Issue 7: A Paris Avec Amis

The seven of them load into the Humvees and roll out with a wave to the Yazzie family. As late as it is, the kids all knock off by the time they hit the highway, despite their efforts to stay awake... even Leon. Madeline and Logan have no problems staying awake, not with the recent adrenaline rush of the rescue of Pablo and the news of Alois. The two hours it takes to get to Albuquerque seem interminably long, however. Finally, the gates appear and they follow the signage to the private hangers.

Andi manages to snag a blouse from her bag and at least changes out of Ninja's vest and turtleneck once they are on the road. While not a fashionista, contrary to rumors her family likes to spread, she does own nice clothing. After all, she works for a woman who believes that, as professionals, the librarians who work for her should dress like professionals. And Andi likes to prove to her Mama and her Tita every once in a while that she can dress in something other than jeans and polo shirts. It's the casual clothing she lacks — or lacked until Bobby got hold of her. Now she also owns t-shirts.

So in addition to those couple of polo shirts, she had packed her totally impervious to wrinkles royal blue blouse. It's not nearly as nice as the blouse she lost to Senator Idiot's son all those years ago, but it is the same color. And this is a gift from Tita, as well.

Madeline identifies herself at the gate and they are waved through. The vehicles are guided into a hanger used for parking where they will be secured. A Learjet representative walks out to meet them; she walks unerringly toward Madeline.

"Hello, Mrs. Jacobs," she says with a hand extended in greeting. "I am Annette Rodriguez. Is there any luggage we can assist with?"

"Hello, Annette. The luggage is in the back there. Is there enough room in the cargo compartment for the bikes?"

"I believe so. If there is not, do you want us to ship them to your address in Paris?"

"Not sure yet," she says as she sees Logan lifting Em into his arms from the back seat.

Leon is awake but sleepy. Still, he manages to climb out. "Need me to get Vincent, Mom?"

"Just carry yourself, sweetheart. Pablo, do you think you can manage?"

Pablo nods to Madeline. "Sure thing, Madeline." He goes around the other side of the Humvee and opens the door to lift Vin out.

For the moment, Andi leaves her staff in the car; it tends to make strangers wary. Instead, she rests her forearms on the open door and looks at her Sister. "Need me to do anything, Maddie?"

"Merci," Madeline says to Pablo and wistfully watches as he lifts her younger son into his arms.

It has been some time since she has been able to pick him up... or Em either. Those two have changed her world in so many ways... ways beyond the way a child normally does. She still has that wistful expression when she turns back to Andi.

"Help me lock up," she says, indicating the special compartments in the back of the Humvees.

Crew members from the Learjet company come and collect the bikes and roll them into the cargo area. As they leave, Madeline tosses the other set of keys to Andi.

She snatches the keys from the air easily. She may not know much about firearms, but she does know that you lock them up around children. And when there are as many various weapons as Maddie has stashed in the backs of her vehicles, Andi is just as willing to consider that everyone in Albuquerque is a child.

Her Sister's wistful look does not escape her attention, nor does the look of utter peace on Pablo's face as he carries Vin, following Logan toward the plane. She hides the lump in her throat by locking the weapons compartment.

They are absolutely not having six or nine kids, but for the one or maybe two that she would be willing to have? Well, the look of peace on Pablo's face is an outward indication of his inner peace that rolls through their qi. The lunkhead probably could handle parenting a baseball team of kids. His wife sure as hell can't.

Andi wonders if she could talk him into volunteering at one of the Boys & Girls Club locations around town. Her brother volunteers in Chicago, coaching soccer of all things. Her brother could have a nice talk with Pablo about it.

After locking the weapons compartment, she pulls the rest of the luggage out of the vehicle and closes it up. She sets her staff with her bag off to the side. It's not that she cares about the Learjet folks carrying her bag for her, it's just that the staff is ever so slightly less conspicuous beside the bag. Very slightly. She could hide, or make it look like something else... but for some reason, it just seems silly right now.

Locking up takes very little time; an old routine never entirely forgotten. Madeline resettles everything in its place, then collects the keys back from Andi and offers them all to the returning Annette Rodriguez. Nothing will be disturbed, but they may need to move the vehicles. Madeline is not worried about prying eyes. Learjet, like other charter companies, prides itself not only on their service but their discretion as well.

There is a brief bit of paperwork to sign, which Madeline takes care of with nary a thought. That done, Annette escorts her and Andi to the waiting jet, informing them that the onboard kitchen is fully stocked and the attendants' names are Davis and Cherie.

"Safe travels to you and your family, Mrs. Jacobs," Annette says as Madeline begins the climb up the jet stair.

Logan waits for them in the open door at the top. He takes Madeline's bag from her and holds out his hand for Andi's as his Mate passes him by. The children are all settled into sleepers with blankets and pillows. The cabin crew is moving around in the front with quiet efficiency and wait for the guests to settle in.

With a crooked smile, Madeline turns to Andi and says, "Welcome to the lifestyle of the rich and infamous."

One nice thing about not flying commercial flights is the lack of paperwork. Andi doesn't need to pull out her Lloyds of London card, and she doesn't have to try convincing the gate attendants that she's not going to go postal during the flight and start swinging her staff around.

Nope. Just hand her bag to Logan with a smile and...

Rene!

She grins at Maddie's comment. "Much better to be rich and infamous than rich and famous. You've already scared all the paparazzi away. Well, I hope for the paparazzi's sake you've already scared them away. These new digital cameras they use are so much easier to ruin with a little energy manipulation."

Pablo looks up from where he's sitting. "Your Sister is a bad influence on you, Andi. Simply terrible." He's smiling broadly.

"Not so, my dear," she responds as she sits beside him. "I've been frying cameras and cell phones for years."

"And that's how you manage to stay under the radar?" he asks, eyebrows raised.

She shrugs. "Well, before Perry got to town, that was pretty much my only option. Now he takes any of the problems that have the potential to attract the press. You'll have to figure out for yourself where you fit in the equation."

"Scare?" Madeline shakes her head. "No, Marie always paid them off to leave most of Rene's exploits unprinted. They can't make any money off of me because, by comparison, I'm incredibly boring. The widow of the flashy former playboy isn't anywhere near as interesting as the playboy himself... before he gave up his publicly wild ways."

Rene tries to look innocent and fails miserably.

Before Madeline can add anything, the pilot comes on over the intercom to introduce himself and his copilot and asks everyone to take their seats and buckle up. Madeline settles into one of the forward seats.

It's a little... well, much... getting used to a plane like this. Andi hasn't flown often since taking up the staff, but all that infernal paperwork and flashing of the Lloyds of London card does get her upgraded to first class. Having attentive flight attendants on a private plane isn't that much of a stretch from attentive flight attendants in a first class compartment on a commercial flight. Maybe she never really thought about how small private planes really are.

Takeoff is uneventful and they are soon at cruising altitude. The attendants serve drinks to those who want them, then retire to their section of the cabin. Madeline swivels her chair to face the others.

"There will be cars to meet us at De Gaulle. From there we will go to our home for the night and go to see Alois in the morning. Andi, you may have heard me mention him when Rene and I were first reunited."

She nods to Maddie. "Your godfather and Rene's commanding officer." She glances at Rene. "I got the impression your father contacted him when you were... kidnapped."

"Yes. He was the only one my father trusted," Madeline answers, as she sips at her drink. "It was also an act of desperation, but if anyone would know of someone who was willing to do the deed 'off the books' as it were and had a chance of succeeding, Oom Alois would be the one."

Pablo looks between his Wife and Sister. "Were your father and godfather good friends?" He looks at Andi and shrugs. "My godfather was my dad's best friend, my godmother is Momma's younger sister. But that's just how the Catholics in my parents' parish do it... best friends, close family."

Her gaze travels to Pablo. "They were. They had saved each other's lives during World War Two. Bonds forged in combat, those you fight side by side with..."

She wears a small, knowing smile as her eyes roam over both her Mate and her Husband.

"They are some of the strongest bonds available to normal humans. Oom Alois and my father became family to each other, replacements for the brothers lost in the war. They even made sure that Rene and I met each other properly once I had recovered."

Both Pablo and Andi nod.

"Cops form bonds like that, too," he says. "Not always... and usually among the brothers and sisters working in Patrol."

Andi can hear the melancholy in his voice and twines her fingers with his. Missing Denise is not something that is ever going to go away, but he fares better than a lot of cops. He has said more than once that he finds an odd comfort knowing that Denise made a difference in Andi's life. And he never let the addictions sweep him away either.

Andi smiles softly. "Papa Bill will talk your ear off, if you let him, about the men from the Marine unit where he served." She chuffs out a short laugh. "I'll bet that's where I get my habit of telling my family the stories of my Ninja exploits... I only tell the stories that will make them smile or laugh. Just like Papa Bill." She shrugs. "I think Papa would hear my words and not shrink from them, but for someone who has never seen battle... well, there's a lot they wouldn't understand." She squeezes Pablo's hand.

He starts to say something, a continuation of their ongoing conversation about where the line is between what's legal and what's right, but stops and brings her fingers to his lips for a kiss.

"There's stuff you don't tell me, isn't there?" he asks... understanding beginning to grow.

She shrugs. "You're a cop. You're a good cop."

He gives her a long look, then nods. "I still need to work on this, huh?"

She smiles crookedly. "Now, didn't Rene say you don't have to like the cold-hearted bitch? That you just need to support me? Pablo, I've been crossing that line of yours almost since Day One of being Ninja. I never told you details; I just made problems go away."

"Hmm... and I used to know better than to ask questions to which I did not want to know the answers," he says, returning the smile.

"Well, yes, there's that. I really don't know what's gotten into you, Chief." He rolls his eyes at her nickname for him and she snickers. Then she turns back to Maddie. "What sorts of hoops did they need to jump through to get you a proper introduction?" Andi's eyes move to Spirit Brother and she smiles. "Given the young man's playboy's reputation, that had to have been interesting."

Madeline looks over at Rene's partially substantial form and smiles as well. "I was handling a good portion of my father's business by then. And once that other person was out of the picture and some governmental changes had occurred, we were no longer persona non grata at the State level. There was some State dinner event with international dignitaries and what not..."

She chuckles. "I don't even remember what it was for..."

Do you?

Non. I only remember a vision of loveliness in a clingy cream-colored silk gown.

"And I a handsome, unshaven rascal in a leather tuxedo."

Her smiles becomes a bit more wanton as she remembers that night so long ago. Logan watches her intently, nostrils flaring as he scents her from where he sits.

"Vader and Moeder made some excuse about needing to go on a last minute trip to Holland and sent me in their stead. We had business associates there, and they had become accustomed to seeing me instead of my father half the time.

"Oom Alois had somehow wrangled to get Rene transferred back to embassy duty in Suriname just before that and insisted he join him as his 'personal security' for the event. He also insisted that he be dressed in civilian clothing. And Oom Alois did not introduce us. He just put us in the same room and let fate or nature or whatever take over...

"If I had not been so practiced at proper etiquette, I probably would have dropped my champagne when I saw him. It was like a lyric out of one of those old songs, although Thunderstruck by AC/DC is probably more apt. I excused myself from the current very dry conversation and made my way across the room to introduce myself.

"That was the first time he called me Maddie. And I really had no idea who he was other than 'Rene'. He didn't even bother with a last name, and I didn't care."

"A leather tuxedo?!" Andi fans herself with her free hand. "Hoo boy!" She doesn't even need Rene's magic around to... well, now doesn't she wish she had bothered to wear panties!

Pablo practically leers at her. "Should I put in an order for a leather tux, dear?"

She shakes her head. "Not if you actually want to make it through the ceremony. Clothed."

He chuckles. "But Andrea is such a shy and proper young lady!"

Andrea just looks at him. "Leather tux!" She points at Rene. "Spirit Brother!"

She picks up her water and drinks down the entire glass. Then she shakes her head again. "All bad! You in a tux is enough to distract me. Make it leather and I'm going to have to hope Uncle Junior is the one giving the lecture. With our Sister and Brothers there? Uncle Junior will talk for six hours because he's going to have to repeat himself. Quite a bit.

"No. No leather tux."

She stops, blinks, and smiles wickedly as another idea pops into her head. "But for Bobby's next themed party it might work. We might give him that heart attack he so richly deserves."

Pablo laughs. "My money is still on David to keep him from a total meltdown. But, oh, the attempt would be so very, very exciting."

She chuckles, then looks at Rene. "I picked up that habit of calling Sister 'Maddie' from you, I'm afraid. Had I met anyone else who knew her, in this or any other world, I'd call her Madeline or Lin just like everyone else does. You're a terrible influence," she says with a smile... although the smile says that she really has no problem with him being a terrible influence. Shifting her eyes back to Maddie, she says, "I could tell from the first time he said your name — when he was stuck in that other place — just how complete and unconditional his love is for you. It has the feel of eternity always circling back on itself."

"So it was a love at first sight, happily ever after kind of story?" Pablo asks.

"Well," Madeline admits with a grin, "it was certainly lust at first sight. Love was not something either of us would admit until years later. In fact, it wasn't until we were both ready to admit it that we even figured out we had been set up. Then it was mostly happily. Our work led us into a lot of awful things. We did what we could, but it was never enough."

It never is.

"No, it never is."

Andi and Pablo exchange a glance. How often have they expressed that sentiment, although with different words?

"No, it doesn't seem to matter how much you do..." he says quietly.

"...it's never, ever enough," Andi finishes. "But we keep doing what we do — each of us, all of us — because we can't not do everything we possibly can."

Pablo squeezes her hand. Intellectually, he knows that she is never going to stop putting herself in harm's way... because it's what they both do. His heart still hates to see his wife in danger, although no more than her heart hurts to know her husband is often in danger. It seems — to her, at least — that they're both getting better at setting the worry aside to get the jobs done that need doing. It's something they'll keep talking through for their whole lives... with a love as strong as theirs, the heart can't help but worry even when it knows each of them is doing exactly what they should be doing... no matter how dangerous it is. She's seen the way Rene looks at Maddie; they, too, have the kind of love that is irrationally protective and survives even death. Although... to one's heart, is protectiveness ever truly irrational?

Maddie and Rene... they've seen more of the horror this world produces than she and Pablo combined and then doubled, tripled. Part of that is simply because they had been doing it for so much longer. Part of it is that, at least theoretically, Denver is a civilized place.

Madeline glances back at her oldest boy, the son of Rene.

"Then when Leon happened, I opted to retire. That was when we started the happily and stayed that way until we lost him. It devastated me... us. If it hadn't been for Charles and his school, there's no telling where we might have ended up. It probably would not have been a very good place... either by my own doing or someone else's. The madness was very close to the surface then."

Andi studies Maddie for a moment. Madness.

"I've seen Normals do some dreadful things while gripped by the madness that calls itself grief. You had a true madness with a layer of unbearable grief on top of that." She shakes her head. "I thank the Gods, Spirits and Buddhas that Charles was there for you and Leon. I might have arrived at a Denver very different than the one I found."

"If it had not been for Leon..."

Another mother's loving glance goes back to the young man in question.

"More than Denver would have been different. My specializations are certainly not meant for the world most people live in."

Dominoes falling in a very different way... and none of them would be sitting on this plane right now.

"Maybe I'm reading a little too much between the lines, dear Sister, but recalling the tale you told us while in the Great Spirit's realm, recalling the... interview you conducted in Commerce City, random things both you and Rene have said..." Andi tilts her head in a way that makes her words a question rather than a statement. "I get the impression that coffee was not your father's only business. The gentleman we spoke with in Commerce City certainly did not seem to be much of a coffee connoisseur."

"No, coffee was not his only business, not even his primary business."

This time, there is a sidelong glance at Pablo. Brother he is now, but also a good cop, and those sensibilities are given their due respect. She has not entirely divested herself of her father's business interests, although she has not been involved in the day to day operations for many years.

"Let's just say that in many civilized countries, he would be considered a criminal and would be targeted by every level of law enforcement. Things may not have turned out as he had planned, but he did what he did to provide for and protect his family. During my recovery, I insisted on becoming involved. He resisted at first, but he could hardly say any of those inane things men often use to justify keeping women out of combat situations. I had already been to hell and back. I sometimes think he capitulated as a way of trying to make up for what happened."

She shrugs.

"Either way, being involved in the business gave me even more reason to be around the likes of him." She nods toward Rene, who has settled into the seat next to her even though he is still insubstantial, save for the Pentad's sight.

I might have had to find a way to get myself permanently assigned to the embassy in Paramaribo...

She smiles at him.

You couldn't give up the life any more than I could.

You did.

Hardly. Remember the weapons bunker and what I kept under the kitchen sink? I may not have been active, but I didn't step away entirely.

"And look at what I do now. No one could have seen that coming."

"You unnerved Talia, all three of you," Andi says with a half-smile, "but I think she should count herself fortunate she hasn't known you your entire life, Maddie. Never mind the fact that you're old enough to be her mother. With the... what does she call them? Extraordinary occurrences? Well, events that cause a significant branch in one's life, anyway. You've had enough of them to have given her perpetual migraines, I think."

She looks at Rene, remembering that first night Raven had told her to Sing and open the door to where he had been trapped.

"Maybe before moving to Colorado, no one could have seen La Loup as a reality, but I think..." She looks back at her Sister. "I think from the moment Rene died — when he did, where he did, how he did, why he did — it was inevitable that you do something like this... if for no other reason than to hold back the darkness long enough for your children to be children."

Another memory, this one from just before the great battle...

"Not destiny... just something instinctive and maybe even fiercely maternal."

She smiles, but it's difficult and the smile that emerges is a sad one. "Maybe, ultimately, that's why any of us does what we do. And that's why, no matter what we do, it's never enough."

Pablo leans over to brush fingertips gently along his wife's jawline. "What amazes me is that you can keep going, keep doing the things you do that I'm sure I don't want to know about."

She looks at him with surprise, an eyebrow raised. "You make it sounds as if I have a choice."

"Don't you?"

Andi shakes her head. "No, and it's something I've already alluded to with our Siblings before we took Stryker out. I haven't really had a choice since the Curse took me, although I tried to pretend that I did. It took Denise's murder to get me to stop pretending, to take up the staff. And now?" She shrugs. "There are too many people, too many children, who don't have anyone to protect them. And there's too much evil in the world. There are too many people for whom the justice system is a failure. So no, I don't have a choice.

"If I do not do what I am capable of doing for this world, who will do it? It's nothing as profound as the 'destiny' your ancestral pain in the ass babbled about. It simply a moral imperative."

He pauses, studying her face. "I've been a cop for half my life, Andi. And I know the justice system is flawed. It's the system in which I have to work, however. Technically, you should be staying inside the system, too, since DPD pays you."

Andi smiles and pats his knee. "And as far as you know, I never do anything without the blessing of the Denver Police Department. Or one of the Counties, if I'm working outside the city. As crazy as it made him, your boss put his stamp of approval on the operation that would have otherwise been a very naughty thing for me to have done. Denver County approved, Adams County approved... of the things I mentioned to them, anyway." She smiles even more broadly and oh so innocently. "I would never intentionally do anything to make your life more difficult, dear Husband."

He groans and leans back in his seat. "I'm going to buy stock in Pfizer," he mumbles.

"Ah, yes, Captain Sanchez. Good man. Handled the oddities of that evening fairly well, I think," Madeline says.

Logan and Rene nod their agreement.

He only flinched a little when I walked in out of thin air.

"As for the other..."

Madeline looks first at Rene than at Logan.

"Andi does not have a choice, Brother. Her conscience would not allow her to stand idly by. Some people are just made that way. Sister certainly is. Rene and Logan are. I suspect you are, too, Brother, for all your talk of the law. I guess even I am now, more or less. Of course, now that I have both of them to keep me on the straight and narrow, I really don't have much of a choice anymore."

You always had a choice, Maddie. And you've always chosen the right path.

No, Rene, I haven't.

She shakes her head. "Especially not when I gave Gabe to Stryker..."

"Mom???" comes Leon's shocked voice from where he is now sitting up.

Madeline's head snaps up, her look stricken at his expression of betrayal. Logan sits forward now. He reaches out and pats her hand before turning to his stepson.

"She did it for you, son," he says to Leon. "A trade. Him, for guaranteeing your safety and immunity."

Logan pauses, looks back at Rene. "It also got her in close enough to get a chance at freeing your father."

"I'm sorry, angel," she whispers through her sudden tears. "I never intended..."

"For me to find out?" he interrupts.

Rene materializes at this point and with a warning in his tone, says, "Leon."

"No, Rene," she says. "He's right. I had no intention of ever telling him."

The teen's expressions war across his face. He trusts his Dad absolutely, and that his mother had done it for him. He also knows that Gabe and his Mom are friends.

"Does Gabe know?"

"Yes."

"And he's okay with it? I guess he must be since you're friends and all, but..."

"Gabe and I made our peace many years ago," she tells him. "That boy... he was more worried about me. He has an amazing capacity for understanding and forgiveness. I have no idea how he has survived in politics for so long..."

She looks down at the floor for a long moment, then back up at her eldest. "I'm sorry, baby."

Leon's mouth opens and closes without a sound several times. Finally, he asks, "Does Professor Xavier know?"

She nods. "Yes."

"I see."

Rene starts to say something more, but Madeline forestalls him with a hand on his arm. Leon will have to make his own peace with it somehow. She drains her drink and sits back, expression pained.

Andi sees what is plain to see... and she sees what is not plain to see. And she feels it, too, which... No, she shouldn't.

She looks at Maddie and just says, "Knock it off, Madeline." Well, really Ninja's doing the talking, isn't she?

Pablo very nearly gasps at her tone. "Andi??"

She looks at him, too... head tilted, full of attitude. "Yes? You have something to say, Garcia? I'm pretty sure you don't. You don't feel what's going on because you have the same bucket of goo stuck in your soul." Her eyes snap to Rene. "As do you, Jacobs, despite your highly elevated position." She looks at Logan, then waves a dismissive hand in his direction. "You... not so much, not as bad as these three, anyway."

Andi looks at Maddie again. "You need to stop the damn guilt tripping, Sister. The three of you do."

"I don't..." Pablo starts, but his wife's gaze is back on him before he can get anything else out.

"Yes. Yes, you do. You have this gigantic goo ball of guilt called Rosalia and Juan, and another one called Denise," she says, perhaps less kindly than she might have under other circumstances. "None of that was your fault.

"You guys..." She swallows and really wishes she had another glass of water. "Guys, I don't do guilt. I don't know how. Sadness, regret... sure. But I can't hold guilt; it's like sand running through my fingers. Once the past becomes the past, there's no way to change it. So this whole guilt trip thing that's resonating around? Ouch, okay? Just... ouch."

She takes a deep breath, mostly to make sure she's not crying. Oh good! She's not! Then she turns and looks at Leon.

"And you..." Andi sighs and shakes her head, then speaks more softly and gently. "Every mother in every species I've ever met — the ones who are any good at the mother gig, anyway — instinctively do everything they can to protect their children. You can be mad at your mom for not telling you, for planning to never tell you. That's kind of reasonable, I guess, since it was about you... partially. And you can certainly feel all those other mixed up, confusing things you've got going on. Totally to be expected... totally.

"But as much as she thinks she had a choice about what she had to do that day, she didn't. I wasn't there, so how do I know, right? I know because I know how much she loves you. And I know how much she loves your father. Right, stop being all mushy, Aunt Andi, huh? But my point, dear Leon..." She smiles sadly because his mom isn't the only one here who loves him, and Aunt Andi doesn't like seeing him hurting either. "Dear Leon, you can't really be too mad at her for what she actually did. She didn't have any other choice than the one she made."

She turns around in her seat and looks at her Sister... her Brothers... her Husband.

"I wish I had a glass of water."

"Maddie?" Rene says softly, sitting down again next to her.

She looks up at him. Andi is not the first to say such things to her. She's had similar discussions with Charles, even Gabe, but it was always Irish's words she heard... as recriminating as her own.

"You were wavering, trying to figure a way to get the two of you out of that hotel room, weren't you?"

Her brow creases in puzzlement, and she nods.

"What decided you?"

She swallows and closes her eyes. "Hearing your voice..."

"Just like I knew it would. You were wounded, feverish from an infection, and had the nightmare again. You couldn't reach anyone from the school, not even Xavier, not by phone, not any other way."

Madeline opens her eyes in surprise. These are things only she, Gabe and Charles know. Rene takes her hands in his.

"How else do you think he knew what buttons to push?" he asks, then reaches up to smooth back a lock of hair from her face. "I'm sorry, too, Maddie. I held out as long as I could."

She blinks away more tears. "That... that night that It came after me, that Charles put himself between me and It..."

He nods. "That was the night they broke me fully."

"Oh, gods, Rene," she says, leaning forward to slip her arms around him.

She had felt his pain that night as well as heard it. She knows what it takes to break someone like him. Her heart breaks all over again, but this time, she allows herself to cry. Rene wraps his arms around her, his own tears dampening her hair.

"I'm sorry, Maddie," he whispers.

Logan kneels by them both and places a hand on each of them. She had come back for him, too... twice. He kisses her temple and hugs his Brother as their shared tears allow them to release years of pain and grief and guilt.

Their pain is a terrible thing, easily as sharp as Pablo's had been when he had cried in her lap after Denise had died, when he had cried on her shoulder the day he had told her about Rosalia and Juan. Andi feels Pablo's arm around her waist, his head on her shoulder as he whispers, "I'm sorry, love. I just..." She feels a kiss on her neck, chaste and butterfly light. "I'm sorry."

He holds her hand as he leans back in his seat, eyes closed. Sometimes, Andi gets the feeling that he's trying to talk to his wife and son, to his ex-partner and best friend... begging their forgiveness. She wonders if it would help him if he could talk to them. But in his belief system, they're all in heaven. She isn't sure which realm that is, but she also doesn't know if she could find it, or open a portal to it, or have any way of finding Rosalia or Denise.

Not that she'd even try. It feels like it would be using her powers for selfish reasons, especially since she still misses Denise so much, too. To be able to talk with her again? Yes, that would be too much of a temptation.

There is a scuff of shoes on the carpet and Leon says, "Aunt Andi?"

She's about to turn to Pablo when she hears her nephew's steps and his words.

He offers her a glass of water while looking a bit uncertainly at his parents, all three of them.

She looks up at him with a grateful smile and takes the glass of water. "Thanks, hon." A sip is all she really needs right now, although it would be easy enough to down the whole glass.

"They're getting better, Leon." Andi gestures to the nearby vacant seat and turns to face him.

Leon drops into the seat, still torn by conflicting emotions and certainly not practiced enough to hide them away.

Andi's movement causes Pablo to turn, too, so he can keep a hand on her hip, although he keeps his eyes closed. She suspects his thoughts are a wild mess; she knows his emotions are. He's drawing qi through their Bond, likely unconsciously, trying to sort through his feelings. She certainly doesn't begrudge him the energy. Her staff is between their seats and still incredibly full of Mother's and Father's gifts. And they're flying through the air... Father seems almost giddy for the opportunity to cradle them.

"I don't know how much I can say that would be useful, what with emotions being such unpredictable things." Andi smiles ruefully as she watches Leon. "Maybe just the bit of advice my teacher gave me when I left China: Do what you need to do, he said, and understand completely that it was the thing you needed to do. I guess that's why I don't have guilt about the choices I've made... they were the things that, at that time, were the things that needed most to be done."

Leon's eyes are serious as he listens to Andi's advice, even if he can't help but to keep glancing at his parents. He hasn't seen his mother break down like this since they had first arrived at the school ten years ago. His protective instincts want him to go to her and tell her it's okay, yet another part of him is horrified and angry that she betrayed Gabe.

Andi watches his qi, watches his conflict. She looks down at the glass of water before continuing.

"I won't pretend that everything I've done has been a piece of cake; killing people is really hard on me... or was until Pablo and I pulled my psyche off the road to multiple personality disorder." She peeks back at him and shrugs. "It's not easy, it's not something I take lightly... I'm entirely too kindhearted."

Then she grins at him, mischievous and teasing, hoping to ease his mind about his parents. "And if I hear that rumor around the water cooler in the super hero break room, young man, I'll know who started it... and you'll get the same sort of noogie I give Billy."

She takes another sip of water and watches him.

Leon tries to smile at Andi's joke and jokes in return, "You'll be fine as long as you don't tell Iron Man. He's a terrible gossip."

But to his own ears, it falls flat. He looks down at the carpet under his feet... studies it as if it were the most interesting thing ever.

He's trying. And really? As goofy jokes go... that wasn't so bad.

"I'm dreadfully disappointed in Iron Man," Andi says with a sigh and only a small touch of theatrics. "That red and gold outfit just screams out Integrity!" She pauses a beat. "Or I'm about to be arrested by the fashion police. One or the other."

Rene kisses the top of Madeline's head. "I need to go for a while, love. I'll just be a thought away."

She raises her eyes to meet his. He kisses her lightly then gives her into Logan's arms before fading away. Logan cradles her against him, picking her up as though she weighs nothing and returning to his seat. Her tears have mostly stopped, and he gently wipes away the few that still trickle down.

"I'm a wreck again, Logan," she says after several minutes.

"But you're my wreck and I love you," he tells her.

She curls up tighter against him and heaves a sigh. "And I love you."

"Madeline?"

"Hmm?"

"You freed a lot of people that day. You saved a lot of kids. Don't ever forget that."

"You might have to keep reminding me."

"Then I will, for as long as it takes."

"I don't doubt what you say, Aunt Andi, just..."

He looks up at her now, his own hurt plain on his face. His Mom has been his hero all his life. She could do no wrong. He's just found out she is just as human and fallible as everyone else. He also remembers her apologizing for not being a better mother to him. Right now he is just as lost as his Mom is.

The pain in Leon's voice tugs at Andi's heart when he speaks those few words, and the discordance of his aura is painful to view. She wants to reach out and hold him. But his gift is triggered by touch, and right now she, too, has too many memories — her own and Pablo's — that are too close to the surface and all as painful as anything he already is trying to bear. There are too many memories that a young man shouldn't have to witness.

Ah, she so needs to work with Rene to understand how this gift of theirs works so she can learn how to barricade off those memories!

But to Leon's pain, she can only speak words that she hopes will help. Perhaps they will be of little comfort in the moment, but they may open a door to a path that leads to understanding and healing. Perhaps someday they will be remembered as comfort.

"It's hard, Leon, for any child to learn their parents are mere mortals. Maybe it's even harder for someone who knows their parents are something more than mere mortals. We adore our parents. We put them on pedestals. We come to believe they can do anything and are perfect in every way." She smiles sadly. "That's a tough place for a parent to be because they do want to be everything their children believe them to be... the invincible super hero who can do anything and everything.

"When I was young, I really did believe my Dad could do anything, Leon, because he always managed to do everything I believed he could do.

"Like my folks, your mom is a wonderful, loving, beautiful human being... and like my parents, she isn't perfect. She makes mistakes. We all make mistakes. But I look at you and your brother and your sister — at who you are, at how the three of you interact, at how you all faced the overwhelming challenge of meeting most of my family — and I see that whatever mistakes your mom made were fairly insignificant. Right now, to you, they might seem huge. I get that. And it's okay. You have your feelings just like everyone else has theirs." She frowns a bit. "Well, I've been told emotions do crazy things when you're a teenager, so..." Andi shrugs. "My experience was a bit different."

She pauses to take another sip of water. "When I was twelve, my Curse... gift, as you call it... started to manifest. I didn't think anything of it, really, until the day it hit full force. I don't remember a lot from the days when my body was acclimating to the power, but one of the things I remember is my little brother crying on the other side of the room, so scared that his sister was dying, begging Daddy to make it all go away, to make me better. And I remember my Dad just holding him, whispering over and over, 'I can't, Justin... I'm so sorry.' I was hurting so much, like my nerves were on fire... hearing that, hearing Mama saying she felt so helpless and didn't know how to help me..."

Andi feels Pablo's arm tighten around her, anchoring her to this place, this time. He knows she can sometimes get lost in the memories for ten or twenty minutes. She remembers the glass of water in her hands and takes another drink.

"Well, it was hard finding my way out of that place of pain. I believed my parents would be able to help me, so hearing their admission of helplessness really scared me. One of them was always at my side... I was aware enough of my surroundings to know that... but I had to find my way back to them on my own."

She finishes the water and watches the way the light catches on the glass as she turns it in her hands.

"No one will tell me how long it took to find my way back... not Mama, not Dad, not Justin. I think even Tali knows, and she won't tell. Like knowing will make things worse."

Andi looks up at Leon again. "Like your mom thinking that knowing what she did to save you, to try to save your father, would make anything that happened any different than it was.

"What happened to me... what happened at your school... those things happened. Knowing more about them, knowing less about them... it doesn't change what happened.

"I learned that my parents will do everything in their power to help me, and I learned that sometimes they will fail... simply because they are human.

"You learned that your mom will do everything in her power to protect you, and that sometimes she will make hard decisions that on the surface seem horrifying... simply because she is human. But the little I know about that situation tells me any choice she made would have been horrible. Every option was bad. She just chose the least awful."

She shrugs and sighs.

"And sometimes? That's all you can do... make the least awful choices.

"Welcome to the world of grownups, Leon."

She gives him a smile; if she dared, she would give him a hug. This isn't one of those big forks in the path Talia talks about, it's more like a pothole for Leon... one of those really big ones that swallows Volkswagens. But like Mama and Dad always at her side, Mama singing or humming so Andi knew which direction to go as she struggled through the storm of her Curse's onset, she can crouch at the edge of the pothole and remind Leon that there are people waiting for him at the top. It's his journey. And it's one that needs to be a personal — and the Ha'atathli would say spiritual — one. That doesn't mean he can't have a cheering section.

All through Andi's words of advice, Leon keeps glancing at his mother. He is not sure when his father leaves, just that he is not physically present anymore. He sees her curled up in his Dad's arms, her face drawn and world-weary. He knows Logan is saying something to her; his mouth moves close to her ear and the rumble that is his voice is felt in the air of the pressurized cabin even if it's not heard. He can see her responding, keeping her voice even softer and quieter. With his Dad's preternatural hearing, she did not need to speak louder.

"You came for me, too. You saved Charles. You did everything you could. I love you."

It nearly becomes a litany as Logan repeats the names that he knows, descriptions of those he did not. He punctuates each with an expression of love or affection. He knows she had lost more than just Rene that day.

"I had always known they broke him," Madeline says. "They knew too much about me. When Charles protected me, they must have stepped up their efforts. That was months before the attack on the school."

"There was nothing you could have done."

"I know. Still..."

"I know."

"Em and Vin?"

"Still sleeping soundly. I think Billy might have managed to wear them out."

"As if. They'll be popping up like daisies the second we touch down."

After Andi finishes, Leon nods an acknowledgment and spends a few more minutes watching his Mom and Dad. He rises slowly and haltingly walks toward them.

"Mom?"

She sits up in Logan's lap, hands wanting to reach out to her boy, and doing so after a brief hesitation. He might reject her right now, but if that is what he needs to do, so be it.

"Leon?" she asks, trying to keep the tremor of uncertainty from her voice.

His mother has never looked at him or spoken to him like this. Is she afraid? Of him? He kneels down and takes her hands. Will you show me, Mom?

Show you what, angel?

What happened when you took Gabe to see his mom?

I'd... I'd rather not.

Please...

Behind the please is something more... something pressing at her mind. A feeling of desperation and... something else. She nods then, then thinks back to that time.

Andrea watches Leon walk over to his parents... well, the two that are still here. It's hard to watch the trepidation between the two of them, him and Maddie. But where there's love, a path to a new understanding can be formed.

When he asks to see what happened that long ago day, Maddie's hesitation resonates through her Sister. Andi turns in her seat so she can lean against Pablo's shoulder. She closes her eyes, feeling the strength of their Bond, knowing without asking that he is trying, will continue to try, to expunge the guilt he feels for deaths he did not cause.

But she also sees something strange in the flow of qi between Leon and Maddie when he asks a second time... pleads, really... to see her memories of Gabe. And although she's reluctant...

Charles stops her as she makes her way out the door. He hands over two envelopes, one of cash and one a letter. "Drive safely and be careful. His mother is at Bethesda."

"I will look after him, Charles. You can be assured of that. Come along, Gabriel."

Gabriel nods a goodbye to the Professor and gives him a distracted, "Thank you," before accompanying Madeline.

He isn't wearing the stonily unemotional facade that she had seen on the bus — he has a glow of hope there now, although it's combined with a tension that sits in his shoulders.

"Thank you for taking me," he says sincerely, hugging the bag close to his chest as they approach the vehicle. "I know you'd rather stay here. It means a lot."

Madeline leads the way to the garage and the big blue truck. Just because she is dressed like a Fed doesn't mean she has to drive like one. She takes off her jacket and lays it on the back seat, then takes the shoulder holsters and pistols out of the bag and puts them on before getting in.

His eyes widen at the sight of the guns, but he doesn't say anything and instead simply slides into the passenger's side seat and puts the plastic bag on the seat beside him.

She waits until they are both in the cab of the truck before replying.

"You are welcome, Gabriel," she says, turning to face him. "I know a bit about what you're going through. I was just a bit older than you are now when I lost my parents."

"You did?" he asks in surprise when she reveals part of her past to him. "I'm really sorry. I don't... I mean, I hardly know her, but... I can't lose her."

"Yes, I did," she answers as she starts up the truck. "It was a terrorist bombing. They were the targets." She says it so matter-of-factly that she could have been talking about the weather.

"Your heart knows her even if your head doesn't."

He looks at her, amazed both at the facts and the way she says them. Maybe it's easier because it was years ago? It's the only answer he can come up with.

"I'm sorry," he says again, on impulse, even though he knows she doesn't need sympathy. "So... kind of like my mom, then? I don't really know what happened, but... she was with the target?"

They are out on the road now, cruising at two miles over the speed limit. Madeline's eyes constantly rove from the road ahead to checking all three mirrors.

"Kind of. We really don't know if she was the target or just co..." She catches herself nearly slipping back into merc lingo. "If she was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

She glances over at him. There are things that she should tell him, things he needs to know. "Gabriel, on this particular trip, I am serving as your personal bodyguard. You will need to call me Ms. Messijer so that we don't seem too friendly with each other.

"I will need you to pay close attention to what I say and do whatever I tell you without question. Your life may depend on it."

The traffic on the local roads in Westchester is relatively light and they make good time.

Sitting beside her, he seems younger than his seventeen years. Perhaps it's because he has kicked his sandals off, or just the fact that the lost aura he'd worn when he had arrived has returned.

Still, he takes her seriously when she begins to speak and he listens closely. "Ms. Messijer," he repeats, so he'll get the name into his head.

"Okay. You know a lot more than me; I'll do whatever you say," he says solemnly, with that pure trust she'd seen from him in the gym. "Why would I be in danger?"

"If your mother was the target, then the threat is automatically extended to her whole family. And if not, you are still a mutant, and anti-mutant sentiment is going to be very high right now, especially in the Capital."

He hadn't put threat to mom together with threat to family, and his eyes widen in worry. "No one else knows I'm a mutant, though. Does that mean the rest of my family is in danger?"

"It's possible. I am sure the Secret Service is already in place and protecting them." Madeline is mostly successful at keeping the scorn out of her voice. "Since you were off at boarding school, you got me instead."

He nods, although he is still a little troubled. The president must have been guarded, after all. He was important. But then he smiles a little. "I'd rather have you anyway. I've got the feeling you're better than them."

Madeline's answering grin is sardonic. "I am."

His smile actually widens a little at her words. "I thought so. And I trust you, so..."

He shrugs. "I don't know. I have to trust my instincts about a lot of stuff and my instincts say to trust you. Just like I had to trust them instead of what Scott was telling me."

It is a long and boring trip with fairly heavy traffic at times. It gives them time to talk some, get to know each other better, and to get their story straight for when they arrive. The blue truck is parked in the parking garage now, and they are being passed through the armed security. Their IDs are checked and Gabriel finally gets to the door of his mother's room.

Madeline knocks softly on the door frame to get the attention of Gabriel's family.

"Professor Knight, we've arrived," she says, her demeanor all hard edges and business. Whatever softness she shows the students is not at all in evidence.

It is difficult for Gabriel not to dart into the room — only Madeline's previous words of caution and the sight of the guards keeps him from making a beeline to her side. "How is she doing?" he asks, his voice all anxiety and hope. He had been thinking about her the entire drive, hoping she might even be awake by the time he arrived.

Gabriel's father turns from his post at his wife's side in the private ICU room and his eyes light up at the sight of his son. He comes over to pull him into his arms. His eyes are red from crying.

He hugs his father back, hard, his eyes stinging at the sight. Obviously, his mom isn't going to sit up or say his name.

Madeline takes a quick step back so that Gabriel and his father can embrace. She takes up a guarding position at the doorway, eyeballing the other guards — Secret Service and military alike — both inside the room and out in the hall.

"Gabriel, thank God you're safe and here," Professor Knight says, patting his son's back gently.

"I'm so sorry. I got here as quick as I could. How is she?"

"She's in critical condition, son. Her left lung is collapsed and she lost a lot of blood. There was head trauma from a kick and multiple lacerations." Professor Knight sighs. "Your brother and sister are down in the cafeteria getting something to eat."

The Secret Service agents in the room, two of them, are looking at Madeline, trying to figure out her place in the scheme of things. Finally, the older one comes over. A professional with hard, searching eyes, he says, "Steven Mitchell. Who exactly are you?"

She matches him stare for stare. "Lin Messijer. Personal protection for the boy there." She nods back in Gabriel's direction.

"Bodyguard," he says, nodding. "Do you know about the thing that attacked her, that killed the president? It teleports and moves like lighting. Don't think it was after the congresswoman. Just collateral damage, but we aren't taking chances."

She shrugs. "Heard about it, what was out in the media. Is that the real deal?"

She knows how to play this game. With a quick glance over her shoulder, she lowers her voice for only Mitchell to hear. "Some kind of damned mutant?"

