On the Road Again

"Craziness, indeed.

"If it's crazy to do a number on these assholes, to want to leave this world a better place — and it is, trust me — well, we're all nucking futz.

"But I'll tell ya... crazy is the best chance of getting this world back on track. Because status quo sure the hell ain't working."

Madeline smiles a lopsided grin. "Crazy I can do."

Then she turns toward the kids and makes herself heard. "Already everybody, saddle up!"

She directs the kids to load up in Tori's car before shooing her Mate and Sister into the rust bucket. To Tori, she says, "I want us to get used to traveling together while we're still in friendly territory. We can swap places in Bernalillo. There's a gal there I need to check in with. I'll take the lead in case the damn thing needs a push."

Tori nods then walks around to her patrol vehicle as Madeline climbs into the battered pickup. She puts it into reverse, backs out and pulls onto the road. It's done all gently, more out of concern for them not having a ride than for its owner. This wasn't a trip unknown to her, although the times she had been out this way were few. Plus, out here, getting lost would be difficult to do on such a short drive. She bypasses the KOA site once they reach Bernalillo and goes right to the building of the Council office.

"Stretch while you can. The next bit is considerably longer," she tells everyone.

Madeline is certain Tori understands, but her family may not yet have quite grasped how long it takes to get from one point to another.

"I'll be right back."

It's only pure luck that Dennis is still at the Council office this late in the day. He had gotten back to Bernalillo late in the morning from visiting his cousin's family in Nageezi but had come into the office anyway. There are always so many little things that need to be done.

Mrs. Benally, of course, almost always winds up staying late. She has a hard job... Bernalillo might be one of the smallest specks in the Tribal Council, but with it being the office closest to the I-40 border crossing comes with a lot of challenges.

He sighs. So many people lately! He so very much hopes Madeline and the two children are safe and sound. They had been scared, the little ones... but they seemed like such sweet children.

Sometimes he wonders if Mrs. Benally is right... that he should become a teacher. He hasn't felt the pull to really consider that... not a strong enough pull anyway. When he voices his doubts though, she just laughs at him in her good-hearted way.

Well, you're only nineteen, Dennis. Your brain will catch up to your body and heart in a few years. In the meantime, Spirits know I appreciate your help.

The thing is, he really likes working for Mrs. Benally, too. And except for when the White Man comes to bother her, it's fascinating Nation business. Since he's good with numbers as well, he does what little bookkeeping they need to do.

At the moment, Dennis is looking over the proposal they had gotten from the Zuni Council for repair to The Highway, but he looks up when the door opens. He wouldn't have been able to hide his surprise if he had tried.

Madeline crosses what passed for a sidewalk and pushes open the door to look around. Spotting one of the people she was looking, for she smiles widely and greets him in Diné Bizaad.

"Heya, Dennis, is Cindy around? I did find my family, or rather they found me, and I'd like you both to meet them."

"Madeline! You look..."

He remembers his manners and blushes.

"Sorry," he says as he stands. "Wow. So quickly! That's wonderful! Let me get Mrs. Benally."

He doesn't actually skip, but Madeline's smile and her news have obviously given him a wagonload of happiness.

Only a moment later, Cindy comes around the corner from the short corridor, smiling every bit as broadly as Madeline is. It accentuates the laugh lines around her eyes and mouth; clearly, she is more accustomed to smiling than to worrying.

"Dennis said you found your family!" she says, taking Madeline's hand in both of hers rather than shaking it. "Obviously, we share your joy! Are the children well? I assume you found people to care for them."

Madeline accepts Cindy's hands with ease.

"Yes, I did," she confirms. "And, yes, the children are well. They have found a place with the family I sought in Nageezi. Like I remember, there is always room in the hearts and homes.

"Finding my family did take going to Ganado to see Ha'atathli Yazzie, in a manner of speaking. Come out and meet them."

"I'm so glad!" Cindy says.

Dennis, too, is smiling brightly. It might be the best part of his job to see people settled where they are cared for... especially the children.

Madeline pauses until Dennis has caught up as well and ushers them both outside to where her Pack and Tori Walking Eagle wait. Everyone has exited the vehicles and are looking about. She assumes they are, once again, comparing the differences between the worlds.

They follow Maddie outside. It would have been hard to miss the truck out front... the same one Maddie and the children had arrived in only two days prior. The Tribal Police SUV is a bit surprising, as is the police officer leaning against it, talking quietly with Cory.

The people between the two vehicles — six of them — are chatting cheerfully. Well, they aren't all chatting, but there is enough happiness that it seems like it. One of the women looks vaguely familiar to Dennis... and his eyes widen a bit when she lightly slaps one of the young men on the back of his head, and the rest of them laugh. Including the young man!

"My sister Andi and my Mate Logan."

And when Madeline introduces the woman and the man who turn around, Dennis thinks he might just fall right over right then. It's that terribly unpleasant man she'd arrived with!


No, it isn't.

Cindy, too, is momentarily stunned to see a radically different Jimmy — but not Jimmy — standing outside. Maybe it's a trick of the light... or lack thereof.

She recovers more quickly; after all, Cory doesn't seem the least bit concerned. She steps forward to shake their hands.

"I'm Cindy Benally; this is my assistant, Dennis Moore. Madeline was so very much hoping to find you. It seems to have done her a world good to have actually done so. And so quickly!"

The man, Logan... not Jimmy. No, definitely not Jimmy. He shakes their hands politely. The woman, Andi, ruffles the young man's hair before shaking hands with them. She chuckles as she shakes their hands.

Logan doesn't need to be as charming as dear Rene to win over these folks. He simply has to be himself, which is in direct contrast to the man who had been with Madeline when she first came through here.

"Well, we noticed she went missing," Andi says with a fond glance at Madeline, "and had to come see what kind of mischief she'd gotten herself into this time."

"You... you're..." It's all Dennis can manage to get out as he shakes her hand.

Andi laughs. But not in a mean way. Oh, he is so confused!

Madeline wears a smile at their reactions.

"I probably should have warned you, but it would have taken longer to explain," she tells Cindy and Dennis by way of apology.

"Maddie, you hurt the poor Empath." She turns a bright smile back on Dennis and pats his shoulder. "It's okay, son. I know. I've gotten that reaction from just about everyone. Blah blah, oh my gosh, you sure do look like Elder Yazzie!" She winks at him. "Am I right... or am I right?"

Dennis can only nod. He feels so stupid. That's exactly who she looks like! He'd met the Elder once, a couple of years ago. It's so strange. But he remembers how calm and soothing Elder Yazzie had been. Andi isn't, not exactly calm, but sort of calm and sort of fierce.

And the person who isn't Jimmy. He seems... well... nice. But fierce, too.

Andi chuckles again. "Maria, honey? You want to help Dennis out here? He's doing his thing again."

What? How does she know? How could she possibly discern that he gets overwhelmed like this?

The pretty dark-haired woman who's holding hands with one of the young men comes over and takes his hand.

"We'll take care of Den, Aunt Lin."

And he finds himself surrounded by four people who seem to know him, who just seem to just get him right away. He isn't sure who these people are, but... well, he feels like he's... home.

He catches their names, of course — Maria is the pretty one who had taken his hand, and Vin is her husband. What a lucky guy! The other young man is her brother, Paul. Dennis can tell that he's... well, maybe a bit of a mischief maker, but never in a way that would purposefully hurt someone. How does he know that? He never picks up that much information about people.

And the other young woman, who has such pretty eyes, is Em. She seems a lot like Madeline... and when Maria explains that she's Madeline's daughter, that just makes sense. She's very strong on the inside, just like Madeline. But she seems a little sad, too. How does he even know that?? It makes him want to just give her a hug and tell her that everything will be okay, except... well, he doesn't know that. And it wouldn't be right to tell that to a grown-up, even though the four of them don't seem to be a whole lot older than he is. Still, it wouldn't be right.

Cindy looks between Dennis and Madeline, smiling wryly.

"Well, I don't know what your family's done to my assistant, Madeline," she says with a soft laugh. "I don't think I've ever seen him quite this bemused."

When the kids take over settling Dennis, and Madeline throws an apologetic glance and thought toward Andi. I didn't remember.

To Cindy, she says, "My family tends to have that effect on people. We're just fortunate they got most of their shenanigans out on the way up and at the Kinaalda yesterday."

"Kids..." Andi says in that weary way all mothers have.


"Sorry, Aunt Andi..."

"We didn't mean to, Mom..."

Maria Sandra, I know you fixed his broken switch in our universe. What are you four doing to that poor boy?

He was younger, Mom. And he's working himself into a tizzy. It's a brain thing; I can't fix it unless he's calmer.

It's Em who sighs. "I'll take care of him, Aunt Andi." There's almost an implied 'again' to her tone.

Thank you, Em dear.

Andi just smiles at Cindy as she tucks her hands into her jacket pockets and shrugs. "Distant relatives... the kids haven't seen Denny in so long, he probably doesn't even remember them."

The family, of course, will know that's just a little white lie.

"Apparently he made such an impression that they remember him." She chuckles. "He was a sweet little tyke... the kind that's hard to forget, you know?"

Cindy just nods, but then can't help smiling. "I do know... although usually, mothers are more daft for their own children."

Andi blushes... something that might actually have shocked her children if they'd been looking in her direction. "I enjoy the little ones. And mine gave me such a rough pregnancy that sometimes I forget that I've forgiven them."

At that, Cindy laughs. "I swear my oldest must have broken several ribs and tried to destroy most of my internal organs, so I can understand that." She pauses, and then asks, "So, Madeline said she'd been traveling out of the Nation for quite a while. I take it you were traveling with her?"

Andi glances at Madeline, but before either of them can speak, Tori interrupts.

"How about we chat over dinner?" she asks, hooking her thumb at the diner across the street. "I'd sure like a home cooked meal before going on Walkabout, and Cory's going to call that wicked brother of yours, Mrs. B. Should Danny pick up that devilishly handsome husband of yours on his way over?" She winks. "My treat. For everyone."

"I like the way you think, Tori," Madeline agrees. "We should all tank up before heading out, but are you sure you want to foot the bill? There are some large appetites here."

She slips her arm through Logan's as they all head toward the diner. The affection between them is just as evident as the animosity between her and Jimmy had been.

"In case you didn't quite catch all their names, Cindy, the red-tinted pair there are Emelia and Vincent, and the other two are Maria and Paul."

Tori waves away Madeline's question with a smile. "It's been a while since I've been on Walkabout. I've had a bit of time to save some pennies. Despite the slave wages of the Tribal Police Force..."

She keeps her composure and ignores Cory as he practically chokes to keep from laughing at her statement. Paul reaches over and pats his back. "Wow," he mumbles, "Mom's corrupted Tori already." Tori ignores him, too.

"...I'm sure I can spring for dinner." She holds Madeline's gaze for a moment, then gives her the tiniest nod. "Teresa was under the impression that Jeremy was going to dock my pay for the shopping trip to the Big Store. It's too bad he'll have to wait until I get back... I brought the bank with me."

"Yep. Mom's a bad influence on people," Paul continues to mutter.

Tori barely seems to move, but she flicks a finger against the side of Paul's head.

"Ow, ow, ow!"

The Deputy pats Andi's son on his head as though he's just a toddler.

"Oh, poor dear. You need to remember that I'm much older and sneakier than I look. It's not likely your mother is going to corrupt me."

Tori smiles as Paul backs away, momentarily unsure which way to head. Em is with Denny... not the best place to be at the moment. Mom and Aunt Lin won't be sympathetic; in fact, Mom is already grinning like Ninja. Great.

"Aren't you supposed to be the smart one?" Maria asks as he practically backs into her. She and Vin still stand between the two vehicles, while Em walks with Den toward the office door.

"No. Binny's the smart one. And that was worse than a Gibbs slap." He watches the Deputy walk toward the diner with Mom, Aunt Lin, Uncle Logan and the Councilwoman. Well, maybe Cindy Benally is on the Tribal Council in this universe; maybe she isn't. Deputy Lopez is walking back toward the station up the street, probably to radio Danny Miles.

"I meant between you and me, doofus." Maria rolls her eyes at him.

Paul looks at her and starts to say something. Then he just stops and looks at her.

