Issue 6: Vacation

Andi is on the road and Pablo is in the sky by ten. Taking the southern route means that it's about eighty degrees by the time they get to Pueblo, despite it being early November. Well... for Andi down on the ground it's that warm, anyway. Pablo informs her that it's considerably cooler at his altitude, but not uncomfortably so. It will cool down to around seventy on the ground once they get closer to Walsenburg and farther into the foothills.

The day is sunny. And boring. If not for Pablo's company and the opportunity to chat, Andi likely would have taken the route over the mountains at Walsenburg instead of continuing down Interstate 25 toward Santa Fe. She recalls that the first time they came out here — to visit Tommy in Ganado — Pablo had been paying at least as much attention to flying has he had been to her. This time, however, he is considerably more comfortable riding the air drafts and is definitely watching her more closely.

"Ahh... Andi, dear?" Pablo says from high above.

Their new radios are a lot nicer than the old ones. It means that Andi doesn't need to wear the excessively warm helmet. The fact that she's breaking helmet laws in two states doesn't seem to bother her.

"Yes, Pablo?"

"How fast are you going down there?"

"About as fast as you're going up there." She giggles.

"Very funny, woman. That semi shuddered when you passed it."

"Probably because the driver was starting to get sleepy, and the jolt of adrenaline woke him up really fast."

"Uh huh. Didn't answer my question, though."

"Not quite a hundred."

"Then you're going to love the next underpass. There's a police car waiting for you."

"I'll be long gone before he can put his car in drive."

"You have no respect for the poor patrol officers just trying to do their jobs," he says with a hint of scolding in his voice.

"Not so!" she says, denying the vicious accusation as she flies past the patrol officer in question. "He should be watching for that truck driver who might be dozing off again."

"You probably gave the truck driver a heart attack."

"Is he still on the road?"

There's a pause; Andi assumes Pablo has turned around to look. "Yes."

"Then he didn't have a heart attack."

And another conversation, hours later...


"Yes, love?"

"You're not bored up there, are you?"

"Are you kidding?" he asks, definitely sounding happy and excited. "The mountains look fantastic from his altitude! There's snow across all the higher peaks already."

"Hell, there was probably snow across the higher peaks by mid-September," she replies, laughing.

"My point is that it's beautiful."

"Next time bring a camera with you. Those will be aerial shots people will have never seen before!"

He laughs. "I considered it, but I'd be afraid I'd drop the camera. Then it would plummet to the earth like a missile and blow up some poor family's trailer home."

"I don't think you're that far up," she responds dryly. "Although you might put a hell of a dent in their roof." She pauses as she thinks about just how amazing those photos would be. "Find out what sort of rig parachutists use when they photograph from the air. Get one of those."

"My lovely lady, you are brilliant!"

And finally, as they're nearing Nageezi...

"Hey, Andi... you want to slow down and give me a ride the last mile or so?"

"Oh, HELL no! I did that once, and I'm not doing it again."

"I thought you enjoyed the groping," he says, sounding a little hurt.

"The groping I liked," she says. "I liked that part a lot. But riding with a passenger and only going thirty five miles an hour is... well, painful."

"But won't your Aunt and Uncle get freaked out if a guy just lands in their yard?"

"Oh, pretty sure not. Their son is a shaman, one niece is precognitive, another is a super hero, and a nephew is a shapeshifter. Some flying dude landing in their front yard is not going to freak them out."

"You're sure?"

She sighs. "Yes, Pablo. I'm sure. However, if Tommy were in range, I'd have him ask them to pretend to be freaked out."

"What? Why would you do that?" he asks, clearly confused.

"Because, silly, that's what we do in this family." She giggles. "You'll get used to it. Eventually."

There isn't much to Nageezi. It really is one of those places about which one can say, "Don't blink or you'll miss it." There's a water reclamation plant back off the highway. Along the highway is a combination gas station and convenience store. It's been there as long as Uncle Leon can remember. There's a shipping facility for the mining that goes on in San Juan County. There's a housing development of small cookie cutter homes between the warehouse and the sewage plant; there's a smaller housing development of slightly larger cookie cutter homes behind the warehouse.

Most of Nageezi is open land, arroyos, scrub brush. South and west of what counts as "town," Aunt Sonia and Uncle Leon — and usually Talia, too — live in a huge six bedroom log cabin home on sixty acres of land. Yani and Daniel come up from Gallup to visit as often as possible; usually once every month. Tommy doesn't get home as often, as his studies keep him busy; he's lucky if he visits three times a year. Billy makes up for all of them, however, as running cross country from Yah-Ta-Hey to Nageezi as a wolf or mountain lion — or flying as an eagle — doesn't take the two or three hours for others who are reduced to traveling by car.

As she rides her bike up the long driveway, she can see Billy in his eagle form sitting on the roof of Aunt Sonia and Uncle Leon's garage. Should she warn Pablo?


She pulls up in front of the house and Talia comes running out the front door. "Andi! We're so glad you're here! Where's Pablo?"

Andi grins and points to the sky. As Pablo begins his descent, Billy launches himself off the garage roof.

"Uh oh," Talia mutters.

"No, it should be fine. And good practice for Pablo."

Her cousin just gives Andi a sidelong look. "Right."

It takes a couple of minutes for Pablo to notice the full grown bald eagle with a wingspan of about six feet heading right for him.

"What the hell?!" Andi hears him both on the radio and with her regular hypersensitive hearing.

She giggles as she watches Pablo try to evade Billy. She wonders if Pablo is going to realize it's Billy before she has to tell him. After all, bald eagles are not desert raptors.

"This is not funny, Andrea!"

"But it totally is, Pablo!"

Uncle Leon has come out to watch the show. "Am I going to have to glue your fiancé back together, Andi?"

"I don't think so, Uncle Leon," she says as she gives him a hug. She looks up again. "Oh, come on, Pablo! He's playing with you. Don't let the young whippersnapper get the better of you!"

Pablo seems to hover in mid-air for a moment, then says, "Billy!" in that same tone of voice he uses when Bobby has done something annoying. Then he turns and chases after Andi's cousin. Billy, of course, isn't expecting that, and makes a steep dive toward the ground, shifting into a mountain lion inches above the ground and keeps on running out toward the road.

Andi grins as Pablo lands deftly a few paces away. "Billy's getting much better at shifting on the fly, so to speak," she says to Talia.

"That's the best I've ever seen," Talia responds.

"Someone could have warned me about that," Pablo says as he walks toward them, looking directly at his wife.

"Sure, but it was good for both of you. Tali says that's the best shift she's ever seen Billy do!" She wraps her arm around his waist and looks up into his eyes. "And you need to learn to expect the unexpected, especially if you think you're going to have nine children someday."

"NINE??!!" Talia shouts, then looks at Andi. "Is he crazy?"

Andi nods. "Yep," she says as Billy Big Cat comes loping back up the driveway.

He shifts back to human form, a huge grin on his face. "That was awesome, Pablo!! We're gonna have so much fun while you're here! Oh, I can't wait for everyone else to get here! When will our new family get here, huh, Andi?"

She laughs. "Madeline said she was going to aim for about five. So you've still got a couple of hours."

"Rats! Okay! Hey, Pablo, let's do that again! Man, that was SOOO fun!!"

Pablo looks at Andi's youngest cousin in disbelief. "Dude, I just flew over four hundred miles. Apparently, I'm an old man, but I'd like to sit down. Maybe drink some water. We'll play later."

"Aww, bummer." Billy looks at his cousin. "Race ya, Andi!"

"What are you racing as, sneaky cousin?"

"Ahh... wolf?"

She peels off her leather jacket and hands it to Pablo. "I'll keep him moving until it's your turn. Maybe between the two of us, we can wear him out before Maddie and the rest of the family gets here."

"Nope, won't happen," Talia says cynically. "That's not precog, that's me knowing Billy. But give it your best shot. Every little bit helps!"

Andi looks from Pablo, who raises an eyebrow, to Uncle Leon, who just shrugs, and finally to Billy, who grins almost maniacally.

Without any warning, she starts running across the grasslands. She can hear Pablo's snicker, Talia's giggle, Uncle Leon's chuckle as Billy says, "Hey! That's cheating!"

"Keep your radio in, will you, Pablo? I may need rescuing."

"An opportunity to rescue a fair damsel in distress? I relish the opportunity!" he replies with a chuckle.

Billy and Andi race around the barren stretches of San Juan County for about an hour before she starts heading back toward the house.

"Fair warning, O Knight of Mine," she says, "I'm on my way in, and it will be your turn."

"I'll be waiting, Lady Mine," he says with a chuckle.

As she nears the house with Billy nipping at her heels, Pablo takes off again. "Let me know when the Jacobs get here, will you dear?" he says as Billy shifts again and launches himself after Pablo.

"Roger that. However, I suspect from your altitude, you'll see them coming."

Not ten minutes later, Uncle Junior and Aunt Alicia arrive. "Where is that youngest hooligan of mine," Aunt Alicia says with a smile as she gets out of the car.

"He and Pablo are chasing one another around the sky," Andrea says with a chuckle as she hugs her aunt. "I've already run across the desert with him."

"That boy has more energy than any dozen people I know," Uncle Junior says. "If we could harness that energy, we could power the whole Navajo Nation!"

"In this case, it's a really good thing that he's so hyper," Andi says as Talia brings over two more lawn chairs, and Aunt Sonia brings out another pitcher of lemonade. "Pablo seems to think we're going to have either six or nine children, depending on his mood."

"You're not having six OR nine children or any number in between," Talia says firmly.

"I know that. You know that." Andi shrugs. "Pablo is a very stubborn man. I'm hoping between Billy and Madeline's three children, he might come to his senses all on his own."

Alicia and Sonia look at their respective husbands, then look at their niece, roll their eyes, and say in unison, "Don't count on it."

The two younger women laugh as Junior and Leon try to defend themselves. It feels good to be with her family again and, for the millionth time, Andi wonders why she doesn't visit more often. She and Talia chat while Pablo does his best to wear Billy out — his method of flying does take considerably less effort. Sonia, like Andi's mother, refuses all help with dinner.

Andi is so excited that Charlie will be at the Dehiya compound tomorrow morning with Susan! It's been three years, at least, since she's seen Susan. Yani and Daniel plan to arrive around lunchtime tomorrow. Mama, Dad, Papa and Tita should arrive in the middle of the afternoon.

And apparently Tommy is coming HERE with John Ravenclaw!

"Incoming!" the radio announces in Andi's ear.

"You and Billy, or the Jacobs?" she asks as everyone looks at her as though she's crazy... at least until Talia and Uncle Leon remember she has the radio in her ear.

"Both, but Billy and I will get there first. They just pulled off the highway."

"Okay, that was Pablo letting me know Madeline and her family just turn off the 550." Suddenly, she's even more nervous than she was when the family met Pablo. "I hope you like them."

Talia hugs her. "First, everyone will love them, I promise. Second, a Yazzie never brings anyone home who isn't worthy of the family. You know that, silly!"

Pablo lands a few steps away and walks over to wrap his arms around her. "You worry too much, Andrea Yazzie," he says.

Everyone laughs when she replies, "Yes, Mama."

At the end of the driveway, the two Humvees are kicking up a bit of dust.

# # #

They roll out around mid-morning, with the bikes trailered behind one Humvee and special equipment in the other. Following the directions Andi had given them, their plan is to arrive in Nageezi shortly before seventeen hundred hours or, in layman's terms, five o'clock in the evening.

At the beginning of the drive, there had been lots of questions from all three kids. But eight hours is a long time to be sitting and doing nothing, especially for those accustomed to being quite active. Logan and Madeline split up the driving duties, once again including Leon so that he can practice. As they travel that last bit, Logan is driving the Humvee with the bike trailer and the twins are sacked out in the back seat.

Even with the dark lenses of her Ray Bans, Madeline squints into the setting sun as she drives. Leon, having just woken from an unintended nap, fidgets. Something is on his mind. At his age, it could be anything. Madeline is prepared to wait him out.

"Mom, what happened?" he suddenly blurts out.

"What do you mean, sweetheart?"

"Over the last few days, while we've been at the school. What happened?"

"Not much. Took care of some bad guys, made sure they won't bother anyone again."

"I guessed that part. I mean, what happened between you and Dad. There's something different about you guys."

She raises an eyebrow and looks at him over the rim of her glasses. "Are you asking about our sex life?"

Leon turns beet red. "No! Eww, Mom, that's gross. I don't want to know about that. Aw, man..."

She feels a chuckle in her mind.

That wasn't very nice, Maddie.

What? I should explain it?

No, but...



Like you wouldn't have done the same.

All right, maybe I would.

You know you would.

There is a laugh and then, Heads up, love.

Oh, dear gods. Did the entire Nation turn out?

Same count as a squad.


One Humvee pulls up and to the side, then the other rolls into place beside it. The twins are tumbling out as soon as Logan has the vehicle in park. Too many hours cooped up in a vehicle has them wired, and there are new people to meet. They both zero in on Andi, however, and would have rushed her if not for a chuff from Logan.

Leon is a bit more restrained, waiting for his mother to get out before he does.

"Ready to meet the new family, Leon?"

"How does that work again?"

"Not sure exactly. Let's get to it."

Logan comes around the vehicle by the time she opens her door, the twins trailing him. They share a smile and a kiss. One of the kids groans. They chuckle and approach Andi, Pablo and their new relations arm in arm. Although this is friendly territory, both scope out the landscape. They had done so as they drove in as well, making note of landmarks and what not.

"Hello, sister mine, Pablo," she greets them.

Em and Vin bracket Leon as they follow their parents toward a family much larger than either of them has ever been exposed to. They don't count the school, not yet anyway. Leon puts his arms around them and whispers, "It'll be fine, guys."

# # #

Andi notices the twins first. Dear gods, what massive amounts of energy in such small packages! They're an awful lot like Billy, really. He's just a little — okay, maybe a lot — older, and certainly taller. But if the stories she's heard from Mama and Talia are any indication, he isn't necessarily any more grown up than they are. She makes a very determined effort not to chuckle when their father settles them down.

She absolutely cannot help the grin, however, as one of them groans when their parents kiss. As she had told Leon — and it seems like that conversation was ages ago — during the stage in life when a child is most mortified by her or his parents' displays of affection, she was living in China.

Uncle Leon and Aunt Sonia stand closest to the house, thus farthest from the new family members. Their arms are wrapped comfortably around one another's waists. Uncle Junior and Aunt Alicia are a few paces behind and to the side of Andi and Pablo; Junior's arm rests on Alicia's shoulders and her arm is wrapped around his waist. Andi and Pablo simply hold hands. She feels like bouncing up and down, almost in an imitation of Billy.

Now where did he get off to, anyway?

Talia comes up beside her cousin and takes her other hand. That surprises Andi.

"Tali? You?! Nervous?"

She nods.

"Weren't you the one who said everything would be fine and everyone would love them and Yazzies never bring home anyone not worthy of the family?"

"Did I?" She looks... well, almost shell shocked.

"You okay, cousin?"

She looks at Andi, her aura showing a level of uncertainty that Andi has never seen before from her. "They're all so strange. I can't see any of them. You know... like I see everyone else."

Andi smiles at her. "Except for Tommy."

"Well, yeah, except for Tommy, but he's just... you know... Tommy."

Her cousin chuckles. "They're all like Tommy in that way, Tali. Don't worry about it."

"It's just... really strange, Andi."

Andi hugs her as Maddie and her family approach. "Strange seems to happen a lot around me. Just ask Pablo."

"I'd call it weird," says Pablo, "but as your brother likes to say, 'you say potato, I say succotash'."

That gets Tali to smile. And to quip, "Actually, Henry says succotash... I say coleslaw."

Andi rolls her eyes. "You're all crazy."

When Maddie greets them and she hears Leon's whisper to his younger siblings, Andi realizes that there are too many tense people in the immediate vicinity. No, no. That will never do.

She steps forward and senses her freaked out cousin move closer to her husband, who drapes an arm over her shoulder. She feels Pablo's puzzlement through their Bond. He doesn't understand Talia's reaction at all. That makes two of them.

"Dear sister, Logan... I'm so glad to see you." She realizes that she has been at least partially Ninja — and at times completely Ninja — whenever she's been around them. Here, in the land of her People, she only needs to be Andrea. At least until Tommy and John Ravenclaw arrive. Her smile is relaxed and bright with joy.

"Welcome to the home of my father's sister and her husband," Andi says as she hugs first Maddie and then Logan.

It's the Yazzie way, and she had almost forgotten that while living away from them for so long. Family always, always gets hugged when they come home.

"And yeah, guys," she whispers to the twins, "it'll be totally fine."

"Now, let's see if I can remember all the Fancy Person Rules," she mumbles. "Yep, definitely gonna have to break some of them," she continues with a grin.

Both Madeline and Logan return the hug, although Logan is a bit awkward about it. The whisper to the twins gets a smile and the mention of Fancy Person rules gets an eye roll. Yes, there is tension and a bit of nervousness here. Madeline and Rene are both only children of parents who had lost their families to the ravages of war. As for Logan... well, he might as well have been an only child for all he remembers of his childhood.

Certainly Rene has a point in that there are the same number of people in a squad as stand around waiting for them, however, when dealing with a squad, one is dealing with people on a professional level with skills and reputations. Certainly, familial-like bonds form between those who fight side by side, but this is different enough to give her pause.

She takes Maddie's free hand in hers and turns toward her aunts and uncles. "This is Madeline Jacobs of Ts'ah Yisk'idnii, my sister." She nods to Logan. "Her Mate, Logan." Finally, she gestures for the three youngsters to step forward and the twins just cannot contain themselves... they both rush her, and only a quiet growl from Logan keeps them sedate enough to pass for smaller versions of Billy. She laughs as she wraps an arm around each of them. "Their elder son is Leon and the two wild ones are Vincent and Emelia."

She tilts her head back as she looks at Maddie and Logan. She had felt something — she isn't exactly sure what it had been, perhaps a sense of admonishment, perhaps just a father's concern — when Logan had softly growled, too softly for anyone more than a couple of steps away to have heard. They would have to chat about that.

"This is just a small part of the family, not even half," she says with a non-apologetic smile. She nods to each as she introduces them.

"My father's sister and her husband, Sonia and Leon Dehiya... my father's brother and his wife, Junior and Alicia Yazzie... my cousin, Talia Yazzie... and..."

She looks around. She can feel the little brat. He absolutely will not stay still.

"Billy! Shake your tail feathers, or your tail, or your tush, and get yourself out here!"

Aunt Alicia chuckles. "That little hooligan..."

Okay, she can feel him standing still at least. Near the garage. Billy always feels like Billy, it doesn't seem to matter what form he takes.

"William Yazzie the Third, I don't care what you look like... get yourself out here before I get my big stick!" She's trying not to grin and he knows there's no way she's going to smack him with her staff. He just isn't ready to stop playing. She sighs. "Oh, come on, Billy. I swear Vin and Em here will love you so much, and they won't know how to deal with it."

A sleek black mountain cat glides through the shadows and slinks toward her, belly nearly touching the ground. Andi shakes her head and sighs as he stops beside his sister.

"That," she says shaking a finger at the big cat, "is Billy Yazzie, my cousin who is actually quite adorable in human form." She rolls her eyes. "Puma, Billy? You think picking my favorite is going to make me less annoyed with you?"

The big cat just nods its head as though it were a bobble head toy.

She looks at Maddie and Logan. "Welcome to the madhouse."

Madeline mentally catalogs each introduction; she can't help it. She nods to each in turn and repeats their name. The house belongs to the paternal aunt and uncle, Sonia and Leon. She should be able to remember that name, at least. Next are the paternal uncle and aunt, Junior and Alicia, and their daughter, Talia. Finally, there is the Shapeshifter, Billy, whom Andi has mentioned before.

The shape he chooses could not have been more perfect. Em squeals in delight and throws her arms around the big black cat. Vin's eyes are big and round in amazement. He's seen some pretty cool things at his older brother's school, but this is the best!

"He can do other shapes, too??"

"Those three are going to be inseparable," Madeline chuckles.

Leon stands with his hands in his pockets, watching everyone and feeling a bit like the odd man out. Logan motions him over and puts an arm around his shoulders.

"Rene will put in an appearance later. He wants to meet everyone as well, but needs to spend some time over there as he's expended quite a bit of energy lately."

Andi chuckles at the twins' reaction to Billy, and his reaction to them — he can't seem to decide if he should wrestle with them, lick their faces clean, or just run away.

"Yep, he can do four — or is it five now, Tali? — really well, and a few... not so well."

Talia laughs and relaxes. "I count puma and mountain lion as one since there isn't a huge difference between them. Then there's wolf, eagle, and bear that he does really well. It won't take much to talk him into trying pretty much anything. He looks especially demented as a cow," she adds with a snicker.

Billy shifts back to his own form, wrapping an arm around each twin and sticks his tongue out at his sister. "I do not look demented! I am a work of art!"

Pablo, unfortunately perhaps, is thoroughly enchanted with the twins... and chuckles at Billy's response.

He does, however, also note Leon's mild discomfort, and Andi feels a pang of... of almost kinship from Pablo for the young man. Right. Pablo's dad had died when he was around Leon's age. He undoubtedly felt left out of a lot of things because he had to care for his sisters while his momma worked.

He gives Logan a moment to speak with Leon before joining them. "If Billy's going to turn into a demented cow, wisdom dictates a retreat to a safe distance." He seems to measure the distance between the three of them and the three youngest people. "This might be safe enough. Unfortunately, I don't have any experience with Billy's demented exhibits."

"Hey, I heard that, Pablo! You just wait until we take to the sky again tomorrow!" Billy says with a grin.

"He thinks he can out-fly me," Pablo says conspiratorially to Logan and Leon. "I have a feeling that Andi didn't tell him much about what I can do."

Leon casts a glance at Pablo when he makes his demented cow comment. "They'll love that. The weirder the stuff, the better they like it."

Logan listens and nods.

"Mom?" Vin inquires querulously.

Em also looks up in entreaty.

"Yes, you may go play. And Em... keep the claws sheathed."

"I will!" she replies earnestly.

"Off with you now. Good luck, Billy."

"Dinner's in an hour, Billy," his mom calls out. "You be back by then!"

This is immediately followed by his uncle saying, "And don't you go breaking anything, young man! I've got the weekend off, and I'll just toss you in the truck and have your sister drive you down to Gallup."

Billy jumps up and Shifts — something that's fairly unnerving when he does it slowly, and he always does the less familiar forms slowly — to... to a centaur?! Good grief.

"We'll be back, Mom! And I won't break anything, Uncle Leon!" He looks down at the twins. "How fast can you guys run? Oooh, let's see if you can run faster than Andi!"

And then he takes off down the driveway, the twins following behind. Andi shakes her head at the sight.

The "grownups" are standing back, just watching the shenanigans of the younger generations. Well... Maddie and Logan look like they're around Andrea and Pablo's ages. In her aunts' and uncles' views, that makes them part of the younger generation.

Uncle Junior grins as he hugs his wife. "Madeline, Logan... those two are probably going to be the best playmates my son has ever had. Thank you."

"You young people enjoy the evening sky," Aunt Sonia says. "If you live anywhere near a city, you probably don't get to enjoy it enough. I'll send one of the men folk back out when dinner's ready."

They hold each other's arms a little tighter as they watch the twins chase after the newly formed centaur. Madeline chuckles and shares a warm look with Logan.

"They are never going to settle back into the quiet Parisian life now. Three months in the wilderness with you, the time at the school, and now this. They are entirely too young to appreciate boring."

"At least it's the good kind of exciting," he remarks.

"True. I do plan on enjoying the sky, though. Won't be as good as that night on the mountain, but it'll do."

Andi smiles as Talia comes over, and she wraps an arm around her younger cousin. "Feeling less weirded out, kiddo?"

"No, not really," Talia says honestly but smiles just the same. "But I'll get used to it. Eventually. I guess a whole family of people like Tommy is kind of a cool thing."

But then, after a second or two, Talia stiffens at her side. "Andi?" And she sounds very worried.

"Tali? What's wrong?"

"Andi, I can't see you, either!" She holds her cousin's arm around her waist tightly, wraps her other arm around Andi's waist and looks her in the eyes. "I still know everything I did, but..." Talia pauses in frustration. "I've always been able to see you, Andi. All the really big stuff, and even the little things for a year or so out."

She's so scared that she's shaking. Andi has never seen Talia less than completely poised... even when she was as young as fourteen when Andi first met her. She looks over at Maddie with a raised eyebrow.

"What about Pablo, Talia?" she asks without taking her eyes from her Sister's. There's a slight pause before her cousin whimpers and buries her face in Andi's neck.


"The five are One." Andi shakes her head slightly, a wry smile on her face. "I guess life is going to get even more interesting," she says to Maddie. "I know it's in a good way this time."

"I don't knooooooow," Talia wails softly.

"Shhh, Tali," her cousins says, stroking her hair. "It's okay. I'm pretty sure, anyway. A lot has happened in the past couple of months. Ha'atathli Ravenclaw will know why this is happening."

She has her own theories, and she also has a very strong suspicion that they will come close to the Ha'atathli's explanation.

It's just what happens when the spokes on a wheel are a man who is a Spirit... an Elder... a woman with malleable DNA... a woman who harnesses the qi of the universe... and the Chosen One of an ancient deity. Weird shit happens. Well, she should amend that to say weirder would be more appropriate now.

Madeline raises an eyebrow at cousin Talia, almost mirroring Andi's look. "I hope so as well. I've had my fill of the other kind for a good bit. I could use some boredom."

"What do you mean by not being able to see us?" Logan asks Talia.

With an appreciative smile, he slips his arm from hers and slides it around her waist instead, and pulls her closer. She turns her head and briefly kisses his cheek. Even standing there, they settle into each other and appear as a unit to anyone who has eyes to see. They give their attention to Andi, Pablo, and Talia for the telling of the story to answer Logan's question.

Leon gives his parents an odd look. He's torn by his teenage emotions: he's glad to see his mother with peace and happiness she had never had before, yet the frequent and increasing personal displays of affection between her and his dad are... gross. He doesn't know whether to grin or groan and somewhat does both.

Andi glances around, making sure her aunts and uncles have retreated to the house, then turns her attention to Talia.

"Is it okay for me to tell them, Tali? I know you didn't want me to say anything to Pablo when we were in Flagstaff."

She nods slightly and whispers very softly, "It's okay."

She holds her cousin close; Tali is terribly upset, confused, close to terrified. Pablo wraps his arms around both of them from behind Andi and rests his cheek on her head as he looks at Talia. Andi looks at Maddie and then Logan.

"In my generation, there are four of us who would be considered mutants. For three of us, the genetic mutations were likely caused by the government's test of atomic weapons in the Nevada and New Mexico deserts... and no doubt the workings of the uranium mines on Navajo lands had something to do with it as well." She holds her emotions in as she speaks, keeping them still. "For Tommy... well, that is a debate to have elsewhere and among other people, for his abilities seem to be fairly common among the Ha'atathli. And always have been.

"I'm the eldest child of the eldest child of my grandparents. Although Tommy is three years older, the youngest child of my grandparents' second child, our... powers manifested at about the same time. He was here in Nageezi; I was at Camp Zama in Japan. Talia is the second child and Billy is the fourth child of my grandparents' youngest child.

"I'm not sure why," she says, shrugging slightly, "but I feel as though the birth order of my grandparents' children is important. I can't prove it, but I suspect the fact that I am the eldest child of the eldest child has something to do with the strength of my... power. And the fact that, of the four of us, I am the only one who truly suffered when the Curse took me.

"Tommy is a telepath. I think I mentioned that I shouldn't be quite so impressed with his abilities after learning about Charles," she says to Maddie with a smile. "As you've seen, Billy is a Shapeshifter. Talia... Talia is precognitive."

Andi pauses, waiting to see if Talia wants to pick up the story, but she's still trying to get her fear under control. At the moment, she's very glad her very silly youngest cousin is keeping Em occupied elsewhere.

"Tali has never been able to see anything of Tommy's future. She and Tommy and I have had more than a few discussions on the topic. Maybe it's because he's a telepath. Maybe it's because he chose to study the way of the Songs." Andi smiles softly, thinking about some of those discussions. "Even Tommy just shrugs. Lately, I've begun to wonder if it might have something to do with having such a close association with the Spirits."

"But you see the Spirits, too, Andi." Talia's voice is muffled before she lifts her head to look at her new cousins with confusion. "And I could see you and Pablo before Madeline and her family arrived."

Andi's brows draw together, trying to work out what the difference would be. Yes, she has been able to see the Spirits... but until Halloween, it wasn't anything more than what most people of the Nation would see... at least those who keep to the old ways. The connection, the Bond, that the five of them have was established overnight. It existed when she and Pablo arrived.

So what then?


"Already on it," he says as he starts backing away from the group. "Just let me know if you start, ah, seeing me again, Talia. Preferably before I wander out of the country, okay?"

That draws a smile from her, but she looks tired.

While waiting for Pablo to reach the right distance — and Andi knows there is one — she continues talking. It's partially to help soothe Talia, partially to share family lore with the new people in the family. "But I have a much closer association with the Spirits now, Tali. That's why Ha'atathli Ravenclaw is coming all the way out here."

She had tried to get Aunt Sonia to call Tommy back and tell him that she and Pablo would be more than happy to ride out to Ganado, but her aunt made it sound like the senior Ha'atathli insisted on seeing the whole family.

Talia looks up at Andi almost timidly, so unlike the self-assured, confident woman her cousin knows her to be. "I've never met Ha'atathli Ravenclaw... so maybe there's something to your theory. But that would mean Pablo also has a closer relationship with the Spirits, and Madeline and Logan and Leon and the little ones, too."

Andi nods. "Given everything that's happened in the past week? Yeah, that's definitely high on my list of possibilities. Well, for Maddie, Logan and Leon anyway." She smiles at Tali. "I think the twins are covered under the Protective Mother clause."

"But... but the Spirits..." Then she turns her head in the direction Pablo had gone. "Pablo," she says quietly. "I see him again."

"Okay, that's good!" Andi taps the radio on again. "Hey, Chief. How far out are you? Talia's got you in her sights again."

"Damn, I'm close to half a mile out," he responds.

"Roger that. Come on back." She looks at Talia with concern. "That will be okay with you, won't it?"

She nods, takes a deep breath, and tries to — finally — answer Logan's question.

"I see a lot of things that will happen to people. Sometimes it will be like clips from movies or scenes from plays or pieces on a board game. If someone is going to die — and, being a nurse, I see that more than I'd like — it's like a dark curtain of nothingness. Sometimes it's close by, sometimes it seems like it's miles and miles away. Sometimes I'll even see a date and time stamped on the curtain." She shudders. She's told the family often enough that those are the things that she never shares.

"Tommy — and all of you — you have a bright curtain of light I can't see past. It's almost like looking right into the sun."

To Andi, that actually makes a fair amount of sense, at least given the brilliance of the Bonds they have. She's not sure it explains Tommy... well, unless it's a shaman thing.

She looks at Talia again, part nervous and part suspicious. "Does everything you see actually happen?"

"Yeah, usually," she says, her aura settling to a state of simple confusion. "I don't go around telling people outside the family very many things. Or inside the family, either, for that matter. But unless someone makes a major and unexpected change in their life, what I see will usually happen." She smiles at Andi. "I could tell you the gender, names and birth dates of your children, but I figure you don't really want to know."

She harrumphs as Pablo jogs back to the group. "No. I definitely do not want to know. Well, unless it will interfere with saving the world."

Talia chuckles. "Nope. It won't."

"Oh, but I want to know!" Pablo says.

"Do not tell him anything. Nothing!" Andi insists. "He needs to be disabused of this notion that we're going to have a baseball team of children."

"Oh, you're..." Talia starts before Andi interrupts her.

"Nothing. Not a thing. Not a single world," she says sternly as she looks at Pablo. "Someone needs to learn a lesson, and he won't learn it if he only is told the answer."

Pablo pouts adorably. "You're no fun."

Andi rolls her eyes at him. Talia simply ignores him.

"But that's the difference, Andi. I could tell you that stuff because I know it. But Leon here, for example..." She looks at the young man in question and smiles, now more bemused than anything. "I don't know anything. I can't tell you if or when or to whom you'll get married — and I knew that about Andi almost as soon as my powers woke up. I don't know how many children you'll have, what career path you'll choose when you get out of school — and Andi's job was the first Seeing I had. But... there's just... nothing."

So caught up is he in his little turmoil that Talia's addressing him surprises him. He makes a bit of a face. "That's okay. Mom and the Professor have it half planned out anyway."

"Not quite half..." his mother teases him. "Besides, you're the one who brought a girl all the way to Paris to meet me."

"Mom!" he says in that way in which all teenagers excel, especially when they are embarrassed.

Logan chuffs a laugh. They can even feel Rene's amusement.

"Great. Even my father's laughing at me," Leon says with a sigh. "The Professor gave me coursework to do in case I had time. I think I'm going to go do it."

With that, he heads back to the Humvee.

Madeline grins.

Andi can sense both Rene's amusement and Talia's confusion.

"But..." Tali watches the young man walk off, then looks from one parent to the other — the ones she can see, anyway. "But even if I could see that stuff, I wouldn't tell. Most people don't really want to know their futures, anyway."

"I do!" Pablo says as he wraps an arm around Andi's waist. Talia has relaxed enough that the two young women are standing with their fingers simply twined together.

"Oh, hush you!" Andi says, smiling up at her husband. She turns back to Talia, who's still staring after Leon with some concern. "He's a teenager. That should tell you everything you need to know."

She nods slowly. "I suppose. Billy was wackier than usual for a few years, scaring the heck out of Mom and Dad with his Shifting." Talia smiles, relaxing almost to her usual calm, reassuring and confident self again. "It was good to be able to tell them he was going to be fine. Everyone knows the story of Little Danny, and why your folks went to Japan with you. But that one..." She waves her hand out in the direction Billy and the twins had disappeared. "...he's gotten stuck in some of the less common forms — and will again in the future — but he's got an incredible sense of self. Billy always has, and always will, know how to get back to himself." She shrugs. "I don't deal with teens on a regular basis anymore. Most of Uncle Leon's patients are the older folks... sometimes new moms with sick babies and toddlers. Guess I'm out of practice with them."

"Count yourself fortunate for that, Talia," Madeline says. "When Leon was considerably younger, I worked for about a year at the school he goes to. It's a boarding school full of not just preteens and teens, but ones that are Gifted, too. The Headmaster is a saint."

Andi chuckles. "Well, Pablo gives a good imitation of being a teenager sometimes."

"Hey! I'm always perfectly well-behaved, mature and gentlemanly," he protests.

She stands on tiptoe and kisses his cheek. "Yes, dear."

Talia giggles.

Andi hugs Pablo and looks at Maddie and Logan. "It's too bad the twins have co-opted Billy. He's closest in age to Leon... although I'm not sure about the maturity level," she adds with a snicker. "Charlie's next closest, but at that age, a decade can make a big difference."

"Well, Susan was supposed to 'babysit'..." Talia drops Andi's hand so she can make the air quotes. "...her cousin this weekend. She's trying to get someone else to watch her, but might wind up bringing her along." She sighs. "Tezza is pretty close to Leon's age, but..." She just shakes her head. "As the kids in the city say, that girl is a hot mess."

"And here I thought I'd get a relaxing vacation away from all the usual troublemakers," Andi says with a sigh. "How much of a mess is this girl?" she asks almost reluctantly.

"Drugs, drinking, petty theft... and that's just what Charlie's noticed." Tali sighs again. "I haven't met her and... really? I don't want to. That whole seeing people's futures thing makes me nervous around people who are that messed up."

Andi sighs again. "Well, I brought my big stick. Maybe we can lock her in Uncle Leon's shed."

Madeline and Logan share a look and a shrug.

"Might be a good thing if she does come," he says.

"Yeah," she agrees. "If anyone could scare someone straight, it would be this crowd and Leon... he's seen things no child, hell, no person should ever have to."

There is a surge of regret from Leon's unseen parent.

"Stop it, Rene," she says. "If I have to quit the guilt, so do you."

Mea culpa, he replies.

"Oh, and if you see us doing something that looks like fighting, we're just sparring. Sort of. It's been over three months since we've worked out together."

Andi feels Rene's wave of guilt, too... which is odd. Isn't it? Sure, she feels his presence. And when he's had very strong emotions, she had picked up on those. But this is more... she isn't quite sure how to classify it. Something that's like background noise in that Spirit heart of his? It's just something that's always there; something stronger, sometimes unnoticeable.

"Yes, please," she mutters. "Save the guilt for when it's really yours, thank you both, and I love you."

Talia give her cousin a look that seems to say, Are you sure you're okay? before shaking her head and looking at Leon's parents — again, just the ones she can see. Then she just shrugs. "Spar all you want and enjoy yourselves... as long as I don't have to glue you back together."

Andi chuckles. "Tali, you have even less to worry about with them than me."

It takes a second or two, but Talia grins broadly when she realizes what her cousin is talking about. "Excellent! Always happy to make the acquaintance of folks who can heal themselves. Saves having to buy glue in bulk!"

"No glue needed," Logan says.

Talia looks at Pablo. "I don't suppose you've learned how to do that, have you?"

Pablo grins but shakes his head. "Nope, afraid not."

"Then don't get hurt," she says sternly. Well, pretending to be stern anyway. "I have Gorilla Glue, and the nearest medical facility that's open over the weekend is forty minutes away. I deny knowing anything about the first aid kit in the kitchen cabinet."

Finally, Pablo holds up his hands in mock surrender. "Hey, I'm here to rest, to let go of my stress, to get to know the family a little better. I get enough of a workout with the guys at the gym. Andi's better off sparring with Madeline and Logan anyway."

Andi looks at him with a raised eyebrow. "Hello! I don't heal from the dead like some people I could name. Sparring with Maddie's a great idea." She turns to her Sister and nods. "We should find some time for that. Our styles are different enough that it will make things really interesting." She looks back at Pablo. "My brother-in-law, on the other hand, has an unfair advantage and could actually break my staff.

"That would make me sad.

"That would make me so sad that... that... well, immense sadness would happen. I might wallow in it. I have been observing a Grandmaster Drama Queen for five years, you know."

Pablo laughs. "Okay, okay... nothing that breaks your staff or gets you acting like Bobby. Oh, please, no Bobby this weekend!"

"Okay," she says simply and with a smile.

He and Madeline shift their stances a bit so that he stands behind her with his arms around her. She is settled firmly back against him.

"He could break more than your staff," she says, "and I don't mind sparring with you, Andi, but I should warn you, sparring gets me frisky."

Logan and Rene both agree and chuckle.

"And you are kind of cute.

Logan growls a soft warning, but his smile belies the threat. Madeline chuckles.

"Oh sure, Logan would probably break ninety five percent of the bones in my body. And then I'd heal." Andrea sighs sadly. "My staff doesn't have that power."

Pablo's eyebrows look like they might actually be trying to reach his hairline at Madeline's comment about the after effects of sparring. She laughs at his reaction, as well as Maddie's not exactly subtle suggestion.

"While I'm sure that would be quite the experience, I would have to hope Logan or Rene were around to help you out there, dear Sister. At least until I figure out how that would affect the Pentad," she says with a wink.

"We can," Logan assures them both... with a bit of emphasis on the 'we'.

Pablo sputters; she doesn't think he knows whether he should protest or just pretend nothing is ever going to come from the teasing.

Talia's eyes are growing wide.

"However, I suspect it would be the least unbalancing combination between the five of us," Andi continues matter-of-factly. "In terms of our powers, of course."

It's difficult to keep the laughter down to a chuckle at Pablo's reaction to her proposition.

Andi merely grins at Pablo but then sobers as she considers the issue of Susan's problem cousin. Drugs... Well, those are going to be pretty damn difficult to find in the middle of nowhere and she can sniff out a lot of the more common ones and confiscate them. Taking down drug dealers does have some benefits. Drinking... Oh, Uncle Leon might have picked up some extra beer, wine or hard liquor the last time he was in town, but she wouldn't expect there to be enough for much of a binge. Petty theft... hmmm.

"Tali..." If memory serves, Susan is of the Dzilt'aadí. She's not entirely certain if Tezza's clan matters, but... well, if she's wondering about it, she's going to guess it will at least have some bearing at some point. " Tezza of the same clan as Susan? I don't suppose you know her guardian Spirit, do you?"

"No, Tezza's a cousin on her father's side... she's of the Tsin Sikaadnii. And she's pretty Anglicized. According to Susan, she doesn't believe in all that Spirit mumbo jumbo as she calls it. I'm not sure she even knows... or if she does, she doesn't mention it to anyone."

Andi shakes her head sadly and feels a familiar tugging on her ear. Her guardian is Crow, says Opossum. And yes, Warrior, Crow despairs... and will agree to help you in any way it can to bring the girl back from the path of certain destruction.

"Yeah, I'm going to agree that getting her up here might be the best thing Susan can do for her. She needs to make a major and unexpected change in her life so that you can see a better future for her. How old is she, Tali?"

Talia sighs. "Fourteen going on forty, Charlie says."

"Great. Let's hope she's not a hussy on top of all the other good stuff."

"Oh, she is," Talia says, with a touch of disgust. "Papa Bill and Ha'atathli Ravenclaw are probably safe, and young Vincent, too."

"Did I really say this was a good idea?"

"Pretty sure you did, dear," Pablo says helpfully.

"Well, if it's any consolation, Andi," her cousin says with a wan look, "apparently Tezza is an equal opportunity floozy."

Andi nods. "This just gets better and better, doesn't it?"

"I don't know," Pablo says, "I'd love to see her put the moves on you."

She looks at him as if he's lost his mind. "Excuse me?"

"Well, I'm just wondering if you'd dislocate her elbow, or if — with your additional years of experience — you'd just toss her across the yard," Pablo says. Both his expression and his aura show that he's actually serious.

She looks at him for a few moments, contemplating a variety of answers. Finally, she shakes her head. "No. She's still technically a kid. Violence is the option of last resort.

"And besides, her guardian Spirit is Crow!" Andi closes her eyes and sighs. "Right. You don't know all of them." She opens her eyes and looks at Pablo. "Justice, creativity, balance, change, spiritual strength... these are attributes that should be encouraged, not... get tossed across the yard."

She looks him in the eyes for a moment, sees the cop in there and the cop's agreement. Then she turns to Maddie and smiles slyly. "We may not have to send Pablo off to teach at Charles' school after all."

Madeline has been considering the issue of the cousin. Only a year younger than their eldest but already into things...

"Maybe Leon will be able to help. That 3D viewing experience thing he can do might come in handy," Madeline suggests.

I was kind of wild in my youth. I might be able to help, too.

"In case you didn't hear, Rene has offered his assistance as well, due to his misspent youth. And if the stories his mother tells are to be believed, 'wild' is an understatement."

"And if she tries anything with Leon, I'd be more concerned about the twins' reactions," Logan adds.

"True. True."

Opossum and Rene aren't the only Spirits present now. Cobra has wrapped itself around Andi's waist, coming up her back to rest its head on the shoulder opposite Opossum. Fox is curled at her feet. Raven is nominally present — standing on the seat of her bike, which is an enormous improvement from its behavior yesterday. Of course, Giraffe — Talia's guardian Spirit — is standing over Raven, just... watching. Cat winds itself between everyone's legs and is the only Spirit that can be seen by everyone present.

"Ah... where did the cat come from?" Talia asks. The tone of her voice and the hue of her aura show that she's starting to feel a little unsettled again.

Andi shrugs. "The same place all the Spirits come from." Well, yes, she knows that's not exactly helpful, but she suspects this is going to be one of the side effects of having all five of them in one place. Things will get strange.

Talia turns and takes a step back so she can look her cousin up and down with arms crossed. "Andrea Yazzie, what in the world is going on here?"

Her cousin doesn't answer for few moments. She really isn't sure where to start.

"Things starting to seem a little weird?" Pablo asks helpfully.

"That might just sum it up," Talia replies.

He nods. "You get used to it." He glances briefly at Maddie before turning back to Talia. "I hope. Your cousin seems to be a magnet for weird."

Andi frowns as she turns her head to look at him. "But I'm not doing anything!"

"You need not do anything at all, Warrior," Cat says. "You Became, and now your Power speaks to the universe."

"Cat's one of my Guardians, along with my Husband. And we can't really lay all the blame for weird at Andi's feet. We came with plenty of our own.

"Garden variety normal would be overwhelming," Madeline tells Talia with a hint of a smile.

Talia looks at Cat, then looks at Andi. "You know... I think I hear Mom calling me. This is part of your..." She waves her hands at Andi, almost as if she's trying to contain something in a box. "...your funky Ninja stuff, and I SO did not see this coming." She blinks and takes a deep breath. "Nope, I'm entirely certain that if I were supposed to be part of this, I would not be feeling like Papa and Tita's apartment might be a safe distance away."

Andi looks down at Cat, who proceeds to daintily groom itself. From the corner of her eye, she can see Raven starting to sway back and forth, wailing softly. As Giraffe bends down and picks Raven up with its teeth, she realizes she's starting to have the urge to wail, too. Giraffe gives Raven a good shaking and then spits the other Spirit out toward the group.

"So, I'm sure there's something I can do to help prepare the house for the massive amount of guests this weekend. And if Aunt Sonia and Mom have everything under control..." Talia takes a couple of steps backward, and would have tripped over Raven had Raven been solid. "...I'm sure I have a medical journal or two I could read.

"Madeline, Logan... it's wonderful to have you in the family. I'd say that I hope we don't overwhelm you, but... with all the weird, it would be hard to know what would be overwhelming." She smiles wanly. "Your kids are great, I'm falling in love with them already, and I'm really looking forward to getting to know all of you better." She looks at her cousin. "When things are not quite so weird."

She then turns on her heel and walks toward the house at a natural and dignified pace. As she passes by Giraffe, it bends down to kiss the top of her head. The gesture seems to relax Talia immediately.

Giraffe then picks Raven up again, walks over to the group of humans and drops Andi's original guardian Spirit on the ground among them, next to Cat.

Cat stops its grooming to look at the lump of bird beside it. The expression of disdain is something unique to cats, Andi suspects. Then it looks up at Giraffe. "Must you?"

Now, Cat, you know quite well that all the Spirits must be part of this. Even the somewhat damaged one.

Andi just closes her eyes.

Part of what, Giraffe?

Giraffe kisses the top of her head, too. Unlike Talia, she doesn't feel any more relaxed. What was. What is. What is destined to be. And then Giraffe mists away.

She inwardly sighs. Pablo is right. More and more weird things have been happening since they Bonded. And Cat's right, too. Well, sort of. She's not sure her Power is speaking to the whole universe, but the qi in this area is definitely flowing toward the Pentad, then swirling erratically all around them before flowing away again. She feels... completely ungrounded with no sense of center, yet she can feel Mother Earth trying to communicate.

Swift and decisive, Warrior. Cobra flicks its tongue against her cheek.

"Rene, I need you to be corporeal for this, I think."

She opens her eyes and looks at each of the other four. The five are One, yes. But they are not as integrated as they need to be. It's just as she and Pablo were when they first Bonded. Strong, yes... but brittle. Quetzalcoatl nearly broke them. But they used their powers to rebuild their Bond into something unbreakable. She suddenly has an image of having been poured into a crucible with Pablo... and then poured out again as a silver ingot.

Maddie, Logan, and Rene created a similar Bond — just last night. Their Bond is just as unbreakable, but for them she sees an image of the most glorious tapestry ever to be seen by a human.

Rene coalesces beside Madeline and greets her with a kiss. "Bon jour, mon amour, mon frere."

She smiles. "Goede dag, mijn liefde."

"Brother," Logan replies.

As Rene materializes, she points to Maddie and Logan. "You are their guardian. You hold each one, hands to hands, palms to palms."

Then she takes Pablo's hand. They've learned over the past two months how to instinctively align their lao gong points. He looks at her, puzzled.

"What are we doing here, Andi?"

She bites her lip before shaking her head and replying, "Not exactly sure, but... Mother is pushing me toward something."

She can hear Mother's laughter, although she isn't sure anyone else can. It's the sound of the wind rustling through the leaves of great trees and the tinkling of tiny bells. Father Sky responds with his own chuckle. It sounds very much like the song of the whales.

She reaches her free hand out to Logan. After a nudge, Pablo offers his free hand to Maddie.

Integration. Magic. Trust.

A lot of trust. Because she has no idea where this is going, or how they're supposed to get there.

As they circle around and join hands, Madeline lifts a brow at Andi. "So do we sing Kumbaya now?"

"I hope not," Pablo says. "Andi knows I hate singing in front of people."

She rolls her eyes at him, then tilts her head as though listening for something. Even with her hearing, she's not getting any instructions. Maddie undoubtedly meant the comment about singing Kumbaya to be snarky. Hell, Andi knows that she would have some sort of smart ass comment if she were in Maddie's shoes. But it's still a valid question. Just what do they do now?

Then Cat looks up, almost startled, and makes an unbelievable leap to Maddie's shoulder. Cobra squeezes her more tightly. Opossum wraps its tail around her neck, pulls her hair forward to hide in it — and only she and Rene can see it! — then tightly grips her ear. Raven jumps up, whimpering, and waddles over to Andi so it can wrap its wings around her legs and hide its head beneath a wing. Fox sits up and presses itself close to her leg opposite Raven.

Yeah, something is going on. Of all the Spirits, Rene is the only one relaxed. In fact... he seems to find the other Spirits' reactions amusing.

Okay then.

Madeline eyes Cat and manages not to twitch when it lands on her shoulder. She knows something is going on... just not what. This weird feeling starts flowing through and around her. Her brows lower and she looks around the circle at each of the people there as she tries to figure it out. When her eyes alight on Logan, she sees his lips twitching up into a snarl, then relaxing and repeating.

She feels the tug of his feral primal nature and feels that part of herself responding.

Rene, darling, love... What the fuck??

Logan rumbles an echoing question, although it's not so much in words as it is in sounds.

Like Cat, Andi looks up and searches the sky. No longer day but not quite night, it's difficult to see what she can feel coming closer. However, it doesn't take more than a couple of seconds to make out the speck that is both growing larger and coming closer. It's definitely a bird and very quickly it becomes clear that it's a golden eagle... easily twice as large as the bald eagle Billy imitates. Unlike bald eagles, golden eagles are known to inhabit the inland parts of the western United States, although Andi had never seen one out here before. That doesn't really mean much, of course. She's so rarely in New Mexico.

But as the bird gets closer — close enough to see its markings — it's obvious to her eyes that this bird is not an ordinary eagle. The qi flows off of it in rushing waves.

Landing outside the circle of their arms, it stands between her and Pablo. It's very nearly as tall as she is and could probably rest its beak on Pablo's shoulder.

"I apologize for my tardiness, Warrior. I had not anticipated you would perform the Integration before our friend John Ravenclaw arrived."

She tries to turn her head, but Opossum is making that rather difficult. So she merely twists her body slightly, making sure that she keeps a firm hold on both Pablo's and Logan's hands. She knows that's important; she just doesn't know why. Or how she knows. She's glad, however, that Maddie, Logan, and Pablo can't see the way her guardian Spirits are acting up. And if Rene says one word or starts laughing... well, she has experience dealing with brothers.

"No apology is necessary, O Eagle. I hadn't planned on performing anything tonight." She sighs. "Things just seem to happen."

"You're a weirdness magnet, my dear," Pablo mumbles.

Eagle looks at Pablo and tilts its head. "Yes, from a Human point of view, it would appear that the Warrior does attract unusual events and beings to herself. But as we see things, our Warrior is merely manipulating the worlds — seen and unseen — around her." Eagle clicks its beak several times... why does she know that's its way of laughing? "She does need more practice, but for those of you around her, the unusual might then increase."

Pablo's guardian Spirit has arrived and the others aren't reacting very well, Rene informs Maddie. Apparently he's got more seniority than the others. The sergeant compared to the others being corporals and privates.

And is he causing that... whatever?

No, that is all of us becoming a single unit.


He mentally shrugs.

And you know this... how?

Not a clue. Just let it flow.

Like I could stop it.

You could, of course, if you really wanted to... he teases.

She chuckles at Rene's comment and shakes her head, and just lets it all flow.

Andi closes her eyes, tightly. Eagle showing up is... well, at this point, all she can do is agree with Pablo that she's become a magnet for everything weird. But her guardian Spirits seem to be relaxing. Opossum loosens its grip on her neck, ear and hair; Cobra loosens its grip on her waist and lifts its head to look at Eagle; Fox resumes its spot near her feet, curled up and resting a paw on her foot. Only Raven continues to appear terrified of Eagle's presence. Cat has started purring. She takes a slow deep breath and opens her eyes again in time to see Cat lick Maddie's cheek before settling comfortably on her shoulder, leaning against the side of her head. Poor Maddie. Andi just hopes Cat isn't like any of the non-Spirit cats she's met. Every time a cat gets comfortable on her shoulder like that — although it usually only happens when she's sitting down — the grooming is the next inevitable step. Little sandpaper tongues trying to wash her face and hair... no fun.

"Your purpose, O Eagle, is to assist Pablo in getting used to my weirdness? To assist with... whatever it is we're doing here?" She tries to shake Raven loose from her legs. "And why — if I'm not being too bold to ask — are the other Spirits so unnerved by your presence?" She looks down. "Raven, damn it! Will you chill out? Let go of my legs!"

Raven keens softly, but at least loosens its grip on her legs. She sighs. Opossum, Cobra and Fox each chuckle in their own way. Cat completely ignores them.

"To answer your last question first — because it appears poor Raven is unable to discern the answers to your other questions — I am the messenger of the Great Spirit. There are times when the Great Spirit believes one of my siblings would be the appropriate agent for a particular task; it is my... job, I believe you would call it... to request that my siblings consider the message of the Great Spirit." The large bird seems to sigh. "Only Coyote welcomes my visits."

"Yeah, well... from my recent experiences with Coyote, it's ready to do anything... the crazier the task, the better. And I'm not sure Raven's problem has anything to do with my unanswered questions," Andi says with frustration. "I'm agreeing with Cat's assessment that Raven needs a Spirit therapist. Raven seems to have slipped a few gears in the past week." She pauses to look down at the crazy flying thing again, then looks back at Eagle. "I can't say Raven's been exactly normal since meeting Quetzalcoatl."

My buddy! I miss my buddy!

She rolls her eyes. "You see? Raven is just not right in the head."

Eagle nods. "Raven has had some recent experiences that have been distressing. That would be another reason I've been asked to attend; I am to help Raven regain its sense of balance."

At that comment, Raven lets go of Andi's legs to slither to the ground, and begins sobbing. She's getting really tired of this. "Are you that frightening," she asks Eagle as she stares at Raven, "or does Raven prefer to remain insane?"

Eagle is looking at Raven, as well... and looking very perplexed. "I don't believe I've ever seen anything quite like this before. It's most unusual."

The Warrior turns to Eagle and gives it The Look. "Really? Ya think?"

This whole time, Andi has been feeling Mother Earth's qi rippling upwards through her body and Father Sky's qi swirling around her. Her nerves are on edge, it feels like the hairs on her arms and back of her neck are standing up, her whole body seems to be vibrating, and it doesn't feel really great. Is this what anxiety feels like? She tries breathing through it, but it doesn't seem to be helping.

"So... please enlighten this poor mortal who, like her guardian Spirit, hasn't quite been able to discern the reason for your presence. Not that I mind, of course. You're welcome to drop in anytime."

Eagle clacks its beak again in laughter. "Oh, Warrior, the tales told by others hardly do you justice!" it says. "You are clever with words, and it has been long enough since I've laughed that I actually recognize the passage of time. It will be a delight to 'drop in'.

"But to answer your question, I have been sent to act as guardian to your Mate, the Chosen of Quetzalcoatl."

Raven interrupts with another, I miss my buddy! and then returns to sobbing.

Eagle shakes its head, then continues. "Quetzalcoatl and his siblings do not show as much interest in the lives of the people they once... well, 'lorded over' might be a touch inflammatory; and as your Mate, the Chosen One is entitled to guardianship from the Spirits of your people."

"My Mate," Andi says testily, "has a name, and his name is Pablo."

"Of course, Warrior," Eagle says, bowing its head. "And should he accept me as his guardian, I would be most honored to use the more familiar name."

"Wait," Pablo says, confused. "Won't that piss Q off? And... I get a choice in the matter?"

Andi can understand his skeptical tone; he's been feeling more swept along by events the past couple of months than she has.

"It would serve him right to get all pissed off," she mutters.

Eagle regards her for a moment before it turns to Pablo. "No one can predict what will and will not anger the Aztec kindred. The source of their power makes them unpredictable. But you do, of course, have a choice." Eagle tilts its heads back and forth several times, regarding Pablo. "I don't say this from an egotistical stance," it says finally, "but there is not likely a better guardian for you than me."

Cat deigns to take its attention from Maddie and says, "Eagle is correct, O Most Beloved of Our Warrior. The great feathered one usually pays attention only to the shamans."

Pablo looks from Eagle to Cat, then looks at his wife. "I just have this nagging feeling that Quetzalcoatl isn't going to like this."

Andi laughs. And the laugh releases some of the tension and anxiety that have been building up. "Oh, Pablo, love..." She smiles at him, and it feels as though her love for him swells out to spiral around their circle. "Your ancestral pest will never be happy with anything about me, about my People, about what I do. He tolerates me because I woke him from his nap, and am the catalyst for awakening your powers. The only thing I can do that will even satisfy that ridiculous flying snake is provide his Chosen One with an heir." She squeezes his hand. "Forget his opinion. Be happy you can't hear Raven's caterwauling right now. Whatever choice you make is yours alone to make. And I promise I'll be happy with whatever you decide."

He smiles back at her. "I suppose my opinion of you is considerably higher than his. And actually, I have been hearing some far-off sobbing. Our Bond again?"

She just nods.

He shakes his head and rolls his eyes. Turning to look at Eagle again, he shrugs and says, "Until I met Raven, I'd always been fond of birds."

"Me too," interjects Cat. "They're delicious!"

"Cat!" Andi says with exasperation as Raven jumps up to grab her legs again. "Thanks a lot!"

Crazy flying or fur-covered things.

Pablo squeezes her hand this time. "The crying has stopped and now I hear a high-pitched wail that's going to bore a hole in my brain if it doesn't stop." He sighs, then shakes his head. "I accept your kind offer, Eagle. I don't suppose you can get Raven to behave less annoyingly?"

As much as a five and a half foot tall bird can do so, Eagle bows to Pablo. "I am honored by your acceptance, Pablo Garcia. And helping Raven is, indeed, part of the reason I'm here."

Once again, as before, the mention of help from Eagle sends Raven sliding to the ground. It covers its head with its wings and sobs softly. Well, if the sobs sound soft to Andi, then maybe Pablo won't be able to hear them.

Pablo relaxes, so she assumes he doesn't hear Raven anymore. He smiles at her, giving her that look that will always warm her heart. And curl her toes. His love rolls over her like a gentle wave. Oddly, it seems to spiral around the circle, too.

Without taking her eyes from her Husband, Andi ask Eagle, "So, just what is it that we're supposed to be doing here?"

"Why, just what you've begun doing," Eagle says, taking a step closer to Pablo. "Sharing. Becoming One."

Then Father Sky weaves his qi around the circle; circling everyone, spiraling, spiraling, ever spiraling. Mother Earth begins tickling feet and ankles with her qi. Both are laughing joyously.

Madeline is not really paying attention to the conversation Andi and Pablo are having with Eagle. What holds her attention is the flowing energy. She can feel herself feeding it as well as being fed by it. It's a fascinating experience.

She closes her eyes and focuses inward, almost in a standing meditation. She can't say how, but she knows Logan has done the same. She feels his primal nature flow from him and around to her, awakening more than part of her that is connected to him. Then it pulls from Andi...

Sharing... becoming One.

Andi closes her eyes and watches the qi. Mother and Father are drawing forth the gifts of their children, sculpting them into something new, something greater.

Qi is her realm, and even this is more astounding than anything she has ever seen. She sees the end result, although it has yet to be fully formed.

It takes Madeline about two seconds to put together that it's pulling special gifts from each of them and blending them. She can't say what hers is, but Rene is the last in the circle since it had started with Logan and moved to Andi...

Andi is as connected to Pablo in this moment as they are at the point of orgasm... truly not knowing if she is Andrea or Pablo. She senses both Logan's feral nature and Maddie's madness, although neither one is a threat. When she feels Rene, her eyes fly open and she stares at him. He simply smiles, unapologetic.

My gift is my gift, Sister.

Except... they don't appear to be in the front yard of her Aunt and Uncle's house. There is no evidence of humans here at all, except for the five of them. It looks very much like the Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs, yet more pristine.

Andi has been accustomed to Raven's gifts of introspection, courage and self-knowledge for as long as she can remember. It is only recently that Raven's gift of magic has been accessible. In this place, magic is the coin of the realm and Fox offers its magic as well.

Madeline opens her eyes and looks across the circle to her Sister.

"Andi, I hope you two are prepared for this..."

It is the realm of the Great Spirit, Eagle says. For what must be done, you should have safety and should not be disturbed.

She feels Pablo's hand tighten around hers, she feels his reluctance to give into the circle. But they are One and her/his/their strengths must be woven into what they are Becoming.

Andi blinks when Maddie speaks and looks away from Rene to her.

Rene's gift is not the only one added... She can feel the gifts of Eagle, Cat, Cobra, Opossum, Fox and even Raven being pulled into their Becoming.

"Preparation is irrelevant," she whispers with a smile. "What must be... will be."

Madeline's answer to Andi's whisper is a crooked smile much like Rene's.

Rene's gift speaks the strongest to her. She has always jokingly said that his touch is magic. Perhaps there is more truth to that than she had realized. In this place apart, she responds to it the same way she always has, the flush of desire, need and want infusing her thoroughly.

"Ik houd u," she says breathlessly.

"Je t'aime," he replies.

They kiss; the fiery feeling swelling around them and flowing to the others.

When the part, she asks, "Did I say how much I've missed you."

"You didn't have to."

Then Logan is there beside her, his nostrils flaring as he inhales her scent. She smiles at him.

"Mate," she says tenderly, invitingly.

They, too, kiss.

She can feel the connection between Maddie and Rene and Logan; it is powerful... and gloriously beautiful. She knows Pablo feels it, too, for she finds herself in his arms, his eyes blazing with the green glow of his passion as his lips seek hers.

"Ayóó ánííníshní," she breathes.

"Te amo con todo mi corazón y alma," he replies.

Just as their souls are forever bound, just as their qi has blended to becomes a single energy, as they kiss in this place of magic, they share the gifts of the five Spirits.

What is it I bring to this beyond my penchant for insanity? Madeline wonders.

"Can you think of nothing?" Rene asks.

She looks from her Husband to her Mate, the fathers of her children and has the inkling of an idea. She had taken what was theirs and made it hers. Not intentionally by any means, so it had been on a different level entirely. She had been told she would never have children... and yet, she did. She knows why with Logan, and it lends itself to a similar explanation with Rene, although not as pronounced.


The feline pauses in its grooming. "Hmm?"

"An exchange of blood?"

Cat seems to smile. "Yes."

"Might I borrow a claw, Mate?"

One long, sharp claw protrudes from his right hand. Instinctively, she presses both palms against the sharp edges and holds them there. She heals too quickly to remove them just yet. A fat drop of blood grows on the tip of the claw.

"Andi?" she says.

Andi hears Maddie's voice and reluctantly pulls back from the kiss with Pablo.

But when she looks over at her Sister, she sees her palms bleeding against Logan's claw... and she also sees the path.

Yes, that is the next step.

Although she turns toward the Triad, Pablo keeps an arm around her waist. Her eyes turn to Logan's and for a heartbeat she's again lost... but this time, she's not sure if she's Andrea or Madeline.

"Logan, have you another for me?"

When the second claw extends, she also presses palms against the razor sharp edges. She doesn't know if she and Maddie heal at the same rate, but from a cut? Andi heals fast.

And when the other woman is there, she holds her hands out, palms up.

When Maddie holds out her hands, Andi places hers over them — lao gong points aligned, their qi and blood mingling as they heal. A second... then two... then a third pass in silence as she looks into Maddie's eyes.

Then she leans forward to kiss her. As their lips meet, Andi feels Pablo's arm around her waist, and knows that Pablo's other hand rests on Maddie's shoulder. The hand she feels on her shoulder is Logan's.

They are a step closer to that which Mother Nature and Father Sky are sculpting.

Their blood mingles, flowing out of one into the other, transferring from Madeline that which was unique to her in the entire world to Andrea, making them Sisters on a wholly different level. The offered kiss is willingly accepted and reciprocated, offered with love and passion. She pulls the younger woman into a closer embrace. They are the nucleus. Their men are the electrons. And Rene, being Spirit, is the force that binds them all together. They are the Five Who Have Become One. Perfect bliss envelops them.

She shudders through an orgasmic euphoria and reluctantly loosens her embrace.

"Now you have what I have," she whispers lovingly as she brushes a lock of hair from Andi's face. "My gift to you, willingly shared.

Neither of them heals so fast that their blood does not become as one. As she is drawn into Maddie's embrace, Andi feels the subtle change in her body. The qi that she shares with Pablo remains unchanged, although it flows through her meridians faster than usual... almost as if it's trying to catalog the differences.

Andi can sense the subtle change to Maddie's aura as her greater awareness of qi becomes part of her.

Before this moment, each of them was alone in the world holding gifts that no other human was known to have, certainly not in the memory of anyone alive today. There is peace in knowing that neither of them is alone anymore.

She can feel Pablo and Logan and Rene become part of Everything. For a moment, she is Andrea-Pablo-Maddie-Logan-Rene... and the Universe. Mother and Father suffuse them with love and approval. They are joy, they are unity, they are One.

She shudders as Maddie does, a rippling effect across all five of them.

"Your gift is willingly accepted," she responds, perhaps sounding a bit dazed, yet fully cognizant of the implications of Maddie's gift. "And you have what I have, beloved Sister. It is my gift to you, also willingly shared." Ritual words, and powerful ones.

Madeline's eyes raise to meet Pablo's and she strokes his face gently.

"In all worlds, we would welcome you with open arms," she says.

Maddie's words to Pablo have the ring of ritual to them as well; they tug at Pablo's heart. Andi knows... because she feels the tug, as well as his still raw emotions about letting anyone beyond the wall he had built when Rosalia and Juan were killed — a wall he spent over a decade fortifying. But as always, when those raw emotions are too near the surface, she simply floods him with all the love in her heart and soul. That healing is still a difficult journey, and she had vowed to make that journey with him.

And she feels his gratitude in return as he smiles at Maddie. "In this life and every other, I welcome you into my heart, beloved Sister of my Wife and Sister of my heart," he says as he bends down to embrace her.

Although she knows she shouldn't be, Andi is still a little surprised when she feels Logan's arm around her waist. She turns to look at him, studying his face. She knows he is a man of few words, but few words are needed to convey what her heart wants his heart to know. She simply places a hand on his chest, resting it over his heart.

"Logan." Just as she would with Pablo, she simply gives him her emotions... love, acceptance, gratitude.

Logan's arm tightens, drawing Andi closer. His head bends down, not to kiss but to scent. He inhales deeply as he buries his nose in her neck and hair. Only once that is done does he press his lips to hers with a soft growl of her name.

Madeline wraps her arms about Pablo. She pulls him down a bit and stands on her toes to kiss both his cheeks. "Soy tu hermana así ahora, mi hermano."

Logan and Madeline turn each with an arm reaching out, and Rene joins them. They stand in the circle once again, this time with one another's arms about each other.

"Y estos son tus hermanos," she completes.

Logan and Rene both incline their heads toward him then Rene winks at Andi before speaking.

"We are siblings. We are friends. We are lovers. What binds us cannot be broken. Whatever may pass, in every place and every life and every world, we will find each other."

And then he has to crack a joke. "One for all..."

Madeline laughs. Logan chuckles; both Andi and Pablo chuckle at the Musketeers reference, as well.

"And all for One," the Five say in unison.

The landscape is slowly and gently morphing back into the Human realm, and the New Mexico they left moments ago. Her senses, her internal clock tell Andi half an hour — at the very least — has passed since she first saw Eagle in the sky... yet the sky shows that no more than a few minutes have gone by.

It doesn't matter, because she feels completely at home and at peace in this circle of family, of loved ones.

Of course, just because she doesn't have any concerns doesn't mean other people are as sanguine. Talia comes storming out of the house, heading right for them.


She glances at her cousin before resting her head on Pablo's shoulder, making no effort to break the circle.

Talia reaches their tight little group and stops, hands on her hips.