"Yeah, sure was. Blue as could be with a spiked tail or something. Teleporter. Just popped in and out like a genie on meth. Took out over ten Secret Service agents. If it shows up here, shoot to kill the fucking mutie. Damn things should all be wiped off the earth," he snarls.

"Damn. Makes our jobs that much harder." She shakes her head. "Now we really get to earn our keep, I guess."

She sends a brief thought towards Charles, assuming he is listening. It's bad here, Charles. Real bad.

"You carrying standard issue heat?" she asks.

"Mini-Uzi and a forty-five. That fucker shows up here, I am spraying and praying. Hollow points, so that the bullets flatten and don't go through the walls. What about you?"

"I'll be sure to duck. Beretta and Glock 9s, full metal jacket."

"Be sure of your shot then. Don't need a civilian getting tagged," he says.

"Always. Collateral damage is not acceptable."

He nods then moves back to his teammate to fill him in.

She watches him go, then listens closely to the conversation behind her. The two youths are headed in her direction and being waved through by the others. But she hasn't cleared them yet and moves to block the doorway.

"May I help you?"

"Yes, we are going in to see our mother," the girl says, moving forward as if there is no question of being stopped. The younger teenage boy with her looks at the badass woman.

"It's okay," calls out Mitchell. "These are the congresswoman's other children."

Madeline looks at Mitchell, then turns enough to let the two of them into the room. "Professor Knight?"

The professor comes to the door at her call. "Yes?" he says, then sees his children. "Kids, come on in. Your brother is here."

The confirmation from Gabriel's father is enough, and Madeline moves aside; however, she still needs to speak to the man.

"Professor?"

He is distracted for a moment by the reunion of his children but turns to Madeline. "Yes, Miss... ah.. I'm sorry, I can't even remember your name. My mind..." he says with an apologetic shrug.

"Lin Messijer, sir. That's all right, sir. Understandable under the circumstances. The Headmaster asked that I give this to you." She pulls the envelope from her pocket and holds it out. "And, if I may, sir, a speedy recovery to your wife."

He accepts the envelope from Madeline with a distracted thank you, holding it in his hand as he closes the door to see his children by his wife.

She is somewhat relieved to have the door closed. One need not be an empath to pick up the overwhelming emotion in that room. She puts her back to the wall and stares in a way that lets her see everything at once. She steadfastly ignores the raised voices from the room behind her. It is a family affair. She will not intervene unless asked.

It's like watching a movie. Andi can see Charles and Maddie, a young man she assumes is Gabe. Wait... Congresswoman Knight is his mother? And the President was attacked? She remembers when that happened!

Andi?

Pablo?

Do you see what I'm seeing?

Suddenly, she has a split screen viewing of two memories. On one screen is the Adventures of Madeline and Gabriel; on the other...

It's spring and Denver is always beautiful in the spring. She looks out her dorm window, not really seeing anything that she's looking at. It's a sunny, warm day, yet she has her arms wrapped tightly around herself as though she'll never be warm again. It's been nearly a year since her body betrayed her and killed her child; nearly a year since she said goodbye to Jared. The news on the radio, on the television, in the papers... about what is happening back East... she's so terrified. Has it even been six months since Randy attacked her? Oh, Great Spirit, if someone can treat her like that for simply being Diné, what would happen if people discovered she is Cursed? Maybe she should have gone back to Flagstaff for Spring Break. Maybe she should have gone home, and never come back. She would be safer closer to the Navajo Nation.

# # #

"Come on, Garcia, time to go see your favorite DU student," Denise says.

Pablo doesn't look up from the report he's writing. "It's Spring Break, Jackson. And she's not my favorite."

Denise laughs. "Then how come you know who I'm talking about, you lunkhead? And a little birdie told me she stayed in town this time around."

Pablo looks over at the laughing eyes of his partner. "Fine. She's my favorite. Student. At DU. Are you happy now?"

"What's got you in such a pissy mood, partner? The sun's shining, the birds are singing, the weather prognosticators don't think we'll see a spring snowstorm this year!

Denise... always cheerful, always optimistic.

Outside the double feature visions, Pablo gasps and his hand tightens around Andi's. Although he's probably only seeing the one movie... well, this particular one is more than enough.

"It's Elvia... well, Julio, really," he says with a sigh. "He's been pretty sick lately, and Elvi's worried." He shrugs.

"Ah, got it. When your family's worried, you're worried. See? I know you." She squeezes Pablo's shoulder. "The tyke will pull through, I'm sure. He's a year old now, isn't he?"

"Will be, next month," Pablo replies.

"Those little ones are tough critters. And your sister's kid needs to be even tougher to be able to breathe the crap they call air out there in LA," she says, clearly baiting him.

"It's no worse than..." He stops and looks at her, then shakes his head. "You're a pain in the ass, Jackson."

"Why ya love me, Garcia," she says. "Now put the report folder away and buckle your seatbelt."

Pablo rolls his eyes at her, but closes the metal case and slides it into the slot between the seats. "Where are we going again?" he asks, buckling up.

"To see your girlfriend." She puts the squad car into drive and pulls out of the Albertson's parking lot.

"She's not my girlfriend!"

"Uh huh. You keep telling yourself that, Garcia. I know you better than you know you, apparently." She takes a quick glance at him before turning her eyes to the traffic on Colorado Boulevard. "Past three years, you were dating lovely women at least twice — sometimes three or four or five times — a month. You haven't been on a single date since you laid eyes on that girl."

Pablo opens his mouth to protest.

"Oh, nuh uh, my friend! Just zip it." She turns and looks at him with a grin when she stops at the red light. "Your lips, I mean."

Unfortunately, Andi is still getting the double feature.

The hours seem to drag when one is on a death watch, hoping and praying that their loved one recovers... that they fend off the chill touch of Charon coming with his boat. For those tasked with the duty to guard, it is an even longer, more boring wait... until 02:21, when Mitchell puts his hand to his earpiece, his sleeve microphone next to his mouth.

"Please repeat that, sir," he says.

Madeline had put herself into a pseudo-trance, something learned during long years in the field and even longer days and nights. Sometimes you don't dare sleep, but you have to rest somehow. It is easier when you have a partner, someone to watch your back and share the watch. But she doesn't have one anymore. The others here can't be trusted, not with the secrets she and Gabriel know. Mitchell's movement registers, but it is his voice that brings her out of the trance and into readiness. She surreptitiously flips off the safety locks on her guns.

"Yes, sir... acknowledged." Mitchell nods to his partner and they turn to face Madeline, hands on their weapons, but not yet drawn. "Ma'am, I must insist that you surrender your weapons. I am to place your charge under arrest."

Madeline reaches behind her and opens the door, then shakes out her shoulders and shifts to a fighter's stance. "It isn't going to happen," she tells them, then calls out, "Time to go, Gabriel."

The two Secret Service agents start to swing their mini-Uzis up into position from where they had been hanging from the shoulder straps. "We must insist. Disarm, or we will use deadly force."

Should have brought the knives, Madeline thinks, breaking into a run toward Mitchell and his partner. Two strides in, she leaps into a flying roundhouse, her voice calling out, "NOW, GABE!"

She connects with the side of Mitchell's head. There is a sickening crack and the man falls like a cut tree, bumping into his partner, which knocks the man's aim off so that the slugs from his gun only hit Madeline in the left arm and not in the chest. One bullet goes in and out, sending a shocking amount of pain ripping up her nerves. People in the hospital start screaming.

Her body is still in rotation as she comes down, landing on the foot that had delivered the first kick and swinging the other up and around to kick the second guard heel first. Her back heel kick straightens the second Secret Service agent right up, connecting under his chin with massive damage.

The man is barely still conscious when a metal bedpan comes flying and cracks him right in the forehead with a loud thunk. The man topples over backward. Nurses and patients have disappeared and both of them can hear booted feet running toward their location.

They are in a Naval hospital with armed guards, after all. And those running feet would be the military police.

Madeline snags the Uzis from both guards. No sense leaving behind good weapons.

"Haul ass, Gabe," she says, breaking into a run and heading away from the sound of the approaching boots, toward the nearest fire exit.

He watches the man fall, his eyes wide, but he snaps out of it. With one last sad look at the room where his family is, Gabriel turns and runs after her. He keeps his eyes and ears open, looking for danger, but if he sees any medical supplies — especially bandages or drugs left out in the panic — he'll grab them. He hasn't missed the fact that Sifu Madeline is bleeding.

He is right behind Madeline and spots a cart with supplies on it. He's able to grab a box of gauze and some tape as he goes by, but there is no disinfectant. They are running further into the hospital, and the military police are coming at them from the elevator shaft area. Logic dictates that there are at least two sets of stairs, one at each end of the building.

Madeline's eyes dart around as they run. She spots a tall linen cart in one of the alcoves and takes a quick moment to say, "Gabe, grab a couple of sheets."

He stuffs the gauze and tape into his pockets and grabs the sheets as instructed. He isn't sure what they're for — maybe they can use them to blind the guards?

Madeline slams the emergency exit door open with her right hip and bursts into the stairway, immediately assessing the area for threats. She hears a doorway below slam open, followed by the tramp of boots.

Gabriel skids to a stop when he hears the stamping boots in the stairwell.

"Go up, wait for them to come onto this floor, go down?" he asks quietly.

"Take one," she says softly, hold out the Uzis. "Up. Go."

He takes the gun, eyes wide — he doesn't know how to use it and isn't sure he wants to. But he had said that he would do whatever she told him to do. He would just keep his finger off the trigger. He goes up the stairs, taking two steps for each long stride.

Madeline follows Gabe up but more slowly. She adjusts her grip on the Uzi, concentrating on climbing. She sees him reaching the landing on the next floor.

"Hold it open."

He nods and pulls the door open.

Madeline comes up to the door and holds her left arm in such a way that blood drips on the threshold. "Gabriel, take the other gun, give me a sheet."

Realizing he has absolutely no clue what she is intending, he does as instructed, trading a sheet for another of those dangerous looking weapons.

"Stay here... keep the door open."

She steps through the open door, avoiding the blood on the threshold, and goes several feet down the hallway to the first patient room... leaving a trail of blood. Then she wraps the sheet around her left arm and returns, stepping carefully so as not to track back the blood. Now back at the stairwell, she tells Gabriel, "Close it softly and up another floor. I'll take one of those guns back."

Smiling grimly, he hands her the gun back and then closes the door carefully. When he starts up the next set of stairs, he does so very quietly, hoping any sounds he makes will be drowned out by the noise the guards are making below.

They can hear booted feet pounding up the stairs, flight after flight as they creep up to the seventh floor. The door is steel with a small wire-reinforced glass panel. She pauses to consider, listening to the sounds of the feet below.

"One more."

He nods and follows her instructions.

At the eighth floor landing, Madeline leans against the wall beside the door. "Look in... is anyone on this end of the hallway?"

He nods and looks out the window. Not seeing anyone, he takes a deep breath, hides the gun behind the extra sheets he's still holding, and opens the door to peer out. He pokes his head back into the stairwell.

"Just an orderly, hands full," he whispers to her.

"Go quietly, try to slip into the first room. Hopefully, it's unoccupied."

She needs to stop, to do something more about the arm. She follows close behind him and uses her foot to ease the door to the stairwell closed. They approach the first patient room they see.

Madeline sighs with relief when they find the room empty. She sits on the bed and begins undoing her belt. "Gabriel, put that stuff down. I need your help with this."

He closes the door behind them and does as she says, although he looks a little worried. "We can't stay long. Are you hurt bad?"

"I know. But I need to check the damage, stop the bleeding."

She slides her webbed belt off and holds it out to Gabriel, then unwraps the sheet from her arm and lays it on the bed. She says, "Help me take off my jacket and shoulder holster. You'll need to put the belt around my arm, just at the armpit, and pull it as tight as you can then lock it into place."

He deposits the extra sheets and Uzi on the unoccupied bed and goes over to her. He knows this is going to hurt her, but he also knows those gunmen are ready to kill them both... and pain is better than death.

"Okay, here we go," he says solemnly.

He helps her with the clothing, saying, "I found some bandages if you want to use them instead of the belt."

Madeline grimaces in pain as the jacket comes off, then the holster. She takes deep, steadying breaths to push the pain back. "The bandages will be good at the exit and entry points, but I still need the belt to cut off flow from the artery. Do the belt first, then wrap the arm with the bandages at the wound itself."

Blue eyes widen again when he sees all the bright red blood — her black jacket had hidden just how much she'd bled. He swallows hard but takes the belt and does as she asks. He might have hesitated if not for his faith in her.

"They want to kill us because of the president, right?" he asks, perhaps to distract them both from the procedure. Once the belt is on tightly, he starts with the bandages, working as fast as he dares.

"Probably." With a hand, she stops him after the bandages are several layers thick. "That's enough. Just tear it and tuck it under. I need my jacket back on. And I've been worse."

He nods. He's scared, but somehow he can wall it off. Perhaps it's because he knows giving into it makes it more likely that they'll get hurt worse.

"Are you keeping the belt on?" he asks. It seems to him like she'd start to lose any use of the arm, but maybe they'll find a way out and it won't matter.

"Have to, can't spare much more blood."

He helps her get the holster and jacket back on. "Okay, what now?"

She takes another deep breath, once again pushing the pain away. She doesn't have time for it now. She looks around the room. "Check the closet for a bag. There should be at least one. We can put the guns in it. And put this bloody sheet in there, too."

She pushes up and goes into the small bathroom and turns on the water at the sink. She pulls her hair out of its bun and shakes it loose. A towel pulled from the rack goes around her shoulders and she runs water through her hair with her hand. That done, she pulls the towel more closely to her neck.

"Never thought I'd be wanting a hospital gown," she murmurs to herself.

Once done, she returns to the room.

Gabriel has found some plastic bags marked Patient Personal Belongings, and loads them up. While Madeline is in the bathroom, he also looks around for anything that can be used as a weapon — other than the guns, of course. He doesn't think he should be shooting those. When she returns, he tries a smile.

"Guess it's too far to the ground to make a rope out of the sheets."

She offers a little smile at his attempt to joke. "If the windows even opened.

"All right, we've been in here long enough. Let's head for the elevators. Keep your eyes open for a jacket or something that will fit you — scrubs even — hanging off a chair or whatever... and a wheelchair or free IV pole."

"I bet there's a supply closet," he says as he moves toward the door.

"Let's move along, Gabriel. If we see someone, we'll make it look like I'm a patient and you're helping me take a walk." Not too far from the truth...

He nods and moves so he can walk on her uninjured side. Even as they go for the elevators, he keeps searching for any of the items she'd mentioned. "What floor do we go to now? I bet they're all over the first."

"Basement, if we can, otherwise second... and then, somehow, to the truck."

They continue toward the elevators; it has only been about four minutes or so since the attack downstairs. The two fugitives make it to the elevator bank without incident, but their luck doesn't hold as far as finding a wheelchair or IV stand. Not in the hallways.

Madeline reaches over and pushes the call button as they come up to the elevators. As they wait, she keeps glancing down each hallway, watching for signs of pursuit. She doesn't hear the sounds of the boots coming up the stairs, but she knows that they are coming.

The ding of the elevator is loud in the stillness of the corridor, and the doors start to open.

Madeline twitches a bit at the volume of the elevator announcer, and she tenses as the door opens. She'll fight to her last breath if it comes to that but hopes that their luck will hold and they can make it to the basement.

The door opens on an empty elevator.

Gabriel exhales a breath he hadn't realized he had been holding, glances at Madeline, then walks into the elevator. It's so small, like a shiny metal trap. He glances around nervously, then up, looking for any exit other than the main door.

She doesn't like the elevator any more than Gabe's posture tells her that he does. But it's the fastest way down, and she needs to preserve what strength she has left. They still have to get off the base. She pushes the button for the basement. As the door slides closed, she leans against the back wall and closes her eyes.

Muzak is playing on the elevator... some terrible ballad of the 80s. If these are the last few minutes of their lives, 80s Muzak is not a pretty way to go out. The elevator light blinks and blinks, floor by floor. When it finally reaches the basement, the elevator stops. The Muzak version of Barry Manilow's Mandy is playing. The door begins to slide open.

It takes her too long to realize the elevator has stopped. When she opens her eyes, all she sees is the barrel and the finger on the trigger.

"Fuck."

Madeline might have spaced out a bit, but Gabriel hasn't. He had been getting more and more tense as the elevator lowered — and the bad music hasn't helped. He doesn't know if anything horrible is going to be waiting for them, but he expects it... and he has been right to.

He acts without any thought other than Madeline not getting shot. He chucks the bag he'd been holding against his chest hard, right into the gun to knock it away from her, then aims a kick right at the man's knees.

The bag flies at the man and misses horribly, landing with a clunk on the concrete about three feet to the man's right.

# # #

She hears footsteps down the hall. She shouldn't be hearing footsteps this early. The other three people on this floor who stayed over break are working all day.

She relaxes, however, when she recognizes the cadence of the footsteps. It's the DPD comedy duo of Jackson and Garcia. She sure could use some cheering up. She continues to stare out the window until Denise knocks on the door jamb.

"Come on in," Andrea says without looking around. "Just pile Deb's stuff on her bed."

She can hear Pablo clearing the pile of physics texts and notebooks from Deb's chair, pretending that they weigh considerably more than they do. He does that every time. And even today, it gets her to smile... a little.

Denise rests a land lightly on the co-ed's shoulder. "Girl, I can tell all is not right in your world. You look like you're trying to shrivel up and fly away. Come on, sit down and talk with us." She gently turns Andi toward her habitual place to sit when they visit... her bed. "Mr. Grumpy Pants here has been all out of sorts today because his sister's boy is sick. Please don't tell me you have a sister with a sick boy, too."

She looks between the two of them as Denise pulls Clara's chair over and sits beside Pablo.

"I don't have a sister."

She thought she's already told them that. Well, maybe she didn't.

"And my brother is fine. My cousins are fine.

Mama would have called if they weren't... if there were anything she should really worry about.

"Well, then," Denise says happily, "you don't have any excuse to be glum, now do you?"

She takes a deep breath. She can't tell them everything. Andrea trusts them, yes. Absolutely. But even her dorm room is too public to share this kind of secret. Instead...

"I've been watching the news. Reading the papers."

Denise raises her eyebrows. "Well, that's a foolish thing to do. The very least, you're going to get dyspepsia." She eyes Pablo. "Garcia, it would appear that the civilian has dyspepsia."

Pablo struggles to contain his worry about Andrea as he plays the game with Denise. Usually, she wishes he would stop worrying, but today... well, maybe today he has cause. "Dyspepsia? That your word of the day?" he asks.

"Yesterday's," Denise says. "Didn't get to use it. Want to hear today's?"

He rolls his eyes. "Probably not."

Denise grins and pats his arm. "Good boy." Then she turns to the young woman. "So which part of the news has you all tied up in knots, Andrea? Haven't seen you this upset since that night I wouldn't let Garcia take a swing at that Duncan boy."

"Hey! You were the one who nearly clocked him, Jackson!" Pablo protests. "Don't go besmirching my good name!"

"Oooh, nice one! 'Besmirch'... I like that."

"Oh, good grief," Pablo says with a sigh.

She manages a bit of a smile at their act. She really loves how they play off each other. Then she shakes her head and stares at her hands that are tightly clenched in her lap.

"The stuff going on out East. The president. The stuff about mutants. I... It's scary."

She can almost feel them exchanging glances.

"Reading the local news any?" Denise asks.

She just nods.

"It is fortunate the civilian had not made the connection between recent local events and the atmosphere of intolerance in our fair nation's Capital," Denise says to Pablo.

"If this is the greatest concern of the civilian, I am disappointed and at the same time relieved that the civilian did not make the connection," Pablo replies.

# # #

"Hey! Hey! I'm security! Not a robber! Relax, people," he says, holding his hands up, one of which is still holding the gun. "I didn't mean to scare you so bad, son. You okay?"

She couldn't help it... a snort of laughter escapes as her relief floods in. "Can you help us get to the parking area? I'm a little turned around after treatment."

Gabriel blinks, looking so confused that he might have been a cartoon. "Oh, wow. I'm sorry," he says, his face reddening with embarrassment, although he still isn't sure that he was wrong about the man. He decides that, unless the guard puts his gun away, he isn't going to trust him at all. It just seems safer. "I just... I've never had someone point a gun at me." Well, technically it's the truth...

"Yeah, sorry about that. We're under lockdown. I'm afraid that you have to remain here. The garage is locked up tight for now. There's a soda machine, though, right over there if you're thirsty, ma'am," he says, holstering his gun.

"Lockdown?" she repeats weakly. "But I need to get home..."

She pushes off the back wall of the elevator and takes a couple of steps toward the guard, and stumbles... starts to fall.

"Catch her!" Gabriel begs, knowing instinctively that Madeline is planning something to take the guard out.

Bob — or so his name tag says — reaches out to catch the attractive woman to keep her from hurting herself. "I've got you, ma'am!"

The Beretta is out and in Bob's gut in an eye blink. "No, Bob... I've got you. Now, get us out of here."

"Just cooperate. You'll be okay, I promise," Gabe says sincerely, looking impossibly innocent at the moment.

Bob's eyes widen and his mouth drops open. "HOLY SHIT! You two are the gunmen they're looking for?" he asks, totally in shock.

"Bastards. I didn't shoot anybody," Madeline says, and then with a meaningful look into Bob's eyes, adds, "Yet. Not shut your trap and get us out of here. Gabe, take his gun."

"They shot at us," the boy tells Bob sincerely, as he takes the man's gun. It's a little less scary than the Uzi. "My Mom's here hurt, and they shot at us." If he pauses to think about it anymore, he knows he'll get upset, so he steps back and picks up the bag, holding the gun in his other hand. "Please just get us out."

"Hey, I don't want any trouble. I can only get you to the outer gate of the parking garage. Sam is there on duty."

"All you have to do is get us to the garage and our vehicle, then I'll let you go," Madeline tells him.

"And don't touch your radio."

"Okay, lady, just keep cool, okay? I have a wife and kids," he says, pointing down a hallway toward a steel security door. "The garage is that way."

"Lead on," she says. "I'd like to get home to my kids, too."

"Are there any other guards down here?" Gabriel asks quietly, keeping an eye out on their surroundings.

"No! No one else down here. Please, please don't kill me," he says, walking to the door he had indicated and fumbling for his keyring.

"Stay cool, Bob, and you'll be fine. Be home to Mrs. Bob in no time."

The young man nods. "We're not the bad guys."

Bob finds the right key finally and, hands shaking, inserts it into the lock and turns it. He pulls the door open to reveal the parking garage. "Here you go. You said you wouldn't kill me..."

"You're coming with us to the car, Bob. Just a bit further. Gabe, the keys are in my left pants pocket. You'll have to get them."

"You are going to kill me... Oh, God, you are! I just know it! I knew I should have stayed at Best Buy!" he says, almost crying.

Madeline flips the gun in her hand to hold it by the barrel and hits Bob in the back of his head with all her strength. "Sorry, Bob, but better a headache than being dead."

She holsters the 9mm and then holds out her hand for the keys. "Keys. Gabe, pull him over there and wrap him up in the sheet. Make sure his mouth is covered."

He hands her the keys, sets down the things he's carrying, then picks up the poor man so he can deposit him somewhere safe. He doesn't want him accidentally hit by a car or anything.

Once he's in a safe spot, he wraps the man in a sheet until he looks like a mummy, tearing off one strip to tie over his mouth. Leaving the man leaning against a wall near a stairwell, he jogs back to the truck, picking up the bag and gun along the way. "What next?"

"Now, if our luck holds, we get the hell out of here. Climb in." Madeline pulls herself up into the driver's seat and turns the engine over. She looks at the various ways she can take to get out of the parking area. Like most parking garages, there appears to be only one way out, which is most likely locked down.

Gabe hops into the truck, puts the bag at his feet and the gun next to him on the seat. He clicks the seatbelt closed as she starts the truck, then takes the gun again. He doesn't know what to do with it, but he figures it's a bad idea to let it rattle around the cab. "If they're looking for two of us, should I duck in the back or something?" he asks as the thought strikes him. "Maybe they won't look as close if there's just one person."

There. The guard shack. From this angle, it's impossible to tell if it's staffed by civilians or Marines. Civilians would be the preference.

"That's true, Gabe. But if those are Marines up there, it won't make a difference. They tend to take their job more seriously." Casually, she backs the truck out and drives at the posted five miles per hour toward the exit.

"Be ready to hand me a gun if I call for it."

As they drive closer, Madeline can see that it is a Marine at the kiosk, alert and turning to watch the approaching vehicle.

Gabe nods, swallows, and makes sure the other guns are easily available, yet out of immediate sight. If they can somehow get through the gate without needing them, he doesn't want to be stopped because of them; he shrugs off his long sleeve shirt and puts it over the guns in his lap.

Madeline uses her right hand to pick up her left arm and puts it in place to steer. A small motion left to right is all she needs for now. That leaves her right hand free to hold a gun. She pulls the Beretta out and puts it in her lap.

There is a lone Marine at the kiosk, but with the roll-down gate in the down and locked position, he will need to raise the gate to let them pass. He is alert and professional; he won't be as easily swayed as Bob. Madeline lets the truck roll to the guard shack and looks at the soldier. In a supplicating tone, she asks, "Can we get out of here?"

"I'm sorry, ma'am. We're on lockdown. No one in or out. Please back up and park your vehicle," he said, his hand on the butt of his pistol.

Madeline looks down at the Beretta. This is why she has it ready. It is such a waste, damn fools. She puts the muzzle against the door in line with the Marine and fires, once.

The bullet punches through the door of the truck, leaving a bullet hole there, and into the body of the Marine, striking him center mass and spinning him around. He pulls out his gun and fires but misses her completely.

Back on the plane in Logan's arms, Madeline flinches. Of all the people she has killed over the years, that young Marine's death weighs on her the heaviest behind Rene.

Logan tightens his arms around her but doesn't pull her back. Through their bond, he knows she is sharing memories with their oldest, although all that registers with him are the feelings.

Andrea looks up at them, confused as well as scared. "What are you talking about?"

"I'm sure you read about the little kerfuffle we in the fine Police Department of this fair city had with some bad hombres of the Aryan extraction," Denise says, stretching out her legs and linking her fingers behind her head.

She nods. "Bad people... like Randy, only worse. Task force found then all, put some in jail, kicked the rest out of town."

"You didn't make a connection between them and the atmosphere of hatred and intolerance in Washington?" Pablo asks, surprised.

"Well... not really. I mean, the Aryans are equal opportunity haters, I thought. At least, that's what the press makes them out to be."

"The civilian has a point, Garcia. They are equal opportunity haters." Denise turns to me. "But this particular flavor of intolerant asshole was especially hateful about mutants. You know anything about mutants?"

CANNOT TELL THE TRUTH!

"Um, some. Got some folks in the Nation who were affected by the nuclear testing and stuff. Read about the Virus; some folks in Japan were affected by that. Well, folks everywhere, I guess, but I know I met a few in Japan."

"You know we have a lot of what they call Unfortunates out here? Up in Commerce City?"

She had sussed that out before she'd even been here a year, but she can't exactly admit that. "Really?"

"Yep, been walled off for... what? Ten years now?" Denise looks at Pablo.

He shrugs. "Not sure. Something like that, I guess. It was that way when I moved out here in '95."

"Right... keep forgetting you're a transplant. Anyway, it's an asshole thing to do, if you ask me, not that anyone's ever asked me," Denise says.

"No one needs to ask you, Jackson. You let your feelings be known on the matter with regularity." That oppressive worry that she sometimes feels from Pablo is aimed right at Denise.

And Denise just shrugs. "What can I say? My great something grandpappy done got brought over here and had to go 'round saying 'yes massa' and 'no massa'. I get riled when I see folks treated like that."

Andrea looks at her, and slowly begins to smile. And relax.

"I believe your imitation of your great something grandfather amused the civilian, Jackson."

She shakes her head. "No, it's not that. You helped me figure out part of why I'm so upset.

"I'm Diné, remember? Navajo? What did the white man do to my great something grandparents?

"The same thing the government is doing to all those people up in Commerce City, that's what. Except they probably don't call Commerce City a reservation."

"Nope... it's a fancy 'enclave'," Denise says.

"And all this stuff I'm reading is just reminding me that the white man killed off most of the people in most of the Nations. Oh, not directly, of course. But disease, and being forced from their homes onto those reservations didn't help them survive and prosper."

She takes a deep breath. There's a lot more to it than that, and maybe someday she'll be able to tell them about all the things that scare her and make her angry.

"I guess I get riled, too, when I see folks treated like that."

"There you go, Garcia! We have provided clarity and improved the civilian's mood by visiting today." She slaps the back of his head lightly. "Next time, listen to me when I tell you I know what I'm talking about."

"Yes, massa," he says, grinning.

Denise rolls her eyes as she sits up. "He's a smart ass," she says to Andrea.

"You taught me everything I know, Jackson," he says, snickering.

They all stand; Denise and Andrea hug.

Outside the vision, Andi can feel tears streaming down her face. She still misses that woman. Pablo has his face buried in her neck, which feels suspiciously damp. Andi knows he misses Denise at least as much as — probably more than — she does.

Pablo takes her hand and, in a very courtly manner, kisses it. "My Lady Andrea, until we meet again, I hope you remain of good cheer."

"He gets weirder every time," she says to Denise, to cover up her embarrassment... and the feelings that start stirring at his touch.

She nods. "He practices." She nudges Pablo's shoulder. "Let's go, Garcia. The civilian no doubt has things to do."

"The civilian was not doing anything when we arrived, Jackson."

"Now that we have brightened her day with our comedic expertise, I'm sure the civilian has a multitude of activities that need her attention."

She smiles at them. She tries to convince herself that she doesn't need their continued attention, but after every visit she's always so happy that they've dropped by. Today is no different. Yes, she's still scared about what's happening in Washington. Yes, she's still worried about anyone outside her family and Grandmaster Chen's school knowing the truth about her. But they have brightened her day.

"I hope your nephew feels better, Pablo," Andrea says as they leave the room.

"Thanks, Andrea. I'll pass the well wishes on to my sister."

"Now, Garcia... I think I promised to let you drive for the rest of the shift," Denise says as they walk down the hall towards the stairwell.

She stands in her doorway, leaning against the jamb, listening to them.

"Indeed you did, Jackson. So hand over the keys."

"If you scratch up our lovely patrol car, Garcia, the LT is going to be highly annoyed with you."

"No, he won't. I'll just blame it on you, Jackson."

"You have a black heart, Garcia," Denise says, laughing, before the stairwell door closes behind them.

# # #

Madeline gets out of the truck as quickly as possible and goes to the kiosk, Beretta ready. She uses her left hand to turn the knob, every muscle screaming in agony, and pulls the door open, staying behind it. She moves around the door then, ready to fire again if necessary.

"Stand down, Marine."

He is lying in a pool of blood but his Beretta is level and waiting while he reaches for his shoulder mic with his other hand. "Fuck you. Put it down or die, bitch!"

He clicks the mic open.

The Marines she had known were tough bastards, and this one could stand shoulder to shoulder with them. She notices the open mic, has to choose her actions carefully. She spins back around the door, kicks it shut, and fires down through the open window. The Marine's shot goes wide again, but Madeline's drills him right in the upper chest, killing him. The young Marine now dead, Madeline enters the booth to unlock and open the gate. She holsters her Beretta, shuts down his shoulder mic, and takes the radio. She also takes the two seconds needed to close his eyes.

"I'm sorry, son."

She takes his service pistol as well, tucking it into the back of her waistband and returns to the truck, her face stony. She doesn't look at Gabe. She puts the truck in gear and pulls through the gate, a single silent tear sliding down her cheek. The gate opens onto Brown Road, a small two lane road behind the hospital.

Madeline can see flashing lights coming toward the hospital, and military vehicles going by on the street to the right at the end.

She tries to judge the distance of the flashing lights, but it's difficult at night. She leaves the headlights off and pulls through the gate, turning toward the right, looking for signs to indicate the nearest base exit. They had an escort to the parking area when they'd arrived and had come in on the opposite side of the garage. Madeline drives out onto Palmer Road and joins the sporadic traffic there, leaving the flashing lights arriving at the medical center in her rearview mirror. Palmer Road curves around until it eventually connects to Grier Road and then the highway.

They're free.

She has to do something about the bullet holes in her arm. Half of them she knows she can stitch up herself if it comes down to it, but she can't reach the back. Someone will have to do that for her. She doesn't dare go to any hospital or clinic. They're obligated to report GSWs. She has no idea if there is an APB or BOLO out on them. She opts to err on the side of caution, knowing they need to go to ground. But where? Everything here is a bit too nice and pristine for the kind of people she needs. She heads northeast, keeping her eyes open for a twenty four hour drugstore of some kind.

In this day and age of drugstores on nearly every corner — at least, it seems so — it doesn't take long before she finds one... a CVS that's open twenty four hours a day. She can see one other car in the parking lot. She can also feel the bandage on her arm is getting soaked. She pulls off the highway into the CVS lot.

"Stay in the truck, Gabe. Stay out of sight."

One older woman alone at this time of the day is a lot less likely to attract attention. She gets out of the truck and walks into the store, taking a shopping cart with her. Two boxes of hair dye, shades of red for both of them, hair scissors, rubbing alcohol, rolls of gauze, ibuprofen, bandage tape, a sling, needles, heavy duty nylon thread, sewing scissors, a pack of Bic lighters, PowerBars, and orange juice... she rolls up to the checkout and puts everything on the counter.

"Must have someone just out of the hospital, huh?" the woman behind the counter says in a conversational tone as she rings everything up.

Madeline shrugs and stifles a yawn that isn't feigned. "Yeah. It's exhausting. What's the total?"

She pulls the wallet from her back pocket and pays the woman, then goes back out to the truck. Madeline opens the door and lifts the bags one at a time. She sees Gabriel curled up in the back, but says nothing for the moment. She had never intended to bring any of them into her world. She imagines it's a worse shock to him than it had been for her to transition to Xavier's ways. Getting in the truck, she looks around at the surrounding area. A motel would be good. There should be some along the highway somewhere. As she starts up the engine, she quietly says, "I'm sorry, Gabriel."

"Do you think my family's okay?" he asks, his voice a little shaky, not realizing what she is apologizing for.

"I don't know. I hope so." Some small part of her thinks it might be true that they're okay.

"What do we do now? If they came after me, do you think they went to the school, too?"

"I'm afraid I don't have any answers right now, Gabriel. We need to find a safe place for a bit." She pulls out of the parking lot and drives to the highway, watching for a motel of some kind.

"I've still got my phone," he offers.

"That's good. Hang on to it. I have mine as well," she says. "We still need a place to stay for a bit."

"How are you doing?" he asks; he hasn't forgotten that she's hurt. "Is that why we're going to stop?"

She smiles in spite of herself. He still has concern for her after all that's happened. She hopes he doesn't lose that part of his nature. "That's part of it. We also need to get some rest."

"Maybe tomorrow, once we figure out where we're going, we can see if I remember how to drive," he says. "That way we can take turns resting."

"That's a good idea, Gabriel. Good thinking. Keep your eyes open for a place to stop."

"Will do."

He rests his arms against the back of the passenger seat and, resting his chin on his arms, he looks out at the road. They change from one really big road to another and, at first, Gabriel isn't sure if he'll be able to see anything. But then he realizes that there are signs that tell motorists what amenities are at the upcoming exits.

"That one has something called a Comfort Inn," he says, pointing at the sign.

"That'll do."

She pulls off the highway and into the motel's parking lot.

"Hang back. I'll get us a room."

Inside, she rings the bell for night service and tells the attendant she'll take whatever is available. There is a room on the first floor that is vacant. She signs in and prepays in cash, then takes the keys and leads Gabe to their room. Once inside, he puts everything down on the small table.

"How can I help?" he asks, nodding toward her arm.

"I need to get to it. Jacket and holster like before, and the bandages." She looks around. "Probably best in the bathroom. Bring the needles, thread, and alcohol, along with the bandages.

"Okay. Like before," he says with a serious nod. He steps in to help her, his movements as gentle as possible. He bites his lip, however, when he sees the blood soaking the bandages they had put on before. He turns to get the supplies she needs, then rejoins her in the bathroom.

"Here you go."

She turns over one of the convenience cups. "Pour alcohol in there and put the curved needle in it." She experimentally pulls at her shirt sleeve.

"Figured as much.

"We'll need the scissors and one of the lighters, too. And the ibuprofen."

"This is the lighter, right?" he asks, holding one up.

"Yes, that's the lighter." She turns on the hot water and puts a washcloth in the sink.

Once he is sure he has everything, he returns with the last three items. He sets them down on the counter next to her and waits for more instructions.

She nods. "Give me four of those pills, then cut my sleeve off."

He counts them out and hands them to her, then picks up the scissors. She swallows the pills dry hoping that, with the empty stomach, they will kick in quickly. He cuts the sleeve off her t-shirt with care, making sure not to cut her skin or aggravate the wound. She grinds her teeth as Gabriel pulls the material away from the wounds, starting a fresh round of bleeding. He drops the bloody material in the trash can and sets the scissors aside.

"Okay," he says.

She holds up her arm to look in the mirror, front and back. "At least it's a through and through. This is going to hurt..." She hands him the bucket. "Ice. I'm going to need it."

Madeline then holds her arm over the sink and starts washing it off with the now steaming hot washcloth. She keeps up a stream of little expletives in several languages as she does so.

"Do you want me to hand you a piece when you're ready?" he asks when he returns with the ice. Maybe conversation, any conversation, might help.

"It's for the swelling later... Cut off an arm's length of the thread and thread the curved needle with it. We get to do this the old-fashioned way."

"Oh." He puts down the ice bucket on the counter and picks up the thread, cutting the length she needs. He isn't sure what it's for.

She drops the cloth back into the sink and picks up the rubbing alcohol, briefly considering taking a swig. She pours it over and into the front wound and hisses at the pain.

"You'll have to get the back."

He simply watches and winces as she pours the alcohol into the wound. "Okay," he says, holding out his hand for the bottle. "I know it will hurt; I'm sorry."

"Welcome to basic field... medicine 101," Madeline tries to joke as the alcohol sears into the other wound. Tears stand out in her eyes and she blinks rapidly. "Is the needle threaded? Tie a fat knot on the end."

He winces but doesn't close his eyes. He knows he has to get this right — it's too important to be squeamish about it. He knots the string a few times to make it larger, then holds it out for her to inspect. "Good?"

She nods. "Now... watch closely. I won't be able to reach the other side."

She takes a few deep, steadying breaths and begins the stitching. Two stitches in, she lets the needle hang and grabs another towel. This one she bites down on. Then she takes up her stitching again.

By the time she is done with the several stitches needed, she is bathed in sweat and tears flow down her face. She leans forward and rests her head on the sink, whimpering softly. For some reasons, this part always hurts worse than the initial damage.

When she is done, he puts a hand on hers, the only comfort he can give her. "I'm sorry," he says softly.

Pablo brushes his lips against Andi's neck. "I don't understand what happened, but I haven't thought about that day in years," he whispers.

I'm not sure I can explain it. I'm tapped into one of Maddie's memories... I think that's what triggered ours. It was the same day. Why I'm tapped into hers... She pauses, snuggling closer to Pablo while still seeing Maddie and Gabe. Field surgery. Oh, joy. She is so glad that she has a healing factor. I think it has something to do with collecting memories when I touch people's auras deeply enough.

God, that must be awful, love!

Not really. I don't even know the memories are there most of the time unless something triggers them. It seems Leon triggered this... although there was something odd about it. I think. And that's how we got your memories of that day, too. I probably have memories in my head of things you've totally forgotten. And Denise teased you about me? I never knew that! It's sweet.

She holds the needle out to Gabriel. "The back now."

He threads the needle anew. Best get this done and over with, and let her get some sleep. He is determined to stay awake and guard her as best he can.

"Okay, ready?" he asks gently. When she nods, he takes a deep breath, bites his lower lip, and begins.

Somehow, the boy has steady hands for which Madeline is very grateful. She forces herself to stay still, but she can't help the cries of pain that escape into the towel.

When his is finished, she hangs her head and sobs into the towel. It takes her several long minutes to get her breathing back to normal again. She desperately wishes for Vicodin or Darvocet or morphine.

"Ice... in a towel... and a bag... on the stitches."

"Anything you need," he says, his voice strained but determined. He moves quickly to get her everything she needs. He makes two bags, one for each side of the wound. "I could wrap a towel around it, to keep them there. If you lay down, they should stay."

She nods. It sounds like a good idea, assuming she even has the strength to stand up. "Will need to wrap it in gauze and tape..."

"Should I do that first, then the ice?" he asks.

"Yes, the wrap then the ice... and quickly, please."

"Let me get you to the bed, and then I'll get you whatever else you need, okay?" he says.

"All right."

She is fading fast, barely able to keep her eyes open.

He offers her his shoulder to lean on. She stands up, takes a step, then starts to fall. They only get a few feet before he feels her starting to crumple. He acts quickly, without thinking, and kneels with her as she goes down. He doesn't let her get to the floor, but instead gets his other arm under her knees and lifts her up.

If nothing else, Gabriel is strong. He gets her to the bed and lays her down gently.

Even through the fog of exhaustion and pain, she asks, "Gun?"

"Where do you want me to put them? And do you want a pillow under your arm?" It seems to him like it will be more comfortable.

She taps her right hand on the bed. "My hand, the Glock... big black one I wore... yes, pillow."

"Okay, I'm going to lift your arm. I'll be gentle, but it'll hurt," he says apologetically. He does as he says, getting the pillow under her as quickly as he can without jarring her. Once that's done, he arranges the ice so it will still be on the wounds, yet also be as comfortable as possible.

She smiles at him weakly. "Thanks. If you need to wake me... put your hand on my right shoulder... or I might shoot you."

"Okay. You sleep now. If you need anything, just ask," he says quietly.

She drifts off to sleep...

...then to that other place...

