Issue 3: Serve and Protect

When we get back to the waiting room, some of my family members look at me with concern... Mama especially. Others — the two younger cousins, specifically — are snickering. I have to let go of Pablo's hand when I kneel in front of Mama, resting my hands on her knees.

"Mama, I'm fine. Stop the worry, okay?" I say gently. "How is Tita doing?"

Pablo stands behind me as Mama looks at me with that worried look she does so well.

"She's doing remarkably well. The Dance has rejuvenated her. The doctors are all in a tizzy, as you can imagine," she says, then reaches out to touch my cheek. "But what about you, dear? What happened out there...?" she asks. Deep frown lines appear around her mouth, as she looks at me and then at Pablo and back again.

"I'm really fine, Mama... I promise," I say, taking her hand in mine. "I guess my Song woke Pablo's guardian Spirit and... well, that combined with Raven acting like it has been spending too much time with Coyote, my Warrior found the situation threatening. She had, ah, words with both Pablo's guardian and mine." I sigh deeply and shake my head. "She is not very patient or nice sometimes, but she does what I can't. Until today, Master Chen had been the only person who knew both Andrea and the Warrior." I give Mama's hand a gentle squeeze, then look around the room at the other relatives, before looking into her eyes again. "I would have preferred to keep it that way, but..." I shrug. "The Spirits had other ideas."

I look at her for a moment longer, then reach up to touch her cheek with my fingertips. "Where is your beautiful smile, Mama? There is no need for this frown."

She looks into my eyes and smiles for me, brushing a stray strand of hair back behind my ear.

"We've all known or suspected the duality of your life. I'm sorry that it's bothersome at times, but never fear... your family loves you and will protect you to our dying breath. I know that you're going to go after whoever did this to Tita Kai. Every one of us will support you in any way we can. We'll support you both," she says, looking up at Pablo, including him in this.

Pablo nods solemnly.

"Ah, my dear Mama... there has never been a single moment in my entire life when I have doubted my family's love for me. And everyone has bothersome things in their life from time to time, don't they? And at least with my occasionally bothersome alter ego, I am able to help so many people." I smile at her. "I think it's a fair trade-off. Most days."

I look up at Pablo. "It could take Uncle Leon and Talia most of the day to gather the information about people who might have been touched by this thing, this person the detectives told you about. I can't know until I see some of them if it would be possible to clear any taint to their qi by... more conventional means," I say with a wry smile. "If the Flagstaff police have more information, we might be able to track this thing today before it can hurt anyone else.

"Of course, first you must be introduced to Tita." I grin at him, then stand and kiss Mama's cheek.

"Before his guardian woke, Hawk Danced with Pablo. They banished most of the tainted qi once Deer could get close enough to Tita again and release it." I chuckle as I nudge Pablo with my shoulder. "He would make a good Diné if he weren't already claimed by the Aztecs." I look toward the door to the ICU. "Are the doctors still strictly limiting Tita's visitors?"

"No, I'm sure we can get both of you back there with her. If her tests come back like Leon believes they will, she'll be moved to a regular room for overnight observation," Mama says, getting up and going over to speak to the volunteer.

Pablo looks at me.

"Have you ever seen a Spirit that wasn't Diné at one of your Dances?" he asks. "I hope Hawk wasn't offended by the Quetzalcoatl coming out." He frowns.

"This is the first time I've seen a Spirit as powerful as Hawk dance with someone who was not one of our People. And I still don't understand the appearance of Quetzalcoatl." I shrug. "If I worry about it, though, or keep thinking about, trying to figure it out, it's only going to twist my brain in knots. But as for Hawk?" I smile and shake my head. "You did nothing offensive. My guess would be it saw someone in the Circle without a guardian and came to help. When your own guardian woke, and you had no further need of Hawk's help, it left with the others.

"No, the only one upset by your guardian's arrival was Ninja," I say while rolling my eyes. I look over to see Mama nodding and waving us into the ICU. "Come on," I say, taking his hand and smiling, "time to meet Tita!"

As we entered the room, even I am amazed by the improvement in Tita's health. She's sitting up, looking ten years younger, chatting with Papa and the doctor.

"Oh, Tita, I'm so glad to see you looking so well!" I have a very happy smile on my face.

She looks over at me and the gentleman holding my hand, and smiles.

"I'm feeling well, too, little one," she says, glancing at me and Pablo. "Are you going to introduce me to the handsome man next to you?"

"Of course, Tita. This is Pablo Garcia." I look at Pablo and squeeze his hand. "Pablo... my grandparents, Kai and William Yazzie. Tita Kai and Papa Bill."

Pablo takes a step forward and extends his hand. "Mr. and Mrs. Yazzie, it's a pleasure to finally meet you. Andrea has told me many stories about her Tita Kai and Papa Bill."

Papa Bill shakes his hand, nods to him; the smile on Papa's face would give anyone the impression that the Yazzie family patriarch is a man of few words. Tita takes Pablo's hand in both of hers. "We are very happy to meet you, Pablo. Our granddaughter has spoken of you, of course. And she and I had a lovely chat earlier today," she says with a smiling glance at me. "My William tells me the Spirit of Hawk guided you in the Dance. That is a very rare thing, you know, to have such a powerful Spirit seek out someone who is not of our People."

Tita turns her gaze to me as I step next to Pablo and slide my arm around his waist. "You realize what a remarkable young man you have here, don't you, Andrea?"

I laugh. "Yes, Tita, I do." I look up at Pablo's face and smile as I relax against him. "I most certainly do."

The doctor clears his throat, catching everyone's attention. "Ah, Ms. Yazzie, I understand this... this dance your family performed was your idea? Clearly it's done wonders for your grandmother, but they can't seem to explain why you felt it was necessary. I'm hoping you can give me some... clue... anything." The man is on the younger side, probably no more than two or three years past his residency. From the faint accent, he's certainly from out East... Boston, possibly. "You have medical training, right?"

I look between Papa and Tita as Pablo puts his arm around my shoulders. Papa simply smiles and winks; Tita smiles so broadly I almost expected her to break out into a giggling fit. But I understood the unspoken message: tell the doctor whatever I wish — anything from the cold, hard truth to my most fanciful fairy tale. I grin back at them. Perhaps I can dance between truth and fairy tales in a way that will make the truth comfortable for this poor boy from a land where the Spirits rarely visit anymore. Oh, and give me practice in Storytelling while I'm at it.

"No, actually, I'm a librarian," I say, looking at him. "But as you must know by now, the Yazzies are pure blood Diné... Navajo. We have kept our culture, our language, our stories alive all the way into the twenty-first century. And sometimes tradition is very important... and not just for the elders," I add, nodding at Papa and Tita, smiling.

"Medical science has always been skeptical of that it can't quantify, right? Prayer, laying on of hands, Native rituals, acupuncture... it's all baffling to the medical establishment. But you must admit that the mind has an amazing power to affect the health of the body." The doctor nods; I think he can sense where I'm going with this. "So when I saw my grandmother this morning, I just knew..." There's no need to explain how I knew, of course. " of our People's Medicine Dances would revitalize her spirit." And there is absolutely no need to discuss qi and taints and some sort of... something... poking holes in people's xia dan tians and draining their energy. "And a revitalized spirit..." I say, nodded to Tita, "...makes for a healthier body."

I look at him and grin. "Or you could just call it a miracle if you'd like."

He shakes his head but smiles. "Well, whatever you folks did made one hell of a difference. We're running some tests, and still want to keep her overnight for observation, but if the tests all come back normal, there's no reason why she can't go home tomorrow."

I manage to not squeal with happiness, but I do hug Pablo tightly. "That's wonderful! The whole family can gather at Mama and Daddy's house for our Singing tomorrow!"

Pablo hugs me back; we all have broad smiles on our faces. My happiness is infectious and the sense of relief in the room is evident.

The doctor's eyebrows go up. "Um, another ritual, I presume."

Oh, hell yes... but I figure I'll ease the poor guy's mind. He's had enough jolts to his brain for one day. "Call it a celebration. We're happier than you can imagine having our Tita well again," I say, as I look at her with love and fondness.

"Oh, I don't know, Ms. Yazzie," the doctor says with a smile. "I have a grandmother, too. I'll let you folks alone for a while. Just don't stay too long. I'd like your grandmother to get some rest."

After he leaves, I look at Papa and Tita. "And I didn't actually fib about anything."

"Mrs. Yazzie, can I..." Pablo starts.

"Please, Pablo, call me Tita Kai. You're part of the family now... you've Danced with us and come all this way to support my granddaughter. You call me Tita Kai."

Pablo looks at me, then at Tita and smiles. "Thank you, I'd like that. Do you feel strong enough to answer a few questions?"

She nods, asking Papa for some water, which Papa Bill pours for her.

"Can you describe where you were and who was around you when you first felt the weakness and your heart give you trouble?" Pablo asks.

"Of course. I had gone to the store to pick up some fresh ingredients to make a stew for dinner. Bill loves my spicy southwestern stew. I was in the vegetable aisles, looking at some peppers. The store was fairly crowded. A few mothers with babies in the carts, an older couple shopping together, a stock boy putting away some sweet corn, a man on a cell phone, a few others. I felt a sudden weakness and dizzy, kind of like when your blood sugar drops. My heart was pounding and my vision blurred. I stumbled and the nice man with the phone helped support me as the weakness made my knees nearly gave out. It gets a little blurry after that. I remember laying there... the store manager came over, and I remember the paramedics. Then I was on my way here."

I draw my brows together, trying to remember what Pablo had said of the police reports.

"You didn't notice anyone touch you or brush against you or bump into you before you started feeling weak?"

She purses her lips and her eyes go a bit distant for a moment as she becomes lost in thought, trying to remember as much as she can.

"I don't remember, dear. Maybe," she says slowly, shrugging.

I look at Pablo. "If it doesn't need to touch someone..." I know I have that grim, trouble is a-brewin' look on my face, because that's the state my brain is in at the moment.

"I think the sooner we start looking for it, the fewer people are going to wind up like Tita."

Someone clears his throat behind them. An older doctor is standing in the doorway with a somewhat uncomfortable look on his face.

"May I speak with you for a moment?"

Hmmm. There are generally two reasons for a face with that expression. Either the doctor needs to start eating better...

...or he wants answers to questions he's not even sure how to ask, and that nobody is going to answer for him anyway.

Guess which one I think it is.

Since he doesn't seem to be addressing anyone in particular, we all just look at him. Maybe that was a rhetorical question, and he'll just start in with whatever he has to say. Doctors, lawyers, a whole lot of professors... they tend to do that.

Though... apparently not, in this case. I glance at Papa and Tita, then shrug. Spokesperson of the moment; okay, I can do that.

"Sure. Come on in."

The older man steps into the room, closing the distance so he can speak quietly to us.

"My name is Doctor Franklin; I'm the Chief of Medicine here. I've been examining Mrs. Yazzie's case and we have three others like it here at the hospital. Nothing we've done has been effective for them, but whatever you did seems to be working wonders for Mrs. Yazzie. Can you talk to me about it?"

I bite my lip, bringing my free hand up to Pablo's where it rests on my shoulder. I want to help, but... that would mean... I sigh as I turn to look at Tita and Papa, to gauge their reaction. And, of course, I see exactly what I don't want to see... their expressions clearly saying It's up to you, Andrea; we trust you.

And when I turn back to Doctor Franklin, Raven is standing on his head, bobbing its head up and down. I close my eyes, and I'm fairly certain I whined quietly through my clenched teeth.

Breathe, Andi. Just breathe.

"Oh, not only may I tell you about it... it appears as though I am required to tell you about it." I open my eyes — reluctantly — to see Raven preening; then it launches itself from the doctor's head to perch on the rolling bedside table beside me. Well, at least it's not sitting on my head. When it — I swear it grins! — yes, grins and prepares to launch itself off the table, I hiss, "Don't you dare!" Yes, I'm sure I look like a complete lunatic as I appear to be talking to an empty table. I shift my eyes to look at Papa. "We must talk later on the topic of what it means when the Spirits take far too much interest in one's life." I stare at Raven again for a second or two before looking back at Papa. "Although, I have a feeling I already know most of what you will say."

Can birds laugh? Well, Spirit birds apparently can. I swear Raven is laughing at me.

I look at the doctor again, leaning heavily against Pablo. "The short version... we did a Diné Medicine Dance, which is considerably more involved than I led your young colleague to believe. Would my family be willing to dance for your other patients?" I smile softly. "I have a good and generous family, Doctor Franklin, and I believe they would be willing to help others if it would help. But would it help?" I sigh, and from the corner of my eye, I can see Raven bobbing its head up and down again. "I can't say for certain, although at least someone seems to think it's possible. Would your patients be willing to participate, however? Would their families allow it?" I shrug. "Even in Arizona, Doctor, there are people who would see what we did as something evil, or the work of some devil. If the patients are unwilling, even the most powerful Medicine Dance with the whole Nation dancing won't help them."

And what about everyone else in Flagstaff who might have been affected by this thing? As energizing as the Dance is, we can't do it for the whole city. There must be an easier way, a less obvious way... but I certainly can't think of what it might be. Not now. But I am more anxious than I was earlier to find and eliminate the thief who takes people's qi.

Pablo's presence beside me is a solid warm flow of energy, the tiniest trickles of which are already feeding into me.

Doctor Franklin listens respectfully to what I say, and shrugs as he notes my odd behavior.

"All I can do is ask; but the woman who has been here the longest lapsed into a coma two days ago. I'm pretty sure that the family is willing to do anything to get that mother awake. I'll talk to the patients and families and see."

He smiles at me. "In this day, when people with power to fly and rip buildings down and such? I don't think as many people are freaked about an Indian dance as they might have been fifty years ago."

"Maybe not. I hope not." I shrug. "I live in Denver where an ugly minority doesn't so much get freaked out about things as..." I take a deep breath, feeling Pablo's strength, seeing Raven still bobbing its head up and down. If Raven thinks this will work, who am I to argue with one of the Spirits? Now, my alter ego, on the other hand...

"Well, let's just say hatred is still alive and well in the Mile High City and leave it at that."

And I'm hoping that Raven's involvement in my life is just all about helping the people of Flagstaff. Because if I have a big black invisible Bird trying to sit on my head all the time, I'm going to go mental.

"Um. Would it be okay for me to see these folks? Especially the woman in the coma?" Raven cocks its head to the side and coos. Yeah, I get it, Ravens don't coo. Well, this one — apparently — does. I'm going to pretend that's approval. "I'll be as unobtrusive as possible..." If Raven behaves, that shouldn't be a problem.

"Yes, I believe that would be fine. They might have questions you can answer better than I," he says. "Come with me."

"Okay..." Answering questions may not necessarily be a good idea right now, but... well, you never know. "Ah, maybe I should go find my sweatshirt first. I kind of look like a biker chick right now, and not one word out of you, Detective Garcia," I say, lightly punching him in the arm.

Pablo looks at me with wide innocent eyes. "Who, me?" he says, grinning... and I can hear my grandparents chuckling.

The doctor looks back and forth between me and Pablo, a bit uncertain.

"Why don't you go with him and start the discussions. I'll go get your hoodie from your cousins," Pablo volunteers.

What can I do? Well, just roll my eyes and smile at him, I suppose.

"I see why you did so well working undercover," I say as I reluctantly step out of the circle of his arms. "You've got that look of innocence down pat. But you can't fool me, my friend." I chuckle as I turn to follow Doctor Franklin from the room. "Meet you down the hall."

The room is actually at the far end of the hall, and I can feel the sickness of the taint before I even reach the door. Raven chirps in my ear, startling me and I have to clamp my jaws shut to keep from saying anything.

You could give a girl some warning, you know!

And what would be the fun in that?

