Issue 12: Tangled Webs

Blanca was glad she had asked Elvia to bring her fancy dress and shoes when the rest of the family came to the Coliseum for the wedding. She hadn't quite imagined the immensity of the structure her brother had tried to describe. Sure, the wedding was going to be on the arena floor. She thought that was strange, despite Pablo's assurance that she needn't worry.

However, once she had arrived with Andrea's cousins, Blanca began to worry. And that was peculiar because she wasn't usually the one who did the worrying in the family. She let Momma and her two older sisters take up that tub full of water, as Abuela Garcia liked to say. This place was huge!

Because the rest of her family wasn't supposed to arrive for another couple of hours, the door on the groom's side of the arena was still locked. Billy had offered to walk her around the outer corridor to meet up with Pablo, but with the looks his abuela — Tita; she insisted that everyone call her Tita — had given him, she had just laughed and said something about Pablo never being hard to find. She knew that Andi's brother and cousins and brothers-in-law and uncles and probably even her Papa were going to build the wedding hogan. Pablo's car was parked outside. She knew he was here. But Andi was downright giddy and said that she had banished Pablo to the other side of the arena. So Blanca began the long, lonely trek around the building.

It was a little spooky with only the emergency lighting on in the corridor. As she neared the front entrance and the box office, the dim light of a late December early morning filtered through the wall of glass; the primary access to the floor of the arena was shrouded in shadows. The little daylight that had come through the entrance faded quickly as she continued along the west side of the structure toward the northern perimeter. As she turned into the darker northern corridor, Blanca knew Pablo had to be nearby — their family was to enter the arena from the center north side portico. The information Andi had sent wasn't as good about explaining the reasons for some things, and they'd arrived too late last night to have much of a chance to ask her about the ceremony. Blanca hoped that everything would make more sense as the ritual progressed.

If not? Well, she'd just wing it. She might not understand what all the pieces of the ceremony meant, but when it was over? Well, Pablo would be married to Andrea, and they could live happily ever after! It would be good to see her brother happy again.

Finally, Blanca could hear sounds coming from one of the rooms up ahead. Fortunately, one of the voices belonged to her brother. As she neared the doorway, Pablo was laughing.

"Tell me again why you're tormenting me, Rene. Shouldn't you be lurking over Madeline's shoulder?"

"First all, I don't lurk. Secondly, until this ceremony is over, as far as the family is concerned, I am your brother. I'm unclear on whether that pertains to the entire family or just your part of it."

The other man's voice sounded a lot like Justin's did when he was pretending to be overly dramatic about something. Blanca stopped walking and just listened.

"Your beautiful bride has banished me to this side of the arena. They won't even let me help build your little house. Logan is helping. Vincent is helping. MY son is helping. But I'm the one who gets banished."

There was definitely a hint of laughter in the voice, as though the man was smiling at Pablo as he spoke. Blanca couldn't decide if she should continue listening to more of the conversation or just go in.

"I'm pretty sure Andi explained that to you, Brother," Pablo said as he laughed. "Either you weren't paying attention, or you've decided to complain merely for the sake of complaining in all this spare time that we have."

"Oh, definitely the latter. I've been banished by Maddie, too. Can you believe it? She called me a pest!" There was a sigh of great theatrical proportions. "I've never been called a pest. And a pest is definitely not as delightful as a scamp. Now tell me... just whose wife is doing the corrupting?"

Pablo snickered. "I'm still blaming Madeline for every little thing that has turned my sweet librarian into a bloodthirsty, snarky badass."

Blanca was so surprised by Pablo's words that she nearly missed the other man's.

"And you, my friend, need to give up your delusions in that area before that badass tosses you into next month. I heard from Cat about the excellent tale she spun for her brother's friend yesterday. She's been taking names and kicking ass since she took up the staff. Who's the one who hasn't been paying attention?"

"Not listening to you, Rene."

# # #

I can't believe I'm actually nervous!

Oh... well...

Okay, I believe it.

I can't stop smiling. Mama is radiant in her joy, and for once I think I might be getting close to matching her.

I'm getting married today!!

"Andrea, you need to hold still," Mama says as she laughs at my pacing.

"Can't, Mama! I might explode." I giggle.

"Will you at least finish getting dressed?"

"Sure! In a minute. I'm fast."

She just shakes her head. Well, she doesn't know about my little game either. It doesn't matter. I just need to slip on my leggings and boots... not the usual boots I wear but beaded white calf-high boots. In deference to my preference to having as little as possible between my feet and Mother Earth, these boots are as thin-soled as my uniform boots. Well, when Mama and Aunt Alicia started the beading, how were they to know Mother would be able to reach me through several levels of a building?

"I'd be happy to sit on her if you think it would help, Mama," Maddie says.

I think her grin almost qualifies as evil.

Mama chuckles. "It would do no good, Madeline. I'm surprised she's still walking on the ground, so we should be grateful for that."

I look at my mother and sister. "Yep. Of course, the only reason I'm walking on the ground is that Mother is holding me. And what's the hurry? They've hardly got a quarter of the hogan put together, and Pablo's family won't be here for another hour or so."

"I really should sit on you."

I grin at Maddie. "You could, except I might like it, so what would be the point?"

"You wouldn't be making me dizzy, for one thing."

# # #

Blanca crept forward and peeked into the room. Pablo was sitting in a chair with his feet propped up on another chair; his fingers were intertwined behind his head as he leaned back slightly. The last time he looked this happy was right after Juan was born. The other man — the unknown Rene — leaned against the wall opposite the door, ankles crossed casually; his crossed arms, however, made him look slightly threatening. Very sexy, but definitely not someone she'd want to meet in an alley... even wearing that nice suit.

She wasn't sure how Pablo knew she was there. He'd been looking at Rene. But he suddenly turned and tensed when he saw her. His joy disappeared. Blanca felt like she'd done something wrong.

"Blanca," Pablo said calmly in his cop tone as he lowered his feet to the floor and his hands to his knees. "What are you doing here?"

She looked from Pablo to the other guy, eyeing him suspiciously. Then she looked at her brother as she entered the room.

"Well, you know, my brother's getting married today. Haven't seen him in a while. Thought we could catch up." She stood just inside the doorway with her hands on her hips. "Either of you two tontos seen him?"

The guy against the wall just blinked. After a couple of seconds, he said, "Pablo, did this lovely young lady just call us fools?"

"Shut up, Rene," Pablo said without looking away from his sister. "Why are you here so early, Blanca? Shouldn't you be helping your sisters?"

"No, I should not be helping my sisters because my sisters don't need my help." She glared at her brother. "In fact, it was Elvia's idea for me to hitch a ride with Andi's cousins. So. You gonna tell me what's going on here? Who's your friend?"

"You wouldn't remember because you were so young. It's my friend Carlos." Pablo had the decency to look uneasy.

"Bullshit." Blanca didn't move, and she didn't take her eyes from Pablo.

"I said you were too young to remember."

"Yeah. And I said bullshit. Try again, big brother."

"You wouldn't believe me, Blanca."

"I already don't believe you, Pablo. I never believe you when you lie. I thought you said you'd stop pulling that crap on us."

