FoxFire
by Christine Morgan
christine@sabledrake.com / http://www.christine-morgan.org


Author's Note: the characters of Gargoyles are the property of Disney
and used here without their creators' knowledge or consent.

#39 in an ongoing saga.



(David Xanatos, voice over) Previously, on Gargoyles ...

From "Mother's Day" --

"As far as I'm concerned," Fox said, "my mother died on that
day. The day, the hour, the very minute she turned out to be you.
Anyone who would care so little about me and my happiness to do what
you did is no mother of mine, and no grandmother to my son."

From "The Tempest" --

"In cloven pine thy prison be, for now and all eternity, as thy
mother did to cousin mine, so let that fate be forever thine!" Puck
chanted hurriedly. At once, the cage rolled to the split tree and began
melting into it, the wood and bark flowing like wax.
Cal tore at the branches. "No! No!" His protests were cut off
as the tree sealed around him, bulging like a snake trying to swallow an
exceptionally large rat.

From "Menagerie" --

Lydia Stephanopolos left the room quietly, so as not to disturb
Petros.
She paused by a window to admire the view. The first rays of
the morning sun were raising wisps of mist from the walls and towers.
The sky was pink and gold and the palest of blues.
The gargoyles stood in fearsome poses, locked in their stone
sleep. The humans slept too, all of them worn out from the events of the
previous evening.
She made her way to Alexander's room, and tiptoed softly over
to the bed. She straightened the tangle of blankets and smoothed his
unruly hair.
"My little prince," she whispered. "Yes, I'll be a grandmother
to you. Whether they like it or not. You have my word on that. The
word of Titania."

* *


AVALON --

"So," Oberon said. "My fair queen thinks to distract me with
lady's veil, that I might not notice how pathetically she lowers herself.
All for the sake of a grandson whelped to an ungrateful child and her
defiant husband. Well, Oberon has not forgotten the insults heaped
upon him and his queen!"
He decisively snapped shut the lid of the ornate silver box
which held the temptingly fragrant petals and shoved it from him.
"If my lord wants it no longer ..." Winken trailed off
suggestively, gazing with longing at the box.
Short Hoggers leaned forward with an eager, ingratiating
smile. "Sure as I'd be glad to make them pay, Lord Oberon!"
Winken realized his mistake and hurried to amend it. "No, my
lord, let me! I can run rings around those who've injured you!"
"You couldn't run rings around a standing stone!" Short
Hoggers jeered, and then the two of them were sharp-nose to bulbous-
nose, ready to drag up every example of trickery and tomfoolery they'd
exchanged in the past ten thousand years.
Oberon sighed and pressed his fingertips to his brow to
forestall the headache they were bound to bring on. Would that Puck
were here, would that he had stayed the loyal but mischevious Robin
Goodfellow! Then he wouldn't be plagued with these spritely knaves
and impish gnomes wishing to take the Puck's place as chief servant and
attendant to Avalon's lord.
He thought briefly of sending the both of them, a competiton
to see which of them was the most worthy. But he was forced to admit
that the combination of the Puck's and the mortal David Xanatos'
connivery would flatten either of these two minions, even could they
make it through the castle's formidable defenses.
This was a matter he should handle himself. He'd tolerated it
long enough. That his queen, his noble Titania, should be reduced to
this --!
But he had no desire to approach them directly. Not that he
harbored fear of mortals, certainly not! He was merely displeased at the
wounds they'd done his pride.
And Titania, his wayward queen ... was Oberon of such little
interest to her that she would already be seeking a new husband? No, of
course not, she suffered this only for the sake of the grandson that her
willful daughter denied her.
He idly turned his attention to Titania's mirror, shimmering
with secret light in the corner of his throne room. Should he or any of
his gathered Children act against the Xanatos family, it would be in
breach of Oberon's promise, not to mention that the Puck would be
watching for just such an attempt.
But Oberon's promise didn't apply to the mortal world, now,
did it? His law was his to interperet, and there were powers yet among
the mortal world that the Puck might not be expecting to meet.
Aha! Here was something promising! He rose from his throne
and approached the mirror, studying the image shown therein.
Young, in reasonable health (though of questionable
appearance and hygeine), all but crackling with vitality. And talented,
yes, undefined and passingly familiar. He ought to do nicely.
But how to win him? He needed some guise that was the last
anyone would expect of Lord Oberon, yet would strike an agreeable
chord in this youth.
He turned to his two bickering servants and silenced them with
a gesture.
"Send for my handmaidens, the Weird Sisters," Oberon
commanded. "And prepare yourselves; we go to visit the human
world!"

* *

CASTLE WYVERN, MANHATTAN --

"This is the last of the suitcases," Owen Burnett said, placing it
carefully in the limo. "And we have plenty of time to catch the train.
Here are your papers for the rental car ..." and with that, the blond man
faltered and raised an eyebrow at his employer. "A Saturn?"
David Xanatos laughed as he folded the papers and tucked
them inside his jacket. "It'll do, Owen. It'll do."
"Pardon me for saying so, but it just doesn't seem like you."
"He's right, dear," Fox said, coming into the garage with a
garment bag over one arm and Alex nodding groggily in the other.
"We're not going there to make a big splash. Don't you think
I've outgrown that?" He looked from one to the other, and grinned.
"Evidently not, I see. Really, I'm over it. Had my fun at the class
reunion. This is my father's show. We're going to a wedding, that's all."
"It was so nice of Lydia to ask me to be her maid of honor!"
Fox laid the garment bag over the pile of other luggage and got Alex
into his carseat. He mumbled something and his little head slipped to
the side sleepily. "I wish she'd let me design her dress ..."
"Darling, the lady is fifty-something and a widow, and doesn't
have the figure for one of your creations. I just hope your gown isn't
going to draw all the attention."
"There's no reason why a larger woman couldn't wear a
FoxFire gown," she protested. "Look at Birdie!"
"Lydia Stephanopolos and Birdie don't have much in
common," Owen remarked.
"Well, what about Elisa's mother? I did the gown she wore to
Beth's graduation, didn't I?"
"And it was lovely." Xanatos kissed her on the cheek. "I
apologize for both doubting your genuis and perpetuating the stereotype
of female beauty as dictated by sexist rats who want to keep women
enslaved to an unrealistic ideal."
"Accepted. Now if you'd just quit spending all your time with
Jacqueline ..."
Xanatos rolled his eyes. "I haven't played Xantasia in weeks,
you know that!"
"Yes, well, it's no fun when your avatar's in prison for treason,
now, is it?"
"It's not that! I've just been so busy with the production and
promotion work --"
"Yes, dear." Fox patted him on the arm and winked at Owen.
"This game is going to make us a fortune," he reminded her.
She yawned exaggeratedly. "Oh, another one? Where will we
keep it?"
Owen opened their doors and stepped back. "I'll look after
everything here, sir."
"I'm sure you will, Owen. Don't let Goliath push you around --
just because I'm thinking of entering into negotiations with Nightstone
Unlimited doesn't mean I'm allying with Demona. Oh, and if Aiden's
parents call again, assure them that I'm still fully supportive of her
decision to change at the end of the school year."
"I'll bet they'll be very glad to hear it," Fox said dryly. "Their
only daughter wants to become a gargoyle, and they're worried you'll
want a refund on her tuition."

