Written by: Madame Destine
Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction. The characters belong to their various creators: Buena Vista Television / The Walt Disney Company and The Gargoyles Saga, and they are used without their express knowledge or consent.
The excerpt from "Seeds of Change" was used with the kind permission of the authors.
Warning: This is a work of adult fan fiction. It contains explicit depictions of sex and is intended for mature readers only. If you are under the age of consent, please stop reading now.
* * * * *
Andrea Calhoun stepped out of the bathroom into the modest-sized bedroom of her lower West Side loft apartment, running a brush through her still slightly damp honey-blonde hair.
"Man, what a day," she complained aloud as she cast the hairbrush onto the dresser and moved to the tall window that nearly filled nearly the entire far wall. She tied the belt on her white terrycloth bathrobe as she gazed out for a moment at the glowing lights of the city, and their shimmering reflections in the Hudson River beyond. Andrea sighed. "Maybe the city never sleeps," she said wryly, stifling a yawn as she drew the curtains shut, "but overworked artists like me do."
Another yawn came, and this one wouldn't be denied. Wearily, Andrea stretched her arms over her head as she turned away from the window. "Jeez, it's too late to even give Dominique a call," she added, casting a glance at the clock as she set about collecting the clothes she had left scattered on the bed. Carefully, she hung the pale lavender suit jacket and its matching skirt back on their hangers, just as Dominique had taught her during a brief visit she had paid to the apartment just a month before.
"For heaven's sake, Andrea… you can't just toss your good clothes into a pile on the floor and still expect to look your best in them!"
Her friend's firm but good-natured admonishment echoed in her head as she placed the garments aside for the dry cleaners, and Andrea couldn't help but smile. If it hadn't been for Dominique Destine, she'd still be doing sidewalk art shows, rather than gallery showings and paid commissions.
Opening the bedroom closet, Andrea let the bathrobe slip from her shoulders to the floor as she surveyed the hangers. Her casual wear was crammed haphazardly to one side, but the "good" clothes - almost of all of which had been purchased during shopping trips with Dominique - hung neatly on the other. Resting in its own special place, however, was the one garment that Dominique had bought for her which Andrea loved more than all the others combined: the elaborate French gown she had worn to last year's PIT Halloween Masquerade Ball.
Unable to resist, she pulled the dress from the closet and turned to the full-length mirror on the door, holding the garment up in front of her. A tingle ran over her as the velvety fabric fell against her skin, and she smiled, remembering the first and last time she had worn the ornate gown.
* * *
"Are you sure all this is really necessary, Dominique?" Andrea asked as she steadied herself by holding on to the sturdy bedpost, watching in the mirror as her red-haired friend moved in close behind her.
"It's all part of the costume," the older woman reassured her. She was already dressed in her own "costume," blue skin, wings, tail, and all, wearing nothing in the way of clothing but a scantily cut loincloth, halter, and a few pieces of gold jewelry. As Andrea gave in and sucked in her stomach, she was secretly jealous.
"Next year, I want to go as a gargoyle, too," she mock-complained as Dominique adjusted the position of the long corset about her waist.
Dominique-turned-gargoyle gave a small, sly smile, revealing fangs that caused Andrea's eyes to go wide with amazement again as she watched their reflections in the mirror. "We'll see," Dominique said. "Now just hold still for a moment," she instructed as she pulled the laces of the corset tight and quickly tied them off.
* * *
Andrea quivered slightly as she recalled the oddly exciting, almost erotic sensation she had experienced in that moment as her friend cinched the garment about her with such effortless firmness and strength. She giggled involuntarily, smiling even as she blushed and returned the hanger to the closet, tucking the elaborate dress safely back into its place on the end of the rack.
"Mm… we must do that again sometime, Dominique," she murmured softly as she smoothed the costume gown's long skirt one last time. The petite blonde smiled oddly, envisioning the improbable scenario of getting Dominique to wear her costume again, too, and a shivery tingle raced through her again as she imagined herself cocooned in a winged embrace. Andrea paused, closing her eyes as she leaned against the doorframe, reveling in her fantasy for a few seconds before sighing wistfully. "In your dreams, Andrea Calhoun," she whispered as she snagged her nightshirt off a peg on the back of the closet door and slipped it on. She moved lightly on bare feet, buttoning the flannel garment as she crossed the room, and turned off the lights. With a smile still on her lips, Andrea crawled into bed and drifted off to sleep.
* * *
"Here, Andrea," Dominique said as she placed her arm around the younger woman's shoulder's and pulled her close. "There, that's better."
Andrea looked up, still fussing with her gown's skirt as the photographer a dozen feet away made a final adjustment to the lens of his camera, and couldn't help but giggle as she slipped her own arm around her costumed friend's waist. "You sure make a great looking gargoyle, Dominique," she said.
Dominique jumped a little as Andrea's arm fell against the bare skin at the small of her back, then relaxed and gave an odd fanged grin. "Just watch the tail," she mock-chided as she turned to face the camera.
Andrea laughed. A second later, the camera flashed, blinding her.
* * *
The young artist blinked the spots from her eyes. The bright, gaily decorated room had been replaced by a dim, deserted city street. The sounds of the party were gone, leaving only an eerie silence. Andrea unwrapped her arm from around a cold metal lamppost, backing away from it in confusion. Turning, she caught sight of her own reflection in the window of a darkened storefront. Andrea gasped. She was wearing only a flannel nightshirt that came just far enough past her waist to maintain decency. Her legs and feet were bare. She stared at herself in wide-eyed disbelief. Hadn't she just been at a Halloween party only a moment ago, dressed in the finest offerings of 16th century Parisian fashion?
The details evaporated from her mind as quickly as she tried to recollect them, leaving only bewilderment as Andrea turned away from the window and back to the desolate, too quiet street. The street lamps cast a pale, sickly yellow light on the pavement. Andrea scanned the area for signs of life, shivering as a chill breeze raised goose bumps on her bare legs. The whole street seemed deserted; even the windows of the neatly kept rowhouses lining it were dark.
"Where is everybody?" Andrea wondered. At last, far in the distance toward the end of the block, she spotted the silhouette of a man, seemingly standing by the curb, waiting for the bus. Holding the hem of her nightshirt to keep it from flapping in the breeze, Andrea broke into a trot and hurried toward him.
"Excuse me, sir," Andrea began as she approached the figure, "can you tell me where I…." She stopped in mid-sentence with a gasp as the man's face finally came into the light, and froze where she stood. Tentatively, she reached out with her hand to confirm what her eyes already told her. It wasn't a man at all, but a statue of a man. A life-size rendering in stone of an ordinary man in an ordinary suit, coat slung over one arm, briefcase in the other. The young woman's fingers brushed against the cold, rough stone for only a second before she jerked her hand back, a terrible feeling of déjà vu overwhelming her.
Andrea stepped back instinctively, fear and dread already filling her eyes. She screamed as the statue's head suddenly disintegrated, shattering into tiny fragments of stone as if struck by a heavy hammer. She stared, transfixed, as fine, faintly luminescent cracks spread in a spider web pattern down the rest of the statue. She shrieked again as it crumbled and finally collapsed into a pile of rubble at her feet.
"Oh my god, no," she moaned, backing away, her heart racing as her eyes searched vainly in the darkness for the statue's unseen attacker. At last, she turned and ran.
She only made it a few dozen yards. Rounding a corner, she suddenly found herself in the midst of a crowd of statues - a bizarre, life-size sculpture garden in the middle of the street, consisting of everyday people walking along, just going about their business. Andrea had only a scant couple of seconds to admire how lifelike they were, however. She screamed and protected her head with her arms as the statue nearest to her - a woman carrying a pair of shopping bags - exploded in a shower of stone shards. The terrified artist began running again, zigzagging her way through the petrified mob as one by one the statues crumbled under invisible blows or exploded from within, the trail of destruction seeming to chase her down the street.
Andrea kept running. Shrieking, she ducked as one of the statues' heads whizzed past within inches of her own, arcing through the air like a well-batted softball. As it shattered against a nearby wall, Andrea spotted the entrance to an alley that looked like it would offer an escape from the madness surrounding her. Grabbing the edge of the building, she flung herself around the corner, still running full tilt. She hazarded a quick glance back before looking up, and her eyes widened immediately in surprise. The alley was a dead end.
The breathless young woman brought her hands up just barely in time, grunting as she bounced back from the brick wall like an outfielder off the fence.
"You should be careful," a young voice spoke from behind her.
"You might hurt yourself," added a similar voice.
Andrea spun and gasped in shock. Three young children, girls, identical save for the color of their hair, stood just behind her. The first had hair of golden blonde, the second, pure white, and the third, pure black. They were dressed in sailor suit school uniforms, and their wide eyes held Andrea momentarily transfixed.
"You needn't run so fast," chided the black-haired one, her hollow eyes locking with Andrea's.
