Story Title: A Question of Leadership
Description: On their way towards the Hellmouth, Goliath struggles with his demons.
Warnings: Mega Angst
Timeline: Shortly following the events of “The Mirror” Episode 18 of the Gargoyles. Several weeks after the events of “Unable to Stay.”
Author’s Note: The behaviour of the gargoyles was modeled from that of wolves. Their pack behaviour being the most similar to that particular animal. Comments and reviews are greatly welcomed as I am currently working without a Beta.
Standard Disclaimer: The Gargoyles premise and characters are distributed by Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Inc © Disney and created by Greg Weisman. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer premise and characters are distributed by 20th Century Fox, The WB, UPN and created by Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy (Grr, Arg). The story, all names, characters and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. No identification with actual persons, places, buildings and products is intended or should be inferred. “Void where prohibited.”
Tired and sore, Goliath perched on the stone barricade surrounding a vast graveyard. Of all the places his family had hidden over the past weeks, cemeteries happened to be the safest. They were well gated and usually only grief stricken patrons ever seemed to pass through during the days. Though there had been a time or two when that hadn’t been the case.
Brooklyn was without his left ear thanks to cruelty of humans and Goliath’s own inability to protect his clan. He knew that he was on the verge of losing his people’s loyalty and if they didn’t stop soon, he would be alone in every meaning of the word instead of just in his own mind and heart. His family would abandon him not unlike he had abandoned Manhattan.
“We will rest here for the day,” he offered to his clan gathered below him. With that said, he glided down to find a suitable spot that would be able to support him and the added weight when he turned to stone. “Stay close together.”
“But, Goliath,” Lexington said in as meek a tone as he had ever used, “there's still another couple hours of night left. Don’t you want to keep going?”
Goliath let his forehead rest against one of the many thick trees decorating the edge of the cemetery. He had been too hard on his family over the past weeks, driving them constantly onward; harder than he ever had before. All of them were leaner than they had ever been in the past and all of their wing muscles had developed to a state powerful enough to lift them from the ground from an almost complete standstill.
Never in the histories of the gargoyles had there been one that could use its wings for actual flight. But then, never had there been a clan to abandon their home such as they had. It was unheard of for a gargoyle to travel the distances that Goliath and his clan had covered. A gargoyle was hatched to a castle and remained its stalwart guardian until the night it turned to stone before the dawn’s light touched it. Should a castle fall, its gargoyles rarely lasted the following day. Yet here they were: an entire clan migrating the length of the country with near flying capabilities.
In as soft a voice as he could manage, he whispered, “No, Lexington. I don’t want to keep going.” And that statement was the most truth he had spoken in days. Even breathing was too much of a burden in recent nights. He had to force himself to eat most nights and when he did -- more often than not -- it made a reappearance not long after. He was grossly underweight and it was beginning to tell. Remaining aloft was getting harder and harder and fending off predators was no longer an option for him. Waves of dizziness often followed any swift movements.
He knew that he wasn’t hiding his behaviour or health very well from the others; and from Hudson, not at all. Hudson constantly watched him and was never more than a few paces from him with a hand forever on the handle of his broadsword. Goliath’s reaction time was slow -- slower than most hatchlings’ -- and the only hope he had in protecting his family was in relying on the strength of one more than double his age.
The young one actually perked up at his words and shared a look of excitement with his rookery brothers. The only downside to their momentary joy was when all three of them flinched at noticing he had turned against the tree to watch them. Their cowering put him in an even fouler mood. He growled softly in his throat and spun away from them as he said, “Well? What are you waiting for? Go explore while the moon is still in the sky.”
Brooklyn actually gave his once famously rakish grin before gathering up his rookery brothers into a huddle. After only a few moments discussion, they broke ranks and each headed in a different direction. The only thing missing from the sight (that Goliath watched from the corner of his eye) was Bronx loping along the well manicured lawn after them – nipping at the heels of one of his younger clan brothers.
With a weary sigh, Goliath slumped further into the cemetery that was to be their resting place for the day. It was large and well maintained but older than most that they had taken refuge in in the past. Instead of the plain, flat markers that littered newer cemeteries, this one held a handful of mausoleums in the far corners along with standing markers interspersed throughout. None of this made any difference to Goliath, though. Had the place not a single mausoleum, he and the others would have roosted on the walls surrounding it or even in the woods backing it.
He was dragging himself between two headstones when an odd sound caught his ears. He frowned and moved sluggishly in the direction that it had come from. As he approached the freshly dug grave, a muffled sound that could be nothing other than that of something banging against a heavy surface in panic could be heard. He shared a quick look of confusion with Hudson before looking back down at the freshly turned dirt. “Do you think we should pull up the dirt?” he asked cautiously.