* *

JOSHUA FLATS, CALIFORNIA --

"Yo! T.J! Me and Cody are goin' over to the A&W, wanna
come?"
T.J. Lawton pulled his head out of the engine block of a '68
pickup. "No, man, can't. I gotta work!"
Brett Harley -- "Harley like the bike," he was fond of telling
anyone who would listen -- stared at T.J. "Hey, helluva shiner, dude.
You mix it up with the old man again?"
T.J. selfconsciously prodded at the swollen puff of flesh, and
leaned over to check it out in the pickup's one remaining side-view. It
was still a dark purple-blue, and whenever he moved that side of his
face, his eye seemed to moan.
"Yeah, same old shit," he told Brett.
As if Brett would know. The Harleys owned about the only
nice house in town, a damn mansion is what it was, five bedrooms and
count-em _three_ bathrooms. Luke Harley was a maintenance sub-chief
out to Edwards Air Force Base, a forty-mile commute but worth it for
the pay, and was one of the best-tempered men T.J. had ever met. Not
that he'd met any of the Harley family that often; Caroline Harley,
Brett's mom, didn't really like her kids mingling with trailer trash from
the far side of the truck stop.
But Brett put on an act like he could dig what T.J. was talking
about. "That sucks, man. How long you goin' to put up with his crap?"
T.J. shrugged, wiping his hands on a rag that had been white
'round about the time the pickup had become an official antique. "Just
until I get enough saved up to fix my car. Then I'm outta here."
"It's like the shoemaker's kid always goin' barefoot, right?"
Brett grinned. "Always workin' on everybody else's wheels, so your
own never gets done."
"Yeah, but nobody's paying me to work on mine." T.J. glanced
over at his car, a no-color mongrel. It just sat and seemed to get older
and uglier with each passing second, so he looked away.
"So, look, you wanna come? Cody says he saw Mindy Jannsen
there last night, legs going clear up to heaven and no bra either."
"So?" T.J. tossed the rag on the hood and lit up a smoke. "Like
Mindy Jannsen's gonna look twice at Cody. She only puts out for
college guys, remember?"
"Well, hey, you're old enough for her then!"
"College? Me?" He laughed and shook his head. "Not a
chance. Even if I hadn't been held back a couple times, where'm I gonna
get that kind of cash? And if I did, I could think of plenty better things
to do with it!"
"Yeah, whatever. Look, I'm heading over. Told Cody I'd whip
his butt at Space Mutant."
"Maybe I'll swing by later. I get off at three. You think you'll
be there?"
Brett spread his arms to take in the teeming metropolis of
Joshua Flats, all four streets' worth not counting the trailer park and the
abandoned drive-in. "Where else is there to go?"
"No kidding. Okay. Lemme get a shower, and I'll be there
around four."
"Later." Brett tipped an index finger at T.J. and sauntered off.
T.J. ground his cigarette butt into the dirt. While he worked, he
daydreamed about getting in his own car and just flooring it, leaving
this cruddy little town to eat his dust. He could go anyplace. Not
Mojave, too close. Barstow, maybe. Or maybe even Vegas, or L.A.
A guy who was good with tools should be able to make decent
money anywhere. The urge to go had been getting stronger for the past
few years. Almost like something had been calling him, calling him to a
place he could really call home.
He dropped a wrench and reacted on instinct, reaching out and
stopping it a few inches before it would have clanged noisly on the
tarmac. Reached out, but not with his hands, because they were both
still buried in the pickup's asthmatic innards. The wrench hung
suspended in midair, then slowly rose and settled into its place in the
toolbox.
At five 'til three, he slammed the hood and patted it the way he
might have patted an old hound just before someone took it out back
and put a mercy bullet in its head. He was only partially aware of the
toolbox cruising by itself across the garage bay and coming to rest on a
shelf. Putting his stuff away, nothing wrong with that.
He got into his car and started her up. The engine dragged and
complained until he pressed his palm on the steering column. "Come
on, old girl!"
A spark leapt from his skin, and the engine roared into life.
T.J. put it in gear and headed for home.
Didn't take long to get anywhere in Joshua Flats. Most
everything was less'n five minutes away, as the locals who sat around
the air-conditioned truck stop liked to say. So, less'n five minutes later,
T.J.'s car rattled to a stop in front of the trailer he shared with his old
man.
It had originally been green, he remembered that. Now it was
the color of snot, dry snot that was flaking and peeling away. The
awning over the front steps was sagging and threadbare, and the steps
themselves would sway and drop you on your ass if you weren't careful.
That was one of T.J.'s most persistent daydreams, one he never
spoke of. That one night, instead of dropping his old man on his ass, the
stairs would dump him on his head and break his neck. Hasta la vista,
you son of a bitch.
He kicked a stone, which skittered through the clumps of
weeds that had once been his mother's lovingly-tended garden. Nothing
really wanted to grow out here but joshua trees and tumbleweeds, but
Loralie Lawton had never given up trying to coax flowers from the
shallow soil. Not even her husband's remarks about how she spent as
much time on them flowers as she did on the boy, and weren't neither of
them going to amount to shit, had deterred her. Not from the garden,
and not from T.J.
But now she was dead, wiped out by a trucker in too much of a
hurry to get into the Eat-N-Go for a cuppa and a ham scramble. Dead
ten years now, leaving Burt and T.J. with nobody but each other for
company.
He showered quickly, scrubbing the grease out from under his
nails with borax soap. He put on fresh jeans and a black T-shirt, tied his
sunbleached hair into a ponytail, and sprayed a little Arid under the pits
just in case Mindy Jannsen was around. Not that he harbored any
particular hopes, but he didn't have to be a Boy Scout to always be
prepared.
On his way out of the tiny nicotine-yellow bathroom, he
stopped as he always did to look at one of the framed photos on the
wall. It bummed him out bigtime, but he wasn't able to take it down or
quit looking at it.
It showed the trailer as it had been when it was new. Standing
in front of it were a man, a woman, and a kid. The kid was him, around
five years old, all the shouting matches and punches and attitude
troubles in school still way in the future.
Even Burt Lawton seemed happy in that picture. Why wouldn't
he be? Good job at the drive-in, wife happy because they finally were a
real family, a new place than would do for a year or so, until the new
housing development opened over on South Street.
But the drive-in was closed, the new houses had never been
built, the wife was dead, and all that was left was a falling-apart trailer
and T.J.
T.J. snorted. No wonder the old man was in a state of chronic
piss-off. "But it's not my fault, dammit," he told the picture-man.
"You're the one who wanted to move out here. Could've stayed in L.A."
"Coulda said no when she told me she wanted a kid, too," Burt
Lawton said.
T.J. whirled, body tensing for trouble. He heard the slur in his
old man's voice and knew what it meant -- although it wasn't even four
o'clock, Burt had put down a few beers at the Eat-N-Go on his way
home.
"'Specially a smartass no-good kid like you," Burt continued.
He popped the top on a can of Bud and swilled from it. "But no, she
had to go and take you in. Shoulda left you at the orphanage. Let the
damn social workers take care of you."
"I probably would have been better off," T.J. shot back.
"Some gratitude!" Burt lumbered to his feet and futile bitter
disgust swept T.J. Not enough money to put a decent meal on the table,
but enough to build a big old beergut. "I don't need to hear you run your
damn mouth. You're almost twenty-one, aintcha? Old enough to be on
your own."
"You throwing me out?" T.J. stuck out his chin belligerently.
"So who's gonna pay for your beer then? Who's gonna call the foreman
and make up lies when you're too fuckin' hungover to go to work?"
"Don't think I won't toss you outta here on your bee-hind, boy!
And with something to show for it, too!"
"What, another black eye to match this one?" T.J. felt it all
boil up inside him. "All right, come on, you old shitbag. I'll give you
one free hit on account of you're old and slow, but one's all you get so
you better make it count!" His fists bunched.
Burt stared at him for a long moment, then flopped onto the
couch and reached over to switch on the black-and-white TV. "Naw,
not worth the trouble. Game's on. And there's some donuts on the table
if you want 'em; Pop Caruthers was gonna throw them out."
"I'm going out," he said shortly, and did so before Burt could
say anything more.
Less'n five minutes after that, of course, he was pulling into the
dusty lot of the A&W. He ran over a tumbleweed -- kritch! -- and
parked beside Cody's pickup. Unlike the one he'd spent all day working
on, this one was in fairly good shape, except for the scrapes all down
the passenger side where Cody'd had a close encounter with a guardrail
up near Tehachapi.
The A&W was at the edge of town. Beyond it, the road
unspooled like a dead blacksnake, a single long line eventually meeting
the highway at Mojave and continuing up into the mountains where the
windfarms whirred. Sometimes T.J. stood and looked along that road,
wondering what it would be like to just go. Over the mountains, down
into the farmlands around Bakersfield, and on to wherever the road
might take him.
He stopped and looked now, though he could hear the raucus
noise from inside the orange-painted A-frame and the long arcade that
butted up next to it.
Just the road, a long straight scar in the earth. And a distant
twinkle of an oncoming car. T.J. went inside, dug a wrinkled dollar
from the pocket of his jeans, and got himself some of that frosty mug
taste. The burgers here weren't fit for a dog, but at least the root beer
lived up to standard.
He glanced out the window again as he entered the arcade. The
twinkle was brighter now, and closer. Sucker was really moving. And
why not? Hardly any cops out on this lonely stretch, and no reason to
dawdle and take in the scenery.
The first thing he saw in the arcade was Mindy Jannsen,
nineteen and hotter'n asphalt at midday, playing pinball. The second
thing he saw was a group of guys, some his own age, others high school
kids, crowded around and staring lustfully at her shorts-clad butt as she
worked the machine.
T.J. drank more root beer and went over to the Space Mutant
game. Principal Denker's bratty son was currently on it, racking up a
higher score than either Brett or Cody had managed. T.J. hid a smirk
and briefly touched the side of the video game. A spark jumped, space
mutants flipped into hyperspeed, and the Denker kid cussed as his last
man was gobbled up.
"Hey, T.J.! Over here, man!"
He started to head for his friends, when the revving of a
powerful engine and the shrieking of tires cut through the babble of
conversation and electronic mayhem.
"Holy Jesus, look at that set of wheels!" someone shouted, and
that was like a siren song to everybody in the arcade. They poured
outside, T.J. among them, and halted in awe and envy.
The red roadster had slewed to a diagonal stop in the parking
lot and crouched there, panting like a jungle cat. Yellow and silver
zigzags raced down the sides above the chrome running boards. The
windshield and all the windows were tinted so dark that not even the
vaguest shape of a driver could be seen within.
The driver's door flung open, and there was a woman that
made Mindy Jannsen look like something you'd scrape off the bottom of
your shoe.
She was wearing a short white shirt-dress belted with a length
of silver chain, and thigh-high white boots fastened all up the front with
silver buckles. Her skin was so fair it seemed never to have been
touched by the sun until now, as she stepped out of the car and shook
out a pair of white-framed sunglasses. Her hair was jet black, a
windblown tumble around her shoulders.
"Somebody pinch me," Cody murmured. "I have _never_ seen
a chick that fine!"
Another woman got out of the car, and Cody looked like he
might pass out right then. This one was blond, wearing a red miniskirt
and black velvet tank top, with fishnet stockings and red stilleto heels.
She, too, donned a pair of shades, but not before T.J. saw that her
features were identical to the brunette.
Twins, he thought, and a hundred late-night fantasies whirled
through his head.
When the last one emerged, in a curve-hugging black dress
with silver-white hair blowing around her face that was a mirror-image
of the other two, and smiled at T.J. before putting on her sunglasses, he
thought he was going to start drooling all down his chin.
The three women stood beside their car for a moment, with
what seemed like every kid in Joshua Flats staring at them, then walked
toward the A&W. No, they didn't _walk_ toward the A&W. They
sauntered, they strutted, they moved it like they knew how to use it, and
males from age twelve to twenty-one sighed in unison.
"You'd think they never see girls around here," Mindy Jannsen
sniped, and nobody looked her way.
The women stopped in front of the crowd. By now, the few
other patrons and people who worked at the A&W had come out to see
what was up.
The brunette beckoned to T.J.
His eyes just about bulged out of their sockets and he was so
shocked he couldn't move.
The blonde tugged her shades down far enough to regard him
over the top rims, then pursed her lips at him as if blowing a kiss.
This couldn't be happening! This was like something ...
something out of a ... dream or a music video or something!
A guy started forward, but the pale-haired one fixed him with a
look that was icy to the extreme, then turned a meltingly warm smile on
T.J.
An elbow dug sharply into his ribs. "Go on, man!" Brett urged.
"Just save one for me, huh?"
"This is crazy!" T.J. said. "Did somebody drug my root beer?"
"Hey, where'd those dudes come from?" Cody pointed to the
side of the building, where three men who looked like dusty mountain
hermits leaned against the wall, in the shadow of the arcade.
Two of them had long hillbilly beards, and the taller of them
chose that moment to sweep his arm in a circular motion that ended
with two fingers pointed at T.J. And at the end of the motion, something
shiny flew from his hand and winked bright in the air.
T.J. reached, saw that he wasn't going to make it, and then the
glittering thing _curved_ in its flight path. He caught it, cool metal
clinking together, and saw that it was a keychain of two silver lightning
bolts side by side.
As his hand closed around it, he looked at the tall bearded
stranger and for a moment the world rippled a little. Heatstroke, must
be. That was the only thing that could explain why the dude had turned
blue for a minute there, blue and wearing some nutty getup like out of a
movie.
People were pushing him onward, toward the open door and
the trio of stunning women. They reached for him, drew him in, enticing
lengths of thigh and cleavage visible as they climbed in with him.
He stuck the key into the ignition, the brunette pulled the door
closed, and the roadster took off like a red panther with its tail on fire.

