Author's Note: My most heartfelt condolences to my American neighbors, and the tragedy they have endured on their home soil. I hope you all have the strength to pull through, and hope those responsible will be hunted down and punished. It is an attack not only on innocent people and children, and a stunned nation, but on a world in which we all have lived, when seeing winged creatures born from our dreams fly past twin towers of gleaming steel and silent dignity. My deepest sympathies...
67 - "Joining of Souls"
February 14th, 2002
The sweet smell of blossom and Summer sprig, of thorny rose and stemmed carnation, a perfume created by nature and fused by man into imaginative concoctions of intoxicating aroma. It carried along the snowdrifts, from tall, sculpted windows tapered to a strong cleft, and inside where the glass panes parted only enough to allow the escape of the flowery scents, came a warm glow, spreading out amongst a Winter canvas of ivory crystal. The portent of life and festivity contained within cold, uncaring granite from the hills of Scotland, where all prepared themselves for grand celebration of life, and the joining of two, into one.
Beyond where the grand hall filled with guests for the night, creatures of wing between their human comrades, those hired to breathe life into wooden instruments and hail the wedding march, and a casually awaiting judge Roblyn near his podium, quite enjoying this time around seeing the flurry of activity without fear of anymore unexpected surprises associated with weddings at fortress Wyvern. Far from the prejudice of the world, there was only one collective thought on the mind of all gathered, preparing for the union.
Like clockwork, they readied themselves and their surroundings, the hall adorned with roses and carnations of the perspective bride's choice, strung with emerald vine through an intricate labyrinth of painted latticework, with several archways erected over the elliptical doorways, concealing somber gray stone with a splash of frosted florae. More than two years from the day, where for the first time in perhaps all recorded history, came together gargoyle and human in blessed matrimony. And now, history was destined to be repeated.
"I can't help it! You're strangling me!" Todd muttered, fighting against the tactless ministrations of lithe fingers digging into his flesh.
Kendra forced his compliance with but a cautioned sneer and grazing her long nails against his exposed skin. "There." she crowed in triumph, having adjusted Todd's attire perfectly, the ascot tie of ebony slipper satin coming to rest flawlessly. She stepped back to admire him, the young man having dressed for his wedding, a steel gray morning coat, cut away just under the waistline button, allowing the broad, split tail behind him to hang free.
He loosened slightly the broad neck scarf looped under his chin and collar, fastened with a tie tack, and settled the white rose into his left lapel, using perhaps more time and care for such a simple task than usual. "So," he asked, passing demanding eyes to his ex-girlfriend, "how do I look?"
Kendra smiled softly, and sauntered slowly towards him, her long, sleeveless Versace gown caressing against her legs with an ethereal wisp. "Like a million bucks, Hawkins." she whispered, albeit sadly when he turned back to his mirror and adjusted any stray hair that had managed to escape his styling gel. "Well...I should get back to the hall...I'm sure Crash is waiting for me..."
Todd quickly turned from his reflection, seeing the slender woman seemingly attempt an escape from the room. "Kendra." he called out to her, his voice level, strong, and effectively stopping her from fleeing too soon from a sensitive subject gone yet undiscussed. She turned to face him, and the former lovers met their gaze, misted gray to deep cerulean, though hers shaken, and unable to hold upon him for so long until she abruptly swept away. "Why didn't you tell me about you and Crash?"
"Gee, I wonder why..." she huffed, in a sardonic reply, her tone enough to remind him of the bachelor party. "That was one hell of a bruise you gave him. Thank god that bowl of chili he landed in helped the swelling..."
"Well, first of all, I was pissed," he snapped back, his eyes glinting of an animal rage, "and second, I was just a little angry knowing my two best friends had started getting it on without telling me."
Kendra angrily adjusted the spaghetti straps on her shoulders, standing up with a fierce temperament that belied her smaller stature. "I wanted to avoid exactly what happened two nights ago until both Theo and I knew just how serious this thing was. It actually started out as...just a fling."
She sighed, flopping down into the first available chair. "It was...it was the night after you told us that you asked Annika to marry you." she started, as Todd flipped away his coat tails and sat across from her. "I remember being ecstatic for you, until the realization hit me...that you were getting married." She played impassively with the folds of her gown, straightening wrinkles in the shimmering lavender fabric and perhaps using the silence as a barrier between them. "I guess there was a small part of me...that thought maybe, just maybe...we'd get back together again...but then came Annika. And everything was different."
"But...we both decided to remain only friends."
"I know...but I was still upset, and Crash was there to help me, and it just led to something...more powerful..."
"But why did you feel you couldn't tell me?" Todd inquired of her.
"We decided not to tell anyone, for we wanted to see where this was heading. If this was one night...or something real."
"We both think so."
Todd lowered his gaze, away from a young blond he once loved more than a friend. Until she leaned forwards, and scooped a finger under his chin, lifting his face back up. "I'm still your friend, still the woman you can tell anything...and still the woman who lost her virginity to you..."
Todd danced his eyebrows, a cocky click and a smile afterwards. "Damn straight."
Kendra stood up, taking Todd along with her, and graced a hand to his cheek. "I'll see you in a bit. Now please, Todd," she pleaded with him jokingly, "don't screw anything up tonight."
"Hey!!" he cried to her retreating form, receiving a bare wave of Kendra's hand in silent response. "It's me, remember! And tell Crash he's not off the hook just yet!!"
"Come on, Dom! We're going to be late!" the artist cried, assuring of her dress and make-up in the wall-mounted mirror, while sending her raised voice into the bowels of Destine Manor, distorting into a growl and reflecting off every surface of the Victorian estate.
"I am almost ready." an answer came forth from the shadows of the main bedroom, where Andrea Calhoun had waited patiently outside for her friend to emerge at last with her chosen attire.
"You know, speaking as your guest, this isn't exactly tactful!" Andrea cried back, leaning against the antique mahogany credenza, checking the time and impatiently adjusting her dress. She then heard the long awaited creak of Demona's door and rose up to meet the gargoyle, feigning anger to perhaps help their way along to Wyvern. "It's about damn...time......whoa..."
Demona entered into the faded lamplight, a deliberate tease visible in her promenade, and found Andrea staring intently, her eyes transfixed onto an amazon frame. She dragged her eyes from Demona's high-arched feet, caressing her gaze along an evening gown that clung to her form, acting as a second skin, displaying each and every curve of her hips, waist and breasts through an almost translucent material, the gargoyle seemingly coated in ice. It was if an artist had taken his brush to her bared flesh, and delicately glazed only select places of her body with Winter white in a spiraled trail from neck to where the hem ended just below the knees, leaving her natural cerulean tint revealed beneath the dress. Demona cocked a leg forward, and dragged sharp talons down her silk-layered thigh. "Is there a problem, Andrea?"
Andrea coughed the lodged breath from her lungs. "You mean the fact I'm seeing a lot more of you than I ever...EVER wanted to? Yeah, I'd say so..." She swept up behind the gargess, rubbing a finger along the material, attempting to discern whether this was actually a fashioned dress, and not a creation of Demona's brewed magic. "Trying to outdo the bride, Dom?"
"I have no idea what you are talking about." she answered, slipping into her long cloak to disguise her gargoyle features. "Now, if you please," she threw Andrea her car keys, "we are going to be late."
She desperately restrained her powerful breathing, lest she burst from the tight corset bound around her waist and stomach, and ruin her dress in her nervousness, her quickened pace of breath as near fast as her heart. Dawn-tinted talons descended upon her white, open-fingered glove, running from mid-bicep to her fingers, reveling in such softened cloth lined with lace. She adjusted her corset, her bustier, the ring of lace draped along her shoulders, even the lace and jeweled tiara suspended from just above her eyebrows and her golden hair tied back and fused with a white flowered ring behind. An apprehensive contact, every few minutes, seconds even, without reason but to sway her intense anxiety, to wile away what time passed between now and the ever encroaching ceremony.
Annika sat waiting at her desk, the mirror taunting her with a woman who feared from ever leaving this room, from accepting a choice that would bring true happiness, but an entire lifetime had given her reason either freely or even hesitantly give out her trust to anyone without fear of reprisal. Her doubts, her uncertainty took control of a trembling form, the child within afraid, and as she swiveled around in the chair, she became well aware of the heavy weight of her layered gown and the crystalline watteau spilling to the floor in a cascade of ivory embroidery. A reminder far too powerful not to notice. "I'm getting married..." she whispered to herself, expecting not an answer to the rhetorical comment. "And I think I'm going to puke."
"God, I hope not. You'd ruin a beautiful dress."
Annika looked up into Elisa's beaming smile, with Trinity appearing through the doorway as well, brushing quickly past her mother's legs and into Annika's field of view.
"Ann'ka!!" Her flowergirl, dressed in unspoiled white and destined to lead the processional, the young hybrid appearing more as if a tiny angel than a gargoyle.
"I can't help it..." Annika whispered, reaching down to Trinity and hoisting the child carefully into her lap, adjusting the toddler's floral tiara submerged in a sea of flowing raven tendrils. "I'm nervous as hell."
"It's natural, Annika." said Elisa, the detective swathed in deep Prussian blue, set against tawny copper, a short-sleeved dress of form-fitting velvet and just allowing a mere glimpse of her toned thighs to spill out. "Trust me on this one. I went through the exact same thing."
"What? Wanting to barf?"
Elisa smothered a chirt laugh, when suddenly noticing an odd noise seeming to curl upon the walls all around them. Her brow unwittingly furrowed, skills of a learned detective attempting to discern what echoed around her. "Annika...what is that?"
Annika silently lifted the layers of the silken frock, and allowed Elisa to bare witness to a long, slender appendage tapping relentlessly on the floor. "It hasn't stopped since I put the dress on." she said, her tail rhythmically pounding upon the carpeting without signs of slowing or fatigue.
"Wow, you ARE nervous..."
"Elisa, am I doing the right thing?!" she abruptly blurted out, her sapphire eyes wide open and pleading silently to the detective, words without the breath to power them, and yet relaying the message quite clearly. "Should I really be getting married if I'm having such doubts?"
