By the time Ocelot heard the familiar rumble of the sleek black Dynamit pulling up in front of his house, he’d already been up for several hours. In fact, he hadn’t really slept much at all. Oddly, though, except for a few bruises left over from his stint at the Wharf Rat the previous night and the vestigial pounding echo of the ghosts of too many Scotches, he didn’t feel too bad. Physically, anyway. Mentally, the jury was still out.

When he opened the door he looked past Kestrel to Gabriel, who was standing behind her. There was something different about him, but Ocelot couldn’t put his finger on what. It was as if there was a slight—dimming—in the young man’s eerily potent aura, but it was not a dimming of sadness or regret. Perhaps it was a newfound maturity. Ocelot wasn’t sure, but he could certainly tell that Gabriel wasn’t taking this situation lightly. “Hey,” he said briefly, motioning them in. They moved silently past and into the room that served as the little house’s combination living room/dining room/kitchen/bedroom. Neither sat down. “Want anything?”

Both of them shook their heads. Ocelot noticed that they remained close to each other, never straying more than a meter or two away. He wondered why this didn’t bother him.

Gabriel took a deep breath. There was a fragile quality to him, from the clear guilelessness in his violet eyes to the vulnerability of his slim body clad in jeans and thin shirt, unprotected by even his usual leather jacket. He looked as if he was about to speak, then looked at Kestrel instead.

They look like a couple of kids afraid to tell their father about what happened, Ocelot realized in surprise. A corner of his mind wondered if he’d ever have Gabriel in this sort of position again, but to his surprise the thought didn’t appeal to him.

“So...” Kestrel began softly, raising her gaze to meet Ocelot’s. “Did you get a chance to think about—things?”

Ocelot nodded. “Yeah.” He saw her eyeing the bruises on his face and his forearms, but she didn’t acknowledge them. He was sure she knew where he’d been last night. “Before I make a decision, though, I got some questions, okay?” He was looking at Gabriel as he said it.

“Of course.” The young man’s voice was even softer than Kestrel’s. “We will answer them to the best of our ability.”

“Okay,” Ocelot said, slightly mollified. He pushed off the wall where he’d been leaning and began pacing the room, pausing often to inspect the weapons hanging on the walls. Gabriel and Kestrel remained where they were, their eyes following him. “As far as how this happened—that ain’t my business and I’m not gonna ask about it. What I’m more concerned with is makin’ sure you guys have really thought this through all the way.” He held up his hand when Kestrel drew breath to speak. “No, hang on. Let me finish. It’s not that I don’t think you did—it’s just that this is a pretty emotional situation and people in the middle of those sometimes don’t see all the ways to go. Even dragons,” he added, looking again at Gabriel. He shrugged. “No way to know if I’m gonna come up with anything you don’t, but I just want to talk this through. Okay?”

Gabriel inclined his head gravely. “Of course,” he said again. Next to him, Kestrel looked at the floor.

“So—what other ideas did you come up with?”

Kestrel spoke before Gabriel did. “We spent quite a bit of time going over it,” she said, her voice taking on just the faintest hint of defensiveness even though she knew Ocelot was right. “Gabriel did this same thing to me, made me think about what I wanted to do. I’m not going to put him at risk by keeping the child, but I want to give the kid a chance to live. That leaves out the first two obvious choices. After that, we came up with four: give him up for a conventional adoption, try to set something up ourselves, having Harry find somebody knowing Gabriel is the father—and having Harry find somebody thinking someone else is the father. You were the logical choice.”

Ocelot nodded. That much she was right about. “What about—anybody else? I know there’s been more than just me.”

“But none of them meant anything to me, Ocelot. I certainly wouldn’t trust them with a secret like this.” She looked into his eyes. “We’ve been through some rough times, but I’ve never stopped thinking of you as a friend. There aren’t too many people around I trust enough to ask this of.”

“And what about you?” Ocelot turned to Gabriel, who still hadn’t moved. His tone was probably a little harsher than it should have been, but then he was sure that everyone in the room knew that if he did this, he wouldn’t be doing it for the dragon. “What’s your take on the situation?”

Gabriel was silent for several moments, as if gathering his thoughts. “My first priority, of course, is Juliana,” he said at last. “It is her decision to make, but I will not see her come to harm because of it.”

“Even if it means you coming to harm?” Ocelot asked.

“Even so,” Gabriel said softly.

“So you’re willing to risk—whatever might happen if the other dragons find out—to follow what she wants.” He leaned forward a bit, watching Gabriel carefully.

“Yes.” This time, his reply was immediate.

“But that isn’t going to happen,” Kestrel put in. “I already told Gabriel that, and I’m telling you. Whatever we do here, it’s going to be with the understanding that I’m not going to put Gabriel’s standing among the dragons in danger. I don’t have a right to do that. I know he doesn’t like to think about it, but considering how long he’s going to be around, it’s just not fair to him.”

