Interlude 6: We Are Familiy

After dropping my cousins and Justin's friend at the hotel, I figure I still have five or six hours to kill before my house is safe again. What to do... what to do?

I grin as I head toward a location that has gotten entirely too familiar. This time, I park in the employee lot. I take my time, however, as I make sure I have myself appropriately calm and serene as I head for the DPD District 6 building. Should I look more stressed? After all, I am getting married tomorrow.

Nope. Serenity is the name of the game today. This hour? Let's stick to this hour.

The rookie at the desk looks like she graduated from the training academy just yesterday, although I know the last class graduated before Thanksgiving. I wave to her as I head for the stairs.

"Going up to see Detective Garcia!"

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but you need to check in here at the desk first."

Ooh, new rules? Nah, maybe it's just that she doesn't know me. Still, I pivot and head over to her, a happy smile on my face.

"Sure. Show me where!" I chuckle. "I usually come by when there's someone at the desk who knows me or I'm with Pablo... Detective Garcia."

She slides a clipboard across the counter.

"I'll let Detective Garcia know you're on your way, Ms..." She pauses as she looks at my name on the paper. "...Yazzie."

"Oh, do you have to? I like to surprise him, and he loves it when I make surprise visits."

"It's... it's the rules."

Uh huh. Probably not... not with that hesitation and tone of voice. But I shake my head and up the wattage of my smile. If I get any more cheerful, I'm going to make it all the way around the circle into Ninja Territory. We can't have that.

"Now, Officer Rogers," I say with a conspiratorial tone and just a hint of a wink, "we both know it's not really so much a rule as it's a guideline, a suggestion, a recommendation if someone looks particularly suspicious. I don't think I look suspicious, but Pablo will think it's moderately funny if you think I do. And I need to rescue him if Captain Sanchez is in. I don't know what the Captain's car looks like..."

That's true. I don't.

" I don't know if he's here..."

False! I can sense his mild annoyance from three floors away. At least he's not annoyed at me this time. Yet.

"...but Pablo did say something about finishing up some paperwork before the honeymoon and did say that the Captain probably wouldn't be happy about it. But Pablo is very dedicated."

I'm not sure I breathed anywhere in that monolog. But I think I pulled off semi-ditzy or at least somewhat scattered-brained.

"Wait. You're Detective Garcia's fiancée?"

Hey, why is that so surprising? Hmm. I'll have to watch this one. Nope. Not me! Pablo. I'm not worried, but he might wind up with his very own leech. He's not going to find that as funny as I do.

"I am!" I give her a little curtsy. A very little curtsy — which looks weird when someone is wearing jeans, but I'm pretty sure I don't care. "Is it okay if I go rescue my husband to be from that mean old Captain of his? We have all kind of Family Things to do this afternoon... he promised me a peaceful morning, maybe a walk in the park if I survived fetching the last of my relatives from the airport. Which, I am happy to say, I did! Survive that is."

She nods but doesn't smile. Hmm. Maybe we should leave from the roof.

"You should take the elevator, though. They don't like civilians in the stairwells."

I smile again. "Oh, twaddle. I don't take elevators if I can help it. Gotta keep in shape, you know. And those things can be death traps. I've seen the movies." Nodding again, I turn and head for the stairs.

"Ms. Yazzie! Please!"

"Have a lovely morning, Officer Rogers! See you later."

Ha. Not if I can help it. Despite taking the stairs more quickly than Normal people would, the Captain is waiting for me as I open the door on the third floor. Pablo is just leaning against his desk, arms crossed and grinning as he watches me.

"Is it your intention to torture every uniform in this building, Ninja?" Sanchez asks softly.

"Not in the least, Captain." I'm trying to be serious! "Only the ones who deserve it. Officer Rogers isn't really a people person."

Sanchez sighs. "Garcia, are you going to get out of here and take your lovely fiancée to breakfast? Or something?"

"Yes, sir," Pablo says as he pushes himself off the desk. "All the paperwork is complete for the closed cases. Detective Winter has all the paperwork and has been briefed on the two open cases."

"Then get out of here, both of you." He finally smiles. "Relax today. You're going to be incredibly busy tomorrow. Angelina and I are looking forward to the reception."

