One Gift of a Fledgling System
"Energy is Energy, whether generated by Science or Sorcery" – Owen Burnett
Lexington had always been entranced by systems. He didn't care if they were big, small, complex, simple, or even a range of clusterfucking variables (an apt phrase that he had recently integrated into his everyday diction). Mathematical, linguistic, philosophical—the concept of a new abstraction gave his olive-green epidermis goosebumps, and, more recently, soothed his increasingly nervous and withdrawn demeanor. For Lex, there was an inherent comfort, one of familiar rhythms, in looking at closed sequences.
One of his earliest memories was of a cart wheel that came through the grounds of Castle Wyvern with a traveling entertainment troupe: rotten wooden spokes splintered into rusted metal reinforcements enabling (possible) continuous revolutions. Actually, what Lexington remembered was sticking a tiny, fascinated claw out to touch the moving exterior of the wheel, and then shrieking in pain when his digit was smashed beneath the rough wood. That was the day he also learned that sucking on an injured claw only resulted in a scratched tongue. It was sometimes dangerous to investigate systems. Take for example the fascinating mechanical workings of the catapults used in the Viking siege... actually, the small gargoyle decided on second thought not to take that memory further. Humans, he summed up. He enjoyed the systems of humans.
At this point in the mental ramble, Lexington rolled his eyes. Yes, humans were a system. Yes, as individuals they took part in many other sequences. Yes, he was systemically obsessed—the eye roll was very much directed at his scrawny figure. In the speech style of one of Broadway's noir detectives, he was pondering the meaning of life while seeking familiar logic to help ease the aches of a cold, winter night in the seedy underbelly of Manhattan. However, if he had really been one of those hard-boiled gumshoes, he would have been plastered in scotch right about now in an actual dive bar, rather than looking blankly at a computer screen located in a fancy, downtown skyscraper with a frickin' castle on top. The tender verbosity of abstractions wasn't aiding him at all this time; in fact, it was making his loneliness all the more acute. He was unable to find any joy in objective observation of his surroundings, and the reason, he had finally admitted, was directly correlated with one variable. Alexander Fox Xanatos, the brilliant fourteen-year-old, the son of two fiery, scheming billionaires...Lex's ward Alexander, Lex's charge, his student, his younger rookery "cousin," his friend, his buddy, his confidante, his... Lex sighed out. His Alex was leaving Castle Wyvern early the next morning.
"Uh, Lex... you have lived long enough in this century to hear about those famous humans who choked on their own vomit, right? Rock stars... rich people... who all died choking on stuff that looked very much like what you're currently stuffing down the babe's throat there?"
Lexington shot Brooklyn an annoyed glare before scooping up another bit of pureed carrot goop with a baby spoon. Scraping the sides of the spoon on the colorful jar, Lex had to admit that the bouquet of this meal did tickle his gag reflex. Six-month old Alex, however, loved the stuff. Adored it. He refused to eat anything else (he generally screamed if applesauce came within a 10-foot radius), which is why sometimes the nightly gargoyle patrol of the city turned into a slightly panicked search for extra jars of brown sludge (this was always combined with the continuous hunt for supermarkets that didn't post fliers for the local Quarrymen group on their "community news" boards).
The red-haired, smooth-cheeked child slammed his palms down onto the highchair, squealing shrilly. Brooklyn started violently at the noise, and then, wholly embarrassed, he turned his attention to the nutrition information of carrots. It was telling that Lexington didn't wince at all; in fact, he smiled softly, proudly.
Although Alex was clearly cherished by his megalomaniac parents (the golden expanse of the Louis the XVI crib spoke to that), Fox and Xanatos's combined passion for global control (or domination, depending on who you asked and when) occupied much of their time. After the first few months, seeing their son once a day, for 30 minutes, was the average extent of family time. To be fair to the young couple, Alex didn't really notice a lack of attention from his mother or father, mainly because of the excellent care received from his parentally approved babysitters. Owen Burnett was David Xanatos's right hand man—a decent, loyal, and brilliant individual. Owen was also Puck—a mischievous fae of legend who had sacrificed any chance of return to Avalon in order to stay with the child. Together, humble assistant and former trickster formed the perfect mentor and daytime caretaker. It was after sunset that Lexington's part of the child rearing began. When Alex wasn't asleep, and Lex wasn't out on patrol, the small gargoyle would devote much of his time to the blue-eyed baby. It felt... important somehow... in some sort of core way, Lex thought.
