I live with it every day
Even though we moved away.
I guess the days are on a loop
A marathon of heart-breaking moments.
I live with it every day
For every step I have to pay
The only thing that they can’t take
The guilt that spirals in my wake.
Steve stared down at the two-way radio in shock. “No,” he whispered again, not even aware he’d spoken.
On the other end, safely at home, Frank sighed. “Look, man, I know you don’t like it, but the hotel is burning, and you’re the only one that can get there in time.”
“You don’t understand!”
“The hell I don’t!” his normally sympathetic brother roared back. “I understand that people are gonna die ‘cause you caved to a fear of fire! Dammit, yer th – ”
Steve flicked the radio off, then retreated from the building’s edge, wings tightly caped as if to keep him from suddenly gliding off the building.
No, Frank didn’t understand. The old, city-owned hotel and historical landmark was burning, like it had burned almost fifteen years ago, and, like then, the firefighters would be unable to get to the people on the top floors.
He paced the roof for a minute, torn between a deeply ingrained need to protect, to help, and a fear of that place, especially on fire, that ran nearly as deep.
Breathing a half-formed prayer and curse, he jumped off the roof. Memories of the last time he had been to the burning hotel still haunted his dreams, but the visions that obsessed his days also gave him every reason he needed to face that fear.
Despite his mental reasoning, the gargoyle’s azure frame shivered as he imagined he could once again detect that sickly-sweet smell of human flesh roasting, and the screams of people as they burned alive.
A small, wounded animal noise escaped Steve as he landed on a rooftop across from the five-story hotel. Flames were spouting out of the lower floors, yet the upper stories were untouched save for several plumes of noxious gray smoke that escaped here and there. Firefighter and trucks clustered around the building, trying their best to hose down the building but hampered by the disturbing absence of the ladder truck.
The gargoyle took a deep, fortifying breath, and turned his radio back on. “What’s the situation and why the hell isn’t there a ladder here?”
There was a moment of surprised silence, then Frank’s voice came over clearly. “Unknown source of ignition, bottom floors blocked by flame, still some civvies inside. Not sure where. And the Ladder’s out of commission, not sure why.”
“You’re heaps of help, you know that?”
“Glad to know you’re helping, too.”
“Heh. Right.” He absently cracked his knuckles as he scanned the scene, mind plotting various courses. All right, time to get some real info. Steve jumped from the roof, wary of sudden blasts of thermal air from the fire, and cautiously circled the fire trucks. Movement on the perimeter caught his eye. Bingo. Target acquired. He dove to land gently on a car roof behind a tall, silver-haired man who was talking quietly into a portable radio.
“ ‘Scuse me, I gotta few questions.”
“Tough,” the guy snarled, “Ya have ta wait for....” His voice trailed away to a near squeak as he finally turned around.
The gargoyle grinned, showing his fangs. “It shouldn’t take more’n a moment of yer time.”
“Dennis, I thought I said I wanted those....” Another human, a burly guy dressed like a civilian, had rushed up, stopping only when he noticed the gargoyle. “What the hell’re you doing here? Thought you helped the cops, not us.”
Steve blinked. That wasn’t normal. Then he shrugged, pretending nonchalance. “Heard there were still some people inside. How could I not help?” Good question!
The human didn’t even hesitate. “Good. There any more of you around?”
“Nope, just me.”
“Damn. Figures. There’s a family of four in the fourth floor, corner room over there.” Steve nodded, privately grateful that it was far, far away from his memories. His stomach curdled when the human’s finger swung around to point at the other end of the hotel. “There’s a couple in fifth floor, registered in the room three windows to the right.” No. Oh, dragon help me, NO! “You all right?”
“Yeah,” he lied through a dry throat. “Peachy fucking keen. See ya in a few.” The gargoyle leapt for the street light before the humans could ask any more questions. He took to the air even as the first human turned to the other and demanded in a shocked voice, “Dep, what the hell just happened?”
Steve headed for the family room, justifying his fear by the fact that the fourth floor would go before the fifth. He landed on the tiny decretive ledge, digging his talons into the wall just to cling to the building. He sighed. The window was closed. Figures. The way my luck’s going, I shouldn’t be surprised. He carefully backhanded the window, turning away to keep from stray shards.
