Double Date Christine Morgan (email@example.com) comments welcome Author's Note: this story is a sequel to "Sterling Silver." Standard disclaimers about how the Gargoyles characters belong to Disney and are used here without their knowledge or authorization.
(Owen Burnett, voice over) "Previously, on Gargoyles ..." [A dorm room of the Sterling Academy] Birdie Yale -- "We're going to be pals, Aiden. We're going to have a blast. Really wild times. I mean it." Aiden Ferguson -- "I'm not much for wild times." Birdie Yale -- "That's okay. This is school, right? You're here to learn. You'll learn." [Cut to a scene of the woods] Aiden (holding out Hecate's Wand) -- "Maybe you should take this back. I let you down. I'm sorry." Owen (shakes head) -- "Keep it. I am certain you will discipline yourself more effectively than I could." Aiden -- "I won't use it again! I promise!" Xanatos -- "Don't make that kind of promise, Aiden. Fate loves to make a person break a vow." * * The Sterling Academy, 3:40 P.M. Aiden spoke out loud to her computer. "Oh, you lucky!" "What?" Birdie Yale looked up from a pile of chemistry notes. "Talking to me, Ferguson?" "No, to Lex. This e-mail says he's going to the concert tonight!" "Not the concert in Central Park!" Birdie shot out of her chair and circled around behind Aiden to stare at the screen. "Not Scarlet Angel's special Blue Moon Concert!" "Yeah, that's the one." Aiden sighed. "I wish I could go!" "You and half the world! Wow, if I had eighty bucks to spare ... their manager and bass player, Ebon, is finally going to appear on stage! He's not even in the videos!" "I love that band." "Who doesn't? A year ago, they were nobodies, and now they're megastars! They're the coolest!" "And Lex gets to go! Him and Broadway both!" "Must be great, getting in for free," Birdie said. "Yeah, but the seats aren't the best --" Aiden broke off and looked around at her roommate, eyes wide. "Gotcha!" Birdie declared smugly. "He's one of those gargoyles, isn't he? I knew it!" "How'd you know?" Aiden gasped. "Put it together. Bits and pieces. Oh, and one day I needed to borrow a highlighter and I found this." Birdie slid open Aiden's desk drawer and pulled out a framed photograph of the entire clan. "So, which one is Lex? Lemme guess. The little green guy here, the one that looks like Gollum with wings." "Birdie, please don't tell!" "Who'm I going to tell? Aunt Margot?" Birdie snorted. "Hey, you want to date a gargoyle, it's your business. How come you aren't going to the concert?" "Owen doesn't pick me up until tomorrow afternoon. The concert's tonight." "So let's go! I've got a car. I'll drive us down, you get us in." "I can't afford tickets!" Birdie rolled her eyes patiently. "Hel-lo! We'll sit on the roof. You said someone named Broadway is going?" She studied the picture again. "Hmm. Is this him, with more muscles than the Dallas Cowboy's offensive line?" "That's Goliath," Aiden said, not even having to look. "No kidding. I could go for a guy like that." "He's got a girlfriend, and she's got a gun. That one is Broadway." "Cute. He looks like he could handle a woman of substance like me." Birdie patted her full hips and grinned. "So we double date." "I don't know," Aiden said doubtfully. "We've got school tomorrow. But Lex sure would be surprised." "Come on, Ferguson, live a little!" "Okay, okay. We'll go." "Hey, I've got an idea!" "What idea?" Aiden asked, not sure she liked the look on Birdie's face. "Want to _really_ surprise them?" * * Central Park, 7:55 P.M. "This is going to be great!" Broadway called enthusiastically over the rush of the wind. "The concert of the century!" Lex agreed. In the east, the blue moon was peering between the skyscrapers. It wasn't blue in color, just called that because it was the second full moon within the calendar month, a rare and special event. Like tonight's concert. "I wish Angela had come," Broadway said. He frowned. "I never understand her. I think she's mad at me, but I don't know why." "Better apologize, then," Lex advised. "I didn't do anything!" "Apologize anyway. That's what you're supposed to do with females." "Yeah? When did you become such an expert?" "I'm not. Talon told me. Hey, there it is! Look at all the people!" Lex swooped closer to the throng revealed by crisscrossing spotlights. A huge screen had been put up, mechanical arms carried cameramen back and forth. The stage was covered with monolithic speakers and amplifiers, an electronic Stonehenge. Broadway pointed out a likely spot atop a control center, where they would have a good view but be sheilded from sight by the angle of the roof. He touched down and leaned over the edge. "Great!" he repeated. "Yeah!" Lex scampered back and forth along the roof, studying what he could see of the equipment. The warm-up act, some forgettable Seattle grunge band, was just coming onstage when Lex heard a cry of alarm from above. He looked up, and gaped in shock. Broadway followed his gaze and was likewise stunned. Too stunned to get out of the way as an out-of-control gargoyle careened toward him. An out-of-control, utterly unfamiliar, voluptuous and rose-colored female gargoyle. "Look out!" she cried, and collided full-tilt with Broadway. They tumbled across the roof and crashed into a thick pipe, coming to rest with the female sitting on top of him. She shook a mass of burgundy-streaked black curls out of her brown eyes as she looked down at Broadway. "Hey, oops," she said. "Guess that's one way to make an impression on a guy!" To emphasize her words, she bounced up and down a couple of times on his ample gut. "Oof! Ugh!" Broadway replied wittily. A shadow flickered over them, accompanied by a "fwhoop!" Lex looked up again and saw another female coming in for a considerably more graceful landing. She was small, grey in color, and had wings that stretched from wrist to ankle like his. She wore an oversized and faded Pack T-shirt with the sleeves ripped all the way down the sides, the hem tucked under her legs, split in the back, and the whole works tied together in a big knot at the small of her back. From just above her brow ridges, a bony crest like that of a pterodactyl swept back in a thin curve. On either side of that crest, beige- blond hair spilled to her shoulders. She carried a tote bag with "I (heart) N.Y." written on it. She landed a few feet away and smiled at him. Around her neck was a silver chain, and a filigree heart-shaped pendant. He recognized that necklace. It had been his birthday present to ... "Aiden?!?" * * Manhattan, 6:50 P.M. (flashback) "It's almost seven. Shouldn't we get started?" Birdie urged. "This really isn't a good idea," Aiden said, but it was token protest because she was already opening her tote bag and taking out the box. "It'll be fine. If it doesn't work, you can tell everyone it was my idea." "Oh, I will," Aiden promised. Even through the closed lid, she could sense the tingle of magic. "I'll tell them you subjected me to unbelievable peer pressure." "Peer pressure is when a bunch of jerks try to get you to do something you don't want to do. I'm your friend, and this is something you really want. Face it." "You're impossible to argue with, Miss Yale." Her best, completely unconvincing MacBeth imitation. She unlocked the box. Inside was a long thin bundle of rolled silk. She unwound it and picked up the wand. It didn't look like much, just a plain gnarled stick. But