Issue 5: Coming Home

Mama and Dad are up when Pablo and I wake, and we enjoy breakfast together before a joyous yet tearful goodbye. Mama and Dad hug us both, Pablo and Dad exchanging quiet words together before we leave.

Pablo gives me a warm embrace and kiss, cautioning me to be careful on the ride home, and says that he will see me later today. After a final kiss, Pablo drives off in the rental car to return it, his shoulder bag packed with some goodies from Mama's kitchen hidden away under his shirts.

And so, although we are going our separate ways, we are both on a journey both physical and emotional. We're leaving to go home, but now to a home that's being built by two people. Denver is now our home... where our lives will be lived and where we will forge our future. Together.

Shakespeare had it right... parting is such sweet sorrow. Even knowing Mama and Dad, probably Justin and Nicole, will be coming to Denver around Christmas, even knowing I'll be wrapping my arms around Pablo again before sunset, saying see you soon is hard.

But staying focused on riding helps to keep me from thinking about how much I'm missing Pablo. That focus is extremely important when one is riding at double the posted speed limit in many places, especially through the mountain passes. Still, I can't believe how much I miss him! I do stop for a half hour of Taiji a short walk from the highway near the Continental Divide, before passing through the Eisenhower Tunnel. It's a place of amazing energy flows. While riding I-70, I can't actually stop at the Continental Divide since the Tunnel bores through the mountain to cross it. And stopping in the Tunnel is strongly discouraged. However, on other trips... other routes and roads... standing on the Divide itself, I can feel the energy flowing down the mountain passes and away from the apex of the peaks.

I also note all the cameras the State Police have mounted along the road and make sure I wave to them. I ignore the radar devices and signs telling me I'm going entirely too fast. And I silently apologize to the two troopers who try chasing me down to give me tickets. They'll go back to their squad cars and enter my license plate number in their computer. They'll believe they're going to electronically send me a hefty fine or, considering how fast I'm going, more likely a notice of suspension. And they'll discover, much to their dismay, that the plates are registered to a Super out of Denver called Ninja. Captain Sanchez has friends in many places; the Department of Motor Vehicles is one of them.

By the time I finally make it home, it's mid-afternoon... it's a glorious, sunny day... and I can't decide if I want another hour of practice or a shower more desperately. After removing luggage, food and staff from the bike... placing each where they belong, for if I don't do it immediately, it may never get done... I decide a shower and perhaps half an hour of practice will suffice.

And so I find myself barefoot, wearing my loose soft cotton workout clothes, walking up the stairs to change back into jeans and a blouse when I feel the pull of qi and tingle along my meridians at Pablo's approach.

Pablo pulls up in front of my house, parks his car and gets out. He stretches his back, which is still sore from the fight. He had popped some more Tylenol earlier, but they're wearing off now. He leaves his bag in the car and after brushing his hair back out of his eyes, walks up my concrete sidewalk toward the front door.

I pick up a small item from the table near the door, then wait as he gets out of the car. I wait as he stretches — so weird that I can feel that!

I can almost feel his heart tripping along with mine, and the thrill he feels running through him at the thought of seeing me again. His breath is catching in his throat a little and a smile is warming his face.

I wait as he walks up the sidewalk...

Pablo raises his hand to knock...

...and just as he is about to knock, I open the door, grinning like a fool, I'm sure.

I take his hand that he has raised, uncurl the fingers, place that small item in his hand and curl his fingers around it.

"Mi casa es su casa," I say. "Welcome home."

Pablo cocks his head and turned his hand over, opening it to look and see what was in the palm of his hand.

I laugh and pull him into the house. "I figure since I gave you the key to my heart, I might as well give you the key to my house. Our home."

He looks at the gleaming piece of metal in the palm of his hand, so bright and cool to the touch and I hear his heart thud hard. This is important!

I close the door behind him, but stop with my hand still on the doorknob... thinking. "Hmmm. I might want to get the key back from Bobby," I say pretty much to myself. "Wouldn't want him to wander in at the wrong time. Although, given his propensity for over-sharing, it would only serve him right. Still, being the shy and reserved person that I am, I wouldn't care for it at all."

I smile brightly at Pablo. "How was your flight? Your back is sore; I can feel it. Very weird. We need to do something about that, though I'm not really sure what, because if I feel your pain, you shouldn't."

He looks up at me and I can see that he's touched by my gift of the key. All kinds of people let other people into their hearts, share their bodies and make them a significant other. But this... this is an invitation to fully be part of my life. Not everyone will take that next step and work on seat up or seat down... who rolls the toothpaste tube... who takes out the trash. Inviting someone to share my most private place where I live my life, let my hair down and am just... me... well, this is big.

He doesn't really seem to be paying attention to my words; it's as if the only thing he hears is key to my house... our home. It doesn't matter. And it makes me smile a little.

"Thank you, love," he says, a shy smile on his face. Imagine that, Pablo with a shy smile!

Mi casa es su casa...

I feel more grounded and centered than I can ever remember feeling. This house, for the past five years, has been a haven... my fortress of solitude, without all the ice and gizmos and gadgets. Or were the gizmos and gadgets in the bat cave? Who cares? Pablo is part of me, as I am part of him... rock and foundation, strength and support to one another. He belongs here... with me, beside me.

I step close to wrap my arms around his waist, rest my head against his chest and listen to his heart beating in time with mine... or rather, mine is beating in time with his. I can only smile, and hope my slow breathing will settle at least my heart rate. I quietly hold him for a few minutes.

"You're welcome, love. You are always welcome."

He holds me in his arms and is at peace, content with his universe.

"I'll get you a key to my apartment tomorrow, love. Not that you'd want to be there when you have your beautiful home. It's definitely a guy's apartment," he confesses as he squeezes the key in his hand.

"Would you like to go out to dinner tonight?" he asks, resting his cheek on my hair.

"Probably the best idea... unless you want peanut butter and jelly sandwiches," I say. "Or want to see what Bobby has to offer. However, I don't think we should give him his cardiac arrest tonight." I look up at his face, a wicked grin on mine. "Do you think we can manage not to be seen together until Saturday at his party?"

I chuckle. "That would be too cruel, wouldn't it? He's already frantic enough about meeting David's parents. To add a coronary on top of that? No... we can't do that.

"Can we?"

"Of course we can, and we must. I'm sure that he's derived great pleasure in teasing and tormenting you in the past, so now it's payback time," he says, smiling brightly.

"Let's go get something to eat and we can figure out what we're going to wear for his party," he says, looking around at my home... our home.

"Well, he is a brat." I grin. "And I like the way you think."

I step back reluctantly. "Give me two minutes to change, and we can head out." I don't bother actually timing myself, but it doesn't take long to pull off my practice clothes and pull on clean jeans and a blouse, then pull my boots back on. I head back out to the living room, but instead of going out the door, I stop in front of Pablo, smiling.

While I'm changing, Pablo takes the opportunity to go into the small half-bath next to my office and freshens up after the plane ride. When returns to the living room, I am leaning against the front door. I'm dressed in simple jeans and a blouse, yet Pablo's eyes reflect a beauty I'm not sure I possess. But as the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

"Forty-eight hours can be a long time," I say, putting one hand on his shoulder and the other on his waist. "And if we're going to be successful in causing a massive coronary on Saturday, we're just doing our usual weekly dinner a day late. But I'll need something to get me through these two days." I slide my hand to the back of his neck and the other moves to his back, pulling us closer together for a long, sweet, languid kiss.

He smiles so brilliantly when I put my arms around him, looking into my eyes as I speak... and we are both lost. Our world is reduced to two pairs of lips and the feel of our arms around one another, our bodies pressed together.

After an eternity, I whisper, "We'd better go to dinner now. Las Delicias."

By the time that I break away, he is flushed... and he might find walking difficult for a couple of minutes.

"Okay, Andrea... where would you like to go?" he asks, clearing his throat.

I shake my head and sigh. "Okay, I see how this is going to work. Short sentences, only one at a time." I giggle.

Not that I can blame Pablo for being... well, less than attentive. If I weren't deliberately and consciously preventing my qi from building up along certain meridians, I'd probably be a puddle on the floor instead of simply being a little fuzzy and weak in the knees. Being so connected — blended qi and souls intertwined — is like a huge feedback loop. It's very, very nice... but very, very distracting. Oh, but it's so deliciously wonderful.

I put a fingertip to his nose, to focus myself as much as him, and smile.

"Food. Las Delicias. Okay?"

He blushes a deep red.

"Oh. I thought... ah... I thought you were talking about the kiss for a minute," he admits. "Sure, love, we should try and maintain our normal routine until Saturday, and that's where we go to eat a lot," he says.

"Mmmmm." I close my eyes, still smiling softly. "Delicious it certainly was, though I'd probably have described it as amazing, spine-tingling, heart-stopping, or even overwhelming." I open my eyes, trying to keep my breathing even. "But I don't know the Spanish words for all that."

He offers me his hand and then takes it back. "No, no hand holding either," he says, pain echoing in his voice.

I hook my thumbs in the belt loops of my jeans and shake my head. "Nooo, no hand holding." I bite my lower lip and whimper slightly. "This is going to be a very difficult two days. We are already suffering greatly, so Bobby had better come as close as possible to a coronary without actually having a coronary to compensate us for our pain."

I walk to the door and put one hand on the doorknob. Turning to Pablo, I say, "If he is blasé about it, I may have to thump him with one of my deadly weapons."

"We'll just need to keep apart. Being close, together... it's hard not to touch you. It's only two days, Andrea. We can do it," he says, squeezing my shoulder before we go out.

I open the door and gesture for him to lead the way. "After you, Chief."

He waits while I lock up and walks with me out to his car.

"Hey, strangers!" calls out a familiar voice from next door.

Bobby and David come out of Bobby's front door and walk over to us. Bobby comes over to me, reaching for my hands.

"Is everything okay?" he asks me, looking in my eyes.

I'm not sure if I should burst out laughing or start crying at Bobby and David's absolutely and perfectly dreadful timing. I settle for a broad smile as I take his hands.

"Yes, everything is perfectly fine, Bobby. I think the doctors were a little aggressive..." Okay, completely wrong. " their diagnosis, and Mama got scared... totally understandable." I squeeze his hands. "The whole family got to be together, though, even if we were all frightened out of our minds when we got there.

"I told you my cousin is studying to be a Shaman, a Medicine Man, right? So, we did one of our Medicine Dances for Tita, and it really helped. Having the whole family around her didn't hurt, either. By last night, she was healthy enough to go line dancing with me... but we decided to hang out with the family instead anyway. Oh my god! And the best thing? My cousin Yani is expecting a baby!"

I hug him and kiss his cheek. "Thank you for caring and worrying about me, Bobby. I'm so grateful to have such good friends and really glad it turned out to not be a heart attack. I'm still a little giddy with relief, I think."

I step back, then turn to hug David. "I'm so glad to see the two of you. And I absolutely can't WAIT to meet your parents on Saturday!" I grin and bounce a bit on my toes. "I heard so many awesome things about your dad when I was at DU, and I'm still bummed I never got to take one of his classes."

Looking at the two of them now, after the conversations with my parents and grandparents, it's so obvious that their qi is tightly interwoven. I suppose it's one of those things that just isn't noticed unless you're looking for it.

"Since Pablo and I didn't get our weekly dinner yesterday, what with the whole family badgering the poor guy, we're heading out now." I glance at Pablo, who's standing in the street by the driver's door, leaning on the car... appearing for all the world to be waiting patiently. With some amusement, I say to Bobby and David, "I'll bet he wishes he'd written a book beforehand about what it's like to be a police detective in Denver.

Both Bobby and David are visibly relieved at the news, and I can feel the tiny flows of qi from them. It's nothing like what I feel from Pablo, but perhaps even friends have a bond that others don't know about. It really wouldn't surprise me.

Bobby looks a bit nervous about David's parents, but David just smiles and nods at my comments, putting his arm around Bobby's waist.

"Stop worrying," he said softly to Bobby, and then goes over to talk to Pablo.

"Yes, listen to your man, and stop worrying," I say to Bobby. "You don't want wrinkles all over your pretty face, now do you?" I tease.

"I'll probably go into work tomorrow so whoever's been covering for me while I was gone can have a break. If I'm not too tired, I'll still come over and help you set up for the party, Bobby, okay?"

Bobby nods. "You know that I'll always take free labor, but I'll understand if catching up at work keeps you tied up. Just as long as you come to the party and drag Mr. Macho over there," Bobby says, then calls out.

"Stop flirting with the heterosexual, David!"

David turns and smiles. "Hey, it's not my fault that he's cute!" he yells back, all to Pablo's chagrin.

I simply can't help bursting out laughing when Bobby yells at David to stop flirting with Pablo. It just strikes my funny bone, and evaporates whatever tension I was still holding. Pablo has never found David's flirting as funny as I do... but David certainly doesn't mean anything by it. It's just friendly banter to him; he's completely committed to Bobby, totally uninterested in anyone else.

Bobby grumps for a moment before turning his attention back to me.

"You're still bringing Pablo, right? I have some special plans for the party," he says, grinning brightly at me.

I smile at Bobby and nod. "Yes, yes... I will absolutely be at your party, and I will definitely drag Mr. Macho with me. However..." I look at him as though peering over a pair of glasses. "I am not sure I trust you and your 'special plans,' my friend." I shake my finger at him. "You are a very naughty person and have come up with some of the most bizarre ideas I've ever heard of." Then I put my hands on my hips and grin. "Though, I suppose if David's parents are going to be there, it probably won't be too bizarre. Still going with the Hawaiian luau theme? I'll have to stop by the store and get some leis." I cross my arms and give him The Look. "And I'll be fully dressed, so don't even start."

"You have to go to the store to get a lei? What aisle do they sell that in, dear?" he asks, grinning at me and stepping back out of the way.

I swat at Bobby, although to actually hit him I'd have to move faster than the average librarian can move. Or the average person, period.

"You are such a brat!" I say, laughing.

"David, love! I think I've outworn my welcome! Time to go snuggle!"

David and Pablo shake hands and laugh.

"See you, David," Pablo said.

"You too, Pablo. Get her home safe. You know how delicate librarians are. No late fees!"

David chuckles and comes over, leaning in to give me a kiss and collect his boyfriend to take home.

After the kiss from David, I walk toward Pablo's car waving him off. "No, no... just this once, I'll get the door myself. I'm a delicate librarian, so you don't have to worry that I'll tear the door off."

I get in, make a big show of closing the door carefully, buckle my seat belt, and lean my head against the headrest, still chuckling. "Massive coronary," is all I say.

As Pablo starts the car, I turn my head to look at him. "You doing okay there?" I smile, and it's a good thing my favorite neighbor isn't in the car because I can't keep the love out of my eyes or voice.

He looks over at me and smiles, nodding.

"Yes, aside from a desperate desire to kiss you, that is," he says, his hand reaching over to take mine for a moment, squeezing it.

"Okay, let's go get some dinner and then I'll drop you off... then we need to go to our separate homes. No goodbye kiss at the door," he says as if giving himself an order of what to do and not do.

He pulls out and drives us to Las Delicias.

We manage to survive the two days until Bobby's party only by staying separated, and even that's hard. I feel edgy and anxious; every part of me knows something is missing. My heart aches, my thoughts constantly stray to Pablo, my qi seem to be stretching out across town toward him. Thursday night I practice for four hours... Friday I work all day, then beg off helping Bobby prepare for the party, claiming exhaustion... but practice for six hours instead. My sleep is tortured; I dream of Pablo, but I can't reach him... Raven chides me for foolishness. I know, I know... this agony is probably not worth the look on Bobby's face. If there were truly something wrong, Pablo would call me... so I know it's only my mind, and my guardian Spirit, telling me I belong with Pablo, he belongs with me. Saturday morning I practice another four hours.

David's parents are arriving at Bobby's house at five. When I finally leave the house late Saturday morning to mow the lawn, Bobby nearly falls on the ground begging me to show up by four. Best friend... how can I refuse? Pablo and I had already promised to be early. So now we'll be earlier.

Other than the luau theme, Bobby hadn't specified any particular attire, so at dinner on Thursday had we decided... 'nice'.

For me, 'nice' is my little black dress, which I simply adore. Well, except for the mildly annoying zipper that runs from lower back to neck, and likes to stick half-way in the middle where even a limber person like me has a difficult time reaching. It's silk with a subtle black on black pattern that can't be detected from more than a few feet away. Sometimes I think it looks like an abstract pattern, sometimes it looks more like flower petals... sometimes I swear the pattern follows and spirals around my meridians. It's very modest, with long sleeves, a gentle cowl neckline, a close but not quite form-fitting shape, and a hemline just at my knees. It's quite the appropriate dress for a librarian to wear to fundraisers. Providing I don't sit down, of course, because the slit that is barely apparent over my left knee when standing runs nearly to my hip when I sit down. Not that I've ever had the chance to sit down at a fundraiser!

As usual, I wear a pearl choker and earrings, and will add a pair of modestly-heeled sandals. I'd prefer to go barefoot, but that's rarely appropriate. Fortunately, I should be able to lose the shoes not too long after David's parents arrive. Hose? Bah! With my skin tone, it's completely unnecessary. Oh, maybe to the winter fundraisers when nights can get rather chilly, so I don't scare people by claiming to be perfectly comfortable with bare legs. There are a lot of advantages to knowing where qi flows and how to get it flowing properly... staying warm in winter is one of those advantages.

I French braid my hair, looping the braid under so it's only half the normal length. I add an orchid — fake, but not too tacky — beside the beginning of the braid at the crown of my head. The leis are draped around my neck; I hope to lose them about the same time I lose the shoes... they're definitely tackier than the orchid.

I am ready. Well, except for the shoes... I'll slip those on when we're ready to head over to Bobby's house. And If I had some sedatives, I'd bring them over to him because he's so nervous I can feel him from my living room.

As I look at the clock in the kitchen, I once again can feel Pablo coming up the street. And all is right with the world. I wait patiently now until he walks up to the door and open it before he can knock.

Pablo hasn't even bothered to raise his hand to knock. He just stands there with his hands in his pockets and smiles at me.

"I felt you coming to the door. Let me in so that I can kiss you out of sight," he says, need in his voice.

"Really?" I open the door wider, letting him in, then close it securely behind him. And lock it for good measure. You KNOW I locked the back door hours ago.

I turn into his embrace, and just before our lips touch I whisper, "Oh, gods... I missed you!"

He crushes me to him, his lips finding and opening to mine, his hands holding me and running up my back. His strong body is against me and we meld together, our qi flaring so brightly, and swirling together, that it's surprising that it's not visible to the bare eye.

The first thing I feel is the energy, almost like a blow... it mingles, bonds, flares so swiftly. And if adjusting to the feeling of truly being ONE isn't enough to leave me breathless — oh, and it certainly is! — Pablo's kiss, the feel of his body pressed against mine is more than enough to make me lightheaded. And very, very distressed that we only have about half an hour until we need to be next door. Thirty minutes is nowhere near enough time to enjoy any of the thoughts running through my mind.

I am almost gasping for breath when our lips part.

His face is flushed and there's no doubt how he's affected by our kiss. His body is betraying him regardless of his willpower.

I have no doubt my face is as flushed as his, and feeling all his reactions — physical, emotional, energetic — is only causing my body to react even more strongly. Perhaps if I think about calculus...?

"Two things," I say, before pausing for a deep slow breath. "First..." I look up into his eyes and get lost for a moment. "Bobby probably needs an actual coronary." I pause for another breath; our bodies are so close, and it's not just the qi that makes talking somewhat difficult. "The woman across the street and two doors down is a doctor. It's all good."

"Massive coronary... ambulance, EMTs and miracles needed," he says, voice strained.

I bring one hand from behind his back and place it on his chest, directly over his xia dan tian.

"Second... you're moving in tomorrow, okay?"

That takes him by surprise, and his eyes widen. I can see that it's something he definitely wants.

"Love... I want to. I want to be with you so badly it hurt while we were apart. But, are you sure? It's so sudden."

"Pablo... love... if you felt even half as awful as I have the past two days, you can imagine how very, very sure I am." I smile. "Normally, in a forty-eight hour period, I would practice my Taiji for anywhere from two to six hours." I look into those eyes again. I use a considerable amount of willpower to keep myself from fisting my hand around his shirt and pulling him close again.

"Fourteen hours, Pablo. And I still do not feel anywhere near calm.

"It's not sudden," I say with a laugh of surprise. "We've been dating for years without realizing that we've been dating. And our qi, our souls, are bonded together now. I think we need to spend time together, as much as possible, so that we — or at least I — can function well when we need to be apart. At least, I think that's what Raven was trying to tell me in my dreams."

He looks deeply into my eyes and is silent for a long moment, gently caressing my cheek.

