Interlude 4.2: Goodnight My Angel

It's still more than a little disconcerting to have so many days off in a row. Not having a job is...

There was a time, not that long ago, that I thought it would be great not to have two jobs. At the moment, I'm wondering why I thought that was such a marvelous fantasy. Because... Fine, I'm having a hard time admitting this to myself, but I think I'm actually BORED.

Of course, the moment that thought flutters across my brain, Ninja's phone rings. I look at the caller ID and groan. No, I half groan and half sigh. If the other person from that office had called, it would have been a very loud groan.

I pick up the phone and press Talk.

"Hi, Harry. Your boss is afraid to call me himself and is having you hound me now, huh?"

At least I smile. I really do like Harry.

"It doesn't take any super powers to know that, Ninja," she says. And she doesn't sound any happier to be bothering me than I am to be reminded of this particular obligation.

"Tell Nicholas I still don't have an answer for him."

She chuckles. "Should I tell him you called him by his full name?"

"Oh, hell yes! He's been a pest. I'm annoyed." I pause and close my eyes. The only piece of the puzzle that I'm missing will come from chatting with Rene. That's the part I'm having a hard time doing. I love Rene. I love talking with Rene.

This, however?

This is not a thing I want to talk about. Not with ANYONE.

"Listen, Harry... between you and me? I'll probably have the information Nick wants in the next day or two. Don't tell him that, though." Now I grin. It's that grin that Pablo claims I ought to trademark. Well, Ninja ought to trademark it because it's her grin.

"I want him to suffer."

Harry laughs. "I really like you, Ninja. You have so many of the same ideas I do, and you can actually get away with being slightly more evil than I can."

"Maybe so, Harry. Maybe so. But you can disembowel a printer better than anyone I've ever met." I chuckle. "We all have our own special skill sets, don't we?"

"Oh, nonsense," she says with a laugh. "I torture printers for the fun of it!"

She pauses then, and I can sense there's more she wants to say. It's that kind of pause... trying to decide if that thing is going to be said, and if so how?

"I'll go fend Nick off, and try to convince him to leave you alone at least for the rest of the week," she finally says.

I nod. Not that it matters because she can't see me. What was it you were going to say, Harry? Hmm?

"All right then. Thanks, Harry. That will make my life — well, the rest of my week, at any rate — a little easier. I'll talk to you when I know more."

I disconnect and set the phone back down on my desk. The computer monitor seems to mock me, staring at me with a big screen full of Solitaire.

"Oh, shut up," I mumble. And then I turn the monitor off.

I stand and pace out to the living room, then back and forth up and down the short hallway. Why don't I want to have this conversation?

Oh, come on, Andi. Seriously? You know exactly why you don't want to have this conversation.

Right. It's the children.

Not mine. Not his. Not any living children. It's THOSE children. The ninety-two children buried under Stryker's fucking hidey hole in Idaho Springs.

I already talked to the Spirits... at least the four that are my guardians. And Cat. That conversation had happened last week, the day before I really freaked them out. Gods know I've been putting this off. I could have talked to Rene last week.

Warrior, this thing you ask is very difficult, Fox says.

I know. And if it's not something that would be possible, I do understand. It will take some effort to convince the FBI agent, but I'm not above Gibbs slapping him.

It is difficult, Cobra says. It is not impossible.

There's something about this entire thing that makes me wish it was impossible.

How difficult?

Cat looks up at me, inscrutably cat-like. My Siblings, I think, are not as precise as they could be in their use of words.

I raise my eyebrows at my Sister's guardian Spirit. My guardian of diplomacy has... I cock my head to one side, looking at Fox and then back at Cat. Okay, I can understand that diplomacy might necessitate a certain lack of precision. What then, dear Cat, would the precise word be?


I stare at Cat for a moment. Then I look at the other four Spirits that have arrayed themselves around my living room. Bear is sitting in Pablo's recliner. Cobra is curled on the floor in a splash of light that's shining through the window. I've propped my feet on the coffee table and Opossum is sitting next to my crossed ankles, one delicate paw resting on a bare foot. Fox is sitting on the floor beside me. It almost looks like the family dog, the way it sits... the way it looks at me.

For the record, Bear looks ridiculous sitting in Pablo's recliner.

Cat is sitting on my lap. I'm fairly certain part of Cat's gift of magic is its ability to entice anyone who can see it to pet it. I hadn't even realized I was petting the sneaky little thing. Not that I mind. Cat is many things... and despite its gifts of detachment and independence, it is fiercely loyal. Evidently, that loyalty extends beyond the person it guards and guides to those in the family as well.

Petting Cat is soothing, I will say that. I'm not even the slightest bit annoyed at the moment, and I'm pretty sure I should be. About something.

Please, friend Cat, define 'tricky' for me.

Mother has explained that doing the task this enforcer of laws envisions is made so very complex by the number of bones and their locations. As my good Sibling Fox suggested, our newest Sibling Rene — I like him very much, Warrior!

How can I not smile at Cat's enthusiasm?

