Interlude 4.3: Hey Mama

I'm really not looking forward to this. That probably explains why I'm sitting here on my bike in the parking lot where Amanda has her clinic rather than going inside where it's warmer.

Not that I care much about the temperature, but people around me seem to care. I should pretend to care.

It's probably weird to see a woman get off a motorcycle and head into a midwifery clinic. I rather like that image. You can't blame Maddie for this one, my minor joy at freaking people out. That's all me. Sure, there was a time I would have blamed Ninja in the same way Henry blames Coyote for all his bad behavior. But I'm Ninja, Ninja is me. It's all good.

I don't want to do this. And I don't have a choice about doing this either. Well, I do have a choice, but my other choices are even worse than this one. In some ways. In many ways.


I sigh and get off the bike. I've got all my phones in my various pockets. My leathers are actually better for the whole multiple phone nonsense... the jacket has two outer pockets and three inner ones, although one of them is barely big enough to tuck a few folded pieces of currency. Since I'm out riding the Harley, which now belongs free and clear to Andi, I don't need to leave my personal phone in the lock box. I'm not sure that's good or bad.

I'm dragging my feet! Look at me dragging my feet!

Oh, just get it over with, Andi. The sooner you do, the sooner you can go back home and freak out in private. Or... yeah, or what?

I don't know.

I push open the door of the clinic, and walk across the waiting area to the reception counter.

Gah, the place is filled with pregnant women! Okay, there are only three of them, but... GAH!!!

The receptionist looks up at me, all cheerful and bubbly and...

Ninja... there will be no slapping of the cheerful civilians today.

"May I help you?"

What I want to say is, "Nope. I'm beyond all hope of help."

Ninja... there will also be no toying with the cheerful civilians today.

Instead, I manage a smile and say, "I have a 10am appointment to see Amanda Baker."

She glances behind me, then at her reservations calendar. "Is your husband on his way in? The appointment is for both of you."

I sigh in what I hope is a lovingly indulgent way. "He's a homicide detective. He got a call from his boss to detect." I shrug. "He'll probably discover that his phone stops working right around my due date."

In truth, Pablo had thought it might be best if I saw Amanda alone the first time. Despite my extreme level of nervousness about this whole thing, I actually agreed with him this morning.

She smiles as she hands me a clipboard of papers.

Oh, gods. I hate these.

"Some women — or so I've heard — run their husbands' cell phones over with the family car."

I look up from the dreaded medical history forms to smile cheerfully at the receptionist. "Gosh, I really like that idea."

She chuckles. "Just have a seat while you fill out the forms; Amanda will be with you shortly."

I choose a seat as far from the other three, very clearly and obviously Normal, women as possible. I'm sure they appreciate that the biker chick is on the other side of the waiting room, too.

And then I go through the medical history, checking off boxes — except for the ones I think are best ignored at the moment — and filling in the open ended question that are, ah, Normal. I flat out lie about some of the innocuous ones — injuries and illnesses in particular. It not like anyone can prove I've ever broken any bones, so why upset people unnecessarily about sort of thing? Check, check, check. Oh, Andrea is so Normal.

When I have answered all the questions and checked off all the boxes I'm willing to answer, I turn the papers back over to the young lady at the desk. As I pull my Kindle out of one of the inner jacket pockets, I can hear her sighing softly, no doubt at the blanks in the information. Hey, at least I admitted that my blood type is O poz, as is Pablo's. That's got to count for something, right?

I don't have to wait too long; Amanda herself comes out. She's not the only practitioner here, not any more. It's an actual full fledged clinic that is remarkably fully staffed with both clinicians and admin types. Andi knows that her sister had a large hand in that.

Her smile was warm and unfeigned. "Andi, wonderful to see you again. Please come on back to my office."

I smile at Amanda. Even in my guise of Andrea, I often need to hide my thoughts and feelings from those around me. I need to simply be the pleasant librarian, the nice young woman doing her grocery shopping, the supportive neighbor who has promised herself she won't kill her best friend even though he's become a psycho nut job again.

Today, I'm not going to bother hiding my trepidation. I have a feeling that I'm going to need to be more open and honest with this woman than anyone outside the Pentad. I don't have to like it. I just need to accept it, and do it. Hmm, kind of like Pablo needing to accept and support the cold-hearted bitch? Maybe.

She leads the way down an admin corridor to a corner office that has an exterior door to an outside seating area. It's more an inviting room than it is an office. Certainly there is a desk with a computer and assorted office things tucked into one corner. Amanda's licenses and certifications hang on the wall above her desk. A nearby bookcase holds assorted books related to her work, and photos sit on the top. A couple are of her and Joe. Another set is of Maddie, Rene and an infant, then toddler, Leon. The soft patter of rain emanates from a floor to ceiling fountain in the corner opposite the desk. The majority of rest of the room is given over to an over stuffed loveseat, a glider and ottoman, and a pair of mismatched chairs; side tables are strategically placed and a snack and beverage bar is easily accessible by all.

