School day in November, 1996
Jay leaned her cheek against her hand, eyelids drooping dangerously low as the math teacher droned on and on. She yawned and shook her head slightly in a nearly vain attempt to stay awake. The sheer boredom of the teacherís lesson, something she had gotten in the first ten minutes, dragged on to nearly another twenty minutes. She sighed in disgust as a student raised a hand to ask another question. She crossed her arms on the desk and rested her head on them, then straightened quickly. If she stayed in that position very long, she would fall asleep. The teenager was considering an attempt to do homework for another class when something sharp poked her in the shoulder-blade. Jay shot a glance at the teacher. He was at the whiteboard, drawing another matrix. She turned her head cautiously and looked at the boy behind her. He was about the same age, wiry, tall if he had been standing up, with dark brown eyes, brown hair in a crewcut, with a dark complexion. He pointed at his wrist.
She looked at her watch, then grinned, nodding to him. She quickly put her notebook and calculator in her backpack, zipping it up in nearly record time. She stood up, wincing as the chair legs grated against the floor, then grinning as she heard a similar scrape behind her. She went up behind the teacher and waited impatiently for him to notice her. After a few seconds, he looked her way and nodded, smiling slightly.
She and the boy bolted for the door, trying not to show just how much they wanted to be gone. The boy waited until they had gotten into the stairway before letting loose.
"Yes!" he hissed, pumping a fist in the air.
Jay grinned and laughed. "Ya know what, Tate? I did not think anyone could be more boring then him and still be human. Aícourse, that makes you wonder if he is..."
Tate snorted and smacked her gently upside the head. "You watched Men in Black one too many times, Jay," he grinned.
She made a helpless gesture, shrugging and lifting her hands in the air, then bolted through the door. Both teenagers paused for a moment, letting the freezing wind wash over them. After the extreme heat of the classroom, legacy of ferocious New England winters in the past and thermostats that only worked on Off or Boiling Water, the cold was a welcome change, even with their unusual (some would say inhuman) resistance to difference in temperature. Then things erupted into an impromptu race as the two teenagers started to run, sprinting around Tirrel Building, dashing for the buses parked in front. Jay stopped by slamming her hands into the sides of the door onto the first bus, Tate nearly running over her.
"Congratulations," a voice commented dryly, "the two of you are the first here. And youíre about five minutes early."
"Oops?" Jay tried, gasping for breath.
"Sorry, Mr. Williams," Tate added, "but you know how the clocks are." The teacher sighed and rolled his eyes. Like everyone else on campus, he knew the chances of having two clocks with the same time were slim and nil.
"All right," he grudgingly admitted, "get in. You have your choice of seats."
The two scrambled onto the bus and picked an area near the front. Jay slid in first, grabbing the window seat. Tate grumbled a bit, but took the outside. He was tense, but pretended to be nonchalant.
"Iím still not sure this is a good idea," he whispered to Jay. "What if we get caught after sunset?"
She sighed and looked upwards, as if beseeching for help. Sheíd explained this several hundred times already, but he would not calm down until they were back. Of course, he did have a valid point. She smirked, thinking about how some of their classmates would react if they knew just what Tate was. That is, a green-skinned nocturnal creature complete with wings, fangs and talons. A gargoyle. Stone by day, nutcase by night. However, since his parentage wasnít exactly a straight pedigree, he was half human, and able to change into a human during the day. But come sunset, he changed back to a gargoyle. And if a school-bus load of kids saw that, his clanís very existence was in danger. As the last gargoyles, -Maybe! Jay reminded herself- they would end up in some lab somewhere for the rest of their lives. And not to mention the entire gargoyle hysteria that would get around. Tate had a very valid point.
"Look," she sighed, "itís either take that risk or go back to math class. Your choice."
He gave her an incredulous look. "You need to ask?" He didnít relax much, but he calmed down a bit.
A black-haired woman poked her head into the bus. "Is this the bus for Mr. Williams class? The field trip, I mean."
Tate and Jay shared a look. "That depends on whoís asking," Tate said cautiously. The woman rolled her eyes and sighed.
"Look kid, Iím happily married, and Iím not interested in any proposals, so clean up your mind. I just want to know if this is the right bus," she snarled.
Tate blinked and Jay erupted into giggles. "Wha-?" Tate started, but Jay waved him off.
"He just meant why are you looking for the bus," she chuckled.
"Right," Tate jumped in, regaining his composure, "I mean for all we know, you could be some homicidal nutcase that decided high school students were your next targets."
"Oh." The woman blinked. "No, Iím a-"
"Mariah!" a voice interrupted, "I told you youíd find it all right."
The woman turned, then smiled. "You were right, Eric."
Jay and Tate shared a surprised look as the woman and their teacher went into a lip-lock, barely restraining several crude comments. Wolf whistles and cheers from outside the bus indicated that several of their peers had no such qualms.
"Come on, break it up, break it up!" someone called.
The grownups, however, took their time, ignoring the comments. Eventually, they broke the lip-lock. Without looking away from the woman, Mr. Williams yelled, "Okay, everyone, showís over. Onto the bus!"
Reluctantly, the teenagers got onboard, most with a pointed comment or three, several giving their teacher "advice". The two grownups were last onto the bus, followed only by the driver. Mr. Williams stood up front and cleared his throat. "This is another chaperone," he declared, indicating the woman, "and my wife, Mariah. Now that thatís over, time for attendance."
As the teacher began to call out names, Tate leaned over to Jay. "How come something gives me the feeling that this is gonna be an interesting trip?" he whispered with a grin.
Jay smiled back grimly. "Fred was interesting," she reminded him.
Jay sauntered out to the bus, blinking at the late afternoon sunlight. She idly made sure that she was on the right bus, then slumped down in the seat, her mind still stuck in the museum. She grinned to Tate as he sat down, then both turned their attention to the window. They were in no hurry to start the "Did you see-", "What did you think of-", "How was-" session that was sure to come later. They were willing to let the recollection of the trip imprint and settle in before chatting about it, and telling the same thing time after time after time to different people. So they let the babble of their classmates wash over them with practiced ease, only responding when their names were called for roll.
The bus was held up for about half an hour as one student, deciding that his Ďdisappearanceí would be hilariously funny, didnít respond. The chaperones didnít find it funny at all when they finally figured out what he had done. Jay didnít have any sympathy for her fellow student. She just hoped his stay in detention was long and unpleasant. By the time they were on the road, Jay had been really broken out of her good mood. A motion to her right caught her attention. She looked over and grinned. Tate was sitting, staring off into space, completely calm if you ignored the fact that his leg was bouncing up and down. She shook her head. They still had time to get back before dark.
But then they hit rush hour, mostly cars headed for and from the two casinos. Thanks to the previous delay, the bus became stuck right in the middle of things. Jay swore to herself and glanced at her watch. They were definitely running out of time. She looked at the chaperones, and grinned again. Mariah was copying Tateís nervous habit, a leg twitching up and down as well. Tate glanced at her when he finally noticed her snickering.
Smiling, she pointed out the twitching. He grinned sheepishly, then laughed.
"Looks like Iím not the only one who wants to be back early."
The bus crawled along at a snailís pace, then came to a complete halt; the race between it and time quickly becoming a moot point.
"Damn," Tate swore as his watch beeped an unnecessary warning of sunset. "Mectorís gonna kill me."
"Actually, I think Iíll die first. It was my idea," Jay pointed out. Tate grunted noncommittally.
Then there was a tap on the bus door. A dark-haired man, looking rather bemused, tapped again, indicating he wanted to come in and talk. The bus driver shot a look at Mr. Williams, who shrugged.
Apparently deciding the man, who was now signaling his cell phone was dead, couldnít do much harm, and even if he did, the driver wouldnít be held responsible, the door was opened. The man came in and pulled a gun out of his jacket, pointing it at the riders in general, but making sure that the driver wasnít behind him. "Nobody moves," he ordered, "and nobody gets hurt."
Five other men, all carrying guns, came onto the bus as Jay swore to herself and took a glance at her watch. They didnít have time for this!
