Where You Need to Be Christine Morgan (firstname.lastname@example.org) comments welcome Author's Note: this story takes place during the same time span as "Passions."
"Aw, come on, Hudson!" Brooklyn hammered a fist against the closed door. "What is going on?" Goliath asked. "He's been in there for an hour," Broadway complained. The door opened and Hudson filled the space, glowering at the younger gargoyles. His hair and beard were damp and neatly combed, and his wings shone as if they'd been waxed. "Do ye mind, laddies? Canna I have nary a moment's peace?" "Whoa, Hudson!" Brooklyn said. "Lookin' sharp!" Bronx lumbered toward Hudson and prepared to leap, but Hudson caught the beast's forepaws and lowered him to the ground. "No ye don't, boy. Ye'll muss me tunic." Broadway and Goliath exchanged a glance. "What's with him?" Broadway asked, his voice filled with skepticism. A discreet tap came at the door of the spacious hall Xanatos had given them as their own quarters. A moment later, the tap was followed by Owen Burnett. The ramrod-stiff, humorless fellow was carrying a bouquet of lilies and baby's breath. He offered it to Hudson. "I hope these prove sufficient, sir," he said blandly. "Oh, and if you could relate to Lexington that the modems are running again?" With a polite little half-bow to the others, he left the room. "Flowers?" Brooklyn said. "What for?" "As it happens," Hudson said, sweeping past them, "I have a date." This pronouncement left them all too stunned to move. Brooklyn's beak gaped like that of a starving baby eaglet. Even Goliath was taken aback. Nobody uttered another sound as Hudson climbed the circular tower stair leading back to the rooftop. "But it's Must See TV Thursday," Broadway finally said. "Must be some date!" Brooklyn turned to Goliath. "What's going on? Who could Hudson have a date with?" Goliath smiled. "His secrets are not mine to tell." With that, he strode grandly away, leaving the two of them standing perplexed by the bathroom door. "Yeah, your own secrets aren't even yours to tell," Brooklyn muttered under his breath at Goliath's departing back. "Huh?" Broadway asked. "Hey, guys, what's up?" Lex said cheerily, bounding across the room. Angela approached with more grace, so much grace that it momentarily took Brooklyn's mind off of other matters. "Is something wrong?" she frowned prettily. "Everybody's acting weird," Broadway said. "Hudson is going on a date." "A date?!?" Lex and Angela chimed in unison. "Goliath's acting strange, too," Brooklyn mused. "Haven't you noticed? I mean, with Elisa gone all week, you'd expect him to be brooding and morose the way he does." "Nobody does brooding and morose quite like my father," Angela agreed. "But he hasn't been. I've never seen him like this before." "Maybe he's finally used to being back in the castle," Broadway suggested. "Maybe he thinks Xanatos really means it this time." "It's Elisa," Angela said knowingly. "Remember, before we helped her and Matt get Vito Draconi, he _was_ brooding and morose. It didn't have anything to do with Xanatos. He was worried that he might lose Elisa to that man Jason." "Yeah, the Hunter, the crazy creep who tried to kill us," Brooklyn growled. She shushed him with a gesture. "And then, when she didn't come around so much, he must've thought she regretted kissing him." "What?" barked the trio. "When was _that_?" Brooklyn demanded in addition. "Just before dawn on the first morning we were here," she said, with a smug little grin. "I saw it. He doesn't know I did, but I saw." "Wow," Broadway said. "I didn't think that was ever gonna happen." "I did," Angela said. She batted her eyes flirtatiously at the others and fluffed her hair. "Sometimes a girl just can't help it." "Then why would she be sorry?" Broadway wondered aloud. Here, Angela shrugged. "That's the part I don't understand. But I bet that's what made him upset for those weeks. And then, the other night ..." "After Draconi, he was gone with Elisa for hours," Brooklyn said. "The next night, he never came back at all! And ever since then, he's been in a great mood!" "Aw, come on," Broadway protested. "You don't think he and Elisa ... I mean, it wouldn't be possible. Would it?" "You guys are awful," Lex said. "I'm getting out of here. I bet Goliath would crack skulls if he heard you talking like this." "Talking like what?" the deep voice of their leader rumbled. All four of them, seasoned warriors, jumped, yelped, and looked guilty. "Nothing, Father," Angela said, putting on her most innocent expression in the face of his glowering suspicion. "Owen said the computer was fixed," Broadway told Lex, desperate to change the subject. "All right!" Lex cried. "Great," Brooklyn muttered. "He'll spend all night planted in front of that thing." "Well, I'm expecting mail from Aiden," Lex said defensively. "Oooh-hoo, Aiden," Brooklyn teased. "Your sweetheart." "Shut up!" Lex cried, aggreived. "Have you ... ya know?" Brooklyn pressed. "I've heard about that online stuff." "Is that all you ever think about?" Angela scoffed, running her talon lightly up his arm and flicking the tip of his beak before walking away with extra swing in her hips and tail. Brooklyn immediately went maroon, aware of the others looking at him. Most notably, of Goliath looking down at him from his imposing height. "Hey! Goliath! I don't know what she's talking about!" He glanced wistfully after Angela. "I mean, I wish I did, but ..." Lex chortled. "Oh, did she get you! How do you like it, hotshot?" "Come on, loverboy," Broadway said jovially. "Let's go patrol or something." "Be careful," Goliath immediately ordered. "We cannot risk being seen." "We'll be careful," Brooklyn promised, his skin back to a more normal hue. "I'll stay here," Lex chirped, already darting toward the elaborate computer setup Xanatos had installed. He'd said it was a gift, Goliath recalled. There had been many "gifts" from Xanatos. The spacious hall had been redone to offer them every possible luxury. Enormous television, rack after rack of movies, a complete kitchenette along one wall, even a jetted whirlpool bath which for some reason Bronx adored. And this computer station. He followed Lex and watched as the smaller gargoyle surely and effortlessly switched on the various systems. Goliath's own claws would have made typing difficult, but Lex's agile fingers flew over the keyboard. "Who is Aiden?" Goliath asked. Lex flushed copper. "She's just a girl," he said. "We've been writing back and forth. That's all." "I did not mean to pry," Goliath said. "Merely curious." "She's really nice," Lex said. "Her father is a professor of medieval history at U.C. Irvine, so she knows all about castles and stuff. And her mom's Scottish." "Interesting." The computer made a triumphant little booping noise and a box came up in the center of the screen. "Yes!" Lex cried. "Mail from Aiden! She's probably been wondering where I've been." "I'll leave you to it, then," Goliath said, giving Lex an indulgent pat on the shoulder. Lex shook his head. Goliath _was_ acting strange. Not to say that Angela was right, but _something_ must have put him in such a good mood. His speculations broke off abruptly as he saw Aiden's message. "Oh, no!" he groaned. Goliath, prowling along the bookshelf, glanced his way. "Something wrong?" "Yeah," Lex sighed. "It's Aiden. She's coming to New York. She wants to meet me." "Ah," Goliath said wisely. "That does pose a problem." Lex shoved his chair away from the terminal, rolling easily over the plastic sheet protecting the hardwood floor. "Rats, rats, rats!" he said, thumping himself on the head with one fist and pounding on the arm of the chair with the other. "What am I going to do? I can't meet her. That'd be crazy! But if I