Event Horizon

Madeline slowed the battered old pickup as they neared what looked like a border crossing. She knew there was not one of these in her world, not here anyway, and she sought out the signs. They were printed in English, Spanish and the phonetic English representation of Diné Bizaad. She was fairly certain the truck did not have the appropriate plates or placards and pulled into the indicated side lane.

Logan shifted and sat up, wary. His eyes shifted and took in the guards she had already noted. She was less concerned with the people in front of them than the ones they had left behind, hopefully far behind. The Feral kids she had insisted travel with them picked up on the adult Feral's unease. The girl, Mesa, whimpered a bit and held onto Madeline even tighter. She had been plastered to her side since Madeline had won her trust. Tomas scooted closer to his sister, eyes wary and watching, ready to go into flight or fight mode.

Madeline shook her head sadly. These two were so young it broke her heart. She made soothing sounds and spoke to them in both Spanish and Diné Bizaad telling them she would so whatever she could to help them. They understood the tone more than the words, and she had proven with her actions she meant what she said.

"Let me do the talking," she told the one who wore her Mate's face.

He just gave her that look again.

She rolled down the window and rolled to a stop at the booth.

"Hello, friend," she greeted in the language of the Diné People of her world. "We head to Nageezi. Is the way open from here?"

When the truck rolled into the checkpoint lane, Officer Dan Miles strolled out of the booth as the driver rolled down her window. Most folks not from one of the Nations generally had a bad attitude about having to stop. Couple that with the fact that the Diné didn't care much for visitors — though the Stories told of a time when that wasn't the case — and these rare stops often got intensely confrontational. Dan was pretty laid back, though, and was better than most at letting other people's ire roll off his back.

He tipped his hat to the woman, noting the sullen adult male and two children who were clearly frightened. When she spoke, it was impossible for him to hide his surprise.

It wasn't just the question she asked, nor was it the oddly accented Language of the People she spoke that surprised him... it was definitely the combination of the two that piqued his police officer curiosity. The Navajo Nation was massive, the second largest on the continent. Only the Naałání — the many Clans of the Sioux Nation — held more land. Even Dan might not have known of Nageezi if his sister's assistant wasn't from out that way. Or if the young man didn't speak of home often enough that Dan had heard some of his stories. After all, it was barely a blip on the road between Albuquerque and Shiprock; he wasn't sure it even had a working gas station anymore. There couldn't be more than a couple hundred people living there.

"Well, ma'am, that would depend on what you mean by 'open,'," he said. "You all could certainly make it there... your truck, though? That can't go any farther than Bernalillo. And that's a mighty long walk for tykes," he said, nodding toward the children.

"What is it you think you're going to find in Nageezi? Not much there anymore... not that there was ever very much there.

She did not look to those with her, but she did slide a comforting arm around the girl and patted her in a motherly fashion.

"Family of a sort, I hope, and maybe some help reconnecting with my guardian Spirits. I'm looking for the Sage Brush Hill Clan, specifically any who might be born for the Bitter Water Clan," she told him, then paused for a heartbeat. "And maybe a safe harbor for the children. They can't go back out there."

That last bit was said with a nod backward, toward the lands held by the white men, the interlopers.

"What're you saying?" not her Logan asked in a low suspicious growl.

Her eyes narrowed and jaw set as she did look over. "He wants to know why we're going to Nageezi. I told him I'm trying to find my way home. He said the truck won't be able to go past Bernalillo so you can drop us off there, and head back to your hidey hole."

"I said I'd see you all the way there, and I'll do that," he bit off.

Madeline stared at him a long moment. He really needed a good ass kicking.

Turning back to the officer, she returned to the use of Diné Bizaad. "Sorry about that. Neither of us is exactly thrilled with the arrangement."

Dan rubbed the back of his neck. "Finding family is one thing, but you're going to want to talk to a Shaman about your Spirits. Now, I don't know too many folks of the Sage Brush Hill Clan, although the wind whispers that there are quite a few up there up Nageezi way. I'm of Bitter Waters Clan myself, and can tell you I don't know anyone of Sage Brush Hill, who's born for Bitter Waters."

He shrugs and smiles in a friendly way. "No offense, ma'am, but you don't look to be of the People. But you speak the Language and if you've got family among us, well, folks are pretty keen on helping with that."

It wasn't any special skill beyond his cop instincts that told him the two youngsters were Cursed, despite their young age. "Pretty sure the big family out there in Nageezi would be willing to take the youngsters in. They're big on tradition, but managed to get around the prohibition of keeping any of the possessions of a person who passed." Dan chuckles.

"Guess that house has been in the family for close to two hundred years. When the owner starts feeling like it's time for their final walk, he or she signs it over to kinfolk in a younger generation. Originally belonged to a doctor and his wife, I hear. That was one smart woman."

He pulls a small notebook and pen from his pockets, and flips it open. "I can work out the permits here to let you travel up I-25 as far as Bernalillo. You'll need to get a pass from the Council office in Bernalillo to head up to Nageezi." He paused, noting the extreme tension between the two adults. "You know, there's a Shaman who lives outside Albuquerque... Chester Ravenclaw, nice guy. If you want, I could radio the station house and have him meet you at the KOA in Bernalillo. That's where you'll need to leave the truck, by the way."

There was compassion in the man's eyes, especially when he glanced at the children. He knew what happened to folks outside the Nations who were Cursed... he'd spoken with his fair share of refugees.

"I just need names for the permit."

He looked Maddie in the eyes, his twinkling with a mischief reminiscent of so many people in her adopted family back in her own world. But right now... at this moment... it could be the ghost of Henry Yazzie standing there.

"If it would make your life easier, we could switch to English. You've made your point to me, and your friend there seems like a right royal pain in the ass."

She smiled fondly at the description of Uncle Leon and Aunt Sonia. Yes, Sonia had been quite brilliant. And it was good to know that that tradition of passing on the house was the same here as well. She wondered if any of the family she knew back home were alive here. Certainly she would not actually know them like she wished she did not know this Logan.

Despite all the shit she had been through since she had literally dropped into this world, the officer's last comment had her laughing. Look at her, getting along with the law she had just met! She was positive it was because he was Navajo and had nothing to do with her hero status in the other world. That was her story, and she was sticking to it.

"You have no idea, Cousin," she admitted in English with a grin.

"That sounds a lot like my family in Nageezi, always helping and welcoming. And no offense taken. I was adopted. My birthplace is considerably further south. Considerably."

She thought about the Shaman and wondered if he could help. Certainly she would love to send this version of Logan packing before she tried to end him permanently. It was a prospect that had been more and more attractive recently. She thought she might even know of a way.

"My name's Madeline Jacobs. I was adopted by the Yazzies. Surly guy there is Logan, and the kids are Mesa and Tomas."

"As for the Shaman, I think I really need whoever is the current one for the Sage Brush Hill Clan. One of the Spirits is…" My dead first husband. Sure, tell him that and make all your progress evaporate. "...well, kind of different and particular to the Family. Hard to explain."

"Hoo boy!" Dan says, echoing one of Henry's favorite phrases. "Yazzie is like Smith was out there in the White Man's world before it all went to..." He stopped, cognizant of young ears. He had children of his own; some things they don't need to hear at that age. "Well, before the White Men went crazy, I guess.

"Used to be folks would get adopted into the Nation every once in a while. Now?" He nods toward the children. "Happens a lot... keeps folks like them a lot safer, you know?"

He wrote down their names, then pulled a hang tag from his inner jacket pocket, noting the alphanumeric code on it next to their names in his notebook.

As he handed Madeline the tag, he said, "The Nation is big, and there are a lot of Shamans. They come from all different clans. Back when this was a reservation before we reclaimed our lands, maybe the Shamans might have been more clan focused, but these days it's more by geography. And the Shamans don't care about clans anyway. They just want to help out." He considered her dilemma... or rather the tone of her voice when she spoke of the Spirits. "Sounds like you ought to talk to the senior Shaman. Problem is you'd need to go all the way to Ganado for that. That's not something I can help you with, I'm afraid. Maybe if you find your family, they can help you out."

He felt really bad about it, but rules were rules. He was stretching them as far as he could just by getting them to Bernalillo.

There was something about him, something so reminiscent of Henry, Henry, who had been dead for just over one hundred years. Fucking ghosts. She shifted her misting eyes a bit to see if she might catch sight of Coyote, that rascal. Hell, she might even be happy to see that loon of a Spirit Raven.

She swallowed and looked back to Dan. "Yeah, I know," she agreed at his indication of the children. If nothing else were achieved by this trip, at least the children would be safe here.

She knew all too well. She had been hyper protective of her own children as well as Andi's until they had come into their own and could look out for themselves as well as each other. She also closely watched the succeeding generations which, so far, only descended from Leon. He hadn't had any children with Jennifer, and Bridget was a Normal. Still, it had been known to skip a generation or so, which meant she also kept a close eye on her grandchildren and great grandchildren and so forth.

"Guess things have changed a lot since my adoption. I've been Traveling quite a bit so haven't been able to keep up. Who do you recommend I see at the Council office?"

"Talk to Cindy Benally, that's my sister. Tell her Danny sent you, and make sure you tell her the little ones are refugees."

Then he switched back to Diné Bizaad. "Let her know you are of the People the same way you let me know. Good luck, Madeline. May Great Spirit watch over you, and the Spirits guide your way."

"Cindy Benally. Thanks, Dan, I will. Appreciate all the help."

Likewise, she switched back to the People's language. "Thank you again, Cousin. Spirits guide and keep you."

She waved goodbye to Dan as she drove through the checkpoint then rolled up her window against the cold air. Next stop Bernalillo.

A few minutes down the road, she told not her Logan, "You can turn around and head back at Bernalillo. Tell Charles you did what he asked and got me where I was going with no harm coming to me. We'll be in New Mexico at that point so it'll be true. The rest I can do on my own. Wouldn't want you to get too attached anyway."

"I'd already said I was in it all the way," he groused.

"Whatever floats your boat."

She had released Mesa long enough to hold the wheel while she rolled up the window. She hugged the girl close.

"The First Nations are good people," she told them. "You won't be hunted or harmed here. That isn't their way. Children, all children, are cherished even if they're normal. It's still a ways to go so get some more rest."

Mesa laid her little head on Madeline's thigh and was soon fast asleep. Tomas was able to fight it off a little longer, but there was really nothing to see or be wary of. As for Madeline, she absolutely knew that what she told the little one was true and relaxed more the further they got from the border.

They arrived in Bernalillo hours later and the Council building was not difficult to find. She parked in one of the open spots and eyed him.

"You staying out here or coming inside?"

He opened his door by way of answer.

Her tone with the children was much gentler and softer. "Come on, cubs. We'll get through this and then see what we can do about food okay?"

Mesa rubbed her eyes and nodded. Tomas nodded too though he was much more solemn. As they came around to the front of the truck, she tossed the keys to Logan. "In case you change your mind."

She was rather hoping he would.

Once inside, she went to the closest person she saw and spoke once again in Diné Bizaad. "Hello, I'm looking for Cindy Benally. Can you tell me where I might find her?"

Mesa had slipped her hand into Madeline's and Tomas held the girl's other hand. Not her Logan hung back and seemed to glower at everything. She sighed.

Asshole.

The young man at the reception desk looked up when the door opened and frowned sadly at the sight of the children. Normally, he could keep his Curse from overwhelming him, but somehow he never managed to entirely control his empathy when it came to children. Their fear was still strong enough that it felt like he had been punched in the chest.

Dennis looked up when their mother spoke. No... no, he could see she wasn't their mother.

"Mrs. Benally is in a meeting at the moment, I'm afraid, but it shouldn't be too much longer." Oh, Great Spirit, he hoped it wouldn't be too much longer! The more time his boss spent meeting with that disgusting White Man, the more upset she got. He took a deep breath and gave smiling a good try.

"Why don't you have a seat, and I'll let her know she has visitors." He gestured to the wooden benches on the other side of the small waiting area as he stood. "Would she recognize your name? And the little ones look awfully hungry. I'm sure we have some graham crackers I could fetch if you'd like."

He knew they didn't have an appointment; Mrs. Benally was meticulous about keep her calendar up to date. But sometimes friends or relatives dropped by unexpectedly; this certainly wouldn't be the first time... not even the first time this month!

If they were planning on going to the diner after meeting with Mrs. Benally, of course, he wouldn't want to spoil their dinners. That was something his mother always fretted about.

Madeline shook her head and smiled. She knew the signs of an Empath when she saw one. "No, she wouldn't recognize my name but her brother Danny sent me. The crackers would be good, although I think something with some protein might do them better if you have it. It's been a pretty lean stretch for them. We've been doing what we can, but…"

He nodded. "I'll see if we still have that jar of peanut butter in the break room."

She lifted her shoulders in a shrug before bending to talk to the children. "Just a bit longer, sweetlings. Do you want to sit over there or walk around a bit? I know we spent a long time driving."

Brother and sister looked at each other, then at the bench.

"Nos sentamos?" Tomas asked quietly.

"Si," she said with a nod and a smile. "Aqui. Come, sit with me."

The two children clambered up onto the bench beside her, Mesa first then Tomas. He was being a protective older brother. Mesa tugged on him and whispered in his ear. He shook his head. She nodded. He shook his head again.

"Tomas," Madeline said, waiting until he looked up. "Que es? It's okay. You can tell me, or ask me."

"Mesa wants... quiere saber... us lama cubs."

"That's what you are, aren't you? Children? Cubs?"

Papa nos llamo Cubs," Mesa whispered. "Tu tiene...?"

"Do I have Cubs? Yes, si, I do."

It was Tomas' turn to ask, "Donde esta?"

"They are grown up now, adulto."

"Que usted llama?"

"Leon y Emelia y Vincent."

"Tres?"

"Si, tres."

The conversation seemed to settle them and for that she was grateful. She was also glad that she did not have Em's gift of empathy.

Dennis headed down the short hallway toward the back room that doubled as a storage room and break room. It came complete with the usual assortment of office supplies, including a couple of boxes of pens, several steno notebooks, all the myriad forms to be filled out, typewriter paper, their tiny photocopier, as well as a propane stove, percolator for Mrs. Benally's coffee addiction, cabinet for food and bowls, and small ice box — without ice at the moment, but that was an anomaly since Dickson went and broke his leg last week.

He rummaged in the cabinet and found the crackers and a mostly full jar of peanut butter, and even a package of buffalo jerky! He took the three napkins from the drawer, as well as their only knife.

Ah, Danny Miles... of course, he'd be involved with these poor folks. The man was truly blessed by the Spirits and did everything he could to pass those blessings on to those less fortunate. Dennis tucked everything into the crook of one arm and left the small room.

Just as he was about to knock on Mrs. Benally's door, it swung open and the White Man strode out angrily, knocking Dennis to the ground. That caused everything in his arms to go skittering down the hall back toward the waiting room.

"Why don't you watch where you're going, you stupid retard?" the man yelled at him, then stomped off, kicking the box of crackers across the waiting room.

