Howdy there. This is my first story on this site, and I'd love to hear your thoughts. :-3


Chapter one: In which the early bird catches the worm and Happy catches a cat that looks like a meringue.


Locked. Of course it was locked. Jake Pearton didn't even bother to knock on the door.

He kicked the damn thing.

He really shouldn't, and Andrew would not only bust a nut, have a cow and birth a small donkey if he saw Jake abusing his door (theirs really, but it was hard calling this elegant monstrosity of a house home), he would abruptly attempt to murder him without thought or question as to why Jake was kicking his door. Theirs. Damn it.

Okay, so it was kind of Jake's fault for forgetting his house key, and he kind of had nine months already to get used to the idea of needing to shove his cut key into his pocket before leaving for college, but it wasn't his fault if a life of institutions had firmly imprinted in him the house cat philosophy of 'come and go as you please' through a constantly open door. He did remember most days, in his defence. He and Andrew had a mutual agreement of separate independence, which did not involve Andrew waiting for him when he got home and opening the door for him like some kind of...jovial father.

Oh lord no. Jake would have shuddered at the thought had it not been an overbearingly hot day (another reason he wanted to get inside) where any bodily attempts at shivering simply morphed into another bead of sweat down the back. Andrew Bilvante may technically hold custody of him, and he may technically have been listed as his guardian since August last year when Jake had just finished secondary school, but the day Jake called him dad would be the day that the clouds rained soda and mermaids jumped out of his arse – you know what? He still wouldn't call Andrew dad even then. It was just never going to happen.

For one thing, what with the way Jake boasted a proud seventeen years of age and Andrew moodily grunted a somewhat more mature twenty-three – six years separating them – Jake was rather inclined to say sod the technicalities of law. Andrew was practically a flatmate. Except he didn't live in a flat. He lived in an obnoxiously large almost-mansion on a ridiculously pompous road of equally ridiculous and posh houses.

Which was why, woe betide Jake, the door was firmly locked.

Well. Not so firmly locked. The hinges had been dodgy since Jake had slammed the door rather violently shut on his way out that time; Andrew was supposed to be calling some odd job guy round to fix them at some point.

Yeah, he really shouldn't have kicked the door.

He was fairly sure it wasn't supposed to be wobbling like that.

Jake rubbed his face and groaned into his wrists, resigning to sitting on the front step with his face in his hands and waiting for Andrew to come home. The doormat was itchy through the loose denim jeans covering his behind. He wanted to rip them and his T-shirt off and sprawl down under the sprinklers (which were never turned on, of course, because this was Andrew, and he didn't give a flying arse about his wilting gardens) in just his boxers, but he didn't think Mrs Margery across the road would really appreciate that. Then again, her curtains rippled enough with the weight of her snooty nose peering through them that it was almost as if she expected 'Andrew's charity case' to start gallivanting half-naked in the garden. Prude. If she wanted to turn down that thermostat in the sky, he'd be happy to keep his T-shirt on.

"Open sesame," Jake mumbled into his palm, smacking a fist behind him onto the wooden panelling of the door. It shuddered disapprovingly and jarred his pinkie finger. He stared at his thrumming hand for a moment, oddly enjoying the burst of mild pins and needles, before kicking off his trainers and falling onto his back.

He'd gotten out of college at half past four. It was now five. Andrew came home from work at roughly quarter past six.

He was in for a long wait.

Jake gazed at the clouds puffing fungi-like through the blue sky above until the dragon he'd picked out had turned into a considerably less threatening fluffy rabbit and disappeared behind a chimney. The wind rippled through his T shirt, not the least bit refreshing, but humid and heavy instead. And then, his day took a rather drastic turn for the different that started with an insistent, nasal miaow.

Jake pushed himself up on his elbows and looked around the plain garden for the neighbour's cat, Milfred Muffle. The plump tortoiseshell's collar might say Elizabeth, but she was Milfred Muffle to Jake. He spotted her under the rosebush looking blankly at him.

"Miaow," he retorted flatly, blinking back at her. Milfred Muffle's disproportionately fluffy tail, Freddy Fluffle (Jake had, needless to say, a lot of spare time to come up with names on his keyless afternoons waiting for Andrew) flicked once with the aggravation of a cat suffering from the torment of summer insects, and then the cat turned back to the rose bush, her grating high-pitched miaow filling the air. She stared into the bush, and a bizarre warble spilled from her mouth.