The glass easily shattered inwards, releasing a small plume of smoke. Steve swung into the room, scanning for the occupants. A family of four was cowering low to the floor beside the bed, gaping at him.
“I’m here to help,” he barked, nerves shot and quite aware of the time limit, “I can carry you two at a time. Who wants to go first?”
“Get away!” the man – father? – yelled, clutching the woman and a little girl determinedly sucking her thumb closer. The boy, not possibly more than seven, evaded his father’s hands and walked up to Steve.
“Hey, are you a monster?” he asked eagerly.
Oh yay. I don’t have time for this! Despite his thoughts, he knelt down to look the child in the eye. “No, I’m a gargoyle.”
Ah, what the hell. “But if you misbehave I will come and rip your head off after eating your liver,” he compromised.
“Cool!” the boy exclaimed, content with the fascination of potential violence. The mother squeaked and pulled him back, not knowing or perhaps not understanding the gargoyle’s experienced tactics. He’d been exactly the same when he was that young.
“Look folks, you got a choice. Ignore the monster and end up dead from burns or smoke inhalation, or trust me.” He could already feel the smoke tickling the back of his throat with evil promise.
The man hesitated, then slumped in defeat. “Alright,” he whispered.
“John!” his wife hissed in shock.
“You don’t really have a choice,” Steve added. “Ma’am, you and your son first.”
“Cool!” the kid squealed, racing for the window.
The mother wasn’t nearly as happy. “But-”
“NOW!” he roared. Enough was enough. These people were getting help if it killed ‘em.
Taking in his fangs and glowing eyes, she dithered only a moment more before joining her son.
“Be right back,” Steve mumbled, grabbing woman and child around the waist. He was out the window before they realized what was going on. Finding themselves five stories up, on the other hand, was something completely different. Both humans shrieked, the woman in fear, the kid ‘cause he was tickled to death that he was flying.
By the time they ran out of breath, Steve landed and deposited them near the fire truck. Once making sure the firefighters were coming, he jumped onto a truck and used the ladder to begin gliding back.
He landed on the windowsill itself, but snarled as a forgotten piece of glass stabbed him between two clawed toes. This was not a good night. On the upside, the humans were waiting for him at the casement, so he only had to lean down and pick them up before leaving again. All too soon, he was back on the ground, surrounded by firefighters that seemed more concerned with the humans than him. So it was back in the air to the fifth floor.
He perched outside the window to his nightmares, praying silently to an unknown god. Then he took a deep breath, reminding himself that this couldn’t be the same thing, and smashed the window. Reckless speed cost him; one of the falling shards splintered outwards, slicing him across the forearm. He hissed in pain, then swung inside. Again, his speed worked against him, and he gouged a shallow gash along his tail.
The hiss changed to a growl as he landed on the rug. A human male came out of the bathroom, rubbing a towel over damp hair, absently calling over his shoulder, “Hey, do you smell smoke?” He looked up at Steve and gasped.
Both froze as their eyes met. The gargoyle saw a human approaching middle age, with balding blonde hair, the beginnings of a beer belly, and numerous acne scars. His gray eyes held a strange look of mingled fear and triumph. Steve was well aware he was staring back with a look of horror. “No,” the gargoyle moaned softly.
This was his nightmare.
Almost fifteen years ago, he had been on his first lone patrol. He’d heard sirens, and followed the fire trucks to this god-be-damned hotel. After listening in on the humans, he’d learned that there were still several people inside. So he’d gone and started ferrying them out. The second room he’d gone to was this very same one. Its occupant was a teenager, maybe 18 at the most.
The kid had a gun.
That didn’t really bother Steve. Even at that age, he was more than accustomed to having various weapons being aimed with deadly intent on him. But this was different.
The gun was pointed at the kid’s temple.
He was willing to die before “allowing a demon” to take him.
Steve had frozen, not knowing what to do, panicked by this new and unnerving behavior. Things had escalated, until the gun finally went off. He’d managed to move fast enough to stop a fatal wound, but the entire event had shaken him. Combined with massive smoke inhalation and the fact that it had delayed him from saving at least two more lives, the gargoyle reacted poorly to any reminders of the night.