when her fingers wrapped around it, the wand pulsed briefly with twinkling silver light. "Me first," Birdie said. "What do I do?" "Um ... just stand there, and think about being a gargoyle," Aiden said. She shut her eyes, reached deep into herself for the power that Owen had taught her how to tap. In the darkness of her mind, she saw a box opening, not the wand's box but a huge chest, a treasure chest, filled with round silver beads like pearls. She envisioned her hand plunging into the chest, feeling the cool rolling of the beads on her skin. She selected one, drew it forth. Closed that mental fist around it. "Oh, wow," Birdie breathed. Aiden opened her eyes. The wand was glowing, its light spilling over Aiden like a cascade of liquid silver. She raised the wand, banished all uncertainties, and pointed it at Birdie. Latin phrases bubbled through her mind, but strangely, she felt herself most strongly thinking of "Willow," a movie she'd seen and loved as a kid. The wand -- why hadn't she seen it before? -- looked exactly like the one from the movie. "Lockmor dan Elora. Tuatha dan ue. Tuatha tuatha." She wasn't sure if she was remembering the words right, but they felt good and strong and true in her mouth. The words that plead for change. Puck had said that any words meaningful to her would be meaningful to the wand. A filament of light spun out toward Birdie. It coiled around her feet and up her body, weaving a cocoon of pure silver. It brightened until Aiden had to shield her eyes, and then burst apart in a shower of sparkling stars, which sank glimmering to the ground and winked out. Aiden looked at Birdie. "Gosh," she said in a very small voice. "Too cool!" Birdie exclaimed, holding her taloned, three-fingered hands in front of her face. Her skin had darkened to a deep rose hue that shaded to black on the backs of the batlike wings that slowly unfolded behind her. Twin horns sprouted from her forehead, coiling back along the sides of her head like ram's horns, encircling pointed ears from which many earrings still dangled. Her face hadn't changed much, except for the larger eyes and the sharp teeth. Her body was also much the same, on the borderline between curvaceous and fat, except that the flesh looked more solid. "Are you okay?" Aiden gasped. "Yeah," Birdie said, taking a few unsteady steps on her new, clawed feet. "Whoops! My balance is all screwed." "Sorry about your clothes," Aiden said, pointing at the tattered ruins of Birdie's purple leather halter and black, acid-splotched jeans. Her sneakers had all but exploded, leaving nothing but ragged rings around her raised ankles. "Hey, no big deal." She flexed her wings carefully. "I'm not exactly thinking about my clothes right now, you know?" "Yeah." "I wish Aunt Margot could see this! She'd freak!" "Well," Aiden said, digging her camera out of her bag, "you could send her a picture." "Great!" Birdie posed and flashed all of her teeth in a wide grin. "How's that?" "Not exactly the cover of Vogue. The Daily Tattler, maybe." "What about Playgargoyle?" Aiden laughed and took the picture. "I think we should submit it for your yearbook photo!" "I will if you will. Okay, Aiden, your turn." "I don't know ..." "Come on! I did it!" Aiden wavered, gazing at the wand in her hand. It glowed faintly, expectantly. Even as she looked at it, the light brightened. "Here goes. But only for tonight!" "Yeah, yeah," Birdie said. "At sunrise the coach and four turns back into a pumpkin and a bunch of mice. I get the picture. Move it, Ferguson, it's getting late." She closed her eyes, turned the wand toward herself, thought of gargoyles, and uttered the words again. Through her eyelids, she could see the encompassing silver glow. A sensation, a whole-body heat ripple, passed over her painlessly. * * Central Park, 8:15 P.M. "We wanted to surprise you," Aiden finished, after telling them how she and Birdie had come to be here in these new forms. "You did! It's great! Now I know how Goliath felt during that mirror thing." Lex said. He grinned. "Interesting outfit!" She flushed lavendar. "It's Birdie's shirt. My clothes just couldn't handle these." She extended her arms and looked at the pale, tissue-thin membranes. "But I had to find something to put on." "Hey, you didn't have to go to any trouble on my account!" Lex winked. She flushed darker. "I don't see how you can wear anything at all!" "I don't _have_ to, if you'd rather --" "Lexington!" She giggled. "See? Told you he'd like it," Birdie said. She twined her arm through Broadway's, who looked like he wasn't quite operating on all cylinders just yet. "So, where's our seats, big guy? Is this your first date?" "Um, kind of. My first blind date, that's for sure." Birdie tossed her head and laughed throatily. "That's okay; you don't have to kiss me goodnight unless you want to." "Um ...!" He bobbled his head happily as she led him to the edge of the roof and perched close beside him. "Actually, look," Lex said, motioning to his side. "There's a space here, see? Where the wings don't quite connect. My belt goes through there. A couple generations before I was hatched, when humans settled on the highlands, our elders thought it would help us get along with them if we wore clothes, like they did. Some, with wings like me, couldn't very well. So when we were hatchlings, they'd make cuts here and here, and thread a belt or cord through." "That's awful! Didn't it hurt? How come it didn't heal when you turned to stone?" "I don't remember it hurting. And with the belt there, it just sort of healed around it and left a hole." She nodded in understanding. "It still sounds cruel, but I've seen parents at the mall having thier babies' ears pierced, so I guess it's not that different. I had wondered how you wore that, though." "You could've asked me before," he said. "I didn't want to sound like I was ... you know, making a pass or something." "Aiden! Lex!" Birdie called. "Show's about to start!" * * Central Park, 10:30 P.M. Scarlet Angel was halfway through their biggest hit, *When Night Falls,* and Aiden listened to the lyrics with gargoyle's ears, thinking that it was no wonder Lex and the others really liked their music. "When night falls, we shed our skin, We find our love deep as the sky When night falls, we feel the wind, We spread our wings and fly." She turned to the others to say something about how that could have been written for gargoyles, and saw that Birdie had Broadway in a major lip-lock. Nor were they alone. In the dim, moody lighting, two-thirds of the audience were making out while the band swung into a low, pulsing instrumental segment. Lex was looking at her, a direct and intense look unlike his usual cute, shy glance. "You're really beautiful like this." He reached up and ran his hand along the crest that topped her head. "I mean, you were pretty before, but now ... it's incredible!" She shivered at his touch. "Lex?" "Yeah?" "Do ... do you want to kiss me?" He grinned. "Sure!" The few times they'd kissed before had always been sweet, brief, and chaste. Aiden knew from the moment his lips touched hers that this kiss was going to be different. He grasped her wrists and raised their arms overhead, causing their wings to stretch against each other. His tail coiled lightly around her ankle. She flexed the unfamiliar muscles to move her own tail, but unbalanced herself and toppled backward onto the roof, pulling him with her. Lex