Kestrel paced around the living room of her townhouse, glancing up at the chrono on the kitchen wall. Fifteen minutes—that was when Ocelot was due.
Everything was set up—she’d even cleaned up the place, which wasn’t something she did for just any old reason. When she’d called him earlier, she had just said that she had something she wanted to talk to him about, something she needed his help with, but given no details beyond that. She had been careful not to make it sound like any sort of romantic invitation. Just a friend in need of someone to talk to. He had agreed to come by at seven and she had promised to pick up some takeout chicken to save him the indignity of having to endure her attempts at cooking.
She was more nervous than a teenager on her first date.
By mutual agreement Gabriel was not here. They had discussed things further earlier in the day and come to the conclusion that it would probably be better if Kestrel broke the news to Ocelot on her own. The meet at Kestrel’s place was a nod to the fact that Ocelot might not take things well and it would be best if they weren’t in public.
She was rearranging the plates on the table for the third time when the knock came. He was early. She was almost relieved.
“Hi,” he said when she opened the door. He looked past her almost as if expecting to see someone else in the room, but shrugged when he didn’t. “What’s up?”
Kestrel smiled nervously. “Hi. C’mon in.” She stood aside to let him go past her, watching him move. He was dressed in his usual outfit of snug jeans, leather jacket, T-shirt, and motorcycle boots. She still hadn’t gotten used to his newly short hair, which was just beginning to grow out again after a month—it would take a lot longer than a month for it to regain the length it had been before the Pit personnel had hacked it off. Right now it was in that shaggy not-quite-short, not-quite-long stage. Kestrel found it strangely sexy.
Naturally he knew something was up. She could tell that by the way he looked at her, half suspicious, half worried but trying not to let on. He waited silently in the entryway as she moved back past him.
“Hungry?” she asked, hating herself for the awkwardness in her voice. She wished she could just blurt it out like she had with Gabriel, get it over with, but she knew that wouldn’t be the right approach. Ocelot required a bit more...preparation to get him into the right frame of mind.
He shook his head. “I’ll take a beer if you’ve got one, though.”
She nodded and handed him one from the fridge, wondering if he’d want something stronger before they were done. As an afterthought even though she didn’t really want it, she grabbed one for herself and then went back out to the living room, where she sat down on the couch.
Ocelot eyed her oddly for a moment, then sat down next to her. “What’s this about? I can see you’ve got something on your mind—why don’t we get it out so we can talk about it.”
He was trying to be supportive. She could see that, even though she could also see he was confused. I wonder if in his wildest thoughts he’s even got an idea of what I’m about to say. Is this the right thing to do? Maybe I can just—
He gave her a ghost of his old smile and put his hand on her arm. “What’s wrong? It can’t be that bad, can it?”
You don’t know the half of it. “Ocelot, I—” She let her breath out slowly, then plunged in. “I need your help.”
“Yeah, you said that on the phone. That’s why I’m here. What’s going on?”
“Just—let me get this out, okay? It’s not easy for me, and I don’t think it’ll be easy for you to hear it. But I want you to promise to hear me out. Will you do that?”
The suspicion in his eyes stepped up a notch, but only a notch. “Yeah. I’ll hear you out.”
She could see the gears turning in his mind as he tried to anticipate what she might be planning to tell him. She didn’t know where to start, because every entry point into the conversation represented a spot where he could potentially lose his cool, which would then make it more difficult to tell him the rest. She took another deep breath. “The—the reason it’s so important that you hear the whole story before you decide what to do is because the safety of an innocent person could be in a lot of danger if you don’t.”
“I said I’d hear you out,” Ocelot pointed out, leaning forward. “Come on, Kestrel. You know me that well. I don’t know what you’re afraid of, but don’t worry about it. I said I’d help, so I’ll help.” His pale blue, catlike eyes searched her face, still holding a mixture of worry, suspicion, and wariness.
She looked down into her lap for a moment, one hand almost unconsciously moving to her abdomen for a moment. It was still as flat as ever, with no evidence of what was to come. Her eyes fixed on his as she finally spoke. “I—I’m pregnant, Ocelot.”