Okay, I am not expecting that, and almost walk into Doctor Franklin's back.

What the heck...?

Not now, Little One. You have work to do. Pay attention. And then I feel a nip on my ear.

Oh, yeah. Good thing the jaws are clamped down tight. But remember to breathe, Andi. Breathe, breathe, breathe.

I stand out of the way, close to the door; there isn't any need to get close... I can see her qi is nearly depleted. Glancing at the others in the room, I guess they are children and their spouses, the youngest two possibly grandchildren. Aside from being saturated with grief, their auras all look healthy enough. The woman though... Doctor Franklin is right to be concerned... if something isn't done to help her, and soon, she probably won't live another day.

I might have questions, the family might have questions... the biggest question needs to be answered first. I've never tried talking to my cousin without knowing with certainty that he's listening, so I'm not quite sure what I'm supposed to do to get his attention.


I'm here, Andi. There's no need to shout. I can feel a tendril of laughter following his thought.

Well, how am I supposed to know if I'm shouting or not? No, never mind... lessons can wait. Will you ask the family if they'd be willing to Dance again this afternoon for another woman who is even sicker than Tita was?

Of course, cousin. I will let you know what they say.

Okay, now it's Doc Franklin's show.

Doctor Franklin speaks to the woman's children, explaining that every treatment they've tried so far has been ineffective against whatever caused their mother's coma.

"It's my belief that what is affecting her is something unnatural, likely caused by a powered villain. The only effective treatment so far has been a Medicine Dance by the family of one of the other victims. That woman is making a rapid recovery. I would like to request your permission for that woman's family to try the same... ritual... for your mother," he tells them.

Half a dozen pairs of eyes turned to me, looking at me... weighing me, weighing my worth.

"An Indian dance? Are you kidding me? That's for shows and those fakey pow wows before the track meet," says a slightly overweight middle aged man. He looks like an aging jock.

"Shut up, Robert! If Doctor Franklin thinks this is worth a try, then I'm willing to listen," says the oldest of the children, a woman in her late forties or early fifties.

"Miss, do you truly think what you'll do will help our mother?" The woman directed her question to me, not the doctor.

I feel Pablo coming down the hallway toward me; bringing my hoodie, I assume.

I look at each of them in turn. Their pain is so great that it's like a physical presence in the room. The man, the cynic, is using hostility to keep his fear at bay. The woman is so desperate, she'd agree to almost anything. I want to allay their fears, but I can't give them false hope, either.

And the funny thing about this situation — not that there is any humor in the grief of a dying woman's family — is that it's all about Andrea. Right here, right now... Ninja has nothing to offer.

I look over at their mother... to see Raven pacing up and down her body, stopping to peer at each dan tian. This, too, shall pass... keep breathing... crazy flying things! Just as I am about to step closer to the woman, Pablo arrives with my hoodie. Smiling my thanks to him, I slip it on, pulling the leather thong out of my hair and tucking it back in my pocket. I know I look more like a college student now, but at least it's a less threatening look than biker chick.

Stepping closer to the woman's bed, I watch Raven's... performance? Of course, to those watching, it merely looks as if I am visually examining her. The Spirit finally stops at her xia dan tian, stares at me for a moment, then bobs its head once.

Andi, we are all willing to Dance under the condition that at least one member of the woman's family participates in the Dance. Oh, and Aunt Alicia just arrived and is looking forward to seeing you. And, ah, she wants to grill you about Tita.

I nod, both to Raven and Tommy. Thank you, Tommy. I'll be out in a little bit. A grilling by Aunt Alicia isn't a grilling in the sense most people would think. True, we'll start off talking about Tita. But with Aunt Alicia, a conversation could end up anywhere.

Then I turn to the eldest of the woman's children.

"Your mother is much sicker than my grandmother was, but I do truly believe the Dance will help her. My family is willing to help yours; the only condition is that at least one of you must join our Circle." I smile at her, with what I hope is reassurance. "In essence, it makes you — temporarily, at least — part of our Nation. The Spirits will then be able to recognize your mother, and be able to help her."

Yes, yes... it is considerably more complicated than that. But at a time like this, over-simplification is essential. They are already so overwhelmed by their mother's illness that their attention span is close to that of the youngest children who come to Story Hour.

"If you are willing to have us Dance for your mother, it should be done this afternoon."

Which means this afternoon Pablo and I won't be looking for the creep who did this; we'll be dancing. Well... with the amount of Taijiquan I'll be doing, I probably won't need to sleep until Thursday. Ninja is happy enough to prowl the streets and alleys of Flagstaff all night if she has to.

"The spirits? Are you fucking kidding me, Doc? You want us to let a bunch of fucking Indians dance around our mom naked with beads and feathers?" the man rants, all hostility and anger and fear.

Intellectually, I understand the man's reaction. Unfortunately, his reaction is catching the interest of my alter ego, and that would just turn this whole thing into a disaster.

Breathe, Andi. Just breathe.

It's not helping that Raven has launched itself at the man and is now perched on his head.

Breathe, breathe, breathe.

I take a step back, so my back is lightly pressed against Pablo... here is safety, comfort, protection. And the knowledge of protection settles Ninja immediately. I sigh with relief.

Pablo's warm hand rests on my shoulder and I can feel that trickle of energy coming from him again, spreading along my meridians like warm honey. It's odd, but I don't have time to think about that now.

Actually, I probably shouldn't be doing much thinking at all. I should be relying on training and instinct.

The older woman turns and slaps the obnoxious man across the face.

"Robert, you might be my brother, but if you don't shut up and leave right now, I'll slap you again. These people are just trying to help as best they can."

The man looks shocked at what his sister has done, his hand coming up to his stinging cheek, and he steps back.

"You're all nuts! You want to dance around with the natives, go ahead. I'm going to go pray for mom at St. Christopher's," Robert says, giving me a look of disgust before leaving.

I watch the man storm out of the room, feeling... what? I guess feel sorry for him. I hope his prayers give him some comfort; he could use some.

The older woman turns back to me. "Please forgive my brother. He does tend to be rather close-minded normally, and he's just in a lot of pain right now. Tell me how I can help, and I'll do everything that I can," she says, stepping over to me and extending her hand. "My name is Rachael."

Raven resettles itself on one of the other family members and is, at the moment, intent on investigating the younger woman's hair.

"Of course, Rachael," I say, shaking her hand, "and I take no offense. His mind is consumed with worry for his mother. Even the best of people can behave poorly in a situation like this. I'm Andrea, this is Pablo." I look at the other family members. "Would you introduce me to the rest of your family, how you are all related? And if you'd all let me know if you'll Dance with us..." I pause a moment. " Uncle Leon will want to know how many beads and feathers to collect," I say with a wink for Rachael.

"Of course," Rachael says, and then proceeds to introduce her husband Art, her sister Jill and Jill's wife Elizabeth, and the youngest brother, David. The various children are introduced, ranging in age from fourteen to three.

The family talks among themselves and finally decide that David and Rachael will Dance for the adults and that the oldest grandchild, Stephanie, will dance for the children.

"Will that be enough?" Rachael asks.

"One would be sufficient, but the more, the merrier," I say, more relaxed with Pablo here. I hope this day will slow down enough at some point so Pablo and I can talk about the energy he's feeding me. Now is most certainly not that time.

"All the children are welcome to Dance if they'd like. My cousins all began learning the Dances as soon as they could walk," I say, smiling at the memories of pictures Mama had sent while I was in China. "You are all welcome. Pablo here Danced for the first time today; I think he can verify that my Uncle Leon is an excellent teacher."

I rest my hand on his and have an instant of... well, almost disorientation; I'm not sure where my hand leaves off and his begins.

Looking a bit closer, I can see that not only are trickles of his energy coming to me, but my own is slowly flowing to him where we touch. The qi is swirling around us, dancing as it moves along our meridians.

Now, now, Andi... this is not the time to indulge in studying qi.

I do look at the woman who had captured Raven's attention.

"One of the Spirits is inviting Jill and Elizabeth, specifically, although I don't believe it would be offended if you declined."

Raven puts on quite a show then, spreading its wings... covering its face... falling over in a posture of grief... then pretending to be dead. I close my eyes and sigh ever so quietly.

"No, Raven would merely be dreadfully sad."

The two women look at each other and shrug.

"Sure, if it would help mom, no problem," says Elizabeth.

And, of course, all the kids think it would be cool to dance.

"What do we need to do next then?" asks Rachael.

I look at Doctor Franklin. "You'll need to arrange to have Mrs. Rutler brought outside. And... my grandmother, too. She probably isn't quite ready for Dancing yet," I say with a smile, "but my grandfather will be dancing, and Tita would want to be there with him. She'll likely decide to drum with my cousin."

Well, that's obviously the right thing to say. Raven flies around the room like a crazy thing, bouncing off everyone — except Pablo, now isn't that interesting? — and ends by jumping up and down on my head as if its legs are springs. I resist the urge grab it and stuff it in a pillowcase... it wouldn't do any good anyway.

Then I look at Rachael, smiling. "Next... you come meet my family."

We leave the doctor to make the necessary arrangements, and I lead them out to the waiting room to introduce everyone to everyone else. Billy can hardly stand still with his excitement of having the children joining the Dance, and all I can do is shake my head and smile fondly at my cousin. Charlie can't contain his excitement either, but at least he doesn't need to make any attempt at holding still... he runs out to his car to fetch another drum for Tita. I stand off to the side a little, watching the two families getting to know each other. Mama seems to be in her element, ever the gracious hostess. My family's joy is working its magic to revitalize Mrs. Rutler's family; the heavy weight of grief in their auras lightens a little.

Jill and Elizabeth are holding themselves apart, not any more than I am, but there is a feeling of... well, not quite fear, just... Ah, best just to check on them, Andi.

I walk over to them, watching the developing interactions between the families for a couple of seconds. "You two look a little lost. Everything okay?"

They look at each other, a silent communication that long-time spouses develop, before Jill speaks up. "We just weren't sure how... well... you know..." She shrugs, glances at Elizabeth, and speaks with such sadness. " and Liz. Mom and Rachael and Dave... they're awesome and totally cool, but Bob..." She shrugs again, and Elizabeth speaks up. "He's an ass."

I chuckle. "I've met worse." Well, actually Ninja's met... and dealt with... worse. "Among the People — Native Americans — our Two-Spirited kin are treasured; we believe they are closer to the Spirits. Two-Spirited... any of our LGBT people." I take their hands and fold them together, holding their hands in mine for a moment. "You have good energy together; you both love your mother very much. That's why Raven wants you to Dance." I let go of their hands, but they continue to stand with fingers entwined, looking much less nervous. "My family will embrace you as readily as they have everyone else... I promise."

They walk over to Billy, who is dancing with their daughter, the three year old, which is perfect since Billy is... Billy. He loves everyone.

I sigh and smile as Pablo comes up behind me and wraps his arms around me. Yesterday, he wouldn't have done this; though if he had, I would have freaked out. Today... I like today. I could get used to this. And I think watching our qi... is mesmerizing. That's what it is. I think I could watch it for hours. I blink and sigh again. No time for that right now.

"I feel like the ringmaster of a three-ring circus at the moment," I say, chuckling.

He smiles and kisses the top of my head, his arms snug around me with my arms crossed over his. "Well, it is a bit like a circus. Billy is the clown, I can see your dad as the lion tamer, you're the beautiful trapeze artist and I'm Jo Jo, the dog-faced boy," he says, chuckling.

"Oh, stop it," I say to Pablo, laughing. "I think you're one of the clowns, too, and Papa is the lion tamer, silly." I pause a moment. "Oh, right. You didn't see the Spirits. Papa's guardian Spirit is Lion."

The two families seem to be blending well, and everything seems to be fine until Doctor Franklin motions to me, drawing me away from the others.

"Can this be done inside? I'm very leery of moving her outside, away from the respirator. Our portable one is acting up a bit. I can get one from another hospital, but that could take a few hours... and frankly I don't think she has the time. Her readings are bottoming," he says quietly.

When the doctor motions me over and expresses his concerns, my first reaction is frustration. I really want to be five again and stamp my feet. Fortunately, that feeling doesn't last long, but I don't really know what to do. I'm not an expert on these things.

Tommy? Help?

My cousin breaks off the conversation he's having with his dad and comes to stand beside me. "There, you see, cousin? You've already learned how not to shout," he says with a smile. "How can I help you?"

"Doctor Franklin would like to know if the Dance can be held indoors. Before today, I think I would have had the inclination to say no, but..." I close my eyes and sigh. "...but now, I'm rather confused since..." I clench my teeth together, speaking more slowly and with a noticeable edge of frustration. "...Raven will not... leave... me... alone."

And to prove my point, when I open my eyes, Raven is standing on Doctor Franklin's head, grinning.

And don't try to tell me birds don't grin.

"Well, it's not ideal, Cousin, as you know... but it can be done. It just might not be as effective," Tommy warns.

"I understand, but anything at this point will be a great improvement, and will hopefully allow her to regain consciousness," the doctor says, looking from one to the other of us.

"I can move her to the observation operating room. It's bigger," the doctor offers.

Tommy looks at me and nods, then waits to see if Raven and I agree.

"Well..." Right, how to explain my thing, the qi thing.

Of course, having to watch one's guardian Spirit flop over on the doctor's head, slide down his body to lie like a dead thing on the floor for a second, jump up and start pecking at the man's feet was really, really distracting.

"My guardian Spirit is a drama queen and apparently does not agree with the doctor's diagnosis," I mumble. Raven looks up, bobs its head several times and goes back to pecking at Doctor Franklin's feet. I look at Tommy. "Why? Why me?" I shake my head and sigh. "Never mind, we can talk about that later.

"This is an all or nothing sort of thing, Doctor. You're right that this is unnatural. Something is not only draining her life energy, but befouling the little she has left. What we did for Tita today was clean the contamination away. That left the initial wound, which would probably heal on its own given time, since her life energy has been purified. But we will Sing for her tomorrow to... essentially suture it, I suppose you'd say." I smile slightly. "I made a promise.

"If we can clean the foulness from Mrs. Rutler, she will simply need time to heal the wound and regain her energy. With her family around her, seeing how much they care, that part won't be difficult. It's clearing the taint that could be more difficult indoors.

"Now, excuse me for a minute while I act like a crazy person again and talk to the crazy invisible bird," I say to the doctor, but turn to Pablo first. "Don't you laugh, my friend. Just wait until you can see your guardian Spirit and see how much fun it is." I pause for a second. "Although yours is really pretty."

That earns me a peck on my foot.

"Ow! Now you stop that! Yeah, I get it; you disagree with the nice doctor. And I'm not saying you're wrong because I can see more qi than his machines can measure, but she's his patient and if he wants to be cautious, that's his right."

Raven flies up and caws loudly in my face, then flies over to Rachael to bounce on her head several times, returning to box the doctor's ears with its wings. I sigh... again. I seem to be doing a lot of that lately.

"Raven suggests we let Rachael make the decision. However, I'd like to point out that an operating room would not be an ideal location. Drums, foot stomping, chanting..." I shudder. "Is there an auditorium of some sort in the building? Even clearing out the cafeteria would be fine. Though certainly outdoors would be best."

My guardian Spirit continues to box the doctor's ears.

Doctor Franklin rubs at his chin, thinking about the facility no doubt, locations of the oxygen lines and electrical connections and such. How many places can be rearranged for a large group of people to gather, I wonder.

"About the best I can do is the patio outside of the cafeteria. I can run the lines I need to the patio, I think, and that would let you do your thing in the courtyard area. Nice grass area with some trees. Do you want me to show you?"

The moment the doctor mentions grass and trees, Raven immediately stops boxing his ears, hops up on his shoulder, wraps one wing around the man's head, and rubs its head against the doctor's face. I close my eyes and lean my forehead against Tommy's shoulder.