"Hmph," Brooklyn muttered while grazing a few claws across his bird-like chin in thought.
"What is it this time? More barf jokes? You don't have to help me feed him you know," Lex said, more than a little defensively.
Brooklyn looked up sharply.
"Wha... no, dude. I like the little guy... against my initial better judgment. You know I do. Christ, Lex, he's almost part of the clan. Remember that time we took turns holding him while flying a patrol a couple of months back?! That rocked!"
Lex smirked. He remembered that night well. It had been great.
"I'm sorry, Brooklyn," Lex sighed. "I feel so right about doing this, about being here, taking care of Alex... I mean, you're the second-in-command now, Broadway has Angela, and... for me this feels right. Really right, and it feels really, truly weird. It feels like I need to do this, and that without it I wouldn't be a complete gargoyle..."
A deadpan voice interrupted him: "Wow, man. That's deep."
Lex glanced up from his feet, and saw that Brooklyn was now the one smirking. Yet the sarcasm was affectionate in tone, and, Lex noted, dripped with near understanding.
"You're saying 'Christ' now? What is it with you using slang and Goliath quoting Shakespeare? Are you trying for the full breadth of the human linguistic experience?" Lex jeered.
"Hey, I'm only furthering my ability to fit into the 1990s..."
This time the break in conversation was caused by a loud, insistent burble. The adorable villain spawn was demanding more carrots. Lex dutifully prepared another spoonful.
"The ability to fit in...," he murmured under his breath.
Lex shook himself out of a lonely reverie as he heard the clock in the hall chime and clang an early hour. He was unable to focus on the exactness of the hour; there was, after all,work to be done through all of his angst-ing and remembering. He tapped into the the terminal in front of him.
As of 2009, Castle Wyvern had become a stronghold that was able to watch and record the actions of an entire city. In fact, this could all be done from the armory, which had been converted into an almost completely automatic control room with wall-to-wall computer screens. Lex had, in a moment of self-perceived exhilaration at the idea, instantly volunteered to be the one who performed the necessary minimal amount of system monitoring in the armory.
Of course, Goliath and Hudson still insisted, throughout the years, on in-person nightly patrols (out of distrust for technology, or the safety of familiarity, Lex didn't know) even on nights such as tonight: clear, bone-chilling nights (even cold for a gargoyle) where the bright light of the moon and of the stars was reflected off the numerous steel and glass structures of Manhattan. In truth, Lexington could count on one sharp hand the number of times he'd be on an actual patrol in the last... two years. He winced. He just felt more comfortable on the ground; wasn't that all it was?
On a tangent, he thought, he also hadn't been out flying at all in the last week, and his waxy, semi-circle wings were slightly suffering from atrophy. Puck had "accidentally" let slip at the beginning of the summer that Alex's parents were considering boarding school in Scandinavia for the quickly approaching fall term (in fact, Puck had giggled maliciously at Lex's horrified reaction).
A week later, Alex, himself, had confirmed the news to his friend.
"Dad says it will be 'beneficial,' which might be crap, but I want to give it a try. It'll be like one of the adventures that you true wings are always having...except with a lot more snow. I'll be on my own, for the first time. That's exciting to me..."
Alex stared at Lex's frozen face. It was too plain, and the handsome human youth read Lexington far too well to surmise that such a change was easy for the gargoyle. He suddenly moved his hand over and squeezed Lex's talons.
"I'm sorry, man. Of course you know I'll miss you. Hey, have you gotten that private IRC channel programmed like you wanted yet? 3D video with actual tactile touch... or, I suppose you need the new sensors to work for that, but we could chat every night... or almost every night, anyway."
Surprisingly, Lex didn't feel like crying. He felt like he was drying out from the inside, or that he was exploding. Alex was holding his hand, and that felt good. It felt like home... and that home was telling him about its impending absence.