As do I, Cat. But you were saying something about Fox's suggestion?

Oh, yes. Mother believes it is possible for him to reach the places even the smallest of her small living things cannot. It is because he is a Spirit and he can move through her solid parts as we can. I believe, if I understood Fox's reasoning correctly, he would be able to become solid in such a small way and take the bones out with him.

Fox nods. That is the essence of my idea, yes. We must teach our new Sibling the way of enveloping a solid thing with his insubstantial self and then transporting it, but once learned it is a skill easily used.

I regard Fox for a moment. I'm not going to bother thinking about that particular skill. Although I'm fairly certain I would be able to see how the qi of Mother and the Spirits and the small animals all worked in concert to move all the bones. If I wanted to know. And I'm not sure I do.

So Mother will direct the small animals to bring a small bone of each child to a place I will collect them. And this will all be completed by the day that is mid-way between the shortest and the longest day. Correct?

Opossum pats my foot. That is exactly correct, Warrior.

Okay, good. And then by the longest day, all the bones of the Great Foe will be available for me to collect?

On that exact day, yes.

Hmm. Okay. So the original plan is still in place. That's reassuring. It's nice to know that I'm not such a magnet for weird that that part is any different. I look at Cat again.

I am certain there is more to this trickiness than simply teaching Rene a new skill. What else do I need to know, Cat?

Cat looks at me with an expression of such sadness that I have the oddest urge to give it a hug. One doesn't hug cats, however. One especially doesn't hug Cats who are Spirits.

You may as well tell me now, Cat. Will it make a difference if you say this thing that pains you today, or if you say it at another time?

The Spirit gives the impression of sighing softly. No.

Are you sure it is a thing you should say at all? Bear asks. I do not doubt your wisdom, my small friend. I believe it is likely a thing the Warrior should know. I merely worry...

Bear's words trail off, and as I look over at it, the Spirit seems engrossed in examining its own feet.

I sigh.

Don't start this crap again, guys. In this moment, I'm holding peace and would like to continue holding it. Please don't make me angry.

Cobra raises itself up a foot or so from the floor. It is only more of the same... discord that affects the Siblings, Warrior.

I close my eyes and lean my head to rest it on the back of the sofa.



I sigh again.

Cat, please just tell me what you think I need to know. At some point, I'm sure I'll need to have a very interesting conversation with Eagle. But for now, please just enlighten me.

Cat reaches out a paw and rests it on my hand not stroking its soft fur.

Mother can do... let us call them unusual things... when she has a whim to do them. You noticed her manipulation of space-time far beneath the Great Foe's lair. It allowed the elder spirits and the children's spirits to be present for you and my Warrior when you arrived to defeat the Great Foe. The season of sleeping has arrived, and a great many of the small animals have begun their slumber cycle. Next will be the season of growing when the animals are waking, giving birth, and caring for the younglings. These cycles were taken into account when determining the times when the small bones of the lost children and the bones of the Great Foe would be available to you.

I nod slightly. I don't really think I want to lift my head at the moment.

I understand these cycles, friend Cat. What is your concern for the other task? Or perhaps I should ask what Mother's concern might be.

I can almost feel all five of the Spirits nodding.

It is Mother's concern, Warrior, Cat says, that the people who live upon her surface with take notice of such a great working as she would need to do. It would be a powerful thing to manipulate the space-time in a way that the small animals might bring out all the bones they can reach. Without this great working, it would take so long that your enforcer of the laws might not live to see that day.


But that could put it, technically, in the impossible category. At least as far as Van Dorn is concerned.

I open my eyes and tilt my head up just enough to eye Fox.

There's an alternative, isn't there? Of course there is. And it's weird, too, isn't it? Okay. Out with it.

Fox is silent. Then, like Bear, it seems to find its own feet utterly fascinating.

I sigh again. But Cat pats my hand again. I look at my Sister's guardian.

I will tell you what your guardians fear to tell you, although I do not wish to say this either. But it is something you should know. Cat pauses for a moment so short that I'm not sure I get a full heartbeat into the space. Yet, for Cat, it's a noticeable pause. Mother is sure that very little disruptions of space-time would be necessary if our Sibling Rene fetched more than just the inaccessible bones.

I hear those words. And then their implication hits me. I have barely enough time to weave a shield around my heart and pull my aura in so close that it brushes my skin before the emotional pain, pain, oh my gods, the pain slams into me. Then I gasp and feel like I'm literally covered with Spirits.

Bear is now sitting on one side of me and Fox is on the other. Cobra has taken its usual place around my waist, hugging me tightly. Opossum is on my shoulder, softly stroking my ear. And I discover I actually am hugging Cat... or at least holding it in my arms as it rubs its face against mine.

Holy shit. If my reaction — as a not-quite-yet-parent — is so strong, how the hell was Rene able to stand it?

Then my brain resumes its regular programming.

You guys didn't mention this to Rene yet, did you. I don't think the statement — hell, yeah that's a statement — is necessarily accusatory. It's pretty close, though.

No, we have not, Warrior.