tell her no, she'll think I don't like her, and I do, I really do!" Goliath came back and peered at the computer screen. < Lex -- great news! I'm going to be in New York this weekend! My dad is presenting a paper at a national conference of historians, and he decided to take the whole family on a vacation! We only just found out or I would have told you sooner. One of Dad's colleagues in the department was going to go but broke his arm yesterday. Anyway, we're leaving Friday night and will be there for five days! Mom and Aunt Mary are hoping to tour that castle, the one the millionaire guy shipped over from Scotland. Xanatos, I think his name is. I guess Mom knows him. So, since I'm going to be there, I thought maybe we could get together for a soda or something. I think it would be really great to meet you in person finally. What do you say? -- Aiden > "Hmm," Goliath said. "Her mother knows Xanatos?" "Goliath!" Lex cried. "Who cares about that? She wants to meet me! What should I do? I mean, she thinks I'm a regular guy. A human." Goliath made his distinctive sound somewhere between a sigh and a growl. "I wish I could help you, Lexington. Not all humans see us as monsters. But you would not want to frighten this girl and risk losing her friendship." "If I don't meet her, I might lose her friendship anyway," Lex agonized. "It's awful! I've only known her for two months, but ... I really like her a lot. She's smart, and we like the same things, and she's funny ... a guy could fall in love!" "I understand your feelings," he said. "It is your decision, Lexington. The clan will stand by you." "You mean, if I wanted to meet her, you'd let me? After what happened with the Pack?" "That was years ago. You are a warrior and an adult. The Pack turned out to be our enemies, but we have met other friends since. I trust your judgement." "Thanks, Goliath. But you're right, I don't want to scare her." He clapped both hands to the sides of his head and spun the chair in a tight circle. "Aaarrrgh!" "Love is never simple," Goliath commented. A warm smile softened his stony countenance, and Lex was suddenly sure he was thinking of Elisa. "I know you will make the right choice." Lex heaved a sigh that shuddered him from head to tail. "Yeah, I hope so." He turned back to the keyboard as Goliath resumed his perusal of the bookshelves. < Aiden -- it would be great to meet you, but I don't know if it's such a good idea. There are things I haven't told you about myself, and I guess I'm worried that you wouldn't like me as much if you met me in person. I'm really sorry. -- Lex > He chewed his lip thoughtfully, then added a P.S.: I know about Xanatos. He's got a criminal record and an unsavory reputation. Be careful around him. How does your mom know him anyway? Then, before he could change his mind, he sent the message. Something twisted inside him. His heart, probably. Not broken, but wrung out like a dishrag. Trying to put it out of his mind, he called up some newsgroups and tried to lose himself in the various discussions and debates. Some time later, the computer booped at him to signal new mail. He looked up and saw that Goliath was gone. Except for Bronx, snoring by Hudson's chair, he was alone. Thick, bitter melancholy seemed to churn in his stomach as he punched the keys that would let him view this latest message. < Lex -- I was afraid you'd say something like that. It doesn't matter what you look like. I'm no model or movie star either. But I still want to meet you. This might be the only chance I get to come to New York. It doesn't have to be a real date or anything. Tell you what, Saturday night I'll be on the footbridge in Central Park (I saw a picture of it in the guide- book Aunt Mary bought) at about eight-thirty. If you want, meet me then. If not, that's o.k. too. But think about it. Oh, yeah -- I guess my parents met Mr. Xanatos a long time ago, when I was only a little kid. He bought a book from them. I don't know what book, but I do know Mom sometimes wishes she hadn't sold it. I've got to get ready to go, so I probably won't be able to wait for a reply. Hope I see you Saturday! -- Aiden > "Oh, no, oh, no!" Lex chanted. Quick as he could, he dashed off a reply and sent it, hoping he'd caught her in time. He spent the rest of the evening randomly surfing, poking around websites, hardly paying attention to anything he saw while his ears were awaiting the heralding boop of the mail server. Nothing. Nothing. Midnight, and still nothing. "Only nine o'clock in California," he told himself, and kept waiting. Nothing. Hudson returned from his big date with a foil-wrapped package of homemade cookies. Lex accepted and ate one without asking a single question. Hudson's mystery date was the furthest thing from his mind. The cookie could have been plastic for all he noticed. He waited. Nothing. More nothing. Two a.m. now, eleven o'clock in California. The others returned from patrol at four-thirty, and Lex finally had to give up. He sulked up to the roof, ignoring their questions and concern about his mood. He slumped on a rampart and waited again, this time for the dawn. "Gosh," Angela said as Lex wandered out. "What's the matter with him?" "Dunno," Broadway said. "Hey, cookies! Where'd you get these, Hudson?" "I made them meself," the older gargoyle said proudly. "It shows," Brooklyn muttered, holding up one that was particularly misshapen. "Oh, get on with ye," Hudson scolded, cheerfully enough. "I dinna see ye learning how to cook." "Someone's teaching you how to cook?" Angela inquired sweetly. "And you gave up Friends and ER for it?" Broadway mumbled around a mouthful of cookie, cupping a hand in front of his face as a crumb shield. "Not that it be any of yer business," Hudson said, "but I didna miss me shows. Maria has a television right in the kitchen." "Maria Chavez?" Brooklyn blurted. "Elisa's boss?" "Brooklyn!" Angela poked him in the shoulder. "Have some tact! You're such a hatchling!" "You didn't think so tonight," he replied, winking. "Enough!" she blushed. "Hunh," Broadway said. "Everybody's got a girlfriend but me." Bronx raised his head and whined. "Oh, yeah, and you, Bronx." Broadway perked up a bit. "Actually," Angela said, "Bronx has a sweetie back on Avalon." "Oh." Broadway's face fell again. "Hey, come on," Brooklyn said. "You've got lots of girlfriends." "I do?" "Sure! Betty Crocker, Sara Lee, Mrs. Fields -- ow!" he yelped as Broadway smacked him with his tail. They fell to tusseling. Angela rolled her eyes at Hudson. "Boys!" she said in a tone of fond exasperation. "I think I'll go see what's bothering Lex." "That'd be well," Hudson said. "I'll bide a wee here and be sure these two jesters dinna break anything of value." "That would be muchly appreciated," Owen Burnett said. "Blast it all, do ye have to creep about like a bloody ghost?!" Hudson exclaimed, whirling on the expressionless man. "My apologies," Owen said. He looked around. "I was intending to ask if the computer system was functioning adequately." "It'd seem to be," Hudson said, waving at Angela to go on. Behind him, Broadway was threatening to turn Brooklyn into both second and third in command. "Lexington was using it all night." "Excellent," Owen said, and while he said it as emotionlessly as he said everything else, without any leering or steepling of the fingers, Hudson was forcibly reminded of a character on that cartoon show he sometimes watched. His leathery skin crawled. "Here now, what be ye up to?" he snarled. Owen turned a look of bland surprise on him. "Nothing at all, sir." "Yer lying through yer teeth, lad. I know ye're still the trickster on the inside, no matter how ye may appear on the out. Ye'd do well to leave us be." "I assure you, I have no hostile intent