Maggie finally got up from her crouch over the toilet bowl, wiped her mouth, and leaned against the door to the bathroom, letting the tears come again. She hated morning sickness, she hated being alone, and she wanted her man back home again! Derrek had been gone for almost a month now, hunting Doctor Sevarius, and the nightmares came almost every night now. Come back, Derrek! Her mind screamed. I don’t care about what our baby will look like anymore, I just can’t face this alone!
Like an old-fashioned record with a scratch in it, her mind kept replaying that day exactly one month ago, and she kept wishing she could take the words back, take it all back…
That day had begun with Maggie flailing her way out of the pile of pillows and blankets that she and Derrek used for a bed, and rushing for the bathroom down the hall. She’d made it barely in time, and after she’d finished heaving up what little food she’d managed to keep down the night before, she found Derrek standing worriedly behind her. "Honey, this has gone on for too long to be another case of food poisoning," he said grimly. With most of their food often received from dubious sources, it was always a worry in the Labyrinth, but he was right; she’d been heaving nearly constantly for over a week. "I know you don’t much like doctors anymore, any more than Claw or I do, but I really think we’re going to have to find one for you. Much as I hate to say it, we’re going to have to contact Xanatos and see who he can round up that can help us."
Maggie shook her head as she tried to clear the taste of bile from her mouth. "We don’t have to," she choked out. "I already know what’s wrong."
"Well, what is it?!" Derrek demanded, as she fumbled in the wastebasket under the sink, and pulled out the little stick she’d used two days before. "What’s this thing?"
"It’s results of a pregnancy test," she said dully. "I asked Ruth to buy one for me last week… And it’s positive."
Derrek sat down hard, right on the tiled floor of the bathroom. "Positive? As in, you’re pregnant?" She silently nodded, and he stared at her for a few seconds as he silently mouthed, Pregnant. Baby. Then he said it aloud: "A baby! A baby! This is great! We’re going to be parents!" He’d jumped to his feet and whooped for joy as he’d picked Maggie up, carried her out into the hallway and swung her around as if she weighed no more than a feather. But his ear-to-ear grin faded when he realized that she wasn’t as overjoyed as he was, wasn’t smiling at all, and even had unshed tears in her eyes. "Maggie? Doll? Aren’t you happy?"
She hugged him tightly, burying her face in his pelt. "I should be, but I’m terrified!"
"But honey, you’ve said before, you’ve always dreamed of being a mother…"
"Yes, a mother, of a human baby! What are we going to have?! It’s bad enough that we’re monsters, but how can we bring a baby monster into the world?!"
Derrek jerked as if she had slapped him, and lowered his head to look off to one side. He couldn’t meet her eyes for the rest of the afternoon, even when he presented her with a box of her favorite chocolates that he must have been saving for her upcoming birthday. That evening, he suddenly announced, "I’m going to find that bastard, and give him the choice of either helping us or dying slowly. And I swear, if he doesn’t, I’ll kill him with my bare claws."
There was no need for her to ask who "that bastard" was, but she did anyway. "Dr. Sevarius?"
"Yes. He’s going to either cure us, or at least make sure we have a healthy human baby, or he’s going to die."
Derrek sent a message off to Xanatos the next day, saying that if he was serious about wanting to help them in any way he could, then he would provide them with a small private plane, a credit card for fuel and airport fees, and no questions asked. Xanatos had responded the next day with an envelope containing a credit card and the keys to and location of a Cessna reserved in his name. Derrek had left that night, with only Delilah for a companion to help in the search. The female clone had been a little confused about who they were hunting down and why, but had gone along readily enough when Maggie had insisted that Derrek have somebody along to watch his back. Claw had offered to go instead, conveying in his silent fashion that he’d be happy to help hunt down the man who’d taken and warped their humanity, and really happy to help ‘persuade’ him, by any means necessary, to change them back. Derrek had refused, though; he needed somebody to keep an eye on the other Labyrinth dwellers and protect them all, and Maggie’s ‘morning sickness’, hitting her at any hour of the day, made her an ineffectual protector at best. And Delilah, though smarter by far than any of the other clones and an excellent fighter, was still woefully lacking in the social skills and experience needed to keep the peace among so many people; she would be of better use in guarding Derrek’s back while he hunted the scientist down.