Neither of them can see qi as easily as Mom can. Neither of them can manipulate qi as adroitly as Mom can. Paul can open a portal faster than Mom, but she can open bigger ones. And she can still find them or call them to her, depending on if you ask her or the Spirits what that nonsense is all about. Maria heals almost instinctively; Mom had only done it a few times since that first time she healed Dad before they were born — although if she actively thinks about it, she's just as good at it as Maria. Of course, she doesn't want to do it almost as much as Paul doesn't want to watch his sister doing it. It does give her an edge on her diagnostic skills, or so she says. Mom claims Paul is better at the "Doctor Doolittle thing," as she calls it... but Paul wonders if that's true. She claims Maria is the far better Shapeshifter, as good as Billy was... but Paul wonders about that, too. Although he/they knew Mom was supposed to have Aunt Lin's adaptive DNA when he/they had decided to jump back into life, he's always had a feeling he/they had been off on his/their timing. Paul doesn't think Mom was supposed to have picked up so much from the two of them. It might have been his fault. Convincing Maria that they should be Two instead of One might have had unintended consequences for Mom.

Sometimes, though, when it comes to his sister, Paul can absolutely see qi as well as their Mom. Maria can, too, when she admits it.

This is one of those times.

Damn it, Maria! You do this every single time around. How many times in the last hundred and fifty years have I told you to knock it off?

He is well aware that Vin can probably hear him. Before yesterday... maybe he might not have. But now that he and Maria finally have their shit together? Oh yeah. Vin can overhear him.

Maria's expression doesn't change any more than Paul's does.

I don't know what you're talking about, Paul.

He narrows his eyes slightly and does his best to remain calm. Em is still working with Den; and when Den has calmed down, Maria probably will go do whatever healing up thing she'd done to their universe's Denny so his Curse won't get all out of control.

Bullshit. I'm tired of it. You've known since the beginning that we were in this for the long haul. And I've said from the beginning that you needed to use this life to work that issue out. But you haven't, have you?

Maria just raises an eyebrow.

Still don't know what you're talking about, Paul.

He nods. "Okay. You want to play it that way, fine. But just remember that I'm more like Mom, and you're more like Dad."

Paul looks at Vin, who has his arm around Maria's waist. He has to admit it's fabulous to finally have the two of them acknowledging what most of the world has known for decades. Maybe Vin already realizes what he's gotten himself into. And maybe he hasn't, because, like their Uncle Charles, Vin always tries to find the good in people, the very best.

"My sister has self esteem issues. She isn't likely to get anyone hurt or killed because of it, but I'm just plain over it. So... tag! You're it."

You're an asshole, Maria says, just before completely shutting herself down.

Billy had called it "going bird-brained." Even Mom has a hard time seeing a qi signature from a "bird-brained" Shapeshifter if she isn't looking for one. And according to most of the Empaths in the family, "bird-brained" Shapeshifters are emotional dead zones, too. Em is probably as good with emotions as Mom is with qi; maybe if she looks for Maria, she'll find her.

Paul turns and walks to the back of Jimmy's truck to wait for Em. He's going to give his sister the benefit of the doubt here, and assume she just did that to keep from interfering with whatever Em is doing with Denny, but it's a pretty mean thing to do... especially to Vin. Paul hadn't been kidding when he had said he was over it, though. While he waits for Em, he concentrates on cataloging all the animals in town... and trying to see how far out he has to go to find any coyotes.

For her part, Em has been treated to a babble fest by Denny. His topics range far and wide, and all he seems to need is a friendly face that smiles and nods occasionally. His emotions are scattered all over the spectrum. They aren't overwhelming — except perhaps to him — but they bounce around so much that someone with less control than Em would probably wind up moderately dizzy if they were paying attention. That was how Maria had gotten involved in fixing whatever was askew in his brain in their universe.

One of the many cousins had contacted Shaman... Marjorie, probably. She had been the senior Shaman in the family when Denny's Curse hit him. One of the Empath cousins told her about feeling dizzy almost to the point of nausea whenever Den was around. Marjorie had gone to see him, but couldn't do much beyond giving him some relaxation exercises to do. She had called Aunt Andi in, though. From the stories that had filtered through the family, it had been pretty funny.

"And what am I supposed to do about him, Marjorie? You're the Shaman!"

"I was hoping you could see something I can't, Wa..."


"Sorry. Aunt. Would you at least take a look at him, Aunt?"

"Dear Gods, Buddhas, and Spirits! The crazy things I do for this family!"

Aunt Andi had gone to take a look, of course. No matter what she said or how much she pretended to complain, she'd do anything for her family. And that's still true today.

"He's just got a knot in his brain. It's physical, though, so there's nothing I can do about it. Give Maria a call if none of the local Healers can handle it. I swear, my family gets stranger with every passing generation."

Maria had been at the School at the time... hence the reason for Em not being there. She'd flown out to the Nation, and wound up spending several weeks visiting Aunt Andi and the various cousins after fixing whatever problem Dennis had. It had given Em a chance to visit with Vin. Briefly.

Maria had actually had to make physical contact with Dennis before she could 'see' what was wrong. According to Aunt Andi, Maria acted like she'd been drinking heavily for at least a day after fixing whatever the problem was. The weird thing was that alcohol affects Maria and Paul the same way it affects Aunt Andi... not in the least, no matter how much they drink. At least Mom says she can get a buzz from a barrel of whiskey.

Em knows Dennis is winding down... settling down... when his attention starts to stay focused on a single topic. Unfortunately, the topic is her.

"I know you've probably heard this a million times already, and I'm not making a pass at you or anything, I swear... but your eyes are the most amazing color I've ever seen. In eyes. I just... well, they're... wow."

Emelia's chin lowers, and she gives Dennis a long-suffering look. "They're just like my dad's, Denny."

And just like her father, she can have a very hypnotic gaze when she chooses, staring into the eyes of the Beast, as it were. She uses that to keep Dennis' attention on her as well as her innate abilities as Elder — or Kin, as they're called here. She also holds preternaturally still.

Vin, send Maria over to do her thing, will you?

Huh? Oh! Right.

She only mentally rolls her eyes at Vin as he leans in to put his head against Maria's in the act of whispering.

Em said Denny's ready, Maria.

His wife — wife! — nods and slips toward her cousin and the youngster as Vin joins Paul.

Might need you to hold me up after, Vin.

Be right here, love.

It's remarkably challenging to stay mad at Maria, but Paul does give it the old college try. At least for a minute... or three... or...

Hell, did it matter?

And he really doesn't want to watch what she's doing inside Denny's brain either. Sometimes the Healings that she does on brains are the worst of all. They're the only ones that seem to echo back to him, even if it's only barely noticeable. There's a big difference between 'barely' and 'not' some days.

It helps that he's more focused on Em. Except not really focused. Maybe it's more like watching her from a high altitude... something Dad had liked to do when he and Maria were old enough to drive the family car out to Flagstaff to visit Mom's folks. Mom would ride her bike like a bat out of hell, and Dad would fly — just a speck in the sky, but he seemed to be able to see them just fine. Especially when they were speeding.

Paul figures it's just an instinctive thing he does whenever he's around, and she uses any of the abilities that are part of her Feral nature. No, no, no... he's going to have to remember to call her Kin here. He gets good vibes from Tori and doesn't want to offend her.

Vin slips up next to him, and he gives his cousin a sidelong look. Deciding against teasing him — there will be plenty of time for that later — he just points with his chin toward Aunt Lin and by extension all the elders who are heading toward the diner.

"You think this world has any clue how much trouble it's in now that your mom's made it her mission?" He's chuckling before Vin even answers. There is nothing funny about the situation they're riding into, but when Aunt Lin Has A Mission, any bad guys who get in her way will be in a world of hurt. He had ridden with the Wolf Pack more often than he'd worked with the X-Men and has seen his Aunt in action.

She is scary. Unquestionably scarier than his Mom at her most unnerving... although that's only by a small margin because full out, hell hath no fury Ninja is damn terrifying.

"Not a clue," Vin chuckles. "Heck, we probably don't even have the beginning of a clue. I can't remember the last time I saw her like that. It's a good thing dad and Aunt Andi made it through, too. They keep her grounded."

He nods at the comment about Mom and Uncle Logan and is watching them walk into the diner. There's something about Mom that seems... odd? No, that certainly isn't the right word, since a picture of Mom pops up in every online dictionary when you search for the word odd.

Denny has quite easily fallen into Em's trap. He's utterly mesmerized by her eyes. They're an amazing color, and, well, he knows it must be just his imagination, but they seemed to move, at least the irises do. The color just draws him in. So fascinated he is that he doesn't notice Maria coming up behind him and lightly laying her hand on his shoulder.

Of course, this time around she has the benefit of having already done this before and knows exactly what she's looking for and what needs to be done. She slips right to the place with the problem and applies her Gift. The spot unknots and becomes the way it was always supposed to be. Maria smiles just before her equilibrium goes wonky, and she starts to tilt.

"Sorry," Em tells Denny as she moves around him fast enough to practically disappear.

"I got ya, Maria."

"Thanks, Em."

Denny turns to see Em holding up a dizzy Maria. His eyes are wide. "What happened? Are you okay?"

Maria shrugs and tries to offer a reassuring smile. "Happens sometimes. No need to worry. I'll be fine."

"Vin, Paul, a hand here," Em says.

"Let me help," Denny offers.

Em shakes her head but gives him a wink. "That's her husband's job. You're joining us for food right?"

It's Vin's turn to roll his eyes at his sister.

"I got you, babe," he says as he slips his arm around Maria, and she leans on him.

"Um, yeah I guess," Denny answers, looking around. "If you're sure it's all right."

"Of course it is. Come on, let's catch up, before my folks and Aunt order for us."

Em guides Denny toward the diner with an arm around his shoulders. She's relaxed though. Maria has come through, as always.

That leaves Vin, Maria and Paul lagging behind.

He's still watching the elders when Em calls Vin to help with Maria. Paul is aware of Em and Denny heading toward the diner, and the fact that Maria is leaning more heavily on Vin than the Healing would have accounted for.

Right, right, he thinks to himself. The whole reason we're going to tease them for the next decade or two. He tries to look at Mom's qi, but either his ability to see it is on the fritz again — nothing like having an ability you can't count on — or...

The "or" part could mean so many things that he refuses to consider any of them right now.

He catches up to Maria and Vin, then quietly asks his sister, "You notice anything out of the ordinary about Mom's aura, Sis?"

Maria groans just as softly. "You want me to look at qi after just Healing a brain?"

"Yep," he replies without looking at her. "It's when you're most accurate."

She sighs and looks at Vin...

Wow. Are they really married? Wow, wow, wow!

...and rolls her eyes. "I really should have let him be born first, what with all the grief he gives me." Her smile is radiant. She can't even work up the pique to be upset at Paul right now.

"So what am I looking for?"

Paul turns to look at her. "Oh, good grief! Do you want me to regress to a six year old?" he asks with a wicked twinkle in his eyes that he definitely inherited from their mother. "Maria and Vincent sitting in a tree..." he adds in a sing-song voice. He chuckles and then becomes at least a little more serious.

"Not for... just look at. Definitely around the heart, but just... you know... look."

She rolls her eyes at him again but then looks at Mom.

First, she gasps as her eyes go wide, then she stops moving — which, of course, keeps Vin from going anywhere since she is very nearly rooted to the core of the planet — and breathing.

"Maria?" Vin tries to keep the worry out of his voice.

"Giver her a sec, Binnie. There's all kind of weird shit she needs to process."

Over her head, Vin looks at Paul.

Paul just shakes his head. Vin's doing a damn good job of hiding any worry, but Paul is still watching qi and not people. Worry isn't going to help anything. But at least it isn't going to hurt at this point either.

It can't have taken as long as thirty seconds before Maria takes a shuddering breath and tucks herself in close to Vin. She closes her eyes and leans her head on Vin's chest. She swears to herself it will just be for a second. She feels Paul's hand squeeze her shoulder.

"What did you see?"

"I've never seen anything like it, Paul. If I didn't think it was impossible, I'd say she..." She turns her head to look at her brother. "Listen, you remember the Before, and how we could see how massively she was really freaking out about coming into her power, right?"

