THE TIMES, THEY ARE A-CHANGIN'… PART 4: VOWS
By Kimberly T. (e-mail: kimbertow at yahoo dot com)
(Author's notes: An apology to everyone whom I kept waiting oh-so-long for the conclusion to this story, and a thank you to those, especially Puaena, who both encouraged and inspired me to finish this at last. In addition to the standard disclaimer about Disney and Buena Vista owning the gargoyles, and the songs described herein belonging to their named singers, songwriters and recording labels, a brief segment of the wedding scene in this story was shamelessly lifted straight from the TGS: Dark Ages story "Serendipity", and is the property of the TGS staff.)
By noon on the average Saturday in New York, the entire city is all a-hustle-and-bustle, the streets thronged with people either hard at work or enjoying the weekend, and this Saturday was no exception. The mid-November weather was crisply cold but clear, or as clear as New York air ever gets, and many were determined to take full advantage of possibly the last sunny weekend for some time to come, as winter set in.
In Castle Wyvern atop the Aerie Building, in contrast, only a few people were actually on their feet and moving. Anne Marsden, the Xanatos family's nanny, was down in the nursery minding her charge Alexander along with her own daughter Bethany. And Owen Burnett was moving through the halls of the castle with a tray in his hands; a tray covered with glasses of tomato juice, and small bottles of aspirin, Ibuprofen and B-complex vitamins.
His first stop was at the master bedroom, where he quietly and efficiently left glasses of tomato juice and small quantities of aspirin and B-vitamins on the nightstands to either side of the king-size bed wherein rested Mr. and Mrs. Xanatos. At his approach, Fox lifted her head long enough to blearily glare in his direction and mumble something largely unintelligible but definitely not complimentary at him before flopping back down again; David didn't even skip a beat in his snoring. Owen quietly let himself out, noting that Mrs. Xanatos was evidently still rather miffed with him about her unexpected bout of exercise in the wee hours of the morning…
His next stop was at the guest bedroom wherein resided the slumbering form of Matt Bluestone, still nearly fully clothed and sprawled on the bed in nearly the same position he'd collapsed in the night before. When Owen had checked on him before going to his own rest, he'd taken the detective's shoes off and thrown a blanket over him; now, as he set a glass of tomato juice, aspirin and vitamins on the nightstand, his mouth twitched ever-so-slightly as he observed how the detective had somehow wound up tucking his pillow into his chest much like a child with a favorite teddy bear.
Owen's next two stops were at the specially-equipped bedrooms that had been used by the mutates when they had resided at the castle over a year ago. Two of the bedrooms were occupied again; one by Talon, and one by Claw. Facedown on the gigantic specially-constructed cushion that served for a bed in the first bedroom, Claw barely twitched a whisker when Owen left a glass of tomato juice and slightly larger quantities of B-vitamin and Ibuprofen for him. In the next one over, Talon lifted his head to blearily snarl at him with eyes nearly as red as an enraged female gargoyle's, but when Owen fearlessly brought over the tomato juice, Ibuprofen and vitamins the mutate grabbed for them fast, and downed the juice and pills in a series of gulps.
His errands accomplished, Owen returned to the kitchen, where MacBeth was sitting at the breakfast nook leisurely finishing his breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast, downed with generous amounts of coffee. He nodded to the majordomo as he got up, saying, "Thanks for the meal, and tell the others I'll see them tonight at the wedding."
"Very well, sir," Owen nodded. "Again, I do apologize for the inconvenience…"
But MacBeth waved the apology away as he picked up his hat and overcoat. "Bah, I did just fine for centuries before elevators were invented. At least 'tis all downhill from here for me…" He shook his head and chuckled slightly as he remembered, "Puir Mistress Xanatos was as mad as a soaked cat by the time she'd walked up here from the 98th floor. Ye're lucky she was too tired an' still a bit too drunk to remember she hadn't reloaded her Taser wi' a fresh power cartridge…"
"Indeed, sir," Owen said dryly as he began picking up the breakfast dishes, carefully stacking and balancing them on his stone fist; he'd grown quite adept at using it in such a manner after over a year of being physically handicapped.
MacBeth headed for the stairs with his head high and a steady pace, showing no trace at all of a hangover despite all the drinking he'd done the night before at Goliath's bachelor party; a rather fortunate aspect of the 'healing factor' built into the spell that had made him immortal. Though the sound of a misstep on the stairs and the muttered curse that floated up from the stairwell indicated he was still feeling ever-so-slightly tipsy; an unfortunate aspect of the spell, since it bound him to Demona and let him feel an echo of whatever she was physically feeling.
Owen reflected as he headed into the kitchen that Demona must still be occupied in drinking herself into oblivion, as she had been ever since Monday; presumably, since shortly after her meeting with the People for Interspecies Tolerance. It was rather a pity that the corporate spy Xanatos Enterprises had managed to infiltrate into Nightstone hadn't been able to bug Dominique Destine's office; both Owen and his employers were most curious as to how that surprise meeting (a surprise for Dominique, that is) had gone…
Nearly an hour later, Matt Bluestone stumbled into the kitchen, thanked Owen profusely for the tomato juice and pills as well as the shaving kit and clean shirt in his size that had been left in the bathroom, plunked himself down at the breakfast nook table and begged for coffee. When Owen asked if he wanted cream or sugar in his coffee, he groaned, "Just wrap a cup around it. Oh hell, just give me the whole pot…"
Talon was next to stumble into the kitchen, shortly after Matt had finished his second cup of coffee and declared he was starting to feel a bit closer to the standard for Homo Sapiens. The mutate snarled in response to Matt and Owen's greetings, but otherwise ignored them both as he lurched over to the refrigerator, grabbed the tomato juice and started drinking straight from the pitcher. Then he grabbed the carton of eggs, cracked three of them into a glass and chugged that down as well…. Matt shuddered and looked away, then told Owen, "I've changed my mind; I'll just have toast and bacon, never mind the eggs."
At about the time Matt had finished his breakfast and Talon was beginning to act civilized again, Claw stumbled into the kitchen, moaning pitifully. Talon just sat him down into a chair, gave him the rest of the pitcher of tomato juice and cracked three eggs into a glass for him as well. When Claw eyed the glass of raw eggs and set his ears back, Talon told him, "Just trust me and chug it down. When it comes to hangovers, tomato juice and Vitamin B just aren't enough for us folks with fur and fangs…"
Just then, the intercom in the kitchen squawked; Mr. and Mrs. Xanatos were taking their breakfast in bed today. Owen nodded and picked up the tray he'd been carefully keeping warm for them; he'd been expecting the call. When he came into the bedroom, Fox glared at him and growled, "I might let you live, if there's more tomato juice on that tray." Fortunately there was, as Owen had thoughtfully stocked up on the substance and on the B-complex vitamins while the others were planning their parties, so the majordomo was permitted to live another day.
While the couple breakfasted, Owen told them, "Building Security and Maintenance together have extracted Hyena and Jackal from the wreckage at the bottom of the elevator shaft, and handed them over to the police. They were both found alive, but in need of repairs to their limbs and weapons systems, and there were apparently some injuries to what remains of their original bodies as well."
"I can just see the lawsuits already," David said glumly in between gulps of tomato juice. "And of course, when asked about why they were lurking in the elevator shaft in the first place, they're going to claim that they were just sneaking in to surprise some old friends…"
"That kind of surprise, we don't need," Fox said firmly. "I never much liked those two anyway; even when we were in the Pack together, they gave me the creeps. I dunno what the hell I was thinking when I told you to hire them, instead of Fennec and Dhole …"
David said almost absently as he reached for a piece of toast, "You were jealous because Fennec refused to teach you how to do that nerve-pinch stunt of hers, and Dhole had better hair than you," then had to duck as a plateful of eggs came flying at him from the side.
Fox Xanatos wasn't the only person in a foul mood just then… Though her fit of temper was nothing compared to the raging going on in the Quarrymen's head office. Jon Castaway had just been informed, through the 'leak' that he'd managed to instigate in the NYPD, that Jackal and Hyena had just been hauled out of the Aerie Building and were in police custody, arrested for trespassing, breaking & entering and attempted assault. Only attempted assault! They hadn't even made it up to the castle before being stopped! "The 'best in the business', my bleeding arse!" he shouted at his hapless secretary, who was cowering at her desk.
Noting her terrified expression, Jon stopped and took a deep breath, and counted backwards from ten in English, Scots Gaelic, French and German. It wasn't right to lose his temper at his secretary; she'd not been the one to recommend those two incompetent cyborgs to him, just the one to inform him of their mission failure, and it was never good policy to blame the messenger for the bad news.
He tried to console himself with the thought that at least he'd given those two tin-can mercenaries only half of their payment in advance, instead of full payment as they'd first demanded. But it was still a hundred thousand dollars wasted, money that Oliver Grimm had contributed to the Quarrymen's coffers for the purpose of supplying weaponry and advertising for the Quarrymen themselves. If Hyena and Jackal had succeeded in their mission, Jon had no doubt at all that Grimm would consider it money well spent, but now… He scowled and picked up the phone, knowing that he'd have to pay the money back with funds transferred from his family's Swiss bank accounts. But while waiting to be connected with the bank, he glared out the window at the Aerie Building that dominated that section of the New York skyline, and he vowed under his breath, "I swear before God, that one way or another, you will be destroyed! Your entire misbegotten race will be wiped from the face of the Earth!"
Back at the castle, the temporary houseguests were gone; Matt had borrowed a company van with tinted windows from the parking garage to drive Talon and Claw back to the Labyrinth, and was going from there back to his place. Owen reported to Xanatos after consulting with the head of the repair crew hard at work on restoring Elevator #5, "They estimate they'll have a new cab installed and functioning by Monday night."
"We're paying them triple-time, and that's their best estimate? Wonderful. And in the meantime, we'll have to hoof it up and down twenty-two flights of stairs to get to the nearest working elevator," Xanatos sighed as, for the first time since its completion, he regretted deciding to install his private playground, the grand arboretum and its swimming pool, between the castle and the rest of the Aerie Building. "Are you really sure that bombarding the elevator shaft with blocks of concrete was the easiest way to take those two out?" Owen just gave him a look in return, to which he sighed again. "I know, I know; the best-won battle is the one you can win without fighting. But after this, I swear to God that we're putting in another shaft that runs clear to the castle. And Fox honey, if you forget to put something in your purse tonight, we are not going to come back up here to get it…" (Which earned him another swat, of course.)
"Never again; I swear to God, never again," Beth groaned as she staggered into the kitchen at the Maza family home, wearing sunglasses indoors. "I will never, ever touch another drop of alcohol…"
"You probably say that with every hangover," Elisa said with a distinct lack of sympathy for her kid sister as she sat at the table with her parents, enjoying a late-late brunch. "I told you to alternate your mixed drinks with nonalcoholic drinks, like Mom and I were doing, and to drink the tomato juice once we came back here…"
Beth grumbled something under her breath at her sister, then plunked herself down in a chair and begged abjectly for an entire bottle of aspirin and something to wash it down with. She made a face at the glass of tomato juice her father set down in front of her with slightly-more-than-necessary force; Beth hated tomato juice, and normally wouldn't touch the stuff if there was any alternative, even plain old water. But when Peter commanded her to drink it and take the B vitamins in his Father-Knows-Best voice (which was also a bit louder than necessary), she cringed and forced it down, and had to admit later that she did feel a little better.