Jake recognised it with a growing frown as the odd noise cats made when they were hunting birds and hoisted himself up, stepping over his discarded bag and padding across the lawn.

"What cha' got there, Muffles?" he murmured, dropping to his haunches and running his fingers through her toilet brush tail. He couldn't see anything between the rose bush and the wall. What was she –

"Oh," he exhaled sharply, spotting the starling through the gaps in the thorns. Milfred Muffle started stalking forward and Jake tightened his grip on her tail, waiting for the bird to fly away. It didn't. What it did do, instead, was totter out the safety of the bush entirely and scurry towards him across the lawn. Jake mouthed silent horror and grabbed the hind legs of one very delighted and squirming tortoiseshell abomination.

"Muffles, no!" he hissed, holding her down. What was the stupid bird doing? It tensed in the middle of the lawn, and that was when Jake noticed its bent wing. He stared down in further horror at the squirming fat cat and scooped her up in his arms, rising as gently as he could to his knees (Christ, the bird must be really scared. You weren't supposed to make sudden movements with wild animals, were you?) and backing across the lawn and out the gate. Milfred Muffle hissed and spat. He hissed right back at her and dumped her unceremoniously some way up the pavement.

"Shut up fatty, it's your own doing."

He expected the bird to be hiding when he tiptoed back into the garden, but it was still there, damaged wing drooping slightly on the grass. Jake raked his fingers through his dirty blond hair, sitting down very slowly and racking his brains for how to help an injured wild animal. It looked so small and fragile. It was hunching up and puffing its feathers out, looking for all the world like a fluffy Scottie dog. Should he get a cardboard box for it to sit in and put it somewhere high up so Milfred Muffle couldn't get it? But what if it fell down? Should he even go near it at all? Should he call some wildlife helpline? Did he even have his phone on him? Was he supposed to put honey on the wound? Gah, now if only he hadn't forgotten his key. How was he supposed to get inside the house?

Jake's rampant thoughts derailed as the little bird tottered boldly towards him and cheeped. Jake stiffened as it pottered up to him, inspected his fingers intertwined in the neatly cut grass (wasn't it supposed to be weary of humans?) and promptly fell against his hand.

Jake, after much blinking at the wonder of it, lifted a shaking finger to its good wing and propped it upright. He touched its beak accidentally and flinched. It got up again and stood by itself, cheeping frantically. Jake pushed himself to his feet, very slowly, and walked backwards towards the door, his socked feet pressing lightly into the grass. The starling, barely bigger than a chick that had just flown the nest, followed him. He stepped to the side. It followed him. He stepped to the other side. It followed him. Injured, cheeping and desperate.

Now, Jake Pearton loved animals. If he ended up in some veterinary clinic working ridiculously long hours, or in a wildlife sanctuary with crappy pay, or wound up spending his days walking smelly dogs for snooty owners, he'd be in heaven.

He was also never one to turn away someone in need of help, and the same applied to somethings.

Jake eyed the door and the injured bird.

"Alright then," he said in a soft voice to the starling, smiling grimly. "This is going to be a bit loud, so cover your ears."

He didn't really expect it to work. He should probably stop watching crime dramas. But surprisingly when he hurled all his weight shoulder-first into the door it did open, smash against the wall, and clunk unhealthily to the floor as the top hinge shattered.

Andrew would forgive him.

Probably.


It was one hour later that Andrew Bilvante turned into the driveway and relaxed his car into park, lips a thin line as he switched the engine off and pocketed the keys. He'd caught himself doing something of a smile a block away at the prospect of reaching home, and he was feeling mildly disturbed. There was no 'home'. It was a house. A quiet, tidy, orderly house, just the way he liked it. Or at least it had been up until a few months ago. Nine months, to be precise.

He eyed Jake's mess of dirty blond hair on the porch and couldn't help snorting quietly. Of course. He'd forgotten his key, again. Andrew escaped his seat belt and grabbed his portfolio before stepping fluidly out his silver BMW, locking it with a twist of his wrist. His shoes crunched across the gravel of the driveway and Jake looked up and quickly away again, and Andrew felt the light licks of trepidation start in his gut. Hm. That was never a good sign. He hefted his folder over his shoulder and slowly came to a stop in front of the boy, raising an eyebrow.

