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~:: A Child Shall Lead Them - Part I (Chapter II)::~

"Look," he said finally, in an exasperated tone, "lets go talk to Mary. I want to hear for myself what she has to say. But I want you to promise me that if I can convince Mary to see this from my point of view, that you will give up this crazy idea and let Marcus deal with this."

"That's the problem, daddy. It isn't about just Marcus. Sheken will go with him."

"Can't Vu make her stay here?"

"Sheken is almost nineteen, daddy. She doesn't have to listen to her mom."

Cale grimaced as he walked to his bedroom to change into clothing more appropriate for a meeting with the leader of the Cabal. He donned the robe and hat that had been the standard uniform of a powerful Archmage, prior to Balregu's unexpected intrusion on his already rather chaotic existence. Returning to the living room, he silently nodded in the direction of the monorail station. Adara retained her seat on the edge of the sofa and waited patiently as he left the apartment and walked out onto the landing. He wrapped himself in a flash of quantum energy as he folded threads of both space and time around himself in order to move his presence from one physical location to another. He stood on the platform and raised a hand to beckon his daughter, pulling her through the open rift behind him. Silently they both turned watch a noisy metal crate lumber up the tracks to stop at the gate. The doors opened with a muted swoosh. He ushered his child into the car just in time for the doors to glide closed as the car lurched forward out of the station and down the track that would take them to the ancient village of Salamanca.

"Daddy?" Adara's soft voice broke through his quiet reverie as he stared out the window of the car that trundled along the long ribbon of rail that pointed towards the region known as Croatoa.

He raised an eyebrow quizzically. The tone in her voice was one he had learned always precipitated a question that would inevitably make him question his parental abilities.

"Remember when..." she began hesitantly as they sat at the back of the otherwise empty tram. "Remember the day mom first came back, after, you know, she…umm…"

He nodded wordlessly.

"You didn't believe it could really be her at first, and then she said something about a mask..." Adara blushed and looked out the window.

Suddenly a huge knot formed deep in his gut as his mind realized where this line of questioning was heading. His eyebrows arched as he met his daughter's eyes.

"What did she mean about asking you to give her a child?"

He nearly choked as he tried to swallow the spittle that had suddenly turned to dust in his mouth. He unconsciously wiped his palms on the sides of his robe as they began to saturate with clammy moisture. "I...uh... have you...did you ask your mother about this?" he stammered.

"Well, I did that once, but Mary said I should not be asking her such things."

"So you thought you'd ask me?" he countered, dryly. "She wanted someone to love, baby.... she wanted you. And she asked the one person she trusted above all others to help her."

She nodded. "So, how did you and mom meet?"

Cale sucked in a huge breath of air and expelled it forcefully between nearly clenched teeth. Unfortunately, he was trapped in a monorail car with no Cabal maven to run interference for him. His mind frantically tried to find some way to dance around this topic that would appease the child and still leave his sense of dignity intact. "Your aunt Vu introduced us, actually," he answered.

"How long did you know mom before she...well...you know… asked?"

"A long time," he answered wearily. His mind strolled back through memories of the many missions they'd successfully tackled as a duo. "Why?"

"So, you were already...friends...when she...when she...umm...brought this idea up to you?"

He hesitated. "Well, really, I have to say we were really more than friends. We'd been partners for a long time. And besides just working together, we both cared for each other in many ways." Once again, images of that fateful, life-changing day surfaced in his mind. He wasn't sure exactly of the exact moment their relationship transcended the boundary of friends and partners but he knew that evening had definitely changed both of them, forever. Az had been particularly moody for some time prior, a fact he attributed to the mysteries of womanhood. Through an unfortunate domestic mishap involving some Clockwork and some broken water pipes at her former place of residence, they'd found themselves sharing his small apartment for an evening as Az borrowed his shower. In a rare emotional moment, Azazela had unexpectedly blurted out a distraught confession of her desire to bear a child. At first, he thought she was telling him this to seek his approval of her planned incapacity as a partner. He shuddered as he found himself suddenly reliving the shockwave he felt when he realized that she was asking much more of him.

