Aftermath, Part 2
Written by: Kathy Pogge and Stephen R. Sobotka, Jr.
Story concept by: Todd Jensen & Constance Cochran
Illustrations by: Jessica Entis
Previously on Gargoyles...
"We feared the worst," Coldfire added, "when we found ourselves in this place."
Lex asked hesitantly, "Are you... okay? I mean... even like this?" He made a motion towards their battered forms.
Coldstone smiled at his concern. "We've... been better."
"But tell us, please. What news have you of the battle, what of the war?" Coldfire pleaded.
Goliath replied, "Madoc and his host were defeated. The war is over."
Fox and David stepped forward. The toddler, now in his father's arms, gurgled happily. "We'd like to thank you," David began, hesitantly.
"For risking yourselves to protect our child," Fox added.
"It was a selfless act of great bravery," David concluded.
Coldfire dipped her head in acknowledgement. "We did what needed to be done, as did all of you."
"How fare the others," Coldstone asked, changing the subject. "Are they well?"
"There was only one casualty," David said softly.
A tear rolled down Fox's cheek and Alex reached forward to wipe it away with a chubby finger. "Why mama sad?"
David and Fox exchanged a silent thought. We're going to have to tell him eventually.
"Alex, honey," Fox said as gently as she could. "Owen had to go away."
"Go 'way? Where?" Alex demanded. " Unca Owen no go 'way!"
Where did the fay go when they died? Fox wondered. "He went to stay with Grampa Renard. In a special place."
"Unca Owen not leave Alex!" the toddler insisted.
"We'll talk about it later, son," David said grimly, feeling a stab of pain force itself through his own wall of denial. Owen promised. He'd never go away.
"We share your sadness," Coldstone said in the awkward silence that followed. "He seemed a loyal companion and a good friend to your family."
"He was that," the industrialist agreed. "He was definitely that."
"There's going to be a funeral," Fox said. "A Remembrance Ceremony," she added, using the term the gargoyles would understand, "tomorrow night. You are all invited to attend."
Goliath spoke for them all. "We would be honored."
* * *
Alex giggled with pride, flinging his short arms around the tall woman. "I wan'ned you come, Gamma! Dey need help!"
"Help? Who needs my help, my child?"
"Gowiyith's me-tal fwend," Alex replied, his face taking on a somber aspect. "He an' Gol-ladiee. Saved fwom bad people. Got hurts real bad!"
The woman studied Alex, fondly. "Oh? And I suppose you wish your Grandma to help them have no more hurts?"
"Dey help me and Mama and Daddy," Alex said, giving her a look that was both stubborn and pleading. "Gamma help dem!"
Chuckling, the woman leaned down to place a kiss on his forehead. "Well, since you asked me, child, I see no reason to refuse such a noble request. As if I could deny you anything." She stepped into the center of the room. "Come along, Alexander."
~ Aftermath, Part One ~
* * * * *
Aftermath, Part 2
* * * * *
May 3rd, 1999
"...And, with city officials still claiming they cannot release any information until their probe is complete, we can only speculate on what investigators will reveal when they finally make a statement."
As the female anchor stood before the steps of the 23rd Precinct, her serious look and crisp voice being captured by the standing cameraman and sound technician just a few feet in front of her, she relayed an air of urgency that was reflected in her blue eyes.
"From mysterious explosions, to the mass reports of fantasy phenomena that have gripped the entire island over the past week, it is safe to say that whatever the experts find out may be too fantastic to believe. And we are not alone. Reports of similar events have been reported from all over the world: from as far away as Japan, South America, England, and Czechoslovakia."
"While scientists argue over what is the cause of these bizarre events, the citizens of Manhattan, and the world, are forced to find their own answers. Are these signs of a coming apocalypse? With the year 2000 right around the corner, only time will tell." She gave the camera a look of profound concern before continuing.
"From on location at Manhattan's 23rd Precinct House, this is Nicole St. John for WVRN News. Now, back to you in the news room."
"And, cut!" the director said, cueing the cameraman to stop recording. "Perfect! That was great, Nikki!"
Nodding as she handed her microphone and ear piece over to the sound man, the willowy reporter replied with an aggravated sigh, "Thanks, Frank, but how many times do we have to do this story?"
"Nikki, you know how the boss feels about these weird phenomena stories. The public loves them and they mean ratings," Frank replied.
The soundman commented, "You have to admit we've got plenty of them. Only place I know of that gets more weird stuff than here is this small town back in Southern California. Got a cousin that writes every other day. He's convinced that vampires and demons are running loose."
Nicole shook her head. "That's not what I'm talking about, boys. This is New York. It's a strange city. But something really, and I mean really, weird is going on," she said. "I don't have to tell you that somebody is suppressing what's really happening. How else can you explain a Gargoyle Task Force whose final report was 'inconclusive evidence', and a winter that lasts for a year and a half?"
She tossed her mane of blonde hair angrily. "I've had it! I want to report real news, stories about real issues. Not more mysterious car crushings or alleged robots running amuck! I think it's time I got to the bottom of this!"
Frank looked at her sharply. "Nicole, don't you think you ought to leave that sort of thing to the professionals? I mean, some of the stuff that's been happening has been pretty bizarre. I'm talking really-" he finished by humming the theme to a popular television drama.
Nicole frowned. "The professionals have had their shot, Frank." Turning around, she cast her sights on the Eyrie Building. "Now, it's my turn."
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, The Eyrie Building, later that afternoon
Far below the castle proper, a pair of construction workers industriously filled a dump truck with fallen stone and concrete. As the last shovel-full hit the truckbed, they stepped back, removed their heavy leather workgloves and mopped the sweat from their brows. Dusty from shoveling the loose litter that lay in the basin of the dock, they leaned against the metal step-up bumper and began to loosen muscles stiff from heavy labor.
"Some day, eh, Bill?" the larger of the pair commented to his partner.
"Yer tellin' me, Don," Bill said, blowing out his cheeks in relief. He turned to face the lone security guard, waiting in the opening of one of the heavy warehouse style doors that lined the level platform. "Hey, we're all done here, Jackie! Once this load's gone, we'll be back to finish, okay?"
"Gotcha, William! See you with the cleaners when you get back!" The guard watched as the two men clambered aboard the rig. He waved to the driver as the truck pulled away, then removed a cell phone from his pocket and punched two numbers.
"Mr. Xanatos? Jackson here," he reported. "The last truck just pulled out. All they need to do is bring in the street sweepers and everything is finished down below."
* * *
"Excellent, Jackson. Keep me informed," David Xanatos said, closing his phone up as he signed off. Sighing, he realized that the work was only just begun. While the crews had cleaned up most of the debris outside the castle, the castle proper was another story entirely.
The billionaire industrialist returned to his wife and the business of surveying the path of destruction that Garlon and the Unseelie had cut through the interior. Blast marks scoured the walls in places, while in others, entire walls had been blown away.
"We're going to need some decorator for this," Fox said, trying to make some light of the carnage around them. "Maybe we should take advantage of the situation and remodel."
"I'd say we'd need a bulldozer at the least," David commented, lost in his own thoughts. "Owen, I want a structural engineer to . . ." he trailed off when he remembered that Owen was no longer there to put his instructions to deeds.
Fox looked at her husband in silent sympathy. She blinked hard to keep tears at bay.
"We'll get someone to help organize the clean up," David said. He crossed quickly to Fox's side and hugged her. For a long moment, they stood there in silence.
The cell phone in David's pocket chirped loudly again. Never releasing his hold on Fox, he retrieved it and flipped it open to his ear. "What is it?"
"Sorry to disturb you, Mr. Xanatos," the guard from the lobby desk replied, "but, there's a reporter to see you: Nicole St. John from WVRN. She-"
"Doesn't have an appointment," David finished crisply. "Escort her out and remind her that I'm not in the habit of doing unscheduled interviews." He slapped the phone closed and jammed it back into his pocket.
"How long can we put them off, David?" Fox asked. "We're going to have to make a statement eventually."
Despite his fatigue, David tried to smile. "We'll deal with the press as we do everybody, my dear; on our own terms and in our own time."
* * *
Down in the lobby, the desk guard, Daniels, was getting an ear full from the reporter. When simpering and leaning over his desk in her tight green silk suit hadn't gotten the desired results of disregarding the billionaire's instructions, she'd resorted to threats. "Look, Ms. St. John, I can't let you in to see Mr. Xanatos," he said, trying not to rise to the sniping tone in her voice.
"The public has a right to know the facts, mister," she returned. "Especially since it's clear someone attacked your boss's building, or did he blow apart his castle in the clouds?"
"I'm sorry, Miss, I have my orders from Mr. Xanatos himself," Daniels repeated for the third time. "There are no interviews today. Now, would you kindly please leave the premises?"
"Is that an order from Xanatos too?" Nicole groused.
"No, that's a building ordinance," the guard replied, pointing to one of the placards affixed to the front of the desk. "'No Loitering'. Now, please leave before I have to call the rest of security."
Nicole ground her heel into the marble floor. "No need," she huffed. "I'll just find another way to get my interview." She turned on her heel and stalked out of the building, motioning to the cameraman who had been waiting for her to follow.
The guard shrugged, "Your funeral, lady." He turned to pick up the phone again, dialing up to Xanatos's cell phone. "Mr. Xanatos? That reporter has left the building. Yes, sir . . . I'll pass the word onto the rest of the night crew."
* * *
Outside, the cameraman said, "Well, that was a wash! So much for finding out the truth from Mr. X."
Nicole threw her microphone into the back of the news truck. "Xanatos is hiding up there behind his guards and his money! I'm going to find out what his secrets are, Dirk," she fumed to her sandy-haired and mustached companion.
He stuck a thumb in the belt loop of his jeans and looked away, trying to hide his amusement. "But, how are you gonna do that, Nikki? You can't even get past the security desk!"
Nicole scowled. "Oh, ye of very little brains! If you think about it, you can always find a way in," she replied. Reaching inside to get her purse, Nicole began searching through it.
"Oh, no you don't!" Dirk protested, backing away from the newswoman. "You can count me out of whatever you're planing, Nikki! You barely dodged that restraining order when you went after Dominique Destine. I'm not so news crazy that I want to risk my job or my freedom for this kind of story!"
"Then you can wait by the sidelines, while I get the by-line that's going to put me in the big leagues," she said, finally coming out with her notebook and her small-sized camera. "The only way I'm leaving here tonight is with that story, and not even David 'Moneybags' Xanatos is going to keep me from it!"
* * * * *
The Parapets, Castle Wyvern, Sunset
As the orange disk of the sun dipped below the horizon, two new voices joined in the evening song of the gargoyles.
At once, the mated pair turned to face one another. They nuzzled browridges and embraced joyously.
"Beloved! It was not a death dream! We live and we are restored!" Othello proclaimed.
"It was too wonderful to be anything but reality," Desdemona replied, embracing her mate warmly amid the stares of the rest of the clan. "No dream could match the way I feel right now."
Goliath turned to face his brother and sister. "Coldstone! Coldfire? You are alive?"
"But . . . you were dying!" Lex stated, his eyes wide with surprise. His statement mingled with the sounds of Bronx and Nudnik's barking as the guardian beasts tromped forward to investigate the two newcomers. It only took a moment before their growls of suspicion turned to happy yipping.
"But . . . how can this be?" Angela's question was right on the heels of their outburst. "We were told you would not survive the day!"
Broadway looked at the cybernetic gargoyles made flesh. "Xanatos is good," he grudgingly admitted. "But not even he could do this!"
"Wait! Let's let them answer, before we frighten the two o' them off with all of this ruckus!" Hudson said sharply, although his craggy features were as awed and pleased as the rest.
"It was all the boy, Alexander's, doing," Othello replied. "He summoned Queen Titania to restore us."
"Titania?" Goliath repeated. "I do not understand. Why did she intervene?" His face betrayed his conflicted emotions at the fairy queen's generous act.
"She restored our bodies," Desdemona answered, "because Othello and I saved Alexander's life during the attack."
Hudson blinked his one good eye. "Othello?"
"It is my new name, Elder," the former cyborg said with pride. "My mate is named Desdemona. Xanatos gave them to us after he found us."
Ariana bowed before the renewed pair. "Those are very nice names," she said politely.
Graeme added, "They're from that Shakespeare guy, right, Dad?" he said, looking up at his father.
Brooklyn nodded with a smile. "Yep, and I think they're fitting names. Don't you think so, Goliath?"
"I do," the lavender warrior replied, coming forward to place a hand on their shoulders. "I am grateful to Fox's mother for returning you to our clan." Clasping Othello's forearm, he added, "Welcome home, my brother... my sister!"
"It is good to be home," Othello replied with a smile.
"And whole once more," his mate added. Everyone crowded around them giving their own welcome to the pair.
Just then, a polite cough came from behind the clan. Turning, Goliath saw Xanatos. He was clad in casual jeans and a blue and brown plaid workshirt that was covered with dust and grime.
"Xanatos," he said solemnly, stepping away from the others to greet him.
"Goliath," the billionaire replied, looking over at Othello and Desdemona. "I see they've rejoined the fold."
"They are completely healed," Goliath said with a nod.
Xanatos answered with a tired smile. "Good. I came up to tell you that Elisa has been moved to the guest wing." He paused for a moment and cleared his throat. "And to remind you that Owen's memorial is tonight, at 8 p.m., in the main hall." Fatigue and emotion made the industrialist's normally cool tone husky.