"What did you do?" she demands.

"Me? I'm innocent."

She glares at her cousin through the gap between Logan's and Rene's shoulders, then marches around the circle and forces herself into the center by wedging herself between Andi and Pablo. Andi even has to lift her head off Pablo's shoulder!

"Hey! I was comfortable! What's gotten into you, Tali?" They are in a pretty tight circle, as one might expect of five people with their arms around one another's waists and shoulders. Talia is very close to being in Andi's face... except that she's about five inches shorter than her cousin is. There really isn't room for her to stand with her hands on her hips inside the circle, so she settles for crossing her arms.

"I can see you and Pablo again."

That's is... just a simple statement.

"Well, didn't I tell you not to worry about it? Why are you so upset?"

She narrows her eyes; her aura is cycling between anger, fear, frustration and confusion. "Because I can see them now, too," she says, nodding her head to Maddie and Logan. "That one," she hooks her thumb over her shoulder in Rene's direction, "I don't know and I can't see."

"Oh! Sorry! That's Rene," Andi says, ignoring the rest of her tirade. "Rene, my cousin Talia. And stop snickering," she says to him.

"Andi! Stop it! What the hell is going on?"

She rests her head back on Pablo's shoulder; he kisses the top of her head. She can feel the unity of being One, and she likes it. She's not going to let Talia — or anyone else — upset her. Not tonight. She sighs and smiles.

"If you tell me why you're so upset, I'll tell you why you can't see Rene," Andi says. Why does she feel the urge to find a huge sofa where the five of them can just cuddle and snuggle and relax and chat?

Madeline just shakes her head. Rene is, always had been, and always will be incorrigible. She and Logan are chuckling themselves. This is the most peace and joy any of them has ever felt. Like Andi, they are not about to let anyone disturb that.

Not a sofa. A giant bed, she thinks.

That just starts the men off chuckling again. She cannot help the Cheshire grin.

Poor little Talia just does not know what to think.

"Are you sure that's a good idea, Andi?" Pablo asks. At first, she thinks he's talking about the sofa, too, but then she realizes he's talking about Rene.

"Oh, Tommy and John Ravenclaw will see it right off. No big deal." Rene looks like he's about to burst out laughing. She tilts her head to look at Maddie. "I'm just going to assume asking him to behave himself is a waste of breath." She sees Rene nod and smile. Angelically. And then she rolls her eyes at him.

Talia glares a moment longer, looking between Andi and Pablo, before saying, "Fine. I can see you. You and Pablo look different, and all four of you look more alike that people ought to look. And the future is too long."

Andi raises an eyebrow at her cousin. "Our fates are intertwined. I'd guess that would mean we'd look pretty similar, right? And what do you mean about the future being too long?"

"It means your endpoint in this existence — you know, what people like to call death — is so far away I can't see it."

And raises her head to look at Talia, confused. Well, faking the confused. "But Tali, I told you Grandmaster Chen thought it was likely I'd live at least two hundred years, possible more like three or four hundred."

"Fine, that explains you. That does not explain anyone else."

Andi looks around the circle and shrugs. "Well, Logan comes from a line of very long-lived people. And, I don't know, maybe Pablo caught it from me and Maddie caught it from Logan." Surprisingly, that's fairly close to the truth.

"Andi, I don't think it works that way," Talia says patiently, as though talking to a not terribly bright child. "And Pablo looked pretty normal when the two of you arrived this afternoon."

She shrugs again. "That's probably something we should talk to the Ha'atathli about, I guess."

Talia tightens her lips in frustration. After a moment, she says, "Fine. What about him?" She points to Rene again.

"Oh, he's a guardian Spirit. Guardian angel. One or the other. Or both."

"Now you're just mocking me," she says, clearly upset.

"Well, the story is a bit more involved than that if you get into details, but, yes, that about sums it up," Madeline says.

Reluctantly, Andi lets go of Pablo and Logan to wrap her arms around Talia. "Awww, Tali... I'd never do that. It's true. Rene is Maddie's husband who died a bunch of years back, got stuck in an icky neighborhood, I met him and helped him move in with the Spirits. True story."

She looks up at Andrea, searching for the truth in her face, most likely. "You're a lousy storyteller, Andrea."

Andi sighs. "I know. Justin tells me that all the time."

"The future being too long still bothers me."

"I'm sorry. But you'll get used to it." She shrugs. Again. "I can't say I ever really got a handle on the idea of outliving everyone's great-grandchildren. Seems a little scary and lonely." Well, it did until a few minutes ago. Funny how knowing one's trek into forever will be with other folks — folks one really likes — makes the idea sound a lot less miserable.

Talia sighs, resigned to either the idea of the future being too long or to the feeling of being bothered by the future being too long. "You're not going to throw me any more curve balls, are you?"

"I hope not, but I can't make any promises." She can hear the faint shrieks of laughter and the howling of a wolf. "You should probably warn the grownups that Billy's on his way back with his fan club."

Talia groans. "And he probably shifted to every possible thing he could think of to keep them entertained. Good thing Aunt Sonia made enough chili to feed an army." She stands on tiptoe to kiss Andi's cheek, then looks at the others before shaking her head and walking back to the house. "I have the weirdest family," she mumbles to herself.

"You sticking around for dinner, Rene?" Andi asks. "Aunt Sonia makes great chili and cornbread."

"Wow, chili and cornbread. I haven't had that..."

"For over eleven years," Madeline supplies.

"Oh, I'll be sticking around, but I don't have to eat or drink — being a Spirit and all — so don't worry about me going hungry."

"He's just after dessert anyway," Logan says.

"Ooooh, dessert," she says. "I like the sound of that."

"You always do," Rene rejoins.

After another round of chuckles makes its way around the circle, Madeline asks, "Is there someplace we can all kick back and veg?"

Her arms had gone around Pablo's and Logan's waists again, enjoying the peace... the banter... the laughter. The Spirits — the ones that aren't Rene — seem pleased; they're in that phase that normally only Andi would be able to see them. Well, and Rene, too. Possibly Pablo because of their Bond, but that was only a sometimes thing. Right... was.

She suspects now it is going to be 'always on'... just as she suspects Maddie and Logan can see them as well as she and Rene can.

Oddly — or perhaps not — even Raven seems calmer than she's seen it since... well, since Quetzalcoatl showed up at the very least.

At the mention of dessert, she looks up at Pablo with a grin.

"Lately, it's become my favorite part of the meal, too," he says, his eyes looking at her with a ring of glowing green around the deep brown.

"Ooops," Rene comments.


He nods back toward the Humvees. Leon is standing outside one of them looking as white as a sheet and with big eyes.

She's about to answer Maddie when Rene... and subsequently all of them... notices Leon.

"What's wrong, sweetheart?"

"I... you... I... I... When did my father get here? And where'd you go? ...And what the hell was that??"

The brows on all three of his parents shoot up.

"Sorry," he half apologizes, "I'm just a little freaked out."

"Maybe you should follow Talia and get something to drink," Rene suggests.

"Yeah, okay. I'll do that," he agrees then calls out, "Talia, wait up!"

He half runs to catch up with her.

Madeline chuffs a laugh. "I guess we can count ourselves fortunate the hurricanes weren't in eyesight."

"Now back to what I was asking..."

She can understand him being a little upset. Rene showing up. It's possible he could have noticed their momentary absence while in the Great Spirit's realm.

At Rene's suggestion, he follows after her cousin, although he's certainly not going to get any of the answers he's looking for from her.

Andi shakes her head. It doesn't matter. There will be time enough tomorrow for interrogations; both Tommy and Ha'atathli Ravenclaw are going to have even more questions than her cousin and... nephew? Yes. Nephew.

Oooh, she has a niece and two nephews! And another niece on her way in just over a month!

And technically, Talia wasn't wrong when she said Yani would have the first grandchild. Maddie wasn't part of the family then. And now things will get complicated in her brain if she continues thinking along these lines... so she won't.

"There are sixty acres of land around the house, although none of it as comfortable as a large bed," she says with a grin. "About half a mile in that direction..." Andi nods her head toward the south. "...there's some nice grassland.

"I'm puzzled, though. I get that Leon might have noticed we were gone, but that he felt anything happening across the dimensions..." She looks from Maddie to Rene; he shares their genetics. "Well, it's pretty wild."

Eagle... well, she would probably say clears its throat; that's the effect, anyway, although not the actual action.

"Might I offer an alternative explanation?"

She looks at her husband's guardian — one of the most powerful and revered of the Spirits, yet so polite and proper. "Of course, O Eagle."

"The young man in question is obviously quite attuned to his mother's emotions and, on an unconscious level, her energy flows... the qi as you call it. To a lesser extent, he is attuned to her Mate, being raised by him for most of his life. And whether he will admit it or not, he does have a connection to his father." Eagle turns to look at Talia and Leon as they enter the house. "It's just as likely, perhaps even more likely, that he felt the difference in them when you returned to this plane, rather than feeling what happened in the Great Spirit's realm."

Andi nods. "That's a better explanation, and I'm going to accept that one until there's evidence for anything else." She looks across at Rene. "I don't know how young you were when you started your wild womanizing ways, Brother," she says grinning at him, "but I think my nephew is too young to know about what went on in the Great Spirit's realm. Goodness, he's not even forty yet!"

"Twelve," Madeline says. "He was twelve. Of course, he was also surrounded by models all the time..."

Rene doesn't even attempt to deny it. Instead, he gives a little shrug and looks smug.

"Twelve?" Andi says with raised eyebrows. "Your mother must have had a closet full of switches to use on your precocious little self, didn't she?"

"Um, Andi? We're not forty yet, either," Pablo teases.

"Well... true. But we've graduated high school."

"And, Pablo, the three of us are far enough past forty that we more than make up for the difference. Now, how far to the south? Cause I've got this itch that needs scratching..."

Pablo chuckles at Maddie's comment. "Yeah, Andi mentioned something about that." He looks at her. "How do you feel about being the youngest of the group?" he asks, in an attempt — she thinks — to tease her.

"I was the youngest Aikido Kudan for near a decade, and am still the only person to reach Kudan rank before age eighteen." She shrugs. "It's not how old you are, my dear, it's what you can do." She snickers as she turns to answer Maddie's question. "Half a mile or so. That one..." She nods toward Rene. "...could get there in the blink of an eye. This one..." She lets go of Logan's hand to poke Pablo's side.


She giggles. "...could fly faster than I can run. I don't know how fast you and Logan run..." Her brows furrow. "Would that have evened out with the blood exchange? And blood magic is Aztec, so even if it was Maddie's idea, it worked because of you." She pokes... well, no... strokes Pablo's side. Then she grins. "Only one way to find out, right?"

"I'm still likely to be the slowpoke of the bunch," Madeline laughs.

"You've gotten faster," Logan comments.

"Only with lots of practice."

She lets go of Pablo, and sets out at a fast pace — just a jog for her, really — toward the south.

When Andi takes off, Rene blinks out of existence.

"Cheat," she calls after him then chases after Andi.

Logan is at her side in a heartbeat, unerringly guiding them in the right direction. She can't tell if she's keeping up or if he's holding back. She shrugs it off and keeps going.

As Andi had pointed out, Rene does have an unfair advantage. He is waiting for them, casually reclined and wearing very little.

# # #

Talia pauses, waiting for Leon to catch up. It only takes a moment; the cars aren't parked that far away.

"So they're making you crazy, too, huh?" She shakes her head and sighs. "I guess all we can do — until they feel like explaining themselves, which could be forever if cousin Andi is involved — is talk about them behind their backs."

She starts to reach for the door, but Leon gets to it first and opens the door for her. Talia blinks, then smiles. "Why, thank you, kind sir! Opening doors for women out here will get you pegged as a big city gentleman." She looks over her shoulder as she leads them into the living room. "That's not a bad thing, by the way."

Leon blushes at the compliment from Talia.

"Mom and Dad and Grandmere always insist on manners," he says. "Pretty sure my father would have too if he had still been alive..."

He realizes he's rambling and blushes again. "Sorry. Mom doesn't tend to explain herself much either. My father said it was because she is probably trying to judiciously edit the things she says. Dad had said it was her way of protecting me. When I wanted to know from what, he said from herself."

"Hey, no need to apologize. Tita Kai — that's our grandmother — is the same way," Talia says as she flops down into one of the overstuffed chairs. "We all mind our manners when Tita's around. Well, my older brother Henry does whatever he wants and then blames Coyote... but since Tommy and Andi are the only ones who can still see and talk to all the Spirits, and they're hardly ever around, Henry gets away with a lot of crazy stuff."

She nods at his explanation of his mom's self-censorship. "I guess that kind of makes sense. A little. I mean, I know Andi's out there doing who knows what, and there's probably stuff she thinks would hurt us if we knew about it." Talia shrugs. "She might be right. And since it's her... I don't know what you'd call it. Darkness, maybe? Since it's hers, I guess it's up to her to share it or not.

"But... arrrhh!" Talia exclaims with frustration. "The least she could do is explain the not dark, only moderately weird stuff! It's not like we don't understand weird in this family! My little brother turns into purple cows, for heaven's sake!"

"Mom always calls it the Madness," he says as he looks around for a place to sit.

He finally decides on another of the chairs and lowers himself into it.

"Madness, huh? Well, maybe she's being fair then to try shielding you from it," Talia says. She shakes her head and sighs. "There are all kinds of ways to categorize madness, and working in the healthcare profession you get to see most of them."

She pauses and stares out the window into the night, avoiding looking at Leon. "It can get pretty bad here on the reservation," she says softly. "Drugs, alcohol, domestic violence, child abuse. And that's not even taking into consideration the genuine mental illnesses. All of it seeped in a world of poverty."

"Yeah. She has real bad nightmares a couple of times. Dad said something bad happened to her when she was young and I know whatever it was put her in the hospital for a long time. She doesn't ever talk about it, what happened, not with us anyway.

"I tried to ask my father about it all, but he wouldn't tell me either. Said Mom would have to, if she was ever ready to. But I could see it made him sad. It made Dad sad too."

She nods again. "I met girls, young women, who went through some pretty awful stuff when they were young. Not so many around here... we have different sorts of problems on the reservation... but when I was in nursing school in Phoenix." Talia is silent for several minutes. "If stuff like that happened to your mom, I can see why it would make your dad and your father sad. Me? I couldn't get past the angry, but maybe it just takes more time to get there." She shrugs.

"If your folks don't think you should know about it... trust them. It's not a reflection on you, it's a reflection on how evil and cruel and non-human people can be to other people. You don't need to know how bad people can get; you probably already know that there are people who can get unbelievably evil. Nothing anyone tells you can prepare you for coming face to face with pure evil the first time you do. You think you can be prepared. I know I thought I was." She shakes her head. "And the first time I experienced the effects of pure evil, I froze and just thought... how is this even possible?

"I think that's part of why I stay on the reservation. Oh, and Andi hates that term, by the way. I can kind of see her point, but out here in the boonies we're not a shining example of the Navajo Nation. Still, even with all our problems, I don't see much real evil here... not like I did in Phoenix. Stupidity, sure, and most of it's fueled by drugs, alcohol, anger, and despair. At least addictions and anger can be managed, lack of education can be reversed... well, could be if we had more teachers and materials. Even despair... I have to believe that there's something that will give a person hope. Yeah, I'm proven wrong every time I hear of another suicide, but like Andi I'm an eternal optimist." Talia smiles.

"That's why it cracks me up that she's doing this super hero thing. I get this image in my head that she's sitting down in an alley with some poor misguided fool who wants to go rob the local convenience store, trying to talk him out of it and trying to cheer him up at the same time. When I told her that, she laughed so hard she was crying and couldn't stop giggling for five minutes. And then she told me what she really did... which pretty much boils down to cracking her staff over people's heads when they misbehave. Oh, and being a smart ass. I don't why that's important. Except... you know, sometimes she does try to talk people out of doing bad things. Maybe her smart talk cheers them up, too."

"I know there's evil. I've seen it," he says, becoming distant for a moment. "I remember more than Mom knows I do."

He looks up at Talia and gives her a half but sly smile. "I never told her before because I didn't want to hurt her. And, well, I also wanted her to let me go to school with the Professor. I'm not she would have if she knew."

"Maybe not... but, well, I don't see people's pasts," she says with a smile. "Well, not the might-have-been stuff. Just what everyone else sees about what happened."

She regards him for a moment.

"Something pretty awful must have happened if knowing you remember it would hurt your mom," she says. "You've talked to somebody about, right? Holding that kind of secret isn't a great idea." Talia looks out the window again. "It can fester into a kind of madness," she says softly.

"Yeah, I do. The Professor and Dr. McCoy. And Jenny, a little bit. But mostly the Professor. The Professor is... well, he's just great."

She smiles. "It's great when you find the right people who are just great at hearing your problems, isn't it? Cousin Tommy's like that. It's like... all you have to do it tell them what's bothering you and most of the time they don't even have to say anything. Or much."

She looks around the great room, up at the loft on the second level, the huge fireplace... and finally at Leon. "My uncle... he's got probably the nicest and biggest house in San Juan County. It's not because he's a big fancy doctor," she says with a hint of a smile, "although to everyone around here, he really is. His parents had left the reservation and made a pretty good living as lawyers in Albuquerque. They died in an accident not long after he finished his residency. So he came back to Nageezi, built the house..." Her smile is gradually becoming broader, and happiness returns to her eyes. "He met Aunt Sonia at a pow wow, fell madly in love while he was teaching her — and probably two dozen other people, but it's more romantic to ignore them — one of our traditional dances, they got married and have lived happily ever after.

"For the most part, I suppose. Anyway, because Uncle Leon's folks left him all that money, he rarely charges anyone for his services. And his investments aren't going to last forever. Of course... neither is he, but he figures his money will last as long as he and Aunt Sonia do." She tilts her head, considering. "Hmm, maybe that is happily ever after."

He looks around. "It's a nice house. And that's good what he does. The Professor does something similar I guess. There's no tuition at the school, although Mom insisted on helping pay for stuff. And I hear Mom and Grandmere talk about the Foundation and what it goes to support, mostly clinics and shelters, I think."

"Their kids, my cousins, are great, too. Sam and his wife Cindy can't make it out, but you'll get to meet Yani and her husband Daniel tomorrow. And Tommy, who's bringing our senior Medicine Man out." She grins mischievously. "To give Andi a good grilling, I hope!" she says with a chuckle. "Hopefully that will get her to at least share some of the weird."

"Weird is pretty common in our house too. Mom's the only one who isn't technically a mutant. And I go to a whole school of them," he sighs.

"The Professor always explains things or, at least, says why he can't when he doesn't.

"Wait. Did you say purple cow?"

Talia chuckles. When it comes to Billy, it often takes people's brains a while to catch up... even for people in their family.

"Yeah. Purple cow. He says regular cows are boring, and that someone might take a shot at him and cart him off as dinner for a year." Talia rolls her eyes. "Right. Like anyone is going to see a cow in Mom and Dad's backyard. He just likes playing. He's sweet, he's smart, he's everyone's favorite... but you'd never know he was twenty two by the way he acts. When Andi asked how many forms he'd perfected, I only counted the ones that are actually real. You saw the centaur when he ran off with your brother and sister." She ticks the other fantastical creatures off on her fingers. "He can also do unicorn, dragon... complete with fire and methane breath... ew. Sonic the Hedgehog, Smurf... again ew. Ewok... creepy. Ferengi... creepy. Klingon... kind of cool. Spongebob Squarepants... there aren't even words for that. And I'm sure there are some I'm forgetting. The point being, Billy should never be allowed to watch television or play video games."

She looks at the young man across from her and laughs. "Sorry. I hardly ever get to talk with people who aren't family, and aren't miserable. I guess I babble at new ears that are attached to folks who seem normal."

As she talks more, he's becoming more relaxed. He smiles when she says he seemed normal.

"That's only cause I can blend or pass as we call it. Most of the kids at school could but a couple of our teachers couldn't. Dr. McCoy is covered in blue fur. And Mr. Wagner is all blue and has pointy ears and a tail."

He shrugs.

"I guess I don't really know too many normal people from what I know of normal."

When Leon talks about his teachers, Talia grins. "Wow! Blue fur? That sounds so cool! Oooh, don't tell Billy or the next thing you know, he'll be sprouting blue fur, too. Man, that would drive Mom crazy... all that vacuuming."

She shakes her head, however, at his assertion about not knowing many normal people.

"Sounds like you know plenty of normal people. We could probably all pass for normal, even Billy if he'd remember shifting around strangers isn't such a good idea, but only Andi bothers on a regular basis. Billy's only ever been off the reservation once... in August when Tita got sick." Her brows furrow. "Except she wasn't actually sick, just... you know, that's just way too confusing, and I still can't figure what happened, but Andi trashed a grocery store and caught the bad guy, and if you want the whole story, you'll have to ask her. Or maybe Pablo, although he got a concussion when she was trashing the Safeway, so... maybe his memory isn't reliable." She shrugs. "Oh, well. Anyway, Tommy hardly ever leaves the reservation because of his studies and stuff. But I go down to Gallup and Flagstaff to visit family pretty often.

"But the thing about normal? Well, it was right about the time Andi decided she was going to start doing the super hero thing, and she'd asked Aunt Sandy — that's her mom — to make her a pretty specific kind of vest... you know, like Batman's utility belt, except a vest. I guess. I was just starting nursing school, so I'd go up to Flagstaff most weekends and stay with Uncle Nelson, Aunt Sandy, and Justin. I heard Aunt Sandy say something or another to Tita about Andi, about how she was worried Andi wasn't 'normal'."

Talia smiles and sighs at the memory, obviously a happy and cherished one.

"Tita said it isn't what a person can or can't do that makes them normal, it's what they do with what they have. It isn't what a person looks like on the outside that makes them normal, but what's in their heart." She shrugs again, almost apologetically. "Sure, Tita might be a little naive. There aren't any people in Flagstaff who can't pass for normal, and Arizona doesn't even have an Unfortunates enclave... the cops just push them all over the border into Mexico. And by 'push over the border' I mean they get tossed in the Rio Grande. Honestly, I'd rather live with Tita's idea of who's normal and not the government's idea. And I'm not even as pissed off about the government and its policies as Andi is.

"So it sounds like your blue professors are more normal than the state police in Arizona.

"There are only four of us who are Cursed... which isn't as bad as it sounds, by the way. It's just the Native way of explaining the genetic mutations so prevalent here and in Nevada and anywhere there's pillaging of the earth. And of course there are the effects of the Virus. But there are plenty of other ways to be weird," she says, nodding her head. "Andi's brother is so normal that he's weird. I mean, who's that nice and generous and smart and good-looking and NOT strange in some way, huh?"

She leans closer and whispers, "He says he coaches a middle school girls' soccer team... but I think he's secretly teaching all those poor impressionable young girls how to play Dungeons & Dragons."

"Dungeons & Dragons?" he asks. "What's that?"

She looks at the confusion on his face when he asks about the game and chuckles.

"It's an old timey game my dad and Uncle Nelson used to play with their friends. I can't say I really understand it, but it's some kind of roleplaying game involving dice and graph paper — you know you have to actually go online or go to a huge office supply store to find graph paper? — and one person is in charge of organizing the adventure and everybody else plays different kinds of strange creatures, like trolls and orcs from the Tolkien stories, and maybe the elves are from there, too." She pauses. "You know, maybe all the weird creature come from Tolkien. Anyway, the person in charge is called a Dungeon Master. That sounds either crazy or really naughty. You should stick with crazy because it seems like parents don't want to know that their children have naughty thoughts, and I know you know what I mean..." She looks in the direction of the kitchen where the grownups have been conversing, then looks back at Leon and rolls her eyes. "...even when their child is nearly twenty eight.

"But the point, really, is to develop imagination and foster an ability to work together toward a common goal. And maybe tell a good story, too. It sounds like it might be fun, and I could probably talk both Henry and Billy into something like that if it were about exploring the galaxy in a starship instead of a damp, smelly dungeon. They're both obsessed with Star Trek." She grins.

"Hey, come to think of it, Andi's pretty keen on it, too. She's got this really cool neighbor who's apparently the most adorable gay man ever who made her watch every TV show she missed while she lived in Japan and China." Talia starts laughing. "There was some really awful stuff on TV while she was gone, and there were weeks she'd call and say something like, 'What the hell was wrong with people back then?' Of course, things aren't any better now, which is something she's coming to realize. Oh! And Bobby is a HUGE movie geek, especially musicals." She giggles. "I really can't wait to meet him! He sounds amazing, except that Andi thinks her mom is going to fall into the black hole of Bobby's kitchen and never be seen again. They both love to cook."

Talia kicks her shoes off and sits cross-legged in the chair, leaning to the side with her chin propped in her palm.

"Now that your mom and the rest of you have been adopted into the family, I'll bet Andi will want all of you at her wedding. It's going to be so gorgeous! Sam and Yani are the only cousins who are already married on this side of the family, and they had regular ceremonies, but Andi and Pablo are going to have a traditional Navajo wedding. Boy, is Pablo in for a surprise!" She laughs again. "I don't know if you've been to any religious ceremonies, but a lot of people around here are Catholic, and part of their ritual is the sermon. Well, the Navajo wedding has something like that, where one of the bride's elders... not her dad, but usually an uncle... sometimes the medicine man... gives the bride and groom a lecture before they get to eat the wedding cornmeal. Sometimes the lectures go on for hours! If Aunt Sandy asks my dad to give the lecture..." Talia tries hard not to laugh, but a snicker manages to escape. " probably will go on for hours, and be hysterically funny. It's supposed to be advice for the bride and groom, but half the reason he's so good at his job — he's the principal of the elementary school closest to Yah-Ta-Hey — is because he manages to hide the best advice in funny stories."

Talia sighs. "Charlie's going to get married next, after Andi. And then Justin. I can't see anything about Tommy... never have, probably never will. Henry..." She sighs again. "He blames everything on Coyote, but he's just confused. And Billy is like a Mexican jumping bean. He's almost as hard to see as Tommy, but only because he doesn't hold still long enough to walk on any particular path."

But then she smiles at him. "Whatever weird, bizarre thing they did out there earlier, it made all of you visible to me. Well, except for your father, but what's the point in looking at a Spirit's future anyway? Your mom and your professor? They're not trying to get you married off to this girl you like. They do want you to be happy, but I think your mom is just teasing you. Probably because parents do that. Mine still do. Ugh.

"I'm not going to tell you any details, just the same thing I told Andi ten years ago — that was after she'd already met Pablo. And even though I knew he was the right guy for her, I knew both of them had a lot of stuff to work out before they'd both be able to see it. Anyway, when you've met the right person, and all the little details have fallen into place, you'll KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt that you've found the right person for you. So... don't worry about what your mom and professor say. Sometimes it might feel like they're pushing you in a certain direction, but don't pay attention to them, just pay attention to what your heart and mind tell you is the right direction."

Talia chuckles yet again. "You know, you should either tell me to hush my face, start doing all the talking yourself or, at least, ask some questions... before I start talking about the best way to treat colic in babies. And that's not something anyone around here really cares about. Including me. Well, not this weekend, anyway."

He listens to every word as she talks. Her... well, it's not babbling... but every time he thinks he might say something she keeps going. By the time she's done, he's no longer sitting ramrod straight in the chair but has relaxed back into it.

At her suggestion, he shakes his head emphatically. "Oh, no. I couldn't tell you to hush. I learned not to do stuff like that the hard way. Mom may say I inherited my father's charm, but I've had to practice and ask the Professor for lots of help.

"And I know they just want me to be happy. Mom tells me all the time."

He glances toward a window then back, then he lowers his voice to whisper a confidence. "I don't really care what happened out there, just as long as my Mom's happy. And she was happy, she was almost glowing with it."

She nods in agreement, glancing out the window again for a moment. "I'd never seen Andi so happy as she was when she and Pablo got here this afternoon. And after whatever they did out there, the two of them are not just glowing, they're glowing in the dark. I'm still kind of weirded out by what I see, how their whole futures changed... but didn't." She shakes her head. "Best if I don't think about it."

Talia tilts her head, going back to Leon's earlier almost contradictory remark. "The school your Professor runs seems to be a perfect place for you. Heck, if I thought I could talk Billy into it, I'd ask your Professor if he'd take Billy and calm his crazy self down a little."

"I'm sure the Professor would take him. My sister and brother will be going there soon too I think. I know they've already asked Mom and Dad about it. And if Billy's there too they won't be pestering me all the time," he says with both exasperation and fondness.

"I mean I really do want them to go to school there, and they would probably be kept busy in classes mostly, but I couldn't get five minutes without one or both of them wanting my attention, at least not until all those people from Denver came for a visit."

"I bet Billy would love it at your school, except getting him off the reservation would be almost impossible." Talia sighs. "And he can be almost as much of a pest as your brother and sister. Except that he should know better. It's a three-hour drive, and he flies here in less than an hour. Totally not fair." She rolls her eyes. "Plus he's nearly got his bachelor's degree, so convincing him to leave the reservation to go to school... Yeah, that would be a tough sell.

"The only reason he went to Flagstaff was because Tita was so sick. Dad and Uncle Nelson and Aunt Sonia were really scared. Even Papa Bill was, even though he tried not to show it." She sighs with relief. "We're all glad it turned out to be some mystical, magical thing, and Andi took care of it..." She pauses. "Well, no, I think the Dance is what really made her better, but it was Andi's idea."

She shrugs. "Whatever made her better, made her really better." Talia laughs. "Aunt Sandy says Tita's more energetic than she's been in forever."

Shifting in the chair, she leans forward. "You had folks visiting from Denver? Important people? Andi had something to do with it, didn't she?" she asks, suspiciously.

"Well, maybe he could come for an extended visit," he suggests.

"Yeah, a whole bunch of people. Professor had most of them staying in the gym since there weren't enough open rooms. They were from some kind of enclave, something City, Commercial maybe. Most of them were Gifted. It was right after Mom had the Professor come get us too. Something bad was happening. We'd only been in Denver a couple of days, and my father wasn't trapped in that other place anymore. I don't know what it was, but they must have fixed it because we, me and Em and Vin, came back with the last group of people to return and Mom and Dad were waiting for us. And that was just yesterday."

"Commercial...? Oh! Commerce City!" Talia looks puzzled. "That's where Colorado sends all the Unfortunates. Andi gets pretty worked up about it when she talks about the place. Her people, she calls them." She shrugs. "Sounds like pretty much nobody in law enforcement gives a rat's ass about them. Or a bunch of other people Andi watches out for.

"I can't even imagine what might have been going on that she'd think sending folks out of town was a good idea. From what she says, Commerce City was built to keep people in, but it really works better to keep people out. That, and a lot of them just don't want to leave." She rolls her eyes. "Not that she'll tell anyone what happened. 'Oh, just a little problem! It's all straightened out now!' Bet that's what she'll say if anyone asks her about it. She'll only tell the funny stories — mostly the ones taunting the crazy religious people out there who like to mess with the Two-Spirit folks. Oh, that's LGBT folks to the rest of the world. I know she's trying to keep her folks from worrying, but they worry anyway." Talia smiles slightly. "They're old-fashioned, I guess, because they worry less now that she's engaged to Pablo. Maybe it's because he's a police detective."

She leans back in the chair again, keeping her feet tucked under her. "So what brought you out to Colorado? Were you out visiting Andi? It's weird that she's never mentioned your mom before... she talks about all her other friends all the time. And I'd remember if she'd mentioned her; Madeline is such a pretty name."

"We lived there when I was little until my father died. We were coming out to clear out the cabin and stuff 'cause Mom had just packed us up and left after. Mom and Andi didn't meet until we went to go see the sheriff there. Mom is friends with him and his wife. I know something was up since they all went off to have a 'grown-up' conversation."

He rolls his eyes at that.

"Then she came up to the cabin when Mom and me went up on our own. Mom was having a real hard time with it, said she could still feel him there. The thing was, he really was there, like a ghost I guess. Then they did that thing, and he was physically there too."

"I'd seen Mom cry a lot but, this time, she wasn't sad. It was weird. He looked exactly like I remembered..."

Talia just looks at Leon in near shock. Weird things happening around Andrea? Sure, the family has gotten used to that, for the most part. But this?

"Andi and your mom have only known each other for... like... a WEEK?" She blinks a few times, then shakes her head. "Wow. Just... wow." She seems to look through him for another few moments then shakes herself back into the moment.

"I'm sorry. Cousin Andrea has some amazing talents and can do things I didn't think were even possible.

"But making friends quickly is not one of those talents. So... wow. I mean, it's awesome that she and your mom hit it off so well that Andi adopted your mom into her clan — which is really rare, and we'll probably never get the whole story on that either. But it's even weirder than Papa Bill taking up the ukulele and deciding to become a YouTube singing sensation. Which he's totally doing, by the way... learning to play the ukulele, I mean. Well, even the YouTube thing probably. He's put two videos up and they're really good."

He shrugs.

"Andi's like only the third new friend my Mom has made in my entire life, the other two being Dad and the Professor. Well, I guess she's friends with Dr. McCoy but not like she is with the Professor. All her other friends like Oncle Frank and Mitch are from before I was born.

"I can only tell you what I saw. I guess you could call it dancing. It looked a lot like when Mom practices her martial arts except the movement was different, and she was mirroring Andi. When they were done, my father just appeared walking into the area. Mom lit up like a kid at Christmas... then they got all snoggy and gross. They really needed to get a room."

She giggles at his comment about his parents needing to get a room. "I remember those days well! Even if my folks were holding hands in public, I'd be trying to put as much distance between them and me. God, it's so embarrassing!" She rolls her eyes. "I've gotten okay with them holding hands or hugging, but I still don't want to see any smooching. Parents don't like to think about their kids getting intimate with someone, but I think we get way more grossed out by thinking about them." Talia shudders. "Ew.

"And it sounds like Andi's Taiji they were doing. She does that sometimes at Dances, especially Medicine Dances. The thing she does with qi, energy, life force, whatever you want to call it, lets her feed more power to the Dance to make it more effective. But for a Welcome Dance, like I hope we get to do tomorrow, she'll just dance with the rest of us.

"Hey, being part of the family means you'll have a guardian Spirit, too!" she says, smiling. "Oh, we totally need to have a Dance so you get to see yours. Mine is Giraffe."

Talia shifts again in the chair, bringing her legs up and wrapping her arms around them so she can rest her chin on her knees.

"So your father was a ghost and now he's a Spirit. Bet the Medicine Man will be really interested in hearing how she managed that. Spirits take physical forms sometimes, but usually only at a Dance. Well, I guess they might do it at other times, too, but only kids can see them. And the medicine men. And Andi. It's cool that you can see him. It's pretty amazing that everyone else can see him, too."

She was suddenly serious again. "The stuff you don't want your Mom to know you remember... it's that you remember when your father died, isn't it?"

At her last question, he withdraws a bit and looks down at the floor. A shake of his head and he says, "No. I wasn't there either time. It's just..."

His eyes seek the window again and stay on it as he continues.

"I remember the attack on the school. The gunfire, the screams... all of it."

She looks puzzled for a moment. "Either time...?" Then her eyes grow wide at his last comment as the memories surface.

It had been in the papers, and the adults had talked about it in whispers. A lot of people — teachers and students — had made horribly cruel remarks about how it had been a good thing, that the freaks had deserved what they had gotten. Some of those people had been, until that moment, people she liked and respected.

"Oh, god, Leon! That was your school? I'm so sorry!" Tears fill her eyes.

Back then, when it had happened, she'd been in high school... one of the public high schools down in Gallup. She had been so shocked by not only the attack, but also by the fact that so many people had openly expressed the opinion that it was perfectly acceptable to attack a school. To kill children. Children! Even her younger self — the same age then as Leon is now, or close enough not to really matter — had known how horribly, horribly wrong that thinking was.

That attack, that mentality, was the main reason she'd told her parents that Billy would be Cursed, too. And then had to spend the next four years constantly reassuring them that he'd be fine, he'd make it through the Transition as easily as she and cousin Tommy had. It was the main reason he'd been home schooled after that. It was the main reason her always cheerful, happy go lucky baby brother unconsciously believed leaving the reservation was dangerous.

Talia slides off her chair and kneels beside Leon's chair. She doesn't have the memories of gunfire and screams, but she has her memories that haunt, too.

"I know nothing will erase those memories, and nothing will bring back all the people who died. I hate that it happened, and hate that you were there and remember it... just like I hate that Andi suffered so much when her powers manifested that her parents thought she was going to die."

He aborts a reach to pat her hand, not wanting to share those memories, the things he had seen with her, at least not in the way he did it. It had been bad enough when he had accidentally tapped into his mother's memories and recreated that story she was telling him.

"Yeah, it was pretty awful, and I'm pretty sure Mom wouldn't have let me go there if she knew I remembered. She was a teacher there but had taken Gabe to see his mom in the hospital so she wasn't there when it happened. Maeve and Heidi protected me and got me out. It was over a week before I saw my Mom again. She was... I don't know exactly, but a bunch of her friends showed up and some of the other kids who had escaped came there. Then she was gone for a day or so again with all of them, and when she came back...

"She... she was broken..."

When he pulls back from touching her, Talia realizes that part of what he does is related to touch, and something jiggles in the back of her brain. It's not enough to trigger a Seeing, but it's enough for her to know one will likely appear during the family's visit. She doesn't even really much attention to the jiggles anymore.

He sits there not speaking for a while, remembering that fateful day so long ago.

"But Andi fixed it when she was able to bring my father back or out or whatever..."

She takes a deep breath. "Andi doesn't talk about what happened at your school. I think it's because she's out there living in the world and passing as normal, and it hits a little too close to home. I think it's why she protects the people in Commerce City, though. And I know she'd die trying to stop anything like that from ever happening again." Talia swallows hard.

"I'm not saying this because I know what your purpose is in life, Leon... because I don't. I promise." She smiles slightly. "I don't know everything about everybody. But maybe... well, maybe you saw what you saw, and remember what you remember, because you're going to be like Andi... making sure something like that never happens again. Ever.

"You'll just do it your way."

He looks down at her now.

"That's kind of like what the Professor says.

"I guess if I was going to say there's some kind of correlation between when your mom became broken, and then became whole again..." She shakes her head sadly. "I'd guess when she was gone for that day or so would be when your father died." She pauses a moment, lips pressed tightly together.

"I won't bore you with Navajo traditions," she says with a smile, "but for your father to be a ghost, well, that's a little distressing to us. But he must have spoken with Andi for her to have known to do... whatever she did. She's a heck of a lot braver than I am... talking to ghosts!

"And for him to be reunited with your mom, and become a Spirit?" Talia shakes her head. "That's a powerful love. I don't mean the get a room kind, but the sort where two people are so connected that you can just see that they belong together." She shrugs. "It took Andi and Pablo a good ten years to figure out that's what they have. My grandparents say it took them less than a minute."

"And..." He grins suddenly.

"Now that I know my Mom's a super hero too..."

She grins at him. "So are you saying that being a super hero runs in your family? What does your mom do?"

He scrunches up his face as he thinks. "No, I don't think it runs in the family, only being a mutant does. Except Mom isn't really one, except she is 'cause of that healing thing she got from dad... or the twins... I'm not quite sure how that worked, but neither is Dr. McCoy and if he can't figure it out, I don't stand a chance."

At the question about his Mom being a super, he bites his lip, only then remembering he was not supposed to be sharing that.

"Promise not to tell?"

She nods her promise.

Then he pauses and listens and looks around, and finally leans down to whisper to Talia, "She's the French Super La Loup Noir. The Black Wolf."

Talia's eyes widen. "She protects the whole country?" she whispers back. "Whoa, that's... wow! A lot of people to protect! Does she have a secret identity, too, like Andi does?"

Talia giggles. "Can you believe Andi is a librarian?" she asks in a normal tone of voice. "That was like the first Seeing I ever had, and I still can't see her working in a library."

He nods vigorously. "Well, compared to a lot of places in the US, France isn't really that big and she mostly works out of Paris."

"I suppose so," Talia says. "But still, even all of Paris compared to Andi sharing Denver with what's his name... Peregrine, that's it. It seems like more of a big deal."

"Oh, and she sort of has a secret identity, I guess. She runs the House of Beauvoir for Grandmere."

She just stares at him for a few seconds. "No way! The House of Beauvoir? Get out of town! They make some of the most stunning gowns I've ever seen! And your mom runs it?" She shakes her head and laughs. "To someone who can only dream of owning something that beautiful — to say nothing of expensive — that is SO much cooler than the other thing!

"It's a good thing I'm not the sort of person to go name dropping, because nobody would ever believe me if I told them I met the woman who runs the House of Beauvoir!" She pauses and raises an eyebrow. "You're not the heir apparent and heavily invested in what people think of the designs, are you? If you were, I wouldn't be able to tell you some of the designers for the more avant-garde lines are out of their minds or doing too many drugs." She grins.

"If you mean by the heir apparent that it could pass to me someday, I think I kinda am," he says, not precisely thrilled with the idea.

"But, yeah, so not involved with... making stuff. Honestly, I'm not sure Mom's that involved. It was kind of neat when the Professor flew us to Paris to visit with Mom, though, and Mom sent Jenny and me to get Jenny stuff from one of the stores.

"She was real pretty at the dance in the dress she picked," he says, a slow blush creeping up his face. "Sure, I was there when she picked it and all but...

"I guess I sorta understand what you're saying too. Mom was in New York for Fashion Week and had some of my classmates out for a field trip there. They're still talking about it."

She nods and ignores his blush as he talks about Jenny in her dress. "Yeah, I get it. There's just something about a dance — or any sort of fancy occasion, really — that just makes things seem more... I don't know... magical, maybe? Girls are prettier than they've ever been... boys are more handsome than you'd ever noticed before..." She seems to be lost in her thoughts for a moment, then chuckles. "Well, more handsome than I'd ever noticed, I should say. Yep, senior prom was an eye-opening experience. Some of those football players cleaned up real nice, and looked pretty good in a tux." She shrugs. "Not that they noticed me... but I noticed them."

"Mom had me escort her to one of the events, the last one of the week. She sure did look pretty too," he says with a smile. "I can't remember ever seeing her all dressed up all fancy before."

"Some people are interested in fashion, some aren't. Me, it's fun to look at the newest fashions, but I don't get totally obsessed about it. Your classmates are probably the same way. I mean, Fashion Week is like the Super Bowl and the World Series and the Stanley Cup playoffs all rolled into one for people who have any interest in fashion.

"Huh," she says as she tilts her head. "Now there's a clever analogy. And putting it all together like that makes me understand why Andi's coworker — I think it's Anna — believes Andi's a lesbian. Andi would wear jeans and a polo shirt every day, if she could get away with it. Well, or her riding leathers. But dis her Rockies?" Talia rolls her eyes. "Hoo boy, you'll be in for a lecture on every player's stats for this season and last."

She chuckles again.

"That gal is an enigma, that's for sure."

But the comment about his mom makes her smile. "Then I'm definitely going to insist that Andi invites you all to her wedding. We'll all dress up — well, Andi will wear a traditional wedding dress — but she said Pablo would look better in a tux than in one of the traditional men's wedding shirts, and Pablo's sisters and his mom are planning to dress up." She sighs again, this time happily. "I don't think I've looked forward to Christmastime this much since I was like eight!"

Then she shrugs. "I suppose from the business end of things, you just have to have a talent for running a business. Or maybe knowing how to find the right people to do it for you. Oh, and maybe someone to go yell at the designers.

"What? Are you a crazy man?" she says dramatically in a faux French accent. "Are you making clothes for humans or aliens? Tiny little bread sticks, maybe? You are fired!"

Talia grins and nods. "I could get into a job like that. Well, not really, because I help a lot more people here being a nurse... but it's kind of fun imagining it, though."

"I suppose. I know Mom still has business interests in Suriname too. I hear her talking to Hank about it. Hank's the... well, I guess he's kind of like Alfred on Batman, sort of. And Mom only did it for Grandmere... and to be closer to her. Her health hasn't been good for a while now. Mom said even Abuelito has been there a lot, so he's worried too."

"I don't think I'd really care that much for being an important person, running a company and all," Talia says, scooting back a few inches so she can lean against the other chair. And I'm sorry to hear your grandmother's not doing well."

She rests her forearms on her knees and links her fingers together.

"Tita really scared us this year, and I think we're all just a little more aware of how little time we have left to spend with them." She turns to look toward the kitchen, making sure the elders are still engrossed in their conversation, before looking back at Leon. "That's one of the things I don't ever tell people when I See it... when they're going to die."

She stares at her fingers for a moment before speaking again. "At the end of April, Papa and Tita will celebrate their seventieth wedding anniversary. Seventy years. And they've got more to go, too," she says as she looks back up at him, "but you didn't hear that from me. And we all know that we'll lose them both at the same time. They're so close, their hearts and souls so tightly bound together, that I don't think it would be possible for one to live without the other. The scary thing? Or reassuring, maybe, depending on your point of view.... everyone in this family seems to form that kind of lifetime connection with their spouse. My folks, Andi's folks, Tommy's folks... Sam and Cindy, Yani and Daniel, even Andi and Pablo are already that connected. Your mom and father have that connection, too. It surprises me that she just got broken when he died, you know? And she's got that same kind of connection with your dad, too.

"Ow, and that whole metaphysical equation just hurts my brain. Give me bones to set and gashes to stitch up, and leave that mystical mumbo jumbo to Andi and Tommy."

She sighs. "It sounds like your Mom is really close to your Grandmere — did I pronounce that right? — and seeing her failing has got to be hard on her. Do you have any other family? Abuelito I know is grandfather. Having family around..." She shrugs. "Well, I see a lot of really sick and dying people. It always seems to help everyone when they've got a bunch of other people they can lean on."

"She is. I never knew her parents. They died when she was... in her early twenties I think she said. Anyways, it was pretty long ago, I guess. Yeah, you said it right. But Mom and her got real close over the years, more so since we moved to Paris. I know they talk about my father a lot when they're together and look at old pictures."

"Sometimes they would call me in just to compare me to one of his old photos then talk about me as if I wasn't even standing there. But that was way better than the tears.

"I think, maybe, it was just broken cause, you know, she had me, although it could have been because she was pregnant with the twins already and couldn't die..."

"Other family? No. It just the five of us besides Grandmere and Abuelito. No aunts or uncles or cousins or anything on either side. Oncle Frank isn't really my uncle, just, he's known Mom for a long a time and was my father's best friend. Mom said the rest of the families were lost during World War Two."

He smiles a little. "Mom's going to have a hard time getting Dad into fancy clothes. He's even less thrilled about them than she is..."

His voice drops to a whisper again. "Though I think she secretly likes to dress up."

"Well, there's fancy... and then there's fancy," Talia says, grinning. "It depends on which fancy you're talking about. I'll bet my dad and uncles could find a properly fancy shirt that your dad wouldn't think is all that bad."

"Talia Yazzie, I can't believe you're boring that poor young man with talk about clothing!" Junior says as he walks into the room.

"His mom runs a big fashion house in Paris, Dad," she says, looking up at him. "He's probably used to it. Besides, we were talking about Andi's wedding, and how his dad doesn't like dressing up."

"Ahh... well, in that case, you certainly couldn't bore him, since we make the most comfortable fancy clothes anyone will ever wear." He chuckles. "And by 'we' I, of course, mean your grandmother, mother, and aunts. I'm more of a patcher and mender, myself."

Talia chuckles. "Your reputation would be ruined if the kids at school caught wind of a rumor that you beaded wedding dresses, anyway."

"Oh, such wisdom from one so young," her father teases.

"Hey, do you think Uncle Leon would mind if I showed Leon..." She stops mid-sentence, blinks, then chuckles. "Wise but slow, since it took putting both their names in the same sentence to realize we have two Leons in the family now."

Junior chuckles as well. "Not your best day, is it, dear? Don't worry, we'll figure out how to change your uncle's name so people won't get them confused. I suggested 'Dancing Doctor' but your uncle threw a pot at me."

The Leon in question comes out of the kitchen drying his hands. "It was a measuring cup, Junior, and I didn't even hit you," he says, grinning.

"Well, that's his story," Junior says, "I'm sticking with mine."

Talia looks at her new cousin and rolls her eyes before turning back to her uncle. "Uncle Leon, would it be okay if I showed Cousin Leon your pow wow regalia?"

Her uncle smiles and waves toward the stairs. "Sure, go ahead. Just be careful with the headdress I wore last week. I haven't had a chance to do repairs on it yet."

"Cool!" She jumps up and motions Leon to follow her. "This is some awesome clothing. Some of it is five or six generations old!"

Her uncle chuckles as he turns back to the kitchen. "Come on, Junior, I have a feeling you're going to need to defend yourself in here. Your wife is volunteering you to help sew beads on Andi's wedding dress."

"Oh, no, I am not!" Junior responds with a laugh in his voice as he follows his brother-in-law into the kitchen.

Leon looks from one to the other as they laugh and joke, a smile curving his lips. It's a little overwhelming, but he likes it.

"Is your family always like this?"

Talia chuckles. "No, not always. Sometimes they're even worse. But I guess it just depends on who's around. Tommy's mostly serious, but I think that's because he's a medicine man. Their rules probably say they have to at least try to be dignified, even around family."

He shakes his head in wonderment as he follows Talia. "It's so different. Mom and Dad are just... not like that."

She leads him up the stairs into one of the guest bedrooms and opens the door to the walk-in closet.

"When Billy's around, there's usually no hope of escaping some sort of hilarity. My Dad and his brother are even worse than Dad and Uncle Leon! But Aunt Sandy and Tita try to herd the cats."

"Then Billy should get along great with Vin and Em.

"This is pretty neat," he says as he looks at the clothing. "It's hard to imagine it being so old. Grandmere has some dishes or something that's really old but nothing like clothing."

She nods again and smiles. "Yeah, Cindy was pretty overwhelmed by all of us when Sam first brought her around. She's the youngest and a lot younger than her sister, I guess. She says her folks are a bit on the conservative side... or as Cindy likes to say, ''Decorum, decorum, decorum'. But she figured meeting Aunt Sonia and Uncle Leon, and Yani and Tommy, would be fine." Talia snickers. "Sam forgot to mention that 'meeting the family' means meeting the whole family. So... yeah. By tomorrow evening, the only ones who won't be here will be Sam and Cindy, and Justin. And the first thing Tita will do is hug everyone.

"Andi's hoping between my little brother and your two siblings, Pablo will come to his senses about wanting a huge family." She rolls her eyes. "He's really great... but definitely a little crazy, too."

The closet contains Leon's and Sonia regalia for pow wows and ceremonies; it also appears to serve as storage space for some of the family's photo albums and extra linens.

"This is all the really special stuff. Most of us have just one set of regalia for the pow wows; it's no big deal for us to wear the same fancy clothes every year. I have mine stored at my parents' house, but this is Aunt Sonia's.

"It belonged to her great-aunt Maria, but originally belonged to Maria's grandmother." Talia looks at the trimming and shakes her head. "It amazes me that this dress is close to a hundred and fifty years old. Try to find clothing these days that will last a decade — even if it's only worn at most half a dozen times a year. Forget four or five or six generations." She smooths the fabric out and makes sure the dress is hanging properly again. Then she chuckles. "Of course, the fact that it's hand made from cloth woven by Navajos has a lot to do with it, too. We are, and have always been, some of the best weavers in the world. And when you make clothing by hand — even if you use a sewing machine — there's just more attention to detail, and you'll have a much finer and durable piece of clothing... in my, obviously, not so humble opinion."

She grins and moves over to one of the two items on partial mannequins. Bright feathers and intricate beadwork cover the majority of the underlying tunic; the headdress is tied carefully to the mannequin's head.

"This is Uncle Leon's pow wow regalia. It belonged to his great-grandfather, Edward." She brushes her fingers across the beads on the breastplate. "His great-grandmother, Rosa, made it for him as a wedding gift. Uncle Leon's aunt said it took her grandmother close to a year to make it. Pretty neat, huh? Oh..." She points to a spot on the headdress where two feathers are slightly misaligned. "This is the part that needs to be fixed. You can't go molting while you're dancing!"

"So they're going to wear this at the wedding? All I have is a tux mom had made for me for the thing a couple of weeks ago. Vin's got my old one. I wonder if my father will wear his uniform..."

Talia turns and pats the other mannequin. "Aunt Sonia probably will, and if Uncle Leon wears regalia, it will be this one. Well, it matches Aunt Sonia dress, plus it's not nearly as old. It's what he wears when he's leading his students in the Dances at the pow wows. But..." She looks at the shelves of photo albums. "I swear, they come in here and rearrange them every week," she mutters. Finally, she says, "Ah ha!" as she pulls an album off one of the higher shelves.

"Tuxes will be fine if you want to wear one," she says, going back out into the bedroom. "I think most of Andi's and Pablo's friends will probably wear them. The guys, I mean." She sits on the floor leaning against the bed and pats the floor beside her. "I know her boss asked if it would be okay if she and her husband wore their fancy kimonos. And Pablo's sisters are getting all dressed up." She chuckles. "He said he thinks they make up reasons to put on fancy dresses and have a party."

Talia waits with the photo album in her lap until Leon is sitting down, too. "What kind of uniform does your father have? Pablo has his dress uniform from the police department, but Andi said a tux or our traditional clothing..." She pats the book in her lap. "...would look better. And unless something pretty drastic happens between now and then, Pablo will be wearing a tux. I Saw it even before they announced the wedding."

"He was a Legionnaire," he says then pauses, looking at her as he sits beside her.

"I can show you if you want," he offers tentatively.

"A Legionnaire? Wow," Talia says, definitely impressed. "I know it's probably not as cool and romantic as movies make it out to be, but it's still impressive."

She smiles, fashion and history junkie that she is, and asks, "You have pictures of him in his uniform? Those would be neat!"

"Well, Mom said he was a romantic, so maybe, but, um, not pictures like in the album there," he says, unsure of how to explain it and a bit nervous about it too.

He's never really talked about his oldest Gift with anyone other than his Mom and the Professor and a little bit with Jenny.

"The pictures are in my head, but I can share them with you if you're okay with that. The Professor said it's related to telepathy. And, um..."

He looks down and flushes a little.

"I'd need to hold your hand."

She pauses a moment... questions about how he got pictures of his father in his head, how his gift worked. Connecting it to telepathy makes her response obvious.

Talia holds her hand out to him. "Sure. I'd love to see the pictures you have."

She'd helped Tommy practice his telepathy all those years ago; it seemed like she was the only one who didn't mind all the brain tickling that went on before he got good at it. Or maybe the tickling wasn't as bad inside her brain. And holding hands had always made it easier for Tommy to focus, too. If Tommy focused really hard, he could share images, as well. Even though it's easier for him now to share images, he still likes words better.

"I've never really seen him in it myself," he explains as he reaches out to take her hand.

Their location changes from the room in their Aunt and Uncle's house to the living room of the cabin above Denver. He brings her to the mantle over the fireplace and points out one of the photographs. The framed photo in question is an eight by ten glossy of Rene in his Legion finest and Madeline in a long shimmering gown. They are descending a wide curved staircase and it appears to be some sort of formal event.

"This is my best memory of it. This picture here. I have some images from Mom's memory, but they aren't very strong..."

It only takes a blink of her eyes for Talia to adjust to the change in apparent location. She rests her hand on the mantle — surprisingly solid and real — beside the framed photo.

"They're stunning, Leon," she says. "Your mom is so beautiful... and you father might just outshine the bride if he wears his uniform." She chuckles. "Not that Andi would notice or care; she has her Pablo."

She looks around the room, taking in the details that formed Leon's memory. "This is amazing. You can make scenes like this of everything you remember? And..." She tilts her head, recalling what he said about his mother's memories. "...other people's memories, too?"

"Yeah," he says with a nod. "Been able to since I was little. And sometimes with other people's memories. Most people don't have very clear memories, though. I suppose if someone had, like, a photographic memory or something...

"My mom has real clear memories of when this picture was taken..."

His voice trails off as he looks a little more closely at the photo.

"That's the ring she wore at the closing dinner," he says with a touch of surprise. "I didn't realize I'd seen it before."

"Hmmm. You might want to remember to keep this under control when you're around Andi, then. She collects memories." Talia's brows furrow. "Well, that's how she explained it, anyway. She said that when she reads someone's aura — it's just a person's energy signature, not a New Agey thing — she not only gets a sense of how they're feeling in the moment, but some of their past memories... or maybe just strong emotions, I don't know... also get transferred. Even stuff they don't remember that they remember. The longer she knows a person, the more memories get downloaded she says." Tali shakes her head. "She said she'll sometimes only realize she knows a bunch of stuff about a person after they start talking about something that triggers one of those memories, and it's like she was there with them. Even when she wasn't."

"Mom said something like that too when I accidentally tapped into one of her memories and took us there. She was telling me about when he proposed, what led up to it. It was like I was riding in her skin, feeling what she felt. It was... odd."

She pauses, a look of... revelation, perhaps... on her face.

"You know, I never thought about it like this before, but she sort of does what I do, only in the other direction." Talia shakes her head again. "I don't know which is worse, knowing someone's future or knowing their past. At least there's a chance for changing a future; all you can do with the past is change the way you think about it."

"Maybe knowing, she can help people deal with their past," he suggests.

"Well, I know Andi helped Pablo," she says quietly. "About a month before Andi moved to Denver to start school there, Pablo's wife and son were murdered by some gang members." Talia is quiet for a few minutes, then finally shakes her head. "Juan was just a baby. Rosalia was taking him to the pediatrician, I guess for one of those well-baby checkups. She'd borrowed Pablo's car because hers was acting up, or in the shop, or something. They were trying to kill Pablo and killed his family instead. They killed his partner, too. And then all that hurt and pain? He just kept it bottled up inside for thirteen years. I can't even imagine that.

"I asked Andi when she and Pablo were out here last time why she didn't know about Rosalia and Juan until Pablo told her." She sighs. "She said she never actually looked beyond Pablo's surface aura until the day he told her he loved her, only skimmed it. All she had to do was look at him, at his aura I guess, and she could tell how he was feeling about her. My cousin is a ninny sometimes, but she had this weird idea that it was more important to keep Pablo at arms' length and be his friend than admit she had feelings for him too." She rolls her eyes. "They'd gotten to be best friends... how could you mess that up by dating and... and well, whatever else?" she says, aware that at Leon's age, some topics are still embarrassing. "Sheesh. Best friends work things out. Although her other best friend, Bobby, kept pushing her at Pablo, so that might have something to do with it, too. She's damn stubborn sometimes," she says with a laugh.

"That's horrible. Mom hurt like that too, but I think it was the way my father died that hurt her worse." He sighs, remembering that conversation they had had just a few weeks ago.

He reaches for that spark of happiness in Talia's next words, not wanting to bring those memories fully here.

"Maybe that's why she and Mom get along so well. Both dad and my father say Mom's stubborn too."

"I think..." Talia pauses with pursed lips. "I think the more senseless someone's death — you know, the harder it is for people to wrap their minds around the whole circumstances of the death — the harder it is for those closest to them to cope. Their pain gets magnified to such an extent that... well, yeah, sometimes they go a little crazy. Or a lot. Pablo probably had a bunch of crazy that either he never showed Andi, or she never mentioned."

She smiles, though, at the thought that someone else's stubbornness could be in sync with her cousin's stubbornness. And then she looks at the ring in the photo, too. "That's an impressive ring. The way they're dressed, it sure seems like a formal event. But they look... well, I'm not sure madly in love quite covers it, except they're trying to be cool about it in public, you know?

"What's the occasion?" she asks, referring to the picture.

"It's been in my father's family for generations."

He gives her a small grin. "Mom was nervous there. Not much makes her nervous, but this was her first trip to France with my father, the first time she met Grandmere and their first public appearance together. It was a big fundraiser for something. Started off as a masquerade ball. Mom said Grandmere got him to attend these charity events every time he was in town. He'd go but usually with a different girl on his arm each time, sometimes more than one. He grew up with it and was used to the attention and the cameras and everything. She wasn't.

"I can't imagine Mom nervous about anything, not like that."

Looking at the picture again, she smiles. "All those firsts... it's no wonder she was nervous. And probably thinking that everyone else is thinking she's just another one of your father's... hmmm... disposable girlfriends? That had to be a little embarrassing, too, I suppose. But she looks just as comfortable as your father. Maybe even a little... I don't know... regal? Just above all that pettiness."

Talia looks at Leon and nods, then sighs. "Yeah, I see your Mom as one of those kick ass and take names kind of people who's absolutely and totally self-assured. Of course, I see Andi that way, too, even though I know there are times she's freaked right out by things. Some people are good at not seeming nervous.

"And some of us," she says with a shrug, "aren't very good at faking anything. Although Charlie says the more you do things that make you nervous, the easier it is to deal with new things that make you nervous. Oh, that's my brother between me and Billy. He has a Country Western band and travels all over playing in different places."

"I don't think she was worried about being the girl of the day, not with her wedding ring on. It's not like you can miss that thing when you see it in person. If it were me, I'd be nervous walking around carrying a small fortune..."

He grins suddenly.

"But then again, Mom could kick the ass of anyone who tried to take it too."

She laughs at his last comment.

"See, now that's why we let your mom and Andi carry around the fortunes. Then those of us who can't fight our way out of a cardboard box will be safe." She giggles. "Want to see the pictures of my cousin Sara's wedding? She's Mom's niece, so that whole side of the family won't be descending on us this weekend."

"Yeah, sure," he says.

And just like that, they're back in the house in New Mexico. He lets go of her hand and awkwardly puts his own in his lap.

"I'm glad that didn't freak you out."

"Pffft! I have a little brother who turns into cartoon characters," she says as she opens the photo album. "Taking a very realistic journey to a nice place like that certainly isn't going to freak me out. Someplace creepy?" She nods enthusiastically. "Oh, yeah... that might freak me out. Well, now that I know it's a memory projecting thing, not as much. Probably. Maybe." She grins at him.

"Creepy? Like a haunted house creepy? Paris has catacombs, and those can be kind of creepy. We did the whole tourist thing when we first moved there."

"No, I mean like really scary creepy. Haunted houses... they're kind of creepy, but only scary because you're surprised by stuff." She shakes her head. "I mean the really scary stuff that Andi and your mom see. Like what you remember from your school when you were little."

He shakes his head vehemently. "I wouldn't ever want to take anyone to a place like that!"

Just the thought of it makes him shiver. Bad enough that he had lived through, but to force that on another? No, it just is not right.

Talia hears something in the tone of his voice that makes her turn her head just as he shivers.

"Of course you wouldn't. You're a good person, Leon Jacobs," she says quietly.

"Nah. I'm just me."

"Yep. That's my point." And then she drops the subject. It's not a Seeing... it's...

It's enough of sadness for anyone right now, that's what it is.

She flips through a few pages of the album, smiling. Pointing to one of the photos, she says, "This is Uncle Dan, Mom's oldest brother. I guess you'd call him the officiant for the ceremony. Totally casual! And you can't really see, but Keenan is wearing a nice suit jacket and a dress shirt. But jeans! And a string tie." Talia chuckles and looks up to stare into the distance at those memories. "Man, when Sara saw Keenan's best pals show up in their matching suits — like the groomsmen would wear at a regular wedding, right? — she nearly busted her gut laughing. Not in a mean way, but none of her friends had gotten married yet, so she didn't know that was the non-Navajo tradition." She shakes her head and chuckles. "At least Keenan got them to take off the bow ties and put on string ties."

She flips to the next page. "Oh, this is Keenan's dad. You can probably tell beads are the thing that make the outfit! Turquoise is always a good choice."

She points to another picture on the page. "This is Keenan's grandfather." She sighs sadly. "He died last year. He might not look that old in the picture, but he was older than Papa Bill, who's going to be eighty eight on Christmas day. Of course, the wedding was about eight years ago. Still, Mr. Tsosie sure doesn't look eighty five in this picture.

"Hmmm. I think Danny's wedding pictures are in here, too," she says, paging toward the back. "That's Sara's little brother. He got married earlier this year. Yep," she says, reaching one of the last half dozen pages. "This is what Danny wore. If Pablo were going to wear Navajo clothes, his shirt would probably look something like this, maybe a little darker, because it would match Andi's dress really well."

"That's neat looking stuff. And Dad would certainly be happy with the jeans," he says. "Heck, I would be too."

Talia is quiet for a moment, as her fingers trace around the pictures of her cousin's wedding. But then she smiles; her nature and profession don't allow her to dwell long on tragedy. "From the little I've been able to figure out about guys, I have a feeling Andi's gay friends would be the only guys excited about dressing up," she says with a laugh.

"Well, I guess dressing up's not so bad. Jenny really seemed to like it when I did for the dance."

After a brief pause, she smiles and says, "I'm going to tell you a secret.

"I'm not all that fond of dressing up myself. Every once in a while, it's fun... I might like to look at all the fancy clothes and imagine wearing them, but to actually do it all the time? Nope."

His head tilts in curiosity as she mentions a secret then laughs about her dressing up theory.

She taps her chin thoughtfully. "I have a theory... well, no. I guess it's just a hypothesis, because I haven't done any sort of studies to verify it. But I think that when folks like us, who aren't all that keen on dressing up, actually do get dressed up, it's even more special. For us, and for whoever we happen to be with when we get dressed up. In your case, it would be Jenny. In my case..."

She sighs dramatically and lets her head fall back on the mattress as her arms drop limply to her sides.

"'s just my parents. I'm going to die an old maid," she says. She doesn't even bother to fake a cry of despair; she just says, "Wah."

Then Leon rolls his eyes. "You have a long way to go before you reach old. And I wouldn't mention being old to my Mom. She might Gibbs smack you."

She laughs. "Yeah, and I'll bet that she'd actually be able to catch me when I run off... unlike my Dad, who tries to smack me when I do my old maid routine." She grins broadly. "But teasing my Dad is fun, and I think he secretly enjoys it. I do the same thing to Uncle Nelson. He doesn't try to smack me, he just pretends that he's even older than he is. He likes to say, 'Junior, you didn't raise your daughter to have any respect whatsoever for her elders.' Makes me giggle every time."

Talia sits upright again and closes the photo album, setting it aside before crossing her legs to sit tailor fashion.

"I don't do the old maid thing around my Mom, though. The first time I did, she got really upset... you know, all scared," she says. "So I told her that I was just kidding, because I've seen that I won't die an old maid." She looks at him and shakes her head. "You know, seeing my own future is way harder than seeing other people's." She sighs. "I don't know who I'm going to marry, or when and where I'll meet him, I just know I'll be married by the time I'm thirty five and will have three kids. And I have no idea if they'll be boys or girls or triplets or whatever. Oh, and that whoever this guy is, he and I will be shuffling off this mortal coil at about the same time. And I have the sense — but not the certainty — that we'll be old people. The sort that actually are old, and not just cruisin' for a bruisin' from their elders." She chuckles.

"Anyway, whenever I did the old maid thing around my Mom after that, she'd throw whatever was handy at me. When she threw the plastic cup at me — full of water, I might add — and then chortled with glee as I stood in the yard completely drenched, I wised up and realized annoying Mom was a bad idea."

"Oh, you wouldn't get a step away, or worse, she'd have the twins tackle you. Em's almost as fast as Dad now. And annoying Moms? No, never a good idea.

"And I hope for your sake it isn't triplets. Mom was huge with the twins. Sure I was little then, but I swear she had to walk tilted backward."

"Sometimes I'm slow. But I've always been the good one, so I didn't have any reference points on just how far you can go with Mom.

"Oh yeah... learned my lesson, and took notes for when I get to be the Mom," she says. "Whoa, how fast do your Dad and sister run? Andi's pretty fast. Well, fast enough to be spooky. Do you think we should get them to race to see who's fastest?" She grins. "That could be fun!

"And I'm totally okay with one baby at a time. One of my friends and his wife have six year old twins who are about to head to first grade." She smiles and shakes her head. "He said he didn't think he or Liz slept at all for the first six months. Obviously, they had to have slept, but I can imagine it would have felt like they didn't sleep. There was always one of them who needed to be fed or burped or changed or rocked; they both swear that there was always a girl awake." She chuckles. "In his sleep-deprived state, Terry said he made up the story that as one of them started getting sleepy, she'd wake up her sister. I don't think that's likely... but these days, I don't think I'd rule anything out."

"Very. The only way Mom can beat them is if she's driving. Not the Humvees, but back home she has a sports car."

He chuckles. "It was pretty crazy when they were born, but Mom had a lot of help too. Dr. Green stayed for a while and a couple of the Indo women Hank knew came to the house, one to help be a wet nurse."

"Hmmm... I'm not sure Andi could outrun a sports car. Maybe not even a regular car. So your Dad and sister would win that one."