For a moment he stiffened, drawing back a bit, his face flitting through a progression of expressions from shock to anger to denial to resignation in the space of a few short seconds. “You’re—”
Kestrel nodded. “Yeah. And that’s not the whole story. But that’s one of the big parts.”
Her words were not lost on him. “One of the big parts...”
“Yeah.” She paused. “The baby’s not yours...but you knew that, right?”
Ocelot nodded slowly. The two of them had not been together since before she and Gabriel had taken off for their trip around the world several months ago. “How—long have you known?” He kept his voice carefully flat and neutral, although it was hard to tell if he was doing it to keep himself under control or just to be non-judgmental.
“A few days.”
She nodded. “I’ve had it confirmed by...two pregnancy tests and...two experts. I was kinda in denial about it myself.”
Ocelot let his breath out slowly. Kestrel recognized it as one of his ways to give himself a little time to think before having to respond. There was something odd in his eyes, but it was hard to tell what it was. “Uh...okay. You’re pregnant. But—what do you want me to do about it?” Apparently he realized that hadn’t come out quite the way he’d intended, because he added, “How can I help you? This isn’t exactly my area.”
Kestrel looked down at her lap again. There was an elephant in the room, trying desperately to hide itself behind the fake potted plant in the corner—the question that she knew Ocelot wanted to ask and that she wanted to tell him. “That’s not the whole story. Like I said, there’s more to it. The other big part.”
Ocelot nodded, making a ‘go on’ gesture.
Instead of speaking, Kestrel got up and began pacing the room, glancing back at Ocelot on the couch every few seconds. She was a bit surprised that he hadn’t already done the same thing—he usually had a harder time than she did remaining still when he was nervous or uptight. After a few moments of pacing, she turned back to him. “The other big part,” she said slowly, “is the part I mentioned before—the part where an innocent is going to be in danger if I handle this wrong. That’s why I’m being so careful. You promised to hear me out, and you’re doing that. But Ocelot—I need you to promise me that, no matter what you decide to do about this after I tell you, you won’t put this innocent person in danger by your actions. Can you promise me that?”
For a long moment Ocelot didn’t answer. The suspicion was rising in his eyes again. “Kestrel, I don’t get it. You’re not making any sense. You want me to help you, but you won’t tell me anything. You’re givin’ me riddles here. What’s going on?” Rising, he moved over to her.
She didn’t answer, looking out the window at the passing cars on the street. It was odd, she often thought, that you could be going through some sort of emotional upheaval inside your home—a conversation like this, or even something far worse like death or a great sickness—and yet outside the window, life went on as if nothing was wrong. She watched a blue Americar meander its way down the street and disappear around the corner, then switched her attention to a woman pushing a baby in a stroller. The woman stopped for a moment to crouch down and speak to the baby, then they moved on. “Oh, hell, Ocelot. I trust you. There aren’t many people in this world I trust more than you. I’ll just have to tell you and trust that you’ll do the right thing.” She turned back around and looked into his eyes. “The other big thing is who the baby’s father is.”
Ocelot didn’t answer, but continued to watch her. The suspicion was gone now, at least for the moment, to be replaced by something harder to read.
Kestrel took a deep breath. “Ocelot...the baby’s father...is Gabriel.”
He didn’t move. He didn’t stiffen. In fact, he could have been carved from stone for all the reaction he had to her revelation. He merely stood there, eyes still fixed on her face, and waited.
“Ocelot?” She put her hand on his arm. “Ocelot, say something. Please.”
He was silent for a few more seconds. When he spoke, it was only one word: “Gabriel.”
She nodded slowly. “Yeah.”
He met her gaze again, shaking his head a bit as if trying to clear cobwebs from it. “You’re...sure about this.”
Again she nodded. “He was...one of the experts who confirmed it.”
“So...he knows about it already.”
