Summer 2135

Andrea had never really been one to remember her dreams. She was certain that she did, occasionally, dream... but there was nothing worth remembering. The one time she had thought she was in some sort of nightmare, it had turned out to be her first journey to the Crossroads to visit Moira.

So on this particular night, when she found herself unable to wake up and more terrified than she ever been, she tried to convince herself — for a fleeting moment — that she was dreaming.

But she realized almost immediately that she wasn't.

It reminded her of the time she'd been thrown into a coma because Pablo had been taken off to one of Quetzalcoatl's dimensions.

Pablo?

Nothing. She could almost... just barely... feel Rene and Logan. Maddie was a little more substantial in her heart. But no Pablo.

Think, Andi.

Quetzalcoatl had been locked away more than a hundred years ago. So that wasn't a possibility. So what could have isolated her so completely?

It dawned on her slowly that she was in an incredible amount of pain. Why would she have chest pains? She was as healthy today at a century and a half as she had been as a teen.

It felt like her heart was being ripped out of her chest.

Pablo!

Still nothing.

And that's when the fear started creeping into her soul.

Oh, gods... Pablo...

# # #

"Rene?"

"Pablo."

"I think it's time to go."

"Looks like it. But you should say 'see you later' to Andi. She'll be pissed at you."

"Thought about it. I just can't bring myself to wake her. I know how much this is going to hurt and can't bear to look at her face. You'll make sure I get back as fast as possible, right?"

"You know I will, Brother." Rene paused. "You're a coward, you know."

Pablo just nodded.

After sighing, Rene held out his hand. "Okay. Let's get this done. It's going to be a lot harder on her, you know."

"I know. I wish it didn't have to be that way." Pablo sighed softly. "Well, cuanto antes comience, antes terminará, as my abuela used to say... sooner begun, sooner done."

He looked back at Andi, sleeping so peacefully. "I'll be right back," he whispered.

Then he took Rene's hand and began the transition.

# # #

She couldn't remember ever feeling so much pain before. A long time ago, when she had been a teenager, her Curse had manifested in what had, at the time, felt like rivers of molten lava flowing through her veins. It had been bad.

This was worse.

Her eyes flew open to take in the reality of her situation.

# # #

Two hundred miles away, Paul gasped and unerringly looked toward the southeast, toward Ganado, toward his parents.

"Paul?" asked Rosalina, a Diné historian and distant cousin of his Grandma Sandy.

"Sorry, Rosie, gotta go. I think my folks need me."

The much younger woman merely shook her head and smiled. "You shaman types are unnerving, you know."

He managed a smile as he stood and started refilling his pack. "I'm not a shaman, and neither is my mother. But, sure, there are similarities."

Rosalina stood as well, crossing her very modern apartment to fill his thermos with the last coffee from the fourth pot they'd made.

"Enough similarities that I'm going to wonder if you're going to kill yourself flying across northern Arizona in the middle of the night rather than being certain of it," she said with a tight smile as she handed him the thermos. "It isn't your aunt's coffee, but it still should manage to keep you awake all the way to Ganado."

"Thanks. I've been making this trip since I got my first speeder, and there's a full moon."

He tucked the thermos in a pocket of his pack before turning back to his cousin and hugging her.

"I'll be fine."

He couldn't say the same about his parents.

# # #

Andrea managed to stagger from the bedroom, hoping to make it to the bathroom before throwing up. Every cell in her body cried out in pain — all she could do was grind her teeth and try to push down the pain-induced nausea that threatened to make everything so much worse. Her vision blurred and started graying around the edges.

This was new... and she didn't like it.

It wasn't until she felt herself falling to the ground that she realized she'd stumbled to the doorway of her hogan.

# # #

Madeline doubled over from the pain. Logan was there in an instant, an arm around her, chuffing out a question.

"It's Andi."

He nodded. They'd been expecting Pablo's passing for months now.

"I'm here, darlin'."

# # #

Paul knew how fast his speeder could go. He also knew it was the definition of insanity to fly it at its top speed over desert terrain in the middle of the night... even if there was a full moon. Taking the speeder up to 500 kph was as suicidal as taking one of the Ducatis up to 400 kph — not even Aunt Lin did that.

But his mother did, as did Uncle Logan and Em.

And speaking of Em... He toggled the comms on his helmet and instructed the AI to contact his cousin. She picked up immediately. It was, after all, mid-morning in Paris.

"Paul." Her voice sounded strained.

