Trouble's On the Way

"And just wait until we get beyond the borders before causing any trouble," Madeline drawls lazily.

Andi chuckles. "It might be a new world with a different view, but this ain't my first rodeo." She pauses for a moment, sobering slightly. "I grok keeping my people safe, Maddie," she says more softly. "Even when they technically aren't mine. Back home, I really do try to keep the shenanigans outside the Navajo Nation."

It isn't hard to sense Maddie's desire to get on the road. It isn't hard to figure out that whatever plan had been suggested just wasn't going to last this skirmish. What fun! Well, Andi had merely put her jacket on over her uniform earlier... her staff and scabbard are already in the crappy truck.

She isn't the least bit surprised when Maddie announces that it's time to go. The look on the kids' faces is enough to make her want to shift and eavesdrop... but the look on Tori's face makes her glad she's right where she is.

And, to be honest, Andi is happy to just be with Maddie and Logan.

"I'm going to guess that the area between here and Santa Fe is probably pretty desolate even in this universe, so there's no point in not taking I-25. The outskirts of Santa Fe are probably..."

She has to take into account the fact that this hunk of junk probably shouldn't be pushed to the limit of Maddie's old Humvees. And the fact that the roads probably aren't as well-maintained here as they are at home. On her bike, it would take half an hour, max. Here...?

" hour away? Maybe a little more."

She looks at Maddie. She's half in Ninja working mode and half in Weird Andi mode. She feels the gentle tug on her ear from this world's version of Opossum.

"I thought I felt our Husbands during dinner. While Logan pilots this craft, and you look for whatever you're looking for..." Andi breathes slowly and deeply in preparation for meditation. "...I'm going to look for them. Maybe it was them, or maybe I'm going crazier than I was. But..."

She shrugs.

"Figure we ought to know one way or the other, right?"

"Guess we should," Madeline replies.

"An hour? Hmm," she muses. "Whole lot of nothing between here and there. Just keep rollin', darlin'," she says to Logan. "Not looking for one-offs. Folks in those places have it hard enough. We'll see what we see in Santa Fe."

The hour passes uneventfully. There might have been the hint of a building out away from the road, but nothing that even resembles what she wants. No, in the actual city itself will be better. Pilfering will be simpler too if needed.

Andi closes her eyes, and between one breath and the next, she's simultaneously rolling up Interstate 25 and drifting along on air currents above the truck. She can almost sense the Nation's border wards... they're nebulous things that seem to exist only in the periphery of her mental vision. She idly wonders if Tori will be able to explain them...

She can see the energy of the Spirits, of Mother's rivers of energy, of Father's ripples of winds. Looking outward, she sees more than enough protection for the inner journey she needs to take.

She's done this no more than a dozen times in over fifteen decades. Practicing Taiji and meditating often takes her to the No Time place... where time seems to simply pause for a while. And then there are the times — done deliberately except for that first time — when meditating takes her to a place she's been told is the Overworld. Well, that's one name for it, and the one Moira had used when Andi wound up there accidentally. It's as good a name as any, she supposes. Although she does find Great Spirit's name for it — just the Crossroads — even more apt at times.

Concentrating, and yet not concentrating, on the qi flowing around her... through her... through the Pentad, she finds a place of perfect stillness in her heart and soul.

She feels like she's sighing in contentment on a cellular level.

Am I awake or dozing? Am I here or on a plane of emptiness? I can feel Maddie and Logan beside me, yet I also feel so very far away. It doesn't hurt... so I must be asleep, right?

But she can hear the sounds of the truck and their occasional comments in the Elder language. She can feel the motion of the vehicle as it moves at a steady pace up the highway. And yet...

And yet, she finds herself standing in an endless expanse of gray. It's not the unnerving fog that her children subjected her to when they first started invading her dreams. Andi can feel the malleability of this place. Just as she had when she found herself here the first time, she creates the area around her home in Ganado. Of course, the first time it had still been Tommy's home. The second time, too, now that she thinks about it.

She has a random thought... and it's not the first time she's had it, nor will it be the last...

Does one ever stop missing the people they love once those loved ones have passed to the Next World?

"Some people do, my Daughter. But you love so fiercely, I'm not sure you can move beyond missing them at least a little."

Andi turns around and sees Great Spirit in her guise as a simple Diné woman. She has a smile as glorious as Andi's mother's had been. She smiles in return and holds her hands out to Great Spirit.

"It is a comfort to see you, Mother of All," she says as they embrace. "I suppose the Spirits have mentioned that Maddie got herself into a bit of a bind and we went to fetch her. Of course, my sister — being my sister — has found wrongs that need righting."

"Of course, she has." She holds Andi at arm's length. "Now, I'm sure you won't try to deny that you would do the same."

She laughs and shakes her head. "We two are one, and our determination to leave the places we visit better than they were before we arrived is something that seems... enduring."

Great Spirit chuckles. "It applies to your lives as well, my dear Daughter. But I suspect you did not come to this Crossroads place to chat with me, for that is something you can do just as easily when practicing your arts."

Andi sighs. "True. When the family crossed through the portal to the world where Maddie found herself, none of the Spirits could cross."

"I have spoken to all of them, in both Realms, so they do understand what has happened. Those in your own Realm are still concerned, of course, and dear Cat most of all. But those in the Realm of the Shaman you might have been are all willing to assist you."

"Cat has been so fond of Maddie from the moment they met. I'm not surprised it has more worry than others. And the Spirits of Andrea's world have all been so gracious..." She stops and swallows hard.

"Ah, the Spirits who were Men, who are a part of all you are."

Andi just nods.

"No. Even though they were once men, now they are Spirit. They cannot cross either."

"I know," she whispers. "And yet, because they were once men, they can come here."

She regards Andi with more than her usual intensity. "True. But while you are fully in the world, this place is no closer than your own Realm."

Andi smiles. "In some ways, yes. It will not be possible to communicate with words or thoughts. While I think my dear niece might be able to communicate more easily with emotions, these are men who have been part of our combined soul for a century and a half. I need only to hold their love, their essence, in my heart." She shrugs, but she smiles — perhaps — just a bit mischievously. "Since the fifth or sixth time to this place, Moira and I have known when the other is here. If I remain as long as I suspect I will remain, she will come — if she is awake, if she is not creating peace all across the Federation. And she is an even more powerful empath than my dear niece. If she can help, she will."

Great Spirit chuckles. "Your years have been long, my Daughter... and yet you continue to surprise me. It is always such a delight!"

"Each new weird thing that I attract gives me yet another opportunity to delight you then!" The Warrior chuckles as well. "If I look at each of them in that light, it will make many of them easier to bear I suspect."

"You do tend to attract the things more associated with the holy people of your varied Nations."

Andi pauses... an old, old memory surfacing. "Just after the Pentad was formed, Tommy asked if I might have chosen the path of the Ha'atathli had I not been Cursed. After meeting with my twin in this world, I wonder if... well, if our world had not needed the Warrior, would that have been my path?"

Great Spirit regards Andi silently and with an enigmatic smile on her face. "I think you know the answer to that question, dear Andrea."

"That my world is my world, and my world is the way it was meant to be?"

The Eldest One shrugs. "That is an oversimplification, but even so it approaches the truth. You became who you are because your world shaped you. Worlds are. But there are many of them. Versions of yourself might exist in many worlds, but each version of you would be shaped by the world around you."

Andi furrows her brows and tries to puzzle through the implications. "So... I had no choice? Everything is predestined?"

Great Spirit's laughter is like the pealing of bells... not the tiny ones she hears when winds flow through the trees, or the bells that represent Mother's laughter. These are the solid ones found in bell choirs.

"Oh, dearest child, no! Your environment puts constraints on you, true. It might suggest your best path that leads to your most advantageous opportunities to do good. But you always have choices, Andrea. You could have chosen to use your gifts in other ways. You could have chosen to remain only a dear friend to your Pablo. You could have chosen to ignore Raven's exhortations to speak with the one who is the Spirit Rene. You have had so many choices!"

She shakes her head. "It doesn't seem like it, really. If I try to do the right thing, what's best for everyone, then I just... well, do what is best."

"That, too, is a choice. You might have chosen to use your powers to aid the darkness."

Andi just stares at her. "What? But..." She shakes her head again. "No, I was not raised that way, so I couldn't have done truly evil things."

Great Spirit looks at Andi with so much kindness that she feels almost overwhelmed by it. "You might have chosen to resent being separated from your family. You might have seen your years in Quan Yin's lands as banishment and betrayal." She holds out her hands again and grasps Andi's firmly. "You made choices without knowing you made choices because the choices you made seemed obvious. This is something you should remember."

Andi looks at her hands, surrounded by Great Spirit's. She made choices that had seemed obvious... yes. They had appeared to be the only choices, at least when the consequences where enormous. And she should remember this... because... because... why? At a hundred and eighty-five, she's still taking tests. Okay, maybe not... but she definitely feels like there's a lesson here.

"This is not my own world I've found myself in," she says without looking up. "Will my instincts work here in a world with different rules?"

Great Spirit raises her hands and thus Andi's until she is looking at the face of wisdom again. "You know that the world is different. Your unconscious mind has already accepted this. Trust your instincts, yes. Trust those of your Sister and your Brother as well."

Andi nods and, after a moment, she smiles as well. "Then it is business as usual! Although the journey through this world might be difficult, I will do what I always do — my best to help those who most need my help."

"An admirable outlook, my child." She looks over Andi's shoulder, and her eyes twinkle. "It would appear my Niece was sleeping and not actively engaged in the further betterment of her own world."

Andi can feel the odd pressure change that means someone else has arrived in this place. She looks behind her at what would be her driveway to see the unbelievable green of Moira's Ireland. The redhead is walking toward them, smiling with undisguised happiness. She's dressed in shorts, a tank top, and — like Andi — is barefoot. Her hair is longer than Andi's and still seems almost alive.

"I will let you spend time with your friend. If you need me, you need only think of me, dear Andrea."

She feels the brush of light fingers on her cheeks as Great Spirit disappears.

"Andi! Sure now, 'twill have been fair unto a mont' since I'll have seen ya!"

Andi laughs as they hug. "Red, for me it's been close to a decade!"

"Ah, ya know I cannot understand your daft world. How will ya have been?"

"Mostly good. Maddie somehow managed to fall through a portal that shouldn't have existed, the kids and I followed her with Logan. We're..." She sighs. Sometimes she doesn't know how to explain her reality any more than Moira can explain the workings of her warp engines. "Well, it's kind of a parallel universe, or maybe a different branch. The place is in really bad shape. Naturally, we're going to try to make a difference before going home."

She looks out across the desert toward the low mesa in the distance. "Pablo and Rene couldn't make it through the portal. None of the Spirits could. They all have counterparts in this other universe. Except for our Husbands."

She feels Moira's hand on her shoulder.

"Will ya be needin' a bit of help to call dem here?"

"No, no... I think I can manage that." She presses her fingers to her eyes to keep the tears from falling. "Pablo's been here, even after he died. So I have to think Rene can get here." She takes a calming breath, drops her hands and turns to face Red again. "I just want to make sure we can stay connected when I wake up."

Moira smiles. "Still tinkin' 'twill be a dream, den, lass?"

Andi returns the smile. "No. But I am mostly asleep on the physical plane. And girl, I'm aging a lot faster than you are. This 'lass' nonsense has got to stop."

She shrugs. "Sure now, will ya not have no greater luck in changin' da way I'm speakin' dan Starfleet did."

Andi rolls her eyes. "Fine, fine, fine. Just remember, kiddo, that I was older than you the first time we met and I'm older than your great-grandmother now." She taps her chin a few times. "Still on the not-ancient part of the scale if you compare me to Vulcans, however."

"So," Moira says with a twinkle in her eyes that is eerily similar to her own, "I'll be callin' ya granny den, shall I?"

"Brat," she says affectionately. "You'll do as you please no matter what I say. That Uncle of yours and the Vulcan Admiral seem to be the only people who can get you to do anything else."

Although she says nothing, her expression tells Andi she's dead on right. Ha. Good for her!

"Anyway, I don't know that I'll need help. But I might? Okay, let me just tell you what I was thinking..." She takes another deep breath. "You and I both seem to know when the other is here. I'm not sure how that works, it just does. Yes, yes, I know your Lady could probably explain it. I'm not sure it really matters, though. I just thought if Pablo and Rene came here and could wait here while the rest of us are in the other world, I would be able to feel them. I'm not sure Maddie and Logan could... well, maybe Maddie could. We have that One Soul thing going on, and she did come here a time or two with me. Do you think it would work?"

The whole time she babbles — yes, Andi will admit to babbling — Red's smile just grows until she's practically grinning.

"Perhaps. 'Tis not a tin' I'll have ever been able to test. Paddy will be da only... not corporeal person I'm knowin'. I'm tinkin' if he'll be willin' to visit here, perhaps 'twill be easier for your lads to remain."

Andi nods and smiles. "Pablo sure does like Paddy. Says your brother reminds him of our son."

Moira chuckles. "Aye, and Paddy will be sayin' yon Pablo will be like a less serious version of Ciaran."

"Makes me want to meet your older brother," she says, glancing at the slice of Ireland behind Moira. Then she shrugs. "But I grok that isn't possible, so I'll just rely on your stories and Padraig's stories of him."

She gestures to the half dozen chairs and short benches in front of her house. "We might as well get comfortable. I'm not sure how long this will take."

As she sits on one of the benches, Moira waves her hand dismissively. "Ya have yet to believe ya have more power dan any I'll have met, Andi."

"No... I came to grips with that decades ago," she says, settling in her favorite chair. "But what I'm trying to do is crazy..." She rolls her eyes and grins. "Fine, there's nothing unusual about that. It's just that... well, it isn't quite like anything else I've ever done."

Moira just smiles. Andi isn't sure why, but this woman has more faith in her and her abilities than practically anyone else she knows. Heck, even Maddie sometimes thinks she's gone off the deep end. Okay, then... sooner begun is sooner accomplished, to paraphrase some old proverb Pablo's sister Elvia used to say.

Andi closes her eyes and rests her hands in her lap, breathing in the clean, energy-filled air of this place and breathing out all her worries and doubts.


She keeps breathing. She embodies patience. After the second breath, she hears a faint and faraway response.


She wants to weep with joy at the sound of her husband's voice.

"Yes, love... it's really me. I'm in that odd place with Moira. Do you think you and Rene could get here? I have ideas."

She can feel his delight.

"You always have ideas. And sometimes they're not always crazy."

"Thank you, dear. I'm glad you can appreciate the crazy. I'm sort of in two places at once here, and it's neither an optimal nor sustainable option. With you and Rene here, I think it will help all of us and keep me from... oh, falling asleep at inopportune moments or being distracted."

"Don't take this the wrong way, Andi, but I'm not the genius you are. I don't see how it's going to help. And knock it off, Rene. I'm not going crazy. Or crazier."

Andi can't help smiling. "You two can't be left alone, can you? Come on, Pablo. I can explain what I can when you and Rene get here. You might want to warn Billie before you disappear."

He pauses long enough that she knows something is up. And she sighs. "What did you do?"



"We were just teasing her."

"Wonderful. Well, I'm not going to mention it to Vin, but I'll probably have to tell Maddie. I guess it depends on how much Vin and your daughter annoy me. I take it you drove her off, and she's in the Blackbird?"

"Probably? And my daughter? My daughter is sensible. Just like her father."

"Exactly. Although she does seem to have picked up some of the Human Tsunami's more peculiar idiosyncrasies, too."

"Rene wants to know how Madeline is doing."

"Hie thee to my side, Husband, and I will share all I know. Bring our Brother along with you."

She waits... and waits... and waits...

She waits long enough that she opens her eyes and looks at Moira; knows she has the Andi is really confused expression plastered all over her face.


"Um... I think I can figure out how to get there. I just fall into our Bond and follow it to wherever you are, right? But, um, how do I get Rene there?"

"Is Rene there?" she asks, laughing at the ludicrous nature of the situation. Then she points at Moira. "Not one word from you."

"He is..."

"Yes, he is. I can sense him right behind you, probably getting ready to Gibbs slap you. Can he feel the connection he and I share?"

"The all romance all the time station..."

Andi swears that her husband is laughing. If only it made sense! She just shakes her head.

"Right. Whatever you say, dear. Can he?"

There's a momentary pause before Pablo replies. "Uh... Well, yeah. But only if he's got his hand on my shoulder."

"Oh, good grief. Shoulder, elbow, both hands around your neck... it shouldn't matter."

Moira is sitting across from her and grinning like a lunatic. There's an abnormal amount of hilarity seeping through her Bond with Pablo.

"Oh, knock it off... all of you. Rene, can you hear me now?"

"Andi? Andi, is that you?"

She sighs. Again. "Rene, snark is my superpower. Stop it. Pablo, you can step over the threshold just like you did the other times. Rene, since this is your first time here, make sure you keep a grip on Pablo's arm."

A moment later, her Husband and Brother appear arm in arm. Pablo pats Rene's arm.

"There, now, dearie. Easy as pie or cake, and you did a marvelous job!"

Moira bursts into a fit of giggles and Andi glares at the two men in front of her.

"You both look like idiots. But I guess that's nothing new." She stands up and rests her hands on her hips. But then she can't help smiling at the two of them. "Husband, where is my proper greeting?"

The two of them smirk. Andi will swear that Rene is getting to be as bad an influence on Pablo as Pablo always claimed Maddie was on her.

Of course, then Rene looks around.

"The hell? Is that your house, Andi?"

"A simulation, yep. Red, stop your giggling and come meet my Spirit Brother."

"Hi, Moira! How are you?" Pablo asks. "Think you can talk that scamp of a brother to come visit here?"

"Dia duit, Pablo. 'Twould likely be a wise idea, I'm tinkin'."

She looks at Rene, raises an eyebrow, and Andi swears she can see the woman's shields thickening and getting very prickly.

"Rene, this is my friend Moira O'Shaughnessy. She's from an alternate timeline where all that cool Trek stuff is real. She's the Captain of a starship. Red, this is my Brother Rene Jacobs... Maddie's husband. One of his superpowers is being sexy."

"Aye, and I'll be tankin' ya to control yon superpower, as ya will be callin' it. 'Tis like havin' a Deltan around who'll not have learned to control demselves, 'tis."

Rene bows. "My deepest apologies, mademoiselle. Outside the Pentad — my Wife, my Sister, and my Brothers — no one has detected that particular... superpower unless I mean for them to notice."

"Hmm. Pablo should have mentioned that Red is possibly the most sensitive Empath in the Federation."

Rene looks at Moira, then at Pablo. "Pablo, shouldn't you have mentioned that Miss Moira would be overwhelmed by my presence?"

"Probably. Completely slipped my mind. Lo siento, Moira."

Moira nods to Pablo and smiles. "Tá tú ag maite, Pablo."

Rene looks at them both, eyes narrowing slightly. "I understand the Spanish. I don't understand the Cat Spitting At The Wind, however."

Andi laughs. "It's Irish, not Cat Spitting At The Wind... and it's actually less difficult to speak than Diné Bizaad."

"And you know how well I speak that, don't you, Andi."

"Yes. About as well as I speak French."

"Ah, now dere will be no speakin' of French here, for 'twill bring to mind da great amadán of dee Enterprise."

"Still not happy with Picard, eh?" Pablo says.

Moira glares at him in a way that nearly makes Andi giggle.

"Lad, I'll be commandin' a ship and will have five Vulcans who'll have been teachin' me such fine tin's as deir language and da nerve pinchin' tin' dey'll be doin'. Now, would ya be wantin' me to practice yon neck pinchin' on ya?"

Pablo holds up his hands and laughs. "No, ma'am, Captain, ma'am! We won't speak of the Great French Devil, and we'll avoid the language of the same." Then he steps closer to Andi and holds out his hands. His eyes, his smile, the movement of energy through their Bond says everything that needs to be said.

She steps forward and wraps her arms around him and feels his arms tighten around her. He's a Spirit... and they're in a weirdly different dimension... but she still hears his heartbeat when she rests her head on his chest. Is it because she expects it? No matter.

"I have missed you, Husband. It has not been easy. And it was harder still for Maddie in those three weeks before we found her."

Rene comes up beside them and wraps an arm around her while resting his other hand on Pablo's shoulder. "How is she really doing, Andi?"

She looks up at him and smiles. "Ready to kick ass and take names. As Black Wolf." Andi snakes one arm around his waist, too. "She'd been prepared to let Mad Messijer rain holy hell on that world, but... but I think she can focus the madness if she needs to use it. Logan and I are with her. And..." She takes a breath, a deep breath to let the scent of them invade her senses. "...and I wanted to find you both, bring you to a place where I can feel you every moment when I'm back there with them."

"We'd go with you if we could."

"I know, Pablito. Maddie knows. Logan knows. But if I can keep a connection to you when I go back, then maybe — I think — I can share it with them."

"Will it help?"

Andi looks at Rene and gives him an odd little smile. "Do you really need to ask that question, Rene? And ask it of the person who returned you to Maddie in the first place? I love you dearly, Brother, but spending so much time with my husband has addled your brain."

He returns the smile, although she suspects he isn't as convinced as she is that this will help.

"Rene, you are Maddie's Guardian Angel. You will have to be her Angel from here, where it will be..." She attempts to shrug, but that's not easy with the way they're huddled together. "Well, maybe more complicated than from the Realm of the Benevolent Spirits, but it must certainly be easier than the place you were before that."

