Issue 11: Fly Like an Eagle

I love my family. Everyone who knows me can attest to that fact. That doesn't stop me from suspecting they sometimes want to drive me thoroughly insane.

Lately, it would simply be a matter of driving me more insane than I already was. I really thought I'd maxed out on the lunacy, but apparently, my family doesn't believe that should be the case. This whole wedding thing was supposed to nice and orderly, at least as far as getting the family to town and making sure they all have a place to stay. Justin and Nicole are flying in this afternoon from Chicago. Mama and Dad, Papa and Tita are flying in from Flagstaff. Everyone else is supposed to — supposed to — be arriving on Wednesday. Sure, that would have made the day resemble controlled chaos, but it would have been just one day of controlled chaos.

I sigh as I stare at the ceiling. Pablo is starting to wake up.

Well, at least Sam and Cynthia are still coming in on Wednesday. And Pablo's family hasn't changed their plans. And neither has Justin's friend! All still arriving in Denver on Wednesday!

I wish Deb and Clara were already here. They won't be here until late, late, late on Wednesday night. I probably won't even get to see them until... well, I guess until after the wedding. At the reception. Oh... rats!

Aunt Alicia and Uncle Junior are bringing their two youngest sons, their niece and eldest nephew, and the associated family members... tomorrow. Not on Wednesday. Tomorrow. Sunday.

And on Christmas Eve? Aunt Sonia, Uncle Leon, and Talia will arrive. Monday... not Wednesday. Oh, right... Henry is flying in on Monday, too. He claims he's going to land the plane in my backyard. At this point? I don't care. Although, I think I might have told him it would be more considerate to choose a park if he disliked the airport all that much.

It's a bloody good thing the Brown Palace has been so accommodating. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that Christmas in Colorado generally means Christmas in Vail or Aspen.

Pablo rolls over and wraps an arm sleepily around me. "You're worrying," he says, his voice muffled in my shoulder. "Why?"


"Family is awesome. Stop worrying."

I smile at his faith and optimism. "Okay."

After several minutes, he sighs and raises up on one elbow so he can look down at me.

"You're still worrying. Why?"


He groans and falls back, staring at the ceiling just as I had been earlier. "Yes. Him we should worry about. Can we keep him out of trouble until the reception?"


That's when the pounding on the back door starts. Pablo groans. "It's not even light outside!"

I groan as I try to ignore the Human Tsunami at the door.

"What time is it? I can't see the clock from over here."

"Because you won't even move your head." He shifts and turns, and then swears. "Jesus Christ, it's not even six! What the hell is his problem?"

I sit up, reluctantly, and look at Pablo. "You go tell him to go away."

"He's your best friend. Besides, I don't have a bathrobe."

"All the better. Just open the door in your skivvies..." I grin in the dim room. "I'll save you after about thirty seconds. Once I find the bathrobe that I do happen to own."

He gets out of bed and heads to the bathroom. "Thirty seconds might be too much time. I could kill him in less than thirty seconds."

I chuckle, maybe more than just a little evilly. "Not without your gun, you can't. Just stare at him. Don't say a word." I find the bathrobe hanging in the closet, exactly where I expect to find it — lately, that's a minor miracle — and slip it on. I pull clean underwear from the bin for Pablo and hand it to him as he comes out of the bathroom.

"Remember, just stare. Count to thirty. I'll be right behind you."

He gives me a kiss before opening the bedroom door. The pounding on the back door has not let up. At all.

"At least it's your crazy neighbor and not some asshole who's going to shoot my beautiful wife."

"Nope. We're not working today."

I hear the pounding stop, thankfully. Apparently, Pablo in his underwear is enough to startle Bobby to speechlessness, another minor miracle. I wait... only about fifteen seconds before going out to the kitchen myself.

It's a beautiful scene... my husband is a fierce warrior even in his underwear, and he's staring down the intruder with eyes that have unnerved even people who don't take Ninja seriously. At first.

Bobby is beet red. That isn't something one sees every day!

I slip up behind Pablo and peer out at Bobby.

"Andi... I..."

I tap Pablo's arm, and he looks away from Bobby and down at me.

My turn, dear!

He takes a step back, and I stand in the doorway, ready to close the door.

"Dear Mr. Adams, I am taking my husband back to bad. Kindly go away. Your obedient, T. Jefferson."

And then I close the door in Bobby's face. And make sure it's locked again.

When I turn around, Pablo is grinning. "Not nearly as good as a heart attack, but pretty good. What the hell was that you were babbling at him?"

I take his hand and lead him back to the bedroom. "A quote from 1776... well, husband and not wife, but good enough to get his goat."

"We're going to stay in bed until it's daylight, right?" he asks.

"At least!"

In fact, it's after ten before we're interrupted again. We've even had breakfast. And it's only a text message on my personal phone!

Oooh, how interesting... it's from David. I giggle as I show the message to Pablo.

If I come over to apologize for my Madman's inappropriate behavior earlier, will Pablo dress down for me too?

"I will not." But Pablo is grinning.

He will not. And come alone.

A few minutes later, the doorbell rings.

"I think we should either remove the doorbell altogether or find a way to make it sound less like the opening theme to Cops On A Rampage," Pablo says, semi-seriously.

I shrug as I get up to answer the door. "We could. Maybe after the wedding?"

"Or today would be good too."

I look over my shoulder at him as I unlock the door, but hold his eyes for a second before nodding. "If it would make you feel better, sure. Yes."

And that calms everything thing about him... his worry, his aura, his whole being. That makes me smile.

Then I open the door and lean against the frame, arms crossed, and look at David.

"Mr. McNair! How nice to see you. What can we do for you today?"

"Oh, come on, Andi. Just because Bobby is a being a complete basket case doesn't mean you need to take it out on me." He grins... and if I didn't have two men in my life with smiles that are even more brilliant tugging at my heart, I'd almost be tempted to return his smile with one as joyful. However, my dear Husband and my most incorrigible Brother have ruined me... or made me immune to anyone else's charms.

I just roll my eyes, push off the frame and open the door wide, gesturing for David to come in.

"I, however," Pablo says as I'm closing the door behind David, "could take it out on you."

"You already have, Pablo!" David looks him up and down, and then winks. "You're dressed!"

"Oh, good grief," Pablo mutters. "You know, now that your routine has gotten old, you could drop it."

David shrugs. "You usually smile. And I am sorry about Bobby this morning. He snuck out while I was in the bathroom."

"What, did he chew through his leash?" I ask. And Pablo snickers.

David gives me a surprised look. Anyone else could very well mean that as a double entendre, but it's not in the delicate librarian's character.

"Well, I assume you keep him chained up because you can't legally obtain the quantity of drugs needed to keep him calm." I give David a bland and ever so innocent look, then turn that same look on Pablo.

Isn't our Brother supposed to be the wicked one, my dear Wife?

I roll my eyes at Pablo as David sighs, then sits himself down in Pablo's chair, head cradled in his hands.

"Don't think I haven't considered massive amounts of tranquilizers, Andi. I don't think it would work very well, however. I have this feeling that as long as Bobby is conscious, he's going to drive us all out of our minds."

I sit down on the sofa and pat the space beside me for Pablo. He wraps his arm around my waist, pulling me against him.

David looks up at us and shakes his head. "He came over before daybreak to ask if you and your family would have dinner with us tonight. I completely understand if you guys want to decline."

"You mother might be able to get through to him," Pablo says. "You did say you thought she'd get lost in his kitchen."

I nod. "And Dad has already promised to rescue her if that happens. Mama can soothe almost any hurt away. Tita, too." I look up at him. "But bring your gun anyway. If you need to shoot him in the knee... well, it can't be helped, right?"

Pablo looks at me skeptically, but David says, "You have my blessing. I love that man dearly, as I love my own life... but he is completely out of his mind!"

I can feel my expression change to worry, even as that distress echoes through my Bond with Pablo. I pat his hand around my waist and stand again, then walk the few steps over to David.

"I've known him longer than any of us, David, and I've never seen him in such a state." I rest a hand on his shoulder. "Do you know what's wrong? Before your concert, he was convinced you were cheating on him... he was better for a few days... and now..."

David looks up at me. "His sister... the younger one." The hand he had rested on mine tightens almost painfully. Ah, for a Normal, that is. "You know how his family is, and they just don't deserve to be called family if you ask me."

"I know, David. He's better off without them, even when he can't see it."

"Well, his youngest sister got away, went to college out of state. You know they're all from Texas?"

I sigh. "No. He never mentioned where they were, but... Gosh, why am I not surprised?"

It takes David a few seconds, then glances over at Pablo and nods. "Right. You've met one of their more upstanding citizens." He shakes his head again. "Hope managed to get accepted to Columbia; she was studying journalism. A truly brilliant girl from what I've been able to pry out of Bobby... she was on an academic scholarship, and that's not easy. Unfortunately — according to what her parents have said — the big, bad city of New York corrupted her, polluted her mind."

I kneel down beside him. I don't need an Empath around when I can read auras as well as I can read his. This is not going to be a story with a happy ending. I hold both of David's hands between mine... I never realized how small my hands are compared to his.

"She called Bobby... maybe when you were out in Flagstaff with your grandmother. It was before classes started for the fall term. She wanted to reconnect with him, told him she was tired of the way the family treated him. I know he pretended everything was perfectly normal, Andi, but he was over the moon!" He manages a smile. "He still needed to tease you two, you know. And then you tried to give him that heart attack..."

"Damn. I thought we covered our tracks pretty well," Pablo says, coming up behind me to rest his hands on my shoulders.

"Oh, it was brilliantly executed, and it was a lot of fun trying to get him back to what passes for normal," he says to Pablo with a wink. "But then you tried to kill me..."

"No, no!" I assure him. "That was still supposed to be our revenge on him. Honest... I didn't know you were a Fashion Queen! You never let on."

David chuckles. "I forgive you, Andi. And it gave Bobby something else to worry about besides Hope. Not that he was exactly worried... except he was."

"Given what little he's said about the family, I'd probably be worried about her, too. Did the family disown her, as well?"

David is quiet for a moment, then shakes his head. "I wish it were that simple. Sure... of course, they did. And Hope told them to go to hell. Even told them she was staying in New York with friends over the Thanksgiving break this year."

"I'd have busted open my piggy bank to buy her a ticket out here."

"Oh, Bobby and I offered. She really did want to stay in New York. She said it was exciting, and that she was going to see the Macy's parade with her friends. I wish we had insisted... but you know how twenty somethings can be."

David doesn't say anything else for a minute.

"David," I say softly, "what happened?" I know something happened. The detective standing behind me knows something happened. That knowledge is resonating in our Bond.

"Her dad flew out there to... 'talk' to her. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I think. That's when Hope called Bobby... after he left. She wasn't really coherent; she was too scared by whatever Daddy Dearest had said. Bobby was going to fly out there, but she managed to talk him out of it. He wanted her to come out here, but she said she couldn't miss her classes the following week."

He looks up at Pablo, who tightens his hands on my shoulders. Then he looks at me with tears in his eyes. "The next week, Bobby got a call from a detective in New York telling him Hope had committed suicide. He's been a maniac ever since. He won't even go to a support group."

"Oh, gods, David! Why didn't he tell me? Why won't he talk to me about it instead of making up stupid stories?"

"I don't know, Andi. I think having that guy shoot at you back at Halloween, and me proposing to him, and the shock of planning a party in France for Mrs. Jacob's..."


"Okay... for Madeline's son sort sent him over the edge of reason. He's beyond happy for the two of you, and I swear you're going to have the best wedding reception ever... but outside of concentrating on the wedding and work..."

He twists his hands so that mine are now wrapped in his. "Please, Andi... I think it would mean a lot if you and your family would come over for dinner."

I nod. "Yeah, sure. If it would help, and if you have room for that many people, absolutely. I was going to see if Maddie and Logan and the kids wanted to go out with us, but I think Bobby needs a lot of love right now."

"If Madeline and that hunky hunk of hers want to come over, too, they'd be more than welcome!" David says with a glint of his usual humor in his eyes.

"Down boy. There's a long line of admirers in front of you for gazing upon the visage of Logan. Plus, Bobby's living room isn't big enough for a table for fourteen."

David chuckles. "Oooh, girl! You're in that line yourself, aren't you?"

I shrug. "My brother-in-law is a very attractive man. Don't get any lurid ideas, however, Mr. McNair. Detective Garcia holds the keys to my heart." I smile, then lean over and kiss his cheek. "Tell Bobby we'll be there."

"Just out of curiosity, David," Pablo says much too casually as he helps me stand, "where in Texas does Bobby's worthless family live?"

David gives Pablo a steady look. "Rumor has it that you have cop friends all over the country."

Pablo smiles, charming and innocent. "Not true! Most of them are right here in Colorado... a childhood buddy in San Diego... and a couple of contacts in Albuquerque to help the family keep tabs on Andi's cousin's fiancée's cousin."

"Yeah, that sounds like a soap opera," David says suspiciously.

I tap Pablo on the arm. "Among the People, Tezza is practically my cousin. And Detective Garcia just reached out to his counterparts in Albuquerque to help her get free of her gang connections. It's not like I don't have connections, too, watching out for the girl."

"You're not acting like a very good delicate librarian, Andi."

I shake my head. "I got laid off, remember? So I talk to the Elder in Albuquerque who's been teaching Tezza what it means to be Diné. I worry about family, and I worry about my friends. I do what I can to help." I shrug. "So... where is Bobby's family and what time is dinner?"

David sighs as he stands up. "Somewhere around Arlington, I think. And about seven?"

"Seven is good. I'll be by earlier to interrogate my best friend. Unless..." I tilt my head and look at Pablo. "Unless I decide he needs a talking to from Tita." I look back at David. "She is the essence of compassion. Like you at work, only with superpowers."

David raises an eyebrow. "What?"

I smile and take his hand as we walk to the front door. "Tita is a mother whose husband went off to war right after his eldest child was born. She raised three wonderful children, each of whom has a loving spouse, all of whom have given her nine grandchildren — ten if you count the fact that I adopted Maddie into the family. She is kind and wise and loving. So yeah. Superpowers."

He smiles. "Okay, I get it. As wonderful a person as you are, Andrea Yazzie, with a few decades more practice at it."

I open the door for him. "Right. Something like that."

After closing the door behind David, I turn into Pablo's waiting arms. "You're not planning anything crazy, are you, dear?"

"Telling my family that Bobby's soul is wounded and why... that isn't crazy. They will shower him with love without treating him with kid gloves."

"I meant about his family, who lives somewhere near Arlington."

"I believe you made the first inquiry, I just insisted on getting an answer." I shrug. "I want to. But it would probably be wrong."

"No, dear. It would definitely be wrong."

"Yes, Detective. It would definitely be wrong. That doesn't mean they don't deserve to suffer more than I could make them suffer." I wrap my arms around his waist, holding onto my anchor in this storm. "They're bad people. But... Well, karma is a bitch. You don't have to worry that I'm going to drive to Texas to smack the lot of them senseless."


"Mostly because they don't have any sense, to begin with."


"Also because it would upset you, and it's not really the Warrior's job to deal with them. Maybe the police if there's some evidence the father drove Hope to kill herself. Or their god when they take their last walks."

"I'll see what I can find out, or have the Captain make some inquiries."

"Thanks. I doubt anything will come of it, but I feel like I owe it to Bobby to at least try. Or ask my beloved husband to try, that is.

"I just wish Bobby had said something when Hope first called him. That so-called family of his turned their back on him, and he never stopped caring... about his younger siblings, at least. To have Hope call him after all these years..." I sigh. "It must have made his heart so full."

"Sounds like she was about the same age as Blanca. I can't even imagine..."

I hug him tighter. "I know."

"Had you mentioned dinner tonight to Madeline already?"

"No, and maybe tomorrow we could take over a Beau Jo's after the second wave arrives."

"Watching the twins with Billy is fun." Pablo is smiling. And thrumming with happiness.

"I just hope you think it's as much fun when ours are wreaking havoc across three states."

He chuckles. "Well, what are the chances either of them will have claws and be able to move as fast as Em? Zero, right? So, we should be able to keep up."

I sigh, pull out of his embrace to hold his hands and shake my head. "While I do feel more confident about parenthood since repairing the broken soul thing Maddie and I had going on, I am not anywhere near as confident as you are that we're going to survive this experience with any sanity left. And that's assuming I let Missy and Jocko babysit them until they're old enough for the preschool I hope Charles opens."

He laughs. "You worry too much."

"Yes, Mama," I say, although this time it's rather more sarcastic than usual. "They're already talking to me. They'll drive me batshit crazy!"

"Andrea, my beloved wife... you are already crazy. And they haven't bothered you since you told the rest of us about them, have they?"

I give him a good stink eye, and reluctantly admit they haven't.

"Trust me then?"

I bite my lip... maybe because I don't want to say anything snarky, perhaps because I don't want to cry. Then I nod.

"Good. Now... is there anything we need to do before your family arrives? Other than having dessert before lunch?"

I laugh and slap his hands. "You're a brat. I should warn the family about dinner with Bobby and David." I walk over to the kitchen table where I'd left my phone and send a text to Justin. My elders should already be boarding their plane in Flagstaff. I'll let Mama or Dad know when they check in either in Phoenix or when they arrive in Denver. Justin's response is an enthusiastic awesome with entirely too many exclamation points.

"Dad's going to rent a vehicle," I say, turning back to Pablo and leaning against the counter. "They'll drop Justin and Nicole here, and I guess they'll head over to the hotel to get settled before coming back for dinner. I'll talk to them... well, whenever they call. Justin and Nicole ought to be here around five... maybe five thirty."

"So we have plenty of time for dessert."

I roll my eyes. "Ninja has work to do. Some of it is checking into things for Dennison and Forsythe. I'm covering for Peregrine on Tuesday so he can cover for me on Thursday. Since I have plans for the evening, I should probably do an early patrol — at least up to Commerce City and through Five Points."

"How was your patrol last night? I know things went badly with Dennison's folks yesterday, but we didn't have a chance to catch up on anything that happened last night."

He walks over, takes my hand, and we sit at the table again.

"I think even the local miscreants are in the holiday spirit. I don't remember having such an uneventful night in years."

"Good. Maybe they heard the Black Wolf and Wolverine are in town, and maybe they'll behave through the new year. And not give Peregrine a hard time while we're on our honeymoon." He grins.

"You know you just jinxed us, right?"

"Had my fingers crossed."

"Right. You're very weird, you know."

"You remind me often enough, so I won't forget."

I chuckle. "You know, it's been really peaceful without the Spirits pestering me all the time. Mother and Father are more communicative, but I haven't quite worked out how to keep from being overwhelmed by all the energy Mother wants to share. I'm almost there. I think. Since Maddie and I did the soul fixing thing, I might even be able to share with her. Hmm... well, not that she really needs it."

"She doesn't? God knows I appreciate the energy boost on long days."

I shake my head. "Her feralness — and the madness, too, sometimes — actually generates energy. Not as efficiently as my Taiji, but certainly as effectively."

He gives me an odd look. "You're trying to confuse me again, right? I know about her madness... I thought that went away when she integrated her personality."

"Right. As much as either the Warrior or Wife went away when I integrated my personalities."

He rubs his temples with the heels of his hands. "Life was so much easier when I was a simple detective, and you were a librarian."

"Yep. More boring, too. Like me, Maddie is just more balanced; the madness didn't go away, her joyous inner child didn't go away, her everyday rational self didn't go away. And the two of us together are... I don't know. Super balanced and centered and grounded?"

"If you say so." He's still rubbing his temples.

"My poor detective," I say, reaching across the table to take his hands in mine. "I don't really mean to make your head hurt."

"It's your Sister who makes my head hurt," he replies.

"Uh huh. She's our Sister, and you only disavow the relationship when your head hurts."

"Exactly! I think. And aren't Logan and Em the only Ferals in the family?"

"Yep. Doesn't mean that a regular human person can't have feral tendencies, does it? Is it something Maddie always had or did she pick it up when she was pregnant with the twins? And does it matter?

"By the way, it doesn't matter." I smile at him.

"Andi... is any of this ever going to make sense to me?" he asks plaintively.

I shrug. "You could take the stance our Sister and Brothers do — if it works, don't worry about the how or why. Or you could study Eastern philosophies and medicine and martial arts like I did so that things just eventually shake out into some sort of sense. Or just... well, accept it like you seem to accept our Bond and all the strange things that come with it."

He's quiet for a few minutes, searching my eyes... closing his with brows furrowed... opening them and searching my eyes again.

"I might be able to do that."

I squeeze his hands and smile. "Good. Now, you remember we're holding a conclave here on Wednesday night, right?"

"Here? Our house isn't big enough for the whole family!"

I laugh. "Not the whole family, Pablo. Just the Cursed... well, and Justin and Nicole, too. And, of course, Justin's friend. That's why he's coming out here. To see if we can help him make some sense of all that's happening to him."

He sighs. "Justin's friend is very lucky. I wish someone had called a conclave to help me understand what was happening to me."

"Oh, good grief. We didn't need a conclave. It was obvious that Raven and your Ancestral Asswipe were trying to drive us crazy."

"You know, your potty mouth has gotten a lot worse lately."

"Can't help it when I think about Quetzalcoatl, Tezcatlipoca, or that whore skank slut bitch who tried to steal you from me."

He leans across the table and kisses me lightly. "I never pegged you for the jealous type, beloved."

"Honestly? Neither did I. Special circumstances, I guess."

He chuckles. "Ninja better get moving on whatever work she has to do before I lock her in the house with me."

I slide off the bench faster than I normally do... the only way to escape right now.

"I'll make my calls while I'm on the computer. Does Peacekeeper want to patrol with me?"

"Nope. I think Detective Garcia would like to finish that last little bit of paperwork he has so he can enjoy spending time with his family when they start arriving."

Several hours later, I'm pulling into the garage on my Ducati that's camouflaged as a Harley.

There are a couple of parking spaces on the street, Pablito... if you move your car, Dad can park the rental in your spot.

I hear his chuckle.

Is that going to send your best friend into another tizzy? I remember Charlie's tale of parking there.

This time, we'll warn Bobby ahead of time. And if he freaks out, I'll zap him. Not sure how I'd explain it to David, though.

Don't worry. I'll bring my gun and tell him it's a taser.

I have the braids out by the time I get into the house, where Pablo is waiting with a kiss before heading out the other door to move his car. By the time he gets back, I've changed into Andrea clothing, put Ninja's clothes away, tucked my staff and scabbard back in the cubby in my dojo, and have my bare feet propped on the coffee table and a glass of water in my hands.

"Wife, you move very quickly... the car is right in front of the house."


He chuckles as he closes the front door behind himself. "How was the patrol?"

"Quiet," I reply, watching him hang his keys on the board by the back door. "Old Mama wishes you all the blessings of the season, Hank says Merry Christmas, and Jocko wants to know when you're going to come back to visit so he can try to catch you."

He comes back to the living room with his own glass of water. "Jocko scares me. I'm never going to let him catch me." He looks at me and shakes his head. "I can't believe you let him toss you around."

"I don't do it often, believe me. He's afraid he's going to hurt most people... I want him to know he doesn't need to be worried when he's with me. He was ecstatic when Black Wolf and Wolverine and I went up there to sort of spar with him before Maddie and the family went back to France. At least he understands they're not likely to visit because they live in Europe.

"The Monks are too peaceful until they go into Berserker mode, and then they're a bit much for Jocko. If they could manage a one on one encounter, it would be fine. But I think the Monks have... well, not exactly a hive mind, but they're too connected for Jocko to spar with them. I've been talking to Missy about working out with Jocko, but she's beyond timid still about her strength." I shrug. "Time and encouragement ought to take care of it."

Pablo sits beside me, sets his water glass down, kicks off his shoes and props his feet on the table beside mine. It's nice to just sit together, to just be together. I lean against him.

"Mmm. This is nice. How long before the show starts tonight?"

I chuckle, then drink the rest of my water. "My brother and his beloved should be here in half an hour or so. He pinged me when his flight landed, and so did Dad. Mama called when I was in Hank's office. He was delighted to know that Ninja has a mother and that Ninja would be spending the holidays with her family."

"He's a good man."

"He is. He also said Josie — I'm not sure you got to meet his wife — has started a support group up at their community center. It started out as a way for people to process their feeling over what happened to Sally. Sometimes Ben goes — when Mamu senses that the Shadowkin is particularly inattentive. You know, Ben was never one of the more well-liked people up there, but they see how he's suffering and..." I shake my head. "And everyone who can, anyone Mamu knows can't be compromised by that thing, goes and sits with him for a little while every day."

"Wow. I'm not sure that's something I'd do for someone known to be a pain in the ass."

I look at him and smile. "Yes, you would. You'd do it for Bobby. In fact, you might just wind up doing just that for Bobby. He's not infected by the Shadowkin, but grief is just as pernicious."

He returns my look, wonder in his expression. "You just keep doing and saying things that astound me with your level of compassion for the world. That's hard to reconcile when you tell me about some of the things Ninja does."

"Why, Pablo? I learned compassion at my parents' knees. I studied Buddhism and Taoism, I studied the meditative as well as the martial aspects of Aikido and Taiji. How long have you known me, Pablo? I don't understand why you continue to be so surprised." I chuckle. "But if I keep surprising you in good ways, then we will be happy forever, won't we?"

"Well, for as long as we both shall live, anyway."

"I will not permit happiness to end just because your life does. And, by the way, that had better be a very, very long way in the future, Detective. You'll spend time with Rene and the Spirits until the rest of us can shuffle off this mortal coil."

He shakes his head. "I really can't grasp how you can be so calm about such morbid thoughts."

"They're not morbid! Everyone dies. Eventually. You don't have the same healing factor that Logan, Maddie and I have. But even we're going to die someday." I shrug. "Everyone does. We don't have to like it. And we can really hate it when people die when they're young, or when they die violently or senselessly. It's part of the circle of life and death and rebirth." I tilt my head to one side.

"Ooh, my range is getting wider. I think they just turned off Sixth onto Pennsylvania!"

Pablo laughs as we both stand. "Tell me, my beloved Andrea, when will we have time to simply spend time doing nothing but having long talks about philosophy and metaphysics — neither of which I understand very well — and staring deeply into one another eyes?"

I hug him tightly. "Honeymoon? I'll just ask Maddie to make sure there are no miscreants in Suriname during our visit. If they exist, perhaps they can temporarily be relocated to somewhere else in South America."

"I love you, Andi. You have some really strange ideas about dealing with crime, however."

"Nope," I say as I open the front door and look over at the street on the other side of Bobby's house. "I just have a very powerful need to not deal with drama or work or stress while we're on our honeymoon!

"Let Mama and Tita know I've gone to talk to Bobby," I tell him as I turn back to him. "I didn't say much to Mama over the phone, but they'll understand. Get Justin and Nicole settled upstairs, okay? I don't think I'll be too long."

He gives me a long, hard look. "You know, I feel like should tell you to be careful."

I nod. "I know. I feel like you should be telling me that, too. I'll be fine." I reach up and kiss him, then step away with a sigh. "I'll be back soon. If I need you, you'll know."

I head out the back door as he stands in the open front doorway to wait for my family. I walk across the driveway and don't even bother knocking before opening the door into Bobby's kitchen. He's at the island counter, chopping vegetables. Well, that's his way of meditating... or as close to meditation as he gets. David is watching from the archway between the kitchen and living room. David looks more frightened than his aura indicates, which is weird... but I'm not going to think about it right now.

"Bobby." I stand across the island from him and just stare at him. He's in a world of his own. "Tompkins, do you want me to throw this tomato at you? I might be a delicate ex-librarian, but I used to have a pretty good pitching arm when I was a kid."

He stops chopping and looks up at me, although I don't think he actually sees me.

"David shouldn't have told you."

"You're right. David shouldn't have told me about Hope, Bobby. YOU should have told me about Hope. I'm your friend, damn it! How can you hold all that hurt inside and not even tell me? I'm really pissed at you."

And until this very moment, I hadn't actually realized that I am very angry with him. Some secrets you don't share. But this secret about his sister is definitely not one of them.

"I didn't want to bother you."

"Are you out of your fucking mind???" I glare at him, and the Warrior peeks out for a second before the Wife reassures the Warrior that this is a job for the Wife.

Now he stares at me, slack-jawed, seeing someone he isn't sure he really knows. David just watches. I think he understands.

"Andi, you don't swear."

"The hell I don't, Bobby! You didn't know me when Pablo's partner was killed. I sure swore up a storm then. You think I take every injustice and horrifying thing this world has to offer and remain this calm, sweet person you believe I am? Gods damn it, Bobby, I'm your friend! How am I supposed to help you through something so horrible if you don't even tell me about it?"

"But you've been dealing with so much yourself, Andi."

"Robert Jeffrey Tompkins, you are every kind of moron ever placed on this earth! I swear to the Gods, Buddhas, and Spirits that I would toss you over this counter right this minute if I didn't believe David would hurt himself trying to stop me!"

"You can't do that, Andi. You're not that strong."

"Ha! I'm that pissed off! But you're right. Aikido and Taiji are about using one's opponents' strength or momentum against them. If you're just standing there like an idiot, there's not much I could do. Except maybe hit you over the head with a rolling pin. Dumbass."


"What? I'm getting all my swear words out now because my Mama doesn't like to hear me swear. So I try very hard not to swear in front of my Mama. But I have lots and lots of swear words I'd like to use on you, Bobby. In four languages. And a fifth if I could get Pablo over here to teach me how to swear in Spanish."

"It was my problem to deal with, Andi."

I look at David and tighten my lips so that I don't say anything else. Then I walk over to him and hug him. He wraps his arms around my shoulders.

"I'm sorry, David. You're marrying a twit. Of course, you should have said something weeks ago, but I understand that you wanted to give the twit a chance to unburden his grief in his own time, in his own way. He has been a menace, however."

"Girlfriend, you don't know the half of it. He even got us kicked out of Charlie's."

"David!" At least Bobby sounds appalled.

I turn to look back at him. "Excuse me, but who's the one getting married to a Detective in the Denver Police Department? And guess who told me that little tale two days after it happened? Yeah... word gets around. But did we come over here to rub your face in it? No. Did I come over here to ask you what in the name of all good things you were thinking when you got into a bar fight and had to be carted out like a sack of grain by one of Denver's Supers? No."

I glare at him as I take the few steps from David to Bobby. I'm practically nose to nose with him before I speak, much more softly.

"Tonight, my family and I will be delighted and honored to have dinner with you and your beloved David. As thanks for preparing an exceptional meal and sharing it so graciously, my Tita and my Mama will sit with you and help you purge this grief. Yes. I told them as much as David told me. If they must sit up with you all night, they will do this because they know I consider you family.

"Do you understand, Bobby?"

He shakes his head. "No."

I pat his cheek, gently and with love.

"You will."

Despite a rather late night last night, instead of rolling over and going back to sleep when my internal alarm wakes me, I decide to slide out of bed and head to the dojo to practice for a while. It's still dark out, but that's to be expected only a few days after the Winter Solstice. The house is quiet — Pablo is still sleeping deeply; Justin and Nicole seem to be slipping and sliding through each other's dreams. Their qi is peaceful and joyful.

All is well this winter morning.

As I begin my practice in the dim light, I meditate on yesterday's events, particularly the dinner with my family next door. Bobby had been so broken when I'd confronted him beforehand. Despite that, he was his usual gracious and somewhat goofy self during dinner. Even in the midst of an emotional crisis, he can pull together a fantastic dinner party; I know beyond a shadow of any doubt that he will plan an amazing party for my eldest nephew. Even David had been able to hide his worry from everyone except me — teasing Pablo, exchanging jokes with Papa and Dad, and complimenting Tita and Mama as though he was a knight tending to the ladies of his liege lord. After dinner, Tita and Mama had captured Bobby while I helped David put away the leftovers. As usual, there will be a trip to the local homeless shelters with mounds of excess food. Pablo, Papa, and Dad waited for us in my house, and then the five of us waited for what seemed likes hours for Tita and Mama to return. In truth, it had only been just over an hour. My grandmother and mother are magic.

David stands when then Mama comes through the front door.

"Is he..."

Mama's beautiful smile lights up the room. She holds David's hands in her and nods to him. "We have lanced the wound, and he must grieve. He is at the very least as stubborn as my daughter, for at this moment Tita is doing her best to keep him from cleaning the kitchen.

"Now... you go to him. You have great love, you can help him heal. I promised him I would visit again to enjoy his kitchen while I am here. Tonight..." Mama looks at me with a knowing smile before looking back up at David's worried face. "Tonight he needs you, his heart."

"Thank you, Mrs. Yazzie. I wish there were enough words to tell you how much I appreciate you and Andi's grandmother helping Bobby."

"You have said all you need to say. You are Andi's dear friends. That is thanks enough for a mother who tends to worry."

I wrap an arm around David's waist. "Thank you, Mama. I'll just take David home and make sure Tita doesn't catch her heel on the cracks in the sidewalk."

"As if your mother can't find her way across such a flat surface with all the lights in these streets!" Papa says softly to Dad.

"Oh, I'm sure my daughter knows that, Pops. Appearances, you know."

I smile as I walk down the front stairs with David.

Pablo, remind Dad and Papa that I can still hear them... and tell them thank you.

We go in through the kitchen door, and I am relieved to find it empty. Messy, but empty. Tita is sitting with Bobby in his spare room that is his version of an office. Martha Stewart would be proud of all the... artsy craftsy things, I'm sure. David practically falls to his knees beside Bobby and wraps my best friend in his arms.

The dam has broken. Bobby may not have the same amount of grief to work through as Pablo did when he first lanced the wound of Rosalia's and Juan's deaths, but he still needs every bit as much love and reassurance to help him heal.

"Remember what I said, Roberto," Tita whispers just loud enough for the two of them. She stands, and I hold a hand out to her.

"Get some rest, guys," I say. "If you need some help cleaning up in the morning, just text me. After it's light. Don't come to my door."

Bobby hiccups a semi-hysterical laugh. "I owe you..."

"Hush, Bobby," I say as I lean down to kiss the top of his head. "Not tonight. Tonight you need David." I look at Tita. "Thank you, Tita. May I escort you to my lovely home?"

"It would be a pleasure, Andrea. You have such nice friends."

I glance at the Spirit standing insubstantially behind my Tita.

And my thanks to you, O Deer.

Deer nods and I walk with Tita out to the driveway where the rest of my family has decided to wait. I shake my head and, for good measure, roll my eyes at the lot of them.

"David will help his Roberto, just as you helped your Pablo to heal," Tita says, patting my hand. "I think only an occasional reminder about holding in pain will be needed, yes?"

"You are always right about these things, Tita."

"Oh, usually. Sometimes my granddaughter has her own moments of wisdom."

Our elders had returned to their hotel; Justin, Nicole, Pablo and I stayed up talking about... well, inconsequential things, really. Justin and I pretended to argue about baseball, he and Pablo pretended to bicker about football. Nicole laughed at it all. Eventually, Nicole admitted to being tired; she and my brother took themselves up to my guest room. I checked all my phones and email accounts before Pablo and I had turned in as well.

Deep sleep without dreams had been restful. My Taiji practice is energizing me and helping discharge the worry about Bobby out of my heart and mind. Because I always seem to wind up in that No Time place when I practice, I'm a little surprised that it's still dark when I head up the stairs.

"Hey, Sis. Didn't expect you to up so early."

I grin at Justin, kneeling on the floor in an Aikido meditation pose.

"You either. Need more time? You're welcome to use my dojo, you know."

He jumps up. "Nope, I was actually waiting for you. Got some time to chat?"

I gesture to the sofa. "Sure. Feels like Pablo has at least another half hour before he'll become conscious enough to notice my absence." I grin as I sit down. "What's up?"

"I was going to ask you that, sister mine." He studies me, as seriously as he knows how to be. "I figured maybe you'd be more willing to tell me what kind of terrifying things you do if Nicole wasn't around."

I shrug. "I'd like to think I'm not going to scare her out of the family."

Justin sighs. "I mean you, Andi. You are beyond unreasonable about talking about your Curse. Given what I remember when your Curse took you... Well, I think I have cause to worry about you. A lot. I'd like you to convince me that I'm wrong."

I look at him, really look at him. He's a grown man, in love with an incredible woman who loves him in return. He has a friend who has been affected by the Virus and has gone out of his way to help his friend. My baby brother isn't really a baby anymore, is he? I smile crookedly.

"Sometimes it's hard to remember you're all grown up, you know. I guess I don't need to protect you any more than I need to protect Pablo from the reality of being who I am." I sigh. "Okay. What do you know? I'll just work to fill in the gaps... and fetch the smelling salts if the gaps extend beyond truly enormous."

"Don't joke about this, Andi."

"I'm not joking, Justin. My life is weird, and for a while, it was out-of-control weird. I want to know how much of the weird you know about."

He shifts so that we're both sitting sideways on the sofa. "I know Mom worries. I know Tommy sighs with exasperation every time someone mentions your name. I know Dad says you're a big girl and can take care of yourself. I know Talia keeps telling me not to worry. I know Henry has been telling stories about coming out here at Halloween, but no one ever believes Henry's tall tales. And I don't think Henry's tall tales are very tall this time."

I nod. "Okay. Well, I appreciate Talia's faith... and her Sight. I'm not sure what stories Henry told, but he probably didn't tell the truth because no one would believe that either. I feel bad that I'm driving Tommy crazy. I love Daddy so much for believing in me, and I wish he could convince Mama that I really am fine. That said..." I shrug. "It really comes down to two main things: I'm more powerful than Master Chen ever thought I would be and I'm one of Denver's Protectors. I think everything else is related to those two things in a such a convoluted, messy way that it makes my head hurt."

He gives me a long, hard look. His aura flares with annoyance.

"Andi, I love you. But I hate having to hear rumors and half-truths about you through the family grapevine. You're not telling me anything that isn't helping me not be angry with you."

I take a deep breath and reach out to hold his hands. It reminds me of when we were little; I can't help smiling. I guess he feels the same because his smile mirrors mine.

"Well, I did say it was complicated. And I did say that it even makes my head hurt. Let's start with the second part... me being one of the Protectors of Denver. Mama worries too much because she forgets I heal well and heal fast. I haven't mentioned to anyone just how fast and how well I heal because I think it would even freak Tommy out.

"My relationship with Pablo over the years is partially interwoven with that job, and that job is the main reason I kept him at arms' length for so many years. I was afraid that any enemies I made could target him. And before you say anything... in retrospect, that was kind of stupid. Okay, really stupid. But he was going through the same thing himself. It wasn't until this past summer that I found out why."

"His wife and son, right?"

I nod. "Rosalia and Juan, yes." I can feel tears forming in my eyes and love swelling in my heart. "I don't remember if you realized it back when my Curse manifested that part of it was to collect memories. I don't know how or why I remember things other people have in their memories, but I've at least gotten a lot better at not letting their memories overwhelm me. But the fact that I didn't know about Rosalia and Juan gave me more clues about how that part of my Curse works. I never let Pablo past barriers I'd unconsciously put up, so the memories that he really, really didn't want to think about didn't manage to get downloaded."

I snort out a non-humorous laugh. "Propriety — something that was drilled into me for my first nineteen years — is a powerful firewall. But when I let people get close — people like Deb and Clara, Bobby and David, a few dozen other people I could name — I know things that I don't realize I know until it comes up in conversation."

Justin nods. "I think I remember you having a breakdown one day over something Dad swore he never told anyone. It was something about your friend Danny and his dad."

I nod. "Mostly about Little Danny. I had my own memories of him, a little girl's fuzzy memories. Those came into clear focus. And Little Danny's dad was our Dad's best friend. So Dad had lots of memories about him. And when the Curse first hit, I was overwhelmed by my own memories of everything... plus the memories of every person I had ever loved up to that point. The fact that it seems to have just been the most emotionally charged memories didn't really help. Good stuff, bad stuff... it was an emotional overload, which — as you might imagine — is exactly what a teenager needs."

He squeezes my hands. "I work with preteens who are already getting hormonal. Soccer is a good outlet for them. You and I had Aikido."

"I'm proud of what you do, by the way. If you could corner my beloved Pablo at some point and try to knock him in the same direction, I might not have to listen to his nonsense about having six or nine or twelve kids."

"He... What? He's insane, right?"

"He's trying to fill the hole in his life left by Juan. He knows, intellectually, that he can't. It doesn't stop his heart from wanting what his mind knows is impossible."

Justin nods. "Sure. I'm sure you've got some programs here that are similar to the after-school programs we have in Chicago. I don't see him as the soccer coach kind of guy, though." My brother grins at me.

"No," I agree, returning the grin. "But he isn't too bad at basketball."

"Perfect. I'll have a chat with him. But how is all this related to the Crazy Train you're driving?"

"Crazy Train?"

"That's how I explained it to Chris."

"Right. Well, according to Pablo, I'm a magnet for weird, which is probably even worse. How it's all related?" I take a deep breath and then sigh semi-dramatically. "That's where things get convoluted. Well... difficult to explain linearly, anyway."

"Well, Mom worries too much and Dad tries to keep her from so much worry. Talia is... Talia. When she says not to worry, I never know if she's talking about something in particular or if I'm just supposed to stop worrying in general. So that leaves Tommy, and the fact that you're driving him crazy, and Henry with his tall tales."

"Yeah, those are so..." I shake my head. "All the stuff I've been afraid to tell you, all the stuff I try to keep from the rest of the family... it's all wrapped up in that neat little bundle of Tommy's worry and Henry's..."

I pause, thinking about my cousin-twin. I smile and shake my head again.

