All the characters appearing in Gargoyles and Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles are copyright Buena Vista Television/The Walt Disney Company. No infringement of these copyrights is intended, and is not authorized by the copyright holder. All original characters are the property of Christine Morgan, not Kimberly T.
SAMSON AND DELILAH: PAIN, JOY AND PEANUT BUTTER
By Kimberly T. (e-mail: kimbertow at yahoo dot com)
Author's note: This is a companion piece to Christine Morgan's story "Breeding Season".
There are some things even love can't conquer.
That thought slipped through Samson's mind as he sat on the edge of his giant bed and held his mate Delilah in his lap, hugging her and soothingly stroking her wings. Her head and wings drooped as she leaned against his chest, with traces of tears still on her cheeks. She might have made it all the way back from the castle to the Labyrinth without her true feelings showing, but once she'd seen her mate's face she'd broken down in gut-wrenching sobs, burying her face in his pelt and dampening it with her tears. Samson's own eyes were dry, but not from lack of grief and pain; the mutation forced on him by his biological father, Anton Sevarius, had closed up his tear ducts forever. But his body had still shaken with dry sobs as he'd held her close, and grieved with her for what they could never have: children of their own. They were biologically incompatible; Dr. Masters had confirmed it less than two hours ago.
Some part of him that was trying to be analytical supposed it really shouldn't be hurting so much; they'd really had no right to expect children in the first place. He was a mutate, a once-human, and Delilah was a gargoyle, and they had already known that another human-gargoyle pair, Goliath and Elisa, were by nature biologically incompatible. But they had believed that they had an edge over that pair, by way of Delilah's unique genetic structure; she was actually a hybrid, a clone formed from the genetic material of both Demona and Elisa. They'd hoped—they'd had such hopes!—that her human DNA would be able to combine with what was left of Samson's human DNA. And for the rest, well, they'd already seen and heard and witnessed miracles wrought by love for other people; Labyrinth residents who had turned their lives around after most of society had given up on them, people who had survived last year's devastation by the most incredible means, Maggie's twin children… Even Elisa's continued existence, when she should have died by violence the night the twins were born, but had been saved by Goliath when he took her with him into the healing sleep of stone. Since Samson and Delilah's love was powerful enough to cross species boundaries, surely their love and their human DNA together would be enough to produce the children they both wanted so much.
Six weeks ago, when Samson had stood there in the rookery and participated with the others in the breeding season ceremony, his heart had been beating so wildly with hope and joy he almost felt as if he could fly, even without wings. And the radiance on Delilah's face when she'd turned to him after the ceremony was over, with her scent changed to a heady musk to signify her fertility, had inspired them to temporarily take over an empty room in the castle, not even waiting to get back to their home in the Labyrinth to 'start the season off with a bang,' as Derrek had crudely joked later. And in the last six weeks they'd made love so often, with wild and joyful abandon, Samson had been running the ragged edge of exhaustion before they agreed to cut back to only two or three times a night. Then two nights ago she'd gone up to the castle for an appointment with Dr. Masters, to see if she was pregnant yet. But the test came back negative, and after Dr. Masters had conducted compatibility testing, tonight they'd learned the bitter truth. Delilah's genetic makeup was mostly gargoyle; the few human genes she had merely shaped her facial features to resemble Elisa's. Her genes were close enough to the gargoyle norm that she could breed with another gargoyle… but not with her mate, not with Samson.
Part of Samson wanted to punch his massive furry fists through the nearest wall. It just wasn't fair! He'd come to accept the fact that he was stuck in this inhuman body for the rest of his life; he'd come to accept the fact that he was going to spend the rest of his life as an outcast from humanity, accepted down in the Labyrinth but stared at (or shot at) everywhere else. With Delilah's love and acceptance, he'd grown to love this new life, limited though it was; they both felt that a child of their own was all that was lacking to make it complete. They had joked together, while lying on the sheets of his massive homemade bed in between lovemaking sessions, about what their child would look like once it hatched; if he/she got both his fur and her wings, the child would fit right in with Dee and Tom, the mutate twins they so often babysat. Delilah wanted the baby to have her tail as well, but his ability to stay awake during the day, so he or she could see the sunsets Samson so often described for her. Samson had even secretly dreamed about Delilah giving live birth instead of laying an egg, so they could have their baby right away instead of waiting a decade for the hatching.
And now… all those dreams were shattered. He wanted to howl at the ceiling, Why me, God? Haven't you piled enough shit on my life already? First the disease that was slowly killing me and utterly ruined my childhood, then that bastard you made my biological father mutating me into this freakish form and killing my mother right in front of my eyes, and now that I'd gotten used to looking like Chewbacca's ugly cousin, even found real love… Now you deny us children! Not just me, you deny Delilah children, for having the bad luck to fall in love with me! Do you get your kicks from seeing us suffer, or what?!
But raging at God never helped. He'd learned that when he was barely seven years old, after he'd first been diagnosed with Morgan's Syndrome. There was no point in wasting time and energy blaming or hating anybody, even God, when bad things happened; what was more important was finding ways to deal with it. He closed his eyes, and tried hard to think about what his stepfather would say or do now.
Dr. Anton Sevarius may have been his biological father, but he was not, never had been and never would be the one Samson called "Dad." Harold Blake, the man who had married his mother, adopted little Samuel Sevarius and renamed him Samuel Blake, had taken that role most willingly, and with all his heart. After Samson's mutation, once he had escaped from Sevarius and come with Talon and Delilah to the Labyrinth, he had painfully decided against contacting his stepfather, to let him know his adoptive son was still alive if in a bizarre new body. He'd decided it was better instead to let him think he had been killed in the massacre at Sevarius' lab, along with Samson's mother; better to think he was dead than to know he was now a huge shaggy freak more than capable, while trying to escape with his mother and then seeing her shot right in front of him, of killing over a dozen guards with his bare hands. And later, after coming to accept his new life and coming to terms with what he'd done, when he'd tried to contact him after all… It had been too late. Harold Blake had died in a car crash, never knowing Sam's fate. But Samson took some comfort from knowing that now he and his mother were in heaven together, never to be separated by Sevarius again. And sometimes, when he just didn't know what to do next, he conjured up his stepfather's image in his head, and asked him for advice. What would you do right now, Dad?
And the answer came through, loud and clear, almost as if he was really there: Just what I did.
I never had a child of my own blood either, but I didn't need one, because I had you, son. Ivana wanted to share her life and yours with me, and that was good enough for me. Sam, you were as much my son as if you were my flesh and blood. Remember what I said to you after we left the courthouse, once the adoption papers were signed? "Now we've got on paper, what's already written on our hearts." It doesn't take a blood tie to make a family.
"It doesn't take a blood tie to make a family," he whispered aloud. But was adoption really an option for them? Delilah wasn't exactly a standard U.S. citizen, and Samuel Blake was officially still listed as "missing, presumed deceased." …Heck, they weren't even legally married! No, legal adoption wasn't going to be available to them any time soon. And even though the Labyrinth was now an officially recognized shelter for the homeless, they had yet to receive any babies in baskets on their doorstep, that they could secretly take in and adopt without saying a word to city officials.
He could swear he heard his Dad's voice again, the same gently chiding tone he'd used when little Sammy had balked at solving a tough math problem. There's another option, Son. Think hard. You can do this…
But if not adoption, then…
But it would work.
Delilah would have an egg.
But it would be Delilah's.
But… but not his! He'd be stuck with another male's child!
Which is exactly what Harold Blake had been stuck with, and he hadn't objected, had he?
Samson drew a deep, shuddering breath… and let go. He had a lot to let go of. First, he let go of his dream of seeing a furry little mutate-gargoyle bouncing on his knee. Then, he let go of his stupidly jealous objections to the only option they had left. And finally, he let go of Delilah, stopped hugging her so tightly, so he could lean her back a little and look into her face. "Delilah… Sweetheart, there's still a way. A way for you to have an egg." Another deep breath, then, as he looked into her tearstained, puzzled, not-quite-daring-to-hope expression. "It's called… artificial insemination."
"Artificial… isseman…" Delilah tried to wrap her tongue around the foreign word, then gave up and shrugged. "What is it?"
Another deep shuddering breath. Oh God, this hurt! But he had to say it… "It's where… another male donates the, uh, the seed necessary to start an egg. Another male gargoyle."
"I know. But, well, my Dad wasn't really my biological father, but I still called him my Dad; he was as much of a father to me as if I'd been born Samuel Blake instead of Samuel Sevarius. I promise, sweetheart," as he rubbed her brow ridges, "That any hatchling you have, I'll love and be a father to, because it's yours. That's what's important."
She burst into tears again, and hugged him fiercely, wrapping arms and wings around him and burying her face in his pelt. He hugged her back, already feeling a little of the pain lessen with the knowledge that she knew what he was giving up.
Once her tears were under control again, she pulled her face out of his pelt so she could ask him about the 'donating'; she'd already conjured and then dismissed from her mind the image of a strange male gargoyle handing over a plastic baggie of male seed along with a box of old clothes. "How is it 'artificial'?" She knew what that word meant, at least; she was artificial in a way, having been made in a cloning chamber instead of hatched from an egg like a real gargoyle.
"Uh… There's doctors and needles and stuff involved, I think. I've heard about it, but I've never exactly seen it done," he shrugged. "But the doctors up at the castle might be able to do it for us…"
In the castle's medical suites, Dr. Johnson was sitting at her terminal catching up on her reading of old medical files. Dr. Masters had already left, for a prearranged visit to his sister and her family out on Long Island. As he'd left, he'd expressed once more his regret that he couldn't be of more help to Delilah.
"Poor kid," he'd said, shaking his head. "She really tried to hide it, but I could tell how much it hurt her. And from what little I know of her mate, he's going to be hurting too." Dr. Johnson had said nothing. Then he'd sighed, and continued, "They really shouldn't have gotten their hopes up in the first place, I know, but when you're young you tend to think that love conquers all." She still said nothing. "Well, between you and me, I don't think we'll have to worry about similar heartbreak from Elisa and Goliath. She still hasn't come to me for the official testing yet, but I've seen enough pregnant ladies to know that glow of 'just found out' when I see it, even if she is trying to hide it for some reason." Dr. Johnson still said nothing. "Too bad we can't find a way to duplicate whatever that little amber pendant's doing for Elisa. The problem with magic is that it seems, from what little I've observed while working with these people, to utterly defy empirical testing and data collection. No way to prove a theory and extrapolate working rules on it, when an elf and a three-year-old boy just wave their hands and chant a few words, and bizarre things start happening." Dr. Johnson still said nothing, and eventually Dr. Masters talked himself out the door.
Dr. Johnson had noticed long ago that, while she chose to say nothing until she was certain of her words and felt ready to say them, some people like Dr. Masters were uncomfortable with silence so long as other people were present. She found such foibles irritating, but admitted to herself that his fondness for talking made him an excellent partner for her; he had long since nominated himself as the one to waste time in frivolous talk with their sponsors and patients, reassuring sponsors of the necessity for their research and occasionally practicing "bedside manners" when their patients/research subjects complained, which left her free to continue her research.