"Drink some more juice, and then jog around the block for some exercise," her mother ordered. "I want you completely sober by sunset! After all we've done to make your sister's wedding as picture-perfect as possible, I won't have you ruining it with a sulky hangover…"
"Diane, sweetheart, everything will go smoothly," Peter told his wife reassuringly. "We did this just a month ago for our son and with even less time to prepare, and that went beautifully, didn't it? And so will this one, if you just relax and let it happen."
Diane tried to relax and partially succeeded, but Elisa just couldn't stop fidgeting as she wolfed down her brunch. And as soon as she'd put her dishes in the kitchen sink, she grabbed her jacket and got ready to head out the door and back to her apartment, to begin preparing for the evening's events. "I'll see you all at the Labyrinth tonight, at six-thirty," she said as she gave her parents hurried pecks on the cheeks.
"We'll be there, with the wedding attire for everyone," Diane promised. And with a glance over her shoulder at where Beth was still suffering in the kitchen, she added wryly, "and we'll try to have your sister smiling and ready to be the Maid of Honor by then…"
"Good luck," Elisa said, and meant it. She'd had a touch of a hangover herself when she'd awoken, but had made the precaution the night before of taking her tomato juice and B vitamins before going to sleep in her old bed, and had only needed another dose of each upon waking up to be completely back to normal. This girl wasn't about to be sporting a hangover at her own wedding, oh no…
God, she was getting married in just a few more hours! Every time she thought about it, her heart rate sped up to damn near double-time… and she was thinking about it so much, it was no wonder her hangover was gone already; her metabolism must be sped up to close to a gargoyle's just from sheer excitement.
As she drove back to her place, she glanced at the Aerie Building with the castle atop it gleaming in the afternoon sunlight, and wondered if Angela had ever sobered up enough to fly home from the Labyrinth; she'd easily drunk over three times as much as Elisa had last night. Whether she had or not, Elisa was willing to bet that Angela was another candidate for a hangover, if gargoyles ever got them. It was actually an interesting question: if gargoyles' stone sleep can cure nearly any wound, and leave them fully refreshed even if they'd worked themselves to exhaustion the night before, would it cure a state of drunkenness without a hangover?
The answers to Elisa's silent questions were: Yes, Angela had made it back to the castle, just before sunrise. But no, stone sleep did not entirely cure hangovers. At least not the sort of hangovers that came from serious drinking binges, like the gargoyles had indulged in the night before… The noise reverberating across the battlements at sunset that evening consisted less of roars and snarls than it did of moans, groans and wails.
Angela, Lexington and Brooklyn all cringed and covered their faces with their hands and wings as soon as they'd shed their skins, and even Goliath and Hudson were silently wishing that the city would turn down the wattage of the skyline that night; hangovers can be particularly cruel on eyes that are phenomenally light-sensitive to begin with. The only two not seriously affected were Broadway and Bronx, Bronx because he'd stayed in the nursery with Alexander and hadn't touched a drop of alcohol and Broadway because he'd eaten twice as much as he'd imbibed.
Xanatos and Owen had been standing by with tomato juice and B vitamins for the gargoyles, just in case, and as it turned out that some of the clan were indeed suffering they began distributing to all. "I'd give you guys aspirin, too, if I only knew it was safe for you to take," Xanatos said regretfully. "I know it's not safe for the mutates, and for some reason, Sevarius never bothered to find out what painkillers are gargoyle-safe. One of these days, we're going to have to come up with a real physician for you…"
"For now, we'll take the aspirin," Goliath muttered as he held a hand to his head, wishing to ease the slight but persistent ache in it. This was absolutely not a good night for having a headache; not this most important of nights! "I've read that it's similar to the willow-bark tea that was used back in Scotland, and gargoyles have drunk that in the past with no ill effects."
Once everyone had taken the pills and drunk the tomato juice, it didn't take long for their heightened metabolisms to finish cleaning the remnants of alcohol and its effects out of their systems. Lexington scampered down into the castle and came back up with the specially-ordered wedding rings; they had arrived in an express mail shipment yesterday afternoon, but in all the excitement over the bachelor and bachelorette parties, they had been set aside rather than tried on for the correct fit. He was followed up by Fox and Anne Marsden, carrying Alexander and Bethany, and they sorted out who would be giving whom a lift to the Labyrinth. Anne had suggested that afternoon the possibility of asking the gargoyles to carry them there and back rather than trudge down and back up all those flights of stairs; it would be hard enough for the adults, but when carrying/dragging children along, it would be a nightmare. David and Fox Xanatos' egos were rather tweaked about the prospect of being carried like ordinary humans, but their personal jetpacks didn't have enough fuel capacity to get them to the Labyrinth and back again, and even David had agreed that it just wouldn't do to wear his battle armor to a wedding.
In the end, Hudson chose to carry Anne as she held Bethany tightly in her arms, while Angela carried Owen, and Alexander rode in his special backpack with Lexington. Broadway carried Bronx, while Brooklyn carried Fox, who chose to cradle a laser rifle in her arms rather than her son; as she pointed out, if they encountered Quarrymen en route, somebody had to be able to drive them off before they got close enough to risk harming the children. That was the same reason Xanatos gave for carrying a matching rifle while Goliath carried him, though he promised they'd find a safe and secure place to stash both weapons immediately upon entering the Labyrinth, out of respect for Talon's "no weapons" rule. "And don't worry, I'll find another way to get back home," he told the clan leader with one of his famous smirks. "Don't think you're obliged to carry me off after the ceremony, instead of Elisa…"
Goliath should have responded to that with one of his patented glowers, but he wasn't really paying much attention to his passenger; his eyes were scanning their surroundings for potential trouble, but his thoughts were mostly focused inward. He really didn't understand why he was so nervous; he and his beloved Elisa were mates already, bonded and true, now and forever; what they were doing tonight was basically a formality, sealing the pact in front of others. But every time he thought ahead to the ceremony, and pictured Elisa walking down the aisle towards him garbed in a wedding gown like Maggie and Dana had worn… he could swear he hadn't such a case of wing-shivers even at his first mating ceremony, over a thousand years ago.
A few wingspans back, held securely in Hudson's and her mother's arms, Bethany squealed and wriggled with excitement. "Bethany, no! Don't squirm, please!" Anne begged her daughter as she held her even tighter.
"Och, the wee one's just excited to be in the air again," Hudson chuckled indulgently. "Not to worry; I wouldna let either of ye fall."
"I'm glad to hear that," Anne said weakly, but she still flinched and swallowed hard as she involuntarily glanced straight down. From this height, there sure was a lot of down…
"Keep yer eyes to the horizon, lass," Hudson said sagely, correctly interpreting her reactions and their cause. "Ye should come gliding with us more often; if ye did, by now ye'd be enjoying it as much as yer daughter is…"
Far below and to the south and east of the clan's current position, a dark-clad figure sat on a building roof: a woman with the upper half of her face obscured by a pair of bulky goggles, looking at the Aerie Building through a rifle's sniperscope. She'd been on the roof, watching and waiting, since just before sunset…
"There! Finally… and it looks like the whole flock is on the move!" She watched through the sniperscope for a while longer, muttering to herself. "Come closer, my pretties… that's it, keep coming this way, get within range…"
Then she set down the rifle, and grabbed for the dufflebag sitting on the roof next to her. Moving quickly, she set up what looked like a miniature rocket launcher, loaded into it a small rocket with colorful Chinese characters emblazoned on the side, and whipped out a book of matches.
Unfortunately for her, the first puff of flame from a lit match was snuffed out by a stiff breeze passing over the rooftop. "Damn! C'mon, Lu, can't afford to screw this up again," she muttered to herself as she lit another match and cupped it protectively in her hands, as she held it close to the base of the rocket. This time the match stayed lit long enough to be touched to a fuse, which sputtered and caught, spitting tiny sparks as the string burned its way back to the rocket. "C'mon, c'mon… for as much as I paid for you, you'd better work, you overpriced piece of crap!" as the woman glanced anxiously over her shoulder, at where she had last spotted the gargoyles through the sniperscope.
Finally, the fuse reached the rocket and the spark disappeared inside. After a moment of ominous silence, the tiny rocket roared to life, and the woman instinctively ducked and covered her ears as the rocket shot upwards. Then she looked towards the castle again, and cursed. "Dammit, no! They've changed direction!" she snarled, just as the rocket she'd set off began emitting a screeching whistle.
Still some distance away from the crucial rooftop, the clan had just begun veering from its south-by-southeast course into a more easterly direction, taking advantage of a favorable wind that often whipped down that city corridor. As one, the gargoyles all winced and faltered slightly in their course as that awful whistling, ululating screech, sounding like the shriek of a soul being condemned to Hell, came to their sensitive eardrums. "Youch! What the heck's making that racket!" Brooklyn exclaimed, wishing his arms weren't full of a passenger so he could cover his ears.
"An attack!" Goliath looked tensely in the direction the screeching whistle was coming from, silently praying, Not tonight, please not tonight of all nights…
In Goliath's arms, Xanatos whipped his rifle up to bear and began searching with its scope in the direction the noise had come from. "I don't… wait a second; there! See that glowing smoke trail?"
"It sounded to me like one of the 'Whistling Willie' fireworks we used to set off every 4th of July, back in my home town in Pennsylvania," Anne called out from Hudson's arms. "But aren't private fireworks illegal in this city?"
"They sure are, but there's always somebody willing to break the rules," Fox said as she too held her rifle's sniperscope to her eyes. "There, on the roof directly below the smoke trail, I think I see somebody…"
"I see him too," Lexington said as he peered hard in that direction; he had the keenest eyes of all the clan. "I think he's looking in our direction… Shall we do anything?"
"I'd say, not only no, but Hell no," Xanatos said firmly. "Not tonight, and certainly not while the kids are up here with us. Let the NYPD handle our noisemaker; it's what they're paid for." Goliath firmly agreed, as the clan continued on to the Labyrinth.
"Damn! They didn't take the bait!" the woman cursed, as she watched the gargoyles continue gliding away from her. "And if the whole flock is on the move…"
She kept the sniper's rifle with her, but left nearly all her other equipment behind, as she bolted for the stairs down from the roof at top speed. A few minutes later at ground level, a motorcycle pulled away from the curb and began roaring east-southeast.
Far too soon for some people's liking but not soon enough for other's, the clan arrived at the dockside entrance/exit to the Labyrinth that was most frequently used by flyers; it was between two warehouses, far from conventional homes and prying eyes, and the near-constant stiff breezes blowing in from the harbor gave excellent lift for gliding.