"Henry works really hard at being a goof. He's got a natural talent for goofiness, Coyote nurtures it, and Henry practices. But when it comes right down to it, our cousin is more grounded than I am sometimes, is level-headed in a crisis, and can keep people from panicking. Of course, he can also drive people to drink, but I'm coming to see that as part of his charm. Our new Sister loves him."

"And is this new sister of ours part of this insanity that vexes cousin Medicine Man?" He grins at me and winks.

I chuckle. "Yes, but not for any reasons you might think." I sigh yet again. "I suppose if I go through this month by month or day by day, it might work. I think it started back in July when Tita got sick. Sort of."

"Right... she was stalked by an energy-sucking vampire, along with other elderly people in Flagstaff, and you destroyed a grocery store to perform an exorcism on the bad guy."

I blink. "Wow. Whose version of the story is that?"

Justin laughs. "Most of it is a distillation of events I got from my cousin-twin. I figured energy-sucking vampire made more sense to regular folks than whatever Tommy was calling him."

"Okay," I say slowly. "I can see your point. But sure, Tita wasn't really sick and we held a Medicine Dance for her anyway. It was..." I smile softly. Seeing all the Spirits had been such a beautiful thing. "Sometimes I wish the rest of you could see qi the way I do. Anyway, I think that was probably the first time I ever opened a portal to the realm of the Benevolent Spirits. Whatever Tsui had done to his victims wasn't allowing Deer to enter our realm to get close to Tita. But once Deer was able to reach Tita, the poison Tsui left behind was pulled out... the other Spirits helped destroy it once it was removed.

"Unfortunately, that's when I woke up Pablo's Ancestral... Cretin. He declared that Pablo was his Chosen One, that I was destined to stand against the coming Shadow, that apparently Pablo was supposed to be my right-hand guy or something. Also, unfortunately, my psychotic guardian Spirit at the time decided that Quetzalcoatl was going to be its best pal."

"Um, Sis? Your eyes are looking a little weird."

"Sorry. That's part of the story, but further down the timeline." I close my eyes and concentrate on staying calm. I feel Justin give my hands another squeeze.

"Right from the start, Raven and Quetzalcoatl tried to drive me off the cliff of sanity. I'm pretty sure there were days when a mental health professional would have had me in therapy. But when we got home, Pablo and I realized that we had been kind of foolish over the past few years... Except that everything that's happened since then couldn't have happened if we hadn't done exactly what we did. And honestly? Before Pablo was ready to tell me about Rosalia and Juan, I don't think I would have been able to believe him when he said he loved me.

"But things happen as they should and when they should, so we came home and..." I smile softly. "I think because of my particular Curse, we formed a marriage bond even before we were married. Bobby had been nagging me since the first second he laid eyes on Pablo, causing me to think moderately violent thoughts toward him and his matchmaking. We got home for one of his deranged theme parties and tried to give him a heart attack during his little matchmaking game that night. No heart attack, unfortunately... just a mess of babbling embarrassment.

"About a week later, Pablo started noticing some of the... hmm... gifts the Aztec loon bestowed on him as the Chosen One. It freaked him out, but to me, it just looked like being able to clearly see the qi moving in the winds. That's when Quetzalcoatl showed up again to tell Pablo he needed training. Pablo was willing, sure. But Quetzalcoatl implied that he didn't have the amount of time to train that I had with Master Chen. So he offered to take Pablo to his realm for training... that it would seem like three years to Pablo, but only a day for me."

I open my eyes again, swallow hard and hold tightly to Justin's hands. The only reason I don't have tears in my eyes is that I can see the golden rings of anger in my peripheral vision.

"Quetzalcoatl's earthly form is a winged snake. Never trust a snake that isn't one of the Benevolent Spirits." I close my eyes again; I feel Justin's worry.

"Only Tommy knows this part, and it's not something I ever wanted to share with anyone else in the family. But for the rest of this to make sense, I guess I need to tell you. Just stay in the present, Justin, and see that I am fine in this moment, okay?"

"I'm not going to like this, am I?"

I shake my head.

"Okay. I'm here with you in the present, Andi. And I'll keep in mind that I asked."

"Thank you." I pause a moment, coming to my center. I feel Mother lending her energy, supporting me. "Pablo wanted to wait until Monday to go with Quetzalcoatl. The fact that I knew Pablo would be going to another realm had such a visceral effect on me that I could barely breathe. I think I collapsed in the backyard... I remember Raven actually being concerned. Pablo was worried. I was in such pain... it was an almost unbearable physical pain, and I wasn't sure I could tolerate Pablo being gone for a day. And yet... I knew it was something he had to do. I remember him carrying me back into the house, I remember his worry. I remember him telling Quetzalcoatl to come back on Monday.

"And I told him to go with Quetzalcoatl that day. Right then. He didn't understand, and I couldn't explain — given the amount of pain I was in — that I wasn't sure I could survive until Monday. I have a high healing factor; unfortunately, that means I haven't had as many opportunities as other people to develop a high tolerance for pain.

"But Pablo did leave... thinking that I had rejected him. Denied him one last day of happiness before going off to hell for three years.

"What none of us understood at the time was the marriage bond Pablo and I had already formed. It kept me in a feedback loop with him. He suffered in a very real hell — I later caught glimpses of the world, and it was a horrifying place — for three years. I fell into a coma..."

I feel Justin's hands tighten over mine. "Be here now, brother.

"I was in a coma, suffering along with him, although in different ways. Every measure of pain he felt resonated back to me, highly concentrated. Every bit of torture he endured in those three years, I suffered in thirty six hours. He died and was brought back to life by Quetzalcoatl; in my coma, I was convinced that I had already died.

"When he returned, he had changed. I had changed. The part of me that fought and protected this city and these counties for nine years became stronger; the part of me that I let the rest of the world see became frightened. By this point, a mental health professional would have had me hospitalized and possibly drugged.

"Both of us changed so much in those three years or thirty six hours that we were nearly strangers. Pablo came home expecting everything to be exactly as it was when he left. Your sister was scared of him; Ninja wanted to beat the crap out of him."

I pause for another cleansing breath.

"Somehow... somehow we managed to reconnect. I could remember what we had, and I missed it. He never forgot what we had, but he could tell I was frightened. But... but we managed to reconnect." I smile. "Mostly. Enough that when he wanted to show off one of the things he learned in Quetzalcoatl's realm, I agreed."

I open my eyes again and know that they're clear. I smile wryly and shake my head. "Had I known that he'd learned to fly, I might not have been so quick to agree. But we flew from here up to Lookout Mountain because he wanted to make love under the stars." My smile turns into a wicked grin that is almost Ninja's. "I was still angry at the Aztec demigod asshole for hurting my beloved; he came home with so many horrible scars. We'd already learned that I could heal his wounds when we made love, so I pulled qi from Mother Earth and Father Sky... and apparently, Pablo used some Aztec blood magic that bound us together. Oh, his wounds were healed. As was the wound Mother Earth perceived in me. We formed a Bond stronger than any I've ever seen. Even death won't sever it. That's when I picked up the glowing eyes."

"I don't know if I understand these bonds you're talking about, except... well, I think maybe on some level I do."

I nod. "The connection you feel with Nicole? Oh, Justin, it's beautiful. Our grandparents, our parents, our aunts and uncles, even Charlie and Susan all have connections like that. I can see them, and they're just amazing. Until I saw the connection Papa and Tita have when she was in the hospital, I didn't know what I was looking at. I guess I'd probably call it pure love." I sigh with a peacefulness that always comes from seeing love in the world around me.

"But what do you mean about death not severing the bond? That doesn't make sense."

"Are you sure you want me to get into metaphysics?" I ask, eyes twinkling with humor now.

He grins. "You know, metaphysics and quantum physics aren't always as sharply delineated as some people would like to believe. And quantum physics is science. The fact that I don't understand it is irrelevant. Therefore, as a scientist, I am interested in hearing your hypothesis."

"Theory. I have a test case."

"Oh, this should be good."

I snicker at his sarcasm. "Most people who form bonds like this don't outlive their partner for very long. Hours, days... generally not more than a year."

Justin nods. "Sure. I've heard of plenty of cases when a perfectly healthy person dies not long after their spouse. I don't think any scientific studies have been done on the phenomenon, however. It's all anecdotal."

"True. But it happens because that bond is broken by death. It becomes such an integral part of a couple that the broken bond leeches life from the survivor. According to various belief systems, any number of things can then happen to a person's soul, spirit, essence, life force after they die."

"Right. Our spirits go to another, better world. The Catholic cousins believe in heaven and hell. My atheist friends... I'm never sure if it's a matter of not believing in the soul or if it's just a light that it gets extinguished."

"As Raven said in one if its rational phases, to each their own belief. Usually. I've recently had conversations with some individuals who... well, really tried to confuse me, but if I understand what they were saying, it could tie into the whole Eastern idea of reincarnation. When a person dies, they become part of the Universal Qi again and — apparently — add to the collection of knowledge in this Universal Qi library. And then they do it again. And again."

"Oh, I know this one. Once they've reached enlightenment, they escape Samara and attain Nirvana."

I consider the Buddhist philosophy in light of what those two have said and then shrug.

"That works as well as anything, I think. There are also some thoughts that certain souls decide to travel through lives together. There's certainly no hard evidence for that... only the sense that when you meet someone and instantly click with them, it was meant to be."

I shrug again.

"Oh, I should probably mention that Pablo came back from Quetzalcoatl's dimension with a hitchhiker — a piece of the evil we were going to be fighting. Shadowkin. Nasty stuff. We made a quick trip out to Ganado to visit Tommy for an emergency exorcism. Except we didn't know it was going to be an exorcism until we got there. Pablo just wanted some time to figure out what to do with all the new abilities he had. I figured Tommy and Ha'atathli Ravenclaw could give him some guidance. I don't know... it made sense at the time. But we got the nasty stuff out of him, and I'm going to need to figure out how to get the nasty stuff out of one of my people. But I'm getting ahead of myself."

Justin shakes his head. "Your stories are getting better, but they're really not very good."

"Right. Well, I haven't finished this one. You can grade it when I'm done. Anyway, you were asking about death not being something that severs the Bond Pablo and I have. This is where I tell you about my test case.

"I patrol the area above Lookout Mountain because certain wildlife needs to be reminded to stay away from the humans. And, by the way, I do that to keep the wildlife safe from the humans and not vice versa. Well, in the case of the Mountain Lion Sisters gang, to keep the poor folks in the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office from going insane with the constant pinging of the proximity sensors. One night, Raven went bonkers and was almost dive bombing me to get me to open a portal above an abandoned cabin up there. Imagine my surprise when I saw a man standing there trying to warn me about this coming Darkness. Well, he was trying to get a message to his wife about it, but... you know. I can play messenger, too."

I pause at the look Justin is giving me.

"Nope. Holding the questions until the end of the presentation, professor."



I shrug. "Okay. Turns out the guy had lived in that cabin with his wife and son. He had also been dead for ten or eleven years, depending on which account you use. Eleven, if you count the car accident that officials deemed to be his cause of death, but that was really faked so he could be kidnapped by a very evil person. Or ten, if you count the battle in which his wife shot him."

I pause again but Justin only nods and squeezes my hands.

"I spoke to him once more that night, this time on my way down the mountain. Time works differently in other dimensions or realms or whatever we want to call them. I got the feeling it had been considerably more for him than the hour or two it had been for me. In the first conversation, he... well, he told me about his actual death, when his wife killed him. He'd been... possessed? Infected? Just controlled? But Rene Jacobs hadn't died that day. Yes, his body did. But his soul, his spirit, his essence couldn't pass to the place of the dead because of his connection with his wife."

I close my eyes, but the tears fall anyway. What I did next... for him, for his Maddie, for our Maddie... Sometimes I'm not sure my heart is big enough to hold that much love. But I smile through my tears.

"He was in a bad place. Well, not the worst neighborhood as far as other dimensions go, I suppose, but not the greatest. I could see the love he has for his wife, Justin, and it's every bit as beautiful as all the love in our family. The second time I talked with him, he told me that the Darkness, the Shadow was close. And how It or its minions or maybe both used mutants to..." I shake my head. "Well, to do some really awful stuff and I was plenty scared. Not gonna lie.

"And all Rene wanted to do was watch over his Maddie — he could sometimes see her, but he couldn't keep a watch over her all the time because he needed to watch his own back. I'm a sap. You know it, I know it, we all know it." I open my eyes again and look at my brother. "I wanted to help him. I mean, duh. So I asked Raven if it would petition the Benevolent Spirits to allow him into their realm so he could truly be his Maddie's Guardian Angel. Raven thought maybe it would be possible, but Maddie herself would need to be present. And I didn't even know where on the planet the woman was."

I frown then, not sure where the story goes from here.

"All of this is the stuff that gives Tommy his migraines, right?" Justin asks.

"Oh, that's only part of it. Okay, most of it. Maybe."

"Uh huh. Well, you might as well keep going. I'm going to assume the world hasn't ended yet. I'm pretty observant about things like that."

I grin at him. "You're still a brat... you know that, right?" I sigh and become somber again.

"The next chapter starts when I get a call a week or so later from my contact out in Jefferson County asking for a meet up with her boss, the Sheriff out there. I guess that's when things started getting really crazy. I set up a meeting with him for a few days later — I was still employed then — and he tells me that Madeline Jacobs was coming back into town to clear out her cabin. Then we discovered that two of my people from Commerce City had gone missing, as well as a sweet old guy who runs a halfway house. This was Pablo's first night out as Peacekeeper. But before we could head home..."

I swallow hard and close my eyes again, holding Justin's hands tightly. "You know, I keep saying that my Curse is an asshole sometimes because it even serves up my memories fresh and clear," I whisper. "One of the people who'd gone missing was found murdered. It was horrible, Justin. It..." I have to take another shuddering breath. "The people who did that were monsters. The human variety. It was a message — to the police, to Ninja, I'm not really sure to whom else — that the Aryan Knighthood was back in town. They're the worst of the worst.

"I got a call from Jeffco at the scene that the cats were at it again, mucking with the prox sensors. There wasn't anything I could do for Sally; I'd already failed her. It was time for Detective Garcia to do his job.

"It wasn't just the cats, though. Rene was there again. He has a gift that allows him to... project memories? Things he sees? I don't really know. His son has the same gift. He'd seen his Maddie recently, I think. But I told him about his wife coming to town. About Sally and the Knighthood. He just... he just got it. And he said that I absolutely needed to tell his Maddie about what was happening."

I sigh. "Then Raven reminded me that Deer wanted to speak with him, to measure his heart."

At that, at least, I can finally smile again.

"It was cathartic in a way, opening the portal so Deer could speak with Rene. And Rene's truth, his love..."

I wipe the tears away with my shoulder and sniffle as I look at Justin again. "Yes, I give Tommy headaches. But most of the time, they're totally worth it. Anyway, the next day I had lunch out at Sheriff Baker's house... met his wife Amanda, as well as Madeline Jacobs and her whole family. The only business that was discussed was the movement of her arsenal through my territory. I agreed to meet her up at the cabin the next day. I didn't think that was the right venue for telling her about Rene.

"I went up there the next morning and with her son's help showed the two of them the conversations I'd had with Rene. I could sense Rene's presence even before opening the portal; I think Maddie did too. So with Maddie's help, I opened up the portal to where Rene was, opened up the portal to the realm of the Benevolent Spirits, and shut off access to the place where Rene had been. He was there, in front of their cabin, as real as any of the Spirits are when we know them as children, or when we see them during the Dances. I can't even tell you how wonderful it was to see them together again... although Leon, being a teenager, was a bit embarrassed by the affection they showed. He's a good kid. When she met him, Mama said he reminded her of you." I grin. "I still can't imagine you as a shy person."

He nods. "Yeah, I think I spent a few minutes in junior high school being shy for some reason."

"Nut. Anyway, Rene had to go with the rest of the Spirits to their realm... learning how to be a Spirit, I suppose. Maddie was almost an entirely different person than the one I'd met the day before. Not really, but much more... light in her soul, maybe? I did tell her about the coming Shadow, about Sally and Ben and Dick. She offered the services of her Mate, Logan, to help track Ben and Dick. Hell of a tracker. I'm pretty good, and he's several orders of magnitude better.

"I'm going to give you the bullet point version of the next couple of days because I'm still a little emotional about it... as in, ticked off.

"We found Ben and Dick. Ben was infected with the Shadowkin; Quetzalcoatl took him off to one of his realms to keep him safe. Dick, being Normal and an old man, was taken to the hospital. Maddie interviewed the creeps who were holding them and managed to get at least some information from them. Logan followed one of them back to base while Maddie and I went to visit Old Mama with the insane plan we had. I would like to point out, for the record, that it was Maddie's idea. Mostly. I invited Henry out to help with the evacuation of Commerce City, and any stories he tells of his visit then may or may not be true. However, if the stories involve Black Wolves, Ghosts or the US Army Special Forces, there's probably more than a grain of truth in them.

"It turns out that Logan got kidnapped by the guy behind all of this, who was the same guy who was behind the attack on Leon's school ten years ago, who orchestrated Rene's death. Very much not a nice person. It was extraordinarily difficult to keep the anger out of my system, but the people of Commerce City and the people of Five Points are amazing. Old Mama and her community welcomed several hundred people into their homes to keep them safe from the very bad people who wanted to hunt down the mutants."

I take a deep breath and hold it for several seconds. Justin holds my hands firmly and does not flinch in the slightest from my gaze. I let my breath out slowly.

"We took care of the threat of the foot soldiers — most of it, anyway. It was Halloween when that part of the plan began... just barely Halloween. The veils had fallen, and I had access to... so much more. More power, more speed, more help from the Spirits. Later that morning, we took the fight to the very bad person.

"That was when I adopted Maddie into our family and clan... Cat had taken a liking to her and seemed reluctant to join her when she left for the enemy's facility. It's an instinct that I can never regret."

I manage a smile, a small one, before continuing.

"It turns out the enemy was experimenting on children..."

Ninja looks out, the Warrior is strong and capable. The Warrior does not abide the harming of children.

"He and his nest of vipers were eliminated. The eight children he held in his facilities were rescued, although there is one whose mind is still wandering. We discovered other things in his facility, one of which was his collection of recordings. Interestingly, he managed to capture images and sounds of... ghosts. To Maddie and Rene, they were speaking many different languages from southeast Asia, from Africa... although they couldn't understand what was being said. But I heard the precursor language that the Diné and the Ndeh have in common. And... I translated the recordings. To the ninety two children who had walked on, the ghosts encouraged them to come away from the pain. To the eight who remained, they tried to give the children hope that their rescuer would arrive. That the Warrior would come.

"That I would come."

I shake my head.

"This is beyond even my understanding, although the Spirits guessed that perhaps time was spiraling in that place under the mountain. Maddie and I sat for quite a long time writing out page after page after page of messages that the children wanted to give to anyone waiting for them."

We are both silent for a moment.

"I don't know how you could do that, Andi. Fighting and your veiled references to killing, even that hard look in your eyes... I can almost understand it. If you are truly a warrior, then yes... I do understand that you must do things others can't. But ninety two children..."

"Be in the moment, be with each child. Do not think. That's how I got through it."

"I think that might be the hardest thing I've heard so far."

"I think it might be the hardest thing I did in those few days. I had so much anger that I wasn't sure I wouldn't take a wrong step somewhere. Pablo worries a lot about my... No, I can't really call it a job. As the Warrior, there are things I do that he can't as a detective in the Denver Police Department. That doesn't mean I'm doing illegal things, exactly. It's just that I guess my job is more like being in the military. Except not. And stop rolling your eyes at me, Justin."

He chuckles. "Listen, I know there are lines, and I have no idea where they are. So I'm not even going to worry about it. You've always been one to color outside the lines anyway."

"Oh, really?"

"Youngest Kudan ever? I'd say so."

"Hmm. Fine."

"So. What other things should I know?"

I shrug. "I'm not sure you should know any of this. However, before you start pouting again, I'll finish up the story." Then I stick my tongue out at him, making him smile.

"Henry went home the next day. He had tried to make Pablo insane, he had endeared himself to Maddie just by being himself. Gods know I love my cousin-twin. And he really was a big help during the evacuation with some of the more sensitive folks in Commerce City."

"No, stop. Henry? Helpful with people who are sensitive?"

"Fairly empathic. Apparently, Henry just kept talking so that they didn't have a chance to notice much outside the van until they got to one of the churches down in Five Points. And his wackiness helped keep me from getting too stressed out. However, the morning he left — you know he almost always flies standby — he was trying to make breakfast in my kitchen. In the dark."

"Oh, no."

"Oh, yes. The noise woke me up; fortunately, Pablo was sleeping much more deeply. He really needed sleep. I did get even by sneaking up on him and causing him to drop my cast iron skillet on his foot, though."

Justin snickers.

"I got him out the door after feeding him and went back to sleep for a couple of hours. One of the Spirits woke me up to tell me an enemy was approaching. This is absolutely not something that the rest of the family needs to know. The last member of the Aryan Knighthood who wasn't in jail happened to be a patrolman for DPD. I let him into the house and taunted him enough that there was a reasonable expectation that my life was in imminent danger. Pablo shot him. That earned him some administrative leave while the department verified it was a legitimate shooting.

"Of course, the crazy best friend had called 911 when he heard the shots. And Pablo had called his Captain at some point. So the Captain was here, but so was one of the senior patrol officers that knows Ninja extremely well. Fortunately, the Captain — who does know my secret, and has been instrumental in keeping the two parts of my life separate — understood the problem. I gave the Captain my reports, Pablo talked to Officer Wright. Wright's latest rookie got to talk to Bobby."

"Reports? You mean one report, right?"

"Nope. He needed to have one official report from Andrea Yazzie about the shooting. He also needed to have one unofficial report from Ninja. All part of the full-service package of weird!

"Oh, and that's when I discovered that I'd picked up three new guardian Spirits — Cobra, Fox, and Opossum. Raven was particularly demented that morning. Hmm. I forgot to mention that we had a meeting with Captain Sanchez before Logan got kidnapped that involved inviting Quetzalcoatl. Hoo boy did I ever piss him off!" I grin Ninja's very nasty grin. "Raven had merely been bonkers that night.

"Anyway, I called Tommy after the Captain left the bedroom where I was hiding. I was freaked out about having additional Spirits around. I mean, it was fine on Halloween, but after the veils rise again? No, not so fine. He thought I ought to go out to visit him. I mentioned maybe bringing Maddie and her family so she could meet the folks who could get out to New Mexico. Tommy took it and ran with it, apparently, because Aunt Sonia and Mama and Aunt Alicia and Tita had already been conspiring by the time I called Aunt Sonia later in the day."

"I really, really wanted to come out there to be with everyone! But... well, short notice, plus Nicole's job and all. I hear things were weird there, too. And that you guys snuck out in the middle of the night," he says with a grin.

"It was early in the morning, and I'll get to that." I chuckle and wonder why I was so worried about protecting my little brother from my life.

"So, let's see... We're up to... Friday? Yep, that's when we went out to Nageezi. It was great. Very relaxing. Billy and the twins were thick as thieves. Believe it or not, I think those two wild children actually settled Billy down! Talia was kind of freaked out by all of them; apparently, they were as blank as Tommy is. Rene came by, and I'm not really sure what the five of us did — me and Pablo, Maddie and Logan and Rene — but it totally unnerved Leon and pissed Talia off, because now she could see Maddie and her family. Well, except for Rene, but he's a Spirit."

"And that was another migraine for cousin Medicine Man?"

"Well, he didn't find out until the next day when he and elder Ravenclaw came over from Ganado, but... yeah. Eagle said something about the five of us beginning some sort of integration, Cat just said we were Becoming. Oh, Eagle is now Pablo's guardian Spirit."

"Cool! Dad said Hawk Danced with him in Flagstaff."

"Yeah, that was before Quetzalcoatl showed up. Mmm, let's see. Oh, Great Spirit called us the Five Who Are One, and everything I've experienced since that day seems to add up to something like a grounding wire so that I don't go ballistic. Maybe? It's only been a few weeks, so there's likely more to be learned." I pretend not to notice his blank look. "Ah, and during the integration or whatever, Maddie and I managed to share parts of our gifts with each other. My healing factor is as high as hers and Logan's; with training and practice she could probably see qi as well as I do, though I'm not sure about manipulating it."

"I think I know how Tommy feels."

"Probably not," I say, laughing. "You don't know exactly how badly I broke his worldview. It's worse for him.

"Now, the next day, the rest of the family arrived. The five of us were interrogated by elder Ravenclaw. Oh, and apparently when I went through my last life-changing event — accepting my role as Warrior — Raven didn't exactly agree to continue being my guardian Spirit. Raven had spent all that time since Quetzalcoatl woke up driving me out of my mind because it thought I should have been following the same path Tommy did."

"Uh, I'm not sure I can disagree with that."

"I know. But because of the Shadow, because of the great darkness and evil in the world, I needed to walk the Warrior's path." I shrug. "When I first got back to the States, I tried to just... I don't know, be normal, I guess. But shit happens, and if I can help make bad stuff not happen for people, sign me up."

Justin smiles. "You know what? I love you, Andi."

I lean forward and hug him. "Thank you, little brother. I love you, too."

"And that leaves your sneaking off in the middle of the night," he says as we sit upright again.

"Well, I traded Raven in for Bear first. Then we had a Dance, which was wonderful. After dinner, the Pentad — that's what we're calling ourselves — went off to that nice rock and shale part of Uncle Leon's property. Downtime, you know? And damn, the stars are stunningly beautiful when there aren't any city lights to mess up the view." I sigh.

"Unfortunately, a nasty phone interrupted our appreciation of the Milky Way. Turns out Maddie's godfather was really sick, and she needed to get back to France. And also, unfortunately, before we could head back to the house, Quetzalcoatl showed up."

I shake my head.

"That is one crazy demigod, that's for sure. He was insisting that Pablo needed to go off somewhere with him to meet his queen so they could start rebuilding the Aztec Empire. And yeah, that's definitely how crazy he sounded. It turns out that this queen was the Chosen One of Quetzalcoatl's brother, Tezcatlipoca. And this Chosen One of Tezcatlipoca was the one who had helped that very evil man kidnap a hundred children. And also helped do a lot of other really awful stuff. Needless to say, none of us were interested in Quetzalcoatl's psychotic fantasy.

"So he kidnapped Pablo."

I pause, pursing my lips, then shake my head.

"Although I would discover over the next few weeks that my powers hadn't even come close to maxing out, I was able to find the dimension, realm, world, whatever where Quetzalcoatl had taken Pablo. I opened a portal to that realm — turned out to be Tezcatlipoca's dimension — and the four of us went in and rescued Pablo. I can't tell you how badly I wanted to hurt that skank that thought she could steal my husband from me. Bitch. But I knew I couldn't kill her in Tezcatlipoca's world... instincts, you know? But we did get Pablo out of there.

"And then we went off to France."

"You know... you seem to go dimension hopping as easily as some of my college roommates went bar hopping."

I shrug. "A gal's gotta do what a gal's gotta do."

"Unlike other people who might be surprised by your decision to go to France with our new sister, I completely understand. Family does what it can to support others in happy times and sad times."

I smile and nod. "Exactly. And her godfather... such a dear man, Justin! I have Maddie's memories of him, I have Rene's memories of him, I have Logan's memories of him. We visited a bit the first morning, just the five of us — Alois was not as surprised as some would be that Rene is now truly Maddie's Guardian Angel, and can manifest in the human dimension. Then we went back the second morning with the children. That was much more somber. Logan and Pablo took the children home; Maddie, Rene and I stood witness for Alois as he took his final walk. Such a bright light he was! I know I will feel what Maddie and Rene felt that day when it comes time for Papa and Tita, for Mama and Dad to take their final walks. And may those days be far, far in the future!"

"Amen to that. And I'm intrigued by this Rene. Will we get to meet him?" Justin has a glint in his eye that heralds much mischievousness. It would seem that my little brother is far more open to accepting the impossible than I gave him credit for.

"You will," I respond, grinning. "He'll be at the wedding, although he'll only be substantial enough for the Pentad to see him. Unless Pablo can spin a tale worthy enough... which, given the number of people already involved, I doubt it. However, he'll be at the reception. Sort of undercover. He'll be posing as one of Pablo's friends. And he'll be outrageously flirting with our sister."

"I will defend her honor with my dying breath!" he says, somewhat over the top on the dramatic scale.

I laugh. "And Maddie will be the one to cause your dying breath. You should know better than to come between a woman and her husband."

"Wait... he's... Oh. Oh! Okay. Nope. As long as they don't cause a scene at my dear and wonderful sister's reception, I'll just enjoy the spectacle. But won't her current husband be jealous?"

"Logan? Ha. No. And they're Mates. Logan is an Elder."

Justin blinks. "From the stories."

"Yep. And in real life."

"Andi... that's... that's so freaking wonderful! And I'll bet that's another headache for Tommy, right?"

"Yep. You know, you are being so cool about all the weird. Maybe I should make you move to Denver to help keep me sane."

"Nuh uh. If I'm going to be helping any superheroes, it's going to be my buddy, Chris. Seems like he needs more help than you do. Well, he's been pretty okay with all of this stuff... a lot less freaked out than a certain person that nearly died in front of me when I was an impressionable young lad."

"Sorry. I know you were scared. Hell, I was scared! I was so scared and then tired by the time I got to Master Chen's village that I didn't realize how much I missed you all until I'd been there a week. And then I missed you all so much every day."

"Dad kept telling Mom that you would be fine. And then they'd both tell me that you were fine. There were so many letters I wrote and pictures I drew and little things that I collected... all for you."

"Mail delivery day was the highlight of my month. I still have all your letters."

"Seriously? I'm pretty sure most of them are worthy of a shredder."

"Nope. They're precious. And even if I don't read them all the time like I did back then, I look at the box and memories come flooding back. Good ones. Really, really good ones."

"Hmm. You are a sap."

"I am. And as long as I don't hear the rumor around the water cooler in the Super Heroes break room, nephew Leon will be safe. He assured me, however, that the only gossip is Iron Man. This, of course, disappointed me."

"And now you're talking crazy. Are we caught up on the life and times of Andrea Yazzie? Oooh, no! We're not! You got laid off. Finish your story!"

I grin at him. "Fine. After saying goodbye to her godfather, Maddie rode around Paris for a while... Did I mention she bought me a new motorcycle? A Ducati! Oh my gods, Justin, it's a dream to ride! Anyway, riding around the roads in France is a lot different than here. We were going close to two hundred miles an hour and didn't even give anyone a heart attack! It's more fun being Ninja at home because Ninja is kind of naughty and when people don't cooperate by being startled when I fly past them... well, it's not fun.

"Did I mention she's the Super in France? Well, possibly all of Europe. There might be some flying under the radar like I do. Anyway, La Loup Noir rode to one of her usual haunts; Ninja followed. A clinic there that helps the Cursed who live in the catacombs had some sort of emergency. One of the Elder... Feral women was having babies. She expected two, wound up having four. They needed some extra arms and then later an escort home. I'm glad Pablo stayed with the kids when Logan... Wolverine... came out. Those babies even touched my cold heart..."

"You do not have a cold heart."

I shrug. "There are times, Justin... there are times. But the littlest one was having difficulties. He wanted to stay with his Mama, and his sisters and brother were trying to call to him. It was weird... I could see the energies they were trying to send to him, but because they were already here in the world, it was just diffusing. I helped them focus it, and the littlest one agreed to join them. Such tiny little warriors those younger two are! I'd like to see them in another twenty years, see what has become of them." I sigh. "Well, we needed to come home, and we did. Charlie and Susan brought me my Harley, which is now officially mine. I don't need to share it with Ninja. Of course, Ninja won't let Andi play with her Ducati."

"Um, Sis? Do you always talk about yourself in the third person? Should I start worrying?"

"No, and no. Just sometimes when it seems to make sense. In my head. Maybe not to other people. Don't worry.

"So, we had a great visit with your cousin-twin and his financée. Charlie is doing good work. I'm really proud of him."

"He tells me about his many projects. I don't know where he gets the energy. But you're right, he's doing really fantastic work."

"Let's see, I think that's when I started having remarkably strange dreams. And my power was definitely increasing by then. I'm not quite sure I was convinced I was a nuclear power plant yet, but I was starting to formulate the idea. The day after Charlie and Susan left to head up to visit the Lakota elders, Pablo and I decided to enjoy a day off work by going down to Colorado Springs and hike through the Garden of the Gods."

"I think I remember going there when I was really young. Maybe the year after we came home from Japan. Lots of big rocks. Pretty."

"It really is. Had a bit of excitement there, however. This is something else you may never, ever tell anyone else. I could sense the existence of a portal along one of the back trails. It was an ugly thing that had, in a weird energetic way, been sutured open. It hurt Mother a lot. I was pretty sure it was a portal back to Tezcatlipoca's realm; it had that same foul feeling to it. Naturally, I needed to close it up. That skank Chosen One of Tezcatlipoca was probably using it, and I really did not want that bitch anywhere in this world. So I started picking at the sutures... Father helped. It was a little like picking apart knots in yarn, and pull bits of twigs and dirt out, and then picking apart more knots.

"And then the skank whore bitch slut showed up.

"And the Spirits couldn't reach me. So, it was me... Mother, who was trying to keep my tugging from causing earthquakes and tsunamis... Father, who was lighting the places I'd missed... and Pablo, who had to deal with the crazy woman.

"As I was getting to the core of the knots, there was something about it that hurt the bitch. That was good. Also unfortunate, because then she decided she wanted to cause me a great deal of pain. I could hear Pablo fighting her. There was something like Shadowkin, but not alive, fouling up the portal, too. But finally... finally I got all the knots released, stuffed the poison into the portal, and closed the damn the thing. I could hear the bitch scream... Oooh, I sure did hurt her!

"You know how the bad guys always want to make a speech? She did, too. I had corrupted her 'husband,' and Lord Tezcatlipoca was going to be annoyed and blah blah blah. Pablo was down and in a lot of pain. His healing factor isn't as high as mine. Apparently, the crazy lady decided she had to kill me because... I don't know. She was batshit crazy? Except she couldn't work her magic on me. Interesting. Well, I thought it was interesting. She said I was protected by gods. Weird, right? Spirits, sure. But the Spirits aren't gods. Also, they couldn't reach me.

"So, I'm gathering all the considerable amount of energy that Mother and Father are happy to share and would have turned her into a crispy critter if the Ancestral Asshole hadn't shown up just then and attacked me! Well, I had to fry him instead.

"And then... well, the bitch shot me. Dead. I felt my sternum shatter — painful, I do not recommend it. But you know what? Once everything went dark, there wasn't any pain. No big deal. And I got the chance to chat with Great Spirit again, so that was really nice. I really love chatting with her. But I don't think I was there for very long — remember, I heal fast, so my body was already knit back together — when I felt that tug back to my body. Gotta say that being able to heal from dead is a handy skill to have. And I would prefer not doing it, and not just because it upsets Pablo. And the entire Pentad, apparently, although I think Maddie and I worked out the bit that caused that particular problem."

"And you're babbling now, Andrea, because you're trying to keep me from freaking out, aren't you?" Justin's hands are squeezing mine so tightly that it would probably not be the least bit comfortable if I were Normal.

"No, trying to keep us both from freaking out, really. Because you know what? It still freaks me out. So you understand why Mama and Dad and everyone else in the family has to absolutely, positively never hear about this."

I wiggle my fingers, and he loosens his grip a little.

"You know how I said the thing about the dead kids was the worst thing? Nope. This is this the worst thing."

"I won't argue with you, although from my perspective, I think the kids were still worse. But not by much."

"Well, clearly you just got up and brushed yourself off."

"Um, no. I just got up, walked over to where the skank was straddling my husband and trying to wring his neck, and I twisted her neck. Made her dead. With no chance for resurrection. And that's when all the Spirits showed up again. I guess her evil juju was keeping them away. Pablo was annoyed, a little, that I killed her because that isn't following cop rules, but I'm not a cop so... whatever. I think I might still be angry about that slut."

"If this glowing eyes thing you have going on means you're angry, then yeah. You're still angry."

"Hmm. Well." I close my eyes, take a cleansing breath, remember to be here, to be in this moment, and breathe again. I open my eyes and look at Justin. "Some things just... rile me up."

"I suppose I can understand the emotional parts of it, Andi. If anyone tried to hurt Nicole... I'd probably hurt myself in my rage. But all the rest of it? Ah... more headaches for Tommy?"

"You know... I'm not even sure I mentioned that to Tommy. Yet. Life has been kind of busy. Quetzalcoatl showed up again, trying to be a royal pain in the ass. Remember that he had taken one of my people off to keep him safe? Well, he dumped Ben on the ground in such bad condition it's a wonder he survived the fall. Rene whisked him off to the hospital. I got so pissed off at Quetzalcoatl that I stuffed him back in his dimension and shut the door. And his second door, too. Cat says I call the portals to me. The other Spirits really didn't want to tell me anything. In fact, they have been singularly unhelpful, for the most part, since that day."

I sigh and close my eyes.

"I think pretty much everything else has been anticlimactic, although some of it has been really weird. More strange dreams, but one was actually exceptionally helpful in getting a handle on all this power I have. The FBI wants me to... to recover the bones of those ninety two children. It can be done, but at what cost to the hearts of a father who is a Spirit and the Warrior who will help him? But they have a forensic anthropologist who actually wants to help. That's rare enough. I've apparently made friends with a squad of Special Forces people. I went with my liaison officer in Adams County to deliver the note from their son, one of those ninety two children. I didn't want to do that. Dennison didn't want to do it. But we did. And that family..." I shake my head. It's still so hard to believe. "They found peace, Justin. I did that for them... so whatever suffering I endured to bring them that peace was worth it. I think. Somewhere in there, I got laid off."

I open my eyes, but the tears merely pool there.

"And yesterday, I went with that same officer to meet his parents. Because they don't think being a Deputy Sheriff in Colorado is good enough for their precious son. I was all set to tell them that Brian is an important part of my team, no lies, not kidding around, no hyperbole. I couldn't do my job without these people. But they didn't want to hear it." I shrug. "Apparently, they're a bit bigoted about people who aren't like them, and even more narrow-minded about the Cursed. They caused a scene. The concierge called the County instead of City... at my suggestion, of course. I think Abe might have talked some sense into them. Brian's mom is a hot mess, definitely needs medical attention. I think she had a mini-stroke. Well, that's what her meridians looked like. The doctors can deal with that kind of regular crazy.

"And... that's about it. Everything else is just normal living."

Justin pulls me into a tight hug.

"You're going to stop trying to protect me, right? You're not going to fib to me, and you're not going to sugarcoat things for my fragile self, right?"

I smile as I hug him tightly. "You have a higher clearance than my FBI contact... although maybe not as high as Pablo's."

"Fair enough."

"And I might have sugarcoated some of today's tale, but I won't add more sugar than today's story had."

"Again, I'll accept that. I just want to know what's happening in your life, Andi. We've missed out on so much because we've been apart for most of our lives. I want that to stop. Okay?"

"Yeah. I'm good with that. I'd still like you to come to Denver."

He releases me and laughs. "Nope. How about you and Pablo come to Chicago?"

"Ha. Maddie has already tried talking us into moving to Paris."

"No! You can't go to Paris! That's way too far away."

"Don't worry, Justin," says Pablo from the archway, "Andi and I know how important family is. We're not leaving Denver anytime soon. Want some coffee?"

"You bet!" He jumps up and walks over to the stairway. "Hey, Nickel!" he calls up. "Pablo has coffee for us! Come on down!"

I laugh as Pablo holds out a hand to me. "Nickel?"

Justin looks over at us. "No, no... only I get to call Nicole 'Nickel'."

"You know, there's a lot of that going around. Come to think of it, only Rene and I get to call Madeline 'Maddie'... the rest of you have to use her full name or 'Lin'. And don't get me started on the convoluted nickname rules for the O'Shaughnessy family!"

Pablo shakes his head before Justin can ask. "Nope. You probably don't want to know. It's a story about your sister's imaginary friend. Or maybe just someone she met when she went to some other dimension without the rest of us. In either case, you'll only be more confused than you are now."

"Without large quantities of caffeine, I don't think I can handle any further confusion," Justin admits.

"Andi's been practicing the fine art of storytelling." Pablo looks at me. "With mixed results, I should add."

"Nonsense! I just tailor the tale to the audience. It is the story of how I met Maddie that you refer to, isn't it?" I grin back at him.

"Yes. And which version did you tell your brother?"

"The truth."

He looks at me with surprise and skepticism. "Seriously?"

"Sure. He's been nagging me to spill all the beans about my life. I spilled enough that Justin isn't going to nag me anymore."

"As long as she doesn't go back to trying to protect her little brother from the big bad world," Justin says.

"Right. That, too."

Pablo shakes his head. "Now you're making my head hurt."

"Justin, are you being a pest again?" Nicole asks as she steps into his waiting arms at the bottom of the stairs.

"Not I! My sister is torturing her almost husband. Practicing."

Nicole laughs. "Should I be taking lessons?"

"I don't think so. I suspect you both know all the same tricks. Well, unless you have superpowers that you haven't told me about yet."

Justin grins at Nicole, and she pats his cheek.

"Just the ones you already know about... I don't get lost in Chicago, and I put up with you."

I snicker.

"Hey! Not getting lost in Chicago is a superpower!" my little brother says.

"Oh, I believe you, Justin. I was snickering about the other one."

He looks from me to Nicole and then to Pablo... who laughs.

"You get used to it. You sister has turned into a smart aleck."

Justin sighs. "Okay... it might take a day or two. So... what are the plans for today?"