toward any of your clan. Nor do any of the Xanatos family. Quite the contrary, in fact." "Well, I'll believe that when I see it," Hudson muttered. "Is something the matter?" Goliath asked, appearing in the doorway. "Not at all," Owen said. "I trust you had a pleasant evening?" "What is it to you?" Goliath asked. "Just conversation," Owen said. "A misplaced effort, I see. I'll let myself out." "Ye do that," Hudson said. He gave Broadway and Brooklyn a hard nudge with his talon. "Ye two! Look at ye! Ye've fair rumpled the carpet and made fools o' yerselves." "What did he want?" Goliath asked, nodding toward the now- closed door. "He be up to something," Hudson replied, stroking his beard. "I dinna know what, and 'tis fair strange that I believe him when he says 'tis nothing hostile, but yet I wonder." "As do I, old friend. As do I." Goliath reached down almost absently and hauled Broadway and Brooklyn upright. "Come. It is nearly dawn." Bronx yawned hugely and followed them up the curving stairs that gave onto the ramparts. In the east, the sky was beginning to lighten. Goliath stepped up onto his perch while the others glided down to their places. Angela patted Lex on the shoulder as the others arrived. "We can talk about it more tonight," she said, "but I think you should go. You need to be there, at least." "Yeah," Lex said, gazing toward the rising sun. "Yeah, it's where I need to be." * * Saturday night. Here he was, gliding over Central Park, shifting side to side on the air currents, the moon riding the sky overhead. He spotted the footbridge just as a distant clock chimed eight. The park was quiet, not a peaceful quiet but a watchful one. Lexington guessed that the last time this park had experienced a peaceful quiet was sometime back around the turn of the century. He found a tree with a convenient view of the bridge and settled down to wait. A few people passed by, couples mostly. Some of the romance was taken out of their strolls by the alert way they scanned the surroundings. Little time was spent gazing into each other's eyes. Half of the women kept their hands close by open purses, wherein was probably concealed pepper spray, tazers, or even guns. Half the men walked like they were trying to give the impression that they were secret karate masters. Lex's lip curled as he imagined the guide book Aiden had seen the photo in. No mention of muggers or worse, he was sure. Just scenic views that left out the graffitti, the trash, and the more exotic animals. It was no place for anybody alone, especially not a seventeen-year-old girl. He hoped she'd gotten his message. He hoped that she was even now relaxing safely in her parents' hotel room, with no plans to wander the park at night. Sad, maybe, or mad at him, but safe. He hoped, but in his heart he knew he was wrong. Someone was coming. Through moonlight and shadow and intervals of brighter manmade light. A girl. Walking slowly, yet with a nervousness in her step. He watched as she went halfway over the bridge and stopped. It was her. It was Aiden. Looking more like one of Oberon's children than any daughter of man and woman. Lex himself reached just over five feet when standing straight, but Aiden would have had to look up an inch. She was thin, waiflike. From a distance, it would have been easy to mistake her true age at closer to twelve. Her hair was a pale blond that was more beige than gold. It was pulled back in a clip from her face, which was unremarkable but not plain. Her eyes were large, gentle, the eyes of a doe. The moonlight made her skin almost translucent. Lexington rested his chin in his hands, drinking in the sight of her. He had for some reason envisioned her to be tall, maybe because everyone he knew except for Bronx and Alexander Xanatos towered over him. Instead, she was of a size with him. Had he been human, they could have walked together or danced without looking mismatched. What would she do if he glided down to meet her? Faint? Run screaming to the nearest police station? Clout him over the head with the denim purse gripped tightly in her small hands? The clock chimed the half-hour. Eight-thirty. She was right on time. Someone else was coming. She turned in that direction, and even from his perch Lex could see the hope dawning in her eyes. It was a man, about six feet, lanky, ambling along as if he owned the world. His black jeans were stylishly, carefully ripped. His boots clomped hollowly on the bridge. A dark blond ponytail dangled to the middle of his leather-jacketed back. He looked to be in his early twenties, with a goatee on his chin and a silver hoop dangling from one ear. He paused when he saw Aiden. Lex was tense as a coiled spring. All those long nights of patrol had taught him how to recognize trouble when he saw it, and that was how his mind automatically dubbed this guy. Trouble. Trouble glanced around, seeing for himself what Lex already knew. The park was temporarily deserted. He then sauntered closer to the girl on the bridge, who took a tentative step toward him and said, "Are you ... Lex?" A calculating look flashed briefly over Trouble's face, quickly swallowed by a broad grin. "Yeah, baby, it's me." She frowned slightly. "Lex? Really?" "You were expecting maybe John Travolta?" "I didn't know if you'd come," she said. "I'm so glad you decided to meet me!" Lex bit his lip. He wanted to yell, to warn her. But he would give himself away! All he could do was hope that somebody came along, or that she realized something was wrong before it was too late. "Why wouldn't I want to meet you?" Trouble asked. He held out a hand. "Hey, let's go for a walk. What time to you have to be back?" "Dad's at the conference already, and Mom and Aunt Mary went to see 'Cats.' They don't even know I'm out. As long as I'm not gone too long..." "That's great, baby. That's just great." Lex's hands hurt, and it wasn't until he looked at them and saw that they were clenched into tight fists that he knew why. With an effort, he loosed them and scrambled to another branch, to keep Aiden and Trouble in sight as he began leading her off the bridge. "No, no, no!" Lex muttered, anger and fear vying for the top spot. He had to do something. Had to. Gargoyles protect. No matter what the cost personally. He had to protect her. * * Aiden looked up at Lex, who stood a whole foot taller than her. Goosebumps were breaking out all over her skin, and she didn't think it was because she was swept away by romance. Sad to say, Lex gave her the creeps. He didn't at all talk the same way he wrote. And there was a pack of cigarettes in his jacket pocket, although she was sure she remembered him mentioning at one point that he didn't smoke. She was wishing now that she hadn't pressed for this meeting. Things were never going to be the same. He wasn't at all what she'd expected. If they'd met in person first, she wouldn't have wanted to have anything to do with him. It's because he's from New York, she told herself. There aren't many guys like this in Irvine because it's such a clean little city. I bet if you went up to L.A., nearly everybody would dress like this. The argument didn't hold much water. "Um, Lex?" she said hesitantly. "Yeah, baby?" "Maybe I should get back. You were right; this wasn't a very good idea." "It's a great idea. Come on. Don't wimp out on me." His hand closed on her wrist like a manacle. "I want to go back!" she said, alarmed to hear her voice come out in a near-hysterical screech. "You're not going anywhere!" he snarled, wrenching her arm. "You're not Lex!" she cried, jerking away, He was surprised by the sudden movement and she actually got free, which surprised her so much that she didn't take advantage of it. Before she could move, he had seized her by the