LIFE GOES ON

Mating Games, Part 12:

Game Over

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

Author's note: A lot of people had guessed that the deliberately-not-described gargoyle featured in "Mating Games: Teaser" was Robert, realizing his attraction to Lexington. But now it can be told: actually, 'twas Martha.

And everyone has read my story "Angela's Dilemma" by now, right? So those of you who'll likely be made unhappy by events in this story can't say you weren't warned…

12.1: Making Choices

Yvette was in her workshop, working on her secret project, when she heard a knock at her door. "Just a moment," she called out as she hastily covered her project with a handy length of black fabric. "Who is it?" she asked as she got up to answer the door.

"It's me, Brooklyn," she heard before opening the door. And she opened it to find him standing there looking at her solemnly, while holding a yellow rose in his talons.

"Hello, Brooklyn! A flower, for me?" Yvette said with delight. In all his dates with the females of her generation, this was the first time Brooklyn had brought anyone flowers!

"Um, yeah, it's for you," Brooklyn said as he handed it to her.

Yvette accepted it joyfully. A courting gift, at last! Her dream had come true, and he'd chosen her to court—chosen her for a mate!

But his next words turned her dream into a nightmare. "I know you folks do more human customs than we do, so I looked up the meanings of the flowers last night. Yellow roses are for friendship… and for goodbyes. This is to signify we won't be dating anymore. You're a wonderful female, but I have to tell you I've chosen someone else. And I hope you meet someone in the clan on Avalon who'll appreciate you for the lovely female you are…"

00oo00oo00oo00oo00

Angela had been looking for Broadway, after escaping from the rookery a few hours early. As she'd also been also looking for something to eat, she'd looked in the kitchen first.

And there she'd found Broadway

hugging and kissing

Martha?!

At her shriek of dismay and outrage, Broadway and Martha broke off their kiss and sprang apart guiltily, and Broadway stammered, "Angela! It's not what you think… I-I mean, we were cleaning up, and…"

But Angela ignored his stammerings as she sprang straight for Martha, her talons reaching for the other female's throat.

00oo00oo00oo00oo00

Broadway didn't much like foul language, but sometimes a guy just had to say "Oh shit!" Particularly when seeing his girlfriend with eyes glowing crimson with rage, and her fangs showing in a snarl as she jumped straight for the female he'd just been kissing.

Martha shrieked and raised her arms to defend herself, and Broadway hollered loudly for help as he jumped into the fray, hoping to keep anyone from being killed.

00oo00oo00oo00oo00

Holding another yellow rose, Brooklyn had already been heading for the kitchen when he'd heard the snarling, shrieking and shouting coming from that direction. He got to the kitchen entrance just a fraction of a second after Adam and the clan elder Richard, and tossed the rose aside as he piled in with them to help separate the combatants.

Grabbing wings, arms and tails as they went past, they managed to break up the fight, revealing the fighters to be Angela, Broadway and Martha. When they were finally separated, it was clear that Martha had gotten the worst of it; her nose was broken and both eyes swelling shut, one side of her face was slashed open and bleeding profusely, and she was liberally peppered with bruises and cuts all over her body, including fang-punctures on one hand that went clear to the bone. Broadway, too, had taken some punishment while trying to separate them; one fan-shaped ear was in bloody tatters, he had a trio of slashes across his chest, and he had a bad bite on one hand as well. From what Brooklyn could tell while pinning her arms and wings to her sides, Angela was largely unscathed, but she sported a few scratches on her arms and wings.

Adam took one look and shouted to the onlookers at the door, "Get Guilliame, now!" It was obvious that Martha's injuries, at the very least, were too harsh to just wait for stone sleep to heal. One gargoyle ran to find Guilliame, the clan's healer; another hurried over to where the first aid kit for the kitchen was mounted on the wall.

"That bitch is trying to steal my male!" Angela howled, pointing at the sobbing Martha while still struggling to break free from Brooklyn's grip.

"No one can steal a free-willed soul!" Adam said sharply as he accepted a handful of gauze from the first aid kit and applied it to Martha's slashed and bleeding cheek. "And if you fear for your relationship with Broadway, you should be talking with him about it, not attacking my clan's best cook! Martha, hold on, Guilliame will be here soon…"

"S-s-sorry," was all Martha could say between her sobs. "S-s-sorry…"

"You shouldn't have done this, Angela," Broadway said sadly as he stared helplessly at them both, while cradling his injured hand. "You stopped us guys from fighting over you, remember?"

