Kestrel settled back in her seat and played with her napkin as she waited for Gabriel to arrive. The restaurant was not a fancy one—she wasn’t in the mood for that tonight. She just wanted somewhere that she felt comfortable, where she could be herself and no one would look twice at her. That vague feeling of anonymous belonging that you got at favorite haunts was something she prized very highly tonight.
Izzy’s filled that bill for her. She smiled a little to herself, remembering the last time she had been here—it had been with Ocelot, several months ago. The two of them had come here a lot when they’d been together. She still missed him sometimes; it wasn’t as if they didn’t see each other, but the spark of the relationship had faded to more of a strong friendship these days. It was probably for the best. In their line of work, attachments could be very dangerous things to have.
That thought brought a little twinge to her spine, but she shook it off.
She tossed the napkin aside and looked up to check the sports scores on the trid unit high above when she caught sight of Gabriel coming in. She smiled as he made his way through the crowd. He was dressing a lot more casually these days, unless he was doing business: tonight he wore faded jeans, a leather flight jacket that looked like it had seen duty in at least two wars, and a skintight polo shirt that matched the violet of his eyes. As it often did, a little tingle went through Kestrel as she looked at him. Even though she knew he could look like anything he wanted to and therefore his astonishing beauty was really sort of cheating, he still had a strong effect on her. She didn’t miss the fact that he had a similar effect on many of the other women in the place too, but that amused her more than anything.
“Hi,” she said as he finally got close enough that she could be heard over the crowd and the trid units. “Thanks for coming. I know it was short notice.” She’d called him only an hour and a half previously, right after she’d gotten home from her long walk.
He returned her smile, his eyes sparkling, and shrugged. “I’m always happy to have dinner with you, Juliana. You know that.”
She did know that. She also knew that he’d seemed a lot happier since they’d finally gotten that business with Stefan and the Horrors over with. She hadn’t seen him often in the last month, but despite the atrocities he’d had to endure in that ordeal, his demeanor had been much more carefree since their return, like someone who had had a tremendous weight lifted from his psyche. She supposed that was probably true. “Well,” she said teasingly, “I was afraid you might be jetting off to some high-society party or something.”
“Not until next week,” he replied in the same tone. He slid into the booth opposite her and glanced at the menu, which was painted in large white characters on a big board high up on the wall near the grill. “What are we having?”
“I haven’t ordered yet. Whatever you want. My treat.”
He smiled. “I like everything.”
“I know you do.” She chuckled, watching him lounge in the seat, utterly relaxed. His hair was windblown, no doubt from driving too fast with the windows rolled down. When the server came over to take their order, she considered and then grinned. “We’ll have the Carnivore Supreme. Large. With extra cheese.” After the woman had written that down, she added, “And a Gargoyle Ale for—” She paused. “No...let’s make that a large iced tea for me. Gabriel?”
He tilted his head slightly at her but didn’t comment. “Gargoyle Ale sounds fine.”
The server transferred her gaze and her attention from Kestrel to Gabriel. “May I see your ID, sir?”
Kestrel couldn’t help laughing a little under her breath. She suspected Gabriel set himself up for this sort of thing on purpose, because it amused him. It would have been so easy for him to simply add a few years to his apparent age, but he seemed quite content to continue appearing to be around twenty, even with the occasional difficulties it presented.
Smiling, Gabriel took a credstick from his jacket and handed it over. The woman slid it into her reader, looked at him, looked at it, and shook her head in surprise. “Thank you, sir,” she said, handing it back. Kestrel knew from past experience that Gabriel’s fake ID always showed him to be exactly one week over the age of twenty-one. “Why one week?” she’d asked him once. “Because I don’t always want people to think it’s my birthday,” he’d told her, quite reasonably.
After the server had gone, Gabriel turned his attention back to Kestrel. “How are you?” he asked softly.
She paused for a moment before answering. How am I? That’s a tough one. Finally she shrugged. “Okay, I guess. Actually that’s sort of why I asked you to have dinner with me tonight.”
His gaze immediately turned serious. “Is something wrong?”
“Not...wrong, exactly,” she admitted. “Gabriel—would it be all right if we ate first, and talked about it afterward? There is something I want to talk to you about, but...just not yet, okay?”