She was starting to get angry. This was just the kind of behavior Pablo exhibited when he went undercover. He couldn't tell them the truth and, to a certain extent, she understood that. But there wasn't any reason to make up lies. How many times had Elvia and Ladonna asked him to just let them know when he was going to be doing undercover work? More than Blanca could count, that was for sure.

"I'm not working undercover, Blanca. I swear it." Pablo relaxed slightly and gestured to one of the chairs. "I still can't tell you anything. It's not my place to tell a story that isn't mine."

Blanca didn't move. "I don't know you. Never once in my entire life did you lie to me, Pablo, except for the times you were working undercover. So if you're telling the truth about being on the up and up, then you've decided that it's okay to start lying to me."

She was hurt, and she was angry. Suddenly, it no longer seemed like a good idea to spend some time with her brother before he got married. Maybe she could just sit up in the stadium and watch Andi's relatives build the hogan. She wondered if Pablo was lying to Andi about anything, too. Maybe she should just go talk to Andi. Technically, she was supposed to be over here, but Andi had a pretty fluid idea of the whole 'family' concept.

Pablo sighed and rested his forehead on his palms, bending forward to prop his elbows on his knees.

Rene or Carlos or whatever the hell his name was pushed himself off the wall and took a step toward Pablo. Blanca looked daggers at him, and he stood still.

"Ah, Pablo, maybe you should just tell your sister the truth. She's got a look in her eyes right now that reminds me a little too much of my wife's less calm but thoroughly sane moments."

Pablo looked up at Blanca and sighed again. "She's pissed off, Rene."

"Isn't that what I said? At least neither one of them has eyes that glow in broad daylight when they're angry."


"Didn't I mention that I heard about yesterday's meeting? That part where Andi talked about honesty was especially stirring, at least according to Cat."

"This isn't the time or the place for that... story."

"Mon Dieu, Pablo! You are here, your sister is here! I'll leave you two alone if that's what you need."

"No, Rene! This is not something my family needs to know!"

Blanca stomped over to Pablo and punched his shoulder... hard. "Do not ever say that Pablo Diego Tomas Garcia! Never! Do you hear me?"

Pablo stood quickly, knocking the chair back and looking down... no, at his little sister as his hands curled into fists. Fingernails dug deeply into his palms; he concentrated on the pain. Blanca was as tall as Andi... when had that happened?

"Perhaps I should go," Rene offered.

"No!" Blanca turned her fiery eyes on him and jabbed a finger in his direction. "No, you are part of this lie. You are going nowhere."

"Oui, mademoiselle." Rene scarcely moved. Lookout duty it was, then.

Blanca stabbed her brother's chest with that same finger. "And you! How dare you lie to me? How dare you say there is anything about your life that shames you so much that you must hide it from your family!"

"It's not like that, Blanca..."

"Oh? Really, Pablo? Because I might not remember Poppa, but I remember all the things that Momma says that were his words. Do you know what I remember right now, Pablo?"

Pablo shook his head, too afraid to say something that might further anger his sister.

"He said if you're doing something you can't tell your family about, you shouldn't be doing whatever that thing is. So what is it that you shouldn't be doing, Pablo? Huh?"

Cat walked across Rene's feet, invisible to everyone except him.

Why is the Warrior's Mate allowing this person to treat him so poorly, Sibling Rene?

That's Pablo's sister, and she appears to be furious that Pablo is keeping secrets from her.

Are secrets not supposed to be secret?

Yes. I think his sister is a bit more upset about Pablo's lack of open and honest communication than Andrea's brother was.

Pelican said the Warrior's brother was quite annoyed.


Cat stared up at Rene, its rainbow eyes whirling quickly. Then it disappeared. Rene shrugged to himself. Someday he'd understand these Spirits. Someday. Maybe.

# # #

Cat walks through the door, something that would be ordinary enough if we weren't at the Coliseum. Mama looks intrigued.

"Warrior, Pablo appears to be having a battle of wills with an opponent named Blanca."

I look at Cat, and then Mama, and then Maddie before I shrug. "From what he's said, she's more stubborn than he is, although not as stubborn as I am. What are they fighting about, Cat?"

"Sibling Rene believes it is because he's keeping secrets from his family."


Maddie looks at me with an all too Ninja-like grin. "What are you planning to do? You are the one with all the plans, after all."

"Not a darn thing, Maddie. After my conversation with Justin the other day, I realized I was an idiot for trying to protect him by not sharing some of the details of my life as the Warrior with him. And since he was getting partial information second and third hand, he had some funny ideas about my life."

"I don't distort the truth you tell your father and me, Andrea. I understand that you don't feel comfortable telling us everything, but as long as you are happy and I know you are well..." Mama smiles her beatific smile and shrugs. "...I will trust that you have a good reason not to share everything. Your brother, though? He looks up to you, and is far more curious."

I take the few steps necessary to the chair where my mother is patiently waiting with my wedding finery and bend down to hug her.

"I know, Mama. I don't tell you everything because I think only Papa would understand a lot of the things I need to do as the Warrior." Then I kiss her cheek. "But I do tell you all about the good things!"

"I know, dear, and you make me very proud. To serve your community — however you define your community — is a great calling."

"Stop trying to make me weepy from happiness, Mama. If I start crying, my sister will have to knock me over the head with my own stick."


I look over at Maddie. "Are you cranky?"

"Not particularly. But I just spent two days with a couple of teenagers making cow eyes at each other. You're just as bad right now."

"Oh." I pause, lips pursed, fingers tapping lightly on the side of my leg. "Hmm. Sorry?"

"Stop it?"

"I'll try."

"I know where you put your stick."

"I said I'll try!" And then I grin happily at her.

# # #

Meanwhile, Pablo stood looking at Blanca. What could he possibly say that would make sense to her? How could he tell her, the whole family the truth about Andrea and himself? About Madeline and Logan and Rene? It still seemed too strange to him sometimes.

"You have nothing to say to me, Pablo? You're not my brother anymore, is that it?"

"No, damn it, Blanca! That's not it!" He turned on his heel and took a few steps so he could lean against the wall, palms flat against the cool paint and hung his head between his shoulders.

Blanca watched his display, and she worried. She had to ask.

"Are you lying to Andrea, too, Pablo?" she asked, her voice filled with sadness and disappointment.

"No," he whispered.

"Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive," Rene murmured even more softly.

"Not helping, Rene."

"No, I suppose not. On the other hand, maybe I am." Rene glanced at Blanca then took a step closer to Pablo. "Brother, can you honestly say that your sister is less deserving of the truth than all of Andrea's family, including the sister who is not yet a sister and the distant cousin who has no relationship but friendship with her brother? And if you say that's different, I'll slug you myself."

Blanca watched her brother struggling with some immense burden, refusing the help of his family, ignoring the advice of this apparent friend of his who called him 'brother' and she started getting scared. She wasn't frightened enough for it to be visible to anyone — not even Pablo — especially when she was still so angry and worried.

"If Andi's family knows about whatever the hell is going on with you, Pablo, and your own family doesn't..." She couldn't think of any threats to make, mostly because she'd never been good at threatening him. Instead, she took a deep breath, letting it out slowly and silently.