Angela stopped her struggles to stare at Broadway, and Brooklyn relaxed his grip on her just a little. Just a little too soon, because she suddenly twisted violently and broke free, but instead of springing to attack Martha again she pointed at her while shouting in Broadway's face, "Then choose! Right now, you choose! Who are you courting for a mate, me or her?"

Brooklyn said sharply while reaching for her again, "Angela, this is really not the best time! Come with me, and--"

Angela sidestepped his grip while shouting, "No! He chooses now! I chose you in Manhattan, Broadway; who are you going to choose, right here and right now?"

00oo00oo00oo00oo00

Broadway stared at them. Angela was magnificent in her rage, her eyes flashing red, her breasts heaving, muscles taut and slick with sweat… And Martha was a sobbing, beaten wreck, trying to keep one eye open enough to give him a look of sheer anguish.

One set of instincts told him that Angela, strong and healthy and a vigorous fighter, would be the better female to sire eggs with. But another set of instincts, the gargoyle urge to protect the weak and innocent, turned him towards Martha, who was looking so very in need of him…

Who never nagged him to lose weight, and said his body was his business…

Who'd admired his ingenuity in creating the recipes he'd used for rat and pigeon while in Manhattan…

And who was such a great storyteller, so funny… and so nice, she even laughed at his jokes…

He'd thought it would be a hard choice, but it wasn't really that hard at all.

00oo00oo00oo00oo00

"Martha. I choose Martha," Broadway said simply.

Everyone stared at him in surprise, including Martha. After another second or two of just standing there staring, Angela burst into tears and ran from the room. Brooklyn just let her go, while staring at Broadway and Martha and wondering why he hadn't seen this coming at all.

"Y-y-you mean that?" Martha whispered, staring at Broadway with the one eye she could open.

"I really mean it," Broadway said earnestly, dropping to his knees beside her. "I choose to court you for a mate, Martha… if you'll allow me to, that is."

She gave a painful half-laugh, half-sob. "O-of course I will! I've been telling myself for weeks that it was hopeless, that you were engaged to Angela and that Brooklyn was my only choice, but… Y-you promise you won't change your mind?"

"I promise. I really mean it, Martha; I love you! I don't know why it took me this long to figure it out, but you're the one I really love! Look, as soon as we're patched up I'll go out tonight and get you a courting gift, any game you want—and I'll cook it, too!"

Guilliame arrived a few moments later and quickly took charge; he thanked Adam and the others for their first aid efforts, while herding Martha and Broadway up the stairs to his clinic for better treating their injuries.

Brooklyn followed them as far as the stairs, then gazed up after them while wondering how Goliath was going to take the news about his daughter having been jilted. He decided that before going to the last stop on his self-appointed rounds, he'd better tell Goliath himself… and at a goodly distance away from the clinic, just in case his leader got all human-ish and irrational about it.

As he turned to go, he noticed the yellow rose he'd dropped on the floor earlier; the one he'd been intending to give to Martha. With a shrug, he picked it up and dropped it into a nearby vase before leaving.

00oo00oo00oo00oo00

R-rriiiiip!

Rrrriiiiip!

She should have known better.

Rrrriiiiip!

"Don't count your chickens before they hatched" was good advice, and she should have followed it.

Rrrriiiiip!

She should have waited until Brooklyn actually made his choice, before designing and sewing her own wedding dress.

Rrrriiiiip!

The dress that she was now systematically shredding into strips and scraps. Off with the lace, off with the beadwork, off with the tiny ribbon rosebuds she'd sewn onto the neckline…

If she ever did find a mate for herself and have a mating ceremony, it would be in a new dress, of an entirely different design. She would never wear a dress that reminded her of rejection.

Yvette didn't even look up from her continuing act of destruction when someone knocked at her door. "Go away!" she shouted angrily.

There was a pause, and then someone—she thought it was Amelie—said uncertainly through the door, "Is everything all right in there?"

"No, and go away! Whatever you want to say, I don't want to hear it!"

"But-but this is fantastic news for your sister Martha!"

Yvette paused in her ripping. Brooklyn had chosen Martha? He hadn't given her a name when he'd seen her earlier, but she'd been under the impression that he was going to choose Isabel…

And Amelie wasn't going to go away until she got some sort of response, so Yvette said through gritted teeth, "May she and Brooklyn be happy together."

