There was nothing that approached grocery shopping for helping to get one's mind off the distressing things in life.
Kestrel guided her green Westwind through the snarled mid-day Seattle traffic, mindful of the precariously balanced bags in the car's laughably misnamed back seat. She had just returned from spending nearly an hour aimlessly wandering the aisles of the local Allenson's Grocery, shopping in her usual haphazard style: essentially, 'See something I like and put it in the cart. Repeat until all aisles traversed.' This usually resulted in a cart full of nuke-and-eat convenience foods, snacks, and other similar marginally healthful items whose primary allure to her, aside from the fact that they were easy to prepare, was that they kept forever. She rarely ate at home even if all she had to do was shove something in the microwave, so it was nice to know that the contents of her larder would in all likelihood outlive her. It gave her sort of a subliminal feeling of security.
Surprisingly, although she hated grocery shopping almost as much as she hated cooking, the trip to the store had succeeded in calming her thoughts a bit and helping her get her mind off worrying about Gabriel.
She had tried a different tack last night: accepting an invitation from three of her female friends to go out with them for a "girls' night on the town." Since she had had nothing better to do and since it had been a long time since she had spent time with Beth, Zip, and Marta, she had taken them up on their invitation. She was hoping that maybe hanging out with her old non-runner friends, getting a little drunk, and club-hopping might take her mind off her problems.
It hadn't worked out that way. Although she'd given it her best try, she had been completely unable to join in with their cheerful conversations and blatant flirting with any male bar patron who'd been reasonably good looking. She had also been unable to get drunk. The end result had been that she'd sat there at the table, practically-untouched drink in front of her, and been lost in thought for the entire evening. She had even briefly reconsidered her decision not to call Ocelot, but eventually came to the conclusion that spending the evening with him would have been worse, because he would have undoubtedly asked her questions that she did not want to (and in most cases, could not) answer.
Eventually she had begged off the remainder of the evening, telling her friends that she wasn't feeling well and thought she might be coming down with something. They had been suitably sympathetic, and she'd left amid their injunctions to go home, get into a warm bed, and get some sleep. She'd felt bad about lying to them, but she would have felt worse if she'd stayed. She would make it up to them some other time, she reasoned.
She had gotten up early today, spent some time tidying up her small townhouse (an activity in which she engaged with a regularity approximating that of the inauguration of a new President), reading her email, and catching up on the news. Although she had paid particular attention to the stories involving someone's violent death and to the obituaries, she had been unsuccessful in coming any closer to determining who this mysterious friend of Gabriel's might have been. Finally, tired of looking at her walls, she had fired up the Westwind and headed out to do some shopping. At least if she was going to have a bad day, she might as well use it to get some drudgery done.
She turned the last corner on to her street, wincing as two of the bags, no match for her aggressive driving style, keeled over and spilled their contents out all over the back seat. Fortunately there was nothing breakable back there, but it was still going to be hard on the back to weasel into the small space and put everything right again before she could get it out of the car. She cursed under her breath, glanced back at the scattered groceries, then turned her attention back to the road and her house up ahead.
There was a black Dynamit parked in her driveway.
For a moment, it didn't register on her mind what that meant. She stared at it for several seconds before light dawned. Groceries forgotten, she stomped the gas pedal and hurried down the street, whipping the Westwind in behind the Dynamit and leaping out almost before it had stopped.
He was sitting on her porch step, watching her as she came up the walk. "You shouldn't drive so fast," he said softly. "You'll get a ticket."
For a moment it was like old times. "You should talk," she said, grinning. "The original Mr. Leadfoot Lizard himself." She paused, and then: "How long have you been sitting here?"
He shrugged. "Half an hour or so. I haven't really kept track." He was dressed simply: sweater, jeans, and overcoat, all in black. The only color on him was his violet eyes, which looked troubled.
"You could have let yourself in, you know. That's why I gave you a key."
Again he shrugged. "I didn't mind waiting for you."
She took a closer look at him. "Something's wrong, isn't it?" she asked, frowning in concern.
He looked past her. "You've left your car door open."
Her look of concern deepened. "Gabriel—"
"Come on," he said, gracefully rising. "Let's bring in whatever you've got in the car, and then we'll talk." Without waiting for her to answer, he started down the walk back toward the car.
Kestrel sighed. There was no arguing with him when he was like this, so she wouldn't try.