"I… want to get out of here," Andrea retorted weakly.
The blonde-haired girl traded a glance with the white-haired one. "You cannot leave yet," the first girl stated calmly as she stepped forward and took hold of Andrea's left hand.
"You must see one more thing first," the second girl added as she took Andrea's right hand.
Andrea shook her head and blinked, finally breaking eye contact with the dark-haired girl. "I don't want to see anything else," she protested, trying to pull away from the pair that had taken hold of her and now had their hands clamped about her wrists. "What the…" she gasped in astonishment as the two small girls held her effortlessly. "How can you… ouch, let me go!" she yelled, struggling as the strange sailor-suited schoolgirls tightened their grip and began pulling her back out of the alley.
"Resistance is futile," the dark-haired one stated as her companions pulled the still-struggling Andrea back onto the dimly lit street, now littered with fragments of crumbled and shattered stone. "You cannot escape the truth."
"No! I don't want to see any more! Let me go!" Andrea cried as she was pulled closer and closer to the last remaining statue on the street - the only one that was still intact.
"If you wish to leave here, you must accept the truth," the blonde girl stated, her voice still calm as she tugged Andrea insistently forward.
"No," Andrea moaned, turning her head away and closing her eyes. "I can't."
"You must," stated the white-haired one. "Open your eyes. Look."
"No!" she screamed. But as much as she tried, Andrea could not overcome the unnatural strength of the first two girls as they forced her to her knees and held her arms tight, nor could she offer any resistance as the third one moved behind her and took hold of her head.
"Open your eyes and look," the black-haired girl intoned darkly, forcing Andrea's head back to a forward position. "Now."
Her last ounce of will gone, Andrea's eyes finally opened and took in the face of the last statue. It was a face she knew well. It was her sister. And as the strong hands of the strange children held her, and the statue crumbled to dust before her, as had all the others, Andrea screamed…
* * *
"Oh god!" Andrea crawled her way out of the nightmare. Her heart was pounding and the sheets were sweat-soaked. She stared at the ceiling, willing the night terrors back into the shadows, and slowly her breathing returned to something closer to normal. "It was only a dream. It was only a dream," the petite young woman repeated to herself as afterimages of city streets and smashed statuary were replaced by bright morning sunshine. She reached for a tablet and pencil from a basket beside her desk and with a trembling hand began to sketch the most vivid aspects of the nightmare before they receded entirely.
A half an hour and several pages later, Andrea cast the paper and now blunted pencil aside, slipped into a pair of jeans and padded into the kitchen.
She picked up the kettle, shook it to make sure it had enough water in it for coffee, and after turning the gas on under it, went to the front door for the newspaper. As the nearly empty kettle began to steam, she mixed into a cup the ingredients for what one of her health foodie friends called a Heart Attack in a Cup: powdered espresso, two heaping spoons of sugar and a dollop of real cream. Pouring the water and inhaling the vapor of the potent brew calmed her nerves a few degrees further and she settled at the breakfast bar to peruse the morning paper.
She slipped the rubber band off the newsprint bundle and nearly dropped the cup in her now nerveless hand. On the front page a shrouded object loomed threateningly. The headline read: "We Shall Never Forget."
The ghastly nightmare images of crushed statues and surreal children washed over the artist again and this time she did drop the cup. It shattered on the tile floor in a thunderous crash that resonated with half repressed memories of the dream.
Numbly, Andrea bent to her knees to pick up the shards of ceramic and cried out as she caught her hand on an unseen fragment. She straightened and clutched her injured finger to her, grasping for a napkin from the holder on the bar.
Blood welled from the wound. Before she could wrap it securely, it dripped onto the open front page of the newspaper, staining the shroud covered memorial red.
Andrea shoved the newspaper onto the floor where it joined the broken mug and spilled espresso. She yanked the receiver from the telephone charging station at the end of the bar and dialed a number from memory.
"23rd Precinct," a neutral voice answered.
"Detective Ryan," Andrea demanded as she tore her eyes away from the mess on the floor.
After a brief pause, the telephone made switching noises and a familiar voice answered, "Ryan."
"Detective Ryan, this is Andrea Calhoun."
From his corner desk in the detective's bullpen, Sean Ryan watched the ebb and flow of humanity that never seemed to cease. Seeing suspects in handcuffs made him feel better. It was a reminder that some cases did have closure, unlike the one he was dealing with now. "Good morning, Ms. Calhoun. How have you been?" he began in a gentle tone of voice.
"I had the nightmare again, detective." There was barely a tremble in her throaty contralto, but Ryan could imagine the pain that etched her features all the same. He'd seen it often enough on too many faces.
"I'm sorry," he replied sincerely. "I know this is difficult for you." He paused and wondered what to say next. "It's difficult for all of us." Ryan's voice hinted at his frustration. "So many people disappeared that night. Men, women, young, old, rich, poor. The only common denominator I have is they all were last seen prior to 6 PM. It's not much of a lead."
"I realize that, Detective Ryan," Andrea replied. "I was just hoping…"
She trailed off and Ryan sighed. You were just hoping that today I'd had a miracle breakthrough and found several hundred strangers living in a commune in Nevada, he thought sarcastically. "I know," he said instead, "you were hoping that today, instead of unveiling a memorial, the mayor could read a speech about joyful reunions. I'm sorry, Ms. Calhoun, it's been three years. I'm not giving up, but I'm not hopeful either. Have you given any though to that support group we discussed?"
"I couldn't," Andrea protested. "It would be like admitting that Helen was never coming home. How can I give up on my sister?"
"It's not giving up," Ryan said patiently. "It's sharing your pain with other people who can understand it because they feel it too. Please, Ms. Calhoun… Andrea. They're having a meeting this afternoon. Would you think about going?"
"I'll think about it," she said quietly. "I'm sorry I took up so much of your time, Detective Ryan. I know you'll call me, if anything develops in my sister's case."
Andrea hung up the telephone without waiting to hear the detective's response. Walking around the mess on the floor, she reached for the telephone book on a small desk and flipped through until she found the listings for Private Detectives. She scanned the ads, avoiding the ones that claimed to be specialists in cheating hearts and insurance scams, and settled on a small advertisement for a woman who dealt exclusively in missing persons.
Absently rubbing her cut finger against her pant leg, Andrea dialed the number.
It rang several times, and just as the artist considered hanging up and trying another number, a breathless woman with a cigarette roughened voice answered. "Rebecca Dicksen, how may I help you?"
Andrea took a deep breath and requested an appointment.
* * * * *
"This was a dumb idea," Andrea said some hours later as she cast down her paintbrush in frustration. "I'm not in the mood to paint and that's all there is to it." She glanced at her watch. "I've got more than three hours before I'm supposed to meet with that detective, too." Outside, the sunshine beckoned, and after a cursory attempt at restoring order to her workspace, the artist abandoned her easel for the relative fresh air of the city sidewalk.
"Exercise, that's what I need," she told herself resolutely. Quickening her pace, she headed briskly towards a small park adjacent to her rented studio. "I'll have a nice walk, clear out the cobwebs…." She stopped mid-thought and stared in disbelief. Standing near the brass and concrete sculpture that acted as the park's center point, tying her running shoe and dressed in workout clothes, was her sister, Helen, enjoying a break from her mid-morning jog.
Andrea shook her head, but the woman remained where she'd first spotted her. Breaking into a trot, the painter ran, calling, "Helen! Where have you been? I-" She paused as the woman turned towards her and stared curiously.
"I'm sorry," she said politely, "do I know you?"
Now that she was close enough to speak to the woman, Andrea didn't know what to say. The resemblance was striking, but the jogger was not her sister. "No, it's my mistake," she said numbly. "I thought you were somebody else."
The woman laughed good-naturedly. "Don't worry about it," she replied. "Someone's always mistaking me for their college roommate, or their best friend's sister. I've kind of gotten used to it."
"All the same," Andrea replied as she turned away, "sorry to have bothered you." She walked away quickly before the woman could continue the conversation.
Realizing that the park had suddenly lost its attraction, the artist pushed her way out onto the busy sidewalk and headed towards the city center.
She strolled, one among many, letting herself be carried by the ebb and flow of the human tide. A traffic light caused the stream of pedestrians to pause briefly, and Andrea realized she'd walked nearly a mile.
Absently running a hand through the bangs of her pageboy, she noticed a throng of people gathering purposely around a black crepe bedecked platform. Curious, the artist wandered closer.
"Seems kinda silly to me," a uniformed police officer was saying to his companion as they stood guarding the platform.
"The mayor's not interested in what you think, Burns," the second officer replied as he allowed a pair of workmen carrying a rolled something under the barricade and up onto the stage. A third man followed, hefting a ladder. "The mayor wants to show the public he cares."
"It's just… a monument to a bunch of commune runaways…"
"Solved the case of the Lost Night, did you, Burns?"