"You might want to stay in Paris for a while. Or head up to Luna."

She didn't say anything for a minute.

"She taught me how to shield, Paul. And she's my family, too. I should be there — especially since our idiotic siblings are off-planet."

Paul, too, was silent for a moment before he sighed.

"Okay, Em. I'm not going to try talking you out of coming to Ganado. Just... just come with your folks, will you? I think it will be easier on everyone... you, your mom, my mom. But especially you."

"Fine. I'll call them."

And with that, Em broke the connection.

A moment later, the stabbing pain in his head disappeared entirely. That wasn't a good sign. He pushed the speeder up to its top speed.

# # #

The first indication that Andrea wasn't where she expected to be was the waterfall of red hair spilling over her as strong arms wrapped her in a hug.

"Andi, ya called, and I've come. How can I help ya?"

Why was Red here? Had she really called the Starship Captain Priestess to... well, no, she wasn't precisely in Ganado now, was she? That was when the dam broke, and heart-wrenching sobs spilled out of her.

"He... Pablo... he... he died today," she managed to say around the grief.

"Ah, mo cara... I'll be so sorry. If dere would be a way to ease da pain of his passin', ya know I'll be doin' anytin' in my power to help ya."

She tried to nod, she might have even succeeded.

"I know, Red." She tugged at the hem of her t-shirt, wiping away some of the tears on her face. "It hurts so much, though."

"I know," replied the redhead.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to call you here. Maddie and Logan are in Suriname. I thought I wanted to be alone."

"'Tis not a time to be alone, Andi. Ya need to be wit' your loved ones."

# # #

As sudden as the horrendous pain had been, it just as suddenly stopped. Before Madeline could even take a breath, however, the comm unit announced an incoming call from their daughter.

Em came right to the point.

"Where should I meet you? Paul thinks it might be a good idea if I arrived in Ganado with you."

# # #

Paul at least slowed the speeder when he got to the end of his parents' driveway, braking all the way up to the building. He left the vehicle behind his dad's car, jumped off, and ran to the doorway where his mother lay curled up... unconscious.

Without knowing it, he mirrored Moira's position in the Crossroads and held his mother as silent tears started falling down his cheeks.

# # #

"I think all the kids are off-planet." Andi had stopped sobbing so heart-wrenchingly, but her tears continued. It was almost as though she couldn't or didn't know how to stop crying. "Maddie and Logan will be in Ganado tomorrow. I knew he was going, Red. I think Rene was with us, but he needed to help Pablo with his transition." She shrugged helplessly. "I didn't know where else to go. I came here to be alone." Despite her healing factor, Andi's eyes here swollen and red-rimmed. "I wanted to go with him."

"But 'twill not be your time for such. Your Pablo will be back, doe. Soon, if I'll have taken his measure well enough."

Andi nodded as she relaxed slightly and rested her head on Moira's shoulder. "I know. I know all that, Red. And he..." She paused to swallow, to take a deep breath. "And he said the same thing I always say just before I realize I'm about to die... I'll be right back." She sniffed. "Except, I think it might take a day or two."

"Oh, Andrea..." Moira settled more comfortably on the ground here in front of the Overworld's version of Andrea's home. "I know 'twill not be much comfort, but ya know your beloved will return to ya da very moment he'll be workin' out da ways of bein' one of your Spirits. And 'twill not be near as long as I'll have waited for dat daft brodder of mine."

Andi sniffed again, shifting to wrap an arm around Moira's waist. "I know. It still hurts so much."

"Of course. 'Tis a powerful love ye share, and even dis small separation will be an equally powerful pain."

"I didn't think it would hurt this much."

"I know."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to call you, and here you are... an even more powerful Empath than Emelia." She made a weak attempt to extricate herself from Moira's embrace. But the Irish woman was stronger than she looked, especially here in the Overworld.

"Now, ya will be ceasin' dis attempt to avoid bein' comforted, Andrea Yazzie," Moira said, in a tone that allowed no room for argument. "I'll be more powerful dan your niece, 'tis true. And my shields will be more powerful, as well." She smiled, even though Andi couldn't see it. "Would ya like me to sing for ya? 'Tis a tin' I did for Rika when she'll have been still mournin' her Nate."

Andrea didn't say anything, not for several long minutes. "Mama used to sing to me when I was little," she whispered. "She sang me through the onset of my Curse."

"Yah, 'tis a tin' all women will do for deir children and grandchildren." For another minute, she just held the hurting woman, stroking her hair, remembering her own mother's similar comforts when Padraig had died. And then she sang...

