once lost by a being seemingly forever possessed of a grimace carved in unrefined granite, though with the soul of a poet and scholar. "Do not be sad for her, Trinity Hope. Love will prevail. But right now daughter," he continued softly in attempting to sway her attention from Delilah's recent pain, with Trinity intent on hearing everything he had to say with ever watching eyes, limpid pools of molten, cinnamon crystal, "you have something more important to dwell upon. Your upcoming task for the wedding."

"Yuh!! I flowa-girl!" she trilled ecstatically, proud of her given role for Annika and Todd's wedding. "But...wha' I do?"

"You spread flowers in front of the bridesmaids and finally the bride before they walk down the aisle."

"Why?"

"Well...I, ah..." Goliath leaned back in stupefaction, this particular tradition lost to even his impressive intellect and gathered knowledge, having not a flower girl at his own wedding of human custom. "Elisa?" he called to his mate, hoping she could at least satiate Trinity's curiosity. "Elisa." he called out once more, his voice strengthened when seeing her at her desk, appearing as if lost in something scrawled upon the wooden surface. Goliath scowled, now knowing exactly what had caught her interest. "Elisa!!"

"What?!!" the raven-haired detective was effectively torn from the point of interest situated on her desktop and brought her astonished gaze swiftly to her husband. "Oh...Goliath...what did you say?"

Goliath gently nudged Trinity onto the bed and tromped over to where Elisa was trying to recklessly cover a tattered newspaper. He lunged forth and stole it away from her, making her struggle utterly futile in his velocity and strength of hand. "I am sick of seeing you trouble yourself over these pictures..." he growled, his wife staring up at his shadowed form, breached only by charcoal eyes catching every stray beam of velvet starlight beyond.

"Do you blame me?" she whispered.

Goliath let loose a hardened breath, and placed a hand to her shoulder, knowing the extent of this exposure, and what fears it had brought to the surface. "Perhaps not. I know what you fear, Elisa, that of having your daughter revealed and endangered. But this," he held the newspaper before her eyes, "will not be the cause."

"You sure? It's sure as hell caused a lot of gossip around the city again...and makes me look twice over my shoulder..."

"This gossip was there before all of this even happened."

"But Nicole saw you..."

"What she saw was a man in costume attending a party on Halloween with his wife. Nothing more." He leaned to one knee, bringing eyes of chocolate crest to charcoal mist, and graced a hand to her cheek. "It is over."

"Then why, Big Guy," she tended towards him, and brushed her cheek against raw gargoyle hide, bathed in the radiance, the warmth of love he offered to her, "do I feel like it's just beginning?"

Goliath was brought silent, he too sensing the shifting tides of secrecy unmasked, and perhaps his own fear of exposure was not as trivial as once thought. "Elisa..."

"Daddy!!" came the call of billowing flame taken form as a winged child, her energy relentless as was her want for attention from her family and clan. Trinity hopped onto Goliath's massive backside, using the rare chance of his proximity to the ground to latch upon his neck and flowing sable hair, climbing onto drifting valleys of muscle and sloping sinew bulging from beneath his lavender hide.

"It seems I am under attack..." Goliath mused, flashing a smile towards Elisa, hoping to at least lift the weight from her heart for only a mere moment of time. He grabbed for the lithe child, squirming from his grasp but yet unable to avoid his talons around her waist. He lifted her high, over eight feet above the ground, where she squealed and danced within the escape of gravity, as if becoming a star herself to frolic devilishly and risk a god's wrath within the celestial playground.

Elisa found herself staring upwards to a child possessed of angel wings and a face so hauntingly familiar, one seen only every time she passed by a reflective surface. An ebony stream cascading freely over her face and shoulders, the single, trailing tines swept away across glowing copper by only the flow of gentle wind, brought forth by her father's strong hands. Fear of losing her to humanity's discovery, a far thought now from the sight of family in front of her.

"Daddy!!" she screamed to the giant winged beast, her webbed sails cast out to catch the air, to slow her descent back into his secure embrace. "When ca' I fly?"

Elisa forced wide her eyes, and instantly lept from her chair, rushing to tear her firstborn from Goliath's hands after hearing an innocent question. "Not until you're sixteen." she ordered, briskly carrying away the child from Goliath, with the gargoyle chasing after his wife for possession of their most valued treasure.

"Elisa..."

"No!!"

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

February 9th
"No."

"Are you sure? It's really quite exquisite."

"No thank you, Mr. Dracon."

Tony Dracon smiled. A grin that would cause the tiniest of hairs to rise on the nape of the neck on any one person, if they truly knew him, and what he was capable of. "Tony, please. After all, we're all friends now, aren't we?" he crooned, his voice as smooth and inviting as Egyptian silk.

"Yes," the dark suited man answered, an emotionless tone, frigid, "friends."

