LIFE GOES ON

Mating Games

Part 10: While You Were Gone

By Kimberly T. (email: kimbertow AT yahoo etc)

(Author's notes: Yes, we're finally skipping ahead a few days in the timeline. Also, since no one sent in any pics or sketches for ideas for Angela's new clothes, she's now wearing an outfit that everyone reading the new Gargoyles comics should recognize. Who knows, perhaps the change between TV and comics series outfits was spurred by similar circumstances—by her tunic being badly ripped, that is.

Standard acknowledgments and disclaimers apply; I don't own the main characters but I'm not making a dime off this, so please don't sue.)

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10.1: Happy Returns

The stately mansion that the New Orleans Clan inhabited had been built and maintained over the years with cohabitation between gargoyles and human in mind. The rooftop had a gentle slope and resembled a checkerboard from on high, with its dozens of low, flat gables built into it that were supposedly for ventilating the attic, but were really for creating level platforms for perching on during the day. The spacious attic was really a third story to the house, with a ceiling high enough to stand up under and a double row of skylights for illumination; that was where the clan slept when a hurricane threatened, or when they had advance warning of strangers visiting their home during the day. In addition, many of the second-story rooms had balconies, and glass-paned doors that could be opened from the outside.

After receiving the good news, Goliath leaped off the roof and began circling above the house, looking for one balcony in particular; one that he'd been told would have a familiar red leather bomber jacket draped across the railing. His heart leaped when he saw it, a sign that his beloved had returned. "Elisa!"

He landed on the balcony of the guest bedroom and peered through the glass door, to find Elisa sitting up in the bed, yawning and stretching her arms. She saw him as well, and gave an inviting smile as she crooked her finger to beckon to him. He wasted no time in opening the door and going inside, to lean over the bed and enfold her in his arms and wings. "I've missed you so, beloved!"

"I've missed you two, Big Guy," Elisa said as she snuggled into his embrace. "Think this bed's big and sturdy enough to hold both of us?"

It was, and Goliath quickly whisked back the sheets to lie down beside her. But instead of immediately helping her out of her satin nightgown, he covered her again with one of his own leathery wings, and simply held her to his chest for a few moments as he murmured into her hair, "Never before in my life has only nine nights seemed like an eternity."

"It was way too long," Elisa agreed as she pillowed her head on his bicep, then covered her mouth in a vain attempt to conceal a tremendous yawn.

Goliath looked down at her in concern. "Maurice told me you arrived just a short while ago; nearly eight hours later than planned. What happened?"

"Oh, the plane I was on developed engine trouble on the port side; I think a couple of high-flying birds got sucked into the jet intake. We had to make an emergency landing in Columbia, Georgia, and then wait for the airline to find some other way of getting everyone where they wanted to go." Elisa grouched, "I had to eat a big helping of humble pie, to ask Xanatos to spring for first-class tickets a flight that was non-stop between New York and New Orleans. And I ended up riding in a twin-prop puddle-jumper that stopped in at least a dozen other towns before getting to the New Orleans airport! But at least I got here in time for a nap before sunset."

"But you need more sleep than you've had," Goliath said as he gently stroked her hair. "You should go back to sleep, beloved; nothing important will be happening tonight until midnight."

"Only if you stay here with me, Big Guy," Elisa said firmly. "It's been nine days, after all; I'm severely behind on my newlywed's ration of hugs and kisses."

Goliath chuckled, and proceeded to make up for the deficiency… then paused after barely getting started, and frowned at the knock on the door to the hallway. "Who is it?" he called out without getting up.

"It's me, Broadway," a voice called out. "Just wanted to let you know there's a tray of food outside the door here, for whenever you're hungry."

"Aw, thanks, Broadway! You can bring it on in," Elisa said cheerfully as she poked her head up from under Goliath's wing.

Broadway opened the door and came in, carrying a covered tray and two bottles, one of a local wine and one of Evian water. "Hi, Elisa! Welcome back!"

"Thanks!" Elisa said again with a smile as she sat up in the bed. "Just leave it on the table, there… and then go out the window, okay? I want to see you in the air again!"

"Sure thing!" Broadway said with an even wider smile, as he set the tray on the table. Goliath and Elisa both got out of bed and followed him to the balcony door, and watched as he climbed up onto the sturdy balcony railing, spread his wings, then leaped off into the shadows of dusk and glided away.

Elisa cheered "Go, Broadway, go!" at the clan member's departing figure, and he banked in flight enough to give her a thumbs-up before gliding off to some other destination. Elisa leaned back contentedly against Goliath and said, "It's good to see him in the air again. I gotta admit, I was wondering if it'd ever happen, after what that damn 'assassin for Jesus' did to his wing."

"After Guilliame cleared him for gliding three nights ago, on his first launch he stayed in the air nearly an hour before coming to land," Goliath said with a reminiscent smile. "Angela and I paced him for several miles out over the bayou, and he might well have tried to glide out past the edge of this clan's territory if I hadn't reminded him of the celebratory feast that Martha had prepared for him. Not that anyone would begrudge him staying aloft as long as possible, after being denied the sky for nearly three full weeks!"

They returned to bed and snuggled again, with Goliath gently combing her hair with his talons while she affectionately rubbed his brow ridges with her knuckles. "So, Big Guy, since I missed our phone call last night… how'd it go? I want a play-by-play, everything that happened after you all woke up," Elisa insisted.

