LIFE GOES ON

Mating Games

Part 8: Risky Moves

By Kimberly T. email: kimbertow at yahoo dot com

Usual disclaimers and acknowledgments apply. I'm not making a dime off this, so please don't sue.

Author's note: This story begins on the last Sunday in November 1996, five nights after the events of "Mating Games 7: Moments of Silence." The 50 drabbles or micro-stories that comprised "Passing Glances" all took place sometime in the intervening five days and nights.

oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo

Fifteen minutes after the gargoyle members of the New Orleans Clan awoke at sunset, the blue female Lucy came to the entrance of the rookery and beckoned to the head rookery keeper, Elizabeth. Elizabeth nodded to Lucy, finished combing a hatchling's mane and excused herself from the rookery for a while, leaving it in the care of the other rookery keepers; Ursula, Adelbert, Catherine, Joan, Joseph and Giselle.

Once they had gone down the hall a short distance form the rookery, Lucy passed to Elizabeth a small brown paper bag. "Here it is; the most reliable test available over the counter, from what I could tell by reading the labels. (ahem) You said 'no questions asked', but there's really no need for questions when it's obvious that this is for a certain human woman currently visiting us..."

Elizabeth raised a brow ridge, then nodded. "Yes, it is. How did you know?"

"Anyone who was raised here would know to trust our noses, instead of needing to see lines on a stick."

Elizabeth nodded again, ruefully. "Too true. But while you and I know, I would hope no one else does…"

"Oh, of course! I went solo into the pharmacy, taped over the security camera lens and left some money by the cash register with the barcode from the package," Lucy assured her. "Even Erasmus thinks I just went out for more antifungal cream, to deal with that case of athlete's foot that's got little Toby's feet in such a state."

Elizabeth thanked Lucy for her discretion, then left the mansion and went to the old groundskeeper's cottage at the edge of the bayou and knocked on the door. Elisa from Manhattan opened the door, and Elizabeth gave her a sympathetic look as she asked quietly, "Is Goliath inside?"

Her eyes red and puffy, Elisa just shook her head. "I was waiting next to him on the mansion roof when he woke up, but he didn't even look at me; he just turned and glided away."

"Stubborn male; thinking with his pride instead of any common sense," Elizabeth growled. "I give him two more nights, and then if he is still being stupid, Miriam and I will track him down and get him to--"

"No." Elisa shook her head sharply, even as she sniffed back another tear. "I appreciate the gesture, Elizabeth, but don't try to interfere; it would only make matters worse. I… he…" Elisa finally just shook her head again, then swallowed hard before asking, "Did you bring… the…"

Elizabeth wordlessly held up the brown paper bag, and Elisa let her inside the cottage. Once they were inside and the door was shut, Elizabeth handed over the bag, and Elisa pulled out an early-detection pregnancy test kit. She took it into the bathroom to begin the test procedure, and when she came out Elizabeth set the timer in the kitchen, and they waited in silence together.

Possessing a gargoyle's typically acute sense of smell, Elizabeth already knew what the test results would be, but she still waited with Elisa for company's sake. When the timer finally went off, Elisa took a deep breath and went to retrieve the stick and see the results.

The test was negative.

"So… looks like whatever inter-species fertility spell Adam's mother cast on this place has long since dissipated," Elisa said as she stared at the stick.

"So it would appear, cherie," Elizabeth agreed sadly.

"…It's for the best," Elisa said firmly. "I'm anything but the mothering type. And Manhattan is still so hostile to gargoyles; if word somehow got out, there would be rioting in the streets over a half-gargoyle baby. This is for the best."

"I understand, cherie," Elizabeth said as she plucked a tissue from a nearby box to dab at the wetness that had appeared on Elisa's cheek. "I understand…"

oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo

Several hundred yards away, Adam looked doubtfully in on the scene inside an old shed. Within the shed stood a mass of tubing connecting various vats and other objects, a series of small barrels, and a trio of stools. One stool was unoccupied, but another supported Ignatius, the clan's eldest gargoyle and keeper of the clan's distillery… and the third held Goliath, who had just been offered a mug of light amber liquid by Ignatius.

Last night, just before sunrise, Ignatius had come up to Goliath mere moments after he had encountered his mate Elisa—and turned away from her again, the stubborn jackass—and announced that the latest batch of moonshine was ready for taste-testing, and that as their most honored guest Goliath would of course have the first mug. The announcement had been followed by a brief explanation of what 'moonshine' meant in this instance… which had surprised Adam as much as the others listening in, until he remembered that Goliath had been hatched in the Middle Ages, and his clan had never had to concern themselves with hiding the fruits of their labor from 'the revenuers'.

The clan had operated a still for over 150 years, mostly for their own use and amusement, though for a decade or so before Adam had hatched, they'd made good money from their distillery. The clan leader during the 1920's had declared that even if the U.S. government had decreed the making and consumption of alcoholic beverages as illegal, if Jesus himself had changed water into wine then making alcohol was no sin, and no real crime either. He'd been sure that the government would realize the truth eventually, and in the meantime, he'd ordered production from the still tripled, so they'd have plenty of excess to clandestinely sell in town through their clan's allies. After Prohibition had ended, production had gradually been cut back to enough for only the clan's use again. Currently only Ignatius tended the still, making just a few batches per year of the 180-proof moonshine that few people, human or gargoyle, could stomach in any quantity.

