Written by: Carolynn "Aerie" Marie, A Fan, and Jennifer L. Anderson
Story Concept by: Kathy Pogge
Illustrations drawn by: Kenna Street
Colored by: Jennifer "CrzyDemona" Anderson
Previously on Gargoyles...
Oberon (to Puck): "I hereby strip you of all your powers, save when you are instructing or protecting the boy."
~ The Gathering, Part 2 ~
* * *
"I don't know, bro," Hyena said as she watched her brother go through his martial arts routine, out of habit, if nothing else. Since their cybernization, it had seemed a little silly to her to keep up their workouts. "It's a big step."
"What's to worry about, sis?" Jackal said, his eyes on the mirror, following his movements. "It's just an upgrade."
"Point is, it's THE upgrade. Don't-pass-Go, the point of no return." She crossed her arms and leaned against the wall. "I've always known I'd never be another suburban housewife, but when we go under the knife this time, it's forever."
Jackal stopped and looked at his sister, his normal mocking expression softening. "We'll be unstoppable. No one will ever hurt us again." His eyes focused inward. "We'll be immortal."
"But will we still be human?"
~ Consequences ~
* * *
"How are... they?" asked Jason, referring to the clan.
Elisa shook her head. "Still heavily medicated."
"I don't know, Jason, she escaped about a month ago."
Jason looked alarmed. "What?!"
Elisa moved in closer so that she could put a hand on his shoulder. "She must have bribed somebody. According to the report, one night she missed bed check. They haven't seen her since. She's been a model prisoner, so they didn't notify Matt or me right away. I just found out about a week ago. That's one of the reasons I came to see you. Do you have any idea where she might have gone?"
Jason looked resigned. "No, Elisa. And I nae I would have told you if I did. She's my sister."
~ Past Perfect ~
* * *
Lightning flashed, and Maddox and Mavis vanished.
Moments later, most of their forces did the same. Only the Ultra-Pack were left, until Jackal suddenly looked around and realized that the only thing standing between victory and the entire combined army of gargoyles, mutates, robots, and armed humans, was themselves.
"Let's bail, sis! We don't get paid enough for this!"
~ Reprisals, Part 3 ~
* * * * *
* * * * *
February 11, 1998
"What the- who ate all the Chinese food?"
"What do you think, genius? The roaches finally figured out how to open refrigerator doors?"
Jackal popped out his claws, angrily digging another mark into the loose plaster of the hotel room wall. The place was falling apart enough as it was, and the additional bit of assault caused a large piece of stucco to come loose from the ceiling, knocking him on the head.
"OW!" His cybernetic eye dilated as it took in the surroundings. "Great, now the roof's caving in on our heads. As if there's nothing else wrong in this two-bit shack." He peered out the window as he munched on an old, browned apple he had found behind the counter.
The clouds that had convened over the city mulled around the clusters of skyscrapers. Every once in a while, the clouds would break and let rays of sunlight dart through before they covered the sky again. Every few minutes, there would be a burst of a sun-shower, and people would pull out their umbrellas or cover their heads with newspapers for a second's relief before the shower stopped. Waterfalls of melting snow trickled to the soggy ground, forming miniature lakes of mud and ice. It was depressing.
"Put a sock in it. I'm trying to read." Hyena leaned back, propping her long metallic legs onto the upturned crate serving as an all-around shelf, chair, and poker table. The run-down hotel didn't even have a separate kitchen, and most of the furniture was better off as firewood, if only there was a fireplace -- or a heater, for that matter.
"You? Read? Since when?"
"Look, Dogbreath, unlike you, I'm trying to find a way out of this place." She snorted as she flipped through the paper. "What do you think? A $5 million lottery ticket is going to toodle in here and kiss you on the nose?"
"There's a better chance of that happening then getting you to stop eating," Jackal retorted.
"First come, first serve, Barky," she quipped, returning to the paper.
Jackal tore through the mini-refrigerator, then made a face at the food that had spoiled. The fridge had broken down again. It suddenly closed on him, catching his arm in the door. He growled, put one spiked foot against the door and pulled. His arm wouldn't budge. Aggravated, he started to kick the fridge.
Hyena sighed as she turned the page, not bothering to look up in her sibling's direction. "You know, I've been thinking we've really hit a dead end, brother dear. We've been pounding our heads against the wall for nothing --"
Jackal started to beat the small fridge's side with his skull in a rage.
"-- and it's gotten us nowhere since we've left working for Maddox. None of the freaks in this town know us for our 'unique' talents --"
Jackal popped out his laser cannon, infuriated. His eyes narrowed as he realized that the neighbors would probably notice the cannon going off over their heads, so he popped a large blade out of his free palm instead.
"-- or our 'unique' dispositions, either," she continued.
Jackal cackled madly as he started to saw the refrigerator in half. "Die, you repairman's nightmare!" he laughed over the noise of snapping metal. "Hey, lookie, Sis. What's this remind you of?" He made a stabbing motion in the air with the weapon. "Eeee-eee-eee ..."
"So where are we going to get money?" Hyena snorted, then turned another page. "And that Maddox didn't pay so bad, either, and of course we don't have him to work off of -er- for, anymore." She sniffed. "And if a certain idiot hadn't spent all our money on garbage, we'd probably have food right now."
"Hey, at least the Duesenberg was better than the life-size ice statues of Africa's fiercest predators," he shot back. "Figures you'd forget that ice actually melts in an un-air-conditioned room. Five hundred dollars down the tubes in two hours."
Hyena sat up in her makeshift chair and eyed him dangerously. "Were you listening?"
"Gee, that little speech was so invigorating I fell asleep. I'm sooooo sorry." He growled at the trap, then ripped the fridge out of its sockets and started to beat it against the loose wooden planks. He popped out the laser cannon. "Who cares who hears..." he growled to himself, taking careful aim.
"We could go see what goodies downtown has," Hyena mused, using her spiked fingers to cut out several food coupons. "There's gotta be some bank nearby or something ... something to get fast cash..." She barely flinched as there was a loud BLAM from Jackal's direction. The following 'irk' that rang from his sister's throat made Jackal look up from the nearly decapitated refrigerator. He peered over her shoulder, causing the hissing sound of loose circuitry from his shoulder socket to sizzle directly in her ears.
"Will you look at this? Miss Priss, living high on the hog," Hyena said sweetly. Too sweetly. Her face had a look of disgust. "Figures she'd forget all about us and run off to marry some Clark Gable. It's so sweet I'm going to throw up." She shoved the tattered newspaper into her brother's face as he glared at her.
Jackal's brow went up as he took in the photograph on one of the Society Pages. It was of Fox ... oh, yes, Mrs. David Xanatos, dressed to the nines, at a recent charity event. Her hair was decked up with what looked like real pearls, and her dress must have been bought at one of the fancier shops in Manhattan.
The sight of all the gleaming white and sparkling red of her sequined dress made Hyena growl in obvious discontentment. "And will you look at that diamond necklace?" she asked, nearly punching a hole in the paper. "Probably real, too. Nothing her stuck-up sweetheart wouldn't do for his wittle pweciiiiiiiiiiiiiiooooous." She threw down the paper in defeat, then started pacing the room.
Jackal stuck his free claws into the fridge's door and gave a heartwrenching twist. It didn't even squeak, much less actually open. The laser cannon hadn't worked, since he hadn't timed the firing right, and had ended up blowing his limb free from the rest of his body. "Open up you stupid-" he started to yell. Hyena looked totally unamused at his antics and flicked a small switch on the fridge's side. The door immediately popped open, releasing his disconnected arm into her brother's other hand. He looked at her, annoyed.
"Gee, thanks, Sis." It wasn't a very grateful-sounding comment.
"Can you believe this?" she continued, walking back and forth and peering at the ground. "She totally forgets about us, moves off with the same prey we used to hunt. And baby makes three. Yeach, really turns your stomach doesn't it? She's turned into a real society matron."
Jackal got out a welder from among his many nifty little gadgets and started to try to weld his arm back into place. He turned up his nose at the rumpled newspaper and the smell of smoking circuits that started to billow upwards. "Yeah, she's really gone down-hill." He went back to thinking, then said softly in an absent-minded voice, "Baby makes three."
He suddenly dropped his arm, sitting up as if a hot poker had entered his back. "Baby makes three?!" He looked at Hyena. "Hey, sis. You want to have some fun and tweak Miss Goody-Two-Shoes at the same time?"
"Boy, you really did hit your head hard on that fridge, didn't you?" she snickered as she cut out a string of paper dolls from the newspaper. She spread the cutout lengthwise, then cackled at the shape of a gargoyle missing its head. "Hey, I'm starting to like this paper craft stuff."