"Why don't you start with why you want people to think your friend's name is Carlos instead of Rene? And what's wrong with Andi that you have to call her a bloodthirsty, snarky badass? She's nothing like I remember Rosalia to be and every bit as nice. She went out of her way to put me in touch with Justin so I could pick his brain about different Master's programs. She's funny, and I don't believe she would put up with your bullshit. So why won't you tell me what's wrong?"

"Listen, Pablo," Rene said as he took another step closer to Pablo, "I know you don't want my advice, but I'm going to give it to you anyway. Tell your sister the truth... your truth. It's a kinder one than Andi's — well, except for that part about your crazy ancestral demigod's idea of a training camp. Go on."

Pablo turned and leaned against the wall, head back, eyes closed, arms hanging at his side. "God, where do I start?"

Blanca could see his pain and didn't understand it. It was the same kind of pain — well, very similar anyway — that he showed them when he came out from being undercover, only this was less potent.

Pablo sighed but didn't move. "Okay. Your first point was about Rene. He's Madeline's husband and died ten years ago. To put it in the context of our family's beliefs, he spent those years a kind of in Limbo. Andi rescued him, and now he spends most of his time — when he's not taking on his physical form — in a part of Heaven, I guess. Andi calls it the realm of the Benevolent Spirits. Rene is Madeline's guardian angel."

Blanca watched her brother as he spoke, although she could see Rene out of the corner of her eye. As fantastical as it sounded, she could tell from the way Pablo almost relaxed that he believed what he said to be the truth. She raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms as she shifted her weight. It was what her Momma called her "sassy pose."

"I don't see no wings on that one."

Rene laughed. "I don't rate them. And I'm in what Andi would call a neighborhood that consists just of the guardian Spirits of some of the indigenous people of the world. Only the Spirits who take the forms of birds get wings."

"What, so you're a ghost?"

Rene glanced at Pablo and then shrugged. "No. Although I suppose it depends on how you want to define the word ghost. Andi's relations will tell you no. If I punched your brother in the head, he'd definitely tell you no. But I can become... invisible, I guess, to most folks, though Andi can still see me. Pablo can too, sometimes. Is that being a ghost? I don't know."

"Huh." Blanca was pretty sure she was missing a lot of information to properly get Rene's existence to make any sense. "So why pose as some friend of Pablo's?"

"Have you noticed that my wife has a new love in her life? While the five of us have a rather interesting relationship that doesn't bother us, we didn't want to advertise it to the whole world. Some people wouldn't understand."

Blanca snorted. "No shit. I'm willing to bet my brother is one of those people."

"Blanca," Pablo said wearily, "it really isn't any of your business."

"Oh yeah? Well, I'm making it my business because I'm your sister. If Andi's told Justin what's up with you guys, then I think you can tell me. I'm smarter than you are, Pablo. And I know what's best for me. So give it up."

Pablo shook his head. "It's personal, Blanca."

"Yeah, right. So your friend is going to make innuendos about whatever you have going on, and it's personal... so you're not going to talk about it. So I should go back and ask Andi about it?" She tilted her head for a second, and then raised one hand, indicating he should wait a minute while she reached into her pocket for her phone. "No. You know what? I'll just call her. Hang on."

Pablo turned and moved a little more quickly than she realized he could, taking the few steps to her and wrapping a hand around her wrist before she could dial Andi's number.

Blanca looked at Pablo's hand that was wrapped around her wrist. It wasn't surprising that he was stopping her from calling Andi. The truth was that she had no intention of calling Andi. She was only surprised by how tightly he held her wrist. What kind of shit was he into now? It was disturbing on more than one level. But she didn't bother to think things through; she just acted impulsively and grabbed his wrist with her free hand. Her newly manicured nails dug into the soft tissues of his inner wrist. She was rewarded with a sharp inhale of breath — almost as though Pablo didn't remember it was something she'd been doing since she was little, or maybe he didn't think she'd still resort to using her nails. The schoolyard taunts of "you fight like a girl" never bothered her. She was a girl. And if biting, kicking, and scratching got her away from the bullies, that's what she had used. Of course, Pablo had insisted they all learn to fight a little more... formally? Yeah, more formally than that... there had been the self-defense class at the Y after school. There had been all the little tests he'd devised when he learned the classes only met once a week.

You girls gotta stay safe had been his mantra.

"You know where this is going, Big Brother. You really want me to jab my elbow in your face?"

"Put the phone away, Blanca. You don't need to call Andi."

"Then start talking. You're starting to scare me, and when I tell Elvia and Ladonna about this, they're going to be so pissed at you that you'll start married life with two black eyes and a torso full of bruises."

The Rene guy actually laughed. "I like your sister," he said. "Listen, Pablo, there isn't anything you're going to tell your sister that Andrea hasn't told her brother. It would make me a lot more comfortable if the two of you would sit the hell down and start talking."

"Yeah, dumbass, let go of my wrist. I'll put the phone away, and you can start talking."

Pablo sighed and released Blanca's wrist. In return, she let go of his and returned the phone to her pocket.


Instead, Pablo walked to the far side of the room and leaned against the wall, and stood with his arms crossed much like Rene had been standing earlier. Except that it was a completely different attitude — Pablo was defensive and looked angry instead of relaxed and vaguely dangerous. Of course, Pablo could be dangerous when he was angry, but that was usually just a time when he was a danger to himself.

"How much do you know about mutants?"

Blanca stared at him as her mind raced. First and foremost was the thought, what the hell does that have to do with anything? But there were also some scary thoughts in the back of her mind where she didn't really want to examine them.

"The usual... they exist. People got scared when the most powerful ones started bashing things up. Segregation, the assassination of the President and attempted assassination a Congresswoman, the Mutant Registration Act, the ghettos. Things died down after a while and eventually the Mutant Registration Act was repealed, but the ghettos still exist... most of them anyway. People still get scared." She shrugged. "It's human nature. People fear what they don't understand. What's that got to do with you?"

Rene was watching Pablo closely. That in itself was an interesting thing to Blanca. But he was some kind of ghost or spirit or angel or something; maybe humans who were still alive were fascinating to him. She'd find out eventually, even if it meant hitting her brother over the head with a chair. Well, hitting him over the head with something.

"And how is it that mutants became so numerous in the first place?"

She eyed him suspiciously. "What is this? A history test?" He didn't answer; in fact, he just stared at her. Blanca sighed and rolled her eyes. "Fine. It depends on who you ask and what books you read. How's that for an answer? No one really knows. As far as anyone knows, there have always been superhuman people among us. Like, the heroes of mythology were mutants, and maybe even the prophets and Jesus and Buddha and Mohammed."

"Oh, I'm not going to speak to the topic of mythological heroes or the prophets — who knows about them?" Rene replied casually. "I think the topic of Buddha and Mohammed is one you and Andi could discuss at great length. But I know for a fact that Jesus is definitely one of us, one of the Beneficent Spirits. He outranks us, by the way." He smiled at her expression of disbelief. "From what Andi said about her experience of his... Presence... he and Deer share a lot of traits, compassion being the most prominent."

