Kestrel stared down at her feet for a moment longer, then forced herself to change the subject. “Okay,” she said. “I don’t know if I like the idea of staying at your lair or not, but let’s put it aside for a minute and think about the other half of the situation. What do we do after he’s born?”

For a long time Gabriel didn’t answer. When he did speak at last, his voice was soft and full of regret. “As I said...the wisest thing to do would be to find someone to raise him—someone who does not know us and thus not permit anyone to connect the child with us.”

Kestrel nodded slowly. “But...” she said, not looking at him, “I’m not sure I want to just—give him to a stranger. Whoever raises him—I want to be able to keep track of them, even if it’s just knowing where they live. I know I—we—won’t be able to visit him, but I want to be able to know he’s all right...that they’re not—” She sighed.

“—That they’re treating him well,” Gabriel finished gently. “I understand.” He thought a moment. “I know little about methods of adoption in this society—it isn’t something I’ve ever had cause to research.”

“Usually you just give the child up and the authorities pick a family to adopt him,” Kestrel told him, getting up to pace again. “The birth parents don’t even know who that is, unless special arrangements are made. It’s supposed to be better for the child that way. Sometimes adoptions are arranged between the birth parents—usually the mother, because in most cases like this the father’s out of the picture—and the adoptive family, but that wouldn’t be an option for us either.”

“So we need something halfway between the two.” Gabriel nodded. “A way for us to know who will raise him, but not for them to know us.”

Kestrel sighed loudly as she was hit once again by the unreality of the whole thing. The discussion still had a certain abstract feel to it, as if they were discussing the hypothetical future of some hypothetical child. “And we can’t even do too much research about that,” she reminded him, “because if anybody catches us poking around looking for information about adoptions, they’re going to get wise in a hurry.”

Gabriel nodded reluctantly. “Unfortunately, it is an area where my power means little. I have, as I am sure you do, access to deckers who can do such research with no trace, but even the most trustworthy of deckers would not be able to withstand the scrutiny of a dragon, should one become interested.”

“So we need somebody else—somebody we can trust—to find us someone,” Kestrel said. “What would be best is if they could set it up and then somehow...forget about the whole thing afterward, so they—” She stopped, her eyes widening. “Wait a second. I think I have an idea!”

Gabriel tilted his head questioningly and waited.

She took a deep breath, staring off into nothing as if working the question out in her mind. “Do you think—” her gaze settled back on Gabriel “—that if we could find someone like that who’d be willing, you would consider using a little dragon magic on them to make them forget?”

“I don’t understand,” Gabriel said, leaning forward a bit. “I don’t think there’s anyone like that who—”

“Harry,” Kestrel said in triumph, nodding once for emphasis. “It’s perfect, Gabriel, if he’s willing. He already knows about you so we wouldn’t have to reveal your secret to anyone else...plus, he’s got more contacts than anybody I know except maybe you. If he’d consent to—”

Gabriel sighed. “I don’t know, Juliana. I don’t like to use that sort of magic on anyone, and why would he consent? He has no reason to trust that I would do only what I suggested and no more.”

“Is there anyone else?” Kestrel moved a little closer to him, looking into his eyes. “There aren’t that many options. The team can’t do it—Ocelot wouldn’t know anybody like that, and Winterhawk, if he does, would probably only know people in England. I’d like to keep the kid a little closer to home than that if possible. Joe and ‘Wraith—I doubt they’d know anyone either and besides, we don’t even know where they are right now. Whatever decision we make, we need to make it fairly quickly.”

Gabriel met her gaze silently for a few moments, then got up and went over to the window, staring down at the Seattle skyline below. It was a hazy day fed by a noncommittal sun, the sort of day that couldn’t quite decide what it wanted to be. “What concerns me,” he said at last, “is what happens if he refuses. I would not blame him for doing so—even with magic involved he would put himself at risk by helping us. If we tell him what we want and he refuses, then he will have the knowledge. I won’t take it from him without his consent. That puts not only Harry but you and the child at risk. The more people who know about this, the greater the risk will be.”

Kestrel pondered that, nodding slowly. Caught up in her idea, she hadn’t thought about what might happen if Harry said no. Sighing, she levered herself up off the couch and joined Gabriel at the window. When he didn’t turn, she silently observed him for a few moments, noting as she often did the irony of what he was versus what he appeared to be at the moment. She had never asked him why he had chosen that particular guise—why he presented himself to the world as a man barely out of boyhood, a young man with sim-star looks who got noticed wherever he went. He certainly didn’t have an ounce of pretension in him, and although Kestrel had on occasion seen him show flashes of arrogance or vanity, neither had ever been hurtful or malicious toward anyone. She supposed it was just part of what he truly was—after all, dragons—especially the Great Dragons—were so far above common metahumanity in intelligence and wisdom that Kestrel wondered if their relations with the younger races were sort of like the relationship a human might have with a particularly smart and beloved animal, like an ape who could communicate using sign language. She wondered sometimes if Gabriel ever thought of her and her friends that way, but couldn’t bring herself to believe it. She suspected that he was a bit of a special case, though, probably because of his youth. Another thing she occasionally wondered about was if his attitudes toward her and toward humanity would change as he grew older and began to take his place among his own society. She didn’t worry about that much, though, because much as she hated to think about it, she knew that she would not be around to see it. None of them would. Even the three- or four-hundred year lifespans of the elves (most of them, anyway) were nothing to the eons in which dragons moved. And here I am getting ready to have a baby with one of them. Life just keeps getting weirder every day.