Elisa walked forwards on her high heels of a matching tint to her dress, and stole her arms around Annika's shoulders, both women looking into the mirror, such a difference in color and shape, in hue and ancestry, yet so unbelievably similar in soul. "Do you love Todd?" she asked.
"Well...yes, of course."
"Do you want to spend the rest of your life with him?"
"Do you want to grow old with him?"
"Do you want to be...Mrs. Annika Hawkins?"
Annika looked down and drooped a stray, golden tendril, having escaped from such fixed perfection, the gargess almost ashamed of such irrational fear, and her skin fading into a deep sunset rose when blushing in embarrassment. "With all that I am."
"Good." she asserted, hoping she at least had extinguished some small part of Annika's fear, a rampant dread born of youth and inexperience. A similar feeling to what she endured when marrying Goliath. And in the tranquil pause that followed with a steady exhale, Elisa then noticed the absence of the recurring noise. "Your tail's not tapping anymore..."
"I'm not nervous anymore."
"Twenty minutes, Annika." called Angela innocuously, having passed by the door in her bridesmaid dress.
"Oh god, I'm going to puke. Elisa, I'm going to puke!" Annika nearly screamed, unnerving the small child riding in her lap, her chest heaving as the fears once more took control. "Someone get me a bucket..."
"Man, every single wedding I come to here is always way overdone." Matt grumbled, though jestingly, in seeing the entire hall practically covered in ivory flora, nature transplanted, given barely a flicker of life and mercilessly conquering this new, alien environment, crawling along the stones with emerald tendrils and foliage bleached of color. The fire-haired detective attempted to locate at least a fragment of the usual dreary gray carefully hidden behind, with no avail.
"Well, I for one think it's beautiful..." argued Sara Jasper, wrapping around her lover's arm. "Almost enchanting, and it gets me thinking about who should host OUR wedding..."
Matt froze, choking a spattered laugh from his chest, a transparent evasion of the subject handled as if scalding hot, and quietly defeated yet again in his quick change of topic. "The flowers are very nice, don't you think?"
"Mm-hmmm." she whispered coyly, resting her head to his shoulder as they crept through the crowd. "It's too bad captain Chavez couldn't come tonight." she started, grasping upon a white rose and depriving it from it's stalk, though allowing it a greater purpose, to adorn Matt's suit lapel. "With her mood lately, I think this would have helped her."
Matt looked down to Sara alongside, and wheezed a softened sigh when shaking his head, leading his lady in arms throughout the medieval setting, where the light of a thousand candles spread throughout danced and frolicked as if in tune with the soft, comforting concerto birthed from the string quartet placed on the hall's far side. "I wonder what's bothering her..."
"Lex, what's bothering you?" asked Rain of her beau as they passed by the human couple, nodding their greeting, the emerald she-goyle's dress of deep lavender cut to allow her floating sails their freedom.
Lexington found himself unable to answer, the web-wing stepping princely by his consort, clad in his one-piece tuxedo and poor boy, until Rain nudged closer, her hair and long bangs skimming over his exposed flesh, dragging a trail of fire along the surface of his skin and sensitive inorganic covering. "I'm just...dreading seeing Ares again...you know...after..."
"Seeing how far your wires go?" Rain joked, nursing a growing laughter within her chest, while Lexington immediately looked around him, sending his optics through the entire crowd. "Man, with the amount of damage we did that night, I thought I would've negated your warranty. Hee hee hee..."
"Shhhh!! He might hear you..."
Rain sighed at the source of his fear. "Oh, he'll never know we did the nasty. Just act natural when he arrives and he won't suspect a thing."
"Oh god..." she gasped, when hearing the summons bellowed from across the hall, cleaving easily through what background noise lay within the air. She found a massive mountain of golden spurs visible above the crowd, and eyes of the purest charcoal mist, as if boring into her soul. "Act natural, Lex, or you'll give us away." she whispered through crooked lips, before fluttering towards her adoptive father as if still the innocent hatchling. "Ares!"
"Hello, my daughter." Ares replied, the Canadian leader embracing his daughter, as the rest of his clan from the far North flooded into the hall.
Thrash dragged himself through the flowered archway, and immediately did a young crimson gargess find her target within sight. Ariana slipped away from her mother's side, her diminutive stature and lithe structure enough to grant her access effortlessly through the packed crowd, if only to catch a blurred glance at skin the color of the fiery evening sun.
"Ares...how are you?" Lexington cheerfully replied to a frowning Canadian leader, desperately feigning a want in having him here.
"...Lexington..." Ares muttered, seeing the web-winged cyborg approach. An awkward pause as the two shook hands, Ares only able to sneer and bare his fire-filled gaze. And to even add further strain to a relationship crafted on the thinnest of ice, Ares leaned down and looked deep into Lexington's cybernetic eyes, studying him intently, watching the lone droplet of sweat trickle down flushed olive skin. He growled, "You had sex with my daughter, didn't you?"
"Oh crap..." Rain wheezed.
"Now, Ares..." Aurora minded her mate, a cautioned hand placed bracingly to his spurred arm, though herself somewhat surprised in the revelation. "Please...you promised."
"It is all right, my love," Ares just barely regained his composure, though even the smallest of muscle striations quivering beneath taught skin, "I am not going to kill him now, and ruin the mating ceremony." He motioned his paws together, Lexington watching as his three-fingered hands mimicked a grip around his throat. "But after the reception...I will burst his head like a pimple."
"Ares!" Aurora bested his furied form, pulling him away and towards their chosen seats, passing by a young blond coming up behind another human, and relaxing her fingers over his shaved scalp.
"Huh?!" Crash flinched, and jerked away from the caress, only to discover Kendra standing innocently behind. "Oh...shit, Kendra...I thought you were Hawkins..." He stood up and embraced his new love, his hands indiscriminately roaming across her silken dress. "Is he still...you know..."
"Pissed off at you?" she finished for him. "Oh yeah."
Crash winced, and slumped his broad shoulders, deflating. "Damn...this is definitely the way I never wanted it to turn out."
"Oh, he'll come around..." Kendra calmed him, a gentle voice. "After he's married and attached to the ol' ball and chain and the kids start poppin' out left and right, he'll forget all about the fact his one-time girlfriend, with-a-baby-sister-like relationship, and assured confidante is regularly doing his other best friend."
"Well, if you put it that way..." Crash huffed, slumping into his seat alongside Kendra, as a young girl crept behind them, carefully stepping her way through the row of carefully placed chairs and towards her intended target.
"Hi, Thrash." Ariana cooed, as the taller gargoyle turned around to the sultry lowing, and the smile swiftly falling from his beak when discovering the menace from the last time he had visited Wyvern.
"Oh...hey...Ariana, was it?"
"Uh-huh." she continued in her tease, pulling the hem of her short dress downwards, and stretching the silver-gilt textile even tighter over her frame. "It's good to see you again."
"Uh yeah..." he answered back, wary of this young teenager affectionately staring at him. "You too..."
"Well, I guess I'll see you around." she whispered coyly, entangling the suspended, raven hairs around her taloned fingers as she backed away. "Maybe we can...dance, at the reception."
"Yeah...okay." He eyed her carefully, fixing his deep eyes to Ariana rejoining her brother's side near the podium. "Damnit," he muttered, sweeping away the tangled dreadlocks from his spurs, "was she coming on to me?"
"Come on, come on. Move it, Dom." Andrea muttered darkly, darting down the corridor and towards the hall, with the former immortal lagging behind her, in no rush to where the wedding would take place. "The last thing I want to be is late." They had arrived moments before, and used the private parking garage and elevator to discreetly make their way to the dwelling among the stars, where the stones licked the cotton clouds.
"Yes..." Demona then replied, her whispered breath snorted out and rolling from her fangs. "That would be a...shame." She intentionally tarried, slowing her pace to a crawl as Andrea at last gave up her struggle and hurried off to the hall. Demona walked on, studying the medieval armaments and tapestries, until she had inadvertently pierced the brilliant light of an adjoining room, spilling into the hall and alighting her hardened features. She stopped, looked inside and gasped, immediately cursing her damnable luck. "I just had to pick this hallway to travel..." Hunched against the doorframe, she watched with a burdened heart as Todd readied himself, still struggling with his ascot in the full-length mirror, as if still not straight enough for his tastes.
"Damnit." he muttered, becoming angered in his inability to adjust his appearance as wanted.
"Do you require assistance?"
He turned around to find Demona swaying towards him, and instantly, and regrettably, did his eyes droop to her dress, only serving to endanger his coming betrothal. "Whoa..." She approached and silently delved her talons into the silk material of his broad tie, smoothing it out with a hand running down the entire length of his chest. "Uh...thanks, Red." he said, forcing his eyes away from her revealing dress, betrayed by his own instruments of vision on his wedding day.
"You're quite welcome." she whispered, and paused, using her proximity to better study his attire, the long coat of steel fitted perfectly to his form. Her crimson lips curled into a subtle smile. "You look good in a suit."
"Well, don't get used to it." he grumbled, loosening the restrictive collar. "As soon as the honeymoon rolls around, I don't plan on wearing anything at all..."
Demona looked away, her wings sagging in the sudden realization. "Of course."
A disquieting halt to what subtle and cautioned conversation drifted between them, as Todd sighed. "I'm sorry..."
"So am I." she answered. "For not finding you first."
"Listen, Demona, I..."
"Love Annika. It's all right." she silenced him quickly. "My continuing bad luck in...falling for someone hopelessly unattainable. It seems I am the nexus and centerpoint of all misfortune in the universe..."
"I wish it was different." He stepped closer, possessed of the warm smile usually seen from across the restaurant table when they journeyed into the Manhattan streets for a midday meal.
"But it isn't," she halted any advance he made, with a growl born from her throat, "and you know it." She moved away, even as he tried to reach for her, but she swept away with both the grace and alarming alacrity of the wind towards the door.
He ran after her, unwilling to have it left this way, the distant spark between them never extinguished. Forcefully hugging an arm around the retreating gargess, he pulled her close to him, and buried his face into her neck and hair, feeling her struggle against his hands but ultimately relent. "You're one of my best friends." he whispered sincerely. "And I hope that at least counts for something."
