by Christine Morgan
Romances Christine Morgan (email@example.com)
Author's Note: the characters of Gargoyles belong to Disney and are used here without their knowledge or consent. Mature readers only! This story (or, rather, these three stories) takes place immediately after "Lead Me Not ..."
PART ONE -- GIRL TALK: The first snow of the winter cast a spell of silence over Manhattan. Its soft whiteness purified the city, and made the ever- changing red and green traffic lights glow with the promise of the approaching Christmas holiday. Overlooking it all was the Aerie Building, and improbably balanced atop that on metal struts that looked incapable of holding its weight, was the massive stone edifice that was Castle Wyvern. "Ye've always liked the snow, haven't ye, lad?" "I have," Goliath said, resting his elbows on a parapet and gazing out. Great fluffy flakes powdered his dark hair, mantled his shoulders. "It's so beautiful!" Angela, identically powdered, twirled in a slow circle with her arms outstretched. "And so peaceful!" "Don't say that!" Brooklyn bugged his eyes in mock alarm. "Every time someone says that, next thing you know, we're under attack!" "I'll see you under attack!" she growled playfully, and pounced with a kiss. "Hey, attack me like that any time!" he said, grinning. "Ye two," Hudson scolded with a smile. "When are ye going to settle down and breed us a rookery, that's what I'd like to know!" "Uh, well, that's a big step," Brooklyn said, scritching uneasily behind his ear. "A big step?" Hudson echoed. "'Tis nature, that's all! Ye've had yer fun for almost a year now, 'tis time ye were thinking o' our clan's future!" "Well, things aren't like they were in the old days," Brooklyn argued. "You can't expect Angela to fill up a rookery all by herself, and without her sisters to help tend the eggs --" "Wait a minute," Angela, hands on hips, butted in. "Things _aren't_ like they were in the old days! Males take care of young too, you know!" "Yeah, see, and there's that," Brooklyn said, pointing to her as evidence. "She's been reading all those magazines of Fox's, and they've put modern ideas in her head!" "Not so modern," Goliath chuckled. "Let us not forget Aunt Agnes, who is of a much elder generation, yet shares Angela's opinion." "Well, what about you and Elisa?" Brooklyn asked. "Isn't it the mature generation that breeds?" "Mature? That leaves you out forever!" Angela teased. "We discussed that the other night," Goliath said sternly. He always got gruff when talk turned to him and his wife. "He be right about one thing, though," Hudson mused. "Ne'er before has there been but one female in the clan." "There's Delilah," Angela said. "And all my sisters on Avalon, except that they started without me! That was a year ago, so they're probably all fat with egg now!" "Remember the way time flows on Avalon," Goliath said. "Only a few weeks have passed for them since we brought the Guardian and the Princess here. Their season doubtless continues, should you wish to visit and breed." Angela turned questioningly to Brooklyn, who for the last couple of sentences had been backing up with an expression that seemed torn between dread and panic. He looked desperately around for Lex and Broadway to bail him out, but his rookery brothers were both absent. Lex was at MacBeth's, cleaning up all the damage he'd caused a few nights ago under the mistaken impression that the immortal king had absconded with Lex's girlfriend Aiden. And Broadway had gone off alone with a boot and a bouquet, to mourn the nameless woman he had failed to save during that same harum-scarum sequence of events. Not that either of them, both dating humans, could have helped much in this situation. Brooklyn wondered for the first time if there was a downside to having won the informal competition for Angela's considerable favors. "Uh, I don't think either of us is ready for that kind of commitment," he stammered. "Ah, but 'twould be good to have hatchlings around again." Hudson sighed. "I do be missing young Angus. 'Tis well that he's gone off to be with his parents, but I'd grown used to the lad." Angela was still fixing Brooklyn with a look. "Not ready for commitment? I read about _that_ in those magazines too, mister! You're fine when it's all fun and games, but the first mention of marriage or kids, you run like a rabbit!" "Marriage?!" He tried to turn that horrified bleat into a cough, but wasn't quite quick enough. Now he had both her and Goliath giving him the evil eye. "Ease up," Hudson laughed. "Ye've gone and scared the poor lad pale! Look at him, he be practically wash-pink!" He waggled a finger at Goliath. "And dinna think that I'm forgetting how ye and yer brothers went the very same way when first the subject were broached!" Goliath cleared his throat. "Yes, well ..." Angela, whose moods could sometimes be as mercurial as the wind, giggled and threw her arms around Brooklyn's neck. "Well, I don't think I'm ready for eggs yet either! I've got my career to think of!" "Career!" Hudson snorted. "What manner o' talk be that? Why, my rookery sisters could do battle with barbarians all night and still raise up a fine brood o' hatchlings!" "Angela is right, though. There were more females then. Not only for the tending of the eggs," Goliath added hastily as his daughter made ready to complain again, "but for the laying as well. If our clan is to flourish, we should consider --" "Consider what?" Brooklyn said. "Bringing more females here? As whose mates? What, are you going to tell Lex that he has to dump Aiden for a gargoyle?" "No," Goliath said, but he said it after such a lengthy pause that Brooklyn started to get a tad nervous for his brother. Angela glanced at Hudson, who immediately held up his hands. "Don't ye go giving me that look, lass! I be too old for such shenanigans! Here comes Broadway; why don't ye ask him what he thinks on the matter?" "Ask me what?" Broadway thumped down, and it was only then that they saw he was carrying a slender woman. She, like him, was clad in trenchcoat and hat, and on her feet were enormous galoshes. Brooklyn's smartass remark -- hey, here comes Manhattan's answer to Sir Galahad -- died on his lips as he recognized those boots. "Who be this, now?" Hudson asked, startled. "Lad, ye know the rules about bringing strangers to the castle!" As the woman removed her hat, Goliath's face split into a huge beaming grin. "She is no stranger, but clan!" Broadway chivalrously helped her off with her jacket. She stood before them in a backless blue gown, untroubled by the cold, and spread her delicate ivory-hued wings. "Elektra!" Angela squealed, and almost bowled Brooklyn over as she rushed to embrace the new arrival. "Angela, my sister!" She seemed a bit taken aback, but accepted Angela's delighted hug. "By the stars, how like Katherine she is!" Hudson marveled. "Here, lass, quit smothering her and let me have a look!" Angela stepped back and wiped her eyes, and Hudson came forward. Under his close scrutiny, Elektra quailed a bit, but Goliath's reassuring nod calmed her. She accepted Hudson's outstretched hands with her own slim five-fingered ones. "Mentor of my mother," she said softly. "The Magus always spoke well of your wisdom and valor. Honored am I to meet you." "_That's_ your Cinderella?" Brooklyn socked Broadway admiringly in the bicep. "You old dog!" "Yeah, isn't she great?" Broadway replied with a completely dopey smile. "She's so great!" "I knew yer father well, lass," Hudson said. "The prince were a friend, and a goodly man. Ye