* *

BAR HARBOR, MAINE --

"You promised, remember, Daddy, you promised!" Alex
jumped from one foot to the other, unable to contain his excitement.
"I did, and I mean to keep it," Daddy said. "We'll go after
lunch."
"I'm not hungry!" Alex declared, and his stomach chose that
moment to grumble loudly.
"Your belly says otherwise," his grandpa said, lifting him up.
"Come on, I bet Lydia's got lunch on the table already."
"But I wanna go on the boat!"
"We will." Grandpa looked at Daddy. "You were never this
eager."
"Because I always knew you'd put me to work," Daddy said.
"Even when I was his age, you had me hauling bait!"
Alex's eyes widened. "Can I haul bait too? Please?"
"After lunch," Grandpa repeated as he climbed the weathered
grey plank steps. He balanced Alex in the crook of his elbow and
pointed. "There she is, the Thetis. That's the one we'll be going on. But
what are we going to do first, young man?"
"Have lunch," Alex sighed, gazing wistfully at the bobbing
masts.
Inside, Mama and Grandma Lydia -- well, she wasn't Grandma
Lydia yet, not officially, not until she married Grandpa -- were having
cups of coffee and talking like old friends. Alex was happy to see it,
because he knew from vague stuff he'd heard that Mama didn't have
many friends.
Grandpa put a thick book on a chair and perched Alex on it.
There was a bowl in front of him, filled with thick soup.
"Lobster stew," Grandpa said. "Your daddy used to eat this
four times a week."
"I like lobster!" Alex announced, digging in. "But I like pizza
better!"
Grandma Lyida laughed and pinched his cheek. "Pizza, is it?
Well, I don't know how to make pizza. Maybe one night we can go into
town for supper."
He smiled up at her. She was the nicest lady he knew, except
maybe for Mama and Aiden. And he'd already found out that she made
the best oatmeal-raisin cookies he'd ever tasted, and her house had all
sorts of neat things to play with. Next week, though, she'd be selling her
house and moving in here, with Grandpa. He wondered what was going
to happen to all her things. Would they get selled with the house, or
brought here?
He ate up his lobster stew and lots of good bread that didn't
come from a store or even a machine like the one in their kitchen.
Mama zipped him into his jacket and Grandma Lydia gave him two
cookies in a baggie to put in his pocket, in case he got hungry on the
boat.
"Unless you'd rather eat the bait," she teased. "Or some raw
fish!"
"We had raw fish once," he said. "Shushi."
"Not quite the same thing," Daddy said, putting on his own
coat. It was funny to see Daddy wearing jeans and a plaid shirt, and a
big sheepskin coat, and even a cap like Grandpa wore. "You ready to
go, Alex?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah!" He smacked goodbye kisses on Mama and
Grandma Lydia. "You don't want to come?"
"We've got a lot to do," Mama said. "I'm going to hem
Grandma Lydia's gown, and make sure everything's ready for the
wedding."
He couldn't imagine anyone wanting to sew instead of getting
to go on a real fishing boat! Except Daddy and Grandpa didn't seem in
very much of a hurry. They walked along, sometimes talking,
sometimes in what Alex guessed would be called a companionable
silence, and he was perceptive enough to know that this was a rare, new
thing for them.
So he didn't pester, didn't tug them along to try and make them
go faster. He had plenty to look at anyway. Houses, a few dogs, a park
(have to insist on going there later, neat slides!), and lots of boats.
The Thetis was new, and the biggest of Grandpa's four boats.
He had lots of guys working for him, not as many as Daddy did, but he
didn't need as many because Daddy had a coper ... a corper ... a
corperpation big as some whole countries. But Daddy didn't have a
boat, so in Alex's mind, that made everything even.
They went on the boat, and it was the greatest even if the wind
made Alex's nose run like a firehose. The greatest, right up until
Grandpa offered to show Alex how they fished, and pulled up a little
net all full of fish and they flopped and flapped all over the deck and he
realized they were dying, the poor fish, pulled out of their homes and
dying, and he cried.
So they took him back to town, and Daddy bought him an ice-
cream and they went to the park, and soon Alex was feeling better. The
slides were as fun as they'd looked and soon he was able to forget all
about the fish, though he did wish there were some other kids to play
with.
He decided to try a swing and went over, then stopped when
he saw that all the swings were moving even though there was nobody
in them and nobody pushing. And the metal merry-go-round was
merrily going around with nobody on it.
Alex giggled. It was like the time Puck had taught him how to
make all his toys dance, except he wasn't doing this. But if he wasn't
doing it, who was?
He looked around. Daddy and Grandpa were talking to some
other fishermens, and the only other person he could see was a man
about as old as Aiden, sitting on a bench. Ooh, and there near him, a red
ball with a yellow and silver jaggy stripe on it was bouncing all by
itself!
"Wow, is that your ball?" Alex asked.
"Sure is," the man said. He didn't sound like the rest of the
people in this Baahaabah place, but he seemed friendly enough. He had
kind of yellow-brown hair in a ponytail, and brown eyes. "My name's
T.J. What's yours?"

