LIFE GOES ON
Mating Games, Part 11:
Changing the Rules
By Kimberly T. (email: kimbertow AT yahoo etc.)
Author's note: Either before or after reading this story, I recommend everyone read this most excellent Firefox article by esteemed fanfic author Merlin Missy, if you haven't read it already: "Canon Versus Fanon Versus Authorial Intent" (Just Google that title if you're reading this at on Gargoyles: Life Goes On…
(Lexington's POV) Or maybe these females could somehow tell, just by looking at him, one of the other ways he was different from Brooklyn and Broadway; that he was—
Mating Games 2: Well, Why Didn't You Say So?
(Brooklyn) "And like I just said, when a rookery clutch hatches more males than females--which is what usually happens, by the way; I'm sure even Hudson would agree that your clan's current situation is utterly unique in gargoyle history—anyway, when there're more males than females, the excess males will want some sort of close companionship. And if they find it in each other instead of trying to lure females away from their mates, well, that's better for the clan's overall harmony! And sometimes we see a gargoyle who's attracted to both males and females, like--"
Mating Games 4: Saturday Night
And when the other three males in their generation had chosen their mates, and Rebecca had been one of those left mateless… Robert had tried to be a mate for her. Even though they'd both known by then that he was 'gay as a daisy', he'd tried; that one time deep in the bayou where no one could see or hear them, they had tried… and it just hadn't worked. The mutual embarrassment and disappointment had almost torn their relationship apart, but not quite, and within a moon's time they'd been laughing together again.
Mating Games 5: Let the Good Times Roll
Robert turned to Lex and said with deliberate calm, "Yes, I'm gay. I know Rebecca told you I had a human mate, but she didn't say his name was Philip… Your rookery brother Brooklyn said he had no problem with my sexual orientation, and neither would your leader Goliath. But do you?"
Lexington half-chuckled as he gave a small shake of his head. "No problem here! In fact, I'm--"
"See, Robert? It'll be great!" Rebecca interrupted, nearly shouting in her excitement.
Mating Games 6: Clouds Gathering
(Robert) Although lately he's been feeling… noticed. Like someone is secretly attracted to him. But that can't be right, he must be misinterpreting the signals… Or is he?
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."
Mating Games 8: Risky Moves
"((Choosing Rebecca)) 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…"
Mating Games 8: Risky Moves
After locking them in a room together, Rebecca had hoped that Lexington and Robert would talk out whatever had been bothering them for most of their eight nights together in the bayou. She'd hoped for that, but when she'd opened the door again, she'd expected them to staying in opposite corners, refusing to talk to each other just to spite her for locking them up.
She certainly hadn't expected to see them liplocked in a passionate embrace!
"Lex?! Robert?!" she shrieked in shock and dismay, as Amelie poked her head in next to hers and gasped in shock.
Lex and Robert sprang apart, both stammering that it wasn't what she thought, they—
Rebecca shoved Amelie back and slammed the door on the elder, then stalked towards the two males, not even realizing she was screaming at the top of her lungs. "H-how could you!?! Robert, I trusted you! And Lex, you… you're straight!"
Almost in tears, Lex stared back at her as he shook his head slightly. "Actually… I'm bi."
"W…what?" Rebecca stopped in her tracks.
"Bisexual; it means I'm attracted to both genders. Come on, you had to have heard of the term before!"
"Y-yes, but… why didn't you tell me?!?"
"I did! Back at the safe house, when Robert told me he was gay I said I was bi, but I guess you weren't listening just then. And I didn't think it mattered that much!"
"It didn't MATTER"
"Because I'd already promised to be your mate! And even if I like both genders, I can only breed eggs with one!" Lex threw his hands in the air as he continued, "Yes, I was attracted to Robert at first sight, but I knew we couldn't breed an egg for the clan, so I didn't even consider him for a mate at first, just you and your sisters. And you're pretty and cheerful and great with computers; you really are the female I like best, maybe even love! So I proposed to you, and I thought that was it!"
"Y…you just thought that was it," Rebecca repeated dully, her eyes still on Lex. The room around him seemed to be going gray…
"Yes! Even finding out that Robert was gay, and that he was coming to Manhattan with us, didn't change my mind. I mean, it was easy to tell that Angela was attracted to Brooklyn, but she still chose Broadway for her mate; I figured that if she could deny a physical attraction forever, so could I. Becca?!"
Rebecca suddenly became aware that she was on the floor. Why had her legs stopped working?
Both Lex and Robert hurried over to her, each taking a hand to help her back to her feet, and both deliberately not looking at the other. She wanted to angrily shove them away, but her arms didn't seem to want to work either.
Once she was swaying on her feet again, Lex continued while still desperately gripping her hand, "I really am sorry; I thought I could handle it! But then Robert got banished for a while, and you got yourself banished with him, and… and it was a real mistake to follow my impulse and go into the bayou with you; I realized before dawn that night it had been a bad idea. But if I'd turned around and gone back to the estate without you after making such a point of going out there to be with you, everyone would think I was disloyal and rejecting you, and I couldn't do that to you! I really do like you better than any other female I've ever met; I maybe even love you! But Robert is so…"
Lex turned to stare at Robert with a miserable expression as he continued, "So studly, and so mature beyond your years, and smart and compassionate and brave and—and it was no wonder Marie fell for you before finding out you're gay!" And now Lex stared at the floor while clutching his bald scalp in both taloned hands as he finished, "And now I've fallen for him… I fell sometime over those eight nights of us talking and hunting and being together, all without actually touching because it was too dangerous…"
"That was the turning point for me, too," Robert said quietly. "I'd been attracted to Lex before our 'extended hunting trip', but done my best to ignore it; he'd become engaged to you, my favorite rookery sister, and I wasn't about to ruin your chance at happiness. And I thought he was hetero, and I was just misreading the looks he gave me sometimes. I was ready to ignore that attraction forever… until I finally became sure, during that trip, that he really was attracted to me too. And now… it's different than it was with Philip, but this could become true love all too easily… but I won't let that happen."
Robert stared her in the eyes as he said forcefully, "I love you, Rebecca, more than anyone else alive! And I don't want to see you hurt again. I had my happiness with Philip; this is your chance. Which is why I won't be going to New York, after all; I'm staying here instead."
"Staying here?" Rebecca repeated, staring at him. Some tiny part of her mind was scolding her for doing nothing but parroting what they said, but right just then she didn't seem to be capable of making her own sentences.
"Yes. And I'd told Lex that while we were locked up in here together. We'd agreed to have just one kiss and embrace, to remember each other by; that goodbye kiss was what you saw when you walked in on us."
"Goodbye kiss?" Rebecca parroted his words again… until the meaning finally sunk in. And then she finally found words of her own: "No, Rob!"
"Yes, Becca. I'm staying here, and you're going with him; that's how it has to be," Robert said firmly, while letting go of her arm and backing towards the door. "We… we shouldn't have gotten so close in the first place, too used to leaning on each other. You'll learn to lean on Lex now, and he'll lean on you when he needs it. That's how it should be. You'll be happy together, once I'm out of the picture," he said as he opened the door, and stepped out.
Standing in the hall and framed by the doorway, Robert gave them both one long last look—and Rebecca suddenly knew in her heart that he meant it to be the last look ever. He bowed his equine head and said "Good byiiiii!" as someone else grabbed him by the mane and jerked him off his feet.
