Issue 10: To Boldly Go

As Pablo drives down from the cabin toward Sixth Avenue, I do my best to hang onto the feeling of not completely insane that had settled over me after my meltdown.

I know being with the Pentad helped. I could feel... something. Grounding, I guess. Is it weird that Maddie feels like a... a fiercely gentle hug?

"What's on your mind, Andi?" Pablo asks as we reach the more populated area of western Golden.

"Mmm... just thinking about the day. I feel less crazy than I did when we left home."

I look over to see him smile.

"I'm delighted to hear that! Is it going to last?"

He glances quickly at me but gives most of his attention to the traffic around us.

"I'd be lying if I said I knew. I hope so." I sigh softly. "But I'm afraid it won't."

"I wish I could help."

I chuckle. "Oh, you've helped. I believe it's your fault my hormones are in flux... a flux that will only get more out of control as the months pass." I shift a bit in the seat so it's easier to watch him. "I won't blame you for the fact that our children seem to be lunatics. Or won't blame you much."

He shakes his head but then grins like a silly fool. "Thank you. Our children. Gods, Andi..."

I rest a hand on his shoulder. "Don't go all gushy mushy on me while we're on Sixth, please." I laugh; it feels so good. "We can get blubbery when we get home."

He chuckles. "I'm doing my best. Maybe we should talk about something else. Or something related. What did you need to tell Amanda?"

"Oh, just that I'll need her services, and that I have issues. I have to trust someone, and if Maddie trusts Amanda... well, then I can trust her, too." I groan with frustration. "Eventually, I'm going to have to come out to Joe... but I'm not ready."

"Hey, I get that part. And I wouldn't say you have issues."

"Pablo! I'm one of Denver's Supers! That's... an issue. My other option is to take Naughty Cat up on her offer and have the kids in her den."


"Watch the road, Pablo. And I told her you wouldn't like the idea. So don't worry about it."

"You actually considered this??"

"Hell no! But she offered. And that was sweet of her. I told her I should probably be in my own den when I have my kits."

He sighs. "Good grief."

"Hey now... I told you what I do up here before you decided we were going to get married, you know."

"I know, I know. It's just... bizarre, okay?"


He's silent for a couple of miles but doesn't seem to be interested in changing the topic.

"You're considering a home birth?"

I close my eyes and lean my head against the headrest.

"Gods, I don't know, Pablo. It's..." I sigh. "Those issues that I have... I have a feeling 'ordinary' isn't even going to be in the same county with me. My gut says we should go out to Nageezi and stay with Uncle Leon and Aunt Sonia for a couple of weeks. Logistically, it just won't work."

"I know Sanchez will give me the time off."

I open my eyes and smile at him.

"He will. He's... well, he's a good man. But I don't relish the idea of spending seven or eight or twelve hours in your car wondering if I'm going to go into labor any minute."

"It doesn't take that long to get to your Aunt and Uncle's place, does it?"

He sounds both confused and surprised. That, of course, gives me another reason to chuckle.

"On my bike at the height of summer, I can make it in maybe five hours. The same route by car, mind you, is just over seven hours if you stick to the speed limit. That's the 'all mountains, all the time' route, though... so you'd stick to the speed limit. And it's my understanding we'd need to stop every fifteen minutes for a potty break."

It's his turn to chuckle. I can tell he's thinking about Rosalia simply by the way his qi ripples around his heart.

"That's about right. We'd be better off taking I-25. Is it much farther out of the way?"

I shrug. "Not really. It's about the same amount of time if you take I-25 south, then head west in Walsenburg. There are fewer mountains and more desert, and once you get to the Jicarilla Apache lands... well, not a lot of towns out there. So not a big difference in scenery. Or amenities." I shake my head, although he can't see me as he doesn't take his eyes from the seemingly never ending construction zone as we approach Kalamath.

"So, New Mexico is probably not a good idea.

"Especially since I need to be in Idaho Springs on the Summer Solstice, and I don't know when those two are going to show up."

Oops. Probably shouldn't have mentioned Idaho Springs. Pablo nearly snags a traffic cone to bring home with us.


"Okay, I could have mentioned that at a better time. But... well, I made promises, Mother made a promise, so it's a thing that needs to be done."

He merely sighs.

"Fine. I'll drive you out there."

I'm not saying anything. I'm not my cousin, and I'm not clairvoyant. But... well, I do have instincts.

"I'm not driving you out there?" Now he just sounds confused.

"I don't know, Pablo! I know I'll need help... I've known from day one that I'd need Rene's help. This... well, this does change things, that's for sure." I shrug. "I'm going to give Mother a chance to let me know who she thinks will be needed."

I'm pretty sure the only reason Pablo doesn't thump his head on the steering wheel and groan is that we're actually driving. He does groan, though.

"Is the weirdness ever going to plateau, Andi?"

I close my eyes and concentrate on my breathing for a minute. This conversation has the potential to ramp up my anxiety and erase all the good my earlier meltdown did. I count to ten in every language I know; I even make the effort to butcher French. Finally, all I can do is sigh.

"You have no idea how badly I want to promise that we'll return to our regularly scheduled level of crazy, Pablito. I can hide most of my stress from most of the world; what little that seeps out people just chalk up to pre-marital jitters."

I open my eyes and look at his profile. He's concentrating so hard on simply driving; I don't want to add to his worries... but he did ask.

"I'm even putting a lot of effort into keeping the internal crazy from affecting you and the rest of the Pentad. I feel like Rene and Logan shrug it all off fairly easily. I'm more concerned about you and Maddie."

He looks at me when we stop for the red light at Broadway. Thank gods we're almost home.

"I have so many questions, I'm not even sure where to start, Andi."

"Yeah. And I'm not sure I have answers. Some." I rest a hand on his arm until the light changes. "We've got so much crazy in our lives. Let's just remember to appreciate the normal."

He drives up Sixth in silence until we turned onto Pennsylvania.

"You know... you might consider not telling the Human Tsunami about the kids until he figures it out on his own," he says, a wicked glint in his eyes.

"Don't think I haven't thought about that. But I have to weigh the guilt in which he will attempt to drown me against the amount of attention he'll most assuredly overuse as he tries to suffocate me." As we turn onto Fifth Avenue, I can see neither he or David are home. Since tomorrow is Harmony's concert, I'm hoping they're safely at a rehearsal of some sort. I know damn well they're not at Charlie's.

"If I'm going to work as long as possible, I should probably go with the guilt."

"I don't like the idea of you working," he says, frowning as he pulls into the driveway.

I stare at him as he put the car in park and shuts it down. I think he knows I'm staring; I'm pretty sure he knows I don't like the words he just said.

When he looks at me, with one hand on the door handle and the other on the key he's about to remove from the ignition, he sighs.

"We should go inside and talk about this, but it's not..." Leaving the key in the ignition, he shifts to rest the backs of his fingers against my cheek. "Andi, I'm not acting like the overprotective husband right now. We both have dangerous jobs. I don't like the fact that I still need to be out there, too, putting myself in a position to deprive our children of a father."

I feel a lump in my throat, and it's getting awfully dusty in here. He's a true gentleman, and sometimes I feel like he's not quite marching to the twenty-first century drums of equality.

Then he says something like this.

Our children.

Our children need a mother and a father.

I raise a hand to cover his, not quite able to speak; his fingers curl around mine.

"I know you heal, my beloved. But how would a serious injury affect... affect them? What if you die again... and just please don't, okay?"

I manage to swallow past that lump, but I hold his hand tightly, kissing his fingers before pressing our hands to my chest directly over my heart chakra.

"All I can tell you is that they promised they wouldn't leave. They want this life. The Gods, Buddhas and Spirits only know why, but they do." I manage a ghost of a smile. "They're looking forward to being able to talk to you like they talk to me. Oh gods, Pablo, I don't want to endanger them! I don't like it any more than you that my responsibilities put me in harm's way."

I think the full enormity of this situation hits me then, like the proverbial ton of bricks. Whatever Pablo sees in my face — and I think it's probably panic mixed with unmitigated fear — causes him to pull me into a tight embrace. I don't even care that we're sitting in the front seat of his car. Or that I've got one arm trapped at my side. Or that my spine is twisting just a bit more than it probably should. With my head on his shoulder, tucked close to the crook of his neck, and my free hand flat against his back I just breathe... trying to quell the panic.

I'm not sure who I'm supposed to blame for the fact that I seem to be hyper-aware of the blood pounding through his carotid artery. Those two? Or maybe Pablo, and his ancestral blood magic rituals?

Shit. Andi's going crazy again.

"We should go inside," he mumbles.

I nod... or I try to nod. He just holds me though, until this latest bout of crazy ebbs. Dear gods, am I going to a raving lunatic until they're born? Maybe Maddie's idea of taking a break in Suriname isn't such a bad idea after all... as long as there aren't many people around.

I'm pretty sure I'm in some kind of fog; reality has decided to take on some of the less desirable qualities of my dreams. I felt almost normal, almost sane for so much of the day. And now... now I'm not sure if I can hold it together long enough to fall asleep and leave the day behind.

I'm aware enough to get out of the car, grab my staff and bag from the back seat while Pablo grabs his bag from the trunk. Aware enough to get into the house, put my staff in its proper place in my dojo, and put my uniform back in the closet.

But then I just stand in the bedroom. Lost. In a fog.

I really hate fog.


I blink a couple of times. Gods, I haven't been this disoriented since... since I woke up from the coma, I think.

"Andi, talk to me." He takes my hands and just holds them, but when I look up at his face, I can see everything in his eyes.

I don't mean that all his emotions are shining through. I mean it looks like the entire world is looking back at me. It's always so easy to get lost in those rich brown depths. Tonight, I feel... I think I want to get lost, to run away from all this insanity that's gripping me. And yet, the whole universe is looking back at me with him.

I try to say something, anything at all, to reassure him. Or to...


I'm not sure if any sound escapes. Maybe my lips just move. I don't know. I'm losing control again.

But the next instant, I'm enfolded in his arms and feel... safe? Yes. I feel safe. My arms snake around his waist, and I rest my head on his shoulder. I realize we're standing in our bedroom. How did we get here? Wait... the fog, right?

"It would help if I knew what was wrong, my love," he whispers.

"I know." I hold him just a little closer. "I wish I knew."

"Feeling overwhelmed again?"

I just nod.

"Come on, sit down. Or we can lie down. I'll hold you, love." He pulls back a bit and I feel one arm breaking the circle of safety. I don't think I whimper; I do feel as though I'm holding onto him for my very life. A moment or an eternity later, I feel his fingers lifting my chin.

There are his eyes again. Even though I'm lost, he's a lifeline.

"I'm not going to pretend to understand everything, Andi," he says softly. "Maybe everything is magnified for you because of who you are and what you can do. But I think emotional roller coasters are normal."

I shake my head... except... except I don't. I only think I do.

"No. It's not normal."

He smiles, and the sun shines brightly in the room. I blink, and it's just Pablo... and me... and safety.

"Yes, it is. You're pregnant."

I stare. For a heartbeat... an hour... I don't know.


He chuckles. "I love you, Andi. This is what the next nine months are going to be like? Because I'm going to have to hire a nanny to take of you if it is."

That sounds so ludicrous that I actually laugh. Bizarrely, at least half the morass of feelings drain out. I don't feel quite normal, but I don't feel quite as insane either.

"Not nine months. Seven." I take a deep breath, anchoring myself in the here and now, using those beautiful eyes as my focus. "Maybe less because... you know... twins."

His smile is radiant, and he seems to be glowing again. It's my mind playing tricks on me. I'm pretty sure of it, anyway.

"Come on, Andi. Sit down."

He kisses me softly, briefly and guides me to the side of the bed. I find myself sitting. Either the world is moving in stop motion or I'm still on the crazy side of the tracks. Given the nature of physics, it's more likely the latter, but... well, I'm not completely ruling out the former.

"Why didn't you tell me sooner, love?" he asks as he pulls me close. I can rest my head on his shoulder again, and that's good. Very good. His voice holds only curiosity; there are no accusations.

"You know why."

"You were afraid."

He does understand. I hug him close. He does understand.

"It's okay, Andi. That was a hell of a weird way to tell me..." He chuckles again. His joy is a palpable thing and feels like a warm blanket on a cold day. "But I'm starting to catch up now, and almost understand that weird is going to be a way of life with you. A plateau would be nice, but if we're climbing mountains our whole lives, I'll manage."

"I'm sorry."

He laughs as he hugs me. "Oh God, Andi, don't be sorry! It's part of who you are. And I love every part of you. It just takes me a bit to catch up, that's all."

I look up into his eyes again to see the absolute truth. I belong in an insane asylum, and he loves me anyway. I somehow manage to smile.

"There you go... that's what I was looking for. God, you're beautiful."

"You sure know how to turn a girl's head, Detective." I can hold onto sane when we have this joy surrounding us. For a little while, anyway.

"Just yours. Now..." His eyes twinkle; if I didn't know better, I'd think the universe of stars was in those eyes. " are we going to keep you from going completely bonkers in the next seven — or less — months?"

I shrug, but I still have his arm and our joy enfolding me.

"I have no clue. Okay, I have some clues, but no answers. I'm not the detective." I giggle.

"So, I'm supposed to figured it all out?" He pretends to be offended.

"Gosh, if only it were that simple!" I sigh. "Nope. I think those two are supposed to give me more clues. Or I got the impression they were. I'm really confused, you know."

"Well, that makes two of us. So it's fine."

I look at his heart, at the qi flowing through it and around it. In July, when he first told me about Rosalia and Juan, his grief was so devastating and unresolved that it had looked like a tar pit. While he still feels sadness and grief, he allowed his love for Rosalia — bright and golden — to wash away the stagnation that might have killed him.

"Besides, you're the one who's done this before," I say softly.

Pablo just holds me closer.

"I guess I have," he says, far more easily than anyone else might have expected. "Rocky Road ice cream with half a bottle of maraschino cherries, juice and all, kept Rosalia from going completely crazy."


"Yeah, I figured it wouldn't work very well for you." He chuckles softly.

Then he pauses, and I can feel the air pressure changing as he tries to figure out what question he wants to ask, how he wants to ask it. Oh no, no, no! I am not going to be able to hold onto my mind if I'm going to be hypersensitive to even the tiniest manifestations of his powers.

Just breathe, Andi. Just breathe.

"I'm just a dumb cop..."

I poke his ribs; happiness bubbles out.

"...but how do you know we're having twins?"

I inhale and hold my breath, eyes closed. I count backward from twenty-five in Mandarin. And then I slowly exhale.

"The dreams."

He's quiet. He's calm. He's steady.

"Huh. Well... if you say so, who am I to argue? You have been having some peculiar dreams, and they've really upset you." He shrugs pragmatically. "I guess with you, anything is possible."

I don't really want to move, but I want to see his face. Except... except I don't really need to see him to know that he's exactly as accepting of the weird as he sounds. He's more accepting of it than I am.

"I love you, Pablo. I don't think anyone else could handle me and my craziness."

He laughs again. "Andrea, my dearest one... after everything we've been through since going out to Flagstaff, weird dreams seem like they're just par for the course."

I snicker. "You'll change your tune when they start invading your dreams."

I can feel him smile. "Maybe. And maybe not."

This time I do look up at him.

Hope. Joy. Love. Yearning.

My smile matches his. "Okay. Maybe not."

"Feeling better?"

I nod. "For now. Give me another minute, and I'll be off to the funny farm again."

He kisses my forehead. "So it's my turn to freak out again?" he asks.

Fortunately, I know he's only teasing. But it's a fun game.

"Do you have to? What else is there to freak out about, anyway?" I manage not to smile, but I'm fairly certain my eyes are twinkling with merriment.

"Oh, not really that much, I suppose," he said has he slides off the bed to kneel in front of me, pushing up one jeans leg to unzip the boot and pull it off. "Just a couple of little things — probably not worth worrying about at all — like who to tell and when, what will we name them, how we're going to manage two kids in this house, how we're going to raise sane children. Just little things." He looks up innocently as he sets the boot behind him.

I giggle. "Okay, first, you don't need to help me get my boots off for months yet," I say, resting my still shod ankle on my other knee."

"I'm practicing!"

Peace, peace... joy and love. I think that's what his smile is radiating right now. I pull the boot off and toss it next to the other one.

"Who? Well, the family... families... of course. But I figure we can tell them at the wedding the same way Yani told us about Little Kai. Did I remember to tell Maddie she was born on Wednesday? Anyway, I liked the way Yani did it. We can't tell them we're having twins, though. Not until Amanda can tell with, you know, regular medical voodoo."

"I'm pretty sure it's not voodoo, dear."

"Oh, you know what I mean. That... that stuff doctors do."

He chuckled. "Yes, dear. No mentioning the twins until we get Amanda's seal of approval."

I lean forward and rest my forehead against his.

"The base housing was smaller than this and we managed just fine. I'm not worried about that. We might consider moving somewhere a little less... ahh..."

"Close to the Human Tsunami?" Nope, he couldn't keep a straight face either.

"Well, there's that. But I was thinking more along the lines of them being not so regular little hellions. If their... powers manifest at puberty, they can go study out in New York with Charles. If it happens earlier — and I've seen enough of the kids in Commerce City to know the odds are not insignificant — well, the farther away the neighbors are, the better."

He kneels back on his heels to study my face.

"You expect them to have... unusual abilities." Apparently the thought never crossed his mind. Well, sure... why would it? He's only been living with the intimate knowledge of mutants and mutant abilities for just over four months.

I merely nod. The fact that they have conversations with me in my dreams...

No, no, no! No freaking out now, Andi. Relax. Just relax.

Pablo mulls it over for a minute, then finally shrugs. "You might as well hit me with all the craziness possible all at once. Smart idea." He nods.

And I wonder if he's starting to lose his marbles, too. Although, just going with the crazy does work up to a point. Given our experiences with that damn ancestral nuisance Quetzalcoatl and my former guardian Spirit Raven, I'm pretty sure he's got a higher tolerance for crazy — or better coping mechanisms — than I do.

He kneels up again and tries to help me off with my shirt. That I don't mind. The fact that it seems like he's practicing undressing a toddler? I slap his hand and laugh.

"I don't need help getting my clothes off either!" I waggle my eyebrows at him. "Unless you had something more in mind than just tucking me into bed."

His demeanor changes in an instant and he bears entirely too close a resemblance to the man who returned from Quetzalcoatl's prison world after three years. The Warrior took over then. Today, I just grab a fistful of his shirt... right over his sternum.

"Do you like this shirt, Pablo?" I whisper in his ear.

He hesitates, wavers, and — from what I can feel from the resonance of his qi — balances on the top of a wall, not knowing where he's going to fall.

"Yes. It's one of my favorites."

"Then I won't rip it off you. Unless you want me to." My whisper is soft, calm, almost silky... but there's also a very sharp knife edge to it.

The tiniest ripple runs through his qi, through our qi, and he lands on the safe side of that wall.

I loosen my fist and smooth out his shirt. Then I cup his cheek, caressing his cheekbone with my thumb.

"Don't forget that Andi's crazy, love. You say you want to get all the crazy out of the way, but don't forget that I'm the eye of the hurricane. Except that maybe I'm the anti-eye."

I slide off the bed, too, and wrap my arms around him as I rest my head on his shoulder again. I feel his arms encircling me; I feel safe.

"I'm less afraid of burning the house down at this point than I am of sending a cyclone up Sixth Avenue."

He sighs softly, though it's partly relief and partly the same comfort I feel. "Okay. Take things easy until Andi's sane again. Check."

I chuckle.

"I'm glad you have confidence I'll come within waving distance of sanity again. It helps me believe it's possible."

"There's a song Elvia used to sing to Ladonna and Blanca after our dad died," he says softly. "I swear she's the strongest of us. I know she was just singing for the girls, but it helped me, too. The chorus goes, If you lose your faith, babe, you can have mine. And if you're lost, I'm right behind... 'cause we walk the same line."

I smile and look up at him. "Your sister is amazing, and she loves you so much, Pablo. I'd bet anything she was singing that for you, too... even if none of you would admit it."

Even though he pauses before nodding, I can see in his eyes the instant recognition of the truth.

"I'd have gone with Lean On Me, personally," I add. "Because we're both stubborn, right? Lean on me when you're not strong, and I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on. For it won't be long 'til I'm gonna need somebody to lean on. Please, swallow your pride if I have things you need to borrow. For no one can fill those of your needs that you won't let show."

He curls his fingers under my chin. "And what do you need, Andi? Right now? I know you're strong as the mountains, and I know you feel out of control. How can I help?"

I blink away the tears that threaten to fall, even as I smile. My heart knows how constant and steady his love is for me, and it still trips up my silly brain sometimes.

"Hold me until I fall asleep? Be my knight in shining armor and fend off the dragons of my dreams?" I sigh; even to my own ears, it's a sigh that sounds more wistful than anything else.

"I'm so tired, Pablo. I'd just like a night of sleep where those two leave me be, and let me sleep."

He stands, then holds out his hands to help me stand... because he's a gentleman. Maybe, probably, come spring I'll actually need the help. Now? I'll let him be my knight; I kind of like the idea. For now, anyway.

"I would slay dragons for you, my lady," he says very seriously before... bowing? And kissing my hand? He straightens up and grins. I think we've both got the sillies. "Or I would if I didn't suspect you believe our children are the metaphorical dragons in this story. Slaying them would be bad form for a knight."

I giggle again. "You've been watching the BBC channels again, haven't you?"

"Guilty as charged," he agrees.

It seems prudent to undress ourselves, in a completely grown up and appropriate way, but I think we laugh more as we go through our nightly rituals than we have in a very long time. It's only when we finally do crawl into bed and I curl up wrapped safely in Pablo's arms and my head pillowed on his shoulder that I realize letting go of so much stress is almost as exhausting as... well, as doing Ninja's job and Andrea's job and trying to maintain some semblance of a normal life.

I feel Pablo chuckle more than I actually hear it.

"You just turned into an overcooked piece of spaghetti, love."

"Really romantic, Pablito. Maybe I should remember to stay stressed about one, or maybe two things."

I feel his kiss on my temple, but I'm so comfortable, so tired, so content that all I can manage is a smile and a sigh.

As I slide into sleep, I think, My knight watches; I will sleep soundly.

# # #

I should be so lucky...

Oh, fuck no! Not this again.

Wonderful. Oh, this is just jolly wonderful. Another fucking dream starring those two. I behave like a perfectly normal, if perhaps slightly intoxicated, person all evening with Maddie's friends — one of whom is one of Ninja's bloody contacts! — and I get rewarded with another thrilling roller coaster ride of crazy talk from those two.

It really doesn't seem fair.

Fine. Life isn't fair. But seriously... this is verging on torture.

And for the record, I don't think anyone believed I was intoxicated. Wildly in love and happy, sure. The light and love in Pablo's eyes were probably showing in mine as well. And my sweet little niece and nephew probably hurt their eyes with the amount of rolling they were doing. I half expected them to start chanting, Get a room.

If those two don't stop this bullshit, I'm not going to get a full night's sleep until they reach adulthood. No, okay... until I can ship them off to Charles. At least that's sooner. I should start making those plans now. I wonder if he's got a preschool level.

Where the hell are they? They usually don't wait this long before the show starts.

If you think I'm not going to wallop your asses for this bullshit, you'd better start rethinking your decisions. Brats!!

The fog is nearly as dense as it was in those first few dreams, back when Pablo and I were still in Paris. That's moderately strange. I thought they'd decided who they were. Well, sort of, anyway. They'd certainly given the impression that their indecision had been the reason the fog had been so thick in the first place.

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

Maybe I'm not in a place where they can talk to me? Oh, come on, Andi! That doesn't even make any sense. They're the ones who call me to... wherever this is. At least... I think so. Huh. They did say I could call them, but... yo! That's what I've been doing, haven't I?

If they think I'm going to be nicer about it, they picked the wrong mother.

I look very intently for any other qi signatures because if I'm in that dream place with those two I shouldn't find anyone. And if I'm anywhere else, I should find Pablo... or Rene and the Spirits at the very least.

But no. Nothing.

Well... maybe... something? It's hard to tell.

Okay, it's time to calm down.

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

Oh, wait. Didn't Rene say his Spirit Siblings were terrified of me? He did. Was he serious, or was he trying to get me to break character? Why would they be terrified of me? On the other hand, why would Rene yank my chain when I'm essentially working undercover?

I haven't a clue about the minds and motivations of the Spirits, but my Spirit Brother is really not the kind of person who'd go around breaking someone's cover.

Well, that's just peachy. Be that way. I can wait them out — whoever they are, and I suspect it's those two — until I wake up. Or until Pablo wakes me up. Hmm... that would be nice.

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. That includes having all the necessary little facial features that are needed for clear speech. That includes teeth, by the way. Ha! That'll just serve you right.

At least this dimension — or dream, who the frack knows? — does me the courtesy of providing a lovely rock to lean against. It looks eerily like the dreamscape in my coma or at least one of the primary locations out in Monument Valley that I know and love so well.