"Well…" the other man blustered, "nothing else makes sense. What do you think happened? Mass spontaneous combustion?" He wiggled his fingers. "Space aliens?"
Tuning out the insensitive patrolman, Andrea watched numbly as the workers unfurled and hung a somber black banner. Inadvertently, she'd allowed herself to be carried to the site of the memorial dedication. A newspaper reporter, hoping to catch some "Man On The Street" interviews, scribbled a comment in his notebook as the cops shook their heads, declining to be interviewed on the record. But others were much more forthcoming with their opinions.
A bag lady, clutching the handle of a shopping cart, mumbled of fairies, while a neatly groomed businessman rolled his eyes. "It's those gargoyles! They went on some kind of rampage that night!"
"But how do you explain citywide amnesia?" the reporter queried mildly. "Did the gargoyles cause that too?"
"Government experiments," another woman said firmly as Andrea turned away. "It's the only thing that makes any kind of sense."
"Yeah," a casually dressed man agreed. "I saw this bright light and then nothing."
"I can't listen to this," Andrea moaned as she pushed her way through the growing crowd of spectators. "Don't these people have any idea how callous they sound?"
A bus pulled up at the corner and Andrea dashed for it, getting on just as the driver started to pull away from the curb.
She rode huddled against the window, using a discarded magazine to shield herself from other more talkative passengers who were debating the circumstances of "The Lost Night."
"I don't know why they're throwing away good money for another hunk of granite," the man sitting across the aisle groused. "It's not going to bring all those people back, is it?"
"Yeah, just more knee jerk 'do something to make people feel betterism' as if there wasn't enough of that going around," a twenty-something girl in an NYU tee shirt agreed. "Why can't they do something useful?"
"Like what?" an older student asked. "They've been looking for three years. They've found no mass graves, no cults that might have decided that Arizona or Mars was a better zip code, and no good explanation for the mass amnesia. What would you suggest they do?"
"I dunno," the first student responded. "But anything would be better than this. They're just gonna dedicate this chunk of rock and go on with their lives as if it made a difference."
"Maybe it will make somebody feel better," the second student responded. She tilted her head in annoyance at the younger girl. "Well, it could happen!"
"I doubt it," Andrea muttered as she jerked the "request to stop" cord. Without looking back at the debaters, the artist curtly pushed her way off the bus and back out on the street.
* * * * *
Dominique Destine leaned forward in the seat of her limousine. "Gregory, why have we stopped?" she demanded, slightly agitated.
"I'm sorry, Ms. Destine," the chauffeur replied, peering over the steering wheel at the traffic clogging the street behind the blue and yellow barricades that had been set up. "The police have just closed off the road. I believe the Governor is arriving for today's dedication ceremony."
"Dedication ceremony?" Dominique questioned. Her eyebrows furrowed and her expression darkened as she recalled the newspaper headlines she had skimmed over her quick breakfast of juice and cold cereal. "Oh, that," she grumbled before her driver had a chance to reply. She sank back into her seat, crossing her arms in an annoyed manner. "A fine reason that is to shut down the whole city and make me late for my afternoon meetings," she snapped irritably, her voice low. She turned, staring moodily out the window at the growing midday crowd. A couple hundred yards away, a stage with a podium had been set up. Beside it loomed a tall, obelisk-shaped object draped with a black cloth. Overhead, a banner hung, proclaiming in simple block letters "We Shall Never Forget."
Dominique made a noise in her throat that was almost a growl. "Hmph. Stupid politicians," she muttered quietly, her tone bitter. "Just another foolish, meaningless human ceremony."
"Pardon, Ms. Destine?" Gregory asked.
Dominique snapped her head around, startled to find the driver's eyes peering back at her questioningly in the car's rear view mirror. For a long moment, they simply stared at each other.
"I said I'm getting out to stretch my legs," Dominique responded at last, her hand moving to the door's handle even as she spoke. "That's all right, I can manage myself," she added quickly as Gregory began to move to get out and help her. "Just stay with the car," she instructed as she made her escape from the suddenly confining vehicle.
She didn't even acknowledge his reply of "Yes, Ms. Destine," as she closed the door behind her and stepped away.
The red-haired executive wandered a short distance into the back edge of the crowd, moving only as far as she could go without having to bump into any of the humans. Agitation and annoyance radiated from her, further warning off anyone who dared to accidentally encroach on the personal space of the severe countenanced, green-eyed woman in the flame red business suit. She became an island in a slowly moving sea of people as she cast her eyes again on the shrouded object that was the focal point of the event that was about to unfold.
Dominique paid scant attention as a half dozen important-looking figures in dark suits mounted the stage. She barely noticed as the crowd around her quieted, the speakers of the public address system squealed, and someone began to speak. Her mind wasn't in the present. It was in the past, reliving the events of the same night of three years previous that everyone around her had gathered to commemorate. There had been times when she had reveled in the memory, and other times where she just as soon wanted to forget. As she at last became aware of the sound of a voice speaking, she realized that this moment was one of the latter.
"We dedicate this monument today not merely to those people," stated the Mayor, his voice even and controlled, "but to all whose lives were touched by that fateful night. We cannot bring them back, those family members, friends, coworkers and acquaintances we have lost. In consecrating this memorial, we affirm that we shall never forget them, and hope that its presence here, now and in the future, will also give some measure of peace to those who remain behind."
With the help of the Governor, the man pulled a rope that caused the draping on the monument to fall away, revealing a polished obelisk carved in granite. Dominique's lips curled involuntarily at the irony. A monument carved in stone to commemorate the humans she had reduced to piles of gravel… and she herself there to witness it, her presence and her culpability totally and completely unknown by anyone. For a moment, she felt like laughing, but as she took in the hundreds of sober faces surrounding her, the urge rapidly vanished and was replaced by an even stronger feeling of unease and disquiet. As the people around her applauded sedately, Dominique suddenly felt trapped. Not offering any apologies, she hurriedly began pushing her way back towards her limousine, taking the most direct course through the crowd that had filled in behind her in the few minutes she had been standing there.
The red-haired woman was nearly within arm's reach of the car when she was stopped in her tracks by a television camera that was suddenly thrust in her face. She looked up, startled, as a perky blonde grabbed her by the sleeve and pulled herself in beside her in front of the camera.
"This is Nicole St. John, live near City Hall where the long-awaited memorial commemorating the Lost Night of 1996 has just been unveiled by city and state officials," the well-dressed newswoman stated before Dominique had a chance to protest. "With me now is Ms. Dominique Destine, President and CEO of Nightstone Unlimited. Ms. Destine, what are your thoughts on today's ceremony?"
Her mind whirling, Dominique simply started at the woman for a moment, incredulous. "I…." She looked at the camera and the microphone Nicole held outstretched, realizing that now she truly was trapped, and she would have to say something. "I don't know why they waited this long," she managed to blurt at last, pulling away from Nicole as she spied Gregory coming to her rescue and opening up the car door. "I have to go," she mock-apologized as she played along and allowed her chauffeur to guide her inside.
"Wait! Ms. Destine, I had a few more-"
Nicole St. John's whine of protest was cut off as the limousine's door clicked shut. Dominique gave a relieved sigh as she ran a hand through her hair and sank back into the leather-covered seat.
"Thank you, Gregory," Dominique said as the driver slid back in to his own place at the front of the car.
"Just doing my job, Ms. Destine," he answered as the car slowly pulled back into traffic, which had resumed moving again. "Back to Nightstone, Ms. Destine?" he asked.
The redheaded woman groaned at the thought of spending the rest of the afternoon in meetings… or worse yet, Nicole St. John showing up there to try to finish her interview. "No," she answered, shaking her head. "Take me to Maxine's."
"Yes, Ms. Destine."
Sitting back in her seat, Dominique closed her eyes and began re-planning the rest of her afternoon. A little shopping would do wonders to improve her mood. She'd pick up something for herself, and maybe a little something for her friend Andrea, too. Pushing away the unpleasant thoughts from a few minutes before back into the nether recesses of her mind, she focussed on the happier thought of surprising the young artist with another frivolous gift, and managed to smile just a little bit.
* * * * *
Andrea bolted into the quiet of the New Age Emporium and sighed in relief. The stereo system was playing a selection of soothing music mixed with ambient nature sounds. The tinkle of a waterfall that filled one corner of the shop blotted out the drift of noise from the street beyond.
She made her way to the juice bar at the back of the boutique and sank gratefully onto a barstool. "Chamomile tea," she ordered with a sigh.
The black clad waitress nodded and dropped a tea bag into a saucer-like cup. As steaming water hit dried flowers, the pleasant apple-like aroma began to mix with the exotic blend of incense, the exact ingredients of which Andrea had yet to successfully identify.
The waitress set the cup before her and, closing her eyes, the overwrought artist inhaled the fragrant steam.
"Mmmm," a tantalizingly familiar voice remarked. "Chamomile, that smells good. I think that's what I'll have, Marnie."