"We shall all be in attendance after we make a initial patrol over the city," Goliath replied, as the rest of the clan gathered around them.
"Why not let the police deal with the criminals tonight, Goliath?" Xanatos suggested. "There was a reporter snooping around the castle earlier. I don't want to give her any more cannon fodder."
Goliath looked torn. "I understand your concerns, but we should patrol nonetheless. It is what we do," the gargoyle leader replied firmly. "We will take precautions not to be seen leaving the building."
"If you insist." The billionaire bent to tie his loose bootlace. "Just try and keep a low profile." He stood and turned to address the rest of the clan. "If you'll excuse me, it's been a rather long day." David withdrew from the courtyard leaving the gargoyles alone.
"Losing Owen has been really rough on him," Lexington observed.
"Yeah," Broadway added, "he left some pretty big shoes to fill. Maybe we ought to try and help out... Do something to make it easier for them." He turned to Angela and whispered in her ear. She nodded and Broadway addressed Goliath. "If it's okay with you, Goliath, I want to go see if I can cook dinner for David and Fox."
"Yeah," Lexington chimed in. "I should see how Alex is doing. If that's all right," the web-winged gargoyle added.
"And I'd like to call Mother one more time and ask her to come tonight for the memorial," Angela said timidly. "I know that she and Owen weren't the best of friends, but they did have a connection."
Goliath smiled at his clanmates. "Those are all good ideas."
"Tell you what, Goliath," Brooklyn said at last. "I'll take the family out to run an early patrol sweep. Hudson can go out later, after the funeral, with Othello and Desdemona to help them get a feel for their wings. And didn't say you wanted to check up on Elisa and see how she's doing?"
The brawny gargoyle purpled. "I did promise to be there when she awakened," he admitted. "That sounds like a good plan, Brooklyn." Goliath turned to the others. "We shall meet back here in time for the Remembrance Ceremony."
"Come on, Sata. Come on, kids," Brooklyn said as he herded his family toward the battlements. "Keep in strict formation and no horsing around," he ordered the two rambunctious twins.
"Daaad," Graeme moaned. "Don't treat us like hatchlings!"
"Indeed, Brooklyn-san," Sata added. "My young warriors-in-training know the seriousness of their mission."
"From your lips, Sata-chan," Brooklyn replied dryly. "Come on, we have a lot of ground to cover."
The quartet of gargoyles leapt off the battlements and soared into the night sky.
* * * * *
Nicole was fuming, eyeing the Eyrie Building as she schemed. When she looked up at the castle floating among the clouds, she sucked in a breath as a pair of winged, felineoid shadows soared toward the edifice, disappearing among the castle spires.
The frustrated reporter drew a deep breath. Her eyes went wide with excitement. "Whoa! No way those were part of Xanatos' private air fleet! Not unless he's switched to hang gliders for his commutes!" she said as her resolve galvanized. "I have got to get in there to find out what is going on!"
* * * * *
Goliath walked slowly through the guest wing of the castle, surveying the damage and feeling unexplainably uncomfortable. He fought the feeling away as he realized it was an old emotion, brought on because, a lifetime ago, the guest wing had been forbidden territory. The human occupants had often been violently xenophobic and gargoyles had been unwelcome to soothe their irrational fears.
He paused at the door of the nearest guest chamber. Fox had thoughtfully tacked a small card up near the doorframe with Elisa's name on it. Raising one taloned fist, he knocked gently on the thick wooden door.
"Come in," a soft, feminine voice called.
The gargoyle leader pushed open the door and entered the chamber. Inside, Elisa was lying in bed, propped up by several satin encased pillows. She set aside the book she'd been reading when he knocked, and greeted him warmly. "Hi, big guy. I was hoping you'd come see me."
He crossed to her bedside, sat down next to her on the ivory-satin covered bed and took her hand in his. She looked tired, he thought worriedly. Dark smudges were prominent under her eyes and her skin was unnaturally pale. "How do you feel?" the brawny gargoyle asked at last.
"I've been better," Elisa admitted. "But considering the alternative, I'm feeling pretty chipper." She looked down at her hands wrapped in his and smiled. "I heard about Cold- I mean Othello and Desdemona." She looked up at Goliath and smiled. "That's wonderful news."
"It is," replied Goliath too quickly. "But I wonder at Titania's motivations. She refused to help you when you were dying at her feet. Yet she returned from Avalon at Alexander's request to save my rookery siblings."
Elisa withdrew her hands from Goliath's and hugged herself as she recalled her brush with death. After a moment she dropped her arms and studied the intricate embroidery on her borrowed blue silk pajamas. "Do we ever understand why the fay do anything, Goliath? By not saving me, she made it possible for Demona to act." She looked up into her love's dark eyes. "Maybe redeeming Demona's soul was just as important as saving my life."
"That is an interesting thought," Goliath said reluctantly. "A disturbing thought as well." He paused to gather Elisa gently into his arms. "But I suppose as long as you are here with me, the reason does not matter."
There was a second knock at the door and the pair reluctantly parted. Elisa tugged at the Mandarin collar of the pajamas before calling, "Come in!"
Two furred faces peeked around the doorframe. "We're not disturbing you, are we?" Maggie and Talon, bearing a bouquet of mixed flowers, entered the guestroom.
"Hey, Fuzzball. Hi, Maggie," Elisa greeted her brother and sister-in-law warmly. "What brings you here?"
"I promised Mom I'd drop by and give her an accurate report of how banged up you'd gotten," Talon said dryly.
"She seemed to think you were downplaying how badly you were hurt, Elisa," Maggie explained.
"That's Mom," Elisa replied with a note of humor in her voice. "Always worrying. As you can see, I'm fine and you can tell her that when you talk to her. Or I will," the dark-maned woman said, "when they get back from Chicago. Since it sounds like you talked to them after I did, when are Mom and Dad getting back?"
"I talked to Dad just before we left," Talon replied. "He seemed to think they could get a flight out of O'Hare early tomorrow morning. But it's still kind of sketchy. Mom's publisher wants her to stay on schedule for her book tour."
"Figures," Elisa grumbled. "Business always comes first. But actually, under the circumstances it would probably be a good thing if they stayed out of the city for a little while longer." She noticed the flowers, an improbable bouquet of early spring blossoms. "Are those for me?" she asked hopefully.
"Actually," Maggie replied. "We brought them for Fox... for the service."
"Yeah," Talon replied. "Owen was pretty decent to us in his own way. We thought we should represent the clan at the memorial."
"That's good," his sister replied. "We should all be there tonight."
"Will the doctor approve your being out of bed, Elisa?" Goliath asked concerned.
Elisa straightened up and tried to look healthy. "He said that a short time wouldn't hurt me."
"Then we will see that you get plenty of rest until then." Goliath rose from his love's side. The bed creaked slightly and Elisa shifted to a more comfortable position. "I will return for you later, to escort you to the service."
"We'll be going too, I guess," Talon added.
"Okay," Elisa said, closing her eyes. "But stick close. Beth phoned earlier while I was asleep and she's due to call back anytime."
Elisa began to drift off and her visitors crept quietly from the room.
* * * * *
"Is that everything?" Broadway said as he examined the serving cart for any last minute additions. "We've got ham and Swiss cheese omelets, some toast and tomato juice. Plus a mini omelet, no cheese, for Alex," he said as he filled the boy's favorite two-handled cup with apple juice and snugged on the plastic lid. "Then there's fruit salad, English muffins and hash browns."
"You forgot the salt and pepper, Broadway," Angela reminded as she placed the cut crystal shakers on the cart.
"Thanks, hon," the burly turquoise gargoyle replied as he wiped his hands on a tea towel. "I hope that this is okay. Fox said to make something light."
"I'm sure it will be fine," Angela said as she pushed the tray out of the room. "Don't forget the coffee carafe," she reminded as she reached the doorway.
Broadway picked up the silver and black air-pot and followed his intended out of the kitchen and towards the Xanatoses' private suite.
* * * * *
Lexington walked quietly into Alex's nursery and found the little boy in the company of Emrys. The halfling was holding a book and Alex was watching with rapt attention as the wizard acted out the different parts of the story.
"And so," Emrys finished in the blustering voice of a pretentious narrator, "the little stuffed bear promised he would never eat too much honey again."
Lexington smiled and clapped along with Alex. Emrys looked up startled to find that his audience had multiplied.
Alex, his stuffed winged gargoyle clutched in one chubby fist, gurgled, "Again, Unca Emwies! Hi, Unca Lex!"
"You seem to have quite a way with him," Lexington said as he sat down next to the little boy. "How ya doing, Alex?" The toddler threw his arms around the gargoyle and gave him a hug.
"Yes, well," Emrys faltered. "Mr. and Mrs. Xanatos, that is Fox and David, were rather preoccupied today. I thought it was the least I could do. Under the circumstances and all," he said, referring obliquely to the chaos-stricken family.
"That's what I was thinking too," the olive-green gargoyle said as Alex toddled off to find another book for Emrys. "I could spell you for awhile if you need a breather."
Emrys looked alarmed at the word "spell" then realized that the gargoyle was offering to let him take a rest from his baby-sitting duties. "Thank you, Lexington, but he hasn't been much of a bother. Though I could use a bit of a bite."
"I'm glad to hear you say that," said a new voice from the doorway. David and Fox stood together, leaning lightly upon one another. "Broadway was kind enough to cook dinner for us," the billionaire continued, "and there's more than enough food to share. You too, if you're interested, Lexington."
The gargoyle and halfling started to automatically decline, but a second glance at the normally undefeatable couple before them stayed the words. "Uh, thanks," Lexington answered for them both. "That would be nice."
Fox disappeared for a moment, and reappeared, pushing the over-laden serving cart. "David," she said to her spouse, "if you don't mind, we could use two more place settings from the kitchen."
"Don't trouble yourself," Emrys said, rising to his feet. "I believe I know the way." He gained his feet unsteadily, muscles knotted from too much time on the playroom floor, and left to go find the kitchen.
"We were listening over the baby monitor," Fox confessed. "Emrys certainly has a way with Alex."
"He's all right, for a fifteen hundred year old guy," Lexington agreed. "He was kind of irritating at first, but he grows on you. Kinda like-" The gargoyle realized his faux pas and apologized to the couple. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that like it sounded."
When he looked up, he realized that David was smiling. "That's okay, Lexington," he said. "I know exactly what you mean."
* * * * *
Demona made herself comfortable on the couch and began to shuffle through her briefcase. "Where is it? Where is it," she muttered until, "Ah, ha!" she said triumphantly as she extracted her reading material de jour, a prospectus and financial report for a company that Nightstone was considering doing business with. "Why am I doing this?" she question herself. "I've already put twelve hours in today." But the realization that tomorrow would be just as long, and the first meeting scheduled was with the board to consider this partnership, gave her the motivation she needed to begin her homework. She flipped open the slim brown binder that held the financial documents and began to skim, making notes in the margins as she went. Her eyes began to glaze over and she began to nod off when the telephone rang. "Saved by the bell!" The gargoyle CEO leapt off the couch and picked up the phone.
"Angela, my child. How are you this evening?" Demona said, pleasantly relieved that the caller wasn't a phone solicitor.
"I'm all right, considering..." Angela trailed off and her voice sounded weary. No, Demona realized. She was sad.
"Is there something I can do?" the azure gargoyle asked quickly.
"Owen's memorial is tonight, Mother. I wanted to call... to ask if you were sure that you didn't want to attend."
Demona sighed. She bit down on her first automatic desire to crow at the trickster's demise. "I don't think so, Angela. I prefer to remember Mr. Burnett in my own way."
"All right, Mother. I just wanted to let you know the service was at eight. The clan would welcome you if you wished to join us."
"I appreciate the call, my dear. But I think this is best. I'll see you soon," the elder gargoyle concluded, anxious to end the conversation. Demona hung up the telephone with a sense of relief and wondered why.
* * * * *
Sara held the elevator door while Matt struggled with an awkward armload of pet supplies with one hand and a cat carrier in the other. Once they were safely ensconced in the car, the lithe young woman turned to her companion and said, "Here, will you stop playing the macho man and let me help you with some of this stuff?"
Acquiescing at last, Detective Mathew Bluestone gratefully handed her the cat carrier. "He wasn't so bad at first, but I'd swear the longer I hold him the heavier he gets."
"I'm sure he appreciates the effort, Matt," Sara said sweetly as the elevator bell signaled their arrival.
Maggie stood waiting in the hallway. "Hello," she said shyly to the couple. She leaned down and looked at the big gray cat in the carrier. "And hello to you, Cagney."
The cat meowed in happy recognition of the mutated woman and stuck his paw through the grate of the cat carrier playfully.
"Maybe later, little friend," Maggie said kindly. "Right now there's someone who's eager to see you." She straightened up and addressed the waiting police officers. "Elisa's room is right this way."
Together they walked together down the hallway and toward the guest wing.
* * * * *
Nicole was fuming. She stood under an inexplicably mutilated lamppost watching the lobby entrance to the Eyrie Building as a couple, the man overburdened with bags and boxes, entered unmolested.