Goliath nodded, and proceeded to tell the story:

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Last night at dusk, after having had three dates with all four ladies who were interested in him, Brooklyn was about to begin his fourth date with Marie. She'd planned for them to have another trip into New Orleans to enjoy what they could of the nightlife there, and they were about to glide down and climb into the delivery truck the clan used for transportation to New Orleans when Goliath came up to Brooklyn and said they needed to talk on a private matter. His face was serious, even grim, and Brooklyn hastily told Marie that they'd have to wait a few minutes before leaving for town.

The two of them perched on the roof to the clan's garage, after politely asking one of the clan members who had been perched there to give them some privacy. Everyone politely stayed out of earshot, but several people saw Brooklyn facing Goliath as his leader spoke… then stepping back as if he'd been slapped, his face a mask of shock and dismay… then waving his arms and wings for emphasis as he said something back to Goliath, who merely crossed his arms and slowly shook his head in response. Finally, Brooklyn bowed his head to his clan leader, walked dejectedly to the edge of the roof and glided away, while Goliath launched in a different direction.

Brooklyn landed next to Marie on the roof of one of the clan's workshops, looking as depressed as a gargoyle can get without bursting into tears. Without looking directly at her, he said, "Let's postpone the date till tomorrow, okay? I wouldn't be good company tonight."

"Why; what happened?" Marie asked.

"I've been demoted. I'm not second-in-command anymore…"

At virtually the same time, Goliath landed next to Adam, who was consulting with his human clan member Amelie about some clan business. Adam asked Amelie to stand by for a minute, then said to Goliath with concern, "He didn't take it well, did he?"

"No, he didn't," Goliath said with a shake of his head. "But then, what gargoyle would take such a loss well?"

There was a brief pause, during which Adam glanced out of the corner of his eye at Amelie, who was clearly quite curious as to what loss Goliath was referring to but staying silent. Then Adam said with a shake of his head, "I'm thankful I've never had to do that; to tell someone that they were no longer suitable for a position of responsibility. Telling Brooklyn that you removing him from second-in-command must have been difficult for you both."

"It was," Goliath confirmed. "But after his irresponsible behavior in the bayou, actions which not only got him nearly killed but endangered Isabel as well…" He sighed and said, "At least it will be much easier to tell Broadway that I'm appointing him to the position, since he's shown such maturity of late. Which I should do now, before the word gets out and he hears it from someone else," as he launched again to gracefully spiral down to the door to the kitchen.

On the other rooftop, Brooklyn finished telling Marie what had happened and why, then ended it with a feeble joke. "So, no authority, no position of respect… but at least I've still got my looks, right?"

Marie gave a half-smile in reply. "Yes, you've still got your looks. Well, if we're not going on a date tonight, I've got duties to attend to. I'll see you later, okay?"

"Okay," Brooklyn said dully as she turned from him, launched off the roof and glided away. Then, instead of gliding off as well, he simply dropped from the low roof to the ground, and slowly trudged across the lawn to the main house.

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Amelie was well known as the biggest gossip in the New Orleans Clan, and news spread through the clan as quick as lightning. And reactions to the news were varied:

Down in the kitchen, the moment Goliath left Martha leaped into action. She'd already been quietly searching one of her recipe books while Goliath had been talking to Broadway, and now she dashed for the pantries, flung them open and began tossing ingredients onto the kitchen table, while saying over her shoulder to Broadway, "You'll make a great second-in-command, Broadway! You really care about people, and that's the most important trait a leader can have; once you have some experience in making the tough decisions, you'll probably make the best leader your clan ever had! And I promise that tomorrow I'll make you a real feast, to celebrate your promotion… but tonight, I'm going to make something for Brooklyn instead. He's got to be hurting inside right now… you said his favorite dish was beef ragout, right?"

"Right," Broadway nodded, seeming to come out of a stunned-happy daze.

"Then beef ragout it is, and some fresh-baked biscuits too; when it comes to comfort food, you can't go wrong with hot buttered biscuits."

"True, can't go wrong with those," Broadway agreed. "And he really likes pecan pie, too; do we still have any left from last night?"

Martha dashed for the fridge again, then said, "Nuts; it's gone! Someone must have finished it off during the day. But Tujage's always has pecan pie on their menu, and Evan Rousseau owes me a big favor," as she hurried to the phone. As she started dialing one of the restaurants in town that employed human clan members, she asked Broadway, "And would you please check the freezer to see if we have any vanilla ice cream left? I think it'd be better if Brooklyn drowned his sorrows in root-beer floats than in Ignatius's moonshine... Hello, may I speak to Evan Rousseau in the kitchen, please? Tell him it's family calling… Hello, Evan? It's Martha; remember that favor you owe me, for helping you with that love letter to Tessa? I'm calling it in tonight, in the form of pecan pies. How many can you spare and how fast can you get here?"

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When Yvette heard the news, she tossed aside the work she'd been doing on Lexington's wedding attire and hurried out of her sewing room, searching the mansion until she found Brooklyn sitting alone in a darkened room, staring at the floor. He glanced up long enough to say curtly to her, "No dating tonight, okay? It's not your turn anyway."

"No dating tonight," Yvette agreed. "But I'm not here for a date. Amelie told me what happened, Brooklyn. How could your leader be so—so unforgiving, so heartless?! Adam would never just remove someone from a post like that, without giving them a second chance to prove themselves; not unless some truly horrendous crime had been committed!"

Brooklyn just shook his head in reply, and Yvette knelt by his chair to look up into his face as she said earnestly, "I have no doubt you're feeling wretched tonight… but this is not the end of the world for you, Brooklyn. I say that as a friend, you understand? No matter what your status is, no matter even if you choose another for a mate, I like you as a person and I hope we will always be friends."