Adam had thought more than once about just shutting the still down entirely, but it had been Ignatius' pride and contribution to the clan for over a century. Rather than make their oldest clan member feel useless, Adam let him continue running the still, and giving its product away in jugs tied with bright bows and ribbons during the holidays. Besides, there had been a few times over the years when strong drink, with a little something added to it, had saved the clan's collective hides from exposure…

Right now, Adam had doubts that letting Goliath near alcohol was the wisest course of action. Whatever he was feeling towards Elisa, he was also sunk deep into a self-pitying funk, and everyone knew what happened to people who drank while feeling sorry for themselves. Pity yourself and take a drink, and then the drink would feel sorry for you and take a drink, and when two good drinks got together, that called for drinks all around… and the end result would be taken back to the manor in a wheelbarrow.

Adam honestly didn't know if they had a wheelbarrow sturdy enough to handle Goliath's weight, if he got as drunk as Adam feared he would. But at least a soused-to-insensibility Goliath would be a change of pace from the sulking fellow clan leader they'd been putting up with lately; one who refused to listen to anything said to him and whose behavior was weighing heavily on more than the Manhattan Clan members.

Goliath accepted the mug, tipped his head back to drink from it… and went into an explosive coughing fit, his eyes watering. "Pretty good, eh youngster?" Ignatius said cheerfully. "Dis is the real stuff, guaranteed to sharpen your ridges!"

Adam grinned, but refrained from chuckling within Goliath's hearing. He turned to go back to the house while Goliath caught his breath and got back on the stool again. As he departed, he heard Goliath rising to the challenge inherent in Ignatius' banter, and accepting another mug of moonshine.

oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo

"So, how about playing RoboRally tonight?" Rebecca asked Lexington. "It really is a fun game, and the more people we can rope into playing it, the better it gets!"

"Sounds good," Lexington agreed. "Let's see if we can get more of my clan interested in playing it. If it's a really complex game, getting involved in it will give Brooklyn an excuse to stay away from your sisters without having to hide in the swamp again." He shook his head. "I don't think anyone's buying that excuse about mourning for poor Brentwood anymore, when even Hudson looked like he's back to normal this evening."

Robert, standing within hearing distance, shook his head as well. "Nooo, they're definitely not buying it," he said dryly. Then his face went oddly blank, just before he turned away.

Rebecca abruptly let go of Lexington's arm, and grabbed at Robert's instead. "What happened?" she asked, staring worriedly up at his horselike face.

"Why would you think something happened?" Robert asked, his tone carefully neutral… too careful, to Lexington's sudden suspicion.

"Don't give me that, Rob; I know that look. Someone here said or did something nasty to you recently, and you're trying to pretend it didn't hurt… who was it?" Rebecca demanded. "One of those stone-brained elders again, wasn't it?!"

"Well, sort of," Robert admitted, hanging his muzzle low. "But it's not really about me this time, Becca. I really shouldn't be bothered by it at all…"

Rebecca grabbed her rookery brother by the chin and pulled him down until they were eye to eye, her beak pointing down to the ground parallel to his muzzle. "Just get it off your chest," she softly commanded.

"Last night… I overheard some of the elders talking about Brooklyn. They're definitely not buying the excuse about him being in mourning for Brentwood, and Barnabus asked Father Maurice… if Brooklyn was secretly gay. And the way he said it… Look, it just brought up bad memories, okay? Nothing to get upset about."

Rebecca's eyes narrowed, as a petite growl rumbled up from her chest. "I'll bet that the way he said it, was as if there's something wrong with being gay… with being different from the majority. Oh, that's Barnabus, all right! Bigoted old…"

Robert sighed. "Fact is, Becca, as far as our species is concerned there really is a problem with homosexuality. Because gays who are as far to one side of the spectrum as I am, who can't get it up for females at all, reduce the breeding pool even further than it already is for sheer lack of numbers. If it turns out Brooklyn is actually gay…"

As one, both Rebecca and Robert glanced inquiringly at Lexington, but he shook his head. "Definitely not gay, or bi; I determined that a long time ago. And he's shown plenty of interest in females in the past. I think right now he's just... feeling too pressured. I mean, normally we'd have years to choose mates from among our own rookery kin, but he's only got until we all go back to Manhattan, in just a few weeks, to decide which of your rookery sisters would be best suited for a lifelong mate. When it's not a really easy decision--like it was for me with you, Rebecca--" as he gave her a quick smile, "and when not just the four sisters, but nearly everyone else in both clans is watching to see who he'll pick, and breed with next year…" He shook his head, then chuckled a little. "I think I just figured out how Angela must have been feeling before she gave in and chose Broadway."

Rebecca sighed. "Humans really do have it easier; there's hardly any pressure on them at all, except from those mothers who want to become grandmothers. Because they can breed any year and just about any time they feel like it, instead of getting only one Breeding Moon every twenty-five years. There's no one talking about the danger of them dying out just because a few folks aren't attracted to the opposite sex…"

"Yeah," Lexington nodded. "Which makes their prejudice against gays just silly, because there's no basis for it in reality. Even with their insistence on two-parent families instead of clan rookeries, if a couple doesn't breed, there's always plenty of young to adopt. Orphans whose parents died for some reason, and even… even kids who were…"

"Abandoned," Robert said gently for him, when Lexington couldn't quite get that awful word past his fangs. "We've seen it, Lex. Our clan has even adopted a couple, over the years; abandoned children and even babies found while on patrol."

