A Gargoyles Christmas Special Christine Morgan (firstname.lastname@example.org) comments welcome
Author's Note: this story is dedicated to my fellow garg fans and the folks at Disney (to whom most of these characters belong). Warmest Season's Greetings to all!
PART ONE -- "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus ..." "Remind me again," said the Puck, wind streaming back his long white hair and jingling the belled tassels of the cap he wore, "how you talked me into this." Bronx whined, either seconding the motion or in protest. It was hard to tell which made the doggoyle the most unhappy: being whisked along unsupported by anything except Puck's magic, or wearing stuffed felt reindeer antlers and a red leather harness studded with big brass bells. "Hush up, the both of ye pair o' humbugs," Hudson said gruffly, squinting into the granular snow and correcting for the weight of the heavy, lumpy burlap bag. "I didna want to be doing this by myself, but nor did I want the others to see me like this." "Well, I think you look perfectly darling," Puck teased, zipping effortlessly over Hudson and plucking at the fur-trimmed collar of his red suit. "Say 'ho-ho-ho' again." "Ho, ho ho," Hudson sighed. "Oh, come on! You can do better than that! After all, this was your idea!" "Well, ye went along with it! And all I did was ask ye for a sack. 'Twas yer curious snooping that led to ye finding out what I was planning. Ye invited yerself along, so ye've no cause to complain. Why did ye, anyway?" "Who else looks the part?" Puck shrugged and extended his feet in front of him to inspect his little pointy shoes. "True, the wardrobe leaves something to be desired ... I don't think this green suits me. I need a more Robin Hood green, Lincoln green." He waggled his fingers and shimmered, his outfit darkening a few shades. "Ah! Splendid! What a wondrous freedom it is to be myself again!" "Aye, frolic all ye want, laddie, but if Oberon catches ye, 'tis no one's fault but yer own." "Pah. He loves this time of year! He wouldn't be mad." Even as he spoke, Puck shot a quick glance around, and his merry grin seemed strained. "Hrowf," Bronx said. He brought up his hind leg to scratch vigorously at his harness, then looked down at the city lights blurring past below him and whined again. "Now, _he_ looks ridiculous," Puck remarked. He flexed his fingers, cracked his knuckles. "Want me to turn him into the real thing?" "Nay!" Hudson's cry was drowned out by Bronx's frantic bark. "Spoilsports." "Ye'll get over it." "Oh, that I will. I'm sure I'll find plenty of things to amuse myself! But do, do come back to the castle that way! It would be the hit of the party." "Thank ye, but nay." Hudson briefly imagined the look on Goliath's face, and shuddered. "Now, let's be hurrying along." * * The volume of the tv nearly drowned out the sounds of the kids arguing. Maria Chavez went into the small kitchen, rubbed her aching head, and added a hearty dollop of rum to her eggnog. There went another hundred or so calories. And dinner wasn't even ready yet. "Mom!" Sarah burst in. "Josh won't let me watch Rudolph!" "Mom, do we have to watch that stupid baby show?" Josh, at twelve, was two years older than Sarah and looked more and more like Alan every day. "We _always_ watch Rudolph on Christmas Eve!" Sarah insisted. "It's _so_ lame!" "Is not! It's a tradition!" "Kids! Kids! Josh, what's the matter with letting her put on the show? If you don't like it, you don't have to watch." "There's nothing else to do. My Gameboy batteries are dead. If I had a Playstation --" "Dad says you can't have one!" Sarah butted in. "They're too expensive. So there!" "Well, he got you a bike!" Maria snapped her fingers sharply. To her surprise, the trick which she hadn't used in five years worked, and both children quieted and turned to look up at her. "Okay. Sarah, you can watch Rudolph, and as soon as it's over, Josh gets to choose a show." As the boy's lip began to pooch out in that pouty way that always drove her crazy, she finished quickly. "Josh, you can peel the potatoes. That should keep you from being bored while you wait." Sarah stuck out her tongue at her brother and started to prance back to the living room. "And you, Sarah, when Rudolph is done, can set the table." "Ha, ha!" Josh jeered, imitating the bully from The Simpsons. With that fight defused, Maria returned her attention to the kitchen. The turkey was almost done, the gravy had turned out nice and thick, and both pies were in the fridge. Pumpkin for her and Josh, peach for Sarah. Josh hauled the bag of spuds out from under the sink and set to work with a few token grumbles. "Don't get too many peelings down the drain," she cautioned him. He looked askance at the baking dish full of yams, and the bag of miniature marshmallows she was about to open. "Are you going to put those on there?" "Yes, why?" "Rhonda says you're just supposed to cook them with brown sugar." "Well," she said, trying to keep her voice light, "Rhonda isn't here, is she?" "Yeah, but she says --" "Rhonda decided at the last minute that she and your father were going to spend Christmas in Hawaii, didn't she? So, since she's doing that, why don't we just make the yams my way?" "Jeez, Mom, sorry!" She sighed, then smiled and ruffled his hair, making him roll his eyes. "No, honey, I'm the one that should apologize. Work's been tough, and I wasn't expecting you and Sarah for Christmas. Not that you aren't welcome! I love having you here and I'm so glad you came! But I thought you were all going out to the ranch to spend the holidays with Rhonda's folks, so I didn't have your room ready or food for a good Christmas dinner." "I'm sick of that dumb old ranch anyway," he said, chopping at a potato. "They don't even have cable, and there's nobody to play with for miles and all the kids out there are dorks anyway." "That's too bad," Maria said, trying not to smirk. "Mom, do you like Rhonda?" "I hardly even know her," she evaded. "But your father likes her, and so do you and Sarah. That's what matters." "She's okay. Better than Lisa. And lots better than Candee." Maria fought valiantly to keep her face expressionless, although she wanted to grimace at the mention of the exotic dancer Alan had first hooked up with after moving out. An investment broker, already balding, already with the beginnings of a middle class pot belly, and an airhead blond with more implants than all the cast of Baywatch. "How come they didn't take us to Hawaii?" Josh asked. "Well ... I don't know, but isn't it nice that we get to be together?" "Hey, she's putting in another tape!" Josh cried, peeking into the living room. He threw down the potato peeler and raced to grab the remote away from Sarah. "I was going to watch Frosty!" "Rudolph's done! It's my turn!" "You're helping Mom!" "Gimme that!" "Owww! Leggo!" "Quit kicking me, you little brat!" Maria plucked Sarah away from Josh. He rubbed his leg and glared at her. Sarah struggled and broke into whiney sobs. "Sarah, I told you that Josh got to pick next." "You always let him do what he wants!" Sarah bawled. "You like him better! Why did I have to come here? I wanted to go see the horses, and Ellie and Lou! I hate it here!" "Sweetheart, you don't mean that," Maria said, trying to be soothing and thinking that, much as she hated seeing battered children brought into the station, there were times when any parent just felt like giving a kid a whack. "I do! I do! I do!" "Dad and Rhonda spoil her rotten!" Josh accused. "They do not!" "That's enough!" Maria