No Longer Alone
Chapter One: Meeting
"Leon, you have a phone call!" Ken Robbins shouted.
Leon looked down at the stage manager from his spot on the trapeze platform, none-too-pleased that his practice had been interrupted. "Tell whoever it is to call back later," he said, reaching for the swing in order to prepare for his next maneuver. "I'm busy."
"I really think you should take this call. It's long distance, from Paris."
Leon paused. Other than his former coach Alain Rubel, who probably couldn't even afford to make an overseas phone call, he wasn't in contact with anyone from his home country. "Paris? Who is it?"
"I believe he said his name was Henri Joubert," Ken said. "He says it's urgent that he speak with you."
"I know no one by that name."
"Leon, if Ken says it's important, you should take the call," his partner Sora Naegino called out from the other platform. "Don't worry about practice. We can take a short break."
He let go of the swing and let out a sigh. "Fine," Leon decided, and began climbing down the ladder. When he reached the bottom, he followed Ken backstage to the phone.
"I'll give you some privacy," Ken said before leaving.
Leon picked up the receiver. Whoever this Henri Joubert was, he had better have a good reason for calling. "Hello?"
"Monsieur Oswald? This is Henri Joubert. I apologize for calling you at work, but your home number is unlisted. I'm calling on behalf of the estate of Emilie Paradis."
"Emilie Paradis?" he repeated, confused. It took a moment for Leon to recognize the name of one of his former trapeze partners. "She's dead?"
"I'm sorry," Mr. Joubert apologized. "I assumed you already knew. Mademoiselle Paradis died early last week from injuries incurred during a fatal fall on the trapeze."
"We haven't spoken for several years." Leon rubbed at his forehead, struggling to understand. "In fact, I'm surprised you are even contacting me. Emilie and I didn't part on the best of terms. Has she left me something in her will?"
"Yes. Mademoiselle Paradis named you guardian of her daughter, Gabrielle."
"I'm sorry, but there has to be some sort of mistake -"
"You are Leon Mathieu Oswald, currently a resident of Cape Mary, California in the United States?"
"Yes, but -"
"Then there is no mistake," Mr. Joubert said. "I have the will right here in front of me. It clearly names you as Gabrielle Paradis' guardian in the event of Emilie Paradis' death."
Leon ran a hand through his hair. None of this made any sense. The last time he saw Emilie, she didn't even have a child. "I don't understand. Isn't there anybody else who can take her? Her grandparents? What about Emilie's brother?"
"The child's grandparents are deceased, and Monsieur Paradis is fighting a losing battle with leukemia and not expected to live much longer. He's in no shape to take care of his niece, as much as he would like to."
"Then what about the girl's father?"
There was a short pause on the other end of the line. "This is really quite awkward for me, Monsieur Oswald. I -"
"Just spit it out already," Leon barked, growing more irritated by the moment.
"Well, you see… According to the will, you are Gabrielle's biological father."
"Impossible!" he exclaimed, then frowned. "Okay, I supposed it's not technically impossible, but - How old is the girl?"
"She will be six years old in March."
He quickly calculated the timeline in his head. He had hooked up with Emilie a couple of months after Sophie's death. If the girl was going to turn six in March, then the timing of her likely conception would have been while he was sleeping with Emilie. And if that was true... Feeling as if all the wind had been knocked out of him, Leon slumped into a nearby chair.
"Emilie had a baby? My child? And she didn't even tell me?"
"I realize this must come as quite a shock," Mr. Joubert said, "but the fact remains that you are now legally responsible for the child. I have already booked the plane tickets. We will be arriving at LAX around eleven a.m. tomorrow, your time."
Leon massaged his temple, barely comprehending the lawyer's words. "This is too sudden -"
"Oh, I'm terribly sorry, Monsieur Oswald, but I'm running late for a hearing. I can answer any questions you might have when we arrive. Remember, eleven in the morning at LAX. See you then."
Still stunned by the news, Leon didn't bother to say goodbye and set the receiver back in the cradle. For a long time, he sat immobile, his mind almost complete blank. Despite the facts, the idea that he had fathered a child was near incomprehensible to him.
There had to be some sort of mistake. He couldn't be a father.
He jumped, startled when he felt someone's hand on his shoulder.
"Hey, are you okay?" Sora asked. "It's been a while since you left to take that call. Was it bad news?"
Leon stared up at Sora, dazed. "I'm fine," he lied, shaking his head to clear away his thoughts. "Somebody I once knew passed away."
"Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that, Leon."