I sigh as I rest my head on folded arms that are propped on my raised knees. Just keep breathing, Andi. Maybe a visit to Master Chen would be in order. I know Maddie wants me to go to Suriname, and I'm sure it's beautiful there... and even restful for her. I'm not sure I wouldn't go even crazier, though. At least Master Chen knows me, understands me and my power.

Have I not been paying attention to my surroundings? I could have sworn I was, but then how could I hear the soft sound of a cough before I feel any change to the surrounding qi?

I'm standing up in a defensive position almost instantaneously; I think I might have moved as quickly as Logan. Maybe even faster. I blame those two, of course because I'm not as fast as Logan. Yet. Okay, just kidding. Probably never.

And there's a barefoot redhead in jeans and a sweater standing here in front of me. What in the hell...?

That would be a handy trick to learn. The redhead sounds almost wistful.

I just stare at her for a second, trying to figure out who's playing what game with me now. Aside from those two, I can't think of anyone who could pull this off. Charles... maybe? But he seems like a perfectly nice man. Plus, I don't know him well enough for him to be playing tricks on me like this. I know we've been introduced, so to speak, in that mind to mind way telepaths have... and I know he's damn powerful. Well, Maddie says he is, and why wouldn't I believe her? But Tommy's no slouch, and he's kin besides... and there's no way in hell he could do this.

I am absolutely losing my mind. Buh-bye. It was nice knowing you.

Who is this person?

"Who the hell are you? And what would be a handy trick?"

Whoa! Well, my, my... that certainly seems to surprise her. What? I shouldn't have heard what you thought, dearie? Huh, maybe not, since she doesn't seem to be able to hear my thoughts. At least she's not responding to any of my more outrageous inner monologs. Oh, yeah... right... it's my dream. I get to make the rules. Well, except the part about waking up, apparently. Why doesn't that ever make it into the rule books?

"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 smiles and eyes the wisps of hair that behave as though they might be alive. Maybe Medusa would be a better name for her. Maybe she is Medusa... you know, a Super with hair that's alive and prehensile? She certainly has enough of it!

"An' ye'll be quite a powerful telepath, lass, te hae picked it out."

I move out of the battle mode stance to something I guess would be more like 'ready for battle, but I'm actively considering not kicking your ass' stance. Or in layman's parlance, I relax. Just a little.

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

Yeah, well, doesn't it depend on what a person means by 'telepath'? Sure, I can do that telepathy thing sometimes with some people, and frequently with animals with big enough brains, but I'm not sure I'd consider it powerful. But what the hell do I know, right? Then her comment about braiding hair catches up to the thinking part of my obviously addled brain, and I look down at what I'm wearing.

"Okay, what the actual fuck?!" I say, giving up all pretense of being ready for battle, and throw my 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." I look around for the telltale spots of lights that are those two, but I don't see them anywhere.

"After you're born, anyway," I grumble. Then I look at the... avatar? Well, shit... I don't know what to call her. Dream person? Weirdly, she has a qi signature, which is... well, might be... strange. And I don't recognize her. I can't decide if that's good or bad.

"Why are you in my dream?"

Both red eyebrows shoot up in surprise.

"I'll nae be in yer dream, lass. Ye'll be in th' Overworld."

I blink. If brains could be rebooted like computers, I'd be rebooting right now.

"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."

I look around at the way the landscape has been formed. Even in the coma, it was recognizable. Hell, even those two had merely taken a mashup of a few significant places from my memory.

"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." The redhead shrugs. "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' expanded 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?"

Yep, ol' Andi's gone and lost her mind. It's not bad enough that Salvador Dali fucked with my memory of Arizona... but I'm making up people who want to take credit for it? And even I couldn't make up half the bullshit she's spewing. A plane of meditation and communication? Oh, come on. That's just splitting hairs. Dimension, a plane of existence... what's the difference?

"You... Lady? Reality? What?"

Mighty articulate there, kiddo. No one would ever believe you have a Masters degree in anything, let alone Library and Information Science. I close my eyes, shake my head, and just breathe through the crazy. Crazy will be my life from now on. Wonderful, wonderful.

"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."

Maybe if I decide all is well, all will actually be well and the fog will come back. Or the landscape will return to something resembling normal? It's worth a shot, right? Just breathe, Andi. Everything is just fine. This is Monument Valley. It's Monument Valley. Yep. That's it.

I open one eye to see if the weird is gone.

It isn't.

I sigh. I suppose I need to accept that life is just never going to be normal again. And that's even taking into account that my usual level of normal isn't exactly normal. Normal. It's such a nice concept. Maybe this is my punishment for pretending to be a 'normal' person all through college.

I open the other eye and look at the redhead.

"Andrea. Or Andi." I gesture to my outfit; I know I remember wearing shorts when I sat down. I wonder why I'm even surprised by any of this. I just want to wake up. "Though when I'm dressed like this, I'm working... so it's Ninja."

The other woman giggles. "Ninja?"

Giggling? Giggling??!?

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

She holds her hands up — half a gesture of surrender, half one of peace — but continues to grin. I'm trying to decide if I find that annoying or not.

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

I harrumph. "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."

She practically lights up with confusion; I'm glad I'm not the only one who's monumentally baffled. In fact, it makes me feel a little better.

"Super Hero? Mutant registration? Diné?"

I just look at her. You know... I wonder if this is the inter-dimensional equivalent of a padded room. It could explain a thing or two.

"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?"


I just stare at her. For a really long time. I... can't... even!

"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 little happy 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."

Red blinks.

Well, okay, when I get babbling, I do tend to have that kind of effect on people. It might take a minute for her brain to reboot.

"Aye..." she says 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. Nay, he'll hae stayed aboard th' Clarke," she says to 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'll 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."

What the hell was that? I stare some more, for slightly less time. Maybe.

"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. There are more federally recognized tribes and Nations in Oklahoma than anywhere else in the US."

I think she ignored everything after I asked who she was. It's just as well, I suppose. Although you would think that an Irish person would know about the Choctaw. Those folks are righteous and did some monumentally amazing good deeds after their Trail of Tears by sending money to the Irish folks during their famine. Talk about heroes! Heck, there are some whispers in the wind of an Irish artist designing a monument for some town to honor the Choctaw.

If that actually happens? Oh, you bet your bottom dollar I'm going to find a way to get out there to see it! And I'm bringing Charlie and Susan with me.

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

I nod slowly but refrain from backing away. Barely. She'd just follow anyway, I suppose. "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?"

She lets loose with a barrage of words so full of annoyance and rage that I can only guess it is a rant in her native language. And from the tone? Well, whatever she's saying is not nice. It could also be the fact that her face is starting to come close to the color of her hair. Huh. And the fact that it seems to be getting awfully warm here. If she's a figment of my imagination, she's a pretty inventive one.

I'm grinning broadly, though, by the time she finishes her little rant. It's a magnificent one.

"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 — though it's as delightfully lyrical as Diné Bizaad — but I get the gist of your feelings for whoever's in charge of the Enterprise. You're not a fan."

She glares at me, which keeps me pretty happy. Hey, remember that recent revelation that Ninja isn't a very nice person? Yeah. That.

"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?" I respond with a shrug of one shoulder. I'm trying not to laugh at her because she seems really passionate in her extreme dislike of Picard. She could probably turn the temperature up to something truly unbearable.

"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." I look 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..."

I gestured toward her. "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. No, wait... It was Kara."

I can tell she's studying me, and I've managed to confuse her with something else. All right! At least I can have some fun while I'm here. Go, Team Ninja!

"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."

Oh, we're playing the tit for tat game, are we? The more I confuse you, the more you're going to confuse me? Wonderful. That really limits the fun. Hmm. Well, maybe not.

"You're the 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."

I laugh. It actually feels good to laugh. "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?" she asks, spreading her arms wide to encompass everything around us.

"Oh, my gods!" I exclaim as I attempt to run my hands through my hair only to find it braided. Damn it! "You don't get it, Red," I say, tugging the hair ties from the ends of the braids and tucking them in a pocket. Then I start finger combing my hair. And I'm again reminded how nice it is to come home to Pablo who's always so happy to unbraid my hair. Hey, Pablo? I wouldn't mind waking up now.

"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."

She looks gobsmacked. Naughty Ninja is secretly pleased. "Ye've no trainin'?"

Half finished with the second braid, I stop. "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." I finish unraveling the braid and flip my hair over my shoulder.

Yeah. And remember how freaked out you are about all that, Andi? About all that power that keeps building and building and building? About all those delightful additional tricks you seem to have up your sleeves? Hmm? Remember... shit, when was it that we had dinner with the Pentad, the kids, the Bakers? Wasn't that just last night? I'm pretty sure it was. And remember your meltdown? Huh? Yeah. Now don't forget. You're a basket case, Yazzie.

"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."

They know I've been trying to work things out, and they know I'm pissed as hell at them for having their collective heads up their collective asses about telling me anything. But I really don't think they actually get how badly I need a teacher. I think I mentioned the pissed off part.

It's Red's turn to stare at me, which she does. And then she just casually waves one hand to her side, and creates a chair that looks... I don't know, sort of like an executive desk chair, only more practical. Then she sits down and leans back as she crosses 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 gestures to the area around us. "None but Seanmháthair knows more than I, an' e'en she'll nae hae seen th' darkness I'll hae seen." Red seems to pull into herself for a moment — and that's interesting because she has the look of someone who's seen the Shadow up close and personal — 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?"

For my part, I'm having a hard time with the chair. Just appearing. I look at her suspiciously when she sits down. When she stops talking, the suspicion does not go away.

"How did you do that?" I demand.

She just chuckles. Chuckles!! It's almost as if Ninja has an evil twin. Except that Ninja is the evil twin, and this is Miss Goody Two Shoes twin. She's taunting me!

"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."

Yeah, well, duh. She apparently doesn't know anything about Kudans and Taiji Masters, because a sense of self is pretty important to keep from getting lost when you're one with the universe. Sheesh.

"What, so I just think of a thing and it appears??" Maybe I say that with just a tad bit of snark.

The other woman raises an eyebrow, not so much in response to the snark I think... but more of that prodding me to believe impossible things before breakfast. "Are ye goin' te tell me ye've ne'er caused a thin' te change from one shape te another?"

"Well, yeah. But it was only an illusion, and only with Fox's assistance."

She smiles 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?" I shake my head. This woman is clearly insane. "No fracking way. Just no."

She shakes her head, like she going to go off to that confused placed again.

"Lass, believe me when I tell ye... I'll ne'er seen anyone with th' power ye hae. Here?"

Okay, maybe not the confused place. She looks 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."

I shrug. Again. "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 — though 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..."

I stare off into the distance, into the place where the fog still exists, for a few minutes before shaking my head. It's not like I haven't been thinking about that little problem, too... the bit about hurting those around me.

"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 really, really bad."

I pause again, but now I'm pretty sure the expression on my face is 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 inflict some serious damage there, and it would be fine."

Then it feels like my heart is being crushed in a vise. When I can manage it, I sigh.

"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."

I can tell she's just watching me, and it's not likely anything I'm saying is making a whole lot of sense.

She uncrosses her legs and leans forward to rest her forearms on her thighs, her hands cupped in front of her. Mist forms in the bowl that she formed with her hands, and it grows thicker and thicker, almost like the fog that has plagued my dreams. But it's also getting brighter and brighter with each heartbeat... until finally Red looks like she's holding a miniature sun in her hands.

"Damn," I whisper, "that's a lot of qi."

She nods and smiles. "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." I should know; I've used it more than once.

With a slight shake of her head, Red watches as the miniature sun dims and the mist thins out to show an image of a young, red-haired man in jeans and t-shirt. Her smile is soft and it doesn't take a super genius or even an Empath, to know she cares a whole hell of a lot about the person this image represents. It's hard to tell who he is, though.

"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 shrugs. "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 — know th' difference between truth an' a lie."

From the sound of things, she's... the diplomat? The one who follows the rules, to the letter of the law. Like a certain Husband that I happen to have. And she has a power that's not as useful as she'd wish it could be. Oddly, I think that makes me like her all the more. Hell, if I could give her some of this excess crap I'm picking up, I'd hand it all over in a heartbeat.

I drop into a half lotus position in front of her. "Maybe there's an overlap in what we can do, although it seems like we do it very differently. 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."

I lower my gaze from her face to her hands.

"Who is he?" I ask, nodding toward the image in her hands.

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

Half of her soul? Okay, I'm intrigued.

A second figure forms as she opens her hands so both palms faced up; the edges of her hands are pressed tightly together.

Together, her brother and a young woman — nearly as tall as he is, straight black hair cut stylishly short, her skin tone much closer to mine than Red's — stand holding hands, facing each other. Maybe it's Red's gift, or maybe it's just the expression on the faces of the couple, but all I see are joy and love.

"Gloria Whitehorse, Paddy's wife," she says 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," I say softly. "They look so happy." I'm not sure why her sister-in-law looks vaguely familiar. "She's... she looks Iroquois, or maybe Blackfoot."

The other woman nods. "Aye, full blood Blackfoot, an' 'twas a rare thin', too. 'Twas nae jus' our family who'll hae felt th' loss, but th' whole o' her Nation."

Gods, such a tragedy! And that's possibly why she looks familiar... likely a distant relative of Logan's Kayla. Right, I don't need his memories mixing in with Red's story. My Curse can be such an asshole sometimes.

She slowly closes her hands, bring her palms together... the images of Padraig and Gloria turning to mist. As she looks at her hands for long minutes, she speaks 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."

I lean forward and touch the top of her foot, above the yong quan point.

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

I thought I was already dead when I was in my coma because Pablo left for Quetzalcoatl's prison dimension. Despite that, my most frequent and fervent wish was to die the death of oblivion. Husband isn't quite the same as Twin, but... in this case, I think the bonds are close enough to be able to make a comparison.

She nods, barely glancing up for an instant before returning her attention to 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??" Must not tell Pablo, must not tell Pablo!

She looks up again and blinks, then smiles 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 tribes that aren't — but that's some kind of lunacy right there."

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

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

She seems to study me for a moment, then closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. Although she doesn't appear to be doing anything, I can sense some sort of movement in the qi around us.

Ah. I see what she's doing. It's interesting to see how Empathy works or seems to work, anyway. It's conceptually the same as what I do when I scan someone's meridians, but... boy howdy! That's a whole lot of confusing weaving and dancing her qi is doing! I could see where poor Em could get choked by all that if someone doesn't teach her what to do with it.

What a tangled web we weave... and it's not even about deception. It looks like trying to study any emotion could create a debilitating cocoon of qi. I can't even imagine how bad it might be if all of that was coming at you with no way to filter it. Damn. Now I'm worried about Em. Maybe being an Elder gives her some advantage. I sure hope so. And now I feel like Maddie needs to get those two out to Charles as soon as possible after the wedding.

I'm so caught up in my own worries and thoughts that it's almost startling when her bright green eyes open again and she looks at me. I suspect that green eyes could be classified as a weapon by some people.

"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."

I stare at her. I seem to be doing that a lot. She's right about those two sending me into a tizzy when they get all crazy and spinning and... Well, they are insane over how much they love me and Pablo already, and how excited they are to be living at this time, in this place. The rest of what she said? Um, sure. I simply nod.

"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?"

Red laughs. "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..."

She nods. "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 sighs softly. "I kin understand fearin' th' power, lass," she whispers.

It's my turn to study her, really look at her aura and meridians. My brows furrow and I can feel the look of confusion that's got to be plastered on my face.

"But you..." I gesture to her. "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 once was..." She shrugs. "Aye, 'tis less likely now. 'Twill nae erase th' fear."

I shake my head; I guess I didn't explain myself very well. I see what she fears, but it's a horse of a different color. Unless she is somehow compromised, she has nothing to fear... so her fear is actually of being compromised again. Gods, I do understand that! I saw what Stryker did to Logan.

But this is something different.

"No, no... I don't think you get it. Your power is stable." I look down at the palms of my hands. Oh yes, my qi looks calm — at the moment — but I know better. "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." I look up again at Red. "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."

She nods, as if she understands. I wonder, though, if anyone really can understand this.

"But ye'll nae." Tilting her head, she looks at me, though it feels almost as though she's looking through me. "Ye seem te understand an' nae understand empathy. Hae ye nae been trained in such power as well?"

I look at her, confused all over again, then shake my 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." I pause 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." I shrug. Again. "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."

Red smiles. "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?"

I look at her as if she's lost her mind. Given that this might be the mental ward, it's certainly possible. "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."

She just chuckles. "As ye wish."

Red turns around and just stands there, looking out into the fog for a minute. Her hands are raised in front of her, but she moves them slowly outward from her heart chakra, pushing qi outward in a large, colorful and sparkling arc. When her arms are stretched all the way out to the sides, there's the same sort of feeling I get when a portal pops into place.

And maybe it is a portal. I can see a field that's almost unnaturally green and lush, at least it looks so to a desert dweller like me. There's a fantastic climbing tree that almost makes me giddy to look at it. My gods, Em would love that! Hell, I love it! Not far from the tree is a large, flat top rock nearly as tall as we are.

It's freaking amazing!

"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 looks over her shoulder at me. "Hae ye e'er been te Ireland?"

All I can do is stare at the beauty beyond the portal, and shake my head.

She smiles and lets her arms fall to her sides. "Well, then... Welcome te me home, lass."

I look at my hands again, at the power I'm holding. Maybe she's right. Maybe I can manipulate this dreamscape, or whatever it is. What if it just takes the same kind of concentration that opening a portal does?

I place my hands flat on the ground near my knees, take a deep breath, and let it out slowly as I close my eyes. I hold an image of Tommy's side yard and the rocky outcroppings across the field of scrub grass. I trickle qi into the ground that feels dead in the same way I'd return qi to Mother when I've used all I needed.

"Ye learn quickly," I hear Red say.

Opening my eyes, I can see that the Daliesque Arizona landscape has been transformed into a perfect likeness of the area around Tommy's house outside Ganado. I grin as I stand up.

"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." I chuckle. "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." I look at Red and roll my 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."

I look at the caves in the outcroppings, and think about the times I've been out to visit Tommy since returning to the States from China. It's been precious few times, and that last time... well, the intention had been to chat with Tommy about my growing collection of guardian Spirits. Instead, it had turned into an intervention for Pablo to get rid of that skanky Shadowkin hitchhiker that he'd picked up while he was in Quetzalcoatl's prison world. I wonder if everything from that realm is a skank. And we never did get around to talking about the Spirits.

As I turn to look at the world Red has opened up, I wonder if maybe the solution to my problem, the resolution of my dilemma, might be somewhere outside the Diné traditions. My parents had transferred to Japan so their daughter, and their son who arrived later, could learn Aikido — the way of the peaceful warrior — from the world's most proficient practitioner. Their hope had been that Doshu Ueshiba's teachings could ease us through the onset of the Curse — should we be taken by it, which was something they feared, but did not expect. Their instincts had been sharp, for without the things I'd learned from the kind and fierce elderly Japanese man, I might not have survived.

And then I had needed to make the journey to China, to spend my entire adolescence there, and to learn to control the powers I barely understood. My entire last year, as I continued simply as a Taijiquan candidate for the rank of Master, I was learning and experimenting — albeit in the safety of Master Chen's village — with powers even he didn't quite understand.

Given the amount of diversity in the Pentad — not just who we are as individuals, but the powers we each possess — I suppose it makes a lot of sense that help might come from an unexpected quarter. I'm not saying it makes much sense that I need to travel to some dream dimension to learn to control my ever increasing power. But it makes just enough sense that I'll give Red the benefit of the doubt.

I look from the landscape of someplace in Ireland, to the woman who either created it or opened the portal to it.

"Who are you really, Moira O'Shaughnessy?" The words have none of my usual snark or suspicion, only genuine curiosity.

"Apart from bein' th' Federation's top holoprogrammer, an' th' youngest Captain in Starfleet history, ye mean?" she asks, her smile serene and full of... well, so many things, but 'hope' probably encapsulates most of it for me.

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

She chuckles. "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 holds out a hand to me.

"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 shrugs. "She'll hae come te understand, though."

I place my hand in hers, not sure what to expect.

There's nothing.

Well, no... not quite nothing. It doesn't have the depth of connection I feel with Maddie or Pablo or Logan or Rene. It's a softer feeling, almost like coming home to a familiar place every day.

"I'm not sure you're making sense to my rational mind, you know. But my heart understands perfectly."

But I do remember that day — not really so very long ago — that I'd held hands with Maddie as we walked out to the far edge of Uncle Leon's property to have a conversation with Ha'atathli Ravenclaw and, of course, Tommy, too. I sigh with close to the same contentment. Gosh, it would be nice to have that level of calm again.

Her fingers twined in mine, just as Maddie's had, as we step from the apparent reality of Arizona and the world of the Diné Warrior into the apparent reality of Ireland and the world of a Celtic Priestess. It doesn't feel any different than stepping through a portal.

"Aye. Hearts'll be a wee bit more clever than brains sometimes." She nods 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." She hesitates; standing this close to her, especially holding her hand, her aura practically vibrates with anticipation.

"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 looks at me 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 sighs, 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 'twas th' feelin' o' bein' whole again. Alive."

Red looks at me.

"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." I let go of Red's hand and rest a palm against 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." I close my eyes, focusing on the simplicity of our hands twined together on that short walk across a tiny sliver of New Mexico. "I only know it felt right... it felt perfect."

Opening my eyes again, I smile to mask my feelings of near overwhelming fear at the prospect of being a mother.

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

She laughs. Yeah, like this is funny, lady!

"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."

She snorts... very unladylike. Oooh, am I being a bad influence on her? I actually kind of hope she's always like this.

"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 shrugs. "Paddy'll hae said..." She pauses and leans her back against the rock, ankles and arms crossed, looking at me. "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."

I ponder that for a moment. "So... what? Sometimes signals get crossed, and things don't work out the way they're supposed to?" I pause... and remember... and do my best to cut off those memories, and the pain associated with them. "Okay, yeah... those two said that already happened to me, with my first pregnancy. So I guess it's possible."

I know there's something about me right now that causes Red to physically hold herself completely still; I see the way her aura seems to bend a bit away from me. Maybe she senses that my emotions will just explode everywhere if she so much as puts a hand on my shoulder in kindness. I do appreciate it. All she does is nod.

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

That makes sense, I guess. Just because you set a hundred or a thousand monkeys at a hundred or a thousand keyboards, it doesn't mean any of them — or the whole lot of them — would wind up replicating one of Shakespeare's plays. Possible and probable don't always have even a passing acquaintance.

And speaking of possibilities and probabilities, here's something weird. On the other side of the portal, the ground had been dead, even after I reformed it to look like home. Well, Tommy's home. But I'm feeling a trickle of qi from the rock, from the ground. It's faint, like feeling Mother was in the very beginning, and I'm a bit confused here.

"Mother?" I whisper.

Moira starts, coming almost to attention. She simply stares at me for a minute that might have stretched to two.

"Ye feel Her?!"

I nod. "I almost always do these days. Father not as often, or as strongly. The Spirits find it disconcerting." I meet her gaze. "For that matter, so do I."

"But... how?"

I shake my 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."

Red looks puzzled, as if I hadn't quite answered the question she asked. "Kin ye describe it... th' feelin' o' Her?"

I close my eyes and settle immediately into an active resting stance; it's more Aikido than Taiji, though in truth, it's both and neither.

"She feels different here. The same gentle fierceness, but more intense. I can't hear Her laughter..." My breath catches in my 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 patting my ear."

I open my eyes; I can feel the unshed tears. But I look beyond Moira and gasp at the sight of the red-haired Woman in a shimmering gown who's walking toward us.

"Daughter, are you Teaching again?" asks the Woman, looking at Moira with the kind of smile I see on my mother's face every time I visit her.

Red returns her smile. "Sure an' I donnae really know, m'Lady. Andrea will hae been th' one te summon me here," she says, pointing at me.

I blink... rapidly... quite a few times. There's no need to make any effort to look at the Woman's qi; She's very nearly blinding. She isn't the same Woman Tommy mistook for Corn Woman at the Dance in Flagstaff.

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

The Woman laughs. There are the overtones of Mother's tinkling bell-like laughter, but if my hearing wasn't so hypersensitive, I think it would probably sound like an ordinary woman's laughter.

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

I blink again, just once this time, and then grin like... gosh, I don't know, like a kid at Christmas, I think!

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

Red bursts 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."

I pretend to pout, but I really am tickled, as Red put it, to meet the Celtic Woman.

"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 chuckles. "I suspect she might have been referring to The Morrigan." The Woman seems to be studying me; it's far less intimidating than being scrutinized by the Spirits. "Had you been born a Celt, I think The Morrigan would have taken you under her wings. Literally."

"Nah," I reply. "Ireland has a Super, though Captain Unbelieving here says it's not possible." I give Red my best stink eye. "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."

Red raises her eyebrows in a way that I think is supposed to be her version of a stink eye. Ha. Pablo is better at it... and he's terrible.