A growl to her right warned her in time to catch Tateís sleeve. "Donít do it!" she hissed, hoping the fact that his eyes were glowing a faint white and his growl wouldnít be noticed.
"I can take them," he whispered back, tugging on his arm to try to get her to let go.
"Not by yourself, and not this close to sunset! Youíll change before you can get to all of them."
"So I just sit here and freak out everybody when it happens? Then itís gonna be Ďhunt down the evil monstersí time, you know that!"
Jay chewed her lip, frantically trying to figure out how to get Tate off the bus. Finally, with only a few minutes to spare, the proverbial light bulb went on. She leaned over and whispered into her friendís ear, then both nodded, agreeing to risk it.
Eric Williams was not having a good day. All his careful planning was going- no, had gone- down the tubes. He sighed quietly, shooting a worried glance at his wife. As if it wasnít bad enough that they were going to be that late back, but now hijackers...
A loud groan further back on the bus shook him from his musings. He turned reflexively, ignoring the guns pointed in his general direction, as did the leader of the hijackers.
"Whatís goiní on?" the hijacker growled as another groan erupted. A girl looked up, and Eric wished sheíd wipe off the defiant look; it could easily get her killed. Although he was surprised, Jay was one of the quieter students, rarely speaking up unless called on.
"Heís sick," she retorted, and he could hear the barely restrained snarl. Jay was hovering over the form of Tate, who was hunched over, head between his knees. "I think it was something he ate."
The leader hesitated for a moment, then nodded at one of his friends. "Take the kid outside. Itíll smell too much if he pukes in here." Grumbling, the man escorted Tate out while the leader began a speech, full of rhetoric, religious conflicts with the government, and generally enough bullshit to fertilize all of Connecticut. Most of the students had zoned out, the only ones listening were concentrating on the guns the hijackers carried. Eric was more concerned with his wife, who was glaring daggers at the gunmen, regardless of the looks she got in return.
"Riah," he whispered, "donít try anything."
She shot him a look. "In front of an entire busload of kids? I havenít survived this long by being stupid." Somehow Eric managed a strained smile. As much as he loved his wife, he would be first to admit she didnít have much patience, and subtlety wasnít exactly one of her strong points.
A frightened yelp, followed by a short burst of gunfire from outside the bus interrupted the hijackerís speech. "What now?" he snarled, then pointed to another of his friends. "Go and see what happened."
The man cast a nervous glance at his leader, then a sly look crept over his face. "How Ďbout I take one of them and see whatís wrong?" The leader nodded absently.
"All right, any volunteers?"
"Actually, yes," Mariah answered, slowly standing up. The man blinked, not expecting anyone to take the offer seriously, then motioned her to go in front of him. A few seconds went by after the two left, then came another cry.
The hijackers, already spooked, turned to the door. A motion from the rear of the bus caught Ericís eye. He turned his head slightly, trying not to catch the hijackersí attention. A student was fiddling with the handle of the emergency door. The kid shot a look at the hijackers, then at someone near the leader. Jay gave the kid a nod, and then he pulled the handle, opening the door. An alarm went off, startling the men to spin around again.
Ericís jaw dropped. Standing in the doorway was a green gargoyle, arms crossed and a really pissed look on his face. The gargoyle had a crewcut and his eyes glowed an angry white. The hijackers stared, equally slack-jawed.
The creak of the front door of the bus opening startled them. Eric could see their reluctance to look, but they glanced over their shoulders, then did a classic double take. He couldnít restrain a smirk at the hijackersí expressions when they saw a female gargoyle, this one a light leaf green. She snarled and allowed her eyes to glow red, a startling contrast to her long black hair.
"Are you gonna give up now, or do you want to end up like your buddies?" the male asked, then grinned, showing a mouthful of fangs. "Please, take the second choice."
The hijackers glanced between the two gargoyles, then laid down their guns, except for the leader.
"Never, monster! Die!" he cried, taking a step forward while lifting his gun to aim... And then fell on his face when someone shoved a backpack into the manís path, causing him to trip. Another student slammed an English book down on his head with a crack the echoed through the (for maybe the first time in history) silent bus.
"Whoa," the student said, grinning at Eric, "I finally found a good use for this."
The male gargoyle chuckled as he came in and picked up the unconscious human. "A really good use. Anybody got a cell phone? I think the copsíll want to know about this." Eric grinned. Perhaps there was a chance the two races could get along. But suddenly the male blinked and swayed slightly.
"Are you okay?" a student Ė Jay again, he noted Ė asked.
"Yeah. Yeah, sure, just fine."
"Come on," the female said quietly, "we should leave before the cops arrive."
"Is everything all set, then?" the male asked Eric. The teacher took a quick look around, counted heads, and came up two short.
"Weíre missing a student, Tate."
"Right. Weíll look for him. Got a number we should call when we find him?"
"Yeah." Eric scribbled his cell phone number onto a scrap of paper, then handed it to the male.
"Letís go," the male said, heading for the door.
"Wait a minute, I want to go too."
"What?" Both of the gargoyles and Eric stared at Jay. The teenager was glaring back stubbornly.
"I want to come along. Tateís my friend. Iím not just gonna sit here and freak out. I want to help."
The male shot a hesitant look at Eric. "I... think thatís up to him. I could carry you, but..."
Eric shared a look with the female. "I guess itís alright. You have to understand itís not in the school policy to do this Ė"
The female gargoyle snorted. "Thereís nothing in the school policy concerning armed terrorists and gargoyles."
"True. So... I suppose that means you go."
"Thanks." The trio left through the back and the gargoyles clambered up onto the top of the bus. Having gained enough height to glide, they jumped off, the male swooping down to grab Jay.
That left Eric in charge of a busload of high-school students with the police on the way to pick up the hijackers and the need to get the studentsí silence on the subject of gargoyles. I wonder if I could bribe them? Um. I wonder if I have enough money for that...
Tate kept a wary eye on the female gargoyle as Jay settled into his grip. She looked familiar somehow...
Right. There arenít any others alive. At least, I didnít think there were.
"So whatís your name?" the female finally asked.
"Well, I havenít actually chosen one yet."
"Ah." The female nodded. "Iím Mariah." Tate felt Jay stiffen somewhat in his arms. "Would you mind if I called you Leif?"
"Iím not that bad a flyer."
Tate chuckled. "Iím not such a bad flyer that I slam into every tree I see."
"Oh. No, I mean like the Viking. You know, just something other then Hey You."
He shrugged. "Whatever."
Jay shifted again and spoke up. "Maybe we should split up. Weíd cover more ground that way."
"I... suppose. If you donít find the human in an hour, call in to the teacher."
"Youíll do the same, right?" Tate asked.
"Of course," she replied with a smile, "I want to talk to you later on."
"All right, letís go." He peeled off to the right, watching the female continue on her way.
"Whyíd you do that?" he hissed. "She might have a clan nearby. We might never find out about them now!"
"Tate, calm down. Iím just not sure we can trust her."
"Holy Ė! Jay! Sheís a gargoyle! Of course we can trust her!"
"Can you prove that?"
"Well, not now that youíve sent her away."
"Címon, get out that number and get to the nearest payphone. I got a quarter if you need it."
"Jay, stop avoiding the question!"
The human sighed. "Tate, buddy, pal, look. You disappeared. Right now we and that other gargoyle are looking for you. That means we needed to ditch her and fake finding you. Hello! Stop me when this starts making sense."
"All right, all right, you made your point. But I still donít like this."
"Neither do I," the human muttered.
"Nothing. Hey, thereís a phone."
"Duh. I know. Hang on." The gargoyle went into a dive, pulling up seconds before plowing into the ground.
"Showoff," Jay mumbled as he set her down.
"Right. The quarter?"
She silently handed the coin to him and leaned against a light pole while Tate punched in the number. There was a moment of nervous silence, then a click as the other end was picked up.
"Hello? Whatís the news?"
"Hi, Mr. Williams, this is Tate."
"Thank God! Are you alright?"