Rebecca nodded grimly. "Keith Bayard was adopted as a baby; I remember when he was brought home, after Cassius found him crying in a trash can. Michelle and Tom Bayard took him to raise after the clan was sure he'd been abandoned by his blood-kin, instead of stolen by kidnappers who didn't get their ransom money."

"…Found in a trash can?!?" Lexington blurted out, utterly appalled. To gargoyles, who had children so rarely, even the idea of abandoning a child was sheer anathema. And to just throw a baby out with the trash…!

"How did we get on such a downer subject anyway?" Robert asked, rolling his eyes. "Weren't we going to play RoboRally?"

"Yeah! As soon as we round up some more players," Rebecca said with a smile again. "Lex, can you find Brooklyn and ask him if he's interested? I'll go ask Angela and Broadway; I saw which way they went earlier."

"Sure. And I'll ask Elisa if she wants to play, too," Lexington said before turning to glide away. "She could probably use another reminder that even if she and Goliath are having… problems right now, she's still accepted as part of the clan."

oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo

Lexington didn't find Elisa in the cottage or in any of the other places he'd thought she might be, but he found Brooklyn just before his rookery brother was about to skulk off to the depths of the swamp again. It didn't take much to persuade Brooklyn to join in the game, instead; only an assurance that Robert and Rebecca had made no mention of inviting their unmated rookery sisters to the game. "But after tonight… you really need to get back in the game, Brook. No one's buying that you're still in mourning."

"And who asked for your opinion?" Brooklyn said angrily, then sighed. "Sorry; that was uncalled for. I'm just…"

"Feeling the pressure," Lexington summed up.

"Yeah. And it wasn't helped by you and Hudson choosing your mates so fast, let me tell you! With Hudson, I could sorta understand it; Ursula's the only female close to his age. But with you and Rebecca…"

"It just made sense," Lexington shrugged. "We have so much in common, way more than I'd have in common with any of her sisters; I figured, why bother waiting? And it was the right decision," he said firmly. "Absolutely the right decision to make, all things considered."

Brooklyn had been preparing to launch from the branch they were perched on and glide back to the mansion with him, but now he paused and gave Lex an inquiring glance. "That sounded a little too definite, bro…"

"Come on; let's go learn this RoboRally game!" Lexington said with a determined grin as he launched and headed back to the mansion. "Rebecca said it's a real blast!"

oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo

By the time Lexington and Brooklyn returned to the manor, Rebecca had found Angela and Broadway and enticed them to join the game. RoboRally turned out to be very complex, but that made it even more fun! Rebecca and Robert played two turns on their own, to show the newcomers how to 'program' their robot tokens with the movement cards they'd been dealt and what the consequences were for encountering various board elements. Then they started from the beginning with everyone joining in, and merry mayhem ensued.

Broadway's robot 'died' three times before reaching the first flag; once when Brooklyn's robot accidentally shoved him into a pit, once when Broadway's programming had him walking under a crusher at the wrong moment, and the third time when interference with a movement from Angela (who apologized profusely, but couldn't stop smiling) ended with the robot walking right off the board. Lexington made it to the first flag before anyone else, which Robert said was sheer beginner's luck. But no one, even the most experienced players, made it off the first board and on to the next one with the next flag without their robots dying at least once. Rebecca reached the second flag before anyone else, but with her robot damaged so badly by laser fire that she had to shut down for two turns to repair it before moving again.

Just after Brooklyn's robot reached the second flag, the door to the game room opened and Elisa walked in. "Hey, Elisa! Glad you could join us!" Lexington said cheerfully, then asked Rebecca, "Can we deal her in, and let her start from the first flag instead of the beginning?"

Elisa shook her head. "I appreciate the offer, guys, but I'm not here to play. I came to tell you goodbye; I'll be leaving for the airport soon, to return to New York."

"WHAT?!" The game was forgotten as the clan clustered around Elisa. "You're leaving?" "But why?" "If this is about Father, don't worry, he'll come around soon…"

Elisa met their words with a sad smile. "This isn't really about Goliath. It's just that I've been gone from work too long; remember, everyone there thinks I'm still in my apartment under quarantine, because of the chicken pox. Even a severe, adult-onset case of chicken pox will last only so long; if I stay away any longer, sooner or later someone will get it in their heads to check on me, and then…"

"And then you'd be in deep trouble with your captain," Brooklyn finished for her. "You could end up being kicked off the police force… losing your other clan."

Elisa nodded again. "Which is why I have to go back now. Matt can only cover for me so long; I really should have gone back days ago."

"Have you told Father about this?" Angela asked.

Elisa looked at the floor and muttered, "I would have, if he'd given me the chance. But he hasn't… Well, it really doesn't matter right now. If I was… if things had turned out differently, I would have called Xanatos and asked him for another huge favor. But… but really, this is for the best. Maybe spending some time apart will let Goliath cool down at last, and we can talk on the phone or something."