Paul nods. Mom had always hated it when they talked about that, but even when she hated it he — well, they really — can tell she appreciates the validation at times. Right. That's damn rare. Still.

"Well, that's what her qi looks like, except as coherent as it was after she went off one night to that place we couldn't follow."

Oh, and it wasn't as if they hadn't tried following her! They both remembered how excited they'd been back then. That had been the night after Mom told Dad and Aunt Lin and Uncle Logan and Uncle Rene about them. They'd been so... okay, probably crazy... but they'd really, really, really wanted Mom to tell them about Dad. And she'd gone off somewhere to hide from them!

The two of them exchange a look, remembering how very unusual that time between Before and Birth had been. Paul smiles.

"Okay... I just wanted to make sure I wasn't imagining things. She's got that look about her that she used to tell Dad was a supernova about to explode... or implode... or whatever they do."

Maria hugs Vin and pats his back. "No, don't encourage him. He does that on purpose... you should remember." She practically giggles.

"Bah, you're no fun, Sis. If I can't tease Binnie about brainiac stuff, the only thing I can tease him about is the two of you. Gosh, and wouldn't that just be terrible?"

"Paul, I think the only reason I'm not Gibbs slapping you is that I'm busy holding your sister."

Vin sounds way too happy to Paul's ears. He considers that for a second, then decides it's a good thing. But before he follows the Happy Train into The Station — which actually is the name of the diner — he and Maria need to be on the same page about Mom.

"And what does her heart look like?" He has a thought, but he wants to hear Maria's first.

"It almost looks like she's overcompensating for Dad and Uncle Rene not being here. She's reaching out to Aunt Lin and Uncle Logan the same way she always has, but it's like she's got a fireball for a dan tian."

"Okay. That's what I saw, too. But I don't think she's overcompensating. I think she's working on piercing the veil."

Maria just stares at him in disbelief. Vin looks between the two of them.

"Do we need to worry about her?"

Paul just smiles at Maria. When are you going to stop being shocked at anything Mom does, sister mine, soul of my soul?

He looks at Vin then. "If she can actually do it? Fuck no! It would make the three of them as stable and grounded as they are at home... and scarier than anything this world has ever seen. If we weren't all on the same team, I'd say instead of being worried we should be so scared we're peeing ourselves."

"Ew. Paul!"

He grins at his sister. "You so need to get over that, because you're going to have a breakdown once Ninja and I are in the field."

She sticks her tongue out at him.

He laughs.

The Yazzie-Garcia twins are back to what passes for normal for them.

By the time the kids rejoin them, the adults have already rearranged the tables in the diner and are seated.

# # #

Andi stops and stares when she walks into the diner.

"Wow. It's like deja vu all over again."

Cindy looks worried by the statement; Tori seems to find it amusing.

"Are you having a Returning From Walkabout moment here, Andi?" the deputy asks.

"Oh, is that what you call this? Then yeah. You'd think a place would change something in as much time as it's been since I was here last."

She shakes her head. She really did expect The Station in this universe to be at least a little different from the one in theirs. But these folks have done what might be the impossible. She can't see a single thing that's out of place.

Cindy laughs. "I have a feeling if your great-grandmother came by, it would look the same as it did when she was a child. The Station tries to maintain the illusion that it's not only unchanging but is incapable of change."

"I think I knew that." Okay, she does know that. But come on! Different universes here! Well, fine. Though the comment about her great-grandmother should be... Wait. Nope. This place was around when Papa Bill was a boy. The one time most of the family met here — the kids couldn't have been more than a year old, and Little Kai was just learning to talk about as much as Cousin Andi — he told a story about when he'd been here with his father.

"Dang. Neither of my great-grandmothers lived in this part of the Nation..." True. Papa Bill and Grandpapa Theo had been visiting Grandpapa Theo's best friend; Grandmama Sofi had stayed in Tuba City for some reason or another. Mama's family had been from the most northern part of the Nation; she once joked she could see the Ute People from her back porch. Eventually, that joke got old, but her brother's children had been in college by the time it started to fade away. "...and probably never even visited, but I take your point." She grins. "It's still a really amazing trick to see when you get to town as infrequently as I do these days."

Andi waves the waitress off as she helps Maddie and Logan rearrange the tables. It looks to be getting toward the end of her shift. And she looks like she's beyond ready for her baby to be born. Yeah, it might have been more than a hundred and fifty years ago, but Andi remembers — far too vividly — that feeling of being a beached whale. She suspects fetching food for the lot of them is going to be more than enough work.

As they get settled, she somehow manages to wind up at the head of the table. Oh, gods, fine! It was completely deliberate. Maddie had taken the seat with the best view of the front door. Logan and Andi just naturally flank her. She's got Tori on her other side, which is good. It gives her a chance to... well, it's not precisely syncing with the deputy's qi, but it's something like that. Just getting a good feel for who she is, how the qi ebbs and flows in a relaxed environment. Something of a baseline, she would say in her own defense.

When Em comes in with Denny, she can see that her niece and daughter have got the boy back on track. Have this version of him on track? Whatever. Em catches her aunt's eyes as she steers the young man to a seat at the other end of the table.

"All good, Aunt Andi."

Andi smiles at that, and the fact that Em seats herself in the best possible location to watch what her mother can't see behind her. It's not like there's much behind them, but she never learned to care for having her back to the restrooms any more than she cares for having her back to the door.

Ninja's not a very trusting sort. Give her a brick wall... or the Wolf Pack.

"Thanks, Em. And welcome to the party, Den. Where did you guys leave the lovebirds and my lazy son?"

Oh, she knows darn well that they're standing outside, practically in the middle of the street. And the two lunatics she gave birth to are suspiciously excited about something. Unfortunately, it has the feel of their Before We Were Born nonsense.

Sheesh. People think she gets crazy talking about qi and the Spirits and Mother and Great Spirit and... yeah, well. She supposes that if more demented people than her are going to be born, she would have needed to play a part in that, wouldn't she?

Madeline gives her daughter a small smile as she settles in the seat across from her. She isn't surprised that Em is the first one in. Even before the other two started making moon eyes at each other, she had always been the pragmatic one. Eventually, the other three manage to get themselves in the door and seated as well. Boy-girl-boy-girl as always, with Em and Vin in the middle and Paul and Maria on the ends.

# # #

Dan sure does like his brother-in-law. Frank Benally is a stand-up guy and makes his big sister happy as a clam... whatever the heck that means. But Dan is pretty sure nobody in the universe moves slower than Frank Benally.

That's probably why Lopez had radioed him to fetch Frank. Seems like he's the only person besides Cindy with enough patience to watch Frank practically moving backward in time.

Nah, that's not true. Watching Frank is pretty interesting sometimes. Waiting for Frank, on the other hand? Wait, doesn't that kid who works for Cindy seem just fine with Ol' Slo Mo, too?

"Hey, Frank? I think Cindy wanted us to meet her for dinner, not breakfast. You about ready?"

"Sure thing, Dan!" Frank calls from the kitchen of the small house he shares with Cindy.

Dan leans against the front door, just waiting. Frank has some sort of rituals for leaving the house, and different ones for coming home. Dan had figured out Frank's patterns long ago. "About ready" means he just needs to finish his kitchen ritual, then come back to the front room for the third ritual in here.

It's all good.

He doesn't understand the reasons for the rituals, of course. It isn't his business, really, unless Frank gets himself in trouble. And he never does that. Cindy once said, early on, that Frank just needs to do what he needs to do. She'd said that she thought maybe it was his way of conversing with Mouse, his guardian Spirit... Mouse sure does like order, that's for sure.

Frank comes into the front room and taps the back of his recliner twice before swiping a hand to wipe imaginary dust from the table between his chair and Cindy's rocker. Frank never touches the rocker during his rituals... maybe it's bad luck if it ever moves? Dan just knows Frank will pick up his jacket and shrug it on after looking out the window that faces the side yard. He'll straighten the cushions on the sofa, and they'll be ready to go.

Lopez says there was some White Man's name for what Frank does, in the days before the Troubles. And that the White Man used to have medicines to make a person stop doing all the repetitive things Frank does. Why anyone would want to keep a man from communicating with his guardian Spirit isn't something Dan could understand. Seems pretty crazy to him.

Frank turns to him with a cheerful, relaxed smile. "So we're meeting Cindy at The Station, are we?"

Dan pushes himself off the door and grins.

"That Lopez just radioed me and said to fetch you and bring you on over to The Station. You're as well-informed as I am, brother!"

Frank laughs as Dan lets himself out the door, and walks over to the squad car to wait while Frank finishes his outdoor ritual. It's something he only does if he's leaving the quarter-mile radius around the house, and it isn't terribly complex. Close and lock the door, walk to the end of the lawn on their flagstone path, touch the post of the split rail fence on his left, go back and jiggle the doorknob, walk back down the path and touch the post on the right, go back and jiggle the doorknob one last time, and then he's ready to get in the squad car.

Dan figures their house must be one special place to Mouse for Frank to go to all that trouble every time he leaves. He never does any kind of rituals once he steps off their property. Of course, it's mighty pleasant to chat with one's guardian Spirit... so Dan can see why Frank goes to the trouble, of course. It's just curious that Mouse seems to stay home.

That makes Dan feel a little sad because Cindy says her guardian Spirit, Otter, spends a lot of time at her office with her. She has a hard job dealing with all the paperwork and all sorts of help for refugees, and now she's running for election to be on the Tribal Council, too? It's probably a good thing Otter is helping her hold onto her joy — not that she ever really has a problem with that! The happiest person he's ever met, and he doesn't just think that because Cindy is his sister, either!

Bear doesn't come around visiting him much, but then Dan doesn't often get himself into situations where he feels like he needs advice from his guardian Spirit, either.

"So you think my sister is as crazy as I think she is for trying to get herself elected to the Tribal Council, Frank?" Dan asks as he drives across the small down toward The Station.

"Nah, Dan... no crazier than my wife is for trying to get herself elected to the Tribal Council!" Frank responds cheerfully. "Crazy or not, I think Cindy can do some real good for people."

Dan nods. "That's what I was thinking, too. We're a couple of lucky folks, knowing somebody like Cindy."

Frank glances at Dan, who is watching out for anyone or anything that might happen to decide crossing the road is a fine idea.

As he approaches his sister's office and the diner across the street, he takes note of Frank's somewhat unusual silence... and the vehicles in front of the building. He parks beside the other squad car and looks at Frank.

"You okay there, Frank? You went and turned yourself off, or something."

"Just thinking about luck."

Dan nods at looks at the other man knowingly. "It's powerful magic."

Frank gets out of the squad car and taps on the roof as Dan is getting out. "What's taking you so long, slowpoke? You know your sister gets mighty anxious when she has to wait."

Dan laughs as he drapes his arm over Frank's shoulders. "Don't I just know it! You're one lucky guy, Frank, to have married a woman with the patience of the mountains!"

Neither of them had expected the crowd that is gathered with Cindy. Dan takes the scene in with the practiced eye of a police officer. Frank is a little baffled, but Cindy looks happier than she has in weeks... anything that makes her smile so that the outer edges of her eyes crinkled up is absolutely a-okay by him.

They've at least managed to order drinks when Danny Miles wanders in with a man Madeline presumes is Cindy's husband in tow. As she had when they first met, she greets him in Diné Bizaad.

"Heya, Officer Dan. You will be glad to know I found my family," she tells him and indicates most of the group at the table then introduces them. "Logan, Andi, Maria, Vin, Em, and Paul."

Logan gives the man a nod then also uses a traditional Diné greeting. The kids follow suit.

"Well, heya to you Madeline! Can't even tell you how happy I am for you. This here is my brother Frank, who's pretty smart for having married my sister. Frank, this is Madeline that Cindy told you about."

The newcomer looks at Madeline as he sits beside Cindy. "Dan says you saved a couple of little ones. I'm sure you're a hero to them." He glances around the rest of the table. "It's nice to meet all of you. And Dennis, you're looking well. I heard your boss actually gave you some time off!"

Denny chuckles softly as he looks at Mr. and Mrs. Benally. They are one happy couple!