Before he had left, Gary and his wife Ruth had given him a batch of pre-addressed and stamped envelopes, addressed to the post office box their brother kept up for them so they could receive mail and have an address for their job resumes. Derrek had promised to send news of his progress every few days, and he’d been doing so faithfully up until ten days ago. His last letter had been about meeting his sisters in Las Vegas, and how they had accepted Delilah without any qualms, much to his relief. He’d also written that Elisa had admitted that she and Goliath were lovers now, which didn’t surprise Maggie any more than it had surprised him; she was only a little surprised that it had taken them so long to get together. They’d both known Goliath was in love with Elisa ever since that time he’d kidnapped Sevarius and tried to force him to come up with a cure for them, just because he didn’t want her to be sad over her brother’s mutated state anymore. But remembering that time only brought Maggie close to tears again; there was still that little voice inside her, wondering if the vial he’d left them with had really been a cure after all. They’d disposed of the vial, knowing they couldn’t trust him, but even as she’d watched it drop out of sight, a part of her had wanted to dive after it. But if they couldn’t trust him to come up with a real cure for their condition back then, how could they trust him to make one for them now?
She’d asked Derrek that question just before he’d left, and he’d just given her a grim look and told her, "There’s a way, love. Trust me, there’s a way." It wasn’t until after he’d left that Maggie had remembered that Xanatos had most of Sevarius’ notes still on file in his own computers, including the formula for the mutagen that had given them their fur and wings. She had a sinking feeling that once Derrek had his hands on Sevarius, he would tell the mad scientist that any cure he made for them would first be tested on Sevarius’ own mutated body… The thought gave her shivers of revulsion all up and down her spine, but how else would they know it was safe to take?
In that letter from Las Vegas, Derrek had written at the end that he’d had a new lead on Sevarius’ whereabouts; he was reported to be at a secret lab in northern California. That had been the last letter, and after ten days of no word Maggie’s fears had her ready to run shrieking out into the night. What if Sevarius had captured them, what if they were in cages now? What if their plane had crashed? What if some midnight poacher had decided to shoot at the winged monsters flying overhead? So much could go wrong, might have gone wrong already…
But standing there thinking about all that might have gone wrong wasn’t going to help Maggie get through the day. She straightened her spine and squared her shoulders, and got started on her daily duties. Maggie’s pregnancy wasn’t general knowledge yet, or so she thought; she didn’t want people either hovering over her every few minutes or looking at her in horror for what she might be carrying. A few people had already guessed, like Ruth and Gary, but she’d sworn them to secrecy about it. Still, they’d discreetly relieved her of a few of the chores she had previously shared with them, like cooking in the main kitchen. That was a genuine relief, since these days the smell of food cooking had her running for the bathroom as often as not. But still, she insisted on taking her turn in delivering meals to Fang in his cell.
After his breakout with Demona and his recapture, Fang was in a new cell. This one had been designed and built with Lexington’s help, and much like the unknown glasslike material of the old cell, its bars could absorb huge amounts of electricity and shunt it right back to its occupant, as Fang had found to his pained chagrin. But they’d forgotten to modify the bars for a food slot before welcoming Fang to his new home, and so three times a day someone had to open his cell door to bring in his food tray and take out the old one, while somebody else stood outside and out of arm’s reach with the one weapon Talon allowed down here, a heavy-duty tranquilizer gun. So long as the gun was loaded and ready, there was little risk of Fang trying to take his meal-bringer hostage or use him/her as a human shield, since the rifle-wielder could shoot both Fang and the hostage with no worries about doing any more damage than a long enforced nap and a hangover-like headache afterwards.
Everyone took their turn in feeding Fang, and today it was Maggie’s turn to bring him his breakfast. After forcing down her own breakfast (and begging her stomach to just this once, keep it down there), she picked up his tray at the main kitchen and headed down to his cell. As she walked, the smell of the fried eggs made her gorge rise again, but she sternly forced it back down. Amos and Gary met her along the way to his cell, Amos toting the tranquilizer gun. She smiled weakly at them both, while wondering if her secret was out in the open after all; she didn’t used to merit two escorts for this duty.
Once they’d reached the cell, Gary unlocked it while Amos carefully took aim at the sullen Fang as he sat up on his cot. "It’s about frigging time!" Fang complained, like he always did. "I’ve been starving for hours!" Maggie made no reply as she carried his tray in and set it down, clenching her jaw against that awful urge again. Unlike last week, this time Fang noticed, and there seemed to be a note of actual concern in his voice as he asked her, "Hey, what’s up with you?" He stared suspiciously at his tray as he said, "The food ain’t spoiled again, is it?"