"Rob!" Rebecca dashed for the door, Lexington scrambling after her. They reached it in time to see Robert being hauled bodily off by the clan elders Barnabas and Richard, with Barnabas snarling at the struggling Robert, "Perverted bastard—this time you've gone too far!"
In the bayou, Brooklyn started to applaud Isabel for having just neatly dispatched a nutria with one clawed hand, swooping down and grabbing it up by the neck before giving it a quick, violent shake to snap the vertebrae, then stopped applauding as she dropped the nutria and hurried over to the water nearby, to swish her hand vigorously around in the murky liquid. "What's the matter?"
"Disease!" Isabel said tersely. "That nutria's for burning, not eating, and I'm making sure I didn't get any of its spit or blood on me. Didn't you notice the weird way it was acting?"
"The constant circling thing it was doing? I was kinda wondering if it was a courtship dance, and he was performing for a female hiding nearby. So that's not part of their behavior?" as Brooklyn hopped out of the tree he'd been perched in to join her on the ground, and picked up a handy branch to carefully poke at and turn over the carcass, to examine it more closely
"Not at all. And whatever it had, we don't want it to spread—especially if it affects the brain! I just hope it's not a water-borne disease or parasite," as Isabel finished rinsing her hand and shook the excess water off with a grimace of distaste.
"Or anything that jumps species, like rabies," Brooklyn said grimly. "Should we backtrail it, find out where it was laired and if there are any more infected there?"
"Can't do that with nutria, unless you can follow scent through water. …Is Bronx capable of that? Hudson was boasting about how keen his nose is, way better than a bloodhound's," as Isabel looked at him questioningly.
"I dunno, we've never asked him to follow a trail across a swamp. But it can't hurt to give it a try, and he probably needs the exercise anyway," as Brooklyn picked the dead nutria up by the tail, holding it well away from him, and scaled the tree again with his other hand and taloned feet. "I'd swear he's put on weight in just the few weeks we've been down here, with all the table scraps and goodies the hatchlings keep feeding him."
Brooklyn noted landmarks to help him fix in his mind exactly where the kill had happened, the point the backtrail would start from. Then they headed back with the dead nutria kept well away from the gamebag and the other, safe-to-eat carcasses that would be turned over to the kitchen. But as they neared the estate, Isabel's ears pricked. "Listen; do you hear that? The Gathering Bell—and someone's ringing it hard!"
Which more than likely meant bad news, they knew; good news would wait until dawn, when most people were either up and out of bed or on their perches getting ready to turn to stone for the day. With a worried glance at each other, they picked up speed and headed for the source of the heavy metallic ringing. Brooklyn heard Isabel mutter under her breath, "Please, not another death… not Ignatius…"
Brooklyn slightly shook his head, his expression even more grim. He had a hunch that it wasn't Ignatius, or any other clan elder quietly going to gravel at the end of their nights. He could tell from the vigorous clanging that whoever was ringing that bell wasn't sad; they were mad, or outraged. So either there'd been a death by violence (please, Dragon, don't let the Quarrymen have followed them down here!) or there was threatening to be one…
In the New Orleans Clan's great hall, people were flocking in from all directions, and gasping to see Robert in the center of the room, being held bound by three clan elders while Lexington and Rebecca alternated between shouting at the elders and trying to free Robert from his bonds.
Adam was one of the last to come in from the bayou, still gliding; he aimed straight for the hall's great double doors and folded his wings, shot through the doorway just below the lintel and right above the head of another latecomer, then spread his wings again to catch air and gain altitude, soaring over the crowd until he could spiral down into his accustomed place. Elizabeth came in behind him, at a slightly slower pace. Adam was clearly not happy about having been interrupted while spending 'quality time' with his mate, and he growled to the assembled clan, "Somebody had better have a damn good reason for ringing that bell without checking with me fir—Robert?! What has Robert done that warrants an emergency clan assembly?" he demanded..
"He was trying to steal away Rebecca's mate-to-be, that's what!" the elder named Barnabas shouted loud enough for all to hear. "Trying to corrupt Lexington, a good male, into joining him in his perversity!"
"HE WAS NOT!" Lexington shouted back.
"Amelie saw it plainly; saw Robert kissing and embracing Lexington!" Barnabas continued despite Lexington's protest. "And see how deep the sickness has gone already; his victim is trying to defend him!"
"It's not like that at all!" Lexington was trembling with rage and agitation, his talons spasmodically clutching at air; clearly holding himself back from clutching someone's throat instead. "Being gay is not perverse, or a disease—and neither is being bi! I'm bisexual, dammit, and my clan has never had a problem with it!"
Amid the gasps of shock, dismay and outrage, Broadway held his hand up for attention, still holding the rolling pin he'd been using in the kitchen when the bell had been rung. "He's right, we've known about it for years, and never had a problem with it. Is Brooklyn here?"
"Did someone say my name?" Brooklyn said breathlessly as he and Isabel came running into the assembly. "Everyone, don't touch the nutria we left outside, we think it's diseased! And did someone have a question for me?"
"Yeah, I did," Broadway said, having to lift his voice to carry over the assembly. "Didn't Lex make a pass at you once?"
"Not that I can—oh, wait, he did! Right after we brought down an elk together, wasn't it, Lex?" Brooklyn said as he caught sight of Lexington in the clan's center. "But I said I wasn't interested in males, and you took it well enough; never brought it up again, and that was over a decade—hell, over a thousand years ago! Why's that important now, all of a sudden? What's going on?" he said with bewilderment, amid even more gasps and exclamations from the crowd.
"What's going on is that this clan is butting their noses into private matters," Lex snarled, glaring at everyone assembled. "So Robert didn't 'corrupt' me—and for the goddamned record, it was a goodbye kiss!"
"SILENCE!" Adam bellowed above the noise. And once everyone had shut up, he said more quietly but not less sternly, "Release Robert." The clan elders complied, and Adam pointed a talon at both Robert and Lexington as he said "You two… I want a full explanation, now."
So Lexington and Robert told the assembly everything that they'd told Rebecca a short while before—including Robert's decision to stay down in New Orleans instead of joining Goliath's clan. Once they were done being surprised, Brooklyn, Broadway, Goliath and Hudson all gave Lexington and Robert looks of sympathy. Hudson muttered under his breath, "I knew the lad had chosen in haste, and there'd be regretting over it later on…"
Goliath said solemnly to Lexington and Robert, "It was surely a difficult decision to make, but you chose to act for the good of the clan and the future, and I will respect your choices."
But most of the New Orleans Clan wasn't willing to let the matter go so easily. There were murmurs and mutters and Barnabas even insisted, "Robert has to be banished for good, before his perversion deprives us of another male!"
"Weren't you listening?" Rebecca shrieked at him, angrily wiping tears off her beak. "Does anything get into that thick skull of yours?!" Amid more gasps of outrage, she snarled right in Barnabas's face, "I don't care if you're an elder; you're a bigot and an idiot!"
"And he's unaware," another voice spoke up, and bull-headed Erasmus shoved his way through the crowd to the center, grabbing a startled Angela by the hand along the way. His other hand was holding a sheaf of papers, which he brandished high in the air as he continued, "Unaware of another option… one that has precedence! Clan leader, I ask for permission to speak without interruption from anyone—and for Angela to speak without interruption as well!"
"Permission granted," Adam said with an arched brow ridge. "And the first person to interrupt either of them will spend the night—no, two nights—off the estate," as his gaze swept the assembled throng.
