Issue 7: Coming Out, Coming Clean

When the infernal blue jays begin their ritual praise of sunrise, I chuckle to myself before whispering to my still sleeping husband, "I'm going downstairs to practice, love. You have another hour to sleep." I slip out of bed, and I can hear an almost silent whimper from him. "Don't worry, Pablo, I won't be far. Sleep, my darling, sleep."

I grab my workout clothes, quickly and quietly dress, then head downstairs.

My practice — the first since waking from the coma — is... Well, it's certainly unusual, but in a good way. I think. The qi is flowing more easily than it ever has, and much more abundantly. The peace I usually feel by the end of my workout descends on me in minutes. I can feel my connection to Pablo so easily; it almost feels as if he is with me, surrounding me, within me, dancing and playing the forms along with me. We are truly One in a way I have never heard described in my People's traditions, nor in Grandmaster Chen's. Perhaps my family did not articulate this concept as well as possible. On the other hand, perhaps being Cursed with the ability to control qi makes their explanations pallid in comparison to my reality. By the time I finish, I am filled with not only peace but joy. I sense Pablo is beginning to stir... not quite awake, but getting there.

I stop in the kitchen to start the coffee maker before heading back to the bedroom. Kneeling beside the bed — although I don't feel any tension or fear from Pablo, I kneel in a defensive posture anyway — I say, "Good morning, dear husband. Coffee is brewing. And if my hearing is not betraying me, I will need to head off our man-sized tsunami in a minute." I can feel him coming awake and, perversely, resisting that as much as he resisted falling asleep. I chuckle softly as I stand. "I'll be back once I've convinced Bobby we need privacy this morning."

I reach the back door just as Bobby knocks, and I smile at him as I open the door. Okay, to be truthful, I smile at the plate of cinnamon rolls in his hands. I put a finger to my lips and motion him into the kitchen.

"Pablo's still sleeping; he didn't sleep very well last night, so I want to let him sleep as late as possible."

Bobby puts the plate of rolls on the counter and hugs me tightly. "Oh God, Andi!! I was so worried about you! Are you okay now? What did the doctors say?" He pulls away and looks me in the eyes. "Oh, you're not pregnant, are you? That causes all kinds of crazy things to happen, you know!"

I laugh softly. "No, I'm very definitely not pregnant. And yes, I seem to be fine now. The doctors have no clue whatsoever what was wrong with me." And they never will. I kiss his cheek. "Thank you for taking care of me, Bobby. I really don't know what happened... the last thing I remember was Pablo leaving to go to work. Apparently, people who take to murdering also have no consideration for the detectives who have to work on weekends when they go about their merry murdering ways," I say with a huff. "Terribly rude people."

Bobby giggles. "Well, you certainly seem to be back to normal. And isn't it terrible to have your fiancé on call to take care of dreadful things? Oh, I get so worried when David goes off in the middle of the night!" And his aura does show a lot of worries. I wish there were some way to convince him that David's job isn't actually dangerous... even when he has to go out in the wee hours to talk one of his clients out of killing themselves.

The best tactic? Just agree with him.

"It is terrible, Bobby, and we should start that support group you talked about... or something. Well, more like 'or something' because you'd want the support group to gather when a group member's partner has been called away, and that's the kind of thing that... well, it can't be planned!" I say with horror.

He giggles again. "Well, I'll just have to think of something then. And you know I will!"

I nod sagely. I've been through all manner of outrageous ideas with Bobby, although the boutique bakery idea actually turned out to be an excellent one. "You'll keep me posted on whatever ideas you come up with, of course." I hug him again and turn him toward the door. "I'm about to find out if my man is grumpy in the mornings when he doesn't sleep well. You probably don't want to be in the line of fire... just in case." I giggle myself.

"Oh dear... no, I don't need to be around a grumpy heterosexual man! They're just the worst!"

"Oh, and we're going to go visit my cousin, Tommy. He's also one of our Nation's journeyman Medicine Men. Since Mrs. K gave me time off, I figure a trip to New Mexico couldn't hurt. So if you don't see us around for a few days, don't worry."

He pauses in the doorway. "You'll call if you're not going to be back by the weekend, okay?"

"Promise," I say with a smile. He might be a ginormous worry wart, but he's my best friend ginormous worry wart. I watch him walk back over to his house; David is waiting in the doorway, and I wave before closing the door... and locking it.

When I get back to the bedroom, Pablo is sitting on the edge of the bed, a puzzled look on his face. "What was he saying this time about straight men?"

I chuckle as I pick up my hairbrush and start working on my hair. "Oh, only that grumpy heterosexual men are to be feared more than anything. Or perhaps you're just the most fearful of grumpy people. It's hard to tell."

Our morning routine had not yet become a habit before Pablo left, so there is some good-natured teasing about being in one another's way. Hygiene matters, dressing, cinnamon rolls, and coffee... all this is completed and we're on our way to Pablo's office. I can tell he's worried, scared. I'm not really sure how much help I can be here, but I'll certainly do my best.

As we walk into the District 6 building, I realize I've spent considerably more time in the various Sheriff's Offices of the surrounding counties than I have in any of the District Offices of DPD. It strikes me as a little odd. Although given the fact that Captain Sanchez was, until recently, the only person who knew Ninja's identity, and Pablo was my unwitting contact, it makes a twisted sort of sense.

If I didn't trust the man, Rodrigo Sanchez would be someone to be wary of.

An office can tell you quite a bit about the occupant. Captain Sanchez's office is a good example of that. It's neat and orderly, indicating a mind that likes to categorize and organize things. The various awards and commendations he's been given over twenty-four years of service are off to one side, not prominently displayed behind him, indicative of a modest man who does not seek the spotlight. There are several framed photographs on his desk. One shows an attractive middle-aged woman of perhaps fifty; her raven black hair is starting to show speckles of gray, and warm eyes peer out with keen intelligence at anyone looking at the picture. Another dual frame holds a picture of four young children, ranging in age from ten down to three, wearing clothing that is nearly two decades out of date. The same children, currently ranging from twenty-five down to eighteen, are on the other side of the frame. They all look happy and healthy.

He has several files open on his desk as Pablo escorts me into his office. The older man looks up and then smiles, his eyes brightening at the sight of us, and he gets to his feet.

"Pablo, you've brought me a vision of loveliness to make my day more pleasant. Thank you," he says, flirting shamelessly with me as he comes around the desk.

I smile at Pablo's boss and accept the hug he offers while Pablo closes the door to the office. I see the same thing in the Captain's aura that I've seen in all of Pablo's other friends... they are beyond happy for him that we are finally dating, living together, getting married.

"You are a terrible flirt, Captain, and I don't know how your wife puts up with you," I say, laughing. Having met her, I actually do know how she puts up with him: he is entirely devoted to her. "How is Angelina? Somebody..." I give Pablo a glance of fake annoyance. "...should have told me her father was our featured artist at the last library fundraiser, so I wouldn't have been so surprised to see you two there."

I chuckle as I take Pablo's hand, twining our fingers together.

"I'm sure you were just working him so hard it simply slipped his mind." I look at Pablo; it wouldn't take a detective to know I love him more than the world. But it's best not to get lost in his eyes right now. I squeeze his hand, letting him know I am here to support him in any way I can.

Sanchez hardly misses the look between us, and he does have a rather self-satisfied smile on his face as he goes back around his desk to sit down, motioning for us to make ourselves comfortable.

"So what can I do for the two of you? I was a bit surprised when I didn't see you at your desk earlier, Pablo, but I figured something was up. I know you too well."

Pablo looks at me and takes a deep breath, settling himself, and then turns back to Sanchez.

"A lot's happened in the last week, Cap, and I don't quite know where to even begin."

Sanchez looks from Pablo to me, raising an eyebrow. He knows my story while pretending very hard not to know anything. Oh, he doesn't actually know everything about Ninja, but he knows enough to trust me and to do whatever he can to help me out. Although my focus is on Pablo, I sense his detective level curiosity.

"I guess maybe the best place to start is the Dance for Tita."

And that means I get to start the story, and confirm things Sanchez has guessed, verify things he's researched. After all, when you have somebody in your city who's registered as a Master martial artist — whose hands and feet are quite literally deadly weapons — you'd be wise to do a background search and scrutinize it. The registration is, in essence, a permit to carry a concealed weapon. And there's no telling how much he's put together about Ninja based simply on the few requests I've made as Ninja.

I take a deep breath of my own and turn to Sanchez.

"It's no secret that I'm Navajo... Yazzie is almost as common in our Nation as Smith or Jones is in the general population. And the majority of my family honors most of our oldest traditions. When my grandmother had her heart attack..." I figure it's best to keep it simple, keep to the publicly accepted version of the story. "...we did a Medicine Dance for her. Pablo was kind enough to come out to Flagstaff to support me, and my family asked him to join in the Dance as well." I smile at Pablo, remembering how easily my family had accepted him and welcomed him. "My uncle teaches the dances," I say to the Captain, "and was overjoyed to have a new victim... er, student." I chuckle.

"I..." Oh, dear. How do I explain this? "I have a different skill set, so I've rarely been part of the Circle over the past twelve or thirteen years. Instead, I practice the Taijiquan and... hmmm... empower the Circle and the Dancers? The only analogy I can think of is from my Wiccan friends... they chant in their Circles to raise power and direct it. The Medicine Dance does the same thing, and my Taiji just adds... more? I guess that's how I'd describe it. Like the Wiccans, the Dancers are chanting. Well, if you've ever been to one of the big Pow-Wows, you've seen some of the public dances.

"The difference with the Dances I join with my family is my song. My teacher gives his exceptional Master students a song that is uniquely theirs." That's another gross oversimplification, as Master Chen and I worked out the song together. "So I sing that song... more of a chant really. It has Chinese and Navajo harmonics that weave around some core notes, but it seems to... to mesh very well with the chants the Dancers are singing.

"Except this time..."

I bite my lip and look at Pablo. I know how I'd explain it to my own People; I know how I'd explain it to Grandmaster Chen or Doshu Ueshiba. I could even figure out a way to explain it somewhat coherently to my Wiccan friends. I have no idea how to explain it to the average person on the street... or even an exceptional detective. I hope Pablo can put it in terms his Captain can understand, even though Pablo couldn't see or hear the blasted serpent yet... because I'm afraid I'd sound like a crazy person.

Pablo meets my eyes and nods. "...except this time Andi's song caused a rather unexpected reaction. My family is apparently directly descended from the Aztec priest caste. And something about that ancestry has been passed down through the generations... namely, a connection with an entity known at one time as Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent. You're familiar with the legends of our people, sir?"

The Captain's eyes remain steady as he regards his lead detective, with an occasional glance at me. "Yes, Pablo. I'm familiar with our history. So this entity has a connection with you? In what way?"

Pablo shrugs. "I'm not entirely clear on just how this connection works and what it means." He looks at me for a moment, then shrugs again as he turns to Sanchez. "Something like, but not quite like, the guardian Spirits of Andi's people... not quite a guardian angel or patron saint. It showed up at the Dance... took me a few days to be able to actually see it..." Pablo is starting to look just a little queasy. Yes, dear... that's exactly how I feel when I'm trying to explain this stuff to people. I just have more practice. "Anyway, it told me about the connection Andi and I have, and of dangers that are coming, and..."

He pauses and looks at me, eyes pleading.

I close my eyes and pinch the bridge of my nose with finger and thumb. Don't want to do this, don't want to say this... no no no, I do not. Oh, not just because I'm 'coming out of the closet' so to speak. Gods, I totally grok what Bobby and David and all their friends have been talking about for years!

Also? Bad things might come out of my mouth. People aren't used to the delicate librarian saying bad things. But oh boy, am I ever thinking bad things!

I sigh.

I drop my hand back down to my lap and look at Pablo; the anger that I've been feeling toward his serpent "friend" flares in my eyes. But I close my eyes again briefly while taking a deep breath. I open my eyes again and I know... I KNOW that what he sees there... what Captain Sanchez will see there when I look at him is the same thing the Sheriffs of Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Douglas and Jefferson Counties see every time I work with them.

And it's not the librarian known as Andrea Yazzie...'s Denver's Super known as Ninja.

I turn to face the Captain then.

"Pablo's..." Oh, no you do not, girlfriend! Watch your mouth! "...ancestral pest," I say, over-enunciating those two words as I raise my eyebrows, "decreed that Pablo and I were..." Come on, librarian... you've got the words! "...destined to be mates, a situation it implied was due to its clever, and in my personal opinion reprehensible, interference." Yes, I know! I see what I did there. The damn snake wants to fuck with my man and make him a bit wonky in the head; the damn snake can have a genderless pronoun. Asshole.

"In addition, said ancestral pest indicated that I would be the front line of defense for the coming Shadow and that I would benefit from Pablo's assistance."

I turn to look at Pablo again.

"I'm fairly certain you would prefer I not continue right now because no one is used to me having a potty mouth. Although when I wear other clothing, those who know me are well acquainted with it."

I smile, but it's the smile many not so very nice people and things see when I'm about to beat the crap out of them, which is precisely what I'd like to do to Pablo's... ancestral pest.

"I wondered when Ninja would show up," the Captain said dryly, seemingly unflustered by my words... though Pablo has definitely raised an eyebrow. "So, my best detective has a guardian... right, not angel... not spirit... entity? What else?" He looks at both of us; it's almost the look a father might give a couple of naughty children. Almost. "There's always something else. My detective has more gray hair than he did two days ago, and he looks a good twenty or thirty pounds lighter."

Pablo sighs and nods. We both knew he wasn't going to be able to get anything past Sanchez; that's why the man's the Captain. He's good.

"Q, as I call him, activated my ancestral gifts by taking me to his, ah, well, alternate dimension is the only thing I guess you could call it, boss. I was there for three years. Obviously, time doesn't work the same there. I left on Saturday, got back yesterday." I can see his hands trembling under the visual plane of the desk. "Things happened..."

I take Pablo's hand in mine, and just smile as I feel our qi flowing together, helping him remain calm.

"Yes, things happened," I say softly, "which is why..." I turn back to Sanchez. "...I refer to Pablo's ancestral pest as his guardian asshole. Even in this clothing." I take another deep breath.

"Pablo and I had a bond that was very nearly severed by his... his pest's less than honest nature. What do you expect from a snake, right? The weird thing... No, sorry, probably the most sensible thing about what happened is that Pablo would not have been able to go wherever it was he went if our bond had been as strong on Saturday as it is today. Yet, it took him going... wherever... to have the strength and power to balance mine in order to form the bond we have now. Very metaphysical, very important.

"But Pablo going off to... wherever... is one of those good news, bad news things.

"The good news, and another headache for you, sorry, is that your best detective is Denver's newest Super.

"The bad news is that spending three years, by his reckoning, in hell kind of messed him up a little. Me, I only spent a day and a half in a coma, thinking I was in hell, experiencing all the mental, emotional and psychological torture Pablo experienced... times about thirty. I'm tough, but even I couldn't handle that. Passed out, fell into a coma and freaked out the neighbors and friends; puzzled doctors beyond their tolerance levels for puzzles. Poor things."

I pause and look from one man to the other. "I'm not crazy thinking I have cause to be a little upset about that, am I?" I shrug. Does it matter? Not really.

"But all the... the things that happened while Pablo was gone left some ugly dark stains on his soul. I think you can understand why he might need a little time off and..." I look at Pablo, smiling. "...and a little help from some family and friends to make things right again." I squeeze his hand and let him feel how very much I love him.

I look at Sanchez again, with a sly Ninja grin and wink. "You could have invited Ninja down anytime, you know. I'm really much more impressive with the whole outfit."

Sanchez looks up at Pablo as I explain about the horrors he'd endured in Quetzalcoatl's dimension. The way Sanchez meets Pablo's eyes, it's obvious to me anyway, that he's more than just my husband's boss... he's a friend, a mentor, a father figure. As Sanchez watches Pablo, I watch Sanchez. Yeah, he's seen that look a time or two before — the look he sees in Pablo's eyes. And I'll bet dollars to donuts, every time it was in the eyes of victims of traumatic crimes.

"I didn't need you to come down to make it official, Ninja," he says without taking his eyes from Pablo. "I knew everything I needed to know. I trusted my detective and I trusted you to let me know when and if I needed to do anything more." He pauses a moment before addressing Pablo.

"Detective Garcia, you're a week's administrative leave with pay, at my discretion. Take care of yourself, Pablo. I can't have you out there on the street like you are now. I need my best detective at his peak.

"We'll work out this new situation when you get back. If there's anyone I'd trust with this kind of power, it's you, Pablo."

Sanchez gets up and comes around the desk again, squeezes Pablo's shoulder. "Go get your head straight, Garcia. You call me if I can do anything else to help. You know I'll be there."

He turns to me and smiles.

"It's my honor to greet you unofficially since this meeting never took place. May I also express how happy I am that the two of you finally found each other?"

I chuckle. "We'll have to meet officially someday, Captain... though officially meeting the head of Denver Homicide might put me more in the spotlight than I'd care to be. I prefer to leave the spotlight to Peregrine." I grin at Sanchez. "He charms the press where I would castigate them and call them out as the cowards they are. And we can't have that, now can we?"

I wrap an arm around Pablo's waist, look at his face... and my smile is all Andrea, one hundred percent. "Thank you, Captain. I don't think I'd find the right words to express how happy we are to have finally figured out we belong together if I scoured every book in my beloved library."

"I expect a dance at the wedding, young lady," he says, pretending seriousness. "Now go heal... both of you. Call if you need me." He nods a dismissal to Pablo.

"Thanks, Captain. I'll see you in a week."

Pablo keeps his arm around me as we leave the station, exchanging a few words and jokes with some of his coworkers on the way out. Not yet trusting himself, he hands me the keys to the car so I can get us home. He sits closer than usual, resting a hand on my leg; it's almost innocent... he desperately needs to feel connected. Fortunately, it's not a long drive from his station house to our home, and traffic is relatively light at this time of day.

"I talked to you."

My brows draw together in confusion, and I glance at Pablo briefly before turning my attention back to the road. In my cozy little neighborhood, there are enough children who can't be trusted not to run out into the street without looking for cars.

"You talk to me all the time, Pablo. I don't understand."

"I mean there. In the darkness." He looks at his hands, pulling them together and rubbing them as if they're cold.

"I would talk to you when I was there. I'd tell you about... well, everything. What I wanted to do... where we would go... what to name our six children... where we'll retire together and go out to early bird dinners." He falls silent as I pull into the driveway.


I put the car in park, turn it off, and remove the key from the ignition. I sit for a second, and then turn to face Pablo... or turn as much as sitting in the driver's seat of a car will allow me to turn.

"That kind of makes sense. We're not having six children, but I'd like to hear the names you picked out," I say with a smile, or at least I try to smile. From what he's said... well, I might have had more pain, but I think he had far more horror.