Once inside, the laser rifles were stashed inside a vacant room and carefully covered over with debris, just in case somebody else came wandering that way before the night was over. While they were doing that, though, Bronx sniffed the ground and took off at a full gallop down the tunnel. "Hey, what--Bronx! C'mon back here; what's your hurry?" Brooklyn called after him, but to no effect.
"Let th' watchbeast go; he's probably hot on the trail of a rat," Hudson growled, pointedly turning his back on the sound of rapidly departing feet while bringing more debris over to cover the rifles. The clan elder still bore a grudge against Bronx, for the watchbeast's initial stubborn refusal on staying in the body he'd been transferred into by the magic spells cast on Tuesday night. The rest of the clan was somewhat worried about that lingering animosity, where before the elder and watchbeast had been the closest of companions, but hoped that the situation would improve eventually.
Once the rifles were judged to be hidden well enough, the rest of the mixed clan made their way at a more leisurely pace to the main area of the Labyrinth, with Brooklyn whistling "Here comes the Bride, Here comes the Groom" until Goliath 'accidentally' trod on his tail.
By the time they'd reached the Labyrinth's central chambers, it was already six o'clock, but that still left three hours before the ceremony was due to start; plenty of time for socializing with the Labyrinth residents and the guests that were soon to arrive.
"Talon! Claw! You guys recovered from last night?" Brooklyn called out with a wicked grin as he spotted the two male mutates coming out of the main kitchen area.
"I'm fine, but poor Claw here would probably prefer it if you didn't shout," Talon said with a grin as he jerked his thumb in the direction of his fellow mutate, who was indeed wincing and gesturing at them rather pathetically. "Ah, face it, buddy, you're just a lightweight when it comes to partying…"
"It's too bad you didn't get stone sleep along with the wings," Broadway told Claw sympathetically, while little Bethany scrambled down from her mother's arms and went over to demand a hug from one of her favorite 'big kitties'.
Talon scooped the child up and gave her a hug of avuncular affection. While Anne and Bethany had lived in the Labyrinth, he had become something close to the father figure she'd been lacking; like a favorite uncle, while Maggie had become a favored aunt. But tonight he held her back from scrambling up to sit on his shoulders for a piggyback ride, saying, "Sorry, Bethany, not tonight! I want my ears intact for hearing the ceremony…"
"She pulls on your ears during piggyback rides too, huh?" Broadway said with a wince, as he remembered the last time he'd been subjected to such treatment.
"If it ain't the ears, it's the mane," Brooklyn chimed in, unconsciously rubbing at his own silver-white mane as if to make sure it was all still there, instead of being pulled out in clumps.
"She just gets overexcited," Anne apologized for her daughter with a faint blush of embarrassment.
Maggie and Dana came to join the group, and Bethany immediately scrambled down to greet them next. Dana snatched the child up before she could collide with Maggie in her more delicate condition, and swung the child around in an airplane spin while she shrieked with delight. Anne stiffened slightly in apprehension, but evidently was used to Dana's roughhousing with the children and trusted her to take care that Bethany wasn't at serious risk of being hurt.
The group chatted for a little while, carefully not talking about their experiences the night before; while they had all had fun, neither gender was entirely comfortable with verbally reliving them while the opposite gender was present. Xanatos ascertained that the food and drink for the reception, which he was once again providing, had been brought down a few hours ago and was waiting in the kitchen, except for a few items that would be prepared just before the reception was due to start. Broadway said, with an eager look in his eyes, "I've served up a lot of meals, and watched a lot more on television, both buffets and fancy dinners; would you like a hand in setting everything up?"
Angela saw the hungry look in his eyes and hastily tried to dissuade him, saying, "Broadway, dear, don't you think that would be a little rude, taking over their kitchen when you don't live down here?"
But Brooklyn interceded on his rookery brother's behalf, saying, "Hey, don't worry about Broadway's manners; he said he just wanted to help, not take over the place. And you know he's a great cook, so why not just let him do what he's best at?" as he turned just slightly, and flashed Broadway a quick wink where Angela couldn't see it.
Maggie and Talon gave him their blessing for helping with the food, and Broadway went happily off in that direction, already licking his chops in anticipation. Not realizing that Brooklyn's intercession on his behalf, while apparently well meant, had left Angela looking after his departing back with narrowed eyes, frowning unhappily.
Right after Broadway left, Hudson declared his intentions of visiting the clones again, to see how they were coming in their learning. He had come to feel that it was his duty, as had been the duty of elders in the old clan, to see that the clones, with the bodies of adults but the minds of hatchlings, were being raised well and learning how to fend for themselves.
Maggie told Hudson that Hollywood and Burbank were busy with helping a few other residents bring down more of the furniture that Xanatos had bought for the Labyrinth's use; mostly plain and utilitarian stuff, but a great improvement over the scrounged items the Labyrinth had been making do with, and another step in Xanatos' plans to make the Labyrinth a better place to live. Malibu, Brentwood and Delilah were in the chapel, helping to put the finishing touches on decorating it. In addition to placing and tending the flower arrangements that Father Sullivan had sent down earlier, from a wedding in his church that morning, they were carefully incorporating stems of white and lavender heather into each arrangement. Xanatos had arranged for those to be specially ordered and brought down with the food, since heather had been a traditional adornment—virtually the only adornment—for gargoyle mating ceremonies back in medieval Scotland. Maggie then got a mischievous twinkle in her eyes as she added, "You know, Malibu is especially helpful with the flowers, and he's even been helping tend the plants that you gave me for my birthday. He seems to be developing quite the green thumb; where do you suppose he got that from?"
Brooklyn covered his eyes with one hand and shook his head, groaning slightly at the thought that his clone was doing anything so… well, not feminine, but so unlike the macho image that Brooklyn himself cultivated. Angela, however, having been in the outer world for only six months or so, just looked puzzled as she asked, "Do you mean his thumbs are growing bigger? Malibu's already green…"
Everyone hid or tried to suppress amused smiles, and Maggie and Anne explained to Angela what the idiom meant while Hudson went off to the chapel. Xanatos went along to see if the chapel was lacking some decoration that he could supply on a moment's notice (what good is a six-star credit rating if you don't use it now and then?), and Fox followed him with Alexander in her arms, curious to see these clones she'd heard about but not yet had a chance to meet. Owen came along as well, as Xanatos' majordomo and his son's guardian, and possibly to satisfy his own curiosity about the clones; unlike Fox, he had been down here before, but only during the daytime when the clones were asleep in their sunlamp-rigged chamber.
When they reached the chapel, they found Brentwood and Delilah armed with dustcloths, oh-so-carefully wiping away the dust that had collected on the room's plain and utilitarian benches since the last time they'd been used. Malibu was helping Ruth, the Labyrinth member who worked with the gargoyles most often (she had said once before that she'd always been more of a night person) carefully redo one of the flower arrangements that had become somewhat bedraggled in the process of being hauled down to their subterranean level. Hudson greeted the clones with the traditional greeting between clans, "Clear skies to ye tonight," and chose to ignore Fox's muttered "Skies?" as she glanced up at the ceiling of the chamber, with a few hundred feet of bedrock between them and the sky.
"Hudson!" Delilah and Brentwood dropped their dustcloths and flocked around the elder, telling him excitedly about all the wonderful books they had found at the abandoned library. Hudson smiled at them as indulgently as a rookery keeper as he promised that yes, while they were down here tonight he'd be happy to read one of the harder books to them, and listen with the others while Delilah read one of the easier ones.
"Hmph. Hadn't even thought about what they might want for entertainment down here," Xanatos muttered aloud as he stroked his beard in thought. "Owen, make a note of this: on Monday, I'll want to--Owen?" as he looked over his shoulder. He could have sworn that Owen had been right behind him, as per usual…
But now Owen was sitting on one of the benches in the back of the room, and something about his posture seemed to indicate that he was sitting because his legs had momentarily forgotten how to work. And he was staring wide-eyed at the clones flocking around Hudson, Malibu having come over as well when they began talking about storybooks.
Xanatos looked at him sharply, then even more sharply at the three gargoyle clones clustered around the clan elder. He hadn't seen Owen looking so poleaxed since that day over two weeks ago, when they had first encountered Bethany Marsden, and that was because Owen's True Sight, the one Fey ability that Puck had built into Owen's mortal frame, had uncovered her Fey heritage. What was so unsettling to him about the gargoyle clones? Xanatos ran through his mind what little he knew about the clones already: created by Dr. Sevarius, now employed at Nightstone Technologies, under the direction of Demona and Thailog, most of them cloned from blood samples taken from the original clan without their knowledge. Malibu had been cloned from Brooklyn, and Brentwood had been cloned from Lexington, though Delilah had been cloned from…
Fox had been idly looking the clones over, wondering whether the cloning process itself had gotten their coloration bollixed up, or whether their super-accelerated growth into adulthood in such a short time had done it instead. But her attention was drawn back to her husband when he addressed the Labyrinth woman while standing by Owen, saying just a shade too loud, "I'm afraid my friend here isn't feeling too well at the moment; too much partying last night. Do you have a quiet room nearby where he could sit down and rest for a bit?"
The Labyrinth woman gave them directions to a room about four doors down, while Fox looked at Owen sharply; he was indeed looking rather strange. In fact, he looked very strange, for normally expressionless Owen; almost as if he didn't know whether to laugh, cry or scream.
Her husband thanked the lady and left with Owen in tow. Fox was about to follow, determined to find out what was going on with their resident disguised Fey, when the clones all caught sight of Alexander in her arms and flocked around her instead, giving that near-universal "Awww…" uttered by most people upon seeing unutterably cute babies. The proud mommy in Fox insisted on showing Alexander off to them for at least a few moments, telling them how old he was but how he was so well developed for his age, crawling and teething already… And by the time she managed to slip out of the room, David and Owen were already out of sight.
Remembering the directions the woman had given, Fox set off down the corridor after them, but the door she came to was closed and locked. But on a hunch, she pressed her ear to the door, and dimly heard her husband's voice: "…just like Mommy #2, right?"
Owen muttered something in reply, but so faintly she couldn't make out the words. But David responded, "Oh, really? What have I missed?"
Again, Owen's reply was too quiet to clearly hear; Fox grimaced, thinking that it must be part of Owen Burnett's whole 'Invisible Man' trick, to have a voice that didn't carry worth spit. But she could clearly hear her husband's next words: "Whaaat!" then after another mumbled reply, "She has--Owen, are you pulling my leg! If she has--why the Hell didn't you tell me this before!" Another low mumbling, followed by David saying, "Uh, well… okay, I missed that. But now that you mention it…"
Just then Fox was distracted by someone exclaiming from beside her, "Hey! I know you…" Fox barely managed to suppress a guilty start as she turned around, to see another Labyrinth resident dressed in what had probably been a very nice suit once upon a time. He was grinning at her as he said, "I recognize the tattoo; you're that Fox-lady from the Pack, right? I remember that show; my nephew had a killer crush on you! Hey, do you give out autographs? Aw, cute kid, too. Gonna raise him up to be a kick-ass TV star like his mommy?"