"I have here the notes that Benedict had been taking about Angela's stories of her clan," Erasmus said, holding the notes high. "I'd been reading through them to find out where the stories left off, when the bell rang. While chronicling events in their clan, Benedict took notes on who was mated to whom—and he devoted half a page to one mating. Because they're not a mated pair, they're a trio! In the Avalon clan, the female Antiope is mated to two males, Angus and Orion, and it's a formally recognized union! Tell them, Angela," as he prodded her to speak.
"It's true, they're all three mated together," she said with an uncertain look at the crowd with their eyes now riveted on her. "And they're happy that way, too. Um… so I guess it's an option for these three too, if they want," as she gestured at Robert, Lexington and Rebecca, who alternated between staring wide-eyed at her and Erasmus, and staring at each other.
"An officially approved ménage à trois?" Father Maurice spoke up in shock. "Sorry, and I'll willingly spend two nights away," as he glanced at a frowning Adam, "but first I have to ask Angela: I thought the members of your clan were raised as traditional Christians?!"
"We were raised as Christians by our guardians, but we were also raised to be practical," Angela said, looking a little embarrassed. "When there weren't enough resources to go around, like only two bathtubs and only one loom for weaving, we shared and took turns. And when Angus and Orion discovered they both loved Antiope, as well as loving each other… they all three agreed to share. A lot of us were surprised, but Gabriel approved and said it was the best solution, and he argued with our human guardians until they accepted it too. The three of them have been mates for well over a year—a year of Avalon time, that is—and were still happy together, last time I saw them," she finished.
But a large percentage of the New Orleans Clan still didn't like the idea, and after Adam gave everyone permission to speak again they said so, loudly. Until Goliath stepped in the center of the assembly, growling, "You don't have to like it. Because I'd already told Rebecca and Robert that they would be welcome in my clan, so it won't be an issue for your clan anymore," as he gave many of the people there a disgusted look.
Then he knelt down, to place himself at petite Rebecca's height. He asked her gently but point blank, "Rebecca, would you be willing to enter into a mating trio with Lexington and Robert? To share Lexington's affections with your rookery brother?"
Rebecca stared at him for a moment, then gulped and nodded. She said in a very small voice, "I don't want to lose either of them."
Goliath nodded to her, then asked the same question of Lexington and Robert. Robert nodded hesitantly, but Lexington was enthusiastic: "By the Dragon, yes! It's a great idea!"
Goliath stood at his full height, flared out his wings and declared in ringing tones, "I will be presiding over a mating ceremony for the trio, on the great lawn out back in ten minutes! All who are willing to attend and support the trio in this mating are invited!"
Having just wriggled her way through the crowd to the center, Yvette loudly asked, "Manhattan Clan leader, could you please make that thirty minutes? It will take that long for the bride and grooms to be properly dressed for the ceremony!" She faced a still-stunned Rebecca and said with a wry smile, "I'd finished yours and Lex's wedding attire while you were in the bayou, sister; I'd been planning to ask you to come in and see it later tonight. And Robert, the suit you wore for your ceremony with Philip is still hanging on the rack in the back of my workshop!"
Goliath willingly agreed to hold the ceremony in thirty minutes instead, and Yvette started herding the impromptu bridal party to her workshop, asking Isabel to come along and help Rebecca into her wedding dress. She explained, "Robert can dress himself, but Lexington will need my help to get into his wedding attire; I had to think up some new tricks to get it to fit that web-winged torso!" Still somewhat stunned, the trio let themselves be herded along, as a storm of upraised voices echoed out of the hall behind them.
Yvette's tailoring workshop had two separate dressing rooms, and Yvette hurriedly assigned them; Lexington would occupy one while dressing, Rebecca would occupy the other, and Robert would dress himself at the fabric cutting table, which had a handy mirror nearby. "That will have to do for keeping you from seeing each other until the ceremony!" Yvette said as she took Rebecca's white gown from her rack and handed it to Isabel, who escorted Rebecca into the dressing room on the left.
And as soon as the dressing room door was shut behind them, Rebecca burst into tears. She choked out between sobs, "It—my wedding—it's not supposed to be like this!"
Isabel hugged her, murmuring, "I'm still pretty shocked by all this myself; I can barely imagine how you're feeling. Finding out that your fiancé loves someone else too… honestly, it's amazing that you left him with a face and tail still attached. If Brooklyn promised himself to me, then asked a few days later if Marie could join us, you'd hear the explosion clear to town! But we're not talking about me, Brooklyn and Marie; we're talking about you, Lexington and Robert. And I know you and Rob love each other enough that you even tried to mate once, but even after you went down on him, he just couldn't keep his dick up for you; not long enough for it to work."
Rebecca stared at her aghast. "You know about that? But that was our secret—who told you?!"
Isabel's feline mouth twitched in a lopsided grin. "Nobody told me; you two got into it right beneath the tree I was perched in! You two scared off the deer I'd been watching and sketching when you came spiraling in, and I was going to tell you off for it when I realized you had other things on your mind. But I didn't say anything until now, because I figured what happened was already embarrassing enough!"
Rebecca could only nod jerkily in response, so Isabel went on, "Anyway, this whole thing is as crazy as snake shoes, but after everything that came out at the assembly, I honestly can't see any other way for both you and Robert to be happy." She paused before continuing, "Look, you know how often I've said that my sculptures almost never turn out quite like I thought they would when I first envisioned them... But sometimes they turn out even better as a result. This isn't what you thought your wedding and mateship would be like, but maybe it'll turn out better now than it would have otherwise." She paused again. "But if this is just too much for you to handle… there's still time for you to just run out and announce that you won't stand for it, that you deserve to have a mate all to yourself…and you do, you know. Goliath asked you first, because he knows yours is the most crucial decision. So… gonna run out and cancel all this?"
Rebecca thought about it, but finally shook her head. "This is the only way to keep both of them with me, and I want Robert to be happy too. If Lex can really love both of us, then I can share him with Robert. It's just… this is so rushed, and everyone's so upset, and…"
"Rushed, definitely; can't argue with that," Isabel admitted. "But as for everyone being so upset, well, you're gonna be leaving all the upset folks behind when you leave for Manhattan. So who cares what they think? And the people who just want you and Robert to be happy, the ones who really care about you instead of about tradition, will still keep in touch with you once you're up there." Isabel lifted Rebecca's beak to look her seriously in the eyes as she explained, "You see, there's this wondrous device called a telephone…"
Rebecca gave a small chuckle at that, and Isabel smiled. "C'mon, dry your tears, and let's get you into this wedding dress. Wow, Yvette really went all out for you, look at this beadwork she stitched onto the bodice!" she said cheerfully, trying to jolly Rebecca into smiling again. "And this headpiece; it's a crown of white silk roses! You're going to be one gorgeous bride…"
In the outer room, Robert was staring down at the modified tuxedo in his hands, remembering the last time he'd worn it. Rebecca had been at that ceremony too, but as a witness to his and Philip's union…
There was a knock at the door before his rookery brother Martin walked in, carrying two white carnations and a bemused expression. "Adelbert told me to tell you these are boutonnieres for you and Lex," Martin said. "He was going to bring them in himself, but Adam grabbed him for something else."
Robert just glanced at him for a moment before staring down at the tux again. He heard Martin say with an uneasy chuckle, "Having second thoughts?"
