Prologue 2: A Time Before

It's hard... coming home to a country I don't really remember. Coming home to people who have been in my heart forever, but now look like strangers. Mama and Daddy looking older, Justin... my god, Justin's as tall as I am! Papa and Tita... oh, my memories of them are so, so old. But the love I feel washing over me from them feels right, feels like I remember. I remember the older cousins and Henry. A bit. I think I remember Tommy the most. It feels like our hearts are the closest to one another's. I wonder if that makes sense? And the younger ones, born while I was away, they've heard stories of the Great Diné Warrior and meet... only me. I wonder if I am a disappointment... for a few minutes. And only for a few minutes do I wonder, for the way they huddle around me, the way I can feel their love... no. No, I'm not a disappointment to them. Not to anyone in the family.

I don't ever want to leave them again.

But the world outside the Navajo Nation beckons. School, up in Denver at Daddy's alma mater, the University of Denver. Beyond that, beyond learning and then... then what? I don't have a clear idea — yet — what I want to do with my life, or if I even want to use these powers I have. Isn't it enough that I'm alive? That I survived and learned how to control the qi before it could kill me?

I think I want a chance to be an ordinary American college student.

Mama, Daddy and Justin drive up to Denver with me a couple of weeks before classes start. They help move my meager possessions into my dorm room, and we play tourist. It's so joyous and happy and I'm almost a little afraid for them to leave me alone again. I feel like I've just gotten them back, and now I'm losing them again. It's stupid because Daddy keeps pointing out it's only a ten-hour drive, and Mama says flights are only a couple of hours long. I have to laugh at my own silliness and my own fears. There is reliable phone service in Denver! And as a gift from the whole family, I received my very own cell phone. I can call any of them, any day!

I cry, though, when they leave. I cry and then walk to the park so I can practice my Taiji. Grandmaster Chen insisted it was important to practice at least an hour each day, and as I had been used to practicing considerably longer, an hour doesn't seem to be an onerous burden. It doesn't even seem to be very much time at all. The day they leave, though... I lose track of time completely.

Fitting in... well, that's the hard part. One of the first things I have to do when I get my Colorado drivers license is register with the County. Not as a Super! I need to register with the State of Colorado as a Taijiquan Master and Aikido Kudan! I hadn't expected that. Any ordinary human with my level of expertise in either art would be a lethal weapon? I'm surprised beyond words, and simply go to the proper office to fill out the proper paperwork.

My roommates are quiet — like me — and spend a lot of time studying. Kim has already decided, before even enrolling, that she'll major in Computer Science. The other, Juanita, is majoring in Biology, in the pre-med track. To me, everything is so interesting, although I'm leaning more toward the liberal arts and soft sciences... history, language, sociology, psychology.

When I'm not studying, when I'm not practicing my Taiji, I'm riding my bicycle all over. I need to be careful of my speed; I'm faster and stronger than everyone else, and I don't want to be noticed. I don't want to stand out. I want to be... well, ordinary.

But I do notice others. I notice how some people are avoided. I notice how some people are ridiculed and harassed. I do notice things, and I don't like it.

And I think that there isn't anything I can do. It will be years before I realize there is something I can do. But I notice, and I remember.

My first school year ends successfully, although I have very few friends. It's my own fault, really. I'm not quite sure yet how socializing in America works, but I might be getting the hang of it. Just in time for summer break, isn't that a hoot?

The summer spent with family is a wondrous time! While I spend most of my time with my parents, brother, grandparents in Flagstaff, I make time to get up to New Mexico to see the cousins up there. I'm so proud of Tommy for being selected by Ha'atathli Ravenclaw to train with him. Tommy's been studying with him since he was thirteen, but this summer Ha'atathli Ravenclaw chose him from all the other apprentices to continue with more intense studies. So I've only been able to see him once. And from what he said, it might be a couple more years before I'll get to see him. That made me a little sad but... well, my happiness for Tommy just blew my sadness right away.

This is the summer Talia's powers come to her. Unlike mine, hers aren't heralded in with fire and pain. In fact, even Talia herself barely notices. The only hint we get — then — was at a lunch one afternoon when she pipes up and says, "Andi, I think it's so cool that you're going to be a librarian!"

I look at her, pretty confused. "Well, that's one of the choices I was considering, Tali... but I haven't really made up my mind yet."

She looks just as confused as me. "No. You are going to be a librarian." She looks around at the rest of us... her parents, my parents, our grandparents, our respective brothers. "Well, she is!"

Talia is fifteen; she's two and a half years older than I was when the Curse took me, but nearly the same age Tommy was when his powers manifested. I'm glad, so very glad, she's not suffering as I did.

Daddy and Uncle Junior exchange glances, Daddy shrugs and says, "Welcome to the club, brother."

My second year of college starts off a little more socially. DU likes to switch up roommates it would seem because this year I have new roommates. Cindy and Kara are a little more outgoing, and that helps me, too. They're both Liberal Arts majors — my kind of people, I think — though they haven't narrowed it down to a particular discipline. I join study groups. I go to the occasional party. I join in a lot of the volunteer activities for students... campus cleanup day, volunteering at the mission and the food pantries; I tentatively join the GSA as an ally. I almost break down in tears when they welcome me with open arms. Literally. I've never been hugged so much by so many people in one day!

I start dating. Casually at first, but by Christmas it's pretty obvious that Jared and I are a couple. I feel almost comfortable with him. But... there's that part of me, the part of me that can do things Normals can't. I'm not comfortable enough with him yet to share that part of me. Most days, I wonder if I ever will be.

It's around finals of the spring term, maybe a couple of weeks before, when I get pregnant. I know almost immediately... within hours, anyway. I have two weeks to worry and mull over what is happening to my body, to feel how the qi began to flow differently through my meridians. I have two weeks to almost get used to it before one of those "pee on a stick" pregnancy tests confirm what I already know.

And I know I need to figure out how to tell Jared. Of course, it will be even harder to figure out how to tell my parents!

It's a lazy Sunday morning. Our habit is to sleep late, get our mugs of coffee and muffins, and crawl back into bed to read or just talk... eventually culminating in sweet and gentle lovemaking. This Sunday, we've gotten to the reading phase, but I can't concentrate on the words that seem to float off the page in no discernable order.


He looks up from his textbook. "Yeah, hon? What's up?"

I put my book down, hesitating. I had been thinking of all the different ways I could tell him; not a single one seems right. Is there even a right way?

"I'm pregnant."

He just looks at me for a couple of seconds, stunned, before breaking into a smile so bright it could outshine the moon. He takes both my hands in his and holds them against his heart. The happiness, the love, the boundless joy that saturate his aura wash over me. I can't help but smile, despite my trepidations.

"Oh, Andrea! Are you sure?"

I nod. "Pee stick said so, but I'll make an appointment with a doctor and all that."

He crushes me — or so it would seem to a Normal — in a fierce hug and laughs with joy, babbling kind of incoherently. His happiness is amazingly infectious, though, and most of my doubts disappear. I still worry... but it's a worry for a decade and more into the future.

He pulls back with his hands still on my shoulders, searching my face.

"I know how important it is to you to finish school, Andi. We'll make that happen, I swear."

And his aura reflects that truth.

I put my hands on top of his and take a deep breath. "Thank you, Jared. That means so much to me."

The next couple of weeks seem to fly in a warm haze of happiness and the frantic mania of finals.

It happens on the day of my last final. The week before Jared is going to graduate.

I am practicing my Taiji in my favorite park near the school, eyes closed, watching the qi flow around me and through me. Still early since my exam had been at 8:00am, I am alone. I am watching the qi cradle the wee tiny being inside me. At that moment, I and she... or he, we'll never know... are one with the universe. In the very next moment, my own body betrays me and attacks my child. I fall to the ground; there is nothing I can do. Before I even hit the ground, there is no evidence that I had ever been pregnant.


Except my tears, and a tear in my heart that may never heal.