"Blast you, Xanatos! You can't get rid of me like some gossip-hound from the 'Daily Tattler'!" the reporter declared. "I know you've got a story for me... if I could only get inside and get it." She pulled her tan slouch hat down further over her eyes as a white mini-van pulled alongside the curb, adjacent to the lobby entrance. A gold-and-black logo, next to the words "Valencia Florists" graced the van's side.
Nicole perked up, and thinking quickly, walked towards the vehicle, just as the delivery person stepped out to open the back doors.
"Say, you there?" she said to the driver.
The delivery boy looked at her warily. "Yeah, can I help you, lady?"
Nicole fished out a hundred-dollar bill and waved it in front of his face. "How would you like to make some easy money?"
* * *
The guard was watching the camera-monitors from his desk, when something dropped on the counter in front of him. Looking up, he saw a display of carnations, very artfully done in a splay of white and blue, obscuring the face of a coverall-clad and capped delivery person, who thrust a clipboard with a form on it towards him.
"Delivery for David Xanatos," the person said.
The guard yawned, but he took the clipboard and made the call up to the castle. "Mrs. Xanatos... Security here... Valencia Florists is here... Send it on up? Yes, ma'am." He motioned towards the elevators as he thumbed the security switch. "Go on up. They said to take it directly to the main hall. Just press the lobby button."
"Thanks," the deliverywoman said, hefting the display and several boxes. She walked quickly to the elevator. It wasn't until the doors began to close that Nicole peeked out from behind the bridge of her purloined cap. "Sucker."
* * * * *
Cagney mewed happily as Sara released him from the carrier. He immediately jumped into Elisa's arms and began to purr loudly.
"It was the weirdest thing," Matt said as he shed his topcoat gratefully. Underneath he was clad in a somber black suit. "I walked into your apartment and Cagney came up off of the couch, chattering at me like he knew I was coming and I was late." Elisa raised an eyebrow at her normally laid-back pet's behavior. "He pawed my shoes and then went running for the hall closet."
"The hall closet," Elisa said perplexed. "But the only thing I keep in there is my jacket and ...his cat carrier. But, Matt," she added confused, "he hates that thing! I practically have to sedate him just to get him in there!"
"Not this time," her partner replied. "I opened the closet door and he jumped on top of it and started batting at the door. I pushed him off and took it out of the closet long enough to open it. He darted right in and waited with the door opened, while I gathered up the rest of his stuff." He looked at the over-filled paper sack Sara had set next to the dresser. "I hope I didn't forget anything."
Elisa glanced toward the bag. From her vantage point it looked like he'd picked up every cat toy Cagney owned, plus added a few for good measure. "As long as he has his food dish, a litter box and a catnip mouse, he'll survive, Matt. I'm only gonna be here for a couple of days." She stroked the cat fondly as he nestled on the pillow next to her. "I appreciate you bringing him over though."
"Not a problem," Matt replied. "It was a cakewalk compared with squaring things with the Captain."
Elisa paled abruptly. "Oh no, I completely forgot!"
Sara spoke up. "Don't worry. We covered for you. We told her that you'd gotten involved in that giant accident on the Washington State Bridge."
"Giant accident?" Elisa said confused. "What giant accident?"
"There was a forty-seven car pile up the night the Unseelie attacked," Sara explained. "It didn't take much to add your name to the casualty list. We all pulled some strings so Captain Chavez thinks you're in a coma at Mercy Hospital."
"I guess I owe you guys," Elisa said as she relaxed against her pillows.
Angela entered hesitantly bearing a tray with a sandwich and a covered bowl of soup for Elisa. "Broadway thought you might want something to eat before you had to get ready for the memorial service."
"Thanks, Angela, that's probably a good idea," Elisa said as she accepted the tray. "I've been really hungry since I woke up in the hospital."
"It's the effect of the elfshot," Angela replied as she straightened up. "Your body is still trying to restore itself." The apprentice sorceress turned to leave. "There's more in the kitchen, if anybody else is hungry."
The phone at Elisa's bedside rang and she smiled as Maggie handed her the instrument. "Hello? Beth!" she held her hand over the mouthpiece, "Angela, could you find Derek? My sister's on the phone."
The lavender female nodded. "He's in the kitchen with Goliath and the others. I'll get him. Don't forget about Broadway's buffet," she reminded again as she left.
Taking the cue, Matt rose from the chair he'd appropriated and tilted his head to Sara.
"I'll be back to help you get ready in a little bit, Elisa," the young woman said as she trailed out behind Matt.
The room emptied, leaving Maggie and Elisa to listen as Beth excitedly began to relate her adventure.
* * * * *
"Thanks, you two, for staying with Alex while we take care of the last details," Fox said as she rose from the impromptu dinner on the nursery floor.
David had already left, claiming that he had work to take care of. He'd picked at his plate of eggs and toast for a time before abandoning the pretense of eating. "This is really rough on him," Lex had said, and Fox agreed. David was taking the loss of his majordomo, very, very, hard.
She escaped to her bedroom and dressed quickly, choosing a conservative black silk dress and wondering for a brief moment if Puck would prefer one of her gayer, more brightly colored outfits. Staring at her drawers full of scarves and pins and other accessories, she chose a multicolored length of silk and tucked it into the pocket of the dress's matching waist-length jacket.
Taking a final few moments to tuck a few loose strands of her tightly braided red hair back into the bun at her neck, she added a dusting of powder and a quick coat of her most waterproof mascara. The phone at her elbow buzzed.
"Yes," she said automatically.
"Security, Mrs. Xanatos. Valencia Florists is here."
"Send them up," Fox dropped the phone into its cradle, checked herself in the mirror one last time, and went to meet the florist.
* * * * *
Nicole shifted from foot to foot as the elevator rose smoothly to the residential section of the Eyrie Building. She realized she was fidgeting, and made herself take several deep breaths to calm down. She tugged on the brim of her cap to pull it further down over her face just as the indicator light announced that the lift door was opening.
Standing there, waiting patiently, was a somberly dressed Fox Xanatos.
Think like a delivery person, Nicole commanded herself as she stepped out of the elevator.
"Please follow me," Fox said as she pointed down the hallway.
Nicole, her heart beating wildly, did as she was told. From time to time she took a surreptitious peek from under her hat brim, her eyes growing wider and wider as she surveyed the destruction.
"Holy cow!" she exclaimed loud enough for Fox to hear. "What happened?"
Fox looked back sharply at the deliverywoman and realized her error in escorting her into the castle. "We had a fire," she lied smoothly. "It's amazing the damage that can occur when a few rats get into your wiring."
"Makes me want to run right home and call the exterminator," Nicole replied as she dodged a barely hanging wall tapestry.
"In here, please." Fox opened a heavy oaken door and pointed the way.
Nicole stepped inside. A chill overtook her. "This is a funeral," she said out loud, then mentally slapped herself for the gaff.
"Yes, it is," Fox said, eyeing the deliverywoman closely. "Where's Joey? He's our regular contact with Valencia."
"Uh, Joey took sick suddenly," Nicole improvised. "I'm new with the company. Call me... Midge." The disguised reporter was careful to keep her back to Fox as she began to open boxes and started to fuss with the flowers within.
"I see," Fox said. Alarms were going off inside her head. "You can place the arrangements by the head of the casket. Use the pedestals and those brass urns if you want."
"Will do, ma'am," Nicole replied as briskly as she could. Inside her heart was racing and she wished the redheaded woman would leave so she could get on with her real work.
Fox couldn't shake the nagging sense that something wasn't right, but she shrugged and said, "Well, finish up and then please leave." She walked over to where a table was standing despite the fact it only had three legs and pulled out an envelope from inside her jacket. "Your tip is on the table, here by the door."
"Not a problem, ma'am! Happy to be of service!" the woman said as she completed an arrangement of chrysanthemums and ferns, turning them from loose stems into an artful display.
Fox nodded, then left the woman to her work. With a casual glance over her shoulder, she tapped a spot on the doorframe on her way out into the hall.
As soon as Fox was out of the room, Nicole let out a deep sigh of relief. "Goodness, paranoid aren't they!" She took a quick peek around the room to make sure that it was indeed empty, before abandoning the flowers and examining the coffin that was prominently displayed at the head of the room. "I wonder who died?" she asked softly. Her hand danced over the latch on the coffin lid, but her courage deserted her before she raised the faceplate more than an inch.
"I can't do it," she admitted as she drew her hand away. "I'll just have to wait and see who's in the box. Beside," she reasoned, "the guests might be the bigger scoop!" She snapped a few pictures of the ravaged hallway before returning to the flowers. Pocketing the tip, she surveyed the arrangements and found herself pleased. "How about that? I didn't forget everything from the summer job at Flowers R Us."
She turned away from the floral displays and began to search for hiding place that would allow her the best vantage. The room didn't offer many alternatives. She settled for a tapestry and quickly hid behind it as she heard voices in the hallway.
* * * * *
"How are you two doing in there?" Matt called through Elisa's doorway a little while later. He glanced at his watch and grimaced as he straightened his paisley necktie.
Sara popped her head out a moment later. "We're fine," she said. "Elisa needed to rest after she got out of the shower. She's still really knocked for a loop."
"She's pushing too hard," Matt said, the concern heavy in his voice. "Maybe she should sit this one out."
"Is something the matter?" Goliath rumbled as he approached.
Elisa answered for herself as she came to the door. Her hair was wrapped in a towel and she was clad in a fluffy white bathrobe. Cagney circled protectively at her feet. "Nothing is wrong," she announced firmly. "I just need a few more minutes to get dressed." She pushed away from the doorframe. "I'll be ten minutes. Max."
"We'll be down the hall," Matt said diplomatically as he traded glances with Sara and Goliath. The women withdrew and the males stepped into a small hallway alcove to wait.
* * * * *
"She is very determined," Goliath remarked as he stood awkwardly next to his love's partner.
"You got that right," Matt agreed. "Once Elisa sets her mind on something... watch out! She never does anything in half measures."
Goliath purpled in memory of some past incident and his tail began to twitch. "That is one of her more... endearing qualities," the gargoyle clan leader admitted. "I admire her strength."
Matt looked up at Goliath and gave him an appraising look. "You're really stuck on her. Aren't you." It was a statement, not a question.
Goliath did not meet the red-haired detective's eyes. Instead, he looked down the corridor toward the room where his love was ensconced. "She is everything to me," he said quietly.
Matt's thoughts drifted to Sara and he understood.
* * * * *
Nicole stood impatiently behind the heavy, musty tapestry and wondered how long she'd have to wait. Her nose itched and she fought the urge to sneeze. "I hope this is worth it," she muttered under her breath, reaching down to get her small camera from the hip pocket of her coveralls. "Good thing I put that self-adjusting film in here."
She heard footsteps in the hallway and froze, willing herself not to breathe or sneeze. A persistent tickle tormented her and she began to count backwards from one hundred in an attempt to will the impending sneeze away.
The tapestry was suddenly ripped aside, and the explosive movement of air was enough to break her concentration. She sneezed in the face of David Xanatos.
"Just what the devil do you think you're doing, Ms. St. John?" His tone was mild, but the heat behind it was palpable.
"No need to get huffy, Mr. Xanatos," the reporter replied, hoping she could talk her way out of what promised to be a very ugly situation
"Let me guess," David continued in the same, mild tone. "You don't make enough money spreading lies and innuendo so you decided to take a moonlighting gig working for a florist."
Nicole's nose began to itch again and she fidgeted under the billionaire's steely glare.
"While you were delivering flowers here," David continued, "you decided to inspect the backs of my tapestries to see if you could drum up some business for your sound man, who moonlights as a dry cleaner."
Nicole rallied briefly. "Not exactly, Mr. Xanatos. You've been involved in some pretty peculiar happenings in the last few days. Your building is in pieces again."
"That doesn't give you the right to invade the sanctity of my home!" the billionaire snapped.
Two uniformed security officers entered the room and took up positions behind their employer.
"I want you to take Ms. Saint John downstairs and hold her for the police," Xanatos instructed coolly. "Make a copy of the security video and give them that as well. If they need a statement, tell them to call me tomorrow. I'll give them one then."
"Yes, sir," the pair said in one voice.
"The public has a right to know!" Nicole yelled as the security officers escorted her away.
"Not if I can help it," David replied curtly. "Good night, Ms. St. John!"
* * * * *
Brooklyn and Sata sat perched in an ancient oak tree, watching their children play in a deserted corner of Central Park.
Sata contemplated her mate for some moments before speaking. "Brooklyn-san, you told Goliath that we would patrol. Instead you brought us straight to this place. The children do not seem to mind, but I am curious about your actions."
Brooklyn stirred at last, tugging idly on the hem of his vest. "I just needed to get us out of the castle for a while, hon. Xanatos talking about Owen's memorial service was really creeping me out."
"I understand your feelings, my mate," Sata commiserated as she wrapped the former Timedancer in a winged embrace. "It is difficult to think of Mr. Burnett as dead."
"I can't get my mind around it. I know the kids are having a rough time." He shrugged helplessly. "I figured we could all use a little time away from the others," the crimson gargoyle admitted.
"I understand your reasoning. But as hard as a concept as it is to deal with, my mate," Sata counseled, "we must accept this situation as we have others like it before." She looked up at the moon and judged the time. "We have hidden long enough, Brooklyn-san. If we do not leave now, we will be late for the ceremony. And that would be disrespectful to our hosts."