Brooklyn's eyes narrowed. He didn't believe that any more than he figured Elisa did. Goliath had been avoiding Elisa for the last few nights, even more than Brooklyn had been avoiding the single females around here; time had been spent apart already, and it hadn't done any good that Brooklyn could tell. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder" was an old saying but not necessarily true in all cases.

Elisa looked away for a moment to answer a question from Rebecca, and Brooklyn grabbed Angela's arm and whispered, "Stall her. Keep her here as long as possible."

"Where are you going?" Angela whispered back. "To get Hudson?"

"To get myself fired, most likely," Brooklyn muttered while beckoning to Robert and gesturing towards the door.

Brooklyn slipped out of the room, and as he'd hoped, Robert slipped out after him. Once they were in the hallway, Brooklyn asked Robert, "Where's your still? Last night I overheard one of your elders inviting Goliath to go there and sample some moonshine tonight, so that's the first place to go looking for him."

"It's hidden in the bayou, out of sight from the mansion, and not easy to see from the air either. I'll take you there," Robert said as he waved Brooklyn towards the nearest exit.

oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo

In the distillery, Goliath scowled at his stoneware mug and thought that it must have a crack in the bottom, right at the edge where he couldn't see it; that was the only possible explainy… explishion… reason why the thing kept emptying so quickly.

"Having another, youngster?" Ignatius said cheerfully. "Good to see someone able to keep pace wit' me! Better'n half my clan would be on de floor by now, or tripping over dey own tails."

For some reason, the thought of gargoyles tripping over their own tails struck Goliath as incredibly funny, and he roared with laughter. When he finished laughing, he found himself on the floor; the stupid stool must have tipped over on him. Three-legged stools were treacherous things, slipping out from under you when least expected… aye, treacherous, like…. He scowled again, then dragged himself back onto the stool, and held his mug out for another refill.

Ignatius refilled the mug, and Goliath lifted it to his lips—

But it was slapped out of his grip halfway there, and flew across the room to shatter against the far wall.

Goliath blinked at the brick-red hand that had replaced the mug in his view, then scowled up at Brooklyn. "You--"

"Yeah, me," Brooklyn snarled back, as he grabbed Goliath by the chin, glaring down his beak at him with eyes burning white. "Now you listen, Goliath. Elisa is leaving! She's leaving the clan, because she thinks you stopped loving her like you stopped loving Demona! Because you won't forgive her for what she did to save the clan, when everyone else already has! Are you going to lose another mate, this time to your own goddamn stubbornness?!"

oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo

Goliath evidently did not take well to being berated by his second-in-command. Even while Brooklyn was still speaking to him, he reared back and jerked his chin out of Brooklyn's grip. He was swaying slightly as he got to his feet, but that didn't prevent him from cocking back a ham-sized fist that was aimed right at Brooklyn's head.

Then the meaning of the words that had been spoken, seemed to finally penetrate the fog of alcohol surrounding his brain. "Elisha… Elisa's leaving?" he asked with eyes wide.

"Yes, she's leaving! Your mate is leaving! Do you at least have the decency to say goodbye to her?" Brooklyn demanded.

Instead of answering him, Goliath turned and stumbled out the door of the distillery, knocking over an entire shelf of mugs and liquor-making supplies along the way. Everything came crashing down, but he ignored it as he howled into the night, "Elisa! Don't go!" and staggered in the direction of the manor.

Brooklyn watched him leave with arms folded, nodding with satisfaction. Robert came up and commented, "I feel obliged to point out that that was your clan leader you just yelled at… and lied to, technically. That's not the reason Elisa gave for returning to Manhattan."

"Yep, he is and nope, it wasn't. But at least it got him off his ass and going to talk to her. And afterwards… well, the second-in-command position ain't all it's cracked up to be. There's no glory in leading, just responsibility. If he decides to fire me and choose someone else after this--"

"Then he'll be him a dam' fool, an' I'll be telling him so," Ignatius said as they all watched Goliath scale a tree and launch, to glide back to the mansion… and lose control and crash into another tree after less than ten yards. Ignatius tsked. "Youngster dat big, an' still a lightweight when it comes to good liquor."

"He'll never get there in time without help," Brooklyn said with a shake of his head. "Robert, how are you at tandem gliding? If I take his right side, can you handle his left?"

"Sure. Ignatius, I'll be back as soon as I can to help clean up the mess," Robert said over his shoulder as they headed out together.

oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo

Elisa knew that the others were stalling her, trying to keep her from leaving before Brooklyn came back, and she had a pretty good idea of who Brooklyn had gone after. But after trying for the last five nights to talk to Goliath and being met with stony silence and rejection each time, she just didn't need to deal with more of the same, not on top of everything else. So when Angela finally said, with that I-hope-I-can-get-away-with-this look that she often had in her eyes when trying something risky, "The Elisa I know would never just walk away from any problem, not without a fight!" Elisa only glared at her for a moment before saying, "Then I guess you don't know me as well as you thought," and walking out of the game room.