"Th-the food’s fine," Maggie said through clenched teeth, as she backed out of the cell with the old tray and closed the door. "I’m just not feeling well."
"Yeah, you’re looking kinda green," Fang said as he looked at her more closely. "But you’re putting on weight, toots…" Then the light bulb almost visibly clicked in his head, and he chortled. "You’re knocked up, ain’tcha?"
"Mind your mouth!" Amos snapped at him, as his finger tightened just a bit on the trigger.
That only confirmed Fang’s suspicions, of course, and he leered at her as he said in a singsong voice, "Somebody’s going to have kittens! Probably a whole litter…"
That did it; still facing the bars, Maggie leaned forward abruptly and let fly with a projectile stream worthy of Linda Blair. Fang yowled and tried too late to dodge away as the vomit spattered his fur. "Oh, maaannn! What’d you do that for?!"
"S-sorry," Maggie said, blushing beneath her fur and with her ears plastered against her skull in absolute, Please-God-just-kill-me-now mortification. She ducked her head and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand… which incidentally hid the crazy smile that was threatening to form at the sight of Fang also standing there in ears-back dismay, gesturing uselessly at his soiled tunic and fur.
"Cripes, this is gawdawful!" Fang howled. "How am I supposed to get this out of my fur?!"
"Oh, allow me!" Amos said brightly, and trotted with Gary down the hall and around the corner, while Maggie stared after them curiously. She was unable to keep the grin from her face when Gary came back a moment later, toting the end of a fire hose.
"Oh, hey, don’t--" Fang protested as soon as he saw the nozzle, but his voice was drowned out by Gary’s cheerful, "Let ‘er rip, Amos!" and seconds later, a solid stream of water gushed out of the fire hose, knocking Fang back against the walls of his cell. She knew it wasn’t right for her to feel this way, it was mean and cruel and not at all the proper behavior for a lady, but Fang’s yowls and snarls as the water indeed washed the vomit away brought the first genuine laughter to Maggie’s lips in the last few weeks.
* * *
Later on, the laughter was gone as she sat alone in the living room and stared at the floor. It was at quiet moments like this that she missed Derrek the most, sitting in the room they’d decorated together. They’d done their best to make their dwelling as much like a typical suburban home as they could, scrounging materials from behind department stores, the Salvation Army’s drop-off docks and other such places on midnight raids. The couch in their living room had been acquired that way; it was sturdy enough to take even Goliath’s weight without creaking, and had only needed a few tears sewn shut to make it presentable. It was upholstered in a muted blue and gray plaid that reminded Maggie of her father’s favorite chair back in Ohio, and Derrek said that the look in Maggie’s eyes when he’d walked in carrying that couch on his back had made it more than worth all the trouble it had been for him and Claw to sneak the thing across the rooftops for so many blocks. That had been just three weeks before he’d left, and now she stroked the armrest of his last big gift to her and hoped to God that it wouldn’t be the last one ever.
Claw knocked on the doorjamb, looking at her in concern. "Come on in," she said dully, though she tried to smile at him. He wasn’t fooled, and he sat down beside her and hugged her reassuringly. She knew Claw had faith in Talon’s survival instincts, and was convinced that he’d be home any day now. She tried to have that kind of faith, but she was just so scared that something had gone horribly wrong, and she would have to raise their baby alone…
No, not alone, she realized as Claw soothingly stroked the fur on her shoulder. She had friends here, friends even more reliable than her old gang of friends back in Ohio who had eventually stopped writing, even before her mutation. She had Claw, and Ruth, and Gary and Amos and so many others who accepted her as she was now without reservation, with smiles and help whenever they could. So long as she had them, she wouldn’t be alone. She smiled a little wider at him, and he smiled back, his silence speaking volumes.
Suddenly she heard voices approaching, still at a distance, but… One of them sounded like Derrek! No, she wasn’t imagining it, not with Claw’s face suddenly lighting up with a wide grin as he heard it too! And now she heard his voice clearly, doing that hearty Fred Flintstone imitation that Derrek liked to do to make her laugh: "Hi, honey, I’m home!"
"Derrek!" Maggie shot out of the room and barreled down the corridor, running right into Derrek and bowling him over. They ended up with him sprawled flat on his back in the dust, and her lying on top of him and covering his face with kisses and love-nips.
He grinned up at her as he stroked her hair. "Hey, for a welcome like this, I should go away more often!"
"Don’t you dare!" she scolded him. "I’ve been worried sick over you; it’s been over a week with no word at all, not even a postcard!"