* *

"Do you think it's too fancy?" Lydia asked, turning to examine
herself in the mirror. "Goodness, but my bottom looks big. Still, can't
blame that on the dress, can I?"
"I think it's lovely."
"You're a darling girl, Fox. I just don't want people putting on
airs. This isn't my first marriage, after all, and at my age, I'm hardly a
blushing bride."
"The color suits you. That shade of periwinkle is just right for
your complexion."
"Should I do something with my hair, do you think? Rinse out
the grey? But, no, that's silly, everyone would know."
"And the hat will cover it either way," Fox said, picking up the
wide-brimmed hat with the cluster of pale flowers and a strip of cloudy
gauze hanging over the brim.
"You're such a princess, my dear, really you are. I'm so glad
you agreed to be my maid of honor. If I had a daughter of my own, I'd
want her to be just like you."
Fox smiled. "Believe me, Lydia, I wish my mom were more
like you!"
"Oh, surely we can't be all that different!"
"You'd be surprised. Now, if you're ready to take that off, I can
get started sewing up the hem."
"Of course. I'll be right back. When do I get to see your dress,
dear?"
"I was just going to try it on."
Lydia bustled out, and Fox unzipped her garment bag and
shook out the folds of her gown. It was a soft misty blue,
complementing but not overshadowing Lydia's. Sleeveless, gathered at
the waist, no bow or frills.
Fox put it on and went in front of the three-paneled mirror,
nodding to herself in satisfaction. Springtime, but still sophisticated.
With a lacy shawl to keep the chill off her shoulders ...
She paused, peering into the mirror. The light in here sure
made her hair look funny. Or maybe the glass was flawed. Whatever the
reason, each panel she looked into made her hair seem a different color.
Darker on the right, washed-out-pale on the left, and lighter straight
ahead.
She extended one hand to the glass, but instead of
encountering a cool plane, she met warm flesh. Fingers came out of the
mirror and folded over hers.
Fox gasped and drew back, and pulled her reflection with her.
No, not her reflection. Her reflection in triplicate, three women
coming out of the glass. Three women in blue gowns, with foxheads
over their eyes -- the wrong eye, just like a mirror! -- but their features
weren't hers, and their hair was black, blonde, and silver-white.
Though she'd never met them, she knew who she was facing.
"The Weird Sisters!"
The blonde started to speak, but Fox was having none of it.
She wasn't going to give them time to cast any spells on her!
She hiked her skirt to the waist and spun, delivering a kick that
sent Blondie flying. "Back through the looking-glass, Alice!"
Instead of passing through with a ripple, the woman smashed
into the mirror, knocked it back against the wall, and the whole thing
fell over with a resounding crash. Shards of black-backed glass sprayed
across the floor.
The blonde was pinned under the toppled frame, so Fox turned
to the others. She snatched up a pair of scissors and brandished them.
"Stainless steel -- that iron enough for you?"
"We come to warn you, not to harm," the brunette said in a
faintly reproving tone.
"You have no cause for this alarm," white-hair chimed in.
"Aii, Verse, oy," Fox said sarcastically, mimicking one of the
characters from a video Alex was fond of. "Do me a favor and skip it!"
The blonde rose up, shedding fragments of broken mirror, and
fixed Fox with a smoking look that hinted she'd like to take this up
personally once business was out of the way. "Why should we help
her?" she asked her sisters. "She's only a human."
"She is the mother of the chosen one, Avalon's heir," the
brunette said soothingly, brushing off her sister while the third picked
up the mirror and propped it against the wall. "Her son is in danger."
"What?" Fox went cold at the mention of Alex in danger,
never mind that Avalon's heir crap, she'd deal with that later. "Where is
he? What have you done to him, you witches?!" She jabbed the scissors
at the brunette. "Don't make me cut the answer out of you!"
"Oberon sends us with this warning, despite how ungratefully
you have dealt with him and his queen in the past. He would see no
harm come to the boy."
"But alas!" Blondie said, looking like it was anything but alas,
"the boy's guardian is far away, and the peril is close even now."
"What peril? I don't give a damn about Oberon or his queen;
tell me where my son is!"
"Oberon is merciful." Whitey held out her hand with the palm
up and curved, cupping a ball of light with an image suspended in it.
"Behold the witch Sycorax, cousin to our mother Hecate, who
disobeyed Oberon and defied Titania."
"Sounds like my kind of gal," Fox snarled. "Get to the point!"
But even as she poked the scissors menacingly at Whitey,
noting with pleasure that all of them shied back from the steel blades,
she found herself thinking that name sounded awfully familiar. Though
she knew she'd never seen that creature before, by virtue of the simple
fact that she was able to sleep nights. Baba Yaga could give that babe
makeover tips!
The brunette picked up the tale. "And yet Oberon forgave her,
and permitted her to join the Gathering. Where she did beseech him
mightily on behalf of her half-mortal son, imprisoned in living wood on
an island. And when Oberon refused to release him, for Caliban's deeds
were not worthy of it, Sycorax again disobeyed our lord and took it
upon herself to free him."
Where _had_ she heard that name before?
And then it whacked her right between the eyes. "Sycorax
Labs! Eugenia Sycorax? My father bought out her company ... hired
Owen ... her son Cal ... oh, my God!"
"For the hatred his mother held for Titania and your father, for
the lust he had for you, Caliban means to seize your son and through
him have revenge!" Blondie hurled the words in Fox's face.
"Nooooo!" Fox shrieked, and emerald energy burst from her
eyes and mouth and outflung hands.
How many times had she counseled David against "killing the
messenger" when one of his employees brought him bad news? Didn't
stop her from letting the Weird Sisters have it with the full force of her
latent power. What the kick hadn't been able to do, the faelight did,
blasting all three of them back into and through the shattered remains of
the mirror.
The door banged open and Fox almost blew it to smithereens
before she saw that the person running into the room was pudgy, sweet
Lydia Stephanopolos.
"Fox, darling, what's the matter?" Lydia sucked in a horrified
breath when she saw the broken mirror. "Did you cut yourself?"

* *

The kid looked scared.
His wrists looked sore, too. Red and chafed from the iron
handcuffs.
T.J. felt like a first-class turd. Jeez, he had nothing against the
kid! Sure, he was a little jealous, who wouldn't be? The photo they'd
shown him had the kid and his folks in front of a twenty-foot Christmas
tree in a house that made the Harley place look like a dump.
Not only that, but his folks were famous! His mom was that
woman, Fox, from the Pack. And his dad was one of those computer
geniuses or something, one of those guys who probably wiped his butt
with hundred-dollar bills.
But, hey, being jealous still didn't make it right to snatch the
kid and zip him away. Hardly having any idea where he was even
going. Like he was ... programmed or something.
Yeah, programmed. Like a robot. How else would he know
how to get to the island? Hell, he'd never been out of the desert in his
life! And here he was, all the way across the country, acting like he
knew what he was doing.
"Please, I want to go home," Alex asked, his eyes wet.
T.J. didn't answer, couldn't answer. He concentrated on
piloting the speedboat instead, and though he'd never been on a boat in
his life, the red arrowhead-shaped craft with the yellow and silver
zigzags down the sides screamed skillfully over the waves.

* *

Oberon watched sourly as Titania, in her dumpy dowager
disguise, fussed over her daughter.
"Huh," Short Hoggers grunted. "Sure an' she should have
revealed herself, I thought."
"How little you know," Winken said smugly. "If she ends the
masquerade, she might save the boy but would earn the lifelong hatred
of both daughter and grandson."
"All this to-do over mostly-mortals. They're hardly worth the
trouble," Phoebe fumed, still glowering.
"Our queen thinks they are," Luna rebuked her sister gently.
"As does our lord."
"I still cannot believe you made us dress like that," Selene
said, shaking her head. "Perchance the humans care nothing for
modesty --"
Short Hoggers leered at her. "No human's got legs like you, my
plump little cherry-pip!"
A brief but eventful moment later, Winken bent way over and
craned his neck to look Short Hoggers in the eye, where the gnome was
upended against the wall with tiny stars whirling around his head. "A
word of advice, cousin? Calling a woman plump might have been
flattering a few hundred years ago, but ..."
"Uhrm," Short Hoggers said, doing his best to nod.
"If you're all _quite_ finished ..." Oberon crossed his arms and
regarded the Sisters, where they stood in a huffy yet vindicated row.

* *

"Petros!"
He turned toward her with a sudden wild hope that made her
heart plummet. "Fox! Did you --"
"He's gone, isn't he?" Fox stopped, having run all the way
down to the docks on frantic feet of fear, only to see it mirrored in her
father-in-law's eyes. "He's gone and I'm too late!"
"Now, Fox, he's probably just wandered off," Petros said,
trying to sound calming and failing utterly. "The park backs onto a
woodlot. He might have just taken it into his head to go exploring --"
"Not my Alex. Not without telling us. Where's David?"
"He's up the park, looking for Alex. I came down to the docks
in case he'd come back here if he got lost, and we've already called the
sheriff to get a search party together."
Fox grabbed his sleeve. "I know where he is! You have to take
me there, now! It's an island, the island where David and I met, you
remember!"
"How would he be on an island?" Petros frowned. "No boats
have left the harbor in the past half-hour."
"Just take me there! We don't have time to argue!"
Petros studied her for what felt like a hundred years while he
made up his mind. "All right, let's go."