"I can't watch this."

I wave a hand in the doctor's direction.

"No, no. Just by your description, it's obviously wonderful. Sooner started, sooner finished and all that."

I can sense the doctor looking at me, no doubt thinking I'm crazy... and honestly, at this point, I wouldn't argue the diagnosis. But thankfully, I heard his footsteps heading back into the ICU.

"Tommy, what's it doing?"

"If by it you mean your guardian Spirit, cousin... Raven has taken a fancy to Doctor Franklin and accompanied him into the ICU."

I lift my head to look at him. "Why, after thirty-two years of mostly leaving me to my own devices, does Raven suddenly feel the need to... to... to... act like a lunatic and try to drive me insane?!"

Tommy laughs. "That is a question you should be asking Raven, Andrea."

I sigh for the four hundredth time today. "Figures." I eye Pablo. "I don't know why, but I have a feeling it has something to with you. So when I wind up in a padded room wearing a straitjacket and weaving baskets with my toes, be comforted in the knowledge that you helped put me there." I smile brightly at him. "Dear."

"Is it wrong of me to say that I find it both amazes me and turns me on slightly that you can weave a basket with your toes?" he asks, all innocent eyed and smiling.

Tommy snorts and starts to laugh, covering his mouth with a fist in an effort not to get slugged by his considerably stronger cousin... me.

I look at Pablo. And narrow my eyes. Then I turn on my cousin and stare at him for a few seconds.

"MAMA!" I cry, as I spin on my heel and head toward her. I wrap my arms around her and bury my face against her neck.

"How do you stand it? They're crazy, Mama! Men are crazy!! I want to become a nun!"

Mama puts her arms around me and gently pats my back. Her qi says she's smiling, and trying not to show it. That just frustrates me more.

"Yes, darling, I do understand. Men can be very exasperating. It's a good thing they're cute or we superior creatures wouldn't have anything to do with them," she says, kissing my forehead.

"Cute only goes so far," I mumble.

"Puppies are cute. Kittens are cute." I straighten up and look at my Mama's face. Then Aunt Sonia. And Aunt Alicia. And even Rachael.

"Oh, I see," I say, resting my hands on my hips. "Another initiation rite." Then I look at Jill and Elizabeth, who do not have the same expression as Mama, my aunts, and Rachael. "Ah ha! See? No need to become a nun! I can be a lesbian instead! Anna has been trying to get me to go out with one of her friends for months now."

But then I feel... I'm not even sure what I feel. It's a tingling, a tugging along my meridians; an energizing warmth to my dan tians. As Papa wheels Tita out of the ICU — she's changed out of her hospital gown into a pretty rose-colored dress — I turn and look at Pablo.

He is awfully cute.

"Oh... fudge covered popsicles in anchovy juice!!" I am at least mindful that there are young children in the room, all of whom seem to be giggling at my outburst. And then I sigh, yet again.

"I think I'm stuck with him."

Although annoyed and frustrated, I didn't sound unhappy about it. Not at all.

Pablo looks at me, then walks to my side. "Andrea, can I talk to you for a moment?" he asks softly, motioning to the other side of the room.

I eye him suspiciously, just for a couple of seconds. Then I suspect my face reflects the stress, the misery, the absolute insanity of the day, and I try to smile. Not trusting myself at the moment, I simply nod and walk to the farthest corner of the room, lean my back against the wall and slide down to a sitting position.

He's part of the problem and half the solution. He jangles my nerves and settles them at the same time. I may have to increase my daily Taijiquan practice to two hours a day.

He comes over and slides down the wall next to me, forearms on his knees.

"Hey, I didn't mean anything by what I said before. I was just trying to get you to laugh, or at least smile a bit. I thought you could use it."

He looks over at me. "How are you doing? Your Spirit guide has been kind of driving you nuts, huh?" he asks softly.

"Kind of would be an understatement," I say, leaning my head back against the wall with my eyes closed. "What I said to Tommy? About it pretty much leaving me alone my whole life? I can remember seeing Raven maybe three times before today, only during a Dance, and it never hung around, never acted like..." I shake my head. "I don't even have a way to describe it. A manic squirrel with ADD hopped up on crack, maybe?"

I open my eyes and roll my head to the side to look at him. "I know you didn't mean anything by it, Pablo. Sometimes, well, it's hard for people to remember I spent a huge part of my life in Japan and China. People are very proper there. I guess... well, I guess by American standards I sometimes seem like a prude." I smile, but it's a sad smile. "I don't mean to come off that way, but that whole part of my life when people learn how to interact with members of the opposite gender? I was living in societies where those interactions are highly ritualized. I figure I'm doing pretty well being able to display any affection in public at all." I gesture toward my family. "It helps that my family has no problem with public displays of affection and that I had Mama and Dad as role models, at least until I was thirteen.

"And I think on a different day, under different circumstances, I would have just let what you said pass. But today has just been one of the craziest days I can ever remember." I smile, more heartfelt this time, and reach over to lightly rest a hand on his arm. "We need to go Dance in a couple of minutes, and if Raven and your newfound friend can keep from annoying my alter ego, it will calm me down a lot.

"The moral of the story, though, is that Andi is pretty darn uncomfortable with sexual innuendo... and when talk gets beyond innuendo...?" I shrug. "Again, maybe it's just me being a prude, but that sort of conversation is supposed to be private."

He covers my hand with his, understanding in his eyes.

"I'm sorry, Andrea. There are still parts of your history that I don't... Well, you've told me about living in Japan and China but I guess I never really understood what effect that would have on someone. I'm sure I'm going to trip over myself until I learn more. I might make mistakes, but I'll learn from them and won't do it again."

He smiles softly at me, squeezing my hand. "That you trust me enough to try so hard... it means a lot to me." He brings my hand to his lips and kissed it.

"Come on, let's go see if we can save another life."

I smile, relax, my mind quiets. I feel that tingling flow of qi through my meridians, the energizing of my dan tians as Pablo kisses my hand. We have an awful lot to talk about, he and I. But work must take priority over pleasure. It is a peculiar type work, I must admit, this job of Dancing to save lives and later catching the thing that threatened those lives. Work will always have priority... his job as one of Denver's homicide detectives, my job as one of Denver's protectors. But at least we both know and understand that.

I have always trusted him... from that first night we met, when he was still a patrolman responding to a complaint from a pampered and self-important son of a Senator. That trust has only grown deeper over the years. More than a decade ago, I realized I trust him with my life. Today, I've entrusted him with my heart and soul. The story of my life is a minor thing compared to that.

I stand with him and nod. "That's the best part of my job, either job... helping people." I grin. "Let's go Dance."

Pablo returns the grin and gets up, offering his hand to me like a gentleman, even though we both knew that I don't need help up. I know it's just ingrained etiquette of a hundred generations of well brought up men.

Keeping our fingers twined together, we follow the rest of the family down to the cafeteria and out onto the patio, where Doctor Franklin has set up Mrs. Rutler and her equipment to help monitor her.

"I'll be staying by her side the entire time, monitoring her," he assures her family, then watch with interest as Tommy and the elders set things up for the Dance.

Charlie and Tita are off to one side with their drums; Tita sitting regally in her wheelchair, Charlie cross-legged and relaxed on the ground. Billy is holding Aliza's hands as she stands in front of him, gazing up at her new best friend in the entire world. Billy's obvious delight in helping the youngster with the Dance seems to set her mothers, who stand on either side of him, at ease.

It looks like the whole Rutler family is participating... well, except for Robert, who's off praying. And his efforts will help, too if he's sincere in his beliefs. I certainly got the impression from his reaction to Doctor Franklin's suggestion, as well as Jill's and Elizabeth's comments, that he's quite sincere. Every culture has its own interpretation of the Great Spirit and the guardian Spirits. I look around at the participants; we've got Diné, Aztec, and white Anglo-Saxon Catholic here. Oh, this could get interesting.

Before taking up my own place outside the circle, I step over to Doctor Franklin and Mrs. Rutler. Her qi — what little there is left of it — is a dark, fetid trickle of oiliness. This Dance will last longer than the one we did for Tita, that much is certain. And since it was Raven who fetched Deer during the last Dance, I hope it will work quickly to find whatever Spirit guards Mrs. Rutler, whatever Spirit whose access to the woman was disrupted when she was attacked. Raven is standing sedately, for a very welcomed change, on the woman's chest; it bobs its head several times. I'm going to take that as an affirmation.

I know what Spirits will be present because of my family's participation; I won't even hazard a guess about those who will come to stand beside the Rutlers. But with an additional five adults and four children, we could have a good representation of our pantheon. Like Pablo during the earlier Dance for Tita, none of them seem to be aware of their own guardians; I'm hoping my Song doesn't awaken them as it did for Pablo. Given that I don't have a connection to them, it does seem unlikely. I'm glad Aunt Alicia made it, though. Her Spirit, Mouse, is very concerned with... tidiness? Keeping things orderly? Well, in any case, Mouse can even keep Raven in line. Though, this being a very serious matter, I think Raven will be focused on our magic until Mrs. Rutler has been cleared of the poison.

I look at the medical equipment, then the doctor. "Your instruments will lie to you; I'm going to tell you that right up front." I smile and shrug. "They're not designed to measure everything and the most important thing to watch — her life energy — your machines haven't quite managed to measure... though an EEG comes close. So if the readings start going crazy or stop altogether... don't panic. Please. As long as you see me over there..." I point to the spot I had chosen for my version of the Dance. "...and I'm still moving, I'm still singing, that's means we are all still working to clean the unnatural poison from her system. Okay?"

He looks at me with worry, skepticism, and even a little fear. I understand all that. As a doctor, he protects and advocates for his patients.

"But I... well, if I can't trust the machines, how can I know she's not..." He speaks softly, not wanting to be overheard, not wanting to alarm the woman's family. I like this guy.

"You trust yourself. You trust me. If I am still up and moving, she still has life. Here, let me show you something."

I step around the gurney to stand beside him, then gently rotate the woman's arm that rests limply at her side so her palm faces her body rather than lying flat on the pristine sheet. "Here, along the radius, the lung meridian is very close to the surface." I lightly lay three fingers along the points, my index at the juncture of wrist and hand. "It's not the pulse you feel from the blood vessels, it's a constant movement that feels like an incredibly fast pulse or maybe an electric current... everyone has a different perception of it. And it's much more subtle." Oh yeah. Definitely there, definitely filthy. I move slightly to the side. "You try; don't worry if you don't feel it right way. It's not as easy to find as the flow of the blood vessels." I watch and make a minute shift to one of his fingers, then just wait. He's open-minded enough to let us Dance for his patient, so I have confidence he's open-minded enough to accept there are other pulses in the body besides that of the vascular system. It takes him a few minutes, but I finally see a small smile on his face.

"That's incredible."

I smile, too. "Yeah, it is. Trust that. The respirator is helping her breath, so you can't trust the lungs. Her heart may slow down so much you can't trust the blood. In fact, you might want to turn the sound off on your monitors. No sense alarming the family unnecessarily, right? But this? The body's energy? You can always trust it." I nod to him. "Okay, I have one more thing to do, and then we can start."

I walk over to Billy and Aliza, gesturing for the other three children to join us. I crouch down in front of the youngest. "Okay, I just want to let you guys know that we're doing a really powerful Medicine Dance for your grandma. A lot of the Spirits are going to be coming to help her get better. And you..." I say, tickling Aliza, who giggles. "...and you two..." I point at Julia, who's six, and Peter, who's nine. "...are probably going to see them." I look up at Stephanie. "You might or might not. Either way is perfectly normal, it just depends on which side of the line between kid and grown-up you are." I smile at her. She's at that age where kids desperately want to be all grown up, but are still able to cling to some of the wonders of childhood. "Like I said, either way is totally fine. Don't worry if you don't."

I look at the other children. "And nobody is going to be scared by seeing them, right?" Aliza giggled again. "Pretty spirits!" I raise an eyebrow at that. This one is already seeing the Spirits? And multiple Spirits? Oh boy... I think I'd better have a chat with her mothers later. "They're not scary, are they?" Peter said, with a worried look on his face. I shake my head. "Everybody sees them a little bit differently, but the Spirits who come to help try hard not to be scary. They might be kind of funny looking, like a Mouse as big as a dog... or really silly, like a big Raven flying upside down and doing loop-dee-loops..." Which is exactly what Raven did then, just to demonstrate my point. Aliza giggled again. "Silly birdie!" I shake my head but continue. "One might come and sit by you, or Dance with you, but they're all coming here so we can help your grandma get better. If you feel scared, just hold my grandpa's hand, he'll make sure you're safe, okay?" The young boy nodded. "And Julia, you just hold my Uncle Leon's hand if you feel scared." She nodded solemnly. "And you, little mischief maker," I say to Aliza, "will be perfectly fine right where you are."

I stand and look at the eldest grandchild, giving her a reassuring smile. "You'll be fine, too, I'm sure. But if anything seems the least bit disconcerting, my Mama's right there." I shoo them all back to their places, and unzip my hoodie and slip it off again as I walk to my spot outside the circle. I exchange a smile with Pablo, step into the ready stance, then nod to Charlie and Tita.

As the drummers begin to set the pace of the Dance, slow and steady, always steady, I close my eyes and simply stand for a moment rather than beginning my form as the Dancers begin their first steps. I am watching the lines of energy flowing around the circle, watching as my family instinctively pulls the Rutlers and their energy into the pattern. It only takes a dozen steps or so before everyone is in sync; another dozen before even the adults have lost their self-consciousness.

Then I begin, again moving with the rhythm of the drums, the rhythm of the Dance. We all move into a space of no-time, as energies build and flow and spiral. The Spirits begin to join us, one or two at a time. I sense Peter's startled surprise when Mouse began pacing beside Aunt Alicia, indeed as large as a German Shepard, but he settles quickly. Julia notices Monkey when it climbs up Uncle Leon's back and looks down at her, grinning a Monkey grin. As the other Spirits gather — Lion with Papa, Deer with Tita, Lynx beside Dad and Turkey beside Mama, Panther pacing around Aunt Sonia, Quail wobbling along with Uncle Junior, Puma gliding behind Tommy, Giraffe looking down over Talia's shoulder, Spider perched on Charlie's head, Wolf beside Billy taking a great deal of interest in Aliza — the pace increases.

Raven is flying around and around the circle, chattering at the other Spirits. Bear and Buffalo arrive, and join the Dance with Rachael and Elizabeth. Cobra slithers in and Dances in front of Peter, making the boy laugh. Hawk returns to perch on David's shoulder this time; when Raven's cousin Crow lands on Stephanie's shoulder, she lets out a small eeep. Ah, not so old, after all. Raven, of course, performs more aerial acrobatics when its cousin arrives, evoking additional giggles from Aliza. Grasshopper perches on Julia's head, tickling her and making her giggle. Snail moves slowly, and simply sits on Art's foot. Cougar eyes all the other Great Cats before rubbing its head against Jill, acting more like a house cat than fierce predator.

Quetzalcoatl, of course, has wrapped itself around Pablo's neck and watches the proceedings.

That just leaves little Aliza...

...who has begun shining with an inner glow so bright I can barely look at her. The Spirits take note of it and seem unconcerned. Quetzalcoatl sways back and forth, and seems slightly more interested, but not by a large margin. Tommy is the only person besides me who notices — even Billy, who is holding her hands, takes no note of it — and I feel a tendril of surprise and confusion from my Shaman cousin. I've never seen anything like this before, but I have heard about people who look like this. I send back a reassurance.

The Dance continues. My form continues.

The last time I was part of a Dance that produced this much energy, I was five years old. I'm no longer surprised by things I remember viscerally, things my conscious mind recalls only as faded images. The whole village had gathered to Dance Little Danny's Memory. Then, the energy was colored with sorrow; today, it is colored with hope.