The artist's stomach flip-flopped and her heart began to race. Helen's unmistakable inflection. The way she mispronounced chamomile using 'ch' and ignoring the 'e' at the end. Her eyes flew open. She whirled around on the barstool and caught her breath as she caught her first glimpse of the nurse in uniform.
"Helen?" Andrea mouthed. The woman, still in the act of tucking her handbag and daypack under one of the overstuffed Queen Anne chairs in what the proprietor called the "Library" section of the shop, completed her task and straightened, fully revealing herself. She stepped forward to claim the tea she'd just ordered and smiled pleasantly at Andrea. No, not Helen, the artist realized. This woman was much taller, more angularly framed, and her hair, tucked neatly under her starched cap, was platinum blonde.
Stunned, Andrea stared at the stranger. How could she make such a horrible mistake twice in one day? Feeling slightly nauseous and more than a little confused, she picked up her purse and bolted out of the shop, leaving the clerks and other patrons staring after her.
Unmindful of the scene she'd just caused, the artist flagged down a taxi. When it rolled to the corner, she climbed in and locked the door.
"Lady?" the cabby said, "Whereyouwannago?"
Andrea wiped her eyes, recited the Private Detective's address from memory, then leaned her head against the overstuffed backrest and closed her eyes.
She rode the twenty blocks downtown into a neighborhood of sedate brownstone buildings. The tenants seemed to be evenly mixed between residential and professionals looking to create a comforting atmosphere. She noted several CPAs, architects and therapists advertising with discrete bronze door shingles.
The cabby pulled up to a corner building whose window boxes overflowed with bright red geraniums. The incongruous thought of flowers and private eyes made the troubled woman smile despite her unease, and after paying off the driver she barely hesitated before knocking at the neatly kept office.
Andrea was met at the door by a trim woman in her middle fifties. She was dressed in a conservatively cut blue blazer over dark pants and sensible shoes. Her hair was more salt than pepper and there were crinkles around her eyes that suggested she had spent a great deal of her life working out of doors. "You must be Ms. Calhoun," the woman stated.
The artist nodded and followed as the detective invited her inside.
"My consulting room is through that door to the left." The older woman gestured to an open doorway and, taking the hint, Andrea stepped inside. "I'll be with you in a flash. Unfortunately the case I'm currently working kept me out later than I'd expected and I haven't had a chance to make tea."
"That's all right," Andrea protested. "I'm fine, really, Ms. Dicksen."
"Nonsense," Dicksen dismissed. "I'll just be a moment. And call me 'Rebecca'," she added. "I never was one to stand on formality."
She was, in fact, several minutes. But when she returned, she carried a teak tray laden with tea things and a plate of small sandwiches and cookies.
"Please," she invited, "join me. It's always easier to talk over a bite."
Andrea hesitated, the chunky ceramic mugs giving her a vivid flashback to the morning's trials. But the neatly trimmed sandwiches did look inviting, and she hadn't eaten all day. She picked up a triangle of wheat bread and egg salad and waited while the detective poured tea into the practical mugs.
"Now," the detective began after settling herself on the sofa next to Andrea, "suppose you tell me more about what's troubling you."
"You see, Ms. Dicksen… I mean Rebecca," Andrea corrected, "my sister disappeared three years ago."
"Oh, honey," the older woman replied. "Don't tell me she disappeared during the Lost Night."
Andrea nodded, defeated by the sympathetic look in the detective's eyes. "You've tried to find others, haven't you."
"Oh yeah," the detective confirmed. "The calls started coming in a week after it happened. All of them frustrated by what they perceived as the police's inability to do anything. My take on it was the more people that looked for the missing, the more likely it was we'd find them. So we pooled our resources, me and every other detective that specializes in missing persons cases, including the ones on the NYPD and the FBI. In three years we've come up with exactly nothing. I'm sorry, Ms. Calhoun. I could have saved you a trip over here if you'd told me this morning."
"So there's nothing you can do?" Andrea said dejectedly.
"Now I didn't say that, did I?" The older woman reached out and patted Andrea's hand. "Did you bring a picture?"
Andrea nodded. "There's a list of everyone she knew, the addresses of her favorite places… everything I could think of that might be helpful. I brought a check for your retainer as well."
The detective shook her head and took the folder of documents but not the check. "You hang on to that. I'm taking your case because I've got enough ego to think that maybe these old eyes will pick up a clue that the hot shots in Washington missed. And besides, this disappearance case has turned into something of a … hobby for me." The sardonic curl of her lip gave Andrea the impression that the case was much more than mere recreation. "But the practical reality of the matter is three years down the line we've about as much real hope of solving this as finding Amelia Earhart. So I don't want you to get your hopes up."
"I see." Andrea rose to leave. "Thank you for being so candid with me, Rebecca. I appreciate you taking the time to see me."
"You're a nice young woman, Andrea. Though you might want to be a little more careful. That's a nasty cut on your finger there."
Andrea looked down. She'd forgotten to bandage her finger and the edges were beginning to turn an angry red. "It's nothing," she protested.
"Nonsense," the older woman scolded. "Don't move, I'll be right back."
She disappeared and Andrea heard the sound of running water. When the private detective re-entered the room she carried a small first aid kit and a damp compress.
"Now give me that hand." Andrea hesitated. "Oh don't worry," Rebecca said with a laugh. I was a nurse in my youth. I spent two years at China Beach. I think I can handle a cut finger."
Rebecca cleaned the cut gently, dabbing first with the compress and then with a swab soaked in antiseptic. "There now," she said as she covered the wound with a small bandage, "I think that will do it. Now, let's see what we can do about the hurt on the inside." She rummaged in her pocket for a moment and retrieved a business card. "A lot of people lost loved ones that night, Andrea. Most of them, you among them I suspect, have been suffering in silence." She pressed the cardboard rectangle into her hand. "Go see these people, they understand what you're going through."
Andrea looked down. The card advertised the same support group Detective Ryan had suggested earlier in the day. Her resistance crumbled a little and she nodded reluctantly. "Thank you, maybe I will."
* * * * *
A short time later, Andrea stood in the hallway of the Ferndale Community Recreation Center and attempted to nerve herself to step through the partially opened door of Conference Room A. The meeting was already in progress and she was unwilling to interrupt. A group of people, some in professional dress, some in more casual clothing, were seated in folding chairs grouped in a rough circle and several of the participants were holding hands with their neighbors, giving or receiving comfort as they took turns speaking.
She crept a step closer, then paused as a tall blonde woman who looked vaguely familiar cleared her throat and began to unburden herself before the others.
"I went to the unveiling earlier today," she said quietly. "They promised us when they proposed that memorial that it would give us a sense of peace, maybe even closure if we saw our loved ones commemorated." There were nods of agreement around the circle and the woman's chin rose. "I don't feel better," she stated. "I don't feel at peace." She paused and collected herself and the elderly gentleman seated at her right reached up and patted her hand, encouraging her to continue.
She looked down at the balding pate and smiled at his kindness. "My sister, her name is Meredith, is two years younger than I am, but we look enough alike that people often mistake us for twins. She'd just gotten a promotion at work: advertising copywriter. I told her she was wasting her time. She has a law degree, just like I do, but she didn't find it 'fulfilling'. So instead of going that night and celebrating her happiness, I stayed in, worked late and watched a little television."
"You feel guilty," the group's moderator, a middle aged man of Puerto Rican extraction stated. "Don't you, Margot?"
"Yes, I feel guilty," she said shrilly. "I should have gone that night. If I'd been there then maybe she wouldn't have disappeared. Brendan, my husband, thinks that's nonsense, but I know better. She wanted my approval, and I didn't give it to her."
"And what about the others, Margot?" the moderator asked quietly. "Did they disappear because they lacked your approval, too?"
Andrea fled down the hallway before the woman could respond. The room was filled with guilt, remorse and heartache. How could she add her own to it? More importantly, how could she endure the pain of the others when three years later, her own pain ached like an open wound?
There was a pay phone in the entry alcove and Andrea stumbled for it. Shoving change into the coin slot, she listened impatiently as the call connected. It rang several times and finally an annoyed voice on the other end snapped, "What is it? I told you I didn't want to be disturbed this afternoon."
"Dominique?" Andrea replied contritely. "I'm sorry, I guess this is a bad time. I'll -"
"Andrea, wait." The annoyed tone disappeared and was replaced by a much more congenial one. "I'm sorry. For you I always have time. Hang on just a second, all right?"
There was the sound of muffled conversation; Dominique issuing instructions of some kind in her normal clipped tones, and a polite female voice replying.
"There, that's taken care of. Now, what can I do for you?"
Andrea sighed and leaned her head against the grubby phone booth. "I haven't had the best of days, Dominique. I kind of thought maybe we could get together… have a drink?"