caressed her side, where her inner wing met her body, and she shivered again. It was just like the time one of her few dates had started nibbling on her neck, only better. She could tell he was excited too, really excited judging by what she felt against her leg. His hand crept from her side to the edge of her makeshift garment. Aiden tensed, not because she didn't want him touching her there because she did, but because she was sure he'd be disappointed by what he found. Even Tina Diamant, only fifteen, had more in the boobs department than she did. For that matter, Tina had "done it" twice, while Aiden had the dubious honor of being the only virgin in her clique of friends. It would be awfully nice to have that awkward stigma out of the way. Lex, nibbling on her neck in exactly the right way, was inching her shirt over, as if he thought she wouldn't notice. Wishing he'd stop but at the same time hoping he wouldn't, Aiden stroked his shoulders and back. His muscles were wiry and tight beneath skin smooth as fine leather. His hand cupped her breast. Aiden gasped, then whispered, "I'm sorry I'm so small!" He chuckled softly against her throat. "That would be my line, if you'd ever seen Goliath getting out of the shower. You're perfect." She blushed hotly. She'd never actually seen a man without his clothes, just that awful "Naked Shakespeare" video Birdie had rented for one of the Tuesday socials. The rest of the girls had watched with many a catcall and derisive hoot. Aiden, although shocked, had at least gotten a few of her unasked questions answered. Now, though, she found herself wondering if gargoyles were any different from the men in the video, and how close she was to finding out. Her roving fingers found and traced the places where Lex's wings joined his back. His whole body tensed against hers. "If you keep doing that, I'm going to go crazy," he warned. "Sorry!" She moved her hands. "You don't _have_ to stop. I like it. Do you ... like what I'm doing?" "Yes," she said, barely audible. "Hey, you two!" Birdie said suddenly. "Don't get too carried away!" Horribly embarrassed, Aiden quickly righted herself, tugging her shirt back into place. Lex cleared his throat and tried to look innocent. "We just fell over," he said. "Oh, is _that_ what happened?" Birdie teased. "What did it look like to you, Broadway?" "I was looking at you," he admitted, grinning widely. "Oh, you're such a big old teddy bear!" She grabbed him by the ears and planted another loud, wet kiss on him. The song had ended, and there was a long pause that gradually brought the crowd to an expectant hush. The lead singer, an ethereal brunette named Julianna, came forth into a single spotlight. "We have something special for you tonight," she intoned in her haunting voice. "Tonight, for the first time, our manager and bass player Ebon has agreed to appear. He'll be joining me in a song off our next album. We call this one *Heart of Stone.* We hope you like it." Julianna dropped her head, her long dark hair streaming over her pale shoulders. The music began, an eerie drifting melody. She slowly, slowly raised her gaze skyward, and every eye in the audience did likewise. A dark shape was silhouetted against the moon. Before anyone could so much as draw in a gasp, it glided down and landed on the stage. "It's a gargoyle!" Aiden said. "It's Thailog!" Lex and Broadway cried in unison. "I thought he was dead!" Broadway added. "Shut up, you guys!" Birdie scolded. The massive black gargoyle bowed to Julianna. Some screams rang from the crowd, but most were transfixed by either awe or fear. A roadie came forth with an overlarge bass guitar, obviously modified to withstand the strumming of those thick clawed fingers. He began to play and Julianna began to sing, and Aiden leaned stunned against Lexington. "He looks like Goliath!" "He's a clone," Lex explained, his fists clenched. "We've got to do something!" "Let's get him!" Broadway jumped to his feet. "Are you nutso?" Birdie swept her tail to knock his feet out from under him and yanked him back down. "What are you going to do, fly down there and attack him?" "Well, yeah," Broadway said as if that was a silly question. "He's an enemy! Pure evil!" Lex said. "Wants to control the world!" Broadway added. "So why's he playing bass for a rock band?" Birdie asked. The two males looked at each other, flummoxed. "You can't attack him," Aiden said, trying to be reasonable. "You'd start a panic, and ruin the whole concert." "Besides, he's really good!" Birdie pointed out. The gargoyle, Ebon or Thailog or whoever, suddenly joined Julianna in song. Their voices, hers high, his a rich growl exactly like Goliath's, mingled perfectly. "It can't be Thailog," Broadway said, shaking his head. "It is!" Lex insisted. "It has to be! But ... it doesn't make any sense." By the time Ebon and Julianna reached the end of *Heart of Stone,* a love song sure to hit the top of the charts in no time, the shadowy sea of the crowd was ablaze with lighters held high over admiring, cheering fans. "Thank you!" Ebon needed no microphone for his words to reach every ear. "I know this is a bit unusual, but we are making advance copies of our new album available tonight, to you, our most devoted fans. It will not be in the stores for another month. Tonight, under this blue moon, you have the chance to own it before the rest of the world." Excited cheers filled the air, along with the rustle of what had to be hundreds of people checking their wallets. Aiden grabbed her tote bag to see what her financial status was. "Smart," Birdie said. "They can charge twice what it'll go for in the stores, and people will still suck it up like a big cherry Slurpee." "For all of Scarlet Angel," Ebon said, "thank you, and good night!" The stage went dark, and then the house lights came up. People hurried for the exits and the waiting vendors. "Now we get him!" Lex cried. "Yeah! Four to one odds!" Broadway leaped up again. "Oh, no way! You're not dragging us into this!" Birdie declared. "We've got to stop him, whatever he's doing!" Lex said. "You mean, fight? Us?" Aiden gasped, looking down at her slight body. Broadway frowned, reconsidering. "Well, couldn't you zap him with your magic wand or something?" "No!" Aiden said decisively. She instinctively thrust a hand into her tote bag and felt the familiar shape of the wand, and then a bad thought ocurred to her. The wand would only work in the hands of a human sorceress, and tonight, at least, that wasn't her. "I couldn't, even if I wanted to." "We're talking about one of my favorite bands!" Birdie threw back her wings and put her hands on her hips. "I'm not about to attack them! I think you'd better explain what this is all about." Hastily, their words tumbling over each other, Lex and Broadway told a wild story about the evil, money-grubbing clone. How he'd taken Xanatos to the tune of several million, been partners with Demona against MacBeth in Paris, and ultimately created his own army of clones to attack the clan. "So where's he been all this time?" Birdie asked. Lex shrugged. "I don't know! We thought he died in the fire! He's as bad as Demona!" FWHOOOP! Ebon landed a few yards away and fixed his crimson gaze hungrily upon them. "Quick! Scatter!" Lex grabbed Aiden and threw her off the roof. She squealed in terror, then remembered that she had wings and spread them, the air catching her. Lex looped