"Yes. I'll move in tomorrow. I... ah... have an overnight bag in the trunk of the car," he says with a little smile. "I kind of hoped... I've been miserable the last two days, Andrea. I didn't sleep well. I was distracted at work. Hell, the Captain even took me to the bar last night to try and wheedle out of me what was bothering me. I didn't tell him."

"I've loved you for so long. All I want is to make you happy," he says, closing the distance between us. He cups my face in his hands.

"You're stuck with me now. I'll never leave you, love. I will always love you, until the day we die."

His lips come closer and closer.

"I get the right side of the bed," he says, raising an eyebrow at me and a faint tender smile crosses those lips.

The anticipation of another kiss makes my heart pound faster and makes me rethink my decision to avoid visible panty lines. "The right side is yours; the left side is closer to the door." I brush my lips across his, sending a slow wave of pleasure through my body. "Seat and lid down, paper over, don't ever touch my shampoo."

My lips travel across his jaw, toward his ear. "For the rest of this life, I am yours... you are mine," I whisper before gently pulling on his earlobe with teeth and lips.

His knees actually do start to buckle a bit as I pull on his ear, and he lets out a deep chested moan, his arms coming around me and tightening.

"God..." he gasps. "Love... later, or we aren't going to make this party," he says. His eyes are half closed and desire rages through him, his qi all rosy red and sparkling, almost a fire playing along my meridians.

"Right... later." I barely breathe the words out; I'm honestly not certain I say anything at all. I'm too caught up in the sensations created by our melded qi. From somewhere in the back of my mind, I hear cackling laughter.

Shut up, bird... he's not going anywhere now. Go away.

Party? Oh. Right. Bobby. Party.

"Massive heart attack, brain aneurysm and gout," I croak out as I push away from him... just a little, just enough that I can at least start to settle myself. If I work on my qi, will it affect his? Will he feel anything? Oh gods, right now I just need to focus on calming down. I take a deep breath and take a step back, holding his hands. That's all... just holding hands.

Except... that doesn't help much. Wait, wait... I can do this. Another deep breath and I close my eyes, concentrating on my meridians... channeling the qi for more rational thinking, less sensuality. Reaching for balance, reaching... breathing... feeling the warmth of his hands... balance, there is a balance... keep breathing, keep working, keep reaching...

As with most of the personal, internal work I do with qi, I seem to have lost track of time again. But finally I feel more clear-headed, much calmer, no longer flooded with emotions and physical sensation, no longer being overwhelmed by them. There is still a very strong, solid connection to Pablo, but it's no longer a raging fire... there will be time, plenty of time, for that later. Now, it is simply the strength of love, of knowledge of being ONE, of being exactly where we belong... together, always, to the end of our days.

I open my eyes and look at him, a soft smile on my face.

"How are you doing now? Did you feel any of that?"

He's standing there, holding my hands with his eyes closed, breathing deeply and steadily. Pablo opens his eyes at my words, and nods.

"Yes, I think so. I started feeling calm, so I just closed my eyes and went with it," he says, smiling softly at me.

"Wow, that's cool. However, I hope my qi work doesn't affect you all the time. It would kind of suck if I'm blasting some bad guy and you accidentally set your office on fire." I giggle. "We'll play with it... see what happens.

"We should leave for the party," he reminds me, gently squeezing my hands. "I don't want to stay late."

"And Bobby has quote special plans end quote, so I'm not sure when we'll be allowed to leave."

I walk over to the coffee table, slip on my sandals, and pick up the leis I left on the table and my small purse. I thoroughly dislike purses; for what I carry, pockets are fine. Even Ninja has plenty of pockets! However, the Little Black Dress requires carrying my two phones and ID in something. I drape the strap over my shoulder, then walk back to Pablo to place the leis around his neck.

"Not. One. Word.

"I've heard enough nonsense from Bobby about these things."

There's only a smile on his face as he stands there with his hands in his pockets.

"Who, me? I didn't say a word," he said, lowering his head so I can put the leis over it and around his neck.

I grin at him, perhaps with a touch of wickedness. "So... how do you want to play this? I don't think walking into his kitchen holding hands will be coronary-inducing enough."

At my question, though, he stops and rubs the short scruff on his face, eyes thoughtful.

"Do you think that you can hold on until he tries his surprise? From what you've said, I suspect it's something aimed at reminding you... well, us... that we should be dating. I think if we suddenly went into a deep and passionate kiss and embrace... that might do it."

He smiles.

I return his smile and quite likely have a twinkle in my eyes.

"You're deliciously wicked. And I can be a proper and modest librarian as long as I can feel you nearby... and at the moment, I can feel you from about a block away."

I crook my finger at him as I walk toward the back door. "Come along, Mr. Macho Best Friend. Let's go have some fun."

I note that it's three minutes past four according to my microwave; well, who knows how accurate that is? All the normal things we've done before: Pablo waiting halfway across the driveway while I close and lock my back door. The two of us walking side by side to Bobby's door. Knocking on the door and entering his kitchen, Pablo closing the door behind us. All the normal things we've always done, we do again today.

Bobby is frantically chopping vegetables for the salad at the kitchen island.

"Your saviors are here. Why did you want us here so early, Bobby? Neither of us has a Xanax, dear."

David comes into the kitchen from the dining room. "Oh, dear sweet people, how I wish you had Xanax. There's not a thing I can do to get him to calm the hell down." He leans against the refrigerator, watching Bobby, actually looking worried. "We don't need more vegetables chopped; we have enough salad for an army. We'll be taking food down to the shelter tonight, that's for sure." He looks up at me and Pablo. "Help?"

I look, really look, at Bobby... sigh and shake my head. I take my key from my purse and hand it to Pablo — not that he needs it, but it's part of the act. "Fetch me the blue tin from the cabinet above the microwave, would you? It's some of Mama's tea."

Pablo nods and takes my key, disappearing out the door again to walk over to my house and get the tea.

I look back at David and nod toward the stove. "Start the water boiling, my friend. I think he'll need a rather large mug of tea. Possibly two."

Then I move to the opposite side of the island from Bobby. "Bobby!" Chop, chop, chop. I snap my fingers near his face. "Come on, Bobby... come back to reality."

The chopping slows, then finally stops. He holds the knife in his hand a moment longer before setting it down. Then he looks up at me with fear and panic in his eyes; his aura is saturated with it.

"Talk to me, sweetie. What's going on inside your head?"

Bobby's hands are shaking a little as he looks at me, and David quietly leaves to give me a few minutes alone with him so we can talk.

"Oh God, Andi! I'm so scared I feel like I'm going to pee myself. My mind won't stop racing. I keep thinking I don't have something just perfect and it has to be perfect for tonight! I mean... what if they don't like me? Or think that I'm not good enough for their son? That I'm not good for him, that I keep him back... oh damn, what if I embarrass him! I could make a total fool of myself and not even know it!" he says in panic fast mode.

I lean across the island, reaching for his hands, holding them firmly.

"Sweetie, I've said all this to you a million times already. So I know it isn't going to get through to you until David's folks come through your door and treat you like their own son. At which point, you will probably pass out. So Pablo's fetching some of my Mama's tea... It has all sorts of wonderful calming things in it, so you'll be a calm and sane Bobby when they get here. Well, a relatively sane Bobby," I add with a smile.

Of course, with a calm and relatively sane Bobby, Andi and Pablo will definitely need to be extremely friendly. He still owes us a coronary!

"You can create perfect meals in your sleep. So quit worrying about that.

"And all the stuff I've said a million times, all the stuff that you're not going to believe until David's folks grip you up in a big ol' hug, it still bears repeating. They will love you because David loves you. You are good enough, you are good for him. Good heavens, Bobby! Surely I'm not the only person who notices he lights up like a Christmas tree when you're together! A big gay Christmas tree at that!

"Just be yourself, silly. They want to know who this wonderful guy is who makes their son so darn happy."

He drops his head into his hands and nods, groaning.

"I know you're right, Andi. I'm just such a nervous wreck. I'm frazzled down to my last bone," he says, sighing. "I just want to make David proud and not embarrass him."

"Bobby, you're a lunatic and that's part of the reason people love you." I smile fondly at him. "David's been out to his parents for more than half his life. They've both held every position in PFLAG's Denver chapter, his mom is currently the president, and his dad is a support member of Harmony. They're used to crazy gay people, Bobby."

I walk around the island and put an arm around his shoulders. "Just being the person he loves will make David proud. So unless these 'special plans' of yours involve strip Parcheesi or something equally insane, I don't think you need to worry, dear."

Just then, Pablo arrives with the tin of tea. I smile my thanks to him and go about preparing a mug of tea for Bobby while Pablo escapes to the living room to... who knows? Commiserate with David? Talk sports? The tea ready, I set the mug in front of Bobby.


He wraps his hands around the mug and tries to settle down, deeply breathing in the hot steam.

"I know I'm being a ninny, Andi. I just can't help myself. I love David so much and I want to make a good impression with his parents. After all, we're all going to be connected for the rest of our lives."

He shakes his head and turns to look up at Andi.

"Now, tell me how Flagstaff went. You know that I was very impressed by how your friend flew out immediately to Flagstaff the next day just to be there in case you needed company. You know, in case your thirty relatives weren't enough," he says with a sly smile.

If one thing could get his mind off his own love life travails, it was talking about my love life.

I roll my eyes and sigh. "Yes, the two of you are stuck with each other forever and ever and ever. And why is my love life so interesting to you? Oh. My. God! You're a closet heterosexual, aren't you??!"

I slap his arm lightly.

"As I recall, someone else in this room also offered to go along. And I only have sixteen relatives... at the moment. Yani's baby will make seventeen, Susan will be eighteen when she marries Charlie next year, and Nicole could be number nineteen if my brother is as serious about her as he seems to be.

"Speaking of which... the two of them and my parents are planning to be here for Christmas. Dad, Justin, and Nicole are coming to visit me. Mama is coming to visit you and your kitchen. Make sure you give her back to my Dad in time for their flight home, okay?"

He's laughing at my tease, and when I tell him my parents are coming for Christmas he really smiles.

"Really? I finally get to hear all of the embarrassing stories about you as a child? Will they bring the naked tub photographs? Those are always the best!" he says, reaching over to snag my hand.

"And I make no promises about returning your mom. If she's as good a cook as you said, I'm indenturing her for the bakery."

I can hear laughter from the other room, Pablo and David. Pablo's qi flows merrily along his body and reaches across the intervening space to mine.

I eye Bobby for a moment. "Hmmm... Dad might be four decades older than you, but I have a feeling he'll knock you senseless with your leg if you don't return his wife in a timely manner," I say, chuckling. "Now, if you could convince my parents and grandparents to move from Flagstaff to Denver — quite likely impossible, given how close they currently are to the rest of the family in New Mexico — then I'm sure Mama would love to work at the bakery."

I glance toward the other room. "I suspect the two of them are gossiping about us behind our backs. We should go join them so they can gossip about us to our faces, as is right and proper." I point to the mug of tea. "Bring that with you. You need to drink it all, or you'll just flip out again." I lean over and kiss his cheek. "If you stay calm, I'll call Mama and see if she has any pictures of little Andi in the bathtub."

He nods and picks up the mug.

"Thanks, Andi. I've been going a bit nuts," he says, taking a calming breath like I'd shown him at some point.

"It's just his parents. No pressure."

"Exactly! No pressure," I agree. "It's not like you're meeting one of his ex-boyfriends. THAT would be pressure!"

Out in the living room, David and Pablo are setting up some last folding chairs and laughing about a movie that they had both seen. Both men look up. David's eyes go right to Bobby, a hint of concern there but then he relaxes, letting the deep affection show through.

When we enter the living room, I look at the chairs and say, "Oooh! Musical chairs? Perfect excuse to ditch the shoes!"

Pablo looks up at me and I can feel him clamp down hard to keep himself under control.

"Where's my tea?" he asks.

Feeling Pablo trying to maintain his calm, I make sure I am as calm as possible... meridians clear... qi flowing to optimize analytical thought and not emotions. Then I raise an eyebrow as I look at him.

"Are you a lunatic about to meet your boyfriend's parents? No? Well then, your tea would be in the kitchen I suppose, Chief."

Pablo looks at me and smiles.

"Okay smart aleck, remind me not to bother bringing you coffee next time you have inventory at the library book sale," he says, chuckling and heading into the kitchen to pour some.

"Are you kidding? I'm not reminding you," I say with a grin. "The next book sale isn't until January; you'll have forgotten alllll about it by then, and you'll be bringing me buckets and buckets of coffee!"

David looks over at me and just smiles.

"OH! What about napkin rings?! I think I forg..."

The doorbell rings and the first of the guests start to arrive early. Many of them come in with dishes brought to share and David turns on the music. While Bobby is hardly relaxed, he is better.

For a while.

As guests arrive... people from the chorus, a couple of Bobby's coworkers, some of David's coworkers... Pablo and I are very firmly told that help is not required and that we should mingle, mingle, mingle. Well, okay then... Super Librarian at a Fundraiser it is. I introduce Pablo to the folks I know, then mingle. I note after a few minutes that Pablo is engrossed in a conversation with one of David's coworkers. Sadly, a police officer is going to have something in common with a social worker with the Department of Child and Family Services. I just hope they're not talking about work.

I find myself beside Bobby when the last of the guests arrive about thirty minutes into the party.

The doorbell rings again and Bobby gets very tense next to me. "Oh, God... it's them."

"Just remember... they're only his parents, not an ex-boyfriend. Also? If you flip out, no pictures of little Andi, and I'll tell Mama and Dad they're not even allowed to make up embarrassing stories about me."

A few moments later, David comes back into the living room with a handsome older couple. I can feel Bobby vibrating next to me like a violin string.

"Bobby, these are my parents, Gregory and Amanda. Mom and Dad, this is my partner, Bobby."

Amanda smiles at Bobby and opens her arms, pulling him into a hug.

"I'm so happy to finally get my arms around the man who makes my little boy smile!"

I grin as David's mom wraps Bobby in a hug. When Amanda releases him, Greg shakes Bobby's hand. "Son, when are you going to join the Chorus? David's been telling us for a year now what a wonderful tenor voice you have. Our tenor section is a bit weak right now. We could use all the help we can get."

Bobby hugs Amanda back and then shakes Gregory's hand.

I put a hand on Bobby's shoulder. "I hate to say 'I told you so'... oh, who am I kidding? I love it! Neener, neener... told ya so."

"Ah... I don't know, sir, but I'm weakening. David is very persuasive," he says and then turned to me and rolls his eyes.

"Yeah, yeah, okay. Mr. and Mrs. McNair, this is my best friend, Andrea Yazzie," Bobby says.

David's parents turn to me and smile. Mrs. McNair offers her arms to me.

"I've heard about you, too, young lady. You are every bit as beautiful as David said you are."

"Oh, why, thank you," I say, hugging her. I guess I blush a little at the compliment. I turn to David's father. "I've heard so many contradictory and outrageous stories about you, Professor, that until I met David, I was half convinced you were an alien from another planet."

David's father laughs. "Ah, a DU alumna, are you?"

I nod. "BA in English, MS in Library and Information Science... the one required course you usually teach for that track only fit in my schedule the year you were on sabbatical."

"You're always welcome to audit a course. I like to keep the undergrads off balance, but I have a feeling you'd just roll with the punches," he says with a wink.

"I like to think I'd manage fairly well," I reply with a smile.

Then I grab Bobby's arm, theatrically. "No, Bobby! No! Don't weaken... stay strong! If you succumb to David's devilish ways and sing with Harmony, he'll turn his sights on me! Before you know it, I'll be asking Mrs. K for every Monday night off! And I'll be trying to twist Pablo's arm off to join, too because if I sing, he's gotta sing. And Pablo won't do it, so I can't, and your Devil Man will be nag, nag, nagging me forever and ever." I wrap my arms around his, rest my head on his shoulder and look at his face while batting my eyelashes at him. "You know it's true."

David and his parents burst out laughing. I smile angelically.

Bobby looks at me and rolls his eyes.

"Oh, God... save me from the heterosexual woman, David!"

David grins. "She's your best friend, dear. Do you really want me to drag your best friend away? She'll fine me even when my books aren't overdue!"

I chime in. "Oh, no, no, no, no... David cannot save you because if he saves you, then I'm doomed!"

"Pablo? I've heard David mention a Pablo. Is he here?" Mrs. McNair asks. Pablo is currently on the other side of the room, chatting with one of Bobby's coworkers.

"Sure, Mom... Pablo's here somewhere." David looks around the room and spots his quarry. "Oh, Pablo, you adorable heterosexual!" David calls across the room. "Come meet my folks."

Greg chuckles. "I feel sorry for Pablo already. David does like to tease the straight boys."

"Hey, only when they're cute, Dad."

My thoughts are echoing Mr. Professor McNair's words... poor Pablo.

Pablo looks up from his conversation and nods to David, smiling. He says something to the person he's talking to and comes over.

"David, you tittered?" he says, smiling.

"No, no... Bobby titters. I'm definitely more butch, usually. I bellowed." He claps Pablo on the shoulder. "You'll get the hang of it one of these days."

"Don't count on it," Mr. Professor McNair says, grinning.

Mrs. Professor McNair taps her husband on the arm. "Oh, now you stop that!"

David chuckles. "Mom, Dad... this is Pablo Garcia, one of Andi's best pals. Pablo... my folks, Amanda and Greg McNair."

I whisper to Bobby, "They're awesome."

Pablo smiles and extends a hand to Mr. McNair, shaking hands with both of them.

"It's an honor to meet you both. You have a fine son. David is kind and generous and has a good sense of humor... which he needs with those two over there," Pablo said, pointing his thumb back at Bobby and me.

Bobby looks at me and smiles proudly at his David.

"Well, of course, they are. They're David's parents. They have to be amazing to have such a wonderful son. Seriously, Andi, I don't know what you were so worried about..."

He smiles.

I swat Bobby on the arm. "You're a dork. That's probably why I love you."

Then I eyed Pablo. "And you, sir... what is the meaning of this disparaging comment designed to give the false impression that dear Robert and I are in some way comedic?"

I do my best to hold my grin down to a small smile.

And I try to keep thoughts of... nope, must not think those things now, Andi. Think about calculus. Or matrix algebra. Or SQL code with outer joins, inner joins, and unions. Yeah, that'll keep you nearly catatonic. Good girl.

"Of course you love me. I have that ability over homo and heterosexuals," Bobby says, grinning.

"Well, when you're right... you're right," I say to Bobby. "Doesn't happen very often." I giggle.

Pablo looks back at me, arching an eyebrow.

"Young lady, I am an officer of the law. I must speak the truth. You two are a comedy routine, much like Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, George and Gracie, Punch and Judy..."

He then gives me a smile that could melt glaciers.

"Detective..." I look at him with a haughty expression, then lick my lips. "I object to the comparisons to Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, and Punch and Judy." Glancing over at Bobby's face, then back to Pablo, I continue. "We will, however, stipulate that here might possibly be some slight resemblance to Burns and Allen."

And I smile back.

"I have to agree with my buddy Pablo," David says, grinning broadly. "You two are a couple of lunatics."

I look over at Bobby again. "Yep. That's what makes us so lovable!"

Everyone laughs at that and the ice is well and truly broken; for the next two hours we eat, drink and talk. An entire roast pig is available! David's parents spend most of their time with Bobby and David, glad to have Pablo and me included, but we both know we're definitely third wheels.

A few people have to leave early — making sad sounds about having to work the next day — but finally Bobby grins and gathers the remaining twelve to fifteen people around.

"Okay, now what party would be complete without party games? And in honor of the vague Hawaiian theme, we're doing secret coconut!" he says, smiling.

"I have forty coconuts in that basket over there... okay, plastic ones, but hey... I'm a baker, not an internet mogul. Inside each coconut is a slip of paper with a truth or dare in it. Now, line up in a circle," he says, moving around the group and getting people into place.

"There are two slips of paper inside each coconut. The white one has the question, and the blue one is the dare if you don't want to answer the question."

He makes sure that Pablo is to my right.

I look at Bobby, exasperation written large across my face.

"Secret coconut?" I shake my head, grab a plastic coconut, and get into the circle. When he rearranges people to ensure Pablo stands next to me, I eye him suspiciously. "Musical chairs would have been really, really fun. And less dangerous."

When he walks over to the other side of the circle to stand next to David, I mutter under my breath, "Coronary. Massive."

I smiled angelically again at him. "So... what's the plan, Stan?"

David's parents opt out, claiming fatigue and sit nearby, watching the fun.

The first round is fairly mild, mostly innocent questions or dares, but there's something about the smile on Bobby's face...

"Okay, Andrea, it's your turn again. Open that coconut."

Opening the question, I see the following:

Tell us your deepest and most private secret.

I look at the question, look up at Bobby, look at the question again.

"Tell us your deepest and most private secret?" I look at Bobby, confused. "But Bobby, poor little Andi has no deep, private secrets."

