by Christine Morgan

Author's Note: the characters of Gargoyles are the property of Disney and
used here without their creators' knowledge or consent. Mature readers only,
please, due to strong language.

        "This place is driving me nuts," T.J. Lawton said.         Alexander Xanatos looked hurt. "You don't like it here?"         "It's not that," T.J. hastily assured his younger half-brother, then gestured around. "It's just -- the trailer I grew up in would fit in here with room to drive a Chevy around it. This place -- it's too big. Not to mention dark, creepy, and just goddam weird. Sorry, kid, but it is!"         "And you don't like the gargoyles," Alex said with a wisdom beyond his four years. "They scare you."         "They don't scare ... okay, so they scare me," T.J. admitted, after a quick glance to be sure nobody heard him say so. "Sure, Fox and your dad tried to tell me, but it's one thing to hear about it, and another thing be standing there when all of a sudden rock goes flying every which way and there's these huge monsters in your face."         "They're not monsters," Alex protested.         "I know, I know." T.J. ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "But they're not normal, either."         "Nobody here is!" Alex said proudly. "That's what's best!"         T.J. looked at him for a long time. "If you say so. It's just all a lot to get used to, you know? I mean, I wind up in Maine with hardly any idea how I got there, kidnap a kid I've never seen before for no good reason, get in a fight with a gross fish-man on an island in the middle of nowhere, magic's flinging in all directions and some of it's coming from me ... and then I find out that the mom of the kid I grabbed is really my own mom too, and before I know what's happened, here I am in New York. Where I'm taken to a for- Chrissake's castle on top of the tallest building in the world, introduced to the butler, who turns out to be a fairy --"         "You shouldn't say it like it's a bad thing," Alex cut in. "We're part fairy, too."         T.J. grimaced. "There's also a chick training to be a witch, the gargoyles, and a cop whose brother is a winged panther-man. And the robots, battle armor, helicopters, weapons, and other assorted shit. Sorry. Stuff. Other assorted stuff."         "So why don't you like it?" Alex asked in all innocence. "Isn't it neat?"         "Neat? Sure, in a movie it would be neat. In real life, though, it's kinda hard to take. I mean, what the hell is a guy like me doing in a place like this?"         "Learning, like me." His little face went solemn. "We have to know how to protect ourselves from Grandma, and Oberon. In case they try to get us. It's like school."         "I've had it with school, that's the thing. Never did plan to go to college. Now I'm here, and your dad wants me to work with computers. What am I going to do with a computer? Or robots, what do I know about robots? He's got guys who cruised through MIT and Stanford on full scholarships."         "Lex can teach you about computers," Alex said. "He's real smart!"         "Too smart for me! I can't understand half of what he says." T.J. shook his head. "I'm a mechanic, a good one, but it's the rest of it that I can't deal with."         "You're not going to leave, are you?"         "I'm not going back to Joshua Flats, that's for damn sure. But I don't know about living in this castle. If I could get a real job, an apartment ..." he sighed. "No, I could never afford it. But I gotta do something more than hang around this castle waiting for the Boogeyman from Avalon to come and get me. And I'm not gonna blow my time studying, especially not rhyming fairy spells!"         "You could help Brooklyn fix his motorcycle," Alex suggested. "He about gave up on it. Even Lex can't make it go."         "Why, what's wrong with it?"         Alex shrugged. "It won't go."         "Won't go, huh? Well ..."                 *               *         T.J. stepped out of the elevator and inhaled the scents of oil and metal. This was what he'd been missing! Not having his own wheels made him feel unsettled. He missed his old junker and his job at the garage more than he missed any of his friends.         Xanatos, now, his fleet of rolling iron put the nicest cars in Joshua Flats to shame. T.J. ran a hand admiringly along the sleek flank of a Ferrari so black that light seemed to fall into it. He passed a silver-grey Rolls, a cobalt-blue Mercedes that belonged to Fox, and the rest of the collection. Further back was the staff parking area -- even the goddam night shift janitor drove a Lexus!         In the furthest corner from the elevator was a corrugated metal door rolled halfway up. Intermittent sparks and flashes came from that direction, accompanied by the whirr and clang of tools, low voices, and laughter.         He headed that way, pausing to muster his nerve behind an enormous dark luxury van with tinted windows, then continuing on before he could chicken out.         "Hey, dudes, what's going on?" he asked as casually as he could.         They looked up, and their demonic faces in the capering light of the blowtorch nearly made T.J. piss himself. He just knew they were going to jump him, unzip his guts ...         Instead, they grinned at him in surprise.         "T.J.!" Lex said, shoving up his welder's mask. "What brings you down here?"         "Yeah," Brooklyn chimed in sardonically. "Thought you steered clear of the castle monsters."         He coughed self-consciously and shoved his hands in his pockets. "Uh, well, Alex said you guys were having some trouble with your wheels. Thought maybe I'd take a look."         "Be my guest!" Lex waved at the pile of parts. "It was working fine, until Brooklyn blew it up!"         "Well, you're the one who crashed it in the first place," Brooklyn retorted.         "Yeah, but then I put it back together! You're the one who had to go joyriding with a biker gang! Kindred spirits, my tail!"         "That was five years ago. How long are you going to keep throwing it in my face?"         "Until we get this bike fixed," Lex said.         "If you'd just finish it, then, and quit the 'wait, I got an idea,' thing, maybe it would be done by now!"         "You've been working on it for five years?" T.J. butted in, surveying the pieces with new interest.         "Well, off and on," Brooklyn said, scratching his head. "Other things kept getting in the way. People trying to kill us, magic spells --"         "Angela," Lex added.         "How'd you blow it up, anyway?" T.J. asked, hunkering down and picking up a curved piece of metal.         "It got shot and exploded. Then it got carted off to the dump and we barely got there in time to keep it from going in the crusher."         "So why didn't you have Mr. Moneybags --" T.J. jerked his thumb upward at the towering weight of stone, steel, and glass above them, "-- buy you a new one?"         Lex laughed. "He wasn't too happy with us at the time. Believe it or not, he used to be one of the people trying to kill us. Fox, too."         "Yeah?"         "She was your fault," Brooklyn told Lex. "If it wasn't for Alex, I bet you two still wouldn't be speaking to each other."         "Jeez, I hate coming into things in the middle," T.J. complained, absently opening his hand to grasp the wrench that sailed smoothly into it. "Somebody fill me in. If you used to be ... crap, I can't believe I'm gonna say 'enemies,' who the hell has real enemies?"         "Us," Brooklyn said, and proceeded to tell T.J. a long, complicated, and unbelievable story. At least, it would have been unbelievable if  anybody else were telling it.         While he listened to Brooklyn's tale and Lex's frequent excited interruptions, his hands worked smoothly, fitting pieces together. Whichever one he needed next floated up right on cue, and he never picked up the wrong size bolt.         "Wow," Lex breathed, seeing the pile of parts start to come together in a coherent, motorcycle-like shape. "Think you can get it running?"         "Sure," T.J. replied. "Might need to order some replacement parts, unless you've got a junk pile I can scrounge in."         "Right over there." Brooklyn pointed to another door, this one padlocked. "That's where Xanatos puts all his busted vehicles until he decides what to do with them. I think there's even some Steel Clan leftovers in there, the ones his cleanup crew had to sweep up."         "Yeah, the ones too mangled to fix." Lex beamed proudly. "Courtesy of us, mostly."         T.J. stood and brushed his grimy hands on his jeans. "Let's go take a look."         "Lex, you got a key?" Brooklyn asked.         "No, but I'll run up and get one from Owen."         "Don't bother." T.J. closed a fist around the padlock. Energy jumped from his fingers with a loud snap, and the hasp popped open.         "Cool," Brooklyn observed.         Lex opened the door and whistled. "We could build a dozen bikes!"         "Nah," T.J. said, "but we could put a sidecar on the one you've got."         "Hey, yeah, let's do it!"         "Won't that slow it down?" Brooklyn argued.         T.J. snorted. "What, you got a need for speed? In that traffic? Now, if you were in my hometown, hundreds of miles of two-lane blacktop with nothing else in sight, then you could crank her up to one- twenty easy. But in this city, unless you're driving on the sidewalks --"         "You'd be surprised how empty the streets are in the middle of the night," Lex said.         "I got it up to seventy the time it blew up," Brooklyn said. "For a couple blocks, anyway. Besides, it's the principle of the thing. If we're going to fix it up, shouldn't we make it go as fast as we can?"         "You'll have to excuse him," Lex said. "He feels the mating-noose tightening, so he's got to have one last wild daredevil stunt before Angela reels him in."         Brooklyn mock-swung at him. "Look who's talking! Aiden's got you netted, scaled, and de-boned!"         "Isn't that the truth!" Lex said with a ribald wink.         T.J. twitched, startled. He'd actually been thinking of them as real guys, and it wasn't until they mentioned Aiden, the sorceress-chick, that he remembered they were gargoyles.         "Uh, listen ..." he began so uncertainly that they left off their good- natured teasing and looked at him. "Uh ... I don't wanna sound like a species-ist rat, but ..."         "But it bugs you that Lex and Aiden are doing the horizontal mambo?" Brooklyn finished.         "If she heard you say that, she'd zap you into the next century," Lex said, jabbing him in the bicep.         "Well, yeah," T.J. said heavily. "I mean, you guys seem okay and everything ... anybody who appreciates a good set of wheels can't be all bad ... but ..."         "We were just thinking the same thing about you," Brooklyn said.         "It's okay," Lex said. "I know what you're saying. One of my own rookery brothers, who shall remain nameless --" he jabbed Brooklyn again, "thinks Goliath and I are queer for humans."         "I never said that!" He flushed maroon. "Not out loud, anyway."         "Anyway, the point is, it's our business. It's not like we're here to seduce all your womenfolk, so there's no point feeling threatened."         "Hey!" T.J. raised both hands, palms out. "Did I say I was threatened? You're right. It's none of my business. If it bugs me, it's my problem, not yours."         "Besides," Brooklyn said, "Only one of Fox's parents is human."         "Don't remind me! Sometimes I think I'm the only normal person in the whole damn place, and then I remember that I'm not!"         "So who'd want to be?" Lex asked. "Come on, are we going to build a bike, or are we going to stand here discussing race relations all night?"                 *               *         An engine revved.         Sputtered.         Went dead.         "Try it again!" Brooklyn urged.         Lex did, twisting the throttle.         