She is so caught up in the memory that she can't stop the progression. The nightmare pulls her in, and with her Leon and her empathic daughter are also pulled in. The blood drains from Leon's face and Emelia and Vincent both wake with a scream of terror as their mother screams. Rene suddenly appears and rips Leon away from Madeline, ungently tumbling him to the side.

Leon, what have you done?? he asks rhetorically, taking Madeline's face in his hands.

"Gods, no... Maddie..."

Pablo doesn't get a chance to respond to Andi's last comment, however, because she is being dragged into Maddie's nightmare as well. Her body begins convulsing, her head slamming into his face. If his nose isn't broken, it's certainly bleeding enough to give a good imitation of a broken nose.

Her mind on the other hand...

The horror, the pain, the abject terror shock her into near paralysis for an instant.

No, no, no... Maddie!! Maddie, dear Sister, it's not real! It's a nightmare, it's not real!

Madeline is too consumed by it, however, to hear Andi... to even know she's there. It's not like trying to convince Pablo his nightmares aren't real is an easy thing, either. And she's never been inside one, trying to make the case that the experience isn't real.

This feels too fucking real.

RENE! RENE, CAN YOU HEAR ME?? We need an extraction squad here, buddy!

We have heard you, Warrior, but cannot help. You are in a place we cannot... we cannot find. It sounds like Fox.

Duh. Maddie's got me sucked into her nightmare and if somebody doesn't snap her out of it pretty damn fast, Maddie's going to suck me into Maddie... and then I'm going to be really fucked. Probably literally. Oh, yeah... insane, too.

Our sibling Rene is attempting to reach her; but he is... finding it more difficult than it should be.

Well, tell him to fucking hurry up and figure it out!

Ninja starts pulling qi around herself — around her mind? — trying to shield herself from Maddie's nightmare. She pulls even more qi, wrapping it around herself, trying to wedge it between Maddie and The Nightmare. She pulls more qi to herself than she has probably ever done before. Father Sky is happy to share everything he has, everything he is.

Outside the nightmare, Andi's body is rigid... eyes open wide, seeing nothing... blood trickles from her nose.

The cabin lights flicker. Lightning flashes dangerously close to the little plane.

Leon sits where he has been tossed by his father, his face still ashen and eyes wide with horror. He had seen enough of his mother's nightmare to realize what had been happening. It's not until after Rene physically separates them that he realizes it's more than a dream, that it's an older and deeper memory...

"Mama!" Em cries out, tears streaming from tightly closed eyes. "Mama!"

Vin is sitting up next to her and trying to shake her awake, tears of his own streaming down his face. "Em! Wake up, Em! Papa!"

Logan gives Madeline over to Rene and goes immediately to the twins. Em's hands flex, her bone claws extending and retracting.

"Back up, Vin," he says.

The boy scoots over to make room for their father, who picks up his sister and cradles her against him. Logan has no need to worry about Em's claws. He holds his other arm up for Vin to come in close. His communication becomes a series of chuffs and grunts, talking to Em's feral nature.

The two flight attendants come stumbling out from the back, having been jolted awake by the screams. They look around in surprise and shock.

"Oh, my God," Cherie exclaims, seeing the blood all over Pablo.

Her partner looks around and seeing Andi lying catatonic on the floor. The big scary man with the sideburns... Logan... is seeing to the younger children. The other man... Pablo... is bleeding profusely from his nose. And... where the hell did he come from??

"Cherie, get a towel and ice for him," he orders, pointing to Pablo.

"Right..." she replies, snapping out of her shock and rushing back to the galley.

Davis is about to address Rene...

Maddie! Maddie! Madeline!! Rene calls to her, but gets no response.

That worries him. He has always been able to reach her, wake her. There is definitely something different this time. He keeps sending his thoughts and his love to her but looks for his son.

"Leon?"

When there is no response, he snaps his name out in his command voice, "Leon!"

The teen flinches but looks at him.

"Can you contact Xavier from here?"

"I don't know."

"Try. I need his help."

"It's late. He's probably asleep..."

"Do it!"

"Sir?" Davis asks. "Do we need to land the plane?"

Rene is about to say no when he sees the flash of lightning outside the window. "Leave that up to the pilot. Can you call a ground line from here?"

"Of course, sir. I'll get the phone for you."

"Give it to the boy," he says as he checks Madeline's pockets and finally comes up with her cell phone. "This too."

Davis takes the cell phone and goes to get the air phone, and Rene returns his attention to Madeline.

"Maddie, please hear me," he begs. Maddie, I'm here. Come to the harbor, Maddie. Maddie!

The stench of sweat, unwashed bodies and stale alcohol fill her nostrils along with what she knows is her own blood and urine. Leering faces hang over her...

She screams and cries and tries to kick, and they hold her down and laugh and another takes his turn.

No! Papa! Help me! Papa!

Leon concentrates and tries to reach out to Professor Xavier but to no avail.

"Please, Professor," he pleads, "hear me."

Still, there is no answer. He tries again.

"I can't reach him, Papa," he says, sounding like a small boy. "Maybe Aunt Andi..."

Rene does not look at him, merely points to the prone figure of Andrea Yazzie. "I think she's stuck in there with your mother."

"She is," Cat announces, appearing next to Madeline and scooting in close and offering, "I will try to help too, sibling Rene."

The plane bounces as it hits turbulence, and the pilot comes over the intercom asking them to buckle up. Cherie is just coming back with the towel and ice for Pablo as it happens, but she manages to catch herself on one of the seatbacks. She gets to Pablo and hands it all to him. "Need you to buckle up, sir."

Davis holds on through the rough ride and makes his way back to Leon, giving him both phones. He begins to explain how to use the air phone...

Pablo takes the towel and drops the ice in the glasses still on the small tables. Most of the healing is finished; as Andi had promised, the itching is a bitch and a half. He wipes as much blood off his face as he can with the slightly damp towel, then drops it on the nearest table. He looks at the flight attendant, anger and fear in his eyes.

"No. I do not need to buckle up."

Kneeling beside his wife, he feels completely out of his element. Yes, he's seen catatonic people before... and his job as a patrol officer had been to stay with them until the EMTs arrived. Some long ago instructor — or maybe it had been one of the more compassionate EMTs — had said talking to them, holding their hands or patting their shoulders could help. Maybe. If anything could, maybe that could.

He takes one of her icy cold, limp hands in his and prays. It isn't something he often did, and the last time he'd prayed was when Denise...

He won't think about that. Madre Maria, ayúdame a encontrar a mi esposa.

"Andi... Andi, come back." Oh God, Andi, please... please come back!

Papa's not here, my little one, but your avenging angel is.

Her anger and fury are monumental, and Father Sky lets her hold as much energy as she wants. She wants it all. Her thoughts, her phantom hands, wrap around the man who is hurting her sister.

Die, she says to him. Die as you burn by my hands, and burn for all eternity in the Hell the followers of the Christ speak so fondly of. DIE!

The qi that Father has been giving her pours out of her hands and first cooks the man's brain before melting the flesh from his bones. She laughs.

Another flash of lightning comes much too close to the plane.

Pablo cries out in pain as a jolt of energy flares from Andi's hand, burning his. "Andi, stop!" Healing skin is easier than cartilage; after a moment, both hands are wrapped around her hand again.

Under her other hand that lies limp on the floor, a hole has been burned in the carpet.

Come, you pigs! Come die by my hands of fire and pain! Come, let me roast you slowly, so your agony is prolonged forever.

Father gives her all the energy she wants. Her eyes burn with the anger of every woman who has suffered at the hands of a man.

Warrior? The voice is far off, and familiar.

Not now... I'm busy. People to kill, you see.

She grabs more energy, wrapping it around herself... wrapping it around Maddie.

Nobody hurts my Sister and gets away with it.

Cat looks up at Rene. "The Warrior is... is perhaps not well. She is trying to protect Madeline from those who wish to harm her. She is... trying to kill them all." The Spirit looks out the window as another flash of lightning streaks by. "She is asking Father Sky for his energy, and he gives it willingly. He does not understand. He cannot understand."

I will walk through the fire, for where else can I turn?
I will walk through the fire and let it burn.

She growls and hisses at the Evil Ones.

Maddie, Maddie... come play in the fire with me. Let us watch them burn. Let us watch them all burn.

Fire is pretty, don't you think, Maddie?

"Can we stop her?" Pablo asks Cat.

Cat just rubs its head along Maddie's cheek.

"We don't know how," Fox says from behind him.

As always happens with the nightmare, she is caught in the early days of her captivity, never able to progress to the next stage of catatonic acceptance and defeat. All she can hear is the sound of her own screams. The thing that triggers her anger and calls the madness never happens. It's an endless loop until she comes out of REM...

These memories came before while she had slept, but she had not been sleeping this time, but reliving a memory. No one here knows what happens next that day ten years ago. They cannot supply the next piece of the puzzle.

Leon takes the air phone and with shaking hands dials the number of the school, only to get the answering service. Then he realizes why his father had made sure he has his mother's phone. The Professor's personal line. He scrolls through her speed dial to look up the number and punches it in. It seems like forever before it is answered.

"Madeline?" asks the sleepy but still cultured voice.

"No, Professor, it's me," he says, his voice small. "Something's wrong with Mom. Papa needs your help."

"Where are you?"

"In a plane..." he answers, staring out the window at the ever closing lightning.

"I'll be present momentarily."

The line clicks closed.

"He's coming," Leon says.

Rene tries to reach through the haze of madness with both his voice and his mind and his heart, but he knows she has to be ready to reach out to him before it will work. All he can do for Maddie is wait for the opportunity to reach her. The landscape of her mind is chaotic and dangerous, but primarily to herself. Maybe, though, maybe he can reach Andi.

Ninja! he calls to her. Sister! Hear me! Ninja!

Sweat stands out on his brow and soaks his shirt as he tries desperately to reach either one of them.

Pablo can do nothing but hold desperately to Andi's hand. That he risks further injury is a thought that crosses his mind, and is then discarded as irrelevant. Like Rene, he tries to push past Madeline's madness to find Andi, to touch her mind and heart.

He knows, only on an instinctive level, that there is — there must be — a way to reach her through their Bond. But he doesn't understand the qi, the way the energies flow, as she does. Still, he can't not try. He reaches out with all that he is... his soul to her soul, for they are One soul.

Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand?
Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible to feeling as to sight?
Or art thou but a dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?

Yes, a false creation! How clever of the Librarian to see it. And what oppresses her Sister's brain that causes this false creation? Memories, only memories. Oh, but memories so foul that the stench of them might linger a lifetime or more.

Why? Oh yes, she does ask that question. Why must the memories linger? Why can memories not be changed?

Ah, the one who knows the ways of universal energies knows that memories are those things burned into the mind. Memories fade, memories can be removed... does it change the essence of the person who holds the memories when those memories fade, when those memories are removed?

Sometimes, perhaps.

Memories light the corners of my mind. Memories may be beautiful, and yet what's too painful to remember we simply choose to forget.

A person is more than their memories. There is someone she knows who has lost so many memories. Who? No matter... for even without the full portion of memories, she recalls him as a good person, and good husband, a good father.

So, again she must ask, why must these memories be allowed to remain? They do not seem to do good for her Sister, they cause only the greatest of harm.

What? What is this deception? Who would send love in this place?

Love. Can love exist here?

Surely it must, for she feels it, she feels flooded and overwhelmed by it.

Has she been Singing the wrong Song? Perhaps. Perhaps it is time to change the tune. She cannot stop trying to defend her Sister... it is who she is, the one who protects. But they, the memories, they do not stop either.

She will take the energy Father Sky has given her, continues to give her, and will wrap both of them in its terrible power... But Kali will be banished, Kali will burn no more. Quan Yin will lend her love and compassion to the force that surrounds them. How can evil touch them, when they are burning with the fire of love?

Maddie... Maddie, my beloved Sister, I love you. You are loved, you have always been loved, you will always be loved. Peace be to you, beloved. Peace. Come to my arms, beloved, and forget this terror for all time. Peace, my love. Peace.

And what is this? Voices now? No, one voice... insistent, nattering and nattering.

I am Ninja. I am here. I protect. I will not leave my beloved Sister alone.

Arms wrapped around the young girl who cries and cries, in terror and in pain, she begs Father to give her the energy to stand between her Sister and the memories that haunt her. And she Sings...

I raise my arms to the sky
On my knees I pray
I'm not afraid anymore
I will walk through that door
Walk, dance, rise
Walk, dance, rise

I can see a world where we all live
Safe and free from all oppression
No more rape or incest or abuse
Women are not a possession

You've never owned me, don't even know me
I'm not invisible, I'm simply wonderful
I feel my heart for the first time racing
I feel alive, I feel so amazing

I dance because I love
Dance because I dream
Dance because I've had enough
Dance to stop the screams
Dance to break the rules
Dance to stop the pain
Dance to turn it upside down
It's time to break the chain, oh yeah
Break the chain
Dance, rise
Dance

In the middle of this madness, we will stand
I know there is a better world
Take your sisters and your brothers by the hand
Reach out to every woman and girl

This is my body, my body's holy
No more excuses, no more abuses
We are mothers, we are teachers
We are beautiful, beautiful creatures!

I dance because I love
Dance because I dream
Dance because I've had enough
Dance to stop the screams
Dance to break the rules
Dance to stop the pain
Dance to turn it upside down
It's time to break the chain, oh yeah
Break the chain, oh yeah
Break the chain

Dance, rise
Dance, rise

Sister, won't you help me? Sister, won't you rise?
Sister, won't you help me? Sister, won't you rise?
Sister, won't you help me? Sister, won't you rise?
Sister, won't you help me? Sister, won't you rise?

Dance, rise
Dance, rise

Sister, won't you help me? Sister, won't you rise?
Sister, won't you help me? Sister, won't you rise?
Sister, won't you help me? Sister, won't you rise?
Sister, won't you help me? Sister, won't you rise?

This is my body, my body's holy
No more excuses, no more abuses
We are mothers, we are teachers
We are beautiful, beautiful creatures!

I dance because I love
Dance because I dream
Dance because I've had enough
Dance to stop the screams
Dance to break the rules
Dance to stop the pain
Dance to turn it upside down
It's time to break the chain, oh yeah
Break the chain, oh yeah
Break the chain

I dance because I love
Dance because I dream
Dance because I've had enough
Dance to stop the screams
Dance to break the rules
Dance to stop the pain
Dance to turn it upside down
It's time to break the chain, oh yeah
Break the chain, oh yeah
Break the chain

Pablo isn't sure he's helping at all, although he has the odd sense that time has stopped. And then... then he notices it.

Tears well up in Andi's eyes and, in slow motion, overflow and slide down her temples.

A calming presence is felt within her mind, although at a distance. Waves of soothing energy pour over her and calm her, quieting the panic and fear.

Leon sits up a little straighter and asks, "Professor?"

What is wrong, Rene?

She's trapped in her nightmare. I can't reach her like I used to.

I've managed to calm her through our link. Do you know how this happened?

I think she was sharing memories with Leon.

Those?? Never mind.

Charles brings the teen into the conversation

Leon?

Professor?

Tell me exactly what happened.

I asked her to show me what happened when she took Gabe to see his mom.

Show me, Leon, show me when you asked her.

Okay...

Leon replays the scene for Charles.

I see. We will discuss this later, young man.

Yes, sir.

With that, Leon is shut out from the connection and climbs dejectedly into the vacant seat behind him, eyes downcast and welling with tears. He glances surreptitiously at his Dad, but Logan can offer him no surcease. He still holds a traumatized Emelia to his chest.

"I'm sorry, Mom," he whispers.

Rene?

Sir?

Please, call me Charles. I think I can provide you an avenue to reach her. When you are ready.

I'm ready. But, Charles, I'm fairly sure Ninja's stuck in here with Maddie too. We must use caution. And it's affecting the twins...

Understood.

Em lets out a final soft whimper and opens her eyes, "Papa?"

"Shhh, darlin', I'm here."

"Is Mama going to be okay?"

"Of course she is, darlin'. You know she hurts sometimes. We just have to wait until she comes back to us."

"But it was so much worse this time, Papa. And now I can't feel her at all..."

"That's Professor Xavier's doing, darlin'. He's trying to help."

"Do you think he can?"

"I do, darlin'. I do. Can you do something for me, Em?"

"Course, Papa."

"You and Vin go sit with Leon and hang on to each other. Don't let go no matter what happens."

"Okay, Papa," they nod and go to their brother.

Logan sees them curl up together then goes to where his Mate and his Brothers and Sister are on the floor. Settling between them, he reaches out to put a hand on each man's shoulder, offering the strength of his nature to them.

Pablo glances at Logan with gratitude when he feels his Brother's hand on his shoulder then refocuses his attention on his Wife.

Andi? I know you're there, love... come back...

He is aware, vaguely and faintly, that another presence has joined them, but since Rene and Logan are not worried, he will not worry either. There is only Andrea.

Rene has the impression of Charles looking up and recognizing the entity that is Logan, then nodding.

"This way, Rene."

He leads him down what seems to be a dark and shrinking corridor.

"Call to her, son."

What Rene does is not precisely a call out to his Maddie, but an appeal to her younger self and an offer of safety. The image of the harbor at Marseilles appears, and he does say, "You can come here anytime you want to. This is your safe place."

# # #

She Sings and she Sings and Sings for her Sister. She will not stop, she cannot stop. Without her Sister, her life is less. She thinks there are others, too... but it is Sister who is in danger.

Again, she hears the voice. And a second voice.

Sister calms, stops screaming; finally, finally she crawls away from the men trying to hurt her. She must keep Singing, but she can keep these evil creatures from following Sister, too. When they lay in pieces on the floor — cut and carved with the fire in her hands — she follows Sister.

# # #

A young girl appears in front of them, hair matted and bloody, body bruised and beaten and abused.

"I know you," she says, looking at Rene first then Charles. "And you too, but I don't know how."

With a thought, Rene wraps her in a blanket. "It doesn't matter how. You are safe with us. Please, come with us."

# # #

Looking so small and hurt, she has found a beautiful place. A kind man glowing with the light of the Spirits covers her with a blanket. She thinks she knows him. She likes him. Sister still has trepidation, so she continues to Sing. You are mighty, my Sister. You can break this chain. I know you can. I love you, Maddie.

# # #

She studies them warily. She does not move towards them but also does not move away. "I hear a woman singing. Do you hear it too?"

Charles shakes his head, but Rene pauses and listens, with his mind and heart, and he does hear it. Andi! Ninja! Sister!

"Yes," Rene says, "Yes, I do. She's trying to help you too. It's time to break the chain, oh yeah. Break the chain."

Tears fall from her eyes, and she smiles. Then she looks around at the calm waters of the beautiful harbor. "Can I stay here?"

"Yes, Madeline," Rene tells her. "You can. Always. No one will ever hurt you here. No one will ever hurt you again."

She runs to him then and hugs him, breaking down into sobs. "Thank you. Thank you."

As she cries in Rene's arms, Charles begins to wall off that other place from Madeline's mind. It is something he normally would not do without consent, but he feels Madeline will understand in this instance.

# # #

When Sister runs to the kind man, the chain weakens... weakens... weakens, then snaps as she sobs while the kind man holds her. She smiles.

But... what? Who is this other? Oh, the second voice. Look! Oh, she sees what he is doing! Yes, yes, yes! Make sure those evil ones can never escape again! She must help!

# # #

Rene holds the girl in his arms but looks up and around for Andi, for Ninja. She has to be nearby...

She allows herself to be seen, and stands beside the man who builds the wall. She glows with a golden luminescence, silver and turquoise streaks pulsating along her arms and torso — almost like living tattoos.

I will help. She holds out her cupped hands to him, full of the enormous power Father has given her. Take what you need. This is a good thing you do for my Sister. Thank you.

As Pablo watches, Andi's eyes close... her whole body relaxes... and a slight smile forms on her lips.

Andi?

Shhhh... still busy.

The bald headed man pauses in his building and turns to look towards the woman who had shown herself. He smiles gently. "Thank you, but it is not necessary. Perhaps, though, you could use it to help bring our Madeline back to herself."

He glances back towards Rene and the girl that Madeline had been. "Once Rene has settled her younger self, of course. It wouldn't do to have both of them here... or, perhaps it would... Hmmm..."

With that thought, he goes back to building the wall. He is precise with it as he wants to make sure that it is solid but not obtrusive.

Em and Vin snuggle up to Leon, one on either side of him. He uses what the Professor has taught him to keep his own feelings and thoughts from touching them. He does hug them close, however, and tears trickle down his face.

Rene holds her until she is all cried out, then uses his gift to clean her up and wrap her in warm, cozy clothing.

"The harbor gets a little cool at night," he tells her.

"Can you stay with me?" she asks.

He shakes his head. "I'm afraid that isn't possible, but I know someone who can. I just haven't found her yet. Can you help me look for her? I know she is here somewhere."

"What... what does she look like?"

"A bit like you, actually, but older like me. Dark, shoulder length hair, almond shaped green eyes. A light dusting of freckles across her nose. "

"How do you know her?"

"She's my wife."

"Oh, wow. But, then how can she stay with me if she's your wife?"

"She just can. Trust me, okay?"

She nods.

He looks over at the man building the wall. He sees the woman standing beside him and smiles at her.

"Charles, we're going to go look for my Wife. Sister, will you help us?"

She nods to the man building the wall. He is doing a very good job. He seems familiar, though... She should know why, but she doesn't. She looks at the burning energy in her hands.

"I could use this to look in dark places, yes."

She tilts her head at his other comment. "Grown Sister and little Sister... together?" She thinks about that for a minute. "Perhaps that would be like Warrior and Wife together. Wife is not here; I sent her away like I used to do before Husband helped us. To see what happened to Sister... even now that Wife and I are joined, it would hurt her too much. There was too much, it was too terrible to see all at once. But I have seen things like that before. It was easier to save the others, though. And yet, they are not doing as well as Sister. I worry."

She wonders why it is important for him to know that? No matter. Of course, she will help him find Grown Sister.

She turns to the kind man, the radiant man. He calls her Sister, too. He is her Brother? Oh yes! Yes! She remembers! And little Sister would be more comfortable with Wife's appearance. Andi... not Ninja. And... Rene? Yes... good, Wife remembers all this. They, she remembers. Oh, Pablo is probably so very worried! And the man building the wall... that's Charles. He is Maddie's friend.

Pablo sees Andi relax even more, as if she's fallen into a true and much-needed sleep. He moves, barely moves, to lift her so he can lay her on one of the sleepers, but Logan gently squeezes his shoulder. Pablo turns to his Brother, a quizzical look on his face. Logan shakes his head. "Wait."

Pablo nods and continues his vigil.

In less than the blink of an eye, the fierce Warrior is replaced by the Wife, the Librarian — no longer glowing, although faint silver and turquoise tattoos can still be seen on her arms and shoulders where the sleeveless sundress does not cover them. She, they walk to Rene and the younger version of their beloved Sister.

"I don't know if we will need light," she says, holding a well-contained sphere of soft, bright energy. "Sister was thinking about Gabriel when she got lost." It is almost a non-sequitur. She looks at the light, marvels at its beauty. "If we don't need it, I can give it back to Father. He's been very kind to let me borrow it."

Rene frowns in concentration when Andi mentions Gabriel. He does not remember a Gabriel and yet he knows the name. He thinks back to their conversation before he had needed to leave the plane for a time. Ah, Gabriel. Right. The Congresswoman's son. She had been wounded and then feverish from an infection setting in.

Andrea looks between Rene and young Madeline, and she grins. "I know a Finding Song. Well, it's more than a Finding Song, really, but it does that, too." She taps her foot softly — she doesn't have a drum — to set the rhythm. "It's a fun song, meant for dancing and being happy, too. I can teach you sometime. If you'd like. Let me show you!"

You can't stop an avalanche as it races down the hill.
You can try to stop the seasons, girl, but you know you never will.
And you can try to stop my dancing feet, but I just cannot stand still
'Cause the world keeps spinning 'round and 'round,
And my heart's keeping time to the speed of sound.
I was lost 'til I heard the drums, then I found my way,
'Cause you can't stop the beat!

Oh, oh, oh, you can't stop today as it comes speeding down the track.
Child, yesterday is history and it's never coming back.
Look ahead 'cause tomorrow is a brand new day
And it don't know white from black
'Cause the world keeps spinning 'round and 'round,
And my heart's keeping time to the speed of sound.
I was lost 'til I heard the drums, then I found my way,
'Cause you can't stop the beat!

She dances a funny dance someone once showed her while she sings, and laugh after finishing it. At some point, she had made the sphere of light disappear. Oh, she still holds the energy inside her... but you can't beat drums — even invisible ones — if you're holding a ball of energy.

"Oh, if that doesn't help us find my dear Sister, I can think of Calling Songs." She looks at young Madeline and winks. "They're songs that are so bad, or so annoying, that people come running out of their hiding places to... let's see..." She ticks the incidents off on her fingers. "...tickle you so you can't even breathe, you're laughing so hard; stuff a big marshmallow in your mouth, because... hello! Eating marshmallows is better than singing the Calling Songs. Um, oh! Once my cousin tried tying my hair all in knots, but then I make up a song about him, so that backfired. You'd like my cousin, he's good at teaching silly. My Sister likes him very much!"

She bounces on her toes, laughing and happy, looking between them. "Let's go find Sister. I should go home soon. My Husband is probably worried about me."

She can feel her Sister Maddie nearby, but being stuck inside her mind and memories makes it hard to figure out which direction to go. Rene knows her better. Maybe he knows which way to go.

Young Madeline gives Andi a brief, tentative smile. She had once been able to laugh easily, but that time seems so long ago. She is still unsure of herself and what she sees, not quite trusting that things will not become bad again.

She does quietly venture, "He said she looks a bit like me."

Andrea nods. "Yes, she does," she agrees.

"Let's walk down to the shore," he suggests. "She has always loved the beach. She likes to walk barefoot in the sand at the edge of the water."

With an arm around the girl's shoulder, he guides them through the marina. They pass by many boats of all sizes with sails quietly furled and gently rocking on the surface of the water. From there the wood of the dock changes slightly to boardwalk then to smooth cobblestones before finally reaching a crescent-shaped expanse of sand. Rene kicks off his shoes and steps onto the warm sand. The girl's feet were already bare. In the distance stand a pair of identical figures standing shoulder to shoulder.

Rene hmms at seeing the two. He has his suspicions, but he will keep them to himself until later. He does not stop, however, choosing to make a slow approach.

As the three of them come closer, they can hear the conversation of the two figures over the gentle lapping of the waves.

"How did we get here?"

"I'm not sure. But I'm glad to know it is still here."

"Me too. We haven't been here in a long time."

"No, we haven't. Still as peaceful as I remember."

Yes, it is. Soothing. I've always loved this place."

"Lots of good memories."

"Yes. Do you remember when we first saw this place."

"Of course, I do. It was a special thing he did."

"We told him didn't we?"

"We did."

"Good, sometimes I forget."

"Someone's coming."

"How odd."

They turn as one toward the approaching people. The women are both Madeline yet there are subtle differences between the two, the difference between Mad and Not. They smile at Rene, but their eyes widen at the girl with him.

"Where did you find her?" they ask approaching slowly and opening their arms to the girl.

"In the dark place," he tells them.

The Madelines gasp and hug the girl to them. "We're sorry, little one. We didn't know you were there."

Where she is still a bit wary with Andi, she feels like she is home with the two women.

"Are you twins?" she ask them.

They exchange a look. "Not exactly."

"It's been a long time since she has been a part of us," Mad says to Not.

"Yes, it has. I miss her. We should be whole again. It would be good for our family."

"Yes, yes it would."

"What are you talking about?" the young one asks.

With gentle smiles, they both say, "Trust us?"

She nods.

They look at Andi. "Can we use some of that Energy, Sister?"

A small piece of Father's gift she gives freely to her Sister and then waits for the inevitable.

At her acquiescence, they each take one of the girl's hands... then Not holds out a hand to receive the Energy. Once she has it, Mad covers it with her hand and clasps Not's. After a moment, there is a brief flash of light. When it fades only a single Madeline she there. She is, once again, whole. She holds out a hand to Andi.

"Thank you, Sister."

She cannot be happier when a whole and integrated Maddie takes her hand.

"Your thanks are humbly accepted with honor," she say. It is a rough translation of something Doshu Ueshiba used to say. "For you, my Sister, there is little I would not do."

Her smile for Rene is brilliant. "You've always been my Guardian Angel.

"Let's get out of here. I think our son needs me."

Things shift and the three of them are at the now completed wall.

"Thank you, Charles."

"My pleasure, Madeline. It's good to have you back with us."

"It's good to be back..."

With a gasp, Madeline wakes up. Rene wraps his arms around her in relief. Logan is only a second behind because he had waited.

She still holds the ball of energy in one hand when they appear at the wall. She waits while Maddie speaks with Charles, and waits until Madeline and Rene leave.

She and Charles are in a place outside Maddie's mind, and not quite inside Andrea's mind either. She nods towards the globe she still holds. "You could have taken a bit, you know," she says with a smile. "More than enough to go around. Here's hoping I can stay less hyper than my cousin — who's apparently already making plans to visit you, by the way — all the way to Paris."

"The shapeshifter? What caused this development?" he asks.

She tilts her head in what feels like Maddie's direction. "A couple of ten year old hellions," she says, laughing. "Pablo and I may stop by on our way back from our honeymoon, if you wouldn't mind."

"Not at all, Andrea. You're both quite welcome to visit at any time." He pauses, then the corners of his mouth turn up; he's one of those people who smiles with his eyes. "Yes, your Commerce City friends are acclimating well, and are doing good work here."

She relaxes, and smiles. "Thank you, Charles. I should go before Pablo worries. Even more."

While Maddie wakes with a gasp, Andi simply opens her eyes and looks up at Pablo.

Beloved...

"Andi!" She's caught in his embrace, pulled into his lap, and flooded with love. "I was so worried," he says softly as he runs his fingers through her hair.

She manages to get her arms around him for a proper hug. I'm fine, Pablo. Honest.

What happened? You had a seizure or something and then went catatonic.

She rests her head on his shoulder. Sorry. Did I break your nose, or just whack it hard enough to give you a nosebleed?

Huh?

Blood on your shirt... a bit on your cheek where you missed wiping it up. She smiles into his neck.

Oh... no, just a really bad nosebleed. You were totally out of it, then you sort of seem to come back, and then it looked like you fell asleep, but Logan wouldn't let me move you.

Hey, it's okay... I'm okay now. Peace, beloved. When Maddie fell into her Nightmare, I had to follow.

Rene couldn't find her. I got the impression that was pretty unusual.

She shrugs with one shoulder. Don't know, but I don't think he'd ever been to that particular place, at least not when she was there. Ninja had to lock Andi out for a while, that's how bad it was. Even integrated, there's a part of me that knows other parts of me just could not handle the Nightmare.

He tightens his arms around her, more in fear than anything else. As bad as...?

She knows what he means, the undercover case that tore his soul apart. Yeah... all that, and possibly more. But Pablo... She pauses, holding him close, sharing the overwhelming joy she had at seeing Maddie's three separate selves reunited. Maddie's done what I did with Andrea and Ninja; a whole personality... no longer lost and fractured.

He loosens his hold on her, pulls back to look closely at her face. He gives Andi his faux "stern protector" look. "You sure you're okay?" he asks.

She smiles and nods. "Aside from storing a nuclear reactor's worth of energy in my meridians and dan tians, I'm fine. Promise." She chuffs out a laugh. "I may not be able to sleep for three days, but I'm fine, Pablo."

He kisses her forehead. "Okay. But please don't do that again." And I'll get the whole story at some point?

"I'd rather not, as well," she says as she settles against him so they can watch their Sister and Brothers. As much as Maddie feels comfortable sharing, yes.

Madeline is content in the arms of the men who love her and reluctantly extricates herself from them.

"I think a chat with Leon is in order," she tells them quietly.

Charles, are you still with me?

I am.

Can you 'conference in' Logan so he can hear us?

Of course. Warn him first, my dear.

Yes.

She leans toward Logan and whispers to him. "Charles is going to make is possible for you to listen in."

Andi's gaze catches Leon's, and she gives him an admonishing look.

"I don't know quite what you did when you asked your mom to share her story, Nephew," she says, remembering the odd way the qi had looked between them at the moment he asked the second time, "but don't ever do that again."

Leon blanches at the admonition. His guilt and regret are palpable, and he seems on the verge of tears.

She almost... almost feels sorry for the young man. Andi almost feels sorry for him; Ninja is still angry.

Madeline looks over Logan's shoulder at Andi. We'll take it from here, Sister.

The Warrior looks at her Sister, still feeling the pain of knowing what had been done to the young girl she had been, but nods. Healing has begun. She closes her eyes and rests her head on Pablo's shoulder.

Madeline goes to where her three children are and kneels down. She holds her arms out to the twins. "Come here, sweetlings. All is well."

They rush into her arms and hug her tightly.

"Are you sure you're okay, Mama?" Em asks timidly.

"You can feel that I am, Em, can't you?"

Her daughter concentrates a minute, then nods. "I'm glad, Mama."

"Me, too, honey. Me too. How about you, Vin?"

"I can't hear the whispers, Mama," he says, looking down.

"That's just temporary, sweetie. Okay?"

"'Kay."

"Now, I need to talk with your big brother a bit, okay? Can you two go sit with Papa?"

They nod silently.

"I love you two," she says, giving each of them a kiss on their forehead.

"Love you too, Mama," they say with another tight hug before going to climb up in Logan's lap.

She sits down next to Leon and takes his hand in her. She looks at him until he meets her eyes. She shushes him when he begins to say something. Rene sits down on the other side of him.

Leon?

Mom?

Even his mind voice is contrite and a bit fearful.

Mom, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean... I...

He swallows hard and blinks back tears.

That wasn't... wasn't just a dream was it? Those... those were memories...

Yes. Yes, they were. Remember when I said you needed to be careful with my memories?

He nods.

That's something I never wanted you to see. You experienced a bit of it too, didn't you?

Another nod.

Right before Papa pulled me away.

That is why I said that. There are many things in my past you don't need to see or experience. Chief among them was that, but it's done now.

I'm sorry, Mom.

I know you are, sweetheart. What I don't understand is what caused me to get stuck. Do you have any idea what might have happened?

Leon pales further and makes an even smaller nod.

I... I used my gift of persuasion. I'm really sorry, Mom. I didn't mean to, I swear it.

There is a mental throat clearing from Xavier.

Charles?

It was unintentional, but he has been warned about how easily that gift can be misused. You must be more vigilant regarding your use of your powers, young man.

Yes, sir.

Leon has a hangdog expression, feeling bad about disappointing the Professor and even worse about hurting his Mom.

I'm really sorry, Mom, Professor. It won't ever happen again, I promise.

Tears do spill from his eyes now. Madeline holds her arms open to him. After a moment's hesitation, he buries his head in her shoulder and begins to sob. I'm so sorry, Mom. I never meant to hurt you.

Shhh. Leon. You didn't hurt me.

But those... those men...

I know, sweetie. Put it out of your mind.

I... I don't know if I can.

Charles, can you do anything?

I can, but...

Please, Charles.

It was a hard lesson I'd rather not have him have to learn again.

At least mute it then, lessen it. No one should have to live with that.

But you have, Mom, all these years...

And I would prefer that you not have to. Don't make me make it an order from La Loup.

That garners a little bit of a lightened mood from Leon.

Okay, Mom. Go ahead, Professor.

... ... ... It is done.

Thank you, Charles.

You are welcome, Madeline. Now, Leon, I want your solemn promise.

I promise, Professor. And I'm sorry.

All right then. Madeline, I am going back to bed. May the remainder of your journey be uneventful.

Sleep well, Charles. Thank you.

The touch of Charles' mind leaves them, and Madeline looks over to Rene. Are you staying a bit or do you need to go back?

I have a little time, but I need to be incorporeal.

Go recharge, love. We're okay now.

Je t'aime, Maddie.

Ik houd u, Rene.

He rises and leans over Leon to brush his lips against hers before vanishing. Madeline relaxes back into the seat and holds Leon to her like she had when he was little.

Andi can see the waves and ripples of qi that she has come to equate with telepathic conversations. It never used to be so obvious. But it's always been... interesting. And difficult to describe, even more difficult than the majority of what she sees. Like almost everything else related to the energy manipulation part of her Curse, it's something she rather enjoys watching.

Maybe if she equated it to sound, it might be white noise.

In any case, it's a bit soothing, too. But it gives her space and time to think of what just happened... especially the part where she, or Ninja really, was ready to destroy the world and the demons of Maddie's nightmare and very nearly killed all of them in the process. If it hadn't been for Pablo or Rene saying something — she couldn't even say what it was or which of them said it — that sparked a thought that the Librarian felt was necessary to share...

She knows she dodged a bullet tonight. Or possibly a nuclear warhead. The moral of the lesson, maybe, is that Mother and Father are fairly balanced when she has her feet on the ground. So... maybe don't try to protect the children while she's flying and Father wants to share, share, share? And maybe make a deal with Mother to keep an eye on Father while she's in the air?

She hears the giggling of one or two Spirits. Definitely Cat... possibly Bear.

Finally, she simply sighs and opens her eyes again.

"Tired, love?"

"No. Holding this much qi in my body is overly energizing," she says with half a smile. "I feel like I could run a marathon. It would be nice if I could return some of Father's energy to him, but..." She glances at the nearest window of the plane. "...um, I think that would be a really bad idea."

"I guess I must be tired," he admits, "because I'm a little confused. We're up in the air, right? So shouldn't you be able to just... I don't know... give it back?"

She tilts her head up to look at him, smiling more broadly. "You're adorable when you're confused."

"Hey, watch it," he says, chuckling. "I'll wake up enough to figure out how that was an insult."

She chuckles. "It wasn't! Just a statement of fact. You've seen me return energy to Mother, right?" He nods. "And I always crouch down and touch Mother with my palms."

He pauses, then nods. "Right. I don't think I've ever seen you not do that."

"Because I can't. Well, I could, but it would be messy and painful. I really need to do the same with Father."

He gives her that look he gets when he thinks she's messing with him. "And why don't you?"

She raises an eyebrow. "What's between me and the Sky?"

Pablo continues to give her his stink eye for a few more seconds, then says, hesitantly, "The plane?"

"In one, Chief," she says, grinning. "I'm pretty sure everyone would be unhappy — including you, oh master of air and light — if I depressurized the cabin by returning all this energy to Father."

"Oh."

"Yep. Oh." She pauses, and studies his face a moment, putting puzzle pieces together. "Can you affect the winds up here? In a way that isn't going to cause us all to lose whatever food's in our stomachs or cause a major global weather disaster, that is?"

He looks at her puzzled again for a moment, then raises an eyebrow. "You want a tail wind?"

"If you can do it safely, yeah. I've got the energy to spare, and if we can get to Paris earlier... and I can bleed off a little of this energy... well, that's a win for everyone, right?"

He nods slowly. "In theory, I could do it. But being in a plane makes it... weird. Give me a couple of minutes to think about it, work it out in my head, to see if it's doable?"

"No problem," she says, resting her head back on his shoulder. "I'm happy to snuggle with you."

If she weren't so full of energy, she'd close her eyes again and watch the qi all around them. But she's got way too much inside her, so she watches Logan cuddling the twins instead.

She doesn't want six or nine or twelve children, or whatever it is that Pablo has in mind, but that? A father caring for his children? Yeah, she does want that. She wants to see Pablo being a dad. Maybe not for a year or two, but... yes. Yes, she does want that. Despite how much she loves kids, she's still not sure she'll be a good mom... but Pablo will be a great dad, and more than compensate for her cluelessness. She thinks he's a natural. Like Logan is. And having seen Wolverine mow down a dozen men in a matter of minutes, Logan's tenderness with his children is... well, there are a lot of words she could use, but she thinks comforting is the best.

"Hmmm... yes. I think I see how it can be done," Pablo says, pulling her attention away from Logan and the twins. "I need to hold just enough current under the plane to speed us up and not affect much else; it's considerably different from riding a current." He's quiet for a minute, then sighs. "Not much different than some of the things I had to do to defend myself in Q's world, however. But it takes a lot of energy."

"Well, we certainly know now to share energy, don't we?" she says, looking up at him... as if he were dessert. Oh, naughty Andrea! She can't even blame Rene, as he's he already left for the realm of the Benevolent Spirits.

"Woman, you do love teasing me, don't you?" he softly asks with a lascivious smile of his own.

"Well, duh. But there are children present, so I'm going to share all this energy with you... instead of getting us in trouble by creating more."

"You're almost as crazy — in a completely different way, of course — as your crazy neighbor. And I love you." He kisses her forehead. "Let's do this."

She settles back against him and closes her eyes. He rests his hands, lao gong points aligned, over her xia dan tian and she rests her hands over his, lao gong points aligned over his. She can't see what Pablo is doing with the air currents, but she can see the effects in the qi around the plane. Normally when she flies, qi is erratic and scattered... there isn't much up this high for it to coalesce around. But the gently nudged air currents are something different, something not quite normal — although Pablo is doing no more, she thinks, than urging the air to flow more efficiently and a little faster than it generally does. The qi looks like a trail of effervescent luminescence. It's stunningly beautiful.

Madeline holds her eldest son until he has cried himself out. She hears him say over and over that he's sorry. She knows he means it — for using his gift on her, for getting her stuck in that place, for what happened to her all those years ago. She doesn't tell him that it's okay. What he did, even if unintentional, was not okay. She does tell him that she loves him and that she knows he will be more careful in the future. She is sad that he had to learn this lesson in such an awful manner, but she is also grateful that it was with her and not someone else. She is his mother and loves him unconditionally.

"You should try to get some sleep, sweetheart," she whispers to him.

With a sad nod, he reclines his seat and semi-curls up on his side. She drapes the blanket over him and kisses his cheek. "I love you, angel."

"Love you too, Mom."

{Daughter... love} {Daughter... help?}

She inwardly chuckles.