I smile the sweet librarian smile he's known much longer than the not particularly pleasant Ninja one, and then step forward to hug him. I whisper, "Thank you for everything, Captain. Everything."

"What did you do to Rogers?" Pablo asks as we walk down the stairs.

"Not sure. I exist?" I grin at him. "I think she has a crush on you. I trust you, my dear. Still, if she tries anything, I'll snap her neck."

"She does not and you will not."

I sigh. "Fine. I won't. But only because I know you will rebuff her advances in whatever way you feel is best. And she does. Oh, and apparently civilians aren't supposed to be taking the stairs."

He chuckles. "Technically, you're not. But have you ever stopped by before when you weren't working?"

I consider that for a moment. "Huh. I guess you're right. I haven't. I've either met you somewhere for lunch or dinner — or you've come to pick me up. Yeah, I guess I've only ever come in as Ninja."

"Right. And the only reason Dave let you get away with using the stairs where you were using your illusions was that he's known you about as long as I have."

He opens the door to the first-floor lobby for me, and I waggle my fingers at Officer Rogers as we head outside to his car.

"You just have to mess with everyone, don't you?" he mutters as we walk across the parking lot.

"Apparently. Well, no. Not everyone."

He just sighs and rolls his eyes, and I pull his car keys from my pocket and hand them to him... something that makes him laugh.

"You really don't like to drive my car."

"I have nothing against your car. It's just a car and not a motorcycle. At least it's not a brick."

"What do you consider a brick and when were you driving one?" he asks as he opens the car door for me.

I reach over and unlock his door and wait until he gets in. "One of Maddie's Humvees and it was at Halloween."

"Oh. Right. Apparently, I like to forget about that every so often."

"Yep. Every time I bring it up."

"Exactly. So, my lady, my chariot is ready to take you anywhere you'd like to go. Within reason."

"The cabin?"


I roll my eyes at his highly suggestive tone. "Your car. In front of the cabin. I want to visit with the cats."

He sighs as he starts the car. "Well, I suppose it's a bit chilly to be getting naked outdoors."

"Not for me," I reply, snickering. "Probably not for you, either. However, the cats would get nervous. They still remember our light show, so they'd probably try to knock you off the mountain to keep that from happening again, but because you can fly, you'd pop right back up and scare them again." I rest a hand on his shoulder as he drives up Washington Street toward Eighth Avenue. "I can't have you scaring the cats, dear. That just makes more work for Joe and his people."

"Hmm. I suppose you're right. And speaking of Sheriff Baker, when are you planning to tell him about you and Ninja."

I lean back against the seat and whine. Just a little. "Don't wanna."

"You need to. And didn't you tell Amanda that you'd tell him?"

"Yeah, yeah. I just feel like the whole state knows about me."

"Oh, come on, Andi... it's not that bad."

"No. It just feels like it. But guess who wants to give us a party when we get back from our honeymoon?"

He manages a brief glance in my direction before turning onto Eighth. "I'm almost afraid to ask."

"Oh, you should be very afraid!" I say cheerfully. "But it will be fun! The United States Army Tenth Special Forces, Second Battalion Bravo Company A Team One would like to take Aunt Norma and Uncle Dingbat out to dinner to celebrate. Masterson knows both sides of my life. Maybe his second does, too. The rest of the team is in the dark... just knows Ninja. So..." I pause to watch him, and I smile because he's not clenching his teeth. Progress! "So Ninja and Peacekeeper could hang out with the team, have dinner. Or whatever crazy party idea the kids come up with."

He shakes his head and is quiet until we reach the highway, but his smile starts to show as he turns onto Kalamath. By the time we're passing his old apartment building just before Sheridan, his qi has settled, and he's smiling with happiness.

"Okay. I need to talk to Perry about the phasing mask. After you had introduced him around to all the folks in Commerce City, he told his buddy to figure out a way he can eat and drink more easily without taking it off." Pablo chuckles. "And the only way Old Mama will speak to him is if he sits down with her and drinks a cup of tea first."

"She's a crafty one. She knows the difficulty you guys have with the masks."

"She doesn't make me drink tea before she talks to me."

I grin. "That's because you didn't steal the name of her beloved raptor."


