Through the Looking Glass

"Andrea," Ryan called from outside, "you're going to want to get out here NOW!"

In addition to the shout from Ryan, all the Spirits were agitated. Andrea was out of her chair before Ryan had finished speaking.

"Excuse me, Madeline. The energy surge is tremendous; I need to see to my people." She sprinted out the door and stopped beside Ryan.

"What the hell is that?" he asked.

Madeline stood and followed Andrea out. What she saw she knew without a doubt was a portal. Without knowing its source though…

That was a disc of energy now about a hand span in diameter that rested on one edge on the ground and had begun growing inch by inch. To most of them — most likely all of them, really — it looked like those old snowy static pictures Andrea had seen on televisions as a child at Camp Zama in Japan. They'd see them when a station stopped broadcasting for the day, or when they switched to a station that didn't have any programming at all.

To Andrea, however, it glowed and undulated with power.

Andrea shook her head. Fifteen years of loving this woman and ten years of living with her told Ryan that she had an idea, but she was adamantly not going to say anything about it. Not yet.

"Parents, see to your children. Bill, Marjorie... take care of Madeline's refugees, please." She looked around for one of her apprentices. "Diane...?

"Diane, go around through the field there and keep anyone else from coming up the road, please."

The Ha'atathli was outwardly calm even as she pulled qi from the Earth. She knew the Darkness sent agents to their world from other dimensions, and she surmised it was through portals like this. She never thought they'd dare attempt an incursion into any of the lands held by the First Nations, though.

The disc continued to slowly grow... four feet, five feet, six feet.

"Anything in particular you want me to do, Boss?" Ryan asked Andrea.

"Unfortunately, until we know what's coming through, we don't know what kind of threat it is. Or what kind of weapons will affect it," she said, admitting that it was, indeed, a growing portal.

He nodded. "I'll just go fetch my rifle then." Ryan trotted back into the house, noting that Madeline and Jimmy Logan were flanking the doorway... Madeline looked ready to fight, Jimmy Logan looked bemused.

He grabbed both rifles from the gun cabinet and a box of ammunition. He stuffed half of the ammo in a pocket as he walked back to the door and handed Madeline one of the rifles and the rest of the ammo as he stepped outside. "You look like you're the sort of person who knows which end of a gun to point away from you," he said, winking. "If we've got man-eating demons coming for us, it was nice meeting you."

She took the rifle from Ryan without a word, loaded it and cocked it with barely a glance at the slightly unfamiliar weapon and had it raised to fire. She stepped slightly to the side so she would not inadvertently hit anyone here. She did notice out of the corner of her eye that not-her-Logan seemed a touch surprised at her handling of it.

The disc had grown to nearly fifteen feet in the few minutes he was gone. Damn. He checked the chambers of his rifle and then stood beside his... his wife, damn it. If this was going to be a showdown with agents of Darkness, he'd at least admit to himself his relationship with Andrea before he died. And that was something he fully expected to do if demons came streaming out of this portal. He just hoped he could take out enough of them to keep the innocents — especially the children — safe for another day.

I should be up front, Madeline thought, knowing her own ability to take damage and recover from probably anything was better than anyone else here except for not-her-Logan. She was about to tell Ryan she should take the first hit when it occurred to her that something about the qi of the portal seemed familiar. Its stabilization and clearing answered that question.

The portal snapped into place with an almost audible ripple of sound. To Andrea's sight, it flared with energy for a moment before it cleared... everyone else just saw a doorway instantly appear. That doorway clearly opened into another world.

Andrea found herself looking at... herself... and a mirror of the man who traveled with Madeline... and four younger people.

The six of them were as well armed as the entire Ganado District of the Tribal Police Force combined. Depending on what was in their duffels, they well could be more heavily armed than the entire Tribal Police Force.

And all six of them were looking past her, broad smiles on their faces.

The faces of her family were the most precious sight ever. And it was not just the Pentad but their children as well. She was rendered near speechless and so grateful to see them.

Andrea raised a hand and pushed the barrel of Ryan's gun down. "It's okay." She turned and looked at Madeline, whose eyes were overflowing with tears, whose face held an expression of shocked disbelief.

"Andi? Logan? Kids?"

Andrea barely heard the mouthed whisper, but when she turned back toward the portal, the mirror of herself nodded. "Yep. Came to fetch you home." The mirror of herself turned to her. "Permission to come aboard, sir?"

Andrea just stared, not understanding the question. Ryan chuckled.

When Andi spoke with her trademark humor, and she knew absolutely this was her family. She could see both Em and Logan straining to stay in place and observe the proper custom of asking permission. Em embraced her with her Gift for the time as did Vin.

Mom! cried both children with relief.

The Ha'atathli's doppelganger chuckled as well. "Dooládó' dooda da. May we enter your home, Ha'atathli?"

Andrea managed a smile. "T'áá'áko." She swept her arm wide in the universal 'come on in' gesture. "Yá'át'ééh."

Her mirror dropped the hand of the younger woman at her side and picked up the bag at her feet. She and Logan stepped forward hand in hand into the portal and seemed to disappear. The four young people picked up their bags and stepped through the portal two by two... first the young women, then the young men. A few seconds later, the two young women stepped forward into her yard, followed almost immediately by the two young men.

The darker haired of the women collapsed to one knee, keening in... in agony if her aura was any proper indication.

The moment permission had been granted, Andi and Logan both stepped forward and promptly vanished. She thrust the rifle in not-her-Logan's hands and rushed forward about the same time the girls came through and Maria collapsed.

"Maria!" both men said, moving toward her.

"You take care of her, Vin," said one as he looked around. "Where's Mom and Uncle Logan?"

That caused the other woman to stop in her tracks, turn from her course toward Madeline, and growl.

"I know that, Em," said the young man as he turned back toward the portal. "Dad? Uncle Rene? Can you help Eagle and the others keep the portal open? Looks like Mom and Uncle Logan are kind of stuck in between there and here."

Madeline's eyes searched for her Sister and Mate, the feel of them stronger than it had been. She caught up Em's hand with a soft, "Em, keep watch."

Em nodded and looked around. The only threat she saw was that guy that looked like dad. Her fists curled, and her claws slowly slid out.

"Em, sheath those," she barked.

She did not look to see if she was obeyed. Em knew better though she did grumble a bit at it. Madeline didn't blame her, but there were other concerns at the moment.

Madeline knelt by her niece. "Maria, sweetheart?"

She took up the girl's hand. "Squeeze my hand if you can hear me."

The resulting squeeze was nearly crushing.

"Listen to me, Maria Yazzie-Garcia," Madeline ordered in her 'command' tone. "Control your Gifts. Pull them back to you. Do not reach for your family."

Without looking up, she spoke to her son, "Vin, if she can't do it, you need to take her back across."

"Okay, mom."

"Can you still feel them, Rene?" asked the man who was clearly the father of the young man looking back through the portal.

"Yeah. You?"

"Yep. Not the kids, though."

"No. Me either." The man called Rene shrugged. "Andi's the only one who could explain this."

"Agreed. So we'll keep the door open."

"Gosh, Pablo, we get all the fun jobs! I'll bet the rest of them are insanely jealous."

"No doubt they are, Brother."

"When this is all over," said an older woman who was very clearly staying as far from the portal as possible, "SOMEONE is going to explain all this to me. Or none of you are ever getting through another Conduit again. You understand me, Xavier?"

"I don't think he's listening, Billie," the one called Pablo said. "Something seems to be wrong with Maria." He frowned.

"I'm sure she'll be fine. Don't worry, Brother."

"She's my little girl... how am I supposed to not worry, Rene?"

Madeline looked across to the two who had not tried to enter the portal. "Rene, Pablo, can you and the other Spirits try to pull Andi and Logan back to that side?"

With the mind, she reached for her Sister. Andi? Logan? Go back, please. The kids are here.

Tears streaming down her face, Maria wanted desperately to throw herself into Aunt Lin's arms and be held. Not by Vin... by Aunt Lin. Or Mom and Dad. Or Paul. Not Vin.

"It's... I'm not reaching..." She had to stop to breathe, pain-wracked, shuttering breaths. She felt her twin kneel beside her.

On her own side of the portal, Ha'atathli Andrea Yazzie was trying very hard to process everything. Her mirror had grown children? How was it possible for her to have children? She'd had so many miscarriages because of her Curse... how did her mirror trick the Curse into allowing her to carry children to term?

And what was wrong with her daughter? No, that was the wrong question. What was causing her daughter to be in such agony? She felt Ryan's arm around her waist.

"Are you okay, honey?" he whispered.

"Not sure yet, Ryan."

Hey, kiddo. Talk to me.

Maria flung her arms around Paul's neck and sobbed into his shoulder.

I'm trying... I'm trying to get the shield around me, but... Oh gods, Paul! I never realized that I was connected to every person descended from Papa and Tita. I didn't know.

He brushed his hand through her hair like Dad used to do for Mom when she was really upset. The two of them had been petting each other's heads since they were developed enough to have hands... and arms long enough to reach.

What do you mean, sis?

She held him tighter as she wove another ribbon of qi around her heart.

That's how I could find everyone. But I didn't know. Mom and Dad and Uncle Logan and Aunt Lin and Uncle Rene have a huge connection. Another ribbon wove through the other four or five she had managed to wrap around her heart. Paul helped her weave the next one through, and that was easier. The rest of us have big connections. Em's connection is a little bigger because she's an Empath. And you saw what happened to her when Aunt Lin disappeared. With Paul's help, they got another ribbon in place. It wasn't her heart per se that needed the protection, but the zhong dan tian and heart chakra. She couldn't stop crying, though.

Paul over at Aunt Lin, then up at Vin. "We'll work it out. She just needs to insulate herself with... oh, what the heck does Mom call it? Oh! A karmic shield. Gonna take a bit because she took a big hit."

Vin looked confused.

Paul shrugged with the shoulder not being saturated with his sister's tears. "Don't know yet."

So what hit you so hard, Maria? I don't get it... and I haven't seen Binnie look this confused in over a hundred years, so there's one good thing to come out of it.

Maria's laments were briefly interrupted by a hiccup of laughter. I guess I have a tiny connection to everyone related to us... all of them, Paul.

Okay. A tiny connection is nice, and that's what helps you do your finding thing. That's kind of cool.

She faltered in the qi weaving, but Paul set the qi moving back in its proper orbit. And everyone who's formed a marriage bond with anyone we're related to.

Andrea looked at the stricken young woman... the Shaman could see what she and her brother were trying to do. It was obvious they had the skill, so the fact that they seemed to be having a difficult time was puzzling.

"Keep order around here, would you, Law Man? I'm going to see if I can help the children."

Ryan chuckled, then bent to kiss her. "They're probably old enough to be my great something grandparents. But yes, Boss Lady... I'll do what I do while you do what you do."

She smiled at him before stepping around the other young woman and kneeling beside the twins. "How can I help?"

Paul looked at the woman who could be his mother's twin. "Ah... not exactly sure. We're weaving a karmic shield around her zhong dan tian, heart, and heart chakra. Maria's been traumatized by something... well, yeah, duh. Anyway, slow going because focusing is hard right now."

He kissed his sister's head. Kiddo, you still haven't told me what set you off.

Andrea placed her hand about a finger's width above Maria's spine directly over the heart chakra... and then she simply showered the area with energy, like a gentle summer rain.

Most of them are... gone. Her sobbing slowed to mere tears and breathing seemed to be easier.

"What do you mean, Maria?" Paul whispered.

She was able to lift her head from his shoulder and look into his eyes. "More than ninety percent — ninety percent, Paul — of our relatives who should be alive right now are missing from this world."

"Holy shit."

As Andrea stepped forward and offered the help only she could, Madeline watched but never let go of Maria's hand. All she could do was offer her support the only way she knew how. Vin knelt beside his mother and his cousins.

"Mom?" he asked worriedly.

"She'll be okay in little while, sweetheart," she told him glancing over.

She did a double take then and looked at his qi then Maria's. She knew them both so well that it was easy to see this difference in them. Her brows twitched in surprise as she turned back to Maria.

"Any idea what happened?"

"The Family here is considerably smaller, Vincent. She feels their absence. It's a bit like when Tio Pablo died only there are many, many more broken threads. She has to shield herself from it, almost like you would a telepathic attack. Their Spirits could probably help with the weaving, but they aren't here."

She raised her eyes to the portal and tried to keep the fear at bay. She met her Husband's eyes across the distance.

"Rene?"

"They're okay, Maddie. We can still feel them. Maria?"

"She will be. It would go faster if..."

He nodded his understanding. "How long have you been there, Maddie?"

"Three weeks. You're trying to distract me aren't you?"

She heard Vin echo "three weeks?"

"Of course," Rene replied. "I see that's earth. Did you crash in New Mexico?"

She shook her head. "No. Westchester. Just outside the school. Spent the last three weeks just trying get here so I could try to get home."

"But you aren't coming home are you?"

"Je ne peux pas, Rene."

"Porquoi?"

Both her children spoke French and so understood her reply.

"Mom?" two voices asked in unison, something she had not heard in many years.

Forestalling an answer she clearly did not yet want to give, Rene interrupted, "Wait. It took three weeks to make that trip? It only took a little over two days between New York and Denver when you weren't sightseeing. Were you on foot??"

"The roads are worse than..." She tried to think of a comparison from their world and could only come up with war zones. "Worse than Beirut when we worked it in the eighties. I think our Humvees or a tank is better suited to what's here."

###

Stepping into and through the portal should have been a piece of cake. Or a pie. Pie is good, too. Normally, it's as simple as stepping through a doorway. Sometimes there's a bit of a tingle, but usually not. I had expected it might be an extra step or two because we're crossing into another universe.

I so did not expect to be wading through tar.

Okay, maybe it's not actually tar, but it's certainly the portal energy equivalent. It's black as pitch, and moving forward in it has got to be the most physically exhausting thing I've done since... damn, since the Curse took me, I think. Even giving birth to those little hellions of mine wasn't this difficult.

Crap, I can't even tell where Logan is! I squeeze his hand, which I can feel... that's good.

Is there some reason you're trying to break my fingers, Andi? You haven't learned that lesson yet?

I chuckle. Well, I think I chuckle. There's absolutely no sound in here either. It's like a sensory deprivation chamber... well, kind of.

Yes, yes. I've learned that lesson. I just wanted to make sure you were still with me. I don't know about you, but I can't see or hear a thing. Hell, except for your hand, I can't feel anything either.

There was utter silence for a few seconds. No... I can't hear or see anything either. Feels like I'm trying to walk through solid rock.

Hmmm. Doesn't feel quite that solid to me, but it's definitely thicker than pudding. I was thinking maybe tar.

He was silent again, for a few additional seconds this time. You've walked through pudding?

What?? NO! That's crazy! Who does that, anyway?

You're the one who brought it up.

I ran my fingers through pudding when I was a kid! That's now I know it's sort of thick, but not really. And Mama hated when I did it, so I could only get away with it when she wasn't around. And that wasn't very often. I let my kids play with their pudding as long as they didn't make a mess of things and finger paint the walls with it.

And how did that work out for you?

I can definitely imagine his smile.

It worked out just fine, thank you very much. Once the little hellions were actually born, they were rather well behaved. And why are you trying to pull me back?"

I'm not. And you're nervous as hell.

You are. And I am, but how can you tell.

You're babbling.

Oh. Well, yeah. That's a dead giveaway. Did you just hear Pablo and Rene?

No, but I heard Madeline telling us to go back.

You think we should go back?

Has this place made you lose your mind?

Just checking. But come on, I don't want to be in here all day. What happened to that guy who can outrun me without even trying?

He's trying to run through solid rock.

Well, step up your game, darlin'. You know you don't want me to start speculating on what the hell is going on. Or why you're having a more difficult time getting through this thing than I am. Do you want all that inside your head?

I love you, Andi, but you can be a real pain in the ass.

Just part of the charm. Besides, you wouldn't...

And that's when we finally make it through the portal.

You know how you can play a trick on someone by holding a door closed, and they keep trying and trying to push it open to no avail? And then you finally open the door? And that someone goes flying through the doorway and lands flat on their face? Yeah. That.

Except, fortunately for us, Logan and I have a little more dexterity that the average someone. He stumbles a little, catches himself... and Em is right there in an instant anyway.

I feel myself falling, so I let my duffel drop to the ground, tuck and roll... as much as one can tuck and roll with weapons strapped to their back anyway. I wind up flat on my back. I've got a staff and a sword poking me in the back — something that hasn't happened since just before the kids were born — and I'm looking up at an incredibly good looking guy. I start to smile, because... hey... that's a mighty fine sight to see from this angle. Except I catch a glimpse of black from the corner of my eye and turn my head slightly to see Raven perched over the doorway to my house. Okay, no... it's my doppelganger's house.

I close my eyes. Tightly.

"Maddie..." Oh, I can hear the whine and the verge of tears in my voice, and it's not a pretty sound. "Please tell me I didn't just see Raven sitting on the house."

Rene was about to say something more when Andi and Logan finally reappeared. He sighed in relief even though he could no longer truly feel them. Madeline and Vin felt Em's exclamation as she moved in the blink of an eye to steady her father. He chuffed at her before approaching Madeline, who reached a hand up to him.