"I can't do this," Robert said finally, laying the tux back on Yvette's fabric cutting table. "This is too sudden, too soon after… I can't do this!" as he turned towards the rooms that Lex and Rebecca were in. He'd have to tell them now, before--
But Martin stopped him with a hand to the shoulder, his expression serious. "Hold on there a second. 'Too soon after' what?"
"Too soon after losing Philip. He hasn't even been dead for a year, and… and I'm betraying his memory!"
"Now that's bullshit," Martin said sternly. He shook his head as he said wryly, "I can't believe I'm saying this, because we both know how much grief I gave you and Philip at the beginning, but… as much as you loved him, he loved you right back. And he'd want you to be happy, instead of always wearing black ribbons for him," as he pointed down at the black ribbons that bound Robert's tail hairs. "And going to your eventual gravel still alone… which a lot of us thought you would have done last spring, if Rebecca hadn't just about glued herself to you so you wouldn't have the opportunity. You loved him, and we all know it… and it's okay to find love again. There may be some folks in this clan upset over the whole situation right now, but ain't nobody, not a one of them, thinking that you're betraying Philip by getting mated again. Hell, he's probably up there in Heaven right now, rooting for you to score!"
Robert stared at him, hardly able to believe his ears. Martin had been one of his more frequent tormentors while growing up; always ready to scorn and leave out of games the male hatchling who just didn't quite fit in with the others for some reason. After Robert had revealed his sexual orientation to the clan, Adelbert and most of his sisters had accepted him, but Martin had been first in line to call him 'queer' and 'faggot', and even refused to go on patrols with him anymore. After he'd brought Philip home to meet the clan, Martin had announced he was no longer a Saints fan, and had often made a point of leaving the common room if the lovers had even held hands for a moment. And now he was saying…?!
Maybe seeing how Philip's death had nearly killed him with grief, had changed Martin's perspective. If so, it was a damn shame that it took someone dying to make some folks realize that gays were people too.
But Robert didn't say any of the thoughts running through his head just then. Instead he gave his rookery brother a wry smile as he said, "Five-yard penalty for punning… and thanks, Martin."
"Don't mention it," Martin said with an equally wry smile. "Really, don't mention it…"
Lexington was chattering a mile a minute as he turned this way and that for Yvette, while she helped him don his wedding attire. It looked at first glance like a traditional tuxedo, but Yvette had sewn the 'jacket' with an inset resembling the traditional white collared shirt; the first of many modifications necessary. The clothes were open-sided, and fastened on to him at the wrists, ankles, neck and waist at the two points where his wings were pierced. They stayed in place on the rest of his body with a combination of two-sided tape at strategic points, and cleverly sewn-in boning material that kept the fabric from sagging.
Under other circumstances Lex would have spent some time marveling at all the fine work and praising Yvette's skills, but right then his mind was on other matters. "I don't know why I didn't think of it myself, but it's such a great idea, the perfect solution, but how will we manage the Breeding Moon? We'll think of something, that's still a few months away, I can't believe this is really happening right now!"
Yvette finally hushed his nervous chatter with a finger on his lips as she said sternly, "Yes, it is happening. And you'd best take this seriously, Lexington. Even if you're more attracted to Robert than Rebecca, you must love them both equally from this night forward. They're both very dear to me, and they both deserve to be happy. Can you love them both as mates, and give them both the attention and affection a mate needs?"
"Yes," Lexington said without hesitation, his expression solemn.
"See that you do. Because if you ever break your vows and cast one of them aside, I'll do some more sewing—on you!" as Yvette tapped his chest meaningfully with a talon. Lexington gulped and his eyes went wide as she continued, "And I'm sure you would not like to have certain things snipped off, and others stitched shut…"
The great lawn behind the mansion was now the scene of a large assembly; nearly everyone in both clans was present. Glancing at the crowds around them, Brooklyn wondered how many of those present were there to support the trio-to-be, and how many were there out of sheer curiosity and repulsed fascination.
The Manhattan Clan members had drawn into a close circle, so they could speak quietly. Goliath admitted, "I'm rather thankful that Yvette asked for thirty minutes instead of ten. Because I've really no idea of what to say for the ceremony; the traditional words we use will need to be greatly changed, in order to be appropriate. Hudson, those two rookery brothers of mine; what did you say for their mating? I regret to say I don't remember it well. And Angela, anything you can recall of your trio's ceremony will likely be useful."
"Maybe thirty minutes is still too much of a rush," Brooklyn carefully suggested. "Maybe we should just wait until everyone's cooled down and thought things over a bit, before rushing into a ceremony; another night or two, even."
Goliath frowned worriedly as he admitted, "I was hasty in my judgment and my announcement, but it was plain to see how distressed Lexington and Robert were by everything that was being said about them. Robert was nearly in tears… and starting to pull out his tail hairs by the roots. Adam already warned me of that behavior; it's a sign that he's on the verge of completely breaking down, as he did after his human mate's death. I knew something had to be done quickly, before Robert just banished himself 'to save everyone trouble'… and greeted his last sunrise out in the bayou."
Broadway added, "And I know Lex; he wouldn't have even considered breaking his promise to Rebecca for even an instant, not unless what he feels for Robert is real, and really serious. And if they're all three going to be mated, best to do it now and get some bonded markers on all three of them fast. Because after that, well, no one argues with scents, right?"
"…Yeah, maybe faster is better in this case," Brooklyn conceded. "But can they really, all three of them, get matching bonded markers?"
Goliath recalled how his rookery brothers bonded to each other, but he admitted to not knowing how a trio-bond would scent. "But I suppose we'll find out soon enough. Now, for the ceremony…"
While they were discussing lines, Adam came out of the mansion, flanked by Adelbert and Stephen. He told Goliath shortly, "Before you begin the ceremony, I have an announcement for the onlookers."
Goliath glanced at him warily, wondering if Adam had plans to disrupt or even cancel the ceremony. He was sure that Adam wasn't happy about Goliath having snatched the situation right out of the New Orleans Clan leader's control in the way he did, though he really hadn't seen any other way at the time.
But instead, Adam strode to the middle of the lawn and called for everyone's attention again, before saying loudly, "I remind you all that Goliath said only those who are willing to support the trio in their mating are invited to the ceremony. So if I hear one objection to the ceremony, even one little grumble, the offender is going into the swamp as a gator for two weeks, till the next full moon! Yes, I mean every word of that! And yes, I'm willing to send up to half the clan out into the swamp with wings bound and voices silenced!"
Everyone stared at him in shock as he continued angrily, "Robert is and has always been a valued clan member! He has hunted for the clan, brought back food for us all; patrolled our city to help keep its innocents safe from harm; brought in money for the clan from the sale of his artworks; always lent a helping hand when asked; and aside from the recent fight with Marie—which he committed in defense of one of our clan's honored guests—he has never done harm to any member of the clan, not even to those who had condemned him as perverse! I see no reason to keep this quiet any longer; I'd even advised Stephen to pick Robert to be second-in-command after I die and Stephen becomes leader!" Amid a chorus of gasps, he continued, "I only regret not stomping harder on the tails of those of you who wouldn't accept Robert for what he is. Now that Robert has another chance at happiness, one that will let our clan-daughter Rebecca be happy too, I will NOT let anyone ruin it!"
Standing to the right of the assembly, Barnabas spoke up. "But this—ceremony that the others propose is still perverse, and against all our--"
And even while Barnabas was speaking, Adam pointed at the elder and said, "Gator."