"It probably helped keep you... you. I never answered you back, did I?" I ask, almost wistfully. If even the smallest amount of my love for him transferred back the other way... Well, it might have at least helped keep hope alive. I think that's why I had lost hope; it's hard to do on your own and after a decade or a century, even the strongest person gives up eventually.

"Of course you did," he says, almost surprised I even asked. "Eventually, anyway. At first, there was only silence when I talked to you, but after a while I could hear your voice, I could hear your words in response to mine." He tries to smile, but there's still so much pain in his heart. We haven't healed it all yet. "I think if I hadn't had that — your voice talking to me — I might have lost what reason I had left in that place."

A tear trickles down my cheek as I smile weakly. "I'm glad. I never stopped loving you, Pablo, even when I had given up all hope of ever seeing you again."

I reach over to hold his hand.

"We have so much healing to do. I couldn't tell Tommy what time we'd be arriving. Do you just want to pack up and go? Take a look at a map, and if you can't keep up with my bike you can take a more direct route over the mountains."

I squeeze his hand and smile a bit more strongly. "Come now... tell me the names you picked out for the six children I most certainly do not have the strength of character to raise."

"I think we should go as soon as we can." He wraps both hands around mine. "Well, since I wasn't sure how many boys and girls we'd have, I just came up with names I liked. There were Nastas and Shilah for a boy, to honor your People... and Maria for a girl, for my heritage. I also like William, Arthur, Philip and Henry for boys; Caroline, Lynn, Ellen or Kelly for girls." He smiles at me. "You suggested Pablo Junior but I want my child to have his own name."

I just raise an eyebrow at him. "I think we should stick to having one girl... Maria Sandra, named for our mothers.

"And I would only suggest a son be named after his father under extreme duress, which I suppose I would have been under if you were talking to me in... that place." I pat his hand and smile. "The day for children is still far off, and I'm sure we'll need to have that discussion about names again... this time with me being in my right mind. For now, let's go see Tommy and elder Ravenclaw."

We go inside to pack what little that needs packing. It's not much; a few changes of clothing, including Ninja's shirt and vest — for some reason, I dislike leaving town without them even if I never wear them — bottles of water and travel food. Everything fits in the panniers, and I add my staff. We test his police portable radio against my helmet, settle on a channel... and we're ready to leave.

My helmet is on the table in the garage; my jacket is draped over the seat of the bike. I have a desperate need to hold him now; I know it's just anxiety for the ceremony elder Ravenclaw is preparing... or starting to prepare, anyway. He will still need to question us further — I only gave Tommy a broad overview of the issues. I have my arms wrapped around Pablo, resting my head against his chest, breathing in his scent.

"You need a call sign. No 'Big Ben', no 'Rubber Duck', no 'Sodbuster'." I smile and enjoy the gentle swirling of our qi.

He wraps his arms around me, cradling me against him, and gently runs a hand down my back. He rests his chin on my head; it's so odd to feel the tickling in my sinuses as he inhales the scent of my shampooed hair. I'm thinking some of this sharing might not be such a great thing.

"Adam 12? How about Skycop? Or hunka hunka burning love?" He chuckles softly.

I give him a light slap on the back. "Brat." I look up at him, studying him for a moment, then nod. "I'll call you what my dad first called you until you find something you think is better.


I release him and pick up my jacket. "We can start our race once I get past the Tech Center. There's probably still enough morning traffic to make it tough for me to reach top speed north of there," I say, slipping the jacket on. "We should have a good indication of our relative speeds by Castle Rock, and know if you need to make a change in your flight plan." I grin. "That sounds so weird."

I zip up my jacket and pick up the helmet.

"Ready to go? You should probably take off from the back yard so you freak out as few neighbors as possible."

He nods, then pulls me into his arms for a long, passionate kiss before releasing me, a smile on his face.

"Okay, now I'm ready. Please drive safely. And I promise not to run into any high power wires," he says, his eyes twinkling and his smile growing crooked like it does when he's happy. He slips the straps of his backpack over his shoulders.

I fall into the feelings his kiss calls; I revel in them. When we part, I look into his eyes and smile. "We probably shouldn't stop too often; we may never get to Ganado."

I put my helmet on, open the garage door, start the bike and roll out onto the driveway before closing the door behind me. After tucking the opener in one of the panniers, I head toward the highway. If Pablo can keep up with me, the roads are good and traffic is reasonable, we'll be at Tommy's place inside of five hours, even accounting for a couple of stops for gas.

Traffic isn't bad, although I do keep to about eighty until we get past the Tech Center. Once I cross Belleview, I toggle the mic.

"Hawk, I'm at eighty now, going to start rolling it up. Let me know if I lose you."

I increase my speed slowly... well, relatively slowly... by about five miles an hour every mile. I hit one fifty just before the exit to the outlet mall.

"Hawk, I'm at one fifty now. I'd call this my top cruising speed without more mods to the bike, although I could hit one seventy or so for ten to fifteen minutes. How are you doing?"

Pablo is swooping through the air, slipstreaming through and surrounded by his cushion of wind, soaring high over the landscape. "I'm at about my limit for speed too, I think. I could maybe go a touch faster, but not much more."

"We'll hold it here then. I usually stop in Raton, Santa Fe, and Gallup to fill my tank... three opportunities for you to distract me." I chuckle. "Keep an eye on me as I go through the Springs, okay? A lot of fundies down there don't care much for me. I didn't have to thump any heads during Pride Week this year, and the wing nuts have a short attention span... so I don't expect any trouble. But with crazy people, you never know."

I pause as I weave past a semi in the left lane, probably giving the poor driver a good start. Yep, that'll keep him awake for another fifty miles or so.

"You having fun up there, darlin'?"

"I'll be flying overview for you, and I'll be there if you have trouble, love." He chuckles at my question. "Yes, it's definitely more fun to fly through the air chasing my lover than it is running for my life from flying buzzsaws."

I'm silent for a moment. Flying buzzsaws?

"You know... you might want to mention to your ancestral pest that it would probably be a good idea if it avoided me for a while.

"A rather long while...

"Something on the order of the rest of my unnaturally long life."

Then I smile. "Oh... and chasing me has the delightful advantage that I will let you catch me."

"How far is it to the first rest stop?" he asks in a tone of voice that makes it very clear he's already thinking about catching me. I can even hear the smile in his voice.

I look at the mile markers flashing by and then see the exit sign for Larkspur. "About an hour and fifteen minutes, give or take. I'm passing Larkspur, which reminds me... we should go to the Ren Faire next month!"

Just over four hours later, Pablo toggles the mic and asks, "Dear, can your bike hold me for the final few miles to Tommy's place?"

I glance up; he's high enough that I don't see him, although I feel him easily enough. "Not comfortably, and we'll have to drop to about thirty to thirty-five, but it's possible. Why?"

"I'm not sure Tommy would want me to come flying into his place, and maybe drawing attention to him that he doesn't want.

"Besides, I can put my arms around you and get a grope in."

I laugh. "I'm sure Tommy and elder Ravenclaw have seen stranger things, as has anyone who lives in close proximity to a Medicine Man. But come on down and get your groping in." I begin downshifting; one doesn't come to a dead stop when one is traveling at a hundred and fifty miles an hour, or one will be rather dead rather quickly. Or in my case, extremely hurt extremely quickly. "Meet me about a mile up the road."

I glide to a stop where he's landed and pull my helmet off then shake out my hair. Damn, these helmets ought to come with air conditioning!

"Hi, sexy. Want a ride?" I grin at him, maybe just a little wickedly.

He grins back at me, his eyes filled with something besides fear... something I've seen quite often in the last day. "It depends... what kind of ride are you offering?"

"For the moment, just a ride on my bike to my cousin's house." I laugh, so happy to see him and to see him looking less stressed than he was this morning. "Come here, husband, and kiss me. It's the payment I require for toting you along and allowing you to grope me."

I chuckle again. "I probably should have asked Tommy if it was literally okay to drop in on him."

He smiles at me and walks over, pausing to stretch for a moment — and show off his fine physique — before he puts his arms around me and leans down to kiss me softly.

I put a hand on his shoulder and enjoy the gentle, sweet kiss... the sort of kiss that makes my heart swell, rather than causing fires to burn.

"I love you."

I pat the pseudo seat behind me. "You get the lumpy bit." I kick down the foot rests, also not meant for long distance riding, especially for anyone who doesn't have dainty feet. "Hang on, lean against me, move with me, and don't let your groping get too distracting." I giggle as I put my helmet back on — I'd leave it off at this point, but Pablo's sitting where I'd strap it down. Then I wait for Pablo to get settled, and continue down the road to Tommy's house.

His house always seems to surprise people, and with good reason... it's not the sort of thing one expects to see on an "Indian Reservation." It's modern. It's got solar panels on the roof and geothermal wells, both of which combine to produce enough energy to take him off the grid... not that there's much of a grid around here. Still, he's never lost power, which is more than I can say for some of the homes in University Park. It's the first energy-efficient home Yani's husband designed, and he's designed variations on the theme as well as some fantastic large homes that wealthy people seem to prefer in the seven or eight years since. Every house he designs reflects the desires and personalities of the owners.

I glide the bike onto the driveway.

Hey, Tommy! We're here!

I stop, turn off the engine and nudge Pablo — though he's already got a foot on the ground and swinging his other leg around — set the kickstand and take off my helmet before dismounting myself. By the time I finish stretching, Tommy is standing in his doorway smiling.

"You're here much sooner than I expected. Just how fast were you riding, Andrea? And it's not possible Pablo rode all the way with you, or he wouldn't be able to walk. There's more to this story than simply needing one of the ceremonies to be performed."

I grin at my cousin. "I never went over one fifty. And..." I look at Pablo and hold out my hand for him. "...and that's part of the story we need to tell so you know which ceremony to perform, hmmm?"

Pablo stretches as he gets off the bike and smiles as he reaches for my hand, twining our fingers together.

"Good day, Tommy. It's good to see you again," Pablo says. The faint shadow in his eyes would be hard to miss.

My cousin looks at Pablo, who is appreciating the design of the house; he turns to meet my eyes.

Tommy shakes his head, frowning. "You obviously came the southern route, and I'm feeling nauseous even thinking about you going that fast once you got off the Interstate." Then he smiles and gestures for us to come in. "Welcome to my humble home. It's wonderful to see you both again, although I didn't expect it to be quite so soon.

"Come in and tell your stories."

"Your home looks amazing. Are you totally self-sufficient for your energy consumption?" Pablo asks as he follows me into the house.

Yeah. I'm worried, too. And I've only heard bits of the story. But... well, later, Tommy. Later.

Tommy nods, both to my mental comment and Pablo's question.

"For the foreseeable future, anyway," he says with a smile. "If I ever had children, they might have to drill a new well... or it might turn out to be a task for the great-grandchildren. In the desert, you can never tell. Can I get you something to drink? Are you hungry?"

I'm busy staring in amazement at his house. "Ah, sure... water or iced tea would be fine. Daniel sure does do amazing work. It's like... he got right inside your brain and designed it."

Tommy laughs as he gets some glasses from a cabinet. "Have you ever had a lengthy conversation with my brother-in-law? I think he sees people as buildings and wants to recreate them in wood and glass and stone and whatever other materials are available!" He looks from one of us to the other with a raised eyebrow. "I suspect the two of you would give him a challenge."

I grin and hug Pablo tightly. "Oh, if we can ever afford to build our own place," I say, looking into his eyes, "we are so going to twist Daniel's brain around in knots, and he'll love every minute of it, too." I look back at Tommy. "I don't know about my most beloved, but I could use a bit of protein... meat, cheese, nuts... whatever you have."

"I know your fondness for roast beef sandwiches. How about you, Pablo?"

Pablo is looking around the interior of the great room in admiration. What's not to love about the wood and stone natural look?

"Hmmm? Oh, anything would be fine. I'm not particular, Tommy. Can you point me to the bathroom?"

"Of course. You both should wash up a little. There's a full bathroom in the bedroom back there, and another in the hall on the left," Tommy says, point toward the back of the building.

Hand washing and running a cold cloth over my face and neck is about all I need to feel refreshed. It's so weird that I can ride across the desert in summer in leathers and feel completely comfortable; it's just the darn helmet that makes me sweat and feel grimy. I figure it probably has something to do with the fact that my clothing is made from natural fibers and the helmet is made from all sorts of man-made materials.

I go back out to the kitchen area of the great room and lean on the counter, watching Tommy make sandwiches, waiting for Pablo.

"You have a soothing home, Tommy. Feels like my dojo."

"Thank you, cousin. I need the environment to be as tranquil as possible for my work, for my lessons." He has fresh whole grain bread, several types of meat, and condiments on the counter along with plates and a platter of cut vegetables. "Turkey, roast beef or chicken?" he asks, then nods at the vegetable platter.

I pick up the platter and carry it the few steps to the table. "Roast beef, please."

"How bad is it?" he asks softly as I turn around.

At his question, I close my eyes and swallow hard. I can feel Pablo in the other room, still so much more calm and peaceful than he was this morning, but...

"Bad, Tommy," I whisper. "Really bad. Worse, I think for Pablo, but..." I open my eyes again, knowing the pain of my experience is clearly showing through them.

"Bad enough that it was Pablo's idea to do this. And that we needed to come out here to be with family rather than work with the Hopi Shaman, Lewis Humatewa, who is as well respected as elder Ravenclaw."

His face shows his own worry as he finishes making the last sandwich. He wipes his hands on the towel beside him, then steps over to me to rest a hand on my shoulder.

"I'm here for you, Andi. Anything you or Pablo need that I can do for you... you know it's yours." He speaks softly and gently, but I can hear the concern in his voice.

"We just need to heal, Tommy. I know..." I take a deep breath and place my hand over his. "I've studied enough of our history and traditions to know we must tell you, or elder Ravenclaw, the nature of the wound to be healed."

I lean against him, wishing I had his inner strength. "The telling will be hard... so hard. The hearing will not be easy either."

"You know there's no judgment, Andi, nor any fear. There's only love and healing for both of you. John will come out in the morning. Tonight, I want you both to rest and eat well." He kisses my forehead; it brings with it so many memories of my family caring about me.

I manage to give him a smile. "It's pretty awesome, you know, that Pablo instinctively knew this was the right place to be even though he's only been part of the family for..." I stop, draw my brows together. "I'm still confused, but I don't think it's been all that long."

Just then, Pablo returns to the kitchen, and... and... I feel just plain giddy. I have such an urge to bound over to him and hug him, twirl in circles with him, dance with him. Oh, is this part of the whole "teenage thing" I missed out on? This part is nice. Instead, I simply walk toward him like a thirty-two year old adult would, and take his hand. There's no way to keep from grinning, though.

"Have I told you lately how much I love you?"

I don't even care that Tommy's standing right behind me, watching and listening to me get all mushy. He doesn't tease like Charlie and Billy would. In fact, I can sense he's... really happy.

Pablo looks refreshed and more relaxed here in Tommy's home than he's looked all day. He smiles as I walk over to him and take his hand.

"I vaguely remember something like that, but perhaps you should remind me a few times. You know how forgetful I am," he teases.

Tommy smiles at us and puts the sandwiches on the table, along with a pitcher of water. "Okay, you two, come eat your lunch. You need to replenish yourselves after your journey."

I giggle, so happy to have my husband with me, so trusting that my cousin will do his best for us.

"I know... a complete ditz," I tease back. "But I love you anyway." I chuckle as we walk over to the table, hand in hand, and sit down with Tommy. I sigh.

"As much fun as it is to zip down the highway at utterly ridiculous speeds — waking up drivers who might be getting a little drowsy, completely destroying police radar devices and confusing the poor police officers who suddenly find themselves with a device that won't stop screaming — sitting still is really nice."

I take a bite from my sandwich, savoring the flavors and the mere act of eating. I can't actually remember when I last ate a meal. It might have been our picnic lunch an eon ago. Well, there were the cinnamon rolls from Bobby this morning, but that hardly counts as a meal.

Pablo takes a bite of his sandwich and starts to chew, then moans and begins chewing faster, swallowing, eating as if he's a starving man. I suppose in a sense he is; he probably hasn't had a decent meal in what his stomach believes is three years. Even this morning, he'd been so worried about seeing Captain Sanchez that he only ate one of Bobby's rolls. And Bobby doesn't make his cinnamon rolls huge like some places do.

I reach out and put a hand on his arm, as I put my sandwich back on the plate. "Slow down, love. You haven't eaten a proper meal in... well, if you eat too fast it will just all come back up again."

Worry, I do so worry...

There's a wildness in his eyes as I put my hand on his arm, the look of a predatory animal... almost as if he's afraid I'm trying take his food. It clears after a moment and he nods, putting the sandwich down and chewing it slowly.

During this exchange, Tommy watches... and the worry grows in his eyes and in his heart.

I can feel my worry reflected in Tommy's aura.

I said it was bad...

I manage a smile for Pablo; it holds far more love than either worry or pain. "There's plenty, I'm sure." Then I make a face and shake my head. "And it's never as good coming up as it was on the way down," I say, trying to lighten the mood. "Yuck."

And as our qi swirls between us, as it always does when we touch, I fill it with all the love in my heart... and the sense that I am, and always will be, beside him, helping him, watching his back.

That subtle hint of a taint is there, though, swirling through our qi. I suspect Pablo's memories of his time in that place has caused it to rise up again. It seems to be getting stronger.

He consciously takes his time and makes an effort to takes small bites of his sandwich, but I can feel his stomach is already in turmoil. Suddenly, he bolts from the table and runs down the hall to the bathroom.

Tommy gets to his feet and moves quickly to the phone on a side table. "I'm going to call John; we need to do this tonight. Whatever that taint on Pablo's soul is it's strangling his spirit."

I nod to my cousin, as I look in the direction my husband fled. I try... I try so hard not to cry.

"I know," I whisper in answer to Tommy's comment. I wrap my arms around myself, distraught. No matter how hard I try not to cry, it's not hard enough. I feel the tears falling down my cheeks.

I hear Tommy murmuring in the background as the tears fall, dampening my shirt. The sounds of Pablo retching are muffled, but a jarring counterpoint to the strong tones of Tommy's voice. I can feel Pablo being sick in the bathroom, on his knees, hugging the porcelain bowl. It's almost enough to make me rush to the other bathroom. I thank the Gods, Spirits and Buddhas for my strong stomach.

Tommy hangs up the phone and pulls his chair close and sits beside me.

"The Ha'atathli will be here shortly. He said to let Pablo purge himself," Tommy says quietly.

I feel bad, awful; very sick... it's not just Pablo's purging resonating. I feel like something is trying to pull me away again.


I stand, and suddenly feel dizzy. What the...? I can't remember ever being dizzy in my whole life!

Tommy is here, supporting me. I know that. That is truth.

I feel the bond between me and Pablo. I feel it; I feel its strength, its solidity.

And I can feel something, something trying to chip away at it!