However, Danu nods. "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."

Red relaxes instantly. Um. Okay.

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

"Ah... maybe to you," I say. "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."

Red nods toward... her Goddess? Sure, I can work with that theory.

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

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

"Some are," Danu replies. "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."

I study this Goddess for several minutes, sorting thoughts and trying to fit some of my more troubling experiences into the new context this information provides. I'm having a hard time of it.

"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 crazy Aztec demi-gods 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 nods, but is silent. Instead of answering, she perches on the lowest branch of the tree, and leans her shoulder against the trunk. Red grins like a loon and, using well-camouflaged finger and toe holds, scrambles to the top of the flat rock.


I give her the sort of look generally reserved for Henry. And possibly anyone else I encounter whose guardian Spirit is Coyote.

Red just laughs. I can't help but feel it's at my expense.

"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 gestures 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," her Deity reminds 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."

I eye them both a little suspiciously, then sit down where Red had indicated.

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

"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.

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

I'm sure Great Spirit's Sister meant the explanation to be reassuring — if She's anything like Great Spirit, anyway, and She does seem to be — but I'm not finding 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 smiles.

"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?"

I start to speak, but then stop to consider everything I could remember about opening that particular portal.

"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." I look at Danu, definitely confused. "They weren't helping?"

"Your Spirits, almost assuredly not, though 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, sha? 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 do not help you to open the doorway." The Goddess shrugs 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."

I snort. "Yeah, well, I've figured that part out. The unreliability of the Spirits, I mean. Raven is a fucking loon." I can't help sighing. "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 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..." The Librarian will love this. And we should have thought of that. I blink. Well... maybe. "Okay.

"Well, except that Coyote seems..."

The Woman laughs 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.

This is confusing. I feel like a total dunce, when Red barely hesitates before offering an explanation.

"'Tis th' language an' culture. 'Twill need te be assignin' gender te nae only livin' thin's, but inanimate thin's, too. Some o' them, anyway." She smiles. "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 shrugs, and seems to notice my confusion. I'm not sure if it's written large across my face or my mind, but she adds, "Seanmháthair'll be a fierce teacher, an' her lessons'll hae been on topics that'll nae hae necessarily been part to 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."

All right. I guess all that makes sense. After all... I snicker, which draws questioning looks from both Goddess and Priestess.

"Oh, it's just that his lord high pain in the ass ancestral pest, Quetzalcoatl, felt he was being emasculated when I didn't refer to him using the male gender designation." I share a wicked Ninja grin. "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?"

Red's eyes get really wide. "Ye mocked an Aztec deity?" she asks with what sounds like a wagon load of 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 millennium or so, he suddenly decided I wasn't good enough for his precious Chosen One." I roll my eyes. "He and his brother decided they wanted to rebuild the mighty Aztec empire."

I don't think my eyes will start glowing in this place... it's just a feeling I have though. But I'm still pissed enough about that bullshit that they'd be glowing if I was awake.

"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 me or Pablo how we felt about it!" I sigh and shake my 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."

Red stares at me. "Ye know," she says after a moment, "ye've gone te th' place o' makin' no sense again."

I hear movement from behind me — the rustling of fabric, the slight creaking of the branch — so I don't jump when I feel Danu's hand on my shoulder.

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

I turn to look at her. "How do you manage then? And Great Spirit? And your Sister who is Buddha?"

She smiles, and the radiance of that smile reminds me so much of Great Spirit. "Our human children keep us stable. Didn't you know that?" Danu laughs at the look of surprise on my 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."

I'm not sure why her words are so poignant, but I have to push back tears that threaten to fall. I simply rest a hand over the one on my shoulder.

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

Her hand moves from underneath mine to rest a moment on my 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. 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 sits back comfortably on her branch and smiles fondly at Red. I've seen Great Spirit look at me... at each of the Pentad... in the same way. It makes me wish She was here, too. I glance back toward the area of this dream world that seemed to be Arizona. No, I suppose Great Spirit couldn't easily traverse the barrier to Ireland.

"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 nods to Red.

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

I shake my 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!" Red exclaims from above me.

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

The heartache that rips through me brings tears to my eyse, and I look up at Her. "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 looks 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."

Red snorted. I might be getting to really like this crazy Irish woman. "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!"

Red's looking at me as though said meltdown might have already begun; Danu is hiding a smile... well, trying to hide it. I'm not sure how well Red can see qi.

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

Red's expression morphs into something that could be confusion, or could be annoyance, or could be both rolled into one when she glances at her Deity. I guess that means she can see something at any rate. She sits up and crosses her legs tailor fashion, plants her hands firmly on her knees, then leans forward slightly. She's got her elbows sticking out to the sides as she folds herself over to look down at me. I'm still pretty impressed with her Medusa-like hair.

"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 lass, I've nae a single idea o' what ye might hae said there at the last."

I have a bit of experience giving out bland looks. In addition to the trademarked grin — okay, I don't think I actually filed any paperwork to trademark the grin; I should talk to Perry about that — and my personal brand of snarkiness, bland looks are an important part of my arsenal when dealing with the not particularly bright Friends of Jesus, and youngsters wandering the gray area between upstanding citizen and miscreant that my DPD friends enjoy so much.

"I guess it would depend on whom you ask," I say as I smile brightly and shrug. "Doshu Ueshiba and Grandmaster Chen would say that I am most cooperative. All my professors at DU would vouch for me."

Red just stares.

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

I laugh and feel like happiness is flowing out of me in waves. It's so much nicer than the crazy I've been spreading lately. I remember being happy most of the time. It would be nice to get back to that place.

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

Red gives me a look that is clearly disapproving. "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!" I give her a calculating look, wondering if that's even possible. "Can I get to your reality from mine?"

Yeah, that surprises her. Well, I blame Henry and Bobby, really. She defers to her Goddess with a glance and a shrug.

When I look over my shoulder, Danu is smiling enigmatically. Okay then. It's not like that kind of look ever bodes well.

"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." She pauses and regards me intently. It feels a lot more intense than any other scrutiny I've experience to this point in my life... not exactly comfortable.

"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 asks with more curiosity than I would have expected.

"Well..." I shift a bit so I can look at her directly. "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."

She nods. "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?!" Red asks, almost as though that idea is even more outrageous than my idea of visiting her timeline.

Danu chuckles. "Of course. She is one of my most senior priestesses. She has had time to learn a great deal."

Red nods, but still looks a bit stunned. I guess if I found out Mama knew about all this stuff, I'd probably be surprised. But if someone told me Tita understood inter-dimensional travel, I'm not sure I could manage to even fake surprise. Sometimes Tita is spooky scary; maybe it's because Ha'atathli Ravenclaw is her cousin... I don't know.

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

She blinks as though the thought 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."

Danu nods, and then smiles the same sort of smile Mama gives me each time she sees me. Ah, there is love!

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

Red doesn't exactly nod; it's more just a slight inclination of her head. But Danu has already turned her attention back to me.

"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." Well, if I wanted to go to Mars, and I don't, how would I get there? I'd have to talk to NASA, that's what I'd have to do.

"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."

She nods. "Yes, that would be the most common way of conceptualizing the journey."

And then she smiles.

Which means there's another answer to the question... Grandmaster Chen used to do that to me all the time. I narrow my eyes and wonder what I'm missing.

"Through th' Overworld," Red says softly.

I look up at her; it's clear the idea only now presented itself to her. Me? I can't see how it's possible at all.

"And ye'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 shakes her head. "There'll be somethin' I'll nae be seein' though."

Again Danu nods. I have a feeling this isn't something normally covered in the curriculum.

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

The dimension of great torment? What the...? Oh.

"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. 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?"

I shake my head sadly. "No. Not alone. He had a hard time calling me back from that place." I look up at her and give her 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 looks at her 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," Red said so softly even I 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."

She nods. I wish she'd come down off that rock because that's a person who looks like she could really use a hug.

Oh, fuck that shit. I spring to my feet and walk the few paces to the rock, then lean against it as I reach up to rest my hands on her legs.

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

She looks at me, and I think if I were actually an Empath I'd be knocked over. "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?"

Red nods. "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?"

She gives me a wistful smile. "Aye. I pray fer such e'ery day."

"My Sister's mind was shattered, you know. 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!" I take one of her hands between mine. "You keep praying for your friend, for those kind, generous, and loving thoughts will help her."

She looks at me, an odd look on her face, and very nearly echoes something I said earlier.

"Jus' who exactly are ye, Andrea the Ninja?"

I laugh and pat her 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 I step back, I realize just how comfortable I've gotten here; although the dream itself is odd in so many ways, my frustration is completely gone. Ninja is not needed here, for there is no threat. I actually do have control over this dream, for just thinking that simple thought morphs my uniform away, and I stand wearing jeans and a polo shirt. So ordinary.

I step back and bow formally, with as much respect as I would show Doshu Ueshiba or Grandmaster Chen.

"I put myself in your hands as Student."

She studies my face for a moment, then glances over my shoulder. I'm going to guess that her look of surprise and concern means that Danu has done what the Spirits so often like to do... be present without being seen. She slides down off her boulder and gestures to a more open space in her field. I take a peek at the tree before following her; I don't see Great Spirit's Sister with my eyes, but her qi signature is wrapping itself around the tree.


Red stops eight or ten paces from the boulder, then turns to face me.

"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."

It's only then I can see in her eyes the shadow of some past horror. It reminds me of the haunted look Pablo still gets sometimes when he thinks about his time in Quetzalcoatl's prison world. She's so good at hiding her emotions — although I suspect she'd call it controlling them — that she's even managed to manipulate her qi in such a way that I can't tell what precisely is wrong without scanning more deeply than would be polite.

"Even though the mere offer of help brings up memories that are beyond painful?" She starts with surprise... perhaps even shock... at my words, her eyes clearing and going wide. I reach out a hand and let it hover just shy of her shoulder.

"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." I smile 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..." I shrug, and then actually rest my hand lightly on her shoulder. "Now, I have the strength to hold him. I have yet had the need to call the Pentad for help. I think the mere existence of the Pentad helps keep the worst of the memories at bay, just as we help hold Maddie's madness at bay."

Her smile is sad, but she nods.

"Aye. E'en with th' memories, I'll still be teachin' ye. Mayhap..." She takes a deep breath, and I have the sense that she's forcibly pushing aside this thing that's hurt her soul so much. "Mayhap when th' lesson'll be o'er, ye'll listen te me tale... an' share a word or two o' yer own wisdom."

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

Ah, now that gets her to chuckle! Good.

"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." Then she manages an actual laugh. Ah, even better. "Fer matters such as these, anyway. I kinnae imagine many o' th' instructors at th' Academy wantin' te be sittin' in a field."

I drop easily and gracefully — I suspect the graceful will be but a memory soon enough, with easy not far behind — to the ground. She follows suit, with both ease and grace as well.

"'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."

Much like Grandmaster Chen, then, in her philosophy of teaching. Let the student lead the teaching as much as possible.

"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 me getting dead affected her something awful... worse than it did Pablo or at least every bit as badly.

"And the second is that... 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."

She's quiet for a long time, studying me. I don't mind. I think the biggest reason for that is she's... processing everything? I swear that sometimes people's qi flows can look like those really old decision trees drawn by hand. And right now, Red is sorting her thoughts and ideas... by chakra? Well, that's an interesting way to do it.

I'm not going to get freaked out by the fact that even seeing this and understanding what she's doing was not something I could have done prior to the formation of the Pentad. I'm not sure it would have been possible prior to those two showing up. Why do I think they had ulterior motives for coming into existence in the formation of the Pentad? Maybe because I don't trust them. Yet.

Red breathes deeply and exhales slowly. She seems to have dropped all her own worries and cares to give the entirety of her attention to mine. There's no point in trying to hold back the gratitude I feel, as it would just create another blockage for me. She smiles to acknowledge the gratitude — but I think she also senses my acceptance of not holding it in.

Despite the weak levels of power and presence I feel from Mother, it is more than enough to plant myself firmly in this place and time, to ground and center.

"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."

I start to say something — something typically Ninja-like, of course — but I manage to get my brain to rein in my smart assery. If understanding the relationship Maddie and I have will strengthen the Pentad, and the second problem involves help from the Pentad... Yeah. Okay. I can work with this.

She smiles, almost as if she'd expected an interruption and was — as a teacher — pleased to find her student properly engaged in the lesson.

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

Ah... Maddie. Very likely the most complexly terrifying and unfailingly philanthropic person I've ever met. I couldn't ask for a better person to have at my side in a battle, and she can make me tear up with her generosity. I can't help but smile. There are a lot of wealthy people in Denver, and most of them would never even consider doing half a percent of the good she does.

How to tell this story? Gods, it's a crazy one, but maybe just the lead up to moving Rene to his new home will be enough. I guess we'll see, won't we?

"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." I pause and close my eyes. I can see everything as though it just happened.

"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?"

I sigh. That reminds me, of course, of my current dilemma. Oh, Great Spirit, I'm so tired of feeling crazy and out of control! Is this thing that Cat spoke of — the ability to open the portals without ritual, the ability to effectively call them to my general vicinity — something I've always been capable of? Did I just need the added power to actually make it happen? Who could answer that question? More to the point, given the Beings who might actually have the answer, who would answer the question?

"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 at 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."

I pause yet again. First was Quetzalcoatl with his dire warnings of the Shadow, saying that I would be the one to stand against the Darkness when it came. And then, not long after, this man from another dimension warning of the coming Darkness as well. I shake my head. I don't really believe in coincidence; not where it involves something that huge.

"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." I swallow hard, biting down on the inside of my lower lip. I hate this part of my Curse... all the remembering. ALL the remembering.

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

I need to find a way to wall these things away to they don't impinge on my work. I'm better now than I was when the Curse took me; it seems so long ago that we lived in Japan. Sometimes, they'll pounce unexpectedly like my three favorite mountain lions. Unlike the big cats, I'm still not convinced these memories aren't trying to hurt me.

Listen to me! I'm ascribing motive and volition to passive memories.

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

I open my eyes and look at her. I can feel the tears flow as if the only thing holding them back had been my closed eyelids. It's bullshit, but I'm willing to grasp at straws at this point.

"It's something I've lived with for so long, and sometimes I still get gobsmacked by some of the things I feel." I take another deep breath. These deep breaths are about all that seem to work to keep me as grounded as possible when I'm dreaming. "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..."

I shake my head as I look at her, trying very hard not to remember those particular incidents.

"Let me tell you... for a Navajo, that's just bad news. We believe it's really bad luck to be around the spirits of those who've died. It's not just bad luck for us, for the living. In our culture, acknowledging the presence of the dead can keep 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."

I shudder. It had been maybe a year, certainly no more than two years, into my training with Master Chen when one of the village Grandmothers had died.

"Well, I guess that's a story for a different time since it doesn't actually have anything to do with Maddie." I do manage a bit 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."

Those memories are particularly potent, and I need to take a moment to rein them in. I'm sure Red can deal with the emotions roiling inside me and threatening to break down the dam. At least she's least better equipped to handle them than poor Em was on our trans-Atlantic flight during which I nearly killed all of us in an effort to protect Maddie.

You know... that might have been the point where I started to suspect my powers and I were — just maybe — getting a little out of control.

I brush away my tears. Must soldier on, right?

"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."

Looking back, I can see where Rene's confusion, or maybe disorientation, came from. I can't be sure that time is linear in the dimensions where time does exist. Maybe in that dimension, Rene was constantly running in circles of time, only experiencing the linear nature of time when his dimension and our reality converged. When I spoke with him, any time Maddie died... I suppose there could have been other instances, too. Maybe I'll remember to ask him about it someday.

"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."

I have to laugh at my own naivety and hubris.

"You know, I had no idea what I was really asking," I muse. "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. 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."

Again, memories of that last conversation float up through my mind. Even after we formed the Pentad, solidified a family and formed a Bond even the gods themselves likely could not break, I am still in awe of that connection between Rene and Maddie. I don't think I'd be exaggerating if I said it was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen. It's right up there with the connections and love I can see that my parents and my grandparents share. It makes me happy to know Logan doesn't even know how to be jealous.

"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..."

Oh gods, those three! I think I fell in love with the twins instantly. It might have taken a few more minutes to fall in love with Leon.

"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."

I have to giggle. "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.

"That pain... I'm not an Empath, but there was something about the tone of Maddie's voice that morning that just hit me like a ton of bricks. Maybe it was merely the fact that she was there, in the place that held the most happiness in her life, with her guard down that gave her words so much power. Or maybe it was the fact that Rene was somehow very present right then that caused them to amplify. Although I'd probably say both were contributing factors."

I look at Red with surprise when she presses a handkerchief into my hand. Damn it! I didn't even realize I was crying again! See? I'm so far beyond fucked up that even in my dreams I'm crazy. But I smile before wiping my eyes. I'm not sure where the handkerchief came from, but on the other hand I probably don't want to know.

"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 an Aikido Kudan, possessing reflexes so fast that I dare ride the mountain roads beyond the speed limits and the highways 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."

I hold the soft cloth over my eyes for a moment, absorbing the tears that just don't want to stop. I should just accept that I'm a big ol' crybaby. Overly emotional. Fucking insane.

"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."

You know, maybe it's the pregnancy.

Okay, for some of it. But not for this. Not for the memories of that day. I stare off into the fog that seems to be a wall around this little piece of her home that Red's created. I was a hot mess that day, and I think anytime I think of that day, I'm still going to be an emotional basket case. There were so many emotions in such a short period of time.

I like roller coasters, but that was a little much.

A lot much?

Yeah, that's more like it. I find that I need to blow my nose in addition to drying my eyes. It's nice not to have to use my shirt. I take another deep breath to trigger the clearing of my meridians. There's something about that day that keeps getting stuck in my very core. I'm starting to believe that it's Maddie.

"I could almost hear Rene trying to tell me something," I continue, still looking out over that unbelievably green field into the edge of nothing. "It sounded like show them, but I didn't know what that meant. 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," I add so softly that I'm not sure Red could even hear me.

"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."

I finally look back at Red. I know the fire of my anger isn't there, so I'm not really sure what my eyes look like. Probably haunted.

"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." I shake my head again; I don't even have the emotional energy at the moment to be snarky. "No. The truth? I'm pretty sure it would have killed her."

I sigh, and I realize that, while my breathing isn't as shaky as my emotions, it's not really anything close to normal. Or effective. Master Chen would be very displeased with me. I decide that staring at the fog might be more helpful to my calm than looking at Red.

"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 but 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..."

I look over at Red again. I know I'm crying. But what's the point in wiping away tears that may never stop?

"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."

I manage a smile. The more unreal that day seems, the more love I have for my Sister, the more admiration I have for her strength.

"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."

I finally wipe away the tears. Maybe I won't cry much more. Who knew that dreams could be so damned emotional? I take several breaths to clear out the Maddie shaped stuckness in my heart. If we really are two halves of the same coin, shouldn't being part of the Pentad make things better?

Oh great. More weirdness for me to work through, right? There's something else we need to do.

"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."

I manage a full out smile — Andrea the Librarian style — but by the Gods, Buddhas and Spirits, am I ever exhausted!

"I hope I answered your questions."

"Aye, lass," Red says 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."

I shake my head. She's right, so how could I possibly object?

"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..." I shrug. "...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." Red chuckles. "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?"

I consider the question from several angles. I suppose I might call some of what I do 'shielding,' but while it's energetic, it's more of a physical barrier. At least... well, that's the way it feels to me. I don't think that's quite what she means.

Finally I say, "Nope, definitely not mental. 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, so... again, no point. The emotions that are attached to memories are pretty firmly attached. I remember it all.

"Before my personalities were reintegrated, I would wrap what Master Chen called a karmic shield around my heart to... I guess mitigate the effects of doing things like killing people. The part of me that was the gentle librarian hated the killing I had to do as the Warrior Ninja." I look back at what I did then, the process and the effects, and I shake my head. "It always seemed like just another way of manipulating qi."

This is serious, but I really have to laugh.

"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 certainly looks baffled. "Aye, 'tis true. I'll nae understand, nae at all, at all."

To her credit, although her aura shows a fair amount of frustration — and I'm not even trying to be a nuisance! — she remains outwardly calm. Exceptionally so. I'll definitely give her points for that.

"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."

I blink. I think she might understand a little more than she believes she does.

"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." I grin happily. "But I'll give it a shot."

I close my eyes so I can concentrate better. Changing the landscape to look like Arizona is simple compared to the intricacies and complexities of qi. It's not much different than the camouflage I do while using Fox's gift, although the precision needed for this task reminds me of the first time I tried using its magic... in Commerce City, on Halloween. I think Maddie was a little freaked out by it. Maybe not the illusion, but maybe the role I took on... so unlike me. That was the point, of course.

There... I think I've got everything I need to explain the basics. I open my eyes and look toward the side, over her shoulder.

"There," I whisper. "See what I see."

Moira turns around and gasps.

As she shifts her position, we can both see the humanoid figure that's made up of thousands, possibly millions, of multicolored threads. I might have been able to recreate something like this on Maddie's holodeck, but the programming would be so far beyond me that it wasn't worth mentioning to anyone. A sheen that looks like a rainbow of water on the surface of oil surrounds the figure. That's not quite how I see the energy of the aura, but I think that's as close as human eyes can come.

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

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

The sheen flows and shifts; the movement is slow, but can be dizzying if you're not used to it... it does take a while. One color becomes another color, over and over in a seemingly random manner. It's amazing to watch. This — this — is why I love to watch Pablo's qi so very much. Our qi might be identical, but it moves differently in both of us.

"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." I nod toward 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."

I concentrate for a moment on the image to lessen the sheen... dull down the colors... add the telltale muddiness to the aura that is a sign there are significant problems with the underlying meridians. There's one over the head, the heart, and the knee. These will allow me to explain the different aspects of... well, not diagnosing a problem. No, no... never that! I'm not a medical doctor over here, nope. I don't diagnose anything. Not me, nope. I'm innocent.

Well, except that I actually do diagnose some problems. I'm never going to admit that outside my head, however. Okay, maybe to people I really trust.

"This is what a person looks like when they're not well." I glance over at Red. "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." I turn my attention back to 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. That last is merely what I think of as the integration of self, the connection to others, and the connection to Mother and Father."

I take a deep breath so I can concentrate on the area around the knee. I need to really see beyond the surface of the aura, to the meridians themselves. Finally, the area around the knee brightens, and I can see the meridians. I manipulate them a bit for this object lesson: twisting and tangling a couple and shearing another entirely.

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

I concentrate on the head, brightening that area and removing the highlights from the heart and knee.

"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."

I rotate the figure about ninety degrees; now that I think I've got the hang of this, it's... well, not as simple as Red makes it look, but not unduly difficult either.

"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..." A burst of something that almost looks like a lightning strike flashes several times. "...I'd suspect seizures or possibly a stroke."

Red shakes her head and looks at me, her eyes wide and looking more than a little overwhelmed.

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

I laugh. "I learned from the best, got feedback from other students and the people in the village..." It's probably not as funny as I think it is, but I give her almost the same line she gave me earlier. "...and I've had about two decades of practice."

As the figure rotates back to face us, I point 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..."

Oh wow. I have to close my eyes and work on my breathing. That was stupid, Andrea. Why not just pick the single most emotional example you could think of, huh? Brilliant. Just brilliant! I am such an idiot.

But done's done, and this is a pretty good example to demonstrate the interconnectedness of the physical, emotional, and energetic aspects of a person.

It's still an idiot move, Yazzie!

When I open my eyes again, the figure looks relatively normal as far as these things go. Just your basic human with a skin of glistening rainbows. That's normal.

Okay, that's normal... for Pablo.

"This..." I nod 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."

I shake my 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," I say as I stare 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 — using 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 has become Ninja's signature snarkiness — to get him to the point where he could begin to release the pain and rage and fear and helplessness. Over the course of a couple of months, his aura returned to what I'd always considered his normal state of being."

I give Red a sidelong glance. "I was so wrong about him being back to normal. At least I've stopped indulging in the endless cycle of what ifs."

I turn back to the figure, studying it, and then shake my 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 time and energy playing matchmaker that it nearly drove me to throttle him... 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."

I bring my hand up, palm outward, as though wiping something across the avatar. The sheen of the aura brightens while slow swirls of blues and greens spiral and twist through the image. I can see each of them only for a moment; they dip and rise like fish in a pond... moving inward only to emerge a moment later in a different place. Bright golden tendrils reach toward me, but never quite touched me.

"I knew he loved me. I could see it. But I was deathly afraid." I sigh. "I was afraid for me, I was afraid for him." But then I smile softly. "I was afraid of commitment, it seems. I watched that..." I reach out a hand and 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 golden tendrils of qi reaching toward me don't change, a dark cloud begins to form over the figure's heart. Over Pablo's heart.

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

I look once again toward Red. "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 regards me for a few minutes. She has great control over her emotions; her thoughts are another matter. A halo of red and blues circles her head. Finally, she presses her lips tightly together, then nods.