"Yeah, sure, the hijackers never touched me. The gargoyle saved me. Um, look, would it be okay if he gave me a ride home? He got me to the payphone, and says he doesnít mind taking me a bit further."
"And if it ainít okay, then we are deep in trouble," Jay commented.
Tate covered the receiver and hissed at her, "Shut up, please!" But he couldnít help chuckling slightly.
Jay made a face at him and pretended to sulk.
"Well... what about Jay?"
"He can manage both of us."
Jay held up a hand and tilted it back and forth, shaking her head as if unsure about the statement.
"Cut that out!"
"Well, Tate, if he can manage it, Iíd prefer that you two check in back at school."
"Um, well Ė "
"Shit, the receptionís going. Iíll see you and Jay in a bit, all right?"
Clunk. "To continue your call, please insert another quarter," a female voice ordered.
"Aw, shove it up Ė "
"Hey! Tate, whatíd he say?"
The gargoyle sighed and leaned against the phone. "Good, except he wants us to check in."
Jay winced as the phone began to let out a distressed beeping. "Care to hang that up anytime soon?"
"Oh, sorry." He slammed down the receiver then bent down and she climbed on his back.
"I hate going piggy-back," she sighed as he climbed the light pole.
"Well, then..." he smirked as he rolled, throwing Jay into the air. He caught her before she fell far and received her shriek full in the face.
"Donít do that!" she yelled, breathing heavily, "Just because I donít mind heights anymore doesnít mean I enjoy falling! Hey, have you ever tried to go human at night?"
He was used to her sudden shifts in conversation by now. He shrugged. "Never had to, never tried."
"Well, thereís gotta be a first time fer everything. Better try. Once we land, that is!"
"Aw, youíre no fun."
"Yeah, well, Iíve had enough falling tonight."
Once they arrived back at school, landing in the parking lot behind the cafeteria, the experiment began.
"So how the hell are we gonna get away with this? Itís not gonna work! Iíve tried and I swear itís not gonna work!"
Jay sighed. "Okay. Okay, um, describe just how you change into a human."
Tate rolled his eyes. This was at least the tenth time theyíd been through this. "At sunrise, I just concentrate on not having wings and poof, Iím a human. Look, this isnít gonna work!"
"It could be your attitude thatís Ė "
"Oh, please! Donít go space-age granola-bar fruit loops on me!"
The human blinked. That was a new one to her. "Um, okay, but... will you just please try, but this time with feeling?"
Tate glared at her. He couldnít tell if she was making fun of him or not. "Oh, all right," he growled, closing his eyes. He took a deep cleansing breath, then concentrated. Falling. A habit that the humans had that he found so strange. He never fell; he was always able to use his wings. So that meant the ultimate difference. He envisioned a leap off a building, but this time he had no wings to catch the wind and air currents, no way to glide. There was only the fall.
An intense pain doubled Tate over with a cry. He fell to his knees, feeling as if molten lead was being poured over his spine, tail, and wings. Falling! Keep the image of falling! his mind screamed through the fog of pain. After an eternity, the pain finally left. Tate remained on his knees, panting and shivering with reaction. Jayís feather-light touch on his arm snapped his head up to glare at her. "Satisfied?" he asked with a voice raw from screaming.
"Iím sorry," she whispered. She knelt down and hugged him. "But it worked. Kinda."
"Kinda? Kinda?! What do you mean, Ďkindaí?!"
"Calm down, please. You look human, except I can still see a brow ridge and... um, stubs of wings on your back."
"Wha Ė ?" He twisted in the vain hope of seeing a sign of what she was talking about, even though he knew it would be impossible.
"Here." Jay held out her coat. "Put it on. The ragged look isnít in style, and I donít think it ever went for holes in the back of your shirt or pants."
"Thanks." Tate found himself shivering in the night air. Surely it wasnít that cold? But gargoyles arenít affected by temperature as much as humans, he reminded himself.
The change came just in time, as the bus pulled up a few seconds later. It disgorged a gaggle of students, all talking excitedly among themselves. None of the talk was about the museum, but rather the hijackers and gargoyles. He couldnít help but to chuckle at that. Looked like the trip was a bust. Pain traveled along his spine again.
"Tate! Whatís wrong?!"
Falling, falling, gotta keep thinking about falling! He snarled and held onto the image.
"Iím...Iím okay. Iíll be fine. Just gotta keep my concentration. But Jay, after this I am strictly gargoyle after sunset."
She chuckled weakly. "I have no problem with that."
"Tate! Jay! Are you two all right?"
Mr. and Mrs. Williams ran from the bus to the two students. Tate missed Jayís suspicious look at the two as they approached.
"Sure, weíre fine, but he tripped."
"I think I just scraped my knee. After tonight, thatís nothing."
"Well, I have some iodine in my classroom. Come on, we donít need any question from overprotective parents tonight. The police were enough. Come on. Do you need help?" Mr. Williams asked.
"Uh, no, really, thatís okay. Iíll be fine Ė "
"Nonsense," Mariah scolded, helping Tate up and towards the building. Despite his continuing objections, the teacher and his wife took him into a classroom, Jay following behind silently.
When Mariah finally pulled up his pant leg, she frowned. "Thatís strange," she muttered.
"What? Whatís strange?" Her husband leaned over her shoulder to get a better look.
"Thereís no sign of him scraping it."
"Well, now that thatís over," Tate jumped in, pushing the pant leg down.
"No, I mean, thereís no sign of anything. Ah well, probably just bruised it, thatís all."
"Thanks. Címon Jay, letís go." He bounced out of the chair and headed for the door, stopping only when Jay didnít follow.
"Um, hang on a sec. Ah, Mr. Williams, Iíd like to talk to you. Well, you and your wife, actually."
Mr. Williams and his wife shared a look that clearly said "Uh oh".
Jay took a deep breath. Do or die time. "Itís about your wife. The fact that sheís a gargoyle."
For several seconds, there was a stunned silence.
"What?!" three people screeched. Tate was shocked back to near-gargoyle state, but he caught himself before the adults noticed and shifted back to human.
"Jay, have you lost it?!" he hissed.
"What on Earth makes you think that?" Mrs. Williams finally asked.
"Oh boy. Where to start? Okay, first thing. Mr. Williams, your wife left the bus after Tate did. She didnít get back before we left, but you didnít say anything about her being missing. Címon, you noticed a student missing, but not your wife? Most guys would be in a panic or celebrating." Mariah stifled a chuckle.
"Number two," Jay continued, wishing the three would stop looking at her like she was about to pull a rabbit out of a hat. Or, in Mrs. Williamsís case, like she was the rabbit. Jeeze, now I'm beginning to regret all those Sherlock Holmes books. "You werenít freaked by the gargoyles showing up. Not like thatís a bad thing, but you didnít even ask what they were. Most people, myself included, would be at least a bit curious. Or screaming. You werenít even phased."
The teacherís eyes narrowed. "Nor, for that matter, where you."
"Thatís off the subject. Third fact: Mrs. Williams and the gargoyle had the same name; Mariah."
The woman shrugged. "So? Itís not unheard of."
"Still, I donít really believe in coincidences like that." She could feel Tateís hand on her shoulder, giving silent support. "The gargoyles split up. We, well, me and the male gargoyle, had the telephone number. The gargoyles agreed to call you in an hour or when Tate was found. How could she do that if she didnít have the number? Iím sure Mrs. Williams knows your cell phone number."
The woman frowned, then sighed. "Somehow, I get the feeling that you wouldnít believe me if I denied everything again."
"Ya think?" Tate asked.
Mariah Williams sighed again. "Very well." Her form shimmered like a mirage, then the air stilled. She was once again a gargoyle. "So is there any more point to this other then calling my bluff? I hope you donít intend to do anything... rash with the tabloids and this."
Jay snorted. "Iíd sooner be an intern for Clinton. But... are you two married?" She ignored a warning squeeze from Tate.
"What... Why do you want to know that?" Mr. Williams asked.
"I mean legally, under the law."
"Well, yes, but... Why?"
