Title: Unplanned Parenthood
Summary: "This is why we're never having kids." The boys get a lesson in parenting and experience the best birth control available: taking care of someone else's child!
Time Line: January-June, 2547 A.S. 4 years after Shadow Dragon.
Ages: Sin - 547 years; Draca - 192 years; Kira - 80 years; Gwen - 107 years; Kyris - 131 years
"Although there are many trial marriages… there is no such thing as a trial child."
Kala hiccupped as the dizzying darkness abated, clinging tightly to her Mama's neck. She didn't like the dark. But her Mama always held onto her tightly when the used the magic stone that would take them to different places. Usually it would take them to the fun place with the pretty flowers. The place where Uncle Ambrose would make her toys out of nothing and where Uncle Gabriel would hug her and read her stories before bed.
Her lip trembled as a fresh bout of tears dripped down her plump cheeks. Mama had woken her up early that morning, getting her ready and making sure she had all her toys and clothes. But then Mama had told her that she wasn't going to the fun place. She wasn't going where Uncle Gabriel and Uncle Ambrose were.
"Now don't cry, little hatchling," her Mama cooed, setting her on the ground. Mama's wing corralled her close to her side, nudging her forward as she began to walk. "You'll have fun here."
"Don' wanna," Kala whimpered pitifully, clutching her Dra' to her. Her teary, red-rimmed green eyes glanced sadly around this new place. It looked a little bit like the fun place – the area that had all the big ships and with the waves splashing against the shore. But there were so many people! Kala moved closer to her Mama, fearful of the so many tall people brushing past them.
They walked on for a good fifteen minutes through the snowy streets – which seemed like hours to her distressed four-year-old mind. The streets, which had looked vaguely similar to the place she wanted to be, now looked strange and frightening. Unfamiliar. Finally, her Mama stopped in front of a door in a long building, with many other doors and windows down the length of it. Kala looked miserably up at her Mama as she gazed up at the windows and door.
Her Mama was going to the fun place. But Kala wasn't. Kala was staying here, in this strange place instead.
Mama knocked on the door, and Kala cuddled closer, hugging her Dra' tighter and shivering from the cold. Movement behind the door had Kala whimpering in dread. The door opened, and there stood a man who was only as tall as her Mama. (There were so many people taller than her Mama back home!) The man was rather pretty – not as pretty as Uncle Gabriel, though. But the man had piercing ruby eyes and a scary scar across his face. Kala trembled in fear, sobbing quietly against her Dra'.
Mama was leaving her here? With him?
The Dragon Queen's greeting smile faltered as the door opened to reveal the man she'd come looking for. Rona had seen him in Draca's memories, yes, but it was still so odd to see such a surprised and, well, sane expression on Azrael's face. He'd come to the door wearing loose, comfortable pants and a long-sleeved shirt that hung off him in such a way that Rona knew he had just pulled it on. It was still relatively early. They must have woken him.
"Rona…" Azrael greeted her hesitantly after a long moment of awkward silence. There was barely a hint of recognition in his eyes – he only knew her from something through his Sight. There was nothing of the old, scathing disdain from her memory of him.
So he'd really lost his memory after all. "Hello, A-" A memory floated to the surface of her mind. Not her own.
She – no, he – was lying on his side, face a man whose form was lit up in an amazing array of Color.
Draca, she realized. So that was what her nephew's soul looked like.
Draca was stroking his cheek, his soul rippling as he shifted in indecision. "I know your real name, you know. From before? Rona told me tonight."
He tensed. "Don't tell me."
"But don't you-"
"That man – I'm not him anymore. I don't ever want to be. Not again."
"…Sin," she finished. Barely a second had passed since the vision had drifted before her eyes. Her pause had gone unnoticed. "May we come in?"
Azrael's… no, not Azrael anymore. Sin's ruby eyes narrowed suspiciously, roving over her soul in search of any deception. He still didn't trust Dragons. She didn't blame him in the least. Then his eyes drifted down to Kala. Her poor hatchling was staring up at the man in abject terror. Raven brows rose in surprise, before the man's expression softened. The fearsome mercenary had a soft spot for children, it seemed.
Good. That made her feel so much better about this.