Blanca started at Rene. "You got some really strange friends, Pablo. But to continue with your question about how they've become so numerous? Well, discounting any of the really whacked out conspiracy theories, different branches of the sciences see it in a variety of ways. Some think that humanity has reached a point in our evolution that previously recessive genes are becoming increasingly more dominant. That's the least popular theory, even though it's probably the most sensible from an evolutionary biology point of view.

"Most scientists will admit that there may have been experiments that went wrong, although that's also a favorite explanation for the conspiracy theorists. So it's important to check your sources, you know? And there's a coalition of biologists, geologists, and climatologists who credit environmental factors. But these days, the most common explanation is the Virus.

"Some people claim there are alien possessions, but I'm a lot more skeptical about that one. But no one answer fits everyone, and some folks don't fit into any of those pigeonholes. Again, what's that got to do with anything?"

"You know there are some parts of the country where mutants are more commonplace, right?"

"Sure. Everyone knows that."

"You know that the Navajo Nation is one of those areas?"

She paused for a few moments to superimpose the map of the Navajo reservation over what she knew from her history books to be the worst areas of infection, as some people called it.

"Okay, I can see that. The Hopi reservation and the Pueblo reservations are part of the area with the highest rates of genetic mutations in the population, too. It probably affects some of the tribes in those areas whose names I don't remember right now."

"Yeah. The Southern Ute, the Arapaho and Cheyenne, the Northern Paiute are some of the others hardest hit. But the Navajos have the largest Nation. Plus they have most of the uranium mines."

"Gross... I hadn't realized that. Poor folks. I know Justin's focus for his research is trying to find ways of mitigating the effects of the Virus, but I'm not sure there's anything we — scientists, I mean — can do to reverse mutations caused by environmental factors. Well, not that Justin is actually working on a cure or anything. He's just trying to keep people from dying."

Pablo looked surprised. He hadn't realized that was Justin's project... and it still shocked him that his baby sister was a scientist. Was on her way to becoming a scientist?

"Well, I wish him luck. Too many people die. Too many people come out of that experience with... issues."

"Oh, nice way of putting it, Pablo. That's an asshole's way of describing some of the unique abilities people gain from surviving the Virus. Yeah, yeah, I get it. Some of those special abilities can be a challenge. But calling them 'issues' implies you think there's something wrong with either the people who survived or the talents they developed. You can't paint with such broad strokes, and you know it."

"She is so much smarter than you are, Pablo."

"Yo, sexy man," Blanca said, giving Rene a dirty look, "you can keep out of this, okay? I'll tell you when I want your opinion."

Rene blinked... and then he grinned. "You're going to get along with my wife really well."

"Whatever. Keep talking, Pablo."

"I'm not trying to be an asshole, Blanca—"

"Ya could have fooled me."

He sighed. "I'm trying to explain that Andi's people have been affected by the mutations at a higher percentage than the majority of the population." He paused then, not sure exactly where he was going with this tale.

"Okay, so what? If you're trying to imply that some of Andi's relatives have genetic mutations, I'm going to ask why that's relevant. Damn it, Pablo, you've haven't been this happy in over a decade!" She threw her hands in the air with exasperation. "Who the fuck cares if her old Tio Fernando has an extra arm hanging off his neck or whatever? She makes you happy!"

Pablo leaned his head back against the wall and stifled a groan. It was better to look at the ceiling than his sister.

"That's not it, Blanca. First, she doesn't have an Uncle Fernando. Second, some of them have... abilities."

"Oh, big deal! Do you know how many people with so-called gifts live in L.A.? You couldn't count that high even if you took off your shoes. And you stop snickering over there, Mr. Sexy. I got no time for you right now.

"Some of those folks with abilities are respectable people, some are not very nice people, some are those Sponsored Supers, and some are more the independent type." Blanca rolled her eyes again as she crossed her arms and leaned against the only table in the room.

"Pablo, you've been in this small town for too long. Living in the big city, I see things... I hear about things... I read about things. I'm not someone who needs to be sheltered, big brother. So stop trying."

Still looking up at the ceiling, Pablo said, "Andi has abilities." He said it quietly, almost as though it was something better left unsaid.

"Okay," Blanca said in a tone that would have been just as appropriate if Pablo had announced Andi sometimes curled her hair or preferred skirts over pants. To each their own. "I hope these abilities include being able to kick your ass when you get stupid like this. Oh, wait!" She brightened considerably. "She's a martial artist, isn't she? With two black belts? She can kick your ass without any special abilities! And I hope she does it, too."

"She does," Rene noted, risking another glare from Blanca.

"Good." That was all Blanca said for a minute, waiting for Pablo to continue. When he didn't, she shook her head. Her brother could be such a pigheaded idiot sometimes. "Now, are you going to tell me about Andi's abilities? Because — unless she's a criminal, which I have to doubt because you're a cop — I don't care what they are other than she has the ability to make you happy again."

When Pablo just communed with the ceiling for another minute or two, Blanca signed wearily. "Si alguien me hubiera dicho que eras un cobarde, no lo habría creído, Pablo." She looked at Rene. "You know about them, too. You can tell me."

Rene raised an eyebrow, looking between brother and sister. It was never a good idea to get in the middle of a family fight. On the other hand, Pablo was being an idiot... and for some inexplicable reason, the coward Blanca just called him.

"Fine. Well, I'm not sure quite how Andi explains all of it, but I guess her most... powerful? Potent? Annoying? Let's go with annoying. Her most annoying talent is manipulating and controlling the energy of the universe. She calls it qi; some folks call it the life force. Whatever you want to call it, she's the master. I think reaching through the walls between dimensions is part of it and not something separate. It gives her the ability to see and interact with those of us who are Spirits. I can't tell if her cousin the Shaman is actually distressed by that or if he's just pretending to be unnerved. I don't know if she can see actual ghosts, though, except maybe on Halloween. You'll have to ask her about that."

He paused to rub his shoulder, the last place Andi had zapped him. "She can smack anyone — including those of us who are Spirits, much to my eternal dismay and that of my Siblings — with bolts of energy. She's powerful enough that, for a while, she thought she was going crazy. Her power worries the Sibling Spirits but not Great Spirit, and it scares your brother, which is probably why he doesn't want to talk about it."

Rene shrugged and studied Blanca's expression. She merely looked interested. He had to admire the way she was taking everything in stride.

"She's got a pretty high healing factor. I'm not sure what can kill her, other than old age. And thanks to the connection the five of us formed, and the work she and Maddie did to balance their souls... well, old age for her is going to be really old."

That was the first thing to break Blanca's bravado.

"She'll outlive everyone she ever loves?"

Rene nodded. "Except Maddie and Logan... it's likely the three of them will walk on together."

"But that's awful! Poor Andi! How can she stand it?" She turned on Pablo again. "And how can you be such a jerk about all of this, knowing that someday you're going to break Andrea's heart and rip up her soul? I remember what you were like after Rosalia and Juan died, so you stop this stupid shit you're doing, Pablo! Just be good to her for every minute of your life!"

The once-human, now-Spirit Rene stepped away from the wall and stood a single pace away from Blanca.

"I can reassure you that it won't be as bad for Andrea as it was for Pablo when his first wife died," he said in a calm and soothing tone. "Obviously, it's still going to be hard, but she'll have the knowledge that once he gets the hang of this alternate version of life, he'll never be more than a thought away. I'm where I am, here with the Benevolent and Beneficent Spirits and able to be Maddie's guardian angel, because of Andi. I owe her more than I can express in words. So does Maddie... and Logan, too, for that matter."