"You're right, Sata-chan. Let's get the kids and head back," Brooklyn fondly touched his mate's browridge and stood to launch himself away from the park.
"Come, children," Sata called to Graeme and Ariana. "It is time to leave."
* * * * *
Broadway looked up at the clock in the main kitchen. Nearly everyone had congregated there: Talon and Maggie, Hudson, the restored Othello and Desdemona, Lexington, and Emrys, holding Alex. Only Brooklyn's patrol and Angela were missing, the female gargoyle having departed a few minutes earlier to check if Elisa or the Xanatoses required any further assistance.
"I guess it won't be too much longer," the burly turquoise gargoyle rumbled. "Until the memorial service, I mean."
"I still can't believe it," Lexington said sadly. "I'm really gonna miss Owen."
"Yeah," Talon grudgingly admitted. "He had a real way of growing on you."
"That's true," Maggie added. "He wasn't the warmest person. In fact, he was awfully difficult to talk to, but if we needed something down below, we only had to ask."
Emrys settled Alex in his high chair and the toddler began to whisper to his ever-present stuffed gargoyle. A moment later he was giggling and singing one of Lexington's alphabet songs. "Wainbow, wockets, wings an' things. Wabbits, wobots an' machines."
"Great lyrics, Lex," Brooklyn said as he entered, family in tow. Sata and the children were dressed in matching white kimonos and Graeme was tugging uncomfortably at his sash.
The younger gargoyle blushed deep olive. "I was trying help him work on his 'R' sounds. They've really been giving him problems."
"I think it's a capital idea," said Emrys. "The poor lad can't make himself understood if he's mixing up his consonants. Try it again, Alexander," the halfling wizard coaxed. "Rainbows, rockets, rings and things-"
Alex, with a determined look on his pudgy features, joined in, "Rabbits, wrobots an' machines!"
The assembled gargoyles and mutates clapped appreciatively and Alex looked pleased.
"Much better, Master Alexander," Emrys said.
"Way to go, kiddo!" Lexington added as he patted the child affectionately on top of the head.
"You have quite a way with children, Emrys," Fox said from the doorway. The congratulations for Alex's minor triumph faded abruptly and the room quieted. "Thank you again for helping out, all of you," she added, scanning the odd assembly. "It's been a less than stellar day."
Hudson rose and offered his arm to Fox. "Here lass, take my arm. You look like you could use someone to lean on."
Fox dabbed a tear from her eye. "Yes, I suppose I could. It's time."
* * * * *
David stood at the head of the casket, contemplating the body of his friend and assistant. "You said you'd give me a lifetime of servitude, Owen," he said quietly. "I guess I should have specified my request more explicitly." He gave the casket a rueful smile. "I meant my lifetime. You were supposed to stay at my side until I was old and gray, and died in my bed at the ripe old age of one hundred and fifty. Not get shot and die in some stupid political struggle between factions of your own people!" David stroked his beard. "I wonder if I've got any pull with Titania. Maybe she could do something," he ruminated thoughtfully. "Or maybe I could get Alex to ask. He certainly is in her good graces."
"No, I suppose not," the billionaire concluded reluctantly. "I'm being selfish. No matter how it ended, you're in a far, far, better place. I wish you well, my friend." Wearily, David Xanatos walked the few short steps to the fireplace hearth behind the coffin. He rested his cheek against the cool stones and let his grief overwhelm him.
* * * * *
"Then, let's not keep the others waiting," Elisa said as Sara finished brushing her hair. The detective's ebony locks shone, emphasizing her unnatural pallor. She rose unsteadily from the chair in front of the mirrored dressing table and waved away Sara's offer of support. "I'm fine," she insisted as Matt and Goliath entered.
"Are you sure you don't want to use the wheelchair?" Sara asked carefully as she straightened her own dark navy blue dress. "You still seem awfully unsteady."
Goliath looked at the chair sitting in the corner of the room. Elisa caught his glance and her chin went up. "I just need someone to lean on," she said, taking Goliath's arm. "I really do feel fine. Just a little tired."
Goliath shot Matt a questioning look and the detective shrugged his shoulders. "Told you so," he added, unsurprised by Elisa's show of independence.
He took Sara's arm and followed Goliath and Elisa down the hallway.
* * * * *
David composed himself as subdued voices and footsteps began to echo in the hallway. He wiped a hand over his eyes and straightened his blue and gray striped tie before stepping to the doorway to welcome the other mourners.
Fox, now holding Alexander, stood at the head of the group. Her arm was tucked in Hudson's and he stepped away as Xanatos moved forward and embraced his wife and son. Behind him were the rest, dressed in freshly pressed loincloths. The meaning of Sata and her children's white kimonos was not lost on the billionaire. "You honor Owen with your gesture, Sata-chan."
"The wearing of mourning white seemed only appropriate for one who has done so much for our clan," Sata replied, bowing respectfully toward the coffin.
A few moments later, Elisa and Goliath, followed by Matt and Sara, entered the room.
"I see we're all here," David continued in his role of host. "Thank you, Elisa. I know this couldn't have been easy for you."
"I'm fine," she insisted once more. "See?" She removed her hand from Goliath's arm and took a few unsteady steps.
Talon caught her as she stumbled and started to pitch forward. "Easy does it, sis," he rumbled.
"Maybe I will have a seat," Elisa demurred as Broadway offered her a chair. The dark-haired woman arranged the folds of her borrowed black dress carefully around her legs to avoid the looks of concern she knew Goliath and the others had turned upon her.
"If we might begin?" David said once they were all settled. There were no chairs in the room save the one for Elisa. The others stood gathered around the coffin.
"Owen, for some strange reason," Fox said, "never made funeral arrangements. I suspect he believed that he would outlive us all. But it seemed appropriate to do something and the Remembrance Ceremony we held after my father's funeral seemed the perfect way to say goodbye to our friend, Owen Burnett."
Fox wiped a tear away from her blue-fox tattooed eye, and began speaking again. "I remembered the first time I met Owen. I thought to myself 'what a stiff!'" There was a small sprinkling of chuckles from the assembled mourners and Fox smiled in acknowledgement before continuing. "There was no way I could have known that under that plastic exterior beat the heart of one of the greatest tricksters known to mankind. Needless to say, after David revealed his secret to me, I was just a tiny bit flabbergasted." She wiped away another tear, this one was accompanied by another small smile. "To find out later that Owen or rather his alter-ego Puck, was family of a sort, was a revelation I'd never expected." She turned to David, her blue eyes bright. "Do you remember the first time he called you, 'Cousin Davie'?"
That earned a return smile from David. "I told him if he ever did that in the office, I'd fire him," he recalled. "A second later he was wearing an army private's uniform. I've never seen anybody snap a crisper salute," he said with pride. Then added ruefully, "And I never saw him palm that joy buzzer after he offered to shake my hand."
"Yeah, he did have a way of getting his point across," Brooklyn added. "Like the time Nudnik got into his sock drawer?"
"Hey," Graeme came to his pet's defense. "That wasn't all that funny. Now he cowers whenever he sees anything plaid!"
"Well, maybe all of his pranks weren't perfect," David said, as he suppressed a snicker. "But I will never have a better assistant, or a better nanny or a better friend. You will be missed, Owen Burnett."
"Here! Here!" the assembled mourners cheered.
"Why don't we go around the room now and share a memory?" Fox invited. "Goliath, would you like to begin?"
Goliath rustled his wings and drew himself to his full height. "He was a contradiction, even before his true identity was revealed. We were adversaries and yet in time, he became an ally and a friend to our clan. We would not have survived the Unseelie menace without his courage and his guidance. Despite the restrictions placed on him by Avalon's king, he helped us when we needed him most."
"We did not know him as well as you did," Othello said, stepping forward to address the rest of the assembled guests. "He was taciturn, even cryptic at times. But he opened our eyes to our place in this New World, and for that Desdemona and I are grateful."
"I know he was acting on your instructions," Lexington said, nervously clearing his throat. "But I really appreciated how he took the time to help me out whenever I needed help. I know we made it look easy," he said, grinning at his rookery brothers, "but getting used to this new life wasn't as simple as you'd think."
"He helped me learn how to use all those fancy appliances," Broadway added. "And he showed us what it was like to be human, by casting that spell. Do you remember, guys?"
Brooklyn looked at his rookery brothers. "How could I forget? We all practically got killed that night!"
"And he turned me into a gargoyle," Elisa said, her first words since the service had begun. "I got a chance to glide... under the power of my own wings."
"He allowed us to see the world in a whole new light," Goliath rumbled. He smiled gently down on Elisa, and feeling his eyes on her, she looked up and smiled in return.
"He tutored me when I had trouble with mother's Latin homework," Angela contributed. "And even though he couldn't help me directly, he was there for me when I needed someone to talk to about magic."
"He'd come down to the Labyrinth just to 'see how we were doing,' he said," Talon admitted. "Even though I knew it was because he was worried about the kids that live down there with us." He turned to Fox and David. "Did you know that he'd bring boxes of toys and clothes that weren't from the Foundation Fund?"
David raised an eyebrow in surprise. "No, I didn't. Who would have thought it?"
"I knew," Fox admitted. "I caught him at it one day when I opened the trunk of the car to put some shopping away. He swore me to secrecy."
"It sounds like my cousin was there for all of you, in one way or another," Emrys commented. "Perhaps you had as good an influence on him as it appeared he did on you."
Hudson placed a hand on Bronx's shoulder, speaking sagely, "Owen Burnett was a good man. An' there'll ne'er be another one like him, ever."
Sara had hardly known Owen, but Matt spoke for them both, "He was a true professional. I can respect a man that never neglected his duty, no matter what the circumstances."
"Owen will be missed, by his family, and his friends. I... hope I was one of the ones he counted among those he called 'friend', because I would certainly . . . call him mine," Elisa said softly.
"Truer words were never spoken," Xanatos said finally. "Owen . . . my friend, you will be missed."
* * * * *
Demona stirred as the clock struck half past eight. Her reading had taken its toll and she lay, sprawled on the couch, a stack of financial documents spilling out of her lap.
"You didn't turn out at all like I'd expected," a voice, more accustomed to whimsy than disapproval, chided.
The dream-Demona opened her eyes to find herself staring at an upside-down Puck. The fay trickster levitated before her, clad in bright green leggings and a hideously multi-patterned blue and yellow jerkin. "Puck!" the sleeping gargoyle cried. "What are you doing here? They told me you died!"
"And this matters to me, how?" her pointed eared nemesis asked. "Oh, yes, I see your point. If I'm dead then what am I doing here?"
"Yes," Demona said weakly, trying to unscramble her shattered thoughts.
"Well, I couldn't just float off to Never Never Land without seeing you one last time could I?" the trickster said, righting himself. "After all, Demona, old chum, look at the times we've shared, the fun that we've had!"
"You tormented me from the moment I set eyes on you," the gargoyle accused.
Puck flung a hand to his chest, grabbing his heart dramatically. "You wound me! I wasn't just tormenting you! I was helping you grow! But look at what you've become," he said as he examined the stacks of financial documents that were now crowding the room in absurd proportions. "You're a bigger stick in the mud than when you were stuck on destroying humanity!" He flung a stack of bound paper up in the air. It rained down as multicolored confetti. "Lighten up, D!"
"I have responsibilities!" Demona protested. "In case you haven't noticed, your former boss is one of my biggest competitors. I have to work hard to stay ahead of his game."
"Ah, yes, Davie," Puck mused. "But he always had a fun streak. You bury yours so deep, it hardly ever comes out to play."
"I try," the gargoyle said weakly. "I get out with Angela or Andrea occasionally."
"True, they've both been a good influence on you, but you need to try harder!" He gave himself a quick slap across the face, sending his long white ponytail flying. "Scratch I said that. You should never try to have fun! Just do it!" He listened as though a bell was tolling far away and he was the only one to hear it. "Ah, darn! And just when I was going to suggest we go paint the town." He produced a bucket of red paint and an oversized brush out of thin air and waved it maniacally around the room. The paint scattered over the confetti and soon bright red polka dots spattered the walls and ceiling. "Take care, Toots, and remember to keep smiling!" Puck disappeared in a cloud of pixie dust and Demona woke up with a start.
She looked over with disgust at her dinner of pizza rolls and chocolate milk and the stack of Wingdings wrappers and muttered, "Never again!"
* * * * *
The mourners trailed out of the hall speaking soft words of sympathy to Fox and David. "It was a lovely memorial," ventured Maggie as she and Talon were saying their good-byes.
"Yes, I thought so too," Xanatos said softly. "He's going to be laid to rest tomorrow at our family plot up in Maine."
"We've picked out a beautiful spot overlooking the water," Fox added.
"It sounds very nice," Talon added. He watched out of the corner of his eye as Goliath scooped his sister off the ground and into his massive arms. "Excuse me, I want to say goodnight to Elisa."
"I'm fine," she protested as Matt, Talon, and the others, rushed to Goliath's side. "I just got dizzy." She started to wiggle free and was overcome by a second, heavier wave of vertigo. "Maybe I've pushed just a little too hard today," Elisa admitted as she quit struggling and settled back against Goliath's chest.
"I'm putting you to bed," Goliath said in a tone that brooked no argument.
"I'll help you, Goliath," Sara said. She gave Matt a quick peck on the cheek. "I'll catch up with you later tonight. Coffee at Magee's at midnight?"