"Have a seat anywhere and make yourself comfortable. Would like some water or green tea perhaps?"

I follow her to her office and let my eyes wander over the furnishings.

"Oh, water is fine. I drink more of that than anything else." I consider that statement as the pictures of Maddie, Rene and Leon catch my eye. I think my heart skips a beat as I look at the old pictures. Maddie and Rene haven't changed much. Leon was adorable as a toddler. It's not surprising that he's become such a handsome young man. It's disconcerting how much he looks like his father. "Even after meeting Maddie's coffee," I say absently.

You know, you're probably supposed to be calling your Sister 'Madeline' instead of 'Maddie.'

Oh well. Here begins the journey of trust, right?

Except I'm not sure I trust the over-stuffed piece of furniture. Things like that try to swallow you up. They even try to swallow people like me. I know this because Pablo had a similar sofa — albeit older and more beat up — in his apartment and it went to the thrift shop when he moved in with me. I do drop my jacket on the people-eating thing, however.

There's no black turtleneck today. I'm wearing a bright royal blue short-sleeved polo shirt instead. It's really a toss-up between the purple and the red of the same style as to which is my favorite. This one, the blue one, is Pablo's favorite.

I'm a sap. I'm surprisingly okay with that at the moment.

I dismiss the glider immediately. With the current state of my unease, I don't trust myself not to kill it. The other two chairs might be fine on another day. I stare at them for two or three seconds.

Well, Amanda did say to make myself comfortable and to sit anywhere, didn't she?

She did!

I drop easily to the floor and sit in a full lotus. You'd think it would be more difficult while wearing leathers, but they have just enough give in the right places to allow it. In jeans, I can only manage a half lotus. I'm wearing my boots, of course. They have the flexibility of socks.

From this spot, Amanda could choose any of the pieces of furniture and we can still have a nice conversation. Well, fine... it would be a little difficult if her favorite place to sit is at her desk. But she did say to get comfortable! And I'm comfortable!

Normally, one might expect the lotus position to include the tradition palms up, hands resting on the knees posture. Ha. Like I'd do that anywhere indoors these days! It just encourages Mother to share, share, share. My hands are resting comfortably on my knees, this is true. But my palms cover my knees, and neither of my lao gong points nor my yong quan points are in contact with Mother.

I find it unnerving that she's begun to consider floors an access avenue to give me her energy. Oh, how I do so hope the weird stops some day! I'd be happy with an endless plateau.

Thank goodness for wise Starship Captains.

There was one thing I was honest about on that form that I would have preferred to ignore. I left out so much other information, so why be honest about the miscarriage? On the one hand, it could be considered a part of my healing factor. On the other hand...

On the other hand, it happened. I was pregnant before, and then I wasn't. It doesn't matter what those two say, I still hurt. Maybe someday I won't hurt; I'll bless that little soul who made a mistake and wish it joy. Today, however, is not that day. I wish that one no ill will, of course. We all make mistakes.

Perhaps it's best not to think about that part of the equation right now. Watching the water in Amanda's fountain is a much better activity while waiting for her.

Amanda stands to the side and watches Andi take measure of her office. Her eyes crinkle with her amused smile. Most of her patients come in and claim a seat, only looking around once they are comfortable or settled. Then there are those who come in and assess the room before making a choice. They are all either military or law enforcement, all but one, now two.

Amanda knows the signs. She and Joe have been together since just after he joined the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department. He nearly always looks over a room or establishment upon entering. There are only a couple of places where he does not; their home, the Jacobs' home and his office.

Having seen them together at the dinner Lin and Logan had hosted and now this, Amanda can definitely see how Lin and Andi had clicked so quickly. Amanda takes it as a good sign. From the instant she had met Lin, she had known they would be lifelong friends. Some people you just click with like that. She knows she already likes Andi. She has a good feeling about her, and her instincts are never wrong.

After bringing Andi water, she snags a pillow from the couch and drops it on the floor a couple feet in front of Andi, then drops onto it herself.

"Lin desperately wanted to do the same thing her first visit here, but she was far enough along that she chose the safer route of a straight back chair," she confides with a chuckle. "Although I must say she was more relaxed overall than you are."

"Now, tell me how far along you are and what concerns you have. And don't worry about rambling on. I'm pretty good at following."

I nod. "Okay. When the floor gets to be less than optimal, I'm likely to want a straight back chair, too. That thing," I say pointing to the person eating piece of furniture known as a loveseat, "just looks dangerous. And she had fewer reasons to be a hot mess. Probably. Maybe."

I drink down about half the water and place the container carefully beside me on the floor. Oh, yes... we must be very careful, mustn't we? Because if we're not care, gods only know what kind of weird I'll attract.

Mother laughs.

I close my eyes, take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Nope, not gonna freak out. Will not, will not, will not.

Then Mother sighs and it feels like she's wrapping me in a blanket. Not that I need a blanket, but it's sweet of her to offer. Besides, it's really soothing.

See? I'm calm.

I open my eyes and look at Amanda.

