Breeding Season

by Christine Morgan

Author's Note: the characters of Gargoyles belong to Disney and are used
here without their creators' knowledge or consent. Other characters may
not be used without the author's permission. This story is for mature
readers only due to adult content.
Note: This story is in two parts, with a link at the bottom of this page.

Credits:         TarrenTech and New Wave Microtechnologies belong to John Saul and Dean Koontz respectively.         Chas Yale and Eric are the creations of Christi Hayden.

        "Now, this is the way it's supposed to be," Hudson said contentedly as the group of females darted in and out between the towers in a merry game of tag. "It's all well and good to know our clan continues on Avalon, but our clan here needs its new generation, too."         "Yes," Goliath said, smiling. "And now that we have four females instead of just Angela, we will have that new generation."         "Ye didna count Elisa."         He stayed silent for so long that Hudson cleared his throat and made ready to apologize, but then Goliath spoke. "I only dare to hope, old friend. It may not be possible."         "There's yer proof," Hudson said, pointing to Elektra as she skillfully evaded Aiden. "It is possible. Aye, with magic, but that gift she gave Elisa may be sorcery enough."         "It may be. If Elisa is willing. I know she is reluctant, uncertain. If our love does create a child --" his fist closed yearningly, as if to grasp that wish and make it real, "-- it is Elisa who must go out among the humans every day. She would not cut herself off from them, from her job. It is Elisa who must face the speculations, answer the questions."         Hudson nodded in understanding. "Ye're right, lad. I hadn't thought of how it might be for her. I was only thinking of the rookery. Counting the eggs before they're laid. Of course it'll be hard for Elisa. But ye love her, and she loves ye, and if I've faith in nothing else, I have faith in that. Yer love's saved her life once by a miracle; why not work another?"         Goliath clapped him on the shoulder. "If only it were so easy."         "Ah, well, at the very least," Hudson chortled, "ye can have fun trying!"                 *               *         "Good evening, detective," Xanatos said with his familiar knowing smirk. "Ready for the big night?"         The other two people in the room turned to regard her curiously. The woman had brown hair worn in a severe bun and overlarge glasses that made her look bookish and unattractive. The man had striking green eyes and a short beard a few shades darker than his auburn hair.         "You wanted to see me, Xanatos?" Elisa asked, ignoring his smirk.         "Yes, I thought you might like to meet the medical team. Dr. Irene Johnson, an expert in reproductive technologies and behavior, and Dr. Kurt Masters, whose degrees are in genetics and anthropology. Doctors, this is Detective Elisa Maza."         The auburn-haired man laughed. "I know just what you're going to ask. No relation. Pure coincidence. But you'd be amazed how easy it makes getting our research grants."         "They're going to be tracking the progress of the breeding season," Xanatos explained. "Since we're not dealing purely with gargoyle DNA here --" he caught her warning glare and hurried on, "considering that both Elektra and Delilah have some human ancestry, we thought it would be best to have some professionals on hand."         "_We_?" she said pointedly.         "Goliath is in full agreement with me on this," Xanatos said. "The doctors will be monitoring _only_, no meddling. He was very emphatic about that."         "I can imagine."         "I assure you, detective, we're nothing like Anton Sevarius," Kurt Masters said. "We're familiar with his theories, of course -- everybody who's anybody in the field today has to be -- and Mr. Xanatos has given us access to some of his classified files regarding gargoyle biology. But we're not interested in continuing his work."         "Then what are you interested in?" Elisa demanded.         "Observing. Though gargoyles have apparently been around for thousands of years, they're a new species as far as science is concerned. We know next to nothing about the only other sentient species to share our planet --"         Elisa raised a questioning eyebrow at Xanatos and he shook his head slightly. "One thing at a time," he said.         Barely noticing their exchange, Kurt went on. He had warmed to his topic now. "There's no fossil record, all encounters with them in the past has been discounted as superstition. They are evidently able to control their fertility at will, yet they couple even when they know there's no chance of conception."         "So do humans," Elisa said.         "Only very recently, in terms of our evolution. Most animals have outwardly distinctive signals of fertility, and only mate during those times. Humans were among the primate species who evolved differently. The males had no way of knowing when or if the females were fertile, so it was in their own genetic best interest to stick around instead of mating and leaving. That was what helped us develop civilization and family groups, which were necessary because our young required more time, care, and attention."         "I think we're wandering from the point, here," Xanatos said.         "Yes, sorry. So, what we have here is a species with a very clearly differentiated pattern of behaviors for reproductive sex and recreational sex. It's new, it's fascinating. We don't know how it works. We suspect the females stimulate sperm production in the males by releasing pheromones, but the females voluntarily and ritualistically choose the moment to begin doing so. That's the part we don't understand. They are somehow _willing_ themselves to be fertile. Which is why we'll be watching the readouts very carefully, trying to determine just what triggers --"         "What readouts?" Elisa cut in suspiciously. "You're not going to have them hooked up to machines, are you?"         Masters nodded happily. "Both Angela and Elektra have agreed to be monitored during tonight's ritual. So has one of the males, Brooklyn."         "Does Hudson know about this?" Elisa asked Xanatos. "Tonight is very important to him, possibly even more important than it is to any of the others, and he's not going to be happy if the rookery's cluttered with medical equipment!"         "He's agreeable," Xanatos said, taking the wind out of her sails.         "The devices are very small," Masters added, holding out a small curved metal device the size of a deck of cards. "Clamps onto the calf. They'll track temperature, heart rate, galvanic skin response, alpha waves, and blood chemistry. It's a completely non-invasive procedure. Then we'll just collect samples --"         "Samples?!"         "From Brooklyn," Masters went on, unperturbed by her outburst. "He's already provided us with the 'before' vial ..."         "I don't think I need to know!" Elisa said hastily. "I can't believe they're letting you do all this!"         "Why not? They're curious about their own species. It seems perfectly understandable to me."         Elisa, utterly nonplussed, just looked at him. Then at Dr. Johnson, who had yet to say word one.         "Speaking of which," Masters said diffidently, "the chance to study the process in a gargoyle-human mating would be --"         "Forget it!" she snapped.         "I told you so," Xanatos told him.         Masters shrugged agreeably. "I thought as much. Goliath wasn't very keen on the idea either. But I do hope that you'll accept our assistance in monitoring any resultant pregnancy and delivery. You'd want the best possible pre-natal care, and given the circumstances, that's not something the average obstetrician is going to be able to provide."         "You're getting way ahead of yourself," Elisa said. "If something were to happen, yes, I would want the best possible care. But that's an if, a big if!" She headed for the door.         "Just so you keep it in mind. Nice meeting you, detective."                 *               *         "It's nearly time!" Angela called over the rushing wind. "We should start back!"         Their game had taken them a couple of miles from the castle, far above the twinkling lights of the city. They'd all been too excited to sit still, unable to wait for midnight. Finally, Hudson had shooed them skyward, telling them they'd best work off their nervous energy before they got down to serious matters.         "Are you sure you know what to do?" Aiden asked.         "Hudson told me everything he knows. Besides, our sisters on Avalon figured it out, didn't they, Elektra?"         "That they did, though I did not join them."         "Why not?" Delilah asked. "Is it not good to have children? I am wanting very much to have children. Samson and I, we are often taking care of Dee and Tom."         "I had no mate then," Elektra said softly. "And better so, for the one I might have chosen would have proved unsuitable. Far gladder am I now, for Broadway's heart is true."         "We're all gladder now," Aiden said.         They all smiled at each other, then winged their way toward the towers.                 *               *         Elisa stepped out and saw Goliath, his silhouette blocking out the stars as he stood staring into the night. She put her hands in her jacket pockets and watched him silently, until he sensed her presence and turned.         "Elisa."         "I've just been talking to Xanatos and his doctors."         He exhaled heavily. "You do not approve?"         "I would have liked to know about it before. And I'm surprised _you_ approve."         "We have the chance to learn more about our race. As long as it does not harm my clan in any way, as long as those who volunteer to participate do so willingly, I see no reason not to allow it."         "But you didn't volunteer us. Why?"         "You would have had me do so?"         "No, but I'm curious about your reasons for refusing."         He gently took her shoulders in his large hands. "What is between us is ours alone. All that matters to me is that I love you. I don't want anyone else trying to define our love in scientific terms."         "What about the breeding season? I know you want it to work for us. I know you want a child."         "Not more than I want you."         Elisa smiled and let him draw her into his arms, resting her head against his chest. "So, whatever happens, happens. And we'll still have each other."         "Now and forever," he agreed.         "I just don't want you to be disappointed."         "I have a thriving clan, a beautiful mate, and I will see my grandchildren hatch and grow. That is all that I need." He leaned close, brushed a kiss against her brow. "Now I must go see that the females are ready. It is almost midnight."         "Okay." She watched him go, and then her hand closed around the amber pendant, feeling its faint tingling pulse.                 *               *         Hudson lit the final lamp, nodding to himself in satisfaction.         A series of wide ledges rose above the heap of fresh straw on the rookery floor. The walls were ringed with shallow niches at varying heights, each of which now held a smooth stone with a hollow in the center. The hollows held not the tallow Hudson remembered from the old days, but a colorless oil that Xanatos had provided. The light from those lamps shed a faint, flickering glow.         He looked around at the large, empty space and his chest tightened with old sorrow. Once, every adult in the clan would have come in, the breeding females gathering in the center of the chamber, their mates on the lowest ledge, and the rest of the warriors arrayed behind them. In rare, special times, the prince might join them as a guest.         Now there were more humans in here than had ever been before. On one of the higher ledges nearest the entrance, Xanatos' doctors huddled discreetly with their devices. Xanatos himself stood near them, with Owen on one side and Fox, her older son T.J. (the lad looking like he'd rather be anyplace else), and clan-friend Birdie Yale on the other.         Standing a bit apart from them were Talon and Maggie, their children upstairs in the nursery with Alexander. The last of their mutate clan, Claw, was still deep in a coma, the result of an attack on the Labyrinth several months ago.         Delilah's mate Samson came in, giving the doctors plenty of room and a wary glance -- the lad had never quite gotten over his fear of doctors, Hudson knew, small wonder. He'd been born human, born a Sevarius, no less. Now, thanks to his own father's determination to save his son from a crippling disease, Samson stood nearly as tall as Goliath, with a shaggy pelt and a long mane of dark silky fur. His large eyes became reflective gold-green disks as the firelight hit them.         "Over here, lad," Hudson called, showing Samson where to stand. "The others'll be along shortly."         As if on cue, Brooklyn, Lex, and Broadway appeared and took their places on the lowest ledge, not without a little bit of jostling and joshing, until Hudson's eye fell sternly on them. Then all three cleared their throats and put on innocent, respectful faces.         One person was missing, and that conspicuous absence did not go unnoticed by anybody in the room. Hudson smothered a sigh. It was midnight, and time to begin.         Goliath descended into the rookery and approached Hudson, showing no sign of the pain that one absence must have caused him.         "Elder," he said formally, "the females of my clan wish to breed."         Tradition normally would have given this honor to a female elder with many successful breeding seasons behind her. But, since the only older female associated with the clan was Demona, Hudson had decided some changes in tradition were necessary.         He'd have to get used to changes, anyway, since Angela and her sisters were determined to keep track of their own eggs and raise the hatchlings to know who their parents were. He'd even heard them planning to have their mates attend the laying, although that went against all custom. Some mysteries of femalehood were not for the ken of males.         "Bring them forward," Hudson said.         The four females filed in, Angela in the lead. They were radiant, beautiful and desirable, with their hair and wings shining in the lamplight. Wreaths of heather, grown especially by Alexander and Puck for the occasion, adorned their heads.         "Is the clan safe and well-provided?" Hudson asked.         "It is," Goliath replied.         "Have ye mates to protect ye when ye are with egg?"         "We have," the females chorused.         "Does the clan swear to look after the hatchlings and raise them well?"         "We do," everybody else who had been properly coached said.         Slowly and with great ceremony, Hudson inclined his head. "Then let it be so."         Angela, Delilah, Aiden, and Elektra folded their legs gracefully to sit in a circle with linked hands.         A hush fell over the room, broken only by the muted sounds of the medical equipment as the small silvery devices attached to Angela's, Elektra's, and Brooklyn's calves began to transmit readings.         Hudson tasted minerals and realized slow tears were leaking from his good eye. He couldn't help but think of Joy, his own lost love. He had never had the chance to see her with heather in her hair, never had the chance to stand on the lowest ledge.         A solemn but joyful anticipation began to build in the room. At any moment, Hudson knew, one of the females would begin the instinctive, ritual humming.         "Wait ..."         All heads turned as one.         "You're standing in the wrong place," Elisa said to Goliath, as she stepped into the straw to join the others.                 *               *         Angela cried out in delight and sprang up to hug Elisa. She and Elektra scooted sideways, opening the circle to make room. Aiden plucked some of the heather from her hair and shyly offered it, and Elisa wound the prickly white-purple tufts into her own. All the while, her dark eyes never left Goliath.         He searched her gaze, wanting to be sure she meant what she did. Instead of the uncertainty he had seen only a short while ago, there was only love, desire, and acceptance.         He nodded once, not trusting himself to speak for fear he would weep with happiness instead. He moved to the lowest ledge, among the younger males who all wore foolish grins. Brooklyn even went so far as so sock him playfully on the arm in congratulations.         Hudson cleared his throat. "Let it be so," he said again, thickly, tears glinting like diamonds caught in his beard.         Elisa joined hands with the other females, and all five of them closed their eyes. Once more, the expectant hush settled over the rookery.         Masters murmured into a tape recorder. "Alpha waves are taking on a pattern consistent with heightened concentration ... BP dropping slightly ..."         Angela began to hum, her body swaying gently. Elektra joined in, then Aiden, then Delilah. Finally Elisa, too, added her voice. The hum rose in pitch, then the females opened their mouths and it turned into a steady, sustained wordless vocalization.         "Temperature starting to climb ... in humans, a change in body temp is one of the indicators of ovulation ..."         A hint of a scent reached Goliath, a scent like cinnamon and wine. As it grew stronger, he breathed deeply, drawing it into his lungs. A spot of warmth blossomed in him, spreading and coursing through his limbs, wings, and tail.         He started to hum, a low thrumming counterpoint to the females' rising crescendo. He was dimly aware of Brooklyn picking up the harmony, then Broadway and Lex, but most of his attention was fixed on Elisa.         Elisa, her features so soft and alien in the shifting light, her form so different compared to the others around her. Elisa, who had never looked more beautiful to him than she did in that moment, with her head tipped back and her heather-adorned hair streaming like a river of black satin over her wingless shoulders.         He knew then that even if they were never to have children, he would love her all the more for the wonderful gesture of devotion she had offered him this night.         Finally Samson tentatively lifted his voice as well, the strange eerie woodland quality of it somehow mingling perfectly with the rest.         The scent was everywhere. Rich, evocative, seductive. Goliath knew that in the long-ago past, in the dim history of gargoyle-kind, that scent alone would have been enough to drive males to a frenzy. They would have competed amongst themselves for breeding rights to the females, the leader of the clan able to claim as many as he could reasonably sustain. He spared a moment to be glad that times had changed, for he wanted only one, only Elisa.                 *               *         "I've never been up here before," Elisa said as Goliath unlocked the door. "What is this place?"         "Prince Malcolm's great-grandfather gave this chamber to an elder of our clan," Goliath said. "She had an interest in alchemy."         "You mean turning things into gold?"         "That was part of it." He was carrying a brass candleholder, and used the flame to light the logs ready in the fireplace, banishing the chill that stone-walled castle rooms tended to hold even on the warmest of summer nights. "Which is why it is so removed from the rest of the inhabited sections. Alchemy was not without its dangers, and so although she seldom practiced it, she had a place of her own where she would not be interrupted."         The smallest of Castle Wyvern's towers was built around a spiral stair that continued in a single unbroken shaft from the dungeon to the room at the tower's height. The room was round, with a flat roof accessible by a trap door. Narrow windows were evenly spaced around the curved wall.         Elisa looked amusedly at the massive bed. It was made from solid rough-hewn oak, sturdy enough to support the weight of a gargoyle. The draperies and bedclothes were most definitely _not_ tenth-century. "And just why have you brought me here?"         "Can't you guess?" He touched her cheek, her chin. "I meant for this to be our bridal chamber, had Xanatos not offered us the use of his private retreat."         "You never mentioned it."         "I thought to surprise you."         "We were married over eight months ago. Why haven't you brought me here before?"         "I wanted to save it, in case ..."         "Save it for a night like tonight?"         He nodded.         "Have you ever ..." she didn't want to ask, but she had to. Before she could even finish the question, though, he was shaking his head.         "I have brought no other females here."         "Why not?"         "It never seemed right, until now." He smiled ruefully. "She whose chamber this was ... she did not much care for my choice in mates back then. But I believe she would approve of you."         "Of a human?"         "Of _you_, Elisa, my Elisa."         "Tell me about her," Elisa invited, curious. "She was an alchemist?"         "She was a scholar as well. It was from her that many of us learned to read." He trailed his fingers along a wide shelf, the old wood pitted and scarred with burns and stains in strange colors. "And I ... I was her favored student."         "You don't sound very happy about it."         "When we were in Africa, I explained to your mother how it was not the gargoyle way to show preference to one hatchling over another, that we could not give special treatment. Yet I had known such special treatment as a hatchling. I worried that my rookery brothers and sisters might resent me for it. So, as I grew older, I spent less time with her." He sighed. "We drifted apart. It was only after her death that I realized what I had lost, what she was trying to teach me. I started coming back here, alone, to continue my studies."         "Let me guess -- it turned out that's what eventually helped you become leader."         "Yes. I think ... I _hope_ she would have been proud."         "How did she die?"         His eyes took on a remembering, faraway haze. "One night, as I was out hunting with my brother, Coldstone, I thought I heard her calling me. I knew she needed me. I reached this room just in time to say good- bye. She put her knuckles to my brow ridges, and then she was gone."         Elisa put her arms around him. "I'm sorry."         "She had lived a very long time. She was of the generation before the leader before Hudson. I did not grieve for her, but for myself, since I had lost a friend."         "Goliath ... what did she look like?"         "Like I imagine Angela might look someday. Her skin was that same shade, but her hair, which she told me had once been dark, had gone the soft grey of the clouds."         "This might sound crazy, but ... did you ever think that maybe she was your mother?"         "My ..." he began, then stopped, shocked. "My mother?"         "And that maybe she knew?"         "My mother," he said again, as if rolling the idea around in his head. "I suppose you could be right. I never thought of it. But now that I do, I hope it is true. And I am more sure than ever that she would approve of you."         "Thank you. For that, for bringing me here. Now I understand what this room means to you."         He stroked her hair, plucking an errant bit of heather from it. "Now, more than ever, I am glad I did. I can think of no better place to conceive our child."         "Well, I don't know ..." she said, unable to keep the corners of her mouth from turning up. "In my mother-in-law's bedroom?"         "You'd rather we followed Brooklyn and Angela's example and take to the high battlements?" He pointed to one of the windows, through which she could clearly see two shadows twined together against the moon. "_That_ is more in keeping with clan tradition."         "This will be fine," she quickly asserted, thinking about Xanatos' security cameras that completely covered the outside of the castle.         He turned serious again. "What you did tonight, Elisa ... I thought it earlier, but I will tell it to you now. Even if we do not have children, for what you did tonight, I love you all the more."         "You didn't have to say a word. I saw it in your eyes the minute I walked through the door, and I knew I was doing the right thing. Look, Goliath." She pulled a fine chain from the collar of her shirt. At the end of it, the amber pendant dangled. In its depths, golden light mirrored the beat of a gargoyle heart. "During the ceremony, I felt it warm up. Like a coal against my skin. And now it's glowing."         "The magic ..."         He took it between his thumb and forefinger in such a delicate motion that Elisa shivered. She knew how powerful his hands were, how he could crush the gemstone, yet he handled it so carefully ... just as he handled her body.         His gaze shifted from the pulsing stone to her eyes. Her breathing quickened; warmth flushed her face.         Almost of their own volition, her hands clasped lightly over his, then slid up his arms to his shoulders. The coarse sable of his hair flowed over them as he bent to kiss her.         Their first time together had been one of completion, she remembered as he folded her into the twin embrace of arms and wings. Completion of something begun years before. They had approached each other then with desire underlaid by trepidation, the sense of treading in forbidden lands. Concern had tinged their passion -- would they be compatible physically? Would what they felt for each other be somehow diminished by the actual act of lovemaking? Those questions had been answered most satisfactorily.         This time was something different, something more. The passion was still there, but with a new sense of purpose. Goliath's touch was awed and reverent, as he understood and appreciated far better than she did what a miracle it was to bring new life into the world. For gargoyles, she realized as he lifted her to the bed, the breeding season was the closest they had to a religious rite.         Elisa gave herself over to his caresses. Although she knew every telltale sign of his arousal and all were readily apparent, he was in no hurry. His hands moved over every inch of her, undressing her as if unwrapping a long-anticipated gift, tracing and molding the curves of her shape.         He knew her signs of arousal, too, knew just the moment when she was at her most responsive, just before her cresting desire would slip over into a frantic jumble of need. He lowered himself over her, bracing himself on his elbows. As he began to push gently into her, as she began the inward-spiraling glide of her climax, she pulled him down to feel the delicious press of his weight.         "Elisa," he murmured, trying to rise. "I'll hurt you."         "You won't," she said, her breath coming in shallow sips. "You never will."         "Never," he agreed, the strain of holding back now evident on his face.         She stroked along his back, along the velvety folds of his wings. "Now, Goliath. Please, now."         His reply was a shuddering growl of consent. Her upturned face was bathed in the glow of his eyes as his body tensed, held the tension for a short eternity, and then loosed.         "Oh, yes," Elisa sighed.         She reached for the amber pendant, had a bad moment when she thought it might have been caught between them and crushed, and then felt it nestled in the hollow of her throat, where it had rolled.         "Well, Avalon," she whispered, "now it's up to you."                 *               *         Fox was on the phone when her husband came in. She flashed him a smile and waved him to wait while she wrapped up her conversation. "Yes, thanks again! I know he'll have a great time. I'll talk to David about the arrangements, and call you back when everything's set. Yes, uh-huh. Okay. Good-bye."         "Who was that?" he asked as she hung up.         "Lydia. I wanted to see if she and Petros could take Alex for a while."         He faltered in the act of removing his tie and looked at her. "You mean, send him to stay with them? By himself?"         She nodded briskly. "Why not?"         "Why?"         "How long is this breeding business going to go on?"         He blinked at what he thought was a sudden change of subject, but replied, "According to Hudson, the last season went three or four months. It's supposed to continue until all the eligible females have conceived."         "Three or four months!"         "Well, they did have twenty females, so it probably took longer. But what does that have to do with anything?"         "David, darling, it's been two weeks already, and we can't keep Alex from noticing forever! I've already asked Angela and Brooklyn to try and keep their voices down, but they can't, not even when I threaten them with a bucket of cold water. It's waking Alex up, and me too, for that matter. I don't think he's ready to look out his window and get a firsthand view of the birds and the bees, gargoyle-style."         He chuckled. "Funny to hear you being the prude."         "I'm not being the prude, I'm just being a concerned mother. Actually, as far as the gargoyles go, I'm very impressed. If the pheromones they produced worked on humans and we could bottle it ..."         "What makes you so sure they don't work on humans?" He slipped his arms around her. "After all, the past two weeks have been fabulous for some other mated pairs of which I know."         "That could be psychological," she said, nibbling at his ear. "It could come from seeing, hearing, and just generally being aware of what's going on. They are awfully sexy, and so uninhibited!"         "Whatever the reason, we're not immune. Neither is Owen, for that matter. He hadn't been up to the Academy in a month, and then he's gone the past two weekends and twice more during the week, on urgent errands that sounded terribly unconvincing."         "All the more reason for Alex to not be here. This castle has turned into Peyton Place. I'm just glad T.J. moved out --"         "Sure, into an apartment with Birdie," Xanatos cut in with a grin. "I'm sure _that's_ purely innocent."         She pinched his rear. "The point is, this isn't a place for children right now. I think Alex would be better off having a vacation with his grandparents. Buy us some time before we have to answer all those big questions."         He hesitated, frowning.         "David, what _is_ the matter? I thought you liked Lydia."         "It's not that. I'm thinking about what happened last time. I don't like the thought of Alex being so far away. And before you ask, I can't leave the city right now. Not with the tasty government contracts coming up for bid over the next few months."         "Alex and I could go," she suggested.         He laughed. "And leave me unsupervised with all these raging gargoyle pheromones in the air? I didn't think you trusted me that much."         "Good point. But what are we going to do, then?"         "I think Alex can handle it. Medieval kids did."         "Medieval kids also handled the Black Plague, privy trenches, and Viking invasions."                          *               *         Broadway glided down into the garden and saw his mate, sitting on a bench and plaiting flowers into a chain.         He paused and watched her for a little while, unable to believe his good luck. That she would be his friend? Sure, that was no problem. That she would be his mate? Surprising, but wonderful. That she would turn out to be an enthusiastic lover who wasn't the least bit put off by his admittedly rotund physique? More than he could have hoped.         Elektra sensed him and looked up with a sweet, beautiful smile. "There you are! How was patrol?"         "Terrible."         Instant concern flooded her delicate features. "Are you hurt?"         "No, but it was terrible being away from you. Brooklyn says Goliath's being sadistic."         "He's being a leader," she said. "We cannot spend every minute of the night making love."         "I wouldn't mind." He tipped her chin up and kissed her, part of him still marvelling that he was actually doing so and she was actually letting him. Months of yearning from afar weren't easy to get over, even when the dream came true.         "You know," she said when he ended the kiss and sat beside her, "we don't need to be quite so diligent about it anymore."         "About what?"         She held up the chain of flowers. "Silly, isn't it? But I felt the need to make something with my hands, and as I cannot knit, I couldn't make booties."         "Afraid you lost me," he said, rubbing his scalp.         If her earlier smile had been sweet and beautiful, this one was breathtaking. She set aside the flowers, grasped his hands, and led them to her waist. "You're to be a father! Dr. Masters confirmed it this evening."         He gaped at her, then broke into a wide, happy grin. "You're --"         "I am!"         "Elektra!" He swept her close, then froze and gingerly set her down. "Are you ... is it okay?"         "Of course 'tis all right! I'm not made of crystal, my love. I can yet do anything I could before." She brushed her lips against his cheek. "Anything at all."         He pulled her close again, rubbing their brow ridges together. "Glad to hear it. Hey! We're first? We're first! Brooklyn owes me a pizza!"         "Oh, you rogue!" she laughed. "Rogues the pair of you!"         "Rogues the three of us," he confessed. "Lex was in on it, too."                 *               *         The thing about tinted glass, David Xanatos thought amusedly, was how easy it was to forget that it was only opaque on one side.         He crossed his office, laced his hands behind his back and voyeured for a few minutes, then slid open the door and poked his head out.         "Sorry to interrupt," he said, "but I am trying to work in here. Think you could find another ledge?"         Aiden Ferguson sprang up, realized the state of her apparel, and swiftly folded her arms across her chest like a sleeping vampire, thereby bringing her wing membranes concealingly around herself. "Mr. Xanatos!"         "Oh, oops," her mate Lex said, far less concerned about modesty.         Aiden squealed and hopped sideways as Lex's tail slipped under her wings. "We're so sorry! We weren't paying attention! We were gliding, and ... and ..."         "And I can guess," Xanatos replied with an indulgent smirk. "Just not in front of my office windows, all right?"         "I told you we should have gone inside!" Aiden hissed, trying to swat at Lex's hands and tail without letting anything show.         "You did not," he said. "You started to, but then you got distracted."         She spun around and did some quick adjusting, getting her tunic more or less in place. "Well, _now_ we'd better!"         "Not if I distract you again first!"         Aiden jumped from the ledge with Lex in pursuit, and Xanatos chuckled and closed the window.                 *               *         Kurt Masters consulted his notes one final time. "I'm sorry," he said, "but the tests show that the two of you just are not genetically compatible."         Her breath hitched, but she was determined not to show him how upset that news made her. With a single nod, she got up and left the office.                 *               *         Angela skimmed over the skyscrapers, reveling in the feel of the wind sluicing over her skin, rippling through her hair. It constantly amazed her how alive all of her senses felt now. The city beneath her was a kaleidoscope of light and color (and also of smells ranging from the enticing to the truly appalling, but she chose not to notice the latter).         Her destination appeared before her, and she descended toward the roof. It had changed since the last time she was here, and she regarded the dark-glass pyramid-shaped skylights with curiosity as she landed.         She pressed her face to one and peered in, puzzled at what she saw. Towering sculptures of obsidian stone, faintly shimmering pools ...         "What is this place?" she wondered softly to herself.         "My sanctuary."         Angela gasped and whirled, readying her claws. "Jericho!"         "Hello, sister dear. How good of you to pay a visit. It's been a while." Her brother let the roof access door swing shut behind him, and strode forward with a welcoming smile. "You look well."         She backed away from him. "I was looking for our mother." She put a particular, hard emphasis on the last two words, a disapproval that he couldn't have missed.         Apparently untroubled by it, Jericho shrugged. "She's out of town for a few days. We've opened a new facility in Atlanta, did you know? Despite those troubles we had last year, Nightstone is coming back bigger and better than ever. I know she'll be sorry she missed you. Maybe you should come by the house sometime?"         "I don't know where her new house is," Angela replied icily. "There was, I believe, some fear that I might tattle. Seen as how you killed all those people in the Labyrinth and stole the clones!"         "The clones are doing fine," he said, as if he hadn't heard the rest of it. "Hollywood's death was a blow to their morale, but we've resolved to be far more careful in the future." He gestured at the skylights. "Would you like to come in?"         "No, thank you."         "Still harboring grudges, I see."         "A trait I inherited from _our_ _mother_."         He laughed and leaned against the slope of glass, propping one foot up behind him and crossing his arms over his chest. It was a pose she remembered well from their youth on Avalon. How far away that all seemed now! A literal world away!         "I imagine," Jericho said, "that a fair amount of the grudge- holding genes came from _our_ _father_, too."         "How can you stand there as if nothing's happened?" Angela demanded, starting to shake in irritation that would soon turn to fury. "After all you've done?"         "_I_ can deal with what I've done. You're the one that can't."         "You tried to kill my mate."         "I was provoked." He leisurely drew a knife, and she wasn't alarmed because she was familiar with that habit of his too. He began cleaning his talons with it, then looked over at her from beneath a lock of hair that had fallen across his brow. "Tell the truth, Angela, when you first heard of his ... shall we say, liaison ... with Demona, didn't you want to choke the life out of him yourself?"         She flushed. "Not at all!"         "You never were a good liar, sister dear."         "Jericho, what's happened to you?" she asked pleadingly. "You never used to be like this. Why do you hate my clan?"         "Do we have to go over it again?" He ticked them off on his fingers. "Goliath's gluttony for glory and refusal to listen to his own second-in-command destroyed the clan, then he abandoned our eggs, gave us over to be raised by humans, and when he did finally get around to checking up on us, he had the nerve to be ashamed of us. Never mind how he and the rest of his clan treated Demona."         "Yes, I know all that!" she said, exasperated. "You're as bad as she is; all one note like a broken record! With her, it's 'the humans' this and 'the humans' that, with you, it's all Goliath. And it's getting old. I was just hoping I could get through to you somehow! You were one of my favorite brothers once, and now you're a stranger. You were never like this on Avalon."         "Oh, yes, Avalon. Home sweet home." He started on the other hand's talons. "That was the cocoon, the chrysalis. I slept on Avalon like a caterpillar. Now I've emerged. This is who I was truly meant to be, Angela. This is my place."         "Why do I keep trying?" she queried of the skies. "Why do I bother?"         "Because your heart knows better than your head," he said. "You always did have a good heart, one that wanted the best for everyone you cared about. Your heart still wants to love us, despite all your head does to tell you otherwise."         "For all the good it does! All the love in the world won't change the two of you! Don't you think I've tried?"         He returned the knife to its scabbard. "I know you have, Angela. It makes Demona weep to think of how hard you've tried. She loves you, but her heart cannot do what you would want of her. Her heart cannot forgive all the wrongs she's done, and _been_ done. Sometimes I think she'd be happier if you hated her."         Angela drew in a hurt breath. "I don't want to hate her!"         "But she can't accept your love with all the terms you attach. You'd wish her to give up everything, return to the clan -- who would not accept her anyway, Angela, you must know that! She can't do it, not even if she loved you more than life itself."         "Is it so wrong to want us all to be happy?"         "It's not wrong to want it, but you have to see that it can't happen, not the way you want it to." He flipped back his hair and faced her directly. "Look at me, sister. You know what I am to Demona, what she is to me. Would your clan tolerate that?"         Her shaking this time was not of rage, but of revulsion. "No."         "See how you've changed them, in such a short time," he said. "Before you learned of your parentage, no one would have cared."         "It's not right."         "By whose standards? Humans?" he scoffed. "They do the like, and worse, all the time."         "It's not the same ..."         His grin was devilish. "Why, because we're gargoyles, and better than them?"         "That's not what I was going to say!"         Jericho stepped toward her. "Angela, don't you remember what it was like back on Avalon? We were all brothers and sisters, and no one paid any mind to who might be close blood kin to whom. You played at mates with many of our brothers. If you hadn't been so infatuated with Gabriel, you might have even done so with me."         "No! That's horrible!"         "Maybe to your ears now, it is, but then, you wouldn't have known, you wouldn't have cared. If I hadn't been so resentful of him -- you see, I can admit it freely now! -- I would have certainly been willing. But I couldn't stand the thought of being compared to Gabriel, of possibly being ranked second to him in that as well. That's why I refused Tourmaline when she, failing to win him for her own, came crawling back to me."         "Jericho --"         "But on Avalon," he persisted, "it wouldn't have mattered, _shouldn't_ have mattered, to either of us that we might have the same parents."         "It matters now! Or does to me at least!"         "Does it?"         "You're my _brother_!"         "And I find you beautiful."         She stared at him, too stunned to pull away when he took her hand.         "Beautiful," he repeated, lifting it to his mouth. He kissed the back of it, then turned it over and kissed the tender palm.         "Jericho, stop!" She tried to withdraw her hand, but he held it firmly.         He nuzzled along her wrist, licked the sensitive flesh. Angela's mind reeled in sudden horrible arousal and confusion. Even through that, she saw his nostrils flare, knew he was breathing her scent. The scent of a breeding female, designed to intoxicate a male.         She tugged her arm away and backed up. "Don't touch me," she said weakly.         "We're only rookery siblings," he said, advancing one step for each one she took backwards.         "We're not on Avalon anymore!"         "It still doesn't matter. Not to me. You know how I feel about ties of blood."         "Have you no loyalty to Demona?" she threw at him, wincing even as she did so -- what a terrible, ugly way to make her point. "Aren't you her ... mate?"         "You do favor her, you know. Especially in this light, that helps to hide your coloring. I can see her in your features."         "I have a mate too," she said. "We started our breeding season a month ago. Brooklyn and I are trying to have hatchlings of our own."         "You'd do better with me." He moved quickly, caught her and pinned her arms against her sides.                       For the first time, she realized that he was nearly as strong as Goliath, for the first time she saw what a powerful male he was. And while that thought frightened her, it also spoke on a primal level to her instincts. Thousands of years of evolution programmed part of her to respond, even while her mind recoiled in sheer horror.         "No ..." she moaned, struggling in his grip as he unerringly found the inner curve of her wingjoint with one hand, and cupped a breast with the other. Her knees threatened to buckle, her bones threatened to melt. Her own heightened senses became her enemy, for they didn't know, didn't care who brought them to such an excited state.         "I could give you more eggs than that scrawny gargoyle ever could."         Something snapped in her. What building passion she'd unwillingly felt was dashed to steam and ashes at his words, and she raked her foot talons viciously down his shin.         Jericho sprang back with a surprised, pained cry.         "That's the second time someone's called him that, and it's twice too often for me!" She emphasized it by whipping her tail against Jericho's other leg. "I thought Goliath was mistaken to forbid me to see you again, but he was right! You're evil, Jericho, and even I can't see any point in trying to redeem you."         Drawing himself to his full height despite the stinging pain he must have felt in both legs -- and a quick glance showed her three parallel claw marks oozing blood -- he looked ready to leap at her. She stood her ground furiously.         "I should tell her what you tried to do tonight," she continued. "What would she think of you then?"         "She'd blame you," Jericho said confidently. "She'd think you were still trying to win me away from her, by ... how would _you_ put it? ... by 'stooping to her level.' That's what she would think, Angela. I'd make sure of it."         She shook her head slowly while never taking her eyes off him. "I cared for you once, Jericho. But that gargoyle, that brother of mine, is dead." She kept retreating, until she felt the updrafts at her back and knew she'd reached the edge of the roof. "Stay away from me, and my clan."         "I'll do what I please, _sister_," he sneered. "As always."         She turned from him and sprang into the night, willing her wings to carry her as far and as fast as they could, willing the wind to scour her clean of the vile lingering sensations of her brother's caress.                 *               *         Summer was coming to an end. It would still get hot later in the day, Elisa knew, hot enough to bump the usual tempers and arguments of the citizens of Manhattan up a few notches, but the hints were there in the brisk chill of the pre-dawn air, and the dusks that came steadily earlier.         Six weeks since the breeding season began. Which meant Elektra, the first of the gargoyles to conceive, was already thickening around the waist. Aiden would begin to show soon, too. Six months, give or take, until there were eggs in the rookery.         The sun sank beneath the curve of the earth, and the clan awoke with their customary roars and stretches. Even Aiden, after several weeks of practice, was finally working up a respectable little roar, though she still reminded Elisa of a kitten snarling and spitting at a bigger tomcat.         Just like her nephew and niece, she thought with a grin. Little Tom Maza had thrown a genuine tantrum over bedtime rights the other night, and even gone so far as to hit his father, Talon, with a junior zap of lightning. Which, while it did demand immediate parental intervention and discipline, settled once and for all the question of whether the mutates' electric abilities had been passed on.         Goliath stepped down from his perch and started toward her, then stopped as he saw the smile on her face. The smile she no longer kept concealed in case it should turn out to be a false alarm.         "Elisa ...?"         "Congratulations, big guy," she said. "We're going to have a baby."         The rest of the clan erupted in cheers. Goliath came to her slowly, wonderingly. "Am I still sleeping, still dreaming?"         "Nope. The results came back today. Six weeks pregnant." She winked over at Broadway and Elektra. "Which edges you two out by about a week."         "Well, hey, I guess now we owe you a pizza," Broadway beamed.         "Six weeks? Since the ..." Goliath broke off, cleared his throat as he realized the others were still crowded gleefully around. He raised his eyes significantly toward the small tower.         "Since then," Elisa confirmed.         "But why did you keep it so long a secret?" Elektra asked.         "I wanted to be sure. And I wasn't too eager to let the doctors start poking and prodding and drawing blood. But when I missed my second visit from the cardinal, I thought I'd better get a professional opinion."         "Visit from the --?" Hudson started.         "It's a human thing," Aiden hastily cut in.         "Well, I'm glad to be hearing it anyway," Hudson said, giving Elisa a grandfatherly peck on the cheek.         "That goes for all of us," Brooklyn said. He finally pretended to pick up on the looks Goliath was sending his way. "Hey, who's ready for dinner? I'm starved!"         "Do we have any raw calf's liver?" Angela asked. "That sounds really good!"         Everyone turned to her, and her mouth opened in surprise as she realized what she'd said, what it might mean.         "Oh, hey ..." Brooklyn stammered.         Angela grabbed his hand. "Dinner can wait! Let's go see the doctor!"         The rest quickly took the hint and scattered, leaving Goliath and Elisa alone on the roof.         "My Elisa ..." he couldn't find any other words, didn't need any more.         She went to him, and he took her in his arms as the first twinkling stars came out in the faded denim of the evening sky.                 *               *         "Yes, Mom ... no, Mom, it's okay ..." Aiden covered the phone with her hand and rolled her eyes at Lex. "She's crying again."         "Happy crying, right?"         "I think so. She keeps saying 'my baby, my little girl, all grown up.' Oh, wait --" She held it to her ear again. "Daddy? Yeah, I just told Mom the big news. What? That you're going to be grandparents! Well, not right away, I mean, there'll be an egg next spring, but don't go out and buy baby stuff yet, okay? It's still a long wait."         She sat down beside Lex and snuggled under his arm while she got to tell the news all over again to Aunt Mary. After getting a headful of advice: "I do, Aunt Mary, I get plenty of exercise ... frozen fish sticks ... still frozen, why?" Aiden eventually escaped the conversation with a heartfelt, "Whew!"         "I'm glad they're not upset," Lex said.         "Me, too."         "Hey, Aiden ... this is getting way ahead of ourselves, but you remember how we were talking about names? Well, if we _do_ have twins, like we saw in the future, I don't think we should name them Luke and Leia."         "Me either. We should come up with something else. I was thinking ... you know how we both love the X-Files ..."         "Yeah, I was thinking that too. But I don't know if it's such a good idea."         "Why not?"         "Well, for starters, we don't even know if the show's still going to be around in ten years. It might be a fad."         "Lexington!" She gaped at him. "I can't believe you, you of all people --"         "Hey, I'm just saying it could happen!"         "Okay, okay, I'll accept that it _could_ happen ... it happened to other good shows, so I guess it's possible. But what's your point?"         "I think if we do have twins, we should name them after your folks. Kenneth and Finella."         "Oh. Oh! Lex, that's _perfect_! They'll be so proud!" She seized him in their favorite hug, the one that linked her fingers behind his neck while letting his arms go around her, so that their wings overlapped, and pressed their brow ridges together.         "Why shouldn't they be?" he said. "I already am."                 *               *         "Here ye go, boy," Hudson said, setting down the huge galvanized steel bowl of meat scraps. Bronx tore into it with a right good will, tail stub flapping.         "Maybe that'll keep ye from jumping all over me while my video's on."         He didn't watch nearly as much television as he used to, but this time he was determined to see the entire film and find out just what all the fuss was about. He patted Bronx, then headed back toward his private TV room. Normally, he'd watch it in the suite the rest of the clan used, but he could do without the rest of the smartmouthed youngsters who had already seen it spoiling the best bits for him.         He settled himself down comfortably in his old, seat-sprung rocker and hit the remote. On the screen, a pretty woman in a fancy, big- skirted dress said disdainfully, "You, suh, are no gentleman!"         "Forgot to rewind last time I tried to watch it," he muttered to himself, and punched the remote again. The image vanished, replaced by an ad for fat-free salad dressing as the tape rewound. A third tap on the remote muted the sound of ecstatic singing vegetables -- and why they should be so merry, Hudson wondered, when they were about to be drenched in ranch flavor and then devoured, was beyond him.         In the momentary lull of quiet, he could hear even through the thick layers of stone Brooklyn's telltale howl, echoed by Angela's operatic reply.         