do him no shame, nor yer mother either. Welcome to our clan!" "Yes, welcome!" Goliath, when it was finally his turn, gave her a brief squeeze. "How is it that you've come here? We last saw you at Xanadu, a month ago. I have since worried for your safety, and your quest." "My quest fares not so well," she said. "When I left you and Elisa, I returned to Avalon, there to try by the Seeing Stone to know whither I should go. The stone remained dark, and yet I knew I must needs continue my quest. I came ashore there, in Central Park. Never had I imagined, even after hearing the Guardian speak of this great city, how vast and splendid it would be! And where, in all of this, wondered I, could I find him I sought? I turned to this disguise to the better conceal my features." "She's the one I met the other night," Broadway explained. "Yet," continued Elektra, "I am no closer to finding Jericho, and had resolved me to board the skiff and make another voyage. Then I met Broadway, and hoped to visit this castle, and the clan." "I'm so happy you did!" Angela enthused. She nudged Brooklyn. "This red fellow is Brooklyn, a scared rabbit that might someday be my mate!" "Jericho ..." Goliath sighed heavily. "Demona claims that he has been turned against her by Sevarius, but it is surely another of her lies." "Who is Sevarius?" Elektra asked. "An evil man!" Angela said hotly. "He chained me in a cave!" "And made clones, of all of us," Brooklyn added. "His crimes were many," Goliath said. "But no more. He is dead." "I promised Elektra she could stay here for a while," Broadway said. "As long as she wants. Is that okay?" "Of course it is," Goliath assured him, doing a bit of a double- take when he saw the dopey smile Broadway was still wearing. He and Hudson exchanged an amused, knowing glance. "There's so much to show you, so much to catch up on!" Angela took her sister by the arm and led her toward the stairs. "And you must tell me simply everything about Avalon! Who mated who, and all of that!" "You know that I was not often among the clan," Elektra demurred. "So little, even, that I did not join them in the season. Yet, sister, I will tell you what I can." "Ruth took Malachi, didn't she?" "Of course." "What of Hippolyta? She never liked any of the males!" As the gossiping females headed below, Goliath turned to Broadway. "You've done well." "Yeah. Thanks," Broadway, still gazing after Elektra, might have sighed the same response no matter what Goliath had said. I'm going to clout you over the head with a flail. Yeah, thanks. Brooklyn snickered. Angela's voice floated back to them. "Gabriel has _three_?!?" * * Elektra wasn't accustomed to being the center of attention, so by the time everyone in the castle had gotten to meet her, she almost longed for the quiet of home. She'd always felt a bit distant from her brothers and sisters, never knowing why until the Magus had discovered the prince's journal. Distant, yes, and solitary. She'd kept mostly to the tower that the Magus called his own, to which he'd withdrawn himself once the princess had become pledged as Guardian Tom's wife and love. When outsiders visited Avalon, Elektra had not dared show herself, for fear Goliath would see her for what she truly was and denounce her. Even at the hour of the Magus' death, which she had known as surely as she sensed the coming of the dawn, she kept to the tower and wept her silent tears for the man who had been as a father, teacher, friend, and very nearly as a husband to her. In all that time, she had never been overly close to Angela. Bright, beautiful Angela, second-hatched. She and Gabriel had been the favorites, the ones that set the path for all the others to follow. Oh, how Elektra had envied the sisterly closeness that Angela, Ruth, Ophelia, and the others had shared. She had always watched, hung back, never joined in. Never felt a part of the clan. Nothing, therefore, could have prepared her for the warmth of her reception here. Angela, with whom she'd scarce passed a handful of words as they grew up, was garrulous and all but giddy with excitement and affection. She'd been nearly as well-received by the rest of the clan. Clever Lexington, good-natured Bronx, the cunning human Xanatos and his wife Fox (with whom Elektra wanted to feel a kinship, one half- breed to another, but in truth Fox scared her nigh to death!), Queen Titania's prized grandson Alexander, his personal Guardian ... yes, it was quite a mixed clan Goliath had made for himself! She understood that the human sorceress Aiden, linked to Lexington, was away at school for the week. A pity, for it would have been nice to discuss magics with someone much in the way she used to with the Magus although Elektra herself lacked any appreciable talent. Startling, yes, a startling visit in so many ways. That Goliath and Elisa were as mates, yes, this she'd known and been most delighted to hear, and hoped in her heart of hearts that they would be blessed with a child of their own, that she be no longer the only one of her kind in all the world. The wonders of the castle and the city went far beyond anything she had even dreamt of. She held back tears often as she moved from room to room, still after so many centuries sensing the presence of the Magus in the old stone walls. The Magus, and one other, the prince her father that she had never known. And yet, even with all of this, most startling and welcome of all was the feeling of inclusion, most especially from Broadway and from Angela. When she'd taken her place among them to welcome the dawn, she truly felt as if she belonged. That feeling held even when she awoke, shedding her skin with the others. Now, as night secured its stronghold on the sky and Goliath led some of the others in their protective vigil over the city, Angela led her to the vast kitchen and opened a thick white door, from which poured a cold fog. "Let's see ... chocolate chip cookie dough, tin roof sundae, or mocha almond fudge?" Angela asked, holding up three small tubs. She hadn't been long in this city, but she already knew one thing she liked. "Cookie dough, an' it please thee, sister." Angela slid the tub over to her, along with a spoon. "Broadway likes his ice cream to have crunchy bits in it. He'd normally have a fit if he knew we were getting into his secret stash, but for you I think he'll forgive it." "I'd not want to displease him," she said worriedly. "Piffle! Displease him? You'd have to do far more than this!" "He is most genial and kind," Elektra agreed. "I know." Angela sighed, spooning up some mocha almond fudge. "I almost went for him. Almost. It was a tough choice, I can tell you!" Elektra smiled. "A change indeed, from being one of sixteen to the one and only female! With warriors three doubtless vying for your every attention!" "You should have seen the way they carried on when I arrived!" Angela laughed. "It was purely absurd! Each of them trying to outdo the other, puffing themselves up like roosters, making muscles ... it's funny now, though at the time it was most vexing!" "How came you to choose one of them, and not return to mate with Gabriel?" Elektra asked, a question that she knew had been on Jericho's mind when he approached her and she gave him the ill-timed advice that led to him leaving Avalon in the company of his murderous mother. Angela tapped her spoon thoughtfully against her lip. "I fell in love with this new world, so much bigger and grander than anything I'd ever known. I wanted to be a part of it. To explore, to see new places, and also to make