He stood back up and stuffed his hands in his pockets, avoiding the look of sympathy he knew Sora must be wearing on her face. "Yes, well… Let's go back to practice. I've already wasted enough time."
"Are you sure? I mean, if you need to take a few days off…"
"I said I was fine. Now, come."
As instructed, Leon arrived at LAX airport shortly before eleven the next morning and made his way to the gate where their plane was set to arrive. According the time table, the flight was on schedule, so it wouldn't be long before he met the girl who was supposedly his daughter.
Even after having a night to digest the news, Leon had difficulty wrapping his mind around the idea. He was most definitely not father material. Yes, he had practically raised his younger sister Sophie after their parents' deaths, but that was different. He had no interest in playing "daddy" to some kid he had never met, even if the girl was biologically his child. There had to be some way to get out of this absurd custody arrangement.
"Honestly, what was Emilie thinking?" he muttered to himself.
He was so absorbed in his thoughts that he barely noticed when the plane's passengers began disembarking and coming through customs. A heavyset man in a suit, accompanied by a little girl, walked toward Leon and offered his hand.
"Monsieur Oswald?" the man asked. "Henri Joubert. We spoke on the phone yesterday."
Leon, after a moment of hesitation, wordlessly returned the handshake.
"And this is Gabrielle, your daughter."
Leon's gaze dropped down to the child clutching at Henri's hand. If he had any doubts to the girl's paternity, they were all dashed the moment he set eyes on her. She had inherited Emilie's pale green eyes and her button nose, but otherwise, Gabrielle was unmistakably an Oswald. In fact, she greatly resembled Sophie at that age, which caused Leon's heart to briefly seize up.
"Hello," Leon said with a slight nod of his head.
Moving closer to Mr. Joubert, Gabrielle stared down at the floor and began sucking her thumb.
"Don't take her silence personally," Mr. Joubert said. "From what I understand, Gabrielle has not spoken very much since her mother's death. She was present when Mademoiselle Paradis fell, and I believe she's still in shock."
"I see." Leon returned his attention back to Mr. Joubert. "Listen - Monsieur Joubert, was it? We need to talk. Preferably alone."
"Yes, of course." Mr. Joubert looked down at Gabrielle. "Gabrielle, why don't you go sit down over there?" He indicated a row of chairs against the wall. "Don't talk to anyone and stay there where I can see you. We'll join you in a few minutes."
Gabrielle reluctantly released her grip on Mr. Joubert's hand and went to sit down in one of the chairs. Once she was out of earshot, Leon turned to Mr. Joubert.
"I don't want to be a father, Monsieur Joubert," he declared bluntly. "My career at Kaleido Stage keeps me very busy. I don't have time to take care of a child."
Mr. Joubert pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "I realize it will be quite the adjustment -"
"You're not listening. I don't want to adjust. I feel sorry for the child, but I didn't sign up for this. Just tell me how I can get out of this arrangement."
The lawyer frowned. "I can draw up some papers to dissolve your parental rights and set up a court date if that is what you want, but, Monsieur Oswald, I believe you are making this decision in haste," he said. "I investigated your background before coming here. From what I understand, you and your younger sister Sophie were orphaned at a very early age and were taken in by some distant relatives.
"They never wanted us," Leon said, unable to hide the bitterness in his voice. "We were just two more mouths to feed. When our talent at the trapeze was discovered, we moved in with our trainer, Alain Rubel, but he wasn't exactly the fatherly-type."
"I imagine you must have felt quite lonely."
"I had Sophie. That was enough."
"Gabrielle has nobody," Mr. Joubert reminded him. "Her mother and grandparents are dead; her uncle is at death's door. If you choose to relinquish your rights, she will be all alone in the world.
"I'm sure there must be a loving couple somewhere who would like to adopt her," Leon said, not appreciating Mr. Joubert bringing up his childhood tragedies in an argument to convince him to keep custody of Gabrielle. That was low, even for a lawyer.
"I'm afraid it is very difficult to place older children. Most people looking to adopt a child want a baby. If you choose to give her up, Gabrielle will most likely be shuffled between foster homes until she comes of age. That is no way for a child to live. They need stability, somebody to love them and care for them."
"I don't know if I can give that to her."
"Look, why don't you take some time to think things over at least?" the lawyer suggested. "Say, a month? If after a month, you still feel this way, I'll look into other alternatives."
"Monsieur Joubert, how many times do I have to tell you I have absolutely no interest in being a father before it sinks into that thick skull of yours? Giving me a month to think things over isn't going to change my mind."