* *

From the window at the end of the second-floor hall, Lydia
saw the Thetis moving into the harbor, and the distinctive blaze of Fox's
hair catching the afternoon sun.
"Now then," she said to herself. "Let's get to the bottom of
this!"
She closed her eyes and her body contorted. Glamours, she
reflected, were so much simpler than a complete physical change. But
she knew Puck would have seen right through anything less than the
trick he himself had taught her. For hadn't she gone several years
without realizing the truth about Owen Burnett?
The slightly overweight middle-aged Greek widow melted
away, and Titania descended the stairs in all her inhuman scintillating
beauty.
She approached the gilt-framed mirror that the former Mrs.
Xanatos had hung over the stiff floral couch in the front room. How one
dwelling could at the same time be both drab and tacky was beyond her.
Poor, dear Petros, keeping everything just-so as a memory of his dead
wife. Well, as long as she was going through with all of this, she might
as well do some redecorating.
But first things first.
She stepped onto the couch and rested her hands against the
mirror. Mirrors and water had always been the easiest doorways to
Avalon, paint-peeling gilt frames notwithstanding.
The glass rippled and softened. A swirling portal appeared in
the center, widening into a window that showed Titania the one she
sought.
"Hello, Sycorax," she said in her most dulcet tones, the sweet
voice that meant she was blisteringly enraged.
The sea witch looked around with a hostile sneer. "And what
do you want?"
"You know full well. I want my grandson."
"Yes, all of Avalon knows it, you're the laughingstock of
Fairyland with your pitiful scheming. Whoring yourself to a human all
so you can play granny. You should have whisked him away and left a
changeling, if you felt so strongly about it!"
Titania's eyes narrowed dangerously. "You think to playact
and fool me? I'm to believe you know nothing of it, am I?"
"Nothing of it? I know what it is to care for a child, or have
you forgotten my son? My Caliban, my darling boy! You made a
blameless innocent suffer in your jealousy! When you stole my beauty
to enhance your own, the better to keep Oberon's eye firmly enchanted
on you even while you spurned him for your accursed Renard, you
made my child a monster!"
"I never --" Titania began hotly, then silenced herself. "I'll not
be drawn into this argument again! Now tell me where Caliban has
taken my grandson!"
"What are you blathering about? Caliban rots in his wooden
prison, you know that as well as I!"
"You've not defied Oberon again and freed him?"
"As if I could!" Sycorax spat bitterly. "Pit my powers against
those of Puck? Do you take me for a fool?"
Just as Titania was about to respond, she heard a footfall on
the creaky board in the porch. Then the door flung open wide, and there
stood David Xanatos, and there stood Titania atop the couch with a
window opened to another world, and the look on his face might have
been funny if it hadn't marked the undoing of all her machinations.
"I was looking for Alexander," he said. "I guess I should have
looked closer to home."
"Please, David, let me explain."
"Oh, I think it's all clear enough." Xanatos closed the door
behind him with deceptive gentleness, and his tone was the same as it
had been the day of Alexander's birth, shortly before he pulled a piece
and shot Oberon against the far wall.

* *

"What a creepy place," T.J. said.
Alex didn't respond, but judging by the way he edged closer to
T.J., he felt the same.
It would have been bad enough if it was just the wreckage of
trees and plants, but there were clear signs of one-time habitation.
Collapsed buildings were now overgrown with weeds, a cavernous
concrete shell had staring windows like empty sockets, beams and slabs
were strewn about and half-buried in the earth.
"Wonder what happened here," T.J. mused. "A hurricane,
maybe?"
"A wave," Alex said, trudging dispiritedly along. "A big wave
came down and smashed it all flat. My daddy told me." He thrust out
his little arms and the chain clanked. "Why do I have to wear these?"
"Dunno," T.J. said. "It's not like you're going to run away ..."
"I promise I won't do anything."
T.J. looked him over. Kid didn't even come up to his hip, and
here he was promising he wouldn't do anything. What did he plan to do,
wrestle T.J. down and knock him out? But as he reached for the
manacles, he held back, bothered for no real reason that he understood.
"Maybe later, okay?"
"Did you send my daddy a ransom note?"
"Huh? No."
Aqua eyes turned solemnly up at him. "Are you a mol ... a
mollestry ... a molester?"
"Jeez! No! Look, Alex, I was just supposed to bring you here."
"Says who?"
There was a canniness in the question that set T.J. back a
mental step. He didn't know much about kids, but this was no normal
three-year-old. And it was a damn good question, one that T.J. wouldn't
have minded asking himself. Because he didn't know the answer.
He started to tell Alex that, but the words wouldn't come. It
was like there was a big weird fog in his head, keeping him from
thinking clearly.
"My mommy used to live here," Alex said after a while,
indicating the ruins. "I sure wish she was here now."
"Yeah, I bet."
"Don't you ever want your mommy?"
T.J. stuffed his hands in his pockets, encountering the metal
angles of the keychain. "Sure, I do. But she's dead. Eighteen-wheeler."
"Oh, gosh!" Tears swam in the little boy's eyes.
"After she died, you know what I found out? She wasn't my
real mom anyway. I found the adoption papers and birth certificate and
stuff in a box in her closet. So I asked my old man, and he said they got
me at the orphanage. Made it sound like a goddam garage sale."
He paused, surprised at himself. He'd never told anybody
about it, not even Brett or Cody. "So I tried to think that would make it
hurt less, you know, her dying. But all it meant was that I lost two
moms, one I never even knew about."
A squishy sort of clapping interrupted him. "How piquant!"
T.J. turned around, and saw a creature that the old-timers back
home would have described as "more'n ugly, downright yoooo-gly!" He
reflexively pulled Alex behind him, even while his brain was still trying
to cope with the notion that the Creature from the Black Lagoon had
just leapt onto a rock not ten feet away.
Okay, so it wasn't exactly the one from the movie. For starters,
this was all too clearly no guy in a monster suit. For two, it was
squelchier by far. And for three, it stank to high heaven of fish and
seaweed and general low tide.
Alex whimpered like he'd just seen his personal boogeyman
come to life.
"Don't be in a fright," the thing chortled. "I wouldn't hurt a
hair, not until your delectable mother is here to witness!"
"Who are you?" T.J. demanded with loads more bravado than
he felt. "What do you want?"
"I am Caliban, and I want nothing from you." The fan atop his
head swept up alertly and he peered toward the sea, where they could
all see a boat headed for the island. "But from a certain sweet morsel ...
ah, here she comes now!"

* *

A deep shiver went through Fox as she stepped onto the rocky
point.
The memories of a fifteen-year-old girl overlaid what she saw
now, and in that mental sight the island was scoured to bare stone,
littered with debris, awash with pools. She saw the white and red
helicopter that would lift her father to the hospital where doctors would
confirm that the bullet in his back had left him paralyzed. She even saw
David, only seventeen and already devilishly handsome even
bedraggled from the flood.
She shivered again, and Petros Xanatos looked worriedly at
her.
"I'm all right. Old times, coming back to haunt me." She
zipped her jacket up to the neck and drew her laser pistol. Not that it
would be any good against Cal -- or was it Caliban? She'd need cold
iron for that, and nodded approvingly when Petros came up with a large
wicked-looking gaff that could have been a prop in a play about urban
legends featuring escaped maniacs.
She reached for it, but Petros shook his head. "I'm coming with
you."
"We talked about this on the way out here ..." she began, then
gave up. He was strong and able, even if he was pushing seventy.
"Okay. Come on."
"What is this Caliban creature?" he asked as she started toward
where Renard's hidden complex had been.
"I really don't know. He was human when I knew him.
Hunchbacked, hideous, head like a pumpkin, but human. My father
didn't want me spending too much time around him, and that was about
the only thing I was glad to obey him on. But if he takes after his
mother in his true form, his looks will have really gone downhill."
"That must have been the only tree left standing," Petros said.
He stopped. "Fox, look at this!"
She looked. The trunk, which was squat and bulgy, was split
wide open. The splintery edges of the wood still looked raw, and the
hollow inside was thick with a greyish slime. There were ragged slashes
in the earth, and splayed webfooted tracks leading toward a high
boulder. The boulder itself was streaked with more of the slime, which
had dried to a glaze.
On the other side of the boulder was a low muddy field at the
mouth of an inlet. A boat bobbed there, a blindingly red speedboat with
racing stripes and the word "Eliminator" raked across the back.
"I'd have noticed that leaving the docks," Petros muttered with
a scowl. "Hotrodders!"
"There! What's that?" Fox hurried ahead, and picked
something up. "Oatmeal cookie. It's Alex! Lydia just read him Hansel
and Gretel last night!"
"Good thing we happened along before the birds did," Petros
said.
The trail of cookie crumbs led right toward the gutted concrete
shell that had once housed the complex. Where, Fox knew, far beneath
the earth, the destroyed supercomputer Jetstream would be standing, a
monument to Renard's attempt to control the weather.
"I know where he is. This way!"