a difference. On Avalon, we did little. But Avalon sent us, Father and Elisa and Bronx and I, to dozens of places. And in each of those places, we helped someone, or undid some wrongdoing. We made a difference in the world. I wanted to keep on with that." Elektra nodded. "A goodly wish indeed." "As for the boys," Angela grinned. "Well, I was flattered by all the strutting, annoying though it was. And none of our brothers were anything like these males. They'd known danger and hardship and the struggle to survive in a way we never had. It made them more intense, more alive. I liked that. Well, and they're all appealing to look upon, each in his own way." Back on Avalon, quiet and reserved, she never would have said what she did now. "Brooklyn ... with his features so like Uriel ... I wonder, does the resemblance hold true throughout?" "That's what they say about males with large noses!" Angela winked. "But how did you know about Uriel? I thought that you had never ... well ..." she flushed violet. "Not through my own experience," Elektra hastily corrected. "Nay, but I didst stumble upon him and Ophelia in a grove near Flower Meade one night and have occasion for an eyeful indeed!" "Well, between us," Angela leaned close, "it's true!" They giggled together, a strange sound in Elektra's ears because she had so seldom heard her laugh mingled with another. "Oh, I can't begin to tell you how I'd missed the free and easy ways of Avalon," Angela said, rummaging through the cupboards for something to go with the ice cream. She produced a package of cranberry-white-chocolate scones. "But I soon saw that these males would place a much higher meaning upon ... well, you know ..." "Frolicsome matings?" Elektra suggested. "The very same! I couldn't dally with all of them, but had to choose one. A pity, really, but it turned out for the best. I was drawn first to Brooklyn, of course. Handsome, firey, holding good status as second-in-command, and he more than his brothers seemed to know desire's flame." She frowned. "I was to find out that he had good reason, that he had been introduced to it by Demona." Elektra said nothing, but her eyes opened rather wide. "This, as I'm sure you understand, disturbed me," Angela continued between bites of scone. "I dwelt on it, brooded about it, let it bother me until he seemed tainted. I found myself spending more time with Broadway, sweet innocent Broadway. But I soon realized that all I was doing was talking to him about Brooklyn." She shook her head. "Silly me! It took until last Christmas before I realized that Brooklyn was the one I really wanted, and by then I was afraid I'd been cool to him for too long." "Yet it was not so." Angela sighed dreamily and propped her chin in her hands. "Not so at all! He, the dear thing, wanted so much to please me that he even found it in his heart to forgive Demona. Much to her irritation, to be sure! But I knew then that he was the one for me. Before then, we'd done little more than kiss and play at the sort of wrestling and tickling that is nothing more than an excuse to get ahold of one another. I was eager for more, and if I was eager, he was ablaze!" * * Flashback -- New Year's Eve. "Four ... three ... two ... one! Happy New Year!" The ball touched down amid a riot of lights and noise. Elisa, from the comfort of Goliath's embrace, reached over and patted Lex's arm. "Thank you for not reprogramming the Times Square display this year." "Hey, we really thought that's what all the fuss was about," Lex said, grinning. "We thought the whole city was turning out for your birthday party!" "Bah," Hudson said, setting aside his glass firmly. "What's the point of making good wine fizzy like soda pop?" "Bronx likes it," Brooklyn observed. "Look! There's Xanatos!" Broadway pointed at the television. "And Fox! Too bad Alex slept through it!" Goliath finished his champagne and rose. "Shall we go --" "Oh, no!" Brooklyn wailed. "You're not going to make us patrol!" "I was speaking only to Elisa," he said grandly, offering her a hand. "Although, a patrol might not be a bad idea." "Give them a night off," Elisa urged. "New York's Finest have everything under control. If I don't have to work, why should the rest of you? This is the first New Year's I've had off in years!" "Then you should make the most of it," Angela said, smiling at her father and his human mate. It did make her happy to see them together, so very much in love. Sure, she still wished that her mother Demona would rejoin the clan, but she didn't harbor any delusions about a full reconciliation between her parents. As they left, all but oblivious to everyone but each other, Aiden popped a blank tape into the VCR. "I don't want to miss the Rose Parade," she explained. "We used to watch it every year. Aunt Mary would get up early and go out for donuts, and we'd all sit around in our pj's and eat donuts all morning, even Mom." "Now, that's a holiday!" Broadway remarked. "Well, what be the rest of you going to do now?" Hudson asked, searching for the remote. Bronx obligingly fetched it for him, its black casing dripping with drool and champagne. Hudson grimaced. "Go on, ye great slobbery beast!" "You took the words right out of my mouth," Angela giggled, twisting away from Brooklyn, who was nuzzling the back of her neck under her heavy plait of hair. "The mad Scrabble marathon continues!" Lex cried, springing up. "I'd just gotten about a million points for 'zygomorph.' Want to cede the victory now?" "I still think you made that up," Broadway grumbled. "But I'm not letting you win that easily! Just remember, I want to watch the West Coast countdown in a few hours. The show from Vegas is supposed to be really good, and they shoot fireworks off the Space Needle in Seattle." The two of them, plus Aiden, trooped off to where Xanatos' gold-plate deluxe edition Scrabble set was surrounded by a litter of pop cans, pretzel bags, and wrappers from a jumbo bag of bite-sized Three Musketeers morsels. Hudson flipped channels until he found a show dedicated to entertainment greats, specifically Lawrence Welk. Angela and Brooklyn exchanged a look, and stood as one. "See you later, Hudson," Brooklyn said. Moments later, they were atop the highest tower, with Manhattan a shining carpet of jewels laid out below them. Even from here, they could hear the music and merriment as the Big Apple celebrated. "We're on top of the world," Angela said softly, spreading her arms as if to embrace the night itself. "Angela ..." She turned curiously to him. His white hair was astir in the bracing wind, his head crowned with stars. His skin looked like deep maroon suede in the shadows. She remembered how Coldsteel had described him as scrawny. True, he wasn't as wide-shouldered as Gabriel, nor as thickly chested, but he was far from scrawny. His was the build of a gymnast rather than a weightlifter, exceedingly well-toned and pleasing to look upon. "You are so beautiful," he said. "I was just thinking how handsome you are," she replied. "What I said on Christmas Eve ..." She smiled warmly at the memory. "You said that you loved me!" "Yeah," he admitted, looking for all the world as if he expected her to slap him for his nerve. "I have for a long time. I know you don't feel the same way --" "You don't know anything," she said, shutting his mouth with a kiss. He was startled, but wasted no time pulling her close and returning the kiss so hotly that steam seemed to rise all around them. His tail found hers and twined around it, and he brought his wings forward to enfold