"Never mind the damn bird, Andi. Maria needs your help. Quit lazing around and get over here," she chastised her sister, although her relief was evident.

"How can I never mind about that damn bird when it traumatized me into nearly trying to kill it?" I sigh and open my eyes again, to see Mr. Gorgeous grinning at me. Okay, I like that. I reach a hand up, and he — obviously having been raised a gentleman — helps me to my feet. Not that I need help, but with two rigid objects secured to my back, flipping up gymnastically isn't going to happen. So it's a choice between rolling into Maria, Paul, and my twin, or rolling into Mr. Gorgeous' legs. The first option seems like a bad idea considering how much Maria is hurting; the second option is just plain impolite.

You can learn a lot about a person from their qi. The tiny bit of qi I can sense when he takes my hand tells me all I need to know. Well, most everything.

I stand facing him, smiling back at him. "Ahéhee'. You've probably figured out I'm Andrea Yazzie. Call me Andi... unless that's what you call my twin over there, in which case I'll think of something else."

He chuckles. "No, I call her Andrea. Or Boss Lady. I'm Ryan Benally. Ryan is fine, although the kids like to call me Chief Ryan."

I nod. "My husband's a cop, too."

"Are you flirting with that man, Wife?!"

I laugh, release Ryan's hand and turn back to the portal. "Perish the thought, my beloved. Ryan, that one is my husband, Pablo... now sadly a Spirit these past thirty years. Although, given the alternative, it's not all that sad. The other one is my Spirit Brother, Rene."

"I don't know, Andi. That sure looks to be flirting from this perspective," said Spirit Brother remarks.

"Oh, now that's not even fair. You know damn well it's not true, and you're just trying side with Pablo as part of your comedy routine."

"You wound me, dear Sister."

"Yeah, right." I roll my eyes at the both of them, then notice a very annoyed Billie Trammel in the background. I wave. "Hi, Billie. Boy, have I got some interesting theories for you! They're going to have to wait until we get back, though. Your tour guides are getting tired holding this portal open."

"I really wish someone would explain something, Ms. Yazzie."

"Yeah, sorry about all this. I do remember how much you need to understand the mechanics of things, and hate the whole intuition thing. But I promise I'll explain as much as possible when we get back. Possibly by that time, I will have beaten some sense into Dean Xavier's head here and he'll be able to explain the math." I smile with understanding at her. I vaguely recall the one self-defense class I taught when she was a student. She was the one with all the questions. "It's both complex and elegantly simple... just like fractals are, okay?"

She nods slowly. "Okay. I'll... try to appreciate the simplicity while waiting for the equations of its complexity."

"Ah, now there's the young Billie we all remember!" I grin at her, and then the two men we'll be leaving behind. And my guardian Spirits.

I put a hand over my heart. "I'll remember Pablo. Promise."

"Shouldn't you be taking care of our daughter?"

"You know how I said I wasn't upset about our daughter and nephew shattering traditions?"

"Yeah..."

"Apparently I'm a little upset. And not only are they completely clueless about that, but they are also completely clueless about how to resolve Maria's current problem. And even I didn't see that was how her Gift worked, so that's pretty cool. Not that she hurts, that's not cool. But how the Gift works. It's freaking awesome, although I'm willing to bet she doesn't think so at the moment."

"No, I'm pretty sure she doesn't," her father agrees.

"Um, I don't know what you're talking about, Aunt Andi," Vin says. The confused look on his face is precious. I'm not sure I've ever seen that look before.

I regard him for a moment and then shake my head. "Try to figure out why I Gibbs slapped the two of you before we headed over here, okay?"

Looking back through the portal, I press my lips together tightly, not able to say anything.

"We will await your return patiently, Warrior," Fox says, speaking for all of them.

I nod. "Gonna miss you guys." I look between Pablo and Rene. "Go ahead and let the portal close. Mother... very weirdly... is right here, and with Maddie in the loop it should be even easier to pop open a doorway back home." I nod and bring my hands together. "I love you both. Now close the door before I start crying, okay?"

I can tell there are thoughts flying between the two of them, but they nod simultaneously and let go of their hold on the portal. It winks out in a small flash of energy.

Then I turn to my children and shake my head. Why is it that some of the smartest people are the dumbest? First a light touch of fingers on a shoulder... I almost feel like I should feel a touch on my own shoulder when I touch hers, but I don't, thank the Gods, Buddhas, and Spirits!

"Thank you, Shaman Sister. There's an easier way."

As soon as Andi was seeing to her daughter, Madeline stood up and Logan pulled her into a crushing embrace. She buried her face in his chest and inhaled the raw scent of him, listened to strong thump of his heart and quickness of his breath. He tucked his nose into her neck and scented deeply.

"By the gods," she breathed, "I've missed you, Mate."

He chuffed his agreement as another set of arms wrapped around them.

"Em," she sighed as she included her daughter in the embrace.

Em didn't respond other than to hug her mother more tightly and damn near purr.

Vin looked helplessly at his cousins and this world's version of Aunt Andi as his mother was crushed in an embrace with his dad and sister. He was torn between joining them and wrapping Maria in his arms. But he didn't want to make things worse for her. He looked at Aunt Andi.

Madeline lifted her head from Logan's chest long enough to reply to something Andi had said earlier. "Cause this ain't the same Raven. This one is sane. Fairly sure it would be horrified at the antics the other one pulled."

Madeline kissed Em's forehead then kissed her Mate softly, savoring the feel and the scent of him. They spoke in quiet chuffs and other sounds. The Elder language had come easily to her from the beginning, and using to talk with her Feral Mate and Child was second nature.

I missed you.

Missed you, too.

So worried, Mom.

I know, baby. I was worried too.

He give you any problems, Mate?

Nothing I couldn't handle. Still needs an ass kicking.

Got under your skin?

He's a coward.

That garnered raised eyebrows from both.

Run and hide. Don't get involved. No fight in him.

A sane Raven? Well, how about that? My, ah, twin looks up, and I step slightly to the side with a smile; her husband is there, holding out his hand to help her up. She doesn't need help any more than I do, but her face lights up when she sees him. Wow, so that's what I looked like — still look like — every time I look at Pablo. That's... Goodness, it's dusty here.

"Hon, would you let the family know the crisis is over?" she asks him. "And have someone run down and let Diane know all is well, too?"

He kisses her cheek. "Will do. I'll be right back."

Oh my gods, they're too adorable! Have I been that bad with Pablo? No, I can't have been. I'm much snarkier. Right?

I watch him walk toward the back yard, then look at my mirror. And grin. Then I turn back to my children and sigh.

"Paul?" My son looks up and I wave him away from his sister.

"But, Mom..."

I give him the stink eye. "Don't you start with me, young man."

He scoots backward, leaving Maria curling around herself, ready to start sobbing. Well, from the big wet splotch on Paul's shirt, I'd say she's ready to start sobbing again.

Em growled but was, fortunately for not-her-Logan, distracted by Aunt Andi shooing Paul off.

"Paul," she called to him.

He joined his aunt, uncle and cousin as they all watched the show Andi was orchestrating with her chastisement of Vin and Maria. Madeline knew she probably shouldn't be laughing, but she could not help herself. She turned in her family's arms, not letting go or losing contact, to look at her son and daughter-in-law.

Then I look at Vin. And he looks back at me, still confused.

I look to the sky. "Great Spirit, give me the patience not to knock their heads together." I look back at my nephew. Maria's pain is starting to scrape over my nerves. It's got to be hell for Em... though, wrapped in her parents arms, she might be okay. I hold my hand out to my daughter; she takes it and I pull her to her feet.

"Mommy?" She moves to latch onto me, but I hold up my other hand.

"Wait. Just wait."

I hold the hand out to Vin, who takes it... rather hesitantly. I fold their hands together, then hold their hands in mine. I look at them silently, from one to the other while they both become more nervous and more confused. I sense family members behind me; someone starts running down the driveway. I think it was Larry.

Finally, I say, "You two have been having this little dance for thirty years now, give or take. And left to you own devices, you two wimps would continue dancing for another thirty years. But you're driving yourselves crazy, you're driving your siblings crazy, you're driving half the faculty of the School crazy. And — even worse — you're driving me crazy. Now... have you figured out why I thought you needed a lecture? Have you figured out why I smacked you upside your heads before we began this little adventure? And have you figured out why Maria's having such a hard time shielding herself?"

They look at each other... Vin completely baffled, Maria hesitant and biting her lower lip. I shake my head in exasperation.

"How did you get to be Dean of the Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters and be so clueless, Vincent Rene? And how is it that you can't see what's right in front of your eyes, Maria Sandra? While I refused to admit what was going on for close to a decade, I could at least see it.

"You two are genuinely oblivious to the obvious."

My twin chuckles behind me. "I was the same way with my second lover."

"Mom!" Maria drew the word out to at least four syllables; not a record, but it's been decades — seven or eight, at least — since she's bothered with more than one or two.

"Okay. I'll give you a hint. I now pronounce you husband and wife. There. Now the two of you know what Pablo and I saw coming even before he died."

"But... we're... no, Aunt Andi! It's not like that!"

I pat their hands. "Oh yeah, Vincent... it is. And the sooner you two work out whatever denials you have going on here, the sooner Maria's going to stop hurting." I pat their hands one more time, then release them... and turn around to look at the family that's already gathered.

"For the love of all the gods, would you two kiss already?? Hell, Leon knew what was right in front of him with Jenny and he was only sixteen. You both have more than a century on that! And, by the way, even I can see the Bond."

Vin blushed and even Maria's cheeks tinged pink.

"Is this why you haven't been at the school much the last couple of decades, Em?"

Em looked at her mom. "Remember how disgustingly cute Leon and Jenny were? Yeah, it was going to make me ill. And every time I tried to tell him about it, he'd go into denial mode."

Madeline shook her head and rolled her eyes at the pair.

"Ha'atathli, can they borrow your house for a bit? It might go faster with fewer eyes."

The Ha'atathli looked at Madeline, her mouth twitching in a smile, then looked at the young people in question, both of whom appeared to be attempting to sink into the ground. "They are welcome to the guest room, of course, although I suspect their greatest desire at the moment might be to disappear completely," Andrea said teasingly. She couldn't actually remember ever seeing a couple so embarrassed about their relationship.

"Ha, too bad you don't have Mom's guardian Spirits, huh, sis?" Paul said, chuckling. "Some of that cool invisibility stuff Fox showed her how do to would be handy dandy right about now."

Shut up, Paul. Just SHUT UP!

And then HE decided to speak.

"That's the best you could do to keep Chuck's school running?"

Andi was in his face so fast it would make most people's heads spin. He had no idea what minefield he had just stepped into.

I turn to stare at the man with Logan's face, but none of his sensibilities. One slow step at a time, I cross the yard to stand in front of him. Outsiders don't get to comment on my family. I've got my anger banked, but my vision has the telltale halo of gold that means my eyes are lighter and considerably brighter than their normal deep brown. One wrong comment from Mr. Tough Guy here and he's going to discover that Ninja's tougher than he is... and about as nice as I'm guessing Maddie's been to him.

"Do not disparage the memory of my friend... his name was Charles, not Chuck. He was possibly the noblest man I've ever known. Both Maddie and I have acted as Dean of Charles' school, and I can say with certainty that Vincent is the finest Dean the school has had since our friend passed into the next world. So I suggest you keep your unwanted opinions to yourself."

Oooh, goodie! I've pushed a button or who, and I haven't even been here an hour.

Madeline eyed Vin and Maria seeing that neither of them had yet moved. She sighed.

"Thank you, Andrea."

Vincent, why are you two still standing there?

Her son equivocated before answering. Aunt Andi's busy over there.

Fine, when she's done you two go inside and figure things out before I Gibbs slap both of you. Understand me?

Okay, mom.

"Who the hell are you?" asks the man wearing my Brother's face, with indignation and no small amount of annoyance I might add.

I grin the famous Ninja grin at him. "Who am I? I am Ninja, Warrior of the Diné Nation. I am of the Sage Brush Hill Clan and born for the Bitter Water Clan. I am the right hand of vengeance and the boot that is going to kick your sorry ass all the way back to wherever the hell you came from, sweetheart! I am death incarnate, and the last living thing that you will ever see. God sent me."

"Don't waste your breath, Sister. Vin has a full staff as well as a student body. Nobody back home is hiding like rats underneath the ruins of the mansion." Yup. Another button pushed, perhaps more between the words and the tone.

"Well, I would have thought someone would have appreciated my Babylon 5 reference, at least," I say, not taking my eyes from the asshole in front of me. Oh, wait. It was usually Pablo that recognized the B5 references. Damn it.

Not Logan pointed at Madeline. "You know about the Registration Act and what came of it."

Madeline felt both Em and Logan tense. She patted their hands and shook her head slightly.

"You gave up. You stopped fighting. You stayed in your little hidey-hole like a scared little mouse. You aren't worthy of the name Wolverine. Now, why don't you take your attitude and run on back home. I'd say to your girlfriend, but I pity her."

"Oh, and I'd suggest not pissing off my family anymore. Every one of us could kick your ass."

From behind them she heard Paul comment, "I think his head's going to explode."

Madeline swallowed the laugh that wanted to come out. Damn, that hurt.

I hear my Sister's words and I hear this coward's lame excuse.

"I know all about the Registration Act, coward. I had to register with the Federal government, like a common criminal. I saw good, honest, decent people locked into ghettos simply because they were different. I saw parents who abandoned newborn babies and teens at the gates of the ghetto."

I hear his claws snikt when I name him coward; I hear the difference in sound they make compared to my Brother's claws. They sound like Em's bone claws. I file that away for the moment.

"It was ugly. It was wrong. But in my world, people didn't run and hide from evil. People in my world — Mutants and Normals, young and old — stood up against the evil. Some of us fought it directly and others subversively... but we didn't hide like frightened rats in the dark." I step closer, almost nose-to-nose with him. I'm less afraid of him than I ever could have possibly been afraid of Logan. "I am Ninja. I fought in the shadows to ensure the safety of everyone in my adopted home of the Denver metroplex. My friend Peregrine worked more openly. My husband Peacekeeper was attached to the Denver Police Department, which was appropriate because in his day job he was the city's top homicide detective.

"When the agents of evil kidnapped two of my people and killed a third — an innocent, beloved and through no fault of her own mutated woman — a near stranger helped me eradicate almost the entire Denver chapter of the Aryan Knighthood. Why? Because I was not going to give up on my people, and because she believed that evil could not be allowed to thrive.

"In the process of helping me, her Mate was kidnapped — AGAIN — by one William Stryker. I'm sure you've heard of him. We walked into the serpent's den, rescued eight children who were being tortured by Stryker's scientists, rescued Logan, and laid waste to the whole place, killing Stryker and every one of his toadies.

"And then I spoke with the spirits of the NINETY-TWO children Stryker had kidnapped or bought in the previous ten years and subsequently killed. Then we recorded — by hand — the last messages of these children to their families. And then..." I hiss angrily, "and then I personally delivered the last message of one little boy to his family who lived in my town."

My eyes are bright lights now, golden glowing orbs that — I've been told — are damn scary. Most people back off fast when they see Ninja's righteous anger. I tilt my head, listening to the surface thoughts of those around me, then smile the smile of the Avenging Angel.

"So don't whine about how hard your life is, you little coward. You might be Elder, but I say before the Spirits that you have relinquished your right to respect.

"Go home, Jimmy. The smallest of these children have more courage than you. You're a waste of oxygen. You are a disgrace to the human race. You are a blight on the face of this or any other planet. And you are most assuredly not the kind of person who is welcome in the Navajo Nation of my world. And I suspect you are even less welcome here, although you have been tolerated because you traveled with a Daughter of the People.

"You are a coward. Go back to your fellow rats, and live in the squalor you deserve."

That pushes a button, his big red button apparently. I feel those claws ram into my side, and holy fuck does it hurt! But all he's done is screw up my intestines; he doesn't even snag any of the internal organs.

I'm fine, I tell Maddie. Okay, it hurts a little, but I've had worse. Your asshole here needs some learnin' and I'm gonna teach him.

Her Sister started reading Jimmy the riot act, pushing his buttons in five minutes more than Madeline did in the whole three weeks. She might have been holding back on account of the children. They and getting to the Navajo Nation had been her top priorities. If Andi was wanting to school him, that was her choice, until...

It was the claws sliding out that caught her attention. Logan and Em both did that when they got a bit too riled. It was when he decided to strike.

"Gods damn it, Andi," she huffed and stiffened in Logan's arms. "Hurts a little, my ass."

Logan growled low in his chest, and it was echoed by Em. That was a really bad move on Jimmy's part. Unarmed, every single one of her family could take him out. Fact was though, they were all armed to the teeth, even her Mate and daughter with their built in weapons had more than just those on them.

Andi, of course, pressed the issue and another button.