"You never know. Fatherhood can greatly change a man. I have kids myself - two boys, my pride and joy. I was never one for children, but that all changed once I held my firstborn son in my arms for the very first time. Now I can't imagine my life without them."
"My decision won't change."
"Just one month, Monsieur Oswald, that's all I'm asking. It will likely take at least that long to get a court date in front of a judge, anyway. Until then, the girl has nowhere else to go, and you are her legal guardian, so…"
Leon sighed, craning his neck in Gabrielle's direction. The little girl was sitting quietly in her chair, hugging a teddy bear tightly to her chest. Again, he was reminded of Sophie, shortly after their parents died, and he frowned, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his jeans.
"It will only be for a month, right?" he asked, turning his attention back to Mr. Joubert. "Just until you can get a court date?"
"Yes, of course. As soon as I return back to Paris, I will start putting things in motion, if that is what you want."
"Then…fine," Leon decided. It wasn't as if he had any real choice in the matter, anyway. "I suppose I can look after her for a month."
"Good." Mr. Joubert reached into his attaché case and pulled out a manila envelope, which he handed to Leon. "In there is her passport, her birth certificate, her immunization records, etc, etc. If there is anything else you need, don't hesitate to contact me. My information is also included inside." He then started walking over to Gabrielle, Leon following after him at a slower pace.
"Gabrielle, everything's settled," Mr. Joubert announced. "You'll be staying with this man starting from today." As Gabrielle stood back up, he glanced down at his watch. "Oh, my! I booked the next flight straight back to Paris, so I'm afraid I need to get going. Monsieur Oswald, it's been a pleasure meeting you, and Gabrielle, I hope you and your father will get along. Be a good girl, okay?"
Gabrielle slowly nodded her head, and the lawyer said his goodbye before leaving to catch his flight. Once he was out of sight, Leon looked down at Gabrielle and exhaled, wondering what he had gotten himself into. After a moment of hesitation, he reached for the girl's hand and began leading her toward the luggage carousel.
"Come on, let's get your bags and go home."
"Damn it!" Leon swore an hour later, his fingers tapping against the steering wheel as they were stopped by yet another red light. Los Angeles traffic was even worse than he remembered. He had hoped to have enough time to drop Gabrielle off at his apartment and ask one of his neighbors to look after her while he was at practice, but it seemed he would have to take her with him.
While waiting for the light to turn green again, he glanced up at Gabrielle's reflection in the rearview mirror. She had yet to say a single word to him and was again sucking her thumb.
"Do you speak English?" Leon asked, figuring he ought to make at least some attempt at conversation.
"Good." That would make things easier. As it was the middle of the school year, he supposed he would have to enroll her in school while she was staying with him. "How about some food? Are you hungry?" He was already running late. It wouldn't matter if he took a few extra minutes to run through a drive-thru.
She shook her head.
Leon looked back over his shoulder at the child. They had only met an hour ago, but she was already trying his patience. "Okay, stop sucking your thumb and talk to me," he ordered, irritated. "You're not a baby."
Gabrielle pulled her thumb out of her mouth, but still didn't say anything. By that time, the light had turned green, and the man in the car behind him was blasting his horn. Leon resisted the urge to flip the man the bird - he realized he probably shouldn't do that in front of a child - and turned back around in his seat. The two of them spent the rest of the drive in silence until Leon parked in front of Kaleido Stage's training facility.
"I don't have time to take you home," he explained, grabbing his gym bag from the backseat. "You'll have to come with me to practice.
Gabrielle wordlessly followed Leon inside the facility. Sora had already arrived and was working on the trapeze, Mia Guillem on the floor, giving her instructions. The two of them stopped what they were doing when they heard Leon and Gabrielle come in.
"Leon, um, wow," Mia said as Sora began climbing down. "This is certainly a surprise. Who is this cute little girl?"
"My…daughter." The word sounded strange coming out of his mouth, like he was attempting to speak an unknown foreign language.
"Daughter?" Sora repeated, joining them. Her brown eyes widened, obviously taken off-guard by the news, but then she squatted down so that she was eye-to-eye with Gabrielle and smiled. "Hi, I'm Sora, your daddy's partner on the trapeze, and this is my friend, Mia. What's your name?"
Surprisingly, not even Sora's overly friendly nature could coax Gabrielle to speak. "Her name is Gabrielle," Leon answered for her. "She doesn't talk much, although she apparently does speak English."