Jay smirked. Time for the other shoe to drop. She just hoped her guess was right. "Then Mariah and Eric Williams, may I present to you Tate, your son."
Silence around the room. Tateís hand on her shoulder seemed to flicker, then settled into the familiar dark green, four-taloned hand of his gargoyle form. "Jay..." he gasped, then stared at Eric and Mariah.
Under the fluorescent lights of the classroom, the resemblance to the two was striking. Both had similar features, and the coloring was, while definitely not the same, startlingly close.
"My God," Eric whispered. "I donít believe this."
Tate looked hesitantly between the two. "Um, Mariah? Can I speak to you? In private?"
The female shrugged. "If you want to."
Jay grabbed Mr. Williams by the arm and dragged him, unresisting, out into the hallway. Finally out of sight of the gargoyles, the man seemed to regain his senses.
"Well. How did you figure that one out? How did you know?"
"I really have known Tate since last May. We met in the hospital."
"Then... wait, how could he have cancer? The gargoyle healing factor should have prevented that."
"Maybe, maybe not. And heís only half-gargoyle. Thatís how he gets away looking human. Anyway, we learned he wasnít human awhile ago. Sadie told us about Mariah. I guess I figured it out Ďcause Iím paranoid and read too many mysteries."
He smiled. "I met that clan awhile ago. Sadieís still there? She must be getting old by now."
Jay snorted. "Old? Címon, sheís only two hundred and one."
"Right." The door to the classroom swung open and slammed into the wall. Tate stalked out, his eyes blazing white in rage. "Come on," he growled to Jay, grabbing her hand. She found herself unable to pull away and shot a look at the teacher along with a shrug. Apparently things had not gone well.
Tate stormed into the lower level of the house, stopping briefly to throw his backpack into his room and pick up a CD, the Sign by Ace of Base. Then he stomped down the stairs to the lowest level, facetiously called the War Room. A bit more then half the size of the entire house, it was warmer right then compared to the temperature outside, a side effect from being underground. Tate quickly put the CD into the stereo sitting in a corner out of the way on the floor. He hit the play and random buttons, boosted the base upwards, then moved to the center of the room. Ace of Base started to throb over the speakers, warning of betrayal. The gargoyle began to move to the beat, spinning, punching, and kicking to the music. He quickly became lost in the battle against invisible opponents, ducking and dodging imaginary blows and returning them in kind. Caught in a deadly dance, he let his rage finally come, and the deep ache of pain. His eyes flared white and he was vaguely aware of the fact that there were tears trickling down his face. But it didnít matter. The imaginary battle brought him to a level of calm that distanced him from the pain, but made the memories come easier. He traveled back- had it just been twenty minutes ago?- and was facing his mother. The sheer fact that this was her had blown his mind. Jay had pulled some crazy stunts since theyíd met, but this was the ultimate insanity. The two had sized each other up, Tate trying to hold back the multitude of emotions washing over him. He had tried to find a similar struggle happening to his mother, but the absolute coldness in her eyes had sent a chill down his spine. There was nothing there. He could have probably handled anything, anything but that total lack of emotion. There was simply nothing there.
Finally his brain had started to kick in. "Why-" he started, then paused, unsure of where to take the question.
Mariah had tilted her head to the side. "Why did we leave you with the clan? Why didnít we keep you?"
Heíd nodded, unable to speak.
She had shrugged, as if it did not matter. "We didnít think it was possible for us to have children. And if the egg did hatch, there was no way we could take care of the child. Iíd be free nights, if the child ended up acting like a true gargoyle, but if it could stand the sunlight, well, Eric still had to teach. We were unable to care for a child."
Heíd frozen, shocked at the matter of fact tone she used. It was so analytical, so indifferent, so... emotionless. Heíd felt a rush of blood race to his face, blushing a deep green. How could she sound so cold? "Like it or not," he snarled, "Iím still your son."
She had just looked at him, dark eyes still passionless. "I have no son," she stated simply, then calmly opened a window and glided away. He had stood frozen for several minutes, attempting to get his brain to work. But her words came back, taunting him. Finally, he had managed to move. Heíd stormed out of the room, grabbing Jay on his way out.
Now he punched at the chest of an imaginary foe, dropping into a spin that would send several others to the floor.
While he had known he was half human for several months, he had never really thought about it. But so many things seemed glaringly wrong now. How when he was a hatchling, all of the adults had treated him like heíd break if he fell, how at first, he was the one who had to stay at the house and not go on patrol, usually with the excuse of keeping an eye on Nicole. Mariah- he refused to think of her as his mother Ė had only told Sadie, but rumors and tales, especially scandal, had a way of getting around.
He crouched down, ducking a blow, then jumped up, leaping over the return swing as the CD pounded on.
And then when he brought Jay to meet the clan. Heíd really gotten it for that. But the elders of the clan apparently had not wanted him to follow in his motherís footsteps.
"Why couldnít you have stayed?" he snarled, snapping a kick into the air, then spinning to slam his elbow into a throat. "Why couldnít you have tried to make it work?"
The CD neared the end, then restarted. He noticed this as much as he did the sweat dripping down his face, traveling the paths already cleared by tears. In other words, not at all. Nor did he notice a human figure on the stairs watching him.
Jay sat quietly, watching her friend fight to the beat of the music. She had been there for nearly half an hour, most of the CD. But as songs began to repeat, she bit her lip, then went upstairs with a sigh. She hated feeling this helpless, but she could do nothing. Tate had to fight these demons alone.
Behind her, the sounds of battle continued, as did the music:
Happy nation living in a happy nation/where the people understand/and dream of the perfect man/a situation leading to sweet salvation/for the people for the good/for mankind brotherhood.
The next day
Jayís breath whistled through her teeth as she stretched, trying to work out the one muscle that always stiffened after volleyball.
"Sure, all things considered, other than gym still sucks. How Ďbout you?" She turned to Tate as the flow of students, desperate to make it to their busses, split and moved around them as the two managed to get under the branches of the massive willow tree in the center of campus.
"Iím fine. Why shouldnít I be?"
"Yer a nasty shade of white and, well... last nightĖ"
"Jay, let it go. They donít care, I donít care, weíre all fine and peachy keen to forget it all."
"Oh. Okaaaay. Um, Iíll see you later tonight, right?"
"I thought we were gonna work on homework..."
Jay sighed. "Iím sorry, but I really need to talk to one of my teachers, otherwise, Iím gonna end up deep in it."
"íKay. So... see you later, then."
"Sure. Bye." Jay waved, trying to ignore the queasy feeling in her stomach. She hated lying to Tate, but after last night, she really wanted to have a few words with Mariah.
It took only a few minutes for Jay to get to the middle floor of Main. She was going over some of the choicer phrases that she was debating to use, when a shout broke through her musings.
"You told him what?!" Jay froze as the roar rang through the hallway. Maybe this isnít a good time. But the teenager quietly walked over to the door and listened shamelessly. She recognized the voice. It was Mr. Williams.
"You heard very well what I said, and Iím not going to say it again. Besides, what did you expect me to say? ĎOh, Iím so sorry we left you with the relatives, but we panicked and didnít know how to undo ití? Eric, I..."
"No, thatís all right," Mr. Williams sighed. "We both panicked, Riah. And I shouldnít have yelled. Thatís probably why you didnít tell me."
"Right in one."
"I just never thought that we would see him. We left him there, and that was that."
There was a sound, half chuckle, half sob. "Liar. Whatíre we going to do?"
There was a short pause, then there was another sigh. "Let it ride. After all of that, he probably wouldnít listen to us anyway. And maybe itís for the best."
"Are you sure?" This came in a barely audible whisper.
Jay leaned back against the wall, her mind racing. Maybe there was a way to fix all of this. It was her fault that anything had happened in the first place, so that meant it was up to her to fix it. She cast a speculative glance at the room, but hurried down the stairs. Undoubtedly Tate would be by later, and then it would be time to do something. Jay heaved a sigh. She just wished she knew what it was she had to do.
Jay sighed in disgust and glared at her computer, whose chances of ending up as greasy metal bits on the driveway had just gone through the roof.