her. His hands were at her waist, then with sudden daring slid lower and around to cup her bottom. She tore her lips from his, gasping. Then, before he could mistake her reaction for protest, she fell upon him with a rain of kisses, over his face and throat and even nibbling suggestively at the twin horns that swept back from his brow. "Do you have any idea how much I want you?" he panted. "I have a fair idea," Angela murmured. Indeed she did! How could she not, when she could feel the solid proof of it pressed snug against her belly? He grew bolder and bent his beak lower, and there bit through the laces that held her tunic closed. The woolen fabric gaped obligingly, exposing her curves to his loving gaze and welcome caresses. Angela leaned against the parapet, letting her head fall back, sighing in pleasure at the thrilling, melting warmth. It had been far too long since her flesh had known any touch besides her own. She was ready to rip off the remainder of their clothes right then and there, but held back, not wanting him to think her similar to her mother as a dark seductress. She instead let him proceed at his own deliberate and careful pace, closing her eyes to savor the sensations. Brooklyn went to his knees before her, stroking her thighs, rubbing his head against her hip like a cat marking its territory. In that pose, the tiny talons of his wings were of just a height to close gently over the tips of her breasts. "Oh!" She sank her fingers into his lush white hair, then wrapped her hands around his horns as if she held some other portion of his anatomy. He got her out of her entire garment without rising from his knees, and the wind briskly snatched it from his grasp and sent it spiraling away over the heart of the city. She didn't care how she would explain her absence of clothing to the rest of the clan, didn't worry that her discarded tunic might cause some consternation wherever it fetched up. No, as Brooklyn coaxed her legs apart and she felt the heat of his breath between them, her clothes were the furthest thing from her mind. She braced herself against the castle wall and raised a knee over his shoulder to give him better access. He trailed kisses like fire along her inner thigh. And then, at the first long, slow stroke of his tongue where she needed it most, her claws made trenches in the wall and it was only by a tremendous effort of will that her impassioned shriek did not peal to the heavens. He kept on with that until she feared she might faint, then slid the hardness of his beak between her thighs so that she was balanced upon it like a narrow saddle. His hands steadied her at the hips and rocked her gently, while he exerted a firm pressure with his beak. This time she could not contain her shriek, and saw the sky lit briefly ruby by the climactic pulse of her eyes. Nor could she keep her balance in her one trembling leg. He lowered her to the cool stones and looked at her with such earnest wanting-to-please that she could have wept. Rather than weep, she pulled his head to hers and kissed him, tasting herself on his lips. And then she made him stand against the wall as she had done, and took her place in front of him. Realizing what she meant to do, Brooklyn's breath quickened, pluming in the wintery air. His belt came undone almost on its own, and his loincloth dropped at his feet. Angela purred throatily and began touching him in light, fluttery caresses, making him groan, delighting in how his member leapt eagerly beneath her fingers. She closed both hands around the base of it, brought her wings around so that her wing-talons could clasp it as well, and took as much into her mouth as she could manage. At first she bobbed her head in leisurely rhythm, then, as his breathing grew increasingly rapid and ragged, increased her pace until it was nearly frantic. "Wait, Angela, I'm going to --" he gasped. She paused long enough to give him a reassuring smile. "I know. I want you to." He uttered a strangled moan that turned into a convulsive howl as she drew him in as deeply as she could. She rolled her tongue around his shaft, feeling him begin to shake, his body tensing. He spent in a copious flood, and when she had partaken of every drop, Angela gave him a final tender kiss and released him. Brooklyn, weak and shaking, slid down the wall and sprawled on the stones. Angela curled up beside him and pillowed her head on his chest, sighing contentedly, smug as a cat. "Now, that," he said, stroking the sleek curve of her bare back, "is the way to ring in the New Year!" * * The Present -- Owen burst from the kitchen in such a hurry that he nearly ran smack into his boss. A ripple of feminine laughter trailed after him, mingled with the sound of ice in a blender. David Xanatos came within an inch of using his formidable martial arts skills to flip Owen headlong into the wall, but stopped himself in time. "Good evening, Owen." "Good evening, Mr. Xanatos." "Midnight snack?" "No, sir," Owen said. "Warm milk for Alexander. He woke from a nightmare." "Oh? Anything serious?" "Hephalumphs and woozles," he answered matter-of-factly. Another spate of giggles turned Xanatos' attention to the door. "What is going on in there?" He started forward. Owen blocked his way. "I wouldn't, Mr. Xanatos. It appears to be some sort of female bonding ritual." Xanatos raised an eyebrow. "Girl talk, hmm?" "Evidently, it involves caloric excess and explicit conversation." Owen shook his head in slight disapproval. "They've already gone through all of the ice cream, a package of scones, a pan of brownies, and half a jar of peanut butter. They're also on their third pitcher of daquiris. When I walked in, they were doing the macarena." "You'd better be kidding." One corner of his mouth quirked. "About the last, yes. But Angela did pinch me." One hand stole protectively to the seat of his pants before Xanatos had to ask where. "I hope I'm not going to be hit with a sexual harrassment lawsuit over this." Owen gave him a look that suggested he was not in the least amused. "No." "Good. Here, I'll take this to Alex. In fact, if you'd like to leave tonight for the Academy, that would be fine. Since Aiden drove down and back with Birdie, you didn't get to visit your family over Thanksgiving." "Ours is hardly a traditional arrangement, sir." "Go on, take a couple of days off. I insist." He divested Owen of the cup of milk. "Very well." As he started down the hall, he heard Xanatos chuckle. "Owen? You might want to change clothes first. There's a peanut butter clawprint on your --" Owen fled as fast as his rumpled dignity would allow. * * PART TWO -- FAIRY FAVOURS: He drove surely through the snow, classical music issuing from the car's speakers and warm air issuing from the vents. As he passed through the wards surrounding the Sterling Academy, he felt the faint tingle of magic and nodded approvingly. Aiden's studies were progressing nicely, although her confidence had suffered a blow during her recent encounter with Demona. The campus was still and silent under a mantle of white. A few windows were lit, and snowflakes whirled against the pathway lights like shaker globes. Finals were approaching, and all was relatively peaceful. Owen pulled into the garage and sat for a moment in the darkness, listening to the tick of the engine. Still no sense of homecoming. Still, in a way, an intruder here. He got out of the car and took his small suitcase from the trunk. Moments later, he was ascending in the elevator, past the administration offices to the top floor. All was