The tender lady has sadness in her eyes
She sees the fallen hope, the loneliness and lies
Tell me, have you something to ease her pain?
Why not give her happiness and peace again?

I know I've come before asking things for me
But the tender lady needs so much care, you see
Tell me, have you something to ease her pain?
Why not give her happiness and peace again?

Music, oh, sweet melody
Won't you draw her close to you
And comfort her for me

I'm just a friend of hers, I cannot move the stars
But the tender lady reads messages like ours
Tell me, have you something to ease her pain?
Why not give her happiness and peace again?

Music, oh, sweet melody
Won't you draw her close to you
And comfort her
Yes, comfort her
Please comfort her for me

With hardly a pause, Moira began another song of comfort and hope...

Born of the Earth, a child of God
Just one among the family
And you can count on me to share the load
And I will always help you hold your burdens
And I will be the one to help you ease your pain

Lean on me, I am your sister
Believe on me, I am your friend
Lean on me, I am your sister
Believe on me, I am your friend

I will fold you in my arms like a white-winged dove
Shine in your soul, your spirit is crying... spirit is crying

Born of the Earth, a child of God
Just one among the family
And you can count on me to share the load
And I will always help you hold your burdens
And I will be the one to help you ease your pain

Lean on me, I am your sister
Believe on me, I am your friend
Lean on me, I am your sister
Believe on me, I am your friend

Lean on me, I am your sister
Believe on me, I am your friend
Lean on me, I am your sister
Believe on me, I am your friend

I am your friend.

The redhead continued to comfort the distraught woman and merely raised an eyebrow at her brother when he appeared.

You're singing. It's like leaving breadcrumbs for me, he said as he too, knelt beside Andi and Moira sang a lullaby...

Like a ship in the harbor, like a mother and child
Like a light in the darkness, I'll hold you a while
We'll rock on the water, I'll cradle you deep
And hold you while angels sing you to sleep

# # #

Although he understood, at least on an intellectual level, what his mother had done, it didn't stop him from worrying. Just as he and Maria hadn't been able to find where their mother had gone the first time she wound up in the Crossroads, he couldn't sense anything about the woman in his arms that identified her as "mother." It was a little scary, really.

So he did what he instinctively did when someone was in unbearable emotional pain — he sang.

Like a ship in the harbor, like a mother and child
Like a light in the darkness, I'll hold you a while
We'll rock on the water, I'll cradle you deep
And hold you while angels sing you to sleep

# # #

And then Moira sang a song of hope and joy, with Padraig joining the choruses with a tenor counter-melody...

Open mine eyes that I may see glimpses of truth I asked for me
Open mine eyes, illumine me, Spirit Divine

Love of my life I am crying, I am not dying
I am dancing
Dancing along in the madness, there is no sadness
Only a song of the soul

And we'll sing this song
Why don't you sing along
And we can sing for a long, long time

Why don't you sing this song
Why don't you sing along
And we can sing for a long, long time

What do you do for your living, are you forgiving
Giving shelter
Follow your heart, love will find you
Truth will unbind you, seek out a song of the soul

And we'll sing this song
Why don't you sing along
And we can sing for a long, long time

Why don't you sing this song
Why don't you sing along
And we can sing for a long, long time

Come to your life like a Warrior, nothing will bore ya
You can be happy
Let in the light, it will heal you
And you can feel you seek out a song of the soul

And we'll sing this song
Why don't you sing along
And we can sing for a long, long time

Why don't you sing this song
Why don't you sing along
And we can sing for a long, long time

Love of my life I am crying, I am not dying
I am dancing
Dancing along in the madness, there is no sadness
Only a song of the soul

And we'll sing this song
Why don't you sing along
And we can sing for a long, long time

Why don't you sing this song
Why don't you sing along
And we can sing for a long, long time

And finally, she sang the soft, gentle lullaby once more. This time, Padraig sang the tenor harmony at times and a descant at other times.

Like a ship in the harbor, like a mother and child
Like a light in the darkness, I'll hold you a while
We'll rock on the water, I'll cradle you deep
And hold you while angels sing you to sleep

Like a ship in the harbor, like a mother and child
Like a light in the darkness, I'll hold you a while
We'll rock on the water, I'll cradle you deep
And hold you while angels sing you to sleep

Like a ship in the harbor, like a mother and child
Like a light in the darkness, I'll hold you a while
We'll rock on the water, I'll cradle you deep
And hold you while angels sing you to sleep

As the last notes faded, Andi opened her eyes — still swollen and red, but the crying had slowed considerably — and looked at the O'Shaughnessy twins.