I don't know how long I stay curled around myself, kneeling with my forehead on the ground, sobbing softly. I hate my body. I hate my powers. I hate this Curse. I hate myself.

Eventually, I look up... look around... and see that I'm still alone. It's a small park, on the University's property, and at the end of the term like this it isn't unusual that it would be deserted for days at a time. But the sun in the sky says it's sometime around noon. Jared won't be back to his apartment until late. Cindy had her last exam on Friday and left over the weekend. Kara's last exam was yesterday morning; she planned to be out of our dorm room by now.

I stumble back to my room, somehow. I feel like I'm stumbling, but with my reflexes I probably just look like a typical end of term student, in a daze from all the finals. I'm not, though.

I'm broken and torn, and may never feel whole and alive again. Why do I feel like I killed my baby? Oh, I know, I know. A bundle of cells barely a month into gestation isn't a baby. Intellectually, I know that. My heart, though. Oh, how my heart hurts. I'm shattered; I don't know how I can make it from this minute to the next. My heart says I've killed my baby.

So somehow, through force of habit I suspect, I make it back to my empty dorm room. Kara is gone.

I am alone.

And hating myself.

And wishing I, too, could die.

I sob most of the afternoon away. At some point, I fall asleep because the next thing I know, Jared is kneeling beside my bed in the dark, calling my name.

I can't open my eyes; they feel swollen shut. I know that won't last long; I heal too fast. My body does, anyway. I reach out, feeling the qi, and unerringly find one of his hands.

The traitorous qi.

"Andi, sweetie... what's wrong?" He sounds beyond just worried. "No one's seen you all day, and when you weren't at my place..." He wraps an arm around me. "I was scared, Andi. Are you okay?"

I move closer to him, wrap my arms around him, bury my face in his torso and sob inconsolably. I can't stop crying long enough to tell him what's wrong... and the more I cry, the more worried he gets.

But Jared is a good man, a good person, and he just lets me cry... stroking my hair, reassuring me that he's there, just waiting me out. He's a good man. And I believe in my heart that I do love him.

Finally, finally I have no more tears to cry. I have no more heart to break; it is broken into hundreds of thousands of tiny shards that can never be mended.

Finally, I have to tell him.

"I lost our baby," I whisper. I don't know if I manage to speak loudly enough for him to hear. Not for seconds that stretch into an eternity, not until I feel his arms around me and his tears soaking into my hair.

"Oh Andi, my Andi, my sweet... you should have called me, my love," he manages to say. "You shouldn't have had to go through this all alone."

The next few weeks are a blur. I am not a person with supernatural abilities, I am a woman in mourning. Jared graduates, and I'm happy for him. I'm as happy as it's possible for me to be.

During those weeks, I examine my meridians closely and carefully; I watch every tiny movement of qi through my body. And I can see the problem, so clearly.

A child is the combination of both her parents. The part of that child, the not-me part of that child, is seen by my body as a foreign object no different than a virus or bacteria. My body cannot differentiate between bad-different and good-different.

Any child who is part not-me is doomed to a short existence of a few weeks.

I go to doctors. I go because it makes Jared feel better.

They all say the same thing... there is nothing wrong with me. But I go to those appointments alone and shred those letters, and I lie to Jared. I tell him the same lie I will tell so many people in the coming decade... there is something ever so slightly wrong with my reproductive system. They can't say for sure. But having children will be somewhere between extremely difficult and impossible.

I can't bear the look on Jared's face when I tell him. I can't bear the feelings of loss both of us feel.

I can't bear it, and I withdraw into myself.

When he tells me a few weeks after graduation that he accepted a job out of state, all I can do is press a hand against his cheek and look into his beautiful blue eyes. "I understand, I truly do. Please, be happy, Jared." I take a shuddering breath, wondering if I still have tears to cry. "Find someone who can give you what I can't."

Yes, we talk a bit more, but he left for his new life the next day. And I call Daddy to come get me.

That summer in Flagstaff is subdued. I tell Mama about what had happened, and — ever the optimist — she holds me as I cry again, and tells me not to worry, that everything will work out as it's supposed to. It's hard not to hurt, though. I spend most of my days alone... riding through the desert and safer canyons around Flagstaff. Little Billy, a sweet and cheerful boy of eleven, appoints himself my protector. I do manage to smile at that. He follows me nearly everywhere and rides along with me every day. He seems to understand when quiet is necessary, and when cajoling his older cousin is in order.

Mostly, though... mostly it is the love of my family that heals me. Their love, their acceptance of who I am exactly as I am, gives me the courage to stop crying, to stop hurting quite so much.

They give me the courage and encouragement I need to return to Denver at the end of August.

Again, and I have two new roommates this year. Deb — she makes it clear within two minutes that she hates both 'Deborah' and 'Debbie' — is majoring in Physics and intimidates the hell out of me with her gigantic level of smart. Clara is majoring in History with a concentration on Eastern Europe.

As it turns out, Deb is not the least bit intimidating; she's funny and likes flying kites and just thinks a little bit differently than the rest of us. Clara is our eternal optimist, always smiling, always with a kind word for everyone.

Of course, part of the whole "getting to know you" process roommates go through is talking about boyfriends, past and present. There is no present boyfriend, and I really don't see the likelihood of one anytime soon. Unfortunately, I do need to make some mention of Jared... and why we're no longer together. It's hard to tell the story, even though I share only the barest of facts, and it takes so little time.

But that's when I realize I really lucked out on roommates this year. Sitting between the two of them, hugged from both sides, I can't stop crying. Again. But this time, I feel a release... like I'm letting go of a burden I don't need to carry anymore. I'll never forget Jared, and will always have a special place in my heart for him. The pain of losing our child will never completely go away, for either of us. But someday... someday, with the help of friends like these, and friends I'll make in the future... someday that pain will be bearable.

I've decided to major in English Literature. As one of my volunteer service projects, not terribly surprisingly, like my mother, I help the foreign students with their English. Since the Japanese students are already fluent in English, and I'm conversant in at least one dialect of Chinese, I work with those students. Not only the few Chinese students at DU, but the several dozen younger students in the Denver high schools and grade schools.

Clara seems to be friends with everyone, and she's constantly inviting Deb and me to join her at this party or that event or some other function. Deb is nearly always studying, and when she isn't, she does give the impression of being really flaky. Although she isn't. It's fun to watch her play with people who think she is a flake, though.

A few weeks into the term, Clara convinces us to go to one of the many parties hosted by one of the many fraternities. I'm not sure I really want to go, but Clara's boyfriend is a member of the fraternity, and he is a nice guy and they double team both Deb and me. Amid much laughter, we both cave to their cheerful pressure and agree to go.

I actually have a pretty good time. Derek's fraternity brothers are intelligent and able to converse as well as dance. One of them is kind of obnoxious, but other than that one, I do enjoy their company.

Unfortunately, the one obnoxious one seems to be trying to make a point of ruining my evening and ensuring I don't have fun.

"Hey, baby... do one of those Indian rain dances for us."

The other guys just tell me to ignore him, that he'd been drinking way too much all afternoon and would probably pass out pretty soon anyway.

"Hey, Squaw! Fetch me another brewski!"

Yeah, don't I wish. That's not what his aura looks like. It's full of aggression and anger and lust and a few other ugly things. It makes me wonder how a really not very nice person like that got into a group of guys like Derek and the rest of them.

Later in the evening, as I stand at the edge of the room sipping some seltzer water and watching the dancers, the creep comes up and tries to put an arm around me. I deftly move out of his way.

"Go away, Randy. You're drunk and you're not anywhere near as charming as you think you are."

"Awww, baby... you know you want me. Come on. Dance with me." He leers at me.

"No. You're drunk. Go away."

He makes another grab for me, aiming for my breast but only knocking the plastic cup out of my hand before I can move. He's too close. I'd have to move too fast. He wouldn't notice, but there are probably other people watching. The seltzer water soaks a leg of my jeans and seeps into one of my sneakers. It's uncomfortable, but I'm grateful I'm not wearing my boots.