around and aimed a kick at Ebon's head. "You girls get out of here!" Broadway ordered. "The hell you say!" Birdie yelled. Ebon, seemingly startled, didn't even try to dodge Lex's kick. It drove him to his knees. "Wait! I am not your enemy!" he cried. "Yeah, right, since when?" Lex turned on the proverbial dime and drove both feet into Ebon's back just as he was starting to get up, sending him face-first into the roof. Pandemonium erupted as the lingering remnants of the crowd as they caught sight of the gargoyles overhead. "Please! I want to talk to you!" Ebon rose up just in time for Broadway to launch a roundhouse punch. This time, the big black gargoyle was better prepared. He caught it in his fist, thrust one foot into Broadway's midsection, and sent him sailing head over heels. "Broadway!" Birdie dove after her date, catching him less than ten feet above the heads of the crowd. She flipped him skyward again. "Why do you attack me?" Ebon roared. "I am one of your own kind!" Lex dropped on him, clinging like a spider, claws digging in. Ebon hissed in pain, tore him off and flung him away. Broadway ripped up a huge chunk of paneling and flattened Ebon from behind. "Broadway, jeez!" Birdie cried. "Quit it!" Scarlet Angel's keyboard player, a tall skinny seventies throwback who called himself Aquarius, shouted into the microphone. "Hey, gang, don't panic! It's like, part of the show, you know!" At that, much of the panic turned to embarrassed laughter, but there was still enough ugliness in the atmosphere to worry Aiden. "We've got to get out of here!" She swooped down to Lex, groggily pushing himself onto all fours, and helped him up. Broadway and Birdie were tusseling atop the paneling, him trying to get loose, her trying to hold him back. Pinned under them was Ebon, groaning. He suddenly threw himself to his feet, arms and wings flexing in a single powerful motion that flipped the paneling as if it weighed as much as a playing card. He advanced toward the two, his own eyes flaring embers, fists clenched. "Uh-oh!" Birdie said. "Now you've done it!" "Come on," Broadway challenged, making that just-try-it-buddy gesture. "All I wanted was to talk to you," Ebon growled. "But you attack me for no reason? Is it true, then? Are you without honor?" "Look who's talking!" Broadway snarled. "You wouldn't know honor if it bit you on the --" "No reason!" Lex shrieked. "We've got plenty of reason, Thailog, and you know it!" Genuine confusion paused him. "Thailog?" The roof access door slammed open and a bunch of security guards piled out. "All right, everybody freeze!" "Shit!" Birdie cried emphatically. "I am _not_ going to jail looking like this!" She gave Broadway a Herculean shove that sent him off the roof, and dove after him. Lex took a split second to assess the situation and took to the air, pulling Aiden by the hand. The last thing they heard as they glided rapidly away was Ebon's voice like mournful thunder in the air. "Wait! Come back ..." * * Central Park, Midnight. Ebon slumped, head in his large hands. The backstage room was temporarily quiet, with most of the crew out front selling the albums and beginning the cleanup process. Aquarius and Julianna exchanged a glance. Finally, the slim, pale brunette placed a hand on his shoulder. "It's all right, Ebon." "They attacked me," he said. "I merely approached them, and they attacked me as if I was a monster." "They don't even know you," Julianna said soothingly. Aquarius, in the middle of rolling a joint in hopes that the secondhand smoke would mellow the big dude, said thoughtfully, "Maybe they do." Slowly, Ebon raised his head. "From ... before?" "You had to come from somewhere, man." Silence fell over them, each thinking back. * * FLASHBACK -- One year ago ... (Aquarius) Aquarius, pleasantly stoned, sat on the lid of the dumpster and tried to ignore the raised voices so he could enjoy his trip. Raised voice, actually. He could only hear Nick, but he knew Julianna was also in the converted schoolbus that served as transportation and home. Pagan and Johnny had made themselves scarce, for which Aquarius didn't blame them. Nobody wanted to be around Nick when he got like this. Julianna had no choice, but that was between the two of them. Aquarius wasn't about to get involved in matters concerning a guy and his chick, especially when the guy in question didn't share the same attitudes of peace and brotherhood that he did. Johnny, their guitarist, had gone into the abandoned amusement park, scoping for things to salvage or sell in hopes of extending their budget a little. Things had been tight, since the last gig had fallen through and the skunk who owned the place had refused to pay them for the two sets they _had_ done before Julianna passed out midway through their best number. As for Pagan ... Aquarius prided himself on being able to spot something attractive in every chick, but with her, it had been a damn challenge. Built like a fire hydrant, short and stocky, with a shock of green and orange hair, she didn't have much about her to please the outer eye. Bitchy, abrasive, and opinionated, that also left the inner eye unpleased. Her drumming was nothing special and she couldn't sing either. He didn't want to think about Pagan. From there, his trip seemed likely to go off on some totally unwelcome tangents. He tried to clear his mind and focused instead on the skeletal scaffolding of the old roller coaster. To his delight, he saw winged figures looping and soaring around the wooden frame. Demons, or angels, like the red tattoo on Nick's arm that had given the band their name. "Far out," Aquarius muttered. Bright blue bolts and blazing beams, and wasn't it cool the way his thoughts were rolling back and forth like pool balls on the green felt surface of his mind? The dark, flying forms spun in dizzying aerial acrobatics, searing the sky with haloes of energy. The roller coaster -- too bad that baby had closed down; they didn't build 'em like that anymore; and wouldn't it have been a gas to ride it? -- now appeared to be on fire. Like it was in Six Flags over Hell or something. Cars of red-hot metal, carrying flaming riders with their hands held high, sped along the slopes and curves. "What the fuck?" Nick's question cut into Aquarius' daze, but he didn't lose the vision. Nick Diamond was standing by the dumpster, in a fan of orange light that painted his bare chest and glinted off the beer bottle in his hand. Of course he'd be drinking, Aquarius thought. Beating up your chick was thirsty work. The chick in question stood behind Nick at a distance occasioned either by fear or pain. From the way she was standing, hunched slightly, Aquarius guessed the latter. Her face was unmarked as always, but drawn in pained lines that made her look fifteen years older than she was. Firelight danced in her wide eyes. Aquarius realized they were both staring toward the roller coaster. Seeing the fire. "Oh, wow, it's real," he said in a slow, stunned voice. Johnny came running up from that direction, breathless and scared shitless. "Gang war," he gasped. "They're tearing up the joint!" "What are you talking about?" Nick snapped. Just then, the entire blazing structure collapsed. The crash was loud even from here. Sparks and smoke billowed up. "We gotta get out of here," Johnny panted. He turned to Julianna, saw the look on her face, and scowled. "Damn it, did you have to hit her