yelled. She set Sarah down roughly. "It's Christmas Eve, dammit! I am going to have peace and harmony if I have to lock you in your room!" Sarah was too stunned to keep up her tantrum. Josh moved slowly, reaching to turn off the television. Maria turned her back on both of them and stalked into the kitchen, where she picked up the peeler and began brutally skinning the potatoes. The silence held as she chopped up the potatoes and dumped them into a pot of boiling water. She basted the turkey, opened a can of cranberry jelly (wonder what sainted wonderful Rhonda would say about _that_), and piled twice as many marshmallows as usual onto the yams. "Uh, Mom?" Josh said hesitantly from the doorway. Sarah was crowded behind him. She instantly turned and opened her arms. Both kids ran to her and they embraced there in the middle of the kitchen, all of them trying to apologize at once, words stumbling over each other. "Oh, kids," Maria said, kissing each of them on the cheek. "Let's try and have a good holiday, okay? I know you didn't plan to come here, that you feel dropped off and left out, but I'm your mother and I love you, and I want nothing more than for us to have a wonderful Christmas together. So how about you go wash up, and we'll get this dinner on the table?" They scampered off to the tiny bathroom, and miraculously didn't fight over who got to go first but shared the sink and the soap. Then, without being asked, they helped each other set the table while Maria put the last touches on the meal. "Can I turn on the tree lights?" Josh pleaded. "I know it isn't time yet, but ..." "Go ahead." Maria saw no reason to keep up with Alan's foolish custom of leaving the tree unlit until Christmas morning. "I wish I'd gotten a bigger one this year, but with no one to enjoy it but me and -- but me, I didn't think I needed it." Josh picked up the tree, an eighteen-inch spruce in a red foil- wrapped pot, and switched on the single strand of lights. "That's okay, this one is cute." Sarah adjusted the plastic star on top and flashed Maria one of her adorable smiles. There was a knock on the glass door. A taloned tap that Maria had heard many times before. She whirled in that direction, nearly dropping the gravy boat. "It's ..." Josh said, staring at the large figure. "Santa?" Sarah asked tremulously. "Wow, cool!" Josh cried. He dashed to the door, flipped the lock, and slid it open. Cold wind swirled snow across the carpet. "A gargoyle!" "Ho, ho ho!" Bronx bounded in, jingling with a dozen brass bells, antlers hanging askew on his head. He went right for the couch, jumped up next to Sarah, and began to lick her face. The girl eeked and giggled and squealed. "He's slobbering on me!" "Hudson, oh my God, what are you doing?" Maria said, feeling hysterical laughter bubble up in her throat. He was wearing a Santa costume, toting a huge bag, and with Bronx as his reindeer had everything to complete the picture except ... ... an elf. Maria's jaw dropped as the green-clad sprite flew into her apartment, spun around, perched cheekily on nothing at all, and laughed merrily. "Oh, no, no, no! This will never do! Let's deck these halls and don we now our gay apparel! Fa la la, fa la la, la la la!" "Behave yerself!" Hudson said. "Twinkle, twinkle, little tree," the elf chanted, pointing. "This is what, by Puck, you'll be!" A thin strand of gold sparkles shot from his finger and curled around the tree, which grew suddenly to eight feet, bedecked with gold balls and strands of shining silver beads. The plastic star transformed into a dazzling crystalline many-pointed starburst of white light. "What are ye doing?" Hudson asked warningly. "Dinna be getting too frisky with yer magic, now!" "I'm just getting warmed up!" Puck fired off several more bolts. A plastic holly wreath levitated, expanded, and stretched out into a garland that looped its way all along the living room walls, sprouting large red velvet bows. The fat red candle that had been in the middle of it divided into a brass carousel, with tinkling bells and angels above twelve tinier candles. Maria and her kids were all suddenly wearing bright red pants and matching green and white ski sweaters with a snowflake pattern. Earrings shaped like Christmas ornaments dangled from Maria's ears. A brick fireplace appeared where the closet door had been, and a moment later whooshed into blazing warmth. Three bulging stockings, embroidered with their names, hung from the mantle. A small handcrafted and painted wooden nativity scene resting on top of the television was lost in a cloud of smoke, which then cleared to reveal a crowd of people and animals. Sheep bleated, a camel uttered a honking snort, three crowned men turned in surprise with gifts in their hands, a child wailed. "Nope, went a little too far," Puck said, waving his hand and returning the nativity scene to normal size. "Control yerself!" Hudson scowled. "For someone dressed like Santa, you sure don't have much Christmas spirit! Better practice your ho-ho-ho some more!" Hudson looked at Maria, embarrassed. "He be a friend, sort of." "Why, I thought you didn't like me!" Puck chortled and soared effortlessly around them in a complex figure eight. Josh and Sarah were just standing and gaping. Sarah's hands were clamped on the sides of Bronx's head to hold him back, but her arms were strengthless and the doggoyle butted her into the couch. She slid to the floor, still openmouthed. "Mom...?" Josh finally managed to say. "Is it real? Is it?" "Aye, lad," Hudson said. "Merry Christmas to ye." "Are you ... Santa?" Sarah asked, getting off the floor and stumbling as Bronx bumped her in the knees. "Nay, young lassie, I be but a friend o' yer mother's, come to bring ye some holiday cheer." "Mom, you know a gargoyle! That's so cool!" Josh cried. "What's your name? Is this your dog? Is he a real elf? He looks like a real elf. Do you have a sleigh or did you fly by your wings? Are you one of those gargoyles that was on tv? I thought that was all made up! Are those presents for us?" Sarah made up for her earlier shocked silence in a single burst. Hudson took a step back, chuckling and holding up his hands. "One at a time, lassie, one at a time! I'm called Hudson, and that there be Bronx. Him ye can call Puck." "At your service, milady!" Puck seized up Maria's hands and bowed over them, all while floating several inches above the carpet. "And aye, these presents be for ye," Hudson said, lowering his sack with a sigh of relief. "'Tis glad I am to be putting that down, I tell ye!" "Wow!" Josh was on his knees next to the bag in the blink of an eye, pulling it open and nearly hyperventilating in his excitement. "Can we open them? Look, that one has my name on it!" "What about the stockings?" Sarah jumped up and down, clinging to Maria's arm. "What about your supper?" Puck reminded. He hovered over the table, grabbed a spoon in each hand, and began to play music from the Nutcracker on the glasses and dishes. Maria, still dazed, looked helplessly at Hudson. He shrugged and smiled endearingly. She started to laugh. "Dinner can wait! Let's see what you got!" The kids, obviously having been ready with a chorus of "aww," blinked and then cheered. Josh started tearing ribbons and paper. Sarah went to the fireplace that shouldn't be there and took down stockings that seemed real enough. She dumped hers out and squealed in delight as all her favorite candies poured across the coffee table. "You shouldn't have," Maria said to Hudson. "How can you afford all this?" "I've a ... benefactor who owes my clan more than a few favors. He was pleased to provide the gifts. I hope yer wee ones like them." "You've made this the most memorable Christmas we'll ever have, and that's before they open a single box." "Ye were so worried," Hudson said. "I wanted to help." "Ooh, a jewelry-making kit!" Sarah, her mouth smeared with chocolate, hugged the box to herself. "A Playstation!" Josh cried rapturously. "And a bunch of games!" Bronx wallowed into a pile of discarded crumpled wrapping paper and rolled on his back, feet waving in the air. "I haven't seen them this happy in years." Maria looked shiningly at Hudson. "Thank you so much!" Puck snickered and pointed in their direction. The air above them rippled, and then a cluster of mistletoe tied with a red ribbon was suspended in midair. "Look where you're standing!" Hudson glanced up, and his skin darkened a few shades. Maria felt herself blushing as well. She was about to step away and laugh it off when, catching her utterly by surprise, Hudson swept his arm around her waist and pulled her close. She gasped at his easy strength, feeling her feet leave the floor. His kiss was clumsy but sweet, his beard tickly. Bronx bayed, the kids cheered, and Puck applauded, but neither Maria not Hudson paid them any attention. Finally he set her down, cleared his throat gruffly, and said, "Merry Christmas, lass." * * PART TWO -- "We Wish You A Merry Christmas ..." "How did we get talked into this?" Brooklyn wondered. "Easy," Lex replied, pausing to spit out a wad of fur that had come loose from the collar of Aiden's parka. "She just looked at you with those big eyes, and you melted like a Popsicle on a hot day." Aiden squirmed, trying to get her collar out of Lex's face without falling. "I think it's a great idea! Why, aren't you having fun?" Ahead of them, Angela beckoned. "I think he's home!" she called. "There are lights on!" Brooklyn sighed. "She's so beautiful ..." "Yeah, yeah. Come on, loverboy, let's glide!" Lex swooped down to land on the roof beside Angela and set Aiden down. "Are you okay? Not too cold?" "I'm fine," Aiden said. "This coat weighs half again as much as I do, but it sure is warm. Don't you ever get cold?" "Nah, not so much." Brooklyn landed and smiled at Angela, but his smile turned to a look of exaggerated dismay as she held up the matching red hats. "Do we have to? I mean, it was one thing wearing them at the Labyrinth, but here? This guy used to be our enemy." "Is this really MacBeth's house?" Aiden said, admiring the manor and elaborate grounds, gleaming under a deep mantle of snow and what looked like about four thousand twinkling white bulbs. "Hey, I think it was worse wearing them at the PIT place," Lex said, pulling on his hat. "We're just lucky the Quarrymen didn't show up!" "But did you see?" Angela said dreamily. "Did you see how thrilled they were when we came in? How their eyes lit up? They've done so much, trying to win acceptance for us, and they've hardly even seen us! When I heard that they were having a Christmas party, I knew it was the perfect opportunity!" She pertly donned her own hat. Aiden elbowed Brooklyn. "Oh, go on. It looks so cute!" He mock-growled at her but complied. "Are you sure MacBeth isn't going to shoot us down?" "That would hardly be in the Christmas spirit!" Angela sprang from the roof, glided right to the wide front step, and pulled the bell cord. The others lined up next to her. "What are we going to sing?" Lex hissed. "How about 'Greensleeves'?" Aiden hissed back. "It's medieval; he should like it." "Yes," Angela said. "And then the 'Carol of the Bells'." "Oh, man, that's a tough one," Brooklyn groused. "Just think like a bell," Lex advised. The door opened, spilling warm lamplight onto the snowy yard, and there stood MacBeth, immortal king. He was casually dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt, and casually armed with only one laser pistol. He looked at the group on his porch, three young gargoyles and a human, all wearing Santa hats, and raised an eyebrow. "One, two, three," Angela coached. "What child is this ..." they began, not perfectly and not always on-key, but with spirits high enough to make up for it. MacBeth stood, bemused, until they finished both songs. "I must say, it's been a long time since I've had carolers. Come in. Do come in." Brooklyn hesitated, doubtful, but Aiden went right in. "Hi, Professor!" "Miss Ferguson. Enjoying your semester break?" "Yes, very much! My parents and Aunt Mary came out for the holidays. We're all staying at the castle." "Where is the rest of your clan?" he asked as they stamped and shook off snow in his richly-paneled wood foyer. The air was fragrant with evergreen, cinnamon, and bayberry candles. "Father and Elisa left a few days ago, some big surprise they're planning. I don't know where Hudson went, and he took Bronx with him." Angela's bright eyes dimmed slightly. "And Broadway didn't want to come with us." "But here _we_ are," Brooklyn said immediately, reaching as if to touch her and drawing back at the last minute. She favored him with a sweet smile. "Since we're all friends now, can I see your security system?" Lex asked eagerly. "Lexington!" Aiden chided. MacBeth laughed. "Another time, perhaps. Shall we go to the kitchen? It is customary to offer a little something, and as it happens the water is already hot for cocoa." "This is better than trick-or-treats!" Lex said. "We had Maggie's caramel corn and hot cider at the Labyrinth --" "And eggnog punch and cookies at the PIT party," Aiden added. "Broadway's going to be sorry he missed it!" Lex finished. "He should be. Real sorry." Brooklyn looked meaningfully at Angela. Although he lived alone, MacBeth obviously went all-out for the holidays. His Christmas tree was fully fifteen feet high, adorned with ornaments and garlands in blue and gold. The bannister leading to the second floor gallery was entwined in evergreen and gold ribbon, and a forest-green runner embroidered with gold bells ran down the middle of the staircase. The front room was lit only by candlelight and the glow from a fireplace big enough to roast a whole ox. A miniature village, painstakingly painted and decorated, stood upon the mantle. The kitchen was awash with spices and the scent of fresh baked goods, something that always made gargoyle mouths water. "You demonstrate good timing, my young friends. My housekeeper did some holiday baking for me before leaving to stay with family." MacBeth produced a tray of rich breads, and soon also several steaming mugs of cocoa. "You know," Brooklyn said as he helped himself to another slice of cranberry nut bread, "it's hard to believe you once had us locked in a cage in the dungeon." "What's harder to believe is we burned this place down twice, and it still looks great," Lex said. MacBeth chuckled. "Demona's house would have to attack my house in order for either to be destroyed." "You're not serious, are you?" Aiden asked. "No, he's teasing," Lex said. "Hey, I've been wondering ... did you even know that Xanatos once attacked us with a robot made to look like you?" Angela gazed pensively out the window at the snow-covered machine gun turrets. Brooklyn hesitantly covered her hand with his. "No, I didn't." MacBeth scowled, then shook it off. "Ah, well, but that was before his change of heart. Family does that to a man. He's lucky. He's not alone now." "No one should be alone," Aiden said. "Especially on the holidays." "Now, watch out," Lex warned. "That sounds like what you were saying right before