"Oh, great going, Angela," she heard Lexington hiss just before she closed the door. She shook her head, reflecting that Angela's gambit might have worked, under other circumstances. But what she was doing tonight wasn't walking away from a fight; it was going back to a fight. The fight for justice, and upholding the law of the land; the fight for the gargoyles' right to exist alongside humanity, instead of being wiped out by the Quarrymen or other threats. It was time to focus on the big picture again, not her own little problems. She kept telling herself that, as she found Hudson and Ursula in the clan's rookery and said goodbye to Hudson, who was sad to see her go but seemed to understand. She had to focus on the big picture, not… not on Goliath, and the tatters of her marriage…

Elizabeth and Amelie had made transportation arrangements for her, before she'd gone off to find the clan members and make her goodbyes. Alphonse Dubois was waiting with her bags, to drive her to the airport. Elisa nodded to him, and he opened the passenger door of the van for her… then looked up, and yelped "Incoming!" before diving inside the van himself.

"Elisaaaaaa!" Elisa spun around, to see Goliath tumbling out of the sky and heading right for her, while two other gargoyles circled on high. She yelped and dodged out of the way as he came in for a landing that was anything but smooth, practically on all fours and impacting hard enough to rock the van nearby. He staggered to his feet, digging his talons into the driveway asphalt in an attempt to keep his balance as he cried, "Elisa, don't go! I forgive you, I--" he put a hand to his mouth as he said, "I'm going to be sickuurrrggghh…"

Later on, Elisa decided she would do her best to forget the details of that encounter. She would do her best to forget all the ways Goliath made an utter fool of himself, and lost every shred of dignity he'd ever possessed. She was reasonably sure that Goliath would also do his best to forget… that is, forget what details he remembered at all after sobering up. All that was really important was the gist of the conversation:

Goliath forgave her for keeping secrets from him and semi-usurping his role to make decisions for the clan.

And he still loved her.

Just as she still loved him.

But she was leaving anyway.

Because regardless of his feelings for her or hers for him, she really did need to get back to her job on the police force.

And no, it wasn't really a good idea for Goliath to just drop everything and join her, hiding in the cargo hold of the airline jet that would take her back to New York. What would he do for night after night, stay cooped up inside Elisa's apartment? Patrol the streets solo, with the Quarrymen just waiting to catch a gargoyle alone and without backup?

Elisa's duty lay in New York now, but Goliath's duty was still in New Orleans, strengthening the alliance with the native clan… and convincing Adam that it really would be all right for some of the New Orleans Clan females to live in Manhattan, despite the whole 'war zone' atmosphere they'd encountered in their brief visit.

It took some time, but Goliath finally accepted that they were going to be spending their nights far apart for a while. "But you'll call me every night?" he pleaded.

"Every night, at about three in the morning," Elisa agreed. "That's usually a slow time at the precinct. I'll buy a calling card and use the pay phone outside the stationhouse, and call the cell phone I left for you in the cottage."

"And on your nights off… can you come back down here? Please?" as Goliath shamelessly gave her the puppy-dog eyes.

"Goliath, we're talking a trip of over a thousand miles each way! I can't… oh, what the hell," Elisa sighed. "I already owe Xanatos so many favors, asking for a set of round-trip tickets will only top off the stack. My first weekend off I'll probably need to stay there, to catch up on things, but I'll see if I can come down for the weekend after that."

Goliath had to settle for that, and he finally let her go… with one last deep kiss. Elisa leaned forward to accept the kiss, but pulled back at the last second and said, "Goliath?"

"Yes?"

"I love you. Heart and soul. But right now," as she gave him a kiss on the cheek, "you really, really need to use mouthwash."

oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo

After dealing with Goliath, Brooklyn decided that he really wasn't in the mood for more RoboRally. And Lexington was right; it was past time he stopped using poor Brentwood's death as an excuse to avoid the dating situation. So he went down to Isabel's workshop and knocked on the door. "Isabel? You in there?"

She was, and she came to the door with a smile. "Hi, Brooklyn! What's up?"

"Well… I figured it was time to stop mourning Brentwood and get back to my responsibilities. Uh, to get back to the whole dating thing. And since you're, well, next on the schedule… you wanna go do something?"

Isabel lost her smile while he was talking, and she just stared at him for a moment in silence. Then she said "You know what? Just forget it. Go on to Marie or whatever."

"Huh?"

"I want a male who's actually interested in me, not just seeing me because he thinks he's got an obligation to fulfill and I'm 'on the schedule'! I want a date, not an appointment!" as she slammed the door in his face.

"But--" Brooklyn stared at the closed door, then rested his beak against it. "Smooth, Brook; real smooth," he muttered.

After a few minutes, he knocked again. Isabel answered again, though with noticeably less warmth than the first time. "Yes?"

Brooklyn stuck out his hand and said, "Hi, I'm Brooklyn. I think you're pretty. And spirited. And I'd like to go on a date with you. Are you interested?"

oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo

After helping Brooklyn get Goliath to Elisa before she left, Robert went back to the distillery to help Ignatius clean up the mess Goliath had made while leaving. After putting the shelves back up and putting away what hadn't been broken, and sweeping up the shards of glass and stoneware, Robert asked, "Anything else?"

"Just fig'ring out what's needed to restock," Ignatius muttered as he made marks with a pencil on the back of a shipping label. "Give me a few minutes, an' you can take dis to Adam wit' my compliments. …Oh, right. Almost forgot; I noticed earlier tonight dat someone done swapped out de bottle of LSD tincture on de udder shelf. Someone t'ought dey was being sly, but ol' Ignatius knows his seals. De bottle dere probably ain't got nuttin' but water. I'm t'inking someone be planning mischief…"

oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo

It was a far later than usual start, but Adam agreed that Brooklyn and Isabel could still go into New Orleans for their date; he even drove them in himself. "I needed to talk with the LeBeau family anyway," he explained, wings-covering trenchcoat in hand, as he ushered them into the back of the bakery truck used for bringing gargoyles to and from the city. "And it gives me an excuse to get behind the wheel again."