He considers that for a moment; Pablo and Andi wait patiently for him to find a place to put his fear and worry about Maddie. "Okay, I'm going to trust you on that, Andi. After all, you're the expert. But... but what if she dies? We're always together when she dies."

"I..." Huh. That is an interesting question, especially given the fact that Maddie — and she and Logan — tend to die on these kinds of missions. "I go to the Great Spirit's Realm when I die. From the way the two of you have talked about it, it seems like Maddie doesn't quite know where she goes... and you find her wherever she is. I might be the world's leading expert on wandering through dimensions via portals, but I don't think I can answer that one."

"Perhaps your Maddie will be drawn to where ya will be," Moira says. "Paddy will have wandered all over before he'll have found our Ladies, and dey will have helped him find me. Of course, I'll have not yet been dead, so perhaps 'twill not be quite da same."

Rene looks at the redhead and blinks. "Do either of you understand what she said?" he asks softly.

Andi just nods.

"It takes a bit to get used to, but it's very lyrical," Pablo says. "Think of it as music."

"Uh huh. You're both crazy."

"Yep," Andi says happily.

"Moira Maeve, you're having a party and didn't invite me?"

Andi recognizes the voice. Pablo recognizes the voice. Moira can see the person to whom the voice belongs, and she rolls her eyes.

"Hi, Andi... hi, Pablo... hey there, New Person." Padraig walks over to his sister, gives her a hug, and kisses the top of her head. "Oooh, Moira! The New Person kind of looks like Duffy."

At this, Captain O'Shaughnessy jabs her brother in the ribs with her elbow and then yanks his ear. Andi laughs.

"Okay, okay... they have nothing in common at all! Ow! Let go of my ear, Moira!"

"That's even more entertaining than watching you crack people over the head with your stick, dear Sister," Rene remarks.

She nods. "It is, isn't it?"

"Yon new person will be Andi's brodder and Madeline's wife, Rene Jacobs." She looks over at Rene, tilting her head toward the young man beside her. "'Twill be my twin and da Pest, Padraig O'Shaughnessy."

"Yeah, and she's the Witch."

Rene looks from one to the other, his gaze finally settling on Padraig. "Another Guardian Angel." He says it with such certainty that Andi looks up at him, pleased but surprised.

"Oh, don't give me that look, Andi. As long as I've been the way I am, do you think it's so far-fetched that I can recognize someone in the same metaphysical boat?"

"Nope, not the least bit like Duffy. Did you hear all the words he strung together, Mo?" Padraig is trying to look innocent. He might even think it's an innocent comment. "That's more than Duffy says in a whole week!"

That earns him another jab in the ribs.

"Darn it, Moira, you've been spending too much time with Ciaran."

She grins, and it isn't a nice one. "Nay. 'Twill have been Rika who'll have been showin' me da best way of dealin' wit' Pests."

"Not fair," the object of her jabbing says.

"You still haven't figured out nothing is fair, Padraig?"

He looks at Pablo and instantly cheers. "I guess not. But hey, wouldn't it be great if things could at least make sense most of the time?"

Pablo laughs. "Son, I gave up that idea before my kids were in preschool. I married a Magnet for Weird. Things only make sense when I accept that most things aren't going to make sense."

"And now I'm worried about you again, Brother."

Andi nudges both of them. "Oh, stop it!" she says, laughing. "Save your comedy routine for when I have to go back to Maddie and Logan. By the way, it was your comedy routine that drove Billie off, wasn't it?"

Pablo looks at Rene. Rene looks at Pablo. "He started it," they say simultaneously.

She snickers. "I'm sure that's true." She tugs on shirt sleeves and settles the three of them on the larger bench... Pablo on her right and Rene on her left.

"That's really your house?" Rene is intrigued.

"That's really my house. You guys can go sit inside later, pretend to eat and drink coffee."

Pablo looks worried. "It's going to stay here when you're not here?"

Andi nods. "It's part of you, too. It will stay."

Padraig looks behind them at the portal to Ireland. "But that's going to disappear when you leave, isn't it?" he asks his sister.

She shrugs. "'Twould stay if ya would be willin' to learn da ways of dee Overworld. As ya will not be willin'... aye, 'twill go when I go." She smiles at Andi. "Dough I'll be stayin' as long as I can. I trust da Pest will have informed Ciaran I'll be workin', and dere will not be a repeat of da mornin' followin' our first meetin'."

"I told him. Want to know what he said? I believe you, Paddy, but Kahallan won't. Moira better be back before he gets off shift. Why won't he stop calling me Paddy? He never did that before. And I don't think Duffy likes what you do here."

Moira just looks at her brother and shakes her head. "For a smart lad, ya be a bit of an amadán, will ya not? Ciaran will do as he does to tease ya. And ya will be allowin' it. And Kahallan..."

She merely looks at the three of them from another universe, abruptly ending that bit of conversation with her brother. He looks more than a little upset and starts to say something.

"Stop it, Padraig, and sit down," Andi says as she points to one of the chairs opposite them. "If you're going to stay and help, then you need to stop pestering your sister."

"But I..."

"Padraig." Her tone is only halfway to Ninja mode. "Sit down."

"I'd like Padraig to stay," Pablo opines, then looks across me to Rene. "He can be a lot of fun. And can probably take more teasing than Billie."

Andi sighs. "Then he'll have to behave himself."

Pablo nods. "Well, you've heard the decree from your elders, young man. Behave yourself. We'll have a great time!"

"But she..."

Then Padraig gets a repeat lesson of Ninja's abilities, something that only Em ever seems to remember. She gets up, moves behind him and slaps his head, then sits down again before he can even blink.


Moira is trying not to laugh.

"Gonna behave?"

Padraig blinks at Andi. "Ow."

"Hmm. I'll take that as a yes."

Pablo wraps his arm around his wife's waist. "I know you have to go back. And probably soon. How is this supposed to work? We won't be able to talk to you, will we?"

She shakes her head. "Probably not. But you don't talk to me all the time anyway, right? When you and Rene are with the Spirits, I simply know that you're with me. That's all I need."

"What about Maddie and Logan?" Rene asks.

She lightly rests her right hand on his chest. The Pentad-flavored qi swirls softly between them. "We are One. I am the focus and the lightning rod, but we are all One."

He hesitates a moment, then wraps her in a tight embrace. "Then tell Maddie that I love her more than life itself, and I'll be waiting for her when you all get back." Then she's treated to one of Rene's toe-curling kisses that takes her breath away.

And give my love to my Brother, as well.

While she catches her breath, she nods. "I will. And I will do my best to share that with both Maddie and Logan."


Pablo pulls her to her feet and again wraps her in a hug. His kiss is sweet and tender, and she thinks that more than anything else, that is what she misses most. His tenderness. His kindness. There's so little of it left in the world she needs to go back to. He smiles as he looks into her eyes.

"Stop worrying, my beloved. The Pentad will be as strong as it needs to be, despite this rather annoying complication."

"Sometimes I think you're the best of us, Pablo."

"No, no... I'm just the least bloodthirsty, that's all."

Andi smiles at that. It's absolutely true. She starts to say something else, but he puts a finger over her lips.

"Don't say that you'll miss me... because you won't. I'll be right here..." He moves his hand and holds it over her heart. "Always, Andi."

"You're going to make me cry. Stop it." But she returns his smile and caresses his cheek before turning to Moira and her brother.

"Thanks for coming by, Moira," she says as she hugs the other woman. "It's always nice to see you."

"Aye, and dee, Andi. Yon men of yours will have da power to keep ye connected. Perhaps dey will need a wee lesson in da controllin' of such power." She smiles brightly. "And perhaps not, aye? Go on wit' ya! 'Twill be your turn to save da world, will it not?"

Andi chuckles. "It doesn't sound as impressive as saving the galaxy, but if Maddie and I have any say in the matter, we'll at least save a lot of people who need saving."

Finally, she turns to Padraig.


And she laughs as she kisses his cheek. "You deserved it."

He smiles; it's an expression that matches his twin's in brilliance and happiness. "Maybe."

"Be good to your sister," Andi whispers to him. "And if she needs to stay beyond the end of her Kahallan's shift, have your brother give him a good, sound thrashing."

He looks at her wide-eyed... shocked and scared. "No way."

"Oh, yes way. Trust me, young Mr. O'Shaughnessy, important lessons will be learned by the ones who need to learn those important lessons."

"You're a bloody Witch, too, you know."

She grins at him. "No, not in the way you mean it when you talk about your sister. I've just lived a very long time and understand a little bit about people."

She then looks around the front of her house... the recreation of her house. It really isn't all that different from her twin's home either. She blows a kiss to her Husband and Brother, then goes inside the house and sits in her favorite chair. She relaxes... closes her eyes... takes a deep breath... and opens them again to see the nighttime desert of New Mexico rolling by.

She feels nearly overwhelmed by the love she can sense from both Pablo and Rene, and blinks away tears of joy that threaten to fall. She takes another deep breath and reaches over to hold Maddie's hand.

"I have them." Andi squeezes her Sister's hand and smiles in the darkness. "Messages should probably wait until we're not in a moving vehicle. I was out of it for quite a while... I think this used to be part of the Santo Domingo Pueblo."

She looks ahead of them toward the city in this world that's closest to the border of the Navajo Nation and the lands beyond. She should be able to see at least the glow of the city. She doesn't. So it's going to be a very different place.

"Santa Fe is a pretty artsy-fartsy place in our world. I have a feeling it's going to be a bit more prosaic here. And I don't think there's going to be much to the tourism trade. Oh, and I think the police station — which we'd want to avoid, yes? — was near the intersection of the two main streets through town."

Madeline gives Andi's hand a squeeze and watches out the windows as they roll through town, what there is of it. She shakes her head and tells Logan to keep rolling. It's plain to see that too many are just eking by, and she has no intention of adding to their misery.

"Going to grab some shut-eye, darlin'," she says to Logan, contentedly leaning against him and gazing at his profile. Her contentment seeps through the bonds they share as she sighs pleasantly.

After a couple of bumpy miles, Logan glances down at her still open eyes. "Thought you'd be resting your eyes, darlin'."

"I am. I'm resting them on you. I spent entirely too long with an inferior imitation, and it is oh so very nice to have you here."

She gives Andi's hand another squeeze. "You too, Sister."

"Tell me about it?" Logan asks.

"You want all the gory details? Are you sure?"

"Yes and yes. The landing as bad as you expected?"

"Worse. Remember all those trees around the school?"

"Of course, darlin'."

"Yeah, well, they did as much damage to me as I did to them. Didn't go out completely until I hit the ground though. Almost rather get blown up, except for the coming around part... even that might have been better. When I came to, he was standing over me, but I was out of it enough to think it was you. Gods, that sucked. The way he was looking at me, I thought you'd been Swiss-cheesed again. Said as much too, mentioned popping a claw and piercing the heart even."

Madeline sighs and snuggles closer to her Logan as she continues.

"That's when he asked, 'You know about these?' with surprise, and I saw bone instead of adamantium. Still wasn't quite to the point of realizing how off I was. Immediately wanted to know what and how, at which point he pointed to another part of the room. That's when I saw Eric.

"Charles was there too and not in a wheelchair. It was all very surreal. Only took a couple more seconds to realize it wasn't my when or where. Proceeded to get the hell out, figuring the only I might find help would be the Nation."

She smirks then. "He tried to stop me, of course, saying I couldn't, and it was too dangerous for mutants. From what he said, seems the Charles here asked him to keep me out of trouble. As if."

Logan's low chuckle rumbles in the cab of the truck. Madeline and Trouble are old chums.

"Started out okay, I suppose. I hitched a ride to White Plains, and he showed up not long after I left the truck. Plied me with steak and whiskey. I don't think he quite believed that I could hold my liquor. I did warn him. I still had a splitting headache from the unintentional crossing, and whatever blasted my brain. But I knew it would go away. Told him as much and that he would not want to be anywhere near me.

"The miles rolled by. The headache got less, and the other pain got worse. As there was no one to fight or fuck, well, I was a joy to be around. When he was just glowering at the road, it was really easy to think it was you."

She sighs.

"Right here, darlin'," he tells her, taking his attention mostly away from the road long enough to kiss her.

"I am glad."

"When did it go bad?"

"Yeah, about then, I guess. I was trying to not antagonize him. Got him to pull off at some run down rest stop. There was an abandoned camping ground next to it. Lots of trees, it seemed perfect. He went to the head, and I walked out into the forest. Found a little clearing, meditated, grounded, started practicing, trying to get a small measure of peace. It was working too, damn him."

"He challenged you?"

"Watched for a bit then just charged in. I started off deflecting then attacked the tender spots. I'm used to the immovable object that you are. Finally got him pissed enough that the claws came out, but he just pinned me to the ground and growled."

Logan shook his head, fairly sure what happened next. "You kissed him?"

"And bit his lip. He responded in kind at first, then threw himself off me like he'd been shocked and had a disgusted look on his face. He's lucky I didn't have a blade on me. I'd have cut off his fucking head. But karma's a bitch and so am I."

Andi has kept her fingers twined with Maddie's. The fact that she can feel their Husbands... Well, they aren't quite here, but it does remind her of something Pablo had said a long, long time ago.

With Madeline, you're whole. With Logan, Rene, and me, you're grounded.

Today, on this mission, the three of them need to be one, and they need to keep each other grounded. It's going to be interesting because both she and Maddie can go off into the ether in their own ways. As long as Maddie doesn't go down the road of Madness while she's heading down the avenue of Metaphysical, they should be okay.

Yep, it's a damn good thing that Logan is such a rock.

Maddie's story is both shocking and not the least bit so. Andi is mostly listening to her story but marveling at a land so different from their home at the same time. This is a road she rides every time she goes back to Denver. It's so weird to see it looking more like the highways in the northern part of the Nation — no lights, not in the best repair even though Logan is able to drive at a reasonably good clip.

At certain parts of the story, she can feel her anger start rising again, although she does her best to push it down. It's easier with the connection to the Crossroads and the rest of the Pentad.

"Wait. He attacked you, sparred for a while, and then he just..." Andi shakes her head. "Gods, what an ass. I really want to kill him. He should hope not to run into us... well, me again."

Madeline just shrugs.

"Hitched it out of there straight to a hick dive bar. If we're here long enough and I can find it again, they have excellent moonshine. Cheap too. That's where I happen to run into an acquaintance of his, a man named Victor. We enjoyed a few rounds, chit-chat, and a dance before he showed up. When I left with Victor, the look on his face was priceless.

"Rode with Victor to... a shit hole town is what we used to call them. There were armed guards and a brothel-like atmosphere where anything could be bought. The cage fights, though, that hit the spot. Had some fun, made some money, was having more fun until he showed up again. Left on foot with one of the gladiators after a seat of the pants intervention.

"Met up with Victor again on the road. I'd been off down memory lane when he caught up with me, and I was soaked to the skin from the sleet."

"Memory lane?"

"The whole area reminded me of when Rene and I were in Sarajevo. It was cold and miserable and a hellhole. I hated winter jobs anyway, but that one was the worst."

Madeline goes quiet for a time, that memory coming to the fore.

"You two will tell me about it someday?" he asks softly.

She grimaces. "Maybe. It was... bad. So many that couldn't be helped. Kind of like here, I guess."

He looks down, gauges the expression on her face, and decides to change the subject back. "Why didn't you stay on with Victor?"

Madeline looks up and smiles appreciatively at him.

And then there's something Andi notes in her Sister's voice when she talks about Victor.

Victor. Victor.

OH! Victor!

She had never met the man in their own world. Andi looks at Maddie, who's looking at Logan. Even now, she isn't sure how much Logan remembers of his brother, although she knows she remembers a whole lot more. Meeting up with him would definitely be complicated.

Nope. Never mind. She can tuck memories back into their little cubbies in her brain; after more than a century and a half of practice, it's become second nature to her. They pop up, she puts them away. And it does need to be an ingrained habit at this point — her brain is very full of so many memories.

"He wasn't headed in the right direction," Madeline continues. "More's the pity. Although, that might have been a good thing. Jimmy and I, we were back on the road heading west barely tolerating each other. It got real shitty in Oklahoma when we picked up those kids. There was just something off about the crowd. It tasted and felt like a mob. He didn't want to get involved."

She rolls her eyes. "Asshole.

"Didn't dare stop after that except for absolute necessities. The kids didn't make a peep about it. I knew, though, once I got them to the Nation they would be safe."

"What was your backup plan?"

"You mean if I couldn't get home?"

He nods.

"I was going to let the Madness consume me and bring retribution to those I could."

"No madness," Andi murmurs as she squeezes her Sister's hand. "We're together, we have the Pack, and we could do this world more good with precision strikes. The biggest question is where I guess. Oklahoma City seems like a reasonable target, but might not be the right one. Do you think if we tracked down Victor and this gladiator we could get enough intel?"

Andi isn't sure how much it matters from Billie's perspective how long they're long. There's something erratic about the way the time flows in relation to their own universe, but with Pablo and Rene sitting in the center, that might eliminate the fluctuations. That would mean things will probably move a whole lot quicker here than back home. So... they'll be back before Billie freaks out? She hopes so. It's best not to stay too long, however.

And they can only start the illicit safety network Maddie mentioned. Having people here besides Tori who know the land would help. Her memories from Logan and Maddie about Victor — the one from their universe — are chaotic and conflicting at times, but even if this world's Victor is a stellar example of humanity compared to Jimmy, that doesn't mean he'll be interested in defending the defenseless, so to speak. But if it was a way to poke at people he didn't like? Yeah, that seems like something he'd do.

Tori knows people who know people and Andi believes the woman is going to be crucial in building the network — and maintaining it — after they're gone.

She can see the border station in the distance, although it might be more accurate to say that she feels the border wards. The magic here is a lot like something she and Moira might create together if it were possible for them to be on the same planet in the same universe at the same time. Well, at least Andi thinks their combined magic would feel something like that.

"Stop a few hundred feet before the booth, would you, Logan? The guards seem awfully nervous."

He nods to that, too.

"And you," she says to Maddie as she rolls her eyes. "I'm damn glad we found you because I think your madness probably would have managed to affect me in our universe."

Andi kisses her hand before she gets out of the truck and walks toward the officers, both of whom are eyeing her suspiciously. One of them is related to Andrea, so her suspicion is drenched with confusion.

She really should have remembered to braid her hair. Oh well.

"Yá'át'ééh! I hope Officer Miles from down Bernalillo way got you the message that we're heading out into the Free Lands."

She stops several paces from them because these kids are nervous as all get out.

"You look just like—"

She sighs. "I know. Yes. A distant cousin, which means you and I are cousins, too. I'm Andi, by the way."

She's racking her brain to remember just which cousin it is, however. She has so many relatives! One of Justin's great something grandchildren, she's pretty sure. Cindy... Ha! Yes, Denny and Jodi's cousin.

"Cynthia Chischilly and my partner, Jethro Harding."

They both look like they're barely out of their teens, but Andi knows Cindy is in her late twenties.


He chuckles, relaxing a bit — about as much as Pablo would in a situation like this. So no, not much.

"Old family name, goes back to a time before the Troubles. And not part of the Harding folks in Chischilly's family."

She nods and hooks a thumb over her shoulder. "My sister and her husband — Madeline and Logan. If Danny got in touch with you, you know we're heading outside the Border."

They exchange a glance; a person does not need to be a telepath to interpret that look. These folks are crazy. Not that being on the receiving end of that look is anything new to the Warrior.

"Are you sure that's a good idea, ma'am?"

She makes a point of shuddering.

"Please, no ma'am-ing. Makes me feel even older than I already am." Then she shrugs. "I'm pretty sure it's not a good idea, but most of the trouble my sister and I get into start out as bad ideas that usually turn to shit before we've managed to fix something that probably needed to be fixed. Or eliminated, if you get my drift."

They stare at her for a good long time.

"You're warriors?"

"Oh, you betcha!" Although she can feel her usual entourage of Spirits around, Lion makes itself seen at her side. For some reason, this amuses Bear. And when Bear is amused, it must — at least in this universe — chuckle and pat her head.

Hmm. Well, it's better than trying to sit on her head, she supposes.

"Heya, Lion! How are you today?"

I am well, Warrior. It would seem that humans find my form most intimidating of the warrior guardians.

Well, whatever works... that's what I like to say. If your presence will get us moving forward faster than Snail would, then all is well!

The two guards stare at Andi and then look back at the truck. Their eyes widen in surprise, so much so that she has to turn and look for herself at whatever has surprised them.

Gorilla is sitting on the top of the cab. Dog is pretending to bark at Gorilla, presumably because Gorilla is spreading out to take up nearly all the space on top of the cab.

She turns around and shakes her head. "They like the truck. We're going to return it to its proper owner, but he's out in the Free Lands."

"Uh huh," Jethro says, with that expression that says he has no idea what is happening and would very much like for these crazy people to be gone.

"Well, I suppose that settles it," Cindy says. "May Great Spirit watch over you and your fellow warriors, Andi."

"Thank you both. I know everyone who leaves says the same thing, but it is our intention to return home safely to our homes and our families."

It feels good to be able to speak the truth for a change without worrying that it might be misconstrued as some slip of the tongue or outrageous comment. The fact that their families and homes are in another universe doesn't matter one wit.

The three Spirits fade away as she trots back to the truck.

We will be but a thought away should you have need of us again, Warrior.

Thank you, Lion.

She climbs back in the truck and takes Maddie's hand again after she closes the door.