Xanatos had given them full access to all the medical and science research files created by Dr. Anton Sevarius, which had been archived when he and Xanatos had rather abruptly parted ways. Tonight, now that she had relatively few distractions, she was reading through Sevarius' notes on the cloning of Thailog. The man had been overwhelmingly arrogant, nearly every other sentence proclaiming his advanced scientific mind, but he did manage to include the important data amidst the excess verbiage. He had also included extensive notes on the maturation chamber he'd used to grow Thailog from fetus to adult in less than a year; extensive enough that it should be possible to recreate the chamber, and begin cloning gargoyles again.
The two largest problems with studying gargoyles were that 1) there were so very few of them available to study and 2) they had this extremely annoying habit of crumbling into gravel upon death. This left no suitable subjects for autopsies and organ studies, and greatly hampered their research into precisely how they were able to change from flesh to stone, what role sunlight played in their physiology, and other questions they had. The only real option for conducting further research was vivisection on a heavily sedated subject, and the gargoyles at the castle would object most vigorously to one of their own being used for such research. Not that their objections would bother her overmuch, but Mr. Xanatos was inordinately fond of the creatures and would likely object as well, and since he was the one signing their paychecks, she had so far refrained from suggesting the option. Cloning, however… now that presented possibilities.
Reading over Sevarius' notes on the process of cloning Thailog, she believed she could duplicate the process, with access to the right equipment. Obtaining cell samples from all the gargoyles present would not be a problem, and with enough maturation chambers, she could eventually produce a testable quantity of gargoyles at nearly every stage of development, from embryo to geriatric. Extensive study on subjects at each stage of development would advance their knowledge a thousandfold…
Her thoughts and her reading were interrupted by footsteps, the clicking of gargoyle toe-talons against the tiling, and she looked over her shoulder to see the cloned hybrid approaching again.
Delilah had walked into the infirmary hoping to find Dr. Masters there still, but saw the other doctor instead, sitting at a computer. She shuffled her toe-talons a bit, suddenly unsure of herself; she would rather talk to the male doctor because he'd seemed like he'd felt sorry for her, and might be more willing to do the artificial insemmy-thing to her so she'd have an egg and a hatchling to cuddle and love. She didn't know much about this doctor, mostly because she never said a word to her… But she was a doctor, and all doctors were supposed to help people. Delilah cleared her throat and said, "Samson says we should try… artificial in-sem-in-nay-shun." There, she was sure she'd said it the way Samson had said it. Now she waited to see what the doctor would say in return.
There was another possibility, and one Dr. Johnson had not considered yet. Artificial insemination; yes, that could provide plenty of test subjects for study, if it could be done in vitro instead of in utero. Egg cells harvested from a female combined with sperm from the males could result in as many embryos as donor egg cells, if she was careful enough; that would provide a wider range of test subject than straightforward cloning would. The maturation chambers were still a necessity, but the other equipment Sevarius had needed to create viable embryos from mere tissue samples would not be needed. For the first time in a rather long time, Dr. Johnson found herself becoming excited. To have such an opportunity almost dropped into her lap, suggested by one of the subjects no less… It was almost enough to make her believe in luck, or in God.
She looked at her computer screen again, to reread Sevarius' notes on the maturation chamber; then she stepped away from the terminal and picked up a clipboard, so she could begin noting what equipment would need to be ordered for creating the maturation chambers. Then she realized that the female gargoyle was still waiting for her to reply. She was almost irritated by the necessity of talking to one of the creatures, as well as the realization that she would have to sacrifice at least one embryo for implanting back into the female, to make a standard egg for her to lay and make a motherly fuss over. But she nonetheless said, "It should indeed be possible, with seed from a donor male and additional laboratory equipment. I am writing down a list of the equipment that Xanatos will have to requisition for us, in order to do this properly," she said as she began writing on the clipboard. "Once it is obtained, we can--" Her words were interrupted by a harsh gasp, and a sudden rapid clicking of toe-talons; she looked up to see only the female's rapidly retreating tail, as she ran out of the room and turned the corner.
Delilah didn't really even remember running out of the room; she only came out of her blind panic when she felt the impact of air against her outspread wing membranes, and looked down to realize that she'd just jumped off the castle battlements. She shuddered in memory of what had made her panic in the first place, as she steered a course for the nearest Labyrinth entrance. That computer screen the doctor had been looking at had told her all about what 'artificial insemination' was; it had shown not just a bunch of hard-to-read words, but a picture of her dreaded former master, Thailog, in one of the growing tubes! 'Artificial insemination' must be the big words for how they had created Thailog, herself and her brothers! No, no, never ever ever would she have a clone-hatchling instead of a proper egg; not when she remembered all too well how everybody but Talon had hated her and her brothers when they had first come out of the tubes! It had been bad enough being an abomination herself, when everyone knew she'd had no say in how she'd come to exist; she shuddered to think of how the other gargoyles would look at her if they found out she was wanting to deliberately make another abomination, just so she and Samson could have a hatchling. Even Talon might hate her then, kill her like he'd killed Sevarius, and might even kill Samson for suggesting it! No, no, never!
Samson scratched his head in thought, after he'd finished calming Delilah down again. She'd been so agitated when she'd come back into their bedroom that for once even he had trouble understanding her, but he got the gist of it: artificial insemination was not an option, either. Somebody or something at the castle had made it sound like an extremely bad thing, worse than even cloning had been, though for the life of him he couldn't understand why. Maybe it was for religious reasons, though it was the first time he'd heard that gargoyles even had a religion. Well, again the 'why' didn't matter, just dealing with the result, with what was left to them. But… what options did they have left? If not adoption, and not artificial insemination, then what?
His frustrated musings were interrupted by a frantic knocking on their door, and a panicked, "Please, please let us in! Hurry!" Delilah jumped to her feet and ran to the door, and opened it to find Emma, one of their newer residents, and her two-year-old daughter Juliet outside. Samson remembered fleetingly that Emma had been terrified of him when she'd first come down here, until she'd seen him down in the rumpus room with a bunch of the Labyrinth children, letting them climb all over him as they played "king of the mountain" with him. After that, she'd smilingly referred to him as the resident "gentle giant," like so many of the people down here did.
Tonight Emma's normally perfectly coifed hair was in disarray and she had a huge red mark like the beginning of a massive bruise on her cheek, and she nearly bowled Delilah over to get in, rushing to Samson with Juliet clutched tightly in her arms. "Please, you have to protect her!" Emma pleaded as she thrust the crying Juliet into the startled Samson's arms. "Paul's drunk again, and now he's threatening to kill her!"
When Emma's husband Paul came down the corridor less than a minute later, shouting that running to the freaks wouldn't protect either her or that bastard brat from his righteous wrath, he soon found out very differently. After Delilah had knocked him unconscious and Samson had tied him up with his own belt, they asked just why Paul had wanted to hurt her and his own daughter in the first place. "It's just when he's drunk," Emma sniffed, as she sat on their bed and clutched Juliet to her again, having quieted her daughter's tears. "See, about four years ago Paul had a vasectomy, right after we had our boy Paul Junior. But not three months later I wound up pregnant again! The doctor said that sometimes the vasectomy doctors don't snip enough of the tubes away and some sperm can get out after all. And Juliet has got Paul's eyes, and even his nose! But when he's drunk, Paul says that Juliet's not his kid at all, that I went out and slept with another man just because I wanted a daughter." She laughed bitterly before continuing, "As if I could specifically request a daughter, and after having Paul Junior damn near killed me! I've told him a thousand times that I'd never, ever cheat on him, and when he's sober, he says he believes me. But when he's drunk…" She saw the increased hostility Samson and Delilah were eyeing Paul with, and hastened to add, "He's not all that bad, really; it's just when he's drunk…"
When Talon was summoned, he agreed with Samson and Delilah, that Paul's drunkenness was no excuse for domestic violence. Over Emma's protests, Paul was taken down to one of their unofficial holding cells deep in the Labyrinth. He'd stay locked up until at least morning, when they would call in a counselor from Social Services to talk to him; now that the Labyrinth was an officially recognized shelter, they had options for situations like this that they'd never had before. Talon sighed as he and Samson walked away from the cell they had just left Paul in, "With any luck, a counselor can do something about both his insecurities and his violent tendencies; I'd bet my paycheck, if I ever collected one, that he gets drunk mostly as an excuse to beat on her. Otherwise, we'll have to separate them, send him to another shelter and maybe help her get a restraining order… Assuming she has the smarts to ask for one." He chuckled a little bitterly. "It's purely amazing sometimes, how a woman can blind herself to a man's violent behavior, even tell herself it's all her fault instead of his that he's beating her up. Back when I was on the force, before I qualified as a helicopter pilot I did a street beat. And I can't tell you how many times I or one of my buddies responded to a 'domestic', hauled the husband or boyfriend off after he'd beat the snot out of his lady, and not two hours later the woman was down at the station pleading for his release! Christ, once the wife even attacked me, while my partner and I were taking him away! And this was after he'd broken her nose!" He shook his head again in remembered disbelief. "It's amazing how some women can blind themselves to what's going on, to how the man is abusing them just because he can… sometimes until we're called in for the last time, to haul them out in body bags. But if we're lucky, this time it won't go that far…"
Ordinarily, Samson was a good sounding board for Talon, listening to what he had to say, sympathizing with him and occasionally offering suggestions when asked. But tonight, he wasn't really listening to what Talon had to say; instead, he was mulling over what Emma had said, the situation that Paul claimed had happened, and the solution to his and Delilah's dilemma that he'd never even considered until now.
When he came back to his quarters, he found Delilah had also returned from escorting Emma and Juliet back to their room, and seeing that Paul Junior was okay as well. And he could tell just by looking at her that she'd thought of the same solution he had… thought of it, and feared his reaction if she suggested it. He sighed, and said, "Delilah… you know I'm not like Paul. You can say it; you should know by now that I'll never hit you, ever."
Delilah swallowed hard, then stared at the carpet as she spoke. "Hudson… Hudson was at breeding ceremony, so now he fertile like others. He has no mate, and he is kind to me sometimes…"
The next night, Delilah twisted and turned in front of their mirror, frowning worriedly. "You sure I look pretty enough?"
Samson swallowed hard, then did it again when only a croak came out the first time. Finally, he managed to say, "You look gorgeous, sweetheart." And she did, in that dress that Maggie and Derrek had given her for her not-quite-birthday last year, the party they held to celebrate the night she had emerged from the cloning chamber. Light green and flowing off her shoulders, it gently hugged her curves and complimented her golden features, and made her the most beautiful creature he'd ever seen. Delilah was counting on that beauty, too; counting on it offsetting her still occasionally clumsy way of talking, to make the idea of mating with her more appealing to Hudson, as she'd explained to him earlier when she'd pulled it out of their closet. Samson tried hard to ignore the vise gripping his heart as he said, "Hudson would have to be a blind idiot not to want to… to do what's needed."