I can see Raven hovering in front of Aliza, chattering at her. Raven was charged with finding the elderly woman's guardian Spirit; it seems that it has done so. During our Dance for Tita, the energy we generated was enough to open a path for her guardian Spirit to enter the circle. Mrs. Rutler is so much sicker, her energy fainter and more polluted, that something more... and I suspect something a little different, given the Rutlers' different beliefs... will be needed this time. Raven seems to believe that Aliza is the key to creating the Path.

Not only can I hear the little girl's giggle, I can feel the wash of energy that giggle produces. It contains every good thing humankind has ever known; I can feel the tears of joy flowing down my cheeks. Ah, if the child-mind were cognizant of what the Spirit within knew, this little girl could have healed her grandmother with a single touch! But that is not the Spirit's purpose in this realm; not on this Journey anyway. It did, however, create the pathway for Mrs. Rutler's guardian Spirit walk.

Just as Deer Spirit had done when approaching Tita earlier, a Woman of unimaginable beauty, clothed in robes of blue, walks slowly and hesitantly toward Mrs. Rutler. As I had done when Deer hesitated, I begin my Power Song. The Woman walks more surely, with more purpose, smiling her thanks at me for making her path smoother. I have to remind myself that I am a Taijiquan Master, as the peace and love of her energy nearly cause me to falter in my form.

Woman steps to Mrs. Rutler's side, smiling down at her with love. She brushes away strands of hair from around the elderly woman's face, before bending down to kiss her forehead. Woman stands beside Mrs. Rutler as the noxious taint billows out. The Spirits work diligently to dissipate it, transform it, eliminate it. Charlie and Tita begin slowing the tempo of the dance. With a final giggle from Aliza, the last of the oily, fouled residue disappears and Mrs. Rutler opens her eyes.

"Nana, Nana, Nana!" Her youngest grandchild lets go of my cousin's hands and runs toward her. Later, the adult Rutlers will convince themselves that Aliza managed to climb onto the gurney with her grandmother. But those of us who can See will always know Woman lifted the child up, hugging her for a moment before setting the child in her grandmother's lap.

I complete my form, and as I had earlier, I settle into the Aikido kneeling meditation pose, eyes still closed and watching the Spirits, watching the energy flows. The Rutlers are gathering around their matriarch, and the Spirits are beginning to fade away. Raven flies over and sedately sits at my knees.

Will you stay calm now?

Of course, Little One. Then it flops over and pretends to sleep, using my knees as a pillow.

I should have also specified sane.

Raven laughs. Yes. You should have.

I feel Woman gazing at me and give her my attention.

If you believe there is a way to tell the women about my Child, please do so. I chose them, above all others, to guide the Child's journey in this life.

I simply nod, and Woman fades away. The only Spirit remaining is Raven. And Quetzalcoatl, though I'm not really sure what to call that one.

Raven stirs and stares at me with one eye. You meet some of the most interesting beings, Little One. I think I will stick around for a while.

I sigh. Is that number five hundred for today? I really wish you wouldn't.

Raven settles back down to its faux slumber. I know.

I open my eyes to watch the two families rejoice in Mrs. Rutler's renewed health. I smile; it does feel good to be able to help people... even if I am going to have to put up with a crazy invisible bird for a while.

Mrs. Rutler's family gathers around her, touching her and holding each other as Doctor Franklin examines her, a growing smile on his face. My family gathers together, speaking softly of the Dance and speaking with the Rutler family, answering any questions or simply agreeing that... yes, it's wonderful that their matriarch is doing so much better.

And Pablo comes over to me, kneeling on the ground next to me. His plumed serpent is wrapped around his arm, glowing green eyes regarding me and Raven. Pablo is almost glowing with health and life.

"I feel like I should be exhausted with extremely sore feet, but I feel really good," he says, offering me a water bottle and cracking one open for himself.

I nod and grin. "Thanks," I say, taking the water bottle and drinking deeply. "The Dances, like my Taiji, are really about channeling energy. When we Dance for a purpose — not just for show at the public Pow Wows — we usually wind up getting back every bit of energy we expend, often even more. You remember how tired Papa looked this morning? But look at him now!"

It is a dramatic difference, indeed. A stranger would likely believe Papa is a grandfather, but with the revitalization of his and Tita's energy, not a single person would believe he'll be ninety on his next birthday.

"Your colorful friend is helping you use the energy efficiently..." I look at the rainbow serpent. "At least, I assume you are because I was busy concentrating on other things." I look back at Pablo; look into those eyes that pull me in. "Plus, you and I are connected now, sharing energy, trading energy."

I push Raven off my knees. "Move, Lazy Bones." Then I shift to sit cross-legged.

His eyes widen when I mention our connection, that we're trading energy. He almost looks like he's going to say something, but then just shakes his head slightly.

I catch his look, the wide-eyed surprise. Interesting.

"Tell me how the Dance seems to you... what you see, or hear, or feel." It's always interesting to hear other people's impressions of a Dance; we all get something different out of it. But I really want to know how Pablo perceives all of this. Even Raven seems interested, tilting its head to one side.

Turning and sitting crossed-legged... facing me, our knees almost touching... he says, "Well... it was really weird. When I first started to Dance for your grandmother, I just felt so awkward and self-conscious. I mean, I can dance pretty well at a club, at least I could in the old days, but this just felt different. Your family is patient, though, and soon I was getting into it. And then... I don't know, I kind of lost myself in it. I lost track of time, of those around me, and it almost felt like I was dancing in a haze, where the music and I were one. That feeling was even more pronounced in this Dance for Mrs. Rutler."

He looks at me. "Does that make any sense?"

"Oh, absolutely! Not long after I got home from China, Sam and Cindy got married — you'll get to meet them tomorrow — and we did a Celebration Dance for them." I grin and shake my head. "If you had asked me how long we had been Dancing once we finished, I probably would have said an hour, maybe an hour and a half." I pause, remembering was a beautiful day that was. "It had actually been five hours. And today, I have no idea how long we danced for Mrs. Rutler, but I'm sure at least Doctor Franklin was keeping track." I shrug, still smiling... feeling happy, relaxed, energized. "Not that it really matters. As Papa and Uncle Leon often remind the younger ones, a Dance takes as long as a Dance takes... not one minute more or less. But the shadows are getting long, so I'm guessing several hours."

Raven hops up on my knee, keeping its promise to remain calm. The fact that it stands and merely stares at Quetzalcoatl does not give me any great confidence that lunacy won't ensue in the near future, however.

I continue speaking to Pablo, though. "I get caught in what I call no-time space with my Taiji, too. I'll go down to practice for an hour, and the next thing I know, I'm hearing my alarm going off telling me it's time to get up and go to work. The cool part that is seven hours of Taiji make me feel a whole lot better than seven hours of sleep."

I am about to reach for his hand when the Rutler children come running over. Aliza makes herself at home in my lap, Julia wraps her arms around me from behind in a hug, and Peter flops down belly-first, propping his chin in his hands. Stephanie sitting more sedately and ladylike beside me.

"Andi, that was SO cool!" Peter says. "I thought you were kidding about ginormous mice, but you sure weren't. And Dad looked so funny with that lumpy snail sitting on his foot!"

"And Liza got real pretty," Julia adds. "I have the prettiest cousin ever, ever, ever!"

Stephanie chuckles. "We all do, Jules."

Aliza, for her part just giggles and pats Raven on its head. "Silly birdie!" Then she looks at Quetzalcoatl wrapped around Pablo's arm. "Ooooooh. Pretty snake!" She looks at Pablo with all the seriousness a three year old can muster. "Pretty snake likes you!" She looks up at me with the kind of smile that makes everyone fall in love with her. "I like dancing! Fun, fun, fun! More dancing!" She scrambles off my lap and toddles off, calling for my cousin. "Billy! Billy, Billy, Billy! More dancing!"

I laugh at the sight of my twenty-two year old cousin scooping up the toddler and beginning to polka.

"That child is a bundle of energy!" Literally. Raven breaks off its scrutiny of the Serpent and flops into my lap where Aliza had been. I really should have remembered to specify sane.

Her cousins laugh. "Yep, she's like that all the time," says Peter.

I chuckle. "Then she picked the right person to fall in love with. My cousin Billy is just the same."

"I heard Aunt Jill telling Mom that Liza's pediatrician says she has ADD," Stephanie adds, and then smiles mischievously. "Aunt Jill and Aunt Lizzie say really bad words about doctors and drugs for little kids."

"Well, good for your aunts," I say. "I'm glad they take such good care of Aliza."

I can tell Pablo is enjoying the antics of the children, though he is clearly baffled by some of their conversation... okay, possibly most of their conversation. There's a low-level throbbing of sadness rippling through his aura, though; I suppose it's to be expected with Stephanie being about the same age Juan would be now. I can feel it edging around my heart, as well. This is going to take some getting used to, and it's going to take some work. Gosh, I wonder if we'll ever have a free moment together...

"Andi?" Stephanie sounds sad and a little shy. "I'm going to stop seeing all these really cool things pretty soon, aren't I?"

I put my arm around her shoulder and give her a hug. "Yeah, I'm afraid so, hon. Hardly any grown-ups can see the Spirits. But you know they're around, always will be." Raven gets up and hops onto Stephanie's lap, leans against her and looks up with wide, pathetically sad eyes, causing her to laugh. "Liza's right... you do have a silly bird!"

"Yeah, don't I know it!" I say, rolling my eyes.

I note the procession of people heading back toward the hospital; Doctor Franklin is having a somewhat difficult time convincing Mrs. Rutler that she really does need to lie down as they roll the gurney. Jill and Elizabeth are on either side of her, patting her shoulders, smiling, chatting. Billy carries Aliza on his hip, and they are having an animated conversation about... well, I don't even dare to consider what they might be talking about. But David is walking beside them, laughing at whatever his niece is saying. Charlie has headed back to his van to put his drums away.

The elders of my family are gathered around Papa and Tita, where Papa seems to be having a similar conversation with Tita as the one Doctor Franklin is having with Mrs. Rutler. The exception is that everyone in my family is trying hard not to burst out laughing. After the powerful energy of the Dance we just completed, I don't doubt that Tita has the energy to go out line dancing with me right this moment. Papa knows it, Tita knows it, Mama and Dad know it, the aunts and uncles know it. Hospital policy, however, says patients shouldn't be wandering around on their own two feet. Papa knows it, Tita knows it, Mama and Dad know it, the aunts and uncles know it. The challenge — a little game Papa and Tita like to play with the family — is to see if Tita will give in before everyone is laughing themselves silly. She generally doesn't; she loves to see her family laughing.

Talia and Tommy are standing slightly apart from the elders. Talia is watching Aliza with a thoughtful look on her face; Tommy keeps looking between the little girl and me. Yes, cousin... we can talk later, I assure him.

Rachael and Art are standing hand-in-hand, waiting for their children. When she sees me glance in her direction, Rachael waves to have the children follow their grandmother inside.

"Looks like your Mom and Dad want you to head back with your grandma," I say. I give Stephanie another hug, pat Julia's arm where it's wrapped around my neck, and then tousle Peter's hair. "You guys did great."

Peter and Julia run off, but Stephanie hesitates a moment after Raven hops off her lap and she stands. She glances at her mother, then turns back to me. "Thanks, Andi. I'm really glad I got the chance to see all the Spirits and stuff before I get all the way grown up." She grins. "Bye, Silly Bird! Bye, Pretty Snake!" Then she runs back to her mother.

I feel like flopping on the ground like Raven. Instead, I finally take Pablo's hand and kiss his knuckles. Then I shift over so we're sitting hip-to-hip; I hold his hand, fingers intertwined, and rest my head on his shoulder.

"I have a feeling there was something I was going to ask you, or something I was going to tell you, but the whirling dervishes pushed it right out of my mind. So I'm just going to sit here and enjoy being with you." I look up, his qi melting into mine as it ripples through my meridians. "I hope you don't mind."

"I think that I can handle it," he says quietly, his voice filled with emotion as he holds my hand. He's looking down at our intertwined fingers and palms pressed against each other, an odd look in his eyes.

I watch Pablo's face; I hear so much emotion in his voice that shivers run up my spine. I put my other hand over the two of ours twined together, smiling. "What is it?" I think I know, but I also think verbalizing it will make it real for him.

Quetzalcoatl moves up to Pablo's other shoulder and peers intently at me. I can feel you now Night Walker. Your energy thrums along my spine though my Chosen. It is a good blending. I approve.

I glance at his scaly friend. "I don't think you get a vote, Q."

Raven hops up on my lap again and flops over, this time using our arms as its pillow. "You don't get a vote either, Crazy Bird."

I rest my head back on Pablo's shoulder. I look at our hands as well, but my eyes are closed; I watch the qi flow, swirl, blend.

It's pretty amazing.

He glances at me as I speak to the Spirits, but his eyes go back to our joined hands, his thumb gently gliding across the skin of my hand. I can almost feel what he feels; my skin feels like satin to him.

"I... I can feel you. Feel something where we touch... and beyond. Is this what you were talking about?"

I smile, sigh with contentment.

"Uh huh. Pretty cool, right? Wish you could see what it looks like, too. Just... wow."

Yep, someday... if we ever get some time to ourselves... when we're not saving other people's lives, when we're not getting criminals — both normal and super — off the streets... when we can maybe have our own lives...

This is going to be fun to explore.

He smiles softly at me, that gentle look in his eyes again as he looks at me. "Wow, indeed. Perhaps later we can..."

I open my eyes and look up at him again, reaching up to trace my fingertips along the side of his face.

There is a ringing coming from his pants. The electronic and plastic devil makes itself known.

I tweak Pablo's ear. "You're lucky that didn't ring during the Dance, Detective."

I move over a little, laughing, so he can reach the phone and answer it.

Pablo blushes and digs into his jean's pocket, pulling out his smartphone and answering it.

He listens for a moment. "How long ago did the call come in?" he asks, then listens to the reply.

"Okay, thanks! Tell Denali that I'm heading there now," he says and gets to his feet. "Come on dear, we just got a lead!"

I scoop up my hoodie as I stand and follow Pablo, noticing Tommy still waiting. Ooops. I slip my arm through Tommy's and talk as we walk.

"You should have told me you were waiting, silly. I know you want to talk, and we will... whenever Pablo and I get back." We stop at the doorway into the cafeteria. "Let the family know we're off to work." I kiss his cheek and jog off after Pablo.

And you said the children were whirling dervishes!

I send back a feeling of laughter to Tommy as I catch up to Pablo.

"At some point before we run into this creep, preferably on the way to wherever we're headed, we need to go over to my parents' house to fetch my weapon."

You be careful out there cousin, promise me.

"We don't have time. After learning what I did here, I asked dispatch to call me with any reported heart attacks or collapsing of elderly people. One was just called in four minutes ago. We have to get there now if we're going to have any chance of maybe catching this guy. I have my service weapon and my backup plus my Buck folding knife," he says, taking my hand and running for the parking lot. "My rental is right inside the entrance to the garage."

"Fine, fine. If necessary, I can make do with a two-by-four... they just don't spin well. But you realize this is against all the Super Hero Rules... fighting a bad guy in my secret identity."

Of course, once the sass talk begins, it doesn't really matter what I'm wearing, now does it?

I'll be as careful as I always am, Tommy!

...which is probably not as careful as Andrea would be, and not something the family needs to worry about right now.

Oh, that just fills me with so much confidence. Try not to get killed. I don't want to have to explain it to Tita Kai. Love you, Andi.

The two of us pile into the rented Ford Taurus, and Pablo breaks a few safety laws driving, handling the speed with the skill of a long time cop... it's obvious he's had plenty of offensive and defensive driving courses.