She rolls her eyes. "Anyway, I probably should have just consulted with my lunatic brother Henry, but he'd already moved to Phoenix and it seemed like he was spending more time in the air than on the ground.

"He should have left Mom instructions," she mutters.

"In the air? Is he a pilot?"

She nods at his question. "Yep. Henry flies for Southwest. He's another one who isn't supposed to be here this weekend. However..." She takes a deep breath, holds it, and does lip trills as she lets the breath out. "...with Henry, trust nothing, believe nothing. Unless you've gotten verification from three trustworthy sources."

"That's pretty cool. Mom's friend Mitch is a pilot too, but she mostly flies choppers. She flew us to Marseilles to see Grandmere when we went to visit Mom a couple months ago."

She rolls her eyes again. "Henry will tell you he flies helicopters, too. Not only fly them, but fly them upside down." She shudders. "Is that even possible? But don't believe him. He is SO not qualified to fly anything except airplanes. And I'm pretty sure he hasn't flown anything but a 737 more than a half dozen times in the past five years, since Southwest's entire fleet is 737s.

"I've never met Mitch, but I'd trust her at the controls of a helicopter over my own brother any day!" she says with a wry grin.

"No, it isn't possible. Not in real life anyway, though some of those special ones can come pretty close.

"Mitch is nice. She was out at the cabin too, moving stuff for Mom.

"Have you ever been in a helicopter? They're really cool."

"I only got to ride in one once," she replies. "It was a Flight For Life helicopter, so I was paying too much attention to the patient to enjoy the ride. But I'd love the chance to ride in one just for the heck of it." Talia chuckles. "I'll add that to my list of stuff I ought to do before it doesn't seem like fun anymore.

"Oooh, have you ever been to the Grand Canyon? You can ride a mule from the South Rim down to the bottom of the canyon. That's definitely something you should do while you're out this way!"

"Mules? Is it anything like riding a horse? I'd ride at school and at Grandmere's. We don't have room for horses at the Paris house.

"I've never been there. I could ask Mom. I don't know what her plans are. I didn't even know we were coming here until we got back to Denver yesterday."

# # #

Dreaming... I must be dreaming, or am I really lying here with you? Baby, you take me in your arms and though I'm wide awake, I know my dream is coming true.

Lying under the night sky without even the dim lights of Denver to offset the starkness between sky and star, it's hard for Andrea to tell who she is and exactly where she is. She knows that she rests her head on Pablo's shoulder. The scent of him makes her heart race. But two hands are clasped together and two heads rest on Pablo's shoulders while two strong arms rest along the tops of smaller ones and she's surrounded and surrounding and the smells are intoxicating.

She blinks and comes back into her own skin... mostly. Her hearing or Logan's hearing or maybe their amplified hearing catches the sound of far off giggles and Billy's voice, faint and drifting in other directions as the breeze catches it.

"You guys... kay, I'll... bob square... have to prom... never... ell Andi."

Andi giggles, too.

And that seems to bring her fully back to herself. She knows that it's Maddie's hand she's holding across Pablo's chest, that both Logan and Rene have their arms resting over the women's arms, that Rene warms her back as Logan warms Maddie's back, and likely just as ardently.

She opens her eyes and finds herself looking into Maddie's eyes. The light, easy smile she has begins to grow; her eyes shift to Logan, she tilts her head to kiss Pablo's neck, then turn her head to look at Rene.

Your magic is... powerful.

"If this is what heaven is going to be like," Pablo says softly, "sign me up, and I'll start going to Mass every Sunday."

Andrea looks back at him and snickers. "Okay. Bobby and David and I will talk about you behind your back while you're gone. And eat all the cinnamon rolls, too."

He smiles his mischievous smile without opening his eyes. "No, you'll have to go with me to get your ticket into heaven."

She pauses, refrains from laughing with some difficulty, then looks over at Maddie. "He's so adorable when he's delusional."

Madeline smiles, slow and languid.

"He just doesn't understand yet," she drawls.

She shifts across Pablo's chest to come close to Andi's face.

"Heaven doesn't want us, and hell's afraid we'll take over..."

Logan kisses the small of her back.

"You would," he says, his breath warming her skin.

A soft groan escapes her, and she leans in to share a kiss with Andi.

"Heaven, hell... neither has enough diversity," she says with a wicked grin.

As her lips meet her Sister's, Andi moves her hand slowly up Maddie's arm; as the kiss intensifies, tongues dancing together, a hand slides across a shoulder, fingers playfully combing through Maddie's hair before gently cradling the back of her head.

And then she shares every nuanced feeling with Pablo through their Bond — sight, sound, touch, taste, smell — which causes it all to reverberate around the circle.

Pablo gasps and tightens his arms around their backs.

She moans, and make an effort to keep her powers from calling Mother Earth again... at least as much of an effort as is possible when she is beginning to lose her sense of self again.

A low growl comes from Logan and it is echoed by Rene, intensifying the feeling swirling around them. Madeline grins briefly, then continues the kiss, exploring the sweet soft mouth of her clan Sister before nibbling along her jaw to suckle at her earlobe.

She glances up briefly, meeting her Husband's eyes. Yes, his magic is very powerful. Between that and the stamina of her Mate...

A sound escapes her lips — more a vocalized sigh that could well turn into a scream, later — as Maddie's lips and teeth work their way to Andi's earlobe. Pablo responds with a growl of his own and his eyes flare green when they open.

Rene runs his hands over Andi's curves, soft and teasing, as he takes some of his warmth away yet inviting her to lay back on him. Madeline pulls herself further across Pablo to reach more of her, fingers tracing circles across dusky hued skin.

Rene's hands leave a trail of star-dusted qi as they travel over her body, the pleasure intensified by his magic almost to the point of pain. As she leans back when he moves away, Maddie moves closer and adds her hands to the sensations that beckon her toward release.

This leaves Pablo the opportunity to move down to Madeline's breast, barely teasing the nipple with his tongue at first, then alternately suckling and nipping her breast, pulling at her nipple with his teeth.

Andi's eyes begin to glow golden as Pablo's attention to her Sister's breast is a mirror on her own. She moans, back starting to arch, reaching out her hands, searching for flesh to caress.

The growling comes from Madeline this time, her own primal beast awakening. Still, her touch is gentle and exploring, caressing forth more desire and pleasure as she slides closer to Andi. There is a swift intake of breath with the touch of a warm mouth on breast followed by the touch of a soft, tickling beard and wet mouth on the back of her thigh.

She pauses only momentarily, enchanted and entranced by the beautiful arching before her. She is drawn to kiss and nibble along the closest hip bone, one hand sliding up a silky thigh to rest lightly on the pelvic joint. Her fingers tap and tease little circles, coming close but never truly touching.

Rene's lips are on Andi's neck, his scruff cottony soft and his breath exuding more magic to dance down across her skin and flow over his Wife below. His ardor grows and stiffens beneath her, pressing snugly against her rounded cheek. He catches her hands, entwines his fingers with hers and sends more of his gift to her.

Andrea has the briefest thought...

... dangerous ...

...before sinking under the waves of ecstasy caused by Maddie's mouth and hand — soft, teasing, maddening — and Rene's magic. Andi's growing need to be taken fuels Pablo's instincts. A soft breeze flutters over them, followed by a gust of wind as Rene's lips find her neck, pouring more fuel on the fire.

... dangerous ...

Stop the wind.

Pablo growls a refusal as his hands, lips and teeth explore Maddie's body, seeking out the most sensitive places, intent on slaking his Wife's thirst, her desire as it swirls around the circle.

"Pablo..." It is not even a whisper, hardly more than a thought exhaled.

She sees the energy patterns of the wind and cries out softly as Maddie's teasing becomes nearly a torment. A word, just a simple word... k'é... as the wind settles. And yet, the sound of rustling leaves continues... Mother's joyous laughter.

She feels Rene growing, hardening; she is aware only of need... desperate, aching need. He captures her hands, flooding her body, her meridians with his magic, his energy.

... dangerous ...

Her back arches and she bites her lip to keep from crying out.

... dangerous ...

She tastes her own blood. She smells it in the air. Rene's gift fills her and she reaches out to touch him with her own.

... dangerous ...

Spirit... pure energy...

... dangerous ...

Small puffs of wind dart about, moving faster, growing larger, increasing in number. It is not just her eyes, not just Pablo's eyes that glow now. Their bodies are becoming luminescent.

... dangerous ...




She doesn't know...

...if she can keep from...


"Hózhóogo naanéidaał doo..."


The tinkling of tiny bells is her answer.

... dangerous ...

With Rene's fingers laced with hers, Andi closes her hands into fists and crosses her arms, his arms over her breasts.

Don't let me scream.

Her own body hums and aches for fulfillment. Another does the same, as does each around the circle.

Overwhelming desire. A need to satiate and be satiated. The scent of woman's desire fills Madeline's nostrils, and she growls, rumbling... low... deep in her chest. Another growl answers, this one even deeper. The primal beasts awaken and sniff. The scent of woman entwines with the scent of man, musky and heady.

The bodies beneath her shift, bring the source of both scents closer. Needing to taste as well as smell, she follows the scents to their sources with her tongue, tasting the soft flesh of woman and then man. The man groans and shifts again, his stiffened ardor coming up between the woman's legs.

She smiles and tastes both, one then the other, starting with him, working her way up from the base and licking off the bead of moisture from the tip. Then she descends on the woman, easily finding the swollen center and sucking it into her mouth. The taste is sweet and warm; she purrs.

Even so, her arms and hands splay to the side as another plays an intricate tune upon her body. She moans and growls into the silken flesh beneath her. Another touch sweeps over her back, the touch instantly familiar and more primal than herself.

Mate, she thinks briefly before need and desire subsume her once more.

Yes, her Mate is moving. His animal intensity is shared by all now as he too seeks to take and offer release. But he has lived with the animal for so long, he does not lose himself in it as his Mate does. He knows what waits for him, and with a grin, crawls across her back to taste her Sister's mouth, his hands slipping beneath his Brother's arms to knead at her soft breasts.

... dangerous ...

The wind picks up as he and she of the Two feels a warm mouth not their own tasting, taking, giving. They fly high... their minds, their souls, their lives weaving and darting through the exquisite pleasure-pain of desire, need, passion. Soon... oh, soon they will blaze like the sun in the rapture of release.

... dangerous ...

Elder Brother... so strong, so wise, so gentle, so much closer to Mother and Father... covers their mouth. They whisper their need in a voice that would wear their throat raw if they were allowed to scream. As our Brothers hold and caress us, our Sister pushes, chases, teases us to greater heights.

She — yes... she, herself, the singular, the One called Andrea — she reaches out with her Power to enfold her lovers; she embraces their beauty and ferocity, their love and their vengeance, their strength and weakness, all that they are, ever were, ever will be.

Elder Brother! I see you!

... dangerous ...

Strong arms, her arms... fingers entwined, but now only delicately, deliciously entwined with Spirit Brother's... wrap around Elder Brother, holding him close. Spirit Brother and Andrea hold him close, so close. She tastes the sweetness of life on his lips, feels the shape of loss in his soul... small compared to the fierce love. Mate. Yes, yes... follow that link to Sister!

And oh! The joy, the sorrow, the beauty, the horror... but now She Who is Andrea gives to Sister love, love... to thee, my Sister.

Each of them, all of them... She becomes one with them, flowing with Power and love. Together, they... all of them... will fly on the winds and brighten the night sky until it is day.

... dangerous ...

No, no... they mustn't. Fly on the wings of passion, yes... oh, yes! But calm the winds that gust across the desert valley.

T'aa shoodi, Pablito... hózhó.

Laughter, joy, need and the fulfillment of need... it is what they are now, it is who they are. They must fly, they must! They must show the world their power, and their love. They must! Balanced on that precipice between the pleasure-pain and the flare of pure bliss, hands and mouths caress and continue to tease the tender places, calling forth ever more desire that must be sated.

That part, the small part, of the One called Andrea looks up, looks around. So much joy, so much love! The Warrior is not opposed to these things; in fact, the Warrior relishes them, too. But the Warrior senses...

... dangerous ...

The Warrior whispers... beh-gha... kut k'é... a-zeh-ha-ge-yah!

She tastes Elder Brother's sweet mouth, she absorbs the magic of Spirit Brother, she enfolds Sister... She and They and the One follow the Warrior to another land, a land beyond. There is no sky, and yet the air is joy. There is no ground, and yet they writhe in bliss, cradled with love. All things intangible take form; peace flows between the riverbanks nearby, beauty is the breeze that caresses their skin.

... safety ...

Teetering, She of the One needs more... they want more... they want everything.

The feeling of being held back, of needing to hold back, suddenly changes. Peace, love and joy surround them then are swept aside by overwhelming desire no longer held in check. She feels the touch of his mind on hers, joining with hers instinctively, sharing feelings and emotion.

Rene... Maddie...

Their mouth is on their Sister, tasting her neck and feeling the thump of her heart where its lifeline flows close to the surface. Smelling the sweet sage of the desert in her hair, feeling its silky length across their face, arms and chest. The warmth of her backside as it presses against them.

Their mouth is on their Sister, tasting the soft flesh and salty moistness of her need. Her silky curls tickle their face, and they delve their questing tongue and mouth into her further, trapping their ardor between them and her.

They want her. They want to be in her, fulfilling her need that calls to them. They move together, their female guiding their male inside, slipping slowing in. Their male groans at the tightness. Their female returns to their prize, their Sister's swollen, throbbing clitoris and laps at it until their Sister has been taken to the very heights of pleasure and shudders around their male. Their primal male holds their Sister, and although there is no need, catches her scream of ecstasy with their mouth. It is his way.

Among them, there is still need unfulfilled... wanton desire aches in them...

She is... they are filled with the glory of Spirit Brother, but they feel the waves of pleasure as Spirit Brother and Sister work in concert to take them to the edge of life and hold them gently as they die the little deaths... the only deaths from which they have ever returned.

They cry out, although only Pablo's voice is heard, a growl and a cry that celebrates the ecstasy and demands even more. The wind whips wildly around all of them while Andrea blazes with brilliance in the eye of the storm. Elder Brother stops their scream, but to kiss Elder Brother is joy as well.

They follow their Sister's scent, heady and intoxicating, tracing their tongue along Sister's side, hip, thigh, and across the back of Sister's thigh. Inhaling the aroma of Sister's desire, they are aroused even further. They must taste the ambrosia! They spread her thighs to expose the glistening flower, then slowly and reverently drink at the holy well.

They taste the sweetness of Sister and the rich earthiness of Elder Brother, tongues dancing together and exploring the valley and mound of Sister all at once. They do not want this banquet to end, and yet... and yet they feel a need so strong that their blood burns with it. It must be quenched.

They kneel between Sister's legs and slowly enter the valley of love and delight. They begin with a slow cadence, moving deeply and steadily. They arch their back, too — groaning as their lips and tongue lose their connection to Elder Brother's — as the desire floods through them. They slide a hand between Sister and the ground that is a bed of bliss, moving fingers past the pelvic bone to touch Sister's soft curls. They delight in the texture as their fingers move closer to the jewel nestled within.

Teasing, stroking, circling, they... Pablo... they... bring Sister closer to the moment of fulfillment. Pablo... oh, Pablo likes to build slowly toward the pinnacle.

They... Andrea... they gasp, their need as great as Sister's.

She looks into Elder Brother's eyes — and nearly becomes lost in all that he is. Lost...

"Take me," she whispers.

Their Wife and Mate rest her head on their Sister's hip as the tremor subsides. Their Husband also experiences release and slowly, tenderly withdraws. Their Mate also holds Sister, drinking in her sounds of ecstasy. They sigh in pleasure at her happiness, but their own need is unslaked.

But Brother does not let their need to unmet. Wife and Mate gasp at the feel of Brother's lips and tongue, opening and inviting. The sudden absence of one touch gives rise to a distressed whimper until it is replaced by another, sweeter touch. Slowly, she is built up until she is gasping with the need for release.

Their Sister's whisper coincides with Wife's plea, "Finish me."

Their Mate rises and lifts their Sister from their Husband's arms and into his own, joining with her as he does so. His limbs are powerful, keeping them both upright as he thrusts into her. Their Husband slides beneath Wife and Mate, sharing the pleasuring of her with their Brother. The blending of the minds of Husband and Wife and the primal souls of the Mates share all that they feel.

Wife and Mate cry out her release and collapse on Husband, tears of pure bliss trailing down her face to poll on Husband's chest. Mate endeavors to provide Sister with the same release.

At Sister's request, they growl with animalistic pleasure as they... Pablo... they and Spirit Brother strive to bring Sister to the summit, to stay with her until she cries out...

They growl with animalistic pleasure as Elder Brother takes them, hard and fast, and their joy sounds like the tinkling of little bells.


They wrap their legs around Elder Brother's hips, fingers clasped behind his neck. Oh, the excitement of knowing — finally! — that Elder Brother's strength exceeds that of the Warrior! With every thrust, the Warrior gasps... or snaps her teeth... Warrior's eyes never leave Elder Brother's.

So... much... pleasure...

They Who Are One reach that summit at the same moment. They stand and hold the pleasure, hold it and revel in it, drown in it until it nears the point of pain. And still they stand, and still they rejoice, until — as One — they step off the mountaintop and fly.

A whirlwind of beauty and joy surrounds them, their luminescence is nearly blinding.

They Are One... they are five... they are powerful.

Heads rest upon chests; bodies curl around others. Arms reach out to hold and are held. Soft caresses and kisses continue to be shared, showing affection and tenderness.

They Are One... they are all and everything.

Time does not pass, or perhaps time does pass. Time is nothing. There is only now and joy and love and beauty.

Soft footsteps approach and a figure mists into existence at our side, where Andrea and Logan can easily see. And yet, she — yes, perhaps she — seems to exist in all places at once.

"Oh, my dear children... you have brought so much beauty here today," she says, her voice sounding like all voices, or perhaps merely a woman of great kindness. "I have not had visitors since..." She looks at them, she looks at Logan. "Why since my people first met yours."

Andrea... the Warrior... Andrea blinks. "Great Spirit," she says with awe.

Pablo blinks. "Madre Maria..."

The Three Who Are One also raise their eyes and gaze curiously upon this visitor. They have seen many cultures and religions but have never claimed any as their own. Logan's head tilts up and he sniffs. She is familiar, but he cannot say why; there are too many years and things that have been lost to him. Rene knows without knowing how he knows that this is the First Spirit, and this knowledge he shares with Madeline, who shares it with Logan.

These three know she is special but do not have the words or the history to say why. They do know that if it had not been for her and the other Spirits, Madeline would still be broken; there would be no Mate. Around the Two Who Are One, they reach to touch each other and to offer their thanks as One.

She — yes, Andrea will say She, for Her whole being, the energy that vibrates the space containing Her shape, embodies the colors, sounds, textures, tastes, emotions, thoughts... everything of Life. She is the Creatrix, the One who gave birth to the world, who gave the world the Heroes and the Gods and the Beings who brought forth humans. She surrounds them, at least to Andrea's enhanced sight; She is a shimmering cloud of energy. She caresses and knows, with that simple touch, each of them and the whole of them. But then She coalesces into separate forms, or separates into multiple forms, all of whom sit in a circle around them, around the Five Who Are One... but no one separate form holds the same shape for very long.

She and They are young and old, men and women and children, and are of every Nation and Tribe and Clan of all the First Peoples, from every habitable place that has ever been on this earth.

"It is a wonder and a delight that you have come to visit. I had thought the people of the world had forgotten how to journey here." She and They smile with tenderness. "I know I have not been forgotten; there are still some who sing to me." One of Her forms closest to Logan reaches a hand out to touch his head lightly with jewel-like fingers.

"Oh, dear son! Who did... ah, I see." She and They nod. "That you each have found the others is something even I could not have arranged. Separate, each of you excels at what you do." Another hand reaches out to brush fingers across Rene's forehead. "Even you, diligent Guardian and most loyal of Friends.

"Together, you are a formidable force. I bless your endeavors, my dear children, but caution you to maintain balance."

Another hand brushes a few strands of hair off Andrea's cheek, and she is flooded with love, acceptance, peace. "As you learned from my Daughter in the East, the Compassionate One, balance is essential. In the darkest heart lies a seed for good; in the most devout and kindly, darkness is also seeded. Too much of either virtue or evil will harm the heart and soul of your world." She and They smile. "It pleased me long ago to say, 'Let it be that the people of this world have governance over their own lives.' It pleases me still, although some things the people of your world do with that freedom puzzles me."

Again a hand brushes across Logan's hair, a precious act so much like a mother's love. "Much you have forgotten, dear son, because of such things. Be at peace, for your Sister has the gift of memory. The memories you treasured most will be returned to you over time. The memories for which you have no need... they will be safe."

Andrea... a separate being from the One, now... tries to focus on the ever-changing form of the Great Spirit, but her eyes don't want to focus. She can see so much better with her eyes closed.


Her and Their light chuckle runs through the gamut of every possible sound of happiness.

"Always the one to learn more, always the one with one last question!" She and They say with smiles. "You would have enjoyed time among my Daughter's followers in the lands long ago called Greece by the people of your world.

"Of how you came to my world, that is simple my warrior child. You followed a path you have known throughout all your lives, dear one — as clan mother or weaver, as tribal chief or hunter. You only needed the gift your Sister gave you to take that step, aided by the strength of your Mate and Brothers.

"This gift was given to her alone of all people. Perhaps once or twice in all the history of your world has there been one with such a gift; there may never be another. Even I, the First and Eldest, cannot say what may be in a world that has been granted Free Will.

"And yet, with selfless love, she shared with you her gift. Now there are two, where once there was one.

"Such love is not plentiful enough in our world. Although it saddens me, it is a path the people of your world have chosen, and so I cannot find fault with their choices. Choice was my gift to them."

Andrea can see behind her eyelids a tendril of energy reach out and caress Maddie's cheek. It's a beautiful, tender gesture that can only be captured with the mind... no artist could replicate it.

"And you, my dear one, you have suffered much. It has made you strong, and a fearsome foe. From the seed of torment grows a strong and supple tree. There is a place in your heart where you believe that suffering, and retention of that suffering, is what allows you to do what a warrior must do. I say to you, daughter, this is not true. All warriors must do things that may be painful to consider, or called wrong or cruel or inhuman by the people of your world. These people are not warriors as you are, my children. I say to you, daughter, that the long ago suffering can be put aside and healed — I will personally take it from you if you would give it up — and your might as a warrior will not be diminished in any way."

Then She and They brushed a tendril of energy across Pablo's head, once again filling them with love, acceptance, and peace. "Dear one, both you and your mate suffered through the overzealous actions of my Nephew. Let your soul be at peace. You are loved by my Daughter who heals hearts and souls, minds and memories. My Nephew does what he believes to be the right thing, the best thing, but he does not understand the people of your world; he spends so much time away from them. Your dreams will no longer be haunted; what healing you have yet to do — such a fresh wound — will easily be accomplished in the arms of your family here."

Both Andrea and Pablo feel relief... he for the cessation of the nightmare, she for the cessation of the results of those nightmares. Waking up to the inadvertent breaking of bones is getting a little old.

"And to all my dear ones, know that you all follow a true path. Let not guilt be a part of your journey, for it impedes clarity. Your heart — each heart among you, and the One Heart that binds you — knows what is right and true." She and They smile again, and it is like a waterfall of joy flowing over them. "Of course, you will have sadness. But that is part of being human. That is part of the gift of Free Will."

But Andrea senses frustration from her Brother Logan, who is trying to remember — she thinks — what it is about Great Spirit that he should remember. She turns her head toward him and whispers, "K'é... hózhó, my Brother. The memory will come. Trust. It is not as hidden as you believe." She places a soft kiss on his lips before resting her head again on Rene's shoulder.

To Madeline, this being resembles a few women she knows only through photographs and small stories told to her by her parents many years ago. These women were her forebears — grandmothers and great grandmothers on both sides. The pictures had only gone a couple of generations back, but she knows their common story. They had each loved men from a faraway land and those men had loved each of them; the men had chosen to stay. It had not been unusual, and many children of mixed heritage are born. Even so, until a child is beyond the toddler stage, it is hard to guess which heritage their looks might favor.

Madeline's parents had both taken after the European heritage, where she is blessed with the Native looks. She is dark where they had been predominantly fair — even to the eyes, where her hazel green ones are considerably darker than their blue and blue-gray ones had been.

She suspects that this appearance has been taken to offer her comfort or is the way her own mind interprets it. When the Grandmother speaks of her past suffering, there is no question as to what is meant. Certainly, her prior profession had exposed her to much over the years, but only one thing still haunts her, although not as often as it once had. She knows her life would be very different had it not happened. Her path choices would have been very different, and she would not be the person she is today.

"The nightmares are infrequent and lessen with each passing year," she says quietly. "Love has given me that."

Her gaze drifts to Logan and Rene before returning to Grandmother.

"The physical scars of that time... I wore them proudly once, wore them like armor, and then I no longer needed them. They are long gone, a gift to me from my Mate and our children. The memories, though, I choose to keep. Not to prove I can endure, but so that I do not forget. I must never forget why... why I do what it is I do, why I chose the path that I did, why I have done the things I have done.

"That said, I have never spoken aloud of that time and what occurred. Perhaps... perhaps it is finally time to do so, here, in this place of safety and love..."

Madeline looks at Rene then and reaches out a hand to him. He enfolds her hand in his, a look of pure love and pride in her on his features. He has never asked what had happened, has never told her she should talk about it. He has never needed details; he has seen enough in the flashes of nightmare and the aftermath he had found. He had known that one day she would need to speak of it; he has been content to wait until she is ready.

"But I think it is as much Rene's story as it is mine. Our lives crossed then and the first connections were made, the threads that would eventually bring us back to one another, until we realized we were supposed to be together.

"I would speak of it now if you would be willing..."

This she asks, not only of her beloved but of all who are present — her Mate, her Sister, her Brother, and She who is First and all Her incarnations.

"It is good to remember that which gives purpose, even though those memories be harsh," Great Spirit says. "Speak as you will, daughter, in this place or any other. Know I will always listen and hear."

They look at Sister, and place a hand over hers and Spirit Brother's, and they hold her close from behind.

"We will make this journey with you," they say.

She takes in all their faces once again, come to rest lastly on Rene's. He gives her a small nod and his mind brushes her. Je t'aime, my Maddie.

She squeezes his hand and thinks of where to being. When she does finally speak, she does not meet anyone's eyes. Her gaze is turned inward and backward through the years.

"There was a girl once, happy and playful and a bit mischievous, who had her whole life ahead of her. The ideas she had of what she wanted to be when she grew up changed daily, or so it seemed. Maybe she would work in her father's coffee business. Perhaps she would be a stewardess. They still called them that back then. Better yet, maybe she would be the pilot. There were several international airlines she could work for. After all, she was fluent in five languages. And the next day, it would be something different.

"She was, overall, a fairly normal girl, I suppose. She had a couple of close friends — Annika and Hans, and a boy she had a crush on who seemed to have one on her in return. They lived in the tropics and time at the beach after school was a common occurrence. After a forced and embarrassing introduction by Hans, she and Stewart would walk along the beach holding hands. Sometimes they'd sneak off for some heavy petting, but nothing more. Neither of them was ready for more.

"This was her life. Calm and happy and quite regular, with nothing overly exciting happening. And she didn't mind. One day, though, all that changed. She packed the little basket on her bicycle with her beach things and pedaled away from home with a wave to her mother and the house man. She never made it to the beach.

"Along her route, men waited. They were not the street vendors she would sometimes patronize, but the armed ones who were only rarely seen. There, in that town, where many people had come from elsewhere after surviving the ravages of war, people, especially men, with guns were not uncommon. These, however, were different.

"She could not stop in time when the van pulled out in front of her. She did not fall, though. They caught her and pulled her in and put something over her face."

Madeline pauses then. That had been the easy part, talking of what she had been before. After a breath and a gathering of determination, she continues.

"When I woke up, I was bound and gagged. I panicked and tried to pull free, but the more I struggled, the tighter the bonds became. I could feel my tears running from my eyes and pooling in my ears. A man who looked to be my father's age stood over me, watching. I didn't know who he was, but the look on his face scared me more. When I stopped trying to get free, he smiled and ran his hand down my body. That's when I realized I was naked, too."

She can feel the fear of that time. Her heart thumps hard and a tremor runs through her.

"He sat on the bed beside me. All I could do was lay there and shake and cry as he stroked his hands over me. And when I couldn't cry anymore, he leaned in and told me what he and his men were going to do to me and that even if I ever saw my father again, he would not want me because I would be too damaged... a reminder of his failure to protect me.

"He left then. Left me alone with those words in my ears. Those thoughts in my head. It was my first experience with psychological torture."

They hold Sister; it is all they can do. Part of them remembers this because that is the part of them that collects memories. That part of them does not want to remember this, but if Sister is willing to remember, they will remember with her. They will make the journey with Sister, just as they promised.

This time, Sister will not be alone.

"I lay there for a long time. There was no window, no way to know how long I'd been there already. I only know that when he came back, he took my gag off so he could hear me scream. And scream I did as he brutally took my virginity and then violated me in ways I didn't know were possible. And when he was done, his men took their turns."

She closes her eyes. Rene's hand squeezes her gently as tears stream down his face. He still remembers the photograph her father had given him.

"When I stopped responding to their body parts, they started using objects. My voice was already long gone by then, and they became bored or were called off. I was left alone again for a long time, except for this old woman that would come and force me to eat and drink and would clean up the mess. That first time I saw her, I begged her to free me. She spat on me and told me I deserved what I got for being a whore and a slut.

"I didn't speak to her again. She was the only one I saw until my voice came back. When it did is when he came back and cut from me the proof of life he sent to my father. The open wound was cauterized with a fired blade and I nearly passed out from the pain. They began using me again and something in my mind broke. I was no longer tied. No longer fought. No longer screamed. But I was an easy and accessible piece, and so they continued to come to me.

"And then they didn't. It was just the old woman again with food, real food and water and medicines. They were bolstering my physical strength, and something the woman said got through to the place my mind had fled. I was being prepared for the auction block. I wouldn't fetch as much, no longer being a virgin, but there was a certain set of clientele that liked girls who didn't break easily.

"My food always came on a metal tray, like in a prison. There was no flatware. I ate with my fingers and drank from a plastic water bottle. She died first when I rammed the metal tray into her throat. I had finally moved into the final stage of anger. Fear and denial had held me for a long time, then had come acceptance. But the words about being sold — that triggered something. My anger came forth.

"She died first. I took from her my second weapon, a small pistol — a very small one, but it did the job. I was angry. I wanted out, but more, I wanted them to pay for what they had done and I didn't care if I died in the process. Obviously, I didn't die, but I'm not sure how. All I really remember is burning rage and seeing red. I kept going until I saw and heard no one else. I managed to stumble out into a street. A sudden light blinded me and I recoiled and tripped.

Now she opens her eyes and meets Rene's.

"There was the briefest impression of compassionate eyes and someone saying everything would be okay before it went dark."

Tears spill from their eyes, too, as they hold Sister. The rage burns in the part of their heart that is the police officer because Sister's words trigger memories they would rather forget — patrol and domestic violence, child abuse cases; undercover and busting the child pornography ring; homicide and, again, child abuse. They soothe as best they can, although the part of them that is the Protector feel the fire burning, too — remembering some of the stories from Commerce City; remembering the children held by Stryker; remembering other children so broken, so very broken.

A cool mist seems to fill their soul and Great Spirit whispers, "Peace, dear children... peace. Vengeance was wrought, a powerful weapon was forged. Hózhó."

Rene understands that she expects him to pick up the next part of the story. He also has not shared this with anyone besides the friend he had asked to help him. It is a moment before he can speak, his love's raw emotions having washed over him as well.

"I was assigned to the French embassy in Suriname. My now and again commanding officer called me into his office. He had heard that I occasionally took side jobs off the books and asked if I might speak with an old friend of his, that he would consider it a personal favor. I took the address he gave me and, being off duty, made my way out to a plantation near the outskirts of town.

"To the man that answered the door, I said I was there to see Johan and that Alois had sent me. He seemed off a little, and the second I walked into the main house, I knew something was terribly wrong. He brought me to a large study and ushered me in, indicating the man behind the teak desk was Johan. Johan turned. I had assumed he would be a contemporary of Alois' but his face was years older than I expected, drawn and haggard. A bottle of scotch and a glass sat on the desk before him. He poured himself a drink after I turned down the offer of one.

"He said to me in an accent made thick with emotion, 'Someone has taken my daughter, and I cannot go to the authorities. The one who did it is too well connected here.' When I asked how he knew, he showed me the letter he received. When I asked how he was sure, he pushed a box and a tape recording across to me. 'Play the tape. Open the box,' he said, then he drained the glass.

"So I played it and felt the blood drain from my face as I listened. When the recording stopped, I opened the box and just stared. At first, I didn't know was it was, but when I figured it out..."

Rene shakes his head, making an effort not to use his gift to share memories with the others.

"I took that drink then. Two, actually. I asked him if he had a photo of her. He slid over a snapshot of a smiling, dark haired girl with mischief in her eyes and told me her name was Madeline. I took the photo with me and headed out.

He can no longer stop the gift that lets him share memories, and it overtakes them all...

They hear Spirit Brother's words, they can almost see the man — their Sister's father, their uncle — suffering in his study. Andrea remembers that moment in Stryker's lair, with the clone, and what Maddie had done. She keeps that memory deep and safe from the part of them that is Pablo, but she suspects she knows what Spirit Brother had seen in that box. They would rage again if not for Great Spirit's soothing presence.

But then they are living Spirit Brother's memories. The part of them that is Pablo is briefly startled, but they have experienced this before and reassure the part of them that is Pablo.

Rene Jacobs tucks the photo away as he leaves the grand estate. He has seen despair in the eyes of everyone there. The recording has shaken him to the core. He can't even imagine what the old man or his wife are going through. At the end of the long drive, he gets into his car and pulls the door closed. He leans forward and puts his forehead on the steering wheel, closing his eyes and trying to clear his head. He is there for many long moments, and when he sits up and starts the engine, his eyes glisten with tears.

No, he cannot imagine what the old man — the girl's father — could possibly be going through.

Hours later, that same day, as dusk is darkening to evening, he sits outside another grand estate. This one appears to be more fortress than a plantation. He had called a friend; his friend is stationed nearby as a backup just in case things go south. The fewer that know about this, the better. He slips through shadows and stays away from lighted areas as he reconnoiters the layout.

He does not get a chance to put his plan into action. There is a commotion inside, on the other side of the walls. Voices are raised in surprise, then in anger. He hears the sounds of fighting, gunfire, a cry of pain cut short in the silence. He hurries to the side gate he had seen earlier, but it swings open before he can reach it. What he sees renders him speechless.

A form covered in rags and blood stumbles out from the portico, a gun in one hand and a kitchen knife in the other. Two steps more bring her out into the light from a rare street lamp. The light seems to surprise her and she turns toward it, aiming with a shaky hand. The force of the shot sends her reeling. He moves without thinking; he is there to catch her from crashing to the cobblestone pavement.

She flinches and struggles, but her movements are weak and confused.

He takes a guess and says softly, gently, "Madeline, shh, you're safe now."

Something in his voice makes her turn her face and look at him. His breath catches at what he sees in her eyes. He has seen the look before. She stares at him with madness in her green eyes.

"You're safe now," he repeats.

The look starts to fade and there is a brief moment of clarity and something else before she goes limp in his arms. He lifts her up and cradles her against his chest as he runs for his vehicle. He speeds through the small streets directly to the hospital and rushes her inside.

"Please, help," he calls out, bursting through the doors. "She needs help. I found her like this."

A nurse looks up, then rallies the staff. They descend on him with a plethora of questions, most of which he can't answer — only that he had found her like this and had brought her straight to the hospital. As soon as they take her back, he goes outside and finds the first payphone he can. He calls the old man first and tells him where his daughter is. Then he calls his friend.

The two men return to the estate that is a fortress to find what neither can believe... except for the facts of it there before their eyes. Everywhere they check, not a soul lives. There is one room... here, Rene's face pales and he holds tightly to the door frame. He knows what had happened in here. The recording echoes in his mind once again. He sees her eyes with their brief moment of lucidity. His jaw sets in a hard line and his eyes become flinty.

He retraces his steps to the garaging area for the small equipment and returns with gas cans in each hand. With a burning anger in his heart, Rene drenches that room and then sets to making sure everything will burn. Francois does not ask why. He has seen the room as well, and the occurrences there are not so difficult to guess. He does not understand why it affects his friend so deeply; it does not matter why, only that it does. He, too, sets to making sure nothing will go untouched by the fire.

Together, they watch as the place goes up in flames. From his breast pocket, Rene removes the photo to look at her eyes once again. Francois leans in to look with a curious expression.

"Pretty, but she's a little young and innocent for you," Francois comments, trying to tease his friend from his seriousness.

The look Rene gives Francois is painful. "I fear she will never be innocent again."

Francois is puzzled for a moment, then horrified. "You mean...?"


Rene tucks the photo away.

"I need a drink, mon ami. Several, I think."

# # #

Post-surgery, Madeline Messijer is kept in a medically induced coma to allow her body to heal. They had not thought what it might do to her mind. In the confines of her recent memories, she relives her nightmare. In all, there is only one thing that gives her hope: the brief sight of those kind gray eyes. She searches for them every time the other dreams come. It just so happens that one of those times, Rene Jacobs sits at her bedside.

He sees tears leaking from beneath closed lids and reaches up to gently wipe them away. At the unassuming touch, he catches a glimpse of her dreams.

"Shh, Madeline, Maddie, you're safe now," he whispers with both voice and mind.

He sends soothing thoughts to her as he gently caresses her temple. Her fevered mind turns to him and reaches out a hand. Help me, she asks.

"I don't know if this will work, but I'm going to try," he tells her. "Trust me?"

She nods.

He then proceeds to show her some of his memories, places he thinks are calming and serene.

"Which one do you want to see up close?" he asks.

"All of them," she answers, a bit overwhelmed.

"Pick one to start with."

"The one with the harbor."

Everything around them shifts until they are standing in an old European harbor, strolling along the docks, looking out at the marina, walking in the sand.

"You can come here anytime you want. You'll be safe here. I have to go now. Au revoir, Maddie. I'll be watching over you."

They share Spirit Brother's surprise at seeing their Sister's younger self, but they are also proud of Sister for saving herself against all odds, no matter that it had taken madness to do it. Most never would have survived to even gain madness; they wonder if they would have survived... and they suspect that they would not have.

Spirit Brother's actions in saving Sister's life, in saving Sister's mind, resonate strongly in the part of them that is Pablo. It is so like something this part of them would do; and, to a far, far smaller extent, did for the part of them that is Andrea so long ago in a frat house and dormitories in Denver. They had already saved themselves before any physical harm could come to them, but they had still been a stranger in a strange land and they had been so afraid. They understand Spirit Brother, they understand Spirit Brother's actions.

Just before Spirit Brother's vision faces away, they feel tears on their cheeks.

"So... you truly are a guardian angel," Andrea says.

"He always has been," Madeline says with a fond smile.

Rene shrugs. "I only did what I could. It wasn't enough."

Madeline reaches across the circle and wraps her arms around him and whispers, "It never is."

It is a pair of phrases that they have said to each other many times over the years. It is their understanding that the fight would never be over, but you hold on to the ones you can help, that you save and keep those memories closest. If you don't, the losses and failures will weigh you down and crush you.

She turns to look at each member of the circle and at the Grandmother, too. "My Husband made my mind whole, my Mate made my body whole, and your love has made my Spirit whole.

They simply smile at Sister, too happy for her that words would be meaningless. They simply hold her close, grateful to be part of the healing.

"This is the time for healing, my children," Great Spirit says. "Each of you should feel whole in mind and body and spirit. If there is any dis-ease, dispel it here during your visit with me."

Andrea looks at Pablo and he smiles at her. His healing began that day in her dojo when he told her about Rosalia and Juan. They both needed to heal after his journey to Quetzalcoatl's world, but the energy and spirit of their united soul knows they are whole... in bodies, in minds, in spirit.

She knows there are memories that Logan lacks, but she cannot give them to him — except the ones regarding Great Spirit, to ease his frustration — until, unless he asks. She does not know which ones he might want. Some, she thinks, she would be tempted to withhold even if they are requested. But it would only be a temptation. Just as Maddie was forged into a powerful weapon by her experiences, and just as she retains the memories to remember why she fights, Logan may wish to have that same touchstone.

It is not her choice. In this, as with the beginning of Pablo's healing, she is merely the catalyst.

The feral man shifts and studies the one Madeline has called Grandmother. "I know you. I don't know why."

He shifts again and looks at Andrea. "What happened before I met my Mate is not important. I am what I am, and that is enough. I only want to know why I know Her, why She is familiar."

She is touched deeply by his trust; it is almost as though he knows her mind, her heart, her gift of memories.

"Long ago, when you were much younger, you had a wife who was of the Nations, the Blackfeet Nation." Andrea smiles at the memory; they were good together. "You came to know the People and our Spirits. We may be many Nations, but the Spirits watch over all the Nations. It is said that Great Spirit attends every wedding and visits the dreams of each newly married couple. That is how you know Her."

Logan nods at the information and then says, "Kayla Silverfox."

He seeks out Madeline's gaze. "Stryker caused her death."

"Yes," she answers. It had been in his file. Much had been in his file.

"Both times. The first time, a trick. The second time, real. Like your Husband, my Brother."


However, it had only been after the birth of the twins that she had discovered this fact. Even though they came from disparate parts of the world and had lived very different lives, they have a strong common thread.

Logan seems to think it over for a moment, then nods again before leaning across to kiss her.

"My Mate."

Madeline smiles. "And you are mine."

The other memories, then, Andrea can tuck away. Some... well, some she might peek at every now and again, just to see the pristine beauty of the northern forests. But so many are best left in storage.

Great Spirit thrums with joy. "Weddings, childbirth... I do attend these, yes. Oh, but I like to surprise people with my appearance, and now there will be no surprise." Great Spirit does not look saddened by this; She is merely accepting of what is.

Is it appropriate to jest with the Spirits? Andrea has been asking herself that for months. And she has adopted the general attitude of what the heck, why not?

"But Great Spirit," she says, turning her eyes toward Her. "I would know you anyway."

Great Spirit laughs. "Yes, my daughter. You are the exceptional one, and I could not surprise you."

Pablo clears his throat. "I don't mean any disrespect, Mother, but it seems Andrea sees you differently than I do."

Great Spirit coalesces into a single form again, although looking more like diamond dust floating in the air about them than a humanoid form.

"Yes, each person will see me as their heart sees me. You, each and all of you, and anyone who has the heart to see will do so according to their beliefs. If one has no strong beliefs, then whatever form brings them the greatest comfort is how I will appear. I have many forms and all are so interesting.

"But I see your heart and know the form you see is that of my Daughter, the mother of my Grandson. Oh, She is a delight, and I always enjoy visiting Her." The diamond dust undulates several times.

Pablo looks at the cloud, and Andrea can feel the confusion pulsing through their Bond. Finally, he just nods. "Okay... well, thank you." She can hear him, almost hear him, thinking, Yeah, thanks for confusing me even more. Unless Andrea has developed telepathy, that is. In which case, it's possible that she actually did hear him.

"Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord," Andrea whispers. "But will justice ever be served for all those sins?" she wonders aloud. It is not difficult to know she refers to Stryker in this time and place, although there have been and will be others too much like him.

"Oh, child... you who have studied among my Daughter's people should know the answer to that, should you not?" Great Spirit chides her.

Andi looks at her Sister and Elder Brother and then at Spirit Brother. "Knowing the answer and finding comfort in the answer... these are different things."

"Yet warriors seek not comfort, but exercise vigilance to prevent harm to their people, defend their people when harm threatens and mete out justice when such is possible."

The woman nods. "Yes. I know. For his heinous crimes, he may never escape samsara."

Pablo raises an eyebrow and doesn't quite say, Huh?

She reaches across the circle to take his hand and smiles. "The Buddhist cycle of life and death... reincarnation. You know... 'Karma is a bitch'."

"Yes," interjects Great Spirit. "I am."

Madeline smirks. "And so am I."

She doesn't know why she finds that so funny, but Andrea giggles as she rests her head back on Rene's shoulder. The five of them are a tangled heap of bodies; it should be uncomfortable, but she's never felt more comfortable.

Then she grins without opening her eyes, not needing sight to see her Sister. "And apparently I am, too. That's the explanation being bandied about for Raven's bizarre behavior, anyway."

Snuggling together like this... she could get entirely too used to it and right now it would be all too easy to doze off. They may have completely disappeared from the world of humans, but their clothing hasn't. She knows that time works differently here — much differently! — but they still need to get back into those clothes before Billy and the twins head out into the south forty. They probably won't head out the same way the Pentad did, but when Billy is part of the equation she has discovered that it's best not to assume anything.

"I love you." She closes her eyes and her smile becomes serene. "All of you." She sighs lightly with contentment. "Although I'd rather stay here for... oh, a week or two... we should probably go home."

"I don't suppose there's a way to sneak into your aunt and uncle's house for a shower before having to chat with anyone, is there?" Pablo asks.

"Nope," Andi replies. "And as much as I love the way we smell, we will most assuredly receive looks of disapproval from... hmm, well, Aunt Sonia will start it, the rest will be compelled to appear disapproving as well."

"Andi!" Pablo sounds... Well, not really panicked, not exactly worried... mostly embarrassed. At least, that's what Andi thinks. Oddly, she would be freaking out from embarrassment in normal circumstances. It crosses her mind to wonder why she isn't embarrassed, but almost immediately she decides that she doesn't care.

Great Spirit laughs. "Human mores and morality change so fast! It is difficult even for me to keep track of which tribes hold what beliefs at any given time. Perhaps that explains why so few of Us choose to walk among you. Ah, no matter.

"Worry not for your appearances or scents, for only you will be aware of them. It is a small gift of thanks for visiting me."

Because Andrea's eyes are closed, the first indication of their return to the human world is the cold breeze across her skin. The second indication is the sound of voices that have moved close enough for her to hear clearly, although they are still far off.

"Do the octopus again, Billy!" That's Vin.

"No! I want to see another cat! Do the Felix one!" And that, of course, is Em.

"Wow, you are really trying to wear me out, aren't you? I guess I'm going to have to prove that my mom's right when she says I have the energy of a hundred people." And that's Billy. "I know... how about if I do one I haven't done before?"

A moment later, both twins squeal. "MICKEY!!"

"Hello, boys and girls! Welcome to Disneyland New Mexico!" says a high pitched Mouse voice.

Andi opens her eyes and looks at Pablo, a huge grin on her face as she sits up. "Are you sure you want half a dozen kids?"

"I think we should send him off with the three of them and sit back and watch," Madeline suggests with a grin.

Jeans and shirts and boots are put back in place. Of them all, Rene has the easiest time of it, of course, since he is Spirit. He pulls a sprig of grass from Madeline's hair and she looks up.

"I guess we should collect the rest of the heathens and head back..."

Andi grins. "Yes. Collect them... with a sneak attack?"

Madeline and Logan exchange a glance and Madeline nods to her Sister.

On their way back to the house, then, they creep up on Billy and the twins — Pablo in the air and Rene unseen in Spirit form; Logan, Maddie, and Andi downwind. Logan leads, knowing the best way to get close to them without alerting his daughter's senses. Once the children are in sight, Andi calls on Fox's gift of invisibility. She is actually a little surprised at how easy it is until she feels the tingling in the soles of her feet. That's when she realizes that Mother wants to play, too.

And what happens next is entirely Andi's fault; she is absolutely willing to take the blame.

She comes up behind Vin — just a little too close apparently — and drops the invisibility.

"Billy, does your mother know you dress up like Mickey Mouse?"

Em is so startled that her claws are out in a flash and she turns toward Andi in surprise, although she very obviously is moving to put herself between this perceived threat — Aunt Andi — and her twin. Andi sure as hell does not expect that, or Em's lightning fast speed, and... well, it would be fair to say that Andi has yet another ruined shirt. Oh well, at least it isn't one of her favorites.

There's a bit of drama: Pablo drops down to the ground to make sure Andi is okay. Logan growls what might be admonishment, or possibly just a reminder to look before slashing. They all may be One, but there is no way Andi understands the Elders' language. Billy is so scared that he can't keep any form for more than half a minute. That actually amuses Pablo... once he realizes his wife is fine.

Em pulls her claws back in the moment she sees what she's done... well, probably not so much sees as smells. In the dark, it's pretty hard to tell that she sliced Andi's abdomen. But the cut isn't very deep; she didn't even get all the way through the abdominal muscles. After all, her Aunt moves rather quickly, too. And Andrea is healing by the time Logan arrives and nearly completely healed by the time Pablo touches down. Em is apologizing over and over. Even before the god awful itching stops, Andi drops to the ground and pulls the girl into her lap.

"Not your fault, Em. Really. Your instinct to protect your brother is good. I shouldn't have snuck up on you guys like that, and I shouldn't have gotten close enough that you thought I was a threat to him."

"You're not mad at me, Nin... ah, Andi?" She sounds... well, like a typical ten year old who's accidentally hurt someone.

"Not even a little. Like your mom and dad, I heal fast. So there's no harm done." Andi kisses the top of her head. "I guess I need to remember just how fast you are, niece of mine." And then she sniffs her niece's head.

"Billy..." she says in that semi-threatening tone most often used by mothers.

"I didn't do it!" He finally stabilizes in his own form.

"First, don't use your brother's excuse. It's unflattering on you. Second... why does Em smell like she's been over by the water treatment facility?"

"Oh! Billy took us to see it!" both twins exclaim simultaneously... something Andi finds just a little creepy.

Andi sighs, hugs Em, lifts the girl from her lap — learning that Elder children are heavier than they look. It's a good thing Andi is stronger than she looks and is used to Monica's deceptive mass. Then she gets up and saunters to her cousin's side.

"Billy," she says, draping an arm around his shoulders. "What were you thinking, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?" She sings the last part; it's part of some old folk song.

"Um... I wasn't?" he guesses. "You and your super sniffer," he mutters.

"Correct. With sixty acres, you couldn't just stay on Dehiya land? You had to wander over to public land? Why do we not go near the water treatment facility, Billy?"

"Um... I should know the answer to that, shouldn't I?" he asks.

His cousin sighs. "Billy, how long have you lived in New Mexico?"

He turns his head to look at her, an action that is slightly more difficult than usual because she's tightened her arm a bit around his neck. Their audience is watching with interest, with some confusion, with some amusement. "All my life. You know that, Andi."

"Uh huh. And what's the number one environmental hazard in New Mexico?"

"Uhhhh... the old uranium mines." He's certain about that, at least.

"Good! And do you remember the BIA sent around a report to every household last year showing where they thought all the old mines were?"

"Um... maybe?"


"I'm sorry! I forgot that there's an unknown over there! Aunt Sonia and Uncle Leon and Tali don't seem all that concerned. And we were only there for a few minutes!"

"We were real careful, Aunt Andi," Vin says.

Andi looks at the twins, then looks back at Billy. "Oooh, coaching them on how to get on my good side, are you, you little weasel?" she asks, grinning broadly.

"Would I do something like that, best cousin in the whole universe?" he responds with no attempt at innocence. "And I don't do weasel form. It's kind of small."

She tightens her arm around his neck, but he knows what comes next — knuckles rubbed vigorously across the top of his head — so he shifts to a python form and drops to the ground. Then he sticks his tongue out at Andi.

She chortles. Two can play at that game... at least now that she can play. She pulls qi from Mother and uses Fox's gift, this time, to shift to a cobra — that being the snake with which she's most familiar — and wraps herself around him. The twins are laughing; Pablo just gasps. Billy has the same surprised reaction as Pablo and shifts back to his own form... lying on the ground with Andi-cobra wrapped around his legs.

"AAAAHHHH!!! What the hell??!?" He tries shaking Andi off his legs, which only causes the twins to laugh more. Andi feels Pablo's chuckle through their Bond more than she actually hears it.

After sticking her tongue out at Billy, she shifts back to Andi form and sits on her cousin's legs.

"When the hell did you become a Shifter?!" Billy's eyes are open wide.

"When Fox became my guardian Spirit... camouflage, invisibility, shapeshifting, among other things." She tickles his knees then rolls to the side and gets up. "It takes a lot of energy, so you don't really have much competition. The invisibility and camouflage take less energy."

"Yeah, but it took me forever to master my first shape! That's not fair!"

"Aaaaaandd... how old were you?" she asks, grinning.

"Fifteen," he admits.

"And how old am I?"


Oooh, that boy! Andi leans down and starts tickling his ribs until he cries 'Uncle!' Then she giggles and puts her hands on her hips. "I've had just about twenty years to get used to my powers, and I know how they work. Adding new tricks is easier than starting from scratch."

The twins look as though they want to rush at her, but they're eyeing their dad. Fortunately, Andi has an out for them. She walks over and drapes an arm around each of their shoulders. "How about we head back to the house and get cleaned up for dinner? I don't think Aunt Sonia is going to let any of us sit at the table the way we look." Andi glances at Maddie and Logan — and Rene, too, who is standing behind them in Spirit form — and feels the warmth of love flowing around and around the circle again. She can't help but smile as she walks back to the house chatting with the twins.

It's hard to see Em so contrite and yet, at the same time, it's good. Madeline feels a surge of pride, however, at Em's defense of her twin. All Vin can do is jump, startled, and fall out of the way. It is Em's feral instincts that cause the death of Andi's shirt.

She doesn't say anything. The communication from Em's father is enough. She also knows him well enough to know that it had been both praise and correction. She slips her hand back into his as they follow the others back to the house. She purposely slows her steps to drop them a little farther back.

"I think we should start their training soon, Logan," she says softly.

He looks over at her and then ahead at their children. After a bit of thought, he nods. Some would likely call them paranoid, but both of them had seen and lived through too much. Better that the children know how to defend themselves and never need to... They do not discuss it further. That will wait for later. Still, they continue to hang back. They enjoy watching their children with their new aunt.

"Are you going back now?" she asks Rene.

"Yes, but I'll check in on all of you later."

"I know you will, love. Ik houd u. Tot ziens."

He smiles. "Je t'aime. Au revoir."

He drifts away.

Behind her, Andi can hear Pablo and Billy chatting.

"She's gonna be a great mom," Billy says.

"Yeah," Pablo agrees. "Six kids, nine kids... I don't know. Lots of kids!"

"Dude, I like you. You make my cousin happier than I've ever seen her. So I'm probably gonna be sad when she kills your ass if you don't knock that shit off."

"Excuse me?" Pablo says, shocked and surprised.

"I'm just saying." Billy pauses, sounding very serious. "You know how Andi hates it when we call our Nation the reservation, right? That girl's got more Navajo Pride than anyone I know. And believe it or not, I know a lot of people, and all of them — including me — are fiercely proud of who we are. But's she freakin' Wonder Woman, so we gotta tease her somehow, you know? Anyway, one of the projects I've been working on with Uncle Leon is a history of our Clans... well, more like a genealogy to most folks, I guess. Our oral history tradition is rich, Pablo, and part of my job is to make sure it all gets written down so it's never lost.

"The important thing you need to know, though... in the entire history of the Ts'ah Yisk'idnii — Andi's clan — there's no story of any woman surviving a third pregnancy. I'm talking about more than four hundred years of history, man. By the way, that's a lot of writing. It took Aunt Sandy two days to get all the way back to about 1600."

"So Andi already knows this?" Now Pablo sounds hurt.

Oh, hell no! Andi does not know this!

"I seriously doubt it. Aunt Sandy didn't make the connection and she's a smart woman. It wasn't until I plugged the information into the database with the information from Mom's clan and Tita's and Aunt Sonia's clan that it was suspicious. Then I talked to women from a few other clans and plugged in their information... and it was obvious."

"That's... kind of weird, Billy. And come on, it's 2012..."

"Hey, I'm only telling you what the data says. But based on the data? Statistically? You might want to start thinking about adoption if you want that baseball team. Or give up the baseball team idea. Maybe Andi's healing factor could negate some of the implications of the data, but do you really want to risk it? After all, the fewer kids you have, the more time you get to spend with Andi, right? If you know what I mean."

The subject of their conversation hears the sound of a head being slapped.

"OW!! Pablo! What the hell?"

Inwardly, Andi chuckles and continues chatting with the twins about their brief stay at their big brother's school.

Aunt Sonia stares at Andrea's torn shirt when they get to the house, then shakes her head and waves them all off to get cleaned up. Dinner is slightly less raucous than usual in deference to the new family members, but there is still a lot of lively bantering going on. Pablo had gotten a good taste of it at Tita's Sing when he and Andi had been out in Flagstaff. The twins seem to fit right in, just following Billy's lead. And Leon has found a friend in Talia, which doesn't surprise Andi in the least. Like her mother and Tita, her cousin is a huge well of kindness and thoughtfulness. Tali takes the time to explain that her dad and Uncle Leon aren't actually arguing... that this is simply a running gag that started probably before she was even born, and that no one knows anymore what got them started in the first place. But the only thing that is going to get them to stop their banter is death itself. At one point, Andi hears Tali whisper to Leon, "If you think this is bad, just wait until Uncle Nelson gets here tomorrow. I'd make millions — okay, hundreds — if I sold tickets to their 'debates'."

Having a family, an extended family, is something new for all of them. So far, Madeline likes it. Dinner is a lively affair and Leon seems more relaxed than he had earlier. He does still keep giving his mom and dad odd glances, however. Madeline catches one of them and winks at him. His cheeks pink with a touch of embarrassment.

Rene has returned — in spirit, as Spirit. Since only Talia has been introduced to him, it seems like a good idea to freak out the rest of the family all at once.

They upset Aunt Sonia's rooming plans only slightly. Sonia points Billy and the twins toward one of the rooms with bunk beds and Leon gets a room to himself — at least for tonight. But when she points out the two rooms at the end of the hall — one for Maddie and Logan, the other for Andi and Pablo — Andi suggests that it's a bit silly to muss two rooms, especially when each of the rooms has two queen sized beds.

In truth, she just feels it's important that they are close together tonight.

At Aunt Sonia's look when Andi rearranges the room assignments, Madeline says, "Don't worry, Tia. We've both had worse bunkmates. I guarantee it. And Andi's right... why mess up two rooms when there's no need?"

Ensconced in the room, Logan and Madeline both give Andi a kiss goodnight, and Madeline gives Pablo one as well. Neither having puritanical mores to begin with, and considering the events of the day, both Madeline and Logan strip to their skin before sliding between the sheets. She settles against his broad chest and he wraps his arms around her.

"Love Wolverine," she whispers.

"Love Madeline," he replies just as quietly.

Dropping off into a deep sleep is not difficult nor long in coming. Madeline does think that she feels the brush of Rene's lips on her temple just as she drifts away.

# # #

Emelia Jeanine takes the top bunk with a grin and a jump that gets her near the top of the ladder. Vincent Rene doesn't argue; he only smiles and laughs at his sister's antics. They crawl under the covers.

"Night, Em," he calls up.

"Night, Vin," she answers.

"Night, Billy," they say in unison.

"Night, you two," Billy replies. He smiles in the dark and manages to stay awake long enough to think that today has been a really marvelous day.

Sometime during the night, Em climbs down from the upper bunk and curls up next to Vin. He turns on his side, touching his forehead to hers. Both fall into a deeper, more restful sleep.

Sunrise is slower here in New Mexico; not by much, but with a mountain range to both the east and the west, the morning and evening twilights seem to last longer.

The windows of the room Aunt Sonia and Uncle Leon had assigned them face east and there's the slightest hint of morning light. Andrea's internal clock refuses to reset for weekends or vacations. The best she can do is try to go back to sleep. Sometimes that even works. She knows it isn't going to work today.

Yesterday already seems surreal and unreal all at the same time.

And now, at five in the morning, Andi is wide awake and trying to figure out how to slip out of bed and leave the room without waking up three people instead of the usual one. Pablo rolls over and nuzzles her neck. Well, okay... she only needs to not wake up two people.

"Awake for the day, dear wife?" he whispers.

She nods and sighs softly.

"I could go for a run while you practice," he says very softly while at the same time running his hand over her abdomen.

"Sure, that would be good," she responds just as quietly, although her mind is starting to drift elsewhere. She nudges his shoulder. "We should get going; don't want to wake Maddie and Logan."

Morning comes and, for the first morning in what feels like a very long time although it has only been a couple of weeks, they really have no place to be. She wakes to the scent of her Mate, the rise and fall of his chest, and a feeling of complete contentment. She snuggles more deeply into that chest and he tightens his arms around her. Apparently, he is awake as well.

It is then she realizes that the contentment she feels is not merely her own, but his as well. She hears movement on the other side of the room but chooses not to stir. She really is quite comfortable. Logan's hearing is considerably sharper than her own and he hears the hushed conversation.

"You won't," he offers in a low, teasing voice.

Andrea chuckles at Logan's comment. "Well, I suppose, in that case, we don't want to wake up the rest of the household," she says quietly, but loud enough for Maddie to hear as well.

Pablo props himself up on an elbow and looks down at his wife. "Easy for you to say," he says with a grin. "You sneak out of bed without waking me up — and I'm a pretty light sleeper most of the time — and yet no matter how quiet I try to be, the Human Tsunami is nearly always out in the driveway before I can put my car in drive."

"That's because you have two problems, my love. The first is that you're predictable. I'll bet you anything the times Bobby isn't out in the driveway are the times you get a call to the scene in the middle of the night."

"Hmm." He ponders that for a moment. "Okay, you could be right about that. What's the second problem?"

"Your car."

"What's wrong with my car?"

"There's nothing wrong with your car. It's just..." She considers how to explain it from Bobby's point of view because she knows exactly why it boggles and disturbs her neighbor. "Well, he knows there's something odd about it. He just can't put his finger on it. He kind of hears what I hear, but he doesn't know what he's hearing."

"And what is it that you hear, dearest wife?" There's a smile in his voice, which is understandable. He's never told Andrea about the modifications he's had done to his car, just as she's never discussed — beyond generalities — the modifications to her bike.

"No Ford Taurus has ever rolled off the assembly line with a V-8 engine."

Pablo groans. "Oh, you and your hypersensitive ears! My mechanic is the only other person who knows that little secret." He harrumphs. "Well, he was until just now."

"No, no... I've known since the first time you picked me up after you had the new engine put in. And now our Sister and Brother know, too. No big deal."

"You're a brat, Andrea," he says. And then he demonstrates how much of a brat he is by sliding his hand down her thigh.

After a slight hitch in her breathing, she says, "As are you, Husband."

A chuckle comes from Madeline.

"If you start that up," she says, the lascivious grin evident in her voice, "we certainly will wake the whole household."

Logan growls sensually. She crawls further up his chest and kisses him, then looks over at the room's other occupants.

"You really disgraced a V-8 by putting it in a Taurus? That is just... criminal."

"She's right, Pablo. If you keep that up, we'll wake the whole house."

"Really?" he asks, his hand moving back up — millimeter by excruciatingly erotic millimeter. "Think of the challenge of trying to be quiet. Call it a test of your super powers." His eyes reflect his desire, as does his growing hardness along her leg. He leans down to brush his lips against hers.

"Not one of my super powers," she manages to say.

Pablo chuckles and looks over at Madeline. "The car belongs to DPD. As a detective, I rate a department car if I don't have one of my own. Or if my own had been deemed 'too flashy' by the brass if I did have my own. When it's time for a new model, Jose will drop the V-6 back in... and I'll hope the V-8 will work with the new model."

He shifts his eyes back to Andi. "After all, a cop needs to be fast to catch his prey."

"Are you fast enough to catch me, Detective?" she asks, slyly smiling up at him.

"I've already caught you. The question is... what do I do with you?"

"Still, it's a damn shame to insult a decent engine like that."

"And hello!" she calls over teasingly. "Got a feral and a near feral over here. We're half riled all the time as it is, and you aren't helping. I think a nice run is in order. We can spar after."

"Spar?" Logan growls, the light in his eyes saying that he likes the idea.

"Yes, spar."

His low growl reverberates through both their chests.

"I think Sister is right. We should go for a run. And then... spar."

It's impossible not to see and sense the sexual tension in the room. She's trying to contain its effects on her qi, but because they're all so connected now, it's nearly impossible. And like the feral and the near feral, once her qi gets touched like this, she's apt to be more than a little riled herself.

She pushes Pablo over and he laughs as she gets out of bed to pull shorts and a tank top from her bag before heading into the bathroom.

"You will not laugh at me, Pablo Garcia, for wearing my boots with shorts," she says from the doorway.

"I probably will," he mutters as she closes the door.

"Brat," she mutters to herself.

"I apologize to the engine every day, Madeline. But to put it in a worthy vehicle just isn't practical, given my salary and the limitations of Andi's garage... seeing as the garage actually belongs to Ninja."

Andi hears him through the door and hears the laughter in his voice. It also sounds as though he's moving around the room. That's good. The faster they get out of the house, the less likely they'll be to wake someone else up.

"A worthy car," Pablo continues, "deserves a garage. And Ninja would kick my ass if I displaced her bike and gear."

"Damn right I would," Andi says, coming back into the room from the bathroom. "Next... Hey, how long do you think it takes to empty a bladder?" She sits back down on the bed to pull on her boots.

Once Andi is clear of the restroom, both Madeline and Logan take their turns then also pull on clothing. It doesn't take them long to get ready for their run and... sparring. Even though they're quiet, they're met at the bottom of the stairs by Uncle Leon, although he does seem surprised to see them. He has a coffee mug in one hand and a medical journal in the other.

"Oh, we didn't wake you, did we, Uncle Leon?"

He shakes his head. "No, no... I'm always up before the crack of dawn." He looks at them, particularly his niece in shorts, a tank top, and nearly knee-high boots. "Are you going to a Halloween party?"

Pablo snickers. Andi elbows him. Gently.

"We're going for a run. I didn't bring running shoes, so I have to make do with what I have."

"It's close to freezing out there. Aren't you a little under-dressed?"

"Super powers, Uncle Leon! Mine keep me warm," Andi says with a smile.

Uncle Leon shakes his head and just says," Well, be careful in the dark."

"We will," she responds. "We'll stick to the roads so we avoid the prairie dog colonies."

He just shakes his head again as he heads toward his study. "Like the roads are much better," he mutters.

Andi grins and the four of them slip out the front door, where Rene is waiting for us. He, too, is smiling.

Logan does not wear much more than Andi… less if you consider his bare feet and lack of shirt with his long pants. Madeline is a bit warmer with snug Under Armour pants and crew neck shirt and minimalist running shoes.

Outside, she greets Rene with a smile and a kiss. "Bonjour, mon amor."

"Goedemorgen, liefde," he replies.

That done, she looks at Logan and Andi. "You two going to keep to a pace us near mortals can handle?"

# # #

Em wakes up suddenly just before dawn. She sits up and stares into the darkness, head cocked as if listening to or for something.

"Em?" Vin mumbles sleepily.

Unseen, a brief smile touches her mouth and she lies back down. "It's nothing, Vin. Mom and Dad are just going running."


They settle down and sleep for another couple of hours.

# # #

Andi chuckles. "You know, if Logan is as fast as I guesstimate he is — based on Em's reflexes last night — I think I'd feel almost like you mere mortals if I tried to keep up with his top speed." She looks at Logan with a grin. "How about if we let the mere mortals set the pace?"

"This mere mortal would appreciate that," Pablo says as he stretches.

"Besides, a nice jog is a good warm up for sparring," Andi replies.

"I thought you said we were going running," he says, trying to give her the stinkeye.

"You say run, I say jog, Elder Brother likely says stroll down the lane, while Spirit Brother says what took you so long." She grins as well as she stretches. "Come on… there's a nice rock outcropping with a stand of trees about a mile northwest of here. Of course, it's about a three mile run sticking to the roads. You up for that, Chief?"

He grins, perhaps a bit wickedly, at her and he has a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. "Bring it on, Delicate Librarian."

Andrea laughs and heads up the driveway toward County Road 7815, then takes a left. Where 7815 ends, they follow the merge onto 7820, then take a right on Pipeline Road. Uncle Leon hadn't been exaggerating much when he said the roads weren't much better than going cross country. The roads are more or less scraped and flattened, at least, making holes and dips and protuberances somewhat easier to see, but they're still dirt roads. At County Road 7800 — also known as Indian Service Route 451 — they take another right. About a quarter mile along the road, Andi slows to something like a fast walk.

Despite her small stature compared to the other four, Madeline still has a ground-eating lope. She is also accustomed to night work and running with Logan. She doesn't have his eyesight, but she knows how to watch for obstacles. Fortunately, she doesn't have to worry about trip wires and other assorted booby traps out here.