And now, here, the kid was back. Oh, he was older, going to pot, but there was no doubt in his mind. This was the same person.
“I knew you were real,” the human stated calmly, but there was a manic light in his eyes.
“I wish you weren’t,” Steve replied, his voice trembling.
“Honey?” A small, dark woman strolled in from the bathroom, rubbing a towel over her hair. “Who are you talking-” She broke off in a gasp, eyes going wide at the sight of the gargoyle. “It’s real!”
“Of course it’s real,” the man returned, sounding offended. “I thought you believed me!”
“Of course I did,” she said soothingly, “but I assumed you meant in a metaphorical sense.”
“Look!” Steve snarled, “I really hate to interrupt this little debate, but we all got bigger problems!”
“Which would be?” the woman asked calmly.
Her clinical tone and attitude was really starting to get on what was left of his nerves.
“Well let’s see. The building’s on fire, I’m this close to a nervous breakdown, and this asshole tried suiciding last time we were in this situation. Does this seem wrong to anyone else or do we need a time-out for therapy?!”
The woman frowned, giving her a furtive, pinched air. “There is no need to be facetious.”
“Oh, bite me.” He experimentally flexed his left arm, wincing as the wounded limb told him not to expect cooperation. He sized the man up, noting the still disturbing look in his eyes. “I can take you one at a time.”
“You first,” the guy instantly snapped, not taking his eyes off Steve.
“Oh, now that’s hardly rational,” the woman started.
“Fuck rational!” Steve interrupted. “Get over here!”
She arched an eyebrow, but obeyed. “I’d like to discuss this revelation with you when you get outside,” she called.
He nodded. “Of course.”
Something in his tone bothered Steve, but he – they – didn’t have time.
The human was oddly silent the entire trip. Finally desperate for small talk, Steve mumbled, “Pretty callous, that ‘discuss the revelation’ comment.”
“Not really. I’m also my husband’s therapist.”
Since there wasn’t really any way to respond to that one, he dropped her off without more chatter.
The man was gone when he returned. Steve gaped around the empty room, mind trying to deny that the human wasn’t there. When it was clear that the man was indeed gone, Steve cursed and headed for the door.
He wrenched it open, then winced as waves of heat blasted him. The fire surged, hot enough to sear his throat and crinkle the sensitive membranes of his wings. He cloaked them over his shoulders, praying that the lunatic was around here somewhere.
Down the hall to the left, the staircase surrendered to the fire, collapsing with a roar and shower of sparks, backlighting a human figure that stood near the brink.
The human took a step closer to Steve. “She never did believe me, you know.” the voice was frighteningly unemotional, too conversational for the surroundings. “Oh, she said she did, but she said she loved me to. She was – she was – ” The figure let out an unnatural laugh. “She was trying to cure me. But I showed her. I knew you’d come. Demons can’t give up a soul. But you know what? You won’t get mine.” With that, he turned and stepped towards the abyss.
“NO!!” Steve bellowed, claws digging into hardwood floor as he sprinted forward. He seemed to be caught in a time warp, leaving the human on Normal while he was stuck in Baywatch speed. The human left the landing instants before Steve reached it.
The gargoyle leapt after him. His claws were set to grip wood and bone, stretching in opposite directions. Only his left hand made contact, digging into what remained of the landing. The human was gone except for the stench of burnt flesh that mingled with the smoke.
Steve had enough time to howl his frustration before his abused arm gave up. He automatically flipped his wings open, loosing another howl as superheated air seared the membranes. But considering the other option, he left them open as he frantically looked around him. He finally focused through the inferno on a window.
He flared his wings just slightly, though more than enough to gain height and increased pain, then dove for the window.
Surprisingly enough, the fire report made no mention of the rather Spielberghian effects of the night. Official accounts were particularly devoid of the “black streaked, blue winged humanoid figure bursting through a window, chased by a back draft fire stream before crashing into and destroying a car” that was giving the media a field day. No sources – official or otherwise – could say where the creature had disappeared to.