you cast that spell on Owen." "I didn't even bring the wand with me, don't worry!" "She's right, though," MacBeth said. "That's why I am so glad the four of you stopped by. You've brought some Christmas cheer to a lonely old man, and I thank you." "How come you don't have --" Aiden started, then turned pink and started to stammer. "I mean, you could have ... there's got to be ..." "What she means is," Lex grinned, "how come a hunk like you doesn't have a girlfriend?" "Lex!" Aiden gasped. "Smooth, real smooth," Brooklyn said. Angela hadn't pulled her hand away, so he gave her a gentle squeeze. MacBeth laughed ruefully. "Did you ever see a film called Highlander?" "Oh, yeah!" Lex said. "Six times!" "To live unchanging, while all those around you grow old and die ... having to keep everyone at a distance so your secret is not discovered ... eventually there is nothing but sadness. I was deeply in love once, and passionately in love once --" a faint troubled look crossed his face, gone almost as quick as it appeared, "-- and that is more than some men manage in a lifetime. I've no cause to complain." It was his turn to look out the window, burdened with a centuries-old sorrow that none of them could even begin to appreciate. Aiden and Lex glanced around the table. Angela, MacBeth, and Brooklyn were all lost in thought, on the verge of melancholy. "Well!" Lex clapped briskly. "Maybe you should drop by the castle tonight! Xanatos is having sort of a party. I bet you'd be welcome. Starts at midnight." "Thank you, but no," MacBeth said. "I'm attending a late Mass. I always do on Christmas. To light a candle for my wife Gruoch, and our son." "And we should be going." Angela's voice was soft but determined. "There's one more place I want to stop." "Really? Where?" Brooklyn asked. "You'll see." She finished her cocoa and hugged MacBeth. "Merry Christmas!" Aiden shyly did the same. Brooklyn and Lex looked at each other uncomfortably, until the silver-haired man threw an arm around each of their shoulders. "I'll never forget this," he said. "Merry Christmas to you all." They left his house by one of the roof doors and paused in the crisp air. The snow flurries had eased up, the stars were coming out in icy pinpoints, and only a few thin shards of cloud wisped across the face of the moon. Angela led the way, and stopped them atop a high-rise department store. Her expression said she was bracing herself for arguments, but that didn't stop her from announcing, "I want to go to Demona's house." "What?" Brooklyn was aghast. "You know where she lives?" Lex asked. "Why?" Aiden cocked her head. "I thought she was your enemy." "But she's also my mother, and nobody should be alone on Christmas. It's a time for family, you said so yourself." She glanced sideways at Brooklyn. "None of you have to come, if you don't want to. But I'm going." "But -- but ..." Brooklyn said. "Angela," Lex was being very careful with his words, "that might not be such a good idea. She's had a lot more Christmases than we have, and if the idea of peace on earth hasn't sunk in by now --" "I know the risks," she snapped. "I'm going anyway." With that, she launched herself into the night. "Oh, damn," Brooklyn muttered. "Come on!" He dove after. "Are we going to die?" Aiden asked lightly. "Maybe," Lex replied. "But if you tell her you're a sorceress, I bet she'd just try to capture you instead." "Gee, how generous!" She held tight around his neck and they followed Brooklyn. Demona's was a well-kept, dark and brooding haunted house. The houses to either side sparkled with the sort of seasonal Disneyland extravaganza that only the obscenely wealthy could afford. Demona's was unadorned. The place was acrawl with gargoyles of the purely stone variety, surrounded by a high point-tipped wrought-iron fence. "Creepy," Aiden said. "No doubt," Lex agreed. Angela landed on a neighbor's conical cupola. The backsplash of colored lights danced over her like a captive rainbow. "Poor Brooklyn," Aiden whispered. "Look at him looking at her." "If he was a cartoon character, his tongue would unroll like a party favor. And who'd blame him? She's gorgeous." "Well, he's no hardship on the eyes either," Aiden pointed out. "That thick white hair --" "Hey," Lex grumbled, rubbing his own bald pate. "Don't get me all jealous now!" She kissed him on the ear. "I just meant that they would make a cute couple." "You're sure you don't have that wand?" "Yes, yes! I'm sure!" The rest of them landed, sending small avalanches of snow into the yard. From the house below them, Aiden could hear party music and laughter. "Angela ..." Brooklyn started. "I'm going. You can all stay here." She donned her hat again and glided to the middle of the circular driveway in front of Demona's door. Brooklyn exhaled in a short snarl. "Why?" he demanded in a tone that suggested he didn't really expect an answer. "Why can she forgive Demona, that evil witch, and not me?" Lex and Aiden exchanged a glance. Below, Angela had caped her wings and moved forward into the glow of the single porch light. Her breath made a frosty halo around her head. "Uhhh ..." Lex tried. "Maybe it would help if _you_ forgave Demona," Aiden said. "Yeah! I forgave Fox," Lex added. "Not the rest of the Pack, though," he grumbled in a lower voice. "It's not the same." Brooklyn petulantly turned his head away. Aiden touched his arm. "I don't know what happened to you, what's got you so mad, but I know this. If you keep letting it bug you, then Demona wins." "Yeah. She'll ruin your life, your happiness, your chances with Angela." Lex got on his other side and put a hand on his shoulder. "You can't make Angela choose between her mother and you," Aiden said. "You'll feel better, and so will she. And I bet being forgiven would just tweak the heck out of Demona." "You're right," Brooklyn said slowly. Angela's voice, pure and clear as the night sky, rose toward the heavens. She was singing "Silent Night." "Besides," Brooklyn added in an I-gotta-be-nuts tone, "it's Christmas." He jumped off the roof and swooped to Angela's side, pulling on his own hat. His voice joined hers in the second verse. The look Angela gave him was enough to make Aiden go, "Awww," and lean against Lex, who was grinning like a fool. "Should we join them?" Aiden whispered. "Nope. If she does try to kill them, they'll need backup." "Nice holiday spirit," Aiden remarked wryly. He shrugged. "Hey, it's Demona." "Well, I guess." "Besides, look at them. They're doing fine." The two below were holding hands now, and singing "The First Noel." The front door opened, silhouetting a familiar winged shape. Demona descended two steps, moving into the porch light, an expression of utter disbelief on her face. The carolers didn't falter for a moment. If anything, their singing became stronger, more sure. Angela held her head proudly high. Brooklyn locked eyes with Demona, then dipped his beak slightly in a gesture of acknowledgement and forgiveness. Even from the roof, Lex could see Demona's posture tighten. Her lip curled, then relaxed. She remained motionless through 'Away in a Manger.' As the last notes drifted off, the three of them studied each other in silence. Then Demona reached behind the door frame, out of their line of sight. "Uh-oh." Lex tensed. Demona moved fast, hurling something dark and oblong. Before any of them could react, she had spun away and slammed the door. Brooklyn also moved fast, leaping to swat the object out of the air. As it plowed into the ground, kicking up a puff of snow, he reversed and threw himself over Angela to sheild her. Lex pulled Aiden down and both of them cringed in expectation of an explosion. When nothing happened, Lex raised his head. "Must've been a dud." "Maybe the snow wrecked the fuse," Aiden said. "Hold on tight." Lex waited until she had a good grip, and glided down in a spiral. Brooklyn and Angela were getting up, both of them caked with snow from head to tail. Waving her back, Brooklyn cautiously approached the object. He leaned close, poked it, and suddenly began to chuckle. He held the object out to Angela as Lex and Aiden approached. It had broken open upon impact, but they could still see the gold foil, the red satin bow. And the chocolates, some of which had scattered across the ground. "I don't believe it," Brooklyn said. "She grenaded us with champagne-flavored truffles." "And you saved me," Angela giggled. "My hero!" "It's candy?" Lex shook his head. "Well, what do you know?" "There _is_ still kindness in her." Angela sighed happily. "I knew there had to be." "People sometimes do bad things," Brooklyn said. "That doesn't mean they can't regret, can't repent. But other people have to forgive them. It isn't easy." Angela turned to him and laid her hand along the side of his face. "I know." It was one of those occasions when the thought became words before better judgement could kick in. "I love you, Angela." No sooner had he spoken than he winced, clearly anticipating a slap. Instead, he got a long, lingering kiss. "Aww," Aiden said again, very quietly so as not to remind them they had an audience. Lex put an arm and a wing around her, proudly beaming as if he was personally responsible. The magic moment ended, the kiss broke. Angela and Brooklyn gazed into each other's eyes. "We should probably get back to the castle," Lex finally said. "Everyone'll be waiting for us. And besides, we don't want to wear out our welcome here." At that instant, the door was yanked open again and the sky split by laser fire. "It's okay!" Angela called above the blasts as she pulled Brooklyn toward the gate. "She's shooting to miss!" "Very reassuring!" Aiden cried, hands over her head as she ran. Lex yelled back over his shoulder. "And a Merry Christmas to you, too!" * * PART THREE -- "I'll Be Home For Christmas ..." "How _did_ you talk me into this?" Elisa asked. "Not having fun?" Goliath countered, pulling her close. "I didn't say that. It's just weird. I've never taken time off during the holidays." "You said Matt agreed to cover for you." She snuggled against his warm leathery side. "Matt owes me big time." She sighed. "It's good to get away for a while. My family's been driving me nuts. Did I tell you, Aunt Agnes wanted to fly in and spend Christmas with Mom and Dad?" "That is the fearsome one, yes?" "Majorly fearsome. She wanted to see 'all the kids.' There wouldn't have been any way to explain Derrek's absence. So we sacrificed Nikki instead." He gave her a quizzical look. "Sacrificed?" "Not that way. We just talked Nikki into visiting Aunt Agnes. So, Matt owes me, but I owe Nikki." "Perhaps you should tell your aunt the truth." Elisa laughed. "That's go over really great. Introduce her to Maggie and the twins, and at the same time I could announce our engagement." "Look," he said. "The mist is clearing." She leaned forward. "Do you think Oberon's going to mind? Us plunking down on his beach in a stolen police boat?" "Not stolen. Borrowed. That is what you said. Borrowed. And I am not here to see Oberon." "I'd just as soon avoid him too. I hope you timed this right." "If what Tom said about time's passage was true, we should be right on schedule." "Mm-hmm. And we'd better go right home," she scolded teasingly. "I don't want to spend the next year jaunting around the world again." The mist cleared, and before them was the mystic isle of Avalon. Oberon's palace, fashioned of clouds and rainbows, gleamed with faerie light. Unearthly music floated on the breeze, counterpointed by distant gargoyle roars. Goliath sat up straight. "Trouble?" Elisa asked, reaching for her gun. "Are they under attack?" He listened keenly, then grinned hugely as understanding dawned. "They are in no danger, but we picked an awkward time to visit." "Why? I thought you were looking forward to seeing Gabriel and the others." "I was, but not this time." "Goliath, what's going on?" "The females have declared a breeding season." She stared toward the high cliffs, where the roars were coming from. "A what?" "A breeding season. Gargoyles can enjoy the pleasures of mating any time, but only during a breeding season will the females conceive. When the hunting has been good, and when the clan feels safe and well-defended, the mature females make the decision. It coordinates the laying of eggs, so they all hatch at the same time. Otherwise there would constantly be eggs and hatchlings in need of tending." "Sounds ... effiecient. So they're all --" "Undoubtedly." She winked at him. "Sure you don't want to visit? Might be fun." "No!" he said sharply, then drew a deep breath and visibly calmed himself. "No. Avalon has been known to have a strange effect on humans. Who knows what a breeding season might do?" "Oh. Gotcha. Right." He stroked her hair. "Unless you want to ...?" "I don't think either of us is ready for that. A half-gargoyle kid? How would that work?" He nodded. "Not to mention your family's reaction." "Hey, I decided a long time ago that public opinion is the _last_ thing I need to worry about. Come on, let's land this tub before we crash." They landed, splattering the white and blue hull with mud from a magical island. It had been snowing when they left Manhattan, but here it was as mild as a midsummer's night. Elisa left her heavy coat in the borrowed police boat. She paused on the shore, hands on her hips. "Hmm. Oberon's Gathering _and_ a gargoyle breeding season. I bet Avalon hasn't been this busy in a long time." Goliath chuckled in agreement. "If we are lucky, all of Oberon's Children will be too busy to bother with us. I'm not eager to see some of them again." "Like Anansi. Or Odin." "Yes." A rocky path lined with flickering torches led up the bluff. The stone walls of the modest castle at the top had been repaired since the Archmage's attack. "Place looks empty without the gargoyles," Elisa said. "A light, there." Goliath pointed. "It is not abandoned." Joyful barks greeted them, followed by the low-slung golden- tan form of Boudicca. The doggoyle jumped up on Goliath, planting her forefeet on his chest hard enough to make him stagger. "I've always wondered ... why are she and Bronx ... you know, different?" He scratched the doggoyle behind the ears. "A rookery hatching will consist of two to three dozen eggs. Each female lays from one to three. Of all those eggs, a very few will grow differently and produce the watchdogs. No one knows why or how." A door opened, revealing two figures. The one in the rear was slender and gowned, holding aloft a lantern. The one in front was a strongly-built man holding a sword, which he immediately lowered as he caught sight of them. "Goliath! Elisa! Ye've come back to us!" Tom, Guardian of the Eggs, raced forward and embraced them both. Princess Katherine, still beautiful and regal despite her years, was more reserved in her greeting. She clasped their hands, smiling. "It is good to see ye again! But what brings ye to Avalon? Not some trouble, I hope!" "No. No trouble." Goliath bowed to her. "We've come to invite you to spend Christmas at Castle Wyvern." Katherine gasped, her hand pressing the base of her throat. "My castle! Are ye jesting with me?" "I would do no such thing." "Xanatos, the guy who lives there now, is having a party and he wants you both to come," Elisa said. "I hardly think we'd fit in," Tom laughed. "I recall _that_ from my last visit to your island." "This time, you will," Goliath promised. "I can assure you of that." "Och, Tom!" The princess turned to him. "Dare we go?" He shrugged. "Ye were just saying how quiet and lonesome the place seemed, with the eggs gone off on their own. 