That perked Brooklyn up a little, enough that one corner of his beaked mouth twitched in a half-smile. "Thanks."

Emboldened by getting even a slight response, Yvette continued, "And if you find it is now too hard to face your old clan members, you know that Adam would welcome you into our clan with open arms! He would surely value your perspective and your experience in fighting crime in New York. I will not lie and say that he would make you a second-in-command here, for Stephen has that role already. But once you have fully settled into our ways, you could end up leading a patrol group or hunting party, and those are respected positions here!"

There was a knock on the door, and Martha poked her head in. "Hello? Brooklyn? Etienne said he saw you come in here… Oh, am I intruding?" as she spotted Yvette by his chair.

"Not at all!" Yvette reassured her. "This isn't a date; I was just telling Brooklyn how Adam would welcome him into our clan if he so chose. He'd make a fine patrol group leader someday, don't you think?"

"Absolutely!" Martha agreed as she came in with a tray. "Or leading a hunting party; that's an important position too, and you've already proven yourself an excellent hunter! In the meantime, Brooklyn, I've brought you a root beer float. And there's beef ragout cooking in the kitchen, it'll be ready soon…"

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When Isabel heard the news, she also rushed from her workshop in the garage to the main house, but glanced in on Brooklyn only long enough to see that Yvette and Martha were keeping him company, Yvette playing soothing music on the piano while Martha tried to coax him to eat. Then she continued to search the mansion room by room until she found Goliath, in the library with the clan's chronicler Benedict.

Goliath had been about to ask Benedict something, but paused when Isabel walked right up to him, then abruptly dropped to her knees. Sitting on her heels, she leaned forward and braced herself on her hands until her long mane of black curls fell forward to sweep against the floor at Goliath's feet, exposing the back of her neck to the Manhattan Clan leader.

Benedict stared at her in alarm, asking, "Isabel, cherie, what's wrong? What happened, why are you groveling to Goliath?" But she would not answer him, just stayed in that pose, so Benedict turned to Goliath and said testily, "Well, are you going to just leave her there? Say something!"

Goliath had been staring down at Isabel in consternation, but at Benedict's prodding he said hastily, "Get up, please; tell us what's troubling you."

Isabel got up from the full groveling pose but remained on her knees as she said to Goliath, "Honored leader of the Manhattan Clan, this lowly member of the New Orleans Clan asks permission to speak freely, and offer information on a matter that concerns your clan."

Goliath glanced at Benedict while gesturing at Isabel, asking silently if this was typical behavior for her or for the New Orleans Clan. Benedict mutely shook his head, still staring at Isabel, so Goliath sighed and said to her, "Permission granted, not that you actually needed it. And what is it that you have to say?"

"I have to say that I believe a judgment was made on insufficient information," Isabel said quietly from where she was kneeling. "I was told that you have stripped your warrior Brooklyn of his responsibilities as second-in-command, because you felt that he was no longer worthy of them…"

"You did what" Benedict interrupted, staring at Goliath in dismay.

"…And that your decision was based on what happened in the bayou last week," Isabel continued. "On Brooklyn's irresponsible attempt to bring in prey that was too difficult for him to catch, an action that nearly cost him his life and cost the clan some fishing supplies. Clan leader, I have heard that Brooklyn took all the blame for that incident on himself… but the blame does not lie with him at all. The blame lies with me, and me alone! I have hunted and fished in these territories all my life, and it was my responsibility to guide and inform one new to hunting here of the local dangers; a responsibility I failed in. Brooklyn had no idea how large gators can get in the wild, nor of how to estimate the size of a gator while it's mostly in the water… because I did not make a point of informing him, before it was too late. His error in that incident was not due to irresponsibility but to ignorance, and that has already been cured! And there are many who would say that his gallantry in taking all the blame on himself, to spare me from punishment at the hands of my own clan leader, is a most admirable trait."

"Yes, many of us would say that," Benedict chimed in, giving Goliath a raised brow ridge.

"Therefore, I most humbly beg you," Isabel said as she lowered herself to the floor again, "to reconsider your decision to remove Brooklyn from his responsibilities. It is not right that he be so punished for my mistake, my irresponsibility."

Goliath heaved a great sigh, then said carefully, "I'm sure Brooklyn would appreciate what you have said, Isabel… but my decision stands."

Isabel reared up off the floor and back to her knees as she asked bluntly, "But why? Why have you chosen to--to dishonor him, when he has done nothing wrong? And after he proved himself worthy countless times over by keeping your clan together and safe for nearly a year, while you were away and traveling around the world on that magical quest?"

"I have my reasons… and they are not for you to question," Goliath said as he stared at her with arms folded across his chest.

"Not for me to question… because I'm not a member of your clan, or because you just don't listen to what other people have to say?" Isabel said as she got to her feet with her ears laid back and her tail lashing. "We sure saw plenty of that earlier, when you wouldn't even forgive your poor mate for doing what she did to save your skins!"

That got Goliath's eyes to start glowing and a growl rumbling in his chest, but Isabel refused to back down; instead, she growled, "It's a piss-poor leader who doesn't listen to reason—or have the balls to admit it when he's made a mistake!" And with that, she turned her back on him and stalked out of the room.

Goliath shook his head at her retreating figure, but said nothing. After she'd slammed the door behind her, he turned back to Benedict. "As I was saying earlier, I'd like to find out--"

"I'm sorry, but I just remembered urgent business elsewhere," Benedict said coolly as he also headed for the door. "Perhaps some other time, Manhattan clan leader."