Sora smiled even brighter. "You have a very pretty name, Gabrielle. Nice to meet you."
Leon turned his attention to Mia, who was directing Kaleido Stage's latest production. "I'm sorry about this, Mia," he apologized. "She just arrived from France a couple of hours ago, and I didn't have time to drop her off at home because of the traffic."
"Oh, no, it's fine," Mia said. "As long as she doesn't get in the way, she's more than welcome to stay." She placed a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder and pointed to a couple of chairs placed against the wall. "Why don't you go have a seat over there and watch your daddy practice?"
Gabrielle did as she was told, and Mia turned her attention back to Leon and Sora. She brought out her laptop and pulled up a movement simulation program. "I was just describing to Sora this new move I'm thinking about using as the climax in our next show. See, it goes something like this…"
Leon only half-listened to Mia's explanation of the complicated maneuver. Gabrielle seemed to be staring up at the trapeze with great trepidation, her pale green eyes as large as saucers. He frowned, wondering if it was a good idea to let her watch the practice after all.
"Leon, did you get all that? Leon?" Mia waved a hand in front of his face. "Hello? Earth to Leon?"
"What?" Leon returned his attention back to Mia, shaking his head to clear his thoughts. He needed to focus on practice right now, not Gabrielle. "Yes, it sounds fine," he said.
"Really? You don't have any suggestions or modifications?" Mia asked, accustomed to him requesting at least one or two changes.
"It's an amazing maneuver, Mia," Sora assured her. "I can't wait to try it out. Right, Leon?"
"Right," he said. "Let me go change, then we'll give it a try."
When Leon returned from the locker room a few minutes later, he noticed that Gabrielle was still staring up at the trapeze. He stopped beside her chair.
"Hey, are you okay, kid?" he asked.
She nodded, but her eyes were still glued to the swings. Sora had already climbed up to the platform and was waving down at them. "Come on, Leon!" she shouted. "Let's try out Mia's new move!"
Deciding that Gabrielle would be fine, Leon climbed the ladder up to the opposite platform and prepared to begin the maneuver. Though he hadn't paid much attention to Mia's demonstration, he understood the basic idea of it. He grabbed the swing Mia had pulled over to him and kicked off, soaring high over the safety net below.
Everything was going fine until Sora released her grip on the swing a moment too soon. Leon realized he wouldn't be able to catch her in his current position, so he loosened his knees and dropped down so that he was hanging from the bar only by his ankles. He managed to grab Sora's hands, but in an uncharacteristic mistake on his part, his grip on the swing slipped, and the two of them fell down to the net.
Gabrielle's high-pitched scream startled Leon even more than the unexpected fall. As he and Sora climbed out of the net, Mia ran over to the little girl, who had begun to cry, and tried to comfort her.
"Hey, don't cry, Gabrielle," Mia said in a soft voice. "Your dad and Sora are fine. See?"
Leon walked over and kneeled down in front of the crying girl, wondering what he should do in such a situation. He wasn't exactly the comforting type. "Look, I'm okay, Gabrielle," he said. "I'm not hurt at all. The net broke our fall."
"I wasn't hurt, either," Sora said, joining them.
Gabrielle threw her arms around Leon's neck, burying her face into his chest. "Papa…" she whispered, still crying.
It was then that Leon remembered Mr. Joubert mentioning something about Emilie's death being caused by a fatal fall from the trapeze and that Gabrielle had seen it happen. Of course she would be upset, seeing him fall like that. Awkwardly, he patted her back, unsure of how else to comfort her.
"Maybe it's not the best idea to have her watch practice, Leon," Mia said, echoing his thoughts. "I saw Sarah hanging around the boss' office earlier. Why don't I ask her to watch Gabrielle until we're finished?"
"I think that's a good idea," he agreed, gently disengaging himself from Gabrielle's hold. "Gabrielle, go with Mia."
Shaking her head, Gabrielle grabbed onto him again and refused to let go.
A small smile crossed Sora's lips. "She's certainly attached to you, Papa," she teased, causing Leon to give her the eye.
"You'll be fine," he told Gabrielle. "Mia is going to introduce you to a nice woman who'll look after you while I practice. After I'm done, we'll go home."
"Promise?" she asked in a small voice, wiping away her tears with the sleeve of her cardigan. "You won't get hurt?"
"There's no need to worry," Sora said. "Your daddy is one of the best trapeze artists in the world. The only reason he fell today was because I made a silly mistake, but I promise to do my best not to make it again."