Steve woke to find his stone skin scattered around a small office crammed with firefighting equipment and memorabilia. Deciding he was safe for the moment, he checked to see just what his condition was.
The cuts had disappeared, his wings were whole but blistered and tender, his back was oddly just as sore, breathing wasn’t all that pleasant, and he reeked of smoke.
Pretty good, all things considered.
“Jeeze, I didn’t know you guys made such a mess.”
The voice had Steve turning to face the door before the complaint had finished. A stocky man, medium height with thinning/receding dark brown hair and glasses strolled in. He was dressed in black pants and a white officer’s shirt. Within a few seconds, the gargoyle recognized him as the “civilian” who’d accepted his presence so easily last night. “Hi, I’m Bill Stiles, welcome to the fire house.”
“Uh, I’m Steve. You’re taking this really well.”
“Jay’s my daughter.”
Oh. That explains it. “So... what am I doing here?”
“Taking up too much space,” the human said dryly as he slipped around Steve.
“Oh. Um, so... that it?”
“Yeah.” Bill shrugged. “I just figured you’d want to be someplace away from the media for the day.”
“Thanks. The people... the ones that got out?”
The gargoyle shifted from foot to foot. “One of them – her husband – I – ”
A look of understanding crossed the man’s face. “Here.” He scribbled on a piece of paper. “That’s the rooms.”
“Don’t mention it.”
Steve fled, unsure of anything.
It hadn’t been hard to break into the hospital, and even easier to find the appropriate rooms. But Steve lingered at the door, watching the woman from last night. She was hooked up to the dragon only knew what machines, seemingly ignorant of their existence as she flipped through a magazine. She didn’t seem that messed up about her husband’s death, but then again, she might not know. Or it could be something completely different. You never knew with humans.
Come on, gotta do it sometime. Steve cleared his throat and entered the room. She looked up, face bland.
“I’m... sorry about your husband.”
She sighed and finally showed emotion. “Thank you. I’m sorry too. There was so much we never got to discuss about his case.”
It took a few slow seconds for the gargoyle’s brain to kick in. “What?” he sputtered, unsure he’s heard right.
“His case. The reason he was in the hospital. Fascinating, really, only substantial occurrence of racial phobia. I thought he was incurable, without closer attention and information than the hospitals generally allow. Such small mindedness in the scientific field today. You can’t make an omelet, and such. And your existence puts a whole new light on things. I had no idea he hadn’t made the whole thing up. Pity I’ll never get to delve into this further.”
“Wait wait wait. Hold on a sec. You mean you married him so you’d get top info on his case?! Damn, bitch! That is twisted!”
“You know, excessive verbal abuse indicates a lack of security. I’m sensing some unresolved issues here.”
“Unresolved issues?!? Damn straight! It’s called covering my ass emotionally so I don’t end up some freak job psycho like your husband!” He took a deep breath in an attempt to calm down. So much for makin’ peace with the dead, the living are too fucked up as it is! “Enough,” he rumbled in an almost growl. “You made your bed, and I hope you enjoy roasting in hell for it.” He turned and started for the door.
“Considering that ‘hell’ is a religious excuse and means to keep control and order, I should think I’ll be fine.”
He gave her the finger on his way out.
Steve kicked the door closed, desperately wanting to use up all the hot water in the shower, then grab a few brewskies and collapse in his room to get completely sloshed out of his mind. Instead, he found Mector leaning against the kitchen table, arms crossed and The I-am-so-pissed-and-you-are-so-dead Look plastered firmly on his face. “Do you have any idea what’s been going on?” the Leader demanded.
“Oh gee, I’m sorry, I’ve been too busy out saving lives.” The snarl slipped out before he realized what he’d said. Shit. Now I’m in for it.
Mector snapped a newspaper open in front of him, displaying an impressive picture of Steve launching himself from the burning building, clutching two human figures. “It’s on the cover of every paper, taken up most of the news, and Peter Jennings had a ten minute discussion of the gargoyle menace spreading from New York. What the hell were you thinking? Do you even realize what this means?!??”
“Sucks to be us.” He tried to stroll by, but the Leader grabbed his arm and roughly pulled the younger gargoyle around to face him.