I don't think he's the least bit prepared for how fast I can move. Logan pushes me to my limits, and then makes me stretch them. I'm faster now than I was a hundred years ago; not as fast as Logan and Em, no. But as fast as this lazy bastard, I'm willing to bet. I have a hand at his throat before his knuckles make contact with my clothing. That's the only drawback to this outfit... it will stop high-velocity projectiles, even something as slow moving as an arrow or thrown knife, but up close like this? Knife attacks are slow enough to get through, and his claws count as a knife attack. Of course, normally an adversary would never get this close to me. The good news is that some brainiac about seventy-five years ago figured out how to make these fancy antiballistic materials self-repairing.

"That hurts, Jimmy. But you know what? You're a shitty soldier, too. You just did that to annoy me; you didn't go for the kill. I went for the kill." And indeed I did, though I merely press my fingers and thumb against his jugular veins with just enough force to let him know I mean business.

"Here's the thing, Jimmy. You can't kill me, not permanently anyway. But I know how to kill you so you don't get back up again. So how about you stop annoying me, and I won't kill you dead enough that your poor girlfriend has to find herself a real man."

"Fuck you, bitch," he says, twisting his claws so a few more loops of intestine are sliced.

I squeeze my hand around his throat, drawing a small amount of blood with my fingernails.

"You don't understand, do you, Jimmy? I can rip your trachea from your neck, start you bleeding out and draw my sword so fast you won't realize you're dead until your soul sees your headless body lying on the ground. I'm fast, and I'm fucking good at what I do. You can't grow yourself a new head, Jimmy, and you sure as hell can't reattach it if I've tossed it in the Colorado River."

I dig in a bit deeper with my fingers and bring my face a little closer to his... close enough that someone might wonder if the flames in my eyes might actually burn if they leaped out.

"I've sparred with my Brother enough times to know I can kick your ass from here to next week. So, get your fucking claws out of my side, asshole," I practically growl.

"To hear him tell it, Andi, he's got reason enough to be a tad annoyed," Ryan says. "I guess he and your sister didn't quite hit it off."

"Well, of course not, Chief. Neither of us suffers fools gladly, and neither of us has the time for cowards."

I put just a little more pressure on Jimmy's neck. He's probably got another sixty to ninety seconds now before his brain realizes its blood flow has been compromised. And then it will send a message to the rest of the body to shut down temporarily in order to slow the current rush of blood in the carotids. If the self-preservation mode of the brain doesn't cause Jimmy to pass out... well, as my son said, his head could explode. Okay, not really his whole head... just the brain.

Jimmy seems to realize what his brain is about to do and retracts his claws. Gosh, too bad.

I release my hold on his neck and step back, feeling my intestines healing and hearing the odd zzzzp, zzzzp, zzzzp sound of the fabric repairing itself. Most people can't hear it. Logan's admitted he can; Em says it's too weird and gives her the willies. I really don't care for the internal itching.

Madeline gritted her teeth and growled herself. Sister... she breathed a sigh of relief when the pain subsided and stopped echoing to her.

Despite their continuing embarrassment, Vin and Maria were well aware of the possibilities where Andi is concerned. Madeline can just sense Vin's preparation to nail Jimmy with a psychic blast should he need to disable him.

"Chief, might I impose on you and your department to escort this man back to wherever he came from?" I ask the local LEO with my nicest, most polite Andrea tone.

"Oh, it's no imposition. If he's no longer covered by Madeline's travel pass, it's my job to see him to the nearest border exit."

"He came with us from our house!" a small voice said.

I turn to see one of my — no, my mirror's — youngest cousins. "Jeffrey, how are you today?"

"You know me?" he asks, eyes wide with surprise.

I turn my back to Jimmy and take a step closer to the dozens of people gathered at Ha'atathli Andrea's house. Yes, of course, it's another insult. Well, unless he's not clever enough to realize the action indicates I don't believe him to be a threat to me. I'm fairly certain he's far too much of a coward to try anything with all these people around, and if he does... well, my family surrounds me and they've got my back. I'd be hard pressed to say whether a knife thrown by Maria or the combined force of the Elders in my family would tag him first. My daughter might be thoroughly messed up in her head with this business between her and Vin, but her fighting reflexes are instinctive at this point.

I almost... almost wish I could find out. But there are too many children here. That's not something they need to see.

Logan growls again when Andi turns her back on Jimmy. This time though it is deeper and carries a warning. He won't let anyone hurt his Sister or his Mate and get away with it. As it is, if Jimmy tries to strike, they may all just have to take turns pounding sense into him. That reminded her of something.

Vin?

Mom?

You and I need to talk after you and Maria get your shit straightened out.

Was it something I did?

Not yet.

Huh?

I'll explain later.

All right.

Ryan heads for his car — adorably stopping to hug Andrea — presumably to radio the station house. Andrea keeps her eyes on Jimmy, as does Paul. Logan, Maddie, and Em just have their attention focused on him.

"Well, sure. I'm from a place that's sort of like this, and all of you — well, your exact twins — live there too."

"Wow. Can we go visit them?!"

I shake my head and crouch down to his level. "No, it's really hard. It was easy for Em and Vin and Maria and Paul because they don't have twins here. And it wasn't so hard for Madeline either because she doesn't have a twin. Well, except then she fell and hurt herself when she came through the doorway. But for me, and for my Brother?" I point to Logan. "It was really, really, really hard to get through the doorway and kind of hurt a little because our twins are here."

Well, that's my working theory, anyway, I tell Maddie and Logan.

"Oh. Well, that's okay, then. I fell down and scraped my knee the other day and that hurt. Does my new friend Mesa live in your place, too? She just mostly speaks Spanish, but I taught her how to say Yá'át'ééh. And her brother Tomas is listening to my sister." He points across the yard to the other Elder child who is, indeed, listening to Becky.

I smile at the youngster. He and his twin in my world are just as sweet and just as talkative.

"She and her brother have been a true blessing," said one of the men nearby. "Jeffrey has been so quiet and shy all his life. It's nice to see him coming out of his shell."

I look up at the man. "Really? He and Joanie are little chatterboxes, just like this." I look more closely at Jeffrey, and then look at Maria over my shoulder with a worried expression. At least she and Vin are standing with their arms around one another's waists, although still looking a little embarrassed.

Joanie's one of the missing?

She nods.

Damn. How is that even possible? I have a feeling I don't want to know exactly who's missing because I'm afraid half of my favorite cousins won't be here. But for a twin to be missing? That's beyond bizarre. I turn back to Jeffrey; I can see how happy he is... just like he is back home. And since that seems to be a new development, I take a look at Mesa.

I might be grinning like a silly fool; I know I practically giggle.

"No, Mesa doesn't exactly live in my place. But she has a beautiful heart just like someone who lives in my place."

Joan?? Maria asks.

Yeah, exactly the same qi signature. What the heck could have happened?

I haven't a clue, Mom. This girl doesn't feel related. Well, not exactly.

"Well, that's sort of the same, then," Jeffrey said. "Is Chief Ryan going to take the growly man back to our house?"

I shake my head. "Nope, the grumpy, growly man has to leave and go back to the White Man's nation.

Finally, Jimmy stalked off. He was watched by six pairs of eyes. Andi was too busy with the little ones to bother, although she undoubtedly noticed. There was a charming chuff of laughter from Chief Benally.

"Andrea, Ryan, allow me to introduce all of you properly if not formally to my family... even though I'm sure you've made some educated guesses. This handsome guy here is my Mate Logan. This is our daughter Emelia, but we all call her Em. The boy behind us is Andi's son Paul, and the two over there trying to figure out things are our son Vincent and Andi's daughter Maria."

"Family, they are Andrea and Ryan."

"You two can scoot now, by the way," she told the young couple.

Vin knew better than to argue with his mom and her Aunt Lin. "Yeah, okay, nice to meet you," they managed before heading inside and none too soon either.

"I'm glad," Jeffrey whispers. "It's not nice to say mean things about people, but he's scary and not nice. He tried to hurt you. And he was mean to Madeline." He grins broadly. "I like Madeline. She's nice. She told us stories about her sister's cousin-twin that were really funny."

"I'll bet they were. My cousin-twin was a total goofball and one of the silliest people I've ever, ever met! And he was always my Sister's favorite."

"YOU'RE Madeline's sister??! But I thought you were Ha'atathli Andrea's sister."

I laugh. "Jeffrey, it's so confusing and complicated, even most of us grownups don't have it figured out yet."

"Oh, then I'm still too little, but that's okay. Are you here for Kaitlin's Kinaaldá?"

I manage not to show my surprise. In our universe, Kaitlin's Kinaaldá was several months ago. "Well, I guess I am. That's pretty important, and if today is her Singing ceremony, I sure won't miss it for anything!"

"Is it okay if we sit by you for the Singing?"

"Wow, Jeff, there are going to be lots of people here. Maybe we should wait and see who's going to be here, and what ideas Kaitlin and Ha'atathli Andrea have, okay?"

"Okay."

I give him a hug, just as I would my own little cousin. "I'm very glad you and Mesa found each other again," I whisper softly.

"We almost didn't," he whispered even more softly. "It was scary."

I kiss his forehead and kneel so I'm at eye level with the taller girl. She throws her arms around my neck and I wrap her in a hug.

I was afraid I would die, but Madeline saved us, me and Tomas. I did not know where my Geofredo was, but she brought me right to him. I think I chose wrong because I do not know how to be this kind of person. Tomas understands; I do not.

It's okay, sweetie. Talk to Emelia, yes? She will help as much as she can while we are here. And maybe Paul, too, hmm? He understands that sometimes choosing wrong just happens.

I hold her then at arm's length and smile. "Eres una muchacha muy valiente, Mesa," I say.

"Uncle Bill, Uncle Bill! Can Shiye take us to see the horses?"

The man who spoke earlier laughed. "As long as you don't run him or Diane over, it's fine by me. You might want to ask your Mom and Dad, though."

"Come on, Mesa," Jeffrey says, taking the girl's hand.

I jump up and watch after them for a moment, smiling, before turning to Bill. "Bill, huh? Married to Marjorie, a son and a daughter?"

"Yep, that's me. We all have twins in your world, I take it?"

"Yeah, except your twin's name is Rafe and his son's name is Larry. Dare I ask what number Bill you are?"

He laughs again. He has that in common with his twin, at least. Rafe is one of the most cheerful and optimistic people in the family. "I'm the eighth, Shiye's the ninth. I tried talking Marj out of naming Shiye William, but you Sage Brush Hill clan women are damned stubborn."

I chuckle. "That we are. But if you had the perspective I do, it's Diné women in general. In my world, there's a friendly debate over who's more stubborn... Diné women or Irish women. The jury's still out on that one. And all three of the Williams I knew — Papa Bill, Uncle Junior, and cousin Billy — said to stop the madness. Billy even threatened to find a way to come back to haunt anyone who named their son William Jefferson Yazzie with a number after it." I smile softly as I recall my youngest cousin. The only one of them who lived longer was Tommy, but he was a Shaman so a hundred and twenty wasn't — still isn't — terribly unusual. Justin had died two years before Billy; those were a bad couple of years for me. "He and Jen named their son Mark."

"Wow, I'm sorry... you know, I'm not sure what we should call you."

"Oh, Andi is just fine."

He nods. "In this world, William the third never even married. He was fairly young when he died, I believe. You'd have to ask the Ha'atathli, I suppose. You wouldn't mind sharing what our names might have been if our ancestors hadn't been a bunch of nuts, would you?"

I smile at him and shake my head. "Rafe has the same sense of humor, you know. So aside from the name change, I'd believe you were the same person. Tell me their wives names... that's the only way I can keep track of who's who."

"Well, let's see... William the fourth married Theresa Ravenclaw, I believe."

"Oh, my nephew Walter, sure!"

"Walter?"

I shrug. "It was Nicole's father's name. Walter Nelson was their oldest, their daughter was Sandra Denise... both named after the grandparents. His youngest was Charles Andrew... Charlie was Justin's cousin-twin, and Andrew is the masculine of Andrea." I shake my head again. "Surprised me, it did, having him name his little one after me. The boy turned out to be a hell of a Shaman, too."

"Huh. Well, in this world, the Ha'atathli's brother only had the one child. Anyway, William the fifth was married to Sandra Gilmore."

"Ah, Angela and Gabriella's youngest, David. Darn, there was a happy family if I ever met one."

"Maybe I should stop telling you about the differences. That one is depressing."

"Yeah, I'm weirded out enough already that ninety percent of my relatives are missing."

"NINETY?!"

"Slightly more than, according to my daughter, yes."

"Wow. That's... that's unthinkable."

"Hence my desire not to think about it."

"Right. Well, William the sixth, my great uncle, is still going strong... ish... at ninety-three, and is married to Yanaba Wauneka."

I laugh. "If your great uncle, who's Nelson in my world, by the way, is going strong in the same way Nelson is in my world, he's a cantankerous old coot."

Bill laughs. "Yep, that sounds just like Uncle Hasta. My dad is married to Catherine Wartz. They should be here soon; they just live up in Chinle."

"Oh, Cathy is such a sweetheart! And your dad's twin is a William in my world, but it's William Terrence."

"Well, I'm glad at least some things are the same across the worlds... my mother is a fantastic woman."

Another wagon and a cart are coming up the driveway. "I'm going to step aside and let the rest of you greet your family. I think if I hide in the huddle of my family, fewer people will be confused. At least for a little while."

Bill chuckles. "Oh, trust me. At first glance, no one is going to mistake you for the Ha'atathli. I don't know if she's ever braided her hair in her life — legend says she hasn't — and circumstances need to be pretty dire for her to put shoes on."

I grin. "I only wear the braids when I'm working... we didn't know what we were walking into, and this is how I dress when I'm fighting crime back home. It was nice chatting with you, Bill. I'm kind of jazzed about meeting the rest of the kinfolk." I look over at one of the couples unharnessing their horse. "Ah, your folks... I'd recognize Cathy anywhere. I have a desperate need to crush my sister now." I give his shoulder a squeeze, and turn toward Maddie. Well, sprint toward Maddie.

"Em Em Em, move move move!" I get my arms around Maddie and just hold her... taking in her scent just as Logan and Em had. It's possible my eyes are getting damp; with my face buried in her neck, I can neither confirm nor deny those rumors.

Oh, Maddie... it hurt so so so much when you disappeared. And I had to be really mean to Logan, and now he's going to kick my ass, but I deserve it because I was so mean, but I had to be and gods damn it, Maddie, don't scare me like that ever again!

Em moved out of the way and took up a spot beside Paul. She was much more relaxed now than she had been since they had picked her up at Lookout Telescope. She did, however, keep an eye on that guy who kind of looked like her dad.

"Who do you think is going to Gibbs smack Vin and Maria? My mom or yours," she asked him.

"My mom already did."

"Right. I meant the next one."

"Of course you did. I don't know. I think the odds are pretty even, although I could see both of them doing it at the same time."

"Yeah," she agreed. "That's the most likely."

They chuckled, then Paul put in, "Glad it isn't us."

"Me too."

Madeline snagged an arm around Andi and pulled her in close. The Pentad was still missing two members, but the three who were always corporal were here, and that helped tremendously. She inhaled the sweet smell of sage that was her sister and smiled. Yes, they would need to take themselves off later to talk amongst themselves and other things.

You had to be mean to Logan? Is that why he's not wearing a shirt? Not that I mind, of course. And I never want that to happen again either. Bad enough being separated from you, but to have to deal with that person...

I promise I was only mean to Logan because he was trying to go all Feral, Maddie! And he wasn't healing... well, hardly at all, anyway. And if he did that, he'd go crawl off and try to hide under a bush somewhere, and how was Maria supposed heal him if she couldn't see him, right? But I was mean. I'm pretty sure I'd have enjoyed being stronger than him for the one and only time ever if I hadn't been so worried about him.

And the shirt's not my fault. It got shredded when he was injured. When I pointed out that it had been attacked by hedge clippers, he just ripped the tatters off. I asked him to put a shirt on, I really did. He's way too distracting all half naked like this.

You were doing what you had to then. And why wasn't he healing? What bit of information are you leaving out, Sister?? And just what do you mean by shredded when he was injured??

I'm sure you did ask him, but he can have quite a one track mind sometimes. Certainly you know that, after all these years.

Damn, I'm sorry, Maddie. I didn't mean to leave that bit out. It just didn't seem important compared to finding you and everything going on here.

When you got knocked off the cliff, Logan... well, either got knocked off the cliff, too, or dove after you because that's just the kind of guy he is, all thoughtful and caring. Though what he thought he could do except get you both smashed at the bottom waiting to heal up is beyond me.

I went after her when she disappeared and her call was cut off, Logan interjected.

Madeline smiled. He probably could have caught us and allowed for a less than impactful landing.

I shake my head and shrug. It would have been a sure way to get me to come running. I hate when you guys die. I look back at Maddie. He got hit with some kind of weapon, and here I'm only speculating, but it seems like it was fired from the other side of the portal. Based on the damage I saw on my beloved Brother, I'd have sworn it was a wickedly sharp knife or possibly a sword. But it had to have been some kind of energy weapon if it came through the portal.