Fox just barely managed to avoid rolling her eyes as she gave up on her attempt at eavesdropping and prepared to deal with yet another fan. There were times when she really enjoyed the fame and recognition that came with having been a television star; she wouldn't have agreed to "The Pack" in the first place, let alone agreed to having that plastic action figure made in her likeness ("With Karate Kicking Action!"), if she didn't enjoy being in the limelight. But there were also times…
Shortly after the Xanatos family had left the Labyrinth's main hall, another party had arrived. Halcyon Renard looked about from the confines of his motorized wheelchair, with the ubiquitous Preston Vogel at his side, and shook his head at what had been done to his old Cyberbiotics underground research facility. "When I think of what this facility had been designed for, all the research and discoveries that were made here before we had to close it down for lack of funds, after suffering those attacks and losing the first Air Fortress…"
His quiet remarks to Vogel were just loud enough to be overheard by inhumanly sharp ears. The gargoyles all winced as one, unhappy to be reminded about how they had been duped upon first awakening in this new world. And when Renard lamented about how it had all fallen 'to rack and ruin', Talon and Claw began to bristle defensively; they'd done a lot of work in making the Labyrinth more livable for all its homeless residents, and didn't like to hear of their home being disparaged by others.
Fortunately Maggie, ever the peacekeeping influence to balance her husband's hot temper, stepped in with a smile and a suggestion. "Mr. Renard, since you were there when this place was first designed and built, perhaps you could provide us with the information we need for making a few more repairs? We've restored power to many of the rooms and corridors, but other places are still lacking lighting and ventilation, and we don't have the schematics for how the electricity and air conditioning systems were designed to operate. And it would be great if we could get the elevators working again… Derek, darling, why don't you show him some of our trouble spots, and after the ceremony Mr. Renard might be able to find the old blueprints?"
An earnest smile, even from a felinoid face, can work wonders. Renard returned Maggie's smile with one of his own as he said with an air of gallantry, "As it happens, good lady, I've anticipated your request. I've downloaded all the schematics and blueprints for this facility into my chair's computer databanks," as he patted one side of his specially-designed wheelchair, "And Preston has the portable printer in his briefcase. If one of you would care to show us the rooms in question…"
Talon grumbled just a little at being so ably maneuvered by his wife, but he had to admit that the blueprints would come in handy, so within moments he was leading Renard and Vogel away on a tour of the partially restored facility. With a potential minor crisis averted, everyone else relaxed again… just in time for the Maza family to arrive, and the tensions to rise again as Diane took charge, sweeping in like a winter storm.
"Goliath, Brooklyn, here are your outfits, go ahead and put them on, and Claw, you go with them and help with the wing slots. Go on, shoo, Elisa will be here any minute and it's bad luck for the bride and groom to see each other before the wedding! Angela, here's your outfit, you go with Beth to your changing room, I'll be in to help you after I see how they're coming with the last of the chapel decorations. Wait a moment, where are the rings? And has Matt Bluestone arrived yet? I told him on Wednesday he needed to change the color of his cummerbund…"
Lexington hastily produced the boxes containing the rings from his belt pouch, saying, "That's right, we still need to make sure--"
But Diane swooped down on him and grabbed the rings out of their boxes, snatching up the larger one and placing it firmly in Beth's hand. "Beth, you hang onto that for dear life, keep track of it at all times until it's needed in the ceremony. And Brooklyn, you do the same with the smaller one; that's why I built that small pocket into your outfit. Now shoo, get Goliath out of sight before Elisa arrives!"
Goliath balked at being ordered away so summarily, protesting that it was a silly superstition, but Claw and Brooklyn together pushed and dragged him away, Brooklyn muttering that right now was not a good time to argue. People of all species scattered in all directions, some to meekly do as they had just been told and others just in hopes of escaping the potential wrath of an overstressed mother-of-the-bride. Diane herself marched into the chapel, and moments later her shriek of outrage could be heard three corridors away. "YELLOW roses! They're supposed to be pale peach, to match the roses in the bouquets we brought! Father Sullivan himself assured me that… Ohhhhh! Why did we agree to let him supply the altar flowers again! Doesn't anyone else realize how yellow looks against lavender!"
Luckily, Xanatos came charging to the rescue, whipping out one of his many credit cards and sending Owen out to the city with orders to purchase and bring back three dozen pale peach roses, no matter the cost. He told Diane confidently as Owen hurried away, "He'll get them, don't worry. Even if it's after normal business hours for most florists, there are very few doors that can't be pried open with a Vanadium Visa."
"Then we need him to pick up two rolls of matching ribbon, too! And two rolls of pale green!" Diane shouted after Owen's departing figure, before turning back to the chapel with almost a snarl on her features. "Two-and-a-half hours till the wedding, and…!"
"Diane, calm down; Xanatos will come through with the decorations," Peter told her soothingly. Then he sent a quick glare in the billionaire's direction that Xanatos had no trouble at all interpreting: If you don't come through on this, you're dead and rotting meat. But he went on, saying, "And once they're here, Maggie and Ruth will see to it that the chapel is made perfect in time. Every wedding has to have at least one hitch in it, right? And now that we've found this one and are dealing with it, everything else will run smoothly, right? Just take a few deep breaths… Elisa will be arriving soon, and you know she'll be nervous enough already without you stressing out in front of her…"
Diane glared daggers at her husband, but took several deep breaths as directed. And when Elisa arrived a few minutes later, looking harried with her arms full of bags and muttering that she must have packed half of her bathroom and bedroom vanity with her, but she knew she was forgetting something, Diane was able to greet her with a calm smile and words of reassurance. "I'm sure you've got everything you need, dear, and if you did manage to forget something, Beth and I brought along all our supplies. Now, let's get you ready to be married…"
Back up at the eastern docks, Matt Bluestone lounged against the shadowed wall of the warehouse that harbored the secret entrance to the Labyrinth and waited, his garment bags slung over his shoulder, for 'Lennox MacDuff' to arrive. Matt had assigned himself as MacBeth's guide to the Labyrinth, even though he himself had only been down there three times before; in truth, he was just looking for an excuse to spend more time with the long-lived and normally highly reticent Scotsman. Last night, while deeply in his cups, the immortal had let slip a few details about one of his former identities that had the detective burning with the desire to know more. If he was right, MacBeth could hold the key to at least one of history's greatest unsolved mysteries, and perhaps to more than one.
But as he waited, he noticed a motorcycle that was slowly cruising the docks, as if looking for something or someone. The rider was female, dressed in dark leathers…. and spending as much time looking up at the rooftops as down the streets and alleys. Not good behavior for strangers to be exhibiting tonight, even if, so far as Matt knew, all the gargoyles were already down below and getting ready for the wedding.
Matt knew the Quarrymen usually wore dark blue, but he reasoned that this rider might be hunting incognito for some reason, as he whipped out his cellphone and dialed a number. And while gargoyle-hunting, unfortunately, was not illegal in New York City, there was something to be said for the unofficial fraternity of policemen, and having friends in the right places. "Hey, Josh; how're the kids? … Glad to hear it. Hey, hook me up with Dispatch for the 17th Precinct, will you? I've got a favor to ask…"
Ten minutes later, as the cycle rider was cruising past for the third time, she was pulled over by a black-and-white car with sirens flashing. Now sitting quietly in his car, pretending to read a map with a penlight, Matt smirked to himself as he overheard the rider being ticketed for not having come to a full stop at a stop sign somewhere, then for not having the special motorcycle designator on her driver's license. And just to add insult to injury, the cop made her walk a straight line and perform the other standard tests for sobriety. Meanwhile, Matt knew, the patrolman's partner was writing down the name, address and other pertinent information on the rider, for Matt to collect once she was sent on her way, no doubt on fire with indignation and having completely forgotten about hunting for gargoyles. Xanatos might be unable to help the gargoyles anymore, after having been hobbled by the Illuminati, but he wasn't the only one determined to protect them, and the Illuminati hadn't specifically told Matt not to do anything…
After the rider had been sent on her way, Matt walked over to the patrol car and flashed his badge. "Detective Bluestone, 23rd. Thanks, guys; swing by the 23rd sometime on the graveyard shift and I'll buy you both dinner."
"Sure thing. So what do you think she was really up to?" the patrolman riding shotgun asked as he handed over the information on the rider. "Her license was from California, with a home address in San Diego; that's a helluva long way to come just for a gander at our scenic docks."
"Possible link to a Mexican drugs-for-guns ring we've been hearing about," Matt lied glibly, the wheels in his head spinning rapidly. "Thanks again, guys…"
Five minutes after the patrol car had departed, MacBeth drove up and his arrival put an end to the detective's ponderings about why this Lacey person had really come to New York. Making a mental note to share the information with Elisa next time they were on shift together, he greeted the immortal king cordially as he showed him to the secret entrance, and enquired about his well-being. (MacBeth responded that he was just fine, thank you; evidently the Labyrinth was outside the range of his enchanted pain-link to Demona.) And as they were walking down the tunnels together, Matt said ever-so-casually, "So, last night, you were saying something about having once been a Seneschal for the Knights Templar…"
Far across town, at the Roman Catholic Church known as Our Lady of Guardian Angels, Father John Sullivan sat in one of the church pews, lost in thought as he waited for Jeffrey Robbins, whom he would be escorting to the Labyrinth. Hudson had told him that the he and the author might well have something in common besides the gargoyles, as Jeffrey had been blinded while on a tour of duty in Vietnam.
The priest unconsciously fingered the eyepatch over his right eye, a souvenir of his own time in 'Nam. Before serving his time there, Johnny Sullivan had been a typical hellraising Irish-American teenager, more interested in having fun on a Saturday night and in earning enough money to pay for a real 'hot rod' for drag races than in earnestly working towards a career, let alone an interest in serving Christ and administering to His flock. But Vietnam had changed him inside and out, as it had changed so many other young men. No man can experience the trauma of war, the shock of seeing both strangers and friends dying violently in front of his eyes and the knowledge that he himself has killed another human being, and not be forever changed by it.
Some soldiers became hardened in their hearts, shutting off their emotions and teaching themselves that the people they were shooting at were somehow less than human, less worthy of living and therefore of little consequence. Some soldiers just couldn't cope at all, and got themselves killed at the first opportunity; some by walking blindly into enemy fire, some by their own hands. But the majority of the soldiers just did their best to survive, shot only when they were being shot at and prayed that they'd be able to forget the whole nightmarish existence once they'd returned to civilian life. Johnny had been one of those soldiers, just doing his best to survive the nightmare, but there had been moments when he'd teetered on the edge… In truth, a part of him had been almost glad when he'd been blinded in that mortar shelling; losing an eye had seemed almost a penance for killing so many others, people who very likely had earnestly believed their own cause was equally right. Upon his medical discharge, John Sullivan decided that the best vocation for him, and a way to heal his own war-sick and weary heart, was to become a nurturer and healer of others. But instead of becoming a doctor and healing bodies, he chose to become a priest, and heal wounded spirits instead.