Delilah saw the reflection of his face in the mirror, knew the pain he was going through and turned around to hug him fiercely, with tears in her eyes. "I no want do this!" she blurted out, her grammar lessons deserting her as they frequently did in times of stress. "Hurt body me, hurt heart you!"
He hugged her tightly, shuddering with her. "You don't have to. God, Delilah, I'm not forcing you to go to him! Let's just forget about it all, okay?"
For long moments they clung to each other, wanting to forget the last two nights had ever happened. But then Delilah sniffled into his fur, "But if I don't, then no eggs, no hatchlings for us."
And they both dearly wanted children to raise. And it was more than just their own concerns at stake; gargoyles were so scarce in the world now, less than a hundred of them known to survive. As Hudson had said at the mating ceremony for the Trio and their loved ones, it was every female's duty to breed if she could, to provide for the next generation. Other than cloning, which nearly everybody objected to, it was the only way to ensure they wouldn't become extinct.
Delilah finally took a deep shuddering breath, and pulled back from his embrace. "I go, and get it over with," she announced. Then she cracked a wry, sad smile as she said, "Hudson is not evil like Thailog, so mating with him will maybe not hurt." At least, she hoped it wouldn't hurt as much as it had when Thailog had used her for his pleasures, back when she'd been newly created and had no idea that she was even allowed to protest being raped.
Samson swallowed hard again, and let her go. "J-just… don't tell me if you enjoy it, okay?'
She snorted in disbelief. "Huh! Sure didn't enjoy Thailog, won't enjoy Hudson." She stepped back into the circle of his arms, her eyes pleading with him to understand what was so obvious to her. "I don't love him, he doesn't love me, so mating will be no fun; just what we have to do to breed the egg. And I'll be back before dawn, I promise!"
He nodded silently, then leaned down so she could rub her brow ridges against his forehead, a uniquely gargoyle way of showing affection that he'd come to enjoy doing with her. "I'll be waiting here." Then he opened his arms again to let her go once more, and watched her turn and walk out the door.
He counted to a hundred, and then to two hundred, till he was sure she was out of the Labyrinth and on her way to the castle to find and seduce Hudson. Then he left the room and went down to the nearest set of rooms still in need of remodeling. Despite all the gentle words he'd said to Delilah yesterday, right that minute he was more than in the mood to do something physical and violent, and desperately needed a harmless outlet for it.
Delilah entered the castle by an open window on a lower level, to avoid being seen by Brooklyn and Angela as they frolicked on the castle's highest parapets. She wondered for a moment if Angela was egg-carrying yet, or if she and Brooklyn were still 'working on it.' That turned her thoughts to Goliath and Elisa, who had also been at the breeding ceremony, and were hoping that Elisa's pendant of magical amber would help them make an egg. If it didn't, would Goliath let Elisa go off to breed with another human? She doubted it; Goliath wasn't nearly as gentle and kind as Samson, and would probably never agree to it. Besides, the world had lots of humans already.
She knew that Hudson liked to watch television a lot, just like her brother clones used to do, so the first place to look for him was probably in that room she and Samson had discovered while looking for an unoccupied bedroom to mate in, the night of the ceremony; that one that had the TV nearly as big as her wingspan. If he wasn't there, then… then what? Find somebody else and ask them where he could be found? And what if they wanted to know why she was looking for him? Well, she'd think about that after checking the TV room.
The door to that room was closed; she stuck her ear against it, and heard movement inside. And a little contented muttering, in a voice so much like Burbank's that it gave her the shivers for a moment. Hudson was in there. Was he alone, or talking to somebody? She listened for a few moments more, to be sure, and tried to ignore the noise Angela and Brooklyn were making outside. She wondered if any of the humans in the castle were bothered by all the shrieking and roaring, like some of the Labyrinth residents had complained about her and Samson keeping them awake until she'd finally learned to keep quiet even in the middle of an orgasm without biting through her lips or tongue. And she was stalling, she realized, and silently scolded herself for it. It was past time to get this over with, because the eggs wouldn't breed themselves! But she took just one moment more to make sure her dress was on just right, and her hair was styled just right, and her face had a nice pleasant smile on it, before she lifted a hand and knocked on the door.
Hudson muttered some more, sounding irritated, and for a moment she froze in utter panic. But then he called out to find out who was out there; she swallowed hard, opened the door, and peeked inside. "Hudson?"
He was alone in the room, and smiling widely at the sight of her. "Lass! What are ye doing here? Come to give us some good news, have ye?"
She shook her head. "I am sorry to be bothering you, but I have questions. I am needing help with breeding."
Six hours later, Samson was in their room again and looking ruefully at his bandaged hands, thinking that he really should have used the tools they had on hand for the work he'd done on those rooms. His thick hide and shaggy pelt of fur could take as much punishment as a gargoyle's, but even mutate flesh had its limits, and he'd definitely overdone it by ripping out those walls and splintery wooden beams with his bare hands, not to mention pounding nails into the new ones with his fists. It had been cathartic in the extreme, and he'd worked out all the pain and jealous rage he'd been feeling while imagining what Delilah was doing up in the castle. But by the time he'd finished, one of the residents had been attracted by all the noise he was making, and had called for Maggie when he'd seen the bloody handprints Samson had been leaving on his work.
Maggie had nearly fainted when she'd seen the raw hamburger he'd made of his fingers, then later scolded him soundly while cleaning and bandaging his wounds. She thought he and Delilah had argued over something, and Delilah had gone gliding just to get away from him while he'd remodeled those rooms the hard way. "Now it's good that you decided to take it out on those walls instead of poor Delilah," she'd said as she'd finished working on his right hand and switched to his left. "But it would have been better if you'd been able to simply talk out what's bothering you, instead of punishing yourself like this!" Then she'd paused, and looked at him searchingly. "Do you want to talk about it now?"
He'd jerkily shaken his head and said simply, "I can't." He couldn't admit to anyone, even Maggie, that he was being cuckolded even as she worked on him. Or was that the right word when he knew about it, and had even reluctantly agreed to it?
After she'd finished bandaging him, he'd gone back to their room and tried to lose himself in a book, a dogeared copy of one of his old favorites, The Three Musketeers. When he'd still been a hospital-bound adolescent, his Dad had gotten him hooked on the works of Alexander Dumas, and the adventures and intrigues of those stories set in seventeenth-century France had always been able to distract him from his own troubles. He found it a little frustrating tonight, trying to turn the pages with his hands bandaged into mittens... Then a noise in the hallway made him look up. Delilah stood there, looking as nervous and uncertain as a stranger.
She'd enjoyed it. For all the pretty and persuasive words she'd said to Hudson, praising his looks and his warrior's heart to pump him up and get him in the mood for breeding with her, she had expected to just barely tolerate what he was doing to her, like the twins acted when they were given baths. She hadn't known that despite his mateless state, Hudson knew exactly what a female gargoyle liked, knew how to pleasure her while gaining his own satisfaction. She hadn't ever thought she would enjoy having his hands on her, enjoy it so much she'd been begging for more, as they did it again and again and again… And she'd had absolutely no idea that he could do that to her with his tail! She'd never come so fast in her life as when he'd done that, never felt such intense pleasure that she'd thought she might actually die from it. Not even her beloved Samson had ever made her feel such intense pleasure, and he couldn't ever duplicate it even if she dared tell him how, because he didn't have a tail…
She could see it in his haunted eyes; he'd been able to tell just from looking at her that she'd enjoyed it. She sagged to the floor right there in the doorway, unable to stand under her crushing weight of shame. "S-sorry! Sorry, sorry, sorry…" she sobbed into her hands.
After a few moments, she felt herself being lifted and cradled in his strong arms; his chest fur felt familiar under her cheek, even if his hands felt odd. She forced her eyes open again and peered through her tears to see why, and started crying even harder when she saw what he'd done to himself while she was gone.
"It's okay," Samson lied. "It's okay, sweetheart. Sshhh…" He held her and rocked her, and hoped to God that this one night had been enough to get her pregnant; he didn't know what he'd do if it wasn't enough.
The next afternoon, Samson was getting his breakfast from the kitchen, clumsily trying to open a Tupperware container with his hands still bandaged, when Maggie came in with a wide smile on her face, looking for her husband to tell him the good news she'd just heard; Elisa was pregnant! For an instant Samson felt bitter envy seize his heart again. Why did the other mixed-race couple have all the luck, the magic to help them conceive a child of their own?
He'd thought he'd kept his face expressionless, but something must have gotten through because Maggie was looking at him worriedly. "I'm sorry, Samson; sometimes my mouth just gets ahead of me. I know you and Delilah are still trying…" When he said nothing, she forced a grin and said, "Well, I'm still hoping for you, so don't you two give up hope just yet!"
Samson managed a weak smile for her sake. "It's all right; we haven't given up yet. Believe me, we're still working on it."
Moments later, Gary came into the kitchen, carrying a white insulated container with a red cross logo on the side. "Hi, Samson," he said casually, before doing a double-take. "What the--? What'd you do to your hands?!"
Before Samson could respond, Maggie said hastily, "He, ah, he found a lost dog in the lower levels and it bit him a few times while he tried to catch it and take it back up top. Lucky it still had a valid rabies tag, huh?"
Samson was silently grateful for her hurried lie. They both knew that Gary's only vice was that he was an incorrigible gossip, and the very last thing he wanted anyone to know, let alone the entire Labyrinth, was that he and Delilah were having marital problems. (Especially since it wasn't the sort of problem Maggie thought they were having.) To change the subject, he asked about the container Gary had brought down with him.
"More I-V's for Claw," Gary said with a touch of regret in his voice, as he opened the box and then the specially marked refrigerator, and began carefully transferring the bags of glucose solution and various medications into it. He paused for a moment as he held one up, and said wryly, "Don't suppose they could make one in chicken-flavor, do you? Claw would always come running from over a mile away for a good chicken dinner…"
Yes, he had, Samson remembered silently. Claw had loved chicken… And might love it again one day, if he ever came out of the coma he was in, had been in ever since the attack on the Labyrinth last year. After months of seeing his other injuries heal but no sign of consciousness, they had brought him down from the castle four months ago, once the Labyrinth was more-or-less livable again (though full repairs would take several more months to finish). They'd set him up with all the necessary hospital equipment in one of the rooms now belonging to Derrek and Maggie, so he'd always have friends nearby. As more months went by and his condition grew no better, hopes of ever seeing him up and around again were growing dimmer, but the mutates refused to give up on him… While there was life, there was hope.
