A/N: I'll start this with two simple words, but important ones: thank you. Thank you to all my readers and fans and supporters for your kind and gentle encouragement, aggressive cajoling and ultimately dire threats to continue this story. ^.^ This is for you, my patient friends. For all of you who believe that love really can conquer all, you fearless romantics.

It started out as a little tale about a boy and a girl and all the obstacles that came to stand between their tender, fragile love. Because of you, it grew into a sweeping narrative about acceptance, defiance, endurance and triumph over all that fate can attempt to mangle in our search for some small amount of happiness. Nominated for 5 awards in the 2013 Stealthystories Fanfiction Awards - for Best Drama, Best Romance, Best Tragedy/Angst, Best Villain, and my personal favorite: Best Leonardo; for all of this, again, I thank you.

The struggle is only beginning for these two. Ahead, their love and bond will face the greatest test of all. Fathers will be brought to their knees, questioning all they've ever known. Lovers will cling to one another against the storm of trials, a girl will be rescued and a boy will find love in the most accidental place, when he least expected it. It will not be a smooth ride, there will be pain and there will be tears shed. There will be loss and forgiveness, but ultimately, as always, there will be hope.

All this and more I hope to deliver to you, and stew in my fear that I will not live up to my own expectations in giving you what you deserve. But I'll do my best and I will try.

Let's begin.

Sins of the Fathers: The Tender Trap – Part 3

'And this was the price you paid for sleeping together. This was the end of the trap. This was what people got for loving each other.' -A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway

Chapter 1 - Paradise Fleeting

The diminishing fire crackled and whispered, hissing out the moisture from the last few twigs, still partially green, that he'd added to the waning blaze. The heat had dissipated some, but for the most part, the chill of the cave was kept from them. The shadows created from the tiny flames danced in long twining arcs along the jagged walls, across the flat plane of the ground and up over them where they lay; painting their bodies in twisting threads of light and darkness. Shining up at him were her eyes, luminous and wild, emerald and full of hunger. He drowned in her gaze. His fingertip trailed along her temple, down the incline of her jaw to her chin; stopping to run the pad of his thumb over her pouting bottom lip. Without missing a beat, she took his wrist in her hand and opened her mouth. She bit at the tip of his thumb with enough force to show she meant it, as if he couldn't see the need in her eyes, burning brighter than the fire just behind their backs in the cave.

His features softened even as the glint of his own need in his eyes sharpened. He locked his gaze with hers and felt himself teeter on the precipice. Allowing himself the foolish thought of imagining how it would feel to shirk that confining husk of his fears and succumb to her sensual tempting. It had been so long. He felt the ridges of her bottom teeth rippling over the pad of his thumb as she turned her head slightly from side to side. Felt the tightening between his legs, the heat blossoming through his midsection. The hazy feel of falling against his will into her arms. He froze. He shook his head to clear it.

"Karai," he said and swept his eyes away lest he give in to the aggressive pleading now replacing the sultry look from before. He panted and collected himself. He felt her teeth release his thumb, and thinking the moment had passed, he relaxed and made to move his hand away. But before he could, her tongue slid over the side of his thick digit and his breath caught as she brought her lips over it and sucked hard.

He jumped and gasped. He pulled his hand away with some resistance and she fell back onto the pile of soft grasses and leaves he'd gathered for her to rest upon. She heaved a dramatic sigh and brought her arm up over her eyes. With her free hand she chopped the air.

"Gah! Come on. How can you do this to me?" she whined to the ceiling. Her voice took on the familiar aggravated tone, "It's been weeks, Leo. Weeks. Are you trying to kill me?"

His heart pinched and his loins throbbed thanks to the last hour of them spending it by exchanging kisses, soft and gentle, then heated and deep at turns. Her taking his thumb into her mouth like that and sucking on it did not help matters. She was driving him crazy. But he shouldn't have allowed himself the indulgence of kissing her so much tonight. It was a dangerous game that no one emerged as the winner. It's just that, as she said, it had been so very long. He ran his hand over his face and grunted.

"I know, trust me. I really know."

He sat up and draped his elbows over his bent knees and blew out a strained breath. He glanced down at her rounded belly where his impossible child grew. He wanted her. Badly. But he just couldn't risk anything that may hurt his unborn baby or her. Something as selfish as sex was out of the question. No matter how badly he needed to be inside her, he would not put her or his child in danger. He swallowed dryly.