After four years of college and four more years of seminary school, Father John Sullivan had taken solemn vows of celibacy and of obedience to the Holy Roman Catholic Church and its hierarchy, and had been appointed to serve at Our Lady of Guardian Angels. In the nineteen years since then, he had faithfully adhered to those vows, and served his flock to the best of his abilities, giving unstintingly of himself… and the rewards he had reaped in return, riches not in gold but in experience, joy and wonder… there were times when he could scarcely believe his own good fortune. He smiled wryly to himself as he thought again about how one elective course he'd taken in college, learning American Sign Language, had paid off in the most unexpected of ways, opening even more worlds of wonder. And that was before he'd even heard of gargoyles and mutates…!
But now, having earned the friendship and respect of the gargoyles, he knew his life was about to change again. He had prayed long and hard about what Goliath had asked him to do, about performing a marriage ceremony between a gargoyle and a human; it went against all the teachings of the Church, to wed a woman to an inhuman creature. He had finally agreed to do so only after he had satisfied himself, after much observation and long talks with Hudson and the others, that the gargoyles as a species were far more than just intelligent beings; that they had not just spirits, but souls. Souls that made them equal to humanity in the eyes of God, and therefore worthy of receiving and celebrating the sacrament of marriage. He was firmly convinced of that now, or he would never have agreed to perform the ceremony he would be performing tonight. But he seriously doubted the Church would see things the same way…
Father Sullivan knew he was about to immerse himself in a new war, a new struggle… The struggle to grant the gargoyles protection under the law, the right to exist without being hunted by Quarrymen. And this struggle could cost him more than just the respect of some of his fellow New Yorkers, those who could not or would not see the gargoyles as equals; it could well cost him his position in the Church, as well. Even the most loyal priest would have to admit that Rome always resisted change; even after centuries of both impassioned and well-reasoned arguments in favor of ordaining women and/or married men, such were still not allowed to join the ever-thinning ranks of the priesthood. For his insistence on treating the gargoyles as equals, and even administering to them as he would to a member of his flock, he could well lose his diocese and be brought up before the cardinals on charges of heresy; he might even be excommunicated, denied the graces of the Church forever. But every time he looked into a gargoyle's eyes and saw another soul looking back at him, he became more and more convinced that it was the right thing to do.
His musings were interrupted by the sound of footsteps behind him, the firm tread of a man and the soft padding of a four-footed animal, and a male voice saying cautiously, "Hello? Is anybody here?"
John stood up and turned around, smiling at the middle-aged black man coming into the sanctuary, accompanied by a guide dog. "Yes, I'm here; Father John Sullivan, at your service. And you would be Jeffrey Robbins?"
"I would indeed be him," the man said in a somewhat amused tone of voice. "And I suppose the appropriate password would be, 'Hudson sent me.' "
The priest gave a small chuckle as he approached and gently held his hand out for the guide dog to sniff, then raised it to shake the outstretched hand of Mr. Robbins. "A pleasure to meet you. Shall we proceed to the Labyrinth? My car is out back for driving us to the most convenient entrance, and I've cleared off the back seat to make room for your companion as well. I understand you're an author? What books have you written?"
They talked about Jeffrey's novels, two of which Father Sullivan discovered he had previously read and enjoyed, and discussed his latest work, which had just received its final editing and would be published in March of the following year: "The Sword and the Staff: A Book of Merlin". Jeffrey told the priest how he'd received the inspiration for that novel, and of his subsequent encounters with the gargoyles, as they proceeded into the Labyrinth.
Their arrival in the Labyrinth's main hall coincided with Owen's, as he returned with three dozen long-stemmed roses in a pale peach color, and a plastic sack containing rolls of ribbons draped over his glove-encased stone fist. Diane stepped out of the bride and bridesmaids' changing room long enough to begin fussing over the flower arrangements, until she was gently but firmly shooed away by Maggie, Ruth and Dana so they could substitute the new roses for the old ones and make the final arrangements in a semblance of peace. And the three ladies (with a little more help from Malibu) finished with an hour to spare, leaving them time to freshen up their own attire and prepare for the ceremony, while the other residents and guests all chatted amiably.
Over in the males' changing room, Goliath gritted his teeth and forced himself to hold still as Claw carefully slid the jacket of his tuxedo onto his back-thrust arms, and over his thrust-back-and-tightly-furled wings. Putting on the pants, shirt and cummerbund had already been a trial, even with all the clever tucks, openings and fasteners Diane had crafted in order to accommodate three lower limbs and four upper ones. He tried to suppress a growl when the jacket caught and tugged on his left wing-talon--again--but didn't quite succeed.
"Just shut up and hold still, and this'll be over quicker," Matt fearlessly advised, as he worked from the front on tying Goliath's bow tie for him.
Goliath held still, but he refused to shut up. He asked Brooklyn plaintively, "Remind me again why I agreed to wear all of this?"
"Because you're marrying Elisa, and trying to stay on the good side of your future mother-in-law," Brooklyn said, not even trying to suppress his smirk. His own outfit had been much simpler, and donned with relative ease; Diane had made for him a loincloth of black silk that matched Goliath's tuxedo, held up by a black belt with a silver buckle. He also wore a simple open vest of matching black silk, cut extremely low in the back to slip on under the wings and with two tiny slot-pockets sewn into it; one for a small boutonniere, and one for the ring that he was holding for Goliath until the ceremony.
"A tuxedo is a time-honored tradition," Matt explained seriously. "A test of endurance… you prove your love for your lady by showing how much sartorial torture you can tolerate. At least, that's what they told me the first time I had to put one of these monkey suits on, back at my high school prom…"
Claw snorted in amused agreement, as he finally got the jacket on over Goliath's wings and onto his shoulders.
As Matt and Claw together continued helping Goliath get dressed, Brooklyn glanced at himself again in the mirror and decided that while Goliath looked both ridiculous and uncomfortable, he himself didn't look too shabby. Except for the material, his outfit wasn't that far from what a few of his rookery generation back in Scotland had worn, and once he got past the slick feel of the fabric and the unfamiliar sensation of wearing a vest he had to admit it was downright comfortable. Not a bad concept, this gargoyle formalwear…
Except for one thing. He grimaced and shuddered as Matt finished with Goliath's bowtie and approached him with a similar scrap of cloth. "Aw, c'mon, do I have to wear that? Diane wasn't the one who gave it to me…"
"No, but she agreed it added a nice touch, so she might have well have given it to you to start with," Matt said firmly, while Claw nodded emphatically in agreement. "Besides, the clones are loaning this to you out of the goodness of their hearts, since they all wore ties for the wedding last month, and it'd be rude to refuse their generosity."
"Goodness of their hearts, sure," Brooklyn grumbled as he tried to stay out of Matt's reach. "They really just want me to suffer like they did…"
"And so do I," Goliath growled with a glint to his eyes, finally finding a hint of humor in the situation, now that his second-in-command would be suffering alongside him in at least one aspect. "Put it on, Brooklyn…"
Brooklyn submitted with ill grace, grumbling as he let Matt tie it on him, and complaining when he'd finished, "I can hardly breathe!"
"That means it fits just right," Matt said with a wicked grin, before turning back to Goliath.
Slipping out of the changing room while the others finished getting ready, Brooklyn wandered back to the Labyrinth's main area, to find Angela and Beth had also finished getting dressed and were chatting with the guests. Beth's maid-of-honor dress was in the classic A-line style, sleeveless and crafted of pale green satin. Its color set off the warm golden tone of her skin perfectly, and was trimmed at the waist with a pale peach sash. Angela's dress was in the exact same style but made of pale peach satin, with a pale green sash at her waist to complement Beth's attire. The two ladies were currently proudly showing Anne how even Angela's talon-tips had been carefully painted in pale peach nail polish to match her gown; Beth's idea, after seeing the gown colors yesterday, and she had spent nearly an hour painstakingly getting Angela's nails done to perfection.
Broadway had returned from the kitchen, and he was currently standing next to Angela and stumbling over words, trying to find the best way to complement her on how she looked in her dress. But Brooklyn walked up and said simply, "You look beautiful, Angela; prettier than the finest highborn lady to ever visit the castle back in Scotland."
"Why, thank you, Brooklyn!" Angela beamed at him. "And I must say, you look wonderful in your outfit, too!"
Brooklyn couldn't help preening a bit, throwing his chest out and shoulders back, and Broadway's face reflected both hurt and jealous anger as Angela went on about how the black silk really looked sharp on Brooklyn. But the moods of both males changed rapidly when she turned back to Broadway and said with a smile and a very significant look, "We'll have to ask Diane to make an outfit like that for you, next year…"
Beth went back to the ladies' changing room just as Diane declared herself finally satisfied with the way her old wedding dress looked on her daughter. And Elisa did look beautiful; the dress, instead of being the usual stark white, was a pale shade of ivory that made her skin seem to glow. The tight-fitting lace-trimmed bodice had needed very little altering to fit Elisa's figure, and perched atop a full skirt of satin with a short train in the back. The veil of her silk-rosette-trimmed headpiece, instead of being brought forward over her face, floated behind and over her raven tresses like a gauzy breeze. The whole effect was reminiscent of a fairy-tale princess, and when Elisa turned this way and that before the mirror and asked her sister's opinion, Beth had to reply, "You look gorgeous, Sis." Then she asked, "You got everything, right? Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue…"
"Check on all points," Elisa said with a nervous smile. The dress itself was old, having first been worn by her mother over thirty years ago, but the headpiece and veil were new. And so were the sheer satin bra and panties she was wearing beneath it all, having been bought from Victoria's Secret (the Bridal Collection, of course) only two days before. The garter on her leg was made of blue satin, and the earrings in her ears were Beth's own diamond studs, having been brought from Arizona expressly for the purpose of loaning for the wedding. Outwardly, Elisa was ready to be married. Now if only the butterflies doing the 'Indy 500' around her insides would settle down…
Diane began taking pictures of the bride with her own camera, taking pictures of Elisa from every angle and in every pose (adjusting her veil, checking her garter, holding her bouquet, etc.), and a few shots standing next to Beth in her gown. When Peter knocked on the door to announce that the wedding was due to start in ten minutes, he got dragged in for photos as well, and then Diane handed the camera to Beth so she could pose with her daughter. "Just a few more pictures with this camera, and then we'll switch to the Polaroid and call Angela back in for pictures with her."
"You look radiant," Peter assured his daughter, in between snapshots. His smile turned wistful as he added, "Almost as lovely as your mother did at our wedding…"
"Flatterer," Diane chided him with a smile. "She's even more beautiful, and you know it." But the twinkle in her eyes said that the compliment had been accepted.
After having posed for several pictures with his daughter, Peter gave Elisa a fatherly kiss on the cheek and said, "I'll go out and send Angela back here for her pictures, and come back myself when it's time."