Thinking about Claw and his coma reminded Samson once again of other friends he'd known, friends he'd made during his many hospital stays before his kidnapping and mutation; even terminally ill youths can make friends, particularly with others who face the same darkened future. There had been Jimmy Dunstead, and Regina Sackrider, and Burton Kennedy… All of them were probably dead now, including Burton; he had slipped into a final coma the day before Samuel Blake's doctor had said he was just barely well enough to go to Disneyland, courtesy of the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Sam had promised to think of him while on the ride at Space Mountain…
Any one of his old friends would have been utterly delighted to exchange his current troubles for theirs, if they had still been alive but terminally ill, facing death before adulthood. Samson reminded himself anew that a person should make the most of what he had, learn to do without what he didn't have, and always find something worth smiling about. Here he was alive and healthy, if in a weird sort of way, and he had a mate who loved him all to pieces, and was willing to do almost anything in order to give him a baby to love. He had a pretty good life, all in all.
Ten nights later, Delilah went back up to the castle to see Dr. Masters, asking him to please run another pregnancy test. He at first looked at her pityingly, saying, "Delilah, I know you and Samson love each other dearly, but there are some things--"
Delilah grabbed him by the tie to yank his face close to hers as she showed him her fangs, growling with eyes flickering red, "You run another test. Right now!"
Dr. Masters looked at her wide-eyed, but hurriedly collected another sample and performed the test. During the five minutes it took for the litmus strip to show a change in her body's hormone production, Delilah sat in a corner and waited with her hands clasped, and her wings shivering and tail lashing with agitation. If this test was negative as well, then she'd have to find Hudson and try again quickly, before her fertile period wore off. And to her shame, a tiny, evil part of her almost hoped it was negative, because then she'd get to experience that tail maneuver again…
At the end of five minutes, Dr. Masters looked at the results, blinked and read them again before turning to her with a wide grin. "It's positive. Congratulations, Delilah; you're pregnant."
Delilah shuddered with relief and felt tears of joy starting, and hugged Dr. Masters so tightly his ribs creaked, because she just had to hug somebody and Samson had stayed at home.
Dr. Masters winced at her tight hug, but gently hugged her back. "Congratulations," he repeated. Then he said softly, "Delilah, do you know what 'doctor-patient confidentiality' means?" When she shook her head, he said, "It means that what a patient tells a doctor, the doctor has to keep secret. You see, a patient has to be able to trust her doctor completely, or she might leave out important information that might make a big difference in her treatment. So every doctor has to promise that whatever his patient tells him, he'll keep secret forever; he can't and won't tell to anybody else, unless she says it's okay. Not even to Mr. Xanatos or the other gargoyles. Do you understand?" She nodded silently, shivering again. "Now, this is important to know, because it will affect how the pregnancy runs, and how the egg and eventual hatchling develops, and I need to know what to look for when monitoring you and the egg. Just honestly answer this one question for me, okay? Your egg, your hatchling… is it going to be part mutate, or all gargoyle?"
Delilah buried her face in his lab coat, sniffed a couple times and whispered, "All gargoyle."
"That's all I need to know. And I promise, Delilah, I won't tell anybody else. Ever." He hugged her once more, then whispered, "Now, why don't you go back to your mate, and tell him you'll have a hatchling for him to be a father to someday." Delilah looked at him with sheer gratitude in her eyes for understanding, impulsively hugged him again, then turned and ran from the room.
She'd just about reached the roof when she ran into Angela, who was coming from the kitchen with a platter of raw calf's liver. "Oh, hi, Delilah!" Angela said with a wide smile. "Have you been to see the doctors?"
Delilah nodded, and grinned. "Just now. Test is positive!"
Angela cheered, and set the platter down so she could give her a hug. "That's wonderful! All five of us now, including Elisa! Listen, Elektra and Aiden and I have been looking over the rookery already, to decide where our nests are going to go. Did you want to come down with me now and pick out a spot?"
Delilah leaned back and shook her head. "No. This will be Samson's egg, Samson's hatchling," she said firmly as she patted her still flat belly. "It stays down in our home."
Angela was visibly shocked and appalled. "B-but… all eggs go to the rookery! Even if we're going to know who the parents of each egg are, they still stay together! It's… it's the Gargoyle Way!" She changed tactics. "Look, each egg, each hatchling is a little aware of what's around it even before it hatches, just like a human baby can learn its parents' voices while still inside the womb. I don't really remember it, but Princess Katherine told us how, when I and my rookery siblings were still crawling, we used to settle down for naps right beside the hatchlings our eggs used to rest next to! If you have only one egg, it's going to be awfully lonely by itself in the nest…"
Just then Hudson came around the corner, and the happy-yet-wistful look on his face told them both that he'd heard every word. Delilah froze when she saw him, but Angela turned to him in appeal. "Hudson, you tell her! Shouldn't she and Samson keep their egg up here with ours?"
"Aye, 'tis the way gargoyles have always done in the past," Hudson said slowly. "But we've been doing a lot of things differently lately. Delilah, lass, 'tis your choice… and Samson's, as ye females are giving yer mates," and he stressed that word slightly, "so much more say in rookery dealings these days. If ye want to keep yer egg in the Labyrinth, where he can mind it with ye as a human father would, than I'll say no words against it." Delilah smiled at him, and he knew that silent look of gratitude and affection was likely the only acknowledgement of his role in the pregnancy that he'd ever get… But it was enough.
Still unhappy, Angela pleaded, "Promise me you'll at least consider keeping it up here with ours, at least talk it over with Samson? You know you're always welcome up here, to take your turn at minding them…"
Delilah looked doubtful, but she said she'd at least talk it over with Samson. And when she was home with him a short while later, she did just that. She patted her stomach as she finished with, "This will be your hatchling, so it is your choice. What do you want?"
Samson grinned wide, as he hugged her close. "Do you even need to ask? Of course we're keeping it down here!" He kissed her, then teased, "After all, we've got to give Dee and Tom somebody to baby-sit when they're old enough!" He just grinned even wider when she playfully growled at him.
They told Talon and Maggie the good news a short while later, and word spread quickly through the Labyrinth. Before midnight, over two dozen people had stopped by to congratulate them on their good fortune. They finally had to hang a homemade "Do Not Disturb" sign on the doorknob, so they could continue their own private celebration… After Delilah reassured Samson that such "celebrating" was still okay, and would be okay for a few months yet.
Two days later, Talon and Samson were in the main kitchens, and going over the plans for renovating a new section of the Labyrinth with the other workers assigned to the task. They'd almost finished when LeRoy and Amos came up, looking very worried. "Uh, any of you fellows seen Big Mickey lately?" LeRoy said hesitantly.
"Not today," Talon said as he rolled up the plans. "Why?"
LeRoy and Amos exchanged another, very worried glance before LeRoy continued, "Mr. Talon, Mr. Samson… can we talk outside?"
Now the mutates were getting worried. None of them knew Big Mickey very well; he, his wife and son had come down to the Labyrinth when he'd lost his job and they'd lost their home up above, less than two months before the disaster caused by Jericho that had nearly wiped it out last year. The attacks and the massive flooding had claimed the lives of over two dozen residents, and seriously injured dozens more, including the now comatose Claw. The tragedy had included among its victims Little Mickey, a five-year-old with a shock of red hair and a ready smile who would never see his sixth birthday; after the flood had receded, they had found his debris-covered body wedged in between two pipes. After that, Big Mickey and his wife Sarah had withdrawn from the other residents and largely kept to themselves, unwilling to let others try to console them in their grief.
Two months ago, Sarah had simply stridden out of their quarters and up to the surface without saying a word to anybody, and vanished into the teeming masses that still lived above. Their best guess and hope was that, after first losing her home and then her son, Sarah had decided to simply leave the wreckage of her life behind and start over somewhere else, with no reminders of her past life. (That was the most optimistic view; several others were certain that someday they'd be dredging her body up out of the river.) Since she had disappeared, Big Mickey had become more withdrawn than ever, and Talon had finally given up on including him in the work crews after seven consecutive no-shows.
Once they had left the kitchen and stepped into a nearby empty room, Amos said bluntly, "We think Big Mickey's finally lost it. And we're worried he's gonna try to do something bad to Delilah."
Samson didn't even wait to find out why they thought that or what they thought Big Mickey might do; he immediately turned and ran out of the room, heading at top speed for his and Delilah's home. He knew it was still daylight up on the surface, would be for at least two hours yet, and Delilah was still asleep in stone, utterly helpless. His mutation had sped up his reaction time as well as given him legs longer and stronger than the average basketball player could ever dream of having, and he thundered down the corridor so fast he nearly ran over a few other residents, ignoring their shouting as they dodged out of his way and the shouts of Talon, Amos and LeRoy as they tried to keep up with him.
Talon finally put on an extra burst of speed by dropping to all fours and running like the panther he resembled (he hated doing it just on general principle, but he had to admit it was faster that way), and caught up to Samson's side. They ran together until they came up to the corridor that led to Samson's home, and there met Gary and Ruth, who were coming out of his entrance at a jog themselves. "It's okay, we got him!" Gary called out reassuringly when the husband and wife spotted the two mutates. Talon skidded to a halt to talk to them, but Samson just thundered past, needing to see to his mate's safety with his own eyes.
In their room, Big Mickey was lying face-down on the ground only ten feet from the corner where Delilah was posed under the sun lamp, and swearing a blue streak as he struggled mightily to get to his feet again. But all his efforts were useless, because he was being held down by the Labyrinth's version of the 'immovable object'; Gus Haversham, sometimes called 'Doughboy' by the more unkind residents. Gus was only five-foot-two, but he tipped the scales at close to 400 pounds, and he now sat squarely on Big Mickey's back as he admonished him, in that whisper-soft voice of his, to stop cursing because he wasn't impressing anybody with such vile language.
"When LeRoy told us what he'd overheard, Gus, Ruth and I came here first, just in case, while he and Amos went to find you," Gary said breathlessly as he straightened out his clothing, and gingerly touched what looked to be turning into one helluva shiner over his left eye. "It's a good thing we did, too, because he came in not five minutes later with that pipe there," as he pointed to a four-foot length of galvanized steel piping, now cast aside into a corner.
Samson strode past Mickey and Gus and went straight to Delilah, examining her all over, anxiously eyeing and feeling her stone form for chips and cracks. Once he was satisfied she was okay, he went back and hunkered down at Big Mickey's head, and jerked it up by the hair so he could look into his eyes. Part of him wanted to simply slam that head face-first into the floor, again and again until the skull cracked like an eggshell and the brains leaked out in an ugly gray pudding. But he had vowed after coming to the Labyrinth, after leaving the horror of Sevarius' lab behind, that he would never kill anyone again if he had any choice in the matter. So he just stared at the threat to his mate as he asked simply, "Why?"
"Because she's become a threat to us all!" Big Mickey spat at him, the light of obsession and near-madness gleaming in his eyes. "When it was just her left down here I was content to let her live, but now she's breeding more of those monsters that killed my son! And I'm not going to let any more children die, not if I can help it!"