"Exactly. So if Perry can get that problem solved, I think she'll forgive him enough to work with him while I'm out on maternity leave."

"I might just send him out to Commerce City anyway, though. Old Mama seems to know everyone in that part of town and knows everything that's going on. There are days when I'm tempted to put her on DPD's payroll."

I smile softly as I watch the approaching foothills. "Thanks to a very generous benefactor, the folks down there aren't hurting for food or clothing or school supplies for the kids. All they need now is to know they've got people looking out for them. Let Perry be a part of that, okay?"

It's a pleasant, peaceful drive up to the cabin. This isn't an area where the tourists are going to show up, at least not at this time of year. And a lot of the people from Maddie's neighborhood either head up to Aspen or out of state this time of year. Neither of the Humvees is out front... Maddie drove one up to Wyoming to fetch Leon and Jenny for the wedding; Logan took the other into the city so he could spend the day with the family. At least he'll be able to keep the twins calm enough that there won't be too many shenanigans with them and Billy.

I hope.

Ah, what am I worried about? I mean, besides the usual?

"What time is your family getting in again?"

Pablo chuckles. "I think you know everyone's schedules better than I do. Around three, I think... assuming the flight's on time. What time is the conclave this afternoon?"

"Whenever Justin brings Chris and all the cousins over. Mama and Tita said they'd be finished by three, and I'm pretty sure they're more reliable than any of the airlines."

"What are they doing in our kitchen, anyway? They couldn't have taken over Bobby's kitchen? I'm pretty sure he offered."

"He did! And Tita sat him down and explained our traditions, which I'm sure he'll forget by tomorrow." I stop just to enjoy the mountains and the trees and to hold his hand. "Hey, Pablo?"

"Uh huh?"

"We're getting married tomorrow."

He wraps his arms around my waist and pulls me close. "Nervous?"

I rest my head on his chest and just listen to his heart for a minute. "Not really. You?"

"A little."

"Tommy is officially running the show, at least according to the State of Colorado. We'll be fine."

"Uh huh. Except that doesn't really mean much besides the fact that he gets to sign the marriage license. I'm worried about your dad and his brother."

I giggle. "I'm just concerned about being able to keep a straight face during the parts of the ritual that are nominally serious. My dad and Uncle Junior could open a comedy club."

He laughs. "I hope they don't scare my family too much." He takes my hand, and we continue our walk. "The ceremony itself will be enough of a shock."

"Oh, don't be so sure about that. Apparently, your sisters have been doing a lot of research." I'm quiet for a few minutes before finally asking, "Is Rosalia's father really coming with your mom?"

Pablo stops walking and looks at me. "Yes. Was that a bad idea?"

"Good gods, no! I think it's wonderful and supportive and I love him already! I'm not sure how much joy my heart can hold, and our families keep trying to find that limit."

He smiles. "Yeah. I know what you mean. And Poppa Delgado has always been family to me, even when my grief was at its worst. Maybe even especially then."

"He wants to see that you're happy again. He must love you... so much. You told him that I'm not going to let you forget his daughter, right?"

Pablo just nods.


One of my phones buzzes as we continue our walk up the hill beyond the cabin. I pull out the offending device, note that it's my personal phone, and look at the text message from my brother.

Hope you and Pablo are relaxing. Just sending a text to mess with Billy!

Pablo looks at the message and sighs. "Do you think we want to know what that's all about?"

"Nope. Although I can probably make an educated guess. Logan won't let them get too out of control... I told him I didn't want to work today, especially if it involved my family."

"Good! Let's go find some cats."

"Wrong order, Pablito. The cats will find us."

He sighs. "I'm never going to get the hang of this, will I?"

"Of course you will. Eventually."

It actually doesn't take long for them to find us... they're waiting just beyond the range of the proximity sensors. Today is only the second time I've come up here with Pablo to visit with the cats. At this time of year, most of the animals aren't especially active. But my three troublemakers have been a constant source of delight and aggravation since the day each of them had been born. Their mother had made sure of that — I'd saved her life and that of her sister from poachers not long after I had officially taken up the staff.