"Aye. I'll know."

And I know she knows. I return the nod — just a single nod — and turn my 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 seems to constrict the figure's throat; there is 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'd say love, if I had to guess." I swallow hard, but press on. "To lose faith in love..."

Red makes the quietest of sounds, something I never would have heard without my enhanced hearing. I turn so quickly that she doesn't have a chance to lock everything away again.

I stare at her, at her throat. It looks exactly like Pablo's had that night before our talk. I raise my eyes to meet hers; I know the sadness I feel — the sadness that still resonates from that evening — is in my eyes. When I'm not working, I don't see the point in hiding the fact that I care about people from them.

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

Red shakes her head. "Ye've much te tell, an' much te learn. Mayhap, if there'll be time..." She shrugs, and then tries to smile. "Donnae worry fer me, lass. 'Tis fer ye that we'll be here, aye?"

I want to laugh and I want to sigh. I think the sound I make then is something born of both.

"You're an awful lot like me, you know. Stubborn as the day is long. But... okay. Back to Pablo."

I hesitate; I think I want to help her as much as she's decided she needs to help me. But she's right. There are things I need to learn so I don't go ballistic and turn my favorite city into a crater. I look 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."

I sigh again. I'm doing that a lot again, aren't I?

"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."

Dear gods, how it had hurt for him to tell me the very thing he'd wanted to hide even from himself. I will make this journey with you. I'd promised him that. I close my eyes again for a moment and feel almost as if I'm drawing on his strength to retell his story.

I take a deep breath. I can do this.

"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."

I am not going to fall apart over this. I am the Warrior; I am just reporting to the top cop on that day's actions... right? Well, if I can make myself believe that, I can hold it together. That was probably Pablo's worst day of his life. It wasn't mine.

Yeah, keep talking, Yazzie. You know damn well that fucking Curse of yours contains the gift that keeps on giving. You remember everyone's... well, everything. Actions, feelings, memories. It would be nice if there were a shut off switch for that. At least I figured out a way to keep it tucked in temporary storage most of the time.

See? Now, there you go. Be analytical. Be the Librarian. Wait, no... just be analytical.

I take 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."

I open my eyes again and look at the representation of Pablo I'd seen for so many years. I try to laugh, or at least chuckle, but it comes out sounding harsh and cold.

"It's funny in 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."

Yeah. We totally were. But... well, we got over it, didn't we? I smile at the memories, the beautiful ones, the ones that lift my heart so high, the ones that give so much meaning to my life.

Gods, we're going to be married in a few weeks! Maybe it's a good thing I can hold so much energy because I think maybe... just maybe... love is a kind of energy. And I've got so much love for that man I might explode.

That's an explosion that wouldn't crater Denver. I'm not sure what it would do, but it would have to be something good, right?

"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 happen impossible — if my mother hadn't called to tell me my grandmother had had a heart attack."

That was a hell of a time. So much happened in a few short days, but that was where the craziness started... in Flagstaff. Where to start? How much of this is really important?

Crap. I have no clue. I just shake my 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 several 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. Tita's guardian Spirit came through it. 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." I sigh deeply, with resignation. I'd rather not talk about that asshole, but... yeah. He's a pretty important part of the story.

"Quetzalcoatl. Aztec demi-god, 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. On that first day that he was able to enter our reality, there was so much nonsense going on that I practically exploded all over him. Ugh. What an 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."

I look beyond the glowing representation of my beloved, into the murky fog. I still can't get a handle on what happened with Quetzalcoatl and Raven. The ancestral pest would be helpful... and then flip into something arrogantly condescending... and then become downright abusive. And over and over and over. I never knew what to expect from that one. I guess it makes sense, then, that I never trusted him.

But Raven? Okay, sure... Red's Goddess gave a pretty convincing explanation for why it acted nuts... or at least why it acted so erratically. But I was taught from the very beginning of my life that we should trust our guardian Spirits. And there I was, not able to trust my guardian Spirit.

Come to think of it, didn't She mention something about Her cousins who were basket cases? Yeah, that would definitely explain a lot about Quetzalcoatl.

I shake myself from my reverie.

"Tita told me I think too much," I say, still looking away, into my memories and the past. "Maybe so. Maddie implies the same thing when I ask about plans, about how we're going to get something done."

I look at Red with a hint of a smile before gesturing to the figure again. I've reverted it to the way I saw Pablo prior to the 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."

I sigh again. Well, that's the past, too. And it actually doesn't hurt as much as I thought it would to think about what was. I guess there's hope for me yet.

I create a second figure beside the first. It's how I see... No. It's how I saw myself before... well, before letting myself fall in love with Pablo. My aura was predominantly silver, slightly faded... not shiny, but something softer and warmer. Throughout the silver were islands of turquoise... not just the color, the actual stone. My cousins like to joke that I'm Miss Navajo — and I'd never think of taking that honor from any of the young women who've actually earned it! — but the silver and turquoise of my aura is a testament to my identity as Diné. Earth tones ribboned through my aura as well; I've always felt close to Mother, I suppose.

Now I just need to get the words out, right?

"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 the essence of understanding when I told him about it. 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."

I pause, consider explaining that whole complicated mess, but then shake my head. No. That's too many cans, all of them filled with worms.

"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."

I reflect that in the figures in front of us. Pablo's golden tendrils, always reaching for me, are met by my own of soft silver. It was — and still is — so wonderful to watch our qi. Back then, when we each had very distinct qi, it danced together and wove together and bound us together in faith and love and power... at the throat, heart and solar plexus chakras. The blue, the green, the yellow of the chakras added tints of color to the qi that we'd woven together.

Really beautiful, it was.

"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."

And then all the beauty ended, didn't it? Despite the healing we've done, despite the strengthening of our Bond, despite the formation of the Pentad... that pain is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. It's enough to feel — again, over and over — the stabbing heartache and the wish for death.

It's a memory, Andi girl. It's just a memory. You're just sleeping, and you'll wake up next to Pablo. You're fine. You can do this.


I take yet another deep breath to steady myself.

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

I stop and shake my 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."

I notice a tear fall onto my hand. Gee, that would explain the fuzzy vision.

"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 had been 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 over 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."

I look over at Red again. The look on her face says everything... I don't care how fast she is at hiding it. I nod.

"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."

I clench my jaw and close my eyes. Hell. Yeah, I'd call it that. A vastly different kind of hell than Maddie survived — barely — but it was hell nonetheless.

"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..."

I open my eyes and look at Red. I can see understanding, and her aura vibrates with pain. I hate that this affects yet another person, even though it's just resonating with her own experiences and those of people she loves. I look down at my hands, concentrating on the qi glowing at my lao gong points. I can stay focused and centered. Hell, if I get lost in the qi, I can still report without getting too flaky.

"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 who 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."

I stop then and deliberately unclench my hands. If despair and hopelessness produced the same reaction in my eyes as rage did, they would have begun glowing just them. I finally look up at Red again.

"I mentioned before something about my integrated personalities. 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..." I sigh. "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."

Finally, I look at the two figures again. The beauty that embodied us before Pablo left has been destroyed. Both figures are now dull and darker as if the experience bled us of life itself. In some ways, it most certainly did. The connections between... Oh, why bother denying it? I've been showing Red an accurate representation of Pablo, me, and our relationship all along. The ties that once bound us, those beautiful gold and silver braids of qi, are frayed and thinned. Pablo's golden tendrils are as plentiful as they've always been, but they've taken on an ominous dark cast and look brittle. My silver tendrils have diminished in both quantity and strength. They, too, are brittle. The rainbow sheen of Pablo's aura is overpowered by reds and oranges and yellows, by browns and grays and black.

"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."

I sigh softly and smile 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, though.

"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 as close to Mother than I expected, although Father was there circling us and reminding me that I was loved and safe."

I chuckle. "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 has set off the prox alarms to call me," I say, 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."

It takes virtually no thought at all to morph the two figures into the qi configuration Pablo and I have now, so I look at Red as I'm doing so... and see that she has tears in her eyes, on her cheeks, and even on her shirt. I hold out my hand with the handkerchief to her. She seems genuinely surprised by her own reaction as she touches her face, but she smiles and shakes her head... then pulls another handkerchief from wherever she found the first one.

"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 pauses, and looks at me with... I guess I'd call it 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," she says sadly. "'Tis th' wantin' that'll be missin', fer we'll nae truly hae been One before th' demon'll hae come."

I see the despair throbbing in dark colors throughout her aura, and reach out a sympathetic hand to rest on Red's.

"I'm so sorry..." was all I manage to say before she gasps and pulls her hand back to stare at it.

"What'll ye...?" She's beyond baffled by something I can't even begin to fathom, but shock and fear spiral around her aura.

I scoot back a bit, not at all understanding what I did. "What? What did I do? I'm sorry, whatever it is."

Red looks between me and the hand I'd just barely touched, before finally 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."

I just stare at her. "I... I didn't mean to! See? This is what I mean." I'm beginning to feel panicked again, and I'm fairly certain I look it, too. "I have too much power, and I don't know what I'm doing with it!"

"Relax, lass, an' breathe," Red says, though her smile looks a little forced. "There'll be much more I'll understand now." She points to the two avatars that have drastically changed appearances once again. "E'en how that'll hae happened."

I do as instructed; I breathe. Proper breathing has always helped. Doing a few minutes of Taiji help even more, but I've already discovered that doing Taiji in my dreams doesn't help at all. And if this is some other magical dimension? Who knows what could happen?

My instinct, then, is to reach for Pablo, for Maddie, for Rene, for Logan. Didn't I try calling Rene when I first got here? So there's no point trying again. Instead, I look at the representation of the Bond Pablo and I share. Gods, it's probably good that most people can't see this! We'd blind the world.

I blink a time or two, eliminating the tears of joy that so often threaten to spill out when I watch the way our qi dances and flows together. How can I not smile?

Although there are still differences in the auras of the two figures, they are extremely similar. Every imaginable color flows across the surfaces of both auras. Streaks of sun colors shoot through the figure that represents Pablo while the colors I associate most with the Diné — silver and turquoise — can still be seen distinctly in the figure that represents me. The biggest difference, however, is in the tendrils — now braided cables — of qi that bind the two of us together. It's 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." I shake my head with wonder; every single day, this continues to amaze me. "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."

I sigh. "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 Red again, I grin in a very Ninja-like way. "There was another unintended side effect of 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." I shrug. "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..." I narrow my 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."

I look at her, not really sure that makes sense to someone who probably doesn't make it a general habit of killing the scum of the earth. Or... galaxy? Quadrant?

But she nods. "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 looks down at her own hands, suddenly uncomfortable about something.

"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."

Oh. It was like, huh? In less time it takes a heart to beat, the Warrior is ready for battle, eyes blazing with righteous wrath. Hurting children? That has to be the ultimate sin.

Red looks up, startled, but shakes 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' Seanmháthair kept most o' th' evil caused by th' devil's brew from landin'."

I regard her for a moment. Rather, the Warrior regards her. But I know there is no evil to be fought here. This is not the place, now is not the time. I blink slowly as the Warrior takes a step back.

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

In return, Red studies me silently for a moment.

"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."

My brows furrow 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."

She nods slowly. "So... th' Warrior aspect'll be key, then."

I shrug. "Well, the Spirits have been particularly unhelpful on the matter, but 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." But then I sigh. "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 become involved. 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. Yeah, pretty sure he does. I don't think Leon does, though."

Red closes her eyes for a moment as I start into the cycle of frustration that's been my existence for weeks. And then it all just stops. It's almost like a big rig running hot down a steep grade and pulling off into one of the sand and plastic barrel filled switches for runaway trucks. I'm just staring at her when she opens her eyes.

"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."

Red's eyebrows raise in surprise, followed by an expression of keen interest.

"'Twould seem havin' Paddy's diamonds articulatin' e'ery millimeter or so'll hae th' effect o' turnin' them te lightnin' 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." She doesn't look too sure about that though. "'Twill hae been me shields that'll hae... absorbed yer distress, an' a mite forcefully, too." Now I'm wondering if she's talking to herself. "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."

I'm not exactly frustrated, not yet anyway. It's just really bizarre to feel almost like a complete beginner again. And she just smiles.

"Ah, but I'll be thinkin' ye'll understand more than yer mind'll allow ye believe it." She tilts her head and just smiles... as if she knows something I don't.

Yeah, well... duh.

"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."

Right now, she's reminding me just a little too much of Master Chen. Different accent... same enigmatic prompts to think about this and think about that. I could have sworn that last question of hers was an honest one. Now I wonder if it was rhetorical.

Fine. If I'm going to go back to the beginning... I'm going to go back to the beginning. I'm not going to muck with her illusion of Ireland, although creating the illusion of Master Chen's school would be... No, I guess it wouldn't be the right thing, would it.? I'm beyond his teachings, so I need this completely different environment.

My subconscious mind is quite clever; the dream provides what I need and not what I want. Still, I shift from sitting tailor fashion, to a proper kneeling posture, my hands resting on my thighs, eyes closed... and I simply pay attention to qi.

I start with myself, breathing slowly and following a particularly pretty spark of turquoise as it travels through my meridians. That's the most basic way to think of this... monitoring, watching. When I first began studying with Master Chen, it was like trying to keep track of a twig in a raging river. Now I'm watching a kayak. It's still maneuvering through a raging river, though.

It's tempting to reaching out to the rest of the Pentad, but if there's a lesson to be learned here — and Red's hinting awfully damn hard that there is — precision is necessary. I need to do this... at least, right now I do.

It's possible that admitting to this whole pregnancy thing has made it astoundingly easy to see the tiny speck that are those two, as it was nearly impossible yesterday. I shouldn't be surprised, and I'm not. Much. But they're REALLY obvious, even though medically speaking they shouldn't be. And yet... hadn't my first pregnancy been even more obvious, and even earlier than this?

Okay, okay... concentrate, Andi. You're a Taiji Master.

What did Red say? Think about the fact that I'm energy. And I manipulate energy. But everything, or just about, is energy.

So if everything is energy, it's all about the energy. Is it significant that I'm so aware of those two right now? I know it must mean something that I feel Pablo and Maddie, Logan, Rene... I feel as though they're sitting here with me.

What am I saying? It merely confirms the truth that everyone and everything is connected. Is it about connections, then?

So... then what did she mean when she said to think about how I manipulate the qi? Wow. I haven't actually thought about it in a long time. I haven't really had to, I suppose. It's all become... well, maybe it's all become too easy. It's not supposed to be easy. Master Chen said that in the beginning. He also said that I should always remain mindful of what I was doing.

I guess that's where things are breaking down. I don't know what I'm doing.

Oh. Right. Ha ha. Very funny, Red. Think about it, figure it out, and do something about it.

Why couldn't I have just done that on my own, without resorting to the crazy dreaming? Because the crazy dreaming is just me telling myself what to do anyway, silly.

Wow, for a smart person, sometimes you're a little thick, Yazzie. Yeah. I know. It's not like I haven't heard that before. And I do have to smile at all the times a friend or family member said something like that to me.

Because it trips a switch.

I have been a little thick, haven't I? I can see exactly how I manipulate the qi around me; thoughts are also a form of energy. Granted, it's increased electrical energy in the brain... but when you're talking about the one person who can shoot bolts of energy from her hands and feet, thoughts can be powerful things. Is that why the whole telepathy thing has been so easy for me? I don't even remember being surprised by it. I mean, I might have been, but I don't remember being surprised. And my memory is...

Well, let's just say my memory is an asshole when it comes to deciding what I need to know about what other people have remembered. Or, in Logan's case, have not remembered.

I love him for not caring about those memories. They're hard enough to look at for me, and that's not even understanding the context for them sometimes. They're damn hard to live with, the most potent ones anyway. Returning them to him... well, it would almost be like living them again. For both of us, since I've had them here inside my head since we formed the Pentad; they seem awfully real. I'd rather not see him have to go through that. And maybe I'm a little selfish for not wanting to live through those things myself. On the other hand, maybe it's just self-preservation.

Watching the energy, really seeing the particles and waves and colors and emotions and sounds and all the other things that make up qi, or maybe are a part of qi... it seems fairly obvious how thoughts, my thoughts, affect it. And it's obvious that I haven't been thinking. Well, no. It's obvious I haven't been thinking the right thoughts. I've been thinking about the why and where and how... I've been thinking about this new... I guess this new state of being I've achieved, why it happened and how it happened. I haven't been just letting it BE.

As I continue to watch the tiny speck of qi that I've chosen as a marker, I relax into the fullness of this new way of being. I can see that I have already unconsciously expanded my definition of Self to hold everything Mother has given me. And it's so obvious that I — my Self — can expand as infinitely as necessary that I almost have to laugh at myself. When I was first learning with Master Chen, wasn't I just as scared? Wasn't I just as worried about not being able to contain all the energy I was holding then?

And didn't he laugh at me?

Oh, yeah. He sure did. And he'd be laughing at me right now, too. But I guess my subconscious needed a different kind of kick in the ass than he'd give me. For all that he knew, and for all the wisdom that he has, for all the skill he has as Grandmaster of Taiji... I'd still be able to kick his butt. Now.

Thinking about that is a little sad. And yet, it's how things go. The student surpasses the master. It happens. It doesn't always happen, not every student surpasses their master. But eventually, every master is replaced by one of his... her... students. No one lives forever.

Well. Um.


That's a new wrinkle to this equation.

But that thought passes through my brain at the exact moment the tiny turquoise marker flows through the whirling of the heart chakra, and I smile again. I might be crying from the joy of the overwhelming knowing that hits me then, but I don't care.

Love. Love makes forever possible. Love makes now possible. Love makes it all possible.

That's the damn key!

Love. I don't have to worry about blowing up Denver because I can't do it. I love my people too much. Even the assholes who make my life difficult and make the lives of my people miserable... I have compassion, at least.

Okay, maybe not for scum like Stryker. But there's got to be an exception to every rule.

So what does that mean? How does that relate to Red's shields?

Love is the key, isn't it? And I think that means the Pentad is the key because... gods, I just want to fall apart so I can piece myself back together as part of everything the five of us are. I don't even know what that is, but I know it's amazing and it's powerful and it's beautiful. There are people out there who should probably be quaking in their boots because we are, because we exist. And there are other people who can sleep more soundly because we are.

But shields, shields, shields. What about the shields? I guess I can't just go leaking all this qi all over the place. I can hold it all, yes. But it should be held neatly and safely. You can't go dripping qi all over the place.

Master Chen hadn't quite put it that way, but he definitely chided me for being too disorganized and undisciplined. He did that a lot, in the beginning.

Oh. Sure, now I see what he meant when he told me I had to practice my Taiji every single day. It wasn't for storing the qi, it was for organizing it. Duh. Well, yeah... now it's obvious. And as I replay my last practice session, I can see that's exactly what I was doing... even though I had no idea that's what I was doing.

Yep, sometimes you just need a little kick in the head to see things from a different perspective. In my case... well, maybe Mother was trying to tell me, though I have a feeling she wasn't. She just wants to share and give and love. I don't think the Spirits have any idea what I needed to figure out about all my growing power. They're just energy; they have no need to be organized. Even when they manifest on the physical plane, they can only spend a certain amount of time among us because they don't understand the organization needed to stay corporeal.

Well, that would explain why Rene learned so quickly. Conscious minds might not understand the organization of energy needed to maintain a physical presence, but anyone with a decent sense of Self can probably outdo the Spirits simply by having the memory of being a person with a body.

That's kind of funny, but I'm not going to laugh at them.

Nah, okay. Maybe I will. They've been jerks.

So what does this have to do with those shields Red has? I suppose a few minutes ago I might have gotten pissed off, or at least snarky, and thought that there's no relationship at all.

But it's the organization, isn't is?

Her shields are organized energy. And if I organized my energy differently, I might be able to keep Maddie from being affected so badly by my death. Deaths?

I sigh.

Yeah. Deaths. In my line of work, it's bound to happen. It doesn't matter how careful I am. Pablo is right to worry, but at least I'll come back. I think my worries for him are more than justified... when he dies, he won't come back.

Well, not exactly, anyway. He'll wind up with Rene in the Spirits' world. It's not the same thing, even though I'm sure he'll be as adept at manifesting as a physical being as Rene is.

Well, there's no point worrying about that now. He's just going to need to be even more careful than he wants me to be. That settles that!

But these shields...

I can see it requires a new way of thinking about organization. Given the fact that I never thought about the organization in the first place, that shouldn't be too hard. Should it?

But it involves the entire Pentad. I don't know exactly why it does, but it... it just has to. Because we're all so connected? Probably.

I sit and simply breathe for some time, for no time. Oddly, I don't need Taiji to feel myself in the No Time space. Perhaps this whole dream has been a journey to the No Time place. I allow myself to feel my connections to all of the Pentad. I feel our balance. I can feel the Bond Pablo and I have... the Two Who Are One. It has a different... I'm not even sure texture is the right word anymore, but it's a different thing than the Bond Maddie shares with Rene and Logan. They are the Three Who Are One. It's so similar and so different at the same time that I don't think rational thought is meant to understand it.

But my heart does. I get the feeling that the heart is key, so... it's all good.

I would have, before those two said anything, said finally there is the Bond of the Pentad... the Five Who Are One. This Bond nearly overwhelms my heart with the sheer RIGHTNESS, with the abundance of love, caring, respect, protection.

Am I crying again?

I can't help it. And I don't ever want to not feel this way. I don't ever want to take this Bond we have for granted.

I suspect that I couldn't, even if I tried. But the idea of always seeing wonder in this thing we all share... yeah, well, fine. Call me sappy if you must. It's something that makes the thought of living forever something worth doing.

Now, thanks to those two, I can actually sense something else. There's a connection between me and Maddie, and I don't have the words to describe it. It's something completely different from any of the other Bonds that weave through the Pentad.

It almost, almost looks like the amorphous nature of those two, and yet... not really. It feels similar, too. But again, not really. I think if I could look at the connection Red has with her brother, her twin, I might see the same thing.

I open my eyes and see Red smiling. Darn her, she even has that same aura of serenity that Master Chen had while he waited for me to work things out. I'm actually a little surprised that I'm not the least bit upset by that.

I glance at the two figures that still glow near us, blink slowly while thinking about how much the Pentad means to me, and see a representation of the five of us when my eyes open again. I smile.

Dear gods, we are a beautiful and fearsome sight, aren't we?

I look at Red, then nod toward the figures.

"That's what the Pentad looks like."

Red turns her head to look at the glorious beauty I see, and she gasps. Can't blame her, really. It's one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. It seems so much more vivid here in the dreamscape, too.

"Bandia a chara, cé go bhfuil tú? Who'll ye be, that ye'll hae such..."

She seems to be at a loss for words... and really confused.

"Ye'll be demi-gods," she finally whispers.

I look at her... probably in the same way people have been looking at me lately. You know, like she's completely lost her ever loving mind. But the idea is so ludicrous that all I can do is start laughing.

"Dear gods, no! We're all thoroughly imperfect humans!" I manage to say after a really good, cleansing belly laugh. Then I point to the figure the represents our fulcrum of balance. "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."

She shakes her head. Why do I think it's so funny that she doesn't believe me?

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

Okay, that's a show stopper. "That?"

I look between Red and the images of those closest to my heart and soul. Each glance makes me more aware of how lucky I am, how grateful I am... and I think maybe, just a little, I'm starting to feel sorry for Red that she doesn't have something like this in her life. Very few people do... I know that. It doesn't mean I can't wish for everyone to have this... this amount of wonder.

"Moira..." I look at her, and my words are as gentle to her as words I'd give Pablo when saying something difficult. "That's the force that holds us together. That's love. It's nothing supernatural."

I think my smile holds some impishness more often seen on Pablo's face as I shrug 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, we're as ordinary as the folks you zip around the galaxy with in your starship."

I pause as two thoughts seem to collide in my brain at once. The first thought is that either version of Star Trek my brain is manifesting right now represents the best and brightest the Federation has to offer. The second thought is a line from a movie I love watching — often — Men in Black. I giggle.

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

She doesn't seem convinced... well, or maybe it's that I've gone and confused her again. She sighs as though the weight of the world is on her shoulders. It's far more dramatic than even my little brother has ever managed!

"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."

Whether she believes or doesn't believe the reality of my universe — and since when have my dreams become so damn argumentative? — doesn't really matter. I do find it a bit unnerving to be thought of as a demi-god, but compared to the way some people look at mutants? Yeah, okay... I'll take it.

"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."

It almost looks like I caught Red off guard for a second, but I'll give her credit for recovering quickly. She sighs more softly.

Well, it's not like I go around driving people crazy on purpose!

Oh, wait. Fine. Maybe I do.

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

I decide I'm not going to giggle. Or make any sound at all. Because now she looks like she's plotting, and people who plot make me nervous.

"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."

I stare at her, completely baffled for a few seconds before my brain starts processing the words 'veins' and 'ice.' Then my stare gets really suspicious.

"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."