Jake had the gall to scratch his cheek sheepishly.

He was sitting in the afternoon sunlight in front of the open – decidedly not locked – door next to a cardboard box. A cardboard box containing a water bottle cap filled with water, a pile of sunflower seeds and torn pieces of granary bread which were unmistakably Andrew's (Jake refused to eat 'bird feed' as he put it. If he died of malnourishment, Andrew was hurling bird feed onto his coffin instead of the ceremonial sprinkling of soil), and a small bird that appeared to be pecking at Jake's finger.

"Hey," Jake said, ruffling his hair nervously with his free hand. "So I rescued a starling."

Andrew's gaze travelled from the box, to Jake's sunlit hair and averted mossy green eyes, and zeroed in on the door. His own dark eyes narrowed to slits.

"And I sort of...broke the door."

Slim, slim, slits.

"...Pearton."

Jake flinched. Andrew only resorted to using his surname when he was so pissed he was almost speechless.

"I didn't think it would actually break!" Jake objected, throwing his hands in the air. The bird next to him chirped loudly and his attention flew to it immediately, smoothing down the feathers under its beak. Andrew stared unblinkingly as his charge ranted, hands devoted to the bird and eyes sparking at the man above him, and wondered if it was anger making his eyes itch or the fact that he'd only had five hours sleep. Andrew didn't perform well on five hours sleep. Things like homicidal urges were poorly restrained.

He was not going to kill him. He was not going to waste energy strangling a silly boy so hell-bent on making obstructions in his life.

"I mean, it was broken already and we're getting it fixed right, so it's not like it makes that much difference. You can't even see that it's broken from outside! I checked. Though it's kinda hard to open, but you just need to tug it a bit and lift it back into place, and I thought I shouldn't really touch it any more, so I've left it open..."

He was going to kill him.

Jake trailed off under the full power of the Bilvante glare Andrew had been told so many times was five times as worse as Tessa's, winced, and scrunched up his nose remorsefully. Andrew drew a calming breath and closed his eyes.

"Okay."

He was not getting angry. He was not being childish. He was not being possessive over the things that belonged to him, and Natalie was not right when she chewed his ear off earlier after his surly reaction to the discovery that she'd borrowed his stapler. He just wanted to come home to a house that was still standing. This was difficult for a person like Jake, he knew that. But still. Surely, it could not be that much to ask for.

My, were those the door nails on the floor there?

"Okay. We are not getting a new door. I am. And you," he bit out, storming past him into the house, "are utterly brainless." Angry footsteps followed him a second later into the living room just like he knew they would, and a defensive and flushed Jake Pearton stomped into view holding the cardboard box to his chest.

"Alright, I know I can be a bit moronic sometimes but there's no need to be a prick Andy -"

"Andrew," Andrew hissed for the millionth time, dumping his portfolio on the coffee table. A few floor plans that he had to finish by tonight spilled onto the glass. This was not fucking funny. Jake Pearton brought mess, and extra work, and never called him by his name.

"- but it's just a door Andy, chill out!" Jake ignored him for the millionth time, stepping towards him and, with a small amount of difficulty negotiating the box, prodding him in the chest with a glare. "And yes we are getting the door, because I already told you that we're going half on it! I did break it in the first place. Now we just have to...sort of replace all of it, not just the hinges..." He wrinkled his nose sheepishly. Leave it to Jake to be able to perform complicated facial expressions using only his nose. It scrunched up in determined persuasion next, proving its vast range of emotions. "C'mon, it'll be fun! You can go through door catalogues and pick your favourite shade of moody black –"

Andrew pushed the irritating boy's forehead with the heel of his palm.

"Ow! Child abuse! Fuck..." Jake cursed, balancing the box and its twittering contents on his knee while he warily rubbed his forehead. Andrew fell onto the couch, crossing his legs and arms.

"Door abuse, Jake. Door abuse." Jake grinned hesitantly at his name. Andrew was not impressed. He hissed and rubbed his temple. "Y'know what, I don't even want to know how you did it. Why am I even surprised?"

Jake hopped onto the arm rest, careful not to jog the box on his knees too much. His tentative grin was awful. Highly contagious and nothing but trouble. Andrew only survived because he was adept at being a moody bugger, and immune to all strains of Idiot Jake disease. "Yeah you do. It was kinda brilliant. I knocked it down like a cop barging in on a drug deal. I didn't think you could actually do that without having police training or something."

