When Kestrel awoke the next morning, alone in her townhouse bedroom, her first thought was: It was all a dream. That’s all. It has to be.


But it wasn’t, and as the dust-strewn shaft of morning sunlight slanted through the window and across her face, she knew it.

Burying her head under the pillow and her body under her thick comforter, she tried once again to make sense of all the conflicting emotions that were flying around inside her head. What do I want to do? Can I even make this decision?

She had stayed late at Gabriel’s the previous night, waiting while he set up and performed the ritual that would hide the child’s unorthodox origins from prying magical eyes. It wasn’t anything spectacular—there had been no circles or dramatic shifts of light or pyrotechnics—but she had sensed an intensity in Gabriel’s violet eyes, in the set of his jaw, that hadn’t been there before. He’s worried, she had told herself at the time, but hadn’t mentioned it to him. If he was worried, adding her worries to his would serve no useful purpose.

After the completion of the spell, he had leaned back in his chair and regarded her seriously. “I did not hide the fact that you were pregnant,” he told her, “but merely the fact that the child is not entirely human.”

She nodded. “That’s—okay,” she said. “If anybody notices magically, I’ll—just tell ‘em it’s none of their business.”

He smiled a little and stood. “Let me take you back to your car. Or I can take you home if you like and we can pick up the car tomorrow. Or—” he added after a brief pause, “you can stay here tonight if you like. You are always welcome.”

Kestrel shook her head, matching his small smile with one of her own. “No...I think if you don’t mind I just want to go home for awhile. I need some time to think.”

He nodded, rising. “I understand. I think...I do too.”

She got up and went to him, putting her arms around his neck. “We’ll figure this out. I told you—there’s no way I’m going to do anything that’s going to put you at risk. You mean too much to me for that. I just need to work it out on my own.”

He had taken her back to the pizza parlor, where she’d reclaimed her car and driven home in the late-night darkness. She noticed the headlights of the Dynamit as it followed her home and then rolled off into the night after she had arrived safely; the thought had made her smile. Gabriel was about the only man alive from whom she would accept such treatment, let alone find it touching. She, who held her own in the world of human and metahuman predators as well as any man, was oddly comforted to know she was under the protection of a Great Dragon, even if he did spend much of his time in the guise of a twenty-year-old human.

She slept surprisingly well, but awoke early. The brief flash of thought that the whole thing might have been a dream provided her with perhaps a few seconds’ respite before the enormity of it all came crashing in once more. Obviously sleeping on the problem hadn’t offered up any useful answers.

I’m going to have a baby.

I’m going to have a half-dragon baby.

I’m going to have Gabriel’s baby.

Sighing loudly, she pulled her head from beneath the pillow, flung the pillow across the room, sat up, and ran her hand back through her hair, feeling it spiking up between her fingers. Across the room, her mirror-self repeated the actions but likewise gave her no new insights. “What am I gonna do?” she muttered under her breath. She threw aside the covers and padded into the bathroom, where in just a few moments she was standing in the midst of a steaming hot shower. Sometimes the water helped her think. She wasn’t sure why—maybe it warmed up her brain or lubricated her blood or something—but some of her best ideas came to her in there so she didn’t fight it.

She looked down at herself, at the trim line of her flat stomach with its faintly visible abdominal muscles. How long before I lose those? she thought with a little vanity. She realized she knew next to nothing about being pregnant—that was always something other people did. She’d had no interest in baby dolls when she’d been a little girl, and small children bored her more than intrigued her now. As for motherhood, it was always something that lurked in the back of her mind, something she’d do later. Although she always thought she’d want children some day—one, maybe, or two—that day never seemed to come. She was too busy doing other things.

And now here it was. The big one. That would have been complicated enough, but then there was the other big one to deal with. The big scaly one.

This time, the shower offered no solutions. She got out, dried off, and methodically went through the motions of dressing, then forced herself to sit down and really think about what had happened—and what was going to happen. I have to get rid of all these fuzzy ideas that this is happening to somebody else. It’s happening to me, and to Gabriel, and we have to decide pretty soon what to do about it.

Ten minutes later she was in her car and headed back over to Gabriel’s place. He answered the door after her first knock. “I thought you might come,” he said softly, motioning her inside.