Goliath stared after him in frustration, then shook his head again. After Benedict had also left the room, he muttered to himself, "This was a bad idea…"

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Isabel joined Brooklyn and the others and said in honest distress, "What happened really was all my fault, and I tried to tell Goliath that, but he just wouldn't listen! I'm so sorry, Brooklyn… Maybe if I talked to Adam, he could--"

"No, don't go bothering your leader with this," Brooklyn said with a shake of his head. "It wouldn't help."

"Adam already knows," Yvette chimed in from where she was sitting at the piano. "Amelie told me she heard all about it from a discussion between Adam and Goliath."

"And yesterday, while bringing food to the sentries, I passed Adam and Goliath and noticed they were talking about something that Adam didn't like; he was shaking his head but looking resigned," Martha said. "I thought it was about the situation in Manhattan again, but more likely it was about Brooklyn's demotion. And if Adam couldn't talk him out of it beforehe made his decision public…"

"No chance at all afterwards," Brooklyn said with a shake of his head. "When Goliath makes a decision, it's final."

"Even when it turns out to be a bad decision," Isabel said with an undercurrent of growl. "That's the sort of leader who gets people killed for no good reason… and you're better off without a leader like that! Just say the word, Brooklyn, and Adam will welcome you into our clan in the blink of an eye!"

Other clan members also stopped by the room, to express their sympathies for Brooklyn on his demotion and suggest that he'd be better off in their clan. Cassius, one of the hunting party leaders, even said that he'd welcome Brooklyn into his group in a split-second, and that he'd been thinking about suggesting to Adam that they add another hunting party to the rotation; after Brooklyn proved himself proficient in hunting all the local game—which surely wouldn't take long—he might end up organizing and leading the new hunting party.

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Many people stopped in to offer their sympathies for Brooklyn, but a few also stopped by the kitchen to offer their congratulations to Broadway, on becoming a second-in-command. He accepted their congratulations with a smile but kept on cooking, saying that since they were still on vacation there wasn't really much for a second-in-command to do right now, and he might as well keep on helping out while Martha was occupied.

Evan Rousseau, who'd just driven up to the estate on his motorcycle with four pecan pies in a box tied to the backrest, commended his helpful nature as he handed the pies over to Broadway. "If you want my 'pinion, I think a good leader has gotta be a good helper first. Or once everyone starts calling him 'boss' he'll start thinking he's de most important one around, and forget dat a leader's job is to help everyone by leading wisely," Evan said. "When a leader gets a big ego, it's bad news; just take a look at de asshole we got for a mayor now! But never mind dat, just let Martha know her pies are here, and I hope Brooklyn appreciates dem. I gotta get back to work; I promised I'd be back by closing and cleanup."

Broadway bid him farewell, and Evan hurried out of the kitchen just as Marie walked in. She nodded to Evan in passing, then approached Broadway with a smile. "I'm told that congratulations are in order, Broadway!"

"Yeah, thanks," Broadway nodded and smiled at her, while he kept on rolling out the dough for the biscuits he was making.

"So, do you think this will make Angela happy at last?" Marie sweetly inquired.

Broadway stopped rolling, and turned to her. "Beg pardon? Why would you say that?"

"Well, we've all seen how she treats you; constantly nagging you to improve yourself," Marie shrugged. "Perhaps now that Goliath has shown everyone how much he values you by making you second-in-command, she'll realize that you're just fine as you are."

"Angela's not like that!" Broadway protested, but the protest was weak. "She just… she just wants me to lose some weight, that's all. And there's a doctor up in Manhattan who wants me to lose weight, too."

Marie gave a ladylike sniff of contempt. "Doctors always want their patients to lose weight; to exercise every day and to drink plenty of fluids. That's what they say when they can't think of anything else to say. And this is the doctor in Manhattan who had never spoken with a gargoyle or seen them as people, until the night she operated on you, yes?"

"I'm not sure she sees us as people even now," Broadway muttered as he frowned in remembrance of Dr. Lacey, and her rude and abrasive behavior that had set everyone's teeth on edge.

"Compare her to our Guilliame; has he been nagging you to lose weight? To exercise your wings, yes, but he has not been forbidding you snacks and desserts, and treating you like a disobedient hatchling instead of an adult. Only Angela has done that, and all the while saying that she loves you… when it's obvious she doesn't."

"She does!"

Marie sorrowfully shook her head. "No, Broadway; it truly pains me to say this, but you deserve to know the truth, and she does not love you. True love means accepting the way people are, not trying to change their partners to suit themselves. A real partner would accept you as you are, with the build of a sumo wrestler… who are regarded as great heroes in Japan, you know. Yes, those sumo wrestlers are considered very manly…"

All the while she'd been talking, she'd been slowly coming closer, until she was within arm's reach. With her final words she took his arm by the bicep and gently squeezed it, feeling the muscle underneath. Then she walked around behind him, 'accidentally' brushing her feathered wing ever-so-lightly across his back between his wing joints, before coming around to take his other arm as she finished, "Very manly indeed."

Broadway had gulped and gone rigid as he felt her feathers brushing against his sensitive crewenn, and he stared at her as she took his arm. Then he shut his eyes tightly for a moment, and shook his head before opening them and lifting a flour-covered hand… to firmly remove her hand from his other arm. "Forget it, Marie. I'm not interested in you."