Sin stepped aside, shrugging one shoulder in an awkward intuition. Rona offered him a grateful smile, ushering her weepy daughter inside. Seeing Kala like this broke her heart, but she knew it was because everything was so new and strange to her. Once the toddler calmed down, she'd have the time of her life.
Kala clung to her skirt with one tiny hand, the other gripping her favorite plush toy like a lifeline. Rona reached down to stroke her shaggy mop of violet hair, cooing softly when the child gave a pitiful little hiccup. The violet-haired woman set Kala's bag of clothes and toys on the floor without a word.
She found herself standing in the front room of the Dragon's once-enemy, and all she could do was look on with interest. It was rather Spartan. The walls were a neutral off-white and the floor of dark, polished wood. There was a large, soft square rug taking up most of the floor. One long sofa was against the back wall and a couple of armchairs facing it, making a nice, cozy sitting room. The only decorations on the walls were a crystal clock and a landscape painting of the Sylvardas Forest – one that she recognized as a priceless work of art that had gone missing decades ago. Draca's work, no doubt.
"It's very nice," Rona said absently.
Sin didn't reply. He only stared at her, his eyes narrowed intensely. It was obvious that he wasn't in the mood for small talk.
"Why are you here?" The unspoken question – no, demand – was clear as day. That was another shocking difference. Azrael would have talked to her for hours – thrown insults, riddles, pointless observations, and talked her in circles until her head spun. But Sin seemed to use as few words as possible.
She might as well humor him. "I'm due to relocate to the Beacon, as you may know." Rona didn't wait for the man to nod. It was common knowledge that the Hopes took up residence at the Hope's Beacon from winter Winter to Summer Solstice. "And Kala has reached an age where she can no longer come with me." The Dragon Queen placed a hand on her daughter's head, stroking her hair in comfort while the little girl whimpered.
Sin's eyes drifted once again to the child clinging to Rona, suddenly widening in realization. Ruby eyes flew up to her own. "No."
Rona had been expecting the refusal from the start, and so she was prepared. "Why not? I'm sure Draca would enjoy spending time with his cousin."
Sin's expression twitched just to the slightest degree, telling the Hope that mentioning his lover was a good route. But the Fallen Angel didn't cave just yet – not that Rona expected him to. "You're willing to leave your daughter with me? Not only a killer but your enemy?"
Rona shook her head. "You're my enemy no longer, Master Sin. And a killer you may be, but a killer of children? No. I sense none of that from you." Still, the man frowned at her, unwilling to relent. The Dragoness sighed and gently pried Kala from her leg. The hatchling gave a distressed mewl, but Rona quietly shushed her. Now free of her clinging child, Rona stepped boldly closer to the Master Assassin. Her smile was open and friendly as she held out her hands to him. "How about a trade, then? A show of faith? I will answer that question which haunts you, if you allow for my daughter to stay with you."
Sin took an unsteady step back, but remained grudgingly silent.
Rona lowered her voice. "Well, Master Sin? You lost your memories that day, but the monster you were still could lurk inside you. Or so you fear. Isn't that right? I can tell you."
That seemed to finally get the man's attention. "How-?" Then he scowled. "Draca."
Rona nodded, accepting the accusation. "I read many things from Draca last I saw him." A faint blush crept onto the assassin's face, and Rona felt her own face heat in response. "Even things I had not meant to see. But your fear? This I read from you. It's obvious to anyone with a strong psychic sense. I can put that to rest for you. I know exactly what I'm looking for. I'll look for traces of him. Nothing more."
For a few moments more, the raven-haired seraph hesitated, gazing intently at her as if searching for any hint of deception. But he slowly offered his hand. Rona smiled softly and took it in both of hers. With a deep breath, the Dragon Queen focused her mind, letting it connect with her soul, and then together with Sin's. She vaguely felt the man jump, obviously not expecting whatever he Saw.
But Rona paid no attention to it. She was already delving deep into the man's soul. Memories encroached on her vision – memories not her own – but she ignored them. She only dug deeper, sifting through meaningless or far-too personal memories towards the one she wanted. The memories of the mind were different from those of the soul. What the mind could not recall could still reside in the soul, locked away and untouchable.