She turned in his embrace, until they faced each other, Demona with a controlled facade, and iced emotion. "Have a good life, Mr. Hawkins." she whispered, while placing a swift kiss to his right cheek near the mouth, perhaps an end to her infatuation with the haunting touch of mist. She backed away and walked out, slipping away from the light.
Todd sighed, a heavy exhale. "I love you too, Demona."
"I don't give a damn if Xanatos has closed the entire Eyrie building!! I want up there now! You have no right!!"
The security guard stationed in the grand lobby of Xanatos Enterprises crossed his arms against a barreled chest, thinning his deep-set eyes underneath the plastic brim of his uniformed hat. "Miss St. John..."
"Don't 'Miss' me, you gorilla!" Nicole snapped back. "Now I know there's something happening up there in that castle, again, and I want in. Freedom of the press!"
He sighed, rubbing a callused palm over his features. "I sorry, but it's after business hours, and Mr. Xanatos has barred all public personnel from the building."
"Oh how convenient." she seethed. "The security doubles the moment my story hit the airwaves. Why? Did I strike a nerve with the subject matter?"
"No, Miss St. John," a cold, emotionless tone wafted smoothly from both behind Nicole and the security guard, "but Mr. Xanatos has every intention of protecting both his interests and family. And he was partly convinced by your story that night, of how anyone's privacy is at great risk of being discovered."
Nicole narrowed her eyes to the majordomo. "Burnett." she hissed, as the security guard breathed a sigh of relief in the call of reinforcements to his side.
"And why, may I ask, are you here harassing one of our best guards and attempting to gain entrance to an empty relic only atop the Eyrie's roof for aesthetic value and Mr. Xanatos' eye for ancient artifacts?" Owen inquired, a long breath stretched out.
Nicole shoved the paper into Owen's face. "Catering services for a full course meal to be delivered not to the Eyrie, but castle Wyvern. Dinner, dessert...and a five tier wedding cake. A hired band, consisting of a string quartet. Flower deliveries with thousands of specially ordered white roses." she pressed on, waving stolen bills of sale on torn, crumpled paper in front of his face. "One of many such gatherings over the years. And should I mention the massive food shipments by a subsidiary company, more than enough for the employees here? Or the fact the castle has gone under extensive repairs it's entire existence in New York, several times requiring a full force of workmen to repair crumbled walls, severed gaslines, ruptured wiring..." Her eyes drifted upwards to the blank expression of the blond-haired fay, disguised in human form. "Now you tell me...just why Xanatos would spend millions on electricity and heat and constant repairs...for a supposedly empty castle?"
Owen merely blinked his eyes in her discovery. And with the bare hint of a smile, he adjusted his glasses. "It seems your skills as a reporter are much more proficient than I ever thought. It must have taken incredible ingenuity and patience."
"You mean trying a new angle by meticulously sifting through the records of all the major companies in Manhattan and the surrounding areas involved with Xanatos Enterprises for the past ten years?"
"And then stealing them."
Nicole smiled, a chilled smirk brimming with a boundless effrontery. "Whatever it takes, Mr. Burnett."
"Indeed. I must speak with our associates in allowing such breaches in their security. Now, moving past the obvious fact Mr. Xanatos often hosts catered parties, and a castle constructed one thousand years in the past requires constant care, just why have you centered on this particular company tonight?"
"When all the rumors point towards a single source, it's best to follow the trail laid out for you. Especially when you immediately double your security the day after I released my pictures." she explained, pushing a stray hair from her face with but a breath. "I'd thought I'd pop in and give my regards to the tight-lipped Mr. Xanatos. Now...just who is getting married tonight? And do they happen to have...wings?"
He cocked a bleached eyebrow to the question. "I beg your pardon."
"Please don't play dumb with me, Mr. Burnett. It doesn't suit you."
"First off, there is no wedding, Miss St. John. Mr. Xanatos has decided to host a gala this evening in the great hall of the castle for a small group of his closest friends, and as two of the invitees have recently been married, he wishes only to show his support. Thus the wedding cake."
"Riiiiiight." she danced the word along her lips, nodding her head in his apparent evasion though admiring his silver tongue, a match for hers. "A lot of cash involved for a small party."
"You and I both know Mr. Xanatos does not do anything small."
"You have an excuse for everything, don't you? You must get paid the big bucks for spinning such crafted lies to the public."
Owen's eyes glittered, the entrapped Puck inside wishing desperately to dispose of the prying reporter in his own singular idiom. "Miss. St. John, there are no gargoyles here, so if you please..."
She raised a finger to contradict him. "I never said gargoyles."
"You implied it."
"How do you know? Unless you really ARE keeping gargoyles up in that castle, and it just happens to be a foremost topic on your mind."
The majordomo's chest heaved, as this woman actually pulled off a terrific feat, that of exhausting Owen Burnett to the point of annoyance. But he now knew the true reason of her visit, perhaps coming far too close to the clan's very home for his comfort. And even as he calmed the fires of fay enchantment, he noticed another intruder to the Eyrie building, slowly pushing forwards the massive glass and golden-trimmed door from her path, entering timidly, as if lost. "This pointless conversation is over, Miss. St. John. If you'll excuse me."
She watched him steal away, perhaps relieved in his escape, and approach another visitor to the highest building in the world. "Pointless?" Nicole muttered, seeing with ever observant eyes the robed stranger looking in sheer awe at her surroundings. "Who is that?"
"Greetings." said Owen quietly to the woman, garnering a smile to his offered hospitality.
"Mr. Burnett, I presume?" she answered back.
"Yes. I have been expecting you."
She seemed almost startled, but soon did the smile only deepen. "I suppose...I should not be surprised. Especially what he's told me about you, and your...special talents."
"I'm glad you were able to attend." He waved a hand to the elevators beyond, directing her eyes to a pair of sterling doors marked with lavender paint. "If you'll come this way, I shall escort you up."
"Thank you, Mr. Burnett." She followed behind, as the majordomo squired her towards the elevators.
"Hey!!" Nicole yelled out, attempting to rush forwards, only to be restrained quite forcefully by the guard. "Why does she rank?!"
Owen held the doors open to allow barely a satisfied smirk to leak through. "She was invited." he started, his voice fading as the door then closed shut. "You were not."
"Damnit! Either I'm retarded or this friggin' tie just won't straighten!" Todd grumbled, birthing the growl of a gargoyle from his chest. His ascot, though perhaps flawless to any other observer, still did not fit his desired appearance. Perhaps his trained eye found an imperfection, or perhaps, he was nervous, allowing a frustration this small to devour wholly the agonizing period of waiting. "C'mon...c'mon..."
His attention centered elsewhere, he was oblivious to yet another watching him from afar, but this time, it was a love not of passion, but of deepest care, having nourished his growth since but a child. "Hello, Todd." she whispered, bringing instantly her presence known with a voice as soft and flowing as the clouds themselves.
Todd froze and slowly turned around, staring in disbelief at the robed woman across from him. "Rose..." he gasped, seeing his caretaker standing in her raven parish, almost as if a dream. He could barely gather shattered thoughts, and disentangle a knotted tongue enough to answer back. "I-I thought...I thought you weren't coming..."
"A mistake I almost made...until I pondered a friend's convincing words." She started towards him, forest green eyes glistening with emotion, and though scarred in face and flesh, beautiful. "Is there still room...for a foolish old woman?"
A smile formed. "Always..."
Her path deliberate, she moved into his arms and closed around him. "I am sorry..." she pleaded for his forgiveness, even as he quickly hesitantly enveloped the smaller woman in his embrace. "For ever making you think I don't care for you...or love you..."
"No, it's not." she pulled away, and brushed her fingers lightly across his cheek. "In my own selfishness, I put my own pain before yours. I hurt you, and for that I am truly sorry, for you are more important to me than you could ever imagine."
"You're right." he conceded, unable to lie to her when staring into eyes of dark emerald mist. "I was angry, and terrified you decided not to come. But it's okay now...you're here...that's the most important part."
She looked up, his absolution she almost knew for sure he would give, knowing by his trusting nature, a gift to him she helped to bestow to an anger-filled, seven-year-old child. "Forgive me?"
He winked. "You know it."
Rose smiled, and looked down to his ascot, the striped material needing a mere tuck from her fingertips to achieve what he wanted all along.
"You fixed it..." he whispered, staring downwards in disbelief, a war fought long and hard and ended swiftly. "How do you always do that? Make everything better..."
"Magic, Todd Matthew," Rose jested saintly, "magic." Her hands rose upon their own volition to his hair, a calming gesture of her fingernails roaming through thick, mahogany tress. But soon she forced her fingers even deeper, and Todd lurched back, when he learned she was intent on straightening the chaotically-styled peaks.
"Hey!! What are you doing?!"
"Fixing your hair, Todd." she answered, struggling against his frantically waving hands to push back his chestnut hair into some semblance of normalcy. "It looks as if it was styled with a blender."
"I like it this way!" he said, retreating from her hands like they were instruments of fire. He moved back to the mirror, and preened and meticulously prodded until he returned the gelled style to his preference.
"But it's your wedding day." Rose asserted, licking her finger and wiping away what adhered to the side of his mouth.
"Gah! Jeez, what're you, my mom?!"
"What is going on in here?!"
"Oh, hey Fox." Todd greeted the flushed billionaire, the former television star having torn into the room when hearing the groom's fevered rant. Todd shifted suddenly, in seeing Fox carefully eye the intruder to the clan's home. For he had forgotten, this was Rose's first journey to the fortress brought a millennium into the future. "Oh...yeah...Fox Xanatos, I'd like you to meet sister Rose." he introduced his caretaker to the red-haired woman. "She took care of me in the orphanage where I grew up. You think you could get her something to wear for the ceremony?"
"But, Todd, please..." Rose argued, unwanting of such attention thrust upon her. "I am content to wear..."
"He's right, this is a wedding, not a funeral." Fox agreed whole-heartedly, seeing a chance to play designer to a difficult subject. "Let's ditch the mourning black and get some color."
"But..." Rose tried to persuade them both otherwise, yet Fox snaked a hand to her arm and practically dragged her from the room.