That must have been the cue that Stephen and Adelbert had been waiting for. Together they pounced on the elder, before he could even finish his speech. They forced him down on all fours, ignoring his cries of pain and outrage, bound his wings with a stout leather belt that buckled in the back, and dragged him away while everyone else looked on in dismay.
Broadway was appalled. "Th-they're roughing up clan elders! That's just wrong!"
Goliath nodded grimly. "Not good, certainly. But Adam started his speech by giving everyone fair warning. Barnabas decided to test his leader's will and authority, in front of the whole clan; if he hadn't been expecting those results, he should have been."
Hudson muttered, "I'd heard before how Barnabas had been one of those most vocal in condemning Robert as perverse. Ursula also told me that Barnabas had objected to half-breed Adam becoming the clan leader twenty years ago. I suspect that what we just saw had been a long time coming… not that knowing so makes it any better."
Brooklyn just commented sardonically, "It's too bad Barnabas spoke up before Marie could. It looked like she'd been about to step forward and speak, but now she's all wide eyes and closed mouth, and moving to the back of the crowd. Too bad…"
Just as Goliath and the others finished working out what would be said at the ceremony, the mansion doors opened and the wedding party came out, dressed in their finery. After escorting them to the edge of the crowd, Yvette and Isabel stepped away from them just as Cecelia came hurrying up, holding a handful of assorted flowers. "Here, Rebecca; your bouquet! We're lucky that Celeste just bought fresh flowers for the vase in the foyer!"
"Thanks, Cecelia," Rebecca said with a nervous smile as she accepted the bouquet of flowers, tied together with a long daisy stem.
The trio exchanged nervous looks as the murmuring and muttering crowd raggedly parted for them, leaving an aisle leading to a clearing at the center of the lawn. Goliath stood in that clearing, flanked by Hudson on his right and Adam on his left. Then Lexington said with determined cheer, "C'mon, let's do this!" and took Rebecca and Robert both in hand as he stepped towards his waiting leader.
Once all three were standing before him, Goliath flared his wings a bit and cleared his throat sharply, and the few in the crowd who had been murmuring quietly fell silent. Then he began, speaking loud enough for all to hear: "Tonight, we come together as clans, to witness the joining of three hearts into one union…"
"Before beginning, we must acknowledge that this is not the traditional union. A mating of three instead of two will have more challenges than usual; challenges from without, and from within. There will be those who will refuse to accept or tolerate a union that is not traditional; those who can not understand how three can live together intimately without jealousy. And every union presents challenges, differing views that must be settled between the mates in order to live in harmony; when there are three differing views instead of two, there are more opportunities for conflict and challenges to restore harmony. But these three have chosen to join as one, to accept the challenges from without and within such a mating, and we are here tonight to honor this choice."
Goliath fixed his gaze upon Rebecca as he continued, "In any clan's traditions, of all the decisions a female warrior must make, the choice of a life mate is perhaps the gravest of all. Her chosen mate will stand at her side, guard her back when danger is near, provide for her when she is heavy with egg, and be a source of comfort for her until death parts them."
Then Goliath looked first to Lexington, then Robert. "And a male must be just as wise when he chooses to court someone," he continued, "because should his beloved choose him for a mate, that one will be his chief advisor and closest ally until death parts them."
"In this mating, the female would choose two males as life mates; two to stand with her, to provide meat when she is with egg and comfort when it is needed. The two males would choose the female and each other as mates; two chief advisors and close allies for the rest of their lives. And now they come before the gathered clans to declare their choices."
Goliath addressed Rebecca again, in ringing tones that could be heard across the clearing. "Rebecca, daughter of the New Orleans Clan and welcome addition to the Manhattan Clan, do you swear your love and affirm your choice?"
Rebecca nodded and said clearly, "I do." There was a slight pause as she figured out that Goliath was waiting for her to say more; then she said, "Um… before all gathered here, I swear my love for these two males and affirm my choice of life mates."
Now Goliath turned to Lexington. "Lexington, son of the Manhattan Clan, do you swear your love and affirm your choice?"
Lexington said without hesitation, "Before all gathered here, I swear my love for this male and this female and affirm my choice of life mates."
And Goliath turned to Robert. "Robert, son of the New Orleans Clan and welcome addition to the Manhattan Clan, do you swear your love and affirm your choice?"
Robert nodded his equine head solemnly as he said, "Before all gathered here, I swear my love for this female and this male, and affirm my choice of life mates."
Goliath nodded to the trio before looking out past them, while snapping his wings up and out to full extension. "Then let it be known," he declared in ringing tones to everyone assembled, "that these three are one in the eyes of the clan!"
Brooklyn, Broadway and Angela took that as their cue to start clapping wildly and cheering at the top of their lungs, and some members of the New Orleans clan joined them; mostly the gargoyles of Robert and Rebecca's own rookery generation, though others joined in after Adam started glaring at folks while pointedly clapping. At least nobody's booing, Brooklyn thought privately while doing his best to make up for the happy noise that others weren't making, and while the newly mated trio joyously embraced each other with arms and wings.
After the ceremony was over, Cecelia called out to Rebecca, "Don't forget to throw the bouquet!"
Rebecca grinned and brandished her makeshift bouquet on high for a moment, before turning her back to the crowd. Yvette, Isabel and Martha laughingly rushed out to the center of the clearing, and Angela slowly joined them. (There was no sign of Marie in the crowd; evidently she had decided not to attend the ceremony after all.)
Rebecca called over her shoulder, "Everyone ready?" and when the assembled ladies chorused that they were ready, she tossed the bouquet. But in mid-flight, the long stem that had loosely tied the flowers together came undone. The bouquet fell apart, and flowers showered equally over all four of the ladies.
"A good omen!" Ursula said approvingly, while most of the other clan members just looked at each other and shrugged.
Then came the throwing of the garter, a task that Robert willingly gave over to Lexington. Rebecca daintily lifted her skirt slightly and extended her right leg, to show the blue silk garter gracing her leg as an anklet; with such large and sharply taloned feet, no gargoyle in recorded history had ever worn stockings that needed garters for support.
Lexington grinned as he crouched down to retrieve the garter from Rebecca's leg. At the same time and after some unsubtle nudges from the people next to him, Brooklyn rolled his eyes, shrugged and stepped out of the crowd and into the center of the clearing, where Broadway was already waiting with a wide smile.
Instead of tossing it over his shoulder, Lexington gleefully pulled the garter like a rubber band and snapped it across the clearing, to hit Brooklyn right in the beak. "Ow!" Brooklyn complained as he rubbed at the sore spot, while the garter fell towards the ground, but Broadway snatched it up before it could hit.
Grinning and brandishing the garter, Broadway headed towards Angela, but paused. After the bouquet had scattered over all of them, Yvette had been the one to gather most of the flowers back up, and now she was holding most of the makeshift bouquet… while Angela, just realizing the significance of that action, glared at Yvette while snatching one last flower off the ground and holding it like a tiny club with petals.
Broadway finally decided that the most prudent course of action would be to simply stuff the garter in his belt pouch, and avoid the ladies for a little while. "Now you know why I didn't try to grab it," Brooklyn muttered to Broadway as together they backed away slowly.
"These human customs can be dangerous," Broadway agreed unhappily, just before he spotted Erasmus. The New Orleans Clan's new chronicler had been wielding a camera throughout the ceremony, and taking pictures in between scribbling furiously in a notebook. "C'mon, let's go ask Erasmus if he can take some extra pictures of Lex and his mates for giving to Elisa. When she finds out Lex got mated while she was still in Manhattan, she's going to be really disappointed if we don't at least have some pictures for her!"