Andrew's unimpressed scowl deepened a few notches. The thing about the rare conversations he had with Jake was that, no matter how casual they seemed, they...held an undertone of awkwardness, for him at least. He was responsible for the boy, but they were practically the same age. Jake refused to treat him as anything but a peer. Andrew found that mildly dangerous but couldn't quite keep himself in check. "So you threw the weight of your stupidity against it."

Yet he still found himself feeling protective of the boy. Which reared its ugly head when Jake threw his hands in the air (a frequent gesture roughly the equivalent of how come you get to say these things to me? that irritated Andrew to hell) and grunted in disbelief, causing his T-shirt sleeve to slip up and reveal red, angry flesh. Andrew clicked his tongue.

"And hurt yourself. Brilliant." Jake was the most consistently brainless person he had ever met. "Very clever."

Jake wanly scrunched up his nose and shifted his shoulder. "Yeah, alright. Chill out mum," he muttered. Andrew's mouth became a curved, unhappy line and he slapped the sofa next to him once, harshly.

"Sit."

Jake shifted again and looked away. "It's fine. I'll put Savlon on it in a bit –"

"Put the bird down," Andrew hissed. "And sit."

With much mumbling, Jake slid off the armrest and carefully placed the box on the coffee table, the sofa dipping as he fell back against it. Jake watched the starling patter across the box looking for him and glanced to Andrew, a determined look about his green eyes.

"I'm going to look after it til it gets better."

He jumped slightly when Andrew, with no preamble, jerked his sleeve up and glared stony-faced at his throbbing shoulder. A considerable amount of skin had been scraped off from his impact with the door, and the flesh was left pink and raw.

"No," Andrew said tightly, dropping his sleeve and trying to remember where the first aid kit was. Fucking hell, he might as well start childproofing the plugs and hiding the cutlery what with how damn careless this kid was. "You can't even look after yourself."

Jake looked at him in alarm. "What? What d'you mean no - why the hell not? I look after myself just fine, and it's injured. What the hell does a little scrape have to do with saving something?"

Andrew stood and didn't answer, stalking to the bathroom.

"Andy? Oi!"

There was probably something in the cupboard. Under the tablet boxes for aspirins neither of them used and the pots of hair putty that Jake did. Under the pile of crap. Under the pile of crap under the pile of crap. There had to be something somewhere. How much bathroom paraphernalia did two people need? Andrew rifled violently through it all until he found a tube of antiseptic cream and a string of plasters he didn't know he had, slammed the cupboard shut, and caught sight of his reflection.

Angry about the eyes. Breathing heavily through his nose. Highly distressed. Over-reacting. Always over-reacting.

Andrew leaned his palms against the sink and bowed his head, breathing in deeply. Dear god, what was he doing? Bilvantes were calm.

Jake was sitting stiffly on the sofa staring at the bird when he came back in the room, the ever-present, suffocating tension returning to hang over them. Andrew felt a constant irritation under his skin whenever he was with the kid, and yet, the hell he knew why, he looked forward to coming...home. To this, whatever this was; to a stranger he'd taken in and even with almost a year's experience still had no idea how to handle. It was an uncomfortable feeling that made him feel simultaneously disgusted with himself and alive.

Andrew appeared to be a masochist.

He chucked the tube and plasters at the space next to Jake and crossed his arms, glancing warily at the bird. It was probably diseased. Its wing looked weird.

The tension in Jake's shoulders relaxed and he grumbled a quiet thanks as he unscrewed the cap and spread cream messily onto his shoulder. "You really need to stop just leaving a conversation without a word," he muttered, wiping the cream under his fingernails into the red flesh and rubbing it in. He wasn't fazed by Andrew's silence, far too used to it, and gazed instead with curiosity at the bird in its sorry little box. "Do you think this'd work on its wing?"

Andrew shifted his crossed arms. God, who cared? "Perhaps. It won't do a lot if it does. You can't help it."

"Oh c'mon, you don't know that," Jake said fiercely, green eyes burning as they looked up at him, hot and disapproving. Andrew was appalled for a second at the prospect of his charge crying – which he had never seen – but then he remembered that this was Jake. Stupid determined Jake. Jake didn't cry. "I haven't tried yet."