"No, not Brooklyn; Broadway! Adam and Richard saw it happen; Broadway rejected Angela and chose Martha! And Angela challengedMartha to battle, and nearly killed her; she's still in the clin—oh!" Amelie said in surprise, as Yvette yanked the door open to stare at her.

"Tell me everything," Yvette demanded. Which Amelie did so, quite happily. Then she asked why Yvette had been so angry earlier, to which Yvette replied easily, "Oh, that can wait; your news is more important right now! Have you let everyone in the rookery know yet?"

"No, not yet! And Ursula will be so happy for her," Amelie said as she hurried on to spread the news further, while Yvette locked the door of her workshop and went hunting for Angela.

00oo00oo00oo00oo00

Goliath had been in the library, as Brooklyn had expected; he'd knocked on the window to get Goliath's attention and beckoned his leader to come outside and follow him to the edge of the bayou, where he'd stashed the deer he'd hunted down earlier.

As they sat down on a cypress log together, Goliath asked curiously, "What is it that you need such privacy to talk to me about?"

"Um, before I tell you, can you make me a promise? A promise that you won't move from this spot for at least ten minutes? I really need ten minutes of you just thinking about what I have to say, before you do anything about it."

Goliath gave him a suspicious stare, but finally said slowly, "I promise. Ten minutes."

Brooklyn took a deep breath and said, "Okay, here's the news: Angela found Broadway with Martha; I think they were necking in the kitchen. Angela attacked both of them, beat the shit out of Martha and did some damage to Broadway too. And after we broke up the fight, Broadway formally chose to court Martha, and she chose him right back. Now I want you to remember that he'd never formally chosen Angela for courting and a mate, okay? We'd all been interested in her at first, but after she chewed us out for acting like hatchlings squabbling over a toy, we all backed off and basically waited for her to decide who she liked. And she didn't actually, officially choose him, either; she said loud and clear that her choice was contingent on him losing a helluva lot of weight. Weight he hadn't lost that much of yet, so no promises were really broken, were they?" And with that, he left Goliath sitting there while he shouldered the deer carcass and headed back towards the mansion.

00oo00oo00oo00oo00

Deep in the garage, Isabel was on her hands and knees looking for the splinter of metal she'd dropped just a minute ago, the part that was to have been the left horn and finishing touch on her latest creation, and grumbling under her breath when she heard the door open behind her. "Be with you in a minute, watch where you step!" she called out without looking up. "I dropped a horn for my sculpture and it rolled off somewhere, so if you see something small, thin and horn-shaped, sing out!"

Still on her hands and knees as she reached under a cart to feel around, she heard her caller clear his throat. Funny, whoever it was sounded kind of nervous. Then he sang out… literally! "Isabel is waiting, In a room of many shadows…"

She whipped her head up and around, to stare over her shoulder at Brooklyn. He was looking right at her, and holding a bouquet of flowers! And he was still singing, "Her eyes like flashing diamonds Shining brightly from the sea …"

She didn't remember getting off her knees, or walking over to him, or even accepting the flowers. But suddenly she was inhaling their sweet scent as he continued on, "Her hair in silken tresses Like a robe around her shoulders, Hiding tantalizing treasures That the sun has never seen…"

His singing voice was gawdawful; he was definitely no John Denver. But it was still the most beautiful sound she'd ever heard in her life. "Y…you… you really mean this? Because if it turns out you're just stringing me along, I swear I'll seriously hurt you."

He smiled as he shook his head. "No stringing; I really mean it. Isabel… we've only known each other for a month—not even a full month, really—but you're the greatest female I've ever met. So I'm choosing you to court… if that's okay with you?" he asked anxiously.

Isabel rolled her eyes. "Oh, you… Yes, it's okay with me! What did you think I was going to do, beat you over the head with the flowers?" she asked as she brandished them over his head, pretending to do just that. He grinned as he ducked, and she glimpsed something outside, heaped on the ground behind him. "What's that?"

"Another courting gift; this one's a tradition of my old clan," he said as he stepped aside and gestured with a flourish at the deer carcass he'd brought. "The male had to show he could provide for the female while she's egg-heavy. Sorry it's not something bigger, but I figured you'd beat me to death with my own tail if I went after another big gator by myself."

"Yeah, I just might have," she wryly agreed. "Actually, we have this tradition in my clan, too. Or at least nearly the same tradition… Can I share the meat with the clan, like most folks here would do, or do I have to eat it all myself to show acceptance?"