"We're good to go. Las Vegas shouldn't be more than half an hour away even if the roads have turned to shit. Heck, if the road is even nearly as good as it is inside the Nation, it won't be more than fifteen minutes to the outskirts of town."

Not much later, they begin to see the lights up ahead. Well, at least, Madeline does. The other two probably had already seen them.

"Logan, pull over. I want to take over driving."

He pulls the pickup to the side of the road and stops. He gets out and leans on the side of the truck.

"What's the plan, darlin'?"

He doesn't mean 'plan' the Andi means 'plan,' at least the way Andi used to mean plan. A century and a half around Madeline had mostly disabused her of that idea when it came to the Wolf Pack. He implies general game plan.

She slides out, stands up and stretches. Her eyes slide to the lights of the town in the distance. "I'm going to work off the assumption that my reputation may have preceded me. That maybe Mad Messijer made a bit of an impression and word has gotten around."

"From the cage matches?"


"You're not thinking of going in solo again are you?"

She grins. "Gosh, no. I've got the beginnings of an entourage now. I've picked up a sweet little piece of ass."

Maddie leans into to cab to leer at Andi. "Think you can handle that, dear Sister?"

Sliding over to the driver's seat to converse with Maddie and Logan, Andi practically falls out of the truck laughing at Maddie's question.

"Oh, sure. As soon as I stop giggling."

"And some hired muscle to look after what's mine," Maddie adds, "while I'm busy making money with my skills."

He raises a sardonic eyebrow. "So, I'm just the hired muscle?"

"Oh, darlin', you'll never be just anything. Though, if anyone mistakes you for shit for brains, don't dissuade them. It might work in our favor."

Andi looks between the two of them, grinning broadly. "You mind if I flirt with the hired muscle? Or are you playing the jealous, possessive victor this time around?"

She giggles once more before taking a deep breath and easing herself back to calm, steady Wolf Pack mode.

"Oh, flirt away, as long as it's only with him," Madeline answers with a wink and a grin of her own. "We keep it in the family, so to speak."

"Right, like I'd seriously flirt with anyone who wasn't family." She rolls her eyes. "Seriously, Maddie, are you okay?" Andi chuckles again. "Coming up from Oklahoma through Texas... Hmm. Down home country gal work for you?"

"That will do nicely, just don't forget your Daisy Dukes."

Logan clears his throat. "And how does the hired muscle get paid?"

"Beer and benefits," she answers without a pause.

"Works for me."

Madeline sidles up to Logan and pulls his face down to hers.

"Of course it does," she purrs. "But you ride in the back."

"For that, I want an advance."

She willingly humors his request with a promising kiss of her own, then smacks his butt as he climbs into the back.

"Slide over, sweet thing," she tells Andi as she makes to get behind the wheel.

Andi laughs as she slides back over, giving Maddie room to get in the truck.

"Got any ground rules for this game? Can I break any fingers that get too grabby? Or do I have to let Logan bust heads instead? That's not going to be as much fun, you know."

"As long as you don't gloat over or even appear to do said breaking."

Then Andi shakes her head. "Daisy Dukes," she mutters. "Good gods, it is winter here, Sis. It's all illusion, and I have a built-in heating system even if it wasn't an illusion, but don't you think that's a bit, oh, unusual for a Normal person to be wearing this time of year?"

"I know it's winter. But you're playing the part of eye candy. Eye candy doesn't dress for the weather. They dress to show off their assets, though if you're looking to appear more, ahem, normal, layer a fur style coat over the top."

"Hmm. A full-length fur coat, nothing too fancy — maybe raccoon. A gift that shows you have money and don't care how you spend it. It's so you, Sis." Andi smiles with a wicked glint in her eyes. "Accidental breakage only, of course. That goes without saying. But no gloating?" She sighs. "Well, you and Logan might need insulin shots." She grins cheerfully. "Good thing our husbands won't be able to see this. Yours would be laughing so hard I'd worry about asphyxia if he wasn't a Spirit, and mine would be pretending to vomit."

Madeline starts up the truck again and gets them back on the road. The town grows larger before them, and finally, they cross the town's border. There is no visible barricade here like there had been at the place she went with Victor. No, this is a little mini-Sin City, playing at being respectable and not all at the same time. The watchers and guards are there, just not as oh so obvious as the others.

From the back, Logan plays his part, glowering at any who might think to look at him. He has also shrugged out of his jacket and has his well-developed arm muscles on full display.

As they drive into town, Andi wraps a simple illusion around herself — just enough to pass muster for any peeping Toms or Tessies that aren't going to get very close. Blonde hair, tank top, jeans, boots — once they reach their destination, she'll refine it.

Madeline pulls into a gas station slash convenience store. She's put her swagger on as they roll through town and has it on full display as she gets out of the truck once more. She glances up the street, a grimace on her face. She scuffs her boots on the ground then starts to head into the store portion of the establishment. Pausing, she looks back at the other two in the truck.

"You, stay in the truck. You, keep an eye on her."

"Yeah, boss." Logan jumps out of the back to stand at the passenger door.

Logan is playing the bodyguard role, looking menacing and tough and possibly even a little mean. Andi can't really judge that last part after all these years. She loves the man as much as she loves her Husband, and can't find meanness in him. But others might, she'll grant that. She looks around, pretending to be bored while Maddie is in the convenience store part of the setup. Yeah, they're being watched. But they watchers are hiding well enough that someone like the person she's pretending to be wouldn't notice them.

Going inside, Madeline goes straight to the cashier, digging bills out of her pocket.

"Fill up and a pack of Camel Reds," she tells him as she passes over an amount that will cover both.

"Want matches or lighter?" he asks in a bored tone.

"Yeah, the matches."

Pocketing her purchase, she saunters back out. "Fill it up."

Although she appears to be watching Maddie as she swaggers back to the truck, Andi can see one of the watchers eyeing her with interest. She's hesitant to look too deeply, but from the surface vibrations of his aura, he's merely curious... not a threat.

Madeline leans her arms on the open passenger window. "We'll find a place to wet our whistles soon, sweetpea. Won't be much longer. Why don't you slide over and give me some sugar while we wait?"

Andi smiles and slides over, twisting a bit so she can rest a hand lightly on Maddie's shoulder before kissing her. It's not a show; neither of them is playing a role. And they're very, very convincing to the peepers.

The kiss, well, that's something.

Express mail from Jacobs, I take it? Madeline slightly raises an eyebrow in question as they slightly break apart.

As best as I can convey it, anyway. My powers are not his powers.

"Mmm, mmm, you sure are sweet," she comments before tasting again.

"Well, I sure do try, Miss Maddie. You treat me so nice, I can't help but be sweet on you."

And don't make me laugh, Sis, or this is going to be one of those personas that will be way too cheerful.

It isn't until Logan calls out "All done, boss" that Madeline drops a kiss just on Andi's forehead and retakes her place behind the wheel.

He climbs into the back as she starts up the pickup. At his tap on the cab, she rolls out. A few blocks in, she finds what appears to be a suitable bar-type place and parks alongside the other assorted vehicles of the two, three and four-wheeled varieties. Nothing immediately apparent what will work for their needs, but she has a feeling that would be found further in anyway.

"Let's see what we can find," she murmurs.

The drive over to the bar is not particularly impressive. Andi spots one other watcher that doesn't pay much attention to them. The buildings are dilapidated but are still being used. It's difficult to recognize these as the quaint tourist shops of their world. And the bar Maddie pulls up to? Well, it's a bar in their world, but it's a pretty fancy one.

She slips out of the truck, snagging her staff as she moves, and flipping it over her shoulder into the scabbard as she tucks herself into the shadows. This place might be more of a shit hole than Denver's worst neighborhood ever was, but she's at home in the shadows. She takes a moment while Maddie and Logan climb out of the vehicle to get a feel for the area. She can practically smell the testosterone.

Fine, she can't. But based on what the ribbons and globules of qi look like around the bar — and she uses that term rather loosely — there are a lot of manly men in there, and they're drunkenly demonstrating just how manly they are. Andi grins. They might be mean and ornery. They might take more than just a little delight in beating the snot out of one another. But it looks like their primary motivation is impressing the various women in the establishment. She's not sure any of them will impress Maddie, but she's going to make a hell of an impression on them.

And it's almost refreshing to look forward to seeing a knockdown, drag-out fight that's fueled by ego and stupidity rather than hatred. It might not happen here — they might make it out of here with just some fun and information. The fights? Oh, those will come later.

Andi brings up a memory from her early days as Ninja to refine the image she's created — Thea, one of the bouncers at Ms. C's. She's learned over the decades to stick with her own height when casting illusions, especially when there's as much of a difference between her five-foot, seven-inch frame and Thea's six-foot, two-inch frame. But she modifies her features to something much less Native and far more down-home country gal: short, curly dark blonde hair with white-blonde highlights, blue-gray eyes, slightly less definition of facial features. The effect is "definitely cute, but not especially memorable." The only reason Thea had been so unforgettable was her towering height. Well, and her laughter that always sounded like pure joy.

Naturally, her uniform isn't going to work for this outing. She conjures up the requested Daisy Duke shorts, shit-kicker boots, and keeps the royal blue tank top. On top of that, she adds a simple calf-length duster coat that looks like a horde of raccoons died to make it. Andi doesn't usually like to add extraneous bits of an outfit that might catch someone's eye when she puts it down. It's poor form to taunt the thievery types with something that's going to disappear.

No, wait. It's not. It's just the sort of humor she likes.

The effect of the illusion is a sweet Southern gal unaccustomed to the colder weather of a northern New Mexico winter night, infatuated with the tough woman fighter. Andi is pretty sure that she looks harmless. She's also entirely convinced she's going to surprise someone here when they realize she isn't as innocent and naive as she looks. She chuckles to herself.

Fox looks up at her from a few paces away.

It's unusual to see one using my gifts so well, Warrior.

Well, I have had a long time to practice. And it can be fun! But thanks. She smiles at the Spirit. You can see the illusion clearly?

It dips its head in a nod.

Wonderful! Half the time I don't know if your counterpart just won't look or if I've gotten something wrong. Illusions are fun! Diplomacy... has its place.

Fox chuckles. Am I to understand that you deliberately antagonize people?

Oh, maybe. When they need it.

Diplomacy does not work with all humans. It is a useful skill to know, but those with much Darkness in them need more than mere diplomatic gestures.

I can't agree more.

She walks around to the front of the truck to meet Maddie. Andi knows her Sister can only see the same thing she always wears when running with the Wolf Pack... until she smiles and takes Maddie's hand.

"Think we could dance, Miss Maddie? I ain't been dancin' in forever!" She reaches out and takes Logan's hand. "You'll watch out for us, won't you, Mister Logan?"

This is what everyone else is going to see... well, less when I lose the coat. And these Daisy Dukes are ridiculous.

She laughs, takes a step back, spins around, and takes Maddie's hand again.

Just one guy by the door. Seems bored. For a badass town, there's not much of what I'd consider security once we got into town. I'm going to guess they're self-policing. This should be fun!

Madeline's eyes twinkle with mischief. I hear laughter is good for your soul.

And of course, they're ridiculous. That's rather the point. If it were my town, this close to the outskirts, I would have spotters out here and keep the real protection further in. Not necessarily self-policing but good for business. Let's you keep an eye on the cheap riff-raff.

"Don't even know if this place has a jukebox, sweet, but if they do, I will take you for a spin."

"Hey, Howlett," she calls, tossing the keys to Logan. "Lock up and find us inside."

He deftly catches the keys and nods. "Yeah, boss."

"Come on, darlin'," Madeline says as she slides a possessive arm around Andi.

She walks her to the door, opens it for her, then returns to her overtly possessive stance as they walk into the bar. Of the eyes that turn toward them, she bypasses the women and makes eye contact with the men, direct and measuring. It must be an amusing tableau for those here, as — of the two them — Madeline is the shorter, smaller one.

With a century and a half of experience learning about each other, it always amuses Andi how Maddie can appear so possessive and, at times, even predatory while leaving both of them the ability to move freely. The people around them see Maddie's arm wrapped firmly around her waist; she feels the lightest touch. They see her arm draped over Maddie's shoulder; she's barely touching her Sister.

However, in this crowd, it doesn't seem to matter much because no one is particularly threatening — not in their body language or auras. They're moderately suspicious, sure, which makes sense because two new faces have just walked in. But the men are trying to figure out their dynamic and the women are just jealous.

Well, why wouldn't they be? Her Sister is damn sexy, especially when she gets focused on her role.

Madeline ignores the tables and takes over open space at the bar itself. It might be cliché that bartenders know what's what and hear about the goings-on around town, but it's usually the case. The best information to be had will be at the bar.

Seeing new patrons, ones that probably have money in their pocket, the woman wanders over. "Whatta y'all have?"

As the beer is likely to be watered down piss and, even in their universe, Madeline doesn't drink American beer, she answers, "Whiskey, neat. Darlin'?"

Before sitting down, Andi pretends to take off the coat, draping it across the stool beside her. As long as she keeps the illusion anchor on her person — in this case, a pebble tucked under her utility belt — and stays within a few meters of the stool, that coat is going to look plenty real to everyone. Well, probably not Logan, as the bodyguard wouldn't have much of a reason to be touching the Boss' girlfriend unless said girlfriend was in danger. But the bodyguard wouldn't be trying to sit next to the girlfriend either.

"Oh, I'd sorely love a mint julep! Ain't never had one, but the grandmams talk about 'em all the time. Whiskey's just fine for me, thank you so much."

She graces the bartender with a brilliant smile. She considers batting her eyelashes at her, which brings back a memory of a day long in the past when she'd done that very thing to her dear friend Bobby. She giggles instead. That had been one of the funnier ways she had broken him out of one of his periodic funks.

Then Andi looks around the place — a new person in town, taking in sights she may or may not have seen before. It's a solidly built structure. It has that much in common with the comparable place in their universe. But the small kitchen that serves fantastic burgers doesn't exist here. This is a place for drinking. There is a jukebox but, at the moment, the patrons are ignoring it. It gives off a festive glow in the corner, so there's an excellent chance it's working. Why waste power on pretty lights?

It's only at about half of what might be considered legal occupancy — not that bars always pay much attention to minor details in the building codes even in their universe. She gets the sense that this is the place folks come to drink and to do so with a dedication that puts drinking on the level of an art form. That tells her at least two things about the place — these aren't the ones who are going to start a fight, and the alcohol is at least passable.

The latter is her biggest concern. Thanks to Maddie, she's come to appreciate the tastes of a multitude of alcoholic beverages. She can't get drunk, so she only drinks for the enjoyment of flavors.

Or to give her a reason to play the tipsy ditz to the downright angry drunk. Thanks to tutoring from Maddie, Mitch, and even her brother, Andi can give a flawless performance in any role. But the sweet young gal who can drink any man under the table does tend to be her favorite.

The bartender barely blinks at their orders, just reaches for some lowball type glasses and a bottle, pours their drinks, and slides them over.

"Don't run tabs," she says without preamble. "That'll be twenty."

Madeline leaves twenty-five on the bar and lifts her glass. "Cheers, darlin', may we both find what we're looking for."

Andi raises the glass and smiles at Maddie, but before she can take a sip, Logan comes in... making an entrance as only he can.

Damn, that man still tickles my fancy and Rene isn't even here to stir things up, Andi silently says to Maddie.

He's pulled his jacket back on and doesn't have to try to look menacing as he scans the interior. He makes a beeline for Andi and Madeline when he spots them.

"All taken care of, boss," he says as he hands over the keys.

The bartender looks at him, a puzzled frown on her face.

"Beer. Whatever you have in a bottle, preferably cold," he tells her.

After another searching look, she goes back to the cooler and pulls out a short, fat green bottle that said Mickeys on it. She passes it over. "Eight. No Tabs."

Madeline drops another ten on top of the first twenty-five. "He's with me."

Andi has made a point of watching him walk toward them, hand the keys to Maddie, and order his beer.

"My goodness, Miss Maddie, he's so pretty." She knocks back the glass of whiskey and manages not to choke. It's not the absolute worst whiskey ever, but it's definitely not top shelf.

She leans over and gives Maddie a semi-chaste kiss.

"They have a jukebox. Sure hope they got some Elvis."

Madeline glances at the jukebox then back at Andi and gives her a nod.

"Howlett, take her over there. Let her pick a few tunes."

Logan moves to set the beer down.

"You can take it with you."

He nods, switches the beer to his other hand and offers Andi his arm.

Andi smiles happily and hops down off the stool, then takes Logan's arm.

"Ain't too many gentlemanly men left in the world, Sir Logan. Hope ya don't mind me callin' ya that," she says as they walk over to the jukebox — although 'walk' isn't precisely what she would call her current method of ambulation. Definitely not a prance or a strut, not quite a flounce but more than a glide. Sashay? Well, whatever it is, every male eye is watching her Daisy Dukes, no doubt wondering how the hell they're staying on. Pretty sure magic isn't something that would occur to any of them. Just about every female eye not in the head of the bartender is watching Logan.

And if you do mind, sorry. Still working out which version of Weird Andi we've got with us.

"As you say, Miss."

Logan does not crack a smile, though he can imagine Rene's laughter and Madeline's subsequent admonishment.

As long as it's your own internal weirdness, dear Sister, and not the kind that searches you out. I do believe my Mate will find us enough trouble all on her own.

Thankfully, this role seems to require preternatural cheerfulness, so smiling at Logan's comment is both natural and part of the act.

Now, Logan, you know damn well I'm a magnet for weird and don't have any control over the type of weirdness that I attract. I just hope the Weird dovetails nicely with whatever Trouble decides to follow our dear Madeline around town.

Batting her eyelashes at him, however, is pure Acting.

There. That would even get Pablo laughing hysterically. And our missing Brother would be adding his fuel to the fire, something I don't think this establishment could handle.

After Andi and Logan walk away, the bartender does say something.

"He doesn't seem like the type to take orders…" The woman lets the sentence drift off, only implying her meaning.

Madeline shrugs. "I pay well."

That perks up an ear or two in hearing distance.

"Good benefits too."

The bartender does something of a double take, glancing at Andi then to Madeline then Logan and back to Madeline.

Madeline just smiles smugly.

Across the bar, the woman leans in closer and lowers her voice. "You looking for any more staff?"

Madeline leans on the bar herself and sips the whiskey. She shakes her head yet offers in a tone matching the woman's, "I am looking for something, though. Could be a finder's fee in it."

"What be that?"

"Someplace with a bit more… entertainment. Maybe games of chance or skill. Anything like that 'round here?"

"Mebbe." The woman has worked the bar long enough to be cautious, but the idea of a finder's fee is appealing.

"My sweet thing wants a dance. You think of anything, you know where I'll be." With that, Madeline drains the whiskey and turns to find Andi.

Knowing that Logan is watching her back is the only reason Andi can manage to force herself to stand at the jukebox in such a ridiculous way — feet together, knees barely bent, elbows on the flat glass, and chin propped in her cupped hands.

Comfortable? No, not in the least. Distracting? Oh, hell yes!

She spends more time scanning the qi around the bar than the songs available.

"Ooh, looky! There's an Elvis song! Ain't my favorite, but nice for dancing." Actually, Are You Lonesome Tonight is kind of depressing if she was to express her honest opinion. "Wow, they got some old-timey classics."

And most of them are crap. And fucking depressing. She points to two others that are at least good enough for slow dancing: Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart and Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven.

Maybe it's just her, but it seems awfully damn weird that there isn't a single song in this jukebox that was recorded after 1998. That was the year before both this world's Andrea Yazzie and she returned to the States from China. Coincidence? Probably.

Except she doesn't believe in coincidences. On the other hand, even the Warrior with a century and a half of her Sister's lessons in paranoia can't think of a reason — no matter how bizarre — that it wouldn't be a coincidence.

As Andi makes herself "comfortable" at the jukebox, Logan turns and places himself between her and the rest of the room. He listens in on the various conversations, ignoring the one Madeline is having. Currently, most of those conversations are about them. Most of it is idle curiosity from town people beat down by their circumstances. There is a couple of solo men who watch with a bit more than casual interest. There is also the drunk slumped in the corner shadows of the bar who does not seem all that drunk.

He watches the bartender make her way over to said drunk after Madeline turns her back.

It's not hard for Madeline to spot Andi. It would have been difficult to miss her and her ass sticking out like that. The appreciative smile does not need to be faked. She pushes off the bar and takes her time to cross over so she can obviously admire the scenery. The taste of envy is in the air, but nothing that indicates trouble, at least not yet.

Logan shifts as she approached, stepping to the side to let her pass.

Madeline stands next to Andi and puts a possessive hand on her ass. "Find anything you like, sweet?"

She points out the three songs to Maddie that are at least somewhat familiar from her youth. "If ya don't pay no nevermind to the words, I think these are nice for dancin', Miss Maddie."

And I may have just sprained the language center of my brain with that double — or possibly triple — negative.

Rather than groan, as she normally would after such a heinous desecration of the English language, Andi giggles.

Fascinating swirls of qi at the far corner of the bar and a different kind of interesting at a couple of tables. Let's give them a good show, shall we? I doubt I'll get the chance to accidentally dislocate any fingers, but maybe Logan can show off some of his skills.

"Whatever tickles your fancy, sweet."

With her unoccupied hand, she pulls an assortment of coins from her pocket and offers them to Andi. Once the tunes are picked, Madeline leads her to what passes for a dancing area. She pulls her in close, molding their bodies together.

Too bad there wasn't that Bonnie Raitt tune in there. It could have been our theme song. Let's give them something to talk about. Almost kind of wish I wore taller shoes though.