No thank you, Father. You have given me so much energy already that I need to use some of it before the time comes when it will be safe to return it to you. We are such fragile creatures in a fragile metal tube.

{Daughter... love} {Daughter... amusement} {Daughter... approval}

Father continues to watch, however. Who's to say if such things interest or intrigue the blanket of atmosphere around the earth, their Mother. But she feels he's watching as Pablo works.

It feels like very little time at all — they seem to have slid into the No Time place — before Pablo whispers, "There, that will really put us ahead of schedule. Too much more and we could wind up in Berlin."

She giggles and turn her head so she can kiss him, softly, chastely... for she hasn't been paying attention to anyone else in the cabin. "You're very clever, Detective. I think I should keep you."

"I'd recommend it. I have many fine qualities. I'm not sure you've discovered them all yet."

"Ooooh," she says with wide eyes and a grin, "you know plumbing and electrical stuff?"

He slaps her hand lightly and grins. "Brat. But yes... to the electrical stuff anyway."

"Good. I know both. I'll teach you plumbing."

He sighs happily, resting his cheek on the top of her head. "We'll never be bored, will we?"

"Afraid not, Chief."

Madeline rises and goes to where her Mate watches over their children. Em and Vin had settled down a while back and have fallen asleep. Logan looks up, eyes serious and a touch worried. He stands and holds his arms out to her. She steps into the circle of his arms and wraps hers around him. She lays her head on his chest and sighs. He holds her tightly and kisses the top of her head. They stay in that close embrace for a long time as she draws strength from their Bond and sheds her own tears. He knows she needs no words, only their closeness.

Maddie and Logan are together, mending and healing if the qi that Andi sees around them is any indication. Well... this has been a rough night.

Finally, they part, just enough to turn toward Andi and Pablo. She has a sad smile.

"Children doing foolish things can be exhausting," she says quietly. "But I don't think it will be something he soon forgets."

She's thinking about the problem Tezcatlipoca's Chosen One represents, and almost don't catch what Maddie says.

Andi smiles just as sadly. No child should ever have to go through what Maddie went through; it's certainly not something Leon should ever have seen... not of anyone, and especially not of his mother.

"They can be... and I don't think he'll ever forget," she says softly.

Madeline means to possibly say more, but the pilot announces they are beginning their descent into Paris. It seems like a quick trip, but she doesn't quibble. Getting back early is a good thing. However, she asks Davis for the air phone and calls home to let them know that they are arriving considerably earlier. Bernard sounds as though he has been waiting by the phone. He reminds her of old Hank in Suriname in a lot of ways.

Andi is a little surprised that they're already descending into the Paris airport. As the others are settling in for the landing, she whispers to Pablo, "Just how much time did you shave off this trip?"

He looks at his watch and raises an eyebrow. "Two hours," he whispers back. "Good thing we stopped when we did, or we definitely would have wound up in Berlin."

Descent and touchdown go smoothly and they taxi to their assigned hangar. A long livery car waits for them as they descend the jet stairs. It is not one of her cars, but a private service vehicle with enough space to hold all seven of them. Bernard's doing no doubt. Madeline once again requests Pablo's assistance with Vin.

Getting off the plane is almost a mirror of getting on, with Pablo happily carrying a sleepy Vincent. There are people, however, to take care of the luggage, not something Andi has ever become accustomed to. Thank goodness she has her staff; she feels utterly foolish with nothing to carry when there are things here that belong to her. But... people...

The streets of Paris are still busy being only eight o'clock at night, but it does allow Madeline to point out some interesting sights they pass. Andrea has seen pictures of Paris, of course. Who hasn't? The real deal, though... wow. Pictures don't do it justice. Well, she's just about coming to expect that... pictures never come with an overlay of the qi that flows around anything, everything. Aside from a couple of weeks in Chicago to visit Justin, she doesn't think she's been in a city bigger than Denver. And compared to Denver... well, Paris is huge! Not quite as huge as Chicago, but close. Ah, the joys of helping middle school kids with their term papers!

As they drive up to the front of the home Maddie shares with Logan and their children, Andi can only look at it in amazement. Yes, she and Pablo are going to need a slightly bigger house than she owns now if they're going to have children. But this? This would fit the baseball team they're not going to have!

Bernard comes down the front steps as the car rolled to a stop. He opens the door and offers assistance to whoever might need it.

"Accueil à notre maison," Madeline says to Andi and Pablo. "Welcome to our home."

Andi looks at Maddie and grins. "Can I see the holodeck first?"

Pablo manages to settle Vin against his shoulder so he can pat his wife's head. "Down, Trekkie. Sleepy kids. Hungry husband. Play later."

"Spoilsport."

"Madame, Monsieur," Bernard greets them. "It is good to have you and the children home."

"Merci, Bernard," she says with a smile. "But you really did not need to roust the entire staff."

"We have not had much to do while you've been away, Madame," he replies as his eyes watch the staff collect the luggage.

No one tries to intervene with Logan as he carries Emelia, but an offer to assist Pablo is started... and aborted just as quickly at the shake of Madeline's head. Logan leads Pablo upstairs and directs him to the appropriate bedroom, with Leon stumbling sleepily along behind them. The staff has already delivered the bags to the matching rooms. The contents will be taken care of later in the light of day, once the family has settled in a bit more.

Andrea doesn't pay much attention to the hubbub around her as she watches Pablo with Vin. He's a natural. She suspects this is, at least, the fifth or sixth time she's had that thought since Maddie, Logan, and the children had arrived at Uncle Leon and Aunt Sonia's house. She realizes that it's something she's actually known since the moment he showed her the picture he keeps of Rosalia and Juan, but his ease around the younger people just makes it all very real to her...

One of these days, she's going to have to figure out how to be a librarian, the Protector of Denver, and a mom. She could maybe hire David as a part-time nanny — her evil thoughts of hiring Missy notwithstanding. Granted, Bobby comes along with the Nanny David package, but David adores children and would be able to temper the wilder of Bobby's notions. Maybe.

She wonders if kids under ten should be watching The Birdcage or Priscilla, Queen of the Desert or To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar. There's no way Bobby would stick with Disney — most of which makes her gag anyway — or even Schoolhouse Rock.

Bridges... all for crossing later.

Once Logan and Pablo return, Madeline introduces Andi and Pablo. "Bernard, these are our guests, Andrea Yazzie and Pablo Garcia."

Her husband has wrapped his arm around Andi's waist and whispers, "Promise me at least two... one of each?" before Maddie introduces them to her... butler? No, no! Andi knows this one! He's her seneschal!

"Madame, Monsieur," Bernard says and makes a short bow to each of them, then turns to address Madeline. "There are meats, cheeses, and bread set out for your pleasure, Madame. We will, of course, have a proper breakfast ready for you in the morning."

"Yá'át'ééh, Bernard. It's a pleasure to meet you," she says to him.

Hmm. Shouldn't it be mademoiselle? Okay, technically... yes. Also, technically... no.

"Merci, Bernard. We will be going to see Monsieur Caoua after breakfast."

"The children as well?"

"Not until after I have a chance to speak with him. I fear he may be unwell."

"I understand, Madame. If there is anything I can do..."

"Merci, Bernard. We will likely not need anything more tonight. You and the others may retire."

"Very good, Madame."

He gives another short bow and vanishes into another part of the house.

"Did I hear yo say you were hungry, Pablo? Right this way."

She leads them into the formal dining area where a cold cut tray, a basket of various breads, and saucers of condiments await them, along with a stack of plates and napkins.

"Help yourselves. Whatever we don't finish, the children certainly will.

She has a couple of questions about visiting with Maddie's godfather, but Andi suspects they should all wait for privacy. The fact that privacy comes equipped with a huge platter of protein makes Pablo happy. He did all the work of moving the plane faster... but transferring that much qi in a controlled manner makes her plenty hungry, too.

As she layers meats and cheeses on a piece of bread, she asks Maddie, "Are Andrea and Pablo going with you in the morning... or Ninja and Peacekeeper?"

"Yes," Madeline replies to the question as she loads up her own plate as Logan does the same.

"We trust him implicitly. He's also the one that talked us into the mask, as it were. And if you want to bring your plates, we'll show you the rest of the house.

"Ah, so civvies, but we share all," Andi says, knowing she sounds a little hesitant. "Well, I need to get another black turtleneck or six before Ninja can be seen by law enforcement anyway." She catches Pablo's grin and she rolls her eyes. "Fine! I'll talk to Perry when we get home and have Martha Stewart make me a new outfit. Are you happy now?"

"Yes, dear," he says oh so sweetly. "Thank you, dear."

Andi just sighs.

"As you might have guessed, this is the formal dining room. Just through those doors is the kitchen."

She picks up her own plate and walks across the open expanse. "Sitting area, family room, your bedroom. The doors let out into the garden. Just beyond the large mirror on the left is the entry to the dressing and bathing area. There is a duplicate of this bedroom upstairs that is the master, and three slightly smaller rooms that are the children's."

She pauses to let them see everything there is to see before stepping through another doorway off of the family room and switches on a light.

"This is the living room slash library."

Like the rest of the house, it is ultra-modern but is seems designed somewhat differently. Where the other rooms have large pictures windows, the windows in this room are placed high in the wall, well above eyesight and are quite narrow. The ambient light has no obviously discernible source, but diffuses evenly throughout the room. The furniture consists of white overstuffed chairs and coordinating tables, and a wet bar.

Andi and Pablo follow Maddie with their plates on the tour of the house... well, the first floor, anyway. It's easily as big as the McMansions in Highlands Ranch, although not as tacky by a long shot. It's smaller than some of the unnecessarily huge homes in University Hills, though.

Madeline pauses only briefly before crossing this room as well. She presses a wall panel, which causes a piece of the bookcase to slide away revealing an elevator.

"All aboard," she says with a knowing smile, and waits for them to join her on the elevator.

It is a short ride down to the level below; what lies before them appears much like the entrance to a vault.

"Won't you step into my parlor?"

Madeline waits until the elevator doors close behind them.

"This is the internal entrance to my lair. Here, I have my dojo..." She pauses and glances at Andi. "...which is also the holodeck, as well as a clothing closet, a weapons vault, my main communications center, and the garage for our specialty vehicles. I think I know which one Andi might like to see first. What about you, Pablo?"

Andi has been nibbling bits of meat and cheese as they walk, but Pablo has been eating his sandwich in the way sandwiches are normally eaten... which would explain why he has a mouth full of food when Maddie asks what he'd like to see first. He taps an elbow against his side, then a foot against his opposite ankle as he chews.

"Ah. Weapons," Andi says, translating his peculiar sign language. It helps, she realizes, that she knows those are the places he carries two of his three guns.

"Weapons first, then. That one won't take as long. I have a feeling once I show Andi how to work the holodeck, we won't be able to pry her out of there."

She pauses just as she's about to eat another half slice of cheese. "Hey, not true!" She grins at Maddie. "I'll leave willingly enough. But I'll just take that stipend you insist on giving me, save my pennies, and get my own holodeck." Hell, she doesn't even know if it's possible to duplicate the technology Maddie has, and she'd be willing to bet the costs are astronomical. But...

"A girl's gotta dream, right? Besides, I'm sure it would make for an interesting challenge when Daniel designs our house someday."

She pops the cheese in her mouth and follows Logan, Maddie and Pablo into the weapons vault.

"I got the tech from Charles. I had a friend make a few tweaks to suit my own purposes. We'll play later."

"Think Charles would share the tech with lil ol' me? If so, I should probably ask before my cousin descends on him... although I suspect Billy would calm down a lot if there was a way he could feel useful. He's doing good work for the Diné People, but honestly? I think he'd like to make a difference on a larger scale. That's just a gut feeling; half the time, he's as hard to read as Tommy is," Andi says with a smile, then pops a piece of the roast beef in her mouth.

"He might," Madeline says with a shrug. "It's the cloaking device I haven't been able to talk him out of yet."

Andi nods. If she can imagine the kind of trouble she could get into with some cloaking technology — assuming it could be modified to something as small as a land-bound vehicle — she can extrapolate the kind of naughtiness her Sister might cause.

Madeline leads them across the black metal decking that makes up the floor. It is slotted and beveled and easily washed down. She goes past the first two barely discernible doors to the third. Logan is already there, his plate put aside somewhere and replaced by one of the duffels that had come with them from New Mexico. He holds a hand up to a palm scanner to the side of the door. The green laser scans him and triggers the door, which slides aside.

The vault is not nearly as big as the bunker back at the cabin, but the items here are considerably newer and, in some cases, high tech. There is a thirty six by sixty four by forty eight inch center counter with drawers on the longer sides. The walls are lined with counters of the same height but half the depth. Above the wall counters are glass encased racks holding various sorts of weapons. A sign on one reads, "In Case of Emergency, Break Glass."

Logan enters the vault and sets the bag on the center counter, then unzips it and replaces the adamantium whip back in its place. He then unloads the rest of the bag — consisting of a couple of 9mms and boxes of ammunition, as well as the pearl handled Colt Madeline had taken from Stryker's desk.

"Feel free to browse, Pablo, but if you aren't sure what it is, ask before you touch. There are some special pieces in here."

Pablo shakes his head. "Madeline, I know enough people who collect weapons that my policy is look but don't touch... for everything." He chuckles. "People can get awfully crazy about things like a little knife when the knife in question is a hell of a lot older than Brother Logan here."

Andi watches him start at one end of a wall to study the weapons in each rack.

Madeline watches Logan place the weapons with the same precise care she and Rene had always used. He may not truly have need of them himself, but he knows how to use them. She sidles over to him, sets her plate on the counter and slides her arms around him as Pablo wanders down one side.

"Most of the ancient weapons are upstairs," she tells Pablo with a grin. "Those are for display only since it's possible they could shatter if used. Everything in here is meant to be used as the occasion warrants, even the few here that are older than my Mate. Then again, those are Japanese steel, so they were made to withstand the test of time as well as blood and bone."

Firearms are his weapons of choice, but thanks to those collector people he knows, he's seen a lot more kinds of weapons than she has. Well, than she had, until she had met Maddie. Also thanks to one of those collector people — this one an actual friend, so Andi has met him as well — he had discovered last year that he's as accurate with a crossbow as his service revolver. Surprisingly, while she was certainly more accurate with the crossbow than she is with a gun, she had managed to freak both Pablo and his friend out with her accuracy using the longbow. Kevin had said something that vaguely hinted at a racial stereotype, which prompted Pablo to absently punch Kevin's arm as they both gaped at the arrows in the center of the target. She had just shrugged as she handed the bow back to its owner and, quite honestly, said, "It's a lot like Taiji."

But to be honest here? She's happy enough with her staff, although someday she might pick up a jian. She can't really see the point right now. With the rare exceptions — which are becoming less rare since meeting Maddie — her MO is to disable and restrain until the appropriate authorities can pick up the miscreant. Or miscreants. Having a sword means there's a much higher likelihood of someone losing blood, and she tends to make a bit of a mess with just the staff if she has to go around cracking heads. The Safeway incident notwithstanding, she's not anywhere near the disaster magnet that John McClaine from those Die Hard movies is. She suspects that having a sword on her person might increase her magnetism for disasters. And it's bad enough being a magnet for weird.

"Andi, do you need those turtlenecks now? I have a few extra in the clothing vault next door over. I only wear them when it's cold."

She shrugs at Maddie's question. "Oh, it's not a weather thing. Any Taiji student can learn to regulate their qi to keep warm or cool in temperatures slightly outside their usual comfort zone. As a Master and with the power I have?" Andi snickers. "A parka in the middle of a Denver summer... a bikini in the middle of a Chenjiagou winter? Whatever. Not that I'd wear a bikini.

"Nah, it's Ninja who needs the turtleneck, not Andi. It's the uniform, you know? Goes with the braids and the staff. Well, at least until I get a sketch to Martha Stewart back home," she says with a grin. The comment is aimed in Pablo direction.

"Thank you, dear," he replies without turning around.

She shakes her head but smiles at him.

She glances back to Andi as she explains her uniform. "I get that. For me, it is primarily the coat and the hat that make the uniform. What's underneath is for my comfort."

She smiles at the banter between the other couple, picking up a folded piece of turkey to pop into her mouth. Logan turns and wraps his arm around her shoulders and steals some of the turkey via a kiss.

"Thief," she teases.

Andi sets her plate down on the counter as well, more interested in watching Pablo — he just doesn't realize how fine he looks in jeans — than Logan and the weapons. She leans her elbows on the counter and pulls a rolled up piece of roast beef into smaller pieces. She nods to Maddie... finally someone who understands that comfort is not a trivial matter when fighting crime. "Comfort is really the main reason I'm loathe to give up my leathers," she says, tapping her thigh. "This one here..." she says, nodding toward Pablo, "claims the ballistic polymer blah blah blah material is very comfortable, but..."

"But you love repairing leather so much that you just hate to give it up," Pablo says, grinning, as he joins them at the counter. He sets his empty plate down and snatches a piece of ham from Andi's plate.

She gives him The Look... and not for stealing her food. "I go through shirts by the gross — okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but it doesn't feel like one — and have to repair my vest, on average, four times a year. Do you want to hear about the only time I've had to actually repair and not just clean the pants?" she asks sweetly.

He raises an eyebrow. "By your tone of voice, I'm pretty sure my answer should be no. But I am curious."

"You remember about six years ago when I bought the Harley? Ever wonder what happened to the Yamaha?"

"I figured you traded it in."

"Nope. Wiped out on I-25 going about a hundred. Hit a patch of black ice heading down to see Forsythe in Castle Rock. There was barely enough of the bike left for scrap. It took twenty minutes to heal enough to get to my phone to call Forsythe. I was still limping when she got there ten minutes later. Granted, my healing was slower then than it is now."

Pablo pales. "I think you're proving my point."

She shakes her head. "Once in nine years for the pants... versus thirty five to forty for the vest... versus every other week, minimum, for the turtlenecks. People tend to shoot me and stab me in the torso, I'm afraid. So, sure, replacing the shirt and vest makes sense. And Mrs. Perry will want to go whole hog and do a full costume." Andi shrugs. "As long as she incorporates these boots into the design, I'll go along with your crazy plan to safeguard my precious self," she says, rolling her eyes. "That same precious self that apparently even heals from dead now."

"Thank you, dear," he says, snagging a piece of turkey this time.

"Brat."

"And armor doesn't do you any good when your opponents always go for the kill shot," Madeline adds, tapping the spot between her eyes with the nose of her pistol, not helping Pablo's argument in the least. "Center mass be damned. Go for the sure kill."

"Well, I've been fortunate that most of the unpleasant people who've been trying to kill me haven't been the sort to even go to college, let alone graduate magna cum laude," Andi says wryly. "It never ceases to astound them — and amuse me — that an injury that would kill them or any of their mouth breathing friends does little more than annoy me."

Turning back to Maddie, she nods to the gun she had retrieved from Stryker's desk.

"You seemed pretty pissed that Stryker had that. A story you're willing to share?" she asks.

Madeline caresses the gun in question then picks it up. She releases her hold on Logan and pops out the clip, then verifies it's empty.

As Maddie is picking up the gun and checking to be sure the clip is empty, Andi stiffens. She does not have a good feeling about this.

"I last held this gun ten years ago, just before Logan and I were both captured and tortured by Stryker," she says with a quiet coldness.

Logan's other arm slips around her waist and tightens on her. This is not a memory he had lost.

"There was another I carried, but it was less recognizable. In fact, I would only know it by the serial number. This one, though..."

She turns it and holds it toward Andi with the grip and its engraving visible. There are the letters MEM and the date 12-31-73, and beneath that, Voor mijn geliefde dochter, Papa.

"My father gave me this on my sixteenth birthday."

When she reads the inscription, her lips press tightly together. She doesn't know Dutch, but most of the words are more than plain enough to understand... and geliefde is close enough to a few German and Yiddish words that the sentiment is clear, if not the exact translation.

She looks Maddie in the eyes. "I'm just never going to stop wanting to kill him again, am I?"

She isn't sure that's the cold-hearted, bloodthirsty bitch speaking. She thinks it's probably just a thoroughly outraged woman speaking up. She does hope that Stryker's black soul is burning in the Christian hell... because they have one of the most unpleasant afterlifes she's ever heard about outside fiction.

It's the question about Stryker that gives Madeline pause. She meets Andi's eyes square on and more than fully understands the anger there.

"Then I shouldn't tell you about the Beretta that I was also carrying? A gift from Rene. Or the contents of the Humvee he confiscated that included irreplaceable photographs. The weapons can be replaced, undoubtedly, even this one, and yet a replacement would never be the same..."

She gently sets the weapon down. "There was a time when I dearly wished to practice one of my special skill sets on him. Now, I'm just glad he's gone, for my children's sake. At the same time, whoever was bankrolling him is still out there... somewhere. We will not rest until the threat is eliminated, however long it takes."

Logan rumbles his agreement.

Andi meets Maddie's eyes, and her own narrow when her Sister tells of the personal, sentimental things Stryker took from her. As if taking her husband from her was not enough... he needed to erase the very memory of him. Fucking bastard...

"No. We will not rest until his backers are found," she agrees. "If they and their deeds can be dragged into the light of day and justice can be served... that would be good." Andi pauses, glancing between Maddie and Logan — purposefully not looking at Pablo. "If the infestation is so deeply rooted that their house must be burned down around their heads?" She shrugs. "So be it."

"Andi..." Pablo says in that warning tone that she knows very well means you're crossing a line you shouldn't cross.

Finally, she does look at him. And she knows the sadness in her heart is reflected on her face.

"Pablo, my love," she says softly, "you need to understand that, while we most certainly play for the same team, we play different positions. More than understanding it," she says, taking his hand, "you need to accept it. You wouldn't put an outfielder on the mound or ask the pitcher to play shortstop, would you?"

It's hard walking this line; perhaps... just perhaps a little humor can help. Perhaps.

"The Cubs seem to, from what I've seen," he grumbles, very much not liking the idea of his wife stepping beyond the strict boundaries of the law that defines his job.

Andi smiles and squeezes his hand. "I've always thought they engaged in performance art more than they played baseball, dear."

She takes a breath and holds it for a second before sighing gently. "Until I met Black Wolf, Ninja only strayed outside the letter of the law to protect those the law does not or will not. But that was before the Aryan Knighthood reemerged in Denver. That was before I found out what William Stryker was doing in Idaho Springs. That was before I knew your ancestral pain in the ass had a mirror that has a Chosen One, who is one crazy fucking bitch who thinks that my husband is her husband.

"Pablo, Sally was my friend and now she's dead. We don't have to worry about the justice system doing the right thing because the men who killed her are dead. It happens," she says, shrugging.

"But Ben is still stuck somewhere in your ancestral fool's prison world and I have no idea how we're going to get him out. That isn't anything that the Law can even fathom.

"Tezcatlipoca's Chosen One wants to sink her claws into you and you know I can't do anything less than everything in my considerable power to keep that from happening." She flashes him a brief smile. "Again, when dealing with Beings from other planes, it's not something the Law could ever understand.

"There are ninety two children whose families may see some sort of justice or closure or peace when I collect their bones for DNA analysis come spring. The people who killed them are dead. It happens.

"There are still eight children with Charles, one of whom may never return from where her mind fled during her days and weeks and months and years of torture.

"And the man who orchestrated the... acquisition of these one hundred children is dead. Unfortunately, it happens." She knows he can see the anger burning golden in her eyes. "I say that it's unfortunate not because the Law should have jurisdiction over his punishment, although the Law might disagree with me. I say it because La Loup Noir should. I say it because Wolverine should. I say it because Madeline Jacobs and Logan and Rene Jacobs — our Sister and Brothers — suffered so much at his hands. And I, Ninja, should... although I am not made of the same fiber as my Sister and Brothers, and would only wish that he suffer as much as Sally and Ben and Dick and the one hundred children he tortured in Colorado suffered. I would wish that he suffer as much as every man, woman and child suffered when he attacked Charles' school ten years ago. I would wish that he suffer as much as our Sister and our two Brothers have suffered. All these people, and so many more that I don't know, have suffered because of him."

She closes her eyes, letting go of the anger, and raises Pablo's hand to her lips, kissing it before opening her eyes again.

"I am the Warrior, Pablo, because there is evil in the world that the Law does not understand, that the Law cannot touch. If I stay safely within the strict confines of the Law as you must, I cannot do what I am meant to do. I will promise, however," she says, this time with a true and longer lasting smile, "to keep to myself as many of my activities as possible that would upset you."

He looks at her for a moment, covering her hand with his other one. "I don't have a choice, do I?" he asks.

"There are always choices, my beloved Husband," she says. "It's just that some are simply too painful to choose. I could never choose to leave you to the claws of that whore skank bitch, could I?"

Pablo smiles... it's partially sad and partially his crooked boyish grin. "You're right. I could never choose to leave you, either.

After a moment, Madeline shakes herself from that avenue of thought. At this point in time, nothing can be done, and there are other matters that need attention. She kisses Logan's cheek and partially slips from his hold to open one of the drawers. From there, she takes what appears to be a pistol yet it looks odd. She tucks it into the back of her waistband for the time being.

"There's more to see."

"Come, scary Wife of mine, let's see what other wonders our Sister has in her lair," he says, twining the fingers of his hand with Andi's.

Madeline leads Andi and Pablo out and away from the other rooms to a darkened low platform. After another step, low lights come up, giving just enough visibility to see a computerized command center.

"This connects me to all of Paris, and beyond that to anything Interpol can access." There are a couple of metal steps to the side that face into the stone.

They follow Maddie, hand in hand, into the next room. Andi needs to be honest with herself — jealousy is probably oozing through her pores as she looks at the command center. "Wow, now that is completely awesome! And less likely to give me vertigo like some members of my spy network do, too," she says, grinning from ear to ear.

"Actually, come to think of it, I probably have access to considerably more, but I don't bother. I have enough to deal with in my own back yard."

She toggles a couple of switches that bring up spotlights on her motorcycle as well as her sportster.

"Those are the Wolf's wheels. Admittedly, the bike gets considerably more use. No chance of getting stuck in traffic with that.

It's when Maddie turns on the lights to display Wolf's wheels that both Andi and Pablo are speechless for a minute.

"Whoa! Sweet!" they finally say, in unison. Granted, Pablo is ogling the car and Andi is nearly drooling over the bike... but they are both suitably impressed.

Madeline smiles. She doesn't often get to show her toys off, not to those who will truly appreciate them anyway.

"The best part about those is that very little was needed in the way of mods. Mainly it was just getting a secure link between the onboard systems and my command center. Having a Black Hat I trust goes a long way, but if he asks, I never said that. Perhaps after we see Alois, we can stop by the Ducati dealer."

She toggles the lights off. "Come on. Let's go check out the holodeck. I have towels outside the dojo so you can wipe the drool off."

"Yeah, there are days when I could sure use a Black Hat, but I haven't found anyone that talented... let alone anyone I'd trust. And what are you trying to do? Torture me until I weep?" she asks with a laugh at the suggestion of stopping at the Ducati dealership. "As Andi, I would never be able to explain owning a Ducati, nor would I be able to ride it... not without letting everyone on the Front Range know Andrea Yazzie is Ninja, anyway. Most of the bikes in Colorado are Harleys. I wear my helmet and jacket when Ninja has to work during the day, just to keep my nosy neighbor from looking too closely when I leave the garage. It's a real pain in the ass, by the way."

Pablo chuckles. "Bobby can barely tell the difference between a Harley and a Schwinn. Do you really think he'd notice your Harley had morphed into a Ducati?" he asks, turning to leave the room after Maddie.

"Not really," Andi admits. "But now that David seems to have moved in, I would be much more concerned about him noticing." She sighs. "You know, it was a lot easier to keep the two different parts of my life separate when I was a loner." She wraps her arm around his waist as they step out of the room. "I absolutely blame you and Bobby, by the way," she says, smiling up at him.

Madeline leads them back the way they had come and goes directly to the door closest to the elevator. It slides open at her approach to reveal a circular room with bamboo flooring and four weapons alcoves.

"This is the dojo. The alcoves are actually there but are closed when the programmed environment is changed from the dojo to something else. It does constantly use power, but the room is easier to explain when it looks like this than in its bare state should one of the kids or staff stumble down here. Anyone not in the system that comes down here would only see and feel a wall of stone beyond this door."

Andi releases Pablo and enters the dojo to get a feel for it. She's been in quite a number of dojos. Besides Doshu Ueshiba's and Grandmaster Chen's — and her own, of course — she's been to a few around Denver and Flagstaff, plus quite a number when they traveled for competitions with Doshu Ueshiba. Well, given the nature of Aikido, they weren't quite competitions, not in the sense that The Karate Kid portrays them, anyway. Still, she's been in a lot of dojos.

Maddie's definitely feels right.

From a panel in the wall, she activates a sequence and the room changes to battleship gray walls, ceiling, and floor.

"Charles' danger room is considerably taller, but he had people using it who could fly. This suits our purposes just fine. And not all my programs are tactical simulations."

It's fascinating how the energy of the room changes when the program is turned off, as if the qi itself is moving differently now. She looks around at the bare walls and raises an eyebrow when she turns to Maddie. "Did someone with Talent write or mod your dojo program? There's definitely something more to it than meets the eye.

"I'm not sure I should even dare ask, but what the hell... did the same person write or mod all your programs? And what kinds of programs do you have besides tactical simulations?"

The first question is more professional curiosity than anything else. She'd love to meet someone who can program like that.

The second question? Oh, absolutely personal... as evidenced by the mischievous smile she can't keep from forming.

"I know what you're thinking," Pablo whispers in her ear, in almost a sing-song way, as he wraps his arms around her again.

She turns her head and kisses him lightly, as she rests her arms over his and leans slightly against his chest. "So?" she asks, grinning.

He just chuckles and holds her close.

"The Black Hat set up the initial piece for the dojo, but I did the customization myself, with assistance from Logan, of course. It's his as much as it is mine."

The man in question comfortably slides an arm around Madeline's waist. She leans back against him.

"And, yes, the same person has done all my mods. You met him, after a fashion... my ultra paranoid friend who didn't want you to see his face."

"Ah, yes... the Wizard. Hmm. Is your paranoid friend too paranoid to make new friends?" she asks, half seriously. "I like smart guys who can talk geeky to me."

"Wow, do I need to be jealous now?" Pablo asks, mostly joking.

Andi laughs. "No, dear, especially not of Freak. I just like a good geeky conversation every now and then."

"Uh huh. And who do I blame for the Trek geekiness, by the way? Henry?"

"No... believe it or not, you'll need to blame Justin for that. He infected Henry, too."

"I'll have to ease him into it," Madeline replies. "Folks like us, like I used to be, tend to live longer by being paranoid."

"I get that... the paranoia," Andi says. "It's cool... friends, not friends. Whatever works for him. I'd probably be better off cultivating my own Black Hat anyway. There might be someone with the chops up on Commerce City if I could get them the right equipment."

"You're cousin's not smart enough?" Pablo asks.

"Billy is totally smart enough. Billy is also on the same side of that line you're on, Detective."

Madeline taps another command and the room morphs into a long rectangular space with a couple of steel chairs and a table laden with bomb-making components.

"It's also a training room so I can stay in practice. Safer to do it this way and not make a mistake when working with the real stuff. That reminds me... I need to add nuclear to the arsenal in case it comes up again. Remind me later, Logan."

He makes a sound of assent.

"There are some walks down memory lane," she says. "A tribute to those lost..."

The scene morphs again, this time showing a bar, likely Vietnamese if the non-soldiers are any indication, populated by soldiering types. One table holds familiar faces: Madeline, Rene, and Mitch, among others. This is a static scene, although it seems like it is not normally so. Logan's arm tightens, pulling her closer. He chuffs questioningly. She looks up and nods.

Another command is tapped in and the scene changes once more. A pristine white sand tropical beach stretches out before them.

"Vacation spots, too. Step inside and let the portal close."

They watch silently as the scenes go by, and Andi hugs Pablo's arms tighter when she sees Maddie and Rene and Mitch in the bar. Even as a picture... silent and still... it's uncanny how connected the whole team is. It's vivid and strong, a bond among Normals and close to Normals that's a reflection of the Pentad. Both Maddie and Rene are more now than what they were then, but the radiance of their Bond is evident even in a holographic image.

That Freak is a freaking genius.

When the scene changes to the beach, she steps out of Pablo's arms to crouch down and rest a palm on the sand. Pablo moves to the side to allow the door to close.

"I've seen pictures of white sand beaches; I've never actually seen one, touched one," Andi says with awe. "It's beautiful." She concentrates a moment, then looks over at Maddie with a grin. "With the way my awareness has been heightened lately, I could probably feel Mother through the floor if you shut the whole system down... but it's amazing to feel her here, nonetheless.

With the door closed, a gentle breeze wafts over them, bringing with it the salty tang of brine. A short way down, fingers of crystal clear water tickle the shore. Behind them now are swaying palms, and the temperature adjusts to what it would be where they appear to be.

"Sometimes, we take a catamaran or canoe out to the atolls that protect the island. You could even snorkel or scuba dive and see the marine life. The coral is quite sharp, though, so watch your step. This, by the way, is the island of Bora Bora. And, yes, there are several programs like this and it isn't just the scenery that's included. Accommodations are included if they are so desired. Logan and I tend to like being out of doors and it isn't quite as simple to do upstairs as it is in these actual places or down here."

Madeline and Logan walk hand in hand down to the water's edge. She had set the image so they would be able to watch the sunset.

Andi stands and reaches for Pablo's hand. Instead of taking her hand, he wraps an arm around her waist, then chuckles. "Out of doors is nice... but nearby trees might be in danger."

She pats his chest and talks toward the water with him. "I said I could feel Mother, dear, not channel that much of her energy from indoors. And we don't want to break Maddie's holodeck."

Stopping short of the water's edge, she rests her head on Pablo's shoulder. She's almost afraid to relax; the extreme opposite of relaxation seems to intrude these days. But... maybe, just for a couple of minutes, she can stand here on a beautiful beach watching the sunset with her husband and simply enjoy the moment. She wants to pull off her boots and feel the water on her feet, but... not in this moment. Soon. Perhaps in a few minutes.

"And believe me, this is a considerably nicer introduction to this kind of room than I had. Of course, Charles has his strictly set for tactical training. And Jean had a mischievous streak."

"Mischievous? Hmmm... combined with 'tactical training'? I'm very curious to hear about that combination." She shifts her eyes toward her Sister. "No demonstrations, please. Just stories," she says, smiling, feeling peace... real peace... for the first time since New Mexico, before the rescue mission to Tezcatlipoca's realm.

Logan drops down to sit in the sand and gives Madeline's hand a light tug. She settles in front of him and leans back as his arms go around her. He takes the opportunity to nuzzle at her neck affectionately.

"Let's see. I was barefoot and in medical scrubs when she decided to share. We go in there and the program she activates looks like Serbia in the winter in the middle of that nasty civil war they had. We've got a sniper taking pot shots at us from the get go and it's fucking cold. Then there were three assholes behind a turned over vehicle and other stuff. Jean used her powers to distract them so I could sneak up. Took them out, no problem. The sniper, though... she thought she got the sniper because she couldn't sense him anymore. No such luck, and I'm the one that paid for it. The room had safety features with non-lethal shots, but fuck they hurt. Slammed me down hard, like taking a fifty cal in the chest. I couldn't breathe for a few minutes and was seeing stars."

Madeline laughs.

"After that hit, she took pity on me and deactivated the program. Gods, I miss that woman. Leon took to her real well, too. Yet one more reason to really want to kill Stryker again. She was one of the teachers lost in the attack on the school... both her and her husband, Scott."

"Sounds like I would have liked her a lot," Andi says softly. "That's a fine wicked sense of humor. I probably would have Gibbs slapped her silly, though, after I could breathe again..."

She watches the sun dip below the horizon, hugging Pablo tightly. Although the horizon still glows from the sunset, she can see a myriad of stars when she looks up.

"Perhaps they are not stars, but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down on us... to let us know they are happy."

She wonders if she can really find comfort in that sentiment. She has not lost that many people close to her, but enough that she knows how much it hurts. After nine years, she still misses Denise dreadfully... her kindness, her toughness, her sense of humor, the way she and Pablo just meshed when they were on the job together. She misses the child she never had, and she doesn't even know why. The full measure of Sally's death hasn't hit her yet.

"It's from an Inuit legend. Sometimes I think it would be nice to believe that." She smiles up at the sky in the growing darkness; the night is lit only by stars and a pale moon. "Science is awesome... it kind of ruins some of the old stories, though."

"Why should the story be ruined, Warrior?" Fox asks. "You know the Spirits, and your science cannot explain us. Your heart can hold both beliefs with ease."

She looks down at the Spirit sitting at her feet; Pablo looks around for the others. "You're going to be following me everywhere I go, huh?" she asks with a touch of humor.

Fox chuckles. "It is our duty and honor to do so, Warrior."

Bear, Opossum, Cobra, and Eagle are conspicuously missing. "Where's everyone else?"

"Only Cat and I were able to enter this place of science-magic. Sibling Rene, of course, will be able to enter as well. He said something about watching children sleeping."

"He missed so much," Madeline says softly, sadly... then tilts her head back to look at Logan as he makes a noise.

"He sees the man our boy is becoming and he is content. Besides, you can still share memories with him. We both can. Those didn't go anywhere."

She smiles at him. "You're a good man, Logan. I don't tell you enough."

"I'm just me," he answered with a shrug.

"And what you are is a good man. I love you, Mate."

He gives her back is own bright smile before kissing her. "And I love you, Mate."

"Mmm," Andi responds to the Spirits statement. She can see Cat batting at the water as it washes in gentle swells onto the sand, only to flow away again. Pablo notices Cat, and she can feel a combination of giddy laughter and an old sadness flowing through their Bond. "Pablo?"

He nods at Cat. "Denise's cat used to do that to his water dish. Refused to drink from it, tried to beat it into submission every time Denise would set it out." He stands quietly for a few moments, watching Cat play with the surf. "Haven't thought about old Barney in ages." Then he looks up at the stars. "I like your story. I hope she's happy, wherever she is."

"Yeah. Me, too. I hope they all are."

Rene mists in but stands several steps back from everyone else. He takes a moment to observe his wife at the most peace he has ever seen her, and he silently thanks all the Spirit family he has for making this possible. He takes a step, shifting sand on purpose and clearing his throat.

"Your children are beautiful, Maddie, Logan."

"Our children," Logan corrects him. "You are a part of this family, whether you like it or not."

Madeline chuckles. "Yes. You are stuck with us now."

"Maddie, my love?"

"Yes, love?"

"Do you think one day you can show me who Em is named after?"

She pats the sand next to her, indicating he should sit down. "We were just talking about one of them."

Rene comes forward and lowers himself down into the sand. He reaches out and entwines his fingers with the ones Madeline holds out to him."

"Em... Emelia Jeanine for Emily and Jean and Jeanette."

"Jeanette? Not Jeanette Vasquez?" he asks.

"Yes. We lost Kali that day, too," she tells him with a nod. "Vice as well."

"I didn't see them. I only saw Vincent."

"They went down long before either you or Vincent. We lost Vice up on top of the dam. Kali was in the tunnels as we were coming in via the helipad."

"And who were Emily and Jean?"

"Emily was one of the students and Jean one of the teachers at Charles' school."

"They were both at the school," he states, frowning in concentration. "Tall, attractive woman. Red hair."

There is really only one way Rene could know that small bit of detail. He had been part of the force that had attacked the school. Madeline squeezes his hand. "That was Jean. But Emily escaped. She died at Alkalai Base."

"You let the kids...?"

"Let? No, love, you don't understand. If Stryker had been successful in compromising Charles, he could have killed every mutant on the planet with a mere thought. If we couldn't get him out, we were going to kill him or die trying. Yours wasn't the only kill order I gave that day."

"I'm sorry, love."

"Me too, love. But wishing things were different won't change them."

He gives her a half grin. "When did you wise up?"

She makes a look of mock horror and indignation. "Wise up?"

"Okay, get so wise."

"That's better," she says, then glances back at Logan. "It's the company I've been keeping for the last ten years or so."

"My Brother's a miracle worker then."

"Jacobs," she says, her tone a warning.

"Oui, Jacobs?" he asks, this time with his crooked grin.

She sighs a laugh and shakes her head.

Andi isn't really paying much attention to Maddie and Logan, and merely takes notes of Rene's arrival. Being under the stars, seeing the vast field of black with so many pinpoints of light, has always filled her with wonder. It's getting harder and harder to find places where cities don't overshadow the lights of the dimmer stars... she has to love every minute that she gets to enjoy this. Even if it is on a holodeck.

Something that Maddie says, however, catches her attention. If Stryker had been successful in compromising Charles, he could have killed every mutant on the planet with a mere thought. She shudders at the idea. Suddenly, it makes her really glad that Stryker is dead. She still wants to kill him again, however.

"Hey, what's wrong?" Pablo asks softly, looking down at her.

She shakes her head and holds him closer. "Something I overheard Maddie say. It's probably not a good idea to know some things."

He just raises his eyebrows with that And... what else? look of his.

"Things like just how close the mutants on this planet came to dying ten years ago. Gets me to wondering how you and Denise would have reacted if I'd turned up dead. How my family would have coped if Tommy, Tali, Billy and I had all died. Sad, morbid stuff."

"Then stop thinking." He kisses her softly. "That's the past. Just be here now."

She smiles at him and chuckles softly. "Using my own words against me, Detective?"

"Well, I figure if they work on me, there's a better than average chance they'd work on you," he says with a smile, "what with you being less thick-headed and everything."

She just shakes her head and continues to smile. What can she say to that? Not really much of anything, that's what. She simply turns so she can lean against him if necessary, then raises one foot so she can take off her boot. She drops the boot and sock behind them as she lowers the foot to the cool sand. That just gives her greater impetus to get the other boot off and drops it and the other sock beside the first. She doesn't really remember the trips to the beaches very well when they were in Japan... dim photographs and the memories are mostly of her parents and her brother. Surprisingly — or maybe not, she never really thought about it — they didn't go all that often.