"Victim is sixty-nine, female, with no history of heart disease; collapsed in the Safeway. Security locked the store down, not knowing what happened, but that won't last long."

As we drive to the location of the latest incident — and Pablo's driving reminds me that certain Douglas County Sheriffs want a rematch against me and my bike... heh, like new cars are going to help them — I braid my hair. Ah, now here is an activity sure to raise one or both of Pablo's eyebrows. He knows how Andrea feels about wearing them. Well... best to throw it all at him at once, I suppose. Though not having my staff annoys me... even more than only being half-dressed. At least the tank top is black.

Oh, I can probably find one or two things in a grocery store to use as a staff if necessary. There's always a spill needing to be mopped up in aisle five, or some poor kid sweeping up the bag of sugar that broke open in aisle three.

The last turn has to have been on two wheels as Pablo turns into the parking lot of the store, screeching to a stop near the door and scaring a young man half to death. Dear gods, he drives like Markensen!

I do at least wait until the ride has come to a full and complete stop before jumping out of the car. Looking for anyone at the door who looked like police or security or a manager or... heck... a stock boy would be fine, I speak up. "Heart attack victim, need to see her. Right now. Chop, chop... let's move, people." I might not look like a Super, but I certainly have the attitude down for plainclothes cop.

And you can be damn sure I'm scanning every single person I can... as I told Tita Kai earlier, I'll recognize the stench when I come across it again. And this guy has really pissed me off.

An ambulance is just arriving as well as Pablo follows me into the store, his badge out on its chain and his Glock 21 in hand. "Let me know who I can get out of here," he says as he follows me in.

A cashier looks at me — wondering if maybe I'm a cop, from the look on his face — and then the guy who actually is a cop. He goes pale as he turns and points toward the back. I assume that's where they're hiding the fruits and vegetables, since they're not up front here where I'd expect them.

And that's when it hits me... a contamination to the air inside this building. Well, no, not really the air... the acrid taste and smell and feel are all coming from the qi that's circulating through the building.

Raven, who's decided to be a permanent fixture in my life, flies inside after me and is sitting on top of the clerk's head. Great... just great. It's looking around and fluffing its wings as if trying to rid itself of something foul. I guess that makes sense... the Spirits are qi, after all.

Pablo's plumed friend is wrapped tightly around the top of his head, hissing. And doesn't that look stupid?

Well, whatever it is... it's in the back. However, despite the fact that the stench seems to be coming from the back of the store, I check everyone up front out anyway.

"You," I say to the cashier who is currently being used as Raven's perch, "get me a nice sturdy broom. Everyone else..." Yeah, everyone in my line of sight is clear. "Out." I wait for the broom while eyeing everyone as they leave — in one hell of a hurry for some odd reason — but stretch my senses as far as possible.

The cashier returns quickly — my, my... everyone is in such a hurry — with one of those big old push brooms, and I grin at it, at him, at Crazy Bird. "Perfect!" I say, twisting the handle off the minute my hand is on it, the brush end braced against my foot. Because I use more than the appropriate amount of strength and speed than a simple librarian would use for the task, it probably appears as if the handle was barely attached. I kick the brush aside and wave the cashier off. "Go, go... be safe."

I look at Pablo, shaking my head and raising an eyebrow. "Nice turban, Detective. Let's go." I turn toward the back of the store and call over my shoulder. "Raven, get off that boy's head and join the party."

Crazy flying things.

Though I move purposefully toward the back, I'm also a tad bit more cautious than usual. First, a broom handle doesn't compare favorably with a solid staff of red oak. Second, I don't usually work with a partner. Actually, I never work with a partner. And I'm sure I have a very good reason for that. Something about... most people being Normals? Yes, that's it!

Ah, well... learning experiences are to be embraced, as the elders like to say.

I think I'm so pissed at this asshole because he's picking on old ladies. Granted, old ladies like Tita Kai are tough old broads and no one better tell her that thought rattled around in this head. And in the grocery store! What a jerk! Aren't there enough lawyers and politicians he can pick on? Them, I wouldn't care about so much.

As I round the corner into the produce and deli section, I see the woman on the ground, surrounded by helpful good Samaritans. Except that one of them isn't. Good, I mean. Unfortunately, they're all too close together to tell which one is the evil Samaritan.

I twirl the broom handle a few times, testing its weight... too light for my preferences, but that just means I'll need to use more strength on the follow-through. It'll work, though.

Turning to look at Pablo, I can't help but stare at the Serpent again for a second. "Damn, that's freaky!" Raven is waddling along after us, looking like a misshapen, wrongly-colored duck. I shake my head at the sight.

Crazy flying things.

"You ready, Chief?" I ask Pablo.

"Chief?" he said, eyes never leaving the crowd and gun steady as a rock.

"Yup, top cop on the scene — that's you at the moment — is always Chief," I say absently. "Yesterday, it was some military guy." Ninja picked up the habit from Andrea after many years of teasing Pablo. That's my theory, anyway.

The elderly woman lying on the ground has someone's jacket under her head, and three people are kneeling beside her. Four other people are milling about, clearly uncertain about what they should be doing, but just as clearly wanting to watch the show. Ah, gotta love the lookie-loos.

I can feel the corrupted power thrumming like an overhead electric cable. I don't like it. Sure, I can always feel the ebb and flow of qi; it's gotten to be as ordinary for me as the molecules of air are to Normals... that is to say, not really noticeable. But this pollution scrapes my senses. Nope, I definitely don't like it.

And I still can't pinpoint the evil Samaritan.

So... Oh, what the hell. Why not go with the direct approach this time?

"Any of them makes you twitchy, feel free to shoot 'em, Chief."

"I have your back," he assures me as he takes a stance, readying himself to fire at whoever tries to attack.

I step out and around one of the large displays of tasty-looking fruit, walking silently at a normal pace toward the group, broom handle resting lightly on my shoulder. From this position, it's really easy to lay into someone from above or the side.

Raven is just flying in circles at the moment.

I need to get close enough to figure out which one is the bad guy. Or... hey, why I don't I just ask?

"Hi, folks. The paramedics will be here any minute. I'm just here for whichever one of you has never heard of deodorant... because, good lord! It reeks back here!"

I stand far enough back so that I can see all of them, in the ever-handy ready stance... handy because one can move easily in any direction.

There's a low chuckle from one of the men kneeling next to the elderly woman, and he stands up — the really smelly one — smiling at me.

"Hello, sister. Long time no see."

The voice sends a chill down my spine and it sounds familiar, tickling a long ago memory. Oh right... someone who had been disgraced and forced to leave in my first year at Master Chen's school.

Tsui Ji.

"Ji-Ji," I say with a sneer. Can't help myself; he was a disgusting pig when I was thirteen... he's still a disgusting pig. Actually, he's even more disgusting now. And I hope he still hates the baby name. I suppose I could invert his name in the Western way... I seem to recall he hated that, too.

Nineteen years.

It's hard to believe that it's been nineteen years since I last saw him. He had been an advanced student then, but one with whom Grandmaster Chen — as I look back on my memories of those early days in Chenjiagou — had been growing more and more uncomfortable.

I had never been told what Ji had done, but it had been bad enough to have the entire complex in an uproar and searching for him after he slipped out one night. But no one could find him... he'd well and truly disappeared.

Yep, nineteen years since I had seen him. I could have spent an entire lifetime of never seeing him again, and that would have been just fine with me.

Okay, the bad news is that he's probably about as good as I am at Taijiquan, although no one in their right mind would give him the title of Master. And he's got that energy-sucking thing going on. On the plus side, I can whup his ass with my staff... if I had my staff. With a broomstick? Maybe I can get in a few good swipes, but he'll splinter this thing into toothpicks quick enough. I would.

On the other hand, and very much on the plus side, Grandmaster Chen was the only person who knew my history. Ah, sure... everyone knew I had lived on the Army base outside Tokyo. And they all had their ideas and speculations about why my family banished me to China when they went home to live in luxury in America.

Ji-Ji isn't stupid. Unfortunately. In the short time he was there after I arrived, he might have picked up on my qi power... he seems to have the anti-version of it. So, like the disgusting pervert in Boulder, using that against him would be just plain stupid.

But no one knew, except Grandmaster Chen himself, that the scrawny little kid just arriving in his village to learn Taijiquan was already an Aikido Kudan... Ninth Dan black belt for those who care about such things. Top of the food chain in that martial art. And that's all about using your opponent's strengths to help him defeat himself. Ah! Taijiquan might be what energizes me, and fuels my qi power, but Aikido is just plain fun!

Oh yeah, and all anyone ever knew about my heritage — at least while Ji-Ji was still there — was that poor little Andi was an American.

Raven swoops down to grab two claws full of Ji-Ji's scraggly brown hair. Ooh, that had to hurt.

They never had any idea what kind of American I am.

The Native kind.

One of the First People.

"Ji-Ji, I am not now... I never have been... nor will I ever be your sister. I am a Diné Warrior, and you are a piece of shit."

I toss the broom handle to the side.

"You're a piece of shit that picks on little old ladies. Damn, boy! You are a coward of the worse kind, aren't you?"

"Little Andi. It has been so long. I remember you, all pigtails and skinny limbs and now look at you... a grown woman, proud and strong. You finished your training, I see. I can feel you.

"How is Grandmaster Chen doing? Have you spoken with him recently?" he asks, a smile playing about his lips.

"I'm really not in the mood for socializing, Ji-Ji. You're a nasty person — and I use the term person rather loosely here. Why don't you just crawl back under whatever rock you oozed out from?"

And why don't the perverts stay the hell away from me? Andrea's perfectly glorious day gets interrupted for this disgusting piece of fecal matter? That's just not right.

Yo, Q... if you've got any brilliant ideas, now would be a lovely time to share them. Because I'm all for having your Chosen One put a bullet between his eyes.

"And while you're at it, why don't you get out of the way so the paramedics can take the nice old lady to the hospital?

"Really, Ji-Ji? Old ladies? That's just low. I'd compare you to snakes or slugs, but that would be an insult to snakes and slugs."

Ji doesn't seem at all insulted by my banter or nervous about my presence. He shakes his head and sighs. "Always with the insults, Andrea. That is so petty of you. Have I offered you insult?"

Be careful, love of my Chosen. This one is more than he seems.

"Would you prefer that I drain the young? They would have more energy, but it would be more wasteful. I take the elderly who have had a long life."

Pablo is moving slowly closer, motioning for the civilians to leave.

"Oh, come on, Ji-Ji... you know as well as I do that I was exceptionally polite, even to you, when I lived in China. And I'm not insulting you today either, bucko. It's not an insult, Ji-Ji, if I'm just speaking the truth. It might hurt your feelings to hear the truth..." I shrug. "Counseling might help with that. But you have, indeed, offered insult. Your mere presence is an insult, and extraordinarily offensive."

Thanks, Q . But as the kids say today... duh.

"I would prefer that you leave everyone alone. You have no right to take what isn't yours. Very naughty, Ji-Ji. Very naughty."

Chit-chatting is just peachy and sometimes even works when one is dealing with a sane person. Or a really, really intoxicated one. Sadly, I'm not dealing with someone who's right in the head. Or soul, either, for that matter.

I'd ask you to peck his beady little eyes out, my crazy guardian if I was sure his nasty juju was confined to this plane. You're nuts, but I'd hate to see you get hurt if his reach extends to the Spirit realm. Besides, given enough time, I might even get used to your craziness and that could be a lot of fun.

Since little Ji-Ji just wants to talk, I guess we'll just talk. Hmmm... I ought to ask Peregrine if there are any Super Mental Health Professionals. Some of these very naughty people could use a little brain bathing.

Pablo has moved into position, his gun raised and aimed at center mass. The balance of the civilians had left, scurrying for the front and away from whatever confrontation was brewing in the produce section.

How appropriate... a fruit in the fruit section.

"I take what I need for myself and... well, don't worry about it. You should take your little boy toy over there and leave, Andrea. I have no quarrel with you today; I still have memories of you as a little girl. Go and live to fight another day."

Quetzalcoatl is curled around Pablo's gun arm, his green eyes glowing and he hisses, causing Ji to glance over and frown.

This one is but a vessel for dark powers from Beyond, Night Walker.

I burst out laughing, I really can't help it.

"Boy toy?! Oh my god, Ji-Ji! You've developed a sense of humor. Good for you."

Then I get serious.

I don't like dark powers from anywhere, Q. But break a vessel, and whatever's inside comes spilling out. You think your Chosen One is ready to help clean up a mess like that?

"But you do have a quarrel with me, Ji-Ji. And I'm not a little girl anymore... not that I was a little girl by the time I got to China, although I'm sure I looked younger than my actual years. I really don't like people who pick on those who are weaker and smaller than they are. You're a bully, Ji-Ji, and I just... don't... like... bullies."

The Serpent's comment does bring up an interesting thought, though. Both it and Raven — and all the other Spirits — reside in a place that might be considered Beyond. Our Dances open the door to their world. Now, little Ji is certainly not going to hang around waiting for the family to gather so we can banish him. But when the door wouldn't open, when Deer and Woman couldn't get to Tita Kai and Mrs. Rutler, my Power Song didn't just unlock the door. It pretty much kicked the door off its hinges. And it doesn't need to be Sung in concert with Taijiquan forms...

Raven, can you stop acting crazy for a few minutes? Might need your help.

When serious work needs doing, a serious guardian I can be, Little One.

That bird worries me. Crazy flying things.

The glowing-eyed snake creature looks at me.

My Chosen is capable of a great deal. Have faith in him.

Ji sighs and holds his hands down, and then they reappeared holding glowing green butterfly swords. He starts to move them in a glittering display.

"I tried to give you a chance, even though they do not want me to do so," Ji says to me.

Workin' on it, Q... but you might have noticed this part of my personality is a little testy, and a whole lot less trusting. But the other part has the faith and trust thing sewn up, and I'm willing to go with her instincts on that one.

I sigh at Ji and his flashy sword display.

"You spent the past nineteen years in Hollywood?? Could you possibly be any more ostentatious? I'm embarrassed for you, Ji-Ji."

I step slightly to the side so the display of citrus fruit is between us and I pick up an orange. Keep moving, keep moving... slow movements are best.

"I like oranges. How 'bout you, Ji-Ji?" I ask, tossing the orange up a few inches and catching it again; and again, and again. "Oh, these 'they' you mentioned... who might they be? Anyone I know?

"And that's downright sporting of you, champ, to give me a chance. That at least gets you a point or two knocked off your bad boy score."

I take a step back and pick up a green apple.

"Maybe you like apples better?"

I toss the apple up and down as well. The orange goes up, the apple comes down. The apple goes up, the orange comes down. Shuffle step, keep moving.

Raven... Q... I'm going to need some distraction until I finish my Song. It's going to punch a door open into what I suspect will be a bad, bad place because Ninja is going to be a bad, bad girl. Then we need to push that dark power back to whichever Beyond is behind door number one. I have faith that your Chosen One can do what needs to be done, Q... you'll have to be the one to guide him, though. I'm going to be a little busy doing a lot of pushing myself.

"Hey, Chief. You get the urge to start shooting, just don't kill my little buddy Ji-Ji, okay? Hurt him all you want, though. Bullet in the ass would be appropriate."

Q and Raven regard each other and then both take flight, swirling around above Ji at ceiling height, a caw and a hiss filling the air.

I pick up a second apple as I weave around the displays, this one a Red Delicious, and start juggling the three pieces of fruit.

"Maybe you like red apples better, eh, Ji-Ji? I rather do... Fuji, Braeburn, Roman. Yummy."

He swings his flashy swords and I weave through the produce, juggling. At least until I start Singing.