Well, at least Fox is being honest.

We thought, perhaps, it was a thing best discussed with humans.

Bear, on the other hand? Nope. That's just bullshit.

And... we are... Cat seems to be struggling to find just the right word. ...ah, wusses.

Sure, that works. So does 'assholes'. But I guess by their reaction to my reaction, they probably get that already.

Fine. I'll talk to him. Sissies. Cowards. Wimps. Wusses.

Weirdly, I even feel like I was having a similar conversation yesterday with Mother while I was practicing my Taiji at City Park. I think she was trying to reassure me.

Right, fine. I have a feeling this is a conversation that should be had with all five of us present. The only problem is that we're either around other people or shit gets weird because I'm a magnet for weird. Or both!

Well, hell. If I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it in my fortress of solitude.


Maybe I do have a lair. Not that I'm going to tell Van Dorn.

I head down the stairs to my dojo.

Rene? Got a few minutes for your crazy Sister?

There is a long pause before any answer comes back.

Crazy Sister versus Crazy Wife. Hmmmmm.

It isn't exactly directed at me. It's more of a commentary on his two favorite women. The next part is though.

You're lucky I'm in an earlier time zone, Sister. I'll be there momentarily.

And momentarily he is. He appears in business attire, a dress shirt, slacks, and shoes. Those morph quickly into a t-shirt, jeans, and boots. When he realizes where exactly in my house he is, he gives me one of his side eye looks.

"Or should I be dressed for sparring?"

I smile slightly but shake my head. I open the closet under the stairs pull out two zafu.

"I just want to talk," I say as I drop the pillows in the middle of the floor. "Well, I don't want to talk... hence the conversation in my fortress of solitude." I drop down on one of the pillows and gesture to the other as I look up at Rene. "If I don't sit, I'm going to pace... if I pace I'll go even crazier."

It occurs to me that this is the same spot I sat a few months back when Pablo and I had... that talk.

And that this conversation is going to be just as much fun.

Rene gives me a measuring look before making the boots vanish and dropping down onto another pillow.

"What have you done to scare off the Spirits this time? Or what have they done?"

"We chatted last week. And it's not me this time." I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I want to have this conversation even less than I wanted to have that talk with Pablo.

I open my eyes. "It's you. They don't want to talk to you... about this."

I shake my head and press my lips together for a moment. "Okay, it's all of us... Maddie and I started it... well, no, it was Stryker... and now..."

I hold my hands out to him. "...I need your help. Let me show you the conversation I had with the Spirits last week."

"Well that cannot be good," he says sardonically.

Rene takes my hands and waits; I know he is holding his own Gift back.

I close my eyes again and swallow.

Remember, Andi... you trust Rene, you love Rene...

Except Rene doesn't need to be subjected to your gift. It's nowhere near as nice as his.

Focus... weave your shields, tight around your dan tians. One memory, one conversation... that's all.

Unfortunately, those emotions can't be separated from the memory or the conversation. And yet, I let that memory and conversation go... give it as gently as possible, and oh so reluctantly to Rene.

He is by no means an empath, but he has always been good at reading people and seeing deeper meanings. This instinct is especially strong when it comes to those he cares most about. My reluctance doesn't make him nervous, but it does make him wary.

As I let the memory of the conversation flow to him, he watches. He immediately tamps down on his connection to the rest of the Pentad, especially Maddie. She will undoubtedly ask him about it later, but he sees no need to disturb her just yet.

As soon as the past conversation finishes, he drops my hands and clenches his into fists. He shifts backward, out of my reach. Without raising his head and in a heavy accent, he says, "Je... I will do this thing. Whatever it takes."

He is standing a second later then gone, his other voice calling to his Spirit siblings.

If I only hear his words, I think it would be possible to maintain my composure. But I see his qi. And his pain. As much as he would rather I didn't, I can't help but see it.

"Thank you," I whisper despite the fact that he's already gone.

I sit for a moment myself. Why do I feel like I just did something terrible? I know I didn't... not really. His new Siblings said they would...

They should have...

Except they didn't, so I...

I stand and almost mechanically return the zafu to the closet. Fox is sitting at the bottom of the stairs when I close the door.

I merely stare.


And again, I just stare. Perhaps it's only for the space of time it takes for one deep cleansing breath, followed by a second.

"Go away."

I turn to take my place in the center of the room. I close my eyes and concentrate on my breathing.

Warrior, please...

I stand in the ready position to begin First Form.

"I said, go away."

And then I begin my Practice. The slow, easy, meditative forms come first. By the time I reach the martial forms that require a greater exertion of energy and a preternatural attention to detail, I am in my No Time place.

No Time means no emotions. No Time means no interruptions. No Time means I can ignore my guardian Spirits whom I regard as monumental idiots at the moment.

But this also means I will likely not sleep tonight. I am aware that the part of me I call Ninja is hoping for a night of head cracking. I am aware that the part of me I call Andrea is trying to soothe all the hurts we feel.

I'm still doing that, aren't I?