He gave her a sour look. "Don't you get it? Baby makes three. That lottery ticket you were talking about ... we just found it. This is our lottery ticket in a diaper."
Hyena's head suddenly shot up, and she gave her brother an interested look. "Go on."
"I've got an idea."
Jackal and Hyena started to plan.
* * * * *
A thumping noise disturbed the quiet in the room. Robyn Canmore looked up from her mass array of medical references and thick textbooks only to find that she was unconsciously tapping her pencil. In the past few months, she had found herself developing odd habits that were becoming more and more of a nuisance, especially during study time.
Perhaps it was all the tension from the fear of being recognized. She sighed at the thought. Her attention was directed to an old, crumpled bus ticket that was sitting forgotten on her immaculately kept dresser. She should have gone when she had the chance. She should have been anywhere but the city at this moment. But she couldn't leave. Not just yet.
She'd been toying with the idea of breaking Jason and Jon out, but the thought had only aggravated her even more. She didn't have the money, resources, or manpower for such a job. Besides, both of her brothers couldn't be moved, especially Jason. They needed all the professional medical attention they could get. Interfering could only add more fuel to the fire. That is, interfering as Robyn Canmore.
Her eyes scanned across her dresser from the old bus ticket to her reflection in the mirror. She had changed her blond hair to a mouse brown and given herself a new identity: Heather Fields, practical nursing student.
She smiled despite herself, rapping her fingers together. It had taken some doing, but she had gotten quite into her new identity. Her brothers needed medical attention, and only staff were allowed within two floors of them without heavy guard. Despite their conditions, it was obvious the police were taking no chances letting them slip through their fingers.
But they were on the lookout for any suspicious character lurking around, not the hordes of nurses and doctors that were always rushing in and out of patient's rooms. One more or less nurse-in-training wouldn't raise a single eyebrow. Or so Robyn planned. She had to get herself into the prison's hospital under the persona of Heather Fields. It would get her to Jon and Jason. If she was to move them, it would have to be done with the utmost care, or she would only hurt them. Funding would help raise money for a hideout. If all else failed, Mr. Maddox could help her. He had always been there for her family when they had needed help the most...
Robyn glared back down at her notes in disdain. She should have been studying, but her thoughts had scattered. It was hard to concentrate knowing the entire city was on a manhunt... and she, for once, was the prey.
How ironic. She yelped a laugh before she could help herself. Her pencil's tapping was starting to become obnoxious in tone. She had come this far. Nothing was going to stop her. Her family was all that mattered, now. If only all this had never happened.
Times like these made her wish her father were still alive. Unfortunately, he hadn't lived after his first battle with the Demon. Her pencil's tapping suddenly ground to a halt. She was going to succeed, for his sake and for her brother's; she was too smart to let anything go wrong. Not now, after all this planning and preparation.
"Roboblasters!" came a howl from the television set. The pencil flew out of her hands. She peered around the bedroom door into the den.
The one problem with Robyn's plan to help her brothers was that she had to keep a very low profile. The good news was that she had gotten a complete twit for a roommate, which meant that few questions were asked. In fact, the only questions Barbara Ann asked were usually pleas for homework help or what Robyn's name was again.
It was a mystery to Robyn how Barbara had even passed the school's entrance exams in the first place.
Still, this all meant that Robyn didn't have to worry as much about security breaches. She might as well try to be polite. "Barbara, could you please be quiet?"
"Roboblasters ... UNITE!" the lanky redhead chimed in sync with the television set, then looked up. "What?" she replied, casually racing through the channels with the remote. "Call me Babs, kay? I've asked you a zillion times." She looked surprised at the tall stack of books on Heather's desk. "Hey, you hittin' the books? This century? Ever consider some massive partying?" She started jumping up and down on the couch, the curlers in her frizzy hair starting to come undone. "C'mon! You gotta get down, get funky, and party hearty!" She started to do the Mambo.
Barbara rolled her eyes at Robyn's look of scorn.
"Oh, please." She put her hands on her hips, then shook a playful finger. Her usual bubbly grin was too sweet. "All work and no play --"
"-- makes Heather a dull girl. I know." Robyn didn't return the smile, but only rested her head on one hand. It was going to be a long semester. "But I have a family that depends on me, Barbara."
Robyn glowered. "Yes, my mistake. Babs." She looked at her watch and started to pack up her books. "Come on, we're going to miss our bus."
"Whatever. I don't get you. You're so..." Barbara's eyes glazed over as she searched for the right word.
"I was thinking 'Dull', actually," Barbara answered, very sure of herself for once. She chewed on her lip as she headed out the door. "You know, Heather? I like you and all, but you need to seriously not be so... dull."
Barbara hiked her coat over her shoulders and walked down the building's corridor. She didn't notice the mysterious, confident smirk that Robyn gave to her retreating back.
* * * * *
Wally glanced at his watch as he started down the hall. "Ugh! I am late again!" He started to run a little faster towards the office at the end of the long hallway.
He timidly opened the door and smiled weakly at the secretary sitting before the inner door to his boss's office.
The secretary just rolled her eyes. "Time to buy a new watch, Wally. He was already in a bad mood and the meeting started fifteen minutes ago."
Wally made a noise that was somewhere between a sigh and a grunt. Then he stood tall and straightened his tie, reached for the handle of the inner door, and muttered something about how computer genius's like him don't get any respect as he took a step inside.
The room was very dark; only a few dim lights allowed him to see his way to an empty chair. The eight or so members of the group were silent as the dark figure at the head of the table was talking to a nerdy accountant over his shoulder.
Wally quickly found his seat, hoping that his tardy entrance didn't attract too much attention. He set his briefcase in front of him and popped it open. The sound of the clasps opening with spring action seemed to echo off the walls in the room. Wally flinched.
Wally's boss turned to look at him. Wally tried to force a smile. There was a whir of a small motor as Wally's employer moved his wheelchair back into the cut out at the top of the table that was made expressly for it.
A displeased rumble came from his throat. "Wally, so glad you could join us. Do I even want to know what your excuse is for tardiness this time?" The low voice was calm and controlled but Wally knew he was in serious trouble.
Wally stood up on trembling legs and picked a file up out of his briefcase. "Um, sir ... err ... I have the final results of our latest project, sir." He took a breath and walked up to head of the table and laid the file down before his boss.
Wally wished he could just turn and run out of the room but he only gulped loudly and stood his ground.
His employer picked up the folder in his large hands. He had difficulty getting it open at first but then quickly moved to the end of the report. His only concern was the final results. His dark, sinister eyes widened a bit and he slammed his fist down onto the table. Wally was sure he heard the heavy oak table crack with the impact. "What is this?!" He snarled.
Wally cleared his throat. "I'm sorry, sir. B-b-b-but there is no way to access the computer files that you need."
Wally watched his boss, the scowl plain on his face. The sheer size of him was always amazing. Even seated in that wheelchair, he could still look straight into Wally's eyes.
Wally's voice cracked but he continued. "It t-t-took us two months just to get past the security codes and traps. B-b-by the time we got through, the files had been deleted."
"Can you restore any information at all?" His deep voice rumbled.
"N-n-no, sir. They were permanently overwritten, they no longer exist."
The large figure moved his wheelchair across the room and deeper into the darkness. His hulking form outlined by the lights beyond the large picture window at the end of the room. He rested his elbows on the arm of his chair and stroked his chin thoughtfully.
He spoke softly, mostly to himself. "Just as I would have done."
Even in the darkness Wally could see the dark, sinister smile move over his face. The wheelchair turned slowly to, once again, face the entire room. "Good thing I had planned for just this type of inconvenience." His voice was now strong and confident. "Here is the plan, I want two teams."
* * * * *
"Good-day, Mr. Xanatos." The guard at the entrance to the Eyrie building nodded to David's companion. "Mr. Burnett."
"A good day to you, too, Harold," David said, all smiles. Alexander squirmed in his father's arms and continued to pull on the man's beard as if it were a toy.
"Zoo zoo zoo!" Alex giggled, waving at the security guard. Harold took off his hat and scratched his balding scalp.
"Oh, yeah? Daddy's takin' you ta the zoo, today, eh?"
Alex nodded. "Den to see da toys!"
"He means the toy store," David explained. "Today's a boy's day out. He's been waiting for today all week." He gently knocked his son's chin. "Right, Alexander?"
Harold chuckled. "You got a real smart kid, dere, Mr. Xanatos."
David grinned at the compliment. "It's genetic."
Owen watched the goings-on in quiet, waiting patiently for his employer. "Mr. Xanatos, I believe we should be going," he reminded mildly, not wanting to spoil the other man's obvious joyful mood.
David smiled. "But of course, Owen. Let's go, Alexander." He rocked him in his arms playfully.
"Zoo zoo zoo!"