After four months of being apart, from her, from his family, from everything he knew and cared about, of living in the monotonous misery of day-to-day survival in this jungle, counting down the days until his time of exile and punishment had been served and he could go home again to his brothers, seeing Karai appear there from the darkness of the jungle, illuminated by moonlight on the edge of the sea, he'd thought he'd lost his mind. He was sure of it.

He'd been missing her terribly and had resigned himself to the sad truth that he could never see her again, even once he'd returned. It had to be over between them. He was warned by her father, the Shredder, that to pursue her in any way would force his hand to do the unspeakable. Even the Shredder himself had urged Leonardo to either join his ranks or forsake any feelings he had for Karai, for good. He did not want to be forced to kill his only child. So, even as he ran down to meet her on the beach, still unsure of whether or not she was some fever dream brought on by malnourishment or simply that he'd cracked at long last from the stress, he debated whether or not he should even make any contact with her. But like the moth driven into the fiery ecstasy of the flame's deadly embrace, he could not avoid the fate he was driven to. Falling into her arms, feeling her kisses, wet with tears of joy for their reunion, proved that he was still sane; a small comfort in the swirling madness that made up his existence.

Then just as he was reassured that fate was not as cruel as he'd thought, he'd felt her stomach, full and firm with child and his heart stopped. He realized then why she had found him. It made perfect sense. In that moment of discovering she was destined to become a mother, he imagined that she'd come to tell him, in person, that she had found someone else, out of some twisted adherence to honor, perhaps just to bring closure, with all its finality, for what they'd shared and ultimately, inevitably, lost together. Karai had come to show him proof of their love's demise.

He was ready to accept it, how could he not? Ready to accept that her apparent pregnancy was by a human, who he, in that instant of terror and grief, imagined as a profoundly wealthy and amazingly skilled rival; one considered to be of great masculine grace and beauty. The ideal man. Human, to start with. He could envision nothing less for his sensual and ferocious tigress. He would want nothing less for her. She deserved happiness and freedom. She deserved love from one of her own kind. Someone that could cherish her in public.

What else could he have believed in that instance of crushing dread? Never in his wildest dreams had he ever considered even for a second that it was possible to become a father. He was a freak, an accident. A mistake in the evolutionary progression of reptile-kind. He was an in-between, not one or the other. Truly an aberration. And why would he ever imagine that he or his brothers would be so blessed as to be able to reproduce? He had already tested fate's mercy by falling in love with someone so beyond his reach that the entire world dismissed it as unacceptable, implausible, and revolting. And the price for that had been his torture, torment and near death. A price he would pay over and over again to experience half of what he had with Karai.

But testing fate and being a thorn in its immortal side seemed to be the very reason he came to exist in the first place. For she emphatically explained that the child was his. Only his. Belonging to him. His DNA. His corrupted seed had found fertile pasture within the mysterious depths of her female form. Doubts and fears aside, he believed her. Her eyes did not lie to him. The madness of their love affair was apparently only just beginning.

Leonardo realized that before he could lose track of her again, he had to take hold of the situation. He had to act before anything else complicated matters. She had to belong to him. Only him. He couldn't lose her, not now. Not after this. He couldn't imagine life without her, now especially that she'd told him that she wanted his child. She wanted it! His child! He could barely come to wrap his mind around that staggering truth. In fact, he couldn't. So, he instead focused on his future with the love of his life. He vowed to protect her, to love her, to only belong to her if only she would agree to allow him to do so. And miraculously, she agreed. His soul never felt as light as it did in that singular moment when she said yes. A joy that surpassed any previous fleeting glimpses of happiness filled him, every inch, every cell.

The night she'd found him on that beach, little over a month ago, was nothing less than an event of sublime divine manipulation to Leonardo. For the first time in his life, he believed in the possibility of heaven. For he was standing at the very epicenter of that transcendental bliss. The night she'd agreed to spend the rest of her life belonging to only him, he'd brought her to the hidden pool he'd discovered soon after he found the cave that he'd turned into his den. In the cool night air, laying upon the spongy moss, they'd made love. For the first time as husband and wife.

