COMINGS AND GOINGS EPILOGUE:
Oh, did I forget to tell you…?
By Kimberly T. (kimbertow at yahoo dot com)
See Parts 1 and 2 for disclaimers and acknowledgments!
It had been a long, long night, but it wasn't over yet! Elisa had to remind herself to keep her spirits up and be unrelentingly cheerful, even if by now she was thoroughly sick and tired of being so damned cheerful. She felt like a cheerleader must feel in the fourth quarter of a football game; even if her team was winning, she would be sincerely glad when it was just plain over.
For the last three-and-a-half hours, she and Fox had been busy keeping the gargoyles busy. The women had been in charge of entertainment during the flight to New Orleans; entertaining both the Manhattan Clan and the members of the New Orleans clan that had come to New York. They had played Mad Libs. They had played Crazy Eights. They had played a ton of other games that Fox had brought with her, in her near-frantic efforts to keep the gargoyles from having any real conversations, and therefore from talking about the events of the night before. The Manhattan Clan gargoyles didn't know that the Quarrymen had waged a battle against other gargoyles (or possibly gargoyle imitators; no one knew for sure yet) and had definitely lost eleven men in the process. It was Fox and Elisa's job to make sure they didn't find out about that until it was far too late; too late for them to demand that they turn around and go back to New York to investigate.
Once he did find out, Goliath would probably be furious at the way he'd been played; the way all the clan had been manipulated into leaving town, to get them out of harm's way. Elisa knew she would probably bear the brunt of his anger, too. Fox might be a reformed woman now (though Elisa occasionally had her doubts), but deception and misdirection had been her stock-in-trade, not all that long ago; even if they lived under the same roof together, the clan didn't entirely trust her or her husband. But Elisa was another matter; Elisa was clan. Elisa was the leader's mate. And leaders' mates did NOT do this sort of thing, deceiving the entire clan, even if it was for the clan's own good… not the good ones, anyway…
Periodically throughout the night, Elisa had found herself thinking of Demona. Back in old Scotland, Demona had been Goliath's mate, and his second-in-command. It was far too easy for Elisa to draw parallels between what Demona had done in ancient Scotland, a bargain and deception that had ultimately led to the slaughter of nearly the entire clan, and what Elisa was doing right now… and every time she thought of that, Elisa wanted to throw up. But she had to be cheerful, dammit! Or Goliath would notice and ask her what was bothering her, and then the fat would be in the fire for sure.
They had landed in New Orleans half an hour ago. As soon as they'd touched ground, Fox had sprung into action again, hustling everyone off the aircraft and into the shadows, and urging that Adam show them the fastest and sneakiest way out of the airport, before the day shift maintenance crews started arriving. Adam had willingly complied, and soon they'd all been in the air again (though without the use of jet engines this time,) headed for downtown New Orleans. Elisa wasn't being carried by Goliath this time; the clan leader's great wingspan was needed to help Broadway glide, since the aquamarine gargoyle's wing was still far from wholly functional again. Goliath and Broadway flew in tandem directly behind Adam, the New Orleans clan's leader, who was carrying an older man called Father Maurice. Instead, Elisa was in the arms of a female named Rebecca, while Fox was carried by Brooklyn, Bronx was carried by Angela, and a fourth human named—what was it?—Marcel, that was it—he rode with Hudson. Elisa had learned the names of the four New Orleans natives during the trip down from New York, but not much more than that, and she was sure they didn't know much more about her than her name, either. Which was just fine with Elisa; despite Goliath's reassurances over the phone earlier, she wasn't ready to go trumpeting their mated status to strangers just yet, not even to strange gargoyles. Elisa had encountered plenty of anti-human prejudice during that World Tour, and knew all too well that intolerance wasn't just a humans-only trait.