* * * * *
Owen glanced around the zoo near the entrance, his narrowed eyes scanning his surroundings. He nodded after a moment and turned around.
"Mr. Xan-" He stopped short. Alexander was standing by himself with his father crouching to his height. The little boy was having a ball as he crammed his cotton candy into his father's beard. David was cracking up, but stopped as he saw Owen peering at him with a worried expression at the mess.
"It's called parenthood, Owen," David explained with a little half-smile as he pulled the gummy mess off his face. "As a millionaire, I'm supposed to be eccentric, aren't I?"
"Of course, sir." Better to simply agree. He glared over his shoulder one last time as his employer took his son by the hand and started walking. Owen's eyes narrowed even further at the crowd before following.
* * * * *
kssssssssshchckchhhhh "Jo here. You in position?"
"Yep. Let's do it. Over an' out," a husky whisper returned. There was another long string of static as the connection broke off.
'Jo' pulled up the collar around her neck to hide her face and pale hair as she leaned back against the railing over one of the animal pens. Her associate approached her from behind with a tray of food. She rolled her eyes at his eating habits, but remained silent; her job was to keep an eye on the kid.
"Ephwents!" a small toddler with red hair shrieked to his father, passing on his left. Jo lightly punched her companion, who was attempting to juggle a hot dog and soda at the same time, in the side to get his attention. The man was so startled he dropped the food all over his front. He gave an annoyed glare, but both quickly started a slow jog after the Xanatos'.
"Yes, that's right, son. Elephants," David commented, pointing to the pen. "Big, aren't they?" Alexander nodded, then giggled as one of the massive animals started to squirt water from its trough at another playmate in its corral.
The tyke was trotting alongside his father's side, only holding his hand. Jo crouched down till she was almost in a runner's crouch, about to pass on the side. Her companion sneaked a few feet back, then gave her the thumbs up sign. They were in position.
"C'mere, you little paycheck," Jo snickered as she gained some ground.
She was so startled by the sudden shrill roar of an elephant that she leaped into the air in surprise. An elephant trunk full of water came cascading down onto the crowd. It was odd that the elephant had such good aim; she had to be the most drenched of the group.
She gave a long, hacking gasp and started shivering. There were unanimous cries of surprise from the sprayed crowd. Wiping clammy hair from her face, she sneezed and followed after her target, who was now heading for the petting zoo.
"C'mon, now-" she growled, getting impatient. She tripped suddenly as something clamped onto her jacket. She turned and glared at a goat that had mysteriously gotten out of its pen. She kicked at it, knocking it away for a moment before hurriedly loping off. The animal didn't give up that easily, and before she knew it, the goat had a firm lock on her coat again. Before she could react, it gave a firm tug that sent her sputtering into a hay manger.
Her accomplice gave her a worried look as Jo struggled to get out of her trap. She hissed and waved in the Xanatos' direction, and the latter quickly ran off after them, leaving Jo behind.
Only he didn't get very far. He was only about two feet from nabbing the toddler when a particularly persistent pot-bellied pig blocked his path, knocking him over into a mud puddle and searching his pockets for treats. He gagged on the muck, then scrambled for his walkie-talkie.
"They're heading for the monkey exhibit," he sneezed to the other members of his team as he tried fending off the animal with a rotten carrot.
"Man alive, Roger, what happened to you? What's that snorting over there?"
"Just shut up and go, a'right?"
"Roger, Roger. Hehehe."
The man growled and looked at the bristly pig that was now staring at him with beady black eyes over his head. "Get off!" He shoved the plump creature away rudely. It oinked with a hurt tone in its voice and shuffled off, but not before tripping its food manger and sending a slimy avalanche of scraps onto the mercenary's head. "What the- agccccccccchpthargh!" The pig snorted and waddled off.
Alexander tugged on his father's coat sleeve and pointed to the zoo's exit. "Wanna weave."
David raised an eyebrow, then smiled. "Well, let's go. Come along, Owen. Next stop, the toy store."
Three other men quickly followed the trio, but promptly lost them in the densely packed crowd. One of them hit the other two in the side.
"Hey, over there." He jerked his head across the zoo towards the leaving group. "How'd they move so fast?"
"I dunno. C'mon, through here." A second one nodded at an empty cage whose other end opened up right next to the zoo's exit. "Cut through and we'll be able to nip the kid easily." The other two hesitated, and the one who had just spoken rolled his eyes. "Aw, c'mon, look. It's safe." He directed their attention to a "This exhibit is being refurbished for the comfort of our animals" sign that hung on the railing. He jumped the fence and jiggled the lock on the cage door. The other two remaining members of his team gave each other slightly hesitant looks before following him inside.
"I heard something," a shorter member of the team squeaked as another attempted to unlock the door on the other side of the compound.
"Quiet, I'm working."
"But, Stan, I swear I-"
"Shut up, I told ya I'm working."
"Shut up, he said he's working," the second man growled.
The runty member whimpered and peered behind the group to the darker area of the cage. A tawny colored tail suddenly disappeared from view into the shadows, then was followed by an intimidating snarl. He squeaked and fell down into the other two, who turned and shoved him off, annoyed.
"I just told ya to leave me alone, you little-" The second man tapped his first companion on the shoulder.
"Uh, did you see-"
There was heavy pawing against the cement floor as a very large male lion slowly stalked into view. The men's eyes popped.
"Aw, it's just a big kitty," one of them started. The lion, in response to this insulting remark, opened its massive jaws and let loose a deafening roar. The three grown men screamed and threw themselves up against the bars, clawing at anything outside of the cage in terror.
Outside near the first entrance to the pen, a zoo worker took down the "This exhibit is being refurbished for the comfort of our animals" sign off the railing. He stopped short, then stared quizzically at the ajar cage door before firmly closing and padlocking it.
As they left, David bent down to his small son and remarked, "Wasn't the zoo fun?" Alexander giggled and nodded as he bounced alongside his father.
Owen looked over his shoulder as several workers swarmed around the lion's cage, frantically trying to subdue the enraged animal and get the hysterical men out at the same time. "In more ways than one," he commented softly to himself. There was a shrewd, almost Puck-like smile as he turned and followed the pair to the limousine.
* * * * *
Hyena tried in vain to turn off the listening device that was part of her ear.
"What did you hear?" Jackal said. His own listening devices were malfunctioning.
"What?" Hyena said loudly, pounding on her ear. The extended assembly of the ear finally retracted into her head.
"What did you hear?"
"They are heading to the toy store."
"A toy store? Come on, sis."
"What is the plan?"
"My dear sister, we are about to inspire the youth of America."
* * * * *
The afternoon sun was hanging rather low in the sky by the time the Xanatos's and Owen walked up to the doors of the large downtown toy store. David seemed more impressed than Alexander as they walked into the toy haven. Owen could have almost sworn he heard his boss giggle as David grabbed up his son and hurried over to the center of the store. There on the floor before them was a huge keyboard.
"Look at that Owen." David nearly yelled over his shoulder expecting Owen to be loitering around the front door. Owen had slowly caught up with him but hardly jumped when David yelled into his face.
Owen moved around to see the keyboard. "Fascinating, sir." He stated, matter-of-factly. He pushed his glasses up on his nose and looked back at David. He didn't like the look in David's eye. He had seen it once before, the moment before he gave the order to purchase Castle Wyvern.
"You know, Owen, I saw a play last season where a man did this amazing tap number on a keyboard just like this." David looked at Owen and a sly grin moved over his face. "Want to see how it went?"
Owen's expression never changed. He blinked, then answered. "Perhaps later, sir. Alexander seems to be far more interested in the stuffed animal section over there." Owen lifted Alexander out of David's arms and began to walk in the general direction of 'over there.' Alexander giggled and reached for the keyboard as they moved passed it.
Owen walked past a large group of children that had crowded around a pair of "RoboBlasters In Space" giant action figures. David shrugged and looked down at the keyboard again. He looked around to make sure no one was looking and tapped one foot down on a key. The note rang out and seemed to echo a bit against all of the toys. David just grinned and moved to catch up with Owen.
As David worked his way through the children, he was unaware that he was being watched. One of the giant action figures elbowed the other then pushed up it's RoboBlast helmet just enough for Hyena's mouth to be seen.
"OooOOoooOo...! Izzat an itty-bitty widdle billionaire I see dere?" Hyena whispered to Jackal.
Jackal raised his helmet a bit as well and peeked over in the direction David was heading. A dark smile crossed over his face as he spied Owen and Alexander. He watched as the pair whispered and giggled back and forth as they looked at one toy after another. "This is just too easy. Like taking candy from a baby. It really should be a crime. OH! That's right... it IS a crime."
With a telltale cackle Hyena kicked in her thrusters and lifted off the ground. The kids, thinking it to be a show, went wild! The cheering all but drowned out the sound of her thrusters and she started tossing off her RoboBlaster costume.