Somewhere along the way, Rene comments on her speed.

"You've gotten faster, Maddie."

It's the company I'm keeping, she replies with a nod toward Logan on the other side of her.

In a way, the run makes her nostalgic. She glances at Rene and sees that he feels it as well.

A bit like old times…


After that exchange, they fall into a companionable silence.

As someone accustomed to a daily five mile run, albeit on somewhat more reliable surfaces and during daylight hours, Pablo has no problem reaching or maintaining his usual pace. His eyesight is not as keen as the others', but he puts his faith in his Bond with his wife to keep him from the dangers of the dirt roads. For him, running is not only a necessary form of exercise but a meditative ritual as well… one he began after Denise's murder. That day in the park, the day she'd died, when Andrea had forced him to unleash his pent-up rage by taunting him, telling him to try to hit her… after the rage had burned off and the first tears of sorrow had fallen, he had known he needed something to keep himself from the same temptations so many other good cops used to numb themselves: alcohol, drugs, gambling, whoring.

He had decided to run. He'd gotten up one morning, laced on a pair of sneakers, and ran up Eighth Avenue for a few blocks, then turned around and ran home. It had made him realize that he wasn't as fit as he thought he was, and by the end of the day he also realized that sitting at a desk for most of the day wasn't helping matters. So the next morning, he'd gotten up, laced on his sneakers, and made the same run. The second day was worse… a lot worse. Despite not having told Andrea what he was doing, as he ran he had the feeling she was cheering him on. Sure, it was just his imagination, but it kept him running all the way back to the apartment complex.

He had been stationed at the District 4 station at the time, working Robbery. The nicest thing about District 4 is their gym. All the stations have weight rooms, and Districts 1 and 3 also have basketball courts. But District 4 has a quarter mile indoor track. Pablo began arriving at the station two hours before roll call so he could run. By the time he was transferred to Narcotics/Vice six months later — still at District 4 — he was running five miles a day. After that, it had just been a matter of deciding how fast he wanted to run.

If he hadn't made running part of his persona during the undercover child pornography operation, he would have cracked half way through. As it was, it had taken him two months of hard running and therapy to be able to look at Andrea again.

And in Quetzalcoatl's world… Well, running had only helped so much. He'd been so fucking angry at Andrea when he left, but after dying and being brought back to life a half dozen times, even anger wears away. Once the anger had faded, he'd been able to hear her cheering him on again. Apparently, he had even constructed long, elaborate conversations with her. And once he had started talking to her again — even though it had all been in his mind — the running, the flying, the whole gamut of using his powers seemed to get a little easier. Well, the running did… the other stuff just started making a bizarre kind of sense.

Since that night they had reinforced their Bond, he sometimes feels he is running faster than usual. He's never bothered to time himself, however. It just isn't that important. He knows he will never run as fast as his wife, so he runs as fast as he feels comfortable. This morning is no different… he is running only to run.

"Sparring spot is about a quarter mile ahead on the right," Andi says as she slows down.

When Andi slows down and mentions the sparring spot, Madeline says, "We should probably set some ground rules. Pablito, I understand you don't have a healing factor, correct?"

So when Andrea slows and Madeline asks about his healing factor, it takes a second or two for him to break out of the meditative mode.

"Just your average run of the mill human, mi hermana."

Andi gives him a sly little grin. "Ooh, but this would be a great time to work on trying to heal you from a distance!"

He looks at her like she's insane. "No. It would not! Are you out of your mind, Andi? Any one of you could harm me in oh so many ways, and I'd be dead before you could fetch your uncle over here to pronounce me dead. Did you happen to notice I don't like the idea of being dead?"

"Well, I don't like it either. And I wasn't talking about hurting you enough to make you dead, silly. Just maybe a scratch." She shrugs. "Or you could pull out your pocket knife and stab yourself again. And least you wouldn't have to clean the floor this time." She smiles sweetly.

Pablo sighs and shakes his head. "What ground rules would you propose, Madeline?"

"Yeah, I used to be like that, too. Sucks, don't it?" Madeline teases.

"When it's just the two of us, Logan holds back and I don't when we are up against each other. Of course, his bones don't break. At all. Maybe we just need to start with some minor testing. We can't be killed, so we tend to push it."

"And that's different from before… how?" Rene asks with a raised eyebrow.

She pauses long enough to stick her tongue out at him.

"What training do you have? Any martial arts beyond cop school?"

# # #

Not long after Andrea, Pablo, Madeline, and Logan leave for their run, Sonia pads barefoot down the stairs — dressed in jeans and a long sleeved t-shirt — and heads straight for her husband's study. She slips through the half open door and wraps her arms around her husband from behind as he sits at his computer updating patient files.

"Ready for the invasion, dear?" she asks, resting her chin on his shoulder.

Leon reaches up to cross his arms over hers, smiling as he closes his eyes. "It's nice to have children in the house again."

"I know. They grow so fast." She sighs softly. "I wish Sam and Cindy didn't live so far away. I'll miss them this weekend."

"They're doing good work, Soni. And you know Cindy wouldn't have been happy being so far from her family." He pats her arm. "Our son is a good husband, and he's doing his best to keep his wife happy."

Sonia leans her head against Leon's. "I know. It broke her heart when she found out they couldn't have children. If her nieces and nephews can soothe the hurt, it's good they're in Omaha. Still..."

"You miss your son," he finishes. "I do too. Any word on their application to be foster parents?"

"Nothing since the home study and they thought that went well." She straightens up, and Leon turns his chair so she can sit on his lap. She smiles as his arm wraps around her waist and her arm goes around his shoulders; their clasped hands rest on her legs. "There's a teenager in the house now; we mustn't mortify him by acting like teenagers ourselves." Sonia kisses her husband soundly.

He hugs her but feigns offense. "I beg your pardon, Mrs. Dehiya, but we are respectable adults."

Sonia laughs. "Of course we are, dear. But we're respectable adults who — despite being almost grandparents — are not afraid of showing affection."

Leon chuckles. "It's the Yazzie way. I knew that when I married into your family. And I'll try not to get too out of control this weekend, how's that? Also, Henry is supposed to be working this weekend, too. So Alicia will be missing him. Justin can't make it so Sandy will be missing him."

"Oh, that Henry! I half expect him to show up anyway," she says, smiling and shaking her head. "You know he's never missed a chance to see his cousin-twin since she got back to the States."

"I blame your brothers."

She gives him a look of surprise.

"No, think about it, Soni," Leon says with a grin. "Both of Nelson's children are involved in this cousin-twin thing, as are Junior's Henry and Billy."

She tousles his hair and then kisses his forehead. "No, this is one thing you can't pin on my big brother or my little brother. Everyone knows it was Henry's idea."

"Well, it was worth a shot. I'm sure something is Nelson's fault. And something else is Junior's fault. They're both a couple of clowns and it seems to rub off on people." He chuckles, then pauses for a minute, enjoying the quiet time with his wife.

She smiles fondly, and after a moment says, "My brothers enjoy life. That, too, is the Yazzie way, dear husband. Tell me you don't love being around that much joy and I'll call you a fibber."

He laughs. "You would call me the worst kind of liar and you're right... I do love the joy." He hesitates, then continues, "You know, you could ask Tali about Sam and Cindy's application."

"And you know," she says, rolling her eyes, "that I think that's cheating. If there were anything they needed to know, Tali would have told them. They're optimistic, I'm optimistic. So that's that." She sits quietly with her husband, a morning ritual that is only broken when he has an emergency that takes him out of the house before breakfast. "I like Andi's sister and brother-in-law," she says finally.

"Of course you do. A Yazzie never brings anyone home who isn't worthy of the family," he says, a contented smile on his face. "Besides, that niece of ours sees people differently than most. If she trusts and respects and loves someone, then the rest of us are bound to feel the same way."

"Mmm. That's true. Her Pablo is so good for her. Sandy still worries about her being out there in Denver, though, being a crime fighter."

"And she can take care of herself better than anyone else we know, so Sandy's worries are different from yours over Sam and Yani and even Tommy... how?" he asks, grinning up at her.

She returns the grin. "A point for you, Doctor Dehiya."

"Am I winning yet?"

"Love, no matter how many points you get, you'll never win." She kisses him again. "Except that we're both winners. Now, I need to go start breakfast for the mini-hoard. Are you almost finished here?"

He hugs her again before helping her to stand. "On my last file... it shouldn't be more than another ten or fifteen minutes."

"Okay. If they're not down by the time you're finished, you might want to go up and wake my lazy brother," she says as she pauses in the doorway.

"I am not lazy, and you have no proof of it," Junior says from the bottom of the stairway.

Sonia laughs as she closes the door to Leon's study. "I talk to your wife, little brother. That's all the proof I need."

"Defamation!" Junior exclaims. "Or something."

"No, my dear, it's the truth," Alicia says quietly as she comes down the stairs. "It's Saturday. You're never up this early on a Saturday, Junior." She kisses him, then takes his hand as they follow Sonia into the kitchen. "You're like a kid at Christmas! What's gotten into you?" She chuckles. "Not that I mind it, of course."

He laughs and raises their hands so he can kiss her fingers. "You know it makes me giddy when the whole family gets together. And my parents seem twenty years younger since we did the Dance and Sing for Mom back in August."

Alicia shakes her head while Sonia snickers. "I grant your point about your parents. On the other hand, are you sure you're not twelve?"

He pulls her into a hug and kisses the top of her head. "Absolutely! I'm at least sixteen or seventeen!"

His wife rests a hand on his cheek. "That's my Junior... fifty nine going on fifteen!"

"Speaking of fifteen," Sonia says as she starts the second coffeemaker, preventing a reply from Junior, "you'll behave yourself, Junior, and not embarrass Andrea's young nephew this weekend."

"What? What did I do?" he asks innocently.

"Where are your hands, Junior?" his sister asks without turning around.

"Holding my lovely wife, which is exactly where they should be," he responds. Then he looks down at Alicia. "That was the right answer, wasn't it?"

Alicia laughs. "Usually, yes. Do you happen to remember being fifteen?"

"Are you kidding? I'm not sure I remember thirty five!"

"Good point," she says, smiling. "Do you happen to remember when our children were fifteen?"

"Hmm. Vaguely. All skinny and gangly, the whole lot of them," he responds.

"Yes, and utterly mortified if we so much as looked at one another or said 'I love you'."

"Right, right... I remember that. Except for Billy."

Alicia nods. "True. Nothing ever seems to phase Billy."

"And we didn't let their mortification stop us, did we?" Junior asks.

"Not at home, no. But young Leon needs time to get used to being part of the Yazzie family. Surely you remember how shy Andrea was when she came home from China? So you'll behave yourself, sir." Alicia tries very hard not to smile and very nearly succeeds.

"Yes, Andrea was... brainwashed by those lovely Eastern folks. Poor girl."

"Junior!" His wife mock slaps him.

Junior sighs. "Is it okay if I hold your hand under the table?"

His wife laughs again; it's the laugh of a person who finds joy in life. "If you behave yourself, I might even let you stand next to me at the Dance. Now... go set the table."

"So we are going to have a Dance?" he asks, crossing the room to the cabinet where his sister stores her dishes.

"Tommy thinks it's a good idea," Sonia answers as she removes items from the refrigerator. "And I certainly am not going to argue. Dances always bring such peace, and I have energy for days. Besides, Tita's cousin John Ravenclaw will be coming, too, and Tommy and Andrea are the only ones in the family to have seen the Ha'atathli in several years. Tita claims to be annoyed that her cousin didn't visit her when she was in the hospital."

# # #

The smell of cooking food tickles the twins awake. Em shifts and stretches and her belly rumbles. Vin giggles, then his belly rumbles.

"We should check in on big brother," she whispers.

"After the bathroom," he whispers back.

With attempts to stifle their giggles, they take turns using the bathroom and getting dressed, then they creep down the hall to Leon's room.

Billy listens to their giggles but remains curled on his side with his back to them. It's not easy — their giggles are infectious and he'd like nothing better than to start the day with joy and laughter. But there will be plenty of time for that after they check on their brother. He gets out of bed and pads into the bathroom to get ready for breakfast.

"He's still in here?" Vin asks.

Em sniffs and nods. "Awake, too." She knocks. "Leon? Can we come in?"

"Yeah," comes the dispirited answer.

The look they give each other is quizzical. Vin opens the door and they slip inside.

"What's wrong, big brother?" Em asks as she hops up on the bed beside him.

Vin climbs up on the other side of Leon. "Qu'est-ce-que c'est, Leon?"

Leon sighs and looks from his sister to his brother, and then sighs again. "It's Mom."

"What about Mama?" they ask.

"She's..." he starts, then looks at both their earnest faces again. "I don't know. Something just feels different, seems different. She's just not acting like herself..."

Em giggles. Vin grins.

"What?" Leon asks.

"You sure are thick headed sometimes, big brother," Vin says.

Em nods.

"What?" he asks again.

Both twins giggle.

"Mom and Dad are acting like you and Jenny," Em tells him.

"What?? No!! Ewwww!

Both twins fall into fits of giggling.

Finally, Em adds with a roll of her eyes, "It's only 'cause they got married finally."


That sets both of his siblings off again.

"What do you mean 'married'? They haven't had time to get married. They've been fighting b..." He clamps his jaw shut tightly as he realizes he almost let his mother's secret slip.

They snicker.

"Fighting bad guys," Vin completes the thought.

"Yeah, we know more than Mom thinks we do," Em says.

"We just let her think we don't know. It makes her feel better," Vin says.

"Of course, your real Dad being back, sort of, and her and Dad getting married has made her feel lots better," she adds.

"So cheer up, big brother."

"Yes, cheer up. Mom is happy. You should be happy, too."

A rumbling stomach forestalls anything more beyond yet another round of giggles.

"Now, come on and get dressed," she orders.

"Yeah, we're starving," Vin agrees.

"And you are, too."

Leon throws his hands up in defeat. "Okay, guys, I'll get dressed."

"And stop worrying about Mom so much?" Em presses.

"I guess..."

"Geeze, Leon. Mom's fine. She's got both our Dads watching over her now," Vin says, exasperated.

"And she's not broken anymore," Em says earnestly. "I promise."

He hugs them both close with tears in his eyes. He tries to tell him something but finds he can't speak.

"We love you, too, big brother," Vin says.

When Billy peeks his head out the door, he can hear that his new young cousins are still in Leon's room. Peeking over the railing into the great room below, he grins to himself and sits down to wait for the three of them.

Em and Vin lie on the bed on their stomachs, chins propped up in their hands, as they wait for their older brother.

"Think he'll tell Mom?" Vin asks.

Em shrugs. "Maybe. If he doesn't get all wigged out again by them kissing."

"Yeah, he acts like he's never seen it before. I don't know what the big deal is."

"Me either. It isn't like he doesn't make big moon eyes at Jenny."

# # #

"Good morning, Mom and Dad and Aunt Sonia," Talia says as she enters the kitchen. "Anything I can do to help?"

"You could supervise your father with my pottery," Sonia says, a smile in her voice as she being setting pans and griddles out.

Talia stops to hug her mother on her way to the other side of the kitchen. "Remember, Dad, only three at a time," she says with a giggle as she opens the flatware drawer to fetch knives, forks, and spoons.

"No respect for their elders anymore," Junior mutters.

"Junior, are you finally getting Daniel to draw up plans to renovate that old place of your?" Leon asks as he, too, enters the room.

Junior nods as he turns with a daring four of Sonia's heavy plates, and sets them down on the table without looking up. "We thought it was about time. We saw what he built for Tommy and were really impressed."

Meanwhile, upstairs outside the room where the youngsters are still getting ready, a perfectly formed and absolutely beautiful collie waits patiently for young Leon and the twins to finish getting dressed.

"I do not," the subject of the twins' conversation protests as he comes out of the bathroom.

"Do so," his siblings rejoin with grins as they sit up and hop off the bed.

"Do not," Leon shoots back with a grin of his own as he opens the door.

"What?" he lightly exclaims, then steps back. "I don't remember seeing a dog yesterday..."

"Dog?!" Em and Vin repeat excitedly and hurry out the door.

"Wow, Billy, you're gorgeous!" Em exclaims and throws her arms around his neck.

"Cool, Billy," Vin seconds and reaches to rub his head behind his ears.

"BILLY!!" four voices call out in unison, with tones ranging from annoyance to resignation.

Billy shifts back to human form, a grin on his face as he sits on the floor with Em's arms still around his neck. "Ooops."

"Yes, Mom Dad Aunt Sonia Uncle Leon?" he calls back, saying their names as if they were all one word. Then he chuckles as he hugs the twins while looking up at the eldest of his new cousins. "Your brother and sister are super awesome, but you know that already."

"Did I hear the word 'dog' come from up there, young man?"

"I don't know, Mom! Maybe?"

Em giggles and hugs him tighter.

"Sorry. Didn't mean to get you in trouble," she whispers.

Vin just grins.

"Are you sure you're older than me?" Leon asks. "'Cause you act just like them."

Vin sticks his tongue out at Leon and jumps back from the playful swipe. Em crosses her eyes at him, then giggles again.

Billy grins as he stands, looks over the railing to make sure no one is coming after him, then says quietly to Em, "Nah, I get myself in trouble all the time. It's my job as the youngest."

He regards Leon for a moment, then nods. "Yeah, I'm sure. I often get reminded by my sister that I'm twenty two. As if I'd forget." He rolls his eyes. "I tried the whole serious and mature bit for a while, but it really didn't fit me very well. I can fake it with clients who need that kind of thing, but even cousin Medicine Man says there's no point in being what I'm not. It's not like I'm crazy weird like my oldest brother."

He grins broadly and shrugs. "But really? How the heck am I supposed to be serious when I can change my shape anytime I want? It's wicked fun!" He glances over the railing again, then says in a whisper, "Except I'm not supposed to do it in the house if I'm going to shed or molt or make any kind of mess for Aunt Sonia or Mom."

Leon rolls his eyes and groans. "Don't give them any ideas. They get into enough as it is."

Em looks up sweetly and says, "Big brother, you've been away from home too long and have forgotten."

"Don't worry," Vin says, patting his brother on the back. "We'll get Mom and Dad to let us come to school with you soon."

Em returns her attention to Billy. "It is really neat. I wish I could do it."

Billy looks between Vin and Em, then raises an eyebrow at Leon. "I'm not sure there are any ideas I could give them that they haven't already thought up themselves. Despite my advanced age, all I really know of the world outside the Navajo Nation is what I read on the Internet." He shrugs. "You've seen more of the world in fifteen years than I'll probably see in my whole life. And I'm cool with that."

He shakes his head at Em's comment. "You can outrun me even when I become a wolf! Well... so can Andi. But you run faster than she does! And you have those wicked claws! Heck, they're scarier than eagle talons." Billy sighs. "And I kind of wish I could shoot energy bolts from my hands like Andi does. Or be able to talk inside people's heads like Tommy does. I'm pretty sure I don't want to be able to see the future like Tali does, though. Sometimes it makes her sad."

Billy crosses his arms and leans against the railing and opens his mouth to say something else when Junior calls from the kitchen.

"Are you kids coming down here?"

"We're just chatting, Dad. Andi and them aren't back yet," he answers.

"Fine, fine," his father responds. "You'll behave yourself, won't you?"


"Billy!" Alicia says sternly.

"Yes, Mom! I'll be a perfect angel!"

There are some indistinct grumbles heard from the kitchen and then Billy grins. "My folks are awesome and I like teasing them. I think they like it, too. In fact, I think my whole family is pretty amazing."

He looks among the three siblings again, appearing almost serious. "It's a big family, though. And we can be a little overwhelming sometimes." He pauses, tilts his head as he thinks. "Hmm, although if you ask Cindy, she'd probably tell you we're overwhelming most of the time." Billy focuses his attention on Leon. "These two?" he says, nodding to the twins. "I get the feeling they'll just roll with whatever happens. But if you need some space, lemme know. There are a few places around Aunt Sonia and Uncle Leon's property that are quiet... and I think only Tommy, Talia and I remember where they are." He nods his head almost imperceptibly before turning his attention back to the twins.

"What's this school you're talking about?" His eyes flicker to Leon and he winks. "You'd pester him to insanity, wouldn't you? No, no! Don't deny it! You just want to hang around your most excellent big brother all the time, right?"

"Of course we do," Vin agrees.

"Well, maybe not all the time," Em says. "It is pretty gross when he's making moon eyes at Jenny."

"No, it isn't," Vin counters. "She's pretty."

"Ugh. But at least she's better than the others that sniff after him..."

"Would you two stop?" Leon says with exasperation.

They both grin at him and giggle.

"It's a school for kids with Gifts. A friend of our Mom runs it. Everyone there has some kind of Gift. I've been going there since I was ten. And Em and Vin got to visit and stay there with Dad while Mom and I were in New York."

Billy watches the twins tease their brother. "Oh, dude... I'm sorry. And since that's the same thing Charlie and I did to Talia and Henry, I guess we ought to apologize to them for being such pests," he says with a grin.

"A whole school of kids with Gifts? I can't even imagine!" Billy shakes his head, clearly amazed. "I was home schooled since about the age these two rapscallions are. Heck, even all my college studies have been online. I have to wonder how different I'd be if we had a school like that for all the cursed. Not just the Navajo, but the Hopi and the Ute and the Paiute and Shoshone and Zuni and Apache, too. More and more children are being born with mutated genetics.

"Oooh, and don't get Andi started on that topic. She suffered more than the rest of us put together, and then some, so she has kind of a bad attitude about Uncle Sam and their nuclear testing out here back in the forties and fifties, and the uranium mining that's still going on in some places. Can't say I blame her, but she does tend to get... passionate about it."

He smiles slyly. "Hmm. The Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Pueblo Nations aren't as affected by the Curse... well, most of the Pueblos. Some of them are pretty close to some test sites. Anyway, Colorado sounds like a nice place for a school like that. I think I'll mention it to cousin Andi." He chuckles. "I can imagine her as an old-fashioned schoolmarm about as easily as I can imagine her being a librarian.

"Of course, the fact that she is a librarian boggles my mind."

"Yeah, it's pretty cool. Mom first took me there when I was little. She was working there for about a year, but then we moved back to Suriname for a couple of years then to France to be near my grandmother.

"I'm sure the Professor would welcome anyone who wanted to go there. I think we are all Mutants, but he's always been welcoming to anyone different. I'll continue to go there through college, too. At least the first couple of years.

"What did you study in college?"

No longer the center of attention, the twins start pestering each other instead, although Em does not move from Billy's side.

"Wow, you really have been all over the world!" Billy says. "I've been to Flagstaff. Once." He chuckles. "Of course, I probably know the reservation as well as the Tribal Police, but I'm not sure that counts. I think it's equivalent to someone who grows up in a big city and never leaves. My big city just happens to span three states.

"I still have a couple of classes to finish before I get my degree, but I'm studying computer science with an emphasis on web-based applications, and database design and optimization for those applications. I like it. I already have a couple of small companies as clients who want a larger presence out on the big scary Internet. And I help Uncle Leon and the rest of the Tribal Council with their projects."

Billy looks down at Em, and then back at Leon. "I'm going to need a box of salt, aren't I? What are you thinking about studying in college?"

Leon follows his glance. "I don't think it's going to help," he says with a shake of his head.

"I don't really know yet. The Professor's having me take higher level math and science courses. It's interesting and all, just... I don't know. And it might be moot if Mom decides to hand Grandmere's business down to me..."

Leon just shrugs.

Billy looks puzzled. "Do you have to take over the family business? I mean, sure, it's the family's business and you're the only heir... but what if you hate it? Would your mom get upset if you decided you'd rather be a scientist or something?

"I run a one-person business and the business side of things isn't anywhere near as interesting as the creative side... at least, to me it isn't. But Uncle Nelson loves all aspects of his little computer shop... so much that he just won't retire," Billy says with a grin. "He keeps saying he will, but he's still down at the shop two or three times a week, keeping up with all the latest technology." He shakes his head and laughs. "My uncle is such a geek! But when both Andi and Justin said they weren't interested in taking over the business, he happily made plans to sell it to the two managers who've been with him for ten or fifteen years. Of course, it's a whole different scale than your Grandma's business, I suppose."

He glances down at Em again, then raises his eyebrows at Leon. "This is an interesting dilemma I've never encountered before."

Another shrug. "I don't even know. I remember Mom being surprised when Grandmere asked her to take it over. I don't know all the details, but I'm pretty sure it had something to do with my father being dead."

Leon grins then.

"I'd say I felt sorry for you, but I'm kind of relieved it isn't me for a change."

"Well, if you look at the business as a political monarchy — which in some ways, in some businesses, is eerily accurate — your mom is actually acting as Regent for you until you can take control yourself. I guess there's nothing preventing you from abdicating the throne and naming some distant, unknown cousin as heir. I'd suggest Andi's best friend, but apparently he's a foodie and not a fashionista."

Billy chuckles. "Hey, don't worry about it. I've got your back. Relax and enjoy your new family. I'm twenty two going on twelve, so keeping these two wildebeests entertained would be my job anyway."

"I suppose," Leon says, unsure. "But it was only Grandmere who started it, but I guess every monarchy has to start somewhere..."

Em and Vin both roll their eyes.

"You worry too much, big brother," Vin says.

Em nods. "Yeah, it's not like Mom's going to die anytime soon, if ever."

Billy looks at the twins, this time with eyebrows lowered. It's not exactly surprise, not quite. It's more... wariness.

"Hold on there. I can accept your mom living for a good long while yet," he says. "She doesn't look much older than Andi. But... ever?" He looks between the three of them. "Okay. Story time. And you're the storytellers. What the heck, guys?"

Leon looks at his siblings with a heavy sigh. It isn't a secret, not like Mom's secret identity, but...

"Well, we don't know what she won't ever die," he begins hesitantly.

"Mom and Dad are a lot older than they look," Em says definitively.

"And she heals like us and Dad," Vin adds.

"Yeah, look..." Em says, holding up a fist.

Her bone claws protrude halfway and Vin scores his hand on one of them, then turns it over so Billy can see it heal. She retracts her claws and the places where they had punched through her skin heal up.

"Mom and Dad both heal like that," Vin explains.

"Okay," Billy says slowly. "Andi heals wicked fast, too, and her Taiji Master thinks she'll only live three or four or... well, he doesn't really know how many times longer she'll live than regular folks. But that's not... like, forever." He makes a face, part comical but also with a touch of deep grief that might seem odd on a twenty two year old. "I guess if you're outliving your whole family, it would seem like forever."

Then Billy looks at Leon again. "So you heal like the rest of us mere mortals... the slow and painful way?" he asks, pulling himself from the morbid thoughts of an eternity without his loved ones.

The twins shrug.

"Dad's a hundred and twenty," Em says.

"Mom's fifty five," Vin adds.

Em pokes him. "Not supposed to say Mom's age," she chastises him teasingly.

Leon nods at Billy's question. "Yeah, I get to do it the regular way. Doesn't stop me from having fun, though. Still play sports and stuff."

Billy only raises his eyebrow at the twins before smiling at Leon. "Sports are great. I haven't had a chance to get into anything really organized, but a bunch of us sometimes get together over in Yah-Ta-Hey and play stickball — most folks call it lacrosse — or baseball or soccer. Most of my bumps, bruises, scrapes and other assorted injuries come from being less than careful when I'm shifting from one form to another. It's that whole center of gravity thing, you know?"

He pauses a moment, staring at the twins again as their words actually sink in. "Gah! Your dad is old enough to be my grandfather's grandfather! And your mom is only three years younger than MY mom! Hang on while I freak out!"

Bill proceeds to sprout wings in place of arms and wraps them around his head. At the giggling he hears from the twins, he pokes his head out and very maturely crosses his eyes and sticks his tongue out at them.

"We play pickup games at school," Leon says, doing his best to ignore the childishness. "There really isn't anyone else we can play against. Most of us have some kind of unfair advantage, I guess."

"Only Leon has grandparents," Em says a bit sadly despite Billy's new wings.

"Yeah," Vin echoes.

"They're both nice to us, it's just…"

"I didn't know Mom's parents either," Leon tells them.

"We know…"

After a moment, the wings slip slide back to arms, although Billy keeps them crossed over his chest, hands resting on opposite shoulders. He studies the three of them for a moment and, for a split second, wishes Talia was with them. She always knows what to say to help people feel better. He just… well, he just knows how to be silly. Usually.

"You all have new grandparents now, too. I mean, I know it's not the same. My brothers and my sister and I have two sets of grandparents. Papa and Tita live in Flagstaff, Gramp and Nana live in Shiprock. But Andi only got to meet her Grandma Rose before they left for Japan when she was five. Justin never got to meet her. And neither of them got to meet Grandpa Joe… he died when Aunt Sandy was in college. Sam and Yani and Tommy only know Papa and Tita, too. Uncle Leon's folks died around the time he was finishing his doctor training."

The young man shrugs. "We don't have the same situations you guys have, but family is really, really important to us. So… I think folks will kind of understand, you know?"

Then Billy smiles. "Oh, wow… if your mom is Andi's sister, then Aunt Sandy is your grandma and Uncle Nelson is your grandpa. You couldn't get cooler grandparents if you special ordered them! Aunt Sandy might just be the nicest and kindest and most cheerful person on the planet. Oh, my god, and her cookies and pies and cakes…" He gives the impression of melting as his arms flop to his sides and he leans backward over the railing a bit. After a few seconds, he stands up straight again, resting his hands on the railing and smiling with radiant happiness. "Uncle Nelson is smart and funny and also super nice. And hey!"

His eyes grow wide as he looks at the three of them again. "You guys have something none of the rest of us has… great grandparents! And you won't even have to share them until next month when Little Kai is born!"

"Other kids at school have grandparents and great grandparents," Em says slowly.

"Some have aunts and uncles and cousins, too…" Vin adds.

"A lot of the kids at my school don't have family in that way at all," Leon says. "We have more than they do. Kind of why the Professor makes it a point to make everyone feel welcome."

Billy nods. "Like we do… and it's a guarantee that not many people have a family like this one. Well, okay, probably most First Nations people are as… Hmm, I guess connected to their people. But we really do have a big family.

"And there's nothing wrong with making your own family, either," he continues. "Andi's best friend did that. His family disowned him when they found out he was gay." Billy makes a rude noise. "So he's got a bunch of friends who treat him like family is supposed to treat you. Sometimes I think Henry makes up the craziest stories, but he told us about going out to Denver last week, and…"

He looks over his shoulder across the great room and out the windows to the growing daylight outside. He's quiet and still — something that's a rare non-activity for him — for a couple of minutes before turning back to the twin.

"Your brother's Professor has the right idea. Family is what you make it. Just something to keep in mind for the future," he says, finally smiling again.

"I think the Professor would like you," Leon tells Billy. "Maybe you could come visit the school sometime?"

Em looks up. "Maybe once we start going there."

Vin nods.

"Of course the Professor would like me!" he says, forcing seriousness away. "I'm everyone's favorite!" Billy winks at them. Then he crosses his arms again but brings one hand up to tap his chin with an index finger. "Although…" His eyes narrow as he continues in a voice full of suspicion. "...sometimes I think Andi likes Tommy better." He nods sagely, then suddenly turns and looks over the railing.

# # #

Pablo shakes his head ruefully and smiles sadly. "Unarmed... just the basics we get at the Academy, focusing on restraint and take down. Like a lot of cops, I get in the boxing ring, but not to the point of being competitive.

"Thanks to Quetzalcoatl, I have control over wind and light — including a neat light-refracting trick that makes me invisible. Thanks to the snake, I have a much higher tolerance to pain. The skills in hand to hand got honed to a pretty deadly level while I was in his world, but Andi is still faster than I am... although, thanks to our Bond, I am faster than I was. I'm nowhere near as fast as Andi, but a few of the guys at the station that I work out with have made comments about it."

He smiles, this time with more humor. "On the other hand, give me a gun and I can shoot it. I have nearly one hundred percent accuracy with handguns, slightly less with rifles."

Andrea tilts her head and regards him. "You're the protect from afar guy... the sniper, the weapons expert. You can use wind and light close in, but they're more effective at a distance — you can cover more area."

Pablo nods. "Sure, that pretty much sums it up."

Andi looks at Maddie, Logan, and Rene. "And while Maddie, Logan and I have expertise with weapons that can be used from a distance — you two can shoot and I have my qi blasts — our stronger skills are for close work."

She shrugs and smiles sheepishly. "Hey, it's good to know where people fit on the team, right? I mean, I'm guessing that's a good thing." She chuckles and then grins her trademarked — she really should trademark it — Ninja grin. "I've never been a team player." She turns to look at Rene.

"Where do you fit in the puzzle, Spirit Brother?" she asks with a more Andrea-like smile.

Madeline tilts her head at Logan. "Yeah, we're more the wade in and get bloody kind."

Rene shrugs. "Split the difference with me. I'm equally adaptable up close and personal or from a distance. I'm the midfielder. Normally, though, I was watching Maddie's six."

"Needs a lot of watching," Logan chimed in.

She eyes the smirks on both of her men and sighs. "Why did I think this was a good idea again?"

Rene sends her an image and she can't stop the grin or the chuckle. "What to skip right to the end, do you, Jacobs?"

With difficulty, she returns to the conversation at hand. "Don't let the charmer fool you. He's also a superb tactician. He'd set them up and we'd knock them down.

"Anyhow, I was looking for some hand to hand sparring. I think that's best suited for Logan, Andi and me. Garcia, you could probably work target practice with Jacobs here. Being Spirit, he won't have the same limitations as those of us bound by the laws of gravity or physics."

Andi doesn't bother stifling a chuckle at her Brothers' comments. "I have no problem watching it either."

Pablo just rolls his eyes.

"That seems fair," he says to Maddie. "I haven't had too many chances to work with a moving target. Well, not since..."

Andi reaches over and gives his hand a squeeze. The nightmares have been decreasing both in frequency and severity. That doesn't mean he has forgotten Quetzalcoatl's world... not even a little.

At that moment, a moving target comes gliding toward them. It's nearly impossible to see in the darkness, being a black bird and all. Unfortunately, Andi has become entirely too familiar with its energy signature over the past few months.

"We have a visitor," she says, sighing.

"I recognize the tone of that sigh," Pablo says in resignation. "I'll begin the countdown to the fireworks."

She considers saying something in the way of admonishment but then realizes that Pablo is right. It's a rare thing that drama doesn't happen when Raven is around. It's worse when Quetzalcoatl accompanies her guardian Spirit, but at least Quetzalcoatl dislikes her... which, she has to admit, is reason enough to act the fool. But she doesn't understand Raven's behavior. The idea that it's upset because she has fully embraced the Warrior role doesn't really hold water. Raven was nuts before she and Pablo even formed their Bond.

"Sure. It's bound to happen," she says with an equal amount of resignation.

Raven glides to a landing in front of her and bobs its head. Warrior, may I speak with you?

She spreads her arms out to include the others. "You may, but speak so my whole family can hear, not just my Spirit Brother."

Raven looks at Rene and does what should be impossible... shows surprise on its bird face.

"Your brother?"

"Yes. If you've been paying attention, you know Madeline is my Sister, making both Rene and Logan my Brothers."

The bird blinks rapidly and looks at Logan, shuddering as it does so. "But... but..." Its voice drops almost to a whisper. "But he's an Elder."

"Yes, I know," Andi replies in a stage whisper. "I think it's pretty wonderful."

"But..." Raven seems to slump as its voice trails off.

Andi closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, holds it, and lets it out very slowly. Then she counts to ten... in Diné Bizaad, then in English, then in Japanese, then in Mandarin, and finally in Spanish. Then, and only then, does she open her eyes and look at Raven again.

"Was there something you wanted to say, Raven?"

I don't want to talk in front of the Elder.

"Really? You don't want to talk in front of Logan? And why not?" If the stupid flying thing isn't going to speak so that the others can hear, she'll just need to repeat everything the idiot says. What fun.

Raven edges closer to her. Elders are scary people.

She looks at Raven and then at Logan, and then looks down at Raven again.

"You need help. Yes. Elders can be very scary. However, as you've already noted, so is my Sister. And as you don't seem to have been paying attention, so am I." Andi glances at Pablo, one corner of her mouth quirking up in a smile before looking at the Spirit again. "Pablo could probably even be scary if he tried. So say what you came to say, Raven."

It scratches at the dirt road for a few seconds before mumbling, "You should go home."

"Oh, no, Raven, I most certainly should not go home!" she responds, almost cheerfully. "I'm not going home before I see my Mama and my Tita and my Dad and my Papa, and all the rest of my cousins. I'm not going home before I talk to the Ha'atathli. I'm not going home before we Dance to celebrate our family."

No! No! No! No! Raven starts jumping up and down as if it's on a pogo stick.

"Okay, I'm done." She nods to Pablo. "Why don't you and Rene work together and I'll see if I can manage not to get hurt too badly." They exchange smiles and Andi brushes her fingers down his arm as they each walk toward their respective sparring partners.

It's odd always only hearing one half of a conversion, but Rene relays the bird Spirit's words to both his Wife and his Brother. Madeline chuffs in amusement at its thought of Logan being scary. She supposes he would be after she nearly scared it to death — or rather the equivalent — with just a question.

Unfortunately, Andrea doesn't get any closer than a couple of meters from Maddie and Logan when Raven swoops up and grabs her hair with both sets of talons.


Without thinking, she pulls qi from Mother and Father and PUSHES Raven away from herself. The Spirit goes flying — and not under its own power either — but she has that sudden crap, I'm about to pass out feeling. She drops down to one knee, her torso rests on her other thigh, her fingertips are splayed out and touching Mother, stabilizing her.

"Andrea!" Pablo yells.

She shakes her head... barely. "Stay back." She doesn't know how loudly she manages to say it because both Mother and Father are talking very loudly at her. But she's pretty sure — well, mostly sure — that at least Logan would be able to hear her.

Andi's sudden collapse surprises them all. Madeline's forward motion is stopped by Logan.

"No," he says. "Wait."

"How long?"

He just shakes his head. They wait. As they wait, Rene begins looking around, seeing things only he can see.

"The Spirits gather," he tells the others.

"Which ones?" Madeline asks, not that she knows the difference really.

"Most of us," Cat answers as it appears at her ankle.

Neither Mother nor Father has ever actually talked to her. She only senses their presence, hears their laughter, feels their love and joy. Right now, she feels like she's trying to learn a new language... while the two native speakers are talking very fast... and talking over one another... and she can't tell if they're angry or upset or just worried.

For the record? Andrea is worried.

Oh, and she can feel the other Spirits beginning to gather.

Make that very worried.

It takes time — she actually has no idea how long it takes since she seems to have gone to the No Time place while trying to understand Mother and Father. Eventually, however, their communication starts to become clearer.

{Daughter (Daughter)...} {Daughter... concern} {Daughter (Daughter)...} {Daughter... worry}

Andi breathes a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Mother. Thank you, Father. I am well."

Pablo is right. She is definitely a magnet for weird. She looks up to see that the Pentad is circled by the Spirits. It feels like most of them are here, possibly even all of them. Bear has Raven tucked under one arm; Raven is yelling and squawking loudly — but at least it's keeping the noise inside her head, and possibly Rene's, and not assaulting her ears as well this time.

She holds out her hand to Pablo, who helps her to her feet. The sky is definitely lighter.

"Warrior," Bear says, "may we approach?"

With Pablo behind her, arms wrapped protectively around her, she absently nods to Bear and says, "Sure. Why not?"

Pablo whispers, "The fireworks shows are getting grander."

Andi nods, sighs, and looks at Maddie.

"How long was I down?"

As another Spirit speaks, Madeline turns to see Bear. To Andi's question, she answers, "Thirty two minutes, eight point five seconds."

Andrea just blinks at Maddie's answer. Then she blinks again.

"You have a stopwatch in your head?" Andi shakes her head. "No... never mind. Doesn't matter. At least, I don't think it does." Her internal clock is pretty good — well, except when she goes into the No Time place — but it only rounds to maybe five minutes... sometimes only fifteen.

Rene waves off the inevitable look and question at the time thing.

"She's always been able to do that."

Andi looks up at Bear, then down at the struggling Raven under its arm. She wonders if the rest of her life — one that looks to be even longer than before — is going to be a non-stop struggle with this Spirit. She turns her face up to Bear, quite likely looking as weary and depressed as she feels at the thought of... of forever with Raven.

"Would it be possible to trade that model for something more Crow-like?" she asks Bear with a hopeful tone in her voice.

From behind them, Coyote starts laughing. "Oh, Warrior! You are as much fun as your cousin!"

"But I'm not joking."

Bear returns her gaze, then reaches under its arm to pull Raven out by its neck. At least that shuts the crazy flying thing up.

"Raven chose you at birth," Bear rumbles. "Raven affirmed that choice when you made the journey from child to woman." Bear gives Raven a little shake. "We are as perplexed as you, Warrior. It is almost as if Raven wishes to abrogate its duties to you."

"Or Raven is unstable," Cat quips.

"I'd have said gone off the deep end and needs serious therapy," Pablo says, nodding to Cat. "But I agree with Cat."

Bear nods sagely. "Yes, there are some who believe that."

"Okay, you know what? I really don't care what Raven's problem is," Andi says as she glares at the Spirit in question. "Raven is making my life far more difficult than it needs to be. Sometimes it seems to be helpful. Sometimes it just makes me want to beat its head on a stone until there's nothing there but bloody pulp."

"Ew," Pablo mutters under his breath.

"But Raven is Spirit. You cannot harm it in that way," Bear says, sounding a bit puzzled.

"I know," Andi replies with resignation. "That's part of the problem, too. It can misbehave and act like a child, but there are no consequences. There is nothing to stop it from continually misbehaving.

"I came out here this morning to work... to learn how we can make our Pentad a blended fighting unit, or to at least start testing where our limits are, individually and collectively. It's important that we do this work. We may have forestalled the coming of Shadow for a generation, but it's not going to stop trying to take this world.

"However, Raven interrupted us with it's ridiculous fears, with a petulant request that I go home, and finally an attack on my person." She shakes her head, then looks around the half circle of Spirits she can see. "Is there any reason for a Spirit to attack the person they guard and guide?"

Puma steps forward and sits beside Bear, regarding Andrea steadily. She, in return, studies Puma. She knows that Puma is Tommy's guardian Spirit.

"Like Eagle, I am and have been and will be guardian to the People's holy ones — the shaman, the seer, the one who speaks to the Spirits on behalf of the People." Puma's ears flicker with amusement. "Had you not been foreseen to have this potential to be the Warrior, you might have joined your cousin in studying the Blessingway.

"There have been times — and the times have been few — when one of my siblings believes there is a need to gain their charge's attention more forcefully than usual. But this would only happen if one were not following a True Path and instead following a false path that would result in great harm."

Puma leans forward to rub its head against Andi's leg. She had never realized that Puma has incredibly soft fur.

"But you, Warrior — from what I see and feel and smell — are following your True Path. Raven's actions were unwarranted. Your request, as rare and unconventional it may be, is justified."

There is general grumbling around the circle. In essence, even those who agree that Raven's actions have been ludicrous are not so pleased that someone from the world of humans would request a more suitable guardian. Andrea looks at Maddie and then at Cat. She looks between Maddie and Logan, and then at Rene. She hugs Pablo's arms around her, and then looks at Eagle.

Finally, she stares at Raven.

And Raven becomes utterly still in Bear's paw.

She stares and waits until Raven's eyes start growing wide and the Spirit starts shuddering.

So, Raven… You think the Elder is scary today?

Raven lets out a tiny whine. Ninja smiles.

She looks up at Bear again. "Raven chose to be my guardian when I was born. This is Truth?"

Bear nods. "This is Truth."

"Raven chose to remain as my guardian when I journeyed from child to woman. This is Truth?"

Again Bear nods. "This is Truth."

"Raven chose to remain my guardian despite knowing, as Puma has said, that the potential for my role as Warrior had increased exponentially by the onset of the Curse. This is Truth?"

Both Puma and Bear smile. "This is Truth," Bear replies.

"And Raven chose to remain as my guardian when I journeyed from woman to Warrior. This is Truth?"

Bear pauses and looks at Raven. The Spirits all around them talk among themselves. Bear and Puma exchange a look before both of them shake their heads.

"This is not Truth," Bear says.

Andi nods. "I know," she replies with a hard edge to her voice.

Bear tucks Raven back under its arm and bows to her. "We will confer on the matter and return when we have resolved the problem."

"Great, thank you," Andi says. "Maybe you'll wait until later, however, okay? We've already lost a good forty five minutes of training time, thanks to the nut case."

"We will not return before the Ha'atathli arrive," Puma says.

Andi simply nods as the Spirits begin misting away. She sighs as she leans her head back, resting it on Pablo's chest. "Maybe we'll get lucky and Sparky will get recalled back to base."

He grins at her. "Sparky?"

"Yeah, the one who lights the fire and sets off the fireworks."

"Ah. Right. Okay."

She chuckles and unwraps his arms from around her, then steps forward to look at all four of her family members. "Now… where were we? Pablo working with Rene and…"

"Your pardon, Warrior," Eagle says, "might you indulge me for a moment?"

Andi frowns sadly. "No sparring, so no... sparring." She sighs and gestures to Eagle. "Sure. What's on your mind?"

"While Raven's concern for your safety should you practice combat skills with the Elder is completely misplaced..."

"Wait. Raven was scared that Logan is going to hurt me?"

"Yes, I believe that's the crux of the problem... at least, this problem," Eagle replies. "And undoubtedly the Elder would hurt you. Likely numerous time, and often severely."

"Oh, that makes me feel good about all of this," Pablo mumbles.

Andi taps his arm with the back of her hand. "I heal from anything but dead..." She looks between Maddie and Eagle. "No, I heal from that now, too, don't I?"

"Indeed," Eagle responds. "That makes Raven's reactions truly incomprehensible." It ruffles its feathers in a shrug. "But the idea that I wished to convey is the matter of Pablo's healing."

"You mean my lack of healing, right?"

"No! No, not at all. You see, one of my gifts to you is a greater ability to heal." Eagle looks immensely pleased with itself.

"Like Andi does?" Pablo asks. "I get a paper cut and it's gone before I even notice it? I get shot and it just... heals?" It sounds as though he's having a difficult time taking it all in.

"As has been noted before — and will no doubt be noted again — all gifts from the Spirits manifest differently in each person." Eagle gives Andrea a particularly pointed look before addressing Pablo again. "I believe this might be something you will want to experiment with before needing to use it," Eagle says before clicking its beak in a quiet laugh.

Pablo looks at Eagle, still somewhat disbelieving. "Huh. Well, how about that?"

"No floors to clean up out here, either," Andi adds. This garners her an attempt at a stinkeye from Pablo.

"Uh, thanks, Eagle," he says.

Eagle bows. "It is my honor to aid you in any manner I can," it says before misting off after the others.

Pablo turns to Andi, more serious but with a raised eyebrow. "I guess we have more weird experimentation to do."

She nods. "Looks like it. And I'm sure you're considerably more excited about healing from stab wounds than I am about healing from dead." Andi looks at Maddie and Logan. "I'm not going to like it, am I?"

They silently watch the back and forth between Andi and the Spirits, although Madeline keeps moving. Unlike Rene and Logan, the cold does still get to her.

When Andi addresses them, Logan merely shrugs. It has been long enough for him that the last time he healed from dead would already have been a distant memory, even if he did remember it.

Madeline's mouth quirks. "Depends on what kills you. If that part heals before your brain wakes up, it isn't so bad. That would be things like getting pierced through the heart..."

She glances at Rene and then Logan, then holds up two fingers.

"Twice. Hmm. A bullet between the eyes, as long as it's a through and through. If it bounces around in there, you get Swiss cheese brain like Logan. Three is center mass. That first breath is a bitch but not bad after that. Drug overdose... no big deal."

Rene just stares at her.

"Don't look at me like that. I had to make sure they worked. We didn't have any cyanide handy and I wanted to give the others an out in case we got captured by that son of a bitch.

"Let's see... oh, blunt force trauma to the head, like cracking it open on cement. Drowning, although the water temp could make a difference. For me, it was a combination of drowning and hypothermia. The Atlantic is fucking cold at this time of year. Took about three days to come back from that."

Logan rumbles something.

"Lefroc," she answers. "Had to start the ship sinking in case I couldn't disarm the bomb in time. I know run of the mill explosives but not nuclear. No idea if I would have come back had it gone off. Didn't really want to test that out either, but there was no time.

"The one thing I really don't recommend, however, is getting blown up. The brain reboots long before the body completes healing and there is nothing like nerves and muscle exposed to the air to make you wish you were still dead. It's one of the post painful experiences I've ever been through.

That, coming from Madeline, says a lot.


"Yes, love?"

"You've only been the Wolf for three years. All this has happened in three years?"

She laughs and shakes her head. "No, only the drowning, the cracking the head open, and the second heart piercing... and that's been in the last two months. The rest of it happened in the two to three days before you died."

"Two to three days??"

"I was taking advantage of my new ability. Heck, I'd only been pregnant a week and a half by then. That first time, though, I don't know if it surprised me more or the guy who shot me. He was, unfortunately for him, leaning over me when I woke up."

"And the blowing up?"

"Grenade. It was either me or Frank, Vincent, Swift, and the kids. What was I supposed to do?"

Rene had only seen her come back from the dead that one time, and he had been dying himself. His memories of their years together were undiluted by the last eleven years. He sighs and wraps his arms around her.

"Damn your risk taking, Maddie," he says softly.

She gives him a gentle smile and says, "I always come out the other side, Rene. You know that."

"Doesn't make it any easier to see or hear about, love."

"I know," she says, hugging him tightly. "I know. Now, we were practicing, and we're burning daylight."

"All right," he says, dropping a quick kiss on her lips. "Hint taken."

She turns back to Andi. "So, no, you won't like it, just in most cases, the gray matter isn't awake enough to notice the itching and what not."

Pablo pales as Madeline goes through her litany of ways she's died. Andrea just nods.

"Don't get blown up, try not to get shot in the head to avoid Swiss cheese brain. Got it." Then she shrugs. "The bigger the wound, the worse the itching... and internal itching is a motherfucker. So hey, the gray matter being offline is a bonus."

"Andrea!" Pablo sounds horrified... in the extreme.

And Andrea just sighs. There isn't anything she can do about the fact that she has gotten hurt in the past or the fact that she will likely get hurt badly in the future. And she's pretty sure the two of them have had this conversation before, anyway.

"Since Eagle says Pablo has a healing factor, there's no need to segregate him and Rene from the sparring, is there?"

"Depends on the healing factor. Rene's, while he was alive, meant he got better quicker than the average person, but it was not overly noticeable. It was just one of those 'some people just bounce back faster' kind of things. Logan and I heal while you're watching, even from dead, so there's a lot of range there. We can take it slow and test it."

Madeline looks over at Pablo.

"If you're game, of course."

"Ah, well..." He is decidedly hesitant.

Andrea raises an eyebrow. "Really? This, from a man who walked across the room, pulled out a pocket knife, and slashed open his own hand?"

"That was different?" he says, although it really sounds more like a question.

"No, not really. With our Bond, I'm still going to feel any injury you get unless I block it," she says. "At least within a certain range. And I'm still going to instinctively try to heal it because it feels like I'm the one hurt. Although, again, I think I need to rein in that instinct here.

"Now, whether or not I would pass out from healing it, that would be another question to answer... although I think what takes all that energy is pulling the injury into my body. The actual healing is something I just do, so it's a no-brainer. But you need to try doing it on your own first before I'll step in.

"You didn't bring your pocket knife with you, did you?"

He raises an eyebrow as well. "No. The pocket in these sweatpants is about big enough to hold a house key."

She nods as she looks at the edge of the road. "My healing factor is normally fairly fast. Like Maddie and Logan, you can watch me heal. As I believe you did a few years ago, didn't you, dear? I was cooking dinner, cutting up some veggie and cut my hand. Remember?"

"You know... I'd forgotten about that," he says. "I think I just convinced myself I was mistaken when I saw you cut your finger."

Andi smiles. "Nope, you weren't mistaken, but that instinct of the human brain to recategorize things it doesn't grok is how a lot of us who heal faster and better than others manage to stay under the radar. At least for the small things.

"Also, every Halloween, I get a boost from having access to all the Spirits for the day; that hasn't worn off yet this year. I don't know why."

She picks up a piece of shale from the ground.

"It might be the additional guardian Spirits, even though none of them have the aspect of healing like Eagle does."

She snaps the shale in half, leaving one of the pieces with a sharp point. She tosses it to Pablo.

"It's not as sharp and painless as your knife — not that your knife cut was painless — but you have a higher tolerance to pain now."

He catches the piece of shale and just looks at Andi. "Yes, I have a higher tolerance for pain. You don't. If your theory about our Bond is correct, this is going to hurt."

"Yep. Might even go all the way around the circle," she says, making a circle in the air with a finger to include all five of them. "Just do it. Or not."

Pablo slices a jagged and — oh, hells yes! — painful gash down the top of his forearm, nearly the entire length from elbow to wrist. Andi very consciously does not try to pull the injury into her own arm; she merely breathes through the pain. Pablo is watching the blood well and drip to the ground.

They watch with interest as Pablo gashes his arm. The pain does communicate to them, but the three of them have been through so much that it barely causes a twitch.

"Um. Now what? I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do here. Besides bleed."

Good question.

"You know how you can feel exactly what move I'm going to make when I'm practicing?"

He nods while continuing to stare at his arm.

"Okay, then follow what I'm doing," And says, taking a step closer to him. She places a hand on his shoulder and concentrates on her own arm... uninjured, yet still awash with pain. It takes her back to those early days with Grandmaster Chen and his wife when she was still learning to control the qi. That had been necessary before she had been able to begin learning Taijiquan. Right now, her internal focus is on her arm, and her eyes are watching Pablo's arm...

...which is healing before their eyes.

"Holy shit," he whispers.

"How do you feel?" she asks as she drops her hand to her side.

"Fine, I think. Except for the itching. Are you okay?"

She chuckles. "Yeah, the itching never stops. And I'm fine; I didn't do any work. You think you could do that on your own?"

"I think it would take a lot of concentration if I weren't following you," he admits. "Are you sure this is something I can do? I told you that I nearly tripped over my own feet trying to do one of your Taiji forms when you weren't around."

"You don't have the training to do the forms. You have the ability to do this on your own, thanks to Eagle," she says, nodding to his arm. "You just need to practice until it's so ingrained that your body does it without you needing to think about it."

"Okay," he says, nodding. He pauses, then tosses the piece of shale to the side of the road. "How long did it take you to master it?"

"The body wants to heal, Pablo. By the time the Curse hit, my healing factor was already ramping up... along with my hormones, I guess," she says with a smile. "I was like Rene by that time... bouncing back faster than most people did from everything. Once I started learning to focus? A few days, maybe a week to heal that fast. After that, it was just a matter of concentrating on whatever injury I had... I had to do that for about four or five months, training the body to respond faster and faster without me having to think heal. So by the time I fell out of the tree the following summer and shattered my arm, I didn't have to think about it at all."

"And that's why..." She feels his grief as he briefly lowers his eyes to her abdomen before looking back into her eyes. That experience resonates with the death of his son.

"Yeah," she says softly. "That's why."

He nods, then addresses Maddie's question.

"I'm game," he says. "Give me a chance to work on my healing and pull Andi out if I need a little help figuring it out." He shrugs. "You're not three times my size and trying to make me your dinner, so..." He grins at Madeline with his lopsided boyish grin. "Bonus."

Pablo's answer, however, does cause a reaction. Madeline's eyebrows twitch up, Logan chuckles and Rene flat out laughs.

Shaking his head, her Husband comments, "Sounded like a challenge to me."

"That it did," Madeline agrees and crosses her arms. "Pablito, are you saying that of the three of us, I'm the least likely to damage you? Admittedly, Logan probably outweighs you by at least a hundred and fifty pounds..."

Pablo turns to Andi. "Is that what it sounded like I said?"

She shrugs. "I don't think so. Maybe the joyfulness at not being in Quetzalcoatl's world was a bit over the top."

He nods. "Yeah, maybe that was it. But, damn! It's nice not to be there." Pablo looks at Madeline and shakes his head. "Mi amada hermana, of the three of you, Rene is the least likely to damage me. I still haven't decided if you or Logan is the scarier one."

Andi leans over to Pablo and says, "Maddie is."

"Ah," he says with a sage nod of his head. "My Wife has informed me that my opinion is that you are the most terrifying of the three of you," he says to Madeline.

"Your wife has informed you correctly," she says with an affirmative nod.

Rene snorts. "Yeah, Logan would just kill you. Maddie would make it hurt first. She's warped that way."

Madeline smiles. It is not pleasant.

"Tell you want... you start with Jacobs here, and Andi and I will take on Logan."

"Well, some people just ought to be hurt first," Andi says mildly, responding to Rene's statement. "A lot. And then some more."

"Dear God, she's already a bad influence on you!" Pablo says, half jokingly... but half seriously, too.

Andi tilts her heads and looks at Pablo, Ninja peeking out through her eyes. "It wasn't Maddie, dear." She nods to Maddie and Logan, and the three of them move to a relatively clear spot where they won't interfere with Pablo and Rene.

For an hour, non-stop, they work... and they work hard. Madeline has a more unconventional style than Andrea does — some people might call them dirty tricks, but Andi would never say that about her Sister — and Andi does feel at a disadvantage without her staff. However, as she found out the hard way in Flagstaff, her staff is not always going to be at hand; sparring for an hour without it is good for her.

At one point, Rene obviously sneaks a good blow in on Pablo because Andi can feel part of her attention being diverted as he concentrates on healing himself. With any other opponent, it probably would have gone unnoticed... but not by Logan. Her response time is just a fraction of a second off, and Logan sends her flying about fifteen feet away. He cracks a rib when he hits her; it hasn't healed fully by the time she hits the ground and rolling with the fall slows the healing down a bit. Still, she springs up and grins as she lopes back into the fray.

Logan is being careful with them and Madeline knows it. She also knows better than to hit any solid bone areas and purposefully goes for the soft spots — kidney shots, joints, throat, eyes. The only reason she is getting any damage in is because of Andi. He has to fight a battle on two fronts without his most deadly weapons. He catches her in the jaw at one point and she spits blood out as she narrowly avoids the follow through.

It has been full day with bright sunshine for some time when Andi feels an ethereal tap on her shoulder.

"Hold!" she calls out, then pauses to listen. Nodding, she says, "Opossum informs me that Charlie, Susan, and Tezza are just leaving Santa Fe. Spider is not yet sure if Charlie will take the northern route or the southern route, but they'll arrive in two and a half to three hours.

She feels good. She hasn't had a workout this intense in years. Well, unless one counts beating up bad people... and those instances aren't generally as long or as intense anyway.

Their energy is running high and her eyes shine with the adrenaline thrill. Logan stops when Andi calls out the hold. Madeline chooses not to, and catches the back of his knee with her foot. It is not very often that she can catch him off guard. Anyone else would have gone down hard. Logan spins on the knee and reaches for her. Instead of backing off, she closes and they both go down. Logan twists to put himself between her and the ground.

Her grin says she has planned it this way as she straddles him and 'traps' his wrists with her hands. The arrivals are a couple of hours away still.

"Look what I caught," she announces.

Logan growls playfully.

Andi grins at Maddie. "And what shall we do with your prize?"

Despite the fact that the temperature hasn't had a chance to reach forty yet, between the exercise and her extensive Taiji training that she uses to unconsciously regulate her body temperature, she has a thin sheen of sweat on her arms, neck and face. She can feel the back of her tank top sticking to her lower back.

She also senses Pablo approaching. Her eyes are beginning to glow slightly simply from the scent of Maddie's pheromones. When her Husband reaches for her, she turns slightly so she can grab him, rolls him over her hip, and drops him — eases him, really — to the ground. She straddles him and leans forward, trapping his wrists. Unlike Logan, who could escape Maddie's grasp if he wanted, Pablo is well and truly trapped. The hair that has come loose from Andi's hair tie floats down and brushes the side of his face.

"I seem to have found one too," she says, licking her lips slowly while staring into Pablo's eyes. "Should we torture them?"

Pablo looks up at her, almost daring her to lower her lips to his.

And Rene is adding his magic to the circle.

"Yes, torture," Madeline agrees, never taking her eyes from her Mate. "They seem willing enough."

Lower and deeper and yet softer, another growl rumbles up from him. She answers with one of her own before leaning close to nuzzle at his neck. The next growl is only felt, a reverberation that passes between their bodies and through their Bond. Her hands slide down his arms as she moves down his bare chest with kisses and light nips.

Both of them are breathing harder now than they had been while they sparred. Their need and desire for each other flow through their Bond and around the circle. As it comes back, she feels the light tingle of her Husband's magic like a gentle caress. Beneath her, her Mate stirs further and she wants nothing more at the moment than to join with him.

It's so easy for Andi to lose herself in Pablo's eyes. It takes a moment of gazing, relaxing into the trust of their love, before she is no longer quite sure who she is. She leans closer, her lips barely brushing Pablo's. Joy, love, desire, hope... all these explode through their soul. They gasp — just a small one — as their qi rushes between them. She hopes they never become so accustomed to this feeling that they're no longer surprised by it.

Oh God, Andrea, I love you so much!

She hesitates for less time than it takes her heart to beat once as she nips her way along his jawline, his soft scruffy beard protecting his skin from her teeth.

And I you, my heart, my soul, my Pablo.

Surprise rolls through them, originating from Pablo.

She softly whispers, "Shhh," as her teeth gently pull on his earlobe. I think it's Rene's doing... She continues teasing him with lips and teeth and tongue, exploring his neck... pausing for kisses that tease more than satisfy. Pablo struggles to free his hands, but as he's already discovered over the past few months, Andrea is stronger than he is.

"Andi..." he manages to say, making it sound like a prayer and a plea. Let me touch you...

She pauses in her ministrations, raising her head up so she can look into those beautiful eyes again. She smiles at him, knowing just how desperately he wants to be freed; she can feel both the physical and emotional evidence of his desire. She leans down to whisper in his other ear, "Not yet... you're my prisoner, remember?" She runs her tongue along his ear, as they both shudder with delight.

Logan can dislodge her easily; instead he only watches with those dark eyes. As Madeline dithers further, the torture is as much to her as it is to him, but it is a game they often play. He brings his arms down to his sides as she slithers down him and can no longer even give the pretense of holding him. His fingers curl into the earth beneath him as he restrains himself.

Ignoring her own ache and need, Madeline tugs at his waistband, slipping the front down and below him. She covers him with her mouth before the cool air has a chance to take effect. He growls and arches his back. As she works, she feels hands at her waist, a touch almost as familiar to her as her own. Rene is there, removing her clothing, stoking her fires.

Before too long, Logan reaches down and grasps her shoulders. She releases him from her mouth and he pulls her onto his chest. They kiss deeply as they slowly join until he is settled fully inside her. Rene shields her backside from the cold; Madeline is sandwiched between them.

Logan's thoughts are primal emotions and colors of wants and needs. Joyfully, passionately, and more than willingly, Madeline is swept away by them. Rene, too, allows himself to be pulled into the maelstrom of instinctive desire.

The waves of pleasure — so fierce and primal — wash over them as their Sister and Brothers revel in their joy. Andi releases Pablo's wrists and braces her hands against Mother on either side of his head; his hands slide up her arms, slowly and sensuously, and then down her sides. She holds his gaze as she moves slowly backward... a knee shifts, then a hand, the other knee, the other hand.

Pablo groans as she moves out of his reach.

She chuckles softly. "You could come after me."

"You never let me catch you," he says, his voice rough with desire.

She runs her fingers along the waistband of his sweatpants, between elastic and skin so smooth, so warm with life and the energy that they share. She begins pulling the pants down, feeling how desperately he wants her... and reflecting back to him how desperately she wants him.

There's a first time for everything, you know.

She restrains herself from just tearing his sweats off; they do need to return to the house clothed. They are both so aroused by the time she pulls them off that their eyes are already glow brightly.

He moves quickly then — not so quickly that Andi couldn't counter him, but she finds that she has no desire to fight his claim of dominance... not today. One moment he is lying on his back with her kneeling beside him, the next moment she is on her back with Pablo straddling her hips and pinning her wrists to the ground. She laughs with joy.

"Turnabout is fair play, don't you think?" he whispers before he runs his tongue down her neck and bites her shoulder. She gasps and their qi flares; memories of the night they reforged their Bond on Lookout Mountain flash through her mind. And apparently through Pablo's, too. "Mmmm... I like that thought." He sits back on her thighs, however, running his fingers teasingly over her breasts after releasing her wrists. He slips his thumbs under the waistband of her shorts and begins massaging the inner edges of her pelvic bones.

She moans, but returns the favor by running her nails up his inner thighs... coming oh so close to a very attentive part of his anatomy.

"These shorts are a bad idea," he says as he begins pulling them down, and moving himself away from her teasing fingers in the process. "And look silly with the boots." He grins at her as he tosses the shorts over his shoulder. I love it when you forget to wear undergarments, he says as he begins licking and biting his way up her legs and inner thighs.

She has to grip the desert grass, almost digging her fingers into the desert floor, to keep from pulling his head closer. Her back arches as he gently pushes her legs farther apart. She manages a somewhat coherent thought. What makes you think I forgot?

He chuckles, then runs his tongue between her lips and over her clitoris, making her cry out... inarticulate sounds, as words are beyond her now. But she makes sure that the sensations reverberate back to him. Possibly around the whole circle. She doesn't know. He's groaning the next time his tongue passes over her, adding a vibration to the ecstasy.

They are both glowing softly now.

But as he takes another drink of her juices, she calls out his name. Out loud? Only in their minds? She doesn't know. She does know that his need is as strong as her; their desire is shared and multiplied.

And now she knows that feelings, sensations, emotions are spiraling around the circle; her mind is being blanketed by a need, by emotions so primal that she knows it can only be Logan. Pablo moves up to kiss her, deeply and passionately. As she wraps her arms around his shoulders, he enters her hard and fast; she screams her joy into his mouth as the power of their Sister's and Brothers' passion pull them in.

They surround her and fill her, with their passion, their love and themselves. Hands and mouths are touching and stroking and kissing and biting. There are moans and growls that come from them blending together in harmony and counterpoint. As a unit, they roll, ending up with Rene beneath her and Logan above her.

Logan plants his hands on the ground on either side of them, keeping his weight on his arms so as not to crush his Mate and her Husband. Slowly he withdraws and strokes back in, eliciting a moan from both. He begins to repeat the maneuver, increasing speed and force each time. He has a way of moving that stimulates her both inside and out.

Rene wraps his arms around Madeline and holds on tightly, not to keep her in place but in an effort to hold on as long as possible. Joined as they are, physically and mentally, he feels and experiences everything she does. Her fingers dig into Logan's biceps as he brings her to that precipice and over. He covers her mouth with his as she cries out her first orgasm. Rene ducks his head against her shoulder and bites his lip to hold on. Logan grins ferally and renews his efforts, bringing her another and again.

"Logan," Rene chokes out.

The man gives a nod and lets himself go with her next explosion. Leaning down to kiss her once more, he collapses an arm and they roll again.

Every nerve in her body is vibrating, to the point of almost being too much to bear... and then beyond even that. She is riding the edge between pleasure and pain. As always, the qi flowing between them heightens the exquisite sensations that blur the ability to discern reality, and just who they are. They are One.

And within their new Bond, they seek themselves. Feeling the sensations of five bodies, the emotions of five souls... two souls... One soul... an explosion of light that no doubt can be seen even in daylight flares around them as Pablo/Logan pushes Andi/Maddie to the edge of oblivion, and into the moment of Being All, the little death. Being called back to life by the renewed efforts of their Mates... she tastes blood in her mouth, feels a sharp pain in her shoulder that only adds to the exquisite agony of their climb up to that peak once again. She hears a plea, she hopes it is ignored, for this cycle of death and rebirth is Life. They are creating universes, they are creating their One Whole Self.

Yet, even godhood is only one lifetime, and with the birth of a final star system — accompanied by a violent wind that whips the desert trees and shrubs into a frenzy — they return to human form. They return to their individual selves.

Andi is breathing more heavily than she does during even her most strenuous exercises... but being a god, creating universes is hard work. Pablo rests his head on her shoulder.

"You bit me," he breathes.

I did? She remembers tasting blood; she raises her hand and runs the back of it over her mouth. Oh. I guess I did. I'm sorry.

"'Sokay. Already healed."

"Blood magic..." she whispers.

He strokes her cheek with gentle fingers. "Don't worry about it."