Which, technically and according to the Super Hero's Handbook I think needs to be written, is true. Ninja isn't Andi's secret... Andi is Ninja's secret.

"Poor little Andi is just a delicate librarian." I grin brightly. "Your boyfriend said so the other day. My life is an open book. Today, we're on page six hundred and forty-one." I bat my eyelashes for good measure.

"Come on, Andi, either you fess up or you take the dare. Those are the rules," he says, tossing his coconut from one hand to the other, grinning. A couple of the players have dropped out, another couple has disappeared for who knows what reason. Well, I can guess... but won't.

I shrug. "Fess up to what, Bobby? That sometimes I don't make my bed in the morning? That I hide stashes of hazelnut coffee where you'll never find it?" I grin.

"Seriously... if you're looking for deep, dark secrets, sweetie, you're looking at the wrong person."

He grins and sighs.

"Oh, well, guess you'll have to take the dare then. Open it up."

I put my hands on my hips and stare at him. I don't like that sneaky smile on his face.

"I don't see how that can possibly be fair. I answered the question. It's not my fault I don't have deep, dark secrets."

"Actually dear, it is your fault if you don't have any deep, dark secrets. Don't you agree David?"

David nods sagely.

"My love speaks the truth. It is your responsibility to have some naughty goodness to spill among friends. I'm afraid you have to forfeit and take the dare."

"See! Everyone knows that David is the wise one of the two of us and even he agrees!" Bobby says, grinning now.

I glare at David. "Traitor."

Then I sigh and take the blue slip of paper out of the coconut.

Make out with the closest person of the opposite sex for at least 20 seconds. ☺

Bobby is grinning like a loon. Also, none of the other dares have had a smiley face on them. I have Pablo on one side of me and Marci Bloom on the other side.

I read the paper, look at Pablo on my right and Marci, one of the chorus members, on my left, and look back at Bobby. "Really?" I say, giving him a look that says I will get even. "Don't you think that's a bit childish?" I look at Pablo and Marci again, then look at Bobby with a sly grin as I pass the slip of paper to Pablo. "Actually, either one of them would have been happy to participate in your game of voyeurism."

I shake my head and sigh, then turn to Pablo, hands clasped loosely behind my back.

Pablo takes the slip of paper from me, frowning and opens it up. He reads it, eyes widening in surprise.

"What? Are you frickin' kidding me? Bobby, what the hell are you up to, man?" he asks, glaring over at Bobby.

Bobby pauses, looking as if maybe he's pushed it a little too far.

"Ah... it's just a little harmless fun... I mean... it could have gone to anyone..."

Yeah, right. Like he didn't set that up!

I look over at Bobby. "Oh, we believe you. Absolutely. Totally." I pause. "Okay, no. Not in the least."

Looking back at Pablo, I say, "I understand if you're uncomfortable with Bobby's little game. He's a wicked, naughty, not very nice person sometimes. Maybe he'd be willing to strike the gender requirement. Marci probably wouldn't mind." I turn to the woman in question. "Would you?"

She laughs. "Hell, no! You might walk the straight line, Andi, but you're totally hot."

"Oh, stop!" I tap her on the arm. "You're going to make me blush."

I look at Bobby, then Pablo, and then back to Bobby.

"Well, boys?"

Pablo sighs and shakes his head.

"Fine. Bobby gets to have his little joke at our expense," he grumbles and then looks over at me.

"Hey, it isn't that you aren't cute, but... I mean, come on, we've been friends for years now. I don't want you to think that I think you're ugly or something, Andrea. You're a really sweet girl. Honest..."

I put a hand lightly on his arm; qi starts to swirl.

"Hey, I get it, Pablo. Honest. You're one of my best friends. Like Bobby." At whom I glare. "Apparently, he's not as funny as he thinks he is, and I'm cutting him off of hazelnut coffee for a month. Maybe two."

I shrug.

"Might as well get it over with, huh?"

"Hey! That isn't fair!" Bobby protests feebly. "Just trying to show them..."

Pablo nods and reaches out to put one hand on my waist very carefully and the other on my upper arm. He swallows and licks his lips nervously.

"Ah... okay, Andrea, but I'm sorry if my heart isn't in it, you know? It isn't you... it's me," he says and then, hesitantly, leans forward toward me to give me a chaste kiss on the lips.

"No, I understand, Pablo. Don't worry about it."

When our lips touch, the qi flares again — though not quite as explosively this time — and I rest one hand on his waist. The other hand, I rest on his shoulder. I am home, I am exactly where I belong. Time has no meaning when our qi dances like this. I'm very glad I managed to lose the shoes hours earlier; a steady, strong stance is essential... there will be no weak knees until we get home. But I do allow the qi to flow as it will; I am awash in the sensuality.

I can only hope one of us notices when Bobby has his coronary.

Pablo plays it like a master.

His kiss is hesitant at first, even though he feels the tingle between us, making his heart race. His hand on my upper arm grips me just a little tighter as David starts counting down the seconds.

His lips, chaste and pure, begin to soften and even part a little. The tip of a warm tongue slips out, just touches my lip. His hand on my waist slips around it, pulling me closer to him. The hand on my arm moves and roams around and up my back and into the thick mass of my hair to cup the back of my head.

His lips part now; there is no doubt about any of this, and he lets slip a deep, loud moan of desire as his tongue invites me to come dance eternally with him.

David's count starts to trail off, forgotten.

Pablo bends me a little, pressing my body tightly against his as he kisses me so passionately that, if there is a dry panty in the room, the woman must be dead. Marci, next to us, is staring with eyes wide.

"Holy shit!" says Bobby, aghast. "Ah... guys? Hey, guys?"

Bobby having been forgotten, I soar with Pablo through delight and pleasure and unending desire. My hand at his waist moves around to caress his back, my other hand moves to the back of his head, fingers playing in his hair. Our tongues dance as passion and qi flares. I may have moaned, perhaps more than once.

From somewhere in the background, I hear Bobby... and ignore him.

There is no one in the universe except us, as our souls explore eternity.

I press myself closer to Pablo, feeling the hard evidence of his passion; I am vaguely aware that my inner thighs are damp. My hand moves slowly down his back, to caress and massage his deliciously firm behind.

I think I hear Bobby babbling even more frantically, but I don't think I hear a thud.

What started out as a carefully orchestrated prank to finally get even with Bobby for all his pestering has now turned into our most passionate embrace and kiss to date. Each of us loses ourselves in the other.

I feel my touch bring Pablo into eternity with me, forget everything, my lips a siren sound to his soul. His body can feel mine respond to him. Male calling to female, female to male. Ying and Yang.

"Jesus, David... what do we do?" asks Bobby, totally flabbergasted by now... then my hand starts groping Pablo's backside.

"Oh God, oh God, oh God... what did I do?" he says, coming over to us and tapping on my shoulder.

"Andrea! Pablo... ah... guys? Hey... your twenty seconds are over," he tries lamely, bright red in embarrassment.

Pablo lets out a deep moan as the qi flares so much it almost overwhelms him.

Unknown to any of the rest of them, a black Raven and a multi-hued Serpent are sitting on top of the wall unit, looking down and watching over us.

"I didn't do anything! It was your idea!" David exclaims.

A foreign touch! Bad!

It's a fine joke you've played on your friend, Little One... even Coyote would applaud. But it wouldn't be sporting to toss him across the room, now would it?

Stupid flying things.

I begin to pull back from the bliss, return to the present. As I become more aware of Bobby's panic, some part of me is gleeful about it. As I separate myself from the feeling of being one with Pablo, I move my hands. One presses softly against his cheek as our kiss ends, our lips still so close together... the other rests lightly over his xia dan tian.

I open my eyes to look into his.

I am acutely aware of each person in the room, but the only one who matters is the man before me.

"My beloved," I whisper.

Slowly the fire in his veins starts to lessen as I pull back, and Pablo begins to get control over his own passions that are burning so brightly after so long. He can feel my touch on his cheek and opens his eyes to look into mine as I whisper to him.

"You are my heart and soul," he says softly back to me, eyes only for me... as Bobby stands next to us, jaw hanging open.

"Ah... Andi? Pablo? You guys are just pulling my leg, right? Damn... I was just punked wasn't I?" he asks, his voice more than a little shaky. Bobby loves playing the matchmaker to me, but this... it was only supposed to be some good-natured fun.

David's parents are snickering in the background, Mr. McNair letting go of his wife's hand so that he can fetch them fresh drinks.

I smile at Pablo, content, happy. Wrapping an arm around his waist, I turn slightly... secure in his embrace... and look at Bobby.

"Did you say something?"

Bobby's mouth is still hanging open as he looks from me to Pablo and back.

"Andi? What is going on? God... that was... ah... kind of..."

"Are you okay, Bobby? You're stuttering, sweetie." Raven is also standing on his head, bobbing up and down, laughing. I look over at David. "Maybe he should sit down, or drink a glass or water, or something."

Pablo moves his arm up around my shoulders, hugging me softly.

"We had a lovely time at your party, Bobby. I hope you can understand that Andrea and I might want to leave early."

He smiles.

I look up at Pablo, smiling brightly. "Did you want to go home now, dear? I think Raven would like to stay, but it's up to you."

He leans down and kisses my forehead gently.

"I would love to go to our home now, Andrea. I think our work is done here tonight. David, Bobby, thank you for a lovely time. Please don't come over in the morning, we might want to sleep in late," he says with a big grin and turns the two of us toward the exit.

"But... what? How? I mean..." Bobby stutters.

David comes over and put his arm around his lover. "I think they have unfinished business, dear. Let's let them go next door to work it out. In the meantime, we have guests to see to. Come along, love," David says with a tender smile at me and then down at his Bobby.

"Oh, we're going to actually sleep?" I say, entirely for Bobby's benefit.

"It was nice meeting you, Mr. and Mrs. McNair... good seeing everyone again, sorry about the teasing, Marci." I wave good-bye.

Marci laughs and says, "Oh, Goddess, Andi... I never would have survived a kiss like that, and I'm happy to play a small part in messing with Bobby's head."

I collect my shoes, purse and tin of tea; Pablo and I walk back to our home together.

"Well, it wasn't a massive coronary... but I suppose the babbling could have been caused by a stroke," I say, snickering, as I close the back door behind us.

He puts his jacket on the chair, having taken it off at the party. He'd worn it, mostly, because he thought I'd like how he looked in it. Mmmm, yum... He looked totally hot.

"I thought his jaw was going to hit the floor and drool start running out. We really did kind of mess with him pretty good. I almost feel sorry."

He smiles over at me.


I laugh. "I don't even have an 'almost.' At least once a week for the past five years I've gotten the 'Oh poor lonely unhappy Andi needs someone' speech from him." I shake my head, grinning. "Nope. Don't feel sorry for him at all."

I walk over to hold Pablo, resting my head on his chest. "This feels so good, being connected to you like this." I sigh and close my eyes.

"Oh. You're on permanent duty now to protect my hazelnut coffee."

He put his arms around me, his cheek on the top of my head. Two perfect circles of arms around each other. Pablo feels such contentment standing here like this. I know it's something he hasn't felt in such a long time that it feels odd, strange.

"I charge for my services. Hazelnut you say? Hmmm..." he says speculatively. "Is it as good as your mother's tea?"

"Coffee... tea... two different things. It's like comparing pizza and burritos. How do you do that?" I chuckle. "But it's the epitome of coffee wonderfulness.

"What do you charge for your services as coffee protector, Detective? I'm fairly certain I can arrange for appropriate payments."

"Well, I guess if I have a vested interest in said hazelnut coffee, I will take guarding it as self-motivated, good sense. Will you share your coffee with me, Andrea?" he asks and I can feel him smiling, his facial muscles moving against my hair.

"Well, of course I will, dear. What's mine is yours... with the exception of my shampoo and toothbrush." I pause for a moment, grinning. "And since you're such a sensible person, you'll know that what's Ninja's... is hers and hers alone."

"I hope she'll come to accept me in time, but I understand, dear," he says, giving me a gentle squeeze.

"Oh, it's not you that she objects to... it's that occasionally annoying guardian of yours, and I think she's getting as used to him as she is to Raven. I just meant don't touch the staff or the motorcycle. Even I need to go through hoops to ride the bike. Well, I just need to change the license plate, but that's a hoop, right?"

"That kiss... it got even more involved than I planned," he says softly to me, remembering the fiery passion that it had erupted in us. "I guess being away from each other for two days... it really does prove that absence makes the heart grow fonder," he says, stroking my back gently.

I breathe deeply, the memory of our kiss threatening to reignite the fire.


"And wow. I didn't expect things to get quite that heated, either. But I hope living together will allow us to spend a few days apart without setting fire to the building. There have been a few times when they've had problems in Jeffco that I've needed to spend a couple of days in the foothills above Golden, and I suppose it could happen again.

"The time apart was really miserable, too. I didn't like it at all. Let's not do that again, okay?"

"I don't plan on spending any time away that I don't have to but, like you, sometimes my job has its own requirements," he says, kissing the top of my head.

"We're really doing this, aren't we?" he says, holding me just a little closer. "I can't believe it sometimes."

He gently tilts my face up and looks at me.

"I've wanted this for so long. I've been in love with you for so long."

"I know," I say softly. "I've known all this time, but... it wasn't right. To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven... a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing. Maybe I just needed to know what that knot inside you was."

I look into his eyes. "And I was afraid. It feels a little strange not carrying that fear around with me all the time, but I'm glad to be rid of it."

I smile, and perhaps a single tear of happiness does manage to escape. "Yes, my love, we really are doing this."

He smiles softly and... just smiles.

"Ah... what do we do now?" he asks and then starts to laugh.

I laugh along with him.

"Well, we could stand here in the kitchen like this for a while. It's really nice.

"Or we could finish what we started next door.

"Or we could watch a movie.

"Or I could paint your toenails...

"...if I had any nail polish."

The thought of the last activity sends me into a fit of giggles.

He takes my hand and leads me into the living room to the couch, sits down and pulls me down next to him in his arms, snuggling me against him.

"Why don't we relax a little bit? Have I told you how amazing you look tonight?" he asks, trailing his finger over my lips.

I settle next to him, tucking my legs under me and smoothing down my dress. "Mmmmm... I don't recall that you did," I say softly. I close my eyes and luxuriate in the feeling of being close to him; his finger moving across my lips is sending shivers down my spine. I part my lips and dart my tongue out to meet his finger.

He lets out a soft sound as I lick his finger, pausing and leaving it there. His eyes go a little soft looking down at me.

"You know... I should make it official and ask you to be my girlfriend. Maybe I can pass you a note in class." he says softly.

"You could," I reply just as softly. "Though considering how tightly our qi is bound together, I think we're way past that stage."

I open my eyes and look up at him. "I suspect if consulted on the matter, Ha'atathli Ravenclaw would say we're as married as we'll ever need to be... unless we want the White Man's government involved."

He sighs with relief.

"Would you marry me, officially? At least become my fiancée for now?" he asks quietly, looking into my eyes.

"Yes, Pablo Garcia... I would marry you, officially, by the White Man's law," I whisper, gazing into his eyes.

He looks into my eyes for what seems like forever before he scoots over and digs into his pants pocket, pulling out a pack of gum. He takes out a stick, unwraps it — sticking the gum back in his shirt pocket. He carefully folds the foil wrapper over and over and over and bends it into a circle.

Pablo slips off the couch and onto a knee in front of me.

I can feel a gathering of power in the room, sparking off my qi like June lightning. Raven is on my shoulder. Around the room, I see mist and the heads of various Spirits appearing... Coyote, Eagle, Mouse, Bear, Panther, and others.

"Andrea Yazzie, before God and your Spirits, I ask you to join your life with mine for all time... to be my wife in good times and bad. Will you marry me?"

He holds out the ring of foil to me.

I watch him play with his foil, but when the Spirits appear I sit up straighter on the sofa. The Spirits of all my relatives for three generations before me... in this world, and those who have passed on... fill the room. This is powerful magic Pablo is performing; Raven croons happily in my ear.

I take the foil ring and hold it in the palm of my hand.

"Pablo Garcia, before all the Gods and the Spirits of my People, I pledge to join my life with yours for all time."

The power generated by those few words is greater than the power I generate with my Song. I feel it running through both of us... powerful, energizing, strengthening.

"Before all the Gods and the Spirits of my People, I am your wife... you are my husband."

I take his hand and place it over mine, the tiny bit of foil circling our lao gong points where they almost touch.

"We are One in the eyes of the Spirits. As they will it, I share my health with you and take your hurt. Each day we face, be it good or not, we will face it as One."

I have never felt this amount of power gather. All I can do is remain centered, maintain my connection to Earth and Sky, and let it flow through me.

I smile at Pablo.

"And on the day you exchange this ring for one that will last as long as our lives and our love — in front of our families and friends — on that day we will be wed in the eyes of Man and Law."

There are tears in Pablo's eyes as he looks at me, but also fierce pride and love shining from his face like the sun.

He takes the foil ring gently in his fingers and slipped it onto my ring finger; a powerful surge flows through both of us.

He smiles then and stands up, pulling me to my feet with him and kisses me passionately, holding me — his wife — close in his arms.

Long moments pass before he is finally ready to break for air.

"You've made me very happy."

I hold him close, smiling softly; there is very little that needs to be said.

"Then I would say this has been a day well spent, my love."

The mists have faded and all but Raven are gone, their duty done for now.

Pablo holds me in his arms, breathing a little deeper. "Love, I have to admit... I'm a bit nervous," he says quietly. "I haven't been with anyone that mattered to me for a long time."

His voice was betraying his nerves.

"And yet you've had the joy of being with someone who truly mattered to you," I say, smiling sadly. "I've cared for those in my past, or I wouldn't have spent time with them. They touched my heart. But you are the first person to touch my soul."

I look up at him and smile broadly.

"What do you have to be nervous about? Our dedication to protecting people and fighting for justice put us in harm's way every time we go out into the streets to do our jobs. Shouldn't our sanctuary be a place where we explore the joys of life? Don't be nervous about exploring the joy, Pablo."

He smiles and nods quietly. He gently reaches up and caresses my cheek, letting his fingers trail over my skin and down my neck. He leans in and let his lips follow in their wake, kissing the side of my neck, gently nipping it.

"I want to explore love with you for the rest of my life," he says softly, kissing the underside of my chin. His hands run down my arms to grip my hands in his strong ones.

I gasp as his lips move down my neck, fire moving through my veins again.

"Ah, Pablo," I breathe, "love is only part of the joy."

It's impossible to say anything more, but... later... there are...

"I think maybe it's time I bring in my overnight bag from the car... bring it back into our home."

"Yes... that's a good idea."

He keeps my hand in his and turns to walk to the front door, going out with me to the driveway between the houses where he had parked his car. Pablo opens the car and reaches in to pull out a leather overnight bag, slinging it over his shoulder.

David and Bobby are coming outside, walking David's parents to their car. They glance over and see us... see the bag over Pablo's shoulder... see the way that we're holding hands. David smiles and Bobby... well, Bobby gets the goofiest grin on his face that I've ever seen.

I waggle my fingers at our neighbors as we walk back to the house; I suspect when David's lease is up on his apartment in Arvada, he'll be moving in next door with Bobby.

"Yep, looks like Bobby had an aneurysm. I suppose that's almost as good as a massive coronary," I say with a grin.

Once back inside the house, I stop short.

"Uh oh."

Combining lives is more than just deciding who gets which side of the bed or who takes out the trash.

"Um, how much... stuff do you have?"

I've been told my house is spartan; I prefer to think of it as minimalistic. I have what I need, and I don't care for clutter. My living room seems spacious because I have very little furniture. Sofa, coffee table, glider rocker and ottoman, small table by the door, television, and a low storage credenza where I keep my DVD collection. Shelves hang on the wall above the credenza with a few books — why buy books when I work in a library? — framed pictures of family, and a few figurines. The kitchen is well-designed with a breakfast nook. The only thing on the counter is the coffee maker... the microwave is built in above the stove, the toaster gets tucked away in a cute little thing called an appliance garage. The other appliances are stored in the under-counter cabinets since I don't use them very often.

My bedroom has only my bed and a nightstand on each side; again making the room seem very large. The walk-in closet is certainly designed for more than one person to use unless that one person is ridiculously addicted to clothing. There are rods for hanging things, shelves for folded items, baskets for things like socks, underwear, belts. I barely use half the space. The master bath, to me, seems luxurious. The shower is ultra-modern with not just the normal shower head — though a shower head the size of a dinner plate isn't what I'd consider normal — but jets on the walls as well. Despite my rapid healing, there have been days when I've been pummeled so hard that standing there with hot water blasting at me from three sides is damn relaxing. The over-sized bathtub also has water jets and is actually deep enough to soak my entire body... no shoulders or knees sticking out of the water in this tub! Whoever designs regular bathtubs must be midgets. The most clever thing in the bathroom is the little walled-off alcove for the toilet. Well, maybe that's the most adorable thing about the bathroom. The drawers and cabinets under the countertop might be the most clever thing. They are brilliantly designed to neatly hold all the things one would normally put in the medicine cabinet... toothbrush, toothpaste, floss; bandages and ointments; actual medications. Whatever a person might think to put in a cabinet has a nook or cranny or shelf in one of the drawers or cabinets. That leaves the wall above the double sinks free for a rather large mirror.