She turned toward the multi-millionaire and his son with Jackal following right behind her. She passed low over David's head moving straight for Owen. David tried to yell out a warning to his right hand man but it was too late. Hyena's heel had landed right at the base of Owen's skull and he was out cold.
David leaped at her as she lifted Alexander into her own cold arms. He saw a bright flash of light, felt a twinge in his back and everything went dark.
Hyena smiled coolly at her brother as he snapped his laser cannon back into his forearm. David moaned and moved a bit, but didn't get up. "Only set your phasers for stun, huh?" She said as she hefted Alexander fully into her arms.
"Well, he needs to sign the ransom check, doesn't he?"
Hyena smirked and ignited her thrusters again; she shot past her brother to the closest wall. "Last one home has to change his diapers... "
Needless to say, Jackal was close on her titanium heals. The whole store cheered at the display, oblivious to the fact that this was not just a show until Hyena blasted a huge hole in the wall for their escape. Kids ducked for cover as bits of the wall rained over them.
The twins slipped out of the new ventilation system they created and high-fived each other as Hyena balanced Alexander on her hip with the other hand.
* * * * *
Meanwhile, a Con-Ed truck pulled up near one of the loading docks in the rear of the Eyrie Building.
The men inside, clad in the uniforms appropriate to their truck, got out, carrying heavy equipment. They went over to what appeared to be a full-sized exhaust vent for the building's climate control system. They pulled on it, and went inside, closing the large vent behind them.
"Okay," one of them said. "According to the plans, there should be a secret elevator at the end of this vent."
"How did the boss know about this thing? It doesn't show up on the official building blueprints."
He pressed the button for the elevator, which opened, admitted them, and quickly, without the need for a button, took them up to the very top of the building. The doors opened again, onto a dim medieval motif.
Leading the troop, the lead criminal pushed open a door and walked out into a bright room. He turned around and gazed at the door. On this side, it appeared to be part of the stone wall and was covered up with a large tapestry.
"Okay, our job is to get to Xanatos's office, break in, and remove the information, all before sunset. We must be out of the building by sunset."
"You don't know, do you?"
"No," the leader admitted. "But it doesn't matter. If everything goes according to plan, we won't have to find out." He started across the room, looking at the floorplan in his hands. He gazed down at the paper; he looked at the wall in front of him. "There's supposed to be a door here."
"Well, there isn't."
"They must have remodeled," he said, cursing. "These rich people always make life difficult for hard-working criminals like us."
* * * * *
The would-be kidnappers, still tattered and filthy from the zoo, finally caught up as Jackal and Hyena, young Alex in her arms, burst out of the toy store. One of them tackled Hyena as the other grabbed young Mr. Xanatos and started to run. He didn't get far as Jackal stuck out his leg and tripped him.
"Going somewhere with my meal ticket?"
As the thug fell flat on his face he tossed Alexander into the air. All four of the dissidents watched as Alexander sailed through the air.
Every one of them blinked in surprise as he landed safely in the arms of a passerby. Robyn Canmore yelped out a bit, as the child seemed to fall from the sky into her arms. She very nearly dropped him but was able to hold on. Alexander just giggled and looked back over his shoulder.
"What the... ?" Robyn muttered as she looked off in the direction that held Alexander's interest.
Her jaw hung slack as she took in the sight before her: Jackal, Hyena, and two shady looking characters, getting to their feet and sprinting toward her as fast as they could.
"Oh, my!" She held Alex up to meet her eyes. "They're after you!"
Every motherly instinct in Robyn kicked in. She held Alex protectively to her and began to run.
After she hurtled a few fire hydrants and bus stop benches she dared a look behind her. Jackal and Hyena had taken to the air and were gaining on her meager lead. She dodged behind a building and ran down the alley. The alley let out to another main street. The cars were all at a stop for a red light and Robyn knew she didn't have time to spare, so she leapt into the back seat of the very first car she came to.
Without even looking she locked the door behind her and crouched low on the floor of the stretch limousine that she had sought sanctuary in. She huddled Alexander protectively in her arms.
Dominique Destine had just hung up her cell phone when someone leapt into the back of her limousine with her. Before she had a chance to rattle off her 'wretched, pathetic human' speech to the stowaway, she looked out her tinted window to see Jackal and Hyena flying down the alleyway at them. Then she saw two more men right behind them. They were all headed her way!
Dominique punched a button on her armrest and yelled into a small speaker to her driver. "Emergency code! BATCAVE!"
Robyn's eyes opened wide as she recognized the voice, and she swiveled her head to look at her savior. Her face tightened as her mind registered whom it was.
It was the Demon.
For a second, the memories of her father crashing into the ground with a sickening thud re-played in her mind. An explosion of fire surged upwards through her chest, and had she not felt the toddler yank on her hair and wake her from her thoughts, she may have sent her nails into the Demon's throat.
She blinked, looked at the child in her arms, then looked up at Ms. Destine again. "Out of the frying pan...." she mumbled. Fortunately for Robyn, Dominique had been too busy to get a good look at her... yet.
Suddenly Robyn heard the whir of small servomotors and she felt the car lower to the ground a bit.
Jackal and Hyena stopped dead as they watched the limousine seem to get shorter. Then the bumper flipped down and under to expose two small jet exhaust ports.
Jackal muttered something just as the modified luxury car lurched forward at breakneck speed. Hyena didn't quite make out what her brother said, but was fairly sure she agreed.
The two thugs huffed and puffed up behind the twins and collapsed together. Hyena rolled her eyes. "Well, at least the competition is out cold, let's get that limo!"
They bolted off after Alexander's get away car as fast as their thrusters would go. Their prey seemed to have the upper hand again. They watch, amazed, as the jet car seemed to breeze through the rush hour traffic. It seemed like every street light would change in its favor.
Hyena's jetpack sputtered a bit. "DRAT! Out of fuel!" She stopped suddenly, then gravity took hold. She hit the sidewalk with a sick crunch.
Jackal looked back to see his sister's twisted wreckage on the sidewalk. What he failed to see was the lamppost that was right in his flight path. Hyena looked up just in time to shout, "Watch out for that ... !" CRASH!! "...Street light"
Hyena picked up one of Jackal's bolts as it rolled by her and sighed.
* * * * *
Dominique leaned back into the soft leather of the car, crossing one leg over the other and smoothing out some folds in her skirt. "Of course, Gregory will be dropping you off as soon as possible," she said without formality, turning her gaze casually to the young woman crouched on the floor beside her. The girl cast a wary eye out the back window to look for her pursuers, but her other eye remained fixed on her hostess. The other woman caught something very significant in the way her unexpected guest seemed tensed, and a light clicked on in her head. Why, without that mouse brown hair and nurses uniform, this young lady looked exactly like...
"Robyn!" she exclaimed, a genuine look of surprise in her large green eyes. She smiled an eerie little half-smirk, and her next sentence was cooler. "That's a new look."
Robyn let her emotions go and did her best to make her face an empty mask. "Yes," she answered, shifting her position so that she was facing the Demon fully. "Many souls lately seem to like changing appearances."
The Demon didn't appear to like this last remark. Her eyes narrowed until they were hollow slits. Without warning, a small grin appeared on her face.
"You always were very quick-witted, Robyn. I like that in my... employees."
"How nice for them," came the response, and she tightened her grip on the toddler. If only the child wasn't here ... no, she couldn't. She was beyond the Hunt now.
The Demon gestured to the seat next to her. Robyn took it slowly, keeping as far away from her hostess as she comfortably could. She held the child securely in her lap and they road the last few blocks in silence, assessing each other carefully.
The car came to a squealing halt in the garage, and the door opened with a click as the chauffeur opened it for his employer. The Demon smiled and stepped out, then offered her palm to Robyn. "I insist." She dug her nails into the younger woman's wrist and tugged her towards the door leading into the rest of the house. "You are dismissed, Gregory."
The chauffeur tipped his hat and edged his way out the open garage door, hitting the 'close' button as he went. He appeared anxious to leave as it was.
Robyn took in her surroundings. Her one escape route was cut off. She couldn't run with the toddler in her arms; otherwise, she would have made a flying leap for the button that would reopen the door. There was one last choice: take a detour through the Demon's house and find her exit through there. It sounded feasible enough to work.
"It's quite interesting I should see you again," the Demon continued as she led her through a well stocked, polished kitchen.
"I doubt it," Robyn muttered under her breath. The only reason the Demon wasn't attacking had to do with the child. Ten to one, if Robyn was thinking correctly, she thought that Robyn was the toddler's nurse, and that if Robyn suddenly disappeared, its parents would raise a cry for it. And the chauffeur would eventually report that he saw a woman under her description with a little boy entering the Demon's home.