They roll and Madeline knows what comes next, is anticipating it. The things she had warned Leon about, not tapping her memories too deeply — not all of them are bad, yet even the good are things he does not need to know. She has only a moment to catch her breath before Rene begins to stroke her insides from behind. She feels the electricity crawl up her spine and gasps with it.

Logan stares into her face, strokes her cheek with gentle fingers, watches the ecstasy fill her features and overcome her. As her Husband brings her to fullness time and again, he stirs within her. She is a primal, sexual being who offers him everything she can. He cups her head and kisses her passionately, catching the expression of her pleasure with his mouth.

Finally, her Husband grunts and lets loose, both collapsing atop her Mate with their release, and yet her Mate is not quite done, as that part of him comes to life once more. He does not move to fulfill his desires. He waits and kisses her, her mouth, her nose, her cheeks, along the line of her jaw and down her neck. Her response is soft moans and the desperate whisper of his name.

Rene withdraws from within but does not move from behind her, staying and keeping her back warm. He stays, touching his wife in a way he has not had the chance to do for far too long. The simple act of holding her had been a precious commodity to him before his death, and now that they are reunited, even more so. Her love for the man who is her Mate does not diminish her love for him or his for her. He softly kisses the nape of her neck and sends all his love to her.

Beneath them both, Logan begins to move again, slowly at first, working his way up to a grunting frenzy. His hands hold her hips, keeping her in place. She holds onto his shoulders, her fingers digging in. She comes once, then again, and yet again before he spends himself and kisses her in joy.

He had had decades of pain, and this one woman has done so much to alleviate his past heartaches, even the ones he can only fleetingly remember.

As the waves of primal pleasure crash over them, she turns her head to kiss Pablo. He pulls her over to lie on top of him; a hard reminder of his desperate need swells between them. Oh, but his kiss! She could get lost in the dance of qi and tongues. As each wave washes over them, their fierce passion grows, making it more and more intolerable to deny themselves the joining.

His lips, oh... oh, his lips! She pulls away, but not far... no, she can't go far. She kisses his eyelids, his cheeks, his jaw. The throbbing artery in his neck seems to whisper her name.

She kneels astride him, looking down at his glowing perfection. It's almost as if his skin contains the stars; he glistens in the morning light like the noonday sun on water — bright and blinding.

"Andrea," he whispers, his voice full of desperation and longing.

She can see the sound of his voice coloring the waves.

Her own eyes glow, her body shines as brightly as his, as she lowers herself slowly... slowly... slowly until he fills her completely. She leans forward, bracing her hands beside his shoulders, and looks into his eyes... she can almost see the rich brown of wood within the green glow, just as she knows he can almost see the deeper brown of her eyes within the golden amber light.

Come ride the waves with me, my love!

He smiles as he moves inside her. Whither thou goest, beloved...

She closes her eyes to look at the qi — the beauty and the power of it. Her body moves and the colors cycle through the spectrum, both visible and invisible to the eye. She touches the color, and hears Mother's joyous laughter as her body shudders. As their bodies are nearly overwhelmed with the intensity of orgasms feeding orgasms, she reaches out and touches the qi itself.

No longer one person making love to another person, no longer one person bound in heart and soul to four others, she is... they are all.

She is Qi.

My God, Andrea...


She feels Pablo's awe, for it mirrors her own. No matter how often she touches the qi of the universe and joins the universal flow, she is awed by its wonder and beauty.


This... this is the greatest gift my power gives me.


The stars sing, the mountains hum, each life — be it plant or animal or human, normal or mutant — touches her, caresses her, becomes a part of her.


You are a God...


The joy that had launched them to become the universe bubbles through her, bathing all the parts of her — plant and animal and human, normal and mutant.


No, Pablo... I am not She. I am only blessed to visit Her realm.


And still their bodies shudder, bathing them with more joy, more qi, more... just... more.




Magnificent clouds of colors and energy spiral around them.


The Spirits... their true forms.


Their presence adds to the wonder and joy of this moment... for time seems to have surely stopped. However, the moment — or perhaps a set of many minutes — passes, and the Spirits begin to dissipate. The parts of the One known as Maddie and Logan and Rene seem to be close to satiation.


We should return...


Andrea... thank you.

Slowly... slowly... slowly... she allows herself to return to her own body, just at the moment one final orgasm sweeps through them. She looks down at the face of her soul.

To show you the face of beauty brings me joy. I love you, Beloved.

# # #


A moment later, his sister appears at the foot of the stairs.

"Billy, what's gotten into you?" she asks, hands placed firmly on her hips. "You know Aunt Sonia doesn't like yelling in the house."

"Is it okay if I leave the reservation?" Billy asks excitedly.

"What? Now?!" she asks incredulously.

"No, silly. Where would I go? Everyone is coming here. Sheesh!" He mirrors her posture, hands on his hips.

"Are you going somewhere in particular, Billy? Or do you just want to tour the country?" she asks.

"Does it matter? No, never mind! I want to visit our new cousins at their school. It's not going to cause civilization to come to a grinding halt, will it?" He bounces lightly on his feet as he grins at her.

Talia, in turn, rolls her eyes. "Oh, good grief!" She waves a hand at him, saying, "Go, go. Fine. Just wait until after Andi's wedding."

"Yes!!" He turns back to Leon and the twins. "Okay, Andi's getting married two days after Christmas. So anytime after that, I can go. Civilization might grind to a halt if I go before then."

From the bottom of the stairs, Talia sighs before heading back to the kitchen.

Em and Vin giggle.

"Maybe they will have let us go there by then, too," Em says, giving Billy a smitten look.

Vin reaches over and pokes her arm.

"What?" she asks.

Vin hooks his thumb at Leon. "You're getting as bad as him."

"Am not."

"Are too."

"Am not."

"Are too."

"Stop," Leon says before it goes much further. "Why don't we go downstairs and see about breakfast?"

"Oh, yeah... I'm starving!" Vin says.

"Me, too!" Em agrees.

# # #

After sparring, the four corporeal members of the Pentad run the rest of the loop back to Uncle Leon and Aunt Sonia's house. Just after Indian Service Route 451 curves back toward the southeast, Logan starts speeding up... not much yet, but Pablo notices and drops back first. When Maddie drops back, Logan grins at Andi — and oh, hell yes, that's a dare! — and keeps moving faster and faster. By the time the two of them turn back on 7820, Andi is nearly maxed out on her speed.

Of course, she's not above cheating. Logan continues up 7820 toward 7815 — which makes sense, given that's the way they'd left the house earlier. Andi, however, cuts across County Road 7813. True, it will take her through one of the few housing developments in Nageezi. True, it will take her right past the water filtration plant. But 7813 intersects with 7815 much closer to the house.

Logan reaches the end of the driveway before she does, but not by much... not by much.

She grins and points in the direction she came. "I'm going back to show the muggles the shortcut. Coming?" Without waiting for an answer, she heads back the way she'd come. Part of the reason for running, of course, is exercise. Unless she runs at night as Ninja, she never gets a chance to just run... simply for the joy of running. The other reason for running, especially at top speed, is to work up a sweat. Everyone is going to be up by the time they get back to the house. There's just something about being around people who aren't part of the Pentad that makes all those inhibitions she absorbed during her formative years kick in, and kick in hard. She would much rather smell like sweat than sex.

They bid adieu to Rene — who had mostly paced Maddie except when he was off chatting with the Spirits — at the end of the driveway. Andi believes the best time to introduce him to the whole family is at the Dance.

Oh, Ha'atathli Ravenclaw and Cousin Tommy are going to grill her for hours!

When they walk back in the house, Talia and Billy are having a staring contest — or at least, that's what it appears to be. Leon and the twins are waiting in the kitchen entryway; Andi assumes they're waiting for Billy. The twins — Em in particular — are grinning. So is Billy.

"Come on, come on, come on, Tali! You can tell me!" he says, bouncing up and down in typical Billy fashion. "Come on, what would happen if I went to New York before Andi's wedding, huh?"

"Stop it, Billy..." she starts before noticing the arrival of the early morning runners. And by noticing, she begins waving her hand in front of her face and looking like she might turn green. "Oh, my God, you guys STINK! What did you do, run a marathon? Ugh!"

Yes! Andi's nefarious plan has worked!

"We'd love to go up and take showers — it was more like a 5K with a break in the middle for some hand-to-hand sparring," Andi says brightly, "but a couple of people are in the way." She starts to move past them. "What are you going to New York for, Billy? No, wait! Tell us over breakfast, okay?"

"Okay, but I want to visit Leon and Vin and Em's school. Their Professor sounds really excellent." He continues talking despite the fact that there are four stinky people trying to escape to the showers. "I mean, I know I'm nearly out of college so it's not like I could be a student or anything, but it sounds really great!"

Andi pauses at the top of the stairs, letting Pablo, Maddie and Logan move around her as she looks down at her cousins. "Billy, I'm sure the Professor would adore you, and if Talia says to wait, then you should wait. Good grief, it's not even two months away!"

He bounces with greater vigor and she can hear Pablo chuckling from the doorway to the bedroom. "But I wanna go, I wanna go, I wanna go, I wan..."

"Whoa there, Tigger," Andi interrupts him as she shakes her head. "Settle down. It could take two months just to make arrangements and you know better than to argue with your sister. Now go have breakfast, you lunatic." She gives Talia a look of sympathy before joining Pablo in the bedroom.

Clean... Clean would be wonderful right now, possibly the second best idea she's had this morning!

Andi is not the only one bathed in sweat. Madeline's hair is mostly plastered to her head and her shirt is soaked as well. She grins at the kids, ruffling Vin's hair as she goes past. She used to do that to Leon, but he is taller than she is now.

It is followed by a groan of, "Mom."

Em giggles and ducks out of the way, too fast for her mother but not for her father.

"Your old man's still faster than you, kiddo," Logan says, ruffling her wild locks.

"Someday, I'll be as fast as you, Dad," she says with another giggle.

"You kids go eat, too," Madeline says, "Don't be waiting on us."

"All right, Mom," Leon says.

He gives her an odd look before ushering his siblings toward breakfast.

Once the kids are out of earshot and they are back to their shared room, she says, "We can double up if there won't be enough hot water for the four of us."

"I think the hot water heaters can handle it today," Andrea replies. "Although once everyone gets here and wants to take morning showers, all bets are off. My concern is getting down to breakfast while there's still protein to be had."

She grins at Pablo, although her words are directed to Maddie. "If someone can manage to behave himself, we can be in and out quickly. I think our record is seven and a half minutes."

Pablo laughs. "I wouldn't know, dear. You're the one who obsessively times yourself."

His wife gives him a haughty look. "You never know when a second will make the difference between life and death, Detective," she says before pulling their toiletries kit from the larger bag. "Mock me all you want, but it helps to know how long it will take to get to Five Points or Charlie's from any given spot in town."

"Obsessive," he says in a stage whisper to Madeline and Logan.

And Andi swats him. "You two go ahead and use this bathroom," she says, grinning. "We'll use the one across the hall. I may have to reprimand the Detective so it could take ten or twelve minutes."

"Discipline should take longer than that," Madeline says with a grin as she snakes an arm around Logan. "See you kids downstairs."

"Oh, this will just be a reminder that the discipline will come later," Andi says to Maddie as she grabs her jeans and a clean shirt. Then she looks at Pablo.

"Come along, dear," she says, opening the door. "Breakfast won't wait forever." She giggles as she crosses the hall.

Once Andi and Pablo have left, she says, "This stuff is stuck to me. Help me out of it, will you, love?"

"Sure thing, darlin'," he responds.

Cleanup does not take that long for either of them. Washed clean of all their exertions, they reappear in jeans and tank tops and boots. They hold hands as they head for the stairs.

After closing the door behind them, Pablo strips down and steps into the shower Andi has already started. It takes mere seconds to rid herself of her dirty clothing before getting into the shower with him.

Most mornings are like this — the dance of two people sharing a shower and actually trying to get clean. The only difference is that the shower is a little smaller than the one at home. Pablo might tease, but he does appreciate the efficiency of their morning cleansing ritual. As Andi is working the shampoo through her hair, he hesitates and she feels a bit of confusion flowing through their Bond.

"You've been unusually uninhibited since we got here, Andi," he says with a puzzled tone. "I like it, but what's up?"

She pulls her hair forward and bows her head so he can wash her back as she's finishing her hair.

"It's just the difference between public and private, family and not family, I suppose." Her tone says that this is so obvious that she thought he already understood that.

"No, I guess I meant with Madeline and Logan and Rene." He steps to the side so she can rinse her hair.

Standing under the water, she realizes he has a point... although she isn't sure words can quite explain why it makes perfect sense to be as free with them as she is with him. She just takes one of his hands and holds it with their lao gong points aligned; their qi swirls around and between them.

"We share this with them. That makes the difference."

He nods slowly. "I love it, but I guess it's going to take me a little while to really wrap my head around it," he says with his half smile as he turns the water off.

She squeezes as much water from her hair as possible as he steps out of the shower and begins drying himself. "Take whatever time you need; you're loved, so very much." She steps out of the shower and kisses him softly before wrapping a towel around her hair, then grabbing another to dry herself. "Besides, your heart is already way ahead of your head," she says, smiling softly.

It doesn't take long to get dressed. Andi's hair is still a bit damp, but it will dry fairly quickly in the desert climate, despite the cool temperatures. Maddie and Logan are just heading down the stairs as Pablo tosses their dirty laundry back in their room.

They follow them down to the kitchen and sit at the table. Andi sits across from Billy, who has Em on one side and Talia on the other. Aunt Sonia puts another platter of bacon and breakfast sausage on the table, and Andi snares a large portion of the sausage before scooping out several serving spoonfuls of scrambled eggs from the bowl in front of her. Passing the bowl to Pablo, she looks between Billy and Em...

...and giggles.

Talia tries, fairly successfully, to hide a smile. Billy looks at his cousin, a little confused, and says, "What?"

"Nothing. You're just adorable."

"Of course I am, but you've never giggled at me before because of it."

Andi just shrugs and starts eating.

"MOM! I think Andi's picking on me!" he complains to his mother at the other end of the table.

"Of course she is, dear. Now finish your breakfast," Aunt Alicia says, not bothering to look at the end of the table where the two cousins face off, before continuing her conversation with Uncle Leon.

"Not fair," Billy mumbles.

Andi just smiles and eats her breakfast.

Neither Madeline nor Logan is shy about piling up their plates. Massive amounts of protein are fairly normal for both of them after workouts. Em and Vin don't even blink at it, but Leon has been away from home long enough and had not seen the at-home transformation when his mother had started her extra-curricular activities. He just stares, mouth slightly open.

Logan nudges Madeline with his knee. When she looks over, he points at Leon with his chin. She glances over at her oldest son and chuckles.

"Problem, sweetheart?" she asks innocently.

When he does not respond right away, she says, "Leon?"

He starts a bit when he realizes he has been staring. "Um, no, I just... I don't remember ever seeing you eat that much..."

Em and Vin giggle.

"That, my boy, is because you were too busy filling your own stomach to notice."

"No," he says, shaking his head. "No, I'm sure I would have noticed you keeping up with Dad..."

Logan chuckles.

"If you say so," his mother replies.

"You've been around the salad eaters too long, Leon," Em says.

Being feral, she also has high protein needs.

"But they are pretty," Vin says.

Em rolls her eyes.

"At least I didn't attach myself to any of them," Vin says to the look.

"That's only because your favorite was already following our big brother around."

"Was not."

"Was too."

A chuff from Logan stops the sibling bickering before it can really start.

"Now finish your breakfast," Madeline tells them. "Might as well eat hearty. I understand there will be a large influx of people today. We expect you two to keep the antics in check for a bit, and no blaming Billy."

"Oui, Mama," they both say.

Billy watches the conversion between his new cousins and at Vin's comment to Em, he gives Andi a look of exasperated annoyance. She ignores him.

"And Billy..."

He looks down the table at his father. "Yes, Dad?"

"You will not be blaming anything on Andrea, nor will you blame anything on your brother Henry," Junior says in a way that makes it very clear this isn't the first time Billy has gotten this warning. In fact, it is probably far beyond the hundredth time.

"Okay, Dad," Billy says, entirely too agreeably. "Henry's not even going to be here."

Andi barely stifles a chuckle. "Right. Like that's stopped you before." She grins at him. "And no blaming the Spirits, either."

"Hey, I'd never do..."

"Billy!" his mother interrupts. "What have I told you about telling stories?"

"Um... that they should be good ones?"

Aunt Alicia gives him The Look, then her eyes flicker to Talia. Talia flicks the back of Billy's head... not very hard, but rather gleefully.

"Hey! What did I do?" he asks of his sister as he rubs the back of his head.

Talia shrugs. "You know."

Billy glares at Talia for another few seconds before sighing and turning back toward his mother. "Storytelling is a sacred art that teaches us important lessons," he says, almost as if he is reading from a script... or repeating information he's learned by rote. "While embellishment is encouraged, and often required, we must never confuse the crafting of a story with lying. Telling untruths disgraces the story, the lesson, the Spirits, and ourselves."

Andi nods with approval. "The best he's done yet, Aunt Alicia. I think there might be hope for him yet."

Billy snorts at her. He barely refrains from sticking his tongue out at her.

Junior chuckles as Alicia smiles. "The question, my dear niece, is whether or not you have learned the lesson."

"Oh, I've learned the lesson, dear Uncle," Andi says with a smile and a slight shrug. "I just don't often put the lesson into practice."

Uncle Leon sighs. "It boggles my mind, Andrea, that you are a great Warrior and yet you can't tell a proper story."

She gives him a look of resignation. "I know. It's sad, isn't it? It's not that I don't try, but not that many people can truly appreciate a good and proper story.'

Her aunts laugh softly while her uncles exchange a look. "You really should practice more often, Andrea. If that means coming to visit regularly, I'm sure we'll be able to talk Pablo into finding a way to convince you," Uncle Junior says.

Andi looks at Pablo and might get a little moon-eyed. "All Pablo has to do, Uncle Junior, is say he'd like to come out and visit." She winks at Pablo as Billy pretends to gag. Then she looks at her uncle again. "Work out a schedule among yourselves," she says with a laugh. "As long as we're not busy saving the world, I think we'll be able to get out here more often.

"And today, I think I'm going to get plenty of practice telling stories... I suspect I'm going to need to tell Tommy and Ha'atathli Ravenclaw one heck of a story." As she reaches for her glass of orange juice, she feels what is coming to be the familiar sensation of tiny Opossum paws gripping her ear.

Spider, Horse, and Crow approach...


Those they guard have just left the black road.

She finishes her juice before speaking. "Opossum says that Charlie, Susan, and Tezza just pulled off the 550," she says as she sets the glass down. "Do you need help cleaning up here?"

Aunt Sonia brushes the offer away. "No, no... go greet your cousin," she says with a smile. "Perhaps Billy should stay and help."

Billy looks at his aunt, eyes wide in near terror. "Mommy!!"

Aunt Alicia laughs. "Well done, Soni," she says to her sister-in-law. "I rarely manage to cause that look on his face anymore." She looks at Billy and nods. "Go on, go on... go meet your brother."

Andi grabs the last two pieces of bacon off the platter before she stands up. "You coming, too, Talia? You haven't seen Susan in a while either, have you?"

Talia glances at her mother, who just smiles.

"All of you go on outside... the grownups can handle cleaning the table."

Talia is already standing and pushing her chair back in place. "Thank you, Mom." She grins at Andi. "No, it's been nearly a year!"

As Talia and Billy very nearly bounce out of the house with the excitement of seeing their brother and future sister-in-law, Andrea and Pablo hang back, waiting for Madeline and Logan and their children.

All eyes are on Madeline. She smiles and nods, then stands up herself. Logan joins her as they leave the table. Each child has set their flatware upside down on their plate and has pushed in their chair.

Madeline smiles again.

"Tres bon. Merci," she tells the three of them.

Logan chuffs his agreement as he wraps his hand around Madeline's. The twins grin and skip ahead. Madeline holds out her other hand to Leon, who comes up beside her. He is feeling out of it enough to willingly take her hand and walk with her.

"We'll be right behind you, Andi," she says.

She squeezes Leon's hand.

Andi nods to Maddie and walks outside holding Pablo's hand. It's already a beautiful day; although still on the cool side, the sun is bright, the sky is blue, and the air is clean. While Billy and the twins start chasing one another around what might be considered the front yard, Andi and Pablo follow Talia toward the garage. Talia walks beyond the garage to show Charlie where he should park. She and Pablo stay closer to the house. In addition to the pavement in front of the garage, Uncle Leon had gravel poured on the far side of the garage years ago to accommodate more vehicles. Often, he has as many as a dozen students for his spring and summer Dance camps; with people coming from all parts of the Nation, carpooling very often isn't possible.

What's wrong, sweetheart?"


Even like this, he tries that normal teenage tactic.

I know something's bothering you. You just let me know when you're ready to talk about it.


Just a few steps later, he seems to be ready to talk.

It's you, Mom…

There is hesitation; Madeline merely waits.

You're just… different. And… and Em said… said you and Dad got married?

She pauses in her steps.

Em said that? Her surprise is evident in her tone.

Not wanting his little sister in trouble, Leon quickly temporizes. I'm sure it's just wishful thinking, Mom…

She isn't in trouble, Leon. I'm just surprised she picked up on it.

You mean it's true??

Well, yes, though not in the way most folk think of it.


Remember the bond Andi talked about that I have with your father?

Um, yeah…

I have something a bit like that with your dad now. It is a lifelong commitment, and it's a little different because of what he is.

You mean a feral?

That's part of it and probably why Em knew what it was. Though how she knew what to call it…

So there wasn't a ceremony or anything?

No, this is something a lot older.


Kind of tough to explain. And maybe the two of us can sit down and talk it out later, where embarrassing things can be said in relative private without all these new relatives around.

Leon looks over at his mother for a long heartbeat, then nods.


Watching her youngest cousin playing with Vin and Em, Andi smiles. "So, are you still intent on living with a baseball team?" she asks Pablo.

He puts his arm around her shoulders and pulls her closer. "Maybe," he says.

"That's at improvement." She slips her arm around his waist and closes her eyes. She can feel the nearness of Spider and Horse and Crow, although they're still too far away to be seen. Oddly, it seems as though she can almost hear Maddie and Leon chatting, except… well, they're not. A side effect of creating the Pentad, maybe? If so, Andi supposes she'd better ask Tommy how to block that sort of thing out, because that could get really distracting and annoying.

Pablo is continuing to watch the children — and in this case, Billy is definitely in the 'children' category.

"Ours wouldn't be as rambunctious as they are," he says with confidence.

Andi snickers. "Right. They'd all have the potential of Mama's qi power and whatever else Mama's picked up from Aunt Maddie, plus the potential of Papa's wind and light power. Oh, and flying." She opens her eyes and looks at him. "Do you really think our children will be placid, calm creatures?"

He continues to watch as Billy fends off a fake attack from the twins. Vin and Em are just too well coordinated; Billy doesn't stand a chance and goes down under a pile of ten year olds. On the other hand, Billy has the advantage in escape techniques. He shifts to a gorilla, grabs a twin in each arm, and rolls to his feet as his former tormentors squeal in delight.

Charlie's van turns into the driveway and Billy lumbers in that direction, a captive under each arm. Andi shakes her head.

"I can hope our children will be placid, calm creatures," Pablo says, watching the spectacle. The twins are making a token effort to escape but, at least in Em's case, that's all it is.

"Uh huh. You know you're just setting yourself up for a nervous breakdown, right?" she teases.

Pablo looks down at her with a serene smile. "I have faced down gang members high on drugs, the drug dealers themselves, and all manner of armed felons. I'm sure I can handle active children." He kisses her forehead.

Just then, Charlie pulls abreast of Billy and stops the van. "Hey, King Kong!" he shouts out the window. "Shouldn't you be climbing a building or something with those squirming things?"

"Charlie!" Andi yells at him. "Don't you go giving him any ideas!"

Not that Billy needs any ideas. He puts the twins down, shifts into a centaur again, and says to his brother, "Race ya!" Then he quickly helps Vin climb up on his back and starts running in the direction of the house.

Em is easily outpacing Billy the Centaur. Charlie is actually falling behind; one can only go so fast on a gravel and dirt driveway without making a mess that would annoy Uncle Leon. Andi raises an eyebrow at Pablo.

"No. I stand by my statement," he says, although he sounds ever so slightly less confident than before.

Andrea looks over at Maddie, Logan, and Leon. "I think after Billy, everyone else in the family will seem so normal as to almost be boring."

Billy gallops up as Em finishes running a loop around him. Vin slides off his back, grinning.

Charlie parks the van and Susan jumps out before he has a chance to even turn off the ignition, running to Talia for a hug. When he walks around the van, he bangs on the sliding door behind the passenger seat. "Get out here, Tezza!" Then he, too, saunters over to Talia for a hug. Ignoring the girl in the van, the three of them walk toward Andi and Pablo. Charlie's arms are around his sister and his fiancée.

"Andi, Pablo! Good to see you again!" he says, smiling broadly.

"And it's fantastic to see you again, Charlie. And you, too, Susan!" Andi takes a few steps forward to hug both Susan and Charlie. "I missed you in Flagstaff. My gods, how long has it been?"

"Too long, Andi," Susan replies, returning the hug. "Too long."

"So... guys..." she says, turning around. "This is my sister, Madeline Jacobs. Her Mate, Logan. Her son, Leon." Andi looks over her shoulder at the twins and Billy, then rolls her eyes. "The wild things with Billy and Vincent and Emelia."

Andi turns back to Maddie. "Sister, Brother, Nephew... my cousin Charles Yazzie and his fiancée Susan Greymountain."

"Charlie's fine," says the young man. "No need to be formal." He steps forward to hug Madeline and shake hands with Logan and Leon. "It's good to have you in the family. Welcome."

Susan, too, offers hugs to all three of them. Then she leans closer to Andi and asks softly, "When did Billy learn that?"

Andi looks at her then rolls her head toward Talia. "I don't know. I think Talia's in for a grilling."

Madeline returns the hugs with a smile, Logan only stiffens a little bit at his hug, and Leon blushes.

"Charlie, Susan," she greets them, "a pleasure to meet you."

Logan only nods but does chuff at the twins, who manage to pause long enough to say hello.

"Hello," Leon says.

"Hi!" Em pipes up from her spot next to Billy.

"Bonjour!" Vin echoes.

The morning seems to fly by in the whirl of meeting new people. Just as Charlie manages to engage Leon in a conversation about music — the most relaxed Andi has seen young Leon yet — Yani and Daniel arrive for another round of introductions. She's never seen Yani happier, and she's never seen a pregnant woman so proud and yet so humble to be the giver of life.

Tezza has yet to emerge from Charlie's van.

Billy, for the most part, manages to keep both Vin and Em busy — perhaps in an attempt to wear them out, although given who their parents are, Andi isn't sure who is going to collapse first. Logan doesn't need to remind them of their manners when Yani and Daniel arrive; Billy got the hint when Charlie and Susan arrived and stops his shenanigans long enough for the twins to greet cousin Yani and her husband.

The activity of the day seems to swirl around them. The qi flowing through the Pentad has a tinge of Logan's unease at being around so many people who are family, yet strangers. Oh, yes... Rene is there with them; the other four of the Pentad are just the only ones who can see him. For the moment, he is even unseen by the twins. They stand together, instinctively perhaps, as others move in and out of their orbit.

Daniel comes over to ask if he should begin designing a house for Andi and Pablo. When she replies that it might still be too early to think about a new house, Pablo mentions it will need to be huge... for all the children they're going to have. He gets a jab from Andi for that; from Daniel he gets a shake of the head and a comment about insane people.

At some point after Yani and Talia come over to mention the dearth of fashion designers who can create clothing for pregnant women, Andi drops to the ground cross-legged, pulling Pablo with her. She grins at Maddie and Logan, then nods to the ground beside her. There's no point standing around when others have begun to pull lawn chairs from the garage and are settling in groups to chat.

Sitting on the ground is nothing new for any of them, although Madeline is more sitting in Logan's lap than next to him.

It's still more than an hour before lunchtime, and Tezza has yet to emerge from Charlie's van.

This day is good; being with family is good. Billy leads the twin on a merry chase around the property. Leon seems happy to be chatting with Charlie and Susan; every once in a while he glances over at his mother and smiles. The five individuals of the Pentad have no real need to speak, although there is the occasional question from someone to be answered. Andi leans her head against Pablo's shoulder, her bare foot rests against Maddie's or Logan's depending on how they're shifted as the children make mad dashes around them. Everyone is content, most everyone is happy.

Except for Tezza, who still has yet to emerge from Charlie's van.

Just as Aunt Sonia, Aunt Alicia, and Talia get up to start putting lunch together, Raven plummets to the ground and lands with a thud. Andi groans.

"I thought the crazy Spirit wasn't going to come back until after the Ha'atathli gets here."

Fox slips up from behind her and curls into her lap. "The Ha'atathli are arriving, they are leaving the black road. The rest of your family is not far behind them," Fox says as it looks up at her.

"Aunt Sonia!" Andi calls over to her aunt. "The rest of the family will be here soon!"

Sonia stops, looking surprised. "I wasn't sure if Tommy and Mr. Ravenclaw would be here for lunch, but I certainly didn't expect your folks or Papa and Tita this early." She shrugs and smiles. "Well, I definitely have enough soup and sandwich makings." She turns to her husband. "Leon, will you and Junior set up the tables out here? It's a beautiful day... there's no point spending it indoors."

"I'll help, Aunt Sonia!" Charlie says, jumping up. Leon follows, although he offers his help more quietly.

Yani looks at Daniel, who laughs. "I'll help, too, Mother," he says as he gets up. "I'll never hear the end of it if I don't."

"Thank you, boys," Sonia says, smiling, before going into the house.

Andi finds it endlessly amusing to hear Yani's thirty nine year old husband referred to as a boy.

She shakes her head when Pablo looks at her questioningly. "Leon and Charlie are getting along well. Let's not add too many distractions to the dynamic."

Still, Tezza has yet to emerge from Charlie's van.

The thought apparently crosses Pablo's mind, for he looks at the van with mild concern. "Should someone check on Susan's cousin?" he asks.

Andi shrugs. "No need. Charlie and Susan left the windows open and her aura feels like she's sleeping off a hangover. It's probably best to let her alone until she wakes up on her own."

"Crow asks if you think you can help her," Fox says.

"I don't know," Andi replies honestly. "We can try. The first step is to let some of the poisons get out of her body." She gazes speculatively at the van. "We could Dance for her, but her eyes need to be opened to our ways before she will let Crow guide her." She glances at Maddie and Logan and Rene. "We'll do all we can, though."

Then she looks over at Raven lying in a heap on the ground a few feet away. "Is Raven just going to be a lump there like that?"

Fox nods. "Yes. I think so."

"Great." Andi's tone makes it clear that she thinks it is anything but great.

Cousin, Elder Ravenclaw and I are nearly there. How are you and Pablo?

Andi smiles as she leans against Pablo's shoulder again; he starts in surprise.

"Andi? Is that Tommy? I feel like he's whispering in the back of my head."

She chuckles. "Yep. That's Tommy." She raises an eyebrow at her Sister and Brothers in a question. She suspects that they, too, can hear at least an echo of Tommy's words.

We're fine, Tommy. Pablo can actually hear you.

She hears what she guesses is the telepathic equivalent of shocked stuttering before Tommy replies.

And how is THAT possible, Andrea?

Well. It would appear that she — or rather they — have done something mighty peculiar, as it's been years since she's heard that mental tone from Tommy.

Well... Andi looks around at the other members of the Pentad, at Fox, at Raven. I guess that's part of what you and Ha'atathli Ravenclaw are coming to find out.

Tommy mentally sighs. We should have some time after lunch to chat before your parents and our grandparents arrive.

Nope. Sorry. They're all right behind you. In fact, knowing the way you drive when Ha'atathli Ravenclaw is in the car, and knowing the way my Dad drives, I'll bet he's riding your bumper before you turn off 7813.

Why are they so early? When I talked to Tita yesterday, she said they wouldn't be leaving Flagstaff until after lunch.

I don't know. Do you want me to ask the Spirits?


Hey, no need to shout! You'll all be here soon enough, anyway. You can ask them yourself.

The other Spirits begin to phase into sight. Cat walks across Maddie's legs and Logan's leg's and Rene's legs, then back again. And again. Quail hop-flies after Uncle Junior. Crane leans against Yani. Mouse follows Daniel for a few steps and then runs off into the house — to check on Aunt Alicia, no doubt — and then runs back out a few minutes later to follow Daniel again. Mouse does not stay still any more than Cat does.

Andi is often surprised that Mouse, of all the Spirits she's seen, is so disproportionately bigger than its earth-bound counterpart. Seeing a mouse the size of a large German shepherd is definitely different. Although she's never seen it, she's heard that Elephant is disproportionately smaller... that Mouse and Elephant are, in fact, very close to the same size. Weird.

Horse stands placidly beside Susan's chair. Andi catches a glimpse of Spider riding on Charlie's shoulder. Wolf waits patiently at the edge of the driveway; Panther paces in and out of the house... checking on Aunt Sonia, waiting for Vin. Opossum takes its place on Andi's shoulder, holding her ear as it looks around; Cobra wraps itself around her waist. Eagle glides to a landing to stand behind Pablo for a few minutes, then takes off again... presumably to be with the Ha'atathli, as well. Monkey is rolling and jumping and spinning joyously following both her Uncle Leon and her nephew Leon. Andi doesn't see Giraffe, but can sense it's presence in the house with Talia. Crow is standing on top of Charlie's van, looking a little sad... but considerably more dignified than Raven usually looks.

Wow, they're all turning out to greet you guys. You must be getting to be quite the powerful Medicine Man, Tommy, Andi says teasingly, while mentally chuckling.

Well... he responds hesitantly, I did get John's seal of approval before we left Ganado.

Andi blinks. You graduated? You're a full Ha'atathli now?!

Yes. But don't tell my folks! he says quickly. I wanted to surprise them.

Well, good grief, Tommy! Why would I tell them? You're nearly here, you can tell them in a few minutes. I can see the dust your car is kicking up. Dad's right behind you, isn't he?

He is. And he's grinning like a fool.

Ah, that's my dad! Gotta love him!

I'm trying, Andi, but it's hard when my boss becomes annoyed at speeds greater than ten miles an hour on dirt roads and your father is less than six inches from my rear bumper.

She mentally chuckles again. Don't worry, as soon as you pull into the driveway, he'll pass you.

He could pass me now!

No, he can't. He's having too much fun playing with you. If it's any consolation, Mama and Tita are probably scolding him.

No. Sorry. It's no consolation.

Andi turns to kiss Pablo's cheek. "They'll be here soon." She looks at Rene. "Ahh... did you ever get a chance to tell Leon about Monkey? And Maddie..." She rubs her forehead. "Did any of us remember to tell the twins they'll be able to see this whole menagerie?"

There are shakes of their heads to Andi's questions.

"Kind of slipped our minds, I guess," Madeline says with a shrug. "I'm sure they'll figure it out soon enough. Em told Leon that we got married."

Logan chuffs a question.

Madeline shrugs. "We could ask her, I suppose. See what else the dickens has figured out. Not entirely sure I want to know, though."

Tommy's car pulls into the driveway followed immediately by Nelson's car.

Andi, there are five people in your dad's car. Were they bringing someone else with them?

Andi stands up and looks at the cars coming up the driveway. As she had predicted, her father pulls around Tommy and speeds up. That's when she sees what is chasing her Dad's car.


"Nooooo..." she moans.

Wolf howls, calling Billy in.

"What's the matter, Andi?" Yani asks.

"My cousin-twin is here, too," she says. No. She whines. Pablo stands up and puts and arm around her.

"It will be just fine, love," he says. "If he misbehaves, you just go after him with your Kung Fu hands."

She looks up at him; he's grinning. With his arm around her, she feels him sending soothing waves of energy around her. How can she not relax? How can she not smile?

Finally, she looks at Maddie. "Well. This will be interesting, won't it?"

Seeing the Spirit in question, she grins. "I like Henry and Coyote."

Logan tilts his head and narrows his eyes as something trickled through his mind.

"Naapi," he said. "The Trickster."

Images of a Native woman telling him a story filter by. Madeline tilts her head back to look up at him. "Logan?"

After a pause, he adds, "Keukuatsheu. The Wolverine."

"Kayla Silverfox," she says softly.

He gives a nod and tightens his embrace around her. She understands in a way no one else can. She gives his hand a squeeze then kisses his chin.

"For what it's worth, I like your cousin, too," Pablo says, "even though he ate every last speck of food in the house when he was visiting."

"Hey, I love my cousin and Coyote's not so bad either." Andrea sighs. "Henry's just... high maintenance."

Pablo steps behind her so he can hug her from behind. "This is weird. I can see Cobra but can't feel it."

Cobra raises its head to look at Pablo over Andi's shoulder. "I could change my structure so you could feel my presence if it would please you, Beloved of our Warrior."

"No, no!" Pablo says hastily. "That's quite all right. Absolutely not necessary."

"As you wish." Cobra rests its head on Andi's arm.

Logan's words trigger his memories in the back of her mind. She's always been most disturbed by this part of her gift. It always seems to be sad and heartbreaking memories that she gathers. Maybe nothing ever triggers the joyful memories?

The theory is shattered when Maddie speaks the name of Logan's Blackfeet wife. Andi hugs Pablo tighter as she tries to tuck those beautiful memories back where they belong. Although that time ended in betrayal and pain, he had with Kayla Silverfox what he's found again with Maddie.

Mama and Dad get out of the car and open the rear doors of the sedan to help Papa and Tita out. Andi can hear Henry happily complaining about being stuck in the car.

Not that her grandparents seem to need any help. In the three months since she and Pablo last saw them, Papa and Tita have somehow managed to look ten years younger. At least ten years. Lion and Deer follow them as they walk toward the house; Turkey and Lynx follow Mama and Dad. Junior and Uncle Leon intercept the newcomers; Charlie greets them enthusiastically, Daniel respectfully, and Leon hangs back... once again looking unsure and shy. But Charlie puts an arm around Leon's shoulders and starts telling Papa and Tita about him. Tita simply beams at young Leon.

"Our Charlie is such a good judge of character," Andi hears Tita say. "Every bit as good as his cousin Andrea, in fact." Tita just rests her hand on the youngster's cheek for a moment. "Welcome to our family, Leon." She looks at Papa as she takes his hand. "Well, can you believe it, Bill? We're great grandparents!"

Papa looks at Tita and shakes his head. "We're not old enough for that, are we, Kai?"

"I'm afraid we are, dear."

"I wonder when that happened," he says, winking at Leon. "Why, wasn't it just last week that we were wondering how we got old enough to be grandparents?"

Tita nods and pats his hand. "Yes, I believe that's right. Was it when we were horseback riding or roller skating? Oh, it doesn't matter!" She turns to Andrea's parents and introduces them to their new grandson. Andrea might almost be tearing up at how sweet the whole scene is if Henry wasn't bypassing that introduction to head right for her and the rest of the Pentad.

"Heya, Andi! Heya, Pablo! Heya, Wolf! Betcha got another name, huh?"

Andi laughs. "Henry... Madeline. And this is her Mate, Logan."

"Heya, Logan! You know what crazy stuff Madeline and Andi been up to? Hoo boy!" Henry shakes his head. "They got some crazy shit going on. Man, Andi even talked Coyote into making me do stuff!"

"Henry." Andi looks down at Coyote at his side.


"You're as bad as your little brother with your lies."

"Oh." He shrugs and grins. "Maybe the part about Andi talking Coyote into making me do stuff wasn't quite true. Just almost true, you know?"

Behind her, Pablo is shaking with suppressed laughter.

"Logan?" Andrea looks at him, reaching around the circle with her gift to enfold all five of them. "Our tales of Coyote are not the same as other Nations' tales. Each Nation has different stories of the Trickster; in fact, some of the People consider Raven the Trickster. To us, Coyote is mischievous, yes... but never cruelly so."

"Hey, who'd tell a story about Coyote being mean? No way, man! Me and Coyote, we're about having fun, man!"


"Yeah, Andi?"

"Logan learned the tale of Nappi and Kuekuatsheu from the Blackfeet."

"Oh! Yeah, okay. Those Blackfeet, they're great people, you know? But some of their stories are pretty depressing."

"Right, like we don't have our own depressing stories."

"Exactly! If we did, I'd just forget them because who needs all that stuff? So, Andi, you said there were young folks here. All I see is that nice young man your folks and Tita and Papa are ooohing and ahhhing over. Where are the impressionable ones? Me and Coyote, we got to tell them all the stories."

Andrea laughs; she can't help it. "Wolf's called Billy in; he's been keeping them busy."

"No way! My baby brother is being responsible?"

"I wouldn't go that far, Henry," she says wryly.

"Whew! For a minute there, you had me worried, Andi."

That's the moment when Billy comes galloping around from the back of the house in centaur form — with both twins on his back this time — and stops between them and the group where Tita is holding court... in a manner of speaking, of course.

"What did I miss? Hi, Henry! What's new?" He reaches down to scritch Wolf's ears.

"Heya, Billy." Henry points to Billy's form. "This is new."

The Ha'atathli have made their way around the large group near the garage and stand a few paces away from the Pentad and those around them. Eagle moves in the blink of an eye from Ha'atathli Ravenclaw's side to Pablo's. Puma sits quietly at Tommy's feet.

Vin and Em look around wide-eyed at the Spirits.

"Andrea Yazzie, what in the name of the Great Spirit have you done?" asks Ha'atathli Ravenclaw.

"Um..." Andi looks at Maddie, then Logan, then Rene... then Cobra and Fox and Raven, raises her hand to run it down Opossum's side. "It's... a long story?"

"Hmmm. And who would that be?" he asks, pointing a finger at Rene.

...who just happens to be standing near Henry.

"Heya, Shaman John! You don't remember me? Man, don't you remember that time..."

"Not you, Henry Yazzie," Ravenclaw says. "You're more than unforgettable. I mean the young man beside you."

Henry looks around, confused, as Andi sighs.

"Part of the long story, sir. Rene Jacobs." She inclines her head toward Maddie and Logan. "My sister, Madeline Jacobs, and her Mate, Logan.

"Ah, family... Ha'atathli John Ravenclaw and my cousin, Tommy Dehiya."

"Ah, Andi?"

"Yes, Henry?"

"You been smoking the pipe too much? Seeing invisible people? That'd be really cool if it was Spock, though."

She just shakes her head. Well, craziest of the crazy is already here. It's all clear sailing from here, right?

Em sidles over to her parents. Vin is not far behind. They each attach themselves to their opposite-gendered parents, daughter to father, son to mother.

Their voices are substantially more subdued than usual as they ask in unison, "Papa?" "Mama?"

"It's all right, sweetlings," Madeline says, managing not to chuckle. "They're all friendly."

Em leans around Logan to look at Madeline in astonishment. "You see them too, Mama?"

"Oui, je fais. You see Leon's father with them, don't you?"


"They are guardian Spirits and come with the new family."

Vin finally pipes up, "And Leon's dad is one? And he's yours?"

"Managed to tell them that much did you, Rene?"

"How else was I to explain it, Maddie my love?" he answers.

"Oui, Vin, Rene – Leon's father – is my guardian Spirit and your father's as well. Cat..."

The feline in question pauses in its winding around legs to look up at Madeline and then Vin.

"...has chosen to help him and also be Em's, and Panther is yours."

"What about Leon? Does his dad watch over him too?" asks Em.

"Of course, he does, just like yours does. He also has Monkey."

Em looks around. "But not everyone can see them."

"Very true, Em. You see them because of your age."

"Then how come you can see them?" Vin asks. "You and dad are old."

Madeline and Logan exchange a look and a chuckle.

"Vin!" Em chastises his sister in a loud whisper.

"I think that explanation can wait until later," Logan puts in.

"I don't know. The explanation is fairly simple," Andi says with a shrug and a smile. "Some people have the gift to see the Spirits even when they grow up. And sometimes the Spirits decide to show themselves to everyone." She smiles fondly down at Cat. "Cat likes doing that the most, I think."

Then she turns to Henry. "One of the Spirits was once human. So yes, Henry... invisible people. And since you met him when you came out to Denver, maybe you need your memories shaken loose? Should I hold you up by your ankles?"

They are spared any further talk of Spirits and invisible people and, best of all, more comments from Henry as the remainder of the new arrivals come over to say hello.

Papa and Dad stop to say a few words to Ha'atathli Ravenclaw while Tita and Mama continue toward Andi.

"Oh, I must attend to the Wise One, Beloved of our Warrior," Eagle says, preparing to take flight.

"I could have sworn I asked you to call me Pablo," the Warrior's beloved mutters.

Eagle pauses, considers, then says, "Actually, it was our Warrior who made the request, and I apologize for failing to honor that request. Pablo. I will endeavor to use your personal name in the future."

Eagle launches itself skyward as Andi shakes her head. "Are they all crazy?" she mutters.

The Great Winged One is accustomed to the ways of your shaman. There is much respect between them, and little familiarity, Opossum whispers. Even we can learn new things. She isn't sure, but she thinks Opossum may have giggled. It's disconcerting but less so than Raven's histrionics.

She smiles, however, at Mama and Tita as they both hug Andi and Pablo at the same time.

"Oh, Tita! You look so wonderful!" Andi whispers to her.

"I took your advice, my clever granddaughter," she whispers back before releasing them.

"Tita, Mama... my sister, Madeline Jacobs... her Mate, Logan... and their children, Vincent and Emelia." Mama is smiling so brightly, Andrea would not be surprised if the sun itself turns out to be jealous.

"Guys... my grandmother, Kai Yazzie, Tita Kai... my Mama, Sandra Yazzie."

Tita looks at each of them, her gentle smile a reflection of her warm and generous heart. "Madeline," she says, taking the younger woman's hand between hers, "welcome into our family and into our hearts. You add to our joy." She looks up at Logan, searching his eyes, then takes his hand and places it over Maddie's. "You have both sadness and joy in your eyes, Logan. We welcome you, too, into our family and into our hearts. Let us add only joy to your life." Tita gives their hands a gentle squeeze before releasing them.

Madeline returns Tita Kai's hug. There is something both familiar and welcoming about her. "Thank you, Tita. You honor us."

Logan inclines his head to her. "Your family has already brought me much joy," he tells her. "If it were not for your granddaughter, I would not have my Mate."

Madeline smiles at him and they share a quick kiss.

Tita nods; all is well here. Then she places her hands on her hips as she looks at the twins.

"Well, this must certainly be the best day of my life yet — and I've had quite a few very wonderful days. Three great grandchildren!" She bends down and gave each of them a hug. "You are especially welcome to the family. Billy has started to get almost too old to surprise me anymore."

Centaur Billy trots up and looks at Tita over Maddie and Logan's shoulders. "But I keep trying, Tita!"

Tita looks up at Billy. "Do you think your mother is going to let you eat lunch looking like that? Skedaddle, you young hooligan! Get cleaned up for lunch!"

"Yes, Tita!" he says. Before leaving, however, he whispers to Em and Vin, "Save me a seat!"

Mama, of course, is right behind Tita with hugs for everyone. She is full of joy, and when Mama is happy is hard for anyone around her not to be happy as well.

Papa and Dad stand together off to the side, talking quietly... although not so quietly that Andrea can't hear them.

"Son, those women are going to scare these poor people right off the continent," Papa Bill says sadly.

"Could be, Pops. But if you think I'm going to rescue them, you should start rethinking," Dad replies.

"No, no. Once your mother and your wife start the welcome wagon rolling, getting in the way will only get you run over."

"We could quietly and in a most cowardly manner make our way to the house."

"And risk having your daughter run us down like horse rustlers?" Papa shakes his head. "Son, I'd like to live a few more years."

"Papa, Daddy! Stop that silly talk and come over here," Andi says with a grin.

"Damn it, Pops, why do I always forget that girl has super hearing?" Dad grumbles.

"Just your cross to bear, Son," Papa replies.

She introduces Papa and Dad to the new family members; Dad gives Maddie a hug and a kiss on the cheek... he gives Logan a handshake... and he tousles the twins' hair... smiling broadly the whole time.

Papa, however, gets down on one knee and speaks to the twins first. "It is good to have young ones in the family. But being of the People is a grave responsibility. I hope you will let us teach you what it means to be Navajo and that you will carry the wisdom of the People with you always."

He stands and smiles at Maddie. "As my wife has said — and my wife is never wrong — it is a joy to have you in the family. Welcome, Granddaughter," he says, then hugs her before turning to Logan. "My Spirit has spoken to me of you, Logan. You honor our family by journeying with us for a time. Yá'át'ééh. And you would make an old man happy by allowing me to call you Grandson."


Yes, Tommy?

You know what Papa's talking about?

Of course. She looks over at her cousin, and he has a rare look of impatience on his face. Tommy, it's not my story to tell.

John will have questions.

I don't doubt the elder will have a multitude of questions. They'll have to wait at least until after lunch.

When the new grandfather approaches and speaks with the twins, Madeline finds her eyes are moist. She squeezes Logan's hand. The whole family has been warm and welcoming, but there is something more to the grandparents. Certainly she could chalk it up to never having had any, but she knows it is more than that.

Em and Vin still in Papa Bill's presence and listen with wide eyes and earnest expressions, both solemnly promising to learn and keep the learning.

"Thank you, Grandfather," she says with a voice rough with emotion.

Logan has a similar reaction and a glimpse of another memory — an old Inuit man who had shown him kindness and had not feared him.

"It would be my honor, sir," he says seriously.

"Ah, now, none of that, my dears," the old man says, smiling. "You'll call me Papa Bill — or just Papa — like everyone else, won't you?"

Papa glances over at his granddaughter, his smile reflecting his happiness. "You understand what you've done here, Andrea?"

She looks at Madeline and Logan — and Rene, who stands behind them with a smile on his face — and she has no difficulty seeing the connection they share; feeling the love and respect as it swirls through the Pentad.

"I have a pretty good idea, Papa. The Spirits seem pleased." That's a bit of an understatement. "And a lot of good people are happier. That's never a bad thing."

William Yazzie Senior nods. "Mmmm, yes. And you honor your People by doing so, eldest of my eldest."

"Of course, Papa," she says, stepping closer to hug him again. "To do anything less would make me unworthy to be the Warrior of the Nations."

"About that... you know John is going grill you — all of you — until you have no idea what he's talking about anymore, don't you?" he asks, eyebrows raised. "Your cousin won't be able to help you there."

Andi shakes her head and sighs. "Papa, my cousin is going to be nearly as bad as Tita's cousin. All we can do is say what we know. I have questions I need answered, and answering Ha'atathli Ravenclaw's questions might get me the answers I need. Although, truthfully? I have a feeling I'll be able to keep up with what he's talking about, even though I haven't trained to be a Shaman."

"As always, I'm sure you will do the right thing." He looks toward the area where the tables and chairs have been set up and grins. "Right now, I think my children could use some protection from their mother."

"Yes, Papa, please go save Daddy, because I think I'm going to need protection from my mother in a minute," Andrea says with a grin as she watches her overjoyed Mama head back in her direction.

Papa chuckles as he walks toward his wife; Mama comes up beside her daughter and wraps her arm around her waist as Pablo takes her hand and kisses her fingers.

All the greetings seeming complete, Madeline shifts so that she stands in front of Logan and leans back against his chest. He slips his arms around her, and she rests her arms and hands over his.

Behind her, Logan chuckles. "He left quite an impression on them."

"He certainly did," she agrees with a smile.

Her eyes drift to her oldest, who seems to be getting more comfortable with the new family with each passing minute. That gives her comfort, too. He needs the experience of regular people. Had Rene not been taken from them, that would have included people like Joe and Amanda. And maybe it still could.

She leans back a little more and looks up at Logan. She has a feeling they will be making regular trips to the Denver area now. The cabin is a special place, an instinctive decision on her and Rene's part that they had never regretted. And its location speaks to Logan. She had seen that in the way he had been immediately more comfortable there. There had been a minute, nearly imperceptible relaxation to him once they got up there.

He looks down at her and leans down to brush her lips with his. "Love, Madeline."

Her smile widens. "Love, Wolverine."

"Oh, Andrea, what a wonderful day! And Madeline, your Leon reminds me so much of Andrea's brother when he was a bit younger," Mama says. "Shy, but so bright, so clever."

"Wait," Andrea says, turning in her mother's embrace to look at her face. "Justin was SHY? When was that?"

"Before you came home, dear. I know, I know... no one would ever believe it now, but it's true."

"Well, I know I certainly don't believe," Pablo says. "He's one of the most outgoing and — dare I say it? — charming young men I've ever met. Myself included," he adds with one of his infectious grins.

"Smart ass," Andrea says, poking him in the ribs with his own hand that still held hers.

"Andrea! Such language!"

"Sorry, Mama. Nice Andi and naughty Ninja kind of got smooshed together at some point in the past three months. Sometimes bad words just... come out!"

Sandra gives her daughter The Look, the pointedly shifts her eyes to the twins and back to Andi... who stifles a sigh.

"I also apologize to you, my dear niece and nephew, for polluting your young ears with my bad, bad words," she says to Em and Vin, somehow managing to keep a straight face. Then she looks at Mama again, her expression one of joyous innocence.

Mama clucks and shakes her head. "What am I going to do with you, Andrea?"

Her daughter kisses her cheek. "Love me and keep me forever!" Andi says, repeating a phrase her numerous times a day during her childhood.

"Em, Vin, you should go clean up, too," Madeline tells them.

"Oui, Mama," they say and then scamper off to do as she bids without any fuss.

Mama chuckles at her daughter's oft-repeated exclamation. "Well, you've talked me into it." She looks over at Pablo and then back to Andi. "Your sister has already given me three grandchildren! When will you be giving me grandchildren, Andrea?"

"Mama!! Aren't you at least supposed to wait until after the wedding to pester us about children?" she asks, feigning indignation. "And besides, Maddie has had a head start on the project."

"We're going to have nine, Mama Yazzie," Pablo helpfully adds.

"We are not having nine children, Pablo Garcia! You stop that, or you'll wake up some morning with vital body parts missing," Andi says as Pablo laughs at her.

"Andrea!" says Mama, aghast.

"What? I'll just snap off a few fingers and he won't be able to shoot his gun anymore." She holds up the hand entwined in hers, inspecting Pablo's fingers. "Yep, first two fingers ought to do it, right, Maddie? Oh wait... you shoot well with both hands, don't you? Well, fine. Both hands."

"Aw, but how am I going to feed myself?" he asks, trying to the sad and pathetic look.

"How are we going to feed nine children on a librarian's and a cop's salary? You wouldn't be eating anyway," she responds smugly.

"But Ma..."

"Oh, no!!" Andrea interrupts. "My salary. Your salary. That's the equation we use. Here. Today."

He responds by sticking his tongue out at her.

Mindful that her mother present, Andrea merely says, "Very mature. You get to sit with Billy at lunch."

This only causes Pablo to grin more broadly and chuckle.

Andi rests her head on her Mama's shoulder.


"Yes, dear. I know. They're wicked, crazy creatures," she says. "But we love them anyway because they're adorable. Most of the time."

"I am not going to have nine children, Mama."

She strokes her daughter's hair. "I know, dear. That's just insane."

"Thank you, Mama."

She does hear Andi telling Pablo that he would be sitting at the table with Billy.

"And the hurricane twins," Madeline adds. "We can still send him to spend some time at Charles' school, Sister. Those kids are Gifted in multiple ways and extra smart, too boot."

Andrea looks at Maddie from the comforting embrace of her mother, a bit sideways, as her head still rests on Mama's shoulder. Then she straightens up and looks at Pablo; it's an evil, evil — and very Ninja-like — look.

"Mama will have a chat with him. And I'm sure his Momma will have a chat with him after Mama talks to her. And then his two older sisters — the ones with children — will have a chat with him after their Momma talks to them. If all that doesn't work..." She looks at Maddie, the same Ninja smile on her face. "...then we'll send him to spend a month with Charles and all his wonderful students."

Pablo groans quietly.

"You wouldn't get my mother and sisters involved... would you?" There's the tiniest quiver in his voice, not anything that would be noticed by someone who doesn't know him well and doesn't have hypersensitive hearing. The look in his eyes is far more telling.

He looks nervous.

Andi kisses her Mama's cheek again, then steps over to her Husband and bunches the front of his shirt in her fists. She looks up at him, a deadly serious expression on her face even as she saturates their combined qi with love and swirls it around them.

"Listen, buddy, as long as you stay in the real world and leave your fantasy world of too many children inside your own head where I don't know about it, you'll be safe."

She lets go of his shirt, smooths it out, and smiles somewhat less evilly as she rests her hand on his cheek. "What would be even worse than involving your Momma, Elvia and Ladonna would be if I shared the entire experience of pregnancy, labor, and delivery with you."

He looks into her eyes, his emotions bouncing around as he considers that proposition.

"I've been pretty obnoxious," he finally admits.

"You have. Will you stop, please?"

He nods. "It's just that..." He swallows, then shakes his head. Andrea can feel that dreadful pain of Juan's loss; he had that buried for so that that it's still sharp and hard.

She pulls his head down so their foreheads touch. "I know, Pablo. But a dozen children to hold and love won't erase the pain of the one you lost. It doesn't work that way. You're always going to miss Juan, no matter how many children come into your life."

"It feels like there's a hole in my heart," he whispers, "and I need to fill it."

"There's no hole, Pablo, my love. Juan is in your heart and always will be," she whispers in response. "You have pain in your heart because your arms want to hold him; the hole is in the world. And no, you can't fill that hole either. Some scars can't be healed, beloved."

He wraps his arms around her and rests his cheek on her head. She snakes her arms around him and listens to his heart. It seems as though they stand there forever like that, but it can't be more than a minute or two. When Pablo says, "We should go have lunch," Mama is still chatting happily with Maddie and Logan beside them. The twins are still in the house getting cleaned up. And although Tita, Papa, and Ha'atathli Ravenclaw have settled themselves at one of the tables, Tommy is still looking at the two of them with a worried expression on his face.

"Yeah. Lunch is a good idea." Andi pulls back and looks up into his eyes. "If you promise to behave, I won't make you sit with Billy and the hurricane twins," she says with a soft smile.

His returning smile is crooked and makes the corners of his eyes crinkle. "I promise."

"Okay." Andi takes his hand and starts moving toward the tables, gesturing to Maddie, Logan, and Mama. "If we don't get food now, all the bottomless pits will finish it off for us."

Lunch is an animated, cheerful event. Aunt Sonia has made a beef barley soup so full of meat and vegetables that it's almost a stew. The bread is homemade; what Aunt Sonia and Aunt Alicia didn't make, Uncle Leon brought home from one of his patients who bakes more bread than she and her family and nearest neighbors could possibly eat. She reminds Andi of Bobby in a way... always baking something, except her something is almost always bread. There is sliced roast beef, turkey, chicken, and ham; four types of sliced cheeses; a plethora of condiments; and even peanut butter and jelly for those — like Andi and Billy — who have a fondness for it.

Conversations bounce from topic to topic; people join in whatever conversation interests them, often talking around the person beside them or to someone across the table. It almost looks like organized chaos. Underneath it all, however, is a foundation of civility and politeness. Tita is simply glowing to have all her children and their spouses, and so many of her grandchildren — and now even great grandchildren — all together to enjoy one another's company.

After lunch, Susan checks on her cousin but returns shaking her head. With folded hands against the side of her head, she lets everyone know that Tezza is still sleeping. Taking a look at her aura, Andi doesn't expect her to wake up for another couple of hours. After making sure his help isn't needed, Billy runs off again with the twins. Andi can't help but smile. Billy has always had so much energy and she is the only one that can keep up with him for very long. She's glad the twins are here to give it a go. She isn't sure about Vin, but she's fairly certain Em might even get Billy to tire out. Leon is still staying closer to Charlie and Susan than anyone else, but the change in his demeanor over the course of the day has been wonderful to watch. He's even laughing at some of the antics of his new grandfather Nelson and uncles Junior and Leon. Andrea wonders how many ordinary people he gets to meet at Charles' school... probably not too many. She hopes that getting tossed in the middle of a big family like this enriches his life as much as it's enriched hers.

From the corner of her eye, Andi can see Tommy and Ha'atathli Ravenclaw walking off toward the south, in the general direction where the Pentad had enjoyed a delightful couple of hours yesterday. Tommy is carrying a folding lawn chair.

She sighs and stands up, stacking their plates and bowls, gathering the silverware and putting it in one of the glasses to help out the folks clearing the table.

"Looks like we're about to get our summons. I don't know if we're going to have a twenty minute conversation or a four hour ritual," Andi says, nodding toward Tommy and his boss. "I feel like I have peanut butter on my face, so I'm going to wash up before Tommy calls."

"You do have peanut butter on your face," Pablo says helpfully. "I could get it off for you. I'd have to check for jelly, too. There might be some around your ear."

She laughs. "Stop it! If you start talking about dessert, the Shaman will be unhappy with us when we don't show up to their meeting."

"Is that really so bad?" he asks, a hint of green around the outer edges of his irises and a wave of desire rippling through their Bond.

"Yes. Bad," Andi says as she heads for the house. She turns to look over her shoulder at the fifth person of their group. "And Rene, you need to at least try to behave yourself," she adds with a grin.

Madeline laughs at Andi's admonishment to behave as she follows her to the restroom to wash up as well. Softly enough only for Andi to hear, she asks, "Don't you know he's at his best when he's being bad?"

"Of course he is," Andi says softly to Maddie. "But if we're going to talk to the Ha'atathli, maybe he shouldn't be at his best, yes?" But she grins at her Sister anyway.

Madeline chuckles. "Have a little faith in my guardian Spirit."

Pot, kettle, Rene says.

Madeline chuckles. You never complained.

I'm not a fool.

No, that you are definitely not.

As Andi finishes washing up, Tommy says, Are you ready for a conversation with John?

Just me or the whole lot of us?

The four of you, and the Spirits if they'd be so kind as to attend.

Do we have a choice?

It's now or later.

We'll be there in a bit. Just finishing washing up.

She takes a deep breath, then heads back out of the house... to take a bit of a walk with her Husband and Sister and Brothers.

Madeline still has a smug grin on her face when they return to their menfolk, who have also managed to clean up a bit. From somewhere, Logan has managed to scrounge up a case of beer and has one booted foot resting on it.

Well, that might not be a bad gift for the Shaman, Andi thinks. Dear gods, not the whole case, but a bottle. Or two.

"Where's yours?" Madeline asks.

He grunts, and then smiles.

"Anything for Sister?"

He hooks his thumb and she looks over to see Leon bringing over a case of water.

While Leon brings the case of water over, Andi watches Charlie and Susan — or rather, she watches their auras. There's no mistaking the fact that they've taken to Leon as easily and as completely as any of the cousins born into the family. Looking around at the rest of the family, she sees absolute acceptance in everyone's aura. Talia is sitting with Yani, idly chatting, but she's watching Leon with satisfaction. That's a good sign; whether she can see his future or not, she seems quite pleased with the person he is right now... a person who is blossoming as they watch.

"Hand it over, sweetheart."

"I got it, Mom."

"You go on back to your conversations. From what I gather, we might be a while. Besides, we've got your dad and Tio Pablo to do the heavy lifting."

"If you're sure..."

"I'm sure. Come on, now."

"Okay..." he says, handing the water to his mother.

Taking it, she immediately turns and hoists it into Pablo's hands.

"Good boy," she tells him with a wink.

Apparently Maddie taking the water from Leon and immediately handing it to him strikes Pablo as funny, and he snickers. "Yes, ma'am. Whatever you say, ma'am," he says with a mischievous grin. "I live to serve, ma'am."

Pablo's response to being pressed into service only receives more laughter.

"Good boy. Don't forget it."

Logan just shakes his head, then hoists the beer and heads in the direction the Medicine Men had gone. Madeline holds her hand out to Andi.

"He never used to be such a smart ass," Andi says as she takes Maddie's hand and twines their fingers together. "Always the perfect gentleman. I can't imagine what's gotten into him.." And then she giggles.

And old, old memory — one of her own for a change — floats to the surface as Andi walks with Maddie: walking along a driveway in Yah-Ta-Hey — Uncle Junior and Aunt Alicia's house maybe? — holding hands with a little girl close to her own age. She couldn't have been more than four. Doba... Doba Benally. That was her name. She and her family lived across the road from Uncle Junior and Aunt Alicia. They played together every time Andi and her parents went up there from Albuquerque. Papa and Tita were still living in Yah-Ta-Hey then. Andi realizes she hasn't thought about Doba since shortly after moving to Japan... she should ask her aunt about her childhood friend.

Then, holding Andi's hand... walking as they are...

Madeline has not been at peace like this since she had been a child, since before her innocence had been shattered. She sighs contentedly.

I am so happy for you, Maddie, my love.

You brought me peace, too, Rene.

Sometimes it wasn't enough.

But you never stopped trying. And you were always there waiting for me to come back from the madness.

I'd wait an eternity for you.

I hope it isn't quite that long.

His warm chuckle colors her thoughts and her smile brightens a bit more.

Logan drifts over and slides his fingers through her other hand. He gives her a warm smile that she returns. The decision to travel to Denver had given them both so much.

Tommy and John Ravenclaw haven't gone far; after all, the Ha'atathli is a normal mortal eight one year old man. He looks at the case of beer and the case of water when Logan and Pablo set them down and shakes his head.

"It used to be the Medicine Man was paid with pouches of tobacco. Now everyone is so upset about cancer and lung diseases, no one brings tobacco anymore. Oh well, it's hard to find tobacco that's not full of poisons these days, anyway. And a roasted chicken every now and then is pretty good." He gestures to the ground in front of him. "Sit, sit. My old bones no longer care for sitting on the ground for very long, but you're all so much younger and healthier." He glances at Logan, his smile more evident in the crinkling around his eyes than his mouth. "Healthier, at least."

Tommy is already sitting beside the elder Shaman, legs crossed with his hands resting easily on his knees. He's dressed in ordinary clothing — jeans, boots, a plain denim colored shirt — rather than a more traditional shirt. His hair is loose and long, like everyone else in the family instead of tied with the braid wraps and beads that he wears when acting in an official capacity as one of the Nation's Medicine Men. He wouldn't be Tommy, however if he weren't wearing silver and turquoise jewelry. Today, it's only a silver band around his wrist, one ring on each hand, and turquoise stud earrings.

Andi covets those earrings.

Settling into the semi-circle around the Shaman, Logan opens the case of beer. He pops the top from one bottle and hands it to the old man, then does the same for Madeline and himself. At the mention of tobacco, however, he fishes into a pocket and brings forth a cigar, offering it across to the Shaman.

The Ha'atathli accepts Logan's offering gravely, with a short ritual chant of thanks to the Great Spirit and a request for blessings on those who have come to seek wisdom. Andrea finds she is not the least bit surprised that Logan would just happen to have unpolluted tobacco with him.

Pablo hands her a bottle of water and everyone else chooses a beverage, as well. Somewhat surprising to Andi is that Pablo also opts for water. For now. As they settle themselves in a semicircle in front of them — Maddie and Andi in the center, with Pablo on Andi's other side and Logan on Maddie's other side — John looks behind them.

"Well? You're part of this, too, you know. Sit, sit!"

Andi doesn't have to turn around to know he's talking to Rene. She grins at Maddie and scoots over to make room for her Spirit Brother between them. The moment the five of them are in contact, she can feel something akin to an electrical current weaving its way through the Pentad.

Madeline returns Andi's grin, also scooting over a bit as Rene materializes and settles between them. As always, there is a quick brush of lips between them.

John raises an eyebrow. Andi isn't sure if he can feel the effect or see the brightening of their individual auras, but he certainly has some familiarity with qi and some of its properties. Before he can say anything, however, Cat comes running toward them... toward Madeline.

"Oh! Am I late? I'm not late, right?" It struts over Pablo, Andi and Rene to get to Maddie. It could have walked on the ground just as easily, but Andi suspects that would not have been sufficiently cat-like behavior. Settling comfortably in Maddie lap, Cat looks up at her and begins purring.

She is just getting more comfortable when Cat joins them and makes itself at home. She nonchalantly scratches under its chin and behind its ears.

Andi tries very hard not to start rolling her eyes.

Both Tommy and John look at Cat with great interest.

"How intriguing," John says. He looks at each of them in turn, then settles comfortably in the chair. "I know the questions Andrea has, at least those Thomas reported. Do any of you have questions I might be able to answer before I have you answer my questions?"

Pablo looks from Andi to Tommy and back again, then he shakes his head as he looks at John.