"Thanks, Daddy," Elisa said with another nervous smile. "Love you…" And when Peter went back out the door, she turned to her mother and asked with a slight quiver in her voice, "Mom, when you and Dad got married… were you this nervous? I swear to God, I'm going to throw up any minute now…"
"Last minute nerves are perfectly normal," Diane assured her. Then she paused, and said gently, "But then, if you're not absolutely sure that you're doing the right thing… Marriage is a huge step, the ultimate commitment, tying your life to another's forever…"
Elisa froze for a moment… then squared her shoulders and lifted her head high. "I know it is, and I want to do this. I know a lot of people don't understand how I can love Goliath, but he's… he's the other half of my soul, Mom. I love him, wings and talons and stone sleep and all, and I want to spend the rest of my life with him." Then she sighed, and added, "I just wish I wasn't so damn nervous…"
Peter found Angela in short order, and sent her back for her photos with Elisa. Angela took with her a sprig of heather from one of the altar flower arrangements, for Elisa to tuck into her hairstyle and veil at Hudson's suggestion, even though her bouquet already had a few sprigs tucked into it.
Ten minutes later, it was time. Goliath took his place by the altar, careful to keep his tail just off the floor until he was perfectly in place, since Diane had seen fit to sheath all but the last foot or so of its prodigious length in the same black material she'd covered his legs in. It was a struggle to keep his tail and wings perfectly still, now that the wedding was actually upon them; Goliath was now convinced that he'd never been so nervous before in his life, not even in his first few nights of leading the entire clan of gargoyles back in Scotland.
Hudson and Father Sullivan stood side by side at the altar, with identical smiles of patient reassurance for the nervous bridegroom, and all the wedding guests were seated on the benches. Matt and Brooklyn stood just outside the chapel, waiting to escort the bridesmaids to the altar, while Peter stepped out to escort his wife to her place of honor before taking his place by Elisa's side, for the father's traditional final duty.
But after another minute or so, Peter walked back into the chapel alone, with a very peculiar look on his face; like he didn't know whether to laugh or cry. He announced, "(ahem) There will be a slight delay in the ceremony…"
"Eh? What's wrong?" Hudson asked in puzzlement, while Goliath's eyes grew wide.
"(ahem) The bride is currently locked inside her room, and--"
"Whaaat!" The chapel resounded with exclamations of surprise, drowning out whatever else Peter was about to say. Guests were getting to their feet and looking at each other in shock and embarrassed confusion. Was Goliath about to be jilted at the altar!
"No… nonononono," Goliath chanted desperately under his breath as he sped out the chapel door, with Matt and the males of his clan hot on his heels, not that they had any idea of what to do in this sort of situation either. They pounded down the corridor to the bride's room, and skidded to a halt outside the door, instinctively looking to Goliath to speak first. And he did, saying pleadingly, "Elisa, please… I know our differences may seem overwhelming at times, but I swear I would give my life for you, and--"
"Goliath!" Elisa's voice came faintly through the thick steel door. "Thank God you're here; now shut up and get us out of here!"
Huh! Now everyone was really confused. Especially Goliath; he paused and said cautiously, "Elisa?"
And her voice came through the door, with a definite note of impatience in it. "Come on, what are you waiting for! I'm not getting cold feet, dammit; we're locked in! We think Beth accidentally hit a switch on the wall or something, and now the door won't open…"
Everyone outside the door sagged in relief, and Matt, Brooklyn and Broadway even began shaking with suppressed laughter. After just spending a moment just leaning against the door, boneless with relief, Goliath straightened up and called through the thick steel, "Stand away from the door, while I rip it away!"
But now Diane's voice came shrilly through the door. "Don't you dare! I spent far too much time on that tuxedo to let you destroy it before the wedding!"
And now Angela's voice came plaintively through: "They won't let me rip the door away, either, Father. It would ruin my nail polish…"
"No problem, sweetheart," Broadway called out to her, unconsciously puffing up his chest. "I'm dressed for action; stand back, ladies, and it'll just take me a moment to get you free…"
"Or perhaps we could try a less macho, more sensible solution?" a voice came sardonically from behind, and everyone turned around to see Halcyon Renard zipping towards them in his wheelchair, with Peter jogging by his side. "From what Peter has relayed to me, it sounds like the ladies accidentally activated the room's emergency containment protocols. Fortunately, I know how those same protective measures can be disabled…"
With Halcyon relaying instructions for the others to shout through the door to the ladies, they soon had the door unlocked. And the first person out of the room was Diane, who peremptorily ordered Goliath and the guests back to the chapel, and told them there would be a further five-minute delay while the ladies made sure everything was ready again. Goliath grumbled--again with that silly superstition about seeing the bride before the ceremony?--but everyone did as they were told.
Finally--again--everyone was in place. And now with surprisingly less nervousness on Goliath's part; it had largely been burned away by the annoyance of a few minutes ago. Not that it would ever have crossed his mind to be grateful for it… and a few moments later, all such thoughts were driven out of his mind, as Diane came in and cued her son to start the procession music.
Brooklyn and Beth came in first, arm in arm in solemn procession, followed by Matt and Angela. The couples parted at the altar, the groomsmen taking their places at Goliath's side while the bridesmaids veered to the left to take their own places. And as the music swelled to a crescendo, Elisa appeared in the doorway on her father's arm, and Goliath not only forgot how to think, but how to breathe. For all that she was human, she was so beautiful…
A horde of attacking Quarrymen couldn't have torn his gaze away from the sight of his bride as she came down the aisle towards him. And for her part, Elisa's gaze was utterly riveted upon Goliath, who looked so uncomfortable yet so regally handsome in his tux… She moved towards him without thinking, and only her father's gentle but firm grip on her arm kept her to the pace dictated by the music. Then they were together at the altar, and Peter was giving her a last affectionate kiss on the cheek before turning away to take his place for the ceremony, and they were hand in hand and almost glowing with their love for each other.
Hudson cleared his throat to gently gain their attention, and both bride and groom gave a tiny start, as if they had momentarily forgotten they had an audience. He gave them an indulgent, grandfatherly smile, then raised his voice to speak to all assembled in the traditional words: "Tonight, we come together as clan, to witness th' joining of two hearts…"
Hudson fixed his gaze on Elisa as he continued, "Of all th' decisions a female warrior must make, th' choice of a life mate is perhaps th' gravest of all. He will stand at her side, guard her back an' be a source of comfort for her for as long as he lives."
Then he paused, turning his gaze to Goliath. "And th' male must be just as wise when he chooses a female to court," he continued, "because should she choose him, she will be his chief advisor an' most cherished ally for as long as she lives."
"And so," he said with warmth, "now our sister comes before her clan to declare her choice as mate. Sister, do ye affirm yer choice?"
For one terrifying instant, Elisa's mind went utterly blank, unable to remember the correct response; then the words came back to her, and she swallowed hard but said clearly, her eyes never leaving Goliath's face, "Before this, my clan, I swear my love and affirm my choice."
"Brother, you have been chosen by this female," Hudson continued. "Do ye accept th' challenges that th' future might hold for th' two o' ye?"
His heart thundering so loudly that he momentarily fancied Elisa could hear it from where she was standing, Goliath said with a slight quaver in his voice, "Before this, my clan, I swear my love and accept my future."
Hudson nodded in acceptance of his words, but instead of continuing with the traditional words that would bind them as one in the eyes of the clan, he turned to Father Sullivan, to conduct his part in the ceremony.
Father Sullivan began by opening up his Bible to the first book of Corinthians, Chapter 13, and read several verses from it aloud for all to hear:
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all the mysteries and all the knowledge, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophecy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
And now these three things remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
Then Father Sullivan focused his eyes on Elisa and Goliath, and told them to join hands and repeat after him, as he recited the vows.
His wings now shivering uncontrollably with emotion and his tail-tip twitching so fast it was almost vibrating, Goliath said haltingly as Father Sullivan guided him through the words, "I, Goliath, take thee, Elisa, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this night forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part. This is my solemn vow."
Tears of overwhelming emotion began to trickle out of Elisa's eyes as she responded, "I, Elisa, take thee, Goliath, to be my husband, to have and to hold from this night forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part. This is my solemn vow."
Father Sullivan then asked for the rings, and Brooklyn and Beth hastily produced them and handed them over. The priest blessed them, then handed them to the bride and groom for the exchanging. Goliath went first, holding the smaller ring up (as his hand trembled ever-so-slightly) and sliding it onto Elisa's waiting finger as he said softly, "With this ring, I thee wed."
Then it was Elisa's turn, and she held the ring up, blinking furiously to clear the tears out of her eyes so she could focus on Goliath's outstretched hand. She began to slide the ring onto he middle talon, saying, "With this ring…"
The ring didn't fit. It was too small! It wouldn't even slide past his first knuckle… and it wouldn't fit on his third and smallest talon either…
In her seat by her husband, Diane moaned in agony and buried her face in Peter's shoulder. Peter just closed his eyes and shook his head slightly. And some of the other attendants began fighting down a mass case of the giggles…
But then Goliath whipped his tail forward and up to waist level, poking the end out over his hand and turning the very tip of it upwards invitingly. Fighting to keep a straight face (but not quite succeeding), Elisa slid the ring onto the tailtip while she finished, "With this ring, I thee wed." Goliath then curled his tailtip like a clenched fist, to hold the ring firmly in place.
Also fighting to keep a straight face, Father Sullivan faced the assembled guests and said as solemnly as he could, "Now that these two have given themselves to each other by solemn vows, with the joining of hands and the giving and receiving of rings, I now pronounce them married, husband and wife, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. What God has joined together, let no man drive asunder." Then he turned to Goliath and prompted gently, "You may kiss the bride…"
Not that Goliath needed prompting, as he swept Elisa into his arms and into the air for a full embrace with arms, wings and tail as they kissed. And the kiss went on and on, as the room erupted in cheers, whistles and thunderous applause.
When they finally came up for air, but still holding Elisa in his arms, Goliath told her softly, his voice quivering with emotion, "You and I are one…"
"Now and forever," Elisa returned softly, rubbing her knuckles across his brow ridge. And it was only when the Trio gave an extra-loud whoop of joy at the traditional gesture of affection that the two started in realization that they still had an audience, and turned to face the assembled throng as husband and wife, mates forever.
Most of the guests had been gently shooed out to the main kitchen/dining area, and invited to partake of the reception's buffet while the wedding party and their families stayed behind to pose for photos. But instead of immediately snapping away with their cameras, they gathered around to ponder what was to be done about the ring situation. "Aw, nuts!" Lexington said in disappointment as he eyed Goliath's ring, still tightly clenched in his tailtip. "They really made it the wrong size! Either the measurements got garbled in transit, or they just didn't believe how big a ring we needed."
"I knew I should have fitted you for ring size while you slept, and had a backup ring made just in case," Xanatos said with real regret as he also eyed the too-small decorated golden band. "We'll have to have one made specially for you in R&D's metallurgy lab; it'll take another day or so."
"No, he can wear it tonight!" Angela said as she snapped her fingers. "Just the way I wear mine! Maggie, do you have a needle and thread handy?"