"Uh, you're not going to try to get this up on two wheels or anything, are you?" Brooklyn asked just before stepping into the truck. A couple nights ago, he and Lexington had been talking about their misadventures with motorcycles, and they had found out that the New Orleans Clan had tales of past mischief and misadventure with motor vehicles that had beat theirs all hollow.

Adam cocked a brow ridge at him. "Someone's been telling tales of my wild younger days, eh?"

"Um…" Brooklyn now wished he'd just kept his beak shut; he really didn't want to mention Robert by name, and possibly get him in trouble.

"Well, you'll be pleased to know that I haven't wrecked any vehicle since 1956. And that last wreck could have been avoided if Stephen had just spread his wings to give us more lift, instead of panicking and bailing out at the last second. Now, all aboard for N'Awlins!"

oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo

Elisa's announcement had completely disrupted the RoboRally game, and when it became evident that neither Brooklyn nor Robert were coming back any time soon, the remaining players decided to pick it up again some other night. Lex and Rebecca went upstairs to play some video games, but Broadway and Angela went outside; Angela decreed it was time for their nightly exercise.

First came the wing exercises, the physical therapy that had been recommended by Dr. Lacey for Broadway's injured wing. Guilliame, the New Orleans clan's designated healer, had reviewed the exercises and approved of their use. Guilliame had also been quite impressed with the abilities of a human healer who'd scarcely even seen a gargoyle before operating on Broadway, and had begun preparing a package of information on gargoyle anatomy and physiology that would be sent to her in New York.

With grim determination, Broadway did the full ten sets of the exercises designed to restore strength, flexibility and range of motion, with Angela uttering words of encouragement the whole time. "That's it, you're doing fine… come on, just a little further… one more, I know you can make it…" When he finally finished the sets, his bald forehead covered with a light sheen of sweat, she said with a smile, "Well done! You really did better tonight than last night. I'm sure Guilliame will okay you for short practice glides again in another week or so! Now, are you ready for our other exercise?"

"G-give me a minute, okay?" Broadway panted as he mopped the sweat off his head. "Just a minute or two, till the worst of the pain wears off." His left wing burned like it was on fire from the inside… not as agonizing as when he'd first started doing the physical therapy, but still hurting… worse than the last time he'd been shot while on patrol.

He'd taken a bullet through the right wing membrane while breaking up a robbery, two weeks before Goliath and Elisa's wedding. The resulting tear had hurt like hell and interfered with his gliding, but he hadn't really been worried about it; he'd known that Brooklyn would tandem-glide with him back to the castle and Angela would stitch the tear closed, and that a day's stone sleep would heal him up right as rain, with only the stinging pain of taking the stitches out the next night. Heck, the next night he'd taken the stitches out himself, since the wound had been near the wingtip where he could reach it easily. Snip-snip with Angela's embroidery scissors, and by the next sunset after that he hadn't even had any marks left from the stitches.

It had been a full eleven nights now since he'd been attacked in his sleep, and undergone surgery to save his left wing. Eleven nights, and his wing was still crippled; that huge mass of scar tissue was still there, as ugly as ever. Guilliame had said he could perform a series of small surgeries to gradually reduce the scarring and replace it with healthy tissue, but not until after Broadway had built up more strength with physical therapy and done all he could to restore his wing without surgery.

Eleven nights, and he still wasn't cleared to glide. Still in pain, still crippled. And despite Angela's constant reassurances, he wondered if he would always be crippled to some degree. But he determinedly shoved those depressing thoughts out of his head once more. Positive attitude, that's what was important. Everyone said that a positive attitude was essential to the healing process. So think positive thoughts, Broadway, he told himself. Like… you're positively going to enjoy what comes next

After a few minutes of just sitting on the cypress log at the edge of the estate, Angela urged him to his feet again. "Come on, we'll start with just walking." And they walked together into the bayou, hand in hand.

But after just a few minutes, Angela let go of his hand while flashing him a quick grin. "Five seconds head start!" she said just before running full-tilt away from him, deeper into the bayou.

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"Mississippi-one, Mississippi-two, Mississippi-three, Mississippi-four, Mississippi-five!" Angela heard behind her as she ran, and she grinned. Broadway always played by the rules, even to the point of counting the five-seconds-head-start out loud before chasing her. Because they both knew that the purpose of this chase wasn't to actually catch her, even if they pretended otherwise. No, the chase was for giving Broadway the cardiovascular exercise he needed in order to lose weight.

Someday, of course, Angela would let Broadway catch her… catch her, and claim far more than a kiss for his reward. But only after they were properly mated, which would not be until after he could fit into the special tuxedo that Yvette was making for him, which would not be until after he lost about eighty pounds. It would take a long time for Broadway to lose that much weight, but Angela was quite willing to wait.

For now, her biggest concern was staying just the right distance ahead of Broadway while he was chasing her. Too close, and there was some risk that he might actually catch her. But as she'd discovered on previous nights, if she got too far ahead of him, he would get discouraged and slow to a stop that much sooner. Her goal was to keep him running hard for as long as possible, for the greatest amount of exercise.