It's fine. In the place of No Time, I realize even an integrated personality must compartmentalize some things.

The nascent part of me that I think is the Warrior wants something similar to the things Ninja wants. Justice.


No. Only justice. That's all.

In the No Time place, I can look at the memories I walled off so they wouldn't echo back to Rene. They were his. Even knowing there are some he has preferred to keep buried, I am glad I can at least work that level of qi weaving.

There was a time I could barely wrap enough qi around my heart to keep from falling apart when I was forced to kill. Now?

Killing is a last resort. Almost always, killing should be a last resort. But while I... the part of me I know as Andrea... doesn't like the fact that killing is sometimes necessary, I no longer fall apart when I'm forced to kill. I don't spend days down here crying and doing exactly what I'm doing now.

There is a compartment in my mind that belongs to Ninja, to the Warrior. It's labeled 'People Who Are Dead Because You Killed Them'. Andrea knows it's there. She doesn't pretend to ignore it. But she won't open it.

Hell, even Ninja, even the Warrior have no need to actually open it.

I'm not sure what time it was when I came down here and called for Rene. It was after Pablo left for work, so... no earlier than eight in the morning.

I just keep moving and keep breathing.

It isn't until I hear a soft whisper that I allow myself to let go of the No Time, to take note of my surroundings, to begin the closing forms I prefer.


We haven't really been living together all that long, and sometimes that surprises me. But Pablo seems to understand the No Time place, and can tell when I am returning. He simply waits patiently.

I finish with the appropriate Qigong exercises for resettling my qi. Although not strictly necessary — my skill is growing as exponentially as my power — they are soothing, and I just plain like them.

When I finally kneel in an Aikido meditation pose, he walks barefoot across the floor to my side. And then he kneels beside me, still waiting patiently.

Finally, I open my eyes and look at him.

"Hey. How was your day? What time is it?"

"Busy. Long. Almost ten. At night." My Husband smiles. "I left a message around six saying I'd be late. I was trying to slay the paperwork dragon."

I smile, and it seems to come easily. I feel like it shouldn't... but there you have it.

"I've been practicing."

"Duh? I had one cup of coffee all day, before leaving the house. I feel like I've mainlined one of those industrial size urns of coffee."

"Oh. Sorry. I... Well, sorry."

"Hey, don't worry about it. I may not have killed the paperwork dragon, but it might be mortally wounded."

I reach out and rest a hand on his cheek. "I love you."

He rests his hand on mine and smiles. "You know I love you, too, dear Wife."

I feel such peace in this simple connection.

"I know you and Rene had a conversation," he says softly. "I felt him lock himself down right after you locked down. I don't know if I should have felt the trickle of surprise and concern from Madeline and Logan, but I did. So I guess I should have, or I wouldn't have."

"You're babbling. Stop it. That's my job."

"Sorry. I'm just worried about you. And Rene."

I nod. "I know."

"Want to talk about it?"

I shake my head. "No." I pause a second. "Not yet."

"I guess you haven't eaten since breakfast, huh?"

I blink, and then smile again. "I think you need to feed me."


When Rene vanishes from Andi's dojo, he does not go to the world of the Spirits. He does not want to be around them. He tells them as much. Only Cat dares approach. But Cat says nothing, only briefly dips its head before going away.

He can't say he understands why they hadn't wanted to breach the subject, but that isn't why he wanted to be away from them. Undoubtedly one would ask a question, always curious to learn about the human condition, then another and another. And this is not something he cares to share with them. He reappears in a busy city and just starts walking.

It is a few moments before he realizes he is in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is safe. It is dusk and quickly fading into evening. It is an international hub with people from everywhere. He will blend in with ease and with little chance of recognition.

He isn't there long when he feels Maddie reach out to him. He feels love and concern from her. Where are you, mijn liefde? You should be home.

He shakes his head. Non. Les enfants…

I'll go up the mountain, up along Six. Come to me there?

He hesitates but answers, Oui.

Ik houd u, mijn liefde.

They had woken with the dawn but hadn't stirred, choosing instead to enjoy each other's warmth. Rene had left during the night, intending to go to New York and speak with Charles as well as look in on Leon. It is this that's at the forefront of her mind when she feels Rene walling himself off. Logan meets her eyes and nods. He had noticed it as well. No longer relaxed, they remain in each other's arms, waiting.

No word comes from Rene, but Cat appears and says without preamble, "All is well with your family, Warrior. Your Husband wished some time alone."

Before she can ask why and how Cat would know, the Spirit is gone.

"I'm not sure if I should be less worried or more, Logan."

He shakes his head, unsure as well. "The cubs will be up soon. I'll get the coffee going. Try to reach Rene."

She nods and leans in for a kiss before he leaves the bed. Logan pulls on his pants before padding out to the kitchen. Madeline watches him go then rises herself. She dresses as she tries to follow the link to Rene. She feels him out there but can't tell where he is. She sends her love down their bond. Her concern goes with it even if she would rather it didn't.

Where are you, mijn liefde? You should be home.

Non. Les enfants... is his reply.