"Sure, in our room, but… Angela, I don't see a ring on any of your fingers," as Maggie scratched her head in puzzlement.
"That's because I don't wear them there," Angela said as she snatched up the ring in one hand, and the handkerchief out of Matt's tuxedo pocket with the other. Hooking the ring over one thumb and laying the handkerchief across her father's left shoulder, she then grabbed her father's head in her hands to bring it down closer to her level. Goliath blinked at her in surprise as she said cheerfully, "Ready, Father? It will only hurt for a few minutes."
Goliath blinked at her, then shrugged and said, "As ready as I'll RROWWW!" because Angela had just slashed her smallest talon though the bottom of his right earlobe.
A few drops of blood fell onto the handkerchief as Angela quickly jammed the small golden hoop up into the gash she'd made in his ear, then held it in place and brought together the torn skin around it as she said cheerfully, "This is how we put in all the earrings Ophelia and Nimrod made for us on Avalon, before Princess told us they were supposed to be removable! Now we just sew the skin shut around it, and when we pull the stitches out next sunset the ring will still be in place, if you want it there!"
Most of the wedding party looked on in shock and dismay, but Xanatos actually grinned as he considered the new look. "Why not start a new fashion for mixed-species couples? Looking pretty hot, Goliath!"
Goliath scowled at him, then turned uncertainly to Elisa. "What do you think, beloved?"
Elisa thoughtfully rubbed her chin as she tried to imagine it still there next sunset, without the blood currently surrounding the small gash, then smiled wryly. "It does make a nice accent, Big Guy. Kind-of studly, in a way. Smile for me?" Goliath gave her a toothy grin, and she shivered deliciously. "Oh, yeah, it looks good!"
"Then I'll keep it there," he decided immediately. "Maggie, if you or Angela will sew it in place, we can proceed."
Maggie quickly produced a needle and thread, along with some rubbing alcohol and cotton balls for cleaning the minor wound and preventing infection. And while Angela was carefully sewing Goliath's earlobe shut around the ring and wiping away the traces of blood, Dana signed something that immediately had Claw almost rolling on the floor, silently laughing his head off. Derek and Maggie burst out laughing as well, and Father Sullivan was also in stitches. Everyone else looked at them in utter incomprehension, and finally Xanatos complained, "What's so funny?"
"Dana said… sh-she said it's tradition…" Maggie gasped out, before giving up and wheezing with laughter again.
The ever-stoic Owen Burnett actually looked like he might be holding back a smile as he translated for the rest, "Dana commented that it's traditionally the bride who bleeds on her wedding night, not the groom."
Elisa blushed, as did Goliath in an interesting shade of purple, but the rest of those assembled all chuckled, giggled or began braying in outright laughter as Matt commented with a perfectly deadpan expression, "My, how times have changed…"
Once the earring was in place and the bleeding had stopped, and all the requisite photos had been taken, the wedding party joined the rest of the attendees at the reception. The sparkling cider had already been poured, and as the 'best male', Brooklyn proposed the first toast: "To Goliath and Elisa: may you have long and happy lives together!" Everyone chorused, "Hear, hear!" as they raised their glasses, and the party got underway.
The cake for the reception was a three-tiered masterpiece, topped by a pair of swans with their necks gracefully curved into a valentine heart instead of the more traditional representation of the bride and groom. When they held the knife together to cut the first slices, Goliath's hand completely covered Elisa's much smaller one, but they managed to cut two small pieces for themselves without mishap. Goliath fed Elisa her piece first, with exquisite tender care and love shining in his eyes. He had to bend down quite a ways for Elisa to do the same for him, but she managed to place the piece neatly into his mouth… but was unable to resist flicking just a dab of frosting onto his nose.
He bemusedly looked almost cross-eyed to focus on the dab of frosting, while a few of the onlookers chuckled; then he reached up to rub off the frosting and dab it onto Elisa's nose instead. As he rumbled very, very quietly, so only Elisa could hear clearly, "Are you sure you want to start another 'frosting fight' here and now, my love? Remember how the last one turned out…"
Oh, Elisa remembered! She never had been able to get all the chocolate stains out of that set of sheets… she hastily reassured Goliath that she'd had enough for now, as she grabbed a napkin and dabbed both of their noses clean again. (But she whispered to him that she did happen to have another tub of Betty Crocker's best in the cupboard at home…)
After a while of everyone telling jokes and stories about how they had first met either the bride or the groom, and added their own well-wishes for the happy couple, two of the Labyrinth residents came back in to let everyone know that the chapel's furnishings had been rearranged, to convert it into a dance floor as it had been for the mutates' wedding the month before. Goliath and Elisa led the procession back into the dance area, as they naturally would have the first dance.
The happy couple claimed the center of the room and nodded to Talon, the self-appointed master of sound (after all, it was his old stereo system they were using). He nodded back with a grin and a thumbs-up, before beginning the first song, the one that would be forever after known as "their song." And it came as no surprise to any of the people present that the first voice heard out of the large speakers was Bette Midler's, crooning:
"It must have been cold there in my shadow,
to never have sunlight on your face.
You were content to let me shine; that's your way
You always walked a step behind.
So I was the one with all the glory,
while you were the one with all the strength.
A beautiful face without a name -- for so long,
a beautiful smile to hide the pain.
Did you ever know that you're my hero,
and everything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle,
But you are the wind beneath my wings.
It might have appeared to go unnoticed,
but I've got it all here in my heart.
I want you to know I know the truth (of course I know it),
I would be nothing without you!.
Did I ever tell you you're my hero?
You're everything, everything I wish I could be!
I can fly higher than an eagle,
'Cause you are the wind beneath my wings.
Fly, fly, fly away,
You let me fly so high.
Oh, fly, fly, so high against the sky,
So high I almost touch the sky.
Thank you, thank you, thank God for you,
The wind beneath my wings."
Elisa had also specially selected the next song, unbeknownst to Goliath, and asked Derek to play it immediately after "The Wind Beneath My Wings." It was one that she had always liked, but had taken on special significance to her over the last two years of befriending the clan and falling ever deeper in love, and now as the beat began she looked into her husband's eyes, soul reaching to soul in a moment of perfect understanding… and deepest, purest love. And Peter Gabriel's voice wailed out of the speakers as he sang,
"Love… I get so lost, sometimes
Days pass and this emptiness fills my heart
When I want to run away, I drive off in my car
But whichever way I go
I come back to the place you are
All my instincts, they return
And the grand façade, so soon will burn
Without a noise, without my pride
I reach out from the inside…
In your eyes
(the light, the heat)
In your eyes,
I am complete
In your eyes
I see the doorway to a thousand churches
(in your eyes)
the resolution of all the fruitless searches
(in your eyes)
I see the light and the heat
in your eyes
Oh, I want to be that complete
I want to touch the light, the heat I see in your eyes
Love, I don't like to see so much pain
So much wasted and this moment keeps slipping away
I get so tired of working so hard for our survival
I look to the time with you to keep me awake and alive
And all my instincts, they return
And the grand facade, so soon will burn
Without a noise, without my pride
I reach out from the inside…
In your eyes
(the light, the heat)
in your eyes,
I am complete
in your eyes
I see the doorway to a thousand churches
(in your eyes)
the resolution of all the fruitless searches
(in your eyes)
I see the light and the heat
in your eyes
Oh, I want to be that complete
I want to touch the light, the heat I see in your eyes
In your eyes,
in your eyes…"
The tune hadn't originally been meant for a waltz, but somehow Goliath and Elisa adapted their rhythm to fit, as they glided together across the dance floor, moving as one.
Looking at the couple as they danced arm in arm, once more utterly lost in love and oblivious to those looking on, Peter sighed with the half-smile that his daughter had inherited from him and said to Diane, "I'll admit, I had my doubts about those two for so long… But they'll make it. They've got what it takes; they'll pull through all the rough times ahead, and stay together."
"Just like we have, for the past thirty-one years this December," Diane added, her own eyes misting slightly.
Peter kissed her cheek affectionately as he told her, "And once again, you've pulled off a perfect wedding."
"Perfect! I suppose, except for being locked in, and the rings, and--"
Peter closed her mouth with his, and when the kiss was over he turned her to face the bride and groom as they continued to dance, and said, "Look at how happy they are… to them, and in all the ways that matter, this was perfect."
Diane sighed in agreement as she pillowed her head on her husband's shoulder. "You're right, dear, as usual… this was perfect."
Now that the happy couple had their first dance, other couples were coming out onto the dance floor. Talon left the stereo setup to play out the songs he'd already selected while he took Maggie's hand and led her out onto the dance floor, where they joined Claw and Dana, already dancing. Beth had dragged Brooklyn out to show him a few steps, and as they were joined nearby by Peter and Diane, Brooklyn proved to be a swift learner and quite nimble on his feet. Angela immediately tugged Broadway out onto the dance floor to attempt a waltz as well (Angela being much more graceful at it than Broadway, but he didn't step on her feet too often). Fox quickly hiss-whispered to Lexington to take over minding the kids for a while, then said off-handedly to Matt just before letting her husband lead her out for a dance, "Poor Anne, she's such a wallflower; everyone sees her as just a young widowed mother, not as a pretty lady hoping for a dance…"
Not a stupid man by any means, Matt saw right through Fox's rather transparent manipulation. But he hadn't brought a date, and Anne was standing there looking rather wistful now that Lexington had grabbed both the kids and taken them out of the room to go play in the nearby nursery, and she was really very pretty in the dress Fox had picked out for her… He figured if he was going to do this, he might as well do it right, so he came over and bowed low to her, doffing an imaginary hat as he asked, "Would the lovely lady care to dance?" Anne blushed clear to the roots of her hair, but smiled and said yes, she'd love to dance, and let him lead her out onto the dance floor.
Just then, they became aware of a commotion coming from outside the doors, raised voices in exclamations of surprise or dismay. Everyone glanced towards the doors, including Goliath and Elisa, wondering what was going on out there. And moments later they found out, as Bronx, who had been missing since the gargoyles had arrived in the Labyrinth four hours ago, came grunting into the room, dragging behind him a canvas tarpaulin…
Heaped at least two feet high with dozens of dead rats.