On the first note, I toss the apples in the air and let them and the orange that was already in the air, drop to the floor. As I Sing, I move around the department pushing fruits and vegetables on the floor, making as big a mess as possible. I keep as much distance and as many bins between me and his slashing swords as possible, of course. My goal is to have the entire produce section and the adjacent deli in shambles by the end of my Song. And since it's a fairly short Song, I guess I'll have to be moving a whole lot faster than poor Pablo has ever seen a human move before.

Ah, he'll get over it.

He'll probably have a harder time convincing DPD that my insurance covers the damage I'm doing.

Oh well... he's a clever guy. He'll think of something.

I'm a little miffed that my juggling skills and witty banter are being ignored. Ji seems to be much more interested in his glowing green swords; as they flash through his forms, I can feel a dark power building.

Well, it appears Ji isn't trying out for a spot on America's Got Talent, after all!

Pablo looks at the suspect, frowns and seems to be considering his options for a long minute as the two of us continue our unusual dance.

"Hey, dear, I bet there's a lot about me that you still don't know. One thing is that I'm lucky," Pablo says and smiles, then raises his gun and fires three times — very precisely — at the ceiling.

The light fixture above Ji shatters and rains down on him, bits of sharp glass, hot bits of metal, and chunks of ceiling tiles. And yet, somehow, they swirl too, following the aerial dance of the two flying entities to batter away at Ji from all directions.

Oooh, that is one clever cop! I keep Singing and destroying the produce department of the hapless Safeway. I can feel Ji's power building, and if I let him continue, that's gonna be a whole lot of power. Too bad for poor little Ji-Ji that the destruction and the Song are complete.

I come to a stop roughly in front of him... it's a bit difficult to tell with all the debris flying around... and well out of range of the flying light fixture and ceiling tile pieces. As the last note of the Song fades, a doorway of sorts opens behind Ji. I can't see it through all the flying debris — I don't know if Raven and Q can — but I can sure as hell feel it.

Oh yeah. Ninja was a very bad girl because that is a very bad place.


I don't have the luxury of watching what Pablo or our respective guardians are doing. I'm busy focusing my qi through the lao gong points in my palms toward Ji. I'm busy pushing the dark powers Q mentioned earlier... pushing... pushing... pushing... yeah, it's about as easy as pushing an RTD bus crosswise up the street. Not very. Good thing that last Medicine Dance energized me. But Raven is helping, and I don't know how Q did what he did, but it feels as though Pablo is behind, beside, inside, all around me... helping me push. Weird, that... but we'll sort it out later.

Unfortunately, the other planes tend to be mesmerizing to those not accustomed to seeing them. The black vortex has grabbed Pablo's attention and he's just standing there, staring into the darkness that's blossomed behind Ji, sucking my ex-classmate's energy into it.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that the very bad things in the very bad place are reaching out to grab the nearest source of energy... my little buddy Ji.

I can tell Ji is fighting it for all he's worth. Heck, if he weren't, it wouldn't feel like I'm pushing a bus. But he's one guy... sure, full of dark powers from Beyond and nineteen years of learning all sorts of bad things. But eventually one pretty damn powerful person, her trusty partner, and two guardian Spirits pushing at him and a bunch of really bad things pulling on him are going to tip the balance. How much time does that take? Who the hell knows?

The stress of pushing is horrendous and I feel my body reacting, every muscle standing out on my frame like steel wire.

Q and Raven both alight on my shoulders and I can feel Pablo's energy pouring into me. Raven caws.

Finally, the balance does shift. The dark powers from Beyond, that once gave Ji his extra helping of nastiness have joined their very bad neighbors, and Ji's own qi is starting to get sucked into the Beyond.

Ji screams, the glowing dance of death pulses out of control and Pablo is thrown through the air, slamming into a far shelf out of sight.

And I have a split second to act, before the very bad things notice all the rest of us out here. The usual way, the gentle way, to close a doorway to other planes is to kneel in the Aikido meditation posture for a few minutes and slowly ease the doorway closed. The fast way, the most definitely land me on my ass way, to close a doorway is to slap my hands together in prayer position and pull my qi in so tight that I have no detectable aura.

Knowing where Pablo is, guess which way I picked?

Ji cries out again, stabbing the butterfly swords into the wooden fruit bin and holding on against the pull, fear in his eyes... until finally the portal snaps shut and sends out a shock wave, knocking all of us off our feet and onto the ground.

I find myself unceremoniously sitting amid lettuce, cabbage, and broccoli. I just hope little Ji-Ji has a minute — an hour would be nice — of disorientation from what we just did. And that my favorite detective's luck has held out and he hasn't landed on his ass, too.

I spy the broomstick I'd toss away earlier a few feet away. I might still be able to use that, so I roll to the side and grab it as I stand, assessing the situation.

When I finally start getting to my feet, I see Ji getting to his as well, butterfly swords held in his hands and a look of shock on his face.

"You... YOU BITCH!"

I can immediately see why Ji's so upset. That anti-power he had earlier, the suck out the qi of old ladies thing that made using qi against him a waste of energy? Gone, gone, gone... sucked into the very bad place. Oh yeah. The boy is seriously pissed off at me right now.

Gathering one's qi to within a centimeter of one's skin has a few advantages. Normally, I only do it when I know I'm about to do something that would cause the other part of me to fall apart. But it also means I have my qi coiled tight and ready to lash out.

...which I do before I'm even standing completely. One hand is aimed toward Ji's shang dan tian between his eyes, the other aimed toward his zhong dan tian below his belly button. Energy lashes out... though the broomstick tucked under my arm might make the strike at his zhong dan tian go a bit low as it wobbles. Poor Ji-Ji could lose his boy parts. Awww.

"Yeah, yeah... like I haven't been called worse. But I don't have to like it."

Bright energy blazes from my hands, stronger than any I'd ever cast before and it strikes with blinding force, searing Ji's face and causing him to scream in agony.

He falls to his knees and pitches forward onto his face, not moving.

My knees grow wobbly; I've never focused so much qi at one time.

I'm considerably more concerned about Pablo, however than about myself...

Quetzalcoatl? Is Pablo okay?

Because if he's not, there's a very naughty boy from my childhood who's gonna get his ass whupped. I balance the broomstick along my arm; a defensive stance.

Oh, who am I kidding? I'm going gonna whup Ji's ass regardless. Well, if those blasts left any ass to be whuppin'.

A serious guardian I said I would be, Little One.

Yeah, you did... thanks.

I am not finished being serious. Raven hopped off my shoulder onto my arm... and disappeared into the broomstick.

"What the frack?!" I don't dare take my eyes off Ji, but I can feel the broomstick gain the weight of my staff, and I have a feeling it's become even sturdier. Though still a bit too short for my liking. Why didn't you tell me you could do that??

You never asked.

Frackin' crazy flying things!

I don't see Q anywhere, but I hear a caw coming from my staff.

Whoa. I lean a hip against the empty refrigerated vegetable display case. The broomstick is cawing? Raven?

Okay, maybe doing that when I'm pissed off isn't the smartest thing, is it? No. Grandmaster Chen said something about that. Can't really remember at the moment, but it will come to me. Eventually.

I walk to Ji... very slowly, so I can make sure I'm not going to fall over, although every step seems a little steadier than the previous one. Not moving. That's good. Dead, alive... don't care. But not moving is good. Need to find Pablo, though.

Okay, why am I feeling like this broomstick is picking its own way through what used to be the produce department? Oh! Right, right... Raven.

When I see him lying on the floor, I stop. I worry that my heart has stopped, too. Do I remember to breathe? When was the last time I was this afraid? Yesterday... it was yesterday, when Mama told me about Tita.

I manage to make it to his side before sliding down to the floor, heedless of anything around me. I can only focus on the man lying on the ground, my fear, my tears. Why am I crying? I see breathing, chest rising and falling... I can feel him, but not strong enough.

Quetzalcoatl told me I need to protect him, and I didn't. I failed.

I failed.

It's little consolation that Ji won't be attacking any more people. That's a good thing, yes. It definitely is. But...

I failed.

I rest my head on his chest. I hear his heart, strong and steady. I feel his breathing. I feel his qi... clear, clean, flowing well. But its connection between us, that's what is weakened.

Because I failed?

"I'm sorry, Pablo," I say softly.

Now that the noise and ruckus have died down, there are probably police and paramedics and lookie-loos behind me, and I'm finding it really hard to care.

He's lying on the tile floor, breathing regularly. He must have bitten the inside of his mouth when he hit the wall or the shelves or the floor because there's a little blood on his mouth. And he's got a good sized lump on the back of his head where that hit whatever it hit. But I don't see any broken bones. That's good.

I wrap an arm around him and close my eyes... and breathe. Raven hops onto my back and mewps.

Not in the mood for crazy frivolity right now. Sorry.

His qi surges as I wrap my arm around him, as I press myself against him, and I can feel the energy flow between us again, this time more from me to him.

I don't know where Q went, but that's okay because I don't think I could handle the vilification right now.

"I love you, Pablito," I say, barely audible.

His eyelids flutter, and it's likely he'll be regaining consciousness soon. It's a relief. Maybe he heard me.

Q peeks his head out from around Pablo's neck and curls around me as well — I'm not sure how I feel about that — connecting the two of us. I feel his tiny tongue taste my tears.

Be well, Night Walker. His body heals but his mind is troubled. He looked into the Darkness, but your words... they heal.

I can hear people moving down the aisles and the faint squawk of police radios. I swallow hard. I need to pull myself together. Who am I supposed to be right now... Andrea or Ninja?

I had to open a door to a terrible place. Anything less... might not have worked.

Ninja created the mess. Ninja should be here, not Andrea.

Ordinary people should never have to see that.

I kiss Pablo's forehead and try to give him more qi. Not sure I'm actually doing anything, or doing it right, but it's worth a try, isn't it? Then I wipe the tears from my face.

But he's not quite ordinary anymore, is he? I can give him more comfort later; now it's time for me to go back to work.

I stand, pick up the broomstick, and walk back to where Ji was sprawled on the floor. Raven sits on my shoulder, apparently still a serious guardian; the broomstick is just a broomstick again... though if Ji so much as twitches, I suspect it will once again become Raven infused. Gods, that much qi right in the face... probably exploded his brain. And where else did I hit him? Not that I'm touching the bastard to find out if he's dead or alive, and not that he didn't deserve it.

When the first person appears — a police office, gun drawn, moving cautiously — I say, "Medics... there first," pointing toward Pablo. "Here second," tapping the broomstick next to Ji's body.

I realize I have a gash on my upper arm. Well, it was a gash... from the amount of blood, probably a fairly deep cut. It will be healed long before the blood has a chance to dry. Always fun to freak out the medics with that little trick.

I guess for once it's a good thing I'm not wearing my proper clothing. That would have been another ruined turtleneck. I ought to buy the damn things in bulk.

After the amount of qi I've poured out here, I ought to be feeling weak as a kitten. Shouldn't I? I don't, though. I feel... perfectly normal. I had a couple of minutes of feeling weak, but I'm pretty sure that was because I'd expended the energy so quickly.

This is one really weird day.

Two of Flagstaff's finest approach, guns trained on me.

"Miss, put the staff down and back away. What's your name?" asks the older cop, keeping his gun on me while his younger partner uses his shoulder radio to give the medics the okay to come in.

Sensing more of them around, I can see the auras of more cops, two behind these in front along one wall, two nearly in line with these two against the other wall.

I look at the broomstick... then look at the cop... then back at the broomstick. Staff?

You didn't change the way it looks, did you, Crazy Bird?

Though it didn't say anything, I feel Raven shaking its head. Well, okay then. I shrug and bend slowly — keeping my eye on the hand holding the gun pointed at me — and set the broomstick on the ground.

"Broom handle, not staff. My staff is much cooler," I say with a smile.

Yep, always gotta be a smart ass. But come on! There's a big difference between a broom handle and a staff. I straighten up just as slowly. If senior cop has an itchy trigger finger, I can only move fast enough so he doesn't hit part of me that would make me very dead, very permanently. But he'd hit something that would hurt like hell, and I wouldn't care for that at all. Back away? Back away from what? Little Ji-Ji? Oh, hell no! If he turns out to be not quite dead, I want to make sure I'm close enough to rectify that. Yeah, she's not going to be happy. But that's why she's a librarian.

Ready stance, then.

"I'm Ninja." I nod my head slightly in Pablo's direction. "That's Detective Pablo Garcia, Denver PD." I point at the body next to me. "This is... or was, I haven't bothered to check... Tsui Ji, an asshole who's been going around sucking up energy from people around Flagstaff, mostly old folks, making it look like heart attacks. Big bully, this one."

I shrug again.

"What can I say? I take exception to that."

Then Pablo groans.

I hear it, and feel relieved; she's battering at me to be at his side. No, no... surrounded by cops... rightfully nervous cops... we'll just stay right here, honey. Pablo will understand. He's a cop, remember? But I do call over my shoulder to the medics.

"How's my partner doing back there?"

The cops seem to relax when I give them my name; the one who'd been aiming his gun at me lowers it.

"Okay, we were told that you might be here, ma'am. It's okay boys, she's a friendly," he says, holstering his gun.

The rest of the squad relaxes a bit and then continues their sweep of the building, just to be sure.

"Captain Holbrook will be here in just a moment, ma'am."

The medic looking over Pablo glances up at me and nods. "He's fine. Contusion on the back of the head with some bleeding, and looks like he cut his mouth. I don't feel any broken bones, good breath sounds, and BP in the normal range. He should go to the hospital just the same to have the doctor check him out, run a CT if he thinks it necessary."

Pablo groans again and blinks his eyes open, hand groping around for his gun by instinct... but it's already been secured by the younger cop.

"Wha.. And... ah... Ninja?" he asks, blinking up at the medic and trying to look around, eliciting another groan of pain.

I nod to the cops, then the medic. I manage to relax, as well. I just wasn't moving until I knew Ji was dead. She would just have to deal with it.

"Here, Chief. Just waiting for your brothers' boss to show up and to find out if naughty Ji-Ji is dead or alive. The medics are gonna cart you off to the hospital to see if you scrambled your brains any worse than they normally are."

I hope he can hear the humor in that last bit. Feeling this connection between us is reassuring, but we'll need to figure out how it all works pretty soon. But I do try to let him know that I'm fine and that my concern for him... comes from her? Yeah, I guess that would describe it... Ninja knows he'll be fine, Andrea still worries. Guess that's what love does to you.

"Okay, Ninja, thanks for the help. See you later?" Pablo asks, looking at me.

"Count on it, Chief. You wanna hand over the car keys so I can get your car back to you?" I grin at him... really, I'm fine. "I promise not to drive it like I ride my bike... or drive like you and Markensen do."

His eyes seem a bit out of focus, but I see the faint quirk of his lips, the head of Q poking out around him and then disappearing as Pablo is carted off.

A second medic team enters and moves to Ji, turning him over after checking his neck to make sure they aren't dealing with a broken spine.

I tuck the key in my pocket and watch the team of medics dealing with Ji.

He has a terrible burn on his forehead; the skin is peeled away to the bone and cauterized, causing one of the medics to gasp.

"Asshole's still alive?!" Yeah, I probably sound a little surprised, a whole lot pissed. And being dismayed that someone is still living is as disconcerting to medical folks as it is to her. She'll get over it; medical folks usually don't.

The second burn charred through his clothing and burned the skin beneath on his lower abdomen. I'm no medical expert, but those look like third-degree burns to me. Well, at least my aim was accurate. The medics take their readings, then fasten him to a gurney cart, and start to wheel him away.

Finally, an older man arrives and I can feel all the cops snap to.

Ah, Boss Man is here. And look at all the little people suddenly developing much straighter spines... just like folks do back in Denver when Captain Sanchez is around. Fantastic! It's always easier to work with good cops.