Although her smile is more innocent and friendlier than anything she managed after her Curse hit her, it's not difficult for Maddie to see Ninja in her eyes, lurking in the background.

Could have been? I thought it was our theme song.

"Com'ere and show me why I keep you around, sweet."

Show them too.

Logan has gone back to the bar and leans next to the stool Andi had previously occupied. He takes his time with his beer. It isn't the best he's ever had, but it's far from the worst. His eyes rove the bar as his ears pick out the things he wants to hear. A throat clears behind him. He turns just enough to give a side eye to the bartender.

"Did you want another beer?"

He glances at the one he has, drains the rest of it and nods as he sets the empty on the bar. The fresh bottle has a piece of paper stuck to the bottom of it. He palms it and slides it into his jacket pocket without looking at it, then pulls payment from his jeans pocket.

It isn't the fact that they move together so well, so gracefully that catches just about every eye in the room — it's Andi's steadfast focus on Maddie. Her eyes never leave her Sister's. While they give their audience the impression that Maddie is leading this dance, the truth is both simpler and far more complex — they are mirror images working together. It's something that had been instinctive from the moment they opened that first portal near their cabin to free Rene from his prison. After so many decades, it's as natural as breathing.

That's what happens when Sisters share a soul, Andi thinks.

What's most amusing to her is the reactions of those around them. They see two women dancing almost erotically. She can't honestly say that she doesn't love dancing with Maddie, but they're both working the room and observing everything just as intently as Logan is.

The older guy at the big table might stroke out. Two of the others have qi similar enough that I'd peg them as sons. 'What a way to go,' they'll tell everyone. Not that we're here to kill anyone, but the man isn't in the best of health. One of the loners is only pretending to be interested; I suspect Logan is more his type. But we even have the women hooked, although the bartender is trying to resist our charm. She's a pro — I suspect she's bartender and bouncer all rolled into one. That's not a tough exterior hiding a soft heart, but she might still have a heart.

In the silence between the end of one song and the beginning of the next, she lightly traces Maddie's cheekbone with the backs of her fingers. "You're beautiful, you know," she whispers.

And you don't need taller shoes for this gig. It would only tempt me to suggest a tango, which would kill papa over there for sure.

Madeline smiles, but it's an arrogant, possessive smile. She is, after all, in character.

A tango would be fun. Alas, I have no roses. I'm not sure we can get much more from this crowd. But they aren't our target audience anyway. Still…

Her eyes seek out the couples as they do a slow spin on the dance floor.

I think we need to share our dancing skills with the other women here. I've got my eye on the raven-haired one with the insecure dolt. Go cheer up the little brunette with the possessive brute. And let Logan do his job if it comes to that.

If I do my job right, Logan won't have to do his. And he takes to boredom a little better than I do. Or a lot, Andi adds with a silent laugh.

She watches Andi sashay away, then turns to find her intended partner. She walks straight to the woman, ignoring the others, and holds out her hand. "My name is Mad Messijer. Come for a spin?"

The woman hesitates, glancing at the male beside her, then seems to throw caution to the wind and accepts Madeline's hand. She wants the attention of this stranger.

As the woman accepts her hand and stands, Madeline channels her deceased husband's wanton ways.

"Might I ask your name, lovely lady?"

"Stella. My name's Stella," she says with just the hint of a blush on her dark cheeks.

Madeline never breaks eye contact with Stella as she brings her hand to her lips and lays a soft yet teasing kiss on the back of her hand. "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance."

The boyfriend type twitches. Madeline notes it but never takes her attention from Stella.

Andi smiles radiantly as she and Maddie part, and she watches her Sister over her shoulder as she heads for the woman with hair as dark as Andi's. Despite playing the eye candy in this one-act play, she can let her natural confidence in their relationship peek out — Mad Messijer might dance with every woman in this place, but Andi will be the one walking out the door on her arm. As Maddie said, this isn't their target audience.

She stops by the table with the lout who glowers at her and the shy brunette who keeps glancing at him for cues. She gives them a little curtsey and a friendly smile.

"Well, howdy there. Could I have this dance, Miss?" Andi asks the woman as she holds out her hand.

"You wanna dance with someone, you can dance with me," the man says, pulling his partner closer.

"Why, sugar, I'd be happy to! But look how tall ya are! I'm gonna need a few turns around the floor with someone closer to my own height first." She bends over, reaching across the table to pat the hand he has wrapped around his bottle of beer. "Miss Maddie ain't likin' me to have much fun with Mister Logan, ya see. My mama called me Andi, and Miss Maddie likes to call me Sweetpea. Makes no nevermind to me so long as I don't get called in late to supper. Papa used to say silly things like that all the time. What's y'alls names?"

The brunette keeps glancing at him, and he just glowers at Andi.

"I'm Lola," she whispers. "He's Aaron."

"Well, I sure am pleased to meet you both! Y'all don't mind, do ya, Aaron, if I dance a bit with Lola? I swear I'm pretty harmless 'cept when I ain't had enough coffee in the mornin'. Lordy, I can trip right over my own big toes."

Aaron sizes her up and apparently decides she's ditzy enough to not be a threat to his ego. He nods and takes a sip of his beer.

"None of that inappropriate stuff you were doing before."

"Oh, no, sir! I just want to move my feet. And if'n I leave y'alls with smiles when I leave, well, mama always said ain't nothin' better than a smile to lift a heart what might be down. And don't our world give us enough reasons to be down? Why sure it does!"

"Damn, you talk a lot," Aaron grumbles.

"Oh, I know!" Andi laughs and holds her hand out to Lola again. "My whole family be telling me that for nigh unto forever. Even got a cousin or two sayin' it's 'cause I ain't got enough smarts in my head to hold words inside."

Lola looks at Aaron one more time before taking Andi's hand, and they move to the small dance area. The song is more suited to Maddie's pseudo-seductive dance with the dark-haired woman, but it has a strong and steady beat.

"You know how to two-step, Lola?"

"Who doesn't?" she replies, smiling hesitantly.

"Lord knows I ain't met no one yet!" She grins as they begin circling around the floor. If Lola is surprised by Andi's ability to lead, she doesn't show it. Like most paired dances that have a set pattern, the partners set the tone — from utterly chaste to downright erotic. Lola and Andi are at the proper and innocent end of the spectrum.

As seconds pile atop one another, Andi can sense the subtle changes in the qi around the room. Either the bartender has a gift that she keeps well-hidden, or she's been doing this long enough that instinct is making her hyper-vigilant.

"I'm not a very good dancer," Stella preemptively apologizes to Madeline.

"Nonsense," Madeline objects, not bothering to keep her voice from carrying. "You just need a good partner to guide you. Someone who knows how to lead."

She brings Stella in close and gathers up her other hand. The hand she had kissed she places on her own shoulder then slides her own hand to the small of Stella's back. Now she does lower her voice pitched only to caress Stella's ears. "The one hand goes here on my shoulder, the other I hold. Do you feel my hand on your back?"

Stella nods.

"When I am going to move backward, you will feel pressure like so, now step with me. Good. Now I go forward and then my hand lifts, and you step backward. Good. See? You can do this. Now, keep your eyes on mine and try to only notice the feel of my hand."

Madeline starts slow and lets Stella gain her self-confidence before moving them faster and pressing her closer. She certainly does not have to feign her attraction to Stella. She hopes Andi can manage to keep her laughter inside.

When he sees his Mate and Sister split up to take on new dance partners, Logan drains his second beer, lightly places the empty on the bar and steps forward to ostensibly watch. One of the other patrons comes to stand beside him.

"I guess she pays pretty well," the newcomer says.

Logan nods then takes a half step forward to regain a full view of both Madeline and Andi. When the man tries to also step forward, Logan puts up an arm, stopping him.

"I can hear ya just fine, bub. Boss pays me to keep an eye out, I keep an eye out."

Fortunately for the other man, he doesn't try to move either Logan or his arm.

"Think your boss might be looking for more hands?"

Logan offers a small shrug. "Wasn't 'fore we came in here."

The man lets out a low whistle. "Your boss sure knows how to pick 'em. Those two are a couple of hot heads."

"Guess she wants to see me earn my keep."

"I kin help your boss."

Logan shakes his head. "Best stay out of her way."

While Maddie very nearly seduces the lovely Stella — and she is lovely — Andi slowly spins around the small floor with Lola. Unlike Maddie, she's every bit as friendly and semi-personal as she was so many years ago when the gals at Ms. C's finally got her out on their dance floor during slow patrol nights. Gods, that had to have been at least four or five years after the twins were born. She smiles at the memory.

"Are you really a cheerful person all the time, Andi?"

"Well, I sure do try, Miss Lola."

She smiles hesitantly. "You dance real good."

Andi returns the smile and dips her head in thanks. "Got a lot of girls in my family and not too many boys, and we all like to dance!"

She watches Logan out of the corner of her eyes and picks out bits and pieces of his conversation with the other bar patron. The eagerness of the local is a distraction, one that can be dismissed for the moment. Unfortunately, Aaron is getting annoyed and more than a little restless at the table.

Oh, my. He really doesn't like me.

Andi had expected trouble from Aaron, and he isn't disappointing her. His impatience is growing faster than it probably should given how much distance she's keeping between Lola and herself. And the insecure dolt? Well, insecure men are not exactly predictable in how they're going to react when someone pays as much attention to their girlfriend as Maddie is paying to his.

Well, drats. Looks like both men are working themselves into confrontation mode, Andi tells her family. Mister Possessive is all yours, Logan.

Logan waits until Aaron is out of his chair before making a move. Then he makes himself a wall between Andi and Lola and the jackass intending to do one or both of them harm. "I wouldn't if I were you, bub."

"Ain't none of your business, asshole. Now get out of my way."

Logan responds with a look that says make me. He catches the thrown punch and forces Aaron to his knees. "Stay down, bub. Let the folks here continue to enjoy their evening."

Andi covers her instinct to chuckle at Logan's move toward Aaron by yelping and pulling Lola off to the side. She clutches Andi's arm as Logan forces her boyfriend to his knees.

"He's not going to hurt him, is he?" she whispers.

Andi shakes her head. "Not if Aaron stays downs," she murmurs.

On the other side of the dance floor, Stella gasps, but it isn't Logan and Aaron she's watching. The man she had been sitting with has stood up, all six-foot-four of him, and is glowering in their direction.

"Just keep dancing," Madeline tells her.


"I'll keep you safe."

"But he…."

Sending Stella your way, Sister.

"Go stay with my sweet while I talk him down."

That's when the other guy stands and sets his sights on Maddie. Well, this is turning into quite the exciting night, Andi decides. Not quite the sort of fun they were looking for, but... what the heck!

Madeline takes Stella through a twirl that sends her in Andi's direction. She turns to find the male stalking toward her with his fist clenched.

Andi keeps an eye on Stella to gauge her reactions. As Maddie hands her off to Andi, she smiles at Stella briefly and then makes sure she is oh so blatant about watching her Sister with the appropriate amount of appreciation — in this case, her role calls for a healthy dose of hero worship and some lust to spice things up. Usually, the Helpless Damsel Eye Candy act isn't something she can keep up for very long. She tends to start laughing just a bit too much.

"What do you got that I don't?" he growls at Madeline.

Madeline stands there casually, utterly unintimidated by him for all to see.

"Aside from the obvious physical attributes," she answers acidly, "Style, Class, and Money. Now, why don't you go back to wherever you came from, and I'm going to finish the night with some very charming company."

He tries to grab her arm as Madeline turns away. She readily steps out of reach.

"Don't push your luck," she warns him.

"You think you can take me on?" he challenges her.

The whole place goes silent except for the strains from the jukebox. Having an audience emboldens him.

"You want to fight me? Come on, bitch, fight me."

"As if."

"You scared, bitch?"

She rolls her eyes. Gods, they're all the same. "There's no money it, asswipe."

This time she does turn her back on him.

"Tucker! No!" the bartender calls out.

"I'm Stella. Madeline said I should stay with you," she says to Andi.

Where Lola is scared, Stella is a lot more collected... and interestingly, she seems to be more worried about Maddie than her boyfriend, Tucker.

"Best place to be," Andi agrees. "Miss Madeline, she's powerful smart, and she can take care of herself. And Mister Logan ain't gonna let no one hurt me, so he ain't gonna let no one hurt you if you're with me." She shrugs. "Most folks call me Andi. Guess you two know each other, huh?"

"Hey, Andi. Hey, Lola. I keep telling you that Aaron is a fool."

Lola shrugs; there's an air of defeat tinged with defiance around her. Either she believes she can't do any better than Aaron or he's the least objectionable of a whole lot of unpleasant men. In either case, she's not going to let anyone else tell her who to date.

"He's not all bad, Stella."

Madeline had heard the step. She ducks under the huge fist swung at her, pivoting toward her attacker as she does so. She comes up inside, slamming the heel of her hand into his solar plexus. He reels backward, crashes into two tables and hits the floor. His mouth gapes open and closed like a fish out of water, but he makes no sound.

She has the advantages of speed, skill and the knowledge of how to give her strikes that much more force. Tucker does not know what him. All he knows is that he's on the floor and can't breathe. Madeline ignores him. Instead, she looks at the patrons who had scattered from their table just before he landed on it.

"My apologies. Let me buy your next round."

The offer of free drinks has them walking away from the fallen Tucker and setting their table and chairs upright. Madeline signals the bartender.

"Have a drink with us?" one offers.

She considers turning them down then decides on another tack. "As long as Stella is also welcome."

"Sure. More the merrier. Bring your other friends too."

Suddenly she is very popular.

Andi watches Maddie as she dances with Tucker and lays him out on the floor. The idiot never stood a chance, but everyone always seems to underestimate Maddie. The fact that she can be lethal with or without weapons is part of why she's so dangerous. The fact that no one expects such a slight woman to be lethal only makes her more dangerous to those who don't see that she's a walking war zone.

It's extraordinarily difficult to keep from smiling.

And she's making friends with the locals. Why is Andi not surprised? Oh, right. It's Maddie. When she waves them over, she let her happiness show in yet another brilliant smile.

Stella walks away but Lola tugs on her arm and whispers close to Andi's ear. "You think your lady would let Aaron join us? He's not all bad. He's just, well, scared of losing me."

Andi glances at her and sees nothing but sincerity in her aura. Then she looks over at the boyfriend. Looking only with her eyes, she sees a man who's barely containing his rage at being held back by Logan. But when she looks deeper...

Dear gods... no wonder he's possessive in a place like this, a town like this, a world like this. He and Lola have a soul bond.

"Yeah, I think so," she says. "So long as he can be polite and friendly and all. I think y'all can convince him." Andi looks at Lola with as serious a look as she can while playing this part. "You love him like crazy, don't ya?"

Logan, let him up. I think he'll be sensible for a little while.

Lola doesn't hesitate to nod, though it's a barely perceptible thing. "He's awful possessive, but Stella and the other gals around town don't know him like I do."

She gives Lola a nudge toward him. "Come on over and join the party once you've put your magic spell on him, Lola darlin'. I still owe him a dance and I ain't gonna go back on my word if he wants to hold me to it."

She sashays back to Maddie's side, smiles and bats her eyelashes.

I hope you don't plan on staying very long. I'm not sure how long I can contain my laughter in close quarters like this. Oh, and Lola has a soul bond with her bonehead boyfriend. A trip or two around the dance floor and I might be able to convince him to be less of a jerk... to her, anyway.

"You're my hero, Miss Madeline!"

Madeline smiles widely at Andi and her words. She dips her into a toe-curling kiss.

You can send that back to Jacobs when you get a chance and thank him for his inspiration.

Andi happily helps Maddie put on a good show for the bar patrons.

If he's paying attention, he knows exactly what we're doing. Of course, I think he and Pablo are having too much fun with Moira and Paddy.

Madeline waves over Logan, Stella, Lola, and Aaron as well.

Those that had invited her and "her friends" over have pulled up enough chairs for all of them and few more people seem to want to be in her orbit. Madeline makes a show of seating the ladies first; Lola with Aaron, then Andi on one side of her chosen spot and Stella on the other. She situates herself and slides her arms around both of them. When Stella doesn't object, she pulls her in a bit closer.

Logan circles the small gathering and puts himself in Tucker's path should the fool decide to try again. He meets Madeline's eyes and gives a slight nod.

There's as a pause as those around her wait for someone else to ask the first question. Unsurprisingly, it's Stella who breaks the awkward stillness for them.

"You said your name was Mad Messijer. What does Mad stand for?"

Stella gets points for being able to say her last name after only hearing it once.

Madeline smiles sardonically. "It means I'm certifiably bat-shit crazy." Absolutely true.

"Don't you have a regular name?" Stella asks.

"I did once, a long time ago," she offers with a shrug. Partially true. Three weeks in this shit hole of a universe has felt like decades.

Before Stella can press further, one of the men asks, "Where'd you learn to do what you did to Tucker?"

She gives them another casual but smug shrug. "Something I picked up as a kid." Also completely true. It's just a small part of the training she had from Swift.

And more random questions and comments flow in, with Madeline giving answers that are more or less true. And in the middle of it all is a profound sense of deja vu.

"There she goes again," Rene, standing behind her, remarked to Francois, just loud enough for only her and Francois to hear.

"Oui, mon ami. Her Highness is holding court."

You Jesters better watch yourselves before you become my dancing monkeys.

As Maddie chats up the locals, Andi plays her part and pretends to hang on every word. Watching the flow of qi rolling through the bar is instructive. Maddie has the rapt attention of all the men, including Aaron and Tucker. She glances over at Lola, who's one of the few people not paying attention to Maddie.

I'm going to have a word with Aaron.

She gives Maddie another kiss — not toe-curling, but not chaste either. Then she reaches over and taps the back of Aaron's hand that's wrapped loosely around his beer bottle.

"Still want that dance, sugar?"

His eyes barely flicker to Lola; it would have taken a sharp eye to catch it. Andi, on the other hand, makes a point of looking at her.

"Y'all don't mind me dancin' with your man, do ya, Lola?"

She shakes her head quickly and says, "No, no, of course not!" She won't meet anyone's eyes at this point.

Make that two or three words. And yes, I'll be sweet as sugar just like Abe always said I should be. I was such a vexation to the man. It's a good thing I could make him laugh, too.

She doesn't recognize the song that's playing, but it's slow enough for a waltz. Aaron isn't a fantastic dancer, so she tries to subtly lead without actually leading — and she makes him look a lot better than he really is. She hopes he'll remember at least a little.

"Ya know what, Aaron? That Lola, she's plum crazy about you. You sure are a lucky guy."

He grunts something that might be an acknowledgment.

"And I can understand if ya might be a tad jealous if'n all those other guys are lookin' at her like they do. Yes, sir, ain't no surprise about that. But I can tell when I'm lookin' at somebody who ain't got eyes for no one else." She looks up at him and smiles. "That's your Lola. And you're doggone nuts about her, too, ain't ya? See? This here thing what you got? It's that old til death do ya part stuff, and happily ever after in Heaven kind of thing."

"What do you know about it?"

Andi just tilts her head and keeps smiling. "Seen it before. My folks and their folks. Even saw that look leveled at me once upon a time. He had the prettiest brown eyes I ever looked into, that's the God's honest truth."

He pauses and seems to weigh his truth against hers. "What happened to him?" he finally asks.

"Died. He was a peacekeeper in a little town, like his daddy before him. Some varmints come through town one day and... well..." She shrugs and looks away.

Good grief, there I go lying my ass off again. I'm glad Pablo isn't here. He'd be cracking up, and I would never be able to keep a straight face.

"But he loved you."

She nods. "Sure as you love Lola and she loves you, yes, sir."

"What about her?" he asks, looking over Andi's shoulder at Maddie.

"She's nice, treats me kindly, keeps me safe. Lets me travel with her and Mister Logan."

"But you don't love her."

She looks up at him again and smiles sadly. "Maybe I do. Not the same as how I loved my husband, maybe closer to a sister and a best friend. I ain't never had a best friend, but I got me some sisters." Andi shrugs again. "Ain't been but a few months I been travelin' with them, so I guess I'll see what comes of it."

"How do I know I can believe you? About Lola, I mean?"

"Aw, sugar, I'd swear on a Bible if'n you had one. But ya just ask her when you're alone, and look at her eyes. They're gonna sparkle up something fierce! I could tell ya I love ya, but my eyes ain't gonna tell ya that. Lola's will."

He narrows his eyes then. "Are you some kind of witch?"

She chuckles. "No, sir. I'm just a gal who's seen love and hate and indifference. Maybe I ain't that old, Aaron, sir, but I seen plenty. You can believe me or not. But... well, if'n ya believe Lola, I think you'll both be happier. And ya won't be so tense with your dancin'." She winks at him.

Surprisingly, he smiles. "You're a strange one, Miss Andi."

"Yes, sir. So I've been told. It's somethin' even my Pablo told me, 'cept he only called me Miss Andi when we was courtin'."

As the song ends, Aaron walks her back to the table and puts on his best manners by holding out Andi's chair for her.

"Oooh, you are a gentleman, sir! Lola, you got yourself a real nice man there."

Lola blushes furiously as Aaron returns to his seat next to her.

They drink, time passes. At one point, Madeline makes a show of rummaging in her pocket. "Well, damn," she comments to Andi, "Looks I need to find some more work soon, Sugar. The pocket change is gettin' low."

She watches the beginning of Maddie's last act here and grins.

"Well, that's fine by me, Miss Maddie. I sure do love watchin' you work!"