By the time she'd reached the car, he'd already gotten almost all of the wayward groceries back in their appointed places. "You're aware that's cheating, aren't you?" she asked teasingly, watching as the last of the cans and boxes floated neatly into the bags.
"You're just jealous because you can't do it," he said in the manner of their old banter, but there was a certain strain to his voice that Kestrel could only pick up because she knew him so well. With a slight bow, he handed her an armload of bags and grabbed another.
Deciding that it would do her no good to inform him that he shouldn't be carrying her groceries for her, she sighed again and followed him back toward the house.
"I see you've been on your semi-annual shopping trip," he commented, standing aside to let her open the door.
"I guess you wouldn't believe me if I said I knew you were coming and wanted to make you a home-cooked meal, huh?" she asked.
"I might...but whose home?" Following her into the kitchen, he read off names from the packages in the bags he carried. "Mrs. Polsifer's Nuke 'em Quick Fish Sticks? Aunt Suzy's Creme Pie? Dr. Soy's Noodle Sensations?"
"Give me those!" She grinned, snatching the bags away from him. "You knew I wasn't a cook when you met me. It's a little late to complain now." Growing serious once again, she motioned toward the breakfast bar, which looked into the kitchen through a cutaway. "Please—sit down while I put this stuff away. Tell me what's been going on."
He did as he was told, handing over the remaining bags and taking a seat on one of the barstools at the breakfast bar.
When he didn't speak, Kestrel turned around from where she had begun stashing frozen items in her freezer. He was sitting there with a faraway, troubled look in his eyes. Although he appeared to be watching her, she could tell that his thoughts were somewhere else. "Gabriel? Are you all right?"
"I don't know," he said slowly. "I'm not even sure why I've come, except that I wanted to talk to someone, and you seemed the logical choice." He closed his eyes briefly and sighed. "Please—finish with what you're doing. I'm not going anywhere."
She watched him for a moment longer, then nodded. "Okay. This'll only take a few minutes, and then maybe you'll tell me what's going on." She returned to the task of unloading the bags and putting away groceries, her mind now as distracted as his seemed to be. She moved mechanically, relying on her instinctive knowledge of where each item should go, because the conscious part of her mind was elsewhere.
"Kestrel?" he asked when she had started on the last bag.
"What?" She turned to see him watching her with a tiny shadow of his old mischievous smile. "What is it?"
"Did you intend to put the ice cream in the breadbox?" Without waiting for her to answer, he nodded toward the item in question. It rose smoothly up from the open breadbox and floated into the freezer.
"Thanks," she mumbled. "I guess I'm a little wound up too." Gathering the bags together, she stuffed them in the recycling bin and once again turned back to him. Right now, the absurdity of having a Great Dragon helping her put away her groceries was completely lost on her. "Want to talk?" She motioned for him to join her in the living room, where she sat down on one end of the couch.
After a moment, he came over and sat down on the other end. He did not look at her, but instead stared out the window into her tiny back yard. "I've done something I'm not very proud of," he said at last, quietly.
She frowned. "What do you mean?" She paused, and then, in a gentle tone: "Does this have something to do with looking for whoever—killed your friend?"
He sighed, still staring out the window. "Yes."
"Did you—find who did it?" She scooted down on the couch a bit closer to him. She didn't like to see him like this, looking so lost and despairing. It was times like this that she found it easier to forget that he was a millennia-old dragon and see him only as what he appeared to be: a young man with some deeply troubling things on his mind.
This time he did turn to look at her. "Yes. No." He shook his head. "I killed a man, Juliana. And I enjoyed it."
Her eyes widened. In all the time she had known Gabriel, she had never seen him kill—or even injure—anyone, with the exception of his brother Stefan during their battle six months previously. She knew how much he valued life and how important it was to him to treat humans and metahumans with respect. For him to have killed someone, the circumstances must have been extraordinary. "Why—why did you kill him? You must have had a reason."
He nodded. "I had a reason. That doesn't make me any more comfortable with it."
She reached out and gently took his hand. It felt cold. "Was it the person who killed your friend?"
"One of them."
"There were more than one? Where are the others?"
She considered that. "But you didn't kill them."
"No." He paused, and then his gaze came up to meet hers. "And one yet lives."
That confused her. "I thought you said the others were all dead."
It was several seconds before he answered. "It is a—strange situation. I don't have all the details yet." He looked down at his lap, shaking his head. "I don't know that I ever will."