"Breakfast first." I turn toward the kitchen and see that Pablo already has the table set. "We have some coffee cakes from the Human Tsunami, or I could make omelets."

"Human Tsunami?"

Oh, dear Nicole. She forgets I can hear exceptionally well. With Dad and Papa, I think it's a running joke... like the stuff Dad does with Uncle Junior and Uncle Leon. I grin and let Pablo answer, however.

"Bobby... the crazy man next door?"

"Ah. Well, whatever is easiest."

I shake my head as I pull out the cookware. "Omelets it is!" From the refrigerator, I pull out the eggs, vegetables, and meat. "Hope you like Western style. Pablo, would you dice up the ham, please?"

"Just have a seat," he says to Justin and Nicole. "While we have an abundance of madness, at least we have a method. For cooking breakfast, at any rate."

Between the two of us, we have omelets made, bread toasted, juice and coffee poured, and everything on the table in record time. Of course, I do move a little faster than what might be considered normal once or twice. Or maybe three times. At Nicole's gasp, Justin whispers, "Don't worry. Happens a lot when she's around family, around people who know her secret." I smile to myself before delivering the plates of omelets to the table and sliding in beside Pablo.

"Are we placing bets on how long it will be before the crazy man breaks down our door?" Pablo asks after half his omelet is demolished.

"Nope. David promised to text me if they need anything. Personally, I think they could use a little quiet time to process the healing presence of Mama and Tita."

Justin nods. "They're magical, that's for sure. So... does that mean we have a free day?"

I sigh. "I never know anymore, Justin. I'm a magnet for weird, and I'm trying to go with the flow, expect the unexpected... that sort of thing."

"Didn't Perry say he'd try to handle anything that comes up while our families are in town?"

I nod. "Except for Christmas Day, which is his day off. With two little ones, he ought to spend the day with his family." I roll my eyes at Pablo. "And you know Old Mama is going to call me before she calls him... assuming I can ever talk her into calling him."

Pablo chuckles; Justin and Nicole merely look confused.

"Peregrine is our Sponsored Super, and Old Mama is miffed that he chose that particular name. Apparently, in her opinion, the only peregrines in Denver are the ones that keep our pigeon population in check." I smile and shake my head. "I think I nearly have her convinced that his name is honoring those very falcons and that he is doing his best to keep the population of outlaws in check. Given another few years... I think she'll come around."

"Wait..." Justin stares at me as I sip my coffee. "You have three Supers here in Denver?"

Pablo and I exchange a look; we both sigh.

"When I started doing this, I was the only one here. And I stayed so far under the radar that Pablo's boss was the only person higher than the beat cops who knew I even existed. Even Pablo didn't know... although..." I glance at him and grin, then look at Justin again. "...he's a smart guy. He didn't know only because he didn't want to know. And until this past summer, Captain Sanchez was the only person who knew both sides of my life. Now? Good grief! I feel like half the world knows. Well, it's not the case, but some days..." I sigh again.

"Anyway, Perry came to town a few years back, and even he didn't know I was here for something like six months." I laugh. "It still makes me chuckle every time my Douglas County contact describes the look on his face when she told him I'd taken care of some problem they were having down there. Pablo didn't start doing the superhero gig until around Halloween, and he's still not all that serious about it."

"Hey! I am serious!" Pablo protests. "I just put my detective job ahead of the superhero one."

I nod. "As I said, not all that serious." I nudge Pablo with my shoulder and wink at my brother. "He does have a hard job as a detective, and honestly? Most of the time, Perry and I can cover anything that the local law enforcement people can't handle. Maddie sort of had the same reaction you did... she needs to cover most of Europe. By herself. I guess the Irish guy decided to come over to the US for some reason — temporarily, if what my Army buddy says holds any water. Still... yes. There are three Supers in Denver. And yes. I know there's only one in Chicago."

Then I treat Justin to a Ninja grin. "There's one Sponsored Super in Chicago. There's one Sponsored Super in Denver. There are two Supers in Denver who aren't Sponsored, and even Mr. Slacker here is more official than I am despite the fact that I've been at it longer than him or Perry. How many Supers are there in Chicago that aren't Sponsored? There probably isn't any way to tell. Sure, I get that your Emerald Shark might be busier than Peregrine. But who's to say there aren't other people who don't want the spotlight — like me — or who have minor powers like it seems your friend Chris has?" Again, I shrug. "Maybe someone has a minor ability to heal folks, and they go around making sure their friends and family stay healthy. You know how many different Curses there are in the Nations. Someone like Talia could be gently nudging people away from personal disasters."

Nicole looks at me quizzically. "I can see why Justin has been so frustrated with you, Andi. No, no... I just mean that he knows about things I've never even thought about before. I guess I just accepted that Emerald Shark does what she does... and that was that. I never thought about minor gifts and how people could put them to use to help others." She smiles then. "I think if I knew more about all the genetic mutations that happen and the way the Virus works on people, I probably would have been as curious as Justin was about what you do."

"I assume Justin will tell you the story I told him this morning."

I look at my brother with raised eyebrows.

"Oh, definitely!" he says cheerfully. "Even though you're the only people in the family that knows Nicole and I are engaged, we're still engaged. So she gets to hear all the good stories. I probably won't even embellish yours. Much."

"Gee, thanks. And when are you planning on telling the rest of the family?"

"We didn't want to overshadow your day, Andi. We'll wait a couple of months and send the message through the family grapevine," Nicole says with a smile.

I reach across the table and take her hand. "No, don't wait that long. And wouldn't it be wonderful to tell everyone in person? Why don't you let the family know at our reception? Later in the day, before Yani and Daniel need to leave to put Little Kai to bed."

"Are you sure, Andi? That's still your day... it should be all about you and Pablo."

I squeeze her hand and laugh. "Oh, Nicole! My brother has not told you enough about the family!"

"Yes, I have! And I still think we shouldn't horn in on the Andrea and Pablo festivities."

Sighing, I let go of Nicole's hand, give Justin a serious stink eye, and look at my Husband.

"Youngsters these days," I say sadly.

"It's fine, dear," he replies as he wraps an arm around my shoulders. "If they don't want to add their joy to the joy of our day, we'll still have plenty of happiness to last all our lives."

"You're right. Still... they're just so silly."

"Of course, they are. We love them anyway."

"Fine! Okay! We'll do it your way!" Justin exclaims.

"We will?"

"Oh, if we don't, my dear sister will find some way of making it happen on her terms, which probably won't bode well for me." Justin glares at me.

I just smile. "It's such a delight to have a brother as brilliant as you, Justin!"

My brother rolls his eyes at me, and I grin. As we're just about finished with breakfast, I look at Pablo with an expression he's come to distrust.

"Should I practice on them now? I definitely don't want to use too much of Fox's magic around Em."

"Do you really need to practice at all?" he asks, clearing indicating that he does not think it's a good idea. "Vin could definitely see the camouflage. I'm not sure about Em."

"That's because she couldn't look at me. Apparently, whatever gift Fox gives me is incompatible with Empaths. Or Elder children. Or both. But when we were in the back room, she could see the camouflage."

Pablo sighs. "And you fooled Sheriff Baker with your tricks."

"Yes, but part of that might have been the fact that my primary contact in Jefferson County is his Deputy, Sergeant Davis. You know how closely I've worked with Wright over the past nine years. And you know the man is good enough to be a detective... if he wanted the job."

He rests his head in his hands, elbows propped on the table. "Fine. Do what you think you need to do."

I grin and turn to look at Justin and Nicole.

"This one here decided he should invite one of Ninja's most frequent and trusted contacts in the Denver Police Department to our reception. Officer Wright would absolutely notice that the lovely Andrea Yazzie who just married his buddy Pablo bears a striking resemblance to a certain Super who roams the night, makes his life easier and has a good time bantering with him. Fortunately — and much to Tommy's dismay — I picked up the gift of camouflage from Fox. Shapeshifting, too, which freaked Billy out." I laugh at the memory. "It's still easier for him, I think. But he was pretty put out."

"I heard about that little trick from Charlie. Thank you for sharing it with me."

I stick my tongue out at my brother. "We're caught up. I'll keep you informed in the future. Unless it's something that doesn't seem noteworthy to me, which could happen. Being the Magnet for Weird gives me a strange perspective on what's noteworthy and what isn't."

"Oh, don't worry," Pablo says without raising his head. "I'll let you know when you should tell your brother all your various activities."

I smile at him, and he doesn't move... but the qi between us shows that he appreciates the gesture.

"So..." I look at Justin again. "I wanted to show you the bit of magic I use on Bobby and David, then what I used on Sheriff Baker and his wife, and then something that even Pablo hasn't seen. No one in the Pentad can see or sense anything different although, for the last one, I do want to know if Pablo has a reaction. You two up for it?"

Justin and Nicole exchange a look, then he shrugs as they look at me. "Sure, I guess so. Were you using that magic last night when we had dinner with your friends?"

I nod.

"Huh. I didn't notice anything. On the other hand, being with the family and getting to meet your friends kind of took all the attention off of you. Did you notice anything, Nickel?"

She shakes her head. "No. As you said, with a lot of people around, you wouldn't have been the center of attention that you'll be at your reception, Andi."

"That's good. I figured it would probably be unnoticeable. Okay, so close your eyes. I'll show you what I did last night first."

When they close their eyes, Pablo looks up at me and just shakes his head at the theatrics of it all. I wink, pull a bit of Fox's magic around me, and make sure that Mother is not trying to make me glow in the dark again.

"Okay, you can open your eyes. Tell me what your eyes see and if you feel anything odd."

"Odd?" Nicole asks.

"Yeah, like the inside of your head itching or feeling queasy or really just anything out of the ordinary when you look at me."

"Besides thinking you're a dork, of course," Justin says with a grin.

I just grin back at him. And I wait while they either study me or pretend to study me. It's hard to tell with my brother.

Finally, Nicole shakes her head. "I'm not sure. I think... well, I don't feel anything odd. There's something different about your hair maybe. I'm not really sure."

I nod. "Justin?"

He shakes his head. "Nope. Nothing. You look the same as you always do." He glances quickly at Nicole. "Blood relations make a difference, maybe?"

"That's my thinking, at least for the minor stuff. My hair is a little duller than it really is... Bobby mentioned it a couple of weeks ago. He said I needed a new conditioner. And..." I point to a spot on my scalp near the center part. "Right now, I have three or four gray hairs..."

"I say they're silver."

I glare at Pablo. "You can't even see them. Anyway..." I bend my head forward so Nicole can see.

"Oh! You know, I probably wouldn't have noticed if you didn't point them out!"

"I figure adding a few every now and then will at least give the normal people I know the illusion that I'm getting older. I know how old Logan is... but he doesn't look much older than Pablo. So." I shrug. "Ready for the next one?"

This time, Nicole closes her eyes with a smile on her face. Justin acts like he's indulging me. I wrap the greater illusion around me — something similar, at least energetically, to what I'd done on Halloween. Pablo could see the illusion then. Of course, that was before the formation of the Pentad.

"Okay... open your eyes."

Nicole's eyes widen with surprise, though she schools her features before looking at Justin. He has a pained look on his face.

"It's kind of like you're trying to pinch the back of my eyeballs," he says. "Is that what Madeline's daughter felt? Because I can see why she wouldn't want to look at you. And you kind of look like Aunt Sonia when she was younger."

"No, I think Em got the wiggling queasiness. Nicole?"

"Just a definitely different look, but I feel fine. And from the pictures Justin has shown me, I think I would have said you look more like your grandmother on your mom's side."

I smile. "Either way is fine because neither Aunt Sonia nor Grandma Rosa looks like Andrea Yazzie. Or I don't look like them. Hmm. No, no... that's an experiment for later. Probably with Henry and Tommy, because Henry would love it and Tommy... okay, maybe I should leave Tommy out of it." I grin. "Ready for the last one?"

They nod.

"How about you, Chief?" It's going to almost look like a full shift, but it will still be an illusion... so I'm interested to know if a drastic illusion is something you can see or sense.

Pablo considers it for a moment, then shrugs. "Sure. I guess the more we learn about your crazy abilities, the better it will be for all of us."

All three of them close their eyes, and I pull an illusion around me that is as drastically different from my usual appearance as my helpless waif had been in Commerce City after the battle.

"Ready when you are."

This time, Nicole gasps... Justin looks surprised... and Pablo has the look and feel of confusion.

"I can tell you did something, Andrea," Pablo says. "I just can't see it."

Try resting your hand on my arm.

He does and looks as surprised as Justin. I smile happily. He moves his hand off my arm and continues to look surprised. Or maybe more surprised.

"Holy shit, I can still see your illusion!"

"This is so awesome! I wonder if it would work on Maddie and Logan. Oooh, I can't wait to try it!"

"I swear to God, Andi, you look just like my great-great-grandmother," Nicole says. "Except I don't think her hair was that long."

"Yeah, it's damn freaky seeing an Irish person sitting where I'm pretty sure my sister ought to be," Justin agrees.

"Your imaginary friend, Moira," Pablo says.

I nod. "No way I could pull off her accent, but you saw the projection of my dream that Rene did for us. Good thing I can't get to her universe or I'd make her brothers crazy. And give that boyfriend of hers a good talking to."

"Or a thump over the head," Pablo mutters.

"Or that." I drop all the illusions and smile. "I only need to hold the minor illusion at the reception, except for when Wright is around. We'll do more playing later... tomorrow... the next day. Would Justin's eyes not try to explode if we make contact like Pablo and I just did? Can I have one person see a different illusion than others are seeing? Oh, so many things to try! What fun we'll have!"

Justin looks at Pablo. "I don't remember her being this crazy."

Pablo shrugs. "You get used to it. That's my mantra, by the way."

"Does it work?"

"For most things... yes. For other things... eventually? I hope."

The rest of the day follows a similar pattern of teasing between Justin and me that we established during breakfast. Nicole and Pablo seem to have a knack for knowing just when to egg us on or change the subject to something calmer. I proudly show off the Ducati; Justin is not nearly as impressed with it as his cousin-twin had been. We take a long walk over to Liks for ice cream, wandering through the Botanic Gardens on the way. The Gardens aren't as impressive in winter as they are in other seasons, but with my ever-present awareness of Mother these days, it's still very nice. Nicole marvels at the beautiful weather... the upper fifties two days before Christmas is not particularly unusual for Denver, but for a Chicagoan, it's weird.

Oh, and Liks' ice cream is definitely worth a long walk! On the way home, we walk through Cheesman Park. I get to tell the story — again! — about finding the Newbie stuck in a tree. Pablo still doesn't think the story is as funny as I do, but both Justin and Nicole do.

Bobby and David are out somewhere when we get back, which is just as well. I really hope they're taking some time alone so Bobby can... well, process some of his grief, I guess. I really don't like his family. In fact, I used to think I couldn't dislike his family more than I did when he first told me about them. It turns out that I was wrong.

I definitely should not go to Texas.

Dad goes to the airport to pick up the mob arriving this afternoon from Albuquerque via numerous locations in Arizona and New Mexico. My family is nuts. And I love them dearly.

We all meet Maddie and her family at the Beau Jo's in Arvada for dinner. While we wait for the staff to set up the back room — with eighteen adults, two ten year olds, and an infant, you bet I made a reservation! — Billy and the twins act like a trio of lunatics, although not so much that Logan has to say anything. Pablo practically starts glowing when Yani sets Little Kai in his arms, and he does not stop smiling, causing Mama to overflow with joy as well. Although Nicole knows only slightly more about the fashion industry than I do, she and Maddie have a conversation about business that goes right over my head. And that's fine... Nicole is a junior manager in some company, but her father apparently wants her to eventually work for his company. I'm not even sure I remember what her family's company makes... some doodads for medical devices, I think. It's an international company, though. Well, they have a London office and a Sydney office. I'm pretty sure all the manufacturing is done in the States, so those are just... sales offices?

Mostly, however, I just enjoy being with my family. Dad and Uncle Junior are their usual goofy selves. I've always loved their banter, and apparently, my Spirit Brother enjoys their show as well. The twins manage to talk Logan into joining us for Christmas dinner. I know Maddie will be up in Wyoming with Leon and Jenny and her family... and Logan and the twins are family. It does make sense.

"It will be wonderful, Brother," I tell him as I hug him goodbye for the night. "There will only be four more Yazzies than were here today, and you've met them all. Besides... Papa and Tita love having all of you with us. And if Henry gets to be a pest, I'll have a reason to sit on him!"

On the way back to the hotel and to my house, we all stop to gawk at the County Building lit up with its thousands of lights. It really is very pretty. It doesn't hurt that my Husband and I have our arms wrapped around each other's waists, and my Mama is holding my free hand.

Christmas Eve is colder; the heater in my house stays on all day for only the fourth time since last winter ended. Apparently, Denver is having an early cold snap. The weather prognosticators even guess that we might have a white Christmas! I have my doubts — today's flurries just fell to the ground and melted away.

Mama comes over early... but to visit with Bobby, not me. I'm happy with that. Bobby has been looking forward to sharing his kitchen with my mother, and she has been looking forward to having a fun day cooking and baking with my best friend. It doesn't sound like fun to me, but I guess that's why I'm the superhero of the family.

Yes, I do need to work today. Last week, Hank asked if I'd come up to Commerce City to celebrate the holiday with them. While I did confide in Hank that my Secret Identity had massive plans for the holidays, which included the entire extended family descending on the area, I did promise to go up there today.

Because really? They're my people, too.

And I even gave Dennison a reason to take some time away from his wacky family. He's meeting me up there at noon.

Aunt Sonia, Uncle Leon, and Talia are driving from Nageezi to Durango and then flying to Denver from there. I think they probably would have opted to drive the entire distance if they could trust the weather through the mountains. And if the passes were guaranteed to be open. They aren't always open. I think both Dad and Uncle Junior are heading to the airport this time. I'd almost feel sorry for Aunt Sonia and Talia. Talia has a rather unique way of getting the trio of comedians to settle down: she'll chant, "I know something you don't know" until they settle down. If anyone else tried that, it's not a trick that would work more than once or twice. But Talia does know things other people don't know.

Hmm. I need to remember to ask her when those two will decide to enter the world. I don't really want to know yet, but I have made promises that I need to keep. I know she said they won't interfere with me saving the world, but keeping promises? That's a different story.

Henry does not have his Southwest flight land in either my backyard or any of the nearby parks. Because why would he? He only says that to drive me crazy. Because of the holiday travel madness, he actually booked a flight rather than flying standby. I seriously doubt he booked a return flight, however. Fortunately, he decided the airport shuttle will be satisfactory and he can torment the nice people at the Brown Palace when he departs... except he's staying a day longer than Justin and Nicole, so he'll be at my house. Which means I'll need to bring him to the airport... or at least to the hotel to catch the shuttle.


Well, this time, I'm prepared.

I have to pry Mama away from Bobby when dinner time rolls around... and Mama convinces Bobby and David to join us at White Fence Farm. Sure, we could have gone to any one of the really fancy places around town, but White Fence Farm has the best fried chicken I've ever had in a restaurant. It's neck and neck with Mama's... and that's probably the highest compliment I can give any cook! It's comfortable and family-oriented and just seems the right place to be with my family. And bonus — my family keeps Bobby and David so distracted that my best friend doesn't even have a chance to notice how much I'm eating.

True, it helps that I start dinner off with the story of David Proposed to Bobby at the Concert. Even Uncle Junior admits that it's possible I've actually learned how to tell a story... which causes Pablo to snicker.

Although Henry wants to come over to my house after dinner, Tita convinces him that he'll do no such thing. However, Bobby and David come by for a little while. Justin is genuinely pleased to be able to get to know my best friend a bit better as the six of us chat — and laugh — while playing Trivial Pursuit. Bobby accuses me of cheating, David reminds him that I still remember all that Librarian stuff and, for tormenting me, all my answers for the next three rounds are "Martha Stewart."

Bobby does not find it as funny as I do. I suppose I do have a bizarre sense of humor.

Christmas morning brings with it clouds and the smell of snow in the air.

It's a relatively calm and quiet day — no calls for Ninja or Detective Garcia, something for which we are both very grateful. I do spend some time in the early afternoon on the phone. Perry and his family — Michael, Martha and the children, rather — are thrilled to talk with Andi and Pablo. Kimmy is bubbling with excitement about the story books we gave her, and she promises that Nate loves the cloth books he received... he has already drooled heavily on them. I chuckle, and Pablo is practically glowing.

"Oh, oh, oh!! Aunt Andi! Uncle Pablo!! Mommy and Daddy said we get to come to your wedding party! Is that true?"

Ah, I suspect little Kimberly already imagines all the beautiful princesses and handsome princes that will be at the ball.

"It's true, Kimmy. Now, your Mommy and Daddy told you about the fancy clothes that my People, the Navajos, wear, right?"

There's a moment of silence; I can almost see her consulting with her parents. That child is going to impress a lot of people by merely being sweet and inquisitive. "Mommy tried to explain, Aunt Andi, but I don't think I really understand. Nate doesn't care yet. He's still too little. I can only see pictures in my head of princesses in ball gowns. I'm sorry."

"Oh, don't be sorry, sweetheart. Sometimes, you just need to see new things to be able to imagine even more new things."

"And if my sisters aren't teasing me," Pablo adds, "they'll be dressed up so fancy that they'll almost look like princesses from the stories."

"I'll bet they're not teasing you, Uncle Pablo! You look so happy when you talk about your sisters! Nate is a little scared about being the littlest person at the party, though."

I raise an eyebrow and exchange a glance with Pablo. These days, I don't take for granted that children are telling fanciful tales when they say things like that.

"But Nate won't be the littlest, Kimmy! My cousin had her baby, and Little Kai will only be three weeks old. Nate is much older than that."

"Oh, good! I'll go tell him! Thank you again, Aunt Andi and Uncle Pablo!"

I can hear the running of little feet, although Pablo likely can't. "Do you have relative privacy there, Michael?"

"Relative, yes... Is there a problem? Should I take the phone off speaker?"

"No, no... I wanted to get both your impressions of Kimberly. I know kids can be pretty fanciful when it comes to projecting the feelings, wants, desires of their younger siblings. Goodness knows, I did my fair share of that with my little brother. I just wondered if it was anything more than that."

I get the sense from their pause that they, too, are exchanging glances... and probably shrugging.

"It's hard to tell at this age, Andi," Martha says. "And whether it's wishful thinking on her part or she actually has some kind of... more profound bond with her brother... Well, it isn't something we worry about. She's a little girl. If she grows up to be like her Daddy or her Aunt Andi, you know we'll love her all the same." Then Martha laughed. "However, I might be calling you for advice if it comes to that!"

I laugh, too. "I don't know how much help I'll be, but I do have a pretty wide network of people I can tap into. If you two aren't worried about her, then I'm certainly not going to start. Have a wonderful day with your family, and we'll see you Thursday!"

After disconnecting from the call, we sit in our office for a few minutes. I can hear Nicole defending my peculiar Christmas tree to Justin, who can't stop calling it a Charlie Brown tree. Just because it's made of metal and looks like a small gold leafless tree doesn't make it a Charlie Brown tree! It doesn't sag! It could hold more ornaments than I own!

"Are you really that worried about Kimmy," Pablo asks, interrupting my thoughts.

"No. Well, maybe I was... just a little. But her folks are aware that there's a possibility she'll develop... not quite normal abilities." I smile as I stand, ready to help my future sister in law defend my tree. "And if Kimmy is truly gifted, I'll put Martha in touch with Maddie and Charles. And suggest Perry have some conversations with Mamu when he goes up to Commerce City."

"In that case, I suggest we get out to the living room before your brother hurts that weird Christmas tree of yours."

"Nah, he won't hurt it. Nicole is protecting it. And Justin knows I'll hurt him." I grin as I open the office door.

The day remains gray, random flurries drop snow over the city, and by early afternoon we technically have a white Christmas. There is, perhaps, half an inch of snow on my lawn, but the streets and sidewalks are merely wet. I have high hopes but low expectations that the day will be uneventful...

I'm not surprised when I hear both of my phones start ringing at the same time.

I groan. Pablo, Justin, and Nicole look at me quizzically.


Pablo sighs as I stand up; my brother and his fiancée must have still had puzzled expressions. I hear Pablo merely say, "Super hearing."

I pick up the phones from my desk and look at the caller IDs. "Seriously?" I mutter as I head back into the living room. I pass my personal phone to Pablo. "You deal with this one." I walk over to the other side of the room with Ninja's phone.

It takes much longer for Ninja's phone to go to voicemail than my personal one.

Pablo gives me a dirty look as he answers my phone. "Hi, Bobby."

I wait for Ninja's phone to ring once more before answering. "Felicitous benedictions of the day, Agent Van Dorn."

Nicole still looks a bit confused, but Justin is settling in for — given the look on his face — what could be a great show.

I only hear Pablo's half of the conversation, wherein he is trying to convince Bobby that I'm indisposed at the moment and will call him back as soon as possible... and no, there really isn't any need to come over to check because he won't be allowed in the house. Ooops. Pablo is annoyed with my best friend.

"Um, Merry Christmas?" Van Dorn replies.

"It has that potential, yes." No. No, I'm not going to make it easy for him. Why should I?

"Did I interrupt something?"

"Of course, you did, Van Dorn. It's Christmas Day. My secret identity is doing family-related stuff. Even if I had a lair — which I don't — I wouldn't be there."

"Oh. Right. Sorry." He pauses, and I decide to just wait him out. "I... have a... ah... request, a favor to ask."

"Nicholas, do you really think asking me for favors is a good idea? I think I'm still upset with you."

"I'm sorry! How many times do I need to apologize? I don't know how many messages I've left you!"

"Thirty seven. You started to whine after about fifteen or so. If I didn't know better, I would have said you were almost crying during the last two."

"I talked to your contacts. All of them said to apologize for being an idiot. That's what I've been trying to do."

"Yes, but I'll bet that none of them told you to call up to eight times a day, did they?"

He's very still for a good thirty seconds. "No."

I sigh. Sanchez thought he was the right man for the job. I really did try to give him a chance. But, damn! He really ticked me off the last time I was out there. Or... well, the fact that he requested I fetch all the bones of all the children... the fact that it had hurt Rene so much when I asked him to help... No, I really wasn't feeling charitable. Hell, he'd even called Armand, who had then phoned me to... I sigh again. I don't really know what Armand was up to. Teasing me. Flirting with me. I couldn't really tell over the phone. It just isn't possible to read qi over the phone.

Yet. Who knows what the future holds, right?

Finally, I ask, "What do you want, Nick?"

He clears his throat. "It's my boss, really. I have to pass along his messages, you know."

"No, Nick, you don't. Harry could do it just as easily. Harry doesn't work my nerves like you do. She's sensible that way."

"It's above her pay grade?"

"Yeah. Right." I sigh once more. "Fine. What is it?"

"There's a mutant who's been working up and down the west coast... grand theft on an enormous scale. Teleporter who just goes into bank vaults, jewelry vaults, art vaults and cleans them out. Rumors say the individual is in the Denver area."

"And yet we haven't seen any sort of crimes like that here. Ever. What makes your idiot boss think this thief is out here?"

That gets Pablo's attention. He had ended the call with Bobby and raises his eyebrows. I roll my eyes and shake my head.

"He thinks the teleporter might be up in the Unfortunates Enclave."

"The what? Never heard of it, Nick."

He stifles a scream, causing me to grin. "Commerce City. He believes the teleporter is in Commerce City."

"Not likely... but what does this individual look like?"

Nick describes a man who bore some resemblance to the man who'd killed the president all those years ago... those resemblances being male, the ability to teleport, and some kind of odd skin condition.

"Nope. Nobody in Commerce City who looks like that."

"Are you sure?"

"Nicholas, when I tell you about the residents of Commerce City, do not ever ask me if I'm sure. I am always sure. They are my people. I know them. For fuck's sake, Van Dorn, start acting like the agent Captain Sanchez seemed to think you were!"

"Sorry. But... that's where someone like that would go, wouldn't they?"

"No. Well, sure... he might try. But if he's the criminal you say he is, it's not likely they'd let him stay."

"But he's a mutant!"

"And the people of Commerce City are honest citizens! Why would they want to harbor a fugitive from justice? They wouldn't... that's the correct answer, by the way."

"Well, we're fairly confident he's moving east, and he passed through Las Vegas about a week ago. Where else would someone like that go?"

"Gee, I don't know, Nick. Kansas? Texas? Isn't it your job to figure that stuff out? I'm telling you he's not in Commerce City. I assume you've already informed all the local police departments to watch for suspicious thefts. You wouldn't be calling me about it if you had any other leads. And I'm telling you I don't have anything for you either."

"You know, you're not the easiest person to work with, Ninja."

I close my eyes and clench my teeth; Pablo is at my side almost instantly, wrapping me in a hug. It's amazing how much that helps!

"No, I'm not. But it's awfully damn rare for someone to tick me off as quickly as you did. Markenson can get away with it sometimes, and only because I've known him for years. He has some redeeming qualities. Even the United States Army has discovered a way not to tick me off! Why can't you manage it, Nicholas?"

"Maybe because you keep calling me that name I hate?"

I shrug. "Fair point, I suppose. But I've been calling Garcia here in Denver Chief forever, it drives him batshit crazy, and I can't recall that he's ever pushed as many of my buttons as quickly, easily and thoroughly as you do, Van Dorn. I get it that your boss wants me to join your tribe and is probably giving you a hard time about the fact that I keep telling you all to fuck off. But see... it's like this, Nick. Your problems aren't my problems unless they're our problems. Idaho Springs? Yeah... our problem. Your boss and his weird fantasies? Not my problem. Stop trying to make it my problem."

I can't tell if Nick is kicking something, banging his head on his desk, or just punching the wall. Justin seems to be finding it all rather amusing, so there's some upside to this ridiculous phone call.

"Ninja, you don't get it. My boss is not going to stop pressuring me until you join our team. If I can't convince you, he'll come at you himself."

I laugh at that. "Nick, Nick, Nick... you still don't get it! After I do this thing for your forensic anthropologist, I can just block all calls from the FBI." Well, sure, maybe I couldn't do it, but I'd bet five dollars that Maddie could talk Freak into doing it. "I try very hard not to cross state lines and even when I do, it's just the Army cleaning up after me. I will hide from your boss if he comes to town. After all, it's what Ninjas do. Your boss doesn't need me because I don't need the FBI. Does that make sense?"

He groans. "Entirely too much. And you probably shouldn't alienate us. That's not a threat, by the way. We actually do have some resources that you might find useful."

This time, I giggle. "Things that the Army Special Forces don't have? Things that I can't borrow from my new friend, La Loup Noir? Oh, maybe not, Nick. I think your boss is overestimating his importance in my life. I fly under the radar..." Pablo snorts, causing me to smile. "...and have been reminded that I also move too fast to be caught by the individuals operating the radar. FBI is high profile. Stick with Peregrine. And I know! You can't pester him because he's Sponsored."

"I'm going to wind up with an ulcer, and I'm going to blame you for it, Ninja."

"You really need to relax. And it's a holiday. Why the hell aren't you with family or friends instead of bothering me? On a day when none of us should be working? Did I mention that my secret identity is doing that family and friends thing?"

"Because, believe it or not, being verbally abused by Denver's scariest Super is preferable to listening to my father's latest batch of conspiracy theories."

"Nick! That's so sweet of you! See? You know how to get on my good side." I grin a particularly evil Ninja grin. "Denver's scariest Super... I'll treasure that for at least a week!"

Van Dorn sighs again. "Will you let me know if you hear any whispers of this teleporter?"

"Of course, I will, Nick."

And then I hang up.

"You should probably find out what your best friend wants, but I want to know what that was all about," Pablo says as he smiles.

"Oh, just some teleporting thief the FBI thinks was heading to Denver from the west coast."

"Really? Elvia mentioned something about that about a month ago. The FBI thinks that guy is headed this way?"

"The FBI thinks he's holed up in Commerce City," I say with disgust. "The guy was last seen in Las Vegas. I suspect he's gone to ground... or at least headed to a town without a Sponsored Super."

"Hmm. Well, I assume Robbery has been notified."

"So says Van Dorn, yes."

He hugs me again and hands me my personal phone. "Better see what Bobby wants before he breaks down our door."

I chuckle. "I should probably go over there. I would not be happy about having our door attacked again. I'm pretty sure he's freaking out again and needs to be peeled off the ceiling or something."

"You're not going over there dressed liked that, are you?"

I look down at my jeans and polo shirt. "What's wrong with it?"


"Oh. Yeah, okay, I should probably put shoes on."

"And a jacket."


"No, no... You've been in Denver for over ten years now. That line you gave me in the beginning about living in China for half your life is not going to appease your best friend."

I sigh. "Fine." I pick up my shoes from where I'd left them by the front door and sit in the middle of the living room. "My leather jacket — which is the only jacket I own, by the way — is in the garage."

Justin is grinning at me.

"What's so funny, Justin?"

"Oh, just that you got away with that I used to live in Siberia line at all."

I grin back at him. "I only said I could see Siberia from my back porch."

Nicole chuckles. "Somehow, that's even funnier, given the last election cycle."

"True," agrees my brother. "But Ms. Power Plant over there likes to stand in the snow in her bare feet wearing shorts and a tank top."

"Hey, I never said I liked it. It's just a thing I can do. Usually to freak you out."

"Success! And thank you for that."

"Anytime, dear brother."

"Do you want all three phones in your pockets?" Pablo asks as he comes back in with my jacket.

"Gods, no. In fact, I'm only taking Ninja's phone. Perry's not going to call, and even if he did, it wouldn't matter if you picked up." I stand up so he can pretend to help me on with my jacket. "The only person who would freak out if you answered my personal phone isn't going to call because I'm going to be peeling him off the ceiling next door."

I glance at the clock and smile. "I won't be gone long. They have to leave for the McNair Family Gala soon." I kiss his cheek. "Love you, Husband."

He chuckled. "Pretty soon it will be down to Love Husband, and I'll have proof that Madeline has corrupted you."

I laugh as I head out the front door. "Nope... pretty sure you have to blame that one on Logan!" I call over my shoulder.

Going out the front door and up the sidewalk to Bobby's front door is not typical, which is precisely why I'm doing it. If he's freaking out, getting knocked off balance sometimes helps to bring him back to center. Kind of like a Weeble. As a kid growing up on an Army base in Japan, naturally I had a friend or two who had a whole set of them. They creeped me out then. They creep me out. But the big punching bags that wobble and come back at you? Yeah, those I can appreciate.

David answers the door when I knock, looking tired and harried. He doesn't say a word. I step inside, close the door behind me, and give him a hug.

"Rough day?"

"I love him, Andi, you know I do..."

"And you want to run him over with a Ford F-150. I know. Where is he? Oh, gods, don't tell me he's chopping vegetables!"

David manages a tired smile. "No, thank goodness. He's staring at the wall in the Martha Stewart shrine."

I shiver. "That room gives the willies. Too much going on. Everything clashes and there's just too much."

David actually laughs this time. "You only say that because you were indoctrinated into the minimalist lifestyle as a child. Please... just go..." He shakes his head. "Use your kung fu hands on him or something."

I take a deep breath, steeling myself for the ordeal ahead of me. "Well... hopefully, it won't come to that. I've got... what? Fifteen minutes?"

"Yep. No one's going to be upset if we're a little late, but..."

"Okay. Fifteen minutes."

I walk into the shrine and stop. Aw, shit.

Well, I can't really do this the Ninja way — slap the idiot across the face.

But the delicate librarian who studied in China? I walk over to Bobby, kneel in front him, and place my hands on his shoulders... thumbs very lightly on two very specific acupuncture points.

"Now, Bobby, you're going to breathe. You're going to make sure the air gets all the way down to your diaphragm. That's it... now hold it a second... and let it out slowly, as if you're holding a note for four or five or six measures. Great! Now, do it again... same thing... perfect. And again... but this time you're going to hum softly on whatever note feels right."

His eyes are still closed, but his energy is moving again. David is watching with great interest from the doorway.

"Keep going, sweetie. We have all the time in the world." I breathe in rhythm with him... a little faster than what would be normal for me, but I'm not going to hyperventilate. "On this next exhale, drop down a full step... wonderful." I let him sit on that note for another exhale... "And down one more step here... perfect!"

Now he's vibrating his chest with the note, which helps a lot. The Lung 1 points are clearing, too, so I move my thumbs away and just keep my hands on his shoulders, breathing with him, listening to his tone settle with confidence. Then I smile. I know people who can sustain a note while they've got tears streaming down their faces, but it's damn hard. Hearing his pure tone, full and without constriction, tells me as much as his qi does.

For the moment, my best friend is as centered as he can be and is no longer sinking in the morass of grief.

After another humming exhale, Bobby says with his next breath out, "What did you do, Andi?"

I open my eyes and grin. "Just a little something I learned in China." I stand up and hold out my hands to him, pulling him into a fierce hug. "You don't really need the acupressure treatment if you can do that breathing exercise whenever you're feeling... well, awful."

His hug is just as strong, something that makes me feel even better about his current mental state.

"What would I do without you, Andi?"

I step back and smile innocently at him. "I don't know, Bobby. Go around walking into walls and falling off bridges and jaywalking across Colfax?"

"Thank you."

"You're welcome. And since your most beloved was spying on us..." I give David a smile, too. "...I'm pretty sure he'll be able to keep you in one piece while Pablo and I go off and have a lovely honeymoon."

"Just make him breathe and hum?" David asks from the doorway.

I shake my head and beckon him into the Shrine of Stewart. "When our loopy one is in a really bad way with this grief, there are two acupuncture... acupressure points you can very gently press for a few breaths." I point them out both of them. "And you, my loopy friend, can do it yourself, too. The humming helps... well, I guess, vibrate the energy is the best way to put it. Keep the note internal instead of singing on a vowel, right? And everyone has a different note that's going to just feel right, that's going to resonate through the chest. You should feel it just above the diaphragm, usually... for things like grief and depression and those sorts of things." I nod to David. "Give it a try with some of your young charges. It could help... and as far as I've ever seen, singing never hurts." I chuckle at the look on his face. "Even if you've got someone singing painfully flat or sharp if it helps them... that's what counts. Encourage them to try it outdoors, maybe."

David nods. "You know, I've been trying to figure out how to get some of the non-talkers to let go of all that pent-up emotion. Humming could be a good start."

"Does sound like it. Different tones resonate with different emotions to shake them loose, so to speak. Fear tends to straddle the head voice and the chest voice, so if the kids are just making sounds that sound like they're gargling, that's okay too. Just get them breathing like singers... they'll find the right note for what's happening at that particular moment."

He grins. "Better than the primal scream therapy some of my colleagues like."

I shudder. "Certainly less detrimental to everyone's ears... and better for the vocal cords, too." I reach out and hug them both before kissing Bobby on the forehead.

"It's my understanding you have a dinner engagement with your most beloved, Mr. Tompkins." I can see the beginning of panic starting again and lightly tap his diaphragm with the backs of my fingers. "No, sir. None of that. No freaking out. Breathe. All you need to do this evening is breathe and smile. If David's family gets the impression that you're a shy little wallflower..."

David interrupts with a snicker, which brings a smile to Bobby's face.

"...I'm sure there will be plenty of time to convince them otherwise." I watch his eyes as he pulls back that panic. Why didn't I remember this a month ago? Oh, maybe there was that whole Andi is freaking the fuck out stuff going on.

"Okay, you guys need to get going... and I need to make sure my brother isn't telling Pablo all my embarrassing childhood stories."

Bobby sniffs, feigning indignation. "He better not be! He's supposed to tell me those stories."

"I'll let him know!" I say over my shoulder as I head back toward their front door.

Bobby is going to be okay... tonight.

# # #

At least a half a dozen hours later, I lay on my side with Pablo's shoulder for a pillow... just listening to his breath and watching the movement of his qi. I've thought it before, and I'm sure I'll think it again — I hope I never get tired of the beauty of the colors and patterns. But how could I? They are eternally changing, dancing, moving in different ways.

"What are you doing, Andi?"


"Besides not falling asleep like you should be, you're doing something... weird. Like you're trying to tickle the inside of my brain, except that my brain isn't ticklish."

I chuckle. "Just watching your qi. It's beautiful. Soothing."

"Shouldn't you get some sleep? Even you can't stay awake for days on end."

"I suppose."

He shifts, wrapping his arm around me so that we're both lying on our sides, face to face.

"Tonight was fun. I can't sleep either. I don't think I've laughed so much in years."

"When Henry is around, that happens a lot."

"Oh, it wasn't just Henry, although I'll admit he was vying for class clown award. Brother Rene didn't help any, either."

"I have a feeling Billy and the twins would have put on a show that would have had us all rolling on the floor laughing if Logan hadn't kept them as calm as they were."

He pauses, and his qi ripples with... worry? Ooh, is my dear husband starting to understand that a baseball team of children might not be the smartest idea he's ever had?

"That was calm?"

I laugh and kiss his nose. "Yes. You didn't see Vincent sneaking glances at his father most of the evening? Or Em rolling her eyes and giving her brother a jab every now and then?"

"I must have missed that."

"It was subtle, true. But where was the great detective I'm supposed to be marrying?"

His chuckle rumbles his chest as he hugs me closer. "Enjoying a well-deserved night off with my wife's wonderful family."

"Good answer."

"Was Logan also the one who got the twins to stop pestering us about staying with Uncle Justin and Aunt Nicole?"

I snort. "Hell, no. While I'm sure that our Brother would have very like given them only another five or ten minutes of being little pests, that was all Tita's doing."

"Really? I didn't even hear one word from her on the subject."