"How far along? Ahh... I guess counting the way the books do, about nine or ten weeks. Well, somewhere between the two. And concerns?"

I actually manage to chuckle. "Medically? Nothing really, I guess. I made it this far, which at one point I would have thought impossible... so." I shrug. "I eat well, I exercise. I'm still getting used to the whole idea, but I figure if there's something I ought to be worried about, my body will let me know. Or you might. Or my cousin definitely will. And since I'm way, way more stubborn than my Husband... almost husband? Whatever. The point is that I'm not having babies in a hospital. That's just a bad idea for me and the hospital."

I pause for a moment. It's not like I don't have concerns but are they actually relevant right now? Maddie knows me. Maddie knows Amanda. Maddie wouldn't have suggested I see Amanda if she didn't think Amanda could handle the huge basket of weird that her Sister is.

"I have a feeling some of what I'm going to babble about isn't going to be covered by HIPAA or even strictly by the doctor-patient confidentiality concept. Especially the stuff that's job-related and it's not like people aren't going to figure it out eventually. Well..." I pause again. Illusion can hide a hell of a lot. Well, except...

"Except I need to make sure the guys have me covered when I get to be a beached whale because some stuff just isn't going to be possible. And Pablo won't let me go out on patrol anyway," I say. I'm not sure I meant to say that out loud. But in for a penny, in for a pound, right? "He's already a nervous nelly and it's not like his job isn't dangerous, too. Certain people will notice I'm not around much. And I have to figure out how to... hmm... get a thing done around Summer Solstice, which I know is cutting things way too close, but..."

I bite my lip and close my eyes again. Mother holds me... just holds me...

{Daughter... trust}

Okay. Trust. I can do this! I've done harder things, right? Sure I have! Didn't I blister the paint in Van Dorn's office just last week? Oh, wait. That was easy. I nod.

Yes, Mother. Trust.

"Anyway, it's a thing I need to do because I made a vow. But it's not nearly as tough as a the thing I need to do at the Equinox, so there's that. Really? You should probably have more concerns than me." I open my eyes again and smile. "And that's just because I'm a magnet for weird. Okay, maybe mostly because I'm a magnet for weird.

"Heck, I should probably be freaking out that I'm getting married in ten days."

I stop and blink. TEN DAYS??!?

I grin... and I wonder if I'm glowing. Wow!

"And I'm not... freaking out, that is.

"I didn't think Pablo should come today, and neither did he. For different reasons, of course. He thought all this would be easier for me... you know, chatting with you one on one. And maybe he's right because he'd just tell me to get to the point and stop talking in circles. Like there's anything wrong with circles! Plus, I haven't even started with the circles. Quite. Also? It's more like spirals anyway.

"But I didn't have enough duct tape in the house to attach him to a piece of furniture. And I thought it might be inappropriate — at least on the first visit — to handcuff him to a chair. Except he'd still try to float off with giddiness and joy, and that would just look stupid.

"But I'm probably that happy and giddy that we're getting married. Only I don't have to worry about floating because Mother probably won't let me. I'm not saying she likes me more than Father does, she just has a better grip on me. Sometimes I get the impression he thinks that's funny." I tilt my head, considering that. "Yeah, I can see where it might be. Besides, Pablo is more attuned to Father. Which is why he floats."

Well, that's one way of explaining it, I guess. His powers are of air and light, which is more Father's domain... even if it is the domain of his ancestral asshole as well. I pick up the water and finish it off, and unravel from the lotus position. Planting my feet flat on the floor, I wrap my arms around my legs and rest my chin on my knees, still smiling joyfully.

"Okay, this isn't really a concern for me, but maybe it is for you. As I said, I'm a magnet for weird. I've mostly gotten used to it. Pablo says it's a super power. I don't think Maddie would go quite that far, but she'd totally agree that some of the weirdest stuff ever happens around me. And Logan just gives me his look that absolutely and without a doubt says I'm the Weird Magnet. No, no... it's relevant.

"Back around Halloween, I was working with some guys on a thing...

"Oh. I guess I should mention that I can talk to my guardian Spirits as well as the shamans do, but either they're mad at me right now or afraid of me. I'm pretty sure I finally ticked them off enough when I threatened to Gibbs slap Eagle. Or maybe it confused them. But Rene says that they're scared of me. My shaman cousin says not, but they each have different perspectives on it. Either way is fine, though, because they're leaving me alone, which is actually nice. Because... wow, they can get to be a bit much.

"So, about Halloween... I was having the Spirits ask Mother some questions about, well, things. Not important here and now. One of the guys asked me if I was actually talking to the planet. I was all, who even does that? Are you crazy? Because, no... the Spirits were talking to Mother.

"Except being a Magnet for Weird, apparently now I do talk the planet, which I don't tell many people but she really, really likes you and I think you at least sort of grok. I hope. We've still got a learning curve going on and sometimes there's some miscommunication, but no big deal. Well, at least I don't think so, which is another reason Pablo is at work right now. Because he seems to think our whole adventure in the Garden of the Gods was a bit much."

