The night was beautiful; Kestrel had to give it that. Out here, away from the lights of the city, you could even see a few stars twinkling in the blackness of the sky. Maybe not as many as you could if you got fully away from Seattle's foul air, but enough to make you feel like you were actually getting a little bit in touch with nature.
She was at the Shadow Lake Nature Preserve, which had always been a haven for her—a place where she could get away from everything and be alone with her thoughts. She hadn't wanted to do that very much lately; this was the first time she'd been here in the three months since—
—since their "adventure."
That was what she had euphemistically labeled it in her mind: their "adventure"—complete with the quotation marks. It helped her keep her sanity, and it helped her to cope with the fact that she had not seen the one person she had wanted most in the world to see in all that time.
She'd been here for awhile already, having driven her little green Westwind up before it had gotten dark and hiked up to the lake. She had been sitting here on the bank ever since, tossing stones into the water and trying to sort out her thoughts. She wasn't worried about anyone bothering her; nobody came up here at night anyway, and even if they did, she was quite capable of dealing with them. Especially since she wasn't in the most forgiving of moods to begin with.
This was the first night in a long while that she had been alone for any significant length of time. Since the "adventure" she had developed a strong dislike of being alone, and had thus sought out places full of life—bars, nightclubs, trideo theatres, shopping malls, restaurants, sporting events—anything to stimulate her mind and keep her demons at bay. Nights—at least the ones she didn't spend with Ocelot—were the worst, because those were when the nightmares came. They had been fading over the past few weeks, and she was sure they would eventually go away completely, but for now they occurred with enough frequency that she dreaded going to sleep. She almost always fell asleep on her couch now, with the trideo or the music blaring away.
It helped, some.
Ocelot had been wonderful. She smiled a little, thinking about him and the way he had of coming up with things they could do to take her mind off her troubles. She knew he was haunted by the events too, but he never showed it. In fact, he never talked to her about it unless she brought it up first. He seemed to be determined to make up for the fact that there was now a big hole in her life.
She didn't have the heart to tell him that he never could.
His teammates had been great too. In the ensuing three months she had gotten to know them much better, joining in their occasional get-together-and-drink nights like another member of the team, and even helping them out on runs when she could. They had immediately gone back to work a few days after they returned; Ocelot said it helped them forget.
She sighed, heaving another stone into the water and watching it skip across the surface and finally sink under the waves many meters away. This hadn't really helped her, coming out here; she had hoped that perhaps getting away by herself might help her come to terms with things, but all it had done was make her more depressed. Forcing herself not to think about it might not have been the healthiest thing she could have done, psychologically speaking, but it had at least allowed her to function. Her emotions were like a flood being held back by the flimsiest of floodgates, and now here she was, methodically picking away at that floodgate brick by brick.
Or stone by stone. She was going to have to move soon; she had over the last hour depleted her immediate area of skippable stones. She sighed. Might as well think about heading back. It's getting cold out here.
She had started to rise when a soft voice spoke from a few meters behind her. "I had thought I might find you here."
She spun around so fast that she lost her balance and fell right back down on her butt. It was the last voice she had expected to hear. "Gabriel?!"
He stepped out of the trees and into view. "Hello, Juliana."
She looked him up and down, drinking in the sight of him. Dressed in jeans, white T-shirt, and thin leather jacket, he looked very young; it was the kind of outfit she used to tease him about. "Hope you're not planning to visit any bars in that getup," she murmured, unable to keep the slow smile from spreading across her face. "Remember how embarrassing it was last time, when you got carded?"
"You were just jealous," he said serenely. He indicated the spot next to her. "May I?"
She rolled her eyes in mock exasperation. "Sit." When he had complied, she looked at him with a more serious expression. "Are you back?"
He considered that a moment. "Yes...and no," he finally said.
"What does that mean?"
He smiled at her, just a little. "I will tell you a bit later. But first—have you been well?"
She took a deep breath. "I guess so." Using the search for more stones as an excuse to avoid his gaze, she added, "I missed you, though."
"I hope you will forgive me for leaving you so abruptly," he said, his voice full of sadness. "I was—not myself at the time."
"No—it's okay." She put her hand on his arm. "You had to do what you had to do. I understand."
"Do you?" His gaze, so beautiful and calm and purple, settled on her.