I look at my leg, my shoe, and I frown as I look at Randy.

"That wasn't very nice. Leave me alone, Randy, or I'll have to ask your brothers here to deal with you."

He leers again. "Hey, Injun, you just need a man. You don't know what you're missing here. You're not one of those dykes, are you?"

I can see the ripples of his aura, and the flow of qi, and I see the intersection of all kinds of very not good things here.

"Randy, just go away, please." Because, man, if you don't, it's going to get ugly here.

"Bitch, you don't get to tell me what to do!"

That was loud enough to attract the attention of others. That's good. Maybe someone will get Randy out of here before I have to do something about Randy. I really don't want to cause trouble in Derek's house.

But as I take a half step backward, maintaining a simple defensive posture any Taiji student would recognize, he lunges at me.

I block him so he can't get close enough, can't grab hold me of me, but that just enrages him more.


Oh, fuck, this it going right into the toilet.

"You fucking bitch!!"

I take another step backward, but he rushes at me, grabs my blouse and tears it nearly off my body. To keep some dignity intact, I follow the direction of the pull, an Aikido move. It startles him enough to let go of my clothing, so and I drop to the floor and roll to the now empty dance floor. Then I stand back up several paces away, holding the tattered remnants of my blouse closed against my chest. Being small chested, I rarely wear a bra. At the moment, I really wish I had worn one tonight.

My tears aren't faked; he's just ruined my favorite silk blouse. It was a Christmas present from Tita.

Tears or no tears, however, I'm a Taijiquan Master and I focus on an enemy.

"Back off, Randy. Just stay the hell away from me, you asshole." Although I sense several of his fraternity brothers coming to intercept him, I also see the qi flows and his aura flaring red. They're going to be too late. I'm on my own.

Being on my own doesn't bother me.

Causing trouble in Derek's house bothers me.

This time when he rushes me, I stand my ground and twist to the side, grabbing his arm and dropping him to the ground. The pop of a joint dislocating can be heard across the room. I step back out of range, still holding the shreds of dignity and cloth against my chest.

He begins screaming... in pain, I'm sure. Dislocated elbows are not a trivial thing. I should know; I've had four.

I can still feel the tears streaming down my cheeks as I take another step back into Clara's and Deb's arms. Derek is there with a jacket for me. Their caring and concern just makes it harder to stop the tears.

Some of the other guys are trying to help Randy up, but he's thrashing about like an epileptic and screaming like... I don't even know. But shit, he needs to SHUT UP!

Finally a couple of the guys get him upright, and he glares at me with malevolent hatred.

"Somebody call the cops on that bitch! She assaulted me! You're all witnesses!"

I can hear the others whispering to him, telling him that he's an idiot, and a drunk one at that, but he keeps yelling obscenities.

Deb hands me some tissues, and I can't thank her with anything but a smile. I don't know, maybe I'm in shock. I acquitted myself well; the enemy was disabled with minimal force and damage... but I can't wrap my brain around the fact that someone would do what he did. To a guest. In his home.

Since Randy isn't going to be satisfied until the police show up, Derek points us in the direction of the farthest sofa in the living room while he deals with Randy... and calling the police.

Suddenly, I'm scared and worried... are they going to arrest me? Will the school take away my scholarships or expel me? What will I do then?

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the police officers arrive quickly. I suppose there are enough incidents on campus to warrant officers being nearby on a Saturday night.

They talk to Randy first. Rather, they try to talk to Randy first. He's not satisfied with just vilifying me and my heritage, he also can't keep his brain in check long enough to keep from insulting the police officers either. "Nigger cunt" and "Spic fag" are some of the nicer things he calls them. They listen to his increasingly incoherent ramblings. They take notes as appropriate, all the while maintaining a stony-faced silence. Finally, they either have all the information they need or reach the end of their combined patience... and if you ask me, their patience has been long indeed.

Now I need to face the inquisitors.

"I'm Officer Denise Jackson," the woman says as she crouches in front of me. "That's my partner, Officer Pablo Garcia. We'd like to talk to you alone, but if you'd feel more comfortable with your friends with you, that's okay."

I look between Deb and Clara, then sit up straighter, pulling Derek's jacket tighter around me. I am a Taijiquan Master! I am an Aikido Kudan! I am a Diné Warrior!

"I'll be okay," I tell my friends softly. "I promise."

I attempt a smile, but I don't quite manage it. Still, they recognize the attempt and, with a light squeeze on the shoulder from each of them, they go over to the other side of the room to stand with Derek. I notice there are also paramedics here, dealing with the invectives Randy is throwing at them for being non-white while they're trying to help him. I feel sorry for them.

I look at each of the police officers in turn.

"Now what?" I ask, almost timidly. I really am afraid of the repercussions Randy's stupidity can have for me.

"Just tell us what happened in your own words," Officer Garcia says. "If we have questions, we can come back to them." He has kind eyes.

I nod.

"There's really not much to tell. Randy was pretty drunk already when we got here around 7:30. He got kind of obnoxious, picking on me — I guess — because I'm Native American. I asked him, I told him, several times to go away and leave me alone. He..."

I look down at my hands holding Derek's jacket closed, then up at Officer Jackson. Her aura vibrates with sympathy and understanding and... and kindness. I guess I could use kindness right now.

"He said some very crude things, things I would not expect a decent man to say to a woman." I take a deep breath. "He tried to grab me, but I moved out of the way so he just knocked my cup of seltzer water out of my hand." I look at the still damp pant leg. "The second time he tried to grab me, he... he..."

I can't help it; I start crying again and dab my eyes with the tissues Deb had left me.

"He tore my blouse. I'm... I'm really... mostly upset because... because it's my favorite and... and was a gift from my grandmother."

I take a deep breath, pause a moment and let it out slowly. Diné Warrior, remember, Andi?

"I dropped and rolled away from him. That really made him angry. And then I told him to back off, and... well, I guess I called him an asshole."

Officer Jackson snorts. "Privileged little white boy is an asshole," she mutters.

"Denise..." Officer Garcia's gentle chiding causes the woman to roll her eyes and give him a half smile. I get the impression this is their little game, a little game all their own. The patterns of qi that flow around them are intricate; they're not just partners... they're friends. Officer Garcia nods to me. "Go ahead, Ms. Yazzie."

"Well, that kind of made him even madder, so I guess maybe that's my fault, although I think he still would have been crazy even if I didn't say anything."

I'm babbling because I have to tell. I have to tell what I can do. And I don't want to.

"He... he rushed at me and... and..."

I sigh and deflate a little.

"I'm sorry. My training just took over. He tried to grab me again, and I... well, I defended myself."

I look at them both again, then look at my knees. That's a safe place to look.

"I'm sorry."

"Sorry?" Officer Jackson laugh humorlessly. "Girl, you did exactly what you should have done! Don't ever be sorry about defending yourself!"

The other officer clears his throat. "We... looked you up in the system, Ms. Yazzie. You have the equivalent of two black belts. You could have killed that man tonight. You didn't. You used good judgment and restraint to simply make sure he didn't hurt you."

I look up again, surprise clearly written on my face.

"I... I'm not going to get in trouble? I'm not going to lose my scholarships?"

Officer Garcia's smile is quirky and crooked.

"No, Ms. Yazzie. You're not going to get in any trouble. Yes, Mr. Duncan is insisting on pressing charges, but based on the report we'll be filing, he'll find he won't get anywhere."

"We will, unfortunately, need to take your blouse as evidence," Officer Jackson says. I didn't even need to look at her aura to know she hates saying that.

I nod. "Um... right now?"

Officer Jackson nods and hooks her thumb toward the other side of the room. "Take a hike, Garcia."

He nods to his partner and goes to check with the paramedics, who have apparently tranquilized Randy, because he is not only quiet, but his aura looks really peculiar.