At least she looks as unhappy about that analogy as I feel. Except... Hell, if it would help, I think at this point I might give anything a try. Yeah. That's how much I want to keep my Sister safe.

Red nods. "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'." And then she sighs again. It seems like we're both doing a lot of that. "'Tis nae so much time te abandon ship as it'll be time te suit up an' head inte th' engines themselves."

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

And then she chuckles again. Why are the scary things so funny to her? "I'll be an engineer, nae jus' a holoprogrammer. 'Tis part o' th' job te crawl about th' engines te inspect 'em." She tilts 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." Oh, hello there, Ninja. So glad you could join the party! Sure, bring on the snark! I narrow my eyes and look at her. "Just what exactly are you proposing here, Red?"

She shrugs. "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."

This time I just stare blankly. I'm not sure how long I do that, but eventually it all settles right inside my brain. Her crazy... taking up space in my brain with my crazy. I cradle my head in my hands and let out a soft, high pitched moan.

"Are you saying you want me to jump inside your head?" I ask without looking up. "Because that's what it sounds like, and in my reality... that's crazy." I try to continue my impression of being... nothing. I'm pretty sure I'm failing miserably.

"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."

I look up at her, and she's... You know what? I have no idea what she's doing. It looks like she's pushing confidence into her aura. Lots and lots of it. Now, I'm not up on all the tips and tricks of the psych field but doesn't that sounds like someone who has something to hide? Oh ho ho! That song from The King and I, where Anna is singing about whistling a happy tune so no one ever knows she's afraid! Ha.

Well, at least that makes two of us.

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

"Well... truth be told, I'll nae be so certain. I'll hae been..." She sighs 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."

I nod slowly. "Okay, yeah. I remember that. Your qi looked so..." Damn you, Curse... do you have to do an instant replay on everything? I press my lips tightly together, shake my head, and draw a shuddering breath. Despair and hopelessness, and unending loss. "I just wanted to give you... comfort? Peace? All I wanted to do was help you."

One corner of her mouth raises 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."

If only. I shake my head. Gods, how I wish I could lay down the staff and Heal. "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."

"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 does attempt a real smile. "'Twill do fer a start."

My smile? I know it's forced. None of this makes me really happy, but I don't think I have a choice. You know, there's a lot of my life where there are neon signs saying, No choice for you, kiddo.

"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." I hesitate. I don't think I've done anything quite this crazy, though. "I'll be honest, Red... I'm worried about getting stuck in your head."

This time, she truly smiles as she grounds and centers herself. "An' that'll be th' one thin' I kin say will nae, kinnae happen. Ye've m'word upon it." She holds both hands out to me, palms up.

I hear Danu — still part of the tree over by the big rock. She's chuckling, too. That's got to be where Red gets it from.

Well, if I'm going to do this, I might as well do it. As I gently rest my hands on hers — lao gong points aligned — it occurs to me that this kind of insanity might be my equivalent to Maddie just walking up to a Big Bad's door. Two peas in a pod, we are.

There's absolutely no sense of disorientation; no sense that we moved at all. One second we're sitting in a part of Ireland created by someone who might just be a figment of my imagination... the next instant we're standing inside the most amazing room I've ever seen. I'm going to assume this room represents Red's shields. I quickly add my boots to my outfit.

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

The colors! The intricate patterns! Oh my gods, it's so gorgeous in here, I can't imagine being anything except... awe-inspired, I guess.

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

I step closer to the nearest wall, careful — oh, so very careful! — not to touch it. I can see the pattern of the weaving, but it's very much like a fractal... the closer I look at the patterns, the more they simply repeat themselves. It's Turtles all the way down.


I practically jump, which would mean falling into the wall. It's a damn good thing my reflexes are faster than lightning! Red winces at the sound. Benjamin Franklin saying to John Adams in 1776... Lord, your voice is piercing, John. Except that doesn't even begin to cover it.

There's a red-haired young man at the far end of the space. I'm going to assume that's the brother. It would be difficult to describe the look on Red's face, but combined with the way her aura looks? She's pissed off, disappointed, and frustrated... all of them at levels that are topping the charts. Ooops.


Uh oh. Even Maddie didn't sound that pissed when I healed from dead. Come to think of it, Maddie's I'm really pissed off voice has more of a supernova feel to it, despite the fact that she compares our styles of anger to fire and ice. I'm fire, she's ice. Red's pissed off voice? Try something negative on the Kelvin scale. Yikes!

"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 asks, motioning around the space. "What the hell, Moira?!"

Okay, something odd is going on here, but I still don't have enough twos to add together to get four.


The git just points at me. Red's got the heels of her hands pressed to her temples and her eyes tightly closed. Also, that's the aura of someone in pain. Almost, but not quite, a migraine.

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

I know I move fast, but I am not as fast as... as a speeding bullet! Except it feels like all I did was think about walking over to Red and... poof! Here I am!

The inside of her head is a very strange place.

"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?" The Ninja snark is back, I see. I can hear that. And it sounds like brother dear is going to get a smack upside his adorable red little head any way we slice things.

"Aye, 'tis Padraig..."

"Who the hell are you?" Well, he's not shouting. That's probably wise. And he's staying as far away from the crazy lady who isn't his sister as possible. That's even wiser. "And you don't have a stick, anyway."

Aw, now, did you HAVE to go and taunt Ninja?

"Honestly, Red, I'd rather hit him with the stick," I say as I pull my staff from... okay, let's not think about where it came from. I hold it in a mostly non-threatening way. "Slapping him means touching him, touching him means I get all his baggage, too." I, meaning Ninja, grin at Padraig.

Gods, the terribly naughty part of me just loves the look on his face!

Red manages to open her eyes, but continues to rub her temples. The 'migraine' part of the headache seems to be easing off, but there's still plenty of regular garden variety headache there. Seems like the look on her brother's face tickles her, too.


She looks over at me... and then it's almost as if I don't exist. Her look is all about the staff. Well, who can blame her? It is a beautiful piece of work.

"Will yon staff o' yers be a livin' thin'? 'Twill seem te hae markin's movin' about on it." She blinks, almost as if looking at the staff is going to give her vertigo; yet she can't take her eyes from it. "Though mayhap 'twill be th' fearsome headache Paddy'll be tryin' te give me."

I look between them, an eyebrow raised — mostly to keep the brother in his corner — before I look at the staff. I smile, and for once I don't mind the Curse's gift that keeps on giving. I shake my head though.

"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," I say with the same awe I felt when I was first handed the staff. I trace the hózhó that winds its way around the center of the staff. "It was when Master Chen first handed it to me."

It wouldn't take much to transport me back to that moment. Master Chen had never given a student such a rare and precious gift. I was so sure of that... that's how perfect it felt as he placed it in my hands.

You are to be the Warrior, Master Yazzie. You are also the Seeker. The staff will remind you to always be true to your teachings — all of them.

Yeah, maybe China would be better than Suriname, never mind that it's practically Siberia and it's winter. I really miss Master Chen.


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

I glance at her, then back at the staff. "In a way, you're right. This symbol," I say, tracing the hózhó again, "represents hózhó, which 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 whole 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."

I nod. "Every human language Master Chen's grandson could find... harmony, balance, and peace." I point to an ideogram above the center symbol and another below it. "This one is Japanese for balance," I say 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." I chuckle.

"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?" I hold the staff on my 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."

She raises an eyebrow at that. I just shrug.

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

While Red inspects the staff, we both pretend to ignore her brother as he edges closer.

"Ah! Look! Here'll be síocháin... peace."

I hear 'she' and then something like she's hacking up a hairball when she says — sort of says — 'chan'.

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

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

"Fine. I'm sorry."

Apparently what I see of his aura — isn't it fascinating that he has an aura? — matches up with whatever Red senses from him. Or she knows him too well. In either case, my eyebrow goes up again... and she snorts.

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

He sighs as he looks between the two of us. "Fine, I understand why the Witch doesn't believe me," he to me, "but the look on your face says you don't believe me either. That means you're a Witch, too, doesn't it?"

"Nope," I reply 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 just stares for a moment, and then he whines, "Moira!"

Red chuckles. "So, an' what'll ye be expectin' when ye come in here actin' like an amadán?"

He shudders or twitches — it almost looks like some kind of seizure. From the look of that qi, he's about to start up another one of his excessive decibel attacks. And then he disappears. Gone. Nowhere to be seen.

It's not surprising that I might be emitting what the fuck just happened? vibes.

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

Oookay... I still wonder what all that was about. But I nod anyway, tucking my staff back into... wherever I'd pulled it from in the first place.

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

She looks 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?"

Red chuckles. "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," I say. Isn't that 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."

I look closely at the floor, and then the nearest wall. If this actually was woven, it has the densest thread count, so to speak, that I've ever seen. The colors themselves seem random in places, but the pattern of the qi is incredibly consistent... and spectacularly complex.

"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."

I turn back at her to see she's looking at me with a great deal of interest. It's the kind of interest that I find unnerving. I got a brief exposure to that kind of interest at Halloween from Charles and Hank. I know they didn't mean anything by their interest in my Curse beyond their academic curiosity about how it worked. Still.

"Sure an' I'll understand yer seein' th' energies. An' th' fractals..." She looks at the wall, too, but it's more of a glance than anything else. "So, 'twould seem that'll be a new feature." She shrugs.

I find that interesting... the fact that her shields have changed — I take it that it's the fractals, but how can I really know? It's also plenty interesting that she's so nonchalant about it.

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

I nod. That makes sense. And it's a good thing. I look at the wall again, trying to figure out how anyone could safely get through there without having to open up a gap. I don't care if this is a dream, and that the impossible can happen in dreams. If I'm going to try replicating something like this when I wake up, it needs to make sense.

"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?"

Red is quiet just long enough that I know I've said the wrong thing. I turn back to her; I'm pretty sure I look worried.

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

She smiles, but barely. "'Twill nae be a wrong thin'. 'Tis only... rememberin'. I'll be th' one te be apologizin', lass."

Red takes a breath and nods... but it's more to herself than to me. It's almost as if, for a moment, I'm not even there.

"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."

Oh, nothing's wrong? I'm glad to know it wasn't my Foot In Mouth affliction this time, but really? I swear... some people.

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

She turns her back to me, wraps her arms around herself as if that's the only comfort she'll ever see, and bows her head. I'm so glad not to be an Empath because if the spikes and flare of qi are any indication, she's in a hell of a lot of pain. And she's trying hard to keep it tucked in. I wonder if it's for my benefit, or if holding those emotions in is that important even when she's inside her own barriers. She did say she was afraid of her emotions... and damaging others. Does she think she's going to hurt her crewmates while she's sleeping?

Damn, and here I thought the dreams about those two were bizarre!

Eventually I whisper, "I'm sorry, Red. How can I make it better... make it right?"

She shakes her head, but other than that she doesn't move.

"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."

I dare to look a little deeper... at her meridians, and not just her aura. At least she's telling the truth about that. Her heart — and everything around it — is a tangled mess, but she knows. And she's trying to work through it. Still...

I take a step closer, small and hesitant. If nothing else, I realize I need to know more about Empaths so I don't inadvertently mess Em up. Well, if I'm going to be completely honest with me, I'm looking at self-preservation. She's ten, sure. But she's still an Elder. She's probably not a match for me... yet. But I sure as hell wouldn't want to put her in the position of unconsciously lashing out. Nothing good can come from that.

It's a good thing I don't mind the silence because it's damn quiet in here. I suspect Red's chatting with someone telepathically — she has that shimmer around her head that I associate with telepathy in use. Am I really inside her head? Because that's just another bizarre thing on top of all the other bizarre things that are happening lately.

This is odd though... it's not upsetting me like all the other bizarre things have been. I should get points for that. Or maybe Red should. I suppose it depends on whether any of this approaches some form of reality or if I'm just dreaming it all up.

It's fascinating to watch how her qi interacts with the qi of the room, though. The barrier is far more than just a reflection of her qi, and yet it's clearly a manifestation of that qi. Maybe it's because I'm watching so closely, but when the brother shows up again, it's not the least bit surprising.

Had she or her shields telegraphed his arrival? It's hard to say. Maybe? In any case, I take a step back as he wraps his arms around her.

They've got a synergy unlike anything I've ever seen. I'm not sure it a Twin Thing — though it might be — because I've never seen any other pair of twins mesh their qi together like that. Sure, I don't know all that many twins. But even the pair of identical twins I'd met in college had thoroughly individual qi signatures.

"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."

Red sighs...

...and I nearly choke myself to keep from laughing out loud. I think I like him already, despite the histrionics earlier.

He peers over Red's shoulder to stare at me.

"Mo, she's laughing at me."

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

"Well..." I pause for another Do No Laugh break. "He did sound a little bit like my husband there. Just a bit."

"See? I told you!"

Red sighs again, straightens up, and tugs on his ear. I need to teach her how to Gibbs slap; it's more fun.

"Then ye'll stop bein' such an amadán now, will ye nae."

"Ow." The brother releases Red to rub his ear. Hmm. Maybe it is as good as a Gibbs slap. "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."


Red turns back to look at me, although I swear she had rolled her eyes at him before she did. Maybe it's something really subtle about someone's aura that I haven't cataloged yet.

"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." Red glances over her shoulder at her brother. "'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."

I snicker. I can't help it that they're reminding me of my own family. "My brother says I'm his favorite sister. I'm also his only sister."

Padraig looks between Red and me, looking a lot like... well, almost anyone in the family watching me and Justin when we get going with the silliness.

"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 looks away; his qi becomes so chaotic that it's possible to believe he's not a living being. The thing is... well, I've never seen anything that chaotic. Really. Nothing.

He slips up behind Red and wraps his arms around her. The instant she folds her arms over his, his aura settles back to what I suppose is normal for him. An instant later, that synergy I saw before... swells? Erupts? I don't know.

I don't like not knowing, especially when it comes to my own Curse. This thing they have is peculiar, and I need to know what it is.

Then he takes a deep breath before resting his chin on the top of Red's head. I wonder why he's having such a hard time looking at me. Oh wait... the images of him and his wife that Red showed me. Do I remind him of his wife? Damn. Damn, damn, damn!

"If it helps," I say 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 fasten on me so fast I wonder if he's got enhanced speed like I do. Maybe it's a factor of being dead.

"What? That doesn't make sense."

What can I do besides shrug? "I know. It's hard to explain." I try to laugh, but it comes out sounding... forced, and definitely humorless. "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."

I nod but pause. How the hell to explain this? Where to begin? Well, with Maddie, I suppose.

"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."

I sigh. The story of my life, at least lately.

"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. And uranium mining that's stilling going on in the Navajo Nation. Some of it was due to the Virus, sure... 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."

I go silent then. I'm not sure Maddie ever told me that. I'm not sure Rene did, either. I'm pretty sure it's just part of the Curse that keeps on giving. Some of the things I 'remember' from other people aren't so bad, but it all seems to be the most emotionally charged memories that get downloaded to my psyche when I form a close enough connection to them. What I remember of that download is that Maddie was with Rene after the twins were born, and it felt like both of them were at peace. I think she might have even had a choice then — accept that gift from her children and keep it for however long her life would be, or give it up. Maybe she didn't have the choice; maybe it was only an illusion.

Because when it comes right down to it, what does any good mother choose? Peace... or their children?

I finally speak up again, but I'm not sure how well they can hear. "I guess that's why she seemed so worried, even though she was trying not to sound worried."

And I'm feeling so overwhelmed again! I can't look at either one of them, and I can't focus on any one thing or I'm going to totally lose it again. I don't want to start crying again; nobody needs the kind of breakdown I had at the cabin... whenever that was. I look up and blink rapidly. I need to keep my hands clasped behind my back, or I'm going to start grabbing my hair again. I just try to breathe. That's all... just... breathe.

"I'm sorry," I whisper, hearing my voice shake horribly. "I never expected..." Just breathe, Andi... like Master Chen taught you. Breathe. Don't think. Just breathe.

"They aren't making this easy on me, and... and I'm a little freaked out about it."

It's not working. I can feel the emotions starting to overwhelm me, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it. I'm breathing, but I sound worse than some of the miscreants I chase down once I catch them.

"I never should have been able to get pregnant, and yet..."

And yet, here I am. That's why I'm here, right? To figure this shit out before I destroy half of Colorado? I can see what my eyes are doing. And I don't care for it. I lower my gaze to the siblings, knowing my eyes are glowing with a golden light.

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

They don't hesitate for even an instant.

"Containment, Paddy?"

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


Before my heart could finish beating a single time, before I could blink, strong arms wrap around me. Red's brother is taller than Pablo. He might even be taller than Rene and Logan, maybe. I'm not sure what to think. Maybe I shouldn't think.

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

I feel Red's hand rest on my shoulder, and the immediate release of so much emotion nearly makes me collapse. It's only years and years of training — and a little help from Padraig — that keep me from slumping to the floor.

"Her eyes never did that, though." His voice holds just enough humor that I have to wonder how this can't be a dire emergency. "Breach contained, Captain, but engines aren't my specialty, you know."

"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-Tervik, too. An' ye'll nae be forgettin' this'll be me gift, now will ye?"

All I can do is try not to think as I rest my head on Padraig's chest. Except my brain wants to tell me that Padraig has the same feel about him that Rene does... that Spirit-like quality.

"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."

I probably look better than I did a minute ago. I sure as hell feel better than I did a minute ago. Red has a hell of a talent. And her brother has a talent for understatement.

"Thank you, Paddy," I say as I start to step away from him.

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

I know I manage a smile, and I even attempt a 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."

Red squeezes my shoulder, but I could feel the calm click back into place an instant before she did. Fascinating.

"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."

The playfulness in her voice means she's smiling at him. He relaxes his hold on me, and I breathe one more time to make sure I'm going to stay standing.

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

He groans and sighs at the same time, no mean feat! "Oh, so it's your fault. I should have known."

I step back, feeling as close to normal as I've felt since... huh. Since we formed the Pentad, I guess. This is the new normal. I need to keep reminding myself of that.

The two of them, though? They amuse me.

"Are you two always like this?"



They amuse me very much. I can't help but giggle at their opposite and simultaneous answers.

Red smiles serenely.

"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 responds cheerfully, a bright grin lighting up his face. "I can't do my thing on the holodeck. I can only help like this when I'm inside your head. Neener, neener."

Gods, they sound like me and Justin! And I realize just how much I miss my baby brother. No, no, no. Don't think, Andi. Just be. The love between these two, though...

Well, it's beautiful, that's what it is.

"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."

I haven't even gotten the words out of my mouth before she does that create things out of nothing trick of hers. This time, instead of a mere chair, she's sculpted an entire living room. Well, I have a feeling walking up those stairs would create more rooms, as would the doorway across from what looks like the entryway. There are two sofas close to us, with a coffee table between them. There are other bits of comfortable furniture scattered around the room. In one corner is a piano. That's a spinet, isn't it? I think that's what those uprights are called. And the musical instruments!

Hell, even the windows actually look like windows. There's a gorgeous flower garden outside the one beside me.

"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." Red just smiles. "Ye'll be fine, lass. Speak with yer doctor regardin' th' mood swin's, aye?"

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

Padraig steers me to one of the sofas. I'm more fascinated by this space than her advice.

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

I just look at them and shake my head. Maybe something like this could be programmed on Maddie's 'holodeck' and maybe not. Now I'm almost tempted to learn more programming than I already know just to make something like this.

"Unreal." That's about all I can say about this space, and the two of them.

But then I frown... and sigh... and simply shake my head.

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

Red smiles oh so cheerfully. "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 Seanmháthair... 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..." I shrug. "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..." I shrug again, rather philosophically I suppose. "I guess it's just my bad luck that one of my law enforcement contacts as Ninja happens to be her husband." I sigh. I really wish I could stop doing that. "Too many people are joining the circle of folks who know my secret identity. It really makes me nervous."

"Secret identity?" Padraig sounds just a little too excited for my taste. "Like in the old vids? Superman and Batman and all of them?"

Red rolls her eyes at him, but I have to smile. He's too much like Justin and Henry and Charlie and even a bit like Billy not to smile.

"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."

He's trying to decide if I'm serious as he eyes me. Maybe I'm just pulling his leg, right? He glances at his sister, and there's some look that passes between them — I don't even see the shimmer I associate with telepathy — that convinces him that I'm serious.

"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, that's how it is in your universe, too? Gosh, it's nice to know some things are multi-universal," I say sarcastically. "I have a potty mouth. Snark is an art form for me — Pablo says smart assery 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."

I smile a very Ninja-like smile.

"But I don't stay dead. And I believe in getting even."

"So you're Irish!"

"Paddy!" Red slaps him on the shoulder. "Try behavin' yerself fer once."

He doesn't even try 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."

I smile. For all the grief I might give Henry and Coyote, it's all in loving fun. Maddie doesn't even bother pretending that Team Henry Coyote drives her crazy. She just adores them. I've spent too many years giving my cousin-twin a hard time that he wouldn't know what to do if I stopped. He probably wouldn't know who I was.

He likes people, and he's really happy when people like him in return. But I have a suspicion that he likes to be teased just as much. Of course, he did drive poor Pablo absolutely bonkers at Halloween. That points to more than just a suspicion, and I should warn Pablo his job is to give as good as he gets. Well, maybe he was starting to grasp that toward the end of the evening.

Padraig grins. "See? Somebody appreciates me, Mo." He thumps his shoulder against hers. "I like her. Can we keep her?"

I'm not sure what kind of look I give him, mostly because I can't decide if I should take that as a joke or if I should be serious. Red tweaks his ear again, which answers that question.


"Maybe I'll come back to visit," I say wickedly. Oh, Ninja. Shouldn't you stay home? "Or ask Great Spirit to send Henry here when he takes his Last Walk. He'd like you."

Padraig rubs his ear and looks at me and then Red.

"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?"

I manage to suppress a grin until he rolls 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."

Red shrugs and smiles at him. Then she leans back and looks like she's calculating... in more ways than one.

"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?"

He eyes her... need I say '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."

I expect him to groan, but he just sighs.

"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 grins 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, so I'll be avoidin' bein' available when she'll be makin' her weekly calls te her granddaughter's spaceship." Red rolls her eyes, too. This just gets better and better. "You'll never find a husband out there, Moira," she says with hardly a trace of her 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 snorts.

Padraig laughs. "You know... getting under Granny O's skin would be the best reason to let the family know I'm still sort of around."

Red looks at him like he's gone off the rails. "'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."

He gets so serious, so suddenly, that I almost expect the temperature to drop precipitously. I'm not sure what that's all about, but it's clearly a sharp-edged argument they've been having for quite some time.

"No. How many times do I have to tell you, Mo? No." He looks off toward the corner of musical instruments. "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."

My brows draw together as I parse through his words, overlaying them on his qi.

"Mhari is your daughter. And you want to keep her from knowing about you?" I'm pretty sure my voice holds every bit as much shock as I feel.

"She's only four..."

"She'll be comin' onte six now," his sister interrupts.

"Fine. Almost six. That's too young to be able to understand any of this."

Again — still? — I am absolutely appalled.

"What's to understand?" I might be a little more irritated that I should be. It's not my family, so it shouldn't be any of my business. "She's a little kid. She misses her parents. Why would you NOT want to give her the joy of knowing her dad?"

He shakes his head, but still won't look at me. Or his sister. "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!"

His head turns back to me, and I can see he has tears in his eyes. "Okay. Maybe you do understand."

Red wraps 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!"

I wonder if being dead makes a person's qi become thoroughly chaotic. I guess it would make sense... sort of. I mean, if they're going to stick around as a Spirit, then maybe. I think if they go on to wherever they're supposed to go, their qi probably just... well, becomes part of the universal qi. So maybe Padraig has a harder time holding onto coherency than Rene does because he hasn't been dead as long? Or he's stuck being part of Red's psyche?

Or maybe...


"I think reconnecting with your daughter would do you a world of good, too," I say. "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..."

Crap. Now I want to wake up and figure out how to get here for real, and not inside Red's head... and find the Spirits of this universe and do for Padraig what I did for Rene. Yes. I know. I'm a sap.

"...but it's something."

I hate the look of pain in his eyes.

"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."

He shakes his head. "Don't. Don't apologize for being kind."

The two of them are silent, with the shimmer of telepathy bright around them. Maybe if I couldn't see their qi, I'd be worried as they sit with their heads together and eyes closed. After... well, who can tell what time means in a dream, in another dimension? But finally, Red sighs softly and pats her brother's hand.

"I should apologize for behaving badly," he says 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 smiles sadly as he opens 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 pushes against him slightly as she looks 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."

I smile 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." I pause a moment, then nod. "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 look at Red's brother, at the way his very essence supports, surrounds, guards his sister. I don't think there's really a parallel in my own universe... or my waking life, depending on how I interpret what's happening here. But I don't know everyone, and I haven't seen everything.

About some things, I am more than willing to admit I don't know. And accept that I don't need to know.

"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 land 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."

They're both very quiet for a moment.

"You're spooky. You know that, right?" he asks.