"You heard him; he's not interested in you," a new voice chimed in. They turned to see Angela in the doorway, glaring daggers at Marie. "So get your talons off him now, or I'll beat you unconscious, then pluck you like a chicken for the stewpot! I bet it'd take more than a day's stone sleep for all your feathers to grow back!"

Marie left in haste, glaring daggers back at Angela as she went.

After Marie left the kitchen, Angela pounced on Broadway, hugging him while saying happily, "I just heard the news; congratulations! You'll be a good second-in-command, Broadway; I was the second-in-command for decades back on Avalon, and I can give you advice if you ever need it."

"Uh, gee, thanks, Angela," Broadway said, looking around quickly. Then he gently grasped Angela by the arm and tugged her with him into the walk-in pantry, and closed the door behind them.

Angela figured that Broadway had wanted privacy for kissing his mate-to-be, and closed her eyes as she lifted her face to him, but instead Broadway whispered, "Listen, Angela… it's not what you think…"

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Some time later, Angela walked into the New Orleans Clan leader's den/office, looking troubled. Adam glanced up from some paperwork he'd been perusing and said, "Yes, Angela? Can I help you?"

Still looking faintly troubled, Angela said, "Broadway said to tell you, 'it happened, just like he figured it would'."

"Already?" Adam slowly shook his head. "I should probably be more surprised, but… well. Let's get this over with," as he stood up decisively from his desk and headed for the door.

A few minutes later, Adam was outside the entrance to the clan's large dining hall, ringing a large iron bell that was mounted next to the entrance. The sound carried far across the estate and into the bayou, and everyone who heard it came running or gliding in; the bell was rung only to signify all-clan gatherings, for feasting or other ceremonies, or imparting important news to everyone.

Once the majority of both clans had assembled, Adam said, "I apologize for calling everyone in on such short notice, but something rather significant has happened tonight. Some of you have already heard a version of it, but it's now time for Brooklyn to tell it in his own words," as he gestured Brooklyn to the center of the gathering.

Brooklyn shuffled forward with his head down, cleared his throat a couple of times, and said, "Uh, well… Some of you have heard tonight that Goliath took my second-in-command duties away from me and gave the job to Broadway."

A rising tide of murmurs began swelling in the air, but Adam cleared his throat sharply and the noise stopped in a hurry.

"Except, uh… actually, he didn't. I'm still the second; it was all just a trick."

This time it wasn't a rising tide, but an explosion of exclamations and outbursts coming at Brooklyn from all directions. Adam had to bellow twice for order before the noise died down, while Brooklyn cringed back and almost-but-not-quite tried to hide behind his own wings.

Once the noise had abated enough for him to speak again, Brooklyn said earnestly, "It was all my idea, and I really and sincerely apologize to everyone who got suckered in; I hadn't realized just how many people would care about what happened to me, or what we made you think had happened. When I talked Goliath and Broadway into going along with it, I was just thinking about the four people this trick was mainly aimed at, as a sort-of test."

Adam raised his hand to pause Brooklyn's speech so he could add, "Fortunately, Goliath had the good sense to bring me in on the deception as well, since it would be affecting my people. Since it involved no physical harm to anyone, I finally agreed to let them play their trick, on one condition: that the deception would last no more than one night, to be cleared up before dawn. And even sooner than that, if they got the results they were expecting in just a short time," as he gestured for Brooklyn to continue.

Now Brooklyn stood up a bit straighter, and his expression went from apologetic to cynical. "Oh, we got results all right. I told you this was a test; a test to see which of the ladies I've been dating were interested in me for me, or just for my position and status in the clan. And when word got out that I'd been demoted, Yvette, Martha and Isabel all came in to see me and tell me how sorry they were for me, and say that losing my status didn't change how they thought of me. But Marie? After I told her myself about losing my job to Broadway, she just left, saying she had duties to attend to." He focused on a particular point in the assembly as he said sardonically, "Duties to what, Marie? To your mirror and makeup case? Because Broadway just told me that not even two hours after I told you the news, you were in the kitchen making a pass at him!"

And now all eyes turned from Brooklyn to Marie, who was blushing bright red clear to her feathered scalp.

In a voice heavy with sarcasm, Brooklyn continued, "Thank you so much, Marie, for showing everyone where your true interests lie. That makes it easier for me to say this: You're off the dating schedule, and not only do I not want you at all for a mate, I'd be happier if I never saw your face again!"

"Like I'd ever really wanted to see your ugly beak?" Marie shot back at him, in rage fueled by humiliation. "Your status was the only thing you had going for you, you scrawny medieval creep! Your clan would have been better off if you'd died with the rest in the Dark Ages!"

Amid assorted gasps of dismay and outrage, Adam said through gritted teeth, "Marie… you will spend the rest of this night in the bayou. Leave now"

Marie ran for the door, and the crowd parted to let her pass—except someone whipped a tail out in front of her as she ran past them. She tripped and went sprawling, landing flat on her face… and no one made a move to help her back up. After a moment of just lying there stunned, she got to her feet, with her nose already swelling and her chin scraped and bloody. "Who did that?!?" she demanded, but all she got in answer were smirks, except for those who were still frowning in disapproval. Covering her face with her hands, she ran out the door, with a parting and muffled "I hate you all!"

Once she was gone, Brooklyn cleared his throat and said, "Um… Again, to everyone besides Marie, I'm really sorry about the whole deception, and I promise not to do it ever again. One thing I've learned tonight is that my actions can affect a lot more people than I think they will."

"Then some good has come of this after all," Adam declared with a friendly thump on his shoulder. "You'll find that's even more true when you become a leader in your own right. For every action you take, there are consequences beyond the immediate results. Now, everyone, I thank you all for coming, and unless someone else has pressing clan business, this impromptu meeting is adjourned."