I wiggle out of what's left of my blouse while trying to keep Derek's jacket wrapped around me. Fortunately, Officer Jackson helps with the jacket and I manage to not expose any parts of my anatomy that shouldn't be seen in public. After taking the blouse off, I slip my arms into the sleeves of the jacket and zip it up. It's way too big for me, but... well, it covers me.

I look at the beautiful blue silk in my lap and press my lips together, hard, to keep from crying again.

"I'm sorry, honey," Officer Jackson whispers.

I nod as I pick up the remnants of the blouse and hand it to her.

"Thanks. For caring."

She smiles. It's a smile of a smart woman who's seen more than people ought to see of the dark side of humanity.

"At DPD, we serve and protect. And some of us also care."

She puts the blouse in a plastic bag she pulls from a pocket and seals it.

"Garcia, give the woman your card!" She pulls her card out of another pocket and hands it to me. Her partner comes back over, laughing.

"Jackson, you are one bossy woman," he says as he hands his card to me.

"Only way to get you to listen to anything, my friend," she answers, laughing.

"Now, don't hesitate to call either of us if you need some protection."

She stands and rests a hand on my shoulder for a moment.

"Or some caring."

All I can do is nod again.

"Thank you," I whisper as they follow the paramedics out the door.

It takes a while to recover from the shock of that evening. I guess two and a half years isn't enough time to understand the culture of mainstream America. I wonder how much time is enough time...

Not long afterward, perhaps a week and a half later, the officers stop by our dorm room. Deb and Clara are both in class, and I'm studying, so engrossed in my textbook that I nearly miss the soft knock on the door frame. I look up and feel a moment of fear. Have things gone badly? Have they come to tell me Randy actually made a case for assault?

Officer Jackson sees the look on my face and smiles with reassurance.

"We were in the neighborhood and thought we'd check in with you. Mind if we come in?"

"Oh, sure... come on in," I say, sticking my spiral notebook into the textbook to keep my place, and getting up to move books from the room's desk chairs.

"Hey, don't bother cleaning up for us," Officer Garcia said.

I laugh. "Listen, if you two are going to stand, then I have to stand or I'll feel intimidated, and I don't feel like standing, so we're all going to sit." I grin at them. "I took Logic last semester."

I put the books on the nearest desk and point them to the chairs.

"Psychology, too."

I sit down again on my bed, cross-legged, and wait for them to sit down. They bicker like siblings over who gets which chair, and where the chairs should be placed, and I can't help giggling. If I look only at their auras, I'd almost swear they are brother and sister... and best friends... all rolled into one. They have a connection that makes me think they can intuit one another's moves when they're out doing their real police work.

Officer Garcia stops what he's doing and looks at me when I giggle.

"Jackson, I believe the civilian is laughing at us."

Officer Jackson looks at him, then at me, then at him again.

"I think the civilian giggled, Garcia. There's a difference," she says as she sits down.

He leans on the chair back, eyes twinkling with merriment. "If you say so. We were mocked, nevertheless."

"You were mocked. I amused the civilian." She looks at her partner. "Sit down, Garcia. You're intimidating when you're standing."

"I'm leaning on the chair, so I'm actually much less intimidating. Leaning like this suggests relaxation, trust, and friendliness. It is meant to put the civilian at ease."

She swats at his head, but he dodges easily. I just watch with wide eyes. My mouth might be starting to hang open.

"Sit down, Garcia, and stop quoting my textbooks before I call your mother."

He laughs and moves the chair farther from her, then sits down. "You leave Momma out of this, Denise, or there will be no Christmas flan for you this year."

"You're an evil, evil man, Pablo Garcia." She turns to look at me, grinning broadly. "Don't ever threaten to call his mother. He gets spiteful."

I just look between the two of them, utterly bemused. "Um. Okay. I don't think I would ever have a reason to call his mother, but... thanks?

"Are you two part of the DPD comedy show or what?"

They look at each other for a minute.

"You're right. The civilian might be mocking us, Garcia."

"No, no... I think it was an honest appreciation of our clever repartee," he replies.

"Repartee? Is that the word of the day?" She raises an eyebrow and looks down her nose at him.

"No. Last Wednesday's," he says with a grin.

He has a nice smile. They both do. They're happy people.

"Are you two always like this," I ask... very, very hesitantly.

They both laugh.

"Pretty much, yeah," Officer Jackson says. "It's why we make such a great team. When we need to be serious, we're serious. When we don't need to be serious... what's the point, right?"

I nod slowly. "Sure. Okay."

"The civilian is freaked out, Jackson, and it's your fault."

"MY fault? Why is my fault?!"

"Because you started it."

"I did not! You were the one leaning on the chair!"

Officer Garcia shrugs. And smiles. And says nothing more.

I stare at them.

"I'm not freaked out if that helps any. But I'm really, really confused."

I almost expect her to stick her tongue out at him, but she only smiles at me and says, "What's got you confused, honey?"

I point to the two of them. "This. You. Here. Visiting with..."

I rub my forehead and temples with fingertips.

"I'm not sure if I committed a crime or what happened, but visits from police officers are supposed to be harbingers of doom or something."

Officer Jackson laughs. "You've watched too many of the wrong movies, and they haven't made the right movies yet.

"We figured you'd be confused, what with practically being a foreign student even though you're not. Yeah, yeah... we checked up on you since the incident. Explains why you were a little shocky that night."

I shrug. "I guess. I mean, people just don't do that where I grew up."

"If it's any help," Officer Garcia says, "most men are considerably more courteous that Mr. Duncan."

I smile. "I know. Derek... that's Clara's boyfriend, and the Chapter vice president or something... he keeps saying the same thing. I guess Randy got kicked out of the fraternity." I sigh. "Deb and Clara, they're awesome friends, and they try to keep the repercussions from overwhelming me. But... well, I found out the other day that Randy's dad is some big shot senator from Texas and he's going around telling everyone I was asking for it."

I sit up straighter, with my hands on my thighs, and lift my chin a bit.

"That jerk can just go and say whatever he wants. I know what I know, and my friends... people who know me... they're not going to believe anything he says anyway. The way he's been talking, you'd think I was dressed like a woman of loose morals." I harumph. "I was wearing a blouse my seventy-four year old grandmother gave me. That would be like saying my grandmother was encouraging me to have loose morals, and that's utterly ridiculous!"

They look at each other again, and Officer Garcia grins while Officer Jackson groans, reaches into a pocket, pulls out a coin and places it in his outstretched hand.

"Told ya, Jackson," he says with... is that a smirk?

I look from one to the other again.


"I told Jackson you'd be just fine, that you have a fiery spirit."

Well, what can I do but laugh?

"Do you two do with for everyone you come across?" I can't help smiling at them.

Officer Jackson shakes her head. "Nah, just you youngsters who've only been in-country a few years. Usually, it's the Eastern European girls... never thought we'd need to be looking out for one of our own, you know? But if Garcia is right about you..."

She looks over at her partner and rolls her eyes before turning back to me.

"...and he's a good judge of character, so he's right about you... you won't have too much trouble getting your feet under you."

"If I..." I hesitate, biting at my lower lip. "If I happen to see... you know, harassment that the school administration doesn't seem to... well, notice even when people speak up..."

They exchange glances.

"You need to go through proper channels here first," Officer Garcia says, "but if that doesn't help... yes. Give either of us a call."

She nods. "Oh, and we're not sticklers for protocol and all that nonsense. I'm Denise... he's Pablo."

I nod as well, sighing softly, feeling relieved that there is someone I can call if I need help. I know I'm not ready to do the heavy lifting of helping. I'm not sure I ever will be... except... well, I am a Diné Warrior, so at some point I do need to be ready.

"And please, please... no more 'Ms. Yazzie'!" I say, smiling. "Andrea or Andi is just fine."

They both stand, and so of course I do as well.

"We'll stop in on you a few more time in the next couple of months," Denise says, "just to ease my mind since Garcia's already decided you'll be fine." She grins as we shake hands. "Good luck with your studies, Andrea."