dark and quiet. He let himself in and made his way across the spacious living room without turning on a light. Enough came through the curtained windows to let him navigate around the familiar furniture. The apartment, like her office, reflected Cordelia St. John's cool and severe personality. Everything was clean, everything was orderly. Pristine white rug edged in pale blue that matched the uphostery. Glass-topped coffee table resting upon curved marble legs. How long, he wondered with a vague smile, was it going to last now that Patricia was crawling and starting to pull herself upright? How long until the toys began creeping outward in an asteroid belt from her playroom? Juice on the rug. Protective pads on the corners of the table. He knew all too well what a mess one small child could make. Not for the first time, he wondered how Cordelia would take it. Thus far, she'd handled the disruption of her structured life fairly well, but the fun was only beginning! At the end of the short hall were three doors. Owen approached one and peered in, his face bathed in the gentle golden glow of the night light. He eased the door open and went in. A Noah's Ark mobile twisted and turned over the crib where his daughter lay sleeping. She lacked only the angelic wings to be the very image of a cherub. Her hair was the fine shade of white-blond only found in children, and already curled in a halo around her head. Rosebud mouth, a dimple in one cheek, long lashes. She slept in fuzzy yellow jammies with bumblebees embroidered on the front, and her beloved stuffed lambie was at her side. Xanatos frequently urged Owen to bring Cordelia and Patricia to live in the castle. While he did wish he could spend more time with them, Cordelia would not abandon her position as headmistress of the Sterling Academy. And, he suspected, part of what made their relationship work was that they only saw each other a few times a month. He tried to imagine Fox and Cordelia living under the same roof. Just that, without even considering a bunch of gargoyles thrown in, was enough to make a brave man grow pale. Furthermore, there was the small matter of his secret. He wouldn't be able to properly serve as Alexander's teacher and protector while also trying to keep the truth from Cordelia. Someday, she would need to know. He wasn't looking forward to that. He gazed down at Patricia. Never a Patty or Patti or Pat. By no means a Patsy! Maybe, if she put her foot down hard enough as a teenager, a Tricia or even a Trish. The poor child faced an uncertain future, between her aloof mother and oft-absent father. Not to mention being already betrothed, archaic custom though it was, to young Alexander. Perhaps she would be better off living in the castle, where she would have more attention. Cordelia might not object. Cordelia's uncle, the Grandmaster, might. Owen cast all those thoughts aside. There would be time enough for that later. He bent to kiss the child's soft cheek, and drew a blanket over her. "Sleep well, little one." Enough light followed him into the next room to shine eerily in Cashmere's eyes. The white cat watched him as he set his suitcase in a chair. He met the cat's ice-blue gaze. Few living things could stare down Owen Burnett. This cat, however, was among that minority. Only when Owen looked away did Cashmere rise from her spot on the windowseat, stretch in that leisurely cat-fashion, and leap lightly to the floor. She sauntered past Owen without a look, tail held disdainfully high. Always kind to animals, Puck had boasted to Oberon. Puck had, at the time, not met this particular one. He closed the door behind Cashmere, leaving it only barely ajar. He crossed to the bedside and stood looking down, this time not on his daughter but on her mother. "What captive star doth lend its light," he whispered, taking up a handful of her silken platinum hair, "to crown with its beauty the queen of night?" Even after all this time, Aiden's spell still packed a wallop. It had unearthed well-buried attraction and not only brought it to the surface but raised it towering to the heavens. The bed rustled as Cordelia stirred. She made an interrogative noise from the depths of her goosedown pillow. "Just me." He undressed and slipped into bed beside her. White satin sheets embraced him. The comforter settled over him as heavy and warm as sleep itself. He leaned over and brushed a soft kiss on Cordelia's mouth. Like a princess in a story, her eyes slowly opened. "Owen? Morning?" "Not yet." She shifted closer, kissed his bare shoulder. "Thought you had to work." "Mr. Xanatos gave me a few days off." He drew her into his arms, only the sheer linen of her nightgown between them. He meant only to hold her as they drifted off, but the feel of her body against his wakened his desire. She lifted her lips to his for a sweet, lingering kiss. Her nightgown seemed almost to dissolve beneath his touch. With many languid caresses and loving murmurs, they fell easily into the rhythm that pleased them both the best. Soon their hearts had become lost in the same beat, their breaths mingled as one. They finished nestled together like spoons, his head resting amid the cloud of her hair, his arm around her waist. * * Owen woke. From a deep and dreamless sleep, he was thrust into full, alert wakefulness. He listened intently for a repeat of any sound that might have roused him. Nothing. Nor had he been wakened by Cordelia, because she slept on undisturbed in the cradle of his arms. For several seconds, he lay watchful in the darkness, wondering. He cast his thoughts outward, seeking Alexander in case the boy was in danger. He sensed nothing out of the ordinary. What, then? Cashmere exploded into the room, sprang stiff-legged onto the bed, sprang down just as fast, raced in a circle, and leapt fully six feet to hang from the curtains. Her white fur bristled, her eyes were huge disks. Owen sat up, and the sudden movement startled the cat into another display of feline lunacy. Cashmere jerked her whole body and pulled her claws free of the curtain, dropped onto all fours, bounded three times in the air, and sped back out the door. Cordelia rolled onto her back and pulled the covers up to her chin. Something's coming. The thought carried no immediate threat, but was enough to get him out of bed. Rather than waste time dressing, he found the spare pajamas he kept in the one drawer alloted to him, and pulled on the pants. He could hear the cat tearing around the living room, miraculously not breaking any of the paper-thin vases or Cordelia's cherished Lalique. Earthquake? he wondered. Animals were supposed to be able to anticipate ... Something's coming. Something's ... here. Owen heard what no normal man should be able to hear, a high trill of music like a series of glass chimes. It brought a plague of goosebumps over his skin, not particularly of fear but of recognition and surprise. Fear came next, when he realized it was coming from the baby's room. He was in the nursery without fully knowing how he got there. The Noah's Ark mobile, lions and tigers and bears oh my!, was in motion, around and around, two by two. Flitting in and out amid the strings in a complex pattern was a radiant sphere, twinkling with sparks of pale pink and green. At the center of the sphere was a figure, all of four inches in height. "How now, spirit! whither wander you?" Owen said. The sphere blipped upward a bit, and the trill of music went ting! in surprise. It then whizzed straight for him. He could see clearly now, the tiny female