Talon heard him too, and squeezed his eyes shut as he groaned in despair. They had tried hard to explain to the other Labyrinth dwellers that Delilah's brother clones had been under the control of Jericho and the Godiva robot when they had wreaked havoc in the 'Court of Miracles', the heart of the Labyrinth. (Though no one was quite sure of how a robot built to be a stripper for a bachelor party could turn itself on and escape the Aerie Building unseen, then seize control of four gargoyle clones and turn them into killers. Talon suspected Xanatos knew more than he'd told them, but there was no way to pin him down and find out what he was hiding.)
They had explained it over and over, and reassured them that Jericho, the robot stripper and the four clones who had caused all the destruction were now gone, the clones having been formally banished from the Labyrinth in absentia. The mutates, the castle gargoyles and Delilah all swore they would do whatever it took to keep them away and keep them from threatening more innocents, if they ever dared show themselves again. But despite all they'd said and done, despite the castle gargoyles having worked to save as many as they could from the flooding, despite Delilah working from dusk till dawn alongside the others as they worked to rebuild the Labyrinth, despite even seeing and hearing her sob and howl with grief over every body they'd pulled from the wreckage… Some people still thought of the gargoyles as monsters, and wanted to kill them simply for existing. There were times when Talon was almost ashamed of having been born a human.
"Banishment?" Amos asked simply, indicating Big Mickey.
Talon sighed heavily. "We've no other choice. Ruth, go to Mickey's room and gather up his belongings. Gary, you get some ice for that shiner, then go to my office and call the St. Mary's shelter; tell them we've got one we can't handle anymore. He's in need of a ride to their shelter, and some counseling… Make that a lot of counseling. Amos, you know where I keep the handcuffs and keys. Gus, if you don't mind, just keep holding him there until Amos comes back with the cuffs." Then he hunkered down so he could look Big Mickey in the eyes as well. "Mickey O'Hare, you are hereby banished from the Labyrinth. You will leave and never return. If you ever try to come back, it will be the duty of every person down here to evict you as quickly as possible." He sighed again. "Everyone here knows of your loss and your grief, Mickey, and we feel for you… but to take it out on Delilah would be murder."
When Amos came back with the handcuffs, he, Talon and Samson walked Big Mickey up to the main entrance of the Labyrinth. Big Mickey snarled at them and at every curious or sorrowful onlooker they met along the way that they were making a big mistake, that it was Delilah and the eggs she was breeding that were the threat and not him, and that one day they'd all see that he was right, when the walls ran red with the blood of their children! Amos finally whipped his shirt off and gagged Big Mickey with it, when Samson started trembling with the effort not to close that poison-spewing mouth with his enormous clenched fists.
Ruth met them when they were almost at the entrance to the Labyrinth with two sacks containing all of Big Mickey's worldly possessions, and a sorrowful expression on her face. When they reached the entrance, the van from St. Mary's was already parked there, with Sister Theresa waiting for them. "How nice to see you all again," she said to Talon and Samson with her typical sadly wry smile. "A pity it's under such distressing circumstances."
They unlocked the handcuffs when they gave Big Mickey over to Sister Theresa's care. But when they ungagged him, Mickey had a few choice final words for them. "Somehow, someday, I'll find a way to end the threat and save you all whether you want it or not!" he shouted over his shoulder as the sisters took him away. "I swear before God, even if those eggs are laid, they'll never be allowed to hatch!"
"If you ever show your face down here again, it'll be your skull breaking, not any eggs!" Amos shouted after him, before Ruth shushed him because there were nuns present. Talon told Amos in an aside that he'd spoken for all of them, if a little crudely. But Samson just stared after the departing van, with a cold fist of apprehension wrapped around his heart.
When Delilah woke up that evening and learned what had happened while she'd been asleep, it was nearly half an hour before she could stop shaking. Once she had, while she still sat in Samson's lap and clung to his fur as he sat on their bed and stroked her wings to soothe her, he said softly, "Delilah… maybe we should think about what Angela said. About keeping the egg up at the castle instead."
Delilah shook her head decisively. "Nuh-unh! Our egg; it stays our home!"
"Sweetheart, it'll always be our egg, even when it's way up there! Remember how Angela said they were going to keep track of who parented each egg, like humans do; they'll never try to deny us our own young. And we'll be able to go up there as often as we like to see the egg and help mind it with the others; you know they said we're always welcome."
Despite his reassuring words, Delilah broke down and began bawling. She sobbed as rivers of tears streamed down her cheeks, "You no want egg! No want b-because Hudson sire…"
"Delilah, that's not true! You know I love you, and I'll love our child because he or she will be a part of you, that's all that matters to me! I'd die for you, and I'd die for the egg inside you. But if Mickey or some other nutcase ever gets down here any time in the next ten years, and gets past me and the others… I don't want our child to die before it's hatched if we can possibly help it. Xanatos and the others will be able to keep it safe with the other eggs, both day and night; Mickey would never even have a chance of getting to them, any more than the Quarrymen have ever been able to get up there. And once it's hatched, and everyone can see our hatchling isn't a monster any more than Dee and Tom are, we can bring it back down here to live with us."
Delilah finally, tearfully agreed that the castle was better for safety's sake. They went to the phone in Talon's office and called the castle, explaining to Xanatos when he answered the phone just what had happened that day, and what had been decided as a result.
Xanatos sympathized with what had happened and for their painful decision, and assured them that he'd guard their egg or eggs as dearly as his own son. Delilah had always been welcome to fly in for a visit, and he'd see to it that they had a vehicle with tinted windows and a chauffeur reserved for Samson's use any time he wanted to come look in on the eggs, night or day; all he'd have to do is call the Aerie building and ask for it to be sent over. "The others will be delighted to hear that your egg will be staying with theirs," Xanatos said as he tried to cheer them up. "Hudson was muttering about how empty the rookery would be with only three females' eggs in there; with all four nests, it'll be a little more full and closer to what it used to be like." Then he paused. "Er… I'll certainly add Mickey O'Hare's name and description to my 'red alert' list; he'll never get past the front door of the building. But if you don't mind, I want to keep quiet about what happened unless I absolutely have to tell the clan about it. With all the females up here starting to have mood swings, and with Goliath and the other males so overprotective about their pregnant mates that they're almost snarling at shadows, things up here are tense enough as it is. I'd rather just tell them that you've changed your mind, so your egg will have company as it develops." It took a little more persuasion on his part, but Samson and Delilah finally decided to keep the day's events a secret from the other gargoyles. After all, Samson thought sardonically to himself, it wasn't the only secret they were keeping.
After the phone call, they went back to their quarters for some much-needed cuddling. But while Delilah hopped onto the bed, Samson stopped by the desk first, and reached for some papers lying facedown there. "What're those?" Delilah asked curiously as he turned them over to look at them silently for a moment before crumpling them up.
"Just some stuff, nothing important," Samson said softly as he opened his fist over the trashcan, and let go. And all his sketches and designs for a mini-rookery in their bedroom dropped into the trash.
If Xanatos thought Goliath and the other gargoyle males were overprotective, he would have been amazed by Samson's behavior over the next few months. Beginning the night after Big Mickey's banishment, Samson removed himself from all work details during the day, and absolutely refused to leave the rooms he shared with Delilah from dawn to dusk. Every morning before he went to sleep, he painstakingly made a three-foot-high stack of empty soda cans behind the door, so anyone who managed to pick the lock and tried to sneak in would topple them over and make an incredible racket to wake him up. Talon and Maggie privately thought the last detail was a little over the top, but kept their opinions to themselves; after the close call they'd all had, who could blame him?
Delilah thought his painstaking efforts were sweet, and brought him any empty soda cans she found so he could make the stacks higher. She also wore the dog whistle he brought her on a cord around her neck, and faithfully promised to blow into it as hard as she could if she had even the slightest suspicion that she was in danger from anybody. The human residents couldn't hear the whistle's pitch, but gargoyles and mutates could hear it loud and clear, and the mutates would come running on the instant if they heard it being blown. (When she'd first blown it to test it while in Derrek and Maggie's home, both Dee and Tom had sat straight up with their ears perked in amazement, then began clamoring to play with it too.)
Delilah's pregnancy progressed much as the other females up in the castle were progressing, or so Dr. Masters said when she went to him for checkups. She had occasional bouts of nausea, but not nearly as bad as Elektra suffered them, and was over her 'evening sickness' far sooner. The only real problem they had was keeping enough raw liver and peanut butter in stock; it seemed Delilah just could not get enough of either, or (even worse) both together. "I always thought it was just pickles and ice cream," Samson commented once as he brought her midnight snack, his tone somewhere between awe and revulsion. Delilah just shrugged at him as she slathered more peanut butter onto a slab of liver before chowing down.
Maggie gave all her old backless maternity clothes to Delilah soon after they made the announcement, and she began wearing them after outgrowing her usual tight tunic after only four weeks. Dr. Masters speculated when he saw her at that point, though he refused to commit to it, that showing already indicated she was carrying more than one egg. But by the second-month checkup, when she was definitely larger than any of the other females who had been egg-carrying longer, he was sure of it. "At least two," Delilah said with satisfaction as she patted her bulging belly, as she and Samson rode the elevator down to the parking garage where their vehicle was waiting. "Boy and girl, maybe. Maybe even two boys and girl, or boy and two girls! Or even three girls!"
"Three girls!" Samson shuddered in pretended horror as he said with a hand flung dramatically across his massive brow, "I'll be forever outnumbered, besieged by females!" And he gave his peculiar hooting chuckle as she flashed her fangs at him and punched him in the arm.
As Delilah grew larger and larger, more awkward and less able to defend herself if need be, Samson grew more unwilling to leave her side at any hour of the night. Eventually, Talon gave in and removed him from the work roster for all but the most important tasks that required his incredible strength. When he did leave her to go on a work detail, he usually got her to promise to stay with somebody he trusted until he came back; usually with Maggie and the twins, but sometimes with the other pregnant resident of the Labyrinth, Arlene Simmons.
This was Arlene's second child, and she told Delilah as they rubbed each other's swollen ankles and feet that she flat-out envied Delilah, both for being able to control her fertility and for being able to lay eggs instead of giving live birth. "Honey, you don't know how good you got it," she said ruefully as she rubbed her five-months-along belly while looking at her eight-month-old son Tyler, babbling in his playpen nearby. "Joe and I didn't exactly plan to have Tyler, there, and we sure as shootin' didn't plan on me getting 'caught' again so soon! Not that we're not looking forward to seeing 'Number Two' now, but it would have been better to wait a while longer. And it's got to be a damn sight easier to turn an egg and keep it warm than to feed and soothe and change the diaper on a baby, when you're still all wore out from giving birth." Delilah allowed that she was probably right, but pointed out that she and Samson would have to wait ten years before being able to hold their children and see them smile. "Honey, any time you feel all 'baby-hungry' and just gotta hold one for a while, you just come on over and mind ours for a spell! It'll give me and Joe a break. Oof!" as she jumped in her chair a little, then looked ruefully down at her belly. "Kid kicks like a mule already, I swear!"