Todd praised her valiant if not futile struggle, a laughable attempt to escape the spirited wife of possibly the most powerful man in the world. And back to the mirror did he find himself and his well-dressed twin, admiring the broad tie creased sharply underneath his collar, at last fixed by caring hands. Hands that once brushed away long, untamed hair from his eyes when on the verge of slumber, and seeing before he succumbed, the unwavering woodland green of her eyes baring down on him in the darkness of evening. "I can't believe she came..."
Todd perked up when hearing the odd sound in the background, a low humming.
Todd whirled around to the door, and only did his eyes catch a glimpse of pink, rubbery flesh scream across the stones and out of sight. He raised a suspicious brow, the sound so very familiar, but the image in his mind blurred to that of indistinction, due to the massive alcohol consumption only days ago. "What the hell was that?"
"Damnit, damnit, damnit..." She hurried through the doors, the weighted barriers as if barely an obstacle in her path. Fluffing the gown around her breast and waist, she ensured her beauty as she pulled the pass card from her matching purse and flashed it towards the guard.
But he stood up, and stopped her with but a gesture, pointing to the lighted slot on his massive desk.
"Oh come on, you know me..." she complained, pouting, inflaming any man's heart and instant subservience in such a display.
But it did not work as well as she would have thought. "You know the procedure, miss." he grumbled, though politely. "Mr. Xanatos has ordered all visitors' identities confirmed before entrance to the building. Part of the added security..."
"I know..." she sighed, crossing quickly to the side and swiping her card through the electronic reader, and then pressing her palm to the lighted pad. Once the card's validity was verified, the scanner read her hand by passing a shaft of light slowly down the entire length of her appendage, her fingerprints, heat pattern and each and all of the tiniest indentations in her flesh being matched with the sample given.
"Thank you, miss."
"No prob." She swept away, towards the elevator doors, guiding the loose strands of hair colored molten red behind her ear. "God, I hope I'm not late..."
"It would be a shame to miss the wedding." a voice rang out from behind her, catching both the woman and security guard's attention. "Wouldn't it...detective Starr?"
Iliana slowly turned around and grit her teeth, dreading from ever hearing the same, sneering tone slithering up the length of her spine. It was Nicole, having appeared back into the foyer, leaning against the southernmost wall and inspecting casually her manicured nails. "St. John..." she growled. "Damnit, bitch, you've been hounding me for weeks...don't you ever give up?"
"Not when I smell a story." she responded in kind, always enjoying the look of sheer madness contorting Iliana's features.
"Thanks to you and your little story, I'm still hounded and ridiculed by the public even today, and was almost dragged before a judicial review board because one of the higher ups saw your faked pictures..."
"Faked?!" she gasped, startled in hearing the detective still cling to a false hope, in burying the truth. "You and I both know it wasn't faked, and you and I both know gargoyles are real...especially with your little 'boyfriend'." She looked over the detective in her gown, long-sleeved and a deep glitter white with a diamond-shaped opening just above her breasts, revealing her sparingly-freckled cleavage. Matching sandal heels, and her shoulder length hair pulled up and twisted around a pair of calligraphy-carved, Japanese chopsticks, she was as elegant and as different from the worn leather jacket and knee-high boots as Nicole had ever seen her. "So," she started, "you and your gargoyle lover getting hitched tonight?"
"What??!" Iliana nearly screamed in surprise. "Shadow and I aren't...I mean...shit..."
A simple slip of the tongue, and Nicole welcomed the chance to delve even deeper, to pry open the rift cracked in an adamantine resolve. "So, his name is Shadow." she purred in celebration, confidence washing over her. "Suits him, actually."
"I...I have no idea what you're talking about." Iliana backed away, nearly dropping her purse, and stumbling into the rigid stance of Owen Burnett.
"Why are you still chasing this hollow prospect, Miss St. John," Owen demanded, his usual monotone breaking, "and bothering the invited guests of David Xanatos?"
"THIS is why I'm here, Mr. Burnett." She pointed directly at Iliana. "Miss Starr here has been frequenting the Eyrie building quite often, and I'm guessing it's where this...Shadow is. Is he what you're protecting? What you sealed up with scanners and extra security guards? Or do you have an entire menagerie of winged creatures creeping about past your stone statues?!"
"Miss St. John..."
"What about when an unmarked Xanatos Enterprises helicopter rescued such fabled creatures from the top of a church rooftop several years ago?!"
"Mr. Dugan," Owen called to the massive guard, outright ignoring Nicole's fevered fume, "please escort Miss St. John from the building, and then secure the doors. There will be no more guests tonight."
He lurched forward in a hunch, and rolled up his sleeves to confront Nicole, baring tattooed arms and a welcome smile, the predator having eyed it's prey. "Yes, sir."
"H-Hey! You can't do this!! Whoa!!" She was lifted from the ground, her arms entrapped within hairy paws, the guard easily outweighing her by a hundred and fifty pounds. "Oh, that's it! That does it!!" she screamed rabidly, being carted off over the guard's broad shoulder as Owen allowed an embarrassed Iliana access to the elevator. "You and Xanatos' continuing silence only serves to prove me right!! I'm going to expose them!! I promise yoooooooooou!!"
Pushed through the doors, the guard dumped Nicole onto the wide, sweeping steps outside, and walked back in, concealing a smirk and using his security keycard and private code to secure the last remaining portal into the Eyrie. The security lasers powered up, and created an impassable barrier which forced technology to it's whim, and separated the iron tower from the rest of Manhattan.
Gathering herself from the pavement and the passing pedestrians imparting her odd stares, Nicole stood up, and though shaken and sporting a slight limp to her left side, she nonchalantly drifted a hand through her tossed hair. "Well...that was just rude..." She looked up, her eyes unable to see the castle's lights from her position, but she knew as God as her witness, something was there just beyond the reach of her fingertips. Then, it suddenly dawned upon her when seeing an airliner descend from above. "Of course...I've been trying to go in through the wrong way. Why go up to the castle from the ground, when I can just drop down..." She swathed a free hand through the cold, misted air, as if extending her lofted grasp to the milky heavens. "From the sky."
"God, I can't believe I screwed up like that..." Iliana moaned, slumping against the elevator's titanium wall, guiding a soothing hand over her creased brow. "They trusted me, and I almost blew the entire fucking secret..."
"It's all right, Miss Starr." Owen calmed her, and perhaps her greatest fear. "It was merely a mistake. Nothing more."
"But I almost exposed them to that...stupid bitch..." She clenched her fists, a woman in evening wear betrayed by the rambunctious spirit within. "God...I HATE that woman..."
"Miss St. John is already convinced of the gargoyles' existence, when she gained the opportunity to take those photographs of you and Shadow under the influence of Alexander's spell. And as such, spilling the secret to her would make no difference." Owen focused in on the rapidly rising numbers displayed above the doors, keeping his eyes unwavering from any distraction. "It is inevitable...the gargoyles will be revealed."
She looked up, unbelieved of such words pouring from a man whose very task it was to protect the Wyvern clan. "You really believe that? That the clan will be exposed?"
"Yes, for it is not a question of if...but ultimately when. And as hard as we may try, we cannot keep them concealed forever. With insatiable curiosity and an expanding family, as two races glide dangerously close to each other, it is only...a matter of time, detective Starr, before humanity learns of the gargoyle race." He whisked unemotional eyes to the suffering detective, an expectant anticipation of mirth and good cheer brought down in broken shards with his stark and somewhat cold demeanor. "But as of this moment, we have more important matters to contemplate." he whispered when checking his watch on his restored hand, birthing a smile to curve irrepressibly sterile lips upwards. "For the wedding ceremony is nearly about to begin."
"Okay, okay...something for the nun..." Fox muttered, swathing through endless rows of dresses, gowns and evening wear thousands of dollars in worth, yet found no such attire that would fit Rose and her disposition quite opposed to her own. Where the billionairess would often take great pleasure in teasing her admiring public with bright, screaming colors to stand out within the crowd, the servant of god perhaps preferred more to simply fade into the background. "There has to be something in here...that isn't so damned revealing..." And to hide the scarring that even Fox could not fathom just how far it extended upon her fragile flesh, she needed the coverage Rose's ebony-sheathed robes provided, in order to ease her justifiable fears.
"Please, Fox, this isn't necessary..." Rose continued her argument, though now thinking it was a hopeless battle when discovering Fox still buried waist deep into the menagerie of colored fabrics.
"Ah ha!!" Fox screamed out, pulling back sharply with a chosen selection entrenched in crimson-tinged nails. "I knew I had this..." She swung it around while comparing it to her silky form, and immediately captured Rose's wary gaze.
"It is...very red." she whispered.
"That's the entire point." Fox mused, possessed by the devil's dash and his addiction to the color of blood and seductive flame, recollecting her time spent in this very dress. "Now take off those dreary robes and let's get you dressed."
Rose hesitated, running her fingers inquiringly over the soft material of the red gown, and swallowed, then nodded. She lifted her hands to the headdress, and as Fox turned to gently drape the gown over the silk dressing screen, Rose pulled away the black hood, only to release from their imprisonment a cascade of mahogany brown, with a slight, waning curve to the satin follicles.
"Okay, it's time to get..." she stopped mid-sentence when whirling around to see Rose move her fingers through the thick tress falling to mid-back, to untangle the sweeping the strands and pull them from a graceful if not somber countenance. "Wow."
"Is there a problem?" she asked.
"I just never expected...you know...a nun to have such..."
"Long, luxurious hair?"
Fox shrugged impassively, as if uncomfortable in her stereotype. "Well, it doesn't fit the whole service to god thing..."
Rose too traded her gaze with that of a blank stare, lowered to her hands. "I usually keep it long to...to..."
"Hide the scars." Fox finished for her, perhaps understanding this woman more than ever before. "I know." She offered a hand to the nun, and guided her to the dressing screen, while handing her the gown. "You'll like this dress...trust me." And as Rose prepared herself, slowly stripping away the flowing robe of her parish to the bare flesh beneath, Fox waited patiently just outside. "I used to have a scar when I was a girl," she whispered, relating a tale of her rarely revealed childhood, "on my forehead, left from when I fell off my bike. It was small but...it scared me. I was afraid I would be made fun of, so I hid it. I grew out my hair and used it to conceal the scar...until it eventually healed, and went away..."