This way of thinking bolstered Robyn's courage, but still she tighten her grip on the boy and tense her shoulders should she need to attack or flee.
"Allow me to show you around, Robyn. I insist."
Robyn flinched as the glare of the setting sun blinded her through a window for a moment. She was nearly dragged by her hostess from the kitchen and down the front hall into the marble-tiled entryway of the grand mansion, then suddenly released as the red-haired executive continued down the hallway. Robyn was not expecting such a surprising change, and she nearly tripped backwards for a moment.
The Demon let down her hair and ruffled it, inviting Robyn into her living room with a broad sweep of a hand. "We have a lot to catch up on, Robyn. What are you doing lately?" she inquired in an innocent tone, seating herself on an overstuffed sofa. She motioned for Robyn to sit in the chair opposite, which she did. The younger woman shifted uncomfortably in the stiff, high-backed seat.
The Demon offered her a choice from a crystal bowl of wrapped candies and a matching bowl of fresh fruit, but Robyn couldn't shake her head enough. "No thank you," she replied steadily. Alexander started to play with the white nurse's hat on her head, seeming oblivious to the tense situation.
The older woman nodded, and took a chocolate for herself from the first bowl, savoring it in small bites and licking her fingers delicately. "Mmm," she said, absently, swallowing the last of the treat. Robyn's expression tightened as the Demon crossed her legs and smiled at her. "I see you have been quite busy," she said, indicating the child.
Robyn smiled to herself. She was right; the Demon did think that she was caring for the boy.
"Rather busy," she replied in an equally innocent tone. "You know how chaotic life can be." Her eyes started roving the room in search of an exit, and she found one. A pair of French doors opened into an immaculately kept backyard, with a beautiful veranda covered with flowers. If she had to, she could probably throw something in the Demon's direction to occupy her, and then bolt. It wasn't yet sunset, and it would be easier to confront her now then when she changed into her true gargoyle form.
She grimaced. It would be a pleasant treat to throw something at the Demon. Especially if it was sharp and caused serious damage.
"So I see," the Demon answered absent-mindedly, regarding the toddler with a critical eye. "Such a... darling child." The little boy's smile deepened. "You must tell me his name, Robyn. He's so adorable."
"His name?" Robyn was clearly thrown, and she silently cursed herself for it.
"Oh, yes, his name. His parents are rich, I suppose? They must be to hire a nanny. I believe I've seen him before."
"You've met his parents." Her voice went flat.
The Demon tapped her chin with her forefinger innocently. "Oh, yes. I simply can't imagine where, but that child looks so familiar. What was his name? Adam? Aaron?" Robyn realized, with a knot forming in her gut, that the Demon not only recognized the boy, but was testing her to see if she really was his nanny or not.
"Oh, I just call him my 'Sweetie'," Robyn covered in as sweet a voice as she could manage. The Demon frowned in obvious disappointment.
To test the truth in this comment, she leaned over to the toddler's face and said, "Hello ... Sweetie."
Robyn was surprised when he giggled and nodded. "Sweetie!" he laughed, and pointed to himself. His keeper sighed in relief. The Demon simply appeared annoyed.
She cleared her throat. "I see. How ... sweet."
"Isn't he, though?" Robyn couldn't keep the hard edge out of her voice.
The toddler tugged on her sleeve in warning. It was then that she noticed, too late, that the sun was already setting. She instinctively edged out of her seat for the backdoor.
"Oh, please, Robyn. Do stay." Robyn wanted to rip the innocent expression off the Demon's face. It was sickeningly sweet. "The night is young," the red-haired woman added as she stood up.
Robyn had always known who Dominique Destine truly was, but it was still heart stopping to see a grown businesswoman suddenly double over and moan. Dark leathery wings tore out the back of her business suit, as her legs warped in a way no humans could. Her high heels were gone in an instant as clawed toes ripped out the heel and toe. After a few seconds, she stood up, a few feet taller and definitely with more muscle.
The boy sat watching this show in amazement, and as the Demon transformed before her, Robyn couldn't keep one hand from traveling upwards and covering her opened mouth. But as the creature finished screaming, she pulled herself back to the reality of her situation. She bolted from her seat, snatched up a candlestick holder from the end table, and brandished it before her in warning. "Demon," she hissed.
"Hunter," the woman-turned-gargoyle said politely, taking a little bow. "Such a pleasure."
"I wish I could say the same," Robyn snapped, taking an offensive stance.
The Demon ran a taloned hand through her hair and glanced incredulously at the brass candlestick holder. She smiled oddly. "Like I said, Robyn, we have a lot to catch up on," she continued, straightening the remains of her suit. Her tone was unusually pleasant. "Such a pity," she said, examining the torn sleeves of her jacket slumping loosely about her wrists. "I really liked this suit, too." She shrugged and returned her gaze to Robyn, eyeing her mysteriously. "But that's what I get for stopping to pick up hitchhikers. I shall just have to do some more shopping this weekend."
Robyn shifted nervously. She was starting to feel like the mouse in this game and the sensation was ironically frightening and unpleasant. The toddler in her left arm was getting heavy, as was the candlestick holder she held with her outstretched right arm.
The Demon raised her wings took a step toward her, and Robyn's instinctive half-step backwards landed her right back in the high-backed chair as the edge of the seat caught her just below the knees. The Demon smirked and settled her wings around her shoulders casually. "You know, I've missed you, Robyn," said, settling back down on the couch among the tatters of her suit. "It's so hard to get good help these days. Not everyone has your unique perspective on the business world."
"Really," Robyn answered flatly. She straightened up in the chair and adjusted her grip on the child, still keeping her makeshift weapon in her other hand.
"Really," the Demon replied, taking another candy from the large crystal bowl on the coffee table. She smiled, her fangs glistening in the light as she unwrapped a caramel with her talons. "Oh, I finally managed to find a competent personal secretary, but I've yet to find another eager young woman with the same drive and," she paused to pop the candy into her mouth, "intensity as Miss Robyn Corey."
Robyn smiled uneasily. Sincerity oozed from the Demon's words, and so far she had made no move to attack despite the several opportunities she had already had.
"But I suppose you're going by a different name now," the flame-haired gargoyle continued. "It's no fun being alone and constantly on the run, is it?" she asked mildly, much more so that Robyn would have ever expected. She sounded almost sympathetic.
"No," Robyn said quietly before she could stop herself. She found her mind turning in a direction that until just a few seconds ago would have been utterly unthinkable. If Mr. Nicholas Maddox could not help her with her plan to free and care for her brothers, maybe Ms. Dominique Destine could. With the right combination of her resources and Robyn's planning...
Robyn mentally slapped herself. What was she thinking? This was the Demon. The same heartless creature who had killed her father. Her grip on the candlestick holder tightened, and her eyes narrowed in anger.
The Demon regarded Robyn's expression coolly. "Of course, you have caused me and mine a great deal of trouble... still, it'd be such a pity for your unique... talents to go to waste."
Suddenly Robyn didn't trust a word she said. She wanted something. The young woman edged in her chair closer to the door, ready for a moment when her hostess would let her guard down.
The boy in Robyn's arms suddenly yawned. "Oh fun's fun, but enough is enough," he commented in a thoroughly bored tone. He snapped his fingers, growing in a ball of green light. Robyn bolted to her feet and nearly dropped him in surprise, while the candlestick holder tumbled from her hand and rolled away across the floor. She gasped and finally released her grip as the normal-looking child vanished and a strange little man with long white hair and pointed ears took his place. Rubbing her eyes, Robyn sat down onto the carpeted floor in a daze at the sight of Puck, levitating a few feet above her.
Demona was up in an instant, probably looking for something iron to send in his direction, but he was quicker. Puck planted a kiss on her before she knew what hit her, and she fell backwards with a scream that made his large ears twitch in discomfort.
He snorted in an insulted manner, then peered at Robyn. "Well, hell-ooooooooooooooooo, Nurse!" He placed a large hand over his mouth in mock sheepishness. "Oh, sorry. I simply could not help myself. I need to stretch a bit after being gone for a while. You know how hard getting back into the swing of things is after a good ol' vacation."
Puck shook a shocked Robyn's hand and tipped an imaginary hat on his head. "Well, you did help me out, but I really don't suppose I can let you go free. And she," he swept his hand in the gargoyle's direction, "will probably want to do something nasty to you... and you to her, I imagine." He shrugged. "So I guess this is for your own good."
Puck sent a flash of light towards Robyn, binding and shackling her tightly in a straightjacket and gag, and wrapping her redundantly in a cocoon of crisscrossed chains from head to toe. In an instant, she was covered with so many locks that the whole prospect would have made Houdini shudder.