He is worried about the twins. Which means whatever it is, he does not want them to pick up any of it. Em's empathy on top of her Feral instincts make her keenly aware of things that don't even cross the radar of other kids her age. Vin is not clueless either and he has started picking up thoughts and communicating telepathically a little too easily.

I'll go up the mountain, up along Six. Come to me there?

She can smell the coffee begin brewing as she waits for his reply.


Ik houd u, mijn liefde.

She has already pulled on her jeans but has paused during the exchange. Now she pulls on thick socks and her motorcycle boots over those then a short sleeve silk thermal shirt followed by a plaid flannel work shirt. She is still buttoning up as she goes out to the kitchen.

"Going for a ride?" Logan asks upon seeing her.

She nods. "Up Six."

"I'll grab a shirt and help you with the shed doors. The coffee will be done by the time we get your wheels up here. You can take a thermos with you. It'll be colder up there."

Indeed, it is done brewing as they come back in, Madeline to collect her jacket, gloves, and woolen cap, and Logan to pour a thermos of Messijer Dark Roast. He pours himself a cup as well and carries both out. She walks through the door he holds open for her as she tugs on the cap and gloves. She pulls her sunglasses from one of the pockets and opens them with a snap of her wrist.

"Not sure how long I'll be," she tells him.

"It'll take as long as it takes, darlin'. I'll be here."

They share a soft, loving kiss before she straddles her bike. He tucks the thermos into one of the saddlebags as she starts it up. One more kiss, then she rides away from their cabin.

It doesn't take long to wend her way down to West Sixth Avenue then over to Highway Six and westward. She rides in about five miles before pulling off the road into a place meant for just that. There shouldn't be all that much traffic this late in the year and that suits her just fine. She shuts off the bike and pulls the thermos from the saddlebag.

Whenever you're ready, my love, she sends off to Rene then waits, resting back against a low outcropping of rock.

It isn't long before her Husband walks out from the tree-line. Without a word, she opens her arms to him. He steps into her embrace and holds her tightly for many minutes. She holds him tightly in return, knowing he had waited her out more times than could be easily counted. His hold loosens a bit, and he rests his head on hers.

"Je t'aime, mon amor," he breathes.

"I houd u, mijn liefde," she says in response. "Where were you?"

"Hong Kong."

"Hong Kong? Being able to zip half way around the world in a heartbeat is a handy trick," she teases gently. "And before that?"

He raises his head. She does the same, meeting his eyes.

"I was with Andi. She…"

Even without the Gift of Empathy, she can feel his pain. Their bond is too deep and old for it to be any other way. "Would you rather show me?"

He nods. "You should see everything."

They lean back against that rock, and he brings her into his memory of earlier that morning. It starts out at the school where he had just taken leave of Leon and Jenny and is heading towards Charles when Andi's 'call' comes in. He makes his apologies to the Headmaster and moves himself to Andi's place. He plays it out for her, right up to the moment where he tells the other Spirits to leave him be.

As they fade back into the world along Highway Six, Madeline says, "Andi's right. They are cowards."

She pauses for a few heartbeats before adding, "But that's not all that's bothering you. There was more to your agreement than a parent's nightmare, thinking what if it had happened to my child."

"It almost did, Maddie. I almost did it."

"But you didn't."

"J'y etais," he says. "I was there."

She feels that burden he carries within. She knows it well. Oh, how she knows it. "I know, but he wasn't and you didn't, Rene."

"I might have killed our son, Maddie," he says as tears spill from his eyes. "I might have killed you."

"You didn't, Rene. He wasn't there. And neither was I. Many times I wish I had been though. Perhaps I would have had a better chance to stop him and save you. All the lives that could have been spared…"

"I should have been stronger…"

"Anyone can be broken, Rene. You know that as well as I do."

"They tortured you. I told them how to catch you, and they tortured you."

"When it comes to torture, they were a bunch of fucking amateurs, Rene," she says with a roll of her eyes, "especially that no neck dirt bag. I might have been on the receiving end, but it wasn't me there were trying to hurt. It was Charles they were punishing. Knowing what they did to you is a thousand times worse for me. Living without you in my life… I don't know how Logan put up with me for those ten years."

"He's a good man."

"Yes, he is, and so are you. The best. Now tell me what else it was."

He goes silent, trying to find the words.

The thing is, Madeline knows a thing or two about guilt, and the blood she had spilled over the years. "You think you might have put some of them there, don't you?"

"It's possible," he admits. "I did a lot of damage in that year and a half."

"No, it isn't," she says with a shake of her head. "He didn't start targeting potential mutants until after the loss of Alakli."

"But your clone…"

She sighs. "Yeah, that's one loose end that hasn't been completely tied up yet. There were indications in the files that she was not the first nor the last. Freak's still looking. That son of a bitch was real good about being way below the radar. And it's not like he didn't have access to my DNA after I bled all over his chopper and then whatever it was they did to me after I got tranq'd. And you heard what your father said. You were a means to an end."

"I still feel responsible."