He nodded. “Of course, Juliana.” His tone was soft, concerned without prying.
Dinner seemed to take forever. Their pizza and drinks arrived fairly quickly (the place was crowded but the service was good) and as Kestrel had requested they kept the conversation light as they ate. She was surprised at how hungry she was; she hadn’t thought she would want much to eat, and had ordered the Carnivore Supreme mostly for Gabriel’s benefit. Instead, she managed to polish off her half of the pizza along with two tall glasses of iced tea.
Gabriel was amused. “Haven’t you eaten anything today?” he asked, tilting his head at her as she gnawed at the small pile of crusts remaining on her plate. “We could get another pizza—”
She smiled sheepishly and dropped the crust as if she’d been caught pilfering the Crown Jewels. “No. That’s okay. I think I’ve had about enough.” She glanced guiltily at the remaining crusts and then shoved her plate aside. “Yeah. I’ve definitely had enough.”
Gabriel nodded slowly. Kestrel could see in his eyes that he was worried about her, wondering what ‘not wrong, exactly’ problem she had to discuss with him. She was grateful that, despite the fact that he had the ability to easily find out without even asking her, he never did it. In fact, she knew that even the thought of doing that would appall him. Kestrel loved having a Great Dragon for a best friend, but she had to admit sometimes that she was particularly glad the Great Dragon in question possessed an overdeveloped sense of honor. Otherwise, things could get a little tricky.
“Okay...” she said, wrapping her hands around her iced tea glass and watching as their server gathered up the plates and the pizza pan and hustled them away. “I guess I don’t have any more excuses to wait, do I?”
His eyes were gentle. “You don’t have to tell me anything if you don’t want to, Juliana.”
She nodded. “I know that. I want to tell you. Hell, you’re the only one I do want to tell. But it isn’t easy, so be patient with me, okay? I haven’t had much time to come to terms with it myself.”
Gabriel’s expression didn’t change. He merely sat there silently, offering support but making it clear that he would sit here all night if necessary.
“Okay...” She said again. She didn’t meet his eyes. How do I do this? Do I just come right out and tell him? Do I give him the whole story of how I found out? Do I—
“I’m pregnant,” she blurted, surprising herself.
Gabriel’s eyes widened. He looked almost as startled as she did. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I...see,” he said at last. His voice was utterly neutral.
Kestrel knew why: because she hadn’t told him how she felt about it yet. How could he respond with a hearty “Congratulations!” or a sympathetic “I’m sorry to hear that...” if he didn’t know which way her feelings were going? How could he, anyway? She didn’t even know. She nodded. “Yeah, that’s about it. I found out for sure today.”
He hadn’t taken his eyes off her. “How...are you doing?” he asked carefully.
She sighed, crumpling up another napkin without even noticing she was doing it. “I don’t know,” she admitted. It felt easier to talk about it now that she’d let the cat out of the bag. “It wasn’t something I expected, that’s for sure. I’ve been taking something for years, and it’s never failed me before.” She sighed again, looking down at the napkin. “I just don’t know what I want to do. I always thought if I ever got pregnant before I was ready I’d just go have it taken care of and get on with life. But—” She spread her hands. “—now that I am, it doesn’t seem that easy. It’s moved away from being academic, and now it’s personal. Do you understand what I mean?”
Gabriel nodded. “I understand,” he said softly.
Kestrel was grateful for his minimalist approach. He seemed to sense that she wanted someone to talk to, but wasn’t ready to have solutions offered to her just yet. “I don’t even know who the father is,” she said miserably. “Probably Jean-Paul, that night in Switzerland...but there were a couple of other guys in that same timeframe. I’m not sure I even want to know. I might be able to handle a baby, but I’m not sure I want a ready-made family...you know what I mean?” She smiled; it was half-teasing, half-bittersweet. “No offense, Gabriel, but if this has to happen, I wish it could be you. It might make things a whole lot easier.”
She was surprised at the effect her joking words had on him. His eyes widened, his body stiffening slightly as his gaze locked on her. She grinned uneasily. “Don’t worry, you’re off the hook—it’s not like it’s possible or anything, right?”
He didn’t answer. He was still staring at her.
“Right?” Her tone got a little more urgent.
He shook his head, looking more than a bit shellshocked. “No.”