Meanwhile, Dan walks over to shake Logan's hand. "I can't tell you how nice it is to see you, Mr. Logan, and not that grumpy old pain in the sit place who scares children."

The woman on the other side of Madeline snickers.

And when Dan steps around Madeline to look under the table between them, she laughs like it's the funniest thing she's seen all day.

Dan has to admit that it might be pretty funny to watch.

"I'd have called him a pain in the ass, personally," she says. "And is everybody going to be looking at my feet?"

"Definitely a pain in the ass," Em agrees which earns a snort of laughter from both her parents.

Dan laughs, too. "Well, you do look alarmingly like..."

"...Elder Yazzie. I know." Andi sighs and rolls her eyes. "Maybe I should just braid my hair and be done with it."

"Mom!" the two youngsters on the outer ends of the cluster say, clearly alarmed.

She giggles. "That was worth it! Dan, pull up a rock and join us."

He pauses, looking between Madeline and the two adult members of her family, before grinning and taking a seat between Frank and Dennis.

"Powerful medicine over there, Frank," he says with a conspiratorial whisper to his brother-in-law.

"So, you didn't go and tell Cindy and Dennis about finding your family already, did you, Madeline? I'd sure like to hear that story!" His eyes twinkle with humor. "Especially the part about trading old grumpy for pleasant Mr. Logan here, and managing to keep his truck for yourself."

He leans back and looks behind the Benallys to Tori, finally acknowledging her. His grin says he's done that purposefully.

"Bet you had something to do with that, didn't you, Chief Walking Eagle?"

Tori looks as though she can't decide if she should just roll her eyes at Dan, or throw something at him.

"Probably a lot less than you'd think, Danny. And dear Spirits, that joke is getting old."

"Yep. That's why I have to tell it every time I see you!"

Cindy just shakes her head and hugs her husband. "I'm so glad we separated the children, dear."

"Very clever of us, I think," he agrees.

As Dan settles in, Madeline leans once again against Logan as his arm finds its usual place around her shoulders.

"I'm afraid there's not much story to tell, Dan. With the help of family in Nageezi, I got out to Elder Yazzie's place where they found me. What I can tell you is that I can only remember one other time that I was so glad to see someone."

Her hand slips over to grasp her Sister's. Her reunion with Rene had been that other supernova bright spot, and it had been Andi's doing.

For her part, Andi can't help but chuckle at Dan's banter with Tori. Her glare does absolutely nothing to diminish her happiness that's just a reflection of Maddie's happiness as she reaches over to lace her fingers in Andi's.

"Andi, are you really that eager to find out if I can kick your ass from here back to Arizona?" Tori asks.

Andi thinks she's pretending to be grumpy, but like most Elders... er, Kin... she's harder to read than most people. She might actually be grumpy.

"No, Deputy Walking Eagle, I'm not at all eager. No way, Jose. Not me."

She looks over at Dan. "Yeah, pretty dull story. Maddie wandered off... we figured she'd head over Ganado way. Well, who wouldn't, right? It's gorgeous out there. Other than that... dull, dull, dull."

Paul is trying so hard not to laugh that he nearly chokes. Andi gives him her best innocent and concerned Mom look. "Do you need Em to whack you between the shoulder blades, dear?"

He shakes his head... vigorously and emphatically. "No, nope, never, no thanks, I'm fine."

"I'm so glad."

Maria groans... very softly, but some of them can hear her anyway.

Andi looks at her daughter and smiles oh so sweetly. "Is something wrong, honey?"

"Oh, besides you going crazy again, Mom? Nope. Not a thing."

"That's good to hear. But 'again'? Don't you mean 'still'?"

"Maybe. Potato..."

"Don't don't it, Sis!"

"What?" Dan asks. "She shouldn't say 'potahto'?"


Both of Andi's kids groan. Em rolls her eyes. Vin doesn't quite seem to know what to do.

Dan says, "Bless you."

Tori glares at Andi.

"Are you and your comedy troupe planning to keep this up the entire time we're on Walkabout?"

Andi looks at Tori with absolute innocence as she leans against Maddie's arm.

"Of course not, Deputy Walking Eagle, ma'am. My sister would beat the snot out of me. And the kids. Without breaking a sweat."

She looks at Maddie and grins. "Okay, I exaggerate. It would be a good workout followed by a better workout." She winks.

Then Andi looks at Tori, a more serious expression on her face, although by no means is she completely serious. "I need to work out my silliness. It's how I cope. It wasn't nearly as difficult for us to get to Maddie as it was for her to get to Elder Yazzie's house. That doesn't mean I wasn't worried... that doesn't mean I wasn't edging on toward frantic. Just think of this as coming off an adrenaline rush, okay? And yes, sometimes it does take a couple of days to work itself out."

She reaches over and pats the deputy's shoulder.

"Don't worry. I'll be fine. The kids will be fine."

Andi looks at Maria and Vin. "Well, for various definitions of 'fine,' I suppose. I still think we're going to take whatever available opportunities arise to tease the heck out of the newlyweds."

She grins — very Ninja-like — at said newlyweds.

"You guys just got married?!!" Dan exclaims. "Hey, shouldn't we be having a party?"

Andi chuckles and looks at Maddie. "I like him. Can we keep him?"

Frank leans in to whisper to his wife, "Apparently there are more children here than we thought."

Cindy looks around the table, her eyes resting briefly on Tori... on Andi... on Paul... on Dan.

"Yes. Apparently."

Madeline and Logan are both chuckling. While the others keep up the keystone cop routine, the eldest two of the Wolf Pack merely enjoy their company.

"There will be time enough for seriousness once we get outside the borders," she says languidly to Tori. "For now, we let them play."

Em raises an eyebrow at that. "That's only because your kind of fun is what we're heading into, Mom. Of course, having been stuck with dad's doppelganger for a couple of weeks, I can't say as I blame you."

"Thank you, daughter kettle," Madeline snorts.

Em grins and shrugs.

"Not past the border, Sister," Logan says, answering the question she had posed to Madeline.

"Of course not, my dear Brother. Officer Dan is too much like Henry, who slept through that whole brouhaha Sister and I caused not long after we met. Goodness, it would simply be a waste of good humor if we had to strap him to a travois and drag him around because he keeps falling asleep!"

"You know, Frank," Officer Dan says to his brother-in-law, "I think maybe I was just insulted."

Andi grins at Maddie and Em. "Hey, I spent as much time in Jimmy's presence as you did," she says to her niece, "and even I'm ready for your mom's kind of fun."

Tori punches her on the arm. Lightly... sure. But she's still a Kin, and Andi definitely feels it.

"Ow. What was that for?"

Frank shakes his head. "I don't think so, Dan. Logan there just pointed out you don't belong out in the Free Lands. Andi is overprotective because you remind her of someone who means a lot to her."

Dan grins. "That's why I like you, Frank! You're so much smarter than I am!"

Frank gives Dan a look of weary exasperation. "Dan..."

The officer sighs and nods. "Right. Time to stop playing." He turns most of his attention back to his dinner, while Cindy and Frank exchange a look that expresses so many things that Andi has to assume they're either telepathic or have had a long and happy marriage.

And they don't have the telepathic vibe to them.

Tori looks at her fellow deputy, shakes her head, then looks at Andi.

"Practice. I have a feeling I'm going to want to do that a lot."

Andi stares at the deputy while she picks up a steak fry from her plate, stuffs it in her mouth, and chews. She continues to stare until after she swallows it — because talking with food still in one's mouth is something both Mama and Tita Kai frowned upon, and because Pablo isn't here to be grossed out by it.

Something weird — but probably standard in a Weird Andi way — squeezes at her heart for an instant. Instead of a proper response, Andi just blinks at Tori.


All four kids are well beyond surprised by that. Her two, in fact, are shocked.

Gosh, their auras turn such unusual colors when I do the thoroughly unexpected!

She doesn't think any of them have seen her ignore violence — even as subtle as Tori's is — to her person outside of a sparring session. Well, possibly when they were young... when her brother and cousins were still alive. Justin, Henry, Charlie, and Billy were never overly impressed by her Warrior status. That was fair... most of the time, neither was she.

And even when she doesn't lay someone out flat, her response is generally more witty and articulate than huh.

But Andi is really more interested in the weird... something... she's feeling. Ordinarily, she would be interested because it's weird. This evening she's interested because... well, it just barely has the feeling of their missing Husbands. If they hadn't been out to dinner with non-family members, Andi would just give in, zone out, and figure out what this feeling is.

Even though non-family people are with them and they're in a public place, the whole event has the... well, she supposes atmosphere is the right word... of a dinner out at the Dehiya Compound. It's utterly silly but so comfortable and relaxed that she winds up uncharacteristically quiet. Paul and Maria exchange worried glances more than once; she does her best to ignore them. Maddie and Logan know better than to be concerned when Sister Andi is merely slightly weirder than usual. And besides, she feels all kinds of peaceful at the moment.

Her peace spills over onto them; they are still the Pentad, after all.

At one point, Dan mentions his concern to Tori about going on Walkabout with the band of lunatics. Andi is pretty sure she's rolling her eyes; she knows Tori sighs.

Tsk. Ooh, girlfriend, my hearing is just about as good as yours.

Okay, maybe she deserved that smack earlier.

Still, Andi generally behaves herself — in her own unique Ninja way — when they're on a mission.

"My guardian Spirit told me I'm going with these folks, so I'm going with these folks. Satisfied, Miles?"

She sounds so unhappy at that moment... maybe only Logan and Andi can hear it, Em can probably feel it. It's perhaps the only time Andi really pays a lot of attention to the antics going on around her.

And the instant she looks at Tori, she feels as though Pablo is right there with Rene standing maybe outside.


Oh, goody. A puzzle.

When she blinks, the feeling is gone.

Crap. But... possibilities?

By the time dinner is over, their waitress has already gone home, and the owners are tending to the mob themselves. They're just as lovely in this universe as they are in the newcomers'. Andi actually feels relieved that some things just don't change. They go through their usual ritual of insisting that the tip is far too high. Her dear son, who probably spends as much time in the Nation and the lands around it as she does, responds appropriately.

"Oh. Well, if you think so, Señor Hernandez, then just give whatever you feel is best to Julietta." Julietta, of course, is their waitress who'll probably be a mother inside the week. And if this Carlos Hernandez is like the one back home, Jules will get every penny of the tip.

They've had close to two hours to settle down their hilarity... even Dan is more or less calm. Okay, less than more, but still. Saying goodbye is almost like saying goodbye to the family. She knows Cindy and Frank and Dan and Dennis in their world, where they're ever so slightly different. Just kidding... Dan is the same. Andi can see some evidence of Frank's OCD in his aura, but it's nothing like the constant agony he faces in her world. He hates the medicines the doctors give him. The Shamans haven't been able to do much to help him. Cindy and Dan? They're beyond patient, and it never seems to bother them. It's just everyone else he has to interact with. This Frank seems less... tormented, she would say.

And Cindy... she's only currently running for a position on the Tribal Council that she's held for close to eight years now in the other universe.

"Hey, Cindy?" she says quietly when they're outside, heading toward the vehicles.

"Yes, Andi?" She sounds hesitant; almost as if Tori's ire earlier colors her perceptions of the woman.

That's okay... she isn't going to let it bother her.

"I think you'll make a great Council representative."

She hides her surprise really well, but she does smile. And she stops right there in the middle of the street. Of course, so does Frank.

"Thanks, Andi. I have to win first, though."

"Aw, I think you will." Andi gives her — and Frank, because that's polite — a properly respectful Andrea the Librarian smile. "Did I hear Dan say you're running against Judah Salway?"

She nods.

"He seems like a smart kid, but he doesn't have the experience you have." She smiles just a bit more broadly... not quite to the Ninja level, but she's edging close to it. "Give him your job here in the Council Office if he and Dennis get along."

Cindy glances over at Dennis, who's chatting with more animation than she's probably ever seen him. She chuckles. "No. Dennis dated his sister. Past tense. Even though Naomi broke it off, I can't see that working out very well."