He smiled, although he didn't turn up the full force of his charm. All he wanted to do was bring a measure of peace to Pablo's sister. Besides, he was reasonably confident the two of them — Pablo and Andi — would try to beat the snot out of him if he started flirting with Pablo's little sister.

"Because Pablo and Andrea have a metaphysical connection of intertwined qi — what the Spirits call the marriage bond — Pablo will probably live longer than he ordinarily would have, sharing that portion of her gift. And because the five of us have a similar connection, when it's time for Pablo to walk on, he'll join me with the Spirits, as I said. Andi will be able to Gibbs slap him for a good long time. To some extent, the two of them can tap into one another's gifts, which is a pretty nifty thing.

"There's a lot more to it but other than mentioning your idiot brother's newfound abilities, I think the rest of it is above my pay grade. It's definitely too complicated and bizarre for me, what with Andi being a magnet for weird."

"Wait. Pablo has abilities, too??" She looked at her brother again. "You got caught by the Virus, and you didn't tell us? I'm gonna definitely have Andi kick your ass now. What the hell is wrong with you, Pablo??"

"No, not the Virus. And I was afraid you wouldn't understand."

"Asshole! What's not to understand? You're our brother. We care about you. We worry about you. In fact, we've worried about you a lot. Now that you're marrying Andrea, we're going to worry less. All this other stuff? Who cares?"

Pablo finally stopped inspecting the ceiling to look at his little sister again. The realization that his admittedly not normal life was being accepted as perfectly ordinary by Blanca caused more confusion than everything Andi had put him through since that evening back in August when he had told her about Rosalia and Juan, and she had told him about her abilities. He shook his head — trying to clear it, trying to reset the brain cells, trying to make sense of this moment.

"Don't worry about that," Rene said in a stage whisper. "He's not the sharpest tack in the box, but I think he's coming around."

"Shut up, Rene," Pablo said absently.

Rene nodded. "See? Getting better already."

"Uh huh," Blanca replied doubtfully. "There's a lot of space between those ears of his." She waited on Pablo again, but he still didn't want to have this conversation. "So how did you get these abilities? And what are they?"

Pablo shrugged. "Power over wind and light — flying, light blasts, and light refraction. Higher tolerance to pain. Faster reflexes. How?" He scrubbed his face with his hands then jammed them in his pockets. "The short answer is 'Quetzalcoatl.' The long answer doesn't even make sense to me. I think for that... Well, you might need to get the story from Andrea. She was at the center of the whole thing."

Blanca stared at him again; it was almost as though she was trying to see into his brain.

"You're still sore that she made you sit out the excursion to rescue Logan," Rene said. "How many times do I need to tell you that you should be grateful to have been doing ordinary detective things?"

"We could argue about this for the rest of eternity, Rene. I don't think it was right to let her go into that situation all alone."

"Alone?!" Maybe the man had lost his mind. "Pablo, she had Maddie and Logan and me with her. She had the entire pantheon of her People with her. She had the damn United States Army Special Forces with her! You're just jealous that you got left out. And for the record, I agree with Andi's decision to keep you out of Stryker's reach. He could have done to you what he did to Logan, with a hell of a lot less trouble. Andi wasn't as powerful then; you even less so. The Pentad hadn't been formed. Both of you probably would have died that day, and the shit would still be rolling off the mountain. Just get over it, will you? You don't have to be Mr. Macho Man and lead every charge." He paused as he studied Pablo for a few seconds. "And on top of all that, you know damn well it was Maddie calling the shots. Andi was there in a backup role, using the talents only she possessed to make sure the mission was a success. Or as much of a success as it could have been, all things considered."

Rene glared at Pablo almost as hard as Blanca had been. Pablo scowled back at him.

"You're both hilarious. Ha, ha, ha." Blanca looked at Rene. "Do you have a better story than just 'Quetzalcoatl'? Because that's not a very good one."

Rene graced her with a charming grin before taking his spot against the wall again. "Do you know anything about our common ancestral heritage?"

She shrugged. "Some. Mostly just what they teach in school, but I did a semester project on Aztec culture for one of my elective sociology classes. It's a pretty extensive topic, so I stuck with the contemporary descendants of the ancient Aztec Empire and how they keep connected to their past while living in the modern world."

Rene hesitated long enough that Blanca gave him a stink eye worthy of Andrea, and he grinned.

"Sorry. You keep surprising me. You really are a lot smarter than your brother," he said with a grin. "So you know that the twin gods Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca were kind of big news back in their day. There's a theory that gods lose their power when people stop worshiping them, and maybe that's what happened to the Aztec deities. Apparently, they didn't actually fade away to nothing but instead fell asleep.

"Pablo really should be telling this story because it starts a couple of months before I ever got involved. As I understand it, the family had gathered to do some kind of healing ceremony for Tita in Flagstaff. Andi inadvertently woke Quetzalcoatl from his nap — something about her power called to its power. That's something she'd have to explain.

"From what I learned later from Maddie and Andi, Quetzalcoatl claimed your brother was its—"

"His," Pablo interrupted.

Rene shrugged and continued. "—his Chosen One, gave some sort of warning about a malevolent force it called the Shadow and gave Andi the impression that she was going to stand at the head of some army that would defeat it, while Pablo was going to be her lieutenant." Rene paused. "Actually, that's my interpretation. Andi would probably tell you that she'd been tapped to stand at the mouth of Hell to hold back the tide of evil pouring out, that Pablo would be at her side, and that there probably would be others to help. Given how much she trusted Quetzalcoatl, she probably felt like she and Pablo would be facing the nightmare alone."

He looked over at Pablo — who gave no indication that he had any interest in contributing to the tale — and shook his head.

"Your brother really ought to be the one telling the story, or even Andrea, but..." Rene gave Pablo another glare, which he ignored. " see how he's being."

"And what the hell is wrong with you, Pablo?" his sister asked.

Her brother just stared at her, looking grim... but he also had that sense about him that he had from going undercover.

"Okay," Blanca said calmly. "I get it. Something bad happened. You're blaming the 'Coatl. And you never want to talk about the bad stuff."

"In this case, I'm actually going to side with Pablo. Even though Andi mentioned it to Justin — her experience of Pablo's training with Quetzalcoatl anyway — I don't think she went into much detail. Of the five of us, I think only Maddie has had a worse experience."

Blanca studied her brother closely and then did the same for Rene before finally nodding slowly.

"I'll accept that there are things I don't need to know in detail because they're still painful for you to talk about, Pablo. You were supposed to save the world with Andi, right? And it seems like you did that."

"No, I actually didn't. That's the point of my whole argument with Rene. Andi went off and saved the world by herself."

"Yeah? That isn't what I heard just a couple of minutes ago. I heard that she followed Madeline into the lion's den — along with Logan and Mr. Sexy here, and the freakin' Army. What I heard is that you being there might have gotten everyone killed because you didn't have the training for the job. Where's the problem with that? Admit that other people could do that job, that you do your own job better than anyone else. God, Pablo, it's not like you have to be the best at everything!"