Oh... THAT is not going to happen! I gently shake off Tommy's hand and stride down the hallway to Pablo, digging in my pocket for one of my ever-present hair ties. I pull my hair back and secure it at the nape of my neck before kneeling beside Pablo and laying my hands on his back.

"I am here, Pablo. You are not alone. I will make this journey with you."

I feel the flare of qi, blazing brightly despite the taint on Pablo's soul. Something, SOMETHING is very, very angry about that.

Tommy, there is... there is something here, something not of our plane. Can you... is there anything you can do? I can't do anything with it unless, until it manifests here.

"God damn it! I don't have time to be fucking around with minions of the Shadow, and the minions of the Shadow do not want to piss me off!" Although it's probably a little late for that, seeing as I'm feeling pretty damn pissed. Those little fuckers need to just leave our sacred marriage alone, or some serious ass kicking will ensue.

Yeah, and where the hell is that crazy black bird when I need it??

Stupid flying things.

The stuff coming up out of Pablo is rancid... bits of nuts, leaves, bark and blood. He's sweating heavily as he hangs over the toilet, yet shakes as though he's freezing.

Tommy is there in a moment, carrying a small satchel in his hand and chanting softly.

I sense what you sense, cousin. There's something else here. I'm trying to keep it contained until John can get here. Strip him, and paint the symbols of Seeking on him.

I start undressing Pablo, murmuring to him... telling him that I love him, that I won't leave him.

Seeking, Tommy? I know some of our symbols, not one that means that, though. Our symbols, his symbols? I don't know a thing about Aztec symbols and the only thing I know of Catholicism is their cross.

It's probably fairly obvious that I'm near-frantically worried about Pablo and ready to beat to death anything that tries to hurt him. Right now, the fact that I now have a fully integrated personality is not making my life any easier... though without it, Andi would fall apart and Ninja would be off looking for something to kill. Welcome to mental health.


Tommy sends me images of the proper symbols, only one of which I recognize.

Use the body paint in the left kitchen cabinet above the dishwasher. I'll keep him contained.

I whisper to Pablo, "I love you, I am always with you," before jumping up and running out to the kitchen. Well, except for the running part. Okay, I guess I am running, it would look like it to anyone watching, but I'm not running as fast as I am able. It's as if something is... no, not quite holding me back... more like trying to stop me from going forward.

Okay, there's a win for the integrated personality; Andrea couldn't have gotten to the kitchen, Ninja would have completely forgotten to remind Pablo that they are always, always, always connected. And right now, he needs reminding. I can feel that something trying to gnaw at our bond again. I grab Tommy's body paints; bizarrely, it's even harder to get back to the bathroom.

I am so fucking pissed right now, and that's my mentally healthy integrated personality talking.

I don't know what kind of snot-nosed spirit world other-dimensional punk is trying to mess with my husband and me, but they have picked the wrong woman to tangle with.

The moment I return to the bathroom, I get down in my knees again beside Pablo and begin painting the symbols Tommy showed me over every part of Pablo's body I can reach.

How long before Ha'atathli Ravenclaw will be here?

Not soon enough for me, Tommy says, sounding far more worried than I've ever heard him. Whatever this is, it's so powerful and tricky... I...

Tommy staggers and groans.

I reach out to steady Tommy, at the same time pulling qi from the air, from the ground, swirling it through my body and passing on strength to my cousin. "Thank you, Mother Earth and Father Sky," I whisper softly.

Hold on, Tommy. Mother and Father can feed us enough energy. It's nice to be able to use my Power for helping instead of harming for a change.

With one hand on my cousin's shoulder, I continue painting symbols on Pablo's body. He seems so tired, so weak... at least he's stopped throwing up. For now. But he's sweating more than I've ever seen him — or anyone else, for that matter — sweat. And it's rancid. I can only hope that most of the toxicity is out of his system.

Tommy nods his thanks, continuing the chant that's causing Pablo to sweat and cringe. Pablo begins vomiting again, this time it seems to be all blood.

I have a bad feeling about this. All this... this blood and plants and gods know what else Pablo is puking up could well be everything he consumed in that other dimension. Except... where the hell is it coming from??! He's going to vomit three years' worth of disgusting stuff? Okay, there are probably things I don't want to know.

I'm holding an enormous amount of qi at the moment. Under ordinary circumstances, I'd drain in back to Mother Earth... but these are hardly ordinary circumstances, are they? I have no idea what is trying to separate us, and I am SO not going to let that happen. No skanky slut from some other dimension is taking my husband away from me. I don't know why I think that, it just has the feel of a jealous ex-girlfriend. And I don't know why I think that because I've never dated anyone with a jealous ex-girlfriend.

I probably glow like a neon light.

Behind us, I can hear the front door open and I feel the powerful qi of a Shaman. Ha'atathli Ravenclaw has arrived, and not a moment too soon.

I've only met John Ravenclaw once before in my life; despite it being about twenty-seven years ago, he's a forceful personality that even five year old Andrea has remembered. Today, at this moment, I think he might be holding as much Power as I am. Something about the texture and weave of his Power makes me think this is the way he always is.

I've finished painting symbols over as much of Pablo's body as I can, so I get up and step out into the hallway to greet our Nation's senior Medicine Man, our Shaman.

"Elder Ravenclaw, thank you for coming," I say, actually sounding pretty calm. There's nothing for me to do now but hold fast to the bond Pablo and I share, sending love and... Well, you know, right now, I think love is what he needs; to know I am here and that funky dimensions won't separate us again. And if the hell he's going through right now is also the fault of his ancestral pest... that thing is never getting on my Christmas card list.

The elder nods, his eyes seeing more than others would.

"Hello, Andrea Yazzie. I see your cousin's words did not convey nearly enough about you over the years," he says, a wrinkled hand outlining the glow around my body. "Come, take me to your man, and let us see about setting things right."

I can feel Pablo's love coming back to me; it twists, dodges, ducks and weaves through and around whatever it is that's assaulting him. Oh, whatever this thing is it most definitely does not want to let go of my husband. Tough shit.

"My cousin's words conveyed all he knew, I'm sure," I reply, with an attempt at a smile. A great deal of my increased power is the result of my Bond with Pablo; who could have known?

I gesture him to follow me back down the hall to Pablo. I hunker down on the floor beside my husband and take his nearest hand; they are draped weakly, listlessly over the edge of the toilet. He can barely hold his head up. I feed him as much strength as I think he can manage at the moment.

Elder Ravenclaw comes into the bathroom and touches his apprentice on the shoulder. "I will take over, Thomas. Move him outside into the area out back, and tie him down. There is something very dark in him, and I do not want him hurting himself or us."

I look at my dear Pablo. I can tell that inside, in his heart and in his soul, he is still fighting... but his body is so weak from all the purging he had done that he can barely move. I get a shoulder under one arm and help him up, although his legs are weak and even with my help he can barely stand. I stoop so he drapes over my shoulders; I bring him out to the yard in a fireman's carry. Certainly not the first time I've carried anyone; Pablo isn't even the tallest or heaviest.

I set him gently on the ground and help Tommy tie him down, although it hurts my heart so much... so much... But I know the Ha'atathli is right. It's better for my heart to tie him down than to have to fight him later. Maybe he learned enough in that other place to come closer to being a match for me... though likely not with the amount of qi I am holding and channeling tonight.

He looks up at me, his eyes glazed from fatigue, and he frowns as he feels the wind on him.

"An... Andi? What...?"

Tommy is gathering up the supplies he and the elder will need; Ha'atathli Ravenclaw continues to chant. Pablo is still sweating heavily, despite the cool breeze across his body; the body paint smears and even runs off in places.

"Shhh, my love. There is still something very bad inside you. It's trying to separate us." I brush the damp hair off his sweaty forehead. "I won't let that happen. Elder Ravenclaw is here." I can't keep the pain from showing in my eyes. "I love you, Pablo, more than life itself. Hold to that, my husband. Hold onto our love."

I can hear Tommy and the elder talking, although I don't think they realize I can hear them.

"When you first called me, you indicated a wound to the heart and soul of your cousin's beloved that would benefit most from the Enemy Way ceremony. But this?" The elder shakes his head. "I think perhaps this man requires the full Blessingway ceremony, Thomas. That is how ill he is. And yet he is too ill to survive the nine nights. Normally, I would tell the family to say their farewells, and Sing to make his passing as painless as possible. But I see..." He pauses. "I have never seen such a strong connection before in my life. Should he die, so will your cousin. That can't be allowed, and not because she is your family, Thomas. The Spirits say she will play a role in the coming dark times."

"Of course, John. Although I have to admit that I'm relieved that I don't have to tell Andrea to say farewell to Pablo after they have only just realized their love so recently."

There is another short pause.

"You misunderstand me, Thomas. That is so unlike you. Should the young man die, your cousin would join him not long after. That is the nature of the bond they have, and your cousin is well aware of that. I will promise you they will die within a day of one another. Fortunately, the Spirits say that day is not today. I will Sing the Anaa'ji, you must make the sand painting, the one for expelling evil. How did he come to be in this condition?"

"We hadn't had a chance to talk about that yet, although Andi said it was very bad."

Well, it's nice to get confirmation of something I already suspected. You'd think it would upset me to know my death would kill Pablo or vice versa, but you know what? After spending what I thought was an eternity in the afterlife without him, I don't ever, EVER want to do that again.

Tommy, will you keep watch over Pablo for a few minutes while I prepare for battle?

I actually feel a wave of surprise coming from him. Battle, cousin? We are performing one of the healing ceremonies for Pablo. This is a place for healing, for peace... not for battles.

Pablo begins thrashing against the ties, speaking a language I know is neither English nor Spanish. It is most assuredly not Diné Bizaad nor the closely related language of the Apache. My suspicion is that it's whatever language the ancient Aztecs spoke, or at least a variant of that. I squeeze his shoulder before standing and, with a glance at Tommy, I head back into the house.

You are healing his soul. I am preparing to battle the thing that possesses it, should that become necessary. If not, I will simply lend you and elder Ravenclaw all the power at my disposal, which is not inconsiderable.

I can feel him watching me walk away. It's not that I need to put the shirt and vest on; my hair is out of the way as I have it tied currently. At home, in Denver, it's necessary to make the appearance of Andrea Yazzie and Ninja as different as possible. Tonight, all I really care about is having my staff in my hands. My staff is inscribed with the words 'peace' and 'harmony' in every human language. The most prominent are, of course, in Diné Bizaad — both the words, k'é and hózhó, and the symbols representing the concepts, the Yeii spirit and a broken arrow. Peace and harmony are necessary.

But wearing the right clothes into battle seems... proper.

We will need to know how Pablo got in this condition, Andrea.

I nod as I open the door, and I sigh softly as well.

I will tell you everything I know when I return. I won't be long.

Moving away from Pablo is painful, with a feeling that something is gnawing on the bond that connects us with sharp serrated teeth. At the same time, I also have the sense that I am being pushed. I strip off my tank top then remove the hair tie the moment I'm inside. It takes less than a minute to get my shirt from my bag, pull it on, and then slip the vest on over it. I finger comb my hair, then braid each side quickly. Finally, I take my staff from the corner of the great room where I had propped it when we came in, and head back out to the yard.

Tommy is assembling the bowls of sand he will use for his sand painting, frequently glancing at Pablo. I walk directly to the Shaman.

"Tommy said you needed information, Ha'atathli Ravenclaw. I can tell you everything I know, but there were things Pablo had not yet found the strength to share."

The elder nods and Tommy joins us. "Then tell me what you do know, Andrea Yazzie."

Standing in the ready posture with a staff in my hands accentuates the martial nature of Taiji. It is abundantly clear that I can move and strike in any direction. At the moment, standing this way is keeping me centered, grounded and calm. I'm close enough now to Pablo that the gnawing sensation is merely an annoyance, but the feeling of being pushed away is much stronger. I stand facing him rather than either the Shaman or my cousin.

"This Saturday past, Pablo's Spirit guardian — one of the ancient Aztec deities, the winged serpent Quetzalcoatl — told Pablo that he must practice the skills he was beginning to learn because of our coming together. It warned of a coming Shadow that I would need to fight. It said, too, that Pablo needed to be ready to fight at my side. When I pointed out that my training had been extremely intense over the course of many years, it offered to take Pablo to its Realm to train him.

"Pablo asked about the price that would need to be paid for such training. The serpent replied that Pablo would train for three years in its Realm while a single day would pass for those of us here." I pause to take a cleansing breath. "I was already experiencing physical pain because of the prospect of Pablo's departure, so I will admit to not thinking clearly enough to recall the teaching that serpents speak with forked tongues. The serpent's reply was neither accurate nor was it complete.

"Although Pablo wanted to wait until Monday, I was not certain I could endure the pain I was feeling at that time for the remainder of the weekend and the additional pain I believed would descend on me when he left." I turn my head to look the elder in the eye. "I can endure much, but even I have limits. I am not a coward." His expression doesn't change, and he doesn't say anything. I look back toward my husband. "I told Pablo to go immediately and, again in my confused state, I failed to explain my reasoning.

"Pablo left then; shortly after that, the pain intensified to such a level that I fell into a coma."

I can sense that only his many years of training is keeping Tommy from gasping, from reaching out to touch me.

I pause again, considering how to convey the tale, then decide what my next words will be. "The road branches at that point, as Pablo and I had very different experiences, although they did resonate. What Pablo has told me of his experience is only that he fought almost continually while learning to use his powers of wind and light. He spoke of dying many times, only to be brought back to life by the serpent. He returned covered with all manner of scars from animal claws and teeth... and human teeth as well. He said the serpent left him with the scars so he could remember his humanity. He said he did terrible things while he was in that place and was not willing to elaborate. He..." At this point, I can barely whisper the words. "...he said he talked to me, that I responded to him, that he had conversations with me." I need to pause again and close my eyes. That we sought each other out is a testament to the bond we had; that he believed he heard my voice, that I spoke to him... it tears still at my heart. Perhaps... just perhaps... I was giving him the last of my life energy, I was giving him all that I possibly could give to keep him sane. Perhaps that is why my experience was so hopeless... I gave all my hope to him.

"For my part, I believed I had died and gone to some afterlife nothing like our teachings, or even the teachings of the Buddhists with whom I lived for many years. I was tormented by being required to fight every battle I've fought since becoming one of the Protectors of Denver; in most of those fights I lost, and died. But then, like Pablo, I would find myself alive once again to continue fighting.

"When I was not fighting, I was being taunted by all of the evil creatures I have been forced to kill in the defense of my city and its people. Killing had always torn at my soul, and it took much time to recover. While I was in the place I believed to be the afterlife, I was not allowed to recover before being reminded again that I had taken a life."

I take another deep breath before continuing, and finally open my eyes again. Watching Pablo suffer and writhe on the ground is so hard, so very hard, but I am his wife; I will watch over him no matter how painful it is.

"I experienced overwhelming and unending despair, and I recall that my most frequent hopes were those of death... my own. Each time I hoped or wished or prayed for death, I would realize a moment later that I was already dead, and that death would not come.

"Finally, the roads merged together again, and Pablo returned a day and a half after leaving to discover I was in the hospital in a coma. When he arrived, I heard his voice and integrated it in my dreamscape, believing him to have died and searched me out in the afterlife. I was grateful, although I no longer believed I deserved his kindness or his love. I begged for his mercy and forgiveness and..."

I swallow hard. That moment when he woke me... I don't have words to describe it. I know it's important to tell the Ha'atathli everything, and if I could find the words, I would.

"I woke to find Pablo lying in the hospital bed with me. I don't know why he thought lying together like that, bellies pressed together, would work. Perhaps he remembered some of the things I've told him about my Power, and the flow of qi — nílch'i — through the body's meridians and the dan tians. But I woke because of it, although as we were soon to discover, our bond had been badly damaged by his journey."

I want to go to him now, comfort him in his suffering; at the same time, I know I have a different task to perform. Wife and Warrior... this is not a common combination among my people. It is not unheard of, but it is not common.

"We went home, leaving the doctors both baffled and more than a little annoyed with me." I shrug.

"I could barely feel him, Tommy, even though he sat there in the car with me. We talked; that helped a little. We made love; that helped even more, but not quite enough. And then..."

Pablo shrieks in that strange language of his, and I feel the gnawing at our bond renew with even greater vigor. It hurts like hell. I'm beginning to think that whatever it is inside him really doesn't like my story. Okay... let's test that theory.

"Then Pablo demonstrated his new Power over the winds by flying us to Lookout Mountain, near a deserted cabin up there. We made love again..."

I don't sense the blow coming until it hits me on the forehead, just above the third eye chakra. My head rocks back a bit, and both Ha'atathli Ravenclaw and Tommy exclaim something that could very loosely be translated as Holy shit! and each takes a step away from me as I bare my teeth in angry satisfaction.

"It would appear that whatever possesses Pablo does not like me, and does not like to hear me speaking of what we did on the mountain last night.

"But as Ha'atathli you should possess as much information as possible, should you not? When we made love, I engaged my Power over energy."

And now that I am prepared, now that I have been alerted, I can feel the almost imperceptible change in the energies around me... I make a simple turning step, pivoting on one foot to move ninety degrees and then take a small step back so the dart of energy passes by harmlessly. I shake my head.

"Yes. It would appear there is a small amount of jealousy there. If this is the taint I felt on Pablo's soul, it's strong indeed...

"For last night, not only did we reforge our bond stronger than before, reforged it to remain intact for all eternity, but I healed Pablo of every scar his Spirit guardian saw fit to leave with him. I attempted to cleanse this foulness from him as well. Unfortunately, I wasn't successful in the last task, as is obvious."

Ha'atathli Ravenclaw motions to Tommy, who nods and settles himself back on the ground to prepare for the sand painting that is a necessary part of the healing ceremony.

"Will you be dodging attacks the entire time we are performing the Anaa'ji rite, Warrior?" he asks with a raised eyebrow.

I turn to look at Pablo and laugh. "No, Ha'atathli, I don't believe so. I doubt I'll be bothered again until whatever is inside him is expelled."

Raven is bouncing up and down on Pablo's torso as if he's a trampoline, occasionally pecking at his chest... I assume whenever the thing inside feels the urge to attack.

"I will perform my Taiji while you perform the Anaa'ji." I bow to him and take a position that leaves Pablo between me and the shamans. Unlike the form I used during the Medicine Dances, unlike the forms I do in my dojo, this form incorporates the use of my staff. As if choreographed — and at least between master and student opposite me, it is — Ha'atathli Ravenclaw begins his Singing, the Dance that accompanies the healing, the smudging of the air. And Tommy pours the first fistful of sand out on the ground. And I begin my form. And Raven lands firmly on Pablo's chest.