'Twil be a while before they come back with yet more eggs to hatch anew, and ye must start acting like a grandmother." "There is even a surprise waiting for you," Goliath said, smiling. "I wouldn't want you to miss it." "We'd be pleased to go," Katherine decided. "And we thank ye for the offer!" "Go?" a new voice inquired. "Go where?" Green and gold light shimmered nearby, forming itself into the shape of a woman. It soldified into a familiar form. "Titania," Goliath rumbled. Elisa moved into a better defensive position, not that there would be much she could do against the Queen of Avalon on her own turf. "Are you leaving us, princess?" "Only for a time, Queen Titania," Katherine said, inclining her head deferentially. "Whatever for? Has Avalon not met all your needs? Have its boundless larders not fed you since the day you came, and its stone halls given you shelter?" "We've nary a complaint, yer Majesty," Tom said. "We've but been invited to have Christmas at Castle Wyvern." Titania's laugh was a tinkle of silvery bells. "What a marvelous idea! Perhaps I will join you!" "With all respect," Goliath said, "I do not think you'd find the warmest of welcomes." "Oh, is Fox still miffed?" "Miffed?" he echoed. "In your scheming, you threatened to take her child from her." The faerie queen tossed her head. "She knows I would not have really done it." "I think you are mistaken." Goliath crossed his arms and glowered at her. "You should know how strong the love of a parent for a child is. You hurt Fox deeply by your games." "Fox is too human to understand." "And too human to take that threat lightly." Goliath shook his head. "Do not go." "Are you forbidding me to see my own grandson on Christmas?" Elisa stepped forward. "Nobody's going to forbid you anything, since you'll do what you want no matter what we say. But if you really want to be a grandmother to that kid, and a mother to Fox, you'd be smart to quit playing around with their lives." Goliath was getting angry. "Toying with us, caring not for the pain you cause, expecting us to _thank_ you for your meddling with our very souls --" "Chill," Elisa murmured, nudging him with her elbow. Titania sighed. "I wouldn't expect you to understand either. But very well, I will heed your advice. Go, mortals, and enjoy your holidays." With that, she vanished. "Ye'd do well not to annoy her," Tom said. Goliath snarled softly. "I know. But I grow weary of being the plaything of immortals, especially when Oberon himself promised that my clan would be exempt from their magic. Oberon changes his laws at his whim." "Aye, that's about the sum of it," Tom nodded. "Ye learn to accept it." "We can best discuss this elsewhere," Katherine said. "I for one am eager to see my home again!" "This way," Elisa motioned. "Hope you don't mind riding in a police boat. It's the best we could do." Katherine threw on a heavy velvet mantle. "Boudicca! Come!" The four of them, preceded by the cavorting doggoyle, went down to the beach. The impassioned roars of gargoyles echoed in the distance. "I dinna think they'll even know we're gone," Tom chuckled. "Tell me, Goliath, has our wee Angela taken a mate?" "Not yet, although not for lack of suitors." "I know Gabriel misses her," Katherine said. "They were always verra close." "My guess is," Elisa said, enjoying Goliath's discomfort as they casually discussed his daughter's love life, "that she'll go for Brooklyn. The nice-girl/bad-boy thing." "It is her own choice," Goliath said gruffly. "She'll decide in due time." They got into the boat and cast off, and were soon swallowed by the cool mist that cloaked Avalon. Tom had, over the years, made the journey many times. Always, until the last time, it had delivered him to the rocky shore near Castle Wyvern, a land unchanged from the one he'd known. Until his final journey, which had deposited him smack in the middle of New York City. For Katherine, it was her first look at the modern age. No amount of description could do it justice. The mist cleared and revealed the skyscrapers, the streetlights, the cars and buses, the planes and helicopters, the crowds of people. "Upon my word," she breathed. "There be more people here than in all of Scotland!" "It just looks that way," Elisa said. "And so strangely dressed! When first I saw ye, Elisa, I could not believe ye wore trousers as a man does, so tight to yer legs. It did seem verra immodest to me." "Aye," Tom grinned, appreciatively dropping his gaze to her legs. "Aye," Goliath seconded, giving her a lusty look. "Um, hey --" Elisa protested, flustered. "But there!" Katherine continued, pointing to a pair of barely- dressed women ambling along the lakeside street, "that be truly immodest!" "Yeah, they're hookers," Elisa said. "It's their job." "How do they not freeze? Wearing so little, I mean." Tom was enjoying the view too much, so Katherine cleared her throat in a loud "Ahem!" Elisa shrugged. "Look, we didn't bring you here to show you the seedy side of Manhattan. Up there, it's your castle." They looked. Up, and up. "How in the world ...?" Katherine gaped at the towering building where Castle Wyvern perched. "Sorcery, no doubt!" Tom said. "Not quite. Science, technology, a lot of hard work, and a disgusting amount of money. Skyline Magazine did a feature on it a few years ago, a follow-up to one they did back when the Aerie Building itself was completed. All about how Xanatos had the castle transported stone by stone. I didn't pay much attention at the time, but then, I didn't know that it was going to change my life forever." "In a good way, I hope." She smiled at Goliath. "Definitely." They returned the boat and split up, since Goliath still couldn't stride boldly through town, not even on the last-minute-shopping chaos of Christmas Eve. Nor could Boudicca, so she got to be carried. Katherine and Tom drew some glances, maybe because of their archaic garb, maybe because of the way they gawked openmouthed at everything. Elisa shepherded them along, glad for her unseen guardian angel flanking them above. "I canna believe they build their homes so tall!" Katherine jumped and clutched Tom's arm as two taxis honked and screeched and nearly crashed. "I canna believe they ride about in those things," Tom said. "I tried it once, when the guardian Morgan ... how did he say it? ... took me in." "Guardian Morgan," Elisa snickered. "Love it." "It was a nightmare! I'd soon got to thinking I'd be better off staying home and fighting the Archmage meself!" "It's not so bad, once you get used to it. But if you don't want to grab a taxi, we'll have to walk all the way. Or ... wait!" Elisa leaped into the street, eliciting a cry of alarm from Katherine, and flagged down a horse-drawn cab. "I'm off-duty!" "Just take us to the Aerie Building, okay?" "Come on, lady, it's Christmas Eve and I just want to get home." Elisa glanced over her shoulder. "Hey, Tom, got any money?" He blinked, startled, and patted his pouch. "Aye, a little. Here ye go." She turned to the driver and held up the coin. "This is