I use the second bedroom on the main floor as an office, although there's a fold-down futon sofa that can be used by guests if I ever have that many. The walk-in closet isn't quite as large as the one in the master bedroom; I've tucked my filing cabinets in there, and store extra paper and printer cartridges on the shelves and in the baskets. On the desk, besides the monitor, keyboard, mouse, and printer, there's a cup of pens and pencils, a few pads of paper and a basket for bills that need to be paid. Next to the office is a half bath; next to that is a coat closet.

The basement, of course, is my dojo.

On the second floor, the small attic area had been remodeled into another bedroom and bath; this is what I actually consider my guest room. I come up about once a month to make sure it's still there, dust, vacuum, check the water flow and such. It's been used twice: once when Justin came to visit about three years ago, and once when a college friend was back in town last year after having moved to Oregon after graduation.

In addition to being told my house is spartan, some folks have insinuated that it's too much for one person. I don't think so, but there's also enough room that having Pablo move is won't mean we'll be tripping over each over.

I just hope we won't be tripping over... stuff.

He pauses when I do and turns to me, bag over his shoulder, and smiles.

"Love, I'm a guy. I have my clothes, my gun cabinet, wide screen television and stereo system with my collection of classic vinyl, laptop, and stuff. I have my leather chair that's broken in just right for my backside. Anything else over there can go to Goodwill. I assume you have plates and pans and stuff."

He squeezes her hand.

"Don't worry, I don't have a wagon wheel coffee table that I just have to have nor do I have a collection of sombreros passed down to me from my grandfather."

I relax, which is when I realize I had actually been tense, and smile.

"Well, the wagon wheel coffee table would have probably fit in the garage, although I don't know what we would have done with a sombrero collection. I guess I was worried about... I don't know... beloved furniture that should have been tossed on the curb when your parents were babies or dead animal heads on the walls." I shudder.

He smiles lovingly at her.

"Don't stress the little things, Andrea. We'll have to compromise and shape our lives together... wife," he says, smiling brightly at the word. Then a tender look comes into his eyes, and he bends and suddenly lifts me in his arms.

"You do realize that this makes tonight our wedding night… at least before the Spirits? I should carry you across the threshold of our room. Point me in the right direction, dear."

I eep and then laugh when he picks me up; I wrap one arm around his neck and point toward the bedroom door.

"Are you going to do this again after we have the big deal ceremony for the families?" I ask, nuzzling his neck.

He carries me toward the bedroom door, heart thumping away in his chest.

"Of course I am. But I'll remember to do it outside, carrying you into the house itself," he says as he very carefully moves so as not to whack my head on the door jamb as he steps inside.

"You're quite the traditionalist, aren't you?" I breathe in his ear, before gently pulling on his earlobe with my teeth.

He carries me into the room and stops, looking around. He has never been in here before and he seems to like the looks of it. Simple, clean, totally Andrea.

"I guess I have to put you down at some point..." he says, groaning softly at my love play.

"Mmmm, probably," I whisper softly. "You're a big strong man, but nearly all my curvy bits are muscle." I run my tongue along his neck, under and around his ear. "We could break tradition, you know... I could carry you over the threshold." I giggle softly as lips, tongue and teeth play along his neck.

He groans in earnest now at the feel of my lips and tongue, moving us to the bed and kneeling down, laying me on the bed. He looks into my eyes, heart pounding.

"You are the love of my life, Andrea," he says, dumping his shoulder bag off onto the floor next to the bed. "But leave me my manly things to do," he teases with a seductive smile.

I smile back at him. "Oh, there are some very manly things only you can do, Pablo." I up look at him, my heart racing, an aching need to touch and be touched is consuming me.

He smiles at that and gets off the bed, walking back over to the bedroom door and closing it, then locking it.

"I don't care if Dr. Mayhem and the Squid are killing everyone in Denver. You're off duty tonight and we are not going to be disturbed," he says firmly. His hands move to his button up shirt and undoes the top button, taking a step closer to me and looking into my dark eyes.

"You clearly trust no one," I say with a laugh as he locks the door. I roll to my knees and move to the edge of the bed. When he steps closer, I reach out and hook my index fingers in his belt loops and pull him to the edge of the bed.

"It's too bad you locked my phones in here with us."

I walk my fingers slowly up his abs and chest to the second button on his shirt. "My phone is on silent... Ninja's isn't."

I undo the button and run a finger up his sternum to the base of his throat. "Peregrine is supposed to be taking care of things until tomorrow..."

Four fingers claw lightly down his chest to the next button. "...and since I had to leave work on Monday to deal with the goblin up in Boulder..."

I undo the third button, move my hands slowly to the fourth. "...he really does owe me..."

He looks down at me, his deep brown eyes meeting my slightly lighter brown ones and shivers slightly as my finger traveled up to undo his button. I can see the desire in his eyes. He runs his hands through my hair, gently trying to undo it. Clearly, he wants my hair to be loose and free when we make love.

While certainly not the most complicated of hair styles, the French braid is not one to be undone painlessly unless you know how it was put together, especially the way I have the braid coiled under itself. I smile up at him, leaving the shirt buttons alone for a moment. Then reach back and pull the pins out that hold the braid coiled, pull the hair tie off the end of the braid, and get rid of the fake orchid while I'm at it. I toss everything in the general direction of the nearest nightstand.

"That should help; just comb through it with your fingers once the braid is unwoven to the scalp," I say quietly.

I pull the shirt out from where it had been tucked so neatly — and oh so sexily — in his pants, undo the remaining buttons. Then I rest my hands on his hips, thumbs tucked in his waistband and simply admire his torso for a moment as he unweaves the braids in my hair. I lean forward to run my tongue over the scar on his stomach... gunshot wound, he'd said. Perhaps the Spirits heard my prayer, my plea, and I would be able to share some of my accelerated healing ability with him, now that we are One.

Once he has finished unweaving the braid, he runs his fingers through my hair. "You have the most beautiful hair..." he says. I know how much he loves the feel of the silky strands. He moans softly as I lick him, looking down at where I'm teasing him.

I run a thumb over the scar. "I keep my hair long because of tradition, it's true... but I've always liked my own hair."

"Does it bother you, love?" he asks softly.

I look up at him... startled, confused, almost shocked. "This?" I ask, running my thumb over the scar again. "How could it ever bother me? It is you. I... I don't understand; it would be like objecting to the shape of your nose or the color of your eyes."

He shrugs. "You'd be surprised. I've had both reactions to my scars... some who get weirded out and others who thought way too much of them," he answers, smoothing my hair back.

He leans down and kisses me softly. "I'm a very lucky man and I know it."

I smile, then chuckle a little. "Well, yes. You're lucky to be alive for one thing; this is a very bad place to get shot," I say as I circle the scar with my thumb. But my smile fades, as I continue. "It's a part of you, proof of something that happened, something you did." I wrap my arms around him again, leaning my head on his chest. My fingers dance over his back until they find the scar where he'd been stabbed. "This one, too."

I sigh. "I don't even have proof I learned to ride a bicycle, let alone being stabbed a few times. Or getting a little too close to an angry cougar or wiping out on the highway going nearly a hundred on my previous bike. I'm not saying I really want all those scars, but I kind of get tired of being accused of being addicted to plastic surgery."

"You won't ever get a complaint out of me that you don't have scars or that getting hurt or injured is less... debilitating for you. It's a blessing to know that my love is safe from many of the dangers of life. But I'm glad you think my scars give me character."

"Not really safe," I whisper, "I just heal faster and better." There are certainly things that could kill me. I don't really want to think about that right now, though. I don't really want to think at all right now.

Now... right now... is about feeling.

His hands move around me to the zipper on my dress, gently undoing the hook and eye and then slowly, very slowly, begins to zip the dress down. He stops midway where it gets stuck again.

I slowly move my hands up his stomach and chest, my eyes closed for the moment, pausing to circle his nipples. The sensations as my palms pass across them make my hands tingle, send shivers through my whole body. Moving upwards, my fingers reach his shoulders as the zipper catches; I open my eyes and grin, pushing the shirt off his shoulders... moving my hands down his arms to rid him of the shirt.

"Pesky zipper," as I tug the shirt off his arms and drop it to the floor. "Really should do something about it one of these days." My hands return to his waist and my thumbs dip behind the waistband of his pants, moving millimeter by tortuously slow millimeter from midline toward hip bones as I look into his eyes. "Just needs a bit of a wiggle."

Exciting! Exhilarating! It's so odd to be able to know how he's feeling... the feel of my hands as they move over his stomach and chest, teasing his nipples. He sighs softly, eyes closing a little bit.

"If you say so, lover," he says softly and wiggles his hips a little. The fact that I'm arousing him is obvious from my position at his waist. Things had to be getting uncomfortable in there.

"Does that work for you?" he inquires, a teasing glint in his eyes as he looks looking down at me.

"My, aren't you a smart ass..."

I move my hands to his belt.

"And stymied by a simple zipper, poor dear..."

I push the end of the belt back through the loops and the metal of the belt, start to pull the fastener from the hole, then stop.

And look up.


"Do you need me to unzip my dress, love?"

Pablo chuckles and wiggles the zipper a little, continuing down, bending forward to take it all the way down before straightening.

"I handled it, Andrea," he says, running a hand through my hair again.

"I love your name. I always have."

I finish unbuckling the belt, looking up, smiling.

"It is a nice name..."

The button is slowly undone.

"So many different ways to say it..."

And then the zipper, millimeter by millimeter...

"AN-dree-ah..." millimeter...

"AHN-dree-ah..." millimeter...

"an-DRAY-ah..." millimeter...

"ahn-DREE-ah... I rather like the rolled 'r' there..." millimeter...

"Though I'm really fond of 'Andi,' too."

...until the end is reached.

"God, love, you're driving me crazy," he murmurs, as the tormenting continues until his zipper is down, revealing his black boxer-briefs. His large hands moved to the dress and start to slip it off of my shoulders, touching the bare skin of my shoulders and back. Pablo's heart is pounding in excitement and nervous fear. But there is also joy in his heart and it feels as if a giant lump has been excised. It is so strange to be able to feel him, to feel that this is the first time in years he is truly breathing.

"Isn't that what I'm supposed to do?" I whisper, grinning up at him.

"I love you, Andi."

I slide my hands around to the small of his back and slip them between trousers and briefs. My hands run lightly over his wonderfully firm posterior and down his outer thighs, letting the trousers drop to the floor. My eyes never leave his. Lowering my arms allows my dress to slip down, and a shake of my wrists leaves it a puddle of silk around my knees. My nipples are hard, almost exquisitely painful... and my breathing has become quick and shallow.

"You have an advantage over me, beloved." I slide a finger of each hand down along his hip bone between skin and briefs. "Not fair," I say softly, still gazing into his eyes. Stretching the material away from his body, I ease the briefs over his shaft, and down his legs.

"All is fair in love and war," he says softly and then gasps as I set him free from his constraints, the cotton sliding down to join his trousers.

I finally break eye contact, to look at the gift I have unwrapped.

"Oh, my, Pablo... you're quite beautiful."

His breathing has become shallow, and I can see the muscles in his stomach tense and relax at each touch. From his reactions, I suspect it's likely been a while since he's been touched like this.

He is glistening in the dim light. Pablo lifts first one foot and then the other, ridding himself of the clothing before it trips him, and giving me an interesting sight.

He continues to look into my eyes until my little black dress slips down and can he see that I have nothing on underneath it. His breath catches in his throat at the sight, desire burning brightly in his eyes. I can feel the surge of qi coming from him.

"You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen."

I smile at the compliment. I don't often feel beautiful... pretty, professional, badass... yes... but not beautiful.

I do feel beautiful tonight, though.

Rolling to the side, I kick the dress from the bed and stretch out on my side, head propped up on one hand. I crook my finger at Pablo.

"Come here, lover."

He stands there for a minute, letting his dark eyes roam over my taut curves for the first time with breath-taking anticipation. I see in his eyes that I am everything he had dreamed of and more. No one has ever looked at me like that before... as if, almost, I am a Goddess.

He moves onto the bed next to me on his side, looking into my eyes as he runs one hand gently over the curve of my hip, resting it there. I can feel the flow of qi intensifying between us, almost crackling from my skin to his skin.

"Please tell me we're truly alone tonight. No little observers?"

"Well, no observers at the moment, but I don't trust either of them."

I lean forward, brushing my lips against his.

"And if they show up," I say softly against his lips, "I'll just have to be an exhibitionist, won't I?"

My hand plays over his body as I look into his eyes. I can already feel the power in the room building; the qi is blazing through my body, hot and icy at once, and thoroughly pleasurable.

Oh, but my body is desperate now, more demanding of release than ever before in my life.

In one smooth and swift move, I gently push Pablo's hip back so he's lying on his back, get back on my knees, and swing one leg over his body. I straddle his hips, looking down at him. There is a fire in my veins, in my eyes, and an inferno in my heart and loins.

"I need you, husband." My voice is shaking with desperation.

His blood, too, is pounding as I start to touch and caress him. His manhood throbs with the pulse of his blood and he does not seem at all surprised when I act. His aura reflects the fact that he can almost feel the heat coming from my skin, sparking against his own.

Pablo looks up into my eyes, feeling the wet heat of my sex pressed against his loins, trapped between them.

"Make love with me, wife," he begs, desire yearning in his eyes.

I reach down to guide him, and then lower myself slowly, so slowly, so terribly and excruciatingly slowly. I can barely breathe; the room seems to flare with a blinding light. I moan as I rest my weight on Pablo's hips; the pleasure of being so full, the power of the swirling qi is nearly overwhelming my senses.

I lean forward, hands resting beside his head, my hair falling over his chest and shoulders.

"I love you, Pablo," I say before kissing him deeply, hungrily.

And slowly, so slowly, so very slowly, I raise my hips... and lower them again before his manhood can escape my grasp... and again, so slowly.

I can feel Pablo's pleasure along with my own... gods, that shouldn't be possible... I feel as if I might explode from joy, from feelings that are so much more intense than I have ever felt before. I can't help but moan again against his mouth, our tongues dancing almost frantically.

My husband lets out a deep chested moan as we join, as he feels both the extremely warm softness of me engulfing him and the rush of... something... that runs between us so hard that he almost comes then.

He meets my lips eagerly and as I start to rise again, he moves his hands up to cup my breasts and lovingly kneads them, teasing and tormenting them into diamond-hard nubs.

"Oh God, love... I... I feel..." he pants, his eyes wide; he throbs inside me.

I continue to move slowly... but, oh by the gods and all the Spirits, how I want to ride him hard and fast. I lower my face beside his, rubbing my cheek against his, whispering, whispering...

"Slow, it needs to be slow for the magic..."

I swear I have no idea what that means, only that I know it's true.

"Slow... is good for me love..." he says, biting his lip at the exquisite feelings.

"Oh, gods, Pablo..." I feel tears filling my eyes. I'm not sure if I'm moaning or wailing softly, but I know I... we... are blazingly brightly, so blindingly bright that I can't see anything at all except my beloved, my Pablo.

As we edge nearer and nearer to climax, I begin to feel the bond we created tighten... I can't tell who I am. We truly are ONE. I feel the love Pablo has for his family, for his Rosalia, for his Juan, for his Andrea. His pride at graduating from the police academy, making detective. Fear and loss and pain for Rosalia and Juan and Denise; so much, so much. I know he feels my loves, my fears, my fierce protectiveness. We are ONE.

He looks into my eyes, hands desperately touching, caressing... needing to touch me so badly it hurts and then...

Then the world explodes.

His mind, his soul, all that is Pablo Garcia is no longer alone. He is ONE with his beloved, with me. He can feel the burning terror of my change, the long lonely childhood spent learning. The search — as I became a woman — for something I feared I would never have... the love of someone to be mine forever.

When I feel him explode inside me, I arch my back in response, the sensations beyond pleasure, beyond joy, beyond bliss. I can't help but cry out... not a cry, not a moan, but a note... pure and perfect, the sound that calls the Great Spirit. Why? Why would this powerful orgasm call out to the Universe itself? I hold him inside me, squeezing and milking every drop, and holding, holding, holding him.

I look down, or up, I don't know any more... but I see my husband's face in the radiance. And a line from a dumb book by a sexist author crosses my mind, and I realize he did get something right.

"Thou art God."

And as I push him over the edge, all his qi flows into me as he explodes inside me, filling me with his warm seed... the promise of life.

And he becomes More.

I feel his qi wash through me, and I know mine washes over him. And then I have no qi that I can identify as my own; there is no qi I can identify as Pablo's. What flows now through my meridians is not a blend of our qi as it had been before; it has been transformed into something new... something more than just Andrea and Pablo.

And still the near-blinding brilliance fills the room; fills the world.

I feel sharp, deep pain in my leg... my back... my abdomen, making me gasp. I sag forward, arms quivering from strain as I endure and hold my weight up.

I groan as my elbows give out, and I let myself lie against Pablo. "What...?" How can such pain mix with the bliss... and why? Except, the moment my whole body rests against my husband's, the pain begins to ease. "What have we done here?" It's barely a whisper, hardly a breath, as I exhale a breath along with the pain.

And the more I breathe, the further the pain recedes; my body feels as though it's repairing things that were never hurt. The more the pain recedes, the more I want to take pleasure in exploring my beloved.

I begin with his neck; use lips and tongue to map out his neck, shoulders, chest. I feel him slip out of me; an aching loss that I will need to remedy. Soon. Hands join the search, gliding over his abdomen as my mouth teases out the contours of a nipple.

Hands glide over his abdomen...


I kneel up straight, just over his knees... mustn't hurt them... and put a hand on my own abdomen, where the pain had torn through me. It feels... strange. I look down and move my hand, watching as a scar I never had slowly disappears. Watching it...

"Pablo?" I think I can hear the fear in my voice along with the confusion, and wonder, and love.

I gently touch his abdomen where a scar used to be.

"What have we done?"

My beloved seems to be in a bit of a daze from the powerful union we shared, eyes glazed and... glowing a little?

My voice seems to bring him out of it though, and he looks up at me with a mixture of love and devotion that is almost frightening in its intensity.

"What is it, love?" he asks. "I didn't know you had a pet bird."

Yep, definitely still a bit dazed.

"I don't," I say absently, still trying to understand how I had taken his old wounds — one even a decade old — and... and... made them just go away. Well, not quite disappear; it hurt like hell to take them, but why, why, why?

You are ONE now. What you would do for yourself, you did for him.

I run my hands over his torso; the why can wait. I have not yet explored every inch of my beloved's perfect body.

"Go away, Raven," I say, moving farther down Pablo's body, massaging hips... upper thighs. "Take your Serpent friend with you. Come back tomorrow."

I lower myself to explore thighs, and the treasure that rested between them, with tongue and lips. I smile, delighted; soon, soon I will taste that treasure, but not too soon... No, not too soon.

"Raven? Is that Raven up there? But I can see... oh... oh, love, that feels good..." he manages to utter as I start to lick and nip his thighs. His treasure glistens from our union and is already stirring again. The energy is flowing strongly between us, each giving and taking from the other in perfect balance.

Pablo opened his eyes and looks down at me. With the give and take of our souls, I know how incredibly wonderful this is for him; he groans softly, reaching out to touch me. The silky feel of my hair and the satiny texture of my shoulders is all he can reach for now; he wants more. He wants to touch every inch of me... to burn me into his mind for all time.

My tongue reaches the underside of his shaft and I can taste the mixture of our juices. I sigh with delight as I slowly run my tongue up his shaft, licking up every delicious drop... up, and around, and down... again and again. Then I take him into my mouth, running my tongue over his head, sucking gently. My hands dance and play and tease, stroking his shaft... massaging his inner thighs... cupping his balls.

I look up at him with laughing, loving eyes.

His muscles tense delightfully as he feels my tongue caressing his most intimate part, growing so hard and full at the erotic touch. My husband lets out a deep moan as I begin to pleasure him and then gasps, hands gripping the bed sheets as the warmth of my mouth surrounds him.

I can feel the entire universe working through both of us, binding and linking. Every touch that one of us does to the other is returned and amplified. My breasts ache to be touched; such exquisite pain.

Pablo's eyes are lost in delight when I look up at him, moving up and down on his shaft. The combined juices are soon cleaned off and all I can taste is the salty drops of a promised explosion. He's squirming now... but not anywhere near that explosion yet, not so soon after the last time.

"Love... oh, lord..." he cries out softly.