Oh, how interesting. Dennis never dated Naomi Salway in their universe... and given that he's got a cousin up in Nageezi, that sort of rumor would eventually make it around to Andi out in Ganado if he had. And darn, won't she just have to suggest the solution Cindy herself thought of... in another universe? It was only because she'd wanted the best for everyone involved, too.

Although come to think of it, Andi does have her suspicions that it was actually Frank's idea.

"Nope, that probably wouldn't work. But you could hire Judah as your assistant when you head up to Window Rock. And put Dennis in charge down here."

For a second or two, Cindy has the expression of someone who's just run into a crazy person... and then she smiles with genuine delight.

"That's absolute genius, Andi! Whatever made you think of something like that?"

She shrugs. "Oh, I've had a lot of odd jobs over the years. Matching up people who work well together seems to be something I have a knack for."

"Hmm." That's all she says as she looks over at Tori, who's talking to Dan, Maddie, and Logan. Well, Dan seems to be doing most of the talking. Maddie is just...

Do. Not. Get. Sappy. Yazzie!

"Hey, not my doing!" And then she shrugs again, more philosophically perhaps. "We'll be fine. I'm on edge, she's on edge, we're all a little on edge." She looks over at Maddie and Logan, so perfect, so happy, so incredibly dangerous. "Anyway, my sister will kick my butt from here to... well, my butt could wind up in Canada, maybe... if I don't behave."

Looking back at Cindy, Andi smiles. "I'll behave. We'll be fine."

Of course, they would. She would go through hell for Maddie. It's possible that she has... more than once.

"Now, don't take this the wrong way, Andi," Frank says quietly, "but I don't think I've ever seen the deputy so grumpy."

Cindy chuckles. "And Frank would know... he grew up out near Ganado."

She smiles to hide her surprise. Not in their universe he didn't. But maybe that would explain why he's so much calmer in this universe. She isn't sure she'd want to live her whole life in Albuquerque, as lovely as it is to visit.

"Well, she did have her daughter with her when we met her in Albuquerque."

"She doesn't have..." Cindy starts to say at the same time Frank grins like a happy child and says, "She finally adopted Kinta?"

Andi looks between the two of them and can't help mirroring Frank's smile.

"I guess she did. It was that recent?" Of course, it was. It was patently obvious. But if she's supposed to be a relative stranger in these parts, how would she know that?

Frank nods and slips an arm through his wife's. "We need to congratulate her, dear. And we'll find a way to look in on Kinta, won't we?"

Andi could see Cindy trying to figure out how that was going to happen.

"Well, I don't know," she says, going for hesitant here. "I think Kinta's off on a Walkabout of her own with her young man. Um... Allo?"

Okay, these two now look like it's every possible holiday rolled into today, and Andi has given them the most extravagant present ever. Seriously... ever.

"You will absolutely make sure Tori gets back here safe and sound, do you hear me, Andi?" Cindy says, just barely resisting Frank's tug on her arm.

"Yes, ma'am." She slips her arm through Cindy's free one just so Frank doesn't have to pull her arm out of its socket. Andi needs to go in the same direction anyway. "I'm just the hired help, but I'll do my part, ma'am. Absolutely."

She disengages from the roller coaster of joy before the two of them engulf Tori, and moves closer to Maddie and Logan. Maddie looks at the type of display they usually only see at Yazzie family gatherings. Then she looks at her Sister. She doesn't say anything, and she barely raises an eyebrow.

Andi shrugs with one shoulder, very slightly.

"Short story? Frank here grew up near Ganado, has known Tori forever, I mentioned Kinta." Then she nods to the group that now includes Dan, and might — any minute now — include Dennis, as well. "This."

She watches as Frank, Cindy and Dan shower Tori with their happiness, and... after resisting for a couple of minutes... she just lets it all in.

Good. This is good.

She feels another weird little ping in her heart, and she wishes so hard that Pablo's arms were around her right now. But she's a little more certain now than she was earlier in the day that she can feel him and Rene both.

She sighs softly... maybe it's a little wistful, but she's feeling more content than wistful. That feeling will get stronger. She just knows it.

"Back home, the stores would be closing down soon," she says quietly to Maddie and Logan. "I haven't a clue how things work here. But if you need to, ahem, acquire clothing in a manner more suited to activities with a certain Husband a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..."

She glances sidelong at Maddie.

"...well, I'm about a hundred percent certain all that snazzy stuff I learned from Fox, as well as the somewhat disorienting traits I picked up from my eldest offspring there, will work just as well here.

"Girlfriend can look any way you need Girlfriend to look."

Andi winks at her Sister.

"Girlfriend will still be wearing her uniform and would prefer humanoid because I only ever mastered feline and canine that was usually more lupine. And both big. Maybe too scary?

"I haven't done sleazy in a while. That would appall the children."

She tucks herself in close to both of them. She doesn't think it's so much for comfort now as it is...

Damn, one would think after all this time she would have more of the Weird figured out, wouldn't they? Andi knows she surely would have expected it. But she thinks the three of them together have more of a chance of latching onto that ephemeral feeling of the Husbands. Even if only she can feel them right now, the Gods, Buddhas, and Spirits know she's going to do everything she can to share that feeling with her Sister and Brother.

She figures they'll need to wait for Tori to find out if any of the stores she mentioned along I-25 are open this late. In the meantime, Andi is going to stand here... with Maddie and Logan... and not cause any more trouble than she's already generated today. She's on a quota system... has been since Maddie's second stint as Dean of the Xavier School and she, um, taught a young shapeshifter a few things her favorite cousin Billy taught her after the kids were born. Andi can't shift like he could, but by gods, she understands the energy conversion and manipulation necessary! Teaching it is actually easier than doing it.

Of course, Billy still taught Maria. Because he was the best of their generation.

Yeah, okay, and maybe Donald Duck wasn't the best choice. But Petey liked ducks. How was she supposed to have known the youngest teleporter was freaked out by ducks? It's not like it was in her record, and Andi would know because the girl had been as enrolled during her stint as Dean only a couple of years prior. Wow, the Gibbs slap she got from Maddie that day made her ears ring!

And having a quota on causing trouble had just made her pout. A lot. It was her job to cause trouble!

Right... among the community of Very Naughty People, as Maddie had so, hmm, forcefully pointed out.

Andi rests her head on Maddie's shoulder, closes her eyes, and smiles softly. Two Sisters, One Soul... she's still not sure how it happened, and she continues to blame those two, even though they didn't do anything more than point it out. Before they were born. That would be the part that still annoys her. She suspects that if she hadn't been so damn worried about Logan and so busy trying to keep him from doing stupid things like dying, she might have been freaking out as much as Cat had been. So while she has a minute or two or three, she's just going to stand here and... be quiet.


"My kids are still staring at me like Mommy Dearest has stripped her gears, aren't they?" she whispers.

"Possibly. And just wait until we get beyond the borders before causing any trouble," Madeline drawls lazily.

The happy little spiral of the denizens of this world continues, and she opts to speak to her son telepathically.

Vincent, the three of us are rolling out in a bit. You four load up with Tori and head toward the area we showed you. We'll meet up with you in a few days, maybe less. Keep your heads down and eyes open. Observe. I'll want you and Em to give me your reads on what you find out there.

I don't like splitting up, mom.

Won't be long, and we'll be in touch. Just remember, mutants here get tagged, and we're not sure how yet. Of all of us, I'm the least noticeable. I want you to observe only. It's bad enough here that those who could use Cerebro won't.


We make it to New York you can see for yourself. But you won't like it.

Be careful.

You know me.

Yeah, I do.

She grins at that then softly says to her Mate and Sister, "Let's roll. I want to get this done sooner rather than later."

They slide into the truck and roll out of town with a wave to the others.

"See you in a few," Madeline calls to Tori.

Tori looks up as Madeline calls out, driving off in the old rattle trap. She crosses her arms over her chest and shakes her head.


She looks at the four even younger youngsters, then at her Tribal Police SUV... and shakes her head again.

"Is there a sane one in the lot?" she asks almost rhetorically.

"Nope," Paul answers almost immediately. "Well, Uncle Logan is the sanest..." He eyes Em, hoping not to see her hairy eyeballs — really more apt for her than stink eye — and shrugs. "But when Aunt Lin decides to go hunting, nothing's going to keep Uncle Logan from joining the chase. As it were."

"I'm surprised Mom went along," Maria says.

Her twin gives her a look somewhere between exasperation and the beginning stages of pissed off.

"Seriously, Maria? Seriously?! Good grief, you really need to get your shit together. Fast."

Em snickers softly.

Paul looks at her, his good humor warring with frustration. And he merely looks at Em for a moment or two before finally nodding.

"Yeah, it's worth laughing about. But..." He rolls his eyes at the look on her face. "Never mind. You get it."

"Why don't you children just bicker among yourselves while I go solve a problem the crazy people left me," Tori says. Then she turns and heads for one of her fellow Deputies. "Cory! Need to talk!"

Maria makes a sound as if to ask a question, but Paul's eyes shift to her with such a look of annoyance that she doesn't say anything.

I'm not kidding, sister mine. Get your head out of your ass and start acting like a member of the Wolf Pack.

Maria stares back, and Vin looks between the two of them. He isn't sure if he should be worried yet or if he should wait to worry. When he glances at his sister, she merely shakes her head slightly. Okay, then. Hold off on the worry. For now.

After several minutes of staring between the younger set of twins, Maria finally says, Fine.

And if you go bird-brained again, I will kick your ass, Paul says.

"Me, too," Em says softly. "It hurts when you don't give me any warning."

Maria lowers her eyes to stare at something, or nothing, on the ground. "Sorry, Em."

"Ah... Maybe Maria and I should go talk things over while we're still on our home ground," Vin suggests.

"Sure," Paul agrees, "as soon as she tells me why Tori is annoyed with our folks."

"How should I..." she says, raising her eyes to her brother and then clamping her mouth shut when she sees the look on his face. She takes a few breaths before saying, "Fine."

Looking at the older woman quietly talking with one of the other deputies, Maria tries to see the qi around her. It's a hopeless endeavor. Between her erratic ability to see it and the fact that Tori is like Em and Uncle Logan... Elder, Kin, whatever... there is simply no way for her to get information that way.

Aunt Lin... well, she had separated the team, but wouldn't that upset Vin and Paul and Em more? She supposes she should be upset by that too, but Mom had been... well, way more Ninja than usual. They hadn't told Tori where they were going? No, that doesn't make sense either. Tori would be upset in a different way, wouldn't she? Less calm?

She looks at Em and then Vin... Oops, probably shouldn't get lost in his eyes. She smiles.

"Need a hint?" Paul asks.

Maria looks at her brother, smile fading, but doesn't say anything. Yet. She just studies his face.

And realizes that her twin is playing his Beastmaster game on her.

"Stop it."

"Got you to calm down, didn't it?"

"Yeah. Now stop it."

Paul shrugs, and Maria momentarily feels disoriented until Vin's arms tightened around her.

"What was that?" Vin whispers in her ear.

She shakes her head. Later.

"So. Need that hint?" Paul asks more kindly.

Maria pauses, closes her eyes and forces the feeling of inadequacy down. "If you'd be so kind." She can practically feel her twin shaking his head.

"Before we pass out clues to today's contestant, I'd like to know if the members of our studio audience know the answer. Just a yes or no, folks."

Em just snorts.

Well, of course, Em would know. It doesn't help Maria feel any better. Nor does Vin's response.

"Yeah, pretty sure."

Maria opens her eyes again and looks at Paul. She has a feeling if she accuses him of trying to make her look foolish, he'd actually... well, who knows?

Fine. I'm an idiot. What am I missing?

For a moment, a storm cloud passes over his features and Em growls. Paul glances at his cousin, then relaxes and gives her a sheepish smile.

"Sorry, Em."

Then he looks at Maria, rolls his eyes and points at Tori's SUV.

Maria looks at the vehicle, blinks... processes what she sees and what she knows... and finally says, "Oh."

"You're not an idiot, sis," Paul says softly. "You just... well, you don't trust yourself, for one. And you haven't been paying attention. We might be inside the Nation's borders here, but I know that Em and I have been on watch, so to speak, since we walked through that portal. Vin would have been, too, if he weren't such a dunderhead."


Paul looks at his brother-cousin. "Oh, please." He shakes his head and sighs before turning his attention back to his sister.