Derrek looked contrite. "I’m sorry, sweets. I accidentally threw out the last of the pre-addressed envelopes when I was cleaning the plane out at the Las Vegas airport; Delilah’s gravel was getting kind-of deep in the back. I sent a letter from California, but I must have remembered the post office box number wrong," as they got to their feet. "Well, I guess somebody else up there has probably gotten a very weird letter by now…"
"Oh, who cares, so long as you’re back safe and sound!" as she hugged him tightly again.
He returned the hug with interest for a moment, then eased off and pulled back to ask her with concern, "Was I hugging too tight? I mean, you being pregnant and all…"
"No, you weren’t hugging hard enough!" and she demonstrated how she wanted it with a hard, rib-creaking squeeze that had him wheezing in protest. He didn’t hug her back quite that hard, but at least he didn’t handle her like spun glass either.
After a few more precious moments, Derrek pulled back and scratched his ear for a second, a sure sign that he was a little unsure about the consequences of something he’d done. "Maggie… I brought somebody home with Delilah and me. He’s waiting a little further down the hall."
Maggie paled beneath her fur. "Sevarius?" she asked with a quaver in her voice.
"No, not Sevarius. He’s dead," Derrek assured her grimly, "and this time I checked the body myself. No, this is another of his experiments."
Maggie sighed; she’d almost been expecting this. Some guys collected beer cans, some people took in stray kittens; her man took in stray people. "Don’t tell me, let me guess. A clone of Angela? Then we’ll have the whole set."
Derrek snorted in amusement, then sobered. "No, not another gargoyle clone. Another mutate, but of a different sort; no wings," as he led her around the corner. "Maggie, meet Samson. Samson, this is Maggie."
Maggie’s eyes first just registered a wall of dark shaggy fur, a heavier pelt than either hers or Derrek’s. Then she looked up… and up…
"My God," she breathed. "How tall are you?"
"Seven feet nine inches, when he stands up straight," Derrek informed her from behind, sounding a little amused. "We found a tape measure."
This huge furred mutate had a simian-looking face, unlike the other mutates’ feline features; it reminded her of a caveman’s face in a movie she’d seen once, only with more fur around the features and more intelligence shining through those odd golden eyes. Whatever he was, he was visibly embarrassed by her gaze, and was hunching his shoulders trying to shrink into himself, without much success. "Um… Hi," he whispered shyly.
Blushing under her fur as she realized that she was staring at him the same way that most newcomers to the Labyrinth stared at her, Maggie said aloud, "Where are my manners? Welcome to our home, Samson!"
"Thank you," Samson said shyly, and his voice had an eerie quality to it that somehow reminded her of a woodlands creature singing to the moon.
"Maggie is good friend," Delilah chirped up, and Maggie finally noticed her. (First time ever that a gargoyle had faded into the background, but Samson had made for quite the surprise.) She was hanging onto one of Samson’s shaggy arms, smiling up at him reassuringly. And Maggie thought there might just be a little more than reassurance in that smile…
After a few more words of greeting, Delilah said brightly, "Come, I show you my brothers!" as she tugged Samson farther down the corridor. "They not so smart, but they try hard; they will like you too!"
"Come on back here when you’re hungry!" Derrek called after them, while wrapping an arm around Maggie. "Smells like the kitchen crew has dinner almost ready!"
Maggie smiled and sighed happily as she leaned into Derrek’s embrace. She had her man back, and suddenly the future looked a whole lot brighter than it had a little while ago. She even found her appetite returning; for the first time in weeks, she was looking forward to dinner. Relief and happiness made her almost giddy, and she teasingly asked, "So, did you bring me anything?"
Derrek grinned as he said, "As a matter of fact, I did! Brought you some pinecones from the Redwood Forest—Delilah brought a whole box of ‘em back for the other clones—and I brought you something from Beth, too. She gave it to me when I met her and Elisa in Vegas," he explained as he reached for the dufflebag at their feet. He opened it and pulled out a stuffed toy, a little black panther. "Our kid’s first toy," he said with a lopsided grin.
Maggie smiled as she rubbed her nose against the toy’s
furry muzzle. "Looks a little bit like you," she murmured. "Guess it’s
more appropriate than a teddy bear, huh?" But she smiled up at him as she
said it, and for the first time she really didn’t care about what her baby
would look like when it was born. It would be the child of this man right
in front of her, looking at her with love in his eyes, and a child born
of such love couldn’t help but be wonderful, not a monster at all.