"Ahée'hee'... thank you. I love Cris Williamson's songs." She managed a hesitant smile. "I sang Lullaby to the children, to all the children."

Padraig, too, wrapped his arms around Andi. "You helped us. We help you. That's how it works, you know."

She just nodded.

"We'll stay as long as you need us. Duffy's holding Moira, Ciaran is monitoring." He looked at his sister. "The EMH was being a bit of a ninny, but surprisingly well-behaved."

"I don't want your people to worry about you, Red. I'll be okay now, I think."

Moira laughed. "Ah, now ya will not be gettin' rid of us so easily. Was I not after sayin' ya should not be alone? Wit' Ciaran watchin' over me, I'll not be worryin'." She raised an eyebrow at her brother. "Ya did tell our elder sib what we'll be doing, did ya not?"

Padraig grinned. "I'm not a complete tool. Of course, I did... as soon as I saw you and Andi, and heard you singing Tender Lady. And I'm sure he told Duffy. And I'm sure he'll tell Rika if First Watch rolls around and you're not back."

He shifted a bit and kissed Andi's forehead. "Time is moving very slowly on the Eclipse. Don't worry about us. Captain Sister doesn't really need to be on the bridge until we get to the Plague Planet."

"Padraig!"

He just grinned, and at the same time, Great Spirit... simply appeared. One moment she was not there; the next, she was. She smiled at Moira and Padraig as she crouched down in front of Andi.

# # #

"Curbside," Madeline told her daughter as she headed for their Pack's craft. "We're taking the Bird straight to Ganado."

"Got it."

Logan had already put their bags aboard and stowed the weapons they always carried. Two of their great-great-grandchildren, Beatrix and Johan, had assisted and added their mother's bag as well as the extra coffee.

"Give Tante Andi our love, Oma Eve, Opa Logan," Beatrix has said as Maddie Mari had climbed aboard herself.

Logan was running the preflight checks as Madeline reached out to her husband.

Rene, how is Andi?

I don't know. I'm with Pablo.

Her response was both mental and vocal and vehement. "You're where?! What the hell, Rene?! She can't be alone right now."

Pablo needs my help.

Jacobs, you get your ass over there now. There's a whole pantheon of spirits to help Pablo, right, Cat?

Most assuredly, Warrior. Eagle stands ready to assist as well.

Logan even added, Brother, you're a dumbass.

But... Rene began to protest.

Now, Rene. Trust me, she needs you way more than Pablo does. Go. I can't even feel her pain anymore, and that's not good. Don't you remember how broken we were?

Rene paused and remembered. Had he still been alive, the blood would have drained from his face. Mea culpa, he whispered before flying to Andi's side.

Madeline plopped down into the co-pilot's seat, rumbling every invective she knew in every language. Logan was pretty sure she made up a couple on the spot.

# # #

When Rene became corporeal just outside Andi and Pablo's home, he was not surprised to find Andi's Guardian Spirits — Bear, Cobra, Fox, Opossum, and Tiger — waiting in a semicircle about ten meters from the front door. He was surprised to see Paul propped in the doorway, cradling Andi's head in his lap.

His nephew stopped singing and looked up at him, a puzzled expression on his face.

"Uncle Rene."

"Paul." He took a step closer. "Need a break there?"

"No." Paul paused, realizing that his short, sharp answer was edging toward the snotty end of things, then deciding that he didn't really care. "I figured you'd be with Dad."

Rene settled himself on the ground close to Andi's feet. "I was. I was informed by my Wife and Brother that I made a poor choice."

"Hmm." Paul said nothing else, but after a few minutes, he began singing again.

# # #

"Thank you, children, for caring so much about my cherished daughter." She reached out to gently brush her fingers along Andi's jawline.

"My dear, come home to your own plane of existence. Your son worries and sings to you. Your Sister worries, and has severely chastised her beloved Husband for abandoning you. Rene has agreed to leave Pablo in the care of the Spirits. Both Eagle and Cat were quite eloquent in their assurance that Pablo will learn all he must learn just as easily and well with or without Rene's assistance."

Great Spirit smiled as she wrapped her arms around her knees, mirroring a favorite position Andrea often took. To the O'Shaughnesseys, she looked more like a Caitian than any human ever could.