He chuckled. The optimism of the breeding pairs. As long as the season continued, they might as well do all they could. Give them a better chance at more eggs, even though there was at least one already growing in Angela's belly.         The VCR clicked to a stop.         "All right, then," Hudson said. "This time, no interruptions."         Someone rapped on the door.         "Och, what now?" He raised his voice. "Aye, what is it?"         The door opened and Delilah peeked in. "Hudson?"         "Lass! What are ye doing here? Come to give us some good news, have ye?"         She shook her head. "I am sorry to be bothering you, but I have questions. I am needing help with breeding."         He nodded sagely. "Aye, I should've expected that, having ye go back to the Labyrinth instead of staying here. Maggie didna give you any advice, then?" He patted the ottoman. "I'll tell ye what ye need to know."         She came in, and he smiled approvingly at the pale green gown flowing from her shoulders. "Ye look lovely enough to tempt any male. Now then, ye do know how hatchlings are made, don't ye?"         "Yes, I know." She laughed softly, like rain on the water. "I am thinking you are mistaking me. Samson and I, we have often been lovers. It is not advice on breeding that I need. It is help."         "I'm not understanding ye, lass."         She ignored the ottoman and knelt at his feet. "Samson and I are not being genetically compatible. The doctor says we cannot make a hatchling. To do that, I am needing a gargoyle." She laid her hand on his knee and looked up at him appealingly.         Hudson's breath lodged firmly in his throat, and he had to cough heartily before he could speak. "Delilah, lass, what are ye saying?"         "You are a wise, brave, strong, handsome warrior," she said. "And you are not having a mate."         He coughed again, because his mouth had gone dry as a sand dune. "I'm far too old for the likes of ye, Delilah. Ye must know some other gargoyle --"         "Only the clones," she said. "And they are gone, and I would not be choosing one of them even if they were not. You are always being kind to me, Hudson. Won't you help me?"         "Ye already have a mate, lass. What about Samson? What would he think?"         "He is knowing where I am, what I am asking." Her gaze was steady, serious. "He is wanting to be father to my hatchling for the raising of it, but he cannot be the father for the breeding of it. I will keep it secret that you are being the father, if you wish. No one else is having to know."         "Now, wait a moment ..." Just moments ago, he'd told her she was lovely enough to tempt any male, and by the dragon, it was true. What she was saying, combined with the heady scent of breeding that filled the castle, woke up long-slumbering feelings.         He had lost his first love, Joy, a long time ago. While there had been occasional trysts with others of his rookery sisters in later years, he'd never taken a mate. His relationship with Maria Chavez was one of undemanding comfort and companionship, neither of them particularly desirous of moving it beyond the infrequent kiss. Now he had this incredible offer before him, was so tempted it made his wingjoints ache, and he didn't know if it was the right thing to do. Indecision batted him back and forth.         Delilah saw, and cut right through all his mental dithering with one simple action. She stood, unfastened her gown, and let it fall away.         She extended her arms. "Breed me," she pleaded.         Hudson felt like he'd been socked in the chest with a Quarryman hammer, and for a split second wondered if this was going to be how he left the world. He could have had worse final sights before his eyes, that was true!         "Delilah, lass, any male would be a fool to refuse such an invitation," he said huskily, and threw the remote across the room.                 *               *         "Well, thank God for birth control," Birdie Yale said pertly, looking around the dinner table. "Am I the only one here not preggers?"         "You and me, Birdie," Fox said. "But at least the season's over now! I can bring Alex home, no more late-night caterwauling --" Angela had the good graces to blush at that, "-- and things around here can get back to normal."         "As normal as they ever were," T.J. amended dryly. "Which isn't very."         "I'm glad Delilah decided to keep her eggs here, when the time comes," Angela said. "The rookery looks so empty."         "I can't believe she and Samson managed without magic," Brooklyn remarked. He glanced at Aiden, who was nibbling on a frozen fish stick with as much decorum as possible, given the weird crunchy sound it made. "Wonder if they had magical help?"         "I didn't," Aiden said.         "I don't imagine it's any of yer business, either," Hudson scolded the red male. "No one's asking ye how ye and Angela managed."         "Hey, I was just curious! No need to bite my head off!"         "It seems some other congratulations are in order," Xanatos said as Owen came in. "Isn't that right, Owen?"         All eyes, human and gargoyle, turned toward the blond man.         "I don't know to what you might be referring, Mr. Xanatos."         "The Grandmaster happened to mention something interesting last night at our meeting," Xanatos said, clearly enjoying himself. "About his niece."         "Miss St. John?" Aiden looked worriedly at Lex. "Sebastian."                 *               *         Dominique Destine uttered a short, polite laugh. "I'm sorry, doctor. For a second there, I thought you said 'pregnant.'"         "That _is_ what I said, Ms. Destine," Pamela Kohlberg said, her expression changing from one of smug bearer-of-good-tidings to that of one who might've committed a social blunder and wasn't sure of the best way to get out of it. "Of course, I'd have to run some tests, but it would explain all of your symptoms."         "What symptoms?" Dominique demanded sharply.         Dr. Kohlberg consulted her notes, apparently glad of having some excuse to look elsewhere. "You mentioned nausea, tenderness in the breasts, a change in eating habits, and you told the nurse you hadn't had a period in the past couple of months."         Dominique nodded, thinking to herself that she certainly hadn't attached any importance to that last bit -- the less she had to deal with that monthly messy human indignity, the happier she was. "I just have a touch of the flu, don't I? Pregnant -- doctor, that is simply impossible."         The awkward expression was back. "Um ... Ms. Destine, are you currently sexually active? With a ... with a man?"         Now Dominique sighed, this being not the first time someone had made the assumption that a powerful, confident businesswoman who had no publicly-known affairs had to be a discreet lesbian -- this assumption usually generated by the wounded egos of men who'd asked and been shot down.         "Yes, as a matter of fact, I am," she said. Trying to explain the precise details would be far more than the doctor needed to know, and would likely put Kohlberg in a situation where she'd be unable to resist the temptation of violating the doctor-patient confidentiality. "But I certainly never decided to breed."         Dr. Kohlberg regained her composure enough to chuckle. "If only it were that easy! Ms. Destine, no birth control method except abstinence is foolproof. Your records show that you're not on the Pill and you haven't been fitted with an IUD, which leaves the barrier or spermicidal methods. And those do have a higher failure rate."         "Doctor, you're not hearing me. I cannot be pregnant. It simply isn't possible." But even as she said it, she turned it over in her mind, wondering.         Wasn't it? She was, after all, human half the time now, and humans had no conscious control over their fertility (which could explain, she thought bitterly, why there were so damned many of them). If she suffered the other inconveniences of a human cycle, even if it was thrown off-kilter by the fact that she resumed her true form every dusk, wasn't it within the realms of possibility ...?         "I'd like to run those tests, just to be sure," the doctor was saying.         "Yes, all right," Dominique agreed absently.         If it _was_ true, that meant ... that meant Jericho was the father! Her brief predatory affairs with humans had ended once she'd brought him back from Avalon. The thought that she could have risked getting pregnant by a human sent a splash of cold horror over her; bad enough that she had enjoyed her dalliances with them, but to have had a child?         She put that right out of her mind. It hadn't happened, and she would not upset herself by whipping up a case of retroactive fright. Instead, she clung to the chance, the startlingly appealing hope, that the doctor was right.         She pressed a palm to her flat stomach, trying to sense if there was new life growing within. A new member of her clan, one who would be as singularly devoted to her as Jericho was. A daughter, perhaps, to replace Angela.         A torrent of sudden questions and worries flew through her mind, mostly centering around how she would be able to keep the child's nature a secret. But she shoved them all aside, concentrating on the thought of a hatchling, a tiny blue-skinned, scarlet-haired bundle of joy. And how happy Jericho would be when she told him.                 *               *         Several blocks away, another pregnant woman also sat on an examining table in a paper gown.         "So far, everything looks good," Kurt Masters told Elisa. "The baby's demands for certain minerals are higher than normal, so I'd like you to start taking iron, calcium, a boron-selenium tablet, and this multi- vitamin. You should also be eating plenty of leafy greens and red meat."         "Finally, a doctor who says red meat is okay," Elisa said, smiling.         "In your case, it's necessary. Gargoyles have a diet high in protein. Try to stay away from excess sugars and fats, though."         He rolled a tall skinny machine over to the table and motioned for her to lie back.         "Okay, what's that one?"         "Going to listen for a heartbeat." He unhooked something that looked disturbingly like a kids' play microphone, all blue and white plastic, and gooped up the end of it with some clear jelly from a tube. "Here's where we find out if your baby is turning to stone during the day."         She obligingly reclined and opened the gown. There was just a hint of a swelling, so far only noticeable to herself and Goliath, though she'd had to go up a size in her jeans. "Wouldn't I notice? It would get heavier, wouldn't it?"         "At this point, you might not be able to feel it. That's why we want to check, though. That's the biggest possible complication we're looking at. Your womb might have trouble supporting a full-term stone infant. We might have to consider a premature Caesarean." He must have seen her alarmed look, because he shook his head. "But I don't want you to worry about that. If it does become necessary, you'll have the best treatment medical science can provide."         "All thanks to Xanatos. It wouldn't have been too long ago," Elisa muttered, "that I'd have been wondering just what his angle was, what he hoped to gain."         Kurt Masters shrugged. "Just between you and me, some people only know how to say they're sorry with their checkbooks. Maybe he considers it a way to try and make up for all the hassles he's caused you. Okay, here we go." He put the cold, slimy head of the microphone on her stomach and began moving it around.         Elisa made a face. "Feels like a slug crawling on me."         fwoosh-fwoosh-fwoosh-fwoosh -- a watery rushing throb.         "Ah, there we are! Hear it?"         "That's my baby's heart?" Her throat tightened and happy tears stung her eyes. "If we can hear it, that means it's not stone, right?"         "Right. It stands to reason that in a hybrid case like this, the mother's race would dictate the prenatal development of the fetus. I think you'll be able to carry it to term."         "Will it be a baby, or an egg?"         "Too soon to tell. In another few weeks, we'll be able to do an ultrasound and see if there's any shell formation happening. That'll also let us figure out if you'll be waiting the whole nine months, or doing it in six like the gargoyles."                 *               *         "Were the females like this last time and I just didn't notice?" Brooklyn asked desperately.         "What, you mean with the mood swings and everything?" Broadway replied.         "Tell me about it!" Lex exclaimed. "I forgot to bring Aiden the new book she wanted, and it was like I'd killed her best friend! I told her I'd get it tonight, but she started crying that it was too late, that it didn't matter now."         "Angela asked me if I thought she looked fat --" Brooklyn began, and his brothers groaned in sympathy. "What was I going to say? She's _supposed_ to look fat! She's got an egg in there! I tried to tell her she looked beautiful, because she does, she really does, but she threw one of Bronx's chew-toys at me and told me I was just saying that."         "Elektra's still throwing up a lot," Broadway reported worriedly. "No matter what I fix for her, she can't keep anything down. The doctor even wants to start her on those canned nutrition drinks, because he doesn't think she's gaining enough weight."         "Jeez, could we get him to tell Angela that? She made me perch on the other side of the wall yesterday!"         "The gargoyle equivalent of sleeping on the couch, I guess," Lex said. "I'm surprised Aiden didn't make me join you."         "She will if you don't get her that book," Broadway said.         "But she said she didn't want it anymore!"         Brooklyn thwapped him on the brow. "And you believed her? If I were you, I'd bring her _two_ books and a box of candy. Or fish sticks."         "She's off those now," Lex said. "Now it's turnips. Can you believe it? Turnips! I thought we'd never have to see another turnip after we woke up in Manhattan."         "Still, Brooklyn's right," Broadway said. "You'd better get the book."         Hudson came around the corner, and his barely-hid grin informed them that he'd heard every word. "For what it's worth, lads, this whole business is nothing new. My rookery sisters, yer mothers, were just as bad. I remember once the lot of them teamed up and had half the males out combing the countryside for berries, and this was in the first snow of winter!"         "Did they find any?" Lex asked.         Hudson shook his head. "Some dared not even come back to the castle for most of a week."         "I know the feeling," Brooklyn grumbled. "No matter what I do, it's the wrong thing."         "But it'll pass," Hudson assured them. "Soon they'll be plump and merry, and start their nesting. They'll be down in the rookery shoving straw around, getting it all set. Ye'll see. When that time comes, they're all but glowing. Make ye forget all the hardships they've put ye through."                 *               *         In the top room of the smallest tower, Goliath held Elisa close as they watched the rain and sleet run in rivulets down the leaded glass. The fire was warm against their backs, and his hand rested possessively on the swell of her stomach.         "There!" she said. "Did you feel it?"         He pulled his hand away, startled, then put it back with an amazed smile. "I did! It moved!"         "It kicked," she corrected.         "Does that happen often?"         "Ooh! There it goes again! I think someone's recognizing Daddy's voice. I get kicked a lot at night, but hardly ever during the day. The doc thinks it's because the baby's more lethargic, sleeping, when the sun's up. Like me. It's all I can do to stay awake once dawn comes."         "Where is the picture? I want to see it again."         She unfolded the printout of the ultrasound. Goliath's head tipped next to hers as they regarded the tiny curled form. There was no shell, not even the beginnings of one, which led the doctor to believe that their child would be born without an egg.         It was hard to make out details, but they could clearly see one well-defined foot with three small grasping toes and a raised arch. Spidery-fine wing struts were wrapped around the small body.         "I'm kind of glad the doc couldn't tell if it was a boy or a girl," Elisa said. "And that we won't have to wait ten years for an egg to hatch."         "Even waiting these next four months seems a long time," Goliath said. "The doctor is sure it'll be that long?"         "The time will go fast. The holidays are coming up, and then --" she broke off and sighed in mock despair. "The holidays! Aunt Agnes is coming to visit!"         "I should think she'd be happy," Goliath growled. "This is what she wanted, after all."         "I guess so. Anyway, the holidays, and then the others will lay their eggs, and it'll be time to wheel me into the delivery room before you know it."         "You sound more hopeful than I think you are," he observed.         "Well, yeah. You're right, it _is_ a long time to wait. Especially now that everyone at the station knows."         He glowered. "And do they still think Rick Alvarez is the father of your child?"         She covered her eyes. "Oh, God."         "I'll take that as a yes."         "Matt says that the rumor is I started wearing a wedding ring to scare off the guys, so I could carry on my affair with Rick."         "Who is spreading these rumors?" he asked darkly.         "Now, stop. We've had this talk before, remember? You can't flatten everyone who says something bad about me."         "I can try. They should not be talking about you like that."         "Hey, workplace gossip is one of those extra bonuses. The only way to stop it is to tell them the truth, and that would only give them more to gossip about."         "Won't it be something of a tip-off when you bear a winged child?"         She smiled ruefully. "Sure, but I don't have to worry about that until April, and by then, I'll have come up with a story. I hope."         "And Rick? He allows this talk?"         "I deny it, he denies it, and nobody believes a word of it. And this, mind you, is coming from a station full of cops, who are supposed to know the difference between truth and a lie." She patted his cheek, smiling. "What, you don't like him taking credit for all your hard work?"         "I don't like anyone even pretending to take liberties with my mate."         Elisa laughed softly and rested her head against his arm. "You're so cute when you're possessive."         "I'm concerned about you."         "Look at it this way. As long as everyone thinks it's Rick, the Quarrymen aren't going to get wind of a human woman pregnant by a gargoyle. You know they'd go ballistic if they found out."         "I know. And that worries me, too. They've been too quiet of late."         "That's because Xanatos and T.J. got into their communications network and told the cops whenever they tried to set up a meeting. They're in hiding."         "I doubt they'll stay there. People like that never do. Fanatics do not just go away. I can't help but fear that they're planning something, lying low and planning something."                 *               *         "The end is coming!"         "Look at the funny man, Mama," Alexander Xanatos said as the limo rolled down Fifth Avenue under the strings and garlands of Christmas decorations.         Fox nudged her husband just as he was settling into a satisfying doze. "There's another one, David. One of those New Year's nutcases."         David Xanatos peeled one eye open. His nerves, if not his bank account, had taken quite a beating, thanks to store clerks that instantly recognized the darling and precocious heir to the Xanatos millions, and swarmed Alex with every new toy they could get their hands on.         "Millooniums, isn't that what Elisa calls them?"         Rather than predicting Armageddon by asteroid, last year's pet apocalypse, these wild-eyed prophets and doomsayers were convinced that civilization was going to go belly-up on New Year's, when the world's computers failed to handle the rollover to the year 2000. A wave of catastrophe would roll across the globe, timezone by timezone, devouring all in its path.         "There sure are a lot of them," Fox remarked. "I think they'd have the Salvation Army Santas outnumbered if it came to a fight."         "But those red kettles on chains would make better weapons than those big placards," Xanatos said. "If they had room to get up a good swing."         Alex sat upright as a thought struck him, and he turned to his parents with awe. "Is Santa one of Oberon's Children?"         "Look at that one!" Fox pointed to a sign advising the reader to kill a computer today, complete with illustration of a sledgehammer slamming down onto a monitor. "And they're actually going up to him reaching for his tracts, instead of trying to avoid him!"         Xanatos ruffled his son's hair. "Maybe, son, maybe." To his wife, he said, "It makes a certain amount of sense. The wrath-of-God message doesn't reach everyone, because a lot of people don't believe. But computers -- hell, everyone believes in computers, but deep down, very few people trust them."         "That sign ..." she said, turning in her seat as they drove past. "You know, David, I'd swear that's an old Quarryman sign, with a computer pasted over the picture of Goliath."                 *               *         "Ms. Destine? Are you all right?" Stephanie Greene said.         "Does it sound like I'm all right?" Dominique shot back. She hit the flush, swirling away this morning's breakfast, and got unsteadily to her feet.         "Shall I get your anti-nausea pills?"         "Don't bother." She winced as she levered herself up from her knees, and waited for a cramp to pass before she opened the stall door. "They don't work."         "Maybe we should reschedule the meeting," Stephanie fretted. "Until you're feeling better."         "And how long do you think that will take?" She maneuvered her swollen self over to the sink, stared at her reflection.         Only four months pregnant, she looked six or seven. Puffy, bloated. All the makeup in the world couldn't hide the sallowness of her skin, or the dark shadows beneath her eyes. Her hair had lost much of its former lustre despite its impeccable styling. She hadn't been sleeping well, and it showed. Her dawn and dusk transformations had become a greater ordeal than ever.         At least by night, she felt better. Looked better. She regained her energy and appetite with the setting of the sun, and having Jericho to rub her aching lower back and tender feet made a big difference. His absolute joy at the prospect of an egg of their own was undeniable, something she could easily share with him at night even if she regarded it as more of a burden to bear by daylight.         "No," she said to Stephanie, who hovered over her like a nervous hen. "This meeting is too important. We have to present our bid today. Besides --" she showed her teeth in a cruel grin, "-- I can't wait to see the look on Xanatos' face when I walk into that room. If anything's going to put him off his stride, it's this." She gestured down at herself, in smart, fashionable maternity wear.         Stephanie blinked. "Xanatos ... you can't mean that _he's_ --"         "No, of course not!" she snapped.         "Sorry," Stephanie said meekly, swiftly busying herself making sure the handouts for the presentation were in order.         Dominique splashed cool water on her face, wanting nothing more than to go home, put on a comfortable robe, and rest on the couch. If today went well, she promised herself a few weeks off, or however long it took until she was over this.         She tried a touch more lipstick, but the red she normally favored looked clown-garish against her pallid complexion. She wiped it off with weary anger. "I look like absolute hell."         Stephanie said nothing, but the pity in her eyes was nearly more than Dominique could stand. It did, though, give her a surge of irritation that proved enough to get her moving. She patted her hair into place and picked up her slim leather briefcase.         She waited to enter the stark-yet-sumptuous room where the meeting was to be held, letting Halcyon Renard precede her in his motorized chair, then made her way in. Xanatos was engaged in a friendly debate with the TarrenTech and New Wave Microtechnologies representatives over whether a private jet was preferable to flying the Concord.         Everyone looked casually up to appraise the new arrivals. Xanatos favored his father-in-law with a warm smile, which Renard did not return, and then his gaze fell upon Dominique.         His customary smug grin was slapped off his face, and the shocked gape that replaced it did Dominique more good than all the medicine in the world. She affected unconcern as she watched Xanatos grapple with his composure as if it were a lost bar of soap in the bath.         So, he did know. Knew, and couldn't handle it. Even his flexible morals didn't allow for casual acceptance of someone pregnant by her own son.         Owen Burnett caught the expression on his master's face and turned her way. His pale blond brows went up in surprise, but then he did something thoroughly infuriating -- he caught Xanatos' eye, and the two of them nodded as if they understood something she didn't.         She wanted to storm over and demand to know what they meant by that knowing look, but dizziness spun through her and she plunked gracelessly into the nearest chair. Clammy sweat dampened her forehead. She clutched the armrests, suddenly sure that the nausea was going to come back, even though there couldn't possibly be anything left to throw up.         "Water," she whispered to Stephanie, who rushed to the linen- draped side table where ice-choked pitchers and glasses awaited.         The rep from TarrenTech, a man that Dominique had dealt with before but whose name she could not recall, grinned cheerfully at her. "My wife's just had our third, a nine-pound baby girl."         "How nice," she said.         She was saved from further meddling questions by the arrival of the government people, four men and two women all cut from the same cloth. Agents from a newly-formed internal-defense outfit. Dominique didn't particularly care about their politics, and she knew none of her competitors did either. What mattered was that the agency was the flavor of the month as far as Washington was concerned, with unlimited funding.         Perfunctory greetings were exchanged all around, and then it was down to business. The government people kicked things off with a slick promotional video about what their agency was about and what it hoped to accomplish. After that, it was up to the presenters.         Dominique sat back and listened, knowing that it was already down to her vs. Xanatos. The government thought Renard was too old, his ideas obsolete, and weren't about to enter into a long-term contract with someone who might very well die and hand over the company to someone with different ideas. The other two companies weren't focused in this direction of military tech, and would take years to get up to speed.         As the meeting went on, she began to wonder if she was going to make it long enough to get her chance. A low, hot ball of pressure seemed to have formed in her stomach. Her mouth was dry, tacky with a taste like old envelope glue. A muffled ringing roaring in her ears made everything sound as if it was coming through a cheap radio, the frequency fading in and out. When she reached for her pen to make a note about something the New Wave rep said, her hand shook.         "Now we'll hear from Nightstone Unlimited," one of the government men said.         Stephanie leaned over. "I can do the presentation."         Dominique shook her head. "I'll do it." She made her way to the front of the darkened room, casting a pudgy shadow on the screen that now displayed a slide of the Nightstone logo. Heartburn bubbled in her chest, a cramp lanced across her back. Her feet felt like they were swelling even more, that they would burst right out of her shoes.         No one asked if she was feeling all right. She would have been surprised if anyone did. But she could tell they'd all noticed. That infuriated her, even though there was no way she could hide it.         "At Nightstone," she began, picking up the remote clicker that would let her change the slides, "we ... we are dedicated to ..." damn it, she couldn't remember the rest of her mission statement!         At the back of the room, Stephanie was watching in agony, and Dominique was now really regretting not letting her do it. But she was up here, and she would have to muddle through.         Get with it! she scolded herself. You've been through worse hardships than this!         That steadied her, and her prepared speech clicked into her mind in perfect order. She heard herself begin to talk again, amazed at how steady she sounded. She could see the government people nodding and tipping their heads together to comment on the bold, innovative projects she was outlining.         "With the 9000 Series," she went on, "you'll have the latest in --"         An iron fist clamped inside her, crushing the breath from her lungs so that her sudden cry was more of a gasping squeal. She reeled back into the screen, making the image billow and contort. Needles and coals, a terrible heaviness and wrenching. Her legs buckled and she clawed at the screen as she fell, ripping it aslant.         The lights came up and the others all jumped to their feet. Stephanie ran to Dominique, helping her sit up. No sooner did she do so than another searing twisting pain shot through her, and she toppled onto her side, keening like an animal with its foot caught in a trap.         "Somebody get a doctor!" Stephanie shouted.         "I'm fi--" Dominique started, but couldn't finish. She felt wetness and her first panicky thought was that she'd lost control of her bladder, but then she detected not the acrid bitter scent of urine but a richer, thicker scent. Blood.         There came a deep awful tearing unraveling sensation, and she understood that the fragile web of life inside her was popping free, one strand at a time.         Babbling and pandemonium all around. In the midst of it, she knew what she had to do, and somehow found the strength to lurch to her feet. One single ruby bead had slipped down her leg and half the people in the room were staring at it and its scarlet trail as if hypnotized. Staggering like a wounded soldier, she seized her bag from beside her chair, then burst out of the room and down the hallway.         "Ms. Destine!" Stephanie chased after her.         "Leave me alone!" she shrieked, and the effort of the shriek or the running caused a new cramp that laced up to her ribs like a corset.         She misjudged the corner leading into the bathroom, rebounded off the wall with a body-wide howl of pain, and swept the door shut. There was a thumb-bolt and she turned it, a tiny rubber wedge and she kicked it into place.         She collapsed onto the pale mauve couch with a ragged gasp.         "No, no, no," she heard herself chanting, as if that alone would be enough to change things. She upended her purse and pawed through the items, panting. The cushion beneath her was growing sodden and sticky.         Pounding on the door, and Stephanie's voice calling for her to open it, calling for someone to bring a key.         "There!" She desperately snatched up a plain red leather lipstick case that did not hold lipstick, and pulled out a small cylindrical wad of tissue. It shredded beneath her fingernails, and left her holding a lock of silken white hair caught up in a metal clamp. An iron clamp, to be precise.         She closed her hand around the strands. She'd never thought she would have to use them like this, never thought she'd have to be begging a favor, but this was her child's _life_!         She began the spell of summoning.                 *               *

To continue with Part 2, click here