I smile in the darkness of the room. "Tita doesn't always come directly at a problem like some people do. She just diverted their attention elsewhere — in this case, the present moment, Billy's antics, and the prospect of their dad joining in the sightseeing fun tomorrow."

"You learned that from her." I can hear the smile in his voice.

"Maybe unconsciously. I learned to be sneaky from friends on base as a kid. From Master Chen. From a certain patrol officer who was kind to me when I was a kid in college. From a clever detective that I'm going to marry in two days."

"Oh, so you were paying attention!"

He can't see my eyes rolling, but I think he knows anyway. I sigh with happiness.

"How did she convince Brother Logan to join tomorrow's madness, though?"

"Ah! That was Papa. I think all he did was mention what an honor it would be to have Logan joining them."

"Still surprising. Even after that great day with the kids in Paris, I still can't see Logan as a sightseeing kind of guy."

I shrug slightly. "He loves his kids, and he's a great dad. The prospect of spending the day with their new family makes them happy. So, being a great dad, he bent to their will."

"Uh huh. Right. I have a feeling we're thinking of two different Logans here."

"Not really," I reply with a chuckle. "I think, in some odd way, Papa reminds Logan of Alois. Logan doesn't remember saving Alois' life decades ago but on some level... I don't know. Maybe he does. Just not consciously. Some of his memories are so beautiful, I'd love to give them back to him. But he has the right outlook on things — he's living in the present with Maddie, a wonderful stepson, two amazing — if rambunctious — preteens. He has the rest of us in the Pentad. If he ever wants to remember something he can't remember — a year from now, a century from now — he knows where to find me."

"And now you're getting deep and philosophical. If you keep that up, neither one of us will sleep. And this time, it won't be my fault."

For that, he gets a playful slap.

"I know I should get some sleep. I need to pick up Sam and Cindy before the sun even comes up. And Justin's friend, too. I'm not ready to let go of today, I guess."

He hugs me more tightly and then softly kisses me.

"There will be many wonderful and glorious days, my beloved Andrea. Although, I suppose there won't be all that many that have the same level of hilarity that this one did."

"Well, too much of a good thing isn't necessarily a good thing. All things in moderation, and all that."

"Oh, no, no, no! I will not stand for having ALL things in moderation."

"Oh, you know what I mean! Crazy man."

We're silent for several minutes, just enjoying... peace. It won't always be this peaceful, this quiet, this soothing.

"You're worrying again, wife. I thought that was my job."

"Our job. We're splitting the worry, remember? It's just my turn, I guess."

He pulls back a bit to look at my face in the near darkness. He can't see as well in full darkness as I can, but there's enough ambient light that his enhanced vision from that Ancestral Ass of his and some sharing of my gifts from our marriage bond lets him see me well enough.

"And what is it that worries you this fine and fair evening, O Lady Mine?"

I snicker. "You need to stop listening to Rene. He can pull off that goopy talk better than you can."

"You wound me... and didn't answer my question in the process."

"I did not wound you, and you know it. And... I don't know. Nothing in particular, really. Just..." I sigh. "Life has changed so much in the last six months. It's going to keep barreling down the raging river for years to come."

"Nonsense! That's just gloom and doom. We will be happy, and I won't have it any other way!"

I smile at him. "Of course, we'll be happy, you crazy person! But we're getting married and starting a family. We're going far, far away for a quiet and relaxing honeymoon. I have work to do when we get back, though. And you do too. And then... well. I'm still a little scared about being a mom."

"Have they been talking to you again?" He sounds entirely too eager.

"No. They're behaving themselves. But, Pablo..." I sigh again, this time more dramatically. "I don't know how to take care of babies! And it's not like they can feed themselves or get themselves dressed or... or... or, well, do anything except try to make me crazier than I already am!"

He laughs. "You worry too much, my lovely wife. "I have younger sisters. Between us, we'll get this figured out. You have friends and family to call if you get really overwhelmed. And I'll never leave you."

I bite my lip and hold my breath for a few seconds. "Promise?"

"I'll do better than promise. I'll make a solemn vow in front of both our families. On Thursday. Which, if the clock is close to being correct..."

"It is."

" tomorrow. Sleep, Andi." He holds me close and whispers, "I'll guard your dreams, my love."

As I snuggle closer, I smile. Still, my last thought as I finally do drift off toward sleep is, Can he really guard my dreams? I wish I could ask Red about that...

It's not difficult finding a parking space in the garage this early in the morning. Or is it still nighttime? I don't know... it's still dark, although even Ninja would be home by this time. I suspect by the time the lot of us get out of the terminal, DIA will be turning into a madhouse. And the sun will definitely be up.

Why am I playing taxi driver this morning? Because I've been trying so hard to maintain my calm that I'm worn out from trying to be calm. Having my whole family here — except for Sam and Cynthia, whose flight is arriving in about forty five minutes — is fantastic. And exhausting. Pablo thinks it's exciting, and he's not wrong. But my family is enormous. His family isn't even here yet!

If I hadn't learned how to create the shields Moira taught me about... well, I'd be spending most of my time in my dojo.

And that would explain why Maddie and her family are only getting them in small doses. They all did so well last month when we were out in New Mexico, but... Well, Uncle Leon and Aunt Sonia make their home a safe and calm place. The most excitement — of a semi-disruptive nature — they generally allow is Billy and his various antics. And there is a lot of space out there. No one is tripping over anyone else unless it's Billy shifting indoors and deliberately being a nuisance. And he doesn't do that often. Our Aunt and Uncle might have more patience than most people, but even their patience isn't infinite.

Besides, the Jacobs clan will be spending pretty much all day tomorrow with the Yazzie and Garcia clans.

Well, okay, Maddie and Logan are getting the family in smaller doses... the twins spent the night with us last night and were still pretending to be sleeping when I left the house. By now, they're probably up and trying very, very hard to be calm while waiting for Justin and Nicole to get ready so they can see Billy again. Oh, the three of them!

Watching them makes my heart feel good.

Logan said he'd meet the sightseeing group after breakfast. I have no confirmation of my suspicions that he's waiting for Billy to wear them down a little. Had they stayed out at the cabin, the three of them could have gone running with my gang of mountain lions. Well, the cats are curious about Logan... this might give him a chance to get to know them better.

I don't know how Pablo talked Logan into letting them stay with us, especially after their antics last night at dinner. Actually, I'm not sure he really did. It had been his suggestion, of course, but I think — maybe — it just took Logan a few minutes to weigh what I'd done at the beginning of the month with Em against... however he perceived the difference in Maddie and in me after we had reintegrated our soul. I feel different and yet entirely the same. Pablo says I'm more peaceful. I guess it doesn't matter. Well, it doesn't matter until my entire family wants all of my attention all of the time. I get it. They miss me. And I miss them! But wow...

Justin had seemed satisfied with the story of my life the morning after he and Nicole had arrived. That was then. By the end of the day, he had decided that he wanted more and more and more details. Good grief! Threatening to take him out on patrol with me — something to which both Pablo and Nicole raised vehement objections — didn't even do anything to keep my little brother from pestering me. At least if he's with Billy and the twins, I'll get a little peace. Maybe. After all, Justin does have my cell phone number.

Yes, yes... I've missed him, too. And I grok his worry. And his fascination.

Oh, thank you, Moira, for teaching me how to shield!

And Bobby...

I don't even have words for his level of crazy anymore. I thought he would have calmed down a bit after last night's Christmas dinner with the Professors McNair, but no. He's even more wound up. If I understand half of his babbling — and lately, there's no guarantee of that — he wants to make sure I have the most perfect wedding reception ever. Ever. It doesn't seem to matter how many times I tell him that it will be utterly perfect even if Martha Stewart would be appalled, I can't derail that particular crazy.

I sigh as I get out of Pablo's car, making sure it's locked before heading toward the terminal entrance.

Even Mama and Tita haven't been able to calm him down completely. I'm not sure what Bobby and David are doing today, but Mama and Tita have already taken over my kitchen... another reason to get out of the house. I actually dropped Pablo off at the office before I headed to the airport. He said he'd rather face the wrath of Captain Sanchez than be trampled by Mama and Tita. I'm not sure it will be safe to head back after I drop Sam, Cindy, and Chris off at the Brown Palace, but I suppose I'll have to risk it. I am not driving Pablo's car up to the cabin.

Hmm. I should have taken my bike and followed him to work. Oh, well. It's a little late for that. Those two are affecting my brain, I think.

Okay, maybe the fact that I'm getting married tomorrow might have something to do with it, too. It's a possibility. I guess.

This whole month has been insane. I feel like walking into the airport to meet people is the most normal thing I've done. Between the night I told Pablo and the rest of the Pentad about those two and last week when I met Dennison's parents, this month has been a rollercoaster of emotions. I can't even blame pregnancy on all of it either.

Well, thank the Gods, Buddhas, and Spirits once again for Moira! Without her lessons, I probably would be in a very secure mental facility right now. Pablo recognizes the reality of my dream, he can see the effect of the shields that I created a few days later. He still thinks I'm kind of loopy for thinking Moira is a real person. One of these days, I'm going to figure out how to take him with me. Ha. That will... Okay, no. It probably won't convince him that Moira is anything more than an imaginary friend and a figment of my imagination. But Padraig, on the other hand... Yeah, that might do it.

I haven't mentioned my, um, argument with the Spirits to Tommy. He might know about it, but he's pretending all is well. I'm grateful for that. The Spirits have given me a wide berth since that day I asked Rene to help with the children in Idaho Springs, too. Sometimes I sense Fox watching me as I practice, and they were somewhat helpful when I met Dennison's folks. But it's almost like the days before Raven went crazy... those days when I couldn't see the Spirits' true forms, couldn't open portals with no ritual, couldn't heal from death. Yeah, it's been a hell of a month.

I check the flight arrival board for Sam and Cindy's flight, relieved to discover that not only is their flight on time, but will apparently arrive a few minutes early. I won't have too long to wait, and I have a book I can read while waiting. That's assuming I can concentrate. That's something else that seems to be going to hell, as well.

Or perhaps not... in a large space alternately filling with and emptying of total strangers, I don't feel the constant push against those shields that were created over a convergence point of three ley lines. Nor do my nerves feel like they're being scraped raw. In fact, the baggage claim area in the West Terminal of Denver International Airport seems calmer than my own house.

Hmm. Okay, I'm going to blame Bobby for that one. Maybe Pablo... a little. Nope, just Bobby; Pablo's excitement for our wedding tomorrow has actually been invigorating.

I settle down on a bench, pull the paperback from an inner pocket of my jacket, and proceed to fall into Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines, a book I've been meaning to read since I first saw it. Yeah, that was when I was still employed. As a librarian. So libraries and magic? Totally right up my alley! I only look up whenever my ever-sharp hearing catches the sounds of a crowd coming through the baggage claim area — soon enough, the arrival board will say that it's Sam and Cynthia's flight. Theirs isn't even the first flight of the day! Well, it was the first out of Omaha... and Chris is taking the first flight out of O'Hare... but I guess people in Dallas like to get up before the sun, too.

By the time Sam and Cynthia's flight arrives, not only am I a good quarter of the way through the book — and loving it! — but Chris' flight has been updated yet again. Instead of a mere four minutes between my cousins' flight and his, there is now a full half hour. I tuck the book back in my pocket, stand and look for my cousin and his wife.

I see them before they see me, and I can't help bouncing on my toes a few times in happiness. They're practically glowing! I guess the home visit with the foster children went well! I'd been too afraid to ask Talia anything about, to be honest.

I intercept them on their way to the carousel that's just begun to blare its warning before the conveyor starts moving; it has yet to spit any luggage out.

"Sam! Cindy!" We stop for a group hug. "It's so great to see you again!"

Sam chuckles. "And you, too, cousin. We didn't expect the bride herself to come fetch us from the airport. I thought you'd send that slacker brother of yours."

Cindy affectionately slaps his arm. "Justin isn't a slacker. Still, it's a delightful surprise to see you, Andi."

Sam has his arm wrapped around his wife's waist, so I walk on Cindy's other side. She's shorter than I am by a few inches, so it's a lot easier to chat with both of them this way.

"Mama and Tita have taken over my kitchen... I suspect they were up all night. My best friend is working my nerves. You'd think I could hide in my dojo and find some peace since my slacker brother went over to the hotel to have breakfast with the rest of the family before touring Denver with everyone, but no." I shake my head, but I can't stop the happiness I feel from bubbling into a smile. "The airport is much calmer than my house right now!"

Cindy laughs. "Sam has tried to explain all the rituals and special foods your mom is preparing, but our wedding seemed so calm. So did Yani's, for that matter."

I nod. "Aunt Sonia has that effect. Mama, on the other hand?" I giggle as we stop near the back of the crowd. We're not in any great hurry; most of the other people on their flight look as though they can't get to the slopes soon enough. "I'm not sure how she's managing to stay attached to the ground. I swear she acts even happier than I am... and I'm delirious!"

"I heard Pablo's mom had called your folks to ask if they'd like to perform the traditional dowry negotiation," Sam says, surprise very much in his voice.

"I couldn't believe it when Mama told me!" I say. "Pablo had said that his sisters were reading all the materials I sent them about our traditions, but I never expected them to..." I swallow and blink away the tears that threaten to escape. "Well, to embrace our traditions so wholeheartedly when there's no need for them to do so... I think I got lucky here. Not only is my husband fantastic, but his family is, too.

"I was still kind of relieved when Mama assured Mrs. Garcia that it wasn't necessary."

Cindy sighs. "I wish my family was even half as enthusiastic about your traditions. I feel like I'm still learning even after all these years."

I hug her. "You're perfect just the way you are, cousin. Take things at your own pace. We all love you."

She returns the hug, and I feel a wave of immense gratitude. Weird. I shouldn't actually feel other people's emotions... I just see them. Great... more weirdness! Well, I'm a magnet for it, I guess. As I release her, I focus for a moment on her aura. I suspect my expression looks odd to her because she tilts her head and looks at me like I imagine she'd look at one of her students.


I shake my head and just grin. "I don't know. Your..." I know there isn't anyone close enough to us because we haven't moved, and nearly everyone else from their flight seems to be trying to actually get on the conveyor belt. I do glance at Sam, though. He merely has an interested and calm expression on his face. "Your aura looks familiar."

Cindy laughs. "Well, I should hope so! I've been married to your cousin long enough."

"Yeah, yeah... that part I get. It's just..." I shake my head again. " It just reminds me of someone else."

They both look interested... even pleased.

"Really?" Sam asks. "Who?"

This is when I wish I were talking to Henry. Not that Henry would believe me if I told him I actually spent a good deal of time learning some super cool stuff from a Starship Captain... but at least he'd be excited about the whole Star Trek thing.

"Would you believe an Irish Wiccan priestess?" I ask tentatively.

They both shrug.

"Sure. From what we've heard through the family grapevine, your friends are more diverse than anyone else either of us ever meets," Cindy says. "Is she Irish American or someone from Ireland? I'd love to go to Ireland someday."

"From County Tipperary, and it takes a bit to wade through her accent." I pause and smile. "You know, Irish isn't like Diné Bizaad, but it's lyrical like our language. Speaking of which, how are your lessons coming along, Cindy?"

She rolls her eyes. "You'd think I'd be better at, being an English teacher and understanding linguistics. But the rising tones trip me up every time."

"Aw, now, hon... not every time."

"Sam is being kind. I'm far better at reading and writing, and even understanding when he's going a mile a minute on the phone with his folks."

"Oooh, there will be no keeping any secrets from you this week, will there?" I tease.

"So why do I remind you of your Irish friend, Andi?" she responses with a chuckle. "As far as I know, I'm not even a sixteenth Irish. If they cared about blood quantum, I couldn't even claim to have an Irish princess in the family."

I'm not sure if Sam is trying not to laugh, but whatever sound he's making is something like a choking gargle. I raise an eyebrow at him.

"It's funny," he says, "I think the Irish actually did have royalty at one time... the Cherokee never did."

Cindy laughs. "That's what makes it so funny! Honestly, Andi, I think the Irish would disown me because I'm considerably more English."

I shrug. "It's confusing, I think. Depends on which part of Ireland your ancestors came from, I guess."

"I couldn't even tell you," she says, shrugging. "Supposedly, one of my aunts loves genealogy, but she hasn't shared any of her research with the rest of the family. But I'm more interested in your friend."

"Well..." I glance around again. Some of the would-be skiers are starting to get a bit rowdy. I take a step back from the crowd, encouraging Sam and Cindy to do the same. "I'm off duty and do not want to be part of whatever could potentially happen over there. Anyway, Moira's an empath... all natural talent, no quirky genetics. Well, unless folks think red hair and green eyes are quirky."

Cindy nods. "The best teachers all have empathy for their students. Is your friend a teacher?"

I shrug. "I think it's an on and off kind of gig. She's a programmer and really likes it; taught it at some military school, too, I guess. Right now, she's more on the management side of things. I don't think she likes it much."

Sam groans softly. "I don't blame her. The District is trying to push me into administration. I will not go gentle into that good night. It's neither a good path for my students nor for me. I like to think they actually learn some chemistry in my class. And yes," he says, looking at Cindy, "my wife has been a bad influence on me."

I grin. "An English teacher and a librarian. You will be bombarded this week, Sam Dehiya, and you'll love it, too."


"Anyway, so you remind me of Moira a little, and I know things have been getting a little... ah... out of control for me in the past few months..."

Sam snorted. "A little? To hear my brother tell it, you should have his job."

I sigh. "Yeah, I've heard that line, too. But I have my own job to do, and... Well, it's hard to explain, but it feels like something I need to do whether I like it or not."

The concerned looks on their faces have me quickly saying, "No, no, no... don't take that the wrong way! I actually do like what I do. Mostly. I mean, every job has its downside, right? And I work with a great bunch of people. Hmm. Well, mostly. Some of them are a little crazier than others. Anyway! Gods, this family! Always talking about everything!"

They both laugh. "Um, Andi," Sam says, patting me on the arm. "Mostly it's you."

"Oh... bother! So. Cindy... as you know — or not, depending on what the family gossip is saying and how much this one..." I point my chin at Sam. "...bothers to tell you — I've always been able to see certain things and that... ability... has gotten a lot stronger. Normally, when you hug me like you did before, I would have just seen what you were feeling." I lean over to whisper to her, "Your gratitude brings us all joy." I squeeze her hand and continue for Sam's benefit as well. "But I actually felt it today, and I'm pretty sure it has to do what all the other stuff going on, though Moira would probably call it projectile empathy or something on your part. Oh, and Pablo says I'm a magnet for weird."

Cindy looks confused. "Is that a good thing or bad thing, Andi?"

I shrug. "Neither. Both. It's just a thing. But since I could feel it, I'm going to guess you've got this projectile, projective empathy. And it's more than likely my new niece will be able to feel it, too. She's an empath like my Irish friend — maybe not quite as strong, but she's only ten."

"Ah!" Cindy nods. "Okay... if I understand what you're talking around, I give off stronger vibes than most people, and I should be aware of that when your niece is around."

She looks up at Sam, and this time I can see the connection they have — it's the same sort of thing everyone in my family seems to have with their spouses... well, heck, even Charlie and Susan have a solid connection. Everyone's Bond looks a little different, but it's always something I find absolutely beautiful.

"I have a feeling your niece is going to be awash with love around this family," she says.

"Yep," Sam agrees. After a moment, they look at me again. "I wish we could have met them when everyone was out and Mom and Dad's place. To hear them tell it, your new family is magical. Given the fact that Billy is allegedly going to fly — on a plane! — out to New York after the first of the year to visit their school, I'd have to agree."

I chuckle. "Em and Vin had him wrapped around their little fingers almost instantly, and they adore him as well. And I don't know what Billy is talking about; the twins don't go to the school yet. Their older brother does. I'm sure the twins will be starting soon enough, but I also think their mom still enjoys watching them grow up." I smile fondly, thinking of them. "They're wicked smart, and their older brother is so smart that I'd be intimidated if he weren't such a... well, just plain nice kid."

"So, it is a school for gifted kids. I thought Billy was joking about that," Sam says.

"Gifted has... several meanings. But yes. Genius kids and kids like me and Billy and Talia."

Sam grins. "Not my brother?"

I reach around Cindy to poke my cousin's shoulder. "I think your brother has a natural talent like your wife does, and it's the thing that led him to the path he chose. But not everyone would see it that way. Anyway, he couldn't have learned the things he needed to learn anywhere except where he learned them. And before you even go down that road, no... neither could I."

Most of the skiers have gathered their luggage; there are still more than a dozen people waiting, but we at least have a chance of getting their luggage without anyone getting hurt.

"What do your bags look like? I'll fetch them for you."

Sam laughs again. "Probably not a good idea, Andi. I think Cindy put rocks in her bag."

"Did not! You brat!" She laughs along with him. "Go get the bags, Sam. They're not heavy at all."

"Your wish is my command, dear wife." He tucks his hands into his jacket pockets and walks toward the carousel.

"Just when I think Sam is my most sensible cousin, he gets goofy," I say as I shake my head.

"You can be practical and light-hearted at the same time, Andi! You seem pretty sensible to me, and you've got a great sense of humor."

I think Cindy even means that.

"Okay, ask my very soon to be husband about how sensible I am. Or maybe have been since Tita got sick. Life's been... crazy? I don't even think that covers it."

She links her arm through mine and leads me over to the bench where I'd been sitting while waiting for them.

"The days, weeks and months before getting married can be like that, you know," she says as we sit down.

"Ah, if only it were just getting married!" I say with possibly a little more theatrics than necessary. My brother is rubbing off on me already. Or Ninja is peeking out. Some days, it's hard to tell.

Cindy chuckles. "Yeah, I know... all the other stuff, too. And knowing you, there have been things going on that even the family doesn't know because... Well, your job is rather unique. Pablo has stood by you through all of it, hasn't he?"

I nod. "Except for that time I had to go rescue him, but that wasn't his fault and isn't something the family needs to know about. It turned out... strangely. Tommy knows about it, some of it... most of it? But I don't want to alarm anyone else." I pause, then shake my head. "No, I have a feeling even Talia doesn't know about that."

"So you're trying to scare me, instead, huh?" She smiles and gives me a look that says I'm wasting my time. "I teach hormone-crazed high school kids, remember?"

"No, I'm not trying to scare you. I seem to be doing a lot more babbling lately than usual. Pablo just follows along. I think he enjoys it; I spent a lot of years being very quiet and shy. And as wonderful as he is, there haven't been many people I could actually talk to about all of this outside the family."

Sam rolls two medium-sized suitcases over to us. "Where to next, ladies?"

"Ooops! I forgot to mention we're picking up Justin's friend, too. Did I forget? I must have. Anyway, we're waiting for Chris, and his flight..." I look up at the arrivals board again. " not running much later than when you arrived and is due in about fifteen minutes. And since he's flying United, too... we'll just wait right here for him!"

"Sounds good to me," Sam says as he sits on Cindy's other side. "Who are we gossiping about today?"

"We were talking about me, but I want to know how the home visit went." I know how important this is to them. Cynthia was crushed when she found out she couldn't have children — far more than I was, and that's saying quite a bit. Mama's been keeping me posted on their journey to becoming foster parents... and then hopefully adoptive parents.

Cindy grabs my hand and squeezes hard. I think almost anyone else would at least wince, but I just smile and rest my other hand on top of hers. Sam rests a hand on her shoulder. If I couldn't see her aura, I would think she was utterly terrified. But she's not... well, not exactly.

"Oh, my God, Andi, dropping them off at the group home this morning was the hardest thing I think I've ever done. They're so little and scared. One minute, they didn't understand why they can't go home and the next they remember why..."

Between the two of them, they tell the story of two young brothers, David and Anthony, only six and four years old, respectively. Their mother was killed in a car accident — a drunk driver ran a red light. I have to consciously remember that I can't squeeze Cindy's hand as hard as she's squeezing mine. The System couldn't find any record of the boys' father, and their mother was Lakota, originally from Pine Ridge. The people from The System say there's a great-aunt out there... somewhere... but since she's close to Papa's age, they're not even looking for her.

"I asked Dad to talk to his counterpart among the Lakota People, but it could take a while to track down any other family they have."

"It just makes me so mad, Andi! They think because Sam is Navajo that's the same thing as Lakota... or maybe they just don't care. But we do."

"I know, I really do," I say, pulling her into a hug. "And I know you want more than anything to help these little boys." I pull back and look at her face. "Any Normal human could see it in your eyes, Cindy. What's the next step? You're going to be a wreck while you're here, aren't you?"

Sam has wrapped his arms around her, and she leans back against him. She does manage to smile.

"The next step is being part of your celebration, Andi. I'll keep my worry about them locked down, I promise," she says.

"They seemed to have a good time with us," Sam adds. "David was intrigued by our Diné traditions. Tony couldn't stop staring at all the books. Before we left to drop them off..." He glances at Cindy, who nods. "David asked if we thought they could live with us. Naturally, we told them we would like nothing better. And then he looked around the living room and sighed in a way no six-year-old should ever have to sigh..."

"He said, 'I guess we'll have to be of the Diné now and not Lakota.' I..." Cindy stops and closes her eyes, though tears escape. I can see her turmoil, but no longer actually feel it. She takes a deep breath before continuing. "I knelt in front of them and hugged them both. 'I am Bilagáana, the Diné name for Anglo people. I have learned my husband's traditions because I love him, and I love his family, and I love his People. You are Lakota, Naałání to the Diné and Oglála Lakȟóta Oyáte among your own People. You will always be who are. I will learn your traditions if you come live with us because I will love you, and I will love your family, and I will love your People.'"

She opens her eyes as Sam hands her a tissue. "I thought they were going to choke me... that's how hard they hugged me."

Sam smiles. "I don't think I even need to speak with our cousin to know the ignorance endemic in The System will work in our favor, although in Nebraska... you never know. It would be best for them to be among their family, their People... yes. But if that isn't possible, we will stand for them, and we will not let them forget who they are."

I just stare in wonder at them. And then I realize... it's not so different from what Pablo and I will need to do for our children: they will know they are Diné and descendants of an ancient Aztec heritage. I've been teaching Pablo my traditions and only learning Spanish from him. I hope there will be time for Momma Garcia to teach me how she makes her tamales while she's here.

"You two are amazing. While I would love every child to grow up surrounded by her or his own people, culture, and traditions, I realize that's just me being idealistic." I pause a moment and suppress a shudder. Now is not the time to be thinking of all those children who never had the chance to even grow up because William Stryker was a pus-filled sore on the face of this world. I shake my head and smile at the look Cindy gives me. "Nothing, cousin. Just thinking about work when I shouldn't be. If these two little boys have no family to take them in, they would be so fortunate to have you and Sam to care for them, to be their family, to help them remember their People. You know the whole family will be happy to learn of our Lakota friends and their traditions right along with you."

"I know, Andi. Again... I wish my family were as supportive as you guys are," she says.

"Your brothers understand, don't they? And their wives and children, too, unless Sam's been telling stories." I wink at him. "That's Henry's modus operandi anyway. The point is that you..." I stop and look toward the doors separating the baggage area from the tram system, then look at the arrivals board. "Wups, that should be Chris' flight coming in."

I guess the grin on my face in response to Cindy's expression is enough for Sam to figure out what's going on in her mind and he chuckles.

"Super hearing, remember? Sort of like Superman, without the laser vision and bulletproof skin."

"I don't move that fast either," I say as I stand up. "And I don't fly... that's my husband's gig."

Cindy leans back against Sam and shakes her head. "I will accept whatever you say, Andi." She grins at me. "I might never really get used to it, but I'll accept it. Now, go on... fetch your brother's friend. We'll just sit here being an old married couple."

I raise an eyebrow at the way they're sitting close together, holding hands. "Yeah, right. If the old married couple is Papa and Tita!" I chuckle before moving toward the doorway, out of the way but with a fair view of the arriving passengers.

Even if Justin hadn't sent a picture of his friend, it would have been easy to pick him out of the crowd. To Normal sight... yep, he looks like an average guy. But to someone who can see auras and qi? Nope, not even a little average or ordinary. I've never seen anyone whose aura telegraphed their powers, however... it looks like he's surrounded by tiny ice crystals glittering and dancing in the light. Sweet!

"Hi, Chris," I say when he pauses to look around. "I'm Andi, Justin's sister. It's good to meet you."

Despite the past few months being some of the most bizarre of my life, one good thing that's come out of it is that my fear of picking up too much information from people has been nullified. My own strength plus learning from Moira how to shield well has made meeting new people a whole lot easier.

I hold out my hand to shake his.

# # #

The flight had been a good one. Chris considers it to be a minor miracle when either arrivals or departures are even close to being on time at this time of year. He doubts he would have been this lucky two or three days before Christmas. Twenty minutes late isn't too bad.

Justin had texted him during the flight, noting that his sister Andrea would be picking up him and that she had a picture of him. Since he has no idea what she looks like, he heads for baggage claim, figuring that she would probably wait for him there. If security at the Denver airport is anything like that at O'Hare, there's no way she'd be able to meet him at the gate. He does have a description of her, so he's not completely surprised when the dark haired woman approaches him.

Chris offers up his hand in return.

"Hi, nice to meet you. Thank you for coming to get me, but you really shouldn't have. I could have taken a cab. I'm sure you're busy with so much family in town," he says a bit shyly.

I laugh. "It's obvious you have a small family and that you're all relatively sane." Gesturing toward the carousel that will begin blaring at some point in the next two or three minutes, I add, "If you checked a bag, it will get vomited out here. And we'll wait for the skiers to trample one another before attempting to fetch your bag. Never get between skiers and their snow."

Well, Ninja might just to mess with them if they got particularly annoying, but Andrea the nice librarian wouldn't. I seem to be saying it a lot lately — I'm crazy, but I'm not insane. Sometimes I wonder where I draw that line.

Smiling warmly, I note, "My mother and grandmother have taken over my kitchen to make the traditional wedding foods. Honestly? I'd be safer out on the streets working. And cabs... ha! You're so funny! You're coming to my wedding. Well, the reception. And Justin thinks highly of you and believes we might be able to help you. That makes you family! Family doesn't take cabs." I tilt my head to glance at him for a second. "Okay, Pablo might tell you I made him take a cab from the airport when he came back from Flagstaff, but I sure wasn't going to pick him up on my motorcycle. It's not a hog like Maddie and Logan have."

All through the light almost babbling I gently move Chris in the direction of the bench where Sam and Cindy are waiting, and he merely follows along in my wake. I can see that Justin downplayed his shyness — although, in the workplace, wouldn't you expect someone to be more comfortable and confident? Darn. Yes, I would, and one less thing I can tease my brother about. Good thing there are so many things to tease Justin about!

"And besides, my cousins have already attempted to show me the error of my ways, and they failed miserably. They have more practice, too." I grin at them. "Sam, Cindy... this is Justin's buddy, Chris Adams. Chris... my cousin Sam Dehiya and his wife, Cindy Thomas."

From Sam, Chris gets a firm handshake. From Cindy, he gets a hug. I wonder if Justin warned him about that. It doesn't appear that he did — Chris looks like he's been hit by a cyclone. Actually, all those little ice crystals in his qi look are imitating miniature tornados. Or maybe whirlpools.

He'll probably get more hugs while visiting our family than he gets in six months back home. Well... hugs are good. That seems to be the Yazzie Family philosophy, and it seems to be the truth, too.

Chris isn't sure what to say to all of this. He returns the handshake and accepts the hug almost mechanically and then tries to make sense of it all.

Sam chuckles at Chris' slightly bemused expression. "You'll figure out pretty quickly that Justin is a better storyteller than his sister—"

"Hey! I'm getting better!"

That gets me an eye roll from Sam. "I'm not falling for that one, Andi. While it might be true, I don't know the entire Monty Python and the Holy Grail script like certain members of this family. However, you paraphrase that particular line often enough that we are all immune to your protestations." He looks back at Chris. "And when stories get spread around the family grapevine, they tend to get embellished."

Cindy nods just as the carousel begins blaring and turning. "Ugh, I hate those things," she says, giving it a look that only a teacher can before giving her attention back to Chris. "But Sam's right. The current story is that you're a combination of Albert Einstein, Elon Musk, and Neil Degrasse Tyson, that you're going to clean up the world's water supply in the next couple of years and reverse climate change after that. Oh, and didn't Charlie say something about being a mad scientist with a lab in his basement where he communes with aliens?" she asks Sam.

"Something like that."

I snicker. "That has a distinctly Henry vibe to it. Although I could have added the alien part if I was playing the game."

Looking at Chris, I smile. "So. Luggage? I'd go fetch it, but I'm out of uniform. Sam can fetch it as soon as the skiers are out of the way."

"Sure. No problem. I live to serve," Sam deadpans. Then he grins. "Stories of your uniform have circulated around the family, too. Is it really made of spandex?"

I give him a severe stink eye, and he laughs.

"Hey, just checking. So many stories, so many embellishments... I just wanted to make sure you were still you."

I shake my head and say to Chris, "Well, welcome to the madness that is the Yazzie family. No matter what Justin told you, we're worse. You are not prepared." Then I grin. "Good thing Pablo is a voice of reason. And sanity. Most of the time."

As we continue our banter, Chris' smile grows, and he relaxes more.

"Just one bag and I can get it. Waiting for the skiers, though, does sound like a good idea," he says, eyeing the young men and women standing as close as possible to the carousel.

He had been relatively sure Justin had told his sister all about him; now he's convinced of it. His eyebrows raise a bit as the banter veers in the direction of uniforms and spandex, and he can't help but smile at the playfulness. Justin had warned him about his family. And everything that he sees this morning says that Justin hadn't been exaggerating about how close-knit the family is. It's definitely a good thing.

I watch the qi flowing as Chris gives an outward impression of being somewhat overwhelmed. But he's got a good, solid sense of self. I suppose that explains Justin's comment about him being the most centered Absent Minded Scientists in the history of ever.

"Thanks for having me," Chris adds. "Justin assured me it was no problem. My own family was scattering all over the place, and he insisted."

"No, no... it's better if I get," Sam replies to Chris' offer to fetch his own luggage. "According to Henry, if you don't have a guardian Spirit, the baggage carousels can kill you."

Sam sounds so solemn that I merely shake my head. "It's a wonder that anyone in this family believes anything my cousin-twin says!"

"Mostly, we don't," Cindy admits. "But you have to admit that he's pretty funny."

"Uh huh. Talk to me again when he's calling you every fifteen minutes wanting to know if it's still okay to land his plane in your backyard."

"Oooh, that's new. But he can't possibly be calling you from the plane. Pretty sure pilots aren't allowed to be on the phone while they're flying."

That's a good one... Sam trying to use logic and reason when it came to our cousin! One would think he'd know better by now.

"Because he's calling from the airport and the vehicle he's in as he gets from the airport to my house. Good grief, Sam!" I exclaim.

Cindy laughs. "Well, one of his best stories lately is the one about his visit out here at Halloween."

I just sigh. "You know what? I'm going to hire him as my publicist. No one will believe him, even when he tells the truth."

Cindy stares at me for a second. "Some of that was true?"

I shrug. "Depends on what the story is this week. But as I told Justin the other day, if it involves most of the Spirits, ghosts, a Black Wolf, and the US Army Special Forces..." I look around, noting that another flight has arrived and the passengers are gathering at a carousel farther down the concourse. "Well, the baggage claim area certainly isn't the place for those kinds of stories. Also, I'm not telling the truth anyway." I grin at Cindy and Sam. "To anyone." I pause to consider that for a moment.

"Well, maybe Papa. But nobody else."

Sam and Cindy exchange a glance. "Hmm. Does Pablo know what he's getting himself into by marrying you?" Sam asks, only half-jokingly.

"Yep! I have all kinds of stories in which he played a part that will make your gray before your time, so stick with Henry's versions of anything you might hear. It's more fun that way."

Then I nod to Chris. "And you're beyond welcomed! My brother is right... it's not a problem at all! You might have to spend the morning with my college roommates during the actual ceremony. That's just for the family because both Pablo and I have pretty big families and Mama wanted everything to be as traditional as possible. And I'm pretty sure that Deb and Clara will tease you like you've never been teased before, but that's their way of being friendly. And we sort of had a spare room anyway, so..." I shrug. "It all works out!"

Chris tries to keep his expression neutral, but he can't help smiling at the exchanges. While it's not likely he has any idea about half of what it is we're talking about — let alone what any of it means — it can see we're having fun. And seems to make him happy.

"Sure, that's great. Always glad to meet any of your family or friends. Sounds like a lot more fun than what I would have faced alone in Chicago. I probably would have just gone into the lab to work."

"See! All good!" I say. "Oh, and some of the cousins will be coming over to our place tonight after Mama and Tita leave. I told Justin to make sure you got over there. You're adding to our happiness, you aren't stuck in Chicago all by yourself — ick! And we'll do what we can to help you."

Sam raises an eyebrow. "The conclave you're holding this evening?"

"The one to which we were not invited?" asks Cindy.

I nod.

"Excellent! Don't warn my brother that I'll be teasing him about never coming to visit me," Sam says, laughing.

Cindy lightly taps her husband's arm. "I'm pretty sure it's our turn to visit him, you dork."


"Oh, good grief. The whole family is turning into a comedy troupe! Sam," I say, pointing at the carousel that now only has three pieces of luggage going around and around, only one of which could possibly be Chris'. "Fetch our guest's suitcase, please."

"Ah, the bright pink one with unicorn stickers all over it! Of course."

Cindy Gibbs slaps him before I can. Clearly, she has been anticipating his break from sanity.

As he walks away chuckling, I whisper to Chris, "Justin didn't mention any unicorn obsessions, and pink doesn't seem your color... so I hope the larger black suitcase is yours and Cindy didn't waste a perfectly good Gibbs slap. Hard to catch Sam in a really goofy mood like this."

Chris smiles and shakes his head. "No, I left that one at home. I decided to go more traditional for my first visit. Sure glad I did, or I might have ended up with the wrong one," he says with a straight face, although there is laughter in his eyes.

Sam is already on his way back with Chris' suitcase, and I chuckle. "Good thing, absolutely! Wouldn't it be terrible if a little preteen girl was crying because she had your Superman Underoos and you had all her Wonder Woman t-shirts?"

"Yeah, they'd probably be too small for me," he replies, completely deadpan.

Sam gives me a look of concern as he rolls the bag to a stop next to Chris. "Andi, don't you think you should try not to scare people before we even get them out of the airport?"

I pretend to pout. "Yes, oh, wisest and eldest of my cousins. You're absolutely right. I don't know what I was thinking."

Cindy can barely contain her laughter, but Sam merely sighs. "You've either been taking acting classes or spending too much time with your brother."

"Neither? I think we can lay this one at Pablo's feet. He likes to tell stories of when he went undercover." I pause for a moment. "Well, the fun stories, anyway. Besides, Chris must be used to Jason's goofiness!"

I pull up the handle on Cindy's suitcase and, as she starts to object, shake a finger at her. "I will drag the rocks!"

"Oh, just let her get most of her lunacy out now, dear," Sam says. "Maybe she'll be the sweet, quiet, shy Andi I remember by the time the wedding ceremony starts tomorrow."

"Nope. Getting married, remember? So you all get the slightly hyper, definitely crazy Andi who forgot how to be shy. I think. About the shy part, I mean." I gesture toward the door that leads out into the parking garage. "Come, Traveler People! Let us make our way to our conveyance so that I might deliver you safely to your temporary home in our fair city of Denver!"

Chris insists on taking his own suitcase rather than let Sam pull two of them. With his Christmas gift scarf wrapped around his neck, he follows Justin's family. He's absolutely enjoying the insanity. They seem to be having a great time. Justin was right... I guess I will be happier out here than back home, he thought. All of this is a lot like the interactions with his own family — his family is just a lot smaller.

As I lead the way to Pablo's car, I hear Cindy say to Chris, "If she starts making your head spin while you're here, Papa and Tita — that's Grandfather and Grandmother Yazzie — can talk sense back into just about anyone. Most of us are fairly calm." I'm pretty sure she's giving Sam one of her Teacher Looks again. "Most of the time, anyway."

"It's true," Sam concedes. "Most of us are just happy to have a chance to see the whole family. Although if I didn't know it was impossible, I'd almost guess that Andi had overdosed on coffee this morning."

I chuckle softly to myself. It's true that my particular Curse keeps caffeine from affecting me like it would Normal folks. It's a good thing... and a bad thing... but mostly a good thing that my Sister owns a coffee plantation.

Once all the bags are stowed in the trunk of the car, Sam and Cindy climb into the back seat, snuggling together as though they're newlyweds. Or teenagers. I just shake my head at them.

More and more people are arriving at the airport to pick up their visitors, which means there are so many more oblivious people wandering through the aisles just begging to be hit. Of course, if I try to goose them with a bit of qi — something I would absolutely do if I was on my bike! — I do run the risk of harming Pablo's car. And then he'd be sad. So... I refrain from sighing, I refrain from hitting anyone, and I just get out of the parking structure as quickly as possible.

Once on the road back into the city, I glance at Chris in the seat beside me. "So, Mister Adams... Oh, and Justin told me about your roommate who's starring in 1776, and I'm totally bummed that I can't get out to Chicago to see it because it's a marvelous show and one of my favorites. And that she sings at you because of your name and all. So if I start doing that, just poke me."

"Or step on her foot," Sam says from the back seat.

"Hey! No comments from the cheap seats!

Chris smiles at the mention of Miranda. "Yeah, she's been singing that bit since she found out she got a part in the play. It's fine, really. She has a great voice. I think she's got a lot of talent as an actress, too, and she's an even better friend. I've seen her in plays many times — always amazes me," he says. "So unless you sing as badly as I do, I'm sure I'll barely even notice. Feel free to sing all you want. You'll be glad to know I won't sing," he adds with a smile. "I think Miranda made me promise.