On the other end of the telephone, Dominique Destine frowned as she noted the depressed note in her friend's normally upbeat voice. Then she smiled as she considered the pair of earrings now wrapped and sitting on the jeweler's glass counter. Andrea sounded like she could use a pick me up. "Of course," Dominique replied quickly. "I'm leaving for home now. Why don't you meet me there?"
"Is half an hour all right?" Andrea asked, in that same, saddened tone.
"Half an hour is fine," Dominique replied. "I'll see you soon." She severed the connection and looked at the phone thoughtfully. "I wonder what's wrong?" The gargoyle turned businesswoman shook her head. "No matter, Andrea's problems tend to be amusing diversions. I'm sure this will be no different."
* * * * *
It was an hour later. Dominique had rushed home, changed out of the confines of her business suit into more comfortable lounging pajamas, and padded barefooted into the kitchen. She had been arranging light refreshments on a tray when Andrea arrived on her doorstep, visibly distraught.
She had escorted the artist in, poured wine, and listened silently for a time as Andrea, in fits and starts, described her day; first the conversation with the police detective, then the P.I and the bizarre mistakes of identity with the strangers along the way.
Throughout it all, Dominique listened and her thoughts raged as she automatically issued comforting noises at the appropriate points in Andrea's narrative.
This is not happening, she thought to herself as she reached for Andrea's hand. Not here, not now. "So this Memorial Ceremony is really at fault for upsetting you," Dominique said hopefully. "It really does seem like an empty gesture, profiting on the pain of others. Quite disgraceful, actually. I wish I'd thought to say so when that reporter stuck her microphone in my face."
"No… it's not just the ceremony today. Or the people on the bus or in the street or anywhere else really. And I know it's not the police's fault that they haven't figured out what happened that night." Andrea sighed. "There's… there's this dream I keep having, Dominique," she confessed, "- a nightmare, really, and I don't know what it means. I had it again last night."
Dominique nodded. "I'm listening," she prompted, urging her friend on.
"It always starts the same… I'm alone on a dark street. I don't know where I am or how I got there… and then I see the statues."
Dominique felt a quiver in the pit of her stomach even as she spoke. "Statues?" she asked.
Andrea nodded, becoming visibly more upset as she went on. "Of people. Life-size statues of ordinary people… and the minute I reach out to touch one…." She paused uncomfortably, and Dominique reached out awkwardly and took her hand.
"What is it, Andrea?" she asked, fearing that she already knew the answer.
The young artist drew a shaky breath, summoning the composure to continue. "The minute I touch one," she repeated before forging ahead, "they all start to shatter. I look around for whoever is making it happen, but I never see them… so I just start running, and the statues keep shattering." She drew another breath, and Dominique squeezed her hand numbly. "The last one I see always looks like my sister," Andrea went on, her voice beginning to tremble.
The expression on Dominique's face had gone unreadable. She swallowed hard, fighting against the discomforting, hollow feeling growing inside her. "How long have you been having these dreams?" she asked quietly.
"They started about a year ago," Andrea answered, wiping at the tears that were beginning to form in the corners of her eyes. "The first time was the night after I met you at the art show and we had lunch. You were the first person I had talked about Helen with in ages - I guess maybe that set it off."
Dominique nodded, trying to contain her own emotions over the strange coincidence as she urged Andrea to continue.
"At first, I thought maybe the dreams had something to do with the Quarrymen," Andrea went on, "but I'm not sure now… especially after last night."
The redheaded woman shifted in her seat, growing ever more uncomfortable with each of her friend's revelations. Still, something within her prompted her to ask, "What happened last night?"
"For a while," Andrea continued, "I was able to wake myself up before the dream got too far, but last night, it was different." She closed her eyes for a moment, stifling the urge to burst into tears, and forged onward. "There were these three little girls dressed in sailor suits… with big saucer-like eyes. They grabbed me and wouldn't let me leave." She looked up at Dominique, her face contorted in sadness and pain, the tears filling her eyes blurring her vision and keeping her from seeing the look of abject horror on her friend's face. "They made me stay and watch the last statue…"
A mixed rush of emotions overcame Dominique all at once. Cursed witches! Now you must torment my friends as well? she swore silently. As the rage subsided, she became aware again of Andrea, who now had tears flowing freely down her cheeks. Chagrined, the older woman pushed her own feelings back down.
"Shhhh, Andrea, don't cry." Dominique awkwardly patted her friend on the shoulder as the smaller woman gave into her grief.
"Don't you see?" the stricken artist sobbed against her shoulder. "We'll never know what happened that night. We'll never be able to say 'I love you' or 'I'm sorry', or 'Thank you' or 'I'm proud of you', or anything else ever again."
"Andrea," Dominique said uncomfortably as she remembered the glee with which she'd wielded her mace that night. With every human she'd crushed she'd felt more and more alive until her body had tingled with a nearly erotic sense of power. There had been times since then during particularly difficult moments when she'd replayed the memory, reveling in the remembered sensation.
It came upon her now, that godlike feeling of choosing who should live and who should die, and twisted, withering as she became fully cognizant of the ramifications of her actions. Those had not been human-like statues she'd crushed that night. They'd been real, breathing people with families and loved ones who dreamed of the future, even if it was hopelessly mundane. She'd taken it away from them. She'd taken them from their families, their friends, their communities. The guilt overwhelmed her and trapped as she was, with a sobbing woman in her arms, Dominique had no where to run.
This time, the guilt that she'd pushed away so successfully before would not be denied. It rode over her like a wave, suffocating her. She pushed Andrea away, doubled over in pain, and began to shake.
"Dominique?" Andrea stared as her friend, the model of iron control, broke down. The release did not come easily, Dominique fought the tears, but whatever her personal pain was, it would not be denied. The artist did the only thing she knew how; she slid behind the huddled woman and wrapped her in a full body embrace. "That's right, cry, Dominique. Don't fight it, you'll only make yourself sick." The smaller woman began to massage her friend's shoulders and back, whispering soothing words until the worst of the storm had passed.
As abruptly as the tears had started, they abated, leaving Dominique feeling empty and worn. She became conscious of Andrea, and of her hands, kneading the muscles of her back and arms. The gargoyle-turned human straightened up slowly and pressed briefly against her companion. "I'm all right now, Andrea. Please."
The artist took the hint and slipped away, giving Dominique a moment with which to collect herself. When she returned she held a heavy cut crystal glass. "Drink this."
Numbly, Dominique tossed back the contents of the glass. She barely tasted the cognac as it settled in her belly, chasing away a bit of the chill that threatened to overwhelm her much as the grief had.
"Better?" Andrea asked, stroking Dominique's now disheveled hair.
"A little." Dominique set the glass down on the floor and rested her head in her hands.
Andrea watched. Despite her obvious hurt, Dominique was shoving her pain back into whatever place she locked it away, trying to put her mask firmly back into place. "Hey," the petite woman said as she gently pulled her friend back into her arms, "I'm not going to let you do this."
"What do you mean?" Dominique protested. "I had a very trying day, Andrea. It all kind of caught up with me at once. I'll go upstairs, have a long soak, and go to bed early. I'll be fine tomorrow. You'll see."
"You're right," Andrea said firmly, "I will see. You're my friend, Dominique, and right now, whether you'll admit it or not, you need someone to take care of you."
The stubborn expression on the younger woman's face was nearly enough to make her smile. "I do not," Dominique protested automatically. "Really, Andrea, I run a multibillion dollar conglomerate. I'm perfectly capable of…" she trailed off when she realized that Andrea would not be swayed and she stood a better chance of getting her out of the house before sundown if she'd give in to whatever the other woman had in mind. "Very well," she sighed, suddenly conscious of Andrea's arms, one wrapped firmly around her waist and the other draped over her shoulder. She turned to face her determined companion and smiled.
Andrea's hair had come out of the loose knot at the base of her neck and her bangs, in need of trimming, were falling down into her eyes. "You are a very persistent woman, Andrea," Dominique said as she pushed the loose strands back where they belonged.
"You're right about that," Andrea said cheerily. She leaned forward to give Dominique a peck on the cheek, but Dominique, in the process of doing the same, moved her head and their lips brushed lightly instead.
Electricity surged through the changeling gargoyle, pushing away the aching despair that had earlier threatened to overwhelm her. She reared backwards, torn between embarrassment and the need to repeat the experience.
Andrea pulled away, mortified that she'd used her friend's pain to indulge in her secret fantasy. She turned her head, only to feel gentle fingers on her chin, forcing her face towards Dominique's.
"Andrea, wait." Hesitantly, Dominique's lips grazed against Andrea's, softly, like a butterfly's wings. Then, gaining confidence when the artist did not pull away, the kiss intensified as Dominique wrapped her arms around the slightly built woman, drawing her closer.
Still unwilling to take advantage of the situation, Andrea let Dominique lead, offering no resistance as her friend began to probe her slightly open mouth with a hesitant tongue.