As I move through the form, the energy flows in the air become more and more visible. I can see the movement caused by the healing ceremony; I can see the disruptions the thing inside Pablo is trying to cause; I can see the immense force Raven uses to beat in down. I worry about that, the effect it is having on Pablo's body, but on its next jump, Raven twirls in the air and grins at me. Yes, I know... birds don't grin. I've never been able to see the energy flows so clearly as they move through the air; I suspect this is a bonus feature of my bond with Pablo. I feel the energy filling me, flowing from the Earth, flow out to the Sky; my meridians are flowing with qi... strong and abundant. I feed energy to Tommy and elder Ravenclaw. Tommy is concentrating intensely on his sand painting, but I feel a tendril of thankfulness from him; elder Ravenclaw seems to take it in stride — who knows what Medicine Men are used to? — and smiles.

I can feel the energy of the healing ceremony building; Tommy's sand painting is nearly complete. So I begin MY song, the Song of Power given to me by Grandmaster Chen. Raven makes one more hard landing on Pablo's stomach, then flies up to hover over my head. Pablo has been writhing and thrashing throughout the entire ceremony. But now his back arches so sharply that the top of his head, his feet, and his hands where they are tied down are the only things touching the Earth. He screams out in that unknown language, a sound that personifies rage.

As with the beginning of the ceremony, the last grain of sand hits the ground as elder Ravenclaw completes the last foot stomp of his Dance and the last word of his Song as the last sound of my Song echoes out across the night desert. Pablo begins convulsing, and I feel an unexpected inner conflict... Wife versus Warrior. It's not strong, for Wife knows Warrior must battle for Husband... or all will be lost. Warrior, uncharacteristically, reassures Wife that Husband will be saved.

Then a cloud of thick black smoke pours out of Pablo's mouth and nose and continues to emerge... floating near his head, then finally coalescing into...

Shadowkin Skank damn ugly piece of shit. She crouches near his head, eyeing his body and licking her lips. It's exceedingly creepy because I get the feeling that not only is that a sexual reaction, but that Pablo is the first course on tonight's dinner menu.

I take a step closer, ready to beat her grotesque head to a pulp.

"Get your skanky little ass away from my husband, you hideously repulsive bitch! BACK THE FUCK OFF!!"

That foul thing crouched by Pablo hisses and looks at me as I... Warrior, Ninja... growl at it. It or she slowly uses her apparently razor sharp nails to cut Pablo's bonds, hissing at me as she does so. Then a long black forked tongue comes out to caress Pablo's face and her sharp nailed hands are at his throat. The skanky bitch hisses again, speaking in that horrible language Pablo was speaking. I don't understand a word of it, but her posture is a clear indication she's refuting my claim to Pablo, a declaration that he belongs to her.

Needless to say, both my cousin and the elder continue to chant, but move to a safer distance to keep out of the way of what we all sense is coming.

"Beware, child... this one exists both here and in the Spirit realm," the Ha'atathli calls out.

"Yeah, why am I not surprised?" I mutter. "They all have to have some kind of one-up on me, don't they?"

But you have a not so secret dive bombing weapon! And Raven then proceeds to dive bomb Ugly Barbie and rip out a hank of hair before flying off chortling.

Um. That was helpful, how? After a second or two, though, the... whatever it is... looks a little wobbly. It lifts its head as if it's trying to smell where Raven has flown off to and raising its arms, begins grasping at the air. Um... Okay.

Oh! I see what you're doing there! You're grabbing at energy tendrils that look like they lead back to Raven, you bitch. Of course, Raven — being the protector and patron of the magic of the world — has tied those energy tendrils to...

Hey! I thought you two were buddies?

Fuddy duddy buddy in the muddy! Besides, that thing belongs to him anyway.

I'm sure that's going to make ol' Quetzalcoatl the happiest serpent... well, ever. Heh. Not. Well, the stupid snake is Pablo's guardian, so I ought to at least give it... something?

"Listen bitch, I know your language skills are severely lacking here, but I saw him first and we're married. So keep your serpenty tongue off my man." Nope, do not care for snake-like things AT ALL. I'm sure Snake Bitch will be much happier with Quetzalcoatl. Assuming she can reel him in.

The moment the psycho had taken her hands off Pablo's neck, he had rolled over and curled into a fetal position. Gods damn it! Shit has got to stop messing with me and mine!

Raven swoops down, distracting Bad Bitch Barbie, so I take that moment to turn and thrust my staff with all my considerable strength through her temple... a pool cue through a watermelon.

Spirit Realm maintenance... clean up in aisle two...

Huh. Wonder how that's going to affect poor ol' Quetzalcoatl, who seems to be kind of snared in the energy web Ugly Barbie has been yanking.

Well, not my problem at the moment. I'll need to get the staff out of Barbie's head — damn, that's going to need a good cleaning — but priority number one is protecting Pablo.

Barbie Bitch lets out an unearthly screech and starts to dissolve into smoke, a black pulsating smoke that seems to be leaking out of our realm. My staff pulls free, a bit discolored at one end from the ichor of the creature. The elder pulls out a bag and dips his hand into it, lifting out a fistful of ash that he sprinkles toward the smoke creature. His chant reverberates through the night air with his power.

I look at the end of the staff as the crazy bitch starts misting off again into smoke. Yeah, that's disgusting. As elder Ravenclaw sprinkles his powder, Raven back wings in an attempt to keep the smoke somewhat contained.

And I study the energy flows as I kneel on one knee beside Pablo... well, more behind him really, since he's curled up on his side. One hand has a firm grip on the staff, which is actually rather staff-like what with it being planted on the ground by my knee. Not the icky end, of course. I reach over him and place my other hand over his zhong dan tian, near his heart. Our qi flares brightly... to my eyes, anyway... and I can feel the fresh, clean wind that is part of it now, too. Neat! And no more taint.

Now... let's keep it that way. I do not like this 'curled up trying to make the world go away' thing Pablo is doing.

The first thing I do is weave a shield of qi over Pablo; it's pretty much the same thing I used to wrap around my heart when I needed to kill someone or something. It kept an awful lot of the hurt away from my then more delicate self. This shield, though, is more densely woven and has the combined strengths of our Powers. Bad Bitch Barbie is not getting anywhere near my man.

Next, I look at the tendrils that hussy had been manipulating.

Well. Ain't that a kick in the head for the old ancestral pest? Looks like Smokey the Bitch is having a hard time reeling the serpent in, but she's not letting go either. And she's trying awfully damn hard to reform into something solid. The elder's powder and his chanting are keeping her incorporeal, though.

I have no idea how to send her back to her own special little hell. I can help contain her though.

I begin another weaving, this time around Smokey the Bitch and Quetzalcoatl. She's amorphous enough that I'm not sure I'll surround all of her nastiness if I don't include the stupid snake. Hell, if anyone knows how to get her back to her own little special place, it ought to be the snake.

You might want to back up there a little, my fine feathered friend... you probably don't want to get stuck with those two.

Raven starts singing as the weaving becomes tighter and brighter.

Life is a book that we study, some of its leaves bring a sigh. There it was written by a buddy that we must part, you and I. Nights are long since you went away. I think about you all through the day, my buddy. My buddy, nobody quite so true. Miss your voice, the touch of your hand, just long to know that you understand, my buddy. My buddy, your buddy misses you. Your buddy misses you. Yes, I do.

I sigh, roll my eyes and continue to work.

Andrea, Mate of my Chosen, complete the weaving you are performing, and I shall take this creature back with me to its prison. I have gathered most of it here with me. You have but the pale reflection of its black soul.

Be good to each other...

Quetzalcoatl's tenuous hold on my mind slips away, and a golden glowing pinpoint of light opens in the blackness of the smoke.

The elder's chant grows louder and stronger; I can feel him pulling on Tommy, draining my cousin. The elder's weaving is blending seamlessly with mine, though, reinforcing against the intrusion into our world from Quetzalcoatl's prison world.

Although elder Ravenclaw and I are in harmony creating — more accurately, I suppose, recreating — a prison for Smokey the Bitch, I can see in the energy flows that Tommy is not faring well. The more contained that brazen hussy becomes, however, the more responsive Pablo becomes. As Quetzalcoatl opens the portal to the prison dimension, I feel Pablo's hand covering mine.

The flood of joy and love through my heart accelerates the weaving and squeezes the energy container around the portal Quetzalcoatl created. I bring my staff up with the filthy tip of it pointed at the prison and sing my Power song. Not only does the last tiny bit of Smokey the Bitch get sucked into that other dimension, but the filth on my staff flies after her at an alarming rate.

Hey, don't let the door — or dirt — hit you in the ass on the way out!

The portal closes with a THUD that can probably be heard for half a mile.

I lay the staff on the ground and look at my beloved Pablo. He looks tired, but his eyes are clear and his smile is true. I softly kiss his lips.

"Believe or not, my cousin is in worse shape than you, love. Let me lend him some strength, and then I will hold you all night."

I smile at him as I stand, then turn toward Tommy... pulling more energy from Mother Earth with each step I take. When I reach his side, I sit so I can gather him in my arms. His head rests on my shoulder as I hug him, pouring energy-coated love all over him.

This works much faster with Pablo, but that would be quite inappropriate, dear cousin. So we'll do it the slow and easy way.

And so I just hold him and sing. At a time like this, I think Lean On Me is perfectly appropriate.

Sometimes in our lives we all have pain, we all have sorrow. But if we are wise, we know that there's always tomorrow. Lean on me when you're not strong and I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on. For it won't be long til I'm gonna need somebody to lean on.

Please, swallow your pride if I have faith you need to borrow. For no one can fill those of your needs that you won't let show. You just call on me, brother, when you need a hand. We all need somebody to lean on. I just might have a problem that you'll understand. We all need somebody to lean on.

If there is a load you have to bear that you can't carry, I'm right up the road. I'll share your load if you just call me. Call me... call me...

I watch Ha'atathli Ravenclaw plop down in the nearest chair as I sing. I watch Pablo uncurl from his fetal position, struggle to sit up, then cough and spit out the last of the vile poison from his mouth. Tommy rests in my arms, regaining his strength. A soft chuckle causes his breath to dance lightly across my cheek.

I think Tita Kai would have something to say about such a thing, Andi.

Thank you.

His mind gently wraps around mine, and we feel the peace of Mother Earth cradling us. The time of healing is finished.

I chuckle in response to his silliness.

Tita Kai would only be one in a long line of people who would have something to say. And you're welcome, Tommy. It's a rare thing that I can use this Power to help others regain their strength.

I hold him for a few moments longer, and then kiss his forehead.

"Would you help Pablo into the house, cousin?" I ask softly. "The Ha'atathli could use some strength, as well. I should share the excess I have rather than return it to Mother Earth." I smile in the dark desert night. "It is the least I can do to thank him for his help in healing our soul."

"Don't you mean 'souls'?" Tommy asks as we stand.

I look at him and shake my head. "No. The bond elder Ravenclaw spoke of — and don't tell me you've forgotten my hearing is as sharp as an owl's — is the merging of our qi... nílch'i... life energy, as well as our souls. That is the magic we performed last night."

My cousin looks at me, perhaps just a little surprised... but not too much. "Then you were quite literal when speaking to the... the demon, and not simply trying to make it angry. Pablo is your husband, at least by traditions so old that we no longer follow them."

I shrug. "Is there usually a reason to follow that tradition? Don't worry, we'll do it the modern way, too." I laugh lightly. "Mama and Tita would never forgive me if we didn't."

Tommy smiles and shakes his head. "No, they never would... nor would your aunts, Yani or Talia either. And yes," he says, gently tugging one of my braids, "I'll go help Pablo."

I stand in the darkness for a moment, still feeling qi flowing so strongly around me, through me. It's no more than a few days after the new moon, so there are only the stars to see by, yet I unerringly walk to elder Ravenclaw's side as my sight is as sharp as an owl's as well. I kneel at his side as he sits in one of Tommy's patio chairs, and hold one of his weathered hands between mine. I smile up at him.

"I realize the traditional offering for your help is a pouch of tobacco, but perhaps restoring your strength would be an adequate substitute."

Elder Ravenclaw looks down at me expressionless for a moment, and then raises an eyebrow.

"Is that something you can truly do, Andrea Yazzie? Or do you claim the powers of the Spirits themselves?"

I smile more broadly. "You should know better than to ask that question, Ha'atathli John Ravenclaw. I am one of the Cursed. But there are times when the Curse is a blessing.

"But yes, it is something I can truly do... at times. This is one of those times, for Mother Earth has given me an abundance of strength and nílch'i tonight. She is generous in her bounty and would not mind the sharing. It is important that my heart is full of love and gratitude in order to share, which it not a difficult thing tonight. But, oddly, it seems to work so much easier when I sing.

"And are we all not Singers this night?

"The first time I heard this song, I could barely breathe... its beauty touched me so deeply. I felt as if the entire Navajo Nation was singing it... for me. So I would like to return the favor.

May it be an evening star shines down upon you. May it be when darkness falls your heart will be true. You walk a lonely road. Oh, how far you are from home! Mornie utulie, believe and you will find your way. Mornie alantie, a promise lives within you now.

May it be the Shadow's call will fly away. May it be you journey on to light the day. When the night is overcome, you may rise to find the sun. Mornie utulie, believe and you will find your way. Mornie alantie, a promise lives within you now. A promise lives within you now...

As I sing, I feel his strength returning to him, and as the last words are sung I think I can hear Mother Earth sigh again.

I stand, help him stand as well.

"Come meet my husband, Ha'atathli."

I pick up my staff and walk with the shaman into my cousin's house. The elder stands straighter and stronger after the sharing, and walks at my side into Tommy's house. My cousin is making coffee; my husband is not in sight.

I set my staff in a corner, breathing in the scent of good coffee.

"Is Pablo cleaning up, Tommy? Or is he so exhausted that he's already fallen asleep in your spare room?" The question is more to maintain a semblance of normalcy, as I can very strongly feel Pablo's presence in the bathroom... brushing his teeth it seems. That's an activity of which I highly approve since I have a great deal of kissing planned for later... as soon as possible.

"He's worn out from this experience, yes," Tommy says without turning from his tasks, "but do you really think he wouldn't wait up for you?" He looks over his shoulder and smiles. "Don't make me question your sanity, cousin," he says with a wink. He looks over at elder Ravenclaw, a twinkle of merriment in his eyes. "I just happen to have a few of your favorite cookies here, John. Would you like one?"

Elder Ravenclaw gives Tommy his expressionless gaze before saying, "Do not make me question your sanity, Thomas."

I head down the hallway to the bathroom, tap lightly on the door before entering, then close the door behind me. Pablo is just finishing rinsing his mouth out and takes a towel off the rack to wipe his face. He's put his pants on, but not his shirt; it would appear that he washed his face and neck, as well, as there are trickles of water running down his back.

"I believe you owe me a kiss, Señor Garcia," I say, smiling as I lean back against the door.

"I can't seem to get the taste of it, of her, out of my mouth," he says with a touch of anguish. "Do you know if there's any mouthwash in the other bathroom?" He turns to look at me. "I love you, Andrea. I... I didn't know..."

"Of course you didn't know, Pablo. How could you have?" I take the towel from him and wipe the small rivulets of water from his back. "Had you known..." I shrug and hand the towel back to him. "Last night would not have been possible.

"And do think that is the way to eliminate the memory of evil?" I whisper as I step closer. I rest one hand on his shoulder, and then run the backs of the fingers on the other hand slowly... very slowly... up his abdomen... "With mouthwash?" My fingers continue up his chest. "Wouldn't it make more sense..." My hand reaches his shoulder, then I link my fingers together behind his neck, massaging behind his ears and down his neck with my thumbs. " fight fire with fire..." I lean close as I inhale, then exhale softly against his lips. " to speak."

And then I kiss him, lightly at first as our qi sparks, and then deeply... passionately... embracing him with strong arms, with love, with our blended qi.

Pablo lets out a whisper, a soft moan at my caresses, and then gives himself to my embrace and my kiss. His mouth seeks mine eagerly, and yet I can taste just the faintest hint of bile for a moment, for an instant. Then our combined qi flares in our mouths, through our bodies, cleansing away the last of the foulness and evil, awakening a powerful passion between us, reaffirming that our linked souls are one soul. His strong arms crush me against him, his tongue and mouth demanding to be one with mine.

Love heals.

Yes, we both still have some healing to do because of this experience. But we've come through it stronger, individually and as a couple. We've come through more powerful, individually and as a team. Just as each of us needed to learn to use our powers, to understand them, to control them rather than have them control us... now we must learn how to be a team. That may not be as intuitive as learning to be husband and wife, but being husband and wife will make the task easier.

Pablo's kiss ignites a fire that is best tended carefully lest it burns out of control. This level of passion and fire deserves privacy and demands respect.

Still, when we break from the kiss, my knees feel weak — now it is Wife telling Warrior not to worry — and our eyes, our skin, our souls glow.

I gently caress his cheek, still so bemused and thankful that the one who completes my soul has been one of my dearest friends for years. As I have said to others, and as I truly believe, our new relationship could not have developed another way other than it did. There was never a point, until the very moment we both declared our love, when the inevitable could have been moved to a different point in time. Everything had to happen exactly as it happened. This moment of wonder and love and beauty could not exist without the foundation of our long and strong friendship.

"I would like you to meet elder Ravenclaw, beloved," I say as I smile softly, and then pick up his shirt from the floor where he had likely thrown it in frustration. "We have all of eternity; there will be few opportunities for you to meet our Shaman."

I hand him the shirt, then pull the hair ties from my braids, and finger comb my hair. This battle is over.

His face is flushed from the kiss, but he nods, taking the shirt from me. "I need to change first, love. This shirt really needs to be washed." He takes my hand and looks at my hair, smiling. "I love your hair down around your shoulders, Andi. It's like black velvet."

"There are very few reasons I have for restraining my hair, love. The two most common are battle when I wear the braids, and a very fancy function where I have one of Bobby's friends come over and do unspeakable things involving curling irons, pins and clips, and lots of hairspray." I grin. "That happens three or four times a year for the library fundraisers and special events.

"I should change, too. Eating dinner again, sipping tea, snuggling with you on the sofa just doesn't seem proper wearing battle fatigues." I look down at my all-black outfit and chuckle. "Well, this is my version of fatigues, anyway." We cross the hall to Tommy's spare room to change. It is quite a challenge, to be sure. I strip to my panties to put on jeans and a bright blue polo shirt. The sight of Pablo's toned body makes me forget what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm not sure if it helps or not that he's equally as distracted, although it does help that he manages to — mostly — keep his hands to himself. He dresses in a pair of khakis, a button down denim shirt and sneakers.

But we do manage to get changed, then go back out to the great room where Tommy and elder Ravenclaw are sitting at the table, chatting. I am happily barefoot and the floor...

"Ah, Tommy, I love your floor! It reminds me of living in Chenjiagou... my feet say you have a happy floor just as Grandmaster Chen does."

I take Pablo's hand, and introduce him to the elder in the American way.