"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." I shrug. "It's about the only thing that can explain a lot of Raven's insanity..." I look at Red 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?" I'm sure I look at least a little confused because I am.

"No. It doesn't make sense."

I go over what I've said, and what I know simply from living my own life.

"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."

I point to the two of them but continue to address him. "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 weren't a cop. Would they have still died? Who can say? We can't change the past, so does the answer 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."

I smile softly, thinking of just how lucky I am.

"But if I... how can I spend time with Mhari if I'm stuck inside the Witch's head?"

I look at Red; her green eyes are twinkling with mischief and love. I have a feeling she's given the matter a great deal of thought.

"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?"

Oh, she definitely is teasing him now.

"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?"

This time she thumps his shoulder a bit harder than before.

"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 blinks at her; I smile.

"Aye. There'll be yer answer, ye amadán," she says with a grin. "Ye'll nae know, fer ye've ne'er hae e'en thought te try, hae ye?"

"No," he admits 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," I say quietly.

Padraig just looks at me for a minute. His aura is in quite a bit of disarray, but it seems to be settling quickly into the pattern of deep thought.

"You're quoting my own Book at me, Heathen."

I chuckle. "Misquoting it, actually. But you seem to have gotten the message anyway."

He smiles. "I'm a little thick sometimes, but maybe I have." He leans against his sister and closes 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."

I snort. "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."

Watching the two of them is like watching members of my own family. There's a closeness that's fairly common among most happy families I know, but they have a connection that's beyond anything I've ever seen before.

"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." I look down at the hand I had sliced open on Logan's claw... perfect and without a scar. "Four of us have... well, no. Logan and I have a detectable genetic mutation. Rene is a Spirit, although 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 would guess 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?" I muse. "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 demi-god." I shake my head as I continue to look at my 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."

I trace a finger across my palm where a scar should be.

"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 some 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..." I shake my head and chuff out a negation as well. "I take that back. I didn't actually survive. I did die. But I came back."

I finally look up at them. They're not quite taking it all in stride, but they look less shocked than Pablo had when I woke up after the skank shot me. Of course, they are pretty close to being strangers... and didn't actually see me get shot.

"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."

I smile softly, thinking about my Brother for a moment.

"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. Or everything could be restored from backup. Who knows? But I've promised Pablo to keep my brain safe."

It's not as funny as it sounds in my head, and I know that.

"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...?"

I pause and roll my eyes... at my own foolishness.

"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 into 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."

Red simply looks sad, but Padraig is horrified.

"People are locked away... just for being different?!? Mo would get locked up? Eileen with her Second Sight would get locked up?"


Direct, simple, to the point. Anything more, and I'll start thinking just a little too much about my people in Commerce City. I'll start worrying about Ben trying to heal from the treatment he got while in Quetzalcoatl's realm while still being possessed by Shadowkin. I'll get emotional. Not a good idea.

But then I sigh and close my eyes. They're my people. I can't just leave it there, and pretend there aren't layers upon layers of evil in our world.

"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."

My lips twitch at some of those memories... especially the hustlers, the con artists, the hookers. It had only taken watching, waiting, and then stepping in when a drunk, a skinhead, a garden variety asshole got violent and out of control. It had taken quite a while for most of them to trust me; and even longer before they were willing to follow Ninja's Rule.

Be fair, never strike the first blow, respect the people behind the shield.

It was that last part that was the hardest, of course. Yeah, they were doing things that were illegal... most of them. I did find one guy who ran an honest game of craps in an alley off 16th Street. But when they followed Ninja's Rule, it turned out the drunks, the skinheads, and the garden variety assholes got short-circuited more and more often. The more respect they gave the cops, the more likely they were to just get a warning. Or, if it was an election year, they were treated respectfully in return when the cops were required to bust everyone. There would always be the exceptions. While the vast majority of cops are decent, hard-working men and women, there are always going to be a few bad apples in every bushel. The profession doesn't matter. But I did my best to put bees in people's bonnets to get the bad apples transferred to areas where they couldn't do as much harm.

And the street people started listening to things they heard in the night. They watched, they remembered, and they told their tales to Ninja. As slow as they were to trust, they were damn quick at learning not to bullshit Ninja. She'd give you a pass once... twice if you caught her on a good night... and then she called you out. Unofficially, No bullshit got added to Ninja's Rule. I didn't care if their information wasn't something I could turn over to my friends with the shields. I didn't care if they didn't think it amounted to much.

Given enough time, one raindrop at a time will fill Cherry Creek Reservoir.

And my friends in Five Points! It hadn't taken nearly as long to win them over. It had only taken one woman's approval... Old Mama. I'd wandered the neighborhood, mostly rousting penny-ante drug dealers, but on occasion becoming a wall between two honest citizens having a disagreement that lead them to blows. I didn't like that the City kept pushing and pushing and pushing at the neighborhood, trying to force the residents out by pushing the crime in.

I pushed back. I have a lot of friends in the Denver Police Department. I have a feeling I don't have many friends in the City and County Building.

Oh well. Their loss.

About a month after I started... well, simply being in the neighborhood... I'd gathered enough information for the Drug Unit to crack down hard on a bunch of scum who were turning vacant buildings into their base of operations. I had to rely on the unspoken connection I had through Pablo to his boss. Information got to the right people in a roundabout way via Homicide and Captain Sanchez...

Until Pablo and I came clean with one another, I never realized what a damn hassle it was pretending I was just having a conversation while fishing for information... or dropping hints about things I'd learned. The last few months — at least on that job — have been a lot smoother.

That night, though... I had met Medina and Kowalczyk that night. They were both still with their training officers... it would be another four years before Kowalczyk would go out on solo motorcycle patrol, and five before Media would team up with Reynolds. It turned out that three of the other patrol officers had been guided by Wright in their early days. Both Wright and I use the term loosely, although in different ways. He claims to be separating the wheat from the chaff. I claim he's dragging the good ones kicking and screaming into being the best cops in DPD. Not surprisingly, we agree that we're both right.

That night... right. I almost have a full out grin on my face remembering. I had just finished helping my friends stuff about a dozen miscreants into half as many squad cars, when an old, old, old woman came right up to me, planted her fists on her ample hips and stared up at me. I'm on the tall side of average for an American woman, about five foot seven, and Mama is lucky if she made it to five feet even.

Well, you might as well tell me who you are, Missy. Unless this is some sort of publicity stunt, then we won't be having any part of that. Or you.

I knew just by her body language that this woman was expecting the same respect I'd give my own grandmother. And she got it, too.

No, ma'am. I don't like publicity, and I don't like the way the City is pushing you folks around. I aim to push back until they get tired of me, or until you tell me it's okay to stop, which is likely to happen first. My name is Ninja.

I'm not sure I'd ever been scrutinized like that before. Ever. Well, maybe by Master Chen. She nodded, though.

All right then, Miss Ninja. Everyone 'round here calls me Mama. You plan to stop by my house for tea the next time you're down here. I'm in the little tan house next to the vacant lot right up from 28th on California.

I'd smiled just short of a grin.

Yes, ma'am. That's a pretty little house you have.

I hope you don't think I'm here to amuse you, Miss Ninja. And just what were you doing already looking at my house?

Oh, no, ma'am. Just tickled to be invited to tea. Well, that... and 'Mama' will be what I call my own Mama. As for looking at your house... Well, as I passed by after I got finished talking a couple of your neighbors out of being unneighborly, I couldn't help but notice how it sits right up next to one of those newer apartment buildings. Like it's not going anywhere, no matter that apartment building might think.

Hmm. Well, I expect I'll see you come Friday night.

By the next night, word had spread through the whole neighborhood that Mama approved of the black-clad woman who carried a big stick. After my informal meeting with her over tea a few nights later, the residents started seeking me out and asking for help.

I shake my head, more to bring myself back into this moment, this part of the dreamscape, than anything else. I open my eyes again; they're watching me still. I think they're both a bit bemused now.

"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."

I lean back on the sofa; the back is just low enough that if I slouch, I can rest my head and stare up at the ceiling. I think I almost expected to see Red's woven shields up there, but it's a lot more similar to the wooden beamed ceilings of fancy homes in Colorado. I wonder if I see the familiar here because it's my dream. I also have to wonder if I'm losing my mind... but I know I need to set those kinds of thoughts aside as much as possible while I'm dreaming. What's the point in getting this far in a dream of epically bizarre proportions only to sabotage myself awake before reaching the end? I'm not sure I know what's real and what's not, but lately I've been feeling that way far too often when I'm awake. So maybe my subconscious does have some answers for me.

I rest my hands, one over the other, directly over my heart. I think I want to protect it, even here, from my own memories of Commerce City. They reach such extremes of joy and pain that I could spend what may well seem like hours worrying about my friends, perhaps even to the point of waking myself up just to ride up there to check on them.

"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's 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."

I pause, paying attention to my own heartbeat for a moment.

"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..." I stop and shake my head. What am I doing here? Commerce City is a universe away from these people, and there's nothing they can do for the residents. Except...


I'm bearing witness. Because every person in that compound — from their mayor Hank to their resident pain in the ass Ben — is important.

"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 whispers. "How can you stand it?"

I can't look at him, but I smile a bit.

"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." I smile more broadly then.

"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?

"I think you're right. I'm strong, but you're probably much stronger. I'm faster, though.

"Ninja fight with Jocko! We see. Good fun!"

I shake my head at the memories. They're good ones. I could understand — and still do — how people would be afraid of Jocko simply because he's immensely intimidating. But I see things others don't.

"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."

I half smile; there was that one time...

"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 can 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." I shake my 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."

And all of them had gotten riled up on Halloween. I think it would crush their souls to know they killed people, but they have the advantage of not remembering anything while they're in the Berserker state. Some days, I've really envied them.

"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." I chuckle. "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 they're 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 me and Jocko, 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 drain pipe 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.

"As I said, those first couple of years, I only went 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." I smile 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..."

Damn, damn, damn! That's a wound that's still too recent.

"...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."

I sit up straighter and look at the two of them, more than a little surprised.

"I can't believe you guys aren't glassy eyes zombies right now."

They look at one another, and Red asks 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 chuckle.

"But it's sort of like a Xeno Sociology class. We both attended Starfleet Academy," Padraig says, 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."

Red giggles.

"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 says.

I grin. "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. 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 stares at me again like I'm a crazy person. Then he looks at Red, whose expression says that I'm absolutely serious. Finally, he shrugs and turns back to me.

"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 looks at Red 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."

That's naive? It's fairly complex reasoning as these things go... at least in my opinion.

"Ah, ye've a good heart, Paddy," Red says, taking his hand in hers. "Whate'er th' truth'll be, ye'll be in a fine place."

He looks at her oddly. "You mean you don't know?"

It could be he believes she'd know more than the average person because she's a priestess. One who actually has conversations with her Deity. I don't know about this universe, but that's awfully darn rare in mine. His faith in her is touching. A memory of Red's drifts through my mind; I think it was something she'd said recently, although I'm not sure who she was talking to. He's the best of us.

I think their universe lost a valuable piece of its heart and soul the day Padraig O'Shaughnessy died. Except... well, maybe not the soul.

But Red simply shakes her head, unconcerned by his mild distress. "'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?"

Red shrugs. "'Tis nae a thin' te worry fer, Paddy. Ye kin tell yer story, an' know 'twill be as true as any other."

He looks at his sister oddly for a moment, then shakes his head before turning back to me.

"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 seems more than a little reluctant to continue, which... well, it could mean all sorts of things, and his aura doesn't give any clue to what the reason might be. But his sister just leans against him, wrapping her arm around his shoulders, and I can't help thinking that they look so much like me and Justin that it's a little eerie.

"Paddy, hae I nae said I'll be strong enough te hear yer tale?" She smiles at him and tilts her head in my direction. "Yon Andi'll hae said a fair interestin' thin' in th' Overworld... I'll be makin' th' journey with ye."

Paddy looks between us and finally hugs Red.

"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 takes a deep breath and looks at me 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."

I nod at that. For many of the Nations, our creation stories tell us east is the most important of the directions.

"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? 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."

I know I have tears in my eyes. Both siblings are crying too.

"Ah, Paddy! Ye should nae hae come te find me! Ye should hae followed Gloria."

I shake my head, Padraig shakes his head. But he can't speak.

"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." I wipe my eyes on my collar. "Padraig was tied to you."

He nods, and then wipes 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 looks at his sister, and I'm really glad not to be an Empath right now. Just looking at his aura makes me want to weep.

"Ah, Paddy, ye kinnae know how sorry I'll be fer causin' ye this pain."

He holds her tightly, and after a few minutes runs his hand through her hair like Pablo does when he's trying to soothe whatever hurt is torturing my soul.

"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!"

I can see his smile — half of it anyway — as he simply continues to hold his sister.

"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."

Red sniffs, then wipes her eyes on his shirt.

"'Tis nae right fer a man te stay with his sister an' nae follow his wife."

"Except that if the man and his sister are really the same person?"

She looks at him in a way that is so familiar to me. "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 sighs.

"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 into a ravine."

He laughs 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."

I swallow hard when he spoke of hell. When he pauses, his eyes closed and head leaning on his sister's shoulder, I can't help but whisper, "Maybe it was. At least you were alone and didn't have every past mistake being thrown in your face."

I'm not sure he heard me. I actually wasn't sure either of them did until Red spoke up.

"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."

Red smiles sadly at me as she hugs her brother a bit closer.

"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 says 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. 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 opens his eyes and looks at Red.

"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 was 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 shakes his head and looks at me.

"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..."

He can't speak for all the emotion stuck in his throat chakra; it looks a lot like Pablo's did... like Red's does. It doesn't take an Empath to know what he's feeling.

"Because you love her. Because you'll always love her."

He smiles weakly at me. "Yeah. You get it." He glances at Red for a second then back at me. "I think the Witch gets it, too."

"Amadán," she says with affection. "O' course I'll be understandin'."

And that understanding, the knowledge of Padraig's love for his Gloria, is one of the many mirrors she holds up to the relationship she has with her Duffy. All of the mirrors show the perfect loves she's seen. And she's convinced that can't exist with her Duffy.

I don't know him. Maybe she's right.

Or maybe not.

Padraig takes 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 leans forward to plant elbows on 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 looks up for a moment and meets my eyes.

I've seen those eyes before. Oh, they've been different colors... but that pleading look transcends so much.

Time, cultures, universes.

Pablo had that look when he told me about Rosalia, begging me to understand.

Rene had that look when he told me about It, about the Darkness, begging me to tell Maddie.

I know that reaching across the table to him is a bad idea. Apparently, so does he because he crosses his arms... each hand grasping the opposite arm. Finally, I think he sees the understanding he seems to need and hangs 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 stops speaking again. Red is afraid... yeah, actually afraid to touch him. She's wrapped her arms around herself like she had before. His body language spoke of shame and fear... hers spoke of loneliness and fear. I didn't even want to look at their auras right now.

"Ye'll be makin' me out te be a planet," she whispers.

I have a feeling I wouldn't have heard it without my hypersensitive hearing.

"It almost felt that way, sis.

"You'd been doing better... a lot better. I thought..." He takes 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."

As I look from one of them to the other, I can see Red doesn't really understand any more than I do.

"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 coughs out what might have been a laugh. "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's funny in a horrible way how the three of us are maintaining the space around ourselves. They clearly want to comfort one another but have so much fear. And me?

I'm just wondering how many more memories I can collect thanks to my Curse before I really go crazy. Do I dare add their memories to the mix?

"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 our boulder.

"That's when I saw Her."

He takes another shuddering breath before he can continue.

"She looked just like I'd always imagined Mother Mary would look, only more beautiful if that were 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 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 everyone!

"Okay. I'm really confused now.

"And it's no wonder. You're in an unusual place, an unusual situation. Simply be at peace, Child.

"That's when the other woman showed up." Padraig gives 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."

I raise an eyebrow and look at Red, but she's just staring at her brother.

"Was she smiling?" I ask.

He looks up at me. Oops, I've apparently jumped into the crazy pool again.

"How did you know?"

I shrug. "The bells. Very tiny, very high pitched... I guess Goddesses and Mother Earth have that in common." I smile at him. "It comforts me."

He shakes 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 closes his eyes, to forestall tears I'm sure, and simply bows his head again.

"...there was nowhere to run," he whispers.

I look at Red, who has tears streaming down her face in addition to trying to curl into herself.

I know Maddie is made of sterner stuff than I am... I'm as certain as I can be about any of this insanity that she'll react better than Red is. But this isn't a reaction I expected from her. It really isn't.

And she refuses to meet my eyes.

It makes me wonder what's going on here.

His voice is so soft when he speaks again. It's not just that he's quiet; the energies all around him look like he's trying to pitch his voice to soothe his sister.

"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.

"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."

Padraig pauses again, but it looks as though he's trying to pull into himself as much as Red is turning herself into a tiny ball of energy. It's not my place to interfere... but my confounded need to help people in pain isn't going to let me sit still much longer.

"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, though more often to those of my Sisters in the lands you call America and Asia. Less often, Cousin Odin will speak of such things. 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 shakes his head. "Okay, I guess that's what your Lady was trying to tell me, Mo. Freaky anomaly boy." He sighs.

"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 whispers.

He looks 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," I say. "Time is wonky from one dimension to another."

They both look at me like I'm maybe just a touch crazy. Hey, it's an improvement over people thinking I'm completely mental.

"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..." I shrug. "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 keens softly. "You're doing the spooky thing again!"

I imitate his posture from earlier... elbows on my knees and cradling my head in my hands.

"I can't help it, Padraig! It's who I am. Okay, so I'm spooky." I sigh and look up at him. "I don't know how to put your mind at ease about that."

He nods and closes his eyes, although he doesn't hang his head this time.

"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," I say... more to myself really despite the fact that I'm looking at him. "I guess if the work the Shamans do could be considered similar to the works my Wiccan friends do..." I shrug. "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!"

That at least gets a smile out of him.

"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."

Even Red is trying to lighten the mood.

Neither of them seems to be willing to come out of their respective shells, however.

"Please, Padraig... finish your story," I say 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."

I want to reach out so desperately to both of them. I'm willing to bet David would say I have a savior complex. I'm willing to bet Ninja wouldn't disagree with him.

Except it's not really a complex if you truly can save most people you set out to save, is it?

I'd ask him except he'd want to know why I was asking. I guess I should make a trip to the library, just to be a patron.


Padraig nods.

"I don't know that I chose as much as I..." He glances at Red 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."

He turns back toward me, but he won't actually look at me. There's apparently something quite fascinating about the table between us, however.

"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."

That catches my attention. Really? If Red's Lady admits some humans are a mystery... would Great Spirit say the same thing? And do we, the Pentad, baffle Her? The Gods, Buddhas and Spirits know the Pentad — and yours truly in particular — confound the Spirits.

"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?"

He doesn't see it, but she smiles at that.

"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, 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?"

I smile. That sounds so much like a smart ass thing I'd say that I just like this guy more and more.

"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'."

She almost reaches out to him then.

But she doesn't.

I'm certain both of them are as insane as I am. Okay, maybe not quite. But they're starting to come close.

"Well, Mother Mary just laughed. I guess all that practice being the family clown paid off. Comedian to the Deities!" He sighs.

"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 feel a lump in my throat and I swear Bobby is chopping yellow onions in here. They're the worst.

"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 takes yet another deep breath, shuddering and painful. Right now, the only things that are clear in his aura are fear and pain.

"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 sits up and mirror's Red's pose... arms wrapped around their middles, shoulders slightly hunched, and auras pulsating with pain and fear.

The pain... well, I think I can understand that. The fear? No. Not at all.

"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," Red whispers, just staring at her brother.

He nods. "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."

I look between the two of them, no more enlightened than I was when I first came here.

Well, maybe slightly more enlightened about the nature of dimensions — some of them — and their relationship to sleep, and maybe slightly more enlightened about Great Spirit's Sister and Daughter. But I still don't understand how this is going to help me and Maddie solve our problem.

And they're still being entirely too separate for their own good. Goods? Ah, whatever!

"But how did you knit your soul back together?"

They both look at me, almost as if they'd forgotten I'm here. Red just shrugs and shakes her head. Well, that's why we wound up inside her head in the first place. She didn't really know. And I guess her brother's story doesn't give her any better clues.

For his part, Padraig does a pretty good imitation of a fish... with the opening and closing of the mouth, the wide eyes. I don't think he really knows either.


This is so not good.

I don't know if I look angry or frustrated or angrily frustrated, but Padraig manages to stop the fish imitation.

"I swear I don't really know, Andi. You believe me, right?"

I close my eyes and just breathe. Breathe, Andi... that's all you need to do right now. Crying isn't going to help anything, so just breathe. I do manage to nod. I think.

When I finally open my eyes, they're both just staring at me. Still.

Oh, for the love of all the gods!

Fine. Fine! This is my dream, so it's up to me to figure it out, is that it? And supposedly I have enough clues to figure it out? Well, you sure could have fooled me, because I feel like a complete idiot right now.

I sigh. I blink. I stand up.

"Okay. That's okay. We'll do it my way now."

"Andi?" Red's voice is... well, I'd say she's worried.

"Huh?" Padraig is just confused.

The table between us disappears.

Sweet! Yeah! I did that!

They both look shocked as I take a step forward and hold out my hands to them.

"Come along, kiddies... there's work to do!"

"What'll ye be talkin' o', Andi?" She doesn't move.

"Yeah... what are you talking about?" He, on the other hand, trustingly places his hand in mine. He really is a good guy... too sweet for his own good, yes. But he's got a really good heart.

I grit my teeth as things... way, way, way too many things get downloaded into my brain thanks to my asshole Curse. I just file it away in the 'leave this shit alone for now' section.

Interestingly, he holds his other hand out to Red.

"Come on, Red," I say 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 me and Maddie."

She's still hesitant to move, but she relaxes enough that her brother can take one of her hands.

Ow, ow, ow ow ow ow!!!!

I'm starting to regret this idea, but we do need to close the circuit. I can always hope that will get the pain to back off.

"Come on, Mo... let's do this for her. Please?"

I'm glad he says something because, at the moment, even breathing is a bit difficult. I just close my eyes and start doing the voodoo that I do so well...

Stop with the song lyrics, Andi!

I don't do voodoo because there's no such thing because it's called Voudon and it's a legitimate religious belief system.

No. I just visualize... I can see exactly what I need. Or rather, exactly where I need...


"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?!?

I can feel her shock ripple through her brother and then vibrate through every single one of my meridians. Oh, what fun it is to...

Shut up, Andi!

Did I forget to mention I do that telepathy thing? I could have sworn I'd mentioned that.

Red hesitantly places her hand in mine.

Ow ow ow ow ow ow!!!

Okay, no... the pain does not stop, and it might have gotten worse... but the seriously vibrating meridians have stopped vibrating.

I'll take what I can get.

I think they're still asking questions, but I'm in the process of letting go of attachment — thank you Doshu Ueshiba and Master Chen for your instructions in Buddhism — to anything that isn't their hands and my vision.

After a moment, I feel the pressure change Padraig spoke of and feel the high desert sun of Arizona heating the air around us. I hear a yelp of surprise from Red and a squeal of the same from her brother. I sigh, I smile, I release their hands, and I open my eyes.

Yep. We're standing in front of Tommy's hogan... ah, house. The craggy rocks in the distance, the scrub grass and baked earth, the perfectly pale blue sky... I almost expect to hear Tommy puttering around inside. He'd be making tea or pouring lemonade, making a sandwich for his favorite cousin. I feel the thrum of Mother under my bare feet and feel the pull of all the ley lines that converge in the field about half a mile out. I'm standing over the most prominent and strongest one, the very one — well, a recreation of it, I suppose — that I used that night we pulled the hitchhiking skank out of Pablo.

That boy sure does attract the most unpleasant elements of the metaphysical realms. I think we're going to need to have a talk about that.

"What. The. Hell. Just. Happened???"

I look at Padraig and smile... a happy, peaceful, one hundred percent Andrea Yazzie smile.

"Welcome to the happiest place on Earth."

He shakes his head vigorously... almost like a dog shaking the water out of its coat.

"No, no, no... that's Disneyland."

I grin. "You have Disneyland, too? It is great, isn't it? This is better, though. This is home." I giggle. "Well, Tommy's home for now. But this is..." I sigh with contentment. "This is a good place."

"Sure an' ye'll hae learned... ah, more quickly than I'll hae thought possible," Red says as she looks around.

"I had some good teachers."

I feel a Presence an instant before their eyes go wide and stare over my shoulder.

I turn to see a Woman that could be any woman from any Nation for Her face doesn't hold any one form. But She keeps Her hair long and black and unbound, and She wears traditional Diné clothing. It is not, perhaps, quite as fine — or bead-laden — as my wedding dress is rumored to be, but it is absolutely beautiful.

"Great Spirit..." I think I unconsciously imitate my mother's posture when she's ecstatically happy... hands crossed over my heart and a broad smile on my face. " 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."