Dennis' head felt stuffy and his ears rang for a few seconds. That always happened when he was around very angry people. He wished there was a way to get that to stop happening, but he hadn't figured it out yet.

He heard the door slam and Mrs. Benally was helping him up.

"I'm sorry, Dennis. I don't know why he always does that."

The young man rubbed his temples. "He's angrier today than he's ever been."

His boss nodded. "He's not used to being told no." She looked at the food and napkins on the floor and smiled. "Were you planning to snack at your desk?"

"Oh! No, I'm sorry! You have some visitors, and they have a couple of hungry kids, and I just thought..." He trailed off. "Um, Danny sent them."

She paused a moment, then nodded before stooping to pick up the napkins and beef jerky. "Then let's see to them, shall we?" She handed the items to Dennis as she turned to enter the waiting area... where she stopped, tsked, shook her head, and picked up the jar of peanut butter and the knife.

Standing again, she looked at the trio on the bench and smiled, tucking the knife in the back pocket of her jeans before holding her hand out to Madeline. "Hi, I'm Cindy Benally. I understand my reprobate of a brother sent you."

Cindy was obviously Dan's elder sister. Whereas the police officer had appeared to be in his mid to late thirties, Cindy was definitely closing in on fifty. Her dark hair was streaked with silver, but all the lines on her face were from laughter, and in her jeans, flannel shirt and boots, she looked healthy and strong enough to rope a calf.

"Dennis, would you let me borrow your chair there? I wouldn't want to subject so many people to the claustrophobia-inducing office of mine."

Dennis grinned. "Sure thing, boss." He picked up the box of crackers and wheeled his chair over to the other side of the room.

"So how does Danny think I can help you?"

Madeline chuckled at Cindy's description of her brother. Sibling love was a fun thing which she learned with not only her own children but even more so in her adopted family.

Just as she had when she first approached Dan, she spoke to Cindy in Diné Bizaad. "I've met reprobates, and I'm afraid I must say your brother does not qualify, not even with the badge."

The levity felt good. There was plenty of seriousness to go around that a brief moment of laughter helped all of them. Well, maybe not not-her-Logan.

"As for help, the Cubs here are refugees. They were in a pretty bad spot when we came across them."

If Andi were here, she would say her Sister's qi had turned to black ice again. The light in her eyes dimmed and became hard, but she pulled it back. Madeline would have been glad to stay behind and deal out some retribution, but she did not trust this other Logan to truly get them to safety. She did not consider the ruins of Xavier's school safe.

She refocused and pulled back her righteous anger, tucked it away in that place where she kept for when she needed it. Tomas and Mesa were safe now. That's what mattered.

"I need to get out to Nageezi. I'm hoping to find and reconnect with some family there, assuming they are still there… He also said we'd have to leave the truck behind? It's been a long time since I've been out this way, so I assume it's impassable by regular vehicle now?

"As for these two, assuming you can help me out with a Pass, I can take them with me to Nageezi. It's just... well, if it's by foot, I'm just not sure they could make it that far..."

After an instant of surprise at the switch of languages, Cindy laughed along with Madeline. "It's a moniker he picked up when he was eight or nine, and got talked into shoplifting something incredibly stupid from the general store in our hometown. He got caught, of course. Our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles all helped him see the error of his ways." She chuckled. "And, to top it all off, he goes and joins the Tribal Police Force."

She took a closer look at the children and sighed as she handed the jar of peanut butter and the knife to Madeline. The Nations — all of them — took in as many refugees as they could, and it never seemed to be enough.

Dennis leaned against his desk and shuddered at the emotions this woman momentarily allowed to leak out. He knew things were bad outside the Naabeehó Bináhásdzo, he had no reference point for just how bad they were until now. He was also starting to understand why that disgusting White Man returned month after month with his ridiculous petition to open some sort of resort within the borders of the Nation. He was looking for an escape plan.

"I can write you up a pass," Cindy said. "You're escorting refugees, you have possible family in the area. Both are fair reasons. As for transportation..."

She sighed and rubbed her forehead. "It's not that the roads are all that bad... well, they're not great, but they're still passable. The problem is that only official vehicles are allowed off the Interstate. We have a limited amount of parts for maintenance, a limited amount of fuel." Cindy shrugged apologetically. "Most folks get around on horseback, frankly."

"Ah, boss?"

Cindy turned to look at Dennis, who pushed himself off his desk and handed the crackers to her as he knelt in front of the children. "Cory is making his month run up to Shiprock today." He smiled at the youngsters as he placed a napkin on each lap. "My youngest sister is performing her Kinaaldá ceremony. The public celebration is tomorrow night... no, wait... the night after. He was going to drop me off in Nageezi on his way up to Shiprock. Maybe...?" He tilted his head toward the children as he looked up at Cindy.

She nodded slowly. "Well, if Cory wouldn't mind the extra passengers... assuming he has room... you're right. That might just work." She turned to Madeline, and half smiled. "It looks like our lack of a computer network will actually work in someone's favor for a change. Well, hopefully." Cindy patted Madeline's knee, then stood. "Let's see what Cory has to say."

She went to the door, opened it and looked up and down the street. Grinning, she called out to one of the children across the street. "Lenny! Run yourself down to the station and ask Deputy Lopez to come see me. Pronto."

She closed the door and sat down again. "I'm too young to remember, but my mother tells me there was a time telephones were everywhere. Those must have been interesting times. The computer networks started falling apart when I was about ten or twelve."

Too bad I didn't think to bring horses with me. I'd say we have a man who is dumb as an ox, but I wouldn't want to insult the oxen.

Lack of computer network?? Good gods, I don't think I can remember that far back. And no telephones?? Even I'm not old enough to remember those days though Logan probably is.

As those shocking details were revealed, she thought back to the places through which they had traveled... places that still had modern conveniences, at least the ones of the twenty-first century. There was definitely something else at work here. Some areas were modern while it seemed others were being pushed back toward medieval times. The First Peoples who had held on to the old ways would naturally fare the best, but even they had become used to using phones and networks.

"Do you mind if I ask some questions that are probably going to seem like I'm from another planet?"

Another planet, another universe. At this point, there didn't seem to be a whole lot of difference.

"Not at all," Cindy said. "Refugees often have questions, and it seems you've been out in the White Man's world a long time. Much can be forgotten."

She opened the box of crackers, and broke off a piece for each child, then smiled at Madeline as she took the peanut butter and knife back.

"Dennis, you'll start the necessary paperwork, won't you?"

The young man started. "Oh! Yes, of course." He went back into the storage room to collect the necessary forms.

Cindy chuckled as she spread peanut butter on two more pieces of crackers for the children. "He adores children. I keep encouraging him to go back to school and be a teacher."

"Feel more like I've been living in a cave," Madeline commented dryly.

"And it's less about the People than about what's going on in the world as a whole. The things I saw on the drive out..."

She shook her head.

"With the computers being boat anchors and the phones inconsistent at best I'm guessing... are you having any problems with power fluctuations or loss of power entirely on any kind of frequent basis? Say one every couple of months, anything like that? Is there even communication happening with any people beyond the borders? Not just the Nation's borders but the continent as well?"

Cindy paused, then sighed. "The short answers would be no... and yes. The real answers are a little more complex than that.

"To give you an honest answer, we need to go back to a time even the eldest grandparents don't remember, although perhaps our oldest Shaman might... the beginning of the Troubles.

"There had been rumblings outside the Nation for years about the so-called mutant threat. Our stories don't say exactly when those times began, but we mark the beginning of the Troubles as 2002, when terrorists attacked and killed mutants and those who supported them. Politicians and business leaders were assassinated; women and children were hunted like animals and killed." Cindy lowered her eyes and shook her head. "Or worse," she said softly.

"The Stories say it was that year the Council of Tribal Nations agreed to work as one to protect not only our own Cursed, but any who sought sanctuary in our borders." She raised her eyes again, meeting Madeline's. "That was the year we began reclaiming our lands.

"Ten years later, the Precognitives of all the Nations sent representatives to the Council. What you have seen in the world beyond our borders, what you will see as you travel through the Naabeehó Bináhásdzo? It was foretold at that Council. We began working with other Nations to secure the resources we would need to be independent of the White Man's influence.

"Electricity we have in abundance thanks to Mother's gift of water, and Father's gifts of wind and light. We try not to squander the gifts, however, since more and more people seek refuge with us, with the Ute, with the Sioux, with the Naakai. We share the gifts equally among the Nations that are contiguous; it has been difficult to share with our brothers and sisters in the East and in Oklahoma.

"The infrastructure for the phone lines were owned by the White Man, and they removed all of it when they realized we were insulating ourselves from their madness. We rebuilt our own infrastructure, but our resources for running phone lines has been far less abundant. Each town has a police station, each police station has a phone. In the larger cities like Albuquerque, Flagstaff, Santa Fe, Durango, Farmington and, of course, Window Rock there are more resources, simply because there are more people who need them. We can tap into the satellite system — from some places — for what used to be called long distance calls."

The woman looked fondly at the two children. "It's our most precious resource that we've been losing far too often... our children.

"Where once we had a precognitive in every clan, that dwindled to no more than one or two in each generation. It was they who advised parents when a child would be Cursed, and parents could take the appropriate steps to ensure their child survived puberty. But even as early as the 1960s, one in ten children died. By the 1980s, it was three in ten. By 2015, it was seven in ten."

Cindy paused to compose herself. "Talia Yazzie was the last precognitive to have been born to the Navajo Nation. She died in 2060; since that time, less than a dozen children in all of our Nation have survived with any Curse that was not telepathy or empathy. The other Nations have not fared much better. Only these far more rare Curses don't kill, but they often drive the children mad.

"It's ironic that the very thing that has driven the White Man to madness — something we embrace within our own people — is something that no longer makes us the threat we were a hundred years ago. Now..." She smiled again at the children. "...we shelter those who have no safety elsewhere."

Dennis had been standing in the entry to the hall, listening to Cindy's tale. He smiled. "But we have hope again, thanks to Jodi." There was, perhaps, just a touch of pride in his voice.

Cindy chuckled. "Yes, I'm afraid your sister is a treasure of the Nation. That can't be easy for a young girl who simply wants to be a young girl."

He shakes his head. "No, not really. But Shaman Marjorie visits as much as she can. I think it's more the fact that the Shaman is our cousin than the fact that our cousin is a Shaman that helps Jodi the most."

Two thousand aught two. Though it was a hundred and sixty-three years ago, it was not a year Madeline would ever forget. That was a year that had changed her life in many ways. She knew about the attacks, the assassination. She absolutely knew about the worst. As Cindy spoke of those things, she wrapped her shell more and more tightly around herself. There was no Husband or Mate or Sister or Brother here to offer an understanding look or touch or to share the rage with her.

She was also cataloging in her head the kind of things these people could use. She doubted she had the resources here that she would back home. She wondered what her counterpart here had been like, if she could tap into the old network. Where had her life diverged here? She had obviously never met Logan in this universe.

At the mention of Talia, she could not keep herself from smiling. "Talia was a sweetheart. I'll never forget the look on the poor girl's face the first time she met my brood. But she was a gem, bonded well with my boy Leon, helped him a lot when Jenny died."

Her look to Cindy was bittersweet. "Sorry, reminiscing. I don't suppose anyone outside the Nation's borders tried to stop the insanity?"

She asked though she guessed she might know the answer. With a sigh, she recited an old poem that had its roots in Germany.

"First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

"Then they came for the socialists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.

"Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

"Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me...

After another heavy sigh, she raised her eyes to Cindy. "I've done a lot of things in my life that I'm not necessarily proud of, but there are some things that... that I will never understand. If it isn't obvious, I'm not exactly from around these parts, but I swear by all the Spirits, even the Great Spirit Herself, I will do whatever I can to help."

Cindy and Dennis both stared at her. For a long time. Even as Cindy absently handed the children each a small piece of the buffalo jerky, she stared at Madeline.

"Ma'am, Talia Yazzie died over a hundred years ago. You don't even look to be as old as I am, so I think maybe you have some explaining to do."

It was as if neither of them heard anything past she was a gem...

Ooops. Oh well.

"I know how old I look, but my actual age is far greater than that, a Gift from my Mate and Children and later my adoptive Sister. I was born in nineteen hundred and fifty-seven."

Cindy blinked.

"I... I... you... but..." Dennis was clearly incoherent.

"Dear Spirits, you're even older than Ha'atathali Yazzie," Cindy whispered with awe. She was silent for a few more moments until she noticed the young boy reaching for the rest of the jerky in her hand. She handed it to him, then shook herself. It was almost as if a shiver ran through her body.

"Yes. Yes, there were some outside the Nations who tried to stop the madness. Some had powers and had been seen, up to that point, as superheroes. There were those in government and business, as well. But there were so few of them. Many were in New York, and along the eastern seaboard. There were a few supers in California, one or two in Chicago. There was a band of them, the X-Men..."

Cindy shook her head sadly. "None of them survived... not the supers, not the politicians, not the businessmen and women. Then the Crazy White Men started locking people — anyone with genetic mutations, anyone affected by the Virus... they called them Unfortunates — in ghettos, except for those they..." She pressed her lips tightly together and just breathed for a moment.

"Well, it was unconscionable, that's all I'll say.

"The Council of Nations sent out the few people we had in the early years who could have been of help. My great aunt was one of the warriors who joined with the Sioux and Comanche and Apache, and even the Ute and Zuni and Hopi sent their best warriors.

"They left, and never returned.

"Sometime in the 2030s they started burning the ghettos to the ground. All we could do then was let those in the resistance know they had a safe haven in any Nation."

She took the papers from Dennis; he was still dazed and, frankly, finding it all so difficult to believe. Cindy handed the papers to Madeline and pulled a ballpoint pen from her pocket, handing that to her as well. "The forms just need your names."

She reached in a pocket and pulled out what looked like ration chits and handed them to Dennis. "Go fetch two of Janice's burger, plain. Then go over to Owen's and get a quart of milk."

"But Mrs. Benally, this is..."

"Don't argue, Dennis. I'm assisting refugees, and I know the paperwork will take months to process. My family isn't going to let me starve." She gave him a gentle nudge. "Now go on."

The poor boy still hesitated, but then looked at the children again and bit his lip. He nodded to himself. He was pretty sure he had a few spare chits himself; the adults would probably appreciate at least a sack of trail mix. He let himself out the door quietly.

"Thank you for your offer to help. What you're doing for the children is enough for today. I don't know if you'll find the family you're looking for, but I hope you do. No one should be without family."

Off to the side, Logan studiously tried to pretend he was ignoring the conversation. He was surly either because he was not included, or sure he was talking about him, or just because he was in dire need of an attitude adjustment. He pretended to ignore them, that is, until he heard the word X-Men. His stance changed and he glowered in Madeline's direction.

She, however, had had much more practice in ignoring things when necessary. What Cindy described was a country, possibly a world run by the likes of Stryker. What he did was worse than unconscionable.

She took the pen and papers offered and quickly wrote the names in a precise, neat script.