If she was going to find any trace of Azrael, it would be there – at the deepest depths of Sin's soul.
It took her much longer than she expected. Sin's soul seemed to cling to memories – even the most insignificant ones. Perhaps it was the effect of losing his memories, even if only the ones of the mind, once before. When she'd finally come to the last shard of memory in the assassin, Rona reached out, and touched it.
Pain. Overwhelming pain. Blinding pain.
Rona gasped as shivers assaulted her. The extent of the phantom agony could almost be felt.
Azrael gasped weekly for breath, only a sickening gurgle emitting from him as his lungs were impaled by his broken ribs. The stench of blood was thick in the air. His skin was sticky with it – completely coated with the dreadful crimson. His world was black, but he wasn't sure if he was blinded by the pain or something much more serious.
But more than the pain, it was hate that filled him – ate away at him. Hate for the Dragons that had done this to him, and even the ones that had watched and cheered as his wings were ripped from his broken, screaming body.
His body was going numb. His longer were working harder to draw breath and only succeeding in piercing them even further. He wasn't going to last much longer. He had to act fast.
There was no way he was going to die here – that he was going to let the Dragons win. He was a Master Alchemist! Death could not hold him! Azrael would have his revenge.
With heavy, uncooperative limbs, the wounded Angel shifted and reached for his left bicep. He smiled a sharp, bloody smile as he found the particular area of flesh he needed was miraculously unmarred by cuts. Which he was eternally thankful for. He blindly smeared the blood from his skin, searching out the spark of energy coming from the Glyph he'd tattooed there months ago. It was still completely intact. A hoarse, slightly unhinged laugh gurgled wetly from his throat.
The Glyph was the result of years of careful research. It could cheat death itself. That little design had been carefully crafted to take his spirit energy and convert it into rejuvenating energy. Wounds would heal. Hunger, thirst, and exhaustion would fade. In a never-ending cycle, he would be healed of all maladies every few hours. He would be ageless and invincible – and without the need of his wings.
He would be unstoppable.
With a deadly grin, Azrael sent a burst of his energy into the Glyph. It warmed against his skin in response as the Glyph activated.
And so, Azrael waited. The warmth slowly spread from his arm, rippling through him. His wounds tingled as the healing energy slowly started to take effect. He was healing. The pain was fading.
It was working! Azrael's laugh was cut off by a shaky gasp as the tingling warmth spread to his chest and shifted his ribs back into place. There was no pain, but it was the oddest feeling he'd ever experienced. His breathing became easier and even the immense pain of his wings began to fade.
But his vision wasn't returning. And… there was a strange sensation that started at the base of his skull and seemed to crawl upwards.
Something was wrong.
He didn't realize what it was until it was far too late, when he tried to recall exactly the limitations and consequences of the Glyph and realized he couldn't. Where there should have been hours upon hours of careful research and planning, there was simply nothing. A complete blank. And that wasn't all. He tried to reach back further for something, anything. Nothing. Not a thing from his childhood and his adolescence until now.
It was fading. All of it.
Why he had gone after the Dragons…
Why he had attacked them…
Why they had hurt him…
Why did they hate him?
Why… did the sudden blankness relieve him so?
Rona blinked, and withdrew from the memory. Her lips drew into a frown, more confused than she had been before she'd found the shard of memory. That… should've have been that way.
"What did you see?" Sin's eyes were narrowed, boring into her as he interpreted the change in her emotions. It must have been very intriguing, given the look on his face.
"You…" Rona carefully chose her words. "You're completely safe, Master Sin."
His eyes narrowed further. "Meaning?"
Well, that was something that hadn't changed. But she supposed the man's suspicious nature was a learned behavior, rather than an intrinsic one. "What you have is not simple amnesia, Master Sin. If that were the case, then your soul would still hold all the memories of… the man you once were." The Hope let go of his hand and stepped back to steadily meet his gaze. "But the earliest thing your soul fully remembers is the moment that you lost your memories. The Fallen Angel who terrorized the Dragons was… almost wiped clean from your soul. He ceased to exist. His mannerisms, his personality, his memories.
