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~:: To Cross Dark Lines (Chapter V)::~

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A firm hand on her shoulder caused Sheken to look behind her. Her gaze traveled up the statuesque form of her aunt to meet a pleading pair of crystal blue eyes. "Do not fall into the same trap as your mother, Sheken. Understand that while her actions were reprehensible, her motive was one born of a desperate need to do that which she thought would best protect you. Do not allow hate and bitterness to blind you so that you cannot see that her misguided deeds were brought forth out of love for you."

Sheken nodded slowly as she swallowed a lump that was forming in her throat. Tears began to well up unbidden, stinging her eyes.

"I'm...I'm truly sorry, Sheken. Can you ever forgive me?" her mother pled as she reached forth to embrace her daughter once more. Sheken hesitated for a moment then felt a rather abrupt shove from just behind her. She turned her head to see Marcus pressing her forward into her mother's arms. "And Marcus," Dawl's voice cracked as she swallowed hard, "words cannot express how wrong I have been about you, and how sorry I am."

He shook his head with a sober smile. "Say no more. It's all water under the bridge."

"I...I...umm...Az showed me...I saw what you did...what you did to save Sheken. How could I have been so wrong about you?"

"It was easy," he said. "You based your fears on who, or rather what, I used to be. I look back at my life before I met her and I have to work at not hating my own self. I was an evil person then."

Azazela's soft voice interrupted him. "You were never truly evil, Marcus. You were simply misguided. We all sometimes make bad decisions based solely on what we can see or feel at any given time. The good in you was there all along, waiting for something to awaken you to its presence."

"And that something was Sheken," he murmured softly as he gazed tenderly at his beloved. The angel nodded.

He reached forward and put his arms around mother and daughter as the trio shared an emotional moment. Adara looked up into her mother's eyes with a smile.

"Thanks, mom," the small blonde said with a smile.

"I had your back," the glowing angel said with a wink and a smile.

"Daddy... we need to let him know I am okay... he will be worried!" Azazela nodded and motioned towards the gate leading towards Steel Canyon.

"We should really all head back home. Sheken is going to catch her death of cold out here dressed like that," Dawl suggested.

"You never did," Az quipped as she tried to suppress a grin that played at the corners of her full lips.

Adara laughed out loud and flew off towards the gate. The rest of the group walked together except for the angel, who hovered over them. When the all reached the gate, they realized Naimah was standing just outside the range of the police drones, beyond the fence.

She bowed her head to her younger sibling. "You may return from whence you came for now, until I summon you again. But you may not cause harm to any innocent. You have your orders, now go." Adara barked, sternly.

Azazela looked at her two offspring, as Naimah unfurled her wings and nodded her acquiescence to her younger sister. They were so opposite. Adara was born out of love and trust, while Naimah was sired in an act of painful brutality. Adara was small and delicate while Naimah was a giantess like her mother. Naimah was cold, ruthless and evil while Adara was pure, kind, loving and brave. The contrasts were painfully evident, bringing a tear to the glowing angel's glittering blue eyes.

Dawl spoke up as Naimah flew off towards the Arachnos base. "Let's all go to my place and have dinner. I can whip up some meatloaf and salad, and maybe some Jell-O for dessert..." Four pairs of eyes shifted their gaze to give her a sardonic glare. "PLAIN Jell-O," she amended. "With whipped cream and cherries."

"That sounds good," Sheken said. She looked at her mother, "Is Marcus invited too?"

"Well, duh?" Her mother laughed. "I am not going to starve my future son-in-law. I know how much like me you are, and he is going to need all his strength to handle you."

Sheken blushed, and laughed, wrapping her arms around Marcus, who kissed her softly as he smiled and surreptitiously winked an agreement to her mother. Adara grinned, "Mommy, you coming too?"

"I must find your father, Adara, and speak to him of what has transpired," Az answered her.

"Bring Cale along, Az," Dawl suggested. "You know how it is when I put on a meal, there's plenty for all."

Az nodded. "I shall invite him." They presented their IDs to the guards, and the group walked slowly into the dark tunnel that led out into the fading sunlight glimmering off the towering steel edifices of Steel Canyon. They made their way to the Green Line and boarded the monorail to Talos, as Azazela disappeared from sight.

Behind the walls of his apartment in Talos, the brave hero known as Dark Cenotaph fought back tears of fear and frustration. His gut instincts told him that his child was in trouble. He knew she'd headed for the Rogue Isles early that morning, though he had no idea how or where they'd gone. All he knew for sure was the sick feeling that deepened by the hour in the pit of his stomach wasn't going to go away until he held his daughter in his arms.

His mind replayed the memory of that fateful day that her mother was felled near the shores of Warburg. He once again felt the agonized feeling of a soul being torn from flesh through his connection with his lover. He remembered the sick feeling of dread as he raced to King's Row only to find that she had indeed taken the chopper several hours earlier. Standing at the commanding officer's desk inside the massive Freedom Corps building, he watched nervously as the officer monitored all communications coming from the dangerous free-fire zone. His heart sank when the officer's radio crackled to life with a request for a coroner's detail to investigate a body that had been found floating in the water just off the shore. No one had to tell him what had happened. He knew. He didn't need to wait for the results of the matching with the Hero DNA Database to confirm the fallen hero's identity. It was Azazela. Of that he was certain.

He remembered hearing the chopper land, and the keening demonic wailing as a distraught DawL was led off the chopper to a waiting ambulance, where they would sedate her to calm her hysteria. He could still see himself nodding to Keres, who put a manly arm around his shoulder and simply said "I am so sorry."