“No, it sucks to be you. Our very existence has been a secret for generations, and you just went and blew our protection all to hell!!”
“Oh, so you mean Tate an’ Jay running around New Haven wasn’t a tip off? Or that bus terrorist deal? It’s not my fuckin’ fault! I did what I was told to do, which was protect people! I saved five lives - ”
“At the cost of nineteen of ours! Do you want to end up on a lab table? Do you want to see the hatchlings there?” A look of desperation flittered across Mector’s face. “You have put the entire clan at risk.”
“Oh give it a rest! ‘Gargoyles protect like breathing.’ Isn’t that what you always said, oh fearless leader?” he snarled sarcastically. “I didn’t think it was ‘protect us first, then the humans if it happens to be convenient.’ I don’t need to take this shit, I did what was right and kept the gargoyle way! Hell, we’ve been hiding here all our lives, maybe it’s time we got out into the real world! Things do not end at our boundaries, and if we don’t go out, it’s gonna come on in. So you can just take this little lecture and shove it.” He pulled his arm free and kept going.
“Steve.” His name brought him to a reluctant halt. “I’m talking about the entire clan here. I want my kids to grow up accepted by the humans as much as you want to be a part of their world now. But they are only human. They fear us. They’ll hunt us. And we are far too few to risk that.”
There was minute of silence.
“Sucks to be us,” Steve repeated before leaving.
“Steve! I’m not finished!”
“Get back here!” the Leader bellowed.
“Or what? You’re gonna cast me out?” A slamming door punctuated his statement.
Mector collapsed into a chair, old pain rippling across his face. That had not gone according to plan.
“You should have let me handle it,” Talia observed from the doorway.
“How much did you hear?” he asked his mate and second in command.
She snorted softly. “Everyone heard everything. You can’t keep on doing this, lover. He’s right. We do need to join the world.”
“Not like this, not now...”
She moved over to gently embrace him. “You can’t keep blaming yourself. No one knew the humans would attack. Not even Sadie.”
He winced. “And she’s gone too. Dammit, I just.... things are changing, too much too fast. I can’t handle it.”
“We have to.”
“That’s what worries me.”
Frank was drawn to the ‘private’ grove as much by habit and instinct as the almost ground-shaking volume of a stereo. He’d heard the argument – everyone had – and had decided to let his brother have some time alone before going to play confessor. After all, it had been his fault Steve was there in the first place.
He slipped past the bushes and boards that kept their small clearing in the trees somewhat private to find Steve curled up amongst tree roots. His brother held an almost empty beer can, almost a case worth of empties lying around in testimony of how he’d spent his time.
“Um, hey,” he called out tentatively. Steve’s drinking ability was legendary, but this was way beyond casual beer. Frank was fairly certain he’d never seen that many cans around outside of the occasional contest, and even then....
“G’way,” the drunk gargoyle slurred.
“I.... thought you might want some com-”
“Go th’ fuck away!” Steve yelled, eyes burning white as he tossed his can at Frank. It missed by a mile, but he got the idea. Now was not a good time. He sighed softly and retreated, letting the music wash over his senses. It was gonna be a long night.
If we burn our wings
Flying too close to the sun
If the moment of glory
Is over before it's begun
If the dream is won --
Though everything is lost
We will pay the price,
But we will not count the cost
When the dust has cleared
And victory denied
A summit too lofty
River a little too wide
If we keep our pride --
Though paradise is lost
We will pay the price,
But we will not count the cost
And if the music stops
There's only the sound of the rain
All the hope and glory
All the sacrifice in vain
And if love remains
Though everything is lost
We will pay the price,
But we will not count the cost
Many thanks to Datafage, who is hopefully happy to proof a fic that is warm, but not fuzzy. ;)
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!!!!
With the exception of some gargoyle lore, which belong to Buena Vista and therefore the Great Mouse, everything in here belongs to me (well, except anything else I mention after this). That means if for some strange reason you want to use my characters in your stuff, you have to ask first.
The songs belong to Barenaked Ladies and Rush. No infringement of any sort is intended on any of these owners, I’m just using this to get the stories out of my deluded mind. I’m not making a profit (or any money at all), so please don’t sue.