She envelopes me in a warm embrace.

"And you brought friends with you!"

She holds me at arm's length.

"You're also very much alive. This is good to see."

I probably giggle again. There's something about Great Spirit that demands joyfulness. That's probably why she reminds me sometimes of my mother.

"I met one of your Celtic Sisters!" I say with a grin. "I don't think She corrupted me."

Great Spirit laughs. "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," I say as I gesture toward Red. "Padraig is Red's brother and follows your Daughter and Grandson."

"I see! This is so very interesting, Andrea."

"Um... I'm confused," Padraig says, 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."

Red puts an arm around her brother's waist and smiles 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 squeezes his eyes shut. "Nooooo. Can we go home? Bad things happen here, and I don't like it."

I look at him, puzzled for a moment until the appropriate memories pop up from the bucket of memories and emotions I'd downloaded. Ugh. Yeah. I can see why he wouldn't like it. Mean old alien lured his sister into the Overworld and made her think he and Kat had taken their Final Walks. But... as real as it seemed to her, his memories are simply those of an observer. He didn't die. Well, not then... he was already dead. Kat wasn't even there... not in his memories.

"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 opens one eye and looks as skeptical as anyone can with only one eye open. "You don't have..."

My staff appears in my hand.

He closes his eye and rests his head on Red's shoulder. "Everything has to be weird around you, Moira. Why?"

I chuckle before she can answer.

"Be lucky you're not related to me. I'm a magnet for weird."

He groans. Red smiles. Great Spirit chuckles.

She looks at Red. "Moira is it?" When Red nods, Great Spirit smiles 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 laughs. "No, dear one... it is simply what she calls me. It is of the same line as my Daughter's name... Miriam. It means beloved. In the language of your People, it could be translated to bił hinishnáanii. I am the Eldest, the First... there was no one to give me a name when I began."

I roll my shoulders and sigh 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 laughs again, and Mother echoes 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."

I groan. "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."

I sigh. Of course it was. Well, that would explain why they thought I should have a Lakota war bonnet on that day in Stryker's lair. If he was the last person to, ah, disagree with them it's no wonder they saw the similarity. One Warrior is like any other Warrior. I shake my head.

"Well, my trials and tribulations with the ever delightful Spirits..." Both Red and her brother snort. Fine, she's an Empath. I don't know what his excuse is. Oh, wait. Maybe I do.

"AHEM. As I was trying to say..." I give the twins my best stink eye. They don't seem terribly impressed. I must be losing my touch. "...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," She says with so much happiness that the air nearly ripples with it, "you have come to this place and made it your own. It is 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, Andrea! I wanted to see this wonder you've created and tell you how pleased I am."

"Um. Okay. Thank you. But..."

I look at Great Spirit, then at the twins. And then I take a few steps to Tommy's favorite chair and sit down, cradling my head in my hands.

I need to pull myself together. I was doing really well there for a little while. This is my place; this is my favorite place on the planet. I don't think there's a place where my heart and mind feel safer than Ganado, Arizona.

I can do this.

I look up and gesture at the other chairs and benches in Tommy's front yard — okay, okay... my recreation of Tommy's yard. Not that most people would actually call it a yard, but... eh. Tomato, tomahto. Succotash!

"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 sits on the bench against the front of Tommy's house and gives me an entirely too familiar look.

I already know the answer. I just have to realize that I know the answer.

I've seen that look on my grandparents' faces, my parents' faces... aunt, uncles, teachers, and even that human tsunami that lives next door to me.

It's okay, Andi. No freaking out. You'll get this.

The Bobbsey Twins — where the hell did that come from?! Oh, right. Ha. Librarian.

Damn it, I'm going to miss working there.

Anyway, they grab a couple of lawn chairs and set them down nearby. Well, Red does. Her brother just holds the chair and looks between me and Red, glaring.

"How do I know this chair isn't a pomegranate?"

Red looks at him as though he's daft... which, of course, he is. However, she has no idea what he's talking about. Tsk. There are a few gaps in your reading list, Red.

Great Spirit hides a smile behind her hand, reminding me of her Celtic Sister.

I count to ten — out loud, in 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 sets the chair down carefully and very precisely, brushes off the seat, and then sits down as though he's the governor at a commencement ceremony.


"I did this to myself," I grouse. "I'll just keep reminding myself of that. It's all my own fault."

"Of course it is," he agrees.

I give him another stink eye. "I still have my stick, you know."

"Okay. Shutting up now."

I wait a moment, and then two or three, before saying, "Thank you."

And then I study their qi. I thought it would be easier to see what had happened if I was in a familiar place... or the semblance of a familiar place. I thought I'd be able to see how their souls had been woven together. I really did.

"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, however it came back together.

"What I don't get is how it happened."

They look at one another and shrug.

"It just happened. I wrapped myself around Mo, and the next thing I know... I'm stuck in the Witch's head."

I nod. "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," Red muses. "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 is hard, yet still holds the overtones of comfort. That's a nice trick.


"I... well, we couldn't reach you. I suppose I should tell you about that, too. Um. But not now."

She looks at him with such amazing love that, for a minute, I forget to breathe.

"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 look at Great Spirit, frankly puzzled by this detour. She shakes Her head ever so slightly. Ah. Relevant to them, but not the topic at hand.

"I know, Paddy. I'll be needin' te do more thinkin'..."

I look at her with a sad smile. "Red."

She looks at me, an eyebrow raised.

"No." I tap the hollow of my 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, she laughs.

"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 agrees. "I can see that. He was spooky. She's spooky."

Red pats his arm. "We'll be lettin' Andi continue her meditation o' souls, aye."

"Right. Okay. Zipping it again."

I smile and shake my head. He really does remind me a lot of Henry.

I have their memories. They tell me... something, but not enough.

I have their emotions. They tell me... even less, really.

What am I missing?

"Háájí?" Great Spirit asks.

Where? I'm missing the where? Well, I suppose I would have gotten around to that question eventually.

Okay, where were they? Moira was dreaming, and dreams are — at least I think they are, or might be — different dimensions. I'm dreaming now, at least I think I am. Padraig was dead, in a place similar to where Rene was stuck... though from his descriptions and memories, it wasn't anywhere near as bad as the place Rene was. And the place Rene was... well, that wasn't even the worse neighborhood.

But they were both in a different place. And it wasn't a place like this place, or other places I've seen and been, or our normal world, or...

I look away from the twins and toward Great Spirit. I know there is fear in my eyes.

"No," I whisper.

But She nods.

"Aoo'. Ni. Nádí."

I shake my head. There has to be another way.

"Aoo'. T'áá. Shighan."

I press my lips tightly together and close my eyes.

"Think, my precious Andrea. You know it is Truth."

"I don't have to like it."

I sense Her stand and walk over to me. Her hand — so soft, so warm, so full of life and energy — brushes along my jawline. I open my eyes to see Her crouched beside me; a tear escapes each eye.

"But Pablo... Logan... Rene..."

"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?" She asks, smiling with such radiance that I can't hold onto my fear.

"Yes. And it wouldn't surprise me if Coyote is petitioning for the position of guardian Spirit."

She laughs as She stands. "Indeed. It is so."

"Wonderful." Oh, go back to sleep, Ninja! "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 laughs... and her laugh is echoed by Mother, even in this place. Delicate and strong fingers lightly touch my breastbone over my zhong dan tian then my forehead over my shang dan tian.

"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 pauses a moment before tucking an errant strand of hair behind my 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."

I blink, and in that instant She disappears.

Okay then. I take a deep breath and turn back to the siblings I brought to my corner of this dream dimension.

Of course, as I look at them it becomes almost obvious what that symmetry between them, that "something more" Padraig spoke of, really is.

I guess it's only obvious because it's such are a rare thing. It's something that happens even less frequently than a power like mine. And I can be forgiven for not even considering it, I think.


Who considers "divine intervention" in any equation?

Yeah, yeah... okay. The religious types do... the over the top, possibly out of their minds religious types. I know some religious folks. I'm related to some religious folks. Heck, I'm a religious folk!

I don't think even Elder Ravenclaw would have seen this. And Tommy? Ha. I love my cousin, and I think he's going to be a great Shaman. But even when he's got a cousin who's a magnet for weird, I don't think he'd have considered this.

Well, he might in the future.

Assuming I mention any of this to him, of course... which I may not.

I close my eyes and rub my temples. Did I ask to be a magnet for weird? No. Of course, I didn't ask to be Cursed either. And I sure as hell never signed up to be the greatest Warrior — if the Spirit lunatics are in any way to be believed — ever seen by the First Nations.

Those two would argue those points, I'm sure. In fact, they probably will.

Did I say I was going to check on the availability of a preschool out in New York? Yeah, I think nursery school might be a better option.

It would probably make Maddie happy if Pablo and I moved out there. Of course, Pablo and I would be miserable. And then there's all the responsibilities we have in Denver.

Ooh, how much scandal would it cause if I hire Missy as a nanny? I like this idea. She's brilliant, but she's also got a will of steel. Maybe she could resist the wily ways I suspect my offspring will develop. If not... well, she could sit on them.

I don't think I'm actually okay right now. Hiring an ogress to sit on my children? That's not right, is it?

No, probably not.

"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?"

I hear the sound of a hand thumping, probably, the arm of another body.


I look up at them.

"You, sir, are a wuss."

"When did I ever say I wasn't? And stop hitting me, Mo. I'm going to tell Ciaran."

She laughs.

"Ye know that argument'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."

Padraig looks at me.

"Can I come home with you? You only threaten to hit me with your stick. You haven't actually ever hit me."

I shake my head. Yep. If that boy had a guardian Spirit, it would be Coyote.

"Would you feel better about going home where you belong if I beat you?"

He grins.

"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."

Red hits 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!"

Red sighs and looks at me.

"I'll be givin' him te ye if 'twere possible. Mayhap jus' a wee lend."

Their antics at least get me to smile.

"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 looks between the two of us.

"I'm not going to like it either, am I? Hearing about it, I mean."


He pauses. I can see how hard he's trying not to let out a wail.

"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?"

I shrug.

"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 says. "Not my job!"

He starts to stand up and Red snags 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 really does want to get out of here. And I don't think Red is eager to see him go now that he's been lured to the big, bad Overworld dimension.

"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."

He grins. "See? You don't need me!" He leans over and kisses her cheek, then stands up.

He's wholly unprepared for how fast I move, and he nearly collapses back in the chair when he turns his head to see me standing in front of him.

"Damn it, Andi, do you have to do that?"

I grin. "You sound like Pablo now. And yes. I do." I hold out my hand to shake his.

He just looks at it suspiciously. "Are you sure that's a good idea?"

"Cat's out of the bag, harm's been done." I shrug, but then smile sadly. "You have a good family, despite your father being an ass. I enjoyed meeting you."

The young man looks at me for a moment... not as much spooked as, well, simply amazed. Then he reaches out and wraps me 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."

I return his hug and smile at his comment.

"I really do like helping people. I get that you're still freaked out about this place, but come visit sometime, okay?"

He straightens and looks me in the eyes while keeping his hands resting on my shoulders.

"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 smiles slightly, but there's a lot of sadness there. "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 nods and nearly grins. "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 laughs. "I don't think anyone has called her Red since... maybe preschool. Does everyone get a nickname with you?"

I chuckle. "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 turns to Red, gives her a wave that's accompanied by the shimmer of telepathy, and disappears... pretty much the same way the Spirits tend to do.

"Well, that's disconcerting."

Red chuckles. "Aye, an' 'twill be a thin' te make th' lad a wee bit more pleased than I'll be thinkin'll be necessary."

I grin 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." I sit in the chair Padraig had vacated. "The Spirits just wink out like your brother did. Except Raven." I shudder.

"You know the story of the Cheshire Cat?"

She nods. "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." I shudder 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." I pause to consider. "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!"

She smiles, and it's not hard to see why she inspires such loyalty in her crew. She is simply herself, having locked away — almost literally — her ability to manipulate other people's emotions. Even without that power, her presence and attitude are enough to say to everyone she meets, You matter.

Okay, Andi... put the nice Captain's memories back in their boxes, and focus on the task at hand.

"Will ye be doin' well? 'Twill seem ye'll hae become a wee bit distracted."

I nod. "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." I sigh. "Just one more thing to work on."

I stop then and concentrate on my own qi for a moment. It doesn't look like the overload was caused by those two, but I can't rule it out entirely. Nothing about this situation is normal, so I don't have any way of knowing why my Curse decided to be more of an asshole than usual.

"Hmm. Well, it might have something to do with being pregnant, but there are too many variables."

She looks at me, puzzled certainly... possibly even worried.

"Th' pain ye'll hae felt... 'tis nae a normal thin'?"

"No, I don't..."

Well, do I really know that?

"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."

She pauses a moment, then shrugs.

"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."

I nod. It's damn freaky to know exactly who she's talking about. I usually have to go sifting through information to find things like that.

"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."

I chuff 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..." I shake my head, more in wonder than anything else and look off toward 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." I smile. "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."

I turn back to Red.

"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..." I shake my head again. It always does make me wonder what happened that day, in terms of my Curse. "...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?" I smile. "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."

I close my eyes and take a few minutes to breathe.

"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."

I open my eyes and look directly into Red's eyes.

"It's not that she would begrudge me knowing her so completely. It's that she knows that emotions are attached to memories.

"It's that she wouldn't want anyone to suffer what she suffered, and certainly not someone she loves."

I grin one of Ninja's least pleasant grins. "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..."

I have to look away again. There's safety from some of the emotions when I can focus on the wonders Mother gives us all.

"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."

I'm not sure what those two are doing to me, and I'm quite certain I don't like it, but this place has a weird effect on me, too. I guess as long as I don't go around touching people I don't know — and that sounds a lot worse than I mean it to sound — this place isn't so bad. It's kind of fun to manipulate the world into an image that makes me happy and peaceful. But I do need to go back to the real world, or wake up, and deal with the crazy that my life has become. I take a deep breath and sigh.

"So... these shields. I'm kind of hoping to be able to find a way to drain off the overwhelming amount of power, 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..."

She chuckles. "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."

I look back in her direction very briefly before my gaze settles on the ground.

"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 as my parents."

I look up and smile 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."

She laughs... a lot.

"Oh, lass!" she finally says, 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."

Red shakes her head and continues to smile.

"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."

I grin 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, although 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 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."

I shake my head.

"To be honest, I'd almost be afraid to try visiting your universe. I might bring home too many ideas."

She 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..."

Red was silently contemplative for a few minutes.

"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 waves 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." I smile, 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." I chuckle though. "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." I grin 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."

She stands and stretches, reaching toward the sky in what might be a yoga pose and then arching her back with hands braced on her lower back. Good gods, her hair actually brushes the ground! And then she unerringly walks along the ley line — the one that shouldn't even really be here, and that she probably shouldn't be able to sense — about a third of the way out toward the convergence of the ley lines in the field.

I follow, puzzled by what should be impossible. I sigh as I watch her gracefully drop to a kneeling pose more suited to a dojo than this dream world replica of the field beyond Tommy's house. Though, to be fair to my poor brain, I'm not sure why I should be surprised by anything. I am the world's largest magnet for weird.

Yeah, thanks for that update, Ninja. Go back to sleep, will you, please?

Red gestures to a spot beside her as I approach. I'm not even going to pretend to be surprised that this puts us both right on top of the ley line.

Nope. Nothing freaky about this place at all.

Okay, maybe a little. But I'm just going to chalk most of this up to the fact that I'm the Magnet for Weird.

"Ye'll nae be mindin', will ye, if I'll be doin' a wee bit o' modifyin' here o' yer creation," she asks as I settle 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 looks 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."

I smile at her description of her Ireland. A wee bit more damp, indeed!

"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."

Red nods. "Aye. 'Tis a smaller Workin' te brin' a wee piece o' my home here than te control th' whole o' yer home." She relaxes and closes her eyes, then extends her arms in front of her at about waist level with her palms down.

The flow of the qi is fascinating, as always. And as always, it's difficult to put into words what I see. The best way I can describe it is... well, as though she's watering a flower garden with her own qi.

But she doesn't get very far before the ground beneath us trembles and a returning ball of qi pops out of the ground and knocks her hands away.

"Cad in ainm Danu bhí sin?" she exclaims as she looks at her hands.

At the same moment, weirder things are happening in my world...

{DAUGHTER! Intruder!}

I'm not sure what Red said, but I got the message of shock and surprise.

Consider my shock and surprise at least a magnitude greater.

"Mother? No... no, not an intruder. Friend."

{Daughter... intruder, intruder unknown}

Red looks at me like... oh, hell! Like most people do when I start talking to the Spirits or, in this case, Mother. Like I'm a raving lunatic.

I'm not going to argue the point at the moment, either.

"But... well, okay. 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?"

I don't think there are enough deciduous trees in the entire county to account for the rustling of her laughter. I know darn well there aren't any bells in the vicinity.

{Daughter... love} {Daughter sleeps} {Daughter... love}

"You're stalking me in my dreams, is that it?"

She laughs again; this time her laughter is accompanied by a light gust of wind. Gosh, apparently Father thinks this is hysterical, too.


I sigh. "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}

I lean forward — practically fold myself in half, really — with my hands pressed against the ground and my face no more than a hand span away.

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.

I have a sense that Mother is... smiling? Can a planet smile? Wasn't it a month ago that I told Van Dorn I don't talk to the planet? And six weeks ago that I told Masterson and his folks I don't talk to the planet?

{Daughter... strong!} {Daughter... knows} {Daughter... do}

Yes, very strong. Too strong, maybe. I pause as I wait for my rational mind to catch up with what I think Mother just said. Wait... are you saying I already know how to control all this power??!

Mother laughs again.

{Daughter knows!}

I barely refrain from groaning. Not helpful... not at all helpful.

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...} She seems to sigh, but in a good way... like I do when I think about how much I love Tita. {Danu... pretty, pretty, pretty Danu}

I'm glad no one can see my face... well, except maybe Mother. I can't help grinning, and I can't believe how tickled I am that Mother thinks Red's Lady is pretty. It's so bizarre that it's wonderful!

Yes, she is. She's very pretty. And her daughter here is so very nice.

{Daughter... show yes} {Daughter... do}

I raise up as much as possible while keeping one hand on the ground, and hold out the other one to Red.

"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." I grin at the utter ridiculousness of the situation.

Red shakes her head, but places her far hand on the ground near her knee and grasps my outstretched hand.

"Sure an' I'll prefer te avoid another shock such as I'll hae received."

I nod. "Yeah, that looked painful."

I close my eyes, simply to see Mother's qi more vividly.

"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!"

She seems to sigh... with relief??? Nope. Never, ever going to mention this to the Spirits! Never. Nope.

{Apology... apology}

"Oh... yes, of course." I open my eyes and look at Red. "Mother apologizes for shocking you. Apparently she didn't recognize you."

Although her qi is the very essence of a calm and peaceful individual, the look she's giving me tells me that she still thinks I'm in need of serious help from a mental health professional. I am obviously not going to argue with that.

"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 looks 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 the 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."

Energy spirals around us, startling Red and tickling me. A lot. I try not to giggle; I know Mother is just happy... and it only lasts for ten or twenty seconds anyway.

"Now Moira is going to... ah, remind me of things I've forgotten. Okay?"

{Daughter... remember, remember, remember} {Daughter... love love love}

I feel the consciousness of Mother drift off, although her Presence remains. I let go of Red's hand and lift the other from the ground, then rest both of them on my thighs.

"Well, apparently you're Reminding rather than Teaching... though 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."

I look at her and scowl. She looks serious... face, posture, qi.

"If you start sounding like those two, I will be forced to beat you soundly."

She shrugs. "'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 smiles... trying to be reassuring, I think. "Here an' I'll show ye what I'll be doin'... an' ye'll decide fer yerself how 'twill be resonatin' with ye. Aye?"

I nod slowly. "Okay. At this point, I'd really prefer to consider even the most farfetched idea if it involved learning about it in this lifetime."

I really don't understand Mother's Presence in my dreams — or this new dimension — but I relax and simply allow the energy of this place to wash over me and through me.

Red is more hesitant this time about trying affect the ground in front of her, but Mother seems to almost anticipate what she's trying to do. In under a minute, Red sits 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. My dad likes to putter in the garden, but even this would be a bit much for his tastes.

Red shakes her head but smiles. "'Twill e'en hae th' feel o' Seanmháthair's garden."

She looks at me and seems to approve of whatever I'm doing — which isn't much more than simply allowing this place to be as it is.

"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 see 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."

Red faces forward again, sitting much as I am. I watch as all manner of things seem to grow from the patch of ground in front of her, and really do try to make sense of it all.

"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 rise up and twine together to form first an arbor, followed by many types of vines... most of which I didn't recognize. It's thick and lush, however.

"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."

I watch as new shoots constantly grow and weave themselves among the existing vines and saplings, until we're looking into a cutaway of this room she's created. It's so densely packed with greenery and flowers that no actual wall of plants could have survived, yet this haven of hers is full of life and energy. As it grows — I assume as she got older and needed to interact with people who were not as kind as others — rose vines grow among the Boston ivy and other plants. I'm not sure there's such a thing as blue roses — well, maybe in her world there are — but they are the most abundant and the most beautiful.

"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 shrugs and smiles 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 chuckles softly. "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."

I can see how the walls were grown, and where much of the energy I saw earlier correlates to the various plants and flowers here. As there are still a few things missing, I simply wait as she studies her work.

I'm trying very hard not to contemplate my own pending creation; I need to wait until she's finished so I have all the information I need.

"An' so th' day came when I'll hae been a woman, an' introduced properly te th' Lady."

I gasp as hundreds, perhaps thousands of twinkling star-like jewels nestle among the flowers and vines.

"Aye," Red says reverently, "m'Lady'll truly be part o' me strength an' protection."

"Wow... I..." I have nothing to say that can convey the wonder of not only Red's vision of her shields, but the way the energy coalesces into the strength and beauty I saw from inside those shields.

Red simply nods.

"There'll be another bit..."

Bright, twinkling emeralds — about half the size of my fist — appear in a regular pattern within the living walls.

"Emerald," I say softly, knowing how much her loss still hurts.

A light haze, almost like spider silk, coats most of the inner surfaces of the room, but clearly avoids the large emeralds. I study the energy of the gauzy substance for a moment.


She nods 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..."

Red closes her eyes and the emeralds — every last one of them — disappear. It's almost as if they never existed, except for the reaction of the haze, the spider silk, the gauze, or whatever it is that represented Padraig. It vibrates, almost violently in some places, and then seems to pull into itself. It's weird to watch the spaces where the emeralds had been growing larger as the edges around those spaces thicken... it's also weird to watch the energy. If it was a person — and I guess I ought to consider it to actually be Padraig's presence — I'd say it was a massively confused person.

As suddenly as the emeralds had disappeared, so does the haze... though the energy signature seems to have melted into the wall.

"What the...?"

She holds out a hand to me; a twig from one of the saplings and a bit of ivy lay on her palm.

I take the plant bits from her and look at them closely. When I realize exactly what I'm seeing, my jaw drops. I look at her, full of wonder.

"He became the capillary systems of the plants??!?"

She nods and smiles. "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 make him." She pauses, 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?" I know it's a touchy subject. But... if all the important people in your life ought to be represented, I do have to wonder. On the other hand, maybe not everyone is needed?

Red looks down and folds her hands in her lap. Finally, she just shakes 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 nods, but doesn't look up. "Mayhap we'll finish with Paddy first. Aye?"

"Oh, yeah. Sure. Sorry."

Damn it! I don't like how much she hurts! I can't do for her what I did for Pablo, convincing him to release his guilt and sorrow... letting him know it was perfectly acceptable — and even right — for him to embrace the love he will always have for his wife and son. I can't do for her what I did for Maddie and Rene, although I suspect her technology could do something similar enough that she really just needs to accept it should be done.

I can't do anything for her. And it just breaks my heart.

Fine! I have no problem admitting that I'm a tendered hearted sap. I want people to be happy. Is there really anything so wrong with that? No.

Red looks up at me with eyes that are surprisingly free of tears. From the sound of her voice alone, I almost expected to see her face wet with them.

Oh. I see what she did. I don't sigh, but I really want to. She's gone and done that very thing I used to do when I walled off part of my personality to keep from falling apart when Ninja went off to work. Well, heck... it worked for me.

For a while.

Fine. We'll go back to work here.

"How'll th' leaves an' stems look te ye? Jus' seein' with yer eyes."

Confused by the question, I look at the ivy sprig again. I'm not the world's greatest gardener... I don't have the interest, nor did I ever really have the time for it. I can grow some vegetables. Who doesn't love fresh tomatoes? So I'm not sure what Red is getting at... and I know there's something I ought to be seeing. I think the problem could be that I'm not quite sure how the leaf is supposed to look, so I don't know what's off about it.

I run my thumb over the top of a leaf. It feels smooth and sleek and...

Aha! Plastic!