I furrow my brow. The weird thing that makes no sense at all is that it was laced with poison. I'm not talking your general run of the mill, kill you really dead poison either. We can all shrug that that sort of thing off fairly easily. This looked like was designed specifically for Logan for the express purpose of stopping his healing factor. I'm going to guess again, but probably to keep him from following you... like, ever. Maddie, based on what I read in Hank's reports after we cleaned out Stryker's lair, I don't even think Stryker could have created something like that.

She listened to the description of what had attacked her Mate and shook her head. It doesn't sound like anything that could have originated here. I'm fairly sure the portal didn't though it isn't something I can say with certainty. I haven't seen what the upper echelons are like, and that might be something we'll need to check out.

No, I don't think it came from here. Let's just say highly unlikely, based on what you and Logan have described. I understand qi; Billie understands physics. I want to see if my weird ideas make sense to her.

Highly doubtful.

Yeah, I know, but if Paul can translate some of the meta, I think Vin can pick up most of the physics to at least give her a rough idea.

You know, when we peeked in on you through the look-see portal just before coming here, it was pretty obvious that Jimmy creep was a dead man walking. Why the hell didn't you leave him in the dust somewhere? Damn good thing the Chief's going to get him out of here, because I don't think he'd live long if he stuck around. What an ass.

Well, technically, it was his truck, not that I'm above stealing when the need arises. Well, not when you looked, but that's what got us to Bernalillo. Been trying to get the SOB to walk on his own, but he's like a dog with a bone. Apparently he made some kind of promise to see me to my destination... and I don't think it was getting me to New Mexico. There was something more, but he was keeping it under his hat. If I had to guess, I think Charles here wanted to know about the portals. He and Eric seemed mightily interested when I mentioned them.

ERIC??! Oh, fuck no! Don't tell me that asshole is still around. I'd just as soon kill the bastard as look at him. I take a moment to calm myself. If this universe's version of Logan is a cowardly jerk... if this universe's version of Charles is afraid and hiding from the world... well, it's just barely possible this universe's version of Eric could be a decent, helpful sort of guy. Yeah... now why don't I believe that?

I sigh. And this Charles' interest in the portals doesn't exactly surprise me. I know I sat and talked with our Charles quite a number of times about them. But given differences in our world and this one, I'm not sure I'd trust this world's Charles to have the mere academic fascination with them that our Charles had. But...

This isn't anything Maddie doesn't know, and it's certainly something that got Billie plenty worked up...

...being interested in portals and playing around with opening them are vastly different things. Maddie, if you think the Charles and Eric of this world are in the latter camp, we need to get out to New York and stop them. They could destroy this world more quickly than the Shadow would. The kids brought Billie Trammel with them to Everness, and even she's a little more gung ho about them than I'd like. But I've got some theories I'd be willing to share with her about them when we get back. But there's a reason the ability to open portals is so rare. It's a fracking dangerous thing.

As for this Charles' interest, I couldn't speak to it. I didn't really stick around for a long chat. I was out of there within minutes of waking, once I realized I wasn't where I was supposed to be. Don't know what all is different, but the main thing I noticed is that Charles here has no need of a chair.

And Billie's interest is primarily academic. She's out at the station near Epsilon at my behest. She's keeping an eye on the military applications and use of the Conduits. Vin only thinks she's his informant. You also don't need to convince me of the danger they pose. Already been through more of them than I care to.

As always, I find your deviousness highly amusing, dear Sister.

Well, then here's something you'll find entertaining... even though the family's a lot smaller here, the Nation's a whole heck of a lot larger. All the Nations are. They've been taking the land back from the interlopers and giving safe harbor to the oppressed.

Just, that damn Shadow has a hell of a lot of influence in this world...

I lift my head to look my Sister in the eyes.

"Well, Vin did say you had that look in your eyes that means you have a mission to right a wrong. It sounds like there's a whole lot of wrong. Is there a significant nest we can clean out so the people of this world can take over the mopping up? Is there even anyone around to do any mopping up? If that one and this world's version of Charles are hiding rather than doing anything, I'm going to guess most of the world has already gone to hell in a hand basket."

I sigh. "We can't fix their whole world, Maddie. But if you think we can take out a large chunk of Bad, I'm game."

"There is a whole hell of a lot wrong here. Imagine what our world would have been like if Stryker had succeeded all those years ago, and I don't mean when you and I faced him, but when Rene died. If we hadn't been successful in getting Charles out… Hell, if I hadn't chosen to sleep with Logan before we went in, I wouldn't even be here.

"From what I've seen… you know me, Sister. You know there are things I cannot walk away from. If there are any more out there like Tomas and Mesa… The world beyond absolutely deserves Mad Messijer."

She ducked her head against Logan's chest again and chased away the memory of the night that she had found them. It wasn't time yet to share that. She had no doubt what their reactions would be.

"Damn it, Maddie, you sure know how to suck me in, don't you?" I know my voice is gentle and loving. Because Maddie does have a way of convincing me to go off and do almost any crazy thing. It could be beating back the Darkness that threatens the existence of world that isn't even ours. Or it could be that deliciously pleasant time she convinced me to just drop everything and spend a week in Suriname with her. And with Maddie, it could be anything between the extremes... and you'll never know what's coming next. Life with Maddie has NOT been boring.

"According to our Husbands, I have been a bad influence on you," she answered with a grin of her own.

"Well, our Husbands have, on occasion, been right about things," I say with a chuckle.

"Right in this instance, I'm very glad they aren't here to hear you say that. They'd never let us live it down."

I chuckle. "Oh, I think I've admitted to Pablo once or twice since 2012 that he might be right about something. And I can admit you've corrupted me in one tiny area without admitting you're the overarching corruption in my life." I grin at Maddie. "Pablo never did understand Ninja — never actually met me in that guise, actually. So when I integrated my two personalities in the process of reforging our Bond, it was close enough to the day we met that he's always been certain you corrupted me." I shake my head and shrug. "No amount of insistence that Ninja has always been this way was going to convince him."

"Foolish boy," she chuckled.

"But loveable," I agree.

"You know, if this Charles is walking, either medical science progressed awfully far in this world — highly doubtful — or that little disagreement he and Eric had when he got injured never happened here. You know how I'm going to wonder about all sorts of, you know, Andi things." I grin again and hug Maddie. "And before you say it... yes, I know. I get worse every decade."

"Well, I've heard that admitting you have a problem is the first step to dumping it.

"As for how those two are still about, we'd have to ask them. No guarantee for a straight answer though. One other bit... although I pretty much flat out told this Charles he was welcome to talk to me on my journey, he didn't. Not once, though I'm fairly sure he was keeping tabs on my progress."

"I'm not sure that was the point of those programs, but..." I shrug. "That's really interesting, though, about Charles in this world. I'm beginning to not only distrust the lot of them, but actively dislike them."

She shook her head in a confounded manner. "I don't know. Perhaps it was a lack of trust. This one did seem a bit more skittish than ours. Maybe Eric's paranoia rubbed off on him."

I sigh. "If this Eric has been somewhat less of a douche and kept closer to this Charles over the years..." I shrug. "Well, anything's possible, I suppose. It's not something I can imagine very well, but I'll grant that's only because our Charles wouldn't succumb to paranoia like that. Still, I see how twisted this world's version of Logan is." I glance at the individual in question. "He doesn't have the most fucked up aura I've seen, but... damn."

Madeline could only offer another shrug. "Eric seemed different too, but like I said, I didn't stick around to find out. No idea what the girlfriend is like either. I'm just hoping it isn't anyone I know or knew, as the case may be."

I look at the part of Logan's bare chest and shoulders and arms that I can see and grin at him. "Good thing I tucked one of your shirts in my bag when I changed clothes, isn't it? You're really distracting. And you really shouldn't be quite this distracting without Rene's influence. Interesting... maybe it's because Pablo isn't around to balance things out."

Looking back at Maddie, I slide a hand to her side at the point I had been stabbed. "Sorry about that. I guess I thought our shields would have held up better." I frown, concerned. "We should take a look at that later." I sigh. "And you know how hard Elders are read. I thought I'd have to get to the point of insulting his manhood before he'd flip out. I got the impression that comparing his girlfriend to a rat was what made him snap. What a weird guy! Pablo used to just laugh when people talked smack about his family. Guess Jimmy's a little insecure." I shrug. "Anyway... sorry. I'll make it up to you later," I say, smiling suggestively.

Behind Maddie, my son rolls his eyes.

"You have something to add to the conversation, young man?"

"Nope, absolutely not, Mom! I think maybe Em and I will wander around and see if we can help out with anything until Maria and Vin get their act together. Or until the party starts... whichever comes first." He glances at Jimmy. We'll keep an eye on that one, Mom. Don't worry.

I look at him for a moment, then just shake my head before looking at Em. "Jeffrey's new friend seems to have found herself in a bit of a karmic mess. Her qi signature is the same as our Jeffrey's twin; I don't think she meant to live this life as a Feral and she's having a hard time of it. If you could just chat with her a bit — not now, of course, too much is going on — I think she'd feel better. It helps that she found Jeff, but she's still pretty disoriented even after all this time."

I shake my head and look at my son again. "You know, you and your sister made talk like that seem normal. When I was Mesa's age, the base doctors probably would have had me in therapy and on medication if I talked like that. Thank the Gods, Buddhas and Spirits most children don't torture their mothers that way."

He shrugs and grins at me. "We told you, Mom... we were so excited, we couldn't help it."

"Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Go wander." I sigh. "Oh, Rafe's name is Bill in this universe... the eighth. Larry is the ninth, and his nickname is Shiye."

"Wow, Cousin Billy didn't pitch a fit? Or didn't he subscribe to the theory in this universe?"

"Well, he didn't perpetuate it," I say. "Bill says he died young and never had children, which accounts for probably fifty of the people Maria noticed missing. My twin's brother only had the one child, so all of Sandy's descendants are missing, too." I shrug. "Seems like a lot of people didn't have children, or as many as they did in our universe."

Paul nudges Em with his shoulder. "Come on, Em. Let's go be popular. Without your brilliant brother and my stunning sister outshining us, maybe we can make some new friends!"

Em cocks her head at him and stares.

"Oh, don't look at me in that tone. Think of it as a reconnaissance. And we can still keep an eye on Jimmy McCreepster. You move like lightning and there are at least half a dozen birds of prey I can call to dive bomb him." He rests his head on her shoulder and then twists so he's pretty much standing with his back to her and looking at her upside down. "Oh, pweeeeeeeeeze, Emmie!" I know Paul loves Em as much, and in the same way, as he loves his sister. The boy loves to tease them both, though. This is one of those things he'd done when he was a toddler through preteen, one of the things that tended to drive his cousin crazy.

She jabs him in the side.

Apparently it still drives her crazy.

"Oh good gods, fine! I don't know how people can stand to spend months around you."

Paul grins, straightens up and drapes an arm over her shoulder. "They can't. Why do you think I travel so much?"

Em rolls her eyes and looks at me. "I'm sorry, Aunt Andi, but both of your kids are nuts."

I chuff out a laugh of sorts. "Yeah, tell me something I don't know," I say as Paul grabs my niece's hand and tries to pull her toward the gathering family. "You should probably just run along before he regresses to the level of an eight year old."

I lean my forehead against my Sister's as they wander off. "Now you see why I hide in Ganado most of the time, and jump at every opportunity to go on walkabout with you and Logan."

The conversation with Paul and Em covered for her lapse into quiet. She was happy to be in the arms of her family. There was to be a celebration tonight. Tonight was for family and laughter and happiness. There would be time enough for the ugliness of this world tomorrow.

She grinned at Andi's admission of essentially hiding from children. "Really? That's all it is? Not our scintillating and intoxicating company?"

She did let the memory of their last night together surface. Of course for them, it was just last night but for her, three weeks had passed. Logan didn't need the ability to collect memories to know precisely what was on her mind. He bent down and pressed his lips to hers with a promise of more to come.

"Keep that up, darlin', and we'll have to make ourselves scarce before we give the children an education."

"And you bloody well know it's more than your scintillating conversation that keeps me coming on walkabouts with you..." My grin is highly suggestive. "...although your intoxicating company does come close to the heart of the matter.

"I think your family is lovely," Chief Ryan says as he returns from his vehicle. "And really not much more eccentric than some of the folks in Andrea's family."

I look at him... his smile is almost more charming than Pablo's... and I can't stop myself from smiling back. "Ah, but you haven't lived with my hellions for over a hundred and fifty years, Chief. Though I'll have to admit, they're gotten worse since their father died." I pause to considered that, and then look at Maddie.

"You know... I think that's when this nonsense between Maria and Vin started getting serious enough to land them where they are today." I shake my head. "Up until then, she'd been the more sensible of my two." And I sigh dramatically. "Em's right. They're both nuts."

Ryan laughed. "If it's any consolation, and given how old they are it probably isn't, but there are a lot of parents who think their kids are boneheads. They generally get over it... both the parents and the kids. Eventually." He grins broadly. "Of course, your 'eventually' might be a bit further away than most people's."

"You're not exactly the reassuring type, are you, Chief?" I return his grin as I turn to face him, keeping an arm around Maddie's waist. "So you've arranged to get rid of our little problem over there?" I ask, nodding at Jimmy. The jerk was skulking about at the edge of the yard between the house and Ryan's SUV.

He nods. "One of my officers is going to give him a lift down to the border station on US-180/191 just south of Springerville. She ought to be here in about fifteen or twenty minutes."

I raise an eyebrow, try to resist smiling the wickedly scary Ninja smile as I glance at Jimmy, then chuckle. "Maddie tells me the Dinébah has expanded considerably. Little Jimmy's home base is back east. That's going to make it interesting for him to get back to his rathole."

"Indeed it has! We don't have to call our Nation Dinébah anymore... haven't for a long time. It's Naabeehó Bináhásdzo."

"You've reclaimed all the lands taken from us? The Sacred Mountains watch over the People again?" Wow, who knew something like that would make me want to tear up.

"All that was ours, and then some thanks to treaties with our cousins, particularly the Hopi, Zuni, and Apache... though there is still the mixed Diné-Kiis'áanii land near Flagstaff."

"All is peaceful there, I hope. There had been many disputes before I was born, quite a few — or so I read — while I live with the Nááts'ózí. Every now and again there will still be a flare up."

Ryan shakes his head and smiles. "Hózhó reigns."

"Wow. Well, that's one thing you've got that we don't. Congratulations."

I look over at Jimmy and frown. The jerk might be a coward, but he's still more dangerous than most individuals. "Your officer can deal with someone like that?"

Ryan looks over his shoulder at Jimmy, staring him down for a moment before turning back to us. "Tori is one of the few with a substantial Curse living in the Nation. She's Naalání but has been living down here with the Diné for quite a while." He looks at each of us in turn, and then glances at Paul and Em, before glancing over at his wife who was greeting another group of relatives. "Quite a long while, if you take my meaning. She's also got a trick or two up her sleeve," he says, staring pointedly at Logan's hand.

I raise an eyebrow. "Fascinating. Well, I'm sure Jimmy won't give her any problems then."

Either there are a lot more Ferals in this world or they're far less interested in hiding, I say to Maddie and Logan. It makes me worry about the rest of the world, though, finding them this far south. The Spirits in our universe seemed to imply your people were few, Logan, and preferred the Canadian wilderness to the deserts of the Southwest.

Also... Cursed and not Elder? That's an interesting turn of events... almost as if they've always been part of the First People and not a Legend whispered by grandmothers.

"How many Cursed are there among the Nations? Maddie's got..." I glance at my sister. "...well, maybe not a plan yet, but an idea to right some wrongs. I'm wondering if there is anyone left in this world able and willing to assist. Or if not to assist, at least pick up where we leave off since we do need to get back home eventually."

Ryan looked over at Andrea and waved her over. "Andrea's going to know more about that, obviously."

Logan shrugged at Andi's comment on his people. It was not something he worried about, and it was unlikely that he had before. He amused himself by sniffing at Madeline's hair. She wore a half-grin as she replied.

Perhaps evolution has a taken a different turn here. The mutants most capable of surviving would be the Ferals. They can live off the land where others find it considerably more difficult. They, like the world's non-human creatures, have experienced great loss of habitat. Most can't function among people like Logan can and Hank could. And, here, Hank despite his amazing intellect would have been prudent to stay out of sight.

"You know how I feel about plans, Andi."

I hug Maddie and grin. "Plans are nice! And you know I've gotten much better over the years. It would be nice to know where we're going, but I'd like to think you've corrupted me into going with the flow a whole lot more readily than when we first met."

"That's good, 'cause you know that's about all the planning I ever do. Here's the general idea and the rest we make up as we go."

Ryan chuckles. "I could name quite a few people who'd come down on Andi's side when it comes to plans. You live with a Shaman long enough and you tend to wing it a lot more often."

Ryan looks from one woman to the other. "Are you sure that's something you folks want to do, though? This isn't your world, although I'm sure there would be a lot of grateful people if you could make some kind of difference. At this point, we're just trying to keep the Darkness out of the Nations. At best, I suspect that's all we'll ever be able to do."