form with flowing sleeves and wings that beat as fast as a hummingbird's. She stopped in front of his nose and peered closely into one of his eyes. She tapped on the lens of his glasses and admired her reflection in it. Then she rocked back and forth, clutching her little knees, and laughed with the sound of dewdrops running down a spiderweb. "Can it be true?" she cried merrily. "Is this where I find the shrewd and knavish called Robin Goodfellow? Are you hiding in there, in that great and clumsy mortal shell? Had my lady queen not told me, I never would have guessed!" "What are you doing here?" he demanded. "It doesn't suit you at all! To think, how the mighty have fallen! From our lord and master Oberon's chosen servant, to this! The lapdog lackey of a lowly mortal? Hee!" She slapped the end of his nose, though the flick of a bee's wing might have had more effect. "Come, show yourself, Puck!" "I cannot." He waved her irritably away from his face and asked again, "What are you doing here?" "That mortal breath is as a hurricane, and smells of sour sleep besides!" She landed on the crib railing and danced prettily back and forth, a miniature ballerina with airy wings. "I have ever preferred the children, with breath of warm milk! This one is most fair, is she not?" "Oberon has forbidden the stealing of children," Owen said tightly. "Least of all this one, for she is my own!" "Yours?!" She clapped her hands delightedly. "Then it would not be stealing, for she is one of ours! And should Gather, even if you do not!" She hopped down into the crib. Owen supressed a smile as the fairy emitted an ultrasonic shriek and flew out of there so fast she nearly pasted herself to the ceiling. In the other room, Cashmere yowled unhappily. "Iron!" she gasped. "Have you forgotten how the wise human queen used a similar ruse to expose Titania when she sought to seduce the prince? An iron ball beneath the mattress. Black and blue she was, for weeks! That tale lives on, you know, though somewhat changed by the centuries." "How could you?" "This form of mine is human, as is the child. Iron holds no real threat to us. I did not want her to fall victim to the malice of my loving relatives." "Who would take from the Puck what is his? You still hold favor on Avalon, despite your defiance of Lord Oberon. Oh, what were you thinking? How can you prefer this --" she gestured around the room, then up and down his body, "-- to the splendor of our home?" "I came to enjoy the company of humans," he said with a shrug. "And now, exiled! Forbidden Avalon! What horror! What woe!" She shuddered. "Horror? Woe? The endless bragging of has-been gods, the bickering, the backstabbing?" She brushed off his arguments. "Will you not come and play with me for a while? I have missed your wit, cousin!" "No, Gossamer, I cannot." "So you do remember how I am called! I thought you had forgotten, or had some other purpose in omitting my name when you related the tale of our lord and his queen to the human they call Bard. Oh, do not look so shocked! Did you think Milkweed and I would not recognize our own words? Two Fairies, indeed! When Mustardseed and Peaseblossom and others of the queen's company were named! All but Milkweed and I! But I have forgiven, Puck! I have forgiven! So come, and play!" He closed his eyes against the yearning that filled him, yearning to shed Owen's cumbersome form. "I am forbidden, except when teaching or protecting the boy Alexander." "Since when has what is forbidden ever put pause to the Puck?" she wheedled. She shimmered, and then was four feet tall instead of four inches. Long of limb, slender of waist, her ears and mothlike antennae peeking pertly from the windblown tumble of her shoulder-length greenish hair ... yes, she was a sight to behold. Her gauzy wings fanned, seeming to make images of flowers in bloom. "No, Gossamer," he said, drawing upon all of Owen's sternness. "In this, I must obey Lord Oberon." She dipped briefly toward the floor, disappointed. But it didn't last long and she bobbed back up with an impish smile. "Very well! I shall go then, and turn the boy into a toadstool!" "You wouldn't!" "We shall see if you will show yourself to me then!" She dwindled to a twinkle. "No! Wait!" She expanded again and set her hands on her hips. "I'm waiting." Owen sighed and removed his glasses. "I do this only to protect the boy from her mischief," he announced to the room at large. He turned in a circle, faster, faster, blurred and spun, and then felt the freedom as gravity loosed its hold on him. "That is so much better!" Gossamer chirped brightly. They were nearly of a size now, and she twirled around him in acrobatic joyful welcome. "Unfair of you," he chided once they'd settled to a hover. "And rude of you," she shot back, tsking. "To make me threaten the Queen's own favorite grandson, all so that I could give you the gift _she_ bade me bring!" "What gift?" Puck's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "I am to tell you she regrets her haste in your last dealing," she said, taking a packet of spidersilk cloth from somewhere in her garment. "And for her to make amends, this!" He backed away from her. "Some trick of Titania's? What have you there, lady's veil to bind me?" "Not quite. See here! Seeds of the lady's veil! She bids you replant them, and tend them." The seeds, small and green-veined white, did not exert any power or lure over him. He accepted the packet, rather dubiously, and folded it closed. "I will do Titania's bidding." "And you'll save a flower for me, for my trouble?" "I've born news and gifts often enough to know the thanklessness of being the messenger. Fear not, sweet cousin, I will remember you." "I'll make sure that you do, handsome Puck," she crooned, a glimmer of ivory light beginning to form over her head. "Gossamer ..." he protested. She stroked the light with her antennae, making it swirl with pink and green. "How now, merry wanderer of the night! Those many long and lonely years, as I went from the bottom of one garden to the next or danced in the teacups of children, I thought of you." He couldn't stop looking at the light above her, until he realized with alarm that a similar glow of whitish gold was starting to shape the air over his head. "Gossamer, stop it." "When the time came for us to be summoned home, my heart sang at the thought of seeing you again. I imagined it would be as in days of old, you faithfully serving Lord Oberon, I among Titania's train, and what fun and jolliment we might get up to! I winged my way to Avalon, and you did not." "I had other obligations," Puck said, trying to get himself under control. "Obligations! You made Lord Oberon himself seek you out! How I feared for you! And then he returned, not, as the Sisters hoped, bringing you in bonds of shame, but to announce that he had banished you! It was only from overhearing Titania boasting that I learned what had become of you!" Her light was roiling now, in agitation. That made it easier to ignore. "I _chose_ to stay," Puck pointed out, aggravated but not surprised by Oberon's pride. Gossamer passed her hands over her large eyes, then smiled at him. Her light pattern smoothed out, became more hypnotic. "Let us put that behind us. I've waited long and long for this." Tendrils of pink and pale green began reaching toward his light. Puck made himself look away, and his gaze fell upon baby Patricia. He saw with a start that she was awake, goggling delightedly at the glowing colors. "The child sees us!" he said. Gossamer laughed. "Since when