The words were barely out of his mouth when the young ones came spilling out of the woods. At the forefront was Broadway, carrying an armload of apples. All three of them were grinning widely.
“Goliath! Hudson! We found an apple grove on the other side of the woods,” Broadway exclaimed once they were within easy speaking distance. He dropped to his haunches to better display his treasure. His arms were loaded to capacity with ripe, bright yellow apples. The others crowed to either side of him and dropped their own hauls to the ground near Hudson’s feet.
Distracted by the arrival of the young ones, Goliath moved away from the grave. He approached them slowly, to better see their find. Not wanting to startle the others, he came forward on all fours and stopped a few steps behind Hudson. Softly, he said, “There isn’t enough here for all of us.”
As Broadway threw an entire apple into his mouth, Brooklyn brought a hind paw forward to scratch at the stump that had once been his left ear. In a humorous voice he said, “We already ate a good amount, ourselves. I thought it best to grab what we could in case the grove was being watched. Of course, by the time that we’re finished these, we’ll have eaten enough to make us sick of apples for weeks to come.”
“That’s not very likely,” Broadway said around his mouthful, a huge grin dominating his face.
“But we wanted to make sure that you two would have enough to eat!” Lexington added, ignoring Broadway’s comment. He proffered a single golden apple to Goliath. “Here, they’re perfectly ripe.”
Stunned at the kindness of the younglings, Goliath took the fruit with something nearing trepidation. He bit into it with caution and, when it settled into his stomach without any threat of returning, swallowed down the rest quickly. The sweet juices brought to life a tooth aching hunger in the pit of his stomach that he hadn’t felt since even before leaving Manhattan. “Many thanks to you, my brothers.”
The three of them exchanged startled looks before all breaking into large grins. It had been too long since they had witnessed Goliath eat anything with the vigour that he dug into the apple. Brooklyn was only too happy to offer, “There were hundreds of trees. Let us all go over and pick more.”
“There were berry bushes too!” Broadway stated around his mouthful. He swallowed thickly before chucking yet another fruit into his mouth. “They were full to the hilt with ripe raspberries!”
“Oh, it’s been a dog’s age since last I’ve laid eyes on a bounty such as this,” Hudson exhaled softly. And it was true. They had spent the last few weeks scrounging for food in the dead of night. More often than not they had resorted to stealing garbage from the back of restaurants. Fresh fruit such as this held more value for them then a king’s ransom in gold.
Goliath, full after only three apples, leaned forward to hold his stomach. He had gone too long eating too little to be able to gorge himself on so much. He was almost content, though, to watch his family in this rare moment of happiness.
They were all so caught up in the celebratory air about them that none of them heard the shocking sound of wood snapping. Nor did they hear the sound of a body swimming its way up through the dirt covering its grave. They only reacted when a sub vocal growl rumbled in the throat of the creature behind them. Goliath and Hudson both spun -- though, Goliath more slowly -- and fell into automatic defensive stances.
The others were too startled by the bright golden eyes and distorted teeth of what they assumed to be a human that stood before them. The male, dressed in fine funereal grab, hissed savagely at them. He approached them quicker than any human they had ever seen before and managed to land a solid blow to Goliath’s middle before Hudson cut him down with his sword. The male dropped to the ground panting and clutching a wound that should have been mortal.
“What is it?” Lexington asked, astonishment clear in his voice. He crept a step closer only to quickly retreat when the thing bared badly deformed canines in his direction. “I’ve never seen a human act so feral before.”
“That’s no human,” Brooklyn informed him quietly. He studied the face of the creature from a safe distance at his rookery brother’s side.
Broadway peeked over the top of the headstone he had dived behind. “If it’s not human, then what could it be?”
“It is in the very shape that most humans take,” Hudson observed. The thing reached for him and, without thinking, his sword swung down and severed the limb from its body. The limb fell to the ground and clutched at the air for a moment before disappearing into a cloud of dust. “But I’ve never before heard of sorcery such as this. Nor have I been witness to it.”
“I have read of this,” Goliath offered. Not quite recovered from the blow he had taken, he held his stomach protectively. The meal he had shared with his family lay in a steaming pile close to where he had fallen. He turned to the side and spat out some of the bad taste in his mouth as he leaned heavily on the same headstone Broadway was still hiding behind. “The grimorum spoke of it in the same passage that it spoke of the place we are traveling to.”
“What did it say?” Broadway asked.
“That creatures of evil are drawn near to it.” Goliath lowered himself to the ground. As he did so, Hudson cleaved his sword through the thing’s neck in an attempt to end its suffering. They all watched in stunned awe as the creature disappeared in a shower of dust the same way that its hand had. “They were once human but married into evil against their will. They are forced to turn against those that had once been their own kind… to seek out their blood to sustain them.”