"Lex...?," Alex began to say while staring out of the stained glass window above them.
"Yeah... rookery 'cousin'?" The endearing term came out in a strain. Alex looked down at his feet, and smiled ruefully. He laughed, and squeezed Lex's claws tight enough to draw blood from his pale human hands.
"Do you have any fuckin' clue if gnomes are real?"
The first time that he consciously tried to think of reasons as to why he didn't "fit in," Lex gave himself a headache. There was no calming sequence, no closing bracket. He really had swatted at the air in order to brush away the hundreds of half-formed thoughts and ideas; they were concepts that had no context, and so not only were they useless, they were frightening.
Elisa Maza was nearby when Lex, sitting on the edge of a parapet overlooking Ellis Island, had clawed at his head in frustration. She had deftly reached into an inner pocket of her trademark red jacket, and insisted to him that the small pills she produced were the solution. Painkillers. Most of the clan had ended up looking to modern human medicinals from time to time, and Elisa was right (as she was wont to be) in that they were a solution. However, the numbing of his bodily systems for an entire night also hampered a creation of a framework in which he could fit a multitude of variables, and thus halted any creation of a long-term solution.
Now, Lexington sat back in his computer chair and thought through a bit lip. He still possessed only pieces of the puzzle of his own system. He found himself through days, months, and years less and less able to fit into the contexts that had previously defined his life. Of course he didn't fit in with the majority of human society; the Quarrymen were still very much present, and had found support from many domestic as well as international organizations. On a smaller level, he rarely interacted with the humans around him—Alex's parents, Robbins was Hudson's friend, Elisa was the love of Goliath's life... Lexington didn't distrust humans, but he didn't seem to be able to connect to them (even through his beloved, text-driven technology). Maybe it was that in the last decade he had experienced a decreasing need for actual speech—a need that most human relationships seemed to require. However, he also felt estranged from his stoic, close-knit, band of stone warriors. He was smaller than the rest of them. It took more energy for him to fly and to fight. He was more prone to suffer from cold weather (tonight, for example. The castle was still drafty, to say the least). Excepting Brooklyn's incredible facial resemblance to a bird, Lexington, out of all of the Wyvern clan, could not pass for human, and this extended even to the point of not really being able to walk (his upright steps inevitably always turned into a cat-like crawl).
Though he loved his clan, and would give his life willingly... okay, somewhat willingly, for them, he didn't perceive a place for himself among them. Nowadays, he moved further and further away from them for reasons he had only begun to admit. In fact, the person who had given Lex a mission in life, the motivation to be a part of the world and the motivation to be a gargoyle, was a human—Alexander Xanatos.
When Alexander was 7 years old, his parents gave him wings. It was not an organic wingspan made out of flesh, blood and stone, but one instead made out of flexible plastic merged with recently harnessed nanotechnology. There was no wrapping paper on this gift, no secret and delighted grins shared between parents. Xanatos had simply tossed the folded invention on Alex's bed, and, with a wink, said, "You'll pick it up like a pro, I'm sure," adding, as an afterthought, "...I'm counting on it, son." Alex didn't say a thing after his father left. He pondered while sitting completely still. He wondered and considered, and then, in a rush of movement, he hastily grabbed his gift. It was almost sunset, and he needed help. He had never been so excited in his life.
A bit later, Goliath seemed to be the only gargoyle not sharing Alex's enthusiasm. He grumbled something about the danger.
"It reminds me too much of the Greek story of folly and tragedy following the flight of a father and son..."
After a moment of blank silence, Hudson spoke.
"Icarus, Hudson. The tale of Icarus."
"But, Goliath," Alex softly pleaded. "These wings are not made of honey."
The members of the clan stifled a small laugh, but Lex found a solemn truth in Alex's words: if the wings had been made of smooth honey and feathers (he thought he remembered this story), they wouldn't have been so ugly. In the moonlight, the wings were so dull that they gave off a sense of bitterness. Lex shook his head sadly; there was a sense of utility over beauty here, which he could understand to a point... but couldn't sympathize at all with when it came to the subject of flight.