He sighed. "When Andi's around, it doesn't feel that way."

Blanca raised an eyebrow at that statement, but Pablo said nothing else.

"Fine. So you got your powers because one of the ancient gods of our ancestors woke up and slapped you upside your head... is that it?" She shrugged. "It sounds like the fever dreams people have when the Virus hits, but if other folks are going to verify your version, I suppose that's the one I'll accept. And I'm going to guess that this awful stuff that's still eating at you had to do with learning to use all that magic juju you got, right? So I ain't gonna ask about that. You have these abilities, you don't want to talk about how you got them."

She looked suspiciously at Rene and then at Pablo, who sighed.

"It's possible someone could consider these gifts Quetzalcoatl gave me and his method of teaching them to be an actual 'gift' — but only if you believe the Four Horsemen are coming to bring gifts during the Apocalypse."

Blanca looked puzzled again. "But if you have abilities others don't have, and you're using them to help people, doesn't that make them gifts?"

Pablo closed his eyes and swallowed hard. "Blanca, that's a discussion that Andi and I have been having for months. Her people call the genetic mutations 'the Curse of the White Man' or simply 'the Curse.' But they all seem to make the best of a bad situation and turn it to good." He opened his eyes and looked at his sister; he was solemn and looked more scared than uncomfortable. "It's still too new for me, despite the fact that, yes, I have managed to do some good. I'm not sure yet that it's sufficient good to balance the hell I went through, though."

She nodded. "You've been through so much, Pablo. This is why we need to know about what's happening with you. How can we help you, how can we support you, how can we love you enough to ease your suffering if you don't tell us about it? I'm sure Andi does the very best she can. But one person can't be everything, can't do everything."

He smiled more hopefully. "I haven't been reminded enough, I suppose, that you're very wise and my family is very loving."

She rolled her eyes. "Oh, don't worry. Me and Elvie and Ladonna? We're gonna fix that, you dope.

"So just what the hell have you been doing the last few months that you don't want to share? And what about this lie you're telling about Rene? What's this Pentad that you mentioned?"

"What have I been doing? Oh, not much," Pablo replied, going back to being testy. "Andi saved the world, then she saved my ass, and then she made sure the world was safe from those particular assholes for few thousand years."

Blanca stepped forward and jabbed his shoulder. "If you resent her so much, then why are you marrying her? Huh? You're an idiot, Pablo."

Rene cleared his throat. "It's really a much more entertaining story than Pablo makes it out to be, and I think he's just pretending to be an asshole right now." He peered at Pablo. "Probably. I'm not sure I've ever seen him quite like this. It could be wedding day jitters."

"You know damn well that's not it, Rene," Pablo practically growled.

"Right. I forgot. It's more important to keep secrets from the people who love you." Rene leaned against the wall again and looked at Blanca. "The only person I've met who's as stubborn as Andi is my wife. And even Andi has finally figured out that keeping secrets from the people you love isn't a good idea. On occasion, it's necessary... but it's never the best option. Your brother hasn't figured that out yet. Give him time.

"Now, Andrea could probably tell the story better than I could, but since your brother is uncharacteristically obtuse today, I'll see if I can at least give you some theoretical background. Clearly, Pablo is even more idiotic than Andi ever was about not sharing anything with their respective family members but to be fair, Andi's family is at least used to this sort of thing. Not our particular situation, precisely. Even their senior medicine man was surprised by what we'd done, though I'll give him a lot of credit for hiding it well.

"You've got the basics with Andrea's power zapping Quetzalcoatl awake during the healing ceremony for Tita. Pablo was trained to use his new abilities by the ancestral asshole, as Andi calls him; the experience was not pleasant for either Pablo or Andrea. But they managed to get through it... it was a trial by fire, in a way, and they came out of it stronger for it — they are stronger together, they are stronger individually."

Rene paused, watching Blanca and trying to figure out where to start and how much to tell. He mentally shrugged and decided she could ask questions if she needed more information.

"Some of this is information that I learned later because I didn't know these crazy people at the time. If the story seems a little disjointed, it's probably because I've heard the story from Pablo's point of view, from Andi's point of view, from the various Sibling Spirits' points of view and, where the stories overlap, from Maddie's point of view when I wasn't around.

"Anyway, after Quetzalcoatl showed up in the human realm and then took Pablo off to be trained in one of his own dimensions, I guess they had a few weeks of relative peace and quiet before Andi met me up in Golden near the cabin Maddie and I own. I say 'relative' because, having met Quetzalcoatl and being continually subjected to Raven, I'm surprised either of them is sane."

"He isn't," Blanca said, tilting her head toward Pablo. "Does that mean Andi is crazy, too?"

Pablo assumed... no, he hoped Blanca was just teasing him. Rene shrugged slightly.

"Today? Probably not. As recently as a month ago? She certainly thought so." He looked at Pablo. "Are you sure you don't want to tell this story? It is yours, after all."

Rather than glaring at Rene, Pablo merely shook his head. "Tell it from your point of view. I'm still too close to it all, and I'm not sure I trust my emotions right now." He smiled sadly. "You know that thing Andi does with her eyes when she gets very emotional?"

Rene nodded.

"Where do you think she got it from?"

"And here I figured it was part of her energy manipulation." Rene chuckled. "The way abilities have cross-pollinated in this group and even mutated, if you'll pardon the pun, may never cease to amaze me."

Blanca hitched herself up on the table and sat cross-legged. "Stop trying to change the subject. Both of you. I want to know what's been going on that Pablo won't tell me about."

"Sorry... sort of," Rene said. "Pablo and I do tend to bicker like a couple of old fishwives sometimes." He thought it was particularly amusing, at least until either Maddie or Andrea showed up.

"The Reader's Digest Condensed version—"

"More like Cliff Notes," Pablo said. "Your story isn't going to be as coherent as anything in Reader's Digest."

"I thought you didn't want to tell the story."

"I don't."

"Then shut up." Rene pointedly looked at Blanca. "Right. Now the short version is that Andrea in her guise as Ninja — that's the name she goes by when she's working the superhero gig — rescued me from the dimension I got thrown into when I died. And the upshot of that, of course, was being reunited with Maddie and my son, Leon. Then, to use Andi's analogy, we packed up the moving van and hauled my stuff off to the realm of the Benevolent Spirits. I couldn't stick around long, but I guess Maddie and Andi chatted for a while, and during that chat, Andi mentioned that one of her people had been murdered and two others were still missing. Maddie offered Logan's services as a tracker because..."

Rene paused. He didn't want to think about that day when he finally died. Despite their promises to ease up on the guilt, he still had moments when he felt as though he could have been stronger, could have done more to resist It, resist the Darkness. There wasn't anything he could have done. There wasn't even anything Maddie could have done differently to change things. He almost chuckled as one of Andi's favorite sayings nagged in the back of his mind... Everything happens exactly when it should happen, how it should happen for the greatest good of all. He didn't believe in that sort of destiny, but for some reason, when Andi said it, the sentiment was at least somewhat comforting.