She looked him over. He was dressed much as he had been last night, but something about him looked...older. It wasn’t something she could put her finger on, but it was there. “Is it—okay?” she asked.

He nodded, moving into the vast main room. “I was hoping to see you,” he admitted. “Would you—like anything?”

Kestrel shook her head. Nothing but for this not to have happened, she thought, but was surprised to realize that she was not as certain of that as she had been the previous night. “I—just needed someone to talk to.”

Gabriel sat down across from her, his violet gaze earnest, intense, and comforting. He waited.

“You know—it would be easier, in a way, if you’d just force me to make a decision.”

“I cannot do that, Juliana. You know that.”

“Yeah...I know it. Just like we both know I’d resent it if you tried to.” She sighed and brought her eyes up to meet his. “I did a lot of thinking last night. I didn’t sleep much, so I had to do something.”

He nodded, a silent, patient presence.

Kestrel took a deep breath. “I kept going back and forth, feeling like every time I’d made a decision, it was really the other one I wanted to make.” She paused. “I mean—this isn’t the usual run-of-the-mill pregnancy. That would be tough enough to deal with, but you know the last thing I ever want to do is hurt you, or cause you any trouble.”

“I told you, Juliana—you must not concern yourself with that. The only considerations here are you and the child.”

She shook her head, leaning forward. “No, they’re not, Gabriel. I know you’re trying to make it easy for me, but you matter as much as I do.” She paused again, running her hand back through her hair. “I know you don’t like to think about this—hell, I don’t either—but you’re going to be around a lot longer than I am. I’m not going to make you deal with the consequences of a decision that’ll mean absolutely nothing to me in fifty or sixty years at most, while for you it might shape what’ll happen for the next several thousand years. You mean too much to me to do that.”

Gabriel had lowered his gaze at the last part of her speech. For several moments he didn’t say anything. Then, softly: “Juliana...this is my fault. I should have known it was possible for this to happen. It did not even occur to me when we—”

“You mean you didn’t think we could—” She looked at him. “I thought you said it was forbidden, not that it isn’t possible.”

“No. It is possible. I knew that. What I meant was that it is very rare—so rare that in almost every case when it occurred, magical intervention was necessary. While a dragon in human form is biologically identical to a true human, there are other factors involved that make natural conception a far more remote possibility than it is for two true humans.” He sighed. “It isn’t correct to say that I didn’t think it was possible—but rather that it did not occur to me to consider the possibility because of its remoteness. You had no way to know what might happen, and I didn’t tell you. That makes it my fault. I will not make you suffer for my mistake.” His voice was soft, but held an edge of adamance.

She got up and moved over to sit on the edge of his chair, putting her hand on his shoulder. “Gabriel, listen to me. We’re going to figure this out, and we’re going to do it in whatever way we have to so you don’t get in trouble with the other dragons. You said I got to make the decision, right?”

He nodded without looking at her.

“All right, then—that’s the first part of my decision. What I need help from is how to make the rest of it.” She reached down and gently tilted his chin up, forcing him to look into her eyes. “Okay?”

This time she felt his nod, but she could still see the reluctance in his eyes. He took a deep breath as if gathering his strength, then pulled away from her and turned so he could look up at her. “I must ask you some questions, and you must promise to be honest with me, no matter how much you think it might hurt me. Can you do that?”

She paused, then nodded. “That’s what I’m asking you to do, so I can’t very well do any less.”

He got up and began pacing the room, pausing every once in awhile and then resuming again. At last he stopped in front of her. “Do you want to terminate the pregnancy?”

She had thought the answer would be difficult for her, but it followed in a whisper immediately after his question: “No.”

Gabriel nodded. “Do you want to keep the child and raise him?”

Kestrel wasn’t sure if she detected an odd edge in his voice, but regardless, she found the answer to this question to be much more nebulous. “I—don’t know,” she said at last, lowering her head.

Gabriel’s voice was still gentle. “It isn’t necessary to make a decision yet, but you must decide soon.”