"Oh, you can share the meat with everybody; it's really just symbolic. And speaking of symbols…" he pointed to the bouquet she was holding. "I think I should point out to you that there aren't any red roses in there."

Which was true enough; there weren't any red roses, though there were plenty of pink ones and several purple lilacs. She asked about the significance of that, and he said seriously, "It's really important that we be honest with each other right from the start, and everything I've read and seen says that red roses are for true love—and what I'm feeling for you isn't true love yet. I've seen true love, like Goliath has for Elisa; she's his moon and starlight, and if she ever—well, anyway. These are the flower-symbols for 'starting to love', instead. I like you a lot, I'm very attracted to you, I respect your skills and the way you think, I want to spend lots more time with you… and I can picture us growing old together. Even with creaky joints and wrinkled beaks—or gray muzzle-fur for you, I'm guessing—I can still see us being together."

After a moment's pause, Isabel smiled and nodded. "I can work with that."

Brooklyn chuckled as he hugged her, wrapping his arms and wings around her. "That's what I was hoping you'd say. Now hold still for a moment; I want to try something." He dipped his head next to hers, and gently rubbed the side of his beak against her muzzle. "Mmmm… nice?"

"Mmyeah, very nice," she purred as she stroked him back with her whiskers. "A little harder, maybe?"

"Oh, yeah," he whispered as they stroked each other on either side, leathery skin rubbing against soft silky fur. "Oh, this is good, better than just mashing lips together."

"Mm-hmm… But I want to try that too. Hold still," as she maneuvered them a bit, to lightly touch her mouth to the end of his beak. At first it didn't do much of anything for either of them, but then she moved a bit and the very tip of his beak touched into the sensitive cleft of her upper lip. "Yowza!" as she jumped back. She shook her head briefly, almost in a daze, as he stared at her worriedly. "That was like an electric shock!"

"A… a bad shock?" he asked hesitantly.

"Haven't decided yet. We'd better do it again, to make sure," she teased, as she stepped back into his embrace.

00oo00oo00oo00oo00

Brooklyn hesitantly and very lightly touched the tip of his beak to the cleft in Isabel's lips again, and felt her shiver in his embrace. "Ooohhh… I think… it's a good shock," she gasped, as she broke that single point of contact in order to rub her entire body against him. "Wanna do some more experimenting?"

And he knew even before she reached behind his back that tonight's courtship was going to end in far, far more than just affectionate cuddles and beak-kisses. He didn't know just how he knew, something in her eyes or stance or scent, but he knew that now that he'd chosen her, Isabel was determined that they weren't going to leave her workshop until they were well and truly mated and bonded, with or without a proper ceremony.

Part of him—a large part, too!—was utterly delighted at the prospect; one thing he already knew was that he liked sex, very much, and the thought of finally being able to have sex with somebody he truly cared about and was beginning to love was even more exciting. So why was part of him… disappointed in her?

Because she was acting like Marie, he realized, even as he groaned with pleasure as her questing fingers found that erogenous zone between his wing-joints and lightly stroked there. She was acting like Marie just now, and that just wasn't right, not tonight…

With an effort, he stopped himself from reaching for her own crewenn, and brought his hands up to her shoulders instead. "Isabel… wait," he groaned as he pushed her away slightly. "N-not yet."

For an instant, she just stared at him in confusion; then her feline ears went back in embarrassment as she looked down and away from him and she muttered, "S-sorry. I thought… Never mind," as she tried to back out of his grip.

He gently but firmly held her in place instead, as he said gently, "Hey, I didn't say 'no'; I just said 'not yet'. I think we need to get a few more things straight first, that's all."

She glanced at him uncertainly. "Such as…?"

"Well… I just want you to know that we don't have to rush into anything tonight, not if you don't really, really want to. I already said it's you I choose to court, want to mate with; and believe me, I thought about it long and hard before I came in here. I'm not going to change my mind, and there's nothing that any of your sisters could say to me that could make me break my word to you. Okay?"

"Okay." She smiled at him again, though her ears were still back in embarrassment. "I guess part of it was a sort of eagerness to… stake my claim, sort of. Sorry…" But then her ears came forward again as she looked at him slyly. "But that wasn't all of it, studmuffin…"

He grinned and waggled his brow ridges at her. "Studmuffin, huh? I kinda like the sound of that. But does that mean I can call you my sex kitten?"

