The climate in downtown Seattle was typical of what could be expected this time of year: overcast, drizzly, and utterly depressing.
That suited the five individuals who sat around a table in the back corner of the Glass Spider just fine, since it mirrored their states of mind far better than a moonlit starry night ever could have.
They had not met at Lunar Dreamscape by unspoken agreement. It just wouldn't have seemed right—not after the last time they had met there all together following something like this. Instead, when Ocelot had called the others and suggested that they get together, he had suggested this place as his best attempt to return to "normal"—whatever the hell that was.
They all sat there now, hands wrapped around various libations, competing with each other for how somber they could be. They had left a sixth seat open at the table and left a message with its intended occupant, but none of them expected the message to be received or the chair to be occupied. Again, it had just seemed the right thing to do, even if they all knew it was in vain.
It was hard to believe that only one day had passed since they had returned. The sights of the city had looked odd to them: the cars, the people, all the signs of bustling life going about the business of living. It had been strange, for awhile, until they got used to it again. They had been reluctant to leave each other's company for long, as if the act of having gone through that had forged an even deeper bond between them that returning to the world too fast would tear apart. Inherent in that bond was the knowledge of just how close the world had come to being plunged into hell; it was hard enough dealing with something like that without having to do it alone.
Only one day...and before that, less than a day had passed while they had been gone. That had been the part that had truly amazed them, although as they continued to discuss it they realized that it was not so unusual, really—after all, their last trip had taken even less time than that.
They had awakened lying there in the circle, their bodies just as they had been left (with the exception of the cushions Harlequin had placed under their heads). They had emerged from their trances blink-eyed and woozy, with the feeling that something was both very right and very wrong. Harlequin had leaped from his seat and hurried over to them, while Frosty had roused herself from a nap to join him. "Well?" had been his first question.
His second had been, "Where's Stefan?"
He had seen Stefan's body disappear, he told them, but did not dare disrupt the circle to investigate in fear of preventing the rest of them from returning.
It was at that point that Gabriel had awakened.
He had risen from his spot on the floor, whole and unscathed, looking no different than he had when they had departed—
Except for his eyes.
Silently, as the runners, Harlequin, and Frosty had watched, he had gone over to the spot where Stefan had been. He had stared at the space on the floor long and hard, examining the smudge-marks in the chalked sigils and sand where his brother had lay. And then he had turned and slowly, deliberately walked over to Harlequin.
He had stood before the clown-painted elf without a word for a moment, meeting his eyes, and then he had traced a complicated gesture with his left hand, following the gesture by placing his outstretched fingers on his chest, just below his heart. "Thank you, Caimbeul," he had said softly. "For everything."
For the first time the runners had ever seen, Harlequin had been at a loss for words. "Gethelwain, I—"
Gabriel had shaken his head. "No. Please. Just—accept my gratitude."
Harlequin had paused for a moment, looking into his eyes, and nodded. He had glanced over at the runners briefly, then turned to Frosty. "Come on. I think I just remembered some place we need to be." With a quick nod of farewell to the five runners, he and Frosty had departed. None of the runners had attempted to stop him.
When he was gone, Gabriel had returned his attention to the runners. "And my thanks to you as well. I am forever amazed at the infinite capacity of your people for perseverance, for confidence—for hope. Again you have helped me, and again I owe you my gratitude." Something in his eyes had told them that he was not yet finished, so they had met his gaze in silence. He looked simultaneously older and younger than he had before—older because of the deep grief showing the purple depths of his eyes, and younger by the way he appeared fully open to them, with nothing to hide. "Now," he had said very gently, "if you will excuse me, I must go to mourn my friend and my brother."
Kestrel had stepped forward worriedly. "Gabriel—"
"No, Juliana, you cannot come with me," he had told her with a tiny faraway smile. "This is something I must do alone."
"Will you—be back?" she had ventured, afraid of what his answer would be.
He had hesitated a moment as if considering the question. Finally with great care he had said, "You will see me again. But I do not know when."
And then he had gone, leaving them to stand there on the vast floor amid the ruins of the ritual circle.