Lexington knew that Alex had been craving to fly since he was a hatchli... a small baby. Hudson and Elisa had actually been the ones to point out to Lex that the toddler Alex avoided walking whenever possible. He sat, he jumped, he swam, he rode bicycles, he danced... and he flapped his arms with eyes that screamed for a hope against hope. But he hated walking on the concrete sidewalks of New York. When Lex had later inquired, Alex admitted that not only did it feel dirty and gritty, but lacking in something integral. It appeared that Lexington had, through his constant nurture, imparted his unease of walking to Alex, and, furthermore, had helped to instill a holy reverence for flying and for speed.
Of course the wings were used that night (though it took some fiddling to discover how to attach the wings securely to the young child's back), and they were, of course, used almost every night thereafter. Sometimes, Alex flew with the whole clan of "true wings" when they weren't actively on patrol. These were the points when the boy learned how to fly with caution and precision (or risk a stern, dry lecture from Goliath). Other times, Alex would fly only with the younger part of the clan (including Broadway and Angela's new offspring, who more often clung to his mother rather than choosing to fly), infusing him with greater knowledge of flying abilities. Yet, unsurprisingly, the majority of Alex's flights throughout the years were taken with Lexington as his sole companion.
Oftentimes, the pair followed a set pattern. Alex would don his wings before sunset (and also put on the heavy, modified, leather gloves that enabled him to grip the sides of buildings), letting his feet fly over the stone as he made his way up the giant stairway, and diving off the side of the castle just as Lex awoke from his stone sleep. The small gargoyle would instantly follow suit, feeling the wind rush over his face, and watching Alex's long hair whip and flutter in free fall. They generally flew for about two hours every night, alternating between speed and leisure, talk and shrieks of joy. Together, they flew as high as the atmosphere would allow, and then would drop like stones to skim over the cold, shining waters of the Atlantic.
Lex found himself tapping testily on his keyboard. It wasn't a coincidence, he knew, that Alex also loved systems and set patterns of thinking. The youth had a natural aptitude for concepts, and had long ago chosen Lexington (who encouraged these searches as gently as the young mother had, long ago, pushed her child to speak) as his co-explorer in a variety of endeavors. On birthdays (Lex simply made a date up for Alex's sake), holidays, or other important days, the pair exchanged gifts that functioned as introductions to new sequences of information.
It was this latter ritual that currently distracted Lexington from actually watching the behaviors of Manhattan on the armory's screens. Instead of performing his duty, he was making a mix CD of modern music for Alex's journey to northern Europe. Lex had thrown himself into the project in a more than slightly obsessive way, putting in hour after hour of his awakened state into the compilation. There was, of course, a problem. How could there not be?, Lex thought ruefully. He was a gargoyle and,thus, a member of a drama-prone species. The issue was that for all he had read about flow, tone, and not blowing your musical wad by the second song (he grinned, and mentally thanked Elisa for showing "High Fidelity" on one of her sparse movie nights), the entirety of his knowledge was intellectual, book-learning. He gritted his sharp teeth in an underbite. Jalapeña, he thought he knew what he was trying to say-- rocking, speed, flight, missing, kinship... belonging—and yet every combination he tried, from Apocalyptica to Tom Petty to Flight of the Conchords—refused to meld into perfect statement. System schmystem.. It was a mystery. A big clusterfuck of fascinating, indecipherable meaning. Lexington's protruding brow hit the keyboard with the hard clang of failure... allowing his ears to once again pick up the echoing clangs of the clock down the hall.
That was odd, he thought. Clocks didn't generally chime every 15 minutes. After just a moment of hesitation, he scampered, slowly, from his chair and quietly pushed open the door to the hall. The clock, the only clock within a gargoyle's earshot, was to his left, and it was silent. What on earth was that noise? Castle Wyvern was huge, and only seemed larger when it appeared bereft of all conscious life. Lex skipped a little faster down the cobblestones, matching his pace with the quickened clangs. He counted, trying to find a beat, a rhythm... some meaning that would help him when he returned to the playlist in the armory.