shoulders and slammed her against a tree. "I said you're not going anywhere!" His breath was hot and foul on her face. Stupid! she raged at herself. Stupid, stupid, stupid! She'd heard stories about things like this. She'd gone off alone with a stranger, going against everything her parents and teachers had ever said. Gone off alone, nobody knew where she was, nobody nearby, and if what she'd heard about New York was true, nobody would respond to a scream in the dark anyway. His sharp-feratured, weasellike face loomed close. She knew what was going to happen. He'd beat her up, rob her, rape her. Then maybe kill her and leave her body in the bushes. Or kidnap her, get her hooked on drugs, and turn her into a prostitute. The double chains of addiction and shame would keep her bound to him, keep her away from her parents. She called up her mother's face in her mind, serene blue eyes, a cascade of blond hair streaked with silver. Her father, totally grey at forty but with kind brown eyes and a warm smile. To never see them again was unbearable. The guy, the sleazeball, tore her purse from her hands. Brief flare of hope -- maybe all he wanted was money! Not that the eleven bucks in her wallet would appease him. The flare fizzled when he threw the purse away unopened. "Now, listen up," he whispered. "You just cooperate and nobody will get hurt." She jerked away from him and he easily shoved her into the tree again. Bark scraped her elbow. He braced his forearm across her throat, cutting off her air. Her hands tugged ineffectually at his arm. She should do something! Kick him in the groin, bite him, something! Instead, for some crazy reason, she found herself thinking of Latin class. Not high school, no, at her school you had your choice, you could take Spanish, and if you didn't care for Spanish you could take Espanol. The Latin class she'd attended last summer at the university, on a program designed to give promising students a head start on college. *Luminarus occaere effugium evadere,* she thought, a meaningless string of words in her mind, not properly conjugated or put together in a sensible sentence. She only even vaguley understood what they meant. Crazy thoughts, hallucinations brought on by lack of air. She barely noticed him pawing roughly at her chest. A pulse of light swept across the guy's face, reflected car headlights or maybe a cop's flashlight, didn't matter, dazzled him briefly so that his hold on her relaxed. She didn't waste time on gratitude; that could come later if she survived. She brought her knee up as if guided by divine aim and rammed it into the fork of his crotch. In the same motion, she pistoned her hands out and struck him in the gut. He whoofed and bent double, and Aiden fled. Her feet tangled in her own purse strap. Stumbled, almost fell, missed knocking her head on a park bench by inches, and then heard his wordless furious cry and the thunderous sound of pursuit. * * Lex couldn't believe what he'd just seen. He'd followed, and true to his suspicions seen Trouble grab Aiden and shove her against a tree. He was just about to sweep in when something happened that stunned him. Light had flashed from Aiden's hands. Pale silver light, like a mirrorful of moonbeams. It had blinded Trouble and allowed her to escape. _Was_ she one of Oberon's children? Goliath insisted they'd been called back to Avalon for some convention or something, leaving behind only the bizarre members of the Xanatos household. It didn't matter. What mattered was that Trouble had recovered enough to chase Aiden, and was gaining on her. They were headed under a bridge, not a footbridge over water but a tunnel under a street. Aiden raced into that dark arch of stone, gasping for breath, casting frantic, terrified glances back over her shoulder. She was looking back more than forward, which was why she didn't see the cardboard box until she was unable to swerve. She crashed into it and knocked it over, scrambled to her feet again, but by then Trouble was right behind her. And Lex was right behind him, gliding silently. He landed on the underside of the tunnel, claws finding easy handholds in the cracked and seamed concrete. He grabbed her by the arm and whirled her around. Something clicked in his hand, and Lex's keen night vision saw the handle of a switchblade sprout its deadly fang. "You little bitch!" Trouble snarled. "I'm going to cut your damn head off!" She cringed against the damp, curved wall of the tunnel. Lex could see her face, a pale oval in the darkness, and her eyes wide with terror. Lex pounced. * * She saw the knife, glinting in the shadows. The guy himself was a darker form in the darkness. And then she saw something else. Twin blazes of cold white fire overhead. Eyes. The eyes of a vicious animal. In the backsplash of eerie radiance, she had a brief glimpse of something clinging to the wall like a giant spider. And then there was a sound like the wind, and a breeze on her face as the guy was yanked backward away from her. His startled cry was choked off. Something spiderlike swarmed over him. Aiden heard the meaty thuds of heavy blows. She saw the guy raise an arm defensively, and saw clawed fingers jerk his wrist, heard the kindling snap of breaking bones. A book she'd read recently flashed into her mind, a book about a monster able to take many forms, that lived in the sewers and under the bridges. For an instant, her eyes flew upward, half-expecting to see the underside of the bridge concealed by a bobbing forest of balloons. A strangled cry of pain, a final hideous crack, and silence. He was dead. She was sure of it. The guy was dead, maybe he'd even deserved it, but she was bound to be next. A high, breathless shriek forced itself from her throat and she bolted back the way she'd come, springing over the cardboard box with an ungainly leap. She could hear it following her and raced for the end of the tunnel, now thinking of the legend of Sleepy Hollow, sure that if she could just reach the light, pallid though it was, she would be safe. Even so, she didn't stop when she emerged from the tunnel but kept running. "Aiden! Wait!" The sound of her name was a shock that hit her with huge, galvanic force. Her feet lost their rhythm and this time she fell full length, landing in a springy cushion of grass. Her jaw clacked together nearly hard enough to break teeth. She heard something coming closer and rolled onto her back. Saw the creature only a few feet away. Scrabbled backwards on hands and feet and butt. "I'm not going to hurt you," it -- no, he -- said. He sighed. "I never meant for this to happen." She stopped. Her gaze traveled slowly over him, taking in every detail. Pale olive green skin, pointed ears, fangs, membraneous wings, tail. And his expression -- agonized, fearful, tortured, sad, and hopeful mixed all into one. "You're Lex," she heard herself breathe. He nodded, looking down as if ashamed. A long silence spun out between them like Clotho's thread of fate. In a small and quavering voice, Aiden said, "Gosh, you don't look anything like I pictured you." "Yeah," he said. "Guess I never told you I was bald." She gaped incredulously at him and then burst out laughing. "No, I guess you never did." He offered a hand. "Can I help you up?" She hesitated, looking at that alien three-fingered claw, and beyond it to the sincerity in his large eyes. Smiled. Took his hand. He helped her up with easy strength. He was only a little bit taller than she was. Her other hand came up and touched his face wonderingly. His skin was warm and smooth. "You're a gargoyle," she said. "Like on cathedrals, but alive. Like on television a couple of months ago. My father said it was a hoax, a new War of the Worlds, but Aunt Mary swore it was for