"Cindy, if I can find my family, I think we will all be better off than we are now. I have a feeling I'm eventually going to have to get to Ganado from what Danny told me. And, considering the part of my tale I haven't told you, the senior Shaman... wait, Ha'atathli Yazzie? Do you know this Ha'atathli's first name?"

She had not forgotten the crazy Raven Spirit or the fact that it had wanted her Sister to be a Shaman and not the Diné Warrior.

"Oh, of course! It's Andrea," Cindy said. "I've never met her, of course, but those who have speak very highly of her."

The Shaman's name is Andrea Yazzie? I wonder if it's possible? If it is, she's got to have more of a spine than him.

The last thought was accompanied by a slicing glance over to her unwelcome companion. She kept trying to cut him loose, but he would not let go.

The door opened again and a tall, dark-haired man who could have passed for Andrea's brother at first glance stepped into the waiting area. "Hiya, Cindy... one of your urchins said you wanted to see me." He spoke English; though his smile was friendly and eyes bright when he looked at Madeline and the children, he eyed Logan with suspicion.

She looked up at Cory as he opened the door. "Dennis reminded me that you're heading up to Shiprock this afternoon and dropping him off in Nageezi. You wouldn't happen to have room for some refugees, would you?" she asked, indicating Madeline, the two children, and the surly man on the other side of the room.

The deputy nods. "Sure. Just need to rearrange the boxes to flip the back seat up, but that won't take more than a few minutes. I was planning on leaving in half an hour or so if that works for you folks."

"Dennis is fetching some food for the little ones, but I think we just need to make a copy of the paperwork, and they'll be all set." She turned back to Madeline. "After we get you all set here, I'd just need to you park your truck down at the KOA."

"Don't worry about hoofing it back here," Cory said. "Your bambinos look mighty worn out. I'll swing by the campground and pick you up."

Cindy took the forums from Madeline and read them over to make sure all the Ts were crossed and the Is dotted. Dennis was excellent at his job, and she didn't expect to find any blank spaces. She signed her own name at the bottom of each form.

"Is there anything else I can do for you or the youngsters, Madeline?"

"Give me a moment, will you?" she asked Cindy with another glance toward not her Logan.

"Tomas, Mesa, sentamos acqui, si?"

The two nodded, eagerly but frugally eating the food they were given. It was heartbreaking to see children so aware of scarcity of food. It wasn't something she hadn't seen before, but it had been a long time.

While Madeline spoke with her traveling companion, Cindy went into the back room to make copies of the documents while Cory crouched down by the children. He pulled a couple of finger puppets from the inner pocket of his coat and began an impromptu play to entertain them. He spoke in Spanish, as that's what he had heard Madeline speaking to them. He managed to get them to smile, at least.

Rising she crossed the room to Logan. "They're giving us a ride out to Nageezi. Like I said before, you don't have to come. We're in New Mexico now. You got me as far as you need to. Go back and see your girlfriend."

"I said I'd go with you," he near growled, "and I do what I say."

She frowned at him. "Well, at least you have that in common with him."

"Other than his face you mean?"

"Yeah, that too." She hadn't meant to antagonize him, at least not this time. "Truck's got to be parked up at the campground. Our ride will pick us up there. I'll gather up the Cubs and meet you outside."

He looked about to protest then notice everyone, including the children, watching him. "Whatever you say, boss."

She watched him leave and took a moment to make sure the deep desire to throttle him was pushed away before returning to the others.

"Thanks, Cory. We'll see you over there. Cindy, you've been a great help. Right at this moment, I can't think of anything else. Once we get out to Nageezi, I'm pretty sure the rest will be up to me."

Cindy returned as the Not Logan left, setting the copies of their travel passes on Dennis' desk, and tucking the folded originals in an envelope before handing them back to Madeline. "Good luck, Madeline. I hope you find what you're looking for. May the Spirits guide your way."

Cory stood and handed a finger puppet to each child, then smiled at Madeline. "Most refugees come in with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Every child needs a little toy of some sort, right? So my wife makes dolls and the little finger puppets." He glanced at the door, pausing to shake his head.

"If you don't mind my saying, ma'am, I'd feel better if you and the little ones rode in the back of my car with Den. That one has the look of trouble about him."

She laughed deprecatingly. "Honestly, most folks say that about me, but I guess you caught me on a good day, relatively."

"We don't mind riding in the back. I think these two like Den. And it will give me a chance to look around as we go, see what there is to see. It's been a long time."

It's the perfect excuse to scope out the area. See what's different between here and what I know, not to mention making at least rudimentary plans for not being able to get back.

Putting Cory's mind at ease was simple enough. There was just the matter of parking down at the campground and waiting for their ride. Load up was quick as they really didn't have much. A duffel bag held a change of clothes for Madeline and the kids each, most of it was stolen. Not her Logan had his rucksack. Madeline still had the pouch of tobacco tucked away.

Dennis climbed in last, which put Mesa and Tomas between him and Madeline. Dennis and Cory chatted and told them stories, with Madeline and Cory alternating translating into Spanish for the benefit of the children.

Somewhere along the route, Madeline sensed something and scouted around. "Sister? Logan, is that you?" she asked softly.

"Is what me?" the not her Logan snapped.

If looks could kill... the slice of death coming from her eyes could likely have decapitated him. "You know damn well I wasn't talking to you."

He turned around to give her a look in return. "Maybe you can be a bit more clear on what Logan you're talking to then."

"Have it your way... Jimmy."

With a growl, he faced forward again. Dennis and Cory cast worried glances at both of them. She waved off their concern and asked if they wanted to hear about a Shapeshifter whose Spirit was Coyote. Henry's antics were always entertaining; at least they were to her. Conflating his antics with those of his youngest brother made the stories that much more fun for the children.

From there the stories continued until it was time to let out Dennis.

They drove down the few familiar roads of Nageezi to the housing development where Dennis' family lived. It was more than a hundred and fifty years older, but the residents had done their best to keep the houses in fair shape. When families had moved out or died out, the buildings had been gutted and carefully dismantled to provide the remaining residents with materials for repairs. The vacant lots had become community vegetable gardens; yards were neat.

Dennis reluctantly said goodbye to the children, thanked Cory for the ride, and wished Madeline luck on her search. He ignored the other man; he'd been entirely too unpleasant. It wasn't proper to be disrespectful to travelers no matter how disrespectful they had been themselves, but the young man just couldn't bring himself to say any kind words to the man. Porcupine often chided him when he was not following proper traditions, but his guardian Spirit was silent as he closed the door, and waved as Cory drove off.

As they approached the old Dehiya Homestead, Cory debated whether to drop them at the end of the drive as Madeline had requested or drive up to the house. It was still called that despite the fact that no one named Dehiya had lived there since the old doctor had gifted the house to his granddaughter a few years before he took his final walk. He was sure she had her reasons for walking up the drive, and he suspected those reasons revolved around the man she called Jimmy. He knew the families who lived there now; he'd gone to high school with Adam and had kept in touch over the years. Once or twice he and his family had come up for significant birthday or anniversary celebrations. He knew they'd welcome Madeline and the children. He wasn't so sure they wouldn't want him to cart the miserable bastard off with him, though. Ah well, Cory thought to himself, one did not make it to old age by crossing wills with a Diné woman... and Madeline might have been adopted into the Nation, but she was thoroughly Diné.

He did park the car to get out so he could help her with the children and her duffel. It was late afternoon, and six of the seven children were outside playing. When they noticed the visitors, one of the girls ran inside, and the rest of them came running toward the end of the drive.

Cory chuckled. "Good luck, Madeline. Even if this isn't the family you're looking for, it's a good family to find."

He watched her walk up the drive to meet the approaching wild horde before getting back in his car. He'd have to stop back down here on his way back to Bernalillo to check up on them.

Three girls, all between maybe eight and eleven years old, came running up to them, followed more slowly by an older boy. He was about the age Leon had been the first time Madeline and her family had been to this house in her own universe. He watched over the youngest, who appeared to be about five and was considerably more shy than the girls.

"Hi! Are you here for Kaitlin's ceremony?"

"Are you related to my mom?"

"No, I bet she's related to my daddy!"

"Are those your babies? They're so cute!"

"What are their names? What's your name?"

"Why does your boyfriend look all growly?"

The young man finally caught up to the talkative girls, holding the little boy on his hip. He smiled warmly at the visitors. "I'm Shiye Yazzie, and I apologize for my cousins, who should know better than to pelt guests with questions like that." He looked at the girls. "Shouldn't you?"

"Ooops," said one of the girls.

"I'm Laura Hatathlie," the tallest girl said. "Welcome to our home!"

"I'm Allison Nakai," said one of the other girls.

"And I'm Rebecca Hatathlie, but you can call me Becky. Laura is my big sister and Ally is my cousin-twin!"

Shiye chuckled. "This is Jeffrey, Laura and Becky's little brother. He's still pretty shy." Jeffrey proved it by sticking his thumb into his mouth and ducking his head against his cousin's shoulder.

Of all the things the children could have said, it was the cousin-twin thing that told her she was definitely in the right place. She could not help the sad laugh it brought. "Thank you for the welcome," she told them. "I'm Madeline and this is Tomas and Mesa. They don't speak any Diné Bizaad and only a little English. That man back there is Jimmy, and he is definitely not my boyfriend. My Sister Andi used to have a cousin-twin too. He used to try to blame his mischief on her when she was away from home. Everyone would laugh about it."

"Shiye, is there an Aunt or Grandmother or Uncle or Grandfather here that I could talk since you are riding herd on the wild ones here?"

"Me and Ally have even more cousin-twins, 'cuz Philip and Paul are our cousin-twins, too!" Becky says.

"Ally and I," Laura said to Becky.

"Oh, right. Ally and I." Becky nods. "My mommy's name is Andi, too."

Shiye chuckled again. "Mandy ran in when we saw you coming up the drive. One of the grownups ought to be out in a minute." He set Jeffrey down and motioned to Tomas and Mesa. "Do you want to say hola to the other littles?" Jeffrey shook his head and clutched Shiye's leg. "Okay, you don't have to. Maybe later, huh?" The young man looked up again. "His cousin-twins live farther away than ours, and I think even at five he's a little jealous."

"We've all got cousin-twins, and most of them live close enough to visit," Laura said. "But Sandy lives in Albuquerque and Tommy lives in Flagstaff, so Jeff doesn't get to see them except for big gatherings." She tousled her little brother's hair. "You'll get to see them tomorrow, though, when we have the big ceremony for Katy's Kinaaldá!" She grinned at Madeline. "Mega-great-aunt Andrea says there are more cousin-twins in every generation." She giggled. "Sometimes she rolls her eyes like she's pretending that's a bad thing."

Just then, the girl who must be Mandy came running out of the house followed — more sedately — by a man who could have been Junior's younger brother.

"I hope my son has shown you proper hospitality," he said with a smile that made his eyes twinkle. He held out a hand to shake Madeline's. "I'm Bill Yazzie. Welcome! Come on in, we'll let you freshen up before we bombard you with questions..."

"Too late," his son said.

"Girls..." Bill said, sounding sadly disappointed.

"Sorry, Uncle Bill," they said in unison.

"What am I going to do with the lot of you?" he asked with a sigh.

"Love us and keep us forever!" they clamored.

Bill laughed. "You got that right! Now go inside and help your mothers with dinner." He turned back to Madeline. "This place is usually a madhouse. But it's the best darn madhouse in San Juan County. Come on inside. Shiye, you want to help with duffel?"

Madeline's laugh and smile were genuine as she watched the family interplay. She was very glad some things were not different. She handed the duffel off to Shiye, not wanting the boy to feel like he was not being helpful or get him in trouble.

"Nice to meet you, Bill. My name is Madeline Jacobs."

As they walked together into the house, she asked, "Tell me, how are you related to Sonia Yazzie and Leon Dehiya?"

"Oh, let's see... going back that far? I think Adam is directly descended from them. You'll meet him and David in bit. We've got a herd of sheep they tend. William the Second was my great something grandfather... and I'm the eighth, can you believe it?" He laughed. "I tried talking my wife out of saddling my son with being the ninth William Yazzie... didn't win that one. Shiye is his nickname, like my great something grandfather was Junior. And David's great something was Nelson. If you ask the Ha'atathli, the man walked on water... but then, so did his siblings and their spouses... as well as their parents."

He paused in the great room and pointed to the office that was once Leon's. "My office doubles as a guest room if you don't mind the fold out sofa. Most of our guests are the younger cousins and they bunk in with the kids.

"Oh, like Leon of yore, I'm the local doctor, so don't be alarmed if you hear all manner of noise in the middle of the night. Not that I expect anything, but it's when you least expect it that a woman will go into labor or a man will get kicked by his horse, you know?

"Now, did you want to freshen up first... or meet the women of the house?" Bill asked, grinning.

"I don't mind. I've had worse, rather recently, in fact. However, we," she glanced back to the man, "do not bunk together, so if there's a pallet or sleeping bag to be had, I'm good with that.

"And I'm sure you are as good of a doctor as he was, maybe better since it seems like you probably have to do more with less.

"As much as I'd like to freshen up first, I don't have a clean change of clothes. I didn't get a chance to wash the other set out before we left the last place. 'Fraid I need to do that for all three of us."

The last she offered with an apologetic shrug.

"Also, I've got a bit of a tale I need to share and a need to find a way to see the senior Shaman."

Bill look back at the man who had not been introduced, studied him for a few moments, then nodded and pointed to one of the sofas in the great room. "That one will open into a bed if you're so inclined. If you're the sort who likes to sleep under the stars, I can pull out a sleeping bag for you."

He turned back to Madeline. "Now, you look to be about the same size as my Margie. Goodness knows she's got spare these and those and all sorts of what-nots to lend while we get both sets of your clothes cleaned. And I'd be shocked if we didn't have something that would fit the youngsters, too." His practiced eye looked them over and he said softly, "If you'd like, I'll take a look at them later."

He gestured toward the kitchen. "Storytelling is in the Diné blood, and we'll listen appreciatively to your tale.

"As for seeing Ha'atathli Yazzie... well, it seems the Spirits are watching over you. We'll be heading over to Ganado tomorrow for Kaitlin's ending ceremony for her Kinaaldá. Normally it would be held here, but Katy had her heart set on Shaman Andrea leading the Singing. What with her having to wrangle a half dozen apprentices, she said just this once she'd make an exception. It will be a bit of a squeeze to get you in, but your little ones aren't very big and Jeffrey would rather sit in someone's lap anyway."

The kitchen was as clean and bright as it was the first time Madeline had seen it — in her own universe. It had aged well, and it didn't hurt that it was filled with the laughter of happy people.

"Dear Wife and Cousins, we have visitors for dinner!"

The three women look at Bill and Madeline and the children. The cousins smile their welcome while Bill's wife laughs.

"Yes, our chatterbox has told us all about them!" She motion to Amanda to continue tearing lettuce for the salad, then wiped her hands on her apron as she walked over to Madeline.

"Welcome, Madeline," she said, hugging the other woman. "I'm Marjorie Yazzie..." She gestured to the other women. "Our stew steward..." The woman at the stove groaned and rolled her eyes. "...is Andrea Hatathlie, and our baker is Heather Nakai." Heather waved, after a fashion, with her elbow as she helped Jeffrey shape dinner roll sized pieces of dough on a baking sheet.

