A cold breeze moved over the roof at Knight's Spur, rustling the autumn leaves swept there by gusty winds earlier in the winter. The few not trampled into mush rose into the air like tiny kites, falling again as the wind died down. Lex watched until the last movement stopped, the last sound stilled.
Below him, he heard the noises of the party, a rare feast with most of their friends, both old and new, celebrating their discoveries of one another. Griff's clan had almost two hundred gargoyles, a richness Lex could scarcely imagine even though he'd met them, been brought amongst them like a long-lost cousin from the country. He was glad that so many of his kind were alive and thriving here. He was glad Brooklyn was back, glad to meet his new family, glad Coldfire and Coldstone were back, glad glad glad.
Not miserable at all. Nope.
He sighed, tossing a pebble off the roof absently. He'd been told the clan didn't often stay on the roof while they were stone, in order to keep attention away from the manor, but sometimes someone was caught out until late. Or, Coco had said in a teasing voice, a couple trying to find some privacy went up to neck and didn't go back down in time. When he'd come up here, two gargoyles he didn't know were making their way down the stairs, too involved in each other's hands and tails and eyes to pay him any heed.
The music changed from modern tunes to something older, more wistful. Lex imagined Brooklyn making the request, something he'd liked during his long travels away from them all.
That was just too weird. Brooklyn had vanished for less than a minute, Broadway said, and then he was back with a mate and a lifetime of experiences. Broadway, well, Broadway had done well for himself too, with Angela at his side and the two of them fussing over the eggs in the 'Spur's rookery as they did over Egwardo, and he had no doubts they'd be trying for an egg of their own when the time came. Lex's two brothers were fine, and Lex himself was fine. Just fine.
"You look like hell," said Coco, and Lex's head shot around.
She grinned with her tusks and without asking, sat herself beside him. In one hand, she held a flagon that smelled sickly-sweet with mead.
"Aw, don't be like that. Why're you up here moping? There's a party."
"Just getting some fresh air." He put on a smile. Lex did like Coco. She was loud and brash, but her heart was as big as a castle, and she treated him like a rookery sibling. He just wasn't in the mood to be social. "Are you having fun?"
"Me? Nah. This isn't a patch on the solstice parties we throw. But Leo and Una really wanted to put on a show for you Yanks, and any excuse, right?"
"Right." He watched the skyline. Above them, the moon was at her three-quarters face, not quite fat, not quite thin, but bright enough to light up the rooftop with thrown shadows. Would it have risen yet in New York? "You know we're not really from America. We were all hatched in Scotland, except Angela and Katana." And wherever Gnash hatched, though Gnash had stayed back in New York with Goliath and Hudson to learn more about clan lore (and to give his mom and dad a break).
"And that Angela is from a magical island, and that Katana's from Japan. I know. I just like messin' ya about." She elbowed him roughly.
Lex nodded, not feeling like replying.
"You are makin' me depressed just watchin' you, luv. Want to talk about it?" Her breath made puffs in the cold air, and he smelled the wine. It occurred to Lexington that he was alone on a rooftop with an attractive female gargoyle, she was friendly and she liked him, and she'd been drinking. It also occurred to him that this, in a nutshell, was his problem. "Staghart said you've been brooding all night."
Lex didn't make any expression at all. "I'm fine. I'm great. Really."
"Suit yourself," said Coco, but there was something in the way she looked at him, something calculating, that belied the tipsiness he was assuming. Coco was a good twenty stone at least, and she would need far more mead than Lex did to be off his head.
He watched her wander back off to the stairs and down, her short tail bobbing behind her.
His solitude was more solitary, now that she was gone. Funny, that. When they'd first awakened after their long stone sleep, Lex had been saddened and horrified to discover how few of them had survived, and so the six of them were rarely alone, taking the comfort they needed from each other. Plus, every time they split up and went among the humans, it was to their grief. Only Elisa had been safe, one of them even then, and now everyone acknowledged (even if they didn't say so out loud) that she and Goliath were mates, so one of them always.
They were mates who could not try for an egg, but would raise the clan's hatchlings like their own. In the past, at Wyvern in the old days, their clan had names for mates like that, some kind and some not. Lex had learned the words in the rookery, teasing things to call the other hatchlings, expressions without meaning or context, only "different."
But everyone was different now.
There was a rush of wind and another plop beside him. "If you like the party so much, why do you keep coming back up?"
A shrug. "The party's dull," said Amp.
Lex turned, pulse racing. "Sorry, I thought you were Coco."