"Master Sin, I spoke to that man while my husband kept him prisoner. I'm probably the only one who did. You are nothing like him. There is nothing of him left in you."
The assassin's frown remained, but Rona could see something lighten behind his eyes. "…Thank you."
The Dragoness gave him a gentle smile. "It was certainly no trouble."
There was a moment of thick, expectant silence.
Finally, Sin sighed, and the violet-haired Hope's smile brightened. "She can stay." Rona opened her mouth to thank him, but the Fallen One continued. "But I'm starting to doubt your judgment as a mother if you really do intend to leave her here."
It took quite a bit of willpower for Rona not to be insulted. A blush crept onto her cheeks, half embarrassed and half angered. But she could hear the disbelief in his voice, and focused on that instead. "If there's one thing that amazes Draca," she answered serenely, "it is the dedication you have to the children put in your care."
Sin blushed. It was the first truly open express she'd seen, and Rona savored the satisfaction in that. But rather than say anything, she merely paced back to her sniffling hatchling. Kneeling down in front of the toddler, Rona offered her a smile and brushed her tears away. Kala hiccupped and lunged forward, clinging desperately to her. "M-Mama…" she whimpered.
Rona wanted to sigh. "Hatchling, she intoned gently, "Mama has to leave now."
"No! Don' leave!" Her daughter gripped her shirt tightly, her hold surprisingly strong.
"I have to, sweet one." Her voice was firm, but gentle. She knew that however she explained it, Kala was at an age where the only thing that mattered was that her mother was leaving. So before her daughter could make further protests, Rona untangled her tiny hands from her shirt. "You remember the crystal I packed in your things?" She waited until the diminutive Dragon nodded. "You can talk to me with it. Every night. Just make sure you give it to Sin so he can keep it safe, all right?"
"B-B-But… what i-if he d-doesn't let me…?"
Rona caught movement from the corner of her eye, and had to stifle a laugh at the soft, almost offended sound the Fallen Angel made. "He will, sweeting. He'll take good care of you. I promise." Then she pressed a soft kiss to the girl's plump, wet cheek and stood. With a parting smile, the Hope turned once more towards Sin and bowed politely to him. "Once again, thank you for taking her. I wouldn't ask you to do this without compensation, of course. I'll gladly pay for anything she needs."
A polite man would have denied such a thing, even if he would give in upon her insistence. But from what she'd seen, Sin was a practical man. Not a polite one. He merely nodded at her.
Rona shifted uncomfortably, sensing that was all she'd get from him. "I'll be leaving then." Her bright blue eyes shifted to her daughter, who seemed to be rooted to the spot. "Goodbye, Kala. I'll miss you. Make sure you call every night." She tried not to frown as Kala didn't respond. As calm as she was trying to appear, this would be the first time she would be separated from her hatchling for so long. But Kala was too old to get past the wards of the Beacon, and while she loved her mate dearly…
They both agreed that leaving their vulnerable toddler in Deimos' care alone for so long was not a wise idea. It had killed the man to admit that, she knew, but she loved him all the more for it.
Rona blinked as Sin stepped past her towards the door. He steadily gazed at her as he opened it, silently bidding her to leave. It took her a moment to realize exactly what he was doing.
Sin had undoubtedly Seen her turmoil, and was silently trying to keep her to her word. She doubted he would say that was his intention, if asked. So Rona forced a smile to her face, and stepped back out into the winter air.
Kala would be fine. She was with family. And good, caring people.
The click of the front door was what broke Kala from her trance. The parting gust of icy air made her skin prickle. But that didn't really matter to her.
Her Mama was gone.
An alarmed little whimper left her as she raced over to the door, dragging her Dra' behind her. Her tiny hands touched the cold wood, as if hoping it would magically bring her Mama back. It didn't.
Her breath came in short, distressed little gasps. Her green eyes briefly darted around the unfamiliar room, and then up to the eyes of the man – scary, pretty, unfamiliar – standing near her. She clutched her Dra' to her.
And let loose an ear-piercing, terrified wail.
End Part 1. Walk on, Traveler of Worlds.
X3 I don't know who to feel more sorry for: Draca and Sin, or Kala. This will be a learning experience for all of them.