"Ha'atathli Ravenclaw, I present my husband, Pablo Garcia of the Aztec people. Pablo, I present Ha'atathli John Ravenclaw, senior Ha'atathli — medicine man — of the Diné Nation."

"It's my honor to meet you, sir. I owe you a great debt of gratitude for your part in ridding me of that... thing." Pablo extends his hand to shake the elder's hand.

John takes Pablo's hand in his wrinkled one and shakes it with surprising strength. "There is no debt, husband of my cousin's granddaughter. You are married into the Ts'ah Yisk'idnii of the Diné. We are one People, and it is my duty to help all who are in need." The elder smiles at me. "Besides, it has been quite a while since such a beautiful woman hugged me like that."

I chuckle as Pablo and I sit down; Tommy has already prepared fresh plates of food.

"You should come to Denver some Spring for one of the big Pow-Wows. The Hopi people host it, but many Nations and Tribes are represented. I'm sure Ha'atathli Humatewa would enjoy talking with you, and there are many beautiful women who would be honored to meet you. It's quite festive, especially as each Lakota clan seems to feel it's their duty to be more colorful than every other Lakota clan." I laugh. "Why, the Hopi and Ute and Diné look positively plain! But there are no finer weavers than our People, so we are not overlooked."

I rest one bare foot on top of Pablo's and begin eating my sandwich.

John laughs. "I am getting too old for beautiful women. I do not think my heart could take the strain," he says, shaking his head.

I look closely at the elder's aura and snort. "Your heart is just fine, and you're as healthy as most men half your age." I take a drink of water, and then grin at him. "You're just afraid of breaking so many hearts," I say with a chuckle.

Pablo picks up a sandwich and starts eating slowly, chewing carefully to avoid the same problem he had earlier. "Thank you, Tommy, for the hospitality of your home."

Tommy acknowledges Pablo's thanks with a bow of his head. "While it's required that we offer aid and hospitality to all who come to us, it's always a pleasure to offer that hospitality to our family."

Pablo smiles. "I guess we are family now. We still need to make it legal, but Andrea and I are joined as one."

"We have a somewhat loose definition of 'family' sometimes, Pablo," Tommy says with a smile. "You went to Flagstaff to support Andrea when Tita was hospitalized. That made you family, and you'd be considered family even if the two of you simply remained friends. Of course, we're all ecstatic little Andi is finally getting married. I've never seen Tita looking — or acting — so young!" He looks over at me and winks. "We all thought Andi would be a stereotypical old maid librarian."

I wave a hand at him. "Bah! Look who's talking, elder unmarried cousin!" I tease, yes... but I'm grinning broadly, too.

Elder Ravenclaw leans closer and speaks conspiratorially. "Now, your grandmother, she is one to risk a heart attack for. But Bill Yazzie would pound me into the ground with my own legs after he tore them off if I considered it. It is a good thing she is my cousin."

I stare at the elder, astounded for a moment, then burst out laughing. "Yes. Yes, he would. And you'd have as much success separating my grandparents as that brazen hussy from another dimension had in trying to separate me from Pablo. Except you wouldn't fare as well, I suspect."

The elder laughs. "Well, yes. But some things might be worth it."

Pablo grins and puts down his sandwich so he can wrap his arm around my shoulders. "I've loved Andi for so long. I think it's all of you telling her and showing her that it was okay for her to open up to my love that made us possible. Thank you, Tommy." He speaks quietly, and has such a look of love in his eyes that I think my heart might explode... figuratively, of course.

I lean into his embrace and smile at him. "They all played their parts with teasing and cajoling and concern, but it was Tita who said just the exact right words at the right time. Things happen as they should, when they should.

"It was time for me to open my eyes, open my heart, open my life." I rest my head on his shoulder and sigh happily. "And now you're stuck with me... all of me. Hmmm... even I'm not quite sure how integrating my two distinct personalities is going to work."

I chuckle.

"It's going to be fun finding out, though."

We spend a day with Tommy, giving him and Pablo a chance to really get to know each other, and for Pablo to recover his strength. On the following day, I get back on my bike and Pablo takes to his winds, and we head home. It's late in the afternoon by the time we get home.

Pablo arrives about half an hour before I do because of an accident on I-25. Unless I'm out on an emergency call, I'm not going to get in the way of emergency equipment, and even then I try very hard to make sure I give them a wide berth. Fortunately, the cars were damaged far worse than the occupants who only wound up with bruising from their seatbelts and airbags. People who don't heal from pretty much everything really should be a lot more careful than they usually are.

By the time I roll my bike into the garage, I can smell coffee brewing from inside the house and meat grilling out in the back yard.

As much as I enjoy visiting with my family, any of them, it's always nice to come home. It's even nicer now that there's someone waiting for me at home. After getting the bike put away, I unpack everything and return my staff to its place in the dojo. After washing my hands and face, I change into a pair of denim shorts and a tank top. Then I take the hamper out to the ex-breezeway now utility room and get the laundry started. Definitely need more clean towels!

Finally, I head out to the back yard, loving the feel of the cool grass on my bare feet. I wrap my arms around Pablo when I reach his post tending to the searing of cow flesh. My vegetarian friends shudder when I talk like that. Come to think of it, so do some of the meat-eating ones.

"I probably haven't mentioned how much I love you in the past hour," I say, hugging him. "Immeasurably. And I'm going to either have to make up new words or start reciting sonnets for you." I chuckle.

"I saw Bobby's note on the counter; I didn't think it was possible to write with that amount of frenetic enthusiasm. I'm so glad he seems to be getting over his paranoia about David's parents. I'm sure they're having a lovely dinner with them tonight... one that will have far less excitement than we provided at Bobby's party."

Pablo had washed up before I arrived and has on a loose flowing shirt of soft cotton and a pair of cotton drawstring pants. He, too, is barefoot, and the breeze has tousled his hair. I can feel how much more relaxed he is now, and when we touch the qi runs strong and clean between us.

"Yeah, keep teasing him. But remember, you still have to pass the inspection of my mother and sisters," he says. "We really should fly out there one weekend before the wedding so you can meet your future mother-in-law and sisters-in-law." He turns to kiss me softly.

"How do you want your seared cow flesh?" He's been hanging around with me a long time.

"I don't want to hear it mooing when I stab it with my fork."

Yikes, but fly to California! Eeep! In-laws. Eeep! Well... Pablo met my family — the whole family — under much more trying circumstances.

"I'd love to meet your mother and your sisters, the brother-in-law, and all the nieces and nephews," I say as I hug him around the waist. "But you have to promise I won't have to braid my hair. I'd like to pretend I'm just ordinary Andrea Yazzie, a delicate librarian... even though I never know when Ninja is going to decide she needs to say something. Darn, I don't even know who the Supers ARE in Los Angeles; I'd hate to go stepping on any Super toes while I'm out there.

"It will be a non-Super trip, I promise... just family, food and frivolity," he says, enjoying the feel of my arms around him enough that he momentarily forgets about dinner.

"Can you make a salad to go with this, hon? There's a pitcher of lemonade and the salad fixings are in the bag in the fridge. I thought we could sit out there and eat. It's such a nice day out."

"I'd be happy to fetch for you, O Master of the Winds," I say, giggling. "Hmmm... as long we're talking air currents, that is." I laugh as I get out of range quickly. I smile the entire time I'm preparing the salad and continue smiling as I put silverware in my back pocket, drape the blanket over a shoulder and then carry the salad, salad dressing, pitcher and two glasses out to the yard. I have everything set out on the blanket by the time Pablo is putting the meat on the plates.

"So... when do you want to go to California?" I ask as he sits down.

He sits beside me on the blanket and takes a sip of lemonade before answering. "Well, we'll either have to go this week while we're both off work or wait until we both have another weekend free," he says, his bare foot brushing up against mine. "You're not nervous, are you, love?" he asks with a twinkle in his eyes as he looks at me.

I raise an eyebrow. "Should I be? I suppose I could get as freaked out about meeting your family as Bobby did about meeting David's folks, but I'm not sure my acting ability is quite that good." I eat a forkful of salad, enjoying the touch of his skin against mine and fondly recalling the first time he'd tried to play footsie with me. Goodness, how things change in a few short weeks... even if those weeks seem like an eternity ago.

"You've made your family sound like very nice people. So unless you've got a demented cousin hidden away somewhere, or you've been fibbing to me, I'm not sure I need to be nervous.

"And it will be more expensive to fly out there this week, but having our schedules coincide — and have bad people cooperate — could take us well into the next decade." I grin. "I'll get online and book us a flight after we finish eating. And before you distract me with anything else."

"No, my family is nice. You'll like them, I'm sure. I just can't help teasing you a little; it's one of the spices of life. Just book one ticket, unless you want to ride my back out to California," he offers, grinning at me. "Now, what's this about me distracting you?" He runs his toe up my calf.

I shiver, and our qi flashes through my meridians like static electricity.

"Um, there's something illogical about your statement, and you're making me forget what it is." I reach over and tickle the bottom of his foot then back flip out of range. Crouched a few feet away, I point a finger at him and grin. "Ah ha! See? You are a very bad influence, Pablo Garcia.

"Now think about this. If you're going to fly, and you fly as fast as I ride, why shouldn't I ride? Well, okay, I can't average one fifty over the mountains...

"You know, we should have just gone to LA from Tommy's.

"Still, even though I need to slow down between the Eisenhower Tunnel and Grand Junction — not as much during the day, though — there's no reason for me not to ride if you're going to fly. Oh. Unless your mother would be mortified that her future daughter-in-law rides like a maniac."

I continue to grin at him.

"Airplanes fly faster than you. You'd have to leave sooner, or I'd get to LA first. And flying in an airplane is boring. If you're not going to be in the airplane with me, I don't want to fly."

My expression changes to one that's considerably more seductive.

"We'd never get to California if I ride on your back, my dear. In fact, we barely make it back from Lookout Mountain."

"I just thought you might get tired riding your bike all that distance." He blushes at my last comment. "No, I suppose we wouldn't. The thought of you riding on my back is... very erotic. I, ah, I guess we should either take the train or fly."

"Hmmm, yes. Very, very erotic." I stand up from the crouch and walk back to the blanket, still smiling.

"I can't imagine riding my bike is any more tiring than flying is for you," I say as I sit down. "But it would be probably seven hours if you flew at your top speed the whole way, a little over eight if you paced me through the mountain passes. Even if you ride the currents, that's a long time. And I seem to be getting more and more adept at pulling energy from the Earth, but it's still a long time." I shrug.

"Might as well fly... in a plane. Amtrak would take even longer than driving your car, and it's not much cheaper than flying these days."

He reaches out and pulls me on top of him, lying back on the blanket and looking up into my eyes. "Then we fly," he says, running his fingers through my hair. "My lord, you're beautiful." He brushes soft lips across my chin.

With palms flat on the ground and elbows slightly bent, I hold myself slightly above him so I could look into his eyes. My hair falls like black curtains on either side of my face.

"I think you might be slightly biased," I whisper. "And this is exactly the sort of distraction I was talking about. Food? Airplane reservations?"

He just looks at me and smiles. "What are those? All I see is the face of my lover." He pulls me down to kiss him.

I'm not going to resist the opportunity to kiss my husband... it's completely intoxicating. I get lost; I want to stay lost in the feelings for hours. And when I finally pull back to look into his eyes again, I can't help but grin.

"You're terribly naughty, Pablo." I kiss the tip of his nose.

Then roll off him, off the blanket, away from my dinner, and stand up again... in the blink of an eye. Okay, possibly two blinks.

"You are also so very distracting," I say, laughing. "I want to eat my seared cow flesh while it's still freshly seared. Re-heating it only makes it cook more. Ugh."

I walk back to the other side of the blanket, watching him, smiling.

"I don't know about man, but woman cannot live on sex alone. Woman needs food. Woman needs seared cow flesh!" I sit down and pick up my plate. "And veggies.

"And then woman must make travel arrangements to visit the in-laws." I spear a piece of the steak with my fork and pop it in my mouth, chewing happily.

All the while smiling, of course.

He chuckles. "Well, man might try to live on sex alone, but man also likes the taste of seared cow flesh. Man will keep his greedy hands to himself," he says, cutting his own piece of steak and wiggling his toes at me. "Let's see... we have five days off left. Why don't we set the flight the day after tomorrow. That will give us tomorrow to rest up and reconnect. I'm sure you must have questions."

I chuckle. "Rest up and reconnect means lots of sex, right? I approve."

He chuckles as well, blushing a bit again. "Yeah, a lot of sex," he confesses.

Then I sigh.

"I don't even know where to begin with the questions, love. I figure you can just start talking about whatever parts you are able to share at this point, and if questions come up..." I shrug. "Well, then I'll know what questions to ask. Your experience is so..." I sigh again and shake my head. "I sometimes think my life has been odd. And Billy... changing into all sorts of different animals... that's pretty odd, too. But what you went through? Even by my standards of odd, you're in a class by yourself."

My statement makes him go quiet for a few moments. "I... I want to tell you all of it, Andi. It's just... painful."

I reach over to place a hand on his knee. "And I'll hold you, and share your pain," I say softly. "I've walked the path with you before, and I don't fear walking it again. As hard as it is for you to tell, as hard as it might be for me to hear... I'll be with you."

He looks into my eyes and nods. "I know you, Andi. I know you'll always be with me, helping me and supporting me." The piece of steak on his fork has been forgotten.

I squeeze his knee and smile, and then point at his plate. "Eat. Trust me when I tell you you'll need a lot more calories than you did before."

I eat another forkful of salad, watching him with a twinkle in my eyes. "I don't want you passing out at a critical time later."

"Yes, dear, I'll eat my dinner." He chews the steak slowly and carefully, spearing some greens after he swallows. He moves to sit beside me, leaning against me a little for comfort as we finish dinner.

Pablo stays close to me — I think we both still need the reassurance that we truly are together again, and this isn't all just a dream. After we finish eating and cleaning up, I book our flight to Los Angeles for Saturday, on an early flight out of DIA so we can arrive in time for lunch with Pablo's family.

Amusingly, when I check my email, I have a short note from Peregrine.

Get back to me
Peregrine <>
Sent: Tue 08/14/2012 7:49 AM
To: Ninja


I know you're out of pocket this week, but let's get together when you get back. Looks like there might be a new Super in town; Sgt. Davis notified me that the Rangers up at the Lookout Mountain Visitor Center saw someone flying off last night. Let's hope it's a good guy, huh? And we still haven't managed to have that FTF meeting... think we can work it out this time?

Hope your family crisis resolves favorably and quickly.


I smile and wonder if I should respond... and decide against it. It can wait until Monday. I know he's not going to tell me what sort of job he has when he's being Regular Citizen, but anyone who can write complete sentences — that make sense! — gets an automatic healthy dose of respect in my book. We've tried to set up meetings in the past, but maybe it will work out this time. The first six months he was here I don't think he even knew about me; it wouldn't surprise me if the Feds had neglected to mention me since I don't always play by their rules. Gosh, come to think of it, I don't think I ever play by their rules. I wonder if I'll be more accommodating now that I don't have a split personality. It could happen, although I tend to doubt it.

I remember when Forsythe told me about the first time he'd gone down there to take care of... Hmmm, it must have been that gang of Unfortunates that was breaking into all the stores at the Outlet Mall. I'd spent a week down there, watching... waiting... then let Forsythe know when she and her team could round them all up. Peregrine showed up a day or two later wanting to know if there was anything he could do to help, and Forsythe had told him Ninja took care of the problem. Apparently, the look on his face was priceless. Wish I could have been there.

But he's a decent guy, and very quickly made contact — I'm sure he had a little help from Captain Sanchez — to apologize for not introducing himself immediately upon his arrival in Denver. Hey, I'm happy being in the shadows and he's Sponsored, so his arrival definitely took what little interest there might have been in Denver's mysterious Super and placed it squarely on his broad shoulders. Well, I assume they're broad shoulders... the guy has wings, at least that's what it looks like from his photos. It could just be a peculiar cape. Obviously, I forgave him immediately and thanked him for coming out to the Mile High City to be the lightning rod for the media. And to fight bad guys. He doesn't totally grok my possessive protection of the underdogs, but I don't grok his delight in giving interviews. So I figure we're about even.

Our regular lives mostly seem to get in the way of meeting in person, but with the rumor of a new Super in town, we might actually get a meeting accomplished. I think I might wait until Pablo and Captain Sanchez work out Pablo's new role before setting a date for the meeting, though. Maybe we could all sit down and chat together.

I stand watch — so to speak — again over Pablo's dreams as he sleeps and am relieved when he sleeps peacefully through the night. Oh. Well, except for the times he wakes up with sex on his mind.

On Friday, Pablo and I completely isolate ourselves. The doors are locked and a sticky note is on the back door that reads "GO AWAY" for the tsunami neighbor. All the phones are turned off. And we become reacquainted with one another again. Although Pablo's not quite ready to talk about everything that happened in the other dimension, we talk about... well, pretty much anything that pops into our heads. Who should we invite to the wedding? Gosh, we still haven't been over to LePeep's for breakfast to make Liza as gushy happy as Bobby is. The Rockies are doing about as poorly as the Cubs; that hasn't happened in a while. Where should we go on our honeymoon? And, of course, we make love and explore one another's bodies. I am still, and perhaps always will be fascinated by the flow of qi between us and around us... it's truly mesmerizing.

Early Saturday morning, we head out to DIA with one carry-on bag each. I don't know if Pablo is bringing his gun because I prefer blissful ignorance. However, I am reminded why I rarely fly anywhere, and am grateful we arrive long before our flight is to leave because there's just no way I'm going anywhere without my staff. I have the pleasure of spending forty-five minutes with the very professional, very cautious, very nice TSA agent who, I think, is trying to memorize my Supers portfolio. It's just a beefed up passport; I don't know why people get so googly-eyed over it. The benefit of an integrated personality is that I'm able to remain polite through the entire... interview? Well, it seems like either an interview or an interrogation. Also, it doesn't hurt that Pablo is waiting close enough that I can feel him; yes, perhaps he's a touch worried, but I can feel him, so all is well. Finally, though, the agent returns all my paperwork and waves me — and my staff — through security. I dare say we'll have just as much fun, perhaps even more, on our return flight!

The flight itself is uneventful, although the flight attendants are not quite sure what to make of me. I look like a librarian; I carry a Supers ID. I just wink and put a finger to my lips as we board — who knew Supers got upgraded to first class??! — and get settled. I really would rather not have the attention, but on the other hand... my staff! So, I endure. Or rather, I thank them profusely for their kindness and mention that the detective and I need to go over a case. I'm getting to be a pretty darn good liar.

Okay, that is a little sad, although it would probably make Henry deliriously happy. But what do you expect from a guy whose guardian Spirit is Coyote? I'm just glad we're flying United because if I had booked the flights on Southwest, the Spirits would have let Coyote have its way and my cousin would be our pilot. I love my cousin. But he's crazy... in a totally lovable way, of course. But he'd probably make the plane do loop-dee-loops... or, in his world, let the plane do loop-dee-loops.