"But unfortunately, Fox," Rose interrupted, her bottled anger of so long betraying her, "my scars will not go away."
Fox leaned in, her curiosity piqued, and she gasped, perhaps in shock, or unconcealable pity, when seeing the scarring having clawed it's way partly over Rose's surprisingly toned form, her back, her chest and left shoulder above her breasts, portions of her arms, hands, her thighs, with no discernible pattern to where the fire had lapped at and devoured her fragile skin, and tore away not only her flesh, but her dignity and self-assurance as well. "I know." Fox sighed sorrowfully. "But I know for a fact that a lot of people don't see the scars, but the beautiful woman beneath. It's the same way the gargoyles are often treated, when they are regarded as monsters, perhaps beasts, and never allowed to show gentle souls they possess."
"Todd...said the same thing."
"You care for him, don't you?"
Rose fitted the long sleeves, and pulled down the waist into perfected position, and brushed away the feathered mane from her emotive eyes. "Very much."
"Then let's get out there before we miss the entire ceremony." Fox minded her, helping to place the long, scarlet scarf and hood of nigh-transparent chiffon. As the nun appeared from behind the screen, she was quickly presented with black heels to match the raven hosiery adhered to long legs. She practically pushed a hesitant Rose to the full length mirror, as if she feared her own reflection, yet allowed the scarred nun to see the woman in crimson costume and steadily raise shaken hands to her face. "Don't worry, you look great...the sexiest nun I've ever known."
She dragged her nails over the smooth flesh left untouched, and the ruin left in the fire's wake. "I'm glad you think so..."
"Ah, screw anyone who would stare and put you down..." Fox crowed gruffly, rubbing her temples. "You're here for Todd."
"Yes...I am." she whispered, as Fox feigned a smile and helped to lead the way from the room, before stopping and allowing Rose to pass by.
"I'll...I'll catch you up..." Fox said suddenly, and weakly, and as Rose traveled discreetly down the corridor towards the wedding hall, the billionairess clutched upon the wall with all her rapidly fading strength. "Damnit...not again..." The room turned, the furniture and walls blurring and smearing gruesomely as if a chalk drawing ruined by a sudden rain, her conscious mind at it's sheer limit to keep her awake. A loss of equilibrium resulted in Fox slumping to the ground, holding a hand to her throbbing head.
Fox strained to see the mass of deep scarlet, inherited from her and whisking quickly into view, her eyes still shaken. "Oh..." she managed through the tumult of pain, noticing how her firstborn would always know whenever something was dreadfully wrong. "Alex."
"Are you okay?" the child asked, fearful of his mother attempting to stand and nearly collapsing once more. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing, Alex. I'm just...tired...that's all." she lied, unable to ignore the violent, pulsing beat of the blood racing through her arteries and thundering within her skull. "I've been busy with the wedding and work lately, that's all..." She ruffled his hair as the pain slowly died away, the child's heart welcomed of her smile. "...that's all..."
The low rumble of anticipation and excitement wafted throughout the entire hall, where the gathered throng waited in their chosen seats, a collection of ally and friend, companions in both blood and spirit. Dr. Alan Pierce talked incessantly with his partner Dr. Trishia Weathers, perhaps exchanging theories and ideas brought forth in an instant of ingenuity, a language only understood by those deeply entrenched in the medical field. MacBeth and Hudson, the elder Scotsmen each with a battling brogue and telling of the other's recent heartbreak. The respective clans had been seated, some unable to pull their eyes from Demona, her dress acting more of a thin, misted cloud surrounding her body.
Kendra sat next to Crash, with Jackie and Michelle, Todd's closest friends awaiting impatiently the bride's proud walk in the second row. Kendra stared up to the podium, where the couple would stand in front of the judge and pledge to each other their love and life, and settled with a somber expectation of perhaps, in some small way, losing her best friend. But that instantly disappeared when Crash patted a soothing hand to her knee, and directed her eyes to a flash of crimson appearing through the decorated arch. Kendra looked up to see Rose enter through with Fox and Alexander just behind, her eyes wide, and shifting from side to side in her nervousness. The young blond stood and beamed, as Rose traveled the red carpeting to her side.
"I knew you couldn't stay away..." Kendra whispered contentedly as she threw her arms around her caretaker of the past. Rose simply nodded her gratefulness and as Kendra pushed the rest of the guests in her row down, she allowed Rose the coveted aisle seat. Her hands wrapped around Rose's arm, and she leaned in to the older woman, taking comfort in just her presence.
Satisfied of her task, Fox surveyed the entire hall with a glowing pride in her accomplishment, until a flash of raven silk crossed her immediate path, with angered eyes of swirled chocolate.
"Damnit, Fox!" Elisa nearly screamed, though censuring her frayed tone.
"What??" she gasped in surprise.
"Your seating arrangement!"
Elisa threw an arm out and twisted Fox's neck towards where Shadow had suddenly stood from his seat, only to allow Iliana to graciously pass through to her assigned chair right beside him. The red-haired detective smiled to the dark warrior, guiding a few fingers across his chest as she squeezed her supple form past him, and even all that had passed between them, he could not help but smile back. Elisa then forced Fox's eyes towards the other side, where an embittered Delilah stared mercilessly near Sata and the twins, clenching her taloned hands into her gown. "A little heartless, don't you think?"
Fox gasped, her jaw falling slack, pulling a folded piece of paper from her dress, and unwrapping what was deemed to be the seating plan. "Let's see...Hudson by MacBeth...Kendra with Crash, Jackie and Michelle...you and Goliath in the front row by David, Alex and I...Delilah and Shadow separated...whoops."
"Whoops?" echoed Elisa.
Fox released a garbled, embarrassed laugh. "It seems in my haste to separate those two, I kind of...uhm, put Shadow, ahem...beside Iliana."
"Elisa, it was a total accident...with all the planning, and work, I just...missed it. I'm sorry..."
"Well, it's too late to change now..." Elisa sighed, as Fox visibly winced and stole her fingers to her head to massage yet another bout of pain. "Are you okay?"
"Fine." she answered through clenched teeth. "Just...a headache."
"Let's take our seats..." she said, guiding Fox to the front row where Alexander waited with his father. "The Big Guy's about ready to escort the blushing bride."
Elisa and Fox took their seats, and the crowd began to settle, to quiet in anticipation. Rose anxiously rubbed Kendra's hand, casting fertively her eyes to the others, and sensing their collective gaze upon her. And suddenly, a taloned paw pressed down on Rose's shoulder, colored a deep cerulean blue.
"They are not staring at your injuries," Demona whispered from her seat behind, "they are just not used to having such a beautiful woman in their presence." Her words rang true, and Rose soothed a hand across Demona's warm hide.
"Hudson, who is that?" MacBeth whispered discreetly to the elder gargoyle, he and Hudson with Magellan seated in the third row.
"She be Todd's caretaker from his youth, or some sort..." he answered, seeing the former immortal's eye catch the woman in red on the opposite side of the bride's walkway, a mischievous glint betraying his true age. "Be careful, laddie," Hudson warned, "I hear she be a nun."
MacBeth smiled when Rose looked up and incidentally locked her gaze to his, her forest green eyes igniting as emerald jewels in the light of the chandeliers. "We Scotsmen do love a challenge..."
He stood toweringly tall, and proud in his sterling gray tuxedo, his wings suspended behind his impossibly broad shoulders, and calmly watched the woman in ivory whisk past him, leading a trail of silk along the ground behind her. "Annika?" Goliath rumbled.
"What?!" she stopped and snapped back, her fingers uncontrollably twitching and nearly crushing the bouquet of snow rose.
"I thought you were not nervous." he stated almost sarcastically.
Her eyes met the slim crack in the door, the thin shaft of light pouring out where beyond did the expectant crowd await. "I am now..."
The whispering came to an immediate halt when the door opened, and out walked Todd, almost pushed by his best man, Brooklyn, in a matching morning coat. "Dude, quit pushing..." He straightened the ascot and approached judge Roblyn, taking his place as assigned in the dress rehearsal the previous night, though now came the realization of horrifying authenticity, he was about to be married. He leaned in to Brooklyn, and whispered, "You think anyone would notice if I ralphed?"
"Most likely." Brooklyn replied. "I thought you weren't nervous."
"I am now..." Todd looked out into the crowd, where friends waited and longed to see his coupling with the woman he fell in love with in a bizarre twist of fate. He found Demona in the audience, staring wistfully, and Rose, his brow raising in her choice of dress. Her smile comforted him, perhaps allowing his fears to dissipate, until the quartet abruptly changed tempo when signaled. "Oh crap..."
The plucked strings of the violin and cello, and soft guitar heralded within it's soothing tone, remnants of the traditional wedding march. And as everyone stood and turned to the doors, they opened, and in walked young Trinity Hope, though her excitement in leading the processional dimmed with all eyes now focused solely on her. Goliath kneeled down to his daughter and reassured the hybrid when whispering into her ear, and forcing a smile to her lips.
She started, in her lacy dress and holding the weaved basket full of rose petals, pulling out handfuls of fresh flora and scattering them across the carpeting, while heading towards where her mother stood proudly. Her basket emptied, leading a path for the bridesmaids to follow, Trinity leaped into Elisa's arms, and awaited her older sister.
Angela followed, with Broadway, then Desdemona and Othello, and as all reached just in front of the podium, came Goliath, with Annika on his left arm. The bride walked slowly through the adoring stares and smiles passed to her as she crossed by, her friends and adopted family, and even as both she and Demona clashed open sapphire to thinned charcoal, Annika softened what anger she had held for this instant of time slowed to a crawl, and winked.