"But eventually the Darkness is going to start taking pieces of the Nations, Ryan. I hate that thought." I watch my twin weave among the children who all want to hug her and say a few words to her. I can't help smiling. I love the family gatherings and all the children... and there are considerably more at our family gatherings. I'm always delighted when I can go home again, though. Or when they go back to their homes if they're all decided the gathering should be at the Warrior's house. I love them... but they're all most lovable when they're not around all the time.

Madeline looked over at Ryan Benally, speaking to his question about them wanting to do something.

"It isn't a matter of want, Chief. It'd be no different than traveling through a country that wasn't not my own and not helping where I could. It isn't something I'm capable of, not even when I was at my worst. And, trust me, I'd make Mr. Sunshine over there look a walk in the park at my worst."

"I can understand Logan's double being here and mine. Who knows how long Logan's life is expected to be? But I'm only a hundred and eighty-five... I'd be looking at another two or three hundred years even without the gift you shared with me. It does make me wonder about Charles and Eric... and who else might still be around." I sigh. "Well, I suppose it doesn't matter. If they were able to do anything, they would have." I glance over at Jimmy again. "Well, maybe. And if this world needs Mad Messijer... do you think it would settle for part of the Wolf Pack and a few X-Men. Can we do that instead? I like Black Wolf just a teensy bit more than Mad Messijer. Wolf is less messy."

Ryan looks at me and then at Maddie. "X-Men? Andrea's got stories about them from when she was young. They still exist in your world?" He smiles sadly. "We could sure use them in our world. As far as Andrea recalls, they were all killed generations ago."

Andrea laughs and manages to hug every child as she makes her way across the yard. And for the first time in more than a hundred years, I recall the parades of children who'd follow along the streets of Commerce City from the main gate to the administrative building whenever I went up there for a visit. It was good to see the children grow up to be good, courageous and, eventually, free adults. It had been so hard watching them grow old and die, though. I thank the Spirits yet again for my family. Without them, living with no end in sight wouldn't be worth it.

Madeline looked at Ryan with a laugh in her eyes. "Yes, well considering the two of remaining three X-men I've met..."

She paused to let her eyes slide toward Jimmy. "I wouldn't hold out much hope for help from them.

"Back home they are considerably more in both numbers and dependability."

Perhaps she shared that last with just a touch of pride. While she had never been one herself, she had counted them as her friends and somewhat of an extended family for those who were not in actuality her family.

"Honestly, Sister, I would prefer we all ride as the Wolf Pack. Em's done it before, and it won't be much of an adjustment for Paul. As for the other two, that remains to be seen."

If they can figure out what's right in front of them. Hell, even I could see it.

I nod at her Wolf Pack suggestion. "Given the number of weapons I know each of those four has, there couldn't possibly have been room in their bags for uniforms." I tilt my head, considering the options. "Well, unless they've done another redesign lately and they're made of spider silk or something equally insubstantial." I grin. "Though something like that would finally get Paul to revolt and tell them all to go to hell."

Although I understand Charles' reasons for the uniforms, some of the redesigns have been downright ridiculous. I sure as hell wouldn't wear them.

Oh, they'll figure it out. Eventually. And by 'eventually', I mean before I head off to our campsite. If it takes them that long, I'll just crack their heads with my stick.

"No, but I'm sure they brought them, probably still tucked away on the Bird. Vin finally learned to be prepared for any eventuality. And I'm fairly sure that's my case there."

"It is," Logan confirmed. "Em insisted."

"She's a smart girl."

"Takes after her father."

"I'll let you have that one, this time."

I grin at her comment about Vin's preparedness. "Yeah, it took him long enough." Then I look at my son for a moment. "I don't know that I'd want to reopen the portal to fetch anything else. There's the whole disruption to the fabric of time and space thing, sure. And that would increase because we'd have to hold the portal open to keep the two universes in synch while whoever fetches whatever. That takes a hell of a lot of power. I don't know if..." I pause. There's a way to find out, isn't there?

The Ha'atathli comes over and slides her arm around Ryan's waist. "I heard you mentioning the X-Men. That's merely what I surmised based on news reports coming into the Nation. By about 2025 or maybe 2030, there wasn't a mention of them or any of the other superheroes who'd been trying to help." She's quiet for a moment; I recognize that look on her face because it's the same one I get when I get lost in memories. "One of my nieces — the only one to survive the onset of a significant Curse between my generation and the current one — felt she could make a difference." My twin holds her husband a little tighter, and he kisses the top of her head.

"She was a Shifter, like Billy," Andrea said softly, looking into the distance. "There were reports of terrible atrocities in Texas. A group of the young people — she was the youngest at sixteen, but the oldest was barely twenty — felt they needed to do something. There were Cursed from a number of Nations, with a number of different skills. They weren't unlike the X-Men I'd read of." She shook her head. "I couldn't tell them not to try. And I don't have Talia's gift, so I could only ask the Spirits to watch over them, and pray that Great Spirit would keep them safe."

She looks at me and I see the pain so clearly, and it echoes in my heart. "I think they did make a difference, if even a small one, in Dallas, but all eight of them lost their lives."

In our world, no one has died going through the Curse since my generation; in the family, no one has ever died. But there was one Cursed child who died much too young. "Isabella Nez?" I ask.

She actually looks surprised. "Yes. How did you...?" And then understanding filled her eyes. "Ah. She died in your world, too?" When I nod, she asks, "How?"

Now it's my turn to examine my own pain. Even after seventy-five years or so, the senselessness of it makes me so angry.

"She was driving home from school one evening. It was late, almost dinner time; she had stayed for an extra chorus rehearsal because the school had a concert coming up. She was driving three fellow singers home, too... the ones who normally took the bus home.

"They were broadsided by a drunk driver."

I bite my lip. It hurts when a family member or friend dies. Those are the days I wonder how I'm going to survive almost an eternity of watching family and friends take that last walk. But when they die so young, and so needlessly...

"Iz could have Shifted, she could have saved herself, but she tried to save her friends... tried to get her car out of the way." I shake my head. "What she did, it saved their lives. We have a lot of healers in the family, in the Nation. It's a pretty common Gift. But at the time, Maria was the only healer who could heal from a distance... just by looking at someone. And she was in New York. It took over an hour for the fire department to get Iz out of the car. By then, even our best healer couldn't help her."

I can hear another car in the distance. It probably wouldn't even register back home because of all the traffic on the road into Ganado.

"Her parents, her siblings... they were crushed. The drunk driver didn't have a scratch on him, and merely got a slap on the wrist.

"From the law."

I pull the anger in and bundle it back into my memories where it belongs. There will be a time and a place to unleash that anger, but not here and now.

"Ninja scared him sober, though. And his two hundred hours of community service became fifteen hours every week for the rest of his life."

She wrapped her arms a little tighter around Logan and Andi. Izzie's death had seemed to hit Andi harder than a lot of others. No one was really surprised when Ninja picked up where the law left off.

"But enough talk of that for now. There's a celebration tonight. Two, if the kids can get their shit together. There's plenty of time for the other tomorrow. And I'd love to meet this Tori when she arrives."

I look around at all the people arriving, all the people already gathered in the yard, and I smile. "Singing starts at sunset, right? I think we have enough in our packs that we can find a cozy camping spot. And if your world's anything like ours, some of my favorite spots are just north of here."

"There's nothing but rocks and scrub trees, arroyos, and craggy shale outcroppings. Not exactly cozy camping out there."

I snicker. "Those shale outcroppings are the best!"

Madeline snickered, too, at Andrea's claim about those areas being a poor choice for camping.

"Always suited us just fine," she agreed with a wicked gleam in her eye.

The second police SUV pulled up behind the first, and Deputy Tori Walking Eagle got out and looked around. Her sharp eyes noted the strangers. The first one was practically skulking at the edge of the Ha'atathli's yard. Then there was the group talking with her boss. Finally, there were the adults and two children mingling with the rest of the family. There were sure an awful lot of cousin kin here, and not a one of them had she ever seen before. Two of them even looked like brothers. That was more than peculiar since she knew all the cousin kin living within the First Nations.

She strolled toward her boss and his lady with her thumbs tucked in her belt loops, nodding and smiling to the adults who noticed her, winking at the children.

"Evenin', Boss... Elder Yazzie." Her gaze shifted to Logan, and she nodded. "Kinsman." Turning back to Ryan, she asked with a grin, "You sure you want me driving all night, Boss? Makes a girl mighty cranky."

"Would my entire ration of coffee for the month soothe your troubled mind, Deputy?" Ryan asked as he tried to hide his grin.

"Aww, that's just the nicest darn thing anyone's ever done for me, Chief!"

"This week," Ryan muttered under his breath.

"Naw! For the whole month!" She chuckled. "Don't you go stealing the Elder's ration, either, like you did last time."

"You and your damn nose, Tori!"

The Deputy laughed, and in an instant her whole being seemed to shift from down home country gal to professional. "Well, you really should know better by now, Boss. Now, are you going to introduce me to my kinsman and his family, or what?"

Ryan shook his head but smiled. "Logan, Madeline, Andi... this is my senior deputy, Tori Walking Eagle. Tori, our guests are Logan, Madeline Jacobs, and Andi Yazzie."

Tori nodded to each one, but her gaze fixed on Andi for a moment, then looked at Elder Yazzie. "I can see a story here, and no doubt it's a doozy. Too bad I have to drive all night."

At Ryan's quick introduction to his Deputy, Madeline greeted her, "Tori, a pleasure," then added, "The two big ones out there are two of our children, Emelia and Paul. The little ones are Tomas and Mesa, refugees we picked up coming through the Oklahoma territory. Two more are inside trying to figure some stuff out. They are Vincent and Maria."

"I'll apologize for the unpleasant company you have to bear tonight. I haven't exactly tried not to antagonize him."

Tori nodded. "Oklahoma's rough. Lots of First People out there, just not in the right places." She looked at the refugees. "It's pretty bad out there for the cousin kin, especially the younglings. So thanks for helping them out." Tori looked back at Madeline. "We started putting the message out more than a hundred years ago to stay within the borders of the First Nations; some folks were living so remotely they didn't get the message. Some folks..." She jerked her head toward Jimmy. "...thought they knew better."

She grinned at Madeline. "I've had more unpleasant company over the years, and even if you've gotten him all riled up... well, it's not like I haven't dealt with that before either." She winked. "If I read him and your Mate right, I have a few years on them."

She shrugged off Tori's thanks. "No thanks needed. Did what I had to, same thing any of mine would. Even that one helped though he didn't want to."

The few years comment, though, that intrigued her. "Really? I've only ever run across one other that was older than him… oddly enough, now that I think about it, it's the same person in both worlds… although the one in our world died a ways back."

Logan chuffed a question.

"It was at Alkalai Lake. And he didn't survive the day."

She could see by his expression he wanted to know more. "Later?"

This conversation and earlier thoughts are making me wonder just how much power we have on our side here. I'm going to want to check my shields... the ones that keep my Sister and me from feeling each other's pain. And deaths.

Mother? Father?

{?? ... ??} {Who speaks?}

Your daughter, the Warrior.

{We do not know...} {Perhaps we know...} {How could we know?} {Listen, listen, listen...}

I'm vaguely aware that Maddie has rolled her eyes at me, seeing my Oh good gods, she's talking to the Earth again expression, and continues to chat with Logan and Tori.

{Ah, yes, Niece... now we see} {You require our assistance?}

Well, not at the moment. But I think I will at some point. I just wanted to make sure I could talk to you. Um, should I call you Aunt and Uncle instead?

I hear the sounds of laughter that I've always associated with Mother and Father... rustling leaves and tiny tinkling bells, the song of the whales.

{If you wish...} {...though it is not necessary} {In your language...} {...is Aunt not the same as Mother?} {Is Uncle not the same as Father?} {Words do not matter... only heart}

Well... ah, thank you, then.

Logan nodded, and she returned her attention to Tori. "He doesn't trust the People. He's been getting twitchier since we crossed the outlying border. Whether you want to give him a reason to continue that mistrust or not is up to you. The only reason you might not want to continue to antagonize him is that the ones he's with take in strays in their area. They're a bit out, but if there's a way to set up an underground railroad to get folks to safety..."

Madeline looked at Andi. "That just might be our first order of business. There are those out there who'd help if they thought they could. I know the feeling of helplessness when I see it. There are others who'd do it just to spite those in charge on the outside."

"Tori, I think maybe we should chat at length."

I nod to Maddie, still somewhat bemused by my conversation with... Mother and Father?

"Then those are the people we should find," I say in agreement. "Spirits know I had enough people around the Denver area willing to shelter the Unfortunates and get them up to Commerce City if necessary, back in the day. Old Mama's people did it from compassion... others were definitely doing it to thumb their collective noses at The Man." I grin at my Sister. "You don't look a bit like her, but I think I'm going to start calling you Harriet Tubman if you keep this up. I like it, by the way... this plan."

Tori looked at Ryan and shrugged. "Holding off a drive to the border until morning would save your coffee, Boss. And I don't mind keeping an eye on my unruly kinsman all night." She grinned at him. "But since I'm living with the Diné now — and have been for quite a number of years — it's my understanding that everyone who shows up at a young woman's Kinaaldá Sing ought to participate."

Andi cleared her throat. "Oh, I think Paul should be able to find enough eyes to watch old Jimmy there," she said with a somewhat wicked smile. "He's not going to get off anywhere we don't want him going."

The Deputy looked from her boss, to the Elder's twin, to the Elder... who, as always, looked serene and composed... then back to Andi. "If you can arrange that, I think I'm going to have a very interesting time chatting with the three of you."

Ryan shrugged. "Technically, unwelcome guests ought to be escorted from the Nation at the earliest opportunity... but maybe morning might be the earliest opportunity." He smiled. "Especially if it saves my coffee."

Andrea looked at her husband, then his deputy, and chuckled. "I share my coffee freely, Tori. He doesn't steal it. Unlike Ryan, I don't think that coffee is an essential part of life."

Andi, her counterpart, just stared at the Elder. "Proof! That woman is so not me! Coffee isn't essential to life? By the Gods, Buddhas and Spirits, it's almost as essential as air to breathe!"

Ryan laughed. "Oh, thank you! I'm glad someone finally agrees with me!"

Andrea kissed his cheek. "It's time to start gathering for the Sing. Come along, all of you." She looked at her twin. "If you would have your son find a way to watch our unwanted guest, I'd be grateful."

I grin at Ryan. "Anytime, friend. Anytime."

I love a good Sing, as much as I love Dances!

"Consider it done, Ha'atathli," I say, although I keep an eye on Jimmy.

Paul? Think you can gather up enough of your friends to watch your uncle's double during the Sing?

Sure thing, Mom. The coyotes won't be able to get too close because the Ha'atathli has some kind of warding around the place to protect the horses. But wow... there are a lot more of them than there are around your house!

Not surprising, really. The Nation is bigger, so there's more room for people to spread out.

Okay, I've got three coyotes watching him now, with more on the way. Oh, and there are several dozen bats living in some of the outcroppings. I can almost see the grin on his face. They'll be happy to ping him. I don't know if his hearing is as sensitive as Em's. But even if he doesn't actually hear them, I have a feeling he's going to feel like the inside of his head tickles. Well, at least that's how Em said she had described it a while back when she and Maria were on walkabout.

I grin Ninja's grin in Jimmy's direction. Thanks, son.

I catch the movement in the doorway to my twin's house and look at Maria and Vin. Sheesh. Finally! True, they look like newlyweds — and this far into their relationship, that's utterly ridiculous — but at least they've accepted they have a Bond. Maybe tomorrow, if Maddie doesn't think we need to be off at first light and if my twin doesn't mind too much, we could have a Sing for them. Oooh, or even a Dance!

Yeah. I like that idea.

At the mention of coffee, Madeline almost groaned. "I don't suppose any of you manage to pack the coffee in the bags, too? The last I had was just before we decided to scale the mountain."

"That was just this morning," Logan teased.

"For you maybe. That was three weeks ago for me. Please say my kit's in there."

Logan looked back over his shoulder toward the kids. "Em?"

With her hearing, he didn't have to even raise his voice. She turned inquiry on her face.

"Did you pack your mom's coffee kit?"

She sauntered back toward them with an air of exasperation. She came just close enough so that those without the super hearing could hear. "Not packing that would be like not packing her weapons. Ain't gonna happen."

Her statement also coincided with the reappearance of her brother and Maria. She rolled her eyes at them.

"About flipping time. You two were worse than them," she said, hitching a thumb toward her parents. "At least they had a good reason. And, Brother?"

He chuckled having known this was coming. "Yes, dear Sister, you were right. You were not imagining things. Mea culpa."

"Good. Glad we got that straightened out before I had to borrow Aunt Andi's staff."

Madeline and Logan kept their laughter to a minimum and Madeline waved them all over.

"Kids, meet Tori. Tori, the kids."

Em chuffed, respectfully, one Feral to another.

Vin offered a handshake with the arm not curled around Maria's shoulders, "Ma'am."

Paul follows Em back in our direction... he seems to be trailing children. Jeffrey sits astride his shoulders; Mesa is perched on one hip with her head resting against Jeffrey's leg, one arm wrapped around Paul's back and her other hand nervously patting Jeffrey's knee. It's almost as if she's still not quite ready to believe she finally found her soul brother. Tomas follows in Paul's wake, holding the hands of Jeffrey's cousin-twins. All five children are grinning broadly, and every time Jeffrey and Mesa catch one another's eyes, they giggle.