She let her jaw fall open and met Dominique's questing tongue with her own, enjoying the ache of sexual hunger that was slowly burning away her earlier grief.
Dominique broke off the kiss, only to renew it with increased enthusiasm. She too, seemed to be losing herself in the moment, allowing long denied physical needs of the flesh to overwhelm her emotional pain. She pressed her body even closer and her hands began to roam over the other woman, first with a light, exploring touch and then with increasing authority as Andrea sighed in evident pleasure.
Andrea reciprocated the redhead's caresses eagerly. She kissed the underside of Dominique's jaw and at the hollow of her throat, then captured her mouth for another hungry kiss. Her hands found a gap at the back of Dominique's tee shirt and she began to stroke the bare skin.
Encouraged by Andrea's apparent willingness, Dominique pushed the slightly built woman back onto the sofa and eagerly fell on top of her, pushing her hand underneath Andrea's blue chambray shirt. Rubbing the soft flesh at the curve of her waist elicited another sigh, so Dominique allowed her fingers to seek other more sensitive areas even as she undid the buttons and dropped the shirt to the floor.
They shifted sideways to allow more room for mutual exploration. Andrea moaned as her friend's leg came to rest between her own. She pressed against it, flexing her hips rhythmically as heat rose in her groin.
Need outweighed caution and she tugged impatiently at Dominique's clothing. The loose shirt came away easily, exposing pale flesh. Andrea reached up and caressed the satin encased mounds of her lover's breasts. She pushed the fabric out of the way and pressed her open mouth against the erect pink bud of the left nipple, sucking greedily while she pinched and rolled the right between her fingers. Dominique's fingers hesitated, then mirrored her own, stroking and pinching the sensitive flesh.
Andrea longed to feel lips and tongue where fingers played and gently pushed the other woman's head downward to her breasts. Dominique eagerly complied, biting gently at her nipples, even as her hands continued to explore, one minute caressing her hips and buttocks through her cotton trousers, the next lightly stroking her belly and ribcage.
The artist allowed herself to savor the sensations, but her need was growing unbearable. She reached for the waistband of the lounging pajamas. Barely hesitating, she tugged at the drawstring tie and pushed the now loosened garment over Dominique's buttocks. Pushing a triangle of shiny fabric aside, she exposed the mound of the redhead's sex and raised an eyebrow when she noticed in the nearly faded afternoon light that it was shaved. Unable to resist, she pressed her palm against Dominique's heated flesh, smiling as she anticipated all the ways that she would pleasure her new lover. One finger disappeared between passion-swollen nether lips.
Dominique moaned in ecstasy, then reared out of Andrea's grasp and screamed in pain as she propelled herself off of the couch and into the corner of the now darkened room.
"Dominique?" Andrea, confused by the other woman's reaction, sat up and began to apologize. "I'm sorry. I thought… You seemed… We took it too fast, didn't we," she finally decided. There was a ragged panting sound coming from near the large curiosity case that stood in the far corner of the room. The artist moved towards it, still offering apologies. "Dominique, please…" She stood five feet away from her friend's hiding place. "I'm so sorry. I'll leave, just give me a second to pull myself together."
Demona cowered in the corner, crouching against the heavy cherry wood cabinet. She couldn't think. She could barely breathe. In an instant, she had gone from the sweet agony that preceded sexual release to the bitter pain of her transformation and it had left her reeling. Andrea stood a few feet away, her confusion and pain plainly evident, and there was nothing she could do. She watched as the other woman straightened her clothing and began to gather up her purse.
"I can't find my keys," Andrea said quietly. "They must have fallen out of my pocket. I'm going to turn on the end table lamp."
"Andrea, no!" Demona yelled. Instinctively she burst forward, hoping against hope to keep the room in darkness.
The lamp snapped on and Andrea bent down and examined the carpet. She snatched up her keys from the floor near the coffee table and straightened before turning towards Dominique's refuge. "I'll let myself…" She froze and stared in disbelief.
Standing before her, kicking away the remains of Dominique Destine's lounging clothes, was a tall blue gargoyle with flaming red hair. Andrea blinked hard and shook her head. "How did you do that?" she said, clearly confused. "You told me it takes hours to get into that costume."
Demona watched as her only friend slowly tried to reconcile her previous and current appearance. It was only a matter of seconds now and once again her life would come crashing down around her ears; she knew it as sure as she was standing there. Quickly, the redheaded gargoyle started reviewing her most easily implemented escape options. She'd have to abandon Nightstone, but a quick sell order at her online broker's would give her plenty of ready cash.
Andrea herself was a problem she'd never considered. She'd grown truly fond of the young artist and she didn't want to hurt her unless it was absolutely unavoidable.
Immersed as she was in her contingency planning, Demona nearly missed Andrea's next reaction. She didn't faint, and she didn't run. She approached hesitantly towards Demona.
"It was never a costume," the artist was saying as she moved closer. "You told me it was a costume and I believed you." She put her hands over her eyes in embarrassment. "I feel like Lois Lane."
Survival instincts piqued, Demona stood quietly, allowing Andrea to move within her reach. She could restrain her, knock her out and alter her memory so that this night had never happened. If she was lucky, she could even remove the memory of the cursed sister, Helen, or at least alter it so that Andrea had some closure. The gargoyle owed her that much. It wouldn't take long and she could be away long before midnight. "I didn't want to lie to you, Andrea." Demona allowed genuine regret to seep into her voice.
They were standing within arm's length of each other now. It would be easy to strike her gently on the temple, just hard enough to knock her out. Demona tensed and her fist curled.
Andrea reached out and stroked her right cheek. Involuntarily, Demona leaned into the caress, closing her eyes at the human woman's touch. "You're so beautiful in both of your forms, Dominique. So graceful, so sensual." Her fingers trailed down the side of the azure gargoyle's neck. "I guess on some level I must have known. I fell asleep the night of the Halloween party wondering what it would be like to be wrapped in your winged embrace."
A roaring filled Demona's ears as the unreal scenario began to unfold. Andrea was no longer standing before her. She had stepped behind and was running her hands slowly over her neck and wings, allowing her sensitive fingers to help her reconcile the illusion with reality.
"What are you, really?" the artist asked after several moments.
Demona sighed; she was far from out of the woods and would have to play this very carefully. She held out her hand and, mindful of her talons, offered it to Andrea. "It's a long, complicated story."
"That's all right," the artist replied, "I have all night."
The gargoyle sighed. "Very well. I'll be back in just a minute."
She exited the room, returning roughly five minutes later dressed in what Andrea took to be her customary nocturnal costume of skimpy halter and loincloth-like skirt. She paused at the bar, poured the artist a tumbler of cognac, and pressed it into her hands before taking a seat opposite her in a high-backed chair.
"I really don't know where to begin." Demona smiled inwardly. It was always good if you were going to tell a lie to salt it with a bit of truth.
"What are you, Dominique?" Andrea persisted. "Are you a gargoyle? Are you human?" Her eyes widened in sudden fright. "Or are you something else entirely?"
Demona didn't like the way Andrea was starting to edge backwards against the sofa. By now her mind would be starting to fill with the worst sorts of Quarryman propaganda. Gargoyles were actually shape-shifting demons risen from the pits of hell, or lab experiments gone horribly wrong, eager for revenge on the human race that had spawned them. As a member of PIT, Andrea had fought the lies on faith, but now she was confronted with a living manifestation…
"What if I were to tell you that the world was filled with magic, Andrea, and not all of it was the white, positive kind that your friends seem to enjoy dabbling in?"
The artist shook her head, confused. "I don't understand. What are you saying, Dominique?"
What are you saying, Dominique? a snide voice mocked from within. You're usually much more glib. What's wrong with you tonight? Demona ran an impatient talon through her tangled mane of fiery red hair. "I was born a gargoyle," she said at last. "My clan was destroyed and for many years I thought I was the only survivor. I wandered alone, all over the world for a very long time. And during that time, I learned all sorts of hard truths." She paused, wondering briefly if Andrea would understand the soul-blasting terrors she'd witnessed in a millennium of travel. She looked over at her companion, tears already welling in the corners of her hazel eyes, and decided to spare her the pain. "Several years ago, I heard a rumor that there were others of my kind in Manhattan. So I journeyed here at great peril to find out if the stories were true."
"The gargoyles that live at the Eyrie Building?" Andrea supplied.
Demona nodded. "The last of my clan. My daughter. After so long apart, we were finally reunited."
"Angela," the artist said as she made the connection. "But if they're your clan, your family, why do you live apart? What happened?"
Demona dipped her head, avoiding Andrea's eyes. "We disagreed on the best way to live this new life. Goliath, Angela's father, wished to cling to the old ways. He and the others were naïve in their expectations of what the world had to offer them. I favored a different approach and sought my own way. We did not part amicably," she added dryly.