antique. Worth a fortune. Now, about that ride ...?" The man took the coin and examined it. "Okay, hop in! Merry Christmas!" Climbing in, Elisa winked at her companions. "Hey, it worked for Xanatos. Maybe in twenty years, this guy'll give him a little competition." The carriage ride was much more comfortable than walking, and much more enjoyable than hassling a taxi. Tom and Katherine were soon able to relax and delight in the sights. The lighted wreaths, the Salvation Army Santas ringing bells on every corner, the crowds laden with packages, everything amazed them. It reminded Elisa of the first time she'd given Goliath a tour. She never appreciated her city more than when seeing it through the eyes of a newcomer. "Look!" Tom cried, pointing skyward. Elisa caught just a glimpse of winged figures blotting out the starlight, soaring toward the castle. "Gargoyles," Katherine said fondly. "Och, but 'tis good to know they survived!" "Here we are," Elisa said. She waved at the doorman, who immediately let them into the spacious lobby. Tom and Katherine kept up their oohs and aahs, pausing to look closer at things, until Elisa was practically dragging them along. "This world be loud and confusing," Katherine remarked once they were in the elevator, "but it has a magic all its own." "Yeah, I guess it does," Elisa smiled. The doors slid open, and Katherine's eyes lit up as she beheld the familiar halls of Castle Wyvern. She blinked back tears. "Just as I remember it!" Goliath appeared with Boudicca, having come in from the roof. "Welcome home, Princess," he said with a bow. "Are you ready for your surprise?" She nodded. Goliath offered his arm, and she took it with Tom on her other side. Elisa tagged along behind them as Goliath led them toward the kitchen. It was overwhelmingly full of good smells. The first thing they saw was Broadway, with a chef's hat perched atop his head, sampling something from a huge iron pot. The second thing was a plump woman in kerchief and apron, her face red from the heat, her hands covered with flour. She turned as they came in, and her eyes and mouth widened. "I dinna believe it! Can this be my Tom?" "Mother?" Tom gasped strengthlessly. "Mary!" Katherine cried. "Mary, is it really ye?" The three of them ran at each other. Elisa grinned, stuffed her hands deep in her pockets, and sidled over to lean against Goliath. He draped an arm around her. "Looks like we timed it just right," Elisa said. "Now, I better go get changed." "Changed?" "Yeah," she sighed. "Xanatos has a dress code tonight. See you soon." She headed for the guest room, which was becoming more and more an annex of her apartment. Xanatos and Goliath both kept trying to convince her to just move in, since she spent most of her free time there anyway. Plus, the Quarrymen and Demona and plenty of other enemies knew where she lived. She had resisted so far, but did keep a few things here. The outfit, designed by Fox, was spread on the bed. Elisa grabbed a quick shower and put it on, struggling witht he unfamiliar garments and fastenings. When she was finished and surveyed herself in the mirror, she had to admit it was quite a change. The gown was a deep red, with gold embroidery and white fur trim. It was heavy, long, and very medieval. There were matching slippers, and a circlet wrapped in gold ribbon. More ribbons trailed down her back. Dressed, and although she never would have admitted it, feeling like a real lady, she headed for the grand hall. Outside the main doors, she saw another reunion as Katherine embraced Finella Ferguson, who had once helped her escape an usurper king and carry the gargoyle eggs to safety. Finella and Mary had left Avalon's gates and been sent nearly a thousand years into the future. Now, Finella was married to a history professor, and their daughter Aiden was a sorcery student and Lexington's girlfriend. The grand hall had been stripped of all of Xanatos' high-tech furnishings. Long trestle tables were set up on the stone floor, which was strewn with fresh rushes and reeds. Evergreen boughs and thick candles decorated the tables. The walls were hung with painted coats- of-arms, crossed axes, shields, and banners. The high table was draped in snowy linen. Music, lutes and tambors and such, was provided by discreetly-hidden speakers instead of minstrels. David Xanatos and his wife, attired in the clothes they had been given by Prince Malcolm on their own visit to the tenth century, greeted Elisa as she came in. Xanatos was beaming proudly, as he had every right to be. Young Alex, who had mastered walking and running and jumping and climbing so fast it was hard to believe he'd spent so much time just scooting, was having a terrific time with his toys, specially made and historically accurate for the occasion. "Princess Katherine," Xanatos said as that lady came in. He bowed formally. "I bid thee welcome." "Ye must be David Xanatos." Katherine extended her hands. "Thank ye, for taking such good care of the castle, and the gargoyles." Elisa shot Xanatos a look that said she at least remembered what good care he'd taken of the gargoyles during those first couple of years. He blithely ignored her. "This is my wife, Fox. We knew your parents." "Did ye?" Katherine frowned. "It is a long story. And this must be Mary's boy Tom." Tom bowed. "A pleasure, sir." "How he's grown!" Mary Bywell had swapped her apron for a gown far finer than anything she'd even dreamed of owning back in ancient Scotland. Aiden and Lex came in. She, like Elisa and the rest of the humans, had been outfitted to fit the theme. Lex was freshly scrubbed and seemed a bit nervous, but that vanished as soon as he saw Tom. He well remembered the little boy who hadn't been afraid of the monsters. Broadway was next, followed by Brooklyn and Angela. Those two came in holding hands, something that was not lost on Elisa, but it didn't last as Angela flung herself into the arms of the humans that had raised her. "Elisa," Goliath's deep voice shivered through her. She turned and caught her breath. The firelight was kind to him, touching his sable hair with gold, highlighting the sculpted muscles of his chest and arms. His wings were caped regally over his shoulders. Xanatos could go on and on about the clothes making the man, but that argument meant nothing when talking about Goliath. "You look beautiful," he said, his gaze sweeping over her. "You look magnificent." If she hadn't already been his mate, body and soul, she would have been in that instant. No man could ever compare to her gentle giant. Owen Burnett came in, medievally-clad like the rest of them but still managing to look humorless and severe, except for a dancing gleam in his eye that was probably just the reflected firelight. Hudson and Bronx were right behind him, and Hudson kept giving Owen stern looks. "Dinner is ready, milord," he told Xanatos. "Ah, very good. If everyone would please be seated?" "I hope it's good," Broadway worried. Mary Bywell patted him on the arm. "Ye're a fine cook, lad. A fine cook. We've made a feast worthy of kings!" Elisa didn't know exactly how Xanatos had managed to not only get so many of his staff to work on Christmas Eve, but also to work as servers and wear tunics and hose. She supposed an extra bonus in the pay envelope made all the difference. And it would certainly make a good story to tell the relatives. The meal, like everything else, was carefully if Hollywood medieval. Ypocras, a spiced and warmed wine drink, was served in bowls. A dish called "golden apples" turned out