real." "Yeah, that was us," he said. "But we didn't blow up the police station. Some other people did, trying to kill us." "Did you kill that guy?" she asked, jerking her head back toward the tunnel. "The creep?" "No. He'll live. He'll need an ambulance, though. I was going to find a pay phone and tell the cops where to pick him up. But I wanted to make sure you were all right. Think you can find your way back?" "You're leaving? Why?" "Well, you know ..." he scuffed his feet in the grass. "Please don't leave," she said. "Please don't. I really did want to meet you, no matter what." He blinked. "Okay." "But let's get out of here before he wakes up. I've got a quarter to call the -- oh, my purse!" "I know where it is." He motioned for her to follow and began loping across the grass on all fours, fast and agile, his wings tucked against his sides. No one had happened along and taken her purse. She dug through it and came up with a quarter, then they found a pay phone. It was along a well-lit stretch of path, where a few walkers lingered, so Lex hid in the bushes while Aiden placed the call. She told the police what had happened, leaving out any mention of her name or what she had been doing in the park in the first place, and of course avoiding mention of gargoyles. She hung up on their questions, anxiously, having never openly defied Authority like that. "It's done," she said. "We should go before they get here." "Want that soda?" Lex offered. "I know where there'a a machine." "Sure." By the time they reached the machine, she had completely forgotten that there was anything weird about him. He was clever, funny, exactly as she expected from his letters. And now that she was used to him, he was really kind of cute. Not that she could ask him to the Prom or anything. The machine turned out to be broken, so he waited in the shadows while she went into a deli. Once she was inside and smelled the food, she realized how hungry she was. She bought two large sandwiches, roast beef and swiss with everything but onions, and a jumbo bag of chips, plus two sodas. As they ate, Lex asked, "What happened back there? With the light?" "What?" "When he grabbed you." "Oh. There was light from somewhere and it got in his eyes. Lucky. It gave me a chance to get away. Must have been a car's headlights or something." He shook his head. "There was no car." "Well, it had to come from somewhere," she shrugged. "You mean, you didn't do it?" "What, the light?" she laughed. "I did have one of those keychain flashlights, but it hasn't worked since the time I accidentally left it in the laundry." "So you're not one of Oberon's children?" he asked with peculiar emphasis, watching her reaction closely. Utterly mystified, she said, "Who what? Oberon? Wasn't that some Shakespeare guy?" "Then how did you do it?" Lex said, more to himself than her. "I didn't do anything!" "This is weird," he mused. "I should ask Goliath. Hey, want to come back and meet the rest of the clan?" "You mean there are more?" "Yeah!" He chuckled, a bit shamefaced. "Remember you were talking about how your mom wanted to go see Castle Wyvern? Well, that's where we live. That's why I wondered how she knew Xanatos. He kind of used to be our enemy." "I'd really like to meet them, and see the castle. But it's getting late. How about tomorrow?" "Well, Aiden, um ... I can't see you during the day." "Why not?" "I'll turn to stone when the sun comes up." "You're kidding." "Honest! That's how we sleep. Except we got put to sleep for a thousand years. That's how we wound up here. We used to live in Scotland. Xanatos brought us here and broke the spell." "Wow," she said, rubbing her temples. "Gargoyles, magic spells, what next?" "I could talk all night, and you'd still have to get Goliath or Angela to tell you all about Avalon." For some reason, that name stirred something in her. "Avalon?" "The magic island where Oberon's children live. And King Arthur. Goliath can tell you. Or Angela. She grew up there." "This is incredible! Everything I've ever imagined is turning out to be real!" "What do you mean?" he asked, tipping his head quizzically to one side. "When I was little, Aunt Mary used to tell me stories about gargoyles that guarded castles, and magic islands guarded by witches. The usual fairy tale stuff too, but it's the other ones I remember best." "I was really afraid to meet you," Lex confessed. "We've had some bad luck with humans. The last time I tried to make new friends, they turned out to be psychos who wanted to hunt us down." She laid her hand on his arm. "Not me. We're still friends, right?" He covered her hand with his and grinned at her. "You bet!" "Darn, I wish we were staying in New York," she sighed. "It's going to be tough saying goodbye." Hesitantly, he tucked a loose wisp of hair behind her ear. "Yeah. I knew you were nice, and smart, and fun, and now I know you're pretty too." She blushed and laughed self-consciously. "Not really." "I mean it!" "I'm too short, and skinny --" "Hey, so am I, and I think you're perfect." "Lex, you're so sweet!" she said, kissing him on the cheek. He put his arm around her, still moving carefully as if he was afraid she'd freak out. His wing lay companionably over her back. She leaned against him and put her head on his shoulder. "I wish you could stay in New York too," he said, resting his head on hers. "Maybe I should start looking at East Coast colleges," she said. "Mom wants me to go to UCI and stay close to home, but I bet I could talk her into it." She glanced at her watch and gasped. "Speaking of Mom, I've got to get back! Their play gets out in twenty minutes, and if I'm not there ..." she broke off, the imagined horrors of parental wrath numbing her lips. "Want a ride?" Lex offered. "That would be so great!" She jumped up excitedly and followed him to an abandoned building at the edge of the park. Although it was probably tresspassing, Aiden didn't even stop to think before following him up the fire escape. He climbed to a stair landing about halfway up and waited for her to join him. He spread his arms, fully extending his wings. "I couldn't carry you very well, but if you can hang on around my neck, yeah, like that, um ..." he stammered as she cuddled close. "How does Goliath keep his mind on gliding?" he wondered aloud. "Hold on tight!" * * "That's our room!" Aiden called. "The balcony with the towel hanging on the rail." "It's dark. Looks like they're still out. What's with the towel?" "Dad knocked over the coffee. Not just his cup. I'm talking the whole pot. Mom used the towel to sop it up and hung it out here to dry. Guess she forgot to bring it in." Lex soared to the balcony and landed clutching the rail. She was relieved and disappointed when her feet felt solid concrete beneath them. "That was terrific!" "You weren't scared?" he asked. She shook her head. "I knew you wouldn't let me fall. Want to come in for a minute?" "Sure." She slid back the door and peeked through the curtains, then waved. "It's clear." Lex came in and looked around interestedly. "Hey, cool, a laptop!" "It's my dad's. No modem, though. Next year, he says he's going to upgrade." Lex reached to open it, then glanced at her. "Can I take a look?" "Go ahead. He doesn't mind if I use it. There's a really neat castle- building program. You can even choose statues, but I don't think there's many gargoyles." He flipped on the computer and she leaned over his shoulder, both of their faces bathed in a greenish glow. Soon, he was showing her how to design a map of Castle Wyvern. "This is the room Xanatos gave us," he said. The lights snapped on. Aiden whirled, her blood icy, her skin tight. Lex froze like a deer in the headlights. Aunt Mary stood in the doorway. Her eyes got wider