This older, gray haired man strolls into the produce section and looks around.

"Waste of good produce," he says, glancing at the charred Ji as he was wheeled past, and then at me. He shakes his head as he picks his way through the produce section to me. Two cops follow the paramedics.

"You must be this Ninja Garcia mentioned was working with him. Your handiwork, I assume? I'm Captain Holbrook."

"I am." I look around at the mess I made. Not a bit of the food was salvageable. I made sure of that.

"Yep, sorry about it, too. Unfortunately, my usual methods for opening portals would have taken much too long and wouldn't have opened to a place bad enough to suck the devil out of that..." Don't say what you're thinking, just tone it down. "...piece of shit." THAT'S toning it down??

"Hope you'll find a way to get him locked up for the rest of eternity."

"I'll call the Feds. They'll come pick him up and lock him away in one of those fancy jails they have for them," he says, shrugging.

"Come on, kid, let's let the tech guys do their thing and you can come give me a report on the way over to the hospital. I assume you want to see to your partner?"

Great. Yes, let's go to the hospital... the one where all of my family is gathered and knows me as Andrea Yazzie. Oh well, they know what I do. I'm really more concerned about the Rutlers.

Yep, my two identities are about to crash into each other... maybe.

I pull the key to Pablo's rental from my pocket. "How about I meet you there and we can chat in the ER?"

A few steps away, there are napkins spread all over the floor where I had knocked them in my mad dash across the deli counter. I pick up a handful and wipe as much of the now dried blood off my arm as possible as I step back to Holbrook. I'm surprised the medics weren't concerned about the blood. Must have been my comment about Ji. Ah, not bad... just looks like a minor scar already. Ninja's boo-boo will be all better by the time Mama Yazzie see her little Andi again.

"If the docs decide his brain's still functioning, you can get Garcia's take on it, too."

There'd be no reason for the family to be in the ER. Well, if they find out Pablo's down there, they'll be all over the place like ants on sugar. And who's going to tell them Pablo's down there?

I sigh to myself.

Yep, the idiot with brain damage.

No, he's smarter than that, isn't he?

Raven hops over to stand on Holbrook's head, something I desperately try to ignore. It giggles.

That's just wrong. Birds should not giggle. And apparently, the serious guardian phase is over.

Guess I'll have to chat with Tommy when I get close enough. Although... does it really matter? I don't live in Flagstaff, and Holbrook is one of the good guys.

Mama Yazzie does seem to get kind of upset when her little girl goes into Ninja work mode, though. I sigh to myself again. She'll have to get used to it?

No, I can't really see her doing that. Like her little girl, Sandra Higheagle Yazzie is an exceptionally stubborn woman.

"You have a car here? I can have one of my men drive it over. Can't really talk privately in the ER and I'm sure that you don't want everyone hearing all this," he says, motioning one of his men over.

In other words, play my way since it is my bailiwick.

"No problem, you're the boss," I say, handing the key over. "It's the car blocking the entrance. Can't miss it."

I turn back to Holbrook. "Lead on, MacDuff."

I follow him out to his car, trying very hard not to watch Raven bobbing and weaving on Holbrook's head. That act isn't going to get you on "Dancing With the Stars" you know. It just giggles again.

Sometimes I wonder if maybe I'm crazy. This is one of those times.

We get into his car, and I wait until he's pulling out of the Safeway parking lot.

"So. Usually, in this type of situation, I'm working with my law enforcement liaison on the scene. They get the fun job of writing up the report, and I just add a statement after I've read it verifying all the information is true and complete to the best of my knowledge. Well, except when the military gets involved, and then they want me to write out every little tiny detail right down to what I had for lunch, with one copy emailed and another snail mailed." I look over at him, turning in the seat as much as the seat belt will allow. "They've even got some peculiar format for the document... specific font, margins just so, yada yada yada."

I won't bother mentioning that the military never gets what they want. If they're not too obnoxious, I'll give them the written file... basic overview, snail mail only, but they do get the right font and margins. The worst of the lot get an audio file emailed to them from Ninja of Denver at Gmail dot com. Those are mighty big files because I can add a lot of commentary to the basic overview.

"You tell me how much detail you want."

"Well, since this bastard picked on little old ladies in my town and the Feds are going to take him off my hands, I just need to have the basics. Who he is, how you and Garcia found out about him... which I already have, but it can't hurt, how you came to be here, and a synopsis of what happened."

He grins.

"That will give me enough to satisfy the paperwork monkeys and to shove down the throat of any ACLU prick that starts bitching. That and some photos of the grandmas he tried to kill."

I nod. Some of the questions are easy. "Tsui Ji — or Ji Tsui to Americans. We trained with the same Taiji Master though he was... well, essentially expelled from the school shortly after I arrived. Haven't seen him in nineteen years, and I don't know everything he learned after he left China, but sword work is one thing. I mocked him for it." I shrug and smile. "What can I say? It was flashy, he was a pig when I was a kid, and he went on to become even worse. How could I not?

"Garcia got the call about the woman at the Safeway, he drove like a lunatic to get there. I engaged Tsui while Garcia made sure the civilians left the area and that the medics had the chance to get the injured woman out."

Wow, it was weird referring to Pablo by his last name. I mean, yeah, I do that with some folks... most of my liaisons, in fact. Pablo and Abe are just first name kind of guys. Makes it... I don't know, feel like I'm talking about someone else? Maybe that's it.

"As I could feel Tsui drawing on his... well, as someone put it, dark powers from Beyond... I knew I needed to perform the ritual to open a portal to not only push that power out of him, but push it to a place that was likely worse than where it had come from in the first place. Doing it that way would ensure that it stayed where I sent it, instead of rebounding back out to Tsui. Garcia created a distraction by shooting out a light fixture and some ceiling tiles down on Tsui while I tore the place apart. Again, I apologize for that. Movement is part of the ritual, and the more lengthy, gentle rituals open portals to much nicer places."

Some of the questions are not as easy.

"I'm gonna be honest with you, Holbrook, there are things I do not want to tell you. Not because I don't trust you, but because I feel like the fewer people who know both sides of the coin I happen to be... the better. And the number of people who know both sides of the coin is starting to get out of control."

I am quiet, staring out the front window for a block or two. When I continue, I just keep looking out the window, watching the streets of Flagstaff pass by at a rational and reasonable speed.

"I'm not the nicest person you're gonna meet when I'm on the job, but as a cop you get that. The nice kids, the sweet kids, they don't last long. Oddly, before today, even Garcia had only known that other side of me, the nice, sweet girl." I shrug again. "Probably because that's who he met long before I ever picked up the gig as one of Denver's Protectors. Pretty sure he knew... he's damn smart... but we never actually talked about it before last week." I let out a grunt of a laugh. "We talked around it for years; he'd mention a problem... I'd make the problem go away.

"Giving you background here so you'll get an idea of why I don't want to tell you some of the things I'm going to tell you, okay? So just bear with me.

"My family, like Garcia, only knew their little girl... daughter, granddaughter, niece, cousin. Until today."

I sigh again, looking out the side window now, lower lip gripped between my teeth. She is in complete agreement with me on this one... telling can only cause problems. Unfortunately, Tita Kai is the nexus, the innermost point of the spiral.

I feel Raven hop into my lap, and it pecks at the... ah, good, something at least is going well here... spot on my arm where a nasty scar had been not long ago. Fully healed, no evidence of a wound at all. Then it hops over onto Holbrook's lap and snuggles against him, rubbing its head under the man's chin.

Oh my god... crazy fracking flying things!

Fine! Fine!

But I take a deep breath before I go on.

"The reason I'm in Flagstaff is because one of Tsui's victims is my grandmother."

"Whoa... stop right there, missy. I don't want to know!" he says, holding up his hands for a moment before taking the wheel again.

I nod, relieved. "You did ask how I came to be here. And I'm not much of a liar." I shrug. "Couldn't come up with any reason for being out here that wouldn't make your bullshit meter go into the red."

"I get the whole dual identity thing," he say, "though you might want to think about a mask or something. You tell me anymore and I could be forced to talk, either on the stand or by someone with a really nasty set of pliers. Garcia trusts you. That's good enough for me. His captain said good things about him," Holbrook says.

"Well, a mask just seems silly in this day and age of facial recognition software." I shrug and smile, however. "I generally skulk about at night anyway, and my two worlds don't intersect in Denver. Besides, it sure wouldn't have helped today since my uniform isn't spandex and I don't wear it under my secret identity clothes like Superman does."

"Thanks for taking that rat bastard out for us. We don't have no official Super Powered person around here to help out. You all aren't interested in moving to Flagstaff, are you?" he asks with a grin as he pulls into the hospital parking lot.

As we pull into the parking lot, I reach out toward my cousin.

Tommy, can you make sure no one in the family goes down to the ER? And before you start worrying, I'm perfectly fine... not a scratch on me... but Pablo bumped his head and the EMTs thought the doctors should make sure his brain didn't fall out or something. Humor is always good, and medical people do get overly excited about people bumping their heads. I'm hoping it knocks some sense into him, personally. I've got one of Flagstaff's finest with me, so just tell them I'm working.

Tommy sounds skeptical when he finally replies. Are you certain, Andi? Aunt Sandra and Tita Kai are worried about you.

I sigh, both in response to my cousin and to Holbrook.

"Tsui is, and I think always has been, a bully. I hate bullies." I look Holbrook in the eyes. "There have been many days and nights I've considered moving to Flagstaff. But there are too many people in Denver and the surrounding counties who only have me and a few cops like Garcia looking out for them. It's a perfect storm of a bad economy and a lot of people who are, shall we say, less respected and respectable than others, and don't portray the proper image to the tourists." I roll my eyes. "Politics are hell, but I have a feeling living in Flagstaff would be incredibly complicated."

Then feel free to wander down to the ER to verify that all my body parts are still attached, and functioning as they should be. Just pretend you don't know me, I say with a mental chuckle.

"And besides... if I moved to Flagstaff, I have a feeling you'd be on my case day in and day out to wear a mask," I say, winking at Holbrook.

Oh, and please, please, please try to make sure no one in the Rutler family comes down to the ER, either. That could turn out to be really awkward.

We get out of the car, and the officer following in Pablo's rental returns the key to me. We head into the ER; Holbrook has obviously been here before, as he seems to know exactly where he's going and which people to snag for information. Before too long, we're standing in the curtained-off space with Pablo.

He appears to be sleeping, but there's something about this connection we share that tells me he's not. And Quetzalcoatl is watching everything around him with intense scrutiny. I stand to one side, hands on hips, a slight smile on my face.

"You sleeping on the job, Garcia?"

"You'd be amazed what you hear when people think you're unconscious," he says with his eyes closed. And then opens them and smiles at me, his face stilling a little at the sight of Captain Holbrook.

He meets my eyes. "You okay?"

I just give Pablo a nod at his question. We can talk later if we ever have some privacy. I'm starting to think that may never happen.

Pablo's return nod is barely perceptible. He asks Holbrook, "I assume laughing boy is safely put away somewhere?" He glances between the two of us.

The captain nods. "Yeah, he's handcuffed in a straitjacket in a cell with a ball gag in his mouth and blinders on his eyes. And no, that isn't a scene from my favorite porno either," he says, cracking a slight grin. "Feds are called, so we should get a team from Colorado out here by jet pretty quick... some Army colonel."

I do raise an eyebrow at the way Flagstaff PD deals with insane, murdering, ex-super but still fracking dangerous criminals. "You boys don't mess around, do you? I'm surprised the medics released him with those injuries, but..." I shrug. "Whatever." Not that I disapprove of their methods, of course. I would have added some duct tape to the mix, wrapping little Ji-Ji in it from his neck to his toes. But I guess I'm just old-fashioned. Or I have a fondness for duct tape.

"Wouldn't happen to be a guy named Masterson, would it?"

I opt to cross my arms at this point. Not that I think Masterson is a bad guy. He didn't seem to be yesterday. Damn, was that brouhaha in Boulder just yesterday? But too much Army in a person's life can make for a pretty cranky person. And a lot more report writing. Well, at least Masterson — unlike some of his buddies — is having me send my report up to Abe. And the Sheriffs' Department up there has a secretary or two. There's actually a chance Masterson will get my report the officially stupid Army way. Imagine that.

"Yeap, that's the guy. Some Special Forces guy and his crew," Holbrook says, then turned to Pablo.

"Thanks for the help, Detective. I'll make sure to send a note to your captain expressing my thanks to the DPD. Stop by for your gun when you're up and about. Don't worry about your bill here, I'll talk to Marty and get it taken care of. You just take care and get me your written report emailed over in the next few days, okay?"

Pablo nods to him. "Sure thing, Captain."

Holbrook nodded to me. "Ma'am, always welcome in Flagstaff," he says, then exits stage... hell, I don't know, but he leaves the two of us alone in the curtained ER room.

"Thanks, Captain," I say as he leaves. I wait a moment, eyes closed, relaxing...

Then I pull the small elastic ties off the ends of my braids and tuck them into the pocket with the leather thong; I finger comb my hair so it hangs loose and free again.

Finally, I open my eyes and look at Pablo. My smile says more than words can right now. I rest one hand along the side of his face, my thumb caresses his cheek.

Now that Holbrook is gone, Pablo does seem to deflate a little and he closes his eyes, not opening them until he feels the touch of my hand on his face.

"How are you, really? You looked through the doorway, I was told; you shouldn't have done that, love. That's not something good and decent people need to see; not even people who've faced down everything you have."

Although I smile, I can't keep the worry from showing in my eyes... from squeezing at my heart.

"Don't worry, Andrea, I'm okay. I don't even really remember it. I think I got knocked back and bashed my head right after. Kind of a blur," he says, smiling and then wincing as his mouth is still a bit sore.

He looks up at me.

"First time I get to play with her, and I get banged around but good," he says. Then he reaches out his hand for my other one and gently pulls me down to sit on the bed beside him.

I sit down beside him, shaking my head.

"She works alone for a very good reason, Pablo. People tend to get hurt around her, especially when she's dealing with the not so Normal element of society. Even Masterson's Special Forces guys took a couple of hits yesterday, and I got the impression that's all they do... dealing with the not so Normal bad guys."

My eyes shift for a moment to the rainbow Serpent peeking over his shoulder, before looking him in the eyes.

"I'm not sure it's a good idea — for any of us — for you to get more directly involved in her work in Denver. She's..." I close my eyes, lips pressed tightly together. How to explain with words what I can barely intuit? I swallow hard, take a slow cleansing breath, and open my eyes again. "She's got a hard shell and understands the concept of acceptable losses. If a friendly gets hurt, it bothers her but doesn't tear her up. If she has to kill someone, so be it. There's a very clear dichotomy going on here, and it's worked well for years... though I still fall apart every time she kills someone, and the fact that she's wishing she'd killed Ji is kind of making me sick."

I shift my weight and hold his hand in both of mine. "My feelings for you could turn into a weakness in that shell of hers. It almost did for an instant today, but what you and I have here..." I squeeze his hand gently. " new enough, not deeply rooted enough yet, that she was able to tell me to shut up." I smile at him. "I have a feeling that it won't be too long before she won't be able to shove me aside at all when you're involved."

My smile fades.

"That's really dangerous, Pablo, and neither part of me likes that."

He listens to me, looking into my eyes. As my words grow more serious and I come to the end of my speech, I can see the tension in his face.

"What are you saying, Andrea? That..." I can see that he can't bring himself to say what is going through his mind.

I reach out again with one hand, brushing over his face, trying to erase that tension.

"I'm just saying that when we go home, you let Ninja work alone — just as she has been all these years — if that's what she needs to do. And if there's a case where you need to work together..."

I lean down, kissing him softly... lingering a moment as I feel our qi swirling together... before whispering in his ear, my cheek touching his.