"I know, love. How many times have we said it isn't enough, it's never enough? Do this thing. Bring these children out, let their families have closure. Whatever way we can help, you know we will. You don't have to do this alone. How many times have you said that to me?"

His sorrow is not gone, but it is lightened. A ghost of his charming smile comes to him. "I didn't think you were listening sometimes."

"Oh, I was listening but you know I'm a stubborn Dutchwoman."

"Yes, yes you are."

My mood, as I pull up in front of the FBI's building, is considerably less playful than it was the last time I was here. Today, I have neither an entourage nor a posse. I think the lot of them know how pissed off I am. I'm fairly certain I would have stormed into their dimension and Gibbs slapped Eagle — at the very least — if not for the fact that I keep remembering that dream of a Starship Captain.

I'm even beginning to accept that maybe it wasn't really a dream.

And I've been building those shields she told me about. I add a little of this and a little of that every other day or so. They probably helped yesterday. Well, they didn't help Rene. Or me. But they might have helped Pablo and Maddie and Logan.

I had called Harry right after Pablo left for work this morning. None of this is her fault, so I managed to be quite pleasant when I told her I'd be dropping by to see Nicholas. I was even pleasant when I requested that she shoot him if he tried to leave the building before I arrived.

She thought I was joking.

Well, I said I had been pleasant, didn't I?

I open the door and look at Nielsen.

"Shut up. Don't say a single word to me, Nielsen. I'm not in a good mood, and I don't feel like playing with you today."

And then I vault over the gate I broke the last time I was here. It's good to see they got it fixed; I suppose that's some consolation on a day like today. Nielsen starts babbling something anyway, but I just ignore him. It's possible he'll call Harry and let her know I'm on my way.

Well, it's also possible he'll try to shoot me, but I think I've knocked him off balance.

Also? I'm not in the mood to wait for the elevator. I'm entirely too anxious for that. Yes, some of that I can probably blame on those two, but mostly I'm blaming the Spirits. I take the stairs two and sometimes three at a time. Naturally, I move quickly. Why wouldn't I?

I reach the third floor before my ears are assaulted by the alarm.

Damn you, Nielsen.

I exit the stairwell on the fourth floor not far from Harry's desk. She's on the phone. When she sees movement in the doorway from the corner of her eye, she looks up to see the pained expression on my face.

"Sorry, Ninja... trying to get it shut off." She merely points at Van Dorn's office. "Go on in. It will be a little quieter."

I nod, but I absolutely cannot manage a smile.

I open the door to Agent Van Dorn's office, step inside, and close the door behind me. Then I just stand near the door, arms crossed and stare at him.

He looks up at the sound of the alarm increasing when the door opens. He smiles.

I'm not particularly interested in his charms today.

And when he starts to get up, I say, "Stay."

That confuses him. "Ninja, I..."

"Nope. Hush up."

And so the next few minutes are tense. My nerves are being played by the damn alarm. Van Dorn is being treated to the unnerving Ninja stare. When the alarm finally shuts off, I open the door again and look at Harry.

"You'll hold all of Agent Van Dorn's calls, won't you?"

"Ah... sure, Ninja. Can't do anything about the ones that go to his office directly, though."

I nod. "But I can. And get someone to relieve Nielsen. If he's down there when I leave, I'm going to give him a headache just for spite."

She looks at me for a few seconds, more than slightly confused. She's hiding it well, however. The Normals around her no doubt believe she's giving my question some consideration. But her qi is highly chaotic.

That is, until she apparently says to herself, "The hell with it." And her qi settles immediately.

I make a somewhat greater effort to smile. I'm pretty sure I don't actually smile, but I can feel my face relaxing. That's got to be something, right?

"I'll do what I can."

I nod and close the door again.

"Ninja, I..."

"I think I told you to hush.

"Because you're going to listen to me."

I walk over to his desk and lean on it, palms flat on the surface but my fingers are curled slightly.

"I got you the information you wanted. You know... that information you've been hounding me about? Now, I just want you to know that I went through a corner of hell to just get you the information. It's the corner where they rip your heart out and play rugby with it."

My eyes are glowing, and I don't give a damn.

"In the process, I sent a dear friend through an even worse neighborhood where you get the shit beat out of you before they rip out your heart. Then they do a couple of line dances on it.

"Your Brennan will get the bones. All of them. Do NOT ask me about this ever again. I will tell you when and where your bone person can fetch them."

He's not the enemy.

He feels like the enemy.

Settle down, girlfriend.

"Do you understand me, Nicholas?"

He winces at the use of that name.

I don't care.

"I understand."

"Friends don't treat friends that way, Nicholas. You're not the only one at fault here, but you're the only one who's human. You're the one who should know better."

I straighten up slowly while staring at him. And when I finally do turn back toward the door, I can feel his shudder in the rippling qi around the room.

I should probably care. But I can't seem to manage.

"Ninja, I..."

I stop with my hand on the door handle.

"There's nothing you can say right now, Nicholas, that isn't going to make this worse," I say softly. "I warned you about me last month. You should have listened."