"Can I get you something to drink? We have water and iced tea at the moment... the coffee's not quite ready yet."

Madeline had become accustomed to the Yazzie hugs over the decades. She found them extremely comforting right now and embraced Marjorie warmly, like the great something niece or cousin she was. She gave smiles and nods to the others as they were introduced, translating for Tomas and Mesa and asking them if they would like some water or ice tea.

"Agua, por favor," Tomas replied softly for both of them.

"Nice to meet you all. I'm Madeline Jacobs. The niños are Tomas and Mesa and the dark cloud back there is Jimmy," she couldn't help the last bit of snark.

"Water for all of us please."

She got the children settled at the table and took up a place that put Mesa between her and Tomas. She slid an arm around the girl.

"Bill, yes, I think we should talk about that offer later," she told, once again reminded of how thin they were.

Bill nodded to Madeline as Marjorie got each of them a glass of water. Marjorie got a glare from Jimmy for her trouble before he took the glass of water from her, but she shrugged slightly as she turned back to their guest.

"While the other children are out, I should probably fully introduce then explain myself."

She offered a bemused smile.

"I am adopted member of the Nation. My Sister, who initiated the adoption, said the formal introduction goes ... now I may mess it up a bit, so bear with me ... I am Madeline Evelyn Jacobs of the Sage Brush Hill Clan born for the Bitter Water Clan."

Then she waited.

And after Madeline introduced herself, they all stared at her for what seemed a rather long time, at least to the household residents. Finally, Heather spoke up.

"I'm sorry, Madeline, if we seem rude, but..." She looked at the other two women. "Well, both Andi and Marj are of Sage Brush Hill Clan, as is my husband." She smiled weakly and tried to chuckle. "We're all cousins paternally and maternally." She shook her head as if trying to clear it. "That's a bit of a surprise to find a new cousin just walking up to our front door, though a wonderful one!"

"The shocker, though," Marjorie continued, "is your father's clan. We'd have to check with the Clan Mother to be certain, but I don't think we've seen that combination since she and her brother were born."

Andrea nodded. "I'm pretty good at knowing the history of Sage Brush Hill Clan, although with the Ha'atathli as Clan Mother, it's not likely any of us is going to be called on to fill that role. But... wow. It would depend on what your grandfathers' clans were, of course, but it almost sounds like you could be Ha'atathli Yazzie's sister!" She grinned, then turned to check the stew.

"That's certainly the beginnings of a story worthy of the Diné, Madeline!" Bill said.

The front door opened and laughter accompanied the closing. A moment later, two other men entered the kitchen, squeezing past Jimmy, who was half blocking the doorway.

"Visitors! We hardly ever get visitors!" said the first.

The second slapped him on the back of the head, laughing. "You're a madman, Dave. We have visitors at least twice a week."

"Yeah, but not new people," said Dave, grinning. "Hi, new people! I see you brought us a statue. Cool."

"We should put it in a corner where people won't trip over it, though," said the other man.

"True, Adam, so true."

Marjorie rolled her eyes at their antics. "You two did not track dirt into my house, did you?"

"No, ma'am," they said in unison, and showed her their stocking feet before heading toward their respective wives for hugs, and welcome home kisses.

Marjorie laughed. "Well, there are the shepherds, Madeline. The one who's attached himself to Heather is David, Andrea's leech is Adam." Her eyes twinkled with merriment. "Gentlemen — and I use that term loosely — this is our cousin, Madeline Jacobs. The little ones are Tomas and Mesa... ellos sólo hablan español. The statue is Jimmy."

"Welcome to the madhouse, Madeline," Adam said. "Hola, Tomas. Hola, Mesa."

"It's always great to meet new family," David said. "And we're glad to have you." Then he looked over at Jimmy with a friendly smile. "You always look this grouchy, Jimmy? Or are you just having a bad day? Andi's lamb stew will certainly cure the second."

Madeline just kept smiling. She had not thought of a gentle way to say who she was so she had just come out and said it. And their reactions were understandable as well as a bit comical.

Ha'atathli Yazzie's sister indeed, as long as this Andrea Yazzie matched her own. Not entirely of course as Andi was not the Shaman but the Warrior. However, from the things they said she was fairly certain they were counterparts.

Her lips pressed together tightly as Dave good-naturedly harassed her escort. She was attempting not to laugh over much.

"Darlin'," she drawled to David, "he's been having a bad month. The last week has been especially trying. Some folk I just have that effect on.

"And, yes, there is a story there, I'm just not sure how much you are going to believe."

She glanced back toward Jimmy. "Though he can verify a piece of it."

"To put it simply, I am your cousin though in kind of a sideways 'how did this happen?' kind of manner.

"Would you like to hear the short version now or wait until tomorrow when we go see the person I am fairly sure is my sister in that same odd sideways manner?"

David laughed. "Well, if you're part of this family, it's understandable. We drive people crazy... even ourselves."

"She's specifically your cousin, dear," his wife said, "of Sage Brush Hill Clan."

He grinned and nodded. "Yep, that would explain it." He turned to look at his wife. "Right, dear?"

Heather laughed. "Absolutely. Though you men of the clan are nuttier than the women."

He placed a hand over his heart. "You wound me, love of my life! My cousins are just as nutty as I am."

Both Andrea and Marjorie snickered at him.

"They're trying to deny it, but they know it's true."

Bill had started getting the bowls and plates and flatware out for dinner as David and Heather bantered back and forth.

"The short version sounds intriguing, Madeline," Marjorie said as she helped her husband set the table. "Though it sounds like we should all sit around a bonfire while you tell the tale."

"Excuuuuuuse me," said a younger voice from the doorway.

A young woman dressed in what was obviously her finest outfit stood in the doorway, staring Jimmy down. She was tall and lithe like Maria had been at that age. There were enough differences, however, in complexion and hair texture, the slight difference in facial features, to be sure she was a distant cousin rather than copy of Madeline's niece. Her dress was of traditional Navajo design; the leather belt cinched at her waist was trimmed with silver, and the ends dangled with beads, small turquoise stones, silver charms, and feathers. Her long dark hair fell in waves to her waist; it was only when she moved her head that her silver and turquoise earrings could be seen.

At first, it didn't look like Jimmy was going to move out of her way any faster — or better — than he'd moved out of David and Adam's way. But there was a certain fierceness in her expression as she crossed her arms and stared at him. Her body language said that she could out stubborn him and would wait all night to prove it.

The adults looked on with amusement. Finally, David said, "You might as well just give up now, Jimmy. You think cousin Madeline can make you crazy? A thirteen year old girl can do as much damage, even if she's of her mother's clan and only born for Sage Brush Hill Clan."

Heather chuckled and handed the pan of dinner rolls to her husband. "We in the Crystal Rock Clan are perfectly sane... except for the fact that we sometimes marry crazy people."

David's paternal cousins laughed.

"Oh, you guys are next, and I'm hoping both Laura and Amanda are performing their Kinaaldás at the same time. That would serve you two right," David said, grinning.

"Jodi says not," the youngster said without taking her eyes from Jimmy.

"Kaitlin, you know you're not supposed to be pumping poor Jodi for information," Heather said. "Come sit down and meet your cousin. I think the little ones could use your presence." She turned to Madeline. "Katy's always been very good with children; even the fussy ones find her soothing. Spirits know I don't sometimes, but if you're a mother, you understand what I mean," she said with a smile.

"I'm trying, Mama, but this man won't move out of my way." She uncrossed her arms and said very slowly as though speaking to a child, "Excuse me. Please move yourself from the doorway. I need to go into the kitchen." Her spoken words were accompanied by hand gestures, in case he was deaf as well as not very bright.

As the confrontation between Jimmy and Katlin came to a close Madeline could not help herself, but she spoke in French to not embarrass her newfound cousins. "Pour l'amour de Dieu, Logan, cesser d'être une telle ass."

He growled but was slightly appeased by her use of his chosen name and finally moved out of Kaitlin's way.

"Thank you," she said regally as she entered the kitchen proper. The moment she caught sight of the two children, she crossed her hands over her heart in a gesture that mimicked Mama Sandy exactly, her eyes brightened and she said, "Oh my! How precious!" Katy looked at Madeline. "They are so darling. Are they your babies?"

Heather kissed the top of her daughter's head as she passed by. "The corn cake should be finished. Let me go outside and get it."

"I can't eat anything except mush and cornbread until tomorrow night's ceremony. I don't mind. I'd mind not spending dinner time with the family, though. Hi, I'm Katy!"

"Madeline is of Sage Brush Hill Clan, born for Bitter Water Clan," her father said as Katy slid into the chair beside Tomas.

She looked between Madeline and her dad, and finally asked, "Is that one of the unusual combinations?"

"Hello, Katy. You remind me of my niece when she was your age. They aren't mine in that fashion, no. Mine are all grown up.

"I understand it's more rare than where I'm from.

"Logan?" she asked, looking back over her shoulder. "Will you tell these people, my family, how you found me?"

He turned and stared at her. She stared back and raised an eyebrow. Capitulating, he spoke without coming closer. "She fell out of the sky three weeks ago."

He crossed his arms and went back to leaning on the doorway and staring outside.

She just shook her head and turned back to her family. "And he means that literally. The easiest way to put it is that I am a Traveler. A bit like the Spirits, I suppose, who cross between planes during Dances or when the Veils are thin, except I did not come to this world on purpose. I seem to have fallen through a portal between worlds, universes really, and ended up here in upper New York State. Since the Peoples are the only ones I know of who can open Portals I came here, to the place where I first met the extended family when this house belonged to Aunt Sonia and Uncle Leon. I'm hoping the Shaman can help me get back considering her counterpart in my world is also Andrea Yazzie, my adoptive Clan Sister. She's not the Shaman there though."

While the adults looked at one another, each of them starting to say something at one point, but then shaking their heads, Katy considered Madeline's statement for a moment, then shrugged.

"I didn't know there were more places than just the place where the Spirits live, but why not? Maybe they should have places they can go on vacation like we do, right? And the Spirits visit all the time, you know, not just during the Dances. Except I won't be able to see them anymore," she said sadly. "Well, except for Pelican. Pelican says I'll always be able to see it. I was worried that I wouldn't."

Kaitlin didn't seem to be rambling on in the same way her cousin had earlier. She seemed to have an innate sense that the adults had been set off balance because of Madeline's explanation and was giving them time to catch back up.

"Are your grown up kids back at home? They must miss you, even if they're grown ups. I'd miss my mom if she went away for three weeks and I didn't know where she went. They don't know where you are, do they?

"Tomorrow night, I'll officially be a grown up, except Mom and Dad say only according to old traditions, and I still have to go to school and do what they say." She grinned. "That's okay, because I like living here and I like school."

She gave Katy a smile. Children were incredibly resilient. "Well, I already knew there were places other than where the Spirits live. My Mate was taken to a couple as was my Sister's Husband.

"Back home as in my universe, yes. Vin's a Dean of a school for gifted youngsters. Em, well she doesn't stay in one place for very long so it's hard to say where she is. She tends to be fairly nomadic and likes to wander. And Leon, my oldest, he is with the others who have passed on. But don't be sorry. He lived a long and full life. He was one hundred and two when he passed. There's also my niece and nephew. Maria is a healer and works at the school Vin runs. And Paul wanders nearly as much as Em does."

Heather came back into the kitchen carrying a pan of corn cake and set it on a trivet before looking at her husband and cousins. "Well. Something interesting happened while I was gone... you all look like you need the batteries replaced in your heads. David, you were supposed to put those in the oven. What's gotten into you?" She sighed and shook her head, taking the pan of dinner rolls from his hand.

"Cousin Madeline told us she traveled from a different world sort of like where the Spirits live except not really. She thinks maybe Ha'atathli Yazzie can help her get home. Dad and Aunties Andi and Marj and Uncles Adam and Bill are all sorts of confused." It was almost surreal the way the teen seemed to accept the almost bizarre. Although given that she had just hit puberty and had been accustomed to the presence of the Spirits for the past thirteen years, it made a certain sort of odd sense.

Madeline looked up as Heather came back. "'Fraid I gave them a bit of a shock, but no more than I had when I woke up and realized I wasn't where I started out the day.

"Huh," her mother said. She looked around at the other adults, shook her head, then turned to put the rolls into the oven. "You people obviously don't spend as much time talking to Shaman Marjorie when she comes to visit, do you? That gal has some outrageous theories. It wouldn't surprise me if she wanted to spend a whole day grilling poor Madeline."

She turned to her husband and nudged him. "Go tell the mob dinner will be ready in five minutes, and they had all better be clean." David was still a bit dazed. "Go, honey. Madeline isn't going anywhere, and the kids need their dinners."

David nodded absently and left the room to gather the children.

"She said Ha'atathli Yazzie is her sister where she came from, Mom. Except her sister isn't the Ha'atathli. Isn't that strange?"

Heather took the pot of stew off the burner and made sure the stove was turned off.

"Maybe, honey. But as I said, Shaman Marjorie has some odd ideas, so maybe it's normal."

"And, Mommy! She's been away from her family for a whole three weeks! And her children, even though they're grown ups!"

That caused more a reaction from Heather. "Oh, Madeline, that must have been terrible! I hope we're making up for it just a little." She sat down across from Madeline and reached for her hand. "We might not be the family you left behind, but you are family to us, so we'll do everything we can to help." She smiled. "As an adopted member of the Diné Nation, you know how important family is. Ha'atathli Yazzie is amazing, and if anyone can help you get home, it will be her. Well, and possibly crazy cousin Shaman Marjorie," Heather said with a laugh. "She probably doesn't have enough training to do whatever would need to be done, but she's got the ideas... some of them might even make sense to you and the Ha'atathli."

She looked at her cousin Adam. "And I'll bet you didn't wash up either when you came in, did you? Go do that now. And make sure my husband washes up, too." Looking back at Madeline, she squeezed her hand. "Don't you worry anymore, Madeline. You're among family now, and I think you understand what that means. We'll do whatever it takes to make things right again for you.

"Now." Heather smiled and looked at the remaining adults as she stood. "Come on, guys... if it would help, just pretend Madeline's visiting from Spain or something. Jimmy," she said, pointing to the chair closest to the door, "you take Bill's seat. Seems like you'll be happier there. Katy baby, you'll be okay with helping Madeline out with Tomas and Mesa?"

"Sure, Mom," the teen said with a grin. "It's not like Aunt Andi won't ever make lamb stew again."

"Of course not," Andrea said. "And I'm not sure if that was slightly mocking, or if you really look forward to it several times a week. Marj, you want to help me get this on the table?" She started ladling the stew into bowls and handing them to Marjorie, who started setting them on the table. Bill moved toward the doorway to inspect hands, fingernails, faces, and the dreaded Behind The Ears of children coming down for dinner.

"It's a bit strange, but I think many of us made different life choices."

Once again, she looked at the man that had come with her.

"The people he was with when I first arrived... they had passed on many years ago in my world."