"Thank you, Denise."

Pablo wishes me well also as we shake hands. I get a weird feeling sort of like deja vu, except not really, but I smile and thank him, too. Shaking my head and chuckling as I watch them walk down the hall, bantering back and forth, I realize THAT is what Best Friends looks like. They're pretty cool people.

But I have a lot of reading to finish for next week's discussion in my Twentieth Century American Authors class! So I put the chairs back where they belong, then sprawl out on my bed to continue reading.

True to their words, Denise and Pablo stop by several more times before the end of the term. They're always cheerful, always playfully teasing each other, always kind and considerate, and always, always very much on duty. It's an interesting thing, watching them interact. You can tell they're aware of everything going on around them, even when it looks like they're oblivious to all the minor infractions of both Denver and the University's laws and codes of conduct. Only once, when an argument gets out of hand and turns into a fight, do they intervene. They do it so calmly, so pleasantly, that they somehow manage to get both idiot football players laughing and shaking hands when it's all over.

I don't know they do it. They're geniuses or something. I called them Super Cops one time, and it took ten minutes for them to stop laughing, and Denise had tears streaming down her face from laughing so hard.

After a relaxing holiday break with my family in Flagstaff, Deb, Clara and I begin another term of mostly major-related classes. As a Physics major, Deb spends most of her time in the labs. Clara spends most of her time in the library, and I... well, I seem to be all over the place. I always have reading assignments — dozens of them, and it makes me grateful to be a quick reader — and I can read anywhere. I still prefer writing my assignments with a pen, then typing them up on the computer... so I can work anywhere I go.

Tonight is a cold and blustery January evening, and I'm bundled up. I'm really trying to fit in, trying to look like all the other students who are freezing. But the truth is that I can adjust my qi flow to stay toasty even when it's close to zero. I'm heading out from the dorms to one of the many small eateries on and surrounding the campus. I don't have any particular destination in mind; I figure I'll stop wherever I happen to be when I get bored with walking. I've got a couple of books, a couple of notebooks, and probably too many pens in the backpack slung over my shoulders.

The air is crisp and clean, and walking is a pleasure.

It isn't until I sense someone following me that I become anxious. Not overly so, but I still seem to be a little touchy after last term's fiasco with Randy... who was not only expelled from his fraternity, but from DU as well.

Apparently, he used the same language with the Dean of Students and the Vice President for Academic Affairs as he had with Pablo and Denise. Unlike the calm with which the two officers fairly ignored his ravings, the DU administrators became quite upset. Or so the grapevine reported.

But a moment later, really no more than two or three seconds, I recognize the feel of the person's aura. Still, I am surprised.

"Should you wandering around alone after dark, young lady?"

I grin at him as he catches up and walks beside me.

"Should you be following young ladies who are wandering around after dark, Officer?"

Pablo laughs. "Just protecting the citizens of Denver, miss." His sharp gaze takes in the surrounding area. "My keen deductive skills lead me to believe you are on your way to dinner. Would I be imposing if I asked to join you?"

"Well... I was going to read," I admit, "but chatting with you would be okay, too."

"Ah, if it's such a burden," he says with a sigh, "I could go eat alone. In the dark. Perhaps gnaw on a still-frozen microwave dinner."

I can almost imagine him dramatically holding up a hand and looking away. I burst out laughing.

"You'd make an excellent actor, Pablo," I say, still chuckling. "I'm not sure whether you'd be most suited to serious works, like maybe Shakespeare, or more suited to comedy... but you definitely have acting ability."

"Does that mean I should go home and eat a frozen Hot Pocket?" he asks with a grin.

"No. That would be disgusting. Not that most of the places around here have the best food, but even bad pizza is better than still-frozen... almost anything. Except peas. Frozen peas are pretty good."

He looks at me as if I've lost my mind.

"Are you serious? You eat frozen peas... still frozen?"

I nod. "Yes, and if you're going to mock my food choices, I will have to send you on your way to gnaw on your frozen Hot Pocket." I smile at him. "You did start it, you know, with that... disgusting..." I can't finish the thought, having started laughing again.

We're both laughing as he steers me toward the one of the local pizza places a few doors up the street. A perfect gentleman, he holds the door open for me, and we enter the warmth of the small pizza parlor.

"Heya, Andi!" says Lori, the general all-around do every person. "No studying tonight, huh? Good. Sometimes, it's good to rest the brain." Lori's in her mid-thirties, married to Dean, who owns the place. They have two children, twin girls, Angie and Bethany, age four. You can tell I come here a lot. "Your usual, hon?"

I nod. "Mostly deliveries tonight, looks like."

"Yeah, it's a million degrees below zero or something crazy like that. But in this kind of weather, even the cheapskates tip fairly well, so Hank's happy. How 'bout you, hon?" she asks, looking at Pablo.

Hank is Dean's youngest brother; he's a freshman at CU, works here to augment his scholarship and the help Dean and Lori give him. They're a nice family.

While Pablo gives Lori his order, I divest myself of the backpack and put it on a chair at my usual table by the front window. Then I take off gloves, coat, scarf, hat and pile them all on a nearby empty table. Pablo and I are the only customers at the moment.

I'd be people watching if there were any people outside. It doesn't often get down near freezing here, except for a week or so around this time of year. It seems so weird to me that everyone apparently forgets from year to year that the January Cold Snap arrives in... January. Pretty much every year. Well, except for the years when it seems to wait until February.

Pablo comes over and removes his jacket before sitting down; I note that he's still in uniform... gun and all.

"Don't you think it's chilly over here?" he asks. And I suppose it does seem a bit peculiar that I'm wearing only a short-sleeved blouse instead of something with long sleeves, or maybe a sweater.

"I lived in China for six years. The town I stayed in was awfully close to Siberia. This? This is not chilly," I say with a grin.

"You know Jackson and I looked into your background last year," he says with a bemused look on his face. "I understand the part about living in Japan. Your folks were stationed there, right? But China? Why in the world would you go to China to live... and all alone?"

Hmmm. Well, I don't think now is the time for the truth. I don't know if there ever will be a time for the truth. So... the slightly modified and sanitized version of the truth will have to do.

"Are you kidding me? I had the chance to study with the greatest living Taijiquan teacher in the world!" I say with honest enthusiasm. "I couldn't pass up a chance like that. He only takes in two new students a year. To be invited to learn from him...?" I shake my head, and sigh while smiling. "I might have missed out on a lot of stuff... though listening to my friends talk about those years, I'm not really sure I missed all that much. Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers?" I laugh again. "I'm the youngest Chen Shi Taijiquan Master ever. That's worth a lot. To me."

He just shakes his head. "But... high school... football... hanging out with friends. What about all that?"

"Did I also mention that I'm the youngest person to have reached Kudan level in Aikido and am the only female Kudan?" I raise my eyebrows and smile serenely.

Now he just stares at me. "You're a very... unusual person, Andrea Yazzie."

"Aw, Pablo, you can say it. I'm weird. I know it." I giggle.

Lori comes over with our pizza slices and soda, and we're quiet for several minutes while getting sustenance into our bodies.

"You know," he says finally, "you should consider working for the Denver Police. You certainly have some excellent skills that would make you a good police officer."

Now it's my turn to look at him as if he's gone crazy.

"I'm majoring in English Literature. How could that possibly be a useful skill as a police officer?"

"Well, you'd probably be able to write a report that made sense," he says, completely deadpan.

"Oh, don't count on it! I could write in the style of Shakespeare or Milton... or perhaps each report should be a sonnet," I reply.

"Like I said, a report that would make sense," he says firmly.

I shake my head. "No. And thank you. I believe I'm going to become a librarian." I'm not entirely certain of that quite yet, but Talia is. And... well... she's very accurate with her predictions.

He sighs, somewhat dramatically. "Well, all that martial arts stuff will certainly come in handy when tracking down people with overdue books."