Tony poured himself what he had offered to his guest in the highest penthouse set alight brighter than the stars, and sipped divinely from his decanter, savoring both flavor and sweet scent of his chosen brew. "Last chance. It's been aged more than fifty years."

"I would rather finalize our deal...Tony." A hint of impatience betrayed the man's calm demeanor.

Tony finished his wine, colored an ethereal Spring ocher, and placed delicately the crystalware to his wetbar, then approached the man, seeing an opportunity to milk what profits he could reap. "As you wish, Mr...ah..."

"Black. Mr. Black will do just fine."

"How...imaginative."

"It does the job."

"Right." said Tony, moving back to the stack of thick plastic crates carrying his bounty, sold for proceeds far outweighing his loss of such lucrative weaponry. Tony lifted the lid of the top crate, and within the foam-lined interior, lay a rifle gleaming in the lights of the suite. "Two hundred fifty state of the art laser rifles, one hundred and fifty hand guns with laser-guided scopes, yada, yada, yada. Now," Tony whirled around and faced his buyer with bared teeth, "where's my money?"

The dark-suited man simply motioned to his subordinate, a large man with deep chestnut skin moving forwards and opening a suitcase having been guarded with his very life. "Ten million. Cash."

Tony stared into the briefcase, a rebellious child discovering a hidden stash, and as the others of his assembled brood crept closer, they found perfectly formed rows of crisp hundred dollar bills free from any stain or heavy use. "Beautiful."

"I take it our payment meets with your approval?"

"Oh yeah..." Tony swiftly snatched away the briefcase and wandered aimlessly back towards the leather couch. "I am sometimes far too happy that Blackraven Industries went out of business. This whole illegal arms trade sure rakes in the dough, eh Glasses?"

As Tony and the others placed themselves around the money, the covetous summoned without hesitation to the source of their greed, the hesitantly named Mr. Black silently motioned to the others, including he who stood by his side, a tall, thin man possessed of golden blond hair slicked back and a malicious smile open and uncontained. "Well, we'll just remove our weapons and be on our way." he announced, with Tony barely acknowledging his customer. "Oh, and Tony?..."

The long-haired, junior Mafioso turned around, as did his chosen company, only to discover the men and women, ten in all and dressed in dark suits with matching black leather gloves, each pointing a weapon towards them. "W-What the hell?"

"There is something further we need to discuss." Mr. Black, the only man unpossessed of any weaponry, moved back slowly, allowing his men to train their weapons on each of Tony Dracon's associates. "Four years ago, you defied the original Quarrymen, risking their wrath in saving those who once betrayed them."

"W-What??" Tony stammered, though fresh in his mind when he had saved Elisa and granted her a reprieve from the gruesome demise at Castaway's hands.

"You thought you had escaped, didn't you? You didn't think anyone would find out. But a few Quarrymen we rescued, those who stood above the rest, have fingered you as what caused their failure. And through your actions, in fact aided the very reason why we have formed, why we have kept the spark alive."

"What the hell are you talking about?!" he screamed back. "Who are you freaks?!!"

"We are humanity's last line of defense, Mr. Dracon. And anyone who poses a threat shall be eliminated."

"You son of a bit..."

"Kill them." the blond-haired man ordered, seemingly playing his role as second-in-command. Tin soldiers commanded, the others let loose a fury of gunfire, though eerily silent through long, muffled barrels, a hail of bullets launched towards the unsuspecting clique. Glasses was hit first, the large black man out in front, taking the full brunt before he even had the chance to protect himself. A single bullet screamed towards him and merely slipped through the flesh between his eyes without effect or sound, until the back of his head erupted in a grisly spray of blood and pieces of his own skull. The others were mowed down, even a transformed fay, his torso ripped apart and spread across the far wall in a spattering of blood, unable to defend against the cold reality of shaped steel.

They continued firing, until all weapons were discharged, and Dracon's men were downed and bloodied and stolen of any life. Only Tony himself remained alive, resting against the wall, mouth gaped and pouring out a steady stream of blood, dripping down designer clothing, once the best money could buy, now rags hanging from wounded flesh. The stench of blood, the unmistakable smell of death lay suspended in the air, the acrid aroma of gunpowder and metallic smoke, it was almost overwhelming to him. "...quarry...men..." he wheezed, his voice lost to the gurgle of blood steadily streaming up and out from his throat.

Mr. Black nodded slowly, accepting the comparison if only to allow fear once born and culled from the former incarnation. "Formed from the ashes of a failed experiment. But now so much more."

"...but y-you...don't...killll...h-hum...ans..." Tony gasped, his lungs shredded and filling with his own fluids, his hands grasping upon torn flesh, as if attempting to keep himself from spilling his entrails upon his expensive carpeting.

"We wipe away anything and anyone who threatens our way of life, including the gargoyles, and their human allies. And of course, men who prey on the weak and allow this kind of destructive capability," he pointed to the weapons cache, "out into the streets. Where innocent children, human children, die by these weapons."