* *

T.J. was liking this less and less. But what was he going to do,
tackle a monster? This Caliban dude had claws like a handful of needles
and might be able to spit poison, for all T.J. knew.
Still, he had to do something. He'd gotten poor Alex into this
mess and he didn't even know why. The only clear thing he remembered
since getting into the red car outside the Joshua Flats A&W was being
shown the photograph of the kid's family.
He dimly recalled a harrowing drive through someplace that
looked like New York City, a glimpse of what looked like a castle on
top of a skyscraper. And, man, that _had_ to be a hallucination.
He had a vague memory of a regal man's voice saying, "No,
they're not here. We don't need to bother with the defenses or the Puck
after all." And then nothing but a blur of highway and goddesses in
miniskirts, until he was sitting alone in a park somehow knowing what
he was supposed to do.
Shit, I've been mind-controlled! he thought. Fucking mind-
controlled! T.J. the Puppet Boy!
Alex was holding up well, but starting to lose it. The
appearance of Caliban was bad enough, but then being led down into
this drippy dungeon where the metal staircases leaned every which way,
that was just too much.
They ended up in a great big room, one wall of which was
taken up by a gigantic computer. Rows of lights, spools of magnetic
tape, all of it just blank and dark and dead.
"This was where your grandfather was shot," Caliban said,
running his hand fondly over a puncture wound in the computer that
T.J. now recognized as a bullet hole. "My minions would have killed
him, and then his daughter would have been mine, had Puck not
intervened."
"My mommy's coming to save me!" Alex said bravely.
"Why, of course she is." Caliban laughed. "All she has to do is
pay the price!"
"What price?" Alex demanded.
"Kid, don't ask," T.J. advised. He was sick to his stomach over
the idea, and he didn't even know the woman except from watching that
silly old show a few years back.
"Caliban!" Her voice came through the darkness like a jet of
flame.
They looked up to the doorway at the head of the stairs, and
there she stood, backlit and dramatic. Her eyes flashed -- no joke,
literally flashed with green light -- and she executed a killer acrobatic
somersault, landing on the ground in a combat stance.
"Mommy!" Alex cried joyfully.
"Has it been so long, luscious one?" Caliban let his hand rest
on Alex's head.
"Don't you touch my son!" She threw a quick glance T.J.'s
way, as if trying to figure out who the hell he was and how he fit into
everything.
He tried to look nonthreatening. Now that she was here, and
the confrontation was underway, the driving force that had directed his
every move thus far up and quit on him, leaving him without a clue
what to do next and the very clear feeling that he had been used and
was now being discarded like an empty beer can.
To hell with that!
"Oh, but I wanted you to watch when I did ... this!" Caliban
made to rake his claws across Alex's tender throat.
Even before Fox could react, T.J. reached out with his mind.
He siezed up a four-foot-long metal bar, part of the stairway railing that
had fallen and rusted on the damp floor, and sent it arrowing at Caliban.
Caliban saw it coming and batted it aside, but that gave Fox
time to leap in and scoop her son out of the way. She thrust him at an
older man who was just coming down the stairs, carrying a meathook.
"You dare --?" Caliban whirled toward T.J.
He replied by winging another chunk of metal, this one a
ragged-edged piece of the computer's paneling. It sliced across
Caliban's cheek and left a smoking wound. His power, something he'd
never really thought about before, now geysered out of him. The room
was suddenly full of flying debris, most of it zeroing in on Caliban, but
enough of it gone wild that Fox had to duck for cover.
The attack left T.J. weirdly worn out, and he staggered back to
slump against a big generator. All he could do was watch as Fox went
after Caliban with a series of karate kicks.
The old man, Alex's grandfather, tried to unlock the boy's
manacles, but he'd have a time of that without the key. And there was
no key.
A greenish mist formed around Caliban and flowed to engulf
Fox. It sent her coughing to her knees, woozily fighting for
consciousness. She pistoned a fist at Caliban, and though she wasn't
close enough to hit him, a pulse of energy burst from it. Caliban
skidded on his back-spines and fetched up hard against the computer.
T.J. looked up, at the copper cables extending from the top of
the generator, leading into the guts of the still, silent supercomputer.
Caliban rebounded and leapt at Fox, his claws puncturing her
jacket. She slammed her elbow into his snout, but he didn't let go. They
struggled viciously across the room, exchanging blows. Then a flabby
pouch of skin hanging under Caliban's chin swelled like a bullfrog, and
he opened his mouth and spewed yellowish sticky fluid into Fox's face.
She screamed and reeled back, pawing at her eyes, her legs
buckling. She started to fall and launched one final kick that caught
Caliban where a human's solar plexus would have been. Caliban was
catapulted backward, and banged into the computer again.
"Boy!"
He's talking to me, T.J. thought wearily.
"Now, boy!" Gramps chucked that meathook into the air, and
T.J. knew what to do.
He reached out again with his power, slinging the hook for all
he was worth. It whickered through the air and plunged through
Caliban's fin, piercing it and nailing it.
Then, though he was half-blind from exhaustion, T.J. slammed
both hands against the generator and jump-started it. Sparks sizzled all
around him as the generator whirred to life. The computer's lights
stuttered. Smoke began pouring from its vents.
And Caliban, stuck to it like a bug on a pin, went rigid with
electrocution. His rubbery skin started to bubble. His claws scrabbled
on the floor.
"Overload!" T.J. heard himself yelling as the generator started
to shake. "Gonna blow up!"
"Fox!" Gramps called, halfway up the stairs with Alex in his
arms.
"Can't get up!" Her speech was slurred, and T.J. realized that
the spit-goop was a paralytic venom.
"I've got her!" He could barely get himself across the room,
weak as a baby, but he got her arm over his shoulders and they reeled
up the stairs like a pair of drunken sailors. Just as they reached the top,
the generator blew.
A sparkling globe formed around the four of them, picked
them up like a cushion of air. The force of the explosion only buffeted
them slightly, though the building's floor was cracking and crumbling
away beneath them.
"Alex?" Fox mumbled.
"I didn't, Mommy, I can't with these things on!"
T.J. flicked out one more time, the absolute rock-bottom last
of his strength, and the manacles popped open. But that last bit proved
too much, and he blacked out.

* *

"Now, perhaps, you're prepared to be properly grateful to Lord
Oberon," he declared regally as the sphere descended.
Perhaps not.
The youth was unconscious, the woman was nearly so, the old
man was watchful, and the child's expression was openly hostile.
Oberon couldn't help but smile, for there was Titania's own
stubbornness in the boy's eyes. He evaluated the child, who had grown
since last Oberon had laid eyes upon him. Grown and thrived. His
magic blazed within him like a beacon, undimmed by his human blood.
He laughed aloud. "Oh, scheming Titania! This youngling
shall one day be a force to be reckoned with! Born to Avalon's blood,
trained by none other than the Puck himself, and all of this orchestrated
by my clever queen! Even I, Oberon, unwitting my part did play in
assuring that glorious destiny!"
Alexander -- a fitting name, a conqueror's name -- with great
effort ignored Oberon and stroked his mother's face worriedly. Oberon
felt the flexion of magic around the boy, and at once Fox's condition
improved.
She shook off the effects of Caliban's venom, sat up, saw
Oberon, and gathered her son protectively close. "What do you want
from us?"
"A simple thanks will suffice, and I shall even forgive the
injuries you have done myself and my queen."
"He did send you the warning," the old man said.
Oberon glanced at him with cool indifference, more sure now
that ever that Titania saw nothing in him except a means to be near her
grandson. Why _had_ he been troubled? To think that he had perturbed
himself with petty jealousies over a mortal! And an aged, weathered
mortal at that!
"How do I know he didn't plan all this himself?" Fox asked
suspiciously.
Oberon sighed. Untrusting mortals! And all the more irksome
that she was right, though he would fain admit it!
"Mommy, please, it's what he wants. It's all he wants,"
Alexander said.
She sighed as she got to her feet. "Thank you, Lord Oberon,
for your timely warning." She executed a curtsey -- not even one of his
court could have done a prettier -- and although she was humoring him,
he detected a vein of sincerity that appeased his pride.
"My pleasure, lady," he replied with a grand bow. "And now I
must away."
"Why didn't Titania come?" the elder Xanatos asked.
Oberon arched his brows. "After the reception she received
last time? Alas, my queen found it best to be ... otherwise engaged."