And now they need to get to know Pablo... at least by sight and smell. Over the next few months, until it gets to be too difficult to climb up here on my own — um, well, more likely until Amanda tells me to stop climbing up here — I'll need to teach the four of them how to communicate. It will probably take until Amanda tells me to stop climbing, too, for the cats to admit they understand Pablo's hand signals.


I sigh.

And then I grin at the three mountain lions sunning themselves in a patch of sunshine. One of them rolls onto her back and stretches.

Head Talker! Rub my belly!

"That one," I say, pointing to the goof, "is Naughty Cat... although if she could talk to you, she'd tell you her name is Mighty Cat.

This one is Mighty Cat! Mighty Cat has itchy belly! Head Talker's mate may rub my belly.

I roll my eyes. "The other two are Strong Cat, the eldest..." I point to the lighter colored of the other two, who is lying on her belly with her head resting on her front legs. "...and Silly Cat, who is the youngest and admits that she's silly." I point to the darkest of the three, who is sitting up and grooming herself, though she pauses for a moment when she hears her name.

"And Naughty Cat says you may rub her belly."

"Ahh... I'm not sure I'm up to the level of 'rubbing of mountain lion bellies' just yet."

"They're not going to hurt you." I grin at him. "The only time they've hurt anyone was when Strong's kits were threatened a couple of years back. Damn fool hunter thought her den would be a great place to wait out a storm while hunting whatever was in season at the time. He only needed a dozen stitches, and I didn't need to be involved. He got a lecture from the ER folks about checking caves before deciding to enter, and I didn't hear about it for months.

"Unlike the two poachers who wound up dead when they went after these gals' mother and aunt... hunting out of season, trying to shoot a nursing cat. Some folks thought the two cats ought to have been put down. It was only after I stared at Joe for a good fifteen minutes, which was after a blistering defense of First and Agile, that he could finally admit that he agreed with me. Politics sucks; he's crazy enough to want the job. Besides... I was right, and the hunters were wrong."

"When was all this?"

I shrug. "Right before I defended my thesis. I think it was around the time you were undercover that last time. I was worried about you, and I sure as hell wasn't going to let some damn fools hurt the animals up here because other damn fools were being stupid."

He smiles wanly. "Well, it is like you to defend those who don't have a voice."

Naughty Cat makes a cat-like whining sound. My belly!!!

"Your belly is fine, you naughty thing. And I'm telling Pablo about your mother."

She rolls over and starts to stand, but then falls over again against Silly, knocking her over, too.

Aieeee!! Head Talker!!! Evil spirits!

I turn around to see Cat sauntering over and sigh. Silly swats Naughty and the two of them start wrestling.

"Cat... I thought you'd be with Maddie." I'm not as surprised to see Cat as I would be to see... oh, any of my guardian Spirits.

She said I am a distraction when she is driving. She banished our Sibling Rene, too.

"Oh, good," Pablo says rather cheerfully. "They're on their way back then."

Not yet. They are preparing to depart. Sibling Rene was being distracting during the preparations.

I snicker. "Yeah. I'll bet he was." I look over at the two cats who are play fighting.

"Will you two behave just for ten minutes?! Please!"

We do not know a minute or a ten, Head Talker, Strong says, still lounging as she watches her sisters act like lunatics. She eyes Cat suspiciously. There is a spirit here.

"Of course there is! You can't pretend you don't know Cat. It follows Emelia around every time she comes to visit you." I roll my eyes. "I swear... sometimes I think the three of you pretend to forget things just so I'm forced to practice my forms to calm down."

Not really. But watching you dance is very pretty.

Pablo smiles. "I don't have the Doctor Doolittle skill to know what she just said... Strong, right? But ear twitching and whisker waggling is communication, isn't it? And you just started glowing in a happy way."

I raise an eyebrow at him. "You're starting to be able to see qi?"

He shrugs. "Not exactly... at least, I don't think so. It's more like..." He gestures to Strong. "Well, more like noticing the subtle things." He steps over to me and wraps an arm around my waist as he watches Naughty and Silly. "I've known you long enough to understand what the shift of your shoulders, the twitch at the corner of your mouth, the barely noticeable tilt of your head means." Pablo looks at me and smiles. "And I felt it through the Bond we share," he says, touching his fingers to his chest over his heart.