"Exactly!" I drink another sip of soda.

"Seriously, Andrea... why go through all that training if you're not going to put it to use?"

Many people have asked that question, most of them implying that my training had been a waste of time. But Pablo is genuinely interested. I can't tell him the truth this time, not even a cleaned up, sanitized version. I shrug.

At first, my Dad thought it would be something to keep me busy and out of trouble, and a way for me to get to know the local Japanese children. He didn't want us to be isolated to the 'American' side. He said it would be good to know kids beside the other American kids on base. But it turns out I was really good at it, and it was... well, fun!" I smile. That much actually is true. The next... not so much.

"When I became Kudan at twelve, that made a stir in the martial arts communities in the Far East. It was actually more of a tidal wave since I was a girl. I guess that's how Grandmaster Chen found out about me, and he offered me a place in his school.

"But when people think I'm not putting my training to use, they're wrong. It's good exercise; I practice every day. It relaxes me. And, as you well know, I can defend myself... probably against anything except a gun." I pause, tilt my head as I consider. "Maybe even against someone with a gun who wasn't very good at using it... say, someone who just waves it around for effect."

He nods, but then grins. "I'm not going to give up."

"I believe that's a threat that you're going to insinuate yourself into my life so that you can continue to hound me on the subject," I say with mock indignation.

He just smiles and takes another bite of pizza. I raise an eyebrow.

"That's stalking, you know."

He shakes his head as he finishes chewing and swallowing the pizza.

"No. See, I'm telling you about it beforehand, and also I'm not creepy. Stalkers need to be creepy. It's in their rule book."

"Riiiight..." I say. "Stalkers have a rule book?" I ask, extremely skeptical.

"Oh, I'm sure they must," he responds. "They're pretty predictable sorts of creeps."

I nod slowly. "Uh huh. Okay then. How about a subject change? How's Denise."

He laughs. He's got a nice laugh.

"She's fine. Tonight is her mom's birthday, so they're all going out to dinner at some fancy place." He looks around the pizza parlor. "Probably not as fancy as this, but close."

I grin at him. "Well... tell her I miss her. And I miss your comedy acts."

"Comedy?" He looks aghast, proving again that he has some acting ability. "We are very serious professionals, I'll have you know."

And so it goes. Somehow Pablo does manage to insinuate himself into my life, and by the end of the school year I realize that he's become a friend.

Summer in Flagstaff is just a little crazier than usual and in a really good way. Dad and Aunt Sonia and Uncle Junior are planning a surprise birthday party for Tita's seventy-fifth birthday, and Mama is cooking and baking up a storm. I'm pretty sure Tita knows what's going on, but she'll pretend to be surprised because she's so awesome that way. It's fun to have the cousin-twins reunited. Henry and I are only a few months apart in age, Justin and Charlie are only a few months apart in age... and we have fun driving our parents crazy by switching families. This year, it's my turn to stay with Uncle Junior and Aunt Alicia while Charlie stays with Mama and Dad. Every day the two brothers have the same conversation... the same one they've been having since I got back to the States and learned about Justin and Charlie making up the cousin-twin idea.

"This is your fault, Nelson," Uncle Junior says.

Dad shakes his head and responds, "It's your son whose guardian Spirit is Coyote, Junior."

"But Andrea is older than Henry, and Justin is older than Charlie."

"Now, you can't blame Andrea. She wasn't even here when the idea was cooked up."

"But it was Justin's idea."

"That's not the story I hear. Henry put them up to it."

We love listening to them pretend to bicker as much as they love watching us having so much fun.

And Tommy even gets a day pass to come visit for Tita's birthday! Well, Ha'atathli Ravenclaw actually gives him a whole weekend off from his studies, but Henry starts calling it a day pass, and that pretty much sticks.

Little Raven! It's so good to see you again!

I giggle as I rub the base of my skull. "Tommy, you know that tickles."

"Why do you think I do it, cousin?" he asks as he hugs me in greeting. "Our Coyote-spirit cousin can't have all the fun, can he?"

"Well, he certainly does try!

"So has the great Warrior decided to take up her staff yet?"

I roll my eyes at him.

"No. The poor college student is trying to read at least two books a week because she's crazy and majored in English Literature," I say, chuckling.

You'll know when the time is right.

"Tommy!" I scratch the back of my head; he laughs.

"Hey, how am I going to get any better at it if I don't practice?"

"I think you should practice on my cousin-twin."

"Are you kidding? That one knows every practical joke ever played in the history of humankind and is making up new ones. You want me to poke that hornets' nest?"

I grin at him. "If it keeps you from making the inside of my head itch, yes!"

He laughs and hugs me again. "Don't worry, Cousin Warrior. Talia said she'd be happy to work with me, at least until she graduates from high school and goes off to nursing school."

"Oh, she's decided that's what she wants to do?"

He shrugs. "With Talia, it's hard to tell if it's what she wants to do or if it's what she's meant to do."

"There's a difference?"

He looks at me a moment... though his face shows no emotion, his aura shows some surprise. "Perhaps not, Wise One. Perhaps not."

The summer seems to fly... one moment I'm arriving at the airport, the next I'm leaving again.

But Deb had heard through the grapevine that if students request specific roommates, the Office of Student Housing actually tries to match them up. So when we put in our applications in the Spring, we'd all requested the other two as roommates... and it worked!

So going back to Denver means going back to... to actual friends!

Since we had also volunteered to help on Freshman Move-In Day, we arrive a week earlier than the rest of the upperclassmen for Orientation. It's pretty much all common sense stuff, but the Office of Student Affairs is thorough if nothing else.

We're unpacking, catching up on what the others had done over the summer, laughing up a storm, when we hear a familiar voice from the doorway. "You know, with the amount of noise coming from this room, I could give all three of you citations for violating the City's noise ordinance."

We all recognize that voice.

"Hey, Pablo! Wanna hear a Physics joke?"

"Deb, the last time you told me a Physics joke, I was catatonic for two days, then my head started spinning around and I puked up green pea soup. Do you think it's wise to tell an officer of the law a Physics joke?" he asks, grinning from ear to ear.

"Oh, man! I'm sorry," she says, trying to hold back the giggles. "If I'd known, I could have sent you back in time to before I told you the joke so you would have been able to tell me not to tell you the joke."

"Well, you'll know better next time you find an unsuspecting officer of the law," he says, nodding sagely. "It's a good thing it happened on a Friday and I had the whole weekend to recover. I'm not sure my Lieutenant would be too happy with green pea soup all over the station."

"Yeah, but the head spinning around thing would be really cool to scare suspects into confessing to every crime they'd ever committed or thought about committing," I say, trying very hard to keep a straight face.

"Oh, but wouldn't that be considered cruel and unusual punishment?" asked Clara, completely losing the battle to keep a straight face.

Pablo shakes his head and sighs. "How did the three craziest women at the University of Denver manage a second year together? Isn't that going to make the universe implode or something?"

"Oooooh, an imploding universe!" Deb says, eyes wide and awe in her voice.

Clara nudges her. "The three of us?" She points to each of us. "We'd make the universe explode, not implode."

"Oh, yeah," Deb says, saddened. "Bummer."

"So... I should warn the County Board of our impending doom?" Pablo asks.

"Nah, let it be a surprise!" Clara says, laughing. "It's more fun that way."

I laugh along with her, and Pablo looks at me, both eyebrows raised.

"Aren't you supposed to be stabilizing force in this trio of madness, Andrea?"

I wave away his suggestion. "We haven't drawn straws yet to see who gets to be the sane one this year. We have a whole week still."

"Yeah, I was wondering about that. I saw the Physics Mobile out in the lot and came to find out why it was here so early."