She had pledged her life to him, only him, it was impossible, this dream becoming reality. But it was true. It was true. As she lay in his arms, it was true; as he kissed the hollow of her throat, it was true; as her clothes fell away, it was true; as she murmured her promises of a love never-ending, it was true; as two became one flesh, it was true. It was all true. The tender lovemaking they shared was like nothing he'd ever experienced before. Infinite euphoria. Rapture. Elation. They became one, husband and wife, lovers, friends, enemies no more, giving and exchanging, taking and accepting, merging in body and soul, heart and mind, next to that sparkling pool beneath a star-filled sky to the chorus of a million insects, birds and other, hidden animals. He gave her all of himself, promising more, pouring his soul into her, and vowing to love her forever and ever and ever as she murmured his name like a prayer on her gleaming lips. Lips that he kissed over and over, drinking in the sound of his name repeated there. Exultation. Nirvana.

He yearned to feel that paradise again. Longed for her touch. Burned for her body. But Leonardo remembered with stark grim vividness how the next morning he'd seen the streak of crimson upon her thigh, wiped away with trembling white palm. How he'd caught the look of pain on her face as she rose, clutching at her stomach, despite hiding it immediately and masking her discomfort as soon as she caught him looking. When he questioned her, she remained elusive and secretive about how she was feeling.

I'm fine. I said I'm fine, she'd repeated to him with more of her usual spunk and fire returning. Fine. Absolutely fine. Will you BACK OFF.

He didn't ask her again. Worry set in. Unease turned to fear and took root. Leonardo met and became closely associated with an icy terror of the likes he had never felt before. Constant and debilitating, these fears that doubled and tripled in their ferocity with their sharp, stinging barbs of helplessness; suffocating him with all the possibilities of death that may strike his beloved and unborn child at any moment and he'd not have the ability to protect them.

How could he battle biology? There was so much that could go wrong. And the longer he considered the state his beloved was in, the more frightful and concerned he became. The more certain he was that her womb was a ticking bomb waiting to unleash the horrors of mismatched, deforming, tainted DNA. He had poisoned her. He had polluted her with his tainted seed. And even if the fetus was viable, he was sure that the mysterious baby growing within his lover's uterus would never survive birth. What had he done? What had his selfish acts produced against the very person he would die for? Depression and despair dogged the ending of every day, fear and worry came with every sunrise. He could not protect Karai against what he'd already done to her, he could not safeguard his child's arrival into this world. He was helpless to the whispered plotting of fate, so jealous, so spiteful, so critical of anything resembling happiness, contentment or joy.

Leonardo lived each day with a renewed edge of panic and terror that kept him furiously cornered. And a sense of guilt that he could not escape from, no matter how he tried through meditation and working himself to exhaustion, evolved and draped across his frightened heart with a sick resignation of the truth. All of this was his fault. He was the father. The architect of his own misery.

To keep from wallowing in his dread and remorse and sinking into a sulking mood that had Karai either smacking him upside the head or tickling him in an uncharacteristic bout of playfulness, he did his best to be a good husband to his new wife. To hide the fears that he wrestled with on a daily basis. The last thing he wanted was for her to guess at what haunted the corners of his psyche and assume responsibility that was not hers to take on. He would not give her any further stress than what her body was currently enduring with this abnormal pregnancy. He feigned complacency and did his best to avoid confrontation with her. Though with her natural fierce temperament and hormones driving her from being soft spoken and gentle one moment to wild and vicious the next, it took all his concentration to remain calm and soothing, stoic and seemingly at peace.

He gathered materials to make her stay more comfortable. He collected the softest grasses that he'd swap out every afternoon as they grew brittle and hard despite the dampness of the cave. He surrounded the place where she slept with wild flowers, scented with heady fragrance, exotic and lovely, though not as enticing as her own honeyed cherry-blossom scent that he craved. He stored twigs and branches to keep the fire at a cozy level to chase away the chill that sometimes descended in the night. He kept a close eye out for any threatening looking bug or spider that may be poisonous lurking in his lover's space. He fished in the crystalline pool, the one they had spent lost in their love-making the first night of her arrival, bringing to the cave fresh fish that he'd scale and prepare for her; adding the more delectable wild fruits and roots he'd learned to savor.