"What kind o' work do ya do?" one of their tablemates asks.

Madeline stretches and wraps her arm around Stella. "I participate in games of skill."

"Skill?" Stella asks. "What do you mean? Like shooting pool or something."

"Well, damn, I haven't hustled pool in ages and then some. No, beautiful, I like to mix it up in the ring."

"Boxing?" she asks, intrigued as it seems were the others.

"Among other things. Y'all know any place I might find someplace I can throw my bid in?"

A couple of the men, the ones sitting in front of Logan, start a quiet conversation. He meets Madeline's eyes over the top of their heads and nods. Stella sits forward and shakes a finger at them.

"No," she insists. "You can't be talking about the place. It's a god damned zoo." She turns to Madeline. "Mad, you can't go there."

"Darlin', I don't even know where you're talking about."

"It's an awful place," she says. "They'll bet on anything and sell anything there. You just can't."

Madeline grins. "Sounds like a perfect hive of scum and villainy. Sounds like my kind of place."

"If you go, then I'm going too. You need someone who knows the place."

Madeline tightens up her arm to pull Stella close and kiss her cheek. "And you are a lovely guide. I accept. Howlett there will make sure you and my sweet stay safe."

Stella looks over at Logan who is watching her intently. "Is he always that intense?"

"It's part of his charm." Madeline then leans toward Andi. "Collect your coat, my sweet. We're heading out."

Andi smiles as Maddie banters with the locals and suppresses a laugh at the old Star Wars reference. She invariably gravitates to just those sorts of places, and Andi has learned a lot over the years by accompanying her on her jaunts to the less reputable areas of the world — much to her dear Husband's dismay, of course. Ninja always did have a ruthless aspect to her personality; that's the part of her that thrives when working with Maddie.

And after all these years, even the part of her that Pablo still calls his "delicate librarian" is fascinated by observing people who populate the hives of scum and villainy. People watching is just about the only sport these days in which she doesn't have a huge advantage over anyone else with keen observational skills.

While she would dearly love to laugh at Stella's comment about Logan, Andi knows his kinder, gentler side after all — she merely giggles.

"Charming... oh, that he is! He rolled his eyes at me once, Stella. Only took an hour of flirting with him."

She kisses Maddie's cheek before getting up and looping her way back to the stool where she had left her "coat." She tries not to let her eyes dart back and forth like she ordinarily would, although it doesn't stop her from watching the qi. Logan is supposed to be watching her sweet damsel back. Well, sure, he'd do it anyway because they're working. But Andi is used to being part of the network of watching eyes when working with the Pack. She feels like she's deliberately put a blindfold on. On the other hand, following the swirls and ribbons does make her look a little absent-minded, so that's a bonus feature.

She pretends to shrug the coat on before heading toward the door to meet Maddie and Stella.

She has a feeling at least half the guys in the bar will eventually be heading over to the zoo. And she wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Tucker showed up so he could get his chance to smack Maddie down. It would be stupid, but Tucker is more than a little angry right now. If he's got even an average amount of intelligence, it's all being soaked in that anger. Andi sure as hell wouldn't bet on him to even make contact. Hmm, well, unless Maddie decided to let him, which she's been known to do. Frequently.

No, no... mustn't burst out laughing.

Maddie is solicitous about helping Stella into the truck and waits until Andi climbs in as well, adding a Jacobs-inspired kiss before going around to the driver's side.

I know that look in your eye, Sister dear. It probably wouldn't be a good idea to kill anyone tonight, though. Perhaps just a near-mortal wounding. You know, to keep with your idiom.

Appreciation for her delight in referencing Monty Python and the Holy Grail runs the gamut — and is fully expressed in her children. Maria has been known to toss any nearby object at her mother to show her displeasure. Paul will happily match her quote for quote.

Yep, it's a good thing the children stayed with Tori.

"That's a nice coat, Andi," Stella says. "What is it? I've never felt anything so soft."

"Raccoon mostly. Some fox and beaver maybe. I don't know much about preparin' furs for wearin', but I got a cousin who does. If I understand half of what he babbled at me, whoever made this here coat is a true artist. It's mighty warm, too." She smiles at Stella. "You get cold, you let me know. Plenty of room for both of us to stay out of the cold."

Of course, she will have to add a little shapeshifting to the illusion to make that work. But unless this is a town of one hundred percent absolutely Normal folks — and it definitely is not — it's just all going to be part of the background hum of humanity. She would have to be using any of her gifts a lot more actively for anyone to notice, and even then the observers would need to be looking for something... and looking intently. Andi suspects that the watchers will be looking at that level of scrutiny when they get into Oklahoma.

Stella steals a glance at Maddie before nodding. "If you don't mind, I might take you up on it. It gets really cold out here at night."

She's dressed for the weather if all she'll need to do is move from one enclosed space to another — or maybe a short walk back to wherever she lives. But for watching the fights for any length of time? Ah, the poor dear... she's just not dressed for it.

She directs Maddie through part of the town. After making a note that her favorite tourist shop has been razed and not turned into a bordello, Andi turns her attention to the vehicles they pass. Most of them are old pickups like the one they're driving — different makes, models, and ages, but pickups nonetheless. There are a few smaller vehicles that look like mutated sedans, but the ones that catch and hold her attention are the ones that probably started their lives as buses or RVs.

And unless her mind is playing tricks on her, Andi is pretty sure she saw a tank — some kind of Bradley, though the gods only know what the base model might have been. It's not a large personnel carrier, however. And that makes it unsuitable for their purposes.

Stella points to an area to park and says, "Are you sure you want to do this, Mad?"

Andi bites the inside of her lip to keep from giggling. Oh, yeah. She does. And maybe there will be enough people trying to play grab-ass that Andi can break a finger or two. All accidentally, of course!

Madeline caresses Stella's cheek. "It's sweet that you're worried. This is how I make my living, darlin', and I'm very good at what I do."

From just off of the passenger door where he stands, Logan clears his throat or maybe chokes on a laugh. You neglected the second part, darlin'. That what you do isn't very nice.

Oh, she'll find out soon enough.

Madeline opens the door and gets out then turns and offers her hand to Stella. "Show me around. Tell me what's what, and let me prove to you that you have no need to worry."

Stella takes Madeline's hand and slides out. When she stands up and looks into Madeline's eyes, she's biting her lip. "This is a really bad place."

Madeline lets her smile fade. "I can guarantee you that I have seen worse. And as sweet and attractive as you are, you are not going to talk me out of this. If you don't want to be here, I'll have Howlett escort you to where you do want to be."

"I'm just worried you'll get hurt."

Madeline's smile returns. "I know, and I appreciate that. Why don't you give me a kiss for luck then?"

Stella glances over her shoulder toward Andi and Logan who aren't paying attention to them but rather to their surroundings. "What about…?"

"My sweet knows her position with me is secure. But I'm sure she'd love a kiss from you too."

Stella glances back again, considering Andi in that way for the first time. "I…"

"No pressure, lovely Stella. Maybe later. Now, I need to go earn a living."

She offers Stella her arm. Stella hesitates briefly before slipping her arm through Madeline's. Once again, Madeline tosses the keys to Logan, but unlike before she waits for him to finish before proceeding into the wretched hive.

While Maddie has her little chat with Stella, Logan and Andi are looking around in entirely different ways. He makes no effort to hide the fact that he's scrutinizing everyone and everything, just as a top-notch bodyguard would do. She, on the other hand, is pretending to be a tourist, looking around as though there are too many wonders to be seen. Not that this place has any actual wonders. It's definitely a hive, that's for sure.

It's in the fraction of a second when their gazes cross when they're both focusing on Maddie that she feels an explosion of emotion so overpowering that she actually stumbles. Her reflexes are too fast to let her trip, but catching herself would mean revealing too much. She's frantically trying to remember how a person without nearly a century and a half of martial arts training is supposed to fall when Logan's hand under her elbow steadies her.

"Careful," is all he says, just loud enough for those closest to them to hear.

What was that?

"Oh, thank you, Mister Logan!" she says, giving him the brightest ditz-infused smile possible. "I'm sorry to be such a bother."

Pablo and Rene. For a second, it felt like they were right here, just like they are when they're entirely insubstantial but still with us. Did you sense it?

He repeats himself in the Elder language — Be careful. To others, it just sounds like a half grunt, half growl.

Too busy working here, Sister, to notice. He pauses as he releases her arm and continues watching their surroundings. Maybe.

"Sweet, why don't you take Stella's other arm?" Madeline suggests.

Andi smiles at Stella as she catches up, linking her arm with the other woman's. "Don't you worry so much, Miss Stella. Miss Maddie is right. She's downright amazin' at what she does. You'll see."

The trio of women enters the bazaar with Logan following behind, scowling. Stella doesn't know it, but she is very well protected. They wander through the crowds, Madeline dependent on Logan to point her in the right direction as he can see better than she can, being taller. He directs her steps via their bond, not risking that others like him might be near enough to hear. There had been a time in his past when he had earned a living in the same manner.

He pauses briefly to recognize the return of yet another memory then keeps on moving.

Maybe it's their missing Spirits momentary piercing the veil, or perhaps it's just the fact that Logan recognizes precisely what kind of place this is — whatever it is, Andi feels it like a soft click in the back of her mind as another of his memories opens up for him. She doesn't have the luxury of sifting through the petabytes of memories in her brain because it's time for Maddie to do her thing.

They start small, in her weight class as it were. She accepts a good luck kiss from Andi then winks at Stella.

"Always bet on Black."

She toys with her opponent but makes it look like she isn't. Mainly she's just trying to get the betting really going. She steals a glance at Logan, who nods, then ends it. She takes on one more opponent there before heading to the next area. Twice more she repeats her performance. Coming down from the third platform, she's nearly pouting.

She tucks her newest stack of winnings into the inside pocket of Logan's jacket. "I haven't even broken a sweat. I need more challenge."

It's also time for Andi to be cheerfully enthusiastic, talking to Stella and sharing stories about Maddie and her fighting exploits. A lot of them are complete bullshit, but others need barely any polishing to make them fit this world. During the last of the far too easy fights, while she has her arm wrapped around Stella's waist, Andi senses one of the nearby men — so alcohol soaked that she's surprised he's able to stand — start to reach for her.


Her free hand moves so fast, and there are too many people in close proximity, for anyone to notice anything untoward. She has her hand on Stella's shoulder as she whispers something else about Maddie's prowess before the inebriated man realizes that two of his fingers are bent in ways fingers really shouldn't bend. The pain hits him then, and he just drops to the ground without doing much more than whimpering pathetically.

Andi ignores him. Most of the people around them ignore him.

"Hey, Joe Bob's passed out again," someone says.

"Would serve him right if we just left him here," another voice replies.

"Yeah, sure would. But you know his Ma ain't gonna like it."

"Jesus. Fine. Help me drag him off. Looks like she's gonna win again anyway."

In the back of her mind, she hears Logan sigh with just a teensy amount of exasperation.

What?? Bad touch means broken fingers! Not my fault he can't handle the pain.

With a tilt of his head, Logan directs Madeline's attention toward what will be more challenging than her last six opponents. She slides her arm once again through Stella's, and heads in the direction indicated.

"You really do know what you're doing," Stella comments with a touch of wonder.

"I'm fairly sure I told you that," Madeline teases. "And I'm quite positive my sweet expounded on it while I was working."

As they head to the more challenging cages, Stella looks at Maddie as they walk arm in arm with an expression that's coming close to Andi's hero worship act.

"Expounded? I ain't done nothin' but tell the truth, Miss Maddie." She does manage to refrain from snickering.

They arrive just as the latest contest is getting started. Madeline's eyes sparkle as she watches. These are the brutes and bruisers. Physically, they probably weigh at least half as much as Logan does with his metal endoskeleton. Some might even come close to his power, though not his speed. Just from the initial squaring off, she can pick the winner. He's the one covered in tattoos from what looks to be head to toe. The pair is pretty evenly matched, but the inked wonder has a look she knows. She's tempted to place her own bet, but she resists. She's here to make money for herself, or so the story goes. And if she's flush enough by the end of the night, Stella will have the cash to get the hell out of Dodge, so to speak... if she wants to anyway.

The match is wrapping up, and she intends to be on the next card. She pulls her arm from Stella's and turns to nod at Logan to let him know she's heading in. He returns her nod and pulls the entry fee from his pocket to give her. Their eyes met as their hands touch during the handover. There's something in his eyes that she had not seen in a long time. Tell me later, darlin'?

Sure 'nuf.

This latest cage is where the real action is — the men currently fighting are brutes. It's not like any of the Pentad here couldn't take them, but both Maddie and Andi would get a reasonably good workout if they went up against the men individually. They have more than just testosterone fueling them, and they definitely have some skill.

She's said it before, and she'll say until she finally walks on — qi doesn't lie. There is rage, and a touch of madness, and even a dose of diffuse desperation swirling around the Illustrated Man. That's all on the surface, too. There's more beneath all of that, but Andi sure as hell is not going to look at it unless she absolutely has to. He doesn't have the stink of Shadowkin on him, but she has a feeling he's acquainted with someone who's been touched by the Shadow.

As Maddie leaves Stella and her to watch, Andi checks her shields. They're as solid and as tight as they've ever been. Even Vin, who's more powerful than Charles was, can't get through them. It's possible that he notices when she locks herself down completely — but even that's only a slight possibility. Maddie and Logan, on the other hand?

If I fall off the grid, don't worry, okay? I might go looking into the abyss, and I don't want it looking back.

She doesn't have enough information — either by direct observation or by watching the qi — to believe there's an agent of the Great Foe in this town. But better safe than sorry, right?

What's particularly amusing is the way Charles had always described the look and feel of her shields from the outside — someone who's thoroughly ordinary and extraordinarily cheerful and optimistic. Good thing that's the role she's playing here tonight, isn't it?

Madeline makes herself known to the barker and pays her entry fee. He frowns a bit seeing her size, which is considerably smaller than the typical contestants.

"Did ya lose a bet?" he wonders, not really asking as he would get his cut either way.

"Not yet," she answers with a grin.

A bit to Madeline's disappointment, the next match does not include Inky. She's thinking that could be a bit of fun. Maybe he will be back in the next round. She doesn't need to flex or strut; she just leans back against the corner waiting for her opponent. It seems to be taking a while to get another body in the ring, and the audience is starting to become disinterested.

Madeline pushes herself off the fencing, takes a couple steps into the ring then turns to face the barker, hands on her hips. "What's wrong, man? All your regulars afraid of lil ole me? Or are all their dance cards full?"

"I'll take ya for a spin, little lady."

Madeline turns to find a tall, well-built ginger-haired man in a black dress shirt and chomping on a cigar stepping into the ring. She looks him up and down appreciatively.

"Seems a shame to waste your looks in here, sunshine," she tells him, "but I'm game. What's your name?"

"Loch," he answers as he undoes the cuff buttons, then those down the front of his shirt. "And I could say the same to you."

"The key kind or the lake kind?"


"Got any more cigars?"


"I'll take a pair when I win."

Someone in the crowd shouts, "You two gonna keep jawing or get down to business?"

He shucks the shirt. "And when I win?

"Oh, I'll think of something should that happen."

They circle about and judge each other. She watches his movements and knows she's in for a workout. She's looking forward to it. She smirks a little as she would have sworn she hears Logan groan, or maybe it's just resonated through their bond. They test each other. He has size, power, and reach. She has speed, flexibility and several lifetimes of sparring with someone she can never hope to beat. She gets around him and catches him in the kidney. He counters with an elbow leading twist that hooks her in the jaw. She bites down on the inside of her cheek and spits blood into the crowd.

That gets them riled, and that's precisely the point. Anyone who had seen her earlier matches would know that not anyone had made contact. The crowd gets thicker, and the betting revs up.

Andi gives Ginger Man a thorough inspection, although not the same sort Maddie is giving him. Stella seems a little agitated, and Andi wraps an arm around her waist.

"Who's the pretty man?" she whispers to her.

"That's Loch," she replies, shivering a little. "He usually wins. Mad's in trouble."

"Nah. I guess maybe Miss Maddie will be workin' harder than she has all night, but she's really good at this." She smiles at Stella. "Keep the faith, Miss Stella."

She blushes prettily. "You don't need to call me 'Miss.' I'm not anyone special."

"Oh, now, Miss Stella, everyone is special in their own way. But I'll leave it be if'n you're uncomfortable with my Southern manners." Andi smiles at her with all the natural charm of her dear Husband that she can muster.

Stella returns the smile. "I guess you can't help the way you were raised, can you?" Her smile slips, however, as Maddie and Ginger Man begin their dance. "I'm scared."

Beyond the obvious, this Loch fellow doesn't have any ulterior motives. He fights to win, that's obvious. But he has a sheen to his aura that reminds Andi of Pablo — specifically, his honor and the fact that Pablo will always be a gentleman. There might be an uproar from the crowd when Maddie beats him, but he's the type to accept his loss as graciously as he knows how.

Of course, that doesn't mean he isn't going to try to pound Maddie into the ground. This is his job... these fights. He's fighting for someone, but not in the same sense as the fighter Maddie freed in Oklahoma. Family? That feels right. Maybe not a wife and kids, but... yeah, he's keeping people fed, clothed, and sheltered.

She doesn't have much time to delve deeper into the spider web of connections she sees in the qi around him because just then he slams his elbow into Maddie's jaw. Stella gasps and tightens her grasp on Andi's hand at her side. The fact that Andi feels the bite of pain on her cheek as Maddie makes things look real means that their shields are still not up to snuff. Maddie felt the pain Jimmy sent through her side when he stabbed her with his claws, but Andi had thought it was just a function of their separation. The fact that they had been in different universes combined with the disparity of time between them definitely messed with their individual shields. Vin had checked Maddie over and gave her a clean bill of health, so to speak. Andi knows her shields are as tight as they've ever been.

So it's just the connection between the two of them that's still a little out of whack. Good to know. They'll need to work on that before they head east with the rest of the Pack. The fact that it's related to their shared soul does complicate things — they haven't had this problem since they first reintegrated their soul. Andi can't do anything about this issue or even think about it at the moment, however, so she tucks the thoughts to the back of her mind.

She watches all the newcomers as they gather around the fight and place their own bets. There are unquestionably a lot of villainous types and plenty of scum, too. But then she catches a... Well, "scent" isn't the right word, but it's close enough. Someone in this crowd has been touched by the Shadow — infected, possessed just as Rene, Pablo, Ben, and dozens of others she's seen over the decades. Okay, fine... not as badly as Pablo had been. That kind of infection takes the special talents of a demented demigod named Quetzalcoatl.

"Don't you worry, Stella," Andi says as she rests her head against Stella's. "I ain't worried."

Not about Maddie, at any rate. The Shadowkin, on the other hand? Yes, she's very definitely concerned about that. Who is it? Are they part of a more significant piece of Shadow? She's never actually seen a Shadowkin — or any person consumed by the Shadow — have an energetic connection to either other Shadowkin or the Great Foe, and she will be extraordinarily annoyed if she discovers that it's something that happens in this universe.

There isn't anything she can actually do until she finds out which of these fine upstanding citizens has a demon infection. And it probably wouldn't fit with her idiom of arm candy ditzy damsel — who can easily be in distress if the circumstances warrant it — to do an exorcism out here in the open.

She glances over her shoulder at Logan before continuing to scan the crowd, which — to everyone here except Maddie and Logan — looks like she's giving her full attention to the fight.

Logan, one of these charming degenerates stinks of Shadow, a lot like Ben Grimm from Commerce City actually. Just an FYI. No danger to any of us unless the host drops dead. Oh, wait. Not even then. But I'll need you to cover for the damsel in distress if the Shadow gets loose.

He's been around once or twice when she's packaged up Shadowkin and stuffed it in pocket dimensions. After a century and a half of practice, Andi is pretty sure she could pull off a show in keeping with her current persona. She prefers not to deal with the damn stuff at all. But she's the Magnet for Weird, so there's a good chance she's going to have to deal with it.

At least she manages not to sigh.

Madeline doesn't bother to wipe away the blood, opting to wear the evidence. She grins a bloody grin at Loch. "Nice one."

His movements are not as smooth as they had been, the well-placed kidney shot having done its job.

"You too," he grunts.

They clash again and again through their long dance. The more Loch makes contact, the more Madeline grins. At one point, he gets his arms around her and lifts her off her feet.

"You really get off on this, don't you?" he growls.

She laughs. "Oh, honey, you have no idea!" And then she frees herself from his hold and does some more damage.

It's a spinning jump kick that does him in, her booted heel knocking consciousness nearly clean from him. He goes down hard, and she has to skip out of the way. She waits out the countdown, forcing her breath to be calm and even instead of the raggedness that's instinctive. She's still grinning though, even as she wipes sweat from her forehead and neck with a bandana.

There's no pretense in her admiration for Maddie's fighting. They're so different, and yet they've always been able to find a synchronization when they fight. Andi had learned very early on not to pull her punches. If she beat on Maddie almost as hard as Logan can... well, all the better. And when they fight side by side?

She grins as Loch lifts her off the ground.

Well, she's been told that watching the two of them take out a nest of scum is a thing of beauty. Given that Rene is the one usually proffering the opinion, Andi generally takes it with a grain of salt. Still... there is an incredible amount of order and structure to the madness. People who've seen them fight will recognize that they're sisters, two halves of the same coin. They assume that they were taught by the same teachers and that they have been fighting side by side all their lives.