A stinking cloud of blue smoke belched from the tailpipe. The engine ran choppily for about ten seconds, then cut out.         "Hang on, let me try something." T.J. fiddled with the fuel line, then slapped his palm flat against the side of the bike. It roared into life,  then settled into a deep, powerful rumble.         "All right!" Lex cheered. The three of them swapped high-fives all around.         "I think we're done," T.J. said. "Not bad for a week's work!"         "I still don't know about the sidecar." Brooklyn clambered into it and bounced experimentally. "How about a test-drive?"         "Don't you think people might notice?" T.J. asked skeptically. "You guys kind of stand out."         "I've got helmets," Lex said, bounding off the bike and digging through a footlocker. "Here's yours, Brooklyn, the one with the holes in it."         T.J. watched them, shaking his head. "So you're telling me that gargoyles riding down the street with helmets on isn't going to attract attention?"         Brooklyn donned his, then produced a beat-up black leather jacket with chains dangling off the shoulders, and two big rips in the back. "This'll help."         "Oh, man!" T.J. laughed.         "Come on!" Lex said. "Where's your sense of adventure? Come with us!"         "Where are you going, anyway?"         "Yeah, where are we going?" Brooklyn asked. "He's got a point -- we're not exactly inconspicuous. It's not like we could walk into a bar."         "Okay, okay." Lex thought for a moment, and then his face lit up. "I've got an idea! Be right back!" He raced into the shadows of the garage, and moments later they heard the soft *ding!* of the elevator being summoned.         "This oughtta be good," Brooklyn muttered.         "Too bad you can't walk into a bar," T.J. said. "I'm dying for a beer."         "Xanatos has got beer. Did you check the study fridge?"         T.J. rolled his eyes. "No, beer! Not that coffee-colored European shit! A Miller's, a Bud! Hell, even a Coors! I'm no alky like the old man, but every now and then a beer hits the spot."         "Yeah, I could use one too, now that you mention it."         While they waited for Lex to return and tell them his brilliant idea, they put away the last of the tools and rolled the bike out into the garage. Brooklyn rubbed it with a rag, clearing away the last of the grease and fingerprints.         *ding!*         Lex reappeared, grinning like a maniac. "Look what I've got!" He waved two wristwatches at them.         "Gee, great!" Brooklyn took one. "It's ten-forty. Thanks, Lex."         "It's magic, wise guy! Aiden made them. Enchanted them. Watch."         "Yeah, watch. Wrist watch."         "Shut up and pay attention!" Lex put it on, and twisted the stem. The air around him rippled and all of a sudden he was human, a small, wiry human with brown hair.         "Damn!" T.J. blurted.         "Hey, all right!" Brooklyn copied Lex's movements, and turned into a long-haired rebellious-looking blond dude. "Did she make these for each of us?"         "Yeah, after our trip to Disneyland. She said it wasn't fair that we should miss out on all the fun. So now we can at least look human."         "You mean it's a trick? A special effect?" T.J. experimentally prodded with his toe where Brooklyn's tail had been.         "Ow! Hey!"         "Sorry. So how long does this last?"         "Long as we leave the watches on. So, what do you want to do?"         "Go to a bar!" T.J. and Brooklyn said together.                 *               *         "Pitbull's," Brooklyn read. "Live music. Friday -- Collision Course. Saturday -- We Killed Kenny."         "Looks good to me," T.J. said. He glanced at Lex. "How'd you hear about it?"         "Birdie. Aiden's friend. I don't think you've met her yet."         "That the chick who's in jail?"         "She's out now. Her uncle got her out."         "Nice friends your woman has," he remarked.         "What are we waiting for? Let's go in." Brooklyn pushed the door open. A wave of voices, music and smoke washed over him.         Pitbull's was shaped like an L. The long section was devoted to the bar itself, a bunch of small booths, pool tables, and a row of ancient pinball machines and video games. A rail separated it from the other section, which was sunken with a flight of wide steps leading down to the dance floor.         The ceiling was low, there were no appreciable windows except the two flanking the door (and those were cluttered with neon signs advertising brands of beer). A television was bolted above the bar, currently showing a basketball game that nobody seemed to be paying much attention to.         "Hey!" some guy hollered.         T.J., Lex, and Brooklyn looked his way. He was a short man with a face like a mean little dog, and it didn't take a Ph.D. to figure out that this must be Pitbull. He thrust a finger at them. "You punks better not be planning to start trouble!"         "No, sir," Brooklyn said in a respectful tone that didn't match his bad-boy image. "Just want a few beers."         "That kid old enough to drink?"         Lex sighed and dug into what appeared to be a pocket but was probably the pouch he wore on his belt. "Why do I have the feeling I'm still going to get carded when I'm Hudson's age?"         Pitbull scrutinized the ID, then returned it with a noncommittal grunt.         Taking that as an okay, they threaded their way past the pool players and found a round table next to the rail overlooking the dance floor. A tired young woman in a black skirt and low-cut red blouse came over. "What'll it be?"         "Miller Genuine," T.J. said.         "Make it three," Brooklyn said. As she left, he grinned at Lex. "This is great! We're just part of the crowd!"         Lex picked up a laminated upright triangle from the middle of the table. "I'm going to get nachos. Anybody else want something?"         "Spicy buffalo wings?" Brooklyn asked. He got a worried expression. "Hey, is my disguise still working? That girl keeps looking at me."         "She's scoping you out, dude," T.J. explained.         "No kidding?" Brooklyn straightened up and preened a little.         "Better watch it, loverboy," Lex warned. "Angela would nail your wings to the wall if she found out!"         "I'm not going to do anything," Brooklyn said, flashing a winning smile at the girl. She smiled back, then quickly turned away to whisper with her friends. Now more feminine glances were headed their way, checking out all three of them.         "Now you've done it," T.J. groaned. "They're already calling dibs!"         "Good for them. Shows they've got taste. We're the best-looking guys in the place. Hey, Lex, the redhead's got her eye on you!"         The waitress brought their beers and returned to the kitchen for the food.         "She's doomed to disappointment," Lex said, taking a long drink. "I'm taken."         "So am I, but I'm not dead!"         "Yeah, you can read the menu all you want, you just can't order anything," T.J. said.                    *               *         "I can't believe she asked me to dance," Brooklyn said, returning to the table.         "I can't believe you said yes," Lex replied, slurring a little so that 'yes' came out 'yesh.'         The nachos were down to a few chip crumbs and blobs of salsa, and they were on their fourth round of beers. The place was packed, the band having started their second set at midnight. A couple of tables over, two big guys in T-shirts were arm-wrestling while several other people looked on.         "I didn't want to be rude."         "Yeah?" Lex asked, hoisting a brow ridge. "What if she asked you to take her out back and do her standing up in the alley?"         For a minute, T.J. thought Brooklyn might pound on Lex, but then he smiled. "I guess I'd just have to be rude."         "I think you've had one too many," T.J. declared, sliding Lex's beer away from him. "And no way I'm getting in that sidecar if you're driving."         "But we've got to drive," Lex objected. "I'm too drunk to glide!"         "No you're not!" Brooklyn said. "You were tossing back stronger booze than this at Goliath's bachelor party, and it barely affected you!"         "You're only saying that because you don't remember a single thing that happened that night."         "I do so!"         "You were still hungover when you woke up the next evening!"         "I remember Godiva!"         "Well, yeah, okay, she's pretty unforgettable."         "Who's Godiva?" T.J. asked.         "Robot stripper," is what he thought Lex said.         "Say what?"         "No, really," Brooklyn said. "Xanatos had her built for the occasion. And was she ever built!"         "Did Angela let you keep the panties she threw at you?" Lex asked.         "I told her I'd get rid of them." Brooklyn drained his beer. "And someday I will."         "Lemme get this straight --" T.J. began.         "Hoo, yeah, Godiva was great at getting things straight!" Lex attempted a wolf-whistle.         "But a robot?"         "More of ananadroid," Lex said with some difficulty. "An android. But then she got possessed and turned to a pillar of salt. Hey! Maybe you could fix her!"         "Maybe you should tell me this story when you're sober," T.J. said.         "Is that Birdie?" Brooklyn shot to his feet and stuck his arm in the air. "Birdie!"         The chick headed their way looked nothing like T.J.'s mental picture. Because she was a friend of Aiden's, he'd automatically assumed that she was the same type of shy, mousy kind of girl. This despite all the stuff he'd heard to the contrary -- jail, for instance, or the fact that she'd told Lex about this place, the sort of place a girl like Aiden wouldn't be caught dead in without a guard dog and a fire extinguisher full of Mace.         Birdie had a riot of dark curly hair with a dyed purple blaze at the front, and four or five earrings in each ear. She wore black jeans and a black velvet tank top cut low to show a rose tattoo. She was maybe forty pounds overweight and walked like she didn't give a damn about it at all.         T.J. tried to picture her and Aiden hanging out together and it made his brain hurt.         She sauntered toward Brooklyn. "The voice is familiar, but I can't place the face."         He grinned. "Wet loincloth contest."         She sat down hard, luckily in a vacant chair. "Brooklyn?"         "Wet what?" T.J. asked Lex.         "She pushed him in the pool last Thanksgiving."         "Lex!" She reached over and rubbed his head, apparently ruffling his hair. "How you doing, spider-monkey? Where's Fergs?"         "Don't call me that!" He squirmed away. "She's home studying. Finishing up her semester project."         "I am so glad I graduated early!" Birdie declared. "St. John would have expelled me for sure. Can't have a Sterling Academy student with a police record!" She turned to T.J. "Hi. Have we met and is that how you really look?"         "Hi," he said. "Far as I know, this is the real me."         "This is T.J.," Brooklyn said. "T.J., may I present Miss Roberta Yale."         "Ugh! Watch it, red, don't make me take you outside!"         "Yeah, he might have to be rude to you," Lex snickered.         "What are you doing here, anyway?" Brooklyn asked.         Birdie groaned and shook her head. "Had to get out of the house. My folks were making me crazy. Ever since that thing with Aunt Margot, Mom's been a basket case. Her shrink is telling her that it's all her fault for being too permissive with me. She keeps asking Dad things like --" her voice changed, climbed, became a mother's long-suffering tones, "Where did we go wrong, Charles?"         "You should move out," Lex said. "You're a friend of the clan; there's always room for you at the castle."         "Thanks, Lex, but I don't think so. Being the only normal person there might give me a complex."         T.J. sat up straight. "Jeez, I know what you mean!"         "Elisa said she'd help me find an apartment, maybe over in the Village -- us quirky artistic types gotta stick together -- but first I've got to convince Dad to let me at the trust fund Grandma left me. She set it up so I could go to the Academy, but it's still under his control until I turn twenty- five. As it stands right now, I couldn't swing rent without a roomie, and finding one who'll put up with the weirdness quotient in my life would be tough. Even in the Village."         "Hey if you ever find a place, let me know," T.J. said. "I've put up with a hell of a lot of weirdness lately."         "Aw, I thought you liked us now," Lex said.         Brooklyn elbowed him and leered. "Yeah, but if you had a chance to share an apartment with a wild woman like Birdie, would you turn it down?"         "Get your mind out of the gutter, red," she replied archly, crossing her legs. "I'm not that kind of a girl. I don't go around preying on cute guys."         He mimed opening an envelope. "And the Academy Award for Best Actress goes to --"         "You want that beer down your throat or down your front?" she threatened.         T.J. coughed. "Uh, hey, I didn't mean ..."         "Uh-oh," Lex interrupted. "I spy with my little eye something that begins with Q."         The rest of them looked at him like he'd gone bonkers, but then turned to see what had captured his attention. He was staring at the arm- wrestling, which had turned into a full-blown competition for beers. The current champion was about to be dethroned by a guy with arms like treetrunks and a dark blue tattoo of a hammer on one bulging bicep. Three other body-builder types stood behind him cheering him on. All of them sported similar tattoos.         Brooklyn set down his drink with a decisive thump. "All right, that tears it!"         "Oh, great, he's passed merry and into belligerent," Birdie observed. "Don't do anything stupid. Let's just get out of here."         "No way. We were here first, and I'm not going to let those jerks run us off." A savage grin rippled across his face.         "They don't even know we're here," Lex said, sobering up a little. "Don't blow our cover."         "I won't. I just want to beat them at their own game."         "Famous last words," Birdie sighed. She picked up Brooklyn's beer and polished it off.         The plainclothes Quarryman bested his opponent with such a show of strength that Brooklyn, halfway out of his chair, hesitated. Then bristled as he saw the man take a long, speculative look at the girl Brooklyn had danced with, and her flirtatious response.         He walked into the middle of the back-clapping crowd. "Don't congratulate yourself yet," he said.         The man with the tattoo looked him over, then laughed. "Why not? You don't think you're going to beat me?"         "That's exactly what I think." Brooklyn sat down opposite him and propped his left elbow on the table.         Laughter erupted, loudest from the man and his buddies. "Come on, Frank! Whup this skinny kid's ass and send him running home to mommy!"         "Sure," Brooklyn said, and there was something in his smile that cut through their laughter. "Come on, Frank."         Lex sprang onto his chair, teetered a little, almost ended up in Birdie's lap, then found his balance. "I got twenty bucks says my friend can whup your ass!"         "Okay, junior," one of the other men said, pulling out a twenty. "You've got a bet."         Birdie sighed. "Boys will be boys."         Frank planted his left elbow on the table too, and he and Brooklyn locked hands. The muscles all up Frank's arm bunched and he tried to slam Brooklyn's arm flat with one easy gesture.         And failed. Brooklyn's grin widened as Frank's turned a look of surprise. Then Frank's macho pride took over, and he threw himself wholeheartedly into the contest.         Brooklyn strained a little, just a little, and Frank's arm began tilting the other way. His buddies shouted incredulously. Beads of sweat broke out on Frank's face.         "What the hell's the matter with you?" the man who had twenty bucks riding on this contest demanded. "Show this biker punk who's boss!"         "Yeah, show me, Frank," Brooklyn said in a low, soft, yet carrying voice. "Or are you not so tough without your hammer and hood?"         "Don't get carried away, red," Birdie murmured.         Brooklyn's words startled the crowd, who looked apprehensively at Frank and his buddies.         "I heard those Quarryman guys busted up a club over on Ninth," someone said.         "Crazy bastards, seeing gargoyles everywhere!" someone else said. "What the hell would gargoyles be doing in a nightclub?"         "They're not the only threat!" the guy who had a bet going with Lex said. "It's the goddam gargoyle sympathizers that are wrecking this city!"         "Yeah, it's the gargoyle sympathizers who have rallies that turn into riots," Lex sneered. "It's the gargoyle sympathizers who shoot up the city and break all the statues. Why didn't we see it before?"         Several people laughed.         T.J. pushed his glass away. "I don't think I like the direction this is going."         "Me either. Let's get those two out of here before they start a rumble."         Frank, teeth gritted and cords standing out in his neck, put everything he had into it. Brooklyn's arm dipped, held, and then began to push Frank's back the other way.         "Punk shithead must be on drugs!" Frank grabbed Brooklyn's wrist with his other hand and tried to force it over.         The effort tore the band of Brooklyn's watch. It ripped away and fell twinkling to the tabletop.         The illusion disguise winked out.         "Oh, crapola," Lex said quite clearly.         In the stunned moment before pandemonium took over, T.J. said, "When I mentioned dying for a beer, this wasn't what I had in mind."         Frank, suddenly finding himself holding onto a flesh-and-blood gargoyle with both hands, shrieked and recoiled, toppling his chair and going sprawling.         