The gathering broke up, as clan members went back to their duties. Martha muttered unhappily as she went back to the kitchen, "Evan's not going to be happy when he finds out he drove all the way up here for a false alarm. Now I need to come up with a way to pay him back not only for the pies, but for missing nearly three hours of work…"

Walking with Martha as far as the kitchens, since her tailoring workshop was in that direction, Yvette commiserated with her. "If they were so sure of getting results they did, couldn't they have just lied to Marie, instead of letting all of us be fooled?"

Isabel approached Goliath slowly, with her head down and her wings dragging the floor. When she was close enough that they could talk privately, she said quietly, "Manhattan Clan Leader… earlier tonight and in the heat of anger, I…I said some things that were inappropriate. I apologize; I…"

Goliath just stood and glared at her until she almost groveled again, before letting her off the hook with a half-smile. "You made some convincing arguments for Brooklyn's reinstatement, up until the point you lost your temper. You'll need to work on keeping that temper under control, in the future."

"Yes, Goliath," Isabel said meekly, and turned to go out to her workshop. But then she saw Brooklyn, and changed course to intercept him before he could walk out the door. "Brooklyn, I want you to know something…"

"Yeah, Isabel?"

"If you ever, evertry to deceive me again, you're gator bait!"

Brooklyn went pale beneath his brick-red skin. "Um… you don't mean that literally, do you?"

Remembering just then the scars Brooklyn still had on his tail from being attacked and nearly killed by a gator, Isabel said with chagrin, "Um, no. That's just an expression we use down here. But I don't like being lied to, even when it's for what you think is a good cause, understand? It really, really pisses me off."

Brooklyn nodded agreement and said wryly, "I seem to have a talent for doing that, don't I?"

Isabel smiled back and shrugged. "All I can say is, you're a male of many talents."

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After Goliath related to Elisa all that he'd witnessed or had been told about, he finished, "I saw Marie come gliding back in from the bayou while Maurice was telling me you'd arrived, but she ignored the main perches and headed straight for the garage. I wouldn't be surprised to find that she's talked some human clan member into driving her into New Orleans, to stay at their safe house for a while." He half-chuckled as he added, "I just hope it won't be in the same vehicle Brooklyn and Martha are riding in, for their fourth date together."

"That would be Awkward, with a capital everything," Elisa agreed. "I almost feel sorry for her… almost." After a brief pause, she continued, "A few nights ago you told me about the plan to go to Avalon and see about matching the remaining single ladies here with some of Angela's rookery brothers; I have to wonder if any of them could handle Marie without becoming miserable in the long run. Since she's such a social climber, the one she'd be most apt to go for is their leader, Gabriel; do you know if he's mated already?"

"I've no idea," Goliath said, shaking his head. "During our times on Avalon, there were always more pressing things to pay attention to than the youngsters' scents. But I hope he is, for the Avalon Clan's sake. Everything I've heard about Marie's past, and seen of her habits and attitude, leads me to believe that having her in a position to influence the authority over an entire clan would spell disaster."

"No argument there," Elisa said. "But you really didn't notice his scent? I thought that folks' scents were pretty important for you."

"They are, but males tend to notice the scents of females before noticing other males," as Goliath shrugged. "And that's done most often by the unmated clan members, those who haven't already found a mate to bond with. By the time we went to Avalon, my heart had already bonded me to you, my love," as he nuzzled her neck and breathed deeply of her scent.

"Mmm, Big Guy," Elisa sighed as she hugged him closer. And that put an end to all talk for a while.

A few hours later (which did include another nap), while getting dressed to join the others and while discussing the upcoming event for the night, the subject of Marie came up again. Goliath mused, "I would normally never wish trouble on another gargoyle, but perhaps it would be for the best if Marie got into serious trouble one night, and was banished for more than just a few hours. If she was ever exiled and truly alone for a long period of time, she might learn to value and respect her fellow gargoyles, as more than just the means to an end."

Elisa reminded him that according to what she'd heard from Amelie weeks ago, Marie had been banished once already for four nights, after deliberately wrecking one of Isabel's sculptures, and returned from that banishment with the same attitude that she'd had before. "It's true, some folks just need to be shown the error of their ways, as the saying goes. But some people are just wrong in the head, Big Guy, and all the therapy in the world won't fix them; all you can do is make sure they don't mess with anyone else's lives."

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

In New Orleans, Brooklyn had made a point of pausing in his and Martha's date to stop in on Evan, so Brooklyn could personally apologize to him for last night's deliberate deception. "By the time I found out you were on your way to the estate with 'emergency comfort food', it was a little too late to call you and let you know you didn't need to come after all. But that was really good pecan pie! Lex was right, your pies are about 300 percent better than the best pecan pie we ever had back in Manhattan." And he meant every word of that, since up before visiting New Orleans, the only pecan pie any of the clan had ever tasted had been the little snack pies found in vending machines, which Elisa had occasionally thrown into the grocery bags. "And, uh, Martha told me about your missing work and losing some pay as a result, so is there any way I can make it up to you? Some fresh meat for your refrigerator, maybe?"

Evan considered the question. "Well, I heard about your tangling with a gator and coming out worse for wear; if you ever figure on getting even with 'em, I'll take de first two gator tails you bring in. And a jar of Martha's special sauce for gator steaks," he said with a wink at Martha. "I'm gonna figure out your secret recipe yet, girl!"