and wider, but something about her expression was wrong. Shock, yes. Plenty of shock. But no fear. And strangest of all, recognition. "You!" she breathed, staring at Lex. "I remember you!" Aiden, utterly flummoxed, looked at Lex. He, crouching beside her and wound so tight that if she touched him he would probably spring straight through the ceiling, seemed as startled as she was. Aunt Mary hastily shut the door and engaged the chain. "For the love of God, your parents are in the lobby! They just stopped off for a glass of wine!" "Aunt Mary," Aiden began, with absolutely no idea of what she was going to say, "it isn't what it looks like!" "Aye? It looks like a gargoyle, and a familiar one!" "You know her?" Aiden asked Lex. He shook his head. "I don't think so ..." "You're from the castle, one of the ones the Magus turned to stone!" Aunt Mary declared. "You weren't destroyed because the big one had sent you below as punishment for scaring us!" Lex twitched all over, one whole-body twitch that would have been funny under other circumstances, but Aiden was too busy trying to figure out what was going on. "How do you know about that?" Lex demanded. "Don't you recognize me, then? It was my boy, Tom, that tried to befriend you, and me that wouldn't let him!" "You're Tom's mother?" Lex reeled back, bumping into the table. The laptop slid and teetered, and Aiden grabbed it. She backed up, confused. "Who's Tom? I have a cousin?" "Poor dear," Aunt Mary said. "I'm not really your mother's older sister. We're not really kin at all, although I love you as if you were my own." "But that was a thousand years ago!" Lex cried. "How is this possible?" * * "How is this possible?" Goliath said, his eyes narrowing into suspicious slits. The rest of the clan, especially Angela, were silent and raptly attentive. Lex glanced at the clock, which told him he didn't have much time. "They can tell you themselves," he said. "Tonight. They're coming here." "Are you certain, Lexington?" He nodded. "Yeah. It's weird, but it makes sense. I guess. You're the one who knows how Avalon works." "I doubt Oberon himself knows that," Goliath said dryly. "Did you tell her that her son is alive?" Angela asked excitedly. "He was like a father to me and my rookery brothers and sisters!" "Is she immortal, like Demona and MacBeth?" Broadway asked, wincing as he accidentally spoke the hated name, but for the first time Goliath did not react as if stung. Lex waved for silence. "I can't answer everybody's questions! It's almost dawn." "To your places," Goliath commanded. "We'll get to the bottom of this mystery tonight." As the sun rose and stone claimed the clan, Owen Burnett stood straight in the new light. "You are right, Goliath," he said to the large statue. "Not even Oberon himself knows everything." "Something going on, Owen?" his employer asked. It had been a sleepless night for the parents of a teething infant, but somehow Xanatos made even exhaustion look good. If he had bags under his eyes, they were by Gucci. "We're having company tonight, sir. A Doctor Ferguson and his family." David Xanatos frowned. "That name rings a bell." "As well it should, sir. Doctor Ferguson's wife sold you the Grimorum. It was twenty years ago, I believe?" "Oh, yes," Xanatos nodded. "There was always something strange about her." "I think tonight you'll learn why. Permission to activate the hidden cameras in the gargoyles' suite?" "Is that really necessary?" He looked pained. "How many times do I have to say that they really are guests here? You don't believe me, Fox doesn't believe me, Goliath doesn't believe me ..." "Do you believe you, sir?" "Cheap shot, Owen." "Yes, sir. I assure you, however, that you'll find Mrs. Ferguson's revelations to be very ... illuminating." An eyebrow went up. "Is that so? Well, then, Owen, carry on." * * "It's so like being home again," the blond woman was saying as Owen opened the door. Whatever she had been about to say next was lost in a gasp of surprise as she laid eyes on the seven gargoyles standing in the center of the room. "It _is_ them!" the other woman, cried. She was older, beyond what could politely be called pleasantly plump, and her grey hair was pulled back in a bun. "I remember all of them, except for the girl. You, you're the leader, the one called Goliath!" "Yes." Goliath folded a hand over his waist and bowed slightly. "You are ... Tom's mother?" "I am. Mary Bywell." The blond woman's husband came in, looking very much like the professor of history that he was, complete with prematurely grey hair and spectacles, which he polished on the edge of his coat and replaced to get a better look at the gargoyles. His expression was intense and scholarly. The girl was small and slight, pretty in a waiflike way. As she came in, quick smiles of reassurance flashed between her and Lexington. Xanatos leaned closer to the console and adjusted the volume. "Tsk, tsk," his wife chided. "Spying on our 'guests'? For shame." "Only because Owen assures me there is something unusual going on." On the screen, introductions were being made. "I am Doctor Kenneth Ferguson," the professor said. "This is my wife, Finella, and our daughter, Aiden." Seats and refreshments were offered. Xanatos watched, amused, as the gargoyles did their best to engage in polite small talk before getting to whatever it was that was the real issue. He wondered who would bring it up first, mentally placing his bet on Goliath. "So the spell has been broken," Mary said. "How did it happen?" "Damn," Xanatos muttered, mentally paying up. "The castle rose above the clouds," Goliath said. "Such was the wording of the Magus' spell. But please, tell us, how it is that you come to be here. The last Tom saw of you, you were in a boat, sailing away from the gates of Avalon." "Lexington says you've seen Tom, that he's alive and well," Mary said. "Yes," Angela said. "He raised us, all the eggs, he and the princess and the Magus." She paused, then, added, "He and the princess are very much in love." "Awww," Fox said. "Shh!" Xanatos hissed. The door opened behind them and Owen came in. He took a seat next to Xanatos and stared into the screen. Focusing, it seemed, on the girl. Aiden. Angela babbled on, thrilling the old woman with tales of her son, until even doting papa Goliath started to get impatient. She got the hint when he nudged her with his wing. "But, please, tell us your story!" "It's really Finella's tale to tell," Mary said. The blond woman took a deep breath. "Ever since last night, I've been trying to think of the best way to tell it," she said. "I really don't know where to start. So I'll start with myself." She looked at her daughter. "Kenneth knows all of it, but this is the first Aiden's ever heard." The girl smiled uncertainly. Xanatos noticed that Owen wore a look of concentration. He glanced at Fox, saw that she'd noticed too. "I was a ward of the king," Finella said. "King Kenneth, the uncle of Princess Katherine. My father had been a knight in the king's service, and died saving him. His final wish was for me to be well cared for. So King Kenneth took it upon himself to offer me a queen's crown. I had to accept, but within weeks of arriving at his castle, my heart was won by a young soldier named Constantine." Here Mary made a face, like she'd just smelled something bad. Goliath was nodding. Aiden was staring at her mother as if she'd never seen her before. "I knew there was something strange about her!" Xanatos said triumphantly. "She's immortal? How?" "Shh!" Fox mimcked teasingly. Owen tapped the screen, redirecting their attention to it. "Much of what happened next was horrible," Finella continued. "I'm not proud of it. Constantine used me to trap King Kenneth, murdered him and stole his