There was still the question of how Broadway would get his exercise after they returned to Manhattan. Central Park had too few trees and too many people going through it even late at night for them to run all over it without being spotted, by people who were apt to be unfriendly to gargoyles. But perhaps Broadway would be sufficiently recovered by the time they returned to Manhattan that he could glide on his own again; gliding was even better cardiovascular exercise. And Angela could lead him on many a merry chase over the streets of Manhattan, until he lost enough weight to suit her… that is, to fit the suit being made for him.

But if his wing never got better…

No. It had to get better, Angela thought to herself with grim determination as she leaped over the trunk of a downed cypress tree and kept on running, splashing lightly through the muck while Broadway splashed heavily after her. She'd keep him at the wing exercises every night, even twice a night if need be. She'd promised Broadway that she'd choose him for her mate, choose him to be the one to chase her across the sky when the Breeding Moon came, and… His wing had to get better!

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Once they were in the city, Isabel took Brooklyn to sneak into the Aquarium of the Americas, since Lexington had talked about how fascinating some of the marine exhibits were, and they clandestinely explored a couple of the tourist steamboats that were moored on piers in the Mississippi River. And she took him somewhere he hadn't been to or heard of before:

"What's this place?" Brooklyn asked as he looked at the building in front of them.

Isabel told him, "It's not finished yet, but in a couple of years it's going to be the National D-Day Museum."

"The what-day?" Brooklyn cocked a brow ridge. "They're making holidays about letters of the alphabet now?"

"Of course not; don't tell me you haven't heard of… oh, that's right; you only came to America a couple years ago, and before that you were in enchanted sleep. Well, you've heard of World War II, right?"

"Oh, yeah; that happened about five or six decades ago. Some guy named Hitler and his Nazis tried to take over all of Europe and wipe out the Jews, at the same time as the Japanese tried to take over Asia, and it took at least a dozen other countries to stop 'em both, including the U.S. That's when they invented the atomic bomb, but it was only used against Japan."

"Well, yes, in a nutshell. But you just summed up nearly four years of total war, and that was just after the U.S. got involved. Things didn't go well for the Allies at first, but eventually they began to turn the tide, and went from a more-or-less defensive position to an offensive position. D-Day was what they called June 6th, 1944; that's the day that the U.S. launched a major offensive against the Nazis, making landfall on beaches in Normandy, France. It was an amphibious assault, coming in from the ocean to invade the land held by the Nazis. In order to do that, they used a new type of landing craft, that were mass-produced by an industrial giant by the name of Andrew Higgins who lived here in New Orleans. Without those landing craft, the invasion wouldn't have happened. So the people who wanted to make a museum commemorating that day, and pretty much all of World War II in the process, decided to put the museum here in Higgins' home town," as Isabel gestured to the building in front of them.

She continued, "The papers say it'll be open to the public sometime in the next few years, almost certainly by the year 2000. But they've already got an exhibit or two in place, and are building the rest. Some of the older clan members come here from time to time, to sneak in and take a look at what they're doing. Claude DuBois actually fought in World War II—remember him, the human elder missing his left arm?—anyway, he's almost blind now, but Stephen brings him in here at least every other month to see and describe for him the progress the builders are making. And they leave behind suggestions on what could be added or improved; I hear it drives the builders nuts, wondering who their mystery critics are! Anyway, did you want to take a look inside?"

He did, so they went inside, and explored the exhibits being built. Brooklyn hadn't read that many U.S. history books since awakening in the modern age, though the clan had read every Scottish history book they could find, hoping to learn what had happened at Castle Wyvern after the centuries-long sleep spell had been cast. It was fascinating, in a grotesque sort of way, to read about the battles that had been fought during that war and how many millions—millions!—of people had died on both sides, over the course of those few years.

The sheer size of some of the numbers Brooklyn read were staggering. Over 156,000 Allied troops had stormed the beaches of Normandy en masse, on June 6th, 1944. And over 10,000 of those men had been killed, reported missing or seriously wounded before the day was over, with the Germans losing almost as many. And after D-Day, the Battle of Normandy had raged on for nearly a month, with thousands more killed every day…

"…It's so hard to get a handle on," Brooklyn finally said to Isabel. "I mean, on paper, these are just numbers. Just numbers, like you'd use for counting coins, or bushels at harvest time. And then you see something like this," as he gestured at the painting in front of them, of a wounded man being dragged to safety by a medic while another soldier provided covering fire, "and you try to imagine it happening that many times…"

Isabel nodded soberly. "It's enough to break somebody's brain. …Which is probably why so many people prefer to only think of the numbers, instead of the people. Numbers don't bleed."

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Robert was worried, and getting frustrated. That bottle of LSD tincture being stolen was a serious matter. As well as a scandalous one; he didn't really want the visiting clan to know that his home clan kept a highly illegal drug on hand, or why.

They only used it in emergencies, when a stranger found out about the clan and that gargoyles coexisted with some human families, and was deemed untrustworthy to keep their secret. Said stranger would be given a drink laced with the LSD tincture—or have the tincture thrown in his face, if he refused to take a drink, since LSD could be absorbed through the skin and eyes—then given a sedative some time after the hallucinations started. The stranger was then dumped in an alley of New Orleans with a bottle of booze from the still, or other drug paraphernalia if they thought it more appropriate. When the stranger finally sobered up and woke up, he was encouraged by human clan members who 'just happened to pass by' that alley in time for his waking, that the gargoyles had just been part of the hallucinations he'd experienced.