It was odd, though; when Goliath had reassured her over the phone that the clan down here would be fine with the idea of her and Goliath being mates, he'd implied it had something to do with their clan leader. They hadn't had much opportunity to talk since then, so Elisa still didn't know what he meant. Did Adam have a human mate? Elisa had decidedly to very indirectly query Rebecca about Adam's mate, though not with specific questions about species. Instead, she'd wondered aloud if the leader's mate was also his second-in-command, as had occurred a few times back in old Scotland, and had been seen in a couple other clans around the world. Rebecca had answered willingly enough that Adam's mate Elizabeth wasn't the second-in-command; instead, that post was held by another gargoyle named Stephen. And with just a bit more gentle prodding, Rebecca had revealed that Elizabeth was a fine female who certainly had the temperament for a second-in-command, but often spent her nights in the rookery with the hatchlings instead. Oh, and her hide was nearly the same shade of lavender as Goliath and Angela, but her mane was snow white instead…
So that question was answered; Adam had a regular gargoyle mate. Elisa didn't dare ask any other questions about why the clan would theoretically—hypothetically—be accepting of a human and a gargoyle being mates. So instead, she and Fox chattered across the wind to each other, talking about what they'd heard about New Orleans and its inhabitants, and asking Rebecca and Marcel to either confirm or deny what they'd been told.
Soon the clan was descending slowly towards a house below them, one that Rebecca assured them was owned by a human member of the clan. Evidently, the patrolling members of the clan spent their days slumbering in stone in the attic of this house, soaking up rays through a skylight, rather than glide all the way out to where the rest of the clan perched. There were two trucks parked outside the house, both about the size and shape of bakery delivery trucks; one had a popular rental company's logo on the side, but the other was painted plain white. Rebecca told her that they'd all be using those trucks to ride out to the mansion that housed the rest of the clan, roughly fifty miles outside New Orleans.
Once they landed on the house's roof and went inside, Elisa was introduced to Ruby and Willie LeBeau, and their son Toby; evidently cousins of Marcel LeBeau, and clan members who chose to live in town and maintain the safe house. But they assured Marcel and the others that they would be coming out to 'the big house' tonight to celebrate the historic occasion, a meeting between clans.
There were also six members of the clan who were still out on patrol, and Rebecca wanted them to stay at the house long enough to meet the returning patrollers, particularly her favorite rookery brother Robert. But Adam was in a hurry to get everyone into the trucks and on the road, hoping that they would reach the mansion before dawn. So they piled outside and into the trucks, and Elisa willingly let Fox maneuver it so that she and Goliath were in separate trucks again. She shared one truck with Broadway, Brooklyn, Angela and Rebecca, with Marcel at the wheel, while Goliath rode in the other with Hudson, Bronx, Lexington, Fox and Adam, with Father Maurice at the wheel.
Fox had slipped her one of the Mad Libs pads just before she'd gotten into the truck, but Elisa put it away. One could take only so much silliness before it got tiresome, and Elisa herself had passed the threshold a long time ago. Instead, she just let the gargoyles talk amongst themselves; if someone mentioned the battle now, at least they were in New Orleans already, and the jet that had brought them here was refueled and on its way to South America. They'd be feeling betrayed and furious at her, but at least they'd be safely away from the shooting, and with no immediate means of return.
But instead of New York, the gargoyles had other questions about New Orleans, which Rebecca was only too happy to answer. She even taught them a few words of French and Cajun dialect, which they'd be apt to encounter if they spent any time in the city. Rebecca was sure that during their stay in the clan's home, they'd have occasion to go 'into town' at least once, and she'd be happy to play tour guide when the occasion arose. Several human members of the clan held jobs in New Orleans, usually night shift work, and Rebecca could take them to two different restaurants where, if they sneaked in the back door, they'd be shown to a private room where they could feast on all sorts of New Orleans delicacies. Of course, they didn't have to wait until then to try good New Orleans cuisine; Rebecca's rookery sister Martha was an excellent cook, and her jambalaya and gumbo were better than could be found at half the restaurants in town! Oh, and there was ample hunting here in the bayous outside New Orleans, for those who wanted a chance to sharpen their skills after being in the city for so long. New York might have legends of alligators in the sewers, but Rebecca could show Brooklyn (and the others, of course) how to hunt real gators in the swamps!
Elisa had to smile at the way Rebecca was practically wrapping herself around Brooklyn; if that wasn't a full-blown crush in action, then Elisa had never been a teenager herself. Brooklyn just seemed dazed at the attention he was getting, but once he shook himself out of it, and if he played his cards right this time, Elisa thought the clan's second-in-command just might be saying goodbye to those lonely single nights.
Broadway evidently thought the same thing; he was periodically nudging either Elisa or Angela, and winking or smiling while nodding his head in Brooklyn and Rebecca's direction. And after Rebecca blatantly used the excuse of a sudden bump from a pothole in the road to literally fall into Brooklyn's lap, Broadway whispered just loud enough for Elisa to hear, "They make a cute couple, don't you think?"
