Bridge Over Troubled Water

The pain of not feeling so many of her relatives had been worse than any physical pain Maria had even felt. Or at least she had been sure of that when she'd stepped through the portal and her connection to them had been severed. She hadn't realized that was how her Curse worked... there had never been any reasons to examine it; it always seemed like such a minor thing compared to her shapeshifting and healing. It wasn't something she'd used more than a dozen times since Uncle Justin died all those years ago.

It was, or had been until today, little more than a parlor trick.

That had probably been an idiotic move on her part... not delving into the mechanics of how it worked. She and cousin Billy had only talked about how to shift and all the dangers involved in shifting during their endless talks after she'd first learned she was a shapeshifter. Beyond "get a clear vision in your mind and think about being it," there wasn't much to the nitty gritty details of shapeshifting. Doctor McCoy had been fascinated with the minute details of her healing ability, but she had only cared about how to control it. Normals didn't worry about how the eyes took in light so they could see or how the tiny alveoli in the lungs exchanged oxygen for carbon dioxide when they breathed. Sure, an overview of seeing and breathing is interesting to know; in the same way, a broad overview of her shifting, healing and finding Curse was all Maria had been interested in. And if she was honest, doing the actual shifting, healing and finding someone had really been the things she was interested in anyway.

Now that she thought about it, maybe her Curse was more equivalent to a Normal person learning to walk as toddlers or toss a baseball as a child. Who thought about what the muscles were doing? It was all about the whole everything moving together thing, not the excruciatingly precise details of how everything worked.

Of course, now — a hundred and some odd years later — she was having second, third and fourth thoughts on the matter. She wished she had been a little more interested in understanding just how it was that she'd think of a person and know precisely where they were. On the other hand, until today... thinking of someone and knowing precisely where they were had just been, as she had so often thought, a parlor trick. Well, except for that one time that she was able to reassure Kai that Ed was fine.

Her first instinct had been to reach for her twin. He was the one who knew her better than anyone else. Paul was the one who'd been a part of her life, her heart, her soul since before they'd decided to join this messy thing called life for another trip through the experience.

So Mom's actions and reactions to her and Vin, since they'd arrived on Everness, had been puzzling. And the fact that she insisted that the two of them were married was ludicrous. The fact that Aunt Lin could see a Bond between them was insane!

Maria was an exceptional woman in many ways. Being good at denying her truest feelings and the reality of her heart — a reality that was plain and simple for everyone except her to see — was just another of her exceptional skills.

Holding Vin's hand had helped soothe the pain, though. And once they'd wrapped their arms around one another, it hadn't taken more than a few seconds to finish weaving the karmic shield around her heart and dan tian and chakra. She was still in shock and simply couldn't fathom how it was possible for Mom to be right. Not that it was possible for Mom to be wrong about anything related to qi... but Maria was having a really, really hard time understanding how Mom could be right.

She and Vin had the vantage point of seeing Uncle Logan's double ram his claws into Mom's side. She winced... not because she felt the physical pain like Aunt Lin apparently did, but because she could easily imagine how it felt. When this Jimmy individual had removed his claws — and he had bone claws like Em, not the adamantium ones like Uncle Logan — and Mom backed away, Maria's free hand dropped to her side. She would be able to draw the knife strapped to her thigh in less than a heartbeat if the man tried to hurt Mom again. It didn't take any special skills to know Vin and Paul and Em and Aunt Lin and Uncle Logan were also prepared to keep Jimmy from touching Mom again. That was just knowing every member of her family was a deadly weapon, and understanding how important family is to the Diné.

Once the drama was over, however, and Aunt Lin had... well, she had basically told them to get lost and get their shit together. On the one hand, that was reasonable. Every member of a squad needed to be at their peak. On the other hand, she did not... absolutely did not... understand what shit there was to get together.

Vin met his mother's eyes and nodded before heading inside with Maria.

Vin led her into the Ha'atathli's house, and she'd stopped a moment to see how eerily similar it was to her mother's house. It wasn't just the fact that it was the house cousin Tommy had asked cousin Yani's husband to design and build. That she could understand; if there had been a Tommy and a Daniel in this universe, Tommy of this universe probably would have asked Daniel of this universe to do the same. No, the eerie thing was the fact that her Mom's double seemed to have the same preferences in colors and patterns and furniture styles as her Mom. She was a little surprised to see a Bodhi Tree where Mom had her desk and computer, but she was starting to understand that Earth in this universe was not as technologically advanced. Or maybe it had slipped backward. Maria wasn't sure it mattered since the result was the same.