She arched a brow ridge back at him, as one claw flashed up to tap meaningfully on the side of his beak. "Not in public."

Now that was what he liked most about her: her spirit. She was neither slyly dominating like Marie nor submissive like two of her other sisters, but demanded to be treated equally, as a fellow warrior. Undaunted by her brief flash of temper, he pressed on with a grin, "But in private?"

She pretended to consider it, even as her tail snaked around his leg again. "Well, in private, I suppose I won't mind too terribly…"

He grinned even wider, as his tail likewise looped around her leg. "So, uh, you want to go for a glide?"

"A glide sounds good," Isabel agreed, as she stretched her muzzle forward for another affectionate rub against the side of his beak. He rubbed back against her with a quiet rumble of appreciation. Then she pulled back to ask, "But before we go, did you want to see what I've been working on? In fact, you could sort-of call it my courting gift to you, when it's finished."

Brooklyn had dimly been aware of a metal sculpture sitting on a small wheeled worktable parked next to the welding torch, but hadn't paid it any attention; he'd been too focused on Isabel herself. But now that she gestured towards it with a shy smile, he turned to look at it. And after a moment or two of looking at it, he gasped in recognition. "Is that… me? On a motorcycle?"

She grinned as she gestured at the mass of gleaming metal, the two-foot-tall rough shape of a beaked gargoyle, gripping the handlebars of a two-wheeled vehicle that captured the rugged essence of a Harley-Davidson. "Right the first time. The night before the three-way mating ceremony, Robert came by to borrow my airbrush kit and he told me a story that you'd told him during… well, during the non-dating period. He told me how you'd gone joyriding on a motorcycle up in New York; even running with a biker gang there for an hour or two, before they found out you weren't human like them. And that story inspired this… Soooo, you like?"

"Hell yeah, I like!" Brooklyn said as he leaned in closer to get a better look at the details. It looked like Isabel had made his form from a combination of cut sheet metal and welded rods, and the cycle from a series of gears and rods that had been welded and wrung into shape. "How come you didn't show me this while I was in here last night?"

"I almost did, but last night it was barely half-finished and you probably wouldn't have recognized yourself or the bike. I learned a long time ago that works-in-progress usually only look good in the artist's mind. I started working on it again as soon as you left, kept at it until dawn and came back down here again as soon as I shook the gravel off. And it's almost finished now, except for the head; I still need to attach the left horn. It rolled off the table while I was putting the mane on, and I haven't--"

"Found it," Brooklyn interrupted with a grimace. He lifted his left leg and carefully removed a two-inch sliver of metal poking out of the high-arched sole of his foot.

Isabel apologized, then picked up a soldering iron and tweezers and carefully soldered the horn in place. "Ta-daaaah! I was thinking of it as a souvenir to remember you by if you chose Yvette instead, but now I'm thinking it will come up to Manhattan with us. What do you think?"

Brooklyn touched the statue lightly. "I... wow, I really don't know what to say. No one's ever considered me worthy of a work of art before."

"You're really a stud, in your own unique way," Isabel said with a shrug and a smile. "And I'm glad you like it."

"I like it… and I'm more certain than ever that I made the right choice," Brooklyn said before giving her another hug, that escalated into more rubbing of beak against muzzle and other touches. After a few moments he pulled back, breathing hard. "Uh… gliding. Right. We were going to go for a glide or something. If you want?"

"Yeah, a glide would be nice," Isabel said a bit breathlessly as they turned together and started to head for the door to outside. Then she remarked in a teasing tone, "Although the 'or something' might be nicer…"

Brooklyn grinned again; flirting and banter with Isabel was now definitely his favorite activity. There was something wonderful about having chosen each other, knowing they were going to be mates and looking forward to it, but feeling no great pressure anymore.

They went for a glide together, by unspoken agreement arcing away from the clan grounds, unwilling to be seen together and let everyone know about their choice just yet. Now wasn't the time to endure the fuss others were going to make, whether congratulatory or dismaying; now was the time to simply be with each other, to begin growing together.

00oo00oo00oo00oo00

12.1-1: Unmasking Cleopatra

Yvette found Angela in one of the clan's walk-in linen closets, sobbing into a terrycloth towel. She gently but firmly pulled the crying female out of the closet and pushed her into an unused guest bedroom nearby, ignoring Angela's sobbing protests: "L-leave me alone! Just go away! …Why can't you leave me alone? I've just lost Broadway, and there's nothing you could say to make it better!"