"We'll figure something out."

This is the first time I've really kissed him and I can feel the surge in his qi, his heart racing at the touch of my lips on his.

He lets slip a whisper of a soft moan at my kiss, cut mouth clearly long forgotten, and he runs his hand through my long hair, letting the silken strands run through his fingers like water.

"Together," he says softly back to me, his arms coming around me now and gently pulling me to him.

"Yes. Together."

I'm not sure how long we embrace — the movement of our qi dancing along my meridians has the quality of no-time similar to, and entirely different from, my Taiji practice. It isn't long enough for my back to complain about the awkward twist I'm giving it, though.

"And this is what you call working, Andi?" Tommy's words and chuckle bring me back to the here and now. As I straighten up, I brush my lips against Pablo's cheek, and look into his eyes for a moment, smiling and squeezing the hand I still held. Then I look over my shoulder at my cousin, who is peeking his head through the gap in the curtains.

"Flagstaff's finest left and so did Ninja. All work and no play apparently makes Andi seem like a sad and lonely person to her friends," I say with a grin. I stand and release Pablo's hand for a moment.

"See? Andi's still in one piece! Even the itty bitty teeny tiny cut I got is all better." I turn my arm to look at where the fairly deep gash had been. The itty bitty teeny tiny cut that bled enough to soak through at least two dozen napkins if I had gotten to them before my arm was healed. Now, my skin looks as perfect as it did when I left the building. Hmm. Well, there is still some dried blood that will need to be cleaned up.

"Mama and Tita worry too much. Yes, yes... I know. It's their job."

I wave him in and sit beside Pablo again, holding his hand. "I hope the doctors hurry up and decide Pablo hasn't scrambled his brains too badly. Emergency rooms are boring."

Tommy stands at the end of the bed, arms crossed and grinning at the both of us. "You looked like you were making your own fun."

I glare at him, a little serious, but mostly not. "No teasing. You know that messes up my mind, and then I get all... freaked out."

His grin eases back to a smile. "I'm sorry, cousin. Although I remember you spent far too many years away your People, I tend to forget just how different the Eastern people are from us." He turns to Pablo, and his grin returns. "You should know by now the family has embraced you as one of our own, but once I get back upstairs with the tale of your bravery — highly embellished, of course..." He winks at me. "...of standing against the Darkness and fighting at the side of our People's greatest Warrior, being injured in the mighty battle that took place..." Tommy uncrosses his arms and reaches down to pat Pablo on the ankle. "You'll never live it down," he says, grinning devilishly. "Welcome to the family, Pablo!"

He turns to leave, and as he is closing the curtains again, he says, "Behave now, cousin."

I look between Pablo and the curtain through which Tommy disappeared several times. Words fail me.

Finally, I tap Pablo's hip with the back of my hand. "Scoot over." I stretch out beside him on my side, my head on his shoulder and my upper arm draped across his chest. My lower arm is wedged between us with forearm across my lower ribs and hand resting on my side. I close my eyes and sigh as he shifts to wrap his arms around me.

A curtained off cubicle in an Emergency Room isn't the place to have serious, meaningful conversations. But it's just fine for exploring the wonders of our blending qi. It's perfect for inspecting the heightening awareness of every part of him. I concentrate for a moment on the cut in his mouth and wondering why it needs to be there, and the knot on the back of his head, too. And there is also the awareness that I am lying in bed — rather chastely, to be sure — with an extremely attractive man.

This is just too nice, and I don't intend to move until a doctor decides Pablo can leave the ER.

Pablo sighs with contentment as I curl up with him, closing his eyes, and starts to drift off... relaxation, warmth, and peace can do that to a person. Both Raven and Q seem to have found other places to be, and now that Tommy has gone back to see the family, the two of us are as alone as we've been in a while.

"This is nice," Pablo says drowsily, his face resting against my hair.

We have a whole four or five minutes of quiet together before the curtain is pulled back and a middle-aged doctor steps in, glancing up from the tablet he's looking at.

"Oh, excuse me. Mr. Garcia?" he asks.

Pablo opens his eyes and looks up at the man, nodding.

"Yes, doctor, I'm Pablo Garcia."

"Oh, good then... if I could give you a look-over, maybe we can see if you need to be here or not," he says, smiling at the two of us.

I open my eyes and sit up, returning the doctor's smile... then hop off the bed to give him room.

"Yes, please. If you could make sure his brain is still in there, I think we'd both feel better."

And I just can't help giggling.

The doctor smiles even more broadly. "I can't work miracles," he says, taking out his stethoscope and starting to run Pablo through all the normal checks for himself, then moved on to the penlight in the eyes, touching the nose and other things. He feels the back of Pablo's head.

"Well, I don't believe there's anything to worry about here, but I would feel better if they take a quick x-ray. Should only take an hour and then we can decide if you need to stay in the hospital overnight for observation, or you can go home."

He turns to me. "I assume that if he goes home, you'll make sure he takes it easy and doesn't do anything stupid?" he asks with a smile.

I shrug. "I can sure try. But he's a cop, and... well, I can't work miracles, either," I respond with a grin.

"Is it okay if I stay with him... or do I need to find somewhere else to be while he's getting the x-ray?"

"You can stay with him except for the actual x-ray," the doctor says, making a note on the tablet.

"Okay, one of the orderlies will be along in a few minutes and get you all done. I'll pop back up and see how it looks, then we can decide where you're sleeping tonight."

Wow, who knew x-rays could be so mind-numbingly boring?

But even the most inane activity can be delightful when the time is spent in the company of the right person.

"Okay, so how many times have you been in a hospital as a patient?" I ask Pablo when we get back to his curtained cubicle. "ER visits, inpatient stays... whatever." I grin at him. "Then you guess how many times I've been a hospital patient."

"How many times have I been a patient? Hmmm, let me think," he says, rubbing his chin. "Birth, tonsils at twelve, broken arm at fourteen, concussion at seventeen, shot in the leg at twenty-three, stabbed in the back at twenty-five, shot in the stomach at twenty-nine. That was about the time we met."

He looks at me. "For you? I'm going to say twice."

"Nope, just once... I was born at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque." I look at him sternly for a minute. "I'll need to have a chat with the bad people of Denver about shooting and stabbing you. I don't think I care for that." I try suppressing my grin, but it doesn't work out very well. "Well, don't think I won't!

"Anyway, I didn't actually start getting hurt badly enough to need doctors until I moved to China and by then..." I shrug. "Well, I'll tell you about my various injuries in a less public place if you're really interested, but before that it was all minor scrapes and cuts and bumps and bruises that kids get. About all it took was a little soap and water, a kiss from Mama, maybe a little antibiotic ointment, a Band-Aid to make everything all better."

He looks a little surprised. "Oh, I thought that maybe you might have had a broken bone or maybe tonsillitis or appendicitis or something before going to China. So many children do," he says, taking my arm and gently turning it over, looking at it. "I'm glad I won't have to worry as much for you," he says, kissing where the hurt had been. "I might not be Mama, but I hope that makes it better."

I shiver when he kisses my arm. "Oooh, that might work even better than Mama's... but don't tell her that." I smile; Mama wouldn't really mind if I thought Pablo's kisses were better than hers.

"Justin and I lucked out. He's only had one broken bone... collarbone in high school playing baseball. I've had... hmm... I think I'm going to have to make a spreadsheet." I laugh. "I've lost count, though... although I think there are a few that I haven't broken. Maybe. Yes! The little bones in the ears? I haven't broken them... or probably some of my vertebrae, either."

His face twists with pain for me as I tell him about how many bones I've broken, his fingers gently touching my arms, my hands. He needs to know these things, though. He needs to really understand.

"Hey, hey... don't worry about my bones, okay? I'll tell you all about it later." I sigh. "Now if I could only get Mama and Tita to stop worrying so much, we'd all be happier. Mama's much too cheerful a person to be worrying, and Tita... well, okay, Tita is just going to do whatever Tita wants to do."

I look down at his face as I sit together on the bed, feet dangling off the side while he remains prone per the doctor's orders. "Are you feeling okay with my family, Pablo? I know they can be a little overwhelming sometimes. And you haven't even met them all yet... though the only one you really have to worry about is Justin." I smile, peaceful and happy. "And he'll just want to make sure you're good enough for his favorite big sister... which you are, absolutely and without a doubt."

He looks up at me, smiling despite the split lip and trying to nod while lying down.

"I really like them. They're kind and very loving to each other. There's a really good chemistry among all of you. Besides, they're my family now. You heard Tommy," he says with a smile. "And as for your brother, I think I'll be fine with him. He loves you. I love you. We have things in common."

"I do have a pretty awesome family, don't I?" I respond.

He's about to say something else when the doctor returns with an x-ray.

"Well, hello again. I have your x-ray here," he says, going to the display and putting it up, then turning on the light.

"You're lucky to have such a hard head, Detective. You don't have a concussion and there's no cracking of the bone. You need to get some rest and no heavy lifting. Try not to get hit in the head again anytime soon, and you should be fine. I don't see a reason to keep you overnight as long as you'll be with people who can keep an eye on you."

When the doctor pronounces Pablo fit enough to be discharged, tension I hadn't realized I had been holding drains out with my next breath.

He turns to me. "So, keep an eye on him and if he starts to get very dizzy or his words slur, you get him back here. Okay?"

I nod to the doctor. "If I'm fairly certain he's not acting like a drunken homeless person just to mess with me, I'll have him back here so fast his head will spin. Which would probably be counterproductive, wouldn't it?" I reply with a grin.

"Can he be trusted sleeping alone down the hall, or should I sleep curled up on the floor beside the bed like the family watchdog?" While this is a somewhat serious situation, there's no reason not to keep things light and cheerful. Heck, light and cheerful is how I manage to get the homeless people out of the library and up the street to the Mission. It works well for me, even better than Ninja's cheerful and snotty attitude works for her. And that, surprisingly, seems to work fairly well.

"As long as someone checks on him a few times just to make sure, then he can sleep alone, but that's up to you. See how he is by bedtime." The doctor signed off on the tablet. "The nurse will be by with your discharge papers. I hope not to see either of you back in here again," he says and then leaves.

I nod at the doctor's instructions. "I promise the only time you'll see me will be as a visitor."

Pablo turns to me and smiles.

"I promise not to snore too loudly," he says, getting to his feet and going to the small table on which his clothes had been placed... very neatly folded, surprisingly. His shoes are tucked out of the way under the chair beside it. "I need to get dressed, dear, so unless you're ready to learn a lot more about me, you should probably turn around for a few moments."

After the doctor leaves, I eye Pablo. "Snoring? Oh no, I'm sorry, my dear, but that's a deal breaker. There will be no snoring. No. Not any at all."

I watch him walk to the table. "Well, until I determine whether or not you're kidding about this snoring nonsense, I guess I'm not ready to learn either you wear boxers, briefs or go commando," I say with a grin. "I'll wait for you at the desk up front."

Of course, I do have to pause long enough for a kiss... sweet and gentle, though even that swirls our blended qi through my meridians like tiny jolts of electricity.

"You better not be a snorer, Pablo Garcia," I say softly before turning and heading up to the front desk.

I make it out to the front desk before I feel my cousin's mind touch mine.

Andrea, just thought I should check in. Is everything okay with our new family member?

I lean against the wall out of the way, just watching people.

Yes, Tommy. The doctor is discharging him. When all the paperwork is finished, we'll stop up there to say goodnight to everyone, then I'll take him over to Mama and Dad's house. He's just supposed to take it easy and avoid getting hit in the head. I didn't get a chance to ask earlier... how are Mrs. Rutler and her family?

They're doing well. Mrs. Rutler will need more time to recover, but the doctors say she is making a remarkable recovery. Why don't you just take Pablo home? I'll tell your parents and Tita Kai. They'll completely understand.

I consider for a moment; Tommy does have a point.

Okay, that's probably not a bad idea. In addition to getting thrown against a wall, he's had an awful lot of new information and experiences tossed at him, too. I pause as I watch the nurse bring Pablo's discharge papers to him. And he has questions I don't dare answer in public. If you'd let Mama and Dad know I'll see them when they get home, and let the rest of the family I'll see them tomorrow, I'd appreciate it, Tommy. And, of course, give my love to everyone.

I wait and continue my people watching. Television shows about hospitals like to give the impression that there's a crisis every minute. And that the staff is usually stressed and overworked. Or that the doctors are contemptuous of the nurses. Maybe that the nurses either hate the doctors or are having affairs with them. Thankfully, reality is much more pleasant. Sure, there are a couple of people with fairly serious issues. There's an overweight, middle-aged man who had a heart attack, accompanied by a frightened and panicked wife. There's the young boy with a compound fracture of his arm, who's watched over by a mom who's trying hard not to break down in hysterics and a dad who's scared and trying to be brave for both his wife and son. The doctors and nurses are working together; the pride they take in their work, their knowledge that they're a team, the respect they have for one another almost makes their auras shine. They're patient and kind and thoughtful with the patients and their families. It's pretty neat to see I don't have the only awesome coworkers on the world.

Pablo finally comes out toward the front desk, carrying a sheaf of papers; I push myself off the wall and stroll over to meet him.

"Tommy suggested I just take you home," I say as I twine my fingers in his free hand. "I think that's a pretty good idea. Maybe getting thrown against a wall doesn't compare to getting shot or stabbed, but a whole lot of new information and experiences got downloaded into that poor brain of yours." I smile and kiss his fingers. "We can stop somewhere and pick up some food — even though Mama's probably got a fridge full of good stuff, I'm not even sure I'm up for tossing something in the microwave. Then we can just sit on the sofa and watch TV or talk or just snuggle. How's that sound?"

"That sounds good to me, Andrea, if Tita Kai and your parents wouldn't be offended that I didn't stop back in.

"And I'm not sure I'm up to anything heavy. Maybe just some soup and bread or something," he says, limping a bit. "As long as your folks have some Tylenol at home, I'd love to go there and cuddle with you on the couch and actually have some peace and quiet for a little while," he adds, gently squeezing my hand.

"No, they understand. I never tell them when I get hurt; I don't want to worry Mama all the time. So winding up in the ER is a big deal," I say as we walk to his car. "And you'll see everyone tomorrow, so they'll know you're still alive and that Tommy and I aren't trying to pull a fast one over on them."

His qi is glowing and humming against mine, like warm honey melting into the crevices of a toasted English muffin. He seems to stand a little straighter and winces less after I take his hand. Obviously every muscle in his body is going to be aching quite a bit from the wall crashing, but at least nothing had been torn or broken.

It's just another day in the life of a cop.

I sigh.

"Peace and quiet does sound good. There's a Panera's not far from the house; we can stop there on the way home."

I fuss over him a little, making sure he gets settled in the car and buckled up before going around to the driver's side. The drive home is quiet, peaceful, and relatively slow. There is no real need to hurry anywhere, and I relish the more languid pace. I feel like I've been moving at a hundred miles an hour since I got Abe's text yesterday... and there have been times in the past thirty-six hours when I actually was going that fast.

After stopping for dinner, I find Pablo some ibuprofen, put the soup in bowls and set us up at the kitchen table. Mama would find a way to kill me if we ate in the living room! We eat in companionable silence. It feels right being with him, and I don't feel like there's any need to fill the quiet with words. Once we're finished, I do the busy work of rinsing the bowls and putting them in the dishwasher and making sure the kitchen is cleaned up, then fetch Pablo's duffel from the trunk of the car before joining him on the sofa.

"You should take a hot shower before you fall asleep," I say as I snuggle next to him. "That will help your muscles relax and heal faster. And then a good night's sleep should do you a world of good." I look at his face and smile softly. "You can have my bed and I'll sleep on the floor; I think the two of us being close together will help you, too."

© Kelly Naylor and Ken Seggebruch