"...because it's how she is. And because she didn't want to see the Darkness try to get into our world again. So while Pablo here was doing his super detective work, trying to solve the murder of Andi's friend, Ninja, La Loup Noir — Black Wolf, Maddie's name while she doing that job — and Wolverine — that's Logan — went looking for clues. I don't know that they came up with much other than the murder was definitely connected to the kidnapping of the old man who ran the halfway house. Afterward... later... sometime in the evening, the three of them met with Pablo's boss to get some information about the Aryan Knighthood."

Rene stopped again, this time to study Pablo. "Your boss is damn lucky," he said finally. "And a hell of a cop." Looking back at Blanca, he continued the story. "I was introduced to the insanity that is Quetzalcoatl as well as a display of Raven's lunacy that only seemed to come out when it's around Andi. The next day, Ninja, Black Wolf, Wolverine, and one of Ninja's contacts checked out a warehouse in the LEO's county that seemed suspicious. What did she call it? Google Fu?" Rene shrugged. "They... we found the two missing men, as well as two low-level members of the Knighthood."

He sighed. "I told her the only way to save the man who was a mutant was to kill him. He had been infected with the Shadowkin. She refused. Damn, I had never met Maddie's match when it came to stubbornness until that day with Ninja. Quetzalcoatl showed up, probably because Raven called him, and agreed to keep the guy safe." He snorted. "Never trust a snake, but that part of the story comes later. The officer from the Sheriff's Office made sure the old man got to the hospital. Maddie... questioned the brighter of the two Knighthood peons."

He was quiet for some time, keeping his own counsel, knowing there had been things that happened that day that he wouldn't tell anyone.

"You mean she tortured him." Blanca's voice was flat. It would be challenging for anyone to know just what she was thinking and feeling right then merely from the sound of her voice. However, her eyes showed the conflict of her mind and soul.

Rene just shrugged. "She didn't want Ninja to stick around, but she did anyway. 'Bearing witness' is what she called it... said it was part of the Warrior's duties. I wasn't about to argue with her when she had that particular look on her face. It would have been as effective as arguing with Maddie. Some things... Well, some things you just have to accept. And Ninja being a stubborn, crazy woman was one of them.

"They sent the dimmer bulb off with a message for the higher ups; Logan followed him. Maddie and Ninja started working out this ludicrous idea to evacuate Commerce City and use it as a trap for the Knighthood."

Rene's eyes focus more on the here and now again, glancing at Pablo before giving his sister a half-smile. "Maddie can do crazy. She comes up with ideas that are usually suicidal. But with Ninja added to the mix? Dear gods, you don't ever want to be on their wrong side. Ninja's ideas are bizarre because she combines metaphysical elements to them that Maddie would never have considered. Ninja is meticulous with planning, despite understanding that the Plan is generally the first casualty of any engagement. She just rearranged the pieces on the chessboard on the fly. Just like Maddie does. Those two women scare me."

Blanca tilted her head with brows furrowed, studying Rene for a moment. "But isn't it a good thing that they mesh so well together?"

"Oh, hell, yes! I almost feel sorry for anyone who gets in both their crosshairs at the same time. Almost... because if both of them have the same target, it's going to be someone who really, really needs to be taken down."

Blanca nodded her understanding. "I notice you pretty easily switch back and forth between 'Andi' and 'Ninja,' but you almost always refer to Maddie as just Maddie. You don't need to tell me why. I'm just curious."

"Huh. You know, I hadn't noticed that. I suppose it's because I've always known Maddie to be Maddie. She's only been doing this thing as La Loup Noir for... I think she said three years. Long after I died, anyway. When I met Andi, she was working... so she was Ninja. It wasn't until after we had formed the Pentad, I think, that the names became interchangeable."

"Okay... sure, that makes sense. And then what happened?"

Rene laughed. "They evacuated Commerce City, of course! Nearly twelve hundred people were removed from the city. The young kids and high-level telepaths were taken out to the school in New York where Leon is studying. The people who are Normal or can at least pass for Normal just spread out to the neighboring communities. Everyone else was bussed down to one of the neighborhoods Ninja is especially protective of." He shrugged. "Then we waited for the Knighthood to attack."

Pablo glared at him. "Yes, and at some point in there, I was placed under house arrest while my boss started eating antacids like they were candy."

"I'm gonna throw my shoe at you, Pablo, if you don't quit your complaining."

Blanca stared at him for a minute, maybe two minutes, before she got up and walked over to him. She barely needed to look up at him anymore. She knew how much he had endured in his life before meeting Andi and, as she scrutinized his features, it struck her that he didn't look as old as he did the last time she saw him. He looked so healthy and yet... and yet he acted so much like the old Pablo. Taking one more step forward, she wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him tightly as she rested her cheek on his shoulder.

"I'm sorry I upset you, Pablo. It's your wedding day... it's supposed to be a happy day."

Pablo returned the hug, closing his eyes and just remembering all the times he had comforted Blanca when she was younger, remembering all the nights he sat with her and sang her back to sleep after nightmares woke her up. He was so proud of the woman she had become and terrified of the world into which she was stepping. He wanted to protect her from the evil he and Andi saw all too frequently.

"It's not your fault, Blanca. I worry about you. I know I can't protect you from the world; it wouldn't be right for me to try. But I can't help it — you're my baby sister and my instincts say to protect you."

Rene watched the two of them, wondering if he should leave. He had tried to disappear a couple of times, but Blanca made it pretty damn clear that he ought to stay. The only problem with sticking around was that she wanted answers to her questions. And those questions upset his Brother.

Blanca sighed. "Come on, man, I'm all grown up. I love you dearly, Pablo, but you can't spend your whole life protecting me. You're getting married. That means your wife is your number one priority now. And even if she saves the world from weird shit, you're still a freakin' amazing detective!"

She looked up at his face; he looked far too solemn for today's festivities.

"We all know what she told Elvie about having bambinos, Pablo. And I know that's gotta be hard for you... you love kids so much! But we all believe in miracles, including that miracle called adoption. So I have faith that someday you'll have children to protect, and you don't need to be worrying about their Tia Blanca."

His eyes flickered oddly when she mentioned children, and she took that as a good sign.

"Ha! See? Your eyes say you believe in miracles, too... that you still have faith. And after I finish my Master's program, who knows? Maybe I'll come out to Colorado!" She grinned at him. "Justin said the University of Colorado has an excellent Ph.D. program and incredible research opportunities."

Pablo smiled. "I'm glad that Justin and Nicole are so happy together or I might have to start worrying about the two of you."

She pulled back and unwrapped one arm so she could lightly slap his shoulder. "Now you're just being silly. Justin is a wonderful friend, and he's madly in love with Nicole." She smiled slyly and took a step back. "Their cousin Billy is incredibly adorable, though. You think he has a girlfriend?"


She laughed. "I'm just kidding. Mostly. Probably."

"Uh huh." At least Pablo was smiling again. "Considering that you're a big city, genius biologist and Billy is a small town, lunatic computer nerd, I can't imagine you'd have much in common. Or that either of you would be comfortable living in the other's natural habitat."

"Oh, I don't know, Pablo," Rene said as he leaned against the wall perpendicular to them, practically smirking. "Billy's going to be spending some time at Charles' school after the beginning of the year. He might find he likes it there. I'm sure Hank would love to have a research assistant once Blanca has finished school."