"Stupid piece of junk," she snarled, stopping herself before she broke the keyboard or screen. While she was no longer a gargoyle, she did keep a fraction of the incredible strength and urge to protect that sheíd had after her first transformation. "All youíre good for is a doorstop! Címon, it shouldnít take this long to load Ė Augh!! No! ĎCanít find this siteí my Ė Itís a bleeping search engine!"
She took a deep breath and counted to ten. Then twenty. And thirty.
"All right, letís try this again," she growled, logging off and right back on again, unaware that her eyes were glowing with a faint red light. It took only a few tense moments to enter the website address of the search engine. This time, it worked. "Took you long enough, junk heap." She sighed. Stupid report. Her history teacher had assigned her an eight to fifteen page essay on George Washington and how he wasnít as great a person as everybody thought. Well, at least it wasnít Benedict Arnold. "Youíd think this was a collage course, not eleventh grade U.S. history."
She stared at the screen for a few seconds. She didnít want to do anything on the blasted report anyway, but sheíd already visited her normal haunts online (Ooo, all four of Ďem, she thought sarcastically) and couldnít seen to put off the report anymore. And she really should be thinking about Tate and his problem...
For lack of anything else to do, she idly tapped in "gargoyles" into the search program. Jay blinked as the result came up. Over a hundred sites?
"How the hell...? Oh." Household statues to put on computers and stuff. Cool. Definitely worth a peek for Christmas presents. She book-marked some of the sites then returned to the search. Time to narrow it down... Jay leaned forward. "Search within results..." she muttered, having never gotten over the habit of talking to the machine, "and try... Ďrealí."
The computer hummed to itself for a second, then came up with ten sites.
"Yes! Okay, lessee, whatíve we got?" She scrolled down. Most of the sites still sold statues, claiming that their wares were so lifelike theyíre nearly real. But three sites caught her eye; the Quarryman Homepage, The Aerie, and the last simply P.I.T.
She didnít like the sound of the Quarrymen, and heaven knew what PIT stood for. Jay glanced at the clock. Sunset, so she had time for about one place before Tate arrived.
"Looks like itís the Aerie, then," she muttered, double-clicking to enter.
It seemed to take an eternity to load.
The creator had gone with the idea of simplicity, with a black background and yellow and white writing. The name was at the top with several links below it. "Gargoyles in New York, proven fact?" Jay read out loud.
"Yes!" she shrieked, pumping her fist in the air. What was that old saying? Oh, yes, ĎOnce Ė í (when Severius first caught me, he said there were eight left... thereís fifteen in the clan) Ď Ė is chance, twice Ė í (second capture, ranted on about Goliathís clan protecting New York, not New Haven,) Ď Ė is coincidence, and three times Ė í (now) Ď Ė is fate, the godsí will, or conspiracyí.
The links below were ĎSightingsí, ĎNews Reportsí, ĎThe 23rd Precinct Explosioní, ĎChat Roomí, ĎRumor Millí, and ĎDescriptionsí. She hesitated a second, then entered the chat room. While she did know her way around the Internet, she had never actually been into a chat room. Oy, phobia of heights, and now chat rooms? What would Tate do if he knew? Um. I donít want to find out.
She sighed. Aside from the greeting from the Online Host, she was the only one in the room. "Figures."
Online Host: Hi! What brings you here?
She blinked. Wasnít the Online Host a feature of chatrooms in general? She didnít think it was a screen name, but... Automated features didnít talk to you. She typed as fast as possible, although that wasnít saying much; she belonged to the hunt and hunt and hunt and peck section of typists.
Nightbird: Just curious.
Online Host: Oh?
Nightbird: Well, it sure ainít about Elvis. Unless I ended up in the wrong place. About gargoyles, of course.
Online Host: Sorry, itís just been really quiet lately. Not many people come here. Especially not Elvis.
Nightbird: Why not?
Online Host: *shrugs* because the site tries to stay neutral and Iím definitely pro-garg. You want an argument, go to the PIT or Quarryman sites. So why are you here?
Jay chewed on her lip. She needed to get a good excuse.
Nightbird: You lost me. I was checking on statues for a report. Ended up here and figured it was a gag. You saying that gargs really ARE real? As in come to life and go on a rampage?
She winced, not liking the way it came out. It was so... Ė she snickered Ė ignorant.
Online Host: You havenít heard?
Nightbird: ĎBout what?
Online Host: In New York, thereís an entire clan of Ďem. Some say they blew up a police station
"I donít think so!"
Online Host: and others say theyíre running around terrorizing people. I saw Ďem bust up a street gang Ė at worst, theyíre (different looking) vigilantes. They seem to protect.
A tap on the window screen brought Jay back to reality. She waved to Tate and pointed to the door. "Be right there!" she yelled. He nodded and disappeared. She sighed. Time to wrap things up.
Nightbird: Sorry, but I gotta run. Bye!
Online Host: Bye!
Jay signed off just before Tate came in. "Whatcha up to?"
"Ah, not much. Just getting stuff for a report."
The gargoyle gagged. "Fun."
"Yup. Um... Look, I know youíre supposed to be on patrol, but... care to do it in Mohegan Park?"
She squirmed in her seat. Time for another whopper. "Well, itís a nice night out, and I wanted to get as far away from homework as possible, and... no offense, but patrol isnít as much fun without the wings. That is, if you donít mind me tagging along."
He grinned. "Why should I mind? Welcome to gargoyles airlines, in case of emergency Ė "
"Iíll get my jacket!"
"Come on, youíre already in a long-sleeve, youíre wearing a vest, how many layers do you need?"
"Oh, be quiet!"
In New York, high over most of humanity, a green gargoyle sighed. Lexington gave the computer a look; it sounded like there might be some people out there willing to listen. The latest one, Nightbird, sounded pretty interested. If more people like him/her lived in New York, things might be more on the tolerable side. But instead, he had the Quarrymen. Joy. And their little followers, too; just last night he had run into the pair he called (but only privately, and never, absolutely never in front of Goliath) the Yuppie Couple from Hell, who had decided it would be nice to have a romantic walk in Central Park. So did the punks that wanted their wallets. And in the end, heíd had to deal with three teenage punks, a hysterical couple who tried to give him their wallets, and a couple of Quarrymen. If only...
Bah. Might as well wish that Nightbird was leader of a clan of entirely female gargoyles.
The flight to the park was short and uneventful, something both were grateful for. Tate landed without any fancy maneuvers and bowed, caping his wings and holding one out like it truly was a cape, appearing as a strange mix of modern teenager and gallant hero from a twisted fantasy novel. Jay smiled, but did her best to curtsey in return, her attempt botched by her coat. The gargoyle held out his arm, which she took, both continuing their silent role-playing. They strolled casually down one of the jogging paths, watching their breaths puff into white clouds against the bare trees.
"Beautiful night," Tate finally whispered, feeling the need to not spoil the quiet, but to make a comment of some sort. Jay just nodded and made an agreeing noise in the back of her throat.
The pair stopped at the edge of the pond, simply content to watch the waves and the hypnotic dance of the twin moons, one a clear crescent in the sky, the other a rippling shadow of light beneath the stars.
A light breeze snuck off the water to wash over the two, causing the human to shiver and draw closer to her companion. Tate removed his arm from hers and put it over her shoulder along with a wing. Seconds after doing so, he realized what he had done. He was tempted to remove one or both appendage, but Jay sighed and snuggled closer.
Gods, boy, get away!!! A silent voice, normally in the back of his mind but now rampaging through most of his brain, screamed, youíre having a sucky enough time, donít try any funny business and spread it! ĎSides, I remember what her father threatened... and her brother. Tate shifted slightly, recalling just what Jayís family had told him in a very-not-subtle warning; from her father, a promise to make his life a living hell if he dared to go even a fraction beyond (or for that matter, even into) light petting (NOT an idle threat from a firefighter with connections apparently everywhere); and from her brother, a promise dealing with a red hot butter knife and a part of his anatomy he rathered Chad would stay away from. Oh, shut up, he told the voice, trying to stop it and several other equally distracting thoughts.