My son looks perfectly content, and not for the first time I note the eerie similarity of temperament he shares with his father. I think Paul would have made a great dad, although I'm not sure how I'd feel about being a grandmother. And we all took it hard when Leon died, though obviously it was hardest on Maddie, so I don't blame either of my children for wanting to avoid that risk.

He studies his sister carefully, then glances at Vin before meeting Maria's eyes again. "You happy?"

She grins at him, and just nods.

Paul returns her smile. "Then so am I." Then he looks at Vin, his eyes reflecting the same peace Vin had seen in Maria's eyes earlier. "I trust you, Binny. You'll make sure 'Ria stays happy." He tilts his head back, looking — or trying to look — at Jeffrey, which produces a squeal of laughter from the boy and an echoing descant of giggles from Mesa. Paul laughs as well, looking back at Maria and Vin. "I'd give you congratulatory hugs, but I seem to be covered in children."

Maria laughs, too. It's been a long time since I've seen her this relaxed. And happy! "Well, you'll have to owe us. Your head wear is particularly fetching."

"It is, isn't it?" He reached up and tickled Jeffrey, causing both children to giggle... and the cousin-twins to demand tickles, as well. Tomas happily obliged.

Maria nodded to Tori at the introduction. "Pleased to meet you, Tori."

"Hiya, Tori. Can I interest you in this year's latest fashion accessories? Giggling children are all the rage, I hear."

Tori chuffed a cheerful response to Em, shook Vin's hand, nodded back to Maria... and then just stared at Paul.

"Oh, yes... he's almost always like that," his mother noted.

Tori looked at Madeline, then back to Paul and the Feral children. "You've got some powerful mojo there, to get a couple of kids I'd expect to be traumatized to act like all is right with the world."

"Nah," Paul said. "Mesa just needed to reconnect with Jeffrey. Neither one of them is quite sure how she got so off track when jumping back into life, but now that they're back together, she seems to be doing fairly well. And Tomas..." The boy looked up at Paul when he heard his name, grinning from ear to ear. Paul grinned back at him and reached over to tousle the boy's hair before looking back at Tori. "Well, if you know anything about the Ha'atathli's family, you know they... we open our hearts. It might be smaller than its counterpart back home, but that's the only difference."

He looked down at Tommy and Sandy, who'd attached themselves to his legs and were standing on his feet. "Yeah, this is awfully darn familiar," he said, laughing. Then he looked at Maria. "You sure you don't want to try some of those crazy forms Billy loved? Bet these guys would love riding a giant centipede."

Maria shook her head and hugged Vin tighter. "I'm kind of busy right now."

"Oh, well. Just thought I'd ask."

Those with sharper than average hearing heard a low, frustrated growl from the area near the SUVs. Both Tomas and Mesa started, Mesa hugging Paul tighter and Tomas edging closer to him.

"It's okay, my little cubs... nothing to worry about." Paul looked over at his mother, an innocent smile on his face. "Gosh, there must be some bats looking for something over there."

Andi laughed. "Okay, all of you. Let's get ourselves into the back yard so we can sing Kaitlin into adulthood."

Paul turned with feigned difficulty and walked slowly toward the fire pit, taking one lumbering step at a time while Tomas danced around him, clapping his hands at Paul's performance.

Tori watched him walk off, watched the other young folks follow him, then said to Andi. "He does have some mojo. I felt... something."

Andi nodded as the older folks followed the youngsters. "He and his sister have complementary Gifts... Shapeshifter and Beastmaster."

"Huh," was all Tori said. For the moment.

Seeing Paul draped in children, she could only smile. Reminds me of our first stroll through Commerce City, Sister, she told Andi as they went to Sing.

I catch Maddie's eye and smile. I took them up to Commerce City not long after they finished up the high school portion of their education at Charles' school. The kids up there were so confused... they didn't know if they should climb all over me or Paul. It was good for him.

At some point during the celebration, Tomas wandered over and hugged her tightly. She hugged him back and gave him a kiss on his cheek.

"Madeline?"

"Si?"

"How did you know?"

"How did I know what?"

"That they would welcome us."

"They are my family. Yours too now."

"But… but you aren't from here, and he's not like your Mate at all. What if they had been different too?"

"Then I would have been very sad."

"So you didn't know."

"No, not absolutely, but I had hope. And it's very important to never lose hope."

"It's hard sometimes, not to."

"I know it is. But we have to try."

He seemed to consider that for a moment before hugging her again.

"You're home now, Tomas," she whispered to him.

"Gracias," he whispered back. He paused to nuzzle her cheek before running back to the other children.

Madeline blinked away tears as she remembered her own grandchildren and their children and grandchildren. She was as involved in their lives as she could be without their passing completely shredding her heart each time. She thought of her namesake, her great-granddaughter, and knew her time would be soon. Not soon for those who lived a normal lifespan for she had already lived ninety years, but too soon for those whose days passed more slowly. She would need to go see her once they got back to their world.

She felt Logan slide his arm around her waist. He chuffed softly in her ear. She nodded and offered a half smile then concentrated on the events at hand. This was her family too, and the Song and Dance soon washed away the sadness.

Andrea began the traditional songs of the Kinaaldá, singing through all twelve of the hogán songs. In those minutes, when the Shaman sings, it's as if the universe stops and peers at the girl, and then recognizes her as a woman. It's not so much that she changes — for the change has already occurred — but that Great Spirit, Mother Earth, Father Sky, the Spirits all see her new place in the order of things. After Andrea sings, everyone else present is invited to sing one of the songs from the section of the Blessingway that tells of Changing Woman's maturing, the songs of summer. This part of the ceremony can last anywhere from a few hours all the way until dawn. As usual, much hilarity ensues as adults teach the songs to the younger children.

As the singing dies down, Heather emerges from Andrea's house with the bowl of yucca suds to wash Kaitlin's hair. I smile, remembering Maria's Kinaaldá... how fine her hair had still been at that age... the smile on her face that has echoed down the decades to return as she finally accepts what the rest of us have known for years. Seasons and cycles... they're what define our rituals, in a way.

After Kaitlin's hair is dried in the traditional way — with corn meal — she starts off on her last run to the east. Fortunately, Andrea's driveway... my driveway... stretches eastward far enough that Kaitlin can run a fair distance. The moon is full and bright. And all the younger children chase after her, laughing and giggling, the older ones holding the hands of the youngest ones. This is supposed to symbolize that she will be a kind mother, but as I've discovered in my many, many years, Diné mothers are some of the kindest and most loving mothers one could meet.

As Kaitlin runs down the drive, Andrea sings the last eight songs, the Racing songs. It's a tidy end to the ceremony, and when Kaitlin returns to the yard — followed by her cousins — there is corn cake for everyone. The few relatives who live nearby return home in their little horse-drawn carts. However, nearly everyone else finds a place to settle down for the rest of the night. The oldest grandparents, Julia and Shilah, are accorded the place of honor in Andrea's guest room. Others settle on my twin's ancient fold out sofa or spread mats on her Great Room floor. The not quite elderly adults curl up in their wagons or carts under thick blankets. The children are divided up into a number of large tents.

It's funny, in a sad way, that I can be surrounded by family — even the dearest people in my life — as still feel alone. I miss Pablo already. I know Maddie wants to fix things in this universe, and I won't deny things need fixing, but it hurts to not feel him in my heart and woven in my soul. Even when he died, I could still feel him.

As the evening came to a close, and people wandered off to their beds for the night, she gathered her Family about her: Mate, Sister, and children. They gathered up the packs and duffels and began to head northward.

Madeline spied Tori and waved her over. "Chat with us for a bit?"

She had entwined her fingers with Andi's on the walk out, just like she had that very first time. Logan took the bag from her other hand and replaced it with his hand. They were flanked by Em and Paul on one side and the newlyweds on the other. For a little while, all was right with the world. The little victories, the little celebrations, that's what kept you going.

But then I feel Maddie's hand, her fingers lacing with mine and I smile past the tears that threaten to fall. However long it takes to accomplish the tasks Maddie has in mind, I know that I'll be home to my husband soon enough. When most of eternity stretches in front of you, what's a few weeks or even a few months in the grand scheme of things?

And haven't good things already happened? Maddie saved two children, one of whom had been searching for that lost part of her soul. Mesa found Jeffrey again, although I don't doubt they'll have some interesting challenges ahead because Mesa found herself living as a person she hadn't expected. Hadn't the twins said something like that had happened to the soul or whatever who had been my first almost child? Those two know things that even baffle me. But the family has embraced both Tomas and Mesa with open arms and open hearts... something that doesn't surprise me in the least. As everyone was stuffing their faces with Heather's corn cake — which is just as excellent as her twin makes! — Bill confided that he was a little nervous about raising two Feral children, but that there was no way it would be possible to separate Mesa from either Jeffrey or Tomas. In the end, he had shrugged pragmatically — so much like Rafe — and said that there was more than enough ingenuity at the Dehiya Compound to figure out a way to ensure that Tomas and Mesa were able to regularly socialize with their kinfolk.

As we reach the shale outcroppings, Paul drops his bag under one of the larger ones. It's more like an actual cave, really. I stare at him.

"What? I haven't even had a chance to do anything wrong yet, Mom!"

"You're in my cave."

"But you live down there and never come up there!"

"And just where do you think we camped when Tommy still lived down there? Also, what makes you think I spend all my time sleeping in a house?"

It's refreshing to know that I can still surprise my clever son.

"But you wanted me to have the animals watch Uncle Logan's double. This is the best view of the house."

I chuckle. "Paul... sweetheart... do you really think I don't know my own home and surrounding area like the back of my hand? This little cave is over a ley line. It overlooks the east field, which is a horse corral here. If you want a ley line, you want this overhang. If you want the best view of the house, you want the second overhang to the west."

Vin and Maria are already heading for one of the overhangs to the east. I hear Maria chuckling.

Paul sighs and picks up his duffel bag. "Fine. Okay." He looks at Em. "I get the back of the crevice this time. It was not funny when you pushed me off the edge in my sleep, no matter how funny you thought it was."

Em manages — I don't know how, given the mirth flowing through her aura — to look innocent. "Paul, you're my best friend. I'd never do anything to hurt you!"

He gives her his version of the stink eye, which none of us can take very seriously. Then he shakes his head, drapes an arm around Em's shoulders, and steers them toward another sleeping area. "I'm so glad to hear that, ol' buddy ol' pal. You only accidentally sent me rolling down the hill in the middle of the night, was that it?"

The two of them continue teasing one another until they're out of earshot, and I settle into my favorite depression in the hard packed dirt. "Come on in and have a seat, Tori," I say as I open my duffel and pull out Logan's shirt. I toss it to him. "Not that you need it, as I'm not one to let a perfectly good ley line go to waste. And you look just fine without it, now that I'm not worried about tripping over things because I'm staring at you."

I tap into the qi of the Earth to heat the space to a more comfortable temperature than the normal below freezing in the desert at night that was swiftly approaching. And then I finally start unbraiding my hair.

Since Logan was setting down the packs, Madeline snatched the shirt out of the air. "Oh, no. Three weeks I've been without the pleasure of the sight or feel of it. I'm going to indulge in both while I can."

He offered a shrug and an unapologetic look that said What can I do? You know how she gets as he settled a space away from Andi with one of the packs as a backrest. His Mate stripped out of the light climbing jacket and laid both it and the shirt across the middle pack before taking the place between her family members.

"Let me help, Sister," she said as she took up the nearest braid and released it from the band.

Certainly Andi did not need the help, but that was hardly the point. It was another small way they bonded as a family. Madeline knew her Sister ached for her husband. She knew the feeling well, and offered what she could to alleviate the pain.

With deft fingers, she unwound the long, dark hair from its twining then combed through it. She always loved the feel of Andi's hair, thick and lustrous and silky. She heard Logan tuck into his pack while she tended to her Sister's hair.

I chuckle at Maddie's confiscation of Logan's shirt. Truth be told, I don't mind being distracted at the moment. I close my eyes and manage to relax as my Sister runs her fingers through my hair. Family... that's the reason for everything, isn't it?

Tori watched the interactions among these people with keen interest. They were odd, they were different, they didn't quite smell as they should... even the cousin kin. The Chief had said they'd come from an alternate universe — and that had made her brain just plain hurt. It explained their oddness, though. And if it was true that the world outside the Nations was a better place in their universe? Well, she sure as hell wasn't going to pass up an opportunity to find a way to make this world better, too.

It was clear the Elders had been a family unit for a very long time. Tori wasn't sure she'd ever seen a family unit last as long as theirs; she'd seen too many things over the long span of her years that tore families apart. Mostly, though... mostly it was war and hatred. Well, sometimes a lot of diseases, too.

Clearly her cousin kin was Mated to the woman named Madeline, yet there seemed to be a similar bond between her and the woman who was the Ha'atathli's twin. It was something new, something Tori had never seen before, even when she met men who had several wives. New things always intrigued her, because new things came along far less frequently as time marched forward.

Andi was like Elder Yazzie in many ways, and very different in so many others. She surely had the spirit of a warrior; having known many warriors, Tori could see that with ease. And yet on their walk from Elder Yazzie's home to this small cave, she could have sworn she tasted the sense of pain and loss that was inexplicable when seeing these three Elders together. Was it those Spirits Chief Benally spoke of that had been left behind? She had thought that the Spirits existed everywhere, but perhaps they did not.

And then there was the fact that all of them — the Elders and their children — were all long-lived. While it was to be expected among the cousin kin, and to a lesser extent among the Shamans of the First Nations, only Logan and his daughter Em were kinsmen. Even Andi's long life could not be explained with the knowledge Tori had gathered over the centuries... she had some characteristics of a Shaman, yes. But she was not a Shaman. It was puzzling. It was different.

She sat down when invited to do so, still smiling over the bantering between the younger cousin kin and her cousin. Now, there was a true and deep friendship that used to be far more common that it was today. It made her happy, it made her hopeful.

"So, Madeline... you have questions. If I have the answers, I'll be happy to share." Tori shook her head. "But I might not know all the answers, and I might not know where to point you to find the answers. Just wanted to get that disclaimer out of the way."

Madeline was well aware of the other Feral's keen interest in all of them. That Tori claimed to be older than Logan intrigued her. She only personally knew of one other that was older, and that information had been garnered from Stryker's files. There was one more who would naturally be older, and that was Logan's biological father, but he had not been seen in so long he was presumed dead. There were a lot fewer places to hide out on their Earth than there used to be; still, there was no way to be sure.

She smiled at Tori's disclaimer.

"You know more about this world than we do even if I have had a crash course. I don't know that I'm looking for concrete answers overall, but more of idea session. Although, I do want to know more about you personally, especially with you saying you've got some time on my Mate here. That fascinates me since the lot of us have been around for a while and there's only been the one before.

"That said, Andi did note that there seem to be a lot more Ferals, Elders, in this world than our own percentage wise. That's curious as well, although it could simply come down to survival of the fittest. Most of the non-Ferals I've come across could not survive off the land even if their lives depended on it. Honestly, I'm not sure if some of the Ferals like Hank could have. He was far too civilized."

She was momentarily distracted by the sound of a striking match and resulting scent of sulfur. She looked at Logan, who was puffing a cigar into life. He grinned at the sudden light in her eyes and offered it to her. She accepted it and a kiss.

"I have missed you," she told him again.

"I know, darlin'," was his smug reply.

After a long pull and exhale she handed the cigar back to him.

"Now where was I? Oh, yes, rambling like Sister usually does."

She shot a teasing grin to Andi.

"I should probably back up and start with my entry to your world and what's happened since and what I've seen. I know these two are interested as well.

"Unlike the portal my family came though, the one for me opened up probably about fifty feet above ground, over a tree-line. The inevitable happened — trust me, Andi, you were glad not to be here for that. The landing wasn't nearly as bad as pinballing through those pines. I think I broke damn near everything."

She reached to take another puff then continued on with her tale.

"When I came to, that one down there was leaning over me in a place I know very well. Still suffering from the side effects of the psychic blast or backlash — which I assume was either from the portal or whoever opened it — it took me a few minutes to realize that that one wasn't my Mate. Then I realized I was underneath Xavier's School for the Gifted in Westchester, New York, specifically the special medical facilities there. I had a brief chat with that one and two others, Charles Xavier and Eric Lehnsher, both of whom have been dead in our world for over a century now.

"I knew I couldn't stick around there, told them as much and headed out, to the only place I could think of that might have someone who could maybe help me. Here to the Diné Nation. Sure, I could get here and the people would think I'm completely off my rocker. It wouldn't be the first time, but it was all I had.

"I started out on foot but Jimmy rolled up later to offer a ride. The Charles here asked that one to... babysit me is as good a term as any. I warned him from the start that once the headache wore off I was going to be hell to be around. He wanted to lay low, stick to the shadows and be unnoticed and not for any good reason. That doesn't really work for me under normal circumstances, and we're about as far from normal as we've ever been. Believe me, that's saying quite a lot.