She unerringly led them to the guest bedroom, where she let go of Vin's hand. She dropped down on the bed and held her head in her hands as she bent over, resting her elbows on her knees.

"I don't know what's going on, Vin. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I love you... you know I do. But I didn't want to tie your heart to mine forever. I'm sorry."

She could feel the tears starting to fall, but Maria didn't care. She just felt like she'd really, really screwed up something incredibly important.

When she sank onto the bed, he did not sit beside her but instead knelt in front of her and took her hands into one of his and lifted her chin with the other. His heart and soul were in his eyes.

"Maria, you have nothing to be sorry for," he told as he reached up to gently wipe her tears. "I'm just as much at fault. I tried not to care too much, but I can't help it. I can't imagine being with anyone other than you. I don't want to be. And being together for eternity, I can absolutely live and die with that.

"If it means we have what your Mom and Dad have, and my Mom and Dad and Oncle Rene have, I'm okay with that. Well, even though the thing with my folks and my brother's Dad is kind of weird."

He went quiet for a minute, knowing there was one more thing to say or ask, and was somewhat afraid of what the response might be.

"It does explain the things Em would say the couple times she came to the school over the last ten years. She'd always catch me when no one else was around. I always told her that she was imagining things, but... Well, then she'd give me that look of hers and walk out."

He sat back on his heels and stilled the instinct to reach out to another member of his family for advice. His Mom and sister had already said their piece. All they would say to him now was that he should grow a pair and face it.

"Maria..." he started, then had to swallow nervously and clear his throat.

"Maria, I don't understand much about the whole qi thing. I probably get that from my folks, you know, as long as it works who cares how...?"

He took another deep breath and blew it out. He could feel the sweat on his palms, and maybe later he would wonder about why he was so nervous. He had literally known Maria her entire life. In the beginning, she and her twin had been something of a nuisance, at which complaint Leon had laughed long and loud. He could hear his older brother's voice still. Yeah, I have no idea what that's like. Even Jenny had laughed and ribbed both him and Em about it.

"But I do know that I love you, and...

"And what Aunt Andi... your Mom... said out there...

"That, um...

"Husband and wife...

"I'd... I'd like that... a lot... if... if you'd be willing... if you'd be willing to have me?"

He didn't know what he'd do if she said no. In the immediate here and now, he could probably get Paul to open the portal, and he'd go back to their own world, go back to the school...

"Will you? Have me? Be my wife, Maria Yazzie-Garcia?"

Maria heard Vin's words. She really did. She just couldn't process them. She just stared at him... probably with her mouth hanging open because she could practically hear Grandma Sandy's voice in her head. Are you waiting for a fly, Maria? You didn't get enough protein at dinner, did you? So now you're waiting for bugs to come to you?

She blinked and tried to parse what Vin had said, but all she could manage to say was, "You... but... I... you what?" Not understanding made her feel... well, stupid. She bit her lip; maybe that would help her stop crying. Or not.

Maria slid off the bed to kneel with Vin, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and burying her face in his neck.

"I don't understand," she whispered. "Dad didn't understand it, and I don't understand it, and I feel..." She had to stop to let another sob out; as much as she tried to hold it in, it wouldn't be contained. "I love you. I know that. Nothing else makes sense right now, Vin."

Long, very long minutes, quite a few very long minutes passed as she simply held him. Why hadn't Paul said something? He should have said something. This was definitely the sort of thing that he'd tease her about... endlessly. But he hadn't. Why hadn't he? And Mom had been mad. Well, that part she understood... Maria was glad to understand something. She and Vin were from the same clan, and that was wrong. Maybe that's why she couldn't really grasp what Vin was asking. Sure, she could rationalize it into a place in her brain where it might make sense by saying that Aunt Lin was adopted into Ts'ah Yisk'idnii. That her birth clan was... wow, she didn't even know if Aunt Lin would consider her birth clan Bilagáana or Nááts'ózí.

But adoptions were serious matters. Maria was pretty sure Aunt Lin had officially been adopted into the Diné Nation and the Ts'ah Yisk'idnii clan and the Yazzie family.

He wrapped his arms around her and held her, not saying a word, not that he would have had any idea what to say in any case. He had to concentrate on remembering to breathe. He was sure she would push him away any minute and say she couldn't, that it was impossible. He also firmly kept his thoughts to himself, not wanting to unduly influence her. If she did say yes he wanted it be of her own accord.