Kestrel took a deep breath. She was getting into uncharted territory again; he seemed worse now than he had been before he left. "Can you tell me—what you've been doing?"
Gabriel gently extricated his hand from her grip, then rose and began aimlessly wandering around the living room. He stopped occasionally to look at an item or at the view out the window, and did not speak for almost a minute. When he did speak, his voice was very quiet. "After you left, I went to the astral plane to try to find out where the murder occurred."
"Did you find out?" she asked in the same tone.
He nodded. "Yes. It—wasn't far from here. I had to remain on the astral plane for a very long time before I discovered it, though, so when I finally found the place, I could not stay long."
Kestrel had worked with mages before, so she knew what he meant. "You stayed too long and had to go back to your body?"
"Yes. I had to recover my strength before I could return. I had found a spirit there—a very small and weak one—who had seen the murder."
A spirit murder witness. Kestrel couldn't help being a little weirded out by that. Just life with my best bud the Great Dragon, she reminded herself wryly. Weird goes with the territory. "Were you able to find out anything from it?" she asked, leaning forward.
Again it was awhile before he spoke. "It—could not remember everything. It was as if something was blocking its memory, or else it was so frightened that it had blocked it itself. But it was able to locate the one surviving member of the group that had committed the murder."
Kestrel remembered something from her conversation with Ocelot a couple of nights ago. "Gabriel?"
He stopped his pacing and turned to her. "Yes?"
"Your friend—was he—" she paused. "—was he another dragon?"
Gabriel nodded, his eyes full of sadness. "Yes."
She looked hard at him, taking that in. "And—these people who killed him—"
"Please, Kestrel," he said softly. "This is not easy for me. Let me tell you in my own way."
"I'm sorry," she whispered, looking away. She wasn't handling this well at all, and the last thing he needed was to have to worry about her problems right now. "I just want to help you."
Swiftly he came over and sat down next to her on the couch. Putting a gentle hand on her shoulder, he said, "Juliana. Forgive me—I don't want to hurt you. That is the last thing I want to do. But—I've never dealt with a situation like this before. I'm trying to make sense of it, but I haven't done that yet. I know you want to help—you are helping, just by listening. I'm very grateful to you for that, because I don't know what to do."
She brought her eyes up to meet his. This was the first time he had ever admitted to her that he was at a loss for what to do. It still scared her, but she was determined not to let him see that. If she could help by listening, then she would listen. She would worry some other time about the fact that there was someone out there capable of killing a dragon and hiding the evidence well enough that another dragon couldn't find it. "Okay," she said. "You know I'll listen." He was sitting so close to her that she could feel the heat of his body; she could also see that he was shaking a bit.
He nodded, but did not move. Taking a deep breath, he continued: "The spirit showed me where the last member of the team had gone—he was in Hawai'i. Apparently he had decided to remove himself far away from the murder scene and use the money he had received to drop out of sight for awhile."
Kestrel started to say something, but decided not to. She would listen until he was finished, but it was not easy to hold her questions.
"I went to Hawai'i to find him," Gabriel went on, again not looking at her. "His name was Donnie Lynch—Slyde. He was a rigger. A helicopter pilot." His voice lowered. "The one who fired the laser that was the final deathblow."
"Was..." she said involuntarily.
"Was," he repeated. "I killed him, Juliana. Something—took hold of me. I wanted to kill him. I wanted to rip the information from his mind. I wanted him to suffer as Telanwyr had suffered." He shook his head. "I lost control. And—" a slight shudder passed through his body "—I enjoyed it."
She closed her eyes briefly. "Gabriel—" she whispered. She knew how much the admission had cost him. Almost before she realized it, she had put her arms around him and drawn him in close to her. "I'm sorry..."
He did not return the embrace, but neither did he pull away. She could feel him shaking. "So am I," he said. "I have in the past criticized my brother for behavior just like this, and now look at me. Given the right provocation, I can be every bit as cruel and merciless as he can."
"That's not true," she murmured. "You're nothing like him and you know it."
"You didn't see me." He looked up, meeting her eyes with only a few inches separating their faces. "You didn't see me, Kestrel," he repeated. "You would not have recognized me."
She nodded, slowly letting him go. "Maybe you're right," she said. "But you certainly had cause. Sometimes it's justified. You know that. You just don't want to let yourself believe that sometimes it just needs to be done."