But her feet remember... once, maybe twice, on a beach with sand that had felt this wonderful. Justin had still been such a tiny thing, but what she remembers most is digging her toes into the sand and looking up at Mama and Dad, giggling with happiness.

"Wow," she sighs.

"Wow?"

She looks down at her feet, toes digging into the sand. "This is happy sand. Brings back happy memories."

Pablo smiles. "You know, you light up like a spotlight when you think certain happy thoughts. Let me guess... Japan?"

She nods. "I'd love to go to this place for real... to feel Mother and Father, have all the Spirits around. It would be amazing!"

"We'd cause a hurricane, at the very least," he says, nuzzling her neck.

"Brat!" she says, laughing as she slaps his arm. "I'm talking about a spiritual journey, and you can only think about sex! You're incorrigible."

"Guilty as charged, your honor."

She chuckles, then takes his hand, leading him down the beach towards the tableau of Maddie and her two men. They look... hmm. Their qi looks a little bit like the Monks' up in Commerce City does... full of calm and peace, yet utterly deadly when provoked.

She sits down beside Rene and Pablo sits beside her. As she rests her head on Pablo's shoulder and his arm wraps around her waist, she closes her eyes and unerringly finds Rene's hand. Twining her fingers with his, she simply sighs as she feels the Bond of the Pentad thrumming through the five of them.

"This is good," she whispers, almost silently.

Fox leans against her back; she can hear Cat still playing with the water.

Really good.

"This is Bora Bora isn't it, love?" Rene asks after a long time quiet.

She grins. "Took you long enough. Yes, one of our few real, true vacation spots."

"Are Napa and Phuket in here too?"

"Yes. Bac Lieu and Hong Kong as well. Even Paramaribo. Should add Golden," she tells him then glances at Logan, "And the Canadian Rockies?"

"Yes."

"So what tacticals are in here?" Rene asks.

"All the hotspots, past and current. Africa, Middle East, South East Asia, Bosnia, Serbia, Soviet Union, Central and South America. Any and every place business took us. Added in multiple time periods as well. Logan was able to authenticate from about the civil war forward, and anything before that we used best guesses and borrowed a bit from Hollywood. No charioteers with watches here, though."

"Practicing with sticks and stones too?" he teases.

"Always have," she answers with a smile. "You know how it is. With the right motivation, anything can be a weapon, even a teacup."

"That's my Maddie. Always looking for the advantage in any situation."

She sighs. "And the disadvantage I see right now is that it would be entirely too easy to succumb to sleep in here and not be where we should be when the children wake up. After this last night, I don't think that would be a good thing."

"Sister?" Madeline asks, leaning forward a bit to see Andi. "You ready to settle in for the night? We need to be where the heathens can find us."

After a long look out across the water, Andrea smiles at Maddie.

"I could get entirely too used to this, you know. But, yes, Sister... let's settle in where we'll expect to be found come morning.

She reluctantly lets go of Rene's hand and, although completely unnecessary, allows Pablo to help her stand. Well, she lets him think he's helping her. He's got gentleman so ingrained in his soul... after eleven years, she's learned to accept.

"Yeah, I think the kids could do with ordinary after tonight. Heck, I could use some ordinary..." She shrugs and picks up her boots and socks. "...although I suppose it would help if I could remember what 'ordinary' was."

Logan stands up, taking Madeline with him as if she were as light as a feather. Of course, compared to him and his adamantium-laced skeleton, she is. Rene stands as well, still marveling at their surroundings.

"Don't look to me for that answer," Madeline says.

On the way out of the room, she reverts it back to the default dojo setting and leads the way back, this time taking the narrow curved stairs that let out into a hidden alcove off the kitchen.

"We aren't expected at Oom Alois' until nine. The staff will be in and moving about in the morning, so don't be overly concerned about noise. Also, feel free to come down and use the dojo if you are up early. We may very well sleep in a bit.

"Well, stay in bed anyway," she adds as Logan's hand trails down her spine.

As usual, she wakes much earlier than Pablo; as usual, she slips quietly from the bed. After a quick stop in the bathroom, and after pulling on her shorts and t-shirt, she lets herself out into the garden outside their room. It's still dark, but close to the morning twilight; the temperature is in the lower forties... not bad at all for practicing. The grass is wet with dew that is almost a frost. Andi walks toward a small patch of grass — that's all she really needs — and begins her morning practice.

Cobra wraps itself around her waist, Opossum sits on her shoulder. Opossum may regret that later. Fox sits to the side watching, and Bear tries to imitate her movements. Fortunately, being a Spirit, Bear isn't trampling the bushes that it dances in.

She smiles as she closes her eyes and watches the qi and her own movements; she watches as her movements alter the flow of the energies.

{Daughter... love} {Daughter... welcome} {Daughter... love} {Daughter... greeting}

She giggles. Good morning, Mother and Father. You're very beautiful today.

{Daughter... love} {Daughter... appreciation} {Daughter... love} {Daughter... blessing}

We are beautiful, too, are we not, Warrior? Bear asks as it dances.

Indeed you are, friend Bear. All of you are more Beauty than most humans can perceive.

She can sense Father's energies transform as the sun peeks over the horizon. She doesn't understand, quite, what exactly has happened since the veils fell between the worlds. She sees so much more of the energy than she had before, she sees it so much more clearly... it's as if every day is Halloween, as if the veils never rose again. Yet, she did feel them rise. Communicating with Mother and Father... well, that she attributes to the blending of the Pentad. But the feeling she has of greater strength and power on that one day of the year? She thinks she probably overwhelmed Tommy with the things she did tell him. Maybe she'll wait until the wedding to mention the rest.

Oh, it might be many of the time spaces you call years before Ha'atathli Dehiya will accept your greater powers without cradling his head in his hands, Fox says matter of factly. He is still young.

Her quick pattern of turn block kick nearly does dislodge Opossum, although a tightening of its tail around her neck and its paws on her ears keeps it from sliding down her arm.

Warrior! Do that again! That was fun!

She grins broadly. Sorry, dear Opossum. That's the only turn and block in that direction in this form. There's one of the other side in a moment if you'd like to move to the other shoulder, however.

Opossum scampers across her shoulders and settles there just as she begins the turn block kick pattern in the other direction. She finishes the form and settles into a standing mediation pose. Opossum lets go of her ear and claps its tiny paws together happily.

That was wonderful, Warrior!

Cobra partially unwraps itself from around her waist to peek over her shoulder. You should join us then when the Warrior rides her two-wheeled conveyance! You might even tumble off! it tells Opossum.

You guys... if you make me as crazy as Raven did, I'm going to flip out and come looking for you where you live. She's pretty sure she says that bit rather calmly. Yes. She feels calm. All that practice. Well, that... and the grounding of Mother.

We'd be happy to have you visit our realm, Bear says... seriously, Andi suspects.

Fortunately, before she can answer, she hears Pablo.

"Woman, what are you doing outside grinning like a loon and practically naked in the middle of winter?"

"Practicing," she says... and then she opens her eyes. He's standing in the guest bedroom with the door open a crack, wearing a very comfortable looking bathrobe. Gosh, Maddie treats her guests well... Andi knows for a fact that not only did Pablo not pack a bathrobe, but he doesn't even own one.

"I'm freezing just looking at you."

She laughs. "The close the door and stay warm. I'll be right in."

She raises her arms over her head, palms toward the sky and fingertips nearly touching... one of the classic poses of the Laughing Buddha. "Thank you, Father," she whispers, eyes closed again.

She lowers herself to a crouch and brings her arms down, touching her palms to the earth. "Thank you, Mother."

She stands and says to her guardian Spirits as she walks back toward the house, "And thank you all for joining me this morning."

"It was a pleasure, Warrior. It has been a very, very long time since we've come to this part of the world. It's very different than we remember it," Fox says.

"Well, I imagine it would be," she says, opening the door and slipping back inside.

"You are one crazy woman, Andrea Yazzie," Pablo says as the door closes. "It's freezing out there, and you don't even have shoes on!"

She laughs as she wraps her arms around him. "Good grief, Pablo, it's at least forty degrees! And didn't we establish years ago that I'm crazy?"

"We did," he agrees, "which means you no longer need to prove it. And, wow... you need a shower!"

"Yes, I do... to both your statements," she replies with a grin. "Care to join me?"

"Why, I thought you'd never ask!"

"Right... like you need me to ask," she says as she heads toward the bathroom.

"Nope, never," he replies with a grin matching hers. "It just sounds nice." He tosses the bathrobe on the bed and follows her into the bathroom.

Today is not a day for one of their efficient showers; it's slow and luxurious and sensual and quite satisfying. There's still hot water pouring over them, however, when they finish... she just hopes there still enough left so that they didn't deprive anyone else of hot water.

Morning light brightens their bedroom and Madeline curls in close to Logan and sleepily kisses his chest. He smiles without opening his eyes and wraps an arm around her.

"Storms incoming," he rumbles.

"I hear them," she says with a small laugh. "Maybe if we pretend we're still asleep, they'll only peek in."

"Maybe, but don't count on it."

"Never do."

The door to the bedroom creaks open and the pajama-clad twins hurry across the room to their parents with no effort at silence.

"Mama?" Em asks.

At her tone, Madeline turns toward her. "What is it, Em?"

"Are you okay?" This morning, she seems much more mature and wiser than her ten years should warrant.

"Yes, I am, sweetheart," she says and holds out her arms to her daughter.

Em climbs up on the bed and hugs her mother. Vin clambers up on the end and watches with wide eyes to not miss anything.

"What happened, Mama?" he asks.

"I got stuck in a memory and needed some help getting out."

"It was an awful memory," Em states.

Madeline shares a look with Logan, who sits up now. Vin crawls further up to sit beside his father.

"Yes, it was, and I'm sorry you had to feel that."

"It was like those dreams you sometimes have," Vin says. "How did you get stuck?"

"Not quite sure. Professor Xavier could probably explain it... maybe. But everything is fine now, and you needn't worry. Now, Mama and Papa and Aunt Andi and Tio Pablo are going out to see Oom Alois today. You two and Leon have a free day, but you should get unpacked and get your things into the laundry, okay?"

"Oui, Mama."

"Now, off with you both so we can get showered and dressed. I love you."

"Love you, too, Mama."

The twins scurry away, their parents lovingly watching them go but with concern in their eyes. Once they are out of earshot, Madeline says, "We should talk to Charles later."

Logan agrees.

They shower and dress, enticed downstairs by the scent of fresh coffee. Bernard greets them as they come down and inquires if they would be taking their meal on the patio. Both say yes, then grin and kiss. Mugs are waiting on the bar by the carafe of hot coffee. Logan pours two and hands one to Madeline before they wander out to the patio overlooking the garden.

Andrea dries her hair while Pablo dresses... he merely watches her as she dresses. She doesn't have much to choose from, really. Her leathers, her boots, and the blue blouse she wore on the flight over. "Well, I'm just glad nobody bled all over me or ripped my shirt."

"It was a close thing with the blood when you whacked me in the face last night," Pablo says. "You sure everything is okay in your head?"

"Yep, no worse than it was before. Heck, maybe it's even a little better," she says, tucking in the blouse. "I smell coffee. Good coffee. I want coffee!"

He stands and laughs, then takes her hand. "Let's go find this coffee. Where there is coffee, food can often be found nearby."

"You're a great detective, Detective... I'm sure you'll find it."

They discover Bernard, instead, who informs them — well, informs Pablo, as Andi is already heading right for the carafe of coffee — that Maddie and Logan are on the patio, and that breakfast would be served momentarily. It's definitely a different vibe than the Human Tsunami wandering over with his latest creation. For one thing, Bernard doesn't giggle incessantly like Bobby so often does whenever he sees Andi and Pablo together. Well... seneschals probably aren't supposed to giggle. She would bet they get to laugh sometimes, though. It would only be fair.

She pours coffee for both of them, then they head out to the patio to join Maddie and Logan.

"Good morning, dear Sister and Brother," Andi says. "Your garden is very friendly... and if we used all the hot water, we're only a little bit sorry."

Pablo rolls his eyes. "No, we're very sorry, Madeline."

Andi looks at Pablo with a raised eyebrow, then turns to Maddie with a grin.

"No. We're not."

Madeline and Logan both laugh and Madeline says, "Even an entire regiment would be hard pressed to use up all the hot water. It's an in-ground on-demand thermal system. And good morning to both of you... please, sit."

"Oooh, I have one of those! Well, it's not actually in-ground, unless being in the basement counts. And the plumber would probably just call it an on-demand water heater. She grins. "Even before allowing this one..." She tilts her head toward Pablo. "...access to my inner sanctum, I could empty an average water heater with a shower in my super spiffy multi-jet spa shower at least once a week." She laughs as they take their seats. "After the third time the water suddenly went from hot to ice, I invested in a new water heater."

"I expect we'll see the children once there is food to be had. We know the twins are already up and about and, when it comes to food, Leon is most certainly a typical teenager."

Shortly after those fateful words are spoken, breakfast plates laden with overstuffed omelets and toast are brought out to the four of them, along with glasses and carafes of juices and water and more coffee, of course.

Andi almost starts to drool at the sight of the omelets. Pablo pours them both some juice. She takes a healthy swig of coffee.

"The children have opted to eat inside, Madame," Bernard offers. "I believe young Master Leon said something about being closer to the source. Will you be taking them with you to see Mr. Caoua today?"

Although Bernard has stated it all with an air of utmost professionalism, there is no doubt humor in his words.

"No, we will not. I don't know how ill he is yet. I've told the twins today is a free day for them. Leon may have studies he needs to do. I do believe Professor Xavier will want to speak with him in any case."

"Very good, Madame. I will have the Mercedes brought around front for you."

"Merci, Bernard."

Once Bernard has disappeared back inside, Madeline looks over at Andi. "You know, you're welcome to rifle through my closet if you need to. At least some of the shirts should fit. In any case, we can stop at one of the shops on the way back."

Logan is already digging into his food and Madeline sits forward to do the same.

Although she pays attention to her food — first and foremost, butter and marmalade for the toast — she can't help but note the ripple of amusement when Bernard mentions Leon's desire to be closer to the kitchen. Or in the kitchen. Or — as she likes to imagine Billy and Justin — hovering just outside wooden spoon reach while waiting for Aunt Alicia or Mama to finish cooking breakfast. Not that either of them would actually hover, but it's a picture she can't get out of her head whenever her aunt or Mama start talking about the amount of food either of them eats.

The omelet — her taste buds inform her that they've reached Nirvana — needs to lose two forkfuls of its area before she can respond to Maddie's officer.

"I may just take you up on the offer of rifling in your closet, although I don't know if shopping will be necessary if you've got a turtleneck I could borrow, too." She looks at Pablo, who appears to be enjoying his omelet immensely. "Well, I guess it depends on how long we'll be staying and how fancy we need to get." She turns back to Maddie with a shrug. "My leathers are pretty versatile and can be dressed up or down, and I have a pair of jeans and a pair of shorts. I have a feeling the shorts wouldn't be quite as normal in Paris in November as they are in Denver this time of year.

"The detective, however, only has his jeans, running shorts and his not-spandex uniform, t-shirts and... one polo?"

Pablo pauses with a forkful of food halfway to his mouth. "Two," he says, then continues demolishing his omelet.

She smiles as she prepares another forkful of omelet. "So... we're okay for a couple of days of very casual."

She digs into her breakfast with determination. She's been hungrier lately, too. That probably makes sense... even the Warrior and Protector of Denver cannot live by qi alone.

"The turtlenecks are mostly downstairs in the room I didn't show you."

She looks Pablo up and down. "Between Logan's and Rene's things, there should be something that fits. But swinging by the shop is easy enough. We can call in your sizes and they'll put aside things for you to see when we arrive. Being the head of the company does have some perks."

Andi shrugs; Maddie would know better what clothing is appropriate for Paris. "Sizes are hard... depending on designer and style, it can range from a six to a fourteen. American sizes... things are sized differently over here, aren't they? Well, shoes are. Anyway, the less expensive and less exclusive the clothing manufacturer, the more likely I am to find a consistent fit." She takes another sip of coffee and sighs.

"As you might imagine, I hate shopping. And I tend to just head over to Target, much to my fabulous friend's chagrin."

Eventually, the children — all three of them — come outside to say good morning. Leon is extra quiet and hugs his mother a long time.

"Going to need you to help look after your brother and sister today, sweetheart," she tells him.

"All right, Mom," he answers and hugs her a bit longer.

The kids wander back inside, mischievous looks on the twins' faces. Leon is going to be in for a long day. Madeline does not bother to hide the smirk as she checks the time.

"We should get going. It isn't that far, but Parisian traffic can be challenging."

Finishing breakfast doesn't take long and with all the extras stuffed into the omelets, Andi feels like it might just hold her until lunch.

She's not about to leave her staff behind. The last time she did that, she had to trash a Safeway with only a broom handle and a little rage. Fortunately, these days she can camouflage it or make it completely invisible, thanks to Fox's magic. She can see where that could come in really handy at times back home.

Getting out of the house is easy enough and, as Bernard had said it would be, the Mercedes sport utility vehicle is waiting for them.

"Why aren't we taking my Peugeot?" Logan asks as they load into the vehicle.

"It needs to be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized," Madeline answers.

"Do I want to know?"

"Had to transport something that smelled... vile," she explains. "Damn. Need to have the inte..." She coughs and clears her throat. "...interview rooms cleaned up too."

"You had too much fine while I was away."

"Only a few days' worth."

To her passengers in the back seat, she says, "You might want to buckle up. It isn't technically the law, but it's definitely safer."

As they're buckling up, Pablo whispers, "When I conduct interviews, cleaning up means tossing paper scraps, wiping up spilled coffee, and making sure no one left gum stuck to the undersides of the table or chairs. I have a feeling Madeline means something entirely different."

Andi looks at him, deadly serious, and nods. "Yes. And you don't want to know anything about it."

He returns the look and then the nod. "Okay."

Madeline starts up the car and pulls away from the house. The initial street is not too bad, but once they get to a major thoroughfare, it is a different story entirely.

Forty five minutes later, they are pulling up to a cozy old country home on the outskirts of the city.

Although traffic is considerably more congested than anything they usually see in Denver — with the exception of any and all streets around the sports arenas on game days — it's nice to just watch the Paris of real people, as opposed to movie actors on a screen.

As they pull up in front of a pretty house — their destination, Andi assumes — Pablo says, "I could see us living in a sweet little place like this."

She rolls her eyes at him. "You're keeping a list of every single thing you want in a house, I hope. Daniel will grill you mercilessly when it comes time for him to design our house. After that conversation, you'll probably start wondering why he's not a detective," she adds with a smile as she opens the door of the vehicle.

Logan's hand is on Madeline's thigh the entire ride over. While he might have held her hand instead, it would have made shifting a bit more challenging. Like him, she likes her hands free. When they arrive at Alois', he slips out of the car and waits in front of it with that same hand held out to her as she comes around the nose of it. She slips her hand in his, and they climb the steps to the front door.

As they are expected and watched for, said door opens without the need for knocking or ringing of the bell.

"Lin, Logan, please come in," the woman, Alois' one-time secretary, said, then she asked, "You brought friends?"

"Yes, Anna. I felt it was important that he meet them while he still could," Madeline tells her. "This is my recently adopted sister Andi and her husband, Pablo."

"Sister?" she repeats in surprise, although with a pleased smile. "Welcome to our home, Andi, Pablo. Please come in."

"I'm glad you came as soon as you did, Lin. I'm afraid he doesn't have much time left, but he did not want to disturb your vacation. He said you don't take them enough."

"He has always been stubborn."

"He says the same of you."

"I can't say he is wrong," Madeline admits with a smile. "Is it just age?"

"No," Anna says sadly. "But his age hasn't helped. We do what we can to make him comfortable..."

Madeline puts a gentle hand to the older woman's arm. "Tell me?"

When Anna turns to face her, her eyes are bright with tears. "It's cancer, Lin. Fairly aggressive. And even if it hadn't metastasized, with his age the treatment probably would have killed him anyway..."

"So he chose to let it run its course," Madeline finishes for her.

Yes, that was Alois' way. He would hang on long enough to say his goodbyes, then let himself go. Logan squeezes her hand, then lets go to slip his arm around her. She gives him a grateful glance and feels Rene's presence there too, although he does not show himself.

Anna dabs at her eyes with a kerchief. "If you're ready."

They both greet Anna, and Andi tightly holds Pablo's hand.

Cancer. One of the ugliest ways the human body can betray itself...

Madeline nods and indicates that Anna should lead the way. It is not far, just down the hall. They had converted one of the living spaces on the lower level to a pseudo hospital room with all the equipment needed to offer him as much comfort as possible. He is sitting up currently, in a well cushioned, supportive chair by the window where he can overlook the rear garden. Anna steps to the side and Madeline slips from Logan's arm and crosses the room.

"Oom Alois?" she says softly, her voice already rough with emotion.

He turns slightly and with a bit of difficulty. He had always been a thin, trim man, but now he looks almost gaunt. His face lights with his smile, however, and he reaches a frail hand out to stroke her cheek.

"Liefde Linja, you look well," he says, his voice still strong and commanding. "Time away from business has been good for you."

"It has been."

"And where is..." he begins to ask, but spies the man he seeks over her shoulder. "Logan, come closer, too."

Logan had been standing in the doorway with an odd expression on his face. He shakes the feeling from his head and comes forward at the man's request.

Andi notes Logan's expression; it looks vaguely familiar, but she can't say why.

Rene? Is Logan all right? Or is it just family history that I don't know yet?

He is fine, just puzzled about something. Like a word that you cannot quite remember.

Andi simply inclines her head slightly at Rene's explanation.

And yet... there's something else to it, too. Logan remains puzzled, while Uncle Alois' heart wells with such gratitude that the brightness around his heart keeps her eyes lowered to the floor near the man's feet. Not that it helps much; there is much energy born of love there. If he understood how to channel that energy, he could clean his body — stop the war — in mere moments.

Still, she wonders why this puzzle and joy are so... strange.

"Hello, sir," Logan says.

"How many times have I asked you to call me Alois, or Uncle at least?"

"Many."

Alois chuckles. "At least someone has a chance of out stubborning you, Linja. I am glad you two are here. No children? Good. Tomorrow, though, yes? But who are your shadows back there?"

"You haven't given me a chance to answer or introduce yet, Oom Alois."

Yes, his body is frail but his mind is as sharp as ever. He smiles wickedly at her slight exasperation. He knows what he is doing.

Madeline turns toward the door and waves her Sister and Brother over. "Oom Alois, this is Andrea Yazzie and Pablo Garcia. Andi, Pablo... my godfather, Alois Caoua."

"Pleased to meet you both. Anna, would you bring that box I asked you about over, then leave us for a bit?"

"Of course, dear," she says.

"It's an honor to meet you, sir," Pablo says upon being introduced to Alois.

Andi cannot be so formal, however. "Uncle Alois..." She tilts her head and looks at him — the whole of him, the pathways of his meridians, the texture of his qi — then manages a weak smile as she takes Maddie's hand. "I would have wished to meet you ten years ago, Uncle, but I don't have that talent."

Yes, about ten years ago, she thinks... she would have seen the subtle blockages in the meridians that have become major blockages that have become illness... that have become a body fighting a war against itself and, of course, losing. Had Pablo continued holding in his pain from Rosalia's and Juan's murders, this would have been him... a considerably younger man, dying from the same outward manifestation of monumental qi imbalance.

Anna brings over an old photo box and hands it to Madeline, then turns and leaves the room, closing the door behind her.

Andi squeezes her Sister's hand and lets go as she takes the box from Anna.

Pablo slips his arm around Andi's waist and holds her close. He can't see what she sees, but he can feel the reverberations of what she feels through their Bond.

Alois, for all his age and his illness, does not miss the interaction between Andi and Madeline. "Linja, tell me how you met. I think I will enjoy this story."

"Joe Baker introduced us when we went to Denver to pack up the cabin," she explains. "You could say we hit it off quite well. It helps that she's one of the local Supers out there. She is Ninja. Pablo is Peacekeeper.

"Ah," he says knowingly. "This Ninja I know of. A pleasure indeed. But not Peacekeeper."

"He's new to the fold, Oom."

Wait. "What? I'm internationally infamous?" Andi sighs and leans against Pablo. "Blast those damn winds that whisper," she mutters. "Somehow, this is Jeffrey Masterson's fault, I just know it." She pats Pablo's shoulder. "Still feel bad about being the Newbie?"

He raises an eyebrow and glances between his wife and the elderly man. "No... no, I don't think so."

Alois winks at Andi. "That would be Colonel Masterson, oui? I think you will find that, although you are all spread across the world, it is a small circle indeed. There are those of us who like to stay in the know."

"Oom Alois has ever had his hand in," Madeline says fondly.

"Yes, my friend Colonel Masterson, indeed," Andi admits. "Although my mind is still having a hard time wrapping itself around the fact that I consider someone in the military a friend," she adds with a shrug.

Alois smiles almost enigmatically but turns to Madeline. "And the cabin? All went well there?" he asks with obvious concern.

"Better than expected, Oom Alois, much better."

"Good. He was a good man."

"Yes. Yes, he was. Which is why you and Papa conspired to set us up."

"Figured that out finally, did you?"

"Just before we were married. Now, what about this box?"

"And you never let on, letting us think we still had you bamboozled. Should have known." He looks at the box. "Sit, sit first. I had them bring in extra chairs, or there on the bed, too. The box is one of the things I need to talk to about... as well as my replacement. La Loup will need a new contact soon."

Chairs are pulled forward. There had been enough for Madeline and her family, which meant there is one extra. Madeline sits closest to Alois with Logan on her left.

Andi knows the others can feel Rene's presence; she doesn't know if they can see him as she does. When Maddie and her Uncle discuss him, her smile returns. Well, really... how can it not? She sneaks a peek at Spirit Brother. What's not to love about that one?

When they sit, Andi naturally sits to Maddie's right with Pablo on her right. They always seem to wind up in the same positions, they of the Pentad, for Rene stands between Andi and Maddie. The Sisters may be on Rene's left or on Rene's right, but they always flank him... Maddie with her Mate beside her, and Andi with her Husband on her other side.

Once everyone is seated, Alois pats Madeline's knee.

"Open, si vous plait."

She lifts the lid to reveal many old black and white and sepia-toned photographs, some whole, some with ragged edges or tears. The one prominently on top is a photo of a much younger Alois and another man, both in World War II uniforms.

"You and Papa," she says, immediately recognizing her father's face.

"Oui. There are more in there. Others we served with. Some with your Mama and you as well, when you were small. Then later, perhaps duplicates of some of the ones you and from when you and Sergeant Jacobs first started working together. These are as much your history as mine, and you should have them."

Madeline picks up several and goes through them, turning them over to see the precise script on the back detailing who and when. She swallows hard and blinks rapidly. These are very precious indeed. He makes a little motion for her to keep looking. There is something more he wants her to see. She flips through them slowly, cascades of memories from the ones of her younger days giving rise to more tears. She lifts another from the box, though, and stops, eyes widening in surprise. She looks at Alois and shows it to him.

He nods. "Show him."

"Logan?" she says, handing him the photo.

Logan takes it and looks at it, his brows going up also in surprise. The photo is of young Alois during World War II, and standing next to him is Logan himself. This photo is different in another way from the one with her father. Alois is rail thin, appearing as if he had not had a decent meal in months. He is gaunt, as he is now.

"I knew I had seen your face before," Alois explains. "Although it did not seem possible, when Lin told me about your abilities, I knew it was you. You went by a different name then — James Howlett — but it is you. That was just after the end of the war. I had been a prisoner. All of our guards had just left one day, and a few of us with some strength remaining left to try to find help for our fellow men. The small unit you were with found us, down to only two by then. You swore to me you would go back for the others once we were seen to, and you did. You, personally, carried one man too sick to walk the entire way back."

Alois' eyes are wet now too. "That man... that man was my dearest friend... and Lin's father, Johan Messijer. You had disappeared before we had a chance to thank you, but I can do that now. I thank you, James Howlett, Logan. I thank you."

Madeline can say nothing. She had known Logan's history, yes, and despite the intricately detailed files Stryker had, there were still things not recorded. She watches as her godfather tearfully reaches for the hands of the man who had not only saved his life but her father's as well; the man who is now her Mate.

Logan's brows are furrowed now. The story explains why Alois had appeared so familiar when they had arrived today. He tries to remember that time, but only has vague images.

"I'm sorry, sir," he apologizes, letting Alois take his hand. "I don't really remember much before twenty five years ago..."

"That is quite all right. I remember, and that is enough. I am glad that I am finally able to say thank you, though.

The photos are a treasure; certainly a personal one for Maddie, but even historically they are significant... although few people besides historians and librarians — and not even all librarians — would think that way. But seeing Logan in one of the photos, or James Howlett as he had been known then, causes something to... click? It's nearly impossible to put into words what Andi feels in the qi when that memory is made public. A circuit is closed, perhaps? It's something that allows for a different path, a new path for qi to flow... or so she thinks. Maybe. She knows Logan has said that he is satisfied knowing only what he remembers; she knows now that she has that memory tucked in a corner of her mind if he ever decides differently.

Another photo comes to hand while Alois tells his story. Madeline holds it quietly for a long moment, then hands it to Andi. It is the young girl in her memory, before her innocence had been taken.

Andi holds the picture of young Maddie, a lump forming in her throat. "You're safe now, little one," she says, barely more than a breath. It's not likely anyone except Logan could have heard her. And even if anyone else could, she had spoken the words in her own language.

Madeline feels Rene's hand on her shoulder.

That's the same photograph your father game me...

She nods.

Logan holds the other photo gingerly as if it might shatter in his hands. There is one more that she passes over to him, another of him and Alois, but this one also includes Johan.

"You saved my father and godfather, Logan," she says with no small bit of wonder.

He meets her gaze and gives her a loving half smile. "And you saved me and gave me something I never thought I would have. I think we can call it even.

She leans over to brush her lips across his. Touch does more to communicate her feelings than words ever did.

But... there's something else, too, here that needs remembering. And least... Andi thinks so.

"Maddie? Uncle Alois loved Rene as a son, yes?" Her eyes shift up to Spirit Brother's face before meeting her Sister's eyes, her question unspoken but clear. Only she — and perhaps Rene — can say how much of the truth the old man should be told but she thinks, she believes that he would find comfort in knowing that Rene, too, has found peace.

Madeline turns back when Andi says her name, but her answer is forestalled by Alois himself.

"I did. I still do. Rene and Madeline were my chosen heirs as I have no children myself. Now it is Madeline and Logan and the children," he says, once more taking up Madeline's hand. "Rene would be happy for you, Linja."

"He is, Oom Alois," she tells him. "He constantly reminds me."

At Alois' confused look, Rene makes himself corporeal and says, "I must constantly remind her. There are some things she chooses not to remember very well."

Alois had seen some fantastic things in his years, but never something such as this. Madeline had confided in him the true nature of Rene's death and her part in it. It had pained him greatly to see her in such turmoil, and he also understood it. One did not live as long as he has and work in the fields he had without having to face very similar things. He looks at Rene and to Madeline and to Andi, for it was her question that prompted the answer.

"What is this? How is this possible?"

"This is our Rene. He has been brought back to us as a Spirit. The magic of the First Nations made it possible, Oom Alois. He is once again my Guardian Angel."

Alois stares at Rene a long time, then reaches a hand out. Rene leans forward and grasps it. "I will watch over her for all her days, sir. I swear it."

Her godfather holds onto her Husband's hand as tears of happiness spill down his face. "Rene Jacobs, you scamp, you had better."

He lets go finally and takes up Madeline's hand once more. "I can truly go in peace now. I know you will not stay out of trouble, but with these two watching over you, Trouble should try to hide from you."

Rene's reunion with Uncle Alois is tender and slightly comical, touching and very much something Andrea has known all her life as a Yazzie — connection of family. Even Pablo smiles with happiness; family is important to him, too.

At Uncle's last comment, Andi chuckles. "Didn't I say recently, Sister, that Trouble is much too stupid to hide from us?" She leans forward and places a hand over Maddie's and Uncle's hands. "The five of us will no doubt find Trouble regularly, Uncle," she says with a smile... not quite a full out Ninja smile, but definitely not a sweet Andi smile either. "We are going to hurt Trouble quite a bit. In its most tender places."

There. Now they're treated to the full I am so going to kick ass not yet trademarked Ninja smile.

"And I'm planning on causes headaches for a certainly Special Forces Colonel in the process because that's how I roll."

He chuckles as Andi calls Madeline Sister, and generally describes what is going to happen to Trouble. Alois smiles. "Not all of us military types are, as the Americans say, wound so tightly," Alois teases. "In fact, there are three fine military men right here. Or is it four?"

The last is said with a sidelong glance at Pablo, who shakes his head. "Three then, though our Linja certainly qualifies for military status even if not a man, so four is the right number. Ah, if the Legion would have taken women, I'd have snapped you up quickly."

"I was more good to all of you as a freelancer with no need to worry about political niceties."

"Or whose laws you might be bending."

"Or that."

Andi chuckles at the teasing. "I have to admit that, until meeting Colonel Masterson and his squad, every military individual — with the exception of my retired parents and grandfather — had been a royal pain in my Native American... neck." Lest one think she is modifying her choice of words for Uncle Alois' benefit, she would be happy to make it clear that it is for her husband's benefit. She looks like Andrea and not Ninja, and in his mind, Andrea is a lady. Ladies do not say what she was about to say. One of these days, he's going to need to get over that. Today is not that day.

"The US military is part of the reason I'm sitting here today." She looks at Maddie and Rene and Logan, then back at Uncle Alois with Ninja grin. "These three, however, are a big part of why nobody has data on me that's exactly accurate anymore."

Alois continues to smile. He is happy. He has lived a full life and his last remaining concern had been for his goddaughter. There is only one more thing he truly needs to tell her, and one thing he needs to ask her.

"Linja?"

"Oom Alois?"

"I have a favor to ask of you."

"Of course. Anything."

"I want Anna to be able to live here comfortably, without worry for anything. There is enough money for several years..."

"Oom Alois, I will take care of everything. She will want for nothing. I promise."

Merci, mon fille, merci. Now, there is one more thing."

"Only one?"

"My replacement."

"No one can replace you, Oom Alois."

"Scatja, you know what I mean."

"Ja, I do."

"I have asked him to come here today. His name is Armand La Roux. He is young, but he is very sharp and charming, too. I think you will work together well. And I, of course, have fully vetted him. He should be here shortly."

Andi listens... no, she witnesses what is essentially Alois' will. Like Rene, he is a truly good man, and she feels a pang of sadness that her time of knowing him will obviously be short. She hopes that whatever awaits him beyond the threshold of life when he takes his last walk includes a reunion with his dear friend Johan.

Once, not so long ago — after she woke from the coma in which she believed she had died — she had asked Raven in one of its serious and lucid moments what happens to a person after death. Raven had seemed baffled by the question and had only said, To each, their own beliefs. The Spirit had been silent then, for a few minutes, and finally added, Usually. Although Raven wasn't able to be clearer than that — in fact, pressing the point merely agitated it — Andi took it to mean that, perhaps, those meant to continue on the next journey together will do so, regardless of whatever beliefs they hold in this journey called life.

She raises an eyebrow at Uncle description of Maddie's new Interpol contact. "I'm glad you didn't add 'suicidal' to Monsieur La Roux's list of qualifications or I might have suspected him of being related to Sergeant Markensen of Arapahoe County." Andi shifts her eyes to Maddie. "Although, from what you've told me of your highways here, the good Sergeant's fascination with exceeding the speed limit might not be considered suicidal here."

"He doesn't have a fascination with exceeding the speed limit, dear," Pablo says wryly. "That's just a byproduct of his true fascination, and that is beating Ninja at her own game."

She looks at him and snorts. "Yeah. Like that will happen. And maybe I will let Maddie twist my arm and drag me to a Ducati dealer." She smiles sweetly at him.

He holds her gaze for a moment, then looks between his Brothers. "I don't know how you two manage it," he says with a sigh.

Andi giggles. Softly.

With a smile, Logan merely shrugs. He has seen and done too much. Rene chuckles. Madeline looks between the two of them with a smile of her own.

"Pablito," she says, "there are two of them. It helps."

"More is better," Rene adds with another chuckle, "but two is manageable, mostly. Good thing there has nearly always been two, oui, mon chere?"

"Oui. More than one is important so that they can spell each other, take a break, at the very least."

Even Alois chuckles at that. "Oui, in her youth, it was her father and I."

"Then I and Francois," Rene adds.

"Then Rene and Vincent," Madeline says. "Sometimes even all three of them. We may need to find you reinforcements."

"Especially if your Wife starts spending extended time with my Mate," Logan advises.

The four all look at Pablo expectantly. They are teasing, of course, but they are also serious.

Madeline leans in toward Andrea and asks in a dramatic whisper, "You did say he doesn't scare off easily, didn't you?"

As the comments flow between Maddie and Rene and Logan and Alois, Andi chuckles more than once and is giggling out loud by the time the four of them look at Pablo.

She nods at Maddie's question. "If everything that's happened since Sally Banner was murdered hasn't scared him off, he's not going anywhere," she says with a confident smile.

Pablo, for his part, meets each person's eyes and holds their gaze for a moment before draping his arm over his Wife's shoulders and saying, "Reinforcements, eh? Oh, I'm sure I could think of someone who might help out in that regard."

She looks at him, both eyebrows raised in surprise, but quite intrigued. "Really??"

He shrugs and smiles. "Well, assuming you simply need an additional minder, one with whom you have a strictly platonic relationship, of course."

She isn't sure where he's going with this. "Oh?"

Pablo nods. "There's only one person who intimidates you, dear."

She looks at him wide eyed. She knows exactly where he's going with this. "No."

"Oh, yes." He grins with a wickedness he could only have learned from Ninja. "I'll talk to Captain Sanchez about it when we get home."

She narrows her eyes at him. Stares for a minute. And finally, she matches his Ninja-like grin with a true Ninja grin.

"He won't do it."

It's Pablo's turn to raise a questioning eyebrow. "Oh?"

"Andrea the librarian might be intimidated by the fine police captain, but said police captain was driven to buy out the entire Front Range's supply of antacids by Ninja the Super."

She turns her head to stage whisper to Maddie. "He's so adorable when he's delusional, isn't he?"

"Quite," Madeline agrees, her own wicked smile evident. "And Captain Sanchez has met Wolf and Wolverine as well, so, no... I don't think he would be all that eager to assist."

Madeline's mouth twitches as she thinks of someone, and looks up to wink at Rene. "There's always Henry..."

"Henry?" Andi considers the idea for a moment. "Well, he'd have to move to Denver, of course, which could probably work out fine with his employer..."

"Madeline, I thought my Brothers were saying that I am the one in need of reinforcements. My wife would have her cousin aiding and abetting her wildest schemes inside of ten minutes!" Pablo says with exasperation.

Andi pats his knee. "Now, Pablo, that's very kind of you to give me so much credit, but I'm sure it would take a minimum of a week," she says, grinning.

A knock sounds at the door and Anna's voice comes through. "Alois, Monsieur La Roux is here."

Fortunately, for the sake of Pablo's patience at all the teasing, they are interrupted. However, Andi leans over and whispers to Pablo, "If you really want help trying to stay sane with Ninja's antics, give Abe up in Boulder a call." Then she chastely kisses his cheek.

Alois clears his throat. "Show him in, Anna."

Rene fades from view as the door opens. Anna steps into the room and behind her walks a handsome man holding a tea service. He brings it to the table by Alois and sets it down.

"He insisted again," she tells Alois.

"Of course, he did," Alois comments.

"It is my pleasure to help such a lovely lady," the newcomer says.

Anna giggles a bit and blushes, then hurries out of the room, once again closing the door behind her.

Madeline takes the opportunity to watch him as he flirts shamelessly with Anna.

Maddie?

Yes, Rene.

Down, girl.

I'm just appreciating.

Sure you are.

They both chuckle, although not everyone can hear Rene. Logan leans in and offers a low, warning growl that just makes Madeline laugh outright. Alois simply shakes his head.

Don't listen to him, Maddie. That one is worth appreciating!

Rene Gibbs slaps her. Andi giggles silently. And when Logan growls, she joins Maddie in her laughter.

Pablo just sighs.

"Armand?"

"Oui, monsieur?"

"This is my goddaughter Madeline Jacobs, her Mate Logan, and their friends Andrea Yazzie and Pablo Garcia.

Armand turns and takes in each of their faces in turn. In all, it might have taken him forty seconds. When Madeline extends her hand to shake his, he takes it and kisses the back. "Madame Jacobs, your photographs do not do you justice. You are even more beautiful in person. It is only fitting that you run one of France's largest fashion houses."

She smiles and laughs. "You remind me of my late husband, Monsieur La Roux."

I never sounded like that.

The hell you didn't.

"That is a good thing, I hope?" he asks expectantly.

"It is."

He smiles charmingly. "I am relieved then."

He shakes Logan's hand as well, then seats himself. "And to what do I owe the honor of this meeting, Alois?"

"Now that you have shamelessly and with much hubris flirted with a young woman I care about very much, in front of me no less, I am not sure I wish to divulge the secret," Alois teases.

"Ah, my deepest apologies to you both if I have offended," Armand intones dramatically.

Oooh, and he talks pretty, too!

Pablo is watching his wife suspiciously; he knows something's going on to which he's not privy. He hates that.

Very pretty.

"Oom Alois, are you sure he is up to the task?" Madeline asks once she has contained her mirth, both at Armand's manners and Rene's continued insistence that he had never been that bad.

"Oui, my dear, he is. And as you have seen, he has a sense of humor, which when it comes to you is most important. You would give a rule-bound sort a stroke within the first day."

"Moi??"

"Oui. Vous."

"And what task is this, Monsieur Caoua?" Armand asks.

Alois' smile becomes a touch wicked. "I present to you, Armand La Roux, the she wolf who bedevils our European criminals, La Loup Noir."