Deb's car is a 1969 Volkswagen Beetle. No one really knows what color it is, though the registration papers claim it's yellow. Every possible area of the car to which a bumper sticker — or any type of sticker, for that matter — could be attached is, indeed, covered by some sort of sticker. Some of them are physics-related. However, the majority are not. Everyone Deb has known since she bought the car back in high school has been giving her stickers to layer over other stickers that have gotten worn... or just boring. I've brought a couple back from Flagstaff for her. Last year, Stan — the outgoing president of the GSA — gave her three different rainbow stickers, which she promptly and prominently attached to the Physics Mobile.

"We're helping out with Freshman Move-In. We needed to be orientated," I say, still giggling.

He shakes his head. "I already have sympathy for the incoming freshmen."

"Heeeeey, most of the other volunteers are boring and sane," Deb says, frowning. "We can't let freshmen think DU is a boring place!"

"It would make my job easier if it were," he replied, smiling his crooked smile.

"But then you'd be bored, too!" Clara says.

"With more time to visit the three craziest women on campus," he responds. "Logic. That one," he says, pointing at me, "told me something about this logic thing the first time Denise and I came to visit."

"Ooooh, yeah, he's right," Deb says. "If he's bored then we have our very own Officer Friendly at our beck and call."

Clara nods. "Okay, I can see where that might be useful."

Pablo looks between the two of them, then facepalms. "Andrea? Is there any chance you're going to be the voice of reason here?"

"Hmmmmm..." I look from Deb to Clara a time or two, and then look at Pablo, a sly and calculating look on my face. "I don't know. What's in it for me?"

His aura flares... oddly. I'm not quite sure what to make of it, and now isn't the time to figure it out. But as suddenly as it flared, his aura returns to normal. With his hand still over his face, he peeks between two fingers with one eye. "One free meal a week until graduation?"

My eyes grow wide and I smile happily. "Deal!"

I turn to my roommates. "Guess we'll have to give poor Pablo a break."

Deb and Clara exchange glances, then nod and turn to me.

"Okay," Clara says, "but you have to give him a hard time at least every other week."

"Pshah!" I roll my eyes. "Like that's a problem!"

"And report back to us so we have something to tease him about," Deb adds.

"Well, DUH," I say.

"Uh... hello? Does anyone see me standing here?" Pablo, being the actor again.

Deb looks him up and down. "Uh huh. Sure do, sugar. And you're lookin' mighty fine."

He actually blushes! Oh, he's so incredibly SWEET! He looks at me. "Help?"

I laugh, reach over to lightly slap Deb on the arm, point to Pablo and say, "Friend Zone."

She laughs. "I know. But I just had to tease, you know. And he left himself open for that one."

I nod. "True. He did." I look at Pablo. "You really did. But I'll save you from further torture if you have time to provide that first free meal," I say with a smile.

"Yes! Yes, all the time in the world... you three are more than I can handle today." He gives us all a good steely-eyed cop glare. "But I'll be ready for you next week. And I'll get my booster shots against the Crazy."

We all laugh as I grab my purse, and the two of us go in search of food.

The rest of the term and the following one are filled with hard work, lots of studying, volunteer work... but we manage to have fun, too. Pablo, true to his word, feeds me a meal a week... a real blessing for a college student. Three or four times, he even insists that Deb and Clara join us. The only truly monumental thing that happens between that hilarious day in our dorm room and graduation about nine months later is Pablo's promotion to Detective. Needless to say, we gather together as many of the DU students that we can find for whom he and Denise have been guardian angels over the years and throw him one heck of a party. Well, we had a great deal of help from Denise, of course.

He is beyond surprised by the number of people who attend. I don't think he or Denise ever really noticed just how many lives they've touched in such a positive way. I feel honored, blessed, and joyful to count Pablo Garcia and Denise Jackson among my friends. At one point, I stand watching people gather around Pablo. Denise is standing beside me and I say, "I'm really proud of him. And don't worry... we'll throw you and even bigger party when you make detective. I'm betting it's going to be within a year." She just puts her arm around my waist and hugs me. "He's gonna be a great detective, you mark my words. And girl, a year? Pshah! I intend to be on the next roll up come July." I look at her and grin. "Huge party, Denise... it will be a huge party!"

And on graduation day, as I walk across the stage to accept my diploma, my one wish is that the two of them could be here with me and my family to share everything graduation means to me, and for me. Because if it hadn't been for them, I might not be walking across this stage today. But they serve and protect the citizens of Denver, and I honor them for that.

This summer, I'm staying in Denver longer. I'll be starting graduate school in the Fall... yes, in the Library and Information Science program. At the University of Denver. But grad students need to find their own housing, so I'll be doing that. And... well... I really want to march with the the GSA contingent in the Pride Parade this year.

Deb is going to MIT for her graduate studies. I'm going to miss her like crazy! Clara is taking a year off to travel around Eastern Europe, before heading to the University of Illinois at Urbana for her graduate studies. I'm going to miss her so much, too.

I have other friends in Denver now, of course. But Deb and Clara will always be special because they were the first really good friends I made here.

And I still have Pablo and Denise. Pablo, for whatever reason, decides that we will continue our weekly meals, because — he claims — graduate students are as poverty stricken as undergrads and need to eat just as much. Possibly even more. It's really much easier to go along with his plan than to argue about it. Besides... I do enjoy his company.

The Parade and subsequent Festival in Cheesman Park are a blast! I have so much fun! There were, of course, the usual hecklers and a couple of busloads of... unpleasant people from some of the mega churches down in Colorado Springs. I know both Pablo and Denise are working today; in civilian clothes, trying to just be part of the crowd. But the hecklers and the... unpleasant people don't mar the day for Denver's LGBT community. The energy all along the parade route and in the park later is so positive, so energizing that I almost feel like... like these people are my tribe. It's actually pretty amusing for me.

I'm planning to head back to Flagstaff the following weekend; all of my housing arrangements should be set by then.

But Fate... or the Spirits... or just a mob of ignorant, angry assholes change my plans.

On Thursday, as I sit in the University Library, there's mob gathering outside the Convention Center. The first I know of it are whispers of students taking summer classes. I have no idea that Denise is working down there today.

The whispers because more frequent; then they become hushed tones filled will fear.

The only thing I remember hearing is, "They say the mob beat some woman, an Unfort."

Not long after that — thirty minutes? an hour? — my cell phone vibrates. It's Pablo.

"Hey, Pablo," I say quietly. After all, phone and libraries and not compatible.

"Get down to University Hospital right away. I'll meet you in the ER." His voice was hard, harsher than I'd ever heard from him, and saturated with pain. He'd hung up on me.

I blink, paralyzed and confused. But training... I am a Warrior, and that call was to the Warrior within. Does Pablo even guess what he's triggered?

I need to rely on public transportation, but it's only two buses; one to take me out to Colorado Boulevard, one to take me up to Colfax Avenue. Still, despite the synchronicity of the bus schedules, it seems to take forever to get to the hospital.

As I make my way to the Emergency Room, I find not only Pablo waiting for me, but Denise's entire family, and several of her closest friends. I am filled with dread.

My eyes lock onto Pablo's, and I can feel the Warrior stirring.

You'll know when the time is right.

That's what Tommy said last summer.

"Talk to me, Pablo," I say quietly as I step to his side.

For long, long minutes, he doesn't speak. And then, instead of speaking, he wraps his arms around me, buries his face in my neck and simply sobs. I hold him, but I don't have any words. I don't know what happened, I don't know why we're all here, but I do know that he's in terrible pain. So, instead of saying anything, I hum. I hum the song Mama sang to me when I was suffering through the onset of my Curse. It never stopped the pain, it never diminished it one iota... but it anchored me. I can only hope it does the same for Pablo. And just as Mama held my hand through that horrific ordeal, just as she set cool clothes on my forehead, I stroke his back. It's a small thing, but perhaps it's enough to soothe the pain. And if not, if it does nothing to alleviate any of the pain, perhaps it will at least anchor him here.

One of Denise's friends comes over — Julie? No, Juliet — and I look at her, my eyes pleading for some sort of information.

"Denise was at the Convention Center this morning," she said. "She was..."