again?" "Don't start with me." "It's okay," Julianna said softly. "You shouldn't have to put up with his shit," Johnny persisted. "You want a helping?" Nick raised a fist. "Hey, this is not serene," Aquarius said, still drifting. Pagan rushed up, her hair a screaming horror of orange and green spikes. "We better book," she said. "Cops will be coming." Aha, something that concerned Nick more than busting Johnny's ass. Aquarius knew that, in addition to the baggie of weed and pills with his own stuff, there were five grams of coke hidden in the glove compartment. And a gun. Big time, baby. No wonder they never had any cash. Something passed by over their heads. To Aquarius, that moment seemed to streeeetch out in time, giving him a good, long look at the blueskinned she-devil. She was streaked with soot and blood and flying like a bat out of hell. Julianna shrieked, a high, crystalline sound that made Aquarius' skull want to vibrate apart. It ended abruptly when Nick broke his only rule and cracked her one across the chops. "You son of a bitch," Pagan said, but her voice was oddly empty. "Shut up and get in the bus," Nick ordered. By the time they had rounded up their belongings and loaded up, they could all hear the distant wail of sirens over the snap crackle pop of the fire. They piled into the bus, Johnny behind the wheel and Nick right behind him, Aquarius in the back with the chicks. Pagan's drums, with "Scarlet Angel" scrawled across them in red spray paint, rolled and rattled fitfully. Johnny drove with the headlights off, not wanting to attract attention of the cops, but then couldn't find the gap in the chain-link fence that they'd used to get onto the amusement park grounds in the first place. Nick started swearing at him, a string of colorful epithets that had to do with his parents, his sexual preferences, and his personal hygeine. Johnny, unwisely, started giving back as good as he was getting. Nick reached for him, and then something large and dark loomed in the windshield. Julianna shrieked again, cut off this time when the bus struck something solid, rocked violently forward, shuddered to a stop and stalled. "We hit something!" Johnny cried. His nose was bleeding but he didn't seem to notice. "Brilliant, Einstein!" Nick yanked him out of the driver's seat. "If you broke the goddam bus, you're dogfood!" "What was it?" Pagan asked. "It looked like it had eyes!" "Bullsh --" Nick started, and then the dark form rose up again. It did have eyes, eyes that glowed a hellish red, and wings that spread to reveal a thickly muscled chest. Aquarius heard music pounding in his head, *A Night on Bald Mountain* from "Fantasia." All five of them screamed, attaining in their terror a harmony they'd never managed onstage. The monstrous figure brought its fists down on the windshield, turning it into a gummy mass of safety glass, then slumped onto the front of the bus and slid down. Silence. Except for the sirens, closer now. "Is it gone?" Julianna's voice was quavering. "What was it?" Johnny whispered. "A bear, do you think?" "Bear, my ass, it had wings!" Pagan hissed. Silence, sirens, and then a deep groan. "It's hurt," Julianna said. "B.F.D." Nick leaned his face close to Johnny, biting distance from the other guy's nose. "You get us out of here right now, understand?" "Yeah, sure, Nick," Johnny babbled. He twisted the key. The bus emitted a grinding croak and went dead. Johnny turned back to Nick, his eyes bulging blue marbles. He tried to grin. "That's it. I'm going to kill you," Nick declared. "Right after you get your ass out there and see what's wrong with the bus." "But ... there's something out there!" Johnny looked and sounded all of four years old. "So be quick!" Johnny glanced at the rest of them. Julianna looked away, Pagan swallowed, and Aquarius shrugged. "Heavy, man." Nick threw the lever that opened the door and gestured. Johnny, with the expression of someone about to walk the plank, faced the short flight of stairs and gulped. He descended in mincing, I-gotta-pee steps. Because of the condition of the windshield, they couldn't see him, but his voice carried clearly enough. "Oh, hey, he's wearing a Batman suit! No, wait ... that's not a cape ... those suckers are real! Real wings!" Nick popped open the glove box and elicited matching gasps from the chicks when he produced the gun. He sprang out to join Johnny. "Shit!" Nick said. "It's a monster!" Pagan got out, and Aquarius followed, beginning to wonder if this was all just a stronger trip than he'd bargained for. Julianna was right behind him because she never could stand being left by herself. Probably, he realized in a flash of insight, why she stayed with Nick, figuring that his temper was a bearable price to pay. They gathered around the monster. The moon was bright, bright enough to reveal plenty of details. Black skin, white hair, wings, the works. It was pretty banged up. Bleeding from dozens of gouges that looked almost like claw marks, burnt in places. There was a large dent in the front of the bus which molded to the creature's shape. "He's been in a fight," Julianna said in that same soft voice. "The bus didn't do all of this." She knelt and extended a hand, then yelped she was jerked roughly backward. "Don't touch it." Nick was waving that gun around in a way that made Aquarius glad he'd taken all the bullets out when Nick wasn't around. "Just shut up and let me think a minute." "It's a gargoyle, I think," Johnny said. "They were on tv." "Damn it, I said shut up!" Johnny, noticing the gun for the first time and finding himself looking at the wrong end of it, shut up. He inched carefully away from Nick. "Okay," Nick said, running his free hand through his hair. "Okay, here's what we do. We take it with us." "What?" Pagan blurted. "This thing's got to be worth a fortune," Nick explained. "The zoo, the university, hell, the newspapers. We'll be set! No more third-rate gigs! We're talking real money here!" "But what about him?" Julianna asked. "Yeah, right, good point. We'll have to tie it up, in case it comes around." "That isn't what I meant," she said. "I don't know," Pagan said. "He looks pretty strong. We don't have any rope, and we'd need chains." "I don't even think we could lift him." Johnny was still inching away, eyes on the gun. "What the hell's the matter with you people?" Nick demanded. "This is our ticket! Johnny, get under the hood and fix the goddam bus. The rest of you, clear a space in the back." The bus turned out to be okay, just some stuff popped loose in the impact. They moved the creature, who hadn't stirred except for drawing long, draggy breaths, into the back. The windshield was useless, so Nick kicked it out. Johnny picked a cautious path around the back lot of the amusement park and found another gap in the fence. They got onto the street without being seen by any cops and were on their way, with the wind whistling through the hole at the front of the bus. With Nick up front directing Johnny, Julianna was free to patch up the creature with bandages made from sheets lifted from a cheap motel. She murmured in a low, soothing voice as she did so. Aquarius heard her gasp, and looked around to see the creature moving. His eyes, no longer hell-red, opened and focused on Julianna. She scooted away, almost fell into the drums, and ended up pressed against Pagan like a kid scared of the thunder. The creature lay still for a