Todd was struck speechless, watching Annika glide towards him in a dress only heard about in conversation between his fiancé and her closest friends. Aloft from the ground, seeming to serenely drift as if an apparition towards him. Where invisible winds played upon the wandering trails of silk, moving her veil over the golden bindings of her hair. She had returned her eyes to where he stood, waiting, and as she drew ever closer, the young man's mouth grew dry, his breathing shallow and short, and his heart thundering within a ribcage too confining for an explosion threatening to erupt. Brooklyn watched him carefully, his boisterous friend full of life now rigid as a statue, and not once, even as Annika finished the journey and kissed Goliath, silently thanking him, did Todd ever blink.
She reached out and Todd swiftly stole away her hand, with a spark of electricity arcing between their contact, and the couple meeting upon the platform above all the rest. With Brooklyn to Todd's left side, and the two bridesmaids to Annika's right, judge Roblyn smiled down upon them both.
"You may all be seated." he said, and the audience complied readily. "It is my utmost pleasure to once more precede over the union of yet another interspecies couple, human and gargoyle come together, to be joined in holy matrimony. Where two young souls become one this night, a fusion of their love, friendship, courage and fortitude. A journey will commence, a path filled with laughter and tears, commitment and devotion."
Todd looked to his fiancé as the judge carried through with his sermon, and she too found herself drifting a hauntingly reflective gaze towards him. Her lips were trembling, even her unfettered wings as sails within an ocean tempest, for she was anxious. A voyage into unknown territory, and having come so far from an abusive childhood, through battle and a continuing fight just to live her life free, to this, perhaps the most important day in her young existence. He found her eyes tearing, rimming the seas of azure diamond with purest emotion.
"As part of your vows to each other, you have each decided to give your respective a gift," judge Roblyn continued, as Todd and Annika reached out to their aides and received their chosen boon, "something, perhaps simple in it's monetary value, but that you have held close to your heart, and have chosen to bestow upon whom you love. I now allow you the chance to say your vows, and release what your souls yearn to tell the other."
They turned to face each other, and Todd placed a small shape into Annika's hand. She raised an eyebrow when seeing a short, used pencil, the exact brand he favored. "This is the pencil I used when we first met." he whispered, his weakened voice betraying him. "I couldn't get you out of my mind, and spent...hours tracing onto paper what I had been witness to, a beautiful woman with big, blue eyes, who I never would have guessed I would have fallen in love with. Who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with." He cleared his throat, choked with emotion, a rarity not gone unnoticed by the audience. "You're my inspiration, my reason for being. You're everything I've been looking for. I lost a family once...but you gave it back."
It was difficult for her, to even form the words, to recollect what she had spent hours over reciting and committing to memory. "I was lost for a long time." she started, placing into his hand yet another odd gift to match his own, a simple light bulb. "But the single light of a bathroom window led me to a man who risked everything to save me, protect me, and ultimately give me a life I've always wanted. That man was you." She was crying now, pushed to the limits of her control with the passion and excitement pouring from her, as she rubbed a talon over the bulb's glass surface. "This bulb stayed lit throughout our life together, until the night when...I thought I had lost you. Thought my entire life had been stolen away...again. But as you always do, you managed to surprise me, and rescue me like the white knight I had always dreamed about when I was a girl. You are my first and only love...and my hero. My light."
Todd smiled, and fought the hardest battle of his life, in keeping his own tears at bay, lest he ruin a reputation carefully crafted over many a year.
Satisfied of their endings, Roblyn looked deep into the crowd. "Who speaks for these two?" he then asked of the gathered. "Who allows them to give their lives completely to each other?"
Goliath stood, almost enveloping the entire crowd behind him with his massive stature and impressive, lavender wings. "I speak for Annika, as leader of clan Wyvern."
"Do you allow this woman to be wed?"
"Aye," he said, in his rarely-used native tongue, "I do."
"And who speaks for this man?"
Kendra nudged Rose, and she cocked her head in a silent gesture. Rose looked to her for confirmation, and hesitantly stood up, clearly asserting her intent. "I...speak for Todd, as...the woman who cared for him when young."
"And do you allow this man to be wed?"
As Todd looked over his shoulder, Rose smiled. "Yes...with all my heart."
Roblyn nodded to each of the wedding party members chosen to hold the priceless rings of gold and diamond setting. "These rings are a sign, of your promise to each other, to always cherish what you have, brave what adversity your life may bring, and forever remain as one. United." He looked to Todd. "Do you, Todd, take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife? To have and to hold, to honor and to cherish, to experience with her the best and worst of life and love, as long as you both shall live?"
Todd took the ring from Brooklyn, and slipped it on Annika's finger. "I do."
"Do you, Annika, take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband? To have and to hold, to honor and to cherish, to experience with him the best and worst of life and love, as long as you both shall live?"
The dawn-tinted gargess received the ring from Angela, and placed it to Todd's third finger. "I do."
"Is there anyone here who protests this union? Please speak now...or forever hold your peace."
A question asked that tore into her heart, as Demona clamped shut her mouth, lest a scream of rage escape, burrowing fanged teeth into her swollen, bottom lip, all the while fending off wild stares from a few participants knowing of her feelings. Raw emotion, her truest sentiment threatening to burst from her tortured, ancient soul. But silent she remained, until the chance to answer passed on.
"Then, by the powers vested in me, by the great state of New York, and God himself, I now pronounce you...husband and wife. You may kiss the..."
"Thank friggin' god!" Todd shouted impatiently, perhaps waiting for this moment the entire ceremony. He pulled Annika into a deep, sensual kiss, her warmth and sweet aroma he savored dearly. He swept her from her feet, a pirouette upon the raised platform, lips secured and embracing passionately as lord and his lady.
"Ladies and gentlemen," judge Roblyn broke through the applause of thunder, the audience singing their tumultuous hurrah and the sounds of laughter and good cheer being raised to the ceiling, "may I present to you Todd and Annika Hawkins." He waited patiently as they continued kissing, wanting for their signatures of the official marriage document. Yet they remained together, unaware of anyone else, separated from this world by their own love and growing desire. "Ahem!" he demanded, effectively breaking the newly-mated couple from their embrace. He thrust the feathered quill pens towards them, and they both sheepishly adjusted their attire and inscribed their names onto the certificate.
"Hardass..." Todd muttered to his new wife, as she hushed him, though suppressing a smile.
Through the shower of streamers and rice came the newly married couple through the parted crowd, Todd protecting his wife from the onslaught of confection tossed towards them by the entire audience. Having been congratulated by their friends when stepping from the podium, they now hurried through the rainfall of rice towards the reception area. Todd pulled her along the corridor, Annika lifting the hem of her dress to prevent from tripping over the lace inlay, all the while laughing hysterically, giddy almost, in the intoxicating felicity of love and completion at long last.
They washed through the doors of Wyvern's great hall, ahead of all the rest and Todd immediately brought her into the middle of the dancefloor, within the soft lavender and cerulean-hued lighting, and kissed his new wife. She responded in kind with glossed lips, the maiden in flowing silk twirling upon the laid mahogany surface with her knight holding her firmly, though gently, in his strong arms. Where the starlight roamed through the tall bay windows and terrace beyond, illuminating the entire hall in shattered beams, in prisms of danced light roaming the walls, unearthly, and haunting. And where the couple remained in each other's arms, strangely silent, as if relishing the moment and attempting to have it last for all eternity.
"We're married..." Todd at last whispered, drifting his lips along the subtle curve of her cheekbone and neck, and breathing in her wafting perfume of garland and spiced blossom.
"I can't believe it." she responded. "I thought you would've bolted before the ceremony, and driven to Canada."
"Thought crossed my mind..." he joked, allowing the symmetric humor they brought to each other to give solace to a heavy heart. "But the other thought of the incredible sex we're going to have on our honeymoon is worth trying to hold in the urge to puke in front of the entire clan."
Annika laughed into the breadth of his shoulder, even as a spreading column of light trailed upon the floor towards them, the doors opening and the guests flooding in, filling their silent refuge with the vivid sounds of chatter and excited prattle.
"They just had to ruin it, didn't they?"
"Now, now...husband." The word was unpracticed, though welcomed. "Be good. And you'll get all the sex you can handle next week."
"I don't why I wasn't the best man...I've known you longer..." Crash complained bitterly, as Todd leaned over him at his table, the groom making the customary rounds during the last course of the served meal.
"You're doing Kendra. That's enough..." he growled back, as Kendra beside him smiled, finishing her dish of sautéed chicken upon a bed of light pasta and sipping casually her white wine, nearly ignoring the two best friends trade insults back and forth. "Besides, you lost the contest fair and square."
"You decked me!"
"And you're damned lucky you got off with only a simple shot to your big, bald head." Todd nudged a clenched fist to Crash's shoulder and slipped away through the round tables surrounding the dance floor.
Tablecloths of white bordered lace with a single burning flame atop, Todd marveled at the elegant simplicity Fox had given to the reception hall as he approached the head table set against the evening horizon. Where his wife now dwelled, with Goliath, Elisa and Trinity to her side, and beside Todd's empty seat, sat Rose, bequeathed her place by Brooklyn. He watched as she remained quiet, stirring the remnants of her meal, pensive almost. "Don't like the chicken?" Todd whispered as he came around side of her, and took his seat.
"What?" She perked up. "Oh, Todd, no...it's lovely, like...everything here..." Rediscovered was the sheer beauty of her surroundings, with candles alit of bobbing flame and rendered in a waltz of perfect harmony, with draped silk and soothing lavender light and the gathering hall of Scottish sires and maidens magically transformed for one night. "I was just...thinking."
She looked at him, truly looked at him, with eyes of hardship, of adamant resolve. "Just...about the future, and what it will bring." She caressed his hand, taking in a calming breath to steady her nerves. "Todd...I...I wish to tell you something..."
He lowered his brow to the solemnity contained within her tone. "What?"
She squeezed his hand with all the power contained in her form, concentrating on the ring he now donned. "You know...I love you...and..."
Suddenly, as if timed to ruin what she so desperately wanted to release, the shrill tapping of a crystal wineglass brought everyone to attention, and abruptly halted Rose's disclosure. Goliath had stood from his seat, and raised his glass in front of all.
"Tell me later, all right?" Todd whispered, returning his attention to Goliath.
"Later..." Rose echoed. "...right."