And then the whispers from the Library... a woman, an Unfort, was beaten...

"Why?" It's a whisper, but an agonizing one.

Juliet, like Pablo, is finding it hard to speak.

"They thought she was an Unfortunate," he whispers against my neck.

"But why?" I cry, my own tears flowing freely now. "She's not..."

I'm the one who's not Normal. I'm the one with a weird genetic mutation. Denise isn't! If anyone is going to get beaten for not being Normal, it should be ME!

Juliet could only shake her head, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. She pressed a large stack of tissues into my hand.

"Take care of him," she mouths. "She's his best friend."

Juliet walks back to rejoin the group of Denise's friends, and I look over at Denise's family. Her mother... her mother's aura is so fragile, the woman is in so much pain that I think she's actually in shock. Denise's father looks like he might shatter into thousands of pieces. Her sisters, her brother... brother-in-law and niece... they all look so confused.

"She's in surgery," Pablo whispers. I'm not sure I would have heard him if I didn't have hyperacute hearing; that's how softly he spoke.

I guide him to one of the benches scattered around the waiting room and get him to sit down... but his grip on me tightens even more once we're seated. I use the tissues Juliet gave me to wipe my own tears and to get Pablo to at least blow his nose. Though, at a time like this, I really don't care about snot on my shirt. I just figure he might like to breathe a little easier.

It's at least another couple of hours before a doctor comes out to speak with Denise's family. I can hear her saying that there was extensive brain trauma and that it could be weeks before they would know if Denise would ever wake up. Her mother wails in pain; the pain reverberates around the waiting room, jabbing and prodding the Warrior awake.

The problem, O Warrior, is that we are not here to administer retribution, but to protect people who might be targeted. While not satisfied, the Warrior at least agrees.

I sit there, holding my friend, knowing that his best friend lies upstairs somewhere bargaining with Death. Long after Denise's friends have gone... long after Denise's family has gone... I sit there, holding my friend.

"Pablo... let me take you home."

He doesn't answer for a long time.

Finally, he sits up, takes a tissue from my hand, dries his red eyes and blows his nose. Then he pulls his keys from a pocket and hands them to me.

"I can't drive now."

I nod. I understand. I think I understand even more than he might know.

His apartment is over on the west side of town. It's not the best neighborhood, but I can see that there is pride of ownership here. The tiny duplexes are well-maintained, the yards neat, and there are no rusted-out cars without wheels as I've seen in some of my bike rides around Denver. His building is a simple yellow brick rectangle; two floors, and perhaps eight apartments on each floor. The parking lot out front is gravel.

"Which apartment, Pablo?"

It feels a little strange for me to be helping him out of the car, but I move quickly beyond that. With the enormous amount of pain and grief he's still feeling, I can only hope he doesn't realize that I'm considerably stronger than I look. I have to help him stand, and then keep him steady as we walk across the lot to the building's entrance.

He points to the top left apartment, and I manage to get the right keys in the right locks to help him home. Once inside, he seems to... to almost melt. It takes enhanced reflexes and increased strength to keep him from hitting the floor. Even then, I barely manage to get him to the sofa.

He collapses, falls over on his side, and just stares at me.


"Yes, Pablo?"

"Don't leave me alone." He takes a deep breath, removes his gun from the shoulder harness and hands it to me. "I don't trust myself tonight."

"Okay, Pablo."

He closes his eyes. "The safety's on. Just put it in the cabinet over there."

I nod, even though he can't see it and put the gun where he asked. Then I sit down on the floor beside the sofa, put a hand on his shoulder, and say, "Try to sleep, Pablo. I'll be here. I promise."

He doesn't say anything, and his breathing slows, becomes much more even. Just as he is dropping off into sleep, he says, "Thank you, Andrea" in a voice not much more than a breath, hardly even a whisper.

"You're welcome, Pablo," I say, just as softly.

The next day, I call home... let my family know what happened, and that I'll be staying in Denver longer than I had expected. They are very understanding. I arrange for an extension of my temporary housing at DU; they, too, are very understanding.

Pablo's Captain has given him some leave time, which is good because it takes about four days before Pablo feels like he can trust himself again. To be human. To stay alive. I spend those four days watching him carefully; watching his aura, really. I make sure he eats. I threaten to leave if he doesn't take a shower.

And there's no change in Denise's condition.

Weeks pass. Pablo returns to work. I continue my volunteer jobs. We each visit Denise as often as we can, which doesn't seem often enough. But she's in ICU... and the list of allowed visitors is, according to the nurses, unusually long. Her family spends most of the allowed time with her; those of us who are her friends are allowed maybe ten minutes every four or five days.

Eerily, as Denise had predicted, her name is on the roll for promotion to Detective on July 1.

Weeks pass. My small apartment is ready, and I move my few belongings into the tiny furnished one bedroom unit near the campus. Classes starts, and I'm glad to have at least some small distraction.

All this time, the Warrior has been rising. Demanding a voice, demanding to take her rightful place as protector of those who need protection. It is getting harder and harder to ignore the Warrior, and it's getting nearly impossible to tell her, "No."

And weeks pass.

At each visit, even though I can see that Denise is already gone — her qi dissipated into the flow of the universe — the doctors still can't say that there is no more hope.

Until today.

Today, they finally admit what I've known for nearly three months. Denise is gone.

Her family has agreed to let the doctors take her off all the machines that are keeping her body alive. They ask her friends, Pablo first, but all her friends, to sit vigil with them. Oddly, Pablo and I are the only two who come to say a final goodbye... except that I said my goodbyes the first day I was allowed to visit. Her family, each one of them, they're numb. Still in shock... once again in shock... does it matter which it is?

Pablo's grief is a palpable thing. I could reach out and touch it if I try. I worry.

Once all the machines are gone, breath stops... the heart stops... and the doctors say what I've known all along. Except, they're wrong.

"Time of death... 4:27pm, September 22, 2003."

No. Time of death was 10:41am, June 26, 2003.

We sit in his car in the hospital's parking garage, silent... hurting... angry.


It takes him so long to respond, that I wonder if I spoke too softly.


His voice is flat, lifeless.

"I need to go to the park. Can you take me there?"

He nods, starts the car. "Which one?"

I shrug. "Doesn't matter. Whatever's closest."

We wind up at City Park... a good choice, as it's the largest. I'm silent as I walk to a grove of trees, then turn and look at him.

"You need to let go of the anger, Pablo.

"Hit me."

He looks at me with shock.

"Are you out of your fucking mind, Andrea? I can't hit you!"

I push one of his shoulders; not as hard as I can, but as hard as he thinks Andrea can.

"Come on. Hit me."

"I will not!"

I push him again.

"Oh, yes. You will."

And I push him again.

This time he takes a half-hearted swing at me, which I easily dodge.

"Oh, come on. You can do better than that."

He makes more of an effort the second time, but not enough to make a difference. I dodge that swing, too.

"You're not even trying, Pablo."

I guess that pushes the right button because he comes charging at me.

We spend the next forty-five minutes dancing a bizarre dance of aggression and grace. I block every blow and easily evade every charge. Chen Shi Taijiquan Master; Aikido Kudan... he never stood a chance.

Finally... Finally, he collapses on the ground, sobbing. I drop beside him, holding him, rocking him. I can see that the dam has broken... and I no longer need to fear for my friend. I no longer need to fear that he will take his own life.

And at last, when he is spent, cried out but healing, I say again, "Pablo?"

He answers more quickly this time, but by no means immediately. "Andrea?"

"I'll take you up on your offer to work for the DPD."

He sits up, staring at me. "You will?"

I nod. "Two conditions."

"And they are...?"

"I do it my way."

"Um. If it's possible, okay. The second...?"

"Denver Police will pay the premiums for my Supers Insurance."

He just looks at me, long and hard. I can see he has questions... but he doesn't want to know the answers. Not now. Not yet.

"I think I know someone who can make that happen."

I nod.

The Warrior is pleased.

© Kelly Naylor