moment, then slowly raised his hands to his face. He explored the length of sheet wrapped around his head like a turban, wincing. He sat up, shifting his limbs. His gaze moved around the interior of the bus, finally settling on the people. "Where am I?" the creature asked in a deep, rumbling voice. Johnny and Nick, arguing about the best place to hole up until morning, were still unaware. The rest of them twitched in surprise. "He can talk," Pagan said, probably thinking she was speaking in a normal tone of voice instead of just barely above a shocked whisper. "Bitchin'," Aquarius said. He glanced at Julianna, figuring that she had dibs, but she cowered in wide-eyed alarm. "You're in our bus." "What happened to me?" "We sort of ran you over, man, but you were messed up even before then. Looked like you were in a fight." "What _are_ you?" Pagan asked. "Are you a gargoyle?" "I ... I don't know." He looked at himself, then back at them, then to himself again, taking in the differences. "_Who_ are you?" Aquarius tried. "I am ... I don't know." "Oh, hey, maybe he's lost his memory," Aquarius said. "Do you remember anything?" He shut his eyes, rubbed gingerly at his head. "Nothing. Nothing at all." And then he passed out cold. * * FLASHBACK -- Eleven months ago ... (Julianna) Brushing her hair in long, slow strokes, she became aware of eyes upon her. She gasped and spun, but it was only the creature they'd named Ebon for his glossy black skin. Without a word, he came closer. Julianna cringed against the piece of plywood that served as her dressing table. She brandished the brush halfheartedly, although she would never dare strike at anyone. Ebon seized her wrist with surprising gentleness and turned it over, examining the faded pink scars that crossed the white flesh. His expression was unreadable. "Who did this to you?" "Nobody," she whispered. "I did it." "You?" She pulled feebly, not really expecting him to let go but he did. "It's nothing." She wasn't about to sit here and talk about her wrists to this inhuman creature. Not her wrists, not the overdoses, not the time she'd started her mother's car in the closed garage and was only prevented from gassing herself by the untimely arrival of the butler. Ebon clenched a fist and Julianna automatically prepared herself for a blow. His gaze, though, was far-seeing, his anger directed somewhere besides at her. She considered this with some amazement. "Why would you hurt yourself?" he asked. "Just leave me alone!" She meant it to be forceful but it came out pleading. "You couldn't understand. Nobody does." Nobody ever had. Not her parents, so determined that she would follow in her mother's operatic footsteps. Not her brothers, with their tennis whites and sports cars. Not the girls that had supposedly been her friends. Nick entered the bus, a crumpled brown paper bag in his arms, and halted when he saw them. His handsome, brooding face twisted into a scowl. "What's going on?" "Nothing," Julianna said. She put down her brush and got up, moving away from Ebon. "It damn well better be." Nick looked at Ebon, and clearly didn't like the way the creature was looking at him. "Something the matter?" "No." Ebon stalked out of the bus. "Asshole," Nick remarked once he was out of earshot. "I still think we should sell him." Julianna shrugged. While Nick was their manager, he couldn't do much with the other three steadfastly against the idea. They were fascinated by Ebon, by the way he turned to stone with the rising of the sun and awakened fully healed, by his amnesia and mysterious past, by the very fact of his existence. Besides, in the past few weeks while they made their way up the coast to Maine, Ebon had proved his usefulness in other ways. His suggestions on how they should manage what little money they had and how they should organize their gigs had been canny, clever, and unfailingly profitable. He watched over them at night like a guard dog. And he had already inspired Aquarius to write some new songs, which had been well- received by their audiences. "Was he making a pass at you?" Nick asked sharply. Julianna shook her head. It occurred to her that Nick was feeling threatened. Always before, he had been the one to handle the money and decide what gigs they would take. He'd been the one to write the songs. She frowned faintly. Part of what had drawn her to Nick in the first place was his appearance of strength and control. Nick, and the other tough guys before him. All the way back to Ron, who'd picked her up as a runaway and broken her arm one night in a drunken fury. Nick grabbed her shoulder, his fingers digging. "I don't want you around him. Is that clear?" She nodded. "Why would I be?" "I've seen how he looks at you. If he bugs you, you come and tell me, and I'll take care of it. I don't care what the others say." "Fine, Nick. Whatever you say." He let her go. "Good. Here, I got some food." He upended the bag, spilling cans of soup onto the floor. "Is that all you got?" she asked. "I thought we had more money than that." His fist shot out, a heavy stone, and punched her in the upper arm. She winced, putting a hand over it, knowing that there would be a huge dark bruise by morning. "That's plenty!" Julianna bowed her head. "I think I'm going to go get some fresh air." "Hurry back and clean this place up," Nick ordered. She ducked outside, skirting the campfire where Pagan, Johnny, and Aquarius were pretending they hadn't heard every word. She knew that they had. Hopelessness, a vast swamping wave of it, rolled over her. They were camped in a field outside a little town whose name she'd already forgotten. Some coastal tourist town in Maine. The gig last night and the night before had been a good one. They'd done a couple of the new songs and for the first time some of the kids had asked if Scarlet Angel had any albums. The club's owner had been so pleased he'd given them a fifty dollar bonus. And Nick had bought soup. Not even Campbell's but some generic store brand. The extra money went where it always had, into Nick's pocket and then out again. The others hated him, she knew. Hated him and feared him. They didn't understand that some people, like Julianna herself, needed guidance. Needed a firm hand. Nick loved her. He looked out for her. She wandered down to the rocky shore. The sea rushed and boomed in hollow caves beneath the large boulders and cliffs. Streaked silver and frosted with whitecaps in the moonlight, it was beautiful. Inviting. Without stopping to think about her actions, she started climbing one of the immense bluffs. Soon she was atop it, looking down at the waves, her hair blown by the breeze and the mist thick and salty in her face. The sea was power and peace. The sea kept its secrets well. The sea wouldn't care that a few months ago she'd gotten pregnant, and when she'd told Nick he had beaten her into a miscarriage. None of the others knew that; they only thought he'd hurt her worse than usual. Now she was a week late, and this time he would kill her. Or worse, he would make her leave. Without Nick to take care of her, to tell her what to do, she would be lost and adrift. "Oh, hey, man, come down from there!" She peered back and saw the unmistakable, gangling form of Aquarius. Beyond him, Johnny and Pagan were hurrying closer with Nick in tow. "It's Julianna," Pagan said. "I think she's going to jump!" Nick hollered up at her. "Knock it off, you