I pause again, tilting my head to the side as I run through the events of that day. Then I sigh and shrug. "Okay, I guess I'll stipulate that there might have been a thing or two that was a little overboard on that day."

Mother laughs again.

And I roll my eyes.

That's not helping, Mother. And I think Husband and Brother were less distressed by all that qi you gave me than... you know... that other thing that upset everyone, especially Sister.

{Daughters... love}

Of course I smile! How can I not?

"Anyway, you haven't run off screaming or called the folks with the butterfly nets yet, and I'm glad Maddie was right about you being able to handle crazy Andi. My other options were a mountain lion's den — and even I think that's a bad idea — or going out to Nageezi where my uncle is a doctor. I'm going to ask my cousin anyway what my due date is, but even if it's weeks after the Solstice there's no way I'm going to want to be driving out there in Pablo's car on those roads. I don't even want to do that now!"

And then reality falls on me. And I bite my lip again as my eyes probably take on a panicked sheen for a moment... before I just breathe and remind myself that we can always get a more comfortable car... even though the idea of "car" is so... boring.

"Poop. With babies and small people, we'll have to drive out to visit family." I sigh. "Well. I guess that's okay. That'll just be the first thing on my Oh, the Things I Do for You Children! list. It's not a guilt list, by the way. It's justifiable retribution. They're already driving me insane.

"Circles, spirals... I just wanted to say before I forget — not that I would because, ugh, remembering — please don't tell your lovely husband the Sheriff that I'm one of Denver's Protectors. Not that you would, but I ought to tell him about this myself, and I really should tell Sanchez in Denver first because he's my primary contact."

I narrow my eyes.

"Unless that blabbermouth detective of mine already told, which he wouldn't if he knows what's good for him. And he does!"

I grin again.

"He's so awesome! And I wasn't kidding about him floating away at the idea of getting to be a dad again. Oh, my gods... he's so..."

I can feel him thinking about me because I'm thinking about him. He's probably at his desk grinning like a fool right now.

"...well, yeah. Giddy.

"He thought it was cool that those two can talk to me in my dreams. I had to Gibbs slap him. It wasn't cool. But they're behaving better now. I told them to invade his dreams when their brains get big enough.

"Anyway, yeah. Twins, but I don't know if it's two girls or two boys or one of each. I guess they can't figure it out from the Not Born place and I don't think I need to be giving anatomy lessons in my dreams anyway." I shrug. "I could ask my cousin about that, too, but I don't think it really matters. We'll find out when they're born if they don't figure it out by then. That's good enough for me."

I drop my legs to sit tailor-fashion. "Oh. Right. No need for tests except the ones I can't get away with refusing. Hopefully, that's all of them, although if you twist my arm, so to speak, I'm willing to listen to the voice of reason. After all, if I'm not going to listen to your professional opinion and give it all due consideration, I might as well just go out to the mountain lions' dens, right? And that's not reasonable for anyone. Well, except those three evil masterminds of the mountain.

"But absolutely positively for sure no amniocentesis. Genetic tests are a bad idea in my case."

With one finger, I sketch a spiral in the air... from an outer point to the center. Then I nod and rest my hand in my lap again.

"I think I've walked the whole Path I needed to walk. And you don't look freaked out."

Unless Mother is hugging her as snuggly as she's hugging me, Amanda isn't freaked out. Her qi looks remarkably calm and soothing.

"Your turn?"

Through the entire, well tirade isn't quite the right word but it would do, Amanda's mouth keeps twitching as if she were trying very hard not to laugh or grin or possibly both. Yes, Lin had been much calmer, but she had also been a few years older and considerably further along. She also remembers Lin's bemused warning that Andi might seem bat shit crazy but she isn't, not really, she promised.

The talk about Mother, though... Amanda's hand rises and she caresses the Goddess/Gaia pendant she wears.

As Andi speaks, other things fall into place as well. Her husband might be the cop in their family, but Amanda has learned to pick up on things over the years as well.

As Andi finishes, she finally does allow a smile to crease her face. It is warm and welcoming and exudes comfort.

"With you having to curtail your activities as things progress, it is probably a good thing that Ninja stays out of the limelight."

"In regards to tests, you really are not old enough to consider an amnio standard practice. I would recommend blood draws for a titer to verify immunity to MMR and the like as well as a read on your blood sugar levels. Overall, though, with the healing ability, I doubt there is much to worry over.

"As for the weird, bad weird would have a hard time bothering you here."

I laugh. It feels good.

"Oh, trust me... nobody wants Ninja in the spotlight. I have the worst potty mouth and would be more than happy to verbally eviscerate the press." I grin. "Pablo blames Maddie for the potty mouth. He just can't seem to understand that integrating the two halves of my personality was our doing — his and mine — and that Ninja has been a smart ass from day one."

I definitely feel relief about the amnio. Genetic testing aside, it seems like a creepy procedure. Also, I have a feeling those two would make life miserable for the poor individual trying to collect the amniotic fluid.