* *

T.J. came out of it and his first thought was: Yes! It was just a
dream!
He was in bed, and the sea breeze was stirring the linen
curtains, and the gulls were crying outside ...
Sea breeze? Gulls? Linen curtains, for that matter? His
window was covered with cardboard held up with duct tape. And his
bed had never been this soft, and sure as heck never had one of those
nubby embroidered spreads that old ladies liked.
He sat up, his body protesting stiffly. Felt like he'd been out
for hours, and he must have been dead to the world because the last
thing he remembered was the explosion, and now here he was in a place
that had 'guest room' written all over it. Pale blue walls, old-timey prints
of fishing boats, an antiquey-looking dresser.
A guest room was about the last thing he would have expected
to see. Left on the island, sure, he had that coming. Jail cell, even more
likely. Hospital room, also a possibility. But not this.
He swung his legs over the side of the bed. He was still
wearing his own clothes, still had his wallet and keys ...
Keys.
Here was his old keyring, with his initials burned into a leather
tab. And here was the other one, a single shiny silver key dangling from
twin lightning bolts.
There was something else in his pocket. A toy car. Bright red
with zigzags, tiny but seeming to hum with promise. Start me up, it
whispered. Start me up, and I'll take you anywhere you want to go.
He stuffed the car and the keys back in his pockets and went to
the door. It opened onto a narrow hall with faded wallpaper. He could
see a staircase, and hear voices coming up from below.
"Uh ... hello?"
"Down here," a woman's voice called. Fox's voice.
"T.J.!" That was Alex, sounding happy and excited.
Okay, this was making no sense. He went downstairs and
found them in the kitchen. Fox, Alex, and Gramps, plus two others. One
was Alex's dad, and the other was probably Alex's grandmother. All of
them sitting around the table, just as homey as you could wish for.
"Hi?" T.J. said uncertainly.
Introductions went around, and then Alex's dad fixed T.J. with
a stern look. "We'd like to hear your explanation."
"Man, so would I!"
"He's not a bad guy, Daddy, he's not! He helped us fight the
monster and everything!"
T.J. did his best to smile at the kid. "Look, Alex, thanks and
everything, but your folks are right. If I hadn't kidnapped you in the first
place, none of this other stuff would have happened."
"Poor boy, sit down," the kindly grandma-type, Lydia, said.
"_You_ didn't do anything wrong. We've been talking about it, and it
sounds like you were under a spell." She exchanged a significant look
with Alex's mom. "Probably the doing of this Sycorax you told me
about."
"'Scuse me, a spell?" T.J. tried to scoff, but his heart just
wasn't in it.
"After everything else that's happened," Fox said, "is that so
hard to believe?"
He thought about it. Magic cars that turned into anything he
wanted, monsters on islands, the weird light that had come out of her
eyes ... even the things he'd done, things he now realized he'd been
doing all his life. Couldn't exactly be considered normal, could it?
"Well, yeah, okay, I see your point," he admitted.
"And if you were under a spell, we can't really blame you for
what happened," Fox concluded. "And Alex is right, you did help us
against Caliban."
"I understand you're telekinetic," David Xanatos said.
"Is that what you call it?" T.J. felt himself get a little red.
This was all too nuts! Like he'd ever admitted to anyone, even
his closest buddies or even his mom, that he could move things without
touching them! He hadn't even really admitted it to himself until now.
And talking about it with nearly total strangers ... he shifted
uncomfortably in his chair.
"You overdid it, exhausted yourself," Fox told him. "You've
been out for over eighteen hours."
"No shit?" He blushed darker. "Um, I mean ..."
"No shit," David agreed gravely. "I'm sure you can understand,
T.J. that none of us are very eager to bring the police into this. There
would be too much to explain. So we'd like to take care of it ourselves."
T.J. stared at him, wondering if that meant they were going to
personally beat the crap out of him.
"We're not going to hurt you," Fox assured him, smiling. "You
weren't responsible for your actions. We just want to help you get
home, get on with your life before whoever did this to you so rudely
interrupted it."
"Yeah, well, maybe you might as well call the cops, then," T.J.
said glumly. "It's not like I have anyplace else to go. There's nothing for
me in Joshua Flats. Whoever did this at least got me the hell out of
there."
"What about your parents?" Lydia asked.
"Last thing I want is to see the old man! He'd put me in fu --
uh, in traction."
"Fathers and sons sometimes have their differences," Petros,
Alex's grandpa, said with a glance at his son. "It's a shame to let it ruin
your lives."
"He's not my real father. Never wanted a kid. He only agreed
to the adoption to make my mom happy. Or to shut her up, depending
on how drunk he is when he's telling it." T.J. made himself shut up,
unable to believe he was unloading all his gripes on these people.
"Your birth parents, then?" Lydia persisted.
"Never knew 'em."
"My company has a lot of resources," David said. "I'd be glad
to have some people look into it for you, help you track them down."
T.J. shook his head. "Like I'm going to knock on my real
mom's door and say, 'Hi, Ma, remember me? The kid you threw away?'
No thanks."
"You don't know it was like that," Fox said. "Sometimes
people have to make what they think is the best decision at the time."
A short, bitter laugh burst from his lips. "Yeah, I guess
anybody who slept around so much they had to put 'Unknown' for the
father's name didn't need a kid cramping her style."
"You should know who you are, where you come from," Lydia
said. "For one thing, it might help explain these talents of yours."
"Listen, thanks for what you're trying to do and everything, but
really, you don't have to. I took your kid, I'm sorry, let's just leave it at
that. You've got a pretty great family here, and you don't need to get
involved in my problems."
"But we want to help," Alex piped up. "You saved us from the
monster."
T.J. rolled his eyes. "I took you out there in the first place!"
"Alex is right, though," David said. "Once you were thinking
on your own again, you did fight on our side. And I try to reward my
allies, even if they don't always initially appreciate it."
"Let us find your mommy for you," Alex pleaded.
"Fine!" T.J. gave in, and fished through his wallet. "If it'll get
you off my case ..." He pulled out a yellowed, much-folded wad of
paper. "But anybody who laughs at my middle name is going to get a
fist in the mouth."
David unfolded the paper, which was a copy of the birth
certificate T.J. had found in his mom's closet along with his vaccination
records and other stuff. His eyes skimmed over it, narrowed, then his
eyebrow went up.
"_This_ never turned up on the background check," he said,
and passed the paper to his wife.
"Todd ... Janine," she breathed. It fell from her nerveless
fingers and Lydia picked it up.
"Mother's name: Jane Fox," she read. "Father's name:
Unknown."
"See, what'd I tell you?" T.J. paused. None of them had even
cracked a grin at his middle name, which had been a source of torment
all through elementary school and forced him to just go by his initials
and pound the snot out of anyone who cracked wise. No, they didn't
laugh. Instead, they looked slapped, stunned.
"Janine is my real name," Fox said. "And I'm your real
mother."
T.J. shot to his feet. "What the hell?! Is this some kind of a
joke?"
"He's my _brother_?" Alex squealed.
Then everyone was talking at once, except the person T.J.
wanted to hear from the most. That person sat numbly, staring at him.
When David motioned for and got silence, T.J. just asked,
"Why?"
"Like I said, it seemed like the best decision at the time. I
knew I couldn't take care of a baby. I was still a kid myself, not even
eighteen. I wanted you to have a good home, a real family. And ..." her
voice broke, and tears came to her eyes. "They wouldn't let me keep
you anyway."
"They who?" David asked.
"The social workers. I was in a juvenile detention center."
Lydia gasped. "What for?"
Fox shrugged miserably. "I'd run away from home, gone to
California, determined to make it in show business. I didn't wind up a
hooker like so many other girls I knew, but there were parties, drugs,
shoplifting, bad choices. Practically anything I could do to rebel against
my parents, I did." She hung her head. "Then I found out I was
pregnant."
"Fox, you should have contacted your parents!" Lydia was
wringing her hands. "No matter how you felt about them, they still
loved you and would have done anything they could to help!"
Fox shivered. "Oh, sure I can just see how that would have
gone! Lydia, you don't know my mother! She would have taken T.J.
away from me just like she tried to take Alex! And there wouldn't have
been anybody to stop her!"
"I think she would have done what she felt was best, for the
baby and for you!" Lydia argued.
"Or my father would have jumped on it as an excuse to get me
back under his thumb, telling me what to do with my life. I couldn't go
to them for help, I just couldn't!"
"So you let them take me away and put me in an orphanage
instead?" T.J. asked.
"They told me they'd arranged a private adoption," Fox told
him. "The man was a banker, and his wife was a music teacher."
He barked a short laugh. "A banker? Shit! Not my old man!"
He paced in front of the fridge, not sure whether to be mad or sad or
bitter or any combination of the three. "So, okay, look, there's one thing
I gotta know before I get out of here. Who's my father, or do you even
know?"
"No, I don't," she admitted softly. "There were a lot of parties
... a lot of guys."
"Great." He spied his scuffed denim jacket hanging on a peg in
the hall, and headed for it.
"T.J., wait!" Fox cried, coming after him.
"What for? You all said you'd help me find my mother. That's
done." He shrugged into the jacket. "What, did you expect me to hang
around? If you wanted me back, it's not like you lacked the cash to find
me even if the social workers lied to you. You've got it all perfect now.
Rich, famous, a husband, a kid. Don't go thinking you owe me
anything."
"But I do!" She put her hand on his arm as he reached for the
doorknob. "I wanted to find you, but I thought you'd be happier and
better off. What could I have given you? I was always running around
to one audition after another, working crazy hours, living in shabby
apartments. By the time I had a decent job, I didn't think it would be
fair to you to show up and upset your whole life."
"Oh, right, so what are you gonna do now? Make like nothing
ever happened? You don't even know me."
"You're right, but I'd like to at least have the chance. You said
you didn't have anywhere else to go. Stay with us for a while, until you
decide what you want to do with your life. I can't change the past, but I
can help you with your future." She let her hand slip away, and just
looked at him. "Please, T.J."
He glanced past her at the others gathered in the doorway.
"What's your husband got to say about all this?"
"David?" she inquired, then a sudden dark look flitted across
her face. "What did you mean about a background check?"
He grinned easily. "Now, Fox ..."
"I can understand how you would do one, since you don't trust
anyone, but I can't believe you never told me!"
"I could say the same, since we're talking about trust. You
never told me you had another child. You never even told your doctor."
"Because I felt so guilty!" she burst out. "For getting pregnant
in the first place, for not fighting to keep my baby, for never trying to
find him! I couldn't face it anymore, so I did my best to bury it, forget it
ever happened. I'm not proud of that, but it was the only way I could
keep from going insane!" She struggled on the verge of tears, then got
control of herself and looked at T.J. "There's no way I can make up for
what I did, but I can't just let you walk out of here hating me."
"I don't hate you," he muttered, staring at his feet. "I wish
things'd been different, that's all."
"Come and stay with us," David offered. "We've got plenty of
room, though you might have to get used to some ... unusual
housemates. College, if you want it --" at T.J.'s disdainful snort, he went
on, "-- or there's always a place in Xanatos Enterprises for ... _talented_
people. I understand you're good with machines, vehicles. I bet I could
make you a pretty tempting job offer."
"He can magic iron," Alex said helpfully. "I can't even do
that!"
"At least think it over for a few days," David said.
"If you don't mind me saying," Lydia cut in, "you'd be a fool
not to accept right now. If I didn't think joining this family wasn't a
good idea, I wouldn't be marrying Petros! And I imagine Alex would
enjoy having a big brother around."
"Yeah!" Alex jumped up and down.
"Well, T.J.?" Fox asked, her eyes fixed hopefully on him. "Do
I get a second chance?"
"Lemme think about it a little," he said. "Can I go for a walk?"
"Sure. We'll be here." She stepped back from him.
He nodded, and went outside. As the door closed behind him,
he heard them talking to each other. Talking about him. But in a
worried way, afraid he might not come back. Nobody'd been worried
about him since Loralie Lawton died.
The sky was troubled and grey, just like his mood. He walked
down to the harbor, then turned north until he came to the beach. He sat
on a piece of driftwood, watching the waves roll in.
Lydia was right. He'd be a fool not to accept. They were
offering him everything he'd ever wanted. Money, a fancy place to live,
a job like he'd never be able to get even in Vegas.
But they were trying to buy him off! Buy off his whole life of
being abandoned and unwanted!
"Shit," he said, and kicked a sea-smoothed pebble into the low
surf.
Suppose he turned them down? That would be stupid. Like he
lived by his principles or something! As if! He could probably get a
million bucks out of them, playing on his mother's guilt ...
And earn himself a pile of guilt into the bargain. That was no
good.
He pulled the lightning bolt keychain from his pocket and
turned it over and over meditatively. It winked with promise, telling
him he could hit the road, go wherever he felt like going, live free for a
while.
Free, and alone, just as abandoned and unwanted as he'd ever
been. And a freak, too. Now that he knew about his power, now that it
had gotten so strong and ... guess _conscious_ was the best word, he
couldn't live among regular people. Sooner or later, he'd slip and use it,
and either people would hate him for it or he'd wind up studied in some
government lab.
"What the hell."
He stood, and flung the keychain as hard and as far as he
could, and sent the toy red car spinning after it.