They got out of there fast after that. Gabriel wouldn’t say anything else about it in the restaurant; he was moving as if someone had just set off a loud bomb behind him and he was still getting himself back together. At his request she left her Westwind at the parking garage and followed him to his Dynamit. Only after they were moving did he speak again. “I’m sorry, Juliana. Please forgive my abruptness, but it is imperative that we be certain, and we could not do that in the restaurant.”
She stared at him. He was acting totally out of character: her supportive companion had changed into a nervous wreck at her announcement. “Gabriel...will you tell me what’s going on? This isn’t making this any easier for me—”
He turned, his eyes gentle but a little haunted. “I know. I’m sorry. I—” His hands tightened on the steering wheel as he urged the sleek little car to greater speed.
She took a deep breath. “So—you’re telling me it is possible that it’s yours?”
He nodded without looking at her.
“But—I thought humans and dragons—”
“Please, Juliana. I’ll tell you everything you need to know, after we know for sure.” He kept his voice soft, but she could sense an edge of tension to it.
Kestrel drew breath to speak, but then remained silent. She knew if he said he would tell her, he would tell her. She watched neon-lit scenery of a Seattle night go by, trying to think about anything but the subject at hand until at last they pulled into the parking garage of the building that housed Gabriel’s Downtown penthouse apartment. She accompanied him to the elevator and watched as he punched in the familiar code that would take him to the top of the building—the 36th floor that did not have a button to go with all the others. Anyone going to that floor wouldn’t need the button, because they would be expected.
Kestrel loved Gabriel’s apartment. She loved the high, soaring windows that surrounded it, the magnificent view of the Seattle skyline, the beautiful artwork and comfortable furniture, and the knowledge that it was as big as it was because it needed to accommodate not only the young man who moved ahead of her now, but the massive dragon that was his true self. She knew he loved it too, although not with the same depth with which he loved his lair in the Algonkian-Manitou Council lands. Right now, she felt glad to be here, in familiar surroundings.
She watched him as he crossed the room to the window. He put his palms against it and for several moments stared silently out over the city. Then he turned back to her. “I’m sorry, Juliana,” he said again. “I know this isn’t easy for you, and I am not being very comforting. I also know that this isn’t what you expected—my response, I mean.”
She moved closer to him. “No,” she said after a moment. “I guess it isn’t. But then again, I’d never have thought that there was any chance—” she let it trail off, but they both knew what she meant: any chance that it was yours. “If I’d had any suspicion...I wouldn’t have told you like this.”
He nodded. “I know that.” He fixed his gentle but intense gaze on her. “Juliana—I need to know for sure. Would you object to my—checking?”
“Checking?” She looked at him oddly. “Checking how?”
“Magically.” His voice shook just the barest bit. “By doing an astral examination, I’ll be able to determine if the child is—”
“—part dragon,” she finished. Her voice was shaking too.
He nodded; the nod ended in his bowing his head. He kept it lowered, waiting for her answer.
“No.” He raised his gaze again. “There is nothing dangerous about it—it is simply a somewhat deeper version of a typical astral examination.”
Kestrel nodded, stalling a moment for time to think this through. Everything was happening so quickly. It was only yesterday she’d suspected that something might be wrong—only yesterday when she’d taken the two pregnancy tests. It was only today that Lucinda—Dr. Santos—had confirmed her suspicions. That was hard enough to take...but now—? You don’t ever do things halfway, do you? she told herself wryly. “Go ahead, then,” she said. “I want to know too.”
Gabriel nodded, solicitous but slightly preoccupied as he instructed her to lie down on the couch and make herself comfortable. He pulled up a chair next to the couch and sat down, pausing a moment. Then, taking a deep breath, he put one hand on her forehead and the other on her abdomen and closed his eyes.
Kestrel did not close her eyes. She watched his face for any sign as he remained there, unmoving, his senses off somewhere that she could not reach. His expression did not change throughout the procedure. Several minutes passed and then he opened his eyes.
“Well?” she asked, moving to a half-reclining position.
“The child is about a month along,” he said softly. “It is healthy and developing well. And,” he added, almost as an afterthought, “it is indeed half dragon.”
Copyright ©2003 R. King-Nitschke. The Shadowrun universe is the property of WizKids.
No part of this story may be reproduced without permission from the author.