"Within a couple of days of being on the road, nerves started to really fray. Between being apart from my Family and what I was seeing…"

She stopped and shook her head, banked the fire that was in her heart.

"I knew I was traveling through occupied territory. That is the only way to describe what I've seen. It's been occupied so long, people are beaten down and afraid. Some areas, like White Plains, are stuck in the early twenty-first century, then you pass through other areas that have regressed even further. Oklahoma, though, that was the worst. That mob we rolled into...

"At first it seemed it was just like a big crowd after a big sporting event or concert or something, but as soon as we were in it I knew it was a mob. The whole thing just set my teeth on edge. And after finding out there's only three X-men left and mutants are actively hunted... I had real bad feeling."

Her hands sought out both Andi's and Logan's hands and held them tightly. Her anger burned like ice.

"In the center of that mob was where I found Tomas and Mesa. They had been cornered after being chased for three days after having seen their parents dragged from their vehicle and butchered. Bastards were fucking bragging about what they'd done and what they'd planned to do..."

Tori listened in silence and with patience, and then she shrugged. "We've always been part of the People. Some of us — like me — move from Nation to Nation; others like to stay close to the land and people they know. Like everyone else, there's really no one way to be.

"Ferals? That is what the White Man calls us, and I can't say I'm especially fond of it. We just call ourselves cousin kin. And we don't really have a hierarchy where we have Elders and such. Some of us are older, some of us are younger. We're all family and do what we can to help one another. I think that's what I like most about living with the Diné... that dedication to family. We fit where we fit within whichever Nation or clan we live with." She sighed and turned to look out into the night. "I've seen a lot in my years, but this is the worst. There are still a few places that are safe for us outside the First Nations, but far fewer than there were even ten years ago. There are really remote places far north in the Yukon and Northwest Territories that haven't been claimed by the First Nations, a few places still unclaimed in Brazil, I think. It's been a long time since we've had contact with those who chose to travel to Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia... a very long time."

She turned to Maddie and smiled. "As for me... well, I'm not exactly sure what year I was born but those stuffy men in Philadelphia hadn't had themselves a rebellion yet. Near as I can figure, it was sometime around 1725. I was born into the Salish Nation out near what they call Vancouver these days. Took me until the smallpox epidemic out there in 1762 to figure out my folks, my sister and I — and a few others — were a little different from the rest of the community. Not that some of the other folks didn't heal up... they did. But we just never got sick in the first place." There was a sad sort of nostalgia in her voice, in her distant gaze. "We stayed for a while, but so many people who were truly family to our hearts had died. It was time to move on.

"My folks, my sister and I wandered down the coast for a while, staying a few years with People who welcomed us... moving on from those who didn't. My mother's sister and her children moved through the Canadian wilderness, mostly staying isolated or working with the French trappers. Somewhere around 1800 or so, I struck out on my own and found a good home with the Oglala Sioux.

"They felt like home if you know what I mean. There was a connection to the People, to the lands; their stories and rituals spoke to me."

Tori stopped then, just staring at her hands for a time. These others... they seemed to understand, and didn't press. They waited with her in the silence; so few had learned how to do that, and she appreciated it... because this part was hard. It's the one pinpoint time in her life that she would rather forget, would rather have never happened.

"Then there was Wounded Knee," she said softly. "Too many died there, including my Mate and children. Had I not been who I am, I would have died, too. For many years, I wished I had." It had been a very long time ago, and yet there were still times when it seemed like yesterday.

She looked up at them again. "I wandered the continent for about sixty years or so... met a lot of people, a lot of the cousin kin, watched how the White Man changed the world I'd known. Not all of it was bad, of course. I watched the African descendants struggle with their freedom, and finally grasp it. Although like any of us not of the White Man's tribe, they... we... have never been seen as quite equal." Tori shook her head and smiled sadly. "I may never understand them, no matter how many years I live among them. Of course, that isn't really an option now."

She sighed. "It seems I count the many changes in my life's paths by the strife of those times. When the conflict in Korea began, I had grown weary of wars. I came west again, back to the mountains and deserts, after living a number of years with First People in the Carolinas and then in Oklahoma. It pains me greatly that you speak of such atrocities there, Madeline, for they were the kindest and gentlest of people at one time. Not just those of the First Nations, but the People of Africa and the White Man, too, showed hospitality to those who traveled those lands.

"I watched the climate outside the Diné Nation change slowly, but in a way that seemed unyielding. The People have never shunned those who are different; the White Man thrives on it. When the Virus began showing itself, many of us could see where it would lead... though even our imaginations could not contain the reality that exists now. The People welcomed all. Most of the cousin kin sought refuge in one of the Nations. Some did not want to leave their families. Some did not move quickly enough.

"Who of the cousin kin are still outside the Nations?" She shrugged again. "The ones who have always been solitary and would rather die that way; the ones who fear what the Nations offer and trust no one. An untrusting nature seems to describe the one you call Jimmy, although I am at a loss to say what might have caused the children's parents to be so far from any of the Nations. This makes me worry about the People and the cousin kin in the Nations of Oklahoma."

I listen to this woman's story and... I'm not sure how I feel. Awed that she has seen how the country grew, at least in this universe. Heartbroken that she lost her family at one of the most horrible moment's in the country's history. Amazed at her courage and strength of purpose.

But Maddie's report of literally falling into this world fits well with the strange theory I've been forming in my head. In terms of qi... it's making sense, for the most part. In terms of physics? Well, that's what I need Billie for.

Her account of traveling with Jimmy... I have to wonder what could have happened to my Brother's twin for him to turn out so differently. Slipping through the shadows, going unnoticed? That's Ninja's gig. Wolverine dives full bore into the middle of the fray. Weird, and very puzzling.

The final bit of Maddie's tale though... I don't know which of us is squeezing the other's hand more tightly, and I can't contain the eruption of anger, the flare of light in my eyes. I don't even think; I react instinctively, calling power and Spirits... even in the planning stage of an operation, the Spirits are involved. Well... the Warrior's Spirits are involved.

Madeline and Logan listened to Tori's tales as she spoke of things before their time. Many of these were familiar to him being a native of North America. Much of it to Madeline was echoes of things she had learned since meeting Andi and spending time with the Dine. Like she had told the border officer, she was not from these parts.

Her view of the conflicts around the world differed, especially in her early years when she chased demons as well as lived as one to chase the ones of her dreams away. Logan shifted a bit closer and slipped his arm around her waist. He rumbled softly.

"I think... I think he believes Kayla's betrayal was real. He overheard me telling Andrea about Rene's deaths, and there was a look on his face, as if was a familiar story. That's when I mentioned that she was forced to do what she did to you to save her sister. Maybe it made him think. I don't know."

Tori's story wound through many years, many tragedies. She knew the kinds of things this woman had seen. She had seen many of them herself though those occurred in their universe and countries that were not this one.

"Your tale touches my Sister and my Mate more deeply than they touch me, but not because I do not feel the same pain. Like you, this land, these lands, North America is the land of their birth. My people come from both Europe and the archipelagos currently known in our world as Indonesia although it was still a Dutch colony when my forebears lived there, and I was born on the southern continent of America. But I have seen the kinds of things you speak of."

I feel the familiar weight of Opossum on my shoulder, Cobra is wrapped around my waist, and Fox leans against my side. Bear sits outside the small cave-like space, looking in with bright eyes. Cat walks across both Maddie's and Logan's legs.

I blink. "Um. What did I just do?"

"You called us, Warrior," Fox says. "Great Spirit has explained all. We are here to guard and guide, just as we would in your own world."

That the Spirits came to her Sister's unspoken call did not surprise her. Cat, with Ryan's blessing, had attached itself to her already. They were only missing the two Spirits who did not exist in this world... the two missing members of their family, the Husbands.

Hawk glides in and perches on Tori's wrist. "Hello, old friend," she says to the Spirit, then looks steadily at the three of us. "I believe I am to accompany you."

"I think I speak for all of us when I say we would be glad of your company and assistance. Does the Chief have someone who can fill in for you? I wouldn't want to leave him shorthanded..."

Her eyes lighted on Andi's quartet as well as her own and Tori's spirits. "Or have the Spirits already made arrangements?"

"I have some ideas about what we can do to build this railroad, but it will take a certain amount of subtlety, possibly finesse to make the initial inroads. It may take me a while to suss things out in my head as it's been a while, a very long while since I haven't had instant access to massive resources."

Madeline leaned back into Logan. "It might be a bit like my and Rene's early days."

Then she expanded for Tori, "Before I became something of an upstanding citizen, war was my business, my trade. My father was an arms dealer, and I took up the family business in my youth. And my Husband and I were mercenaries."

I close my eyes and turn slightly to rest my head on Maddie's shoulder. I hope I can quell the fire of anger her report of Tomas and Mesa, the knowledge of what happened to their parents, caused to flare. Opossum and Fox adjust themselves as quickly as their counterparts in our world had done at first... another thing that pulls at my heart. In our world, they'd learned to anticipate... they moved with me. It wasn't a jarring difference. In fact, it was barely perceptible. And yet... and yet, it was evidence that not everything was as balanced as it should be.

I reach across Maddie's midriff; I need to feel whole again and know that won't happen until we get home. But resting a hand on Logan, holding my Sister... it helps. For now. But there are two large pieces missing from my soul, and even the presence of these Spirits can't soothe an ache that underscores the absence of Pablo and Rene.

Tori shook her head. "No, there are four other deputies in Ganado. Window Rock is barely an hour away even now, although I do remember the days when a person could be there in twenty minutes if necessary. I handle all the supernatural complaints that come in, and those have decreased as the population of refugees in the district increases." She smiled. "Since Elder Yazzie does the bulk of the investigating, the Chief has this weird idea that it's inappropriate to work with her."

"Huh," Andi said softly, more to Maddie's clavicle than Tori, "they just deputized me. I suppose I have a different skill set, though. Or maybe just more experience using the skills, I guess."

Tori shrugged. "I don't mind. I'd been doing it at least half the time anyway before she and the Chief started dating."

Madeline slid her arms around Andi's shoulders and softly kissed her head. She was well aware of the rage, the righteous anger that burned in her Sister's heart. Logan covered Andi's hand with his own. He understood as well, not just the anger but the ache of absence. He had not forgotten his Mate's pain in their early days. He rumbled softly, not words, simply a sound meant to soothe.

Madeline nodded at Tori's words. "I'm glad. I would not want to leave the People vulnerable."

I'm aware that Tori is talking to Maddie, but I think her words will just have to sit in my mind for a while, to be processed later. Maddie was alone, without any of us, for three weeks, and perhaps it's only a testament to the strength she developed over the years of being part of the Pentad that kept her from reverting to Mad Messijer before this. I know I'll manage, I'll get through the weeks or months ahead without our Husbands, but right now... this moment... with a raging fire of anger in my soul... it's damn hard. Pablo could almost always find a way to cool that fire, usually while igniting another. And this is the first night in thirty years that he hasn't held me as I fall asleep. Except for those long days and nights when he was learning how to be a Spirit — it hadn't even been a week, it's possible it had only been three or four nights — it's the only time in over a hundred and fifty years that he hasn't held me as I slept. Even on nights when he was out working, I'd felt him in my mind, in my heart, in my soul... even if his arms weren't wrapped around me.

I wonder if I would have managed to live for three weeks without the rest of the Pentad. Would I have gone mad? At least Maddie knew madness, knew what would happen if Mad Messijer returned. I know the kind of destruction she could deal out... and I know that without an anchor, Ninja's destruction would be so much worse. With the power of a planet at her disposal, a Ninja gone mad could lay waste to entire counties. I shudder and let myself fall into the love of my Sister and Brother. I have trusted them for almost as long as I've trusted my Husband; I trust that their presence and their love will keep me from fragmenting my personality again.

Tori studied the three of them; it was an unusual dynamic she didn't see outside the cousin kin families. It was also clear, even without hearing Madeline's tale of coming to this world and her journey from the east to the Diné Nation, that there was a great deal of pain they were containing. They'd left part of their family behind. Tori understood that; she hadn't wanted to leave her sister all those years ago, but Lelani had settled with a clan — one of the old clans of the Nakaii lands — and her husband had not understood their close bond. It had taken Tori until she found the Oglala People to heal the hurt of that separation. She still received word from her sister every few years as Lelani traveled among the Nakaii clans and tribes. Her husband was long dead. None of her children had been cousin kin — not terribly unusual when the father was not cousin kin — but she'd found a purpose in traveling through the lands the White Man called Mexico and the various Nation States of Central America.

Even with their missing family, they had strength. A trio was a strong and stable unit, and they obviously shared their strength and love without reservation. Although Andi seemed to be suffering the separation from family, it was not stopping her from enveloping Madeline in a blanket of caring to soothe her soul, to heal the pain of three weeks of separation. More than anything, this told Tori that the Elder Yazzie and her twin were far more alike than even they might admit, even though their differences were more plentiful than the wild mustangs in spring.

Tori looked at Madeline. "You'll need transportation... well, we'll need transportation. The Chief can probably find a way to get you to the eastern I-40 border station, and I can meet you there after I drop Jimmy off south of Springerville. However, a more practical place to meet might be the Albuquerque district station. If there are going to be spare vehicles in the Nation, there are likely to be more of them in Albuquerque than anywhere else."

She paused, thinking about the reports she had seen over the past few months... conversations she'd had with fellow officers as well as traveling cousin kin.

Madeline nodded again at the mention of transportation. "There's Jimmy's truck up at Bernalillo if there's a way to get it down to Albuquerque. Once we're outside the Nation, I have other means of acquiring additional transportation."

"Eight people and gear, though... that's going to be a challenge." She shrugged and looked at Logan. "You and your daughter and I could probably make as much headway on foot as a vehicle if you'd be willing." She turned to Madeline again. "I haven't been east in about twenty years, so I'd trust your opinion about the sanity of that idea," she said with a hint of a smile. "That would still mean you'd need something larger than the average sedan, though."

"Not necessarily," Andi said, still without looking up or opening her eyes. "Maria could travel over land or in the air. If it's safe enough for my Brother and my Niece, it's safe enough for my daughter." She chuffed out a sarcastic imitation of a laugh. "There's only one person who'd disagree, and he's not here." Her voice sounded as if was made of razor blades... sharp, deadly, full of pain. "For that matter, I can probably travel on foot as fast as Maria does... and I can sense things the rest of you can't."

She opened her eyes to look at Tori; they still had a faint glow of golden light around the irises. "Not that I fancy walking across half of New Mexico and the Texas panhandle, mind you. But we can make whatever vehicle you find work for us if Maddie doesn't think it's a suicidal idea. I really try to limit my dying to once a month these days." There... that had actually been an attempt at humor.

Tori nodded. "That would make it easier. The only vehicles I know are big enough belong to the Tribal Police or medical personnel in outlying areas like the Elder's nephew. The police can't afford to lose any resources, even temporarily. Besides, it would be like paint a big red target on our heads."

She softly ran her fingers through her Sister's hair. "I prefer we stay together… so you two can pull my ass out of the fire when I get in deep. And before either of you argue, I'm the only one of the seven — eight of us who won't get tagged for being Cursed or a Mutant."

Her arms tightened into more of a hug as Andi's pain transmitted to her. She put her lips to her Sister's temple and whispered, "We will help you endure."

"I won't argue with you, Maddie. With things as bad out there as you've described, there's safety in numbers even we are a bunch of frickin' superheroes."

I manage a ghost of a smile at her words. I know you will, Sister. I wasn't prepared for the shock, the pain. I thought I was, but I guess not. Gods, Maddie, how did you manage ten years of this before I brought Rene back to you?

Something she said moments before finally registers and I look at her with... well, no, not surprise. My capacity for surprise when it comes to my Sister was long ago exhausted. Though before I can say anything about stealing the man's truck, another part of my brain catches up — I imagine someone arriving out of breath and tapping me on the shoulder... because it amuses me, and I need all the amusement I can muster inside my brain.

"Oh. You know, that's probably a not a bad idea. If we leave it somewhere relatively safe, at least he won't have to walk back to New York. And he's less likely to show up at an inopportune time if he has the means to go home."

Tori shifted and looked at the Spirits in the cave, then over her shoulder at the one sitting patiently outside. "Is this normal around you folks? Seeing more than just Hawk, I mean?"

Andi exchanged a glance with Madeline and she shrugged as well. "Around the P..." A flash of perhaps pain, perhaps sorrow crossed her face. "Yeah. It's pretty normal."

"Okay. I was just wondering how much weird I'm signing up for, that's all."

Andi laughed without humor. "I'm a magnet for weird. I have been pretty much since I took up the staff. Maybe things will be different here." She looked around at her guardian Spirits. "Somehow, I don't think so, though."

"Well, new kinds of weird that don't get me killed in a permanent way could be interesting."

Andi looked at Tori for a moment, then managed a half smile. "As Tita Kai liked to say, be careful what you wish for. Weird can get very weird around me."

She looked up to Tori again and agreed with Andi's assessment. "Normal for us. Can't say for other folks. I just about gave all the adults in the Dehiya house a stroke when I spoke to Coyote in front of them."