Andrea nodded, processing the information. On the surface, she seemed to accept her companion's reasoning and moved on to her deeper concerns. "Are the others like you? Is that thing about turning to stone just an urban legend?"
Demona shook her head. "I wish it was," she sighed. "No, Andrea, gargoyles are creatures solely of the night."
"Except for you."
"Except for me," Demona agreed. Time for another lie, to protect us both, the gargoyle reasoned as she framed the rest of her response. "Many creatures roam this earth, Andrea, hidden from humankind. Beings such as gargoyles, and others like them who seek only to live their lives unmolested by humans. But the others…"
"Creatures of darkness. Weres and vampires, malevolent beasts who thrill in the kill. Magical beings that consider the other races playthings and take their delight in tormenting them. Here, even in New York. I was the victim of such creatures. One of many. When I encountered them, I believed them innocent enough; they led me astray with sweet words and false promises. They turned me into a pawn in one of their incomprehensible games, forcing me to do things over which I had no control."
Demona nodded. "Indeed. As a final insult, one of their miserable number offered me a boon, a reward, if you will, for providing him sport. What I did not know was that his idea of a gift would be to me a curse."
"Curse?" Andrea shook her head in disbelief. "I'm sorry, I don't understand."
"For the rest of my life, I am forced to live in both worlds, Andrea," Demona said bitterly. "By day, I am human; by night, gargoyle. But due to my dual nature, I cannot live fully in either. Despite those that interact around me, I am truly alone."
Andrea was staring at her, shocked. "Do you really believe that?"
Demona nodded. "The clan is immersed in their own concerns. My place is no longer among them. And there are no humans with whom I dare share my secret."
"What about that police detective? The one I met here? I saw her again the night I delivered the painting to the castle."
Demona laughed ironically. "Detective Maza is many things, but I doubt I will ever call her friend. She is the clan's liaison to the human world, and one of the many things about which Goliath and I disagree."
"There's not much about this conversation that I understand right now," Andrea said as silence stretched awkwardly between the pair, "except for one thing. You may have been alone before, Dominique. But you aren't anymore." Andrea set the untouched glass of brandy down on the end table and rose to her feet. She crossed to the gargoyle's side and knelt, taking her hands in her own smaller ones. "I'll always be there for you. I'm your friend." She kissed the azure talons. "I want to be much more."
Demona looked down at the human woman in disbelief. "Surely you don't mean…"
Andrea nodded as she rose to her feet, bringing the gargoyle with her. She slipped her arms around Dominique's impossibly slender waist and captured her lips in a passionate kiss.
Demona trembled as the same sensations that had overwhelmed her earlier rose again inside her. Instinct driven by longing took over after a brief moment of shock and hesitation. Wrapping her own arms around the smaller human, she pulled her closer as she parted her lips and returned the kiss with redoubled intensity, their bodies pressing together as the azure gargoyle probed the other woman's mouth hungrily with her tongue.
Andrea gave a soft moan from deep within her throat, and reciprocated eagerly with her own tongue. With her arms still wrapped about Dominique's body, she began to massage the small of Dominique's back with one hand, while allowing the other to explore. Trailing her fingers up along the gargoyle's spine, she slipped her hand up under the rough, flimsy material of the halter, nearly to where the thin membranes of the wings met the back.
Demona responded immediately, pulling Andrea even closer as a soft purr rose in her own throat. She had moved her hands, as well, sliding the left up Andrea's back and moving the right to stroke her talons tenderly through the woman's shoulder-length honey blonde hair. She only broke off the kiss as she felt the rubbing of Andrea's other hand begin to trail downward.
"Andrea," she moaned, nearly breathless, as the caresses began to approach the base of her tail. "Not there, not yet." She ran her talons again through the smaller woman's hair, and brushed her knuckles across her forehead as she licked her lips and returned Andrea's questioning look with a gentle smile. "You have to work up to that gradually," she whispered.
Andrea's eyes widened in realization. "You mean…?" She was hushed by another small kiss as Dominique's hands fell gently onto her shoulders.
The azure gargoyle nodded. "Why don't you let me show you," she purred, guiding the human woman down onto the thick Oriental rug that covered the floor.
Andrea offered no resistance, sinking to her knees beside Dominique. Her own hands slipped back around to Dominique's belly as the gargoyle's trailed down to the buttons on Andrea's chambray shirt. The human woman ran her hands eagerly along Dominique's sides and up beneath the rough fabric of her halter. With her mind barely registering the struggle her lover was having with the too-small buttons and her four-fingered talons, she caressed the warm flesh, lifting the ample breasts upward as she brushed the tips of her fingers over the sensitive nipples.
Demona reared up and back, and let loose a growl of heated frustration. In one swift movement, she grabbed hold of Andrea's shirt and ripped it open, sending the accursed buttons flying in all directions. The human woman gasped in surprise as Demona snarled and fell forward, pushing her onto her back on the floor.
"Dominique!" Andrea squealed, slightly frightened. Her eyes went wide as the female gargoyle loomed over her, pinning her arms against the ground.
Demona shook her head triumphantly, sending her wild red tresses cascading over her shoulders, and gave a fanged grin. "Now I have you," she proclaimed teasingly, straddling Andrea's legs with her own and releasing Andrea's arms in order to free the remains of the shirt from around them.
Andrea's look of shock turned back to a smile as she allowed Dominique to undress her for what was now the second time that night. "You ruined my shirt," she teased back as Dominique cast the offending garment aside and quickly removed and discarded her own top, as well.
"We'll go shopping tomorrow for a new one," Demona returned as she leaned down, pressing herself against Andrea and delivering a heated kiss to the base of her neck. Growling softly, she nuzzled her brow ridges under the woman's chin, and slid her hands downward over Andrea's breasts, teasing the nipples with her fingers just as Andrea had done to her, then pinching them gently between her talons.
"Yes, you like that, don't you?" Demona teased, lifting her head up and smiling as Andrea squirmed excitedly beneath her touch. Still caressing the left breast with her hand, she lowered her lips to the right, teasing the erect nipple with the tip of her tongue before taking it eagerly into her mouth.
Andrea rose up, closing her eyes, arching her back and moaning softly as Dominique switched to the other breast and repeated the actions. Her hands found the sides of her lover's head, and her fingers trailed gently across tips of the gargoyle's pointed ears, then traveled through the luxuriant mane of fire-red hair. Dominique made a noise and shifted positions slightly, but Andrea barely felt the light touch of the gargoyle's talons against her soft skin as Dominique slowly ran her free hand down the length of her belly.
Demona bit gently at the human woman's nipple, her passions incited by the caressing of her sensitive eartips and the stroking of her hair, and slipped her hand inside Andrea's trousers. With one talon, she stroked the warm tangle of springy hair through the damp, thin layer of cotton fabric, drawing another soft moan. Encouraged, she repeated the action, sliding the talon underneath the panties' waistband. The curls were interesting and she played with them, tugging gently before allowing the talon to explore further. She found the swollen center and stroked gently. Andrea sighed. Intrigued, the gargoyle applied a bit more pressure. The reaction this time was immediate.
Andrea gasped, her eyelids flying open as she sat up and took Dominique by the forearms, locking her lips with the gargoyle's in a fierce, passionate kiss. The momentum sent them tumbling back to the floor, but this time, it was Dominique who landed on the bottom, Andrea pinning her. The young artist grinned deviously as she broke the kiss and sat back, putting her full weight on the gargoyle's hips. "You're such a tease, Dominique," she said, nearly breathless. "What am I ever going to do with you?"
Demona blinked, still recovering from the shock of the petite woman having been able to turn the tables on her so quickly. Andrea's hands still held her arms, but she could easily rear back up and overpower her if she wanted. Seeing the hungry glint in the other woman's eyes, though, she decided to play along. "I don't know, Andrea," she answered after a moment, allowing her body to relax and giving a wry smile, "but I'm sure you'll think of something."
"Oh, I already have," Andrea replied. Releasing Dominique's arms, she moved her hands to the gargoyle's waist, and within only a second had freed the clasp of the belt securing her loincloth.
Demona watched, amused at her companion's boldness, as Andrea tossed the small bit of fabric aside. Eagerly, she moved her taloned hands to the younger woman's waist, but Andrea pushed them away playfully.
"Be patient," she admonished, even as her own hands fell hurriedly to undo the buttons of the casual slacks, but Demona would not be rebuked. She reached in again, hooking her thumbs over the waist and helping her lover undress. Pants and panties came away in one motion, and as Andrea kicked the unwanted clothing the rest of the way off, Demona ran her hands hungrily over the swell of her buttocks, pulling Andrea closer until their loins pressed together.
Andrea moaned in pleasure even as she placed her hands on Dominique's wrists and pushed her hands back to the floor. Without another word, she lowered her mouth to the azure flesh of Dominique's bosom. Taking the nipple into her mouth, she teased it with her tongue, while at the same time she leaned her weight in, pressing herself harder against the gargoyle.