"See, Detective? You're terribly smart. She said they like watching me practice my forms. It's pretty."

"She's right. It is."

Cat has decided to sit down in front of Strong and be very cat-like. Translation? They've having a staring contest.

"Well, at least two of you aren't trying my patience today."

Without taking her eyes from Cat, Strong asks, Shall I stop their playing, Head Talker? It might be best to let them continue so they are less likely to annoy the calling boxes.

"Oh, I suppose you have a point. I wanted to at least give Pablo a chance to get to know you better so he can make sure all is well during the time I won't be able to come up the mountain." I lean against Pablo not because I need support, but because it's comfortable.

Strong's left ear twitches.

I will make sure my sisters do not play with the calling boxes. I will speak to your Mate if there is a need, but he will need to bring one of your spirits that so disturb Mighty and Silly. I do not mind them. Both ears twitch then; she's laughing at something. This one is nice.

Cat reaches out a paw and pats Strong's outstretched one. The mountain lion's paw is more than half as big as the Spirit's physical form. Neither of them seems to mind.

If there is a need, Warrior, I will come and help Pablo speak with the animals, Cat says as it blinks.

In the moment of its slow blink, Strong reaches out and snags the Spirit, pulling it close, and starts grooming it.

NO! Stop!! That tickles! Stop it!!

Pablo and I are both laughing. "But isn't it a wonderful thing to know she likes you enough to groom you?" I ask.


In mid-lick, Strong stops and stares at something behind me and I smile as I recognize the presence of another Spirit. It takes Naughty and Silly another few seconds to realize Deer is here, but when they do, it's incredibly comical. They stop wrestling, both of them in oddly uncomfortable looking positions and stare for perhaps three seconds. Then both of them are trying to get up — a paw lands on a face, another one lands on a tail, neither of them is having much luck untangling themselves. All the while they are mentally wailing.

Aiiieee! Spirits!! Spirits!!!

Pablo is laughing so hard he's shaking. Because I can hear the two dingbats as well as see them, I just roll my eyes, shake my head, and sigh.

Strong still hasn't let go of Cat.

"Greeting, O Deer," I say as the Spirit steps forward to investigate Cat's situation. "To what do we owe this honor?"

"Your grandmother asked me to let you know they have finished using your kitchen. And I thought my presence might help you." Deer looks at the two nearly untangled mountain lions. "It seems your friends are doing a good job of soothing you."

As Deer speaks, Strong slowly looks from the Spirit beside me to the one still captured in her paws.

Do you also speak as Head Talker does when she wants ears to hear?

Cat bats the mountain lion on the nose. Yes. When it suits me to do so.


She licks Cat once more before releasing it and sitting up. By this time her sisters are running up the slope at top speed.

I giggle. "As you can see, Strong is the sensible one. But if you ever need a laugh, her sisters will be happy to oblige," I tell Pablo.

"You are gathering your cousins today to help your brother's friend," Deer remarks but says nothing beyond that.

I eye the Spirit suspiciously. It's not something that seems quite right when dealing with the Spirit that embodies compassion, but the whole lot of them have been trying to see if they can get me committed to a mental health facility.

"Yes," I say slowly. "I don't mean any offense, but I'm still very apprehensive when any of you takes too much of an interest in my daily life."

Deer merely stares — and yet I know the peace I feel isn't entirely due to Pablo's arm around my waist. After a moment, Cat walks over and sits at my feet.

"You guys are making me nervous."

Do not be unduly burdened, Warrior. I believe you are merely doing something you learned not from any of your guardians nor your human teachers nor even the One Who Stands Outside Time. Deer nudges my shoulder. You have learned compassion, to have an open hand and heart, from Kai and your mother.

The one who stands outside time? Maybe she means Moira.

"Deer is right, you know," Pablo whispers. "You were like this even before Raven went bonkers and you woke up my ancestral asshole."

Cat taps one of my feet with its paw. "The Warrior is one who protects, this is true. But the Warrior also cares for her people in times of peace."

"And before you start shaking your head," Pablo adds, "Chris is one of your people. I think I understand your family well enough to know he's part of it now. If Justin thought well enough of him to bring him out here, then that makes him good enough for your grandparents, your aunts and uncles, and your cousins."