Tugging a corner of the tarp in his jaws, Bronx dragged it over to where Hudson was sitting on a bench against the far wall, talking with Jeffrey Robbins. Angela, Broadway and Brooklyn all wailed together, "Bronx, no!" but he ignored them as he continued dragging the tarp across the dance floor. It was Broadway who finally observed aloud, with a wry grin on his face, "I think they're supposed to be a peace offering. He's trying to apologize to Hudson for what happened last Tuesday…"
The other gargoyles and several of the guests realized that Broadway was right, Bronx was trying to make peace with his oldest friend. But at exactly the wrong time… Except for Hollywood whispering somewhat anxiously to Burbank, "You think he left any for us to catch?" the dance hall had gone to an appalled silence as Bronx finally stopped in front of a wide-eyed Hudson, dropped the corner of the tarp and whined appealingly, wagging his stub of a tail. Then everyone heard…
Laughter. All eyes turned to Elisa, who was laughing hysterically while leaning against her new husband's chest, laughing too hard to even stand up by herself. Goliath, too, was barely able to keep upright as his whole frame shook with bellows of mirth. They laughed till tears streamed down their faces, and their mood spread infectiously to everyone else in the room, until the entire room was rollicking with laughter. There was no doubt whatsoever that this wedding was indelibly engraved into everyone's minds, forever a night to remember…
After Hudson had gruffly thanked Bronx for the peace offering, then quickly dragged the tarpaulin full of rats out of the room, the dancing resumed with an even lighter mood than before. After the dances, and more food and drink and laughter, they arrived at the moment that several of the ladies present had been eagerly awaiting: the tossing of the bouquet. Elisa stood at one end of the hall with her back to the rest of the room, while all the single ladies gathered in the center, including Angela. Standing off to one side of the hall, Maggie looked at Anne Marsden, standing next to her, and suggested slyly, "Why don't you go join them? After all, you're eligible now. I could mind Bethany for you…"
Anne shook her head and gave a sad smile. "I appreciate the thought, but no; it's a little too soon, and, well…" But even as she denied it, her eyes flitted over to where Matt Bluestone was standing, joking with Brooklyn.
Down at knee level, Bethany held her arms up in wordless request to be picked up so she could see better, and when Anne did so, she asked as she pointed, "Mommy, what's 'Lisa doing now?"
It was Maggie who answered her, with a smile. "She's going to throw her bouquet now, Bethy. And all the ladies are going to try to catch it! It's a very special game of catch…"
"Special catch?" Bethany said excitedly as she twisted around in her mother's grip to face Elisa.
And just then, Elisa called over her shoulder, "Ready, ladies? Here it comes!" And she tossed her bouquet up high, in an arc almost brushing the ceiling. Over a dozen females readied themselves to catch it and/or tussle over it…
As it arced up… and over… curving in flight away from the assembled ladies, towards the side of the room…
And right into Bethany's waiting hands. As Anne looked down at her daughter with stunned and almost horrified eyes, Bethany crowed proudly, "I got it!"
Over in one corner, David covered his eyes with a hand and moaned, while a corner of Owen's mouth twitched, and Fox didn't know whether to laugh hysterically or run screaming from the room. Bethany had thought it was a game of Magic-Catch, like the game they played in the nursery so often, and redirected the bouquet to her own hands! But how could they explain this away, to the people assembled who didn't know of her Fey heritage?
Matt and Brooklyn exchanged quick, tense glances… and burst into derisive laughter. "Way to toss, partner!" Matt hooted at Elisa, who had also turned around to stare dumfounded at Bethany. "I told you you'd better practice that pitch, considering how often you miss the trash basket at work!"
"Good thing you can shoot better than you can throw, Elisa!" Brooklyn chimed in sarcastically.
Elisa obligingly blushed in seeming embarrassment, while nearly half the room burst into laughter. She tried to defend herself without incriminating Bethany by saying, "Hey, you try tossing stuff backward without looking! And there must be a cross-breeze or something near the ceiling!"
"Sure, sure," Broadway and Lexington chimed in sweetly as they also got the idea. "Whatever you say, Elisa…"
Goliath chuckled as he came up to Elisa and planted a kiss on her hair. "It's all right, my love; I married you for your brave heart and bright spirit, not your pitching arm." He turned to the rest of the room and said with a wry smile, "Gentlemen, I believe we should dispense with the traditional throwing of the garter, and placing it on the bouquet catcher. Unless one of you wishes to be accused of, ah, 'robbing the cradle'…"
"Pass!" "Not this guy!" "Not this garg, either!" and similar sentiments were echoed, as all the single males present grinned and held up their hands as if to ward off the very suggestion.
Not long afterward, the bride and groom headed out of the Labyrinth and for the surface, for the final part of the ceremony: the mating flight, to be combined with the trip to the 'honeymoon suite'. In all actuality, the 'honeymoon suite' was simply Elisa's apartment for the remainder of the weekend; gargoyles had never really celebrated honeymoons before, and Elisa hadn't been able to get any extra time off from work for a trip out of town. But as the bride and groom told everyone who asked, just a little time alone with each other, with no pressures from clan or police business intruding, was really all they needed to be happy.
They were followed up to the surface by several of the wedding attendants, laughingly pelting them with rice and carrying Elisa's bags for her (containing her normal clothes and toiletries), as well as a dark blue flannel blanket that had been bought just for the occasion. Once everyone was assembled on the docks, Goliath threaded and hooked his tail through the bags' handles and climbed the side of a warehouse to the roof, while Elisa stood at the edge of the docks and let Maggie and Fox wrap her up from neck to toe in the blanket, completely covering and concealing her shining white wedding dress. Goliath launched form the roof and circled once, to gain a little speed, before swooping down and scooping Elisa off the docks to carry her away, accompanied by the cheers and shouted well-wishes of their friends and family.
After the bride and groom had flown away, the party largely dispersed; the gargoyles and Xanatos family decided to return to the castle, though Fox urged Anne to take the rest of the night off if she so desired. "You haven't had a day or night off since we hired you; you deserve a break!"
"Sure, take some time for yourself," Lex chimed in, knowing his cue. "Bethany can stay with us until you come back, and as long as you reach the Aerie Building's arboretum before dawn, one of us can glide down to that level and glide back up with you from there, save you having to walk all those stairs."
Brooklyn put on his second-in-command face and asked Matt very seriously, "Can you provide the transportation for her, so she comes home in time for us to give her a lift?"
"Sure, I'll be glad to," Matt said with a smile. In all actuality, he'd been planning to head for home himself shortly after, but he'd had nothing planned except for crashing in front of the tube to watch the Late-late-late show and old Bonanza reruns; it wouldn't kill him to stick around the Labyrinth for a little while longer. And maybe if he was lucky, he could wangle a few more historical details out of MacBeth about the Knights Templar, and their secret successors…
Unfortunately, soon after the others had left for the castle MacBeth departed as well, saying that he kept to more of a daytime schedule now that he was teaching at the university. But Maggie and Talon invited Matt and Anne to join them for coffee and conversation in their home, and Matt shrugged and decided to accept. But as they went down to the Labyrinth's living areas again, the fully human couple following the two mutates, Matt noticed a slight bulge in his trenchcoat pocket that hadn't been there earlier. Puzzled, he reached in, and pulled out…
A blue satin garter. He shook his head, then quietly coughed for Anne's attention. And once she was looking in his direction, Matt dangled the garter from his fingers like he was holding a dead mouse by the tail as he whispered dryly, "Do you get the feeling we're being set up?"
Anne blushed clear to her hairline again, then buried her face in her hands as she muttered something about killing Maggie when she had the time and a blunt instrument handy. Matt shook his head as he said, "Maggie, nothin'; this was Fox's doing. At least, she's the one who brushed up against me just after Goliath and Elisa flew off…"
"Oh God, not her too!" Anne moaned. "Why are they doing this to us! I-I mean, I'm sure they mean well, and you're so kind and handsome and all, you're a wonderful guy, but… but it's too soon!"
Almost despite himself, despite his instinctive disgust at being manipulated and his impulse to fight against it, Matt's spine straightened just a little at the words 'handsome' and 'wonderful'. It had been a long while since he'd heard any woman apply those words to him… Then he shrugged, and said cheerfully, "Well, they're your friend and your employer, so I'll let you read 'em the riot act. In the meantime, I'm already two cups behind on my nightly coffee requirements, and I wouldn't mind scoring a few more of those fancy hors d'oeuvres from the buffet. So just for tonight, we'll let them get away with it, okay?"
Still blushing, Anne smiled at him. "Okay."
And somehow, by the time they'd reached the set of rooms that made up Derek and Maggie Maza's underground home, they were ever-so-casually holding hands…
"Penny for your thoughts, husband mine," Elisa said warmly, savoring the new phrase 'husband mine' on her tongue, as she rested her head against Goliath's broad chest while they glided across the Manhattan skyline.
Goliath waggled his brow ridges at her as he said with a wicked grin, "Actually, I was just thinking of making this a more traditional mating flight after all…"
Elisa sighed a little regretfully. "I know you'd prefer it, but remember what happened to our clothes last time; Mom would never let us hear the end of it if we ruined all her hard work on these outfits. Besides," as she puffed out a breath to see the cloud of mist trailing behind them, "It's gotten just too darn cold out for my poor, thin human skin!"
Goliath nodded in regretful acknowledgement. The temperatures had dipped below freezing in the last few nights, and Elisa was probably already quite cold, even with the dark flannel blanket helping to keep in her body heat, not that she would ever dream of complaining to him about it. He worked his wings just a little faster, to arrive just a little sooner at her waiting apartment. She'd whispered to him just a few minutes ago that she'd turned up the heat to make it toasty-warm inside before leaving, but she'd left some champagne bottles half-buried in ice in the sink…
But when they arrived at her balcony, they found one last surprise waiting for them. Somebody had been by, and soaped "JUST MARRIED" on the balcony windows! "Who could have done this, and when?" Elisa said with a frown, as Goliath set her down and fished out the hidden key to the door. "It sure wasn't there when I left home a few hours ago, and I thought everyone was already down in the Labyrinth when I arrived…"
"I do not know, but it's a mystery to be solved on another night," Goliath said firmly as he unlocked and opened the door, feeling the delightfully warm air breezing out around them both, then swept Elisa off her feet again. "For tonight, I intend to concentrate only on one goal: you, and your pleasure."
"Sounds like a plan to me, Big Guy," Elisa said with a sultry grin as she let him carry her over the threshold. "I'd say it's time to get started on that 'happily ever after'…"
Author's note: Normally I put all these notes at the beginning of my stories, but this time I had to leave a little 'till the end, for what will soon be seen as obvious reasons. For long weeks--nay, months!--I sweated and labored and worried mightily over this chapter, wanting everything to be just perfect, absolutely fabulous, but continually getting vicious attacks of Writer's Block… Until I realized that perfection really ain't all it's cracked up to be.
Sure, everyone has seen at least one utterly beautiful wedding done perfectly, if only on TV. But the ones that are usually remembered best are the ones that aren't perfect! Because, let's face it, Life isn't perfect. And it's those imperfections and the sometimes-humorous moments that arise from them that we remember best, and as we grow older, we learn to cherish… The door that sticks at a crucial moment, the ring that suddenly doesn't seem to fit, the groomsman who locked his knees while standing at attention and suddenly faints dead away, the little kid that sticks her fingers into the wedding cake, the tossed bouquet that goes bizarrely awry… (Yes, one or two of the above examples were drawn from personal experience, from my own fancy wedding. But I'm not saying which bits!) And it's my belief that a couple who persevere despite such setbacks and learn to laugh about them will have a stronger relationship in the end.
I've been writing about Goliath and Elisa and all the crew long enough that I sometimes almost see them as real people, so I wanted to give them a real wedding. One that they'd always remember, and chuckle over for the rest of their lives. I only hope that you, my readers, enjoyed it as well…