Matt shook his head. "I have a feeling we'd better make it breakfast instead." He pulled her into his arms and hugged her. "Thanks, Sara. Take good care of my partner."
A smile danced in Sara's liquid brown eyes. "I have to," she said quietly. "Otherwise, who's going to keep an eye on you?" she teased as she followed Goliath down the long hallway toward the guest wing.
Hudson and the restored Cold Duo had slipped away quietly after adding their own words of comfort, as had Brooklyn and his family. Broadway and Angela were standing hand in hand and talking quietly with their heads together when Emrys stepped up to join them.
"I don't mean to interrupt," he said apologetically, "but I was wondering, Angela, if I might have a word with you?"
"Of course, Emrys," the lavender female said to the towheaded wizard. "Broadway and I were going to the kitchen. Would you like to join us?"
Broadway noticed the hesitant look on Emrys's face. "Or, you could talk in the library, if you want something more private."
"No, that's quite all right," Emrys said. "I'm in a bit of a muddle and I could use more than one opinion. If you don't mind."
The trio nodded to Fox and David and then left the hall, the gargoyles waiting patiently while Emrys composed his thoughts.
"You see," he began once they were nearly to the kitchen. "It's this memorial for Owen." Emrys tugged on the uncomfortable tie, loosening it as he began to speak. "As strange as it seems, I kept thinking of my father during the entire service."
"You were thinking about Madoc?" Broadway blurted with ill-contained disbelief. "Why?"
"I'm not sure," Emrys admitted as they entered the kitchen and he took a seat on a step stool. Angela went for the tea kettle, filling it, then placing it on the stove while Broadway got down a pot and some tea leaves from the cupboard. "I kept thinking back on our conversation in London, Angela. The one about being more than the sum of our parts?" Angela nodded and Emrys continued. "He was a thoroughly despicable character, my father. Always going after what wasn't his. But still, I regret his passing."
"I think I understand, Emrys," Angela said as she poured water over the tea leaves. "I've developed a good relationship with my mother. And even I'll admit that it wasn't easy, she was so set in her ways," she added as she peeked in the teapot. Satisfied at the color of the brew she poured three cups then continued. "Everything at the beginning was a plot or a plan. She couldn't relate in any other way. I couldn't understand her thinking at all. Even when she was trying to protect me, she had to hide it in subterfuge." She turned to Broadway. "Do you remember that book someone sent me: The True Origin of Gargoyles, Vampires, and Werewolves by Dee Knight?"
"Yeah, we never did figure that one out," the burly turquoise gargoyle said while scratching his ear tip.
"It was from mother," Angela revealed. "It contained her diary and a protection spell that she wanted to place over me to keep me from harm. But," she added sadly, as she sipped at her tea, "she didn't dare just come out and say so. She didn't trust anyone that far. Not even me."
"But you kept trying," Emrys noted. "And it seems you've achieved some level of success. I don't think that would have ever been possible with my father. So I wonder why I still feel his loss?"
"Because for better or worse," Broadway said, "he was your father. I've learned that from Angela. It's just part of how it works when you have parents." He looked at the pair. "I kind of envy you two," he admitted. "I was raised with an entire clan full of parents, but it doesn't seem quite the same as having a special pair to call your own." He looked at his intended. "I want to be a good father to our kids, Angela."
She smiled at him affectionately. "I know you'll do fine, Broadway." She kissed him on the nose and Emrys looked away, studying a spot on the tile intently as painful memories washed over him.
Suddenly embarrassed by the prospect of children, Broadway began to move nervously around the kitchen. Without thinking, he withdrew a mixing bowl from the cabinet and began to combine flour, sugar and other ingredients.
"Looks like muffins," he said to the combined amusement of his audience. He found frozen blueberries and peaches in the freezer and after thawing them in the microwave, added them to the batter with a pinch of ginger.
"That looks a bit like a tea cake that Una makes," Emrys noted. "Except she uses this crumbly stuff on top."
"Say that sounds like a good idea!" Broadway found a second smaller bowl and combined brown sugar and flour with a bit of butter and cinnamon. "That should do it," he said, tasting the mixture.
He spooned the batter into a muffin tin, then crumbled the brown sugar mixture over the top. After sliding the pan into the oven, he rejoined the others at the counter. "Excuse me for saying, Emrys, but is that the only thing that's bugging you? You've been pretty quiet since the night of the battle."
The halfling wizard buried himself in his teacup for a long moment before replying. "That's it, mostly. Although, I will admit that finding myself in New York suddenly was a bit of a shake up."
Broadway looked at the young-old eyes of the youth and frowned. "I've got a feeling there's more to it then that. Call it detective's instinct."
"Broadway," Angela chided. "If Emrys wants to confide his troubles to us, he will." She turned and regarded the wizard over her tea cup. "Won't you, Emrys?"
Under Angela's sympathetic gaze, the boy-wizard struggled, torn between the need to talk and embarrassment over recent events. "Well there was one other little thing," he admitted at last. "I was taken in rather thoroughly by one of my father's followers, the Morrigan." He looked up, his gray eyes sad. "Maybe it was my diminished powers. Maybe it was because I needed to have a friend like her in my life. Corbie, that was her human form, was after all, a breath of fresh air in a very frustrating existence. And we did get rather close." Emrys sighed. "Finding out she was playing me for a fool was... traumatic to say the least. I'm afraid I'm still rather shaken."
Angela got up and placed a comforting hand on Emrys's shoulder. "No one likes to be lied to, Emrys," she said looking at Broadway for help.
"Don't worry," Broadway chimed in, taking his cue from Angela, "I'm sure that someday you'll find somebody who likes you for who you are and not because it's part of some plot."
"I suppose," Emrys said halfheartedly. "I've never been very lucky in love. But even I may get it right eventually." He slid off the kitchen step ladder and placed his tea cup in the sink. "I'm rather tired. I believe I'll call it a night. Thank you both for allowing me to bend your ears."
"Goodnight, Emrys," Angela called as Emrys slipped out of the kitchen.
"Poor guy," Broadway said as he refilled Angela's tea cup. "I guess not everyone can be as lucky as us."
"You're right, Broadway," Angela said as she slid an arm around her beloved's waist. "Despite everything that's happened, we should count our blessings."
"You're right, Angela," Broadway agreed. He nuzzled her for a moment and gave her a kiss. "And that's why I think that we shouldn't waste more time. The war is over and we should get on with our lives. Let's make it official, Angela," he beseeched. "There's isn't any reason why we should put this off another night. Let's become mates."
Angela disentangled herself from Broadway's embrace. "I have been thinking about a ceremony," she admitted. "But it would take a little time to plan," she added hesitantly.
"A human wedding?" the burly gargoyle ventured, his voice sounding unenthused.
"No," Angela replied. Broadway relaxed a little. "But I did get a few ideas from those magazines I borrowed a while back and I'd like to use them to create a ceremony that's special. Just for us."
"I guess that's okay," The doubt returned to her intended's voice. "But we can still have a mating flight and a wedding feast can't we?" he asked hopefully.
Angela laughed. "Of course, you big silly." She nuzzled his browridge fondly. "If you want, you can even bake the cake!"
"Two fillings and six layers?" he asked playfully between kisses.
"As long as one of them's chocolate," Angela giggled, "you can bake an entry fit for Guinness!"
* * * * *
"23rd Precinct. How can I direct your call?" The desk clerk punched a button on the telephone and the phone rang again. "23rd Precinct. No, ma'am. Yes, ma'am. I'm sure those pink elephants will go away now that the snow's melted. You're sure? Well then maybe they'll pack up when the circus leaves town." The dispatcher listened a moment. "You do that. I'll send a beat officer by to check on things. Thank you, ma'am."
The dispatcher put the phone on hold and looked across the counter at the man in the safari vest. "I'm sorry, sir. Who are you and what do you want?"
Frank counted ten and realized it wasn't the receptionist's fault. Manhattan clearly still had a case of the bogeyman jitters and it wasn't going away anytime soon. "I'm Frank Tomlinson from WVRN. I'm here to post bail for Nicole St. John."
"Did I hear you right?" a mellow voice said at Frank's shoulder. "What's Nikki gotten herself into this time?"
"Hello, Jerry," Frank said without looking over his shoulder. "Come on, miss, where's Ms. St. John?" he pleaded as the phone began to beep, begging for attention.
"Holding Area Two," the dispatcher said without looking up. "23rd Precinct. Your car was stolen? Please hold. 23rd Precinct. Mugger? Just a minute please. I'll transfer you."
The two men walked away from the dispatch desk toward the detention area. Frank leading the way and Jerry, his pencil and pad at the ready. "So, Frank, you didn't answer my question. What did Nikki get herself into?"
The news producer sighed and replied, "She got a little over aggressive pursuing a story. Don't quote me and for crying out loud don't tell Nicole I said this, but this time she deserved what she got." He turned to Pearson with a harried look and said, "Now if you'll excuse me, I have to bail out WVRN's gift to broadcast journalism." He shoved open the swinging door that would admit him to Holding's reception area, leaving Jerry alone in the corridor.
* * * * *
The last of the mourners trailed out leaving David and Fox alone with the coffin. Fox wrapped her arms around her husband and sighed, "I think Owen would have enjoyed his send off, don't you?"
The dark-haired billionaire returned his wife's embrace. "I think you're right, my dear. I knew how much I valued Owen, but I didn't realize that so many others felt the same way." A pained look crossed his face. "We're going to have to break it to the staff downstairs and arrange some sort of memorial service."
Fox nodded. "You're re-opening the building for business tomorrow?"
"I have to," David replied. "People need to work, and I have a corporation to run."
A moment later, David's cell phone buzzed. "What is it?" he said irritably into the phone.
"Reception Desk, sir. Tokyo is on the line, sir. They said it's an emergency."
David's eyebrows pinched together in irritation. "All right. Put the call through."
"Commerce waits for no man," he mouthed to Fox while the call was being patched through. "I'll join you in a few minutes."
* * * * *
"It's about time, Frank," Nicole snapped as she was escorted into the waiting area and handed a manila envelope containing her car keys and other personal effects. She gave the clerk a suspicious glare. "Everything better be in here," she threatened, "or I'll do an exposé!"
"Can it, Nicole," the producer growled. "The station had to call in a lot of favors to get the charges reduced from Breaking and Entering to Simple Trespass. I suggest you shut up and let us get you out of here before they change their minds."
"I was right, Frank. I was on to something," Nicole said excitedly as she signed the receipt for her personal effects. "The place was a shambles and get this: they were getting ready to have a funeral up there."
The producer slapped a hand over his eyes and stared at the ceiling for a moment before replying. "Nicole, in case you haven't noticed, over the last few days a lot of stuff has gone down in this town. You remember, don't you? The unexplained explosions and fires, the ice storms, the forty-plus car pile-up on the bridge? The body count is way up. It's entirely possible that even a man like David Xanatos lost a loved one." Frank took Nicole's elbow and began to steer her through the police station and toward the exit.
"But who, Frank?" the blonde air personality-turned news sleuth persisted. "Why didn't David Xanatos want me to report the funeral to our viewers?"
"It could be because grief is a private thing and even someone as dense as you should understand that," a tall redheaded officer in a dark suit and overcoat drawled sarcastically as he held the door open.
Frank pushed his reporter out of the precinct, but not before she could yell, "What about you, Bluestone? What are you hiding?"
"None of your business, Ms. Saint John," he said softly. Matt headed for the locker room to remove his somber black suit and dress for a night on the streets.
* * * * *
The bedside alarm beeped impatiently and Fox called out, "Cease alarm," from her nest of thick blankets and embroidered quilts. She stretched and rolled over to greet her husband, only to find his place in the bed empty and unslept in. "David?" she called out as she slipped from the bed and into her robe.
The sitting room was empty and puzzled, she next peeked into the nursery. Alex was still fast asleep, clutching his ever-present stuffed gargoyle, Fuzzy. On silent feet, Fox withdrew and continued her search.
"It's only 6 o'clock," she said softly. "He can't possibly be in the-" She opened the door to David's private office and found the billionaire on the telephone. He was still dressed in the same dark suit as the night before. A pot of coffee rested at his elbow. His desk was littered with a dozen thick files and he alternated his attention between the telephone and the computer on his desk.
"I don't care, Olson. Yes, it's going to be expensive. I know that. Yes, it's an emergency. That's why they call it 'disaster relief'. Just do it and send me the bill! Thank you!" he huffed into the telephone as he slammed down the receiver. "Fox, my dear," David said as he noticed his wife at last. "Good morning."
"What happened, David?" Fox said as she crossed to her husband's side. "You didn't come to bed last night." She picked up the coffeepot and started to pour, only to find it empty.
"The drawback of being an international conglomerate," he quipped as he ran a hand over tired eyes. "No one's in the same time zone." Xanatos made a few notes into the computer and closed out the file. "I didn't wake you, did I?"
Fox shook her head. "No, I've got meetings this morning too. Emrys has agreed to watch Alex, but I need to re-schedule the household help and arrange a day cook before I leave. I've got a meeting with Mrs. Hopper, your Human Resources person at 7:00. She used to assist Owen occasionally with the domestic staff, so she'd know where the files are."
The phone rang and Xanatos paused to answer it. "David Xanatos. What? Yes, I need a structural engineer and a stone mason. Just do it." He slammed down the phone. "It's been like this all morning."