Very often, people's assumptions make Andi laugh. Right now, she's trying to keep her reaction to a broad smile. Maddie's let the Mad One out, and Loch has no chance against that aspect of her Sister's psyche. Hell, she can barely keep up with the Mad One.

Oooh, but it does make for a grand workout! And the after-sparring sparring is a delight!

As his compatriots help him from the ring, Madeline turns to wink at her cheering section then heads to the barker to collect her win. He asks her if she wants to go another round.

"Yes, but after a drink... or a few. Don't you worry, I'll be back. That was fun."

Madeline goes down the steps with a grin and heads straight for her cheering section. She tucks most of the winnings into Logan's inside pocket then dips Andi into a celebratory kiss. "Did you have fun, my sweet?"

Andi returns her kiss enthusiastically.

She doesn't wait for an answer but gives Stella a twirl.

Oh, you know I did, you tease, she replies as Maddie twirls Stella into her embrace. And as scared as Stella is of Loch, I think I rather like him.

"You are crazy, Mad," Stella tells her.

"Actually, I'm Mad, mad as a hatter," she teases. "Come on. I need some libations!"

Madeline slips her arms around Stella's waist and winks at Andi. She guides her little entourage through the crowd, some of whom beam at her. She assumes those are the ones with the foresight to bet on black. A couple even offer to buy her a drink or two. She willingly accepts, knowing they will show her the way to the bars.

By the time they reach what passes for a bar, they've gathered a few more of Maddie's admirers. It's more of an outdoor beer garden, something like Charlie's back patio from long ago — although at least five times the size. There are a few smaller tables, but most of the seating is long picnic tables and benches. Rather than flanking Maddie, Andi takes a seat on Stella's other side, which seems to surprise her. She just smiles and gives Stella a hug.

Once they have their place and are seated, Madeline beckons to Logan.

"Howlett, go find that Loch fellow, invite him over for a drink. He earned it."

"Yeah, boss," he acknowledges before heading off.

Madeline gets their drinks ordered and begins, once again, to gather a fan club.

We've got a Shadowkin in the shadows, Maddie. He was watching your fight; he's watching now. Staying far enough away that I can't get a look at his physical form, though. Just thought you'd want to know... I already mentioned it to Logan.

Somehow, Shadowkin being here doesn't surprise me. Does it appear to be trailing us?

I wouldn't say trailing us as much as... intrigued by you, I think. I'm not sure how much of that is the hitchhiker and how much is the host, though. Unless I get closer — something I am NOT going to do — I can't differentiate between the two.

Andi looks around at the admirers gathering around the table. Her smile grows a little brighter every time Andi looks at Maddie. Not only is her pretty arm candy utterly devoted to her, but she also doesn't have a jealous bone in her body. Well, probably not. And if she did? It would be the teeniest, tiniest bone of all — the stapes of the inner ear.

Logan wends his way about and makes a couple of inquiries before he finally locates the red-haired man. He is slowly coming around. Those with him look up at Logan suspiciously and a bit tensely.

"The boss wants to buy you a drink," Logan tells Loch. "She's over by the big bar holding court."

Loch looks up, blinks a couple times to focus. "She? You mean the woman who just kicked my ass?"

Logan nods. "Yup. That'd be the boss."

"She wants to buy me a drink?"

"Said you earned it," he offers with a shrug.

"Well, I guess I can't turn her down, or she might do it again," Loch surmises.

Logan offers a hand up. Loch studies the hand for a moment before accepting the offer. There's an instant of surprise at the ease with which he's helped up. The man is stronger than he appears. Though he covers it with swagger, Loch moves a bit carefully. The crowd is as good an excuse as any to take it slow, and Logan sees no reason to embarrass the man.

"What do you do for her?" he wonders.

"Whatever she needs me to."

Loch considers what that might mean.

"There he is!" Madeline raises her glass in greeting. "What'll you be having, Loch? You strike me as a bourbon man. Hopefully, they have that here. Barkeep!"

When Logan returns with Loch, Andi pats the bench beside her.

"Oh, come sit next to me! You fought so valiantly against my Maddie that you deserve a hero's welcome!"

She smiles at Stella. "Don't you worry, Miss Stella. Mister Loch, I'm sure, is a gentleman of the highest order and won't harm you."

She turns back to Loch and doesn't quite bat her eyelashes, although she does blink several times... slowly. "Isn't that right, Mister Loch, sir?"

Loch visibly hesitates at Andi's invitation to sit by her. He looks toward Madeline then Logan. Where the man is entirely uninterested, the woman gives him a broad smile. "Go on and sit with my sweet. She doesn't bite. Not unless you want her to, that is."

He looks down at Andi then Stella and answers Andi's question. "I don't know that I'd say perfect gentleman, ma'am, but you and your friend have nothing to fear from me, even if neither of them was here."

Loch's friends had followed him over as well. They seem a bit wary, but Madeline waves them over as well.

She watches Loch's friends and returns their wary looks with a warm smile then turn to Loch.

"Miss Maddie's just joshin' ya. The best I can manage is a nibble."

She pats Loch's knee, and her daughter's infernal gift itches at the back of her mind. Thankfully, she has a hell of a lot more control than Maria does — although she'll grant that it's probably due in part to the fact that her dear offspring didn't dump the full strength of her gift on her when she was pregnant. Still, her brain is going to want to put pieces back together that ought to be waiting for nature to take its course.

Andi makes a note to Gibbs slap Maria when they rendezvous with the rest of the Pack.

"Your friends should join us too," Madeline says. "First round is on me. Now, where is the liquid refresh— ah, there you are. Bourbon for the handsome ginger there and whatever his compatriots want." She pauses then calls for Logan. "Howlett?"


She holds a beer out for him. "Wet your whistle."

He takes the big mug of light amber liquid and drains it in what seems like a single swallow then reaches over her to set the mug down on the table. She laughs. "Howlett, later, at some point, you and I need to have another drinking contest."

Someone around asks, "Does he ever win?"

Madeline looks back at Logan, mischief in her eyes. "Well, Howlett, do you?"

Logan has his game face on. He glances at Madeline with a quirk of an eyebrow then to the original questioner. "Every time."

She grins like the Cheshire cat. "Under the right circumstances, losing can be as good as winning."

Loch gestures at one of the men who had come with him. Logan tenses as the man reaches inside his jacket. He notices and continues his movement but at a much slower pace. He withdraws a rectangular metal canister and passes it over to Loch. Loch holds it out to Logan. "I pay my debts."

Logan takes it and opens it. After a quick sniff, he pulls two cigars from it and hands it back then offers the cigars to Madeline. Her face lights up. "Optimum!"

Taking only one of them, she holds it up to her nose and inhales deeply, eyes closed in enjoyment. Being the savage she is, she preps it for smoking the old fashioned way — she runs her tongue the length of it to moisten the leaves then bites the end off and spits it away. Logan has a lighter ready for her, and she puffs the tobacco into glowing life.

These are good, darlin'. We should see where he gets them. It'll be a nice treat for the road.

Whatever you say, boss.

Good thing she's already grinning.

Andi had never developed the appreciation for fine cigars that her Sister and Brother share. She can fake her way through drinking and pretend to like whatever rot gut is put in front of her, but even the best tobacco puts her off. She'd have been a lousy Shaman.

She leans over to whisper to Loch, "If y'all like that local purveyor of yours, ya might be able to broker a swell deal for some of them cigars. When Miss Maddie declares somethin' to be optimum, ya have yourself a really fine product."

As an added incentive, she gently tugs on his earlobe with her teeth.

"Told ya I don't bite," she says when he is just bothered enough to not notice when she lets loose and grabs all the pain and injuries Maddie had inflicted.

Yep, she's going to crack that daughter of hers over the head. Fucking internal itching.

Madeline looks everywhere but at Andi teasing Loch. Again, it's a damn good thing she's wearing a grin to begin with. She can almost feel sorry for him... almost. She flags down the wait staff for more drink and adds food this time, heavy on the protein. She knows she needs it.

Loch clears his throat once he mostly manages to disentangle himself from Andi, and relaxes a bit at seeing that neither Logan nor Madeline seem to care if flirting happens. He raises his glass toward Madeline in a dual gesture of thanks and cheers. She raises hers in return and offers a nod.

Andi winks at Loch, picks up the shot glass of whatever the wait staff had set down in front of her, and tosses it back with a beer chaser. The liquor is passable. The beer is not. Such is her lot in life.

"This place have food fit for human consumption, Miss Stella? I could do with some hot wings iff'n they're any good."

Once everyone is well fed, Madeline leans back and signals Logan. He makes a show of bending forward to hear her over the din of the place. She presumably speaks into his ear. Tell Loch I'd like a word in private.

Logan nods, moves the few steps down to pass the message on to Loch then returns to his "station" behind Stella. Ginger Man looks around Andi and Stella to Madeline. She raises her eyebrows in question. He considers before giving a brief nod then rises to his feet. He waves for his friends to stay where they are.

"Need to check on something," Madeline tells Stella. "Howlett will make sure no one bothers you while I'm away."

She wanders off in the same general direction as Loch. He is kind of hard to miss in this crowd. It isn't exactly a secluded spot he stops in, but it's far enough away from most of the hubbub to have a conversation. Though his expression is curious and somewhat wary, he waits for her to speak.

"You gave me a good run. It's been a while…"

Andi isn't sure who's having more fun so far here in this little hell hole, her or Maddie. Maddie loves beating the snot out of people while appearing to be the underdog every time. Shocking people by winning against fighters she has no rational way of beating makes her very happy. And feisty.

It's the latter that tends to egg Andi on when teasing and tormenting folks while they're working. Well, it's a part of it anyway. She does have her innate ability to be wicked when it suits her purposes. Usually, she confines herself to knocking the bad guys off balance.

Loch isn't one of the bad guys, but she's having a grand time watching him struggle to maintain a sense of balance. When she stops to think about it, she supposes it's just her way of testing the man's strength. He proved to Maddie that he has the necessary physical skills to be a protector. He's demonstrating to Andi that he has the inner strength and flexibility for the job.

She refrains from grinning, barely, during Maddie's exchange with Logan and his subsequent request to Loch. However, she can't help watching Maddie follow after Loch with what she hopes is a wistful smile before turning to Stella and scooting a little closer to her.

"Mister Logan always makes me feels safe when he's around," Andi tells her as she pours more of the barely passable beer into her mug from the plastic pitcher that's just about empty. "Miss Maddie ain't gonna be long, I expect."

She nods as she glances over her shoulder in the direction Maddie and Loch had gone. And truthfully, Maddie isn't gone more than five or ten minutes — but then they're off to watch her win a few more matches.

It's the last one that has Andi worried. Well, a little bit, anyway.

Maddie, that's the Shadowkin.

Madeline doesn't really acknowledge her Sister unless one takes her broader grin as such a sign. Well, why not? She knows it doesn't pose a threat to any of them and also knows Andi will do everything in her considerable power to protect Stella. When it comes to Shadowkin and its dislike of Ninja... well, most would say it's on the "shit in the pants, pee down the leg" level of terrified. The stuff just dislikes Elders in general. It still surprises Andi that Stryker had managed to affect Logan with it at all back when they had first tracked him down. Even then, he had needed to use some seriously deranged methods to get Logan to forget about Maddie and turn against her. Maddie's soul bond with Andi makes her look only slightly more appetizing than Ninja is for the role of host. Of course, that doesn't mean someone infected with that creepy shit isn't going to try to kill her.

Right. Good luck with that. Being infected doesn't give the man any advantage in his bout with Maddie. It's possible that there's even some disincentive there to win. If Shadowkin weren't involved, Andi might say someone had paid the guy to throw the fight. Oh, sure, he's trying to make it look good for the audience. But he's not really giving it all he's got.

"I don't understand why he decided to go up again Madeline," Stella whispers. "He's pretty erratic and tonight is definitely not one of his good nights."

She shrugs. "Some folks, they got a powerful need to just let their anger out. Guess that would explain it."

Maybe Maddie had meant to knock the man into Colorado, or maybe his body just finally calls it quits, but one last kick to the gut sends him across the cage to slide down the fencing — none too gracefully, either — and land on the floor. The spectators cheer for their champion, and Andi manages to keep a happy smile on her face as she watches the Shadowkin ooze out of the unconscious body and hover for a moment.

At least it's one of the oily energetic things and not one of the denizens that can take physical forms, like the thing that hitched a ride back in Pablo from Quetzalcoatl's realm. Andi assumes that she's the only one who can see it. She watches it zip from one side of the crowd to the other, back and forth, always staying where she can see it.

Fuck. It's one of the smart ones. They're almost as bad as the skanks.

She's so surprised when it dives toward her that she doesn't move immediately. But it only takes a split second to realize it's going after Stella... and that pisses the Warrior off. Fortunately, her arm is still around Stella's waist, so she spins the woman into Logan's arms.

Even though they can't see it, she's pretty sure he and Maddie can feel the wrongness of the Shadowkin through their bond. Andi trusts Logan with her life... so she can trust him with Stella's, too. As she turns back around, she reaches to the side where the Shadowkin is trying to get around her, forming a net of qi to scoop it up. It fights her — that's to be expected, they always do. But this one is stronger than most.

That works to her advantage, though, as she yanks the net down to the ground while she "stumbles," opening a small portal with her free hand. She stuffs the Shadowkin into the portal and waits on hands and knees for a couple of seconds to make sure her eyes aren't glowing. Those little bastards really piss her off. When she looks up, Logan is holding a hand out to help her up.

"Are you okay, Miss Andrea?" She can almost feel the rumble of his laughter through the Pentad bond.

Andi takes his hand and smiles sweetly. "Just a bit shook up, thank you kindly for askin', Mister Logan. You didn't see who barreled through and knocked us around like tops, did ya?"

"No, I'm afraid not. You're sure you're okay? Miss Madeline would be quite unhappy if anything happened to you."

She looks at her hands, then pretends to wipe imaginary dirt from her knees.

"Right as rain! And I suppose it's best you didn't see whoever that rude person was. I'd almost feel a hankerin' to kick some ankles." She rests a hand on his arm and bats her eyelashes at him. "We're lucky to have you here."

He just looks at her impassively.

I think I can speak for Madeline as well as myself, Sister... You're getting carried away. You can stop now.

You get over the top gratitude from the down-home country gal because my natural instinct right now would be to start swearing up a storm and going full out Ninja here. Fucking Shadowkin. The sooner we get out of this hell hole the better.

Thankfully, it doesn't take long for Loch to find them. Andi would say the man is almost giddy... not that he shows it beyond a sly half smile. But he's very proud of the vehicle he has procured for Maddie. It doesn't matter to Andi how he managed to obtain it as long as its previous owner isn't going to be searching the highways for it. It might have started life as a school bus, but its exterior looks like the bastard child of the Partridge Family bus, a political campaign bus from the late twentieth century, and something out of a Mad Max movie. Paul is enough like his father that he'll be delighted to take over driving when his uncle decides to give up the driver's seat.

Staying in character, Andi compliments Loch on his excellent taste in long-distance vehicles, then give both him and Stella proper send-offs — hugs and kisses for everyone. They hitch up Jimmy's old rattletrap to the back and prepare to pull it along behind them, although there is the merest temptation to leave it in mini-Lost Wages. As the crew rolls out in their new vehicle, they wave a farewell to Loch and Stella, who is now under Loch's protection if she wants it. Stella has not accepted the offer nor has she declined it. Yet. For the time being, she's as safe as anyone can be in this world.

With curtained and partially armored windows, no one is going to see anything inside the vehicle other than perhaps the driver. Madeline and Logan remained in character until they are well away from town; however, once on the bus with all the curtains drawn, Andi not only drops the illusions but makes sure her staff is tucked securely in the luggage rack above the front seats.

"I'm out of practice being so nice to people for hours and hours," she says as she stretches out on one of the bench seats. Most of them look like they flip open into beds. "That felt like a full day's work."

And she knows it couldn't have been more than three hours... four tops.

The interior is a cross between a decently appointed RV and maybe a boot camp barracks. It has the space they need — plenty of it, in fact — but it's not exactly the most elegant of accommodations. Ah, well. She's driven worse vehicles and lived in seedier apartments. No, wait. It was Pablo who had the really crappy apartment back when she met him. Well, Andi does have Maddie's memories of some of the places where she and Rene traveled over the years. This is better than almost everything from her mercenary days.

In their own universe, she suspects the trip down to I-40 would take less than an hour in an average motorized vehicle. She could make it on her bike in twenty minutes. But this rig isn't designed to go very fast, nor is it intended for stealth. She's walked game trails that have been in better shape than this road. Andi figures it will take about two hours, maybe more, to get to the Zuni border crossing where they'll be meeting Tori and the kids.

Well, they should still get there before dawn. There isn't room to run through her forms, so she falls into a meditative state from which she can watch the currents of qi around them and shore up the connection to Pablo and Rene in Moira's Overworld.

Eventually, she gets up and sits down at the table with Maddie, where they ride in companionable silence while Logan drives.

"Stop the bus, Logan!"

They're in the middle of nowhere, heading south on US-84 about an hour after picking up their rather unusual vehicle in Las Vegas.

Maddie, sitting across from her, gives her one of those expressions that's mostly an eye roll.

"Not kidding, Sis. There's a massive disturbance in the Force, as Pablo continues to call it. And it's not coming from either of our Husbands."

She looks over her shoulder out the window on the driver's side.

"If it were coming from them, I'd feel it, you'd feel it, even Logan would feel. Hell, the kids would feel it. Nope, it's coming from over there." Andi nods toward the east.

Logan doesn't argue; he just pulls the rig off the road at what might have been a parking lot. Maybe, once upon a time, there had been a gas station here. She doesn't even wait until he's put the thing in park before she's up. She contemplates for a nanosecond whether to grab her staff before reaching up and snatching it from the rack above the seats. If it turns out to not be necessary... well, she hasn't taken her scabbard off yet.

Both Andi and Logan move quickly; however, the door doesn't. The feeling that buzzes under her skin is reminiscent of the early days of trying to control the immense amount of energy Mother wanted to share after she and Pablo formed their marriage bond, then the five of them formed the Pentad, and then she discovered she was pregnant. Andi is pretty sure she used the term "nuclear power plant" on a regular basis.

There is still some evidence that a town once existed here — the sign they had passed a few hundred feet back had the same general size and shape of a rural town marker. It's possible that the plaque had read 'Dilia,' which may or may not be a town in their own world. It's not like Andi had ever had the need to travel along US-84. The foundations of buildings, some of which still have a block or two of concrete stacked on them, and the half dozen or so rusted skeletons of cars are more clues.

And then the smell of muddy, stagnant water hits her. That might explain why the place had been abandoned. It has that cloying, headache-inducing aroma that means a nearby underground storage tank had leaked into the soil and the water at some point — probably a few decades ago. Even if this world had possessed the technology and resources of theirs, it would take at least that long to clean up the area. And the resources for remediating this kind of mess definitely don't exist here. These folks don't even seem to have the skill that was common in the latter half of the twentieth century back home.

She's just happy it isn't summer. That's the sort of water that mosquitoes love and she doesn't want to imagine what mosquitoes on this world are like, especially if they're high on benzene and toluene.

She can hear Maddie talking to Logan, then she's following her Sister on her quest. Andi is looking for the disturbance in the Force. The flare of qi had been as bright as a spotlight and as painful as one of Maddie's jabs to the gut.

Before you ask, it felt something like a portal opening but not quite. I think there's more than one person over there — at least one of them is hurt. Possibly.

They continue down what she suspects used to be a county road but now looks to be in worse shape than her twin's driveway. There are a lot of rusted out cars and trucks, a few dilapidated buildings, several more pieces of what used to be buildings — but no life.

No humans, no animals. Nothing. Andi senses Mother and Father, but that's it.

Well, there's nobody along this stretch of dirt unless they have the ability to hide their qi, which is a particularly dark thought.

She and Maddie know how to be silent. Andi thinks her Sister might have had a natural talent for it even before the incident in childhood that ultimately and inexorably lead her to her becoming La Loup Noir and then simply Black Wolf. She would probably be able to sneak up on Andi if they didn't have the One Soul thing and the Pentad bond. She would give Maddie better than even odds of being able to surprise Tori. Her? Well, in addition to her martial arts training, she cheats. Sometimes the gifts of illusion from Fox and the ability to shapeshift that she got from her daughter come in handy. And if she really wants to travel without disturbing the surrounding flora, she can always use the gifts Pablo had shared and just levitate.

Everyone agrees that's creepy. Except for her son... he thinks it's hysterical.

About a half mile up the road, the stream of polluted water meanders into a grove of trees. Now, Andi can sense something. Well, someone... several of them.

She glances at Maddie with a raised eyebrow as the faint sound of rhythmic clacking floats toward them. They stalk quietly through the thin copse of trees and stand in the darkness of their shadows, watching the two people sparring.

Maddie nudges her, grinning. Think they'll mind if we join in?

Before she can say anything, Maddie deliberately snaps a branch in front of Andi. Both combatants spin in toward them and release one weapon each.

Maddie had dropped the instant she made the noise and Andi pulls a shadow of invisibility around herself. She plucks one escrima stick out of the air — which probably looks pretty freaky with her being invisible — and Maddie pulls the other one from the trunk of the tree behind her as she stands up again.

Her smile as she does so makes Andi think of a cat with a bowl of cream. "Can we keep them, Sister?"

She drops the invisibility and looks at the other two, then balances the stick on the palm of her hand.