The tradition in both clans was that right after the mating ceremony, the happy couple would depart on their first mating flight. (Mating in midair was a tricky business, after all, and some practice before the breeding season was a very good idea.) But with a ceremony involving not two but three participants…
Aged well past any concerns over discretion, Ignatius had no problem in saying out loud what many other people were silently thinking. "Robert gonna stay behind now, or dey gonna try to do t'ree in the air at once?" He shook his head as he finished, "Dey gonna crash, f'certain."
But to many people's relief (and to Etienne's disappointment; he'd been discreetly trying to work up a betting pool in just the short time between Goliath's announcement of the ceremony, and the flight afterwards), the mating flight didn't include the traditional midair mating at all. After quickly conferring with each other and with Goliath and Adam, the newly mated trio simply climbed one of the many trellises up the side of the mansion to the roof, and launched into the air hand in hand; Robert on the left, Rebecca on the right, and Lexington in the middle. They circled the entire estate in that manner, before gliding down to the cottage that Goliath and Elisa had stayed in. With shy smiles from Lexington and Robert and nervous giggles from Rebecca, they opened the door, filed inside and firmly closed it behind them.
"I gave them the use of that cottage for the rest of this night and the next two nights, and no one is to disturb them in any way except to bring food and drink up to the door," Adam declared with a stern look at his clan, while Goliath quietly told Broadway to come up with some food for them; the cottage's small icebox and pantry had been cleaned out after his and Elisa's stay there.
Broadway and Martha gladly hustled off to the kitchen to whip up a private feast for the trio, while everyone else stood around awkwardly, wondering what to do next. Normally weddings were marked by great celebrations lasting for hours, but after such a rushed and controversial ceremony… Brooklyn finally said with a shrug, "Well, we've still got to find out where that nutria came from, and if any more are infected. I'll go fetch Bronx, Isabel; meet you on the garage roof in ten minutes?"
Bronx was able to backtrail that recently-killed nutria across land and short spans of water, but lost the scent over a larger expanse of water before they could find out where it had laired, or find any more nutria acting bizarrely. The carcass was wrapped, refrigerated and taken to a veterinary pathology lab, to be analyzed for exactly what disease or parasite or even poison had been affecting it. The local Fish & Game authorities were also alerted by one of the human clan members; with swamp tours and hunting trips being one of their sources of income from tourists, possible epidemics or other widespread threats to the local wildlife were taken seriously indeed. Keith Bayard told Adam that the results of the nutria's autopsy and analysis would be back within two weeks, and in the meantime, the clan leader had all his hunting teams keep a sharp eye out for other wildlife acting like the nutria had.
Brooklyn's date with Martha the next night was supposedly another fishing date, but after the two of them were out of sight of the mansion, Brooklyn said, "Let's just get the bare minimum of fish and frogs expected for a night's work, and one gator for that other gator tail I owe Evan. I want to spend more time talking with you than really looking for food, okay?"
"More interested in talking with me than in hunting? I'm flattered!" Martha said with a smile… while telling herself swiftly that she mustn't get her hopes up, even if his words sounded promising. After all, he'd said so many times that they would never be more than friends…
But her hopes rose a little anyway, enough that they came down hard at what he said next. "Yeah, I'm very interested in what you have to say… about Isabel and Yvette. Martha, I know this sounds kinda nasty, but tonight I want you to gossip, enough to outdo your elder Amelie. I can trust you to do this because you're an inherently kind person, and you won't say anything about them that isn't true. But tell me everything that you haven't been sworn to secrecy about, everything that's bad or at least not-so-good about them."
Martha tried to keep her expression still, but some of her dismay must have shown, because Brooklyn ducked his head, pointing his beak at the pirogue bottom while scratching his mane. "I know, this isn't fair to you; to any of you ladies, really. But my clan can't stay here much longer; we're needed back in Manhattan. Time's running out, and so far I've only seen all of you at your best—except for Marie, but she's well out of the running—and there just isn't time for everyone to get so comfortable with each other that they feel free to let me see them on their bad days too. I don't want to choose someone for a mate and then find out later that I made a big mistake, because of something she'd been keeping hidden from me. So I really need to know this stuff; do you understand?"
"I understand," Martha said slowly. "And I'll tell you what I can… after we're done fishing. That'll give me some time to gather my thoughts and remember back to specific incidents." She gave him a stern look, since she couldn't give him an anguished one. "And I warn you now that you'll be doing almost all the work, since my mind won't be on the fishing!" And with that, she sat back in the pirogue, looked out across the water and propped her head on her chin as she thought.
It was a horribly tempting thought; the opportunity to tell Brooklyn all sorts of nasty things about Isabel and Yvette, whether they were true or not. To take the opportunity to ruin them both as candidates for his affections; to tar them so thoroughly with scandal's brush that he'd never want either of them as mates, and so fall back on Martha herself as the last available choice.
But she couldn't do that. To slander your own kin was flat-out wrong, no matter what the justification. And Brooklyn had just said he trusted her, trusted her to tell the truth; she couldn't betray that trust, not even to get what she wanted most, a mate of her own to love.
Blast that male clear back to the shell, she thought in a sudden fit of anger. She'd seen ample evidence already that Brooklyn didn't always consider the feelings of others; the deception he'd pulled on the entire clan a few nights back had made it pretty clear that he could be boneheaded at times. But to ask this of her, to put her on the spot like this… hadn't he realized how horrible it would make her feel? Broadway would never have put her on the spot like this!
And that was dangerous thinking, the sort of dangerous thinking she'd been trying not to do for weeks, so she quickly squelched that thought again to focus on other matters. What could she tell him about her rookery sisters that was unpleasant but perfectly true?
She could tell Brooklyn that when Isabel was really focused on her art, she was basically oblivious to the rest of the world; she even missed meals sometimes, and when Martha brought her a tray of food out of kindness she rarely even looked up from her work in acknowledgment, let alone thanked her for it. And she was apt to be extremely rude to anyone who interrupted her metalworking without good reason; more than one clan member had been on the receiving end of words nearly as hot as the blowtorch she used for welding.
She could tell Brooklyn that Yvette sometimes operated on the policy of "It's better to ask forgiveness than permission", and made small changes to the décor in the common rooms without consulting anyone, whenever the fancy struck her. That she sometimes ignored a person's expressed wishes regarding new clothing being made for them, and outfitted them with her own ideas. (Which became even more grating when it turned out that her designs were better than what they'd wanted.)
She could tell him about the box of fancy chocolates that had disappeared after… no, not that one; there had been circumstantial evidence but she'd never been able to conclusively prove who'd taken it.
Three hours of work, poling the pirogue to the fishing spots, throwing the nets and bringing in the food, and during most of that time Brooklyn didn't hear a word out of Martha. He was used to silence while hunting with partners; only an idiot alerted the game to his presence with chatter. But this was the most uncomfortable silence he'd experienced in a long time, and it gave him second thoughts about what he'd asked of Martha. Maybe he should have asked it of Marie instead… no, because then he'd have had to separate the truths from the half-truths and the outright lies that female would surely have told him.