“Yeah.” She moved back over to the couch and sank down, suddenly weary. “Yeah...and not exactly on purpose, either. When I found out, he was the first one I told. I figured it had to be...one of the guys I met while we were traveling. Never in a million years did I think it could be—”
“I didn’t even think that was possible.” His voice held a strange tone, similar to the look he’d had in his eyes before—a little sullen, a little angry, but mostly just confused.
“Neither did I. But...it is. Gabriel confirmed it. He was pretty shocked about it himself.”
Ocelot turned and came back over, but didn’t sit down. “So—what, he didn’t know it was possible either?”
She shook her head. “He knew. But he said it was so remote that it almost never happened without magical help.”
“And you didn’t have any magical help.” This time he couldn’t keep the tinge of bitterness out of his voice.
“No, it’s okay. It’s okay...” He finally allowed himself to drop into the chair opposite her. “So—I guess the question’s the same one as before: what do you want me to do about it? Why aren’t you handling this with him?”
She looked up at the ceiling for a moment, then back at Ocelot. “I am handling it with him. That’s part of why I need your help.”
“I don’t get it. But then, I don’t get a lot of things here.” He leaned forward. “You’re going to go through with this? Are you even sure the kid’s going to be—”
“What? Human? Normal?” She sighed. “Not completely. That’s the other part of the story. The part about the innocent.”
“Are you talking about the baby, or Gabriel? Because Gabriel isn’t exactly—”
She held up her hand. “In a way, I’m talking about both of them. None of this is Gabriel’s fault. I talked him into what we did. It was my idea. But mostly it’s the baby I’m worried about. It’s not his fault that any of this happened.”
“His?” Ocelot gaze sharpened. “So—you already know, or is it just wishful thinking?”
Kestrel sighed. “I already know. Gabriel told me about it when he confirmed the pregnancy—and that it was his. But listen to me, Ocelot. This is the important part.” She paused a moment, looking down at her hands, then back up. “If anybody finds out about this, Gabriel could be in a lot of trouble—and it could be even worse for the baby.”
“Wait a second.” Ocelot leaned forward, gripping the arms of his chair. “What kind of trouble? Who’s gonna find out?”
“Dragons? You mean—they’ve got a problem with this?”
Kestrel nodded. “A big one. That’s how I know Gabriel was serious when he said he never thought this could happen. See, what happened was forbidden in dragon society. If any of them find out what we did—about the baby—Gabriel will get banished from his society and the baby—”
“What about the baby?” Ocelot asked in a low voice.
“They’ll kill him,” she whispered.
Ocelot was silent, taking that in. “Man,” he said after a long pause, “You don’t get yourself into simple problems, do you? You’re getting to be worse than ‘Hawk.”
“Will you help us?” Kestrel’s voice was soft, gentle, pleading.
Another long pause. “Kestrel, I don’t even see what you want me to do. If Gabriel can’t handle this, how do you expect me to—”
“I want you to pretend to be the baby’s father.”
Kestrel nodded, ignoring his shocked expression. “We’ve been thinking a lot about this, and we’ve come to the conclusion that the only way to keep him safe is to ask somebody like Harry to find a nice couple to adopt him, to raise him far away from here and us. But the problem is, if we go to Harry, we have to let him in on the secret. Since Gabriel won’t magically take memories from anybody who doesn’t consent, we’re afraid that if Harry says no, he could be in danger in addition to the baby and Gabriel.”
“And you,” Ocelot added. “And now, me.” He sighed. “So you don’t want to tell Harry about it, but it’s okay to tell me? I’m sure as hell not in any hurry to let Gabriel screw around in my mind making me forget things.”
Kestrel closed her eyes for a moment. “I was pretty sure you’d help—and I trust you enough to know that even if you don’t, you wouldn’t tell anybody. I figured—Gabriel and I both did—that nobody would even have any reason to poke around if they thought you were the father. We’ve been together for awhile, and it’s not uncommon for a couple of shadowrunners with a kid to want to get the kid away from the...family business. If we’re a little bit discreet about it, we might be able to pull this off without anybody catching on.”