That set everybody off. The nearest of Frank's buddies bellowed and jumped at Brooklyn, but was blocked by the panicked rush of other people trying to go the other way. Lex sprang over their heads and snatched the twenty from the loser of the bet.         Somebody pushed somebody else, another person tripped, and then like a match to a keg of gunpowder, the whole place went up in a spontaneous bar-fight.         The first person to land a blow on Brooklyn was the girl he'd danced with. She slapped him so hard that T.J. half expected his beak to spin around his head like Daffy Duck taking a shotgun blast. She screamed something at him, too, but over the din, T.J. couldn't make it out.         One of Frank's other friends grabbed at Lex, caught him around what appeared to be his waist and got a handful of wing. He yelped in surprise, then cried out, "He's one, too!"         Lex scooped a tray of drinks from the thunderstruck waitress and upended it over his foe, then scrambled to the dubious safety of the bar.         The chaotic tide shoved T.J. and Birdie one way, Brooklyn the other, as the people from the dance floor caught the spreading wildfire panic and stampeded toward the door. T.J. found himself squashed into the short hallway leading to the bathrooms, with a pay phone jammed against his back and Birdie jammed against his front.         "Get out!" Brooklyn hollered, waving at them. "Don't worry about us!" With that, he spun and drove his elbow into Frank's gut, then smashed a chair over his head.         One of Frank's buddies loomed in Brooklyn's blind spot, and T.J. reacted without thinking. The nearest pinball machine spat a sudden stream of quarters that peppered the man like a machine gun. Yelping, he leaped right over the bar. Lex dodged as the man slammed into the shelves of bottles and went down in a jingling hail of broken glass.         The last of the Quarrymen broke away from the fight and charged toward Birdie and T.J. She stuck out her foot and he skidded on his face down the short hallway, bouncing off a door marked 'Emergency Exit Only.' He lunged to his feet, threw her a look and an angry, "I'll get you for that, bitch!" and banged through the door into the alley.         "Come on!" she called, chasing after the man.         "Where the hell are you going?"         "I know where he's going!"         T.J. hesitated. Behind him, it was hard to tell just who was winning, but Brooklyn and Lex seemed to be making their way toward the front  door relatively unscathed. There was no way he could get through the melee and reach them. So he turned and went after Birdie.         The alley let onto a parking lot about the size of a postage stamp, crammed with cars. One van, electric-blue under the sodium glare of the single streetlight, had its side door standing open. As T.J. emerged from the alley, the Quarryman got out of the van carrying a hammer.         Birdie darted out from behind a car, moving pretty quick for a chick her size, T.J. noticed, and shouted, "Hey, hammerhead! Over here!"         "You people just don't know when you've had enough, do you?" he spat, advancing on her.         "Nope," she admitted cheerfully.         "Get outta my way! I've got gargs to kill!"         "Move me, you chickenshit s.o.b.," she challenged.         He swung, making a colossal dent in the hood of a Ford Taurus. "That could've been you. Now --"         T.J.'s eyes narrowed, and the mangled hood popped up and caught the man just under the chin. He executed a complete back-over flip and landed facedown, out cold. His hammer slid under a Honda.         Birdie regarded this for a moment with some surprise, then hopped into the open back of the van.         "Mind telling me what you think you're doing?" T.J. asked, looking in. His jaw dropped when he saw that the interior was packed with computers, surveillance equipment, and weapons, including an entire rack of hammers.         "These creeps never go anywhere without their toys," Birdie explained.         "Toys, shit! This is a goddam rolling arsenal!"         "Hey, look!" She pointed to a glowing screen, on which two winged shapes were clearly defined. "Party's over, or at least the guests of honor are skipping out early."         "Some sort of radar," T.J. guessed. "They're headed for where we parked the bike."         "That means Frank and his pals are going to come looking for their mean machine." She squeezed into the front and dropped into the driver's seat. "No keys, of course."         "What, you're going to steal it?"         "Hey, I stole Elisa's car once!" She checked the visor and under the floormat, and cursed. "But I had the keys, which helped!"         T.J. opened his mouth to argue, and then saw Frank and the other Quarrymen burst out the emergency exit. "Problem!" He threw the side door shut and jumped into the passenger seat. "Ready?"         "For what?"         He slapped his palm against the steering column. Electricity jolted from his hand and the van's engine started.         Birdie glanced at him from beneath very high eyebrows, but she didn't waste time with questions and threw the van into gear. "Buckle up!"         The Quarrymen started hollering and running toward the van. Frank was closest, and leaped and clung onto the mirror on T.J.'s side. The window was open about four inches, and Frank thrust his hand through.         "Stop the damn van, kid!"         "Get that bug off there, wouldja?" Birdie said brassily.                 T.J., securely buckled in, popped the door open hard and fast. Frank lost his grip and fell backwards out of sight.         The van bounced over the curb and into the street, narrowly missed some people fleeing Pitbull's. Horns blared all around them and they came within inches of sideswiping a grandmotherly-looking lady in a Pinto. The grandmotherly-looking lady screeched an obscenity and flipped them off.         Ahead of them, more horns and squealing tires marked the path of a motorcycle that might have gone unnoticed except that the driver was a scarlet demon in a leather jacket, and a young guy was clinging to the back with his feet flying in the air.         