Amp laughed. It was rich and deep, and went out to the grounds. He'd also been sampling the mead, Lex could tell. "I have to tell her that. She'll bust a gut."
"So," said Lex. "Are … are you enjoying the party?"
Of course he wasn't, Lex thought immediately. He'd just said it was dull. Stupid to ask.
"The solstice parties are better."
"That's what Coco said."
"Well, you ought to see the dance she did this last winter solstice." Amp got up and started gyrating and moving his arms, and Lex could just picture Coco moving that way, free and unembarrassed. Amp plopped down again. "It was a sight."
Amp reached up and scratched an antler. "She sent me up here. Said you were upset about something."
"I'm not upset." Now he was angry, a little. "It's just loud down there."
Amp shrugged. "It's usually loud. The manor's nice, but we're packed in pretty heavily." As he spoke, the door opened again, and another couple emerged. The male's name was Lapine, Lex remembered. The two looked at Lex and Amp, and ducked their heads, moving somewhat quickly and not at all subtly to another part of the rooftop out of view. When they were gone, Amp laughed again. "We like the roof. It's private."
"I couldn't tell from all the traffic."
"All right, it's like private."
Lex smiled, a little. It was easy talking to Amp, or Staghart as the rest of his clan knew him. He'd also been among the first to welcome Lex and Hudson, had been friendly and helpful. Lex already considered him a close friend, although they'd only known each other a few months.
"I come up here sometimes when I'm feeling blue."
Lex snorted. "I can't picture you feeling down." A glance at the mild hurt on Amp's pale face made him regret the words. "Sorry."
"Everybody's good at hiding something. Me n' Coco, we keep each other's secrets. She knows I come up here when I'm lonely. I know she's dead scared of spiders."
Lex tried imagining this and failed. "Spiders?"
"Has her shaking in her boots." There was a smile in his voice as he said it. Coco was Amp's best friend. Not mates, they'd said. Huh.
Something else tickled at Lex's mind. "Lonely? How can you be lonely with all these gargoyles around you? My clan is so small."
Amp shrugged again. "Oh, it's easy enough. It's one thing to have everyone around you, piling on like hatchlings, but it's another to find someone who gets what it's like to be you. Some of the elders understand, but they're elders."
Lex nodded. Sometimes you needed someone your own age to get it, and that was hard. Brooklyn wasn't even his age anymore, and Broadway and Angela were too wrapped up in each other to notice. "Yeah."
"I mean," Amp said, watching the moon's slow glide past some wispy scraps of cloud, "Equun and Tusk are great, and I like having someone to look up to, but my rookery brothers are all thinking about my rookery sisters."
Lex remembered Equun, a fine brown horse-faced gargoyle, but he couldn't picture Tusk among the boar-faced females. Then he remembered the male boar who fought beside Equun at the last battle. "Wait, are they mates?"
"Have been for years."
"Oh." He could remember the mated pairs of males or females from the clan long ago, but the notion that there were still such pairs here, now, and accepted amongst this clan, this filled him with an odd warmth. And Amp looked up to them.
Different, but not unique.
"You get lonely too sometimes, don't you?" Amp's voice cut across his thoughts. There were many questions in there to unpack, but only one answer.
"Well," said Amp, getting up, "you know what the best cure is for being lonely?"
"Don't say going back to the party." The music had switched again, and he made out fiddles, something with an old tune he almost recognized.
"Nah. Come on." Amp grabbed his hand and helped him up. He didn't let go, instead taking Lex's other hand and starting to move to the music.
Lex laughed. "Are you serious?"
"Sure! The moon's nice, the music's good, and you stop being lonely when you find someone to share them with." This wasn't a question, but Lex heard the request behind it.
He let himself move to the rhythm of the music, his hands clasping Amp's. He'd danced before, plenty of times, but almost never with just one partner, certainly never alone (almost) with him on a rooftop in the moonlight, and part of Lex worried. The worries began chasing themselves, but then Amp grinned and they whirled around as the tempo changed again, and Lex was too dizzy, and too happy, to care.
The songs changed, sometimes loud, sometimes so soft they had to press in close and listen for the tune, but that was just fine. The moon kept to her own errands above them, listening in as they laughed and talked and danced the loneliness away.
When morning came, the sun caught several pairs still on the roof of Knight's Spur, most tucked secretly away. One stone couple sat out in the open, though, leaning into one another contentedly as they sat on the edge, legs dangling, tails entwined. Beside them in the sunshine, two of the lingering autumn leaves were stirred by a sudden breeze, jumped into the air, and danced together as if to a tune only they could hear.