Except Mom said they were already married, and that so very much didn't make any sense. Mom believed in following tradition... and according to tradition, she and Vin couldn't get married. But Mom said they were! And she didn't seem mad anymore, just annoyed that she and Vin were idiots. Well, she was the idiot, really. Wasn't she supposed to carry the traditions of the Diné in her heart and mind? Oh, it was just too confusing!

And yet, Mom seemed... mostly okay with whatever she and Vin had inadvertently done. And the mostly was only because they'd broken tradition. At least, Maria thought that's the only thing that upset Mom. She sure wished she could talk to Dad right now. He'd understand her confusion. Probably. Maybe.

Every long minute she did not speak, he worried more. Whatever her decision, he would abide by it. Absolutely he would, there was no question of that. He loved her too much not to. And so he waited and held her and nearly bit his lip in two with worry.

Maria managed to take a deep breath without it being cut off by another sob. She let herself relax, and simply breathed slowly as her tears subsided. Surprisingly — no, not really — it was easier to think when she was relaxed. However, when she was relaxed, she didn't need to think. Vin's question had the clarity of crystal, and her answer was obvious.

Funny how that worked, wasn't it?

She straightened up so she could look at Vin's face, her arms still resting on his shoulders. She took a stab at smiling and managed one that looked and felt relaxed. "Well, if I understand this qi thing — and I'm not saying I do, because I guess I'm more like you and your family that way. Anyway, I'm pretty sure the question's been asked and answered before today. But sometimes it's good to say things out loud, so... yeah. Spending forever with you sounds like the best way to spend forever. I would have dithered and worried and freaked out even more if you had asked before we..." Maria made a face and shrugged. "...well, before we did whatever we did. But I still would have said yes."

When she finally lifted her head and smiled, he smiled back though a bit self-consciously. He listened to her words, wished for the second time today he had just a touch of Em's gift. He thought she was saying yes, but...

He had to be absolutely sure.

"So, are you saying yes now?"

Maria laughed softly and brushed the backs of her fingers gently over his cheek and jawline.

"Of course I am, you flake! But thank you for making me feel like I'm not the only clueless nincompoop in the family."

She sat back on her heels and shifted to sitting tailor fashion in what appeared to be one fluid motion. She tugged Vin's hand as she leaned against the side of the bed. "Sit with me, Vin." She closed her eyes and sighed. "I'm still really confused, but I'm going to try not to obsess too much until we get home. Your Mom's got some scheme, I just know she does, and she's going to smack me if I get distracted."

Resting her head on the mattress, she realized just how frantic the day had been... from waking up in fear and panic, to rushing across several solar systems, to the awful healing of Uncle Logan, to jumping through a portal into an entirely different universe where some scumbag loser threatened her Mom, to Mom browbeating her and Vin. Maria sighed again.

He smiled with relief and gladly dropped down next to her. He snagged her hand with his and brought it to his lips.

"When does my Mom not have some kind of scheme? And now that we're here, it undoubtedly involves us. And don't worry; she'll probably smack me first with your Mom's staff."

He reached up and rubbed the back of his head remember a time when she had done just that. Well, except it wasn't Aunt Andi's staff, but her own given to her by her Sifu years before.

"Do you want to make a big deal about this when we get back?" she asked as she opened her eyes and turned her head to look at Vin. "If our mothers think that's what needs to happen... well, there won't be any way out of it. But I feel like there are so many people I'd wish could be at a big deal thing..." She pressed her lips together tightly for a moment and swallowed hard. "Well, there are too many people missing who should be part of that kind of thing, you know?"

She smiled weakly. "I guess that's to be expected when the bride is over a hundred and fifty years old, huh?"

"Gods, no, no big deal, please… unless you want to, of course, but I think there will be enough of a brouhaha at the school when we get back."

He shifted and leaned his shoulder against the bed to face her. He stroked her cheek with his knuckles.

"It isn't just the bride that's over a hundred and fifty you know," he teased.

"I agree, too many are missing. I know Leon would have wanted to be there. Uncle Charles too… so many more, but they'll be with us in spirit."

She groaned. "No. I don't even want any brouhaha, and I know that's not going to be avoided."

But then Maria smiled. "I know. When Paul and I realized you and Em were going to be our cousins, we got stupid giddy. And then Mom would yell at us for trying to break the Guinness Book of World Records for her in the category of most injuries sustained during pregnancy. I don't think there is such a category, by the way. And then it took us years to learn how to talk! So, yes, old guy. I know."