The van closed, and T.J. saw Brooklyn throw a quick, worried look over his shoulder. T.J. realized the tinted glass prevented him from recognizing them, so he cranked down the window on his side to wave him on.         Brooklyn's stare turned amazed, then he exploded with laughter.         The bike and the van rounded a corner and here came two police cars with sirens wailing and lights flashing. Both cars swerved as the officers got a look at the biker speeding past.         "My probation officer's going to kill me," Birdie moaned.         "So don't get pulled over." T.J. shook his head. "And they were telling me the traffic wasn't so bad late at night!"         A speaker mounted below the dashboard came to life in a hiss of static, and a female voice barked, "Hammer Four reports target activity! All units, converge --"         "He must've called for backup," T.J. said over the woman rattling off the address of Pitbull's.         "Shut up a second!" Birdie cranked the volume knob.         "Hammer Four, respond, what's your status?"         "Fuck me sideways, that's Aunt Margot!" she cried, and damn near ran into a delivery truck.         "You wanna say hello?"         "Are you kidding?" Birdie's face went almost as purple as the streak in her hair. "That unbelievable bitch! I knew she had something going on with Castaway, but I never thought she'd actually end up working with them! I wish I could reach right through that radio and --"         "Allow me." T.J. pressed his fingertips to it, and winced as there was a snap, a spark, a whiff of ozone, and a startled scream and a torrent of expletives before the speaker fell out of its socket in a tangle of wires.         "Okay, this time I've got to ask," Birdie said. "What the hell is that?"         "I'm not one of the normal people," T.J. admitted.                          *               *         Elisa Maza was on her way home from the all-night deli when she heard the news over the police band. Cursing to herself, she brought her Fairlane around in a neat 180, the brown bag on the passenger seat going over and spilling wrapped packages of cold cuts and tubs of pasta salad onto the floor.         She approached an intersection with her siren wailing and saw two large vans veer out of the cross streets and halt nose-to-nose. Men in dark blue bodysuits sprang out of the vans and took up their positions by the impromptu roadblock. She braked and got out, drawing her gun.         A motorcycle was coming flat-out, with a third van in pursuit. As it passed beneath a streetlight, Elisa was horrified but not particularly surprised to recognize Brooklyn, and Lex's illusion disguise.         Just then, the world went a little bit crazy. The motorcycle sailed into the air on a smooth, impossible trajectory without benefit of a ramp. Everyone on the street, Quarrymen, pedestrians, and Elisa, turned to stare as the bike passed in front of the full moon, then descended into the street again.         The third van plowed into the other two, shouldering them aside like a greedy piglet trying to be first to reach momma. Quarrymen scattered. Elisa flattened herself against the side of her car as the van roared past. Its horn tooted "shave and a haircut."         "What the ...?" Ignoring the Quarrymen, she hopped back in her car and spun around to pursue the rogue van.                 *               *         "Not bad driving, but I think that last trick crunched the engine," T.J. said. "I can't fix it unless you stop."         "That was pretty cool, what you did with the bike!" Birdie beamed at him. "I think I've seen it before, though."         "I knew if they had to bail and glide for it, the bike would get wrecked again. After all that hard work, I just couldn't stand it."         Something twanged deep in the heart of the van, and smoke belched from under the crimped hood. They began to slow.         "Looks like the ride's over." Birdie hunted around, then pulled into an alley. "We hope you choose Trans-Bird Van Lines for all your future travel needs."         "Yeah, don't count on it!"         They laughed as the van coughed and stalled out, and then they were sitting in the shadows illuminated only by the undersea green glow of the various monitors.         "Can you patch it up enough to get to the castle?" Birdie asked. "I don't mind walking, but I bet Xanatos' people would love to get a peek at all this gear. If we can keep tabs on the Quarrymen using their own frequencies ..."         T.J. groaned. "You're in on this nutball crusade, too?"         "Hey, I have to be! We're talking about the survival of my friends, here!"         "Yeah, but going up against these guys? When you're just a --"         "Just a what? If you say 'just a chick,' Sunny Jim, I'll boot your heinie from one end of the street to the other."         "Just a normal person," he finished.         "So? Are you saying someone can't do what's right unless they've got wings or magic powers or a powered exo-suit? How about Elisa? Matt? Rick?"         "But ... I don't know _what_ I'm saying." He thumped his head against the back of the seat and shut his eyes.         "If anybody should be in on this 'nutball crusade,' it should be you."         One eye opened. "Why me?"         "Come on, look at the stuff you can do! You shouldn't let it go to waste!"         "What, just because I'm a freak, I should get a superhero complex like everyone else at the castle?" He slouched in his seat and hiked his feet against the dashboard. "No thanks. I'm not putting on a cape."         "Betcha you'd look cute in tights, though!"         "Yeah, right! And you can wear spike-heeled boots and a leotard and be my sidekick."         "I'm game."         Both eyes opened. "You're totally insane, you know?"         "I've worked hard to become so," she replied in someone else's voice, making him sure she was quoting some movie. Then, as herself again, she went on. "Listen, T.J., you could really help out if you just put your mind to it."         "What makes you think I'd want to?"         "You seem like a decent, honest kind of guy."         "Great, you're on probation and I'm a kidnapper and we're sitting here in a stolen van discussing honesty."         "Well, hey! You ever see yourself zapping an ATM? Hijacking a plane? Holding a city hostage?"         "No."         "So, see, you're not inclined to --"         "Don't you dare say 'use your powers for evil.' I'll hurl if you do."         She fluttered her eyelids at him. "I bet you say that to all the girls."         "Look, up until a few weeks ago, I didn't even realize I had these ..." he dragged the word reluctantly out of his mouth, "...powers. Stuff happened before; I could fix anything and start my car without a key and tools would float around, but I never thought about it. Never did it in front of anyone, but never thought about it either. It was all like it was ..."         "Unconscious?" she suggested.         "Yeah. I never did it on purpose. Now there's all this shit --" he waved at the dislocated speaker.         "Don't stress about it; if anyone had a hotfoot coming, it was Aunt Margot. It was bad enough when she was just a Quarrygroupie. Now she's working dispatch! I hope she popped some stitches." Birdie glowered darkly.         Someone tapped on her window. "Okay, open up."         "Busted," T.J. said, recognizing Elisa's voice.         "Don't shoot, copper, we'll throw out our guns," Birdie said, rolling down the window.         Elisa looked in at both of them, then clapped a hand over her face and groaned. "I knew it. I just knew it. Birdie, I ought to lock you up for good."         "Reckless driving, disturbing the peace, grand theft Quarryvan ... anything else?" she asked brightly.         "DUI," T.J. threw in helpfully.         "One beer, and it hasn't even had time to affect me yet, not with my body mass!"         "You know, this isn't funny!" Elisa said, having trouble keeping a straight face. "You could have killed someone. So the least you can do is tell me the whole story, and then I'll decide if I'm hauling you in or not."                 *               *         "You should have seen it!" Brooklyn enthused. "The bike just took off like a rocket!"         "We did see it," David Xanatos replied. "A tourist with a videocamera caught the whole thing."         "Whoops," Lex said.         "You both behaved very carelessly," Goliath said sternly, making them squirm like hatchlings. "Brooklyn, as my second-in-command, you should know better."         He hung his head. "Sorry, Goliath. We just wanted to have a little fun. Nobody got hurt."         "That dinna mean ye should go unpunished," Hudson declared.         "Oh, great, patrol duty every night," Lex mumbled.         "No." Goliath extended his arm toward the stairs. "Go to the rookery."         "What?" Brooklyn cried.         "Not again!" Lex said.         "You have a responsibility to act like adults now," Goliath said. "Your mates plan to breed soon. They will have a clean, comfortable rookery. You owe it to them, to the clan, and to the hatchlings. Go, and clean every inch of it, fill it with fresh straw --"         "Where are we going to get straw in Manhattan?" Lex cut in.         Goliath smiled tightly. "That is your problem."         "And another thing, Aiden ..." Xanatos said.         She looked up, startled. "What did I do? I wasn't even there!"         "Those illusions don't show up on film. You might want to work on that."         "Oh. Okay, Mr. Xanatos."         "So where did T.J. wind up?" Fox demanded.         Brooklyn shrugged. "They were right behind us --"         "You took him out and you lost him?" Her hair began to rise around her head as if supercharged with static electricity.         "He's with Birdie --" Lex began.         "That's supposed to reassure me?"         "She won't let anything happen to him!" Aiden protested.         "She'll just damn near get him arrested," Elisa finished, crossing the hall with Birdie and T.J. in tow. "Xanatos, there's a van parked in the long-term lot at the train station. It's beat to crap, but your people might find some interesting toys in it." She handed him the parking slip.         "I'll get them right on it. Why the leniency?" He smiled slyly. "Have I finally corrupted you?"         "Don't flatter yourself. You have more resources than the department, and hamstringing the Quarrymen is higher on your priority list. Besides, I was off-shift, and I didn't want to have to fill out all the paperwork to charge these two."         "They can help Brooklyn and Lex," Fox decided.         Resentment bubbled up in T.J. -- he wasn't a goddam baby, and she couldn't start telling him what to do after abandoning him. He started to say it, but then his gaze happened upon Elisa. She was standing a little apart from the others, and her dark eyes were troubled.         All of a sudden he understood just what this was costing her. She could have -- should have arrested them. But she hadn't, and it was wracking her guts. Xanatos was right, she had been corrupted. Not by anything external like a bribe, but by her own internal feelings about what was right for the clan and the castle.         If she could do that, the least he could do was swallow his own pride and take what was coming to him.         A sidelong glance at Birdie told him she'd come to the same conclusions, for her screw-the-world grin had faded.         "Sure, okay, that's fair," T.J. heard himself say.         "Yeah," Birdie said. "We'll get that place sparkling."         Everyone looked at Elisa. She took a deep breath, exhaled, and nodded. "Okay. This time."         Goliath nodded too. "There shall not be a next time."         "Come on," Brooklyn said, leading the way.         Following him, Birdie winked at T.J. and chuckled. "A barroom brawl, a car chase, a close call with jail, and now slave labor. Not bad for a first date!"                 *               * The End.