"I hate chains, myself," he admitted as Robyn thrashed, her indignant protests incomprehensible beneath the sturdy gag, "but it was either this or stuffing you in a trunk for the time being. And I didn't think you'd like that any better."
He put up one long forefinger in warning as Demona crouched into an offensive lunge. "Oh, please, do try me." An evil grin spread across his face. "You know, I've never attempted to change a gargoyle into a poodle, but I bet you'd look just precious with a little bob cut and a shaved rear." Demona snarled, but sat down in compliance at the threat. Puck clapped his hands. "Good girl!" An oversized toy bone suddenly materialized in Demona's jaws. She looked startled and her eyes blazed red as she tried to pry the 'reward' out of her mouth, but she only continued to growl when she realized it was stuck.
"I knew you'd like it!" He balked at her business suit. "I see you've have a change of fashion sense, hmm? Ick. Red isn't your color, you know." He deftly snapped his fingers, and Demona's clothes melted and congealed into her usual tatters. Her eyes darkened a bloodier red and she would have tackled him if only the cursed bone was out of her mouth...
He tapped his chin as if he was an artist inspecting his latest work, then gave a little shrug. "Perhaps I was wrong with the 'red isn't your color' comment. Oh, well. Can't win 'em all." He was quiet for a minute, but couldn't help adding, "By the way, I think you're a sweetie, too!"
Demona's eyes burned a bloody red.
Puck slowly drifted on his back to the coffee table with his arms behind his head and one leg over the other. He helped himself to an apple from a fruit basket and poured a glass of Perrier to wash it down. "Hmm, may I have some? Don't mind if I do!" He peered at the other two, one struggling in the straightjacket and chains and the other hissing bloody murder and attempting to wrestle the toy bone out of her mouth. A small, almost unnoticeable smile passed over his face before he kicked a banana up into the air. He caught it in one hand and pretended to dial it as if it was a telephone.
* * * * *
The sound of a ringing phone drifted through the precinct house. No one heard it over the sound of beeping computer monitors and voices as suspects were led in and out of the place. Elisa finally lifted the receiver, cradling it to her shoulder as she continued reading over some papers.
"Hello, 23rd precinct. May I help you?" She took another sip of her coffee.
Elisa waited a moment, expecting more of a greeting. "Who's speaking?" she finally asked.
"You were until a second ago." There was a cryptic chuckle.
Elisa frowned. "All right, pal, I've had enough games. Who is this?"
"'Who is this?' Is that the warmest welcome I get? I'm sooo hurt." There was silence for a moment, followed by an exaggerated sigh. "Oh, fine, fine. Three guesses, detective."
"Puck?" Elisa asked warily. It was hard to mistake his unique way of holding a conversation.
"By all means, remind me to give you a cigar!" he praised.
"I'll make a note of it. What are you doing calling here?" Usually he didn't make an appearance unless trouble was happening, either from one of their enemies or from himself.
Puck lifted an eyebrow at Demona and Robyn. The former was close to roaring and ripping his head off while the latter just sat quietly, still trying to believe that a fairy was floating just a few feet in front of her. He sat back and took another sip of his drink. "You don't happen to be interested in a cute kid, perhaps? 5'5", blonde, can sucker punch Goliath? She's got quite an interesting résumé. You know, had a hand in blowing up the 23rd precinct with the help of her two gargoyle-obsessed brothers? She's over here playing with a teething red-head."
A rising growl came from Demona's throat as she bit down harder on the bone.
Elisa started. "Robyn Canmore?"
"Hmm, that's two cigars in one day. Not bad." Puck puckered his lips and blew a kiss at Demona. She snarled and redoubled her efforts to extract the bone from her mouth, much to his amusement.
The detective pulled out a pad of paper and rummaged through her desk for a pen. She finally found what she was looking for and flicked off the cap. "Where are you? Matt and I'll come down to get her." She listened for a moment. The pen fell out of her fingers.
* * * * *
"Nice place," Matt commented dryly as Elisa rapped on the gargoyle head doorknocker. They waited for a moment, but there was no response. Elisa gingerly placed a hand on the door and slowly pushed inward. It was unlocked.
Matt peered upwards at the high ceiling and dozens of ancient portraits decorating the walls. "Where are they?" There was an angry hiss from down the hall.
"Three guesses," Elisa muttered under her breath.
Both officers peered into the living room. Elisa balked. A throaty hiss drew her attention toward the figure squatting on the Persian rug. Demona was furiously wrestling with an enormous rawhide bone in her mouth. Robyn Canmore was silent and motionless on the couch, breathing as heavily as she could underneath the gag and the layers of chains, locks, and straightjacket that smothered her. She simply stared right ahead at the detectives with a look that Elisa couldn't quite read, though rage was certainly mixed in there, somewhere. And defeat.
Matt gave Demona and Robyn a blank look. "Where to first? The vet or Bellevue?" he whispered to Elisa.
"The question is, would they take them?" she answered with an amused smile, then stopped. "I guess we won't have to cuff her," she whispered to Matt finally.
"Guess the frisking is out, too, huh?"
There was a tug at Elisa's leg, and she found a familiar, plump little face gazing back up at her with shimmering emerald eyes and a tiny smile. He was holding a half-eaten banana in one fist and showed no other signs of discomfort or terror.
A strangled sound, almost of disbelief, came from Matt's throat. "What's he doing here with..." He cast a wary glance at Demona and Robyn. "... with... first off, what's he doing here?"
Elisa crossed her arms and tapped her chin in thought as she stared at the little boy. "Interesting question."
She bent down to Alexander's eye level and put her hand on his shoulder with a firm squeeze to reassure him. "Hey, there, little guy. You okay?" Alex giggled and nodded his head, quite sure of himself. Elisa's brow furrowed as she stared into his eyes for a moment as if in a trance. She jumped, shook herself, then picked him up. "I'm looking forward to the answers."
As if in response, Alexander waved a hand at Demona. The bone fell out of her mouth and landed on her lap with a wet plop. She winced and wiped at her mouth with the back of her hand. Her eyes never left the little boy's as she slowly stood. His face was almost smug.
Matt's hand flinched towards his gun, but Elisa's fingers curled around his to steady him, and she shook her head as if to tell him no.
"I hope we're not raining on your parade, Demona, but we need to borrow your..." Elisa looked at Robyn. "...guest."
"By all means, Detective, you're welcome to her," Demona returned acidly as she moved to the couch. Robyn's eyes went wide and she renewed her struggling as Demona scooped her up. Demona made a disgusted face and dumped her into Matt's arms. Robyn quieted again once Demona had stepped back. Matt looked down at the woman in his arms and smiled sadly at her defeated glare. She merely averted his gaze and mumbled something intelligible from beneath her gag.
The red-haired gargoyle made a disgusted face at Elisa's dubious look.
"Don't expect me to make a habit out of this, Detective," she added, crossing her arms, just to make her position clear.
* * * * *
Fox stepped off the elevator and let out an exasperated sigh. The Cyberbiotics board meeting had been terribly long and boring. Her body ached from sitting in one place for so long. She took a new breath and headed towards David's office.
She swung the door open and sauntered in, talking as she went. "I sure hope your day went better than mine did..." She stopped when she realized that David wasn't behind his desk.
"David? Are you here?" She peeked behind the door. Nope... no David. She walked over to his desk and set her briefcase down and then flopped her weary body into the soft leather chair.
"Well, at least the boys are off having a good time." She chuckled softly to herself as she made an attempt to imagine Owen having a 'good time'.
The details of the meeting began to fill her mind again, and she wondered less and less about where the term 'bored' meeting had come from. It was times like this that she longed for some old fashioned excitement. Not that her life didn't have its high times. There were just times when she missed being stranded in some South American jungle, covered in mud and sweat with a really big gun in her capable hands.
Just as she was remembering how it felt to feel the kick of a machine gun in her hands, she jolted forward. Her eyes went wide. Something wasn't quite right. But what? What was different? No one was home, the gargoyles were still asleep... and the security alarm hadn't been set off.
She leaned over and flipped open a panel on the large desk before her. No... she was wrong. It had been set off, but someone had disabled it in several areas. She looked it over again, just to be sure. "Uh oh... whoever they are, they are right in the gargoyles' living area."
Without a second thought she pressed a button hidden on the underside of David's desk. A small panel slipped open to reveal a small stun gun. Not very reassuring, but they were a little more cautious with the heavy artillery now that Alex was mobile.
She snatched up the tiny weapon and then slipped up close to the wall and slowly moved out of the office.
As she moved closer to the gargoyles' section of the castle, she heard a sound that resembled a woodpecker in the distance. The closer she got, the less she was worried about hiding her footfalls. The sound had become an almost deafening rattle.