"You?!" a now hatefully familiar voice exclaimed from behind them. "What are you doing here?"
Tate whirled around, shoving Jay behind him as he moved into a defensive position. The voice, instead of quieting, simply groaned. Whoa, boy, mind asking the attendant to stop the ride? Iím ready to get off now, before the spinning gets any worse. "Mariah," he stated calmly, if one ignored the fact that his eyes were glowing white-hot. "I didnít expect to see you here."
The apparently human woman shrugged. "I got a message to come. Something important was going down. I didnít realize it was you that sent it."
Tate blinked, the white glow disappearing. "It wasnít."
"Oh, please, you expect me to believe that?" She spun and stormed off towards the gate. She only got a few steps before another voice chimed in.
"It really wasnít Tate. It was me." Tate and Mariah turned and stared. Jay? Why the blazes would sheĖ ?
The human sighed and walked over to Mariah. "Listen, Iím sorry, but both of you had to Ė "
"No, you listen to me, you miserable little Ė "
Bang. A gunshot sounded behind them and a mangy human stepped onto the beach. "Actually, ladies and... whatever the hell you are, Iíd appreciate it if you listened to me."
Tate spun again, then swore silently as the world continued to revolve without any of his help. Damn, I wish that would stop!
The human leveled his gun at Tateís head and smiled. "Hey, no more sudden moves, Whatever. I donít know what you are, but Iím willing to bet that you carry cash. Now, you and the ladies hand over any valuables, and then weíll go our separate ways and live happily ever after. Now howís that sound?" He leered at Jay. "Unless, aícourse, one of you lovelies would care to spend that time with me?"
Tateís control snapped. Heíd had a long day, the week had been even worse, and his stress level had just managed to go through the roof. He roared and charged the man, ducking the hoodís first, and only shot. He lashed out with a taloned hand, smacking the hoodís gun out of his hand. He swung a fist, but somehow, the world spun again, making him miss by a hair.
The hood ducked the wild swing and pulled a Bruce Lee punch to the gargoyleís chin, landing directly on target. Tateís head snapped back and the world revolved around him faster and faster as his view changed from the hoodís fist to the stars.
The gargoyle fell back onto the ground without a word.
"Tate!" Jay screamed, not knowing she had until she ran out of breath. She watched as if frozen as the body of her friend fell bonelessly to the ground. Time slowed, then froze. Jay could only stare at Tate and the hood, in shock.
Then time shattered. Pain shot along Jayís spine as she screamed again, a wordless cry that started as a shriek of pain that quickly changed to a full-fledged war cry. The first change came, and her skin turned a near-midnight blue. She heard the snap of her sneakers being destroyed as her feet became three toed and too big to be contained. Her jeans were stretched to their limits, the knees disappeared as spurs shot up, and a hole suddenly appeared at the seat to be filled with a serpentine tail ending in a barbed hook. The back of her shirt, vest, and jacket were shredded as dark blue, bat-like wings spouted from her back. Two horns pushed their way from over her temples to arch over her head and her ears became pointed at the tips. The former humanís hands became four taloned claws, and muscle split the lower sleeves of her clothes. She knew her eyes were now glowing red, and she snarled, then leapt at the man.
Mariah stared as the human knocked down the young gargoyle, then stood motionless he flopped down to lay still. She could not believe it. The gargoyle- her son!-, didnít move. He had to be alright. Her breath began to come too fast and her vision darkened. As her concentration disappeared, so did the magic that made her appear human. There was a roar of rage next to her, and a blue winged form sprang at the human. That left Tate alone. She darted over to the body and knelt down, feeling tears start to trickle down her face. He couldnít be dead. Not after... Not after you told him off? a small voice whispered in the back of her mind. Not after you refused to admit he was your son? And that you didnít tell him how hard it was to give him up, about how many nights you started to go back? And then never did? She bit her lip, halting the laugh that threatened to bubble up. Mariah knew that once it started, it wouldnít stop. And chances were that she wouldnít be carted off to a padded room... a lab maybe, but not a padded room. She shook her head and wiped away the tears. Some higher being was having a ball. He would die hating her, thinking she hated him... A small sob escaped and she wondered how many more nights would be spent, thinking, if things had been different, what if...
She finally noticed that something was tugging at her wing, and someone was repeating something in her ear. She turned bleary eyes to see a female gargoyle, about the same age as Tate, crouching next to her. The hood lay unconscious on the ground with several rapidly developing bruises and bleeding onto the grass. The human girl that had been there had disappeared. Mariah wiped away the tears and snarled. "What?"
"Heís not dead," the blue gargoyle said again.
She couldnít believe her ears. "What?" she repeated in a whisper.
"Heís not dead." The young female bit her bottom lip. "But he will be if we donít get him to the hospital fast."
"But...the humans..." she managed to stutter.
"We have friends there."
Mariah collected her thoughts. "All right," she declared, drawing herself up, "How can I help?"
Floating in a sea of nothingness, the first thing he became aware of was cloth. Something was covering him. His right hand started circling, tracing idle patterns on the fabric.
He took a slow, mental inventory, trying to recall anything. Tate. That was his name. All right, move on to something else important. Jay. The name swam up from the depths. That was important too, as important as his own name. It belonged to a person... female... an image came to mind, a short person with brown fuzz (it couldnít quite be called hair yet). But she seemed to switch back and forth between a human and... a being with dark blue skin, horns, and wings. A gargoyle! That was a gargoyle! And that was what he was.
With that revelation, his memories came back, and Tate promptly fell back into the darkness.
He drifted between consciousness and blackness for awhile, possibly minutes, maybe hours.
Finally, he truly came awake. Tate was dimly aware of several people talking in low voices in the background. They seemed slightly familiar, but he couldnít place them. He did a mental shrug and slowly checked mentally to see if everything was where it should be. Wings, tail, legs, everything was as it should be. His consciousness trailed down his arms, and he concentrated. His right hand was still making patterns on the sheet, and he could feel the tube lying next to his arm and the place where the needle entered into the skin, undoubtedly leading into a vein. The left...
Someone was holding onto it with the loose grasp of a sleeper or a person afraid of harming him. He opened his eyes, a slow process. Each lid felt like a hundred pounds were attached to it. Eventually both eyes were open and he glanced to the side, his head feeling too heavy. Jay was sitting in a chair, clutching his hand, and fast asleep. She was also a gargoyle. Tate tried to summon up some surprise, but he couldnít manage it. He was too tired. So instead he settled for gently squeezing her hand.
Jay squeezed back and opened her eyes. She smiled gently. "Welcome back," she told him quietly.
He tried to smile, but it was too much. "What happened? Where are we?" The smile disappeared and he finally noticed that she had dark bags under her eyes and was more worried then she let on.
"Yale. The hood knocked you out."
"Thatís no reason to put me in here. I really want to go home."
"Sorry, pal, but not for awhile."
"Come on, Iím fine. Just a little tired."
Jay dropped the faÁade of cheerfulness. "Guess again," she said flatly. "You nearly died."
"Oh, that got your attention, did it? Tate, your white blood cell count isnít just low, itís nearly nonexistent."
"So?" She sighed and raked a hand over her hair. "Havenít you been going to your monthly visits?"
He finally mustered enough energy to shrug. "I donít need to worry about it. Iím a gargoyle."
"No, youíre an idiot. Peg is surprised you even made it this long. If we hadnít gotten you a blood transfusion, you wouldnít be sitting here. And do you know how hard it was to find the right type of blood on such short notice?" She bit her lower lip and turned away. Tate was shocked to see the faint trail of tears down her cheeks. "Look, Iím sorry, itís just that... you came so close to..." Jay forced a laugh. "Look at me. Like a lunatic attacking an onion. Just... donít try anything that stupid again, okay?"
Tate forced a smile and squeezed her hand again. "All right, I promise."
Jay wiped away the tears and smiled, but it was disrupted by a huge yawn. She blinked. "Sorry. I need to get some sleep."