Picking up our rental car is far less stressful and time-consuming than I'd anticipated. It looks like we'll arrive at his mother's house in plenty of time for lunch.

I'm a little nervous and a little excited and a little scared. I know I don't really have any reason to be nervous or scared; from everything Pablo has ever said about his family, they're a lot like mine... loving and open-hearted. I suppose it's just that I've never done the whole "meet the family" thing before. Yeah, I'm going with that.

His mother's bungalow is a cozy little white home, and it's obvious that a lot of love has gone into its care and maintenance. An American flag is fluttering on a flagpole in the front yard. Pablo parks the car out front and turns off the engine.

As he parks the car in front of his mother's house, I look over at him with a mischievous grin. "I should leave the staff in the trunk, huh?"

He turns to look at me, a smile on his face. "Yes, dear... walking into the house with a large stick might cause them to raise an eyebrow or two."

I grin. "Later then. The carvings are so beautiful, I'm sure they'll appreciate the artistry. And don't I sometimes have a bum knee or hip or foot or something? I can never remember what story I use for what occasions."

He reaches over to squeeze my hand. "I have no idea what stories you make up for having that staff, Andi. You'll have to tell all the ones you've used, and maybe together we can remember what story you've told which people." My husband chuckles at the ridiculous nature of that statement, no doubt. "Are you ready to go in?"

I squeeze his hand in return. "Yes, dear husband of mine, I'm as ready as I'll ever be to meet the Garcia tribe. I'll even be your sweet, delicate librarian and allow my most gentlemanly fiancé to open the car door for me." I giggle. "Well, I know you like doing it... and it makes a good impression."

Pablo snorts at my description of me as a delicate anything but gets out of the car and comes around to open my door for me. He even offers his hand to me.

"May I help you out of the chariot, my lady?" he asks with that crooked boyish smile of his on his face.

I place my hand in his and return the smile. "Thank you, kind sir. You are a prince among men." I wait while he closes the car door. "Playing this little game really does keep my thoughts from going where... ah... they probably shouldn't be going as I'm walking up the sidewalk to your mother's house...

"...which is freaking awesome, by the way. I've always loved this style of architecture, but a poor civil servant such as your delicate librarian certainly can't afford to live in Cherry Creek."

"That's now two poor civil servants, my love." He takes my hand in his as we walk toward the front door. "Though even two poor civil servants can't afford Cherry Creek," he agrees.

As we reach the front door, it opens and a small Hispanic woman stands there with a big beautiful smile on her face.

"Pablo!" she exclaims happily. She turns to me but waits for Pablo to make proper introductions. Oh my gosh, I love this woman already!

"Momma, this is my fiancée, Andrea Yazzie. Andrea, this is my mother, Maria Garcia," he says, his voice tinged with emotion as he introduces his future wife — at least by customs most people understand — to his mother. I'm a little emotional myself.

And so is my soon to be mother-in-law. Bright tears glisten in her eyes as she smiles, and then hugs me tightly. "Welcome to the family, Andrea. It's so good to meet my future daughter-in-law."

Wrapped in Mrs. Garcia's hug, I truly feel welcomed. Her aura is bright with happiness; there is evidence of despair and sadness for her son, but so much of that is being washed away by her joy.

Ripples in a pond...

By loving Pablo, by helping him heal, by joining my soul with his, I've also helped heal his mother.

Helping people by helping other people by helping other people...

I return her hug, tears forming in my own eyes for the welcome, for the healing.

"Thank you, Mrs. Garcia. I feel very blessed by Pablo's love and your gracious welcome."

Mrs. Garcia kisses me on both cheeks and then turns to her son, hugging him just as tightly as she hugged me and kissing his cheeks as well.

"Come inside. Your family is waiting to be introduced to your lovely fiancée." She smiles brightly as she ushers us into her home.

Pablo nods to her and grins at me, taking my hand. "Come on, love. It's time to meet my siblings."

I hold his hand, linking our fingers together, and smile at him. "Your siblings are Normal people... with no crazy guardian Spirits or ancestral pests. I am actually looking forward to it!"

Momma leads us through her tidy house and out into the fenced back yard where the family is waiting. From Pablo's descriptions of his sisters, I feel as though I already know them.

Elvia is a striking woman in her thirties, just a year older than me. She works as a pediatric nurse at the County Hospital. If Pablo is even the slightest bit objective, she's exceptionally talented, and has a way with children that I would envy. And he probably isn't objective in the least, but I can see he also was not exaggerating. Her aura is beautiful and soothing. She's married to Charles, an engineer for LA County; he's the same age as Pablo. I like that symmetry. The two of them have three children... Julio, who's eleven; Marcus, who's eight; and Maralisa, who's six.

Next is Ladonna, who's a year younger than I am. I know her husband, Anton, was a Marine and died in Afghanistan around the time Melissa was born. I can see the sadness still clouding Ladonna's aura, but she's not holding it inside like Pablo did with Rosalia and Juan. It's a normal sadness, and I think if she ever meets the right man, that sadness would be swept away in the blink of an eye. Her son Anton Junior, who's six, doesn't appear to be here. But little Melissa, a delightful four year old, sits quietly on her mother's knee while Ladonna brushes the girl's hair.

Blanca is the youngest at twenty-one, and it's easy to guess that she's left a trail of broken hearts in her path toward her dreams. When she turns her sultry brown eyes to us, she practically squeals when she sees her older brother. She jumps up, runs over and throws her arms around his neck, squeezing him hard.

Just looking at his sisters' auras, I see so much strength and inner beauty; I see connections among the whole family that remind me, so achingly, of my own family. Blanca's excitement is telegraphed in her aura, so I let go of Pablo's hand and take a step back, giggling as his little sister flings herself at him. It's almost a replay of my reunion with Justin, except that Justin and I were slightly more exuberant.

I like them already. And I can't help grinning.

Elvia, being the oldest, comes over to me and smiles as she introduces herself, hugging me and kissing my cheek. "It's so good to finally meet you, Andrea. My brother's been speaking of you for quite some time. I'm glad he finally got around to telling you how he felt."

Hugging Elvia back, I say, "He sure freaked me out when he told me, but..." I smile when the hug ends and shrug. "Well, he's... he's..."

I shake my head and chuckle. "What can I say? He's pretty amazing."

Elvia just smiles and nods. "I know."

Ladonna comes over with Melissa on her hip to greet me. "Hi, Andrea. I'm Ladonna, and this is my little girl, Melissa. Did you have a nice flight?"

Elvia moves aside for her sister, and then walks over to rescue Pablo. I'm not sure Pablo wants to be rescued; he dotes on his baby sister. But hugs and kisses from all his sisters are going to be required. The Yazzies are huggers... we don't do as much kissing as the Garcias seem to do, however.

"Hi, it's nice to meet you, Ladonna. I think we got lucky with a smooth flight that was on time... at least, that's the impression I get from my friends who frequently fly." I roll my eyes. "Of course, my cousin the pilot claims every single one of his flights is turbulence-free and on time, but he's been known to stretch the truth just a little bit." I shift my eyes to the little girl and say as I lift a hand to her, palm up, "Hi, Melissa. I'm Andi."

Children... they're unpredictable. Some are shy and cling to their parents, some are outgoing and make friends with everyone. Some hang back and observe, some have to be in the thick of things. Even I can't tell by looking at their auras because unless it's a child who's really sick, children like Melissa all have bright, colorful, constantly swirling auras. But they do tend to see the unseen. And the more time I spend with Pablo, the brighter and more colorful — to my eyes, and probably anyone else's who can see qi movements — my energy flows are becoming.

To me, it looks like there are rainbow sparks dancing along the meridians of the hand I'm holding out to Melissa and my lao gong point is glowing a pearly white.

"Pilots!" Ladonna exclaims, shaking her head and rolling her eyes. "I've known too many of them, all of them hotdogs from the Marine Corps."

At the same time, Melissa's eyes are large and watching me, darting from one meridian to another, giggling as she watches the qi flowing.

"Pretty mommy," she says, smiling shyly.

"Sadly, Henry doesn't even have that as an excuse," I say shaking my head. "He's just a goof." Then I smile at the child.

"Melissa's very pretty, too."

The little girl smiles more boldly and holds out a flower to me. Ladonna looks at me, the love for her daughter radiating from her, and grins. "I think the Brat wants to meet you now," she says, quickly stepping out of the way.

I barely have the chance to accept Melissa's flower and say thank you before I'm being gripped in yet another Garcia hug.

Blanca is grinning; she's almost quivering with happiness, as she hugs me. "You've put the smile back on Big Bear's face!" I am definitely not imagining the tear in her eye.

"I'm glad, so very glad I've made him as happy as he makes me," I whisper to Blanca before releasing her.

Then I look at Pablo, smiling and full of joy. "Big Bear? Ah, now I know there's bound to be a story there."

Pablo grins back at me and shrugs.

"When I was little and got scared, I wanted either my teddy bear or my brother," Blanca explains. "I started calling him my Big Teddy, and that became Big Bear. I use it to tease him now." She looks at him with love and pride.

I chuckle. "You know, as much as I try to tease my brother, he always winds up teasing me even more." I look up at Pablo again. "I suppose that's a burden eldest siblings must bear."

"Elvia, is Charles working?" Pablo asks as he wraps an arm around me.

"Of course," his sister replies with a knowing smile. "No rest for the public employees. He said he'd swing by on his way home tonight, though, to say hi."

"You must all sit now, and tell us all about your romance," Momma Garcia says as she motions to her children to sit at the picnic table. There are platters and bowls overflowing with homemade tamales, beans and rice, plantains, and all sorts of other wonderful food cooked by the Garcia woman.

I walk with Pablo hand in hand to the picnic table and sit down beside him. I can tell my taste buds and my stomach are going to be happy today! I look from Pablo to his mother at her comment.

"I think Pablo ought to start the story. After all, I was apparently oblivious for years that my best friend was in love with me." I nudge Pablo lightly with my shoulder... and then just lean against him, happy and content.

"Well, you all know how I met Andrea." He looks at me and smiles softly. "It wasn't really the best way to meet someone, but we did manage to develop a friendship." He looks at me, an eyebrow twitching almost imperceptibly, a silent question about how much of our story should be shared. I pat his hand under the table.

"True. But being the upstanding citizen that I am, we never would have met if some twit with a powerful daddy and an inability to understand a simple word like 'no' hadn't decided to make a big deal out of my reminding him what 'no' means." I shrug, and look around at his family, then smile at Pablo. "He and his partner checked back with me a few times after that incident. And then Pablo started coming by every few weeks without Denise... catching me between classes, or stopping by my dorm room, or just calling to make sure I was okay and wasn't getting any grief over what I'd done. I thought it was... really nice, very gentlemanly. I guess I might have thought it was kind of stalkery if it had been anyone else, but..." I shrug again and grin. "But how could such a nice, polite guy — and a policeman even — be a stalker?

"And besides, my roommates thought he was awesome. It wasn't like he'd drop by and pretend they weren't there; I thought he seemed just as interested in their conversations as mine." I roll my eyes and laugh at myself. "I was totally clueless!

"By the time I graduated — about a year and a half after we first met — it dawned on me that I was hanging out with Pablo a few times a week, but that didn't seem to really sink in, you know? I didn't have a lot of friends back then, but the ones I did have... well, we'd get together about as often as I saw Pablo. So I didn't think it was the least bit odd."

I look at Pablo. "Wasn't it right after I started grad school that you started pestering me to join the Denver PD? I think it was around then." I look back at his sisters. "I thought he was nuts. I had a bachelor's degree in English, and I was getting a master's in library science... what was I going to do as a police officer, right? But this goof seemed to think that I ought to be putting my martial arts training to good use. Like I wasn't! I practiced Taiji like other people do yoga... it's good exercise, and very relaxing. Good heavens! Did he ever pester me!"

I give him a poke on the arm. "You did, you know."

But then I stop, remembering, look down at my hands that are now clenched in my lap.

"Not too long after Pablo made detective," I say softly, "he called me between classes one day, told me to get over to University Hospital right away. That was the day Denise had been..."

I swallow hard. This is supposed to be a happy gathering; I'm not going to cry. Damn this crazy Curse of mine anyway that makes me feel all that stuff all over again, and at full force... fresh as the day it happened!

"Well, he probably told you what happened to her. That was a terrible summer, and I spent every minute I could trying to help him... making sure he was eating, going to the hospital with him to visit Denise. On the day that they took her off life support..." I'm clenching my hands together so tightly, I absently wonder if it would be possible to break my own fingers. "Her family asked us — all her friends, actually — if we'd sit vigil with them. It was just us, though... just the two of us and her family. When she was gone, we just sat in Pablo's car in the parking garage." I glance up at Pablo, knowing I have tears in my eyes. His hand slides over mine and our qi flares brightly. I hear Melissa gasp and let out a long sigh. But his strength is my strength... just as my strength is his strength. His love surrounds me. I look into his eyes as I continue the story.

"I could almost feel how broken you were." Of course, that's not exactly the truth because now he knows that I did feel how broken he was then. "I said your name, and you looked at me. It had been a really long time since I'd seen the sort of look in anyone's eyes that I saw in yours that day. Anger, pain, fear, helplessness... you raged, you cried. I... I realized that you were so angry, that you were going to hurt yourself or someone else if you didn't let it out. I made you drive us over to City Park, remember?"

He squeezes my hands and nods. I look around then, look at his mother and each of his sisters, before looking into his eyes again.

"When we got to the park, to that big stand of trees, I told you to try to hit me. You were... yeah, I guess shocked would be the right word. You said some naughty words and essentially told me I was crazy. But I knew... I knew you had to let off the steam. I was so afraid of what you might do, who you'd let your anger out on because of what had happened to Denise." I take a deep breath.

"So I pushed you... kinda hard. You weren't expecting that, and it made you stumble, which just made you madder. I taunted you until I found the right button to push, and you finally came at me, so full of rage..."

He smiles at me. I know he remembers that day, too. He's said more than once that he must have been out of his mind to try taking on someone with two black belts. Well, yeah... he was out of his mind.

I look at his family again, a crooked smile on my face, tilting my head and looking at Pablo out of the corner of my eye. "He spent a good forty-five minutes trying to punch my lights out and didn't land a single blow. I'm sure he's probably mentioned I have the highest rank in both Aikido and Taiji." I shake my head, a silent testament to Pablo's past insanity.

"And when he'd worn out the anger, we sat in the park for... I don't know... hours probably, while I just held him when he cried, listened when he talked. At some point that evening, I... I realized that somewhere along the line I'd put Pablo in the 'best friend as close as family' category. And until a few weeks ago, that's where he stayed... despite my dear friend annoying pest of a neighbor trying to convince me Pablo was the greatest thing since sliced cheese, despite all the matchmaking my other friends and my coworkers did. I just didn't get the vibe that Pablo was interested in anything else, even though we saw each other two or three times a week."

Wups! There I go lying through my teeth again!

"And despite the entire world thinking I was a lonely and sad and miserable old maid," I said theatrically, "I really honestly swear to the Spirits was not looking for a boyfriend. Or, as I had to tell Anna at work all the time, a girlfriend, either."

I look at Pablo with a grin. "So... what's your side of the story? It's got to be so totally different from mine that it will sound like we're talking about two different people named Andrea and Pablo."

My hands had unclenched, and one had found its way to entwine with Pablo's.

He had given me his silent support throughout my telling of the tale, despite the memories it must surely have triggered. He's said he might have retreated into a bottle when Denise died if I hadn't been there for him. What I still fear to tell him is that I know with certainty he would have not only crawled into a bottle, but he very likely would not be alive today. I think with some introspection, he'd come to that same conclusion.

He covers our entwined hands with his other one. He looks at his family but speaks to me as well as them.

"I think I fell for Andrea the first moment I saw her in that frat house. There was something about her spirit, the way she'd stood up to that jerk, that I found intriguing." Pablo looks at me, smiling. "I guess it was your strength of character."

Looking back at his sisters, he continues. "I wanted to find out more about her, to see who she was, to find out what made her tick. So even after the mandated visits were completed, Denise and I still found reasons to stop by visit her, all on my instigation, of course. And then after a while, I started calling and visiting on my own. Denise could see what was going on, and she encouraged me."

Pablo looks at me and chuckles. "Bet you didn't know that."

I grin at him. "No, but I find I'm not the least bit surprised." Actually, I'd pretty much had it worked out long before she was attacked, but I can't say that in front of his family.

"Anyway, the more we hung out," he says, looking again at his sisters, "the more comfortable I became with her... with us. I could talk to her like no one else, and she listened. Best of all, when she didn't agree with something, she gave me hell and..."

"Pablo! No cursing in this house!" his mother says, causing him to blush slightly. "You know that."

"Sí, Momma, lo sé. Lo siento."

He smiles at me, watching my eyes as he continues.

"After she graduated... I don't know. I just started seeing something in her that I had to know better. I wanted to start seeing her romantically, but I could sense that it wasn't the right time... that maybe she wasn't ready for romance. So I bided my time and waited. And then Denise..."

His smile fades, and he stops for a moment, closing his eyes.

"I loved her just like the three of you," he says to his sisters. "She was the yin to my yang on the job, and we worked so well together. I know I told you so many stories about her when we worked together, but it was like we could read each other's thoughts. I'll never have a better partner on the Force than Denise." His voice is quiet and tight. "When she died, if it hadn't been for you..."

He opens his eyes again and looks into mine.

I nod. "I know," I say softly. "You had the look of someone getting ready to check out."

I always have a hard time explaining how I know things like that; talking about auras... well, no. I'm not going there. First, most people would think I'm a New Age nut. And those who didn't might start thinking a little too much about things I don't want anyone to know. In this case, yeah... I have real-life stories of life before the Curse took me. True, it took the Curse for me to remember, but I don't think that matters right now.

I put my free hand on his shoulder for a moment, and then drop it down to cover his hand holding mine. I look at his sisters, his mother.

"I'm an Army brat. Both my parents were engineers and served with the Army Corps of Engineers... wow, since before they even met until I was about thirteen. Until I was five, they were stationed in Albuquerque. I remember a few things from back then, mostly visiting relatives in the Navajo Nation. Then they got transferred to Camp Zama, outside Tokyo."

I pause a moment, considering, then shrug.

"You know that line from A Tale of Two Cities, 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times'? It was. My little brother was born a couple of years after we moved to Japan and..." I close my eyes, smile and try not to get choked up. "...I don't know if that's the happiest, most wonderful moment in my whole life, or the moment I realized I was in love with Pablo..." I open my eyes again; they glisten, but I won't let the tears fall. If I do, I might not be able to stop. "...but I have so many happy memories from living there." I take a deep breath. "But being a safe place, being a fairly quiet base, sometimes the Army would transfer men there who... Well, now I know they were suffering from PTSD, but as a kid I just thought they were awfully sad. Even when they smiled, their eyes were still sad. My folks are kind and loving and generous... and always made sure to... to take care of the wounded souls.