"Juliana," he said raggedly, "I threatened to eat him."
That shocked her a bit. Her eyes widened. "You're kidding." Then, quieter: "No, you're not." It was one of those realities of life that she just tried not to think about: Gabriel, in his true form, was the a member of the most fearsome race of predatory carnivores on the face of the Earth. He shielded her from that as much as he could, but it was nonetheless true. She had no doubt that if he were sufficiently enraged, he would have no trouble, physiologically, making an hors-d'oeuvre out of the offender. Psychologically, however, was another thing entirely. "You—uh—didn't, did you?"
"Of course not," he said, in a tone indicating that he was surprised that she would ask. He sighed. "But I did things I swore to myself I would never do. I forced myself into his mind and took the information I wanted from him. I frightened him intentionally, just so he would tell me what I wanted to know. I showed him what I was—there was no need for me to do that. But—" he trailed off, shaking his head. "It felt good. What am I becoming?" he finished in almost a whisper.
She gripped his shoulder. "Gabriel, please. Let me try to help you. I can't do that if you won't tell me what happened."
He regarded her for a moment as if considering whether he wanted to do that, and finally nodded. "All right. I will tell you what happened. And I won't blame you if you are as ashamed of me as I am of myself when I am finished." Leaning back wearily on the couch, he switched to his natural form of communication, sharing with her not only the verbal description of his encounter with Slyde, but the visual and emotional impressions as well.
Kestrel closed her eyes and "listened" to his voice in her mind, making no interruption until he was finished. She felt his rage and his despair wash over her, then slowly fade as he reached the end of the story. "After I left his room," he said, "I spent an hour or two just wandering, becoming more and more ashamed of what I had done. Then I returned here. You were the only person I could think of to discuss this with."
She took his hand again, opening her eyes. She didn't speak for several seconds. Finally, quietly, she said, "I'm not ashamed of you, Gabriel. Not at all." Her expression hardened. "If it had been me, I would have done a lot worse to him than you did."
He shook his head. "Forgive me, but that isn't very comforting."
"I know that," she said. Very seriously, she added, "I'm not as—noble—as you are, Gabriel. I know that sounds sarcastic, but you know it isn't. I mean it. I know the kinds of standards you hold yourself to. But there's no shame in snapping when something like this happens. From what you've told me, this guy was proud of killing your friend. He sounds like one of the biggest scumbags to ever walk the planet—I can't even think about how that poor girl must have felt when he—" she let that trail off, anger blazing in her eyes. "If it'd been me and I'd known what you knew, I'd have ripped his balls off and made him eat 'em before I killed him. And it wouldn't have been fast like you did it. He would have been begging to die." Her eyes came up to meet his. "There. Now are you ashamed of me?"
"No," he said softly. "We all must deal with such things in our own way."
She gripped his other shoulder, staring hard at him. "You know he had to die, right?"
Gabriel nodded reluctantly.
"And you needed to get the information from him. You knew he was a murderer when you got it, right?"
Again he nodded.
"Then—" she paused "—I'm not sure I see what the problem is."
He pulled back from her, standing up again. "It isn't the fact that I killed him, Juliana. I wish there could have been another way, but I know it was necessary. It's the fact that I enjoyed it that disturbs me." He sighed and shook his head. "I can't help wondering how much easier it will be for me to lose control again, in the future." Moving back over to the window, he looked out over the tangled back yard.
"You know," she said speculatively, "I think you might actually be less likely to lose control next time. If this really bothered you as much as it seems to, then wouldn't it make sense that you'd try to avoid it if it comes up again?" It sounded plausible, if a bit too pop-psychology, to her ears.
"I don't know," he said. "You may be right. I hope I won't have the chance to find out one way or the other."
She decided to try to change the subject. Maybe if she got him talking about something he could actually affect, she would bring him out of this mood he had sunken into. "You didn't tell me what you found out. Was that on purpose?"
"No," he said without turning. "I didn't tell you because I didn't find out very much. Apparently there is an elf involved, but I wasn't able to get anything about him from Slyde's mind. It was as if something had blocked the information off."
She got up and came over to stand next to him. "Doesn't that strike you as a bit odd?"
He nodded. "Very odd. I don't make a habit of probing minds, but I do know how strong mine is. He should not have been able to keep anything from me, but yet he did." He paused. "He tried as hard as he could to hide the information about what he did to the girl. His mental defenses barely slowed me down." Apparently he had decided that if he had already done the deed, he might as well discuss it with her, because his voice sounded more like his normal self than it had.