"You're going to need some help, David," Fox said as the fax machine began to spew paper and the phone rang again.
"I know," he acknowledged. "I called Owen's assistant in, but road damage is delaying his arrival." He picked up the ringing phone. "David Xanatos. How hard can it be to get a backup generator running?" he growled into the phone. "Push the big green button on the front panel. Who is this anyway?" the billionaire's face changed from a steely scowl to a look of sympathy. "I'm sorry. No, I didn't know. Why didn't you say something earlier? Are you sure you can hold out until the rescue team gets there? No, you were right to call. Help is on its way." Xanatos dropped the phone back into its cradle. He keyed several sequences into the computer and sighed. "It's a mess out there. I've gotten phone calls from everywhere since our own phone system came back on line. Madoc and his minions were thorough when they finally let the hammer fall."
The phone rang again. David picked it up. "Xanatos," he paused and listened. "It's about time. Send him up!"
"You know, dear," Fox said smoothly, "Dennis is a nice young man and I'm sure he'll try very hard, but you need someone experienced to help you through this."
"I know," David admitted. "I've got to talk with Mrs. Hopper about lining up a permanent replacement for Owen later this morning. But what did you have in mind in the meantime?"
"Well," Fox said with a casual shrug. "I could have Preston come by and fill in for a few days. Our installations weren't damaged nearly as heavily as yours, and most of our back-up plans have already been implemented. I'm sure I could spare him for a short time."
David gave his red-haired wife a cunning smile as he pulled her into his lap. "You're as crafty as your namesake, my dear. But you won't get into my private files quite so easily."
She shrugged and then kissed him, before freeing herself from his embrace. "You can't blame a girl for trying. Can you, darling?"
He chuckled as he rose. "Why don't you dress and put some more coffee on while I go meet Dennis? He should be here by now."
"A woman's work is never done," Fox sighed as she slipped from the room.
"And neither is a CEO's," David added as the phone began to ring again.
* * * * *
A short time later, Fox was standing in the kitchen surveying her breakfast prospects. She eyed the trays of muffins prepared by Broadway the night before and was in the process of choosing a blueberry-peach with an interesting looking streusel topping, when Emrys, his hair askew, entered carrying Alexander.
"Good morning, what are you two doing up so early?" she greeted the pair. Alex looked pleased with himself and was giggling as he played with Emrys's slightly pointed ear tips.
"Quite frankly, Cousin Fox," Emrys said dryly, "a levitating toddler is a difficult thing to ignore."
"You're right about that," she admitted as she scooped the giggling youngster into her arms. "What am I going to do with you, young man?" a slightly harried Fox asked the child.
"Mama wanna play?" Alex innocently asked.
"Not now, sweetie," Fox replied as she returned her son to his high chair. "Right now Mama has to find Daddy a new valet and talk to the contractors about fixing the big holes in the walls. But we'll play later, I promise." She turned to Emrys and smiled. "I can't thank you enough for stepping in, Emrys. You've been a huge help. If you want to take Alex to the park or just do a bit of sightseeing, feel free to call downstairs. One of the Security Officers will chauffeur you."
"Is that really necessary?" the youth inquired. "I must admit I'd feel a bit restricted with a guard en tow."
"We've had problems with kidnappers making attempts on Alex," Fox said with just a hint of anger in her voice. "It's become a necessary precaution."
"I don't suppose Cousin Owen was allowed to do anything like this." Emrys muttered under his breath and faded from view.
"Emrys? Emrys!" Fox said a bit louder. "Where did you go?" She looked down at the halfling wizard as he reappeared, tugging at her sleeve.
"Spell of inconspicuousness," he said. "Handy thing. Kept me from getting harassed on the Tube."
Fox caught the self-satisfied gleam in the halfling wizard's young-old eyes. "Yes, mother taught me a variation of that spell, but I must admit, you do it much better." She gave the youth an appraising look. "I guess you can take care of yourself after all," she admitted with a grin. "But if you want a lift, please don't hesitate to call on the staff." A scowl crossed her countenance as she looked at her watch. "I'm going to be late if I don't get moving." She kissed Alex on the head and waved, Broadway's muffin in hand, as she dashed from the kitchen.
A second later the redheaded woman dashed back in. "Emrys," she said. "You don't have to give me an answer now, but just think about this, okay?"
The youth gave his semi-cousin a curious look. "Very well," he said as he handed Alexander a brightly decorated plastic cup full of juice.
"How would you feel about staying on here at the castle as Alex's nanny?"
Emrys stepped back, surprised. "His what? Oh... Cousin Fox, I don't know about that. I've been glad to help out, seeing the pinch you're in and all, but full time? Isn't there a labor law against that sort of thing?"
Fox sighed, her blue eyes downcast. "It was just a thought," she said, as she remembered the muffin and set it, and her briefcase, down. "You've seen what a handful Alex can be. I can't very well entrust someone off the street with him. They'd leak it to the tabloids in nothing flat. Plus," she added, "there's a more serious concern."
"I see," Emrys said reluctantly. "Or rather I don't. What could be worse than having your heritage exposed?"
Fox looked up and this time there was genuine worry in her eyes. "King Oberon tried to take Alex away from us the day he was born. He was adamant that he be raised by someone who could educate him in his 'true heritage'. Owen, or rather Puck volunteered, even though it meant not returning to Avalon." She rose and began to pace a little, straightening the various kitchen appliances. "With Owen gone, Alex has no royal tutor. I'm afraid Oberon will exercise his claim again."
"Oh dear, this does put a different wrinkle into the problem," Emrys agreed. "But I'm not a magic tutor, at least not in my present form. I'm still learning to control my own powers."
Fox realized she was fidgeting and put the potholder she was toying with down. "I realize that we're putting you in an awkward position by even asking, but if we've made our own arrangements it might make it easier for us to cut a deal with my mother... and Oberon."
"It would get me out of that dreadful Mons Carbi Comprehensive School," Emrys said thoughtfully. "And perhaps a fresh start in a new country is what I need as well." He looked up at Fox. "I do owe Arthur my first allegiance, but I'll give your proposition some serious thought."
"Thank you, Emrys," Fox said, giving the young man a warm hug. "That's all I ask."
She looked at her watch, frowned, hugged both boys again, and departed the kitchen a second time.
* * * * *
The elevator dinged and Dennis nervously straightened his tie as the doors parted silently. He readjusted his grip on the heavy mail cart and pushed it out into the Great Hall.
"Good morning, Dennis," David said. "It's about time you got here." He looked down at the overladen cart, which resembled a grocery buggy, and stared. "What the heck is this?"
"Your mail, sir," Dennis swallowed audibly and continued. "I picked it up from the mailroom on my way upstairs."
"I see," the bearded man remarked. "Do I always get this much mail?"
"No, sir," his new assistant replied. "The system's slow due to the snow and the transportation breakdowns. Usually there's twice this much."
The owner and chief stockholder of Xanatos Enterprises looked at the slightly built, café au lait colored man before him. "This mail hasn't been sorted yet, has it?"
"Yes, sir, Mr. Xanatos," his assistant replied. "This is strictly your personal correspondence. Everything else has been diverted to the appropriate channels for action or distribution." The young man looked at his boss who was now leafing through the contents of the cart. "Mr. Burnett usually sorted everything after this point."
"I see," David said, unable to break his gaze from the mountain of correspondence. "All right, look. I want you to take this into Mr. Burnett's office and then we are both going downstairs. You are going to assemble the senior staff in the main briefing room and wait for further instructions."
"Yes, sir." Without waiting to be dismissed. Dennis pushed the cart away from the great hall and towards the business wing.
With a barely contained groan, David stepped onto the elevator and into the worst day of his life.
* * * * *
"Good morning, Xanatos Enterprises. How may I direct your call?"
The operator paused, listening to the caller as she sighed. "Just a moment, please!" She switched the call to stand-by, and immediately pressed the buzzer for Xanatos' private secretary.
"Phyllis? Janet. There's a call on hold from Ms. St. John. The fifth one in the past hour. What do you want us to do?"
Upstairs, the chief executive's personal secretary quelched the first three sarcastic responses that came to mind and responded with the fourth. "Tell you what, Janet," the secretary said. "I want you to tell Ms. St. John that we are not granting any interviews for any reason! Use small words and maybe she'll understand this time. And Janet?" she growled. "Don't put any more of her calls through."
"Yes, ma'am," the operator replied, closing the private connection. "I don't know what fire's lit under your burner, sugar," she said to herself before reaching for the call on hold, "but I hope you cut this game out, or someone's gonna feel the heavy end of the hammer."
* * * * *
"I see. Thank you, operator." Nicole severed the connection and watched from her vantage point outside the Eyrie Building as a steady stream of employees flashed their badges and were admitted to the restricted access building. "Now there's an angle I hadn't thought of before," she muttered as she watched a young woman without a badge being escorted to a special area where a security guard flashed her picture and handed her a flimsy clip-on identification card. "A temp. Of course. Once I get in I can always claim I'm lost if I get caught." She reached for her telephone again and dialed a number from memory. "Joyce? Hi, it's Nikki. I need a favor."
* * * * *
"I'm glad the agency sent you over so quickly," the Personnel Director, Emily Hopper was saying. "The last few days have been very difficult and we're rather short staffed in the typing pool."
Nicole groaned inwardly at the thought of spending her day processing dictation, but she smiled ingratiatingly at the plumpish gray-haired woman on the other side of the desk. "I'll be happy to help out wherever I can, Mrs. Hopper. As you can see by my resume I'm very versatile!" she added, as she tucked a few strands of hair demurely back into the bun she'd knotted at the base of her neck.
"Your hair is such a pretty shade of brown, Ms. Johnson," the personnel woman said conversationally as she made a few notes on Nikki's application. "It reminds me of my niece's."
"How nice," Nicole replied. "It's a funny thing but my entire family has just this shade of hair. Now about this job..."
"Of course," Mrs. Hopper replied, returning to business. "Now you may find things a bit disorganized today. We've suffered a terrible loss. Mr. Burnett, Mr. Xanatos's Executive Assistant, was killed in a mugging." She dropped her voice and added quietly. "It actually happened several days ago, but with the storm and all, the office has been closed. We just got the news today and everyone is in a state of shock. But life must go on," she said sadly as she wiped a tear from her eye.
"Mr. Burnett," Nicole said with surprise. "Would that be, Mr. Owen Burnett?"
"You knew him?" Mrs. Hopper said with surprise.
"Well, not exactly," Nicole lied smoothly. "I just remember him from the press conferences he used to give on the news. What a shame such a handsome man had his life snuffed out so senselessly!"
"There's to be a memorial this afternoon. You may attend if you wish," the older woman invited. Her telephone buzzed. "Excuse me just a moment, won't you dear? Yes? That's fine. Send him in."
A moment later the door opened and a smartly dressed young man with a smoothly shaved head entered. "Good morning, Mrs. Hopper. Terrible news isn't it?"
"I don't know how we'll manage," she agreed, dabbing at her eyes once more. She snuffled into a tissue before returning to the matter at hand. "This is Ms. Johnson from the agency. Please take her to the typing pool and show her the ropes."
"Yes, ma'am." He turned towards Nicole and extended his hand. "I'm Sidney. Please come with me."
Thrilled that her ruse had worked so far, Nicole followed the good-looking young man into the secretarial pool.
* * * * *
David sat behind his rarely used desk in the Xanatos Enterprises main offices and surveyed stacks of file folders, data diskettes and documents awaiting his signature and shook his head. "Dennis," he said quietly to the young man who was attempting to restore some semblance of order by handing off the work to a platoon of administrative assistants, "are you telling me that you and Mr. Burnett do this every day?"
The younger man looked up as the last of the assistants departed. "Yes, sir. From 5 to 7 A.M. every morning we do the filtering. Then Mr. Burnett would take the documents and your agenda upstairs where he'd make your breakfast and brief you on your schedule." He looked at the barely contained chaos that was the chief executive's desk. "I know it looks bad right now, sir-"
"Bad?" David said with disbelief. "I had no idea your workload was so heavy."
"It's just that so many of your projects are so sensitive, sir," Dennis explained. "Mr. Burnett felt he was the best person to deal with your workload. He brought me on because robotics employees have the highest level of clearance. Still, I'll admit, he must have had some stamina. I work fifty hours a week and I know that my workload didn't come anywhere close to his."
"So you don't feel up to stepping into his shoes?" the senior executive said, appraising the younger man.
Dennis handed off another stack of file folders before replying. "Sir, I make a darn fine assistant. But it will be years before I will be any where near Mr. Burnett's level of expertise." His dark brown eyes were sincere and his voice was heavy with regret. "This is probably career suicide, Mr. Xanatos, but I believe you require a more experienced person in this position. But I would be honored to work as his or her assistant and learn from the best."
"I agree, Dennis," Xanatos said. "And I admire your honesty. I'm going to follow your advice. But I want you to sit in on the interviews with me and evaluate the candidates." He looked at the overflowing desk again. "In the meantime, I want you to act as my personal assistant. You're doing a fine job. Recruit as much help as you need and let's get this place back on track before the day's out."
"Yes, Mr. Xanatos."
"Fine," David got up from his desk. "I'll be back in an hour. I need to meet with the architect about the repairs to the building."