She approached the door to where the gargoyles lived. She dared a quick peek around the corner. Then made a quick evaluation. Only two men... and a jackhammer? Oh well, they had their hands full and, best yet, they had their backs to her. She gingerly stepped out of her expensive leather pumps and took a deep breath before she leaped out from behind the corner. She extended her arms and aimed the petite gun at the intruder's backs.
She cleared her throat and tried to look as intimidating as one can in a periwinkle designer suit. Then she shouted some words she never thought she ever utter in her lifetime. "OKAY! Put the jackhammer down and no one gets hurt!"
The two trespassers didn't turn around, but they slowly set the jackhammer to the floor and raised their hands over their heads.
"Take it easy, lady." One of the men pleaded. "We ain't here to hurt no one."
"Good, then turn around slowly."
They both did just as she said. When they had turned enough to see who had caught them, they started to chuckle.
She wrinkled her nose and lowered her voice a notch. "What are you doing here?"
They responded with more laughter. Belly laughs this time, not just a mere chuckle.
Finding herself more than a little annoyed and slightly offended, she asked again. "I said! What are you goons doing here?"
When the laughter continued. She started to lose her temper. "Why are you laughing?!"
"We aren't laughing." The joyous noises stopped in a snap. "We were just stalling." The man's voice was suddenly cold and deep.
She frowned just a second before two other men grabbed her arms from behind. She had not heard them approach her over the laughter. One of them held her tightly by the wrists while the other took her gun.
"Well, looky here, Annie Oakley has herself a little ray gun."
"Let me go!" Fox struggled for a moment in the traditional 'damsel in distress' style. They thought she was just some helpless homemaker. She knew that gave her the advantage and she was going to use it. "Please don't hurt me. What is it that you want from us?"
"Lady, you ask too many questions."
The man that held her by the arms suddenly shoved her into the other man that had taken her gun. He leered down at her and lifted her chin with his grubby finger. "Nice tattoo there, sweetheart. Hey, haven't I seen you somewhere before?"
She mentally flipped through her options. She was still greatly outnumbered. She dared a glance at her watch, noticing that she had been pushed back to where she had left her shoes and then her plan was hatched.
She smiled meekly up at the leering creep. Then, quick as a wink, dropped to the floor, picked up one of her shoes and slammed the heel of the shoe into a pressure point on the thug's shoulder.
As she watched him fall to the floor, she growled at him. "That's MRS. Sweetheart to you!"
She grabbed up the stun gun and aimed it at the closest intruder. A second before she fired upon him, she was tackled to the floor. She rolled with the fall and used his own momentum and her strong legs to toss him off her and onto his back. She moved quickly and brought her elbow down onto his nose. He yelled out in pain, a satisfying sound.
She flipped back up to her feet in just enough time to be able to spin kick another goon in the jaw. She didn't wait to watch him go down. In the short time she was on the floor, she had lost track of the fourth man. As she was turning to look for him, he came up from behind her. He wrapped his arms tightly around her upper torso, trapping her arms at her side.
She eyed the gun on the floor and began to struggle for real this time.
"Oh, a feisty one, huh?"
He had her snug in his arms. She tried to kick him and hit the back of her head against his. But he was wise to her tricks now. She watched as the other three men started to get to their feet.
Brooklyn was the first to walk into the room and right into the middle of the fight. He didn't say a word before his fist made contact with the side of the head of the man that held Fox.
When Fox turned back around, all four of the assailants were being tied up or knocked back down again.
"WHEW!" Fox turned to Goliath. "I was starting to think you guys were all gonna sleep in tonight."
Brooklyn heard the door behind him open and whirled, expecting another attack. His fist halted about two inches from David Xanatos' face.
"Well, that would have turned out most unpleasant," the billionaire commented, running by him as if nothing had happened. "Are you all right, my dear?" Despite the fact that she looked fine, he offered his hand.
"After everything else that's happened the past few years?" She smirked, taking his hand. "Piece of cake."
Fox noticed suddenly that Owen was standing in the doorway - without Alexander.
The man's shoulders sagged. "We need some assistance there. Alexander was taken from the toy store by some... psychotic toys."
"Psychotic? Gee, that only covers half the characters we know," Brooklyn commented with a snort.
"Dad, what's psychotic?" Ariana hopped up and down. "Does that mean they come to life?"
Graeme's beak parted in a wide grin. "Ari! Remember?"
The twins put their heads together and chimed at the exact same time, "'We're not toys! We're action figures!'"
"Children," Sata reminded gently, "now is not the time."
Goliath cleared his throat, which immediately quieted the twins. "I suppose the thought that Jackal and Hyena were responsible has not been suggested?"
"That would fit the bill," David agreed. He suddenly looked very tired. And terribly old. "I should have done something. I was right there..." He gritted his teeth and turned away for a moment, then looked at Goliath. "I don't suppose you know where the detective is right now?" He squared his shoulders and took on his usual rugged demeanor. "We need to get the search underway as soon as possible-"
"The detective is right here." Everyone swiveled their heads to see Elisa standing in the doorway beside Owen Burnett, with little Alex in her arms. Owen, who had not said anything since the kidnapping, only glanced at the toddler out of the corner of his eyes. No one noticed the small, knowing smile that passed between man and child.
David did a double take and looked ready to fall over, watching Elisa with a detached, wide-eyed stare. His back slowly straightened, and his mouth opened in a look of awe and disbelief. "Where did you find-" He waved his hand as if shooing his comment away as he quickly closed the distance between himself and the detective. "Oh, forget it for now. I'll be ecstatic later." He scooped his son up from Elisa's arms and held him in the air with a relieved laugh. Fox tackled them both in a huge hug, and David put his other arm around her and drew her close.
"Yeah! Alex!" Lex yelled, scuttling over. "Look! He's all right! He's okay!" His face flushed with untold relief, as did the rest of the clan's. Bronx wagged a stumpy tail and growled softly in contentment. He sniffed Alexander's hands, and he gave a little whimper of confusion before sitting down on his haunches. The whole clan clustered around the Xanatoses and Elisa, a dozen questions being asked at once.
One of the captured thugs gave the others a wink and started to wiggle out of the ropes. The others followed his example. Everyone was so busy playing catch-up that no one took any notice.
Lexington couldn't help but tickle Alexander's chin. "Hey, Alex!" he cooed. "You had an eventful day, didn't ya, fella?" He squinted at the baby's eyes. Something was ... different. But he couldn't quite put his claw on it.
He nudged the toddler with his index claw; that always got Alexander's attention. Alex didn't latch onto his finger as usual.
Now, something was just plain odd. It wasn't like the Alexander he normally coddled and crooned over.
"How did Alex get away from the Daft Duo and to you guys?" Brooklyn asked, oblivious to Lex's sudden inspection of the little boy's face.
Elisa shook her head. "I have no idea. Matt and I found him at Destine Manor."
Angela gave a small gasp. "Demona?" she asked fearfully.
Elisa put her hand reassuringly on the lavender female's shoulder. "Relax, Angela. I think she was just an innocent bystander this time." She gave an odd chuckle.
Goliath put one arm around his daughter and the other around Elisa. "Speaking of Matt, where is Detective Bluestone? Shouldn't he be working with you now?"
"Matt's got a package to drop off at the station," Elisa answered truthfully with a nervous laugh. She rolled her eyes and massaged the back of her neck. "It's a long story, but I think we won't have to worry about Robyn Canmore for a while." She raised an eyebrow, and Goliath immediately understood. "But, you know, once we managed to work the gag off of her, we didn't get much out of her. She seemed a bit startled by Alexander's magic. But she seemed pretty disappointed about something."
Goliath and Angela's eyes widened. "Gag?" Goliath questioned.
"Alex's magic?" Angela wondered aloud. "You mean she took him from Jackal and Hyena?"
Elisa shrugged. "I'm just as confused as anyone. We didn't even know Alex was missing. I was at the station and got a phone call from... Puck. Of all people. He said I would find Robyn Canmore at Destine Manor."
Angela and Goliath looked over at Owen, who was standing silently just inside the door, then returned their attention to Elisa. "And?" Angela prompted anxiously.
"And when Matt and I get there, Demona's got a huge chew toy in her mouth and Robyn's trussed up like a Christmas package." Angela blinked at the bizarre description of her mother, but Goliath looked completely nonplussed, so Elisa tried to clarify her statement. "She was in a straightjacket and a gag. I don't understand how in the world Alex could've gotten from Jackal and Hyena to her, or how either of them ended up there, but the situation looked pretty well under control. I guess he's better at magic than I originally thought. Anyway, I brought him home and Matt took Robyn to the station."
Nudnik's yipping made everyone look up. The whole group turned around as the pup hunkered down and growled menacingly at the four figures that were now frozen against the wall in mid-stride, like deer caught in headlights.