"Go ahead," a different voice put in. "Iíll watch over him." Jay nodded and stood, stretching. She waved to Tate and stumbled out the door. Tate watched her go, then slowly looked at the other speaker.
It was Mariah.
He turned away, refusing to look at her. He closed his eyes and tried to think of something, anything else. The female sighed. "Look," she started quietly, "I know you donít have any reason to listen to this, but I need to say it. I... Iím sorry."
Tate blinked. That wasnít what he was expecting. "What?"
"For... what I said to you before." She sighed and sat down. "I... we... Eric and I never thought we could have children. I mean, weíre two different species. It shouldnít be possible. But then... something happened. I wish I could tell you what, but... the best I can do is to tell you that weíre sworn to secrecy about it. We had no choice about that. But what happened was I became able to turn into a human. Eric was... changed as well. He no longer has a human lifespan. Not to mention other changes for both of us.
"But anyway, when we found out I was pregnant, we panicked. We didnít know what to do. We werenít even sure if the child would be human, gargoyle, or something in between. So for the entire nine months I stayed a gargoyle. We expected the time to be longer, the gargoyle factor. But instead, an egg was laid nine months in. We were still panicking. This wasnít fitting into human or gargoyle patterns. And at the time we were a bit busy with... enemies."
Iím sure, Tate sneered mentally. It was too crazy. It sounded like something from a bad SF movie. He kept expecting to see three silhouettes to show up in a corner somewhere. Not to mention the way Mariah kept being so vague about everything. It was just too weird. But then again, he reminded himself, what do most humans call gargoyles and insane geneticists?
"Fine. You freaked and left me with the clan. Okay, I guess I can buy that. But why didnít you ever come back? Why did you leave me in the dark? How could you leave me in the dark for so long? Why tell me now?!"
She sighed again and ran a hand through her hair. "Tate... we never thought weíd see you again." She stared out the window, seeing a place forty years ago. "We were on the run, just trying to stay alive. Johnson wanted to know just how-" She snapped back to the present. "We were running for our lives. I barely had time to leave you with the clan. It was quite awhile before our... problems got resolved. By then you would have hatched. Gargoyle tradition calls for the entire clan to be parents, not just the two biological parents. We could only ruin things."
Despite himself, Tate began to feel some sympathy for his mother. He could mentally understand their thinking... but they didnít know how it had been, just what it had been like, to be the weird one, the odd one out.
Which naturally made their logic perfectly reasonable- No! After what they had done, he couldnít just forgive them! He couldnít.
But what have hate and vengeance ever gotten me? he thought wearily. Nothing, Ďcept into the hospital. And she is trying to make an effort. It might not make up for thirty-six years, but... maybe itís a place to start. If she can try...
"As for why now, when I saw you go down, I thought the hood had killed you. I was certain of it. And I was certain that you hated me." She finally met his gaze, and Tate was rocked to the core. All he had felt, all he had imagined at their last meeting, were nothing. They were barely a shadow of what he saw now. Mariah had dropped all her defenses this time. He had thought for most of his life his parents were of the clan, dead before he hatched. She had lived thirty-six years knowing where he was, and been able to do nothing about it.
"I couldnít stand the idea of that," she whispered. Then she turned, biting her lip. She was crying.
Tate took a deep breath, surprised in a distant way that tears were working their way down his face. "Then maybe we should try again." He smiled. "Hi, Iím Tate, your son."
Mariah turned and smiled back, leaning down and giving him a careful hug. "Iíd appreciate that." She stepped back and leveled a stern look at him. "But right now isnít the time. You need to rest."
"Oh, all right," he grumbled. But he had to admit she had a point. His internal clock seemed to be right about near sunrise...
Mariah watched her son turn to stone as she transformed to human form. "Sleep well," she whispered.
Tate woke up with the usual roar, but flopped down on the bed. Heíd had no idea just waking up could be so exhausting. He grinned slightly at the idea. Now there was an oxymoron. Or is it just plain moron?
There was a tap at the door. He turned his head to see Jay standing in the doorway, wings caped over her shoulders and carrying a tray of food. "Mind if I come in?"
"Nope." The grin widened to a genuine smile. "íS up?"
She shrugged, placing the tray down with exaggerated care. "I called the clan and let íem know where we are. They were freaked."
"I canít imagine why. So how come all of a sudden youíre a gargoyle again?"
Jay blushed a deep violet. "Servarius goofed again, I guess. When the goon knocked you down I thought... well, Iím still not quite sure what I thought." She rubbed the back of her neck. "Aside from the fact that I wanted to rip his throat out."
"Jay... Iím sorry."
She glanced up at him, surprised. "Donít be," she replied fiercely, "donít." She managed a grin and sheepish shrug. "íSides, you know now that Iím over my problem with heights how much I love flying." She bit her lip, cutting herself off before she could go any further. Now was not the time to admit to...to... Well, she wasnít positive what it was that she would admit to, even though she had a pretty good idea.
Somehow she dragged her attention from the rather risquť places it was wandering to back to her friend. He was chewing on his lip, staring intently at the window.
"You couldnít really tear his throat out as a human, could you?" he asked suddenly.
Jay blinked. "Right," she answered slowly, trying to figure out where Tate was going with this.
"But you can as a gargoyle." He sounded like he was still trying to figure it out as he went along.
"And you turned into a human when we were being chased by that mob and needed to get away."
"How do you do it, Holmes?"
"Try to be human."
Tate finally looked at her. "Iím serious. Hard as it may be, think on being human."
"Just trust me on this."
Jay sighed and closed her eyes. Just how can you think on being human? Well, essentially she hadnít found the two races very different... Except humans couldnít fly. Chewing on the inside of her cheek, Jay concentrated on how it felt, of looking out a window and realizing there would be no way to survive any type of fall. There was an odd feeling, not of pain, but simply discomfort. She shut it out, frowning and squirming in the suddenly uncomfortable chair. Nothing. She opened her eyes and shrugged. "Sorry, Tate, but..." Her voice trailed off as she noticed Tateís smug yet amazed expression. "What?" she asked, then looked down. She let out a curse and jumped up. She was human again. "Man, this is really getting weird!"
Tate laughed. "Not really. Servarius probably planned it this way."
She shuddered. "I donít like to think about it that way," she muttered. "I mean, if he could do that... What else could heíve done to me?"
He gave her a reassuring grin. "Hey, he wanted to sell you to the highest bidder. Being able to blend in and being a gargoyle arenít exactly that compatible. But youíd make one hell of a bodyguard as is."
"Thanks so much," she commented dryly. Jay took a deep breath. "All right, test time. Think gargoyle thoughts." She concentrated on flying, the sensation of gliding over the tops of buildings at night, then watched in fascination as her skin darkened as she changed again. "Whoa, this is too weird."
"You said that already."
"I know, but... well, it can wait. You rest up."
"Yes, mother," he sighed, rolling his eyes.
"Wrong gargoyle. Oh yeah, I hope you realize you owe me big time for this."
"You arenít serious, are you?"
Jay grinned, showing her fangs. "You better believe I am. And I know of a perfect way to pay up, too."
"That is not reassuring."
"Itís not supposed to be."
A week later
Tate tugged at the collar of his shirt. "Jay, why do I have to do this?" he whined.
"Because you owe me, gargoyle," she laughed, dragging him by the arm to the door. "Come on, this is very important to me. Gram lives in California, so that means we donít see her very often."
"Why, she sick?"
Jay snorted. "This is the woman who went hiking in Switzerland last year. The year before that, she went to Australia, then before that, Africa. And I think it was Peru before that. Sheís fine."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Tate objected, digging in his heels. "This is your grandmother weíre talking about?"
"Yeah, my motherís mother. And before you ask, sheís eighty years old."
"Yes way. Sheís old. We need to visit her while sheís still alive. Mom wants me to make a good impression. Sheís also been telling Gram I have a boyfriend."
"You, dimwit. So I was ordered to make sure Gram leaves knowing you arenít a drug lord, idiot, well, weíll have to fake that one, or some sort of Ďbad influenceí."