has the Puck become prudish?" He felt the first touch of her light on his, and recoiled. The sight of Patricia reminded him of Cordelia, asleep just across the hall. "Gossamer, I can't." "The size of your light says otherwise!" "No ... I'm ... well, Owen is ..." "What? Married?" Her mirth trilled to the ceiling, eliciting another yowl from the cat. If nothing else, that would soon wake Cordelia. He'd tried to think of ways to reveal his secret, but somehow he knew that having her catch him mingling auras with another female was perhaps not the best way to go. "Married!" Gossamer chortled. "The fancy-free Puck?" "Not me! Nor Owen, exactly ..." it was too complex to explain, and she was still caressing his light with her colors, making it next to impossible to think clearly. "In love, then? Has your prank at Oberon's behest at last come full circle, your eyes anointed with the juice of that herb by which you made Titania enamoured of an ass?" "Be it masked mortal or Oberon himself, either way 'twas an ass," he said sourly. She ignored that remark and laughed again. "Do you recall our lord's passion for the human Hippolyta? The bouncing Amazon, his buskin'd mistress? And now among the gargoyles is a warrioress of just such a name, giving my queen much cause for teasing her husband! But pray tell, clever sprite, do you love?" "Owen was struck by Cupid's arrow, true," he admitted. "I would not have him betray that love." "Such fidelity is admirable, impressive, and altogether silly," she said, and exhaled a smoky opalescent stream that briefly enveloped his light. "How can the love of a mortal compare to this?" Oh, she was coming on strong, the little minx, and he was weakening fast. It had been a long time, a very long time. When Aiden's spell had stricken Owen and Cordelia, Puck had elected (as if he could have altered it, what with Hecate's Wand and all) to go along for the ride. He'd been, as he'd confessed to Xanatos, rather curious what all the fuss was about. Not so strange a curiosity. While many of the Third Race did not care for the messy biological joinings that beasts and mortals enjoyed, many others enjoyed it frequently. Lusty Zeus, for instance, would pursue nigh anything with a pleasing female shape. Even Oberon had been known to favor a more physical relationship with his queen and his occasional mortal mistresses. And so, the Puck had observed first-hand. It had been quite a surprise, completely different, yet amazing. He'd grown quite fond of the act, in truth. Made him feel a bit foolish for having lived so long as Owen -- almost twenty-five years! -- without having tried it before! Such thoughts, though, were not helping his current predicament. Quite the contrary, because memories of what Owen and Cordelia had only recently shared caused Puck's light to intensify. Gossamer smiled in satisfaction. "Better! What harm, a little frolic?" Weak, weaker, weakest. What harm, as she said? What harm? With the last of his will, he managed to say, "Not here, not in front of the child." * * Owen let himself in, damp and shivering. What a night! In the same short span of hours, he'd been goosed by a gargoyle, made love with a human, and dallied with a fairy. It occurred to him to wonder if Preston Vogel, the original model for his life, had similar problems. He laughed softly to himself. Probably not. He was halfway across the living room when he glanced up and saw a spectral form, ghost-white in the shadows. He started, banged his knee painfully on the corner of the glass-topped coffee table (no baby bumpers), and stifled an exclamation. "Don't you think it's time you told me?" Cordelia said softly, her linen gown flowing from her milky shoulders, her hair floating and almost luminous. No anger in her voice, no jealousy. And no guilt in his heart, after one initial flash. He lived two lives, and up until now she had only bee a part of one. "It is past time I told you," he said, reaching out. "Give me your hands, if we be friends ..." * * PART THREE -- FIRST DATE: "Hello, Canmore residence." Brisk, efficient, neutral. "Am I speaking to Robyn Canmore?" "Yes." Impatient, expecting a sales pitch or a reporter eager to open old wounds. "This is Preston Vogel. We met at the wedding --" "Yes!" Warmer now, inviting. "I was wondering, Ms. Canmore, if you'd like to join me for dinner tomorrow night?" * * "I'll be fine, Preston," Halcyon Renard said. "Mrs. Hillman will be here if I need anything." "If you'd rather I stayed, sir ..." "Nonsense! I'm well aware of how you've neglected your personal life on my behalf, and I'll have no more of it. You're what, forty-five?" "Yes, sir." He fidgeted uncomfortably with his tie. "Well, even I was married by the time I was your age." "It's only a date, Mr. Renard." The older man's laugh turned into a wheezing, rattling cough, but he waved away Vogel's attempt to help. He bent forward in his motorized chair, so far that the ridge of spine stood out sharply on his narrow back, until the series passed. "I wish you'd let me send for Doctor Ngyuen," Vogel fretted. "I'm past doctors." Renard looked up at him with no fear, only an acknowledgement of the truth. "I'm an old man, a sick man. I'm not meant to be here forever." "You'll outlive us all, I'm sure." But he wasn't. Not sure at all. Not sure that Renard would still be among the living when he returned. "Still, I shouldn't leave you." Renard's eyes went piercing. "If you're trying to get out of this date, don't hide it by being overly concerned for me!" "No, sir, not at all!" He was shocked, mostly that Renard had seen through him so clearly. "You're like a son to me, Preston. You know that, don't you? My wife left me, my daughter constantly defied me, but you've stayed by my side." He held up a withered hand to forestall Vogel's words. "I know what you're going to say, you're going to bring up that betrayal incident again. Don't. You only faltered, not fell. That one misjudgement can in no way detract from your years of loyal service." "Thank you, sir." "Now, go. Don't keep your young lady waiting. My regards to her and her brother." Vogel picked up the bouquet of tea roses and lacy ferns. "Should I have gotten her a box of chocolates, too?" he wondered. Renard smiled. "Flowers and candy, on the first date? You run the risk of overwhelming the poor thing! Women today, I understand, are accustomed to a more casual treatment." "I don't think I can manage, then," Vogel said glumly. "I'll be back early, Mr. Renard." "Dear boy, I hope not," he chuckled indulgently. "I hope not!" * * "You look beautiful," Jason Canmore told his sister. She did. Robyn's rich golden hair was caught up in back with a ribbon, and fell in waves to her shoulders. Her soft and clingy knit wool dress was a vibrant amethyst shade. She applied a final touch of lipstick. "I don't like leaving you alone. I'm sure he wouldn't mind if --" "If what? If your crippled older brother tagged along?" Jason shook his head. "No. You deserve some time to yourself. You're more of a prisoner here than you would have been if you'd been convicted. I want you to go out and have a great evening. And if he asks you to stay for breakfast --" "Jason!" She threatened him with her eyeliner pencil, and he left the sentence unfinished. * * "That's fascinating," Vogel said earnestly as she concluded her tale of demons and hunters and traditions passed down for generations. "How did your family manage to keep the belief alive for so long?" "It's all we heard, practically from the day we were born. By the time we were old