throne. A war ensued. Kenneth's son fled, but Katherine, who had arrived just days before, could not because of her cargo. The gargoyle eggs. To save them, she had to agree to marry Constantine, whose love for me proved as false as his honor. The only thing that kept me from hating Katherine was knowing that she wanted nothing to do with Constantine." "Finella agreed to help us flee and bear the eggs to safety," Mary said. "With the help of the Magus, she drugged Constantine and we made our escape. The Magus swore to take us beyond reach of any pursuers." "We sailed," Finella said. "We sailed, and the Magus chanted, and a strange mist descended on the world. Soon we came to a place that was guarded by three women, beautiful but cold, alien as the moon. They denied us passage because of the book the Magus carried." "The Grimorum Arcanorum," Goliath said. "Yes. The Magus ... he was torn between his love for his magic and his love for the princess." "Something he thought he concealed," Mary said, "but at that, at least, he was no artist." "He chose to go with her," Finella said. Her eyes had taken on a dreamy, faraway look, as if in her mind she was reliving the roll of the waves, the cool moisture of the mist. "And he gave the book into my keeping. I swore on my life to keep it away from Constantine. That was my one vow, my one driving thought as we sailed away from them. To keep the book safe away from Constantine." "Once," Mary added, "I thought I saw another craft, with two men aboard, so alike as to be twins, fearsome and white bearded, and I thought they might come after us, but we lost them in the mist." "We lost ourselves in the mist too," Finella said. "It seemed like forever that we sailed, with no idea of where we were or where we were going. Until at last the mist cleared, and we found ourselves near shore. It was a rocky highland, overlooked by a huge castle. We thought to find sanctuary there. But it was abandoned, a crumbling ruin, the gargoyle guardians overgrown with ivy." "It was this castle," Mary said. "Castle Wyvern. And those gargoyles were the lot of you." "We sheltered there," Finella said, rubbing her hands along her arms to ward off a remembered chill. "Everything seemed so _old_ and desolate! The village was gone without a trace. And we saw things. Things we could not believe or explain. A dragon of steel, with no head and wings that did not flap. A ship, once, far out at sea, with smoke pouring from what we thought were its masts." "Avalon had sent you through time," Goliath said in sudden understanding. "That's where I came in," Doctor Ferguson said. "This would have been twenty years ago. I was spending a semester abroad, gathering research for a paper on ancient Scottish castles. Actually, I was looking for ways to debunk the notion that the Scots had castles in the tenth century. I was trying to find proof that Castle Wyvern was much younger than it was reported to be." Finella nodded. "He found us instead." "And oh," laughed Mary, "the time we had, trying to convince each other our stories were true!" "Once I satisfied myself of the validity of the Grimorum, especially of the Magus' writings in the back which told what had happened, I came to believe," Doctor Ferguson said. "I fell in love with Kenneth," Finella said. "He was so unlike the Kenneth I had known, and even better, so unlike Constantine! He taught us of our new world. We decided it would be easiest to pretend that Mary was my elder sister. Eventually, Kenneth and I were married. A few years later, Aiden was born. And a few years after that, in desperate need of money, we decided to sell the Grimorum." "Why?" Goliath demanded. "Didn't you know how powerful it was? How dangerous?" "I had fulfilled my vow to keep it away from Constantine, for Constantine had died centuries ago," she said. "And in this new world of science, who would have believed in a book of magic spells?" "So you sold it to Xanatos," Goliath rumbled. "He always says my name like that," Xanatos whispered to his wife. "Xanatos, to rhyme with scum." "Yes. To David Xanatos, a young newly-made millionaire with an interest in antiques." Finella glanced around at the room. "Then, a few years ago, we heard that he had purchased the castle and was planning to move it here." "And then, not long ago," Mary added, "we began hearing strange things in the news. Even in California it would crop up every now and again. So when Kenneth had the chance to come to New York, we thought we'd see what we could see. And I for one have to say how glad I am to see you all moving again!" Aiden was crying. "Why didn't you ever tell me?" she managed between sobs. Finella went to her and embraced her. "How could we? You would have thought we were crazy." "Aye, until she brought a gargoyle home," Mary said, winking at Lexington. "We should've known the girl would never be a typical teenager." "Indeed," Owen murmured. He rose and left without a word of explanation. "That man gets weirder and weirder all the time," Fox said. Xanatos grinned wryly at her. "Well, he doesn't get it from _my_ side of the family." "Ha, ha, very funny. Who took us time travelling on our honeymoon? _I_ suggested a nice Mediterranean cruise." "Wow, Goliath," Broadway said. "Is it true? I mean, do you believe it?" "Yes, I do." The big gargoyle extended his hands to the humans. "You are part of our clan." Doctor Ferguson clasped forearms with Goliath without a qualm and pushed his spectacles up on his nose with the other hand. "So, tell me about Avalon. Why send them forward in time so far? Why to me?" "Karma?" Brooklyn suggested in his typical wiseass manner, earning a poke from Angela. "Karma is but fate," Owen said, entering the room. "And fate is Avalon's stock in trade." "What are you doing here?" Goliath growled. Owen ignored him and turned to Finella. "Avalon sends you where you need to be. It sent you ahead to a time when you could deliver the Grimorum to Mr. Xanatos. So that he could, in turn, restore the gargoyles. So that they could ultimately serve Avalon's will." "You've been eavesdropping," Angela said, lip curling viciously. "Serve Avalon's will?" Goliath echoed. "By defying Oberon?" "Avalon's will and Oberon's will are not always the same," Owen said mildly. "Titania's will, now that is another story." Fox rolled her eyes. "I just knew my mother was going to come into this someplace." "But Avalon did something more," Owen continued. "It worked its power on you." Finella could not break free of the chain of Owen's gaze. "But we never even reached the island," she whispered. "You were within the boundaries of Avalon, from which no human has ever passed unchanged." Goliath seemed to swell all over, enlarging him to what looked like twice his already impressive size. "Unchanged? Then what has it done to --" Owen made an exasperated noise. "For once, put Detective Maza out of your mind," he said scornfully. Goliath flushed violet and Xanatos chuckled. Owen smiled at Finella in what was probably meant to be a soothing manner, but she was even more unnerved. "The changes would be so slight that you would likely never even notice." He paused, glanced at Goliath as if to say *see?