As the children filed in, her look grew wistful. There was always a large gathering of children whenever they visited the Family. She hoped she could find a way back to them, that this world's Andrea could and would be willing to help. She needed her Mate, her Husband, her Sister, her Brother and even Cat. She needed to hold her children and hug the great and great-great grandchildren and great-great-great grandchildren...

Jimmy reluctantly took the offered seat, his desire to be as far from the greatest annoyance in his life for the past three week warring with the need for a real meal. He had tried to avoid the reservations and later the reclaimed Nation-States of the Native Americans for nearly two hundred years. There were just too many memories; there were days he actively wished Chuck hadn't found a way to bring them back. Today was one of those days. Between this woman who seemed to know every one of his buttons — and deliberately pushed each of them as hard as she could — and the memories of Kayla's betrayal, he had no desire to be here in the middle of the Navajo Nation.

Damn that Chuck. And damn himself for promising to see this woman to her final destination. Maybe tomorrow he could get the hell out of here.

"You have... oh. If the Ha'atathli is your sister in your world, of course you'd have children who are really old. I'm sorry anyway because it's always sad when people you love die. Cousin Tahoma was a hundred and one, and everyone said he lived a long and happy life, too. But I miss him." Katy took the bowl of stew for Tomas, and checked for any pieces of meat or vegetables that need to be cut smaller. Sometimes Becky and Ally would forget and that was just gross. "He told the best stories and always smelled like sage." She looked up at Madeline with a smile. "Your niece is a healer? Like Cousin Bill? He's a doctor and is really good at fixing people up."

Then she looked at Tomas, smiling as she placed the bowl in front of him. "Hay mucho. Puede tener más si quieres."

If Katy had been seated closer, she would have brushed her cheek with the back of her fingers sweet girl that she was.

"Ahéhee', Katy," she told her softly.

"No, not that kind of healer though I did insist she learn basic field medicine. Healing is her Gift. Like her mother and brother she is one of the Cursed."

Heather nodded as she finally sat down... after all the children were seated and had food, after all the other adults had gotten their bowls of stew, after she'd taken the rolls from the oven and put them on platter in the center of the table.

Katy blushed slightly at the thanks and ducked her head to cover her embarrassment. Sometimes she just said things from her heart that touched other people's hearts... and it was all still a little disconcerting.

"That's one of the things Shaman Marjorie likes to talk about. How would the world be different if our ancestors had made different choices? How can we know we're making the right choices for now and for the future?" She chuckled as she put a piece of bread on the plate beside her bowl and reached for one of the tubs of butter. "I don't think there's an answer for the second one unless you're precognitive, and I'm not sure poor Jodi could answer that question either."

The stew was hearty and delicious and filling. She cautioned the children to take it slow. If they ate too much too fast, it could make them sick. She had seen it too many times. She was also taking it easier herself. They had not stopped for real meals since the children had joined them. By conserving energy, she had kept her protein intake needs lower than normal. She knew it was the same for Jimmy. She might feel bad for him if had been less of an ass lately.

Madeline listened as Heather spoke of Shaman Marjorie.

"Not just our lives, but the lives of those we touch. Here, in this world, many things are different. I can say with certainty that my counterpart made different choices else she would be here as well. I must admit I am a bit curious about her. But since I know she did not meet the man who made it possible for me to be long lived, I must assume she passed many years ago.

"As for the second question, we can't know. Andi once told my oldest that we make the best choices we can with the information we have, and that's all we can do. We make the right choice for what we know."

"It's daunting, then, to think that small decisions... what might seem an inconsequential choice... can affect so many other people for generations to come," Marjorie said. "But your sister sounds as wise as the Ha'atathli. Whenever cousin Shaman Marjorie starts on her questions of speculation, it's similar advice that the Ha'atathli gives her."

Andrea grinned as she buttered a roll. "And yet, it seems cousin Shaman Marjorie will graduate next year despite the fact that she would give the Ha'atathli gray hair if the Ha'atathli's hair could turn gray," she said with a laugh.

"I think that's why she has so many students," Adam said. "She enjoys the way younger people see the world. And she is the only Ha'atathli to ever accept students younger than fourteen... in the entire history of the Nation, or so our history buff says." He looked at Laura and his daughter shrugged.

"That's just what I've been able to research from written records," she said. "Who knows what happened before the missionaries came and started writing our stories down?!" Her eyes sparkled. "And thank you again, Mommy and Daddy, for letting me spend last summer with cousins Gail and Doug. The library in Albuquerque is amazing!"

Her parents chuckled. "You're welcome, and you can keep thanking us for the rest of your life," Andrea said, "as long as you keep interested in learning."

Laura giggled. "Yes, Mommy."

There were pockets of conversation around the table, both among the children and the adults. Shiye was describing a recent science experiment gone hilariously wrong in his biology class... apparently, one of the frogs being dissected hadn't quite been dead.

His father gave him a knowing look. "Are you sure, son? Wouldn't a more likely explanation — especially given the fact that those frogs are saturated in formaldehyde — have something to do with your guardian?"

Shiye shrugs. "Sure, probably, Dad. But it's funnier my way. Besides, most of my classmates don't stick much to the old ways like our family does. I don't think many of them can see their own Spirits."

From the doorway, Coyote sat with a bemused expression on its face... staring at Madeline.

The tale of the suddenly 'revived' frog was quite amusing, and Madeline studied Shiye as he answered his father's question. Her concentration wavered though as she once again felt as if she were being watched. It did not feel like it had earlier but she did turn toward the doorway.

Her face lit up at the sight of the Spirit sitting there. There was something about Coyote that she always liked. He and Henry had offered much amusement over the years and had been invaluable during the incident at Commerce City. She nodded her head toward the Spirit and offered a greeting in the Language of the People.

"Hello, Friend Coyote. It is good to see you."

Nearly everyone stopped and stared at Madeline when she spoke to Coyote. Tomas and Mesa were far more interested in their food than the people around them, although they were careful to eat slowly as Madeline had instructed. Jeffrey, being only five and still very shy, was also far more interested in his food. At the moment, he was intent on finding every bit of carrot in his bowl and eating those first.

Jimmy ignored her at first, simply because that was generally the least annoying way of passing time. But he did glance behind him when she spoke, only because she seemed to be talking to someone back there, and he didn't care for people sneaking up on him. Fortunately, there was no one there. Well, at least she was consistent in one regard... she seemed to be working on making these people crazy, too.

"You... you can see Coyote?" It was Amanda who finally spoke up, though Shiye, Laura, and the cousin-twins were looking at her with wonder. Kaitlin had looked toward the doorway, too, and was trying hard not to show her disappointment at not being able to see the Spirit. The adults... well, the adults simply looked shocked.

Coyote got up at walked over to her, then sat between her chair and Mesa's.

"Perro," Mesa whispered and tugged on her brother's sleeve. Tomas looked at the Spirit, confused... perhaps a touch worried... and shook his head. "Espíritu lobo," he whispered back to her.

You are not a child, and yet you see me. You are not one I have chosen to guide and guard, and yet you see me. I have heard your words and have shared them with my siblings. We are intrigued, as we have no knowledge of places such as you describe.

But we have also asked Eagle to speak to the One of Great Power about you. We have seen Darkness... She has seen the coming of this Darkness. Perhaps...

Coyote tilted its head, looking very doglike.

Perhaps you will assist the One of Great Power in exchange for Her assistance to you. Though we are not sure She can do what you desire, we are sure She will try.

She chuckled and actually blushed a bit. "Sorry. I'm so accustomed to seeing them that I often forget others don't. Plus, my guardian Spirits have a habit of making themselves seen by everyone. They almost have as much of a prankster nature as Coyote here."

Her smile became fond. "Well, Rene has always been like that. And Cat... Cat is Cat and like the animal whose shape it takes, does what it will.

"I miss their presence," she added with a sigh.

She watched Coyote plant itself beside her and listened to him. Her smile faded to a look of seriousness when he mentioned the Darkness. She would not speak of this aloud, not in front of the children.

I have been able to consistently see the Spirits almost since the beginning of my being a part of the Clan.

There is much of the Shadow's influence in this world already, Friend Coyote. The two young ones I brought with me were nearly lost to it.

She nodded slowly, understanding what the Spirit was getting at.

It tried many years ago to enter my world. We were able to stand against it; however, it required the Diné Warrior and the Chosen One of the Aztec Spirit Quetzalcoatl. Our Diné Warrior lives still, but the Chosen One is with the Spirits now. I can only guess that the Spirits were not able to cross the barrier between there and here or Rene and Cat would undoubtedly be here.

I can only say I will try. I do not have the power my Sister does. My talents are more suited to deal with those of the physical world.

The Diné have never had a Warrior. That is a role more often take by their cousins the Ndii or their more distant relatives the Naałání. There is not one in this generation powerful enough to stand against this Darkness — except perhaps the great Ha'atathli, who would try to stand between the Darkness and her family though she has not the training for that role. There has not been such a Warrior since the time of the great conflicts with the Bilagáana.

"I don't think any of our cousins has Cat as a guardian," Allison said. "Our cousin-twin Paul's guardian is Dog. Dog is really friendly."

Bill looked between Allison and Madeline. "You know... now that Ally's mentioned it, I'm not sure anyone in the family has been claimed by Cat." He looked rather bemused. "I guess we've never noticed it before, but it does seem rather unusual."

The Darkness draws nearer, as you have seen. We have not had contact with our Aztec counterparts since the Blackrobes turned most of their people against them. It is as if their realm has been cut off. The Diné and the Naakai are good friends, although the Naakai do not remember their Spirits. They know us, and some know of the Beautiful Woman and her son.

Coyote shook its head sadly.

If we knew what role the Chosen of the Aztec was to play in this battle, perhaps we could find one with the abilities needed. But this is not a prophecy known to us.

She split her attention between Coyote's words and those of her cousins.

From what I understand, Andi was the first in many generations. She chose the Warrior way instead of the Medicine way. Perhaps it was the differing influences in their lives. This world is much darker than my own, but it could easily have gone this way if just one of us had made a different choice.

"Perhaps Cat is just waiting for the right person," she offered with a shrug. "Cat and Panther looked after my daughter and son until they became of age."

The Quetzalcoatl of our world was extremely difficult to deal with. If yours is still about I can only hope he will be more... balanced.

I expect you and your siblings will be at the event tomorrow. Perhaps we can speak of it more then, with the Ha'atathlis present.

Amanda grinned. "Panther is my guardian, too! It would be fun to talk to another cousin whose guardian is Panther." She paused in mid-reach for her dinner roll. "Oh, my. But your son would probably be even older than cousin Justin, huh? I mean, if you're older than Ha'atathli Yazzie, right?" Then she shrugged, and smiled, and picked up the roll. "Well, I'm sure it would be pretty cool anyway because we have the best cousins of any family!"

I will inform my siblings and the Ha'atathli that a serious discussion must be had. If you know the way in which the Aztec Spirit was invoked, we will all be interested in hearing of it, as we currently do not have a way to reach many of our cousins. Coyote looked up sadly at Madeline.

We still speak to our cousins in the lands you call Australia and New Zealand; the Aztec Spirits were the last lost to us. We have no way to reckon time except by the events of this plane, but we have not spoken to any of the other Spirit cousins since long before the Blackcoats came.

Coyote faded away, and the remainder of the dinner was exactly what a visitor, a cousin, would expect to find even in Madeline's own universe. The laughter and the teasing among the cousins were so tantalizingly familiar to her. If not for the glowering presence of the man with her Mate's face, it might have been possible to almost... almost let the comfort of family soothe the ache in her soul.

After dinner, the adults waved off her offer to help clean up. "If you'd like a chance to laugh yourself silly, sit in the great room with the children," Marjorie said. "This is normally the time they finish up their homework for school, but the past couple of weeks, they've been acting out one of Shakespeare's plays as part of Laura's assignment." She glanced at her husband. "Twelfth Night, isn't it, Bill?"

He nods and grins. "They're completely over the top, and you never know who's playing which character on any particular night." Bill pauses in his clearing of the table. "The fantastic thing about it, Madeline? Laura's first assignment was for Merchant of Venice. Her teacher mentioned, apparently in an offhand sort of way, that Shakespeare was meant to be read out loud. So she read the first couple of scenes out loud to the rest of them that first night. When she was finished, her sister got this wistful look in her eyes and said something about how great it would be if they could all participate."

Andrea laughed. "And so the Dehiya Compound Shakespeare Company was formed!"

"Yeah, but I don't remember Romeo and Juliet being a comedy," David said.

So, Madeline had settled on one of the sofas with the two young Feral children tucked under her arms. She ignored as best she could her sulking traveling companion who leaned against the front door, arms folded and a disapproving look on his face. Shiye solemnly intoned, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Honored Guests, tonight our troupe presents Twelfth Night, a play by William Shakespeare. Tonight's performance features Amanda as Sir Toby... Rebecca as Sir Andrew and Maria... and Laura as Fabian. This is Act Three, Scene Two; the location... Olivia's house." He bowed, grinned at the others in the room, and sat down in the overstuffed chair. Jeffrey climbed into his lap. The three girls came out of Bill's study.

"No, faith, I'll not stay a jot longer," Rebecca as Sir Andrew said, looking away from the other two and holding up a hand as if to keep them from speaking.

"Thy reason, dear venom, give thy reason!" insisted Sir Amanda Toby, almost whining.

"You must needs yield your reason, Sir Andrew," Laura Fabian said in a tone that made it seem as if not doing so would be madness.

Sir Rebecca Andrew turned and looked at them, drawing herself up to her full four foot perhaps eleven inch height. "Marry, I saw your niece do more favors to the Count's serving-man than ever she bestowed upon me; I saw 't i' th' orchard."

"Did she see thee the while, old boy?" asked Sir Amanda. "Tell me that."

"As plain as I see you now," Sir Rebecca said indignantly.

"This was a great argument of love in her toward you," Laura Fabian said with a knowing nod of the head.

"'Slight, will you make an ass o' me?" asked Sir Rebecca before the three of them paused for a giggle break.

"I will prove it legitimate, sir, upon the oaths of judgment and reason," Laura Fabian said with almost a straight face.

"And they have been grand-jurymen since before Noah was a sailor," Sir Amanda Toby said as if it made perfect sense.

Laura Fabian tapped a finger to her chin and paced — in the small space possible — in front of Sir Andrew. "She did show favor to the youth in your sight only to exasperate you, to awake your dormouse valor, to put fire in your heart, and brimstone in your liver."

Laura broke out of character for a moment to mention, "Brimstone isn't something I'd want in my liver!" She shook herself back into character.

"You should then have accosted her; and with some excellent jests, fire-new from the mint, you should have banged the youth into dumbness. This was looked for at your hand, and this was balked: the double gilt of this opportunity you let time wash off, and you are now sailed into the north of my lady's opinion; where you will hang like an icicle on Dutchman's beard, unless you do redeem it by some laudable attempt either of valor or policy."

"And't be any way, it must be with valor; for policy I hate," Sir Rebecca said with a sniff and her nose in the air. "I had as lief be a Brownist as a politician."