"Come on, Gabrielle," Mia said, taking her by the hand. "You'll like Sarah. She's a little weird at times, but a lot of fun. Leon, you and Sora continue working on that move while I'm gone. I'll be back in a few minutes."
Though she still seemed reluctant to leave, Gabrielle followed Mia out of the practice room. Once the door closed behind them, Leon turned to Sora.
"So, um, thanks, I guess," he said, rubbing the back of his neck.
Sora tilted her head in confusion. "What for? I didn't do anything."
"For what you said. You didn't have to take the blame for the fall. It was my fault that we fell. I made the mistake."
"But you wouldn't have needed to improvise like that if my timing hadn't been off," she pointed out. "Besides, little girls like to think their fathers are invincible. It's not like I said anything that wasn't true. You are one of the best trapeze artists in the world."
"Yes, well… Still, thanks."
Sora grinned. "You're welcome."
After practice was over, Leon headed to the owner's office and knocked on the door. Sarah Dupont answered, pressing a finger to her lips.
"Hey, Leon," she whispered. "Practice over?"
"Yes," he said in a low voice as he entered the office, taking her cue. "Why are we whispering?"
Sarah nodded her head to the left. Gabrielle was asleep on the couch, curled up with her teddy bear. "She's been sleeping for the past hour or so. I imagine she's quite jet-lagged after her flight."
"I see. Thank you for looking after her this afternoon. I appreciate it."
"It was my pleasure." Sarah smiled and placed a hand on her rounded belly. "I just considered it practice for this little one."
"I hope she wasn't any trouble."
"Oh, no, not at all. She was a perfect angel," she said. "I must admit, though, I was quite surprised to find out you have a daughter, Leon."
"Not as surprised as I was," he muttered in an aside.
"What? Did you say something?"
Leon shook his head. "Never mind. It's nothing." He walked over to the couch and gently shook Gabrielle's shoulder. "Wake up, kid," he said in a slightly louder voice than he had been using. "It's time to go home."
Her eyes fluttered open for a second, but she immediately fell back asleep.
"She's exhausted. Let her sleep," Sarah said.
"I suppose so." Leon picked her up, carrying her over his shoulder. "Will you get the door for me, Sarah?"
"Sure. Oh, and don't forget her shoes and her sweater. Here." She handed him Gabrielle's things, then opened the door.
Gabrielle continued sleeping the entire car ride home to Leon's apartment. When they finally arrived at the building, he turned around in the driver's seat to wake her up, but decided not to when he saw how peacefully she was resting. With a sigh, Leon got out of the car and grabbed Gabrielle's suitcase from the trunk before once again carrying her upstairs.
"Don't get use to this, kid," he muttered when they reached his door, setting down the suitcase to dig his key out of his pocket.
Inside, he carried her to the guest room and laid her down on the full-sized bed. Admittedly, it wasn't exactly the kid-friendliest room, filled with dark furniture and expensive artwork, but Leon didn't see the point in redecorating when she was only going to be staying with him for a short time.
I suppose I ought to change her into pajamas, he thought, noticing the frilly blue dress she was wearing. He brought the suitcase over to the bed and began unpacking, frowning when he saw that most of her wardrobe consisted of heavy, bulky sweaters and flannel nightgowns. While in Paris, it was normal to wear such things in January, winters in Cape Mary were much more mild, rarely dipping below sixty degrees Fahrenheit. Whoever had packed her bag had obviously failed to take that into consideration.
"I'll have to remember to buy her some new clothes," he said to himself, pausing when his hand brushed against something other than fabric.
Leon lifted up a folded sweater to discover a picture frame laying face down. Curious, he picked up the frame and turned it around, sucking in a sharp breath when he saw the picture placed inside. He sat down on the edge of the mattress, staring down at the photo.
It wasn't a normal photograph, but a circus flyer, advertising the last show he and Emilie had performed in together, Le Fantôme de l'Opéra. As the stars of the production, they were featured prominently on the advertisement, Leon dressed as the masked phantom and Emilie as Christine. The show had been Noir Circus' biggest financial and critical success until that terrible night when he…
Leon jumped, startled by the unexpected sound of Gabrielle's voice. "Oh, you're up," he said, placing the picture frame back facedown into the suitcase. "Did I wake you?"
Sitting up, she rubbed her eyes and shook her head. "Where are we?" she asked, looking around at the unfamiliar surroundings.
"My apartment. This is your new bedroom."
Leon could tell she was saying that just to be polite. "Are you hungry or anything?" he asked, standing back up. He grabbed the remaining clothes in the suitcase - along with the picture - and stuffed everything into an empty drawer.