"You be sure and let me know when you do," Martha said smugly, before she and Brooklyn left to see more of New Orleans' nightlife. But she glanced at a clock as they went out the window and said to Brooklyn, "It's getting close to midnight; did you want to head back to the safe house, so you can call the estate and give them a welcome-back?"

Brooklyn shook his head "Nahh, I'll just make a point of seeing them and saying so in person when we get back later. This 'scrawny medieval creep' still doesn't think much of modern telephones. You get no sight or scent, and--"

"Don't you ever refer to yourself that way!" Martha interrupted him fiercely. "Marie was dead wrong to say what she did; she just wanted to hurt you, for daring to expose her for what she is!" She grabbed his arm and forced him to land with her on a nearby rooftop, and took his beak in her hands to stare into his eyes as she continued forcefully, "Marie is the nastiest kind of bitch who'll say anything, true or not, to hurt anyone she feels like. She enjoys hurting people, and you should never let anything she says get to you! Understand?!?"

Startled, Brooklyn stared back at her as he said, "This is the first time I've seen you get even a little angry." And it wasn't lost on him that her eyes had finally gotten that red glimmer when she thought someone else had been hurt. Not that Brooklyn had really been hurt by Maria's words; he'd been called worse while up in Manhattan, and had automatically discounted it as verbal barbs from an opponent. But for Martha to be so protective of him, from Marie… "She really hurt you back when you were younger, didn't she?"

Marie glanced away, embarrassed. "Well, yes, but that's in the past now. I don't let her hurt me anymore."

Brooklyn cocked his head as he considered her words. "Not anymore… except I heard her say some not-nice stuff to you back before we got this dating schedule hashed out, and you just took it without a word in return. Isabel and even Yvette let her have it right back when she turned on them, but you just went back to the kitchen. Old habits die hard, and she still gets to you, huh?"

Martha finally sighed and nodded. "I know I shouldn't… but she's right in that I'm fat and not that pretty, and--"

"And she's dead wrong about that too," Brooklyn interrupted. "You are pretty, just a more, um, 'pleasingly plump' pretty than Marie—who looks damn scrawny in comparison, I'll have you know. Don't buy into that whole modern attitude about 'thinner is better'; back in the time I was raised, there were plenty of ladies in the human courts who were plump and pretty, and had their men running after them like stags after does! And in fact, since Angela's hatching clan was raised by humans from back then, her rookery brothers should also know that thinner ain't necessarily better."

It was Brooklyn's turn to take Martha by the chin and look into her eyes as he said solemnly, "Martha, we may never be mates, but we're friends, and I promise you: I'm gonna find you a mate who'll treat you right. Even if it takes going on a World Tour myself, and visiting every clan with your photograph and copies of your books!"

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

At midnight, the clan gathered out on the lawn behind the mansion, in a semicircle facing the bayou. Standing next to Goliath, Elisa peered into the rampant greenery and in the dark skies above as she whispered to him, "Do you see any sign of them?"

"Not at the moment; they're hidden by the trees and undergrowth. But I spotted them earlier, gliding in as we came out here," Goliath whispered back. "They all three came down at some point just beyond the forest edge. This clan likely has a tradition of approaching on foot when returning from banishment, just as we did in the old clan."

And at the stroke of midnight, Adam signaled to Stephen, who rang the iron bell. It tolled once, the sound ringing out across the assembly and carrying into the bayou, and as the sound died away three figures approached on a path leading out of the bayou. Robert, Rebecca and Lexington all walked into the center of the semicircle, with their heads bowed and, in Robert and Rebecca's case, their wings cloaked as well. All three carried recently killed game in their arms. They stopped in the center of the circle and silently laid the game out in front of them: a marsh deer, three nutria and two rabbits. Then they waited with their heads down until Adam commanded, "Speak."

Robert spoke first, saying, "Honored clan leader and elders, these humble gargoyles request permission to rejoin the clan. We offer these to show that we are willing to be useful members again, providing for the welfare of the clan."

Adam glanced impassively at the food they'd brought, then asked, "And have you taken to heart the lessons that you were meant to learn, during your banishment?"

"Yes, clan leader. I have learned to be sure of my evidence before accusing another clan member of wrongdoing, or acting on such an accusation," Robert said. Then he glanced to Rebecca.

"I have learned to think twice before acting on impulse," Rebecca said. (And ignored the soft mutters from other clan members in the semicircle, most of which were along the lines of 'suuure she has.') Then both she and Robert looked at Lexington.

Lex cleared his throat before saying, "Well, I wasn't actually banished, but… I also learned to think twice before acting on impulse. And I learned a new hunting technique," he added as he pointed at the nutria he'd brought in.

"If your lessons are learned, then you are indeed welcome to return," Adam said with his arms spread in welcome, before lifting his voice so it rang out over the assembly, "These gargoyles are once more members of the clan—pardon me, the clans!" That last phrase was said with a somewhat sheepish smile in Goliath's direction; most clan traditions hadn't been formed with the intermingling of two clans in mind.

That was the signal for everyone to converge on the three who had just returned, welcoming them back with hugs and warrior forearm-clasps. The game they'd brought in was taken away to the kitchen, for putting in the larder; a welcome-back feast had already been prepared and set out.

A row of folding tables and tiki torches had been set out on the lawn, the tables heavily laden with main courses and side dishes that Broadway and some human clan members had prepared, along with dozens of desserts that had been brought in from a bakery in town. And before leaving on her date with Brooklyn, Martha had decorated a batch of her special caramel brownies for the returning trio, with a personal welcome-back message written in icing.