Sir Amanda nodded. "Why, then, build me thy fortunes upon the basis of valor. Challenge me the Count's youth to fight with him; hurt him in eleven places: my niece shall take note of it; and assure thyself, there is no love-broker in the world can more prevail in man's commendation with woman than report of valor."

Laura Fabian nodded as well. "There is no way but this, Sir Andrew."

Sir Rebecca looked at the two of them suspiciously. "Will either of you bear me a challenge to him?"

The other two glanced at each other, and Sir Amanda waved Sir Rebecca off. "Go, write in a martial hand; be curst and brief; it is no matter how witty, so it be eloquent and full of invention; taunt him with the license of ink; if thou thou'st him some thrice, it shall not be amiss; and as many lies as will lie in thy sheet of paper, although the sheet were big enough for the bed of Ware in England, set 'em down: go, about it." She waved her hand again. "Let there be gall enough in thy ink; though thou write with a goose-pen, no matter: about it!"

"Where shall I find you?" asked Sir Rebecca.

"We'll call thee at the cubiculo," replied Sir Amanda. "Go."

"Exit Sir Andrew," Shiye intoned as Rebecca left the room.

"This is a dear manikin to you, Sir Toby," Laura Fabian said.

"I have been dear to him, lad, some two thousand strong, or so," said Sir Amanda, rolling her eyes.

"We shall have a rare letter from him; but you'll not deliver 't?" asked Fabian Laura.

Sir Amanda laughed. "Never trust me, then; and by all means stir on the youth to an answer. I think oxen and wain-ropes cannot hale them together. For Andrew, if he were opened, and you find so much blood in his liver as will clog the foot of a flea, I'll eat the rest of th' anatomy."

"And his opposite, the youth, bears in his visage no great presage of cruelty."

"Enter... Maria!" said Shiye.

"Look where the youngest wren of nine comes," Sir Amanda said, nodding to the doorway to Bill's study.

"If you desire the spleen, and will laugh yourselves into stitches, follow me," Rebecca Maria said. "Yond gull Malvolio is turned heathen, a very renegado; for there is no Christian, that means to be saved by believing rightly, can ever believe such impossible passages of grossness. He's in yellow stockings."

"And cross-gartered?" asked Sir Amanda.

"Most villainously; like a pendant that keeps a school i' th' church," Rebecca Maria replied. "I have dogged him, like his murderer. He does obey every point of the letter that dropped to betray him; he does smile his face into more lines than is in the new map, with the augmentation of the Indies: you have not seen such a thing as 'tis. I can hardly forbear hurling things at him. I know my lady will strike him; if she do, he'll smile, and take 't for a great favor."

Sir Amanda sighed. "Come, bring us, bring us where he is," she said wearily.

"End Act Three, Scene Two," Shiye said.

The actors took their bows, then amid more laughter, they sat around the large coffee table and opened a well-thumbed copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

There was a whirlwind of activity and questions then.

"Laura, this part here..." began Allison, "can you explain...?"

"Let's get you practicing your letters and numbers, Jeff," said Shiye.

"Do you need help with your math tonight, Becky?" asked Kaitlin.

Jimmy had disappeared at some point, likely out the front door. Bill had been standing in the doorway watching the last bit of the play. He caught Madeline's eye when the children began settling in to do their homework and nodded toward his office.

He was kind and gentle with Tomas and Mesa, asking general questions first... but not intrusive, not anything he thought might trigger bad memories. How does your tummy feel after eating so much food! My goodness, you ate more than Jeffrey! Thank you, maybe that will teach him it's okay to eat his potatoes, si? And you didn't eat so much it filled up your head to make it want to pop, did you? No? See! Perfect! He looked at their eyes and ears and made funny faces at them so they'd stick out their tongues and he could take a peek at their teeth and tongue and throat. He asked them if it was okay to touch them, and let them know it was perfectly okay for them to say no. Even at that, he only did a cursory exam barely touching more than arms and shoulders, knees and calves. These were refugees, and they were children. They were always the most skittish. But he made it a game, though, too. If I touch you... here! He'd lightly run his fingers across shoulders, for instance. Does that hurt... or does it tickle? And if I touch you... here! His fingers would dance over and around knees, and perhaps tip-toe down to ankles. Does that tickle? In the end, he managed to get Tomas to laugh when he tickled his ribs, and Mesa let out a squeal of surprise when he tickled her.

"Now, brave children," he said in Spanish, "tomorrow is a very special day for Kaitlin, for it is the last day of the ceremony celebrating her growing up to be a young woman. She must run toward the sun for a ways, and then run back again. Our stories say this will make sure she is a strong woman all her life. The most fun part — and this is something you may do if you wish — is that all the younger children chase after her. Oh, not to catch her! No. By chasing after her, you are gathering up all the happiness that is spilling out of her, you see." He smiled at them, then glanced up at Madeline before continuing. "You don't need to decide now. Just let Madeline know if you want to join the fun."

He switched back to English to give Madeline his impressions. "For chronically undernourished children, they're in remarkably good shape. Given what I suspect their life was like in the outside world, that would shock me if we haven't had a few similar — well, I think they're similar — families take refuge with the Diné over the years. Sturdy folks, heal remarkably quickly, seem to live at least as long as the average Shaman... perhaps longer. Ha'atathli Yazzie is exceptional that regard... most Shamans live to a hundred, even up to a hundred and twenty-five.

"I know I can speak for my cousins in saying we'd be happy to take the youngsters in, but I suspect they might be better off with others of their kind... especially if they possess the claws my fellow doctors have told me about. You, of course, should decide what you think would be best for them, and there's no need to decide right now. In fact, you should sleep on it... at the very least. Simply make your wishes known before you return to your home." Bill looked at the children again, smiling softly. "I know of three such women and a total of seven children who've claimed refuge with the Diné. They all live out near Chinle. Of course, there may be more... or they may have moved to another location. We do encourage the refugees to stay as close to the center of the Nation as they're comfortable for their protection." He sighed. "Sadly, we can't watch the whole length of our borders at all times, although fortunately the majority of our borders are adjacent to those of our friends. Still, every four or five months, some nut gets through looking to harm the people we've promised to protect. Thank the Spirits, no one's gotten hurt yet." He looked up at Madeline. "Yet."

He sighed and stood. "You're welcome to some peace and quiet here with the little ones... or to join us for conversations in the kitchen... or to take a walk under the stars. I often find that soothing."

That they had other Ferals already living among them really came as no surprise. She wondered if the Spirits here held them in the same regard. In any case, she made it through the night without incident though she dreamed of her children and grandchildren and their children and grandchildren.

Evening morphed into the darkness of night, which gave way to the kind of dawn only the desert knows. Kaitlin began her morning run toward the sun and back. She was followed by her sister, all her younger cousins, as well as both Tomas and Mesa, who timidly joined the group of youngsters as they waited to give Kaitlin her head start. After a dozen paces or so, Mesa held out her hand to Jeffrey, who nearly stumbled in his surprise but smiled hesitantly as he took her hand. Watching from the driveway, Shiye grinned and Madeline sighed softly.

Jimmy was conspicuously absent until breakfast, which was an even more lively affair than dinner had been, and consisted of hearty servings of real, fresh foods. He disappeared again when the meal was finished.

The children were excited about the trip to Ganado, that was more than evident in their near constant chatter and good natured arguing over who would get to sit next to Madeline. This, of course, was in addition to the growing pile of... things... they just had to bring along with them.

"Whose idea was it to stock this house with so many girls?" Adam asked, holding his head.

"Genetically speaking, it's our own fault," Bill replied as he started at the piled of... things. "What is all this nonsense, Amanda?"

"We wanted to bring some stuff with us."

"We're not going on a month-long trek! Put all this stuff away. You may each take ONE book. That's it."

"Aw, but Daddy..." she started.

"Oh, no... there will be no 'but Daddy' ploys today. One book. Get the rest of this out of here." He glanced toward the other side of the room where his son stood watch over Jeffrey and, in a happy surprise, Tomas and Mesa, too. Jeffrey was chattering for a change, slowly sliding his hand through the air over and over, with Mesa mimicking him. He gave Shiye a puzzled look.

"Jeffrey is telling them about Coyote. Mesa seems to think it's a big, friendly dog," the teen explained. "Coyote's not doing anything to dissuade her of the notion, even though Tomas here seems to realize Coyote is a Spirit." Shiye grinned as happily as he had watched the three of them run after his cousin earlier. He worried about Jeff... they all did. But the youngest seemed to find Mesa enchanting. Shiye was relieved to finally see someone draw the smallest and shyest of the cousins out of his shell.

Madeline, too, watched her charges as they got to know one of the Diné Spirits. There was hope for them here, and there might even be a good life for them, as well.

"All right, people, let's get this circus on the road, shall we?" Marjorie said from the kitchen doorway. "Madeline, I tucked your clean clothes in your duffel; I hope you don't mind. You go ahead and keep what you've got on. I found a few things the girls have outgrown that should fit Mesa and some of Shiye's old things that will fit Tomas. I think Jeff's going to be stockier, so they probably wouldn't fit him when he got tall enough anyway," she said with a smile.

She looked at the girls who were coming back down the stairs after putting all their toys away. "Go help Heather and Andi put our contributions to the party into the van. Go on." She shooed them off, then looked at her son. "Jeff will need to sit in your lap, I'm afraid. Would you go take the booster seat out of the van, please? Thanks, honey."

Jeffrey looked momentarily stricken when his eldest cousin left, but Porcupine waddled over to nudge him back toward Tomas and Mesa. The young girl looked at the Spirit, then up at her brother. "Qué es...?" Jeffrey didn't give Tomas a chance to answer, however, as he started telling Mesa about Porcupine, half in Spanish and half in English... with a few words of Diné Bizaad thrown in where neither of the other languages had quite the right words he needed. Mesa tentatively reached out a hand toward the Spirit, clearly ready to snatch it back in a heartbeat. But Porcupine waddled a step closer and nuzzled her hand, causing her to squeal with delight.

"I think they're going to be okay, Madeline," Bill said softly. "Some TLC and good food, and they'll be right as rain before you know it." He paused, watching the three children. There were times even he — the pragmatic country doctor — wished he could see more of the Spirits than just Horse. "Children have resilient minds, too."

Tomas looked over at Madeline, the first real smile she'd see on his face changing his features and making him look even younger. He glanced back at his sister and whispered in her ear. She nodded enthusiastically. He came over to her and gently tugged her arm so he could whisper in her ear.

"May we ride with Jeffrey?"

That was all he said, but those words — more than Bill's reassurances — gave Madeline a small measure of peace. There were so many that hadn't been saved, so many that couldn't be saved, but Tomas and Mesa... she had managed to save these two.

It was never enough. That had been her mantra for so long; it had become an unofficial slogan for her Wolf Pack. No, it was never enough, but sometimes the small victories could keep them going when the larger picture seemed full of despair.

And her world — the world where she had the support of her Husband and Mate, her Sister and Brother — was not nearly as dark as this one.

She hugged the slight child. "Of course."

Sometimes, the small victories were all they had... and right now, she needed to see the joy light up the faces of all three children. It was becoming more difficult with each passing hour to live with the empty spaces in her heart and soul where her loved ones should be. But this version of her family was as loving and generous as the version in her own universe. She spent more time in the Ganado area only because Andi lived there, but she knew she had met her world's counterparts to this family. There was something subtly different about them, though... except she knew it wasn't subtle, that she'd likely kick herself — metaphorically — when she remembered just what the difference was.

"I think you're right, Bill," she said to the man who was a mirror of a distantly great nephew. Or a cousin. Didn't Andi call everyone a cousin?

Jimmy stalked up and down the driveway as the family got everything loaded into the ancient passenger van. He'd overheard them saying the drive to Ganado would take anywhere from four to six hours. Just the thought of being cooped up for that length of time with that woman was getting him pissed off. By the time he stalked back to the near end of the driveway, the last of the noisy children was climbing into the vehicle.

"Left the front seat for you, Jimmy," the one called Bill said. "Madeline figured you'd be more comfortable up here. She said you don't spend much time around kids." Bill smiled at him; maybe the man was trying to be friendly, but his smile just seemed to make Jimmy even more upset. Not the man's fault, though, that the pain in the ass who called herself Madeline... who pointed out with regularity how inadequate he was compared to the Logan she knew... was manipulating them all. He nodded and just grunted as he got into the front seat beside Bill. At least there was a row of children, even if they were noisy, constantly chattering preteen girls, between him and his nightmare of the past three weeks. Not for the first time... not even for the first time today... he wondered why the hell he let Chuck talk him into this, and why the hell he didn't just leave her to her own fate. It wasn't like she hadn't told him a thousand times to get lost. It had taken three weeks, but he wondered if maybe Jeannie being off on another of her "secret" missions wasn't what was causing him to torture himself like this.

Damn women.

With Mesa in her lap, Jeffrey in Shiye's lap and Tomas between them, Madeline was able to push down the anxiety she felt at needing to see this world's version of her Sister. Could this Andrea Yazzie help her? Madeline had to believe she could... the alternative would not be pretty.

On the bench seat in front of them were Kaitlin and the cousin-twins. Behind them were Laura, Amanda, and Marjorie; in the far back seat, the other four adults squeezed together. Not terribly surprisingly, the four of them giggled and laughed as much as teenagers on an outing. This was definitely her family... the Yazzie clan had never had any problem showing affection to one another, and never let chronological age pull them out of the teenage delight in their spouses. Madeline couldn't see the qi as well as Andi could, but she sensed it as easily. And each of these couples had that bond of Oneness that everyone in the family developed — either immediately or over time — with their spouse.

As a doctor, Bill was afforded a vehicle, and since he often wound up transporting patients to the hospital up in Farmington, it was a fifteen passenger van. All but the driver's seat and single passenger seat beside it could be folded into or close to the floor of the van to allow room for the thin mattresses and thick mats that replaced stretchers when those had started deteriorating more than fifty years ago... allowing the passenger van to double as an ambulance. In addition to the two cases of medical-related supplies Bill kept in the van at all times, the storage area behind the back seat held Madeline's now well-stuffed duffel and old milk crates that kept pans from tipping over and others that were filled with baked goods. Jimmy had elected to keep his knapsack at his feet.

In her own universe, this trip could have been made in under two hours... even when Madeline had first met the family, even in a vehicle similar to this one. She and Andi had done the trip in about 45 minutes on their Ducatis; the only reason they couldn't make the same time Billy did when he flew is that US-64 between Farmington and Shiprock was busy. They hadn't dropped down to the speed limit, of course, but they did need to drop under a hundred in a few places.

In this universe, the roads were in bad enough shape that going much above the old posted limit of fifty-five would have been suicidal, even for Andi with her razor sharp reflexes. Sure, she and Andi could heal from a close encounter with the pavement, but their bikes couldn't. And the closer they drove to Farmington, the more numerous the people riding horses — or riding in wagons or carts pulled by horses — became.

She greeted morning with a heavy heart that was lightened by the antics of the children. She tucked her pain away deep inside and tried not to hope too much.