Ocelot turned back to her, his expression unreadable. “So that’s your choice even over the kid’s life?”

She bowed her head. “Yes,” she whispered.

“And how do you feel about this?” he asked Gabriel. “Do you agree?”

“Of course not.” Gabriel also spoke in a whisper. “But I have given my word to support whatever Juliana chooses. The decision is hers.”

Ocelot took a deep breath, looking back and forth between the two of them. “I’m not sayin’ yes yet,” he said at last. “But I want to know—what, exactly, do you want me to do?”

Both their gazes came back up. Kestrel spoke. “We want you to be the child’s father for any legal documents that have to be filled out. I know Harry can probably do it without the documents, but if anybody checks, we want it to be airtight. If it gets back to anyone, it’ll be you and me, not Gabriel.”

“That’s all.” There was a hint of irony in Ocelot’s tone: he knew as well as any of them did just how much Kestrel was asking.

She nodded. “You don’t even have to see the kid. You don’t have to know where he ends up, unless you want to. You don’t have to have anything to do with him. We just have to convince Harry that he’s ours and that we want to have him raised somewhere safe, away from the shadow life.”

Ocelot looked away for a moment. “So you want me to claim a kid who’s not mine, that I’ll never get to see or meet or anything.”

Kestrel, sensing the edge of bitterness in his voice, moved over and put her hand on his arm. “Ocelot...”

He shook his head quickly. “No, it’s okay.”

“It’s not like you’re abandoning him,” she whispered. “If anything, you’re helping him to have a better life than he could ever have otherwise.”

He nodded after a moment, and raised his head. Gabriel remained where he had been, standing in the middle of the floor. His eyes were full of sadness. Ocelot looked at the young dragon for a moment, then back at Kestrel.

“Will you do it?” she asked softly. “I know I—we—don’t have any right to ask you to, but—”

Ocelot took a long slow breath. “Kestrel, I just—” He stopped, his eyes sharpening as they fixed on something over Kestrel’s left shoulder. “What the—?”

Both Kestrel and Gabriel turned quickly to see what he was looking at. Kestrel gasped.

A shimmering form was manifesting in the corner of the room.

Immediately Gabriel stepped forward, moving between Kestrel and Ocelot and the form. He held up a hand to stop them from advancing.

“What is it?” Ocelot demanded.

Gabriel was silent for several seconds as he observed the form. It shimmered and shook like an old flatscreen vid unit receiving a faulty signal. Its form was vaguely humanoid, but it was difficult to pick out any features. “It looks like a watcher,” he said at last.

Before either of the others could reply, the indistinct form began to speak. Its voice, like its image, broke and stuttered as if trying to reach out over a long distance—or as if its power was fading. “Ocelot,” it called. “Help me—plane—Amazonia—going down—”

Ocelot came forward, and this time Gabriel didn’t stop him. “What the hell—?” he muttered. “Who are you? What do you—”

“Ocelot,” it repeated. “Amazonia—plane—University—please help—call—someone—”

“Shit!” Ocelot yelled. “It’s ‘Hawk! It’s got to be!”

“In Amazonia?” Kestrel’s tone was disbelieving as she too watched the quivering apparition.

“Ocelot—please—can’t—Plane—going down—”

“I’ll be back!” Gabriel snapped, already flinging himself down into the nearest chair. Seconds later his head slumped forward as his astral body departed. A moment later the spirit in the corner vanished.

“What the hell just happened?” Kestrel demanded, her eyes darting back and forth between Ocelot, the place where the spirit had been, and Gabriel’s limp form in the chair.

Ocelot wasn’t feeling much more settled than she was. “I think ‘Hawk’s in trouble. I don’t know what else it could be. He sends watchers sometimes to deliver messages. It sounds like he’s in Amazonia.”

“What’s he doing in Amazonia? We barely just got away from—what happened before. Why would he go off somewhere like that?”

“I dunno. ‘Hawk’s weird like that sometimes. That thing said ‘University.’ Maybe it’s one of his trips.” He looked at Gabriel. “I guess he went off to follow it. Maybe we’ll get more information when he gets back.”

They waited impatiently for ten more minutes until at last Gabriel stirred and raised his head. His eyes were filled with concern.

“Well?” Ocelot demanded. “Did you follow it?”

The young man nodded. “Unfortunately it wasn’t able to lead me the entire way—apparently it was summoned in haste and didn’t have a great deal of power. It was already on its last reserves when it found us.”

“What did you find out?”

Gabriel got up and ran a hand back through his hair. “It was indeed sent by Winterhawk. He was in a plane flying over Amazonia—they had some sort of trouble. He summoned the watcher to seek help as the plane was going down.”

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