"Hmm. Well, I know I had all the childhood vaccinations. Those are standard operating procedure for Army brats. I've always wondered if my healing factor would have viewed the antigens they'd produce to be inharmonious with the overall wellbeing of my body... or if they'd be ignored. Cool. Now I'll get the chance to find out!" I nod, feeling bizarrely cheerful at the prospect of learning more about my healing factor.

"In the same vein, ha ha, I'm not sure there's a way to get a blood glucose level from me that isn't normal," I say, pondering that particular aspect of my metabolism. "Maybe if you drew my blood right after I finish eating a five pound bag of sugar..." I make a face and shudder. "Ew. And eewww."

Maddie was right. I do feel... Damn. I feel as comfortable with Amanda as I do with my family. I close my eyes and allow myself to just be for a moment.

"I'm not worried about bad weird, Amanda. I can feel the protection, the safety here. It's just the good weird or the weird weird — depending on one's point of view — that might make me nervous."

I open my eyes to look at her. It's been a while since I've felt true serenity.

"I have... Yes, I'll call it faith. I have faith that your relationship with Mother will be enough to convince her to not become too overjoyed at the blessed event.

"On the other hand, I have no delusions that anyone or anything — not even that charmer, Rene — will deter the Spirits from acting like a bunch of ninnies if that's what they decide they want to do. For all I know, it could be like the choir of Angels that supposedly gathered around when Great Spirit's Grandson was being born on the human plane."

I shrug in acceptance. Que sera, sera... right?

"I figure you and I will be busy enough to ignore them, at least temporarily." I smile. "Pablo might freak out. But Maddie would probably tell them off. Not that they're as scared of her as they are of me."

I giggle.


"Even so," Amanda says, "we should still check. Your healing ability may not allow you to suffer from any of those diseases, but others could if you aren't vaccinated and were exposed then passed it on without knowing it..."

She tilts her head to the side. "Unless you have some way of knowing that the children will also have the healing ability?"

I understand the concept of being a carrier without being affected but...

My brows furrow as I concentrate on what I know of my Curse, what I've seen and felt it do. "I don't think a virus or nonessential bacteria could survive long enough to pass it on to someone else. Not even those two, although if germs could get to anyone, it would be them."

I shake my head. Hadn't the Spirits said something about it?

"While Eagle didn't actually come right out and say it — because sometimes Eagle is just a putz — it did imply that those two would... Hmm. What did it say again? Oh, right. I was wondering if I stuffed Quetzalcoatl back in his little hellish dimension and slammed the door behind him if he'd stay gone for good. Eagle got all poetic about it, saying something like he'd be gone for the lifetime of Pablo's sisters' children's children. I think that confused Pablo, the poor dear. 'Wait. Not our children?' he asked. Then Eagle got pompous. 'We believe your children will inherit many things from the Warrior.' I don't think either of us knew what the great feathered one was saying at the time, and I'm pretty Pablo doesn't really want to think about it."

I sigh. "I don't really have a choice about contemplating that stuff. It's how I'm wired, I guess. I'm going to have to assume that a Spirit wouldn't be talking about inherited genetic traits. I'm not sure they really grok that stuff. So the most logical assumption I can take away from Eagle's statement is that those two will inherit my increased longevity, which is intimately tied to my healing factor."

I smile and shrug. "That's probably a confusing and long-winded way of saying... yeah, probably they will."

"Does that mean you are planning to have Pablo and Lin at the birth? Have you had thoughts about where you want to give birth other than not in a mountain lion's den and not in a hospital? We have rooms here, of course, that I can show you, or some women choose to be at home."

And then I laugh.

"Oh, I am not doing this without Maddie right by my side. Pablo is already... well, giddy. Who knows what he'll do? He could be absolutely and perfectly supportive. He could be jumping up and down like a kid waiting for Santa, clapping his hands and giggling. He could be floating at the ceiling like those folks in Mary Poppins when they couldn't stop laughing. He could pass out because he forgets to breathe."

I pause and look over at the shelf with the pictures of the Jacobs.

"About a month before I arrived in Denver for my freshman year of college, Pablo's wife and son were murdered. He was still in Patrol working the Gang Unit. Juan was maybe six months old. It was about... I guess two years or so before Rene died." I turn back to Amanda. I remember their horrifying pain, I remember the freshness and the stagnancy. "When someone holds that kind of pain for so long, I can see it. If I look close enough. I didn't meet Pablo until the beginning of my Junior year." I shrug and wave it off. "Just some drunk frat boy attempted to assault me and I defended myself. He made his house brothers call the cops. Pablo and his partner Denise responded to the call."

That was a crap shitty night, but the two of them had been so kind. And then continued to be kind and gracious and hilariously funny... I smile softly.

"Well, they wormed their way into my life and before I knew it, I considered the both of them friends. Pablo never mentioned Rosalia or Juan. Neither did Denise, and she must have known about them.