Delilah reached out and laid a hand on Arlene's belly to feel the child kicking within, and smiled wistfully. "Wish my eggs did that too."
Arlene smiled ruefully again for her sake. "Yeah, that much I'll admit is pretty special. Even if it's downright annoying when it wakes me up from a sound sleep, and I wake Joe up too just because he got me into this state… it's still pretty special."
Elisa came down for a late afternoon visit the day after Thanksgiving, carrying her ultrasound printout. "Looks like Dee and Tom will have a winged playmate after all," she said with a grin as she pointed out the spidery-fine wing struts wrapped around the tiny body of the fetus. "The doc says he or she—can't tell yet, not in this picture—should be due in mid-to-late April."
"Any signs of, um… an eggshell?" Maggie said hesitantly.
"Not that the docs can tell. Dr. Masters said something about the species of the mother being the major determining factor in the child's development. If I was a gargoyle and Goliath the human, then I'd probably lay an egg like Elektra's mother laid, and this," as she patted the growing mound of her belly, "would be just a giant yolk and albumen with an eggshell forming around it, and with a microscopic fetus just barely forming in the center. Being human, I gotta tell you I'm glad it's the other way around; there's no way I'd be able to lay an egg a big as a gargoyle egg!"
She demonstrated to Maggie just how big the eggs were expected to get, according to Hudson and Goliath, and Maggie's eyes went wide. "That big? How on earth do even the lady gargoyles lay them?"
"Tricky anatomy." She relayed what she had been told about how a female gargoyle's pelvis unhinges during the birthing process, to widen the birthing canal that the egg would pass through. "So Delilah should have nothing to worry about," she finished.
"That's a relief," Talon said with a faint sigh in his voice. "And for Samson, too; he's stressed enough already, what with--" then he abruptly remembered they had agreed to keep the attack a secret, and finished with a lame, "Ah, Delilah's mood swings, and all."
Being pregnant and somewhat prone to mood swings herself, Elisa gave her brother the evil eye for his remark, but luckily didn't seem to notice the conversational stumble. Then she yawned widely, and excused herself with, "One way we know this kid's affecting me; I have one heckuva time staying awake during the day. I must have hit the snooze button three times today before finally getting up, but I wanted to show you the ultrasound before I went off to work."
Derrek checked the clock on the wall, and the sunrise-and-sunset time charts they kept posted next to it. "It'll be sunset in about ten minutes; think you'll be any more awake by then?"
"I should be, otherwise I'll never get through work tonight. God, I could almost kill somebody for a cup of regular coffee! Can you believe Captain Chavez actually posted a 'No Maza's Allowed Within Ten Feet' sign by the station coffeepot?!"
Derrek snickered, but Maggie sighed, "I know what you're going through. When Derrek found out that diet sodas were a 'no-no' too, he actually took my secret stash of Tab away and gave them all to Delilah's brothers!" Derrek automatically ducked the swats they both sent in his direction, while protesting that he'd done it for the kids' sake.
After a few minutes they went down to Samson and Delilah's room, to see the pair when they were both awake. They found Samson cautiously opening the door just after he'd finished removing the stacks of empty cans, while Delilah was awkwardly crouching while wielding their whisk broom and dustpan, trying to clean up the last of the evening gravel. Samson bid them enter while hurrying back to Delilah to take the broom and dustpan from her, gently chiding her that he said he'd take care of that while she was egg-heavy.
Elisa gave them both a hug, and a silent whistle when she saw how big Delilah had gotten in only three months. "Definitely two eggs or more! Oh, by the way, the docs wanted me to ask you why you missed your checkup appointment last week."
After a few moments, Delilah shrugged, "I forgot." The appointment had actually been with Dr. Johnson, and Delilah was ashamed to admit that she'd deliberately skipped it, because she felt profoundly uneasy around the silent doctor ever since she'd seen that file on Thailog on the computer screen.
Samson knew his mate's reasons for skipping the appointment, and quickly interjected, "Delilah's really too heavy to glide that far anymore, anyway. Do you think Dr. Masters could make 'house calls'?"
Talon said that was actually a great idea, because they had yet to have an obstetrician or pediatrician visit the Labyrinth, even though they had other pregnant women and infants living in the shelter. If the doctor could be persuaded to come down to see Delilah, and spend a little time on the others in need of care as well… Elisa said it sounded like a good idea to her, and promised to ask Dr. Masters if he'd be willing when she saw him next.
Dr. Masters was indeed willing, and came down a few evenings later to check on both Delilah and Arlene, and give all the Labyrinth children a 'well-baby' check-up as well. Samson brought Delilah to the room the residents had hurriedly designated as a clinic just as the doctor gave Dee an extra lollipop for being such a good patient, and not trying to zap him with a jolt of electricity like Tom had done.
The check-up went smoothly, and the doctor pronounced her as fit as all the other females up at the castle. "I'll come back down for another checkup in four weeks; let's make it for, hm, December 28th," he said as he consulted his pocket planner. "But if you experience any problems between now and then, give me a call immediately, all right?" Samson promised they would, while Delilah playfully pretended to be disappointed that she hadn't gotten a lollipop. Which was when Kurt Masters pulled out of his pocket a sucker that was wrapped differently from the others, and handed it over with a sweeping bow and a "Just for you, dear Delilah; it's peanut-butter-flavored."
Shortly after Thanksgiving, Delilah switched from raw liver to medium-rare beef hearts as her craving of choice, but she still wanted peanut butter slathered all over them; Samson just sighed, and tried not to look at the dinner trays he brought to her. She also, when she left their quarters for her nightly exercise walk (which was increasingly becoming more of a waddle, much to her embarrassment), took to bringing back whatever rags and odd scraps of cloth she'd found, as well as twigs, dried leaves and small branches that had drifted down from the Central Park entrance over the course of autumn; when she came back to their home, she would pile them in a corner and then scratch her head, trying to remember why she'd decided to pick them up in the first place.
Her subconscious was urging her to build a nest for their eggs, Samson realized, with a painful twist to his heart. Except their nest wasn't going to be here, in their home filled with love; instead, it was going to be miles away from them, inside cold stone walls. Samson knew from the few times he'd gone with Delilah up to the castle, first for the breeding ceremony and then for the first two monthly checkups, that the rookery wasn't really cold, not with central heating and fresh straw piled high, just waiting for the precious eggs. But it was still not with them, where they could lavish attention on it day and night; instead, they'd have to contend themselves with frequent visits. He knew the rookery would be safer for the eggs, safe from all the Quarrymen and Mickey O'Hare's of the world. But that didn't keep his heart from contracting painfully nearly every morning after Delilah turned to stone, when he silently took most of the newly collected materials out to the corridor to be disposed by others, before going to sleep himself.
By Christmastime, Delilah had outgrown even Maggie's third-trimester maternity wear, and they had to make new clothing for her out of some old curtains that had been donated. She made a face when Maggie presented her with the rough dress made of thick paisley-printed material, but put it on anyway rather than waddle around in the remains of her old outfit, which had split at the seams when she'd awoken and stretched the night before. Maggie promised they'd make her a better one, as soon as they got enough material.
Derrek's parents, his sister Beth and the formidable Aunt Agnes visited the Labyrinth on the afternoon of Christmas Day, and were still there at nightfall. Beth whistled in astonishment when she saw Delilah, as she waddled into Derrek and Maggie's home with Samson at her side. "And I thought Aiden was getting big! That's got to be at least two eggs in there."
"At least," Diane Maza said with a smile as she reached out to fondly pat Delilah's immense belly. She had decided some time ago to regard Delilah as a quasi-daughter, since Elisa, Derrek and Beth all regarded her as a sort-of-sister. She had at first been somewhat nonplussed to realize she'd be grandmother to a clutch of eggs, but had since come to look forward to it, and to the eventual hatchlings.
"Bet you're pretty proud of yourself," Peter Maza said to Samson with a knowing smile, and a friendly sock on the arm. He didn't seem to notice when Samson hesitated a bare moment before grinning wide and saying that yes, he was very proud.
Diane urged Delilah to take a seat on the couch next to Beth and put her feet up, and shook her head in wonder as she mentally compared her to how Elisa had looked, when they had visited the castle on Christmas Eve. "You're over twice the size of Elisa already! Oh, your poor feet and ankles," she tsked in sympathy, as Samson automatically got down on his knees next to Delilah as soon as she'd sat down and began massaging them for her. "Mine always swelled up, too, so much I went up nearly two whole shoe sizes."
"Hey, who's going to rub my feet?" Beth mock-protested, then protested for real when her brother grinned and got down on his knees next to her. "Aw, Derrek, I was just kidding!" Then she yelped and hung onto the armrest for dear life, when he teasingly grabbed her by the ankles and pretended to yank her off the couch.
Aunt Agnes came in from the kitchen where she had been preparing a pot of tea, after stating roundly that nobody else in the family knew how to make tea properly, and no one had quite dared to disagree with her. Derrek hurriedly let go of Beth and straightened up, while Dee and Tom, who had been playing with their new toys on the living room carpet, immediately grabbed them and scurried for cover behind their mother's wings.
Delilah and Samson both tensed up; they hadn't seen Aunt Agnes since Elisa's wedding last year, and the little old lady quite frankly terrified both of them. Worse, when Delilah was stressed her grammar lessons tended to go right out the window, and Aunt Agnes, while not saying a single word of disapproval about how Delilah had come to exist, had been openly scornful of her jumbled and fragmentary sentences. Samson had been raised to be polite and courteous to his elders, but he wondered just how soon he could get Delilah out of there without making it obvious why they were leaving.
Aunt Agnes looked hard over her glasses at where Samson was crouched, with his hands still on Delilah's left foot, and at Delilah as she unconsciously shrank backwards into the couch, then sniffed down her long nose at them before turning away. "Maggie, your kitchen is a disgrace! Didn't I tell you during my last visit that leaving dishes in the sink for more than an hour is most unsanitary? And I'm still amazed you can find anything without searching for hours in those cluttered pantry shelves of yours."
Maggie shrank back with her ears flat against her skull and mumbled something about being terribly sorry and she'd tidy up immediately, but Aunt Agnes had already turned away to chide Derrek for not having gotten that sticking utensil drawer fixed already. Then she turned back to Diane and Peter and scolded them for not spending more time with their son and grandchildren, who evidently hadn't seen them in several weeks even though they lived in the same city, before sitting down with her tea and sipping it in a room filled with embarrassed and fearful silence. After three sips she turned her eye again on the still cringing Delilah, and said scornfully, "Child, didn't anyone tell you that paisley prints are simply not worn by the larger proportioned people? You look like you're wearing old bedroom curtains!"