He leaned in and kissed her softly.

Like his kiss this morning — was it only this morning? — this one felt more... well, just more. It was soft and sweet and tender... yet it flooded her senses. Amazing and fantastic images danced across her eyelids, startling her. She backed up slightly to look at Vin, then blinked slowly. Those images were sort of still there.

"Um... you know how I get a clear picture of something in my mind, and then just... let go? And then I Shift? And you how Billy was always Shifting into the oddest things?"

Oh, yes, he certainly knew how Billy Shifted into the oddest things. It was one of the things that had so enamored him and Em when they had all first met those many years ago. A purple cow, Mickey Mouse, various other and sundry cartoon characters as well as creatures of myth and fantasy like that centaur.

"Yeah, I do. But what does that have to do with us? And now?"

"Well... I don't normally see anything when, you know, I kiss you or anything. It's about the feelings... when..." She smiled, although it was a brief flicker. "Well, just now I saw... I don't know what I saw... but I'm... well, I just want to let go and fall into the feelings like I always do, but..." Maria looked both embarrassed and worried. "Well, I don't want to just let go and Shift either."

From the other side of the room, a rumbling chuckle sounded; from beside her, Maria heard the familiar sound of Deer's laughter.

She was mildly surprised to see Cougar; she hadn't seen any of the Spirits other than Deer since her Kinaaldá. But she was more concerned about Deer's laughter. She looked up at her guardian Spirit, a look of resigned remorse on her face. "What did I do wrong this time?"

Deer brushed its soft muzzle against Maria's cheek. "You've done nothing wrong, little one. You have only seen our True Forms."

Maria looked at Deer and then Vin then Cougar and finally back to Deer. "Sometimes... okay, most of the time, I feel like the slightly less bright member of this family. Why do I see Cougar? I shouldn't see Cougar."

He was about to answer Maria when he started at the sudden presence of Deer then felt his own guardian Spirit beside him. He looked at one Spirit and then the other and back to Maria, eyes wide. He was accustomed to the physical presence of the Spirit of Leon's father as well as his mother's guardian Cat. It was just Cat's way, but he hadn't even seen Em's guardian except on very, very rare occasions.

Cougar got up and padded to Vin's side. "Of course you should," it said to Maria. "You are the Mate of the one I guard and guide. It is the way of things."

Maria still looked incredibly confused. "But..." She shook her head. "That's why Dad could see all of Mom's guardian Spirits?" Deer nodded. "Well, but he said he could see more than just Fox and Cobra and Bear and Opossum... before he became one of you, I mean."

Deer and Cougar exchange a look, inscrutable cubed at the very least. "Very likely it is because your mother is the Warrior."

"Uh huh," Maria said, perhaps a tad suspiciously. Then she looked at Vin. "I don't want to be the dumb one and the crazy one. Please tell me you can see Deer."

He nodded slowly. "Yes, I see Deer. Cougar, too, but..."

He offered only a shrug. "I suppose this means we got our shit straightened out as our Moms said we should."

He did look at Cougar and Deer for confirmation, though.

Maria looked relieved that Vin admitted to seeing Deer and relaxed against his shoulder.

"I don't know what it means, Vin. I guess, if Cougar's right, then... yes?"

She tilted her head slightly and looked out the corner of her eye at Deer.

"I don't understand, though. Well, the part about me and Vin being able to see both of you makes sense. I guess. But I don't understand why we can see you at all. Dad and Uncle Rene and Cat were pretty adamant that they couldn't get through the portal into this universe."

"And that is true," Deer said. "Only physical beings can pass through a barrier like the one between your world and this. But just as your mother exists in both worlds, little one... and just as your father exists in both worlds, dear Vincent... we also exist in both worlds."

"It is true that Cat was confused at first... greatly confused, in fact. Though being Cat, our Sibling would never admit to such a thing," Cougar said with humor in its voice. "But we spoke with Great Spirit, who explained all. There is no need to be concerned."

Maria jerked up and stared between the two Spirits. "Wait. Great Spirit has a counterpart and they talk?"

Both Deer and Cougar chuckle again. "Oh, dear Maria! How I wish you were not just a visitor to this place," Deer murmured, nuzzling the woman's neck. "The conversations we could have!"

"Great Spirit simply... IS," explained Cougar. "Great Spirit is who Great Spirit is because..." Cougar actually looked a little puzzled, and Deer nudged its shoulder playfully.