"Fine! Okay, fine! I'll give Justin a call in a bit." I smile and tuck away my concerns... at least for now. I look over at Strong, who is taking all of this in as though it's perfectly ordinary. I may have been underestimating her these past few years.

"You'll keep your sisters from causing mischief while Pablo and I are away?"

Unless there is great need, we will all stay away from the calling boxes. We do not like the ones with loud fire sticks.

I nod. I hope there is no great need. The Sheriff and his people would not understand your need and might not be able to help.

With that, she gets up and flicks her ears at me in a chuckle, although she continues to watch. Deer merely mists away. Cat, however, remains at my feet.

"Sticking around, Furball?"

It blinks in surprise. One moment it's sitting in front of me and the next, it's trying to get comfortable in Opossum's usual place on my shoulder. Strong sits down again.

That is a most impressive trick!

"Geez, Cat, do you have to pretend to be a twenty-pound lump of fur?!"

Both Cat and Pablo chuckle and Cat adjusts its weight to something much lighter.

I pull out my phone again and dial Justin's number. Standing in the circle of Pablo's arms, both he and Cat will be able to hear both sides of the conversation. My brother answers after the first ring.

"Hi, Sis. Please don't tell me the world is ending."

I chuckle. "It better not be. I need to get married first. We're heading back to the house in a few minutes if you guys want to start the conclave early.

He sighs, and I can almost picture him shrugging. "Sure. We're not finished with lunch yet, but I guess we can skip the afternoon activities."

"Good. Because Deer just told me that Mama and Tita are cleaning up my kitchen as we speak. Pablo and I will head back into the city as soon as Cat decides it can stop terrorizing my mountain lions."

Cat takes a swipe at my nose and Strong rumbles what might be actual laughter.

"You're kidding!

"Would I kid you about the Spirits? Or did you doubt that Mama and Tita could return my kitchen to me before they said they would? They overestimate, you know."

"Ha ha, and no, I don't doubt either of them. I've noted those traits over the years, and I think Tita learned it from Mama."

"Could be." I laugh as Pablo's phone rings. "Mama's talking to Pablo now... which makes sense, as I told Deer I was going to call you."


"What? I thought I explained all the crazy to you the other day."

Justin sighs. "You did. I'm still getting used to this phenomenon first-hand. The rest of the family makes it seem oh so normal that you speak to the Spirits even more than Cousin Ha'atathli does. I'm slightly unnerved."

"Yeah, well... I don't always take it as well as I let on to the rest of the family. Right now, I'm not exactly speaking to the majority of them. No sense in having everyone in the family freaking out, is there? Oh, hang on..."

Your mother says they're going to kidnap your best friend and his boyfriend and get a ride from them to the restaurant. Not exactly how she worded it, of course.

I look at Pablo and nod.

"Justin? Tita and Mama are hitching a ride over to the restaurant with Bobby and David."

"Well, it's probably good for both of them, right?"

"Oh, absolutely! And not only will the two of them be surrounded by the love of our family, but they'll also probably get pressed into service as tour guides. It will keep Bobby's mind from spiraling into his grief and keep them from showing up at my house during the conclave."

"Good idea. And we'll be down a vehicle since I'm bringing one over there. We'll probably be out of your driveway by the time they get back," he says with a laugh.

I laugh in return. "If not, we'll at least be far enough along that an interruption isn't going to give either of them heart failure."

"From the way you talk, that's usually your goal, Sis."

"Not today, little brother. If I send either of them into cardiac arrest, they'll both be heaping guilt on my head for the rest of their lives for keeping them from overseeing the reception tomorrow. By the way, how is your friend doing?"

After a slight pause, he says, "Fine. Well, maybe a little dazed, but only because our family is a lot bigger than his." There is another slight pause. "I think my girlfriend is even more overwhelmed."

I can hear Nicole's response in the background, and I smile.

"Am not!"

"Good. Why don't you guys head over to my place as soon as Tita and Mama get to the restaurant? I probably won't be able to convince Detective Dreamy here to exceed the speed limit in his bucket, but we'll still beat you back to the house."