But all the while his mind would cycle back to the source of the fears he was running from as well as the deep pit of guilt at the center of his soul. This was his doing. All his fault. He impregnated his beloved and had placed her in this delicate situation. Without even realizing what he was doing at the time, so lost in his desire and passion, he had put Karai square in harm's way. And not only her, but this baby, this miracle of unfathomable design. This was his fault. Had he ever known this was a possibility, he would have been more careful. But he never thought . . . he never once considered . . . that a baby could be created by their union. His baby. By simply acting on his love, he had done the unforgiveable. If anything happened to her as a result of this pregnancy, he would never be able to forgive himself.

And for the first time in his twenty two years of life, Leonardo prayed. Hard and long in the empty black hours of the night, he prayed to any entity that might be listening to spare his wife and unborn child from these yet unseen, yet unrealized, brutal ends. He prayed for miracles to be heaped upon miracles. Healthy pregnancy, healthy mother, healthy baby. Knowing all along he had no right to ask for more. So, in his darkest moments of deepest despondency, he simply prayed that should the universe need to take someone from him, that he'd be considered and being found worthy, ultimately taken in their place.

Sex, therefore, was out of the question. Yet again he had to refuse her advances. No matter how unhappy Karai was with the situation, he could not risk such a selfish act. He would do nothing to jeopardize his new, precious family. He'd even tried other things to satisfy his wife's needs. And he consistently felt the sting of failure in his attempts. He was beyond inexperienced and between his fear of hurting her or the baby, he'd end up making Karai more flustered and irritated at him than before he'd started. It all came down to a matter of self-control. Something Leonardo was a practiced expert at. He only hoped that his wife would come to understand that he'd only rejected her because he loved her so desperately and was so worried that he would end up doing more harm than good in expressing his love to her physically.

"I'm sorry, Karai. I . . . I just . . . Please try to understand."

"I know. You've told me a million times. But Leo, you don't have to worry," she said in a persuasive tone and rolled to one side and gave him an appraising look.

He turned his dark eyes, filled with sadness, in her direction. His face was a mask of worry and absolute misery. Her heart pitched and all her earlier anger and frustration at him fled. How could she stay mad at him when he looked so sorrowful? She knew that Leonardo tended to worry even in the best of circumstances and she did her best to acknowledge and appreciate the fears that he had over hurting her or the baby. But really, he was blowing things out of proportion. As he was prone to do.

"I'm sorry."

Karai nodded in understanding. She heaved an aggravated sigh. No sex for her tonight. Again. Even as she considered her husband's woe, and felt pity for him, she found her eyes trailing along the fine lines of his muscular body, the dips and valleys of the curves highlighted by the dancing dying flames behind her, and her desire burned brightly. She had to restrain herself from tackling him. That hadn't gone well the last time she'd tried. They ended up in an argument that had ended in her screaming how much she hated him, which then led to an entire day of her tracking him down to the cliff he loved to sit and sulk upon so that she could spend the next two hours convincing him that she was just hormonal and that she did, in fact, love him with every ounce of her soul. He remained with that hang-dog expression on his face for the next few days. Leaving her wanting to beat the crap out of him had she not been struggling with having to use the bathroom every few minutes and deal with the cramping that would come on and grip her only to vanish as though nothing had happened at all. Being pregnant, overall, sucked.

This sexual urgency she was coping with was a real problem, however. Her need for him was a constant yearning. It drove her mad. It kept her from sleeping and her husband was such a light sleeper that she found masturbation to be a frustrating game of listening to the rhythm of his breathing between groping awkwardly around her enormous belly only to freeze as he fell still, knowing he was awake, listening to her breathing for any sound of distress. It was enough to make someone commit a murder. It was simply ridiculous to go through such a humiliating ordeal. It was pointless when she had a perfectly healthy male who also happened to be her husband right at arm's reach but who continued to leave her unsatisfied and incinerating from the inside out because he was worried.

It infuriated her to no end, this fear of his over hurting her or the baby. She had read everything she could about pregnancy before leaving on her search for him. And though a lot of it probably didn't apply to her unique situation, she absorbed as much as she could. Karai, therefore, knew that her hormones were in high gear, this being her second trimester of pregnancy and they were playing havoc with her emotions as well as her sexual appetite. If this pregnancy followed the general rules of human gestation periods, then she had to be nearing her seventh month. And her desires were like the cravings that she wouldn't reveal to him, lest he do something foolish and go off to the villages in search of pickles again or as in one case, pork rinds, which nearly led to his discovery. Which led to another explosive argument. And another prolonged period of sulking and apologies.