Instead she needed to think about what she would do if there were no way home. That thought alone nearly undid her until the other part whispered Then we let Madness come again. This world needs it. The ones outside the border deserve it. We will be this world's Avenging Angel. She nodded to herself.

But even if there is a way home... Can I leave this behind knowing what is here? Knowing what is happening here?

Therein lay the conundrum. She desperately wanted, needed to go home. She needed her family. She had felt this before, in the time between when Rene had died and when Andi had reunited them. Except now, instead of only half of her soul missing, most of it was. She sighed and held the little girl a bit tighter like she used to do with Em. Little Mesa turned and kissed Madeline's cheek.

Despite keeping her attention solely to her family, she could feel the waves of animosity coming off of Jimmy. Screw him. She told him she'd be fine once she was with the Navajo. She wondered what the hell his girlfriend saw in him anyway. Then there were Charles and Eric. She shook her head at the thought of them. The lot of them living like tunnel rats, keeping their heads down and avoiding attention. Live like that long enough, it wears on you.

And they had been existing like that for a long ass time. The state of the mansion spoke volumes, and then there was what Cindy had told her. Why weren't they fighting? Why weren't they trying to change things? Hard enough to believe Charles had given up the fight, but Eric? He might have been on the other side of the crazy line more often than not, but she could not imagine him just giving up the fight.

They arrived at the turnoff to Tommy's old house, about three miles before the Ganado city limits, just before two in the afternoon. As they neared the house, the biggest difference Madeline noticed about this gathering compared to something similar in her dimension was the abundance of horse drawn carts, wagons, carriages. The only difference she noted in the area around the house was that the open field to the east had been enclosed by a split rail fence for the horses to graze without wandering off into the desert. There was only one other motorized vehicle there, a Tribal Police SUV, parked in the same place Andi insisted Pablo park his car.

As they all got out of the van, the children ran toward cousins, and several adults approached to help bring food to the long plank tables set up in what Andi would consider her back yard. There were already at least three dozen people present — a good percentage of them children — and Marjorie had said people would be arriving right up until the Ha'atathli started the public ceremony around sunset.

Tomas and Mesa had become shy again around so many people and stuck close to Madeline. Jeffrey had run off but returned a few minutes later with another boy and a girl... Tommy and Sandy, his cousin-twins. Mesa was enthralled with Swan, Sandy's guardian Spirit. "Qué bonita..." she whispered. Sandy nodded and looked at Swan. "Muy bonita!" she said with a smile for Mesa.

Jimmy... well, Jimmy looked like he was planning an escape route.

And Raven perched over the doorway of the house, staring at Madeline.

Finally, they arrived. Jimmy looked desperate to get away. She wished he would just go already. She certainly knew how to get back to the school, what was left of it anyway. She thought maybe Charles wanted something, though, and Jimmy was there to get it.

She let out a small frustrated, growl and headed toward her Sister's house, a path she knew so well. She came to a standstill about ten feet from the house and eyed the Spirit perched there suspiciously. It seemed to be behaving like a normal bird, but even that one did on occasion.

"You aren't going to have histrionics, are you?" she asked it.

Raven tilted its head, proper and birdlike, and looked at her with curiosity.

You are the one of whom Coyote spoke. Why would I have histrionics? We are not opposed to speaking with you. In fact, we all welcome the opportunity.

"That's a relief. Your counterpart in my world is something of a basket case. Fortunately, Andi was able to trade in for a saner model, actually four of them."

I sense by 'basket case' you mean irrational and unpredictable, although not in the pleasant way my sibling Cat is unpredictable. How interesting. And four guardians? Raven shook its head slowly. That has never happened here.

"Highly irrational and given to fits of extreme dramatics including weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, well, beak."

A handsome middle-aged man, fit and trim, with hair already turned to gray and sparkling eyes of pale blue, came out of the house and gave Madeline a brilliant smile. "Well, you've got to be this Madeline the whispering gossips were telling us about last night." He held out a hand to shake hers. "I'm Ryan Benally. I'm shacking up with the Boss Lady until she gets tired me."

Well, hello, handsome, she thought as she shook the man's hand. You just brightened my day.

Compared to the sour-faced Not-Her-Mate, this one was all around appealing. And the sense of humor was exceedingly refreshing.

"Benally? Any relation to Cindy out at the Council House?"

"It is wrong for you to say that, Ryan. You are her husband."

Ryan looked down at the Spirit standing beside him. "Shamans never marry, Little Buddy."

"You are married by the most ancient traditions of your people, and in our eyes."

"Yeah, but not in the eyes of modern Diné... and except for the Boss Lady, that's all we've got in the nation these days." He shook his head and looked back at Madeline. "Rumor has it Cat's your guardian Spirit back home. I'd be happy to share while you're visiting." Ryan looked down again. "How's that sound to you, Furball? Everyone ought to have a guardian Spirit, and she's already used to you and your unpredictable ways."

"The Council office down in Bernalillo, you mean? Nope," Ryan had said. "Well, other than all of us who wear the shield are brothers and sisters, so it's just her brother who'd be my brother." Ryan chuckled. "Benally and all its variant spellings is the second most common name in the Nation." He tilted his head toward the interior of the house. "Yazzie being the most common, of course."

"Ah. Well, at least I remembered that name right," she said.

There was something in her tone that said to his cop's instincts that she would be highly unlikely to misremember the name unless it was on purpose.

Cat looked at Ryan for a moment, almost as if gauging to see if he was serious. Then the Spirit looked at Madeline... inspecting her soul. It twitched its whiskers. "That is an excellent idea, Ryan. Her heart is like yours. Of course, I would have decided to do this after consideration in my own time."

"Well, sure you would have," Ryan agreed. "Doesn't often happen ... no more than half a dozen times in a decade... but sometimes I am able to predict what you'll do."

Cat raised a paw to lick it delicately before setting it back on the ground and saying, "Please don't let this go to your head."

Ryan laughed. "Perish the thought!" He looked at Madeline again, still smiling. "Well, whether you're with us for the afternoon or a week, our little friend will be watching out for you. Now, I'm supposed to be making sure no one falls in the fire pit." He chuckled. "Go right on in. Andrea's waiting for you... probably has the whole menagerie with her."

"Hello, Cat. I'm very pleased to see you. Are you going to walk in on your own or do you want to sit on my shoulder?"

He takes a step, and then another, toward the fire pit before turning back to say. "Despite the circumstances, it's nice to meet you. And for the kind of help you're looking for, you've come to the right place. If anyone can help you, the Boss Lady can."

"That's the hope, Ryan. Maybe we'll get a chance to chat later."

At her feet, Cat said, "Come on, Madeline! I know the Ha'atathli really wants to meet you!"

She figured Cat would decide one way or the other by the time she was through the door. And it certainly wouldn't be the first time she had seen most of the Spirits. Still, the house wasn't quite that large. She was curious, too, to see how this house differed from her Sister's house and how much this Andrea differed from her Andi.

He continued on his way, calling out, "Allison! Paul! Philip! Rebecca! What are you hellions doing to the littles? Put Maryanne and Debra down right this instant!" There was laughter in his voice, and she could hear Jeffrey, his cousin-twins, and her two charges giggling behind her.

"Cat in your world sits on your shoulder?" Cat looked wistfully after Ryan. "He says I'm very distracting when I do that, and I should only sit on his shoulder when he's at home... and sitting down... and not engaging in amorous activities with the Ha'atathli." Cat sighed but walked at Madeline's side into the house. "I often wonder how I can properly guide him when he places so many restrictions on my activities."

"Sits on my shoulder, in my lap, sometimes drapes itself across the back of my chair... general, normal cat-like behavior," she told the furred Spirit at her side. Then her voice dropped down to whisper, "Cat was somewhat the instigator for my adoption."

"Oh, I'm pretty sure it all came about that night you decided to 'surprise us' while we were making love, you ninny." Ha'atathli Andrea Yazzie looked... identical... to her counterpart in Madeline's world. She even formed air quotes the same way. Except for the lack of connection Madeline's mind insisted she should be feeling, this woman could well be her Sister.

The house was eerily similar to Andi's, too. This Andrea had placed a ficus tree in the corner where Madeline's Sister had set up her computer workstation. Well, no computers in this world... that made sense. The furniture was almost identical and arranged in the same way. The only thing truly missing was Andi's staff in its place of honor above the sofa where she kept it when she wasn't using it.

Andrea came around the counter that separated the kitchen area from the rest of the space in the Great Room and held out her hands to Madeline, palms up. Like Andi always was at home, the Ha'atathli was barefoot.

"The Spirits have told me some of your tale. I cannot imagine your pain. Please, tell me how I can help you."

After spending so much time with Jimmy and the rest of the familiar yet unknown family, she was prepared for Andi's duplicate. She, however, was not prepared for the sharp pain. She found herself suddenly grateful for her Mate's doppelganger's bad attitude. If he had been more like her Logan, the absence would have been beyond unbearable.

She was taken back to that time so many years ago, when, with Leon's help they had watched the conversations Andi and Rene had had. In this, Ha'atathli Andrea Yazzie was the same, asking how she could help.

She fought past the lump in her throat.

"The Andi... Andrea... I know was able to open portals between dimensions, planes of existence. I was hoping there might be some way to do the same but have it go back to my world or universe though I do not quite know how to locate it. I do have a Blessed bond with those I'm separated from... Perhaps, with the help of the Spirits, we could locate it using the Bond."

She took a deep breath then and continued. "If it cannot be done, I would try to make myself useful in this world, but only outside the borders of the Nation. The person that would result from our continued separation... the people out there deserve such a one as she."

The Ha'atathli had tears welling in her eyes. "No... I can see how much of you is missing, and I can see where that kind of pain can lead. The world outside the Nation might need the person you would become, and might even deserve her. But what kind of person would I be if I allowed your true self to be lost without exhausting all possibilities to save her? In the grand battle that is to come, you would be but one soldier. Alone, you cannot stop the Darkness." She paused and looked toward the door. "I'm not sure there are enough of us to stand against it," Andrea said softly. "Even young Jodi says there are too many variables for her to say.

"But come... sit." She gestured toward the sofa with an attempt at a smile. "The problems of our world are not yours. Let me get you a glass of water, and we'll talk about getting you home.

"I know about these portals, and I've had to deal with them more and more often over the past twenty years or so." Andrea shook her head as she got a glass for Madeline and filled it with cold water from a pitcher in the refrigerator. "Refugees arrive with spirits of Darkness wrapped around their souls; these must be removed and banished. Most of the portals I've needed to open have been to some very terrible places... it's a tricky process."

She picked up her own glass of water from the counter on her way to the sitting area, set both glasses on the coffee table and smiled as Cat jumped into Madeline's lap. And then she chuckled as Cat curled up and gave Madeline a look that very clearly said, pet me.

Madeline ducked her head down and closed her eyes against the tears that threatened. This Andrea was like enough to her own that the similarities brought new pain. Her hands absently stroke Cat's fur, a motion that was always soothing to her.

"It is true I would be but one, but one I can guarantee they are woefully unprepared for. I have fought Darkness both within and without for nearly all my days, and my days number more than yours. When I first met my world's you, I had already seen five decades pass and was in an agony not unlike my current state."

When she opened her eyes and raised them to the Ha'atathli, they glistened with moisture as well as a longing for that which was not there.

Ha'atathli Yazzie sat down across from Madeline in what she knew to be Andi's favorite chair, crossing her legs, leaning forward and resting her forearms on her knee. She silently acknowledged Madeline's pain, and when she spoke again it was softly.

"So tell me how your Bond came to be. A Bond Blessed by Great Spirit is a rare thing. It's not something we've seen in many generations, although my first teacher, John Ravenclaw, spoke reverently of a couple who had been Blessed when his teacher had just become a full Ha'atathli." She sighed lightly and smiled nostalgically. "That must easily have been two hundred and fifty years ago, as John was already an old man when I began studying with him.

"And how is it that you found yourself in our world? Coyote said you told the cousins you simply fell from the sky, but surely there was an event in your world that caused you to wind up here, yes?" Raven fluttered to the back of Andrea's chair, preened its feathers for a moment, then gave its full attention to Madeline.

As Madeline gathered her thoughts, before she could speak, Giraffe ducked its head in the doorway. "Ha'atathli? The person who accompanied your guest is frightening the small ones. Their guardians attempt to calm and reassure them, but we can see he is damaged, in the same way, many of the long-lived ones become when they have spent too much time outside the Nation."

Andrea sighed wearily, and looked from Giraffe to Madeline and then back to Giraffe. "Does Jodi have concerns?"

"My dear one is most distressed that he appears to have no past, present or future. She cannot say."

The Ha'atathli nodded. "Ask Ryan to use his best judgment, then. I trust he will do the right thing."

Giraffe nodded its head... well, as much as was possible for a giraffe to nod while sticking its head through a doorway. "May I also be guardian to the young boy your guest brought with her? He is so very interesting!"

Andrea laughed and waved Giraffe off. "You know you don't need my permission. And the lot of you will just do whatever you decide is best anyway."

Giraffe smiled and disappeared from the doorway, and Andrea shook her head as she turned back to Madeline. "I'm sorry for the interruption. Captain Benally can be quite persuasive, and your traveling companion will come to no harm." There was the faintest hint... perhaps merely the suggestion of a possibility... of Ninja's smile in Andrea's. "I can see from your aura that if he is to be harmed, you will prefer doing so yourself."

"The story of the Bond... I suppose it began when we first met. No, when Andi and my husband Rene first met. Andi being my world's version of you.

"She lived in the Denver area and often had to go up into the mountains of Jefferson County to convince the wildlife to stay out of the human-inhabited areas. It was one such occurrence when Raven insisted she open a portal and would not let it be until she did. It was then that she met Rene who, though deceased ten years already, had not been able to move on due to the Bond of our Souls.

"Fortune, the Fates, perhaps even the Great Spirit herself aligned events so that I and my new family arrived in the area shortly after. I had planned on finally packing up the cabin we had lived in and selling it. As I had a weapons bunker on the property and planned to move out most of that, I requested that the local Sheriff put me in touch with the local Super. She was in her Super persona of Ninja when we initially met, but we connected right away.

"Leon, my oldest and Rene's son, and I went up to the cabin alone the first day. It was something we both needed to do. Though my Mate worried, he understood. It was a difficult drive and climbing those stairs to the front door..."

She paused and shook her head then took a long sip of water.

"Leon had to open the door. My hands shook so I couldn't get the key in the lock. And the inside looked exactly like how I had left it, well, maybe a little neater. A friend, the Sheriff's wife, had been stopping by and keeping it tidy in case we came back..."

Amanda's thoughtfulness still touched her though she had been gone for so very many years. She and Joe never did have children, but Amanda brought many children into the world, including her niece and nephew.

"I thought I could feel Rene there in the cabin. You see, Rene was a Mutant. He had a minor gift of telepathy that he used to speak with me from our very first encounter so I was very accustomed to the feel of his thoughts and his Spirit. His death was devastating, and if it had not been for Leon... he was the only thing that kept me going at first.