Oh, gods... how I love the way he looks and feels, how sensations reverberate between us. I want to feel his hands exploring my body, touching me... but I have not finished exploring every inch of him. I almost want to scream, the need to touch and be touched conflicting so forcefully.

No, no... too soon, too soon...

I kiss and lick and nip my way back up his body. I stop to roll my tongue over his nipples, sucking on them, teasing them with my teeth, moaning with my own need to be touched, but loving, loving the exploration of his body. Then I continue on to capture his mouth for another deep kiss that causes a brilliant flaring of qi.

"Touch me, Pablo... please... everywhere, love... I need your touch so much!" The mere thought of his hands exploring my body is almost enough to make me come again.

He growls deep in his chest, reaches out, takes my arms in his big hands and with a shift of his hip, flips me over onto my back. He moves above me, looking down into my eyes.

"You will be mine forever, Andrea," he says, eyes blazing with love. He leans down, kissing me fiercely, lips and tongue demanding every single ounce of my passion as his hands move across the soft skin of my stomach... moving up. I can feel his hands tremble a little as he caresses my breasts, tenderly stroking and kneading the flesh, sending jolt after jolt of electricity spreading through me.

He moans into my mouth as he touches me. "You're like a drug, Andi. I can't get enough of you."

Yours... yours... yours... yours...

Every touch sends a wave of pleasure cascading through my body, building in intensity. My feelings and desires, his feelings and desires... it's a feedback loop that keeps building and building and building. I arch my back, feeling as though I may not even be able to stay inside my own skin.

I cry out as each touch, each brush of his hand, the teasing of his tongue in my mouth creates a flaring of energy... and one orgasm after another. I am adrift in a sea of ecstasy, my only anchor my love, my beloved, my husband who is pushing me to heights of rapture I never imagined possible.

"Pablo..." I cry; it's a sound so full of need that it sounds like anguish to my ears. "Oh, gods..." I can barely breathe, the intensity of the feelings crashing over me. "Take me, love..." I cry out again, inarticulately. "I need you... now..."

I can't bear so much pleasure, can I? The room is again so bright and blinding from the energy flowing between us... this time, I can barely see Pablo, his aura is luminescent.

"Take me... now... hard..."

I try not to scream as another wave, and another orgasm, crashes over me.

He takes my hard nipple into his mouth and suckles it. His hand has drifted down to tenderly brush through my damp thatch of hair; he is just touching me when I cry out my great need.

"You are mine," he says hoarsely, his voice raw with emotion and his manhood on fire with need. Only one thing can quench that fire. He moves above me, between my thighs, and presses the head of his shaft gently into place, and then slams home hard all the way with an animalistic roar of pure necessity.

The universe explodes between us. If I was not caught up in the beauty of it, I might be concerned that the room could catch fire.

He looks down at me and we can see infinity in one another's eyes, the energy dancing in their depths. Our world had been reduced to those eyes, the slick, sweet friction driving us closer and closer to Nirvana... and the ribbons, rivers and pure colors of qi.

Pablo is like a man possessed, giving me exactly what I asked for, reaching down to lift my legs onto his shoulders. There is the sound of a wild beast growling and crying out in the night; for a moment his eyes reflect the recognition that it's him making those primitive sounds.

And then we know no more...

It is a maelstrom of energy. I only know that I am consumed by the fire as it rages across my meridians, through my veins, along every nerve fiber in my body... and the storm rages in Pablo in a perfect reflection. We are two halves of a whole; together, we are complete.

The harder and faster he pounds into my body, the brighter and hotter the fire burns. I grab his arms, a lifeline in the storm; I hold on tight... perhaps too tight, but I have little control over my mind or my body. I hear myself keening as I finally reach the highest plateau, the most intense orgasm I have ever experienced. I balance on the edge... feeling, not breathing, feeling unbearable physical ecstasy before plunging over the precipice into overwhelming joy. In the back of my mind, a thought, or the echo of a thought... this is called the little death for a reason.

We are ONE, and right now... we are pure energy.

He lies beside me in our wedding bed and pants, cooling off on his back. Such incredible energy had poured through him, through us; his aura almost vibrates with it still. He is so full of life, yet so tired. Our lovemaking was overwhelming in intensity; unlike anything either of us has ever experienced in our lives... perhaps more than anything anyone would believe humanly possible.

"I love you..." he murmurs, eyes already drooping closed as the newly found energy bleeds out of his body and leaves him drained and sleepy.

With my head on his shoulder, I curl around him, beginning to drift off. "I love you, Pablo," I say sleepily.

I wake later feeling a tugging on my hair. At some point, we'd rolled over, shifted positions; I lie on my side with Pablo curled behind me. I'm not surprised a bit of my hair is caught somewhere. What is surprising is that the tugging is happening as Pablo and I both lie perfectly still.

I open one eye to glance at the clock, note that I can't see it. I wonder if we managed to knock it off the nightstand in our overnight exuberance, and open my other eye to get perspective on the situation.

Well. That would explain why I can't see the clock... there's a large black bird standing beside my head, pulling out strands of my hair.

"Go away," I mumble, and I try swatting Raven off the bed. It merely hops up on my pillow and continues to pull out strands of hair. Of course, that means I can see the clock, so I grab the pillow... place it firmly over my head and hair... and say more loudly, "GO AWAY!"

You said to come back tomorrow. It is tomorrow.

"I sure as hell didn't mean four o'clock in the fucking morning!"

The Aztec demi-god wishes to speak to his Chosen One now.

"Both you and the Aztec demi-god can... OWWWW!!! I yell and jump when Raven pecks my exposed hip.

Pablo wakes from his slumber to the sounds of what seems to be me mumbling in my sleep or something, closing his eyes again and starting to drift off when I cry out.

Pablo is up, reaching under his pillow for the gun that he didn't put there last night and looks around.

"Andrea?!" he says… and then sees the bird. Again.

"Love, there's a bird in the bed."

"A bird? Oh, no... no, this..." I kick at the stupid flying thing that flutters up and laughs, LAUGHS, as it moves to the other side of the bed. "...this is the most annoying guardian Spirit a person could possibly have!"

Since the Curse claimed me, I've never had a problem seeing in dim light... and the light in the bedroom is very dim. The moon is waxing toward full, but that's still several days away. At this hour of the night — or morning, rather — the moon is likely nearing the mountain peaks to the west. So the only light is coming from the indirect and dim streetlight out front, and it should be nearly impossible for an ordinary person to make out anything other than the general shape of the bed. I'm more than a little surprised that Pablo can see Raven at all.

Quetzalcoatl sits at the foot of the bed, swaying back and forth, humming. He appears to be just a little too happy, but my experience with Aztec... whatever the hell he is... is rather limited. Let's just say I wouldn't be very trusting if that were Snake Spirit swaying and humming like that. I point to the Serpent.

"Your buddy wants to talk to you," I say wearily to Pablo. "Apparently these two have no concept of time or sleep patterns. Keep it down; I want to go back to sleep."

Raven caws loudly and spreads its wings.

The Aztec demi-god wishes to address his Chosen One's bride, as well!

I glare at Raven. "Oh, quit being such a pretentious ass!"

Raven tucks its wings back, grins — GRINS! — and begins bobbing and swaying from side to side. He looks like a demented disco dancer.

I rest my forehead on Pablo's shoulder. "I may vomit."

Pablo looks down at the foot of the bed, his eyes widening as he sees, for the first time, the multi-hued feathered serpent that his ancestors had worshipped as a god. I can feel my husband suddenly tense next to me.

"Holy... ah… Andrea, I can see him... hear him. Them. Raven called you my bride," he says, voice shaky.

"Yeah, they get really old after about ten minutes," I say to Pablo, "even faster when they're acting like drunken idiots." I turn to glare at Raven.

That damn bird has been hanging out with Quetzalcoatl too much. That's gotta be where the pretentious attitude is coming from.

Quetzalcoatl peers at both of us with glowing green eyes, his wings brightening enough to provide a light to see by, although Pablo doesn't seem to be having any trouble.

Chosen, it is well that we can finally talk and see one another. You are Becoming now that you have soul linked with your Mate. I have watched over you, over both of you. I have whispered long in the night to make you realize that She Who Walks the Night is your Mate. She is the one true person to complete you and make you Become who you are meant to be... who you need to be to stand beside her in the dark days to come. A Shadow comes. As your wordsmith once wrote, Something Wicked This Way Comes. Even I may not speak of it but what I could do I have done.

The green glowing eyes turn to me and I can feel his presence… much different than the Spirits.

Night Walker, you are the fist. There are others, for this Shadow comes for you all, but you are destined to stand against the Shadow. Fill your life with all the light that you can to help you in the dark days to come.

I resist my urge to slam both of them with a pillow. Instead, I cross my legs and sit in full lotus, lean forward and rest my head on the bed, and circle my arms around my head. I just rest there for a few minutes, breathing out the irritation these two annoying flying things have caused. There's really no good reason to wake a person at four in the morning unless Godzilla is trying to climb the Cash Register building... and really, the Empire State Building is eminently more climbable.

I'd love to go back to sleep, but I'm sure if I tried, Raven would be plucking my hair out again. I sigh and prop my elbows on the bed, resting my chin in my palms. Although he's a foot or two away, I am on eye level with Quetzalcoatl.

"Yippie, you know Bradbury. I was rather fond of The Illustrated Man, myself.

"Two things, Snake Dude...

"One, nasty creeps like to vacation in the Rockies just like everyone else. They get tired of New York or LA... they wander over here for a visit. Not fun, no bueno. I grok you think this one is more badass than most. Fine.

"Two, and this is a very important one, so I want you to pay very close attention...

"My name is Andrea. If you want to get formal, feel free to call me Ninja. But this 'Night Walker' bullshit has got to go. I am a Diné Warrior. And if you ask around town, you'll find the dirtbags who mess with my town during the day get beaten down just as hard as the cowards who skulk around after dark.


The small feathered serpent does not seem bothered in the least. It simply continues to look at me and, for the briefest of moments, I get a glimpse behind the mask that it wears with mortals.


I just raise an eyebrow when Quetzalcoatl drops his mask.

You had just the barest glimpse of it in the place that the qi stealer was connected to. Do not take my warning lightly. And I call you what you are. Ninja, Night Walker, She Who Moves in the Darkness and others. Names are not important. If you so wish, I shall call you... Andrea.

Pablo sits beside me on the bed, listening quietly to the exchange, but he's a steady presence next to me… which helps.

"I don't take what I do as Ninja lightly. Not in the least. Just about everything else is fair game for merriment and frivolity, however." I turn my head slightly to stare at Raven, who is starting to get agitated. "Despite the fact that you seem to think I take everything much too seriously."

And there's a good reason the stupid bird is starting to get agitated. There's a point to which either of them — separately or together — can push Andi, and then Andi gets set aside and Ninja takes over. Maybe she feels threatened... or just plain pissed off. Who knows? But Andi is pretty close to getting moved to the side.

I sit up and lean against Pablo, my head on his shoulder. Soothing, calming, wonderful... I could go back to sleep now. It's enough, and then some, to get Ninja to back off.

Pablo puts his arm around my shoulders, supporting me and comforting me all at once. The delicious blend of qi flows through us both.

"Your warning is not being taken lightly, either, though the manner in which you deliver it is.

"I'll guess by your speech that I've done whatever needed to be done to protect Pablo, as you instructed, O Mighty One. If the light you're talking about is the firestorm we created last night, well, yeah, okay. Though it's a bit forward of you to suggest such things."

I sigh and close my eyes.

"Darkness, evil, save the world, yada yada yada. I don't get paid enough for weekly world-saving."

I look up at Pablo. "These two escapees from an AA meeting torment me for days. That one," I say, pointing to the Serpent, "suggests I crack your skull open, and you have nothing to say?" I give him a sly smile. "Are you sure you're a detective?"

My husband seems a little bit dazed by it all. It's not every day that one starts seeing the god of one's ancestors, even if one doesn't believe in that.

"I have a lot of questions, but from what you've said before and listening to him speak… I doubt I'd get any straight answers," he says to me, turning to look at Quetzalcoatl.

"Why my family?" he asks.

The feathered serpent seems to settle in a bit more, curling up on the quilt.

Because fourteen hundred years ago your people came to my lands and settled, making a pact with me... or at least this part of me that exists in this time and place. Your ancestors played a part in that bargain, sharing their blood to seal the agreement. It is that blood that has been my pathway all these centuries, and I keep my vigil over the descendants of those priests and watch for my Chosen Ones... those who have purity of heart and purpose.

Pablo snorts. "Me? Pure? Come on!"

You are a guardian of your people. You are a protector. You act as I did for your people in the chaos days and I honor that role in your heart. You are a fit Mate for the Ni... for Andrea. And she is your perfect Mate, as is obvious from the great creation.

I eye Quetzalcoatl. "I have a feeling I'm going to regret this, but... 'great creation'? You mean the whole qi sharing, blending, changing bit?"

Yes. Great and terrible things are created in moments of perfect joy and perfect terror. What you both created last night was a thing of great beauty and love.

"Uh huh. Okay then."

Well, I suppose cliché answers are a step up from cryptic. I've been trying to ignore Raven, but sometimes the truly terrible things can't be ignored.

"Raven," I say mildly, "I think you should stop that bobbing and weaving now before I grab your fat little neck and flush you down the toilet. You look like the demented love child of Elvis and John Travolta."

The ridiculous bird flops over on its back and using Quetzalcoatl as a pillow begins humming Stayin' Alive.

I look at Pablo and sigh. "Soon you'll be mad as a hatter just as I am if these two stick around. Maybe we'll get lucky and they'll take their act on the road. I'm sure they'd be a big hit doing summer stock in the Catskills." Raven starts whistling Hello, Dolly! I shake my head, close my eyes and groan before snuggling closer to Pablo. "And this, dear, is why we will never have any type of pets ever, of any kind, for any reason.

"So... coming darkness... standing out in front of the storm. Got it, it's what Ninja does. I'm not completely clear on what exactly you want Pablo to be doing, but I guess that's between the two of you." I open my eyes again, looking at the Serpent. "Anything else? Because my husband and I would like to be alone."

The Serpent sways and hums. Nope, I do not trust reptiles that do stuff like that.

You are the Mate of my Chosen One. Once the coming Shadow has been defeated, you must provide him with an Heir.

A number of things happen in such close order that they appear to be happening simultaneously.

An icy and deadly calm descends over me as I sit up straight...

Raven begins cawing loudly and scrambles back up to its feet...

My hands curl into claws...

Raven begins madly pecking at Quetzalcoatl...

I take a deep breath...

Raven pecks harder...

I hold my breath for a moment...

Idiot! Idiot! Idiot! Idiot! Idiot!

And I let it out slowly.

Raven just eeps.



Even Ninja has backed away as far as possible. This ice storm is all Andi.




Raven grabs the Serpent up in its beak and they disappear.

I sit quietly for a minute, staring at the spot where Quetzalcoatl was sitting.

"I hate them."

He sits next to her quietly, a deep frown on his face. "Why?" Pablo asks quietly.

I am angry... very, very angry. But not at Pablo. No, no. Not at Pablo.

I bow my head and am quiet for a long time.

My Pablo sits cross-legged next to me, quietly waiting as I work out my feelings internally. Pablo has always been good like this, I know. Except for Denise; he had lost it for Denise, and I had needed to be strong for him.

"Okay, maybe 'hate' is a little strong," I finally say.

And I guess I'm not quite as angry... but I'm still not happy.

"I just..."

I bite my lip; I won't cry. Probably.

Fuck it.

I turn to wrap my arms around Pablo and sob.

"He's... a... sexist... asshole..."

I just hold on, I know the storm will pass; I just need an anchor. When was the last time I cried for me? Not because I was scared or worried about someone else? I don't know. I can't remember.

"...and... and... and... I... resent... being treated... like a... brood... mare!"

He's waiting for it and puts his arms around me when it comes, holding me close against him. He reaches down and pulls the quilt off and around us, covering us in warmth. His qi flows through me like a rushing mountain stream, bright and full of life.

"He's probably oblivious to sexism, love. He is ancient. To him, it's just nature. Male impregnates, woman gives birth. It's the natural order of my people and yours, of all humans. Of course, how he said it was pretty stupid for something that old and supposedly wise."

He gently lifts my face to look at his, wiping away the tears.

"I don't think of you as a brood mare, my love. If we have children, it will be a miracle from God, but that's something that will come in its own good time… if and when we are both ready."

He kisses my forehead and my eyes.

"Now, why don't you go wash your face and I'll get you some warm milk, or whatever you want to relax with, and hold you in my arms until you fall asleep."

I shake my head.

"No. Just hold me. I don't want to..."

I take a deep breath, exhale slowly... done with the crying, for now at any rate.

"I just want to curl up with you."

After we've settled and I am feeling warm and safe and loved with Pablo's arms around me, my head on his shoulder... after enough time has passed that we should both have drifted off again...

I know he feels good just holding me in his arms and comforting me. It feels natural and good… for both of us.

"Children... we'll have them some day. Talia said so."

He stops breathing for a minute.

"Talia? Your cousin who can see things?" he asks, heart pounding in his chest. Pain flares through him as an automatic vision of his lost son fills his mind with aching sorrow and loss.

How did he know that? She never told him. I never told him.

Oh. Except perhaps I did... when we were everything in the universe.

"Pablo, love..." This is a wound I can never take from him. If I could, I would... but then I would hold it in my heart forever. It's the sort of pain that never fully heals.

"Would you rather I prove my cousin wrong, Pablo? I can. I never want you to feel pain like this again."

I hold him tightly, kiss him softly.

"No child I give you can take the place of your Juan, just as I will not push Rosalia from your heart. Your heart is large enough for all of us.

"I cannot conceive unless I redirect my qi... consciously, purposefully. I won't if you don't wish it. I won't until you're ready. I won't until you have truly grieved for Juan.

"I've never suffered such a grievous loss, beloved. How can I help you?"

I can feel him shaking as silent tears fill his eyes and slide down to dampen the pillow under his head.

"No..." he chokes out.

"My Juan... my Rosalia... they will live in my heart forever. But..." He turns and curls into me, resting his head on my shoulder and breast. "You are my wife... my love. To have children with you, it ... it would be the most beautiful thing I can think of," he says, voice cracking.

"Your cousin... she... she really said that?" he asks, nuzzling against me, wiping at his eyes.

The deep ache is still there, but there is a germ of hope beating deep inside him, planted in the fertile soil of my deep abiding love for him.

I hold him, and share my deep, unconditional love for him through our bond.

"Not exactly, no. She wanted to know if she should tell me when my first child would be born. I... declined her offer."

I smile as I stroke his hair. "I don't mind knowing about trouble heading to town; I like to be prepared. But nice things, happy things? There should be a little bit of surprise, yes?"

I kiss his head and whisper, "Sleep, love. We'll have breakfast at LePeep and make Liza's whole year. We won't have to talk in circles about cases Ninja should know about. We'll start new Sunday rituals... together.

"We'll have to put Mama and Dad on speaker phone," I murmur with a chuckle.

I doze off thinking that Mama is going to want to know The Date so she can start obsessing over a wedding.

The morning sunlight comes through the gap in the curtains and warms my face, causing just enough of a difference to begin to bring me around. I can feel eyes on me.

The line between asleep and awake is always a tenuous one for me; I'm thankful it's sunshine waking me this morning rather than those blasted blue jays. I can feel Pablo beside me; our new connection creates an unusual, almost disconcerting, feeling of being watched and doing the watching. I smile.

"Good morning, beloved," I say before even opening my eyes.

"Good morning, love. Did you get enough sleep? We had a rather... vigorous night," he says with a warm smile on his face that I can feel without needing to see. I can feel his delight, and his wonder at the constant ebb and flow between us.

"Enough for now. I'll practice later, too." I wonder how my Taiji practice will affect Pablo, I wonder if my Taiji practice will be affected by our connection. There will be plenty of time later to find out, I'm sure.

"Was it like this with anyone else?" he asks, his curiosity finally pushing him to ask.

I open my eyes to look up at him, propped up on one arm just looking at me. He has a gentle loving look in his eyes and a faint smile on his lips. The overnight growth of his beard is thick, and his hair tousled.

His question doesn't truly surprise me... he's so unfamiliar with all this, there probably wouldn't be a way for him to come to the obvious answer quickly. I reach up and pull his head closer for a soft and tender kiss, a kiss that would almost be chaste if not for the energy flowing through us.

His lips are soft and warm on mine, his stubble brushing against my skin as we kiss and he cups the back of my head with his hand.

"How could it be anything like this with anyone else, husband?" I ask as I touch his face. "No one else has ever touched my soul. You not only touched it, but your soul has been bound to mine. No one else has ever called to my qi. You not only called it, but blended yours with mine.

"No, my dearest Pablo... before last night, lovemaking was pleasantly uneventful."

I grin wickedly.

"Would you like to do it again? Perhaps we could make the building shake."