She looked rather miserable. “I know...it’s just—” Now it was her turn to get up and begin to pace. “The question about—having him—You know, I never thought I’d get pregnant, at least not until I was ready and had everything planned out. That’s something that happens to other people, not to me. Teenage girls have accidental pregnancies, not somebody like me. But I always thought that if it happened and I wasn’t ready, I’d just—go to the doctor and have it taken care of.” She looked up at him. “Weird, huh? Now here I am in exactly that situation, I barely even feel any different...I certainly can’t feel him in there or anything...but yet, I feel like it’s kinda my fault he’s there. It doesn’t seem fair to him to just...tell him, sorry, kid, but I screwed up and you’re gonna pay for it.” She paused again, looking into Gabriel’s eyes. “That’s not all it is, though. I still think if this had been a different situation—if it was just one of the guys I slept with and didn’t really care about—I still could have done it without much remorse. But this—with what you mean to me, and the fact that he’s a part of you, a part of us—” She spread her hands futilely. “Am I making sense, or am I just babbling?”

“You’re making sense,” he said softly. “I understand.”

Kestrel dropped back down into a chair with a loud sigh. “I want to give him a chance, but I’m not sure I’m ready to be ‘mom’ yet. I also know that if I have him and decide to raise him with you around, somebody’s going to figure it out. If not some dragon, then somebody else. It’s too risky, I think. But I don’t know what the alternative would be. It seems wrong to just—put him up for adoption.”

Gabriel was silent, watching her with a serious expression as she spoke. He appeared to be deep in thought.

“Am I right?” Kestrel asked him. “That somebody might catch on, I mean?”

He nodded reluctantly. “If you go through the pregnancy in public, bear the child and raise him here in Seattle, yes—I think someone might make the connection.”

She tilted her head. “You said ‘here in Seattle.’ Are you saying that you think it might be easier somewhere else?”

“I don’t know, Juliana.” He paused. “If you were to leave Seattle, go somewhere else and raise him there, it is possible that no one would know.”

“But...” She looked at him, hearing what he was not saying. “...you said ‘if I were to leave’. You wouldn’t be able to go with me, would you?”

“No,” he said softly. “If we were together with the child, I believe the danger would follow. He would be at risk.”

“And you...”

He did not answer.

Kestrel took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Okay,” she said. “So far, our options are to...end it, which I don’t want to do, or for me to go off somewhere and raise him without you. I don’t like either of those. What else have we got?”

Again Gabriel didn’t answer, but Kestrel could see in his eyes that he was on to something—something he didn’t like.

“Gabriel—what is it? What are you thinking?”

He looked up at her with haunted eyes. “There is a solution,” he said softly, “but I do not think you will like it.”

She moved over next to him. “I haven’t liked the two I’ve come up with, either, so you might as well let me hear it.”

For a long moment he didn’t speak. Then he looked up at her again. “The safest way for the child, I think...is if you were to bear him in secret. Hide the pregnancy until the child is born, and then find someone else to raise him. I know you don’t like the idea of giving him up to a stranger, but his best chance for survival is if no one can make the connection between him and...us.”

Kestrel closed her eyes, surprised at how much his words were affecting her. Two days ago she would have given just about anything to have this whole situation erased from her life, and now here she was agonizing about the fate of a child who hadn’t even existed a month ago. “In...secret...” she said slowly. “How could I do that? Can you magically hide the pregnancy?”

“Yes...but I don’t think that would be the best way. It would be risky—even with my power, it is possible that someone more powerful might see through the illusion.”

“Then...what would be the best way?” She was afraid she already knew the answer.

For a moment it seemed that he would not meet her eyes, and then he forced himself to do so. “The best way,” he said, his voice taking on a bit of a husky edge, “would be if you were to go somewhere where no one who did not already know the truth would encounter you until the child is born.”

She stared at him. “Gabriel...you mean...you think I should go spend the next eight months at your lair?” The thought stunned her a bit. She loved Gabriel’s lair, but the thought of spending the better part of the next year there without the chance to go anywhere else— “I—I don’t know if I can do that.”

Gabriel nodded. “I know. I understand. We could try to find another place—a place where we could remain until the time came—”

“—but your lair would be the safest,” she finished.

He nodded again. This time he didn’t look at her. “I don’t want to do this to you, Juliana. I wish there was an alternative. I told you I would do whatever you wish and I will—but if you ask me for the safest alternative, I must tell you the truth. I owe you that.”

Kestrel sighed. This situation was getting harder to keep straight by the minute.

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Copyright ©2003 R. King-Nitschke. The Shadowrun universe is the property of WizKids.
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