Andrew looked from him to the cardboard box and the straggly-looking creature inside. "It's going to die, Jake," he said blankly, not exactly sure how to proceed in this situation. Was he supposed to sit down and have the death talk? He couldn't do that. He didn't understand why Jake was kicking up such a fuss. They'd both heard the death talk from far too young an age, and not from their parents. It was going to die, so they should just put it back outside where it belonged and let the neighbour's fat ugly cat get it. Cycle of life and all that.

"You don't know that," Jake repeated quietly. He pulled the box onto his lap and carefully squeezed cream onto his finger, dabbing it experimentally on the wing of the chirping bird. It did look very much alive. Sounded like it too. "It's not dying, it's just slightly injured." Jake looked up helplessly, an air of embarrassment clinging to his words. "Look Andy, I get that this is your house and you don't like mess and stuff, but I'll look after it, and I swear I'll keep it out of your way. Don't be heartless, yeah? I –" He puffed his cheeks out. "Jesus. Please?"

Andrew pushed his tongue to the back of his teeth and felt growing discomfort from their steady matched gaze. He hated it when Jake pleaded with him.

Andrew walked out the room.

Mainly because he couldn't say no.

Which was unfair, because no one had indulged him when he'd reached out for them. But he had a feeling, and he knew it was right, that the same applied to Jake. Which was mainly why the boy was in his house.

…No. No, he didn't know why the boy was in his house.

-x-

Andrew came down from the floor boasting his office, workroom and bedroom and shoved the phone back into its cradle. The conversation he'd just had with the woman was mildly infuriating. He could have sworn she was actually trying to flirt with him. What kind of worker at a wildlife sanctuary wasted time on being friendly with customers when they should be saving pathetic wounded creatures? Everything was infuriating. He should just say no. Should have said it nine bloody months ago. Should never have offered in the first place.

He stepped into the living room to find Jake lying on his back, still on the sofa, with the box on his stomach. The bird was actually out and twittering about on his chest where he was petting it softly, and Andrew made a pained face of resignation upon noticing that it was moving its wings just fine. Jesus, he bet it wasn't hurt at all. Why was he doing this?

Jake's expression turned sour when he noticed him, and Andrew immediately glowered and crossed his arms, leaning against the doorframe. He'd always found comfort in the action. It made him feel like there was a safety barrier between him and everyone else. "Is the wing punctured or just bruised?"

Jake sat up, blinking in confusion and putting the little cheeping bundle of severe annoyance carefully back in the box. "What?"

Andrew clicked his tongue. "Punctured. Bleeding. Imminent death inducing. Or bruised?" He shifted edgily at the odd look creeping into Jake's eyes. "Don't look at me like that. As long as there's nothing that can get infected and no bones are broken, the stupid woman on the phone said it can be nursed back to health. It's obviously not stressed enough to heart attack on you."

"What…well nothing's bleeding and it only holds the wing a little away from its body, so it can't hurt that much. Are you – are you saying you're okay with me keeping it here for a bit?" Jake asked a little disbelievingly. Well. Andrew didn't quite believe he'd turned into such a sap either. He cleared his throat.

"As long as you feed it and clean up its shit."

"Yes! Andy, you fucking legend –!"

"Jake," Andrew said in warning and muted horror, but the boy was already bounding off the sofa with no preamble and tackling his midsection. Andrew let out a grunt as arms wrapped around his torso and his head thudded lightly against the doorframe, dirty blond hair tickling his nose. Jake was almost as tall as him now. He was mildly shocked.

If Andrew's sense of humour (which he did have somewhere, buried very deep) included painfully awkward situations whereby his charge got carried away in the moment then visibly regretted it, he might have found it amusing when, a few silent seconds later, the boy's arms notably slackened around him and Jake started staring into chest like he'd just been caught out calling his teacher 'mum'. But no. Andrew did not find this amusing. He found it highly disturbing.

Andrew pushed him stiffly away with two hands on his shoulders. "Okay, do not do that again."

"Ah - ahahah, yeah! I just – I mean thanks – I know you don't like mushy shit –" Jake was talking far too quickly. "Yeah. So you do have a heart huh?" he joked lamely, letting his arms fall to his sides while Andrew did the same.

"Hm." Andrew managed a robotic nod and fixed his gaze past Jake's shoulder. Jake opened his mouth and rubbed the side of his face, pressing up the skin above his brow in that way he did where he squinted one eye and was about to let out a long list of 'soooooo's and 'ummmm's.