"Yes, Dennis?" David said, his hand on the doorknob.
"We were supposed to have a blood drive today. It's on the schedule. I was wondering, could we dedicate it to Mr. Burnett?"
Xanatos looked at his new assistant. "Of course, Dennis, I think that would be a very fitting tribute considering how much Owen gave to the rest of us. Now if you'll excuse me?." The executive's voice was unusually husky as he rapidly exited the office.
* * * * *
Emrys sat in his guest room waiting impatiently for his phone call to connect. He'd spent the morning with Alexander, working in the arboretum and thinking about the alternatives that had suddenly arisen. "So many options," he said to the ringing telephone.
At long last, the phone was stopped ringing and a sleepy male voice answered. "Yes. Hallo?"
"Arthur, is that you?" Emrys said perplexed. He looked at the clock on the wall. "Good grief, man, it's nearly two o'clock your time. Are you still asleep?"
"I was out rather late last night assisting with our neighborhood clean up brigade, if you must know. Things are a bit of a shambles here," the Once and Future King grumbled.
"Sorry," his former mentor replied. "I just wanted to let you know, it may be a bit before I return to England. I've been offered a job here and I'm considering taking the position."
"You've been what?" Arthur said. A tapping sound came over the line. "I'm sorry, Emrys, I thought you said you've been offered a position in America."
Emrys cleared his throat and tried to sound casual. "I have. My hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Xanatos, have offered me the position of Aristotle to their young Alexander. It's a very tempting offer."
"Why do I have a feeling there's more to this than you're letting on, Merlin?" Arthur said suspiciously.
The young-old wizard sighed. "Because, my friend, there is. Fox, that is Mrs. Xanatos, and I are distantly related on my father's side. Her son is rather unusually gifted and needs someone of my unique experience to take the place of his former tutor."
"I see," Arthur said gruffly. "You must do as you think is best. But remember that you always have a home under my roof should you wish it."
"Thank you, Arthur. That's more appreciated than you know," Emrys said softly. "I must ring off now. Alexander is starting to fuss." Alexander was in fact growing bored and levitating various objects off of Emrys's dressing table.
The wizard racked the phone and put on his sternest face as he addressed the giggling toddler. "I believe that is quite enough of that, young Master Xanatos. Let's put that comb and brush down and see if we can't do something a bit more practical."
Thinking quickly, Emrys began to cajole the toddler into straightening up the room. "I suppose you can make a game out of nearly anything if you only try," he said. "Thank you, Mary Poppins!"
* * * * *
"And so, we'd like to share a moment of silence to our friend and co-worker, Mr. Owen Burnett."
Nicole looked at her watch and breathed a sigh of relief. "Was this guy an administrative assistant or the next candidate for Pope?" she muttered snidely. She watched with disbelief as the company glee club took the stage again. "Oh, that's it," she said as she rose from her seat at the back of the auditorium. "I'm outta here. There's no material for a story here."
She stole out of the hall only to bump straight into Sidney. He was staggering slightly and had a bandage taped to his inside elbow. His attention was on his shirtsleeve, which he was in the process of pulling over the bandage. He ran straight into the escaping Nicole.
"Ms. Johnson," he said. "Leaving the memorial service?"
"I am," Nicole said, thinking furiously. "I felt so bad for that poor Mr. Burnett. I mean, I didn't even know him. But... they mentioned the blood drive and it was so busy earlier that I decided I should try and get a jump on things and head over there before the service let out. I'm sure that many people will be motivated by Mr. Burnett's selfless attitude."
"I'm sure you're right, Ms. Johnson," Sidney said as he slid into his suit jacket. "Let me just escort you over to the Bloodmobile. I could use another cookie anyway. I'm still feeling a bit faint."
"You work much to hard, sir," Nicole simpered as she allowed her "boss" to escort her to the employee cafeteria.
* * * * *
"All right, Dennis," David said as he tackled a fresh mountain of accumulated paperwork. "I want you and Mrs. Hopper to review all of the senior administration staff. I want you to pool the top ten candidates and then I want you to schedule them to see me at fifteen minute intervals. I'd like the first candidate in my office in one hour."
Dennis looked across the desk at the personnel head and gave her a thumbs up. "We can do better than that, sir. If you're ready, we can have the first candidate in your office in fifteen minutes."
The harried CEO sat back in his chair, impressed. "Good work, Dennis. We might as well get this over with. I'll see the first candidate as soon as you can set it up." He clicked off the intercom with a sigh and started to sign the stack of forms and approvals before him.
* * * * *
"You see, my dear, that wasn't so bad," the motherly looking nurse said jovially as she hauled Nicole to her feet. A large purple bruise flowered on the inside of her left arm from where she'd jumped when they'd tried to insert the needle. A much neater bandage covered the crook of her right arm where they'd successfully taken her donation.
"I guess, I shouldn't have acted like such a baby," the disguised reporter said, trying to garner sympathy. "Only I've never done this before."
"I understand." The nurse handed her a second cookie and aimed her toward the door. "Now you'd better get along back to work. This is a busy place and we don't want you to keep anyone waiting."
"No," Nicole agreed grimly. "Can't have that." She wondered if she could slip out of the building before anything else could go wrong. But as she stepped out the cafeteria, Mrs. Hopper came into view.
"Ms. Johnson, how convenient," the gray-haired woman said warmly as she peered through a pair of cat-eyed spectacles. "Just the person I need. Mr. Gutierrez has some files that need straightening out before his meeting with the head of R&D."
"I'm your girl," Nicole said brightly as she suppressed a groan. "Just lead the way."
* * * * *
David looked across the expanse of his desk at the third candidate of the day. "You've had an excellent record in your tenure at Xanatos Enterprises, Wagner. Your superiors speak quite highly of your work. You have two advanced degrees and speak three languages." He sat forward, watching unobtrusively as Dennis made notes on his datapad. "Tell me. Why should you be my personal assistant?"
Wagner, a powerfully built, dark-haired man in his thirties, ran a hand across his beard as he considered the question. "I believe I can step right into Mr. Burnett's shoes. I've dedicated my life to my career. I have no outside interests to distract me from my work. I see the position as a stepping stone to something much higher."
"I see," Xanatos said in as neutral voice as he could muster. "Thank you for coming to talk with me, Wagner. We'll let you know."
The two men stood and shook hands. The applicant's grip was just the right degree of firmness; not too hale and not too weak. The CEO saw him to the door and closed it after him.
Dennis looked up from his note taking. "What do you think, sir?"
"I want you to find justification to fire him," David said coolly. "Ambition is fine, in moderation, but he's after my job!"
* * * * *
The two secretaries stood side by side in the washroom checking out each others' makeup. "Did you hear what's happening on Mahogany Row?" the younger of the pair, a woman named Bessie, said.
"No, what?" her companion, Isabel, replied, eager for a bit of lively gossip.
"They're already interviewing for poor Mr. Burnett's job. Mr. Lockhorn got a call to report up there an hour ago. I can't wait to find out how he does." She undid her hair clip and re-twisted her ash blonde mane into a neat loop before securing it with the clip and artfully freeing a few loose strands.
"Better hope he tanks," Isabel advised, as she reapplied her lipstick. "I hear Mr. Burnett worked over a hundred hours a week." She pressed her lips together, ran a wet fingertip over her left eyebrow and straightened her skirt before continuing. "And you know if your boss is putting in that kind of overtime, you can bet you will be too."
"Gosh I hadn't thought of that," Bessie said as she eyed herself in the mirror. "I've been with Mr. L. for ten years and three departments. I could have used that kind of overtime back then. But now?" She made a face indicating her lack of enthusiasm. "No thanks!"
* * * * *
"Ms. Vickers's office," Nicole answered the ringing telephone with as much efficiency as she could muster. "Can you hold a moment?" She stabbed the Hold button as a tall brown-haired woman in a camel colored business suit stepped out of her office. She was carrying a briefcase in one hand and holding her purse and Daytimer in the other.
"I've got a meeting downtown and then I'm heading home. You can return to the pool for another assignment after you finish with your typing," she instructed as she breezed out the door.
"Yes, ma'am, I'll do that," Nicole said, while thinking to herself, "not on your life, babe. I'm getting out of here." She nodded and as soon as the woman had exited the office, she picked up the phone without thinking and rolled her eyes before returning to the conversation. "May I help you?" Nicole scrawled a message down on her pad. "Yes, uh huh, being considered for promotion to Mr. Xanatos's personal assistant. Interview at 4:00pm. Uh huh, I'll give her the message." The faux secretary hung up the phone and smiled. "This could be the break I was waiting for!" She hastily stuffed the message into her pocket and rose from her desk. "We look kind of alike," she said as she examined the portrait hanging on the wall behind her. "Now all I have to do is find a few clues so that I can pass myself off as Ms.-" she fumbled for a business card and read the name. "Eugenia Vickers."
* * * * *
Fox greeted the guard at the main level with a weary sigh and keyed the elevator to take her home. The elevator's doors slid open smoothly, and it was with a sense of relief that she leaned back against the wall of the car and closed her eyes. "Four hours of Cyberbiotics, two hours of menu planning with the executive chef, an hour long conference call with Mrs. Hopper and the domestic staffing agency. Plus the conference call with David and the architects. What a day!"
The doors slid open as silently as they closed, and Fox headed for the one pick-me-upper that never failed to rejuvenate her. A few moments later she stood outside the doorway to Alex's nursery.
The sound of Emrys's precise enunciation greeted her as she stepped in. The boy was sitting in the rocking chair, one of Alex's books in hand. The toddler lay sprawled on a multicolored blanket, listening with rapt attention.
"It looks like you two have had a busy day," Fox said as she dropped her briefcase on the otherwise spotless nursery floor.
"Mama!" Alex squealed as he propelled himself off the floor and into his mother's arms.
"Hi sweetie," Fox crooned. "Did you miss me?"
Alex nodded and gave his mother a kiss. He studied her dark blue eyes and looked curiously at the signs of strain that lined her face. "Mama needs to play," he decided.
"I do?" she said with mock surprise. She looked over at Emrys who shrugged.
"I've learned that Alexander is very definite in his opinions," the youth stated, implying there had been at least one power struggle during the course of the day.
"I see," Fox said, smiling despite Alex's misbehavior. "What should mama play?" she asked the redheaded toddler.
"Hossy wide! Mama give Alex hossy wide!" He looked over his shoulder at Emrys. "Unca Emwys no give hossy wides. Not like Unca Owen."
"You're quite right, Alex," Emrys grumped. "My 'horsy days' as I've tried to explain, were over a thousand years ago."
With a sad smile, she set the wiggling little boy down. "Mama can give you one," she replied as she kicked off her shoes and slid out of her suit jacket. Shifting Alex to her shoulders with a small laugh, she cried, "Hold on!" Fox dropped to her hands and knees as she began mimicking a prancing horse, galloping around the small circle of the rug on the floor.
Alex giggled, clutching his fuzzy gargoyle as his mother held on to him. "Faster! Faster!"
Fox galloped a few more circuits around the room before she paused and slipped the toddler from her shoulders. "I . . . think that's enough for now, honey." She pulled him into her lap and sighed, hugging him gently as a wave of sadness rushed over her.
Alex sensed his mother wasn't happy. He held up his toy to her, saying, "Don' be sad, mama. Fuzzy make all better."
Fox tried to smile, accepting the toy to give it a hug, "That's sweet of you to share your Fuzzy with me, Alex." She returned the winged creature to the child and gathered up her belongings. "I'm going to go change clothes and we can play some more later. Okay, honey?" She slipped out of the room before the stress of the day and her still fresh grief overwhelmed her.
Alex watched his mother leave, a frown on his small face. "Mama sad. Daddy sad. Alex no want Mama and Daddy sad!"
"You must be patient, Alexander," Emrys said gently. "Your parents have had a very difficult time."
Alex shook his head firmly. "No! Don't want Daddy and Mama sad!" He turned to look at his stuffed gargoyle holding it before himself with both hands gripping its arms. He cocked his head at the toy, as if listening to it on an inaudible level. Then, he closed his eyes tight in concentration.
"Alex want sad be gone. Alex want happy again! Want to play and have fun. Give Fuzzy Wwwes . . . Rwww . . ." Alex stumbled over that last word, his features pinched in concentration.
Emrys dropped to the boy's side and looked at him curiously. "Slow down, Alexander. Remember how we've been practicing? Say the word slowly. Rrres- Rrres"
Alex looked at the once great wizard and nodded. He relaxed his features and took a deep breath. "Give Fuzzy WRrrr . . . wwRRRwwess . . . RRRestoration!"
* * * * *
Nicole slipped out of the bathroom and adjusted the collar of the suit she'd borrowed from Eugenia Vickers. "Lucky for me she forgot her dry cleaning," she grinned as she tugged at the skirt. "I'm just glad we're practically the same size!"
She waved casually at several employees as she worked her way towards the executive suite and practiced the details she'd managed to find out about Ms. Vickers's career. "Harvard, NYU, engineering is her life, blah, blah, blah. Piece of cake," Nicole said smugly as she knocked on the door.
* * *
Phyllis looked up from her paperwork as the 4:00 appointment entered David Xanatos's outer office. She did a double take, checking the calendar on her desktop before addressing the brown-haired woman who stood before her. "Yes, may I help you?"