“It was a vampire!” Brooklyn exclaimed. He stepped toward what little dust remained and sniffed at it. He looked up at the others, confusion in his eyes. “But humans think that they’re just a myth. A scary story to tell.”
“That there was no myth, my boy,” Hudson stated needlessly. “That was a real threat. A real danger.”
They all nodded at that.
“Now that we’ve faced one here, we will be ready for any that we should come across in the future,” Brooklyn offered positively. He sat back on his haunches so to better face the others. “I’ve read all kinds of books and watched many movies about vampires. I could teach you all everything that we need to know about how to kill them.”
Excitement traveled through them and the young ones encouraged Brooklyn to go on. The three loped off towards the mausoleums, in search of a safe perch for the day to come. Their excited voices were carried back to Goliath and Hudson on the light wind that swept through the cemetery and took the last of the vampire’s remains away with it.
Goliath had barely made it back to his feet when Hudson’s voice stopped him cold. “They will not defer to me,” he stated firmly. He was absently shaving the edge of a talon with his bloodied broadsword when Goliath turned to him. “They do will never see me as their leader. I’ve not the youth nor the inclination to lead anyways. They all know this.”
Goliath growled low in his throat at the suggestion. As the alpha male and the leader of their clan, the statement had the sound of a challenge. And no matter the state of his mind or body, he would take on any challenge offered him. “Need I remind you, old man, that you stepped down from your place in this clan without a fight? You’ve no right to question me!”
“I do, lad, if you’ve got it in yer mind to put those younglings into danger,” Hudson replied evenly. There was no heat in his voice, only a cold weariness and a sickening dash of helplessness. “With every meal you avoid or purge yourself of and every obstacle you fail to face, you endanger them more.”
Of their own volition, Goliath’s wings mantled up high and his tail whipped to and fro. He stepped up to the old one and met his eye. For the first time since Goliath had taken over the clan for him, Hudson did not look away. A sickening knot formed in the back of his throat at what the other’s actions implied. Goliath was no longer a suitable leader and there was no other ready to take his place.
“You must mourn your losses just as the rest of us did, but it’s high time that you put your family before your own self, Goliath.”
Head hanging, and head slumped to the ground, Goliath fell to his knees. Before this journey had started he would never have allowed himself to show such weakness, but now he knew it was pointless. Hudson had never once been fooled by the front he had put up. Sobs wracked his chest and shoulders and the talons that he dug into his face did nothing to hide the tears that fell. He didn’t even register the weight that settled on his shoulder; a reminder that he wasn’t alone in this.
For an unmarked time, the two of them remained that way. Once Goliath’s sobs dried up, he simply lay huddled in a ball of despair. He rocked absently on the ground, heedless of his surroundings. Though his heart remained as broken as it had been, he felt stronger and calmer for having let voice to the anguish that break had caused him. The pain and loss no longer lay in a constricting band over his chest. For the first time in weeks he could take a breath without it tearing him into further pieces.
Without mentioning Goliath’s breakdown, Hudson drew the younger gargoyle to his feet. He wrapped an arm around Goliath’s shoulders and gently ushered his towards the mausoleums. Behind them, Goliath let his tail and wings trail through the grass dejectedly.
The others shared wary looks as they watched Goliath and Hudson take their own roosts for the day. They had all been aware of the trouble Goliath had been in. Unable to do anything, they had watched helplessly as their leader had deteriorated. None of them had been able to do or say anything because, unlike Hudson, they hadn’t the strength to take Goliath down even in his weakened state.
Once the older ones were settled, the younger gargoyles all quietly looked away; all save Brooklyn. The others weren’t willing to risk their leader’s wrath for having witnessed his weakness. Taking a chance, Brooklyn hopped over the short distance separating the two structures. When Goliath’s gaze fell on him, he hesitated for a long moment before swiftly making his way to the larger gargoyle’s side. He nuzzled into Goliath’s shoulder and braced himself against the chance that he might be pushed away. Instead, he felt Goliath return his embrace. Not long after that, the others were all crowed in around them, doing their best to give and receive comfort.
None were prepared to fight this sorcerer’s battle, but if that’s what it took for them to finally have their very own home, Goliath knew they would. As the sun broke over the horizon and touched his skin, Goliath sent out a silent thanks to the stars. Nothing but a threat like this could have better convinced him that he needed to hold himself together for his family. He would make himself strong again; as strong as the very stone that encased him during the day.
As the day grew warmer and the sun rose higher in the sky, bright sunlight illuminated the new monument that had been raised in the cemetery. All those who laid eyes on the sight were left standing in awe. At the center of a familial huddle of gargoyles stood a tortured soul that had finally found his deliverance and, to the side, a lone warrior; ready to protect and defend.