"It's not quite real. I'm not an expert on plants, so it looks... I guess okay. But it feels like plastic."

She smiles. "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."

Another set of leaves and twigs appear in her hand, and she offers them to me.

I hold the first set in one hand and take the second in my other hand. I don't even need to compare them. The color is richer, the bit of twig from the tree branch is much more... well, tree-like.

"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."

Red chuckles. "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 try te bend th' leaf an' break th' twig."

I raise an eyebrow at her. Oh yeah, this is nuts. How hard is it to break a twig? I could probably knock over an entire tree! Well, a small one, anyway.

I set down the first set of foliage to concentrate on the second; it disappears as soon as it leaves my hand.


Never mind.

I take one of the leaves and wrap it around my finger. Well, I try to wrap it around my finger. There's some give to it, but very little. It might look like a leaf, but it feels like it's make out of... hmm. Not adamantium, that's for sure. Titanium? Would that have enough give to let the leaf bend just a bit? Maybe, given my strength, something more like steel?

I try to snap the twig in two. It doesn't even bend. Even using my considerably higher than average strength, the damn thing doesn't even bend. I wonder if Logan could even do any damage to this.

"Shit, Red! What the hell is this stuff made of?" I ask, looking back at her face.

She's smiling in a way that reminds me just a little too much of me... in my Ninja mode.

"Oh, naught by me will, an' Paddy's."

I look between her and the plant material in my hand several times.

"Okay. I'll just say that anyone who tries to fuck with you is a damn fool."

She shrugs. "'Twill nae be proof against all manner o' psi attacks..." She pauses and tilts her head. "Well, I suppose I'll nae be knowin' that fer certain, will I? 'Twill nae hae been in this configuration when Legion attacked." Red holds out one more set of leaves and twigs. They look no different in any way than the ones I already hold in my hand.

Puzzled, I take the new set and study them carefully, side by side, one set in each hand. My eyes can't see any differences, nor can my hands feel any differences. I look at the qi of the plants. There is a difference so subtle that even I wouldn't see it if I wasn't looking for something to actually be different. I can't pinpoint what the difference is, however.

"Try again th' bendin' an' breakin'," Red says. Yeah. That's a smug smile there.

This time, I simply turn my hand over that holds the older foliage; it disappears immediately. Interesting trick.

Not only does the leaf bend naturally, I'm able to curl it all the way around my finger. If I pulled one of the leaves from Bobby's ivy — and survived his wrath — the leaf would do exactly the same thing. But when I bend the twig, it doesn't snap like a normal twig would. Even a green stick would tear and shred... this bends more like soft clay. It wraps around my finger as easily as the leaf does. In fact, I twist and bend it in all kinds of ways, and even tie a knot in it... which nearly oozes apart when I rest it on my palm.

There's some kind of goopy stuff kids play with that's awfully similar.

"Okay, this is really weird."

"Try tearin' th' leaf... an' mayhap strike th' wee branch on yer hand."

Yeah, that look on her face says I'm going to have all kinds of luck with that. Still, I do try to tear the leaf.

Slowly... quickly... at several different angles. I'd have as much luck bending Logan's claws. And yet, when I simply wrap it or fold it or even twist it, it remains as supple as satin.

This is getting weirder and weirder.

I tap the twig on my palm and it acts very twig-like, which is to say it maintains its appearance as a piece of a tree branch. I'm certain this is the same piece of wood I tied in a slipknot just a minute ago. I slap it against my hand sharply and get a welt for my troubles. And pain!

Granted, both disappear in seconds, but that's not the point!

"I don't know what the hell this is, Red... but it's absolutely in line with my magnetism for the weird."

She laughs.

"Ye'll recall earlier when ye'll hae said I'll hae drained yer agitation right out o' ye?"

I nod.

"'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."

I look at the leaves and twig again and everything seems to click.

"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."

I nod as I set the plant life that she uses to imagine her shields on the ground, where it seems to mist away.

"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."

I nod. The garden analogy won't quite work for me... I'm not sure what will, but I know that won't. Something is tip-toeing around in the back of my brain, so I'll just let it roam for a few minutes.

"We should go back to the question I asked before. The one you didn't want to answer."

She looks away, toward her room of greenery, and sighs.

"Aye. Mayhap 'twill be relevant... mayhap nae."

A huge picture window appears in the wall facing us, with a quaint Dutch door beside it. Outside the window is a forest; the room seems to be a small house in the middle of a clearing. Smaller plants grow among the trees, including odd looking bushes that probably don't exist on earth. I guess someone who regularly travels among the stars would see vegetation not of our world. There's also a garden that's a riot of color, similar to the garden outside the window in the room inside the house inside her mind. Very meta, that.

Also outside the window is the biggest damn wolf I've ever seen. It's pacing slowly back and forth, and depending on the lighting it looks black or gray or brown or even all of those colors.

I look at Red; she's staring at the wolf with a peculiar expression of longing mixed with frustration mixed with despair.

"I don't get it."

She sighs 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 shakes her head.

I look between her and the wolf outside the window.

"I still don't get it."

She closes her eyes, the little room of hers disappears and a collection of vaguely humanoid figures appears. One of them is the exact shade of blue as the roses she said represented her older brother. It's not the colors that are important — I think — as much as the emotions that seem to bubble out of each of them. Either because we're in this dream dimension or because I've got a bit bucket full of her memories and emotions, I'm certain that the emotions are the important part of this tableau. There's a whole range of emotions represented, everything from overwhelming joy to sorrow that's only beginning to heal... pride and respect and love and exasperation and protection and curiosity, the last of which flow from well-contained to what I'd categorize as a zealous love of learning. There's so much going on that it's a bit overwhelming.

"Your people?"

She nods and whispers, "Aye."

"And what I'm sensing from them is what you feel?"

"When I'll be thinnin' th' shields a wee bit, aye."

I smile. "You have good people. Who's the one who looks like they're going to explode from joy all over you?"

She chuckles, but doesn't open her eyes. "That'll be Timor. This'll be why Rika an' I'll be callin' him Tigger."

I grin. "I'd love to meet him!"

She opens her eyes and looks at me with one of those 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."

I chuckle. "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!"

I really do try not to grin as much as I'm grinning. "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." What can one say to that? I'm sure the television show couldn't express the magnitude of the loss that must have certainly occurred in her universe. It would be like me saying, Oh, that Stryker dude kidnapped a bunch of kids. Understatement of the millennium.

"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 th' survive. Thirty-nine ships, an' o'er eleven thousand lives..."

She swallows hard. Despite not being anywhere the battle, and being possessed by the alien entity to boot... well, the thought of that much devastation is hard for me to fathom. How much harder can it be for someone who can actually feel others' emotions?

"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."

I shake my 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."

She starts to say something, I think to demure and downplay her own talents, but I shake 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 looks at me for a moment, then finally nods an acknowledgment. I'm still not sure she accepts her part in creating something damn amazing, but at least she accepts that there are people who can do that, and those people are needed.

Well, we all need to take baby steps, right? I'm still tripping over the whole 'diplomacy' thing, much to Fox's dismay.

I look back at the collection of people in front of me. "Your family, your friends, even your crew makes you stronger. You certainly can't deny that," I say as I gesture to the fuzzy images. "Every funny looking yellow flower in the image 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 type 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."

She waves her hand and everyone disappears.

"There'll be a few folk who'll be psi null. Commander Mulvihill... he'll hae been such a one. They'll be 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 says, pointing to the empty grass in front of her.

"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 rolls 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'." Red grins 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!" I grin back at her. "Well, you already have hózhó. I'll leave you with a few others before we finish up."

I nod 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."

A huge brick wall springs up, as wide as the grassy area, at least twice as tall as I am, and at least thick enough for the huge wolf to lounge comfortably on the top of the wall. It looks downright menacing.

"Um. What the hell?" I ask, 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."

Yow ow ow, I hit a nerve!

"An' there'll be th' days I'll be thinkin' he'll only be rememberin' th' Captain part o' th' equation."

Oh, it's like that. I can't even really equate it to the mutual worries Pablo and I have for each other. He doesn't work for me, I don't work for him. I'm not sure I can actually think of something that's similar in my life... something I could hang some sort of understanding on. I shake my 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."

I look at her and simply stare. Eventually, I remember 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 gentleman. 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?"

Red just shrugs. And I shake my head.

"Okay. Fine. Never mind. Not my business." I raise both hands to surrender to her... opinion. "But listen... not that it's any of my business, but Bobby's a really bad influence on me, so that's not going to stop from offering up a suggestion."

I put my hands back in my lap and nod 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?"

She looks at me like I've lost all of my marbles, which isn't fair because I'm pretty sure I have one or two left. Sometimes I hear them clicking together. Although that might be my teeth.

"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."

I wait... and realize I'm going to have to pry this out of her. Well, thank goodness I have practice dealing with a drama queen!

"And why can't Paddy go out and brush the nice wolf?" I ask in what I think is 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 finance presents to the unseen world? Or maybe he's afraid of the image his soon to be brother-in-law presents to the outer world?"

"Aye. All o' those."

I narrow my eyes as I first look at her, then the wolf. True, it's bigger than a wolf would be even in the wild. But it's still a wolf. And in my world, wolves are respected... but not feared. They're not feared because they're respected.

And then there's Wolf, the Spirit... who just happens to be Billy's guardian Spirit.

I look back at Red and shake my 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 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..." I shake my head. "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," I say, 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."

She just stares at me for a minute, maybe two, then looks up at the wolf. I didn't really mean to send her into a tizzy — not that anyone but me would know she's in a tizzy. She seems very calm and collected, but her aura is a mess. Again. Still?

I don't know. I do know this gal has issues, and Kahallan is one of them.

It's not like I don't have issues, so I'm not going to go casting stones, but... Damn it, there's that whole need to save the world thing again. Yes. That's one of my issues. I know that!

I can wait. I think I have enough information to create a structure. I think I understand the weaving of energy needed to make the structure cohesive. I might even know how Maddie should be represented. So I just wait.

Finally, she looks at me again, and everything she created disappears... wolf, wall, grass. Then she nods.

"Will ye be understandin' enough te give buildin' a try?"

"I think so." I stand up, because... well, it seems right. "Do you want to be inside or outside?"

She gives me a look — the same look Master Chen used to give me 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?"

I consider that a moment. I consider the structure I have in mind. I nod decisively.


"Well, then... I'll be watchin' from outside then."

She starts to stand, but I gesture for her to sit.

"No... this isn't the right place. For me. You stay here."

She looks puzzled, and I can tell I'm leaving her confused as I walk farther into the field, closer to the convergence of the ley lines. I don't think I want to be at the convergence. That would probably be a bit much. Maybe when I do this for real... there are a lot of ley lines in the Rockies. I stop about twenty or thirty paces away and face the east.

I raise my hands from my sides, palms up, until they're at shoulder height. It takes only that amount of time for a somewhat traditional hogan to form around me. Like Tommy's home, it's octagonal, but the walls are more old-fashioned and made of timber. This represents the men of my family.

I bring my hands in close to my heart and walk to the entryway, in which hangs a beautiful woven blanket. This represents the women of my family. I turn to face the inside of the empty hogan. As I stand in the doorway, I softly speak the words I learned as a very, very young child... first told to me by Papa Bill.

"Hooghan baah hashne' dooleel." I will speak about the Hogan.

"Ha'ahaahdéé' yah ajighááh. Ákwe'é nitsáhákees silá." You enter from the East. Here Thought exists.

I walk along the wall in a clockwise direction, my hand brushing the wall, my mind filled with the love of friends and family. I stop at the southernmost spot in the Hogan.

"Shádi'ááhijigo dashdiighááh. Ákwe'é nahat'á silá." You head toward the South. Here Organizing exists.

As I continue walking, as I continue running my hand along the wall, I think of all the things I have learned from my elders, from my teachers, from Doshu Ueshiba and Master Chen, from friends and strangers, from the Spirits, from Great Spirit, from Mother and Father, and even from those with less honorable intentions. I stop at the westernmost point, opposite the entrance.

"Áádóó E'e'aahjigo dashdiighááh. Ákwe'é iiná silá." You head toward the West. Here Life exists.

My thoughts turn to the Pentad now as I walk along the perimeter to the north. I realize that thoughts are insufficient, that I can only experience the emotions and beauty and joy and strength that comprise who we are as the Pentad. I stop, again, at the northernmost point.

"Áádóó Nahookosjigo dashjiighááh. Ákwe'é sih hasin silá." You head toward the North. Here Satisfaction-Confidence-Hope exists.

As I walk the final angles of the wall, I think of who I am — Who I Am — and how I became this person that I am today. I think of my children: the tiny one who left too soon, and I bless her life and thank her for the lessons she taught me; the two who are with me now, and thank them for trusting that I will be the Mother they need. I think of my Sister, who is part of me and half of my Soul, and I thank her for finding me, for trusting me. I think of my Spirit Brother, who is part of me, and I thank him for his trust, his humor, his faith. I think of my Elder Brother, who is a part of me, and I thank him for his strength, his kindness, for his trust that I will keep safe those memories that were taken from him. I think of my Husband, who is part of me, and I thank him for his patience, for his love, for his continuing belief that healing is possible.

I stand in the doorway and simply say, "Ahéhee'." Thank you.

I have such gratitude for everyone who has come into my life. Mother was right... I only needed to be reminded of what needed to be done. And there is only one more thing to do.

I walk to the center of the large empty space and face the entrance once more. In this dream place, in this dimension of Learning, there is no sun in the sky to say when the day begins or ends. And yet, despite that, I know with certainty that beyond the barrier of the large, thick, beautiful blanket that covers the entryway, the sun is rising. I close my eyes once more and lift my arms above my head, palms facing upward again.

"I speak to all those dear to me who have come into my life to make me who I am today," I whisper, "I ask that you be part of my strength now, and be part of my strength as I live this life."

I slowly lower my hands until they are in the prayer position about a hand span from my body, directly in front of my zhong dan tian. I simply hold that position until everything feels... just right.

Come on in, Red. You'll be able to push the blanket in the doorway aside.

I wait, patiently and silently, until she pushes the blanket out of the way. I feel the warmth of the sun, and I hear Red gasp.

"I'll nae hae believed the Mother sayin' ye'll only need te be reminded if I'll nae hae seen this," she says in a hushed voice.

I breathe in deeply, the scents of both sage and coffee perfectly mingling in the air. As I exhale, I lower my arms to my sides. Only then do I open my eyes.

And the biggest, happiest grin possible spreads across my face. Her safe and happy place is a garden.

Mine is a library.

Six of the eight walls are nothing but bookcases; nearly every shelf is filled. I guess my mind decided to leave room for new friends and family. That's awesome! As I turn slowly around, I can see the titles of some of the books and immediately know who they represent. There's a display case against the wall opposite the entrance; above it and around the entryway, various small — and in the case of the replica of Abe's hat, some not so small — objects are affixed to the walls. There's even a comfortable chair near the display case.

I note the object over the entryway and am immediately drawn toward it. I reach up and touch it, and tears spring to my eyes.

"'Twill be representin' yer Pablo?" she asks.

I shake my head in wonder. "No. This is Denise's badge."

"An' ye realize ye've all manner o' strange sprouts an' berries growin'... well, e'erywhere."

I nod. "Uh huh. Coffee plants and those are coffee beans. That's Maddie." I laugh. "I hadn't expected that... but it makes sense."

"An'... whate'er this'll be?" She toes an enormous book on one of the bottom shelves.

I look at the title of the book — One Million and Two Physics Jokes, something that I'm fairly confident doesn't actually exist — and laugh 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." I clap my hands and bounce on my toes, giddy as a child. "Happy, happy!"

Red looks at me for a moment, and then laughs 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."

I nod. "Okay. Sort of like I hold all the qi, only this will be a container for all of that... and me, too."

Given the look on her face, I'm not sure she understands the words... but the meaning is plain and clear. She nods and exits my Hogan library, replacing the blanket as she goes.

I take a deep breath, close my eyes, relax, and imagine the Hogan cradling me, nestled between my skin and my aura. I wait a moment to be sure I feel comfortable and confident, then nod to myself.

I open my eyes and look at Red; we're standing in the field beyond Tommy's house.

"I'm just not sure how to test it."

I start walking back toward his 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'," she said as she walks along with me. "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 being pregnant is a whole different kind of crazy."

Red chuckles. "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 has a different feel to it now. I've always felt that this one — the major one — was a little bit dangerous. Like... one wrong step, and I'd find myself tripping over something and causing a cataclysmic earthquake from Las Vegas to Oklahoma City. Now? It's just... comfortable?

It's weird that it's comfortable, but it's a weird I'm totally okay with!

As we reach Tommy's yard, I sigh and shake my head.

"This has got to be the weirdest dream ever in the history of dreams. It's been really cool, 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."

She narrows her eyes at me.

"There'll nae be any such thin'."

"What?! Of course there is! I just made it up!"

I grin, and she shakes her head.

"Sure an' 'twill be time fer ye te go now," she says, the touch on my shoulder almost feather light. "Donnae forget all ye've learned here."

"Really? Already? It seems I hardly got here." All I can do is 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," I say wryly.

"Aye. They'll do so, 'tis true." She smiles, and there's 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."

I nod. "Yeah. I think so, too. I guess I just need to rebuild what I built here in the real world, practice all of this when I'm awake."

She chuckles. I suspect my refusal to believe I'm not dreaming will be a running joke with her grandmother 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."

# # #


Pablo shook her shoulder again, a bit more forcefully this time.

Rene? Are you around anywhere?

"Andi, wake up. You're scaring me."

She didn't seem as far away as she had when she'd been in the coma, but why wasn't she waking up?

"You called, my Brother?"

Pablo looked up at Rene, who stood in the doorway.

"Andi's not waking up. I can feel her..." He touched his head, then rested his hand over his heart. "This isn't normal, Rene."

Brows drawing together, Rene shook his head. "I've never seen anything like it. Have you?"

Pablo shook his head. "No. It's not like when she was in the coma. She was so far away then that I could hardly feel her. If she were awake, I'd say it was almost like she was in that No Time place she talks about when practicing her Taiji. She gets kind of... out of it, I guess. Do you think it has anything to do with, well, everything that happened yesterday?"

# # #

"Huh." I tilt my head to one side, listening. "It almost seems like Pablo's trying to get here. Or..." I shake my head, feeling confused. "Well, or something like that."

"Nay, he'll be callin' ye home. E'en I kin hear him." Red smiles; both the smile and the flowing colors of her qi manage to combine sadness and happiness together, like the swirls of chocolate in Bobby's marble cakes. "Ye'll be a fortunate lass."

I watch her qi and study her aura for several minutes. It's familiar and confusing... until I realize that's exactly where I would be, what I would look like, had Jared stayed with me in Denver.

"I'm sorry."

Red just raises an eyebrow, asking all the possible questions.

"You... your Kahallan."

"Ah." And then she shakes 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 repair this bond, you might need to tear it down and rebuild it... using a building metaphor, that is." I meet her eyes. I can see the demand for the truth in those green eyes.

"But you still aren't sure it's worth the trouble, are you?"

# # #

Rene stepped to the bedside and sat down near his Sister's knees. "I don't know, Pablo. I'd say... probably not, but Andi's powers are growing exponentially. I don't think they're supposed to do that."

Pablo looked down at his wife, and softly caressed her cheek with the backs of his fingers. It was so rare for him to wake up before her, but he'd never gotten out of the shower to find her still sleeping. And she'd never slept so deeply, at least not since he'd moved in with her. He rested his hand on her shoulder and looked over at Rene again.

"Where the hell are the Spirits, Rene? I haven't seen any of them since yesterday. I'll grant you that I don't have the sensitivity to all of you that Andi has, but I always seem to have the sense that one or another of you is in the area. Even Andi remarked on the dearth of Spirit presence yesterday."

Rene didn't quite roll his eyes, but he almost gave the impression of doing so. "I'm going to give you an analogy from my many wonderful years with Maddie before..." He shook his head. "Well, never mind that." He rested a hand hesitantly on Andi's quilt-covered leg. "It's as if the five of us could be considered a war zone... Andi is ground zero... and the Spirits are scared shitless.

"If it's any consolation, Maddie's not worried." Rene smiled. "She says if Andi needs sleep, why the hell are you trying to wake her up." His smile faded. "It just feels like a normal sleep pattern to Maddie."

Pablo looked surprised. "Maddie is Santa Claus? She knows when Andi's sleeping?"

Rene shrugged. "I'm sure she doesn't think about it all the time, Brother. But come on... haven't there been times when Andi's said something like, 'Maddie is asleep, I don't want to wake her'?"

Pablo nodded. "Sure, once or twice. It's not stopping my growing panic here, though. She's been freaking out so much the past few weeks, trying to hide it all from me. At this point, I might need to join her in the freaking out.

# # #

Again, she smiles 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." I shrug and smile. "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?"

She smiles and reaches out a hand to shake mine. I grin, step closer and hug her tightly.

"Thanks. Oh... and yá'át'ééh and ahéhee' are for T'Shel. Hello! It is good! and Thank you." I release her, smile and point her toward the road. "Now go back to Ireland. Or your spaceship."

She laughs and calls over her shoulder, "Starship!"

I chuckle as she disappears. "Potato, potahto... succotash."

# # #

I wake slowly, but unlike most of the dreams I've had in the past month, this one has left me feeling rested... calm... downright peaceful. So it's more than a little disconcerting to feel Pablo ramping up to a panic attack. It's also odd that Rene is here. I smile without opening my eyes.

"Well, either Andi is dreaming about you," Rene says to Pablo, "or me. Nothing else could explain a smile like that."

I can feel Pablo's intense focus turn on me. He's really worried.

"If I were sleeping, you'd be about half right, dear Spirit Brother," I say, snuggling close to Pablo. It's refreshing to feel... I hesitate to say 'normal', but that's what comes nearest to how I feel. I'm going to luxuriate in normalcy for as long as I can.

"Andi! Are you okay? I couldn't wake you!"

At least his panic is receding, although he's still plenty worried.

"Mmm. Was having a nice dream for a change. I don't think I wanted to wake up."

"Oh, so it was about all of us then!" Rene decides.

I open one eye to look at him, chuckle and close my eye again. "Nope. I called you and my guardians again at the beginning of the dream, but I guess you didn't hear me. Your loss."

Pablo runs his hand down my arm from shoulder to wrist, then rests it on mine where it lies against his hip.

"Are you sure you're okay, Andi?"

"Hmm. What day is it?"

"Saturday." Oh, poor Pablo. He's so confused.

"'Kay. Saturday's good." I just breathe slowly and deeply, watching the flow of qi around the room... but mostly my own. It looks the same as it did before I fell asleep... it's just flowing more efficiently. It's actually mesmerizing, in an understated way. Wow, it's been years since I thought my own qi was this amazing to watch!


"Oh. Yeah." Easily distracted me plus anxious Pablo... must remember that this is not a good combination. "Still plenty of time to make the concert?"

"It's just after seven. In the morning."

I nod slightly, or at least I think I do. Whoa... I know that my qi is Pablo's qi is also the qi of those two, but... wow. Or maybe super wow! I can almost, I think, differentiate the qi that is everyone's qi, from the same qi that is my qi from the same qi that is their qi. This is so cool!

I feel a tapping on my left knee. I open one eye again and look at Rene.


"Are you sure you're fine, Andi? You seem..." Rene either doesn't have the right words or doesn't want to say what he's thinking.

"...spacey." There. Pablo says it.

I turn my head to look up at him, open both eyes, and smile.

"Yep. Haven't been this relaxed since..." I pause, trying to remember, and just smile more broadly. "I don't know. Long time. Before the Pest showed up, for sure."

"Wow, that must have been some dream," he says, falling prey to the allure of my smile, and returning one of his own. "You're sure it wasn't about me?"

I giggle. "Positive." I look over at Rene, trying to remember something Maddie had said... and maybe something I remember Rene did. While he was still in the other dimension?

"You're making me nervous, Sister," he says.

Maybe it's my imagination, but he seems brighter this morning. More... glowy? More like the pictures of guardian angels I've seen in books. Without the wings of course.

"You can do that thing Leon does, right? When he showed Maddie the conversations I had with you?"

"What?! No!" His eyebrows rise as high as possible on his lovely face. "Well, not nearly to the extent he can. So, probably not. No."

I grin at him. "Bet you could. Just for the Pentad."

He considers that for a moment, then eyes me suspiciously. "Okay, maybe. But the real question would be whether or not I want to try such a thing."

I sigh with contentment. "You do."

"Really? And why do you think so?"

"Because Maddie will want you to."

They both stare at me.

"Well, after I tell her that she wants to know. I think she's the diamond to my earth. Or the coffee in my Hogan. Now move, move, move... I have work to do!" I laugh as I gently push them both off the bed.

I can see the spirals of qi between the two of them as I walk toward the bathroom. It's the color of confusion.

Closing the door behind me, I lean against it for a moment... just breathing.

"Thank you, Moira. I do hope we meet again."

© Kelly Naylor