"If I may have your attention." Goliath bellowed, his deep voice casting to all corners of the banquet hall, the clan and their allies falling silent in the imposing leader of Wyvern calling to attention his brood. His massive form blanketed the windows and the stars beyond. "I wish only at this time, to give my most esteemed congratulations to the newly mated couple. And I promise to keep this short." he started, looking to Todd and Annika, the couple holding their glasses high to join in what wishes their friends bestowed upon them. "Two members of our clan, our family, embarking on a journey together, and helping to bring relations between our races to where it seems...truly attainable. Real. Where love and friendship is built on a foundation of trust, and solidified through their faith in each other. It has been my pleasure to watch you both grow and fall in love, finding your best friend in a stranger, allowing yourselves to see beneath the surface and discover what you've perhaps always longed for." He raised his glass, followed by the rest. "I bid you both, great joy, and happiness, for the rest of your days. Even you, Mr. Hawkins."
"Why does everyone keep calling me that?" Todd whispered fiercely, even as they toasted heartily to the new couple's love, and with the repeated rapping upon each of their glasses, the couple kissed, only to garner a cheer of triumph from the crowd in their game's continuing success.
Just then, Crash stood from his seat, with Kendra surprised in his sudden move. "I guess I should say something as well, being the best friend of the groom...yet for some apparent reason, not the best man." he whispered sourly, eyeing Brooklyn at the table next to him. "But I lost fair, and thankfully Brooklyn here is allowing me to make the toast to the groom. Some of you don't know me, I'm Crash. Todd's friend since elementary school. And the guy who's now dating his ex-girlfriend." Crash motioned to Kendra, bringing the full attention of the crowd to her, and she waved back, with a sheepish, crooked smile. "I've known this bastard for a long time, and I NEVER thought he would have gotten married. Especially with the amount of girlfriends this guy has had..."
Todd nearly spit out his drink, coughing the raspberry wine from his windpipe, and shaking his head profusely to Annika's accusing stare.
"The slew of women he's had come through that studio apartment of his...a chick magnet if I ever saw one...especially when I came in the morning before my classes and saw him cooking breakfast for yet another woman who...just happened to have stayed the night..."
Todd frantically gestured to Crash, striking a hand across his neck for his friend to cease spilling his past, as Annika and now Rose stared down at him with eyes of bane.
"I remember all the great times we had together...the drag races down Manhattan streets in the middle of the night, setting the school dumpsters on fire and egging principal Johnson's Benz...and all those wild parties...oh man..." Crash bared his teeth, in a recollection of their life together, while the entire head table stared intently at Todd. "Remember that one party at the hotel? And when those hookers showed up? Oh man...you still have all of their panties, don't you?"
Todd stared wide-eyed, breathing heavily, as Annika lowered her fused brow towards her new husband, sapphire sparking with crimson fire, the young man swearing her wineglass was spread with tiny fractures under the pressure of her gargoyle strength. "I...have no idea what he's talking about, gorgeous, beautiful, light of my life...ha ha...ha..." He pulled away his restrictive collar from his neck, laughing weakly. "Is it hot in here?"
Sweet-flavored revenge, a greater taste than that of the white icing now spread over her talontips, Annika seductively licked the sugary coating from her fingers, while staring at Todd, the entire lower half of the groom's face smeared with the customary piece of their wedding cake. "Now this...is a good cake." she remarked casually.
Todd wiped away the icing, grumbling beneath his breath, as Annika leaned forwards, kissing her husband, tasting both him and the lemon-flavored pastry, once a masterpiece of icing ribbon and molded sugar flora. "You enjoyed that way too much." he whispered.
"Ladies and gentlemen...the new couple's first dance."
Surrounded by the crowd, Todd and Annika took to the dancefloor, as the band played into a ballad that rose in power and sweet melody. Todd placed his hands around her waist, while Annika pressed in close to him, a hand caressed upon his shoulder. The violin cried it's lament, in tune with a low rumble of the cello, and took hold of the lovers mated in ceremony, guiding their forms sweepingly across the gleaming, varnished surface more like a sheet of ice than mahogany.
The clan watched from afar the married couple dance, unable to take their eyes off of the other. Elisa leaned in to Goliath's thrusted chest, the gargoyle closing in around his wife, both reminded of their own wedding night, and how it has forever remained a part of them and their most cherished memories. All awaited in patience and quaint serenity, a time of peace, and joy.
All except one, who had placed herself beyond the crowd with sunken shoulders. Demona sat quietly, nursing her drink, unwilling to look past the winged admirers and see the couple share the ever-strengthening bond of their love.
"Demona?" Andrea sat next to her, having noticed the absence of her friend. "What's wrong? Besides the obvious..."
The cerulean gargoyle looked up to the artist, absentmindedly rubbing a talon around the rim of her glass. "I was so wishing I could have a drink..."
"You've been sober for three months now." Andrea amended her friend's addictive want. "It would be a shame if you ruined that."
"I know, but I would prefer more of a...kick," she whispered in somber stillness, the high-pitched squeal revolving in intensity as she traced the perfect circle of her crystal, "than a diet Coke."
Andrea sighed, knowing of Demona's feelings for the groom, but unable to bestow any advice as she had never been placed in such a situation. "Demona, I..."
"Please, Andrea," Demona stopped her, "don't embarrass yourself with advice born of inexperience, and the incessant praise given to me for my accomplishments in my reformation much like the others who constantly try to 'cheer me up'."
"Wow." she whispered, feigning horror in Demona's brusque tone. "You're mean when you're drinking."
"Oh shut up."
As Andrea smothered her laughter, she unexpectedly found the crowd parting behind her, and allowing passage of a young man searching for yet another who shared his heart. The music had ended without her noticing, the couple finishing their first dance, and as promised long ago, Todd had come and offered his hand to the gargess. Andrea arched an eyebrow upwards, and silently gestured Demona to turn around with a single pointed finger, and discover Todd reaching down to her.
She looked up into eyes of stormcloud gray, and hesitantly dipped her hand into his, feeling the soft, human skin colored a dark peach. He pulled her from the chair, and into the dancefloor now filled with the couples of Wyvern. The perfect center, and within the lavender streams of light cast down from the ceiling, he faced her, then pulled her around in time with the music. She relaxed in his arms, and bowed her head. "You would rather dance with me," she whispered, "more than Rose or Kendra?"
"Actually," Todd answered, moving his hands up and down her bare backside, "I just wanted to grope you in this dress..."
She laughed as if an angel in demon form, and when opening her eyes, they crossed with Annika yet again, the bride having taken to the floor with Goliath. Demona's smile fell, almost ashamed in her pleasure of dancing with him, with Todd, when under the scrutiny of the woman he loved. But Annika simply blinked her eyes with a slight tilt to her head, a silent affirmation, before Goliath whisked her around and obscured the former immortal's apologetic glare. Demona laid to rest her weary head once more on his supportive shoulder, and just allow herself the simple joy of the dance.
For one moment in time, her pain disappeared.
It was her chance now, having waited throughout the entire ceremony, dinner and numerous speeches for this moment. Ariana snaked up behind the orange-skinned gargoyle, practiced of her mother's stealth to evade even Thrash's greater sense of hearing, until it was far too late. "Hey, Thrash."
He nearly dropped his beer with the gentle summons abruptly called out behind him, the voice he feared from hearing again. Thrash turned swiftly in a storm of flailing dreadlocks and found Ariana staring puppy-eyed, her shortened beak curved into a tempting smile. "Oh...Ariana."
"So...want to dance?" she asked demurely, her dark eyes inquiring of his answer.
"Uh..." He looked around the room, hoping to find a female unescorted within the flurry of couples before him. But no such luck would befall him. "...sure."
She excitedly grabbed his hand and led him onto the dancefloor, the older gargoyle dragged behind, barely allowed to throw down his frothed mug to the closest table. She latched onto him without hesitation, pressing her cheek against his chest to ensnare him within her grasp at long last.
Thrash edged back, timidly encircling his own arms around her. But when seeing both Brooklyn and Sata dancing near him, each parent directing watchful eyes towards him, he winced, and eventually accepted his fate. "Damnit..."
She crept up silently, as not to rouse him, and his powerful abilities. Using the crowd as a perfect camouflage, Rain targeted the small red-headed child dressed in a black tuxedo perfectly fitted to his size. She lifted the hem of her gown to keep all sound to an absolute minimum, and approached ever slowly, until when a mere foot away, Alexander turned around. "Oh, hey, Alex. Buddy." She curled violet-painted lips into a massive grin, hoping to play on his innocence and friendly nature.
"What do you want?" he hissed, the conversation already taken a turn for the worse.
"I was just wondering...if you wanted to dance, young stuff."
She sighed in exhaustion, as even in such a place of joy, his hatred of her was revealed in full once again. "But, Alex, I..."
"I said...go away." he warned, his eyes sparking green fire, and a far off wineglass left abandoned cracking, shattering, and it's pieces falling to the tablecloth.
Rain watched the last glittering shard of glass fall, and swallowed. "I get the point." She allowed the child to run off, and brushed her long, blond bangs from her eyes. "Damnit."
A wisp of white, and Aurora appeared behind her adopted offspring. "What is wrong with him?" she asked, seeing only the remnants of a short yet heated conversation.
"Oh, nothing. He's just pissed off because I'm dating Lex and he thinks I'm taking one of his best friends away."
"Oh...how sweet. Just like your father."
"Yeah. Of course, Ares can't crush cars into tin cans just by thinking about it..."
"Oh..." Aurora wheezed, in hearing her daughter speak of Alexander's growing powers. "That is definitely not like your father, though he seems adamant in ensuring Lexington does not feel comfortable about your relationship." She looked back to her mate in arms with Desdemona, he yet still glancing a baneful eye towards the olive-colored web-wing whenever the chance presented itself, and Lexington attempting to ignore the searing heat being figuratively burned into his back.
Rain sighed, and looked up to her mother pleadingly. "Is he ever going to...let this go? Just let us be together?"
Aurora opened her mouth, as if to form words, but none fell from ice blue lips. "...I truly do not know. Your father has been through so much in his lifetime, lost so many...he is so protective of you, Rain, and he only wants you to have the best that life can offer..."