"As I was trying to say... or ask, I guess... where did your family disburse to? Justin just said you were going to be alone all week." I chuckle. "If you didn't mention it to him, that's one thing. But if you did, I'm going to have to suspect he's been withholding information."

"My sister's friends kidnapped her to an undisclosed location," Chris says, chuckling. "I think they might be in Hawaii, but she will neither confirm nor deny it. Well, not until she gets home, she says. And our folks went on a cruise to celebrate their anniversary.

"We usually spend time together, but it wasn't meant to be this year. However, I suspect that I won't be bored out here."

Both Sam and Cindy laugh. "Oh, good heavens, no, Chris!" Cindy says. "Bored will be the last thing you can look forward to in this family!"

"Unless you decide to lock yourself in your room, but since the hotel is supposed to be haunted, even then you might not get bored," Sam adds.

"Hey, now, guys," I say, defending my own honor, "I wouldn't book unsuspecting guests into the suites that are reputed to be haunted!"

"Uh huh. But you'd put my brother in one, wouldn't you?" Sam teases.

I shrug. "If the rooms were really haunted? I've never noted any qi manifestations that look like the spirits of the dead. And don't you think that would be a mean trick to play on a Ha'atathli? I'd give Henry a haunted room."

While Cindy seems to think this might be funny, Sam gives the matter some serious consideration. "I'm not sure that's any better than having Tommy spend time with ghosts."

"I wouldn't worry about it. Coyote and I have come to an understanding, and I could probably talk Coyote into talking Henry out of inviting ghosts to the reception."

The thing Chris keeps telling himself over and over again in his head is to relax and go with the flow. He feels like the ride will be smoother that way. He doesn't comment on the haunted hotel, not really sure if they're kidding or not. The conversations just fly all around him. They tease each other so much that he doesn't dare say anything. Still, it's fun listening to them. And they all really do seem to care for one another.

I grin. "Anyway, I probably would have remembered if Justin had mentioned something as interesting as a kidnapping! Although it would probably serve me right, I guess, if he just decided not to mention it, given how much I don't tell him."

"Or anyone," Sam adds.

I sigh and look at Chris for a moment. "Here's the first lesson we're learning from my family," I begin, then glance in the rearview mirror before watching the lack of traffic in front of us. "...either tell your friends and family everything... or tell them nothing. And given that my brother is one of your friends? You'll get a lot less teasing if you go the everything route."

I look at Sam in the mirror again. "And what was that about scaring people, Sam?" I give him a very Ninja grin. "If I told the family everything, I'd scare the lot of you. But I promise to tell you the funny stories!"

"Everything?" Chris looks skeptical. "We'll see. I'm just not good at talking about myself," he says, forcing a smile.

There is silence from the back seat for a moment, giving me a chance to note Chris' forced — hardly noticeable, true, but qi doesn't lie — smile.

"I understand why you give my little brother headaches, Andrea. And I'm delighted to be a simple Chemistry teacher."

"Oooh, and Cousin Chemistry Teacher will have a great time chatting with Chris, who claims to be a simple lab tech!" I chuckle again. "And the lot of you — you two chemistry nerds and my biochem nerd brother — will have a marvelous time talking with Pablo's youngest sister. She's thinking of going to graduate school in the spring — either biology or biochem." I pause, trying to remember the convoluted conversation she and Pablo had the last time Blanca had called. "Or maybe it was the fall. They kept switching back and forth between English and Spanish. They were doing it just to confuse me, I think."

"I can't wait to meet Pablo's family," Cindy says. "They sound as amazing as the Yazzies."

I nod. "Pretty darn close, Cindy."

As we pull up in front of the Brown Palace, I note that Justin and Nicole are waiting out front with their entourage — in this case, Billy and the twins. As Sam and Cindy get out, I rest a hand lightly on Chris' arm. When I'm sure my cousins are out of earshot, I say, "I didn't mean all the everything about your gifts, Chris. There are bound to be things that will make ordinary folks nervous. But from what Justin says, your roommates sound like they're as much family to you as your folks and your sister." I smile, hoping that I can reassure him. "It's a hard secret to keep, and the folks who know you and love you are going to worry no matter what. We can talk later. I didn't mean to scare you there."

Although he had been prepared to get out of the car immediately, Chris pauses when I lay my hand on his arm, and nods at the advice.

"Don't worry, I'm okay. I haven't said anything to my family yet. It's still a bit weird for me to even think about it, let alone say anything to anyone. Justin is the only one I've talked to. I felt like I needed someone to talk to or I'd go crazy."

I smile knowingly, and then nod toward the three bouncing figures outside the car... one an adult, the other two children. "I'd better introduce you to the hellions before they decide to dive into the car."

Billy is already opening the driver's door, and I roll my eyes at him. He just grins. The moment I get out of the car, I'm tackled by twin hurricanes.

"Aunt Andi!! Aunt Andi! Where's Tio Pablo?"

"Wow, you two push things right to the edge when you're unsupervised by responsible adults, don't you?"

"Billy is with us!" Vin says.

"Right. But I did say responsible adult."

"I resemble that remark!"

Sam laughs as he gets the last bag out of the trunk and hands it over to Chris. "Yes, Billy. You certainly do. You're lucky you're everyone's favorite."

Chris rolls his bag over to Justin, and gives his friend a hug. "Thanks again, man. Your family is great. They remind me of my own," he says, "just super-sized."

Billy seems to wilt as he gives me the most pathetic look I've seen in months. "Tommy is Andi's favorite."

I give him a Gibbs slap. "I give him headaches. You're back to being my favorite."

"Uncle Justin and Aunt Nicole have been watching us, Aunt Andi," Em says, hugging me a little tighter.

"Well... they are pretty responsible people." Hugging them both, I whisper to Em, "You okay, hon?"

She nods. "Just a lot of people, but everyone is family so I'll be fine." After a second she adds, "I miss Mama a little."

"Me, too. And so does Vin and your Dad, right? And she'll be back here before the day is over with your big brother and Jenny... and!" I put my hands on my hips as they untangle themselves. "There will be no eye rolls at Leon and Jenny, pretty please." At the looks on their faces, I can't help but smile. "Tio Pablo and I are getting married tomorrow, and all our friends are coming to celebrate at our party with us, and I want Leon and Jenny to feel like celebrating, too. Think you can manage just one day of not teasing him? Puleeeaasse??" The last is a pretty good imitation of Billy.

And that gets them to giggle. "We'll try, Aunt Andi," Vin says solemnly.

"Well, that's all I can ask."

With an arm around each child's shoulders, I look at my youngest cousin. "I don't suppose you're going to behave yourself today, are you?"

He shrugs as he grins. "Papa did make a point of asking that I try."

"Uh huh. Well. I suppose that's the best we can hope for. All you, this is Chris Adams, who is one of Justin's best friends and is visiting from Chicago. Chris, the bouncy one over here is Billy Yazzie..."

Billy stops pretending to be a pogo stick long enough to shake Chris' hand and say, "Welcome to the family!"

"And these are Emelia and Vincent, my adopted Sister's delightful children."

"Bonjour, Monsieur Adams," they say in unison.

"But you can call me Em...

"...and me Vin if you want."

I still find that uncanny... and I'm used to them. Mostly.

"So where's Tio Pablo, Aunt Andi?"

Ah, poor Vin.

"He's at work this morning trying to finish some paperwork. And I'm going to leave all of you to enjoy your morning of sightseeing while I go visit some of my people before I leave town on this strange thing called a honeymoon."

"You're going to work?" Nicole asks, looking from my brother, who is chatting with Chris, to me.

"Yep. I can sneak into my own garage, get changed, and get out again without Mama or Tita catching me. I'll just have to move fast."

Pogo Stick Billy says, "Ooh, your mom is going to be annoyed with you!"

"My Mama loves me, and I already told her I was working. And in this case, I'm actually just heading up to the foothills to make an attempt to talk some sense into a gang of mountain lions. And will someone ask Logan to sit on this one when he gets here?"

That, at least, gets Billy to hold still. "I can turn into..."

"No," I interrupt him. "You cannot. Not in public. Not in my city."

"Awww, you're no fun, Andi."

"Oh, yes I am." I grin at him with one of Ninja's not so very nice grins. "But you wouldn't want me to show up here in uniform so I can haul you off to the FBI's holding facility, would you? The correct answer, dear cousin, is Oh, good heavens, no, by the way."

Billy hugs me tightly. "I'll behave."

Returning the hug, I look over his shoulder at my brother.

"You are in charge of the children until Logan gets here. Then you're still in charge of this one."

I'm pretty sure he remembers my super hearing as I climb back into Pablo's car and he mutters to Chris, "I hope you brought some Dramamine. If you're not dizzy yet, give it half an hour."

I roll down the window before pulling away. "Eighteen hundred at my house, Justin."

# # #

As the car pulls away from the curb, Justin shakes his head. "She's so bossy! Well, let's get the three of you checked in. Most everyone is still in the dining room, and I think there might be some food left after Billy and the twins flew through. I know there's coffee!"

Surprisingly, the three hyperactive maniacs calm down the moment Andrea pulls away.

"My airhead of a sister didn't introduce my favorite niece and nephew to our eldest cousin, did she?" Justin asks the twins. "Well, let's fix that while we get them inside."

The hotel staff has already begun putting the suitcases on a rolling rack, so Nicole links an arm through Chris' as they all move toward the entrance. "It's nice to see you again, Chris. You're used to my goof of a boyfriend... and Billy is only a little goofier. Most of them are sane. In small doses. This is my first time at a gathering of the whole family. I might need some of that Dramamine I hope you brought," she says with a chuckle.

"It's great to see you again, too. At least I know a couple of people. I'm sure I'm going to need help remembering all the names and connections. They should really provide a guide," he says, smiling as they enter the hotel.

"And no... no Dramamine. Nobody told me I'd need it. I blame Justin," he adds, laughing.

Nicole nods as the hotel staff cheerfully sorts the assorted suitcases onto different carts. "I think blaming Justin is a great idea. The gang of cousins seems to blame one another for pretty much everything anyway. Although as far as I can tell, most of the time everyone blames Henry, who in turns blames Andrea." She glances over at Justin, who had sauntered over to Billy and was laughing at something his young cousin had said.

"I come from a pretty small family, too. Cindy has a slightly larger family than either of us," she says, nodding toward Sam's wife, "but they aren't very close. So she gets overwhelmed by all the cousins, too, sometimes. And she's had a decade to get used to them," Nicole adds with a laugh. "Personally, I think everyone should wear name badges. Of course, they all think that's the funniest thing they've ever heard when I mention it."

As the troupe follows the luggage carts and bellboy into the hotel, Nicole smiles as she watches Justin be the social butterfly, moving from person to person, checking with the desk clerk, taking extra time with the twins — as though he was born to the role of a cruise director.

"The elders are Papa and Tita," she murmurs to Chris as they wait for Justin. "Grandpa and Grandma Yazzie, but they insist that everyone — family or not — call them Papa and Tita. They've got three children; Justin's dad is their oldest. He's got a sister and a brother, and you'll know Nelson and Junior when you see them. They're the two always joking between themselves. Sonia's the middle child and will be the one rolling her eyes at the two of them when they get going."

Chris listens, trying to commit the names and family connections to memory. "I'm all for the name badge idea. Definitely with you on that one!"

Justin comes over finally and hands a keycard to Chris. "Pre-check-in! My sister is a genius. The House Elves will take your bag up to your room. And I heard you taking various family members' names in vain, Miss Nicole."

Playfully jabbing Justin in the ribs, she says, "I was just trying to explain your family to Chris. And recruiting another person to my campaign for name badges."

"Uh huh. And good luck with that." Justin always seems to be relaxed and cheerful; today he is completely in his element — with his family. "Care to join us in the dining room for whatever might be left of breakfast?" he asks Chris. "Henry might have eaten everything already... though the kitchen is trying hard to keep up. Tita, my mom, and Andi are the only ones missing this morning. Well, and Pablo."

"Em and Vin's folks, too," Nicole reminds him.

"Right. We're babysitting. Except not, because they're not babies. Mostly, I'm babysitting Billy." Nicole just rolls her eyes, causing Justin to chuckle. "Logan ought to be here soon — he's their dad. Madeline and their brother and brother's girlfriend probably won't be in until late tonight," he says, as if that explained... well, everything.

"So... food and coffee? Or hiding out with the ghosts my sister claims don't exist, and the hotel claims do?"

"I could use some food. The handful of peanuts the airline gives out doesn't last very long."

Chris ignores the ghosts comment for now. The recent visitors in his dreams have made him accept the idea of ghosts or spirits a lot more than he would have a year ago.

"Food it is!" Justin looks around for his cousins. "Sam, we're heading up to breakfast. Or more breakfast. You want to join us?"

Cindy shrugs when Sam looks at her. "Coffee, at least. I want to grab the photos of the boys from my bag first. Your folks would love to see them."

Sam smiles at her, then nods to Justin as the two of them head for an elevator. "We'll meet you there in about ten minutes or so."

Justin gives him a thumbs up before turning to Billy. "I can see you trying to sneak off with these two innocent and impressionable young children, William Yazzie The Third."

Bill affects an innocent expression, and the twins giggle.

"Come on, Billy, you don't want me to have to tell Andi about your acts of corruption against children, do you?"

"But, Uncle Justin..." Vin starts before his twin pokes him. He looks at Em for a second, then merely says, "Oh."

Billy looks at everyone suspiciously, including Nicole and Chris, who are entirely innocent. For now. "I don't know what plot you sneaky people are hatching, but I'll figure it out."

"Of course, you will!" Justin says cheerfully. "I heard the story about the last time you tried to... hmm... slither away from Andi."

Billy groans. "Your cousin-twin is a blabbermouth."

Justin laughs. "Maybe, except it was my sister who told me about it for a change."

"Fine. We're coming," Billy says. "Right, guys?" He looks at each of the twins. "We'll behave. Absolutely. Andi has gotten mean. I blame Pablo."

Justin rolls his eyes as he heads toward the elevator with Nicole and Chris. Behind them, the silliness that often surrounded Billy continues.

"I heard that Tio Pablo says it's our mom's fault," Vin offers.

"No way! Your mom is awesome!"

"It's true, Billy," Em says. "And then Aunt Andi pretends to get mad at him..."

"...and she Gibbs slaps him..."

"...and sometimes he pretends she knocked him unconscious..."

"...and he falls over and makes everyone laugh."

Justin sighs heavily as they all get on the elevator. "Billy," he says in a somewhat pretentious tone, "do listen to the young ones here who are so full of wisdom."

This elicits giggles from the twins and Nicole, causing Justin to smile.

"Yeah, okay. Lay off the theatrical performances, is that what the three of you are saying?"

"Maybe," Nicole says, while Em pats his arm.

"We like you just the way you are, Uncle Justin."

Vin nods his agreement.

Jabbing the button for the appropriate floor, Justin says to Chris. "So you actually got some peanuts on your flight, huh? That's pretty rare these days. I'm sure there's bound to be some conspiracy theory we could come up with to entertain folks." He taps his chin thoughtfully. "Who on your flight was deathly allergic to peanuts... and why did some unknown third party want that person dead?"

Nicole looks at Billy and Justin, then the twins, and then shakes her head as she looks at Chris and grins. "I guess we might as well play along. They could keep this up until they've got enough material for an entire season of a soap opera!"

Their laughter is contagious, and Chris finds himself laughing along with the others.

"I don't think it was attempted murder. They gave us a choice of peanuts or cookies. I assume if someone had an allergy, they'd choose the cookies."

He gives Nicole a nod and a smile.

"Justin gets a little crazy back in Chicago, but nothing like this. Definitely a side of him I haven't seen. Well, at least not to this degree. Something tells me this will be a trip I'll never forget."

Justin and Billy exchange a glance, and Billy just shrugs.

"No, no, no," Justin says to Chris. "We scientist types know that some people have allergies that so severe that just being near them can cause anaphylaxis. Even non-scientist types know that! And in a plane, you've got all that delightfully recycled air. People are sharing their germs..."

"What?!" Billy interrupts. "Other people's germs touched me??"

The twins giggle, and Justin makes a half-hearted attempt to bonk Billy on the head.

While the "children" — Justin and Billy — pretend to fight, Nicole nods at Chris' statement. "He's generally more relaxed and goofy around the family," she says.

"I'm not goofy," the object of her comment replies. "I'm trying to solve a mystery."

The general silliness has given them time to reach the third floor, and the elevator door opens to a view of the hotel's multi-story atrium. Nicole looks up toward the roof of the atrium.

"We're staying on the top floor," Vin said. "It's really cool!"

"It's even cooler that your mom rented out the whole top floor," Billy says as he eyes the atrium with a mischievous glint in his eyes, not acknowledging the look the twins give one another as they shrug.

"Not the whole floor, you dingbat," Justin says, and then pokes Billy's arm. "And whatever you're thinking of doing... don't."

"Hey. Stop it. And she did, too. Andi said so."

Justin eyes Billy for a moment then looks at Em and Vin. They nod. Then he looks at Nicole and blinks.

"No, I didn't know anything about it," she says. "But... Well, you met Madeline. It does seem like something she'd do."

"Mama said it would be a nice present for Aunt Andi and Tio Pablo..."

"And Papa thought it was a good idea, too..."

"Even Oncle Rene liked it..."

"Mama said it was a present for the whole family...

"...even Pablo's part of the family."

Billy chuckles at the youngsters' back and forth commenting. "And I guess she rented suites for Pablo's sisters and their kids." Looking at Chris, he grins. "You get the room that was booked for Pablo's fake friend from San Diego. Though why Andi thought she needed to book a room for a Spirit, I'll never understand. I really like this new cousin of ours. She's got one of the biggest, kindest hearts! She fits right in with all of us!"

Justin shakes his head and points toward the dining room. "Coffee. I need lots and lots of coffee."

Nicole smiles at Chris as they follow Justin toward the scent of good food and good coffee.

"Pretty sure you're right, Chris. It's likely to turn out to be a trip none of us is going to forget."

Chris walks alongside Nicole, enjoying the banter. It's clear that Justin is very different around family — but then, so is he. The difference is that there is so much family here!

"Of course not," Justin says without turning around. "It's not every day your favorite sister gets married!"

"Justin, she's your only sister," Billy pipes up from behind Nicole, just as they reach the doorway.

"Billy," says a voice from inside the room, "are you acting like a cat high on catnip again?"

"No, Dad! I was just explaining to Justin that he only has one sister."

"Heya, little brother. Don't go telling Madeline that story!" says another voice. "I don't know what she'd do to you, but I bet you wouldn't like it."

"Welcome to the madhouse," Nicole whispers to Chris as they enter the small dining room that seems nearly filled with people. "This is where you're going to need name tags."

He takes a deep breath, pretending to build up his courage before entering the dining room.

"Okay, I'm ready," he says. "I think."

Nicole laughs as they follow Justin. Billy and the twins almost seem to teleport past them as they head toward the nearest table.

"Honest, dad," Billy says to the older man at the table. "I've been good. Justin wouldn't let me do anything fun!"

"I'll thank him later. Maybe you'd like to sit still long enough to finish your breakfast." He looks at the twins. "You, too," he says with a smile as he points to the empty chairs they had vacated earlier. "Papa said your dad will be here in about fifteen minutes."

"Yes, sir, Uncle Junior," they say in unison as they sit at the table flanking Billy.

Nicole lightly taps the back of Justin's head. "Hey, Mister Yazzie. You need to do all the introductions."

Justin slips an arm around her waist as he laughs. "Yes, Ms. Waltham, ma'am. Thanks for reminding me... this is usually Andi's job as the eldest of the eldest."

She snorts. "That's a bald-faced lie, and you know it. Whoever brings along the new person gets to introduce them."

"Are you sure?"

Nicole merely rolls her eyes.

Justin shrugs and looks at Chris. "Well, I hope you're up for this. It's like a faculty mixer, except nobody here is a snob. Protocol demands that we'll be weaving all over the room, as my beloved relatives have not seen fit to arrange themselves in any sort of way that makes sense."

As they approach a table farther from the door, an elderly man stands. "You are listening to your cousin instead of your heart, Justin. Today is not a day for strict adherence to tradition."

Justin hugs him. "Okay, Papa. Just don't tell Andi," he says with a chuckle. "She'll bop me for not doing things the right way."

"She would do no such thing," the old man says. "And if she did, I might request that your new brother Logan do the same to her, for tomorrow's reception will be far from traditional."

Justin regards his grandfather for a couple of seconds before shrugging. "Yes, Papa. You're very wise. I would like to introduce my friend, Chris Adams." Turning to Chris, Justin continues, "Chris, my grandfather, William Yazzie Senior... but family and friends just call him Papa."

The old man reaches out to shake Chris' hand, and then pats it with his other hand and finally enfolds Chris' hand in his own. His hands are weathered and show signs of his age, but they are strong hands, too. His eyes are kind and seem to twinkle with mischievousness. Here was a man who has lived many decades and seen many things, and still has an aura of peace and joy surrounding him.

"Hello, sir. It's good to meet you," Chris says as the old man takes his hand in both of his.

"Welcome to our celebration, Chris. Justin has shared some of your story with us. Those of us who can help you... we will help you. Those of us without such abilities... we will make the journey with you. Here, you are not alone."

Chris has the distinct impression that the man was reading him in some way. He doesn't flinch, but merely watches the man's eyes. He has, in fact, come here to get help and understanding.

"Thank you, sir. It's all quite strange to me. I know I can use all the help I can get. I'm really glad I decided to tell Justin about what has been happening. He's been a great help."

Releasing Chris' hand, Papa nods to Justin. "You are a smart boy. You did the right thing inviting your friend."

But then he turns back to Chris. "No, no... Justin is right. You must call me Papa. I left the Marines a long time ago." The old man nods then. "It is hard to know if being touched by the Curse is worse for those standing in the doorway between childhood and adulthood or for those who have had time to become accustomed to their lives."

A pretty young woman returns from the buffet table, deposits a plate at the empty chair, then comes up behind the elder and hugs him. "Papa, you are wonderful and wise, but aren't such ponderous questions better discussed after breakfast, at least?"

He smiles at her as he turns to kiss her cheek. "I am fortunate to have so many wise grandchildren."

She laughs at that. "It takes all of us and our wisdom to balance out Henry and the effects of having Coyote as a guardian Spirit."

With an arm linked through her grandfather's, she looks at Justin and raises an eyebrow.

Justin chuckles. "Talia, this is Chris Adams, of whom I have told a tale or three and the one whom you probably know better than he knows himself." He rolls his eyes again and turns back to Chris.

"My cousin, Talia Yazzie. She's one of the Cursed, our family precognitive." His brows draw together in concentration. "Did I remember to tell you that's just our way of referring to folks with mutant abilities? Curse of the White Man, no offense, white man."

Talia laughs again, a light and happy sound that might remind Chris of Miranda. "Justin, you're such a loon. You're lucky to have Nicole around to keep you grounded in reality." She winks at Nicole, then stretches out a slender hand to Chris. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Chris. And don't let Justin try to freak you out. My real job is being Uncle Doctor Leon's nurse."

Chris takes Talia's hand lightly, wondering what she sees in him and knowing this isn't the time to ask. Also, he isn't sure he really wants to know.

"Nice to meet you, Talia," he says with a smile.

Talia returns the smile and then she shrugs. "I will say, though, that it's always better to get anyone but Andi to explain what 'Cursed' means. She gets a little worked up about it."

While the other two men at the table laugh, Justin gasps with feigned indignation. "Tali! Are you insinuating that my sister is... intense?!"

Nicole rolls her eyes at Justin's theatrics, but Papa merely nods sagely.

"The Warrior has a great passion for those she protects. It is not an easy life she leads, Grandson."

Justin sobers quickly. "I know, Papa. She's managed to keep from telling me anything about it until the other day." Then he smiles again. "She's still my sister, and I still need to tease her... even if she's not here!"

Looking at the others around the table, he says, "Dad, Tommy... yadda, yadda, Chris." That gets him a jab to his ribs from Nicole as well as a chuckle from Talia as she and Papa take their seats again.

"Chris, my dad, Nelson Yazzie, and my cousin, Tommy Dehiya, our Ha'atathli. Medicine Man."

Nelson looks up at his youngest child. "You might want to use your teasing sparingly, son. Her Pablo seems to be doing a fine job of teasing. And he has a harder head than you do if she decides she's had enough teasing and fetches her staff." He gives Tommy an inscrutable look when the younger man snorts. "For you, dear Nephew, I think she might concoct a different punishment."

That elicits a giggle from Talia.

"My family seems to have taken leave of their senses," Nelson says with a sigh. "Pops, you and I might be the only sane ones here."

Papa smiles serenely. "Yes. That may be true... at least until you and your brother start whatever silliness you perform whenever you're together."

This time, all the cousins chuckle. Nelson sighs again and turns in his chair toward Chris to shake his hand.

"I'm glad my son invited you. Just embrace our particular form of madness," he says with a broad smile, "and you'll be fine. Go with the flow, as the young folks say."

"That was being said back when you were young, Uncle Nelson," Talia offers.

Nelson shook his head. "No respect for their elders," he mutters with laughter in his voice.

Tommy stands and reaches over to shake Chris' hand as well. "Welcome, Chris. Despite what Uncle Nelson claims, we're all quite sane... with the possible exception of Tali's oldest brother."

Chris shakes first Nelson's and then Tommy's hands, greeting each of them.

Talia shrugs. "Everyone knows Henry is crazy. Sort of. It's his lot in life to live with Coyote. It's our lot in life to endure him." She picks up her mug of coffee and takes a sip.

The Shaman eyes his cousin for a moment as he sits down again. "Hmm. An interesting philosophy. Be sure to expound on that one with his cousin-twin."

Talia just waves a hand in his direction as she sets her coffee down again. "Andi understands Henry better than she did before Halloween. And since Madeline thinks he's wonderful, Andi can't help but see that side of him, too."

Justin looks from one cousin to the other. He opens his mouth to say something, but then remembers some of the things his sister had told him the morning after he and Nicole had gotten to Denver. So he just shakes his head and says to Chris, "Even if you believe Cousin Shaman, my sister is still the driver of the Crazy Train. And when she's around, we're all going to be passengers."

"Oh, you worry too much, Justin," his father says. "Andrea will be just fine, and she promised no shenanigans while we're visiting."

"I love how much faith you have in Andrea, dad... but you're starting to sound like mom." Justin pats his dad's shoulder as he stares at Talia.

"Hey, I don't need your baleful glare," she says before chuckling. "But your dad is right. Andi isn't the one who will cause any potential disturbances while most of the family is in town... that's going to be my baby brother and your new niece and nephew."

For some reason, that seems to reassure Justin.


These people are all different, and there are so many more than Chris was used to, but the teasing banter is something he is very used to. It actually helps him relax even more. He's beginning to really feel like a part of the family — and perhaps with his 'curse,' he actually is. For now, though, he remains quiet, taking it all in.

Nicole shakes her head and whispers to Chris, "We might still be able to escape. If we head over to the police station, maybe Pablo will take us into protective custody."

At her offer of an escape route, Chris smiles and shakes his head.

"Maybe I'm crazy, but I'm looking forward to seeing how all this plays out," he says, laughing.

Nicole smiles. "With that attitude, I think you'll be fine. A few of us were lucky enough to meet the family little by little." She looks around the room and laughs. "Actually, it was probably just me, although I don't think Cynthia had to deal with quite as many people the first time she met Sam's folks. Susan's used to it... she's Diné, too. Pablo — from what I gather from the stories — was nervous at first, but it didn't take him long to relax. He and Andi even trashed a Safeway chasing down the bad guy who was sucking energy from old folks around Flagstaff. Madeline and her family had it worst, though. I think Sam, Cynthia, Justin and I were the only ones not at that gathering. Plus, the senior Medicine Man was there, too. I guess Andi had gone and done something weirder than usual."

Talia sighs and rolls her eyes as Tommy groans. Justin then sighs theatrically and looks at Chris. "My sister goes and does something to shove both of my cousins onto the Crazy Train... and I missed it. I may never forgive her for that."

The young man behind them chuckles. "Now, Justin... it wasn't all Andi's fault.

"Yes, it was," Tommy insists.

"Well, I'm pretty sure Tezza was part of the problem, too, Tommy."

Justin taps the young man on the head. "Stop it, Charlie. Don't you go bringing Susan's cousin into this. If I want to blame my sister, I'll blame my sister. Especially as it seems like Tommy's on my side. And this is Chris." Grinning at Chris and winking, he says, "Charlie Yazzie, my cousin-twin... and Susan Greymountain, his fiancée." He nods to the young woman sitting beside Charlie.

"Hey, Chris, nice to meet you," Charlie says. "Unlike some people in this family, Justin is reliable about keeping the rest of us connected to his life. We'll all wind up teasing Andi to some degree or another, but we're mighty proud of her."

Susan's eyes crinkle when she smiles. "Nice to meet you finally, Chris. And Charlie is right... we do love to tease Andi. But after whatever she did for my cousin a couple of months ago..."

"Put the fear of Ninja into her... that's what she said," Charlie reminds her.

Susan nods. "Yeah. Well, it got Tezza off a path of self-destruction and moving in a better direction. And I'm pretty sure I'm better off not knowing what the fear of Ninja is."

Although Susan's comment is light, almost verging on teasing again, Justin nods somberly. "You are. I know we all say that she's got a tough job to do and generally leave it at that, but I poked the wasp's nest the other morning." He shakes his head. "Ninja is fucking scary."


"Sorry, Papa. But it's true."

"Of course, it is. She is the Warrior, and war is a terrible thing. However, you should always speak as though your Grandmother and your Mother are listening."

"Yes, Papa."

Charlie jabs his cousin's arm. "You need to spend more time at home, cousin. Aunt Sandy will have you straightened out in no time."

"Ha! Says the guy who spends more time on the road than in his own home!" Justin looks at Chris again. "Charlie's got a sweet Country and Western band. Susan does a lot of the vocals. They're awesome."

"I offered to have the band come out to play at the reception," Charlie says.

Susan laughs. "Oh, dear gods, I could hear her best friend screaming through the phone from ten feet away! I guess a Country band wasn't quite what he had in mind for the perfect reception."

Charlie grins but then shrugs. "After seeing this place... maybe Bobby is right."

"Well, if you brought your drums..."

"When do I ever travel without at least one?"

"Great... we can at least have a Sing before we let Andi and Pablo leave the reception."

"Perfect! I love it!" Charlie gestures to the empty seats at the table. "Go ahead and finish the obligatory introductions," he says with a laugh, "then come back, and we'll talk it out. It's a little complicated, Chris, but mostly just figuring where you fit in the Circle age-wise."

"Did I not mention Chris and I are twins, not quite two days apart? He'll be right after me."

"Seriously? How cool is that?" Charlie looks over at Tommy at the next table. "We're having a Sing at the end of the reception, Tommy."

"I know. Tali already told me." Tommy grins at Charlie.

"Sis, sometimes you are just no fun at all."

Justin nudges Chris and Nicole toward the table closest to the buffet, where Sam and Cynthia are just sitting down. "Tali and Charlie could keep that bit of teasing going all day.

"Aunt Sonia, Uncle Leon... this is my friend Chris Adams." Justin pretends to ignore the last person at the table beside his uncle. "Chris, my aunt, Sonia Dehiya, and my uncle, Leon Dehiya."

Whereas everyone else has only shaken Chris' hand to this point, Sonia stands up and gives him a hug. "Welcome, Chris. Tita isn't here, nor is Justin's mother... so it falls to me to welcome you properly to the Yazzie family," she says with a smile. "Oh, you'll still get hugged by my mother and my sister-in-law anyway, don't worry."

Leon gets up, too, and has come around to stand at his wife's side as she releases Chris. After shaking Chris' hand, he wraps his arm around his wife's waist. "I'm sure more than one person has alluded to the fact that Justin managed to share every bit of your life story that he knows," he says with a smile. "You get used to it... eventually."

"Gee, I sure hope so," Nicole says. "It seemed like the entire family knew about my new job almost as soon as I did."

Cynthia laughs. "That sort of thing can be laid at Talia's feet, I think. She really does love to spread the good news."

"Yep," Justin agrees. "But she just does her See the Future stuff for something that's a big deal. I think."

"If you want to know about your cousin's Curse, you just have to ask her," Leon comments. "She'll be much less frustrating than your sister."

"Nah, my cousin-twin isn't frustrating. She's spooky," says the as-yet unintroduced person beside Leon's chair. "She can talk to Coyote, man. That's just not right. And you guys are ignoring me on purpose, aren't you?"

"Sometimes you're so smart, Henry, that you scare us," says Billy from the next table, causing the twins to giggle once more.

Leon merely smiles and holds Sonia just a bit more tightly for a moment. "The Yazzie family was not nearly as large when I married into it. It's been interesting to watch it grow and develop into who we are today. But what I wanted to mention, Chris, was the more practical help I might be able to offer you. I understand that Andrea has invited the Cursed over to her house this afternoon to give you support and their perspectives on living with abilities that are outside what is considered normal."

"She didn't invite me," Henry nearly whines.

"She just wants to ride the Crazy Train all evening," Justin mutters.

"Boys..." Sonia gives each of them a mild look of unhappiness. "Behave yourselves."

"Yes, Aunt Sonia," they intone simultaneously.

Leon chuckles. "You'll probably be spared some of the teasings, but in this family..." He shrugs with one shoulder as he glances at his wife for a moment. "Well, we're close, we've gathered for one of the happiest occasions we know... so the children will be a little rowdier than usual. But if you're interested in the medical implications of your Curse, I'd be happy to find some time to chat. Justin tells us that your mother is a nurse." He tilts his head toward Talia. "Like my niece, she could just as easily explain things, but I'd understand if you're not ready to speak on this matter to her. And even when you do, it might take her some time to settle it in her mind before she can discuss it with any sort of scientific detachment."

Overwhelming isn't a strong enough word, but Chris manages to accept each handshake and hug as if it is all normal to him. It's not, of course, but it isn't entirely foreign — there's just more of everything. He commits each name and relationship to memory, suddenly very glad that he possesses a good one.

It's a bit disconcerting that they all know his secret, or curse, as they call it. After seeing all the support in this family, it bothers him a bit that he hasn't said anything to his own family, or even Brad and Miranda. Suddenly, that seems wrong to Chris... very wrong. Still, he has no idea how he could ever bring up the topic with any of them. Well, Claire would probably be the easiest to talk to. So, maybe that is a place to start.

Leon's words cut through his thoughts.

"Medical implications?" Chris repeats, blinking and unsure if Justin's uncle meant he was going to die early or if he was suddenly contagious or something. Quickly, he nods.

"I'd love to hear more. I'm the kind of person who likes to understand things as much as possible," he says earnestly.

Leon looks at Henry and pretends to scowl. "And you, young man, were not invited because no one believes that having Coyote as a guardian Spirit is a Curse. And because, as I have heard it, you irritate Pablo to the point where both he and Andrea contemplate teaching you how to fly without the benefit of an airplane."

"That," Justin says to Chris, pointing to Henry with his chin, "is my sister's cousin-twin, Henry. He's still the mayor of Crazy Town, although Andi has been thinking about throwing him out of office."

"Hey! It's not my fault! Coyote..."

"Henry!" at least six people around the room say at once.

"Oops. You're not going to tell Andi, are you?"

"You know what, Henry?" Justin asks. "I'll bet Coyote is telling her right this minute."


Henry's antics get everyone laughing again, and Chris smiles along with them. He had thanked each person so far as they greeted him so warmly. It has all been quite touching, really. Still, more than ever, he wants to move forward and get answers.

Leon chuckles at his nephew's back peddling as he and Sonia sit down again. "The fact that your cousin-twin has the Shaman's gift might drive her to distraction and give my youngest son a blinding headache, but you have been slightly more well-behaved lately, Henry."

Henry looks under the table and sighs, knocking his head on the table when he sits up again and rubs the back of it as he looks at his uncle. "Coyote tattles."

"Duh," Justin says. "I'm pretty sure Pelican would be making a beeline for Andi's house if I started doing ridiculous things all the time, too. But I wouldn't because I'm sensible. And I'm her favorite brother."

"Ha! You don't know that! Cousin Elder Logan is an Elder. And Cousin Rene is a ghost."

"Spirit. There's a difference!"

"Didn't I tell you boys to behave yourselves?" Sonia asks, then nods to Leon, who flicks the side of Henry's head.


"Yes, Aunt Sonia," Justin says, trying to ignore Nicole's giggles. "Sorry, Aunt Sonia."

"Why don't you ring our room when you get back from the gathering of young people at Andrea's house, Chris? You might have many of your questions answered already," Leon says and then chuckles. "Or, knowing that bunch, you might be more confused than ever. Given that you seem to be perfectly healthy, I doubt you have anything to worry about."

Chris — who is, by this point in the introductions, beginning to look more than slightly overwhelmed — gives Leon a nod.

Sam nudges Justin. "If you guys want anything to eat before we go off to tear about Andi's town..."

"Sam, don't you start."

He laughs. "Yes, mom. I mean to say, if you three want to eat anything before we view the wonders of this fair city in which your sister lives and works, you might want to hustle. Those three bottomless pits might not leave much for you."

"I need coffee," Justin says. "At least the twins will leave that alone." He rolls his eyes as they move toward the last and largest table. "I think their mother, my new sister, is turning Andi into a coffee snob."

"You're so silly, Justin," Nicole says as she hugs him. "Andi might have added new coffees to her collections, but she's not going to stop liking what she likes."

Justin shrugs and then points out the three people on the far side of the table as he walks to the head of the table. "You've met the children." Billy sticks his tongue out at Justin while the twins attempt to look angelic. They only manage it for a few seconds before they burst out giggling again. Justin tries to ignore them.

"Aunt Alicia, Uncle Junior, my friend Chris Adams. Chris... my uncle, William Yazzie, Junior — or just Junior — and my aunt, Alicia Yazzie."

As Alicia stands to hug Chris, Nicole lifts the tiny baby from the arms of the woman beside Alicia.

"Good to have you here, Chris," Junior says, shaking his hand. "Pablo tells me that Andi managed to stop worrying about saving the world and surviving the crazy person she has for a best friend for whole minutes at a time while she tried to coordinate this little party she's throwing for you this afternoon."

As the seemingly never-ending stream of people is introduced to him, Chris begins to realize he isn't going to memorize all the names, even as he greets each person in turn with a handshake or hug, or just a smile and a nod. He does remember to thank everyone for their warm welcome. And he really is looking forward to meeting all of them, but... there are so many of them!

"It's not a party, Uncle Junior," Justin says, sighing.

"Oh, potato, potataho," replies Junior, to which Billy responds, "Succotash!"

"Bless you," says Nicole, giggling.

Justin shakes his head but grins at Chris. "That's probably one of the goofier family traditions that Henry's started."

"A party for me?" he whispers to his friend. "I don't need a party, Justin," he says with a touch of concern in his voice.

"Oh, that's just Uncle Junior's sense of humor. He and my dad love to joke around and entertain the rest of us," Justin says as he points to Leon and Nelson. "Unlike Henry — who isn't always as funny as he thinks he is — dad and Uncle Junior usually are kind of funny. They probably believe any time the young folks gather, we're having a party.

"Anyway..." He looks at the last two people at the table. "Yani, Daniel... this is Chris. And that's my cousin, Yani Begay, her husband, Daniel, and Nicole is holding Little Kai. Not that anyone would confuse a baby with Tita, but that's how we seem to do things in this family. Uncle Leon is now Uncle Doctor Leon because my sister adopted us a Nephew Leon."

"That's our brother," Vin says.

"He and Mama are still at Jenny's house," Em adds.

"He spent Christmas with her family..."

"Probably making puppy eyes at each other..."

"Ew, gross..."


Yani laughs at the twins' banter as she puts her orange juice down. "Don't mind if we don't get up, but welcome to the funny farm, Chris."

Daniel nods as he points to his face. He apparently has a mouth full of food.

"Having a newborn around changes your eating habits," Yani explains. "Don't choke, dear," she adds to her husband. "Dad doesn't want to work, and I need you around."

"We know the Heimlich, Cousin Yani," Em says.

"Yeah, we wouldn't let Daniel choke..."

"We like him, too..."

"Mama thinks the house he made for Tommy is really nice..."

"And Tio Pablo says he needs to design a house for him and Aunt Andi..."

"So we'll keep him from choking!"

By this time, Daniel has swallowed his food. "Your comedy routine could kill me," he says with a smile. "And welcome, Chris."

Another man has come through the door and stands at the foot of the table, looking at the twins.

"Morning, Logan," Junior says. "The hellions have been remarkably well-behaved... even kept Billy slightly calmer than usual."

Justin chuckles. "And that's a minor miracle. Logan, Chris. Chris, Logan. Part of the package of new family Andi adopted. Brother, brother-in-law... I don't know. Andi likes to confuse me."

Logan nods. "Chris."

Although he's smiling, there is something about Logan's stance, his presence that would make one hope to never meet him in a dark alley... or get on his wrong side. His eyes shift to Justin.

"Madeline and Andi spoke about this afternoon's meeting. They decided it would be less stressful for Chris if we stayed out at the Golden."

Justin nods. "Okay. Andi's running the show. My job is just to get the appropriate people back to my sister's house at the appointed time." Then he smiles at Nicole. "You're just going to stand and hold Little Kai, aren't you?"

"Uh huh. Just get a plate of whatever the human Hoovers over there left on the buffet. I'll give Yani and Daniel a chance to eat."