Pablo opened his mouth to object, but then stopped and merely narrowed his eyes as he looked at Rene.

"I think you might as bad an influence on people as your wife is," he said after a few seconds.

"Other than ruining your ability to appreciate any coffee that doesn't come from her father's plantation," Rene said, attempting to look innocent, "I don't see how she's been a bad influence on any of us."

"What school? Who's Charles? Who's Hank? And Madeline has a coffee plantation??"

Both men laughed, and Pablo answered his sister's questions.

"It's a school for gifted kids out in New York, Charles is the headmaster, Hank is a brilliant doctor, and yes... Madeline owns a coffee plantation. But you shouldn't drink coffee. It will stunt your growth."

Blanca snickered as the patted the top of her head. "Hasn't done much to stunt my growth so far, has it? I'm nearly as tall as you are. And that doesn't explain how you know these guys, although I'm going to take a wild guess and say it has something to do with Madeline."

"My son attends the school," Rene said softly. "Madeline and I have... a complicated relationship with it."

Pablo watched Rene for a moment, knowing there was yet one more story he didn't know about his Brother and Sister... though he suspected Andi knew more than he wanted to know. She collected memories; not all of them were pleasant.

"And the twins have apparently been doing their best to torment Madeline and Logan into attending, at least from what I hear," Pablo said, nodding to Rene. "They adore Billy... I think Em has a crush on him."

"I didn't get to meet them last night, but everyone in Andi's family gushes about them." Blanca smiled at her brother. "You'd think they're as wonderful as I am!"

He laughed. "Don't get too full of yourself, baby sister. You have competition now!"

She snickered. "Who can compete with generally well-behaved ten year olds? I'm still your favorite, so it's all good." She leaned a shoulder against the wall near Pablo so she could still watch both men. "Have you met these guys, Pablo?"

He noted Rene's raised eyebrow and shrugged. "Not Charles, no. But if Andi is to be believed, if he weren't paralyzed and needed that wheelchair to get around, he'd probably be able to walk on water. Hank...?"

Pablo smiled as he stared into the distance. Andi had told him about the man and why she wanted him to help them celebrate their wedding. Given everything that he had done not only for the children of Commerce City but also the children rescued from Stryker, her respect for Hank McCoy was understandable. And a little white lie to explain his presence at the reception was worth the falsehood they were going to allow people to believe. However, Pablo wasn't going to lie to his sister.

"He's an amazing man. You'll get to meet them both at the reception."

They were interrupted by a rap on the door jamb.

"Excuse me, folks. Ms. Yazzie asked me to let you know that I've unlocked the northeast door." The twenty-something young man pointed down the hall to the entrance in question. He was dressed in the uniform of Denver's Theatres and Arenas maintenance staff, his dark hair was neat, his dark eyes friendly. He looked like he was happy to be at work today. "You've got these six rooms here available — this one, the four between here and the door, and the one on the other side of this one." He nodded in that direction. "If you want to move chairs and tables around between the rooms, that's fine. Need any help with it, there's an intercom two rooms down. Just call out for Jason — that's me — or Joey. Right now, Joey is arguing with some plumbing, but he should win pretty soon."

Pablo had pushed himself off the wall at the first interruption; Rene didn't move, but Pablo could tell he was ready to fight to fetch the others if necessary. The way the last few months had gone, Pablo didn't think paranoia on his wedding day was unwarranted. But as the young man talked and offered his assistance, Pablo relaxed as he walked toward the doorway.

"Thanks, Jason," he said, holding out a hand. "I'm Pablo Garcia, and I can only hope my part of the family will decide major furniture rearrangement will not be on the agenda today. Sorry that we made you come in for work, though."

"The groom! Cool, great to meet you, man," Jason said, shaking Pablo's hand. "Oh, we'd be working today anyway, and you've got something amazing and happy going on, so that makes it a good day to be at work. You're a lucky guy. I asked your lady about the little house they're building out there and, I swear to God, I thought she was trying to download a whole library into my brain!" He laughed. "You know how folks get snatched in movies... someone coming up from behind 'em, putting a hand over their mouth, and dragging 'em off? I swear her sister was going to do that, all the while their mom was laughing up a storm. Nice people. Joey's mom is from the Laguna Pueblo — doesn't know anything about his dad, but his stepdad is a mutt like me — and says it's a big deal for the Navajo. Gave the whole thing two thumbs up."

Pablo chuckled. "Andi is a librarian. She likes to help people learn."

"Yep, I can see that. Congratulations and all that. I've got the back end locked off, but you folks might want to stay in this area anyway. It's pretty dark when the lights are off, and we've only got four banks lit up in the corridors."

"I'll let the family know. Fortunately, most of them are sensible."

Jason's radio squawked then. "Jason. I could use another set of hands here to help choke out this sink. Where are you?"

"Hey, gotta go. Congrats again," he said reaching for the radio clipped to his belt. As he headed back up the corridor — now much more illuminated than when Blanca had arrived — they could hear him responding to his coworker. "Closing in on one eleven; be there in a sec."

"Well, he sure is a chatterbox," Blanca said with a chuckle in her voice as Pablo returned to his spot on the wall.

"Yes. We don't know anyone else like that," Rene said teasingly.

"Do not mock my lovely wife, Brother, or I shall be forced to defend her honor."

"Uh huh. You realize that she scares me more than you do, right?"

Pablo shrugged. "I'm the best homicide detective in Denver. I've been told I can't be the best at everything."

"Damn straight," Blanca agreed. "And you still owe me more stories, big brother. I intend to collect." She leaned over and stood on tiptoes to kiss his cheek. "Later. When you're ready."

# # #

"I just hope your Pablo isn't giving poor Maria the same trouble you're giving us," Mama says.

I hold still long enough to hug Mama. "Of course not, Mama! He probably is floating. That's his gift, you know. Well, I don't think he mentioned all of that to his family, so he's probably still walking on the ground."

Maddie snickers.

"I wish he had more family here for him," Mama laments.

I kiss Mama's forehead before I start bouncing around the room again. "He has his Momma and his beloved sisters and his brother-in-law and all his nieces and nephews. His grandparents are here... two uncles and an aunt! And he decided his friend Carlos was family, too."

I stop moving and glance at Maddie. I don't know whose idea it was for "Carlos" to attend the actual wedding, but I'm happy Rene can be here and substantial. Ecstatic might not be too strong a word for it. Then I look at Mama again.

"And Rosalia's father came to give his blessing, too. Her mom died before I knew about them, but... Oh! You should have seen Pablo's face when Señor Delgado asked if he could be allowed to stand as Pablo's own father."

Yes... my dear, tough cop actually cried. And I think Lorenzo did too when Pablo called him. I am so happy to hold the memories of Rosalia and Juan for them because they were all such a treasure to one another. I wish I could have met Gloria, but it had only taken a few minutes of listening to Lorenzo talk about his wife for me to find I had so many beautiful memories of her, too.

I peek out the door and look down the corridor into the arena of the Coliseum. I can see Daddy directing Logan and Uncle Junior on the proper placement of the last bough on the hogan.

"Okay. I suppose I should get dressed now."

© Kelly Naylor