Everyone, even Aunt Agnes, jumped a little when Samson slammed his hand down onto the floor hard enough to rattle the dishes in the kitchen. Then, while they still gaped at him open-mouthed, he got up and scooped Delilah off the couch, and carried her in his arms out of the living room. He stopped halfway to the door to say with a growl to the others, "I won't stand for Delilah to be insulted by anyone! We'll return only after she," and there was no mistaking the venom in his normally gentle voice or who it was intended for, "has left the Labyrinth—and gone back to whatever hollow tree she flew out of!" Then he stomped out, leaving them all with mouths agape.
After a few seconds of trembling silence as everyone stared alternately at the door and at Aunt Agnes, they were utterly astonished when she actually smiled and gave a brief approving nod. "Finally, a boy with some spunk! It's a pity he's not a proper relation!"
Out in the halls, as Samson strode back to their home with his mate still in his arms, Delilah smiled as she reached up to stroke the fur along his massive jaw and purred, "My hero..."
By New Year's Eve, Delilah had a new and much prettier maternity dress to wear; Fox had heard of her dilemma, and had come down with several bolts of fabric and her portable sewing machine to make Delilah a series of beautiful and backless maternity dresses. At one minute to midnight and the start of a New Year, she sat with Samson in their room and quietly stroked the velveteen fabric of the 'party' dress, liking the way it reminded her of the extra-soft fur close to Samson's private parts; she hadn't had much opportunity to stroke the fur there lately. Samson and she had been forced to cease their lovemaking over two months ago, for fear of endangering the eggs inside her, and while she had offered more than once to soothe Samson's frustrated libido with her hands and mouth, Samson had said that it wouldn't be fair if he had all the fun and not her. So they frequently just cuddled together on the bed, while reading stories to each other.
They had been invited to join in the New Year's celebration going on in the main hall, where most of the Labyrinth's residents would be gathered to enjoy several cases of sparkling cider and a few dozen platters of hors d'oeuvres, brought to them courtesy of Xanatos Enterprises. However, Delilah was a little tired of being gawked at by those who weren't used to how huge she'd gotten lately, and had decided that she'd rather stay in, so they could finish the last few chapters of Jules Verne's classic Around the World in Eighty Days.
"Thus it was that, on the Saturday evening, a great crowd was assembled in Pall Mall and the adjoining streets," Samson read aloud as he lay on the bed next to Delilah. Lately she had found it was more comfortable to sit up at an angle than lie down with him, so he curled his long body around her like a giant furry question mark so she could lean back against him while he read. "It looked like a dense mass of brokers permanently established around the Reform Club. The traffic was more or less blocked. People discussed and disputed, and quotations of—oh, great," Samson sighed, interrupting himself, because their bedside lamp had abruptly shut off, plunging the room into total darkness.
"Bulb go bad again?" Delilah's voice said into the Stygian black that enveloped them; being deep underground, they had no moonlight or starlight to give them even a hint of illumination when the artificial lights weren't on.
"I don't think so; you usually get a sort of light-sputter of warning just before the bulb burns out. No, I think we blew a fuse again." It was the first time that had happened since the Labyrinth had been devastated and rebuilt, though it had happened often enough before that. Samson sighed again and said, "You stay here, while I get the candles from the desk and go help in finding the stragglers." Talon had long ago established rules for when the lights went out; the mutates and gargoyle clones, who could see in much dimmer light than the average human, would take candles and lead the search parties to bring everybody into the main hall, where they would stay and keep each other's spirits up until power was restored.
"Most people are already in main hall," Delilah pointed out as she leaned back more firmly against him, preventing him from getting up. "Talon not need your help right this minute…"
"Well, I suppose not; he'll probably take a head count first, to see who needs collecting. But what else are we going to do while the power's out?"
"Could keep reading by candle light," Delilah countered. Then she paused, and he would have sworn he could hearthe wicked grin in her voice as she added, "or could find something else to do…"
"Such as…?" he asked, as he felt her shifting awkwardly around on the bed, then shoving at his legs to make room for her to lie down. Then he distinctly felt her talons running through his stomach fur, going down until they found and tugged at the top of his shorts. "Delilah!"
"Yessss?" she cooed sweetly as he felt her scoot around some more, moving more of her bulk down the bed, while his shorts were tugged in the same direction. "You got problem? …Oh, I found problem. Poor thing, so neglected. Mommy will kiss it and make it all better…"
"Ohhhh… y-y'know, it's not—ahhhhh! Not really fair to you, if you do all the work and I have all the fun."
Delilah didn't bother to point out that it actually was a little fun for her, to know the power she had over him. She just said between loving licks, "Do you really want me to stop?"
"Uhhh…. N-not really…"
Down in the Main Hall, Talon and Maggie together had succeeded in calming the people who hadn't been in a Labyrinth blackout before, done a quick head count by candlelight, determined who was missing and where they were most likely to be found, and had just finished organizing the first search parties when the lights flickered back on. "Well, that was quick," Talon said with relief. "Not even fifteen minutes. Hey, so much for all those 'Millooniums' and their predictions of disaster, huh? Told you it was all a crock." Several people responded with either nervous or relieved laughter, depending on whether they had publicly espoused those same 'End-of-Civilization-As-We-Know-It' theories or not.
"I think we should still send someone to check on the missing people," Maggie said worriedly, ever the motherly type. "Just to make sure they didn't hurt themselves in the meantime, stumbling around in the dark." A few people agreed to do just that, so long as the others staying behind saved them some refreshments. Amos snagged a bottle and a few plastic glasses as he went, so he could spread a little New Year's cheer to the others as well.
Maggie decided it wouldn't hurt to go check on one couple herself; she had really been expecting Samson to show up by the time the lights came back on, volunteering to lead a search party the way he always had before. He'd stayed home from the party with Delilah, who was far too large and awkward now to lead a search party herself anymore, but he wasn't apt to neglect his responsibility to their community… Unless something had happened to her. What if she'd stumbled and fallen? Apprehension quickened Maggie's footsteps as she trotted down the corridor, until she came to their home. She knocked on the door, calling out worriedly, "Delilah, Samson, is everything okay?"
The sounds of a frantic rustling of clothing came through the door, as Delilah called back, sounding mischievous, "Oh yes, everything okay! It still works just fine!" When her sharp ears also caught Samson hissing to his mate, sounding utterly mortified, "Jeez, Delilah! Do you have to advertise it?!" Maggie smiled to herself, and decided she'd heard enough for the night.
January was cold and miserable for most of New York City, the snow of December turning to muddy slush, but the Labyrinth at least was warm and fairly dry. Delilah grew even larger still, until she could barely fit through even the enlarged door to their own home, let alone the standard door to most people's rooms; all of their human friends had to come visit them in her quarters instead. "There's got to be room for three eggs in there, even eggs as big as Elisa said," as Talon privately expressed to Maggie. He didn't say it in the expecting couple's presence, though, because Maggie didn't want to get their hopes up if they had only two. After all, as she reminded him, if they did end up with more, they'd still have ten years to prepare enough diapers and hatchling things for it, unlike Maggie and Derrek's surprise twin.
Delilah still had the unconscious habit of bringing bits of cloth, twigs and branches back with her when she went on her nightly waddle, though if she caught herself doing it she would immediately drop whatever was in her hands and pretend she'd never seen it. But a few of the choicest pieces she'd found, scraps of velvet and aged silk, and some branches that had interesting shapes to them, Samson saved in a bag for her; those would be the pieces they took up to decorate their nest in the rookery. After Elisa had commented on the other females bringing down personal items to put in their own nests, ignoring Hudson's grumblings about cluttering up the place, they had decided they would do that too.
In addition to Delilah's scroungings, a few other items went into the bag: a wreath of dried baby's-breath flowers from LeRoy. A set of worn but still nice baby blankets, from Gary and Ruth. A set of six little rag dolls with cloth wings and tails sewed on, from Maggie and Derrek; Maggie had even painstakingly stuffed the dolls with hairs gleaned from Delilah's hairbrush and Samson's currycomb. A framed Polaroid photo of the two of them together that Amos had taken, right after Fox had made the pretty maternity dresses. "Even when we're not physically right there to take care of them, a part of us will always be there," Samson said softly when he showed Delilah the framed photo, and the dolls that carried their scent. And when she burst into tears again, he had a brand-new white handkerchief ready to carefully dry the tears from her cheeks. Once she'd stopped crying, he put that in the bag too, so their children would know some day what sacrifice their parents had made to ensure their safety.
The night after Groundhog Day, Delilah looked at the grocery sack in the corner, that was now filled nearly to overflowing with items they had collected or been given by friends, and announced that she wanted to take it up to the castle, so they could start decorating their nest. Samson agreed to it, and they called for the special van that would take them there, but while they were waiting at the entrance for it, Amos came running up, completely out of breath. "Samson! (gasp) Talon n-needs you in Lev-Level G, East side," he panted as he bent over and braced himself on his thighs, drawing in deep shuddering breaths. "Wall collapsing!"
Samson and Delilah exchanged quick worried looks before Samson made a fast decision. "Delilah, you go on without me, have a nice time with the ladies. Amos, stay with her until the van arrives!" he ordered as he ran off, to get the extra shoring braces on the way down to Level G.
He'd gotten the braces in place with Talon's help just before the wall had collapsed entirely; now he stood tall to nail the top of the giant "Keep Out. Danger! Unstable" canvas barrier in place, blocking the corridor at the closest juncture. Two other workers nailed the canvas securely to the walls on either side, while a third was on hands and knees using duct tape to secure the canvas to the floor, as well, so the children wouldn't try to sneak under it; they had learned the hard way over the years that there are few creatures more determined and trouble-prone than a curious child.
Once the danger of imminent collapse was over, Talon had gone back up to the main level to send down the workers with the barrier. But now, as Samson dropped his hammer back into the tool kit, his sharp ears caught the sound of Talon calling his name, and coming rapidly closer. He excused himself and started heading back, only to have his mutate leader nearly barrel into him coming around the corner seconds later. "What's wrong?" he asked as he caught and steadied him.
"Owen's waiting for you with the van," Talon panted, a little out of breath (though not nearly as bad as Amos had been), but grinning from ear to ear. "Delilah's going to lay the eggs tonight!"
"Whaaat?! B-but… they're a month early!" even as he began running with him, back towards the surface and the motor vehicle entrance.
"Owen said the doctor said something about hormonal releases while the ladies are all together," Talon panted as they ran. "What it boils down to is, when one of them starts laying, they all go into labor at once!" When they passed the tunnel that led to his home, he turned aside, shouting back over his shoulder, "I'm going to find a baby-sitter for the kids, and then Maggie and I will meet you at the castle!"
Minutes later Samson thundered into the vehicle entrance to find Owen waiting for him with the van. (He looked odd to Samson's eyes, and it took a moment to realize why; for the first time ever in Samson's memory, Owen Burnett was not wearing a tie.) His manner was as cool and calm as ever, though; he merely said as he opened the van's sliding door for him, "I trust you are ready to depart?"