"Detective what? No. You know what? Never mind. I don't need to know. See you soon, Sis."

As I put the phone back in my pocket, Cat jumps down, and Pablo comes over to wrap his arms around me again. "Detective Dreamy... you haven't called me that in a long time."

"That's because it's Bobby's nickname for you." I wiggle out of his embrace and grin. "We really do need to go, Pablo."

Strong is watching all of this with great interest.

I stop and look at her. Is there something you wanted to say, Strong Cat?

She stands again and comes over to us, rubbing her head against my hip first and then Pablo's.

Only that you have a good mate, Head Talker. Your kits will be healthy and strong. Her ears flicker again. Perhaps they will also be silly and naughty! And with that, she finally turns and lopes away.

"What was all that about?" Pablo asks as we head back toward his car.

"Hmm. It depends on how you look at it. She wished our children well. Maybe cursing us in the process."


"Oh... she just said our children will be healthy and strong, but then added the curse part, perhaps they will also be silly and naughty. An obvious reference to her and her sisters."

"So not a curse. Look at it as an opportunity! A challenge to be met with love and caring."

I glance at him from the corner of my eye. "When did you become a sap, Chief? Should I worry?"

"Oh, I don't think so. Someone reminded me that I'm getting married tomorrow, so I thought a bit of sappiness was called for."

"Uh huh. Please don't make a habit of it. I'll have to report you to Wright."

"I'll behave. Mostly. Probably. And speaking of my friend, is your illusion-making up to the task of Officer Wright's scrutiny? The whole individualized illusion skill is still pretty new."

"It should be. And it's only a honing of a skill I already had... or maybe just tweaking it to make it work differently? Sometimes even I'm not sure exactly how I'm doing it. But he and his lovely wife are the only ones who need the illusion, so I should be fine."

"Both of them? Why?"

By this time we've reached his car, and I raise my eyebrows and give him one of Ninja's stink eyes as he unlocks the door.

"Okay. I know that look. What?"

"What do you think is going to happen if Officer and Mrs. Wright have different memories of the bride and groom?"

"You're assuming they're going to gossip endlessly about the reception. I don't think that will happen." He opens the door, and I climb in. This time I don't unlock his door because he's taken out his phone to read a text message. But I do giggle when he assumes, at first, that I have.

"You're very wicked sometimes, Andrea Yazzie."

"I know. And don't even think about blaming my sister. To continue our discussion," I say as he turns the car around and heads down the Jacobs' driveway, "I don't see Wright being the type to chat away about the wedding either. But I don't know his wife. Never met her. He doesn't talk about her much while we're working, you know."

"Fine. For the sake of your argument, I'll concede that they might have a discussion. And if it seems like they're talking about two different people when it comes to the bride, Wright is going to be starting his own investigation into my wife under the guise of repairing our friendship."

At least he doesn't sound thrilled about the ulterior motives Wright could have. And I know that renewing their friendship is something Pablo feels strongly about.

"Sounds about right. You and I both know he could make detective in a heartbeat if he wanted the job. Ninja told him that. Both you and Ninja think it's a ludicrous idea." I smile at Pablo. "At least Ninja had the sense to tell him why instead of just laughing at him."

"Mea culpa," he says with a chuckle. "He told me about that. He has the impression that Ninja would prefer he not become a detective."

I nod. "He has the correct impression. I've got you, and pretty soon I'm going to have Agars as detectives I can rely on. What Ninja needs most is Wright out there training the rookies to become good cops... the kind of cops I'd trust to handle problems in Five Points. I can't keep these counties safe all by myself, you know. I need to trust the people I work with to pull their weight."

"Fair enough. Although to hear you talk about your contact out in Arapahoe County, sometimes I wonder if you can trust him."

I wave away his objection. "Markensen is certifiable, but he's a good cop when I need a good cop. The fact that he is delusional about the capabilities of the Sheriffs Department's cars and his own abilities as a driver doesn't make him a bad cop."

"It just makes him a crazy person."

"Right. And having dealt with his brand of crazy for years makes it easier to just accept Maddie's brand of crazy. Coming to understand Maddie's brand of crazy has made it easier to deal with Markensen."

"If you say so," he replies with a chuckle.