"I—think so," she said, this time with less certainty. "Where—did you go?"
"As I told you at the time—to mourn Telanwyr and Stefan."
She shifted sideways a bit to get a better view of him. "What—does that mean? How do dragons mourn death?"
"There is a ritual. You saw it, you said, after Dunkelzahn was murdered."
"You mean all the dragons flying around in those intricate patterns?"
"I didn't hear anything about that," she said. "And I was sort of watching the news for anything about dragons."
"It was—quite private," he said, looking away. "But very well attended. Since the two deaths were interconnected, the mourning ritual was as well. When I explained to the dragons what had occurred, most of them were willing to forgive Stefan's transgressions in favor of his sacrifice."
She was interested in spite of herself. "Who was—there? Anybody I've heard of?"
"I doubt it. Lofwyr sent his condolences but did not attend. Several of the younger Great Dracoforms—Arleesh, Masaru, Perianwyr—were there, though. Telanwyr was well regarded among the dragons, and Stefan's sacrifice did not go unnoticed."
She nodded, although she did not completely understand.
"I did not remain for the disposition of their personal property, though; I had no desire to get involved in that."
"I guess dragon probate can get pretty nasty, huh?" she said with a little smile. "You weren't here for all the trouble Dunkelzahn's will caused a couple of years ago."
He shook his head. "That was most irregular. Normally dragons determine ownership of the deceased's property by rite of challenge."
"You mean you all get together and fight over it?" she demanded incredulously.
"That doesn't sound very—I don't know—civilized to me."
"It is not. That is why I didn't want to get involved. I suspect that Lofwyr will end up with most of Telanwyr's holdings. Probably Stefan's as well. There are few dragons who want to contend with him." He shrugged. "I do not care."
"So Messina Corporation will become a subsidiary of Saeder-Krupp..." She tightened her grip on his arm.
He didn't answer; instead, he stared down at his hands in his lap.
"Are you okay?"
"What? Oh—yes. I'm all right now."
"What did you do...I mean after the ritual? Does it take so long?"
He shook his head. "No, the ritual was very short, and occurred only a few days after I left you. After that..." he trailed off.
"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to," she said gently.
"No—it isn't that. I am just trying to find a way to put it into words." He paused for a long moment. "I—spent quite a bit of time simply wandering. Visiting various places, meeting people—coming to terms with the fact that all of my connections to my old life are gone now. Dunkelzahn, Telanwyr, my parents, Stefan—there is no one left." His voice dropped to a near-whisper.
She moved in closer to him, pulling him into a tight hug. "I'm sorry, Gabriel..."
"No, do not be. Even dragons die eventually. It is a fact of life. It just took me some time to accept it. One of the dragons who attended the ritual invited me to visit her, and so I did, for awhile. It was—quite helpful to me. She is much older than I, and was able to help me to put things in perspective."
"Who was this?" Kestrel asked, interested.
"You would not know her—she lairs down in the California Free State. I had not met her before, but she is a great lady and has become a good friend." He looked up at her, again giving her the tiny faraway smile that she loved so much. "I have missed you as well, though."
"Is that why you came back?"
He nodded. "Only for you. That is what I wanted to discuss with you."
She pulled herself up a little straighter. "What?"
"I have decided to leave Seattle, at least for awhile. There are too many wounds here that have not yet healed. There is much of the world I have yet to explore, and I think this would be a good time to do it."
Her eyes widened. Had he just come back, and now he was leaving her again? "And..." she began, speaking hesitantly.
"And I would like you to come with me."
That was not what she had expected to hear. She drew a sharp involuntary breath. "Go—with you?"
He nodded. "I am merely asking. I will understand if you do not wish to leave your life and your friends here."
Thoughts whirled through her head. Pick up, leave Seattle indefinitely, and travel around the world with an adventurous young dragon? Leave her friends, her business associates, the team—
The answer was obvious, of course. There really wasn't even any question in her mind.
She would explain it all to them before she left. It wasn't like she was leaving forever, after all. She would be back.
They would understand. Hell, Ocelot might even approve.
She smiled, feeling a weight lifting from her shoulders. For the first time in three months, she felt...right. "So—when do we leave?"
Author's Notes and Whatnot
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.