After three hours of work, Martha finally started talking. She gave him roughly five minutes' worth of gossip about Isabel, none of which was really bad; not bad enough to eliminate that female as a potential mate, anyway. Then she gave him five minutes' worth of gossip about Yvette. After that, she said, "And since you're said more than once that we won't ever be mates, and since you're going to be the leader of your clan someday and had better learn from your mistakes now…" Then she spent another few minutes telling him exactly what she thought of what he'd asked of her.
Brooklyn listened with chagrin, and when she was finished all he could say was "You're right, and I'm sorry. And I promise I won't ever do it again."
"Don't promise unless you really mean it," Martha said sternly. "Now let's go get that gator for Evan…"
The next night Brooklyn had another date with Yvette. When she asked him where he wanted to go, to the city or the bayou, he replied, "Neither. Let's not go anywhere tonight, all right? We'll just hang out in your workroom and talk."
And that's what they did. Yvette had him wait outside the door of her workshop for just a few seconds, while she hid away some project she was working on; when he asked, she said it was a secret, and he decided not to press her on it. They spent several hours talking about their mutual interests and hobbies, about their hatchling years, and other personal things.
Brooklyn challenged Yvette to tell him the three worst things she'd ever done in her life, whether those actions and/or results had been accidental or deliberate on her part. And after swearing him to secrecy, Yvette told him two things that Martha had told him the night before and one thing that even Martha hadn't known about.
Then she demanded the same of him, which he'd been expecting. So he told her about having stolen two chickens from a pen back in Scotland, not long after starting his hunter training; he hadn't been able to catch any game on his first solo hunt, and had been more worried about coming back without food for the clan than about how the human farmer would feel about losing some of his poultry. "I got restricted to my perch for a full fortnight for that one, and when they finally said I could hunt again, I had to bring in not two but four birds for the farmer's dinner table."
Then he told her about how he'd generally acted like an idiot while his and his rookery brothers were fighting over Angela, even to the point of trying to use his authority as second-in-command to get more time alone with her. "She finally had to yell at us all, and nearly knock our heads together, before we started acting like responsible adults again instead of hatchlings squabbling over a toy. So if you're at all embarrassed over stuff that was said back when I first got here, before the dating schedule was worked out… believe me, you and your sisters didn't come close to matching what me and my brothers did!"
And finally, after in turn swearing her to secrecy, he told her about how Demona had used him, in more ways than one, in her scheme to magically enslave Goliath to her will. "Goliath forgave me for my part in leading him to the Cloisters, but I never told him about… about the sex," he finished while staring at the floor. "And I used to have daymares that Demona would tell him herself; give him all the sordid details one night while we were taking turns keeping her prisoner in the Labyrinth… but if she did, he never said anything to me about it. No one else knows, and I don't want them to ever know… particularly Angela. What with all her tries at establishing a human-style mother-daughter relationship with Demona, there's no telling how she'd react!"
He finally looked up, to see Yvette staring at him somberly. "No one will ever hear your secret from me," she promised solemnly. "And if I ever meet this Demona in battle… I think she will get an extra slash or two just for the pain she has caused you."
"Fine by me," he said grimly. "But that's only if I don't get my licks in first!"
Soon after sunset the next night, Lex, Robert and Rebecca emerged from honeymoon cottage. All three had joyful, rather smug expressions, and slight changes in their appearance. Rebecca now sported two thin braids in her copper-red mane, one on each side of her head, while Robert had two braids in the black mane running down his neck. Naturally bald Lexington had no hair to braid, so he wore around his neck a braid made from both Rebecca and Robert's hairs; a thin hank of black hair, a hank of copper-red hair and a hank of intermixed hairs, all woven together.
And those who came close enough to discreetly sniff them reported that all three had bonding scents… most peculiar bonding scents, with each one bearing markers from the other two. No one quite dared to ask how they'd managed that.
Isabel invited the newly mated trio into her workshop, saying "I've got a surprise for you; something I've been working on for the last two nights." The trio willingly went with her into the garage she used for a workshop, and Brooklyn asked if he could come along.
Isabel's surprise turned out to be a thin braid of precious metals; three very thin strips of white gold, yellow gold and red-tinted gold had been carefully braided and soldered together. "Look, guys! Three into one, like we did with our hair; did you read our minds, Isabel?" Rebecca asked delightedly.
"Nope; it just seemed like a natural symbol for you three. There should be more than enough material here to make wedding rings for each of you, if you want," she said as the three mates eagerly passed the braid around for inspection. They immediately agreed, and she measured them for ring sizes before gently shooing them out the door so she could work.
Brooklyn lingered behind the others, and asked Isabel, "Mind if I hang out here and watch you work?"
Isabel shrugged. "Sure, but don't expect any conversation on my part. Getting the braid ends to blend seamlessly together is going to be tricky, and I'll need to concentrate on that for a while."
"How long do you expect 'a while' to be, and can we talk afterwards? As sort of an in-home date… like the one that Marie said we had on the night of Brentwood's funeral, except I promise not to spend the whole night moping and biting myself in the tail," he said with a wry smile.
Isabel was agreeable to the idea, so for the next half-hour he watched her carefully make rings out of the braid of precious metals. After she was done with that, she asked, "Mind if I do a little work on another project? I put some iron in the forge just before Rebecca, Robert and Lex came out, and it should be ready for pouring into the molds now. I've got to take the metal out anyway, before I shut the forge down."
Brooklyn agreed, and Isabel shrugged into a welding coat and apron, gloves and helmet. Then she used a heavy pair of tongs to fish a large crucible of molten metal out of the forge.
Brooklyn watched in fascination as she carefully poured the white-hot metal into a pair of preset molds, the air sizzling over them as they filled to the brim, then set the crucible aside and began methodically shutting the forge down. He mused aloud as he watched her, working under such thick protective covering that one could hardly tell she was a gargoyle at first glance, "Actually, I was meaning to ask you… why metalworking? I mean, there's painting and woodworking and all sorts of other ways to be artistic; with your feathers and fur making you so vulnerable to fire, why work with it on a nightly basis?"
"I do some woodworking, too… but it's true, I do more metalworking. And you're not the first person to ask that," Isabel said wryly as she finished with the forge and removed her welder's helmet. "I honestly can't sum the reasons up in a single sentence, but… maybe part of the reason is the extra challenge it represents." She took off the gloves next, setting them aside as she mused, "And there's this little thrill of danger, too, in working with fire; it's sort of like the little thrill you get before nearly every patrol, even if you're hoping it'll be a quiet night. Creating really good art gets my blood tingling anyway, but that element of risk makes it tingle just a bit more… Am I making sense yet?" as she reached behind herself to undo the apron ties.
"It makes sense, yeah," Brooklyn agreed, then cocked an ear at the low growl she was involuntarily emitting as she fussed with the ties. "Something wrong? Got a knot in it?"
"Yeah," she admitted with her ears laid back. "Well, since you're here, would you mind…?"
"No problem," he said easily as he moved behind her. He quickly undid the knot, then helped her take off the apron and shrug out of the heavy coat she wore under it.
Once her arms and wings were free of the coat, she stretched them out and looked over her shoulder at him with a smile. "Thanks."
"Anytime," he grinned as he turned to set the coat aside. "So, you like to get your blood tingling, hmm?"
They passed the next few hours in both light-hearted banter, and serious conversation… including telling each other their worst secrets, as he had done the night before with Yvette.
After they'd been talking for hours, Martha knocked on the door to the garage. "Dinner's ready! Are you folks going to come to the table, or should I make up a tray for you?" she asked cheerfully.