"Did you find out anything else about this elf?" she asked. "Could he have somehow done it?"
"I don't see any other explanation," he said, but didn't sound like he was very sure of that. "The spirit told me that it was afraid of something, but it didn't know what. And when I went out to the place where the murder occurred, I couldn't find any evidence of it."
Kestrel stared at him. "You went to the place where the murder happened?"
"Yes. After I returned from searching the astral plane, I drove up to the place I found. There was nothing there." He looked away, and his voice lowered. "The spirit showed me what it had seen—he was—killed—by a six-member team with helicopters, ground vehicles, heavy weapons—but I found no evidence of any of them."
She continued to stare. "You're saying that you were right there where it happened, and you didn't find anything? How could that be possible? You can't just hide something like that. Especially not from someone like you, right?"
"It would have been difficult," he agreed, nodding. "To completely erase the astral traces of a murder of that magnitude would have taken a magician—or a group of them—that would make me look like a first-year thaumaturgy student. And to erase the physical traces—the bodies, the tire tracks, the burned and broken trees—" he trailed off, shaking his head. "I just don't see how it could have been done, especially not so quickly."
Something dawned on her, but she wasn't sure if she wanted to bring it up. Finally, hesitantly, she said, "Gabriel...?"
He turned his gaze back on her. "Yes?"
"What about—the body?"
He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again. "You mean Telanwyr's body," he said softly.
"Yeah. I'm sorry to bring it up—"
"No. It's all right. That's—another piece of the puzzle. It was nowhere to be found."
Kestrel considered that. "No body. No traces on the astral plane. No traces here." She looked up. "Are you—I mean—are you certain that you were in the right place?"
"That was what I thought at first as well. I wondered if somehow I was being misled. But the spirit described the place to me sufficiently that I could be sure that the murder had occurred there, even though I could find no evidence of it. And the spirit did show me where to find Slyde. In order to do that, it must have seen something."
"But how?" she asked. "I don't understand. Please—forgive me for saying this, because I don't mean to hurt you—but I just don't understand how somebody could hide the body of a Great Dragon without somebody catching on. I mean—don't you guys know when one of your own dies? I remember back when Dunkelzahn was assassinated, there were dozens of dragons that flew over the spot where he died. They—" she stopped in mid-sentence. "Wait a minute."
"Could it—could they have done it like that? With explosives?"
He shook his head. "Perhaps at the beginning, but the explosives didn't kill him. I saw him in the spirit's vision. And contrary to what you might believe, we dragons don't have some sort of constant connection with each other. In fact, Telanwyr was there with the others to honor Dunkelzahn. He told me he heard about the assassination on the news."
Kestrel looked at him oddly. Just when she thought she had him figured out, he threw her another curveball. "The news."
"You sound surprised," he said with a ghost of a smile.
"I guess I shouldn't be," she admitted. Gabriel, after all, paid close attention to the various news media, as well as having an insatiable appetite for everything from lowbrow sporting events to B horror movies. It was just the thought of dragon news junkies that struck her as a bit strange. "So—what will you do now?"
He sighed. "I'll keep looking. There has to be an explanation for this, and I intend to find it. I'll continue on my own for awhile, but if I'm not successful, I might be forced to bring others in."
"I'm actually a bit surprised that none of the others have noticed anything wrong," he said, nodding. "Telanwyr was somewhat reclusive, but still—someone is bound to miss him eventually."
"You mean other dragons," she said quietly.
"Yes. I know my abilities, but there are others—far older and wiser than I—who would certainly be interested in this murder."
Her brow furrowed. "Why don't you call them now, then? Why wait?"
He turned away, heading back for the couch, where he sank down. "It isn't that easy, Kestrel. Dragon relationships are—complicated. The only two dragons from whom I would feel fully comfortable seeking help are both—gone. The others—" he shook his head. "I will do it if I must, but not yet. I still think I can do this on my own."
"Who's the other one?" she asked, unable to contain her curiosity.
"The other dragon you could have gone to for help. Who was he or she, if you don't mind my asking?"
His eyes came up to meet hers. "Dunkelzahn."
She couldn't keep the surprise from her face. "You knew Dunkelzahn? I thought he—you know—before you woke up."