Yvette looked her over with a critical eye as she said coolly, "Yes, you've lost his heart. But then, he never really had yours, did he?"

Angela's grief instantly turned to outrage. "What? How dare you! If you think that just because you're a sluttish little bitch, everyone else--"

And Yvette slapped her, hard and talons out. The slap slashed Angela's cheek open, just as Martha's had been laid open earlier.

Stumbling back, too shocked to even cry out, Angela stared at her while Yvette said angrily, "I've been biting my tongue for weeks, not wanting to start a true feud between us if I ended up in your clan. Now that Brooklyn had made his choice, I'm free to do what I should have done to you weeks ago, not for my sake but for Broadway's! Be honest with me, Angela! You never really loved Broadway for himself, or you would not have tried so hard to change him into someone else!"

"Shut up!" Angela shouted, while holding the towel to her cheek to soak up the blood.

But Ursula and Lucretia had come in while Yvette had been talking. And Ursula said severely, "No, Angela; it's your turn to be quiet. And to listen. I suspect Yvette is only saying what I myself should have said some time ago."

Yvette continued heatedly, "You nagged Broadway over and over to stop eating so much, to exercise more, to lose weight… dangling your promise of mating with him for incentive, like a carrot in front of a mule! But did you ever once give him praise for the pounds he did lose while trying to please you?"

Lucretia added with a raised brow ridge, "I saw the wedding attire you asked Yvette to make for him. You wanted it so many sizes too small, it would have taken a miracle to get him down to that size before the breeding season! And I'm sure now that you knew that from the start…"

Yvette finished with her fangs bared in a sneer of contempt, "You were stalling, putting off mating with him as long as possible, because you didn't really want him for a mate!"

Ursula raised a hand to pause Yvette in her diatribe. She gave Angela a look of pity mixed with censure as she said, "Hudson told me that he'd realized lately how much subtle pressure your clan had been putting on you to choose a mate, without really meaning to. You chose Broadway not out of love, but because he looked to be the best choice out of the three males, wasn't he? The one most eager to please you, and do whatever you wanted… the most malleable, the one you thought you could shape into something close to your ideal."

"No! That's a lie!" Angela shouted desperately.

"Is it really?" Ursula mused. "Then play a little game with me. Picture yourself alone atop a building, far from the clan, your wings ruined and unable to glide to safety… facing dawn and knowing that with dawn will come a Quarryman's hammer! It's time to die, Angela; who do you wish you could see and hold and kiss just one last time?"

Staring at her toe-talons, Angela finally admitted in a small, broken voice: "…Gabriel."

"Gabriel, the leader of your clan back on Avalon?" Ursula gently prompted.

"Yes." Angela began sobbing again as she went on, "He wanted us to be mates, even asked me once, b-but I wanted to go exploring first… I've tried so hard not to think about him since I came here; he wouldn't leave Avalon, and I can't go back there! Not after seeing how much there is to the world besides that little island! But I m-miss him so much…"

Yvette was not at all moved by her tears. "So instead of going back to him, you decided to 'make do' with Broadway… and make his life miserable in the process!"

"I never meant to hurt him!" Angela cried, sinking to her knees. "And I thought we could be happy together, someday… someday, if he only--"

"If he only turned into someone resembling Gabriel. You disgust me!" as Yvette turned away from her, and walked out of the room.

That left Ursula and Lucretia in the room with the sobbing Angela, and after the two elders exchanged glances, Ursula went over to Angela and helped her to her feet. "There, there… things will work out somehow, I'm sure. Now come, let's get those cuts looked at. Guilliame is still busy with treating the injuries you gave poor Martha, but perhaps—if you personally apologize to Martha, then ask very nicely—his assistant Cecelia will agree to clean and stitch these up so they don't scar…"

00oo00oo00oo00oo00

Cecelia had already numbed and stitched shut the rips in Broadway's left ear, and treated his hand and chest with peroxide to clean out the bites and scratches before bandaging them. So after Guilliame told him bluntly to stop getting underfoot and in the way of treating Martha's more extensive injuries, Broadway went out to go get Martha that promised courting gift, before the painkillers wore off and he started really hurting again. He knew Martha really liked crayfish; would a net-full of those make a good gift? No, better to go with the traditional stuff that was caught with bare talons, like a deer…

Broadway paused in his thoughts as he opened the door to the roof and noticed who was waiting for him at the exit: Goliath.