He looks into my eyes as I speak; he nods at my description.

"I would love to make love with you again, Andrea. I would spend all day in bed with you and keep the world away, but I suspect Bobby will be pounding on your... our door soon enough." He smiles.

"Shall we go brush our teeth and make love in the shower?" he asks, eyes sparkling at me.

"Bobby leaves me alone on Sunday mornings," I say, grinning. "He knows I go to breakfast with you, after which I talk with my folks.

"But playing in the shower would be fun." I laugh, roll out of bed and walk toward the bathroom door, looking over my shoulder at him.

Damn, I could look at that guy all day!

He smiles and rolls out of bed after me; I glance over my shoulder to see him admiring the view as I walk toward the bathroom.

By the time Pablo follows me into the bathroom, I at least have my toothbrush and toothpaste out of the drawer and on the counter. But seeing my hair when I glance at the mirror makes brushing my hair a higher priority than brushing my teeth. Yes, my hair is that bad. I'm trying to remember what we had been doing to cause this amount of tangles. Oh, I remember what we were doing... wow! Just thinking about it makes my knees a little weak. But even that wouldn't account for this rat's nest.

I'm going to blame Raven. It was the one plucking my hair out at four in the morning.

My handsome husband pads into the bathroom and comes to the sink next to me and stops.

He looks in the mirror, and wonder is in his eyes as he lifts a hand to touch his stomach where he had a scar for years, just running the fingertips over the smooth skin.

"How am I going to explain this, love?"

I stop brushing my hair and frown, looking at his not-scar... then at his face... then at the not-scar again.

"I didn't mean to do it." And I didn't! I didn't even know it was happening until I felt the pain myself. And the strange thing? I was utterly wiped out when I took his busted lip... an insignificant injury compared to a bullet wound, um, two bullet wounds and a knife wound. This? Holy crap! Removing three scars and the damage to tissues, nerves, blood vessels that had become entrenched over years? It should have knocked me unconscious, but it's taking more energy to brush my hair!

I don't quite understand what's going on between us and with his... Serpent thing being a jerk and less than forthcoming in the information department, I'm not sure how I'm going to figure it out.

"Um... plastic surgery? The, ah, other two scars are gone, too."

I bite my lip, contrite.


I don't know what else to say.

He turns and takes me into his arms and holds me close, stroking my hair.

"No, love, you don't have anything to be sorry about. What happened... it was because of our great love. Some kind of healing," he says, kissing my forehead.

"Don't worry about it, we'll work it out. Not very many people are going to see me with my clothes off anyway. Come on, let me help you," he says, taking the brush out of my hand.

"Turn around and let me pamper you."

I let him take the brush. And I turn around. But I still worry.

"You don't go swimming, you don't take your shirt off when playing basketball with the guys? Do you even play basketball with the guys? I know what you do for work and I know what we do when we're together, but I guess I don't know what you do in your free time. Well, I know you go to the range and practice your shooting, but I figure that's more like work stuff."

I know I'm rambling, because — honestly? — this healing thing kind of freaks me out. Little things I can mentally process. This? This is huge. HUGE! Great, now I have Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman in my head. Thanks, Bobby.

"I don't think your tonsils would have grown back, but I have a feeling that the arm you broke isn't going to show any signs of a break." Since none of mine show any evidence of breakage, I'm just going to guess that his won't either. "I kind of wish there was some sort of manual for this kind of thing. But... well, I don't really know what's going on, and I'm just a little tiny bit freaked out."

Or, you know, a lot freaked out.

Now that he's seen the lack of scars — twisting for a moment to look at his back and nod — he turns back and calmly began to brush my long, silky hair, working out all the tangles. He seems to be an expert at this.

"Don't worry about it, love. I had an encounter with an unknown super who healed me from a minor accident. It appears that his healing was a lot more powerful than he thought. The kid seemed fairly new at it. Kind of shook him up a bit. Ran off before I got his name but damn, ain't it sweet, Captain? Look at this! No more scars," he says with a smile.

He shrugs, his trim muscular torso rippling.

"In the end, I have no idea who the kid was, generic description and I have no scars. End of story."

Long stroke, long stroke... hand coming along behind, smoothing and caressing the hair.

I manage to relax a bit. I always have enjoyed having my hair brushed. What girl doesn't? Well, I guess I should say... what girl with a loving family member doesn't enjoy having her hair brushed? I've heard stories. Just another reason I protect the Unfortunates and the LGBT community and the homeless kids.

I'm still a bit concerned about the long-term effects of our bonding, but... yeah, I guess I can let it go... and worry about it some other time.

I do smile at his tale. "That will work, I'm sure, with just about anyone you come across... except your Captain, of course. Oh, he'll pretend to believe it, and even help spread the story. But he's too smart, Pablo." I chuckle. "He'll wonder and ponder, and it will drive him just a little bit crazy. You should tell him the truth. Privately. At the wedding."

I smile and nod. "Okay. Together. You know, some days I'm surprised he's not the Chief of Police. On the other hand, I guess he's too smart to let himself get promoted out of a job where he can make a difference."

"We should tell him together. He deserves to hear about it from you, as well," Pablo says as he continues his patient, gentle brushing.

Eyes closed and with a smile on my face, I enjoy the gentle but thorough brushing of my hair.

"It's obvious you have sisters," I say softly. "I can't wait to meet them."

He smiles at my comments.

"Well, I had three younger sisters I helped care for and whom I love, obviously. I used to brush their hair for them when Momma was working. It calmed them when they were upset."

He leans in and kisses my shoulder and neck.

"We're going to have a lot of calls today... your parents, my mother and sisters, your family."

He chuckles. "I wish I could be there to see their faces."

When Pablo finishes brushing my hair, I turn to kiss him and take the hairbrush. "Well, love, if we're going to be surprising people all day, we should take our shower so we can go off to breakfast and give little Liza the opportunity to say 'I told you so' for an hour.

"I'd love to see their faces, too," I say with a grin. "Though I have a feeling most of the people in my family will be all yawn yawn what took you so long. Justin has Skype, but he's hardly ever home to use it." I hold him for a minute, just because... mostly just because it feels so darn wonderful.

"I guess we should at least figure out the when because I know my parents will want to know. I'll bet your mom will, too."

He holds me in his arms, and all of the feelings from last night, the excitement, the joy, the bliss, come rushing back through us. He buries his face in my hair for a moment, stroking my back.

"I guess as soon as we can make the arrangements and all of our family can get together. I think we should have the wedding here, in Denver. It's easiest for everyone to get to. Your family can drive it, and mine can fly in. Justin can fly in from Chicago. Unless you want to do it at Christmas... since several members of your family were planning on coming then anyway."

It's abundantly clear that being this close to me and my warm nakedness has quite an impact on Pablo.

"Christmas would be lovely, but I think it depends on when Yani has her baby. And earlier..." I roll my eyes. "Good grief, Justin has classes and coaching and the Spirits only know what else!" I laugh. "This would be one time I'd ask Talia about a future event... to find out when Yani will have her baby."

"I bet your mother and father are excited," he says about Yani's baby. "My mother must have cried and laughed for a day when... when we told her that Juan was coming."

"I think Uncle Leon and Aunt Sonia are even more excited... probably beyond the moon. Cynthia can't have children and Tommy... well, Tommy is Tommy and even Talia can't say a thing about him. I imagine him being a shaman might have something to do with it."

I run my hands up his back before releasing him, then open the shower door... gesturing for him to enter. I love my shower. I've lived in apartments where the entire bathroom was barely bigger.

"Some good clean fun, mi amado?"

He returns my smile as I step into the shower, love and desire plainly in his eyes.

"No, some sweet tender and love with my wife," he says and follows me in, closing the world outside.

I turn on just the regular shower head and stand under it, letting the deliciously hot water rain down on me.

"I do need to wash my hair," I say with a smile.

"Nonsense, not while you have a husband around to wash it for you," he says. "Turn around, love, and hand me your shampoo."

The sight of the water cascading over my body just about causes him to have a heart attack right there. He's unbelievably sweet... seeing me as his Venus, rising from the ocean. Pablo swallows hard.

Turn around... or plaster myself against him? Oh, option number two, please! Ack, but I'll hate my hair all day if we get so distracted that I forget to wash it. This bit about feeling what he's feeling... spiraling my emotions nearly out of control... is really, really nice... and really, REALLY distracting.

Hair. Icky hair.

I take the bottle of eucalyptus spearmint scented shampoo from the shelf and hand it to him. Turning around is considerably more difficult...

Wash hair, wash hair...

"I honestly think... it might be easier... if I wash my hair myself," I say as I turn around.

"It might be, but it wouldn't be nearly as much fun," he says, squeezing out a dollop into the palm of his hand before working it into my long wet hair. He keeps my hair out of the direct spray from the shower and works up a generous lather and once that is done, starts in on a scalp massage.

To add a little spice, he leans in and delivers little nips and kisses along my shoulders and neck, only getting shampoo in his mouth once.

I try to breathe slowly but have no success with that.

"Well, if your... idea of fun... is to have me collapse..."

I brace my hands against the wall, knees feeling unusually weak.

"...then we're having fun."

"No, love, that's next, when I lather up my hands and wash your body," he says, chuckling in a very evil, naughty way. He turns me gently so that my hair is under the water and starts to rinse it out. He then adds the conditioner.

"I am so happy, Andrea... so very happy," he says quietly.

I look at him, smiling... honestly, I can't believe how happy I am. I lay a hand on his heart.

"I know. I can feel it. And I don't think I've ever been this happy in my whole life."

I lean forward to kiss him, my other hand sliding along the back of his neck. Conditioner should sit in your hair for two minutes, right? Almost enough time for a kiss, although it seems to stop time and last forever.

"I can tell you're very, very happy," I say, glancing down and then waggling my eyebrows.

He seems to lose himself in the kiss for a minute, the gentle give and take, the teasing eroticism of our tongues and the caress of my hand on the back of his neck.

Needless to say, by the time I make my joke, Pablo is very much at attention. He smiles.

"And why wouldn't I be? I'm in the shower with the most beautiful, sexiest woman in Denver. I'm one damn lucky man," he says, his hands sliding down my sides to rest on my hips.

"So what do you plan to do about it?" he challenges me, with a grin on his face.

"Why, I'm going to rinse the conditioner out of my hair, of course," I say, stepping back under the water to do just that.

"Besides... you made my knees so weak I nearly collapsed, so I kissed you extremely well.

"It's your move, darling."

I smiled as I run my fingers through my hair — to make sure all the conditioner is rinsed out, of course.

Pablo smiles at my challenge and, hands on my hips, he sinks to his knees in front of me. He smiles up at me as his hands move down and around to gently part my thighs, revealing my wet cleft to him.


He leans in and gently licks me.

I gasp as his tongue touches me. By every god and all the Spirits, how is it possible that so little — one touch! — can cause so much pleasure?? I spread my legs wider, and Pablo continues slowly drawing his tongue through my juices and over my clitoris. I need to grab the safety bar with one hand to keep from falling. I can hear myself moaning; I am drowning in an ocean of bliss. Our qi rushes through us, heightening the senses, intensifying the sensations.

With my other hand, I hold my beloved's head close to me, fingers woven through his hair. I am utterly inarticulate; I can only cry out... moan... try to breathe... watch the flashes of energy...

Oh gods, how is it even possible to feel so much? Love, joy, and the physical arousal...

"Pablo..." I manage to croak out.

He looks up into my eyes; his eyes are so full of love. The way his hands and mouth touch me, caress me — loving, demanding, tantalizing — pushes me farther and farther into the abyss of beauty.

I tip my head back against the wall of the shower, tears of joy streaming down my face mixing with water from the shower as the ecstasy crescendos. As the explosion tears through me, I scream... behind my closed eyes, I see patterns of energy coalescing into images of indescribable beauty.

"Come with me, Pablo," I groan, tugging a little on his hair. "Too glorious... too wonderful... to go here alone."

We are linked in a way no others are, our qi flowing together, our souls and minds one. Pablo shudders and sits back on his heels, eyes glowing slightly. Quetzalcoatl is wrapped around his neck as he flows through my mind with me, seeing the sights I see in the depths of my mind.

"So... so beautiful... my love..."

Spirit 01 Spirit 02
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Pablo is lost in the world of my mind, looking at the beauty of my power, the glory of the complexity.

"Oh God, love... it's beautiful," he says as tears slide down his cheeks.

I slide down the wall and mimic his position, our knees touching; I draw my hands down his strong arms until I take his hands in mine. "Join your body with mine, beloved," I manage to whisper. "Let me show you how to walk in beauty without getting lost."

He looks up at me; my face is wet with tears and water from the spray of the shower. The muscles in his arms and chest tremble at my touch, like a fine race horse before the derby.

"I will walk with you forever, love," he whispers, squeezing my hands.

I kneel upright and pull him up with me, slide my arms around his waist and kiss him. It starts off light and teasing, but quickly moves to flaring passion, dancing tongues, sparking qi. Now I walk in beauty, beauty is before me, beauty is behind me, above and below me. And now it is within me.

I pull back a bit to look into his eyes, radiant and glowing still.

"Come, my husband," I whisper with a smile, "there is more magic to make. I will show you how to walk through the beauty safely so that when we face the darkness you won't get lost."

"How could I be lost if I am next to you?" he asks, caressing my cheek and looking into my qi-filled eyes. "You are my passion, my life. Show me the magic, love."

I smile and cover his hand on my cheek with my own. "You'll be next to Ninja, love. Though I will be there, too, she will be the one fighting the darkness. You must be as strong as she is, you must know how to walk through beauty and shadow on your own. She will not be able to advise you, and I cannot distract her from what she needs to do."

I move gracefully to my feet, pulling him up as I stand. I feel as though the water raining down on me is turning to steam as it touches my skin... that's how desperately I burn with desire. I reach down with one hand to stroke his hardness as my other hand reaches behind his head to hold him for another kiss.

Gods, how I need him!

I groan into his mouth, and then break off the kiss, leaning my forehead against his.

"Lift me up, beloved. I need you; I need to have you deep inside me."

He gasps into my mouth as we kissed, my desperate need transmitted through my hand as I stroke him, firing his desire higher and higher. He is more than ready for me, and he reaches down to grip my thighs, lifting me, spreading my legs to welcome him.

"I will always be with you," he murmurs hoarsely. With a little help, Pablo sinks deep into me, thrusting and crying out. We unite as one, both body and qi. Neither of us has ever experienced anything even close to this before. It's like being plugged directly into an electrical socket, energy coursing through our bodies, wave after wave.

I wrap my legs around him as I guide him, and that first deep thrust explodes the world.

His muscular body holds me easily, and the power of his legs and buttock thrust him deep and fast, faster and faster, then slowing, twisting.

His mouth is demanding on mine, wanting every ounce of my passion... then the taste of my neck. He leans down and softly bites my hard nipple, teasing and tormenting me.

Now I walk in beauty... One soul, one heart; together we are one, our joy is magnified, our pleasure is magnified, and everything that we are... becomes more.

Beauty is before me... As my husband thrusts himself into me, over and over, hard and fast. As we are touching, touching, sliding, thrusting, touching in the most intimate of places, our qi — and the universal qi that flows through us — again begins coalescing.

Beauty is behind me... Every moan, every cry sends spirals and waves out and around. Our senses take everything in — I taste my own juices in Pablo's kiss. I feel his mouth or is it my mouth on my breast and the hardness of my nipple against my tongue or is it his tongue? I hear his growls and my cries, I smell the muskiness of sex despite the rain of water over us. I feel... oh, gods, I feel every nerve quivering with desire and pleasure layered upon pleasure upon pleasure.

Above and below me... I feel my lover's mind — touching, reaching, searching — so different from my cousin's touch. The energy flows as our bodies move as one, straining toward perfection and eternity. All that our senses have taken in is coloring the energy... every color ever imagined, dancing and swirling, spinning and gliding.

I reach out to Pablo's mind as I would reach out to Tommy. But it's so much easier as if there's no need to reach at all; he is right here, my love, my heart, my soul.

When you walk in the Darkness, always remember the Light that surrounds you. Remember the Diné prayer: Now I walk in beauty, beauty is before me, beauty is behind me, above and below me. We are the Light now; we are One for all time.

As our bodies come together in fiery passion, our souls soar through the eddies and currents of energy and color, patterns, and textures. Flying, soaring, swooping... walking in beauty.

HERE I am always with you, even when Ninja stands at your side. Even when you stand alone, you will never be alone again.

I cry out from the perfection of ecstasy rolling in waves from where we are joined, where we both thrust so hard in our need to be one. I cry tears of joy from the perfection of love binding our hearts and souls into one heart, one soul. If this moment were to last forever, it would not be long enough.

Perfect love, perfect union, always and forever.

We are not two people anymore; we are simply two aspects of the same being.

Pablo's body seeks to achieve the same height of oneness that his soul already found. That such oneness can't truly be reached makes him both deeply sad as well as profoundly joyous... for we will always strive to reach that pinnacle.

"My heart..." he cries out in longing as his body strains. Finally, his back arches and he can no longer restrain his desperate need for bliss. A torrent of qi flows into me with his warm seed, completion both physical and spiritual.

I cry out as I reach a pinnacle of elation, teetering on the brink, tightening my inner muscles around my dear husband, milking every drop he can give me. The qi rushes through me; so much! I channel it through my meridians, re-energizing me as much as several hours of Taiji would have. I find Pablo's mouth for a long, passionate kiss... circling the qi through his meridians, as well... my legs still wrapped around his hips, and muscles holding him inside me.

When I feel the qi has become balanced, I tenderly kiss his lips and look into his eyes. Are my eyes glowing like that, too?

"I love you so much."

I slowly relax my legs and stand, feeling an unspeakable loss I have never felt before as he slips out of me. I take his hands in mine —my eyes never leaving his —and bring each one to my lips.

"You will never be alone."

He shivers as his body tries to recover from the experience. His feelings of contentment and satisfaction vibrate through me, as well. We both have similar thoughts, I think... it would be nice to snuggle in one another's arms forever.

"I can never be alone. You are always in my heart. You are part of my soul," he says softly.

He looks into my eyes. "Now I need to wash you, my love," he says, reaching for the soap with a smile.

Rather than endure the endless teasing from Liza — meaning the chances of actually eating our breakfast at the correct temperature would be pretty close to zero — we go to Village Inn instead. I do love their waffles. And cinnamon rolls that are almost as good as Bobby's. It's a good decision; our waitress is attentive enough to keep the coffee carafe full and observant enough to realize we're a couple of loopy lovers with eyes only for each other. It's obvious — well, to me anyway, since I seem to be finding it easier than usual to see auras — that she enjoys having loopy lovers with eyes only for each other come in and make the restaurant a happier place.

To be honest, Pablo and I are sort of glowing, and I am more than a little concerned that other people can see it. I don't mean the Gosh, you look really healthy glow, either... I mean the sort of glow where it looks like light is actually seeping out of our pores. But no one is staring at us as if we're extras in a Sci-Fi movie, so maybe it's just me. Or maybe Pablo can see it now, too, but I think conversations like that probably shouldn't be held in a public place. Ah, so many things we need to talk about! However, not many of them can be discussed at Village Inn.

When we arrive home — our home! — I note Bobby's kitchen windows are still closed, a sure sign he and David are enjoying the opportunity to sleep in. I officially grant permanent driveway parking rights to Pablo, a deal sealed with a kiss, of course. As we still have a bit of time before my weekly call to my parents, we discuss the logistics of his move: what he will be bringing over from his apartment and when... where we'll put things... how some things will need to be rearranged. It's the type of conversation that would have the potential for a lot of tensions, but it was easy and everything seemed clear and obvious. Except for the gun cabinet. I'm baffled by the whole thing. Who knew cops usually had more than one gun? Well, sure on TV they do... but I assume if it's not on the Discovery Channel or the History Channel, it's fiction and likely exaggerated. Heck, sometimes I even distrust the Discovery and History channels.

So, something to think about.

He assures me that he doesn't truly have much stuff to bring over, but he isn't going to budge on his leather chair. It's hard to get a piece of furniture to fit just right, like a comfortable pair of jeans. I can understand that, I think. It took me months to find a decent desk chair.

So I just shrug over the leather chair. With some rearranging and possibly moving my rocker to my office, or even the bedroom, his favorite chair will fit in the living room. I suppose helping him move out of his apartment won't be a problem. But I think we'd better let David help him move furniture into the house while Bobby and I — the delicate baker and librarian — carry the small things. Bobby's had enough of a shock for this year, I think.

We settle on the sofa, cuddling together, waiting for the appointed time for the call. While Justin almost always calls me — I never know where he is and when — my parents and I take turns calling. This week, it's their turn to call. I chuckle when the phone rings precisely at ten.

"Good morning, Mama!" I say after putting the phone on speaker. "How are you and Daddy... Papa and Tita?"