* and went on. "But you carried an item of magic, and had been touched by sorcery only days before, when the Magus enlisted your aid. So the effect was stronger in you than in Mrs. Bywell. And strongest of all in your daughter." "What?" Aiden blurted. "I knew it!" Lex cried. "The light! The light came from your hands! I saw it! Not the reflection of a car's headlights. It was you, Aiden!" Everyone else looked baffled, except, as usual, for Owen. The pale man nodded. "Yes. Just as a mother's exposure to chemicals can have lingering effects, so too with magic." "Let me get this straight," Kenneth Ferguson said. "You're saying, and never mind how you know so much because I'm sure you wouldn't give me a straight answer anyway, that Finella was exposed to magic and it changed her. Genetically. Like some form of radiation. It caused a mutation that she then passed on to Aiden." "Yes," Owen said, actually seeming a bit put off. Xanatos snickered. "Got you all figured out, doesn't he, Owen?" Although the cameras were only one-way, Owen glanced up as if he'd heard that remark. "So, you see," Owen said to Goliath, "your concerns for Detective Maza are unfounded. Unless she is expecting ... ?" Goliath's expression would have made brave men faint, but Owen was unperturbed and the rest of the gargoyles hid smirks and muffled laughs. "Wait, wait," Aiden said, waving her hands. "What do you mean? I've got some disease or something? I'm a mutant, like some comic book character?" "Not --" "What he means," Goliath said, his voice rolling over Owen's, "is that you have the gift of sorcery." "Yes," Owen said again, looking even more annoyed. "Few humans and fewer gargoyles have the talent, and for all of them it requires lengthy periods of study. But you, Aiden Ferguson, have a rare ability. Untutored, you have already begun casting spells. What went through your mind before you saw the light Lexington mentions?" "I was just thinking about Latin class," she said defensively. "Just random words." "And you cast a spell!" Lex said enthusiastically. "Wow, Aiden, that's fantastic!" Everyone was staring at Aiden, who seemed to shrink in her chair. Xanatos had pegged her as the ultimate wallflower and it showed now more than ever. The attention, the interest and awe, made her thoroughly uncomfortable. "With training," Owen said, "Aiden could become a sorceress of great power." "But I was _going_ to major in history," she said meekly. Xanatos roared with laughter. Her parents exchanged a glance. "I can't think of any colleges that offer courses in that area," Kenneth said. "At least, no reputable schools." "No. It is something that would have to be pursued in independent study," Owen replied. "Here." "Here in New York?" Finella asked. "Here in this castle," Owen clarified. "You old dog," Xanatos murmured admiringly. "I can use a good wizard around the place." "You mean, Aiden would live here?" Lex's face shone with delight and hope. Goliath looked fondly at the smaller gargoyle. "I believe that is Aiden's decision." Once again, all eyes turned to the tiny girl. Her throat moved as she swallowed. "Poor thing," Fox whispered. "I know how she feels. One minute, you think your life is perfectly normal, and then you find out bizarre secrets about your mother and that you yourself have some weird power you never even suspected." "What about school?" Finella asked. "You don't graduate until next year." "There are many fine private schools in this area," Owen said. "Mr. Xanatos sits on the board of directors of the Sterling Academy. I am certain a transfer could be arranged." "Sounds expensive," Mary pointed out. "I am certain that my employer would be willing to sponsor the young lady's education, with the understanding that she will then come to work for Xanatos Enterprises." "Took the words right out of my mouth, Owen old chum," Xanatos said to the screen. Aiden looked overwhelmed. "I ... I think I need some fresh air." "I can show you around," Lex offered eagerly. Brooklyn watched them go. In a low voice, he said, "Good luck, brother! Hope you do better than I did with Maggie." "What?" Angela turned to him. He shook his head. "Nothing." He took her hand and smiled warmly. "Nothing at all." * * "Lex, what am I going to do?" Aiden wailed. "You shouldn't ask me," he said. "I'd say go for it. I mean, if you're here, and I'm here, we can be together." "I'd like that. But this is so much all at once! I never asked to be a sorceress!" "I don't think there is anybody to ask even if you'd wanted to. Aiden, think about it though! You can do things nobody else can even dream of. You have that power in you, that great gift from Avalon. It'd really be too bad to waste it." She ran her hand along the smooth cut stone of the wall. "I could really like it here. So high, above everything, a real castle in the sky." "You'd have friends. Good friends." "What about Mr. Xanatos? You don't trust him very much." "Yeah, that's true. I'd be worried he might want to use you, use your power for his schemes. So you'd have to be on guard all the time." She sighed. "When I was a kid, I used to wish there was something special about me. I'd daydream about being able to fly, or talk to animals, or things like that. Now I've actually got the chance, and I'm scared half to death." Lex took her hands and made her look at him. "Aiden, even if you didn't have magic, there would still be something special about you." "I'd miss my family ..." she trailed off. "But I'd been thinking about a distant college anyway, and I could still visit them. You're right, I shouldn't waste this gift. It's like being an artist, or a musician, right? Talent shouldn't be ignored." "Are you going to stay?" Lex asked anxiously. "I think I really am!" She hugged him tight. "I don't know what I'll tell people back home, but I'm going to do it!" Before he knew what he was going to do, he kissed her. Just like in the movies. If he'd stopped to think about it, he probably would have goofed it up. Except for a peck on the cheek from Angela, he'd never done anything like it before. But it was great! She started, and he saw her eyes fly open, then he felt her lips curve in a smile and she kissed him back. When they drew back, her eyes were brighter and more sparkly than the city lights below. "Come on," she said, blushing, seizing his hand. "I want to tell my folks I've made up my mind." They dashed back in. Owen had dropped his mysterious oracle routine and produced refreshments, so the room had taken on the bizarre atmosphere of a cocktail party with humans and gargoyles mingling, sipping drinks, and nibbling at treats. Xanatos and Fox had joined them. Mary was cooing over baby Alexander, who was alert and cheerful from his nap. "Um, Mom? Dad?" Aiden called. Expectant silence fell over the room, and Aiden was once more the center of attention. She took a deep breath. "I want to be a sorceress," she announced. "I want to stay here. This is where I need to be." Finella beamed proudly. "Oh, Aiden, I hoped you would!" David Xanatos clasped Aiden's hands. "I cannot tell you how happy I am." As he drew the Fergusons aside to discuss details, Goliath and the others approached Lexington. He rested a large purple hand on Lex's shoulder. "I hope your friend has made the right decision." "I'll look out for her, Goliath, I promise," Lex said. "I won't let Xanatos trick her." "Hunh," Broadway mumbled through a triangular cucumber sandwiche. "Isn't it kinda funny that your pen pal turns out to be a wizard?" "Yeah," Brooklyn said. "Talk about coincidence. Practically the only person in the world who is as weird as the rest of us." "Coincidence had nothing to do with it." The clan whirled on Owen. "Would ye _stop_ doing that!" Hudson barked. "What do you mean?" Lex asked suspiciously. Owen permitted himself a small smile. "Science and sorcery go hand in hand. What Avalon could not do, the Internet provided quite nicely." He swiftly went to the side of the beckoning Xanatos, leaving the gargoyles staring after him. "Ye know," Hudson said, "I ne'er did care much for that man, but I'm really beginnin' to hate him." "Gee," Lex grinned. "I'm really beginning to like him." * * The End
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Where You Need to Be / Page Copyright 1996 - Tim Morgan / email@example.com