"Eugenia Vickers," the woman said, sticking out her hand. She seemed to recall at the last moment that that wasn't quite right when addressing a secretary and let her arm drop quickly to her side. "I'm here for the interview," she added as she tugged at the jacket of her ill-fitting dark gray suit.
The secretary gazed at her, one eyebrow cocked. "You are? I mean of course you are," she said as a photograph that Security had circulated earlier in the day flashed in her mind. "Mr. Xanatos hasn't quite finished with his previous appointment. If you'd care to wait in the conference room?" She stood and escorted the would-be applicant to a small room filled with a walnut conference table and matching chairs. "I'm sure it will just be a few minutes."
"Thank you," Nicole said smoothly. She waited until the conference room door closed with a small snick behind her. "Yes," she said softly congratulating herself. "I'm in!"
* * *
Phyllis turned the key in the conference room door quietly before returning to her desk and picking up the private line. "Mr. Xanatos . . . I hate to bother you, but there's a woman that just came in-"
* * *
David looked mutely at the phone for a second, before switching it from "speaker mode" and placing it next to his ear. "You're sure it's her?"
"Yes, sir," the secretary replied. "I worked for Eugenia for four years before I was transferred up here. That woman in the conference room is no more her than you are. Beg your pardon, Mr. Xanatos."
"That was a good catch, Phyllis. Who knows how long she's been running loose in the building. Call Security and-"
"Excuse me again, Mr. Xanatos," Phyllis broke in. There was a strange surprised tone to her voice. "I'm buzzing a candidate in to see you," she said just before the line cut abruptly.
"Dennis," Xanatos instructed quickly, "go see what's wrong with Phyllis. It sounds like she's fainted out there."
"Yes, Mr. Xana-" The young man slid to the floor.
"What is going on?" David said as he knelt to the young man's side. He automatically checked the air vents suspecting some sort of attack. "People are dropping like flies!"
"Perhaps I can be of assistance, sir," a new voice said from the doorway.
"Sure. Get some water, or some smelling salts," Xanatos replied automatically. "There's a first aid kit in the bathroom."
"I believe I can find it, sir," the voice said calmly.
Something clicked in David's brain. The voice was disturbingly familiar. He looked up and the room began to sway as he stared in disbelief.
"Let me assist you to your chair, Mr. Xanatos."
David allowed the tall, blond, impeccably dressed and bespectacled man to assist him.
"You keep your head in a crisis," he said weakly as the room swam back into focus. "I like that in an assistant."
"Thank you, sir. I do try and keep my wits about me at all times."
"I assume that you're used to working long hours and can handle multiple tasks?" David said, his voice stronger as he began to enjoy the game.
"I have found myself capable of doing so in the past."
"Indeed," David said, the smallest of smiles tugging at the corners of his mouth. "I believe you'll do, Mr. Burnett. You may start immediately." A groan from the floor caught his attention. "I'll tell you what," he continued. "Since this is your first day back, I'll deal with the office staff. You may turn your considerable talents on the woman locked in the conference room. Her name is Nicole St. John. I believe you're acquainted with her?"
"Yes, of course," Owen replied smoothly. "I shall deal with her right away."
David looked up from the reviving Dennis. "Oh and Owen? One more thing." He smiled and the delight was genuine. "Welcome back."
* * * * *
"Come on, Nuddie . . . it's all right! Elisa's fine now! See for yourself!" Graeme said, cajoling the reluctant gargoyle beast who was cowering in the doorway. Nudnik peeked around the corner, into Elisa's room and saw the strange, gray beast again. He dropped his ears and whimpered, backing slowly away from the room.
"It's all right, Nudnik," Elisa coaxed. "Come meet Cagney. He's my friend. Maybe he'll be your friend too." The cat looked down from his guard post at the foot of the bed and disdainfully groomed his whiskers. "Or not," she added. "Come on, Cagney. Bronx and Nudnik are all right."
The feline leapt lightly off the bed and walked gracefully toward the cowering beast. He sniffed the air a foot in front of the tan puppy and deciding that maybe he wasn't as objectionable as the cat first thought. He stretched up and bumped him lightly on the chin.
The beastling reciprocated happily, lapping at the cat's whiskers with a swipe of his tongue. Cagney shook his head in surprise but allowed the pup to continue grooming him.
"See, you've made a new friend," Ariana said as she patted them both on the head.
Bronx, seeing that the smaller animal had suffered no permanent damage, sniffed at the big gray cat curiously and got a chin bump in return. The cat eyed the broad beast's back thoughtfully and jumped lightly to its center, kneading his claws before circling and settling in for a nap.
Bronx looked back at Cagney and whimpered for a moment before yielding gracefully and settling himself at the foot of Elisa's bed.
"I guess this settles where the beasts are going to stay while we're on patrol tonight," Brooklyn said with a laugh.
"I could use the company," Elisa said. "It's been pretty quiet here today. Though I did appreciate you bringing Alex by, Emrys. He's quite a little character."
"Yes, he is, isn't he?" Emrys agreed. "I suppose that curbing some of his more mischievous impulses will be rather high on my list of duties as his new nanny."
"So you've decided to stay with us?" Angela said, pleased. "I'm so glad!"
"If Angela's happy then I'm happy," Broadway added, placing his arm around his intended's shoulders.
Lexington burst into the room, his eyes wide and filled with disbelief. "Guys, you'll never believe who I just saw!"
Goliath stood up from Elisa's bedside and crossed through the crowded room quickly to the olive green gargoyle's side. "Lexington you look like you've seen a ghost. Tell us, what is the matter?"
"Ah, here you are," a voice deadpanned from the doorway. "I suppose a small explanation is in order."
There was a collective gasp and the gargoyle beasts dropped into defensive crouches and growled, their ears flat against their heads.
"Owen?" Elisa said in disbelief. "Is it really you?"
The majordomo set the covered dinner tray that he carried down at her bedside table, whisking the silver cover off with an efficient flourish. "Yes, Detective Maza. It is indeed 'me'. And as it's rather a long and complicated story, I would prefer to tell all interested parties at the same time." He looked meaningfully at Elisa's dinner tray. "So if you would be so kind to finish your repast quickly, Mr. Xanatos has invited you all to the Great Hall for an explanation."
"I'll eat later," Elisa said as she allowed Goliath to assist her out of bed. "Round up the rest of the clan and let's go."
* * *
A few minutes later, the Manhattan clan entered the Great Hall to find David, Fox and young Alexander waiting for them. David was wearing a cat-ate-canary smile and Fox looked equally pleased. The toddler, at the sight of the gargoyles, wiggled from his father's arms and greeted the clan. "Look! Unca Owen!" He ran up to the tall, bespectacled man and threw his arms around his knees.
"I'm glad to see you too, Alexander," he said to the boy. "Now," he said looking at the child over his glasses, "are you ready to tell the others about our little secret?"
The toddler giggled and nodded.
Hudson spoke loudly over the murmurs and whispers of the others. "Are you going to tell us now just what kind of tomfoolery is this? We all saw you dead and in your coffin. What did you have to do with this, Xanatos?" he asked suspiciously.
"Not a thing," the billionaire protested. "You should have seen the scene he caused by reappearing in my offices downstairs this afternoon. And after the staff had given him such a nice memorial service too," he chided.
"I'm afraid it was quite unavoidable," Owen explained. "You see, I was never really dead, just ... hiding."
"Hiding!" Brooklyn protested. "From who?"
"Let me take you back to the night of the attack," Owen began. "Some of Madoc's minions had been sent out to neutralize me as a preemptive strike prior to their main offensive. I had been warned, sometime back, that if I would not side with Madoc, I would be considered as expendable as the rest of you." He turned to the Xanatoses. "There were, in fact, several abortive attacks on my life, although I did not see them as such at the time."
"The near miss with the avalanche?" David questioned.
"Yes, sir, and the car that jumped the curb," the major domo acknowledged. "As well as one or two other occurrences. Be that as it may, the night of their latest attempt caught me at a rather inopportune moment. I found myself with very few options and decided that perhaps the best thing I could do was fake my own death, so that I could remove the threat of further assaults from endangering either Alexander or his parents."
The assembled gargoyles and humans began to nod as they put together what must have happened and Owen continued.
"I had taught Alexander a spell to use in such an eventuality and at the critical moment, I shifted my essence into this." He bent down and removed Alex's ever-present stuffed gargoyle from the boy's chubby hands and held it for all to see.
"You mean you were inside that, all this time?" Broadway asked in disbelief.
"It was the safest way to be near Alexander, and not be seen at the same time."
"No wonder Alex was so protective of that toy!" Lex exclaimed. "He'd never let it out of his sight!"
"Quite right, Lexington," Owen said, "because as Alexander's toy I was in a very vulnerable position. Alexander understood I had to be protected at all times."
Fox suddenly put her hand to her face. "That's why Alex kept insisting that you were still here!"
"But, if you were still with the boy," Othello asked, "why did you not come to our aid when Garlon was attacking him?"
"Because of a special condition in the spell," Owen explained. "I couldn't be released until Alex spoke a special keyword; restoration. Unfortunately, Alexander has been having considerable difficulty with his 'R's', and nobody else could release me. I became trapped until this afternoon, when he finally did pronounce the keyword properly." He turned to Emrys. "I owe you a debt of gratitude for your assistance, Emrys and to you, Lexington, for your capable tutoring in elocution."
Lexington blushed. "See," he said to the others, "I told you those songs weren't so dumb!"
"Indeed," Owen agreed. "And they are quite a bit less offensive than what is shown on public television."
"Wait a minute!" Elisa protested. "What about the body in the coffin!? Just who did we bury in your place?"
"Yeah," Broadway said. "Who was the corpus delecti?"
Owen sighed and removed his glasses, looking at Alex, "Shall we, Alexander?" When the boy nodded emphatically, the tall blond man spun about in place, a swirling green nimbus replacing him until the colorful form of Puck appeared, all grins and laughter as he held Alex in his lap in mid air.
"Now then, time for a demonstration of one of my more demanding lessons," he said brightly, looking about the hall with searching eyes. "Ah, those will do!" He floated over to where two large potted plants rested against the far wall. "Now then, my pupil, remember what we did before?"
"Uh-huh!" Alex replied eagerly.
"Then show 'em your stuff, kid! And remember to get the wording right!"
Alex looked down at the two plants, his eyes half closed in concentration as he scrunched his little face up, focusing on the spell. Then, as one, he and Puck began to chant together:
"Leaves of Green, young and fresh,
Come together and form bones and flesh."
The two plants suddenly exploded, their fronds turning into a swirling, twisting cloud of green. Slowly, the cloud began to take on a more human shape.
"Now comes the fun, the best part yet!
Take form and spirit of Owen Burnett!"
The form of leaves quickly compressed together, taking on more definition and detail. Eventually, their varied shades of green faded into the crisp gray suit, fair skin and blond hair that marked Puck's alter ego. Once fully formed, the simulacrum reached into its coat pocket and removed a pair of eyeglasses, settling them on its nose in typical, Owen-wise fashion.
Even Xanatos was stunned though Owen had explained it to him before. Emrys though gave a nod, a half smile on his face as he admired Alexander's work.
"You mean-" Lex started to ask.
Puck shrugged. "Hey, it was the best I could do on short notice. I should say, what we could do," he amended proudly, giving Alex a mischievous smile. He then set the child in the doppelganger's arms for a second, just before shifting back into his form as Owen. "Well done, Alexander. Now, remember our lessons in being tidy?"
Alex giggled, and looked at the simulacrum, who put him down and stepped back. In a flash, it dissolved back into a shower of leaves, swirling above everyone's head before vanishing.
"That's my son," Xanatos said with a smile.
Fox picked him back up again, and he sighed and blinked sleepily. Facing Owen, she said simply, "Thank you."
Elisa looked at the others. "I don't know about you, but I don't think I can handle anymore surprises this week."
Angela took that moment to look at Broadway, clearing her throat.
Broadway took that as his cue. "Um, how would you feel about an announcement then?"
The residents of Castle Wyvern turned to look at the pair.
"What is it, Broadway?" Goliath asked.
To the side, Ariana nudged her father. "Are they?" she whispered. Brooklyn smiled, but waved a hand for her to be quiet.
"Angela and I . . . well, we came to a decision last night. And, um, if no one minds . . . we, uh..."
"We want to tell everyone," Angela finished for him, "that we've decided when to hold our commitment ceremony."
A heartbeat passed, then smiles broke over everyone's faces.
"Fantastic!" Lex cheered.
"I'd say it's about time," Hudson added.
Elisa spoke up, "Well? When is it?"
"We want to hold it on June 1st," Angela replied. "And, we want everyone to be there; our friends, and their families as well."
Xanatos and Fox both looked at each other. "We'll do everything we can to help you," Fox offered.
"We all shall help," Goliath added.
Owen took that moment adjust his glasses and say, "In that case, the castle will have to be repaired before the 1st." He looked at the scars and damage inflicted by the Unseelie attack and made a nod of apology. "If you will excuse me, it seems I have some details to attend to." He walked quickly from the room, dialing his telephone.
Before anyone could say anything more, David sighed lightly and said, "Well, now things will be back to normal around here."
Fox looked at her husband with a start. "How can you be sure?"
"My dear, before tonight everything seemed insurmountable. With Owen back at my side," he replied with satisfaction, "Everything else is just details."
* * *