His heartbeat raced as he envisioned a similar set of events revolving around the demise of his beloved only child.

A polite knock at the door made him close his eyes to stem the tears. "Yes?" he called, in a wavering voice, at the unopened door.

"May I come in?" The soft, gentle voice was barely audible as the heavy door muffled it.

He threw open the door to reveal the glowing angel who had been his lover and partner for many years now.

"Az! Why bother with the door? Why didn't you just... appear, or whatever it is that you do... inside? And you do still have the access code, you know." His frustration edged his voice with a tone of impatience.

"Cale, you know that I would not intrude upon your privacy in such a manner. I have come with news..." she struggled to hold back a proud smile.

"Adara? Is she alright?"

"Perhaps you would rather see than hear this tale," she suggested. As she formed the glowing orb between her outstretched palms, he shook his head.

"Just get to the point. IS SHE ALRIGHT?"

The angel nodded with a beaming smile. "She is far better than just 'alright'. You should be very proud of her. She has indeed proven herself to be worthy of being called a hero."

"And Sheken?"

"She is... recovering, as is Marcus. Allow me to show you." The orb glowed, as it showed the trio passing through the gates to Siren's Call. Marcus was muttering something to Sheken about watching out for the lecherous old captain as he pointed in the direction of the bay. Cale watched, transfixed, as the young heroes were ambushed as they stole quietly towards the waiting submarine.

Az remained silent as he watched the entire saga unfold. His eyes began to mist as he watched his child confront her demonic half-sibling. His breath caught in his throat as Naimah tossed Sheken towards his daughter and the former assassin. He winced as Marcus landed on the unforgiving concrete.

As Marcus' body coalesced into a union with his returning spirit, the orb faded into nothingness. Wordlessly, the glittering blue eyes probed the mists of glowing Nictus energy that shrouded his eyes for some small hint of his reaction.

His face set in a steely mien as he drew a deep breath. "Az, what if you hadn't gotten there when you did? What might have happened?"

"I was there all along, Cale. Watching, but bound not to interfere. There were certain things that had to come to pass..."

"Had to come to pass?" The tone of his voice sharpened as anger crept into his voice. "And just who determined that these... certain things had to come to pass?"

"Please do not get upset," she said in hushed tones.

"Do not get upset? How can I NOT get upset?"

"You have to understand that sometimes we cannot see the outcome of all situations. But there is one who does, and because He knows what must be, he has to allow some things to progress towards that end."

"Right," he spat, vehemently. "You know, I don't understand how some mythical being that is supposed to love the children he has created can just let them suffer and die like that. If he had the power to stop that from happening, why didn't he? I thought he was all knowing and benevolent."

She closed her eyes for a moment and drew a deep breath. "Everyone is given the will and the ability to develop and change their own destiny. It is not that the Creator cannot change them. It is that He does not. What would free will become if He controlled all of us to prevent the consequences of our own choices? Free will is a double-edged sword. It can benefit, and it can also hurt."

"But why let Marcus die like that? Does that really seem fair or loving to you?" The force of his voice was slowly edging closer to screaming.

"There are times when it takes a really profound or tragic event to change the course of the future towards the better. Seeing Marcus willingly give up his own life to save Sheken was the impetus for change that allowed DeLara to defeat her own hatred and redeem herself. If not for that event, it would have eventually destroyed her."

"But why did Marcus have to suffer? What if you hadn't been there? What then?"

"I was there before the events began to unfold. There was never any chance that I would not be there. It was destined to be so. Marcus suffered much more every day from the guilt he carried out of his past. Now he has taken one step closer to being able to forgive himself."

He sucked a deep breath in between clenched teeth. Emotion coursed through him. He didn't want to argue with his lover. He felt a surge of tension release as he concentrated on the fact that Adara was safe and sound.

Azazela reached out her hands and took his pulling him towards her as she leaned down to kiss his cheek. "Where's Adara now?" he asked.

"With Dawl," she murmured softly. He nodded.

"We are invited as well, if you care to join me," she added almost shyly.

For the first time that day, he smiled. "Sounds good," he said. "Az..." he began slowly as she gave him a quizzical glance, "I am glad you were there, and I am glad Adara is okay."

The angel nodded and smiled. "And I am very proud of her. She has become a very brave young heroine," she said softly. Cale murmured his agreement as she motioned towards the apartment where Dawl was no doubt already in the middle of preparations. "I should go see if she needs help," she said.

He looked into her crystal blue eyes and shook his head. "I think she can manage. I think you should stay here with me for a while," he gave her a subtle smile but one she knew the meaning off all too well.

"But we will be late," she weakly protested as he pulled her close and kissed the nape of her neck.

"So we will, but if I know your sister, the celebration will last far into the night," he quipped.

Azazela laughed softly, "And so it will, for there is much to celebrate."

He took her hand as she allowed him to lead her towards his room. The dinner would wait. Az suddenly realized that Adara would miss them and would come to exactly the right conclusion as to why they tarried. Her eyes misted as she realized their little baby had grown well beyond her years that day.

"Perhaps..." she whispered almost to herself.

Cale gave her a sidelong look. "Perhaps?"

She broke out of her reverie and shook her head. "It is nothing," she answered quietly.

Here we go again, he thought with a soft chuckle as he recalled the last time he'd heard that phrase. Here we go again.

.:: The End ::.