"Oh, let's do! Excellent form," she says. "The fighting style, I mean. The rest isn't bad either. Check this out, Sis! This is at least as finely balanced as yours."

She flings it back at the man who'd thrown it, smiling a less than full-out Ninja grin. He catches it as smoothly as she had. Of course, she's not trying to kill him the way he had been trying kill whatever made the noise over here.

"On the other hand, he's nearly as distracting as your Mate."

She glances at the other side of the clearing and the weapons cache. They have an impressive collection of weapons — swords, excellent bow. I'll have to refrain from drooling on those.

"Andi," she says to them as she flips her staff over her shoulder and slides it into the scabbard. Then she hooks her thumb toward her Sister. "Madeline."

Maddie almost reluctantly returns the escrima stick to its owner who nods.

"Sara." She points the stick at her companion. "Oliver."

"You've got some friends in the area," Andi says, honing in on two other qi signatures and frowning. "One of them is in pain?"

They look at one another, trying not to look surprised — physically, they manage rather well, but there's that whole qi thing.

"No," Oliver says. "I don't think so."

"Cisco! Alex!" Sara calls out. "We have company."

A young man with the unmistakable air of a total nerd follows a slightly older woman who definitely looks like she is, or was, military.

She's also the one in agony.

None of them look exceptionally happy to see the newcomers.

"So..." Andi looks at each of them in turn. "Which one of you opened the portal?"

She is, perhaps, just a little too delighted at the expressions of shock and surprise they all show, although Sara and Oliver school their expressions rather quickly.

They all look at the nerd.

"You really should confine yourself to freaking out your family, Andi," Maddie says laconically. "At least we're used to it. Strangers aren't."

Andi grins. "But, Sis! Didn't Tita and Mama always say that strangers are just friends we haven't met yet?"

"What makes you think we want to be friends," Sara asks.

Maddie... or rather, Black Wolf looks at her. I definitely like her. Then she continues out loud, nudging Andi. "You're the magnet for weird. You try first."

"But you're the Leader of the Pack!"

She almost glares at her Sister. Tell Ninja to go back to sleep.

She snickers before looking back at Sara. "You're strangers in a strange land," Andi says with far more seriousness than she's managed with them so far. "You wound up here with nothing more than whatever you were carrying at the time. So did Maddie. As I explained to the lovely folks in the Naabeehó Bináhásdzo, we noticed she went missing and came to fetch her. Unfortunately for our plan to just bring her home, although fortunately for the people of this world..." She nods to Maddie in acknowledgment. "...Maddie decided we're going to right some wrongs before heading home.

"Now, you... you... and you," she continues, pointing to Sara, Oliver, and Alex, respectively, "are warriors." She studies Cisco for a little longer. "You might just be a troublemaker, which is fine because, to paraphrase a delightful Captain I've never met, we aim to misbehave."

"You just quoted Firefly," Cisco says.

"Indeed I did! Why, I think we will need to keep you simply so someone other than my son will both understand and appreciate my geek references." She looks at Maddie and says in a stage whisper, "And to keep him from ripping holes in the space-time continuum."

"Cisco is trying to get us home."

Andi looks back at Oliver.

"Yes, an admirable intention, but I suspect he's having a little difficulty. Well, unless opening portals always looks like an explosion and punches those of us sensitive to such things in the gut. If that's the case, might I suggest that you head to San Diego before you try that again?" She looks at Cisco. Sadly.

"That hurt."

"Sorry. I just..." He's silent for a few seconds before shrugging. "Things don't work right here."

Andi nods. "True dat."

"We need to get back to our people," Sara says. "They'll be looking for us. We need to stay here."

Andi glances at Maddie before shaking her head and sighing. "How are they going to do that?" she asks Sara.

"How did you find your sister?"

"Do you want the long, metaphysical version? Or the short version?"

Maddie Gibbs slaps her.

"Short version it is. I have a connection to my sister that's orders of magnitude stronger than the bond Alex there has to someone back home."

She looks over at Alex. "I know how you feel. When my husband went off to another dimension, I spent a day and a half in a coma."

Looking back at Sara, she continues. "My daughter has a gift for finding people — just people who are related — and piggybacked on the connection to find Maddie. My son opened a one-way, view-only portal to get an exact fix, we found her, packed our gear, and opened a larger portal to get over here. Once we finish mopping up some bad guys and getting this one's underground railroad started, we're outta here."

She looks at Maddie, giving her a stink eye. "Right? We're going home. Oh. After I kick Jimmy's teeth down his throat and maybe slap his version of Charles around."

"Hey, wait! How are you going to open up a portal? I can't get one open." Cisco looks both angry and confused. And frustrated.

"Um. By just doing it? I mean, sure, it's going to take as much energy to open as it did when we came here, but actually connecting to our own universe will be a piece of cake. I have the entire planet to pull energy from, so no problem there."

Sara and Oliver share a long look before the both of them fix Andi in their respective stares.

"If Cisco can't do what he does, we need to stay in the area so our people can find us."

Andi looks at the four of them, then at Maddie, who just nods.

Seriously? This isn't my gig, Maddie. I'm more like your daughter than your son — I'll run alone or follow your lead.

You are following my lead.

She narrows her eyes in a mini-glare before sighing. Fine. I'll talk them to death then, shall I?

Maddie grins. Not to death, no. But you understand how they got here better than I do. You do your thing, I'll do mine.

Well, the three fighters are Normals, which will help. The geek is a mutant.

Andi shakes her head and turns back to Sara. "Unless there's someone like my daughter and me with Alex's partner—"

"Maggie," she whispers.

She nods. "—Maggie, they're not likely going to find you. If there is, they can find Alex anywhere. Unless you've got someone else on your team like Cisco — or, again, like me — they're not going to open a door. Run with us, let us get to know you." She directs the rest of it to Alex. "I can't promise we'll be able to find Maggie, but getting to know you really helps me see the bond you have. It will help Maria follow it. It will help Paul and me open the door to her."

Alex looks at the strange woman for a long time; finally, she closes her eyes and takes a deep breath before looking at the others.

"I'm willing to try. I know Maggie and Kara are not going to stop looking for me. I don't think they're going to be looking off-planet."

"Ah... if you're from Earth, you're not technically off-planet," Andi mentions.

"This is Earth??" Cisco asks, sounding shocked.

"Dude, how long have you been here? Long enough to see the stars? Because unless you're from the southern hemisphere, the stars are standard issue constellations circa 2165."

She just raises an eyebrow while he imitates a fish for a moment.

"Did you say 2165?" Oliver asks.

"Yeah. And I'm going to guess that might be a surprise based on your friend's guppy imitation."

He looks at Sara, who shakes her head.

"We fix aberrations in the past. Rip is from the future, and we wound up in that splinter universe about thirty years in our future, but that was it. And from the little I've seen, this place looks worse." She looks at Andi. "Ollie and I have been here three days. Cisco showed up about a day after we did. Alex was a few hours behind him. We don't know why. Or who did it."

"Same here. Well, for Maddie. The rest of us are here deliberately. So you're in a different universe, but also a different time. And given what we've learned about this world — mostly from Maddie's three weeks in-country — this is probably a vacation spot compared to places like Oklahoma City.

"In this world, both Logan and I have doppelgangers; Maddie and the kids don't. Given the difference in time, I'll hazard a guess that none of you have doppelgangers either. But tell me, what happened on the other side to get you all here? Do you remember coming through the portal?"

She hears Maddie chuckling inside her head. So you did learn a few things from your Husband.

She ignores the comment. Damn peanut galleries.

"J'onn, Kara, and I were following up on a tip about another Fort Rozz escapee. We were on the roof of the CatCo building," Alex says. "I felt like something shoved me off the edge. I could see J'onn and Kara coming after me." She shakes her head. "I don't understand. She was almost close enough to touch me. Supergirl is faster than anyone on the planet except maybe her cousin—"

"Whoa!" Andi makes a T with her hands. "Timeout. Supergirl? Supergirl? Kara Danvers..." She trails off. "Oh."

Alex nods. "My adopted sister, yes. And how do you know?"

Hmm. She does sound just a teensy bit suspicious. Andi pinches the bridge of her nose with thumb and forefinger.

"Sis?" Maddie inquires.

"You know how the lot of you have been giving me grief for the past hundred and fifty-something years about my so-called imaginary friend, Moira?"

"One of the best things to tease you about, yes." Maddie isn't quite laughing.

"Well..." She looks up at her while gesturing toward Alex. "...her adopted sister is as real as Captain O'Shaughnessy."

Didn't you say that her universe is so far away you couldn't open a portal to it?

I did say that, yes. But Danu seems to believe I could take a shortcut through the Overworld... the Crossroads... whatever you want to call it.

Maddie looks at Alex and nods. "If you'll finish, we might be able to make more sense of this situation."

Alex has been watching the interplay between them. For that matter, so have Sara and Oliver. But Alex shrugs with one shoulder. "One minute she was about to grab me, the next minute it's night, I'm here, falling about three or four feet to the ground. Knocked the wind out of me, but that was about it. A few minutes later, these guys showed up."

Andi looks at Cisco. He had shown up before Alex did.

"Hey, I haven't a clue. I was in my apartment before heading to work. It felt like an earthquake, I toppled over and fell on the ground over there instead of my floor."

Andi tilts her head, brows furrowed.

Nothing like your hundred or two hundred foot fall through trees. Of course, maybe the difference is that you have a healing factor.

Assuming, of course, that the same people are behind all the incidents.

Of course.

Andi looks at Sara and Oliver; she gestures for him to go first.

"I was chasing a couple of guys in a panel van while my team wiped up the rest of the crew back at the bank. I was about four or five hundred feet behind them when I saw a flash of light. I thought it came from the van, so I swerved to avoid it. Wound up wiping out — slid with my bike for less than twenty feet, then the bike disappeared, and I barreled into Sara. Here. It was probably midnight in Star City and probably early afternoon here."

"You're lucky your uniform is tough," Sara remarks dryly.

His outfit does look vaguely like a uniform — a bit like Perry's had been, without the cape of course, and a dark green that's almost black.

"Jax and I were leaving the ship to do reconnaissance; it was England, sometime around 500 CE. He couldn't have been more than a dozen steps in front of me. The air seemed to shimmer... I just thought it might have been the light reflecting off the armor Jax was wearing and the ship behind me. But between one step and the next, I went from England in 500 CE to wherever the hell we are in, apparently, 2165."

"You looked nice in the gown," Oliver says with a grin.

"Shut up, Ollie."

Well, he had the same flash of light you and Logan saw, Andi notes. And she at least saw some kind of shimmering.

"Huh. Well, 'here' is New Mexico, Santa Fe County. We're about sixty miles from Santa Fe itself as the crow flies, but given the roads around here, it would take a couple of hours to drive there. Not that there's much to Santa Fe these days." She shrugs. "But it's inside the Nation, so it's fairly safe."

"What Nation?" Cisco asks.

"Navajo. Naabeehó Bináhásdzo."

"Oh. I thought you were... Nope, never mind."

She raises an eyebrow at him. "You wanted to say 'Gesundheit,' didn't you?" She grins. "Well, I'm not going to promise to stick with English, but I'll be happy to switch things up and rotate through Diné Bizaad, Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese, Dutch, and maybe even French."

"Please don't speak French." Maddie doesn't quite roll her eyes.

Andi chuckles. "How about I only use it in cases when you need to cheer up?"

"Excuse me?" Both her eyebrows go up.

"Yeah, go ahead and pretend it doesn't amuse you. You're a hell of a lot easier to read than your Husband, and despite all his moaning and groaning, I can see the amused ripples of qi in both of you."

She studies the people from yet another universe.

"None of you experienced the kind of drastic drop into the universe Maddie did, but if you had gotten here the same way she did, you'd all be dead. There could be a hundred reasons, but using Occam's Razor and the fact that you're not from our universe could suggest that's the reason.

"And except for Cisco, all of you were working when you were dumped here. So you at least have some weapons — not that we don't have a rolling armory ourselves."

"Maybe I'm having a hard time opening a portal because I don't have my Vibe glasses," Cisco muses.

"Tech that helps you focus your energy? Hmm. Unless you've got an everlasting gobstopper kind of battery, I wouldn't count on finding a power source easily around here."

"Unless I'm stuck here for decades, my battery would last." He pauses. "Well, probably. And I can't Vibe other people very well without them."

"What does that mean?" Maddie asks.

"Oh. Um, I can usually find where a person is and see their future if I have something that belongs to them."

She looks at Andi. "Finding someone could be a handy skill. Think you can work with him, maybe hone his skills?"

She shrugs. "Maybe? He's not working directly with qi, he's only affecting it. And helping him learn more about his finding people skill would give Maria something to do. It's more her wheelhouse than mine, anyway." She rolls her eyes. "Between the bullshit that she and your son have been subjecting us to and her frequent pity parties, I'm ready to open a portal and shove her back home. Pretty sure Paul and Em would help."

"I'm right here, you know."

"Yep," Andi says to him, "we know. Step one is determining if the teacher sees potential in the student, which the teacher absolutely does. Step two is determining if the teacher has the necessary and compatible skills to instruct the student — in this case, it's maybe. Step three is finding out if the student is willing to learn. What you say?"

He stares blankly at Andi for several seconds.

"Just say yes, Cisco," Oliver says.


"Great. So... come join our merry band of madmen so I can find a way to locate Alex's Maggie. We'll kick some ass along the way. Maddie will try to get herself killed. Again. Let those of us with high healing factors lead the charge. Our medic is creepy good at her job, but she can only heal you if you're alive."

"What's in it for us?"

She grins at Sara. "Gosh, I like you. You remind me of my Sister in a lot of ways. But to answer your question...

"Aside from Cisco, you all seem to have jobs fighting the forces of evil. You can do that here. Cisco could learn more about his gift. The good news for you guys..." Andi points to the three warriors. " that, like Madeline, whoever is hunting and killing mutants isn't going to get a pingback from you three. Cisco is a mutant—"

"Meta-human," he says.

"Mutant. We're in this world, we're using their terminology. I'm still trying to remember to call Elders 'cousin-kin' instead. However, the mutants still outnumber the Normals in our group.

"Anyway, after making our way across the country — ostensibly to set up this underground railroad to get mutants to safety and to plant the seeds of rebellion, but taking out as many of the bad guys as possible as we go — we're heading home. I promise I'll find a way to get you four home before we leave."

"Um, we're not from the same Earth as Alex," Cisco says. "We're from Earth Prime. She's from Earth 38."

Andi stares at him until he starts fidgeting.

"Can you get from Alex's version of Earth to your own?"

Cisco looks at Alex, who nods.

"Kara still has the device you made for her."

Andi rolls her eyes. "Then what are you worried about, Cisco?"

"Getting killed! I'm the geek in the lab with the computers! When weapons are being used, I dive under the desk."

She gives him a long, measured look before turning back to Maddie. "Several folks in the Nation implied there were still satellites in orbit. If we can steal some tech, having Cisco monitoring the bad people would be a big help."

"I can think of a few problems with that idea."

"Sure, so can I. But none of them are insurmountable if Cisco is as good as any of Gray Hats we've had over the decades."

She shrugs. "Sure. If he gets us killed, we'll leave him here."

"Seems fair." Andi looks back at Cisco. "So. How good are you?"

He glances at Oliver before answering. "Only Felicity is better than I am."

Oliver grins. "Not Curtis?"

Cisco almost laughs. "Seriously? No. He's good, but he's not that good." Then he looks at Andi. "Just don't let me get killed."


"And I get to name the bad guys."

She raises an eyebrow. "They usually come with names already, even if the name is just Asshole."

He sighs. "That's not what I mean. We've got Flash and Kid Flash, Oliver's team—"


"I wasn't going to give out secret identities! Sheesh."

Andi nods. "I get it. The names we use when we're working, right?"

Cisco nods.

"Well, we're running with the Wolf Pack, not as X-Men on this mission—"


He says it almost in the same tone of voice as she had said "Supergirl" earlier.


"Those are just comic book characters."

"Huh. That's interesting. Because they used to exist in this world. They definitely exist back home. And Supergirl is just a comic book character in our world, so I guess we're even."

He looks at her. "Vibe?"

Andi shakes her head. "Never heard of Vibe, but I wasn't the comic aficionado of my family."

"What about Green Arrow and White Canary?"

"Oh, Green Arrow, absolutely! I never could decide if I liked the Green Arrow comics or the Green Lantern comics better. I don't remember a White Canary, but I remember a Black Canary."

"Damn. We're just comic book characters."

She moves quickly, flicks the side of his head, then moves back to Maddie's side.

"Ow! What just happened?"

"I'd say you're real. I probably couldn't have done that if you weren't."

"Shit, you're as fast as Barry!"

"Not even close. The only reason you didn't see me is that you weren't paying attention. By the way, I know Oliver Queen is the Green Arrow." She looks at Oliver. "You have the mask and hood tucked somewhere, I assume."

Oliver just glares at Cisco. Andi finds it amusing.

She looks at Sara. "White Canary? What is it that you do, when you're not being a Time Lord, that is?"

"I'm not a Time Lord, I'm just the captain of a time ship. And I'm an assassin."

"Outstanding! This world needs a few assassins on the side of good." She looks at Alex, who shakes her head.

"I'm just a DEO agent who wants to go home."

"Fair enough. And since we're a sharing, I'm Ninja. Maddie is Black Wolf, after whom the Wolf Pack is named, her Mate is Wolverine."

"The Wolverine?" Cisco looks like a wistful fanboy.

"Poor Cisco is going to be so disappointed, but yes. Very definitely THE Wolverine, and not the half-baked excuse of a wannabe X-Man Jimmy is." She shrugs. "The younger generation doesn't care much about names, they just do their jobs. Well, her kids are Red and White Wolves, my son is Beastmaster. My daughter is just an idiot."

She looks pointedly at the weapons on the other side of the clearing.

"Unless you have any more questions or objections, we should probably get back to Logan and the rig we... acquired." She isn't sure what deal Maddie made with Loch to get that thing. "I'd like to get down to the rendezvous point by daybreak."

Then she looks at Maddie.

"Hopefully my daughter and your son will have gotten their shit together, and we can get the show on the road." She grins a very Ninja grin. "Or Tori is still beating the snot out of them. If that's the case, I don't want to miss the show."

Madeline snorts. "That's if my daughter and your son haven't done so already. Em's patience levels are closer to mine than Logan's."

At that, Andi merely shrugs in agreement.

Then Madeline looks at Oliver and Sara. "You in?"

Sara and Oliver exchange a glance. He does not seem overly excited about the prospect while she's ambivalent. "Sure, why not? It's not like we have anything better to do, Ollie."

He tries to give Madeline a piercing stare. She simply raises an eyebrow. "What? You want to go a round with me first? See if I'm any good? You do know I stepped on that branch on purpose, right?"

He's still suspicious, but Sara has a point. He grudgingly agrees.

"Excellent. Grab your gear. Let's move out."

While Sara and Ollie collect their gear, she gives Alex a sympathetic look. "I'm guessing you haven't had time to develop a coping mechanism yet. I wouldn't advise Andi's coma tactic, especially not here. I fight and fuck, used to get drunk too."

If she were going to go into a coma, she'd have done it by now, Andi notes silently.

Alex looks at Madeline through her pained expression. "Used to? You quit drinking?"

"Gods, no, just have a metabolism plus healing factor that doesn't let me get drunk anymore, at least not without draining the entire contents of a distillery in a single night. It's damned annoying."

"Ss-sounds like it would be. What is there to drink here?"

"Most of the regular stuff is swill, but I happen to have a stash of excellent moonshine. May even curl your toes and set your hair on fire. "

Sara seems to perk up at that. "Sounds perfect."

"Are you sure we can't keep her?" Madeline asks Andi. "I like her, a lot."

Her sister chuckles. "Sure, we can keep her. We just can't take her home with us." Then Andi pauses as she eyes Sara and Ollie once more before commenting to Maddie, "Gods, I hope the kids are scandalized. Yeah, yeah... your daughter is more than sensible, and my son has spent enough time with her to barely be surprised. I meant the other two anyway."

She locks down the mirth and falls into working mode.

"You take point," Ninja says. "I don't sense that anything's wandered into the area since we left the bus, but I'd still be happier with the civilian and wounded guest in the rear."

She gets one of those faraway looks in her eyes for a couple of seconds that usually mean she's doing something metaphysically incomprehensible before grinning in a typical smart-ass Ninja manner.

"And I'll even contemplate the possibility of teaching said wounded guest how to shield herself while watching all these lovely sixes."

Turning, she calls out to Cisco and the LEO, "Vibester, Alex... you're with me."

"It's Vibe," Cisco says.

"Yeah, yeah... potato, potahto!"

"Succotash," Madeline responds, then motions to Sara and Oliver. "Come on, you two. Andi wants to enjoy the scenery we provide. She'll do what she can to alleviate Alex's pain."

Madeline takes point. It's usually her preference anyway unless guns are already blazing, then she lets Logan go first — not that she's ever far behind.

At the onset, Cisco tries to start a conversation. Madeline holds a fist up signaling a stop. She turns and catches the geek in her gaze. "This is not a picnic in the park. If you continue to chit chat, I'll have my Sister knock you out or gag you. Are we clear?"

He gulps, then nods and adds with a whisper, "Crystal."

She catches the barest hint of a smile from Oliver when she turns back and continues forward.

Keeping the civilian from tripping over stones, twigs, and his own feet turns out to need more of her attention than Andi had expected. He's acting enough like Henry had that night in Commerce City that it starts getting on her nerves.