stupid crotch! You're not impressing anybody!" Tears stung her eyes. This was the man she loved? In his voice she heard only contempt and exasperation. She hated him, she hated herself. There was no escape except one. Julianna stepped off the bluff. The moment her feet left the earth, her clouds of depression and self-loathing were whipped apart as if by a brisk wind. She shrieked, wanting her life, wanting a second chance, knowing that this time she had really done it. She twisted in the air, trying to take it back, seeing the bluff recede. And then, a dark shape against the moon, Ebon. He reached for her, his face a desperate mask of fear that he would be too late. His arms closed around her. His wings unfolded. Julianna's stomach did a roller-coaster dip. She choked on her scream. Here was strength without malice. Protection without a price. She suddenly wasn't afraid of him anymore. Julianna threw her arms tight around his neck and began to cry. * * FLASHBACK -- Eleven months ago ... (Ebon) When he saw her falling, her dark hair streaming, her eyes and mouth wide in terror, something inside of him had flared like a brilliant light bulb. There had been no hesitation, no second thoughts. And when he caught her and soared back toward the bluff with the human female cradled against his chest, he felt a sense of rightness and purpose even greater than that he'd known while going over the band's finances. Her tears were hot on his skin, her frail body trembling in his grasp. His protective instinct was an overpowering force. The others were staring. As he approached, Pagan began to cheer and Aquarius flashed him a peace sign. Johnny looked like he was about to faint. And Nick ... Nick stepped forward as Ebon landed and nodded brusquely. "Good job," he said. "Last thing we need is to have cops out here." Julianna, still a precious bundle in his arms, seemed to shrink in on herself as he spoke. "You bastard!" Pagan raged. "Julianna almost died, and all you can think about is the cops?" "Shut up, bitch!" He turned toward her threateningly but she stood her ground. "You hit me and you better kill me," she said. "Because if you don't, I'm coming for your balls. Got that, Nickie?" He gaped at her, then whirled and unloaded his temper on Ebon. "Get your paws off of her, damn you! I told her I didn't want you near her!" Ebon carefully set Julianna down. She folded into a posture of prayer, hands over her face. Johnny moved to comfort her, and Ebon rose to his full towering height over Nick. "You claim to be the leader, and this is how you treat your clan?" Ebon asked, his voice low but as menacing as a bestial roar would have been. "You do not protect them, you hurt them, you even do not care if they die?" "All right, that's it. You're out of here. I never want to see you again." "You won't," Ebon promised. He grabbed Nick by the shirtfront and dangled him over the bluff. "You won't see anything again!" "Hey, don't," Aquarius said mildly. "Don't kill him, man." All of the bluster had gone out of Nick as his feet swung hundreds of feet above the waves. He clutched Ebon's arm and blubbered something unintelligible. "He is worthless!" Ebon shook Nick back and forth. "A waste of skin!" "Drop him!" Pagan urged. "No!" Johnny said. Ebon looked at Julianna. "The vote stands, two for and two against. Yours will decide his fate." "I want him to go away," she said weakly. "But please don't kill him." "Very well." Ebon hauled Nick close. Nose to nose, he growled, "By her mercy are you spared." "Yeah, sure, anything you say!" Nick babbled. "Go. Now." Ebon cast him aside like the piece of trash that he was. Nick sailed ten feet and sprawled in the rocky soil, scraped and bruised. He unsteadily got to his feet, looked as if he was contemplating making a lunge at either Julianna or Ebon, and decided the better of it. The last they saw of him, he was staggering down the beach and out of their lives. * * Central Park, 1:00 A.M. "It doesn't matter what happened before." Julianna stroked Ebon's thick white hair. "Who you were, or what you did. You're our friend. You saved my life." "You made us big," Aquarius said. "We couldn't have done it without you, man." He stood and gathered them both close in a hug. "You are my family, my clan. But I need to know where I come from. Who I am." An explosion ripped the door open. Ebon instinctively folded his wings around the two humans to protect them from the flying, flaming splinters. Men leaped through the smoking rubble, men in blue hoods, carrying sledgehammers. "It's over, gargoyle!" one of them shouted, hefting his hammer. "You'll not be corrupting the youth of this country with your evil messages anymore!" "Stay down!" Ebon commanded, and stepped forward to meet the threat. "Who are you?" "We are the Quarrymen! Here to shatter you!" Ebon felt his lip curl. "Come on, then!" "No! Ebon, no!" Julianna screamed. The first man slammed his hammer down. Ebon caught it and his back arched in pain as sizzling energy shot through him. All around him was chaos. Security guards and roadies were dispatched in a quick and confusng melee as more Quarrymen poured in. Johnny appeared out of nowhere, smashed his guitar over a hooded head, and then went down from a solid punch. He could hear Pagan cursing with such flair that a rap musician would have been shocked. Julianna was still screaming. Recovering from the burst of energy, Ebon rammed his fist into the man's chest hard enough to pulverize bone. His armor absorbed much of the blow, but still, when he struck the ground he didn't move again. Another Quarryman swung. Ebon jumped back out of the arc of the hammer. He grabbed a chair and used it to intercept the next strike. The chair was blown to bits. Ebon struck, the man ducked, and his hammer landed a solid blow on Ebon's shoulder. Flat on his back and in intense pain, Ebon could barely move. He saw the Quarryman standing over him, weapon raised high, about to strike. Something small and green came in like a cannonball. The Quarryman doubled over, and something small and grey walloped him on the head with a tote bag. Absurdly, Ebon had time to read the "I (heart) N.Y." legend as the man crashed to the floor. "More gargoyles!" one of the Quarrymen yelled. "Too many! Need backup! Retreat!" "Oh, no you don't!" a rose-hued female said, hiking her knee into his groin hard enough to lift his feet off the floor. The big blue one dodged a hammer strike, picked up the man that the small ones had decked, and hurled him at the rest. "Not even you deserve these guys," the small green gargoyle said to Ebon, seizing a cymbal and chucking it like a frisbee at the one who'd gotten kneed in the groin. It hit him in the jaw and knocked him out. Ebon saw one make a grab for Julianna and strength surged through him. He was over there without really knowing how he got there, caught the man by the belt, yanked him backward and sent him reeling into the wall. Julianna threw herself against him, sobbing. Quarrymen were scrambling for the door, those that could. The blue and rose gargoyles went in pursuit while the green one tore up handfuls of thick cable and began tying up the ones that were down. The grey female looked in her tote bag, tsked and said, "I hope I didn't break my camera. At least the wand is all right." "Thank you," Ebon said cautiously, some of his injuries holdovers from his last attempt to talk to these strange young