"The crazy thing? Obviously I defended myself at that frat party, and I was uniquely qualified to do so because I have black belts in both Aikido and Taijiquan. I'm a walking concealed weapon even without all the other stuff," I say, chuckling softly. "The crazy is that Pablo kept teasing me about joining the Police Department after I graduated. I thought he was a lunatic. I majored in English Literature for goodness sake!"

I lose my smile, thinking back to the bookend dates that brought me here — to this point in my life, doing what I do, and the need to be visiting with a midwife. I just stare into the distance of the past.

"Pablo had been promoted to detective in January of my Senior year. When I told Denise at the party a bunch of us threw for him that she'd be on the promotion roll the following year, she laughed and said she'd be on the roll-up at mid-year. Honestly, I still don't know how those things work, but if Denise thought it was possible, who was I to doubt her?

"A couple of weeks after I graduated, she was beaten..." I stop. I breathe. I swallow. I breathe again. I will not cry. "...beaten so badly by a mob of... of... barbaric and contemptible excuses for human beings because they thought she was a mutant. She had been like a sister to Pablo and he was devastated. She spent... gods, I don't even know how many hours in surgery. Her family... well, Pablo and I waited with them. How could we not?"

I pause again. Despite being more than a decade in the past, that day is so vivid in my memory that it could have been yesterday. And those few months were pivotal for me. "I knew she was gone the first time Pablo and I were allowed in to visit her. The doctors' machines still showed... well, whatever they show that makes them believe people are alive or dead. They weren't giving Denise's family or Pablo much hope, but a speck of hope is better than no hope... I guess. Instead of going home for the summer, I stayed in Denver.

"And she'd been right, too, about her promotion. She was one of a couple dozen officers promoted on July first.

"I went with Pablo every time he visited Denise because I could see... Well, something was trying to break him. At the time, I didn't know it was the resonance of grief he still hadn't allowed himself to feel over Rosalia's and Juan's murders.

"But that first night, when he made me drive him home..." I shake my head and look at Amanda. "Well, I'm willing to bet what I saw then is what you saw in Maddie after Rene died. I practically had to carry him to his apartment. He begged me to stay with him, had me lock his gun away for him. I was really scared, I'm not going to deny that. It took him... three days, I think, to get up off his sofa. I stopped worrying that he'd use his gun on himself if I left him alone. He went back to work, I started grad school, Denise... what used to be Denise lingered.

"It might have been a month after I started classes when the doctors decided there wasn't any hope for her. And her family made the decision to take her off life support. They asked all of Denise's friends to sit vigil with them, but Pablo and I were the only ones who were there."

I stop again and pull my legs up, wrapping my arms around them and resting my forehead on my knees. I swear I'm doing all the proper breathing — despite being curled up — that Doshu Ueshiba and Grandmaster Chen taught me. It's my damn Curse again, bringing back all the best moments in history... all in living color. So to speak.

"Some people deal with that kind of thing by wailing and screaming and crying," I say without looking up. "That was Denise's family. Some people grieve quietly; sniffles and soft moaning and nose blowing while their faces just never stop leaking. That's my style, I guess. And some people just lock it all away. Like Pablo. I remember how screwed up he was when Denise went into the hospital. I knew this was going to be so much worse. He was pretending to handle it though, except that he was a zombie. I wasn't doing as well as he was pretending, and I had three months of grieving under my belt already."

I wipe my eyes on my jeans as I lift my head to look at Amanda again. I rest my chin on my knees and smile wanly. "It's all relevant, yes.

"I had him drive us over to City Park, just told him I wanted to go to a park. There are a couple of groves that are more secluded than other places in the park. I headed for one of them." I chuff out a laugh that holds no humor. "And then I told him to hit me.

"He's a true gentleman, so naturally he refused. I jabbed his shoulder and taunted him until I made him so angry that he took a swing at me." I lift my head and sit up a little straighter, although I continue to hug my legs. "I'm one of the very best in two martial arts, I'm faster than a Normal human, too." I manage a crooked smile. "I danced around him, taunted him, and tapped his arms, head, back for nearly two hours. He never touched me... not once. Two hours. It took that long to poke enough holes in his anger to let the grief spill out. And then we sat in the park for I don't even know how long. He cried, I held him.

"And that's when I told him that I'd work — sort of — for DPD... if they'd cover my insurance and let me do things my way.

"He didn't ask any questions then, and he didn't ask any questions for nearly nine years. Not until this past summer, around the anniversary of Rosalia and Juan's deaths. He finally told me about them. He finally started healing." I close my eyes and smile, even as tears roll down my cheeks. "I'm not an Empath... I don't actually feel people's emotions, although I can see them if I look at someone's aura. But, oh my gods, Amanda, when I asked him to tell me about his wife and son... I could hear so much love in his voice and he was absolutely radiant. One of the weird... I guess side effects of this power I have is that I soak up people's memories and sort of store them as backup files.

"When he talked about holding Juan for the first time..." Now I can't stop smiling. "He is so meant to be a dad! I was terrified when we actually started... well, dating I guess... because I knew that I couldn't carry a child to term."