"Great Spirit is all... everywhere and in every time. There is no place, no dimension, no universe — as you call them — no when that Great Spirit is not. There are places Great Spirit is harder to find, or so says Great Spirit for they are places we cannot go, but Great Spirit, as Cougar said, simply IS.

Maria blinked but considered that for a moment. "Well... okay. It's okay to tell Mom that, isn't it? Because I think it will make her feel better. I know she and Aunt Lin and Uncle Logan — well, Dad and Uncle Rene, too — like to talk to Great Spirit sometimes."

"I doubt there will be a need to tell her, as she is the Warrior and closer to Great Spirit than any other has ever been. But if it would ease your own mind, there is no harm in telling her." Deer tousled Maria's hair with its breath. "Your Mate stated it so much more interestingly; however, you have indeed accomplished the task your mothers set before you."

"If you don't mind my saying, we are so not impressed with the version of my father this world has."

What he said next wasn't so much holding a conversation as it was thinking things through aloud. "So, only our long-lived parents have counterparts here, except Mom, but if she hadn't met Dad then she wouldn't be. So Mom and Tio Pablo probably had normal life spans as they obviously never met Dad and Aunt Andi... Wow, so other than Dad's counterpart, my family doesn't exist here at all although I suppose Leon could have. I wonder if there's any way to find out since both he and Oncle Rene were mutants..."

Maria looked at him in the same way pretty much everyone did when Mom started talking about her theories, and connectedness of stuff, and... well, just weird Mom stuff.

He then realized the looks he was getting from his wife HIS WIFE!!! and the Spirits.

"Sorry," he said with a somewhat sheepish grin. "It's something that intrigues me."

"And I am relieved we aren't going to get hit by Aunt Andi's staff," he admitted reaching up to rub the back of his head. "That's happened enough as it is."

"I suppose we should go let them know we got our shit figured out. But first I could use another kiss to fortify me against the scornful, scathing looks we are sure to get from our parents and siblings."

"Um, you know... I'm pretty sure you'd get a different reaction if you start talking like that around Mom," Maria said, smiling. "Actually, since the rest of us tend to stare blankly at her when she goes on about stuff like that, it might even save you from a few staff cracks in the future. You know, brownie points." Then she grinned. "Or call it sucking up to the teacher. Either way, I think the two of you might be the only two people in the world to care about all that."

She hugged him tightly for a moment before allowing herself to get lost in his kiss, to let go, to not worry about anything... to simply feel. And when she did let go, she fell into a place she'd always known, a place she'd always felt safe: Vincent's heart. He was her friend, he was her lover, he was her husband... at least for as long as this life lasted.

She hadn't planned that... oh, the friend part, yes. She and Paul had been thrilled to reconnect with the souls that called themselves Vincent and Emelia in this life. It had been a very long time since they'd all shared the same space and time. But the unexpected turn of events that led to her being Vincent's wife... that's what made this whole living thing so interesting.

This time when she pulled back, her smile reflected the serenity in her heart. She rested a hand over Vin's heart. "Now I get it."

"Good idea. I can use all the brownie points with your Mom I can get since I have no hope of scoring any with mine."

A kiss to make all the worlds stop, at least that's how it felt to him. Time seemed to melt away into nothing and every care vanished. He held her close and tangled his fingers in her hair. He breathed in deeply of a scent that was her and only her. He may not have been Feral like his father and sister, but he had understood from early on the effect of scent.

He felt like he was grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Cat when she looked at him like that after the kiss. He sighed happily.

Then Maria chuckled. "Our Moms might give us scornful, scathing looks... but Uncle Logan never struck me as the type to do anything more than accept what is. Em will probably roll her eyes and make some sort of sarcastic comment... but Paul is a lot like your Dad."

She took his hand and tugged lightly, then stood in a single, graceful movement... almost like a plant sprouting from the ground to reach for the sun.

"Let us face what awaits us together, dear husband. We're X-Men, after all. We'll face our destiny with courage." She paused, tapping her chin with a forefinger. "Hmmm. That might be overly melodramatic... definitely more Dad's style. And Uncle Rene's." Then she giggled. "Come on, Vin. Let's go face the music."

"If you think they won't jump on this opportunity to tease... I guess it's a good thing Leon isn't here, 'cause he would absolutely not let it go."

He rose with her, chuckling at her words. "Yeah, I think Oncle Rene's been a bad influence on your Dad. I like the simple approach better."

He did sneak in one more quick kiss before they exited the house. "I love you."

© Kelly Naylor and ividia kt