They hadn't stayed long. They had all felt uncomfortable in the place without the presence of its master—there were too many ghosts and too many memories there. They had ridden the elevator down to the garage and picked up the truck (noticing that both the Phaeton and the Dynamit were still in their usual places); when they drove it out into the street, they had been surprised to see that it was dark. A quick check of their chronos indicated that only a few hours had passed, and now it was a bit after 21:00.
They had spent the night at Winterhawk's place because no one had wanted to go home, and the next day they had made an attempt to get their lives back on track. The oddest part of the whole thing was that, essentially in the cores of their beings, they felt good. They had done the impossible. They had once again prevented the Horrors from crossing into their world, once again without anyone else's knowledge. But Gabriel's departure and Stefan's sacrifice had cast a pall over their celebratory moods.
The meet at the bar had been something of a compromise: not really a celebration, but just a chance to get together and discuss what they had experienced. Ocelot (and Kestrel, who had spent most of the day with him, not wanting to return to her townhouse and be alone) both felt that it would be welcome, and the others had readily agreed.
For an hour or so, they had talked about nothing in particular, pointedly avoiding the subject that everyone had come there to discuss. No one, it seemed, had wanted to bring the subject up, so they had instead just enjoyed each other's company as any set of friends might after a hard day, commenting on sports scores, the quality of the beer at the Spider, and various other such irrelevant topics. All of them knew it couldn't last forever, but they were determined to draw it out as long as possible. Nobody was quite sure why.
"So," Ocelot finally said with a sigh, taking another pull of his beer (he had gone with the good stuff tonight, not his usual cheap variety), "we just saved the world. How come I feel so crappy?"
Winterhawk shook his head. "If you figure it out, please let me in on it, will you?" He too sighed. "We certainly seem to have a precedent for mourning dragons by getting drunk out of our minds, don't we?"
That elicited the tiniest of smiles from the others (except Kestrel); it had been some time since they had gotten themselves plastered in Winterhawk's apartment upon hearing the news of Dunkelzahn's assassination—enough time had passed that they could laugh about it, even if it was only just a little laugh.
Ocelot looked up, his eyes going a bit wide. "That's what we're doing, isn't it? We're mourning Stefan. If anybody had ever told me I'd be doing that—"
Joe nodded soberly. "Yeah."
Kestrel took Ocelot's hand. "He redeemed himself. I don't know if I would have had the courage to do what he did."
Winterhawk signaled for another beer. "Nor I. Gabriel was right about everyone's being able to change given the right catalyst." He raised his glass. "But I for one salute him." He looked up. "Here's to you, Stefan, old boy. If you're listening—thank you."
Slowly the other runners raised their own glasses, silently echoing Winterhawk's words.
Kestrel brought her glass back down, staring into the depths of her beer. "Do you think he'll come back?"
Everyone immediately realized she wasn't talking about Stefan. "He said he would, didn't he?" Ocelot reminded her. "You know he's good for his word."
She shook her head. "He said I'd see him again. He's very careful with his words. But I don't know what he meant by that. I went by his place today—just to see if he might be there. He wasn't." Sighing, she swirled the beer around in the glass. Then, making a visible effort to pull herself together, she looked up at her companions and smiled. "But hey—we saved the world. We should celebrate that, right? Pretty soon everything will be back to normal, and we'll go on, and that'll be the end of it. Right?"
The others nodded. "Yeah," Ocelot said. Finishing up the contents of his glass in one long pull, he put it down on the table with a decisive thump. "Right now, though, what I think I want is a good night's sleep in my own bed. 'Hawk, your floor ain't too comfortable, you know?"
"Hey, you coulda slept with me on the couch," Joe said jokingly.
"Not an option," 'Wraith said with a raised eyebrow. "But agreed about sleep."
As they finished their drinks and gathered up their gear to leave, Ocelot touched Kestrel's arm and motioned for her to hang back. "You—uh—want to come over tonight? So you don't have to be alone, I mean?"
She nodded gratefully, and this time her smile was genuine. "Yeah. I would."
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.