"Yeah, we've been goofing off and having a great time playing like we're on holiday. But we all know — except for you and sometimes the dunderhead, shut up, Vin — we're here to work, and we've been working.

"We're leaving safety behind us, and there's no backup team. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Nothing. Yeah, all of us will heal up from dead. None of us likes it. But, sis, if you'd been paying attention, you'd know there are worse things out there than dying. Even worse than dying permanently.

"Now get your head in the game before we get in that truck with Tori. Yeah, you're the squad medic. But you also do recon and can be as deadly at close quarter killing as Em and Uncle Logan when you Shift. You're part of the Wolf Pack. Act like it."

Maria glares at him as he speaks, and yet... And yet, the more he says, the more she realizes she's been alternately goofing off and feeling sorry for herself. She manages to twitch her lips, the beginning of a smile, by the time he finishes. She isn't about to leave the comfort of her husband's arms — her husband! — but she does stand up a little straighter.

"Sir. Yes, sir."

Paul looks at his sister deadpan for a few seconds, then grins.

"Not as snotty as Mom gets... but not bad."

Em merely snickers.

# # #

Cory stops beside his SUV, watching Tori walk toward him. Years back, he had managed to halt the involuntary flip his heart always did whenever he saw her. Well, at least he had managed to ignore it for all these years. But he can't ignore it today knowing that she's going out into the Free Lands... and not knowing when or if she'll be back. He is a cop, however, and has been for fifteen years. He manages to keep his features from betraying his feelings.

"Hey, Tori. Forget something?" He grins. He does like to tease her.

"Not me... the crazy people did, though."

"Oh? Sure looks like they bought out the Big Store down in Albuquerque."

"Nah, I think they left a few things for the locals." She returns his smile. One of the reasons she has never regretted staying with the Diné, one of the reasons she considers the Nation her home, is the fact that there isn't a single member of the Tribal Police Force she dislikes. She's going to miss a lot of people here. Well, that just means she'll need to help out these Other World folks and get back here to her home, her family.

"They forgot that I have a police vehicle that shouldn't be out in the Free Lands. Could have sworn Madeline understood what I was saying, but maybe not." She shrugs. "I don't mind taking the SUV out to the Zuni border crossing, but there's no way to get it back here where it belongs.

"Care to squeeze in with us and bring it back after you dump us out?"

He raises his eyebrows. "You sure you don't want Miles to go with you?"

Tori snorts. "Are you kidding? I think Miles is a great guy, but most of the time I think he's kidding about Bear being his guardian Spirit, despite the fact that mine verifies his claim. The man is an embodiment of the Trickster. And he'd egg those four on to the point where I'd have to let them all walk to the border station to get some peace."

Cory laughs. "Well, having to walk all that distance might get Danny to stop flapping his jaw for a few minutes at a time."

She chuckles. "I wouldn't count on it. Not with him."

He nods and hooks a thumb over his shoulder. "Let me check in with the Powers That Be. Shouldn't be a problem. I'll be back before morning?"

"Shouldn't be a problem. I know Twenty-Five is in good shape down to Forty. The word that filters out to Ganado says Forty is in good repair on both sides to our border crossing, and on the eastbound side to the Zuni's border."

"Truth. Well, at least as far as our border," he says, nodding.

"You just might want to drive on the wrong side heading back here," Tori says with another chuckle.

"Hey, only tourists drive on the other side, Walking Eagle!" He laughs and heads toward the station house. "Back in a few," he calls over his shoulder.

He'll have to get word back to Juana, too. Most of Mrs. Benally's runners have already headed home for the night. Well, he'll figure something out. It doesn't take more than a couple of minutes to jog to the station house. Deputy Mendoza is pacing back and forth across the front of the small waiting area.

"Benji, you're going to be a nervous wreck before Julie even goes into labor," Cory says with a chuckle. "Relax, man."

"Hah! Easy for you to say, Lopez," the other man says without breaking stride. "You're not gonna have to go through this."

Cory smiles sadly. "Doesn't mean I don't have a whole bushel full of sisters and cousins. Julie's going to be fine."

"I know, I know. Her grandmama is one of the Zuni Bruja... said she'll be fine. I just can't stop, though, you know?"

"I guess not. Not really." There really isn't anything he can do for Benji. "Hey, talk to Danny when you see him. He seems to understand his brother-in-law's rituals pretty well. Maybe he could help you out. Or talk to Frank himself. He's a swell guy."

Benji nods as he continued pacing. "Yeah, they're both good people. Maybe I will." He glances up at Cory as he paces by him. "What are you doing here, anyway? Shouldn't you be off shift already?"

"Oh, yeah. I came by to let... well... anyone who matters know that I'm driving Walking Eagle and some of those relatives of the Ha'atathli out to the border station." Cory doesn't think it's a good idea to mention it's the Zuni border station. Not to Benji, anyway. Not with him being so... agitated. "I guess there was some kind of communication breakdown and she needs to meet some of them out at the border. I don't know the whole story, really. Guess some of them headed up north to pick up whatever the Big Store didn't have."

Benji looks at Cory again as he passes him. "Huh. You'd think the Big Store would have everything."

"You'd think. Guess not, though."

"Tori can't wait for them?"

Cory shrugs. "I am the flea on the dog's back and know not what the dog does."

Benji pauses to laugh. "Where the hell do you come up with these things, Lopez?"

"Just weird stuff my folks and their folks used to say."

Benji just shakes his head at that. "Well, okay. I'll let people know. Just my relief, or do you want me to make a call up to Window Rock, too?"

Benji is starting to make Cory dizzy. He's moving faster than Frank does during his rituals. Not that he's been over to the Benally house all that many times, but enough to know that Frank's rituals are a lot more soothing than whatever Benji is doing.

"I should only be gone a few hours... by morning, for sure. I guess if I'm not back by then, better find a squad of warriors to come looking for me." He chuckles, but it makes him realize again that... No. Better not think like that. "Sure would appreciate if someone could run over to my house and let Juana know I'm going to be late."

The other man glances at the old windup clock on the counter. "Yep. I can do it myself if it can wait half an hour. Your Juana is a real sweetheart, making all those little toys for refugee kids. Anyway, Charlie Clah relieves me then."

"She is. Says it makes her feel motherly even if she can't have kids. But, yeah, I think it can wait half an hour. Thanks, man." Cory turns to leave but stops in the doorway. "Oh, you might tell Charlie to slap you upside your head."

Benji laughs. "She does every night, Lopez! Hasn't helped yet!"

Cory chuckles then jogs back to his SUV where Tori is waiting. "Mendoza's going to let Those Who Need To Know Things know them."

Tori snorts again as she pushes herself off the side of the vehicle. "If he can hold still long enough. Including that pretty wife of yours?"

"Said he'd drop by himself. Our house is right up the road from his and Julie's."

Tori nods. "Damn, I've never seen a man, woman or animal so nervous about the birth of their first offspring."

Cory smiles as they walk toward her vehicle. "Well, Charlie Clah's relieving him in half an hour."

"That woman needs to slug him."

"I suggested that he request she does so. Apparently, she's been slapping his head every shift change since he started this up." He grins. "Figure if Julie doesn't have that baby in the next day or two, she'll work her way up to a slug."

"Sure wish I could be here to see that." Tori sighs almost wistfully. "That woman has a powerful left hook.

"Okay, kidlets, pack it up. Cory here is going bring the Nation's vehicle back after we clear out." She looks at Em. "Sit up front with us, cousin? I'd like to hear a bit about your... country."

It will be as evident to Em as it is to Tori that Deputy Lopez is half in love with Deputy Walking Eagle, and trying hard not to be. After all, he's had a real sweetheart of a wife for three years now.

Em glances at Tori then Cory and finally back to her brother, sister-in-law, and cousin. Regardless of what needs buffering between the two Nation cops, it has to be worlds better than sitting with the ninnies. She only feels mildly sorry for Paul, mildly.

"Sure, cousin."

Since she can't tussle over shotgun with Paul, she easily slides into the middle of the front seat, but not until the ninnies get settled in the back.

"Heya, Cory," Paul says, shaking the man's hand. He's every bit the people person Vin is... when he wants to be. "I'm Paul... you'll have my cousin Em in the front seat with you. I'll be stuck in the back with my sister and Em's brother, Maria and Vin."

Cory nods as he shakes Paul's hand. "Good to meet you. Tori implied that the lot of you are a bunch of lunatics."

Paul laughs as he waits for Maria and Vin to get settled in the back seat. "Sometimes, although Em is rarely a lunatic and absolutely isn't today. I can give the impression of lunacy even when I'm working — which I am at the moment — because I take after my mother. I'm a smart ass just like she is."

Vin doesn't bother to say I heard that, Em. He knows, and she knows, and she will just roll her eyes anyway. One thing is for damn sure, though — she's glad Aunt Andi and Uncle Charles had taught her to shield herself. She isn't sure she could stomach the nauseating giddiness any more than she could the blatant denial for the past three decades... or more.

"What you want to know, Cousin?"

Paul doesn't snicker at the non-conversation Em and Vin aren't having. Sure, he probably would have, though, if he didn't have to spend the drive in the back seat with his infuriatingly obtuse sister. What is that thing Mom always said when either — or both — of them did something particularly boneheaded? Oh, yes... For a genius child, you sure can be astoundingly stupid.

Yep, that sums Maria up more often than he likes to admit. He loves her... unconditionally and unreservedly. She's his sister, and that's that. And there's the whole we're the same soul thing, too. He really hopes she takes this time to get her shit together because when you run with the Wolf Pack, all hell could break loose. In fact, when both Mom and Aunt Lin are on the mission? It's pretty much guaranteed.

He nudges Maria over closer to Vin so he can rest his arms on the back of the front seat. He's interested in the potential conversation between Em and Tori.

"Paul!" Maria jabs him in the ribs. He ignores her. She glares at him for a couple of seconds before resting her head on Vin's shoulder. She doesn't say anything; she just holds his hand more tightly.

Tori notices the difference the instant Cory gets in the SUV. He's grateful for the buffer; that's interesting, in a very good way. She starts the car and pulls out of the parking slot before answering Em.

"Your elders merely spoke of a land to the south. I know from the reports I get from my sister that much of the American continents south of here are fairly safe. But they didn't say where you're from."

Paul sighs softly from his spot behind Em and Cory. "Suriname," he whispers. He sounds both wistful and happy. In truth, he's both... he doesn't get to Suriname very often. It's such a beautiful place that he always wonders — when he finally does make it down there to visit whichever one of Leon's descendants are in residence — why he doesn't visit more often.

Em smiles a bit at Paul's whisper and repeats what he said for the benefit of those without her sense of hearing.

"Vin and I were born in Suriname. Mom was too, except it was still called Dutch Guiana then. Our grandparents moved there after the second World War shortly after the Dutch East Indies became Indonesia. Our older brother's great-grandson and his wife and daughters live on the plantation now, keeping the coffee business in the family as it were.

"It's their home more than it ever was ours since Mom moved the family to Paris when we were toddlers. It's all good though. Vin's got the school to look after, and I don't tend to stay in one place very long.

"So, Mom is from Suriname, and we're technically from there too, but we've lived in lots of places."

Tori smiles. "You sound like my sister... not sticking in one place for long. And I'm sure Lelani's been to Suriname. Either it's the most beautiful place on the planet, or she's been there more than once. She wouldn't have mentioned it otherwise." She's silent for a few moments, half wishing she had a chance to see her sister again before going on her Walkabout. "Well, I suppose it could be both. And wouldn't it be an interesting coincidence if she had walked passed your family's plantation without even knowing it?"

Paul chuckles. "I'd probably call it business as usual, given that Mom is a magnet for weird."

Tori raises an eyebrow at his statement, but then simply shrugs. "Well, that's not the sort of weird that I'd find disturbing. If you tell me where the plantation is, cousin, I'll ask my sister the next time we're in contact if she's ever been there." Then the woman snorts. "There are times I suspect she's erratically precognitive. So it won't be any part of Andi's magnetism for weird if a messenger finds us, tells us Lelani has seen your plantation — or not — and then wanders off again."

Em shrugs.