He was watching her now, his violet eyes quiet and patient. She wondered when he had turned. “Sorry...just thinking.”

“I’d be surprised if you weren’t.” His voice was soft.

She sighed again and watched a small plane as it rose up into the sky and disappeared into the haze. “I’m out of ideas, Gabriel. If we can’t trust Harry, I just don’t know anybody else to turn to.”

He moved a little closer, putting a gentle hand on her arm. “I am willing to trust Harry if that is what you want, Juliana. Again, I am simply warning you about the possible consequences. If we are to be successful in keeping the child safe, we must try to anticipate as many moves as we can.”

Kestrel nodded. “I know. I have to learn to think like a dragon, right?”

He smiled a little. “No. Let me do that part. I want you to think like a human. That way, between the two of us, we’ll have a better chance of covering all the eventualities.”

Kestrel was silent for a long time, looking out the window and trying to rack her brain for any other way they could find a safe and secret home for the child. She paced around, considering her own family, old college friends, old acquaintances from her past in Boston—but every time, she continued to come back to the same problem: all of them were too close to her, and if anyone traced the child to her then they could trace him back to Gabriel. At least if Harry found someone for them, there wouldn’t be any connection between the two. But if they told Harry, then they’d have to reveal the details of Gabriel’s involvement—

—or would they?

“Gabriel!” She spun around, nearly tripping over the couch as an idea struck her.

Startled, he turned away from the window and was next to her in a burst of motion almost too fast to follow. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, yes—I’m fine.” Her voice was edged with excitement and impatience. “I think I’ve got an idea.”

He steered her over to the couch and sat facing her. “Tell me.”

She paused for breath for a moment before continuing. “The problem with telling Harry is that we’d have to let him know you’re the baby’s father, right? We’d have to trust that he’d agree to help us, and the problem would come in if he refused, right?”

Gabriel nodded.

“What if we didn’t have to tell him you were the father?”

His eyes showed confusion. “I don’t—”

She leaned forward and gripped his forearms. “What if we could tell Harry that someone else was the baby’s father? Someone who’d be a logical choice, who he’d believe—and who would have almost as much of a reason as you would to keep a kid secret?”

Gabriel’s expression suggested that light was dawning and that his mind was trying hard to keep it in the dark. “Kestrel—”

“Ocelot!” she finished in a burst. “If we told Harry the child was his, then that would solve the problem and he wouldn’t even have to know you were involved.”

Gabriel held up a hand in a stop motion. “Juliana, slow down. First of all, I doubt he’d ever consent to it. You know as well as I do—probably better—his feelings about the two of us. Why would he do it? And second, Harry is one of the most intelligent humans I know, and one of the shrewdest. The first thing he’s going to ask is why you came to him instead of to me. Considering his knowledge of my secret and of our close working relationship, he would certainly wonder, would he not?”

Kestrel wasn’t willing to give up her plan. “We can work on that, Gabriel. I think we can convince Ocelot to go for it as long as he’s not in any danger—and why would he be? If we can take you out of the equation then this becomes a simple case of a couple of shadowrunners getting pregnant and wanting to find a home for the kid away from the dangers of the shadow life. No dragons would be sniffing around two puny humans and their illegitimate child—why could they possibly care? And as for why we’d ask Harry instead of you—Harry knows Ocelot isn’t crazy about you. Maybe Ocelot would insist on going to somebody he trusted fully and I went along with it.” She let her breath out and looked into Gabriel’s eyes. “What do you think? Could it work?”

The young man’s expression had been changing as she spoke, from denial to grudging interest. “It could,” he admitted, reluctance warring with hope in his tone. “Of course, the hardest part is going to be convincing Ocelot to go along with it. Do you realize how he’s likely to react when he finds out about your...condition—and especially how you came to be in that condition?”

Kestrel nodded soberly. “Yeah. That’s going to be the hard part, all right. He’ll probably tell me to go frag myself—and I can’t say I’d blame him for it. But even after everything that’s gone on, he’s still a good friend. He might go along with it, especially if he doesn’t have to do anything but let us borrow his name for awhile.”

Gabriel’s eyes were very serious. “And if he refuses? If he’s angry with you? Juliana, I am sure you know how much I value his friendship, but the fact does remain that he is not the most...emotionally stable person in the world. He could cause more trouble than Harry if he lost his composure at the wrong time—or within earshot of the wrong people.”

“I know.” Her voice was soft and full of resignation. “I know. I trust him. I don’t think he’d let the secret out even if he refused to help. But this one’s got to be up to you, Gabriel. I won’t make the decision, because it’s not me who’s got the most to lose here. Like I said, you have to live with the consequences of this for the rest of your life—which is a whole lot longer than mine. So you decide, and I’ll go along with your decision.”

Gabriel’s gaze never wavered from her face, searching her eyes. Silence hung in the air as the seconds stretched out into minutes. Kestrel remained still, enduring his gentle scrutiny, until at last he lowered his eyes and sighed. “Let’s go talk to him,” he said softly. “All he can say is no.”

Kestrel knew better, and she suspected Gabriel did too, but it would have to do for now.

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