"I do. Oh... what was the text all about?"

He sighs. "LaDonna said their flight is a mess. Mechanical problems with the plane, somebody called in sick. She said they hope they won't be more than three hours late."

"Ugh. And how weird is that? I figured if anyone were going to have a screwed up flight, it would have been the folks coming from Nageezi."

He's quiet as we drive east on Sixth Avenue toward home. It isn't an uncomfortable silence like some of them can be. He's calm and contemplative and in my crazy world... Well, that's pretty damn peaceful. And I can be thankful to Maddie with her mercenary's training — rest when you get the chance is one of the most valuable lessons she's taught me without actually trying to teach it.

Every moment of peace I get from the madness and the chaos and the insanity that comes from being Ninja, from being the Warrior... every single moment is to be treasured.

As we pull up in front of the house, we can both see the relatively large bird heading for the tree in the backyard.

"That the hell is that? I've never seen a bird like that around here before." Pablo turns off the car and stares up at the bird through the windshield."

I sigh as I get out of the car and look up at the bird. It makes three full passes around the tree as Pablo gets out of the car and comes around to stand next to me.

"That is a silver-morph gyrfalcon. And its natural habitat is considerably farther north."

"So... what's it doing here?"

"Showing off." I get my staff out of the trunk, add a touch of invisibility to it, and then head for the front door. "It's Billy, you ding-a-ling. That means the rest of them won't be far behind."

As we enter the house, I can tell only from the lingering smells that Mama and Tita had been here. I hand my staff to Pablo. "Would you mind putting this away downstairs, dear? I'll go let Billy in."

Pablo doesn't often use the door that leads out to the garage and the backyard. He parks his car in the driveway and uses the side door. I like to be able to get in and out of the house without being seen as Ninja. As I step into the yard, I see Billy as a bird perched on one of the sturdier branches and have to look around to see why he hasn't come down. Ah, yes. It's El Diablo, the big black tom cat that nominally belongs to the folks who live two houses down on Pennsylvania. Diablo is looking at Billy like Billy would look at an all-you-can-eat buffet. I sigh.

Diablo has never been one to pay the slightest attention to any of my suggestions to go away.

As Diablo looks up at Billy from his perch on the fence, I stand under the tree with my arms crossed.

"Well. You've gotten yourself into a pickle, haven't you? I probably should have warned you about Diablo, who does not listen to me at all."

Diablo makes that freaky chirping noise cats make when they see birds.

"I don't suppose you can shift to a cat small enough to spare my tree."

Billy shakes his bird head. I hear a car pull into the driveway.

"Wonderful. Can you shift as you fall?"

Billy eyes Diablo, who licks his lips. Billy shudders.

My brother, Nicole and my cousins are getting out of the car now.

"Come on, Billy. Don't be such a wuss."

Billy closes his eyes and seems to take a deep breath. The next few seconds are almost as comical as Naughty and Silly had been. As Billy spreads his wings, Diablo prepares to pounce... and as Billy drops from the branch, Diablo launches himself at my cousin. However, Billy expertly shifts in mid-fall to a cougar, which startles the neighborhood terror and he tries to get purchase on the air to stop his leap — impossible, of course. I back up as Billy lands with a light thud — cougars are heavier than alley cats, after all. He takes a step backward and crouches so he and Diablo are practically nose-to-nose when Diablo finally hits the ground, hissing. Then Billy yawns, causing Diablo to shriek and escape the madness of my yard as fast as he can. In this case, it means scrambling up the tree and diving over the fence.

As Billy shifts back to his human form, I just shake my head.

"Well, with any luck, you've seared a memory into that damn cat's brain, and he'll leave the jays alone from now on."

"Anything I can do to help!" he says with a grin.

"Dope. Let's get inside."

As we walk back into the kitchen, Pablo is at the front door ushering the rest of the family in.

"Come on in," he says, grinning as he holds the door open for them. "Andi's trying to convince one of the neighborhood cats that your family lunatic is neither a threat nor lunch. Said lunatic apparently has a hard time climbing out of trees in human form."

"Well, it's not like there are all that many trees in the desert so I could learn when I was a little kid," Billy mutters under his breath.

I just smile.

© Kelly Naylor