With a sigh she said, "I just wish you'd relax about this. Really, Leo, I'm fine."

He gave her a long look that said he definitely could not relax about this and he seriously doubted that she was fine.

She trailed one hand across the side of her bulging abdomen. She couldn't wait to get out of this stinking, humid jungle. With the recent bouts of painful cramps, she was sure it was going to be sooner rather than later. And as soon as her time came, Dr. Tsuneo was to come and fetch her. Something she hadn't discussed with her husband just yet. He had seemed so off since that first night, Karai figured that bringing up the Foot clan and her remaining ties to it wouldn't be a good idea. She was sure he'd understand that she hadn't expected to deliver their baby in the primordial mud of this rain forest with him as her acting doctor. No way. Not that she didn't think Leonardo could handle it. It was just that too many things could go wrong. Tsuneo was someone she could trust. And besides that, arrangements had been made for her concealment, safety and recovery in comfort. More and more she longed for that private suite that awaited her just outside of Costa Rica where she could bond with her husband and child and have a hot bath or a glass of wine whenever she wanted.

She'd gone to Dr. Tsuneo soon after learning of the delicate situation she found herself in, after the denial had worn off and the stark reality of it set in. Ever practical, Karai knew she couldn't hide this forever and would need outside help. She had chosen wisely in going to him. He'd been on her side without question or reprimand; giving her vitamins and care until she headed off to find Leonardo; telling her doctor that she needed to get in contact with the father of her child. He'd asked no questions, but seemed to understand that the father was not someone Karai wanted her father to know about. If he knew it was Leonardo, he never let on, but something told Karai that he assumed as much. He promised her secrecy and dedicated himself to her and her baby's care. He sent her off with a care package full of vitamins and general medicine safe to use during pregnancy as well as a cell phone to use when it became necessary for him to extract her from her destination. She had called him twice in the past month when the cramping was to a point of agonized fright but the pain had eased enough where she told him not to come yet. False alarm. But perhaps soon.

Knowing that he would swoop in when she needed him gave her a sense of calm that she knew she wouldn't have had if she was facing this situation under different circumstances. She trusted the man with her and her baby's life. She had known Tsuneo since she was a baby and she knew that he hadn't spoken a word of her location or her condition to her father, as he promised. Tsuneo was a good man. She wouldn't know what she'd have done without his help. She probably would have been as much of a nervous wreck as her poor darling sitting next to her. If telling him that there was help coming would ease his mind, Karai would have explained, but she knew that Leonardo would only fret and worry more. If that was even possible.

She reached out and ran her fingertips along his thigh. Trailing along the ridges of the scars her father had given him with a whip a few years ago. He watched her finger glide over the raised flesh with a morose expression. How many times had she had to convince him that she still found him beautiful? Despite what he was, despite the scars. Again, her heart pinched and she was overcome with the need to make him happy.

"Don't look like that," she said and sat up with some effort and a soft groan. He reached out to help her and she took his hands and placed them on either side of him. She pressed her fingers to his chest and gave him a little shove until he sat back onto his bottom with a puff of air.

"Karai," he pleaded.

She shook her head and brought her index finger to her lips to shush him. His eyes widened as she crept closer and ran her hands up and down his chest, feeling the hammering of his heart, the heat of his body seeping through the thicker plastron covering the front of him. He trembled and she bit the corner of her bottom lip. Oh, god, how she missed feeling him shaking in her arms! But just as she thought she had him, his face took on a stern expression. He grabbed her wrists.

"Stop. Don't make me repeat myself. I won't do anything that might hurt you or the baby."

She glared at him and his expression turned to one of deep hurt. His grip on her eased but he kept her hands firmly from any further exploration of his aching, thirsting body.

Her temper flared to life and she had to bite her tongue. The acidic, cruel pile of words worked their way up from the dark recesses of her mind. She knew she could press here and make him even more miserable. She could torment him by telling him how keeping her away from what she wanted was only going to end up making her look elsewhere. Though, in truth, there was nothing but miles of jungle between them and the nearest eligible bachelor, not that she'd really do that to him. Never. She had committed herself to him and would remain his, and only his, forever. Oroku Karai understood loyalty and commitment. No one could accuse her of anything but complete devotion. And though they hadn't had an official ceremony to confirm their mutual commitment, Karai saw herself as his wife and he, her husband. End of story.