"Andrea's explanation about why I can see and hear the Spirits makes as much sense as anything else," he says. He pauses for a frustrated sigh. "I'd really like to know just what the heck is wrong with Raven. I'm not sure that's a question you can answer, but it's really the biggest thing about all this that bothers me. I'm just going to accept that weird stuff is going to keep happening because Andi and I are in a relationship. But Raven's behavior is off the wall crazy at times, and that upsets Andrea. I don't like that," he says almost defensively.

John nods. "Hmm. That is an interesting question, indeed." He looks at Rene and Maddie and Logan. "Are there any other questions? It is good to know them all first, as some may well be related to others in ways you can't see." He levels a stern look at Andrea, although there is more than a hint of a smile on his face. "Perhaps not even by you, Warrior."

At Ravenclaw's query, Rene, Madeline, and Logan just shrug.

"We're just happy to be together. From our perspectives, as long as it works, we don't care how... unless the knowing has a tactical advantage."

"Accepting the gifts of the Spirits without excessive questioning of their motivations..." The old man looks at Andrea. " the way of the People. That said, you do have just cause for your questions, Andrea Yazzie."

The other Spirits associated with them begin to appear. First Eagle, standing between Pablo and John Ravenclaw... then Puma, stretching out beside Tommy. And finally Cobra, wrapping itself around Andi's waist; Opossum, perching on her shoulder; Fox, curling up against her leg; and Raven, huddling under the Ha'atathli's chair.

Raven begins shaking and whimpering as other Spirits appear, circling them. First, there are the Spirits of Andrea's family: Lion and Deer; Lynx, Panther, Quail, Turkey, Monkey, and Mouse; Pelican, Dog, Crane, Giraffe, Spider, Wolf, and Horse. Then there are the Spirits of flight: Bat, Parrot, Falcon, Butterfly, Crow, Hawk, Goose, Owl, Dove, Hummingbird, Peacock, Bee, and Duck. Next are the Spirits of warm blood: Buffalo, Moose, Bear, Stag, Tiger, Boar, Beaver, and Cougar. Finally, there are the Spirits of cool blood: Snake, Toad, Snail, and Frog.

Instead of simply appearing with the rest, Coyote walks over and sits between Eagle and the Shaman. "I heard there was a party," it says, looking up at Eagle with a doggy-like grin.

"Party is likely a rather inaccurate term," Eagle replies dryly.

"It probably wasn't a party until I got here," Coyote says, looking around.

"Now I see where Henry gets it," Andi mutters softly.

"Oh, your cousin had the aptitude from the start, Warrior. Why do you think I chose him?" Coyote rumbles what could well be its version of a laugh, then sniffs the air before looking under John's chair. "Hey, Raven! What are you doing under there? The party is out here, little feathery one!"

Coyote then proceeds to grab Raven by the neck and pull it out from under the chair, dropping the apparently terrified bird at Eagle's feet.

Raven starts sobbing and covers its head with its wings. Andrea sighs heavily, closes her eyes — which doesn't really help to not see the crazy bird, and she most definitely can still hear it — and rests her head on Pablo's shoulder.

"See?" Pablo says to John and pointing at Raven. "I'm not even going to pretend I know anything about your Spirits, but there's no way that is normal." He puts an arm around Andi's shoulders and hugs her close.

Andi hears surprised sounds from both Tommy and John and opens her eyes to look at them. They're staring at Raven with a sick kind of fascination.

"The only thing that helps," she says wearily, "is having one of the other Spirits drag it off."

"How long has this been going on?" John asks.

Andrea sighs again, more softly this time, and sits up straight. Pablo keeps his arm around her shoulder, and she reaches over to hold his other hand. As their fingers twine together, she holds her other hand out to Rene, who also laces his fingers with hers.

In the early daylight hours, a connection like this among the Pentad would have left her mind clouded and other instincts completely taking over. Now, her mind is clear and focused. She is more than a little relieved that the martial aspect of the Pentad is as easy to call as the completely non-martial aspect.

"Definitely since I woke Pablo's guardian in the Medicine Dance for Tita. But..." She pauses, thinking back, all the way back to her childhood in New Mexico, then Japan, then her teen years in China, and finally her return home to her family. "...I can count on one hand the number of times Raven made itself known to me before the Curse took me. And afterward..." She shakes her head. "Only at the Dances... the celebration when I came home; when Sam and Cynthia got married; when Yani and Daniel got married. Just the usual time when we see our guardians plainly and easily."

John exchanges a look with Tommy; the younger man simply shrugs.

"Raven," the elder Shaman says, turning back to look at the pitiful Spirit, "I would ask something of you."

Raven peeks out from under its wing to stare wide-eyed at John. Then it begins to keen softly as its eyes flicker from side to side. In less than the blink of an eye, Raven launches itself into the air. Andi figures that this is Raven's attempt to escape. But as fast as Raven is, its fellow Spirits are just as fast and even faster. Coyote clamps its jaws on one leg while Fox grabs the other. Eagle shakes its head.

"Small cousin, it is customary to answer the questions of a Shaman or, at least, convey to me why you do not wish to answer."

Raven doesn't appear to be paying much attention to Eagle. It's too busy beating Coyote and Fox with its wings while alternately screaming like someone being mugged — and Andrea has some small knowledge in that area, having foiled her fair share of muggings — and yelling, "Help! Help me! GET THEM OFF OF ME!"

The various other Spirits watch with fascination but make no move to intervene.

"COUSIN CROW! HELP ME!!" Raven shrieks.

Crow blinks and turns to the Spirit sitting to its left. "Did you hear something, cousin Beaver?"

Beaver twitches its nose and looks at Crow. "Some water rushing over the falls, perhaps."


Crow tilts its head. "Perhaps, yes. Although it sounds more wind-like." It turns to the Spirit on its other side. "Wouldn't you say so, sibling Falcon?"

Falcon bobs its head. "Yes. I would call it more like the wind passing through the leaves of autumn trees."

Raven screams inarticulately.

"Oh, for goodness sake," Bear rumbles as it steps between Eagle and Pablo, then wraps a paw around Raven's neck, blessedly cutting off the caterwauling. "Stop playing with it." Bear gives Raven a little shake. "Come now, Fox... Coyote... let go."

Both Fox and Coyote let go, leaving Raven to dangle from Bear's pay. Coyote sits down, grinning, beside John; Fox curls up again against Andi's leg, chuckling.

She'll say one thing for Raven: it's a damn fine actor. It struggles in Bear's paw, eyes beginning to bulge as it pretends to gasp for air. Its struggles become weaker and weaker until it collapses completely — a dead, limp thing in Bear's paw.

For its part, Bear just shakes its head, but then looks at each and every Spirit that has gathered.

"To those of you who did not believe, I show you proof," Bear says, holding Raven up. "Now... Raven..." Bear turns its paw so it can look at Raven's face. "The Shaman — who is a very fine Shaman, as all Shamans are very fine Shamans — wants to ask you a question. Would you please answer the very fine Shaman's question?"

"I can't," Raven says.

"Oh? And why not?" Bear inquires.

"I'm dead. You killed me."

"You're a Spirit. You are not dead. You are simply acting like you are dead, which is undignified, by the way."

Raven opens one eye and peers at Bear.

"I'm not dead?"

Bear looks at Raven for a moment, a very bear-like look on its face. Then it turns to Andrea. "I see what you mean, Warrior. We'll get this sorted out soon enough."

It looks back at Raven. "No."

"Oh. So... if I answer the Shaman's question, you'll let me go, right?"

Bear chuckles. "You should be so lucky, Raven! No, little feathery friend, there are matters to settle here beyond just a question to be answered."

Raven sighs theatrically and quite dramatically, then opens its other eye. "I'd really like to go. Now, if at all possible."

"All in good time, Raven. All in good time." Bear looks down at Ha'atathli Ravenclaw. "Good Shaman of the Diné, present your question to our feathered sibling if your heart still wishes to know the answer."

Eagle moves to stand behind the senior Medicine Man, causing Coyote to grin happily and sprawl out beside Pablo, its muzzle resting on his knee. "Hi, Pablo! How are you? Yeah, a little freaked out, I can see that. Don't worry, Bear will take care of things. You don't mind if I just get comfy here, do you?"

Pablo looks down at Coyote. Yes, he's a bit freaked out. Andi squeezes his hand. "Ah, sure. No problem."

"You are the best!" Coyote says as it rests its head more comfortably on Pablo's leg and pretends to fall asleep.

Andi just shrugs when Pablo looks at her.

Meanwhile, John is studying the tableau of Bear and Raven.

"The question I would ask," he says finally, "is 'Why?' Why do you make Andrea's life more difficult than it needs to be when we know that the role of Warrior is already a burden more difficult to bear than most can carry?"

"Oh, good Shaman, we have been asking Raven this very same question since we took note of its behavior," Bear says, nodding its approval at the question. Then the large Spirit looks at Andi. "Sadly, Warrior, we needed to wait for the veils between the worlds to fall before we could intervene."

Bemused, Andi just nods... although, in a weird sort of way, that makes perfect sense.

"We have even spoken of involving Great Spirit," Bear continues, once again addressing John. Bear lifts Raven so the crazy feathered one is mere inches from its face. "And now asked, Raven, custom demands that you answer the fine Shaman, or explain your refusal to Eagle, his guardian."

Raven spends a minute flailing around, trying to escape Bear's grasp, while Bear simply watches with an expression of... well... Andrea would call it weariness, but the Spirits do tend to be inscrutable. Finally, Raven stops struggling and droops from Bear's paw again.

"She was supposed to be a Shaman," Raven whispers, so softly that even Andrea barely heard it.

But she does hear it. And she blinks. And then the part of her that is Ninja, that is the Warrior, wakes up. Angry. Very angry.

"You asshole! You were punishing me for something that wasn't even my fault?!?"

Pablo's arm tightens around her shoulders, Rene's fingers close tighter around hers. The world has that haloed brightness it gets when her eyes are glowing with anger.

"Wow. Now, that's really helpful, you moronic jerk!"

"Ah, Warrior, I know I advise swift and decisive action..." Cobra begins.

"But you might have allowed me to assist you with diplomacy," Fox finishes.

Opossum just pats Andi's ear.

"That lunatic doesn't understand diplomacy, so it would be a waste of time, friend Fox," a very angry Ninja says, her gaze never leaving Raven's form. "And don't you even try to apologize to me, bird brain, because you've played that card so often I will never believe you. You have taken every perceived negative aspect of your brethren and, instead of turning them to a good purpose as each of them has — Coyote, Gazelle, Snake, Frog, Elk, Bull, Owl... how many more? You! You have merely clutched your negative aspects to your heartless breast and cackled as you tortured me for months.

"Well, fuck you!"

Both Tommy and John are staring at her. She's not sure, but it's probably in horror. She doesn't care. Raven has been tormenting her, making her so crazy that she's broken down in tears, ever since Quetzalcoatl showed up. And for what? Because she didn't turn out to be who IT thought she was supposed to be?

Yeah. Fuck that shit.

Rene leans over and whispers, "Dear Sister, save your righteous rage for those as deserving, but those you can affect."

She turns her head and looks into her Spirit Brothers eyes. She sees the memories of his anguish, the certainty of his love for all of them. He brushes his lips across hers, then smiles his rakish smiles that has, no doubt, had uncountable numbers of women throwing themselves at him. It's like a torrent of water easily dousing the fires of her rages.

She shakes her head at him, although she smiles. "Always and ever the charmer is Rene."

"I am who I am."

"Well, thank you for being you." Andi, much calmer now, turns back to look at Tommy and John. Yes, she is oh so very much calmer than she was just a moment ago.

"Sorry. Your show. I'll be quiet."

Tommy raises an eyebrow, but John merely nods.

And this is what the Evil of the world sees when they look at the Warrior?"

I usually build up to it more slowly, but... yeah. And then some.

Tommy's eyebrow lowers and he nods as well.

"I will not question the decision of a Spirit," John says, looking at Raven with mild disapproval. "But I will only comment that our oldest stories speak of a ritual a Spirit may have forgotten — that another Spirit may take over the guardianship of any of the People when a person's life changes drastically." He pauses and then blinks slowly. "Or perhaps the Spirit in question was engaging in too much wishful thinking?" He shrugs and looks up at Eagle. "It would seem you have already devised a plan to resolve this dilemma."

"Oh, indeed we have!" Eagle replies. "Without intervention from the Great Spirit — thankfully! — we managed to remind Raven of the ceremony to which you referred."

"She's very nice," Andrea says, puzzled by Eagle's reluctance to speak to Great Spirit.

All the Spirits and the two Medicine Men look at her with curiosity.

"Who is?" Eagle asks.

"Great Spirit," she says, refraining from adding a smart ass duh. "She's very nice," Andi repeats, catching Pablo's nod from the corner of her eye.

John looks at her steadily; it's a thoughtful and even a speculative look. "Perhaps Raven was correct in believing you should have been a Shaman. Of course, the Curse and the presence of such Evil in the world changed that, causing you to walk a new path."

Andrea just shrugs. She has embraced her path, knowing it to be the right and true one.

Eagle, however, has been opening and closing its beak while most of the Spirits just stare. Coyote chuckles. As does Cat.

"You... spoke with... the Great Spirit?" Eagle asks, clearly stunned.

"Well... yeah." She looks at Pablo, then Rene and Maddie and Logan, before addressing Eagle again. "We hung out with her on her plane for a while last night. Why? Is that a problem?" She is at least as confused as Eagle is stunned.

"It's thought to be impossible, that's all," Tommy says. "The Great Spirit might come to us in our dreams, or during a Vision Quest, but to speak directly to us?" He looks at John. "It's never been spoken of in our histories."

"It... it has never happened," Eagle says. "Perhaps, a time or two very long ago, when we came with the People to this land, the Great Spirit may have spoken with an Elder," it says, nodding toward Logan. "But... no. It has simply not happened."

Andi shrugs again. "Until now."

Bear looks at Raven. "This is interesting new information, isn't it, Raven? You would probably agree that you are even less qualified than ever to be Warrior's guardian, wouldn't you?"

Raven is staring at Andi, its eyes as big as saucers. That isn't a metaphor. Its eyes are literally as big as saucers, floating above its head attached to eye stalks of some sort.

"Hmm. I will assume that to be an affirmation," Bear says, look at Raven like it is really beginning to understand the depths of Raven's lunacy... REALLY understand.

Andi thinks that it's about time someone did.

"You would also agree," Eagle says, "that it is well past the time to pass guardianship to another Spirit, wouldn't you?"

Raven nods so furiously that the eye stalks to which its eyes are attached become tangled and wrapped around Bear wrist, making the bird look thoroughly demented.

Andi sighs.

Bear sighs.

"Had we known soon, Warrior... had we been able to intervene sooner..." Bear shakes its head. "Again, we owe you apologies."

"No, no... You didn't know," she says. "You couldn't do anything. If you could just make that..." She jerks her head toward Raven. "...that hot mess go away, we'll call it even. But I'd be really appreciative if you could make it go away as soon as possible."

Bear nods. "Oh, yes. Of course." It opens its paw and Raven dangles for a moment before its eyes back to normal. That, in turn, causes Raven to fall to the ground. It winks out of sight, however, before it can hit the ground.

Andi sighs with relief.

"I wanted to be Raven's replacement," Coyote says. "They wouldn't let me." It looks sad and forlorn as it rests its head on Pablo's leg.

"I'm sure you would have made a fine replacement," Andi says. "Perhaps only one person per family should be so honored, however."

Coyote lifts its head to look at her with both eyes. "That a much nicer reason than they gave. I like it." It looks between her and Pablo. "Only one person per family per generation should be so honored. Although I would be honored to be guardian to all your children!"

"Your generosity is great, O Coyote!" Andi looks at Pablo and smiles. His eyes are wide, pupils dilated. "Still wanna have nine kids, Chief?"

"Nine?" Coyote says excitedly. "Oh, the joy!"

"Um," is about all Pablo can manage to say.

"Cool," she replies.

Eagle clears its throat. "Now for the matter of Raven's replacement..."

"...who isn't me," Coyote interrupts.

"Coyote. Please." Eagle looks at Coyote until the latter settles itself comfortably, using Pablo's leg for a pillow.

"Thank you. Now, there was considerable discussion about which of us would make an appropriate replacement. There were quite a number of volunteers, as you might imagine."

"Actually, I would have thought there'd be a dearth of them, but I guess a lot of volunteers is good, right?" As long as none of them are crazy. She doesn't think she can handle any more crazy. Besides the assholery crazy that she's still going to have to put up with from Pablo's ancestral pest, anyway.

"An excellent thing, yes, Warrior. And Bear has been chosen to be your fourth guardian," Eagle says, "if that is acceptable to you, of course."

Bear stands still, mostly, looking hopeful. All the other Spirits look... eager? "Um, is everyone else the runner-up?"

Fox chuckles. "Well, except your family's guardians... yes."

"Wow." That's pretty impressive. Each one of the Spirits assembled has fine qualities to share.

"Pick me?" Bear says, almost childlike in its eagerness.

Andrea blinks, pulling herself out of her reverie. "Oh. Right. Sorry.

"Yeah, that would be great, Bear. An honor, and all that."

Bear claps its paws almost daintily, then disappears...

...and immediately reappears behind her, and rests a paw on the shoulder Opossum hasn't claimed. Oh well. At least she's used to that sort of thing.

John has been watching the proceedings with interest. "That appears to have settled one of the dilemmas Thomas reported, as well as your concern, Pablo. Do you need additional information about the fact that you have four guardian Spirits?"

She takes a deep breath, holds it for a moment, then lets it out slowly. So much has happened since she had made that panicked phone to Tommy that morning Pablo had killed Grundahl.

"I think... probably... I got enough information from the Spirits. It pretty much has something to do with the fact that I'm the Warrior. Although..." She looks over at Logan and shakes her head. "...I can't shake the feeling that having an Elder in the family has something to do with it, as well." Logan, of course, is his usual very, very quiet self, although Fox does speak up.

"We could not verify your suspicions before yesterday, Warrior."

"But you're verifying them now."

Fox nods.

"And how about telling me why, then?"

Fox sits up and nods. "It is a simple thing, really. You are the Warrior, now the most powerful in the history of all the Peoples because of your joining. One day, the title of Clan Mother will also pass to you; because of the joining, you will hold that title for longer than any other has or will... a fact that may entitle you to yet another guardian. And the Elders..." Fox looks at Logan, its tail brushing the ground with obvious happiness. "We like the Elders very much!"

"Oh, yes!" exclaims Cat. "Very, very, very much! And Em is the prettiest I've ever seen!"

Fox nods, and look back at Andi. "So, there are several reasons to honor you with additional guardians." It looks up at Bear, then Opossum, then Cobra... and finally back at Andi. "I think the best reason, though, is that it makes us happy."

She can't do much more than stare for a minute at Fox. "It makes you happy," she murmurs, then shakes her head. "It's getting so that even the weirdest things don't make my head want to explode from the craziness any more. Wow."

Pablo leans over to whisper, "I still find a lot of this stuff crazy, if it's any consolation."

She grins at him. "I love you."

This time it's John who clears his throat. "Would it be correct to assume your concerns have been resolved, and I might ask my questions now?"

Pablo smiles at her and nods. She looks at John and nod as well. "Yes, sir."

He nods, then looks at each of them, almost as if trying to see into their souls. Finally, his gaze rests on Rene.

"Rene, Spirit who was once a man, I would ask something of you," John says formally. "Although I do not see such things as well as the Warrior does, I see that each of you has power. But I can see that the power surrounding the five of you is not a sum of the individuals, but something far greater than can be explained in any way I know. Could you, O Rene, speak of how such power came to be generated?"

"I can try," Rene tells him, then adds with a self-deprecating smile, "I'm still fairly new at this Spirit stuff and much is only theory."

He looks from his left to his right, seeing his Brother and Sister, then his beloved Wife and her Mate, also his Brother.

"I'm fairly sure it has to do with the blending of our Gifts in both the physical and nonphysical sense. Because I was once human, I have a Gift no other Spirit does: that of sexual magic. And my beloved has a Gift that is unique to her, or at least it was until she used blood magic to share it with her Sister. The physical sharing of our Gifts enhanced the Spiritual sharing, allowing our Gifts to truly blend instead of just combine."

Madeline looks over John Ravenclaw's shoulder to his guardian Spirit behind him. "I take it this is our tale to tell, even though you and Cat came to me?"

Eagle dips it head in a nod. "It is."

"Do you mind, love?" she asks Rene.

"Of course not, love."

She turns her attention to the Medicine Man. "The day before we drove down here, Eagle and Cat paid the three of us a visit and essentially said we would have to find a way to unite to become a stronger whole. By 'we', they meant both the three of us and the five of us. I had separate but equal bonds with both Logan and Rene. Our triangle only had two sides, however. A third was needed to stabilize it. We figured out how to develop that third side, third bond, and instinctively used that knowledge to forge the bond among the five of us creating a new, stronger weaving."

Logan only has one thing to add. "The Great Spirit approves."

Andrea looks at Tommy and the senior Ha'atathli. "You remember when Pablo and I came to visit Tommy, after Pablo had gotten back from Quetzalcoatl's realm?" She glances at her Sister and Brothers, then around the circle of Spirits. "After we expelled the Shadowkin that had come back with him, while Pablo and Ha'atathli Ravenclaw slept to regain their strength, Tommy and I talked... well, it seemed like we talked for hours," she says with a smile.

"It was hours, cousin. The sun was already over the mountain peaks by the time you let me crawl off to sleep," he says with a laugh. "Did you even get any sleep at all that day?"

She grins at him. "No. But I don't need as much sleep as the rest of you; my Taiji is just as good most of the time.

"But what we talked about — some of it, anyway — is what's important here. What we created when Pablo and I used blood magic and what the Wiccans would surely call sexual magic was a Bond between us that is so powerful that our qi, our life force, as Rene said, was blended. If you could see this energy as I do, you would see that Pablo and I appear to be the same person, with just some color and pattern variations to differentiate us if you look closely. Prior to using these magics, before Pablo went away, it would have been possible to see a strong connection between us — the same kind of connection everyone in this family has with their spouse, that I see Charlie already has with Susan, that I seen now in my friends and coworkers." She pauses, shaking her head at the wonder of it; it still surprises and delights her. Then she blinks and continues. "Yes, we had a strong and powerful connection, but it also would have been very clear that energetically we were two separate people. Now? I do not think even my teachers could tell the difference when even I have difficulty at times."

She pauses again. This is still a topic that makes her uncomfortable — the discussion of intimate things — although, it has become less of a burden since creating the Bond of the Pentad.

"It was not simply the use of the blood magic, which I believe was only possible because of Pablo's Aztec heritage, and the magic of Rene's gift that melded us into a single, powerful unit. On the physical plane, yes... Pablo's gift allowed Madeline to share her gift with me, and I to share a small measure of my gift with her. Rene's gift allowed access to changes on an energetic level; nonphysical, metaphysical, or maybe it's quantum physics." She shakes her head and shrugs. "Even I don't completely understand it. But it allowed each of us to use our gifts and affect the others. Pablo's gifts of controlling wind and light helped weave the five of us together. Logan's strength and surety of who he is — missing memories notwithstanding — held us together so we did not stumble in our task.

"But I believe it was my gift of energy manipulation that, for lack of a better term, welded the bond into something strong, resilient and as unbreakable as the Bond Pablo and I have. And I did that with the help of Mother Earth and Father Sky."

Tommy raises both eyebrows in surprise. John looks very skeptical. And all the Spirits — with the single exception of Cat — just stare at Andi. The most disconcerting of them is Opossum leaning off her shoulder while gripping her ear to stare at her face, and Bear peering over the top of her head.

"Um." She just looks around, shifting her eyes but not her head; she isn't sure Opossum wouldn't tumble off and dangle from her neck by its tail.

"Obviously, I said something... ah... unexpected?"

Cat looks at her from its comfortable spot in Madeline's lap. "Twice in one conversation, Warrior, you have admitted to doing the impossible. Once is surprising. Twice is, as you can see, stunning."

She looks around. Yes... 'stunned' would accurately describe their expressions. Probably. Even Coyote's.

"But you're not stunned," she says to Cat... mostly a statement, but partially a question, too.

"Please, Warrior! I am Cat!" it says haughtily. "If I were stunned, I would not only recover quickly but I would never admit to having been stunned in the first place."

"Right. Of course. How silly of me to forget that," she says, half smiling at the smallest feline Spirit. "But what did I do this time?"

"You claim to have invoked the Mother and the Father. Even we do not invoke them, and only some of us are able to speak to them."

Andrea is downright confused. "But didn't some of you speak to Mother on the day the veils fell?"

Bear pats her head. "Yes! On that day, it is even easier for us to speak with them. But on other days, Lion and I can often speak to the Mother. Hawk and Falcon have the best skill speaking to the Father."

The Spirits are muttering among themselves; Opossum has jumped down to sit on Andi's knee... to stare at her all the better, she thinks.

"But..." Her brows draw together as she becomes more and more perplexed. She looks at her cousin. "But, Tommy, I could have sworn I told you part of what I do is pull energy from Mother Earth, and return to her whatever I don't need. That's what I did during the Medicine Dance for Tita, and the... well, whatever we did for Pablo."

Tommy shakes his head. "You might have, Andrea. If so, I certainly misinterpreted what you said. By pulling this energy, wouldn't an analogy be pulling up water from a well? Returning it would be pouring the water back?"

"Well, yes. Sort of."

"I mean in the sense that you are the one doing the work of moving the energy," he clarifies.

"Oh! No, not really." She shakes her head yet again. "I wouldn't be able to use Mother's or Father's energy if they weren't willing to share. They give the energy to me, just as much as I draw it from them. I merely direct it appropriately. Well, actually, sometimes Mother is very generous and I don't expend any effort in collecting the energy. I'm sure Mother and Father would be willing to share anytime, but I always ask first. It's polite."

Mother murmurs softly with the sound of a waterfall, Father sings the songs of the stars. Andrea feels their acceptance, their support; the feelings resonate around the Pentad. Their Spirits start — Fox, Cobra, Opossum, Bear, Eagle, and even Cat each has a look of surprise on its face.

"What was that?" Eagle asks.

Andrea looks at them all in disbelief; she is becoming even more confused.

"That was Mother and Father. Their... love."

Bear rests its chin on the top of Andi's head and pats Rene on his head with one large paw. "But why does our newest sibling here seem so calm and relaxed at such a strange and peculiar sensation?"

She gives her cousin a pleading look. "Aren't you supposed to be the Shaman here?"

"Oh, I think you're doing quite well on your own, Andrea. I think you may have surpassed me already."

Andi stares open mouthed for a few second, then snaps her teeth together.

Remind me to send you ass over teakettle later, you brat!

Tommy just smiles.

"I... I'm going to guess that maybe it's because he was once human and spent many years walking along Mother's skin and being touched by Father's presence. You..." She tries to shake her head again but discovers that even Bears that are Spirits are heavy. "Uh, friend Bear, you're cramping my style here."

Bear lifts its chin from her head and laughs. "Oh, I just wanted to enjoy climbing on you as my smaller siblings do!"

"Uh huh. Sure. But you're very large. I don't think it's a good idea."

Bear pats her head. "Then I will be the tree rather than the squirrel!"

"Awesome," she says, rolling her eyes.

"As I was trying to say, you," she indicates the entire circle of Spirits with her glance, "are not of this plane. You take the forms of animals that are familiar to us, but most people wouldn't even be able to see you in your true forms."

She smiles softly. "You're very pretty, by the way."

"I am the prettiest, of course!" Cat declares.

"I... am not going to go there," Andi says, grinning again.

"You might take the forms of animals we know, but you are still Spirits. You do not truly walk along Mother's skin, you are not truly being touched by Father's winds."

Andi rests her head on Pablo's shoulder again and sighs as she looks at Tommy. "My whole point here is that both the Bond Pablo and I created and the Bond the five of us forged used all our gifts in their creation. These Bonds have the underlying strength and support of Mother and Father. The Bond of the Five has the blessing of Great Spirit."

She closes her eyes for a moment, then smiles before opening them and sitting up straighter. This time she addresses the Ha'atathli. "Pablo and I? We're like the silver Tommy loves so much. Indivisible. Maddie and Logan and Rene? They are a tapestry of such beauty never seen in our world. The five of us together? We've taken that tapestry and woven the indestructible threads of silver that add to its beauty and its strength. There is nothing that can rend the weaving; that is necessary if we are to face the Shadow that comes... and not only survive, but seal the Shadow away for many, many generations."

John nods. "From what I have heard, you would no doubt have been a very powerful Shaman, Andrea Yazzie, had that been your path. But with evil such as that which hovers on the horizon, it is good you have taken the path of the Warrior." He looks at the five of them, his weathered and craggy face showing a hint of a smile. "I'm sure all have welcomed you with open arms and open hearts into the Yazzie family, Madeline Jacobs," he says when his gaze settles on her. "I welcome you on behalf of all the People to the Diné Nation." He looks at the man at her side. "Elder Logan, you honor us by joining our Nation. Hózhóogo naanéidaał doo.... May you walk in beauty with us."

He then looks at the Spirit at Maddie's side and shakes his head, his smile growing. "You, Rene Spirit, have taken an old man's understanding of things studied for an entire life and spun that understanding around like a top." He regards the Spirit for a moment, then simply says, "Thank you."

John finally looks at Pablo with a failed attempt at severity. "And you, Pablo! You'll promise me there will be no more late night calls to my student's home to remove Shadow demons!"

Pablo laughs. "I swear it, Mr. Ravenclaw. It would take a heck of a lot of convincing to get me to go back to Quetzalcoatl's world, and given what the five of us have now..." He looks at Andrea, eyes bright with happiness, then looks at Rene, Madeline, and Logan before turning back to John. "...I have a feeling if one of them tried biting me now, they'd break their teeth right off."

"Good, good! I'm too old for that." John looks at Tommy. "Of course, now that Thomas has learned the Blessingway in full, he should be able to handle such problems on his own now." He glances at Andrea before adding, "It might be good to have the assistance of the Warrior nevertheless."

"Ooooh, Tommy got a promotion," Andi chants, then grins broadly at him.

He smiles his usual serene smile and just shakes his head. "And Andrea still hasn't grown up."

"Hey, why should I? It's hard work saving the world," she says with mock defensiveness. "If I want to act silly when I'm not saving the world, well... I'll just act silly." She lets go of Pablo's and Rene's hands, scoops up Opossum and sets it on her shoulder, moves from a sitting position to kneeling, then walks on her knees the short distance to her cousin. "Congratulations," she says as she hugs him. Then she kisses his forehead and asks, "Did you tell your folks?"

"Oh, yes. And I'm sure the entire family — including my brother in Omaha and your brother in Chicago — knew about it within five minutes."

She flops down in his lap. "Cool. They're probably planning the party right now. Oh, so many things to celebrate!"

"Andi? You're getting a little old for this," he says.

"For what?"

"For sitting in my lap."

She pouts as she gets up. "Am not," she says as she knee-walks over to Pablo and makes herself comfortable in his lap. "It's Spirit Brother Rene's mojo that's making you think that," she adds as she rests her crossed ankles on Spirit Brother's knee.

"I'm not too to sit in your lap, am I?" she asks her Husband.

Pablo chuckles. "No, dear. But if you keep acting like Billy, I might think you're too young."

"Hmmm. I guess you have a point. Being an officer of the law, you wouldn't want to be seen like this in the company of an underage person," she says as she rests her head against his chest and his arms wrap around her.


Ha'atathli Ravenclaw chuckles as he stands. "Since our official inquiries are completed, I might as well see about that scolding my cousin promised me for not visiting her when she was pretending to be ill in August." He motions for all of them to remain where they are. "You young people... and Elder Logan... stay and chat. Thomas, you'll bring the chair back with you?"

Tommy smiles. "Of course, John. And be sure to use that bit about Tita pretending to be sick. I'm sure she'll enjoy it."

The elder Medicine Man chuckles. "It may, at least, distract her from the scolding," he says as he begins his walk back toward the house. Most of the Spirits disappear, although Puma, Eagle and Cat stay along with Andrea's four guardians.

After John Ravenclaw leaves, two of the Trio shift. Rene becomes not only Andi's footrest but Madeline's as well. She grins and winks at him as she reclines against Logan, who encircles her waist with one arm. The Mated pair continue to share the beer and tobacco and calmly watch the conversation.

"That was a heck of a trip, wasn't it?" Andi shakes her head. "I have to admit trashing the Safeway was just a little bit fun. Possibly inappropriate... but fun."

"That was you?" Tommy asks, definitely surprised.

His cousin peers at him from within the comfort of Pablo's arms. "Technically, it was Ninja. But I didn't mention that? I could have sworn I did. Huh."

"Good lord, Andi, it was the biggest news story in months on the reservation!"

She glares at him.

He sighs, rolls his eyes, and opens another bottle of beer. " the Navajo Nation. And Aunt Sandy said was on the news for two days in Flagstaff."

"Damn." She looks up at Pablo. "See? This is why it's bad for us to leave Denver. When things happen, there's a big ruckus. When things happen in Denver, I have convenient scapegoats to take the blame, or don't make a ruckus in the first place." She grins at him. "I also have a lot of friends on the police force."

"None of them as close as a certain Homicide Detective, I hope," he says, grinning back at her.

"Perish the thought! While they all are fine, upstanding people and a good number of them are exceptionally easy on the eyes, and I might even go so far as to consider one or two of them friends, I only have room in my heart and home for a certain Homicide Detective."

"I think I might throw up," Tommy comments dryly.

Andi looks at him and smiles, maybe just a little wickedly. "You're just jealous."

He looks at her for a moment before saying, "Maybe." Then he winks.

At some point during the explanation, Logan fishes out another cigar. He moistens it, snips off the end with a claw and lights it. Madeline takes an occasional puff from it as well. Rene looks over with an amused smile.

"No Djarums anymore?" he asks.

"Cigars are easier to find here," she tells him after exhaling a stream of smoke. "Did you want one?"

He considers for a moment, then shakes his head. "Kind of pointless."

There is an odd note in his tone and Madeline reaches over and clasps his hand. Are you sure? Sex wasn't the only thing we enjoyed. Good company... good food... good drink... good smoke...

He brings her hand to his lips and kisses the back of it. Maybe later.

"Hey! Somebody brought the booze!" says a voice from behind the Pentad. "Help a sister out here, will ya?"

Tommy, who is facing that direction, goes completely still, his face a blank mask.

Tezza? Andi asks.

None other. And even I can sense the stench of a broken spirit, Andrea.

She meets his eyes and nods almost imperceptibly before looking over Pablo's shoulder at the girl. Tommy's assessment is metaphysically spot on; she's a mess. Her aura is a mess. This is not going to be fun.

It is so subtle and natural a movement that it does not look deliberate, yet the girl's arrival and pronouncement results in Logan stretching out a leg and placing a booted heel on the case. Taking another puff on the cigar, Madeline glances over.

"No alcohol for you," Andi says. Since the case is closest to Logan, there is no way she'll get anywhere near it.

The girl stops and looks at Andi, disdain almost seeping out of her pores.

"Who the hell are you? And who died and left you in charge?"

Andi sighs, giving Pablo's shoulder a gentle squeeze as she glances at her Sister and Brothers, then moving her gaze to rest on her cousin.

Andi's rebuff of the girl causes some chuckles and Madeline smirks.

I know, Tommy. A ruckus within the Diné Nation would be poor form. If it's any consolation, we've already chatted about the problem she presents.

Knowing you're the one who destroyed the produce department of a grocery store, I wish I could stay it was a consolation, Andi. That girl is trouble.

She raises her eyebrows at him. Seriously? Just what do you think Maddie and I are? Candy stripers?

That does get a twitch of a smile from him.

"Hey. I'm talking to you, crazy woman!" Tezza says, hands on her hips.

And that gets a laugh from Andrea. She turns back to the young woman, still chuckling.

"I'm Andrea. My cousin Charlie is engaged to your cousin Susan. And sweetheart, you have no idea what crazy is. Don't go poking at that hornet's nest."

"Lots of people died," Madeline says. "Care to join them or are you going to learn some manners?"

No, Madeline Jacobs does not have a whole lot of patience for other people's children.

Andi looks at Maddie and shakes her head. "Nah, we're not in charge. We're on vacation!" she says, still ignoring Tezza. "And when the family gathers? Tita's definitely in charge." She looks pointedly at Tezza for a moment before turning back to Maddie and smiling. It's a loving smile, one that refuses to give Tezza the power to intrude on their joy. She taps Maddie's foot with her own.

"And besides, Tita would become upset if you killed anyone. Although a good thrashing, if it was absolutely necessary, would probably be acceptable."

Not only do they both use Rene as a footstool, but their positions are mirrored nearly identically; Andi leans against Pablo and his arm is wrapped around her waist.

"Of course, if someone should accidentally fall into an arroyo and snap their neck or something, that would be pretty sad." She smiles brightly. "But I have lots of friends out here! I can just call them to clean up any mess."

Tommy sighs and gazes at his cousin with his perfected look of long-suffering patience. Usually, he only needs to use it on cousin Henry, however.

"Now, Andrea..." he begins in his wise Medicine Man tone, "there's no..."

"Did you two hoes just threaten me?" the indignant and drug-infused teenager asks.

Pablo's arm tightens around Andi's waist and his lips pull on her earlobe before he whispers, "I'll field this one."

She rests her head against his chest in response. She watches the scene by observing Tommy's reactions to it.

"Young lady, the first thing you're going to do is learn proper respect for your elders, and you can begin the lesson by apologizing to my financée and her sister," Pablo says mildly. "And then I highly recommend that you get your act together by getting off the drugs and getting yourself a better class of friends."

Andi doesn't need to be watching Pablo to know that Tezza is on the receiving end of his Cop Look.

"If you don't, there's probably a seventy five percent chance you'll be dead before you're twenty."

Tezza looks disdainfully at Pablo. "Fuck you. What do you know about anything, man? You don't know me."

Pablo shakes his head then feigns disinterest. "You personally? No. But I've been a cop for half my life and I've met hundreds of kids like you. And in my first year as a homicide detective, I tracked down the people who killed kids like you."

Crow returns to perch on Andi's knee, looking sadly at Tezza. Personalities aside, there are numerous differences between Crow and its less stable cousin. Crow is nearly half the size of Raven; its feathers have less of a sheen and more of a soft, silky look than Raven's. The biggest difference in personalities, even ignoring the evidence of Raven's lunacy, is that Crow is one of the Spirits that gifts those it guards and guides with an ability to balance life.

"My cousin was consumed with what appears to you as madness because you walk a different path than Raven would like, Warrior," Crow says. "I fear I am experiencing what you would call grief that the one I am to guard and guide walks no path at all." The Spirit swivels its head to look at Andi. "Many of us find the younger people are unwilling to learn the old ways, to come to know us. But if they have a path, even if it is one that leads them away from us, we can still watch and guard as best we can."

Pablo regards Crow for a moment, then nods in agreement before looking at Tezza again.

"Pimps, drug dealers, rival gang members, pissed off members of their own gang... that's what I find, Tezza," Detective Garcia says. He is a good man. He really does care, and he's finding it less simple than he expected to remain dispassionate and seemingly uncaring about this child. "Dozens of dead boys and girls between twelve and sixteen over an eighteen month period, dead because they were stupid. You're going to wind up like them."

Crow bows its head. "I know your Beloved is right, Warrior. If Tezza does not start walking a path soon, a safer path than the rocky maze where she wanders now, it will be too late." The Spirit looks up at Andrea and Pablo, then turns to Tommy, then Logan and Madeline and Rene, and then finally back at Tezza again.

"Please help her."

"We'll do what we can, Crow." As much as she wants to promise success, that would be... dishonest. Unworthy of the Warrior. And she hates that there are no guarantees they can help this child.

The girl in question just snorts. "Are you kidding me?" she says to Pablo. "Your girlfriend is trippin' out, talking to her feet, and you're going to lecture me?" She laughs harshly.

Andi rolls her eyes. "I'm talking to your guardian Spirit, who happens to be rather concerned about you, you ninny." She turns her head to look at Tezza from head to foot. "Justifiably so, too."

She laughs again. "Yeah, right. You're as bad as those Jesus Freaks," she says, then walks around them, giving Logan a wide berth, to sit in the chair John Ravenclaw had vacated. She gives the five of them a surprisingly clear-eyed appraisal, ignoring Tommy for the moment. Her gaze lingers the longest on Rene.

"You're too good for them, baby. Come on over here and I can give you some personal attention," she says in a way she probably thinks is seductive.

Andrea bursts out laughing. "Oh, by all the Gods, Spirits and Buddhas! That's so ridiculously funny, I don't even have words for it!" She snickers. "I think I've seen better acting in grade school plays."

Do you think taunting a person on drugs is a smart idea, dear? Pablo asks, sounding only a little worried.

I do this for a living, remember?

Then Andi looks at Rene and shakes her head. "I know that nonsense is all her. Pretty sure I'd feel quite a bit different than I do right now if it wasn't." She grins at him as she gently taps his leg with the toe of her shoe.

"Of course, there is the wholly normal, regular world reality that you're totally hot," she says, winking at him.

While Tezza is ogling Rene, Puma moves to sit between Tommy and the young woman.

After the proposition from Tezza, Madeline watches Rene with an amused smile and hands the cigar back to Logan. He passes the beer back to her in return.

Rene, ignoring Madeline, looks at Andi and puts a hand to his heart.

"It has been my lifelong burden to bear," he intones.

He then turns his attention to Tezza. "Sorry, little one. I'm no pedophile."

Andi chuckles at Rene's melodrama, as does Pablo.

"You poor dear," she says.

"It is a terrible burden," Pablo agrees.

"You seem to be handling the burden rather well, Detective," Andi says.

"Ah, but I have not been burdened with the burden for as long as my dear Brother has been burdened by this burden."

"Yep, you're both loonies."

She looks up at him as Rene looks away from Tezza to smile at his Wife and Brother. The youngster is so transparent — the drugs in her system make her emotions project more than they should — that her shock, disbelief, and humiliation are all too apparent to Andi. Unfortunately, her emotions are starting to slowly morph into anger. And that won't turn out well.

Tezza looks at Rene contemptuously. "I'm old enough to know what's what, pops. And you don't know what you're missing. Then she makes the mistake of looking at Tommy with the same look she had just recently bestowed on Rene.

Puma growls.

Crow whimpers.

Tezza leans on the arm of the lawn chair and bats her lashes at Tommy. "How about you, handsome? I can show you a really good time."

Several things happen simultaneously.

Puma ineffectually swipes at the girl, screaming a catlike warning. If Puma were solid, if Tezza believed in the old ways so that it would be possible for Puma to be solid enough to touch her, she would be missing a throat.

Tommy opens his mouth to speak, to rebuff her advances.

The wind kicks up, hard and fast, like a miniature tornado and knocks both Tezza and the chair over... without touching anyone else.

Crow squawks.

Then Puma looks at the girl... at the paw it had used to swipe at her... then at Tezza again. It settles against Tommy with a satisfied look on its face.

"What the hell?!" Pablo exclaims.

Andi sits up and looks between him and Tezza.


"What do you mean... 'ooops'?" he asks her.

"Well, if you didn't do that," she says nodding to the now-wailing Tezza, "then I must have."

Puma takes its attention away from Tommy to look at Andi, who notes how easily and most effectively Puma is preventing Tommy from helping Tezza up. "You, Warrior?" it asks. "I would rather take the credit."

She nods to Puma, watching as Tezza attempts to extricate herself from the chair that had begun folding as she fell. "I know, O Puma. And if I had not seen the qi of the wind, and if the child had been the least bit harmed by your mighty claw, I would give you credit gladly." Andi looks back at Pablo. "You know that I've picked up some of your light powers with our Bond. I think I may have picked up some of the wind, too. I just..." She shrugs and sighs. "I guess I got as annoyed with her as Puma did."

"You know," says Tommy, "I can perfectly well take care of myself, thank you both very much."

Puma just rubs its head on Tommy's shoulder.

"Sorry? I didn't mean to do it. I didn't even know I could do that until just know."

Tommy sighs then looks at Puma. "You're not going to let me help her get up, are you?"

Puma looks back and simply says, "No."

Crow launches itself toward her and lands near her foot where it is tangled in the webbing of the chair.

"She must do for herself," Crow says. "Or allow me to help her."

"Are the whole bunch of you just going to sit there and stare at me?" Tezza asks indignantly.

"Yeah, I'm afraid so, cupcake. Your guardian Spirit has offered to help, however," Andi says... or rather, Ninja says. "Just think of this as your first step toward recovery. Work it out on your own."

She points to Crow.

"Or let Crow help you."

Tezza kicks violently at the chair as Crow watches helplessly and the rest of them watch with disinterest or frustration or amusement or, in Pablo's case, annoyance. Finally, she gets her foot free by tearing the webbing away from the frame. She gets unsteadily to her feet, then kicks the chair, which almost causes her to fall over again.

"Thanks for nothing, assholes!" she yells.

Ninja looks at the damaged chair, then at Tezza. "Good thing that's an easy fix," she says. And it really is. The screw that once held the end of the webbing strip in place just needs to be replaced.

"Who gives a shit about the fucking chair, bitch?"

The Warrior and the Librarian war for a moment, eyes closed and leaning against Pablo. There's no point in getting more upset with a person who has about as much control over their behavior as a puppy. The Warrior concedes this point. Andi stretches one leg out a bit more to rest her foot against Maddie's. A smile starts to form as she decides that putting Susan's cousin out of her mind in favor of enjoying the movement and texture of the energy that flows between and among the members of the Pentad is the most pleasant thing to do at the moment.

"Uncle Leon might care about the chair," she says mildly. "It's his, after all. I'm sure he has a widget to fix it."

"Yeah, and who cares about a weird old guy?" she responds.

Andi just watches the qi. It's interesting that the Spirits almost have an overlay of their true form in the swirling of their qi... even Rene, although his is much fainter. She spends a moment wondering if it's because he's only recently become a Spirit, or if it's because he still thinks of his human form as his true form; then she decides it doesn't matter. He does look a bit like an angel in the overlay... beautiful swirls of white that could almost look like wings. Andrea decides that being with and being part of the Pentad is what matters right now.

Tommy, on the other hand, is not as calm and... well, Vulcan-like as he usually is.

"I happen to care, as a matter of fact," Tommy says to Tezza, although he's giving as much of his attention to the Pentad as he is to the teen. "He's my father, he's less weird than most of the people here, and he's not particularly old. Although, to a child, he might seem old."

Tezza stomps her feet and her qi flares out and snaps back like one of those paddle ball toys. "I am not a child!"

"Then stop acting like one," Tommy replies placidly.

Crow is desperately trying to get her attention and failing. Andi isn't sure why, but it makes her think of Quetzalcoatl and his wait to be awakened from his nap when his Chosen One showed up. She still isn't sure how her Song crossed to his dimension to wake him but if it means not having to listen to his condescension, she's happy enough not knowing. Although...

I don't suppose any of you can fetch the ancestral pain in the ass should the need arise, she asks her four guardians.

We could, Cobra says, although Raven had built a rapport of sorts with him, so it would be slightly more difficult. You could do it yourself, however, Warrior.

Oh, rats. And here I was hoping I wouldn't have to figure out how that worked.

Waking him was different than simply calling him, Fox says. And calling him is simple enough. You just sing your Song and think of calling him. Fox gives the impression of chuckling. It is almost a summoning. It is a call he cannot refuse.

And that will please him to no end, I can assure you of that, she replies sarcastically.

Bear ruffles her hair with its breath. Don't worry, little one, it says with amusement. You said yourself that there is nothing you can do to please it. So why should you try?

I can tell you are going to be a very bad influence where that one is concerned, aren't you, friend Bear? she asks, equally as amused.

None of us understands Raven's fascination with the Aztec demigod, Opossum admits.

It does seem strange, Andi agrees. Considering how much the ancestral pest wanted me to face the Shadow, it would be a logical assumption that a Warrior would be needed... and not a Shaman. But then, logic didn't seem to be Raven's strong suit.

The Spirits seem inclined to continue the discussion, however, just then Tezza bends down to pick up the chair. Her aura is full of anger and indignation... and all of it is focused on Tommy at the moment.

"Oh, good grief," Andi mutters as she gathers herself to stand. Tezza has picked up the chair, has even begun raising it by the time Andi steps over to her and wraps one hand around part of the chair's frame, stopping it from going anywhere.

Puma is trying to urge Tommy to move away from the crazy teen. Tommy is willing to stand — or in this case, sit — his ground.

"We don't hit people with chairs, Tezza," Andi says in a conversational tone, although her expression indicates she's a little annoyed. "You're disrupting a lovely afternoon with my family. I don't get to spend enough time with my family. So I think it might be time for you to go away."

The teen tries tugging the chair from Andi's grasp but obviously gets nowhere with her efforts.

"He insulted me! And who the hell put you in charge here, crazy woman?"

"If you're insulted by the truth, then don't you think that's an indication that something has gone awry in your life?" Andi sighs softly. She really does want to spend time with her family; she really doesn't want to deal with Tezza.

A warrior plays many roles among the People of a Nation. Any warrior, any Nation.

She shakes her head sadly. "And I put myself in charge when I saw you were going to try to bash my cousin's head with my uncle's chair, possibly damaging both. While damage to the chair would be annoying, I would be quite cross if you managed to actually hurt my cousin." Andi's voice conveyed her opinion of Tezza ability to hurt Tommy.

"Now..." She pulls sharply on the chair, dislodging it from the girl's hands. "Do you want to stay and converse like a normal person, or are you going to go away?"

Tezza stares at the woman in front of her, at the chair, at her hands... definitely surprised by the ease with which Andi has pulled the chair from her hands. "Who ARE you?"

Andrea gives her a look that clearly says, Really? Are you kidding me? Then she sighs.

"We've all been introduced, haven't we? Well, no... I suppose we haven't. Officially.

"I'm Andrea. That's my fiancé Pablo," she says, pointing to her husband without actually taking her eyes off Tezza. Completing the semi-circle, she adds, "Brother Rene... Sister Madeline... and Brother Logan. The one you tried to bash with his father's chair is my cousin Tommy. So. Now that we all know one another, I'll repeat my question."

Andi moves back to Pablo's side, sets the chair well out of Tezza's immediate grasp, and sits down again, propping her feet on Rene's leg with one foot touching Maddie's and leaning against Pablo. He wraps an arm around her waist again... but loosely this time.

"Are you going to stay and behave yourself or are you going to go away?" Andi asks, not really caring one way or the other.

Tezza glares at her... at the five of them, really. It's possible even she can see the threat that the Pentad represents. She glances at Tommy before answering.

"What's in it for me?"

Andi turns her head to look at the girl, an expression of confusion on her features. "What's in it for you? In what? In staying or going?" She shakes her head. "What the hell does that matter?"

She looks at Maddie. "You have more experience with teenagers. Maybe you can get her to make up her mind... without killing her. Which would upset the family and be poor form, I think. And which I could just as easily do myself if I thought it would help her."

"Damn, you people are a bunch of freaks!" the teenager in question says.

Tommy's calm facade is beginning to show some cracks.

"Yeah, you don't know the half of it," Andi mutters quietly.


It's an intervention, Tommy. Just... roll with it, okay?

He doesn't say anything, but some of those cracks disappear.

"I've only had slightly more experience than you," Madeline says with a shake of her head. "Discount my year at the school... those kids are all there willingly."

"Okay, you have a point."

"And that is classic narcissist behavior that — while, yes, teens are well known for — has been cultivated beyond the norm."

Madeline looks from her Sister to the teen.

"Where are your parents, girl?"

"The parental units are none of your business," Tezza says sullenly and rudely.

"Her parents are a pain in the ass, don't give a shit, and are on her case all the time," Andi says, simply reporting what Charlie has said he overhead from the girl. She looks at Tezza. "Did I get that right?"

Without waiting for her answer, Andi looks back at Maddie. "Pretty much your average parents, doing their best. A lot like my folks, Tommy's folks, and Billy's folks. Apparently Wild Child here..." She jerks her head toward Tezza. "...threatens them with all sorts of things — things that are utterly ridiculous, things that are seriously dangerous."

"Not a brilliant tactic," Pablo observes.

"I don't know," she says, looking at Tezza with Ninja peeking out through her eyes. "You get that one hopped up on drugs with a knife in her hand and even two Normals aren't going to stand a chance."

"True," he admits.

Tezza is tall for fourteen; she might be an inch or so shorter than Andi is — making her about five foot six — but she's stockier, too. Andi would definitely want the girl on her rugby team if she were clean. Well, and if Andi had a rugby team. The girl is taller than her mother. At this point, if she were high on the right — or rather, wrong — drugs, she could easily take down her six foot tall father who might outweigh her by a hundred pounds... but also has about thirty years on her.

At the moment, Tezza is very much not liking that the Warrior is looking at her, weighing her worth.

"Then there are the nuisance threats, like calling Child Protective Services, who have more than enough to do without brats like this giving them more work. She did that last year because mom and dad wouldn't let her go to a friend's house until she cleaned her bedroom, a reasonable request if you ask me. But her folks had to go to court, waste their time — losing all their vacation time and, in her mother's case, docked pay when vacation ran out on this little turd of entitlement — with court dates, with social worker appointments, with home studies just to prove they're fit parents. Oh, they're fit. It's this loser who isn't fit to be their daughter."

"Andrea...?" Tommy looks nervously between his cousin and Tezza.

Sorry, Tommy. The Warrior speaks.

He nods and continues to observe.

"What the fuck do you know, librarian? I could take you down in a heartbeat."

Pablo laughs. "Kid, you have no idea who you're messing with. Chill out, and the nice librarian won't have to clean your clock."

Tezza has some big time attitude going on now. "Pfft. I ain't afraid of her."

Ninja smiles. "Really, Tezza? Look me in the eyes and tell me you're not afraid. I've made grown men pee themselves just by looking at them." Okay, she will grant that those cases were seriously intoxicated homophobes trying to mess with her boys at Charlie's, but it's not a lie.

Tezza puffs herself up and taps her chest. "Come on, librarian. Bring it. Show me what you got. I bet you got jack shit."

Andi looks up at Pablo. "What that an invitation for me to pummel her?"

"It did sound like it to me," he says, nodding.

She sighs and looks at Rene and Maddie and Logan. "But I'm so comfy here," she says with the tiniest hint of a whine. "And it's not like it will be a decent workout."

"Andrea, don't hurt her," Tommy says.

Tezza and Ninja both look at him... for different reasons, of course.

"Good lookin', that librarian won't even touch me," Tezza brags.

Andi sighs again. "I won't, Tommy. Probably not, anyway. But there's a good possibility she'll hurt herself."

"Bitch, you're talkin' outta your ass. I'm calling you out," she says, puffing herself up even more.

She looks up at Pablo again, then reaches a hand up to pull his head down for a kiss. "I won't be long, my darling," Andi tells him as she stands, her eyes never leaving his. She walks toward Tezza, but slowly and — true to her smartass Ninja persona — pausing to kiss Rene, Maddie, and Logan; light and only lingering a bit, but thanks to Rene and his gift, powerful nonetheless. She tousles Tommy's hair.

Then she stands with her hands on her hips, assessing the threat. She isn't sure what drugs are in the girl's system, but she's got more strength than she should, more strength than she would if she were clean. However, that and her bravado seem to be all she has.

"How about if we back up a bit so when you drop from weariness, you don't fall on anyone, huh?" Andi... maybe Ninja... asks in a reasonable tone. Reasonable is good; the problem is that the Warrior is still peering out through her eyes. No matter how reasonable she sounds, she's still going to look like a threat.

Andi knows it. Even the part of her that is Ninja knows it.

Tezza hasn't quite grasped it yet.

Andi chalks that up to the drugs.

But Tezza takes about ten steps backward, while Andi pauses to take off the sneakers and socks Tali had loaned her and tosses them behind her. Tali had made such a fuss about Andi's poor feet looking so overheated... Andi had put the footwear on just to make her cousin happy.

"Barefoot?" Pablo sounds decidedly puzzled.

"Love, have you ever seen me practicing Taiji in any footwear other than my boots? Don't bother thinking about it; the answer is no," she says with a smile in her voice, although she's watching the teenager. "Especially if the footwear isn't even mine."

She walks toward Tezza slowly, enjoying the feel of Mother's skin against hers. She stops five or six paces away, immediately moving into a ready stance.

"This was your idea, kid. You get to move first."

She doesn't bother saying anything; she just rushes at Andi, telegraphing her every move. It's not difficult to step out of the way; Andi is considerably faster, her mind is clear, and she is a Taiji Master... while Tezza is a teenager on drugs. Andi simply takes a few steps back as Tezza falls to the ground.

"You tripped me!" she yells as she struggles to her feet.

The Librarian shrugs. "No. But think what you'd like."

Lesson one seems to have made an impact, as Tezza moves toward Andrea more slowly now, circling and spiraling closer. It's less challenging than tussling with the miscreants in Denver's dark alleys and streets, so Andi shakes her head and closes her eyes. Now she merely watches the qi.

This is reminiscent of the practice sessions Master Chen devised for her, a method to train her perceptions using her inner seeing of qi. Tezza circles and occasionally lashes out; the blows that are meant, perhaps, as feints Andi simply ignores, those meant to make contact she blocks easily. It takes about ten minutes for Tezza to work her way up to attempting to make contact with every blow. Frankly, Andi is a little surprised that it takes that long, and she hopes the girl is learning lesson two in the process.

Now, it's beginning to feel like the rage session she had with Pablo all those years ago after Denise had died. Tezza is lashing out more with anger than physical force. And like that session so long ago in which Pablo landed not a single blow, Tezza is being blocked each and every time.

Her breathing is getting ragged; it's clear she's tiring. A sane person would give up right about now. Tezza isn't exactly sane. Andi... and Ninja... hears the quiet snick of a switchblade. That's a familiar sound.


I hear it, Tommy. Relax.

They dance for several more minutes as Tezza continues trying to cut Andi with her blade. She girl is tiring now to the point where there is a real possibility she'll wind up hurting herself. Andi finally opens her eyes and looks at her, the Warrior regarding the non-threat.

"And just what do you plan to do with that little knife, child?" she asks mildly.

"I'm gonna cut you, bitch!"

Andi shakes her head; Tezza keeps thrusting and jabbing with the knife. The Taiji Master continues to move effortlessly out of the way.

"Come now, Tezza. You've learned lesson one — that I move faster than you do. Presumably, you've learned lesson two — that I have more martial skills than you do. Must I teach you lesson three as well?"

"I'm afraid to ask what lesson three is," Pablo mumbles.

"Just a little something that a lot of naughty people have learned, my dear Pablo," she says without taking her eyes from Tezza.

"Youngling, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting," the Warrior says quietly.

"What the fuck does that mean? Damn, you're one crazy, fucked up bitch!"

"Fine. Lesson three it is."

This time when Tezza rushes at Andi with the knife, she turns sideways enough to allow the girl to make contact. In fact, Ninja leans into it, something she rather hopes Tommy and Pablo don't notice as it will upset them. That integrated personality is ever so interesting. The knife cuts through the sleeve of her polo shirt, deeply through the deltoid and brachialis muscles, and comes to a stop as it nicks the distal end of the humerus. She only has a minute or so for lesson three.

Ninja pulls the knife from her arm and out of Tezza's hand and tosses it on the ground. Then she grabs the girl's chin to focus her attention on the wounded arm.

"Watch. Lesson three."

The muscles and nerve fibers and blood vessels heal as the girl watches, before the healing skin covers the remainder of the healing. AND THE GOD AWFUL DAMN ITCHING! Well, no one said being a teacher would be easy.

Tezza's eyes grow wide and she doesn't seem to be able to make up her mind if she's going to scream or vomit. Once the skin has healed completely, once the only evidence of her actions is a torn shirt sleeve and drying blood on a perfectly smooth arm, Ninja points the girl's attention on her face.

"Lesson three... do not fuck with a warrior; especially, do not fuck with the Warrior. There are more advanced lessons, young lady." The Warrior looks the child in the eyes, the faint glow of anger a golden ring around her irises. "Are you going to need them? Because I'm happy to keep my eyes on you until you straighten up and fly right."

Tezza makes some inarticulate sounds.

Madeline, Logan, and Rene do not move from their respective comfortable positions while Andi deals with the brat. Rene does reach over for a slug of beer once or twice; like Maddie and Logan, he drinks for the taste of it. They watch with casual disinterest, knowing that on the off chance of needing an assist, Andi will ask for it. When the altercation comes to its inevitable conclusion, Madeline simply smiles... and it's not a pleasant one either.

"Tommy, who's in Albuquerque — that's where you and your family live, isn't it, Tezza?" She manages a slight nod. "Who's in Albuquerque who can teach Tezza the old ways?"

"Grace Morningstar is one of our most honored Singers," he says, sounding a little worried. "She knows all the stories."

"Good. When you go home, young Tezza, you're going to study with Singer Morningstar. You're going to get yourself some new friends. You're going to stay off the drugs. You're going to be respectful to your parents, and you're going to apologize to them for being such an asshole.

"You catch my drift, child?" Ninja asks as she lets go of the girl's chin.

"Who are you?" she manages to squeak out.

Pablo chuckles as Tommy sighs.

"One kick-ass librarian!" Pablo says.

"And the most powerful Navajo alive today." She looks over her shoulder at her cousin. "Fine. Ever. The most powerful Navajo ever. But I only say that to placate the Medicine Man... I think the Diné Special Forces guys could give me a run for my money. The Seals, too."

She looks at Tezza and smiles sweetly. "To paraphrase one of the finest female characters in science fiction history, I am the right hand of vengeance and the boot that is going to kick your sorry ass all the way back to Albuquerque, sweetheart! I am death incarnate, and the last living thing that you will ever see... if you don't shape up."

"Ivanova is god!" Pablo intones.

"You're scary as hell!" Tezza says, eyes wide and wild.

"Yes. Yes, I am," Ninja says proudly. "And you don't want to piss my Sister off, because she's even scarier."

The girl's eyes flicker from Andi to Maddie and back. "Can I... Is it okay if... Um... I need to get back to the house."

Madeline still wears her not exactly pleasant smile at the mention of her being scarier. She tips an invisible hat to the girl and says, "That's only because I've had more practice at it."

"Oh, that's reassuring," Pablo says softly with resignation.

"Fine, fine, be gone... behave," Andi says as she shoos her off. "I will be watching you. And not just this weekend, either." She can't run fast enough to escape them. Andi just watches her go.

"Think that's going to help?" Pablo asks.

She shrugs. "For the weekend, maybe... probably. After that?" She turns to walk back toward them.

"How can you possibly watch her, Andrea?" Tommy asks.

"Spies, Cousin. Spies," she says with a grin as she settles back down with Pablo. "Detective Dreamy here makes friends easily, especially when those friends are other cops. Charlie and Susan will keep me posted. And you'll give me updates on her lessons with Singer Morningstar."

"Oh, I will?" he asks, eyebrows raised.

"Yep. Because you want her to clean up her act as much as her folks do."

He rolls his eyes and sighs. "How do you talk me into this stuff, Andrea?"

Andi bats her eyelashes at him. "I'm your favorite and you love me."

"Do you think she should participate in the Dance later? She's pretty volatile."

Andi nods. "It's possibly the best thing for her right now."

Crow nods as well and looks at Tommy. "If it will help her in any way, Shaman, I would request that she be allowed to participate."

Puma looks at Tommy too. "I am not as optimistic as the Warrior; however, there will be enough of us in attendance to control any misbehavior." When Tommy's skeptical look does not fade, Puma nudges his shoulder with its head. "Worry not, my friend. Giraffe reports that your cousin sees no problems coming from the young one."

Madeline breathes a sigh of relief once the sullen child has finally left.

"And even if the Spirits weren't going to be there, there are the four of us," she says to Tommy, indicating herself, Logan, Andi, and Pablo.

Rene, technically, is one of the Spirits.

"So when's the Dance?" Andi asks excitedly. "I get to actually Dance this time, and not feed power to the circle!"

Tommy chuckles and he stands. "I'd better get back and help John organize it." He walks over to pick up the lawn chair, then tousles Andi's hair. As payback, she's pretty sure.

"Don't you guys stay out here too long." He turns to walk off. "And behave yourselves," he calls over his shoulder.

"We will!" his cousin replies.

When he is out of hearing range, she remarks, "He didn't specify how we were to behave. A glaring omission."

"Yes, he failed to define 'behave'," Rene notes.

"He also failed to define 'too long'," Madeline adds.

"Sadly, I can interpret 'too long'... and it no doubt means 'show up well before the Dance'," Andi says.

Fox looks up at her from where it had curled by her side, then glances at Pablo. "Do you think your Beloved's Aztec guardian will participate? Raven has said the most contradictory and strange things about it."

Andi rolls her eyes. "Gods, I hope not. He's been really cranky lately, and isn't particularly happy with me."

"And I wonder why that would be," Pablo mumbles.

She ignores him.

Fox looks disappointed and, after glancing at her other three guardians, says sadly, "We had hoped to meet it."

She shakes her head ruefully. "I'm sure he'll show up eventually. Or hey... just go ask Raven to introduce you."

The four of them perk right up. "Do you think Raven would do that?" Bear asks.

Andi shrugs. "Raven's crazy. No way to predict it, I'm afraid."

"Oh, I would much prefer to have the Aztec one visit," Eagle says. "Mouse does not seem to mind being in two places at once, but I find it unpleasant."

She looks up at Pablo's guardian. "That seems odd to me, that you'd have a problem like that."

Eagle bobs its head in agreement. "Yes. We are nearly agreed that it likely has to do with being the messenger of the Great Spirit."

"Well, a lot of you will be doing it during this Dance," she says. "Heck, this is the first time any of the Spirits besides Mouse has had to divide time between two people." Andi smiles, almost wistfully. "This should be interesting. Besides you and Mouse... Panther, Monkey and Cat will be guardians of two participants each."

"It will be wonderfully fun!" Cat says, looking up at Maddie while purring. Loudly.

Andi taps Rene with her foot. "You, too, Spirit Brother! You are guardian Spirit to Logan and Maddie," she says. "I can't say I'd object to seeing two of you." She grins broadly.

"At the moment, I'm going to be grateful I have no idea what you're talking about," Rene says.

"Oh dear," Eagle says. "That was a lesson we neglected. We should go now. Lion is the best for teaching you this, sibling Rene."

"I am better at splitting than Lion is," Cat says. Whether it's actually offended or just pretending to be offended is hard to tell.

"Indeed you are, Cat!" Bear agrees. "One of the very best, in fact. But Lion's... what would be the right word here? Hmmm. Well, let's say 'harmonics', yes? Lion's harmonics are closer to Rene's, and that would make it easier for Rene to learn."

Cat flops over in Maddie's lap. "I hate when you're right, Bear."

Bear chuckles. "No, you don't, small one. You just like Rene very much. There's no reason you can't help Lion teach Rene!"

Cat jumps up again and bounds into Rene's lap; Andi tries hard not to giggle. "You'll let me help you, won't you, Rene," says Cat... very definitely a statement much more than a question.

"I hope you'll all forgive me for saying this," Pablo says, "but I find the prospect of two identical Renes a little disconcerting."

"Forgiven," Rene says immediately. "I find the thought of being two identical Renes disconcerting. Can't I just..." He shrugs. "...maybe dance between them?"

"Oh goodness no!" Eagle says. "People dance in one circle, we surround them and often intersect with their circle, but we have our own circle."

"And everyone must have a Spirit representative?" he asks.

"Definitely," Andi says. "It's the usual way we discover which Spirit will guard people who are married into the family. Or adopted under different circumstances."

Rene just looks at her. And she just shrugs. "Hey, I don't make the rules. I just report them."

Looking down at Cat, he asks, "You all split like that?"

"Oh, not the water animals. But you're not a water animal."

"I see where your thoughts are going, sibling Rene," Eagle says. "Let us return to our realm; there are others who would want to be part of this conversation."

"I'm glad someone sees because I'm not sure I do," Rene says to Eagle. "All the more reason for me to be part of the conversation, I suppose." He grabs Andi's foot and shakes it. "I blame you, Warrior Woman," he says with a smile before leaning over to kiss Maddie. "Je t'aime."

Madeline nudges Rene with her foot. "And you thought you knew it all already. Don't worry, you're a quick study. Though the thought of two of you... bad enough Leon's practically a carbon copy."

She enjoys the kiss, the soft touch of his lips and the sweet taste of him. "Ik houd u. See you soon."

"Hey, no blame! Only thanks," the Warrior Woman replies. "Who got you out of the icky dimension and reconnected with your Maddie, huh?" she says as she watches love flow between the two of them.