"Umm...no, I mean obviously you have a heart. Yeah. Umm…"

"Right." Andrew walked past him and cleared his throat, sitting on the sofa beside the cardboard box and looking blankly at the bird. It was the bird's fault. Everything was the bird's fault. A starling, Jake had called it. Andrew didn't know the difference between a starling and a stoat.

"You should name it Nuisance," he said, just to stop Jake standing there at the door. The boy rocked on his heels and finally made a move to step awkwardly over Andrew's feet and fall heavily on the other side of the sofa, the box between them. He glanced at Andrew quickly before peering over the cardboard. Cue an awkward laugh. The fluffy avian harbinger of disaster scuttled towards him like a puppy.

"That wouldn't be very good for its self confidence now, would it?" Jake rearranged his feet until he was sitting Indian style and looked fondly down at the starling. "It's really...brave. I'm calling it Happy."

Andrew wondered if he was missing something or if Jake really did skip from topic to topic that quickly. "That's...what?" Andrew asked flatly, clearing his throat again. He wasn't sure if this conversation was awkward. How did you force a conversation? He didn't even know with this kid. Their conversations were a series of jumpstarts. Admittedly he was the one that stopped them every time, but that wasn't the point.

"Short for Happy Dog," Jake said with a wry grin. He fingered the black and white bead necklace he always wore and made a face when he chanced a glance at Andrew's and saw his look of disbelief. "What?" he spluttered defensively, picking at the beads and nodding towards 'Happy Dog'. "He looks just like a little Scottie dog, see? And I was sitting out on the porch wondering what to call him and I thought, I better pick an adjective and a noun, 'cause yeah. Chrissy taught me that once. And he's happy, and he looks like a dog. See?"

Andrew, against his better judgment, peered over the side of the box. The little black thing had neither ears nor paws, which it demonstrated as it flapped its wings at him, chirped, and scurried over to Jake where it proceeded to jump enthusiastically up at him. How rude.

"...No." He didn't see.

Jake sent him a mock glare and Andrew sent him a real one back. Jake mimicked his 'no' under his breath in a smarmy voice that sounded nothing like him, and screw the bird. It was entirely Jake's fault when in a moment of pure childishness Andrew plucked a cushion from behind him and hurled it at the boy's face without a second thought.

"What the hell!" Jake cried, clumsily catching the cushion before it fell into the box. "You git, you could have hit him!"

Andrew stood and resisted a small smile which had no place trying to worm its way on his face as he marched in the direction of the kitchen. He was in dire need of his after-work coffee. "You don't know it's a he," he offered curtly and unapologetically over his shoulder.

"Oh yeah, whatever smart arse. You're a prick, Andy!" Jake yelled from the living room.

"Andrew!" he hollered back. It was good to be home.

Then he felt the warm breeze against the back of his neck.

…Hm. He'd forgotten about the door.


Happy Dog peered in confusion through the hole in the cardboard he'd managed to peck out with his beak (for Jake was right, Happy was indeed a he) at the two humans sitting on opposite ends of the sofa. They were putting odd smelling food from plates into their mouths and the lovely one - Happy's saviour; his knight in shining, featherless flesh – leaned into view and dangled the strangest worm Happy had ever seen into the box.

"What are you doing you silly thing?" Lovely muttered. Happy was momentarily distracted with the warm yellow worm that tasted nothing like a worm, and then he went back to pressing the side of his face against the peephole. Lovely shovelled more warm yellow worms into his mouth with a fork and glanced at the one with a strange mess of dark feathers on his head as he pushed his worms about his plate. There were many strange things in human nests, Happy had discovered, but the concentration of feathers on their heads was not the oddest.

"It's pasta Andy, not a princess. You don't have to court it before you eat it."

Dark paused and slowly raised his eyes, glowering. "Right. Excuse me while I do not feel inclined to make love to your cooking."

The bizarre series of warbles, grunts and noises that spilled from the humans' mouths, too, were very puzzling to Happy. But still. This was not the strangest thing either. Dark started eating and Lovely swallowed his own mouthful slowly, eventually offering a noncommittal grunt and looking back at his plate.

"You're excused."

This. This was strangest thing. Happy was highly confused by this. He could feel the tension in the air as clear as dew drops on his wings.

Why on earth hadn't these humans mated yet?