"Not long before we left Japan, there was one... Private Neil Thompson had that same haunted, hurt look in his eyes that Pablo had after Denise died. I noticed Private Thompson," I say with a hint of a smile. "I was thirteen and he was movie star handsome. But his eyes, even when he was laughing and telling jokes with my dad, they didn't look right, you know?

"A few days before we were to ship out, he..." I swallow hard; thanks to the Curse, the memory is still fresh... too fresh... in my mind. I look down at my hands, Pablo's hands, watching the qi, feeling the strength we give each other. "They found him..." I have to take a couple of breaths. "I didn't understand then why anyone would want to kill themselves. I was so young, so naive. But when I saw that look, the same look in Pablo's eyes..."

I look up at him; we both remember that evening, that afternoon and evening in City Park. "You just needed to burn off a lot of that anger, and then talk it out, cry it out. But I would have beaten the snot out of you if that's what it would have taken to get you off the road you were on." The corners of my mouth twitch; I'm trying to smile, but I'm not quite able to manage it yet. "And that might have changed your mind about how you felt about me." I shrug and manage a tiny smile. "I'm really glad I didn't have to hurt you."

"Yes, dear, me too. That's not the best way to start a world class romance, being beaten up by your girl." His sisters and Momma all laugh, although I can see the look of doubt in his sisters' eyes that I could actually beat up their big strong brother.

Ah, a sister's love for her big brother... it's no match for a Taiji Master or Aikido Kudan.

"Anyway, I knew more and more that I was in love with Andrea. All it took was her beating me up."

I actually feel better when people seem skeptical about my skills. Well... most of the time. There have been a few fools who didn't believe me and dared me to prove it. And when I declined their offer, they got all up in my face and started something just so I'd have to prove it. Oh, the stupidity of the human male sometimes.

I look at Pablo, definitely confused.

"Now, didn't I just say I didn't beat you up? Goof. I just kept you from hitting me. That's... that's a HUGE difference."

I roll my eyes at him and sigh. "Really, dear! I don't know where you come up with these crazy thoughts." And now I'm trying very hard not to smile.

He chuckles. "Okay, maybe beating me up was the wrong term. It was more like you were showing me how terribly ineffective my hand to hand fighting skills were back then," he says with a huge grin.

Food is served all around, and we all dig into the delicious spicy homemade Mexican fare. Pablo sits close beside me, touching from ankle to hip, qi swirling and dancing. I can feel his little sister watching us as we eat our lunch.

"So, how did he ask you out?" Blanca finally asks. "Was it very romantic?"

"Our first actual date?" I look at Pablo and laugh. "No, not really very romantic at all." I turn back to Blanca, grinning. "We were out in Flagstaff when my grandmother was sick and decided to go horseback riding instead of creating more chaos at the hospital with my cousins. He said something like, 'Oh, this would be our first date!'" I shake my head. "Pretty lame, huh?"

I look at Pablo again and wink before pulling out a tiny pillbox from my pocket.

"But he really made up for it when he proposed. We were sitting on my sofa, just talking. He wondered out loud if he asked me to marry if maybe I would. And I admitted that I just might. So he pulled out a stick of gum and made a little ring from the foil wrapper."

I open the pill box and drop the foil ring into my palm.

"Then he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him."

I slip the delicate ring onto the ring finger of my left hand and hold my hand out as if I'm showing off the Hope Diamond.

"How could I possibly say no?"

I look at my future in-laws, definitely starting to get teary-eyed, then look at my husband. "I love you."

The Garcia women all seem to melt at the romance of the little foil engagement ring and inspect it as closely as if it was, indeed, the Hope Diamond. Pablo simply smiles.

"I love you, too, Andi," he whispers.

"That's a very romantic proposal, brother. I'm so proud of you," says his eldest sister.

"Thank you, Elvia. Now we have to go and have our real rings made, though. I thought my wife deserved to have something uniquely her own," he says, looking at me.

I tilt my head and regard him for a moment. I can't help but wonder what sort of ideas he has for a ring his wife can only wear at one of her two jobs.

"The list of things to do, to discuss, to figure out just keeps getting longer," I say, laughing. "It's no wonder people go a little crazy when planning a wedding! And my biggest job is securing a loca..."

I stop, blink, pause, and shake my head.

"I wonder if a couple of upstanding civil servants could rent out the Coliseum for a day at a reasonable rate... a day when absolutely nothing is going on there anyway. Mama would be so happy if the men folk could actually construct a proper hogan." I sigh and smile. "One more thing for Andi to check out!"

"Well, I know a few people. It's something we can definitely think about, but the Coliseum seats something like ten thousand people. Isn't that kind of big? I was thinking something a bit smaller, dear. We aren't going to invite that many people."

"Oh, if one of the people you happen to know is your Captain Sanchez, I suspect he's all you need to know. He's a very clever and sneaky man.

"And there won't be anyone in the seats," I say with a chuckle. "Or there shouldn't be. But the arena is big enough to build a hogan large enough for everyone... outdoors as is proper, while not quite being outdoors.

"You know, if Mama wasn't so set on seeing the City and County Building lit up for Christmas, she'd find a way to get us, the entirety of both our families, and all our friends to Nageezi. And it's no warmer there in December than Denver. Hmmm, actually, Denver is usually warmer."

I look into his eyes, sigh, and shrug. "Her little girl is finally getting married. She wants me to have a proper and traditional wedding; I just care about being surrounded by our friends and families, having them witness our pledges to one another. But I want my Mama to be happy, too." I laugh. "In a matrilineal society, when people keep to the traditional ways, it's way more complicated when daughters get married!"

Momma Garcia just laughs and looks at her three daughters. "Even in our culture, you are not telling me anything I do not already know!" She turns to look at me. "I have already spoken with your mother, and we will determine who will be making what."

"I hope Mama is remembering to include Bobby when deciding who will make what. He wanted to cater the whole affair himself and seemed so sad when I tried to explain how a traditional Navajo wedding works." I laugh. "Mama agreed that perhaps a not-quite-traditional wedding cake would be acceptable, and I'm truly frightened by the way Bobby's brain works. Oh, it will probably be the most beautiful cake I've ever seen, and will be absolutely delicious..." I glance at Pablo and shake my head before looking back at his mother. "...but it may turn out to be big enough to feed the entire city of Denver!"

"Unless we restrict the guest list severely, we'll likely have a lot of cops there, too. I don't know about numbers from your work," he says with a shrug. "And I like cake. I especially like anything that Bobby makes. I still remember that red velvet one he made for my last birthday."

Pablo's eyes almost glaze over in his imagined sugar coma.

"Well, now I'm exhausted. There are probably ten times as many police officers as there are library employees." I lean against him in mock weariness. "Half the city could be there." I stay there for a minute, eyes closed because it's just so nice being close to Pablo.

Maybe not half the city, that's an exaggeration. But... Oh, my...

"...including the homeless people from downtown." I open my eyes and look up at him, a somewhat apologetic look on my face. "I'm afraid I'm much too nice to them when shooing them out of the library. They, ahhh... they like me."

Of course, they only know about the nice librarian who says kind words to them and gives them bus tokens to get to the Mission. They don't know about the black-clad Warrior that keeps the human predators from harming them while they sleep in the park. Very, very few of them have ever met Ninja. There isn't a need for kind words or bus tokens after dark. But there always seems to be a need to keep overly enthusiastic juvenile delinquents and petty criminals and just plain mean people from disturbing their rest.

I sit up and grin at Pablo. "I'm just going to let Mama deal with it."

I point to the tiny remains of the tamale on my plate. "These are some amazing tamales! Who made them? I don't want to hurt Mrs. Santiago's feelings, but they're even better than the ones at Las Delicias... and until today, I thought they were the best ever."

Momma Garcia blushes and smiles. "They are just like my own momma made. I taught all my daughters how to make them. I will teach you, too," she says.

I know what a gracious and generous gift that is, the sharing of culture, the sharing of family traditions.

"I'd like that very much. Thank you, Mrs. Garcia," I say. I might not spend much time in the kitchen cooking, especially with Bobby living next door, but I do know my way around. And sometimes I do cook... for special occasions... if Bobby hasn't already called dibs on cooking.

Melissa's eyes have been wide and staring during the entire meal, watching the qi swirling between me and Pablo. She looks absolutely entranced by it. I can't blame her; I'm used to looking at it, and I still get lost in its beauty. Finally, she just can't hold her excitement in a second longer.

"Mommy! Oooh, pretty pretty, Mommy! All shiny!" she exclaims, pointing at me and Pablo.

I look at Melissa when she finally says something about our qi and smile at her, then Ladonna. "She's so adorable, Ladonna. Do you guys watch Firefly? One of the guys I work with is a diehard fan and is always saying 'shiny'."

"Firefly? No, I don't think so. What is it?" She strokes her daughter's hair and kisses the top of her head. "Yes, sweetie. Shiny."

"Oh, it was a show on the SciFi channel about ten years back," I say to Ladonna. "Only lasted a season, but seems to have a big fan base anyway." I shrug. "It's not a bad show, but I don't quite get Clarence's obsession."

Pablo puts an arm around me, and I lean against him. It's nice being with him, being with family.

"So what made you go into library science?" asks Blanca, the recent college graduate.

Ah, now that's a question I can answer easily and honestly. I grin as I respond.

"I love books. I got my bachelor's in English Lit, and I just felt like it would be more rewarding to share that love as a librarian than a teacher. Teachers... they've usually got kids who aren't always that interested in reading whatever the school district wants them to read. It's pretty hard to get kids interested in any author if they walk into class already resistant to the whole idea. But people coming to the library? They're there because they want to read... well, or they have a class assignment and are freaked out every which way. Sometimes people come in knowing exactly what they want, but a lot of people are looking for something new or something different.

"Oh, and the poor kids from CU taking any of Professor McGilpin's classes for the first time are so... well, completely freaked out! He's one of the best history professors they have, and he's an expert on Colorado history. But he has a very wicked sense of humor. He'll give his students their assignments for the midterm essays right on the first day of class. And then tell them two days before the paper is due that they're not allowed to use any Internet resources. Word spreads about him, but there are always one or two kids every semester who need help learning how to find the books they need and where the map collection is."

I sigh happily. "My favorite part of the week, though, is Story Time. I love reading to the little ones like Melissa here or even the older kids. A couple of years back, we had one of our freak snowstorms, so the only person in the reading area was a teenager who'd had a fight with his parents and was just trying to stay warm and out of the weather while everyone calmed down. I sat down anyway in my comfy chair and told him it was Story Time, asked if he'd mind if I read a story to him. He just shrugged... you know, the typical 'I don't care about anything' teen."

I grin broadly. "I read from Romeo and Juliet for him. Shakespeare's meant to be read out loud, and I could tell the kid was paying attention after the first couple of pages. Halfway through, he was sitting up instead of slouching, actively listening. By the end, he was sitting on the edge of the chair with kind of a dazed look on his face. We had a great talk about Shakespeare and his plays — so I do get to be a teacher sometimes! — and that led to the classes he was taking, and how hard it was to concentrate on homework when his parents were always fighting — amateur social worker! — and he's a regular at the library now. He comes in to study in one of the quiet areas, even though he's moved out from his parents' house and is taking classes at the junior college now.

"Oh yeah... and he'll read anything I put in his hands. Fiction, non-fiction of all types... biographies, science, history, religion, art... a little bit of everything. He's doesn't always like every book, but he's able to clearly communicate why. He's going to do well in college because of it. And..." I wink. "...he doesn't realize I'm prepping him to be a librarian when he finishes his studies.

"So... yeah. Books... helping people. Librarian makes perfect sense!"

The three sisters are all listening, but Blanca is really watching me and smiling as I speak.

"I can see you really love your job! I feel the same way about microbiology. I'm going on to grad school... you went right? Of course you did, master's degree, duh. Did you do any TA work? I'm kind of nervous about that, but I want to take some of the burden off Pablo here." When she looks at her brother, I can see how obvious it is that she loves him dearly and is proud of him beyond words. It's beautiful that his feelings for her are exactly the same.

"You're never a burden, mi hermana pequeña," Pablo says. "Putting you through college has been my joy and honor."

I look at him for a moment with a loving smile, then squeeze his hand. That he takes care of his sister like this only makes me love him more. I look back at Blanca.

"I didn't have to work during undergrad or grad school, but that's probably only because I went to DU. They piled scholarships on me because my dad's an alumni, and I'm Native American, and there were some others I got for..." I shrug. "You know, I don't even know what some of them were. I have a feeling there was some of that 'let's give the poor Indian girl who grew up in China a scholarship' thing going on. Whatever. Oh, but I did get a merit scholarship for grad school because my undergrad GPA was so high.

"And you should totally talk to my brother! He's getting his PhD in molecular biology at the University of Chicago. He geeks out over mitochondria like I do over books," I say, laughing.

"Justin only got a full scholarship for his undergrad studies, so he's had to work some. Our folks help him out, but he didn't want to put a burden on them, just like you don't want to burden Pablo." I look between Blanca and Pablo, smiling. "He really does love helping you," I say to Blanca. "He lights up like one of those glow-in-the-dark wands when he talks about you, and how proud he is of you.

"But being a TA is a good experience, at least that's what Justin says. He just loves being a TA. Well, except when it makes him miss coaching his soccer team. If you're a people person, have patience and don't put up with... ah, people trying to give you a hard time, I don't think you have anything to be nervous about."

"Do you think I could have his number? I'd really like to talk to family about this, someone I can trust to give me the total low-down," she says earnestly. "A PhD, really? If I can, I'd like to go on for that. The money is so much better for the full doctorate, and the jobs are more interesting, too. I'll probably have to start working and go to school at night or whatever."

Blanca glances over at her sisters and grins. "No bambinos for me for a long time! I'm glad you guys took care of that for Momma." She looks back at Pablo and smiles slyly. "Unless there's going to be more coming in a year. I'm sure Momma would love that."

"Sure. I'll call him to warn him you'll be calling to grill him," I say. "He'll be honest with you, that's for sure. His motivation isn't the money so much, although that's certainly an important consideration. He's more interested in research, I think."


My smile fades — just a little — as I look at Pablo. "No. Not in the next year, I don't think."

The change in my expression doesn't go unnoticed by everyone around the table, unfortunately. When the main meal is done, Elvia gets up to fetch dessert and asks me if I'd like to help her.

I nod to her, smiling brightly again... however, from the hue of her aura, I suspect there are questions coming that I'd rather not answer right now. "Sure, I'd be happy to help."

I kiss Pablo's cheek as I get up and follow his sister into the house. His mom's kitchen is bigger than mine, smaller than Mama's and not anywhere near as impressive as Bobby's. But no one has a kitchen as impressive as Bobby's.

"What do you need me to do, Elvia?"

"We're having strawberry shortcake. Would you cut the pound cake and put it on the plates?" she asks, pointing to the stack of plates already on the counter beside the pound cake. She pulled out a bowl of sliced strawberries from the refrigerator, placing it on the table. Then she took an empty bowl, a whisk and a carton of heavy cream from the fridge. I grin. She makes whipped cream the same way Mama does!

As she set the chilled bowl on the counter beside me, she glances at me and asks softly, "Is everything okay?" She begins working on the whipped cream.

And I just I start slicing the pound cake, gently and carefully placing each slice on a plate. It takes several minutes before I can say anything because I don't want my emotions to get out of control. After the third or fourth slice, I set the knife down and rest my hands on the counter on either side of it. I stare at it as I take a deep breath and... sigh.

"Children are still kind of a painful topic, what with Pablo not truly grieving for Juan until recently and me not really knowing if I can even have children." I take another breath and look up at Elvia, smiling wanly. "We've talked, we've cried..." I take another shuddering breath. "I didn't even know about Rosalia and Juan until... geez, it hasn't even been a month... until the night Pablo told me he loved me."

I turn, lean against the counter and fold my arms over my diaphragm. I stare at a spot on the floor as I speak softly. Elvia keeps working, but I know she's listening and truly hearing my words.

"He was already my friend when Denise... I'd go with him to the hospital with him to visit her like I said. She was a good person, I liked her, she didn't deserve to be beaten for being something she wasn't. Everyone hoped and prayed that she'd come out of the coma."

It had hurt so much back then — still does now — knowing she would never wake up, seeing her qi completely gone, knowing there wasn't any way to tell her family, to tell Pablo. Even the doctors, for the first two months, had been hopeful.

"When I goaded him into trying to hit me, when I sat with him while he cried... gods, Elvia, he hurt so much I swear I could feel it myself!"

And, of course, I could. And I did.

"But I didn't realize that he still had horrible pain from something that happened before I even moved to Denver. I didn't even know until three and a half weeks ago that he'd ever been married. He never once mentioned Rosalia or Juan; not once in the nearly eleven years I've known him."

I look up at her, my face a mask of pain... this damn Curse, it won't let me forget. I'm pretty sure that's the reason I used to fall apart so badly after killing someone. I really hope this new integrated personality of mine makes that a little easier to bear.

"I'm not blaming him for not saying anything, understand that. I just can't imagine holding that kind of pain inside for thirteen years. I'd... well, I guess it's no wonder he had the look of someone ready to check out that afternoon they took Denise off life support. But when he finally told me about them..."

I take another deep breath; I keep telling myself, when I get to talking with someone about really emotional things, that I'm not going to cry. I'm telling myself that right now.

But I do manage a real smile, the smile of a person who's seen amazing beauty, a smile filled with wonder.

"I could tell from the first minute he started telling me about Rosalia how much he loved her. And when he spoke of Juan..."

Crap. I grab a couple of napkins from the holder on the counter.

"Well, you know him. You probably saw that look. Being a father meant everything to him. Ah, to have that taken away, and never talk about his son again..."

I dab my eyes, wipe my cheeks with the napkins. I look back down at the floor and take yet another deep breath.

"I was pregnant once... when I was twenty, or maybe I had already turned twenty-one. I was kind of freaked out because, you know, I was in school and wanted to finish college, but my boyfriend was crazy giddy. Like Pablo, you know? Jared's the kind of guy who's just meant to be a dad. And after the initial shock wore off, I started getting a little excited, started latching on to the expectant crazy happiness Jared had.

"But then I had a miscarriage."

I shake my head, remembering all of that, too.

"It was the end of my sophomore year, Jared was graduating. He... he was so upset. He didn't blame me, or anything, and I went to this doctor and that doctor and some other damn doctor and not a one of them could say what had happened or why. Only that, maybe, there might be something a little wrong with my parts or my hormones or... or... well, whatever. They pretty much all said it would probably not be possible for me to carry a pregnancy to term."

And that was the same story I'd told Jared, too. It had been much harder to tell him, though... with good reason. I hated myself just a little for having to lie to him.