Madeline tips an invisible hat to him as Alois continues.

"You have heard no doubt heard of the Wolverine, her compatriot."

Logan offers the man a nod.

"And these two are more from her special community but based in the US, Ninja and Peacekeeper."

Andi waggles her fingers at Armand when Uncle introduces them; Pablo shakes his head at her and sighs, then sketches a salute to the Interpol agent.

The second inspection of each of them takes only twice as long as it had the first time. Armand shifts to look Alois in the eye. "You pressed your goddaughter into service as a Super?"

Alois shrugs. "I was only attempting to keep her out of trouble."

"And has that worked?"

"Not in the slightest I'm afraid. Perhaps you will have more luck."

Armand glances at Madeline... La Loup Noir. "I sincerely doubt that."

Madeline and Alois laugh and Logan says, "He's known you for all of two minutes and has you pegged already."

Andi chuckles at Logan's comment. "Armand is right, Sister. He stands no more chance of keeping you out of trouble than this one..." She indicates Pablo with a tilt of her head. "...has of convincing me to behave."

She looks between Logan and Armand, then nods to herself. "He is smart, however," she says to Maddie. "I think you should keep him."

"Out of trouble? Behaving? I thought they were the same thing. And yes," Madeline says with a wink to Andi, "I think I will keep him.

No surprise there.

"Better her than you," Pablo mutters.

Andi fakes a gasp, eyes going wide as she places a hand over her heart. "By all the Spirits, Buddhas and Gods, was that jealousy I detected in your voice, beloved?"

Pablo rolls his eyes and looks at Logan. "Reinforcements are going to help me deal with this?"

Madeline bursts out in laughter as much at Pablo's plaintive question as Rene's comment, and Alois is grinning ear to ear, pleased as he can be to see her in such high spirits.

Logan sits forward and pierces Pablo with his eyes.

"You're on your own for that, bub," he tells his Brother, then pauses for a heartbeat before adding. "But I might be able to give you some hints."

"Oh, really?" Madeline asks, eyes dancing with mirth. "And what would you tell him? Inquiring minds want to know."

Her Mate gives her a smoldering look. "Darlin', it isn't so much the saying of a thing as it is the doing of it."

With that, he slides a hand behind her neck and pulls her into a kiss, a wanton growl so low it is only felt coming from his chest. She growls and kisses him in return as they make the temperature in the room go up several degrees.

All right, you two... knock it off, Rene practically orders them.

Madeline chuckles as they break apart and says, "Yup, that'll do it. Even curled my toes."

Logan merely looks smug.

"Mmm, made my toes curl, too, just watching," Andi says, giving Elder Brother a look that makes it rather clear that he is not her brother. "That would get me into different kinds of trouble, however."

"Madre María, interceda ante vuestro Hijo por mí," Pablo intones as he looks to the heavens. "¿Qué pecado he cometido para merecer esto?"

She gives him the stink eye. "Okay, I only got the first part, but I don't think Great Spirit's Grandson is going to be able to help you out with this. Or his Mother."

"Just wondering what I did to deserve this," he replies sardonically.

"Oh, that's easy! You did that zany love at first sight thing that night you and Denise showed up at a frat party because some whacked out pasty white senator's son wanted to file assault charges against some poor innocent minority girl."

He sighs. "Well, you did dislocate his elbow. Maybe I could track down Deb and Clara, and get them to come back to Denver. The three of you were insane together, but it was balanced insanity."

"Hey, that might just work! Deb would get a kick out of teaching at her alma mater." Then she shrugs. "Clara's going to be in Belarus for at least another eighteen months, however. Except for a couple of days at the wedding."

Madeline is not going to let him get away with that for too long, however. "You know, I do occasionally have to go track down Trouble and kick its ass when it comes and mucks about in my city... country... continent?? Damn Banshee for moving to the States! Now I have to cover the UK too. Have they found a replacement for him yet?"

Alois shakes his head. "Afraid not, my dear. You could always formalize Wolverine..."

"Oh, hell no. I need him as my ace in the hole for when I get jammed up," she denies then swivels towards Andi and Pablo. "You sure you don't want to move to this side of the pond? I could use the help."

Andi sadly looks at Maddie when she asks her question. "Well, you know... there's the whole family thing. I'd definitely need transporter technology. And I'd need a job... so would Pablo. And I don't really speak your lingo over here. Have you not heard me butchering your beautifully musical language? I'd need to petition the Spirits for a fifth guardian just to assist with the language thing so I wouldn't go around offending people."

She sighs. "And if I left, who'd watch out for the folks in Commerce City and Five Points? And all my Two-Spirit people?" She shakes her head. "Perry's sponsored... they wouldn't be a priority for him as they are for me.

"Oh em gee! And what about the cats who come down way too close to your cabin? They'd use the cabin as a scratching post out of spite!"

The following morning, the rising sound of clack, clack, clack echoes out from the dojo. It begins slowly at first as they warm up muscles stiffened by sleep. Now, the staccato tempo of wood hitting wood increases in volume and frequency. It is occasionally punctuated by a soft curse, but never more than that.

Rene drifts into the doorway to watch. Many times, he had seen Madeline practice. Many times, they had sparred... or he had watched her spar with her teacher and their friend Swift. He now watches as she spars with Logan. Both are barefoot. Logan is bare-chested, wears black samurai pants and is armed with a wooden katana. Madeline wears a black sports bra and yoga pants and fights with escrima sticks.

She has gotten faster, faster than he has ever seen her. Against Logan, it is an absolute necessity. The man is frighteningly fast. Rene had had better than average speed himself, but never anything like what he is watching now. Logan's lightning fast reflexes explain both why he uses a katana of wood and the soft curses. Even as improved in speed and reflexes as Madeline is, she can never hope to match those born of Logan's feral nature. And he does not always hold back.

A strike sneaks in a tap to her ribs. Although she curses, her physical reaction is immediate. She traps the blade between her arm and body with a twist as she counters and catches Logan in the jaw. While it is an effective move, it is not advisable for most, as a true blade would slice between the ribs and into the organs protected by the rib cage. Rene knows that would not have mattered to Madeline before she had acquired the healing factor.

They lock eyes and nod to each other. Both discard their weapons and move into weaponless combat, each once again using a different style and technique. Madeline shakes her head and scatters droplets of sweat around. Even Logan has a sheen of moisture on his chest.

From the expression on her face and the turmoil he feels coming from her, Rene knows they will continue until Madeline is ready to stop or she drops. Seeing Alois yesterday had been good. His tale of rescue by Logan and the box of photographs had been... is a great treasure, yet it is also an acknowledgment of how very little time he has left. Certainly, they had joked and laughed and even teased the new contact, yet in the end, when it had been time to go, everyone had quietly slipped out as Madeline had held tightly to her godfather.

She promised to come back today with the children so he could see them one last time. She needs to do this, to work out her own heartache so that she can be strong for them. The other four of the Pentad will be there to support her, but this is something she needs to do as much for herself as she does for them.

"Andi?" Pablo says sleepily.

Her Sister is working through her heartache in her way. Andi is working through her Sister's heartache in her own way...

"Mmmmm?"

"Come back to bed, love. Why are you staring out the window? It's not even light enough to see anything."

"I see well enough, Pablo," she whispers. Another tear rolls down her cheek.

Her husband sighs lightly; he hates when she hurts. He's either beginning to recognize pain in her voice or Madeline's anguish is resonating through the entire Pentad. Andi hears him slide out from beneath the warmth of the comforter and pad over to her. Wrapping his arms around her, he just stands behind her and holds her.

"How can I help?"

Oh, how she loves him! How can I help? instead of What's wrong?

"Just this," she says, crossing her arms over his. "This is good."

Just as Pablo can feel her practicing, she can now feel Maddie sparring with Logan. Although she uses weapons unfamiliar to Andi, just as Pablo can practice Taiji like a Master when he's with her, Andi finds she has an innate grasp of how to use the weapons, how to move, how to parry and attack. She senses Rene's presence, knows that he's watching his Wife and Brother... marveling at her speed? Yes, that feels right.

And she certainly is moving faster than any Normal would. Andi suspects that maybe she had hit a plateau with her speed. There is only so far a person, any person, can push the human body. She might have gotten a boost, a small measure of Logan's speed, when she was pregnant with the twins, but that would still only have taken her so far. No one besides Em is ever going to be as fast as Logan. That wasn't going to stop her Sister — or, if she's honest, herself — from trying.

Of course, Maddie gained a small measure of her abilities, too, when they had exchanged their blood. Andi suspects that, perhaps, someday her Sister might be as fast as she herself is now. It might take years because Andi's gift to Maddie is potential, while for her it simply is... like the different between her and Billy when it comes to shapeshifting. Of course, Logan can leave her in the dust — now — as easily as she leaves Pablo behind. That might be true for the rest of their lives. Andi doesn't intend to stop trying to catch up to her Brother, however.

"It's Madeline, isn't it?" Pablo asks, laying a soft kiss on Andi's temple.

"Yeah."

He holds her more tightly and simply... loves. He has such a huge capacity for love and tenderness; when he lets those parts of himself be seen, Andi sometimes wonders how he manages to do the job he does. But his protectiveness is mighty, a match to her own, so she supposes that explains how he can do what he does.

"We need to be strong for her today."

Gods, how she loves him! He knows the truth.

"Yes. But she needs to be strong for herself, for the children, too."

The sky is beginning to lighten, the world outside the window can be seen as gray shapes. The morning twilight.

"Pablo?"

"Yes, love?"

"I never told you about the day after Denise was attacked, when we were allowed to visit her for the first time."

"What's to tell, Andrea? I was there with you. I don't know which of us cried more."

"Yes, you were there, but you don't have my Curse... my gift... to see qi." She takes a deep breath and just holds it for a few seconds before sighing. "I could see..." She swallows hard. She can't say it; it resonates too much with Maddie's pain of watching her godfather die.

"You could see she was already gone?" he asks softly.

She just nods.

"I wondered. Even though you went with me every time we were allowed a chance to visit her, it seemed as if you'd already said goodbye," he whispers. "You weren't there to keep vigil for Denise, you were there to keep me whole."

Again, she just nods.

"Thanks. I know I've said it before, but I wouldn't have made it through that ordeal if it hadn't been for you."

"I know. Your sisters were worried about you, too. Elvia told me. Although she didn't come right out and say it, she was sure you'd have eaten your gun if I hadn't been there for you." Another tear rolls down her cheek; now she's not sure if she's working through Maddie's pain or the remnants of Pablo's.

He's quiet for several long minutes. "Elvia was right. Without your friendship... if you hadn't been a touchstone keeping me anchored..." He can't manage to finish the thought.

"I know."

They silently watch the world take on tints and hues. It might still be difficult for some to tell the difference between a red thread and a black one, but sunrise is just about upon them.

"Why didn't you ever say anything?" he asks softly. "About Denise, I mean."

She shrugs. "Who could I tell? It only would have hurt her family... and the doctors wouldn't have believed me."

"You could have told me."

Andi shakes her head, then looks up at him with a sad smile. "No. I believed you needed that hope as much as her family did... I believed you needed that time to slowly come to know what I knew."

"Maddie doesn't get to have hope either, just as you didn't."

"No. But at least she has a chance to say goodbye. I didn't get that. I envy her that opportunity."

He's quiet again. Finally, almost too softly even for his wife to hear, he whispers, "I never got to say goodbye to Rosalia... just... see you tonight."

She just hugs his arms tighter. They need to take these pains out and stare them down sometimes, so they don't ambush them when they least expect it... at the most inopportune times... like today, when they need to be strong for Maddie, so she can be strong for her children.

"Speak to her spirit, as I spoke to Denise's," Andi whispers. "Believe that she hears you, as I believed Denise heard me. Believe that she truly is one of the holes in the sky where loved ones peek out."

He kisses her temple again, and she feels his tears drop on her neck... on her chest.

"Alois is full of love and peace. When his spirit leaves his shell, the explosion of qi will look like a supernova."

Her husband nuzzles her neck; she knows he finds comfort in breathing in the scent of her hair... the Spirits only know why! But who is she to deny him the comfort?

"Do you think... I mean... about Rosalia and Juan...?"

She turns in his arms and cradles his face in her hands. "How could they not be supernovas, Pablo? They were both filled with love and peace, and had no idea what was happening. Didn't you say they both died instantly?"

He closes his eyes as tears leak out from behind his eyelids. "Yes," he whispers.

"Then by your beliefs, they went right to heaven... did not pass go... did not collect two hundred dollars."

He manages to smile, although his tears continue.

"And yes, I would have been blinded by the beauty of their qi. No matter what belief system you want to use, they are in a beautiful and happy place."

He opens his eyes, which are becoming red from crying. "You think so?"

She stands on tiptoe and kisses his forehead. "I believe it in my heart, yes."

He stares into her eyes, the pain slowly fading to the background... at least until the next time. There is always, there may always be, a next time.

"I wish I knew for certain."

She smiles. "Some things can't be known with certainty, you know that, Pablo. That's what faith is for. It's that place between not knowing and knowing."

"You sound like the parish priest," he teases lightly, starting to smile again.

"Oh, dear gods, no!" she says, faking horror. "Even science has faith, Pablo. A scientist has faith that her hypothesis is valid until the knowing comes, until the exhaustive testing is completed. Once there is knowing, the faith is no longer necessary. But then there is another hypothesis in which to have faith.

"Someday, somehow, you might know with certainty that your wife and son are still happy and peaceful. Until then... just have faith."

He leans down to kiss her softly, stirring the qi between them, stoking the fire that burns in their soul.

"When did you find the time to become so wise, my beautiful wife?"

She chuckles. "I lived in the Far East for nearly half my life. It kind of rubs off on you... if you're paying attention."

She tilts her head, as though listening for something.

"Maddie is finishing her sparring with Logan." Andi places a hand on Pablo's chest, over his heart. "Are you centered enough to support our Sister today?"

He slides his hands down her bare sides and rests them on her hips. "I will be by the time we get to breakfast," he says, the twinkle returning to his warm brown eyes.

She smiles, her own eyes beginning glow faintly golden. "Good. Come wash my back."

"Just your back?" he asks mischievously.

She just chuckles, takes his hand, and leads him to the bathroom.

Suddenly, Madeline just stops, hands dropping to her sides. Logan has only been blocking, knowing instinctively this was coming. It is as much as him knowing her as it is what he can feel between them. Her eyes are still unfocused like they are when she fights, yet now instead of seeing everything, they see nothing. One long step closes the distance between them and he lightly places his hands on her arms.

"Madeline?" he asks softly.

She focuses then, her green eyes sorrowful, a large tear sliding from one. He gently wipes the tear away with his thumb. "Today will be the last time we ever see him. He wants to meet death on his own terms. He stopped the treatments months ago and let the disease take its course. I understand, just..."

"It's a hard thing to see."

She nods. "I love you, Logan."

"And I you, Madeline," he tells her and kisses her softly and tenderly. "Come on. Let's get you cleaned up."

Logan slips his arm around her and guides her toward the doorway where Rene still stands. The men exchange a knowing look.

"Maddie?" Rene asks.

She looks at him now.

"Did he ask for help?"

She nods. "Oui."

"I should be the one to do it, then." He continues when she looks about to protest. "If there is even a chance of investigation, you need to be above reproach."

"You are right, of course," she says with a sigh and a bit of relief.

She knows that for herself, if she had ever had to face such a thing, she would have made the same choice, just as Rene had done when he stepped into her blow and allowed himself to be killed. Alois knows there is nothing more that can be done for him. He has chosen to have quality of life rather than quantity and, being in his nineties, he has had quite a bit of quantity anyhow. Rene had simply been without hope. He had known that his strike would kill her, and had chosen to join her in death. He could not have known that she would not stay dead.

"I will go speak with him," Rene tells her, then disappears without waiting for an answer.

As Logan and Madeline continue out of the dojo and to the showers on that level, Logan says, "Your Husband is a good man."

She smiles, although she is still sad. "So is my Mate."

They go in to clean up, and Logan makes sure she knows she is much loved with great tenderness and care. After they dry off and dress, Madeline slips her arms around him.

"Stay close."

"Right by your side, darlin'."

She shares a long, soft kiss then, and hand in hand take the stairs up. It is still early enough that the children are not awake yet, and that suits her just fine. They will expect her to be sad and that's okay, but she does not need them unintentionally being fed by her emotions.

Bernard waits for them as they exit into the corridor off the kitchen.

"Are you all right, Madame?"

"As well as can be expected, Bernard. No blood draws today, just a lot of sweat."

"I will see that it is properly cleaned. The coffee is ready. I will direct the kitchen staff to have a full breakfast prepared."

"Merci, Bernard."

Logan pours coffee for them both and brings it out as Madeline collects a small plate of pastries. They start toward the patio, but clouds have rolled in and a light drizzle comes down. She looks out the windows and thinks it is appropriate for a day the world will lose such a man as Alois. She turns her steps toward the sitting area, Logan following her. He sets the mugs down on the end table, then goes to turn on the fireplace, opting for just the gas for ambiance, heat not being needed. They curl up on the settee and wait for the rest of the household to join them.

They float their way through what passes for a morning ritual on non-work days... a shower that is more about love than cleanliness, although the latter is not ignored... dressing that is interrupted by their desire to be close, to touch, to hug, to kiss. Like every other morning — like any newlywed couple — there are smiles and stolen kisses and teasing and laughter.

But Andi feels it in her soul the moment Rene leaves their plane. She has only the feel and taste of the qi flowing through the Pentad to guide her, but she stops in mid-tease, in mid-laugh, and drops the blouse she'd been about to put on. She thinks it lands on the bed, but it could be the floor because she's too intent on pulling one of Maddie's borrowed turtlenecks from the drawer.

"Andi?" Pablo says, sounding puzzled... but in a way that conveys she has already figured out the answer to a trivia question while he's still working on it. He knows something is going on, he just doesn't know what.

Well, neither does Andi. She just knows that Andrea visited with Uncle Alois yesterday. And she just knows that today, Ninja is going.

She pulls the shirt over her head and pulls her hair out of the way.

"I'm not sure, Pablo. Did you feel Rene leave?"

"I'm not as connected to the others when we're not close together, Andi. I didn't even know he was here," he says. There was a time when his words would have been said with a tone of frustration. Now, it simply is. Now, he simply conveys this necessary information.

She's tucking the shirt into her pants and nods when he speaks. "Something about the way he left... or the feel of the qi circulating..." She has the frustration in her tone, but that's normal. Trying to convey what she sees and feels and just senses because of her power has always been very difficult. She isn't sure there's any language that has all the words necessary to talk about her Curse. She begins braiding her hair.

"I'm not sure exactly what prodded the Warrior, but..." She shrugs. "...the Warrior is working today. I don't know why. I'll figure that out later, I suppose."

Her husband just shakes his head as he buttons one of the new shirts he picked up yesterday. "Peacekeeper doesn't need to work today, does he?"

She stares at him for a second — whether from astonishment at the question or because she's studying the energy patterns would be hard to discern. But she rolls her eyes as she ties off the second braid.

"You obviously know the answer to that, Pablo. If you thought Peacekeeper needed to work today, you'd be taking that shirt off, not putting it on."

She pulls her vest from the closet and puts it on, then smiles at him as she picks up the blouse she'd dropped. "It's okay to trust your instincts in this new world into which your ancestral putz dropped you." She places the new blouse back on the hanger, looking at it for a moment.

As threatened — or promised, depending on one's point of view — Maddie had taken them by a clothing store after their visit with Uncle Alois yesterday. Rather than the usual agonizing experience clothes shopping is for her, this was strange and almost surreal. Maddie, of course, was instantly recognized... the younger of the two saleswomen was obviously still new enough to be nervous with The Boss in their store. Andi had headed straight for her, figuring if the two of them were going to be nervous wrecks, they might as well be nervous wrecks together. The saleswoman appeared to be about Andi's own age, perhaps a little younger... but no younger than Talia. She had pointed Pablo in the other woman's direction, grinning at him. The manager had been much closer to Maddie in age, perhaps even a few years older. Unlike Maddie, however, she looked as though she was fifty something.

Andi wasn't sure what Maddie had told them, but Josette had several styles of pants in neutral colors already waiting in the dressing room, as well as a number of styles of blouses in a rainbow of colors. She had stepped into the dressing room — a room nearly as big as her first studio apartment from which she had launched her career as Ninja — and just stared.

"Mademoiselle is not pleased?" the young woman had asked nervously.

Andi had shaken her head. "Mademoiselle is overwhelmed."

Josette had laughed softly, but it hadn't taken more than twenty minutes to find an absolutely perfect pair of pants in both brown and charcoal gray and two extraordinarily comfortable blouses, one that looked like it was spun from gold fiber and the other — the one currently in her hands — in a magnificent shade of purple that Andi had never seen in a fabric before.

She shakes her head, setting aside the reverie, and hangs the blouse in the closet.

While they wait, Logan holds her lightly and affectionately nuzzles Madeline's neck, offering his care and comfort and support. She tucks into him a little closer, soaking in what he gives her. It is inevitable, has always been inevitable, that this day would come for Alois; it comes for everyone, even them eventually, she supposes. The knowledge of that fact does not make it any easier. Nor does the knowledge that her godfather had lived a long and adventurous life soothe her. She knows the pain of his passing will fade. The pain of her parents' passing had. It had been many years since she had thought to share something them... many, many years.

Yet, with Alois, it's different. They had gone beyond the familial relationship conferred by his godfather status. Reflecting, she knows it has much to do with the way he had treated her throughout the years she worked with the men who served under him. Her skills and bought-and-paid-for loyalty had never been questioned, not after the first time. Like anyone else, she had to prove her mettle the first time out.

In all those years, she had only asked him for special treatment once.

Francois pries her hand open to let loose and softly says, "Mon ami, let the surgeons do their job."

Madeline nods, then watches helplessly as the gurney Rene is on is wheeled beyond the double doors, her dark clothing as wet with his blood as his own is.

Another staff member comes to ask for names. Francois answers for them with his own first name. The injured man is Rene Jacobs, and she is Madeline Messijer.

"And your relation to Mr. Jacobs?"

Before Francois can formulate an answer, Madeline speaks, "I'm his wife."

Out of her line of sight, Francois must seem surprised. The nurse seems suspicious.

"But you have different last names."

"I'm aware of that," Madeline snaps, which is probably not the best response.

"I will need proof."

There is a flare of anger, quickly dimmed. Francois thinks for a moment that Madeline might do the woman harm.

"Fine. You will have it," she says, her tone icy calm. "I just need a phone. As you can see, we have nothing with us."

They are directed to a phone. "For local calls only."

"Keep watch, Francois," she tells him before picking up the receiver and asking for the French embassy.

Francois steps away to give her privacy and to make sure she has it from everyone else. It takes a few key phrases with the switchboard, but finally she is connected to the man with whom she wants to speak. They speak in Dutch.

"Alois Caoua," he says.

"Oom Alois, I need a favor."

Whereas he usually calls her Miss Messijer, her address to him and her tone puts him immediately into protective mode. "What do you need, Linja?"

"I need someone from the embassy to contact the French Hospital in Hong Kong and verify that I am Rene's wife with the appropriate documents. Someone not you."

"Within the hour, I promise. I will wait for the call. Take care, liefde."

"Danke, Oom Alois."

She hangs up the phone then turns to Francois. "Call your CO. Let him know what happened."

He moves to pick up the phone but asks, "Who did you call?"

"My godfather. Everything's arranged. I'll be in the waiting area."

"Lin?"

"Call your CO."

Better than his word, someone from the embassy arrives within half an hour...

Despite their working relationship and their lifelong personal relationship, Madeline has never been as close to him as she had become since moving to France. They often have had meals together, sometimes reminiscing about the old days, sometimes merely enjoying each other's company. She has gone out to his country house as much as he has come to the city to spend time with her and Logan and the children.

"I will miss him, too," Logan tells her softly at her quiet sigh.

She looks up with a sad smile and nods. "Love Wolverine."

"Love Madeline," he answers, kissing her cheek.

"Are the children going to be... I don't know... worried? When they see Ninja, I mean," Pablo asks.

She peeks around the corner at him as he settles the blazer over his shoulder holster. "They met Ninja before Ninja became Aunt Andi." She walks over to him and pats the gun tucked comfortably against his side. "They've never seen Tio Pablo as Detective Garcia." Andi slides a hand behind his head and pulls him down for a kiss. Their qi swirls and dances as gloriously as it did the first day they both admitted they had an unseen connection, as fiercely as it did the day they first Bonded.

"We're not going to get breakfast if we keep this up," he whispers, his lips still only millimeters from hers.

She rubs her cheek against his before pulling away slightly. "I know. And we need to sit with Maddie for a little while before the children are up, and chaos rules the day." She steps over to the dresser — only two short steps, but she so very much doesn't want to be even that far away from Pablo — and gathers her electronics and the personal items she normally tucks in the thumb lock case on her bike. Then she takes up her staff from the corner where she had set it when they arrived.

Hand in hand, they walk to the family room where Maddie and Logan are curled up together. Andi hesitates before approaching — just for a moment — long enough, however, that a sense of questioning flows through the Bond she shares with Pablo. She looks up at him, smiling as she releases his hand, then nods to the empty space on the settee beside Maddie.

His questioning mixes with surprise and he raises an eyebrow.

She runs her hand lightly down his back, and then gently nudges him just below his ribs. Trust me...

He takes those last few steps across the room and Ninja follows him. Pablo sits beside their Sister and says without prompting, "We make this journey with you, Sister of my heart. Like me, you have often made the journey alone." He looks between Logan and Maddie, then places a hand over hers, just... loving, supporting, adding his strength to the Pentad.

They look up at movement in the room's entryway, and see Pablo and Andi... no, Ninja... coming toward them. Pablo sits beside Maddie, offering words of comfort and strength.

"Gracias, mi Hermano."

Andrea hesitates a moment longer, then kneels in front of Maddie, performing a ritual she had seen only once — performed so long ago by Grandmaster Chen's eldest son when Master Chen's mother was passing from this life. At the time, Youze had used his dao. Today, Master Yazzie uses her staff.

She holds it on open palms, parallel to the floor, at the level of her zhong dan tian... her heart. "This is a sign of my strength; my strength is yours this day." She lowers the staff to the floor, then places her hands in prayer position as she straightens up, holding them a thumb's length from her breastbone, again at the level of her zhong dan tian. "My love is unconditional; know it will not falter on this day." She bows slightly from the waist, her eyes meeting and holding her Sister's eyes.

In a fluid Qigong movement, she shifts her hands so both palms face her chest, right hand a fist's width from her chest, left hand behind the right with lao gong points aligned. She holds that position for barely a second before lowering her hands to her xia dan tian, then sweeping them gracefully to the side and begins raising them. As if she is going to perform the Bone Washing exercise, she gathers qi and raises her arms above her head, hands now facing the ground, then prepares to wash the qi down through her chakras...

Except she stops at her shang dan tian... the third eye... and turns her palms inward again. Touching the middle and ring fingers of each hand lightly to her shang dan tian, she listens for a moment to be sure the children are not near enough to hear her final words. "My sight is true, I watch and see what is; know I will keep vigil with you this day, and bear witness to the life and passing of Alois Caoua."

Rather than the more traditional Chinese Buddhist blessing, she says the final blessing in Diné Bizaad.

"Hool'áágóó nizhónígo naaghá... always he will walk in beauty."

Finally, she moves her hands down to rest over her heart.

After her Sister offers her own ritual words, Madeline says, "Danke, mijn zus."

Logan echoes her words a moment later. "Domo arigato, imouto-san."

"Breakfast will be ready soon. The smell of food will bring the children down. There are coffee and pastries on the bar there."

Pablo gets up to fetch them coffee; they can wait for breakfast and substantially more protein than pastries provide. She sits back in her favorite Aikido meditation pose and regards her Sister and Brother.

"In joy and sorrow... it's how family works, right?" Andi smiles softly.

She can smell the food and she knows Logan can, too. The problem with her super sniffer, as her cousins like to call it, is that she never quite knows at which point the smells are strong enough for normal noses to catch them. Of course, the thundering of feet coming down the stairs is a good sign that the children have caught wind of breakfast!

She stands and moves her staff out of the say, leaning it against her shoulder, before taking the proffered mug from Pablo and breathes in the scent of good coffee. No sense being between the wild bunch and their parents. Oh sure, she could take them all...

Hmm... well, if Em keeps her claws to herself...

But that's for later, for play time. Right now, Ninja is just going to stand out of the way with Pablo and drink her coffee.

"You okay?" Pablo asks softly, worry a subtle hint in his tone.

She looks up at him, seeing the concern in his eyes.

"I'm okay," she says, softly but definitively.

The twins are first to come barreling down with appetites fueled by their inborn feralness.

Gods help us all when they hit their teen years, Madeline thinks to herself.

Leon just about materializes at the merest hint of food. The staff is ready for them. Madeline thinks that her employees are just as happy to have the children home as she is. They certainly keep things lively. Although there is plenty of room at the dining table, the kids all opt to sit up at the bar. It is, after all, closer to the kitchen. They do remember their manners, however, with a quick flyby to Madeline, Logan, Andi, and Pablo to offer hugs, kisses, and good mornings.

Pablo watches the children with eyes that are almost hungry. For thirteen years, he had bottled up his feelings for Rosalia, for Juan... and once he let them loose in August, his paternal instincts — yeah, that's a thing — have kicked into overdrive. He might be kidding about the baseball team... or the basketball team... but he wants to be a dad more than almost anything.

Someday, Pablo. Someday. Andi makes the vow to him... and perhaps to herself as well. She believes it can happen for them.

As soon as the heathens are settled with their plates, the main table is set for the adults. Madeline and Logan rise and wave Andi and Pablo over to the table as they go themselves.

"I figure we will be out there for a few hours at most, considering how tired he gets," Madeline says. "Pablo, do you mind if I borrow Andi afterward?"

Ninja sets her staff in the corner before sitting down at the table. She has to admit that she enjoys watching the children, too. But she deals with enough of them at work to know they're not always sweet and adorable or even nice. Ah well. Things happen as they should happen and when they should happen. She won't worry over it. Today.

Food is tucked away this morning without being tasted, at least by Madeline this is true. Today, it is merely fuel to get through the day. She is somewhat in her "working" mode as she shovels it in. Logan's eyes note it, but he says nothing. Their workout this morning increased her need for protein, as did the minor healing that had resulted from their combat. The marks had all been gone by the time they had come upstairs, which means she needs the food even more than usual.

Andi raises an eyebrow at Maddie's request and then chuckles at the look on Pablo's face. She thinks suspicious surprise might come closest to describing it.

"Andi?" he asks. "Or Ninja?"

"Oh, Ninja, please! I haven't cracked any heads since..." She tries to figure out time differences, and what day this is, and pretty much gives up. "Well, in at least a day or two, I'm sure. I don't count Tezza. I just scared her."

She smiles sweetly at Pablo, who rolls his eyes.

"I'm pretty sure I don't get a say in the matter, Madeline," he responds.

"Oh, sure you do, dear... just make a better counteroffer," Andi says, grinning at him.

Her eyes slide over to the children at Pablo's return question. They don't seem to be paying attention to the adults, but...

"Andi," she says carefully, although she indicates with looks both the staff and her Sister.

"Besides, if Andi and I are out and about, you and Logan get to play with the kids. Did you know we have a Disney here in Paris? There are also some large parks they could show you."

Was that a bit of a growl from Logan at the mention of Disney? Perhaps.

At the mere mention of Disney, Pablo's eyes light up like any kid's would at the word.

"Excellent! You gals have fun shopping, or whatever it is women do when they wander off unattended," he says jovially, although Maddie's glance does not go unnoticed. "Despite growing up in LA, I've never been to Disneyland."

He doesn't elaborate, but Andi knows it was hard for his family after his father had died. He had certainly been old enough to have been to Disneyland before Poppa Juan's death, but with one, then two, then three younger sisters... well, Disneyland wasn't exactly an inexpensive place to visit for a family that was barely — just barely — middle class.

She still doesn't have the hang of Logan's Elder language down, but that might have been a growl of affirmation.

On the other hand, he could be telling Maddie that she's out of her cotton picking mind.

They wrap up breakfast, then wrap themselves against the possibility of a worsening rain, with Madeline speaking briefly with Bernard before they leave. With seven of them, it is necessary to take two vehicles. Logan, Pablo, and the kids load into the SUV, and the women take Madeline's Peugeot.

Their visit with Alois is painful for all. Em's higher sensitivity tells her that the man is dying the second they arrive, and she is unnaturally subdued because of it. Like any twin, it seems Vin picks up on his sister's feelings and is also unusually quiet. Even Leon realizes that this is the last time they will see Oom Alois.

Although Uncle Alois seems in good spirits, the atmosphere at this visit is somber. Em senses what Andi can see. Maddie had mentioned early on that her daughter is an empath. And Vin picks it up from her, no doubt. Andi has a couple of friends who are twins, and their connections — even as adults — are eerie. And Leon? Well, he's a smart young man.

Saying goodbye sucks... and they all having to say goodbye today.

"Mom, does Oncle Frank know?" her eldest asks.

"I left him a message, sweetheart. He's working."

Before leaving Pablo and Maddie's family in front of Uncle's house, Andi holds her Husband tightly, then looks up into his beautiful brown eyes. "Enjoy yourself, love. Revel in life, let the children wear you out."

"Oh, they won't..."

She puts a finger against his lips.

"Revel in life, Pablo. Maddie and I will be back later." She kisses him softly and rests a hand on his cheek for a moment. "I love you."

"And I you, beloved," he says, then releases her.

As they leave Alois', Rene tells Madeline they would await her return. Madeline and Andi part company with the men and children in the driveway.

She returns to Maddie's sports car... quite a nice piece of machinery, although highly impractical for both Andrea and Ninja. Still... very, very nice.

The sports car, being considerably faster and smaller than the Mercedes, vanishes down the road. And Madeline has somewhere she needs them to be. Thirty minutes later, she pulls into something that appears to be a storm drain... or something quite similar. There is very little light, but she drives with confidence, turning when necessary until she finally rolls to a stop.

"We're here. I just need to change," she tells Andi as she opens the door.

It's an interesting drive, made even more interesting as Maddie drives right into... a large drain pipe?

What does this remind her of? Think, think.

Oh, dear gods. Great. More thanks are due to Bobby.

Upon getting out of the car, she reaches for something on a nearby wall and enough light comes up to show that they are in her lair.

"You know, my fabulous friend made me watch every episode of the super campy Batman show from the sixties. Because he's fabulous and it's campy." As Maddie gets out of the car and switches on the lights, Andi just shakes her head, then gets out of the car to just lean against it. "I can't decide if this is horribly wrong... or really awesome."

She looks around again, then shakes her head again.

"Well, horribly wrong or really awesome, it's mighty handy. Too bad something like this is impossible in Denver."

Madeline just shrugs. "Preferred the movies with Michael Keaton and Val Kilmer myself. And most of this was already here. Connecting it all to the house was the biggest challenge. And it isn't necessarily impossible. Haven't seen your house, so it might be excessively difficult there, but there have to be old bomb shelters dug out here and there. Heck, look at what we were able to do up at the cabin with the bunker. The real challenge is doing these kinds of things without letting anyone know the how and the why of it. Separate contractors to be brought in for each part or at least buying the raw materials through a variety of mostly untraceable sources."

She points off into the dark in one direction. "We have direct access to the catacombs down that way. Logan will probably wander down there later and check on the folks, see if anyone needs anything or maybe needs to get to the clinic. I should check with Dr. Leopold, too."

"A lot of people disagree with me, but I think Keaton pulled off the very likely damaged psyche of Wayne and Batman exceptionally well. There are those who say Bale did a better job of it... I just disagree with them politely.

"And I'll watch anything with Val Kilmer... good, bad, fantastic, utter garbage," Andi says with a grin.

"If my house wasn't exactly where it is, it might be difficult, although not necessarily impossible to create something like this. Unfortunately, in that area of Denver, the water table is extremely close to the surface. Most houses north of Alameda and south of Montview don't even have basements. Mine's reinforced with about six feet of concrete — walls and floors — and waterproofed like you wouldn't believe." She pauses. "Well, okay, you'd probably believe it, but the area up by the cabin doesn't have the same problems." She nods, however, at Maddie's recommendations for creating a place like this. "When the time comes for me to sell my little bungalow and have my cousin design something more suitable for a married couple and their children, I have a feeling we're going to be looking primarily out in Jefferson County or Adams County, where the water table is considerably farther from the surface than six feet."

She looks in the direction of the catacombs. "Is that where your community of Unfortunates lives?" She sighs. Is that any different than being walled up in a ghetto? The Parisian mutants may actually be freer than their Colorado cousins. She looks back at Maddie. "I know I'm an outsider, and I know how hard it is for the mutant population to trust anyone, but if there's anything I can do to help out, let me know. Heck, even if it's just telling stories to the youngsters... although my French sucks."

"For a worthy cause such as this, one of the communication Spirits would be happy to help you, Warrior," Fox says as it makes itself visible.

She looks from the Spirit to her Sister, and then shrugs. "Okay, maybe my French wouldn't suck after all."

"The ones who can't pass do, even some who can. They have developed their own society and way of living. Sometimes I think they might have been the inspiration for Anne Rice's description of the Parisian vampires. There is a similar enclave in the old subway of New York City. As to whether or not they will accept you, it's hard to say. Logan was readily accepted. I am still held in some suspicion, but we think it is because I smell like a Normal since I am neither mutant nor Cursed from birth. In any case, we have learned to work together. I deal primarily with the Leaders. Logan walks among them.

Madeline heads over to the stairs and up them. On the platform above, where her command center is arrayed, she stops and looks back down at Andi.

"Got you something," she says, then reaches over to flip the switch to light up her bike.

A near identical one is next to it.

Andi raises an eyebrow at the mention of the something. But when Maddie flips on the light to reveal a bike almost identical to hers, the polite part of her brain — the Andrea part — wants to say, Oh, you shouldn't have! The head cracking, wise ass, let's not pay attention to social niceties part of her brain — the Ninja part — completely overrules the nice Librarian.

"Oh, wow," is all she can manage at the moment.

"Need to be able to get around the city easily. Bikes are best for that. Keys should be on the seat. I'll be right back."

With that, she goes back to the closet to change into her Wolf's clothing, leaving Ninja to check out her new toy.

Andi inspects the bike in minute detail while Maddie becomes the Black Wolf. Without a holder for the staff, Ninja is going to need a back scabbard. With the variety of weapons Maddie has, she suspects her Sister will have something that will work well enough. The bike itself, however... all she can do is marvel at its craftsmanship and beauty.

Madeline returns, now all in black much like Ninja. Her long duster hangs open, exposing black turtleneck, pants, and boots. Her hair is pulled back into a severe bun at the nape of her neck. In one hand, she holds a tri-corner hat.

When Wolf returns, Ninja suspects that she's grinning as broadly as Pablo had been at the prospect of going to Disney Paris. "This is a beautiful bike, Wolf. I'm not even going to let my mother's daughter say that you shouldn't have. Every part of me says thank you. I know we're off to do something difficult... but beauty must be appreciated."

"Come on up. I still need to collect my weapons. La Loup is never without them. And you are welcome."

She waits until Ninja is on the platform with her then goes to the weapons vault. She brings up the lights in there to full power.

"Oh..." Ninja swings her staff up and over her shoulder, resting it flat against her back. "...you won't happen to have a scabbard that would work for this, would you?"

"The weapons with scabbards are all in the back, blades and staves alike. See what suits it best."

Ninja looks through Maddie's scabbarded weapons. The scabbards for blades won't work very well; it would be like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole... or, in this case, a round peg into a narrow slot. But the staves... ah, such a nice collection! Master Chen would love to see this!

Many of them are shorter staffs, with scabbards that hang at the waist like a short sword. But there's a longer one, one that would be held against the wearer's back by straps across the chest and hips... it seems to speak to her. The leather almost appears to be imbued with the spirit of the buffalo whose skin was used in the making. How does she even know it's buffalo hide?

Fox, who has been following her through Maddie's lair, looks up at her.

Really, Warrior? You know how you know. Trust yourself.

Wolf slips on what almost looks like an old western gun belt. There is a hook at the back specifically for the adamantium whip, which she hangs there easily. She slips two of the space age looking pistols into holsters that sit high on her thighs. She pauses at another drawer and lifts out some small items, then carries them back to Ninja. She holds one out to her compatriot as she fits one into her own ear.

"Earbuds so we can communicate."

From the staves section, she brings down a pair of black stained teak escrima sticks and tucks them inside special pockets inside her duster.

She reverently takes the scabbarded staff from the case and inspects it closely. The leatherworking is distinctly Lakota. She only knows this because one of her — Andi's — acquaintances in Denver is a Lakota leatherworker. When Maddie brings over the ear buds, she nods... then cradles in one arm the weapon she'd taken from its place — nestling it against her staff — before taking the ear bud and inserting it in her ear. She works her jaw and throat until it feels comfortable, then holds out the scabbard to show Maddie.

"Is this Logan's? Do you, either of you, know that this scabbard is a holy item?" She looks at the minute carvings in the leather. She doesn't know the Lakota language nearly as well as her own, only a few words and phrases, in fact — but she thinks they are the symbols for power and strength. "Not the weapon within, however," she murmurs without looking up.

Madeline reaches over to run her fingers over the worked leather. "No, this was Rene's. He brought it back after some work he did with his father. He said Jeremiah gave it to him, and with Jeremiah, you never asked where things came from. Even if he would say, it is very likely you did not want to know."

She furrows her brow, then looks at the empty spot where it had hung.

"Honestly, I'm not even sure how it came to be here. The last time I remember seeing it was when Rene and I still lived in Suriname, before Leon was born."

She shakes her head, a bit mystified. "I suppose Logan could have brought it when we moved to France... but I don't remember it from when we were setting the vault up and outfitting it."