Caught up in the exotic thrill that raced through her body as their sexes rubbed against each other, Demona offered no resistance as Andrea held her down and sucked greedily on her breasts. For a few moments, the pair writhed in mutual pleasure, Andrea switching her attentions from one breast to the other before backing off to contemplate her next move. Demona sighed as Andrea's hands finally released her wrists and the artist began a slow, backward crawl, removing the pressure from her groin just as it was about to become too much.
Andrea trailed kisses down Dominique's taut, toned belly as she made her way toward her ultimate destination, caressing the flesh with her hands as she went. Reaching the navel, she paused when Dominique jumped just slightly. Curious, she teased the small depression with her tongue and ran the tips of her fingers lightly across the gargoyle's skin. Her suspicion was confirmed as she heard Dominique begin to giggle. Andrea sat up a bit, unable to resist, and ran her fingertips over the area again. "Hmm… looks like I've got you now, Dominique," she announced, smiling mischievously.
Try as she might, Demona couldn't stop giggling. "Stop it," she managed at last, as the sensation became nearly unbearable, "please!"
Andrea smiled and acquiesced, returning to gentle caresses as Dominique worked through the last of her giggles. Making a mental note of the vulnerable spot, she lowered her lips back to the azure skin and planted one last kiss on Dominique's bellybutton before moving on.
Andrea worked her way down the remaining length of the gargoyle's body, alternating gentle caresses and kisses until she arrived at the juncture between the two muscular legs. She stroked and kissed the hairless skin, running her finger curiously along the crevice of the nether-lips. She paused in mid caress, her finger pressed against the damp flesh, and realized, chagrined, that Dominique wasn't built the same as a human woman. She looked up at the gargoyle for guidance and found her aristocratic features contorted into a mask of sudden frustration.
"What you're doing," she managed, "it feels good. Don't stop."
Encouraged, Andrea lowered her head again, placing her lips against the same flesh her fingers had caressed. She kissed the rise of the pubic bone gently, then began teasing with the tip of her tongue. Dominique's hips rose up slightly in response, and with the gargoyle's heady scent beginning to excite her, Andrea moved on to using her entire tongue, lapping hungrily and savoring the sweet taste. At last, she slipped her tongue between the fleshy lips.
Dominique gave a gasping moan of pleasure, letting Andrea know she was still on the right track. Placing her hands on the gargoyle's hips, she pulled herself closer as she began to explore the gargoyle's sex with her tongue. Within only a few seconds, she made another discovery, as the tip of her tongue brushed against a swelling button of flesh just a small distance inside the lips.
Dominique groaned, and Andrea, her hands still on the gargoyle's hips, could feel nearly every muscle in her lover's body respond to that light touch. Quickly, the young artist deduced that she had now found what she had been looking for a few moments before, and she barely hesitated before moving her tongue back and teasing the sensitive nub deliberately.
"Oh, Andrea!" Demona arched her back, her wings falling limp to either side of her as she gasped and thrust her hips toward the woman. She trailed the talons of her left hand absently over her own breasts, still damp from Andrea's kisses. With those of her right hand, she combed lightly through the human woman's honey blonde tresses, gently urging her on as she planted ever more passionate kisses on the heated flesh between her legs.
Positioned as they were, though, Demona could not reciprocate in kind, and as a wave of ecstasy rose within her, she abandoned any thought of moving. After a moment more of consideration, she smiled; an odd glimmer was in her eye as she raised her head up. "Let me show you something that only a gargoyle can do, Andrea," she purred seductively.
Andrea stopped and looked up, her lips wet and glistening in the moonlight that now shown through the windows. "What… ah!" She nearly jumped as something long and serpentine suddenly pressed upwards between her legs and began rubbing against her aching sex. Within only a few seconds, her expression had changed from surprise to pleasure, and she pressed herself harder against the new source of friction.
"You can do so many interesting things with a tail," Demona stated mildly, her own level of arousal increasing just by watching the reaction of her lover to the new method of stimulation.
Andrea was lost for a reply; the unfamiliar appendage slid between her legs as if it had a mind of its own, the tip curling upwards and tickling her stomach. But as she watched the hunger and desire growing in Dominique's dark eyes, she realized that words were not what her new lover wanted in response, anyway. Eagerly, she leaned forward and returned to finishing what she had begun, inhaling deeply of the gargoyle's scent before placing her lips against the warm flesh and probing eagerly with her tongue.
Demona writhed in pleasure, curling her talons into the rug as her arms fell weakly beside her. She moaned softly, closing her eyes as Andrea pleasured her, and drew her tail back again even as the human woman pressed herself even more insistently against it. She growled, panting, as Andrea's tongue found the right spot inside her and an almost electric surge of erotic energy coursed over her body. The need for release, denied by her transformation earlier, was growing, becoming unbearable, and what she did next came without thought, almost as instinct.
Andrea gasped, pausing in her oral ministrations to tilt her head back and moan in delight as the tip of Dominique's tail slid up inside her. The sensation was unlike anything she had ever experienced before, and she squirmed in pleasure as Dominique withdrew it just a bit and then eased it forward again, beginning a steady rhythm. With a renewed rush of passion and energy, Andrea returned her lips and tongue to their task, eliciting another soft growl of pleasure from her gargoyle lover as she slipped a finger inside and teased the erect nub of the clitoris.
Remembering the discovery she had made earlier, Andrea slowly allowed her other hand to slip from Dominique's hip around to the small of her back. She began gently at first, massaging the skin in a slow rhythm, but gradually the tempo fell into sync with the thrusting of the wriggling appendage that pushed ever deeper inside her. She worked her hand down Dominique's back to just above the base of the tail, feeling the matching rhythmic contractions of the strong muscles beneath the smooth, delicate skin as the female gargoyle used it to pleasure her.
The single finger inserted between Dominique's passion swollen nether-lips became two, then three, working in concert with Andrea's darting tongue as she responded to the heat rising within her own body. The tempo of the thrusting between her legs increased and the artist kept pace.
Demona tossed her head back and moaned as Andrea pressed harder on the hypersensitive flesh just above the base of her tail. The two lovers, the one gargoyle and the other human, were now hopelessly trapped in the loop of sexual feedback they had created between their bodies. With shuddering breath, they found climax together, Andrea gasping and moaning and Demona crying out as her vision went white and her entire body shook with uncontrollable spasms.
* * *
The first thing Demona became aware of when her breath and senses had again returned to her was the presence of Andrea's warm body beside her, and the human woman's small hand gently caressing her face. A gentle kiss fell on her lips as delicate fingertips brushed over her brow ridge.
"I love you, Dominique," Andrea whispered softly, settling back into the crook of the gargoyle's arm and snuggling against her. "I'm so glad you came into my life."
Demona stared in surprise as the other woman, physically and emotionally exhausted, dropped off to sleep. Within seconds, she was alone, left to consider in silence the events of the past day.
The gargoyle snagged a pillow from the couch and placed it under her head. She gazed down at Andrea and her mouth twisted into a contemplative frown. She had toyed with the idea of revealing her dual nature to the artist, never very seriously, of course, more like wishful thinking. But of all the scenarios she'd projected, being seduced by the human had never entered her mind. The encounter had been pleasant, she admitted to herself. The needs of her body had been long denied. But as reality reared its ugly head, Demona was forced to consider the ramifications of their actions. What if in the harsh light of day, Andrea wasn't as enthusiastic about a gargoyle lover?
Demona was vulnerable. Andrea knew her secret. She's a threat, her protective instincts screamed. It's a pity, she was interesting to have around, but your safety comes first! Demona's talon's trailed slowly over the artist's delicate neck. It would snap easily. One quick twist. Andrea would never know. She'd die with that contented little smile still gracing her lips. The artist had been despondent and left a trail of witnesses to prove her unbalanced mental state. There would be no way to prove that the estate of Dominique Destine had been her final destination.
But, another more insistent voice clamored as she caressed the tender flesh, Andrea loves you, offered herself to you despite your secrets and your lies. She'd never betray you…Will you betray her now that she's reached out to you with love?
Demona settled herself in for the night as she turned the problem over, examining it carefully. The artist had amused her, allowed her to indulge parts of her personality that were wasted on others. She made her existence tolerable and for that she deserved a boon. "You are a very pretty problem, my darling Andrea."
Demona smiled, kissed the tips of her talons, and placed them against Andrea's lips. She had made up her mind. Stroking the slumbering woman's hair absently, she drew her wing around her to keep her warm. She would need a new contingency plan or two, of course, but she would trust Andrea for tonight, and just maybe… tomorrow.
Beside her, the artist stirred and rolled over in her sleep, pulling Demona down with her. She kissed the back of Andrea's exposed neck, and as Demona's eyes fluttered closed and she allowed Morpheus to claim her, she murmured, "A very pretty problem indeed."
* * * * *