"And that's Lex!" she snapped back. "Why can't he see that?"
"He will." Aurora soothed Rain's fractured temper, and braced a supportive hand to her shoulder. "In time."
"So, ninja man, wanna hit the planks and cut some serious rug?"
"I beg your pardon."
Iliana sighed in Shadow's seeming naiveté of English slang, smiling sweetly and shaking her head to display the humor involved. "Do you want to dance?" she repeated, this time a careful emphasis on each word as if to mock him.
Shadow edged back cautiously, his eyes discreetly roving the room for a shock of ivory white. "Iliana...I..."
"It's just a dance." she said, knowing of his hesitation and how he attempted to conceal his search for Delilah with thinned eyes and a dark brow. "That's all."
He resigned himself to his fate, and spread his thin lips into a smile. "It would be my pleasure, Iliana-chan." He granted forth a taloned hand to the detective and she curtsied, a medieval gesture of proper conduct in such a setting. They moved to the music, and nearly stole away the spotlight from the bride and groom respectively with such dexterity of movement and balance, playing the perfect counterpoint to each other. "Wow," Iliana whispered over the music, "who would have thought the ninja warrior knew how to dance so damn well."
"There are a lot of things you do not know about me, Iliana."
Her eyes took on a glimmer of rebellion, and moved in closer to his muscular form. "Then...let's do our best to find out, shall we?"
The dances had begun, yet escaping from the spirited festivity, a lone woman drifted back into the darkened corners of the hall, a comfortable place for her and where even her bright crimson gown would not garner unwanted attention. Rose retreated, uneasy with such a crowd, and ironically suffocating within such blatant tolerance of her scarring, being used to the stares and casual whispers passed between bystanders. But she still felt unsettled, as if they were condemning her wounds, her appearance but silently, half a lifetime of such treatment making it difficult to trust in anyone.
"Ye wouldn't be running away now, would ye?"
Rose turned around to the accented tone, MacBeth having chased her down when seeing the nun dash away. "No." she said firmly to this stranger. "I just wished to...get some air." Through the crowd she found Todd, the young groom dancing with Trinity, and prodding around with the hybrid's feet resting on his own. "That's all."
"Ah." the former king answered, raising his chin and granting his weathered features into a knowing smile. "Then may I escort ye? A beautiful woman shouldna be allowed t' wander off by herself without...protection."
"Beautiful?" she whispered, as if having grown unaccustomed to the word. "Well, I was just..."
"Allow me, m'lady." he crooned, offering his arm. "If ye wish t' escape from th' crowd, I know th' perfect spot. Besides, I'm guessing ye have never been here before, and it is sometimes easy t' get lost in this fortress."
She looked at him strangely, and nearly refused such a generous offer. Yet in her desperate want for companionship, slipped an arm around his own. "It seems I am at your mercy, Mr..."
Where the very cornices touched the stars, came a pair of silhouetted forms, eventually emerging from the steep incline of the torch-lit passageway, MacBeth helping Rose up the steps with her long, sweeping gown. MacBeth pushed open the wooden hinged door often kept closed in the Winter months, and allowed his escort entry to the highest turret in Wyvern, Goliath's tower. She gasped when seeing the blanket of starlight open up before her, and MacBeth urged her on, out onto the stones and treading near the battlement structure.
"Amazing..." she wheezed, when seeing the lighted city appear before her from an angle never perceived. MacBeth came up behind her, and gently nudged his arm to hers. Rose gasped in fear, and backed away from the edge, directly into MacBeth's chest. "Oh! Oh...MacBeth...I am...sorry..."
"Are we a wee bit afraid o' heights?" he jested, holding her steady with a firm grasp to each slender arm encased in scarlet silk.
"A little." He cautioned her to the edge once more, and stood behind her as she peered into the towers from a view experienced only by a select few. "Especially from this height. I don't know how Todd does it night after night, particularly in that Epsilon suit of his...whomever gave that much power to a boy like him..."
MacBeth laughed lightly behind her, until running through his mind the true motive she had fled. "So, lass. What was th' real reason that ye were runnin' from th' reception?"
Rose turned her eyes away from the layers of milky raven stardust, and down to her own scarred hands. "I just didn't feel...comfortable."
"Ye are worried what they'll think o' you."
She brushed away the long strands of chestnut brown underneath the veiled, silken hood, intruding on her gaze with the billowing winds. "I suppose. It hasn't been easy living this way..." She slid her hand over the disfigurement running down the left side of her face, though smooth, it still possessed a subtly unnerving texture. "I know some of them may be...uncomfortable, around me."
MacBeth urged her around. "I'm not uncomfortable around you. And neither is the young lad ye love as much as a son. That is a fact." In the serenity of their surroundings, the low drone of the city streets two thousand feet below them, came the chance to study the other's eyes, until Rose abruptly dropped her gaze. "Do ye hear that?" he whispered, leaning in close to her, enough to capture the vanilla fragrance of her perfume.
"Th' music is still playing." he said softly, listening to the haunting euphony cast out from the ballroom below, it's faint resonance flooding the courtyard and eventually wafting up towards them. "Would ye care t' dance, Rose?"
She blushed, in spite of her strongest resolution not to show any weakness in front of this man. "I haven't danced...in a long time." she answered, looking down and purposely avoiding his hypnotic stare. "Since my...husband died."
"So ye have lost a lover as well. It seems we have similar pain, m'lady."
"It seems so."
MacBeth slowly moved around her, and guided her left hand to his shoulder, and the other to his waist. Allowing her to adjust, he started into a familiar waltz, and she caught on quickly, her modesty unencumbered by a natural talent given the chance to flourish once more. "Ye're quite good." he mused, impressed by her ability as they matched each other's moves step by step.
"Thank you." she answered almost proudly.
And in a singularly strong gust of wind, Rose's hood and hair were once more swept into her features, and MacBeth aided her instantly by guiding his knuckles across her flesh, cleaning away the impediment to the tarn of dark emerald. "Ye have th' most beautiful eyes. They remind me of someone...I knew long ago."
"As do you."
"Would ye like t' go back t' th' party?"
"Actually," she quickly stated, their dance continuing, "I am quite happy...right here."
"I was hoping ye would say that..."
The night had drifted on, the reception permitting hours of familiar banter and good cheer, couples engaged in dance and drinking and indulging in the finest desserts, friendships renewed, and a careful tread between delicate relationships. Lexington had managed to avoid Ares for the entire night, though the Canadian leader vigilantly watching each and every move he made, especially when with his daughter. Ariana had followed Thrash as he tried desperately to evade her, when dancing with another or speaking with friends, but her pursuit of him was relentless, driving the orange-skinned gargoyle to near insanity.
But it was family, and friends, and even the most trivial of problems were overshadowed by what had drawn them all here. A mating, a joining of souls. The next step in evolution between species, that of marriage between the two. And that was worth all the pettiness and anger in the world.
And at last when the sun was more than an hour from rising, and ending the night, the festivities, the love shared, the entire audience had gathered out into the courtyard for a final tradition honored, that of the winged race and the customary mating flight. Todd and Annika passed through the crowd, giving their good-byes and their gratitude to comrades and clan.
Todd wrapped himself around Rose, and whispered into her ear, a message of just how much he loved her, and appreciated what she had done. "Thanks for coming. And I hope...you'll keep coming."
"Nothing, Todd...could keep me away."
As Todd moved on and shook Xanatos' hand, and Fox's, Annika was released from the clutches of her friends and then turned, only to come face to face with Demona, a meeting both of them had hoped to avoid. "Demona."
"I guess...I should thank you for coming."
"I came for Todd." It came off much colder than she ever intended. And as Annika was about to move away, discovering still the same frigidity between them, Demona reached out and grabbed her arm. "I am...happy for you." she relented. "I hope...you both have a long...and full life together."
Annika stared, and eventually nodded, then walked towards her husband.
The crowd all watched in fascination as Todd fitted himself into the Epsilon armor, the suit of raven steel forming around the young human, leaving only his head visible, and the mindlink hardware, evolved into a small patch and secured to his forehead. He scooped Annika from the ground and hopped up to the cornice, where behind lay the open atmosphere and the dawning glow of the city. "If you'll excuse us..." With a wink of his eye to the crowd, Todd powered up the boosters, and a column of fire erupted from the backside of the suit, and contained within the pyre of flame was enough raw power to lift them both effortlessly into the sky.
Todd circled around once, and allowed Annika her own tradition, and as she cast the bouquet into the air, allowing the wind to guide the floral arrangement towards the expectant crowd, she watched with bright eyes it fall down and close in to someone she would have never expected, but could not help but to love the irony.
Demona heard the air snap and feel the sudden change of direction in wind with her wing membranes, allowing her the perceptiveness to the slightest intrusion to her domain. With instinct, she grabbed and captured what had threatened to drop upon her, and with sick eyes, she sighed, when seeing the wrapped ivory roses rest in her hands. "Damnit. Not again."
Todd and Annika rose higher, and into the moonlit sky, leaving the cornices far below them, and a casual observer possessed of flowing cream skin, perched upon a lone turret and watching them with great interest. Infiniti beheld the new couple soaring into the heavens, and with a soul empowered by a fusion of heart and spirit, she breathed in the aroma of starlight, and ocean tide. "Good luck on your journey, my friends." she whispered, seeing the Epsilon grow smaller with but a trail of silver flame behind. "Good luck..."
Todd held tight to his new wife, as she reached forwards and planted a kiss to his lips, teasing his sensitive flesh with her fangs and tongue. She mouthed the words I love you over the hum of the Epsilon boosters, and Todd answered with a kiss of his own, turning around and into the wind, their embrace lasting for eternity and beyond.
And so they flew on, higher and higher, through stray clouds colored a sapphire blue and the ancient light of even more ancient stars, together in their arms, content in their love. And echoed in the winds, was a memory, a whisper of a chance meeting, fate working it's sorcery to bring two lovers together.
"So, you got a name?"
"N-Name?" she finally answered him in a barely audible voice.
"Yeah. A name. I'm Todd Hawkins, and you are?..."
"Annika. Cool name. Pretty."