Madeline smiled and laughed lightly. "You're better off just expecting excessive weird around us. We both attract it, just different kinds.

She held Andi a little closer and gave Tori an apologetic look. "My Sister needs tending. We can talk more during our travels."

It was a dismissal of sorts, and Tori understood that. She took her leave of the Family and headed back down toward the home of Elder Yazzie.

They watched her go, then Madeline and Logan shifted around themselves and their packs to hold their Sister between them. Her time with this kind of separation had been very short, and she felt it more keenly than they did. Both Mates had lived with it in the past, had dealt with it in their own ways.

"Let our touch be a balm to your heart, Sister," she softly spoke into her ear before lightly kissing her cheek. "Take comfort in us as we take comfort in you."

Logan's rumbling sound became deeper and was felt more than heard. It was a vibration that came from deep within his chest and chased away thoughts that kept you from rest. It was a rhythmic as his breathing and not entirely unlike a cat's purr. Madeline smiled at the comparison her mind had never before made.

After Tori leaves, I find myself more than embraced by Maddie and Logan; I am enfolded in the One that we three are. True, parts of our soul are missing, but we three are still One. As much as I need to be the Warrior here, I know you won't let that part of me become all there is of me, I say to them.

I relax at the rumbling of Logan's chest; it's as soothing as Pablo's fingers slowing finding their way through my hair. Maddie's breath on my ear as she speaks, the soft touch of her lips on my cheek... blood calling to blood... I turn my head to look into her eyes, to meet her lips with my own.

Taking comfort, giving comfort.

She held her and kissed her, fingers slowly caressing her cheek and neck. Her eyes sought out Logan's. This was something he knew even if they had never talked about it. He knew and understood. He may not have remembered Kayla then, but he knew the feeling.

As for how I managed, I didn't, not really. Logan was very wonderful, but... but if there had been a way to ends things, I believe I would have despite what it would have done to my family. It was especially bad after Leon started going to school with Charles. It would have been so easy to just walk off one day and never come back...

Fortunately, my guilt would never let me.

She pulled back a little and smiled softly.

"Guilt isn't always a bad thing," she told her with a wink.

The she kissed her with passion.

I hope you don't mind, but I'm in desperate need of a proper fucking.

There was a lascivious chuckle in her mental voice followed by a rush of need and want and desire. Logan growled.

I don't know that I'd say my sleep was plagued by dreams. After all, they were nothing compared to the insanity my children had visited upon me. But I dreamed of things that were strange, even for me.

They all seemed to be dreams of flying, although they weren't the sort of dreams where I was — in my dream — aware that I was flying. Maybe they were just dreams of watching, guarding? It wasn't as if I was a part of the dreams, I guess I mean to say. I was watching a series of plays, except from the vantage point of someone or something flying fairly high above the earth.

I think at one point, the rational part of my brain — that should have been sound asleep or just enjoying the show — realized that the view was similar to what Pablo had seen when he drifted on the air currents. It was definitely a human perspective with two eyes forward facing in the head, not the typical bird's eye view with eyes more separated and, well, not quite as forward facing. It seemed to be important, whatever it was I watched, and the fact that the rational part of my brain was commenting on how well I could see was quite a distraction. But then I could almost hear Maddie and Logan whispering, "Go back to sleep, Andi." It seemed odd at the time, in the dream, that I was dreaming of hearing them because, in the context of the dream, they didn't belong. Well, they didn't belong right there, and right then.

You know, aside from those dreams the kids gave me — that weren't actually dreams, I don't think — my dreams are not terribly interesting. They generally make perfect sense, both while I'm in the middle of them and after I wake up. Pablo always said I was a boring dreamer. Yes, I know I probably shouldn't be thinking about him here on the cusp between asleep and awake. But right here in this in-between place it doesn't seem to hurt as much to think about him. I do miss him, though, but it's not the dark and desperate longing of reaching for something I know — however irrationally — I'll never grasp. It's more the sort of missing him I'd feel when he left early or stayed out all night because he was working. I'm missing him right now, but soon enough I'll see him.

These dreams? These dreams were interesting, but I'm not sure I can explain why. Dreaming of flying isn't all that interesting. Well, fine... I'VE never found those dreams all that interesting. Maybe I had been watching interesting things as I flew?

I don't know. I remember deserts and mountains, both of which are so ordinary that I'm surprised I even remember them. I remember people, some of whom seemed familiar and many of whom were strangers. There was something that tied all the dreams together, though, and here in that space between sleep and wakefulness that something seems vitally important. The only problem is that I can't quite remember what it is.

I have always loved drifting in this place. Even as a child, I remember resisting the pull of being fully awake. Oh, not for long, or at least not long enough for Mama or Dad to note that I had a hard time waking in the morning. And not long enough to ever oversleep, not long enough that Pablo ever remarked on it... though Rene did once or twice. But that was only because he'd sit or float in that in-between place waiting to chat. It's amazing the lengthy conversations you can have in the space of a minute or two of that in between place.

Oh, wait. There was that one dream — at least I still think it had been a dream — a few weeks before the wedding when I learned how to create the shields that would protect Maddie and me from the effects of the other one's dying. That had been a particularly odd dream, having a Starship Captain as a teacher, and Pablo had been concerned when I didn't want to wake up. But Captain Moira had been so nice.

This place between awake and asleep isn't like the no-time place of practice. In that place, my mind IS the practice, the earth, the qi. That's a wonderful place, too, and I fully intend to spend time there this morning.

What was it about the dreams that were so important? I know thinking about it too much will wake me up completely, so I just drift, and wait, and watch. Perhaps the answer will come... and perhaps it's something that I don't need to know yet.

I do know it has something to do with the flying. That's... yes, that's a certainty.

I can feel the tug of qi as the sun begins rising. The older I get, the more I notice the finely nuanced dance between Mother and Father, between the creatures who walk along her skin and the creatures and float on his breath. Long, long ago I felt annoyance at the blue jays outside my window singing to the rising sun. I remember thinking — almost every morning — that I'd never witnessed creatures so excited about sunrise that they simply couldn't contain their joyfulness.

At one hundred and eighty-five years old, I'm beginning to understand. No, I'm not going to say I'm a slow learner. I'm just going to say that I'm not sure humans are designed to appreciate the delicately woven tapestry of qi that is created by the sunrise. And even with my powers, it's taken this long for me to understand what those damn blue jays were so excited about. It makes me wish everyone could see this just once.

I slide from the not quite asleep and not quite awake place fully into wakefulness and breath in the scents of Maddie and Logan, the scent of cold, crisp, fresh desert morning air. I turn to kiss both of them softly.

Sleep, sleep... I'm just going to practice. How many times have I said the same thing to Pablo?

I didn't bring a lot of clothes with me. I wore Ninja's uniform through the portal, and for Andi I have a pair of jeans and a couple of plain gray t-shirts for those days when it would be a good idea to be less conspicuous. Of course, that does leave me with the danger of getting clothing damaged if we run into the sort of person who shoots firsts and interrogates the corpse later. I also packed my Taiji pants and blouse... they're much more comfortable and allow a greater range of motion than the jeans. They don't take up much room either. Plus, you never know when there are going to be folks around who get a little freaked out by naked Taiji. So they go anywhere I take my uniform and staff... that is to say, just about everywhere. Did I really need a whole duffel bag for just that? Well, and the box of throwing stars tucked in the bottom. Nope. But darn it, I wasn't going to leave my leather jacket behind! And wandering around the country incognito needs to be just a little cool. Oh, and wandering around in the winter wearing nothing over the t-shirt wouldn't exactly be inconspicuous.

It only takes a moment to slip on the practice clothes and I step out from the cave-like overhang into the cold desert pre-dawn. I am barefoot in this new world, wanting not even the soles of my boots between me and this version of Mother. As I stretch, I can feel the Spirits gathering around me. Not only are my own Spirits sitting nearby, but nearly all the Spirits of the Diné pantheon; they seem fascinated as I begin an opening form used for stretching the body and moving qi. I wonder about it, as my counterpart should have a similar morning routine. I suppose I'll ask them about it later.

The slow movements of the simple forms allow me to find the heartbeat of the world, to move in time with the pulsing of Mother's energy. As the sun rises above the horizon, Father's qi begins weaving with Mother's and my forms become more complex, my movements less languid. I simply dance and play within their rhythms, watching everything around me with the inner sight of my Curse.

Time becomes meaningless. I switch to a qigong exercise that translates as gathering the qi. I can see individual strands in the land, in the air, in the plants and the wildlife... and I start gathering the qi one strand at a time. It's like picking at the ribbons of helium balloons, picking dozens and dozens of them them until I'm holding so much energy in my hands that it's nearly blinding to my inner sight.

This — the qi, the energy, the power that I hold in my hands — this will allow me to make a connection to this world that would take days or even weeks of ordinary practice. I need the same instinctive, almost symbiotic connection with this Mother and Father that I have with Mother and Father in my own universe. I'm pretty sure we don't have time for me to get up to speed in the normal way.

A hundred and fifty years ago, I would have been telling myself I was completely out of my mind to even think about attempting this. Even a hundred years ago, I would have been apprehensive. Fifty years ago, I would have done more preparation.

Today, I pull the energy in through the lao gong points in my hands, feel it rush through my meridians, the flow out the yong quan points in my feet. I am intimately connected to Father and Mother; a breeze that wasn't there before lifts my hair around my head... the ley line beneath my feet pulses like a heartbeat.

{Welcome, Daughter... you are very clever}

I would have said pragmatic. But thank you, Mother.

{We and those we call to us will answer when you call, Daughter}

I appreciate your help, Father. And yours as well, Mother.

{This Darkness could destroy All That Is... Great Spirit speaks of your deeds in your own world, Daughter}

{And the deeds of your Sister as well, Daughter}

{We welcome you} {We know Our Self of your home misses you} {Both... All... such yearning}

I promised to return.

{We understand}

{The Watcher watches, Daughter}

The Watcher? No matter... that is something to ponder later.

{Daughter, you do not stand alone against the Darkness}

The sentience of Mother and Father fades away, but I remain enfolded in their power. I feel more confident that my heart will remain whole. Yes, I miss Pablo and Rene. But I have the strength to do for this world what I did for my own. With Maddie and Logan beside me, I can weather this storm. Together with our children, we are a force to be reckoned with.

I spare a brief thought for Jimmy... and the Charles of this world... then shrug almost imperceptibly.

Who needs X-Men when this world now has the Wolf Pack?

They had found solace and healing in each other as they always did and drifted off to sleep. Being in the arms of her family once more infused her with peace. While parts were still missing, she knew they lived. Cat made its presence felt nearby but not intrusive.

I will guard your sleep, Warrior. Nothing will disturb you this night.

She breathed her thanks as she curled in closer and became lost to the waking world. Andi stirred with the rising sun as she always did and slipped away taking her warmth with her. Madeline began to scoot toward Logan when he slipped his arm beneath her and pulled her to his chest.

"Good morning, Mate."

"Good morning, Mate. Sister wanted us to go back to sleep."

Her eyes sparkled at him. "Not interested in sleep."

"Oh? What are you interested in?"

"As if you didn't know."

A sound came from him that was half rumble and half growl. She smiled and lost herself in her Mate as they added their energy to this world. By the time their Sister had finished her practice, they were ready to rejoin the world. Madeline was very happy to exchange the clothes she had been wearing for fresh jeans and a tank top plus her leather biker jacket.

She spoke aloud to her Guardian Spirit as she came out of the cave. "Cat, has Tori left yet?"

"No, she has not," Cat answered in the same manner. "But they are about to."

"Will you ask her to delay? There's something that needs saying to her passenger."

"I will."

Logan came out in his jeans and tank top. "What's that? The something?"

"A question. I don't know if it'll make any difference, but I have to try. We can do only so much for this world. Someone else will have to take up where we leave off when we go."

"Are you going to antagonize him some more?" he asked with curiosity.

"Would I do a thing like that?" she asked, unsuccessfully trying for an innocent look. "Yeah, yeah, I know I would. I did. And I did have an unfair advantage. No, I'm just going to attempt to make him think. I don't quite know where things changed, but I'm pretty sure it was about the same time you and I met. At least that's what I'm guessing. Which means the stuff before that should be pretty similar. If I can tap into that, and he thinks about it, maybe he'll stop being such a loser."

"Want I should go with you?"

"Nah. Just round up the kids, darlin', and meet me down at the house."

"Sure thing, darlin'. A kiss for luck?"

"Absolutely."

It feels good to be connected to Mother and Father. I simply stand in meditation pose and note the minor differences in my twin's execution of her last form, let my Sister's and Brother's love and energy wash over me.

Andrea has kept much closer to the form taught by Grandmaster Chen; in fact, I don't think she's deviating from it at all. The small shifts I've made over the years make most of the forms more martial, less meditative. It makes sense that the Warrior would accentuate blocks and attacks while the Shaman focuses on the movement of qi.

I have no problem overhearing the conversation Maddie and Logan are having; they are well aware of that fact, I'm sure. I wonder... is there anything Maddie can say to shake Jimmy out of his apathy? And what about Charles? Well... this Charles. The Charles I knew would never give up. He gave his heart and soul to his school, his students, his X-Men, his family right to the end. The worst of times had come and gone by the time I met him, but that didn't mean everything was smooth sailing. But he never gave up hope. He tried so hard to instill hope in those who had given up, who had every reason to believe hope was dead.

So this one, this Charles puzzles me. As does my Brother's twin. I can see the qi flows, though from here — as I reminded Paul last night — I can't see the front of the house. I can see that there is kindness floating on the wind; mirth and concern dip and bob in the ocean of love inside the house. Yet he rebuffs it. How peculiar.

Rise and shine, sleepy heads, I say to my children.

A warm rumble of laughter comes from my son. Way ahead of you, Mamacita. That was a pretty slick show you put on.

It wasn't a show, kiddo. I was working.

I know. It was colorful nevertheless. You do good work.

Maria groans inside my head. Don't wanna get up, Mom. I'm all comfy and snuggly, and can't we spend a couple of days with this version of our family?

No, no, no, Miss Lazy Bones. We have places to go, things to do, people to kill.

Ugh, you're getting bloodthirsty in your old age.

I almost laugh out loud at that one, and Maria gets a momentary reprieve as Maddie comes out of the little cave. I capture her hand and bring it to my lips. "I'm going to have to insist on a toll before I can let you go down there and torture Jimmy by making him think." I kiss her softly, not to ignite a fire but to simply say we walk today in harmony, beauty is before us and around us.

I am more at peace as I watch Maddie walk toward Andrea's front yard than I have been since she disappeared. Was that only yesterday? For me... yes. For her... no, it was a very long three weeks. We have an odd connection, my Sister and I, and sometimes I think it's as strong as — although definitely different than — my Bond with Pablo. So I think our separation messed with my sense of time just a little more than it probably should have. Still, we three are One, and all is well... regarding my perception of time, at any rate.

I'll have you know, young lady, I reply to Maria, that your father complained about my bloodthirsty nature before you were even a gleam in my eye. Besides... if I can save the world on my honeymoon, you can do the same.

She doesn't say anything else. However, she does convey the impression of being highly put upon. I shake my head, still smiling, as I turn to go back into the cave.

"Good morning, dear Brother." Having watched him as Wolverine, laying waste to those we fought on countless occasions and often leaving little for me to do beyond chatting with any survivors... knowing how fierce his lovemaking can be... I am always delightfully surprised by a kiss that is gentle and sweet. I lay my hand against his cheek, trace along his cheekbone with my thumb, and smile — hózhó — as I look into his eyes. "And I love you, too."

Then I sigh and step from his embrace. "Em and Paul seem to be ready to go. Our newlyweds... not so much. I've spoken to Maria." I roll my eyes as I pull out my jeans and a t-shirt. "You might want to chat with Vin."

I pause, a wicked smiled making its way across my face. "Or he could stay locked up at work where he'll be safe like I did to Pablo when Maddie and I went out to Idaho Springs to rescue you from that terribly bad man... before we trashed his place and killed the lot of 'em. Well, you and Maddie killed most of them." I snicker as I pull off my practice top and put on my t-shirt. "Damn, Pablo was pissed about that." I start to take off my practice trousers and put my jeans on. "And yes, I'm well aware of the fact that I'm babbling, but I'm feeling much better this morning, definitely centered. I'm relieved about that, and I need to babble the relief out of my system so I can focus. Centered and focused is always good."

I chuckle, repack my duffel after pulling out a pair of socks, then sit to put socks and boots on. Although I could strap on the scabbards, I don't see much point while we're still within the Nation's borders. I slip the jacket on, pull my staff out of its scabbard then lay that scabbard and the one holding my sword between the duffel's handles. I pick up the duffel and look at my Brother.

"Shall we see if we can impose on our new family for some breakfast?" I step out in the brightening day and see Em and Paul already several paces down the slight incline. I look in the opposite direction and do not see Maria and Vin. I shake my head as I walk. "It's my turn to crack heads, Logan, I'm sure it is. Assuming heads need to be cracked, of course." I look toward the overhang again where my daughter and nephew spent the night, and I grin. "And heads just might need cracking."

© Kelly Naylor and ividia kt