He spends a moment more with Maddie before looking at Andi with his rakish smile, winking, and disappearing with all the other Spirits.

Andi looks at her feet, still bare, and sighs. "He was doing so well as a footstool, too," she laments.

Pablo hugs her, then stretches out with one arm behind his head, the other patting his firm abs. "Rest your weary head, mourn the loss of your footstool while I run my fingers through your silky hair, Warrior Woman," he says with a broad grin.

"My head is not weary, Detective, although how can I pass up a chance to listen to your abdominal rumblings?" she asks with a grin.

"I'll even braid your hair for you," he says, still grinning.

"Oh, that's my cue to leave, isn't it?"

"Okay, no braiding." He sighs.

Andi stretches out, too, looking up at the blue sky. "It's almost too bad it's such a clear day. Looking for things in the clouds is fun."

"Except when Bobby gets involved," Pablo says.

"Oh, he's not right in the head. I've never seen a single cloud that looked like Martha Stewart, never mind every single one."

An hour passes — or perhaps even a bit more than an hour — as the four of them chat... even Logan speaks up a time or two. The conversation is light, some of it is quite silly, and at some point Andi notices that they've arranged themselves in a small circle... Logan is resting his head on her stomach, Maddie's is on his, Pablo's is on hers.

A tidbit of information from one of the thousands of books she's read floats to the surface — this is Pack behavior — before going back to the serious and silly discussion about precisely why it's important to put ice cream on apple pie... and not just any ice cream, but the cinnamon ice cream that only Village Inn seems to be able to procure.

They're definitely too far away for Andi, or even Logan, to hear the family beginning to gather for the Dance. The change in qi flows, the almost imperceptible beginnings of the spiraling of power, however, are the signs that it's time to go.

Pablo looks a tad bit alarmed as they walk hand in hand back toward the house, no doubt because Andi neglected to put Talia's sneakers back on and instead carries them in her other hand. She grins at him.

"Why does it bother you so much that I walk barefoot? It's no different than you walking up the sidewalk or across the driveway to Bobby's house barefoot."

"Way different!" he exclaims, pointing at the ground. "There's a big difference between cement or asphalt and dirt, dried scrub grass and rocks."

She nods. "Absolutely. It's hard for Mother to reach through the cement and asphalt."

He looks at her, slightly frustrated. "I don't think we're talking the same language. Again."

She squeezes his hand. "Think of it this way... we're holding hands and it's really nice. Your skin touching mine, our energy flowing back and forth, the comfortable way our fingers fit together... that's the way my feet fit with Mother's skin. Walking on cement or asphalt would be like us holding hands while we're both wearing ski gloves. It hardly seems worth the effort when it's so hard to tell we're even holding hands."

"But rocks! Sharp dry grass!"

Andi chuckles. "Look very carefully at the ground. You'll see there are plenty of spots of bare dirt. Yes, they're small, but my feet are small. Well, not big anyway," she says, smiling. "Why do you think I won't give into Bobby's crazy barbecue in the driveway idea? Sure, set up the grill there if you want, but I'll have nothing to do with the silly notion of lawn chairs behind your car. If we can't sit on the grass in the yard, we might as well sit at the table in the house."

Pablo shakes his head. "Just when I think I might have a handle on the whole Andrea Yazzie concept, you toss another not-quite-ordinary way of thinking at me."

She raises his hand to kiss his fingers. "Well, you'll never get bored, will you?"

He laughs, and replies, "No... no, I guess I won't."

As they return to the house, Madeline finds herself looking at the world with a new sense of wonder. She squeezes Logan's hand and looks over at him. She can see he feels it, too. His life has been considerably longer and more troubled than hers, yet he has never truly given up his humanity.

As they approach the house, Andi sees that Charlie is pulling out his drum from the carrier on top of his van. The van is far enough away that she can't hear the conversation he's having with Susan and Leon, but her cousin and his fiancée have managed to pull her nephew into the family; he looks relaxed, happy and very much like he belongs. Andi idly wonders if he's ever truly felt part of something this big. Sure, there are a lot of kids and teachers at his school, but she knows from experience that school isn't always a place that fosters true belonging. Charles certainly seems the kind of person to try, but one man can't do it alone. She suddenly has a desire to visit Charles' school, and see for herself the kind of place that he's created. Her musings are interrupted by Billy and the twins, however.

"Mama! Papa!" The twins give up tormenting wolf Billy and run toward Maddie and Logan. "Uncle Leon is going to teach us to dance!"

They're little rockets of fast moving energy, and Andi has a feeling they might be as calm as Billy is during a Dance... that is to say, not at all. On the other hand, there is Logan, who seems to be able to get them to settle down with a look or a soft growl. Although they, too, seem to be embracing the family and allowing themselves to be embraced. Earlier, he had been Billy's uncle; now, he is Uncle Leon.

Madeline grins as they are accosted by their hurricanes. So does Logan.

"We're all going to learn," she tells them, which garners wide eyes from both of them for a second before they throw their arms around her.

She hugs them back and kisses their heads. "I love you."

Muffled replies of "Love you, too, Mama" are heard.

There is a brief tightening of arms before she releases them back to pestering Billy.

Hmmm... Andi wonders if having Logan growing at him would work on Billy? Probably not. Oh well, if not there's always the tried and true method Tommy's been using for years... a tap or two on the back of their youngest cousin's head.

"So, Andi, anything we should know or do to prepare?"

Andi shakes her head and smiles as she watches the twins with Billy. "Nope. Uncle Leon will run through the Dance movements a few times... well, as many times as people need, really. But they're fairly simple."

"True, true," Pablo agrees. "If it's anything like the Dance we did back in August for Tita, it didn't take long to learn." He looks at Andi with a smile. "And the second dance for Mrs. Rutler was so great, with her kids and grandkids joining in. Tita looks like she could make a night of it... I assume she won't be drumming with Charlie this time."

She chuckles. "No way. Charlie's on his own, which is usually the way it is anyway." She looks across the yard. Tita is talking to Tezza, who looks positively subdued. Charlie is walking toward the large open space on the opposite side of the driveway, explaining — it would seem — something about the drum or drumming to Leon, who follows along paying as close attention to this lesson as any that would seem to be more important at school. Susan and Talia head in their direction... Susan looking surprised as she keeps glancing at her cousin, and Talia looking slightly put upon.

"Andrea, what did you do?" Talia asks, tiredly and as close to a whine as Talia has ever come.

"I didn't do it!" she answers, using one of Billy's favorite lines.

"Are you kidding?" responds Susan. "Tezza's acting like you put the fear of God into her."

"Oh." She pauses and shakes her head. "No, just the fear of Ninja." She looks at Talia. "Bad idea?"

Talia shakes her head. "No, probably a really good idea. I was terrified of looking at her future because it was pretty obvious where she was heading. But I took a peek when she came running back here and made a beeline for Papa and Tita." Talia shakes her head. "I don't know what you did, but she's got a chance now. She needs to step up and take it, but it's there."

"Good. But honestly, it wasn't me. Ninja got pissed off." Andi shrugs. "It's really not a good idea to piss off the Warrior."

She hears the drum sound out the Call To Dance rhythm and looks over at Charlie... except it's not Charlie tapping out the beat, it's Leon. Both Charlie and Leon are grinning broadly, with Charlie nodding and encouraging Leon to continue.

"I think we may have been much more concerned than necessary about Leon," Andi says to Maddie as she tosses the sneakers toward the front of the house and then takes her hand. "Let's go Dance."

It's wonderful that her cousins have embraced Maddie's children so readily, despite their age differences. Billy excels at retaining his childlike wonder of the world, so relating to the twins is almost second nature to him. Charlie and Susan have apparently ignored Leon's age completely and treat him as a contemporary, as an adult.

Uncle Leon is watching Charlie and Leon, nodding approval. Wolf Billy is nudging the twins toward Uncle Leon; Tita has her arm lightly around Tezza's shoulder, steering her toward the group. Those who know how to Dance are — for the most part — hanging back for now. Once Uncle Leon sees that everyone has gathered, he nods to Leon.

"You've got the gift for drumming, Nephew. If you were not one of those we are welcoming into our family and hearts today, I'd have Charlie fetch another drum for you. But..." He gestures to the group in front of him. ", you Dance," he says, smiling with happiness. Susan reaches out a hand to help him up.

"It's easy," Susan says. "The celebration Dances don't get complicated like Medicine Dances can, or the Dances Uncle Leon and his students do at the Pow Wows."

Andi is about to move around to Logan's side — sometimes it helps to have someone else's feet to watch — when Henry strolls over. "Heya, Cousin Elder! Me and Coyote, we can show you the moves, man."

She looks over at Henry, eyebrows raised and suppressing a smile. "Henry, you're a huge fibber. Coyote isn't here yet."

He looks at her, then says to Logan, "You know something, Cousin Elder? Having a cousin-twin who can see the Spirits better than the Medicine Men is a huge downer. She doesn't let me get away with anything."

She chuckles softly then turns to Uncle Leon, who has begun his instructions.

"The most important thing to remember is that the drum is your heartbeat, and you move to the rhythm of your heart. We start with simple side steps, one step to the side when your heart beats, bring your other foot in when your heart beats again." Charlie beat the drum slowly several times as Uncle Leon demonstrates and new participants imitate the move.

"The drum is also Thunder, the call of Father Sky to Mother Earth." Charlie beat out a louder, quick staccato riff. "Instead of a step, you stomp." Uncle Leon looks at Andi. "Some of you do not need to use all your strength, please," he says, grinning.

"Sheesh, I only did it once," she mumbles.

He chuckles and continues. "The drum is the Wind through the leaves of the trees, Mother Earth replying to Father Sky." Charlie brushes his hand across the head of the drum. "If you are able, instead of a step or a stomp, you hop on one foot. You do not," he says, looking at Billy, "turn into an egret."

"Hey, I only did that once," Billy mumbles as Andi grins and the twins giggle.

Without thinking about it, instinctively even, Logan begins to dance. Madeline listens and watches Uncle Leon for mere moments before she, too, joins in. There is something about the heartbeat rhythm that thrums through their Bond so that within seconds they are moving in complete synchronization without even looking at one another.

The twins watch and listen to Uncle Leon, as well, but now stare in rapt attention at their parents. Their older brother has been watching Charlie's drumming. A glance at his siblings redirects his gaze and he is caught up in watching their parents as well.

After one turn around the circle, two more figures join Logan and Madeline. They are both Rene. He has chosen to show himself to all, and his joy is evident.

As the beginners learn the steps — self-consciously in Tezza case, as if they'd been Dancing all their lives in Logan's and Maddie's case, and with childlike joy and exuberance in the twins' case — the rest of the family joins the Circle. No one finds Rene's presence out of the ordinary; they accept him as easily as they have accepted everyone else in Madeline's family. The twins flank Billy, who grins at Tommy. The family's newest Medicine Man grins back and takes his place on Vin's other side; it will be simple enough to reach over the youngster's head to smack Billy if he needs it. John Ravenclaw moves to Pablo's other side.

"A bit of kindness and consideration for your guardian Spirit never goes amiss, eh?" he murmurs conspiratorially to Pablo and winks as he joins the Dance.

Tita is on John's other side, with Tezza between her and Papa. Susan and Talia each take one of Leon's hands to pull him into place on the other side of Henry; Uncle Leon is on Susan's other side. Sonia slips into the Circle between her husband and youngest son. Yani joins the Circle beside Em, with Daniel beside her. Aunt Alicia takes her usual spot beside Daniel — one German Shepherd sized Mouse is disconcerting enough, or so Alicia, Daniel, and Mouse seem to believe as they almost always Dance beside one another so Mouse, like Rene and Eagle, does not need to split across the Circle. Uncle Junior is beside his wife; Mama Dances between Uncle Junior and Dad. Dad closes the Circle by Dancing beside Papa.

"And the only other thing to remember is that we are all one... one Nation, one Family... and we are here to celebrate our People, our Family, and especially our newest members of the family. Welcome the Spirits that join us, for they celebrate with us." He looks around. "Any questions?"

"Nah, Uncle Leon, but I gotta tell you," Henry says, "Cousin Elder here's got some good moves, man. I think next Pow Wow, you ought to take him along." Henry looks at Andi past Logan and Maddie. "Coyote will agree with me."

She has been watching both Logan and Maddie. And she hasn't actually been watching their Dancing. She grins at Henry. "I'm not arguing with you, cousin-twin. Your other side cousin Eddie has nice regalia that would look good on my new Brother."

Henry's eyes widen before he studiously looks at Uncle Leon. "You are starting to become very American, cousin-twin," he murmurs.

Charlie's drumming has settled from Gathering to Dance into the Dance itself. As always, it begins slowly. With just two Medicine Men and the Warrior within the Circle, this would be a powerful ceremony. But with the Pentad as part of this Dance...

Well, there is no telling what could happen.

Andrea closes her eyes and simply feels the heartbeats, feels the touch of Mother and Father, feels the joy and love and the gifts of her Brothers, her Sister, her Husband. It all fills her, and she holds it all for a moment, letting it grow and meld and soften into the joy and love that is appropriate for children, teens, adults, and elders alike. It is the love of family, it is the comfort of arms always welcoming, it is the peace of acceptance, it is the serenity of knowing that each of them is always welcome in the hearts of every other one of them.

It doesn't take long for the rest of the Spirits to appear, and she feels the familiar weight of Opossum on her shoulder, gripping her ear as she sways. Cobra wraps itself around her waist, with its head over her other shoulder. Cat, on this section of the Circle, weaves between Maddie's feet and Logan's feet and Rene's feet... never in the way, never in danger of being stepped on or tripped over. Cat simply matches Em's steps until she is confident in the Dance, then begins weaving around her legs as well. Eagle Dances beside itself behind Pablo and John.

John and Tommy begin the Beauty change in Diné Bizaad; Eagle, Bear, and Deer chant along with them.

And Andi lets the energy flow... around, around, around the Circle... carrying the emotions she melds for them. Spiraling up, flowing down around them again, like a waterfall.

Talia, Susan, and Andi begin the song in English.

Now I walk in beauty. Beauty is before me. Beauty is behind me, above and below me... around me and within me.

With each repetition, more voices join the song and the harmonies build as the energy weaves among them, among the Spirits, among the prayer to Mother, Father, and the Great Spirit.

She doesn't need to open her eyes to see Panther Dancing beside Vin, and Monkey climbing up Uncle Leon's back and doing backflips off his shoulders while at the same time Dancing with a good imitation of Leon at the young man's side.

The Pentad is a Circle within the Circle... just as the Spirits are a Circle surrounding the Circle. The Pentad's Circle resonates with Rene's magic as well. The Circle of the Spirits thrums with a Power Andrea normally only feels on Halloween. Mother Earth lends her energy to the Circle as she always does when Andi Dances. Father Sky lends his energy to the Circle through Pablo, the one who has power over Wind and Light.

And still they Dance. They Dance for love, they Dance for joy, they Dance for peace, they Dance for family.

A smile begins spreading across her face as Monkey looks up at Leon, and reaches out a hand to the young man.

With encouragement from Uncle Leon, Vin and Em manage to tear their eyes away from their parents and Leon's dad times two, and they begin to dance. At the first sign of Cat winding its way between her mother's feet, Em falters, entranced by its movements. Watching Cat, however, also has her watching Madeline, and soon she has the rhythm back. Shortly after that, Cat begins to dance with her as well. Grinning, she looks around Billy at her twin, who she finds is already watching and grinning too.

"That's so cool, Em."

Her grin spreads, then her eyes widen.

"Vin!" she exclaims in a quiet manner, looking to the other side of him.

He follows her gaze only to come face to whisker with Panther.

"Um, hi?" Vin manages to say.

Panther purrs, "Hello, young Vincent."

He grins but still never misses a beat.

Maybe it is Em's feralness or the connection to their parents and the nearness of them, the family ties, but the twins keep on dancing even as they notice the other Spirits filtering in. Their faces are filled with wonder and amazement as they point out the new arrivals to one another.

For Andrea, watching the twins is almost as joyful as the Dance itself. For those who see the Spirits regularly, there is nothing so delightful as seeing children get a glimpse of the Spirits for the first time. She had been a little worried about Billy being between the twins; the three of them could flatten half of New Mexico if they let loose all their energy. But their happiness seems to settle him rather than send him into overdrive... rather like the Bodhisattva granddaughter of Mrs. Rutler. Tommy catches her eye and smiles.

I may not need to slap our cousin today.

I think not. The fact that Cat lets everyone see it, and seems to genuinely adore the whole family, gives him something to focus on. Wolf's pretense of guarding him from Cat... well, you can't see his aura, but it would appear the more our youngest cousin wants to laugh, the more calm he becomes.

That would explain why he's everyone's favorite... he's simply the embodiment of joyfulness, Tommy remarks with an affectionate smile for Billy.

Leon may not have the connection his sibling do, but he has an inherited grace and feel for rhythm. He had enjoyed the drumming, and he is enjoying the dancing. This new family his mom has been adopted into are so different from what he knew. He knows that it is different for her, too, but even she is more at ease than he ever remembers seeing her. That alone makes him happy. It is still weird after so many years of seeing her pain, but it's a good weird.

He contemplates these things as he dances. He looks around the circle. He sees his brother and sister with their boundless energy and kilowatt smiles, and cousin Billy between them. He grins at their antics, despite not seeing the reason for them. So caught up in the moment is he that he absently accepts the hand that is held out to him without realizing who — or rather, what — it is attached to.

Further down the circle, the Renes whisper to Madeline and Logan, who look over to see Leon and his guardian Spirit hand in hand. The three / four of them share a knowing smile and wait and watch.

Leon sees his mother watching him and tilts his head inquiringly. She blows him a kiss. Love you, sweetheart.

Love you, too, Mom.

They exchange another smile before Madeline looks at her Mate. She has no desire to make her son self-conscious.

Andi glances over at Leon, who appears still unaware that he's holding hands with his guardian Spirit. The young man has a gift for gracefulness; with that gracefulness, he is managing to embrace all that the Dance is... and making it seem a sacrament and prayer as well.

It is another turn around the circle before Leon finally looks down to say something to his dance partner. His steps falter only momentarily, although his eyes grow wide. He looks back at his mom, dad and double image of his father, then back to Monkey.

Monkey shows its teeth in a wide primate smile. "Yes, Leon, I am your guardian Spirit."

When Leon finally does notice Monkey, he is momentarily startled, but Andrea has never met anyone who could resist Monkey's infectious grin. Her new nephew is no exception as he grins back, his bubbling happiness adding to the Circle.

Although she is not Dancing her Taiji outside the Circle today, although she has no need to sing her song of power, it feels as though Mother and Father have joined the Dance anyway. There are many of them in the Circle today who have great power, and the last time an Elder Danced could very well have been when Logan lived among their cousins of the Blackfeet Nation. There is a discordance in the energy, however, and Andrea glances at Tezza, instinctively knowing she is the source. She is dancing, all the movements are there. But she is not allowing the joy to touch her... and there is so much of it here today!

Eyes closed, studying her aura, Andi can see the spiritual effects of the girl's drug addiction, of her promiscuous behavior, of her disrespect for everything around her and within her. At the core of it all is a kernel of I'm not worthy. Crow looks up at her sadly, trying with all its might to tell her that thought, that belief is a lie... tries with all the power it possesses to tell her she is worthy. But Tezza can't hear Crow, can't see Crow.

Can I help her?

No sooner does the thought cross Andi's mind when Mother sends a spiral of energy upwards through her body to fountain like rain water over the Circle.

But how, Mother?

Bear, who has been dancing like Baloo from The Jungle Book animated movie — to amuse the twins, Andi suspects, although she finds the antics just as amusing — says, Look around you, Warrior! You have a mighty family, and the most eminent of the Spirits are in attendance. Your heart knows what your mind does not.

Cobra takes a break from swaying to the heartbeat rhythm and looks at her. Don't think. Just do.

She reaches up to pet Opossum on her shoulder as she pulls a bit of magic and camouflage from Fox... not much, just enough that she looks far more like the girl she was when she returned home from China — shy, proper, respectful, younger — than the Ninja version of Andrea Tezza had met earlier.



Keep everyone moving.

Andrea, he says in that voice that is part worry about what she's up to and part warning not to do whatever it is she's up to, what are you doing?

Don't know, cousin. I'm just going to do it.

And with that, Andrea steps unerringly into the center of the Circle, eyes still closed. Although her feet stay planted on the ground, firmly connected to Mother, her hands, her arms, her whole body moves in rhythm to the beat of Charlie's drum. It might look, to the others, like the Native dances of the Hawai'ians, or maybe a kind of modified belly dance. In truth, she is simply moving her hands along the ribbons of qi that connect Mother and Father. When Tezza moves into place in front of her, Andrea opens her eyes... smiles... and holds out her hands to Tezza.

"Dance with me, Cousin."

Tezza looks more confused than scared, although there is a tendril of fear running through her. She shakes her head. "I can't."

Andi tilts her head, looks at the youngster with a soft smile. "Of course you can. You can do anything."

Tita places a hand on Tezza's shoulder, Deer breathes a whisper of gentle kindness to ruffle the girl's hair.

"I'm afraid," Tezza says to Tita, who just smiles at her, the embodiment of peaceful compassion.

"You have family all around you, Tezza," Andrea says softly. "There is nothing but love and joy here today. You have nothing to fear in this place, in this Circle, with your family."

Charlie plays Thunder and Wind across his drum, holding the Circle in place while Tezza makes up her mind. There is no hurry. Mother is patient. Father is patient. Andrea is patient. All those who Dance want only good for Tezza. Andi isn't sure the girl understand any of that, but eventually she does take a hesitant step forward... and another... and a third... then finally places her hands on Andi's outstretched ones. The Taiji Master accepts the hard work of the student.

Charlie resumes the heartbeat drumming while the two women — one barely a woman, the other not so very much older — merely sway in rhythm to the beat for a few minutes.

The Beauty chant continues to weave around the Circle, ebbing and flowing as people drop out and come back in. Underneath it, softly... so softly, Andi sings a different song to Tezza. No. No, she Sings... for Mother and Father are adding power to the Song.

How could anyone ever tell you... you were anything less than beautiful? How could anyone ever tell you... you were less than whole? How could anyone fail to notice that your loving is a miracle, how deeply you're connected to our souls?

By the end of the second time through, tears fill her eyes, although she tries desperately not to shed them. "No, Andrea," she whispers, "I'm not a good person."

Crow lands on Andi's shoulder, heavier than Opossum is on the other shoulder, although not as heavy as Raven ever was. She is! She is a good person!

Yes, O Crow... else you would have left her long ago. I know.

"Yes, you are, Tezza," Andi whispers back as they continue to move. "Will you let us believe in you until you can believe in yourself?"

"I don't know how," she says, even more softly, as a tear escapes her control.

"Just Dance..." says the gentle Librarian, as she takes a small step on the next heartbeat of Charlie's drum. Tezza follows along, the two of them stepping slowly in a circle inside the greater Circle. Andi sings through Libby Roderick's song again twice, three times before she segues into Fred Small's most beautiful song, skipping the first verse, as it isn't quite relevant here.

You can be anybody that you want to be. You can love whomever you will. You can travel any country where your heart leads, and know we will love you still. You can live by yourself, you can gather friends around, you can choose one special one. And the only measure of your words and your deeds will be the love you leave behind when you're done.

Some girls grow up strong and bold, some boys are quiet and kind. Some race on ahead, some follow behind, some go in their own way and time. Some women love women and some men love men. Some raise children and some never do. You can dream all the day never reaching the end of everything possible for you.

Don't be rattled by names, by taunts, by games... but seek out Spirits true. If you give your friends the best part of yourself, they will give the same back to you.

You can be anybody that you want to be. You can love whomever you will. You can travel any country where your heart leads, and know we will love you still. You can live by yourself, you can gather friends around, you can choose one special one. And the only measure of your words and your deeds will be the love you leave behind when you're done.

The whole time, Tezza just Dances and looks into Andrea's eyes. The Warrior stays hidden, but she can see the dark shell around the girl's aura begin fracturing... hundreds upon thousands of microfractures. When she sings the line about seeking out Spirits, Crow rubs its beak against Andi's cheek. It's when she finishes the song, however, that Tezza whispers, "Andi, there's a bird on your shoulder."


Warrior! She sees me! She sees me! Crow start bobbing slightly, crooning softly... It seems as though it's trying to imitate the songs Andi had been singing.

Cousin, John and our grandparents are getting tired... will we need to continue much longer?

She sends a mental snort to her cousin. Maybe your boss is getting tired, but it looks like our grandparents are as refreshed and spry as our parents. But I don't think it will be much longer.

"It's... it's dancing?" Tezza says of Crow, surprise and amazement and perhaps a bit of suspicion coloring her voice.

"Yep, probably." Andi leans her head to the side, just enough to nudge Crow a little. "That reminds me an awful lot of your cousin, dear Crow. Perhaps you could Dance beside Tezza."

At that, Crow launches itself into the air, spins gracefully several times with wings outstretched, then lands beside Tezza. Eyes wide, she watches its every moment. "I'm not hallucinating, am I, Andi? I've done that before. Is this really real... or are the DTs starting again?"

"No hallucinations, Tezza, I promise. I think the Dancing helped clear a lot of the poison out of your system."

"He's beautiful."

Crow can't seem to decide if it should preen from the compliment or simply be overjoyed Tezza can see it again.

Bear chuckles. Sibling Crow may explode from happiness!

Andi smiles. Probably not the best idea at this point, don't you think?

"Very beautiful indeed, and Crow's been waiting a long time for you to remember it."

The girl looks back at her, seeming no older now than her fourteen years... and no longer brash and offensive, either, but a little scared and very alone. "I don't understand what's going on."

Andi lets the Dance spiral around them as she stops and wraps her arms around the teenager. "You don't have to understand all at once. Just understand that you are Navajo. Hózhó is the Navajo way... it means harmony, balance, beauty, joy. Hózhó is who we are.

"You are Tezza Tapahonso, born of the Tsin Sikaadnii clan, born for the Dzilt'aadí clan. Later, you can ask Susan about the clans of your mom's father and your dad's father. That way, any Navajo who knows our ways will know immediately how you are related — or not — to them. When you go home, learn bit by bit everything you can from Singer Morningstar. Go slowly. There is no need to overwhelm yourself."

"I don't even know what the clan stuff means!" she wails softly into the older woman's shoulder.

"It's okay. We live to learn, right? It's fine to know nothing today, as long as you end every day knowing something more than you did when you woke up."

She looks up, anger peeking through her eyes. "Do you think life is that simple?"

Andrea drops the glamor she had picked up with Fox's magic and allows the tiniest bit of the Warrior to peek out. "Do I look like someone who thinks life is that simple? I see the worst humanity has to offer, Tezza. Not only do I want you to not become that, but I also would rather you never even see it."

"I've already seen terrible things," she says, voice quavering and fear slipping back into her eyes. "The people I hang with..." She stops and bites her lower lip.

"The people you used to hang with, you mean?"

"You don't understand. They... they won't..." Her voice just trails off as she looks down again.


Yeah, Tommy, it's okay to wrap it up. I just need a little more time with Tezza. You'll let the family know won't you?

It's almost a disappointment when Charlie's drumming begins to slow and Andi feels the Spirits begin to drift off.

And yet... there is the fearful child in front of her. Andi continues to hold Tezza's hands.

"A gang?"

Tezza just nods.

"You know I'm getting married to a cop, right? One who used to work the Gang Unit? I'll bet he has some suggestions, and can find the right people in Albuquerque for you to contact."

She looks up again, not quite daring to hope. "Really? I mean, there might be someone who can protect my family and me?"

So bad that she thought both she and her family needed protection? Ninja, the Warrior, the Protector, looks out at her. "If there is no one in law enforcement there who can help you, I will come there myself. I swear it."

After a final peal of thunder on the drum, there is silence for a moment as Dancers stand still and Tezza searches Andi's face. Then John Ravenclaw says, "Hózhóogo naanéidaał doo."

"You're fucking scary, Andrea," Tezza says.

She shrugs. "It's my job. I don't want to be working this weekend, however. I don't want to be scary, and I don't want to get into another fight, and I just want to experience hózhó." She smiles at Tezza. "Think we can make that happen? I think you could use a little harmony and peace yourself, young lady."

She nods, the beginning of a smile trying to cross her face. "I'll try. Really, really hard even. I've been a huge fuck up the last few years, so... well..." She shrugs. "But I'm gonna try. It's just that..." The girl takes a deep breath and manages to look even younger than her fourteen years. "I just feel so alone."

No, no, no, no! Never ever alone! says one of the Spirits that hasn't misted off.

Andrea grins at Crow as it spins around trying to get Tezza's attention. "Obviously you're not. Maybe some of your harmony and balance should include getting re-acquainted with your guardian Spirit?"

Oh yes! I would like that! Please, Tezza? Talk to me like you used to?

Tezza looks down at Crow, who has rested a wing tip on her knee. "You won't be offended if I say I don't remember any of that, will you?"

Crow shakes its head. A new beginning is good, too! I can help you. You will see.

"Um. Okay, then." She looks back at Andi. "I'm not really sure how a bird spirit can help, but... what the hell, right? The way my life is fucked up, it can't hurt."

Andi gives her another hug, then look around at her family. Maddie and her Brothers are listening to the excited story the twins are telling. Leon looks torn between following after Charlie and Susan, and staying with his mom and dad and father and brother and sister... although it's clear from looking at his aura that being with and talking to his original family is more important. Pablo, Tommy and Billy are chatting. Anytime they look toward her, Tommy rolls his eyes, Billy grins and Pablo just shrugs. He's got the look of a long-suffering husband down pat, and they're not even officially married yet. Wonderful.

"Crow actually can help, although how that help manifests isn't something I'd dare guess about. Crow embodies change and justice and balance, creativity and community sharing, spiritual strength and energy and shapeshifting." She looks down at Crow as she drapes an arm over Tezza's shoulder and steer them toward Tita and Papa. "I suspect the shapeshifting is more metaphorical than literal, like the way it is with Billy and me. Well, way less literal than Billy's since that's his own gift, whereas mine comes from Fox, but with a dose of magic on the side."

Tezza looks at her like she might be crazy. "Your cousin... he... what?!"

"Shapeshifter. Likes to turn into a purple cow, apparently. I haven't seen that one," Andi says, rolling her eyes. "But I did see the centaur and the gorilla, the eagle and wolf... heard Mickey Mouse and, I think, Spongebob Squarepants." She shakes her head. "Watch him and the twins when they start running off again."

"That's damn freaky. And you do the same thing?" It's almost as if she can't decide if she should run now, or if staying relatively still is the safest option.

"Not nearly to the extent he can, since it's a gift from Fox rather than embedded in my DNA. And it takes a lot of energy. My DNA lets me pull a lot of energy from Mother Earth and Father Sky, but if it's not for a worthy purpose, they're less likely to share the energy, so I have to use my own."

"Okaaaaaay," she says, not really convinced. "And I have the same gift from, um, Crow?"

I cannot help you change the shape of matter, only the energy around you.

"I don't get how that's useful, but... um... I guess I'll just believe you on that one."

Andi smiles. "With all the other gifts Crow lends you, things like community activist or lawyer or, gods forbid, a politician would come fairly easily to you. Let's just say if you ever decided something needed to be changed for the better... it probably would." She looks at Tezza sidelong, but when they reach Papa and Tita, sitting with John Ravenclaw, she pauses and puts her hands on the girl's shoulders and rests her forehead against Tezza's. "Decide something needs to be changed for the better — including yourself — and Crow will help make it happen. You are very much not alone, Tezza Tapahonso of the Diné."

Andi kisses her forehead, then turns to chat with her grandparents and the elder Ha'atathli for a few minutes, giving the girl privacy of her own thoughts, before leaving her in the care the family elders.

Andi makes her way back toward the Pentad. Perhaps because it is still so new, she feels that she needs to be as close to them as she can, for as much time as she can.

She has to hope that Tezza will be able to navigate the rocky waters of her life with the help of her guardian Spirit. She's got a rough road ahead, getting beyond her addictions... and her problems with the gangs won't go away quickly or easily. But at least she has a chance now, when this morning it had looked as though she didn't. She — or rather, Ninja — was that unexpected thing in her life that Talia talked about.

And at this moment, Andi's path is taking her straight for her Husband, who is still chatting with Tommy and Billy. Billy is grinning like a maniac, barely able to contain his excitement while waiting for Vin and Em to tell their folks all about the Spirits.

She chuckles as she watches Billy waiting for the twins. "You're Peter Pan, Billy."

Billy just shrugs and grins while Tommy laughs. "I suspect you may be right, cousin."

Pablo and Billy continue their conversion; it sounds like Billy is trying to explain the computer work he does for the Tribal Police to Pablo. Pablo seems rather interested in hearing about the process of bringing a small police force into the twenty first century. Andi turns to chat with Tommy.

"So, would you put your cousin-twin in the same Peter Pan category as Billy?" Tommy asks.

She considers it for a moment, then shakes her head. "No, I think without Coyote's influence, Henry would as ordinary as the rest of us."

Tommy raises an eyebrow. "I don't think 'ordinary' is a word I'd use for anyone in this family."

Andi smiles at him. "Precisely."

He rolls his eyes. "I miss the days when it was easier to tease you, Andi. And just what did you do with Tezza? That was some powerful magic there, cousin. Are you sure you shouldn't be a Ha'atathli?"

She looks over her shoulder at Bear, then at Cobra around her waist and Fox at her feet, while shrugging her shoulder where Opossum sits. "I have four guardian Spirits, Tommy. I think it's pretty clear that I'm meant to be the Warrior."

"I'm almost afraid to ask, but... what happened to Raven."

"Raven pines, newest of the great Ha'atathli," Bear says. "But Raven will wait for the one who is meant to be Ha'atathli and not Warrior."

Tommy looks between his cousin and her newest guardian. "Had the Curse not taken you, you would have learned the Blessingway, too, then?"

She shrugs. "Perhaps. Without my connection to the holy energies of the universe, I might not have given the world of the Spirits any more thought than most people do, or I might have been so enthralled by your stories to follow you on that path," she says with a smile. "Perhaps I would have decided to be an engineer like my parents, or a scientist like my brother. But..." She looks at Pablo, at her Sister, her Brothers, her nephews, her niece. "...even though this choice was forced on me by genetics, I like this life, even with its dangers and difficulties. There is far more good than bad, and I can't truly imagine doing anything else."

Tommy leans over, wraps an arm around her shoulders and kisses her forehead. "No matter where your path takes you, dear cousin, with that attitude... with family and good friends... you're not likely to make a wrong step. I've seen the Warrior peek out, and even that small glance is hard to reconcile with the kind-hearted cousin I've always known."

She chuckles. "The fact that I refused to reconcile the Warrior with the kind-hearted librarian for nine years gives the rest of you a pass."

"I hadn't realized you'd been separating yourself like that," Tommy says, looking a little worried. "We all just thought you didn't want to bring that part of your life to family gatherings."

Andi pats his arm. "Wipe the worry from your face, cousin. It's no longer a problem, and I did what I believed I needed to do. It worked then, and thanks to Pablo and the Spirits, Mother and Father, I no longer have that separation." She shakes her head. "A few years back, there was an Eater — one of the mutants who hunts and kills their own kind — in Denver. He'd followed a group of not so Normal people out from back East, and had killed ten people. I was forced to kill him to stop him from killing two more." She's quiet for a moment, remembering with clarity that night in Five Points. "I was heartsick for days, Tommy. The Warrior's work, while necessary, tore at the heart of your gentle cousin. If you'd known, you would have been right to worry then. The Warrior didn't know how to protect the Gentle One from her harsh reality. The Gentle One almost feared the Warrior.

"But when Pablo and I forged... well, reforged, really... our Bond, the wall I'd built to protect myself — or so I thought — from the harshness of the Warrior, the wall I'd erected so that I could pretend to be Normal, shattered and crumbled to dust." Andi looks over at Pablo, a soft smile on her face. He looks up, sensing the tug of their Bond, his smile mirroring hers.

"And this past week," she says, turning back to look at Tommy, "when I had to kill... well, quite a few truly evil people, the Warrior and the Gentle One had Become who I am now. I can be gentle and I can be a warrior. I don't fear myself, I don't fear that the dark but necessary part of my job will tear at my heart and soul."

"You were walking a very dangerous path, cousin."

She stares out across the desertscape and nods slightly. "I know that now," she says quietly. "I needed to walk that path, and I'm glad I had little knowledge of just how dangerous it was. I might have pushed the first domino too soon, and all that has happened in the past week would not have been possible." She looks back at her cousin. "What happened in Colorado this week will have repercussions for a hundred generations or more... in that there will be generations of people alive to enjoy this world of ours."

"Ominous," he says, "although the Spirits speak of a great Shadow locked in its prison for millennia thanks to you and Madeline."

Andi shrugs. "We did what had to be done."

She watches Logan tuck Maddie under his arm as they watch the twins make a beeline for Billy. They both look so relaxed, so happy. As each twin grabs one of Billy's hands and starts pulling him off, joy spirals around the Pentad.

"Guess I'll talk to you later, Pablo," Billy calls over his shoulder as he starts jogging toward the driveway.

"You be back here by dark, Billy!" Alicia says to him as he passes her.

"Yes, Mom!"

Pablo chuckles as he takes Andi's hand, sending the energies swirling between them. "You might be right that nine children would be too many."

She rolls her eyes at him, feeling the love and joy — and Rene's magic — passing over them in waves. "Coming to your senses, are you? I'm glad to hear it."

"Nine!?" Tommy says with an edge of panic in his voice. "I don't know about you of the Naakaii People, but the Diné..."

Andi pats Tommy's arm again. "Relax. He's insane. He'll get over it." She glances at Maddie, seeing in her Sister's eyes a reflection of what will become all too evident in her own very shortly. "I think we'll take a walk," she says to Tommy. "Tell everyone not to worry about us when we don't show up by dark."

"I shouldn't ask, should I?" he says dryly as the Pentad begins a leisurely stroll in the opposite direction from Billy and the twins.

Nope, she responds.

Much later, Logan finds a small boulder to prop himself up against and Madeline slides in under his arm. Rene is stretched out in all his glory, his head in Madeline's lap. She shares kisses with them both and lets herself soak in the warmth of their Circle. This is much more than simple physical satiation. What the five of them share permeates every part of her. She turns and smiles at Andi, who is tucked under Logan's other arm with Pablo's head in her lap.

Somehow, whatever they do, they always end up in a near mirror positioning without thought or discussion. She sighs happily and cranes her head back to look up at the brilliant night sky. Quiet holds them for a time until a repeated buzzing starts sounding from somewhere. Her brow furrows until she realizes what it is.

It's her phone, which has not made a peep since Fashion Week in New York. It is not the frantic buzzing that calls the Wolf, but it is still odd.

"Damn, almost completely forgot about that thing. Now where the hell are my pants?"

"I'll get them, love," Rene says softly, ghosting away and back again over the pile of clothing.

He digs through the pile until he finds the incessant noisemaker, then turns and tosses it to Madeline. Of course, it stops the second she touches it but starts up ringing a few moments later. A glance at the number has her puzzled and a quick calculation tells her that it is morning in Paris.

en Francaise
She sits up as she answers the call. "Chantel?"

"I am very sorry to bother you on holiday, Mrs. Jacobs," her secretary apologizes immediately.

"What is it? Is it Marie?"

"No, Madame. It is Mr. Caoua. He has called three times already asking if you have returned yet."

Madeline's eyes seek out Rene's as she confirms, "Alois??"

"Yes, madame. It is most unusual. And... he does not sound himself."

A tremor of worry flows through the Circle. Rene is back at her side instantly. Alois Caoua is important to him, as well.

"Explain yourself, Chantel," she orders, her voice clipped and sharp.

Chantel has worked for Mrs. Jacobs long enough to know not to take the tone personally. "I took the liberty of calling his manservant. From what the man did not say, I believe Mr. Caoua is quite ill. I felt that you would want to know."

"Merci, Chantel. When was the last time he called?"

"Yesterday evening, madame. I called his office number as well, and was told he was on sabbatical."

"Merci. Au revoir."

"Au revoir, madame. My apologies again."

Madeline closes the line and sets the phone in her lap. "I think I will need to return to Paris..."

During the call, Pablo sits up beside Andi's legs, a look of puzzlement on his face. While one arm remains tucks against Logan, the other rests on Pablo's knee. Their Bond again — either the one she and he share or the one the five of them share. In either case, Andi is fairly certain he's picking up some of the same emotional overtones she is.

"My French is dreadful," Andi says after Maddie disconnects from her call and makes her announcement, "but the worry you and Rene are trying so hard to contain tells me that something is very wrong." She moves her hand from its resting place on Pablo's knee to Maddie's arm, quite effectively hugging Logan in the process. "What is it, Sister?"

She feels an odd jolt when Pablo rests his hand on her lower thigh, followed by a peculiar feeling almost akin to déjà vu. She will analyze that once she's sure Maddie is well.

"That was my secretary," Madeline answers, her heart heavy. "My godfather has been calling for me repeatedly, asking if I have returned. After talking to his... butler, she believes he is quite ill. Bad enough under any circumstances, but the man is in his nineties. He took his godfather duties very seriously, always being there for me after my parents were killed."

She looks at Rene and entwines her fingers with his. "He was also Rene's commanding officer for most of his time in the Legion. He means a lot to both of us, and I should go see him... perhaps both of us should..."

"Of course!" Andrea says, squeezing Maddie's arm with reassurance. "Family is important." She looks between Maddie and Logan. "Logan, you're welcome to stay in the Nation with the children if you are not well acquainted with Maddie's godfather... although, of course, being together at a time like this is a great comfort."

She glances at Pablo with a questioning look. "If you would like our support as well, we might be able to arrange additional leave time."

Pablo nods. "After seeing Andi's family worrying about Tita over the summer... well, supporting Andi through that difficult time was something my heart insisted on. My heart insists on offering you the same support, mi hermana," he says, a soft smile forming.

This time, the jolt of energy where Pablo's hand rests on Andi's leg is stronger, enough so that Pablo notices it as well. He lifts his hand to look at his palm.

"That's weird. You felt that, right? It's because Madeline and Rene are upset, and because of our Bond, isn't it?"

She shrugs. "We'll figure it out later. First order of business is getting Maddie to Paris." She looks at Rene and raises an eyebrow. "You, of course, can cheat." While the words themselves might be construed as teasing or a scolding, there is nothing but love and concern in them.

"The whole family should go back," Logan says.

"Yes," Madeline agrees. "Leon knows him. The twins not as well, but he has joined us for holidays. He is the closest thing they have had to a grandparent up until now."

She looks at Andi then. "I think he should meet Ninja and Peacekeeper as well."

Andi raises an eyebrow at the names Maddie uses, but nods. "Of course. Ninja and Peacekeeper will be happy to meet him."

She begins calculating logistics; she can't help it. It's a thing she does to relieve stress.

"Flying commercial, or do you have a private plane of your own back East?" she asks. "Closest airport of a decent size is Albuquerque; about a two hour drive in your Humvees."

She looks at Pablo. "My bike will be fine here; we can return with a layover in Albuquerque, or I might be able to talk Charlie into towing it back to Denver."

"No, the plane is already back in Paris. I might be able to impose upon Charles once more, but I'd rather charter a Lear. As you can imagine, Logan and airport security don't get along too well."

Andi nods. "Right. Filthy rich."

"It does have it's advantages," Madeline murmurs in reply.

The jolt is sharp enough this time that Pablo jumps back a little, ensuring his leg isn't touching Andi's.

"What the hell...?"

"I don't know," she responds, letting go of Maddie and rising into a crouch with her back to the rock. Looking around in the darkness, she asks her Siblings, "You guys didn't feel anything, did you?"

Cat appears beside Maddie and rubs its head against her arm, looking for all the world like a dear pet trying to comfort its human. However, it says, "Something strange is happening."

"I had that one figured out already, Sherlock," Andi mutters. She doesn't see anything, and on a bright night like this, if there were something to see... she would see it. But she doesn't see anything. She can feel something out there, she just doesn't know what it is. Or where it is.

"It's kind of familiar," Pablo says quietly. "But I can't place it." He sounds a bit frustrated.

Madeline twitches and Logan growls.

"Oui, strange," Rene says.

Whatever it is, it sets Madeline's teeth on edge. "Rene?"

He shakes his head as they move into defensive positions. "Non."


His only reply is another growl and the fresh scent of blood as his claws partially slide out.

Andi slowly stands. She isn't sure the boulder is going to be much help at her back. This is eerie enough to feel like something not of their dimension.

She hates that.

But the soft sound of Logan's claws extending and the tang of the blood scent get her to adjust her position in relation to the others; even Pablo seems to sense the optimal position that leaves the five of them in positions to watch every direction.

"Learjet's got a hanger at Sky Harbor," Andi murmurs absently, stretching out her senses as much as possible. "They'll shuttle it to Albuquerque."

There... is that something...?


That was all she got out before something slams full force into her face, so fast that she didn't even have a chance to block it.

"FUCK!!" she manages to get out past the pain of a broken nose and the possibly broken cheekbone, as she staggers back. With blood streaming from her nose, she tries to locate the projectile that hit her. It's too bad she can't smell anything except the blood, because as soon as the bastard hit her, she knows who it is. She starts pulling qi from Mother, but the asshole slams into her temple. She probably would have stumbled into Logan if Bear hadn't chosen that moment to materialize and keep her from getting impaled by those claws.

That's a mixed blessing, of course, because one of Bear's gifts is healing. And that means the almost unbearable itching has already begun.

The lousy little cowardly bastard slams Pablo in the back; without Andi's heightened reflexes, he falls to one knee, looking both furious and confused. He starts to stand again, but his ancestral pain the ass is in his face, hissing and babbling in some language Andi doesn't understand. Then the creep turns around to face the rest of them.

"What have you done to my Chosen One??!" he hisses angrily. "Stay away from him!" The serpent sets his beady eyes on Andi. "Especially you."

"Oh, fuck you, Q!" The itching is reaching heights of intensity that indicate healing is progressing very quickly, and should be finished within minutes.

"THAT is Quetzalcoatl?" Bear asks with surprise.

Andi starts to nod, and immediately realizes it is a mistake.

"Yeah," she says instead.

"It's not what I expected," the Diné Spirit says.

"Insanity never is."

"What the hell is wrong with you, Q?" Pablo demands. Every time he tries to stand, Quetzalcoatl slaps him to keep him crouching, isolated from the rest of the Pentad. Well, physically isolated... the energy of the Pentad is still spiraling between them.

Andi can see Pablo pulling energy around himself; it's hard to tell through the damn itching if he's working up to a strike with wind or light, however.

And it would seem that Quetzalcoatl is completely clueless to the phenomenon.

Oh, this will be fun.

A low growl begins to rumble up from Logan's chest and Madeline balances on the balls of her feet. Rene becomes partially insubstantial as he scans both the physical and the metaphysical planes. Still, Quetzalcoatl's sudden attack startles them all.

Cat hisses.

Logan's claws snikt completely out, his feralness rising and taking Madeline with him. She growls as well. Before either can move, Rene vanishes and reappears between Pablo and Quetzalcoatl.

"You will stop," he orders the serpent.

Pablo stops his gathering of energy when Rene appears between him and Quetzalcoatl; stops, but does not release all that he's already gathered.

Quetzalcoatl whips around and rises to stare at Rene's face. "You are not one of mine. You have no right to speak to me."

"You're treading on dangerous ground, Q," Pablo says in a low and ominous voice. "You have no idea who you're dealing with."

Quetzalcoatl hisses derisively. "The human ghost. Not even one of my people when he was alive, but a polluted hybrid."

"I don't mean my Brother, you moron, although insulting him isn't a bright idea," Pablo says sarcastically as he slowly starts gather in energy again. "I mean me.

"I mean the One that is me and my Wife.

"I mean the One that is me and my Wife and our Siblings.

"Stop being such a damn fool, Q."

Quetzalcoatl hisses again then moves in an instant from hovering in front of Rene's face to being nearly nose to nose with Pablo... Rene no longer between them.

"You are polluted! You must not consort with those inferior to you. You are my Chosen One. It is time for you to find your Queen."

The itching has finally stopped and Andrea lets out a snort of laughter at the same time Pablo does at Quetzalcoatl's bizarre comment. She manages to stand and feels Cobra and Opossum in their usual places, Fox at her feet, and Bear's great paw on her shoulder opposite Opossum. They lend her their strength. Pablo, unfortunately, is not being allowed to stand. She can see Eagle behind him, looking perplexed by these developments.

Andi is starting to get an inkling of an idea about why Quetzalcoatl hates Rene so much. On top of everything else, the prick is a racist. She isn't even surprised.

"I have found my Queen, O Quetzalcoatl, god of my ancestors," Pablo says solemnly as he stares down his ancestral asshole. "The mighty Warrior of the Diné, Andrea Yazzie, is my Queen, and the only woman who will hold my heart for the rest of eternity."

Because they stand with such power flowing among them, Pablo's words are not simply a declaration of his love for his Wife but have an effect on the metaphysical level as well. He has just bound his heart to Andrea's for eternity, just as their souls had been bound in their ceremony on Lookout Mountain. While she now has her Sister's gift, it is not something she can share with Pablo. There will come a day when he, too, will live with the Spirits as Rene does. She can see this as clearly as if she had Talia's gift, although she doesn't know what day it will be... only that it is far, far away. Eagle looks up from the tableau presented by Pablo and Quetzalcoatl and directly at Andrea. It's as though the Spirit somehow knows that she has seen that long distance day, and it nods.

Your Mate will have a place among us, with his Brother Rene.

"You are still foolish, my Chosen One," Quetzalcoatl says, almost rationally, almost patiently, almost affectionately. "You do not need that one when a great Queen of your own people awaits you."

Andrea has a bad feeling about this.

Pablo just shakes his head, looking with sadness at the one who should have been his guardian Spirit. "And you are still arrogant, god of my ancestors. I will love no other woman but Andrea."

"You speak of human emotions," replies the serpent, "and I speak of rebuilding the Dynasty I protected for untold years. She awaits you, your Queen... she who will stand at your side to rule your people."

"My goodness, whatever did Raven see in that mad creature?" Bear asks.

"Your guess is as good as mine, and I don't even have one," Andi replies, edging around Logan so she can stand between him and Maddie. It feels right, to be bracketed by the feral natures they share.

"Well, maybe they share a madness," she says to Bear.

Rene has moved to Maddie's side again; there is nothing he can do to counter Quetzalcoatl's madness. Although Quetzalcoatl still won't allow Pablo to stand, the serpent is not actively threatening anyone.

Andrea still has a bad feeling about this... a really bad feeling.

A wingtip rests on Pablo's shoulder. "You have taken to heart all the gifts I have to offer, O Mate of Our Warrior. I name you Warrior, I name you equal of the Great Warrior of The People," Eagle says, its words having the weight of profound ritual. "Remember always, Pablo, that my gifts are with you even when I do not appear to be."

Pablo never takes his eyes from Quetzalcoatl. "You honor me, O Eagle, in ways the god of my people does not. I will remember."

Quetzalcoatl hisses yet again. "What is this trickery? What is this madness?" He spins around, looking at all those who are gathered here. "Where is the Raven, the one who guides the insignificant one who awakened me?"

Andrea grins that so very not nice grin of Ninja's. "Raven's been demoted. Seems the crazy bird couldn't handle being the guardian Spirit of the Warrior. Don't worry, O Ancestral Pest of my Husband, the Spirits who guard me now understand the Warrior's work."

"Has that thing always been nuts?" Cat asks. "It's worse than Raven."

"Yeah, but I think it's getting worse," Andi replies.

"Can I eat it?" Cat asks eagerly with a Cheshire grin.


Maddie's family guardian sits at her feet, looking sad. Or, knowing felines, pretending to look sad. "Darn."

"Fine. Maybe later."

That seems to cheer Cat up. Or... oh, right. The inscrutable nature of felines.

Logan is not happy with the situation, Andi can tell that with certainty; his growls are quiet, but they're not letting up. And his claws aren't even snikting in and out; they're out, and they're out to stay. What she can't quite tell is if there's anything but his feral nature left. At the moment, it doesn't matter, but that bad feeling she has is telling her it might matter. And soon.

The four of them have formed a semicircle in front of Pablo. Little by little he is gathering enough energy for a concentrated blast. Through their marital Bond and through the Bond of the Pentad, Andi has been lending him the energy Mother has been trickling through the soles of her feet. Even if they hadn't all managed to get very naked, she never did remember to put any shoes back on.

Wind or light, beloved? Andi asks as she looks at him.

His world is dark; perpetual night. So light. Pablo's lips quirk as though he's trying not to smile.

Good thing he won't let you up, then. You've got a great angle to hit him, and none of us.

Exactly my thought, my brilliant beauty.

Quetzalcoatl has been staring at her, searching the space around her. Well, isn't that interesting? He can't see her current guardians, even though he could see Raven when no one else could.

"You lie, woman. You have dismissed the one I considered an ally. Now you have no one to intercede on your behalf."

Andrea blinks. She raises an eyebrow. "Wow. You have really gone off the rails, Q." Mother's energy begins to flow faster, something that does absolutely nothing to diminish the bad feeling she is having; now she needs to store it in her meridians, her dan tians, her lao gong and yong quan points. She's going to be as hypersensitive as her feral family members pretty soon. Well, Mother must have a reason for this.

"Here's an idea... why don't you just go away and leave us the hell alone. For... oh, I don't know... ever."

The Ancestral Pest shoots up quickly to hover above Pablo's head, its beady eyes growing in surprise.

Bear chuckles. Opossum giggles beside her ear, peeking out from the curtain of her hair. Fox smiles. Cobra laughs by flicking its tongue in Quetzalcoatl's direction.

"What deception is this?" Quetzalcoatl demands.

"We are not ones who can naturally achieve deception, as those of you from other planes manage," Eagle says calmly from behind Pablo, "although Opossum can give council on ways of deception when such is necessary."

Quetzalcoatl spins around so fast Andrea needs to resist the urge to giggle.

"What are you? Why are you here?"

Eagle clacks its beak and shakes its head. "I am Eagle, Messenger of the Great Spirit, guardian of the Warrior Pablo Garcia, who has married the Warrior Andrea Yazzie and, in doing so, became one of The People. I am here because Pablo is here." It looks at Quetzalcoatl, then tilts its head to one side then the other. "What are you?" Again, Andi resists the urge to giggle; all the Spirits know full well what Quetzalcoatl is. But Eagle repeats Quetzalcoatl's other question, too. "What are you doing here?"

Quetzalcoatl seems to gather its shreds of dignity and looks haughtily at Eagle. "I am the demi-god Quetzalcoatl, protector of the Aztec people. This man is my Chosen One!"

"This man would be satisfied if you'd go find yourself another Chosen One," Pablo mutters.

"SILENCE!!" Quetzalcoatl shouts at Pablo.

"Boy, somebody sure is cranky today," her wonderful Husband says, this time loud enough for everyone to hear.

Although Quetzalcoatl moves quickly, Pablo moves even more quickly. The slap of the serpent's tail makes a swishing sound as it passes through the space where Pablo's head had been before he ducked down.

"Yep," Pablo says looking at his Wife, "off the rails."

Eagle gently pokes Quetzalcoatl in the midsection. "You answered my first question, Quetzalcoatl. You did not answer my second."

After a piercing glare at Pablo, Quetzalcoatl looks at Eagle. "I am here to see that my Chosen One performs his duties!"

Eagle's bird eyes just stare at Quetzalcoatl. "Perhaps our sibling Raven misinformed us, but it was quite convinced you approved of the liaison between Andrea and Pablo."

Quetzalcoatl hisses at Eagle. "She is not worthy of him! My brother's Chosen One has awakened. She is of Aztec royalty and is meant to be my Chosen One's Queen!"

I know my counsel is that of swift and decisive action, Warrior, but I believe relying on Opossum's gift of strategy would be a better option, Cobra says.

I'm afraid I will need to rely on my own patience not to go all Ninja on that scaly ass of his, she replies.

"Are you fucking kidding me? Tezcatlipoca's Chosen One is some hell bitch? The same hell bitch employed by William Stryker to open the portal to allow the Shadow into our plane? The same fucking Shadow you so adamantly insisted could not be allowed to escape its own dimension?"

Every meridian thrums with energy, her lao gong points are ready to blast Quetzalcoatl into oblivion, her eyes glow with anger.

"Are you fucking out of your teensy tiny reptilian mind, asshole?"

Quetzalcoatl seems to sneer. "You have done your job and eliminated the threat to this world. You are irrelevant now."

It is only by sheer force of will that Warrior and Wife refrain from grabbing the snake and ripping it to pieces.

"Nice that you asked my opinion in the matter, Quetzalcoatl," Pablo says. "Of course, you didn't ask my opinion about the whole Chosen One thing, either, so I suppose I can chalk it up to you just being an ass, as Andrea has always maintained.

"But no. Andrea is my Wife, and I'm not interested in your brother's Chosen One. She can go find her own husband. I'm already spoken for."

"Be quiet, mortal!" Quetzalcoatl commands.

Warrior and Wife can no longer hold in the anger, and it swirls around the Pentad. Logan's growl is louder. Andrea barely manages to keep herself from echoing it, hissing angrily instead.

"Shit," Pablo says. "You've really screwed up, Q." He looks at his beloved. "Rein it in, Andi."

She just looks at him, eyes glowing... teeth bared... hands moving away from her side with palms pointed toward Quetzalcoatl. Instinct, that's all she knows right now. That's all she cares about... protect. Protect her Family.

"Ninja!" he says sharply. "Stand down!"

Ninja. That seems to cut through the fog. Andi blinks. Stand down? Oh. Right. Is that what Logan and Maddie feel when their feral natures take over? There's nothing she can do about the glowing anger in her eyes, but she presses her lips together tightly and stops her hands from moving, then angles them slightly toward Mother. She understands. Mother always understands.

But it would only take a millisecond to aim them at Quetzalcoatl again.

Andrea nods once to Pablo. Maybe her current state of readiness isn't exactly textbook standing down, but it's as good as it's going to get.

Logan's growl is nearly a continuous rumble now. His hands are clenched tightly, claws protruding, and the veins bulge from his arms. This thing has threatened his Family. On the other side of Andi, Madeline also growls with her reaction to the threat to Family. The feralness calls to the madness, but the mention of the other Chosen One causes her anger to flare and then to coalesce into the icy calm that precedes the storm. Rene holds his place at her side but does not reach for her. His own anger flares to life.

The Triad speaks as one, although Logan does not use words.

"The Hunter of Children will not be allowed near our Brother."

Their power is the combination of the passion of Rene, the madness of Madeline, and the feralness of Logan. Cat poses itself between Madeline's parted feet and adds its strength to the Bond.

Quetzalcoatl's response is to disappear.

And he takes Pablo with him.

Andi staggers as the pain rips at her heart. Only her immense strength of will keeps her from falling to the ground. But the Warrior wraps herself around the Wife; the Warrior protects the Wife from the pain as much as is possible while the Wife fuels the Warrior's determination. That only dulls the pain, of course. At least it won't kill her this time. Or put her in a coma, rather, where she thinks she's dead.

She does lean heavily on the boulder, however.

"Cowardly fucker," she says once she's caught her breath. "I'm following my Husband this time." She just stares at the spot he had crouched a moment before. "I promised Pablo I'd follow him whether I belonged in Quetzalcoatl's world or not."

Eagle clacks its beak; it sounds annoyed. "We cannot follow you, Warrior, although our sibling Rene could. Probably."

She blinks and looks at Eagle. "Right. I know. Not your world. I do understand."

Andi looks at her Siblings. Logan is fully feral. Maddie is feral and slipping toward the madness and then her icy anger. Rene... well, it's good someone is at least somewhat rational, even if he's pissed. If this pain doesn't stop, she isn't sure how rational she can stay. Maddie's madness is looking mighty appealing. Her calm, the ice... it helps to soothe the pain somewhat, and that's a good thing. Her anger burns too hot.


What Eagle sees as uncertainty, Andi knows beyond a shadow of any doubt that it is absolute Truth: Rene can go where they need him to go because no one and nothing can stop him from protecting his Family.

Looking back at Eagle, she asks, "Did you mean what you said about your gifts being with Pablo even when you aren't?"

Eagle nods. "Yes, of course."

"Even in those places where you can't go?"

Again, Eagle nods. "Even there, Warrior."

Cobra squeezes her waist. "We hear your unasked question, Warrior, and say that you, too, will have our gifts should you follow your Beloved to Quetzalcoatl's world. Or, if it becomes necessary, to Tezcatlipoca's realm, as well. Or any other plane."

She nods. She really isn't used to being in pain; her healing factor kicks in so fast that she generally spends more time suffering from the infernal itching. She feels as though her thinking processes are slowing to a dangerous level.

"I think I can open a portal to Quetzalcoatl's world but not without my staff." Instinct is saying this, and she has to trust her instincts. That is Bear's gift.

"While I search for the portal, could you go back to the house for it?" she asks, looking over at Rene. She looks down at her naked body, then over at the pile of clothing. "And Ninja's clothing? It's all in the bag beside my boots... staff is in the corner behind the door." She bites her lip and closes her eyes, swallowing hard before the Warrior holds Wife even tighter and she can speak again. "Please?"

Rene's only answer is to vanish.

This is the kind of thing people without healing factors face every day. Come on, Yazzie, suck it up.

When they go, she needs to remember to bring Pablo's clothing. He's going to be plenty pissed about being dragged there in the first place, and even more pissed about being naked there again.

Cat looks at the other Spirits, angry and defiant. "We cannot go with them only because we are not supposed to cross to realms other than the human realm and the Great Spirit's world. Who will punish me if I defy that restriction?"

Eagle, guardian of the People's Shamans, messenger to the Great Spirit, looks perplexed. Perhaps Cat has asked a question that has never before been asked. No matter. The Warrior knows this answer.

She drops to one knee, less gracefully than she normally would.

"Cat, oh dear Cat... truly you are the perfect guardian for my Sister and her Family." Andrea manages a smile; it's brief and it's shaky, but it is a smile. "This thing you offer to do is something that would unbalance worlds — perhaps some that need a good shaking up, true — but it would also unbalance this situation that is already too precarious. I ask that you remain here, fierce and protective one. I only ask; I cannot command. But I do ask this favor of you, O Cat."

Madeline looks at her guardian. "Can you find my lair?" she asks.

It nods, resigned to the logic of the Warrior. "Yes. What do you wish from there?"

She pictures her adamantium bullwhip and its location. "Only that."

"You will have it, my Warrior." Cat vanishes as well.

Rene returns as Madeline pulls two pairs of pants and a shirt from the pile of clothing. Logan's claws retreat as he reaches to catch the pair of pants tossed to him.

Another wave of pain washing over her then, over those of the Pentad that remain here but, this time, it's accompanied by intense vertigo... at least for Andrea. Resting her head on her knee, she says softly, "Quetzalcoatl is trying, very deliberately, to break the Bond Pablo has with us, with me."

Madeline has pulled on her pants quickly, latching the belt and returning to Andi's side to offer her hand to her the other woman.

"Sister, we are here."

Rene holds the bag open and has the staff crooked under one arm.

Andi looks up at Maddie and takes her hand... not necessarily because she needs help standing but because she needs the physical contact. It helps to settle the physical effects of the emotional trauma. No, the Hunter of Children most certainly will not be allowed near Pablo.

After standing, she quickly pulls on socks, pants, shirt, vest, and boots. Mother and Father being speaking again; having heard this litany recently, it takes less time to comprehend their words than it did previously — was it last night or was it this morning?

{Daughter (Daughter)...} {Daughter... concern} {Daughter (Daughter)...} {Daughter... worry}

She thanks Rene as she takes her staff from him, then leans it against her shoulder as she braids her hair, fastening each braid with one of the several elastic ties she keeps in her pockets.

{Daughter (Daughter)...} {Daughter... concern} {Daughter (Daughter)...} {Daughter... worry}

As Cat returns with Maddie's whip, Andi takes several steps away from the boulder, each one more steady and sure than the previous. Moving entirely on instinct at this point and fueled by a desperate need to rescue her Husband, she plants her feet solidly on Mother's strong back and holds her staff parallel to the ground on the palms of her hands.

"Mother Earth, Father Sky... thank you for your blessings and the gift of your powerful energy. Your concern for your daughter humbles me."

{Daughter... Family} {Daughter... power} {Daughter... Family} {Daughter... victory}

Her eyebrows raise in surprise as her staff begins glowing with an inner light, although she's pretty sure she's the only one who can see it. She's the only one who sees qi everywhere, after all. Mother and Father are imbuing the staff with their qi, their energy.

{Daughter... Family} {Daughter... Family} {Daughter... Family} {Daughter... Family}

"You... you are sending parts of yourself with us?" she asks. She thinks that's what they mean, but with entities as great as Mother and Father, it's not only hard to tell, but a bad idea to assume anything.

{Daughter... Family} {Daughter... praise} {Daughter... Family} {Daughter... love}

"Um... okay then."

Eagle clacked its beak again, in amusement this time. At least, Andi thinks so. Maybe?

"If we can give our gifts to those we guard who journey beyond our reach, why should Mother and Father not do the same?"



First, she needs to balance herself. Then she needs to find the path to Pablo. And finally, she needs to open the portal.

She begins the Taiji form for short staff or sword, paying attention to the precision of the movements... feeling the qi flowing around her, through her, within her. She watches the qi that flows between her and her Husband; it is returning sluggishly, as though he is injured or unconscious. She watches the qi as it flows around her heart, moving through the meridians and chakras to weave Warrior and Wife even closer together. Warrior seeks the enemy; Wife stands in anger ready to aid the Warrior, even if the only aid is standing strong and withstanding the pain. Did she know that she had always had that protective strength at her command? Of course she did, even if it was an unconscious knowledge. After all, it had been the Gentle One's rage over Denise's beating and death that woke the Warrior.

One repetition of the form to center and balance herself.

One repetition of the form to illuminate the path to Pablo.

Once illuminated, she studies the path. It's puzzling and she stands in silent meditation after the completing the second repetition of the form.

Oh. Okay, sure... that's not very puzzling after all.

Rene alters his clothing to combat gear and vanishes once again while Andi prepares her workings. Madeline and Logan take the time to pull on their boots. Cat comes over to stand between them, ears slightly flat and tail tip twitching. It offers up the whip. Madeline takes it and hooks it on her belt at her right hip.

Andi turns to look at her Sister, at her Brother. "The cowardly little shit took Pablo to his brother Tezcatlipoca's world," she says, feeling her lip curling in a sneer. "I'm good with giving Tezcatlipoca's skanky slut of a Chosen Whore Bitch a seriously righteous beatdown."


It lifts its head to look at its Warrior.

"Keep an extra watch on the children?"

"I shall. As will Panther and Monkey."

"Fair warning, however," Andi says, looking at Logan. "It's the place Stryker held you after he snatched you in Denver."

Rene reappears; he has apparently been up to the cabin. He offers Madeline a tian po and wears a large combat bowie himself. She takes it with a smile and is slipping the strap over her head when Andi makes her announcement.

Her smile goes from the fond one for Rene to something decidedly more wicked.

"Then I should go through first."

The Warrior's smile is something between Ninja's predatory one and Andrea's mischievous one as she looks at her guardian Spirits.

"Can you hold the portal open until we pass through?"

Bear and Eagle exchange a look, then Bear nods. "We can. It would be possible to hold it open until you return, but we cannot risk allowing something from the darker realms into this world if you are not here to contain it."

"Of course not," she agrees. "I wouldn't expect you to. I'll open it again from the other side."

Bear nods again and rests a paw on each shoulder, causing Opossum to climb on top of her head.

"You will need our gifts in full measure in that other place. Know that your instincts will be true, your strength greater, your healing faster, your reserves of the universal energy nearly unlimited..."

"Your fleetness of foot will approach that of the Elders..." Cobra continues before sliding up Bear's arm.

"Your agility will be greater than you have known, so take care; your ability to shift, to blend, to become invisible, to become that which others expect to see will be as effortless as if it were the night of the fallen veils..." Fox says as it leans against her leg.

"And you shall deceive your enemies while remaining true in the sights of your friends," Opossum says, tickling her ear as it drops back to her shoulder before scampering up Bear's other arm.

Eagle clacks its beak; this time it seems to be a clearing of the throat sort of thing. "Our new sibling has but a single gift — his magic known only to humans. But it is a rare thing for one of us to possess only a single gift, so Great Spirit has decreed that the self-appointed task he has taken upon himself shall be a gift he may share with those he guards, and that is the attribute of protection. Others among us wished to also share our gifts with our new sibling, as we have a great fondness for him. And so vigilance, success, and good luck are yours also, Rene, to share with those you guard."