But the side of her that stung with irritation and aggravation stubbornly suggested that that didn't mean she couldn't throw it in his face every now and then that she had options. That he didn't own her. She was no one's slave. That he needed to take good care of her, lest he lose her. But the temper and ferocious cruelty of her youth was curbed by her experiences with the young mutant as well as her age and current predicament. She didn't want to fight with him. She didn't want to hurt him or be cruel. Not really. Truth be told she was just horny and tired. It was that simple. All this yearning and burning was making her frustrated and more than that, exhausted.

"Please Karai, let's just . . . let's just go to sleep."

She closed her eyes and thought of something. A smirk worked its way across her mouth.

"Look, I don't want to fight with you, not tonight. Things will get better after . . . I promise. I will make this all up to you." He frowned as his eyes took in her expression, noticing the smirk. "Whatever you're thinking, forget it," he said flatly. Then he sighed and it was a heavy sound.

Her smirk vanished and a very convincing innocent look replaced it. "I don't want to fight, either. In fact, I don't want you to do anything but sit back and relax."

He narrowed his eyes, clearly not having confidence in her assurances. She filed it away in the back of her mind to get back at him for having such a distrustful nature when she was asking for his compliance. But for now, she wanted to play.

"Trust me. That beast –" she pointed south, between his legs, "is not coming anywhere near this holy house of incubation," she finished by indicating her enormous belly.

"Karai," he warned with a hint of pleading, but released her wrists.

Her hands dropped to his thighs and she spread them apart. "Don't tell me you don't want me, Leo-kun."

He fidgeted then met her eyes with a smoldering look, the look that she was hoping to receive. "Karai-chan, every day, every hour, every second, I want you. The flower and trees want not the rain and sun as I want you."

He went on, but Karai wasn't listening. She sometimes tuned him out when he went off on some of his flowery language. She appreciated the sentiment, but overall she found poetry boring. She longed for action, not words. Bold deeds not gentle rhymes. Give her the squalling wind over the gentle pattering of rain. Give her the fiery lightning over the impotent rumbling of thunder. But it was good that he was dropping into his more poetic phrasing. All was going to plan. Her fingers kneaded the bulge between his legs until with a gasp of delight, she eased him from his confinement and his rigid flesh bore proof of his pretty words, his murmuring ceased immediately. His breath hitched and his eyes bounced between hers.

"Karai, I-I said no," he said, voice full of a helpless distress that only further stoked her desire.

"Shh," she purred and gripped him tightly around the base as she lowered her face, bringing her mouth down to meet his sex. The last thing Leo expected her to do. His mind blanked as her lips enveloped him.

"Ha-Ah!" The sensation was too great. The primal need to thrust overrode sensibility. He grabbed the back of her head as his hips bucked. He was about to climax, it had been too long; this was too intense, he couldn't stop himself but luckily, she shrugged out of his grip.

Karai choked and then shook her head and surfaced, wiping her bottom lip. Shooting him a scathing glare, she held up one finger and poked the end of his snout, making him blink. "Since this is the first time we're doing this, I'm going to let that slide. But don't do that again," she warned, poking him again. "If you want me to continue, and not break your wrists, keep your hands off my head, is that perfectly clear?"

Eyes wide he nodded and promptly sat on his hands, not trusting himself to be able to withhold from doing that again; feeling his face burn with a mix of shame, embarrassment and desire.

Satisfied, she smiled and as she slid back down, she murmured, "Let's try this again."

Leo threw his head back as Karai worked her wicked magic on his quivering body, eventually making him snarl and bellow out loud, throaty, hoarse cries of surrender and pleasure. The primal sounds erupted and echoed up out of the cave into the surrounding forest. The wild sound of sweet abandon and unadulterated lust laced with awestruck love.

A/N: So it begins.

I need to finish I, Alone and A Son for a Daughter, both only having a few chapters between them before their respective finales, before going much further with this. I need this to have my full attention - well, this and Lost in the Gloaming, which I have not nor will I abandon. That is a story that must be told and in some sad ways parallel some of the incidences in Tender Trap. An alternate future, perhaps. An alternate universe to this one.

But I digress. I wanted to post this first chapter and get this monster started. You've waited so long . . . I hope you enjoy the ride.