She looks at the other weapons around them. "And I can tell the origin or source of pretty much everything in here. Weapons were the family business, after all. And while some may be less valued monetarily, they usually have a higher sentimental value, like the pearl handled Colt."

She pulls the stave from the scabbard and looks at it closely. All Ninja can do is shake her head.

"This is... ordinary? Well, as ordinary as a stick used as a weapon can be." It's not quite as long as her staff... perhaps five feet long compared to her staff's nearly six feet. It's not perfectly balanced, but it's balanced well enough to make a good weapon. She returns it to the case without the scabbard.

"But this..." She, too, runs her fingers over the leather, over the symbols carved with care at precise intervals along the scabbard. "...this is old, very old. Made from buffalo hide." The Warrior closes her eyes and simply holds it in her hands... almost the same way she had held her staff earlier, before breakfast.

"The tribe's chief... his daughter's hands made this for her betrothed." Fox leans against her leg, and she can almost see the young woman working the leather, sitting alone on the open plain. How does she know it's present day Nebraska? Does it matter? That would have made her Oglala, however. Probably. It feels right. Ninja swallows.

"She was an ancestor of Thathánka Íyotake... Sitting Bull... that's how old this is. Older by generations than the last Warrior of the People." She feels a shiver run up her spine, across her head, down her arms. "Her betrothed was of the Hunkpapa, she was Oglala. Her father believed the two tribes of the Lakota Nation should not fight, that they should be brothers and sisters."

She feels the story so deeply that it doesn't surprise her that tears are threatening to fall from her eyes. "She loved him very much, and she believed in her father's vision of peace. She carved her hope into this leather..." Andrea... Ninja... Master Yazzie... the Warrior can see through that woman's eyes and knows that the symbol she thought was power is really translated more accurately as everlasting love. Strength is carved there, yes... but also peace and hope and — Ninja shivers again — harmony.

"The Holy Man called down Buffalo Spirit to live within the sheath, to remind the one who wears it and carries a weapon within it that life is scared, that great strength must be tempered by gratitude."

She opens her eyes and looks at Maddie.

"On their wedding day, Magaskawee Ptaysanwee — Graceful White Buffalo — presented this to Napayshni Takoda — Courageous Friend to Everyone. It was passed down several generations to Thathánka Íyotake, who is known among the First People as one of the greatest Warriors we have ever known."

"Until you were born, Warrior," Fox says.

She looks down at her guardian Spirit and shakes her head. "All the People do not know me, Fox. To all those who do not know me, Thathánka Íyotake will always be the greatest Medicine Chief and War Chief."

The name Sitting Bull means very little to Madeline. It is the rest of what Andi says and the way she says it that makes the impact. Her eyes go distant as she concentrates elsewhere.

Rene?

Yes, love?

Remember that old leather staff sheath your father gave you?

Yes.

Did he ever happen to mention where it came from?

Only that it had been given to him when he was young. Why do you ask?

Andi says it belonged to 'The Greatest Warrior of the Nations', a Sitting Bull. Apparently it is some sort of holy object.

There is a mental shrug from Rene. She can have it if she wants it... as long as you don't mind giving it up.

I didn't even know it was here. I haven't seen it since you last put it up.

Then it will probably do her more good than either of us.

True.

Will you be here soon?

Yes, not much longer.

"Rene said his father told him that it was given to him when he was a young man. He also said it is yours if you wish to take it. Considering the history, it probably belongs in your hands. So take it, keep it and use it."

"Well, it really belongs... OW!" She looks down at Fox, who has just nipped the back of her calf. "You didn't even let me finish. Don't go all Raven on me." Ninja sighs. "While it belongs to the Lakota people, I will use it and honor it until I no longer need it, at which point..." She gives Fox the stink eye. "...I will return it to the Lakota people, if that's acceptable to you, O Fox."

Fox looks up and seems entirely too smug. That is acceptable to me.

Andi leans her staff against the counter, bracing it with a knee, then shakes her head as she straps the scabbard on, making only minor adjustments. Given its age, it uses ties rather than buckles as more modern scabbards do. It's eerie how well it fits. She takes up her staff again and slides it into the scabbard. And again, shivers travel up her body... as an immense sense of rightness envelops her. She looks down at the soft black leather and sees that the symbol for everlasting love is centered precisely over her heart where the leather crosses over from shoulder to hip; harmony is inscribed at a point parallel to her xia dan tian.

"Damn, it's as if this was made for me and my staff!" she says, shaking her head, and then nodding toward the door, letting Maddie know that she's ready to go. More than ready, really.

She nods and precedes Andi out of the vault.

"I'll lock up, Madeline," Logan says as they exit.

He takes her hat from her hand, gives her a soft kiss then sets the hat on her head. As always, they speak volumes to each other without ever uttering a word. She gives him half a smile and a nod before pulling down the thin silk mask that hides her features. It is snug around the eyes, but loose over nose and mouth.

From there, she walks out to the command center and sends the engine start up command to her bike, along with the city feeds. Unlike a Harley, the Ducati does not roar to life... but it does purr.

And how can you say for certain it was not made for you and your weapon, Warrior? Fox asks as it trots beside her as she follows Maddie back to her Command Center.

Because it was... She groans mentally with exasperation. You know what? Never mind. You all do insane things, every one of you Spirit beings, and I don't want to play the Crazy Games anymore. So... never mind.

Madeline does not look back as she goes to the bike and straddles it. She does not activate this side of the link to the command center. Urgent needs would be transmitted automatically, everything else was merely white noise. With a check for Ninja on her five o'clock, Wolf rides out.

It goes without saying that Logan will stand there until Madeline is beyond the mouth of the tunnel. Once they are gone, he will shut off all but the wayfinding lights, collect another ear bud for himself, and seal the vault. Then he will rejoin the children and their Tio Pablo. Perhaps they have finally decided what they want to do for the rest of the day. Logan does not expect his Mate to return until after midnight, at the earliest.

She figures it will take the length of Maddie's drain pipe to get a feel for the bike, and not much more than that to test its balance on the open road. Andi finds that she's rather eager to see just how well the Ducati compares to her Harley.

Getting through Parisian traffic is considerably easier this trip. Not only do the Ducatis have more maneuverability, but they also have considerably more speed and amazing handling. The trip that had taken them forty five minutes the day before in the SUV and thirty eight this morning in the Peugeot only takes twenty on the bikes.

And in the twenty minutes it takes to get to Uncle Alois' house, Ninja falls in love with the Ducati.

We will need to do something about this, she says to Fox.

It will be difficult, you understand this? it replies.

More difficult that becoming the Warrior?

Not even close, Fox admits. But more difficult than holding different forms on the day the veils fall.

How much more difficult? she presses.

It would depend on how much change you wish to effect, and how long you want to hold the change.

I would only want to look like Andrea on her Harley when leaving home and returning, so my neighbors see what I want them to see. Away from my neighborhood, there is no need for illusion.

Only slightly more difficult than holding different forms, then. Fox pauses. It is a large thing, it is not truly part of Mother. Other things will be easier... smaller, closer to having been part of Mother.

Like my staff... or changing my own appearance.

Yes. The staff would be simple. Your appearance... The Spirit seems to shrug. Would you want to change the way the world sees the Warrior... or the quiet one?

If I am going to live an unnaturally long life, it will make sense to change Andrea's appearance... gradually growing older.

That is more difficult because it would use a constant amount of energy. You spend more time as the quiet one. It would be better to change the Warrior's appearance.

Mentally, Ninja sighs. Yeah, I was afraid you were going to say that. It's going to be awfully damn difficult to explain why I look twenty five when I get up into my fifties and sixties. I'm only thirty two and people already wonder.

I cannot advise you on that dilemma, Warrior. I think Opossum might be a better advisor in that area.

Again, she sighs to herself. Well, it's not a worry for today. But when we get home, I think I will ask Ha'atathli Humatewa for some time in their sweat lodge. This is something I must meditate on most carefully.

Madeline does not pull into the front driveway this time. She passes it and enters a smaller, less noticeable drive that takes them to a small outbuilding. She parks and dismounts, and then waits for Andi to do the same. As they approach the house from the side, the kitchen door swings open to admit them. Just beyond the threshold, Rene waits for them. He does not wear his characteristically charming smile, but is instead quite somber. His eyes take in his wife's work clothes.

"It suits you," he tells her. After a brief pause, he adds, "He may not need any help after all."

He closes the door behind them as Madeline leads the way to Alois' room. Her godfather once again sits in his chair by the window. He weakly turns his head toward them as they enter. His eyes are clear enough to see and recognize them.

Despite the joy of riding the Ducati, Andi is somber as she follows Maddie around to the side of Uncle Alois' house. She finds that she isn't the least bit surprised by Rene's mood, either. She silently follows Maddie and Rene, and watches from a distance of a couple of meters as her Sister and Brother say their goodbyes.

"Anyone would be proud to have such a sendoff," he says.

Madeline kneels by him and picks up his hand with great care. "You have been uncle and father to me both over these many years, friend and confidant, matchmaker even, and I thank you. You have more than earned your rest. Take it now among the spirits and give my mother and father my love. Rejoin your fallen comrades and your family."

Rene kneels beside Madeline, placing his hand over hers. "To me as well you have been friend and father, commanding officer and matchmaker. You have lived with honor and dignity and taught those that served under you to do the same. You have always encouraged the best in all of us. As my wife said, you have more than earned your rest. Go with our thanks and our love."

Only then does Andi step to Alois' other side. She, too, kneels beside him, gently taking his frail hand in hers. She looks up at his face, studying it, memorizing it.

"My Sister and Brothers have memories of you that they have shared, and I hold each one safe in my own memory. Know that my memory is long. I treasure the moments I have had in your presence, for your spirit shines brightly and beautifully. Your friends, your ancestors, they wait to greet you and welcome you into their company once again. Go in peace, and walk always in beauty."

The old man's eyes are moist with tears and he sheds them unashamedly as those he holds dearest say goodbye. Although speech is difficult, he has one last thing he needs to say.

"Daughter... of my heart... Son... also... my happiest day... was... when... ... ... you finally... acknowledged... ... your love... for... each other... ... ... I go... in peace... knowing... you are... together... ... again... ... Au revoir... mon... filles."

For Ninja, he has but two words. "Merci... beaucoup..."

Ninja can only nod at Uncle's thanks.

Then he closes his eyes and becomes still as his spirit moves on.

Master Yazzie can feel the pain of loss from her Sister and Brother, but she can also see the almost unbearable beauty of Uncle's soul as it drifts free of the body that has failed him. The soul is made up of qi, of energy, and yet... and yet... it is so much more. As the energy of his life dissipates and becomes one with the universal flow, Alois' soul hovers for a moment over the two people he loves, still, as his own children... it almost seems like a benediction, a blessing.

And then his soul, too, is gone.

Madeline and Rene fold into each other, tears coursing down their faces. They know he has gone on to be free from pain, that he had lived a long and good life, yet the pain for them still comes. Here, right now, they are each other's support and strength.

Minutes pass one after the other as they shed their grief. Tears stop after several minutes, but still they hold each other and draw strength from their Sister, their Mate, and their Brother.

All Andi can do now is wrap Maddie and Rene in her love. Death is almost always so much easier for those moving on to whatever place or plane that awaits them.

It is we, the living, who suffer the most.

More time passes until finally Madeline says, "I dearly wish I could get blind stinking paralytic drunk..."

"Hear, hear," Rene agrees.

"Where's Anna?"

"She went to the store."

"We should be gone when she returns, but... I'd rather she wasn't alone when she finds him."

"The home care nurse will be here first."

"Then we should all go."

Stiffly, she rises then bends over Alois. She lifts the bottom of her mask enough to kiss his temple. "I miss you already, Oom Alois."

When she looks at Ninja, her eyes are still red but dry. "Thank you for bearing witness, Sister."

When Maddie is ready to leave, her Sister bows formally to her... the same way she had that first day they met in Joe Baker's home.

"It has been an honor and a privilege to bear witness today, my Sister."

Rene walks them out and locks up behind them. Being Spirit, he has no need for doors or locks, and he will be gone before anyone else returns.

Leaving Alois' is a sedate ride, rolling to the end of the side drive then onto the country roads there. It is not until Madeline leads them up onto the autoroute that she opens up the engine. She crouches low behind the windshield and pushes the machine to its top speed, weaving around slower moving vehicles when necessary. Fortunately, here, most drivers on the freeway know to stay to the right or get out of the way, although admittedly they are flying past before some even realize the two bikes had been behind them. They fly north up the A86, following it as it curves easterly, eventually connecting to the N186 and taking that south and then west. After a second go around, and then a third, she exits the A86 at Autoroute de Normandie and heads east. Just past Porte de Boulogne, she exits to Avenue de la Porte d'Auteuil. They pass sports complexes, gardens, and parks before it becomes Rue d'Auteuil. A right turn takes them down to Rue Wilhem, which leads to Voie Georges Pompidou and runs parallel to the River Seine. The river flows along to their right until they turn up to Rue Royale into an area designed with tourists in mind. There are many hotels, restaurants and businesses of all kinds.

Following Maddie — La Loup — through the area at top speed has some major bonuses and a few downsides for Ninja. The biggest plus is the bike... even Cobra refuses to wrap itself around her waist at this speed. The bike is a dream come to life... even at two hundred miles an hour, it handles better than her Harley at half that speed. Of course, it's smaller and lighter, so that certainly makes sense. Still... this is a dream machine.

The major downside doesn't actually have anything to do with the bike. Oh, no... not at all. It's the people on the roads with them. They don't seem the least bit phased by the two women on the bikes. While she supposes that's useful at times, Ninja finds it disappointing. What's the point of riding triple the usual maximum speed limit in the US if she can't startle SOMEBODY? The other downside of nearly flying through the countryside is that she doesn't actually get to see the countryside.

Of course, today really isn't a day for sightseeing anyway. Letting go of intense emotions, yes. Startling people, sure. But that latter just isn't happening. Darn it.

Riding through the touristy areas is nice, however. Paris is pretty. Well, the touristy parts are, anyway. Oh hell, even the highway that flew by at two hundred miles an hour was nicer than the dull, dull ride up I-25 into Wyoming. And Andi loves Colorado!

A large building grows larger as they approach it, and La Loup Noir slows considerably. She swerves gently to the right then turns left up Place de la Madeleine, the turn of her head showing that she is observing the building. Up ahead, a young black-cassocked man is coming down some side steps. She rolls to a stop at the bottom of the stairs upon seeing his wave.

"Pere Jacob? Is there a problem?" she asks without introducing her companion.

The priests usually ignore her presence, all except this one. It is his efforts that secure and safeguard this entrance to the city below the city. He had even been unwilling to open the gate to her at first, until Wolverine had appeared on the other side of the passage with the Leader.

She stops beside and slightly behind Maddie, er, La Loup, when she pulls up to speak with the priest. Ninja doesn't even have the time to ask Cobra for help — who reappeared when their speed had dropped below a hundred miles an hour — when Spider crawls up her arm to sit on her shoulder opposite Opossum.

I am happy to aid you in this land where the language is not one you speak, Warrior, the Spirit says.

I am grateful for your assistance, O Spider. You have my thanks.

"A concern, La Loup. I believe there may be illness below or may have been an accident. I was going to speak with Dr. Shiraz, but his clients are not always trusting of priests. Perhaps, if you are going that way...? If there is anything we... I can do..."

"That was my next stop, Pere. I will speak with the doctor if he has time. How long have you suspected his?"

"Only a day or so. There was a gate request and six left and only one returned, but he carried a heavy burden, a basket of some kind, I think."

"Merci, Pere Jacob. I will check into it."

"God's speed, La Loup."

La Loup pulls away from the giant church and makes a left at the back of it, following Place de la Madeleine before cutting across to the parking entrance for the Emeraude Hotel. She drives to what appears to be an unused corner, except for a battered old Mercedes there, and parks beside it.

"From here we walk," she tells Ninja.

She wouldn't have understood much of the conversation without Spider's help. Ninja follows La Loup like a shadow, merely nodding when her Sister indicates their need to walk. She hasn't become accustomed to having both hands free and she finds the fingers of her left hand curling inward and then stretching out again. Part of her brain finds that humorous, another part finds it annoying. She tries to tell both parts to shut the hell up and let her work. Okay, okay... she isn't actually working. But her Sister is.

She goes through a door marked "Pieces de Machines," then down a small flight of metal stairs and then through another door marked "Sans Issue" in large bold letters. Up another small flight of metal stairs and through yet another door brings them into the dimly lit back hall and storage area of a clinique medicale. A warning growl precedes a large man with yellow eyes and an aggressive posture from an unseen door.

"Evan," she greets him.

"La Loup Noir," he responds, his voice like the crunching of gravel.

"Is there something I should know?"

"Better if Doctor tells," he says, then points behind her. "Friend?"

"Oui. My bond."

He nods, then disappears back where he had come from.

"This way," she says over her shoulder, then skirts the boxes precariously and randomly stacked.

Beyond the obstacle course, the hallway widens and brightens. She stops and turns to Ninja.

"I may need Wolverine to go below."

And Ninja continues to follow, silently, through doorways and up metal stairs, past the challenge of the guard — oh, yeah, he's a guard — through the storeroom and to the hallway.

She regards her Sister for a moment when she notes that Wolverine's assistance may be needed.

"Would there be offense offered if I looked at the qi of the community? Even if Wolverine must visit them, perhaps I can point to the best place for other eyes to look."

"Hard to say. I don't know if any of them would be able to sense it or not. If you do and they can, it could be construed as an incursion. I cannot risk losing their trust, so until we know what is happening, I would rather you did not."

"I will do nothing to harm your people or their trust in you," the Warrior says in acknowledgment. Wolf had done a great service for her people in Commerce City; Ninja can only hope such drastic measures are not needed here. "Only ask, and I will help yours as readily as you helped mine."

She has a feeling that Spider is messing with her language here, because to her own ears that sounded awfully... she doesn't know... odd. Yeesh, how would she even know she's speaking French if Spider's playing with her words as she's speaking them?

She hears a tiny giggle near her ear. You would not know, Warrior, and yet you sense it happening. You are most perceptive!

Hmmm. Is this the sort of thing you do to my cousin, O Spider?

La Loup turns back to her original path but waits for Ninja to come up beside her.

"Evan back there... he's one of the few that is willing to deal with those who live above, and he, like Wolverine, is a feral. He is usually the gatekeeper at the church, and if he does come out, it is only at night when a hat and long coat can more easily be explained as well as used to hide his features. That they have him watching the back door that only the staff and I know about... that concerns me.

"When he's at the gate, he lets the others know when someone comes through, and it isn't by any means either of us can detect. If it is someone who should not be down there, he stops them. Others, like myself or Wolverine, he lets pass and sends on the information somehow. I can tell you what it isn't, but not what it is."

Ninja nods at that information. There are many forms of communications and not all of them are understood. It makes sense that there may still be forms of communication that that also, as yet, unknown. Unless it is something that might be a threat to her or those she protects, she is content to simply let the Librarian make note of such things.

Walking along with Wolf, she simply makes observations with sight, hearing and smell. Most interesting, this Evan of hers. Like some of the tunnel rats back home, except they might be a little more trusting... although certainly not by much.

Oh, I have no need to affect your cousin's speaking or singing, Warrior. He has a natural gift for pleasing others with his songs, much as you have a talent for touching the energies of the worlds. The Spirit pauses, and when it continues, it sounds ever so slightly... humbled? I am pleased to have chosen him at birth. He has changed many lives with his gift of words and music.

Andi considers that for a moment, and then mentally smiles. I have no doubt that Charlie has done great things... soothed hearts, changed lives, and even saved lives with his music. Does he realize how many blessings he bestows?

He does, Warrior. There are many of the things he calls fan mail that speak of how he touched a heart or soul.

I am honored to know him, and to call him kin, she says. What he does is no less important than what I do... while I might save hundreds or thousands of lives to one that he might save, to that one person, he is a hero.

Well said, Warrior.

La Loup pauses again in her steps and glances back the way they had come. "He is also the soul of discretion. He will only share information if explicitly told to do so. To see him want to share..."

A door opens ahead of them and a man in scrubs exits. He seems preoccupied and does not notice them.

"Dr. Shiraz?" she asks. "Is all well?"

He looks over, surprised.

"Ah, La Loup, un moment," he says, then looks down the other way. "Adrienne, more blankets, please."

That done, he returns his attention to his visitors. "Oui, all is well. I could use your help, though. And your friend there, too, if she is willing."

"Of course, doctor. What do you need?"

"Your arms. I have only one bassinet," he answers and looks beyond them to the guard. "You as well, Evan. And do not worry. Your sister is fine. There are simply more cubs than we had expected."

The doctor certainly seems harried, even without the slightest peek at his aura.

Wait... what? Bassinet? Cubs?

Oh, damn, she is SO glad Pablo is not around.

"Of course... I will help in any way I can," Ninja says to the doctor.

Cubs?

The term cub does not even phase Madeline. Logan often refers to their children as cubs. She simply figures it was a feral thing. But to not have enough arms? Admittedly, at this time of the day, it would be unusual to have more than two people in the clinic, but still...

With Ninja beside her, La Loup Noir follows the doctor back into the room from whence he had just come. A golden furred woman lay panting in labor on the wide hospital bed. Like Hank McCoy, her facial features are more influenced by the feralness than Logan's are.

"Ynona," Shiraz tells her, "These are friends. They are here to help."

Exhausted, she nods as she wearily turns her head to look.

"La Loup," Ynona says breathlessly.

Before La Loup can say anything, however, a wrapped and wriggling bundle is thrust into her arms. She cradles the cub expertly and smiles at the tiny face that peeks out. The bassinet already holds one, and Shiraz gives another wrapped bundle to Ninja.

When the bundle of tiny cub baby is placed in her arms, she can only gaze on its... no, her... beauty. The babe looks at the woman with eyes she isn't certain can see and mews with contentment. Is it the nature of these feral ones to be so cognizant so soon after birth, or is it simply this tiny warrior?

How does she know that the infant has the spirit of a warrior?

Ah... because they are all — the four of them — are open and still sharing the qi that circulates in the womb with unborn children. The three already in the world wait patiently to form a new bond in the world outside the Mother. These three wait for their little brother.

"Beautiful," La Loup says. "But three? By the gods, I thought two were a handful..."

Shiraz clears his throat and corrects her. "Four."

Her eyebrows shoot up. "Four??"

Evan manages to slip inside the room as well. Peering at this sister, he seems nervous. In this light, it can be seen that he is covered in similar golden fur, and there is a strong familial resemblance.

Shiraz waves him over to the bedside. "Help Ynona up, Evan. She needs to push out the last one. Come now. There you go, lift her up."

He does as he is bidden, being oh so careful and gentle with his sister as she valiantly works to birth her last child. Adrienne comes in the room and weaves her way between the two standing women to bring more blankets and to await the latest arrival.

As Evan helps Ynona sit up, a wave of desperate fear washes over Ninja, causing the little one in her arms to whimper.

"I beg the pardon of all, but the little one yet to be born has so much fear, fear of being born, fear of life outside Mother." She looks at the clearly exhausted Ynona. "His love for you is overriding his instincts."

The Warrior hesitates, biting her lip as she looks at the strangers in the room... strangers to her, although not to one another. But the Wife, the Librarian, the Gentle One, speaks up.

"I do not wish to overstep, and do not wish to cause offense," she says, the last child's fear still trying to pound into her heart as the Warrior does what she can to stand between the fear and the Gentle One. "But perhaps I can calm his fears..." The tiny bundle in her arms makes a demanding sound... almost as if she is trying to growl... and the woman smiles softly at the infant. "...or rather, I would assist his sister in allaying his fears."

Evan looks at the unknown woman suspiciously; Doctor Shiraz and Adrienne simply look confused. The three of them look at La Loup. Ynona, however, looks in the direction of the woman who spoke, her eyes glazed by pain and weariness. She opens her mouth to speak, but another contraction grips her and another wave of fear washes over Andrea... and the unborn child's three elder siblings. The tiny one in her arms cries, while the other two simply mew softly.

Evan's look turns to one of worry and — perhaps — surprise. "Oui, oui. S'il vous plait."

Andrea closes her eyes and looks at the energy flows; she sees the tiny girl cub flinging her need, reassurance, love, need need need outward... as if they all still live within Mother, where the sharing, the giving, the receiving are easily confined. The woman bends to kiss the tiny golden furred forehead and whispers, "Focus, Little Warrior... like this..." She gathers the tiny one's energies in a funnel directed toward her unborn brother. As her familiar touch reaches him, he calms considerably, although he is still frightened. The other two younglings — the eldest in the bassinet a girl cub, the second born in La Loup's arms a boy cub — reach out toward their brother. Andrea gathers the qi of their instincts as well, allowing it to wash over the little one, and he finally stops resisting the inevitable separation from the Mother.

"Let him know there is always a connection to Mama," she whispers very, very softly in Diné Bizaad to the girl in her arms. She cannot possibly understand the words, but more reassurance flows to the boy being born.

The attention of those in the room is very focused... except for her Sister, of course. Wolf is Wolf, and Wolf watches over everyone, everything. It is what Ninja would be doing if they were with her people. Evan's attention is fully on his sister; he is so worried, so scared. If there were a way for her to tell him that his worry is exaggerated, his fear groundless... she would do so willingly. But no words she can say would get beyond the protectiveness he has for his sister. It makes Wife and Warrior like him very much.

The doctor's attention is on the child he is trying to coax into the world, or so he believes. It is really the siblings who are coaxing him away from Mother, but Andi is not sure Doctor Shiraz would understand that. Still, his qi shows that he is a good man, a kind man, a man determined to help... and the Warrior finds a resonance between their souls. They are both determined to help those that others refuse to help.

Adrienne's focus is on Ynona, murmuring soothing wordless sounds, her qi calm and comforting and loving. Ninja finds that she is not the least bit surprised.

And Ynona, exhausted and weak, leans against her brother but her attention flickers to La Loup when she is not focusing on birthing her second son. Beyond the surprise and shock of four cubs when she had only been expecting two, beyond the worry of caring for so many, there is a recognition of La Loup Noir. Interesting.

And Ninja... she watches the cubs most closely. When the last cub is born, as Adrienne wipes him clean and wraps him in a blanket, the wee one in Ninja's arm tries so hard to reach out to him. She holds out her other arm to take the youngest cub from Adrienne.

"There now, my tiny warrior," she murmurs, "here is your brother and shield mate. Be calm now, you have worked hard... it is time to rest. Soon you will begin forging a new bond with Mama, but she is tired, too. Rest, rest, little ones."

The qi of the four cubs is swiftly realigning to a new configuration more suitable to life outside a womb. The eldest, the tiny girl cub in the bassinet, seems to pull the others to her. Ah, she is a leader. The eldest son, in La Loup's arms, with the qi of an observant wise one, lends that wisdom to his older sister. The scholar and adviser, then. And the two in her arms, of course, are warriors.

And now you see, Warrior, how we know who should be guardian to each child born, Opossum says from her shoulder.

I suppose it was a shock to Raven when I did not choose the Shaman's Path, she replies, looking with wonder at the tiny beings in her arms.

The possibility existed in your cells that you would not be able to choose that Path, Opossum replies. Raven took the chance that the Curse of the White Man would not touch you.

So even you did not know?

Opossum runs a tiny paw along her ear. No, Warrior. Even we did not know for sure. We knew of the potential, we knew of the possibility... but we did not know the certainty.

Oddly, that makes her feel better. Oh, perhaps Great Spirit might have known with certainty, but She would never influence even the Benevolent Spirits to make a particular choice.

There is more to birth than simply the deliverance of babies; Doctor Shiraz and Adrienne attend to Ynona with care and professionalism. Her brother wipes the sweat drenched fur on her forehead.

And Master Yazzie... Ninja... Andrea... the Warrior holds the two precious lives in her arms and smiles.

Someday. Okay, Pablo... someday, we will have this.

That Ynona recognizes La Loup but she does not know Ynona is no surprise. There are many who live in the catacombs that she has never seen. She stays to a particular set of "public" corridors and does not venture from them without invitation.

Without regard for who is around, Madeline cradles the cub with one arm and uses her free hand to push up the mask and remove her hand, which she tosses aside. She wipes at damp eyes and says, "I wish Logan were here for this..."

The little nose quivers as the cub scents around. He tries to turn himself, but only succeeds in turning his head. His movements have a certain questing quality to them.

Madeline laughs softly. "Oh no, little one. La Loup cannot help you with that. You need your mama."

She carries him to Ynona and unwraps the blanket so that he can feel his mama on his skin. As she places him into his mother's arms, she tells her, "Congratulations. They are all beautiful."

The feral woman takes her eldest boy and holds him close, letting him root for what he seeks. Her gold eyes rise to Madeline's face, now no longer hidden. Although exhausted beyond measure, her joy is evident... still, though, a thing puzzles her. Her nose wrinkles up a bit as she sniffs at the woman who had held her child.

"Evan said you and the Logan were not Mated?"

Madeline chuckles and smiles. "That was true until very recently."

Ynona begins to speak when the other cubs begin to mew. She chuffs at Evan, who leaves her side long enough to lean out into the hallway and make a calling sound. Ynona growls with only a small touch of irritation, but looks back at Madeline.

"Congratulations to you, too, then. Will you bring me my daughter as well?"

"Thank you. And of course."

Evan returns to his sister's side as Madeline retrieves the infant from the bassinet. This one she hands over to the new mother as well, and she offers congratulations to Oncle Evan as well. He smiles and perhaps even blushes just a twinge. It is difficult to tell through the fur.

The person whom Evan had called arrives in the quickly filling room. Spying the two children in Ninja's arms, she offers to take one.

"She is a wet nurse," Madeline offers by way of explanation. To Ynona and Evan, she asks, "If it is permissible, I think Logan would like to see them as well?"

When the wet nurse arrives, Ninja somewhat reluctantly hands the boy child to her first, which seems to upset his sister. "Oh, now don't worry, little warrior, let him get settled. You will be beside him in a moment." Again, she speaks to the infant in her own language, but the Warrior could almost swear that those tiny eyes glare at her, which makes her smile. "Here, you see," she says, handing her over to the wet nurse, "I would not lie to a fellow warrior."

"The Logan is always welcome," Ynona replies. "As is his Mate."

Madeline smiles her thanks, retrieves her hat, and begins to back out of the room. It is just at this moment that Adrienne bothers to look up and stands with mouth agape, her eyes fixed on Madeline's face. She recovers enough to whisper, "Mon dieu, I don't believe it. You're that wealthy socialite."

Madeline sighs. "I am hardly a socialite. I am so boring that the paparazzi don't even bother to follow me."

She casts a glance at Ninja and continues on her way out.

"Could you stay a few more minutes, La Loup?" Dr. Shiraz requests. "I would like to speak with you after..."

"Of course, Doctor."

She catches Maddie's glance and says to Ynona in French that she trusts Spider is translating so that no ears are offended, "You have children of both outer and inner beauty. You honor me by allowing me to meet them, and..." Ninja looks between her and her brother. "...both of you."

Then she follows Maddie into the hall. The family should have time together and... damn, that was a very small room for such a large crowd of people.

"Please tell me Pablo will be left with your children," she murmurs to her Sister. "He needs the torture, and seeing newborns almost makes me wants a family."

"Even if he were, the staff is there," she tells Andi apologetically, "and they know better than to make trouble for the staff. That isn't to say they can't get carried away quite easily, but it might take a day or two."

Madeline glances back to the room they had left. "I certainly understand the priest's concern. I'm glad it wasn't anything bad. I will feel better once they get back underground, though. As you know, people aren't quite as accepting of those who are physically different, and Ynona and her children would make very easy targets."

"I know." Ninja thinks about all her people in Commerce City. "I know all too well. And when children and their mothers are threatened..."

Well, she leaves the rest unsaid. After everything they went through in Colorado, her Sister knows her position on people who try to hurt children. It's probably the only time Ninja will kill first and ask questions of the corpse later. Bizarrely, given everything that's happened since Halloween, she probably could question a recently deceased person... as distasteful as that prospect is to her Diné soul.

Madeline nods, and then reaches up and toggles the throat mic connected to her ear bud. "Logan?"

The response is almost instantaneous, although not worried. "Madeline?"

"Can you come to the clinic and help with an escort? We have five that need to get below before dawn, and all will need assistance."

"I'll head over by way of the tunnels once the twins are in bed. Are you staying there?"

"Yes, we'll be waiting for you."

"See you soon."

She turns and leans back against the wall to wait for the doctor, saying as she does so, "Logan will be here in a couple of hours once he gets Em and Vin mostly settled. Pablito will be on his own with Leon."

# # #

At Jacobs Manor, Logan slips into another room when the call from Madeline comes in. He checks the time, and knows that the travel and time differences have the kids' schedules all upside down. Still, he had been teaching them to adapt in a more immediate way during their travels these past couple of months. His stepson Leon had learned it early and under difficult circumstances, yet the boy is resilient. He gets that from his mother, even if she can't see it.

He steps back into the room and pauses to watch Pablo play the board game with them. He is at a distinct disadvantage, as it is entirely in French, although Leon is helping him as much as he can. He waits out the current round, then clears his throat.

"Pablo, a minute?"

# # #

"Unfortunately for my plans to knock some sense through Pablo's thick skull about the size of our family, Leon is an exceptionally mature and well-mannered young man... and he is only a couple of years older than his son would be now had he lived." Andi pauses, studying her own heart to make sure Pablo's memories continue to only be joyful. She nods to herself, satisfied that there is no pain there to reverberate back to her Husband.

"And Detective Garcia's experience with young people around Leon's age has been limited primarily to gang members and drug dealers... not exactly paragons of virtue. Compared to the kids he meets on the job, Leon will be a breath of fresh air."

Andi sighs and rolls her eyes.

# # #

Pablo is enjoying the board game, despite being thoroughly lost. His grasp of French is no better than Andi's — he fulfilled his high school language requirement by testing out of Spanish. Technically, it would probably be considered cheating as his whole family is bilingual, but he's never been shy about admitting that he was a lazy student. And he has only Leon helping him out rather than a guardian Spirit. He discovers early on, however, that obviously foolish moves get the twins giggling... the more ridiculous his blunder, the more they laugh.

If he could speak and read French perfectly, he'd still play like a total dweeb just to hear that sound.

When Logan returns after slipping out of the room for a few minutes — one doesn't need to be one of Denver's top detectives to notice that — he nods to his Brother. "Of course."

As he gets up from the table, he says with a dramatic flair, "Ah, dear niece and nephews, your dad has come to rescue me from yet another humiliating loss at whatever game this is. I can't remember the last time I had this much fun being beaten so badly." His grin is more convincing than his theatrics — he hasn't had Andi's longer and closer association with their Drama Queen neighbor.

Walking over to Logan with a raised eyebrow, he asks, "What's up, Logan?"

# # #

"Well, Logan did only say once he got the twins to bed, not to sleep. There's a subtle difference there. He may encourage some small shenanigans just to make sure Pablo doesn't try to join him. And you really should consider spending some time out at Charles' school. Teens and preteens are a whole different world than infants."

Andi nods and smiles. "At my day job, I see the whole kindergarten through grad student crowd, so... yeah. And since Billy is considering a visit to the school, I would love to join him in that particular adventure. But there's that whole other life I have — plus the aforementioned day job — and there's only so much time I can take out of my life before some people get too nosy and start worrying about other people, and my coworkers wonder what fatal disease I have." She shakes her head. "I've taken off more time in the past three months than in the previous six years I've worked there... and the coworkers watch way too many medical dramas."

She looks toward the small clinic room. "I think Normal people... well, I've acclimated to being an American. I think. Mostly. But I'd rather spend my time with the Cursed and other so-called undesirables of society when I put my uniform on."

"Oh, it would probably be more beneficial if you weren't there. Just Billy, Em, Vin, Leon and a few dozen other kids just like them."

That thought alone makes her shake her head. Teenagers in numbers want to make her pull her hair out. Yet another reason to avoid the fashion shows... the models are not just hormonal teenagers, they're entitled hormonal teenagers.

"Hmm, come to think of it, Pablo does have at least all of next week, possibly even the week after, for that administrative leave of his," Andi says mischievously to her Sister. But she glances at the clinic room again.

"Evan seemed... scared there for a bit. That last little one..." She shook her head. "I'm glad I was here to do what little I did. His siblings might have managed on their own to coax him out, but Mama was so tired. I'm glad they're going to be all right."

"Most folks don't have multiples like Ynona just did, although I know that she has a support system in place to help her. That's how they are, always looking out for each other. The world above could learn a thing or two from them."

"Yes. Yes, they could," Dr. Shiraz agrees as he comes out into the hallway. "Thank you, both, for your assistance."

"Glad to help, Doctor. It was certainly the most enjoyable request for assistance I can ever remember having."

"Yes, much better than to have to track down those who have caused injuries or such. I do have one more small favor to ask of you, though. Ynona and her children will need to return home before sunrise. We have enough hands to carry, but that leaves no hands free to defend..."

His voice trails off, somewhat apologetically, yet his concern for his patients is evident. "I know this isn't the sort of thing you normally do..."

"It's no trouble at all, Doctor. I figured that would be the case. Ninja and I will be staying and Logan will be here tonight to assist as well."

He smiles. "Merci. And, about Adrienne..."

Madeline waves him off. She has not put her hat and mask back on. "She cares for these people as much as you do, Doctor. And you have yet to betray my identity to anyone."

He shrugs. "I only ever suspected."

"If you say so. And before my rudeness goes further, my friend here is Ninja. She's a visiting Super from America."

"Pleased to make your acquaintance, Ninja," Shiraz says with a bow but no offer to shake hands.

When the doctor comes out of the room to speak with Wolf, Ninja tries to be as unobtrusive as possible while they chat, bowing slightly to Shiraz when they're introduced.

"I'm pleased to meet you, Doctor, as well. Defend and protect is much of what I do at home and am more than willing to lend aid to those La Loup and Wolverine protect." She looks between the doctor and Wolf. "Is there any specific trouble you would expect?"

At her question, the doctor shakes his head. "Expect? No, nothing is expected. Things have been steady lately, but only the normal injuries and illnesses. Nothing untoward. Still, with so many extra vulnerable, I would... What is the phrase? Better safe than sorry."

Ninja nods to the doctor. Safe is always better than sorry; that's a large part of why they had evacuated Commerce City. As it turned out, it would have been fine to move everyone to the far northeast part of the compound... but better safe than sorry.

"Always," Madeline agrees. "The best time will be early, between three and four. Even here, most of the city sleeps then. Are there any other patients who need to return tonight as well?"

"No. Just Ynona and her children. I believe that will be plenty to look after."

"Do you have enough protein on hand for her to regain her strength for the walk?"

"Yes. We are well provisioned thanks to the generosity of our donors. No need to worry."

"In that case, since we have a few hours, I think we will step out and wait elsewhere. You have the number if you need to reach me?"

"Yes, I do. Thank you again."

"Where to now?" Ninja asks, following Wolf back outside.

# # #

He tilts his head toward the other room, then spears his children — primarily Em — with a look that tells them that listening in is unacceptable. Once he has a nod from her, he moves back to the other room and waits for Pablo to join him.

"Madeline needs my help with something tonight," Logan tells his Brother, putting emphasis on the name he uses. "I'll need to go out after the twins are in bed."

Pablo raises an eyebrow and smiles crookedly. "Of course... just as Andrea spent the day with Madeline with her hair braided." He pauses a moment, then full out grins at his Brother. "In the eleven years I've known Andrea, she has never once braided her hair in two plaits.

"But if Andrea and Madeline feel it's wiser for poor Pablo to stay home..." He spreads his arms and shrugs. "Well, what's a poor man to do but perhaps spend time getting to know his nephew or — if his nephew is uninterested — perhaps read a book?"

He chuckles. "I'd ask you to tell Andrea to be careful, but she won't listen to you any more than she listens to me." Pablo shakes his head. "Damn stubborn woman."

Logan chuckles and grins himself. "I swear to you, Brother, this was Madeline asking and not any four footed creature of the night. And all women are stubborn, the good ones anyway. Trust me, I've been around for a while.

"I shouldn't be gone long, and I will try to herd them back here after."

Pablo laughs. "Now that you mention it, my first wife was even more stubborn than Andrea." He notes with a bit of wonder that he now has a feeling of love — and the fondness for something wonderful of the past — when thinking about Rosalia, rather than the crushing agony he'd felt when he first dared speak about his wife and son to Andi. So this is what the other side of grief looks like...

"And if you return without them, I won't be the slightest bit surprised. A certain person of our acquaintance who carries a large stick has a habit of patrolling until dawn if she believes there's a need for it." He grins. "I have a feeling it's going to be Madeline who's calling the shots, not you, Brother."

He crosses his arms and looks into the distance. "Although I have found calling on her work phone with suggestive comments gets her home sooner. That would work." He nods to himself.

"It's always Madeline calling the shots, Brother. She cannot help herself. And, yes, sometimes the suggestions actually work."

Logan dips his head back toward the other room. "They have about another hour before bedtime if you want to try to get in another game."

Pablo chuckles and lazily salutes Logan. "I haven't the foggiest clue what the purpose of that game is, despite Leon's best efforts to explain it. But if my complete annihilation in every round can add that much laughter to the twins' lives, I'll play my part.

"And so we who are about to die — yet again — salute you!" He turns and heads back into the other room.

"Okay, guys... this time..." The twins can be heard giggling. "No, seriously, this time, I'm going to wait at least three turns before doing something completely boneheaded."

# # #

"Dinner," she says succinctly. "There are dozens of top-notch restaurants and here, dressed like this, I never have to wait for a table... although I am in no mood for a sit-down dinner. Fauchon is deli style and within walking distance."

La Loup resettles her hat and mask and adjusts the hang of her duster, then leads the way from the garage to the street outside. From there, it is up and around the block, nearly directly across from the church where they had stopped earlier. Many of the people they pass are tourists, but not all. Her name is whispered and she nods politely at those with whom she makes eye contact.

Suddenly a young girl's voice rings out excitedly, "Papa! Papa! Look! La Loup Noir! Please, may we go speak with her? Please?"

She smiles under her mask and turns to find the girl just a few steps away, pointing, jumping and tugging on the sleeve of her presumed father. La Loup approaches casually, hands tucked behind her back. The man looks up, chagrin written across his features.

"My apologies, La Loup Noir. I know you have better things..."

She raises a hand to forestall him. "Non. Do not apologize, monsieur."

She only has to bend down to come face to face with the girl. "Bon soire, mademoiselle. What is your name?"

"Lizette Van Diem," the girl says, her exuberance tempered by actually being face to face with La Loup Noir.

"I am very pleased to meet you, Lizette Van Diem. Did you have a question for me, perhaps?"

"I did," she begins, then blushes furiously, "but I can't remember any of them now. I just really wanted to meet you."

She chuckles. "How old are you? About eight?"

Lizette nods. "But I'm almost nine."

"So grown you are already. And what would you like to be when you grow up?"

"A super hero like you, of course!"

"Can you tell me why you want to be one?"

"Because I want to help people like you do."

La Loup Noir swallows. "Then I hope you get your wish, scatje. But even if you don't, you can still help people. Ordinary people who help others are bigger heroes than I will ever be. I have to go now, but you remember that, okay?"

She nods solemnly. "I will. But can... can I have a picture with you before you go?"

"Of course."

"Papa?"

Her father pulls out his phone and snaps a picture of his Lizette and La Loup Noir. Then Lizette turns back and throws her arms around her hero. La Loup Noir is surprised but hugs the girl back. Despite the earlier heartache of the day, the universe has conspired to give her joy this evening.

"Off with you now, youngling."

"Danke. Merci," says her father. "You have made her very happy."

"It was my pleasure."

"Merci!" Lizette says happily as she waves and skips away holding her father's hand.

She watches after them, then turns to Ninja and says through a tight throat. "Food. I need food."

Ninja watches as La Loup is not only recognized but approached by the young girl.

The world since The Virus has become filled with super heroes — and their corresponding super villains, too, she supposes. It isn't that surprising, really, to listen to children list super hero as one of their preferred professions once they're all grown up... tucked nicely in the usual array of astronaut, fireman, ballerina, doctor, and movie star.

What they can't tell these starry eyes children — either here in Paris or back home in Colorado — is that they are the heroes. It isn't just the they who are super heroes they want to emulate, it's the they who are adults who are just plain silly. Like La Loup, all Ninja can do is remind the children she meets — both as Ninja in Commerce City and as Andrea at the library — that anyone, anyone can be a hero. Oddly, the children of Commerce City understand it so much more readily than the Normal children do... because she can point to a real hero who lives among them every day. Missy. She has taught Jocko how to read! A teacher this talented is the true hero, not the black-clad woman who carries a stick.

It is a little disconcerting to see La Loup Noir recognized by ordinary folks on the street, however. Ninja could probably walk through downtown Denver and generally be ignored. Sure, the staff might attract a raised eyebrow or two. But outside Five Points, there aren't too many average people who know her name. No matter what Perry says, she suspects that would change if she goes the Sponsored route.

Dear gods, she is tired of that conversation!

"Food," she agrees. "An excellent idea."

# # #

Good nights are said to their older brother and new uncle. Now the twins are each tucked in their own bed after many giggles and only slightly serious admonitions from their father. Downstairs once again, he slips on his leather jacket, which garners a look from Leon.

"Nothing to worry about, son," he says. "Just going to give your mother a hand with something."

"It's nothing bad?" Leon has to ask. "She's out there with Aunt Andi."

"No, if it were, I would have left an hour ago when she called. Keep Tio Pablo company and out of trouble, will you?"

Leon casts a glance at Pablo and smiles a little. "Yes, sir. You'll be late, won't you? Mom will need to sleep in?"

"Probably. Good night, son."

"Good night, Dad."

"I seem to get into the most trouble when Andi's around," Pablo says to Leon with a chuckle after Logan leaves. "And since she's with your mom, I probably won't try to get into much trouble."

Yes. He had been listening to the short, quiet conversation between father and son.

He wanders into the living room, thumbs hooked on the belt loops of his jeans, and just looks around the room. "I suppose you're used to this but... you know? I'm not sure I could even imagine living in a house this big." Pablo shakes his head, and then turns back to Leon with a tired smile... it is starting to get late, after all.

Leon shrugs. "Well, there are five of us, plus the staff. With all the stuff Mom had to do when we first came here, we needed the help. Plus, there was the whole appearances thing, since she's the president of a major fashion house. I mean, sure it's bigger than the cabin, but it's smaller than the plantation house in Suriname."

Pablo nods. "Sure, appearances are important." He laughs. "And that would be why Andi smacks me upside my head every time I mention moving to a bigger house in a different neighborhood. We're going to have to move someday, but she really loves that house. And apparently, librarians and cops don't live in Highlands Ranch — that's one of the fancier neighborhoods, although it's not as uppity as it used to be. Her boss lives there but, according to Andi, that's only because Mr. Doctor Kumata is a tenured professor at the University of Colorado.

"I know Andrea and your mother are cooking up some nefarious plot to dump me at your school to teach me a lesson." He grins broadly at the young man. "Since Andrea generally gets her way, why don't you tell me about the place, and the sort of tortures I have in store? Forewarned is forearmed, although from the way my wife snickers, I don't think it will do me much good."

"Well, compared to the school grounds, this is tiny. The school has four floors in two wings, a stable, a gym, a pool, and acres of forested property. All the students and the staff live there, so I guess you could call it a boarding school. I'm not sure how many students there are right now, but the ages range from about ten to eighteen. We have all the regular subjects and stuff, but there's also a lot of advanced studies."

Leon chews his lip as he thinks. "Professor Xavier, Dr. McCoy and Miss Munroe have been there the longest. They were there when Mom taught there. Well, of course the Professor was. It's his house, after all. Um, Mr. Rasputin was a student there. And we all have different gifts. Some of us can pass and some of us can't, although it doesn't seem to be quite as big of a deal as it was when I was little."

Pablo tilts his head and half shrugs at that comment. "I think it depends on where you are. From what I've seen in LA, and from what Andi's told me about the people in Commerce City, I suspect a lot of them wouldn't get a second look. In LA, at least. Big cities like New York and Chicago might be the same. In Denver..." He shakes his head. "There are still a lot of ignorant people there, which I suppose is why it's so important for me and Andi to stay there."

"New York has gotten better," Leon agrees. "We didn't get any grief at all when Mom took a bunch of us from the school to the Fashion Week shows. The school is in Westchester, so I guess they are used to us. Plus they have a huge mutant community beneath the city. It's been there for years. Some of them came to help Mom when she and Oncle Frank and some others went to rescue the Professor. Just, you know... Sure, there's more acceptance now but, well, people have long memories. And just because the hate and persecution aren't out in the open anymore doesn't mean it's gone. There are a couple of kids whose families complete disowned them when their powers manifested. Like it was something they chose."

It's obvious how disgusted by this fact the boy is.

"Some people are just assholes," he says. Then he remembers who he's talking to and adds, "Sorry, Tio Pablo."

Pablo nods as Leon speaks. For such a young man, he is incredibly perceptive. And Pablo is smart enough to admit the boy has lived with this discrimination and has personal knowledge of it... whereas he has only recently been exposed to the depth and breadth of the sense of community among the mutants in Colorado, and the stories that Andi is now willing to tell him.

Perhaps at a different time, under different circumstances, he might have laughed at the young man's apology for his words. Not tonight, and not with such a serious conversation. Not when the memory of Sally Banner is still so fresh in his mind, not when the horrible pain that incident caused in his wife's heart could still be felt in his own.

"There's no need to apologize, Leon. Some people are assholes."

He turns a bit so he can look at and through the large windows. It is still a little disconcerting to have far better than normal night vision, although Andi regularly demonstrates that she can see as well, or even better than, a cat at night. All those years in Quetzalcoatl's dimension had honed his senses; marrying Andi — Bonding and melding their qi together — had given him more of an advantage and had cemented those newly refined skills. He tucks his fingers into his back pockets, looking at the dark garden as well as their reflections.

"I've seen some of the worst humanity has to offer," he says quietly. "It's just part of being a cop. It's no different than what any Super sees, although maybe there's just an order of magnitude of difference. And I don't think most of them, the Supers I mean, see the day to day suffering that ordinary people endure. They can't be everywhere, they can't see everything. Although God knows, Andi tries." He smiles fondly. "But it seems like what Ninja and La Loup do is a lot more like what I do. The other guy in Denver... not so much, although Andi says he's a good sort.

"But mutants are just the latest Other for the majority of society to distrust, fear, hate, persecute." He looks at his reflections and that of his nephew. "Human nature seems to be hardwired to divide everything into Us versus Them. There always has to be a Them in order for Us to feel okay about ourselves, I guess. It says something about the people who try to make us all We.

"Given that you see the way people treat anyone they think aren't as good as they are and that you're sickened by it..." Pablo turns his head to look directly at Leon. "...it speaks well of your character. It's not as common a trait as you'd think."

He huffs out a sharp breath. "We all do what we do for different reasons. "Me? I just always wanted to be a cop... since I was younger that your two whirlwind siblings. This whole Super thing still feels a little weird to me. Andi wants to protect the people of the world no one else seems to care about — the Others. In Denver, that translates to the poor, the homeless, the marginalized; the LGBT community, the mutants. Your folks have their reasons for doing what they do, too."

Pablo gives Leon one of his crooked, self-deprecating, boyish grins.

"I have a feeling you'll find your reasons to do what you can to put your gifts to good use, to help the most number of people possible. Call it a cop's instinct."

# # #

Logan heads for the back entrance, which takes him past the kitchen. He makes a turn and jogs down the narrow stairs to La Loup's lair. The security field offers him no resistance as he walks through a seemingly solid wall. Beyond that, he goes down the metal steps, past the car, and into the darkness at the far end that conceals an entrance to the catacombs. This is the entrance he normally uses. La Loup Noir has only been this way once, and that had been his doing. It had been for her first meeting with the Underground's Leadership, namely the one called Terrace.

For her benefit, there is some lighting set out in the tunnels. For their benefit, she wears her hat and jacket but not the mask. She strides easily at Logan's side as his equal and his comrade in arms. Even here, appearances are important. They need to understand that she has his respect and trust as well as his love. It will not do to go to the first meeting as a couple instead of as a team.

When they arrive at the edge of the meeting place, it is empty. The corner of Madeline's mouth lifts in a partial smile. So it is to be a test from the start. She feels Logan tense at her side and she turns to him, placing a hand on his arm. She gives him a nod, a wink, and a quick smile, then moves into the center of the meeting location alone. She lets her eyes unfocus and allows all her senses to be fully aware of what is around her.

As they had moved into the tunnels, she had noticed that the ambient temperature did not fluctuate as it does in those areas open to visitors and tourists. There is also a slight but continual stream of fresh air. The actual motion of the air is not noticeable while in motion, but the lack of the less desirable underground scents is. Now that she is standing still, she feels the soft wash of it over her skin as it eddies around her.

There is a cross breeze that comes through, then stills. A scent comes with it. One that reminds her of Wolverine, but he is behind her. She tilts her head and listens closely in that direction, notices the subtle shifting of dirt under foot. She turns slowly to face the way from which the "breath" originates. In the shadows beyond the low light is a darker shadow. It appears roughly man-shaped to her. She stares a little longer and is able to discern a bit more definition. If she had Logan's eyesight, she would be able to truly see this person, but as it is, she has to make do with her own limited normal vision.

She keeps herself to the center of the lighted area and waits. They will scent no anxiousness or fear on her, but if they wait long enough, eventually there will be boredom. They are unlikely to wait quite that long.

Finally, he steps forward, showing himself. He appears normal except for the catlike pupils.

"Bon jour, La Loup Noir. I am Terrace, the chosen Leader of those who live below."

"Bon jour, Terrace. Thank you for meeting with me."

"Were it not for his word," he says, "this would not be occurring."

"Then I will thank him properly later, privately," she says, allowing herself a feral-like smile.

Terrace returns the smile. "I am sure he will enjoy that."

"So am I.

Now he laughs and comes closer to offer his hand in greeting. "It is as you said, Logan. A rare one indeed."

Logan grunts and shrugs as he comes to stand beside her.

"It has been some time since Europe had a Super, and never one interested in us. Why do you care?"

"Do you want me to wax philosophical or will the simple answer that I just do suffice?"

He considers for a moment, then asks, "Why Paris?"

"My alter ego made a promise to her deceased husband's mother to look after her business since she is no longer able."

Logan smiles as he moves through the warren, remembering how she had impressed them without trying. Yes, she is a rare woman, a rare person indeed.

# # #

Food is acquired and although they try to not accept the hero's money, she insists that the free meal be given to someone else, someone actually in need of it, or that a donation be made to support those less fortunate. Dinner in hand, La Loup Noir brings them back to the clinic through the garage once more. Instead of going inside, she sits side saddle on her bike and opens the bag, offering Ninja a portion of the food with an explanation that she wants to wait for Logan outside. Besides... she intends to take her time enjoying the meal. She does not often get a chance to enjoy the food from Fauchon.

Ninja is happy to share dinner, but...

"Does that happen a lot? People trying to just give you things like that?"

When she started watching out for the people of Denver, she had had one or two cases in which someone had tried paying her for what she did, and it kind of blew her mind. The Diné, the Japanese people she and her family knew, the whole village of Chenjiagou... that simply is not how things should work. People just watch out for one another, the way these Parisian ferals do. All it had taken, however, was just saying watch out for one another when I'm not around... to Old Mama, to Hank, to the kids who work the streets, to the men and women in the gay bars... and they understood. Well, true, if she's not obviously in a hurry, she's never going to get out of Charlie's without a glass of root beer, but how can anyone say no to a guy who looks like a young John Wayne?

No, it's the yuppies and the tourists who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time who seem to think a simple thank you is insufficient.

Well, she supposes Perry does get his fair share of this kind of thing, too... what she witnessed tonight with La Loup. It's just one more reason for her to stay away from Sponsorship. She just doesn't understand the White Man.

La Loup Noir nods.

"It does, but it is considerably worse when I'm not in Wolf's clothing. There's a whole army of sycophants trying to curry the favor of House Beauvoir. This? It's a combination of thanks and hospitality. Because of where we are..."

She gives a wave that encompasses their surroundings. "Here in the heart of a major tourist district, they decided to do some PR to let people know that I was not a terrorist. We went into a green screen studio and they did some shots to paint me into various places around Paris. I told them it was only going to happen once, so they had better make the best of it."

"Yeah, you know... I'm just going to let Perry handle all that publicity stuff. He's better at it than I could ever be," Ninja says, shrugging. "He has far more patience for stupidity than I do."

Huh, now there's an interesting thought. She has a boatload of patience when working at the library. She is going to assume the operative word here is stupidity. The folks coming in for help aren't stupid... panicked, uninformed, scared... yes. All that and more. But they're not stupid.

La Loup shrugs. "It was just something to calm the tourists.

"Oh, do not get me started on the topic of tourists," she says to her Sister as she rolls her eyes. "I terrify the tourists who deserve it, the ones who cause trouble. Beyond that? If the Powers That Be knew I existed in their fair city, they'd try to get me in front of the cameras with Peregrine, and then sneaking up on misbehaving tourists and citizens would be considerably more difficult. Nope, no thanks. I'll stick to skulking in shadows and under the cover of darkness."

But she does smiles. Perry enjoys, mostly, doing the public appearances. She enjoys the shadows. They've never worked together, and yet — they work well together.

There is a growing number of people in positions of authority in Colorado who know the name Ninja. Sooner or later, the whispers on the wind are going to reach the ears of people who matter in the county governments and the City Council. She just hopes the brains attached to those ears are smart enough to chat with Perry before they come looking for her... things could get really awkward otherwise.

Sitting outside, waiting and eating, also gives Madeline a chance to reminisce about her own children and their fathers, and to think about the twins and their education. Em and Vin are now the age Leon had been when he went off to school. He had known what he wanted and had been insistent; with his gifts having manifested so early, it really had been the best place for him. But the twins... no, she does not want them to leave home just yet. She glances back toward the door that leads to the clinic, an idea forming... one she and Logan will need to suss out.

And as if the thought of him is a summoning, Logan appears silently jogging across the garage. Seeing her so relaxed, he smiles. They embrace warmly, Madeline dislodging mask and hat to share a kiss with him.

"All is well in hand at home?" she asks.

"Yes. Pablo had much fun with the children, and now Leon is keeping him entertained and vice versa. Leon was worried it was bad business I was coming out to help with," he says, then looks at Ninja. "And Brother mentioned something about you needing to be careful, but didn't think you would listen to me any more than you do him."

Madeline chuckles and pulls him closer.

When Logan delivers his message from Pablo, Andi laughs. "Of course, I would listen to you, Elder Brother! And then I would be exactly as careful as I always am."

Logan snorts. "I'm sure you are as careful as my Mate here is."

His Mate rolls her eyes. "Pot. I seem to remember you putting yourself between me and a whole host of fifty cals."

"You didn't heal up back then."

"And now I do, thanks to you."

Andi grins at Logan. "I'm more careful than my Sister, I suspect, since I still don't quite trust this healing from dead thing. So I probably wouldn't knowingly put my head or heart between a weapon and someone I'm protecting... but other body parts have all taken their share of damage and will likely continue to do so. My doctor friends tell me a spleen doesn't itch when it's healing; something about it not having the right nerve receptors. I wish someone would tell my spleen that."

"Maybe, technically, it isn't itching, but it sure is annoying. Just don't get yourself blow up. That is a bitch and a half to come back from."

Ninja grinned at La Loup. "Yes, so you said. And I did promise, in the presence of my Beloved even, to make every effort to avoid getting blown up."

"So who are we escorting that so many hands are needed?" Logan asks.

"Evan's sister Ynona gave birth. Four beautiful cubs. Two boys, two girls. I'm pretty sure they were only expecting two. I will have to see about making sure they get a better ultrasound machine and a couple extra bassinets.

"Do you want to go in and see the cubs?"

"Of course."

"Go on then. I'm going to get some shuteye until it's time to move them."

Andi glances between the two of them. "I don't need sleep... but I don't want to intrude where I might not be welcome. Think they'd mind if I tag along with you, Brother?"

Logan's shoulders roll. "Don't see why they would. I should say hello anyhow. Been a while since they've seen me."

He looks down at Madeline. "You going to crash on your bike, darlin'?"

"I am. Wake me when it's time to move."

"Of course, darlin'. And I came up by the church, so Father Jacob expects us later."

They share a kiss and Logan leads the way back into the clinic while La Loup Noir settles backward on her bike. She leans back against the tank and windshield, crosses her feet over the back, and promptly knocks off.

Being with Wolverine does help to ease some of the Ferals' distrust, although not all of it. Ninja didn't expect to be welcomed with open arms anyway. It had taken two years to get the tunnel rats in Commerce City to trust her, after all. She never expects trust from strangers. The fact that their auras don't show a level of apprehension equivalent to a 'go away' sign is good enough. Evan is more cautious than his sister, but her attention is focused almost exclusively on her cubs; she barely notices Ninja most of the time. But all four having been fed, and Ynona possessing only two arms, she was able to hold the sleepy little warrior for a little while.

Her heart tumbles a little as she watches the cub's face as she sleeps.

A couple of hours later, the click of the door handle turning wakes her. She stretches and slides off her back then turns to see Logan watching her. She smiles and asks, "They just about ready?"

He nods and holds the door open for her. It is all smooth sailing from here. The cubs are bundled against the cool night air and carried by family and friends. La Loup Noir, Wolverine, and Ninja pace them on the short trek to the church.

When it's time to go, Ninja slides her staff from her scabbard and walks silently through the shadows from the clinic to the church. As much as she hates the moniker of Night Walker that Quetzalcoatl gave her, slipping through the shadows in the dark of night is as easy for her as it is for others in the party — and perhaps even easier than for some.

Father Jacob is watching for them; he slips out and opens the gate to let them pass. Evan, Ynona, the wet nurse, and the young ones disappear into the darkness beyond. La Loup Noir follows Wolverine to the far gate.

"I'll meet you downstairs," she says.

"I won't be long," he tells her.

She closes the gate behind him and locks it, then returns to give the key back to Father Jacob. From there, she and Ninja return to the clinic but via a roundabout way that leads them directly to the bikes.

She looks at Ninja and says, "I'm ready to call it a day. Despite the rough beginning, it's ended on a good note, and I don't want anything to ruin that."

Ninja merely smiles and nods a silent agreement. The uneventful escort mission had been enough to make her feel as though she is on vacation. She can't disagree with Maddie's desire to head home. Starting off the day saying goodbye to a loved one and then ending the day welcoming four new lives into the world is something the oft-times philosophically minded librarian would like to mull over and then discuss while curled in the protective circle of her husband's arms.

Maddie had not been kidding when she said European roads were better than their American counterparts. Even in traffic this light and at this time of night, Ninja would expect to navigate around half a dozen idiot drivers back home. She isn't sure if she's relieved or disappointed that they don't encounter a single one.

The trek back to the lair is quick, between traffic being relatively light and the speed of the bikes. Madeline's Peugeot is nowhere to be seen, which means either Logan or Bernard has moved it back to its normal home in the garage. She parks her bike in its normal spot and shuts it down.

"I'm going to wait here for Logan," she tells Ninja as she removes her hat and mask. "Why don't you go on up and see if Pablo managed to keep Leon out of trouble, or vice versa?"

"I'm going to assume your house is still standing and still in relatively good shape, or your seneschal Bernard would be down here waiting for you." Andi chuckles. "So I'm going with the notion that neither of them managed to get into too much trouble."

She pulls her staff from the scabbard again; she is used to walking with it in her hand, and she isn't quite accustomed to the sheath yet. Time and practice will remedy that.

"Good night, Maddie," Andi says from the doorway. "We'll see you in the morning..."

Her pager has not gone off nor has her scrambled phone, which means all is well. She ignores the scanner as she goes by her console and directly to the weapons room. She resettles each item back in its proper place, glad to have not needed to use any of them tonight. She thinks about the day's events, from Alois' passing to the four new lives they had escorted safely home. Ynona's tacit invitation holds much importance, as well. Since she had first become La Loup Noir and had first met those living below the city, this has been the only open invitation ever made.

Her weapons back in their homes, she moves to the next room over to put away the Wolf. Nothing needs mending or cleaning for a change, a very nice change. Hat and coat are hung, boots are tucked into their shelf. Mask, top and pants are folded and returned to their respective places. She is down to just her undergarments; these are removed and tossed into a hamper before she pulls a short white terry cloth robe from a hook and puts it on.

Given the time, she not only expects Pablo to be in the guest bedroom but asleep as well. Indeed, that is precisely where Andi finds him, the light of the moon shining through the glass doors to show him sprawled across the bed. She smiles as she quickly unbraids her hair, divests herself of her uniform, and puts everything away. When she slips between the sheets, he wakes up just enough to curl himself around her, burying his face in her hair. "Love you," he mumbles.

"I love you, too, Pablito," she whispers, then snuggles closer and begins to drift off.

Barefoot, Maddie pads into the dojo, pausing at the control panel to change the program. The room morphs into a secluded mountain pool surrounded by forest and ferns, and lit by a full moon. The robe slips from her shoulders just before she dives in. She is only in the water a short time when the archway appears and Logan steps through.

His eyes take in the surroundings before coming to rest on her.

"Swim?" she asks with a playful smile.

He returns the smile and answers with an affirmative, "Swim."

It doesn't take him long to strip down and dive into the water. He surfaces and swims a circle around her twice before standing up in front of her. They reach for one another simultaneously and spend the remainder of the night making love, taking it into the morning. Now, he lies on his back and encircles her waist with his arms. She is stretched out on top of him with her ear to his chest, listening to the strong, steady rhythm of his heart.

She cants her head up to see his face and says, "I love you, Logan."

He bends his head and kisses her. "I love you, too, Madeline."

She inches up and kisses him back, mouth open, tongue questing. Logan responds eagerly, tightening his arms to pull her up closer. They spend several heart pounding minutes savoring each other.

"How long do you think we can stay in here before someone comes looking for us?" she asks somewhat breathlessly.

"Leon said he was going to make sure you could sleep in."

"Such a thoughtful boy."

The sun shines through the doors as her husband wakes Andi in the most pleasant way possible several hours after she had fallen asleep. After the explosion of qi subsides, once they are again aware of their separate identities of Andrea and Pablo, he nuzzles her neck as he lies beside her.

"Sometimes I feel like that's going to kill us one of these days... or at least kill me," he says, only mostly joking.

She brushes her fingers over his arm that's draped across her waist. "Not possible," she replies. "If you could see the qi the way I do, you'd see it's just binding us closer. Something will wind up killing us someday — I'm really hoping for a peaceful drifting off in our sleep, personally — but this, what we share... it only makes us stronger."

He chuckles. "I still feel as if I'm going to have a coronary or a stroke."

She turns her head to smile at him. "It is intense."

He takes the opportunity to kiss his wife, then asks, "You and Madeline were gone an awfully long time yesterday. You didn't do anything crazy, did you?"

Andi pats his arm. "Not a thing." She loses her smile as she closes her eyes, although she does look peaceful. "We went back to witness for Alois. He..." She swallows; she wills herself not to cry. "He had such peace when his spirit left for the afterlife. Rene wasn't sure if he'd be able to leave this life on his own — and perhaps that had been Alois' fear, as well. But he lived a life of honor and bravery; he needed no help to let go of his life. I think... I think all he really needed was to know Maddie and Rene would be okay. They will still grieve, of course... that is human. But their love gave him... well, permission, almost... to move on." She opens her eyes again and looks at Pablo, getting trapped for a moment in the depths of his warm brown eyes. "I hope he finds his friends who preceded him from this world."

He gently kisses her forehead. "You did a good thing, being with them. I could feel you pulling us all together, all five of us, to give them support. I'm glad you were there to do that for Madeline and Rene."

"Me too." She hugs him close for a moment. "After we left his house, we rode for quite a while. Maddie needed to do her own private grieving, I think. But the roads here are better than the ones back home, and there are surprisingly few crazy motorists. In fact, I think Maddie and I were the only crazy people on the road all day. Well, in our vicinity, at any rate. So there were no accidents, no skidding down the road under a bike. And we didn't run anyone else off the road, either.

"We gave some assistance to some of the local Cursed... it was a good thing. One of the women had a few more babies than expected, the local doctor who helps them out was a bit worried. It all turned out well in the end, however. Since you sent a message along with Logan, you know Wolverine came out to help. Well, you didn't know then, but you know now. We just kept an eye out to make sure the new family got safely back to their underground city.

"At dinner, I got a taste of what Perry must go through whenever he's out and about — which reminds me, I still need to introduce the two of you. The diner manager kept trying to insist on not taking Wolf's money."

He smiles, eyes twinkling. "He didn't win that fight, did he?"

She grins back at him. "Of course not. Wolf basically told him to pay it forward... feed a homeless person, donate to an organization that needs it, whatever. But it really made me think about the whole Sponsorship thing. I don't want to be recognized, even if I use Perry's phasing mask to obscure my features. I can't imagine being able to do what I do if so many people recognize me." She laughs. "Of course, I'd never walk into a diner dressed as Ninja, so maybe it's a moot point."

Pablo raises an eyebrow. "And yet you're at Charlie's or Ms. C's or both nearly every weekend."

"Well, sure. Why wouldn't I be? I'm not going in for a drink, although it is nearly impossible to get out of Charlie's without a root beer. Sometimes I feel like I'm lucky to get out of Ms. C's without a date!"

He laughs, and Andi pokes his ribs.

"Don't laugh at me, buster. I go to both bars to make sure there aren't any troublemakers hanging around. There's a difference, you know."

He chuckles, although it's clear he still finds the idea of matchmaking bartenders at Ms. C's highly amusing. "Okay, you do have a point. And if you'd actually agree to spend the money your Sister is going to give you to watch her property, you wouldn't have to worry about the whole Sponsorship thing."

"I know. And I did say I'd spend it if it's necessary. I just need to convince Perry to back off."

"Well, is there anything wrong with telling him you have a private benefactor?"

She pauses to consider it. "I suppose if I need to tell him anything, that's as good a reason as any. It has the virtue of being true, too." She leans forward to kiss him. "Now tell me about your day."

"It was nice," he says, smiling softly. "We did some touristy things, visited a few places the kids like. Those two young ones have a hell of a lot of energy."

She snickers.

"I see through your evil plot, woman. I'm not one of Denver's top detectives because I'm so good looking, you know." He affectionately gives her a rap on the head, something he learned from Billy, she suspects. "Get me to spend long periods of time with hooligans, and maybe it will convince me that a dozen kids is a bad idea." His eyes twinkle with humor.

"Guilty as charged, Detective," she responds with a smile. "Is it working?"

"Not yet. And I had a wonderful chat with Leon last night, so I'm not sure your plan to drag me off to his school would do as much convincing as you seem to hope."

"Darn. Oh well, I'm sure Maddie and I will think of something that will convince you." Andi grins at him. It's probably a losing proposition. The man is smart and adaptable and has more patience that most of the population. But it will be fun to see what sorts of situations she and her Sister can devise to trap him.

Pablo reaches up to brush the tendrils of hair off her face. "You really don't need to, love. Billy mentioned some peculiar trait about your clan, something about women only having one or two children. His data goes back a few hundred years, so it doesn't seems like it's a recent phenomenon that your clan's women suffer from infertility or die in childbirth. But I'm not going to risk losing you, Andrea. Two kids will be fine. Or even one, if that's how things turn out."

She really hadn't been sure he was going to ever mention the conversation she'd overheard at her uncle's house. Now that he has, she finds herself tearing up. She reaches out to caress his face.

"I love you, Pablo. Even if Billy's data is incomplete, I'm not sure the apparent inability of Ts'ah Yisk'idnii women to have more than two children would apply to me. But thank you. You've kind of been stressing me out."

He takes her hand and kisses it before holding it in his own over his heart. "I'm sorry, love. I let my excitement get the better of me, I'm afraid. But why do you think the statistics wouldn't apply to you?"

"You'll stop it now, right?" It's truly not a question. It's most definitely a declarative statement.

He smiles. "Yes, dear."

She rolls her eyes at him and shakes her head.

"Why should these trends have anything to do with me, even if I am of the Ts'ah Yisk'idnii? I'm the Warrior. In theory — a theory I'm in no hurry to test, by the way — I heal from dead. I suspect any observed clan-related phenomena like that just wouldn't apply to me.

"On the other hand," Andi says with a smile, "you're the only man who can be the father of my children. And the fact that I can have children is a burden off my mind. Seeing those tiny cubs last night even touched my cold heart," she says with a wink.

"Mmm." He pulls her close to kiss her neck and whispers in her ear, "Shouldn't I be working on that?"

She laughs and pushes him gently away. "In the shower, if you must. Although, by conventional mores, you don't really need to start working on it until after the wedding." She tosses the blankets off and climbs out of bed. "I need a shower," she says, looking over her shoulder at him.

He chuckles as he follows his wife. "And you certainly need someone to wash your back for you."

An hour later, they stroll hand in hand into the kitchen where the children are halfway through their breakfast. Exuberant hugs are exchanged with the twins, who babble a mile a minute about how silly Tio Pablo had been last night. Andi just grins at them and agrees that Tio Pablo can certainly be a very silly person. In deference to his age — ah, the awkward teen years that she didn't experience until her twenties! — Andi exchanges a less exuberant hug with Leon.

Bernard does not ask about breakfast choices, having seen that Andi's protein intake is equal to Maddie's, that Pablo's is fairly close, as well. He merely inquires about their preference for location. He doesn't bat an eye when Andi tells him that they will join the children at the kitchen bar — all the better to hear every hilarious detail of Pablo's ineptitude at whatever game they had played last night, you know. She notices that her husband and Leon exchange a few glances and nearly hidden smiles as Em and Vin tell their story.

Because the twins spend more time talking than eating — Leon does remind them a couple of times to finish their food in addition to their story — they, Andi and Pablo finish breakfast at about the same time. Leon, of course, had finished well before the rest of them, but he stayed to... watch over his younger siblings, or so it seems to Andi. Something about his body language says that he loves them, misses them while he is away at school, feels protective of them, and yet they drive him mad with their teasing. Andi inwardly smiles. That could pretty much describe most of her cousins. And her. Dear gods, how her brother and cousins love to tease her!

When the twins run off into the sunshine and Leon fetches his laptop, she and Pablo exchange smiles.

"I was making extra stupid plays during the game," he admits. "Those two just laughed so hard, and it was such a joyful sound, I couldn't help myself."

"I figured as much. You're not generally that dense, Detective, even if the game board was all in French." She refills their coffee mugs. "Come on, let's sit out on the patio and watch the whirling dervishes."

It's mid-morning by the time Madeline and Logan reappear on the main floor, casually strolling in with fingers intertwined. They have bothered to dress — both with jeans and boots, she in a turtleneck, he in a flannel shirt. The spark of their love shines brightly as they enter the main room, coffee in hand.

The kids have all already eaten breakfast. Em and Vin are out in the garden playing some version of catch they have just invented. Leon has his computer out and is looking over assignments from his professors. He looks up.

"Are you okay, Mom?"

"I'm good, sweetheart."

"Have you heard from Oncle Frank yet?" he asks.

"No. Not yet."

"Do you think he will make it back in time for the funeral?"

"No idea. Don't even know where in the world he is right now."

"I hope he does."

"Me too, sweetheart. Classwork?"

"Yeah. New physics and chemistry stuff. Study notes from Dr. McCoy."

"I'll leave you be, then."

"Everyone else is outside."

"Thanks, sweetie."

While mother and son are speaking, Logan rounds up food for himself and his Mate. He comes over with a tray of their plates just as she turns to go outside. Leon steadfastly keeps his eyes on his computer screen as they kiss once more. Logan notices and chuckles warmly. Madeline questions it with a look, and his eyes divert to the boy. She grins in response.

Sitting in the sun, doing nothing but drinking coffee, chatting with Pablo, and watching the twins play is a rare treat. It seems like forever since they've had time to do absolutely nothing, although Andi knows it hasn't been all that long since they spent time relaxing at Uncle Leon and Aunt Sonia's house. She's fairly certain there had been as much drama as relaxation, however.

"I could get entirely too used to doing nothing," she says as she watches Vin spike the ball over Em's head, then grin when she turns to attack it as though it were a rabid squirrel.

Pablo chuckles. "You'd be bored out of your mind inside of a week. I promise."

She looks at him and smiles. "You really think so? Oh... well, darn. You might be right. But more relaxation wouldn't hurt either of us."

"I wholeheartedly support that plan. Do you think we can convince the less than respectable people of Denver to recognize our need for more down time?"

"Hell no," she says, laughing. "They'd probably escalate their nefarious activities just to taunt us."

"It wouldn't surprise me," he says wryly. Pablo pauses a moment, watching the twins, trying to figure out if there is any rhyme or reason to their game. "I know you can't really cut back on what you do as Ninja, but maybe you could cut back your hours at the library. Didn't you say at least a dozen of the librarians in the system are part-timers?"

Andi sighs. "There were. Most of them got laid off in the last round of budget cuts. The ones left have a lot more seniority in the system than I do."

He's quiet for a moment. "Are things really that serious, Andrea?" he asks quietly. "I know the City's budget this past year was a lot worse than last year's, but there weren't any layoffs in the Police Department... we just couldn't do any new hiring." He shakes his head. "Of course, it didn't help that way too many senior detectives retired."

She looks back at the highly energetic children. "Yeah. Things really are that bad. Police and fire services aren't going to get cut... or not cut much, anyway. Anything related to tourism sure as hell isn't going to get cut. Even the Department of Sanitation has a higher priority than the library system and the schools. Kind of sucks, but that's the reality."

He reaches for her hand and links his fingers through hers. "Are you worried about the budget announcement next month?"

She turns her head to see the worry in his eyes. He knows how much her job means to her; she gets just as much satisfaction from her library job as she does from her work as Ninja. And Andi knows better than he does that having a place to go where there are few surprises helps to keep her balanced.

She shrugs slightly. "Maybe... a little. Yes, and sometimes more than a little." She manages a small smile. "It's not like we couldn't make things work out in the worst case scenario. You said yourself that my mortgage is barely more than you were paying for rent on your apartment. I think we'd manage."

"And Madeline said she was setting up some sort of account for you whether you like it or not." Pablo squeezes her hand and smiles his boyish grin.

"I know, but that's one of those in case of emergency sort of things."

He chuckles. "You know, you might just be the most stubborn person I've ever met. You might even be more stubborn than Rosalia was."

She squares her shoulders, lifts her chin and proudly says, "Thank you. And it's an honor to be compared to Rosalia."

Madeline opens the door since Logan has his hands full with the tray.

"Good morning," she says to Andi and Pablo, Logan echoing the sentiment as they settle at the table.

Andi and Pablo are both laughing when Maddie and Logan join them.

For a little while, they have peace. For a little while, the Pentad simply is as Pablo and Andi sip their coffees, as Madeline and Logan eat their breakfasts, as Rene sits between Andi and Maddie, leaning against the side of his Wife's chair.

But all too soon, the twins become bored with their game, and are intent on pulling Aunt Andi and Tio Pablo into some new scheme.

Ah, as much as Andi would love to stay for days or even weeks, she is expected back to work on Saturday. Maddie makes arrangements to fly them to Denver International, as Charlie had emailed Andi on Monday to let her know that he and Susan will be bringing her bike to Denver. They expect to arrive, probably, on Friday and hope to stay the entire weekend... depending on how Charlie's latest project is going.

That had been one of the bright notes to Monday.

Maddie also insists that Andi take the Ducati. The frugal librarian still wants to argue; the Warrior still wants to jump and shout for joy. She compromises with a hug, a kiss and more heartfelt thanks.

She very much wishes she could stay and be here to support her Sister during Alois' funeral, but she has her whole family to surround her. It may be a small family, but it is mighty in its love. And Andi is fairly sure that Maddie will feel the love she'll be sending her. If not... well, Spirit Brother can convey the love of Sister and Brother, and even wrap his arms around his Wife in love from all three of them.

They are One. None of them need ever be alone again.

Although their flight is not scheduled to depart until close to 21:00 local time — meaning they should arrive in Denver by 19:00 local time, thus avoiding the worst traffic in both cities — it feels as though there simply is not enough time to do everything, to say everything.

The goodbyes are sad and sweet, and they all continue to remind one another that the wedding is a mere seven weeks away. Of course, each time someone mentions how close the wedding is, a tiny part of Andi's brain starts crying, too soon, too soon, still so much to do! She has put a lot of faith in her Mama and Pablo's Momma, in her aunts, her Tita, her cousins, Pablo's sisters... she really should stop worrying.

Maddie — or more likely Bernard — ensures that the bike is delivered to the appropriate hangar, so the four of them are able to drive to the airport relatively unencumbered. Andi and Pablo had arrived in France with a single bag each. They are leaving with one extra bag to carry the clothing Maddie had insisted on purchasing for them, as well as Ninja's scabbard. Although Andi had been more than a little defensive about the shopping trip for the clothes, having a personal attendant to fetch the appropriate clothing certainly had made shopping for clothes less of a nightmare.

And it had made Maddie happy.

Buying them new clothes, buying her Sister a new motorcycle... monetarily, these things are no more significant than the sandwiches Andi occasionally buys for the homeless folks who gather outside the library.

But that's not the point, is it? Andi likes helping people; it doesn't break her budget to buy a half dozen footlongs every month or so. Maddie... well, considering how Andi had managed to get the dominoes falling to bring her beloved Rene back to her, to allow her to fully accept Logan as her Mate, and to make her whole and complete once again... okay, Andi would want to do the same thing if she were in Madeline Jacobs' shoes.

Seeing her peace, seeing the bright Bonds she has with both Rene and Logan, seeing her personality whole again...

Maybe I should stop being so stubborn about accepting her stipend.

When they get to the airport, Madame ensures that everything is in order to her satisfaction. Logan leans against the car, arms crossed, and just chuckles.

Cars, bikes, guns or planes... Maddie's got to check everything herself. Rene also chuckles.

Pablo and Andi just smile. She is the same way about her bike. He is the same way about his weapons. It's just plain good sense.

Finally, Maddie is satisfied and she waves them onto the plane. Logan picks up two of the bags, Pablo takes the third, leaving Andi with her staff. The flight crew is conspicuously absent as their gear is stowed and they say their final goodbyes for today. Rene's presence does not make saying goodbye easy. His presence does, however, make saying goodbye much more memorable.

When the captain finally announces that it's time to depart, Rene once again disappears as Logan heads for the door and Pablo takes a seat.

Just one more minute... that's all she wants. Just one more minute. Andi holds both of Maddie's hands in hers and smiles weakly.

"It sounds silly, but it feels harder to say see you soon than it did to say goodbye to my parents and brother when I went to China." She manages a real smile... although it's Ninja's smile. "I'll keep you posted on anything I discover of an... unusual nature."

One last hug, one last kiss.

"Okay, go, go... before I start crying."

Yes, she does turn to leave... and she does exit the plane.

And stop giggling at me, Maddie!

Andi smiles as she settles in the seat beside her husband. Their hands seem to find one another of their own volition, and their fingers twine together. She rests her head on his shoulder.

"You okay, Andi?"

"Uh huh. Going to miss the family we have here, but I guess I'm kind of used to missing family. I'll be fine."

"Well, you'll have Bobby badgering you for every single detail, so you have that to look forward to. Oh, did you ever text him about being in France."

"No, it completely slipped my mind. And I didn't mention that Maddie wants him to plan Leon's sixteenth birthday party. In Paris."

Pablo is silent for a moment. "Make sure I'm there when you tell him," he says with a hint of devilish glee in his voice. "I want to see him collapse on the floor."

© Kelly Naylor and Ividia Kt