"Your Rene is a good man who has become a powerful Spirit. He cares much for his Brother." Then she chuckled. "For all that he loves you too, dear daughter, I suspect he forgot that your Sister is still many miles away and cannot travel to your side at the speed of a thought."

"I... I thought I should be alone," Andi said softly.

"You are a wise woman, Andrea, but sometimes you are not overly bright."

"Yeah. Red's been trying to remind me of that. I just..." Andi sighed. "I miss him so much. I didn't know who to call, and I don't know anyone outside the Pentad who wouldn't just make everything hurt more than it does."

"But ya did," Moira said with a smile in her voice. "Ya tawt to hide from da world and all da people ya know, and so ya came to dee Overworld and called to me."

"Freaking me out in the process," Paddy added. "Thank you very much." He was practically glowing with happiness, however.

"I didn't mean to..." And started again, before Padraig gave her a light tap on the back of her head.

"Stop it, crazy Warrior Woman. If you haven't figured out by now that family and friends are as important to us as they are to you, I'll go find a rock to dump on your head to shake your brain loose."

Andi managed a smiled. "Thanks. You're a good kid."

"Kid?" He looked at Moira. "Even favorite elder brother doesn't call me that!"

Moira chuckled. "True. But his twin would, ya know."

Paddy nodded. "She would, wouldn't she? She's a brat." He looked at Andi. "And so are you."

Andi shrugged. "Sometimes. It's part of my charm."

Moira knew Andi's pain was still close to overwhelming her, but she was coping better now... trying to rebuild the shields the Priestess had taught her to create months — and for Andi, decades — ago.

"Rene is waiting for me?" Andi asked Great Spirit.

"He is, as is Paul, who seems every bit as stubborn as his mother. Your son will not give over his place to his uncle; one holds you, and the other sits beside you where your body is curled in on itself in this very spot on the physical plane."

The dark-haired woman took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Paddy glanced at Moira, who nodded minutely to him. He kissed Andi's cheek before standing up.

"Go be with your loved ones, Andi. It's what you need. If your Pablo loves you even a smidge as much as I love the Witch, you'll see him again very soon." Then he looked at his sister. "I'll make sure no one has done anything stupid since you passed out. I did manage to stop that ditz of a program from waking Fergus. I hope."

"Go raibh maith agat, Paddy. Are ya not supposed to be monitorin' da gobshite anyway?"

"Best processing system in the quadrant, remember?" he remarked cheerfully, tapping his temple. "Multitasking at its best!"

Then he turned to Great Spirit and bowed. "Lady, take good care of our friend, and thank you."

Andi shook her head as he disappeared, then shifted to hug Moira. "After so many years that it's hard to count, that disappearing trick is still unnerving. And thank you again, my friend."

"'Tis what I'll be doin' for anyone who'll call as ya did, Andi." Moira, too, stood, helping the other woman to her feet. She got the impression that Andi was still shaky, possibly in shock. There was nothing she could do for her on the physical plane, but her family, her Circle, would surround her with their love until her Pablo could return. She tucked her own thoughts and feelings about Kahallan deep into the background.

"Come, Andrea," Great Spirit said, holding out her hands to the Warrior. "Paul and Rene await you. Your Sister and Brother and niece are on their way even now. They worry."

"Guess I was a little boneheaded," Andi admitted.

Great Spirit shrugged. "Grief such as this affects everyone differently — often in ways that cannot be predicted."

"Ya did what ya will have needed to do, Andi. I'm after tankin' ya for callin' me when ya tawt ya had no one else. Now, go..."

Andi took Great Spirit's hands, and the two of them faded from the Overworld, taking Andrea's imaginings of her safe space with them.

# # #

Although she didn't wake up, Paul noticed the moment that the "mother" feeling had returned. He blinked away the tears filling his eyes and sniffled before looking at his Uncle.

"She's mostly back."

Rene nodded and looked at Andi's Guardian Spirits waiting patiently at the edge of her yard... or what she called a yard. He couldn't tell what differentiated the yard from the field — they both looked identically desert-like.

"We can't tell where she went, except that it's another dimension. We can't get there, but we can still sense her."

He shrugged as he turned back to Paul.

"If she wasn't in so much pain, she could probably reach out to Pablo and find him. Except that's not going to help him do what he needs to do.

"And other than Maddie, you're most likely to really understand what's happening."