I open the door, step out into the general work area, and slam the door behind me. I have my hands curled into fists as I head back to the stairwell.

"Ninja." It's Harry. And she's whispered. She knows I'll hear her. So I stop walking, but I don't turn around.

"Yeah, Harry?"

"I wish that saying I'm sorry would help. But I am sorry."

At least that breaks through my rage.

"I'm..." Is it me, is it this situation, is it those two, is it... me? I don't feel like I'm going down the crazy road, but I don't really feel like I have control over my emotions today. And I spent close to twelve hours doing Taiji yesterday.

"It's not your fault, Harry. I have to go. I'll see you when I see you."

Rushing back down the stairs, I'm not sure how many of them I actually touch. It almost feels like I'm jumping from one landing to the next.

Nielsen isn't at the guard station when I get downstairs, which is lucky for him. The gate swings open before I even get near it, so I glance at the guard who has replaced him. She's good. She doesn't do more that widen her eyes at the golden flames in mine.

"Nielsen called 911 before he was relieved," she says. "Just thought you'd want to know."

I nod. "I'll have something to laugh about later, at any rate. If he mentioned my name, City and County are probably all still laughing. He should probably consider moving to Portland, Maine. Or maybe Guam."

I walk outside and stand next to my bike. I embrace the connection of the Pentad and feel their love in return. Hurting one of us is no different than hurting all of us. Hurting two of us makes us all a little more protective than usual of each other. But I might know a way to vent my rage without disturbing the peace I sense from my Sister and Elder Brother. I pull out my phone and hit one of the speed dials.

I'm not sure the phone rings even once before it's answered.

"Hey, you guys still on your layover at DIA?" I ask.

"Not that I don't enjoy hearing from you, Ninja, but that's the sort of question that tends to make a person like me a little nervous."

"Aw, come on, Masterson. I just wanted to know if your kids wanted to spar."

"That's certainly a good reason for nervousness. Fortunately for my kids, as you call them, we lift off in ninety minutes. We have a tag and bag out near Wichita."

"Shit, Masterson, is your team the only one in the country that does this stuff?"

He laughs.

"Sometimes it feels that way. Unfortunately, there are only two teams qualified to handle the messes you and your fellow Supers make. My kids and I generally clean up things on this side of the Mississippi." He pauses, and I can tell he's smiling. "My counterpart on the East Coast is actually a lot busier than I am."

I might not need to beat the crap out of something to calm down after all.

"Well, then your counterpart probably won't mind that Black Wolf is considering setting up a base of operations out that way."

He groans. "Is this a rumor, Ninja, or a done deal?"

I shrug, the beginning of a smile creeps up on me. "Not a done deal. Yet. Perhaps slightly more than a rumor." I pause, my smile increasing. "But we're pals now, so maybe I can talk her into leaving messes for everyone!"

"What the hell's got you so riled up that you're threatening us like that? I thought we were getting to be friends, and not just cousins." He does sound genuinely confused... and concerned.

My smile is gone immediately and I need to swallow hard to hold off both the anger and the crushing sadness that comes back then. Yet, even before I can finish taking a breath, Mother and Father... I don't know. It's different. It's not Mother's ever-present joy at sharing her energies, it's not quite Father's soothing attempts to play with my hair. It feels like... sympathy, understanding? That whole 'pain shared is pain halved' thing.

"Idaho Springs. FBI," I whisper.

It sounds like he needs to catch his breath, too.

"Damn, I'm sorry, Ninja. They're still trying to get what can't be had?"

"There's a way. It's just..." I take another deep breath. "Even you can't imagine how much this will hurt, Cousin."

"You know we're all willing to do anything for you and Wolf when it comes to that mission, right? The whole squad."

I smile the kind of smile I reserve for family and my closest friends.

"Thank you, Jeff. I don't think... well, actually I don't know who needs to be involved besides me and my Spirit Brother. Wolf... very likely. Peacekeeper wants to be part of it. Wolverine might, too, especially if the rest of us are out there. Beyond that..." I shake my head. "Mother will tell me. If I need you, I'm sure the wind will whisper of it. The FBI have been uninvited to the party."

"Hmm. I'll bet that didn't make them happy."

"You know, I didn't stick around long enough to find out. And... hmm. Nope, don't care."

"I suspect it doesn't matter to you at the moment, although it might in the future, but Van Dorn has a reputation for not taking things personally. And for owning his mistakes."

I nod. "You're right. It doesn't matter at the moment."

"The FBI, in general, however?" He laughs without humor. "I was recently allowed to read a heavily redacted copy of your file. And when I finished reading it, I told Phelan I was surprised you didn't knock me flat on my ass that day in Boulder."

I shrug. "Abe asked me to be nice."

"I'll have to thank him the next time I see him. I guess my point is that the FBI is probably going to rub you the wrong way just as much, for a whole host of different reasons."

"Yeah, well, they've already made a good start. At my first meeting with Van Dorn, he relayed an... offer from his boss to work for them."