"...n-no..." he slid down the wall, leaving a massive, crimson smear of his blood and tried to crawl away, using what strength remained in his decrepit body, leaking trails of scarlet broth behind. "...the...q-quarry...men were d-d-differ...ent..."

"We are different, Tony. We don't possess the hammers and suits of the Quarrymen, we don't show off with such ridiculous weaponry and boastful temperament, we don't wear masks to conceal our faces, for we have given ourselves completely to the cause of protecting our race..." He stepped over the huddled form of the leader of one of the biggest crime syndicates in New York, and kneeled, forcing Tony's eyes to his, wanting only his face to be the last sight seen before he perished. "We are the Guild, Mr. Dracon, and we will free this world...starting with you."

He moved away and allowed his second to force a gun to Tony's head. He casually adjusted his gloves when hearing the muffled shot, as if unwilling to have his hands stained with any blood. The blond-haired man moved away from Tony's lifeless body, and dropped the emptied clip from his gun. "He's dead, sir."

"The first of many." the leader replied, looking back to the weapons. "I suppose we shouldn't let these go to waste. Grab the weapons and load up. We'll be along shortly." he told the others and they promptly fell in line, grabbing the weapon cases and exiting from the room, leaving only Mr. Black and his second. "Well, agent White. It seems the cleansing has begun a little earlier than expected..."

"Yes, sir." he breathed coolly, his Aryan-inspired features twisting.

"And the reporter? And the detective whore?"

"Both still under surveillance." he responded, nudging Tony's head with his boot. "I still say we should kill them now along with the others we have targeted for purification..."

"No." A simple word effectively silenced the agitated man, and when eyes of a raging stormfront turned his way, did he step back into his designated place. "They have a greater purpose right now, to unwittingly draw out the gargoyles that infest this city."

"And if they don't perform what we require of them?"

He stalled, his deep eyes closing and concealing an ashen ocean, reliving memories only experienced by a few, where an attack brought him death and despair, and tore his family away. "Then they shall die."

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

February 10th
"I swear to god, Hawkins, if there's a stripper at this party, you're going to die..."

"Stripper? What is this...'stripper' you keep talking about?"

Annika huffed, her wings flaring, her eyes sparked with ruby red. "You know what I mean."

Todd shrugged, suppressing the urge to laugh, knowing his life may depend on his silence and fine discretion when in his fiancé's presence. "You know, you're still welcome to have a bachelorette party..."

"And make a complete and total fool of myself when indulging in heavy drinking, surrounded by a bunch of cackling ladies? Sorry, handsome, not going to happen." She swished around him, though her form heavy, she possessed the touch and grace of the wind. "The only reason I'm letting you have this party is because, in four days..." she growled, and bared her teeth, "you're mine forever..."

"Is that a good thing?"

"A very good thing." she forced out, a talon pointed his direction. She stalked around him, hoping to instill fear in the stubbornly fearless as the lioness eyeing her prey. "You know, you've been getting around lately." she mused, knowing the fact her future husband had circled the entire castle in a simple task of ensuring his invitations were given, and yet perhaps did his best to aid his friends in their pain.

"I know." Todd replied. "I've been on a roll the last couple weeks. I should be a psychiatrist."

"And then the national suicide rate doubles." she joked, matching proud smile to sardonic grin, Todd unappreciated of her own attempt at humor. "As Mr. Hawkins talks a jumper to his death by allowing him only the bleak outlook of his bad jokes and an irrepressibly long-running dialogue, where he speaks about how big my breasts are and why his social skills are all screwed up because he grew up slightly disenfranchised in an orphanage."

"Hmmm...maybe not a psychiatrist then."

She batted her lashes, her sapphire eyes sparkling. "No."

"Okay, then," a hard hand to her chest and the gargess was forced to her bed, landing upon the mattress with a slight bounce, "I'll stick to the incredibly passionate artist." He crawled over her and touched lip to lip, with Annika responding amorously to his contact about her exposed flesh. "So, speaking of preparations...are you ready?"

She brightened underneath him, counting off on her taloned fingers. "My dress is done, as is your tux, the hall is being set up..."

"I wasn't talking about that," he silenced her with but a single finger to her swelled lips, "I was talking about you."

She stared at him blankly, and thinned her eyes. "I think so. You?"

"Probably..." he nodded his assurance, though inside, was he churning with emotion and agitation.

"Well, that's good." she whispered into the soft cleft of his neck, where the skin smelled of strong cologne and a ribald musk. She pulled back, and found something peculiar etched into his features. "If you're as nervous as I am, then why do you have that stupid grin on your face?"

Todd could only help but to enlarge his smile, spread among his features, empowered by what he had only dreamed about since the eve of battle on which they were engaged. "Because tomorrow night, gorgeous, comes the bachelor party..."