Adara gave her father a puzzled look as she watched the pained expression cross his features. He met the burning question in her eyes with a gentle smile. "Adara, your mother and I love each other. Okay, maybe our relationship hasn't been exactly normal. But truly, how normal can a relationship be between a human that isn't even from this world that got body-slammed into sharing his skin with a pushy Nictus, and a human-demon hybrid?" He grinned. "The point is, regardless of whose idea it was, we both love each other, and we both love you." He blinked in shock as he realized he'd just vocalized his feelings for Azazela, which was something that he rarely did. He was not one who was usually given to emotional outpourings.

"I know you both love me, daddy." Adara smiled a thin smile in return. "But what made you say yes, when she asked?"

Just when he thought he'd handled the situation with exceptional aplomb, the brutally point-blank question hit him like a backhand from a Warwolf hitting an unsuspecting blaster.

His brow furrowed as one hand crept up to absentmindedly finger the thin patch of hair on his chin. He swallowed slowly and looked out the window at the passing countryside as his mind spun back in time to revisit the crucial conversation. The pain in Azazela's voice as her biological urges forced her to broach a moral barrier that bordered on reprehensible to her sensibilities had been as keen as the edge of a finely honed Rikti plasma blade. He remembered her soft voice quavering with emotion. Then came the shock he felt when she first revealed her desires, followed by the exponentially greater shock when she tentatively asked him to help her. That was immediately followed by the pained look as she shrank back from his apparent rejection. "Then... you do not wish to..." The tear may have been the clincher. He tried to recall ever having seen the stalwart warrior cry before the moment he watched that single crystalline drop trickle down her soft cheek. Something within him that he himself couldn't explain caused him to reach out to her to cross a barrier that just moments before had been impassable. And it started with one simple kiss.

Both their emotions had run the gamut that night, he remembered vividly. The tightly controlled dam holding back the shadows of those events burst beneath the pressure of his child's probing questions. His mind whirled as memories he'd tucked into a dark, safe corner of his mind came flooding forth in a tumultuous rush. Did he even SAY yes? Or had he just not said no and let the nature of that evening run its course? Was the absence of that former barrier of civility and decorum the deciding factor, as it too crumbled beneath the avalanche of Azazela's normally reserved and proper façade? He tried to reach within himself for answers but nothing was making itself apparently clear.

He wondered, in retrospect, if his own male urges had somehow corrupted his sense of unemotional logic just enough to push him over the precipice of his better judgment. While he'd only ever briefly tolerated the odd fleeting thought of his partner on any less than a professional level, who knows what urges might have been pent up deep within his psyche and far beyond his own conscious control. After all, it was not like Azazela was physically unattractive, he mused. Actually the truth was quite to the contrary. Despite her imposing stature she had many features that, on any other female besides the one he held in utmost respect, would have piqued his desires enough to find them worthy of his physical attentions. It was his deep respect for her as a woman of strong virtue that kept any untoward thoughts he may have harbored towards her under tight rein.

A polite cough from his daughter brought his mental focus back to the present as he turned his gaze back to her questioning eyes. "Adara," he said sincerely, "I can't really give you an answer because, truthfully, I don't know the answer myself. Yes, your mother was the one to approach me because she wanted a baby. But who knows if things might have happened the same way - all on their own - had we just continued to grow closer as partners? I will tell you this: I have always had the utmost respect for your mother. True, there have been times when I've been frustrated with her stubbornness and her making decisions that I didn't agree with. Like continually going to the Border Isles." As he said this he gave his daughter a rather pointed glare. "But despite our differences, she always had my respect. That was the basis of our relationship then, and it is still true now. Granted, I find her a bit difficult to...understand... now that she's...she's..."

"An angel?" Adara questioned.

He grimaced and gave her a sour nod. "I don't put much stock in archaic fables, nor do I pretend to understand them. Just like your mother had a hard time understanding some aspects of me being a Warshade," he added. "But regardless of how her physical form changed after she died, I still have that same respect for her."

Adara nodded slowly, her curiosity seemingly sated by this exchange. She scooted over close enough for her father to wrap a protective arm around her shoulder and looked up at him. "I love you, daddy," she said with a smile.

"I know you do, Adara, and I love you, too," he said, hugging her tightly to him, while the voice in the back of his mind whispered, "and that is why I don't want you to make this dangerous journey." But he knew, like her mother, once she had decided a course of action, there was little chance of swaying her. He silently prayed that he could convince Mary to somehow dissuade her.

To Part II - Chapter I