Gabriel nodded. "I knew him a long time ago—or rather, he knew me. I was barely more than a hatchling at the time. He had dealings with my father for awhile, but he took a liking to me. I remember him in the way a human child might remember a beloved uncle." He sighed. "I was quite saddened to hear of his death when I awoke, as you recall. He was, at least in my opinion, the best among us."
Kestrel came over and sat down next to him. "I wish there was something I could do to help you," she said, hoping she could intercept his mood before it took hold of him again.
He smiled at her, just a bit. "Kestrel, you have helped. Believe me. Just having the chance to talk about this has helped me consider my options. As you might imagine, I'm a bit—distracted right now. Not thinking clearly. Having you here to listen and make suggestions has been invaluable."
She looked away, suddenly overcome with emotion. Kestrel was not normally an emotional person—in fact, she tended to avoid people who were, because they made her uncomfortable—but right now she could feel the force of the young dragon's grief and his love for her coming over her almost like a tangible thing. "Gabriel—" she began.
Now it was his turn to grip her shoulders and pull her in close. "Shh, Juliana," he whispered. "Everything will be all right."
She embraced him, feeling the strength in his deceptively slender body more with her psyche than with her arms. "I know it will," she said. "I know it's silly for me to worry about you, but I do." Attempting a smile, she added, "I've gotten sort of attached to you in the past year or so. I just don't want to lose you, that's all."
He nodded. "I'll be back," he said quietly. "I'm not going anywhere for long. But I have to do this."
"I know you do." She pushed back, keeping hold of his hand. "Before you go again, though—"
"Will you tell me about him? About Telanwyr?"
For a long time, he did not speak. Very gently he pulled his hand from hers, staring down at it as if it held the secrets of the universe. Kestrel was just about to apologize for being too presumptuous and tell him it wasn't necessary when he looked back up at her. "He was my teacher," he said, the grief clearly evident in his soft voice. "My mentor. My oldest and dearest friend." He paused, searching for the right words. "I think the closest word for our relationship in human terms would be 'godfather,' although that isn't quite correct since there was no religious connotation to it. He was a close friend of my father's, and he knew me from the beginning of my existence. Throughout my life he was always there, in some ways more of a father to me than my true father was. Telanwyr was there to answer my questions, to guide me, to teach me what I needed to know. And when I awoke in this world, he helped me to adjust in ways that you could not." He sighed. "Although we did not see each other as often recently as we had before, I knew he was always willing to listen if I had something to discuss. And lately our relationship had begun to evolve into one of equals, rather than one of teacher and student." Looking away again, he added, "I never expected him to die. Dragons are for all intents and purposes immortal, barring grievous injury. For something like this to happen—" he broke off for a moment, composing himself "—it was nearly inconceivable."
Kestrel regarded him, wide-eyed, utterly unable to think of anything to say that wouldn't sound trite or maudlin or completely inadequate. She thought of the depth of her grief when she had lost her team, who had been like a family to her, a time ago—and she had only known them for six years. To lose someone you had known and loved for millennia—"I'm so sorry," she whispered, taking refuge in simplicity.
He nodded. "So am I." Surprisingly, his face was unreadable, his eyes quiet. "That's why I must find out what has happened, and why I must avenge his death. After that is done, then I'll allow myself to fully mourn him. But until then I can't let myself be distracted. It appears that I am the only one who can do anything about this at the moment, so I must do it."
"I'll help you," Kestrel said. "I'll do whatever you want me to do. And the others—Ocelot, Winterhawk—"
Gabriel shook his head. "No. I'd rather not get them—or you—involved in this. I've already nearly gotten all of you killed with my problems. This time there's no reason for any of you to be involved."
She thought about the fight with Stefan. "You know we all volunteered, Gabriel," she reminded him. "And I'll do it again."
"No." He smiled at her, just a little. "Not yet, anyway. Please. Let me do this. I have to do this."
Kestrel nodded after a long moment. "Okay," she said. "But remember—you promised to come back. That means if you need help, you'll ask for it. Right?"
"I promise," he said solemnly.
"Good." She nodded again, briskly. Only half-kidding, she added, "So—have you got time for a home-cooked—in the sense of 'this is home, and it's getting sort of cooked here'—meal before you go off again?"
He rose. "How can I refuse when you put it so persuasively?"
Copyright ©1998 R. King-Nitschke. The Shadowrun universe is the property of FASA Corporation.
No part of this story may be reproduced without permission from the author.