Ocelot leaned back in his chair. He still looked a little shellshocked by the whole thing, but was clearly trying to get it under control. “Okay. Let me see if I got this straight. You’re pregnant with a baby that’s half dragon. Gabriel screwed up bigtime by letting this happen, and now if the dragons find out about it they’ll kick him out of the Dragon Club and kill the kid. Not to mention what they might try to do to you. So you want me to pretend I’m the kid’s father so we can go to Harry and get him to find some nice couple in Peoria or somewhere to raise the kid. Have I got it so far?”
“Yeah.” Kestrel didn’t look up.
“And what about the pregnancy? I take it it’s not very far along yet, right?”
This time she did look up, to find him eyeing her abdomen. “Gabriel says it’s about a month along. It won’t show for awhile yet.”
“So are you just going to hang around Seattle while this is going on? Couldn’t somebody catch on? Somebody magical, I mean? Does this kid look like a normal kid, or is it...a lizard or something?”
“Sorry,” he said hastily. “I didn’t mean it that way. I just want to know if somebody might catch on, that’s all.”
She sighed. “Gabriel did a ritual to make the baby look like a normal human to anybody checking magically. He said it would be harder to hide the pregnancy altogether.”
Ocelot nodded, then glanced up, looking around the room. “So where is he, anyway? I’d think he’d be here being supportive or something.”
“We both thought it would be best if I talked to you about this alone at first. I know you’re not exactly— crazy about him. Especially now.”
Ocelot sighed. “Kestrel, you gotta understand—this wasn’t anything like what I was expecting. It’ll take me some time, okay?”
“Yeah. I know. It’s still taking me some time.”
He drained the rest of his beer and put the can back down on the table next to the chair. “So—you didn’t answer my question. Are you going to stick around Seattle and be pregnant? That could make it tough to spirit the kid away secretly, right?”
“I haven’t decided what I’m going to do yet. Gabriel says the safest thing to do is go stay in his lair until the baby’s born. Even most of the dragons at full power can’t get through the shielding there, and there’s really no reason for them to suspect anything.”
Surprisingly, Ocelot nodded. “Yeah, he’s probably right. About it being the safest, I mean.” He sighed.
Kestrel leaned forward. “So—now you’ve heard the story. You know how hard it was for me to ask you this, knowing—knowing how you feel about things. I’ve agonized over it for awhile now, but it’s the only thing I could come up with that might have a chance of working and protecting everybody involved.” She patted her abdomen. “It’s weird, Ocelot—I never wanted a kid. I figured it would happen someday, but I sure as hell wasn’t ready for it now. But now that he’s here—I figure I owe him a chance, you know? None of this is his fault.”
Ocelot nodded. “Yeah, I know what you mean,” he said reluctantly. “I don’t like it either, but I know what you mean.”
“So you’ll help?”
There was a long pause. “I don’t know, Kestrel,” he said at last. “Probably. But you gotta give me a little time to think about it. I don’t want to make a decision like this without thinking it over, you know?”
It wasn’t what she was hoping for, but better than she had expected. “Yeah. I know. But we can’t take too long. Whatever we decide it has to be soon. The longer we wait, the more chance somebody might catch on.”
Ocelot nodded. “Yeah. Don’t worry. Just let me have till tomorrow morning, okay? Why don’t we meet then, at my place. And you might as well bring Gabriel with you. He’s in the middle of this, so he ain’t getting off that easy.”
Kestrel got up, picked up Ocelot’s empty beer can, and dropped it in the recycling bin. She leaned on the counter for a moment, head bowed. “Yeah.” Looking up at him, she smiled faintly. “Yeah, that sounds good. We’ll do that.” Impulsively, she crossed the room, pulled him up, and drew him into a hard hug. “Thanks, Ocelot. You’re a good friend. I know this isn’t easy for you, but I knew I could trust you.”
“Hey, I ain’t said yes yet,” he pointed out, but he knew as well as she did that the only thing left to do tomorrow morning was to formalize what had already occurred.
Copyright ©2003-2004 R. King-Nitschke. The Shadowrun universe is the property of WizKids.
No part of this story may be reproduced without permission from the author.