He looked up. The reverberations had ceased, and the young gargoyle suddenly became aware that he was standing outside the room of Alex Xanatos. No, he refused to admit that was fate knocking at his head, and instead asked himself quietly, "Why is Alex packing large sheets of metal??"
The small set of speaker holes to the side of the door spoke to him: "Why don't you simply open the door and ask me what I'm doing instead of standing in the hall, Lex?" The voice was happy, but left no room for non-compliance.
Instantly, his eyes met two sites: one made his breath catch, and the other only elicited confusion. Alex, beautiful, hair out of place, wearing a sweat-covered and scorched tank top. He held a blowtorch in his right hand, and had a shy smile threatening to take over his face (and my heart, Lex allowed himself to admit). The lanky youth was standing over something... a set of graceful, streamlined curves of polished metal that shrieked familiarity, but the gargoyle's mind still couldn't process it. It wouldn't budge. This variable was too much; the side effects were too dangerous for him to fit into a scheme.
Alex now wore a gaudy red bow on the top of his golden head.
"I meant to put this on top of the handlebars, but you arrived too early. Just like a gargoyle to spoil all of my well-researched and not-last-minute-at-all plans."
Lex laughed, and began to cry a bit as he looked incredulously at both boy (or man, actually, Lex thought) and metal creation. On a greasy, burnt piece of ramshackle canvas floor covering stood a homemade motorcycle. Spare parts had been welded together to create the epitome of speed, and, according to Lex's miniscule amount of experience, as close as you could get to flying while touching the ground.
Lex again looked at Alex.
"She is yours you know. Your gift, I mean. You don't have to stand there and reverently bawl your eyes out."
"I'm not bawling," Lex retorted softly, but too sharp not to be noticed.
Alex seemed unphased, and laid a calm, sure palm on the gargoyle's shoulder. He spoke softly in a warm tone.
"I figured you could learn the set of skills required to ride a motorcycle for at least a night without exploding it."
Now, there was no way Lex could deny the Nile River streaming down his face. He didn't know what to say, except... He looked into Alex's face, hoping to find a compass there. He observed the boy's smile, the small tinge of blue on the skin around his left eye, and the eyes-- unafraid blue eyes that stared right back at him. The gargoyle knew then. It was time to say it, to acknowledge it out loud. He swallowed. Hard.
"You're wonderful, you know..."
Alex was now shivering in addition to grinning like a Cheshire cat.
That night, before Alex did in fact leave for the frozen North, there were no verbal assurances given. However, there were known certainties. They would, no question, talk online every night, and more often once Lex finished the modifications to his new system. Though it was impossible to relocate away from his gargoyle clan, Lex would, he knew, find a proper excuse to visit Scandinavia in the near future. He would also be there throughout Alex's life—since gargoyles age at half of the speed of humans, he'd likely know the young Xanatos literally from birth to death. All these things went unsaid, and remained more comfortable that way for both individuals that way.
Yet, as Alex and Lex wheeled the motorcycle down the castle cobblestones (leaving many permanent marks), into the elevator, and down into the street, the gargoyle realized, finally, that Alex felt just as strongly committed as he did. Committed in what ways? The answer to that was still in the process of changing, and Lex decided that was enough for now. The depths of his feelings, that particular attribute, had lost their tension and frightening qualities. He knew... he just did, and felt that everything would be smooth flying in a sense.
Love is a strange, complex system. It flows and morphs through other systems, barely edging alongside some and fully permeating others. Sometimes it lingers for years before blossoming. Lexington wondered if his possession by a baby Alex all those years ago had saturated every cell of his body, turning him into a foregone conclusion. Or maybe he had already been lost in the unfamiliar sequence of love before that. As Puck had pointed out, soul transference is, after all, a voluntary thing; there could have been a spark of energy there before the magic. In any case, Lex had some things to ponder over, including what he actually hoped for. The night in the city remained cold and quiet, though, Lex noted, he didn't feel as despairingly lonely as he had earlier.
The sound of a engine would be ripping through the hollow, darkened streets until the first rays of dawn appeared.