Goliath was facing away from the entrance; Broadway could see the tension in his wings and stance, but his face was turned away, unreadable.

Broadway swallowed hard, then stepped forward. "Goliath, I'm sorry if you're upset… and I really am sorry that I hurt Angela with my choice… but there's nothing you can say or do that would make me choose her again. I chose to court Martha, and she chose me, and we're going to be mates, and—and—and if you don't want me in your clan anymore, then--"

Still not looking, Goliath raised a hand to pause him, and Broadway shut up. Goliath finally turned to face him, and he saw no anger on his leader's face; only sorrow. "I would never banish someone from my clan for following their heart. I only regret that I didn't see this coming, some time ago. As I should have…" Goliath shook his head before continuing, "You won't be punished in any way, Broadway… beyond what it appears Angela already did to you, that is," as his leader eyed the bandages on his head, chest and hand. "How bad is the damage?"

"My ear got slashed pretty bad, but they said nothing was actually ripped off, and they stitched it up so it should heal without scarring," Broadway said as he gingerly touched the bandages over his ear with his bandaged hand.

"And your hand?"

"She bit that pretty good, but they cleaned out the puncture wounds before putting the bandage on. And my chest was just scratched up some; I'll be fine by tomorrow, really."

"That's good. And now, you're… hunting for a courting gift?"

Broadway nodded. "I was figuring on a deer; I'm pretty sure I can take one down and bring it in with only one hand."

"I'm sure you will. Clear skies and good hunting to you, Broadway…"

00oo00oo00oo00oo00

Angela walked with Ursula to the clinic, staring at her toe-talons the entire way. Inside the clinic, Ursula sweetly said that before Angela received her own medical care, she had an apology ready for Martha.

Angela was anything but ready to apologize to the sneaking, conniving bitch who had stolen Broadway away from her… but she managed to mutter "I'm sorry I hurt you so badly." To which Martha mumbled something in reply, before Guilliame told Cecelia to take her into the other room and treat her slashed cheek.

00oo00oo00oo00oo00

After taking Angela to the clinic to get her slashed cheek stitched up, Ursula found Hudson and Goliath up on the roof together, discussing recent events. Including one that hadn't been directly witnessed, but that the two males easily deduced. "Ah, Ursula; ye've heard the news about Broadway and Martha, aye?" Hudson asked her with a smile. "Well, we're thinking there may have been more choosing tonight," as he pointed to the deer lying at the door to Isabel's workshop, visible from their vantage point. "Unless some hunter of your clan got lost on his way to the kitchen, that's Brooklyn's courting gift, laid at what might as well be Isabel's perch!"

"So it will be Isabel, Martha, Robert and Rebecca coming up to Manhattan with us," Ursula said with satisfaction. "Excellent. Martha has the temperament to become a good rookery keeper, and I'm sure you'll find the others will become a great asset on patrols."

"Aye, we think—with us?" Hudson said with a double-take at Ursula, a stare that turned into surprised delight. "Lass, are ye saying that ye've changed yer mind, and ye'll be coming with me to Manhattan?"

"Yes… after we have a proper mating ceremony here, that is," Ursula said as she walked into his open arms and accepted his embrace.

After fiercely hugging her for a few moments, Hudson pulled back and gave her a look of suspicious dismay. "Ye're going to be putting me in one of those fancy tuxedo things, aren't ye?"

Goliath had been turning to go back inside the mansion and give them some privacy, but upon overhearing that, he chuckled and gave Hudson a comradely clap on the shoulder. "If I could stand it for a few hours, old friend, so can you! Congratulations!"

00oo00oo00oo00oo00

Ursula had left while Angela was still being stitched up, so when Cecelia finished with her, Angela left the clinic alone, and in silence. But before she'd gone a dozen steps, she felt a large and familiar hand on her shoulder, and a familiar voice saying with concern, "Angela…"

"Oh, Father!" as she fell into his arms, and let the tears come again.

Goliath said nothing, as she cried on his shoulder; still said nothing, as she choked out everything that had happened that night. He merely held her, until there were no more tears to cry.

Next: Weddings and Other Ceremonies

Another Author's note: The song Isabel is the property of singer/songwriter John Denver's estate, and no copyright infringement is intended by use of its lyrics in this story.