"Anyhow, I wandered over to the breakfast bar and sat down, saying that I could almost feel him there. That's when Ninja walked in and told me 'He never meant to leave you, Maddie.' Those words ripped open a wound that had never fully healed. It was what he said to me right before he died. My poor boy was so worried. He hadn't seen his mother dissolve into tears like that in many years.

"Ninja told us then that she had met Rene, and he was stuck in a bad place and that they had had conversations. With Leon's Gift of recreating memories, we were able to watch the conversations. Then Ninja said she believed she had a way to reunite us and was I willing to try. I was afraid to hope that it was possible. I had lost him twice already and didn't know if I could survive a third occurrence.

"The first time Rene died, he didn't really. He had been kidnapped and drugged and a block was put on his Gift so that I believed him to be dead. I found out almost a year later that he was still alive, and the dreams that I had been having were his attempts to reach me. I tried to save him along with the others we were determined to rescue, but I was unsuccessful, and he died in my arms."

He had been with Andrea long enough to pick up her tells... and, perhaps surprisingly, those of the Spirits. No, Ryan admitted that wasn't quite true. It was primarily the mammalian Spirits he seemed to understand the best. The fact that he could see the Spirits at all — aside from Cat, of course — was something that still shocked him.

So when Giraffe spoke to him about the stranger, he wasn't particularly surprised to see the Spirit slightly agitated. He smiled to himself, though, at Giraffe's message from his lover. He had been fairly certain he was going to have to chat with the stranger before the tall Spirit ducked its head into the doorway of the house he shared with the Nation's senior Ha'atathli. The younger children were unnerved by the man. Ryan had seen in the blink of an eye the animosity between him and Madeline. Interestingly, as shy as the two who'd come with the woman had been, the elder of them — the boy — was casually wandering among them as part of the group of five year old cousin-twins and trying to soothe them. The younger of the two, the little girl, held hands with Jeffrey the whole time. That had been a surprise. Jeffrey had been quiet and shy his entire short life... now, here he was chatting with her, with all his cousins, as if he had never been afraid of anything before today.

Ryan immediately fell in love with both of them. He was a big fan of kids, loved to be around them, but oddly never had the desire to have any of his own. That was probably a good thing, considering who his life partner was. According to the Nation's Singers — those to kept the stories and histories of the People alive in their minds and hearts — no Shaman in the history of the Nation had ever had children. Not one had ever been mother or father to a child, although it was said some had adopted one or two.

As Ryan ambled among the family, ruffling the hair of the most upset tykes and offering hugs to the older children, he was slowly making his way toward the stranger.

And the stranger was slowly edging his way toward the house's doorway, which would not work out well for anyone involved if he disturbed Andrea while she was working. And from the tugging at his heart, Ryan knew full well she was working.

Ryan intercepted the man the cousins had introduced as Jimmy about a dozen paces from the door.

"Hope you're not planning anything foolish, Jimmy," Ryan said.

The other man very nearly growled. "I think I have a right to know what she's saying in there. I've had to put up with her damn attitude for three weeks, and it's been a living hell."

Ryan nodded. "Sure, I get that. But first of all, you're upsetting the younger kids with your royally pissed off attitude. Think you can dial that back a bit, friend? Around here, that kind of thing — kids getting freaked out — tends to have a cascading effect. That's something we don't need while the Ha'atathli is working, okay? Which brings me to my second request... stay out of the house. When the Boss Lady's working — and trust me, she's working right now — she gets a bit testy at interruptions."

Jimmy looked at Ryan with disdain. "You bow down to a woman?"

Ryan smiled. "I don't bow to anyone. It's not the Diné way. The Singers say one must never bow even to Great Spirit. Stand tall and be proud to be of the People. No... she's my partner, and I respect what she does. She's lived longer than anyone else in the Nation. She has a difficult job — made more difficult by having agitated people in the vicinity — and I just do my best to keep her work environment as calm as possible. When I'm not doing my own job, of course."

"Yeah? And what would that job be, bub?"

Ryan's smile changed and the glimmer of humor left his eyes. It was a transformation from friendly Native to cop that happened in the blink of an eye.

"I'm Chief of the Ganado District of the Tribal Police Force. So... you want to back down there, son?"

Jimmy briefly considered backhanding the man. The last person who had called him 'son' was that bastard Stryker... but he reined himself in, and least enough not to hit a cop.

"The name's Logan. She just calls me Jimmy to insult me, and let me know I'm not the Logan she left behind."

"Fair enough, Logan. You need to settle yourself down, nonetheless."

Logan considered that for a moment. He could hear parts of her tale but wasn't close enough to hear everything. He took another step toward the house.

"Whoa, I said you can't go in there," Ryan said, holding a hand up and not quite placing it on the man's chest.

Logan looked at the hand not quite touching his chest, then up at the cop's face, and nodded. "Fine. Is it okay if I just stand by the doorway? Seems like I deserve a bit of an explanation about why she's been such a fucking bitch to me these past three weeks."

Ryan studied the man for a moment. It was pretty obvious he was one of the long-lived folks, although none of the others he had met had been this belligerent. But if he and Madeline had been like oil and water for the past three weeks... well, that would wear nearly anybody down. He nodded slowly. "Try to calm yourself, though. The younglings are still a bit upset." He half smiled. "By sunset, we're going to have upwards of a hundred people here. It would be nice if there were a hundred fairly calm people who were simply excited about Kaitlin's Kinaaldá ceremony." His smile faded.

"Don't cross the threshold. You might heal up from one of her blasts; you wouldn't from a second."

The other man looked as if he might retort, but just clamped his jaw tightly and nodded.

Ryan stepped to the side, allowing the other man to step to the doorway. He kept a watch on Jimmy Logan nevertheless. But true to his word, the man simply stood in the doorway. He gasped several minutes later and braced himself with both hands on the frame... but he did not cross the threshold. Ryan nodded to himself and split his attention between the stranger and the children.

There was a noise at the door, and Madeline turned to look. The man who wore her Mate's face stood there with an expression on his face somewhere between disbelief and deja vu. She looked him straight in the eye and told him, "It was orchestrated by William Stryker, just like Kayla was. She was forced to betray Logan in an effort to save her sister. At least, that's what happened where I'm from. And she did save her sister too though she lost her life in the process."

With that, she returned her attention to her Sister's twin and the increasing gathering of Spirits. She had to regather the threads of her story and find where to pick them up.

"Where was I? Oh, yes. She offered me this hope, and I had to take it. I couldn't not. And so we went outside and performed a Dance with me mirroring her moves. She opened two portals, one to the plane where Rene was stuck and another to plane of the Spirits. The People's Spirits had agreed that he could wait for me with them. Then they adopted him into her family's Clan of Spirits, he becoming essentially her brother. And, now, as a Spirit as he always was in life, he became my Guardian Angel.

"That was the first Bond that I was aware of, although, in the telling of the conversations she had had with Rene, she had shared a similar Bond with her husband. It was a Bond that had nearly been broken when Quetzalcoatl took her husband who happened to be his Chosen One to his dimension for... training. While Pablo was gone, Andi was in a coma, and while it was only a day for her, it was three years for him. He came back marked in his body, his mind, and his soul. They reforged their Bond with Andi acting on an instinctive level and blending their qi. It healed the marks of his body and soul, but the mind is more difficult to heal."

She reached for the water again, drinking considerably more this time. This was an old tale but not one she had ever told before. Those around her already knew the story. Well, the kids didn't know everything, but they knew enough.

"Two sets of two Souls firmly entwined about each other, but there was another. In the years since Rene had died, I began to form a Bond with another, a Feral man I met in the woods. He had been living out there, in the wilderness alone for fifteen years…

A light laugh escaped her. "His communication skills were rudimentary at best, but he was a balm for the deep pain in my heart and soul. He had almost no memories of his life before we met. And it was what we shared that has allowed me to live so long. The day that Rene was brought out of that place, that the rent in our Bond was healed, was the day that Logan and I became true Mates."

She hitched a thumb behind her toward the door and her voice became hard. "But not that Logan. My Logan would have kicked that one's ass six ways to sundown and not stopped until he got his shit together."

In finishing her water, she banked the anger that this false Logan stirred in her, the disgust, the irritation and frustration at the wasted potential. She knew what the man was capable of, and he simply pissed it away. Some would probably say she did not understand that he was worn down by this world, but she did. Oh, how she did.

Trying to get her thoughts back in order, back to the tale at hand, she did like she would do at her Sister's house. She rose and went to the kitchen, refilling her glass and coming back to resettle in the chair. She waited until Cat was once again comfortable and took back up with petting it. She let out a slow breath as she recalled the next part. Though she was inclined to skip the next part, the week between, she knew that the telling occurrences could also have bearing here. She just was not sure how much of that tale needed to be said again.

"In the week that followed my reuniting with Rene and becoming Mates with Logan, Andi and I helped each other against an incursion of the Darkness. Many things happened that week, amongst them was Cat's taking a liking to me and her official adoption of me into the Clan, after which Cat chose to also serve as my Guardian. As it seems the Clan is wont to do, she insisted that I and my family come and meet the rest of the Family, or as many as could make the journey.

"The night before we left, as Logan, Rene and I spoke of things, Cat and Eagle came to us. Or perhaps brought us to them as we were no longer in our hotel but in a rocky and desert like area. They said many things, but the gist of it all came down to the fact that we needed to find a way to truly blend the Bonds I had with my Husband and my Mate. If we could not do this, if the Three could not become One, then we would not be strong enough to support the Two who were One. It was foretold to Andi that the Diné Warrior and Quetzalcoatl's Chosen One must stand against the Shadow. In order for them to not only stand against the Shadow, but to survive the fight, they needed the support of the Three who were One. Optimally the Two and the Three would combine to be the Five who were One.

"In our early days, before our son was born, Rene and I had had a long standing arrangement with a friend of ours who later became my second husband. We were a very happy trio. So it was not something that was unknown to us, but we did not know how to work it with Logan precisely."

Cat stopped grooming itself and peered up at her. "But you found a way, yes?"

She smiled at it and scratched under its chin. "We did, yes. We used Rene's Spirit Gift, which is unique to him since of all the Spirits he was the only one, at that time, who had ever been human. The Gift of Sexual Magic."

The look on Cat's face seemed to say Ah and I approve.

"And so the Three became One, the blending of our qi like a brightly woven tapestry. We journeyed to New Mexico to meet the family in Nageezi at Aunt Sonia and Uncle Leon's house. When the five of us came together, poor Talia nearly fainted. She could not see any part of our lives, only as she described a bright curtain, whereas she could at least see the long, long roads of both Andi's and Pablo's lives. It seems our close proximity threw off her Precog Gift, at least it did at first. The 'older' generation left us youngsters to ourselves, and we stood in a circle.

"At Andi's urging we all held hands, and as we did so the qi began to gather around us and flow through us, from one to another. The Spirits and Mother and Father offered their touch as well. As the qi moved and flowed through each one, our Gift was contributed to the circle. I recognized the Gift of each of the others but could not say what I offered beyond my Madness. By then we were already in another place, and when I questioned what might come from me, Rene asked if I could think of nothing. Using my Mate's claws, Andi and I each cut our palms open and allowed our blood to mingle. We two who were once wholly unique among all the Peoples now had one other who shared some measure of our Gift.

"That was the initial blending of the Bond of Five, of the Pentad. A bit later we adjoined to another less public area and cemented the bond. During that we were transported to the realm of the Great Spirit where She gave us Her blessings yet cautioned us to maintain balanced. She offered counsel and gifts of memories restored or taken away, but mostly She offered Her love.

"That is how our Bond came to be."

Even in this distant land with at least a century between that time and now, the memory of Her Warmth and Love was soothing, like cool water to a parched throat.

"As for how I came to be here, a portal opened beneath me as I fell away from a mountain. The top had exploded and I was thrown from the summit by the force. I cannot fly so I was resigned to a hard landing and a healing period. I simply called out to my Mate to come scrape me up when he got down to the bottom. I passed through the portal as I did so. It was daytime there and nighttime here. I didn't have time to think about it as that's when I hit the first of the trees. The next thing I knew, I was waking up with that man out there leaning over me. I had a pounding headache and didn't immediately realize he wasn't who I thought he was.

"The other odd thing… I wasn't on Earth when I entered the portal. We were on a different planet entirely."

Andrea listened to Madeline's story without interruption, but the questions were collecting in her mind. Some were answered later in the tale, although those answers seemed to spawn even more questions.

At the end of Madeline's tale, Andrea smiled; it was an oddly sad smile. "It would be dishonest of me not to admit to the jealousy I have when hearing about your Pentad. But given how much my heart is crushed when one of my lovers passes into the next world, I can begin to understand the agony you're in. And I will admit that I don't know that I'd have the strength to bear it." She looked down at her hands, turning them over to look at her palms.

"A Diné Warrior? How different her life must have been to choose that path. I strive to walk the path of peace — though I don't always succeed. What would call her to leave the Nation and live in the White Man's world, I wonder?" Andrea shook her head and chuckled as she looked back up at Madeline.

"Here you come to me for help, and I sit and wonder if every decision I've made in my life has been the wrong one. Forgive my indulgence.

"To address your very last point, perhaps it's simply that here there is only Earth. That's not to say there are no other worlds beyond ours, only that we humans have not journeyed to them. Long ago, before I was born and even through a few years of my childhood, both the United States and Russia had space programs, but they were abandoned by the time I graduated from high school. I can't say for certain, but it's possible the distrust of mutants had already begun. By the time the Troubles began, I suspect all chance of ever leaving this world for another had evaporated." She sighed.

"If this world, too, was meant to have a Diné Warrior and the Chosen One of Quetzalcoatl push back the Darkness... I fear we may be doomed. I would play that role if it would save my people, but I know nothing of Quetzalcoatl except the small tales told in history classes. As Coyote said to you, even the Naakai themselves do not remember their Spirits."

Jimmy had turned from the doorway as Madeline finished her tale, leaning against the house and sliding down to sit with his arms resting on raised knees. Was the truth in her world the truth of his? Had Kayla only been desperate to save her sister? Had her betrayal not been a purposeful and malicious act?

Hearing the remainder of her tale... the loss and redemption... knowing all this three weeks ago would have made a difference. But he had never given her any reason to trust him with a story like that. Her insistence on coming out here made a lot of sense now, especially if this shaman woman was this world's mirror of her adopted sister. He was kind of pissed that Madeline hadn't made repeated points to this Andrea that she wasn't her Andrea, though.

"Hey, Chief Ryan! What's that?"

The child was pointing at a shiny spot on the ground, just at the edge of the front yard... perhaps three or four feet from the end of the driveway.

"Well, I don't know, Patty. Why don't you back up a bit while I take a look at it, okay?"

"Okay!" The little girl ran off to find her brother and cousin-twin.

Ryan took a step closer to it, noted that it was some sort of disc... both standing on edge perpendicular to the ground and growing. He blinked. Growing?

Shit.

"Andrea!" he called out. "You're going to want to get out here NOW!"

© Kelly Naylor and ividia kt