"The last I heard, Jared's living somewhere out here on the West Coast and has two kids. I really am happy for him, because he's a good person and deserves that kind of happiness.

"But so does Pablo."

I look up at my future sister-in-law.

"So there won't be any bambinos in the next year. But after we get married, I'll visit every doctor in the country if I have to. I'll walk through hell for your brother," I say with a smile. "I saw the love on his face and in his eyes when he talked about Rosalia, and I see that love, and more, when he looks at me. I want him to shine like the sun again, holding his child in his arms.

"Bambinos someday. Just not right away."

Not until after this Shadow thing his ancestral pest put him through hell for. Yeah, try getting a babysitter for that! Hey Crystal, can you watch little Maria Saturday night? Pablo and I need to save the world. You're free? Great! Right. Like that's going to happen.

Elvia finishes whipping the cream, but her face is streaked with tears. She sets the bowl down and reaches over to take my hand in hers. This a pain other women understand better than any man ever could, and I suspect she has her share of friends who've gone through the same trauma I have.

"There are wonderful doctors out here, Andrea. I know a number of people I can contact for you both. The doctors can do so much more now. The technology has improved tremendously over the past ten years."

"I know. Justin... he says the same thing about technology, and medical knowledge."

Of course, Justin was referring to finding a way to trick my mutation, so to speak... despite the fact that I have insisted that I would never get married and never have children.

You know, sometimes I wonder about my brother. I wonder if he doesn't have just a teensy bit of Talia's gift.

On the other hand, it's more likely that he's a brat and trying to purposefully annoy me... in a loving way, of course.

I take one more deep breath and squeeze Elvia's hand.

"As I am often fond of saying, things will happen when they should happen in the way they should happen," I say with a calmer smile. "We will get through these few months until the wedding, Pablo and I. We'll talk, we'll heal old wounds. And when we feel we are healed, when the time is right, we will start gathering names of doctors from everyone we know and trust.

"Right now, our hearts are still healing, and... as you see... still manage to bring up sad memories sometimes. But... Oh, Elvia! I love Pablo so much! I know we will be strong and healthy, and have many, many years of joy together."

"You don't know how happy I am to see him like this, Andrea. I was the oldest and so I was aware of just how painful it was for him after the death of my sister-in-law and nephew. It just about killed him," she says, her voice trembling. "I came into his room one morning when he was home visiting..."

She pauses.

"I found him looking at his gun sitting on the nightstand next to him. His eyes were dead. I don't think he even knew I was there until I came in and sat next to him, and put my arms around him. All I could do was hold him."

I close my eyes. "I've lost people..."

More accurately, I've killed them, but I don't think there's much point in quibbling about the difference of opinion the two halves of my fragmented personality had about the deaths, however necessary they were at the time.

"...but never someone that close to me. Denise, yes. But... but it's not the same."

And look what happened to me when Pablo left. Oh, I understand all too well how a person might stare at a gun with dead eyes.

I open my eyes and look into hers. I see in those eyes, I see in her aura, the pain that rippled outward to affect a whole family when one evil person took the lives of two precious innocent and much loved people. I see the fear she had in that moment of realizing her brother wanted to die. That... Oh, that I understand so well, too well, that desire to die. I thank the Spirits I no longer have to fear the agony of a life without my dear husband, her dear brother.

An instinct that is as old as humanity makes me reach out and pull her into a hug.

"I swear I will do everything, everything in my power to help Pablo heal, and to keep his eyes alive and full of joy," I whisper. I hold her for a moment or two longer; ripples through the family... they all worry about Pablo, about his heart and soul, and about his life as a police officer.

I release her and smile crookedly. "They probably think we're baking the cake." I pick up the knife again and start carefully cutting a few more slices. "You know... his job as a police detective isn't as dangerous as television shows like to make it seem."

Of course now that he has these new abilities, his job might get less boring. At the very least, he'll have to work with me from time to time when I patrol or answer calls from one of the Counties so we can mesh as a team.

"Mostly, it seems to be gathering all kinds of information and sorting it, and organizing it, and then trying to make sense of it. At least, that's the impression I've gotten from listening to his tales of work." I glance sidelong at Elvia. "And for the really dangerous bad people, there are a couple of Supers the police can call for help. Peregrine has been in Denver for a couple of years. I saw him once," I say with a smile.

Well, I saw a picture of him. And have seen some of his interviews on TV! Hey, but maybe all that will change next week, and we'll finally get to meet!

"And there are rumors of another Super, but he or she seems to prefer staying out of the spotlight. But my point, I guess, is that I don't worry that much about Pablo like my neighbor and BFF, Bobby, seems to think would be appropriate." I roll my eyes as I put the last slice of cake on a plate. "I love him like my very own brother, and he's my best friend on the planet, but... Oh Em Gee, he is SUCH a drama queen!" I grin. "You can't help liking the goof, though."

"It sounds like you've built a good life in Denver. I'm glad Pablo has a group of friends, and now a soul mate to share his life with. We've always worried about him being out there without family."

I chuckle. "My Mama worries about me, too. Alone, in the big city..." I shake my head, smiling again, and point to the bowl of strawberries. "Do you want me to start spooning those out?

"My dad isn't much of a worrier, and I know he keeps telling Mama I'm fine. And I make sure to tell Mama every week about all my friends so she knows I'm not alone. She'd be happy if I'd move to Flagstaff." I shrug. "There have been times I've been tempted, but the library system in Denver is wonderful. And I do have some very good friends now. There is something about the mountains around Denver that just can't compare with those around Flagstaff... and of course..." I sigh, content, happy. "...there's Pablo. I'd go anywhere he'd want to go, but Denver's police force needs good people, smart people like Pablo."

"You know he was offered a Lieutenant position here in Los Angeles just six months ago? For some reason, he turned it down. I can't imagine what he was thinking." She glances at me with a sly smile, then nods toward the bowl of strawberries. "Can you?"

"A Lieutenant's position?! Why, he must have been completely insane!" I respond with a broad grin. "And he never even mentioned it."

I tilt my head, considering, as I scoop strawberries over the pound cake. "Well, it's possible he was thinking that he's fairly close to being made a lieutenant in Denver. And even though the pay would be better out here, the cost of living is higher as well. Still, his Momma and his sisters are all out here, and everyone knows how much he loves his Momma and his sisters." I sigh one of those theatrically sad and worried sighs.

"Yes, the only explanation I can think of is insanity."

I manage to maintain a look of resigned sadness for all of two seconds before breaking out in a fit of giggles.

"Well, okay... it's not the first job he's turned down ostensibly because of me. He turned down an undercover job in San Diego just after he met me. He said it was because he felt he just had to get to know me better." I shake my head. "I'm not sure I believe that one. I wasn't going anywhere, and I really think it was because he would have been out of touch with you guys for... I forget if he said it was a three or a six month assignment... but the point is he'd have made you all worry even more about him."

I give Elvia a wry grin. "I'm kind of glad he never said anything all these years about how he felt, and waited until last month to say anything. I might have been a little worried that he was a bit of an obsessed stalker. And... well, we spent a good long time just becoming the best of friends. That can only make a marriage better, don't you think?"

"I don't ever want him going undercover again. Not after that last time," she says, shaking her head at the very thought of it. "He was a little crazy afterward, and wouldn't tell us anything about it, so we figured it must have been bad. We all threatened to slap him silly if he ever agrees to do it again."

She smiles at my last comment, though.

"Oh, yes. I think it's definitely best to be friends before being lovers and definitely before getting married! If I didn't like my husband so much, I'd probably kill him during football season," she says, chuckling as she spoons the whipped cream over the strawberries.

"He told me about his last undercover assignment." I pause, knowing that's still a source of pain for him. But there's only so far a person can go in healing from something like that, only so far the pain can be diminished. Beyond that, the only way to stop the pain is to go numb. "I didn't see him for three months, and when he finally called again... when we finally resumed our weekly dinners... he looked like hell.

"He said he'll never take another undercover assignment again." I look at Elvia, and the fierce protective Warrior is peeking out through my eyes. No, it's not the full force of my Warrior, but enough that there's no doubt that I will walk through hell to protect my husband. "And if he ever sustains a serious head wound and rethinks that stance, I'll be sure to talk him out of it," I say with the Warrior's grin. "With a big stick, if necessary." And I know just the stick to use; red oak is definitely hard enough to knock sense even into his thick skull.

Then I shrug as we gather the dessert and head back outside. "I don't really understand sports or the obsession with them... well, except maybe the Rockies. I can't say I completely understand baseball, but I guess I am a little obsessed about the Rockies. And is fun going to the games..." I giggle a little. "...especially with Pablo."

Elvia smiles as we walk across the yard to the picnic table. "You've put my mind at ease, Andrea. And remember what I said. I'll do everything I can to help you when the time is right."

The rest of the family looks up as we approach the table. Melissa looks especially enraptured at the sight of the strawberry shortcakes we carry on the trays.

"That looks wonderful, girls," Momma says. "I think little Melissa agrees."

I chuckle at the look in Melissa's eyes. I suspect her eyes are larger than her stomach, but it's fun to watch her try to eat everything. Like most of the little ones who come for Story Time, she's absolutely adorable. And not the least bit unnerved by seeing the world in a way most of the people in her life can't.

I can imagine we could have some rather interesting conversations when she gets older. I'm actually finding myself looking forward to that.

Sitting next to Pablo, I feel completely at ease with his family. I look between Elvia and Ladonna. "Pablo said he had five nieces and nephews. Four of them seem to be missing," I say, pouting a little in a theatrical way. "I was looking forward to meeting them all."

"Well, we didn't want to hit you with the full crowd right up front," Ladonna says with a grin. "Pablo said you'd be fine with it, but still... our big brother has been known to be wrong on occasion."

"WHAT?! Me? Well, I'm wounded and insulted! I am always a paragon of truth and knowledge. Just ask my fiancée. I'm sure she'll totally agree with me. Right, dear?" He looks at me with a merry twinkle in his eyes. His aura glows with happiness and relaxation. Yeah, he needed to come out here to be with his family even more than I needed to meet the in-laws before the wedding.

"Well," I say, looking at Pablo just a bit suspiciously, "while he might not always be quite as knowledgeable as he thinks he is, I've never known him to lie." Hmmm, unless you count lies of omission, but we won't get into that right now. "And in this instance, he's absolutely correct."

I look at Ladonna, twine my fingers in Pablo's, and grin. "If I were going to be nervous about meeting you, I would have been just as nervous at meeting one as thirty or fifty or even just ten." I chuckle. "Pablo got not only my brother, but my goofy cousin Henry. Well, plus the parents, the grandparents, the aunts, the uncles, and all the cousins." I look at Pablo. "You don't have someone like Henry in your family do you? I won't be nervous, promise. But having two people like that at the wedding? Well, plans would need to be made." I shake my head, and then lean against his shoulder. "It is good that Lion, Panther, Lynx, Puma, Wolf, and Mouse are all guardian Spirits in my family. It may take all of them to keep Coyote in line."

"So this Henry is a rascal, is he? Beyond what most men are, that is?" Momma asks, smiling at Pablo.

"Hey, I'm a rapscallion, not a rascal!" my beloved protests, jutting out his lower lip in a pout.

His sisters laugh at him, and I join in the laughter. "Rapscallion, rascal... you say potato, I say potahto. And Henry will say succotash."

I turn to Mrs. Garcia and nod. "Henry is still the class clown at thirty-two. He's funny, he's silly, and he can't tell a story without embellishment." I roll my eyes. "Most of the embellishments are outrageous. In comparison, Pablo is an angel! But Henry's also kind and caring, so we happily put up with the lovable loon."

"He was a hoot to meet," Pablo says with a grin. "And I do want to go flying with him. I imagine it would be a blast."

I shake my head. "He wasn't kidding — well, probably wasn't kidding — when he said he'd fly a DC-10 or a 727 in loops. I'm not sure they're designed to do that. In fact, I'm fairly certain they're not."

I close my eyes, feeling green at the mere thought.

"Nope, I'll stay safely on the ground with the sane ones. Saner ones. Charlie and Billy might tease me mercilessly, but I won't lose my lunch over it, either. Sam, Yani, and Talia never tease, and Tommy hardly ever does."

I open my eyes again and smile at him. "And Justin is completely unpredictable. But now that I can tease him about Nicole, the odds are in my favor."

"And I can tease you all the time because I know you so well," he says. He smiles angelically at me even as his hands moves to gently squeeze my knee under the table and wander up my thigh.

"But teasing's not nice," I say with a pout as I put a hand on his wandering one, preventing it from moving anywhere, and squeezing just a bit harder than he might expect.

"Pablo shouldn't tease Andi, should he?" I ask. At least Warrior isn't looking at him. Yet.

Using my greater strength on his hand is either a reminder of a conversation from years ago in Flagstaff or a warning that he's crossing a line he doesn't remember exists. I hope like hell he's healed enough that it isn't a threat. He should be healed enough... because his family does not need to see the consequences of his having been noticed by their ancestral pest.

"Teasing done maliciously isn't nice, but a little gentle teasing between friends and loved ones? Now, that's just fun," he says, looking at me calmly. He doesn't show any surprise at my strength, and the only thing I see in his eyes are love and humor and deep affection.

"Bobby, on the other hand... that man loves to tease. Of course, we got even with him, didn't we, Andi?" he asks, smiling brightly.

I pat his hand but leave mine on top of his. I really am trying to be less uptight about public displays of affection, but it's still going to take time until I can be considered an average American.

"Okay, sometimes teasing might be fun. Just a little.

"Oh, but Bobby has no idea what 'just a little' means!" I shake my head and half sigh, half groan. "Naughty! He's a terribly naughty man, and if he wasn't my best friend, I'd... I'd... well, I'd just hit him over the head with a stick!"

But then I smile just as brightly as Pablo.

"And you're absolutely right. I don't think he'll dare tease either one of us for a very long time.

"Maybe we'll even be safe for the rest of our natural lives," I say with satisfaction and a single nod.

Pablo turns his hand up, entwining our fingers together, our palms together where qi flows abundantly between us.

"Somehow, I don't think so. Bobby just derives too much pleasure from teasing and mothering you... well, us now, I suppose. I fear we're doomed to suffer his torments for a long time."

I sigh, one born of nearly five years of Bobby's teasing and pestering. "There's nothing we can to, I suppose, to stop the torture," I say, resigned to being teased on a daily basis.

"So have the two of you decided where you'll live?" Elvia asks.

"And have you registered someplace," Ladonna wants to know. "People will ask what to get you, you know."

"Well, I already own a house, and it's in a great location. Since Pablo rents..." Did rent, and his sisters probably wouldn't be shocked knowing he moved in already, but I'm not convinced yet that Momma Garcia would be thrilled. " makes sense to live there."

Register? Ah, yeah... that really doesn't have the same sort of meaning his sister intends, and my fingers tighten a bit around Pablo's. Yeah, in addition to figuring out what he's going to do about being a Super and Denver's best homicide detective, he needs to get registered, too. And I do believe Captain Sanchez about Pablo being his best detective, and am rather proud of my husband for being so good at his job.

Wow! Wow, our lives have gotten fracking complicated!

"Um, no... registering someplace didn't even cross my mind. Someone should have mentioned that to me... why didn't they?" I really am a little confused, because I'm having a hard time figuring out just when it is. "Oh. Because I took some leave when my grandmother was sick and had vacation time already planned..." Well, how else am I going to explain not being at work? Oh, I'm actually on medical leave because I fell into a coma when your brother took a three-year vacation in another dimension. Yeah, THAT would make Andi sound super sane. "...everything's just been happening so quickly," I say with a smile. "I haven't been back to work yet for my coworkers to remind me about all the things I ought to be doing."

I lean my head on Pablo's shoulder and close my eyes. "Oh dear... they're going to fuss and fuss and fuss over me so much that I'll never get any work done." And then I sigh.

I really do like doing my job. And I really do like my coworkers. But they're really going to make it difficult for me to do my job.

"Our lives have been kind of hectic the last few weeks. They've changed a lot and so we're still play catch up, aren't we, love?" He turns to me with a smile. "And you just need to be patient with them, Andrea. All the people who love you are going to want to give you advice, share the joy with you, tease you, laugh and celebrate. You'll have it easy compared to me. I work with cops, so I'll have trees of condoms on my desk and ribald comments all the time." He shakes his head. I can't really tell if he's annoyed or amused... there's a fine line there, and he seems to be standing on it.

"Oh, I know, my poor dear Pablo," I say, "I'll have it so much easier than you." I think I manage to make it a whole five seconds before I burst out laughing.

I look up at him. "My most wonderful and excellent coworkers will put as much, or even more, effort into giving me premarital advice as they did trying to get me married in the first place."

Then I look at him, maybe a little suspiciously... maybe a little skeptically.

"Really? Trees of condoms? You guys never got out of high school, did you?

"Well, from what I've heard of high school in America, anyway."

"Darling, some of these guys are lucky to have mentally made it out of junior high school, much less high school," he says with a sigh. "Let's just say the locker room chatter is hardly the highlight of my day."

I see Melissa eyeing the last two slices of strawberries on my plate; she's eaten all of her strawberries and all her whipped cream, although most of the pound cake is still on her plate. Ah, now there's a girl after my own heart! I scoop up the two strawberry slices and reach across the table to put them on her plate.

I've seen kids less excited about Christmas! I laugh as she eagerly stuffs them in her mouth. "Let me guess... strawberries are her favorite."

Ladonna rolls her eyes and smiles. "At least it's healthy food!"

I turn back to Pablo. "And now I think you're crazier than I thought you were back when you were trying to talk me and my Kung Fu Hands into joining the police department. Whatever in the world were you thinking?" I chuckle as I shake my head. "I'm not a hundred percent sure I could deal with listening to cops all day now. I'm certain I wouldn't have been able to deal with their... hmmm... off-color humor, shall we say... back then." I squeeze his hand. "But I appreciate that you thought I could make a difference. But as David likes to say, I'm a delicate librarian."

I give him a crooked smile. "Granted, I'm a delicate librarian who can defend herself against most common thugs who roam the back alleys — where I don't go, by the way — but do I really look like someone who could be a police officer?

"Noooo. I don't."

Besides, there are policy guidelines I don't have to follow when I prowl the back alleys as Ninja... one of those policy guidelines being an outline of who has priority when police intervention is needed. Actually, come to think of it, I do pay attention to that specific guideline... I just invert their chart.

Ooooh, it's a good thing I'm the type of gal to stay as far out of the public eye as possible. Those fools in the City and County building would definitely not like my ideas on who needs police protection and who doesn't.

Hmmmm. Maybe Pablo shouldn't do much patrolling with me. I certainly wouldn't want him to get into even more trouble than he's had because of his help in protecting the less desirable persons in our fair city. Drat. We have to learn how to work as a team somehow. Maybe Captain Sanchez will have some ideas.

© Kelly Naylor and Ken Seggebruch