* *

"Come on, Alex, let's see what we can find in the pantry for
supper," Lydia said, scooping him up. Petros, taking the hint, followed
after.
Alone with her husband, Fox looked up at him. "Oh, David.
God, I'm so sorry about all of this!"
He pulled her into his arms. "What's done is done. Look at it
this way -- I'm not losing a father, I'm gaining a stepmother and a
stepson."
"If he comes back," she said morosely.
"He'll come back." Only David could sound that confident,
whether he was bluffing or not.
"Are you ... are _we_ going to be okay over this?"
He chuckled. "So you've got a checkered past. It's not all that
surprising."
"Why, thank you, darling. I know I can always turn to you
when I need to feel better about myself."
He hugged her more tightly. "Would you be surprised if
someone turned up claiming to be my illegitimate kid?"
"Well, no, but it's not the same. I knew about him, and I lived
in denial for twenty years. Then you go and be the most wonderful man
in the world, and accept him and do the right thing."
"Isn't that why you married me? Because I'm the most
wonderful man in the world?"
"I thought it was because we were genetically compatible, had
the same goals, and shared what passed for the closest people like us
could come to love," she teased gently, letting herself relax into his
embrace.
"That, too."

* *

Lydia awoke, the call ringing in her blood.
Rising from the warmth of her bed, she donned a cushy velour
robe and slippers, and went downstairs.
Just a few more days, she thought. A few more days of
sleeping in this house.
She supposed she could have stayed over at Petros', but he was
oddly prudish when it came to letting his son know that his fiancee
spent the night.
The call came again, and this time she pinpointed the source.
She opened the back door and stepped out into the small tree-lined
garden. A fine and private place, indeed.
A man was standing there, beside the stone birdbath.
Cashmere topcoat, hawkline profile, white hair swept back from his
brow.
"Good evening, my lord," she said.
"Fair Titania," he replied mockingly. "Is this how you greet
your husband?"
"As I recall, you once had a fondness for wide-hipped
women," she retorted, smoothing her robe. "Why come you here, on
nearly the eve of my wedding?"
"Are you to be divorced of me again? And so soon after our
reconciliation, too. Tsk, tsk."
"You yourself decreed, following one of your many
assignations, that what takes place in the mortal world has no bearing
on bonds forged on Avalon. And you know full well my purpose here."
"Yes. Gathering, even now. Don't you fear they might find you
out?"
"Do you mean to make my secret known?" She lowered her
voice. "I would not advise it, my lord. This means much to me, and I'll
not have it undone."
"A threat, Titania?" he laughed. "Far from it! I come only out
of curiosity, to see what captivates you so. And to give you a gift, a
small token of admiration."
"What gift?"
"You've already received it. You've gone to all this trouble for
the sake of one grandson, proving to me how important you find it. And
so I give you another!"
"T.J.! You're the one who's done this? You enspelled him, and
freed Caliban? Oberon, why?"
"For you, my queen. To bring your elder grandchild into the
fold. I could have taken him to Avalon, and presented him to you there,
but I thought, as you were going to _so_ much effort ..." he made a
dismissing, magnanimous gesture.
"For that, my lord, my thanks. Though you'd best hope they
never find _you_ out." She smiled at him. "Oh, and should it please you
to hear, my daughter's husband does know my secret. He caught me
with my guise down, as I spoke to Sycorax."
"He knows? Yet he says nothing?"
"He says nothing," she said smugly. "His father is happier now
than ever before, and David would not be the one to take that away
from him, not now that they have finally learned to be friends. Nor
would he tell Fox, for he sees how much she needs and loves the
mother-figure she finds in Lydia. He knows that if he tells her, she will
never trust again."
"But should she learn of it, and then learn that he knew all
along and kept it from her ..."
"Which is why she shall _not_ learn of it, my lord, if I must
move the heavens and the earth to make it so."
"As you will, Titania. I have what I wanted -- gratitude from
your hellion daughter, and assurance of your own intent." A smirk
twisted his lips. "And you'd not in a thousand years believe how I had
Hecate's three dress!"

* *

EPILOGUE -- MANHATTAN:

"Owen! Owen!" Alex wove through the crowd at the train
station like a miniature linebacker, and tried to shinny up Owen's leg.
He lifted the boy, enduring the affectionate (and sticky, who
gave him a lollipop at this time of day?) kiss Alex bestowed upon him.
"Did you have a nice visit, sir, ma'am?" Owen asked as Mr.
and Mrs Xanatos appeared.
"Don't call me ma'am," Fox chided, swapping Owen her son
for a heavy garment bag. "It makes me feel old, and I'm feeling old
enough already."
A young man came up to them. He had long unkempt sandy-
blonde hair, dark eyes, and Owen made ready to run him off before he
grabbed Fox's purse or started asking for money.
Before he could, Xanatos drew the young man into their
group. "Owen, this is T.J., my stepson. T.J., meet Owen Burnett, my
right hand man."
"Meetcha," he said with a nod.
"Oh, and Owen?" Xanatos said over his shoulder as they
headed for the waiting limo, "Next time I ask you to do a background
check, would you please be _thorough_?"

* *

The End.