"We'll be coming in, Martha; thanks!" Isabel said as she scooped up the rings, which had long since cooled and were ready to wear. "Lex, Robert and Rebecca should be at dinner too; I can't wait to see these on their fingers!"
The three mates were indeed all at dinner together; they had a table to themselves, and were playfully feeding each other tidbits from their plates. But they happily said Isabel could join them, and when she gave them the rings they immediately put them on, then showed several other people her fine craftsmanship. "Lovely work," Adam said approvingly.
After dinner, Brooklyn excused himself to go up to the clan's computer room, which is where Lexington, Robert and Rebecca found him a little while later. "Hi, Brooklyn! Didn't expect to see you in here," Lex greeted him with a smile. "Will it bother what you're doing if we use the Gameboy setup?"
"Nah, I'll be fine," Brooklyn said while staring intently at the computer monitor. The mates set up a video game; a car racing game that accepted up to four players at once, and the clan had enough joystick sets to accommodate the trio. But after half a dozen races they tired of that and switched to another game, one which only two could play at the same time. Lex let Robert and Rebecca have the first turn while he went over to the computer, where Brooklyn was still working. "How's it going?"
"Okay, I think; I finally figured out how to say what I wanted Webcrawler to find for me, so it'd show me the right sites instead of a lot of garbage," Brooklyn said while still staring at the monitor.
"Yeah; I always use the advanced search mode and type in a lot of words that I don't want the search to pull up," Lexington said with a nod. "So what are you looking for, anyway? …The Language of Flowers?" he said in surprise, reading out loud the large text at the top of the screen.
"Yeah, last thing I had to look up, and I'm almost done; just a few more minutes and then I'll get off so you can check your email or whatever," Brooklyn said absently as he scrolled down, while making notes on a pad of paper.
"Hey, Malibu showed an interest in flowers at the weddings; are you taking after him now?" Lex said with a teasing grin.
"This is research," Brooklyn retorted. "I saw something about this in a florist's shop window last spring, but I wanted to make sure I remembered it right. Which I found out I didn't, so I'm taking extra time to triple-check everything; some of these sites are disagreeing with each other, so I'm going by information that four out of five of them agree on. This clan has a lot more human customs than we do, and if I'm gonna do this thing, I'm gonna do it right," he finished almost grimly.
"Do what thing?" Lex asked curiously.
"I'll explain later. Just give me a few more minutes, I'm almost done…"
After finishing his research, Brooklyn took his findings to Adam. The clan leader gravely listened, complimented him on his thoroughness and agreed to help with the procurement.
The next night, Brooklyn went out alone into the bayou. Adam had said nothing of what Brooklyn had said to him, and Lex hadn't either, but somehow the word spread throughout the mansion that Brooklyn had made his choice, and was now going on the traditional hunt for a courting gift; some freshly-killed game to lay at his chosen female's feet, to prove that he could provide for her while she was egg-heavy and unable to hunt for herself.
"Back in the old clan, it would probably be a deer or elk, and sometimes an auroch—those were kinda like cattle, but bigger and meaner; there weren't many left by the time I was hatched," Broadway told Martha while they were making dinner together. "And the really good hunters brought back seal meat for courting gifts; there was a beach about six leagues from our castle that a herd of seals made their home on. Seals tasted great but they were hard to catch, 'cause they knew to go underwater as soon as we came around, and the tradition is that the courting gift has to be caught with talons only; no spears or other distance weapons. But one of Goliath's rookery brothers went there and waited three nights for his chance, and finally brought in a big bull seal with enough meat and fat on him to feed the whole rookery! His mate-to-be was so impressed, she almost didn't wait for him to finish asking her to choose him before she said yes."
"We don't have any seals around here, though; the nutria are probably the closest equivalent, but they're such common game that they wouldn't make an impressive gift, unless he tried to bring in a full dozen of them at once," Martha mused.
"I just hope he doesn't try to bring in a really big gator instead," Broadway said worriedly while pulling another casserole out of the oven. "He might still think he has to prove himself after that first big one nearly killed him, and try to bring in another big one all by himself."
"He won't go for a big gator," Martha said confidently. "Because if it's a courting gift for Isabel, he has to know by now that she'd be more apt to kick his tail than praise him for being so foolish as to take a big gator on solo, even if he actually won. And if it's a courting gift for Yvette, well, he already brought in a fair-sized gator while on his last hunting date with her; he doesn't have to prove himself as far as she's concerned. It'll probably be a deer instead; they're just like the deer your old clan used for courting gifts, right?"
Their speculating about the courting gift and who it was for didn't stop them from making a delicious dinner, well appreciated by everyone there. After dinner came the cleanup, which was Alphonse Dubois, Martin and Cecelia's turn that night; dishwashing and kitchen cleanup were among the many duties on the clan's rotating duty roster. But scarcely five minutes after the cleanup crew had exited the kitchen, Martha came back in with Broadway. Her usual human helper for baking was sick in bed with a nasty cold, so she wanted to get an early start on baking the bread and pastries for the next day and night's meals, to be sure they'd be done before dawn.
While preparing the bread and biscuit dough, they got into a playful argument concerning one of the characters in Martha's books; about how the sharp-tongued chef Irmina would fare if she worked in New York's famous restaurant Tavern on the Green. They ended up having a flour fight, laughing like maniacs as they tossed handfuls at each other. By the time Martha called truce, they had covered both themselves and most of the kitchen completely in ivory-white. "Oh, the day crew is going to kill me for this!" Martha said as she looked around at the devastation, though she was still chuckling. "It looks like we had a blizzard in here!"
"C'mon, I'll help you clean up," Broadway offered with a grin. They started by shaking vigorously from head to tail-tip, to fling the excess flour off themselves, then began sweeping and wiping up the floor, stovetop and counters. They eventually got the kitchen looking spotless again, but they still had flour on themselves, in patches here and there.
"Hold still, you've got some on your ears," Martha said as she reached up to Broadway's head with a damp dishrag.
Broadway countered with a grin, "And you've still got some in your hair, and a smidgen… right…"
He hadn't meant to do it, not really; he'd actually intended to just brush away that smidgen of flour on the tip of her nose with a flick of a fingertip. But somehow, without even realizing he was doing it, he ended up leaning forward to kiss the smidgen away instead. Just a light affectionate peck; it didn't really mean anything…
But the next one did.
Angela was hungry and irritable. The hatchlings had been decidedly rambunctious tonight; they'd even kept her so busy with breaking up minor squabbles and correcting table manners, that she'd hardly touched her plate at the general dinner. So after Giselle said she could leave the rookery early instead of staying with the hatchlings till 3 a.m, she decided the first order of business would be to head for the kitchen and fix herself something to eat. Better yet, she'd find Broadway and have him fix something for the two of them to eat together; she hadn't seen him except at clan ceremonies and just before sleeping for nearly a week now, and missed his company as well as his cooking. And since Broadway was most likely to be found in the kitchen anyway, she'd start looking for him there, and if he wasn't there she'd grab a quick something to quiet her rumbling stomach while hunting him down.
She reached the kitchen and was about to walk in, when she caught sight of a pair of parti-colored gargoyles embracing and politely backed away to give them privacy. Then she paused and blinked; she'd only met two parti-colored gargoyles here so far, and they'd been white-and-red or white-and-purple, not white-and-gray or white-and-aquamarine! Who was that female, and who was that large round… large, round, flour-covered…
To be continued in:Mating Games 12: Game Over