Angela's smiles in return always seemed a bit strained, but at Broadway's whisper, she agreed that yes, they did make a cute couple.
Since Broadway was glancing at Angela just then, he didn't see Elisa's sudden small frown. Was it her imagination… or had Brooklyn, when he'd glanced at her as Rebecca was landing in his lap, frantically rolled his eyes and mouthed the words 'help me'?
Not too longer after Brooklyn, blushing maroon, helped Rebecca get back to her feet, he lifted his head and muttered, "Feels like dawn's coming."
Broadway and Angela nodded agreement, and Rebecca called out to Marcel at the wheel, "How much further to home?"
" 'Bout four miles," Marcel called back. "But the sun's a-coming faster than home is… 'Best show everyone how to hunker down for makin' easy later."
Rebecca nodded before getting off the bench on her side of the truck, squatting down and wrapping her tail, arms and wings around herself. She directed everyone to copy her actions, telling them, "This'll make it easier for them to unload us later, so we won't have to wake up in the truck. Don't worry about being dropped while you're asleep; most of our human clan members are old hands at this. And we've got dollies and packing blankets and everything you'd need for the occasion; even a little forklift, for really heavy statues. And when he knows it's apt to happen, Adam always stays awake to help with any heavy lifting, until the last gargoyle is unloaded and put on a perch in the back yard."
"Wait a minute… did you say that Adam stays awake? Past sunrise?" Elisa said confusedly as the other three gargoyles hunkered down and wrapped themselves up like Rebecca had done.
Brooklyn lifted his head just enough to give her a sheepish grin. "Oh, yeah; we should have mentioned that to you earlier, but we kinda got carried away with all the games and the excitement of getting here. Adam said he can stay awake past sunrise if he concentrates hard enough. It comes from his being half-human…" Anything else he might have said was cut off as the sun peeped over the horizon outside, and the four gargoyles in the truck turned to stone, leaving an absolutely flabbergasted human in their midst.
A few minutes ago, in the second truck, Adam had given the same reassurances to the gargoyles riding with him; he would stay awake and personally see to it that everyone was safely installed on a low perch, before allowing himself to turn to stone for the day. After he directed them in the best posture for sleeping, that would make it easier to unload them later on, Adam said, "Before dawn comes… I confess, my half-human heritage means one or two of my sense aren't as sharp as the average gargoyle's. In particular, my sense of smell is weaker. So where any other gargoyle would know, I have to ask: which male of your clan is Angela mated to?"
After staring at Adam for a moment, Lexington replied, "She isn't actually mated to anyone yet."
"But she's promised herself to Broadway, come the breeding season," Hudson threw in swiftly. "Though the lad will need to get in better shape before then…"
Adam winced. "That wing injury… well, we've had some wing injuries down here in the past, though none as extensive as that one was; our clan's healers have some experience in helping gargoyles return to the air, and we'll certainly do what we can to help him. And in the meantime, I'll let the others know that Broadway is to be considered, ah, 'off-limits'."
Hudson, Goliath, Lexington and Fox all stared at him curiously as they queried in sync, "Others? What others?"
Adam grinned. "What, didn't I mention it before? I suppose I didn't; I was saving that for my final inducement for your clan to come down here, and it turned out it wasn't necessary. The other unmated females; my clan currently has six unmated females, five of them still of breeding age. And I can assure you that all of them are very anxious to meet your clan's four available males…"
And the sun's rays peeked over the horizon and crept into the truck's interior, illuminating three stone statues with expressions of astonishment frozen onto their faces. Adam chuckled at their expressions, and even Fox had to admit that it was pretty funny. Two minutes later the truck pulled off the road and onto a long driveway, and Adam proclaimed that they were at the home of the New Orleans Clan. He went forward to where Father Maurice was driving, opened the passenger side door and leaped out, letting the wind from their driving catch in his wings; then he swooped on ahead of the truck to where a fair-sized mansion was sitting atop a hill, half a mile away.
By leaving before the journey was entirely over, he missed seeing Fox counting on her fingertips as she muttered, "Four? One, two, three… oh." She gave a wry smile as she concluded, "Elisa is not going to like this…"
And after a couple of brief interludes in New York and Japan, we're going to jump right into: