A Call In the Night

It had been a rough couple of days, so Moira might be forgiven her slight confusion. She couldn't quite tell if she'd fallen from that half-awake dreamlike state that precedes actual sleep directly into the Overworld, or if she'd finally fallen completely asleep and came here from a dream.

Either case was unlikely, as coming to this place of ritual took conscious thought... or, at least, some exertion of will, greater or lesser depending on the skill of the traveler. That — on top of the stress that seemed to fill every aspect of her life and the sleep problems that were about to have her making an appointment with Fergus — made her just a bit confused.

Well, unless someone had called her. That was always possible. Highly unlikely, true... but still possible.

She waited for the plane to resolve into whatever form it needed to take, but it remained in its primal state of dark, dense fog. That was puzzling. She let her shields down — just a bit. She was safe within the wards of her cabin, Paddy was...

Oh. No, he actually wasn't keeping watch. She'd almost forgotten that getting him to join her in the Overworld had been impossible. He might be watching over her physical body as he often did when she slept or meditated, but he wouldn't be showing up here, in this place. He'd been more traumatized by their encounter here with Legion's mother than either she or Kat had been; Kahallan had simply pretended it never happened. Moira shook her head, or what passed for a head when part of that which was the Overworld. Even that wasn't strictly true, as she'd never talked to Kat about that day. The lass could well be as afraid of this place as Paddy was. But Moira had no reason to bring Kat here, anyway.

And it was possible Kahallan wasn't pretending. He might be so thoroughly psi null that even his subconscious couldn't remember what had happened that day. Except for the fact that he wasn't technically psi null; his imitation of a head blind individual was only adding to her stress. She sighed.

She couldn't see anything; that was normal when the Overworld was just a primordial fog. She could sense the presence of others, although she couldn't identify them. Again, this was a place many of the priestesses and priests came to speak with the Goddesses and Gods. Fiona Houlihan's coven was not the only one in existence, and Danu was not the only Deity still acknowledged by the Celts... and others on Earth, for that matter.

Lady? Did you wish to speak to me?

There was no answer.


There was no response from her grandmother either. It didn't appear as though either of the two who normally called her — her Goddess and her High Priestess — had been the one to call her tonight.

Moira wasn't worried, but she was puzzled. She mentally shrugged. She could wait here, or she could push herself back to the confines of her physical self. But since someone or something had called her here, it seemed only polite to wait a while to see who or what it might be.

She and Paddy had done a considerable amount of work on her shields. Given that, and the strength and variety of wards on her cabin, any being similar to Legion would be detected by the ship's sensors long before it could cross those barriers. She might be deeply sleeping as she waited here, but every part of her mind knew not to stay here if the ship was in danger.

She'd barely settled her mind into the equivalent of her modified at ease stance when she felt another presence much closer, and considerably stronger than most she encountered on this plane. She watched with eyes and ears. She sent out tiny vines of thought and emotion sensors — she couldn't help thinking in engineering terms — to locate the nexus of the emotional upheaval that was beginning to form. The nature of the Overworld barely changed, which told her the individual she sought was likely a student.

When waves of frustration and anger rolled back up one of her psi probes, Moira pulled all of them back in and raised her shields to protect herself from the oncoming storm. She expected the psi-scape to mold itself into something familiar to the entity she detected, but the Overworld remained — almost stubbornly — in its default configuration, so to speak.

Seanmháthair always found her granddaughter's penchant for equating the Overworld to the operations of a holodeck somewhat annoying, but it made perfect sense to Moira. Granted, it probably only made sense because she programmed the 'decks, but her unconventional explanation for the malleability of the Overworld didn't seem to affect the plane in any way.

She floated — an ethereal, almost ghostly presence — towards the source of the emotions. It wasn't the disturbing, stomach-turning floating of zero gravity... it was simply a part of the essence of whatever made up the Overworld.

Oh, fuck no! Not this again. If you think I'm not going to wallop your asses for this bullshit, you'd better start rethinking your decisions. Brats!!

The blast of emotion that accompanied the words sent Moira spinning backward. That was just a little too similar to zero gravity, and she quickly tucked her mind behind shields of intertwined branches of trees whose slim trunks appeared to be firmly rooted in the fertile soil of her grandmother's front yard. Ivy grew amid the branches and leaves; flowers of every imaginable color surrounded her; sparkling gems added to the safety of her shields. Despite Paddy's refusal to enter the Overworld, the glittering and unyielding strength of his diamonds still protected her.

It was that strength that allowed her to create a window in her own more Earth-based shield to view what caused that explosion of anger.

Whoever the person was — Moira got the sense of female, but little else — she didn't seem to be adept at molding the Overworld to a consistent form. Certainly she must be a student then... someone just learning about the Overworld. Yet, students always had teachers, mentors to guide them. Where was the Teacher?

It was more than passing strange.

What, you suck me into the crazy place, and then decide you don't want to talk to me?

She watched for a few moments, trying to discern just what the woman was trying to create, but the clearest things she could see — and they were only momentary glimpses — were rocks. Well, rock formations, actually. How strange that the woman's Teacher had abandoned her here. What lesson was to be learned from that?

Rene? Buddy? I don't suppose you're listening, are you? Fox? Cobra? Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?

Moira started. Bueller? Wasn't that from one of those old vids Paddy liked so much? Well, and Kahallan, too. He liked the old vids, too, though not always the same ones Paddy did. Funny. She couldn't remember if she was still angry with her Security Chief or not. Oh, and fiancé, too, she supposed. Although, if he...

Fine! You know what? I'll just sit here until I can figure out how to get out of these stupid dreams on my own. And then I'm going to refuse to talk to you until after you're born and have learned how to talk sensibly with all the little facial features that are needed for clear speech. That includes teeth, by the way. Ha! That'll just serve you right.

When the woman sat down, the Overworld finally took on some manner of solidity, though it existed only as a bubble a few meters in diameter around her.

She was very solid, at least, sitting with knees up, arms crossed over them, with her head resting on her arms. Moira nodded. Adept enough, then, to have a firm sense of self. That wasn't the easiest lesson to learn, although it didn't help that most students were attempting to learn it during, or even prior to, puberty. This woman looked to be about Moira's own age.

The Priestess studied the environment around the other woman and began molding the Overworld in ever-widening spirals to match it. It was beautiful in a stark way, with an abundance of rocks, a lot of dirt and very little vegetation. A desert, then, Moira assumed. It didn't quite look like any of the holos of Vulcan her crew had shared with her... but there were a lot of similarities. She shrugged. It didn't really matter, although she was curious.

She took a moment to create an avatar of herself on this plane... what anyone in her family would expect to see on her rare visits home. No daft wolf form and no uniform either. The first was... well, daft. The second, possibly intimidating. She wore jeans, an off-white wool pullover sweater identical to the one her mother had knit for her tenth birthday, bare feet and loose hair.

Although communication in the Overworld was always easiest when done telepathically, sometimes students needed verbal cues as well. Moira tucked a few strands of her long red hair behind her ears — why it continually misbehaved in the Overworld where she should have complete control was still a mystery she needed to discuss with Seanmháthair. Then she stood in a non-threatening position with hands crossed in front of her over her dan tian. She cleared her throat... softly.

The speed at which the other woman moved was astounding, as was the way her shorts and tank top almost instantly changed to a long-sleeved, neck to toe black outfit that gave the impression of being a uniform. She moved with more grace than a Catian, more precision than Kahallan, and more speed than almost everyone Moira had ever met. Her hair seemed to braid itself as she rose into a defensive stance.

That would be a handy trick to learn, Moira thought ruefully.

She stood completely still as she studied the other woman. If she had to guess, Moira might have said she was Amerind, and she was somewhat confident the pose the other woman had taken was one of the Taiji positions she had yet to completely master. One of the more martial ones, at that. One of the more deadly martial ones, in fact.

"Who the hell are you? And what would be a handy trick?" the other woman demanded.

Moira twitched an eyebrow in surprise. Her shields were tight enough that her random thought shouldn't have been picked up.

"I'll be Moira. An' th' trick o' braidin' yer hair like that... 'twould be a powerful handy thin' e'en if 'twould only work here." She smiled and eyed the wisps of hair that behaved as though she was in low gravity. "An' ye'll be quite a powerful telepath, lass, te hae picked it out."

The other woman relaxed slightly, very slightly.

"No. Well, not really. Okay, sometimes, I guess. It depends."

She eyed Moira suspiciously, then looked down at her outfit. Then she relaxed almost completely, holding onto a mild level of frustration as she threw her hands in the air. "I swear, if you guys are trying to drive me crazier than I already am, I'm going to sic Maddie on you." She looked around as if trying to find someone. "After you're born, anyway," she added under her breath. Then she looked back at Moira.

For her part, Moira was more than a little curious about who this woman was looking for, or who she thought she was talking to.

"Why are you in my dream?"

Both eyebrows raised in surprise. "I'll nae be in yer dream, lass. Ye'll be in th' Overworld."

"The what? I've never heard of... Ah, shit. Not another freaking dimension! I told Pablo and Rene that dreams could be another dimension, but did they believe me? Noooooo." She looked around. "Though that would explain, maybe, why Arizona has turned into a Dali landscape."

"Ah... no. 'Tis nae another dimension as I'll understand 'em. 'Tis th' plane o' meditation an' communication. A place o' learnin' fer th' young ones who'll be followin' th' old ways." Moira shrugged. "Until m'Lady took such an interest in visitin' th' mortal plane, I'll hae done most o' my conversin' with her here.

"An' I'll hae taken th' wee bit o' reality ye created around yerself an' will hae expanded it so as nae te startle ye by comin' upon ye too closely. Wisely done, I'll say fer meself.

"Might ye hae a name ye'd care te share?"

The other woman had stared at Moira as she spoke, her confusion a nearly physical sheen around her. "You... Lady? Reality? What?" She closed her eyes and shook her head. "That's it. Time for therapy. Or more time with the Pentad? No, I think they might have opened the door for the crazy. And then those two just took that ball and ran with it. Shit, maybe I should go stay with Tommy for a while. Yeah, Pablo would love that. That would be one weird honeymoon. Huh. Or not."

She opened one eye as if testing to see if anything around her had changed; she sighed with resignation when she realized it apparently hadn't.

"Andrea. Or Andi." She gestured to her outfit. "Though when I'm dressed like this, I'm working... so it's Ninja."

Moira giggled; she couldn't help it. "Ninja?"

"Hey! What's so funny about that? I strike fear into the hearts of miscreants in alleys all over Denver!"

Moira held her hands up — half a gesture of surrender, half one of peace — but continued to grin.

"I donnae doubt that at all, at all! 'Tis merely disconcertin' te see ye lookin' a mite Amerind an' havin' a Japanese... ah, nickname."

Andrea harrumphed. "Well, even without my so-called super hero status and registration as a mutant, I'm still a master of two martial arts. Plus, when I started this gig, I worked mostly at night — okay, I still do — and I had black clothing handy. It made sense, and why call attention to my heritage? I'm Diné, by the way, or Native American. Amerind sounds... clinical and vaguely insulting."

Now it was Moira's turn to exude confusion. "Super hero? Mutant registration? Diné?"

Andrea looked at Moira as if she was possibly the crazier of the two of them. "Diné is Navajo, and I can forgive people for not knowing that. But... seriously? You don't know about the mutant registration and the Supers? Where the hell are you from, anyway?"

"Ireland," Moira said, as though it was self-evident.

Andrea simply stared at her. For a rather long time.

"Nope. Nuh uh. I call bullshit. I know there's a Super in Ireland. I decided to become more informed about the state of the world outside my happy little world in Denver when I met Maddie, and yeah, maybe that could be considered — by certain people — to be a bad influence on me. But I'm also a librarian... or was, until the budget cuts... so I ought to know stuff anyway. So, ha! Maybe this Banshee character is in New York — gods, poor Maddie — working with the UN, but give me a break! He's Ireland's national treasure. Or so they claim."

Moira blinked.

"Aye..." she said slowly, "Navajo. Sure an' I'll hae heard that name. One o' me crew'll be from th' part o' North America that'll hae been Oklahoma. Nae, he'll hae stayed aboard th' Clarke," she reminded herself. "Nae Navajo though, I donnae think.

"An' bean sí kinnae be a man, seein' as bean means woman. An' as fer , well in Standard, 'twill be the same... she. E'en though 'twill be th' myths that'll be sayin' 'tis th' woman o' th' barrows, an' a messenger from th' underworld. I'll nae hae studied yon bean sí more than'll be necessary, fer they'll be said te be powerful fearful."

Andrea stared again, for slightly less time.

"Who the hell are you? Oklahoma is still Oklahoma... or it was when I fell asleep. And no, generally speaking, an Oklahoma Native probably isn't Navajo... though it's not impossible. Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Osage, Comanche, Shawnee... dozens of Nations and Tribes are based in Oklahoma."

It was the question that cut through Moira's fog of confusion.

"Captain Moira Maeve O'Shaughnessy, commandin' — fer the moment until th' mad as hatter Admirals come te their senses — th' USS Eclipse."

Andrea nodded slowly. "Riiiiight. So for this, I should be blaming Bobby and Henry, and their obsessions with Star Trek, I suppose. Oh, pray tell... which dingbat is captain of the Enterprise in this dimension?"

Moira let loose with a barrage of invectives in Irish that would have gotten a reaction from even that mad as a hatter, Irish speaking, Vulcan admiral. There was quite a bit of name calling and a number of blistering traditional Irish curses.

All the stress and lack of decent sleep seemed to catch up to her all at once... the curses were literally blistering. The redhead's skin tone didn't quite come close to the color of her hair, but the air around them began to warm up. Considerably.

Andrea's smile grew to a broad grin by the time Moira was finished.

"Nice. Feels almost like home in the summer. And I take it I said something wrong. Amusing, but wrong. Also, you sound like me when I get going. Didn't understand a word of it — although it's as delightfully lyrical as Diné Bizaad — but I get the gist of your feelings for whoever's in charge of the Enterprise."

Moira glared at Andrea. "I'll be sharin' me Security Chief's opinion o' th' ship an' her captain. Th' ship'll be cursed, an' th' captain'll be an amadán. Pride o' th' Fleet, me Auntie Siobhán's verra large behind! Oh, mayhap before th' lout Picard'll hae been made captain, aye. But I'll hae a finer crew on th' Eclipse, e'en as small as 'twill be. Sure an' was nae th' Clarke's crew th' finest Starfleet'll hae see since Kirk himself commanded th' Enterprise? Mayhap e'en finer. Aye! 'Tis true!"

"Hey, who am I to argue?" Andrea replied with a shrug of one shoulder. "I still think I'm dreaming, so apparently my subconscious agrees more with my best friend than my cousin. Hmm. Not that he really cares who the captain is; he only cares about George Takei." She looked around again at the landscape. "Though the freakishly bizarre rocks... well, I've always preferred Rothko over Dali, so that doesn't really explain it. Maybe Pablo's a fan. And you..."

Andrea gestured to Moira. "I can't begin to imagine how I thought you up. Except you remind me, just a little, of a gal I knew in college. Catherine, Cathleen, Colleen, something like that."

Moira studied the other woman for a moment, clearly puzzled. She decided it probably wasn't worth the headache of finding out who or what a 'George Takei' was.

"Lass, ye could nae possibly get here without either bein' invited or willin' yerself here. 'Tis simply th' nature o' th' place.

"Bein' as 'twill nae hae been m'Lady nor me grandmother who'll hae called me te visit...

"An' bein' as I'll hae no cause te be visitin' on me own, as I'll hae promised Rika I'd teach her a bit about it in the next week...

"I'll be thinkin' ye'll hae done th' callin'. What I'll nae understand'll be why."

"You're a result of bad pepperoni on my pizza? I don't know what to tell you. Well, except that every other time I've wound up in a place like this, it was because of those two. Oh, wait, no... the first time I was in a coma because Pablo got sucked into Quetzalcoatl's prison dimension, and the second time I was dead... but that resolved into Great Spirit's realm. Who's this Rika?"

"Me first officer. An' ye're a wee bit daft, ye know."

Andrea laughed. "I've been called worse. And I've already come to the same conclusion myself, although it was a while back."

"Who'll hae taught ye all this?" Moira asked, spreading her arms wide to encompass everything around them.

"Oh, my gods!" Andrea exclaimed, attempting to run her hands through her hair, and finding it braided. "You don't get it, Red," she said, tugging the hair ties off the ends of the braids and tucking them into a pocket before she started finger combing her hair. "I wound up here. I don't know where 'here' is. No one taught me how to get wherever 'here' is. I just seem to show up."

Moira was stunned. This was... simply impossible. "Ye've no trainin'?"

Half finished unbraiding the second braid, Andrea stopped. "Oh, I have plenty of training. I'm a Kudan of Aikido and a Master of Taijiquan. I'm an expert with a staff and more than proficient with both jian and dao. Grandmaster Chen taught me everything he knew about qi, and how to use my powers." She finished removing the braid and flipped her hair over her shoulder, her dark eyes becoming shadowed.

"I channel more power than Master Chen ever thought possible. I keep picking up new abilities, which — quite frankly — freaks me the fuck out. At first, I thought it was my bond with Pablo... and... and then the Pentad. But it's not stopping. So then I figured, well maybe it's just being pregnant, and instead of craving pickles and ice cream I just grow new powers. And no, I don't think even the Spirits realize how much I've thought this out. Or maybe they do, and that's why they seem to be terrified of me."

Moira stared this time, then casually waved one hand to her side, creating a chair that looked similar to her seat on the bridge of the Eclipse. She sat down and leaned back as she crossed her legs.

"Well, 'tis nae so common fer a woman with great abilities te gain more when she's with child, but 'tis nae impossible. Ye've had a powerful need te learn what'll be vexin' ye so. About this place?" She gestured to the area around them. "None but Seanmháthair knows more than I, an' e'en she'll nae hae seen th' darkness I'll hae seen." The redhead seemed to pull into herself for a moment before shaking her head. "Well, mayhap ye need te know o' such thin's... mayhap nae.

"So. Who'll these Spirits be that ye speak of?"

Andrea stared wide-eyed at the chair when it appeared but then narrowed them suspiciously when Moira sat down.

"How did you do that?" she demanded.

Moira chuckled. "Intention... an' o'er two decades o' practice. Ye did th' same fer yerself when ye first sat. Ye've a good sense o' self. That'll be good."

"What, so I just think of a thing and it appears??"

The other woman raised an eyebrow. "Are ye goin' te tell me ye've ne'er caused a thin' te change from one shape te another?"

"Well, yeah. But only with Fox's assistance."

Moira smiled slyly. "Aye, 'tis what yon foxy one'll be likin' ye te believe. Ye kin do more than jus' illusion, ye know."

"No way! I can camouflage things, make them invisible... but to change a rock into a chair?" The other woman shook her head, clearly in denial. "No fracking way. Just no."

Moira shook her head as well. "Lass, believe me when I tell ye... I'll ne'er hae seen anyone with th' power ye hae. Here?" She looked around again. "Andrea, I've a job that I do, an' that's bein' th' captain o' Starfleet's newest ship. Truth be told, 'twould make me happier te spend me days programmin' th' holodecks.

"But I'll also be a teacher, nae only o' programmin' at th' Academy, but fer those such as yerself who'll hae great power an' no trainin'. An' 'twould seem ye'll need a lesson or two or ye'll harm yerself with yer power."

Andrea shrugged. "More likely harm those around me and go mad in the process. On top of expecting a considerably longer than usual lifespan because of my powers, Maddie passed on her peculiar DNA — although if you ask those two, I was supposed to have it anyway — and the whole Heal From Everything Including Dead that she picked up from her twins..." She stared off into the distance, into the fog, for a few minutes before shaking her head. "Well, I'm pretty sure I could find somewhere remote enough not to take too many people with me when I snap, but going completely mental would be absolutely and extraordinarily bad." She paused again, but this time, the expression on her face was more calculating. "Actually, if the rest of the Pentad could stuff me in Quetzalcoatl's prison dimension... no, I think that's where I'd need to go before losing my mind because I'm the only one who can open the portals and close them back up again. I could do a lot of damage there, and it would be fine."

Then she sighed.

"Except it would kill Pablo. And I'm not sure what it would do to Maddie. Nope, just kidding. It would send her back to her madness.

"Fuck. I really need to get my shit together."

Moira simply watched the other woman's internal struggle play out as she argued with herself. Most of what she said didn't make sense, but Moira did understand emotions and emotional turmoil. The specifics of what Andrea was saying probably weren't as important as the emotions that rolled over Moira like waves.

She wondered... was it possible that this woman didn't have a Teacher? That, perhaps, she was meant to Teach?

It was a strange way of going about things, that much was certain. But if there was a Teaching to be done — and it certainly seemed this Andrea needed a Teaching, perhaps even one of the Great Teachings — then it was Moira O'Shaughnessy's responsibility to do what she could to help.

She uncrossed her legs and leaned forward to rest her forearms on her thighs, her hands cupped in front of her. Mist formed in the bowl of her hands, growing thicker and thicker... brighter and brighter with each heartbeat... until finally she appeared to be holding a miniature sun in her hands.

Lesson One.

"Damn," Andrea whispered, "that's a lot of qi."

Moira nodded, smiled. "If yon chi o' yers'll be primal energy... aye. I kinnae do this but here in th' Overworld. Nae particularly useful."

"Too bad. It's a pretty effective weapon."

With a slight shake of her head, Moira watched as the miniature sun dimmed and the mist thinned out to show an image of a young, red-haired man in jeans and t-shirt. Her smile was soft and it was unmistakable that she cared deeply about the young man this image represented.

"If 'twill come te usin' a weapon such as this, I'll hae failed at me job... an' likely me entire crew'll be in dire straits. While I'll be a fair hand at manipulatin' this plane, there'll be naught but emotions I kin bend in th' world o' e'eryday livin'. An' as that'll be far upon th' unethical side o' thin's..." She shrugged. "Protectin' kith an' kin from psi attacks should they be nearby... 'twill be about all I kin do. Th' rest'll be mostly parlor tricks, I'll be thinkin'... such as speakin' te others' minds, readin' their hearts, an' — if they'll be close enough te human — knowin' th' difference between truth an' a lie."

Andrea dropped into a half lotus position in front of Moira. "Maybe there's an overlap in what we can do, although it seems like we do it very differently," she said. "I can speak to... huh, I haven't actually tested it out fully. It's kind of a new thing. But I read qi and know how to interpret emotions. And how to tell the truth from a lie. But I need to be watching for it."

She lowered her gaze from Moira's face to her hands.

"Who is he?" she asked, nodding toward the image in Moira's hands.

"Padraig. Me twin. Half o' me soul."

A second figure formed as she opened her hands so both palms faced up; the edges of her hands were pressed tightly together.

Together, Padraig and the young woman — nearly as tall as he was, straight black hair cut stylishly short, her skin tone much closer to Andrea's than Moira's — stood holding hands, facing each other. Moira's powerful gift of empathy imbued the figures with joy and love.

"Gloria Whitehorse, Paddy's wife," Moira said softly. "They'll both hae been killed in a freak accident a few years back. Their daughter, Mhari... she'll hae been spendin' th' day with th' rest o' the family."

"I'm sorry," Andrea said softly. "They look so happy." She hesitated a moment. "She's... she looks Iroquois, or maybe Blackfeet."

Moira nodded. "Aye, full blood Blackfeet, an' 'twas a rare thin', too. 'Twas nae jus' our family who'll hae felt th' loss, but th' whole o' her Nation."

She slowly closed her hands, bringing her palms together... the images of Padraig and Gloria turning to mist. As she looked at her hands for long minutes, she spoke softly. "Lookin' back, 'twas clear I'll hae been lookin' te follow Paddy. I dinnae know then, o' course. I'll hae been spendin' more an' more time sittin' on th' holodeck an' nae workin'. There'll hae been folk... coworkers, nae friends so much as acquaintances... who'll hae been worried. Naught they could hae done. He'll hae been — he is — me twin. 'Tis nae easy te explain."

Andrea leaned forward and touched the top of Moira's foot, above the yong quan point.

"It's okay. I... I can kind of relate."

Moira nodded, looking briefly at Andrea before staring back at her hands. "Aye. I believe ye kin.

"There'll hae been a day I sat an' pondered Starfleet an' life an' such. An' I'll hae heard his voice — there'll be five sets o' twins among th' sibs, an' we'll all hae a bit o' telepathy between us..."

"Wait. You have nine siblings??"

Moira looked up again and blinked, then smiled softly. "Nay. Eleven. There'll be two singletons besides."

"Shit, your mother must have been out of her fucking mind! We're all about family — I don't know any Nations or Tribes that aren't — but that's some kind of lunacy right there."

Moira managed a chuckle. "Aye, most folk'll agree with ye. Sure an' I do! But..." She shrugged. "Mayhap 'twill hae a bit te do with Ma havin' so much love te give."

Andrea just shook her head. "I'm freaking out about two. My husband wants a whole baseball team, but... oh HELL no!" She shuddered. "But... I'm sorry... I interrupted you. You were saying something about your twin?"

Moira regarded the other woman for a moment, closed her eyes, and took a cleansing breath as she thinned her shields. She simply felt everything around them in the small bubble of reality for a moment. She smiled as she sensed the other woman's confusion, then thinned her shields even more.

Ah, yes. There it was.

It had taken Moira years to grasp the subtly of the Overworld — the delicate balance, the ebb and flow — and the reason why the impossible things she couldn't manage when on the waking plane were so simple here, why it was so difficult here to use her greatest power.

She opened her eyes and looked at Andrea. "They'll be lovin' ye so much, I'll be thinkin' 'twould knock ye off one o' yer mountains. An' aye, they an' I — just fer the speakin' o' it — will be sendin' ye inte a tizzy. So I'll be sayin' naught else but this: ye've a good and solid Circle about ye. They'll ground ye well, an' ye'll be fine."

Andrea stared at her. She said nothing for a while, then nodded.

"Okay. Right. That's how I sound to people, isn't it? That's what's going on here, right? It's a lesson in making Andi sane?"

Moira laughed. "Oh, nae at all, at all! Ye're fine an' loved just th' way ye'll be. There'll be no need te try bein' what ye're nae, is there?"

"No. Gods know certain people seem to think I've lost my mind, but..."

Moira nodded. "Ye're scared o' yer power. 'Twill be why ye believe ye'll hae gone as daft as me friends, th' Admirals'll be. Sure an' I kin understand that." She sighed softly. "I kin understand fearin' th' power, lass," she whispered.

It was Andrea's turn to study Moira, brows furrowing and a look of confusion descending on her as she did so.

"But you..." She gestured to Moira. "You're ordered, you know what you're doing, you have incredible control. Why would you fear empathy? No, no... I guess I mean... well, why would you fear for other people?"

"Because only ethics stand between me power an' th' safety o' others. Should I'll again be compromised as I'll hae once been..." Moira recalled the horror of being trapped inside her own mind and soul when Legion had captured her. She merely shrugged. "Aye, 'tis less likely now. 'Twill nae erase th' fear."

The dark haired woman shook her head.

"No, no... I don't think you get it. Your power is stable." Andrea looked down at the palms of her hands. "It's not quite the same as when the Curse first took hold of me. I'm doing my best to keep everyone around me from knowing just how freaked out I am. The rest of the Pentad — my Circle, as you called them — knows there's something wrong, but I don't know that anyone but Maddie really gets it. Rene might know as much as the other Spirits, plus I'm pretty sure Maddie's in this feedback loop with me, which might be why she groks even though my words make her all glassy eyed." She looked up again at Moira. "I don't know what to do with all this power. I feel like I'm going to burn out... or, at the very least, explode all over the place."

Moira nodded with understanding. Hadn't she felt all that, and so much more, when she was captive? And unless the unthinkable happened, it wasn't something she needed to fear on a day to day basis. Not anymore.

"But ye'll nae." Tilting her head she regarded the dark haired woman. "Ye seem te understand an' nae understand empathy. Hae ye nae been trained in such power as well?"

Andrea looked at her quizzically, then shook her head. "I'm not an Empath. I don't feel other people's emotions, I just see the qi. Yes, I've had training and practice... quite a bit of both... to know what qi looks like when a person feels a particular way. But the joy or sadness, despair or rage... I don't actually feel it. It doesn't affect me in the way it would affect an Empath." She paused to take a deep breath. "My niece is an Empath, though. She's only ten, but I can see that she can feel what's going on in people around her... at least the people she loves... her brothers, her parents." Andrea shrugged. "I've tried to keep a tight control over my emotions when Em is around. She's... she's truly a child of both her parents, with the strength of each. But she's still only ten."

Moira smiled. "Ye love her as ye'll love yer own. An' her brothers, too, if I'll nae miss me guess. 'Tis a fine thin'. But donnae hide all from her. How else is she te learn th' shieldin' from emotions if she'll nae hae emotions batterin' at her te shield from?"

Andrea looked at Moira as if she'd lost her mind. "Yeah. You know what? I'm just going to let her mother and her father and Charles work out her training. If they think it's a good idea for Aunt Andi to go bat shit crazy around Em sometimes... well, I'll consider it. But a figment of my imagination isn't going to talk me into it."

Moira chuckled. "As ye wish."

She stood and looked into the thick mist, her back to Andrea. For a moment, she was utterly still, then she slowly spread her arms outward. Her hands began at her sternum, palms up with the right hand resting on the left... then she appeared to be tossing small jewels or coins out in front of her in slow motion. When her arms were outstretched at her sides, a new vista appeared before them.

Manipulation of the Overworld was, as she'd told Andrea earlier, very often simply a matter of intention and practice. Sometimes, however, a little ritual was involved.

Well, sometimes an awful lot of ritual was involved when the entire Coven gathered. Moira tried not to do that too often — attend full Coven gatherings, that is — despite the fact that it annoyed Seanmháthair.

This was Moira's island of safety. It was a brilliantly green and lush field, with a tree obviously meant for climbing and a large, flat-topped rock — very nearly as tall as Moira — centered before them.

"Ye'll nae burn out, an' ye'll nae be explodin' fer th' same reasons I'll nae hae done either when I'll hae been possessed by that foulness o' Legion." She looked over her shoulder at Andrea. "Hae ye e'er been te Ireland?"

Andrea stared in amazement at the beauty Moira created, and simply shook her head.

Moira smiled and let her arms fall to her sides. "Well, then... welcome te me home, lass."

Before standing, Andrea looked again at her hands, then pressed them to the rocky ground on which she sat. She took a slow, deep breath and let it out even more slowly as she closed her eyes.

Moira's green eyes twinkled with delight. "Ye learn quickly."

Andrea opened her eyes to see the rocky area had become scrub grass, rocks, and craggy outcroppings near a house that looked perfected suited to a desert climate. She grinned as she stood.

"This is my cousin's home, but he said he'd figure out a way to leave it to me that won't go against tradition." She chuckled. "I suspect it will involve Tommy deciding at some point that he simply can't stand the isolation any more, and giving up his home to his dearest cousin so he can go live in Flagstaff. Or Albuquerque." She looked at Moira and rolled her eyes. "Not a single person will believe him, because everyone knows a Medicine Man needs isolation. But our family is very traditional, and... well, it would be a shame to have to burn down his hogan if he's still living there when it's time for his Last Walk."

Moira couldn't recall ever hearing that phrase before — Last Walk — but from the context, she was fairly certain it meant the same thing as Journey to the Summerland did.

Andrea looked at the caves in the outcroppings for long minutes, lost in thought, before turning back to Moira.

"Who are you really, Moira O'Shaughnessy?" The words held genuine curiosity.

"Apart from bein' th' Federation's top holoprogrammer, an' th' youngest Captain in Starfleet history, ye mean?" the redhead asked, her smile serene and full of hope.

"Yeah. Although Bobby would claim heresy or blasphemy at you being the youngest Captain. That was James Kirk."

Moira chuckled. "Aye, an' 'twas still th' truth until th' daft Irish-speakin' Vulcan Admiral Savrik an' Seanmháthair's beloved Uncail Admiral Mark decided I'll be needin' yet another promotion." She held out a hand to the other woman.

"E'en before joinin' Starfleet, I'll hae been a Priestess o' Danu... th' youngest in that role, too, at least in four or five generations. I serve m'Lady by helpin' those I kin help... as I'll hae helped Rika nae so long ago, an' as I'll be helpin' ye now. Me grandmother'll be th' High Priestess o' th' Coven an' she'll nae be as pleased as I an' our Lady'll be at th' way I do Her work..." She shrugged. "She'll hae come te understand, though."

Andrea hesitantly placed her hand in Moira's, as if she wasn't sure what she should expect.

Nothing untoward occurred.

"I'm not sure you're making sense to my rational mind, you know. But my heart understands perfectly." She seemed to look inward for a moment, then sighed with contentment.

Moira's fingers twined in Andrea's as they stepped from the apparent reality of Arizona and the world of a Navajo Medicine Man into the apparent reality of Ireland and the world of a Celtic Priestess.

"Aye. Hearts'll be a wee bit more clever than brains sometimes." She nodded to the large rock.

"'Twill be a true reflection o' a part o' me mother's farm. I'll hae created me first holoprogram te hae a piece o' home with me."

As they walked from the edge of her creation toward the rock, she was silent for a moment or two. It wasn't that she was hesitant to begin the Teaching. She simply wondered where to begin it. Then she recalled a day — not really so very long ago — when she realized she wasn't going to die. That was the day life started being... well, life again.

"I'll hae been sittin' on th' holodeck, upon that verra rock, when I'll hae heard Paddy's voice. Sure an' did I nae believe 'twas madness comin' te take me mind away! But he'll hae called me a bloody fool fer tryin' te die. 'Twould seem he'll hae been spendin' his time bein' dead tryin' te find me." She looked at Andrea from the corner of her eye. "'Tis nae easy fer th' dead te find th' livin', or so he'll hae said. Truth be told, I'll hae come te suspect me twin discovered a wee sparkle here an' mayhap a shiny trinket there on th' journey." She sighed, and this time it was with contentment and peace.

"In that moment, when I'll hae heard his voice, I kinnae say quite what I'll hae felt... but I 'twas th' feelin' o' bein' whole again. Alive."

Andrea looked at her.

"I have to admit that I'm more than a little confused. Those two said something about deciding to become two people in this incarnation. They said something about me and Maddie doing the same thing, only Maddie and I don't remember." She rested a palm on the rock.

"I don't know if I'd say connecting with Maddie in this life gave me the feeling of being whole and alive. I already had that; creating the marriage bond with Pablo cemented those feelings to my soul." Andrea closed her eyes and seemed to concentrate on a memory. "I only know it felt right... it felt perfect."

She opened her eyes again and smiled.

"Personally, I think I'm going to give birth to people who are certifiably insane. This does not bode well for anyone."

Moira laughed. "Mayhap they'll be choosin' te do thin's th' hard way, but I donnae think such is th' case most o' th' time."

"Really? Because they are very insistent that people do make these choices, and definitely don't remember that they actually make these choices."

The other woman snorted. "Mayhap those folk they know'll ne'er hae chosen te remember. Or mayhap those folk they know'll nae be tellin' yer wee ones e'erythin'." She shrugged. "Paddy'll hae said..." She paused and leaned her back against the rock, ankles and arms crossed, looking at Andrea. "Well, he'll nae hae said much o' th' place beyond or outside o' life, but he'll hae been quite sure — insistent e'en — that what'll hae happened te us was nae supposed te happen."

Andi pondered that for a moment. "So... what? Sometimes signals get crossed, and things don't work out the way they're supposed to?" She paused, and Moira could feel her clamping down hard on pain that threatened to surface. "Okay, yeah... those two said that already happened to me, with my first pregnancy. So I guess it's possible."

Moira's instinct was to reach out to wrap the other woman in comfort — both the physical comfort of a warm embrace, and the emotional comfort of simply being the conduit for Andi's release of the pain. She wasn't sure if it was Andi's stance, the hard edge to her voice, or just the rawness of the pain that held her back. She merely nodded.

"Aye. E'en though all thin's' could be possible, 'tis th' truth that some'll be more likely than others."

An odd look crossed Andrea's face, and she looked from her hand on the rock to her feet on the ground of this constructed pocket of Ireland.

"Mother?" she whispered.

Moira started, coming almost to attention. She simply stared at Andrea for a minute that might have stretched to two.

"Ye feel Her?!"

Andrea nodded. "I almost always do these days. Father not as often, or as strongly. The Spirits find it disconcerting." She met Moira's gaze. "For that matter, so do I."

"But... how?"

Andrea shook her head. "Here? I'm baffled because I couldn't feel her on the other side, on the Arizona side of this place.

"Back home, or when I'm awake, or whatever... well, I have ideas but no answers, really. Maybe Master Chen could explain it, but all I know is that it has something to do with qi... with my ability to control so much more of it than even he thought possible. Gods, sometimes I feel like I'm a danger to myself and others."

Moira looked puzzled; Andrea had answered an interesting question that she likely would have gotten around to asking... but she hadn't quite answered the question Moira asked. "Kin ye describe it... th' feelin' o' Her?"

Andrea closed her eyes and settled immediately into a stance that wasn't quite anything Moira had learned from her Taiji teacher.

"She feels different here. The same gentle fierceness, but more intense. I can't hear Her laughter..." Andrea's breath caught in her throat. "I didn't realize until just now how much I love to hear Her laugh. She likes to tickle my feet to get my attention; Father plays with my hair. Not mean like Raven used to do, but kindly... a little bit like Opossum when it pats my ear."

She opened her eyes where there was evidence of unshed tears. But she looked beyond Moira and gasped when she saw the Lady whom Moira served, whose Presence she could feel in every cell of her body.

"Daughter, are you Teaching again?" asked the Woman, looking at Moira with a loving smile.

Moira returned the smile. "Sure an' I donnae really know, m'Lady. Andrea will hae been th' one te summon me here," she said, indicating her companion.

Andrea blinked rapidly as if trying to clear something from her eyes.

"You aren't Mother, yet you feel like her. And the Spirits, too, a bit. And even Great Spirit."

The Woman laughed. Andrea seemed to hear something more than the simple joy, although Moira couldn't begin to imagine what it might be.

"I am Danu, Mother of the First People of the Celtic Isles. I know your Mother, although I call her by a different name. I know of your Spirits, although I have met very few of them. And I most certainly know your Great Spirit, for She is my Eldest Sister."

Andrea blinked again, and then grinned like a child at Christmas.

"Really? You're one of Great Spirit's Celtic Sisters? Oh, wow!"

Moira burst out laughing. "Ne'er hae I e'en heard o' one bein' so excited te make yer acquaintance. Ah, ye must tell Seanmháthair o' this. 'Twill tickle her, I donnae doubt it."

Andrea tried to pout but wasn't really able to pull it off.

"Hey, Great Spirit said her Celtic Sisters would corrupt me! I'm not sure that's really possible, what with Maddie being my Sister and according to those two the other half of my soul and according to my husband corrupting me more than enough already. But that's what She said."

Danu chuckled. "I suspect she might have been referring to The Morrigan." The Goddess regarded the Warrior. "Had you been born a Celt, I think The Morrigan would have taken you under her wings. Literally."

"Nah," Andrea replied. "Ireland has a Super, although Captain Unbelieving here says it's not possible." She gave Moira a look that both Ciaran and Paddy had given her over the years. "It's not like I named him. From what I've read, he does this weird supersonic yell that would certainly put me out of commission. Apparently, the good people of County Mayo thought he sounded enough like your banshee women that the name stuck."

Moira raised her eyebrows in a way that would have had any of her students scrambling to figure what they missed on their latest assignment.

However, Danu nodded. "It's a split from your timeline, Moira, a rather early one. I know of his family. They watch over my People, just as your grandmother does, and as you will when the time comes, my dear Daughter.

"And the boy does have a rather piercing scream."

Moira relaxed instantly. "Ah. Sure an' that'll be makin' more sense."

"Ahh... maybe to you," Andrea said. "Care to explain it?"

"Ye'll nae know o' th' theory o' alternate timelines? E'ery decision anyone kin make is made. 'Twill create branches in th' reality ye perceive, yet ye'll only perceive th' one reality. There'll be others; some loop back te merge with what ye might call the prime timeline — from yer own perspective, o' course — an' others'll be creatin' all manner o' variations."

Moira nodded toward the Goddess.

"M'Lady'll be remindin' me that th' realities each o' us understands'll nae be mutually exclusive." She smiled. "Though 'twill take One outside any o' th' realities te see more than one reality."

"Riiiight. So parallel universes are a thing. Is that what the various dimensions are?"

"Some are," Danu replied. "These can be the realities created by insignificant decisions, or somewhat less insignificant decisions by people who make a difference only to a small number of people. They're the realities that have the potential to loop back at some point. Most of the dimensions you've seen, Niece, are outside human realities."

Andrea studied the Goddess for long minutes, brows knit together in thought.

"I'm still not sure all of this makes sense. The only dimension that I've found, I think, not associated with the Spirits or those those crazy Aztec demigods was the one where I found Rene. Are you implying that I'm going to go running into different versions of myself? And why that dimension? Why only that dimension?"

Danu nodded but was silent. Instead of answering, she perched on the lowest branch of the tree and leaned her shoulder against the trunk. Moira grinned and, using well-camouflaged finger and toe holds, scrambled to the top of the flat rock.


Andrea gave her a look one might give anyone suitably insane.

Moira laughed.

"When th' Lady'll be havin' a seat, 'twill be time fer a lesson. Th' rock'll be me favorite place, an' 'twill be family tradition te declare yerself King or Queen when ye reach th' top." She gestured to the shady spot between tree and rock. "Ye kin hae th' siblin's place there."

"Or yours, Moira, when your eldest brother plays that game," the Deity reminded her.

"Aye. Besides Paddy, Ciaran'll be me favorite. I let him win. Though he'll nae hear yer lessons, bein' a good Catholic lad an' such."

Andrea eyed them both, then sat down where Moira had indicated.

"I'm starting to see just how normal my family is," she muttered.

"First, without actively going to another reality — what you might term an alternative universe, perhaps — you are not going to find different versions of yourself. For better or worse, whether you like the idea or not, you are a significant person. Only your most significant decisions have enough strength to cause a split in your reality — your decision to take up the staff, as you call it, or to marry your Pablo. Heeding the call for help from your Brother Who Is Spirit, who was in a reality destined to merge back into your own at some point.

"And those splits diverge to such an extent that you couldn't reach those new realities without a great deal of effort."

Danu had certainly meant the explanation to be reassuring, but Andrea didn't seem to find it all that comforting.

"No offense, Aunt, but in case you haven't noticed, I'm turning into a nuclear generator over here. Sometimes I think walking off into a new dimension — say, oh, like this place — would be a piece of cake."

Danu simply smiled.

"Yes. I did notice. You have the ability and the power, but in your heart, you don't have the desire to pierce those veils. Did you not notice how simple it was to open the doorway between your world and the world where your Beloved was held prisoner?"

Andrea started to speak, but paused instead, a pensive expression on her face.

"I guess I didn't think that much about it at the time, or maybe assumed Mother, Father, the Spirits and the remaining members of the Pentad were helping." She looked at Danu, clearly puzzled. "They weren't helping?"

"Your Spirits, almost assuredly not, although there are two or three who are particularly helpful to you. Let us leave it at are, for I'm sure they've informed you of their timelessness, sea? They were helpful, they are helpful, they will be helpful. While they held open the door when necessary, and would certainly have assisted in preventing the Darkness from entering your world, they did not help you to open the doorway." The Goddess shrugged lightly. "There still remain only a few who are as reliable as your Circle, your Pentad as you call them. Those you called Mother and Father... yes. Na Cruinne seems exceptionally fond of you."

Andrea snorted. "Yeah, well, I've figured that part out. The unreliability of the Spirits, I mean. Raven is a fucking loon." Then she sighed. "It would be nice if Raven's replacements were more helpful. And... Na Cruinne is Mother? I really don't understand why she wants to give me so much energy. I mean, She's really sweet for wanting to do that, but I don't think I can handle much more of this."

"Hmm, yes... Well, let's start with Raven. You should understand that the Spirits often reflect the mythos of a given people as much as they have their own... essence. Raven has had the hardest time, for it was first and foremost the Avatar of my Sister Morrigu. Of all the Spirits, it suffers most from what you might call a fragmented personality."

"That doesn't help me feel any better about its insanity."

"Of course not. But if you expect the Spirits to conform to the teachings of your own People, they will do their best to accommodate your expectations. And they will always fall short. If you study the ways in which all People have been taught to see them, all the diversity, it might be easier to accept their unique personalities."

"Oh. I..." She blinked. "Okay.

"Well, except that Coyote seems..."

The Woman laughed again. "Coyote may be one of many Tricksters, but Coyote is almost always Trickster. The personality of the Trickster might differ, but that personality is almost always a reflection of the humans observing him."

"Him? The Spirits have always said they have no gender."

Danu waggles her hand back and forth.

Andrea seemed confused, so Moira explained what she'd been taught by Seanmháthair.

"'Tis th' language o' th' many different people that'll be needin' te assign gender te nae only livin' thin's, but inanimate thin's, too." She smiled. "Ye add culture atop such a mess — these folk sayin' a thin'll be male, an' those folk insistin' 'twill be female, an' other folk wonderin' why anyone'll be makin' such a fuss o'er it all..." She shrugged, but felt an eddy of confusion from Andrea. "Seanmháthair'll be a fierce teacher, an' her lessons'll hae been on topics that'll nae hae necessarily been part o' th' typical curriculum.

"I'll be thinkin' 'tis proper te address others as they'll be preferrin', e'en te their choice o' gender... or lack o' th' same."

Andrea looked thoughtful for a moment but then snickered. Both Goddess and Priestess gave her questioning looks.

"Oh, it's just that his lord high pain in the ass ancestral annoyance, Quetzalcoatl, felt he was being emasculated when I didn't refer to him using the male gender designation." She smiled in a devilishly wicked way that reminded Moira of... well, most of her siblings, really. "Hey, I'd been accustomed to thinking of Spirits as gender neutral. He kind of acted like a Spirit, and his qi signature was similar enough. What was I to think?"

Moira's eyes widened in surprise, or perhaps even shock. "Ye mocked an Aztec deity?" she asked with disbelief.

"Yeah. Because he was crazy. At first, he was oh so intent on hooking me up with Pablo, but once we deferred the problem of the Shadow for a millennia or so, he suddenly decided I wasn't good enough for his precious Chosen One." Andrea rolled her eyes. "He and his brother decided they wanted to rebuild the mighty Aztec empire."

She seemed not only angry about that... and rightly so, Moira thought... but perhaps a bit vindictive? Some emotions were harder to pin down even for an Empath. Perhaps it was more like righteous revenge, something she had sensed from a Klingon or two.

"He and his brother decided that their respective Chosen Ones would be the parents of the new royal family. And they didn't even ask Pablo or me how we felt about it!" Andi sighed and shook her head. "It's not like I had any choice in killing the skank. Or sealing the two crazy Aztecs in their dimensions for... well, a long time."

Moira stared at Andi for a moment. "Ye know," she said after a moment, "ye've gone te th' place o' makin' no sense again."

Danu leaned down and placed a hand softly on the Diné woman's shoulder.

"At your place in time, it is more likely for the Elder Ones to be... capricious. Some of my cousins go through phases of what would resemble sanity to humans; some may never recover enough to be of help to their people again."

Andi turned to look at the Goddess. "How do you manage then? And Great Spirit? And your Sister who is Buddha?"

Danu smiled; as always, it was a radiant and loving smile. "Our human children keep us stable. Didn't you know that?" The Lady laughed at the look of surprise on Andi's face. "Moira and her foremothers, some of her sisters and nieces, they seek my guidance... there are many men and women who acknowledge those who existed before the Younger Ones. We have a duty to serve our people. We must maintain our sense of Self, or we cannot be of any help."

Moira had to swallow hard and hold at bay the emotions that rolled over her from Andrea at the Lady's words. She well understood how sometimes the simplest thing said by her Goddess could touch something in her heart she never realized she needed to see. She smiled as Andi placed a hand over Danu's.

"You are the definition of true nobility," the dark haired woman said. "I have to wonder if the Spirits' attempts, and Eagle's in particular, to protect Great Spirit are less helpful and more harmful."

The Goddess raised her hand to brush against Andi' cheek. "You are gracious and thoughtful, Niece. Your Spirits do try to intercede between Her and Her human children, but enough of you speak directly to Her that you need not worry so about Her. Besides, She is the Eldest and the strongest of Us. Our Sister Guanyin is known to so very many people while our other siblings and cousins are only names in your books. Some of us are more fortunate than others."

She sat back comfortably on her branch and smiled fondly at Moira.

"The thing you must remember, Andrea, about your Spirits is that they are not Teachers. They are Guides and Guardians only. My Sister tells me you have been, as Moira might put it, potently vexing these Spirits with your requests for teaching. They — and we — can only impart knowledge and share what wisdom we might have. To learn a skill, as you must, a human Teacher is required."

She nodded to Moira.

"Moira and her Grandmother are Teachers. Surely, in your own culture, you have Teachers of equivalent skill?"

Andrea shook her head. "Tommy will be a fine Ha'atathli someday, but he's only just graduated to the position, and he's my cousin as well, and so... well, he worries. Elder Ravenclaw, I think, fears the amount of power I have."

"Ah, lass! 'Tis nae a wonder, then, ye'll hae found yerself here!" Moira exclaimed from above Andrea.

"The one you call Logan has the wisdom and knowledge to teach you what you need to know," Danu said gently.

Andrea looked up at the Woman with tears in her eyes. "He doesn't remember that part of himself. And although my Curse gives me the ability to hold his memories, they have no context and I can't make sense of them."

"Oh, Child, you're in one of those timelines? I'm so sorry."

The Goddess looked at her Priestess.

"Well, o' course I'll be doin' whate'er I kin te help! Ye need nae e'en ask."

"Your Grandmother would wonder if this meant she was destined to discover her True Path without the aid of a Teacher."

Moira snorted. "Aye, an' e'en Seanmháthair'll nae hae th' power o' a warp core."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa there! Anybody want to guess why Andi's more than halfway down the road to the funny farm? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that she doesn't have a clue about what the great bloody hell is going on!

"At least, I know what a warp core is. Kind of.

"But to put things in those terms, I'm looking at a core meltdown any day now... I don't know how to construct a containment field... and everyone in engineering is a frackin' doctor! Of medicine!

"Damn it, Jim, I'm a doctor... not an engineer!"

Moira looked at her as though her meltdown might have already begun; Danu was hiding a smile.

"What?! Don't look at me in that tone, Captain Smarty Pants."

A glance at her Goddess caused Moira's expression to morph into confused annoyance. She sat up and crossed her legs tailor fashion, planted her hands firmly on her knees, then leaned forward slightly. That movement caused her elbows to point out to the sides in an amusing way and set her hair floating around her as though it had a life of its own.

"Ye're nae th' most cooperative o' students, are ye? I'll be takin' from yer tone an' th' Lady's attempt te hide her mirth that ye'll hae said a thin' with a humorous meanin' te ye. But I've nae a single idea o' what ye might hae said there, lass."

Andi simply gave Moira a look... mostly unreadable, although there might be some small amount of frustration, or annoyance, or possibly — not likely — satisfaction.

"I guess it would depend on who you ask," Andi said, smiling brightly as she shrugged. "Doshu Ueshiba and Grandmaster Chen would say that I am most cooperative. All my professors at DU would vouch for me."

Moira just stared at her. Doshu was an unfamiliar term, but all information was available in the Overworld if one knew how to access it. Ah... the highest ranking Aikido master. Interesting. Moira assumed the Grandmaster Chen of whom Andrea spoke was her Taiji instructor.

"If ye'd nae be clearly human, like as nae I'd take ye for a Caitian, particularly me Impulse Engine Specialist, Lieutenant Timor."

Andrea laughed; waves of joy flowed over Moira. She smiled to herself. The emotions had the feel of those long neglected. The dark haired warrior was beginning to relax. It was about bloody time, Moira thought.

"If your reality of Caitians is close to the fictionalized version of them, I'd love to meet this Timor!"

Moira looked at Andrea with an air of disapproval. "Oh, sure an' donnae I hae enough madness with Rika an' Tigger plannin' te go sailin' upon a Pirate Ship on me holodeck!"

"Tigger? Aw, now I really need to meet him!" She gave Moira a calculating look, trying to decide if such a thing would even be possible. "Can I get to your reality from mine?"

Moira started in surprise, then glanced at her Lady and shrugged. Andrea looked over her shoulder to see Danu smiling enigmatically.

"I see why you are such a delight to my Sister. You imagine the unimaginable; you are willing to make possible something that should be impossible." The Goddess paused and regarded the Diné woman intently.

"You have the power to make such a thing happen. But you should know that the split in the timelines of your respective worlds happened so long ago that it is difficult to describe the distance. How would you describe the various dimensions you have already discovered?" she asked with considerable curiosity.

"Well..." Andrea shifted her position so she could look more directly at the Deity. "For the most part, I guess I liken the different dimensions to different neighborhoods in a city. Some are closer to my reality, my neighborhood, and some farther away. Some neighborhoods are better than other neighborhoods... safer, nicer. The dimensions I've visited all touch on my reality at some point. Ah... some of them don't have the fourth dimension of time, and I think that time might work differently in all of them."

Danu nodded. "Good. You have an excellent grasp of the way these things work. Obviously, there are many ways to describe the relationships and interactions of the various timelines — for example, Fiona describes them in terms of the branches and roots of a tree — but for a city dweller, your analogy is apt."

"Seanmháthair knows o' other dimensions?!" Moira asked, sounding shocked... almost as though that idea was even more outrageous than Andrea's idea of visiting her timeline.

Her Lady chuckled. "Of course. She is one of my most senior Priestesses. She has had time to learn a great deal."

Moira nodded, but still looked a bit stunned.

"Tell me, Moira," Danu continued, "how would you describe the relationships between the various dimensions?"

She blinked as though the thought had never even occurred to her.

"I... I kinnae say I've done more than read about them, an' know th' ways Starfleet recommends fer avoidin' th' bouncin' between now an' then."

"And yet you visit this place regularly."

"'Tis different. I'll be student or teacher here, but I'll nae be endangerin' th' whole o' th' crew."

The Deity nodded again and then smiled lovingly at her Priestess.

"Think about it, then. We can speak of it on your next visit here."

In turn, her Priestess didn't quite nod; it was more a slight inclination of her head. But Danu had already turned her attention back to Andrea.

"If I use your city and its neighborhoods as an example, I would say that Moira's 'neighborhood' is effectively somewhere on the planet named for cousin Ares."

"Whoa. That's... wow." Andrea seemed momentarily stunned, but then her expression turned much more calculating. "So, I'd need to go through a lot of other dimensions to get there. And given what I've seen of some of the nearby dimensions that touch my own, I'm fairly certain there are neighborhoods I don't even want to think about."

The Goddess nodded. "Yes, that would be the most common way of conceptualizing the journey." And then she smiled.

Andrea narrowed her eyes, obviously wondering what she'd missed.

"Through th' Overworld," Moira said softly. She wondered why she never thought of that idea before. Likely it had something to do with the fact that she didn't really have much of a desire to visit other dimensions... or realities. She'd had more than enough of that when she was Legion's prisoner.

The other young woman, however, looked far more confused.

"Andi'll hae th' power te bypass th' intermediary steps, but nae th' trainin'. Mayhap I've th' strength, an' 'tis true I've th' trainin'..." She shook her head. "There'll be somethin' I'll nae be seein', though."

Again Danu nodded.

"Andi, when you were in the dimension of great torment, what kept you from getting lost forever?"

Andrea shook her head, brows furrowed in an attempt to understand what Danu meant. Her features relaxed when she realized the only explanation.

"Was that when I was in the coma?"

"Your body was, yes. Your mind left and traveled elsewhere. What kept your mind from completely untethering from your body?"

"Pablo. His love," she said immediately. "All I wanted was to be reunited with him, even in death."

"Yes. Your Pablo. Now imagine if you traveled even further... Could he ensure that the connection between your body and your spirit, mind, soul remained intact?"

She shook her head sadly. "No. Not alone. He had a hard time calling me back from that place." She looked up at Danu with a half-smile. "But the entire Pentad could... couldn't it?"

"In theory, yes. But just as you need training in traversing the dimensions, they — no, all of you — need to understand the power you have to hold one another together."

"I'll be thinkin' there'll be a lesson I'll be missin' here, too."

Danu looked at Moira sadly. "You have no Circle, dear child. You must have your own for work this powerful. You cannot rely on Fiona's. You had begun to build your own..."

"Aye," she said so softly that even Andi could barely hear her. "Em... left."

"Moira, that wasn't your doing. It was her choice, and she has her own path. You walked together for as long as you could."

Moira nodded. Andrea looked up at her, the redhead's pain reflecting in dark eyes. After a slight hesitation, she sprang to her feet and took the few steps to the rock on which Moira sat. Leaning against the rock, she reached up to rest her hands on Moira's legs.

"Hey. Been there, done that, and sometimes it still hurts. Is your friend happy?"

Moira looked down, almost overwhelmed by the other woman's gesture. She hadn't realized how much she'd come to rely on Paddy to raise her shields; it took a moment to tuck all her emotions back behind her walls.

"I donnae know. She'll hae... she'll hae gone te Vulcan te piece her soul back together."

"And do you think she will? Piece her soul back together, I mean?"

Moira nodded. "Aye. Or die tryin'."

"So there's a chance that someday she'll not only be happy but have a soul that's not shattered?"

Moira gave the other woman a wistful smile. "Aye. I pray fer such e'ery day."

"My Sister's mind was shattered, you know," Andrea said, nodding. "She's so strong and so ornery and so beautiful, but still — in some ways — so fragile. You'd never know it to look at her. Oh, but to see how happy she is when she simply looks at Rene or Logan! To see the joy on her face when she looks at her children!" She took one of Moira's hands, holding it with both of hers. "You keep praying for your friend, for those kind, generous, and loving thoughts will help her."

The Priestess looked at the Warrior, more touched than she could articulate by a stranger's caring, and asked with the same honest curiosity Andrea had earlier, "Jus' who exactly are ye, Andrea the Ninja?"

The other woman laughed and patted Moira's hand. "Andrea Yazzie... a Navajo woman... a librarian... a warrior... soon to be a mother. An ally to those who have no friends, a protector of those who have no one else to keep them safe. A friend. A lover. A sister. A daughter and granddaughter and niece and cousin and aunt.

"Come down from there, Queen Moira. I think I came here to learn something only you can teach me. Your Lady tells me you are a Teacher."

As Andrea stepped back, her black uniform transformed to ordinary clothes that even Moira recognized... jeans like her own and a simple short sleeved polo shirt. Then she bowed in a way that Moira recognized from her own Taiji classes; it was an act of deep respect.

"I put myself in your hands as Student."

Moira studied the other woman for a moment, searching her face and simply feeling Andrea's intent. It certainly seemed honest and true. She looked to her Lady, only to discover that the Goddess had... become one with the tree. While it was not unusual for Danu to leave when the Teachings began, Moira had never heard of Her staying... and yet not. Perhaps Moira's belief that this would be a Great Teaching, rather than a Lesser one, caused her Lady to remain. Just in case.

She slid down off her rock, caught Andrea's eye, and nodded toward the open field. They didn't need to go far... no more than a dozen steps. It was only to ensure openness around them.

Feeling for the perfect spot, and then finding it, Moira stopped and turned to Andrea.

"So, lass... speak o' what ye'll need te be learnin'. If 'twill be in me power te teach it, that I'll do for ye, an' gladly."

Andrea hesitated for a moment before she spoke.

"Even though the mere offer to help brings up memories that are beyond painful?"

Moira felt as though she'd taken a step down to the ops and helm station, only to find the steps missing. How could she possibly know?

The other woman reached out a hand to touch her shoulder but didn't quite allow it to land there.

"I saw in your eyes something I see in Pablo's from time to time. He spent three years — to his reckoning — in another dimension learning to use his powers. To me, it was only a day and a half, but the connection we had caused me to spend that time in a coma. That dimension of great torment, as your Lady called it. Pablo had it far worse." Andrea smiled softly. "He doesn't often have nightmares anymore, but every once in a while they still come. Only once have I slept so soundly that I moved too slowly to avoid getting hurt. That time, if I did not heal as well as I did then, he would have killed me. Now..." She shrugged, and then allowed her hand to finally come to rest on Moira's shoulder. "Now, I have the strength to hold him. I have yet had the need to call the Pentad for help; I think they help keep the worst of the memories at bay, just as we help hold Maddie's madness at bay."

Moira nodded and smiled sadly.

"Aye. E'en with th' memories, I'll still be teachin' ye. Mayhap..." She took a deep breath and concentrated on tucking her fears and emotions deep within the ivy of her shields. "Mayhap when th' lesson'll be o'er, ye'll listen te me tale... an' share a word or two o' yer own wisdom."

Andrea nodded. "If I have any words that can help, I'd be happy to share them. I can't promise they'll be wise, however."

Moira did have to chuckle at that. How often had she said something similar?

"So, how does this work? We stand here... sit... walk around? Maybe imagine a classroom or something?"

"If ye'll nae mind sittin' upon th' ground, 'tis th' finest place fer teachin' I'll hae found." She laughed then, forcing the last of her worries away and embracing the joy of being able to help someone on their Path. "Fer matters such as these, anyway. I kinnae imagine many o' th' instructors at th' Academy wantin' te be sittin' in a field."

Both women dropped easily and gracefully to the ground.

"'Twould help most te know yer concerns. 'Twould nae be helpful te tell ye o' thin's ye'll know, or nae find o' much use."

"Okay then. I think I've just got two big ticket items. The first is this whole... I don't know... maybe it's a shared soul like you and your brother have, or maybe we somehow split it in half for some reason. But I need to understand that; I need to... to understand well enough to explain it to Maddie when I wake up. Because it seems like my getting dead affected her something awful... worse than it did Pablo or, at least, every bit as badly.

"And the second thing... well, that's more complicated, and quite frankly scares the shit out of me. My powers keep growing, sometimes by leaps and bounds... Mother wants to share all of her considerable power with me, all the time, or so it seems... and I'm terrified I'm going to lose control and blow up the entire Front Range. How do I rein all that in? Nothing I learned from Master Chen helps, and I'm not too proud to admit I'm a little desperate."

Moira studied her Student for long minutes. It would certainly have helped to have Paddy here to at least give her some feedback on what she sensed of the other woman's emotions and shields.

Well, lack of shields, really.

Shields would definitely help, both to hold in her own power and to regulate the amount of energy she gathered inadvertently — is it even possible for the Earth to push energy out to her?

In her time and place, it is... although she is the only one I can see in that entire timeline for whom Na Cruinne is so forceful and bountiful.

Moira acknowledged her Lady's comment with a slight nod. Andrea's death... and the affects on her sister? Well, it would affect her sister... wouldn't it? Look what Paddy's death did to her. But apparently this young Navajo could walk back from the Summerland, whole and hale. It was a blessing, to be sure, yet Moira could see where it might also be a curse.

Andrea visibly relaxes; she grounds and centers as though she has been studying with a Coven her entire life. A wellspring of gratitude washes over Moira and the Priestess smiles an acknowledgment.

"Yer first concern'll be th' more important, for ye'll be needin' yer Circle — an' particularly yer Sister — te hae any chance at resolvin' th' second."

Andrea started to say something, but immediately returned to the present, attentive and open to learning.

"Tell me about yon Maddie. How will ye hae met her? What will yer thoughts an' feelin's hae been?"

The Warrior smiled. Moira could feel the pure love that Andrea felt for her sister. It was similar, perhaps, to the way she felt about her eldest brother. But then, perhaps it was considerably more, as well. It was pure... that was important.

"I met Rene first. I'd been on patrol one night, and Raven had gone bonkers again. It wanted me to open a portal. I thought it was crazy for a lot of reasons. I suppose the two main reasons were that I'd never opened a portal on my own before, and that was more than a little daunting. Secondly, I had no clue where I was opening that door into." Andrea paused, eyes closed.

"I did it anyway, of course. When Raven got into that state, it was pointless to even try ignoring it. I had done my Taiji during the Medicine Dances for Tita; I figured that was probably the best way of doing what Raven wanted me to do. So I ran through one of the forms a few times... it seems more than a bit odd that I could actually feel the portal starting to form. Well, it was odd then. Now?"

She sighed with something akin to weariness.

"These days, it seems almost as if I merely need to think of a portal and I can open one. I mean, I do need to do some work on it, but... Well, let's just say a lot of things have changed in the past couple of months. I know it sounds like I'm digressing. It's all relevant, though.

"Anyway, I opened a portal to find a man on the other side. He was looking for 'his Maddie'. He kept saying that... 'his Maddie'. He was trying to warn her about the Darkness."

Andrea was quiet for a moment and then shook her head.

"It was a little strange once I realized he was the owner of the abandoned cabin I regularly passed on my way up the mountain to deal with the big cats. Sheriff Baker had only said that Rene Jacobs had been dead for a good long time — it was something like ten or eleven years by then, depending on who tells the tale. But to Joe Baker, it had been eleven years; he'd been the one to bring the news to Maddie that Rene had died in a car crash." Andrea pressed her lips tightly together and swallowed hard.

"Sorry," she whispered. "Part of my Curse is to remember. I remember things I shouldn't even know about people."

Moira could see how hard the other woman was trying to contain her emotions.

"There'll nae be any need fer apologies, lass," she responded as softly. "I've strong shoulders an' stronger shields."

Andrea opened her eyes and looked at Moira. Tears flowed because of memories that weren't even her own.

"It's something I've lived with for so long, and sometimes I still get gobsmacked by some of the things I feel." She took another deep breath. "The story gets really muddled when I've got my own experience of it, plus the things Maddie and Rene remember. Anyway, the bottom line is that, at that moment on the mountain, I was talking to a ghost. Well... in theory, I suppose.

"Because he wasn't... not exactly a ghost, I mean. I'd felt the presence, once or twice, of people who had recently passed..." Andrea shook her head as she looked at Moira. "Let me tell you... for a Navajo, that's just bad news. We believe it's really bad luck to be near the spirits of those who've died. Not just for us, for the living, but acknowledging the presence of the dead keeps them tied to our world. They can't pass on into the next and better world. I'd never realized how much of my People's beliefs I'd absorbed until the first time I'd felt the presence of a spirit who wasn't ready to pass on."

She shuddered.

"Well, I guess that's a story for a different time since it doesn't actually have anything to do with Maddie." She managed a hint of a smile then. "But even after having been in Denver for about as long as Rene had been dead — after being part of the mainstream culture — it was still a little weird to be talking to a man who should have been a ghost... but wasn't.

"And yet, he wasn't alive either. I was baffled. But when he started talking about 'his Maddie', I swear I could actually see the bond the two of them had. The love they shared wasn't allowing him to pass into whatever place his spirit should have traveled to. It was pure qi, but it was as real a tether as ropes or chains might have been. And yet, he couldn't really reach her either. He watched over her, as best he could.

"Oh gods, and he was so scared! For her. Just for her. Even knowing that this Darkness — which I pretty quickly realized was the same Shadow that Quetzalcoatl had been talking about — threatened the entire world, I could see the waves and whorls of qi that concentrated on his memory of his wife."

Andrea paused, full of emotion. It was hard to believe that even through the filter of Andrea's memories, the passage of time, and the peculiar makeup of the Overworld, Moira felt his emotions slam into her. She held herself steady, ensuring that her shields were still strong — and once again missing her brother's help.

Finally, Andrea shook her head, wiping away the tears that had managed to escape.

"I'd already formed a marriage bond with Pablo; at the time, I didn't think there was a stronger bond that could exist between two people. That's what I saw between Rene and Maddie then. Mind you, Maddie was on the other side of the world, in my own reality. Rene was in some nearby dimension. It was beautiful and frightening at the same time.

"He wanted me to warn her. That was his greatest — really his only — concern. I promised that I would warn her if and when I could. I'd told him that she and her son had moved away after he'd died. He seemed disoriented by that, but in one of the later conversations — I had a total of three — he did realize that she had two other children... and seemed to somehow know about Logan."

Quiet again for a few minutes, Andrea appeared to be lost in thought. Finally, she shrugged.

"There's really no coherent way to tell this story, you know. The Past... the present... the future... it all gets horribly jumbled. Maybe that's part of the problem... the fact that I seem to be able to understand the Spirits' mantra of All Time Is Now just a little too well. I guess there's no help for it.

"During one of the conversations with Rene, he told me about Maddie. He was even able to form an image of her and Leon that I could see. More of a hologram than the more solid reality of the holodeck, if the TV show has any parallels to the reality of your world. But it was... gods, I know I've said this, and I'm likely going to say it again and again, but Rene simply glowed with love for Maddie. At one point, I said something to the effect that I'd probably really like her if I ever met her. What I wanted to do most for this man was get him out of that not great neighborhood and into a better one, so he could watch over his Maddie all the time. I asked the Spirits if it might be all right for him to, essentially, move in with them."

Andrea laughed softly.

"You know, I had no idea what I was really asking," she mused. "I just had this desperate need to help him, and to help this woman I'd never met. It took until after he moved to the Spirits' realm for me to realize I'd asked them to accept him among the ranks of the Benevolent Spirits. He and Maddie both have said that he's been her guardian angel for much of her life.

"All of the Benevolent Spirits of all faiths are part of that dimension. He literally is her Guardian Angel.

"And I'm getting ahead of myself again." She chuckled. "In my last conversation with him — gods, what a horrible night that was! — I let him know that I'd found out Maddie was coming out to Colorado to clear out her weapons bunker, to close up the cabin. I think her intention was to sell the cabin so she could close that chapter on her life. But the Spirits said Maddie needed to be part of the ritual to allow Rene to move from one dimension to the other. I really didn't have any idea how I was going to convince her that Rene was closer to her than she knew... and that he really could watch over her, like the stories my Catholic cousins tell of their Guardian Angels."

She shook her head again, a look that might be bemusement quite evident on her face.

"He told me to tell her, if — or more likely when — I saw her, that he'd never meant to leave her. At the time, I didn't know that was the last thing, one of the last things, he'd said before he truly died... a year after the supposed car accident.

"The Sheriff wanted me to come out to his place for lunch to meet Maddie and her family. They'd been... well, I guess the Bakers had been closer to the Jacobs than anyone else in Colorado when they lived there. Amanda had been Maddie's midwife when Leon was born. As Ninja, I'd met Joe Baker a few times. He's a good man, Moira. Sometimes I think there are few enough of them left in our world, but he's one of them without a doubt. So sure. I went out to the Bakers' place to meet her.

"My thoughts and impressions from that day? She was... a little wary. She was willing to trust me because Joe did... but only so far. And that seemed perfectly normal. She was respectful and courteous to me, a stranger. She was loving and kind and thoughtful with her mate, her children, her friends. And her children..."

Andrea smiled; the three youngsters who were now niece and nephews were obviously well-loved by their aunt as well.

"Smart and articulate, well-behaved... Leon, he's the oldest at fifteen, was a little shy, but I think anyone would be able to see that he adores his younger siblings even though they're at an age where they need to tease him mercilessly. Vin was far more interested in Joe's job as sheriff, but the moment I mentioned the mountain lions... wow. I got the impression that Em could have not only talked about them all afternoon but was restraining herself from dragging me off to visit them."

She giggled. "She's ten. Well, she and Vin are twins, so they're both ten. She spent hardly an hour with my three biggest mischief makers... I guess it was yesterday... and she'd worn them out.

"But that first day, that lunch gathering, we just managed to put names to faces. Maddie and I made plans to meet at the cabin the following morning. The more public Super in Denver, Peregrine, would have brought too much attention to her. That's why Joe called me. I walk in the shadows.

"I rode up to her cabin the following morning. As I was walking up the steps, I could hear her talking to Leon. They weren't talking loudly, and I don't think either one of them knew I was there. I walk quietly. They'd obviously been talking about Rene, Leon's father, and I heard Maddie say that she still missed him. And then she said, It's almost like I can feel him here."

Andrea didn't appear to notice the tears falling down her cheeks, so Moira pulled a soft handkerchief from the stuff of the Overworld. Silently, she handed it to the other woman, who looked at it with surprise. She smiled her thanks before drying her eyes.

"Memories. Sometimes mine are the most potent of all.

"Here's something I forgot to mention that's important. No one, absolutely no one except her husband Rene ever called Madeline Messijer Jacobs 'Maddie'. It was Madeline, or Lin, or one of many other names — both polite and not — that aren't important. But never 'Maddie'.

"But, you see, I'd been introduced to her by Rene. In my mind, she was Maddie. Sure, it registered that Joe and Amanda called her Lin. That Logan called her Madeline.

"When I heard her talking to her son, I nearly stumbled in the doorway. Yes, I — possessing the grace of a Taiji Master and Aikido Kudan, possessing reflexes so fast that I dare ride the mountain roads well beyond the speed limits — I nearly stumbled. I could see a distortion of qi behind her; I knew it was Rene. All I could do was stand there in the doorway, my own heart nearly breaking at her pain, and say, He never meant to leave you, Maddie."

She dabbed at her eyes again.

"Gods, you'd have thought I'd punched her in the gut. Leon was right there, kept her from collapsing, but I hated to see that pain. Especially knowing I helped bring it out."

Andrea stared off into the distance. Moira had an abundance of patience; she could wait. The emotional war Andrea was waging with herself probably wasn't the best thing for her... unless she'd never let all this out before. Her shields were slammed by emotions, but even before Paddy had reintegrated his soul with hers to harden her shields, this was not the worst storm she'd weathered. Eventually, the winds of emotion died down, Andrea dried her eyes and blew her nose, then finally took another deep breath.

"I could almost hear Rene trying to tell me something," she said, still looking out over the field into the edge of nothing. "It sounded like show them, but I didn't know what that mean. I swear I heard Maddie saying, inside her mind, to Leon, I miss him so much. I feel like a part of my soul is missing. How could I have heard that? And how could I have heard Rene saying, Show them. Show them!

"I moved closer to them and set my staff on the floor... out of the way. Anyone watching would have said I moved closer to Maddie and Leon, and without hearing what I'd said, they would have only assumed I wanted to comfort her somehow. I told them that I'd spoken to Rene, and I didn't even have time to register their disbelief before Raven started pecking at my foot.

"I don't miss that damn crazy bird, that's for sure," she added in a voice barely above a whisper.

"But the idiot was also yelling at me, The boy! The boy! Right, as if I was supposed to know what it meant by that. Maddie didn't believe me. No. No, I think it was more that she didn't really want to believe, for fear of being hurt yet again. Gods, if my memories of her pain are even a shadow of what I saw, I'm sorry to hit you with that."

She looked at Moira, eyes dark with pain. "What I saw was something like a black hole, I think. That's what her pain looked like. It just engulfed her. I think if she didn't have the healing factor that she had, it would have killed her." Andrea shook her head again. "No. The truth? I'm pretty sure it would have killed her."

Shaking her head, Andrea sighed. Her breathing definitely sounded shaky, although her voice remained steady, yet quiet. She chose to stare off into the distance again.

"I really felt like I was out of my league there. I ran with my instincts, although 'run' is a hell of a misnomer. I've gotten good at centering and grounding fast, less than a heartbeat although I prefer to take my time. I didn't have time that day. I placed a hand on both Maddie's and Leon's shoulders, and... well, I got a fast lesson in how Leon's power manifests.

"We found ourselves standing outside, watching the three conversations I had with Rene in sequence. They were hard the first time and no easier on the replay. Every detail was as fresh as it had been on those nights when I spoke with Rene. It's a frightening gift that boy has, and it's coupled with an ability to manipulate people into doing things they might not otherwise be inclined to do. I'm glad he's a good kid, and — another story for another day — he learned the hard way that pushing people isn't something to trifle with.

"Every nuance, every thought, every single thing either of us said or did displayed itself around us. And when it was over..."

She looked at Moira again, and didn't bother wiping away the tears this time... as if she knew there were more to come, so many more, that there was really no point.

"Have you ever wanted something so much that hoping for it was a physical pain? Maybe you have... maybe this thing you talked about with the demon was enough like my coma that you understand the desperation. And then... and then to have someone walk up after years of not ever daring to have even the smallest hint of hope to hand you that thing you would sell your soul for? That part, probably not. I haven't. But Maddie had.

"It's unbelievable the amount of trust Maddie gave me that day... the enormity of faith she had that I could actually do what I said I could do. The more I know of Maddie, the more unbelievable it becomes. And yet... she gave me that trust and had that faith."

Andrea smiled softly.

"It wasn't all that difficult, really, to open the two portals... to allow Rene to step briefly into our world, to have an open doorway to the Spirits' world.

"What struck me most, when opening the portals with Maddie mirroring my every move, was how alike we were. Yes, some differences in appearance, but surprisingly few. It was the way we moved together... completely in synch... whenever I recall those moments, it seemed as though we were a single unit moving effortlessly.

"It was really a large undertaking, and I expended a lot of energy, but I don't think either Rene or Maddie really understood that I did what I did with absolutely no expectations from either of them. It was something that I was uniquely qualified to do, yes. But I don't think they understood in their souls until we formed the Pentad that I did what I did for them not only because it was the right thing to do, but because I couldn't NOT right that wrong, restore the equilibrium to both their lives."

Andrea wiped her face one last time and took several cleansing breaths.

"It wasn't anything outside myself that required or compelled or even requested that I do what I did. Maybe some part of me recognized Truth when Maddie spoke to Leon about feeling as though part of her soul was missing.

"Today, I can accept the idea that perhaps Maddie and I share a soul. I'm not entirely certain I can accept the reality of it, not intellectually. And yet, I think I do know it's the truth on a cellular and energetic level."

She smiled, looking suddenly weary. "I hope I answered your questions."

"Aye, lass," Moira said kindly. "I'll nae know how much time we'll be havin' here, so 'twill be necessary te press on if ye'll nae mind."

Andrea shook her head. "No. It's best to do what needs to be done, right? Who knows how late Pablo's going to let me sleep. If it gets to be too much..." She shrugged. "...well, we'll deal with that if we need to."

"Sure an' that'll be all I'll ask ye... only what ye kin do. Speakin te yer first concern, 'twill be fair unte certain ye've th' same sort o' connection with yer Maddie as I've with me Paddy." Moira chuckled. "Well, an' th' name rhymin' as well. Te find yer balance an' way o' nae harmin' one another — e'en if ye'll nae be intendin' th' harm — mayhap'll be tied te th' second o' yer concerns.

"Might ye hae e'er created shields — mental, emotional, energetic — about yerself?"

To be fair, Andrea did appear to be giving the question a fair amount of thought but finally, she said, "Nope. I don't know a lot of telepaths, but I've never been able to keep Tommy from talking inside my head if that's what he wanted to do. At least, it doesn't tickle anymore.

"And I can't even imagine a reason why I'd want to block out Pablo or Maddie or Rene or Logan.

"I already said I see emotions rather than feel them except when they're attached to memories, so... again, no point."

Then she laughed.

"Red, you don't grok what I do, do you? I am energy. I manipulate it. I've never needed to shield against it... I've just moved it out of my way." She shrugged. "I would wrap qi around my heart to protect myself from the pain of having to kill — that was before I integrated the two parts of my personality. Still... it's more qi manipulation than what I'd consider shielding."

Moira was baffled. "Aye, 'tis true. I'll nae understand, nae at all, at all."

The Priestess almost sighed in frustration, but her job was to Teach... and hadn't she confounded some of her teachers when she was a student? But to help Andrea, she did need to understand more than she did now.

"Kin ye explain what ye'll mean o' these things? I'll be thinkin' teachin' ye o' shields'll be th' solution te yer dilemma, but if I'll nae know o' what ye mean, 'twill be a wee bit difficult."

Andrea blinked. "Oh. Right... sure... that makes sense. Maybe showing you would be easiest, although I'm not sure showing you what I see is going to be very... well, coherent, I guess.

"I don't have Leon's gift. I guess that goes without saying, although even he couldn't — more maybe simply didn't — capture the way the energy was shifting and flowing when I was talking with Rene. Even with the malleability of this place, it might be a stretch to express what I see and do." She grinned happily. "But I'll give it a shot."

She closed her eyes and breathed evenly as she appeared to look inward.

Moira watched but saw nothing. She felt very little that she might have considered... different? Perhaps — and just barely — there was something there, something going on around her. However, she couldn't identify the emotion except to say that it was contentment... but not quite. It was watchfulness... but not quite. It was anticipation, but not quite. She felt like a Watcher, perhaps a Guardian, as she waited for Andrea.

Finally, Andrea slowly opened her eyes and looked slightly to the side over Moira's shoulder.

"There," she whispered. "See what I see."

Moira turned around and gasped.

She saw a humanoid figure made up of thousands, possibly millions, of multicolored threads. It was similar to holograms she'd seen of the circulatory or nervous systems, but far more complex. A sheen that looked like a rainbow of water on the surface of oil surrounded the figure.

"De réir an Bandia! What'll all this be?"

"Qi," Andrea replied softly. "Internal to the body are all the meridians, covering the body is the aura. The chakras, or dan tians, spin the energy... keep it moving."

The sheen flowed and shifted; the movement was slow, yet dizzying. One color became another color, over and over in a seemingly random manner.

"Normally, I'll only look at someone's aura — the outer shell — unless I think there's a need to look deeper. This is what most people look like." Andrea nodded to the figure. "There are different colors and patterns, of course, for each individual, but the brightness... the easy movement of the qi... that's pretty much the standard package."

The sheen began growing darker, colors became muted, some of them looked clotted... near the head, over the heart, over one knee.

"This is what a person looks like when they're not well." Andrea glanced at Moira. "It's an amalgam, actually, so I could show you some of the different things I might see. This is by no means everything. In fact, it's hardly anything at all." She looked back at the figure.

"Any of these blockages, the darker congealed parts you see, would prompt me to investigate further. At this level, it's hard to say if any of them would be physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, or what you might call psychic — which I just think of as the integration of self, the connection to others, and the connection to Mother and Father."

She took a deep breath, and the area around the knee brightened. The multitude of threads were incredibly disordered; some seemed to be tangled beyond the ability of anyone to untangle them while others were just cut clear across the knee.

"Most of the time, blockages that show up on the aura of the limbs are due to physical problems. But not always. It is in this case, most of it is. Some of the tanglings you see are related to the mental and emotional pain of the injury; the cut threads represent the physical injury."

Andrea paused, and the focus on the avatar moved to the head.

"The interesting thing about the head is that there are qi meridians as well as the brain's electrical impulses that can be interpreted because that's energy too. If you look on the side there, you can see a huge knot that tells me this person probably has a migraine."

The figure rotated about ninety degrees.

"Toward the back here, near the base of the occipital bone, blockages can indicate problems with pretty much all of the head, including seizures and memory issues and neurological problems. Oh, and hypertension, too. So if this spot is a hot mess, and I see erratic electrical activity in the brain itself..." Lightning seemed to flash in the avatar's head. "I'd suspect seizures or possibly a stroke."

Moira shook her head and looked at Andrea, with both surprise and respect, and appearing more than a little overwhelmed.

"How'll ye be knowin' all this? 'Tis bafflin' beyond th' verra definition o' bafflin'!"

Andrea laughed. "I learned from the best, got feedback from other students and the people in the village... and I've had about two decades of practice," she said, echoing some of Moira's own words from earlier.

As the figure rotated back to face them, she pointed to the area in the center of the chest.

"This is an extreme example because I can tell from just looking at the aura that there's some kind of problem. But..."

Andrea paused for several long moments, with her eyes closed. She seemed to be working on controlling her breathing and her emotions. Moira could see the figure flicker once; there was something about this that bothered Andrea a great deal. Moira sensed fear commingled with relief, plus worry, panic, and despair... all as overtones that suggested strong memories.

When she opened her eyes again, the figure looked relatively normal... if a humanoid with the skin of glistening rainbows was at all normal.

"This..." Andrea nodded to the figure. "This is what Pablo's aura has looked like for the majority of the time I've known him. When his partner was murdered, everything went dark from the grief, with a reddish orange tint of his anger spiking across the surface. I hadn't taken up the staff yet... in fact, Denise's murder was the catalyst that convinced me to offer my services to protect the less... appreciated members of the Denver area. When Denise's family took her off life support, he fell apart. I had been able to see that her spirit... her soul... whatever you want to call the spark of life... had been gone for months, but her family still had hope."

She shook her head. "I don't know if it would have been kinder to tell them as soon as I knew — even though it would have meant outing myself as a mutant — or if letting them have that hope for just a little while longer was the right choice.

"It's been nine years, and I still don't know if I did the right thing. I think, maybe, for Pablo it turned out to be the right choice," she said as she stared at the figure. "I think he instinctively knew Denise was never going to recover. He's a cop, and he's been a cop for a long time. Maybe it gave him time to come to grips with the fact that his best friend was leaving him. I know it gave me a lot of time to just think.

"It took hours of just being an asshole to him to get him to the point where he could begin to release the pain and rage and fear and helplessness. I had to use my knowledge of both Aikido and Taiji, just enough of my enhanced speed to keep him from even getting close to landing a blow, and the beginning of what has ultimately become Ninja's signature snarkiness to get through to him. Over the course of a couple of months, his aura returned to what I'd always considered his normal state of being."

She looked sidelong at Moira. "I was so wrong about him being back to normal. At least, I've stopped indulging in the endless cycle of what ifs."

Andrea looked yet again at the figure, shaking her head. "It's only been about four and a half months since this snowball of crazy started rolling down the mountain. I swear, some days I feel like an avalanche is coming on, and I'm going to get buried.

"For eleven years, Pablo and I were just friends... good friends, even great friends. Like my neighbor Bobby, I knew I could count on Pablo and he knew he could count on me. Bobby, of course, spent so much energy playing matchmaker... but I didn't feel like I needed to be in a relationship. No one really seemed to understand that, and it confused me so much. But maybe they all instinctively knew what I could see, and was ignoring."

She swept a hand upward, palm facing the avatar, and the sheen of the aura brightened while slow swirls of blues and greens seemed to spiral through the image... seen for a moment, only to move inward and emerge in a different place. Bright golden tendrils reached for Andrea, but never quite touched her.

"I knew he loved me. I could see it. But I was deathly afraid." She sighed. "I was afraid for me, I was afraid for him." Andrea smiled softly. "I was afraid of commitment, it seems. I watched that..." She reached out a hand to almost touch one of the golden tendrils. "I watched this for nearly eleven years before he said anything."

Although the blue and green swirls and the gold reaching toward her didn't change, a dark cloud began forming over the figure's heart.

"He was afraid, too. We had come back to my house after dinner one evening... we were sitting in my dojo talking. I could see something was wrong, but I didn't want to look any deeper than that," she said, pointing to the darkness that had spread up to the figure's neck. "But..."

Andrea looked at Moira. "Do you know what it's like to be in a place that's pretty good, but you know everything is about to change? You don't want your whole world to change, but you know you don't have a choice?"

Moira regarded the other woman for a few moments — thinking of Emerald, of Timor and Patel in Engineering when the hull was breached, of Kahallan... of Kahallan. She pressed her lips tightly together for a minute, then nodded.

"Aye. I'll know."

Andrea returned the nod before giving her attention back to the figure.

"There was something he wanted to say. And it felt like he couldn't. For the first time in all the years I'd known him, I looked deeper than just the surface of his aura."

A small spot of inky darkness seemed to constrict the figure's throat; there was a shell of blackness around the heart.

"I reached out and simply touched the base of his throat, there... where the darkness pooled. It wasn't so much the energy of the meridians that was stagnant, but the dan tians themselves. The energy couldn't move. That one wasn't so bad. It seemed he'd lost his faith in... well, whatever he needed to believe in. I would have said love if I had to guess." She swallowed hard but pressed on. "To lose faith in love..."

Moira made a sound that probably would have gone unheard even by Kahallan. But Andrea turned back to her so quickly that Moira didn't have a chance to lock everything back inside, to arrange her features to neutrality.

Andrea just started for a moment, not at Moira's face but at her throat. She nodded, then raised her eyes to meet Moira's gaze. Her brown eyes were full of sadness.

"I'm sorry. I... I probably can't help, but I can listen."

Moira shook her head. "Ye've much te tell, an' much te learn. Mayhap, if there'll be time..." The redhead shrugged, and tried to smile. "Donnae worry fer me, lass. 'Tis fer ye that we'll be here, aye?"

Andrea made a sound that was a half chuckle and half sigh. "You're an awful lot like me, you know. Stubborn as the day is long. But... okay. Back to Pablo."

She looked back at the figure, concentrating on the darkness in the chest.

"This other blockage was so much worse. I simply touched his chest and could feel it. It was like touching ice; and it looked like despair mixed with a grief so profound and so deep that I doubt his conscious mind was aware of it. Well, no. He was aware of lingering grief, because he'd mentioned the fact that summer, late summer always brought back memories. I don't think he realized how deeply he'd buried his pain, and then tried to forget it."

Andrea sighed. "That never works out well. Death or madness, pick your poison.

"That one might have killed him. Not soon, but sooner than later. Whatever caused that darkness, that ice, that well of hopelessness was slowly killing him. I told him that."

She closed her eyes again and took a deep breath before continuing.

"Not long before I got to Denver — two years before we ever met — his wife and infant son, as well as his partner at the time, were murdered. It's tough being a cop, but working the Gang Unit... gods, that had to have been hard.

"They were trying to kill him, but Rosalia had borrowed his car that day to take Juan to his well-baby checkup. Killed instantly, so the reports say. That's what Pablo believes, too. But I've seen enough, I've heard enough, I know enough to doubt the reports. I'd never tell Pablo, not ever. Rosalia was killed instantly when she was shot driving down the highway, but the killers thought they were shooting at Officer Garcia.

"I fear that Juan was killed in the resulting rollover, despite being in a baby seat. It was a bad crash. Really bad."

She paused again; Moira could see so much emotional conflict. It was... bizarre. The emotions triggered by someone else's memories shouldn't be that strong, not even a quarter that strong. There was something more to this woman. Despite not being an Empath, she surely acted like one.

Andrea took a deep breath before continuing.

"Pablo had buried the pain of losing his wife and son for thirteen years. Before he knew how well I could protect myself — and I didn't tell him until that night — I think he was afraid that getting too close to me, telling me about the feelings I could plainly see, would put me in harm's way... just as Rosalia and Juan had been in harm's way."

She opened her eyes to look at the figure in front of her and chuffed out a harsh breath.

"It's funny is an unfunny way that I was afraid of the exact same thing. I was afraid that the people who really don't like me might target him.

"I guess we were both idiots."

She smiled again; it was soft and loving, and Moira could feel Andrea's love for her Pablo despite the strength of her shields.

In the back of her mind, Moira was aware of a stray thought... How interesting that this love of hers is even stronger than I am.

"He told me then that he loved me. I was still afraid, and he was both a gentleman and a very patient man. But his words did two things, I think. The obvious one was the thawing of the ice around his heart... or, at least, the beginning of the thawing finally started. He was starting to heal.

"But the second made me question so much of what I believed about myself. I saw that I'd been limiting myself. Well, eventually I saw it. I think the seed was merely planted that night.

"Pablo gave me all the time I needed. I might still be dithering over the whole thing today — which would have made everything else that's happened impossible — if my mother hadn't called to tell me my grandmother had had a heart attack."

Andrea paused again, then shook her head.

"That whole tale probably doesn't need to be told, except the part about Pablo meeting me in Flagstaff to support me... and the fact that Tita didn't have a heart attack. She — and a number of other elderly people in the area — had been attacked by a former student of Master Chen's. While we were in Flagstaff... gods, so much happened that it's hard to filter out what's truly important.

"I saw that Tita and Papa had an energetic connection. That opened new avenues of thought, but it made me realize that most people I know who are deeply in love have that same connection. That will be important in a bit. And I had a conversation with Tita that really opened my eyes. About a lot of things.

"We did a healing dance for Tita that wasn't exactly traditional. I added the power of my Taiji, and I suspect my Wiccan friends might have recognized some of the internal imagery I used. The culmination, however, was the eradication of the poison that had infected Tita's whole being.

"It was the first time I'd ever opened a portal. Through it came Tita's guardian Spirit. My cousin, the shaman, was very surprised. I guess I was a little surprised, too. It hadn't quite caught up to me yet that my powers were starting to expand. I thought it was the combination of my Taiji and the family's Dance.

"The problem... maybe problem? No, I'm sticking with my initial assessment. The problem is that I also woke what amounted to Pablo's guardian Spirit." Andrea sighed. "Quetzalcoatl. Aztec demigod, supreme pain in the ass, ancestral pest, and a real jerk on top of it. He claimed that my song woke him, and I'm past the point of caring what actually caused him to pop through to our dimension, at least now that I've banished him. He claimed Pablo was his Chosen One, and that first day there was so much nonsense going on that I practically exploded all over him. Ugh. What a ass! Well, it didn't help that my guardian Spirit was turning into a refugee from an insane asylum, either.

"But that was the first I'd heard of the coming Darkness. That's why I wasn't the least bit surprised when Rene mentioned it a few weeks later."

Andrea looked off into the fog again; she seemed to be deep in thought. Moira studied the unusually good hologram in front of them. What a way to see the world, to see other people. There were probably whole races in the Federation who could see this way; in Andrea's world, she was not only an anomaly, but unfathomably powerful as well. Seeing the world as the essence of life was astounding. It wasn't difficult for Moira to sense that Andrea was as fond of killing as she herself was. It was a last resort. Always.

She looked at the dark haired woman, and could almost see her own reflection there. As different as the two of them might be, Andrea was right. They were a lot alike.

Andrea shook herself from her reverie.

"Tita told me I think too much," she said, still looking away and into something only she could see. "Maybe so. Maddie implies the same thing when I ask about plans, about how we're going to get something done."

She looked at Moira with a hint of a smile before gesturing to the figure again. It had reverted to the way Andrea had seen Pablo prior to his declaration of his love.

"This is just the first of many changes to Pablo's aura and meridians. It came so gradually — the love swirling through him and reaching out toward me, but never touching — that it took a couple of years for it to dawn on me what was going on.

"The next change was sudden and unmistakable. We'd had a talk, Pablo and I, about all manner of things while we were in Flagstaff. One of the things I told him was that I couldn't have children."

Andrea sighed; a second figure appeared beside the first. Rather than the rainbow sheen of an aura, this figure's aura was predominantly a faded silver and turquoise, with ribbons of earth tones running through it.

"I'd been pregnant once. My own body betrayed me by thinking the child — whose qi was partially mine and partially Jared's — was a foreign invader. I was devastated; Jared even more so. Pablo was understanding, except I don't think he really did understand that the same healing factor that keeps me from getting sick was the same healing factor that saw an embryo as no different than a virus or bacteria."

She paused a moment, then shook her head. "No matter. Pablo had enough faith for both of us that we could make a relationship work. We decided to... to try this thing called love and living together and working together."

As the golden tendrils of the first figure reached out toward the second, that figure sent out tendrils of the purest silver. The tendrils danced and played, wove themselves together in some places. The most notable connections were at what might be called the yellow, green and blue chakras.

"We formed an energetic bond, similar to those I'd seen in my grandparents, my parents, my aunts and uncles, my cousin and his fiancée, and even Bobby and David. When I finally realized what I was looking at, what I was looking for, it wasn't hard to see. And I'm not gonna lie you... it felt awfully damn good."

"One interesting side effect was that I could use my own powers of healing on him when we made love. I don't think I meant to heal him, but I did. Of everything. He had bullet wounds and stab wounds, broken bones... all of them long healed so that nothing but scars remained. He'd been injured in Flagstaff, and I think it was simply that newest injury that I wanted to erase. But they were all gone."

There was again a wave of pain and fear that swept over Moira as Andrea's thoughts turned to something that seemed all too familiar, and yet completely different, from Moira's experiences.

"And then that lying bastard Quetzalcoatl took Pablo off to one of his dimensions to train him on how to use the powers he was given as Quetzalcoatl's Chosen One. When he got back..."

Andrea shook her head again.

"No, you need to know what was happening while he was gone.

"When Quetzalcoatl told us that Pablo would need to spend time in his world... that it would seem like three years or so to Pablo but only a day for me... I felt as though my soul was being torn apart. That was just thinking about the situation. Pablo didn't want to leave right away, he wanted to spend the rest of the weekend together — to have one perfect day as a memory. That's what he said when he finally got back.

"I didn't understand that. I told him to go right away; I wasn't sure I could make it through the weekend, feeling my soul being stripped away bit by bit simply because of the knowledge that he'd be leaving.

"He took that to mean that... Well, as he explained it when he got back, he thought that I didn't care enough to give him one last day of happiness before starting the worst sort of training he'd ever endure... for three years.

"For me, I knew if he waited until Monday to leave, I would not survive. I wasn't sure I'd survive if he left right away, but I did know without a shadow of a doubt that I would not survive his absence if he waited.

"It was horrifying when I felt his heart turn to ice again, I felt the betrayal that he felt, I felt his pain intensifying my already growing pain.

"We were the worst sort of idiots. I could barely breathe, so explanations... I should have tried harder, I know that now. And he didn't ask for an explanation, he just walked out the door. He simply walked away, without the least bit of kindness — not that I think I deserved it.

"I begged Raven to let me die. It insisted that Great Spirit said it was not my time. Ah, but by the Gods, Buddhas and Spirits... as strong as I was, I couldn't bear the pain with that layer of salt Pablo seemed to have poured into the wound. My last thoughts were of him before I passed out... or, to my mind, before I died.

"It was torture for Pablo. Literally. The reality of Quetzalcoatl's training was far worse than he or I could have imagined. In learning to use his powers to control light and air, Pablo died over and over and over, only to be brought back to life by that rat bastard. He was in constant pain, constant fear.

"For three solid years."

She looked at Moira. Those words crashed over Moira, bringing back not only her own memories of captivity by that demon Legion but the memory of the holodeck recreation Kahallan and Kat had shared with her, with Rika, with Cecil.

Evidently, she didn't shut herself down fast enough, because Andrea nodded.

"You get it.

"But it gets worse, Red. Yeah, it was three years of pure, unadulterated hell for Pablo. To the outside world, to our friends, it was a day and a half... they didn't even know he was gone. Bobby and David thought he was working a case, and just out of touch.

"And that's all it was supposed to be for me, too. Just a day, Quetzalcoatl had said.

"And it was. Sort of. Because of that Bond we created," I say, gesturing to the figures, "I was in a feedback loop with Pablo."

Andrea clenched her jaw and closed her eyes. Moira dared not reach out to comfort the other woman for fear that Andrea's gift might pull her... her memories... Kahallan's memories into the nightmare. But after a moment, she spoke again.

"Because of the feedback loop, because of our Bond, I got slammed with everything Pablo felt — physical and emotional — concentrated... dear gods, each day for him was compressed into two minutes for me.

"Sure, I'm a mutant and a Super. But not surprisingly, I fell into a coma, and for me that time stretched into eternity. Every death I'd caused came back to haunt me... killing had always been emotionally traumatizing to me. Every injury I'd ever taken in the course of helping others was re-inflicted. It seemed to never end, and I can't tell you how many times I wished I could truly die and go to the world of my ancestors. I didn't understand what was happening to me, I couldn't understand why I was in that place, and the thing that I regretted the most was..."

She opened her eyes at looked at Moira for a moment before turning her attention to her hands.

"The thing I regretted the most was not giving him that last day. If I was going to die anyway, why didn't I give Pablo another day in my presence? It wasn't a logical place, my coma. I knew I was dead, but how could I be dead in a place where I wanted to die? My most frequent thought was to have a true death, so that Pablo and I could reunite in the next life.

"And so, on top of being tortured with every mistake I'd ever made in my life, on top of being beaten to death and nearly to death over and over again, on top of being taunted by the spirits of those I'd killed, on top of the emotional backlash killing always caused, I loathed myself for sending Pablo away. In the spaces of time when I was alone, I begged him to forgive me."

Tears drop unheeded now onto hands that are clenched tightly together.

"Pablo's return was surreal on so many levels. The most obvious to me was the fact that the damn snake had very nearly destroyed the Bond Pablo and I had created. He never did understand what I do, how I do it.

"On another level, I was still very much still in the hell I'd been suffering for an eternity. But when I heard his voice — when he came into my hospital room, spoke to my friends who'd brought me there, tried to speak to me — the nature of my nightmare changed. It was as if Great Spirit had finally heard my prayer to allow me access to and sanctuary in the land of the ancestors. The world around me changed to resemble my home. Perhaps others wouldn't find it beautiful, but I love the stark simplicity of the desert and mountains of New Mexico and Arizona.

"I found myself clothed in my wedding dress, which my mother had only begun making at that point. I could hear him, but I didn't see him. Not yet.

"I knew what it meant for him to be there. If he had come to me, then he too must have died. I felt grief at that, but... but oddly, I felt hopeful, too. Perhaps he had forgiven me.

"He spoke again, calling my name. When I turned toward his voice, I could hardly look at him; he shone like the sun. Your Lady's radiance is a fair approximation of his appearance; he was the most beautiful thing I'd seen since dying. While I knew deep in my heart that his presence in that place meant he, too, had died, I realized I had hope again... that we might have the chance to be together, forever. If he could forgive me.

"I knelt before him as I would before my teacher in China, knowing that I was not worthy of even the smallest bit of his attention, and wanting only a kind word from him. I begged him to forgive me. He said nothing, and I continued to beg. I was beginning to wonder if this was just some new way to torture me.

"Finally, he spoke, but the words he used made no sense in the context of all I had experienced. I was more than slightly confused and simply asked him — again and again — to forgive me.

"But he was begging me to wake up. I didn't understand because I knew I wasn't asleep... and I knew there was no waking from death. But he said that he missed me... he missed me. Could I take that to mean he had forgiven me? I dared to look up at him, and he shone so brightly I couldn't see him... I could only see the strength of his qi.

"He reached down to help my unworthy self to stand, and he held me close. I couldn't believe it... and yet, I dared to hope that the remainder of eternity would be this peaceful. I felt surrounded by his light, and I remembered the love we had shared in life. And then he said something strange again. He wanted me to come back to him. He held me there in his arms... he had come back to me.

"He kept begging me to wake up and telling me how much he loved me. I continued to tell him that I was right there, in his arms, and would never leave him again. But then he started talking to Bobby... and I heard Bobby talking... and Raven was pecking at me again.

"There was a moment, an eternity, when he left me again in the darkness alone. It was enough to strike me down with fear and despair again. But then he returned, shining with the energy of the Spirits, the very essence of beauty. I only know from what I saw later that he'd taken off his shirt so that he could hold me, bare flesh against bare flesh. It needed to be done, because now we could truly speak mind to mind. I had thought I had been speaking to him before, but he couldn't hear me. He was saying things that made no sense because he couldn't hear me.

"Now we could communicate. He tried to convince me that I wasn't dead. I'd felt my soul shatter, I'd felt my heart shred; how could I not be dead? But he was so sincere. And Pablo had never lied to me. I tried so hard to open my eyes, although I was sure they were already open.

"When I did manage to open my eyes, I saw Pablo... but a Pablo that had aged and looked as though he'd been tortured. So many scars, including the ones I knew I had healed once before. I think if I believed I still had a heart, it would have broken at the sight of his beauty being so marred.

"But I think I knew then that I was alive because I could feel tears on my cheeks. I'd wanted to weep when I thought I was dead, but tears never came. And because I was alive, I wanted desperately to go home. He seemed to have forgotten nearly everything I'd told him of my Curse, and who knows what else he might have forgotten. I would simply have to tell the tales again, I thought.

"I needed to get dressed, but I sensed something about him... I thought perhaps madness for a moment, but as I began dressing, I realized it was more animalistic. And then something much more than animalistic, for his eyes started glowing greenly and the scars on his torso reddened as he watched me dress.

"It took only a fleeting thought — am I prey here, a prize he has won, or am I still his wife? — for the Warrior to emerge."

Andrea stopped then, and deliberately unclenched her hands. Then she looked at Moira.

"I should mention that from the moment I took up the staff, I had compartmentalized the two halves of my life. There was the world of Andrea the sweet and polite librarian, and there was the world of Ninja the Warrior and Protector. They were not the same; and I don't doubt that a reasonable mental health professional would have been somewhat concerned. But there were things only Ninja had the... the emotional strength to do. The most obvious was being able to kill... dispassionately, although only when it was the sole solution. Andrea was so very distressed by it that she'd be a wreck for days afterward. By this point, Andrea was somewhat suspicious of Ninja, and Ninja was verging on being contemptuous of Andrea. If it sounds like I had two separate personalities..." She sighed. "Well, sometimes it felt like I did.

"Pablo's reactions in the hospital room brought out the Warrior; she simply pushed the Librarian aside and took over. Pablo, on a basic animal level, recognized who the Alpha in the room was... and it wasn't him. I don't think he liked it, and I know Andrea hated it. But he backed down.

"Ninja dealt with the medical people in a way that might have seemed overly assertive to Bobby and David, although she seemed to deal with them in a way that they weren't suspicious. I think they were both too overwrought with their concern for... for me that they didn't even notice. But once the immediate threats and tasks related to getting out of the hospital were over and done... well, the Warrior was gone, leaving the Librarian... leaving me alone with a man who, by the customs of my people, should have been my husband."

Andrea looked back at the two figures. Both figures became dull and noticeably darker. The connections between them were frayed and thinned. The golden tendrils seemed as plentiful and sturdy as they'd always been, but the silver ones were far fewer. The ones that remained were brittle. But the rainbow sheen of the first figure was overpowered by the reds and oranges and yellows that now predominated the aura.

"I barely recognized Pablo. He'd created a shield around himself that kept me from seeing who he was; I only knew what he had become. My... fear and insecurity and distrust of him nearly broke his heart all over again. And he was so viciously angry that everything was not the same as it had been when he left. There was so much anger that I could actually feel it, like a fire licking at my soul.

"I could see that I'd hurt him, but I didn't know what to do. I didn't know how to make things right again. I wasn't even sure it was possible.

"But we're both stubborn, and I think that helped. Pablo remembered what we had created before he left. I could barely remember a memory of it. We talked, and that helped some. I sat with him and held him, just as I'd held him so many times before. Pablo was my friend long before he was my lover, my husband. And sometimes you just need to hold a friend in your arms. That was easy enough to manage. I could remember our friendship and how important it had always been to me.

"But we dozed off there on my sofa, and as we dozed, we dreamed. They were nightmares, really, and it was almost a shared dream. Both of us dreaming of terrible things. He woke himself up screaming for me. I was lucky that the Warrior stayed back, ever watchful but willing to let me deal with Pablo.

"My instinct was to help my friend first, and deal with my own pain... well, later, when I had the chance.

"What helped most — at first — was just getting reacquainted with one another. We talked, yes. But we explored one another's bodies again, too. I was in anguish seeing the torture he'd been put through. I think he was nearly hypnotized by the fact that his memories of me had come to life.

"That first kiss seemed to break down his wall, to push past my fears. I could almost feel who he had been, but I also felt... sensed... saw his memories...? I don't know, really. But I knew how badly he was hurting, and I knew it was because of Quetzalcoatl. It was all I could do to control the Warrior... only the fact that there was nothing and no one to fight kept her tucked away.

"But I remember feeling her strength, and something more besides, filling me with such anger that... I wasn't sure quite who I was just then. I said, You are MINE for all eternity, since time began and until it ends. It was somehow prophetic, and I'm not even the clairvoyant in the family.

"Oh, gods, he'd come back with so many, many scars! It made me angry that Quetzalcoatl did that to him. Those... those I couldn't make vanish. Not at first anyway. But I remember asking if there was anything else that might help him; I wasn't yet able to concentrate on soothing all of my own pain. He said that he wanted to make love under the stars."

She sighed softly, smiling at the memory.

"I didn't think my tiny backyard with quite a few neighbors nearby was appropriate, but there was a place not too far away that my patrols often took me. Perhaps not coincidentally, it wasn't far from the place where I met Rene a few weeks later.

"Perhaps what happened that night allowed him better access to our dimension; or perhaps it was my particular magic, so to speak, that made me more attuned to the nuances of his dimension. I don't think it really matters, however.

"Pablo wanted to show off one of his new powers, that of flight. We flew... well, he flew and carried me. I was far more disoriented by not being close to Mother than I expected, although Father was there circling us and reminding me that I was loved and safe."

Andrea chuckled. "Mother and Father... ah, how I vex the Spirits by my ever increasing ability to understand them and communicate with them!

"The place I showed him, the place he flew us, is called Lookout Mountain. It's a beautiful place, and you can see the whole of the metropolitan area from there. It was a late summer night, clear and bright, and Denver sparkled like a bowl of jewels.

"We made love under the stars, and that alone would have healed so much of what had been damaged between us. But I was desperate to rid him of the scars that covered his body and the taint that flowed along with his qi from being in that place. I called Mother's power, and she willingly accepted and diluted all of the foulness and pain I could take from Pablo. Father joined us when Pablo called. Between us, we can call upon and manipulate air, light, and the energy of life itself. We created quite the light show up there. The youngest of the mountain lion sisters had come to investigate — she always seems to know when I'm on the mountain, even when none of the three of them have set off the prox alarms to call me," she said, smiling crookedly. "I call her Naughty Cat for a good reason. She was spooked, but warned us that more Two-Legs were on their way before she took off to higher elevations."

Andrea looked at Moira again to see the redhead had tears in her eyes, on her cheeks, and even on her shirt. Andrea held out her hand with the handkerchief to the other woman.

Moira blinked with surprise and touched her face. She hadn't realized she'd been crying. It was more than a little disconcerting after so long to meet someone who was more powerful than her shields. The energy behind Andrea's emotions was immense. But she smiled and shook her head, then pulled another handkerchief from the stuff of the Overworld.

"Before th' demon took me, an' then took Kahallan... I'll hae been able te feel him, I'll hae known his emotions when I'll hae looked fer them. He'll hae been a good one fer hidin' them, e'en before Legion." She paused and looked at Andi with... with what might be called hope mixed with hopelessness in her eyes. "Ye'll be sayin' te me th' walls he'll hae created kin be broken down, but ye'll be far stronger than I, Andrea Yazzie."

"It only takes love, Moira O'Shaughnessy. That, and wanting to be One again."

"Aye," Moira said sadly. "'Tis th' wantin' that'll be missin', fer we'll nae truly hae been One before th' demon'll hae come."

Andrea reached out to lay a sympathetic hand on Moira's.

"I'm so sorry..." was all she managed to say before Moira gasped and pulled her hand back to stare at it.

"What'll ye...?" She couldn't put into words how utterly shocked she was at not only what she saw and felt, but by Andrea's ability to do it. Every single feeling each of them — Andrea and Pablo both — had experienced that evening washed over her like a tsunami, nearly drowning her. With it came images and knowledge.

Sometimes Moira forgot her latest gift from the demon... telepathy. It was impossible to forget it right now.

For her part, Andrea scooted back a bit. "What? What did I do? I'm sorry, whatever it is."

Moira looked between Andrea and her hand several times before shaking her head and cradling the hand in her other one.

"Ye'll hae reached through me shields, lass, with greater ease than Paddy kin manage. An' ye'll hae, fer lack o' better words, downloaded th' memories an' feelin's an'... an' e'erythin' o' that time on yer mountain."

Andrea just stared. "I... I didn't mean to! See? This is what I mean." She began to look panicked. "I have too much power, and I don't know what I'm doing with it!"

"Relax, lass, an' breathe," Moira said, managing a smile. "There'll be much more I'll understand now." She pointed to the two avatars that had changed appearance drastically once again. "E'en how that'll hae happened."

Andrea did as she was instructed... she breathed. She looked over at the two figures she'd created, blinked once, and then smiled. There was so much love and joy in her smile.

Although there were still differences in the auras of the two figures, they were extremely similar. Every imaginable color flowed across the surface of the aura; streaks of sun colors shot through the figure that represented Pablo, while the colors Andrea associated with the Navajo — silver and turquoise — could still be seen distinctly in the figure that represented her. The biggest difference was to the strands — now braided cables — of qi that bound the two of them together. It was all a single color... something akin to golden hued titanium.

"I think it would have been possible to manipulate my own qi to allow a pregnancy to continue long enough for a child to be born; it would have been difficult, however. I would have needed to be constantly vigilant. In our Bonding that night, I siphoned the taint from Pablo's meridians using my power. I asked Mother to take all of his scars and all his hurt and damage, asked Father to lighten his heart.

"I didn't realize until later that Mother was being very literal. While I circulated qi through the both of us, giving the... I guess sediment might be a good word... to Mother and pulling her clean energy back through us, she was modifying our qi. Both of ours. So that it was, and is, identical." Andrea shook her head with wonder. "She saw how my body had rejected Jared's child, she saw why, and she... well, repaired both of us so that would not happen with Pablo's child. Ah, children."

She sighed. "There was still a heaviness in Pablo's heart from his time in Quetzalcoatl's world, a stain on his soul. We set that to rights later with help from the shamans. But what we created that night can't be broken, even by death."

Looking at Moira again, she grinned a very sly, calculating grin. "There was another unintended side effect to using my power and calling on Mother for help. That dual personality I once had got neatly knit back together. I am Andrea who is Ninja, and it took Pablo a little getting used to. His sweet Andrea never swore, that used to be Ninja's gig." She shrugged. "I'm cognizant of when it is and isn't appropriate, and I still have more than a little heartache when I need to kill anyone..." Andrea narrowed her eyes. "Well, except for scum like Stryker and the skank. I still use death as a last resort, but I've come to see that some people just don't deserve to live.

"And I think killing without remorse might make me less... I don't know. Human? Yeah, there are some who say I'm not truly human, but even if someone doesn't deserve the privilege of sharing the planet with decent folk, I ought to regret the need to kill."

Moira nodded. "Aye, so I'll be guessin' from th' thin's Ciaran'll nae say te me. An' Kahallan, too, though he'll hae said a thin' or two."

She looked down at her own hands, not really sure why she couldn't meet Andrea's eyes when talking about her own heart and mind.

"I'll nae be as faint o' heart as some'll be thinkin'. An' I'll nae need protection from... ah, from th' realities o' life, I'll be thinkin' ought te be th' way te say it. Me da... he'll nae hae been a verra nice person, an' I'll hae seen enough o' his devil te know."

Andrea made enough of a sound that Moira looked up at her. The woman's eyes blazed with a golden light and Moira was certain that if Sean O'Shaughnessy were to appear before them, he'd be dead an instant later. She shook her head.

"There'll be nae a need fer such now. He'll be a sickly man, old before his time. An' I'll be thinkin' Paddy'll nae hae been so bad off as some ye've met, lass. I an' Ciaran an' Ma an' Seanmháhair kept most o' th' evil caused by th' devil's brew from landin'."

Andrea regarded her for another moment before blinking slowly, her eyes back to normal when they opened again.

"Those who harm children... they're the worst," Andi said, her jaw tight. "They get no mercy for they deserve no mercy. I lose no sleep if those people die by my hand."

In return, Moira regarded her Student. Student! Ha! What could she possibly teach this woman who had more power than anyone in the Federation? She took a breath to settle herself, and noted that Andrea's... anger? Passion? Sense of justice? Well, whatever it was... it almost formed a natural shield. Not a true shield in the sense Moira knew them, but the woman's emotions were tightly controlled.

"I'll nae argue th' point, lass.

"Tell me, though... what'll ye hae been doin' jus' then? Ye became near te invisible te me with yer emotions. Mayhap 'tis a key — or a clue, at th' least — fer helpin' ye with yer ultimate dilemma."

Andrea's brows furrowed in thought.

"I don't think I actually did anything. It was more a matter of the Warrior coming to the fore. Ahh... think of it as going to yellow alert, maybe."

Moira nodded slowly. "So... th' Warrior aspect'll be key, then."

Andrea shrugged. "Well, the Spirits have been particularly unhelpful on the matter. However, one or the other of those two — possibly both, as I have no way of telling them apart yet — noted that while either of us is acting as Warrior, neither Maddie nor I can be harmed by whatever happens to the other." She sighed then. "Unfortunately, we don't generally work together, and one or the other of us might be getting badly hurt or even killed while the other is driving down a highway or some such thing. My reflexes are almost as good as Logan's, but I know I'll slow down as the pregnancy progresses. Maddie's reflexes might be better than the average human's, but not enough to keep her from an accident on her bike or in the car.

"She'd heal. I'd heal, too, if it came to that. But there's the very real possibility of causing other vehicles on the road to be involved in any accidents. She could have her children with her... I'm fairly certain Em has the same healing factor as her parents. Maybe her twin Vin does, too. I don't think Leon does, however."

Andrea's emotions, having been released when she dropped her Warrior aspect, washed over Moira again like a tidal wave. This time, she didn't try to stand like an oak against them; she closed her eyes and allowed the construct of her shields to sway like a willow, like a sapling. It was harder than it used to be with Paddy's diamond filaments threading through everything... but she simply told the filaments to become millions of jointed segments. That accomplished, she simply waited out the storm.

When she opened her eyes, Andrea was staring at her. "What did you just do?"

"How are ye meanin' it?"

"I felt like I was going to fall apart again — scared, hopeless, worried beyond measure, frustrated — then you just closed your eyes, and everything simply melted away."

Moira's eyebrows raised in surprise. Then she looked at what her shields had done. Well, now, that was interesting!

"'Twould seem havin' Paddy's diamonds articulatin' e'ery millimeter or so'll hae th' effect o' turnin' them te lightenin' rods. Oh, that'll be a fine discovery!"

"Okay, I have no idea what you're talking about, but if that works to short-circuit all the bad shit that affected Maddie when I died, where do I get some of that?"

"I'll nae be sure 'tis th' thin' te protect yer Maddie, though 'tis likely bein' part o' it. Mayhap 'tis th' key fer keepin' yer... abilities from overwhelmin' ye." Her brows furrowed then as she considered the situation. "'Twill hae been me shields that'll hae... absorbed yer distress, an' a mite forcefully, too," she mused. "Here'll be th' thin' I wonder... will bein' inside o' such shields hae th' same effect?"

"Honestly, Red? I don't know what you're doing or how it relates to qi. I barely grok what you're talking about. I'd say your guess is as good as mine, but I have a feeling your guess would be better than any of mine even if I understood what you're saying."

Andrea barely moves, and doesn't say anything more, but Moira can feel the sparks of almost frustration pinging against her shields. She smiles kindly.

"Ah, but I'll be thinkin' ye'll understand more than yer mind'll allow ye te believe it." She tilted her head and just looked at the other woman. There was a time to Teach... and then there was a time for the Student to Learn.

"Sure, an' why donnae ye think upon it fer a moment. Think on yer bein' energy, as ye said. Think on yer manipulatin' o' yer energy. An' then be thinkin' on th' wee bits I'll hae said o' me shields."

Andi hesitated a moment, then moved from her cross-legged position to one more suited to attentive listening in any and every dojo Moira had ever seen. With her eyes closed, the dark haired woman simply knelt.

And Moira watched, letting her shields drop very slowly.

From an empathic point of view, it was like watching, or perhaps feeling chaos become order. She couldn't tell what Andi was thinking, although from her smiles... and especially the tears that accompanied some of those smiles... Moira could guess. It was the feeling... not just Andi's emotions, but her state of being... that interested Moira the most.

It felt almost like... like tuning the holodecks, maybe. That day when she'd taken Kat to calibrate the new emitters, it had been obvious to her practiced eye that the old calibration standards created a bland, amorphous image. But even Kat had seen it immediately. Oddly, the emotions Moira managed to pick up from the young woman — she was a clever one at hiding but, at least, she wasn't a brick wall like her brother — gave her the impression that Kat saw the bland uniformity as chaos.

The recalibration, along with the program enhancements, essentially fractalized the images displayed by the holodecks. Like reality, there was an infinite amount of detail. But like fractals, the things that appeared to be most disordered were actually highly organized. Kat found it much more appealing. So did Moira, for that matter. Bavkava had certainly been surprised, but it's likely no one but she and Kahallan had noticed Betsy's surprise... she, because she was an empath; he, because he was Kahallan and noticed everything.

Well... almost everything. But now wasn't the time for that.

The speed at which Andrea reordered her thoughts was reflected in the emotions Moira could sense — confusion and frustration morphing to wonder and followed by a burst of joy — over and over, faster and faster.

In the Overworld, many things were possible that were impossible in the mundane world. By the time Andrea opened her eyes again to smile at Moira, she was glowing brightly. Another stray thought flitted through the back of the redhead's mind... She's only beginning to understand how important she is to her world.

Andrea nodded toward the two glowing figures. "That's what the Pentad looks like," she said softly.

Moira looked away from her Student and gasped at the blinding intricacies of the five figures she saw.

"Bandia a chara, cé go bhfuil tú? Who'll ye be, that ye'll hae such..." Moira was at a loss for words. If this representation reflected who they were in the world, if it even came close to reflecting who they were, then...

"Ye'll be demigods," she whispered.

Andi gave her a sharp look and then burst out laughing.

"Dear gods, no! We're all thoroughly imperfect humans!" She pointed to one of the figures. "Well, except for Rene, who is a thoroughly imperfect Spirit, who was once human.

"No, Red. We're just folks who want to make the world a better place... to protect it. Except for Maddie, we're all mutants. Even Maddie is, technically, with her adaptive DNA. It's just that no test will ever be able to nail her."

Moira shook her head. "Nay! Ye'll shine bright as th' Lady Herself. How kin ye say ye'll be but lowly humans?"

The other woman looked surprised. "That?" Looking between the five figures and the redhead several times, tears formed in her eyes.

Moira didn't understand them, or what she was sensing from Andrea just then.

"Moira... that's the force that holds us together. That's love. It's nothing supernatural." She shrugged one shoulder. "Okay, maybe the fact that Great Spirit blessed our Bonding might give it more... I don't know... status? I'm not sure how you see things. But I swear to you, we're as ordinary as the folks you zip around the galaxy with on your starship." She paused again and then giggled.

"Okay, that would mean we're the best of the best of the best, sir! But that's really all it means."

Moira was more than a little skeptical but finally sighed a great Irish sigh.

"Aye, an' so ye'll say. 'Twill be fair certain 'tis vital yon Circle o' yers'll be part o' repairin' th' hurt ye an' yer Sister will hae found."

"Well, how do we fix this problem Maddie and I have? I'm still beyond baffled when I try to wrap my head around the concept of souls splitting and living separate lives, whether it's intentional as those two insist or accidentally as your Paddy insists."

Moira was caught up short by the seemingly abrupt change of topic.

And then she realized it wasn't actually a change of topic.

She sighed more normally, thinking that this might be the longest period of time she'd spent in the Overworld since leaving for the Academy.

And that she was doing what might normally be considered the High Priestess' job.

"Ah, now where'll ye be when I need ye, Fiona Houlihan?" she muttered softly.

Of course, it wasn't her grandmother she needed so much as her brother. Her twin brother. Could she coax him here? Not likely, was it? Of course, she'd never know unless she tried.


Might it not be easier to invite Andrea to her true home than convince Padraig to leave the safe confines of their shared head? Probably. And it was infinitely more frightening. It was clear Andrea needed a Teacher. It was just as clear she had been appointed Andrea's Teacher.

As with so many of the Great Lessons her Lady provided, there was an opportunity here for Moira herself... if she had the courage to rise to this challenge.

Suddenly, being the Captain of a starship wasn't looking quite as onerous as it had been when she fell asleep.

"I've a thought... an' 'twill be one that'll be makin' th' blood in me veins seem fair unte ice, I'll nae lie te ye. 'Tis nae a thin' I'll e'er hae done fer another, though I'll hae been takin' yer part when Seanmháthair'll hae done such fer me."

Andrea looked at her first with confusion, and then suspicion.

"Why do I get the feeling I'm not going to like this? Oh, wait. Maybe because, if I used your engines as an analogy, your qi just went critical and it's time to abandon ship."

The other woman didn't look any happier about the idea Moira hadn't even presented than Moira herself was. The odd thing, though, was Andrea's emotional state. Instead of fear, Moira could only sense unease fluctuating with hopefulness.


Dear blessed Danu, how did You and Your Sister manage to arrange this meeting? How did She know I would be, likely, the only person in all the many universes to have the skill and experience to help this woman? You tattle, my Lady.

To Andrea, she nodded. "Aye, 'twill be requirin' a leap o' faith — on m'own part more than yers. An' I'll nae hae thought 'twas a thin' I could do yet. Th' faith, I'll be meanin'." Moira sighed. "'Tis nae so much time te abandon ship as it'll be time te suit up an' head inte th' engines themselves."

Andi blinked. "Okay. Yeah. That's just about as bad. Or worse, depending on your point of view."

Moira chuckled. "I'll be an engineer, nae jus' a holoprogrammer. 'Tis part o' th' job te crawl about th' engines te inspect 'em." She tilted her head, looking thoughtful. "Aye, though 'tis true 'twill nae be standard operatin' procedure te be doin' such when th' engines'll be hot."

"Oh, wonderful! It sounds like quite an adventure." Andi most definitely had a corner on the market when it came to sarcasm. She looked at Moira through narrowed eyes. "Just what exactly are you proposing here, Red?"

She shrugged. "Ye'll recall a few moments back that ye'll hae slipped through me shields, an' downloaded th' information regardin' yer Bond with yon Pablo o' yers..."


"So, an' 'tis possible, in th' theory o' such thin's, fer ye te step through an' meet Paddy."

Andi stared at her for several very long moments, then clutched her head while closing her eyes. She keened softly for a few seconds, looking exactly like a person in the throes of a psi backlash headache.

"Are you saying you want me to jump inside your head? Because that's what it sounds like, and in my reality... that's crazy." She was still for a moment, physically at least.

Moira sensed so many emotions swirling around and through Andrea that it almost had the outer world feel of a solar flare. Or maybe a tornado... but Moira had never actually seen one of those. To her credit, Andrea was doing a good job of keeping the emotions muted; she just couldn't block them all out. The lass probably needn't worry so much about her niece quite as strenuously as she was. On the other hand, some of those emotions were probably a bit mature for a ten year old.

"Aye. 'Tis what I'll be sayin'. An' 'twill be as daft as anythin' I'll hae done, sure an' that'll be th' truth."

She wasn't sure it was the wisest choice. She wasn't sure it was the safest choice. But she knew down to the very marrow of her bones that unless Andrea could actually see the makeup of a reunited soul, it would be nearly impossible for her to reconnect her part of their shared soul with that of her sister.

Andi was simply incredulous, a very rational reaction given the circumstances.

Moira was terrified. And she was using everything she'd ever learned to keep that bit of information tucked away.

"You know, I can see that you believe this is possible. How?"

"Well... truth be told, I'll nae be so certain." She hadn't been paying attention to her shields when Andi managed to get through them. But that shouldn't matter. They were automatic.

"I'll hae been..." She sighed softly. "Aye, I'll hae been feelin' sorry fer m'self, an' wishin' te hae fer me an' Duffy what ye'll be havin' with yer Pablo."

Andrea nodded slowed. "Okay, yeah. I remember that. Your qi looked so..." She pressed her lips tightly together, shook her head, and drew a shuddering breath. After a moment, she continued. "I just wanted to give you... comfort? Peace? All I wanted to do was help you."

One corner of Moira's mouth raised in a partial smile. "Ye've a way about ye that'll be makin' it fair impossible te believe ye'll nae be a healer, ye know."

She shook her head sadly. "Maybe in a different world or a different time, where a Warrior's skills weren't the only thing standing between my world and its destruction. Maybe. I'm not sure I had much of a choice in the path I took."

Moira nodded. "Mayhap nae. An'... well, 'tis o' no matter now. I'll be thinkin' mayhap jus' lowerin' th' shields an' thinkin' o' Duffy'll be enough." She attempted a true smile. "'Twill do fer a start."

Andi's returning smile seemed forced. "If you think this is a good idea, I'll go along with it. Gods know I've done equally crazy things in the past few months." She hesitated. "I'll be honest, Red... I'm worried about getting stuck in your head."

With a much more relaxed smile, Moira settled herself comfortably, facing Andrea. "An' that'll be th' one thin' I kin say will nae, kinnae happen. Ye've m'word upon it." She grounded and centered, then held both hands out to Andrea, palms up.

After a moment's hesitation, Andrea gently laid her hands in Moira's.

There was no sense of disorientation. One moment the two women sat in the Overworld, the next instant they stood inside the carefully crafted room that represented Moira's shields.

Well, there was a slight difference...

"Ye've a large personality, donnae ye hae, Andrea Yazzie?"

For her part, Andrea was looking around with awe and wonder, both on her face and swelling in bubbles of emotion.

"I don't know," she said absently. "No one's ever mentioned it before. Wow, Red! All of this has got to be the most beautiful thing I've ever seen outside of watching Mother's qi flows!"

Moira blushed at the compliment, though the other woman was far too busy looking at the intricate weavings of the nearest wall. She was careful and respectful, hands clasped loosely behind her back, almost as if she needed to remind herself not to touch the shields.

She'd also added thin-soled boots to her attire.


Moira winced as Andrea turned around, startled. The fact that she reacted so mildly, at least, compared to her reaction when Moira first approached her, was a testament to her control. Moira wondered if Andrea actually appreciated that at the moment.

She looked at her brother with an expression generally reserved for her students who did not behave in a manner becoming Starfleet officers.

"Padraig." Her voice probably could have cooled a core meltdown. "How many'll hae been th' times ye've been told nae te be shoutin' inside me head?"

"How the hell am I supposed to not shout when... when THIS happens?" he asked, motioning around the space. "What the hell, Moira?!"

Aside from turning around to stare at the young man, Andrea hadn't moved. So it wasn't until Padraig looked down from the unusually high ceiling of the space that he saw her.


He just pointed at Andrea. Moira, on the other hand, pressed the heels of her hands to her temples and closed her eyes tightly.

"Padraig!" she growled between clenched teeth, before groaning.

Andrea almost seemed to teleport from her spot ten or twelve paces away to Moira's side.

"This is the brother, I take it? Would you like me to crack him over the head with a stick, or just Gibbs slap him?" She made it sound like there were no other options; Padraig was going to get thumped one way or the other.

"Aye, 'tis Padraig..."

"Who the hell are you?" At least he wasn't shouting. And he was staying at what might be considered a safe distance from the dark haired woman. "And you don't have a stick, anyway."

"Honestly, Red, I'd rather hit him with the stick," she said as her staff appeared in her hands. "Slapping him means touching him, touching him means I get all his baggage, too." She grinned at Padraig.

Since there was a facsimile of calm, Moira opened her eyes to look at her brother, rubbing her temples with her fingertips as she did so.

The look on his face was almost worth the developing headache. It had been... well, actually, Moira couldn't remember the last time she'd seen Paddy looking that stunned. She looked at Andrea standing no more than an arm's distance from her, holding a wooden staff, a thing of beauty. The wood was burnished to a satiny sheen, the ends were gold tipped, and it appeared as through tiny etchings covered its entire length, which was probably about two meters. Then she blinked.

"Will yon staff o' yers be a livin' thin'? 'Twill seem te hae markin's movin' about on it." She blinked again, but the etchings still seemed to be moving. "Though mayhap 'twill be th' fearsome headache Paddy'll be tryin' te give me."

Andrea looked from brother to sister, an eyebrow raised in a very Vulcan-like manner, before looking at the staff. Smiling softly, she shook her head.

"It was once part of a living tree but doesn't truly have an essence of its own anymore. It's only done this once," she said with reverence as she traced the symbol that wound its way around the center of the staff. "It was when Master Chen first handed it to me."

The emotions then that wafted from Andrea were like a breeze on a summer day.


"Hush, Paddy. 'Tis a moment o' holiness."

Andi glanced at her, then back at the staff. "In a way, you're right. This symbol," she said, indicating the largest one, the one in the middle that she had been tracing, "represents hózhó. It has such a complex meaning to the Diné that saying it means harmony and balance and beauty and sometimes even peace is just a shorthand way of describing it. Hózhó can tell the story of the Diné when the full phrase — sa'ah naaghaii bik'eh hózhó — is used."

"An' o' th' other symbols? 'Twill seem some mayhap'll be words."

Andrea nodded. "Every human language Master Chen's grandson could find... harmony, balance, and peace." She pointed to symbols above and below the hózhó. "This one is Japanese for balance," said of the first, "and this is Chinese for harmony. Besides English and Diné Bizaad, they're the languages I know best. I'm getting better at Spanish, and Maddie is pretty sure I'm going to butcher French for as long as I live." She chuckled.

"You know, I think I'd probably make more of an effort to parlay the French if Maddie's eye rolling wasn't accompanied by what looks like giggles in her qi."

"Will there be th' Irish, too?"

"I don't see why not?" Andi held the staff on both palms parallel to the floor. "It's a living language, spoken by thousands of people in Ireland, America, Australia. I do get twitchy when other people hold it for very long, but touching it isn't going to have the effect that me touching your walls would have."

Moira raised an eyebrow at that last comment, but Andi just shrugged.

"They just seem to have a 'do not touch' signature to them."

While Moira inspected the staff, they both ignored — or seemed to ignore — Padraig as he edged closer.

"Ah! Look! Here'll be síocháin..." To Andrea, it sounded like she chan, with a lot of gargling on razor blades for the 'ch' part. "...peace."

"It's a lovely stick, and I'd really rather you didn't hit me with it," Padraig said from over Moira's shoulder. "Or anything else, for that matter. It would probably just give the Witch a headache anyway."

She looked over her shoulder at him. "Nae likely te th' level ye'll hae been tryin' te kill me."

"Fine. I'm sorry."

Andrea looked at him and raised an eyebrow. Moira simply snorted.

"Ye're nae, an' donnae try tellin' me anythin' different."

The young man sighed as he looked between the two woman. "Fine, I understand why the Witch doesn't believe me," he said to Andrea, "but the look on your face says you don't believe me either. That means you're a Witch, too, doesn't it?"

"Nope," she replied cheerfully. "Witch would probably come closest to Shaman for my People, and I'm not the Shaman of the family. That would be my cousin Tommy."

Padraig stared for a moment, then whined, "Moira!"

His sister chuckled. "So, an' what'll ye be expectin' when ye come in here actin' like an amadán?"

He visibly twitched, looked almost as if he was planning another high volume tirade, and then disappeared. Completely.

Moira shrugged. "Well, 'tis certain he'll be back. I kin tell ye about th' shields while we'll be waitin' fer th' lad."

Andrea nodded; her staff disappeared as suddenly and easily as Padraig had.

"He seemed freaked out about something when he got here, and you sounded surprised, too. What was that all about?"

Moira looked up at what would be the ceiling, and then around the large space.

"'Tis th' size o' th' place. Sure an' I'll hae always thought o' th' shields as a cozy room. 'Tis three, mayhap four, times as large in all th' directions with ye here."

"Oh. Ah... sorry? I guess that's what you meant when you said I had a large personality, huh?"

Moira chuckled. "Aye. An' so I'll hae seen ye lookin' e'er so carefully at th' shields. Mayhap, before I'll be explainin' th' makin' o' such thin's, ye'll be sharin' th' way ye'll be seein' them."

"Well, as energy, of course," Andrea said, as though nothing could be more obvious. "The weaving... well, that's astounding. I can see probably every color in the spectrum that human eyes can see, and you'd think it would be just a jumbled, confusing mess for all of that. But you've got some kind of fractal pattern going on that makes it all very neat and tidy."

She looked at the floor beneath her feet and the nearest wall. "I suppose I'd have to inspect every tiny millimeter of the room, but I'd say there's no way in or out. Unless you can walk through walls."

Moira was looking at her with a great deal of interest. "Sure an' I'll understand yer seein' th' energies. An' th' fractals..." She, too, looked at the wall... though she didn't inspect it nearly as intently as Andrea had. "So, 'twould seem that'll be a new feature." She shrugged; it actually made the shields far stronger. She did wonder if her fascination with the new holoemitters was the reason she'd unconsciously retuned her shields.

"An' aye. There'll nae be a thin' I'll be findin' in th' ordinary course o' me duties that'll be comin' through."

Andrea nodded but looked pensively at the wall. "What if there's someone — or four someones, in my case — that you want to come through? But still protect them from what's in here?"

Moira was silent just long enough for the other woman to turn and look at her with concern.

"Did I say something wrong? I'm sorry. I do that sometimes."

Moira smiled wanly. "'Twill nae be a wrong thin'. 'Tis only... rememberin'. I'll be th' one te be apologizin', lass." She took a breath and nodded... more to herself than to Andrea.

"Th' simple answer'll be te make yer someone part o' yer shields. Before Em'll hae broken th' Imzadi bond, she'll hae been represented by wee sparklin' emeralds."

"You know I can see your qi better in here, don't you? You're lying your ass off, Red."

Moira turned her back on the other woman, wrapped her arms around herself, and bowed her head. She hadn't realized just how much that still hurt. She'd be lying if she said it didn't hurt... but she didn't realize just how much agony Emerald's departure from her life still caused.

I'm sorry, Mo. I... Well, I usually wrap myself around it. I didn't realize you were going to poking at your sore spots with a stick.

Will ye be comin' back then, Paddy? I'll be needin' yer help... nae jus' fer wrappin' th' pain, but fer th' Teachin'.

Aw, Moira... you know I get the heebie jeebies when you start doing your Witchy stuff!

'Tis nae that, Paddy. 'Tis about bein' a Twin.

In Paddy's silence, Andrea whispered, "I'm sorry, Red. How can I make it better... make it right?"

Moira shook her head, surprised that she wasn't crying. "Ye've done naught wrong, Andi. 'Tis nae fer ye te make anythin' right from what'll be wrong. I'll jus' be needin' more healin' than I'll hae thought. 'Tis all."

She's a twin?

Nae really, an' yet 'twould seem mayhap she'll be.

Andrea looked at Moira and took a hesitant step closer. She looked deeply torn between keeping her distance and trying to comfort the other woman.

That's not helpful, Mo.

Her wee ones'll be tellin' her fanciful tales o' her soul bein' split with her sister's. 'Tis near enough te our... whate'er we'll hae, mayhap, that I'll be thinkin' ye might be o' some help.

Moira was well accustomed to the silence of her mind; Paddy's hesitation didn't bother her.

Apparently Andrea didn't have a problem with silence either, for she simply watched... Moira, her shields, and the interplay of qi between the woman and the construct of energy. She didn't show a sign of surprise when Padraig reappeared in front of his sister. She took a step back when he wrapped his arms around the redhead.

"I'm sorry, Mo."

"An' fer what'll ye be sorry, Paddy?"

"For wrapping myself around the pain about Em. For freaking out. For anything I did to upset you that I don't even know about yet."

Moira sighed.

And Andrea coughed in her effort not to laugh.

Padraig peered over his sister's shoulder to look at the other woman.

"Mo, she's laughing at me."

"Paddy, she'll nae be laughin' at ye."

"Well..." The other woman hesitated. "He did sound a little bit like my husband there. Just a bit."

"See? I told you!"

Moira sighed again, straightened from the safe haven of her twin's arms, and tugged on his ear. "Then ye'll stop bein' such an amadán now, will ye nae."

"Ow." Paddy released his sister to rub his ear. "Why is she here? How did she get here?"

"I'll hae told ye already why she'll be here. An' she'll hae gotten here th' same way Em did. She'll hae been invited."


Moira rolled her eyes and turned back to Andrea.

"Th' big lout here'll be me twin, Padraig. Nae te be confused with th' more sensible o' me brothers — an' me favorite elder brother, too — Ciaran, who'll be outside me head an' alive. Ye'll nae hae th' opportunity te meet him, more's th' pity." She glanced over her shoulder at Paddy. "'Twill be Andrea here. She'll be needin' te learn o' shields an' th' makin' o' them, an' ye kin tell her what ye'll be knowin' o' th' whole bit about our soul bein' split, fer 'twill seem she'll be havin' th' same dilemma with her sister."

"Um, sure. And you know the only reason Ciaran is your favorite older brother is because he's your only older brother."

Andrea snickered. "My brother says I'm his favorite sister. I'm also his only sister."

He looked from his sister to the stranger and back again. "Well, I suppose it's good to know that it's not just the Witch who says nonsense like that. But I didn't really know anything about the soul split until I wound up dead."

He looked away, one of the few times Moira had seen him truly at a loss for words because of emotion. He never had a problem talking to Mo about anything.

He was hesitant nevertheless. He'd never told anyone except her exactly what had happened. Heck, he couldn't even remember if he'd told her exactly what happened.

He wrapped his arms around Moira again and relaxed when she folded her arms over his. He still couldn't always tell when she was upset... really upset. He took a deep breath before resting his chin on the top of her head.

He couldn't really look at this Andrea, who look so much like Gloria, and tell this story. Dear God, how his missed his wife!

"If it helps," she said quietly, "Maddie and I didn't figure it out until I died either. We need to make things right before one of us dies again."

His eyes snapped back up to the strange woman that reminded him, for yet another reason, far too much of Gloria.

"What? That doesn't make sense."

Andrea shrugged. "I know. It's hard to explain." She chuffed out something close to a laugh. "No. I guess it's not. It's just hard to believe."

"Hey, I live inside the Witch's head now. I guess I might be a little more willing to believe the unbelievable than I was... well, before."

Andrea nodded but still hesitated. "I guess the short version is that Maddie possesses an adaptive DNA that allowed her to pick up certain abilities from her children while she was pregnant. A... tendency maybe... for telepathy from her first husband via her oldest son. A healing factor from her second... well, let's call him husband... via her twins. Well, maybe just her daughter. No, I think she said Vin's got the healing factor and probably the long life; he just doesn't have the claws so he's not an Elder like Logan and Em."

"Ahh... I think you need to make sense before I can believe it."

Andi sighed. "Yeah. I know. And your sister said you don't have Supers or mutants in your universe... or if you do, you don't recognize them as such, I guess. We've got a lot of folks who have different kinds of abilities because of genetic mutations. Some of it, at least among my People and some of the other Nations out west, was because of the nuclear testing in my grandparents' generation. Some of it was due to the Virus... and no one wants to really talk about where THAT came from. And then there are the folks who've always been different... the Spirits call them Elders because they were already on the American continent when our Peoples — the First People, all the Nations — came from wherever we came from. Logan and Em having a healing factor that allows them to heal from anything.

"Including death.

"The first time I saw it... well, it was a little creepy, but since we were in the middle of a fight, and I was trying to heal up some serious wounds of my own, I just tried not to think about it. By the time I got a chance to think about it, I guess my brain had decided oh, what the heck.

"Maddie's odd DNA allowed her to pick this ability up when she was pregnant with Vin and Em. She was killed when she was only a few weeks pregnant with them, but her theory — that may or may not have come from Charles or Hank originally — is that their will to survive kept her alive by sharing their gifts with her. She died in childbirth, too."

Andi got very quiet for a few minutes. Finally, she said softly, "I guess that's why she seemed so worried, even though she was trying not to sound worried."

She looked around, her eyes shifting and avoiding looking at either sibling until she simply looked up, blinking quickly, with hands clasped behind her back.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, her voice shaky. "I never expected..." She took a slow deep breath, held it a moment before exhaling even more slowly. "They aren't making this easy on me, and... and I'm a little freaked out about it." This time, her breath was shuddering. "I never should have been able to get pregnant, and yet..."

She lowered her eyes to look at them again; they glowed golden.

"I don't want to blow up your brain, Red. You got an airlock you can shove me out?"

Neither sibling hesitated.

"Containment, Paddy?"

"Yes, sir. You'll take care of the power fluctuations?"


Before Andrea's heart could beat once more, before she could blink, she found herself enveloped in the arms of a young Irishman, who topped six feet by nearly two inches.

"It's okay, Andi. Gloria was just as freaked out about Mhari. You'll be okay."

Moira's hand rested lighted on Andrea's shoulder, and Andrea nearly sagged. She was held up by Paddy, yes... some. But it was mostly her own will power than kept her on her feet.

"Her eyes never did that, though." Paddy looked over Andi's head at his sister. "Breach contained, Captain, but engines aren't my specialty, you know."

Moira smiled at him. "Aye, I know Paddy. But ye're doin' a fine job with th' shields an' I'll hae learned a thin' or two from Patel an' Timor... an' Kerl-Tarvik, too. An' ye'll nae be forgettin' this'll be me gift, now will ye?"

Andrea simply rested her head against Paddy's chest.

"I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to come in and have another breakdown."

"Hey, don't worry about it. Inside the Witch's head... well, it's probably the safest place for you to have a meltdown. I was a shield tech when I was alive. The Witch trusts me to keep her safe in here. And there's nobody better at bleeding off excess emotion than Mo."

She looked a whole lot calmer than she did a minute ago... not that she'd actually looked upset before. Or not exceptionally upset, at any rate.

"Thank you, Paddy," she said as she tried to pull away from him.

"Oh, no you don't," he said holding her close. "First, only Mo gets to call me Paddy. Second, wait until she done."

Andrea laughed or tried to laugh. "Sorry. Thank you, Padraig."

"It's okay. At least, you didn't purposely call me Paddy like Tall, Dark and Handsome does. He does it to annoy me, I think."

Moira squeezed Andrea's shoulder.

"There ye go, lass. Ye'll be fine fer a bit. An' Duffy'll nae be doin' what he does te annoy ye. 'Tis his way o' sayin' yer family. None but his sister'll be callin' him Duffy. None but yer sister'll be callin' ye Paddy." She smiled at him as he loosened his arms from around Andrea's shoulders.

"Ye see how he'll be thinkin' 'tis a fine an proper thin' te do te be callin' ye Paddy?"

He groaned and sighed at the same time. "Oh, so it's your fault. I should have known."

Andrea stepped back, looking considerably stronger and less pale. "Are you two always like this?"



The fact that they spoke at the same time was, for some reason, very funny to their guest and she giggled.

Moira smiled.

"Aye, we'll usually be banterin' back an' forth between us. I'll nae usually let the Pest get away with so much before threatenin' te take him te th' holodeck an' let our brother thrash him about, howe'er."

"But you can't threaten me," he responded with a bright grin. "I can't do my thing on the holodeck. I can only help like this when I'm inside your head. Neener, neener."

It was obvious there was enormous love between the two of them. Andrea looked at Moira for a moment.

"I thought I was okay, and then all of a sudden I wasn't. Also, would it be all right if I just sit down, Red? I think I'd feel like less of an idiot, and be less likely to fall over."

She'd barely finished speaking before the landscape of the pseudo room change to look like a cozy — if rather large — living room.

"Aye, an' 'twill nae be so unusual. Yer wee ones'll be playin' with ye. An' ye'll be formin' a pair o' humans there. 'Tis nae a thin' th' body takes lightly." She smiled. "Ye'll be fine, lass. Speak with yer doctor regardin' th' mood swin's, aye?"

"Wow. That was... and this is..."

Padraig steered her to one of the two sofas that flanked a low coffee table.

"Pretty amazing, huh? It's our living room when we were kids... I think we all liked this room the best." He looked around and then grinned at Moira as they sat on the other sofa together. "I like the recreation you did on the holodeck. Those instruments were actually playable."

Andrea looked from one to the other of them, then just shook her head.

"Unreal." Then she frowned and sighed.

"I don't have a doctor. I've never been sick... or not since the Curse took me, anyway," she said absently. "Um... I'm going to make an appointment with Maddie's midwife."

Moira smiled broadly. "Oh, I donnae doubt she'll be o' e'en more help, if th' state o' yer medical profession'll be as ours in th' 20th. I've done midwifery as part o' th' trainin' with Seanmhaháir... sure an' I'll be happy te give ye a few suggestions. If she'll be havin' proper knowledge, she'll hae th' same suggestions, she will."

"Twenty first, but I take your meaning. If there were any doctors in Denver I could trust..." She shrugged. "Well, there aren't, unfortunately. Charles' school is something like eighteen hundred miles away. My uncle is only four hundred, but I should see someone local. I can't see myself riding my bike out to New Mexico much beyond the middle of the second trimester.

"I'm scared to trust Amanda, but I need to trust someone and if Maddie trusts her..." She shrugged philosophically. "I guess it's just my bad luck that one of my law enforcement contacts as Ninja happens to be her husband." Andrea sighed. "Too many people are joining the circle of folks who know my secret identity. It really makes me nervous."

"Secret identity?" Padraig sounded just a little too excited; Moira refrained from tweaking his ear... for now. "Like in the old vids? Superman and Batman and all of them?"

Moira rolled eyes; Andrea smiled.

"I guess. Maddie is more like Batman... she's obscenely rich. But yeah... some of us are useful enough to be accorded a higher status than most mutants. Peregrine is a Sponsored Super; he does all the public relations and media interviews. That's on top of trying to keep the people of Denver safe, doing whatever his Sponsor needs him to do, and spending time with his family. Ninja — that's me — sticks to the shadows. Nobody in their right mind wants Ninja talking to the press."

Padraig eyed her, trying to decide if she was serious... or just pulling his leg. A glance at Moira told him that she, at least, believed the other woman.

"Okay, I'll bite. Why shouldn't you talk to the press? Well, aside from the fact that most of them are slime?" He pats his sister's arm. "The guy Uncle Mark sent along on this trip seems like a good egg, though. I might get to actually like him by the time we get back to Earth."

"Oh, in your universe, too? Gosh, it's nice to know some things are multi-universal," Andrea said sarcastically. "I have a potty mouth. Snark is an art form for me — Pablo says smartassery is one of my super powers. And I tell the truth."

"Ooops. Yeah, the first two might not get you killed, but that last one will."

Andrea smiled, although it wasn't exactly a friendly or reassuring expression. "But I don't stay dead. And I believe in getting even."

"So you're Irish!"

"Paddy!" Moira slapped her brother on his shoulder. "Try behavin' yerself fer once."

He didn't try too hard to evade her blow. "Why start now?"

"You remind me of my cousin Henry. I think he knows how to be serious... maybe. He'd just rather not." Andrea smiled; her fondness for her cousin clear, almost like a fresh breeze wafting through the room.

Padraig grinned. "See? Somebody appreciates me, Mo." He bumped his shoulder against hers. "I like her. Can we keep her?"

Moira tweaked his ear again.


"Maybe I'll come back to visit," Andrea said. "Or ask Great Spirit to send Henry here when he takes his Last Walk. He'd like you."

Padraig rubbed his ear and looked between his sister and their guest.

"Right. You're giving as good as I do, huh? That's what's going on here, isn't it?"

"Ah, now, Paddy... ye'll be daft as th' day'll be long. Why'll ye always be thinkin' naught'll be givin' ye a wee taste o' yer own?"

Andrea doesn't grin until Paddy rolled his eyes at his sister.

"How long am I going to have to put up with you, Witch? I'm going to be even more daft by the time you're an old lady."

Moira shrugged and smiled at him, then leaned back with a calculating look on her face.

"So, I'll be thinkin' our family'll be fair long-lived compared te some. Nae compared te Vulcans o' course, but fer humans we'll be on th' high end o' thin's, aye?"

Padraig eyed her suspiciously.

"I don't think I like where this is heading, Mo."

"Sure an' ye'll hae asked a question, did ye nae? I'll jus' be tellin' ye what ye'll hae known, an' will hae nae wanted te be knowin'. So then. 'Twill be another eighty years, I'll be thinkin'. At least."

He just sighed.

"Yeah. Or ninety. Or more. Granny O's grandmother is well over a century and still going strong, although she doesn't have the same annoying nose being poked into everyone's business." He grinned devilishly. "Has she had a chance to pester you about Tall, Dark and Handsome yet? Or is she still singing the Oh, you poor dear, you'll never get a husband on a spaceship song? She'll never grasp the subtle nuances between spaceship and starship."

"Oh, she'll nae know about Duffy yet — only Seanmháthair'll hae met him — so I'll be avoidin' bein' available when she'll be makin' her weekly calls te her granddaughter's spaceship." Moira rolled her eyes. "You'll never find a husband out there, Moira," she said, deliberately affecting their grandmother's much fainter accent. "And being in charge of a spaceship? It's just not done, Moira. Young ladies aren't supposed to do things like that!"

Then she snorted.

Padraig laughed. "You know... getting under Granny O's skin would be the best reason to let the family know I'm still sort of around."

Moira looked at him as though he'd finally lost every ounce of reason he'd ever had. "'Tis nae! 'Twill be th' worst reason, an' e'en if I'll be thinkin' 'twould be amusin' — an' I do NAE — yer wee lass'll be th' finest reason fer makin' yerself known te th' family."

Padraig's demeanor changed abruptly. Instead of the light-hearted, cheerful, joking young man, he became somber and unnaturally serious. It was an argument he didn't want to have. Again.

"No. How many times do I have to tell you, Mo? No." He looked at the musical instruments, reminders of a happier time. "It's bad enough you went and told Ciaran. But he'll keep it to himself. Mhari doesn't need to know."

"Aye, an' 'twill only be his love fer us te keep him quiet. An' yet ye'll hae insisted yer own self on tellin' Duffy about ye. Nae that he'll be tellin' a soul but mayhap Kat, but ye've vexed me, laddie."

Andrea's brows drew together as she tried puzzling through this disagreement.

"Mhari is your daughter. And you want to keep her from knowing about you?" She looked shocked, almost verging on appalled.

"She's only four..."

"She'll be comin' onte six now," Moira interrupted.

"Fine. Almost six. That's too young to be able to understand any of this."

Andi's jaw dropped in complete disbelief. "What's to understand?" She sounded almost angry. "She's a little kid. She misses her parents. Why would you NOT want to give her the joy of knowing her dad?"

He shook his head, but refused to look at either woman. "You wouldn't understand."

"The hell I wouldn't! I didn't get to tell you one of the best parts of my story... about reuniting Rene with his family after he'd been dead for ten, eleven years. His son was about your daughter's age when Rene died. He's an incredible young man now, nearly sixteen years old, and has been raised by Logan and his mom. That's my Maddie. Well. Our Maddie.

"Do you think a fifteen year old or a five year old would have an easier time accepting that she or he can get to know her or his parent, who's been dead for eleven years... or... well, however long you've been dead?

"Are you out of your ever-loving mind, Padraig? 'Not understanding' is the lamest excuse I've ever heard of for not letting your daughter know you're still around!"

Padraig looked away from the music corner with tears in his eyes, and tried to focus on Andrea. "Okay. Maybe you do understand."

Moira wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "Th' lad'll be fair unte terrified o' lettin' th' family know."

"Sure. I get that. It's as much of a freak out as half the city of Denver knowing my secret identity. But by the Gods, Buddhas and Spirits, this is your daughter you're talking about!"

Andrea studied him for a moment before saying anything else. Her voice was softer, gentler.

"I think reconnecting with your daughter would do you a world of good, too," she said. "I know your sister can't do for you what I've been able to do for Rene, but you said — or implied, at any rate — that you can become corporeal on the holodeck, right? I guess that would be more limiting than what Rene's able to do, but..."

She bit her lip while taking a deep breath.

"...but it's something."

She could see the pain in his eyes before he closed them, and it seemed to have the same effect on her has it did on Moira.

"Gods, I'm sorry, Padraig! It's not my business to pry. I just... well, it's this compulsion I have, to want to help people."

Padraig shook his head. "Don't. Don't apologize for being kind."

Paddy, ye'll be tearin' yerself te pieces o'er this.

Then why can't you just let it go, Mo? Why keep pushing?

Because yon Andi'll be seein' thin's, an' I'll be feelin' thin's. We'll be knowin' o' th' hole in yer heart.

Mo, I'm more afraid of letting Mhari know I'm still here than I ever was of Pa. I don't know how to get past that fear, and until I do... no. No, Moira. I can't.

Aye, Paddy. I'll be seein' it, an' I'll nae be understandin'. But I'll leave ye be fer th' moment. Ye kinnae keep runnin' from all yer fears.

I know. But right now, I do need to run.

Jus' as I'll hae been always there te stand by ye, I'll always be here. Ye know this, Padraig.

I know, Mo. I do know. And I do trust you. I just don't trust myself yet.

Ye will. Ye've th' kindest an' most lovin' heart o' any I'll hae met.

Even more than your Duffy?

She was silent for a moment. Duffy'll be like Ciaran. An' Ciaran'll nae be like ye, fer all he'll be lovin' us with th' whole o' his heart.

Some days I don't understand you, Witch.

'Tis fine, fer I'll nae be understandin' ye on some days, Pest.

Moira signed and simply patted her brother's hand.

"I should apologize for behaving badly," Padraig said without opening his eyes. "Probably more than most in this century, I understand the differences between the Nations. But you still remind me too much of Gloria." He smiled sadly as he opened his eyes.

"She was so much like my sister here that it was a little spooky. Her grandfather said she had the gift to be a Medicine Woman, but she wanted to join Starfleet. Like the Witch here did, just to spite Grandma Fiona, I think."

She pushed against him slightly as she looked up at his face. "I'll hae done no such thin'. We'll both hae joined Starfleet te follow Ciaran, fer he'll hae been our hero. Ye know 'tis th' truth. An' I'll still be doin' m'Lady's work here."

Andrea smiled at them. "Circles and spirals. My original guardian Spirit was very upset with me for not walking the Shaman's Path. But my world needs the Warrior. As much as I'd like to lay down the staff some days, I'm doing what I was meant to do." She paused a moment, then nodded. "I wouldn't change my Path for anything. Sure, some really unpleasant things have happened because of the choices I've made. But the good outweighs the bad.

"I can't even remember where I first heard this bit of advice... it's been such an ingrained part of my life for as long as I can remember that it almost seems like I was born knowing it. But... well, everything happens just as it should happen, exactly when it should happen, for the greatest good of all.

"I can't say why you and Gloria needed to leave your daughter. I can't say why she went on ahead to the world of the Ancestors and you stayed with your sister. I can't say why it's been necessary for you to keep yourself hidden from those you love, those who love you. But if it's meant to be that you get to see your daughter growing up and that you have a part in her life... that will happen."

Both siblings are very quiet for a moment.

"You're spooky. You know that, right?" Padraig asked.

"Yeah. That's one of the nicer things people say about me. I think the Warrior's Path is closer to the Shaman's Path than our Ha'atathli want to admit." Andrea shrugged. "It's about the only thing that can explain a lot of Raven's insanity..." She looked at Moira with a rueful smile. "...your Lady's explanation notwithstanding."

"You make it sound like I have a choice about Mhari, and don't have one at the same time."

"You don't think so?" Andrea looks slightly confused.

"No. It doesn't make sense."

"Okay, I can see how it can look that way. Not making a decision is still making a decision. You can choose to not choose. I did that with Pablo for years. I chose to ignore what I saw, the way he felt about me. I chose to be content as a single person with dozens of good friends and a loving family. I chose to see the efforts of my friends and family to push me into a relationship as simply their caring for me, albeit in a rather weird teasing way."

She pointed to both of them, but continued to address Padraig. "You are choosing to be a guardian angel for your sister. Maybe you're worried about things that are silly, and maybe you're worried about things worth being concerned about. Maybe even both, if you're human. You are choosing to defer the question of contacting your daughter.

"There's nothing inherently wrong with that. Pablo waited eleven years to tell me about his wife and son, and how they were murdered because he's a cop. Sure, there were circumstances and reasons, but they wouldn't have died the way they did if he wasn't a cop. Would they have still died? Who can say? We can't change the past, so does it even matter?

"But until he started to let go of the pain and grief he carried for Rosalia and Juan, he couldn't say that he loved me. The words might have come out of his mouth, but they would have been empty and hollow because his heart was full of pain. He never said them, though. I think he instinctively knew it wouldn't be right, and he is a man of great integrity."

Andrea simply smiled softly.

"But if I... how can I spend time with Mhari if I'm stuck inside the Witch's head?"

She glanced at Moira, whose green eyes sparkled with mischief and love... then grinned.

"How? Does it matter? Simply decide. Things will happen as they should happen... when they should happen... for the good of all."

"Mayhap ye'll hae noted a time or two that Kat an' I'll hae convinced yon holographic medical loon te stroll about th' ship?"

"Um. No."

"Paddy! Are ye nae supposed te be payin' attention?"

"To your programming? Why? It's... your thing."

"Aye, an' did ye nae notice th' changes te yer own programmin' before ye'll e'en hae taken control o' th' program?"

"Well. Yeah."

"An' did ye nae see th' flaws in Ciaran's programs yer own self, without e'en th' least promptin' from me?"

"I did?"

Moira thumped Paddy's shoulder again, slightly harder than last time.

"Ye did! By th' Lady, Padraig, there'll be times I'll be wonderin' if ye brought th' whole o' yer brain with ye."

"Okay, so say I did. What's your point?"

"Th' EMH'll be me point. An' th' purpose o' such a program'll be te hae th' so called doctor available anywhere about th' ship."

"But I can't be in two places at once!"

"Oh? Ye kinnae? An' how'll ye be knowin' that?"

He just blinked at her; Andrea smiled at them.

"Aye. There'll be yer answer, ye amadán," Moira said with a grin. "Ye'll nae know, fer ye've ne'er hae e'en thought te try, hae ye?"

"No," he admitted sheepishly.

"You know... Rene can be in more than one place at the same time, as can all the Spirits. I think Rene is still getting used to it because sometimes it seems more difficult than at other times.

"All things are possible for he who has faith," Andrea said quietly.

Padraig just looked at her for a minute, trying to get his bearings.

"You're quoting my own Book at me, Heathen."

She chuckled. "Misquoting it, actually. But you seem to have gotten the message anyway."

He smiled. "I'm a little thick sometimes, but maybe I have." He leaned against Mo's shoulder again, and once again closed his eyes. "You know, I don't think you mentioned how you manage to rise from the dead like your sister does. That would be a nice trick to know."

Andrea snorted. "I've done it once. It was not the least bit pleasant... well, aside from spending my few dead minutes with Great Spirit while my heart knit itself back together.

"If those two are to be believed, I was supposed to have that same adaptive DNA that Maddie has. I'm not sure how it would have been possible for her to pass along the Heal From Everything Including Dead... gift? Or the part about probably living as long as an Elder, and no one really knows how long they live if nobody's trying to kill them.

"When we formed the Pentad — our Circle as you and your Lady call it, Red — all five of us shared freely of ourselves and our love to become something more than just five people." She looked down at one of her hands, perhaps inspecting it... perhaps watching memories play out. "Four of us have... well, no. Logan and I have a detectable genetic mutation. Rene is a Spirit, though when he was alive he, too, had a genetic mutation that could be detected. I'm not sure Pablo has ever been tested, but I'm going to guess he probably was. There was an awful lot of paranoia going on in the States when I was growing up in Japan, and he's only a couple of years older than I am. So I'm guessing that whatever tests he had didn't pick up anything or he wouldn't have been considered Normal. But this was after I woke the Aztec, and he gained the gifts of Quetzalcoatl.

"Would tests show anything different now?" she mused. "I don't know. He hasn't been tested since then, so I don't know if his time in Quetzalcoatl's dimension triggered something in his genes... or if he was simply granted gifts from a demigod." She shook her head, never looking up from her hand. "I suppose eventually we'll want to find out.

"But then, in that moment of forming the Pentad, I'm not sure Maddie felt she had anything to offer the Pentad, or if she did... I'm not sure she knew what it was. Well, beyond her love and the stability of a penta structure, the first being immeasurable and the second being extremely strong. And yet, somehow... she did know. I'm not sure why it seemed right to both of us, but each of us sliced open our palms on Logan's wicked adamantium claws and held our hands together until they healed."

Andrea traced a finger across her palm.

"Her blood, her adaptive DNA, started rewriting mine. My healing factor was already incredibly high; I healed from things that would kill most people. I probably wouldn't have survived being shot in the head, or getting a heart-piercing wound... but everything else just took a bit of time to heal. And pain. And the most gods awful, hellacious itching. What Maddie gave me was the ability to survive a gunshot wound to the heart..." She shook her head and almost laughed, although there was no humor in it. "I take that back. I didn't actually survive. I did die. But I came back."

She finally looked up at them. Padraig still leaned on Moira's shoulder, but he'd opened his eyes. They were listening... they were hearing... they were accepting her words.

"Logan's been shot in the head, so... yeah, I'd survive that, too, I guess. And depending on how much a bullet bounces around inside my skull, depending on how much of my brain turns into Swiss cheese... well, I could lose most of my memories like he did." I sigh. "I'd give them back to him, but he's content not knowing more than he knows."

She smiled softly again.

"That's just one of the many things I love about him.

"And given the way my Curse works, I'd probably wind up remembering everyone else's... everything, and totally forgetting who I am. But I've promised Pablo to keep my brain safe."

She paused and made a face, then shook her head ever so slightly.

"Maddie picked up a diffused version of my ability to at least see qi. I don't think it's been long enough to know exactly how much of my Curse she picked up, or how strong it is. I guess we'll eventually find that out, too."

"Ye'll be callin' yer gifts a curse, lass. Will they truly be so dreadful to ye?"

"What? No! Why...?"

Andrea stopped... and then rolled her eyes again.

"Maybe the remembering is a bitch. Weirdly — because I'm not an Empath — I remember emotions most strongly. Usually, it takes being emotionally close to someone to remember... well, everything. But you said I downloaded the whole Reforging the Bond incident and I didn't think that was even possible. That's why I offered to smack Padraig with my stick instead of Gibbs slapping him. I already remember Pablo's Rosalia and Logan's Kayla. I remember the good and the bad. For some reason, the painful memories always seem to be sharper. You can understand why I'd be a little reluctant to add Padraig's Gloria to the collection. It's bad enough that I have something like an echo of a memory of your Emerald and your... Kahallan, is it? My Curse is an asshole sometimes.

"That's not why it's called a Curse, though.

"No, it's simply how the Diné refer to any of the genetic mutations that that come out of the nuclear testing or the Virus. It's the Curse of the White Man. I think the Zuni and Hopi, possibly the Ute, call the mutations something fairly similar.

"But whether we call it 'Curse' with a capital 'C' or call it a gift — or simply 'genetic mutation' as the Cherokee do — the one thing that ties all the First People's attitudes together about the mutations is that we don't refer to anyone who's been touch in this way as the White Men do... as Unfortunates. While we might use the word outside the Nations, it's simply another way we've been forced to assimilate to the White Man's world, and we know it. While it would certainly go without saying among the People, perhaps it should be mentioned here that we do not lock our people away in ghettos, we don't stigmatize them, we accept each person as they are and treasure each child."

Moira simply looked sad, but Padraig was completely horrified.

"People are locked away... just for being different?!? Mo would get locked up? Eileen with her Second Sight would get locked up?"


It was a direct and simple answer. It was harsh and it was clearly the truth. It was also an answer that seemed to hurt Andrea as much as anyone. She sighed and closed her eyes.

"I protect the people who — according to our government, according to so-called 'religious' leaders, according to people who fear anything Other — don't deserve protection. The State of Colorado walled off an entire town, or the vast majority of it anyway, and sends... so called Unfortunates there. When I first took up the staff, I stayed close to my neighborhood in Denver. It was before I got my bike registered with the City, so I relied on my feet to get around. It wasn't so bad, really... I didn't live all that far from the main drag through the town where other people — normal, ordinary folks — needed protection, too. The Two Spirit people, the crushingly poor people, the hustlers and prostitutes, the homeless."

Her lips twitch in an attempt to smile. Moira could feel the well of emotions Andrea was trying to keep tucked away. Padraig looked at Moira, puzzled.

I kinnae explain how ye'll feel her love an' pride, Paddy. I kinnae say what she'll be thinkin' but 'twill nae be a lie te say th' work she'll be doin'... 'tis a thin' te bring goodness te many who'll nae know goodness.

Like what you've done for the Romulan? For the reporter... Carlos?

Mayhap. I'll be thinkin' th' wee thin's I'll be doin'll be naught compared te th' Great Works yon Andrea'll be doin'.

You have a way of minimizing your own good deeds, Sis.

She seemed to shrug.

There'll be much I'll be gettin' th' credit fer as Captain o' th' Eclipse... an' th' Clarke before. Th' truth'll be more, Paddy. If I'll nae hae th' crew I'll hae... I'll nae achieve a single thin'. 'Tis th' nature o' bein' part o' Starfleet, aye? I'll nae hae been th' only one te show yon Ssaedhe we'll be good folk. I'll nae hae been th' only one te show yon Carlos we'll be honorable folk. I'll nae hae been th' only one te show both o' them there'll be more te Starfleet than what they'll hae already known.

Why are you always right, Witch?

She hugged him closer.

I'll nae always be right. But I'll always be sharin' th' bounty o' doin' th' Great Works.

And you think I'm the best of us!

Ah, an' who'll hae told ye that, Pest? Her mental tone was full of laughter and love.

You told Ciaran.

She nearly laughed out loud.

Nay, Paddy. 'Twill hae been Ciaran'll who'll hae said it o' ye. I'll had jus' agreed with him.

I have the best family.

An' I'll be agreein' with ye, as well, lad. We're a fair good lot.

Andrea shook herself from her revere and opened her eyes to look at the siblings.

"Once I had registration tags for my bike in Ninja's name, I ventured up to Commerce City.

"Everyone knew where it was, everyone knew what it was, and everyone seemed to be happy to ignore the reality of just why it was."

She leaned back on the sofa, slouching down to rest her head against the back and stared at the wooden beamed ceiling of the room. Then she crossed her hands over her heart, a gesture vaguely reminiscent of Meaghan O'Shaughnessy, the twins' mother, and Sandra Yazzie, Andrea's mother.

"There are a few gates in the wall, but only one wide enough for anything but foot traffic. Well, that's what people outside assume. I learned differently later, but I wasn't about to share what I knew. The main entrance is under the highway, on the south side of the compound, and is wide enough for two lanes of traffic in both directions. There's a mirror to it on the other side of the walled city, in the northeast corner at the other end of that same road, but while the main gates haven't been closed in anyone's memory — except for the times the citizens inside the walls do maintenance on them, and over Halloween when closing the gate was part of Maddie crazy plan — those back gates have never been opened. Ever. There's a doorway in the gate, though, for two or three people to slip out at a time. There's another gate in the northeast quadrant; that one is wide enough for a single truck to pass through. Even some of the residents don't know it's there.

"It's amazing what people are willing to forget. It's shocking who people are willing to forget."

Andrea paused for a moment, then continued more softly.

"The people in Commerce City deserve better than they've been given. I look at the history of only the past five hundred years, and I can't really be surprised. No one cared. The only time anyone..."

She stopped again and shook her head. Moira could sense her ambivalence, and then a firm resolve.

"Law enforcement goes up there to drop people off. Or to look for someone to blame for some crime. Parents will drop their children at the gates if their mutant abilities spawn at puberty. They've dropped newborn babies off, too. And toddlers. Pretty much anyone."

"God, Andrea," Padraig whispered. "How can you stand it?"

She doesn't take her eyes away from the ceiling, but she smiled slightly.

"I can't. Couldn't stand it then... still hate it today. But I'll tell you about my people, and I think you'll understand why I say those children are better off being abandoned by the people who birthed them.

"The first time I went up there, it was late at night... it's only been in the past two or three years I've taken to going up there regularly during the day. They've always got someone at the gate. That first night it was Jocko."

She grinned.

"Imagine a giant ogre from a fairy tale. Jocko is at least seven feet tall, and is possibly wider than I am tall. He can't move fast, but he's solid muscle. Folks look at him — especially once he starts talking — and take him for a big, dumb ox.

"Big mistake there. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

"I got off my bike and walked toward their little guard house. Jocko can't really get through the doorway, but he likes to lean against the concrete pylon. I stopped just barely outside his reach. His aura was shimmering with curiosity, but I'm not stupid. I introduced myself, apologized for coming up so late, asked who was in charge so I could meet him or her.

"You mutant? Like us?

"Mutant, yes. Like some of you maybe, not like others. Everyone is different, right?

"He grinned, and then let out a belly laugh that could have knocked over trees.

"Jocko like Ninja already! Ninja strong like Jocko? Ha ha! Jocko think not!

"I grinned back at him. How could I not? Gods, that boy can cheer me up just by existing.

"I think you're right. I'm strong, but you're probably much stronger.

"Ninja fight with Jocko! We see. Good fun!

"Every time I go up there, Jocko wants to have a throw down. I move too fast for him — I wasn't kidding about that — but his default mode of being is... well, he's like a big kid. Reminds me a little bit of your antics, Padraig. He understands the reality of our world, and chooses to see the goodness, chooses to hold onto as much joy as he can. And then he shares that joy with everyone he meets.

"He loves the game of trying to catch Ninja.

"He did catch me one day, I don't even remember what was going on. Most likely, one of the littles was getting too close to our game. But I zigged instead of zagging, and he clipped me right below the knee, breaking both bones. I did the best tuck and roll possible under the circumstances, but it was anything but graceful. I guess Jocko had heard the bones snap because when I looked up, his face was a mask of horror. If he heard it snap, you could probably imagine how delightful it felt. And poor Jocko was afraid to come near me. Well, he was until I held out my hand to him.

"Jocko... you knocked me down, you help me up.

"But Ninja hurt!

"Oh, you bet! I think it hurts less when I'm standing up, though.

"I'll grant that I probably could have managed to make it to my feet on my own — well, one foot until the bones finished knitting — just using my staff and dexterity. But despite not having any of the energetic tells for empathy, that boy's mighty sensitive. He needed to know he didn't have to be afraid of being himself around me; if I got hurt, it was my own darn fault. I'm not stupid, though. Unless it's an accident like that one time, the only time he'll catch me is if I let him... and I only let him if it serves a purpose to teach someone else a lesson.

"And damn, is he smart! He fools a lot of people. There might have been less than a dozen people in Commerce City who weren't shocked when Hank appointed him to the Council last month.

"That first night, though, we were just sizing each other up. Gods, there's so much a person tells me with their aura when they don't mean to." She shook her head. "I wouldn't fight with him... he pretended to be sad. But I stood up to him, and that made him happy. He called one of the Monks — they're blind, they're nearly as big as he is, and they're some of the most peaceful souls I've ever met. Well, unless they're threatened or someone gets them riled up. Then they turn into Berserkers.

"All he did was stomp on the ground a few times, and one of them came ambling up from the park. They're telepathic, so they woke Mamu, one of the high level telepaths and just the kindest person you'd ever want to meet. She doesn't live far from Hank, so she woke Hank's son, who's a mute telepath, with a message for his dad. JD's a slightly stronger telepath than Hank, and apparently Hank's a considerably deeper sleeper, too." Andrea chuckled. "Hank's the mayor, and by the time Hank showed up at the gate, all the night owls had arrived, most of the tunnel rats — they call themselves that, by the way, because the majority of them are ultra hypersensitive to light — and a good two dozen folks who normally aren't up and about around midnight.

"I got a message about ninjas at the front gate, Hank had said as he looked between Jocko and me, absolutely confused.

"When I looked at Jocko, he was grinning like a ninny. Aw, hell... who can be mad at somebody that happy? So I just laughed.

"I think the message got a little garbled as it was passed along. There's only one of me, and my name is Ninja. I wanted to come up and introduce myself... to ask if you'd let me get to know you, to help you when I can.

"They just stared at me for the longest time. I look so Normal... I even tried to be Normal for years. But patience... oh yeah, sometimes I really do have patience. And I waited. Finally, Jocko walked over to Hank and stared down at him. Mind you, Hank isn't even as tall as I am.

"Ninja like us. Ninja help. Jocko like Ninja, say Ninja good person.

"I guess that's all it took, because they started laughing, and talking among themselves. Hank ducked around Jocko and came over to shake my hand. He gave me the full tour of the compound — including the part that used to be a train yard and industrial areas. Most folks stayed away from there, but the tunnel rats know every sewer and drainpipe and abandoned building inside the perimeter. That really helped on Halloween.

"Hank kept asking, Why? He couldn't believe I wanted to help them. I just kept telling him that what the world was doing to them was wrong and I wouldn't stand for it.

"Those first couple of years, I only when up at night. Hank had one of the few phones in the compound... I'd call him if I was planning a visit, or he'd call me if there was something he wanted to discuss." She smiled softly. "Eventually, I got to know every person living in that compound, and when I go up during the day I'm always covered in children.

"They don't have enough teachers, they don't have enough books... hell, Jocko was illiterate until Missy got him reading just recently. But I'm astounded at how fast he's learning! I'm a librarian — well, I was a librarian until the budget cuts cost me my job — and I found ways of getting books up to them. I helped them with the absolutely ridiculous paperwork for even getting permission to apply as a Doctors Without Borders site. Most of what they needed was just to know that somebody cared.

"And when the Aryan Knighthood kidnapped three of my people, and murdered one of them..."

Moira felt the spike of pain; being inside her own shields, she couldn't do much more than ride out... until Padraig hugged her tightly. Andrea's pain drained away. She'd have to ask him about that later.

"...and wound up kidnapping Logan when he and Maddie were helping me looking for Ben and Dick, she and I concocted the most outrageously ridiculous plan to take out the Knighthood. And the guy behind Logan's kidnapping, who just happened to ultimately be behind the Knighthood's actions.

"That plan melded together two of my communities so beautifully in the process that there are now regular shuttles up to Commerce City from Five Points — Missy has the same mutation Jocko does, her parents live in Five Points and miss her desperately. Others from Five Points have childhood friends up in the compound. Most importantly, they discovered they had more in common than a Ninja helping them. Family, friendship, humanity.

"Humanity is something sadly missing in parts of our society."

Andrea sat up straighter and looked at the twins, more than a little surprised.

"I can't believe you guys aren't glassy eyes zombies right now."

Moira and Padraig looked at one another, and Moira asked the question for both of them. "How'll ye be meanin' it, Andi?"

"Despite the fact that my brother and cousins chide me for my poor storytelling skills, most folks would have fallen asleep by this time. I've really babbled on here."

They both chuckled.

"But it's sort of like a Xeno Sociology class. We both attended Starfleet Academy," Padraig said, grinning broadly. "If you didn't pay attention to the instructors when they were going on about other races and their cultures, you'd find yourself in all sorts of trouble. Besides, your people seem really interesting... and absolutely great."

Moira giggled.

"Aye! 'Twas th' time ye an' yer yearmates'll hae been takin' th' class o' Commodore Engstrom, an'..."

"No, no... I don't think there's any need to go into that particular tale," he said.

Andi grinned. "Aw, too bad. With the color you've got going on there, it must have been a doozy of a story!

"I'll have pity on you, though. Instead of telling that story, why don't you tell me how you figured out that your soul was part of your sister's soul. Those two keep telling me Maddie and I have two halves of one soul — sort of like they are. Well, except that they decided to remember they were going to be two people, and apparently Maddie and I have forgotten that we decided."

He looked at her for a moment, then at his sister — whose expression said that Andrea was utterly serious — and shrugged as he turned back to their guest.

"I'm going to tell you how it seems to me, okay? I chose the Catholic way growing up, the Witch chose her Lady. I don't know how it was for you, but when I was growing up I didn't think a lot about what happens after a person dies. It was all pretty... I don't know... elementary? Naive? Childish? I figured Pa was going to Hell, Granny O was going to spend a good long time in Purgatory, and the rest of us were going to Heaven."

He looked at Moira sheepishly. "I guess I figured Heaven was such a perfect place that there'd be a section for folks like you and Grandma Fiona and Ma and Kate. The Sisters and Fathers didn't care for me saying things like that, so I stopped saying it. Never stopped believing it, though."

"Ah, ye've a good heart, Paddy," his sister said, taking his hand in hers. "Whate'er th' truth'll be, ye'll be in a fine place."

He looked at her oddly. "You mean you don't know?"

She shook her head, unperturbed. "'Twill ne'er really seemed te hae mattered much. But fer th' time between yer dyin' an' yer returnin'... well, I'll hae been more concerned with livin'... if ye kin call it such. I'll worry about th' dyin' place when 'twill be time fer th' dyin'. E'en m'Lady'll admit I've naught te worry fer if I'll be actin' as a good an' kindly person... as best I kin."

"Huh. How about that?"

Moira shrugged. "'Tis nae a thin' te worry fer, Paddy. Ye kin tell yer story, an' know 'twill be as true as any other."

He looked at her oddly for a moment, then shook his head before turning back to Andrea.

"I guess that's why she's the Witch.

"Anyway, I figured I was dead. There was the accident; there was a flash of pain maybe. I remember holding Gloria. It's... well, it's not something I think I've even explained completely to Mo."

He was more than a little reluctant to continue, but Moira just leaned against him, wrapping her arm around his shoulders.

"Paddy, hae I nae said I'll be strong enough te hear yer tale?" She smiled at him and tilted her head in Andrea's direction. "Yon Andi'll hae said a fair interestin' thin' in th' Overworld... I'll be makin' th' journey with ye."

Paddy looked between the two women and finally hugged his sister.

"Thanks, sis. Sometimes I worry about telling the story because I think it's going to hurt you too much, and sometimes I worry because I'm not sure I can tell it without falling apart. But as you've taught me, we're stronger together."

He took a deep breath and looked at Andrea once more.

"There was... well, I'm not really sure how much time, but there was some time where Gloria and I were standing in what seemed like... well, the weirdest shifting landscape I've ever seen. I think it was possibly sliding from one memory to another. My memories, her memories... the important thing is, I guess, was that all the places were outdoors. And I thought it was odd at the time, but we were always facing east.

"Gloria was holding me so tightly, and she was crying... except she wasn't.

"Pat, love... I think I need to leave you. For a while, anyway. I can feel myself going.

"Where are you going, Glory? I can come with you.

"She just shook her head. No. You're tied here. Well, not here, but the world of the living. You're tied to me, and you're tied to your sister. Unless you break the tie with your sister, you can't follow me.

"Okay, love. Mo will... well, I guess she won't really be fine, but I think she'd understand. Where are you going?

"I'm going to the world of the Ancestors, silly. It's where we all go when we die. I'm really going to miss Mhari.

"I don't think I could decide if I should laugh or cry or what at that point. I'm a good Catholic boy, Gloria Whitehorse. I'm going to Heaven. And our families will care for Mhari, I know they will.

"She nodded, but knocked me on the head, too. You're so silly, Padraig O'Shaughnessy! Heaven... the World of the Ancestors... it's all the same thing. And I know. I know your family is so large and loving that Mhari will never not know she's loved. They'll remind her of us, so she doesn't forget. They'll make sure she knows my family's stories, too. Do you think they'll let her stay with my grandfather sometimes?

"Of course they will, Glory! They understand traditions, and how important your family is to you.

"I've always loved your family as much as I've loved you, Pat. Remember that, okay? Especially remember that I love Moira. I have to go now.

"No, Glory... don't go yet! How will I find you?

"You will, my beloved. Trust our love. You'll find me. I promise. I love you, always...

"And then she turned to mist... and drifted away toward the east."

Paddy had tears in his eye, as did Moira. What surprised Moira was the fact that Andrea was crying, too. She claimed not to be an Empath, but... she sure acted like one.

"Ah, Paddy! Ye should nae hae come te find me! Ye should hae followed Gloria."

Andrea shook her head, Padraig shook his head. She seemed to be waiting for him to speak, but it was clear he couldn't say anything right now.

"He couldn't follow Gloria, Red. Rene couldn't go on to whatever place he was supposed to be in when he died... because he was tied to Maddie." She wiped her eyes on her collar. "Padraig was tied to you."

He nodded, and then wiped his face on the hem of his shirt.

"I tried, Mo. The more I tried to follow Gloria, the farther from that place I seemed to get. It got dark and cold and I felt like I was lost... I know I felt like I'd lost all hope I'd ever had. I kept thinking, Well, maybe if I find Mo... maybe then I can find Heaven. And Gloria."

He looked at his sister...

I swear, Mo...

"Ah, Paddy, ye kinnae know how sorry I'll be fer causin' ye this pain."

He held her tightly, and after a few minutes he ran his fingers through her hair... just like he used to do when they were little, and she was shaking off the after effects of standing up to Pa.

"Shhh, Mo. It's not your fault. It's not anyone's fault. It's just... how we were made."

"I donnae hae te like it!"

He smiled softly into her hair. How did he manage to get the best sister anyone had ever had?

"Nope. We don't have to like it. But I'll be honest with you, Mo... if I can't be with Gloria, I'm really happy to be with you."

Moira sniffed, then she too wiped her eyes on his shirt. Padraig pretended to be offended.

"'Tis nae right fer a man te stay with his sister an' nae follow his wife."

"Except what if the man and his sister are really the same person?"

She looked at him like he'd taken complete leave of his senses. "Ye're daft, Paddy! Beyond daft, e'en! There'll nae be a doubt Moira an' Padraig'll be two people!"

"I'm not going to argue with you. I feel crazy... or I did then. Okay, sometimes I still do." He sighed.

"I felt like I was wandering forever. I could walk anywhere I wanted... except toward the east. The scenery kept changing, and sometimes it got so weird that I just closed my eyes and hoped I didn't fall off a cliff or something."

He laughed without humor. "There were times I would have sworn I was in hell. It wasn't the typical stories the Sisters and Fathers told, with fire and brimstone. But God, Mo... I don't think I'd ever felt such loneliness and despair in all my life."

Andrea whispered, very softly, "Maybe it was. At least, you were alone and didn't have every past mistake being thrown in your face."

"A twin... we'll nae need th' presence o' demons te feel hell around us. 'Tis merely th' absence o' our twin that'll be creatin' th' illusion o' hell."

"I understand. I felt that when Pablo left me. The hell became... something worse when my demons chased me for eternity."

Moira smiled sadly at Andrea, and simply hugged Padraig tighter as he closed his eyes.

"I'd say Mo was right about being cut off from a twin, except there's something more between us.

"I wandered and wandered; at the time I didn't even know what I was looking for," he said quietly. "Maybe if I knew that, I could find it. I kept thinking that, too. I'm not sure how much time passed — Mo said it was months for her — but it seemed like time was slippery for me. At times, I felt like it had only been a few hours since Gloria had misted off. Other times, it felt like years had passed. I was so disoriented, but I guess I just kept heading west, or what I felt was west. I could have circumnavigated the globe a dozen times for all I know.

"But one day, I sensed I was near home. Near this house where I grew up, near the field outside that held the happiest memories I'd had before going into Starfleet and meeting Gloria. Home called to me. I just wanted to go home.

"If I couldn't be with Gloria, then I just wanted to go home and be with my family."

He opened his eyes and looked at Moira.

"That's when I saw you. God, Moira! You looked like hell. You can't deny it because I could tell you felt like hell, too. I don't know how I knew that. You're the Empath, not me.

"As I got closer and closer, I could tell it wasn't our field, but a damn good holoprogram. I remembered that was your first program, and that the enhancements you'd created for it were your Master's Thesis. And I remember thinking something like, Mo... you need to stop whatever you're doing and get back to living. Because whatever you're doing is killing you."

He shook his head and looked at Andrea.

"Except I didn't really say anything like the Witch says I did. It was more an intense feeling of worry for her. As much as I wanted to be in Heaven with Gloria, I couldn't stand what my sister was doing to herself because I'd died. Maybe that feeling of pain outweighed the desire for eternal happiness. I... I don't know how many times during our childhood Moira saved my life. Here she was not even putting the energy into saving her own.

"I don't know if I felt angry or just so full of despair that I found the will to yell at her. Well, sort of yell at her. I just screamed at her as loud as I could, Stop it, Mo!!"

"Aye. 'Twill hae been th' moment I heard ye, I'll be thinkin'. 'Twill hae been th' turnin' point."

"Well, yeah. For you, I think it was. I still had to figure out what I was doing. I'd found my sister. Gloria said as long as the tie between us existed, I couldn't follow her. And I still wanted to spend eternity with her, because..."

Again, he was having a hard time speaking.

"Because you love her. Because you'll always love her." Andrea's voice was full of emotion.

He smiled weakly at her. "Yeah. You get it." He glanced at his sister for a second then back at Andrea. "I think the Witch gets it, too."

"Amadán," she said with affection. "O' course I'll be understandin'."

Mo? What's wrong?

Ah, donnae be worryin' fer me, Paddy. Nae now, aye?

We're going to talk about this later. Promise me.

Aye, Paddy. Ye've me word.

Padraig took a deep breath before continuing.

"I didn't know how to tell Mo that I needed to leave, that I needed to be with Gloria. I couldn't see this link we supposedly had, but I guess I could feel it. And I didn't know what to do about it."

He leaned forward to brace his elbows on his knees and cradle his head in his hands.

"I was so confused, because every time I tried to move away from Mo, it felt like I was just being reeled back in... more of a gentle tugging than anything else. It wasn't anything either of us seemed to be doing, but it just kept happening."

He looked up for a moment and met Andi's eyes.

And for a moment, it almost seemed as though she was going to reach across the space that separated them; her eyes showed her desperate need to give comfort.

But he understood; he remembered something of what she'd said earlier... and crossed his arms, each hand grasping the opposite arm. He did not deny that he needed the comfort, he was only doing his best to keep the fullness of his sorrow from her. He couldn't keep it from Moira, but he could, at least, protect their guest. Seeing that she understood so much that he had only just begun to understand, he hung his head again.

"There was one night when Mo was sleeping — I'm not sure if it was when she was still at Starbase One, or on her way to Risa to wait to rendezvous with the Eclipse — when I tried harder than I'd tried before to... well, I guess escape her gravitational pull."

He paused again.


She looked as afraid as... well, he could remember her expression, exactly how she felt when Legion's mother tricked her. He could remember how she felt after she'd been freed from Legion's grasp and tried to speak to Duffy that first time.

He hated that he was the cause of that fear now.

"Ye'll be makin' me out te be a planet," she whispered.

He might not have heard her if she wasn't sitting beside him... if her words weren't also echoing in his mind.

"It almost felt that way, sis.

"You'd been doing better... a lot better. I thought..." He took a deep breath. "I thought you'd be okay. I thought I could follow Gloria, and you'd be okay.

"God, I was so wrong."

He knew Moira didn't really understand. And he didn't want to see Andi's face right now. If she didn't understand either, that would be hard.

It would be even worse if she did understand.

"I headed back toward the last place I knew Gloria had been. East... just east. I tried to ignore the force that was pushing me back, pushing me aside. I fought it with all my strength." He tried to laugh, but it nearly choked him... it sounded more like a cough than anything else. "I'm not sure how long I fought, but I don't think it was very long before I snapped back like a rubber band against Mo's shields.

"Damn, that hurt — physically — more than the accident... maybe not as much as one of Da's beatings, but not far off. I thought I'd passed out. But if I was dead, how could I pass out? I woke up, or maybe just opened my eyes, in our field.

"It wasn't our field, though. I could tell that right off. There was just something... peculiar about it. And I knew it wasn't your holoprogram, Mo. It wasn't ordered enough... it was sort of fuzzy around the edges. I managed to stand up and lean against the boulder in our field.

"That's when I saw Her."

He took another shuddering breath before he was able to continue. Maybe this was why he had never told Mo all this before. It just hurt so much.

"She looked just like I'd always imagined Mother Mary would look, only more beautiful if that was possible. Her green eyes were really disorienting, though. She looked young, with dark hair and skin... I expected dark eyes, too. I guess I was totally mesmerized by Her because I didn't even notice that She'd walked up to me and taken my hands in Hers.

"Oh, Child... how did this happen?

"I rather brilliantly said, Huh?

"I haven't seen such a thing. Two children... but one Soul? Would you mind if I called my Aunt to look, too?

"I'm sorry, Mother, I... I can only remember your Son and your husband. Who is your aunt?

"She squeezed my hands and laughed in a way that didn't seem to hurt. It actually made me feel better, and I got the feeling whatever I said made her feel happy.

"It's nothing to worry over, Patrick dear. My family is very large. I doubt anyone could keep track of all of Us!

"Okay. I'm really confused now.

"And it's no wonder. You're in an unusual place, in an unusual situation. Simply be at peace, Child.

"That's when the other woman showed up." Padraig gave his sister a sidelong glance for barely an instant before turning his attention again to the floor. "I'm not going to lie... she scared me. And it wasn't hard to figure out who she was, either.

"Miriam. This is unusual.

"She looked like you and Kate, only with your eyes and hair closer to Kate's length. But her voice? It was as if Grandma Fiona added... I don't know... bells or something to her voice."

"Was she smiling?" Andi asked.

He looked up at her, shocked.

"How did you know?"

She shrugged. "The bells. Very tiny, very high pitched... I guess Goddesses and Mother Earth have that in common." Andi smiled at him. "It comforts me."

He shook his head. "I was freaked out. There was nothing comforting about any of it, although I guess I had enough presence of mind to realize Mother Mary was trying to comfort me. I just wanted to run, though. The problem was..."

He closed his eyes, to forestall tears that he wasn't sure he could stop, and simply bowed his head again.

"...there was nowhere to run," he whispered.

Moira tried to make herself as small and insignificant as possible. It had worked — sometimes, in the beginning — after Legion had trapped her. In theory, she could probably find a way to block out Paddy's pain... some of it, anyway. But she couldn't do that do him.

As hard as this was, as much as she didn't want to hear about her own responsibility in tearing him from the one person outside the family he ever truly loved...

Well, she owed him her full attention. She owed him the respect of not hiding from his emotions.

Apparently, there were a lot of tears that came with that package; she could feel them rolling down her cheeks.

Paddy's voice was so soft and tender when he spoke again. Moira realized he was trying to make the story as painless as possible.

Indeed. She did owe him... everything.

"Pádraig, dear child, how can We reassure you that you have nothing to fear in this place?

"I don't know what got into me. Maybe I was just so lost and lonely and scared that I forgot all about actually being scared. Reassure me? Oh... no. No, there's nothing that's going to make this better, because everything about this is so wrong! I'm dead! I know I'm dead. I just want to be with Gloria. I can't decide if I'm in Hell or just Purgatory, but all I want is for the pain to stop.

"It felt like Mother Mary wrapped Her arms around me like Ma always did when I had bad dreams, or when I was so very scared of Da coming home. But I might have been imagining that, too. I wasn't kidding about being confused.

"You're neither in Hell nor Purgatory, my dear Patrick. You're in a place between all places, a place where Gods and Goddesses, Saints and the most Holy People come to gather. Some of Our children — like your sisters, your mother, and your grandmother — come to this place to learn, to speak with Those to Whom they have given their hearts. Your aunt Louise, your uncle Paul... they come here on occasion to speak with Me, to speak with My Son. It is a place of learning, a place of communication. The Eldest calls it the Crossroads.

"I'm sorry, Mother, but I don't think this is helping. It seems like more of Moira's Witchy stuff. I love my sister, and I believe she's a good person and won't go to Hell for her beliefs, but it's not right for me to be part of it. It just isn't.

"All goodness is seen as goodness in Our eyes, Patrick. Being part of your sister's goodness does not diminish the goodness you have lived. Not in the least. Now, with this dilemma We see, being part of your sister's goodness can only enhance your own.

"I looked into Her eyes and knew She was telling the truth, but I'm not sure I knew how to make sense of... of... well, of anything. She seemed to know that, though, and She looked at your Lady, Mo."

Paddy paused again. He knew... oh, he knew this wasn't easy for Mo! She was over there blaming herself every bit as much has he had blamed himself in the beginning. He was almost sure... well, partially sure... that she'd be able to see things in a better light if he could just get through the story.

He was just going to keep telling himself that until he believed it!

"You know more about this than I, Aunt. I have never seen this in one of Mine.

"What? Did I do something wrong? That's why I can't follow Gloria, isn't it?

"No, Pádraig, it was nothing you did. It was simply a thing that happened. No one could have foreseen it. While each child is blessed with a Soul, a piece of the Universal All, it would seem you and your sister share but a single Soul. This is what your Beloved meant when she spoke of your tie to your sister.

"That didn't make any sense, and I guess my face showed it. Or maybe it was the fact that I almost crumpled into a heap of despair.

"It is something that happens, although more often to those of my Sisters in the lands you call America and Asia. Less often, Cousin Odin will speak of such things, although He does See it with more accuracy than any of Us. It is so rare for half a Soul to leave the physical realm so much before the other is ready that... I could see her shake her head but my brain just kept repeating, Odin? Odin? ODIN??? Nothing... not a single thing I'd ever heard or read or learned prepared me for that."

He shook his head. "Okay, I guess that's what your Lady was trying to tell me, Mo. Freaky anomaly boy." He sighed. More than any of them, he seemed to get himself caught up in the most bizarre situations, right up until... nope. All the way up to the day he died. That's when Moira actually got to share in the scary parts of his life instead of just trying to protect him from the physical threats. Well, the biggest physical threat.

Da. What a right bloody bastard he was! And yet... well, never mind that.

"Then she really scared me.

"You can make a choice, child. You have that power. You may choose to stay here, with your sister. I have seen some of what she has learned. If you know of the Vulcan Katra...?

"I remember that from... classes, and from speaking with a Vulcan I considered a friend. Yes.

"This is something like what you would be. Your essence, your heart, your thoughts, and memories... all this would be held by Moira. The halves of the Soul that should not have been torn apart will repair, and become whole again.

"I would be alive... but not alive?

"They both shrugged. It depends on how you define 'alive', Patrick. Perhaps you would simply... be alive.

"Okay... I guess. I mean, the universe is pretty big and the definition of life is kind of mutable. But what happens if I decide I'd rather be with Gloria?

"Then Moira would die, too.

"WHAT??? Why???

"With only half a soul, dear Pádraig, she would wither and fade. You saw this happening when you finally found her.

"I couldn't stand it. I just fell to the ground in a heap and couldn't stop crying. I didn't want you to die, Mo... I love you so much. But... I wanted to be with Gloria, too. You can't believe how much that hurt!"

"Aye, Paddy. I kin," she whispered.

He'd almost forgotten how close she sat to him, and he looked up at her. "How was I supposed to choose, Moira?"

"Ye chose, though, did ye nae?"

"Yes. Because your Lady said time was wonky where Gloria was... well, she didn't use that word, but she said no matter how long I... we... stay in this life, it won't seem like I was more than a few hours or maybe a few days behind Gloria. I'm scared she lied to me, though."

"She didn't," Andi said, with such kindness and certainty that it nearly broke his heart all over again. "Time is wonky from one dimension to another."

They both looked at her... too afraid to believe, and so desperately wanting to believe.

"How do you know?"

"Did I forget to mention that one of my super powers is traveling between dimensions? Or... well, okay, more like just opening the doors between dimensions I guess. But once the door is open..." She shrugged. "Rene had a hard time believing it had been ten years... and then in another conversation it all made sense. I think he was in a dimension with switchbacks."

Padraig keened softly. It was getting to be too much! "You're doing the spooky thing again!"

Andi leaned forward and cradled her head in her hands.

"I can't help it, Padraig! It's who I am. Okay, so I'm spooky." She breathed out a soft sigh and looked up at him. "I don't know how to put your mind at ease about that."

He nodded and closed his eyes, but he kept his head up to prevent the headache he knew would follow if he just let himself droop. He shouldn't be able to get actual headaches because he didn't have an actual head, but the part of him that was his mind apparently didn't realize that.

"I know. You're not doing it on purpose. I'm completely unnerved by all of the Witch's witchy things, and what you do is an awful lot like her witchy things."

"Interesting," Andrea said, more to herself really, although Moira would have sworn she was still scrutinizing Paddy. "I guess if the work the Shamans do could be considered similar to the works my Wiccan friends do..." She shrugged. "Maybe.

"But I'm not a Shaman. I'm the most powerful energy manipulator on the planet. I can actually see energy... the universal energy of qi, electrical energy, and I suppose — if I bothered to look — nuclear energy. I'm not going to try that one, not anytime soon anyway. It scares me that I'm as powerful as I am.

"Oh. Right.

"That's why I'm here, doofus!"

Although he didn't open his eyes, he did manage a smile. She was smart and funny like Mo and Glory... but so irreverent at times. He was pretty sure she was damn deliberate about it, too.

"Sorry. I think Mo said something about that, but... things tend to fly out of my mind sometimes. I credit the fact that I don't actually have my own mind."

"Donnae be blamin' yer flightiness on our current situation, Paddy. Ye'll hae always been this way."

Oh, you know what I mean, Mo.

Aye, Paddy. You're bein' all manner o' serious, an' there'll be more o' it than ye'll normally hae.

Yeah, something like that.

Will ye be wantin' me te hold ye, Paddy?

I don't think I can finish this if you do, Mo. Hell yes, I need a hug! But I'll fall apart and never finish this.

Then 'twill be fine enough te jus' be here with ye. Ye know I'll nae leave ye.

I know. Thanks, Mo.

"Please, Padraig... finish your story," Andi asked softly. "I can't let my death cause harm to come to innocents. My death has a sudden and violent impact on my sister. I'm going to assume Maddie's death will have a similar effect on me. It's vital we find a way to circumvent this problem... neither of us is going to stop trying to save people. Neither of us is going to stop being hurt or even killed in the line of what we consider our duties."

Moira could see how she tensed, how her heart seemed to engulf both of them. She didn't understand why this virtual stranger seemed to care so deeply about the two of them, but Moira certainly appreciated it.


Padraig nodded.

"I don't know that I chose as much as I..." He glanced at his sister again. "I don't really know what I did. I don't think I did anything. I just said... maybe to myself, maybe to Them... Moira has important things to do.

"She does. But if she does not do them now, she will have a chance to do them some other time.

"Your Lady doesn't make much sense, Mo."

Paddy looked back in Andi's direction, but he didn't actually look at her. Maybe there was just a little too much understanding in those eyes? Or maybe... maybe it really was about Gloria.

"I don't think I believed her. Or maybe I was just confused by what she said. But what about the things that take being in the right place at the right time? She won't be there.

"No. She won't. But perhaps others will. Perhaps not. We can see so much, but some of you are a mystery even to Us.

"But... how can I choose life or death for someone else? I don't want that responsibility.

"Oh, dearest Patrick... you are truly good and kind. Have you not chosen a life's work that puts you in the position of having those responsibilities?

"I know I shook my head. It felt like I was shaking it so hard that my neck was going to hurt for hours. I don't, I haven't... no. I'm a small cog in a large machine.

"They both knelt beside me, and I felt such love and kindness from both of Them that I just couldn't do anything except weep. God, Mo... how can you stand that much love washing over you?"

Moira simply smiled.

"Ah, Paddy... I've only e'er had but th' Lady showin' me love. Ye'll hae been blessed by havin' two Goddesses seein' ye at once. How'll I hae felt if such happened te me? Aye, jus' as ye did, I'll be thinkin'."

"It is not an easy thing, to have the life of another in your hands. Know that this will not be an easy thing, for either you or Moira. You will both live, and you have the potential for much happiness. But know, too, that it will make her gifts more powerful and that will attract attention that may well kill her despite all We can do to save her now.

"But there are tasks only she can accomplish. If you accept a role as her... what would the word be? Her second? Her advisor? Know that in this role, she might accomplish these tasks with greater ease.

"I want her to live. I do. But I'm so afraid of being lost, of not ever being myself again, of never seeing Gloria... of not recognizing her when I see her again or, even worse, her not recognizing me.

"These are not irrational fears, Patrick. That you think not only of yourself but of your sister and your Beloved... it shows the goodness in your heart. You have embodied the best of my Son's teachings.

"You make me sound like a saint or something. I know one of you — you say it was Ciaran, I still think it was you — said I was the best of the siblings, but I'm no saint, Mo.

"You were named for the most revered Saint of your land, were you not, Patrick?

"That actually made your Lady laugh. I thought she was mocking me, but she was looking at Mother Mary.

"Among your followers, Niece... and the followers of your Son... that's true. But there are many who think the ancient Patrick was a bit dotty.

"Oh, well, in that case, I'd fit right in with him. Yeah. Me and my big mouth. That's what always got me in so much trouble with Da, wasn't it?"

Andrea smiled at that; she had the expression of someone who probably would have said nearly the same thing.

"Ah, Paddy... 'twas nae ye who'll hae said th' worse thin's te Da, though ye'll hae been thinkin' them, an' that'll be th' truth. 'Twas nae a thin' ye'll hae done te provoke him, my Padraig. 'Twas th' devil in him, an' 'twas th' drinkin'."

Moira almost reached out to him then.

No, Mo... really... I can't bear to be comforted right now. Please... please understand.

And so she didn't.

I'll be tryin', Paddy. 'Tis th' truth before m'Lady an' yer God, I'll be tryin'.

I'll get through this, Mo. And then I think I might fall apart.

An' ye know I'll be here te dust up th' pieces an' mend 'em back together.

"Well, Mother Mary just laughed. I guess all that practice being the family clown paid off. Comedian to the Deities!" He sighed.

"You will always be who you are, Patrick, as long as you are part of the mortal plane. Even if you choose to stay with your sister and help her live, you will always be who you are. And you could not forget your Glory any more than she could forget you. Be at peace, my Child.

"I don't know what to do. I mean... yes, I want to help Mo. I don't know how to get from wherever I am to wherever she is.

"That is simple enough to change.

"Then your Lady stood up and held her hand out to me. I was so scared, Mo. Okay, I guess you know... but..."

He took yet another deep breath, shuddering and painful. He was so scared, and all of this hurt so much. He really did want to curl up in his sister's arms and let her protect him... yet again. But he needed to do this very adult thing. He most certainly did not have to like doing this very adult thing.

"I had to ask my Lady... Will I be forsaking You, and His teachings, if I walk away from You now?

"I think I might understand just a little how you feel about your Lady, Mo. Mother Mary held me so close I felt like I was already in Heaven. Then She just whispered, You will always be Our child, Patrick. You are not walking away, for you will find that We hear Our children wherever they might be. Though you will live in a world ruled by My Aunt, you may speak to Us as you always have, Patrick. You call these things you say... prayers, yes? We will still hear when you speak.

"I remember looking into Her eyes and still being completely unnerved by the fact that they were green... but I think I was more anxious to see Truth there. She just smiled, then She kissed my cheek.

"Go with Danu now, Patrick. Know that your courage, love and sacrifice are well noted. There will come a time you will see Us again. Believe, and be at peace.

"Then She stood and just nodded. I looked between the two of Them for... well, I don't know how long. Your Lady holding her hand out to me, my Lady smiling so beautifully... and I finally reached up to take your Lady's hand.

"I don't know what I thought would happen, but it felt like maybe my ears popped because of a pressure change or something. We were still standing in our field, but farther away from the boulder and the tree. It wasn't real and it wasn't a holoprogram, but it wasn't exactly the same as the other place. I mean, it felt similar but weirdly different.

"That's when I saw you."

Padraig finally sat up straight and faced Moira on the sofa. He even mirrored her posture... although if he'd bothered to think about it, that was probably an unconscious habit. It was a thing the two of them just did... they always had. But facing one another, they could both see how much pain they were in. They could both see how scared they were.

Da was coming home... up the back stairs...

And then there was the filmy overlay of Legion's cruelty when he used Da's image.

'Twill be hard, aye. But I kin do th' hearin if ye kin do th' tellin'.

I can do the telling. I think.

"You were slumped against the boulder, and you looked like you did that day I found you on the holodeck... absolutely shitty. You were crying, but quietly... like you didn't have the energy for the great heaving sobs you wanted to cry, but you still couldn't stop the crying.

"What is this? Where are we? What's wrong with Mo??

"I don't think I even realized your Lady was still holding my hand until she squeezed it.

"This is a different part of the Overworld... the place of dreams and seeking. Moira believes she is simply dreaming... of home, of you, of loss, of moving on. In truth, she has come here looking for you.

"I looked at your Lady and I know I was terrified. I think I must have grasped her hand with both of mine, but I was so scared I'm not really sure.

"If I hadn't chosen this, to stay with Moira, this is what would have happened?

"This, and worse. Her will is very weak now, and she's already seeking you out. Not deliberately, not consciously... but in her dreams, she comes here looking for you. Those on the mortal plane might think she is recovering, but you see now how the part of your Soul that is your sister longs to leave the confines of the mortal world to once again be whole.

"What do I do?? I don't know what to do!

"Go to her... you will know what is right. Trust yourself, Pádraig. You do have a good heart, and you will do the right thing.

"She... she just patted my hand and smiled. She didn't seem so scary then, really. Honestly? I think she was worried about you. I know you talk to her all the time and stuff, but maybe you hadn't been talking to her, or maybe you'd been saying crazy things, or... well, I don't know. But she gave me a tiny nudge — I hardly even felt it — and the next thing I knew I was running toward you as fast as I could. We used to race out to the boulder, to see who could be king or queen... and I ran faster than I ever ran in life.

"I fell down next to you and just wrapped my arms around you. It was weird. As thin and insubstantial as you looked, it was disconcerting to feel as though you were... well, exactly as healthy as you are now. But I had to push the weird aside and just hold you. I think maybe I sang to you. I know I kept saying, over and over and over, I'm here, Mo. I won't ever leave you again. I promise."

"I remember that dream," Moira whispered, just looking into Paddy's eyes. If they held to that — the knowledge that safety had always been available when they were together like this, eyes locked and wills fierce — they could get through this.

He nodded. He didn't even need to reach out his hands to her to know they were safe.

"The more I reassured you that I would never leave, the more peaceful I felt. I think I fell asleep curled up next to you... like we used to do when we were really little. And I woke up all dizzy because I was looking at a Starbase or starship cabin from the wrong angle and height, and you told me to stop complaining, and... well, I guess the rest is history."

Aye, there'll be so much more o' th' tale, but Andi'll nae need those bits, I'll be thinkin'.

Probably not. They're not part of... whatever she's looking for. Well, I don't think they are.

"But how did you knit your soul back together?"

They both looked at her, almost absently. Moira just shrugged and shook her head. She hadn't any idea how it had happened — not technically, not in a way that could be explained. At least, she understood the why of it so much better than she had before.

Padraig was confused and not happy about being confused. His guppy face was entirely unconscious... this time.

Andi looked both angry and frustrated. Moira recognized that neither emotion was directed at them, and it wasn't quite directed inward on herself either. Maybe it simply... was.

Paddy, ye'll be a fishy one again.


Mayhap ye'll be closin' yer mouth fer a moment an' stop lookin' like one o' Kevin wee fishes, aye?


"I swear I don't really know, Andi. You believe me, right?"

Andrea just closed her eyes and breathed. It was all so very slow and rhythmic, although Moira could still feel her frustration.

Finally, she nodded and opened her eyes.

There was something in her eyes, and a burst of determination so strong that Moira had to keep from flinching. Andi sighed... she blinked... and then she stood up.

"Okay. That's okay. We'll do it my way now."

"Andi?" Moira's voice was soft and soothing, but she was also slightly concerned about the almost unnatural calm that had settled over the other woman.

"Huh?" Padraig, on the other hand, was merely confused.

The table between them disappeared.

There was no denying that both siblings were surprised that Andrea could manipulate anything inside Moira's mind. She held out her hands to both of them.

"Come along, kiddies... there's work to do!"

"What'll ye be talkin' o', Andi?" Moira didn't move, mostly because she had a terrible foreboding that taking the other woman's hand would be a very bad idea. For Andrea.

"Yeah... what are you talking about?" Padraig, on the other hand — he of the good heart and abundance of trust — placed his hand in Andrea's and held the other one out to Moira.

She could feel the wash of emotions, and the actual pain, that the connection between Andrea and Padraig caused.

"Come on, Red," Andi said between clenched teeth, "work with me here. You two have a good thing going, and I need to know how to make it work for Maddie and me."

Moira still didn't allow herself to take Andi's outstretched hand, but she did relax. At that moment, Paddy took her nearest hand.

That sent another jolt of pain through Andi; she seemed to be trying very hard not to let it affect anyone else... but there was far too much.

"Come on, Mo... let's do this for her. Please?"


"Come on, Mo. You're supposed to be doing a Teaching, right? And I know we're hurting because I talked about stuff I never talked about before. But I think Andi's hurting a lot more."

Fuck yeah, I'm hurting. I've got my pain, and I'm downloading all of yours. Will you just close the gods be damned circuit, Red?!?

Moira just stared in shock for a second, at least until Paddy squeezed her hand. She hesitantly placed her hand in Andi's.

Andi was obviously in a great deal of pain but was doing her best to shunt it away from Moira and Paddy. Moira took what she could and... well, the best analogy she'd come up with was wrapping it all in a bubble to send it floating away, elsewhere. In any case, her pain eased, as did Paddy's. It didn't seem to have an effect on Andi's, but she was...

...she was simply ignoring it??

Dear Lady! The kind of strength that took!

And an instant later, they were in the Overworld. Moira let out a tiny yelp of surprise. Paddy squealed with surprise. And some fear.

They stood in front of an octagonal structure made of wood with solar panels on top and a doorway that faced what seemed to be the east. There were mesas and buttes in the distance; closer to the structure was baked earth and scrub grasses. The sky was a clear, pale blue. Moira could almost feel a ley line running between them... and that absolutely should not be possible in the Overworld!

Andrea sighed again and smiled. Then she let go of the siblings' hands and opened her eyes.

"What. The. Hell. Just. Happened???"

Andrea looked at Paddy with the happiest, most peaceful, most relaxed smile Moira had seen since... well, possibly since the last time she saw her own dear Ma.

"Welcome to the happiest place on Earth."

Paddy shook his head violently as if trying to dislodge something unpleasant that had gotten stuck.

"No, no, no... that's Disneyland."

Andi grinned. "You have Disneyland, too? It is great, isn't it? This is better, though. This is home." She giggled. "Well, Tommy's home for now. But this is..." She sighed with obvious contentment. "This is a good place."

"Sure an' ye'll hae learned... ah, more quickly than I'll hae thought possible," Moira said as she looked around.

"I had some good teachers."

And then a Woman appeared in the doorway of the building. Both siblings stared in wonder.

Andi turned to look at the Woman, radiating joy as she did so.

The Woman's face didn't hold any one form, but Paddy, at least, recognized that she was representative of the Native American people. Her black hair was long — longer than Gloria's was, longer than Andi's, though not quite as long as Moira's. She wore a beautiful woven dress decorated with beads and turquoise, leather leggings, and leather shoes that looked something like moccasins.

"Great Spirit..." Andrea crossed her hands over her heart and smiled broadly. "...you look so beautiful!"

"Oh, I think you always say that, don't you, Andrea? But I found this pretty dress in your grandmother's memories. I believe it was her mother's wedding dress."

The Woman wrapped Andrea in a warm embrace.

"And you brought friends with you!"

And then She held Andi at arm's length, a hand lightly resting on each shoulder.

"You're also very much alive. This is good to see."

Moira raised an eyebrow at that.

Andrea just giggled again. She was so full of joyfulness that Moira couldn't help but smile as well.

"I met one of your Celtic Sisters!" Andi said with a grin. "I don't think She corrupted me."

Great Spirit laughed. "Well, then it was not The Morrigan you met, for She surely would have liked to claim you for Her own!"

"Yes, that's what your Sister Danu said. Red... ah, Moira here is Her Priestess," Andi said as she gestured toward Moira. "Padraig is Red's brother and follows your Daughter and Grandson."

"I see! This is so very interesting, Andrea."

"Um... I'm confused," Padraig said, edging closer to his sister. "I don't even know why we're here, Andi. Listen, I'm probably not the smartest person in the group, so maybe you'd like to explain where we are."

Moira wrapped an arm around her brother's waist and smiled wryly.

"Well, 'twould seem Andi'll hae done what I'll nae hae been able te do. We'll be in th' Overworld, laddie."

He squeezed his eyes shut. "Nooooo. Can we go home? Bad things happen here, and I don't like it."

Andi looked at him, clearly puzzled as she tilted her head one way and then the other. Then her expression cleared, and bizarrely... she seemed to understand his fear.

"Hey, Padraig? This is my world... or a recreation of it. Nothing is going to hurt you here. I promise. If anything tries, I'll smack it with my stick, okay?"

He opened one eye and looked as skeptical as anyone can with only one eye open. "You don't have..."

Andi's staff appeared in her hand.

He closed his eye and rested his head on Moira's shoulder. "Everything has to be weird around you, Moira. Why?"

Andi chuckled before Moira could say anything.

"Be lucky you're not related to me. I'm a magnet for weird."

He groaned. Moira smiled. Great Spirit chuckled.

The Woman looked at the red-haired young woman. "Moira is it?" When Moira nodded, Great Spirit smiled even more brightly. "This is what my Sister likes to call me! How delightful! You must be as much a treasure to her as Andrea is to me."

"Hey, wait! Your name is Moira??"

She laughed. "No, dear one... it is simply what Danu calls me. It is of the same derivation as my Daughter's name... Miriam. It means beloved. In the language of your People, it could be translated to bil hinishnáanii. I am the Eldest, the First... there was no one to give me a name when I began."

Andrea rolled her shoulders and sighed deeply. "I'm not going to mention this to the Spirits. They'll freak out more than they already are. Nope. Not going to say a thing."

She laughed again, and the siblings could just barely hear the tinkling bells of laughter. "That might be a wise course of action, at least for now. They do seem to be rather disturbed by something. Eagle is most agitated."

"Um... it might have something to do with the fact that I yelled at them for being unhelpful twits, although Danu was kind enough to give me things to think about regarding that."

"Oh. Yes. I see where that might upset them. It has been so long since anyone spoke to them in such a way that even they would have noticed that time had passed."

Andi groaned. "I'm afraid to ask who it was that last spoke to them in this way."

"You are afraid to ask? Is that because you already know the answer, my Warrior?"

"It was Thathánka Íyotake, wasn't it?"

"It was."

Andrea sighed with resignation.

"Well, my trials and tribulations with the ever delightful Spirits..." Both Moira and her brother snorted, which garnered a glare from Andrea.

"AHEM. As I was trying to say..." She narrowed her eyes at the twins... perhaps in an effort to intimidate them? "...I didn't come here and bring these two hooligans along because I needed to discuss the Spirits. I'm actually surprised to see you here, Great Mother."

"Oh, my dear Andrea," The Woman said with so much happiness that the air nearly rippled with it, "you have come to this place and made it your own... not a thing I expected for many, many of your years. That you have also brought others who are not your most Beloved Ones but children of other realms? You have managed to surprise me again, Andrea! I wanted to see this wonder you've created, and tell you how pleased I am."

"Um. Okay. Thank you. But..."

Andrea looked at Great Spirit, then at the twins. And then she took a few steps to a well-worn Adirondack chair and sat down, cradling her head in hear hands.

After a moment, she looked up and gestured to the other chairs and benches in the yard.

"Please... sit. I'm sorry for being rude. It might take me a little bit to figure out why I thought this was the right place to be to figure this out."

Great Spirit sat on the bench against the front of the house and gave Andrea a rather... interesting... look.

Moira and Paddy exchanged a glance. That look was so ever-present on Seanmháthair's... Grandma Fiona's... face that they knew exactly what Andrea's Lady was not saying to her...

She already knew the answer. She just needed to figure it out.

Moira and Paddy picked up a couple of lawn chairs and set them down nearby. Well, Moira did, anyway. Paddy just held the chair and looked from his sister to Andrea... glaring.

"How do I know this chair isn't a pomegranate?"

Moira looked at him as though he'd completely taken leave of all his senses. She wasn't even going to speak to him if he was going to be this ridiculous!

Great Spirit hid a smile behind her hand.

Andrea counted to ten — out loud, in what Paddy recognized as Japanese — before letting out a strangled scream.

"Oh, for gods' sakes, Padraig, I'm not going to drag you back here for a month out of every year for each minute you sit in the chair! I swear!"

He set the chair down carefully and very precisely, brushed off the seat, and then sat down as though he was an Admiral at a commencement ceremony.


"I did this to myself," Andi muttered. "I'll just keep reminding myself of that. It's all my own fault."

"Of course, it is," he agreed.

She glared at him again. "I still have my stick, you know."

"Okay. Shutting up now."

She waited several moments, however, before she said, "Thank you."

"I'll be fair confused by yer actions, Andi, though I'll nae be one te gainsay yer different ways o' workin' th' Learnin'."

"With the overlay of the Pentad bond, it's hard to see the... I guess edges where my soul and Maddie's soul should fit together to be whole. I can see it... it's just not as clear as what I saw when Padraig was telling his story. And I saw the... seam? I guess. Anyway, when the two of you were being all isolationist and afraid of each other, I could see where your soul had been mended.

"Beautiful work, by the way.

"I know what both of you remember. I know what both of you felt when your soul fused or wove or... well, whatever way it came back together.

"What I don't get is how it happened."

The siblings looked at one another and shrugged.

"It just happened. I wrapped myself around Mo, and the next thing I know... I'm stuck in the Witch's head."

Andi nodded. "Well, you left out a few details there, buddy, but... for the purposes of this exercise, they don't seem relevant."

"I'll only be rememberin' th' pain before th' dream," Moira mused. "An' I'll be rememberin' th' dream, o' course. 'Twas such a comfort that I'll hae thought o' that when..."

"Legion." Padraig's voice was hard, yet still held the overtones of comfort. Moira didn't even have words to express how much she appreciated that.


"I... well, we couldn't reach you. I suppose I should tell you about that, too. Um. But not now."

Moira looked at him with all the love she had in her heart. But she was absolutely not going to cry.

"Aye, later. Ye an' m'Lady found me, an' ye rescued me, an' ye rescued Kahallan. 'Tis all that'll need te be said now."

"We tried to get to Em, too, but..."

"Sure an' I'll be understandin'. Ye did yer best, Paddy. 'Tis all ye could hae done."

"But it wasn't enough! She... and you..."

"I know, Paddy. I'll be needin' te do more thinkin'..."

Andrea looked at Moira with a sad smile. "Red."

Moira looked back at her, an eyebrow raised.

"No." She tapped the hollow of her throat. "No thinking. Talking."


"Red, don't argue. I see what I see. And what I see means you need to talk, and not think. Well, okay, you can think, too. But the important part is the talking."

"Ye'll be a bloody ship's counselor, that's what ye'll be!"

"And if you're equating me to that ditz on the Enterprise, I'll remind you that I have a stick."

At that, Moira laughed.

"I'd nae compare decent folk with any on that ship, 'twill be th' truth. Ye'll be more akin te Kerl-Tarvik, I'll be thinkin'."

"Oh, sure," Padraig agreed. "I can see that. He was spooky. She's spooky."

Moira patted his arm. "We'll be lettin' Andi continue her meditation o' souls, aye."

"Right. Okay. Zipping it again."

Andrea smiled and shook her head.

Then she sat for several minutes, thinking... shaking her head as she discarded one idea after another. She was starting to ratchet up her frustration level when the Woman spoke.

"Háájí?" Great Spirit asked. It was a word that could have almost sounded Irish, but it clearly wasn't.

Andrea's brows knit together as she studied the twins and considered whatever the Woman had said. After minutes... many minutes she looked away from them, and toward the Woman.

Moira could feel her fear.

"No," she whispered.

But She nodded.

"Aoo'. Ni. Bí." More odd words from the Woman and more fear from Andrea.

She shook her head.

"Aoo'. T'áá. Shighan."

Andrea pressed her lips tightly together and closed her eyes.

"Think, my precious Andrea," the Woman said. "You know it is Truth."

"I don't have to like it."

The Woman stood and walked to Andrea, then knelt beside her. To both twins, this Woman seemed to hold all the goodness and beauty they each had experienced with their own Deities. When the Woman reached out to trace Andrea's jawline, they instinctively reached out and laced their fingers together.

When Andrea opened her eyes again, a single tear rolled down each cheek.

Moira had to close her own eyes to keep from being overwhelmed by Andrea's emotions.

"But Pablo... Logan... Rene..." Andrea said, her voice breaking.

"If I promise they will suffer less than they have already suffered, will you believe me?"

"You would not lie to me, not even to spare my feelings. I must believe you."

"Stay and learn all you should from my Sister's Priestess. Return to your Most Beloved Ones, and share what you have seen and learned."

"Those two made it sound as simple as gluing a handle back on a broken teapot."

"And yet, by your tone, I think you have already discovered your children are mischievous, have you not?" the Woman asked, smiling with such radiance that it burned away Andrea's fear.

Moira opened her eyes, staring in wonder at this Woman... the First Woman. The First of All.

"Yes. And it wouldn't surprise me if Coyote is petitioning for the position of guardian Spirit."

She laughed as She stood. "Indeed. It is so."

"Wonderful," Andi said sarcastically. "If you see friend Coyote before I do, please thank it for the honor of thinking so highly of my children... but that I suspect they will not need its help to cause mischief."

Again, Great Spirit laughed... and her laugh seemed to be echoed by the very Overworld itself. Delicate and strong fingers lightly touched Andrea's breastbone over her heart, and then her forehead between her brows.

"Remember all you have learned, remember all you will learn.

"All will be well, Warrior Yazzie... my dear Andrea. Trust yourself; trust your Most Beloved Ones."

She paused a moment before tucking an errant strand of hair behind Andrea's ear.

"And trust that I will not allow such harm as you fear to come to the most beautiful thing I have seen since the birth of my Daughter."

Andrea blinked, and the Woman disappeared.

After a moment, she took a deep breath, looked back at the twins, and very consciously settled her emotions before continuing.

Andi seemed completely dazed. When the Woman disappeared, she'd turned back to them, but then simply sat and stared vacantly at some distant point — or perhaps some inner sight only she could see. The twins waited patiently, but after a few minutes, they exchanged a glance.

Paddy was the one who spoke up, of course.

"Hey, Andi... you still with us?"

"In a manner of speaking, I suppose so. Wow, sometimes I wish I could just stop thinking."

"Yeah, sometimes I wish the Witch here would stop thinking. I feel like I'm spinning around in one of those old fashioned washing machines. Do people really stuff their clothes in hunks of metal, fill them with water, and slosh the clothes around to get them clean?"

Moira didn't even look at Paddy; she just smacked his arm.


Andi seemed to actually take notice of them then.

"You, sir, are a wuss," she said to Paddy.

"When did I ever say I wasn't? And stop hitting me, Mo. I'm going to tell Ciaran."

Moira laughed.

"Ye know that arguement'll only be workin' fer me, donnae ye?"

"Fine. I'll tell Duffy."

"Sure an' I'll be wishin' ye th' verra best o' luck there. He'll be thinkin' ye deserved yer thumpin' an' like as nae give ye another."

Paddy looked hopefully at Andi.

"Can I come home with you? You only threaten to hit me with your stick. You haven't actually ever hit me."

She shook her head, more in confusion over the siblings' antics it seemed than as a denial.

"Would you feel better about going home where you belong if I beat you?"

He grinned.

"Nope. You're one person. Ciaran and Kahallan are two people."

"Padraig... I'm a super hero. I could probably mop up the floor with your brother and your... well, whatever Kahallan is to you."

"Wow, I'd love to see that! And Duffy is my soon to be brother-in-law."

Moira hit him again.

"OW! What was that for?"

"Fer tryin' te annoy me."

"Oh. Well, I guess that's fair. I promised Ciaran I'd try not to do that. Much."

"At all."

"Aw, now Moira... you know I can't completely stop being me! I have to poke fun at you sometimes!"

Moira sighed and looked at Andrea.

"I'll be givin' him te ye if 'twere possible. Mayhap jus' a wee lend."

Andrea smiled at them... and Moira knew with the utmost certainty that something about the way she and Paddy were teasing one another resonated strongly with Andi. Whatever those memories were... they were good ones.

"An' so what'll ye an' yer Lady'll hae said there? 'Twill nae be a thin' te give ye joy."

"True. I did figure out what Maddie and I will need to do to... fix whatever it is that managed to get broken."

"Ah. An' yer Circle... they'll nae be likin' th' solution?"


Padraig looked between the two of them.

"I'm not going to like it either, am I? Hearing about it, I mean."


He paused and looked as though he was on the verge of keening.

"Can I go home now? You two don't really need me anymore, right? You have it all figured out, and I can go home and sit in the Witch's brain and listen to music, right?"

Andi shrugged.

"I can shield others from the crazy when I'm in Warrior mode... I need to learn how to do it all the time. And maybe figure out how to keep the crazy away from me, too."

"Cool!" he said. "Not my job!"

He started to stand up and Moira snagged his arm.

"Oh, nae so fast, laddie! Who'll be th' shield technician in th' group?"

"Aw, Mo! Come on, that's not fair. I can manipulate your shields because I know you. And — as you happen to have pointed out recently — I'm part of them. I can't do that for Andi."

He desperately wanted to get out of this place. And Moira wasn't the slightest bit eager for him to leave now that he'd been pulled back into the Overworld. Still, he was right. And now that he'd come here under less horrific circumstances than the last time, it might be possible to convince him to spend more with her here.

"Aye. 'Tis true, I'll be supposin'. I kin only show Andi how I'll hae built mine, an' how they'll be workin'. An' watch an' guide th' learnin' o' buildin' her own."

Paddy grinned. "See? You don't need me!" He leaned over and kissed his sister's cheek, then stood up.

He was wholly unprepared for how fast Andrea could move, and he nearly collapsed back in the chair when he turned his head to see her standing in front of him.

"Damn it, Andi, do you have to do that?"

She grinned. "You sound like Pablo now. And yes. I do." She held out a hand to shake his.

He looked at her hand suspiciously. "Are you sure that's a good idea?"

"Cat's out of the bag, harm's been done." Andi shrugged but then smiled sadly. "You have a good family, despite your father being an ass. I enjoyed meeting you."

Paddy looked at the woman who reminded him far too much of his wife. Rather than fear or regret, his expression was one of amazement. So very much like Gloria. Impulsively, he reached out and wrapped her in a bear hug.

"Thanks. I know you probably showed up here looking for help, but you've wedged open a door to make sure Mo and I talk about things that probably should have been talked about a while back."

Andrea returned the hug, smiling at his comment.

"I really do like helping people. I get that you're still freaked out about this place, but come visit some time, okay?"

He straightened, standing tall and looking every bit the officer he'd once been. He maintained eye contact with her as he lightly rested his hands on her shoulders. He wasn't empathic or telepathic; he had no gifts beyond his integrity and sincerity, his honor and his promises.

"I'm not going to promise anything, but... maybe? That's one of the things Mo and I need to talk about... what happened when everything went to hell on the Eclipse... the first one. She misses Em, and I maybe I messed up something there... she's wigging out about Duffy, and I'm not really sure why. She's pissed at Uncle Mark, but can't seem to tell him to fuck off. I still miss Glory like crazy." He smiled slightly, but there was still a lot of sadness in his heart. "We've been stuck like this for two years, and there's still so much we haven't worked out to get balanced.

"I think you've been a great kick in the head, Andi. And yes... I will think about talking to Mhari."

"I'm glad. Kids are stronger than you think, Padraig."

He nodded and nearly grinned. "I know. I kind of remember being one. I think I remember more of the terrible stuff, though."

"Red remembers a lot of the good stuff. Sit down and spend a few hours talking."

Padraig laughed. "I don't think anyone has called her Red since... maybe preschool. Does everyone get a nickname with you?"

Andi chuckled. "Nearly everyone, yeah. Now I still have a Learning to do, so get out of here before your nickname permanently becomes Doofus."

"Sir, yes Sir!" He turned to Moira, gave her a wave...

Don't stay out here too long, Mo.

I'll nae, Paddy.

...and then he disappeared.

"Well, that's disconcerting."

Moira chuckled. "Aye, an' 'twill be a thin' te make th' lad a wee bit more pleased than I'll be thinkin'll be necessary."

Andi grinned at her. "Rene does it, too... for all his mercenary background, he's a kind and thoughtful person, and he tends to fade out ever so slightly before doing the disappearing trick. I'm a little more prepared for it. Usually." She sits down in the chair Padraig had vacated. "The Spirits just wink out like your brother did. Except Raven." She shuddered.

"You know the story of the Cheshire Cat?"

Moira nodded. "Aye, 'tis a popular tale o' Lewis Carroll."

"Well, I'm pretty sure that's where Raven got some of its more outrageous ideas. Hmm, that and children's cartoons. Birds really shouldn't have eyes that are literally bigger than their heads." Andi shuddered again.

"Oh, 'tis true. But how'll yon daft thin'll hae managed such a feat?"

"Sometimes it would just pop its eyes out of its head. Sometimes it would put them on stalks out of its head." She paused as she remembered an incident or two. "Hmm, I could probably blame Henry and Bobby for that. It sort of looked like Andorian antennae with eyes on the ends. Big ones."

"Sure an' that'll be a disturbin' image!"

"Oh, you have no idea!"

Moira smiled and watched Andi think. It wasn't the same kind of experience as having someone's emotions swirling around. Andi might not agree, but she did give the impression of almost being a fractal herself.

"Will ye be doin' well? 'Twill seem ye'll hae become a wee bit distracted."

Andi nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine. I'm not sure why you and Padraig caused such a noticeable overload because of my Curse. Normally, I get a jolt or just a ping when memories download, and then they pop up at inopportune times." She sighed. "Just one more thing to work on."

She stopped and seemed to almost zone out again for a few moments. This time, there was more of an emotional overtone to it, but Moira wouldn't have said that Andi was particularly disturbed. She obviously had natural shielding but had no idea how to tap into it.

"Hmm. Well, it might have something to do with being pregnant, but there are too many variables."

Moira looked at Andi, puzzled unquestionably... possibly even worried.

"Th' pain ye'll hae felt... 'tis nae a normal thin'?"

"No, I don't..."

Again, she just stopped... and slowly shook her head.

"You know, I'm really not sure. When the Curse first took me, the pain was hellacious. Poor Justin was so scared that he thought I was dying. Hell, I thought I was dying!

"But that was just the beginning. It was like... I don't know... starting up the engines? A cold start?"

"Oh aye! That'll nae be a thin' te make th' engines happy! Commander Mulvihill... aye, mayhap he'll hae been daft enough te try such a thin'. But he'll be an Irishman, an' we're a daft lot. Truth be told, 'tis a thin' I'll hae considered... if th' memory o' such'll nae hae actually been part o' Legion's nightmare."

Moira considered that for a moment, then shrugged.

"Holem... ah, he'll hae been a genius on th' Clarke, an' a man with his own demons. But 'tis nae likely I'll hae been able te convince him te cold start th' engines. Mayhap. But nae likely. An' me Chief aboard th' Eclipse? Oh no. Talan'll be havin' as much care fer th' engines as I'll be havin' fer the holodecks."

Andrea nodded. It wasn't a perfunctory or distracted nod; it was almost as if she knew exactly who Moira was talking about. Well, if the storing of other people's memories were part of her gift, that wouldn't be very surprising.

"Right. So I had a few utterly miserable days — depending on who you ask, it was anywhere from three to ten, and my own memories are completely unreliable on the matter — when I was thirteen. It wasn't just the memories of people I was with at the time... if that had been the case, it would have only been my parents and brother. Nope. I got information about everyone I'd ever known and cared about.

"In the course of thirteen years, a person can love a lot of people. Children love easily.

"I think most of the pain came from my gift for manipulating qi overwhelming my meridians. But the pain of trying to cope with memories and emotions that weren't mine, that I never knew existed, was pretty awful, too.

"There are things I've learned about my friends over the years that have come along gradually. I think it's a matter of forming and building a true friendship. It's a slow process."

She very nearly barked out a harsh laugh.

"Well, usually it is. Returning to the States after spending most of my childhood in Japan and my teen years in China, I was slower to make friends than other people... maybe. By the time I realize I know things about a person that they absolutely never told me, they've been a fixture in my life... and a good and true friend... for years.

"So, no... in that sense, the kind of pain I experienced with you and your brother is unheard of.

"But when we formed the Pentad..." Andi shook her head again and looked in the direction of the caves in the cliff face of the nearest butte.

"That was something different. Really different.

"Pablo and I had already formed our Marriage Bond and then reforged it after he returned from Quetzalcoatl's dimension. I already knew him better than he knew himself." She smiled, and love swirled around her like a delicate perfume. "And he can still surprise me. He's an amazing person.

"But in forming the Pentad, there was a moment that lasted for an eternity when we were all one, and we were separate, and we were accepting of this impossibility."

She turned back to Moira.

"I don't know if the weaving of our hearts and minds created a buffer to the overload that should have knocked me unconscious, or if it was the fact that we wound up in Great Spirit's world that protected me. I knew everything about Maddie and Rene and Logan... it was as if I'd known all of them my entire life.

"So many of their memories are worse than anything you and Padraig have. And yet..." Again Andi shook her head. "...and yet integrating their memories into my bit bucket was no more difficult that slipping a hand into a bowl of lukewarm water. I have all the memories Logan has forgotten and doesn't need back. Gods, I love him. I said that before, didn't I?" She smiled. "I'm not sure there's a word to describe a person like Logan. 'Brother' works for me, though.

"There are things in Maddie's past that... Red, they're horrifying. Our little incident over the Atlantic last month showed me, showed her ten year old daughter, things no human should ever know. I'm not sure how much feedback Vincent got from Em because he's her twin. I'm not sure how much Leon saw when he triggered those memories with his gift. It's possible he was more traumatized by the fact that Aunt Andi was trying to crash the plane and kill everyone in her zeal to save the young girl Maddie was."

She closed her eyes and Moira felt the waves of agony and fear that Andi was trying to contain. She might not be able to imagine the terror Andi had experienced or the trauma her sister had sustained, but the emotions Andi tried so hard to hold resonated almost in perfect pitch with her experiences when possessed by Legion. She shuddered.

"The point is that there was far more than what I saw that night in the memories I absorbed when the Pentad formed. Being the kind of person Maddie is, she'd probably prefer I didn't know her whole story."

Andi opened her eyes again and looked at Moria with an expression she'd come to expect only from Vulcans.

"It's not that she would begrudge me knowing her so completely. It's that she knows that emotions are attached to the memories I store.

"It's that she wouldn't want anyone to suffer what she suffered, and certainly not someone she loves."

She smiled, although there was nothing in the smiled that was pleasant... or nice.

"Oh, she has no problem with making people suffer, and if I'm going to be honest — and why shouldn't I, right? — the Warrior in me doesn't have a whole lot of compassion for the evil people of the world either. But there's one thing we can all agree on... children are off limits. Never hurt children. The children..."

The pain when she looked away was almost like a blow to Moira. It was raw and powerful. If what Andi had said was true — that her niece was an Empath — this was something she'd need to control or perhaps contain, definitely much more consistently. The priestess had been training almost all her life to block and process the emotions of others. An untrained child could be damaged severely by this much pain, especially if she didn't understand her own powers yet.

"Maybe I'm more... hmm... I suspect there are some who'd say insane, but I might be more sensitive than usual at the moment. It's not just the pregnancy, it's this place. Maybe this place facilitates the transfer of information. I'm going to guess that the fact that I was inside your head was the reason it hurt so much to download all your memories.

"And until that theory is blown to pieces in... real life? My waking life? Whatever you want to call it... I'm just going to go with that theory."

The other woman was silent for another moment and then sighed deeply.

"So... these shields. I'm kind of hoping to be able to find a way to drain off the overwhelming amount of power more easily, and the feeling of being overwhelmed... sort of that lightning rod trick you did. And it would be nice to not have to worry about causing our house to burst into flames or a tornado to rip down Sixth Avenue when Pablo and I... uh..."

Moira chuckled. "There'll be power in th' magic o' physical love, Andi. 'Twould seem ye an' yer Pablo'll hae found a way te harness more than I'll hae e'er learned o'... but 'tis nae a terrible thin'. Nor a thin' te be embarrassed about, lass."

Andi glanced at her for a moment, then lowered her eyes. Moira had a flash of extreme disorientation, for Andi's posture almost screamed of subservience. At the same time, she gave the impression of someone as powerful and regal as her Lady Danu.

"Maybe not, but I was raised... well, oddly. Until I was five, we lived in Albuquerque... an average American city with American values. From five to thirteen, I lived on an Army base in Japan. My parents did their best to instill the values of the Diné in me and my brother, but children do learn from the world around them, too... classmates, playmates, neighbors. I don't remember a lot about Albuquerque. I remember more of Yah-Ta-Hey and Nageezi, really. I remember the people of the Navajo Nation.

"But so much of who I am seems to have been formed in Japan and China. I absorbed the social conventions of privacy and discretion and respect from my Japanese and Chinese friends, classmates, and teachers, as well as my parents."

She looked up at Moira and smiled weakly.

"If the television shows in our universe are any kind of reflection of the reality in your universe, you're a lot more open-minded and... well, open... than most of the people in my universe. You're like a big ol' hippy commune in space."

Moira blinked once and then burst out laughing. She thought about her own family, her friends, her classmates... she thought about the Deltans she'd gone to school with and had served with. She thought about Kahallan particularly.

"Oh, lass!" she finally said, still chuckling. "Sure an' that'll be one o' th' funniest thin's I'll be hearin' lately! An' mind ye, I've a daft Caitian ye'll be competin' with, who'll be thinkin' me holodecks'll best be used fer sailin' pirate ships."

She shook her head and continued to smile. It felt good to be able to laugh again. It seemed like she didn't do enough of it. Perhaps this was as much of a learning experience for her as it was for Andrea. A reminder to find the joy in life, a reminder to take hold of the joy.

"Oh, mayhap we've a few folk who'll be what ye'll be callin' unconventional, but I'll be thinkin' 'twill nae be so unlike your world as ye'll imagine. Te allow th' Betazeds an' th' Deltans te serve together, there'll be compromisin' te be done, aye? If 'twere possible fer ye te visit, 'tis like as nae ye'll find us te be ordinary folk."

Andrea grinned at her. "You know what? It might take me years to figure out how to get from my universe to yours, but I have a feeling I'd like to visit. Maddie's got a holodeck... well, it seems like one, though I don't know if the technology is anything like yours. I only know enough about programming to be dangerous, and don't know much about engineering... but it seems reasonable that our universe — or, at least, Charles and his brainiacs — would probably have the capabilities to make something that can pass for a holodeck.

"But Charles has a cloaking device for his plane! I know we have spy planes and stuff, but... holy shit, Batman! I asked Maddie how he got it from the Romulans, and she didn't know. I think Charles thought I was kidding when I mentioned it to him. I'd wonder a lot more about it actually being true if there was anyone else in the world capable of opening portals to other dimensions... and if your universe was a hell of a lot closer to ours."

She shook her head.

"To be honest, I'd almost be afraid to try visiting your universe. I might bring home too many ideas."

Moira shrugged.

"Ye'll like as nae hae folk with th' ideas livin' in yer world already. 'Tis th' implementation that'll be th' tricky part. We've cloakin' technology on th' Eclipse, aye. But 'twas stolen from th' Romulans, an' I'll nae be happy regardin' that. Circumstances an' happenin's..."

She had wondered about that, probably more than most would have given her credit for. Moira wasn't even sure Uncail Mark and the daft Vulcan Admiral truly understood what they'd done by giving her the captaincy of the Clarke... and now the new Eclipse. Even she wasn't completely sure she wasn't unconsciously using her will to affect those around her. On the other hand, if she looked far enough into the past...

She'd still been at home, and she was fairly certain it had been her last year of school before going to the Academy... one of her classmates had been laughing about some innocuous thing she had said. Maybe it had been more self-deprecating than innocuous now that she had the opportunity to think about it. It had been one of the dozen or two classmates she knew that still played that ancient game Dungeons and Dragon.

Moira, you'll be a funny one! The game, ye see? It'll give ye a score for different attributes, right? So one of 'em will be charisma. Now, in the game, ye can have only but twenty points for an attribute. I'm not lyin' to ye, Moira O'Shaughnessy... I think I'd be forced to say ye have a score of fifty. Maybe more.

There'd been more to that conversation, of course. It had ranged far afield, although she seemed to recall everything always came back to that game.

"What Paddy'll hae said regardin' me work an' bein' in th' right place at th' right time? 'Tis a fair miracle regardin' that. I'll hae made... well, mayhap nae a friend, but an ally te be sure o' a Romulan commander when I'll hae been Captain o' th' Clarke. Sure an' thanks te that encounter, I'll be havin' a Romulan exchange officer keepin' th' cloakin' mechanisms workin' proper an' sweet.

"'Tis a wonder, I'll nae be lyin' te ye, te consider mayhap I'll hae stopped a war.

"An' all fer bein' courteous an' a proper host te a guest. Kahallan'll hae..."

She stopped and shook her head.

"Well, 'tis nae a thin' ye kin do about Kahallan bein' Kahallan. An' we'll all be doin' our best te understand th' man. E'en I'll nae hae th' best o' luck on some days." She waved her hand as if to shoo away a gnat. "Donnae worry fer that. 'Tis my lot in life te walk yon minefield."

"I wish there was something I could do. I know there isn't... even if I was part of your universe, I know it's not my problem to solve, and it's not my battle to fight." Andi smiled, perhaps a bit sadly. "I do like to help people. That's going to get me in trouble someday, no doubt."

"No, lass... te help another? 'Tis a noble callin'. Jus' be sure yer doin' th' helpin' fer the right reasons."

"Damn, you sound like my Tita Kai." Andi chuckled, however. "As Bobby likes to say, we all have our crosses to bear. And while you might know exactly what that means — given that most of your family seems to be Catholic — he had to explain it to me the first time it popped out of his mouth. Sometimes he thinks I'm from another planet. And then he'll sigh like the drama queen that he is and mutter something about the poor little Indian girl who grew up in China." She grinned broadly. "And that's when I Gibbs slap him."

"Sure, an' as delightful as 'twill be te sit an' talk o' th' differences an' similarities o' our worlds, ye've still a bit o' Learnin' te finish."

Moira stood and stretched, holding one of the Qigong poses before indulging in the back arch — more acrobatic than anything else — that not only felt like it stretched out her sternum but also caused her hair to brush along the ground. Occasionally, there'd be a person who thought it would be funny to rest a foot or just a toe on the hair; no one ever thought it was funny more than once. Perhaps she wasn't the warrior her Kahallan was, but she did pass the Starfleet self-defense classes with high marks and had the advantage of having eleven mischievous siblings. She straightened, closed her eyes as she took a deep breath and looked for the ley lines she felt.

It was truly bizarre, of course. She'd never seen actual ley lines in the Overworld, nor had she ever heard of anyone else seeing them. Those existed in the mundane world to help those who knew how to see, those who knew what to do, find the Overworld more easily. But to actually find them in the Overworld?

It was more than passing strange.

There was one only a few steps away that stretched toward...

By the Lady! There was a nexus point here?!

Moira stepped onto the ley line and walked toward the nexus point. It felt no different than those she had walked as a young girl in the woods and fields beyond Seanmháthair's house. She had to trust that Andi would follow her because she was too distracted by this oddness to make sure she did. Well, she wasn't going to go very far. It probably wouldn't be a good idea to be right on top of one of the most powerful energy spots the Earth Mother provided for her children and try to do a Teaching. Ah, if only more people understood them...

She stopped and opened her eyes. Good. Andrea had followed, and the field in front of her was well-suited to what she needed to show the other woman. She knelt on the line itself and gestured for Andrea to take her place to her right.

Moira refrained from chuckling at Andi. As hard as she was trying not to show it, she was surprised and more than a little unnerved. She couldn't be positive, but Andi seemed just as surprised by the presence of the ley lines as she was. But that meant she understood what they were, which was a good thing.

"Ye'll nae be mindin', will ye, if I'll be doin' a wee bit o' modifyin' here o' yer creation," she asked as Andi settled in a nearly identical position about an arm's distance from her. "Sure an' 'tis a thin' o' beauty! But te show ye th' buildin' o' my shields..." She looked around at the desert landscape. "...well, they'll be growin' from th' Earth, an' I'll be comin' from a land that'll be jus' a wee bit more damp."

Andrea smiled at the 'wee bit more damp' description of Ireland.

"No, go ahead. I suppose I might be able to convince it to rain here — this field does occasionally get somewhat green — but I have a feeling your way is easier."

Moira nodded. "Aye. 'Tis a smaller Workin' te brin' a wee piece o' my home here than te control th' whole o' yer home." She relaxed and closed her eyes, then extended her arms in front of her with palms down, as she'd been taught to do when communicating with the Earth.

She'd barely spoke the words of invocation — silently, of course— when she could sense there was something very wrong with this corner of the Overworld. The ground beneath them began to tremble and what could only be described as a ball of energy flew out of the ground to knock her hands away.

"Cad in ainm Danu bhí sin?" she exclaimed as she looked at her hands.

{DAUGHTER! Intruder!}

Moira glanced up from her hands to look for the source of the faint whisper she heard.

"Mother?" Andrea's voice was filled beyond overflowing with surprise; Moira felt her shock like tiny pin pricks. "No... no, not intruder. Friend."

{Daughter... intruder, intruder unknown}

To Moira, Andi looked weary... as though she often needed to defend herself, her beliefs. Moira couldn't help but empathize. Even if she didn't have the gift of Empathy in such large measure as did, she could understand that kind of weariness.

She did find it fascinating to listen to the whispers and Andi's response to them. At least, if she wasn't imagining things. She did worry about that sometimes. Still.

"But... well, okay," Andi said. "If you say so, I'm not going to argue with you. If I introduce her to you, may she do her magics so I can learn them?"

{Daughter... worry} {Daughter... love}

"I know, Mother. Um. Mother, how can you be here in this place?"

Moira smiled. She couldn't help it. The whispers were so reminiscent of the first faint whispers she'd heard from her Lady when she was young.

{Daughter... love} {Daughter sleeps} {Daughter... love}

"You're stalking me in my dreams, is that it?"

This time, Moira hear the rustling of leaves and tinkling of bells. A light gust of wind ruffled her hair.


The other woman sighed. "I don't know what to tell you, Red. Mother Earth found me in my dream? I am so not mentioning that to any of my guardian Spirits. They will... well, actually, I don't know what they'll do. But they're not going to be happy, that's for sure."

{Daughter... silly} {Daughter... love, love}

Andi prostrated herself and spoke to her Earth Mother. It surprised Moira, to some extent, that she could actually hear both sides of the conversation now.

I am blessed to be able to bring you such joy, Mother. I am in this place to learn many things, so I do not hurt those who walk upon your skin or fly among Father's winds or nestle within your beauty.

{Daughter... strong!} {Daughter... knows} {Daughter... do}

Yes, very strong. Too strong, maybe.

Andrea paused for a moment.

Wait... are you saying I already know how to control all this power??!

Moira heard the rustling of leaves and the tinkling bells even more loudly.

{Daughter knows!}

Well, maybe I do... but if that's the case, I really think I've forgotten. Would it be okay if Lady Danu's daughter reminds me?

{Danu... Danu... Danu...}

The Earth Mother sighed; Moira heard and felt an incredible amount of affection in that sigh.

{Danu... pretty, pretty, pretty Danu}

Moira grinned, although she managed not to giggle. It's certainly true that her Lady was one of the most beautiful beings she'd ever seen. Even Andrea chuckled.

Yes, she is. She's very pretty. And her daughter here is so very nice.

{Daughter... show yes} {Daughter... do}

Andrea raised up as much as she could and still keep one hand flat on the ground. She held the other one out to Moira.

"Take my hand, put your other one flat on the ground like mine."

"Are ye daft, Andi?"

"Absolutely, Red! Welcome to my world. I need to introduce you to Mother so you can... ah... remind me of whatever Mother seems to think I've forgotten.

"Oh, and Mother thinks your Lady is extremely pretty." She grinned.

Moira shook her head, although she was probably more willing to accept the oddities of life than Andrea knew. She placed one hand in Andi's, and the other on the ground near her knee. She nodded and smiled at her Student... a Student that seemed to have a far greater grasp on the metaphysical realm than she knew.

"Sure an' I'll prefer te avoid another shock such as I'll hae received."

Andi nodded. "Yeah, that looked painful."

The Diné woman closed her eyes. Moira closed hers as well, hoping to get a glimpse of what Andrea was able to see. She was rewarded with images of profound beauty and an overwhelming sense of peace.

"Mother, this is Moira, who is a dear daughter of Danu."

{Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!} {Daughter... apology} {Seeing seeing seeing} {Daughter... love still?}

"What? Do I still love you? Of I do! Why would I not! Now Mother is being silly!"

{Apology... apology}

"Oh... yes, of course." The two of them opened their eyes; dark eyes met green ones. "Mother apologizes for shocking you. Apparently she didn't recognize you."

She gave Andrea an appraising look, one many under her command had seen at least once. Then Moira gave the woman a slight nod.

"Aye, an' 'tis nae a surprisin' thin' at all, at all... this bein' yer world an' I nae bein' a part o' it. O' course I'll be forgivin' Her!" She looked a bit wistful then. "Ah, an' would it nae be a thin' o' wonder fer Mother te see me in th' Ireland o' th' Overworld."

{Daughter... ??}

"Um, I think what Moira means, Mother, is that it would give her comfort if you'd see her in... in her dreams."

{Unknown unknown unknown!} {Distress!}

"No, no... don't be distressed, Mother. If you can't... well, you can't. And I already said Moira is so very nice. She will understand. I didn't even know it was possible for you to be in my dreams!"

"Oh, aye! 'Tis a bit o' wishin', an' 'twould be a comfort if 'twere possible. But sure an' I'll be most understandin' if 'twill nae!"

{Daughter... truth?}

She speaks truth, Mother. Her love for you is as great as mine, but her world is far different for there are many worlds.

{Daughter... worlds, many, yes} {Sadness} {Unknown}

I suppose it does not help that she spends much time traveling between the worlds.

{Travel travel travel worlds between} {Daughter... perhaps}

"That you will try is more than anyone could dare hope for. You are loved much, Mother."

This time, Moira could actually feel the energy spiraling around them. Andi seemed to find it amusing; she giggled as though she was being tickled. Moira felt...

...she felt the touch of home, of Seanmháthair's garden, the Earth Mother and Seanmháthair herself.

"Now Moira is going to... ah, remind me of things I've forgotten. Okay?"

{Daughter... remember, remember, remember} {Daughter... love love love}

Andi let go of Moira's hand and placed both her hands on her thighs as she straightened.

"Well, apparently you're Reminding rather than Teaching... although I can't fathom how I'm supposed to remember something I'm pretty sure I never learned."

"Mayhap ye'll hae learned it in another life."

Andi scowled at her. Moira maintained her flawlessly serious persona of Starfleet Captain.

"If you start sounding like those two, I will be forced to beat you soundly."

She shrugged. Moira knew such things were possible, but if it upset Andi to speak of it?

"'Twill nae be th' only explanation, o' course. Mayhap a grandparent'll hae told ye somethin' o' such thin's when ye were a wee one. Mayhap readin' o' such thin's or mayhap o'erhearin' others talkin'." She smiled... trying to be reassuring. Even if what her wee children were telling her was the truth, she'd have an easier time accepting it if she came to understand it in her own time, in her own way.

"Here an' I'll show ye what I'll be doin'... an' ye'll decide fer yerself how 'twill be resonatin' with ye. Aye?"

Andi nodded slowly. "Okay. At this point, I'd really prefer to consider even the most far-fetched idea if it involved learning about it in this lifetime."

Moira was more hesitant this time about trying to affect the ground in front of her, but the Earth Mother seemed to almost anticipate what she was trying to do. In under a minute, she sat on a patch of grass so green that it would be unreal anywhere in Arizona that wasn't tended by groundskeepers. Or crazy gardeners maybe.

Moira shook her head but smiled. "'Twill e'en hae th' feel o' Seanmháthair's garden."

Then she looked at Andi and noted her acceptance of her magical workings. The other woman was simply allowing this place to be as it was. She very much approved.

"Ye'll hae seen that me shields'll be energy, an' 'tis true they'll be that. I'll show ye th' buildin' o' them as I'll hae seen them. 'Tis most important — if ye'll be allowin' them te come an' go — that they'll be based upon th' images o' verra familiar thin's. I'll hae learned as a lass, mayhap only as old as Mhari'll be now... so th' glory o' Seanmháthair's garden'll hae been th' inspiration."

She faced forward again, kneeling as Andrea was with her hands resting lightly on her thighs. She concentrated on bringing forth all the glorious plants of Seanmháthair's garden. She could tell Andi was watching, trying to make sense of it... and simply letting things come as they would when she started feeling confused.

"As ye'll hae said earlier, all thin's ought te hae a strong foundation. 'Tis th' Earth Herself who'll be at th' foundation fer me. Th' thin's growin' from Her'll be representin' th' strength o' me family an' th' love we'll be sharin'."

Saplings rose up and twined together to form first an arbor, followed by many types of vines... most of which probably don't grow in the places where Andrea had lived. The majority of them thrive in the unforgiving Irish soil; most of them would be overwhelmed by places like Japan and China. Some of her Academy friends had an interest in such things, so she knew a few of the vines did grow in America, too.

"I'll hae started small, such as ye see, fer the practice o' the growin' an' weavin'. As I'll hae grown older, th' wee arbor'll hae grown... an' more sibs, e'en friends'll hae grown inte the weavin' as flowers an' ivy. By th' day I'll hae become a woman, 'twill hae grown te a cozy room."

She continued to work with the plants, encouraging them to grow and produce new shoots and then urging them to weave themselves among the existing vines and saplings. Finally, they could look into a cutaway of the room the younger Moira had originally created. The beauty of the plants that made up her shields was that they were so full of life and energy... despite being so densely packed that any ordinary plants would have died from suffocation. The blue roses... ah, those would always, always be Moira's favorite. The fact that they did not and could not exist in nature made them all the more special.

"It's... I'm not sure the word 'beautiful' does it justice. I don't recognize most of the greenery... just the Boston ivy... and I've never seen a blue rose in my life, but it's all simply stunning."

"Ah. Aye. I'll hae said 'twill represent th' strength an' love o' family an' friends. Th' blue roses... they'll represent Ciaran, our eldest brother. Our protector." She shrugged and smiled softly. "Our hero.

"I'll hae made th' roses o' any color — an' ye kin see some red an' yellow an' purple an' white — but most'll be blue fer that'll be Ciaran's favorite color. Ye'll see nae a single thorn within... an' there'll be many on th' outer side." She chuckled quietly. "I'll hae done a paintin' o' what ye'll see an' gave it te Ciaran fer a gift when he'll hae first returned home from Starfleet trainin'. Oh, dear Lady, I'll hae thought th' lad would hae started cryin'! 'Tis nae a large paintin' fer I'll hae wanted him te keep it with him. An' he'll be doin' just that. 'Tis on th' wall o' his cabin on th' Eclipse now."

Moira could feel Andi's intense study of the walls. If she were to guess, she might have said the other woman's tiny spikes of satisfaction were moments of recognition where she correlated the arbor walls with the energy of the shields she had seen before. The anticipation Moira sensed boded well for Andrea's own learning. She was not yet finished with her Teaching and the other woman seemed to know that instinctively.

"An' so th' day came when I'll hae been a woman, an' introduced properly te th' Lady."

Andrea gasped as hundreds, perhaps thousands of twinkling star-like jewels nestled among the flowers and vines.

"Aye," Moira said reverently, "m'Lady'll truly be part o' me strength an' protection."

"Wow... I..." Andrea's emotions told Moira enough. Words were not necessary in the presence of such beauty.

Moira merely nodded.

"There'll be another bit..."

Bright, twinkling emeralds — about half the size of a fist — appeared in a regular pattern within the living walls.

"Emerald," Andi whispered softly. She seemed to understand how much that loss still pained Moira. For her part, Moira was grateful for that understanding.

Then, a light haze, almost like spider silk, coated most of the inner surfaces of the room but was unmistakably avoiding the large emeralds. Andi studied the energy of the gauzy substance for a moment.


Moira nodded again. "Aye. Ye kin see how hard he'll be tryin' te protect me, an' Em too if truth be told. But she'll nae hae allowed his help. He'll hae nae understood he ought te hae been part o' th' shields until he saw Em takin' a place there. An' then he'll hae nae been able te until..."

She closed her eyes and the emeralds — every last one of them — disappeared. It was almost as if they never existed, except for the reaction of the haze, the spider silk, the gauze that represented Padraig. It vibrated, almost violently in some places, and then seemed to pull into itself. Padraig had reacted more to Emerald's severing of the Imzadi bond than Moira had... rather, more than she had allowed herself at the time. She had felt Padraig's confusion as he had tried to make sense of Emerald's absence. He had instinctively saturated Moira's shields then. It had only been later that Moira had explained to him what he had done.

He had been so upset...

Ah, that time had passed and the past needed to remain where it was, at least for now.

"What the...?"

Moira managed not to smile as she held out her hand to Andi. A twig from one of the saplings and a bit of ivy rested on her palm.

Andi took the parts of the plant and looked at them carefully. The realization came suddenly, and her jaw dropped. She looked at Moira, her face and emotions radiating wonder.

"He became the capillary systems of the plants??!?"

She nodded and smiled. "Th' lad'll be e'er so clever, an' I'll hae been as surprised as ye. He'll nae hae been able te do such with Em's energy bein' part o' th' shields. I'll nae e'en be sure 'tis what he'll hae been thinkin'. He'll always hae been interested in plants an' botany. Sure an' 'twill be a good thin' he'll nae be allowed out o' me head verra often or he'll be drivin' poor Gordon e'en more daft than Kahallan'll hae made him." She paused, head tilted, considering...

"Or Gordon'll hae himself two assistants, seein' as there'll be thin's our hydroponics specialist'll know that Paddy'll be keen te learn."

"So... Kahallan isn't part of your shields?" Andrea asked, almost hesitantly.

Moira looked down and folded her hands in her lap, trying so hard not to think... not to feel. Especially not to feel! Finally, she just shook her head.

"I know it hurts, Red... but I need to know if it's because it's not necessary, or it's not possible."

She nodded but didn't look up. "Mayhap we'll finish with Paddy first. Aye?"

"Oh, yeah. Sure. Sorry."

It felt almost as though Andrea, too, was an Empath and understood all too well what Moira was feeling. She set her shields around her just a bit more tightly and took those unnecessary emotions offline. It would hurt later. For now, however, this was for the best.

She looked up at Andrea, calm and collected... the exceptional Starfleet Captain she was supposed to be. Never mind that right now she should be acting as her Lady's Priestess.

"How'll th' leaves an' stems look te ye? Jus' seein' with yer eyes."

Andrea seemed startled by the question but looked at the bit of ivy in her hand. She had the look of someone unaccustomed to all the variety of living plants... her eyes couldn't actually see the lesson Moira was trying to share. But then she ran her thumb over the surface of the leaf and understanding began dawning.

"It's not quite real. I'm not an expert on plants, so it looks... I guess okay. But it feels like plastic."

Moira smiled. "Aye. 'Twill be th' thin' Kat'll hae noticed on th' holodeck before I'll hae recalibrated it. Th' plants'll hae been... ordinary enough, an' yet nae quite real."

She pulled another set of leaves and twigs from the ether of the Overworld and offered them to Andi.

The other woman held the first set in one hand and took the second set with her other hand. She didn't study them for more than a second; she made no comparison between the two samples.

"Wow. I could almost imagine a ladybug liking this leaf... and whatever little bug creatures that like trees getting all comfortable in the groove of the bark."

Moira chuckled. "Sure an' if such were te happen upon the plants o' th' shields, mayhap th' inside o' me brain'll be itchin' fer all time. This'll be th' fractal patterns ye'll hae seen in th' energy."

"So recalibrating the holodecks have you this idea? That's wild."

"Unconsciously, aye. I'll hae nae e'en noticed until ye'll hae pointed it out."


"So... now ye'll try te bend th' leaf an' break th' twig."

Andi raised an eyebrow at Moira, reminding the Priestess so much of T'Shel that she nearly smiled. Then, as she set the first sample down and the material returned to the ether of the Overworld, Andi's emotions briefly registered surprise. Then Moira caught a brief flare of resignation that oddities would always be part of her life now.

Her Student gave Moira another look that said much more than her now more hidden emotions did — asking her to perform such a simple task was ridiculous. Then Andi tried to wrap the leaf around her index finger. She looked puzzled... as though trying to determine the composition of the leaf. It certainly wouldn't wrap; in fact, it hardly bent at all.

Moira was impressed that Andi could do as much as bend it.

Moving to the twig, Andi tried to snap it in half. A proper branch would have broken easily. This twig didn't even bend. It was clear to Moira that Andi was using her enhanced physical strength to attempt the task set to her, and becoming ever so slightly frustrated at the twig's inflexibility. Again, the Priestess refrained from smiling at her Student.

"Shit, Red! What the hell is this stuff made of?" she asked, looking back at Moira's face.

Then Moira did smile... one of the variety that unnerved Paddy, caused Ciaran to sigh in a grand Irish manner, and had no effect whatsoever on Kahallan.

"Oh, naught by me will, an' Paddy's."

Andi looked between Moira and the plant in her hand several times.

"Okay. I'll just say that anyone who tries to fuck with you is a damn fool."

Moira shrugged. "'Twill nae be proof against all manner o' psi attacks..." Then she paused to consider the statement, tilting her head thoughtfully. "Well, I suppose I'll nae be knowin' that fer certain, will I? 'Twill nae hae been in this configuration when Legion attacked." Pulling another bit of plant material from the ether, she held out the third cutting to Andi. Even Paddy would not have seen the difference the latest cutting had from the leaf and twig in Andi's hand. From her lack of expression, Moira guessed that Andi didn't see a difference either.

The other woman took the cutting from Moira almost hesitantly. This time, she studied the two bits of plant material side by side, carefully and for several minutes. Eyes and fingers examined both scrupulously. Only when Andi's brows furrowed as she seemed to find something she couldn't identify did Moira speak again.

"Try again th' bendin' an' breakin'," Moira said, still smiling.

This time, Andi turned her hand over casually, merely noting with mild interest that the plant disappeared. She quickly turned her attention to the remaining plant. She wrapped the leaf completely around her finger, only nodding once to herself in satisfaction. But when she tried to break the twig, it merely bent, just as the leaf had. In fact, Andi twisted and pulled and knotted the twig in all manner of ways and watched, perplexed, as the twig unfurled itself each time into its typical twig configuration.

"Okay, this is really weird."

"Try tearin' th' leaf... an' mayhap strike th' wee branch on yer hand."

Moira barely managed to keep her giggles to herself, but Andi's emotions were much easier to read now. She was confused and frustrated as she tried to tear the leaf. Under the confusion and frustration, however, was a growing feeling of acceptance and familiarity.

At first, she only tapped the twig against her hand, eyes narrowed at its twig-like behavior. With a tiny shrug of one shoulder, Andi slapped the branch sharply against her other palm. A sudden intake of breath was her reaction to the welt that formed.

Moira detected a flash of pain and was surprised at how quickly the wound disappeared from Andi's hand. She couldn't remember ever meeting anyone who healed that rapidly.

"I don't know what the hell this is, Red... but it's absolutely in line with my magnetism for the weird."

Moira laughed.

"Ye'll recall earlier when ye'll hae said I'll hae drained yer agitation right out o' ye?"

Andi merely nodded.

"'Tis th' diamonds that'll be Paddy's energy that'll be absorbin' that. 'Tis th' greatest strength o' me shields. An' yet they'll hae been... nae so flexible.

"So I'll hae reimagined th' diamond filaments as bein' articulated... e'ery few microns. 'Tis, in a way, a wee bit like maille o' old."

Andi looked intently at the plant in her hand again and, after a second or two, a look of recognition spread over her features.

"Like the nanoweave fabric Martha made my new uniform from! Only... well, better, because she used the more fabric-like stuff for my uniform and the more spandex-like stuff for Perry's and Pablo's uniforms. Their uniforms will stop knives... mine won't. But I have a really high healing factor... they don't. And I don't have to wear something that looks like spandex.

"Your shields are like their uniforms."

"Ah, so you've somethin' te compare it to! Good! An' aye, mayhap in this configuration, there'll be naught te harm me an' Paddy. Assumin' he'll be stayin' inside th' shields."

Andrea nodded again as she set the plant on the ground and smiled this time as it disappeared.

"So... I infuse my shields with all the light and love in my life, imagine it as the strongest and most flexible thing possible, and... that's it?"

"Ye'll be needin' a foundation upon which te attach yer shields, but aye... 'tis all te buildin' them. Th' strong an' flexible bit ought te be yer Maddie, as she'll be th' other half o' yer soul. Then there'll be th' matter o' tendin' te th' garden, so te speak."

Andi nodded absently. Moira felt her sifting and searching and then, with more ease than the Captain usually managed, the other woman seemed to set the task aside. Or... perhaps it was more as if she were setting a program to run unattended.

"We should go back to the question I asked before. The one you didn't want to answer."

Moira looked away, toward her room of greenery, and sighed.

"Aye. Mayhap 'twill be relevant... mayhap nae."

A huge picture window appeared on the wall facing them, with a quaint Dutch door beside it. Outside the window was a forest; the room seemed to be a small house in the middle of a clearing. Smaller plants grew among the trees, including odd looking bushes that didn't exist on earth. Moira had traveled far enough and wide enough to have found quite a few plants she liked that couldn't survive anywhere on earth. Yet, in the Overworld, almost anything was possible. There was also a garden with a riot of color, similar to the garden outside the window of her home... her mother's garden. Except this was much closer to the view from Seanmháthair's cottage.

Also, outside the window was the biggest damn wolf Andrea had ever seen. It paced slowly back and forth and, depending on the lighting, it looked black or grey or brown or even all of those colors.

Andi looked at Moira, who was staring at the wolf with a peculiar expression of longing mixed with frustration mixed with despair.

"I don't get it."

She sighed again.

"'Tis Duffy. How he'll be seein' himself, anyway."

"You can't integrate him into your shields because he has such a strong sense of himself?"

She just shook her head. How could she explain the damage Legion had done when Duffy himself couldn't seem to see the damage? And if he couldn't see it, how could anyone else? This Teaching incorporated as much... well, analogy.. as many placeholders, as it held the reality that Moira understood.

Her Student looked between her and the wolf outside the window two or three times.

"I still don't get it."

Moira closed her eyes and allowed the illusion of the room to disappear. Around the two of them, Moira set up a collection of vaguely humanoid figures. Each figure was a different color, and different emotions seeped from each one. Because they were in the Overworld, Moira could show Andi the vision in her mind's eye of the people represented in her shields — with Ciaran's blue rose front and center. Because they were in the Overworld, she could let Andi know some of what she felt.

From the tableau around them, a whole range of emotions frothed up. For Andi's sake, Moira kept the emotions in bubbles around each figure. There was such a wide variety of emotions represented here, however — everything from overwhelming joy to sorrow that was only beginning to heal, pride and respect and love and exasperation and protection and curiosity, the last of which flow from well-contained to a zealous love of learning.

"Your people?"

She nodded and whispered, "Aye."

"And what I'm sensing from them is what you feel?"

"When I'll be thinnin' th' shields a wee bit, aye."

Andrea smiled. "You have good people. Who's the one who looks like they're going to explode from joy all over you?"

She chuckled but didn't open her eyes. "That'll be Timor. This'll be why Rika an' I'll be callin' him Tigger."

Now Andi grinned. "I'd love to meet him!"

Moira opened her eyes and looked at Andrea with one of her be careful of what you wish for looks. "So I'll be warnin' ye th' first thin' he'll do is try te hug ye within an inch o' yer life. He'll be seein' ye as one o' th' Holy People — th' Lady knows I'll nae hae an easy time pronouncin' Caitain — an' 'twould seem th' Holy People are te be hugged fiercely."

"Ah. And you know this first hand, I suppose?"

"I do."

The other woman chuckled. "It's nice, though."

"Oh, mayhap once or twice. But nae e'ery bloody day, an' certainly nae while on duty an' on th' bridge!"

Andrea did appear to be trying to contain the happiness that the mere representation of the Caitain engineer exuded, but wasn't doing a very good job of it. "Okay, maybe not on the bridge. Ciaran is the one who's the same color as his flower and is fiercely protective and full of love and pride for you. That's pretty obvious. Who's the one who looks fierce and soft all at once, all blues and greens? Admiration, protectiveness, caring that's almost touching on love, but so very, very sad."

"Ah. 'Tis Rika. She'll hae survived th' Borg attack at Wolf 359... most o' her crew mates an' her Beloved did nae."

"Oh." Andi was silent for a moment. Had Moira not decided to watch her emotions so carefully, she might have missed the fact of that battle resonating so strongly with something the other woman had witnessed.

"I'm sorry for her loss, and everyone else's. That must have been terrible."

"Aye. 'Twas. I'll nae hae been part o' that... th' Eclipse'll hae been too far distant, an' too damaged besides. But Uncail Mark'll hae been commandin' th' Clarke, th' only ship te survive. Thirty nine ships, an' o'er eleven thousand lives..."

Moira swallowed hard. Despite not being anywhere near the battle, and being possessed by the alien entity besides... well, the mere thought of that much devastation was hard on her. And to have served with survivors of that battle, to come to know their grief as intimately as her own...

"O' course, th' bloody ship o' Picard's — an' there'll be enough still blamin' him fer what'll hae happened — will hae been there te save Earth. Cursed an' bloody lucky... aye, that'll be describin' th' Enterprise."

Andrea shook her head. "I couldn't do what you do, Red. I have your memories of the Clarke, and I know how you feel about that. But you took a bunch of wounded warriors and some raw recruits, and you made them... well, a damn good team. That's me saying that, looking from the outside. You can make people feel worthwhile as easily as I can piss people off."

Moira started to say something — that she really wasn't the person Andi thought she was — but the other woman just shook a finger at her.

"Oh, no you don't! The world — or universes — needs people who build others back up after they've been broken. And at least in my world, we need folks like me who can rip people some new orifices when they're total assholes."

She studied the woman from a universe with super heroes, wondering how different her own place and time would be if the same mutations had occurred, if those mutations had been as feared as they were in Andrea's world. Finally, she nodded... acknowledging, at least, that different people have different skills. Perhaps her own gift — something that would have her pilloried in Andrea's world — did give her an advantage in helping people.

Andi looked at the collection of avatars in front of them, all around them. "Your family, your friends, even your crew makes you stronger. You certainly can't deny that," she said as she gestured to the fuzzy images. "Every funny looking yellow flower in the vision of your shields represents your goofy Cat, doesn't it? I can see just by the colors of everyone you're showing me that they have a corresponding type of flower — or in the case of whoever the green and gold person is, a kind of vine. So why isn't there any Kahallan?"

"Green an' gold? Ah. Sure an' that must be Gordon. He'll hae been a blessin' fer th' crew, an' I'll be thinkin' th' crew'll hae been a blessin' fer him... an' soon enough he'll be seein' it, too."

She waved her hand and everyone disappeared.

"There'll be a few folk who'll be psi null. Commander Mulvihill... he'll hae been such a one. They'll be th' folks I'll nae sense at all. Sure, an' he'll hae snuck up on me more than one time, fer I'll hae no sense o' him. I'll nae know when such'll be about, an' 'twill be th' truth that I'll be findin' them both disconcertin' an' fascinatin'. They'll be as such," she said, pointing to the empty grass in front of her. The real problem, what Kahallan couldn't seem to remember, was that he hadn't been a null when they met. He had given up part of himself to save her... and she still wasn't convinced it was worth what he gave up.

"Interesting. It's considerably more difficult for me to read other Supers — well, depending on their power, and its strength — and folks like Logan and Em. Logan is easier now that we formed the Pentad, but there are still times when he looks... I don't know, I guess the best way to describe it is blurry. Em is still a kid, and kids are all kinds of chaotic anyway... yet she's a lot more ordered than most other kids I've seen. I think the only reason I'll still be able to read her once she reaches puberty is that my powers are increasing by leaps and bounds... and the fact that we're family.

"Now Charles, on the other hand... I'd say he's a lot like your Commander Mulvihill. Well, he's more like a really, really clean window than completely invisible. I know he's there... but he is pretty much invisible."

"Aye, most Vulcans'll be like your Em... verra ordered. 'Tis a myth that they'll be without emotion, they'll jus' be e'er so neat an' tidy with them. 'Tis quite soothin' te be in their presence." She rolled her eyes. "Then there'll be T'Shel. She'll be one o' me communications specialists. Oh, dear Lady! Th' lass'll hae a powerful love o' learnin' languages, she will! I'll be teachin' her th' Irish. I'll nae e'en think o' how she'll be reactin' te yer speakin'." Moira grinned merrily. "Sure, an' ye'll need te leave a few o' yer words with me, an' I'll be presentin' them te her. She'll find them te be a wonderful gift, that I'll be promisin'!"

"Darn it, Red! Now I want to meet her, too!" Andrea grinned back at her. "Well, you already have hózhó. I'll leave you with a few others before we finish up."

She nodded toward the empty grassy space. "So that's how Kahallan will look? That's why you can't integrate him into your shields?"

"If 'twere so simple... but 'tis nae at all, at all."

An enormous brick wall sprung up, as wide as the grassy area, at least twice as tall as either woman and definitely thick enough for the huge wolf to lounge comfortably on the top of the wall. It looked downright menacing.

"Um. What the hell?" Andi asked, rather mildly actually.

"'Twill be what Kahallan'll look like."

"Including the wolf, which — by the way — is freakishly large?"

"Aye. Includin' th' wolf. He'll be thinkin' o' himself, at times, as th' last English Wolf. 'Tis a species that'll hae been extinct in Ireland fer o'er six hundred years, e'en longer in Scotland an' Wales an' England an' Cornwall."

"Okay. Well, I can see how adding brick pieces to your wall might be a bit difficult, to say nothing of counterproductive if you're going for the whole nature theme. But... well, it looked like the wolf lurks outside your little house, right?"

"Aye. Th' man'll be nothin' if nae protective. I'll hae wondered on days if 'twill be his Moira he'll be protectin' or jus' his Captain, though."

"Why can't it be both? You are both, after all."

"Aye, aye, aye."

Even Andrea could tell she had struck a nerve there.

"An' there'll be th' days I'll be thinkin' he'll only be rememberin' th' Captain part o' th' equation."

Andrea gave Moira a scathing look, her emotions pinging off Moira's shields like pebbles. And the Priestess got the very clear impression that the Warrior mean every bit of it. But Andi quickly gathered her emotions into a tightly controlled bundle and shook her head.

"Sorry, Red, but I don't get it. We've got rules in our military about officers and enlisted folks fraternizing. But you're both officers. And I think all the service branches will try to keep families together. Our fictional vision of your universe seems to put a lot of value on families staying together, too. Okay, so you're not married, but... well, you are on the same ship, so there's that.

"Honestly, Red... what's the problem?"

"He'll be a gentleman."

Andi looked at her and just stared, completely emotionless. Eventually, she remembered to blink.

"You have got to be kidding me! Pablo is a gentleman. Rene is a gentleman. I'd even say Logan is a gentleman, although he might not. My grandfather, father, and uncles are all gentlemen. My brother and cousins — with the possible and occasional exception of Henry, and Maddie would argue for him — are all gentlemen. I'm surrounded by gentlemen!

"What in the name of all the Gods, Buddhas and Spirits has that got to do with... with favoring his Captain over his fiancée?"

Moira just shrugged. And Andrea shook her head.

"Okay. Fine. Never mind. Not my business." She raised both of her hands, surrendering to Moira's... opinion. "But listen... not that it's any of my business, but Bobby's has had a truly appalling influence on me, so that's not going to stop me from offering up a suggestion."

She put her hands back in her lap and nodded toward the wall. Well, the wolf, really.

"What if you go outside that little door in your little room... out into the forest with the big bad wolf... and brush the beastie like you would a dog? Then weave the hairs into your wall of greens?"

Moira looked at Andrea as though she were the most daft of all the daft people she'd ever known. And yes, somehow, this other woman seemed to find humor in the situation. Well, and don't most crazy people find something to laugh at?

"And why is that a bad idea?"

"I kinnae go outside th' shields. E'en now, I'll still be within their boundaries. Only Paddy kin leave."

The other woman waited, just watching Moira. Finally, she let out a very soft sigh.

"And why can't Paddy go out and brush the nice wolf?" Andi asked in what she thought was a perfectly reasonable tone.

"He'll be scared te his verra toes o' Duffy... well, th' wolf."

"Which is it? Is he afraid of his soon to be brother-in-law, or is he afraid of the image your fiancé presents to the unseen world? Or maybe he's afraid of the perception his soon to be brother-in-law presents to the outer world?"

"Aye. All o' those."

The Warrior narrowed her eyes as she first looked at the Captain and then the wolf. Moira could only tell that none of that made any sense to Andi.

She looked back at Moira and shook her head again. "If I could figure out how to get Padraig back here, I'd Gibbs slap him. He doesn't even deserve the stick. And maybe you should tell your Kahallan what Wolf means to my People. Possibly he'd actually start actually like a wolf... well, what we think of as Wolf.

"Loyalty... he certainly seems to have that in spades. Perseverance? Sure. That's not a bad thing. Intuition... who the hell knows? You don't, or you've got it buried so deep in your memories that I'll actually have to go look for it. Success... from what you know, yes. Mostly because of his perseverance, but yes. And spirit? Well, it depends on what you mean by that, but by Diné reckoning, probably not.

"My little cousin..." Andi shook her head yet again. "Little. Sheesh. He's twenty two... but he's the youngest of my generation, so he's the littlest. Wolf is his guardian Spirit. Wolf wouldn't sit outside Billy's house if Billy needed it. Wolf wouldn't look down from the top of a three-meter high wall... not at Billy, not at anyone Billy cares about. Those characteristics I described — loyalty, perseverance, success, intuition, spirit — those are what Wolf IS. Those are the gifts Wolf gives to those it guards and guides.

"Wolf would not threaten anyone unless Billy were the one being threatened, and Billy was in a situation way over his head. If that is what your Kahallan thinks it means to be Wolf," she said, pointing to the animal on top of the wall, "then he's doing it wrong.

"In my not very humble opinion.

"I'll shut up now."

Moira merely stared at the other woman for a minute, maybe two then looked up at the wolf. Her emotions were not as tightly controlled as they should be... she knew that. Her thoughts were no less chaotic, and may well be even more of a mess.

How could she reconcile the Kahallan who watched her from a distance with the memory only she seemed to have of a wolf walking... running... fighting at her side when Legion's mother had attacked the ship? She remembered who he once was. She could remember when he merely had shields that were strong, shields that would slip on occasion... especially when he fell into his Cockney slang. She could remember when he was a sure and steady presence in her world.

She could remember when he didn't feel like a stranger, or rather, she could remember when he didn't have the feeling of nothingness. What Legion had done to her was beyond the pale. That Kahallan had allowed himself to be pulled into Legion's trap — no matter how sure he had been of besting the monster — that he had given up the one thing that Moira knew as safety...

She swallowed hard. He wanted to try to make their relationship work... at least, she thought he did. Sometimes, his propensity for saying next to nothing was maddening. But he treated Paddy as a brother, so that must mean something.

On top of this insane mission that the mad as hatter Admirals had concocted...

On top of dealing with the new host of her ex-Captain who had yet to come to grips with being a host...

On top of dealing with That Meyers Individual...

On top of trying to keep the intrigue of Section 31 out of her mind and away from her ship...

On top of forging a bond of mutual trust with the Romulans...

On top of trying to save hundreds of lives...

On top of everything else, she had to deal with the very real problem that she could not trust her own feelings. And Kahallan was at the heart of that very real problem.

She should not be bringing her own problems into a Teaching in the Overworld. After taking a cleansing breath, Moira looked at Andrea as she let the images she'd created disappear. Then she simply nodded to her Student.

"Will ye be understandin' enough te give buildin' a try?"

After a looking that would have burned a whole through the Eclipse's tritanium hull, she said, "I think so." And then Andrea stood up, letting the whole issue of Moira's Kahallan drop. "Do you want to be inside or outside?"

She gave Andi a look — the same look so many teachers have given so many students over the course of countless millennium, the one that meant are you sure you're ready for this test?

"If ye build a structure, are ye sure ye'll be able te let me in?"

Andi considered the question for a moment. She considered the structure she had in mind to create. She nodded decisively.


"Well, then... I'll be watchin' from outside then."

Moira started to stand, but Andi gestured for her to remain seated.

"No... this isn't the right place. For me. You stay here."

Moira gave her Student a puzzled look. However, she merely watched Andrea walk farther into the field. She was headed directly toward the nexus point; fortunately, she stopped about twenty or thirty paces away and faced the mountains. Moira watched as Andi raised her hands up from her sides, palms facing the sky until her hands are raised to shoulder height. As she performed what usually was minor energy work, Moira could see a wooden structure take form. As Andi brought her hands in close to her heart, she stepped out of Moira's sight to the mountain, eastern, side of the structure.

She was certain that Andrea spoke softly, but Moira heard — although she did not understand — what the other woman was saying.

"Hooghan baah hashne' dooleel.

"Ha'ahaahdéé' yah ajighááh. Ákwe'é nitsáhákees silá."

Moira knew that Andi had entered the structure then, for the timbre of her voice changed.

"Shádi'ááhijigo dashdiighááh. Ákwe'é nahat'á silá."

There was a pause as the magic flowed more strongly, more surely from Andi's structure.

"Áádóó E'e'aahjigo dashdiighááh. Ákwe'é iiná silá."

Although the emotions that Andi was imbuing her structure with were concentrated, most of them were sweet. Moira allowed the feeling of beauty and joy and strength to wash over her.

"Áádóó Nahookosjigo dashjiighááh. Ákwe'é sih hasin silá."

Hope and confidence rushed across the landscape of the Overworld, bringing tears to Moira's eyes. Was this some particular magic of the Native American people or merely something Andrea knew was a necessary part of her shields? The fact that it gave hope to her Teacher as well was a sign that Andrea was no mere novice.


Gratitude welled up from the structure and flowed over the Overworld... with such power, it was possible the gratitude flowed into the world of the Warrior and the world of the Priestess as well.

Moira now had the impression that Andrea was whispering more softly, and yet her words were still clearly heard by the Priestess.

"I speak to all those dear to me who have come into my life to make me who I am today," Andrea whispered, "I ask that you be part of my strength now, and be part of my strength as I live this life."

Moira stood then, knowing she was in the presence of something truly blessed by the Deities.

Come on in, Red. You'll be able to push the blanket covering the doorway aside.

As she walked toward the structure, the sun rose fully over the mountains. The blanket in the doorway was one of the most beautiful pieces of woven fabric she had ever seen. As she pushed it aside and stepped through the doorway, Moira gasped.

"I'll nae hae believed the Earth Mother sayin' ye'll only need te be reminded if I'll nae hae seen this," she said in a hushed voice.

Andrea breathed in deeply, the scents of both sage and coffee perfectly mingling in the air. As she exhaled, she lowered her arms to her sides. Only then did she open her eyes.

And the biggest, happiest grin possible spread across the Warrior's face.

Moira's safe and happy place was a garden.

Andrea's was a library.

Six of the eight walls were nothing but bookcases; nearly every shelf was filled. It seemed reasonable to expect Andi's subconscious might have decided to leave room for new friends and family. As Andrea turned slowly around, Moira sensed recognition — as though seeing the titles of some of the books immediately brought to mind the people they represented. A display case stood against the wall opposite the entrance; above it and around the entryway, various small — and in the matter of the cowboy hat, some not so small — objects were affixed to the walls. There was even a comfortable chair near the display case.

Andi noted the object over the entryway and was immediately drawn toward it. She reached up and touched it, and tears sprang to her eyes.

"'Twill be representin' yer Pablo?" Moira asked.

Andi shook her head with wonder. "No. This is Denise's badge."

"An' ye realize ye've all manner o' strange sprouts an' berries growin'... well, e'erywhere."

She nodded. "Uh huh. Coffee plants and those are coffee beans. That's Maddie." She laughed. "I hadn't expected that... but it makes sense."

"An'... whate'er this'll be?" She toed an enormous book on one of the bottom shelves.

Andi looked at the title of the book — One Million and Two Physics Jokes, something that probably didn't actually exist in any world — and laughed again. "Oh, Deb! Wow, I miss your awful jokes. And there's bound to be a history book about Eastern Europe around here to represent Clara. Ooh, wait! I'll see them both at the wedding." Andi clapped her hands and bounced on her toes, giddy as a child. "Happy, happy!"

Moira looked at her for a moment, and then laughed as well.

"'Twill be a most unconventional buildin' o' shields, but ye'll hae mentioned ye'll be a librarian. 'Tis peculiar, but 'twill fit ye well. Now I'll be goin' out again... an' ye'll collect it about yerself. 'Twill need te feel part o' yer verra bein' but ye should rarely hae th' need te be knowin' 'twill be there."

Andi nodded. "Okay. Sort of like how I hold all the qi, only this will be a container for all of that... and me, too."

Moira gave Andi an odd look, almost — but not quite — understanding what she said, although the meaning was plain and clear given the state of Andrea's emotions. She nodded to the other woman and exited the building, replacing the blanket as she went.

The building disappeared after a moment, and Andi stood with her eyes closed and very relaxed for a few minutes, then nodded to herself.

She opened her eyes and looked at Moira. "I feel good about this. I'm just not sure how to test it." She started walking back toward the house.

"Ye'll hae said ye'll be wantin' te shield others from — I'll be thinkin' th' word ye used'll hae been 'crazy'," Moira said as she walked along with Andi. "What'll be triggerin' yon 'crazy'?"

"Oh... new powers showing up, Mother overwhelming me with her energy, those two pestering me while I'm sleeping. I think I can hold all that inside the Hogan to keep others safe. And instead of using diamond filaments, the structure is laced with adamantium — that's from Logan. I think that will bleed it all back to Mother if I don't need it. The energy I mean. I have a feeling that being pregnant is a whole different kind of crazy."

Moira chuckled. "Aye, an' there'll be naught ye kin do fer that with yer shields."

"I know. I'll see Amanda soon. Maddie says she's good, so... well, if anyone can help, she will."

Walking along the ley line had a different feel to it now, although Moira could tell that the difference was more striking for Andrea. As they reached Andrea's cousin's yard, she sighed and shook her head.

"This has got to be the weirdest dream ever in the history of dreams. It's been really great, and I've learned a lot — or at least remembered something — but it's at least a nine, maybe nine point five, on the Richter scale of weird dreams."

Moira narrowed her eyes at Andrea.

"There'll nae be any such thin'."

"What?! Of course, there is! I just made it up!" She grinned.

And that caused Moira to merely shake her head.

"Sure an' 'twill be time fer ye te go now," she said, the touch on Andrea's shoulder almost feather light. "Donnae forget all ye've learned here."

"Really? Already? It seems I hardly got here." All Andi could do was shrug. "I'm sure if there's even the tiniest thing I'm tempted for forget, those two will be more than happy to remind me," she said wryly.

"Aye. They'll do so, 'tis true." She smiled, and there was a hint of mischief there. "Ye'll be well, I think. Ah, ye'll be havin' th' usual symptoms o' pregnancy, with th' growin' o' yer wee ones. But ye'll manage yer powers better now if I'll nae miss me guess."

Andi nodded. "Yeah. I think so, too. I suppose I just need to rebuild what I built here in the real world, practice all of this when I'm awake."

Moira chuckled. Andrea's refusal to believe she wasn't dreaming will surely be a running joke with Seanmháthair for years to come. "Ye'll hae been awake th' whole o' this time, lass. Ye'll jus' nae be believin' th' truth o' th' matter."

"Right. If you say so.

"Huh." She tilted her head to one side, listening. "It almost seems like Pablo's trying to get here. Or..." She shook my head, looking confused. "Well, or something like that."

"Nay, he'll be callin' ye home. E'en I kin hear him." Moira smiled; there was nothing she could do to keep the smile from being both happy and sad at the same time. "Ye'll be a fortunate lass."

Andi watched Moira — eyes focused in such a way that Moira knew her own energy was being studied — for several minutes. Finally, Andi, too, frowned sadly.

"I'm sorry."

Moira just raised an eyebrow, asking all the possible questions.

"You... your Kahallan."

"Ah." And then she shook her head. "Maybe ye'll hae found th' problem. I'll hae been seekin' te find th' way te repair a thin' that'll nae hae been constructed on a proper foundation."

"I think if you want to fix this bond, you might need to tear it down and rebuild it... using a building metaphor, that is." Andi met Moira's eyes... there was a demand for truth in them. Not only from those around here, but from herself, too.

"But you still aren't sure it's worth the trouble, are you?"

Again, she smiled sadly. "'Tis th' truth. Me brothers — Paddy an' Ciaran — they'll be thinkin' 'tis worth e'ery bit o' frustration. There'll be others nae so certain."

"You know it's up to you, Red. Well, you and your Kahallan. Remember what else I said... everything happens just as it should happen, exactly when it should happen, for the greatest good of all."

"'Tis less comfortin' than ye might think."

"Oh, I know. Trust me, I know." Andi shrugged pragmatically and then smiled again. "Hey, you said I called you here, right?"


"Well, then... if you want to chat, you try calling me. I have no idea if it will work, but what's the harm in trying, right?"

Moira smiled and reached out a hand to shake that of such a remarkable woman from a world so far away. Andrea grinned, stepped closer, and hugged her tightly.

"Thanks. Oh... and yá'át'ééh and ahééhee' are for T'Shel. Hello, and thank you." Andi released her, smiled and pointed toward the road. "Now go back to Ireland. Or your spaceship."

Moira laughed, and called over her shoulder, "Starship!" And then she would have sworn she heard the oddest comment as she was leaving the Overworld... Potato, potahto... succotash.

She woke to madness... not the internal madness that had plagued her when Legion enveloped her soul, but the madness of too many voices calling her name.


One of the voices was inside her head.

"Stoptar suas!!" she said without opening her eyes. "Lady help ye all if there'll nae be a war startin', fer findin' th' lot o' ye in me quarters at..." She paused and counted to ten... in Romulan... badly.

"Computer, what'll th' time be?"

"The current ship time is oh seven thirteen."

"...at barely beyond th' beginnin' o' First Watch, on me day off, will be vexin' me potently.

Captain O'Shaughnessy opened her eyes and shifted her gaze around her sleeping area.


Did I nae tell ye te shut up, Paddy?

But, Mo...


Her Chief Medical Officer was there. Her Chief Security Officer was there. Her XO was there. Her brother was there. She closed her eyes for a moment, then sighed a world-weary Irish sigh. Opening her eyes again as she flung the blanket off her body — very nearly off the bed — she stood in running shorts and a t-shirt with her hands on her hips and looked at Fergus. Then she looked up at Ciaran, then Duffy, then Rika.

"Who'll hae started th' madness?" she asked her XO.

Rika's eyes barely stopped as she slid over the doctor on their way to Kahallan's tall, lanky form.

Moira's eyes narrowed slightly when she noted Fergus looking at Kahallan as well.

She canted her head slightly to the left and raised an eyebrow, but he shook his head minutely and lifted his chin in Ciaran's direction.

There was a fire in her eyes as she rounded on her brother, arms crossed and every inch of her a testament to Queen Boudica.

"Cad é an ifreann fuilteach ar siúl anseo?!"

Ciaran had seen Moira angry. Ciaran had even seen Moira furious. This was beyond all that.

"Padraig called me. He said you'd... left."

"O' course I'll hae left, ye bleedin' amadáns!" She threw her hands up in the air. "I'll hae been workin'! Th' blitherin' idjit ought te know by now what happens when I'll be workin' in th' Overworld. He'll be too afraid te look, 'twill be th' problem! An' b'sides that, I'll e'en hae told him I'll be off te Teach!"

Mo, I'm...

"Shut. The. Fook. Up." Her voice was low... practically a growl through her clenched teeth. "E'en one more word from ye, Padraig Breandan Christopher, an' we'll be goin' te th' holodeck fer Rika te thrash ye right an' proper."

She could feel him disappearing to wherever he went when he didn't want to be found. Moira nodded to herself, then looked around at the other people in the room.

"Well, donnae ye all hae a thin' or another te be doin'?"

Rika paused only long enough to draw a breath. "Aye, sir." Although her face was nearly expressionless, her eyes held both questions and humor. She turned smartly on her heel and headed for the cabin's door, where she paused just out of sensor range and looked back over her shoulder.


"Oh! Aye! Lieutenant Trasee..."

The doctor followed her out of the cabin.

That just left Duffy and Ciaran. Moira looked from one to the other, her gaze finally settling on Kahallan as he pushed himself off the bulkhead and closed the distance between them. Her expression remained neutral as he looked down at her.

"You're certain you're well?"

When she sighed this time, it was an ordinary thing... not the grand, theatrical Irish production.

"Aye. I'll hae been far better if I'll nae be related te amadáns who'll nae hae th' sense their God gave te beetles... but aye."

He regarded her silently for a moment, then nodded, taking her words at face value. "I'll leave you to your fools." But he did hesitate before departing. "I'll see you at dinner?"

She nodded. Even being a mere eight days into the mission, and with a list of issues concerning the EMH-II program remaining much longer than she'd like, dinner was the only time she managed to see either him or Kat when they weren't working.

"Aye. Seventeen hundred in th' dinin' hall." Thank the Lady for Gordon! With his phenomenal skills in the garden and his culinary skills in the kitchen, he'd been a key player in coaxing Ekaterina Kahallan out of her shell — just a bit. It was enough for her to join her brother and future sister in law in the semi-open public place. But only for a short time, and not every day.

Moira saw what she thought might be worry in his eyes before he turned and left her cabin. She watched him until the sensors triggered the door open, then shook her head as the portal closed behind him. He needed to get used to this.

Finally, she looked at her brother.

"So, ye're still here, are ye?"

"I'm not sure if I'm more worried about you or the Pest."

She crossed her arms again and glared him.

"Oh, ye ought te be worried fer Paddy, sure an' that'll be th' truth. Ye both'll be knowin' what ye ought te be lookin' fer. An' ye'll both hae been ignorin' e'er sign an' signal. Why?"

Ciaran mirrored her pose but then looked at the floor as he sighed.

"Padraig was scared. He said you were gone for nearly two hours." Ciaran wouldn't admit it, but Moira's awareness of his emotions betrayed him... he'd been just as afraid about her as her twin had been.

"Aye, an' he'll be needin' te understand — as will ye — that 'twas nae so long as all that. There'll hae been times when workin' with Seanmháthair I'll be takin' th' whole o' th' day te do th' work. I've powerful shields about th' cabin, an' m'Lady'll hae been with me fer much o' th' time. I'll nae hae been in any danger."

He looked up to lock his eyes with hers.

"You know why I worry, Moira Maeve."

"An' did I nae jus' tell ye I've protection?" She flung one arm out, point to the door. "Out. Leave me be. Seanmháthair'll be expectin' a note regardin' th' lass I'll hae been Teachin'."


"Oh, no! Donnae ye start on me, too, Ciaran Micheal Breandan! Out with ye!"

"Damn it, Moira..."

"Faigh amach, anois! Sula cic mé do asal!"

Ciaran looked at her silently for a moment longer.

"Anois, Ciaran! Or I'll be kickin' yer arse an' promotin' ye te officer."

Dropping his arms to his sides, he said almost angrily, "You wouldn't dare."


After Ciaran had stormed from her quarters, Moira sat back down on her bed, propped her elbows on her knees, and held her head in her hands.

"Sure an' don' I hope ye're havin' a better start te yer day, Andi," she said softly.

© Kelly Naylor