Samson clambered in immediately, but realized as he brought a small cloud of dust with him into the van that he was still covered in filth from his work in the tunnel. He didn't realize he'd expressed his dismay aloud until Owen picked up what must have been his own hairbrush from the van console and passed it back to him, adding, "And I believe there are still some moist towelettes in one of the side pockets, from the last time Brooklyn borrowed the van to get KFC takeout in an effort to appease Angela's cravings."
By the time they'd reached the castle, Samson was more or less presentable, though Owen's hairbrush would never be the same again. He hurried down into the rookery, to find Brooklyn with Angela, Broadway with Elektra, and Lexington with Aiden as those females crouched and panted in their nests. In their nest off to one side, Delilah sat woefully alone, while Hudson hovered nearby; his twitching tail indicated he was under some distress as he tried hard not to stare at Delilah, who would be bearing his eggs that night, though only the three of them knew it. Delilah was deliberately facing away from Hudson as she sat alone in the nest, looking forlornly at the other females with their mates; when she heard his footsteps on the stairs, she turned towards the entrance and her face brightened like the dawn. "Samson!" she called out excitedly. "Eggs coming!"
"I know, Owen told me!" he said excitedly as he leaped down the last four steps, landing with a bone-jarring thump on the floor of the rookery (which earned him a series of low growls and dirty looks from the others present, for startling them), and hurried over to their nest. "How are you feeling?"
"Okay," she said as she heaved herself into a crouch. "No pain yet, no big pushing feelings like others have already. Doctor said would probably start soon, though." Samson hurriedly got behind her to support her, the way the other males were doing with their mates, urging her to lean back against him to take a little of the weight off her feet. She did so, and they just crouched together for a while, talking in excited whispers. Delilah had shoved and patted the straw for their nest into place before he got there, but hadn't laid any of their decorations out yet; Samson was about to suggest that they open the bag up and start laying things out, to give her something to focus on while waiting for labor to actually start, when her eyes suddenly widened and she shrieked loud enough to nearly burst his eardrums, while digging her claws into his arms hard enough to draw blood.
"It's okay!" Dr. Masters said hastily over his shoulder from where he was on hands and knees in Elektra's nest, in response to Delilah's shriek and Samson's immediate panicked bellow for his services. "It's just her pelvis beginning to unhinge! Those ligaments have never been stretched before, and it's going to hurt for a few minutes until her body releases enough endorphins to counter it. Just relax, Delilah, and let it happen; you saw how the others came through it okay… Elektra, it's starting to crown now. Time to really bear down…"
Twenty minutes later, just a few minutes after midnight, Elektra birthed her egg, and Hudson proclaimed it to be a male, judging by the pattern of the shell mottling. Samson whispered to Delilah as they crouched together, Delilah having started to seriously pant now, "See, she came though it okay, and so will you!"
"Got more than one egg to lay," Delilah whispered back, eyeing with dismay the way Elektra had collapsed into the straw, gasping from her exertions. "If one so rough, how hard will three be?!"
Samson privately wondered and worried himself, but whispered instead, "You've been exercising every night, walking all over the Labyrinth and not cooped up in one little castle, so you've got more stamina than she has. You'll do fine, sweetheart, and in the meantime, you just lean on me, okay?"
They both heard Elektra and Broadway agree on a name for their egg already, even though it had just been laid and wouldn't hatch for ten years yet; Malcolm, after Elektra's human father. After about fifteen more minutes of panting and straining, Delilah suddenly said hoarsely, "We do that, too."
"Do what?" Samson asked as he supported her, subtly shifting while on his knees to keep his feet from falling asleep.
"Name eggs now, instead of wait for hatching," Delilah panted. "We know sexes, we give names!"
"B-but… Sweetheart, we haven't discussed any names yet!"
"So, start thinking!" Delilah turned her head to smile wearily at him as she whispered, "These will be your eggs, so you pick names for them."
"Uh, okay…" Samson's brain reeled for a moment at the sudden responsibility, before deciding that he could at least wait until after all the eggs were laid, so he knew how many names of each gender he had to choose.
Twenty minutes after that, Delilah began snarling with effort, and Dr. Masters checked her and announced that her first egg was also starting to crown. Twenty minutes after that, a little after one a.m., she gave a final snarl and pushed an egg all the way out, Dr. Masters easing the soft shell onto the straw. Hudson's voice shook ever-so-slightly as he proclaimed it to be a female, and Samson praised the egg's mottled beauty in hoarse, tearful whispers as Delilah sagged thankfully back against him.
Ten minutes later, Aiden laid a female egg…
Then Angela laid a male egg…
Then Delilah laid another egg, a male. "One of each now, honey; we're doing great!" Samson whispered enthusiastically as she sagged against him again, grateful for the momentary respite before pushing began again.
Shortly afterwards, Angela pushed her second egg out onto the straw, a female. The rookery now had six eggs, three of each gender, lying in the nests; Birdie, who had designated herself and T.J. as runners to relay news to the friends and family waiting upstairs, was grinning from ear to ear as she went to relay the latest results. "Two more eggs, and I win the betting pool! Don't let me down, Fergs!" she called over her shoulder as she went back upstairs.
"Betting pool?!" Aiden gasped as she crouched in the straw, while Lexington supported her from behind and Dr. Masters wiped her brow with a cotton cloth before getting down on hands and knees to check how she was doing.
"She's your ex-roommate," Angela panted from where she was lying down in her nest, curled around her eggs and spreading a wing over them to help keep them warm until their shells hardened. "Did you think she wouldn't do something like that?"
Still curled around her single egg, Elektra agreed wryly that such actions seemed indeed in character for their friend. Curled right behind her and extending his wing over them both, Broadway admitted, "Yeah, that's Birdie. But she always means well!"
"Well, now we know why she came down with that jar of peanut butter for you last week," Samson said wryly to Delilah as he wiped her brow for her. "She must have been trying to estimate how many eggs you were carrying!"
Delilah agreed, then snarled as she bore down again. And shortly after, less than five minutes apart, Delilah and Aiden both laid male eggs. While Samson and Lexington both praised and congratulated their mates as they cleaned them up and eased them down into the straw, Brooklyn said wryly from where he was lying with Angela and their eggs, "Looks like Birdie wins the betting pool. I wonder who came in second?"
"I did," T.J. said ruefully as he went upstairs to pass the word along.
Three eggs, two males and a female, lay in the nest with them; Samson had decided it was about time to start choosing names for them when Delilah suddenly gasped, her eyes wide. He looked at her in renewed concern as he asked, "Honey, what's wrong?"
"N-not done yet!" Delilah panted as she laboriously got up again.
Dr. Masters had been giving Aiden a once-over to be sure she was okay, having strained much harder to lay her last egg than Delilah had, but at Delilah's words he hurriedly came over and gently palpated her abdomen. "Well, I'll be… Ladies and gentlegargs, all bets are off!" he announced with a wide grin. "Delilah still has one egg left!"
"Huh?" "Y-you mean she…" "They're having four?!" "Four!" The other females and their mates all exclaimed in varying degrees of amazement, awe and envy. From his post at the rear wall of the rookery, Hudson just stood there with his jaw flapping open and his eyes big as saucers, not even seeming to notice when he slid down the wall to end up sitting on the flagstones, staring at Delilah as she strained again.
The last labor should have gone the easiest, but with Delilah's exhaustion after already birthing three eggs, it went just as long as the others had; Samson had to keep urging her to keep pushing, telling her she could do it, he knew she could do it, attagirl, just one more push, c'mon, honey, keep breathing, just one more push… Finally, just before five-thirty in the morning, she gave one last snarl and pushed the fourth egg out into Dr. Master's waiting hands.
"Another boy! I mean, another male!" Samson said excitedly as he saw the shell mottlings, having figured out the patterns by now. "Honey, I'm so proud of you! Three males and a female!"
Delilah sank down into the straw again, with tears of joy and exhaustion in her eyes. "And all for you," she said proudly.
"All for us," he corrected her softly, as he gently mopped her forehead again, before kissing her brow ridges. "Thank you so much, sweetheart, for all you've done…"
Dr. Masters exhaled wearily as he got to his feet again after giving the egg a once-over to be sure the shell was fine, and announced that he believed they were done now. Hudson just nodded dumbly, still sitting against the wall and staring at Delilah and their eggs. "Wow, four eggs," Lexington said softly from where he lay with Aiden and their two. "That's one for the record books, or would be if we had a Guinness for gargoyles…"
"And all for you," Delilah repeated again, very softly, as she curled around the eggs to give them her warmth. Samson couldn't extend a wing over the eggs the way the other males had done to help keep them warm, so instead he got up to gently pat the straw into place around them, caressing each shell as he did so. "Have you thought of names yet?"
Samson was about to protest that he'd only had a few hours, and while he'd already silently decided on Harold and Ivana on the first male and female, after his mother and stepfather, he hadn't gotten around to the other two males yet… When suddenly, her words echoed in his head. All for him… All for one… and one for all.
He knew his dead parents wouldn't mind his abrupt change of mind; after all, Harold Blake had been the one to get him hooked on The Three Musketeers in the first place. And he knew that Delilah had enjoyed the novel too, it being one of the ones they'd read to each other earlier in the pregnancy. He curled up behind Delilah in the nest again, gently urged her to retract her wing so they could both see the eggs, then reached over her to touch each shell in turn, starting with the males as he said softly, "How about… Athos. Porthos. Aramis. And D'Artagna," as he caressed the female egg.
"Good names," Delilah agreed with a smile, before abruptly yawning. "So tired…"
"You just rest, honey; you've done the greatest work ever tonight," Samson whispered as he gently brought her wing over the eggs again, then hugged her close from behind. "You just rest, and I'll keep watch for both of us…"
When dawn came, less than two hours later, Delilah reluctantly got up with the other gargoyles to go out to the battlements. She wanted to stay in the rookery instead, but everyone knew that come the evening, stone chips flying all over the rookery would not be safe for the eggs. But Samson promised to stay in the rookery and keep an eye on them for everybody; he figured he was just too excited to sleep for several hours yet, anyway.
He gave Delilah a loving kiss just before she turned to stone, then went back down to the rookery and sat next to the nest with her eggs—their eggs—lying in it, and gently caressed them in turn. Then his eyes fell on the bag of decorations, which had been shunted to one side and forgotten when all the excitement had started; now he opened it up and began distributing the contents. He started by tucking the little winged dolls in around the eggs, while bestowing gentle kisses on each still-soft shell and whispering their names to them again. Then he set the framed photo in their midst, whispering as he did so, "Our children. Oh, these next ten years are going to take so long to pass, little ones… But we'll come up here as often as we can to see you and take care of you. And once you hatch, we're going to have such fun…"