"You mean the qi thing Mom and Dad have? I won't even pretend to understand it any more than I understand this one soul thing Mom and Aunt Lin have." Paul hugged his still-unconscious mother. "I just accept it as a thing. I don't always have to pick things apart and understand them at their component levels like Mom does."

Rene smiled. "It's more than your sister does, you know."

Paul shrugged one shoulder. It was true that he was worried about Mom, but mostly... well, worrying about Mom hurt a whole lot less than thinking about the fact that his Dad had died.

"So, what rituals should we start? Is there something we should do before Maddie and Logan get here?"

"And Em," Paul added. He swallowed hard, and another tear dropped into his mother's hair. "Dad died at home. Tradition says the house should be destroyed. Except the house is Mom's, really. I don't know." He took a deep, shuddering breath. "He wanted to be buried at the far edge of Mom's property."

He glanced at the five Spirits, then looked past them into the scrub grass beyond.

"Uncle Logan and I will dig the grave. Probably Em and Aunt Lin will wash the body and wrap it in a blanket. I guess you'll have to make sure Mom doesn't try to do everything herself. Just... you know, keep her company."

Rene nodded. "Okay." He looked past Paul and Andi in the doorway to the dark interior. "In the bedroom?"

Paul shook his head. "We'll have to move him outside. Otherwise, his spirit will stay too close to the living." He couldn't stifle the half-laugh, half-sob that escaped. "Right. Never mind. He made the same deal with the Spirits that you did."

"Paul..."

Rene wasn't sure what to do for his nephew. He didn't think there was anything he could do. Paul needed to grieve in his own way. Instead, he became incorporeal and moved into the house... into the bedroom. He blinked in surprise, then checked every other room in the small home.

Going back outside, he noted that Andi was back, and sobbing, and holding tightly to Paul.

"He's not in there," he whispered as he became corporeal once more.

Andi hiccuped a laugh before the grief poured over her again.

Asshole.

Rene didn't know if Andi meant him or Pablo.

Probably around the side of the house.

"Mom? Can you get up?"

Bear ambled over and held out its paws.

"I will assist, Warrior."

Andi shook her head. "I can damn well get to my own two feet without supernatural help."

To Paul's ears, she sounded even snottier than he had earlier.

She looked up at Rene and pointed to the side of the house opposite Pablo's car and her bike. And Paul's speeder.

"At least let me help, Mom," Paul said as Uncle Rene disappeared again.

"I'd rather punch you."

"I know. If it would help you feel any better, I'd even let you."

She shook her head and reached for the hem of her t-shirt, and then stopped when Paul reached behind him to pull out an honest-to-goodness handkerchief. She stared at it for a moment before accepting it and blowing her nose.

"Where'd you get this?"

"Rosalina. I was up in Page when..."

"Oh. Which one is she?"

That made Paul smile, which was probably Andrea's intention.

"Rosalina Salazar, professor of history at the community college up there... of Tódich'inii, born for Honágháahnii."

"Ah. Mama's cousin."

"Yeah. One of about three dozen, I think."

She sat up straighter, pulling her legs in close, then started to run her fingers through her hair.

"Good gods, did I roll around in the mud while I was out?"

"It's just tears and snot. Yours and mine."

Andrea groaned.

"You'll stay?" she asked her son.

"Of course... for as long as you need me. Em's coming along with Aunt Lin and Uncle Logan. Em needs to get to Suriname first, or meet her folks somewhere between there and here."

She nodded and began the arduous process of standing. She didn't want to move, she didn't even want to be awake. There wasn't much other than going back to the Crossroads that would keep her from feeling so gods be damned alone — and even that wouldn't really help. Besides, it apparently made people worry.

The next few days were going to suck so hard. She didn't think it was a good idea for Em to be coming out here... but she sure as hell wasn't going to keep the young woman from supporting her and her son. Ah, just one of the many reasons she loved her niece so much.

Finally on her feet, she wrapped Paul in a hug.

"Thank you. Go help your uncle. I can manage not to pass out again long enough to make some coffee."

"You sure?"

She smiled at him. "I'm sure, son."

As he rounded the building, she looked back at her Guardian Spirits.

"You might as well all come in."

In an instant, Cobra was wrapped around her waist, and Opossum was perched on her shoulder, its tiny paws gently holding onto her ear.

"I will remain out here, Warrior," Bear said. "This residence is very small. I like the one on the southern continent best."

"You would," she muttered. "Fine. You do you."

With Fox and Tiger on either side, she walked — slowly, to be sure — to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee.

© Kelly Naylor