"Hello dear! It's so good to hear your voice again. You and Pablo got home okay and had good weeks, I hope? Everyone here is in good shape. Your Tita has made a full recovery; she told me to tell you that she's friskier than ever," Mama says with a laugh.

"How are you feeling? Have you talk to Pablo? He's recovered from his bumps and bruises, I hope. Such a good man," she says with that tone all mothers take when their children have found The One.

I laugh at Mama's reply. "I can only imagine the adventures a friskier Tita will lead Papa on! I expect one of these weeks you'll tell me they rode down into the Canyon on mules, and perhaps have taken up skydiving." I look up at Pablo with a smile, before responding to the rest of Mama's questions. "Yes, we both arrived home safe and sound. Pablo has made a full recovery. The few days since seeing you have been good, I'm feeling fit as a fiddle. And Pablo is more than a good man, Mama. He's wonderful. And he's right here with me."

"He is? Hello Pablo, how are you this morning?" Mama says, covering her surprise well.

"Hello, Mrs. Yazzie. I'm fine. Andrea and I just got back from having our usual Sunday morning breakfast together," he says, grinning over at me. It is, after all, my surprise to announce.

"Oh good! So what's new, dear? I hope you didn't get too far behind at work because of your unexpected trip."

I grin back at Pablo.

"Well, I did have a very busy day on Friday, but my coworkers managed to keep things from getting too piled up." I pause, trying to remember what exactly I thought the best words would be to announce our little surprise. Except... I can't actually remember which ones I thought were best. Oh, the heck with it! Winging it usually works just fine.

"I do have one piece of news, Mama. Pablo and I are going to get married... probably at Christmas."

"What?! Oh, that's incredible, Andrea! I had a feeling!" Mama exclaims as she claps her hands together in pure joy.

"NELSON! GET IN HERE! I have Andrea on the phone, and she is going to marry that dear sweet Pablo!" she yells at Dad, who sounds like he's in the kitchen opening the refrigerator.

I laugh at my parents as I listen to their conversation in the background.

"I know, Sandra, my love... Talia told me after they left the other day."

I suspect at this point Mama slaps Daddy on the shoulder. However, my hearing isn't quite that good; I don't know for certain. A light slap like Mama's is nearly inaudible.

"And you didn't tell me?"

Ah, I do hear Daddy laughing.

"Of course not, dear. I knew it would make you happier if you heard it from our daughter. Hello, Andi... Pablo. You've made your Mama very, very happy. I'm also extremely happy, but your Mama? I might have to duct tape her to a chair to keep her from floating away!"

I giggle at that imagery. "Oh, let her float, Daddy. Just keep her indoors." I pause a moment. "We'd like the whole family to be here, but I worry about Yani and her baby."

Dad chuckles. "Depending on whom you ask, there is a wide range of opinions on when the baby should come into this world. Yani says by her calculations — and I don't even want to know how she came up with these calculations of hers — Little Kai should be born on December 15. Her doctor is saying December 20. Your cousin says December 5."

I smile. I am not going to argue with my cousin. "December fifth then... Good, that will give her time to recover; give her and Daniel and Little Kai time to be together before meeting the rest of the family." I look up at Pablo. "Christmastime sounds like a plan."

"Andrea and I will start working out the details. If you could do a poll of the relatives, so we have an idea of how many to expect, I'm sure that would be helpful. We have to call my side next and see about them," Pablo says, slipping his arm around my waist, holding me close.

"Sir, I'm sorry I didn't ask your permission first or messed up any other traditions. It... it was just the right moment," he says.

Dad chuckles and says exactly what I expect him to say after all these years. "Son, if Andi found out you asked anyone's permission to marry her but hers, you'd be in the hospital until your wedding day. And I suspect if you found the right moment to ask, you followed all the traditions that are necessary."

"Oh, Daddy! I wouldn't have hurt Pablo that badly." No need to let folks know about... well, all the crossover stuff that Ninja and I share, and that hurting Pablo would be hurting myself... quite literally.

"I'll call the whole family when we get off the phone, dear," Mama chimes in, with more joy in her voice than I've heard in years. I guess she has been waiting for this day for a long time.

"Oh, let me tell Justin, Mama. He's supposed to call me this afternoon."

"Very well, dear. I expect you'll need to give Pablo's mother the same happiness you gave me, so I'll let you go. Ah," she continues with a sudden thought, "will you want a traditional wedding or something more... American?"

I blink. That statement brings the abstract concept of 'wedding' dropping square into the realm of reality.

"Wow. Pablo and I haven't even talked about that yet. I don't know." I shake my head and smile wryly. "I guess I'll let you know once we have a chance to figure it out. I think I would like a traditional wedding, but I should explain to Pablo what that means first."

Mama chuckles. "Of course. We love you both, and we'll talk to you again next week. Now go make Pablo's mother a happy woman!"

"Love you, too, Mama and Daddy. Talk to you next week!"

"Goodbye, mom and dad," Pablo says with a bright smile just before I hang up.

As I press the off button on the phone, I look again at Pablo.

"Are there any traditions your family will expect you to follow? Will I need to book the Basilica and find a priest willing to marry a heathen? Or is it two heathens?" I grin at the thought of walking down the center aisle of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in a traditional Diné wedding dress. It's a beautiful church that much is true, but I suspect my family and I would look very much out of place there.

Pablo quirks his lips to the side for a moment as he thought about it while rubbing his chin.

"Well, the family is somewhat Catholic. I'm a lapsed Catholic myself. I guess a good compromise would be an outdoor wedding, but we're talking winter so we'll need to do it indoors. Don't know, love; guess we'll have to work it out," he says, shrugging. "All my sisters will care about is finally getting me married again and getting to wear pretty dresses." He laughs.

"Well, these days, traditional weddings are usually held in the bride's home, or her parents' home as the groom marries into the bride's family." I grin at him. "But even if we only invite our families, neither this house nor my parents' are large enough. And outdoors in winter would be... interesting, but I might be the only person comfortable if the temperatures dip toward freezing," I say with a chuckle. "Because our wonderful Denver weather is so unpredictable, having the ceremony indoors is the only sensible option. However," I say with a twinkle in my eyes, "my home away from home might be willing to let us use the facilities, assuming we schedule our grand event when the library is closed.

"But your sisters will certainly be able to wear pretty dresses." I shake my head and laugh. "By this time next week, Mama, Tita and my aunts will have already started making my dress. It's a good thing I'm strong... they're likely to put a hundred pounds of beads on it!"

"The library is a particularly good idea, Andi. It's more than large enough and has meaning for both of us," he says with a smile and nod.

He cocks his head to the side. "Beads? A traditional leather and bead dress?" he asks.

I laugh and give him a kiss. "Beads, yes. Leather, no. We're famous for our weaving, my love, so our traditional dresses are woven, although the leggings sometimes are leather and the shoes always are. You might have watched Pocahontas too many times."

"Hey, Pocahontas is hot! Not my fault," he says, laughing and squeezing my leg. "Well, shall we call my mom now?"

I slap his hand, laugh and give him the phone. "Disney has warped your mind. Wait until you see what you've gotten yourself into." I giggle. "I won't insist you wear our traditional clothes, however. Men in tuxes are so sexy!

"Yes, yes... call your mom," I say, grinning.

"I do believe I've seen what I've gotten myself into with my own eyes." He smiles. "Several times, in fact."

My very naughty husband chuckles and starts to tap in a telephone number, hitting the speaker button. It rings several times before an older woman's voice comes on, just the tiniest hint of her Hispanic heritage in that voice.

"Hello? May I help you?"

Pablo smiled. "Yes, Momma, it's Pablo."

"Pablo!! How are you my baby boy? It's early for your call."

My baby boy? I raise my eyebrows and grin. Oh, there will be much teasing about that, I'm sure. Later, of course.

Pablo laughs. "Well, Mom, I needed to call you early because I have something I want to tell you. You remember my friend Andrea?"

"Oh! The pretty librarian? Of course I do. You've talked about her for how many years now?"

"Momma, Andrea is sitting next to me here, so, please..."

"Oh really? Hello, Andrea! It's so nice to meet you, so to speak."

"Hola, Señora Garcia. It's very nice to talk finally to you. Pablo has shared many wonderful stories about you and his sisters." I look at my husband. "Although I have a feeling he's told you much more about me," I say with a chuckle.

"He had indeed told us about you and your kindness," she says.

"Momma? I need to tell you some good news," he says, interrupting his mother.

"You know that I've had feelings for Andrea. We've been friends for years now. I finally told her that I love her, Momma, and she loves me. It's like we've both known for a long time, but only now will admit it."

"Oh Pablo!" his Momma cries out. "I have been praying for this for so long now, my sweet boy. It was so obvious to the rest of us when you spoke of her."

"Momma, I've asked Andrea to marry me, and she's said yes. We plan to marry at Christmastime. It's the best chance to have as many family members available for our wedding."

"Christmas... yes, I can see that, dear. I will check with the girls and see if there are any problems. Andrea, my dear, I am so happy to have you in the family. Is there anything that we can do to help you prepare?"

"I don't think so, Mrs. Garcia, but I'll be happy to give you my Mama's number and pass yours along to her." I smile and shake my head. I could wind up with two hundred pounds of beads on my dress. Well, probably not. A traditional dress wouldn't have enough material for that many beads. "It's not the proper and traditional way for our two families to meet, I know. But I would love for you to get to know her before everyone arrives."

I look at Pablo, happiness shining in my eyes.

"I think you and my Mama will like each other very much."

"I think so too, dear. I am looking forward to talking to your mother and getting to know her. Pablo, I want pictures of the two of you together! You can send them using that computer thing, okay, dear?"

Pablo rolls his eyes and chuckles.

"Of course, Momma. Tell the girls to call me tomorrow if they want to. I want to spend some time with my fiancée today, not field calls all day. We have a lot to talk about."

"Of course, son. You two have made me a very happy mother. Thank you! And please call again as soon as you have more plans."

"Okay, Momma. Love to the girls. Talk to you later."

As Pablo hangs up the phone, I look at him and giggle. "My baby boy? Oh my god, Pablo, that's absolutely precious! And I will tease you about it forever, my love!"

He sighs as he nods, acknowledging that he is going to hear it for a long time. Such is love.

I wrap my arms around him and rest my head on his chest. And then I close my eyes and sigh with satisfaction. "Besides letting Bobby and David know and waiting for Justin's call, is there anything else we're supposed to do today?"

"Well, I can think of several things we could do to keep ourselves occupied today," he says to me, waggling his eyebrows and smiling.

I laugh and stroke his cheek. "I love the way you think, my dear, but I've just had another idea. I'd like to try something a little different." I stand and put a hand on his chest. "Don't move, I'll be right back."

Ninety seconds later — admittedly I cheat and move faster than I normally would — I am back in the living room wearing my workout pants and a tank top, and barefoot of course.

"I haven't practiced since we fully bonded. I want to see how it has affected my practice. I think it should have; I need to know how." I reach out for his hand. "And to see if, this time, you notice anything besides just the form. And my beauty and grace," I say with a smile. "Come downstairs with me?"

He takes my hand and gets to his feet. After stopping to grab a couple of bottles of water from the refrigerator, he follows me down to the dojo.

"I like watching you work out," he says, sitting against the wall off to one side, out of my way. He cracks open his water bottle, takes a drink, and then rests his arms on his bent knees to watch my practice.

I begin with a few minutes of simple standing posture Qigong meditation, eyes closed, scanning my meridians, and feeling the flow of qi. Then I move on to a few minutes of the Great Opening and a few minutes of the Cleansing Qigong. Finally, I begin the Taiji with the Yang 24 form.

Normally, I use this form simply as a warm-up or, when repeated a number of times, to soothe me when I'm upset. This form and the Yang 48 form were the forms I practiced for hours and hours during the two days Pablo and I were apart. On those two days, they hadn't been particularly helpful. Today, with Pablo here and the two of us so connected, I am filled with peace by the time I reach the first single whip. I move immediately into the Chen 18 form, the beginner form for the Chen Family. I use the Chen forms for energizing, storing qi, general health, and healing. This morning's activities left me extremely well energized, and I certainly have an abundance of qi stored. I think the fact that we appeared to be glowing from our pores this morning is evidence of that. I am healthy and strong. Do I actually need to be practicing right now? No. It's merely an experiment to see if Pablo sees anything other than pure, graceful movements, to see if he feels anything other than — I chuckle to myself — his male hormones raging.

He's watching me intently as I move fluidly through the forms. Oddly, I can sense him feeling my movements in his bones, as though he can almost predict what I'm going to do a microsecond or two before I move.

I finish with the 56 form, the Chen form I like most; this is the one I practice ten to twelve times at each practice session. As I feel the energies moving, I suspect Grandmaster Chen's command to practice at least one hour a day did not take into consideration the possibility of finding the perfect mate. That person with whom making love is more energizing, more healing, producing more of an abundance of qi than an hour, two hours, even three hours of practice.

And I know Pablo can see and feel the pull and flow between us now... not anyone else, just me.

After I complete the form, I simply stand for another few minutes. Today is a shorter session than normal, and one that is not needed at all for the metaphysical reasons I normally practice. I do it only for the enjoyment of the movements; that's a rare treat. I smile, and finally open my eyes to look at Pablo.

By the time I finish, he's sitting at the side of the room looking and feeling fully rested and at ease.

"That was beautiful to watch. And... and I could feel you."

I sit down facing him, cross-legged, and pick up the unopened bottle of water. "You could feel the qi, our connection, or me moving?" I open the bottle and take a healthy drink.

"All of it, Andi." He shakes his head in wonder. "I could feel exactly where you were going to move next. When I closed my eyes, it felt like I was moving with you." He chuckles. "It made me feel a little dizzy, to be honest. It's easier just to watch you."

"Cool! I wonder if there's a range. Say, if I'm here practicing and you're at work, would you still feel me practicing? If I'm down in Castle Rock doing the Ninja thing and you're here at home, would you be able to tell what I'm doing?" I smile. "It really is cool! Will I be telling stories to the kids and know you're thinking about me? Okay, probably a bad example," I say with a laugh, "since you think about me so much anyway. But would I be able to tell if you're worried or upset? Gods, or worse, hurt?

"Hmm and that healing stuff? Since we're connected, bound, two halves of a whole, would you be able to do it too? It just... well, happens for me, although I learned to channel the qi to injuries for even faster healing. But even that's pretty much automatic now. Of course, that might get awkward to explain but, on the other hand, healing a potentially fatal wound to something not fatal would make me extremely happy. You've already been shot twice. The next guy might not have such bad aim." I frown and take another sip of water. "Or could I heal you, at least a little, from a distance? If I felt you get injured, I know my soul would try. Not sure how well that would work out for me. And yes, I know. I'm babbling."

I sigh. "I hope I never need to know the answers to some of these questions. But from what that Serpent of yours said, something very serious is coming, and it would be helpful to know the answers even if I never need to apply them."

He listens intently, a frown of concentration on his face along with a touch of anxiety in his posture.

"Okay, so we need to test it," he says, getting to his feet and walking over to the other end of the dojo, against the wall there.

"Right now?" I'm a little surprised at how quickly he's accepting all of this new information.

"There's no time like the present, right?" Pablo reaches into his pocket and pulls out a black switchblade knife, flicking it open to reveal a four inch blade. Before I can object, he slices the palm of his hand, bright red blood welling out instantly, and he grimaces for a second.

Over on my side of the room, I feel the stab of pain in my hand, similar to a nerve ending firing off at random. A zinger, as some people call it. But the pain barely lasted a moment.

It's possible that I might have made it across the room before he cut his palm, although just barely. My hand jerks — or maybe it's more like a spasm — at the pain even as I'm standing up, instinctively wanting to rush to his side. I hold myself in place and look at my palm.

Nothing but the normal lines I see on my hand every day.

I look across the room at Pablo. He has his fist closed, and drops of blood are starting to pool and fall.

"Okay, so we know you can feel it. Now try to heal it as you would your own hand."

I shake my head. "If it's not my own, I can't heal it like my own. But..."

I close my hand into a fist and relax into the feeling of being ONE with Pablo. I feel the pain again; I feel the blood welling, dripping. I can see my closed fist is clean and untouched by blood; I can see myself looking at my hand. I open my hand again, feeling it still curled into a fist, watching my hand, and watching myself watch it. I direct the qi to my-our-his hand, and feel the incredibly awful itching that accompanies the qi-enforced rapid healing. I want desperately to scratch my palm, but I know the itch isn't in my palm, it's in Pablo's.

I look up at him again, knowing from the god-awful itching that his palm is completely healed. This time I feel an odd disorientation as I see him and see myself looking at him.

"This being in two places at once will take some getting used to. And I think once I connect to you like this, my body thinks your body is my body — if that makes any sense. And if I had given it a couple of minutes your hand would have been scabbed over, which under actual working conditions would be much less, um, suspicious."

I close my eyes and take a slow, shuddering breath and sigh it out. "This being completely part of you could get addictive." I slowly come back to being just the Andrea part of the whole.

"We should probably try greater distances, but don't go pulling a Young Frankenstein on me and stabbing yourself in the thigh at work. My reflexes are damn fast, but I'll probably still fall over; I'll stumble at the very least. People will worry." I open my eyes. "We don't want people to worry. Especially not my coworkers! Within thirty minutes, I'll have hypoglycemia, anemia, hypotension, arrhythmias, vasovagal syncope, will be pregnant and will have lupus." I roll my eyes." Anna watches too much House.

And then it hits me like a ton of bricks. A wave of exhaustion cascades through me like syrup and the next thing I know, I'm on the floor with me head in Pablo's lap. Our qi is flowing together, but this time it flows more from him to me.

"Andrea... please, love. Talk to me," he says quietly, eyes dark with worry.

"I'm fine," I say, clearly with a tone that indicates I have no idea why he is so worried. Because... um, yep, I pretty much collapsed like I did when I healed his lip. And that means... I'm not sure, but it means something. I sit up, with Pablo's solicitous help, feeling a little woozy. My water bottle is near my feet, and I reach for it, feeling... odd. I pick it up and drain it dry, and then turn to face Pablo with a puzzled look on my face.

"Okay, passing out like that isn't going to work. This stuff should come with an instruction manual." I'm frustrated and really need more Taiji practice. Or sex. Hmmmmm. Yum. No, no... focus, Andi! This stuff is important! "Why is the easy stuff so difficult, and the virtually impossible stuff a piece of cake?"

"Well, we've three occurrences: my lip, my scars, and my hand. What were we doing during each of the occurrences?" he asks.

I look at him... narrow my eyes... purse my lips. Then I rather vehemently say, "Well, that's a pretty damn useless ability to have if it only works when we're making love!"

"No dear, I think it has something to do with physical contact. When we're making love, our qi is flowing between us very powerfully. And we're in physical contact, curled together. But when we're apart, when you're trying to do it without any contact, the effort to heal from a distance uses much more of your energy. You're weak still. You'll need to work on it, build it up like a muscle."

"So... what? We sit on the kitchen floor back to back while you stab yourself, and I heal you until I don't pass out, and then start moving farther and farther apart?" I look at him skeptically.

He shrugs, leaning down to kiss my forehead. "I don't know, love, but I don't think I honestly want to do that. It sounds... uncomfortable," he said, chuckling. "At least we know it's possible. Beyond that, we'll just have to play it by ear.

"Well, I just wish I knew the right exercises so I could, well, exercise this ability," I say with a sigh. "I know I'd be terribly upset if some idiot hurt you and I couldn't help." I scoot closer to him, wrap my arms and legs around him and rest my head against his chest.

"I don't know if our bond means you'll live as long as Master Chen believes I'll live. Or maybe we'll split the difference between what's normal for you and what he thinks is normal for me. That's not actually important, though." I breathe in the scent of him and sigh. "I do know if you die, I will, too. I'm not saying that like it's a bad thing... just... well, before the bond was complete, I thought it was probably so. But now? Yeah, you're so much a part of me now, that... well, just don't die until you're exceptionally old, okay? I have things I have to do, and I can't do them if I'm dead, you know?"

I'm babbling again, but it's just because I'm scared. No, not scared. I'm terrified. To know it would be possible to heal him from almost anything, and not know how...

I became a Taijiquan Master so I could learn to control my qi, control my Curse. If there's a path that will help me learn to heal Pablo as easily as I heal myself, I need to find it.

He holds me in his arms, gently stroking my back to comfort both of us. It must be quite a disturbing thought to know that if he got himself killed that it would cause my death. I have a feeling he's going to be wearing that Kevlar vest a whole lot more than he has in the past.

"I will do my vest best not to get killed," he promises, kissing my forehead gently, a tender promise sealed with a kiss.

Pablo simply holds me, and when I finally stop babbling, he chuckles softly. "We'll work it out, Andi. Don't think about it so hard.

"Now, how long do you think it's going to take Bobby to come over? He's got to be burning with curiosity."