Masterson laughs. "And no one died?"

"No. But I made my opinion and displeasure known."

He's silent for a moment.

"You know, given the amount of righteous anger I could feel in your file, I'm still surprised you called me on Halloween."

I'm not sure where to go with that. I probably did make some flippant smart ass comment about it at the time. And the other two times he's alluded to the incident. I suppose honesty is the next step, isn't it?

"Okay, Masterson. You want me to level with you... so I'll level with you."

I realize I'm still sitting in front of the FBI's building, leaning on my bike. I probably would have remained thoroughly unconcerned about that small fact if I didn't suddenly feel Nielsen's monumental animosity wafting out of the building.


"There are lines I won't cross. They're my lines and they don't always line up nice and neatly with law enforcement, but... well, it is what it is. However, I will do anything and everything in my power to protect my people. Asking for a favor from Special Forces isn't the worst thing I've done."

Nope. Not by a long shot.

"Fair enough."

"It did help that you weren't a jerk that day in Boulder," I say with a smile.

"Not my style. And here we are still talking."

I shrug.

"You and your kids went above and beyond for my people. That got you a place on my speed dial. I flap my lips at you because of that, and the fact that we're cousins. Yeah, maybe we'd have to go back to Wolverine's great something grandparents to find the connection, but... well, it's back there somewhere."

"Family means something a little different to us anyway," he says.

It's interesting that "us" could be interpreted in several ways. But any way you slice it...

"That's the truth," I say softly.

Again, I can hear his smile in the silence. Not that the silence lasts very long. "Do you still need me to talk you down off that ledge, or are you just going to go find someone else to beat on? I could ask you what kind of plans you have for the holidays, for instance."

Another emotional knots loosens and I smile. "I'm not going to jump off the ledge, but there's some thought forming in the back of my mind. So give me a minute to figure out what it is.

"Also, not that you heard this from me, Wolverine is in the neighborhood and could beat the snot out of me with one hand tied behind his back. I probably would have let him do it, too if you hadn't answered your phone."

Connections and thoughts, something to do with Masterson's kids...

"And in my other life, I'm going to be hoping the bad people decide to give peace a chance because I'm getting married and my whole family is going to be out here."

"Hey, congratulations! I understand the whole secret identity thing, so just know the entire squad would be happy to throw you and your lucky person a hell of a party if not for that slight problem!"

I'm momentarily speechless as all the right kinds of emotions dissolve most of the remaining knots almost instantaneously.

And then thoughts, connections, Masterson and his kids...

"I'm uncharacteristically touched by the thought. I should probably seek counseling."

He laughs. "Well, maybe we can take Aunt Norma and Uncle Dingbat out to dinner afterward."

Ah! Bingo! Connections!

"I'll see what Uncle Dingbat thinks, but I'll warn you upfront that he's awfully shy. By the way, do any of the kids have TK ability?"

"I find it hard to believe Uncle is shy, and yes... both Collins and Zelka have some ability. Collins is solid and steady; Zelka's gift is erratic." He pauses. "For Idaho Springs?" he asks softly.

"Yeah. You don't need to ask them now..."

He cuts me off and yells, "Collins! Zelka! Front and center!" At least he remembers to lower the phone.

And I really didn't want to subject anyone else to this pain right now. I don't know when I'm going to get up there, but it sure as hell isn't going to be before the wedding. Mother said she would have one bone of each child available for me on the Spring Equinox. I need to have a chat with her...

Fine! I talk to the planet!

...about how we're going to get all the other bones out. I don't really care about Stryker's bones. Not at the moment. And I might not even care before they'll be available on the Summer Solstice. Nicholas is going to want to be around for that one. I might be speaking to him again by then.

"Ninja?" Masterson says, pulling me from my reverie. "They're both willing to help if you think they can. When you know the day you're heading up there, I'll make sure they're available." He pauses, and I can feel an echo of qi rolling through his voice when he says, "And anyone else from the team you want. Moral support. Schlepping. Tossing FBI agents off the mountain."

I'm feeling a little overwhelmed. Is this really some Army guy I'm talking to? Because he's really destroying my preconceived notions of who the Army is.

"Listen, cousin," he says softly, "we hate what happened out there as much as you do. You'd honor us if you allowed us to see this through with you."

I swallow hard and wrap myself in qi, and the love of my Family and Mother and Father.

"Okay. Yeah, okay. I'll let you know." I take a moment to simply breathe. "Thank you. And thank every single one of your people for me. I need to go have myself a good cry and you need to go fetch a bad person from Kansas."

I nod to myself as I stand up straight and look in the direction of the airport.

"Ahéhee', shilah."

We each disconnect at the same time.

As I put the phone back in its pouch on my belt, I let my thoughts drift to my Family... to the Pentad.

This thing we must do will be difficult and painful. But we have one another, and we have friends. It will help parents and siblings and who knows how many others?

Without another thought to Nielsen and his animosity, I get back on my bike and head home... in a much better frame of mind than I was when I arrived.

© Kelly Naylor and ividia kt