Logan sits down at the end of the table between his daughter and Daniel. He motions to Nicole. "I've eaten. I'll hold her."

To most people, it might seem incongruous for a man who gives every indication of being more than a little dangerous to cradle a three week old infant in his arms. To everyone who knows Logan, it's the most natural thing in the world.

This time, it's Nicole who's doing the leading as she heads toward the buffet table, leaving Justin and Chris to follow. Despite Sam's warning, Billy and the hurricane twins haven't managed to knock the Brown Palace catering staff off their stride. There are several varieties of muffins; bagels and bread for toasting; cream cheese, jellies, jams and butter; a wide array of fruits; cereals and several types of milk, including goat's milk, soy milk, and almond milk. And coffee... there is plenty of coffee, as well as a diverse selection of teas.

Nicole selects several pieces of fruit and a blueberry muffin. "Don't stress it, Chris. Justin and I don't really have the gut-level understanding of what you and the others in the family with gifts have been through, but his sister — the whole family, actually, but Andi especially — has empathy to spare."

Justin waits for the dining room staff to switch out the trays of scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage before he adds, "I think her smartassery is a defense mechanism, even if Pablo does claim it's a superpower. She's got a particularly rare gift and one that's more powerful than anyone has seen in generations — if ever. Our stories certainly don't give any clues, and her teacher in China was pretty amazed by what she can do. I guess she's only added to her abilities since then."

Chris had merely followed Nicole and Justin to the buffet table. He fills a plate full of the scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage. As they talk about Justin's family, he nods.

Justin shrugs. "I guess my point is... well, just look at it as an information gathering and brainstorming session. Like starting a new research project, right? Collect your current set of data, develop a hypothesis, test, check the results, rinse and repeat." Justin chuckles. "Although it's gotta be kind of strange using yourself as the test subject. Still... scientists have been doing it for centuries! I guess if Andi can figure out what she's doing with a little help from her friends and family — and without blowing up the western half of the US — you shouldn't have any trouble."

After they had gathered their food and beverages, they headed back to join Charlie and Susan at their table.

"And you've seen how you've been welcomed, dude," Justin says, gesturing around the room. "Even those of us who can't even begin to imagine what you went through, what you're going through, what you might go through..." He shrugs as he assembles an egg and bacon sandwich. "Like I told you back in Chicago, this family will help you as much as we can. All of us."

"Your family has already been great," Chris says. "Honestly, buddy, it's a huge relief to be able to even talk about this. I may still be weird, but at least I can share it. That means a lot to me."

"Want me to ask cousin Medicine Man if we should have a Sing for Chris, too?" Charlie asks.

Justin shakes his head. "Good gods, no! From what Andi says, I have a feeling we'll be tempting fate just having a Sing for her and Pablo. I know Tommy would put together the right notes and words, but... I dunno, Charlie. Pablo says she's a Magnet for Weird, and I'm not disbelieving him anymore."

Charlie looks over his shoulder at Tommy, then looks at Chris, and finally back at Justin who has just taken a bite out of his sandwich. "After what happened in Flagstaff and at Uncle Leon's place, I know better than to suggest a Dance. But a Sing? They're meant to soothe souls and heal the little things, Justin."

As he chews, Justin looks around the room, and his gaze is caught on Logan and Little Kai. Em is leaning on the table watching the baby with sharp eyes that don't seem to miss anything. Kai has woken up, and her tiny hands are reaching for Logan's chin. He lowers his head so she can touch his scruffy beard and gently blows across her face. She laughs or giggles or squeals or whatever it is that babies do when they're happy.

And the room goes silent... except for Little Kai's happy gurgling and cooing.


He looks up at Yani.

"That was her first laugh," she says simply.

Logan just continues to smile. "Em wasn't much older, and Vin was only a day or two behind her." He looks down at Kai. "She's a happy baby."

Justin remembers to finish chewing and swallows his food as Papa laughs heartily. "Once again, you have honored us, Logan. I am sure Andrea will be happy to tell you about the Ceremony of First Laughter."

"I'm sure she will, Grandfather."

Charlie and Justin look at one another for a moment, and then Charlie says, "Okay. You win. We're tempting fates by even allowing Andi and Pablo to get married!"

"If they hadn't already formed a marriage bond, I'd agree with you."

Nicole looks at Chris, then the two dorks at the table, and slaps Justin's arm with the back of her hand.

"Hey. You have two people here who don't understand why you're acting like you just saw a miracle happen. Perhaps we could get an explanation?"

Susan chuckles. "We celebrate joy. A baby's first laugh is cause for celebration. There's usually a bit of a party — hosted by the person who made the baby laugh, which is why it's special for Logan and all of us."

"Oh." Nicole still looks confused, and Chris looks every bit as confused as she does. "That explains..." She shakes her head. "Nope. Doesn't explain why these two..." She points at Charlie and Justin. "...seem to think they just saw Jesus turn water into wine. Or something."

"Babies make all kinds of noises and might even smile at three weeks, but the first laugh? That usually doesn't come until somewhere between three and six months old."

Susan looks over at Logan; both he and Em are murmuring to Little Kai, and the baby seems to be mesmerized. Daniel has pulled Yani close and wrapped his arm around her waist; her head rests on his shoulder. Since their backs are to the remainder of the room, only those at the table with them can see their faces, but their love and joy are reflected in Junior's and Alicia's smiles as they hold hands across the corner of the table. Billy has an arm draped over Vin's shoulders; both of them are grinning.

Susan turns back to Nicole and smiles. "What Andi and Pablo have shared with Madeline, Logan, and Rene to create... well, whatever it is they created? It's real magic. Tommy's kind of magic."

Justin sighs. "And Logan is an Elder so that just makes it all the more potent."

Nicole practically glares at him. "There are things you haven't shared with me, pal."

"Hey! It's not all my fault."

"Right. It's all Andi's fault because she's a magnet for weird." Apparently, Nicole isn't buying that excuse this time around.

He looks at Charlie, who just shrugs.

"Big help you are," Justin mutters. "Okay, you like Greek mythology, right?"

Nicole nods slowly.

"And there are all kinds of nymphs, right? Like... say, the Dryads of forests and the Hamadryads of trees."

"Okay... so you've been studying them, I see."

He shrugs again. "Other people's stories can be as enjoyable as ours. But my point is that mythology says they don't exist anymore, right?"

"Yes," she says suspiciously.

"And what if you met an actual Hamadryad one day?"

"You're serious?"

He nods.

"I'd be freaked out, most likely."

"Yeah, well, Talia was. When she met Logan, I mean. Because Elders are part of our mythology. And Logan is as real as any of us."

Nicole stares at him as she finishes her muffin. Finally, she looks at Chris and says, "Are you sure you want to stick around with these folks? I'm pretty sure we can find Pablo's police station. Sightseeing with Logan in the group could be disastrous."

"I guess I'll wait and see," Chris replies. "I just don't get it. Why would sightseeing with Logan be disastrous?"

"Oh, it's just that Andi, Pablo, Madeline, Logan, and Rene tend to turn into a force of nature when they're together — even more than Andi and Pablo alone," Justin says. "Logan is an Elder. Strange things are bound to happen. Pablo claims that Andi is a magnet for weird, but I'm sure Logan has something to do with it."

From the other side of the room, they can hear a rumbling chuckle.

"You worry too much, little brother," Logan says as he hands the cooing and giggling Little Kai to her father.

"Dang. I keep forgetting that your hearing is even sharper than Andi's." Justin sighs with resignation, but he's smiling, too. "And you've met my sister, right? The whole lot of you are spooky."

That garners a laugh from Logan. "Madeline and Andrea cause more trouble individually than Pablo and me combined. Brother Rene is nearly as bad as his Wife and my Mate." He looks at his children bracketing Billy, then back at Justin as he stretches out his legs, making the chair seem wholly inadequate.

"I'm sure our Sister will appreciate it if I help prevent cousin Billy from wandering around her city as a cartoon character and encouraging Emelia and Vincent in mischief." His expression is unreadable, at least by Justin.

"Hey, that's not fair, Logan!" Billy exclaims. "I can behave myself in a city!"

"Of course you can," his father says, nodding. "Although..." He turns to Alicia. "Who was it again that climbed the tree outside my parents' building in Flagstaff, dear?"

"I'm sure that was our son," she replies, smiling serenely at Billy.

"Well, it is difficult to tell one tiger striped tabby from another," Junior remarks dryly.

"Oh, a mother knows, dear. Besides, he hasn't quite gotten the hang of the small cats yet. It looked a little... demented."

"Ah! Yes, you mean the peculiar eyes that looked like some sort of alien. You're quite clever, Wife."

Alicia chuckles. "As you well know, Husband."

Billy groans. "I promised Andi I'd behave."

His parents exchange a look before his mother says, "I vaguely recall a similar promise you made to us."

"Well... yeah. But Andi is scarier!"

Junior laughs and looks at Justin across the room. "Since your mother isn't here and my brother might make his head explode from holding in his laughter, I suppose it is my sad duty to inform you that you worry too much."

Justin looks around the room, looks at everyone filled with mirth, and feels Nicole's hand on his. He looks at her... and her smile tugs hard at his heart yet again.

"Quit worrying, Justin. Yeah, maybe I'm a little freaked out by Andi and her team, but Tali's not worrying, is she? It will be fine."

Charlie leans toward Chris while Justin and Nicole have a short staring contest. "It's cool, man. And feel free to chat with any of us until you feel like you can talk to your own family. It's different with us... among the People. We don't shun our own for being different. Just think of us all as cousins who are happy to help."

Susan nods. "You'll probably go back to Chicago with everyone's phone numbers. Don't be afraid to call if you need help or just want to talk. But from everything Justin's shared with us, I get the feeling your family and your friends are just as wonderful as this family."

Chris continues to listen to everything, gathering data as it were, and even laughs along with Justin's relatives all around him. He nods to Charlie and Susan.

"Thank you. At this point, I don't even know what questions to ask. But I won't hesitate to reach out," he says. "I promise."

Just then, Nelson taps his knife on his water glass to get everyone's attention.

"The tour buses will be leaving in fifteen minutes to view the marvels of the fair city. We're off to see the wonders I recall from my college days, and the atrocities my daughter insists are worth seeing now."

"Are Andi and Pablo joining us?" Cindy asks.

"No," Sonia replies. "She said something about visiting mountain lions.

"Oh, Papa! Can we..."

Em's question is cut off by a soft growl from Logan.

"Oui, Papa." But she does sigh.

"Um, dad... Andi said we needed to be at her place by four."

"Not a problem. We'll be back in plenty of time for you guys to freshen up. Junior's going to fetch Pablo's family while you're all meeting with Andi."

Justin reaches over and hugs Nicole, then takes a deep breath before turning to Chris.

"So... ready to see Denver? Andi's list was pretty short, but Dad wants to see his old stomping grounds. Oh, and Red Rocks. Despite the several vacations I've had out here, I've never been to Red Rocks."

With breakfast seeming over and touring about to begin, Chris stands and grins at his friend.

"Ready. Let's roll."

Despite Justin's nervousness — either real or theatrical for Chris' benefit — the day is relatively calm and peaceful. While the weather is crisp, it certainly isn't cold by Chicago standards; the sky is a brilliant blue, and the sun is shining.

Because Justin's dad manages to get behind the wheel of one of the vehicles, the entire group is treated to an informal tour of the Denver University campus. Being winter break, the school is officially closed, although the libraries are still open. Nelson marvels at all the changes while his siblings tease him. The parks that he remember are still there, however, and Billy does his best to wear out the twins. He does not succeed.

Instead, he drops to the ground in front of his grandfather after about half an hour. "Papa. They've killed me," he says as he weakly raises a hand up and then lets it drop to his chest as if he really has no control over his motor functions.

The twins outright laugh at him. Tommy looks over his grandfather's shoulder at his cousin. "Hmm. I might be able to save him. It would take the full Blessingway ceremony, though. Nine days." He shakes his head. "I need to help officiate Andrea's marriage to Pablo tomorrow."

Justin winks at Chris and stands on the other side of Billy, also looking down at him. "Gosh, Tommy, do you think he'll survive until Friday?"

Logan stands several paces back, behind his children. "Your Aunt Andi will be very disappointed if you've killed her favorite cousin." Although he looks and sounds serious and stern, Em and Vin apparently know their father better than anyone else and grin at each other. Logan looks up at Papa. "Grandfather, I'll call Andrea to help us if you'd like." His words have a formality to them.

Papa nods solemnly, playing his part. "Perhaps that would be best, Logan. It would be an ill omen for our Billy to die before she is wed."

"I've got it, Logan," Justin says as he pulls his cell phone from his pocket and starts typing on the device. "I'll text her. Hopefully, she can get here quickly."

Flanking Chris, Nicole chuckles, and Talia groans.

"Oops," Nicole says. "The text is going to get to her phone, isn't it?"

Billy jumps up like a Jack-in-the-box and snatches Justin's phone away from him. "Don't!"

Talia nods. "Yep."

"Hey!" Henry says with awe and humor in his voice. "My cousin-twin is a pretty powerful medicine woman if she can heal Billy from far away!"

"Okay, Billy," Justin says, holding his hand out. "Give the phone back."

"Nope. No way. I'm not going to let you text Andi back."

"Interesting," Sam notes. "In addition to threatening him with grave disappointment from Tita, we can get Billy to behave by invoking Andi's name."

"Yeah, well, at least I'm safe when I go home," Billy replies.

This causes Charlie to burst out laughing. "You know she got a new motorcycle, right? She can get to you even faster now."

Billy looks around at the group surrounding him, crosses his arm, and tries to decide who he should glare at. That's when the twins tackle him again.

"Come on, Billy! We want to go to the Aquarium!"

He grins and tosses Justin's phone back to him. "Race you to the car!"

"He's trying to lose," Yani says as she follows along with Nicole and Talia.

"Of course he is!" Justin says, laughing. "If he wanted to win, he has to turn into a cheetah or something."

Talia has to slow down and reach behind Chris so she can jab Justin in the side. "Only against Emelia... and you behave yourself, too."

Sam manages to get to the van before his uncle, so Nelson is relegated to a seat in the back with his son and the rest of the younger generation. "I'll have your sister show me everything else that's changed since I lived here."

"Um, dad? I don't think you're going to be here long enough. You and mom might have to come back after Andi and Pablo get back from their honeymoon."

Nelson nods but sighs. "I suppose we could come back in the summer."

Talia shakes her head. "Nope."

Nelson turns around to look at his niece, eyes narrowed. "Spring?"

"Maybe if it's early spring."


For the three Chicagoans, Denver's Aquarium is familiar and yet different enough from the Shedd Aquarium to hold their interest. It helps that Justin has only visited the Shedd once and Nicole a handful of times. Like most people who had grown up in Chicago, however, a visit to the Aquarium — as well as the Field Museum and the Art Institute — were yearly field trips for all students in grade school. So Chris is the one who would be most likely to notice any differences.

The rest of Justin's family are suitably impressed by the exhibits. At most of the displays, Logan takes the time to talk with his children — sometimes in English, sometimes in French. Justin and Nicole are standing nearby with Chris when Yani finds them.

"Hey, cousin, where have you been?" Justin asks.

Yani laughs. "In case you hadn't noticed, I have a daughter who's less than a month old. We both needed some rest... she needed food." Then she nods toward Logan and the twins. "He's great with them. I'm glad they've been raised bilingual."

"Multilingual, according to Andi. I suspect they're less fluent in Dutch than French and English, but I could be wrong about that." Justin pauses to look around for the rest of his family. "You know, I think at least half of us speak three languages. Andi's got four under her belt and is learning Spanish from Pablo."

Yani nods. "Yeah, you and Andi did get a rather interesting education. You still keep up your Japanese?"

Justin shrugs. "Not as much as I'd like, although there are a few folks at work who speak it."

"Andi said Madeline is trying to get her to speak French," Nicole adds. "I offered to help, but she just rolled her eyes at me."

"I have a feeling she's butchering French on purpose to tease Madeline, but I can't prove it," Justin notes. "And she won't admit it, of course. You should hear Andi and Logan going on and on in Japanese, though. Even I can't keep up with them!"

"Hmm. Well, many of us already speak Spanish. We could make it a family project to learn Madeline's native language to make her feel welcome." Yani grins at Justin. "Unless you think we should all learn French just to tease Andi back."

"Oooh... I like that idea!"

Tommy pokes his head around the corner. "Are you guys as ready for lunch as I am?"

"Already? Didn't we just eat breakfast?" Justin asks.

Nicole laughs. "Sure, for you nerds who have no sense of time. Didn't you tell me Chris' roommate puts a kitchen timer in his bag to make sure he eats lunch? And I know you have an alarm on your phone to remind you to break for lunch."

Justin looks at Chris and shrugs. "I told her about the one time Miranda put the timer in your bag, and every time she tells the story, it seems to multiply."

"If you don't want to get left behind," Tommy says with a smile, "walk while you talk, kiddos."

"Rush, rush, rush, rush," Justin mutters, barely loud enough for Nicole and Chris to hear him. "I'm on vacation!"

"Heya, Justin!" Henry calls out as they leave the building, "How come we're not having pizza for lunch? Andi said Bobo's has the best pizza anywhere."

Sighing, Justin says, "It's Beau Jo's and we had dinner there the other night. I think you ought to get in the van with Papa, Henry."

"No way! My sister is in there, and she's even scarier than your sister. And your sister is plenty scary." He accompanies them to the van Tommy is driving, addressing his next comment to Chris. "She talks to ghosts. Maybe Justin didn't tell you, but we don't talk to ghosts. It's bad luck for everyone."

As they climb into the van, Henry tugs on Nicole's sleeve. "Be careful, cousin! Don't step on Coyote." As Nicole rolls her eyes and gets into the vehicle, Henry nods in what he probably believes is a thoughtful and wise manner. "The Spirits don't like to be stepped on."

Tommy turns around to look at Henry. "You realize I can see that Coyote isn't with you, Henry."

"Rats." He sighs but grins cheerfully as he sits in the backseat with his parents. "You know, dad, it's getting to be that a person can't have much fun anymore."

"Hoo boy, this will be fun," Justin says as he claims a spot between Nicole and Chris.


"Yeah, mom?"

"I'm sure I have some duct tape in my purse."


Justin snickers.

"Don't encourage him, Justin."

"Yes, Aunt Alicia."

"It's not fair, though, you know," Henry whispers as Tommy pulls out of the parking lot. "I used to be able to have more fun before my cousin-twin became a superhero."

Charlie and Susan are sitting in the seat between the two other groups; he turns to look at his brother. "Dude, you can still have fun. You just need to be more honest about it now."

Henry blinks. "No more telling stories?" He sounds incredibly sad.

"Oh, you can still tell stories, Henry," Charlie replies cheerfully. "But you gotta stop fibbing about the Spirits. Even if Coyote doesn't mind you fibbing about it."

Henry blinks again. "Oh." After a moment, he says, "You know, I think Andi said something about that when I visited her at Halloween."

They're the last vehicle to arrive at the restaurant Andi has recommended. However, despite Henry's antics, they manage to get into the restaurant just as Papa is speaking to the young woman acting as hostess.

"So many? And a reservation?"

"Yes, so my granddaughter said."

Her brows draw together as she looks at the book in front of her on the counter. "Mama!" she calls out and flips through the pages, still not finding anything.

"¿Si?" An older woman comes up to the counter from the tiny office.

"They say they have a reservation, but there's nothing in the book. And there are..." She looks up at the newcomers. "...well, a lot of them."

"Oh, sí, sí, sí... Andrea y Pablo. Room is set! ¡Ve, ve, Corazón!"

"Mama, you need to tell me these things," she says with a sigh.

"Y te preocupas demasiado, querida."

"Yes, Mama," she says as she collects a stack of menus. "Come... Andrea said to give you the banquet room." She leads them through the narrow restaurant, and it becomes evident why Andi had requested the banquet room. Booths line both sides of the main restaurant with a row of two-person tables down the middle of the space between them. Except for the front two booths on either side, the area is in no way handicap-accessible. Booths along the windows on the left seat four; those on the right only two. There are only two couples and a single person in the restaurant, at various stages of finishing their meals.

The back room, however, has several long tables arranged in a U-shape.

As Corazón sets out menus at each place setting, the busboy fills water glasses.

"Mama and Rafael and I will get you anything you need," she says to Papa, pointing out her younger brother as people find places to sit. Rafael gave Papa a bright smile.

"Thank you, dear. I hope we will not take you from your other customers."

She laughs. "You saw everyone who is likely to stop by for lunch. We are not usually busy during this week between Christmas and the new year. Mama insists on opening for lunch for the poor souls unfortunate enough not to get vacation time. At least Rafael and I won't be bored!"

"Muchas gracias," Yani says to her. "If you have a high chair, I'll just let the little one sleep." She nods to the baby carrier Daniel is holding.

"Oh! Yes, I'll fetch one, and give you time to look over the menu. In case Andrea didn't mention it, her favorite dish is the smothered chicken enchiladas and Pablo always has the carne asada."

The most accurate way to describe the midday meal might have been "controlled chaos." Between Papa and Logan, they manage to provide the control. But with Henry, Billy, Emelia, and Vincent all acting like children, and Nelson and Junior trying to be comedians, the chaos is inevitable.

Before the meal is half over, Justin's phone rings. When he looks at the caller ID, his eyebrows raise in surprise as he answers the call.

# # #

"Hi, Sis. Please don't tell me the world is ending." He sighs as he listens to her response and then shrugs. "Sure. We're not finished with lunch yet, but I guess we can skip the afternoon activities."

That's when Nelson's phone rings. He gets up to stand at a quieter corner; those closest to Justin, however, can hear his half of his conversation with Andrea.

"You're kidding!

"Ha ha, and no, I don't doubt either of them. I've noted those traits over the years, and I think Tita learned it from Mama.


Justin sighs. "You did. I'm still getting used to this phenomenon first-hand. The rest of the family makes it seem oh so rational that you speak to the Spirits even more than Cousin Ha'atathli does. I'm slightly unnerved."

There is a longer pause this time.

"Well, it's probably good for both of them, right?

"Good idea. And we'll be down a vehicle since I'm bringing one over there. We'll probably be out of your driveway by the time they get back," he says with a laugh.

"From the way you talk, that's usually your goal, Sis."

Justin glances at Chris and smiles. "Fine. Well, maybe a little dazed, but only because our family is a lot bigger than his." His gaze turns to Nicole. "I think my girlfriend is even more overwhelmed."

Nicole playfully swats Justin's shoulder. "Am not."

He grins at her before his attention is caught by something Andrea says.

"Detective what? No. You know what? Never mind. I don't need to know. See you soon, Sis."

He ends the call and looks across the room to his dad, who is smiling as he ends his own call.

Chris is enjoying himself and whenever possible he makes sure that Justin knows it so that he doesn't worry. His family is something to behold. At first, he had thought they possibly were acting out a bit for his benefit, but now he's quite firmly convinced that this is everyday normal for them. Still, despite the seeming insanity, he can tell they all care deeply for one another.

Talia props her elbows on the table and rests her chin on the backs of her intertwined fingers. "Such delightful synchronicity. Those of us going to Andi's house will have just enough time to finish lunch." Her eyes lower to her plate before she raises them again to look at Justin and Nicole, who sit across from her. "Unless you're not already as stuffed as I am." She grins as she glances to the side and looks at Billy. "Good thing Andi keeps stashes of protein at her house. I have a feeling some of us are going to need the boost. Hmm. Sugar, too."

That earns her a glare from her cousin Tommy. "I'm already unhappy, and we haven't even left for Andi's house yet."

Talia sits back in her chair and waves a hand absently at him. "You worry too much, as Aunt Sandy is fond of saying. We're going over there to help Chris, right? And we'll be working." Her brows furrow. "Well, some of us will be. I think." She shakes her head. "When it comes to Andi, things are still a little fuzzy when I look."

Justin leans toward Chris and stage whispers, "Pay no attention to the crazy precognitive. She's crazy."

When Talia sticks her tongue out at him, Justin laughs and picks up his glass to finish off his water. The controlled chaos around them continues as Justin sits back watching his family and holding Nicole's hand. He listens as Emelia and Vincent try talking their father into letting them stay with Billy. He watches as Logan kindly, gently, and firmly denies their request. He catches a few words, the most important of which is "adults." He feels a little sorry for them. If Andi is right, they probably have more ideas about how to help Chris than he does. All he can do is be Chris' friend. No superpowers... so he can't even empathize with some of his friend's struggles. He just doesn't have a frame of reference.

He's so deep in his introspection that he barely feels Nicole's elbow in his ribs.


"You're getting mopey. Stop it."

"How do you do that?"

"Do what?"

"Know when I'm getting mopey."

Nicole rolls her eyes and shakes her head. "Men," she mutters.

They can hear the commotion before it arrives in the back room.

"But Mrs. Yazzie..."

"Tita. I told you that you must call me Tita, Roberto."

"Yes, ma'am, but we can't..."

Sandra's joyful laughter precedes them into the room.

"Of course, you can, Bobby. You are my daughter's dearest friend. That makes you family."

It almost seems like a procession as Tita leads the way into the small restaurant's banquet room. She is regal and self-assured as she smiles at her husband who stands to embrace her. Sandra's bright smile impossibly grows even more radiant as she takes Nelson's hand. The illusion is shattered by a man who looks terrified — deer in the headlights expression and all — being escorted by a taller man with a smile almost as bright as Sandy's.

"Come on, Bobby," David says, an arm draped over Bobby's shoulder. "You know most of Andi's family. Quit being such a scaredy-cat."

Justin chuckles. "I think that's our cue to leave." He stands and helps Nicole up, then looks over at Tommy, who shrugs and walks over to them.

"I don't want to take one of the vans, but six of us aren't going to fit in the Sentra."

Billy looks from Justin to Chris and bites his lip. Then he looks at Talia. "I could get there on my own."

Talia sighs and closes her eyes. "You're going to make my head hurt as much as Andi does, little brother."

"Aw, Tali, I don't mean to. You know that."

She sighs again. "I know. And fine. Just be careful," she as she opens her eyes to look at him.

He hugs her and then tousles her hair. "I'm the playful one, everyone's favorite, the little one who never seems to grow up. That doesn't mean I'm stupid." He says it with a fond smile that conveys even more than his words do — not only is he not stupid, he understands the world outside the Nation better most people give him credit for.

Tommy shrugs and hands the van keys to his father, and holds out his hand for the keys to the car.

"Sure you know what you're doing, kids?" Leon asks.

Justin laughs. "No way, Uncle Leon! It's Andi's show, and we're just going to be following her lead. But I'm going to make sure she doesn't make my buddy's head explode," he adds as he rests his hand on Chris' shoulder for a moment.

"Good luck with that," his uncle says with a grin.

"Yeah. We're going to need it," Talia mutters under her breath.

"Bye, Tita! Bye, Papa! I'll see you guys later," Billy says as he heads for the door. He does stop to whisper something to Bobby... who relaxes ever so slightly.

Before the rest of them can leave, Tita and Papa come over to the little group.

"Your grandmother wanted to meet your friend before you left," Papa says to Justin. The elderly man looks at his wife. The lifetime of joys multiplied and burdens halved is an appropriate maxim to describe the light in their eyes when they look at one another.

"My dear, this is Chris Adams, a friend of our young grandson who has traveled to seek the wisdom of our Warrior and the Cursed of our family." Although the words themselves seem formal, his tone is light. And he winks at his wife before turning to Chris.

"Chris... my wife Kai Bearheart Yazzie of the Tódích'íi'nii and born for the Haltsooí Din'é."

"Oh, Bill, don't be so silly!" she says as she smiles at Chris and takes his hands. "You are a friend of Justin's. That he thought to bring you to us for guidance, this means you are family. So you must call me Tita. Yes?" She gives his hands a gentle squeeze before releasing them.

Chris greets Tita warmly. "Of course. Tita it is. Everyone has been so welcoming. Justin told me it would be like this, but I already feel like I'm part of the family. And I have no hesitation about talking about what has happened to me. In fact, I can't think of any other people I'd rather talk to about it."

This earns him a hug from the family's matriarch. "My grandchildren have such wisdom in choosing their friends!" she whispers before releasing him.

"Well, don't you all have somewhere to be?" Tita says as she looks at her four grandchildren in the small group. "That young rapscallion is going to fly over to Andrea's house, isn't he?"

Talia groans. "Yes."

Tita wraps her granddaughter in a soft hug. "You know your brother will be fine, Talia. Have faith in him."

"I know, Tita. But he's my little brother. I'm always going to worry about him."

Her grandmother steps back and rests her hands on Talia's shoulders. "Of course, my dear. It's what big sisters do for little brothers, what big brothers do for little sisters... what parents do for their children. Just remember not to clip his wings."

Talia nods solemnly. "I'll remember, Tita."

"Good. Now, scat... all of you!" she says, laughing.

The drive from the restaurant to Andrea's house isn't far, although there are a few jogs from one street to another because Pennsylvania Street ended at Governors Park for about half a block.

"The GPS must be set for the most direct route," Talia notes as they stop at the sixth stop sign.

Tommy, who is driving, just shrugs. "You in a hurry, cousin?"

"No. Just..."



Tommy only shakes his head.

Justin sits in the middle of the back seat this time. "Hope my family hasn't made you too dizzy. Even I sometimes forget how rambunctious they can be."

Nicole leans forward to look at Chris. "If you're as dizzy as I am... well, we'll probably be okay. If you're less dizzy? Congratulations." Then she looks at Justin. "Whenever we decide to get married, we're just going to run down to City Hall."

In the front seat, Talia bursts out laughing.

Nicole leans back and half-groans. "How can you stand having a precognitive crushing your ideas like that all the time." Justin smacks the back of his cousin's head then puts his arm around Nicole. "I don't make grand sweeping statements like that around Talia. I also try not to think about huge things that will affect the whole family because then I get phone calls from Talia. She's a pain in the butt. But we love her anyway."

Nicole looks from Justin to Talia a couple of times, then asks, "Well, is it okay if I just delegate everything to my mother, Miss Know It All?"

Talia turns around and smiles at Nicole. "Your mother and Justin's mother. And you'll be fine."

"You're creepy, Talia," Justin says.

"You get used to it," Tommy remarks as they pull into Andrea's driveway. Pablo's car is parked in front of the house.

"Really?" Justin asks.

Tommy looks in the rearview mirror as he turns off the car. "Really."

Pablo opens the front door as they come up the steps.

"Come on in," he says, grinning as he holds the door open for them. "Andi's trying to convince one of the neighborhood cats that your family lunatic is neither a threat nor lunch. Said lunatic apparently has a hard time climbing out of trees in human form."

When he gets out of the car, Chris whispers to Justin, "I'm with you. Talia's talent is super creepy." He does, however, say it with a smile.

"You kind of get used to it," Justin whispers back. "But maybe you have to be a shaman to really get used to it."

"What are you two whispering about there?" Pablo asks.

"Talia. And her creepiness," Justin replies.

"Oh, good grief. Try living with your sister and her super hearing for a while," Pablo says good-naturedly. "Always eavesdropping on everything. I can't even have a private conversation on the phone."

"You always have your phone on speaker, Mr. Smarty Pants," I say as I come through the back door with Billy. "And I think Billy scared a life or two off of Diablo." I stop to pull a pitcher from a cabinet and fill it with cold water while Billy half-skips into the living room and plops himself in Pablo's chair. "Billy! The chair is for Chris. Move!"

Chris nods in understanding to Pablo. "That would get annoying, although I suppose you could have fun with it as well," he says with a mischievous grin that none of them have seen before. Clearly, he is becoming more at ease with the family.

I laugh. "Oh, you bet! I love creeping up on miscreants in dark alleys and listening in on their plots to perform dastardly deeds." I return Chris' grin with one of my own. "And then sometimes I scare them so badly they pee themselves."

"Andi..." Pablo says wearily.

Billy sticks his tongue out at at me as I'm turning around but gets up again, dusts off the seat, and gestures expansively toward the chair as he looks at Chris.

"Your royal throne awaits your royal behind, your majesty."

"BILLY!!" we all exclaim in unison, causing Billy to snicker.

I carry a tray with the pitcher of water and a stack of plastic cups into the room and set it down on the coffee table. "Justin, would you grab the zafus from downstairs, please? They're in the closet under the stairs. Pablo, you want to roll our desk chairs out here? Thanks, dear."

Then I look at Chris with a friendly smile and gesture to the chair. "It's the most comfortable piece of furniture I can offer unless you want to get cozy with Justin and Nicole."

Nicole has already kicked her shoes off and stretched out on the sofa.

"Anyone want coffee or tea?"

They shake their heads, although Tommy says, "I may want some tea later, Cousin."

Pablo pushes one of the office chairs and pulls the other, leaving them both next to Billy.

"I want some coffee," he says, then kisses my cheek before heading back to the kitchen.

"Did someone say coffee?" Justin asks from behind the stack of four meditation pillows he carries. "Count me in! Where do you want these, Sis?"

"Gee, Justin, I don't know. The floor maybe?"

He drops the pillows and bows. "Your wish is my command, O Great Warrior!"

I just sigh and shake my head as Justin sits down with Nicole, who lifts her legs so she can rest them in his lap. He has an innocent smile on his face.

As he sits down, Chris says, "I'll take the chair. I can cozy up with Justin any time back home." He winks and then grins at his friend. It's as if they all enjoy giving each other a hard time. He finds that he likes that. It would make it hard for anyone to get really upset over anything or fights to start. In fact, he can't imagine anyone in this family fighting.

"I'll pass on the drink for now," he adds.

I look at Chris after his comment about Justin and my smile slowly transforms into Ninja's oh so wicked grin.

"I like your friend, Justin. I think I could corrupt him more than Maddie ever corrupted me!" I say cheerfully.


I giggle at the three-part harmony that Justin, Pablo, and Talia provide as they all chime in. It's a beautiful thing. Tommy just facepalms, and Nicole looks confused.

Billy claims one of the office chairs and says, "You could give me lessons, Andi."

"Pfft!" I reply, waving a hand at him as I sit on one of the zafus. "You're too sweet. I'll let Vincent and Emelia work on you."

It doesn't take long for Pablo to bring Justin's coffee and his own, setting them both on the low table in front of the sofa. Talia has chosen the other office chair, and it seems perfectly ordinary for Tommy to sit cross-legged on the floor near Talia. I just listen to the banter and the teasing with my eyes closed, watching the energy of the room swirl with the laughter. I lean lightly against Pablo when he sits behind me... it reminds me of the Sing we had done for Tita when everyone was in Flagstaff. Was that only five months ago? I can feel Talia's attention focus rather intently on me, and I open my eyes again to look at her.


"You want a question answered."

"I have many questions that I would like to have answered, Tali."

"No, no," she says, shaking her head and leaning forward. "It's a question you didn't want to be answered before, and now you do."

"Oh, fine! Maybe I do. But it can wait." I cross my arms and try to glare at her. That doesn't work out very well with Pablo's arms around me.

"You're going to do something crazy, aren't you?"

"What??!!? No!! I don't do crazy stuff!"

Pablo rests his chin on my shoulder and whispers, "Liar."

I think Tommy might be having a conversation with his guardian Spirit, even though I can't feel Puma's presence. "Andrea, you have done more crazy stuff in the past six months..."

"Five months."

He gives me his long-suffering spiritual advisor look. "...than everyone else in the family in their entire lives, including Papa and his military service as a Code Talker."

I stick my tongue out at him. "I blame Raven."

"I'm sure glad none of the elders are here," Billy says as he spins the chair around. "They hate it when you talk bad about the Spirits."

"It's just Raven, and don't you dare break Pablo's chair."

He stops the spinning, shrugs and looks at Justin. "I have a great idea! Let's talk about Chris and why we're all here." Billy looks at Chris and smiles that charming and cheerful smile of his that makes folks just... well, just like him. "It's like we were playing a game of telephone, so my information is filtered through Tommy who got it from Andi who got it from Justin."

Justin groans. "Don't do it, Billy. Please?"

Billy doesn't even look at his cousin, keeping his attention solely on our guest. "Don't pay attention to him. He's just jealous that I tell better stories."

Oh, boy. This should be fun.

"Now, as I understand it, you got slammed with the Virus a couple of months back, and now you've got icy powers like Frozone from The Incredibles. And... let's see... Oh! Maybe one of those old gods from somewhere up north is your guardian Spirit. Or something."

"Oh, no, no, no... no gods or demigods or more Spirits, I'm begging you!" Pablo says.

I pat his arm. "It's okay, dear. We're not dancing, I'm not doing Taiji, so no portal openings!"

"Yes, that's very comforting coming from someone who can open portals just by thinking about it."

Before I can answer, Billy interrupts, "Oh, yeah! And then there's the part about dream learning! That is so cool! Can you teach me how to do that?"

I blink. "I can't believe it. You tell stories worse than I do!"

Billy looks at me, pretending to be shocked. "I thought that was a great tale."

Tommy reaches over and grabs one of Billy's ankles before he starts spinning again. "Behave. Or I'll have Pablo arrest you and lock you in the bathroom."

Billy crosses his arms and pouts, giving an excellent imitation of a toddler.

Letting go of Billy's ankle and patting his foot, Tommy turns to Chris. His outer pose — sitting comfortably on the bare floor with his wrists resting on his knees — mirrors the inner peace I can see radiating from him.

"So other than getting to know the family and hopefully coming to realize that we view our gifts as something perfectly ordinary..."

"Except for Andi, who's just wicked, freaky scary," Justin adds.

I turn to look at him. "You wound me, sir! I can't believe this... betrayed by my own brother." I lean my head back on Pablo's shoulder. "Hold me, dear. The shock of all this might cause me to faint."

Although Nicole giggles and Pablo does wrap his arms around me, holding me closer, Justin says, "I'm really starting to worry about you, Andi. You've been awfully silly today."

I look up at him. "I'm getting married tomorrow?"

I feel Tommy gripping my foot closest to him quite a bit more tightly than he had grabbed Billy's. "And you, Warrior, should know better."

"I'm getting married tomorrow."

"Yes. I know. I'm the officiant, remember? Now, will the whole lot of you lunatics with the Yazzie gene for bad comedy let me get to my question for Chris?"

"Yes, sir, Ha'atathli Dehiya, sir."

Andrea, behave yourself.

I am, Tommy!

He sighs and turns back to Chris. "Sorry about that. As you can see, we're a rather energetic group of people who don't get together often enough." He smiles again, settling back into his gentle persona of the Medicine Man.

"I think it would help us to know what concerns you have, if any, regarding your gifts. Do you need help learning to use them, or how to fit them into the everyday life of a scientist? Do you know what you want to do with them, whether to use them in ways that benefit whole communities as Andrea does or in a manner that is more individual and personal as Talia and I do?

"I know Justin probably already mentioned it, but if there is anything in our collective powers we can do to help — both ordinary and extraordinary — you would honor us by allowing us to do so."

Chris enjoys the banter, and it really does help him relax — that is, of course, until the spotlight is aimed squarely at him thanks to Billy. Still, this is why he had come here. And they genuinely do act like all of this is the most normal thing in the world.

He looks over at Justin and gets an encouraging nod from both him and Nicole. After glancing at each of the other family members in turn, he looks squarely at Andrea and takes a deep breath.

"Would 'I don't know' be a good answer?" Chris asks with a smile.

"It's a perfectly good answer, and one that I used for almost five years," I reply seriously, although I glance at both Tommy and Talia.

"You did what you needed to do, Cousin," Tommy says. "We can't fault you for that. I do wish you'd stop beating yourself up over things you couldn't have stopped."

I shrug. "Working on it," I say before giving my full attention back to Chris.

Chris nods. "Well, I guess to start, what Billy described is pretty much the way it all feels to me. I was supposedly close to death, according to my friends watching over me. Then yes, I developed some ability having to do with cold. Supposedly, I told my friends I was a cleric of Skadi while I was delirious. Then, as I got better, I started seeing this elderly woman who kept telling me little things about how to do things to water. Well, freeze it. It was all in my dreams, but I was able to do some things when I wasn't sleeping and dreaming. I've learned that it doesn't matter how cold it gets, I don't feel it. Well, I guess it's more like it just doesn't bother me anymore. Then Justin told me his Spirit, Pelican, was following me around."

He pauses and looks around at us.

"That's about the story to date. As far as my questions, well, I guess the first is whether this is permanent or will it stop as suddenly as it started? Assuming it doesn't, then I'd like to learn to control it. First, to make sure I don't accidentally hurt anyone, then to see if I can use the power to help people. I'm not sure what scale I'd be looking at. I guess it depends on what I discover I can do.

"Before you answer, I just want to say how much I appreciate you all listening to me and not assuming I've lost my mind. My family might come to understand it, but they might also have some tests done on me first," he says with a grin.

I smile at the mention of Pelican following Chris around, although Tommy looks pensive.

However, before anyone else can say or do anything, Talia answers one of Chris' questions.

"Oh, yes. Permanent. Very. Not that 'permanent' needs a qualifier, and I'll shut up."

I raise an eyebrow. Even Billy is looking at her like she's stripped a gear. It's rare for Talia to get flustered. We'll definitely have to talk later.

Talia's words confirm what Chris had suspected, though. He isn't sure how he feels about it. Normal might be nice, but there is something fascinating and, frankly, exciting about having powers. He doesn't notice anything unusual about what Talia said, of course. He barely registers that she's caused some sort of blip.

But we all exchange looks of complete understanding about Chris' concerns. Although Tommy is the eldest here, it's my home... so I speak for the family.