Elisa looked at the loose pile of rope on the floor and back at the four unfamiliar men. "You guys got company you didn't tell me about?" she asked, her eyes narrowing.
Bronx came to Nudnik's side and joined him in growling. One of the men gave a tiny wave with his already raised hand.
"Nice doggie?" he said feebly. Bronx barked, his eyes glowing. "I guess not," he said, gulping.
As a whole, the clan began advancing, all scowls and glowing eyes. "Going somewhere, gentlemen?" Brooklyn asked, focusing his glare on the man he had knocked off of Fox earlier.
"As a matter of fact," the man replied, stepping away from the wall, "we were." He tossed something underhand, like he was pitching softball. A small metal sphere landed a few feet in front of Brooklyn and rolled lazily across the carpet. He raised his wings reflexively and turned, pushing the others back as the flash grenade exploded.
Elisa blinked the spots from her eyes as the ringing faded from her ears. She turned to check the Xanatoses. David and Fox stepped apart, revealing Alex between them, safe and happy and seemingly oblivious to the miniature supernova that had just gone off. She felt Goliath's arm around her shoulders again, and looked up at him to let him know she was fine.
"Is everyone okay?" Brooklyn asked, coughing slightly as the wisps of smoke dissipated. Affirmative answers rose from the others as he glared at the empty spot near the wall where the four men had been just a moment before. Sata stepped to him and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Don't worry. They won't get far," David said, lowering his cell phone from ear. "I've just sealed off the building." Brooklyn seemed to take only minor comfort in that.
Fox shifted Alex in her arms, sighing. "Can this night get any stranger?" she asked.
As if in reply, Alexander looked up at her and smiled, then looked at Owen. Fox gasped and nearly dropped him as a bolt of blue shot from his mouth. An accompanying flash came from Owen's direction and catapulted at Alex. The brilliant flashes passed each other in midair then entered the throats of each with a mysterious glow. Alexander's eyes dulled, and he looked up into his mothers with a little giggle.
"I remember," Angela said softly, grinning and taking Broadway's hand as she realized what had just happened. "The... soul transfusion."
Owen blinked for a moment as he settled back into his body. He found more than a few interested stares, especially from the twins. If the pair got any more excited, they'd fly through the roof.
Fox stared, open-mouthed, at Owen before regarding the lively child in her arms. "Then ... this really is Alex, now?" she asked, a touch of exhaustion in her voice. A high-pitched gurgle answered her question, and she smiled as Alexander threw his arms around her neck and snuggled against her chest.
David rubbed his hand across his beard for a moment. He looked more confused than annoyed. "Owen, could you explain to us what's going on? We've been doing double takes all night."
Owen pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose with his index finger. "I do offer apologies, sir, but it was necessary," he intoned dully. "For Alexander's safety, it was essential for this little farce to take place."
"This explains a lot," Elisa admitted, "But why didn't Puck just tell us before what was going on?" she demanded.
To her surprise, Owen actually smiled slightly. "The Puck takes great satisfaction in making everyone's day a little more surreal, detective."
Elisa shook her head, chuckling in spite of herself.
* * * * *
A head peered around the corner of the hallway, then quickly retreated into the shadows. "Coast clear."
"I don't know where he's at, the slow-poke. He'll have to find his own way out."
"Good. Move, quick." One of the disguised men tapped his two accomplices and pointed down the corridor. "If the blueprints are right, this should lead us down to the first floor. We'll get out the back way to the truck. If we're lucky, they'll be so busy guarding the front entrance they won't have thought to look for us near the rear."
"Guess you're not so lucky today, eh, boys?" The three men whirled in alarm, only to find several security guards staring down at them, guns in hand. The men dropped what they were holding in surprise. One of them reached for his belt to pick off his gun, remembering belatedly that it had been taken away from him and crushed by the fat, blue-green gargoyle during the brief fight earlier. It hardly mattered, though. The nearest guard was quicker; he had him on the ground by his collar before he could sneeze.
The lead guard crossed her arms, a satisfied look on her face. "Get 'em down here," she ordered. "The cops'll be waiting to pick them up on the first level entrance." The guards shoved the handcuffed group to the elevators.
A few seconds passed after the elevator doors closed. The silence in the hallway was broken by a soft shuffle from behind a potted cluster of tall, slender ficus plants. The fourth man in the operation, Steve, poked his way out of hiding. He grunted under his breath before looking up at the ceiling. A vent stared mockingly back at him, blocking his escape route. It was about four feet square and, from what he remembered of the ventilation system from the blueprints, should lead him to the first floor if he took the left-handed branch of shafts.
He moved the plant underneath the vent and stood on its surrounding pot rim. Perfect. It got him to the ceiling. He wrenched the vent's cover off with a strong twist of his arms and hauled himself into the shaft. The cover was pulled up, hiding any evidence of his retreat.
With any luck, he had a five-minute head start on the guards.
* * * * *
David shook his head at the activities as half of the clan fussed over Alex and the other half peppered Owen and Elisa with questions. He made a quick inspection of the hole in the wall and the scorch mark on the floor, then caught his majordomo's attention. "Owen get a maintenance team up here first thing in the morning. And make arrangements for the security systems to be upgraded. Take charge of it yourself if you have to." He frowned in disappointment. "This latest upgrade has proven... less than satisfactory."
"Yes, sir. Right away, sir," Owen replied.
David straightened his shirt and looked up as if suddenly remembering something. "Oh! And Owen, you did destroy all the records on the T-Alpha-One project didn't you?"
Owen's eyes narrowed and he gave a little nod. "Of course, Mr. Xanatos. Now if you'll excuse me, I believe that Alexander needs tending to."
"Please bring him back after you've finished, Owen," Fox said with a faint smile as she deposited a sleepy Alexander into his nanny's arms. "I want to stay with him a while longer before his bedtime." The toddler yawned and snuggled against his nanny's chest as they both left the room.
The billionaire turned to his wife. "It's bad enough that we have to deal with your squabbling relatives, but this too! Ah well." He turned to Goliath and Elisa and the others. "Join us for dinner?"
Goliath and Elisa exchanged looks, not quite expecting the invitation, before the gargoyle answered, "It would be our pleasure."
"I get the chair by the stove!" Ariana yelled, bolting for the door.
"No, you don't, you odango-head! I called it two nights ago!"
"You can't do that!"
"I can so! It's a two-night-carry-over-rule. Tell her, Dad. Huh? Right?"
"You guys don't happen to want more kids, do you?" Brooklyn asked the Xanatos'. "We've got two cute ones if you want."
"Daaaaaaaaaaaaaad," Graeme moaned, rolling his eyes.
"Yeah, Dad wouldn't do that, right, Mother?" Ariana looked to Sata for comfort.
Sata simply sighed. "Well, Brooklyn-san, I am disappointed in you."
Brooklyn stared at his mate, totally caught off guard by her remark.
"Foisting these two off to these people like that. That's not good manners," she finished, passing her mate a quick wink. Brooklyn smirked.
"Hey!," the twins yelled in unison.
Broadway knelt beside the kids, clapping a hand on Graeme's back. "Hey, you guys get in the kitchen right now, I'll cook up something special."
"Chicken Yakitori!" "Pizza!"
The twins looked at each other before chiming together, "Chicken Yakitori Pizza!"
David escorted the group to the kitchen, jumping nimbly aside as the twins ran by him. "Well, it's been a most eventful day, don't you all think?" He raised an eyebrow as he heard something crash from the kitchen, followed by loud comments thrown back and forth in Japanese.
An answering bark echoed from the hallway. Nudnik tripped his way into the room, slobbering all over the newly polished floor in the process. He skidded across the room over his own paws, wiggled between Goliath's legs, and upset a Ming vase before bolting into the kitchen.
David visibly winced at the sound of smashing pottery. Sata was already running for the kitchen. Brooklyn dashed off after her, muttering something about the possibility of adoption agencies taking little gargoyles and mutts. Lexington, Angela, and Broadway were too busy stifling their laughter as the twins' parents dove for the kitchen door.
Elisa sighed and leaned against Goliath. "Some night," she commented softly. "It's not every shift that I see double of everything." She felt his side rumble deeply, and she knew he was chuckling under his breath.
* * *
Watching silently from the shadows of the doorway, Owen casually caressed a sleeping Alexander's cheek. He waited until they had entered the kitchen before he opened the oak doors that led into the main hallway, and within a few seconds he was walking down the tiled corridor that led to the nursery.
It was abnormally quiet for a minute or two with nothing to accompany him save for the sound of his footsteps echoing off the stone walls. Then, suddenly, Alexander gave a happy little giggle in his sleep and dug his nails into his nanny's tie.
A relaxed half-smile passed over Owens face, only briefly, before he went back to his trademark stone glare.
* * * * *