I'm a little surprised that statement doesn't hurt as much as it once did... as recently as this summer when I told Pablo while we were in Flagstaff.

"But... well, stuff and things and blah blah, saving the world. Quetzalcoatl, demi-god of the Aztecs, supreme pain in the ass, woke up — claimed I woke him, actually — and said Pablo was his Chosen One." I roll my eyes. "I'm not saying I would have any problem with the man I love standing at my side when I am — or was going to be, things are funny on that score — saving the world. But that was one fucked up trans-dimensional being. Maybe he slept too long or something. Anyway, he decided Pablo needed to be trained to fight the bad stuff, which... sure. Makes sense. Except he took Pablo off to his dimension for the training. The stupid snake didn't realize that Pablo and I had the same kind of bond that Maddie and Rene had — that you and Joe have, for that matter. I spent a day and a half in a coma thinking I had died and gone to the Christian hell. That really scared me, because I don't follow that Path. And Pablo spent three years in Quetzalcoatl's dimension.

"This is probably the stuff that sounds bat shit crazy. And it is! That doesn't mean we didn't live through it." I sigh.

But then I shrug.

"When he got back, that bond we had form had nearly been destroyed. Wow, we were a mess. But Pablo remembered what he had left behind and I'm stubborn as hell. We repaired what had been damaged."

I chuckle softly.

"That isn't strictly true. It would probably be more accurate to say we repaired and enhanced that had been damaged. I'd been able to heal Pablo's physical wounds and scars when we created our bond in the first place. I was SO furious when Pablo came back from Quetzalcoatl's dimension with all those scars and so, so many more.

"We came up to Lookout Mountain because Pablo wanted to make love under the stars. It's utterly gorgeous up there. As often as I'm on the Mountain dealing with the lunatic cats — and some of the other wildlife — I am always stunned by the view of the valley at night.

"Yes, yes... still relevant," I say, grinning. But then I sober. "I could feel the residual taint in Pablo's life force from being in that place. That pissed me off, too. I, um, used my powers to... I guess lavage would be the best analogy... to clean up his qi. I asked Mother to accept the impurities and to lend me the power to do the healing of his body, his life force, our bond."

{Daughter, love!} {Daughter, heal wonder beauty}

I have to pause and swallow the lump in my throat; I really don't want to tear up again.

"Well, I think you understand the depths of her love and compassion. A simple Qigong exercise of merely circulating qi became something..." I shake my head in wonder; even after all these months, I am amazed. "...something profound when Mother and Father became part of the circulation. By adding my power... and Pablo adding Aztec magic he had learned in Quetzalcoatl's world..."

My lips twitch as I remember just how monumentally enraged Quetzalcoatl had been.

"It was a magic of binding according to Quetzalcoatl when he found out what we had done. With the addition of my qi, it was as powerful a spell as the one that had bound Quetzalcoatl to the Aztec people... and all their descendants. In the words of the Founding Fathers, we had mutually pledged to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

"For all eternity.

"And Mother... she is love and she is compassion. She saw a Healing that needed to be done; one that I would never have thought to request even if I thought it was possible.

"Just as a child is a combination of the genetics of both parents, a child is also a combination of the essential life energies of both parents. She sensed that my power — my ability to see, sense and manipulate the very energy of the universe — would identify any child as foreign. Like a virus or harmful bacteria, it would be eliminated. That's what happened when I got pregnant back when I was in college."

I close my eyes for a moment; I breathe and I breathe. Finally, I shake my head and open my eyes again.

"I don't know how she did it. And it shouldn't even be possible. But she — or maybe all of us in concert — modified Pablo's life force and tweaked my enough that they're identical. Identical.

"So while those two are unique genetically, energetically they are identical to me... to Pablo. And I don't have to worry that my body is going to decide they're... the plague or something. Oh, sure, as soon as they're born, they'll be exposed to..."

I finally release the hold I have on my legs and gesture around me.

"...all the energies of the universe, and will develop unique energy signatures of their own." I fold my legs back into a half lotus and rest my hands — one over the other — on my lower abdomen. "But for now... they're safe."

I study her for a moment, then tilt my head as I get a sense of the protections in and around the building.

"You have better wards than I could ever hope to create before these hellions arrive.

"And I would rather have a choir of Spirits — all of them, and there are a lot of them — crowded into the room than have my best friend and neighbor pacing up and down the sidewalk in front of my house. Oh, my... no, no, no, no! His nickname isn't the Human Tsunami because he's a calm person.

"Here is good. I think here would be very, very good." I smile, relaxed and even peaceful. "So many good vibes."

Amanda watches with patience and humor. Her smile stays warm and comforting.

She feels she has a fairly decent grasp of everything Andi is saying, but the most important thing is that the more she talks the more at ease she becomes. That is good for Andi as well as her unborn children.

"Good. We try to make all our parents as comfortable as possible. Would you be interested in seeing the birthing rooms or do you want to wait until Pablo or Lin are with you?"

