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~:: A Proper Schooling - Chapter I ::~

The child always woke up with a smile. Even as her eyes fluttered open, her features already glowed as her lips curled upwards into a warm expression. Her mother looked down at her beloved offspring and smiled. “Good morning, Adara.”

“Good morning, mommy.” The girl sat up and pulled her fuzzy slippers over the feet of her pajamas. They were completely unnecessary over the reinforced feet of her sleepwear but mommy had her fuzzy slippers on, and that made them a required item. Donning her robe, she followed her mother down the hall into the kitchen that smelled suspiciously like pancakes.

Azazela padded quietly as she finished making breakfast. Zakai, Adara's older cousin, was sound asleep on the couch. He had spent the night at the apartment, studying and watching over the sleeping girl while her mother worked her night job in Warburg.

Azazela often took jobs there because it was classified as a free fire zone, and as such the pay was fantastic due to the extra level of hazardous duty. Cale Westmarch, her partner in many senses of the word, protested her presence in the treacherous zones known collectively as “the border isles”. These areas were on the outskirts of the Rogue Isles, which where home to the evil overlord Lord Recluse himself. Over the course of time they'd come to a rather tenuous agreement that she'd ignore his obsession with the scantily clad harlots known as the Carnival of Shadows and, in return, he would keep his disapproval of her chosen venue for working assignments to himself.

Most of the time they managed to keep this agreement. Last night, however, Cale had dropped by unexpectedly at a rather late hour. He found Zakai sitting at the kitchen table poring over his books. Adara had long since been tucked in and was sound asleep. He tried to suppress the worry that always left him with a soured feeling in the pit of his stomach when he discovered that Az was once again patrolling the fringes of the border isles. With a polite nod to Zakai, he made his way down the hall to the bedroom he and Az often shared. As he slipped out of his costume, he looked expectantly out the window for any sign of the huge red and white chopper that would be carrying her home.

He slid between the cool sheets and watched the clock. Even with his intimate personal knowledge of quantum physics, it baffled him how the passage of time could be slowed to a crawl merely by anxiously watching a clock.

It was nearing four in the morning when he heard the muffled sound of the helicopter's blades beating the air as it flew directly overhead. The landing pad was only a block away so he knew Az would be home shortly. He slid from the bed and pulled on the black terrycloth robe that was a present from her shortly before their child was born. It was trimmed in satin and embroidered with mystical sigils in shades of dark purple and gold. When he thanked her, she had merely blushed and muttered something about not wanting their baby to see him prancing about au naturale.

He put on a pot of tea and sat down at the table. Before the water could begin to boil, he heard the soft thud of her armor-clad boots on the rooftop, followed by her quiet footfall down the stairwell. As soon as he heard the hushed rasping of her key sliding into the first of many door locks, he quickly undid the remainder and opened the door.

A look of embarrassment, not unlike that which one might see on a child who had been caught with one hand in the cookie jar, burned warm across her soft cheeks.

“Cale,” she said quietly, “I was not expecting you this evening.”

“Yeah, I gathered that,” he whispered, trying to suppress the mildly irritated tone that was threatening to creep into his voice as he followed her to the kitchen. “The team of heroes I was assisting decided to abandon their task force assignment instead of finishing it.” He shook his head. “These young heroes just don't seem to have the fortitude of the older crowd. So, I decided to stop by and see you but... obviously you were busy elsewhere.”

If not for the tone of his voice accentuating the word “elsewhere”, his statement might have been interpreted as an innocent observation. Az lifted her chin and gave him an icy look. “Please, do not start,” she snapped.

“Start what? I was merely stating a fact. You weren't here when I arrived.” He shook his head and once again tried to suppress the urge to vent his growing frustration.

“Cale… I know what you meant.” She raised her voice slightly.

He sighed deeply. She looked exhausted in the glare of the lone small fluorescent light that shone over the sink, casting shadows around the otherwise darkened kitchen. In stony silence, he finished making the tea, and poured her a cup. He moved to stand behind her as she slouched over the kitchen table.

He put a hand on her shoulder. “Look, I don't want to fight with you. I know you are tired, and I am tired, and we are probably both just overreacting…”

“I am NOT overreacting,” she interrupted in a frosty tone.

He started to open his mouth to reply when he caught a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned to see his daughter standing in the doorway.

“And what are you doing up at this hour, young lady?” he asked in a mock stern tone that was belied by the huge smile on his face.

“I thought I heard mommy yelling at someone and it woke me up,” Adara said softly.

Azazela's cheeks burned crimson as she lowered her voice to a soft, even tone. “I was not yelling, darling. I was merely discussing something with your father.”

The girl smiled up at her mother with a patronizing look that only the innocence of a child can properly execute. Her father had to stifle a sudden outburst of laughter that earned him a truly frigid glare from Azazela.

“Adara, baby, mommy wasn't yelling. She was just saying something important and wanted to make sure I heard her properly,” he said, shooting a disarming grin back at the perturbed demoness.

“And you, my darling, should be back in bed. You have a big day ahead of you tomorrow and you need your sleep,” the weary mother said gently to her child as she gently tousled the girl's soft hair.

Cale nearly crumbled under the pleading gaze Adara shot him, but made no move to circumvent her mother's edict. “Off to bed, sweetie. Daddy will be here when you get up in the morning. I promise.”

The girl heaved a deep sigh as she turned towards the door. She shot one last pathetically pleading gaze in her father's direction to which he replied with a firm shake of his head. The textured bottoms of the feet in her pajamas made a soft sound as she slowly dragged each step to postpone the inevitable as long as she possibly could.

Cale turned to Az once they were alone. She was still slumped over the table, now with her head in her hands. He gently rubbed the back of her neck for a moment before planting a tender kiss on her nape. “I'm sorry,” he whispered. He had no real idea of the reasoning behind his invoking an apology, but he knew from experience that it would work more magic than the most powerful incantation he had ever used. He felt rather than heard her slowly allow all of her breath to exhale in a long, almost silent sigh.

“Let's go to bed,” he said gently.

“Just hold me?” she asked as she gave him a pleading gaze that made Adara's seem amateur by contrast.

“I know you are exhausted,” he murmured quietly. “Let's just get some sleep.”

He took her gently by the hand and led her down the hallway. She nearly fell onto the bed. He reached down and tugged first at one boot, then the other. She unfastened the clasps on her armor as he put the boots in her armoire. Before he could turn around, she had shed the armor and donned a long flannel gown. He kissed her softly before he gently urged her to lie back on the bed. He pulled the covers snug around her before climbing in beside her and switching off the bedside lamp. Her head had barely landed on the pillow before she began to snore softly. He chuckled to himself as he curled himself around her soft warmth to join her in a deep restful slumber.

To Chapter II