to be meatballs made from sausage and cranberries drenched in a saffron sauce. Gourd and leek soup, dense brown bread which doubled as a plate to eat from, strawberry-almond milk, a crisp and crackling roast boar, a hearty stew- like mixture of sliced beef and onions, course after course of delicious food was placed on the tables by the costumed employees. Owen acted as steward, keeping their drinking bowls filled, until Xanatos ordered him to sit down and act like a guest. He complied, but with obvious discomfort. "I am glad to see this day," Katherine said. "When human and gargoyle sit and dine together here in this hall. Even though it took a thousand years. I'm but sorry it didna happen sooner." Fox produced a round lumpy object which turned out to be an orange completely studded with cloves. "I don't know if this is a real custom," she said, "but it sounded too fun to pass up." Kenneth Ferguson started to lecture on historical customs, but his wife shushed him. "What's it for?" Lex asked, cocking his head. "It's a kissing game," Fox grinned. She offered it to her husband. Xanatos took it, bit a clove between his teeth, spat it onto the floor (somehow managing to make it look elegant), and gave her a lengthy kiss. He then bowed and offered the orange to Katherine. The princess flushed but bit a clove and gave Xanatos a quick kiss, then offered the orange to Tom. He in turn, with a cheerful grin, gave it to Angela. After kissing Tom, Angela tossed it from hand to hand, deliberating, but Brooklyn snatched it out of the air and claimed his kiss amid much laughter. With an evil grin at Lex, Brooklyn held out the orange to Aiden. The petite girl blushed even more than Katherine, and tried to get away with just a quick peck. But Brooklyn held on and gave her such a smooch that Lex finally pegged him in the head with a walnut. Aiden, dazed and giggling, offered it to Lex and immediately got swept up in another torrid kiss. When that was done, poor Aiden had to sit down and regain her composure. Lex offered it to Finella, who gave him a motherly buss on the cheek and then passed the orange on to her husband. He in turn gave it to Mary. Mary, smiling merrily, gave it to Broadway. Broadway, shuffling his feet, suddenly realized that the only unkissed lady in the room was Elisa. He turned about six shades of purple, dropped it when he started to hold it out, bonked his head on the table when he bent to recover it, and Elisa finally plucked it out of his hand. "Merry Christmas, big guy," she whispered, and kissed him. She then faced Goliath, bouncing the orange on her palm, knowing how he hated public displays of affection. He sighed, resigned, and took it. His kiss was brief. "No, no!" Xanatos scolded. "You can do better than that! Try again!" That earned the billionaire the granddaddy of all dirty looks, but when all of the other guests chimed in and Elisa fixed him with a challenging look, he gave in and kissed her with unbridled passion. "But we're out of girls," Brooklyn said. "Now what?" Goliath looked tremendously relieved. "He'll have to pick some lucky lady for a second kiss," Xanatos decided. "Not Elisa." "Is this really necessary?" Goliath's fingers tightened, as if he was about to crush the orange. "Yes, I think it is." Xanatos sat back smugly. "Very well." Goliath deliberately headed for Fox. "Don't you dare!" Xanatos sat up straight. "This is your game; you insisted that I play." He bowed and held it out to the flame-haired woman, who smirked sidelong at her husband and picked it up. "Oh, yeeeesss!" Lex pounded enthusiastically on the table. "Fox, I know that look," Xanatos warned. "Of course you do. I learned it from you." She twined her arms around Goliath's thick neck, and when their lips met, she also raised one leg to hook around his hip. Goliath, clearly startled by her move, stepped back and lost his balance. The crash of his landing was enough to rattle the tables. Fox untangled herself, rose, and demurely smoothed her gown. "I think he's dead," Brooklyn remarked, poking Goliath with his tail. Grumbling low in his throat, Goliath got up and retreated to a safe distance. Elisa, trying not to laugh, tucked her hand in the crook of his elbow and rested her head against his arm. "Well, well," Fox said, looking from Hudson to Owen. "Two eligible bachelors left." "Oh, no ye don't," Hudson said. "I've had my kiss for this eve, thank ye." "Oh-ho, Hudson, do tell!" Angela chirped. "Owen?" Fox raised one eyebrow. "I hardly think --" he said stiffly. "Don't worry; I won't tell Cordelia." Aiden shrieked mirthfully and quickly covered her mouth with her hands. "Mr. Xanatos, is this really necessary?" Owen appealed, putting his hands behind his back. Xanatos shrugged helplessly. "It's either you or Bronx, Owen." "Catch!" Fox threw it. Owen moved on reflex, and found himself holding the orange. His shoulders slumped. "Oh, very well." "If you were any less excited, you'd be in a coma," Fox said dryly. "Come on, Oatmeal, live a little." He plunged his hands into the golden fire of her hair, tipped her head up to meet his, and sealed her lips in a kiss that raised the temperature in the room by ten degrees. When he released Fox, she staggered and said, "Wow!" "This was a foolish game," Xanatos mumbled. "Then may I assume we are finished?" "Hardly. You've still got to give it to someone." He looked around the room. Angela chose that moment to toss her hair and pout seductively, a gesture that made Brooklyn and Broadway go buggy-eyed. Owen, who evidently could take a hint, offered the orange to the she-gargoyle. That kiss was much less heated but Angela paused to whisper something in his ear that made him blink several times. "Hudson," Angela said in a sing-song voice. "You're not getting out of this!" "Nay, lassie, I've --" "No fair!" Lex cried. "Goliath had to do it!" "Yeah!" Brooklyn laughed. "Pucker up, Hudson!" She flicked her tail at him. "Well?" "I'm na verra good at this, ye know," he complained, but accepted the orange. "And I'm far too old for the likes o' ye." "It's just a kiss. Like this." She planted one on him, to the cheers of all. Bronx and Boudicca, lying companionably on the floor surrounded by gnawed bones and scraps, just huffed as if to comment on all the fuss and nonsense. "Aye," Hudson said, trying and failing to hide his enjoyment, "I'm with ye, boy." "David, what a marvelous idea this was!" Fox raved. "We should try it at the New Year's Party!" He nearly choked. "Are you crazy? That's an Illuminati function!" "And best not discussed here," Owen cut in smoothly. The party went at its own pace after that. Some of them wanted to try dancing, others were playing nine-man morris and other medieval games. It was the perfect chance to slip away, and Elisa and Goliath took it. They climbed to the turret where the gargoyles roosted. Blankets of twinkling lights lay above and below them, the stars and the city. Elisa, warmly enfolded in Goliath's wings, was heedless of the icy air. "Quite a Christmas. Is this how you used to celebrate them?" "No. We had little to do with the human holidays. This has been educational, as well as embarrassing." She laughed softly. "I was half-expecting Demona to turn up while you were standing there with the orange, arguing with Xanatos." Goliath snorted. "I'd sooner kiss Xanatos himself." "Now, there's something I'd like to see!" "Do not count on it. The only one I want to kiss is you." She raised her face to him. "Go for it." He did. * * The End
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