"Me? Your boyfriend? Whereíd she get that idea?"
Jay shrugged and blushed slightly. "Well, I run off to the clanís place most nights, you come here before and after school most of the time, what else is Mom gonna think? The other day I even got the third degree on no making out."
"Yeah, that was pretty much my reaction too. Gram! Hi!" Jay plastered on a smile as they walked into the living room, leaving Tate flatfooted and his jaw hanging open. He snapped his mouth shut and smiled uncertainly as Jay hugged a small woman with glasses and black hair slightly frosted with gray.
"Jay! Youíve grown so much, I donít believe it. But your hair..."
"Yeah, well, itís either no hair and no lump or no life."
The woman grinned, taking of several decades and looking like an elderly sprite. "May I feel it?"
Tate winced. The few students that had tried to do that at school had nearly pulled back bloody stumps. But Jay just rolled her eyes and bent down.
Tate blinked in surprise, trying to gather his wits when the elderly woman finished rubbing Jayís head and turned her bright gaze on him. "And you are?"
"Um, Tate Knight." Great. I hate it when I sound like Iím not sure. "Iím pleased to meet you, Mrs. Hallet." Heíd been well drilled on how to act in front of Jayís family.
"So am I," she replied, pumping his hand in a firm handshake. "And youíre the one Jay has been seeing?"
"Well, um, just as friends."
"Of course," the woman replied with a slight smile.
Tate cleared his throat nervously. Was it his imagination or had the eighty-year old just made an innuendo?
The three sat talking for well over an hour before Jay finally paused and looked at her watch.
"Uh, Gram? Iím really sorry to cut this short, but I need to get Tate home before sunset."
"Thatís all right, but canít he drive himself?"
"I donít have a license," Tate admitted sheepishly.
"Ahh. I see. Where are you two off to?"
"Just down to Old Mystic. Twenty minutes down and back. I shouldnít be gone more then an hour."
"Hereís an ideaĖ I have a friend down in that area I havenít seen in... awhile. Could you drop me off there on your way?"
Jay shot a look at him, trying to get his opinion. Tate shrugged.
"Sure, why not?"
The rise was uneventful, but the closer to sunset and the clanís land they got, the more strained the silence, formally easy and companionable, became.
At the clanís driveway, seconds before Jay totally panicked and several after a faint suspicion began to sneak into existence, her grandmother spoke up.
"Just turn here and let me out. Iíll get a ride home."
"Here?" Jay couldnít keep the shock and pure amazement out of her voice. She turned and pulled over into the clanís driveway. In the back seat, Tate began to laugh.
"Ah, go ahead, yuck it up," Jay snarled.
Jayís grandmother looked at Jay, then Tate. "What am I missing?"
Tate finally collapsed in the seat laughing. Jay turned off the ignition and climbed out. She opened the rear door and glared at Tate when he nearly fell out, he was laughing so hard.
"Are we having fun?" she snarled icily.
"Oh, yeah, we Ė we Ė ah ha Ė havenít had this much fun in a long time."
"I know Iím missing something, would either of you care to elaborate on what that would be?"
"I swear, Gram Ė "
"You shouldnít swear, thatís a nasty habit."
"Oh, be quiet, gargoyle."
"Not you, Gram, the laughing hyena here. And Iím really not sure who to slaughter first: me for not figuring it out, him for having such a grand time about it, or you for not telling me!"
"Jay." Her name was spoken in a rising, donít-try-to-fool-with-me-young-lady tone. "What are you talking about?"
She sighed. "Just wait a few seconds for sunset."
"I thought you two had to be somewhere at sunset."
"We did," Tate chimed in weakly, "but it doesnít matter now."
Jay muttered something under her breath as her grandmother glared at the two teenagers.
Amy Hallet had traveled over much of the world in her eighty-plus years. In that time sheíd seen quite a few strange things. She also knew it was normal for teenagers to seem strange to grownups; it was part of growing up. But none of that had prepared her for the sight of her granddaughter and her boyfriend suddenly sprouting wings, fangs, and a tail at sunset.
"This is what we were laughing at," the creature that had been Tate calmly told her as he finally calmed down and clambered out of the car.
"We?" the blue female asked.
Amy raised a hand, stopping the argument before it could go any further. "What happened?" she bit off sharply.
"Um, Mrs. Hallet, why donít we finish the drive? Sadieíll want to talk to you and itís a lot more comfortable in the house then the car."
She raised an eyebrow and glared at Tate. "Are you trying to stall me?"
"Is it working?"
"Not in the least."
"Figures," he mumbled.
"Gram, we can explain, and we will, but I donít want to do it this close to the highway. ĎSides, it is more comfortable in the house."
For a moment longer she glared at them, then relented. "All right, but I expect a full explanation."
They finished the ride with Tate occasionally snickering to himself quietly in the back and Jay twisting and squirming in her seat.
"Hum? Oh, sorry, itís just the tail kinda makes most chairs uncomfortable. Especially car seats."
Mrs. Hallet blinked. To hear Jay talk about this so casually was perhaps the most shocking thing. She wasnít that bothered by Tate. After all, she did know about gargoyles, but to her knowledge, they turned to stone during the day, not into humans. And she was fairly sure Jay was a human... wasnít she?
As the house came into sight, the trio was greeted by the sight of an entire gargoyle clan atop the roof, stretching and yawning in their greeting to the night. Several figures descended into the house via the stairs, but several simply flung themselves off the roof to glide to a window.
A shrill whistle froze them where they stood. "Visitors!" someone bellowed unnecessarily.
"íS okay!" Tate yelled back after fighting with the door, "itís just us! But we need to talk to Sadie!"
The figures resumed movement, one of them that had been descending the stair turning to glide off the roof to land a few paces from the car when it parked. She raised an eye ridge and gave Tate and Jay a look. "What?" she asked simply.
"Itís good to see you again," Amy replied, clambering out of the passenger door. Sadie stared. "And I hope you know that you have barely changed after all this time."
The ancient gargoyle laughed and came around to sweep her into a hug. "Amy Hallet! I donít believe it! Itís been what, ten years?"
"Close enough," she replied, returning the hug.
Sadie held her out at arms length and her smile faded. "But Iím afraid that I canít say the same about you. But we can reminisce inside! Come on in, Iím fairly sure that breakfast will be ready soon. So where have you been all this time?"
Jay leaned back into her seat and watched her grandmother and clan member disappear inside. She sighed and shifted back into a human.
"Upset?" Tate asked.
"Nah. Just shocked. I donít think I wouldíve guessed. And itís been one hell of a week."
"Mmm. Yeah." Suddenly he snickered to himself. "And itís all because of family."
She snorted in amusement. "Ya know, life left reality far behind after cancer." Jay smiled at Tate. "And I think it might actually have been a good thing. Not that Iím saying I want it again, but..."
Tate rested a hand on her shoulder. "It was worth it?"
"Yeah. No regrets. Címon, Gram mightíve forgotten about us for a bit, but if we donít tell her the whole story, she really will kill us."
"Go ahead, I need to check something."
Jay got out, but gave him a look. "If you dare leave me to Gramís tender mercies alone, you will live to regret it," she called as she sprinted to the door.
Tate smiled and looked up at the stars.
No regrets. None. It truly had been worth it.
The gargoyle turned and followed his best friend into the house, to help her weather the storm.
Let me out of here!!!! A.K.A. Home
I want to read more! To get back to the fic archive
Any questions? Complaints? Screams of outrage that I actually consider myself a writer and/or dared to show this in public? Tell me! Send it all to Norcumi@backtick.net! I love mail!!!!
All characters except those of Lexington, Goliath, the Yuppie couple, the Quarrymen, P.I.T., and Servarius, along with the gargoyle race in general and a bit of gargoyle lore, (all of which are owned by Buena Vista and therefore the Great Mouse, used with great reverence, respect, and without permission. This isn't intended as copyright infringement) belong to me. You can't use them without my permission. But if you ask, you're most like to get it. But you still have to ask.
The Sign and Happy Nation belong to Ace of Base. Also used without permission.