"Then let's go to the kitchen. It's about time for dinner."
Gabrielle climbed out of bed and followed Leon, who gave a brief tour of the apartment on their way to the kitchen. She took a seat at the table while Leon rummaged through the refrigerator and pantry for something to eat. There wasn't much to be found. Since he lived by himself, he rarely saw the point in cooking for one person, so he usually went out to eat or ordered take-out.
"How about some soup?" he asked upon finding a can of vegetable soup hidden behind a box of whole-wheat crackers.
"I guess so."
Leon heated up the soup and sat down at the table across from Gabrielle. Neither of them spoke while they ate, though Gabrielle kept staring at him as if she wanted to say something. In fact, she barely touched her soup, preferring to swirl her spoon around the bowl instead.
"You're not eating," Leon commented after he had finished his bowl. "I thought you were hungry."
"I don't like this kind," she mumbled.
"Well, it's all I have. If you don't like it, you can just go hungry."
She took a few more sips of the soup, then finally pushed the bowl away. "I'm done," she said. "Can I go back to bed, Papa?"
"Yes, go," Leon said, getting up to clear the table.
Gabrielle ran back to her room, no doubt wanting to get away from him as soon as possible - not that Leon blamed her. He had never gotten along well with children, not even when he was a child himself. Sophie had been the sole exception, his only real friend.
Sighing, Leon poured himself a nightcap after washing the dishes and sat back down at the table. He thought back to Mr. Joubert's words. Perhaps fatherhood changed some men, but he found it unlikely it would happen in his case. He had no business being a father, especially after what had happened that night. Again, he wondered what on Earth possessed Emilie to name him Gabrielle's guardian in the event of her death in the first place. Surely, one of her friends would have been a more logical choice.
He downed the rest of his wine, then decided to go to bed. Along the way to his bedroom, he paused at the door to Gabrielle's room, hearing what sounded like crying coming from inside. Leon pushed the door open a crack and found the little girl laying on the bed, her face buried in a pillow.
I should probably ask her what's wrong, he thought, but his body remained frozen in place, unable to respond. After a few moments, he sighed and closed the door behind him, heading to bed.
Later that night, Leon was awakened by somebody shaking his arm. He opened his eyes, just barely making out a young girl's shadow when a flash of lightning briefly illuminated the room. It took him a moment to remember who she was.
"Gabrielle?" He glanced over at the digital alarm clock on his nightstand. It was just a little after two in the morning. "What are you doing up? Go back to bed."
"I'm scared, Papa," she said in a voice barely about a whisper.
"Of what? The thunder?"
Gabrielle jumped as a clap of thunder boomed, answering his question.
"Thunder is just noise," Leon said, annoyed he had been roused from his sleep for such a silly reason. "It can't hurt you. Go back to bed. I'm trying to sleep."
"But it's dark. I don't know my way back."
Groaning, Leon sat up and tossed his blanket aside. "Fine, let's go," he said, taking her hand and leading her back to the guest room. "Here you are. Now go to sleep."
"W-Will you tuck me in?" she asked, still holding his hand tightly. "Maman always tucked me in."
Leon did as she asked, bringing her over to the bed and pulling the blankets over her. He was just about the leave to return to his own room when Gabrielle grabbed the fabric of his pajama pants, stopping him. He frowned, turning back around. "Now what is it? If you want me to tell you a bedtime story, I don't know any."
She shook her head. "Will you stay with me, Papa?" she asked instead, clutching her teddy bear to her chest. "I'm still scared."
"Look, I told you, there's nothing to be scared about. Thunder is loud, but it won't hurt you, I promise. You'll be fine."
Something about the pale, vulnerable look on her face gave him pause. She truly was frightened. With a sigh, he motioned for her to scoot over. "Fine," he said, climbing into the bed with her once she had moved over to the other side. "Happy now?"
Gabrielle smiled for the first time since they met. "Yes."
"Don't get used to this. It's only for tonight, since it's your first night here," he reminded her as she curled up against him. "So be a good girl and go to sleep."
She nodded, and within minutes, her eyes had closed, her breathing soft and steady as her body relaxed into sleep. Looking down at Gabrielle's sleeping face, Leon was reminded of the times when Sophie used to crawl into his bed during thunderstorms when they were kids, and his irritation lessened. "Goodnight," he whispered before joining her in slumber.
DISCLAIMER: Kaleido Star doesn't belong to me.