"Some of us come into our powers and hardly notice... Talia was lucky that way. Some of us come into our powers with great difficulty. Justin can tell you what it was like for him when my powers first manifested. I suspect your friends felt much like he did. Your friends are adults, though, so probably didn't have their legitimate fears for your safety compounded by all the common fears of childhood. Poor Justin was only seven..." I look at my brother and smile before looking at Chris again. "And you are blessed to have such good friends.

"Several of the Nations here in the western states have been more affected by these... gifts... than the population as a whole. The Navajo Nation is one of those increasingly affected by genetic mutations, often caused by environmental hazards. And I'm not going to go into my usual tirade about the White Man poisoning our lands," I add with a grimace. "To a lesser extent, we're also affected by the Virus.

"So we really do understand. If you're as close to your family as Justin implies you are, you might consider giving them the chance to understand, too. And your friends who helped you through the Virus sickness, if you think they can handle it. I was way too slow to take my own advice."

I smile, and part of it is a bit of self-deprecation — I've come to realize that I really was kind of stupid for a while.

"It's hard to bear these gifts sometimes, so having people around you who understand..." I look back and up at my Husband. "It makes all the difference in the world."

Pablo, for his part, just hugs me tightly.

Chris nods again. She's probably right when she says I might want to trust my family and friends with this secret, he thinks to himself. I do trust them; not only that, I guess love them all, too. And I hate hiding anything from them. Although I worry a bit about Brad's reaction — I can easily imagine him asking me to make ice cubes all the last time. Andrea's implication to avoid her stupidity pretty much seals the deal, I guess.

Tommy takes over now. "Learning to use your gifts is a twofold process. First, there is the guidance you need as you explore the limits of your potential. Second, there is the safe practicing of the gifts you possess. Unfortunately, for many of us in this generation, there was no one to teach us. It sounds as though you have the same situation as the rest of us did. Andrea was fortunate to have been in Japan when her Curse came on her, and her parents and Aikido teacher thought the best chance she had was to study Taiji in China for many years. As Andrea mentioned, Talia simply... knew things."

He looks at their cousin. "She doesn't like to share — even with most of the family — but the year it took her to discern the future from the present and how far away the future is was a year that would have been impossible for her without her family and her culture to guide her."

"Most precognitives are drugged so heavily that their gift never develops," I whisper. "Or they go mad."

Tommy nods. "Talia and Billy were both fortunate to have been living on the reservation when their Curses took them, and even more fortunate that our senior Ha'atathli is a cousin. I started as an apprentice with him when I was thirteen, so I'm not as confident as other people seem to be that my gift for telepathy can rightfully be called a Curse in the same sense their gifts are. Most of the medicine men and women possess the gift, and always have.

"I had been studying with him for nearly ten years when Talia came for her training and was already what would be considered a journeyman by the time Billy came out to Ganado. Elder Ravenclaw taught both of them the same lessons that every apprentice learns — how to deeply connect with who they were, how to find and hold onto their sense of Self at every moment. Unfortunately, beyond that, there was little he could teach either of them. He could only watch over them, work with their guardian Spirits to ensure they explored their gifts as safely as possible. Andrea had her Aikido and Taiji to help her.

"Other communities don't have a Ha'atathli as well-trained and as grounded as John Ravenclaw. Too often, we still see many of our young people suffering from the onset of their powers. Some choose to lock their abilities away with drugs prescribed by the doctors at the clinics. Some choose to suffer with limited knowledge of their abilities. Some get lost in their ability, as Andi's childhood friend did. Some choose to take their own lives."

Tommy shakes his head slightly. It's a philosophical gesture. Like all of us, he has a powerful connection to family, to the clans of his parents, and to the Navajo people as a whole. But he is, by the standards of the world outside the Nation, both a spiritual leader and teacher, as well as a counselor to help heal the hearts and minds and souls and often the bodies of the people he serves.

"It's hard for all of us when a young person dies and especially hard when they take their own life," I say softly. "Although we perform all the appropriate rituals, it still leaves us with the feeling that we could have... that we should have done more."

"Well," Tommy continues with a smile, "there is no need to burden you with the problems of the People. You have chosen to learn. You have a guardian of some sort who has taught you some fundamental skills. And if your friend had mentioned the presence of Pelican," he says as he looks at Justin, almost half-scolding, "I might have had a chance to—"

He stops talking the same instant Nicole not quiet shrieks. I close my eyes. I don't need to see this.

"Um, Andi?"

"Yeah, Pablo?"

"Did you call Pelican here?"

I open my eyes and look up — first at Tommy, then at everyone else in the room before turning to look at Justin and Nicole on the sofa. Pelican is sitting on my sofa beside my brother. It's huge. Well, okay, it's not as big as, say, Bear, but for a bird? It's huge. If it stood up, I would guess it would be nearly as tall as I am.

"No! No, why in the world would I call my brother's guardian Spirit here? Huh? Why, Pablo??"

He shrugs. "Sorry. You're just... you know... a magnet for weird, so I figured it was you."

"Well, it wasn't." I hope it wasn't me. Hell, for all I know, it could have been those two.

Pelican opens its mouth as though it's trying to talk, but no sound comes out.

I came because... I'm fairly sure only Justin, Tommy and I can hear it, although Pablo might detect the echo.

Why can't I make sounds that everyone can hear? it asks plaintively.

Justin tentatively strokes its head. "I don't know, friend." He looks at Tommy and me.

"Hey, don't look at me! I rarely know why they do what they do."

"Peace, Warrior," Tommy says as he continues to look at the Spirit. "Perhaps, O Pelican, it is because you have never done so. If I understand what Puma and Eagle have told me, it takes a great deal of energy to begin, and such a beginning is a thing usually only done during a ceremony. Already you have expended much energy to be seen by all of us."

Pelican looks sadly at Justin. It seems positively pathetic, and not in the same way that Raven did, either. It just has such incredibly mournful eyes as it peers at my brother.

Chris's eyes widen as everything gets weird — or more weird than usual, perhaps. Pelican is huge! Justin had mentioned it, but Chris had envisioned it to be the size of a duck. This Spirit bird is far larger than he would have imagined. He feels a sense of empathy for the creature as he watches it try to speak. He wants to get up and give it a hug but remains where he is. For now, he just observes and listens... but he is genuinely touched by the bird's presence.

I sigh. Again? It's going to be one of those days, I just know it, where I lose track of how many times I sigh. It seems to happen a lot more often when the Spirits are involved. Unfolding my legs, I rise to my knees and sort of walk over to the sofa, causing Pablo to wince. 'Your poor knees!' he almost always says, apparently forgetting that any damage I might be doing is nearly instantly undone by my healing factor. Then I push the coffee table out of the way, which causes Pablo to groan. Well... I suppose he has a point when he says it's creepy that I can move the table as though it's flimsy plastic when it takes him at least some effort to move the heavy, solid piece of wooden furniture. Finally, I wrap my arms around Pelican.

"Okay, buddy... I can give you energy, but I can't promise how it's going to feel."

Mother is only too happy to share, so I need to be judicious about funneling energy to the Spirit. This is definitely the weirdest thing I've done today. And it might be the weirdest thing I've done all week!

"I... I... I..." Pelican manages to say, although it sounds like an adolescent boy going through puberty.

Ugly sound! Ugly sound!

"It's fine," I say as I look at Justin. Nicole is sitting up straighter to better watch this whole... spectacle.

"Oh. Oh, sure! Fabulous for a first try! Why not try again? Like I used to do when I was little and learning to sing!"

The Spirit bird's beak bounces against my back as it nods.

"Mmmmm... meeeeee... meeeeeeee... mee mee... mee mee... me me me me." The first couple are shaky, but the Spirit definitely has the hang of it by the time it gets to the last 'me.'

Thank you, Warrior.

"You're welcome, Pelican." I sit back on my heels and stay here... just in case.

"I came because," it says slowly, "because, because, because, because, because, because..."

I reach out and tap its chest as I grin. "No broken records."

It tilts its head, thoroughly confused.

"Just... keep going." I do manage to refrain from sighing. Go me!

It's a nice word. It sounds good!

I just stare at the Spirit.


Pelican looks over at Chris.

"...because, because you same, similar, like, same-same heart, mind, good-good as MY MY MYYYY..." Pelican practically sings the last three words... loudly, badly. " Justin." And then it collapses against my brother.

Justin looks at Chris and then Tommy. He looks at Talia, who spreads her hands out a bit and raises her shoulders. Not precisely a shrug, but we've all known Talia long enough to know she has no advice. Then he looks at me... and I give him a stink eye. He mutters something under his breath that possibly only Nicole can hear.

And me, of course.

"Not fair? Really, Justin? Pelican is perfectly sane... not hanging upside down from my curtain rod pretending to be a dead bat!"

Pelican then looks at me. "Raven... dooo?"

"Oh, yeah."

"Bad Raven."

"I'm glad someone finally agrees." I look at my brother. "Well, Mister Scientist?"

Justin nods. "So, buddy. You just came by because Chris is an excellent friend."

The Spirit bobs its head up and down and then shakes it back and forth.

"No, no, no, yes, yes!"

"You haven't come to adopt Chris like Cat adopted Madeline, have you?" Pablo, always the detective, asks suspiciously.


I never realized before now just how utterly disturbing the inside of a pelican's mouth could be.

"HAH HAH! HAH! Warrior's Mate so funny! HAH HAH! And no. This one is not Cat."

At this point, I'm not sure I need to be worried about Chris being freaked out because it's possible I'll get there first. Gods, they're all trying to suck my sanity away. I take a deep breath as I feel Pablo's hand on my shoulder.

"Gosh, Pel, you aren't making a lot of sense. Sorry, my friend." Justin runs a hand over his guardian's head.

"Ohhhhh, ohhhh, ohhh! Words for ear-hearing not good, no good, no no, not."

"Uh huh," I agree. "Words for the ears make thinking brains hurt."

"Sorry, sorry, sorry, Warrior! No hurt! Not Raven me! NO!"

I just close my eyes and thinks about... what's safe to think about? Not much.

I will watch Justin's friend learning. When Justin is near, it will be easy. Other times, not. I will try. Cannot be guardian, cannot help except for this little way. Watching, though? I can maybe share gifts. When Justin is near.

I open my eyes again and looks at Tommy. "You're the Ha'atathli. I'm just the magnet for weird."

"Yes, that you certainly are," he says dryly. He turns back toward Chris, but he closes his eyes for a moment and rubs his temples with his fingertips while I go back to my meditation cushion. Finally, he looks up at Chris again.

"Apparently, Pelican sees you as similar enough to Justin that it wants to help. Mostly, I think, that will just consist of watching over you. Each Spirit has qualities it shares with the person it guides and guards, and it's willing to try sharing them with you." He chuckles. "However, given that you're a scientist and of a temperament near enough to Justin's to attract Pelican's attention, you may already have the traits of resiliency, unselfishness and the ability to rise above your problems."

"Well, we call each other Twin because we're so alike," Chris admits, looking over at Justin with a smile. "And other people have said we seem like brothers, so I guess that makes sense." He speaks calmly, as though everything going on here is perfectly normal.

Justin nods as he continues to make an attempt at calming Pelican. Nicole seems fascinated by it now that her initial shock has worn off.

"Yeah, that and the fact that we're born hardly more than a day apart." He chuckles. "The Twin thing began because of that, and it was one of the secretaries that started it, I think. But it does turn out that we have a lot in common."

"You might not even need a guardian Spirit's gifts," Billy interrupts. "Andi has four of them. She needs a lot of help."

"Yeah. I don't deny that. The problem is that they're driving me crazy and the only Spirit whose gift is patience is Ant." I look at Tommy and bat my eyelashes. "Could you petition them for me?"

Tommy ignores me and continues talking to Chris.

"There are dozens of different ways to hone your ability to stay grounded and centered. They all boil down to meditation. It's important for all of us..." He glances at Billy. "It's vital for those who change their shapes. If Billy didn't have such a strong sense of Self, he might have been lost the same way Danny Roanhorse was. Sometimes he practices ridiculous forms..."

"Spongebob Squarepants is the worst," I note.

Tommy reaches over and slaps my knee. "...but he's rarely stuck for more than a few minutes. For non-shapeshifters, knowing your heart and mind as intimately as possible is the source of your strength."

"And sanity sometimes," Pablo adds.

Tommy nods. "Pablo is right. It can be overwhelming at times. That is part of the reason Andrea has four guardian Spirits, which is something that's never happened before. Don't pay attention to her complaints that they overwhelm her, however. She wouldn't have four guardian Spirits if she didn't need them."

"Someday, she might realize just how powerful she is and be thankful for them," Talia says, staring at me.

"You do that on purpose, don't you? You want me to freak out."

Talia shakes her head. "I want you to... to understand that you need them all."

"That is not at all comforting. Nope. Not at all."

"Your friends and family can help if you let them. But learning to control your powers might be something you'll need to do on your own," Tommy continues as though Talia and I hadn't said a thing.

"Um..." I look from Chris to Talia. "Maybe not?"

At first, Talia looks at me like I'm crazy — which I am, of course. And then she gets a faraway look in her eyes. Those don't usually bode well because she's looking at too many possibilities. Then she shrugs.

"I can't tell. Too many unknowns... well, no. Maybe Chris still has too many doubts. Or maybe..." She shakes her head. "I just don't know," she repeats.

I nod. It makes sense. Well, as much sense as any of this can make, I suppose.

"Well, maybe we should pause for a commercial break or questions. My idea is right up there with my usual level of lunacy so it can wait." I grin at Chris. "How badly are you freaking out? Can't be too bad if you're still here."

"Yeah, I'm still here," he says, chuckling. "I'll take your advice and talk to my family and friends. I hated hiding things from them anyway, so it will put me more at ease.

"As far as learning to use these powers... well, I'll take all the training help I can get. I really don't know what I shouldn't do and what could be dangerous," Chris admits. "And I don't know how much I can do. I've really kept my experiments to very minor things."

He pauses for a moment.

"Meditation will be something new. I usually just get lost in my work. According to my friends, that's like meditation for me. They say it's as if I'm not there when I'm thinking about a problem." He shrugs. "I guess that's not quite the same thing."

"There's always Weld County," Pablo says. "It's winter. There's not much out there other than farms. With Andi watching the qi... the energy that's in everything," he adds for Chris' benefit, "there probably isn't too much damage you can do." He looks at Talia. "Between Andi and Logan, there's enough speed to keep Chris from doing anything disastrous, right?"

"Sure, but..." Talia bites her lip. "Fine. It won't be Weld County, but Andi and Logan will be able to keep up with Chris. Probably easily. Beyond that?" She shrugs again. "There are still too many unknowns for me to get a fix on what might happen. If I keep looking at too many possible futures, I'm going to get a headache."

Nicole glances over at Tali. "Oh, I come prepared... ibuprofen and acetaminophen." She nudges Justin's shoulder. "How come you never told me about Pelican before?"

Justin looks embarrassed. "Well, the subject never really came up, and you haven't been able to make it to any of the ceremonies we've had, so..." He smiles. "You know... ditz."

Nicole snickers and I hide a smile. "Yeah. We might want to have a little chat about that at some point, buster."

I nod. "Yep. Especially since Nicole is going to wind up with a guardian Spirit of her own if the two of you are as serious as it looks about this thing you have going on." I wave a hand in their general direction.

Nicole blinks. "Really?"

Pelican shakes its head back and forth — some might even say cheerfully. I would still call it disturbing.

"Oh, yes, yes, yes, YES!!!" it says, although the last 'yes' comes close to trumpeting.

Nicole stares at Pelican. Pelican taps Justin's knee with its beak.

The Siblings have not decided who will have the honor when you form your marriage bond.

Tommy smiles. "You'll probably find out at your wedding which one of the Spirits has chosen you." He gives Pablo and me a rather severe look. "At least that's how it's usually done."

"Hey! Special circumstances! Saving the world and getting rid of the ancestral asshole! Cut us some slack, Tommy."

Tommy then sighs. "You are doing everything in your considerable power to ensure I live a shorter than average and entirely too exciting life, aren't you, Cousin?"


And I'm not. I'll grant that it might look that way to some people. Tommy ought to know better.

He raises both eyebrows. "If I can tease you into silence, you must be more stressed than you're pretending not to be, Andrea."

I shrug. "Maybe. I mean, people keep telling me I'm getting married tomorrow."

Pablo chuckles. "Careful, dear, or someone is going to Gibbs slap you."

"I figure I'll be okay as long as it's not Logan doing the slapping," I say, managing a smile.

Talia has decided to ignore us. "It's fine to get lost in your work, Chris. Your brain processes information more efficiently when you're 'in the zone,' so to speak. And I know Andi's said she goes to a no-time place when she practices, which is probably similar. But when you're just starting out and learning..."

She pauses and rubs the back of her neck. "It's difficult to explain, but it's basically becoming almost hyper-aware of your body and senses. I was okay with sitting and focusing on my breathing in the beginning, but I understand my baby brother was a nightmare," she says, rolling her eyes at Billy.

Billy responds by bouncing on Pablo's chair, which earns him a glare from Pablo.


Tommy laughs. "Yes, Billy was — and still is — a handful. I wish your Professor Xavier all the luck in the world with this one!"

"Well, if anyone can handle Billy, it's Charles," I note.

Tommy looks skeptical but continues chatting with Chris. "We took this one running," he says, pointing at Billy. "First, he just ran up and down the road to John's hogan paying attention only to his breathing. He discovered one cold winter morning that paying attention only to one's breathing leaves one slipping and sliding on icy patches." Tommy's grin at Billy's expense is probably more cheerful than any of our parents would have expected from him. "So in addition to paying attention to his breathing, he had to pay attention to his feet.

"Meditation is about focusing inward and then outward and, as Talia said, can be done in almost any manner that keeps your attention on yourself and not your work." He looks around the room.

"Billy still runs, Talia has taken up yoga, Justin has his Aikido and he runs, Andrea has her Aikido and Taiji, Pablo runs, and I chop wood." Tommy looks over at Nicole. "Not sure what you do to keep sane, Cousin."

Nicole laughs. "You're assuming I stay sane, Tommy. But sure, I run with Justin sometimes. But when he's too busy, I do yoga, too. I'm not as obsessed with it as some people are. I'm just an ordinary human."

"It's still good for you, Nicole," Talia says. "Uncle Leon gets a huge stack of medical journals every month, and I read them all. There have been some studies with preliminary results showing that meditation can help boost your immune system."

Nicole looks thoughtful as her gaze keeps shifting back to Pelican. I sure hope she can attend the next Dance we have; she'll probably have a blast.

"Hey, Andi!"

I turn and look at the second most wacky of my cousins. "Hey, Billy."

"What about that dream person who helped Chris? Or Skadi!"

I glare at him. "I'm not going into someone else's dreams."

"No, no, no... I mean look for her wherever the Spirits are."

I just rest my head in my hands.

"Oh, come on, Andi," Billy whines. "You have this relationship with the Spirits that makes cousin medicine man jealous..."

"He's not jealous, Billy," I mutter.

"Okay, maybe he isn't, but you still have a special relationship with them."

I look up at Pablo again. "Help?"

He kisses the tip of my nose and smiles. "I'm not sure what I can do to help, love. I'd say call Rene, but I know he'd just complicate everything and thoroughly derail the whole meeting."

I lean my head back against his chest and close my eyes. And then I sigh. I'm just going to stay here, just like this because it's comfortable and I don't want to be any more stressed than I need to be. And I don't need to be stressed. So there. However, I do address Billy's not quite rational idea.

"First of all, we don't know who the old woman was. And if we don't know who she is, how are we supposed to find her?"

I open one eye and tilt my head so I can focus — more or less — on Chris. "Unless you recognized her. That might change the equation."

We'll have to come back to Chris' answer, though. It's more important to stop the runaway truck that Billy is trying to push down a steep hill first. I close my eye again.

"Skadi is a Norse Goddess. The Spirits can only communicate with their counterparts for the indigenous people of Australia. They don't know how to contact the gods, demigods, or spirits of any other culture. For lack of any better analogy, they can't get from one neighborhood to another because there aren't any streets that go to the other areas where Benevolent Spirits live. Well, not without going through some areas, dimensions, whatever that are really dangerous."

"But what about that place you went when you met Moira?" Justin asks.

I think about the logistics for a moment, then just say, "Nope."

I feel Tommy's hand on my foot. I know it's Tommy because he has such a soothing aura. I open my eyes and look at him... and we have a staring contest for what seems like forever.

"You're going to make me ask you, aren't you?" he inquires with a raised eyebrow.

"Yes. I don't know what you think I can do. I'm not going to open a portal to some unknown location. You can talk to the Spirits just as easily as I can, you just don't want to. And I don't blame you."

"Andrea, you have the power to see and manipulate the universal energy. You're more powerful than all of us in this room combined. But sometimes, you just don't see what's right in front of your face."

I've riled Tommy more in the past five months than the entirety of my life before that fateful Dance for Tita in Flagstaff. I'm no longer surprised when I inadvertently find a new way to irritate him. I sigh once more.

"Fine. What have I missed this time?"

"If Chris has a connection to this teacher who comes into his dreams or to the Norse Goddess, it would affect his aura and his qi, wouldn't it?"

"In theory," I say slowly, "but if I don't have a 'before' picture, how am I supposed to know what's odd about the 'now' picture?"

"If I didn't know better," Pablo says, "I'd say you were deliberately trying to be dense."

I turn to look at him again. "Et tu, Brute?"

"Yes, me too. Weren't you the one who told me you were more powerful than anyone Grandmaster Chen had ever seen? More powerful than anyone in their stories going all the way back to the Buddha?"


"Then what are you actually scared of?"

Okay, that catches me off guard. I blink and then look over at Pelican. It's a huge freakin' bird, and it looks so damn happy to be sitting next to my little brother.

Once more, I sigh and look back into Pablo's eyes. The whole lot of them showing up.

That's it?

Oh, that's not enough??

Pablo shakes his head. "Hey, Cat?"

Cat, being a cat, saunters out of the kitchen — or possibly thin air — and winds its way around the room, making sure it rubs up against everyone's legs before making itself comfortable in Tommy's lap.

"Do you think Eagle would be jealous if I admitted Cat is my favorite Spirit?" Pablo whispers to me.

"HAH HAH! HAH HAH HAH HAH!!!" Pelican nearly bellows. "Cat is Cat is Cat!!"

Tommy chuckles. "I think that means Eagle would have no choice but to accept that Cat is... Cat."


"Okay, then," Pablo says as he looks at Tommy and Cat. "If Andi decides to look for the dream teacher Chris mentioned — assuming Chris has no objections," he adds with a glance at Chris before looking at Cat again, "would you ask the rest of your Siblings to leave us in peace?"

Cat takes a moment to lick its paw. Of course.

I regard Cat as it looks up at Tommy's face. Yep, that's the 'Pet Me Now!' expression. Fortunately, Tommy obliges. For good measure, I sigh again before looking at Chris.

I'll say one thing for Justin's friend... he's good at rolling with the punches.

"In case none of that made much sense — and why should it, right? — there's a possibility that I can catch a glimpse of this teacher you mentioned." I shrug. "Though I'm more inclined to think it would be something closer to a shadow or an echo. Or nothing could come of it at all.

"But I'm willing to give it a try if you are. You shouldn't even notice anything. Well, unless you managed to fracture your personality and Skadi is actually an alter ego. I read that she's kind of cranky."

I smile; a cranky goddess not from the Greco-Roman pantheon? I wouldn't want to meet her, but the idea of such a deity is kind of amusing. Well, I guess I do have to factor in the reality that my sense of humor is a little warped lately.

"But Justin didn't mention any symptoms like that, so I'm not worried."


To Chris, this is all crazy. No, that isn't fair. It's all so hard to believe, but they all accept it and he has some proof. The scientist in him decides that listening and looking makes the most sense.

"I want to know all I can. I was never warned not to try to contact her or anything like that. So I can't see why she'd be upset. The old woman even said that another would help train me." He shrugs. "Maybe that's you guys.

"So, I'm all for any information we can gather. What can I say?" He smiles and looks around. "I'm a scientist. I'm all for discovery and information."

Tommy looks at Chris and then at me. "Are you sure this is a good idea, Andrea?"

It's not that Tommy looks worried, and it's not that his aura is anything other than utterly serene. But there's an odd tone to his voice that is out of the ordinary. I look from him to Talia and back again.

"Okay... what? I'm not going to do anything to Chris that I haven't done to all of you already, and more than once, I might add. Well, except for Nicole. Why is it suddenly such a big deal?"

"I just want to know if you've thought everything through. You seem to..." Tommy smiles slightly. "...act first and plan later? Fly by the seat of your pants?"

"I blame Madeline," Pablo opines, which is a mistake because it earns him an elbow in the ribs.

"Stop it, Pablito. You can't blame my Sister for things Ninja has been doing since I took up the staff." I sigh. "And for the record, it's your fault my personality has been reintegrated, Mister Smarty Pants."

Then I look at Tommy again. "What have we been doing since you arrived? Talking. Sharing. Getting to know Chris by his words and the way he's reacted to all of us... to all of this. The fact that he didn't go running into the street when Pelican showed up tells me a lot. It should say a lot to you, too, Ha'atathli. The fact that I have a Curse that is rare... the fact that it is more potent than anyone alive today can remember... the fact that it takes the gifts of four other people and four guardian Spirits to balance it... the fact that Great Spirit admits I have not reached the limits of my potential... All of that should tell you something, Ha'atathli.

"Does it?"

Talia is watching me intently, and Billy looks like he's trying to figure something out. Tommy is just... Tommy. To Talia, he's almost a black box. To me, he's like a pool of tranquil, crystal clear water... he's Serenity Incarnate. It's interesting — this realization of mine. My cousin can project a level of calm that masks his unease even from me. I suspect he does have an additional gift that's unrelated — or possibly just as related — to the fact that he's a Ha'atathli. And he might not even be aware of it. I'll bet Moira would recognize him as an Empath, albeit one that projects calm rather than picking up emotions from around him like Emelia does. Rather like Cynthia, although much more powerful.

"It tells me that you likely know what you're doing," he admits.

"Hmm. Well, you and I should have a chat later because you're missing a few things. Or you don't want to talk about it." I grace him with a Ninja smile. "In either case, Cousin, we should chat."

Turning back to Chris, I suppose I go into Librarian mode... in the knowledge zone and happy to share it all. "I'm going to scan your qi and meridians, Chris. I guess I could have just gone ahead and done it and you'd be none the wiser..." I pause as I inspect his aura again. "...or maybe you'll feel something. I don't know." I look over at Justin. "It's not like I do this for a living, you know."

"Did I say anything?" Justin has that expression that means I could be in for an entire afternoon of teasing.

"Oh, like you need to say anything!" This is followed by an unladylike snort. "Behave. Or I'll let my soon to be husband and our cousin take you flying."

"Yeah! Oh, Justin, I rock the Eagle!"

"You don't expect us to drop him off anywhere, do you?" Pablo asks as a sly smile grows on his handsome face.

"Hey! I haven't done anything!" Justin protests.

I chuckle. "I know. I just want to make sure you don't do anything. Well, you shouldn't do anything of which I do not approve."

"Yeah, yeah... yes, mother."

I stand up so quickly, step over to the sofa, swat him, and then sit down again that it could seem like I merely stood up for a moment.

"You move faster than you used to," he says as he rubs his shoulder.

"Yep. Now hush."

I look at Chris again, studying the qi and meridians... but primarily consider the connections they form to the world around us. The fact that he seems to be reaching for all the water in the area isn't surprising. He's only stretching toward it unconsciously and not impolitely grabbing, so Mother is unconcerned. And the fact that his connection to Father is stronger — much stronger — than his link to Mother probably shouldn't be a surprise either. Ice can be considered the transformation of water in the presence of frigid air.

There's something else there, too. I don't think I've ever seen anything...

Wait. I have seen something similar. But every time I saw this kind of connection to... elsewhere... it was in people who were not very pleasant at all.

"Based on what you and Justin have said, you look reasonably healthy," I say to Chris. My brows are drawn together, though, because this other thing is puzzling. "You have something else, however..."

I pause and worry at my lip.


I glance at Justin. "No, no... not something wrong, just..." I sigh in frustration. "I'm trying to figure out how to explain it. Give me a sec."

You look and sound worried, love. What is it? Pablo asks.

A connection to... another dimension, I think. Ji-Ji and the skank had the same thing. But Chris is one of the good guys. I can see that much.

I don't think I understand.

Honestly? I'm not sure I do either, Pablo. If he were one of us, I might say he was trying to reach for his guardian Spirit... and maybe that's what he's doing. Maybe his guardian is in a dimension that's apart from that of the Benevolent Spirits but nearby. I wonder...

"Chris, you mentioned the old woman in your dreams said your teacher would come along at some point. I don't see any evidence that points to the old woman. At least, I don't think that's what it is. But I wonder if maybe this other thing I see might be... Well, maybe you're unconsciously reaching for whoever or whatever it is." I shrug and give him a smile. "It's the closest thing I can come up with unless you want me to start speaking Mandarin. And even then, I'm not sure I could explain it very well."

"You could try Japanese," Justin says. By the tone of his voice, I can tell he's grinning. "I understand that."

"Don't make me smack you again, Justin." I shake my head. "No, that won't work any better than English. I learned how to explain qi by speaking Mandarin. Not everything can be explained anyway. And not everything translates to English except as gibberish."

"I can attest to that," Pablo says. "Andi is very good with the gibberish."

I roll my eyes at him and then look over at Talia. "Can you see anything?"

Tali sighs. "Andi, you know it's hard for me to see much when someone is Cursed. It's all sudden flashes if I get anything at all. That one," she says, pointing at Tommy, "is ordinary, a black hole, and back to being ordinary... except then he'll go do something I never saw."

"Cousin, you know Ha'atathli Ravenclaw explained that this is simply the nature of the Ha'atathli."

"I know. That doesn't mean it makes my head feel any better." But she smiles at Tommy before turning to glare at me. "And then there's the horror that happens when you and Pablo and your three best friends are together. Then it's a total absence of anything. Ew, I hate looking at the five of you!"

I smile sheepishly. "Sorry, Tali. It's not like I did anything on purpose, you know."

"Right, right... I know. Well, I know all the things I already knew before you started this little gang of yours. But you're starting to be an awful lot like Tommy, you know. Perfectly normal, disappearing from my Sight, then perfectly normal again." She looks at Pablo. "Pablo's normal... well, for various definitions of normal..." She pauses to duck as Pablo half-heartedly tosses one of the pillows at her, then she giggles. "So is Madeline when she's not all caught up in being part of your gang. I totally get why Rene is a blank wall, and I think I even understand why Logan is..." She shakes her head. "Nope. Even being an Elder doesn't explain everything."

I raise an eyebrow at Talia, who sighs before looking at Chris.

As I so often do, I merely watch the qi flowing. Talia's gift has an interesting and extremely subtle effect on it. I doubt I would have noticed that... well, even as much as a month ago. It's like looking at something through water... it's clear enough but somewhat distorted.

It's a damn good thing I'm watching the qi, too, because I think Talia tries looking at that connection I can't quite explain. And it does not want to be seen! I wrap a shield around my cousin as a... I don't know! I think it might be a shard of ice that goes flying like an arrow toward her. Tommy picks up on what I'm doing an instant after I start building the shield... he enfolds Talia's mind in his.

The ice arrow bounces off the shield of qi, and I feel so many things all at once that I suspect I might vomit.

First, there's the indignant anger from Chris' general direction.

Next, there's the sharp, almost blinding pain both Tommy and Talia feel right behind their eyes.

Third, there's the feeling of an icy hand wrapping around my heart.

Finally, there's the weird feeling of pulling Tommy's and Talia's pain into my head — and then healing everything.

I slump against Pablo, exhausted and nauseous.

"What the hell?"

Pablo looks at Justin when he speaks, his voice steady and calm. He's in cop mode. And he's worried.

"Exactly. Go fetch some protein bars from the cabinet above the microwave, would you, Justin?"

I sense more than see my brother get up and go into the other room.

"You have anything with a little more sugar for these two?" Billy asks.

"Justin! Bring the pitcher of lemonade, too!" Pablo calls after him.

I try to sit up, but Pablo holds me close. "Nope. Not until I know what the hell just happened."

"Chris... guardian Spirit..." Talia whispers.

"I'm going to guess it didn't want to be seen," Tommy says.

I poke Pablo in the side and sit up... which might have been the wrong move, but done is done. Tommy looks all right, Talia looks terrified. Justin returns and sets the pitcher on the table, dumps three protein bars in my lap and pours a glass of lemonade for both Tommy and Talia. He hands them each a protein bar after they've taken their glasses of lemonade. Then he sits down next to Nicole again.

Pelican is conspicuously missing; Cat is pacing around the room.

Chris barely understands what's happening. No, if he's going to be honest, he doesn't understand at all. But he did agree to go along with this. So in what seems like a heartbeat, he feels his heart racing and his breathing almost stop — then Andi and Talia are no longer doing anything.

I have half a protein bar eaten before I look at Chris... who appears no more or less confused than he did before. Okay, maybe a little more. Then I look at Talia.

She nods. "Tommy's right." She drains the glass of lemonade, then tears open the wrapper of the protein bar. "Vague impressions of... I suppose places around Chicago? Helping people. But when I looked at... what would you call it? A course of study, maybe? Anyway, no... your guardian or teacher or whatever that thing turns out to be... it does not want to share itself with anyone but you. At least, not now it doesn't."

Chris looks at Talia in surprise, although her explanation seems to make sense. The eerie feeling he has of someone watching him at the moment seems to support her theory.

"Are you two okay?" he asks, looking concerned and feeling responsible for any harm that might have come to them.

"If it's any consolation," Tommy says, mostly to Chris, "I got the sense it thought Tali was trying to hurt you, Chris. It seems to be... extremely protective."

Clearly, they aren't okay, although from what Andi has said, Chris realizes that it's pretty silly of him to believe he could have hurt her.

"No consolation," I say around a mouthful of the protein bar. I'm already opening the second one.

Pablo sighs. "You did that healing thing, didn't you?"

I just nod. Another bad idea. I'll just keep ingesting protein here.

"Oh." Talia just stares at me. "That explains why I thought I was in for the mother of all headaches, but it seemed to... abort?"

"You have healing skills now, Andi?" Billy asks.

I shrug, finish chewing the food in my mouth, and then swallow. Then I pick up my glass of water and down the last half of it. Pablo refills it immediately.

"Sort of? Unpredictable and unreliable and it's more instinctive than anything else."

Talia is still staring at me. "Since when?"

"Dunno. Noticed it... early November? Banishing Aztec fruit loops, disposing of skanky Chosen One of Tezcatlipoca, saving the world, all in a day's work for the Warrior, blah blah blah."

My cousin narrows her eyes. "Oh?"

Who knew so much sarcasm could be poured into one short syllable? Ha. Just kidding. I just didn't realize my cousin was capable of sounding so much like Ninja.

"That day? Well, I'm certainly glad that has already come and gone. One less thing to worry about with you."

Everyone except Pablo and Talia is now looking plenty confused. Well, Justin looks only moderately confused. Poor Chris. He came here looking for a little bit of help, and the Yazzie family treats him to a show of crazy in epic proportions.

Billy is the one who finally speaks up. "Um, should we even ask what that means, sis?" he asks Talia.

"Oh, I think Andi should be the one to spill those beans, hmmm?" Talia continues to look at me. Only at me. My cousin is starting to make me nervous.

In response, I take another large bite of the second protein bar.

"I don't think Andi wants to spill beans today, sis. How about a hint?"

Tali grins wickedly. I did not know my sweet cousin could look so... mean.

"A hint? Sure. Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie... and Andi is the music."

Despite being more than a decade younger than Tommy, Billy gets the reference first. And fast.


I stop chewing. It's probably my imagination that the temperature in the room just plummeted by... well, by enough that even I would consider putting on a sweater. Forty degrees?

Chris has relaxed somewhat and sits back in the chair as his heart slows. Talia is still speaking, but he doesn't exactly catch it all — and then he feels it. Well, senses it, actually. The cold. It comes over him like a wave, and he looks around for trouble.

Billy jumps to his feet and stalks over to Andrea. "Move, Pablo."

Pablo is a dear, sweet, incredible man... and still sometimes thinks he can protect me from things. He's wrong, but I love him anyway.

"I mean it, Pablo. Get the hell out of my way, or I'll punch you in the side of your head." I didn't think Billy could even get angry. "And then I'll shift to something that can bite your head off!"

I'm pretty sure there isn't a person in this room — or possibly the whole world — who's seen my cousin this angry. I manage to swallow the lump of food and prod Pablo. He looks at me with a worried expression, but I just nod at him. He looks back up at Billy, then nods. As soon as Pablo is far enough away, Billy kneels in front of me and grips my shoulders.

Billy? Petrified?? Chris thinks as the young man moves to his cousin.

"God damn it, Andrea!" Billy says, his voice quiet and full of pain and fear. "Why didn't you tell me you nearly died."

At this point, I don't care about being careful about anything. In less than the blink of an eye, I'm kneeling opposite Billy, and my hands are covering his. He blinks in surprise, and I move my hands to his shoulders as we each lean forward to rest our foreheads together.

"I didn't nearly die, Billy," I whisper softly enough that only he can hear me. "I did die. No... shhh..." I clamp down on his shoulders with the same amount of force he's using on mine... not much for me, but it's very nearly all of Billy's strength. "Long... well, complicated anyway... story. The short version is Logan shared his healing factor with Maddie... Maddie shared it with me. Not sure anything but old age — very, very old age — will kill me, and I'm not eager to find out because it's awful. Being dead. No, that's not the worst part. It's the coming back. That's horrible."

He's still and silent for a few seconds before falling against me. I hold him... and I remember holding Justin like this all those many, many years ago before we left Japan... and Pablo not so long ago in my dojo when he told me about his first wife and his son.

"I am the Warrior, Billy. Not only of the Diné but of all the Nations. You know our history... who is the greatest warrior of the People?"

"I'm not sure I should even be speaking to you, Andi. But it was Sitting Bull. Thathánka Íyotake. He is counted as the greatest because he fought for peace and with a heavy heart. And he was Lakota, not Diné."

"I know. But I carry his scabbard that fate or Great Spirit herself saw fit to throw into my path. We are not the warriors our Lakota cousins are, and yet I am the Warrior." I shrug. "Just telling you that much will tell you most of the story you want to know."

Chris feels like he should be doing something, except he has no clue what that could be. However, whatever Andrea has been saying to Billy has helped him relax. Somewhat.

"Damn it, Andrea, now I'm going to go out to New York and worry about you every single day!"

I laugh, push him upright and knock on his pate a couple of times.

"Of all the people you know, I'm the one who needs the least of your worry. Talia needs so much more of it, for it appears that she's going to the Dark Side."

"Am not. That's just a little detail you were going to gloss over."

I consider that while looking at Billy. "Okay, maybe I would have minimized some of what's been going on. But do you want the bottom line here? Do you really want to know how powerful your cousin is?"

"I have a feeling I'm going to regret this, but... yes."

I nod. "I regularly and with great skill manage to piss off the Spirits. All of them... except Cat."

Tommy groans and mumbles something about never having peace again.

"I can channel more qi than... well, let's say a nuclear power plant. Mother Earth wants to keep on giving and giving and giving, and most of the time I barely notice it."

"Yeah," Pablo mumbles, "and then you need to be reminded that you're glowing in broad daylight."

"And if I were so inclined, I could — in computer parlance — run a traceroute to find the home dimension of Chris' protector, open a portal to said dimension, and then Gibbs slap said protector."

As the members of my family gasp and Pablo just sighs, I turn and look at Chris. "I am the opposite of inclined, by the way, so please do whatever you think you ought to do to reassure your protector that I absolutely mean her no harm... I am merely illustrating a point to my cousin who is trying not to faint."

"Please don't do any Gibbs slapping. I'd rather not have an annoyed trainer," he says, trying to be funny. In reality, he's very obviously nervous.

I nod, totally agreeing with Chris on the matter of his guardian or mentor or... Oh, hell, might as well just stick with "guardian." At least it's a term I grok.

But I grin, too. Despite all of the insanity, Justin's friend is doing his damnedest to take everything in stride. I can tell that he's not quite as cool, calm and collected as he's pretending to be, but I'm also reasonably sure the only other person who'd be able to tell that he's still nervous would be Em. And fortunately, she's not here. Of course, it helps that he probably has less than any clue about anything I'm talking about.

"Honest, Chris... I have zero interest in riling up any extra-dimensional beings."

I return my gaze to Billy. "I protect the people of Denver... and if certain of my law enforcement contacts were to ask, I would venture beyond the Denver metropolitan area. In fact, I have... back in October. That's the broad strokes story of what I do and how I do it. We'll have a few days for you to ask questions. You good with that?"

"No. Not even close. But I accept that you're..." He glances over his shoulder at Tommy, then looks back at me. "When you said you could run circles around Tommy, you weren't kidding."

I shake my head.

"And you screw with Tali's ability to do her thing. Pablo already sounds like a long-suffering husband. I suppose you drive him insane with this... this... superhero stuff you do."

"Maybe. But since he's one of us now, he's not allowed to complain."

"Wait, what??"

I stare at him for a moment. Then I look at Pablo. "I could have sworn I mentioned Quetzalcoatl to this boy. Well, maybe not. He was terribly busy turning into cartoon characters to pay much attention to us."

Billy grabs his head and pretends to groan. "Stop it! You're trying to make me crazy!"

I laugh. "Too late for that, I'm afraid. Now, are you going to stop being a lump of humanity that's coming between my husband and me?"