LSD was a dangerous drug, with effects and reactions that varied widely from person to person; beside the extreme sensory distortion, people under its influence could experience heart palpitations and tremors, and other physical effects. Nightmarish "bad trips" were as common as "good trips", and even after the initial effects wore off, flashbacks could occur days and occasionally even years later. But that LSD tincture had saved the clan from exposure twice in Robert's memory. However, he doubted the Manhattan Clan would really understand the need for it; not after they'd gone public in their own protectorate!

So this had to be handled quietly… but that included, and really should start with, informing either the leader or the second-in-command. But Adam had gone into town with Brooklyn and Isabel, and Stephen had gone off into the bayou for the night with his mate Giselle; one was definitely out of reach, and the other was not to be interrupted unless one wanted to be strangled with one's own tail.

While waiting for someone to report to, Robert decided to do some investigating on his own. Ignatius said he was sure that the bottle had been undisturbed the last time he'd been in the distillery, two nights ago. So whoever had taken it, had done so some time in the last 40 hours. So, who had been seen gliding out in the general direction of the hidden still recently?

That was a question to put to the gargoyles who'd been at Sentry Posts 3 and 4 last night, and the night before. The sentry and patrol roster was tacked up next to the kitchen, along with the hunting roster that would list the pairs who had valid reason to go into that part of the bayou on those nights. Robert went to get some names, and ask some questions.

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Adam had picked up some chicory coffee and beignets for Brooklyn and Isabel to enjoy on the ride back to the estate, and Brooklyn brushed the last of the powdered sugar from the beignets off his hide just as the truck pulled into the long driveway leading up to the mansion. "Tasty, but messy," he commented.

Isabel agreed, adding, "I can remember getting powdered sugar pretty much all over me when I was a hatchling, when they brought beignets into the rookery. Which is why we got them only on special occasions, or when they were ready to give us all baths afterwards!"

"But you didn't get hardly any on your fur this time," Brooklyn pointed out, "Just a little bit on your muzzle, and that's already gone."

"Because I learned early on to be very careful when eating them," Isabel said with a shrug. "To avoid having to clean up afterwards."

Brooklyn eyed her speculatively. "Does this have something to do with the stereotype of cats hating water?"

Isabel gave him a dirty look as she said, "As a matter of fact, I like water just as much as Adelbert or Catherine or any of us furred and feathered gargoyles; I even learned to swim. It's just that drying off afterwards is a real pain; it can take hours of grooming to get my feathers and fur dry and looking right again."

Brooklyn didn't normally tease, and especially not on the first date, but this time he just had to ask with a grin, "So, no licking yourself clean?"

"Oh, ha ha. So original," Isabel retorted. "No, and I've never gotten a hairball either. But if I ever do, Brooklyn, I'll be sure to name it after you!" But she was grinning too as she said it.

Their banter came to an end when Adam parked the truck and opened the back doors. Brooklyn swallowed hard as he caught sight of a large, familiar shape perched atop the roof of the garage, silhouetted against the sky that was lightening towards dawn. "Isabel, I had a nice time tonight, okay? But now I gotta go do something."

He climbed up the side of the garage, to where Goliath was waiting for him. Keeping his wings caped and his beak down, he approached to within a few steps before stopping… but he did not kneel or let his wings droop down past his shoulders, and he did not turn his head to expose his throat. Showing respect, but not abasing or giving apology. Because even if he ended up losing his second-in-command position, even if he ended up being banished for a few nights, he wasn't a bit sorry for what he'd done. Someone had needed to do it, before they'd ended up losing Elisa as a clan member!

After a few moments of tense silence, Goliath said in grim tones, "Brooklyn…"

"Yes, my leader?" Brooklyn said quietly.

"Neither of us will ever speak of this night's events again. Ever." And with that, Goliath turned and launched, gliding away to the mansion.

Brooklyn gave a huge sigh of relief. That was better than he'd dared hope for! Goliath was willing to let bygones be bygones, so long as he was never reminded of tonight's embarrassments again… which was just fine with him, too.

He turned at the sound of talons on the roof's edge, and saw Isabel climbing up with concern and determination on her features. "What was all that about?" she asked him.

"Sorry, I can't tell you… but it's over, and everything's going to be okay now." He glanced at the eastern sky and estimated, "We have about fifteen minutes left; did you want to show me the sculpture you've been working on, before it's time to perch?"

To be continued

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Another Author's Note: Yes, the RoboRally game that Rebecca and the others played really exists, and is really fun! It was first issued back in the early 1990's in a joint venture between Wizards of the Coast and Garfield Games, with designs by the incredible Phil Foglio, and was so popular that they made four expansion sets before some idiot decided to pull the plug on the whole product line. First edition sets and expansions pop up on eBay sometimes, but nowadays a second edition is being issued by a company called Avalon Hill, and apparently can be purchased through Amazon dot com. I haven't seen the second edition, just reviews for it, that say it's not quite as complex—and therefore not quite as much crazy fun—as the first edition, but still a real blast to play!