"Hey, Lex!" Elisa greeted her clan member with a quick hug.

"Hey, Elisa!" as Lex hugged her back. "Glad to see you're back! Is everything okay in Manhattan?"

"Yeah, but pretty quiet, without you guys around," she said with a smile. "So, how'd you enjoy going back to nature for a week?"

Lex smiled back, but it was a somewhat strained smile. "Well, it had its good points…"

"But you went into video game withdrawal, didn't you?" Elisa teased him. "Well, Matt just happened to slip me something to give to you," as she pulled a slim and brightly colored cardboard box out from where she'd been keeping it hidden inside her jacket.

"Warcraft II YES!" Lex crowed, holding the game box up high while nearly capering with glee. "Rebecca, look what they got me!"

Rebecca looked over from where she'd been greeting one of her clan members, saw the box and squealed with joy as she dashed over. "Let's try it out right away!"

"Let's waitan hour or two before trying it out," Goliath said as he neatly plucked the box out of Lex's hands and held it just out of reach. "It would be rude to completely ignore the welcoming feast that Broadway and others have worked for hours to prepare in your honor."

"Awww," Lex and Rebecca chorused, but they agreed to wait until later before playing the game. After Lex agreed, Goliath returned the box to him, and he walked off to one of the buffet tables with it clutched protectively to his chest. Goliath muttered to Elisa, "I told you it would be better to wait a while before giving it to him."

"So sue me," Elisa shrugged. "He's just so cute when he geeks out…"

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

It was a fine feast, enjoyed by everyone present. In fact, it was enjoyed even more by some of those present, due to one clan member in particular being not present. After taking off his cook's apron and joining them at the table, Broadway told Lex, Robert and Rebecca what had happened with Marie the night before. "Yes! In her face!" Rebecca cheered. "Did anyone have a camera handy for capturing the exact moment of humiliation?"

"So… any 'mated' markers yet?" Elisa muttered quietly to Goliath after he made a point of going to their table and leaning close to welcome both Lexington and Rebecca back once more.

"Not yet," Goliath muttered back with a smile. "One can assume they decided to wait for a proper mating ceremony after all."

"And you won the bet on them, didn't you?" Elisa said with a grin.

"My love, I'm shocked. Considering how discomforted you were by everyone placing bets on our relationship, do you really think I'd stoop to placing bets on anyone else's?"

"Well, why else would Hudson have just been grumbling to Ursula that he owed you a haunch of venison now?"

After most of the food was eaten, Lex and Rebecca went to try out the new video game, while Robert went to his art studio. Broadway was gently shooed away from the cleanup by a few older clan members, saying that those who cooked such a fine feast shouldn't have to clean it up as well. Broadway nodded as he grabbed a few more beignets from the large quantity left on the dessert table, and stuffed them in his mouth before climbing a wall to launch into the air and go for a glide.

Goliath kept his eyes on Broadway's gliding form, his expression troubled, until he felt a tug on his elbow. "Let's go for a little walk to settle our stomachs, Big Guy," Elisa urged.

They walked across the estate arm in arm, and once they were out of hearing range of the others Elisa said, "Something's bothering you, Big Guy… and I think I can guess what it is. Broadway's wing, right? He still isn't gliding very well, is he?"

Goliath gave her a wry smile. "For someone without wings of her own, my love, you can be surprisingly perceptive about such matters."

"And you're dodging the issue. His gliding?" she prompted.

"You're right, he isn't doing well. At level flight, yes, if the winds aren't too rough. But Guilliame confessed to me that there are limits to what physical therapy can accomplish, and the nerve damage to Broadway's wing hasn't healed as well as he'd hoped. It isn't responding fast enough to easily compensate for changing wind currents or abruptly changing direction; he has to take everything slowly." Goliath sighed heavily as he finished, "And a warrior… often can't afford to take things slowly."

"You're saying he's… unfit for duty? Patrol duty, back home?"

"I'm afraid so. The winds in Manhattan's manmade canyons are often capricious, and while on patrol we frequently dodge everything from bullets to clotheslines strung between buildings. In his current state, Broadway wouldn't be able to dodge at a decent speed, and possibly not even able to prevent himself from being blown into a building by a wind that changed direction too fast. If he doesn't show marked improvement before we leave…"

"Well, even if he can't patrol, he's still part of the clan, right? And still useful, too! For one thing, he's a great cook; even the Xanatos family agrees, and they're used to pretty fancy dining!"

"Of course he can cook! And I suspect that Ursula would welcome his help in the rookery as well; he has more patience and a more even temper than either Angela or Lexington. He could well make an excellent rookery keeper."

"But you haven't discussed that with him yet, have you?" Elisa surmised.

"No, I haven't," Goliath admitted. He shook his head as he said, "I've never had to do this before; to take someone off warrior duties, possibly forever. And I wonder which would be the wiser course; to wait until he comes to that conclusion himself and asks me for a change in duties, or to make the decision for him. Which would ultimately be better for him, in the end? To relieve him of the burden of choice, or to respect his maturity and self-responsibility? I'm inclined to let him make the choice on his own, but if his warrior's pride has him attempting to patrol when he isn't fit for it, then…"

"Well, maybe you won't have to do either. We're not back in Manhattan yet, and his wing could still improve more. Don't give up hope, Big Guy," Elisa said with a gentle thump on his bicep.

"I haven't given up hope," he said with a lifted brow ridge. "But a leader has to do more than just hope for the best; he has to plan for the worst, as well."

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Next: Dust