Andi turns to grin at Rene, despite the grim circumstances. "Way to go, Spirit Brother. Seems you make friends everywhere, don't you?"

Rene offers a brief, affable smile and shrugs, but turns to Madeline. "Maddie?"

Madeline is rolling her shoulders and shaking her muscles loose. The cold light of her anger and her madness is in her eyes as she lifts her chin to meet his eyes.

He kisses her quickly, saying, "For luck."

"I'll take luck over skill any day," she says sardonically.

It is obviously a long held ritual between the two of them.

Madeline looks at her Mate then. "Wolverine?"

He gives a nod.

Facing forward once again, she says, "Ready when you are, Sister."

Andi picks up Pablo's pants, rolls them up tightly, and tuck them into her waistband at the small of her back. He'll have to do without shoes; she doesn't have a way to carry them that won't impede her ability to fight.

Then she nods to Maddie. "But we go through together, you and I. We lead, they follow." Instinct again.

"For the ritual, just follow my movements again once I start the form. It's the one I just did a few minutes ago. The tian po will work well. Next to me this time and just be ready to defend once I raise my staff up to open the portal. You'll feel it."

Instinct... and trust.

She walks over to a large flat piece of shale and taps it lightly several times with her staff. The more unpleasant the dimension beyond the portal, the more destruction she needs to cause. And she doesn't have a grocery store handy to destroy this time.

Or she just needs to use more power. Compared to the incident in Flagstaff, she has a reserve of power that is exponentially greater. Because the power will come from her and Maddie — Mother and Father will contribute, too, on this side of the portal — she has a considerable amount of power at her disposal. The shale will suffice for the destruction portion of the ritual.

"Sorry, Mother..."

The response is a gentle swelling of energy through the soles of her boots. Andi nods and stands in a relaxed and ready pose, centering and calming herself. When she sees Maddie is ready beside her, she begins the form.

She moves through the form slowly. When they had freed Rene, Andi had moved slowly so that Maddie could mirror her in addition to gathering enough energy for the task. This time, she and Maddie are in sync — perfectly in sync — because of the Pentad Bond. And is only gathering more energy now... spinning, twirling, spiraling it in front of them. When she feels the pull of the portal, she sees that Maddie is positioning herself to defend. Then Andi raises her staff, pausing for a heartbeat before slamming it down with all her strength — the enhanced strength of Ninja, the added strength of Bear, and the strength born of rage at the kidnapping of her Husband.

The shale shatters into hundreds of thousands of tiny shards that spray forward, away from the four of them. The portal is a pale, gauzy curtain in front of them. As she raises her staff again, she sees Bear and Eagle on either side of the portal, ready to hold it open. Andi slices downward with the staff and the curtain springs open... and would have just as quickly snapped shut had the Spirits not held it back.

"Let's go..."

Ninja steps from a brightly lit desert night through the portal into a thick forest of deciduous trees, dimly lit by sunlight trying to peek through the canopy of foliage. It's warmer than a November night in the desert, although it is by no means hot. If she were going to compare the growth cycle of these trees to those in City Park, she would say it is probably early summer. As Rene and Logan follow her and Maddie through, as Bear and Eagle allow the portal to close behind them, she stops to listen... to look... to smell the surrounding area, as well as study the qi of this place. Her physical senses are not as keen as Logan's, but her reading of energy is second to none. She doesn't note any life larger than a German shepherd. That doesn't mean something larger isn't concealing itself, but it would have to be damn good at it. And it sure as hell doesn't mean that the hummingbird sized sparks of energy that flit around aren't lethal.

This isn't Quetzalcoatl's prison planet, and since he had seemed so damn smug when he told her and Pablo about it, it makes Andi suspect it was the only one. That would decrease the chances of running into Shadowkin... she hopes. But Pablo had mentioned all sorts of other predators in the prison dimension — and she saw a few of them when Logan was there. Not all of them had been Shadowkin. Some of them had just been big mean motherfuckers.

The one things she does sense — something the others probably all sense too because of their Bond — is Pablo. She nods in his direction... northwest, if they assume the direction they had been facing when they came through the portal is north. Andi doesn't know if the others will pick up more than Pablo's general location, but she can tell that he's pissed, he's groggy, he's confined.

"Lots of birds, a couple of medium sized four legged mammals; none of them very bright. That's all I'm sensing. Logan?"

The man's nostrils flare as he scents their new surroundings. There is something in the air that he does not like. He shakes his head and wrinkles his nose before stalking over to Madeline and scenting her. His dark eyes narrow as he repeats the process.

"She was tied to this place?" Madeline asks.

There is only one she that could be... the clone.

He nods and chuffs.

She takes the whip from her belt and holds it loosely but still coiled.

"Let's go find our Brother, our Sister's Mate."

She heads in Pablo's direction. A forest is much like a jungle; she knows how to move in it, through it, without disturbing it. Rene had learned as well, although later in life. Logan... well, Wolverine had been born to it.

Well, doesn't that just suck jagged rocks? Although it does make sense that the clone of her Sister would have had a strong presence here. This is where Stryker held Logan; this is where the clone would have had to manipulate him.

Ninja is not sad that the pathetic imitation of a human being is dead, despite the fact that the clone, too, had been manipulated by Stryker.

Damn, when did she turn into such an asshole?

Oh, right. When people started hurting the ones she loves. Apparently, she doesn't take too well to that sort of thing.

Although she has greater experience moving through forests that are more coniferous than deciduous, she trusts the Bond with her Siblings, she observes them as they move, and she makes the necessary adjustments until she is moving as easily and as quietly as they are. Hyperacute reflexes help until she gets the hang of it.

Andi isn't sure how Quetzalcoatl, Tezcatlipoca, and the skank are trying to sever the Bond between her and Pablo. Except for the initial attempt, they don't seem to be using extreme measures. She's pretty sure she told Quetzalcoatl that the Bond can't be broken; she's pretty sure she remembers him being mightily ticked off about that. And the methods they had used.

It can't be more than ten or fifteen minutes after their arrival that the balance between Pablo's anger and grogginess starts to flow more toward anger... and then to rage.

Hold up a sec, she says to Rene... although, honestly, she doesn't know with certainty that Maddie and Logan can't hear her, too.

Ninja stands perfectly still, watching the energy around them carefully, but begins focusing on her Bond with Pablo. She absorbs the rage being directed everywhere; the amount coming through their Bond is a drop in a bucket compared to what she's already feeling. She pushes back the faintest, tiniest trickle of love and hope.

She's surprised — but not really surprised — by the sense of distrust and the anger flung back at her. It's almost as though she can hear him screaming hoarsely at whoever is with him. The words are indistinct, but the feelings of refusal to betray his Family, the steadfastness of purpose despite a longer passage of time than she had expected... oh, the feelings are crystal clear. Then there is pain... so much pain... it almost feels like unending pain.

Her tolerance for it isn't as high as his; she tries to breathe through it. Still, sweat breaks out on her forehead, her neck, her back... nausea threatens her again. She just breathes.

But then the scale starts tipping again in the direction of grogginess, toward unconsciousness, and the pain begins to lessen only because of the slide toward oblivion. Instead of hope and love, this time she sends the sense of snark and sarcasm... not something Quetzalcoatl, his brother, or the skank would likely consider using on him.

She feels surprise in return, and a sense of daring not to hope. But faintly, yes... yes... very, very faintly, she can hear, Ninja...? just before unconsciousness reclaims him.

Andi blinks and looks at her Siblings. She realizes that she actually drenched in sweat and that her knuckles are bone white on the hand that clutches her staff. Her fingernails have dug holes in her other palm and blood drips to the ground. She checks the qi around them but senses nothing but the random lifeforms that have been present in the forest since they arrived.

When she comes back to them, Andi finds her Siblings with their backs to her facing outward. They are arrayed in such a way that no quadrant is unseen. Madeline is in front of her, less than an arm's length away. Rene is on her right and Wolverine to the left.

Damn it. She loosens her hands and watches her palm heal. Time's flowing funny. I couldn't tell how long Pablo thinks he's been here, but weeks at least. He's pissed when he's awake, and they hurting him because... well, because they can, I guess, and because he's being stubborn. She wipes the sweat from her face and neck with her sleeve. He's really good at stubborn. He's unconscious again now. How long was I still?

She flexes her hands and rolls her shoulders. The stiffness and soreness could be from standing still for so long while being so tense... or it could be from absorbing some of Pablo's pain. Or both. Sister with the stopwatch in her head will give her a better idea of which one is it.

Madeline turns slightly toward Wolverine, tilting her head and touching the whip to her ear. He shakes his head.

"Twelve minutes thirty eight seconds," she answers out loud.

Twelve and a half minutes? Absorbing Pablo's pain then. It would take longer than that for her own muscles to hurt this much.

"Not sure what season we're in here, but it's been about half a day judging by the change in the shadows," Madeline notes. "Whether that's twelve hours or not, I have no idea. We should move in closer before night falls."

"I don't think it's far. Our telepathic range is less than a mile and I could just barely hear him," Andi says, brows furrowing in confusion. "I don't have a clock in my head, that's for sure, but the sun was straight up overhead when we got here and it didn't feel like much more than a twenty minute walk."

She shakes her head as she does a quick calculation. "Yeah, we need to get going. If time is at least internally consistent here, we have a four hour day at best from noon to noon. Lead on, MacDuff."

They continue on toward wherever it is Pablo is being held, allowing the forest to give them the path... which is anything but direct. They need to stop once when Andi senses a mammal of greater intelligence — similar to the big cats that roam the foothills above Golden. The intelligence is similar, but it doesn't feel like cat; in fact, it doesn't feel like anything she's ever encountered before.

Great. Aliens. As long as it's not Mr. Spock's sehlat...

Bizarrely, dusk is falling when they reach the clearing.

The fact that dusk is falling is not the most bizarre thing, however. Oh, dear gods, no!

In the middle of the clearing is a small ranch-style house, surrounded by a perfectly mowed lawn, enclosed by a typical suburban chain link fence. From where they stand, they can see a patio out back with a Weber grill. Window boxes with tulips, daisies and daffodils are beneath each window; the curtains in the windows look like they belong in the 1950s. And a shed behind the house stands open to reveal a push mower, a rake and a pair of hedge clippers. The fence farthest from them, and the fence along the front on both sides of a gate, is lined with the beginnings of boxwood hedges. A stepping stone path runs up from the gate to the front door of the house.

Andi blinks several times and shakes her head, absolutely not believing her own eyes.

Do you guys see the same thing I do? Jesus, any second now, I'm going to start hearing Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors singing "Somewhere That's Green." And then I'm going to vomit.

She blinks again. Nope. The scary suburbia in the middle of Tezcatlipoca's dimension is still there.

Besides Pablo, there's a female human — thirty something — and Quetzalcoatl inside the house. She pauses, furrowing her brows again. Although Quetzalcoatl keeps flitting in and out of this dimension.

Madeline's eyes rove the scene. Apparently, they've taken a page from the Soviets. I'm not sure if that is good or bad.

Her mind voice is odd, sounding as though it's being filtered through Rene as opposed to a direct link.

Me either, Rene agrees.

Ninja, hand me Peacekeeper's pants. I have an idea.

Ninja leans her staff against her shoulder to pull Pablo's pants from her waistband. They're a bit damp.


Yes, she asks the question despite knowing Maddie's general disregard for plans. Ninja blames her idiom... or maybe the Librarian's.

Madeline takes the pants and wraps them around her whip, turning it all into a small bundle, and holds it like one might hold an infant.

"She was from here, in a manner of speaking," she answers out loud, but softly. "She's back. While they are dealing with her, the three of you come in from the other directions.

Rene is not exactly thrilled with the plan, but he also offers no argument. Wolverine grunts. There are no walls that can stop him.

"Let Peacekeeper know, if you can. She would not know him."

Ninja nods. "If this is an authentic recreation of a 1950s home," she whispers, "none of the doors or windows are going to be locked. And a hundred to one, Peacekeeper called bullshit on the whole setup inside of thirty seconds.

"I'll take the window here on this side. Rene, you take the other side." She looks at Logan. "Patio door should slide right open for you. Quietly, yes?" Then she looks at Maddie, long and hard.

"Skank won't know your face, but Quetzalcoatl will. Be careful, Wolf. I'll inform Peacekeeper as soon as he comes to."

She pulls Fox's magic around her to become invisible.

"Shapeshifter could probably get in the door easier, but this is too close for me. Just save the skank for me." She grins Ninja's predatory grin, although no one can see it. "Let's do this."

"Quetzalcoatl doesn't know who he's fucking with," Madeline says before heading down toward the 'street'.

"Nope," Ninja agrees. "Never did. Never will."

Stupid snake.

By the time she touches the pavement, she has changed the rhythm of her walk and her posture and her gestures. She looks like nothing more than a doting but naive mother out for a stroll with her child. Wolverine is off circling through the trees, moving at a fast clip yet disturbing nothing. Rene goes mostly insubstantial and parallels Madeline until she takes her first step off of the road and toward the house.

Madeline coos at her bundle and makes nonsensical soothing noises as she bounces it in her arms. She comes to the door and knocks, waiting for it to be answered. She is wagering that this woman might have known her clone.

"Shhh, shhh," she shushes her bundle. "It will be all right. Mama has you. Papa..."

Her words trail off as the door opens to reveal a dark skinned, dark haired woman.

"What do you want?" the woman demands.

Madeline opens her eyes to be large and doe-like, offering up a tremor of fear. "William... William said we'd be safe here. That you could protect us from... from them. Please, can we come in?"

The woman's eyes narrow and her lips purse as she considers, then she backs up to allow Madeline in the house.

"Thank you," she says softly. "I'm so sorry to bother you."

Hopping the fence is a piece of cake for Ninja. Well, fine... a handy bit of gymnastics. It merely takes a short running start, a hand placed precisely on the chrome knob of the fence post, legs up and to the side, over and down, landing softly on the perfectly manicured lawn. She might be invisible, but unlike her Spirit Brother, she is still quite substantial. There will be no walking through fences or walls for her.

Not surprisingly, the window is unlocked and slides up easily. It doesn't take much skill to hoist herself into the room, although the flowers in the window box will never be the same. It's a bedroom; it appears to be one that's used, but it's empty at the moment. Going to the door and opening it, she looks out into the hall. Across the hall are two more bedrooms. At least, Andi is guessing they are based on the distance between the doors and the fact that the doors are closed. Pablo is directly across the hall, still unconscious. There's a bathroom next to the bedroom she's in.

Looking down the hall, she can see the living room and entryway to the right. She watches the skank put her book down and get up to answer the door. It would appear that Spirit Brother will need to walk through a wall, as the windows on the far living room wall are close to the ceiling and merely decorative.

She hears the sliding of the patio door from the left side of the living room; Elder Brother is in the kitchen.

Andi doesn't sense anyone or anything in the house except the Pentad and the skank. Ranging farther toward the forest that surrounds the clearing, there is absolutely no life inside the perimeter of the woods except theirs.

That's good... but it makes her nervous. Of course, there's that whole good luck thing Rene has going on now. Not that it actually works for her since he isn't her guardian. Still, if her Siblings can act and luck their way out of this, she will kick as much ass as necessary to rescue her Husband.

She steps out into the hall and closes the door behind her, then hurries across the hall and opens the door to the room where Pablo is being held. The skank is just closing the door behind Maddie and her little bundle of adamantium.

Okay, yeah... this is not a bedroom. Ninja closes the door quietly behind her. This is some lunatic's drug or alcohol drenched fantasy of a romantic bedroom... also known as a whorehouse. Ew. Who even puts canopies on beds anymore?

Pablo is starting to come out of the blackness into the fog. She sits on the bed beside him, noting that he's restrained under the light blanket. The restraints look like typical gentle hospital restraints and not the more secure ones used for psychiatric patients. They shouldn't be too difficult to unfasten, although it might take a little time. First things first, however.

Peacekeeper... hey, partner. You need to use some of your healing mojo to clear that crap out of your system, buddy.

His eyes open wide and he just growls softly... but very definitely in a menacing way.

Yeah, I get it. They've been fucking with your head and you don't believe anything or anyone anymore. Well, how about this? I'd let you loose, except you'd probably break my nose again, and I'm fucking tired of broken noses so I'd have to punch you in the side of the head. Or something.


Got it in one, Chief. Can you flush the sedative out of your system?

He shakes his head slightly. Not sure how. I've been trying, but it doesn't seem to work.

His wife places a hand on his forehead, but then she hears voices — Wolf's and the skank's — in the hall. Listen, Wolf is here...

I know. Rene and Logan, too. I can feel the connection.

That's good. That will help. But listen, you have to pretend you've never seen Wolf before in your life, got it?

Basic undercover training. Don't acknowledge anyone from the outside.

Also good... your brain isn't as fried as... well, let's just say I was worried.

Not fried. Yet. Just fuzzy. He looks around the room. Why can't I see you?

Fox's magic. Your head seems to be clearing well. Getting the crap out of your body is the problem?

Magic. Okay. And yeah. Well, that and the fact that they keep pumping the shit into me.

He sounds pissed. That's good, too.

There will be a mighty ass kicking before that skank slut whore bitch gets near you again.

He blinks. Are you jealous?

She's quiet for a couple of seconds. Maybe. But mostly pissed. Let me get a sit rep.

He nods as Ninja scans again for any other signs of life. Nothing. Well, nothing that wasn't already here when they came in.

Rene, how goes it out there? Peacekeeper's pretty dopey; I'm gonna need to help him flush the drugs. Also, he's restrained and if someone wanders in, they'll notice that he isn't restrained if I remove the restraints. Or notice that the restraints seem to be unfastening themselves. Either way... bad.

"What is your child's name?" the Other asks, feigning interest.

"Thomas Victor Hewlett," Madeline answers easily and with a fond smile. "After James' father."

"He is going by James again?"

"Yes," she nods. "We thought it would be nice for a fresh start. I... I'm not keeping you from anything, am I?"

"No, I was just reading."

"Oh? Is it an enjoyable book?"

"Yes. Would you like some coffee? Or tea, if you are still nursing?"

"Tea would be lovely. Thank you."

Rene listens in to Madeline's half of the conversation. Logan hears the conversation as well and slips from the kitchen into an adjoining room. Rene keeps to his mostly insubstantial form and moves through the house, checking the other rooms.

We're the only ones here currently, Ninja. Maddie and... the other one are in the kitchen. Wolverine's keeping an ear out. How long do you need with Peacekeeper?

Hard to say. Few minutes for the restraints. Ah, what I wouldn't give for an adamantium fingernail! They've pumped a lot of drugs into his system. She pauses for a silent sigh as she begins working on the first restraint.

Pushing it out naturally would be more straightforward, maybe faster... but I'd hate to find out his healing factor isn't quite as high as mine is and have him wind up on the liver and kidney transplant lists. Going the metaphysical route is a sure thing, but as you know, time gets a little too fluid when I delve that deeply into the qi... and I get really distracted.

How long does Maddie think she can keep the skank occupied?

She pats Pablo's hand as she finishes unfastening the first restraint. As she gets up to work on the ankle restraint, he reaches across his body so he can rub his wrist with his still bound hand.

"This is the second worst undercover assignment ever," he whispers, barely loud enough for Andi to hear him.

I had no idea your Ancestral Asswipe was so fucked up. Sorry. I feel like I should have had more of a clue. Can you start working on the other wrist restraint there? But I'm okay with Wolverine going all Veg-o-Matic on his scaly little ass.

Pablo shakes his head. "Can't quite reach the buckle. Would slicing and dicing him really do any good? And your language has really gotten terrible."

It's her turn to shake her head. Then she remembers he can't see her. She finishes with the second restraint and drops Fox's invisibility magic as she starts on the other ankle. What person in their right mind puts a bed in the corner on a diagonal in a room this small??

Pablo smiles when she appears. I don't suppose you thought to bring clothes for me, did you?

She looks up at him and grins. Just your pants and Wolf is using them as a baby blanket.

He raises his eyebrows, a look that's part disbelief and part surprise. Do I even want to know?

She shakes her head; this time he can see it. Definitely not now, possibly not ever. Although knowing you, I'll probably wind up telling you at some point.

Okay. You I trust. That psycho woman out there that thinks I'm her husband? Not so much.

Andi finishes with the third restraint, then moves around the bed to work on the last one. At this location, she has the bed and pretty much the entire room between her and the door. I think I've had my fill of the true lunatics, and may even come to appreciate and love the Human Tsunami's brand of crazy. Once I get this unfastened, we'll get you to sit up and see if you pass out.

Sitting up isn't the problem, dear... that would be standing. And walking. And fleeing the premises ahead of local law enforcement.

You're kidding about the local law enforcement, I hope, she says as she gets the last buckle unfastened.

I hope I am, too, Pablo replies as he sits up... with a little help.

Hard to say, Rene replies. Maddie's good, but eventually the Other will notice that's an awfully quiet and still baby. At that point, all bets are off. She can call Quetzalcoatl's counterpart with just a thought, right?

Depends on all sorts of things, but we should assume yes. Andi looks at Pablo as a medic would, then more deeply to assess his internal health. You're suggesting that I move as quickly as possible, I assume.

I am.

Maddie, you've got her reeled in. Drag it out as long as possible.


The woman fills up a tea kettle and places it on the vintage electric stove. As she takes out a cup and saucer, she asks, "Do you take sugar?"

"One, please," Madeline says before cooing again at her bundle held close to her chest.

The woman turns and looks at her. "Have you had any trouble nursing?"

Madeline keeps her head down, her expression hidden mostly by her hair. The question is telling, at least to her mind it is. It means the woman has to have known about the clone's scarring.

"Some," she tells the Other. "But the lady William brought to me has been helping."

"Why didn't you bring her with you?"

"He said it would be best if she stayed behind..."

"I see."

"Do you think... do you think she will be okay?" she asks. "They won't hurt her, will they?"

"There's no telling what those people are capable of, Madeline. William was right to caution you and send you here. Oh, we've never been properly introduced... things were terribly hectic when you were here before. I'm Meg Cruz." She pauses a moment, then continues. "Perhaps you can help me with something?"

"I can try."

"Remember how James was when he first came here? So disoriented and confused?"

"Of course."

"My husband is having the same sort of trouble since he got back. Shell shock, I think. Perhaps if he saw you and little Thomas there, it would settle him. It would be even better if James were here..."

"He's off doing something for William. I'm not sure when he'll be back yet. But I'm willing to try if you think it would help. It was so hard for him, such a terrible thing."

Andi leans her head against Pablo's, her hands on his shoulders. "Okay, you remember last month when I showed you how to filter that flu virus out of your system?" she asks softly.

"Yes. But it didn't work." His hands move to rest on her hips.

"Because you didn't have the power you have now. You've picked up some of my healing factor because of the Pentad Bond, and Eagle's gift intensifies it. Instead of a virus, you've got a poison, but the process is the same. Easier, actually, since you just need to filter your blood through the liver and kidneys, and forget about the white blood cells. You ready?" She kisses his forehead and squeezes his shoulders. "You can do this."

He takes a deep breath, closes his eyes, and pushes aside his doubts. His hands drop to his lap as he relaxes. Andi keeps her hands on his shoulders, her forehead touching his, to help keep him centered and grounded.

Okay, Rene, we're going at it the traditional way. Knowing this loon, he's going to push it as far and as fast as he can, something may or may not weaken him to the point where Logan and I will have to take turns carrying his sorry ass away from this freaky house.

My ass is not sorry, Pablo says absently, focusing on moving his blood faster through arteries, veins, and capillaries while maintaining a safe heart rate. That means a greater volume of blood flowing through the heart with each beat... which is going to make for a tired and weakened Pablo.

No, dear, your ass is not sorry... it's incredibly sexy. Give me a head's up, Rene, if we're going to have company so I can pull that invisibility cloak around me again.

And now it's just a matter of waiting while Pablo does the hard work while Andi monitors him to make sure the poison is clearing and he's not doing any damage. After a few minutes, he groans.

Oh, God, I need to puke!

She moves quickly to turn him toward the other side of the bed. That's fine, just not on me and my leathers. Your liver needs to rest. You did good.

After he finishes emptying the meager contents of his stomach on the floor, Pablo lies back down. Andi wipes the sweat from his forehead with a corner of the blanket.

How are you doing there, Chief? Brain clearing up?

He looks up at her and tries to smile. More clear headed than I have been since that fucking snake grabbed me. Not so sure about my body yet.

She takes a close look at his aura, at his meridians, at his dan tians.

Actually, you're looking almost completely clean. You worked hard, your liver is overtaxed, and you just — literally — spilled your guts. Rest a minute, then I'll feed you some of the energy Mother and Father sent along.

He sighs and closes his eyes. Just a minute or two. I want to get the hell out of here and go home.

We're in the home stretch, Rene. Shouldn't be much longer...

They are trying to clean out Peacekeeper's system, Maddie.

The woman pours the tea and brings it to the table. "Can I take Thomas for you?"

"No, thank you. I feel better with him close when James is gone," Madeline says, holding the bundle even more closely. "I try not to worry, but..."

Rene is listening in, of course, as a matter of watching her back... but the things she is saying are hitting close to home. Certainly, Madeline had always been good about making things up on the fly and becoming the part she was playing. Still, he has to wonder how much truth there is in her words with only the names changed to protect the guilty.

Madeline purposefully takes her time with the tea, carefully blowing on it to cool it, taking only the smallest of sips. The Cruz woman seems to be annoyed by the amount of time she is taking. She keeps glancing toward the back of her house.

"How long do you expect you'll be here?"

Madeline shakes her head. "I... I don't know. William said to wait for him."

The Other tries to hide the irritation and is mostly successful. It's not something the clone would have noticed. Madeline, however, is a different story.

I've got maybe another five minutes, love.

Will pass it on.

Ninja acknowledges Rene's message wordlessly... just a touch of frustration mixed in with a splash of worry, and a dash of sigh. She must really be upset to be thinking in cooking terms.

We need to get moving, Pablo. Maddie can't keep the skank distracted much longer, she says, placing one hand over his zhong dan tian, over his heart, and holding the staff with her other hand wrapped around the gold inlaid hózhó symbol.

Lending someone energy isn't something she often does; there's rarely an appropriate time for it. Sharing energy is an entirely different matter, and something she and Pablo frequently do... but this is neither the time nor the place for lovemaking. Transferring energy is simple enough, however... moving qi is something she's been consciously doing for about two decades.

After a couple of minutes, Pablo slides a hand up her hip and whispers, "Any more energy, love, and we're going to get caught doing something that will really piss that bitch off."

She makes a soft purring sound and smiles, perhaps more than a little lasciviously, as she moves her hand.

You'll need to pretend this is a nudist colony until Maddie's done using your pants.

He returns the smile, then flips off the blanket and swings his legs over the side of the bed.

And you'll need to try not to be completely distracted by my fine manly physique, he says, getting out of bed while carefully avoiding the puddle of vomit. He heads straight for the window and Andi comes around the bed to follow him.

Again, what kind of moron angles a bed like this?

"Excuse me. I need to use the ladies' room."

"Of course," Madeline says, lifting the teacup to her lips once again.

As soon as the woman is out of the room, she stands up and loosens the whip from the pants.


Unfortunately, Pablo has just reached the window — and Ninja is still a few paces away — when she hears the footsteps right outside the door.

Damn it!! she says as she wraps Fox's invisibility around her again. So close...

We'll get out of here, Andi. Together.

Pablo very deliberately waits for the door to start opening before he begins opening the window.

Rene appears at her side. Wolverine slips back in from the other room. Madeline softly pads toward the hallway the Other had gone down.

Rene, wait outside for Peacekeeper. She hands him the pants. Wolverine and I will take up the rear.

See you on the flip side. Rene vanishes and then reappears outside the window where Pablo stands.

Madeline pauses in the hallway as the woman enters a room. Wolverine follows a half step behind her. They stop and listen to the conversation.

The door opens slowly and quietly, and Ninja can sense the confusion of the woman peeking in. The skank opens the door fully, verifies that Pablo is not in the bed, then scans the small room... all in less time than it takes Ninja to breathe once. Glaring at Pablo, the skank steps into the room and closes the door behind her.

"What are you doing? How did you get out of bed?" she asks in a low and angry voice.

Pablo looks over his shoulder at her as he opens the window all the way, taunting her.

"I'm opening the window," he says, using a tone that he might take with a very small child, or a person who doesn't understand much English, or a frightened and lost puppy, or a drug-saturated person. Calm and soothing. "Open window means fresh air. When Pablo vomits, air becomes stale."

"Don't patronize me," she hisses. "How did you get out of bed? You were restrained."

He looks at her as though she has completely lost her mind. "Uhhm... no. If I had been restrained, I wouldn't have been able to get out of bed. As the kids like to say... duh."

"I said, don't patronize me," she says more loudly, taking a step closer to Pablo. That also takes her a step closer to Ninja as well, who is fighting the urge to... well, do unpleasant and generally fatal things to the bitch.

"I wasn't patronizing you, I was being a smart ass." He perches on the window sill, crosses his arms, and looks like a man who isn't the slightest bit concerned that he's completely naked.

"Well, it's an unattractive trait in a husband. You need to stop." She stands still, staring at him, her arms crossed as well. "And you need to clean up the mess you made."

Ninja bites her lip to keep from snickering.

Rene has your pants, by the way.

I saw. I just need to get out the window without her coming after me and clawing my eyes out.

He looks between the puddle of vomit and the very bad woman — okay, evil skank whore slut bitch from hell. It would appear that both Warrior and Wife are in agreement about her.

"Okay, first of all? My wife doesn't mind me being a smart ass, seeing as I learned it from a very good friend of hers. I just can't be more snarky than her friend." Pablo looks the woman up and down, then snorts. "Second? You're the one who has this nineteen fifties scenario going on here, chica." He raises an eyebrow at her. "You clean it up. You're the woman."

I've got your back. She won't get near you or your eyes. What powers does she have, do you know? And how good is she at them?

The woman in question stomps her foot and drops fisted hands to her sides. "Don't you talk to me that way! I am royalty, and you are a mere commoner. The only reason I agreed to this is because Tezcatlipoca assures me we can rule the world with our combined strengths. The Brothers will rebuild the Aztec Empire, and we will rule it together."

Her stances does become more regal when she speaks of being royalty. Well, crazy people can convince themselves of anything.

She has darkness balancing my light, no doubt the reason there's such an affinity between her — and her crazy Aztec friend — and the Shadow, Pablo says as his faux bride has her hissy fit. Where I control the wind, she controls change... something like the illusions you get from Fox, although actual shapeshifting doesn't seem to be in her repertoire. Her current appearance is probably an illusion; it has that same sort of vibe to it that your trick did on Halloween.

"Commoner?" Pablo says, sounding incredibly offended. "Commoner?! I'll have you know I'm a member of the Priest caste, lady, and that's equal to your so-called royalty." He points again to the puddle. "If you're royalty, then get one of the servants to clean it up. Otherwise, do it your own damn self." He crosses his arms again and glares at her.

As for strength, she's about equal to me, although she learned the slow and easy way instead of being immersed in a hell world for three years like I was. That gives me the advantage of an extremely high tolerance to pain, thankfully, as well as a lot more paranoia about unknown lifeforms. I don't think they counted on the tolerance to pain. And she doesn't have a Diné guardian Spirit, nor is she Bonded to anyone... let alone four others. They definitely didn't take any of that into their calculations.

She glares at him for long minutes, before softening and smiling sweetly at him. "All right, my dear husband. You come back to bed and I'll clean up the mess. Come, come... our gods will be returning shortly and we wouldn't want them offended by this mess, would we?" She takes a half step closer to him and holds her hand out for his. "Come back to bed, beloved. You're still not well."

Ooooh, she's so close, Ninja could reach out and grab her trachea... and crush it to uselessness. She doesn't want to risk killing the skank in Tezcatlipoca's dimension; instinct says she needs to be killed in the human world. Instinct seems to be working well so far.

Oh, but she definitely needs to be dead.

Pablo shakes his head. "No, I'm actually feeling pretty good. I think I've spent enough time in bed. I really think I'd like to go for a walk. Do you think I could get some clothes?"

She looks at him, puzzled again. "But where would you go? This is only a safe house, love. We're not ready to go back to our world yet."

Pablo uncrosses his arms and rests his hands on his thighs. "And that's where you're wrong, whatever the hell your name is. I'm more than ready to go back to my own world, where my wife and family are waiting for me."

You want to let my buddy Rene know I'm about to drop out of the window, love? I'm not far enough off the ground to need someone to break my fall... just a steady hand, as I haven't done this in a while.

Andi mentally chuckles. Consider Spirit Brother so informed.

"But I am your wife, Pablo! I, Achcauhtli, leader of the new Aztec Nation, am your wife!" she whines, wringing her hands together.

The bizarre thing here is that she's not acting. She truly believes Pablo is her husband, and she deeply believes the whole royalty and ruling the world shit.

Pablo sighs. "No, crazy lady. You're not." And with that, he pushes himself backward out the window.

"Pablo!" she cries out in fear and alarm. When she takes a step forward, Ninja is ready and sweeps her staff close to the floor, cracking the skank's lower legs. At the very least, she'll have some seriously bruised bones; on the other hand, the Warrior and Wife are both more than a little angry... it's possible the skank has a few broken bones. She quickly manipulates qi into the same sort of net she had used on Quetzalcoatl when he was being a complete ass in Maddie and Logan's hotel room and wraps it around the skank. Quetzalcoatl couldn't get out of it; theoretically, it should keep the skank whore bitch from calling Tezcatlipoca.

Pablo, get dressed...

...already on it...

...and I could use some help securing this piece of shit.

At the screech of their Brother's name, Madeline is at the doorway. The stink of vomit and bile does not cover the stench of drug laden sweat. Neither is pleasant, but the latter is worse for what it evidences.

She cocks her head and looks down at the woman who has fallen but has not struck the floor. Without saying a word, she looks for Ninja.

Where are you, Sister?

Behind her, Wolverine looks over her shoulder, a low growl coming from him.

Ooops... sorry, Ninja says as she lets Fox's magic dissipate again. Her staff rests against one shoulder and she holds her hands in front of her at about diaphragm level. It almost looks as if she's holding an invisible beach ball.

The skank is on her knees facing the window, leaning forward slightly, her arms starting to reach forward to break her fall. The weirdest part is that she's not actually touching the floor, but floating a few inches above it. She's trying to move, but she can't. She's trying to yell, too... Well, maybe it's yelling that she's trying to do. With the state that her qi is in, it's also possible that she wants to scream like a co-ed in a horror movie. It's probably a good thing that Ninja has metaphysically — and temporarily — wired her jaw shut.

Her eyes are wide with fear. And when she hears Wolverine's growl, they nearly bulge out of her head.

Ninja glances at Maddie. As much as I'd like to Shift my foot into a horse's hoof and kick her until she's dead, my gut feeling is that killing her here is a bad idea. Body and soul need to be separated in our world. Leaving her here to chat with Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca before we get home is a really bad idea.

The bad news is that I obviously can't open a portal while I've got her cocooned in qi like this. The good news is that creating a portal back home is easier than opening a portal to anywhere else. And I should be able to do it from the yard.

She looks back at the skanky bitch.

Anybody know how to do the Vulcan nerve pinch?

Everyone can hear Pablo's sigh from outside. "Smart ass," he says softly.

Ninja just smiles.

No, but I know something that will work...

Madeline latches the whip back onto her belt and crosses the room to stand behind the Other. She leans forward a bit and slips an arm around the woman's throat.

You can let go now, Sister. Not the mouth, though.

She tightens the choke hold as soon as Andi releases her and waits for it to take effect. Once the woman is out, she asks, "Where are the drugs they used on you, Brother?"

Ninja slides the qi net up to surround only the skank's head and doesn't release it until the bitch's qi indicates that she's unconscious.

"I couldn't really tell, I'm afraid, Sister," Pablo replies from outside the window. "She kept it pretty dark, and I don't see as well in the dark as my Wife does." Having destroyed the flowers in the window box even more thoroughly than Ninja had flattened those under the other window, Pablo can easily look back into the room. He nods toward the dresser. "She did seem to spend a lot of time fiddling around in the area of the dresser, though."

The top of the dresser is empty, as is the first drawer Ninja opens. The second drawer, however, looks like a well-stocked pharmacy with a tray of syringes and dozens of vials of clear liquid.

"Hmmm, this looks like a lot of determination," she says. "As if they expected Pablo to give them a hard time."

"Q knows me entirely too well, and knows it would take extraordinary measures to convince me to go along with his insane plan," Pablo says. "He obviously still doesn't understand the nature of our Bond, though. If you're right about nothing being able to break it..."

"Oh, I'm right about it," his Wife interjects.

"...then I don't think all the drugs they could find would turn me into what that bitch wanted me to be. I'd prefer not to dwell on their backup plans when they figured out I would never cooperate with them."

Madeline wanders over and takes stock of the contents of the drawer. A markedly evil smiles comes over her face. "Rene, you know what to do."

There is almost a resigned tone to his voice as he appears in the room. "Yes, love."

He picks up the woman, putting her in the bed where Pablo had been.

"Believe me, Brother, you don't," she says, looking at Pablo and then glancing at Wolverine.

Returning her attention to the drawer, she picks out a couple of vials, then sees the bag of white powder. She picks it up and opens it, dipping a pinky to taste it.

"That will definitely work."

She looks at Pablo again. "And you might want to make yourself scarce for this next part. We aren't in our world, but you still have a cop's conscience."

Pablo shakes his head and sighs. "Right. I'll just go see how the hydrangeas are doing, shall I?"

Andi watches as he turns and starts walking across the yard. "He doesn't know a hydrangea from a peony, and neither plant is out there." She shrugs and looks at Maddie.

"And what is this plan of yours that would nag at my detective's conscience?"

"Stryker wasn't the only one who knew about addling someone's brain."

After a bit more digging in the drawers, Madeline comes out with a small bunsen burner and a stainless steel shallow bowl.

"We can't risk taking her back with us, not to the Family, and we can't put her out of our misery here. So the next best thing is to scramble the gray matter."

She pauses as she is about to pour some of the powder into the bowl.

"You need to witness this, or you going to go keep Brother company and keep watch?"

"Swiss cheese addled, or your average drug addict addled?" Ninja asks, watching with interest. "For the record, I favor the former. The kind of cheese with the really, really big holes."

Then she shrugs. "Makes no nevermind to me. My conscience works differently than my Husband's. I can watch the qi as easily from here as out there."

"The former would be better, yes. But I doubt we have the time for that, or the inclination to stay in this world that long."

She pours a measure of powder into the bowl, sets it on top of the burner and turns it on, then picks up a syringe. She hands a long think piece of rubber to Rene, who takes it and ties it around one of the woman's biceps. He curls her hand into a fist and pumps the arm as Madeline waits for the powder to liquify.


There is a questioning chuff.


Another chuff, this one affirmative, before he stalks out of the room.

"A hep-lock and an IV bag would make this last longer after we leave. Ah, well."

"A bit surprised they don't have that equipment on hand, frankly," Andi says. "It's as if they couldn't make up their minds about how much trouble the good detective was going to be."

Madeline turns off the burner and fills the syringe, then administers the drug to Tezcatlipoca's Chosen One. With a cotton swab, she picks up a little of the remaining fluid and dabs it inside the woman's nostrils.

"Didn't see tracks so that should keep her down long enough for us to get the hell out of here...

"Let's go, Sister."

Andi sighs as they head back out the front door. "She's going to remember enough to come gunning for us — well, Pablo, anyway — which is just going to annoy the crap out of me."

"Erasing that much usually requires a small caliber bullet to the brain or a telepath willing to do the deed. We have neither, and I wouldn't trust the latter anyway."

"I'm not sure the former would eliminate the ultimate threat, anyway," Andi says.

Pablo is waiting near the front door, his back to them and eyes on the forest beyond the strange property. "Nothing moving out there that I can see. And the hydrangeas are lovely," he says.

His wife pats his shoulder as she walks past him, heading for the center of the yard. "There are no hydrangeas on the property, dear."

"Then what are those?" he asks, pointing to the bushes on either side of the front door before following her.

"Lilacs. You need to chat with our Human Tsunami more." She stops at a point exactly midway between the house and the fence and looks at Maddie.

"This will do, and I can open the portal on my own." She centers and grounds herself quickly, remaining relaxed as she watching the flow of energy all around her. She is slightly surprised that her staff still holds all the qi with which Mother and Father hand imbued it, despite the amount of energy she had given Pablo. That would be something else to figure out. Later.

"If everyone will get behind me," she says, watching with a smile as Wolverine walks the perimeter, "we can get this show on the road. I do not want to converse with anyone's Ancestral Nuisance at the moment," she says a little more seriously.

Madeline chuffs to Wolverine and holds out her hand to him. He trots over and slips his hand into hers. Rene takes up the other one.

"The sooner we're back home, the better. We still need to get back overseas."

"No argument from me," Ninja says as she steps in front of her Sister and Brothers. She motions for Pablo to stand behind her; both Logan and Rene angle their stances just enough so that Pablo is effectively in the middle of a circle.

Going from an unpleasant place to a better place is considerably easier than the reverse, especially when the destination is one's natural plane. She begins the short staff form; it's meant for the longer thirteen foot long staffs but is easily modified to accommodate her shorter staff. Halfway through the form, she begins to Sing her power Song. Both the form and the Song are short, so the last note of the Song coincides with the end of the form, which is traditionally a return to a neutral position. Instead, Ninja strikes the ground with the end of her staff, which opens a wide portal to the New Mexico desert. A few paces beyond the portal is their pile of clothing.

She takes a step ninety degrees to the side and holds her staff parallel to the ground, effectively holding the portal open without assistance from the Spirits. She jerks her head toward the boulder.

"Move, people," she says urgently. There isn't anything nearby that she can detect on Tezcatlipoca's side of the portal other than the skank, but her power Song is... well, powerful. The minions of Tezcatlipoca would certainly notice it. She definitely does not want to be in the neighborhood when they come to investigate.

Once the others are through the portal, she steps fully into her own world and swipes her staff across the opening, bringing it all the way to the ground, where she crouches for a moment. This portal is closed, yes. But she wants to protect her People from any other portals Tezcatlipoca's Chosen One might decide to open.

As soon as the portal is closed, Madeline has her phone out and is looking for the charter jet companies that serve Albuquerque. Right now, Madeline is all business making the arrangements, and Logan is taking time to pull on the rest of his clothing.

With one hand on Mother's skin and the other raised to touch Father, she says, "Mother and Father, I thank you for your blessings that allowed me to rescue my Beloved. Your daughter asks a boon of you... to protect the People, to protect all Nations, I asks that you not allow another such a portal to be opened in any land now held or revered by any of the People protected by the Beneficent Spirits unless I, your daughter, or the Beneficent Spirits themselves open it."

She is vaguely aware that this request would encompass all the lands considered "reservations" in North America, plus the sacred lands that White Men have claimed in the United States, Canada and, amusingly, Australia.

{Daughter... agreement} {Daughter... power} {Daughter... agreement} {Daughter... strength}

"Thank you, Mother and Father. You ease my heart."

{Daughter... Family} {Daughter... love} {Daughter... Family} {Daughter... love}

She smiles. What else can one say to that?

Andi stands and sees that Maddie is already on the phone, making arrangements to get to her godfather as quickly as possible. Pablo has managed to get his shirt and one shoe on; he's almost got the second one on.

"I don't know where the bitch's home is in this world, but Mother and Father won't allow her — or anyone on her team, meaning Tezcatlipoca and apparently Quetzalcoatl — to open a portal on sacred Native lands or lands ceded by the Nations to the White Man," she says as she puts her other clothes in the bag Rene had brought.

She looks at Pablo, definitely worried. "That's not going to keep you safe, however. I never did trust that ancestral annoyance of yours," she says with undisguised contempt. "There's nothing to keep him from trying to kidnap you again."

Eagle clacks its beak sharply. "Not so, Warrior," it says, standing protectively behind Pablo. "It is clear that your Warrior Mate must be protected from those who would try to sever that which the Great Spirit has personally blessed. Such a thing is offensive." It looks at Pablo as the Warrior's Beloved stands.

"I don't see how you can stop Quetzalcoatl, no offense Eagle," Pablo says, massaging the back of his neck and shoulders. "He's been a royal pain in the ass to Andi practically from the beginning, and now he seems to have seriously gone off the deep end."

Eagle bobs its head. "I agree that the demigod of your ancestors does appear to be even less stable than Raven," it says with a brief glance in Andi's direction. "But now that the problem has been brought to light, I have bound myself to you. This is not something that is necessary except in cases where the Shaman is working powerful magics to rid a... a patient? Is that the word?" is asks, looking at her again.

Andi simply nods.

"Well, yes, then. Only when a Shaman is working with a patient who is filled with much darkness does it become necessary for me — or Puma, in Shaman Dehiya's case — to temporary bind myself to him. Perhaps you recall your visit to the Warrior's cousin, when Shaman Ravenclaw assisted the Warrior and her cousin in removing the darkness from your soul?"

Pablo shakes his head. "Very little, Eagle. Most of what I remember is the visit with Tommy after the Shadowkin was expelled."

Eagle nods. "It is usually the case. But I was bound to Shaman Ravenclaw for that ceremony. Those of us who guard the Shaman do this to keep them from falling prey to the darkness." Eagle looks at Andi, then at Maddie. "That the Warriors battle the darkness and do not fall prey to it... this is what marks them as the greatest of Warriors." It clacks its beak rapidly — laughter, Andi thinks — as it looks at Logan. "And of course, the darkness fears the Elders, while at the same time cannot help being fascinated by them, drawn to them."

Eagle turns back to Pablo. "So while it is unusual to bind myself to one I guard, and more unusual for a binding to be held for longer than the length of a ceremony, I have bound myself to you and will remain so bound until this dark one loses interest in you."

"Skank slut whore bitch from hell is going to have to die in order to lose interest," the Warrior mutters.

Pablo looks at her, worry across his face. "Maybe Andi could temper Ninja's bloodthirsty instincts here?"

She raises her eyebrows and looks at him as if, perhaps, he's lost his mind. Maybe there are still some drugs in his system. "Ahhhhh... no. Ninja speaks for both of us. Husband."

Pablo just sighs, shakes his head and turns back to Eagle. "And in practical terms, what does that mean?"

"As I cannot be drawn to a darker world, binding myself to you prevents you from being drawn to such a place as well."

Andrea looks between Pablo and Eagle, suspiciously. Very suspiciously. "So... Quetzalcoatl tries to pull Pablo back to his world, or Tezcatlipoca's world, and the two of you play tug of war with my Husband? Because really... that's what it sounds like."

Eagle tilts its head, looking confused. "Pablo would not be drawn to Quetzalcoatl's world, nor to Tezcatlipoca's world."

She rolls her eyes as Pablo starts rubbing his temples. He sees where this is going. Andi pulls the elastic tie from one braid, makes two fists with thumbs pointing to the stars, and lets the circle of thread-covered elastic drop over her thumbs.

"For demonstration purposes, let's say my hair tie represents Pablo while my thumbs represent you and Quetzalcoatl." She looks at Eagle, and the Spirit nods. She starts pulling her thumbs apart until the tie is looped above the top knuckle on each thumb... not yet stretching the elastic, but clearly not falling either.

"This is the status quo. How the balance between you and Pablo and Quetzalcoatl exists right now. But what happens if Quetzalcoatl decides to grab Pablo again?"

She moves her thumbs apart slightly, stretching the elastic.

"I'm already getting a headache just thinking about it," Pablo mumbles.

"Your Warrior Mate is strong," Eagle says, "and can withstand such minor inconveniences."

"Yes, he probably can. He did gain a high tolerance to pain when he was a guest in Quetzalcoatl's world. But what if Quetzalcoatl makes more of an effort to drag him off?" Andi moves her thumbs apart so the tie is stretched to its limit.

"I'm lying at home in bed with a vomit bucket next to the bed, feeling like I'm dying," Pablo says, not happy. Oh, no... not happy at all.

Eagle looks between the two warriors. "But I will protect you with my gift of healing, Pablo."

"Really?" Ninja asks. "Well, maybe. But what if Quetzalcoatl is so determined to have Pablo that he uses every bit of power at his disposal?" She moves her thumbs apart again, snapping the tie. It drops to the ground. "What then?"

"Pablo lives in a mental ward, drooling on himself, eating porridge, not even noticing when his lovely wife comes to visit," says her Husband, sounding annoyed. "Oh, or maybe dead Pablo! Then Pablo can live with Brother Rene and the rest of you!" That was definitely sarcasm, pure and simple.

Eagle just stares at the broken hair tie lying on the ground. "Oh. Oh my, no. We can't let that happen. I must consult with the others." And with a final glance at Pablo, Eagle disappears.

Andrea picks up the hair tie and drops it in the bag with her clothes, leaving her staff beside the bag, and walks over to Pablo. She wraps her arms around his waist and rests her head on his chest as his arms fold around her.

"Your hair's crooked," he says, trying to lighten the mood.

"Yeah. Don't care." That's a first.

"We have a problem, don't we?"

"Uh huh. Seems like the usual drugs just knock you out, but if that skank has access to whatever it was Stryker used on Rene..."

"I'd rather be drooling at the funny farm."

She just holds him closer. "I didn't think it was relevant to mention that the Great Warrior would start her own personal war with an Aztec demigod. Or two."

He sighs. "Andi, don't. The world needs you more than it needs me. I swear I'll die before I let that bitch near me again."

She looks up into his eyes and shakes her head. "As goes your life, so goes mine."

"You have your Sister's gift now; you can't die."

She presses her lips together tightly, although that doesn't stop tears from falling. "Death... madness... what's the difference? Oh. I'll be more dangerous if driven to madness. Maybe a bullet in the head to turn my brain to Swiss cheese... if I'm lucky, all my memories of you will fall into one of the holes."

"Stop it, Andi!" He holds her tightly; she feels the panic and fear and dread her words cause him. "Please," he whispers, "please stop talking like that."

I won't leave you, Andi. I love you too much.

She just lets him hold her. She can't say anything to reassure him. Anything she says will only make him hurt more. Rene's love for Maddie didn't keep him at her side, and Andi believes that her Spirit Brother loves — has always loved — her Sister every bit as much as Pablo loves his Wife.

She's scared.

Rene begins to walk over to Maddie when something he hears between Andi and Pablo cause him to stop and turn. "Pablo's not a mutant," he says. "It wouldn't work on him in the same way... if at all. Besides that, Maddie destroyed it all, including the source, when she blew the base under Alkalai Dam to hell and back."

That said, he now heads over to his wife.

Andi isn't sure Rene's information is as reassuring as she'd like it to be. Maybe a little? Enough to push back the fear... just a little. She still worries that Quetzalcoatl will challenge the Diné Spirits. That Pablo will be caught in the middle. That cannot end well, either for Pablo or for her.

Madeline is just finishing a conference call between a Learjet service and her office in Paris, which results in a plane on standby for them. Yes, Chantel definitely deserves a raise. She checks the time and knows it's too late in the evening to disturb Charles, but she could still call her godfather.

However... She stares at the screen on the phone for a minute before making a decision regarding the connection. It is not Alois who answers the line and she frowns. It isn't that she does not know the person, but that Alois did not answer this particular line himself, which has always been his custom.

"Maurice, it's Madeline Jacobs," she says.

"One moment, Madame."

There is a motorized sound and some handling of the phone before the voice she had expected comes on.

"My dear, have you returned from your American adventures?" he asks, his words and tone spry and teasing, yet something is off.

"Not quite yet, Oom Alois, but I'm on my way. I should be seeing you about midday tomorrow, if that is all right with you?"

"Of course, of course. We don't get to visit enough. And you still owe me a bottle of gin and a bag of coffee."

"As long as you promise not to combine the two."

"Can't do any more damage to me than I already have," he tells her. He forces a laugh, then begins to cough.

Shuffling of the phone happens again, then Maurice comes back on the line. "You should hurry, Madame."

"As soon as I can, Maurice."

She turns and looks at Rene and Logan. Rene had served with Alois for many years, and Logan has come to know him since she has taken up the Wolf's mantle. Alois is a good man and has been a surrogate father for Madeline since the death of her own.

"Rene, love, will you go collect the children? Tell Leon first. He'll know what to do."

"Of course, love," he says, giving her cheek a caress before vanishing.

They are not far at all, but Rene can cross the distance the quickest. Logan holds out an arm to her and she slides in against him with a sigh. They turn together toward Andi and Pablo.

"There will be a jet waiting for us at the Albuquerque airport as soon as we can get there," she says quietly.

Andi pushes away her own fears for now. Her Sister has the more immediate problem. She wipes her tears on her sleeve as she lets go of Pablo, just enough to turn in his arms toward Maddie and Logan.

"Leon can keep the twins from waking anyone but Billy, I hope. Assuming any of them in that room are even asleep."

She looks up at the sky and shakes her head, confusion evident in her expression. "I would swear that we were gone at least an hour, almost two. But the moon and the stars and the few clouds say we were barely gone a minute."

It's far enough into the night that everyone, with the possible exception of those in the bunk room — the twins, Billy, Henry, Leon, and Charlie — should be sleeping. If Henry weren't part of the mix, she would have more certainty that everyone would be sleeping. It's nowhere near close enough to morning, however, for even Uncle Leon to be awake.

She's sure she can slip into the room Mama and Dad are sharing with Uncle Junior and Aunt Alicia without waking anyone up. She doesn't know how heavily her aunt and uncle sleep, but she does know a whispered conversation with Mama will certain wake Dad.

She leaves the shelter of Pablo's arms to walk the few steps to Maddie and takes her hands.

"Our family will be sad to see us go so soon, but will understand — even if we do not wake the whole house to say goodbye — because this is how our family behaves. We are always at the side of those who need us most. Pablo and I..." She looks over her shoulder at him as he stands behind her, a hand on her shoulder, and smiles. It's a small smile, it still holds sadness and worry and, perhaps, fear... but it is a smile. She looks back at her Sister. "...we will make the journey with you."

Yes. They are ritual words. And they hold so much more meaning than simply flying with them across an ocean.

"It will be good to have you with us, Sister," Madeline tells her, giving the hands that hold hers a squeeze.

Her eyes shift to Pablo. "You as well, Brother."

A moment longer she stands there before turning and walking toward the Yazzie home. Her phone comes out once again. More things need to be set in motion.

en Francaise
"Hello, Bernard. The family and I are returning today, we will have guests, a couple."

"Understood, Madame. We will have the guest bedroom ready. At what hour may we expect you?"

"I expect we will be touching down around ten P.M. We will need cars waiting to pick us up from De Gaulle."

"Of course."

"We will need full breakfast in the morning."

"Everything will be arranged madame. We await your return."

"Au revoir."

Their home will be ready for their arrival. As she tucks the phone away, she slips her hand into Logan's.


Leon's packing up himself and his siblings. I'm taking care of your things.


We'll meet you outside.

Andi picks up her bag and is about to hoist it on her shoulder when Pablo takes it from her. "The gentleman always carries the lady's luggage," he says with a grin.

She can only shake her head and retrieve her staff from where she'd set it after closing the portal. She takes his hand and they follow Maddie and Logan toward the house. "Even if the lady in question is stronger than the gentleman and could probably carry him... at least for a short distance?"

"Even then, my lady," he says, his smile both teasing and seductive at the same time.

She just rolls her eyes at him. At least he's not going on about dozens of children.


Tommy? What are you doing awake? She realizes her mental voice holds both surprise and amusement.

Let's just say that you're lucky John Ravenclaw sleeps like a mountain. I don't know what you and Pablo and your new siblings have been up to — and I'm fairly certain I don't want to know — but I'm surprised anyone could sleep through the noise you were making on the plane where one sees the Spirits. And it sounds like Madeline's children are packing up to go home already.

Oh, cool! So you don't have a word for it either? Makes me feel better about not knowing what to call it.

"Are you talking to Tommy?" Pablo asks with an odd tone to his voice, and a look of confusion on his face.

"Yeah. Why?"

He nods and the confusion clears. "I thought I could almost hear him. Yep. It's okay. Our Bond... I know," he says calmly. And... he is calm; his qi is more settled than Andi's.

Andi... Ah, her poor, long-suffering cousin.

Okay, fine... fine! We were just enjoying the stars, minding our own collective business, when Pablo's ancestral asshole kidnapped him and carried him off to Tezcatlipoca's realm, so we had to rescue him. That's probably what made all the noise. Oh, and the Spirits are kind of upset with Quetzalcoatl, and now they're trying to figure out how to keep Pablo from snapping like a rubber band if Quetzalcoatl tries to snatch him again.

She can almost see Tommy cradling his head in his hands. I probably don't want to know this either, but why would Pablo get stretched and snapped in two if Quetzalcoatl tried to kidnap him again? Wouldn't the same thing that happened tonight happen again?

Nah. Eagle bound itself to Pablo to keep him out of any dimension... or do you call them planes? Anyway, Eagle's binding will keep Pablo from going anywhere Eagle can't go.

There is a great deal of silence; so much so, that Andi wonders if her cousin has decided he doesn't want to talk to her anymore. Finally, however, he says, I'm not even going to start going into how many traditionally held beliefs you and your fiancé...


...fine... husband... have shattered. It would just give me a migraine. So, instead, why don't you tell me about the Jacobs' furtive packing up and sneaking out in the middle of the night?

Maddie's secretary called her... her godfather is super sick, it sounds like. So they're making a beeline for France to be with him.

Oh. Do they need any help packing?

Andrea smiles, despite the worry for her Sister. Yep. Tommy is fully embracing the Yazzie way. From the looks of things, between Leon and Rene, they'll have everything and everyone gathered and out by the cars by the time we get there. She pauses a moment, glancing at the bag Pablo carries. Pablo and I are going with them. It would be a big help if you could grab whatever belongs to us and stuff it in Pablo's bag. Maybe see if you can wake up Mama and Dad without waking Uncle Junior and Aunt Alicia?

You're going to France.

Yeah. You know... family, support, Papa's saying about making the journey with others.

Tommy's mental sigh isn't as extravagant as she had expected. Sure, that makes sense. But... France?

She definitely gets the sense that he's shaking his head.

Well, I don't know about Aunt Alicia, but Uncle Junior is the mirror opposite of your dad when it comes to waking up... a gnat flying around the room will wake your dad, major artillery outside the window probably wouldn't wake Junior. Your folks and I... possibly Aunt Alicia... certainly Billy and very likely Henry will be waiting to say goodbye.

Thanks, Tommy. We should be there in about ten minutes.

Ten minutes? Good grief, where the heck did you people go? She certainly understands his surprise. After dark, anyplace more than a few hundred paces from the house is a disaster waiting to happen... scraped skin and twisted ankles on the less disastrous end of the scale, broken bones at the other end of the scale.

You know that cool rock formation surrounded by shale slabs at the south end of your dad's property?



There's another silence, not as long as the last one. Is everything about your life going to be so unfathomably surprising, Andrea?

I dunno. Pablo's getting used to it.

Well, thank the Spirits for small favors! You'd drive the man insane if he wasn't adaptable!

Oh, trust me... I thank the Spirits frequently! If it wasn't for them and Great Spirit, and Mother and Father, we'd be pretty well screwed right now.

Andi is starting to get the feeling that her relationship with the Spirits is making her cousin a little twitchy.

You know what, Andi? I'm just going to go wake your folks and get your stuff gathered. I'll see you when you get to the house.

Okay! she says, perhaps just a little too cheerfully.

"Hey, you're not going to get in trouble for leaving the country, are you?" she asks Pablo.

He laughs. "No. As long as the Captain knows where I am and how to reach me, there's no problem. I suspect there is slightly better cell phone reception in France than in this part of the Navajo Nation."

"Hmmm. That's true. Okay, I won't worry. And if we're home by Friday like we'd originally planned, we don't even have to tell the Human Tsunami we're leaving the country."

"You could tell him anyway," Pablo says mischievously. "It would drive him crazy if he knew you were in France."

She grins in the darkness; it's not quite Ninja's grin, but it sure isn't sweet Andrea's either. "Or I could text him once we get there."

Pablo squeezes her hand. "I like the way you think, Wife."

When they are in sight of the house, Andrea can see the twins clinging to Billy as he kneels on the ground, hugging them. To see the way their qi flows, she wonders if she ought to suggest to Billy that he consider at least visiting Charles' school. The twins are a couple of wild children, and Billy himself is no better... but the three of them almost seem to balance all that wildness and energy. She doesn't know how wild Vin and Em are normally, but watching out for them has certainly shifted his energy a lot. He actually looks like he might be growing up. Huh. Imagine that.

Mama and Dad are standing near the front door chatting with Tommy. It's a little funny that they stand in the same position she and Pablo do so often, that Maddie does with Logan and Rene... Dad standing behind Mama with his arms wrapped around her; she's leaning comfortably against him.

Andi is a little surprised to see Talia awake instead of Henry but glad that she and Leon seem to be having a good conversation. Leon looks relaxed, despite the urgency with which the family is rousting and getting on the road; Talia is grinning broadly. They're watching Billy and the twins, and Andi is pretty sure they're probably talking about them, too.

Oh crap. She's wearing her very last black turtleneck, and she's already repaired the rip Em accidentally made... was it last night? Oh well. Surely, there are clothing stores somewhere in France that sell black turtlenecks.

As Madeline and Logan come closer, Leon breaks away from Talia and goes to his mother. "Mom? Everything is packed in the cars."

"Thank you, sweetheart. We'll just say our goodbyes, then be on our way."

"All right."

One by one, Madeline and Logan address each person and thank them for their hospitality and their welcome. Under normal circumstances, this would take a few hours... but circumstances are anything but normal. She offers hugs and thanks; Logan offers handshakes with his thanks. Andi's Mama envelops him in a hug anyway, as does Talia.

She approaches Billy and the twins last. She kneels by them and puts her arms around them. "Hey, hurricanes, I know you're sad about leaving, but we'll be back. Besides Tia Andi and Tio Pablo are coming with us."

"Really?" Em asks sleepily.

"Yes. Really. Give Billy a last hug and load up, all right?"


"See you, Billy," says Vin.

"Yeah, see you," Em echoes.

They both hug him hard, then trundle off to climb into one of the Humvees. Leon says his goodbyes as well and follows his brother and sister. Madeline and Logan wait by one of the vehicles as Andi and Pablo make their farewells.

Andrea always hates having to say goodbye to her family; she always has and she always will.

Mama and Dad both wrap her in a soothing hug; being hugged by them makes her feel like everything is right with the world, that the bad guys are just actors in movies or television shows, and that the most difficult task she needs to do is decide which book she'll read today.

"I wish we could have stayed longer, Mama," she says as Mama reaches for Pablo's hand and pulls him into the hug beside her daughter.

"I know, dear. And we would have liked to spend more time with all of you, too. But just as the family gathered in the summer for Tita, it's important that Madeline's godfather have his family around him." She looks at Andi with that beautiful smile of hers and says, "You know if it were possible, we'd all find a way to come with you and Dance for him. It would ease his way into the next world if now is his time to make that journey."

She smiles at her mother. "I know you would, Mama. Ha'atathli Dehiya is mighty annoyed with me for speaking to the Spirits more than he does..."

"Oh, now you know I'm not really annoyed with you, Andi," Tommy says from behind Dad's shoulder. "Jealous, maybe... but not annoyed."

She chuckles and give Mama a kiss on the cheek before extricating herself from her parents' embrace; then she gives Dad a kiss, too.

"You'll let us know what you want done with your bike, won't you?" he asks.

"Yep, I'll email Uncle Leon as soon as I've had a chance to think that far ahead. He's got a hitch you can borrow in case flying back into Phoenix is easiest?"

"If not, he'll know who does. Don't worry, dearest daughter of mine."

Andi smiles at his endearment. "Okay, Daddy. I won't."

She moves to give Tommy a hug while Pablo says goodbye to her parents.

"I hope we get to see you again before the wedding, Mama and Dad," he says.

Would you at least try to stay out of trouble, Andrea? Tommy asks as he hugs her.

"I hope so, too, son," Dad says.

"Oh, now, Nelson! I'm sure we'll see them on their way back to the States," Mama says. "You take good care of our Andrea." Mama just turns her dazzling smile on her son-in-law and pats his hand.

I promise to at least try, Tommy, Andi replies before giving him a quick peck on the cheek, then heading toward Talia... who's watching Billy oh so studiously.

"If Pablo could just keep Andi out of trouble, that might be the best thing," Tommy says to Pablo and her parents.

Pablo laughs. "I'll take care of Andi as much as she'll let me, Mama. As for keeping her out of trouble?" He shakes his head and smiles. "I don't stand a snowball's chance in Hades. She says trouble follows her around, and is obviously extremely stupid because trouble ought to know by now she's going to kick its behind."

"Hey, Tali," Andi says, wrapping an arm around her shoulder. "Let me guess... something extraordinary happened that changed what you see for Billy."

Talia snakes her arm around her cousin's waist and looks up at her only a little suspiciously. "How did you guess?"

"I'm pretty sure 'behind' isn't the word Andi used," Tommy says dryly.

"Of course it isn't, Tommy," Mama says. "Pablo is being a polite gentleman."

"Oh, just the way you're staring at him," Andi says to Talia. "And the fact that his energy signature has changed a bit."

"Yes, Aunt Sandy," Tommy says, trying to hide his grin.

"I didn't see anything extraordinary happening here this weekend," Talia says. Then she gives Andi The Look. "At least not concerning Billy."

"It wasn't exactly subtle, Tali," she says, hugging Talia. "It was Leon, Vincent, and Emelia."

She chuckles. "Too obvious to even see, I guess." She pulls back, holding her cousin's hands and searching her face. "He's at a crossroads, and could choose either path... and no, I don't know what he'll choose. But he's nearly convinced himself this Professor of Leon's walks on water."

Pablo and Tommy exchange a man hug, and Tommy whispers, "You and Andi be careful, Pablo, you hear?"

"As careful as we can be, Tommy."

"I wouldn't say he walks on water," she tells Talia, smiling broadly. "But if he had a guardian Spirit? It would be Deer."

She relaxes and smiles more easily. "Thanks, Andi." She lets go of her hands and turns to Pablo, hugging him tightly.

Andi walks over to Billy. "Hey glummy bear," she says, wrapping him in a gentle hug and soft blanket of love, "you'll see them again at the wedding. It's not so very long away."

"Just one thing, Pablo," Talia says softly. "A little bit of teasing about the kids is okay, but dial it back about eighty percent."

"Billy's already chastised me," Pablo says just as softly as he returns the hug.

"It's seems like a long time, Andi. I don't think I've ever had so much fun." Billy rests his head on her shoulder. "They're such awesome kids."

"Yep," she says. "And their parents ain't too shabby either. You really thinking of going out to New York?"

Talia taps Pablo on the chest, right over his heart. "A little is okay. Too much hurts her right there." She smiles sadly. "You know why."

He kisses her forehead. "I do, wise cousin Talia. I'll behave."

She smiles more brightly, then nudges his arm. "Get going, cousin Goof. Cousin Madeline is worried."

"Yes ma'am," he says, heading toward Andi and Billy.

"Yep, but even thinking about it is scary," Billy says.

"What's scary, Billy?" Pablo asks, coming up behind Andi and resting a hand on the younger man's shoulder.

"He's thinking about doing the unthinkable," she says, looking up at Pablo. "He's contemplating leaving the Nation to visit Leon, Vin, and Em at their school."

Pablo looks between them, then asks Andi, "You say the folks you met from the school are pretty awesome, right?"

"Totally awesome, actually," she says, nodding.

Pablo smiles and squeezes Billy's shoulder. "Well, then... one less thing to be scared about!"

Billy doesn't look particularly convinced, so his cousin rubs her knuckles across his head. "And they will adore you almost as much as we do, Silly Billy." She gives him one last hug before heading toward the Humvees.

"Don't overthink it, Billy," Pablo says quietly. "The most important decisions are sometimes the hardest to make." He chuckles. "You know how long it took me to tell your cousin I loved her?"

"Ahhh... forever?" Billy says jokingly.

Pablo nods. "Yep. Pretty close." He gives Billy a quick hug. "Just be true to yourself, and you'll do fine," he says before following.

"You know, you sound like a walking fortune cookie, Pablo," Billy says to Pablo's back.

"They're a dime a dozen," Pablo says without turning around, "so there are plenty more where that came from!"

He rests a hand lightly on Andi's shoulder. She takes a deep breath and says to Maddie and Logan, "Okay. Ready when you are."

© Kelly Naylor and Ividia Kt