Billy stands and looks at me before he goes back his chair. "He's not your husband until tomorrow."

"Oh, potato, potahto!"

"Succotash!" chime Pablo, Justin, and Talia simultaneously before they all start giggling.

Justin chuckles and looks over at Chris again. "Told you they were crazy. Hadn't realized Pablo had gotten sucked into the insanity, however. I figured he would have been a stabilizing influence, but if my sister is as powerful as she claims she is... well, the poor guy never stood a chance."

"You know, I'm right here, Justin," Pablo says, trying very hard not to smile as he sits down again next to me. "And you realize I could have you arrested for... well, I'd find some reason."

Cat jumps up and sits very regally on Chris' lap, staring at him with all the intensity a cat can muster. And then some.

Chris looks down at Cat and instinctively begins to pet it.

"When you meet your guardian," Cat says out loud, "please inform it—"

"Her," I say absently, too fascinated by Chris' complete lack of concern about a talking Cat.

"—her that there will be no mayhem or mischief that will harm your friend or his family. I will find her and bite her. And I will call the raptor Siblings to eat her."

I sigh. "Cat. Don't threaten Chris."

"I am not threatening him, Warrior," Cat says without taking its eyes off Chris. "I like him. I approve. I am threatening his guardian in advance."

"Most people call that a warning," Pablo says wryly.

Cat turned its head, its rainbow-colored irises swirling far more swiftly than I've ever seen.

"There will not be a repeat of the nonsense with Quetzalcoatl."

"Oh, stop it, Cat! Pelican is the very essence of resiliency. And it's not like there's any similarity with the nonsense between Raven and Quetzalcoatl." I roll my eyes. "Good grief, Justin isn't even Cursed."

"Well, at least not in the sense you mean it," Justin mutters.

I sigh, shake my head, and look up at Pablo.

"We're not taking any of them with us on our honeymoon."

"Of course not! Who brings their family along?"

"I meant the Spirits."

"Oh." He pauses for a moment. "Yeah. Good idea."

"Oh, by the by, did I mention that this whole other dimension thing freaks the hell out of that idiot FBI guy?"

"Yes, dear. And I'm as baffled as my boss by your continued tormenting of poor Special Agent Van Dorn."

I eye him suspiciously. "Assistant Special Agent and don't start taking his side. He keeps calling every week wanting to put me on retainer with the FBI. I may have to go out to Washington to Gibbs slap his boss into stopping his nonsense of pressuring Nicholas."

Pablo groans. "Andi..."

"What? I won't get caught. I can do invisible and shapeshifting! I'll have a civil conversation with the man, during which I will use Ninja's trademarked wit and charm to convince him to leave me the hell out of his fantasies. If necessary, I'll Gibbs slap him." I smile sweetly.

"You won't," Talia says.

Then it's her turn for scrutiny. "You're seriously a spoilsport, Cousin."

She shrugs. "I just call it as I see it. You're not in a black hole right now. Verbally abusing the head of the FBI is not in your future."

"Rats. I could have had so much fun, too."

Unfortunately for my continued mirth, Pablo's phone dings with a text message. He sighs as he reads the message.

"My family's flight is further delayed due to mechanical problems. Blanca says they're looking for another plane."

"Don't worry, Pablo. They'll be here."

He looks up at Talia, relieved. "Thanks." And then he looks at me again. "And did I mention that Perry and I chatted this morning?"

"You did not! There's no problem with him covering for us tomorrow, is there?"

"Nope. And they'll all be at the reception. He called to tell me about..." He glances at Chris and chuckles. "Sorry, man. Apparently, the Sponsored Super out there gave Peregrine — our Sponsored Super here in Denver — a call to let him know you were going to be in town and to make sure you didn't get into any trouble. I don't know what you've decided on calling yourself while you're out on the streets, but she's got an amusing nickname for you."

"Ooh! Someone else who gives out nicknames? I like her!"

Pablo just rolls his eyes. "And I think she's a little miffed that Denver has two and a half Supers fighting crime out here. Or she wants you to hurry up and get trained because she needs help." Pablo shrugs. "Perry says she's... eccentric?"

"More eccentric than me?" I ask with mock horror. "Never mind what I said about liking her. Why, I might just need to go to Chicago to chat with her."

Justin half groans, half whines and he holds his head in his hands. "Noooooo. Please don't trash Chicago."

I laugh. "Relax, Justin. Ninja was completely well-behaved in Paris when we were out there."

"That's different. Madeline is family."

I sigh. "Justin, look at me." He just shakes his head, and I sigh again. "Justin." It takes a jab from Nicole to get him to look up. "Justin, the only reason I'd want to visit Chicago is to see you and Nicole. And now Chris. I have no desire to get into any trouble in Chicago."

"Uh huh. You didn't plan to get into any trouble in Flagstaff and look how that turned out!"

I look around at my cousins. I look at Pablo. I turn back to Justin.

"First, Pablo deserves as much blame for that as I do. We were trying to find the little creep who hurt Tita. We found him. I took him out."

"You trashed a grocery store!!"

"Yeah, because it was the only way I could work up enough power to open a portal to a place that would suck the demons out of Ji-Ji!"

Justin just glares at me.

"I'd do the same thing if someone was going around hurting folks in Chicago and you or Nicole got caught in the crossfire."

"Not helping, sis."

"Maybe not. But I wouldn't have to trash a grocery store, and I'd check in with the local Sponsored Super before going all John McClane in your town."

"I think I get to play the part of John McClane," Pablo says. "I'm the cop, after all."

"Okay, fine. But we've talked about this before. McClane should have died half a dozen times in each movie, and I know you couldn't survive most of it." I pause, consider some of the more outrageous scenes from the Die Hard movies and finally shrug. "I wouldn't survive a lot of it either, but at least I'd come back."

Tommy and Talia just sigh; Justin, Nicole, and Billy shudder. Pablo is another story.

"Do not die."

I nod. "That's my plan."

Pablo sighs and shakes his head before looking at Chris. "I'm going to come at this from a different angle, from a cop's perspective. It isn't necessarily going to line up with Andi's thought processes at the time, although I'm pretty you both have 'helping folks' as your common denominator. She didn't work her way up to 'saving the world' until my ancestral pest showed up.

"Anyway, this one," he says, tilting his head in my direction for a moment, "decided one night to go wandering around town to see what mischief she could interrupt. And she found some. However, she also ran into some of Denver's finest that night. Things might have gone south in a hurry if she wasn't damn lucky that night. The best training officer this city has was not only working graveyard but also in the patrol area she targeted."

He pauses for a moment to close his eyes; I can see the way he's consciously working to separate the emotions from the memories. I reach over and take his hand. Smiling slightly, he opens his eyes again to focus on Chris... and Cat. The Spirit isn't pretending that it enjoys the attention — it actually loves the pets Chris is giving it. However, it's also paying more attention to this conclave that it probably should be.

You're not here spying for your Siblings, are you? I ask suspiciously.

It turns its swirling rainbow eyes on me and almost seems to smile. Except cats don't smile, of course. Peace, Warrior. Madeline asked me to keep her informed.

Oh. Well, that's fine. Carry on.

Cat closes its eyes again and starts purring softly. Smart ass.

Pablo has taken a deep breath before proceeding with his comments. "Back when I first met Andi, my partner was a brilliant, kind-hearted, tough cop who had grown up right here in Denver in pretty good circumstances. But she wanted to serve and protect. Her family was damn proud of her. After..." He stops and shakes his head.

"His previous partner was killed in the line of duty. Gangs. They went after Pablo, too, but killed his wife and son instead." I squeeze his hand. It never gets easier for him to tell that story, and that's probably the way it should be.

"When I came back from leave, I was paired up with Jackson. We hit it off almost immediately, and I felt like I had a fourth sister. Her sense of humor got me through some rough times. I met Wright through her — they were in the same graduating class at the Academy a couple of years ahead of me. His sense of humor complemented Denise's, and the three of us got to be pretty close. I made a pretty good straight man for their jokes." He smiles now, as he always does when remembering the good times. "Denise and I worked well together. Andi and her college roommates called us the DPD comedy team."

"With good reason, I might add." I grin at him.

"Hmm. I suppose you're right."

He pauses again. This is the story that needs to be told from his point of view, not mine.

"It was early summer of '03. I'd been promoted to Detective at the beginning of the year; Denise was still in Patrol. There was a whole lot of anti-mutant sentiment in the city that summer. Denise got caught by a mob. They beat her senseless." His gaze at Chris is clear and unwavering. "She was in surgery for most of the day. I was waiting with her family at the hospital; I called Andi to come down too. The doctors didn't know if she was ever going to come out of the coma. What Andrea didn't bother to tell anyone at the time was that Denise was dead by the time she and I got a chance to go up and see her. The machines and the doctors said otherwise, of course. But her soul or spirit or life force was already gone. Jim came by when he could. Someone from her family was always there.

"After three months, even the doctors were sure Denise was never going to wake up. And by then, I think I probably subconsciously knew that, too, although I didn't want to admit it. It took Andi years to admit that she knew."

"I'd play it out the same way, Chief," I whisper. "A lot of people needed the chance to say goodbye and grieve in their own ways. You and me included."

He nods. "Although Denise's family invited all her friends to sit vigil with them, Andi and I were the only two who could make it to the hospital when the doctors took her off life support. Wright was royally pissed that he couldn't make it. His CO at the time was a dick.

"That was a Monday. After goading me into trying to fight her, and using her martial arts skill to make sure I never touched her or even hurt myself, she finally agreed to work for DPD. On her own terms."

"He'd been nagging me about it for years," I tell Chris.

"That's when she halfway came out as a Super — just by mentioning that she wanted DPD to cover her Supers Insurance. It took me nine years to work up the nerve to ask her just exactly what mutant powers she had."

I shrug. "Don't ask, don't tell."

He nods. "But back to '03... that Friday, she goes out for the first time as Ninja. Mind you, I didn't hear anything but rumors about what she did out on the streets. I knew she could get information for me. I knew she could take care of problems that were outside of DPD jurisdiction — mostly because of policy, partly because of the lack of manpower. So I'm only going to speculate about what was going through Wright's mind that first night because... well, we fell out of touch for a long time.

"One of his best friends had been killed because a mob of angry bigots beat the living daylights out of her. His lieutenant was an asshole of the highest order that refused to give him even a partial shift off to say goodbye to her. By Friday, he's maybe calmed down a lot, but he's in no mood for games. He gets a call about a possible robbery; he and his trainee of the month head over to the location. There, he finds Ninja with two teens in an alley. She's a smart ass, and that rubs him the wrong way because it reminds him just a little too much of Jackson. He didn't know that Ninja's smartassery was learned at Denise's knee.

"The situation was diffused fairly quickly, mostly because Ninja can see what other people can't. But the point of my story, Chris, is that 'helping people' means different things to different people. You're eventually going to run into the patrol officers of Chicago's police department. Some are going to be happy to have your help. Some are going to be okay with it as long as you don't cause more trouble than you're worth or as long as you don't give them more paperwork to fill out. Some are going to resent the hell out of you.

"Perry said Emerald Shark has a contact for you. My advice would be to build a rapport with your contact, always be as honest as you possibly can, and if you find you have to lie, make sure they are only lies of omission. You and your contact need to trust one another." He nods toward me again. "Trust between Ninja and Captain Sanchez, between Ninja and every one of her liaisons in all six—"


"—seven counties of the Denver metropolitan area is the primary reason there still is a Denver metropolitan area. That's part of her 'saving the world' gig. But it's the day-to-day trust that she's built with the men and women who work in Patrol that makes a difference in the 'helping people' realm."

When he smiles again, it's with admiration and pride.

"Andrea is one of the most caring people I've ever met. Ninja is one of the biggest pains in the ass anyone has ever met. The fact that they're one and the same is a hard pill for me to swallow some days. But even before this personality reintegration that she claims is my fault, every police officer who gives a damn about the people of this city would have told you that their job is easier because Ninja is here. Conversely, the officers who aren't worthy of the badge hate her guts. Ninja doesn't do nuance very well," he adds with a chuckle.

"Hey, Wright's current trainee is still on the fence!"

He glares at me. "Dorr is not on the fence. He's terrified of you."

I am genuinely concerned. Wright thinks he's good. And funny. Dorr is going to turn out to be one of the good ones... just like Agars and Tryon and Martinez and a dozen other officers who I count on every time I go out.


"You're too sneaky. You scare him."

I just stare at Pablo for a couple of seconds before blinking once. "Wright needs to explain to Dorr what a ninja does."

"No doubt. Until that happens, maybe you should stop sneaking up on him?"

"No. It's good for him. Builds character... or something." I smile... or rather, Ninja smiles. "And you mentioned that Emerald Shark has already given Chris a name. Spill the beans."

Pablo glances at Chris and tries unsuccessfully to hide his own smile, which is not anywhere near as wicked as mine.

"Slip and Slide."

Chris listens attentively to everything Pablo says; he knows the man is giving him good advice. He does note the significant differences in personality between himself and Andi, as well as her and Ninja. He knows he's never going to be as good at being the smartass she is. And he probably shouldn't even try.

But when Pablo repeats the name Emerald Shark had first bestowed on him, Chris coughs in surprise and blushes. He looks around the room at the others — Talia is shaking her head, Justin is trying hard not to laugh, and everyone else is smiling.

"Oh, geez. She did say that I'd better find a name for myself before others gave me one. I think that might be a warning shot."

He looks at Andi and shrugs a bit. "I'll be honest — I just don't feel like any kind of superhero. It seems strange to come up with a name. Probably means I need some sort of disguise as well," he says, looking lost.

His gaze turns to Justin, who is like a brother, and Nicole, whom he's quickly come to like.

"Any suggestions?"

Justin and Nicole exchange a glance, and then Justin shakes his head. "Maybe we can turn the family loose on it. Make the name thing a kind of a game. I'll bet out of the dozens they come up with, something is bound to be almost sensible." He looks at me, appearing nearly as lost as Chris does. "I barely knew what you did out here before the other day."

I nod to Justin and give Chris a shrug in return. "I don't always feel like a superhero either, Chris. And I sure as hell didn't feel like one in the beginning." I look at Pablo, who merely nods, so I turn back to Chris. "I don't think any of us who aren't Sponsored really look at it like that. We don't get up in the morning and think I'm going to save the world today. Hell, even on the day I did save the world — with a lot of help from my friends — I had no clue that's what I was doing. Most days it's just... I don't know, being human?"

I shake my head and snort. "That's kind of funny, actually, because a lot of people still don't think folks like me are human, although it's gotten better since Congresswoman McKnight helped to push through the repeal of the Mutant Registration Act. But my point is that..." I frown, trying to figure out how to explain an ephemeral feeling.

"You're a decent person, and you do whatever you can to make other people's lives better."

I turn and look at my brother. He's smiling, as is Nicole.

"Oh, come on, sis! You were always the one helping the injured men on base get their wheelchairs unstuck from ruts in the road. You carried groceries for the old grandmothers after our lessons at the dojo. You told stories to the little ones when you weren't busy with your own studies," Justin says. "I happen to remember that last one really well because I was one of the little ones. You told stories in English and Navajo and Japanese. You were kind of my hero, you know. And what do you do now?"

"She makes sure the homeless folks get to the shelter on cold nights and brings them food when she can," Pablo says, continuing the story. "She makes sure the Jesus Fan Club members, as she calls them, from out of town don't hurt the men and women at the gay bars or on the streets. She protects the hookers and the hustlers down on Colfax, much to the dismay of the brass. She looks after the kids on the streets who've been tossed from their homes for being different. A lot of people around here — everyone in Commerce City and close to everyone in Five Points — thinks she's a hero."

"When the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, 'Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners,'" Tommy says.

"But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, 'They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick,'" finished Talia.

Billy nods. "Matthew, chapter nine, verses eleven and twelve."

I look at the three of them. "Heathens."

Tommy laughs. "It might surprise you to know my religious education is somewhat diverse."

"And you know my Mom's family, like your Mom's — well, most of them — are Catholics," Talia adds.

I turn to Billy. "What's your excuse?"

"It's not an excuse. I learn about the different faiths for the same reason Tommy does," he says seriously. "I work with a lot of the very diverse people on the rez, Andi. And don't give me that look. Not everyone keeps to the old ways. I'm Cursed, sure. But I can help more people with my computer skills than by turning into a cougar or an eagle or even Mickey Mouse. And to help them, I need to respect where they're coming from. It's as simple as that."

"Oh, I don't know, Billy," Talia says as she reaches over and pokes his arm. "The kids really love the cartoon characters."

My youngest cousin smiles. "I know. And I do try to give them a little cheer when I'm out and about helping the grownups wind their way through the scary digital world of the twenty first century."

"I think what we're trying to say, Chris," Pablo says, "is that you're probably already a hero to someone. You might be a hero to people you don't even know. Now you have some new abilities, and maybe you can kick it up a notch. Don't worry about saving the world." He laughs again and gives me a side eye. "This one and her sister have that pretty well covered."

"Did you tell me you met Emerald Shark?" Justin asks out of the blue. "Because I don't remember that, and I'm a little jealous but maybe not if she's a snark master like my sister. I think you owe me a story!"

Chris just winks at Justin, knowing that it was a story that would have to wait until later.

Nicole Gibbs slaps Justin. "Stop it. We're here for Chris. Nagging him isn't going to help."

Somehow I manage to keep from snickering at my brother. But I stop to consider his friend's conundrum.

"It might help if I told you about my process for figuring out my costume and name — and that's the order I used, too. Costume, then name. I was kind of flying by the seat of my pants there at the beginning." I smile at the memory of that old apartment and how I crawled in and out the window whenever I went out on patrol.

"It was a totally impulsive thing — telling Pablo I'd work with DPD, that is. When it came right down to it, I wasn't sure what the hell I was doing. I must have pulled every article of clothing I owned out of the closet and the drawers and after a lot of talking to myself, I finally settled on my leather motorcycle pants, a black—"

"Wait, wait, wait! You had motorcycle pants in college???"

I turn to Justin again. "And a proper jacket, which I still own and wear when I'm riding around as myself. They were a gift from Jared."

His aura tells me more than any words can. He's horrified that he asked about anything at all relating to that time in my life.

"Sorry, sis."

I shake my head and smile sadly. "It's okay. That was a long time ago. I've had a chance to heal." I smile more brightly as Pablo's fingers intertwine with mine. "And Pablo is here. Now stop interrupting."

"Yes, mom."

This time, Nicole tweaks his ear.

I roll my eyes and turn around again. "As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, I settled on my leather motorcycle pants, a black turtleneck, and a black vest that actually matched one of my skirts. But it had a couple of pockets, which was the whole point. Later, Tali and Billy's mom made me a better one — it was leather, so it matched the pants, and the pockets had zippers, so they stayed closed. Oh, and my black boots.

"Then I took a look at myself in the mirror." I chuckle at that memory, too. "I looked like a sorority sister. Nine years ago, I couldn't pull off intimidating unless I was in an acting class in full makeup. And even if I wasn't planning on getting into a fight, having nearly waist-length hair floating free was both a recipe for disaster and an invitation for trouble.

"Everyone who knows me is well aware of the fact that I hate the braids." I point to Tommy's hair that hung in two neat braids in front of his shoulders. "If I was going to keep my crime-fighting identity separate from my grad student identity, what better way to do that than doing the absolute last thing I'd ever do?

"That was a little better and with my staff in hand, I looked like I might just be going to some cosplay event. But that first night, and those first couple of months, it was my attitude that kept me going."

Pablo doesn't quite interrupt with his chuckle, but I sigh anyway.

"Fine. To be honest, I've kept up with the same uniform for nine years. It wasn't until last month that I got something new. Leather is fairly durable, but a pain in the ass to clean and repair. And the turtlenecks? Hell, I considered buying them in bulk because people with weapons like to aim for the torso. And people with knives are just crazy and will cut you anywhere. By the way, I'm not trying to scare you. I figure with your powers, you're going to be more like Pablo was before he got his uniform — or like I was when working with Black Wolf and Wolverine before my healing factor was ramped up. You're the second rank. Or you'll fight from a distance — like an archer does, maybe.

"You know that Justin and I grew up in Japan. After my Curse hit me, I lived in a remote area of China for another six years. I was immersed in the culture to a far greater extent than Justin was. When I came back to the States, I was extremely shy and reserved. I valued privacy considerably more than anyone else I knew, including most people in my family."

This time, Tommy interrupts. "It actually worried me, you know. I remember you as a little girl — not that I'm that much older than you, but enough to remember. You were so full of life, so energetic, so outgoing." He smiles. "I spent a lot of time while you were at school here worrying about you, talking to your folks, trying to understand why you'd become such an inward-looking person."

I shrug. "It was hard. I felt like a stranger in a strange land. Even Denise and Pablo treated me like a foreign student after that incident with the senator's son. And honestly, until my personality reintegrated, my 'sweet librarian' persona was very real. So when I went out on the streets — generally at night, so the black costume makes even more sense — I consciously made a decision and then made a concerted effort to be the opposite of my everyday, ordinary self. Where Andrea was shy, Ninja was bold. Where Andrea was reserved, Ninja was outgoing. Where Andrea valued privacy, Ninja was a nosy busybody. And because I missed Denise so much, I kind of channeled her sense of humor for a while."

"Until you put your own spin on things and turned into a smart ass potty mouth." Pablo rolled his eyes.

"Oh, right. Andrea never used to swear either. And Ninja definitely had a potty mouth.

"All these differences, plus the fact that I worked at night as Ninja and wasn't likely to run into anyone I knew from my regular life, meant that I could get away without wearing a mask.

"And all these differences, over the course of nine years, had me heading for a padded room and a split personality. I might sometimes still refer to one or the other aspects of myself in the third person, but it was a lot more prevalent before Pablo's trip to the ancestral asshole's dimension. Andrea was starting to resent Ninja; Ninja was starting to become contemptuous of Andrea."

I lean over and kiss Pablo's cheek. "Thanks for helping with that, dear." I grin and sit up on my cushion again.

"Still, there I was that first night, dressed all in black and trying to figure out what I was going to call myself. It's kind of funny, but the desire to keep who I am as a Navajo woman and grad student — and later a librarian — separate from someone who roamed the streets at night made the choice of a name easier. I'm a master of two martial arts, with the equivalent of black belts in both of them. I learned to fight with a staff and sword in my Taiji training. And except for the black hood, I sort of looked like a ninja. If someone says ninja, most folks will think of someone who's Asian, not Native American. You know, Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan as opposed to Wes Studi or Tatanka Means.

"And Peacekeeper here?" I nod toward Pablo. "Well, he's a cop; he keeps the peace. His uniform even looks a lot like a patrol officer's uniform." I snicker. "Except for the cape."

"No capes!" exclaims Nicole in an eerily accurate imitation of Edna from The Incredibles.

I giggle. "Like that would stop either of the two dingbats in this town who fly." I nudge Pablo. "Go get our uniforms so we can show Chris."

"Really? You're sure?"

"Well, not the weapons, of course. Just the uniforms."

"Are we going to get a fashion show?" Justin asks as Pablo heads to the bedroom.

"Nah. I just want to show Chris what's possible." I grin at Justin. "I'm off work until after the honeymoon. Technically. Crime doesn't seem to ever take much of a holiday, although Peregrine should be able to handle anything I typically would. Unfortunately, Old Mama still doesn't trust him." I chuckle and shake my head. "It's nothing against him personally. He just happened to pick the name of her favorite bird that's been keeping Denver pigeon-free for decades.

"And I asked Maddie to make sure there isn't any crime happening in Suriname while we're there, but I have a feeling that's not going to be very helpful either.

"So, about the name, Chris... well, it can be a reflection of what you do, like the Slip and Slide your Sponsored Super nicknamed you. Or it can reflect an aspect of this Skadi's heritage. Or just something that's deeply meaningful to you. Knowing my family, Justin's suggestion of turning it into a game will definitely net you some crazy ideas. A lot of them will be worse than Slip and Slide," I add, laughing.

Pablo returns to the living room with our uniforms, and I get up and take mine from him, draping it over my shoulder and nudging Billy at the same time.

"Move, kiddo. Just for a sec. I need the chair."

He mumbles something about bossy superheroes, and I give him a stink eye as I sit down. "I have super hearing, Billy. Behave yourself." Then I motion Pablo to hand me his uniform as I roll the chair closer to Chris.

"These are both made from the special anti-ballistic polymer materials that are readily available to the Sponsored Supers. Perry's wife is one of the few people in the middle of the country who has the equipment and training to work on the material. It goes without saying that she's a hell of a seamstress. You can see that Pablo's uniform is thicker than mine," I say, hold the bottom edges of a uniform leg in each hand. "It's not quite as thick as neoprene, but it will stop bullets, knives, arrows, maybe grenades. We're not going to test that one." I waggle my eyebrows. "Looks like spandex, too."


I giggle at Pablo's embarrassed exclamation. "He's still shy." I drape his uniform across my lap. "It's all one piece and zips up the front. Martha is freaking amazing. From a foot away, you can't tell there's a zipper there. The cape is detachable, thus getting around Edna's admonition of No Capes. If the cape gets snagged on anything, it just snaps off. And the weapons' harness is integrated into the uniform. I thought it looked pretty uncomfortable, but Pablo says it's even more comfortable than the shoulder holster he wears to carry his service piece." I shrug.

"It actually looks less like spandex than Andi implies," Pablo says, looking over my shoulder. "But it's tight enough that it's still disconcerting to see the shy, reserved young woman I remember Andi to be leering at me."

Well... he is smiling as he says it.

"Mine is in two pieces because... well, personal preference, I guess. Martha tried to match it as closely as possible to my other uniform. The pants aren't as tight as Pablo's uniform, but they tuck easily into my boots... better than my leathers did, actually. I can zip the top all the way up if I want to go with a full turtleneck look or keep it partially unzipped. The weirdest thing about it is that the two pieces seem to want to bond together once I've tucked the shirt in and zipped up the pants. It kind of freaked me out the first few times. My sketch just had a belt to hide the seam, but Martha added these pouches and this loop on the back so I can hook my scabbard to it. Now I can wander around hands-free and still get at my staff if I need it.

"The utility belt is totally the best thing about this new uniform—"

"No, dear. The best thing about your new uniform is that it's bulletproof."

I lean closer to Chris and whisper, "He's overprotective." I look up at Pablo as I lean back in the chair. "You are, you know," I say, handing his uniform back to him.

"And yes, this lighter material is bulletproof, but a knife will get through it because it moves slower. Martha can explain the physics of it, at least to the point where it's useful for mere mortals. It's how she can manage to sew impenetrable materials — her special sewing machine doesn't have a high speed setting like my mom's does. Unless someone threw a knife at me or got really lucky, it would be difficult to get close enough to hit me." I shrug again. "Most of the damage I took to my other uniform was from bullets. I'd recommend that you stay away from people with guns, but if you're going to be where the bad people are... well..."

"Great, sis. Now you're scaring me." I could hear Justin sighing from behind me. "Stop trying to totally freak Chris out."

I mostly ignore him. "I'm not trying to freak you out," I tell Chris. "The first few years I was out there on the streets, I wished I had someone to talk to. Someone who could answer all the questions I had. Pablo and I didn't actually start talking about my work until this past summer. We talked around things. It wasn't easy. I figure the more information you have, the better decisions you can make. I'll make sure you have my Ninja phone number and email address before you head home. Don't be afraid to ask questions. If Emerald Shark is interested enough to contact Perry, I'd guess she wants to make sure you succeed. It's not bad to have a Sponsored Super as a contact."

This causes Pablo to laugh and pat my shoulder.

"Dear, the Sponsored Super out here is happy to have you as a contact!"

"Oh, pish tosh! I've just been doing this longer than he has, that's all. Oh. Well, okay, and I have the richest woman in Europe as my sister. Maybe the planet — for all I know, Maddie has more money than Oprah.

"He's trying to distract me," I continue, pulling the uniform's utility belt off the hanger and laying it on my lap so Chris can see it. "For me, the belt is a big deal. I was able to ditch the vest, which was more than a pain in the neck, shoulders and other body parts when I got the scabbard for the staff. Little pockets for all three phones and anything I don't put in the bike's lock case... even some shuriken. Oh! And this!" I pull out the phasing mask Perry had given me and hand it to Chris.

"You can keep it. It's less constraining than putting a stocking over your head, and it definitely doesn't impede your vision or hearing or sense of smell. Eating and drinking can be messy."

Chris accepts the mask, although he feels a bit shy and possibly awkward about taking it. However, if there is one thing he's learning on this whirlwind of a day, it's that fact that saying no to Andi was probably pointless.

"Um, Andi? Don't you need that?"

I look up at Pablo again and grin, then place a hand over his where it rests on my shoulder. Then I use a little camouflage magic to make my facial features look like my mother's.

He sighs. "Fine. You don't need it."

Billy and Chris are the only ones who can see my face. Chris hasn't met my mother, but I don't look all that much like her. Billy lets out a yelp of surprise.

"How the hell did you do that? You didn't shift... I would have seen the movement.

"Fox's magic. Camouflage. I'll need it at the reception tomorrow because my dingbat husband invited the one police officer in all of Denver who knows Ninja the best. And he's wicked smart."

"It's just creepy how much you look like Aunt Sandy."

"Thank you."

"That wasn't... You know what? Never mind."

I chuckle, but Pablo taps my shoulder again.

"It's not really very nice to torment Chris with the ABP uniforms if he can't afford them, you know. I'm lucky that DPD covered the cost of mine."

I nod as I replace the belt on the hanger. "Pablo is half right... Okay, he's three quarters right. They are expensive, and DPD did cover the cost of his uniform. I rearranged my budget and dipped into the fund my sister set up for me. It makes her feel better about me keeping an eye on her cabin while she's out of the country. I told her it wasn't necessary. She did it anyway. I have since learned," I say with a smile, "never to get between my sister and whatever philanthropic project she decides to start.

"However, the part where Pablo is wrong is how much my uniform cost."

I sigh extravagantly — something I learned from a certain redheaded starship Captain.

"Perry refuses to take my check to pay for it. He'll send it back with a smiley face drawn on it by his daughter. Or he'll sprinkle little shreds of what used to be a check over my head when I meet up with him. Finally, two days ago, he said it was a wedding gift for us — for me to wear and for Pablo to have fewer worries. So the discussion was over."

"Really?" Pablo sounds very surprised. "You didn't tell me that!"

"Because I'm still annoyed with him. I would have told you before the reception. My point is, however, that I can stop being annoyed with Perry if I pay it forward and help Chris fund his uniform whenever he decides on a look and a name."

I shrug as I look at Chris and smile. "I'm a lot like my sister in some ways. Fine... a lot of ways. I just have less money to be philanthropic with. But if I can help keep you from getting hurt, I'm damn well going to do it. I know how much my family worries about me. I know how much Pablo worried about me before I got the new uniform. If I can keep your friends and family from worrying so much... Well, I'm happy."

"Thank you," Chris says, holding up the mask. "If for no other reason than to protect my family, I'd want to keep my identity hidden." He winces at how funny that sounds to him.

I smile wryly as Chris winces; his concern is very real, despite how unreal the whole situation seems to him.

"I understand that sentiment, believe me. Most of my family live within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation or close enough that I don't get too worried about them. I've always been terrified for Justin's safety."

I shrug somewhat apologetically, mostly for Justin's benefit. "That's why I didn't tell him anything about what I do out here before this week. It's the reason I kept Pablo at arms' length for years. Well, one of them."

I look at Pablo beside me, then turn to look at my brother and Nicole before meeting each of my cousins' eyes. Although my next words are mostly for Chris, they're just as relevant for Billy. I hold my youngest and favorite cousin's gaze as I speak.

"A couple of people reminded me that, by not sharing what's going on with me and not being exactly who I am with the most important people in my life, I was doing them a great disservice. I can't protect everyone from everything that can possibly happen. I was reminded that my loved ones deserve honesty... and that some of them don't need my protection."

I look at Pablo again and grin. "You were only half right about that last one, by the way. However, I don't think there are any more psychotic acolytes of deranged demigods wandering around trying to kidnap you, so you're off the hook."

Pablo laughs. "I am happy to admit that I wouldn't have been able to escape from Tezcatlipoca's dimension and his lunatic Chosen One without your help." He leans over and kisses me. "Thank you. Again."

"You're welcome. Again. Ain't no batshit crazy skank gonna steal my man."

I'm still smiling when I turn back to Chris.

"The only really close friends I will never tell about what I do and who I am are my neighbors." I nod in the direction of Bobby's house. "And the only reason I won't tell my best friend and his boyfriend is they — as much as Bobby deserves it — they'll probably both have heart attacks, strokes, fits of massive Drama Queen hysteria, or a combination of all three."

"Plus there's that little incident where Ninja carted Bobby out of Charlie's over her shoulder when he started that trouble a few weeks back."

I snicker. "I understand now why he picked a fight, but I still think he was a madman and it was hysterically funny. Fine. Maybe I'm the only one who thought it was funny."

Again, Chris smiles shyly when I pause to roll my eyes.

"And I don't know what to say about your other offer. I'm grateful, of course, but I think I'm still a ways away from really needing a costume. But I promise to give you a call."

He glances at Justin before nodding again to me.

"It's in my nature to ask questions, so if I don't want Emerald Shark to drop me in the ocean or something to keep me from asking so many, it will help to have someone else that can help answer them."

"Oh, I don't think Emerald Shark would drop you in the ocean, Chris," Nicole says. "Why would she drag you all the way to the coast when we have beautiful Lake Michigan right there?" She sobered slightly and continued. "But seriously... if you're trying to learn everything you can, I doubt she'd get to the point of dropping you in the lake." Nicole tilts her head as she considers a few things. "But I'll bet there will be times when she's not around, though. So having Andi's and Pablo's information sure can't hurt."

"It seems like I have a lot to think about," Chris says. "I think the name should come first; I'd want the costume to reflect the name. Well, assuming I can actually learn to do enough with the power to actually warrant trying to be a hero."

"I'll be honest with you, Chris. I feel better about Justin and Nicole staying safe from my enemies knowing that you're their friend," I say. "Sure, you don't know the full extent of your powers yet. But it still gives me peace of mind."

I pause and shrug once more. It's just a feeling I have that I can't explain. Maybe it just feels a bit like Chris is a guardian angel for my brother and Nicole, sort of like Rene has been Maddie's guardian angel since he first met her, or like I'm an entire community's — several communities' — guardian angel.

Talia chuckles. "Will the whole bunch of you stop worrying so much? Chris will work things out just fine. It won't take him as long as it took you, Andi... probably because I don't see he has the potential to be as frighteningly powerful as you are. And it won't be as horrific as what Pablo went through, either. Good grief, you're a real piece of work, Andi."

"Why thank you, Tali. I think."

"Just how many enemies do you have, Andi?" Billy asks suspiciously.

"Oh, I don't know. A lot. Okay, it depends on who I've pissed off lately. And most of them are part of the Aryan Brotherhood or the Friends of Jesus fan clubs down in the Springs."

Justin snorts. "The Aryans wouldn't last two days if the Irish mob found them. Even the Italians are afraid of the Irish and stay out in Cicero."

I stare at him for a moment. "And you know this... how?"

He shrugs. "I talk to people who know people who know people. I live on the South Side, which has historically been the Irish Mafia's turf. Don't worry! I'm way more than six degrees of Kevin Bacon away from anyone awful." He taps his chin thoughtfully. "As far as I know. After all, my lovely girlfriend's great something grandmother looks an awful lot like your friend, the Irish starship captain."

Nicole swats his arm.

I sigh and turn to Pablo again. "Anyway, I'm pretty sure we've taken care of all the less than ordinary threats for now, right?"

"Hell if I know," he responds with a grin. "You and Madeline run the show. Logan, Rene, and I just show up when you need some sexy sidekicks."

I raise an eyebrow and would have pressed that particular issue had Billy not spoken up again.

"So we just need to be worried about the random crazy people like that guy who nearly killed Tita. That's reassuring," he says sarcastically.

I turn back to him, my face an expressionless mask. And I wait long enough for Billy to start getting nervous, which is less time than it takes most people when I'm staring them down.

"Exactly. You and the rest of the world just have to worry about the random crazy people. The whole rest of the world, Billy. Think of it as a level playing field... and I'm trying to keep the truly weird shit out here."

Billy doesn't look particularly happy about it. Pablo's and Chris' phones choose that moment to indicate they have incoming texts. Pablo looks at his and sighs, this time with relief.

"Blanca says they'll be boarding in fifteen minutes. New plane, hoping for a tail wind, sends her love. They won't be terribly late, but they'll probably miss dinner with all of us."

Chris on the other hand, looks confused that his phone even made a sound. But then he nods to himself and smiles as he puts the phone away.

"Emerald Shark... sending me a contact in the police department," he says.

Pablo puts his phone away and nods to Chris.

"Despite my lovely bride's way of going about things, I think you're right. Having a name first does help for visualizing a look. You might want to also keep in mind just what your powers are, too. For example, Andi would never be able to wear gloves because she shoots actual bolts of energy from her hands—"

"No, no. I could wear gloves; they'd just have to be thin leather like my boots. I think I could manage not to fry calfskin or deerskin." I nod and decide to test that theory at my first opportunity.

Pablo rolls his eyes. "My point is all about functionality. Perry and I can fly. Contrary to edicts from fictional cartoon characters, a cape can help with flight stabilization if it's designed right. In my case, I have a greater area of lift for gliding along the air currents. Talia's gift is all inside her head, or maybe her heart, but it's internal so she wouldn't have any restrictions on a costume." He turns to Talia and smiles. "I'm not advocating for you to go off and be a superhero, Talia. Your gift is bloody spooky and you might break the universe. And I think Andi's already trying to do that. She doesn't need help."

He gives Billy a stink eye then. "I have no idea how you do what you do or why you don't wind up naked when you shift back to human form."

Billy shrugs. "I don't either. If Madeline's kids are right, though, Professor Xavier should at least be able to help me understand my Curse well enough that I can teach others who have the same talent."

Pablo stares at Billy for a few seconds while I do my best to hide a smile. I can see that Tommy is doing the same.

"You know, you people are masters of derailing conversations," Pablo says, feigning irritation about the whole thing. "Just make sure your uniform is comfortable, Chris," he adds while pretending to ignore the rest of us. "It's pretty hard to concentrate on chasing down a perp — or even thinking about the reports you're going to have to file — if something is chafing."

"I don't know for sure if what I do works through gloves, although cold doesn't seem to bother me anymore so..." Chris shrugs. "I'll have to test that out, I guess. As far as I know, I can't change my appearance, so the phasing mask will come in handy." He almost rolls his eyes. "It probably doesn't matter. Being in the theater, once I tell Miranda, I suspect she'll take over all facets of coming up with a costume."

He shakes his head trying to imagine what she could come up with.

"All the more reason to come up with a name before she starts, if for no other reason than to get her to focus."

But then he looks at Pablo with another confused expression.


"Or just don't write reports," I add sweetly. "Although maybe I'm the only one who can manage to get away with that. You should try it, though. Not writing reports, I mean. My police force liaisons write up the reports. Only the Army wanted me to send in my own reports." I grin wickedly. "I sent them audio files. Maybe I was practicing my storytelling skills that cause my whole family to lament. Or maybe every single one of them before I met Masterson just pissed me off, and I was being passive-aggressive."

"It was the latter. Definitely." Pablo nods for emphasis.

Chris looks at Justin and Nicole before focusing on me again. "Of course, I'd do anything for my bro. Right now, he just uses me to add ice cubes to his drinks," he says, stretching the truth a little.

"Hey, it was only that one time!" Justin says with a laugh. "You really ought to see the miniature ice sculptures he makes, though, sis. They're pretty amazing."

Chris looks around the room at each of them.

"I can't thank you all enough. Simply being able to talk about this has really helped. And the information has been... well, almost overwhelming."

For this, our Ha'atathli takes the lead.

"In our family, Chris, the friends we bring into our homes become part of the family," Tommy says. "Distant cousins at the least. We have a duty to help family, and that duty is something we take very seriously. This duty, this obligation to help our family is about honoring ourselves, our elders, and our ancestors."

Tommy's smile is that of a man filled with peace. He reminds me of every Buddhist monk and nun I met in China.

"If we have managed to help you in even a small way this afternoon, it means you have honored us by allowing us to do so."

Justin nods. "Everybody wins."

"And helping just feels right," Billy adds.

Pablo and I exchange a glance and smile. "It's why we do what we do... on our days job, on our off hours, and right here today."

There is a moment of peacefulness in the room, almost as though Great Spirit is sitting with us. The silence is broken by Billy.

"When's dinner? I'm starving."

Talia reaches over and tweaks his ear. "Are you sure you're not thirteen? Do you ever stop eating?"

"Hey, shapeshifters have really high metabolisms. Uncle Leon said so."

"Five or so, at Beau Jo's," I say, pulling out my phone and sending a text to Maddie. After pressing Send, I look at Billy over my secret identity librarian glasses that I'm not wearing and don't own. "You'll live."

"You should come with us, Chris," Nicole says. "Unless we totally wore you out today."

Justin nods. "Tita will insist unless you can sneak past her, which you probably can't."

"Besides," Nicole adds, "pizza!!"

Between all the teasing and storytelling, there is a lot of good advice and Chris just takes it in — it's the scientific equivalent of brainstorming and data gathering all rolled into one energetic collection of information. He will need to sift through the data, distilling ideas, and order it all in some reasonable fashion.

Chris just smiles at Nicole and nods.

"Sure, I'd be happy to go with you guys. I love pizza!"

© Kelly Naylor and Nivek