I smile... because, well, even the most beloved people in my life roll their eyes when I get going. Nearly every single time it's done in with love and, very often, humor. But I do manage to exasperate people with my rambling... babbling. In my defense, unless I'm going as crazy as I was before that lovely dream I always manage to get to my point.

There hasn't been a single eye roll from Amanda.

Of course, I'm happy!

"Sure, I'd love to see them," I say and I unfold myself and stand. "And again when my entourage can join me."

I hold out a hand to help Amanda up, necessary or not. I seem to have picked up some of the more chivalrous traits of my dear husband.

Oooh, I bet if I asked Mother ever so kindly, she'd be able to keep the Choir of Benevolent Spirits from heralding the birth of those two.

I hear her giggling.

Yep, that could work.

Amanda accepts the hand up and proceeds to show Andi the variety of birthing rooms here at the clinic. She speaks easily and introduces some of her staff as they come across them. Instead of having Andi set up the next appointment with the woman out front, Amanda does it herself, then walks her to the door, letting her know it's okay to call her at any time with any concerns.

© Kelly Naylor and ividia kt

A note about the Interlude title

Hey Mama is a song by Kanye West that he wrote for his mother. After a particularly difficult period in our relationship, Megan sent me a link to the YouTube with a note that just read, "He says it better than me. Love you." She would resend the link whenever she was feeling sentimental or when I was having a particularly rough patch.

It wasn't the first or the last time I cried because my heart was so full of pride. This was written just a few days before her 26th birthday, not quite two and a half years after she died. I miss her as much today as the day she died. The last thing I ever got to say to her, the day before she died, was "I love you, Pookie, and I'm so proud of you." This story represents the Circle of Life...

...and is dedicated to Megan Ruth Cunningham.

Hey Mama
Artist: Kanye West
Album: College Dropout Unreleased

Hey Mama, I wanna scream so loud for you, cuz I'm so proud of you
Let me tell you what I'm about to do, Hey Mama
I know I act a fool but, I promise you I'm goin' back to school
I appreciate what you allowed for me
I just want you to be proud of me, Hey Mama

I wanna tell the whole world about a friend of mine
This little light of mine and I'm finna let it shine
I'm finna take y'all back to them better times
I'm finna talk about my mama if y'all don't mind
I was three years old, when you and I moved to the Chi
Late December, harsh winter gave me a cold
You fixed me up something that was good for my soul
Famous homemade chicken soup, can I have another bowl?
You work late nights just to keep on the lights
Mommy got me training wheels so I could keep on my bike
And you would give anything in this world
Michael Jackson leather and a glove, but didn't give me a curl
And you never put no man over me
And I love you for that mommy can't you see?
Seven years old, caught you with tears in your eyes
Cuz a nigga cheatin', telling you lies, then I started to cry
As we knelt on the kitchen floor
I said mommy Imma love you till you don't hurt no more
And when I'm older, you ain't gotta work no more
And Imma get you that mansion that we couldn't afford
See you're unbreakable, unmistakable
Highly capable, lady that's makin' loot
A livin' legend too, just look at what heaven do
Send us an angel, and I thank you Hey Mama

Hey Mama, I wanna scream so loud for you, cuz I'm so proud of you
Let me tell you what I'm about to do, Hey Mama
I know I act a fool but, I promise you I'm goin back to school
I appreciate what you allowed for me
I just want you to be proud of me, Hey Mama

Forrest Gump mama said, life is like a box of chocolates
My mama told me go to school, get your doctorate
Somethin' to fall back on, you could profit with
But still supported me when I did the opposite
Now I feel like it's things I gotta get
Things I gotta do, just to prove to you
You was getting through, can the choir please
Give me a verse of "You, Are So Beautiful To Me"?
Can't you see, you're like a book of poetry
Maya Angelou, Nicky Giovanni, turn one page and there's my mommy
Come on mommy just dance wit me, let the whole world see your dancing feet
Now when I say Hey, ya'll say Mama, now everybody answer me, Hey Mama

Hey Mama, I wanna scream so loud for you, cuz I'm so proud of you
Let me tell you what I'm about to do, Hey Mama
I know I act a fool but, I promise you I'm goin' back to school
I appreciate what you allowed for me
I just want you to be proud of me, Hey Mama

I guess it also depends tho, if my ends low
Second they get up you gon' get that Benzo
Tint the windows, ride around the city and let ya friends know, Hey Mama

Tell your job you gotta fake 'em out
Since you brought me in this world, let me take you out
To a restaurant, upper echelon
Imma get you a Jag, whatever else you want
Just tell me what kind of S-Type Donda West like?
Tell me the perfect color so I make it just right
It don't gotta be Mother's Day, or your birthday
For me to just call and say Hey Mama

Hey Mama, I wanna scream so loud for you, cuz I'm so proud of you
Let me tell you what I'm about to do, Hey Mama
I know I act a fool but, I promise you I'm goin' back to school
I appreciate what you allowed for me
I just want you to be proud of me
Hey Mama