"It is on the outskirts of Paramaribo, northwestern corner near the shore in the Weg Naar See district off of Kwaiweg. And it is beautiful there."

Tori nods to Em, having filed away the pertinent information. Lelani was always vague with place names; it's generally safer that way for everyone.

Cory has been looking between the young woman beside him and the young man leaning on the back of the seat, trying to make sense of some of the things being said. Finally, he asks, "So, are... are all of you Kin?"

"Nah," Paul says. "Just Em. The rest of us just have a dose of whatever it is that keeps Elder Yazzie going."

The Deputy nods slowly. "Okay. But I could have sworn someone mentioned that the four of you are two sets of twins." He looks truly puzzled. "I don't mean to pry, and I hope I don't offend, but... Well, wouldn't twins either both be Kin or neither?"

Tori doesn't know the reasons for Em being Kin and Vin not, but she thinks it prudent to take the first crack at the question since none of them are from this world. And from what she understands of their world, Kin are much less common.

"Hard to say, Cory. First, among the Kin, twins are a rarity. Oh, not unheard of... but in all my travels, I never met a pair of twins who were Kin." She shrugs. "But I'm not as well-traveled as my parents were, and certainly not as well-traveled as my sister." She glances at Em with a smile. "I probably would find differences you and your brother exhibit more peculiar in identical twins, but I suppose anything is possible in fraternal twins. That's no different than the non-Kin population."

Paul is definitely going to keep his mouth shut on this one. Em had asked a very similar question while they were back in Window Rock. His theory probably makes more sense than the idea that there are many times more opportunities for differences in fraternal twins. However, that's a theory that Vin should probably hear from his sister... and not one of his oddball cousins who had decided to remember all the stuff they remembered from before they decided to jump into life again.

Em leans her head on the seatback and cants her eyes at Paul.

"Yeah, we're twins," she agrees. "Paul and I are the sane ones of our sets, mostly anyway."

In the back seat, Vin harrumphs. "I'm not the one who was EVA without a tether, or rappels without a rope."

Now Em shifts to look at Vin and rolls her eyes. "No, you just denied you were in love for the last hundred years or so, pinhead. And, seriously, you two have been way worse than Leon and Jenny ever were. At least they had the excuse of being teenagers."

She snorts at him and returns her attention to Cory. "Doc McCoy had some theories about it. Thinks it might have been related to mom getting killed when she was pregnant with us. Sounds as reasonable as anything I suppose. She came back to life, and even all her old scars got healed. Leon once told me she used to have a lot of them."

"He did?" Vin asks.

Em nods. "He showed me once, you know, his way. He was little, driving cars on her stomach, said, 'Mama skin bumpy.' And it wasn't just being pregnant. She had a lot of scars. When I finally asked her about it, she just shrugged and said it had been an occupational hazard."

Although she hides her feelings, Tori finds the banter between the twins amusing... and informative.

Cory, on the other hand, seems to accept Em's explanation at face value. However, that doesn't mean he necessarily understands it.

Paul snickers at Em's verbal jab at her brother. That garners him a dirty look from Maria, at whom he merely smiles.

"Dang, Hank is one brilliant guy. Well, I guess I always knew that," Paul admits. "I didn't know about his theory, however. Amazing how well the physical and metaphysical align. Brilliant." He gives Em a nod. There isn't a need to say anything else.

"Wanna go with me to visit Hank when we get home, Em? I can usually at least get a chuckle out of him when I start overacting the Andi Acts Like a Ninny Because Hank Won't Visit Her Home scene," he says with a grin. "Mom sure does get goofy about it."

"Only if it's away from the school," Em answers, implying without saying it, and away from those two ninnies. "I was thinking about going to see Gema, LJ and the girls. Madeline Mariana will be ninety this year, but she certainly doesn't look it or act it, for a normal anyway."

"Well, he's got a few homes here and there. Hmmm. Do you think his Ugly Ducklings..."

That's still his most polite term for those Secret Service agents, isn't it? he queries Em.

"...could keep from giving him a massive headache if he came to Suriname with us? Probably not. Somebody ought to test those people and stop assigning him latent telepaths."

Paul shakes his head. Mom really did want Hank to visit Ganado. More than anyone else in the family, she probably understands just how calm and soothing it is there. She knows Hank hates traveling with that entourage of dipshits. Damn, they're worse than Maria and Vin... but only because there are more of them. Possibly. Mom has her blind spots, though. How many years has it been since Hank had been saddled with them? And how much did she complain about how the lot of them felt like lemon juice on a paper cut inside her head, despite the fact that her shields are wicked scary? In all that time, she still hasn't put two and two together to grok that Hank goes through something similar whenever he has to go out with those creepy people following him.

"Oh, good gods!" Em says, exasperated, and uses her head to teasingly shove Paul's arms off of the seat back. "They'd give him a coronary. It's a different country, remember? And, as much as Mom adores Hank, she's still miffed about being on the No Fly list all those years ago. There's no way she'd overlook the amateurs being on her property. It's still hers, you know."

Her brother's comments cause Maria to sit up straighter and stare at Paul. "You know something I don't know," she says, interrupting the conversation.

Paul looks at her as if she'd lost even more marbles than he had thought. "Duh. I know a lot of stuff you don't know. You know stuff I don't know. What the hell is wrong with you now, Maria?"

"You know what I mean, Paul." She just glares at him.

He sighs and rolls his eyes at her. He's getting really, really tired of her... lunacy. Idiocy? Bullshit?

"If you're talking about... the baseline knowledge, no. I don't actually know something you don't know. But didn't you hear me when I said I was like Mom and you're like Dad? Like Mom, I'll think about things and try to figure them out until I understand how they work. On this particular topic, Dad followed Aunt Lin's philosophy of I don't care how it works as long as it works."

"Do I want to know what the two of you are talking about?" Vin whispers to his wife — his wife!

Maria shakes her head. It's all that Before Being Born stuff.

She doesn't stop glaring at Paul, however.

Paul just shakes his head sadly and sighs. Then he turns around to chat with Em and Cory again.

Maria pokes him in the ribs. We're going to have a talk about this later, jerk.

Paul doesn't even look at her. No, we're not. Not until you have your shit together, anyway. Besides, you don't care. Sometimes you act like we never decided to do things the way we did. Don't start acting all interested now.

I care if has something to do with Vin.

It doesn't matter, Maria. It's just a thought experiment. There's no way to say one way or the other whether my hypothesis is valid. Not until we get back to the Not Born place, anyway. Jesus, Maria, don't worry about it.

Great. Treat me like the idiot again.

She leans back against Vin, curling into him for comfort.

"Do you think it will help," Paul whispers so softly that only Em could hear, "if we beat the snot out of them later? I might kick Maria's ass even if it doesn't help."

"Not if it pisses off mom," she says, not bothering to whisper. "But they will need to get their shit together before we get out there."

"Hey," Vin half challenges over Maria's head.

"Yeah, there's..." Paul had started to say before Vin spoke up.

Paul turns to look at Vin and Maria when Em does.

This time she does twist in her seat to look at him. "What?"

"We've got our shit together."

"Not quite you don't. Although you'd better before the parents get back. Mom's liable to borrow Aunt Andi's staff then hand it back to her so she can use it on you herself."

She turns back around and crosses her arms, leaving Vin gaping.

"Sorry about that, Tori, Cory. I guess a century of them making moon eyes at each other and constantly denying it finally worked the last nerve."

"Cory, you always been in the Nation?"

Although her words might have seemed ordinary enough, it's Em's scathing tone that impresses Paul. It's the fact that she even says anything — or quite as much as she does, really — that probably makes Vin look like he's just been punched in the head.


Clearly, Maria is not of the same opinion. She glares at both her brother and her cousin as she hugs Vin more tightly.

Paul sees the signs of impending pain with barely enough time to warn Em.

Em! Bird brain! Defcon 1!

Then Maria seems to disappear from existence, despite the fact that he can still see her. Paul grimaces while his qi readjusts. Vin doesn't seem to be affected by it at all. That probably pisses Paul off even more than the smug look on his sister's face. No, probably not. But it's a close call to make.

He turns around and rests his head on his arm so he can look at Em.

"Gonna kick her 'til she's dead, don't care what your mom says," he says, still feeling dizzy. It isn't like Maria doesn't have this particular temper tantrum regularly. But it has been well over a century since she'd slammed down so hard that Paul would have fallen over if he weren't sitting down.

Em had been all set to laugh at her cousin right until his warning hits her. She already has her shields wrapped pretty tightly, which has become a necessity when around her brother and Maria over more years than she cares to count. Sometimes being an Empath is a real pain in the ass. She wraps them in tighter.

When Paul comments on what he plans to do to his sister, Em meets his eyes.

"Beastmaster need to go for a ride?" she offers. "It's a lot steadier in here."

Offer made, she sends a nudge to her brother. Brother, mine, use your gift and wrap her up before Paul starts puking in your lap.

Vin twitches a bit, makes eye contact with his sister and nods. He extends his own version of shields around Maria and hugs her to him.

Hey, beloved, can you focus on me?

Paul looks into Em's eyes — the eyes so many people found hypnotic, the eyes that too recently had darkened as she fought her feral nature, the eyes that now offer safety. He lets one arm drop over the back of the seat next to her shoulder so he can hold her hand.

Weird that their roles are reversed now. But even weirder was his sister's behavior.

Sing? he half-jokingly asks Em.

Tori is about to shrug off Em's apology — children are children, what can you do? — when the other young woman does something that affects her brother severely and ripples through Em and Tori. She can't stop to sort it out, but it definitely rankles. If they didn't need to get to the Zuni border station so Cory could take the car back to Bernalillo, she'd stop the car and let the children duke it out.

Well... They will still be inside safe territory when they reach their first destination. Maybe she'll let the four of them have their little fight while she finds the Kin or Shifter on border duty. She can have a pleasant, quiet evening of chatting and these four can work out their differences.

"Working on it, Tori," Em says out of the side of her mouth to their chauffeuring deputy.

Thankfully, Cory is oblivious to most of it. He is aware that there is tension among the cousins, but is lucky enough to be Normal... and therefore not attuned to the silent struggles. He does note the body language, however, as well as the look that passes over Tori's face for a few seconds.

There is definitely a lack of hózhó here...

"Born and raised here, Em... pretty far north, though. Most of my family is up in the far northwest part of the Nation..."

...Grandma Sandy was from out that way... Paul still sounds weak and almost disoriented.

"...and I have to admit that I like the weather better down here, even though I miss my family." He smiles, but his eyes hold a touch of worry for the young man resting his head on the back of the seat. "Juana... that's my wife... her family is mostly up in the area between Rock Springs and Twin Lakes..."

...Yah-Ta-Hey... Uncle Junior and Aunt Alicia... damn, I miss them... and Billy... gods...

"She's got a huge family," Cory says with a laugh. "Seems like everyone has girls, and the more girls they have, the more men marry into the family. Sometimes I think her Mama decided to move down to Albuquerque so they could see people who weren't related to them."

He's taking the temperature of the situation the way a cop would. Tori is damn good at keeping everything nice and neat and orderly, but he's known her almost as long as he's been with the Tribal PD. At the moment, he's looking at her the same way he'd look at his partner in a tense situation. There is still a little tension around her eyes. Hell, it's barely noticeable but better to err on the side of caution.

"I met her when I was stationed in Albuquerque about seven or eight years ago. The rest of it's pretty boring... typical guy being typically clueless until this gorgeous woman asks him to marry her."

He chuckles at himself. He can't deny that he has an almost irresistible attraction to Tori. But Juana is gorgeous and brilliant and funny and kind-hearted and possibly the most talented person he's ever met when it comes to fabrics and creating things from them. That's saying a lot in a Nation that has always been known for the woven creations of its People.

"So, Em, being Kin, I guess you've been around a while... at least longer than us short-lived folks. Tori's told stories — I suspect they're all the more pleasant ones — about times before the Troubles. Did you spend most of your life in Europe before they started? How did you come to be one of the People?"

Keep the people with disagreements separated... one of the first rules to keep a small fight from becoming a larger one. Hard to do in the confines of a moving vehicle, that's for sure. But engaging Em and Paul while ignoring the other two might be the best... well, only... strategy.