"Are you naturally a klutz, Cisco," Andi asks softly, "or are you trying to amuse your friend?"


"Knock it off then. Act like we don't know that the area is safe."

He grumbles a bit under his breath — causing Andi to reach out and flick the side of his head — but he stops looking for bits of debris to 'trip' over. And he ceases his grumbling, too.

The trek back out to the road is not long, and nothing jumps out at them, as it were. As Andi had noted earlier, other than these four and themselves, nothing here is alive. Madeline pauses at the edge of the road, just long enough for Logan to give the all clear, before proceeding across. Logan cocks his head as the new people follow her out.

"Been picking up strays again?" he asks.

She nods. "They got here much the same way I did except without the big drop. Andi thinks she, Paul and Maria can help get them home."

Once everyone has caught up, she makes introductions. "Oliver, Sara, Cisco, Alex. This is Logan."

There are stoic nods all around, except for Cisco who is on the edge of fangirling. Apparently comic Logan and real-life Logan don't appear all that different. Then Cisco pauses, a bit confused. "You're a lot taller than I thought you'd be."

Logan just raises an eyebrow.

"Apparently, you are a comic book hero in their world."

"Huh," is his only comment. "What's the plan?"

"I'd rather not be sitting out here in the open too long. We should get rolling. Andi, Cisco, go take your mumbo jumbo to the back. Alex, feel free to stretch out and let me know if you want a drink."

She eyes the remaining two.

Logan has not missed the look over she gives Oliver and Sara. "Darlin'?"


He slides a hand behind her head and gives her a resounding kiss. "Behave."

She grins slyly. "You know me too well."

Andi points Cisco to the back of the bus before turning back to Maddie and Logan.

"I hope you two realize that, while the connection is tenuous, I can feel Rene's presence.

"And his particular Gift.

"And that my shields do not block out... this," she says, waving a hand at the enthusiastic display of affection between Maddie and Logan.

"There will be sparring later."

She grins at them, then heads toward the back of the bus.

"We can get a full sitrep from you?" Oliver asks Madeline.

She gives him a nod. "We can sit around the table and look over the map."

"I'll take a drink," Sara adds.

"All aboard then," Madeline says, ushering them all to climb in.

However, as Andi edges passed Alex, she stops abruptly as the feeling of sandpaper scraping against her shields intensifies.

"Ah... you might want to hold off on that drink for a bit, Alex." Looking back over her shoulder, she watches Ollie and Sara get settled then meets Maddie's eyes. "Em and her shields have been battered enough already. I need to work some of my counterpart's magic with Alex before I get into my trademark mumbo jumbo. Maybe some of the stuff I learned from a certain starship captain, too." Holding out a hand, she smiles at the younger woman — it's the smile her Husband always refers to as the Sweet Librarian smile. "Maddie's daughter is an empath. We need to get you bandaged up enough so that you don't batter at her barriers. She's good... just not as good as it as I am. Yet."

Alex hesitates and glances around at the others. "I... I guess I don't understand."

"The short version is that, in addition to being the Warrior, I have the abilities of a Ha'atathli... medicine woman, shaman. And I learned a lot about shielding from a priestess of Danu. At the very least, I can get you wrapped up enough that you don't drive Em and me too crazy."

"Whoa, like sweat lodges and smudging and chanting and stuff?" Cisco asks more than a little enthusiastically. "Maybe some spells, too?"

She stares at him for a few seconds. "Does this rig look like a sweat lodge? And we don't have time for a Blessingway. Once we get back on the road, we ought to reach our rendezvous spot in an hour, more or less. Depends on how torn up the road is down to the Interstate.

"Oh, so many reasons to Gibbs slap you."

Andi shakes her head while rolling her eyes.

"In this case," she says to Alex, "it's more like meditation, some energy work, maybe some acupressure. Come on... go, go." She gently nudges Alex and points her to one of the rear benches.

Alex studies Andi for nearly a minute, struggling to keep her composure until her training takes over. Once she reaches the conclusion that this woman in front of her is more like J'onn than anyone else she's ever met, she nods.

"Fine. I reserve the right to go on a three-day bender, though."

Andi chuckles. "If we get three consecutive days without trouble, I'll be flabbergasted. But I'm in a vindictive mood lately, so Maria can always scrub your system of alcohol poisoning if it comes to that."

Alex looks confused but takes a seat near Cisco.

Let's get out of here, Logan, Andi says to both her Brother and Sister. It's too quiet out there. I'll listen in, Maddie. It's not going to take too long to get her temporarily balanced, but I'm probably going to call in some of our unseen friends to help. It will probably take her more time to get used to the Spirits than the initial balancing.

"Do you really know a starship captain?" Cisco asks.


He hesitates for a moment. "Are you shitting me?"


"Whoa! You gotta tell me all about him! Is it Picard? What's he like?"

Andi just turns her head and... well, looks daggers at him would unquestionably be an appropriate turn of phrase. At least her eyes aren't glowing.

"Her. No. Apparently, a lucky bastard. And shut up."


For an instant, Ninja's eyes glow golden in the dim light of the rear seating area.

"Don't. Work. My nerves. While I'm working."

Cisco gulps and scoots into the far corner of the back seat.

"Civilians. I'm so glad Maria is going through one of her pity party phases," Andi remarks to no one in particular. "Keeping this clown from getting himself killed will be a fine use of her talents!"

Then she sits down across from Alex and studies her aura and meridians as they chat.

Madeline directs Sara and Oliver to what appears to be a card table welded to the floor and its surrounding chairs. She pours drinks for herself and Sara and looks the question at Oliver who nods. She hands theirs over then brings hers with her.

The old bus rumbles to life and rolls back onto the road with minimal lurching. The three at the table all manage not to spill a drop. Madeline smiles at the other two. She takes a sip before beginning.

"So, the short of it is most anyone with any kind of power is being targeted for round up and extermination or experimentation or both. I say mostly because they look for particular genetic signatures. Here and where we're from that's primarily the X-gene. People like Logan were born that way. People like Andi had a virus onset that changed or woke something inside them. Don't ask me to get all into the science as it's all outside my scope of expertise."

"Hey, most of the southwestern Nations have mutations because of environmental factors, not the damn Virus," Andi pipes up from the back. "Why the hell do you think we called it the White Man's Curse?"

"Angry much?" Cisco mutters.

Andi looks at him and shrugs apologetically. "Yeah. Not so much as I was sixteen, seventeen decades ago. But, yeah."

The young man just gapes at her.

"Targeted by whom?" Oliver asks.

"It's been a US government initiative for the last century or so. This is a fascist state and has been for most of that time. In our 'verse, someone tried something similar in the same time frame, but it was stopped."

"What's this about the underground railroad Andi mentioned?" Sara asks. "Railroad to where?"

"The indigenous peoples — the First Nations, primarily of the western half of the US and Canada and south through Central and South America — have nearly all reclaimed their ancestral lands. They offer safe haven to those who are hunted using their own methods to protect them. The eastern half is pretty much a hell hole of the worse sort, and I've seen plenty of war zones for comparison. The coast isn't too bad, but it's stuck in the early 21st century from appearances, which probably doesn't seem that bad to you. It's a drastic change from our home though. Inland areas are considerably worse off. From what I've seen and been told, public communication lines don't function anymore if the physical aspects like phone lines even exist at all. People still have electricity and fuel can be had, but there's a lot of custom fueling methods like ethanol and biodiesel or sometimes straight up alcohol. Stills are the most popular they've been since prohibition."

Sara and Oliver share a couple of looks during the explanation. It's Sara who says, "We've both seen some pretty rough places."

Madeline nods. "I could see your skill from your sparring. Training can only teach so much. Experience embeds it in you."

"What did you do before being a Mask?" Oliver wants to know.

"I ran a French Fashion House," Madeline answers with a teasing grin.

"You did that at the same time," Logan interjects from the driver's seat.

"That's true. Did double duty for a while there."

Sara raises her eyebrows, and Oliver lowers his.

"I was a mercenary, and I ran a drug and arms cartel fronted by a coffee plantation. I still have the coffee plantation, more or less."

"More or less?" That's Sara.

"It's still in that family, run by my great-great-grandson and his wife."

Oliver seems to tense.


"Most of the long-lived people we've run into have been psychos," Sara explains.

"Hmm. I've been a psycho, but I've gotten better, although this universe does make the crazy want to come out and kick some ass. Hence why we haven't left yet."

"And the other two?" Oliver asks.

"Yeah, long-lived too."

While listening in on Maddie's conversation with Sara and Oliver, Andi studies Alex's meridians and speaks softly to her.

"Talk about her, your Maggie, when you can," she says, not quite touching the other woman's aura at the level of the throat chakra. "That will help your physical and emotional health."

Hadn't she given Pablo the same advice about Rosalia all those years ago when he'd finally asked her about her Curse? Andi still holds the memory of her Husband's first wife in her heart.

"Feelings are going to serve you better than dwelling on thoughts, but you need to stay balanced." She eyes Alex's aura critically, then looks deeper at her meridians and the flow of qi. "You're doing remarkably well, you know. You have experience meditating?"

Alex nods. "It's kind of funny... something J'onn insisted on. He's..."

Andi smiles. "A Martian... which is pretty damn cool. You have a lot of aliens in your universe."

"I guess." Alex frowns. "You don't? And how did you know?"

Andi shakes her head. "Not really. Well, not unless you consider gods and demigods to be aliens. But it's not like the fictional worlds of the Stargate universe where aliens pretended to be gods."

"Hey, I know that one, too!" Cisco interjects. "You actually have gods wandering around? And they aren't Goa'ulds?"

"Deities, yes... most notably Loki and Thor, although no one has seen them in a good hundred years or so. Goa'ulds, no. If I had more data points, I might postulate that a universe with more mutants would have fewer aliens and vice versa. But..." Andi shrugs. "That's one of the many things that make my family members roll their eyes — I used to be a librarian and do love researching that kind of stuff. It's not a rabbit hole we can afford to travel down, though.

"And part of my Curse is collecting memories," she says, turning back to Alex, "my own, other people's. Sometimes I don't even realize it until somebody says, 'How did you know that?'" Andi shrugs again. "I'm used to it now. And some of the memories are beyond comforting. Some of them suck, of course, but I try to focus on the good ones.

"Now, how about mental and emotional shields or wards or whatever the cool kids are calling them these days?"

Alex smiles. "If I understand what you mean by that, then no."

Nodding, Andi returns the smile. "Well, we'd need more time than we have at the moment, and a moving vehicle isn't the right place for teaching you about them anyway." She pauses and bites her lip.


An instant later, the large black bird appears on the floor of the bus between the two women, seen only by Andi and, if she bothers to look, Maddie.

Warrior. I am honored that you have requested my presence. How may I assist you?

She glances at the Spirit before focusing on Alex again.

You still really freak me out, but being my twin's guardian, I was hoping you'd have a suggestion for helping Alex stay balanced until we can all get home.

The Spirit regards the newcomer before asking, Are you adopting her, too, into your clan?

Well, I hadn't planned on it. Being from different universes would make things a bit complicated. Andi looks at each of the people they had just picked up. Wait, are you saying the Spirits can't help a third of our group if they're not part of the family?

We cannot. It is not that we do not have the desire to do so, but rather that they are quite difficult to see for many of the Siblings.

Andi looks at the Spirit with a puzzled expression. "Oh. Well, that's... Ah, it has to do with the different universes, doesn't it? Their universe isn't enough like ours?"

I believe so, yes.

"Who are you talking to, Andi?" Cisco asks, sounding just a bit worried — and a lot like Henry.

"Hmm? Oh, just Raven." She waves a hand dismissively in his direction as she addresses those at the front of the bus. "Hey, Maddie... Raven wants to know if we're adopting these fine folks. Apparently, most of the Spirits can't see them. I'm guessing..." Andi looks at Raven again. "Just the Siblings generally associated with the Ha'atathli?"

And Coyote.

She snickers. "And Coyote. Of course." Ninja looks at Oliver and grins. "Not one word from you about psychos, buster. I'm the Master of Weird."

Then her eyes shift to Maddie.

"What do you think? I mean, given that they're all in the age range of Justin's youngest great, great..." She ticks off the generations on her fingers. "...great-grandchildren, siblings seem a bit odd. Cousins?"

They must be of your clan, Warrior.

Andi laughs. "Raven, both Andrea and I are Clan Mother for the Ts'ah Yisk'idnii. Maddie is my sister. Where else would we adopt them?"

"She's speaking in tongues again," Cisco whispers to Alex.

"She does that a lot, Cisco," Madeline says. "One gets used to it. It's worse once she gets into the metaphysical mumbo jumbo."

Andi ignores Cisco. "Damn it, Maddie, don't mock our clan and language! Pick on my so-called mumbo jumbo all you want. Just..." She sees the ripples in her Sister's aura and sighs. "Wow. Harsh. Okay. No more messing around with French with you, then. I can't wait to get back to Rene, who appreciates my whimsical desecrations."

Madeline just looks at Andi.

"Anyway, in addition to getting more help for Alex here, having them in the family means it will be easier for Maria to do her finding people thing. I don't see any downside other than giving Maria an achy breaky heart when they go home, but that's nothing compared to what she went through when we got here. And she might still deserve it.

"You see any problem with it?"

"Not at all. Seems like it would also be a tactical advantage as well. Go for it."

Andi gestures to Oliver, Sara, Alex and finally to Cisco. "Raven, these folks are Oliver Queen, Sara Lance, Alex Danvers, and Cisco Ramon — now of the Ts'ah Yisk'idnii. I, Andrea Yazzie, Warrior Clan Mother, accept each of them as my kin, and they shall be as cousins to me."

Raven is joined by Tiger, who had become Andi's fifth guardian Spirit when she became Clan Mother when the last of the eldest Ts'ah Yisk'idnii women had died about ninety years ago. Both of them allow themselves to be seen, which causes Cisco to yelp. Tiger pads toward the front of the bus, stopping to stare at Oliver. He seems wary of the big cat and holds perfectly still, returning the Spirit's stare. It goes on long enough that Andi finally sighs.

"Oliver, have you ever won a staring contest with a cat? Tiger, please stop toying with the human."

Tiger looks over its shoulder at Andi and flicks its tail — its version of laughter — before edging closer to Sara. She is far less apprehensive than Oliver. Maybe it's the amount of time she had spent with Amaya, or perhaps she's just a cat person, but she smiles slightly at Oliver's reaction. Tiger rests its chin in her lap, causing her smile to brighten and she tentatively reaches out to pet its head. After her hand slides over Tiger's head once, it jumps backward, spins quickly and bounds to the back of the bus, skidding to a stop in front of Andi.

It's a good thing that everything in the bus is bolted down securely.

"Oh, for gods' sakes. Yes, I'm happy she likes you, too. Will you calm the fuck down?"

The Spirit shakes itself like a dog shedding water after a dunk in a pond and tries to climb on the bench next to Alex. Andi grabs the big cat by the scruff of its neck as Alex's eyes widen — more in fascination and surprise than anything else.

"You're a hell of a lot less dignified than your counterpart in my universe, Friend Tiger."

Alex, too, reaches out to run her hand over the Spirit's head, causing it to purr. Loudly.

"Where did it come from? It's beautiful," she says.

"It's one of the Spirits of the Diné, the Navajo. Well, that's the short version, absent any of my trademark metaphysical mumbo jumbo."


Andi raises an eyebrow. Well, if one has a myriad of aliens running around in one's universe, perhaps meeting the Spirits isn't particularly strange. Tiger slips out of her grasp and wiggles over to Cisco, who pulls himself up in the corner of the seat with his arms wrapped around his legs.

Unlike Oliver, who had merely been wary of the Spirit, Cisco seems terrified.

"Cisco," Andi says with a sigh. "It's not going to hurt you."

He stares at Tiger and shakes his head. "Nope. I'm not touching it."

"You don't have to."

"Good. Because I'm not going to."

She rubs her temples and groans. "Must remember that the next adoption ceremony should be held outdoors, and with more planning."

Raven nudges her leg. "We see your new kin, Warrior Yazzie."

Alex looks at the talking bird, opens her mouth to speak, but then shakes her head.

"We will inform our Siblings." Raven dips its head in acknowledgment. " I will also inform Ha'atathli Yazzie. I believe she will be quite amused."

"Yeah, no doubt," Andi mutters as the two Spirits disappears.

Madeline looks back to Oliver and Sara. "Welcome to the family. Hang on, it's going to be a wild ride. Andi's a magnet for weird, and I can pretty much find trouble anyplace, any time."

"That last part sounds a lot like me," Sara says.

"Agreed. The magnet for weird sounds like Barry, though," Oliver adds. "You don't think this is Barry's doing, do you?"

"Um..." is Cisco's non-committal response.

"Barry who?" Madeline asks. "And does he normally do things like open portals for people to go through?"

Andi eyes Cisco while listening to the conversation Maddie is having with Oliver and Sara.

"Barry Allen, the Flash," Sara expands. "And, well, not exactly. He has been known to fuck with the timeline though."

"Excuse me? What does that even mean?"

Oliver has an uncomfortable expression on his face. "He's gone back in time and changed things."

"And you haven't put a stop to him yet?"

"He's one of the good guys and our friend."

"Damn, and I thought my friends were assholes," Madeline says. "Of course, they're all dead now, but still. What did he change?"

"The first time he stopped his mother's murder."

"Oh." Madeline sits back. "Yeah, I can see the temptation in that. The things we would want to change if we could."

"Oh, no. No, no, no!" Andi replies. "No, we do not go fucking with the timeline even if we could, and Maddie has more reasons than most to want to change things. By the Gods, Buddhas, and Spirits, what kind of fucking idiot is this Barry person?"

"The kind who tried to make people's pain go away?" Cisco says softly, still curled in on himself in the corner of the seat. "The second time — well, I guess I don't know how many times he's done it, but he let my brother die in one of his screw-ups."

"I thought Kara said you had forgiven him," Alex says.

"I did. Mostly. He tries to do the right thing, but he's..." His voice trails off, and Cisco just shakes his head.

"Young. Impulsive. Lacks discipline," Oliver says simply.

Madeline raises an eyebrow at Oliver. "Sounds like you're speaking from experience."

"He is," Sara confirms.

The look they share makes Madeline chuckle.

"Oh. Well, that's fine then," Ninja says with more than a dash of sarcasm. "It's not like we don't know anyone like that. Logan, dear, if I try to follow Cisco home to beat the snot out of his friend, you'll stop me, won't you?"

Logan just rumbles his laughter through the bond the three of them share.

"Thank you. You're my favorite brother in this whole universe!"

"I'm not playing that game with you, Andi," he says.

"Bah, you're no fun."

He glances back at her for a moment before focusing his attention on the road again.

That was something special between you and Justin, Sister. I'm happy to indulge your nonsense when our Brother Rene is able to participate. But I won't dilute something that was precious to you and Justin.

She leans forward, resting her elbows on her knees so she can look at him.

"Damn it, Logan, you sure do know how to short-circuit Ninja's snark." She smiles. "I love you, too."

"So how long have you two known each other?" Madeline asks the two at the table with her.

Oliver gives Sara a side eye before answering. "We grew up together."

Sara smirks at him.

There's more to that story, Madeline is sure of it. But if they don't feel like sharing, she won't press it. She opens a map on the table between them and tells them the same story she had told the Diné LEOs, just with more elaboration seeings as they aren't from this world or time. Both ask questions, and the more they ask, the more her smile grows. Sure, they're all heading into a shit storm, but having competent people at your side and back always helps.

The sharing of information gets them all the way to the rendezvous point. Logan slows then stops the bus but doesn't turn off the engine.

"Sit tight," Madeline tells them. "We just need to lose the jalopy we've been towing."

Andi comes up to the front of the bus, too, and points out the driver's window to the westbound exit ramp.

"Easiest thing to do is slide down onto I-40 here. Even an old Fiat could get across the median. Then it's a piece of cake to get back up the other ramp into the Zuni lands."

Madeline just eyes her sister.

"Do you have to plan everything?"

"Nope! We could drive to the middle of the overpass and just push Jimmy's truck off." She grins. "I'd like nothing more than to make life miserable for him." Then Andi nods toward the border station about a third of a mile to the west. "But I'd rather not cause trouble for our friends."

Madeline barely shakes her head but nods to Logan who guides the bus the wrong way down the ramp and across the median where he again stops the vehicle. This time he sets the gears to park.

She and Logan make quick work of it, freeing the bus from the truck and vice versa, then pushing Jimmy's old beater to the side of the road under the bridge. It isn't even worth turning the engine over since that would have taken longer than Logan merely applying his strength.

"I need to stretch my legs, darlin'," Logan says as they come back to the bus. "Take her the rest of the way in."

"Sure thing, darlin'."

She climbs aboard and into the driver's seat. While Logan walks to the campsite where the rest of their companions are waiting, Madeline drives the bus forward then the wrong way up the eastbound on-ramp. It isn't as if she really has to worry about oncoming traffic. Even in their universe, it's not exactly a highly traveled road. She turns left back onto what's State Highway 219 in their universe and barely more than a frontage road here, then stops a few hundred feet or so beyond the empty, smaller border station. Turning off the engine and then standing, she turns to face the back of the bus.

"Welcome to the Zuni-Free Lands border. We have the finest dirt and tumbleweed accommodations you will find anywhere."

With that, she saunters off the bus, toward her Mate, the deputy, and the kids.

© Kelly Naylor and ividia kt