I look up at my husband with a knowing smile to answer his question about Bobby. "Probably around noon or so; he'll drop by ostensibly to invite us to lunch. Then, once we're in his lair, he'll torture us by pretending not to care at all until we're so weakened by his indifference that we spill our guts.

"Um, not literally, of course, because that would be gross." I giggle and hug him tightly. "Come upstairs and snuggle on the sofa with me. Since it was your idea to slice your hand open — and there better not be any blood on my floor — you must kiss me until my energy is restored! We need the strength to resist the evil baker's inquisition!"

Weird. I can faintly feel his anguish. I didn't mean for my words to upset him. But I suppose a normal person who isn't facing a life long enough to survive great-nieces and great-nephews — or if we're that lucky, great-grandchildren — wouldn't see an early death as a blessing. It's okay. I do want to have many, many years of living with this man, but since we are One now, even in death we'll be together. And last night, I think the beauty we saw was Nirvana or Heaven or whatever you want to call it; or as close to the Ever After as a human mind can interpret it perhaps. So, a hundred, two hundred, three hundred years from now, when it's time for us to move on to the next world, I'll be okay with it. But I'm SO not ready yet... there's too much life yet to enjoy.

For example, this kiss.

Pablo glances at his watch. Yes, he still wears a watch, even in this age of everyone owning a cell phone or some other digital device to remind them of the time. I think it's charming. "Then we should go cuddle now because it's already after eleven. And I did drop blood on the floor, love," he admits, a bit hesitantly. "Sorry. Where do you keep your cleaning supplies? I'll clean it up."

And the ones we'll share after he cleans my floor.

I get up, shake my head and smile at him. "Come, my dear... I will show you where the cleaning supplies are. Then we must cuddle and snuggle and kiss before my oh so curious neighbor arrives. Let's see, should we be waiting expectantly on the front steps, or appear at the door totally disheveled? Which option do you think would be most disconcerting to our inquisitor?" I grin wickedly.

"I could show up just in my boxer-briefs and you in my shirt. Can you imagine the expression he would have?" he says, laughing. "Of course he's going to see my car out there."

He walks with me to the closet where I keep my cleaning supplies, and pulls out a bucket, some cleaner and a sponge from the shelves. We head back downstairs, and he gets down on his hands and knees to clean the blood drippings off the dojo floor.

"That you're here obviously won't be a surprise. Your car parked in my driveway— something I rarely let anyone do — will drive him crazy," I say with a giggle. "But you in your underwear and me in your shirt would give him that heart attack we hoped for last night." I pause and hope I have a relatively innocent look on my face. "After all, you are sexy beyond measure. Rawr."

I laugh and go back upstairs to stretch out on the sofa while Pablo finishes cleaning the floor.

Thinking — probably too hard — about the intersection of health, healing, qi manipulation, and wondering how our Bond fits into the equation.

Once the floor is clean, we cuddle, talk and just enjoy each other's company on the couch. We've dressed for Bobby's arrival, or undressed actually. Pablo is wearing just his underwear, and I'm wearing only his shirt. And if the two of us chortle a little in anticipation of Bobby's appearance? Well, that's to be expected.

He's sprawled on the couch with his head in my lap when we hear the sounds of footsteps coming up the stairs.

And I sigh. "Darn it. The wuss sent David." I get up when David knocks on the door, leaving Pablo reclining in his skivvies. I open the door and gesture broadly, bowing a bit, too, and say, "Welcome, O Concubine of the Great Coward! For what reason dost thy lord and master send thee?"

David looks between the two of us, grins like a fool while pointing at both of us, and then looks down at me as I close the door behind him. "This little game you have going on, Miss Thing, would be why Bobby sent me to fetch you two. Girl! You almost made him pee himself last night, and until you two promise not to try killing him with your wild heterosexual antics, I'm going to be the errand boy." He looks over at Pablo, waggles his eyebrows, then turns back to me. "Don't promise anything, darling. I do so enjoy looking at your fiiiiiine heterosexual cutie. Sure you don't want to share?"

Pablo turns red and puts a pillow over his lap and sits perfectly still. I roll my eyes and slap David's arm. "Absolutely not! He's all mine, and I'm going to be selfish, selfish, selfish and keep him all to myself."

David laughs. "Well just be that way. Anyway, Bobby would like you both to come on over for lunch. In addition to the chicken, he'll be grilling you. I'm going to go tell him you were sitting here fully clothed playing gin rummy."

I raise an eyebrow. "Really?" I ask skeptically.

"Oh sure. Lull him into a false sense of security so you two can have another chance to freak him out." He winks at me. "That boy gets feisty when he's freaked out!"

"I thought we were going to have to swear not to try killing him."

David just waves the idea away. "Please! He'll forget all about it by next weekend." He put his hand on the doorknob. "Ten minutes?" he asks as he opens the door.

"Fine. Be gone with you, Minion of the Inquisition!"

He laughs again and waves. "Toodles!"

I lean against the door after closing it, cross my arms and pout. "Well, THAT was no fun!"

Pablo is still sitting with the pillow on his lap when I turn away from closing the door. The tips of his ears are burning, and his blush spreads all the way down his chest.

"Okay, that's the end of that then. Ah, guess, we had better get dressed. After Bobby's, maybe we could run over to my place. I'm going to need to at least pack my clothes and bathroom things and get them over here. We can take care of the other stuff during the week or whatever."

I walk over to my poor embarrassed lover, sit in his lap and wrap my arms around his neck, kissing his forehead. "David is going to keep teasing you, love. You are incredibly fine looking, and you know he doesn't mean anything by it. Well, except to tease." I look in his eyes, so deep and wonderful that I almost get lost every time. "If it genuinely bothers you, ask him to stop. He will, you know. If you ask. He's a decent person with integrity."

I kiss him again, then stand and take his hand. "Yes. Let's go face the Inquisition with dignity. And humor. Afterward, we'll fetch whatever you need from your apartment."

As we walk arm-in-arm to our neighbor's house about ten minutes later, I ask, "Will you need to rent a van to move your larger things over? I know both Kevin and Anna drive pickups... I'd be happy to ask for their time and vehicles unless you have friends or coworkers you'd call." I smile up at him. "Anna would do it just for the thrill of seeing me finally in love, although she wouldn't turn down pizza and beer either."

He's dressed in his nice slacks from last night and a casual button-up shirt, holding my hand as we walk next door.

"Yeah, I'll probably need a van, but I'll get a couple of the guys to give me a hand. We'll move the things we need to keep in one trip, and leave the rest at the church thrift store afterward," he says, squeezing my hand and smiling. "I know the gang at work is going to be extremely happy to hear the news. What about your friends at the library?"

"They'll be thrilled. And I'll be happy to have them stop their matchmaking!"

I can totally see why the teen set thinks walking around holding hands is so exciting. Because it is! It's even better, though, when your qi is flowing back and forth between the two of you holding hands. As we stroll up the walkway to Bobby's house, I say, "We should go on a honeymoon, so I don't have to stop doing this." I raise our hands a bit and squeeze his, then look up at Pablo's face. "This week would be perfect, but I suppose we'll have to wait until we both can arrange vacation time."

We walk up the stairs, and Bobby pulls the door open before I can even knock.

"You're LATE!"

"No, we're not. We're on Gay Standard Time; therefore, we're early."

He rolls his eyes and lets us in. "Andrea... you're impossible."

I smile sweetly and blow him a kiss. "I know. But you love me anyway."

Bobby sighs and steps aside, waving us in.

"Come on in. Can I get you two something to drink?" he asks, mouth twitching when saying you two. I know that look on his face. And can imagine what's going on inside that head of his. How in the world could this have happened and my best friend not confide in me? Bobby is obviously feeling a little miffed, and he's having trouble hiding it. If he didn't love me so much...

Pablo follows me in, still holding my hand and smiles at Bobby. "I had a wonderful time last night, Bobby. You certainly outdid yourself as usual."

Bobby has to smile a little. Appreciation for hard work is always welcome.

Oh yes, I can tell Bobby's annoyed with me... he's never one to bother hiding how he's feeling, almost like he's got a gigantic neon sign over his head. I truly hadn't wanted to hurt him. And I do kind of feel bad — at least a little bit — about what Pablo and I did. I walk over to him and give him a hug; a good one, a long one, the kind you give your best friend when you've done something that's made him upset.

"I'm sorry Pablo and I broke the news to you the way we did. Mostly." I move back a bit and put my hands on his shoulders. "The change in our relationship was quite sudden. And you have been kind of, um... overbearing? Well, extremely persistent anyway, in your matchmaking, and..." I frown, contrite. "I'm pretty sure it was my idea, so don't be mad at Pablo. I just wanted to get even a little for all the crazy-making you gave me, and..." I twist my fingers together, looking down at them instead of at Bobby. "...well, yeah, I guess maybe we're even."

I look up at him. "If it's any consolation, we were really, really miserable during the two days we avoided each other. And... I truly am sorry I upset you."

He hugs me back hard, wiping at his eyes when we part as he looks at me.

"Andi, all I wanted was for you to find some happiness in your life. It was so hard to have to see you alone when I could see that the perfect guy for you was right there in front of your nose, and you wouldn't open your eyes and see it." He sighs and reaches over to take both of my hands in his. "I'll be okay. I love you, girl. You're my BFF."

I lay one hand against Bobby's cheek. "Sweetie, I know. But happiness comes in all shapes and sizes, and I've been happy since I got back from China because most of my family is less than a day's ride away. What you see as lonely, I feel as peaceful. And it wasn't the right time for Pablo to be the perfect guy, Bobby. He needed to work out some things. We needed to get stuff out in the open neither one of us ever talked about before. And I needed to hear the right words at the right time from the right person." I smile. "In other words, Tita gave me a talking to."

He turns and looks at Pablo. "You better be good to her, Pablo, or you'll have me to answer to. You hear?"

Pablo nods solemnly, coming over to place a hand on both my shoulder and Bobby's shoulder.

"I swear that I will cherish her for all my days," he says quietly.

"God bless your Tita Kai," Bobby says, and then looks into Pablo's eyes as he makes his declaration, reading everything possible in those depths and finally nods.

When Pablo comes over, the combination of our qi swirling and his words made me feel warm and loved and happier than words could describe. I slide my hand around his waist.

"I'm happy now in the way you've always wanted me to be happy, Bobby." I tap him on the chest with my free hand. "So I'm going to share a little nugget of news." I wrap my other arm around my husband, looking up at him with a joyous smile, before looking back at Bobby.

"Pablo and I going to get married at Christmastime."

Behind Bobby, David is making a decent attempt at Snoopy's Happy Dance.

Bobby is smiling again by the time I drop my bombshell on him. So when I do mention getting married, his mouth gapes open and his eyes widened. A few seconds later, a squealing kind of whimper-like keening comes out, followed by his eyes tearing up in pure happiness. He throws himself at me, wraps his arms tightly around me and Pablo as he hugs and kisses us and covers us with tears of joy.

Pablo just laughs happily, and then reaches out his long arm and grabs David behind Bobby and pulls him into the happiness, as well.

With my arms around my beloved Pablo, having my best friend joyously weeping all over us, and having his true love join our circle of happiness... okay, I'm getting a bit weepy myself with the love spiraling around the room. Also, getting squashed by three guys, no matter how much I love them, is still getting squashed. There are two ways to extricate myself, and it's probably better to use the Andi is a delicate librarian approach rather than Ninja's way of doing things.

I start laughing and say, "I can see the headlines in The News tomorrow: Librarian crushed to death by cop, baker, and psychologist. There will be at least two exclamation points."

I wiggle my shoulders a little. "In other words... help! I need to breathe, guys!"

All three of the men release me, and I can breathe again. Bobby is smiling at me through his tears, and David puts his arm around his love, hugging him close.

"Come on, why don't we sit down and have some lunch. The two of you can tell us all about it," suggests David.

Pablo nods and reaches for my hand. "Come on love, I think we owe them the story, so Bobby doesn't fret himself to death."

"Bobby? Fret?" I laugh. "He'll fret no matter what. He'll just find something new to worry about," I say as we sit down at the table.

"True dat," David agrees. "He frets about 'the crazies' I work with, so when I reassure him I'm not working with crazy people, but mostly homeless kids, he starts fretting about them." He reaches over and gives Bobby a hug. "My man is a fretter, and there's not a thing anyone can say or do to stop him." He winks at us. "He's so CUTE when he frets!"

I smile. "See?" I say to Pablo, "We could share every sordid detail, and my best buddy will still fret." I take a sip of water while looking at Pablo. Some things Bobby absolutely does not need to know, and I'm not just thinking about the incredible sex. Oh, he'd probably be all too happy to hear about it, although I'm certainly not comfortable sharing it. Noooo... anything related to Ninja just needs to be kept confidential and private. I put the glass down and then lean back in the chair.

"Well." I look at Bobby with a half-smile. "I guess the best place to start the story is last week. You, my friend, had another one of your 'talks' with me before work. I had dinner with Pablo after work and..." I glance at Pablo. "...well, he kind of echoed your chat from the morning, and it made me a little crazy.

"I know you've been pushing me at Pablo since the first time he dropped by to visit after I moved it, but I've always counted Pablo as one of my closest friends. I just didn't think of him as boyfriend material — as you well know, because I only told you a million and a half times."

Straying off the path of literal truth, I think, is going to be a hallmark of this tale, starting right about now.

"And I wasn't getting the vibes from Pablo that he was interested in anything else."

Lies, lies... I'm such a lying liar!

"And he never said anything..." At least that part was true. " how was I supposed to know, right? I don't even know what got us both kind of upset at the restaurant, but we decided we should have a good long chat, so we came back to my place. And that was when he dropped the bomb on me that he's been in love with me for years. You think maybe I was a little freaked out? Yeah, well times that by like a bazillion." I smile at Pablo sitting beside me. "But he was the perfect gentleman that he's always been, and just gave me space to deal with whatever I was feeling."

I look back at Bobby. "We talked about all sorts of stuff, little things..." Ha! Yeah, little things like the fact that I'm one of Denver's two Supers. No big deal there, right? "...and more serious stuff, but that's Pablo's tale to tell if he wants to share it." I shrug. "So I stewed for a few days. I honestly just wanted to check in with my own feelings, you know? I wanted to make sure what I felt was the real deal. I didn't just want another boyfriend, and knowing how Pablo felt about me... well, I didn't want to rush into a relationship that I wasn't sure about. I didn't want to take the chance that it wasn't right and lose a dear friend. And how many times had I told you that?"

I look at Pablo, silently asking if he wanted to add to the first chapter. Then I began eating my salad.

Bobby has a little complacent smile on his face as I tell him the story, of course. But he turns to look at Pablo with a worried look at my allusion that there's part of the story only Pablo can tell. Ah yes, another thing for Bobby to fret about no doubt!

Pablo, on the other hand, looks strained, but he nods. "What Andrea... Andi... isn't saying is the reason I took so long to say anything, to acknowledge how I felt," he says, reaching a hand out for mine, needing my support. I know it's still so hard for him to talk about the past, but Pablo has known Bobby for nearly as long as I have. Pablo also knows he isn't going to let go of even a hint of an untold story. He's like a little terrier, just biting at your ankles and hanging onto your pants leg until you spill your guts.

"I was married a long time ago... got married when I was eighteen. My wife's name was Rosalia, and my son's name was Juan. I lost them thirteen years ago, I was twenty-two then. I was still in Patrol at the time, working the northeast side. My partner and I busted the top boss of the Tre Tre Crips. He was facing a minimum of fifteen years for violating his probation as well as assault and attempted murder. Danny and I were direct witnesses and also complainants since he shot at us before we put him down with a bullet in the shoulder. He knew that there was no way for him to get out of this one.

Pablo closes his eyes now.

"His people came to hit us on our drives into work. They got Danny, but they missed me. My wife and son were in my car. They were shot and killed on I-25."

Bobby's and David's eyes grow wide in horror and pain as Pablo tells his story. Bobby covers his mouth with his hand.

"Oh my God..."

"So... Well, it was hard for me to open up to Andrea... to put her at risk. I almost didn't..."

I hold his hand, lending him strength and giving him love through our bond. Hearing the story a second time doesn't make it any easier to hear, and now I feel the pain of it even more because our souls are so completely woven together. With a tear trailing down my cheek, I raise his hand to my lips and kiss it... then lean into a hug, whispering in his ear, "I love you, my beloved."

"Andi, aren't you horribly afraid?" I hear David ask.

I sit up again but continue holding Pablo's hand as I look across at Bobby and David.

"The bad people were trying to kill Pablo, not his family. I'm way more afraid for him than I am for me," I reply.

And that's the truth, although perhaps not the whole truth. Even if the thugs he deals with came after me, they'd find a surprise they never bargained for and for which they could never be prepared. Yeah, my cover would be blown, but there'd be dead thugs instead of a dead Andi... and I think that's the better outcome. I can't even mention the less than savory characters who might decide my spouse and any children we might have would make a convenient target. Bobby would never stop fretting.

I manage a smile. "But he's promised to be very careful and safe."

"My heart aches for your loss Pablo, but I can't think of a single person in the world who can help heal it better than Andi," Bobby says quietly. He reaches over to grasp Pablo's hand for a moment.

I look at Bobby and shake my head. "I know you meant well all these years, but... really... things happen when they're supposed to happen. Neither of us was ready to make this kind of commitment, although Pablo did get here a little bit ahead of me.

"It wasn't until I went out to Flagstaff, surrounded by my family, seeing how..." I shake my head. It's something so difficult to explain, this connection I can see between couples who have twined their hearts and energy and souls together. I smile... I can't help it when I think about my family. "Papa and Tita, my parents, my aunts and uncles, my cousins... heck, even my brother when he talks about his girlfriend... I thought, 'Dang, I gotta get me some of that!' And wouldn't you know it? There was Pablo, just fitting in like he'd been part of the family for years.

"I'd gone into visit Tita when she was in the ICU, and... you know, I don't even know what we were talking about, but she said something that... that just turned my brain off, I guess. She got me to see what was truly in my heart." I look up into Pablo's eyes. "That's when I knew I was ready to make this kind of commitment."

Bobby and David look at each other as I talk about the connection between my relatives and smile softly, turning back to look at us.

"I could always see that connection between you two whenever I saw the two of you together. You don't know how happy you've made me and David. You know we'll always be here for you guys if you need us," Bobby says.

"If there's ever a time you're worried someone might be dangerous, you come to us when Pablo isn't home. Nothing will happen to you here," David adds. David is always so soft spoken and gentle that it's easy to forget he bears a striking resemblance to a bodybuilder.

I can hardly stand how sweet David is in offering to protect the little delicate librarian. I should probably remind them of a teensy tiny detail that is intimately part of Ninja, but it's still very much a little delicate librarian Andi thing, too.

"You're such a sweetheart, David. But remember little Andi has Kung Fu hands." I giggle. "That's how I met Pablo in the first place, silly! I beat up a frat boy." I look at Pablo and wink.

David smiles at me, taking one of my hands and kisses it. "I remember, Andi. But I also know we all need someone to stand with us in times of trouble," he says wisely.

Bobby pours the wine into four crystal glasses. "I would like to make a toast," he says, raising his glass. "To a long life filled with love, passion, and joy."

Bobby's toast is utterly perfect. After we all raise our glasses and drink, I look between my best friend and his dream man.

"So... when are you two getting married?" I ask as I smile at them with the same expression Bobby has been giving me for years. Paybacks are a... lot of fun.

Bobby smiles and shrugs. "Well, Colorado sure as heck isn't going to recognize us, so I guess David and I will have to go to Vermont and get married someday," he says with a sigh. "Stupid politicians."

"Yeah, for such a great place, Colorado is just a little bit backward." I roll my eyes. "Don't even get me started on the subject of politicians! But you could go to Connecticut or New York or... let's see, I think New Hampshire, too. Oh, and Massachusetts, of course!" I grin at Bobby. "I think somebody slipped some gay into the water out there in the Northeast."

I drink another sip of water and begin cutting the chicken.

"Where would you guys go on your honeymoon," I ask. "Besides Provincetown, of course?"

"St. Bart's. It's a lovely little island with the best beaches, and people as so easy-going there. We could frolic in the water and soak up some rays together," Bobby says, smiling at the thought, especially now that we're heading toward the unpredictable Colorado winter.

"You know, that's a fair question for you, too. Where do you two want to honeymoon at?" David asks.

I look at Pablo, consider the matter for a minute, and then shrug before turning back to David.

"We haven't discussed it, and I haven't even thought about it. There's so much of the United States that I haven't seen..." I tilt my head and look sidelong at Pablo. "You know... we might consider going to Mexico and seeing the lands of your ancestors."

"Well, we could. I've never been there," he says.

"Oh, there are some fabulous resorts down there! Very exotic and romantic," Bobby says with a wink.

© Kelly Naylor and Ken Seggebruch; artwork © Kelly Naylor