enough to question it, questioning it was out of the question. Not every Hunter faced the Demon, not every Hunter died at her hands. But enough of them had, and left detailed accounts, to make it an undeniable truth." "And your father ...?" "The Demon killed him," she confirmed with a sorrowful sigh. "Our mother had died when Jon was just a baby and I was three, so Dad was all we had. He and Jason were especially close." "How fortunate you are, to have such a sense of family and history," he said enviously. "Do you think so?" she asked doubtfully. "You know who you are, you come from a long line of purposeful, driven people." "I come from a long line of vengeance-minded bloodthirsty lunatics," she said. "But you know who you _are_," he stressed. "Your roots are firmly anchored in a long past. I grew up in an orphanage in Prague, with nothing of my mother but an old photograph, and nothing of my father at all. Not even his name. Vogel was my mother's name." "I'm so sorry," she said, reaching past the basket of bread to lightly touch his hand. "We were lucky to have Dad. I can't imagine growing up alone." "Not alone," he corrected. "There were other children in the orphanage, many of them. Even among them, I was an outsider. It wasn't until I went to work for Mr. Renard that I first felt I belonged somewhere. His field was science, devoted to making the future. It seemed so much more practical than dwelling on the past. I watched him build Cyberbiotics from a tiny business into a huge company. I watched his family fall apart around him, which only made me more sure that people couldn't be relied upon. Machines could. Computers, robotics, they did only what they were programmed to do. They didn't feel, didn't care. It seemed a better way to live." "It might have seemed that way, but it isn't," Robyn said. "I know that now." She was still touching his hand, so he clasped hers and they smiled at each other in the candlelight. * * "Good evening, Mr. Chiselman." "Good evening, Maurice." "Your usual table, sir?" "Please. I'm expecting a young lady, if you'd be so kind as to show her over when she arrives?" "Assuredly." The blond man with the neat moustache and the proper British accent was almost to his table when he happened to look into a pair of eyes the exact shade as his own, eyes that were widened in recognition. "The problem with family," the owner of those eyes said to her companion, "is that it never frees you from responsibility, obligation." She rose. He looked at her evenly, willing his face to show no reaction. "Robyn," he said coolly. "Jon." A tense, heavy silence fell between them. Jon was aware of her companion, a black-haired stuffed shirt nearly twice her age, turning to watch with a troubled expression. It was broken by Brianna's arrival. The girl, for girl she was, barely more than sixteen and toothsome as a spring morning, appeared behind Maurice. "Am I late?" she asked breathlessly. "I couldn't get a cab!" Robyn shifted her gaze to her, slowly taking her in. Fresh, innocent, hopeful features bespoke a small-town girl with big-city dreams. The diamond earrings and fur coat marked her as a wealthy man's mistress or plaything. And the swell of her belly ... At that, Robyn's gaze came accusingly to rest on her younger brother. Jon smiled coldly. Together, they mouthed the litany that their father had ingrained into them from the time they were old enough to speak. "No," she said when they were done. "Yes," Jon replied smoothly. "What Jason put off until it was too late, what should have been his duty as eldest. What you never did. Responsibility, you said. Obligation, you said. You've some nerve, speaking of such things. You, who gave up the cause, turned your back on a thousand years of heritage!" Maurice, Brianna, and Robyn's mannequin date were only staring back and forth in varying degrees of confusion. His sister, once idolized and adored, took a deep breath. "I'm going to call the police, Jon. I'm going to tell them everything. You made our family's quest into a circus of mobs and crazies, so don't talk to me about heritage! You'll have your trial, just as I did!" "If it's a boy, we're going to name him Bryce, after Grandfather," Jon said as if he hadn't heard. "What, no congratulations? No well-wishes?" Robyn clenched her fists, and for a moment he thought she might actually do it, might actually follow through with her threat. But she was no more eager than he to see the family name dragged through the slime again, and surely she knew that his trial would cast her in an evil light. He'd see to that. Her, and Jason as well. She spun away from Jon, to the black-haired man who had by now moved to stand by her. "Could we go somewhere else, Preston? Something's spoiled my appetite." * * "Do you want the rest of my fries?" she asked. He declined. "I must admit, I never quite pictured this." "What, the fast food or being parked at the Lookout?" "Either." He glanced out his slightly fogged window at the other cars. "I didn't think places like this even existed anymore." Robyn smiled. "Too bad the drive-in closed!" He finished his burger and dabbed fastidiously at his lips with a paper napkin. "What would we see, a double feature of grainy black and white monster flicks?" "Why not?" "Next thing you know, I'll be giving you my class ring." She unaccountably blushed, and busied herself rummaging in the take-out bags, for a moment looking like a high school girl. He'd forgotten that she was so many years his junior. Her life as a Hunter had made her seem older. But, he realized in a sudden flash of insight, that selfsame life had not given her any time for herself, to do the normal things that young women her age did. Neither of them had experienced a proper youth. This peculiar nostalgia for things they'd never known was just one more thing they had in common, despite their age difference. She came up with a cardboard packet of whimsically-shaped cookies. "Split the cookies with you?" "Only if you'll go to the Prom with me." * * Jason Canmore wheeled out of his bedroom, yawning. Robyn's door was closed. He thought he'd heard her come in, very late, but had no idea if she was alone or just extremely stealthy. He privately hoped for the latter. She needed a life beyond being a round- the-clock nurse and caregiver. He rolled into the kitchen and stopped in puzzlement. A clear plastic garment bag was draped over one of the chairs. Within was a violet-colored taffeta dress he'd never seen before. A shoebox was on the table next to it, containing a pair of dyed satin pumps. Weird. He went to the fridge for juice, and found an orchid corsage on top of the egg carton. Okay. Turning around to get a glass, he saw a stiff black cardboard folder, with white letters scrolled across the front. "Your Enchanted Evening," it read. What the --? He picked it up, opened it. There before his very eyes was an 8x10 glossy of his sister and Preston Vogel, her radiant in the taffeta gown with hair done up in fifties' style, him decked out in a tux and a purple cummerbund, posed holding hands and smiling into the camera. A slip of paper fell out, seesawed in the air, and came to rest on his knee. A ballot for the King and Queen, with several pairs of names listed. Frankie and Annette, Danny and Sandy, Preston and Robyn. "This is nuts," Jason muttered. "Maybe," Robyn said, coming into the kitchen. "But --" as she held up a large ring which could only be made by Josten's "-- we're going steady!" * * The End.
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