gargoyles. "We saw their hovercraft," the green one said, pulling his knot viciously tight. "Followed them back here." "Why did you help me this time, and attack me before?" Ebon asked. "Like I said, not even you deserve these guys." The other two came back in, lugging a Quarryman between them. "The others got away," the blue one said in evident disgust as he hurled the body over with the rest. "Now, what do we do about Thailog?" Ebon sighed. "That name means nothing to me. I don't even know you." "Don't give us that again --" the blue one started. "It's true!" Julianna said, her beautiful voice silencing the gargoyle. "Ebon has amnesia. He doesn't remember anything." They stared, first at her and then at him. He nodded. "And we're supposed to believe that?" the green one said skeptically. "Lex, it could be true," the grey one said. "You said he was in a fight ..." "He was injured when we found him," Julianna explained. "I don't know what you know about him, and I don't really want to, but you have to believe that whatever he was before, he's a good person now. When he saw you on the roof during the concert, he just wanted to talk to you because he'd never seen others like himself." Lex frowned thoughtfully. "I ... I guess it could be true." "It's a trick!" the blue one said. "Broadway, come on!" The rose one rolled her eyes. "Why would they lie?" "You don't know him. He lies as well as Xanatos!" "But Xanatos is your friend now," the grey one pointed out. "Well ... that's different." "Wait, wait." Lex held up his hands. "I think they're telling the truth. And we've got enemies enough without opening old wounds. Let's just let it go." "That's crazy," Broadway declared. "What's crazy," the rose one said, "is that here we are, backstage with Scarlet Angel, and nobody's asking for autographs!" * * Manhattan, 3:45 A.M. "Do you think it'll be all right?" Aiden asked Lex as they glided toward the Statue of Liberty. Lex shrugged, causing him to dip in the air. "I'm going to tell Goliath everything. If Thailog -- I mean, Ebon -- does have amnesia, there's still some things he'd got to know. About Demona, at least. Because sooner or later, she's going to find out about him and come after him." "But that was a whole year ago." "You don't know Demona. She can hold a grudge for a thousand years. Ask MacBeth. One year is nothing to her." "He seems okay," Aiden ventured. "Yeah," Lex said. "He kind of does. It's weird. I mean, he's kept the business sense Xanatos programmed into him, but other than that ... he's a lot more like Goliath than he ever used to be. Like he's got Goliath's instincts or something." Lady Liberty rose before them, green and peaceful in the night, her torch held high. Aiden had visited the island with her parents, but there was a big difference between coming over on the ferry and approaching by air. From here, for instance, she could see a blackened spot on the great book. She pointed it out to Lex. "Hey, Broadway!" Lex called. "Didn't you crash a Steel Clan robot down there?" "Think so. I wrecked so many of those, I lost track." The four of them spiraled down and landed on the statue's crown. From here, they had a spectacular view of the city. "This has to be the most interesting date I've ever been on." Birdie grinned at Aiden. "And to think, when I first saw you, I said to myself, 'now, this one is going to be boresville!' Proved me wrong, Ferguson!" "My life _was_ boresville," Aiden said. "Before I met Lex." She rested her head on his shoulder. "Tired?" he asked. "Exhausted. When I woke up this morning, I thought I'd just spend the evening studying and go to bed right after watching E.R." "And you turn back at sunrise?" She nodded. "This has been really neat, though." "Yeah." He stroked the crest rising from her head. "Really neat. I wish you could stay like this." "I thought about it." She glanced at him shyly. "But Miss St. John would have a conniption. Not to mention my parents. And I wouldn't be able to use the wand anymore." "You couldn't give that up. So we just have to enjoy it while we can." He leaned over and kissed her firmly. "Looks like they could use a little privacy," Birdie said to Broadway. "Anyplace around here we could get something to eat?" "I know an ice cream place that's open all night. I stopped a robbery there once, and the owner gives me half-price." "Oh, my hero!" Birdie cried rapturously. "Split a hot fudge sundae?" "With extra whipped cream!" "Great!" She dove from Lady Liberty. "Meet you back at the car, Ferguson!" Lex chuckled as he watched them go. "They sure seemed to hit it off." "Well, Birdie's very outgoing." "I noticed. Bet you anything that Broadway asks me to keep parts of what happened tonight a secret. From Angela, especially. He was getting more action than me, and on the first date!" "Really?" "That's what it looked like, anyway." Aiden sighed. "I'm sorry, Lex. I've just never been ... you know, free-spirited." "You've got nothing to apologize for. You're terrific, Aiden. I mean it." He kissed her again. "I don't want you to be disappointed," she said when the warm kiss ended, "but I don't know if I'm ready for ... that." "That what? Oh! That!" He laughed. "Hey, just because I've been waiting for ten centuries is no reason for you to feel obligated!" "I'm serious!" "Okay, Aiden. Okay. Serious." He clasped her hands and looked into her eyes. "Seriously, I'm in love with you." She gasped, thrilled and almost tearful in her happiness. "And yeah, I want to do something about it," he continued. "You're beautiful, as a human or as a gargoyle. I'd have to be blind or stupid not to notice. But I'm in no hurry. I can wait. Well, unless you pet my back again, in which case I'll turn into a wild animal and be all over you." Aiden giggled. "Guess I know what to do when I am ready, then." "Deal! So, now do we get to make out some more?" "There's something I have to tell you first." "What?" "Lex, I love you too." * * Manhattan, 7:05 A.M. Dominique Destine fixed herself a quick but large breakfast of blueberry muffins, coffee, and orange juice. She switched on the television for company as she dressed for work. Strange, how quickly she'd gotten used to having Vito around the house and how long it was taking to get over his absence. One would think that, since she had killed him herself months ago, she would have experienced some closure in the matter, but she kept expecting him to wander into the kitchen and greet her with that polite little smile of his. He was dead and gone, though. And soon she would forget all about him. In the meantime, she had the inane chatter of the morning news to keep her mind occupied. She listened with half an ear while planning her strategy for her first meeting of the day. A Mr. Nicholas Diamant. Much as it galled her, she had a better chance of destroying the Quarrymen if she was able to infiltrate their organization. " -- revealed to be a gargoyle!" Dominique knocked her coffee cup to the floor as she spun to face the television, suddenly sure that she'd been exposed and ruined. The blow-dried newscaster's unnaturally perfect smile gave way to a film clip of a crowded concert, and a dark form gliding down to the stage. She knew that form, knew it intimately. When the spotlight gleamed over skin like obsidian and hair like snow, she upended her dining room table. "Thailog!" * * The End.
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