"Well, Cory, the family didn't stay in one place overmuch. We'd only been in France a few years when our older brother decided he wanted to go to a special school in New York. Five years after that, Mom decided it was finally time to pack up her cabin in Denver that she'd left after our brother's dad died. That was when she met Aunt Andi. They struck up a friendship, did some work together, and in the process, Aunt Andi and Cat adopted mom into the Nation. The rest, as they say, is history.

"Back to your original question, I suppose it really depends on what year you judge the Troubles to have started. Mom's got genetic stock in paranoia, so we've always been prepared for the worst."

Paul listens to his cousin tell Cory the super abbreviated version of the story that's more of a legend in their family by this point.

He also realizes that his sister's asshole move probably has the same effect on him as being cut off from ninety percent of the family had on her when they had stepped through the portal to this world. He has no sympathy, however. At least Em is helping him not feel enraged.

Tori had merely been startled by Maria's lockdown — maybe annoyed, Paul couldn't tell — and when she looks at Em after her comment... Well, the Beastmaster gets the impression of eye rolls and sighs that would out-perform his mom at her most theatrical, despite the fact that Tori only smiles at her younger Cousin Kin.

Cory chuckles, however. "Are you always this good at telling stories?" he asks, teasing a little.

"Comes by it honestly," Paul manages to say. "Our twigs on the family tree have always been mocked for our storytelling skills."

He's able to raise his head. This enables him to realize that feeling like he's half in his own skin and half in Em's is not anywhere near as bad as being alone in his own skin with his twin acting like... Well, there he goes proving his own point, right?

"Or lack of said skills, really. My dad and our Uncle Rene could usually get approval from the various relatives when they spun yarns, but Em's folks and my mom? Nah. On my good days, I can tell a proper story. I don't have as many good days as my dad does and this sure as heck isn't one of them."

But he does manage to smile.

"And thanks, best cousin. Oh, and remind me later to tell you about the booby traps mom set up around the plantation. Dunno what set her off, but she went super protective Ninja on the place one day." He takes a deep breath and decides he definitely is not going to puke. "Gotta figure out how to show you 'cause it's a thing of beauty."

Meanwhile, Maria has merely curled up against Vin.

I can't do anything right, can I? First I'm an idiot because I can't even admit to myself how I feel about you. I'm a dope because I don't know how my powers work. I'm a jerk because I'm paying too much attention to you. I'm an asshole because I'm hiding from my brother.

As she speaks to Vin, she draws into herself more and more. She doesn't actually shrink or fade, but she certainly gives the impression that the Maria part of her is trying to disappear. Maybe not consciously, maybe not literally, but that is definitely the impression Vin is getting.

And he might even be starting to understand what Paul had meant when he'd said Maria had self esteem issues.

I'm always the screw-up. Every time. No matter how many times we do this, I never learn. Well, except when we don't split up like we did this time. But it's always Paul's doing when we do manage to learn anything. I don't even know why I bother anymore.

In the back seat, Vin sighs then clears his throat.

"Tori, could you pull over and let us stretch our legs a bit?"

Em turns her head and gives him a quizzical look before replying to Paul. "Leon's Gift would come in handy, or Oncle Rene's for that."

Tori glances in the rearview mirror at Vin and shrugs. She's managed to get them around Albuquerque and figures it would be a straight shot on I-40 to the Zuni border station. However, instead of getting on the highway, she follows the street that will become the frontage road and then finally old Route 66. It makes for a slightly bumpier ride for a half mile or so, but it isn't really all that bad. She does note Cory's expression of extreme unease. Had she not known him as well as she did, had she not known that he was as steady a cop as both Jeremy and Ryan, she might have said he was panicked.

"Oh, come on, Tori," he says, managing to keep his voice light so as not to further exacerbate whatever issues the cousins were having. "You're not going to stop in Carnuel, are you?"

She grins without taking her eyes off the road. "Afraid of a couple of brujas, are you, Lopez?"

Paul looks at Em... then to Cory... and finally at Tori, who had a look on her face that reminds him way too much of his mother... and then back at Em.

"Yeah. Leon would have been able to give you the full three-sixty." He pauses, looking at Em's face because he absolutely can not look at his sister right now. Damn, he misses his cousin. It would really be impossible to say who misses Leon more because everyone had loved him so much. Okay, Aunt Lin would be number one on the list... but the rest of the universe is definitely tied for second place.

Nope. No sad thoughts!

"Bet Mom could program the holodeck—" He uses her name for the school's Danger Room "—to show you."

He looks at Deputy Lopez and half smiles. "My dad had a multi-many times removed cousin who was a bruja. We only got to meet her once... we went down to Oaxaca when we were little. She was probably a little older than our Grandma Sandy, but she wasn't scary or anything. Maybe a little spooky... but Mom can be a lot spooky, so... you know. Consuela seemed pretty ordinary."

The deputy turns to look at the young man and shakes his head. "Walking Eagle is an evil woman, and she enjoys tormenting me sometimes."

Tori laughs. "You crack me up, Lopez. You take the odder things like cousin kin and mutants in stride. None of that bothers you. But take you anywhere near real magic, and you freak out." She glances at Em and back at Paul before tilting her head toward the north... her left.

"Carnuel has a fairly large community of brujas, one of about a dozen on this side of the Nation. They watch the easternmost borders, sometimes help the Zuni by working the wards between our Nations. More of the bad shit comes at their eastern border than ours."

By this time they've driven through what had once been a small town, and Tori pulls off the road at a modest turnout on the westbound side of Route 66. It looks like there might have been a barrier at one time between the eastbound and westbound lanes, but it's long gone now. She turns off the car, opens her door, then looks at Em and Paul.

"If you're up for a hike, the view from the top of that ridge is gorgeous even at night."

Looking at Cory, Tori says, "You might as well stay in the car, wuss." She grins, then gets out to let Em slide out, too. Paul exits the back quickly and comes around to the other side. Cory gets out as well, grinning at Tori. But he just leans against the front of the car. After Em gets out, Tori pokes her head back inside the vehicle to speak to Vin and Maria.

Em shrugs after a glance at the two in the back seat. "Sounds good to me. Probably can't match the nighttime view I had from the Scope, but it's probably a lot easier to see the stars here than back where we're from."

She slides out with Paul's assistance and waits for Tori to finish giving instructions to her brother.

"Stretch your legs all you want. Don't go back west, you'll upset the brujas. If you want to walk on the other side of the road, stick to this side of I-40. There are some pretty treacherous gullies that will sneak up on you even in broad daylight. No sense having to heal up if you don't have to, hmm?"

Vin meets Tori's eyes, and the love-struck newlywed is no longer there. What she sees is not just Dean Xavier but the X-Men's Commander in Chief. He may not know exactly what they're headed into, but he knows his mother well enough to know what pushed her into Mission Mode. He also knows they all have to be operating at the top of their game.

Then Tori turns back to Em and Paul. "Well?"

Paul nods and holds out a hand to Em. "I don't know about you, but I didn't climb around this area in our world. Let's take a look."

Inside the vehicle, Maria barely moves and simply retreats further into herself.

His cousin had said Maria was his problem now. Paul couldn't have been more right. Vin may not be mission leader on this jaunt, but he's entirely responsible for the team members he'd brought with him, and other than himself, Maria is the only full-time X-Man. Em assists if he asks, but she has always been a member of the Pack. Paul had probably been fifty-fifty on that count for decades, but edging closer to eighty-twenty since Tio Pablo had died. Here, his first loyalty will be to the Pack — as it should be.

He opens his door as the others wander off to hike — except for the other deputy, of course.

"Come on, Maria," he says, holding the door open for her.

He closes it after she's out, then leads her past Cory and down the side of the road a few yards. When he stops and turns to talk to Maria, he's suited up as Professor X, all without ever changing clothes. It's a talent he had picked up from his mother, a way of minutely shifting your persona to be what you need to be.

Maria knows this stop is Vin's idea, but as much as she loves him, she thinks it's a really stupid idea. However, Deputy Walking Eagle had stopped the car anyway, and everyone had gotten out.

She sighs as she followed Vin.

She doesn't like this place. Well, fine... none of them do, really. And if Aunt Lin thinks something ought to be done to make it better, Mom sure as hell is going to follow along just as fast as Uncle Logan will. And so will Paul. And Em. And even Vin.

Usually, she wouldn't have a problem running with the Pack, though she never really felt a part the Wolf Pack like Paul does. But she doesn't feel as though she's part of the X-Men, either.

Nothing feels right here. It isn't just that the majority of her instinctive connections to family are missing. She should feel happy to be with Vin. Why does she feel so miserable?

"Ms. Yazzie-Garcia, please explain to me what it is that troubles you."

When Vin stops, she just wants to be held in his arms. Instead, he turns and almost literally punches her in the heart. She gasps... at his words, at the pain... and feels only the need to run away, to flee, to be elsewhere, to be someone or something else...

Walking beside Em, Paul suddenly stops. "That moron... you two keep going. I'll catch up. Hopefully, this won't take long."

He stands utterly and perfectly still, reaching out with his Beastmaster gift toward his sister, binding her to her human form. He had never done that to her before, although it isn't the first time he's kept a Shifter from shifting. He always stays at the school anytime a Shifter became a student, stays long enough to be sure they can control themselves well enough to let the rest of the teachers do what they do best.

Sometimes, the young ones shift from one form to another so much and so fast that it's dangerous for them. And so he'll bind them. And usually wrap his arms around them and sing softly, too, so they knew they were safe. None of them had ever fought the binding; most had exuded an amount of gratitude they didn't know how to express.

Maria, however, is fighting him...

"Paul!" she screams in his direction. "Let go of me!"

Vin doesn't even react... he has a reasonably good idea what's going on between the siblings. He knows what Paul is likely doing, and trusts him.

After a very long minute, Maria drops to the ground, crying softly.

"It hurts. Everything hurts. I can't make it stop. I can't make it stop, Vin."

On the slope, sweat beads on Paul's forehead despite the cool night air. He continues up the incline and doesn't catch up to Tori and Em until he reaches the top of the ridge. He's breathing hard, despite the climb not being much of a challenge for someone in his condition.

"Hope... Vin... gets... through... to her," he says, dropping cross-legged to the ground and looking out over the landscape. "Wish... Mom..." Before he can get a complete thought out, Elk ambles over to him and butts his shoulder with its head.

Are you this silly in your own world, young Paul?

Dunno. Never had to do this in my world.

Elk laughs inside his head. Great Spirit says you know how to ask Mother Earth for the energy you need. You do not need the Warrior.

"Oh. Yeah."

He doesn't think he can get up to do any Taiji forms right now. Mom always says that's the best way to show Mother you're serious about needing her help. Of course, being polite is also essential. He just folds himself over as much as he can, rests his hands flat on the ground and whispers, "Earth Mother, I could sure use some help, please. I'm doing a crazy thing and don't think I can manage any Taiji right now."

He hears the tinkling of tiny bells that he's come to associate with Mother Earth's presence, although the chords of the chimes are slightly different. And he feels a whole lot better almost immediately.

Tori is looking at him with an expression of weariness. "I'm almost afraid to ask what he's doing," she remarks to Em, "but if every kind of weird is going to be surrounding me on this Walkabout, I guess I ought to know."

Paul looks up at her and tries to smile, although it comes off as looking more like a grimace. "Binding." He pats the ground. "Energy." He sighs and closes his eyes. "Thank you, Mother."

So you simply need reminding about things when you are being silly? Elk asks him.

Paul smiles. Guess so. Think Deer could get my sister to stop being a ninny?

Deer is wise. Perhaps it is possible.

I don't really want to say anything mean about my sister, but I'm going to anyway. Deer should probably consider kicking Maria in the head.

Elk taps Paul's back with its hoof. That is as hard as we kick our charges, young Paul. To gain attention, but never to harm.

Paul sits up... decides he feels much better... then stands. He looks west, toward Albuquerque. It's still lit up enough that one can see it, but it's no brighter in this world than Tuba City is in their world. He looks up at the sky.

"Damn, it's beautiful. Not like being out in space, no... but I usually have to get all the way out to Mom's place in Ganado to see the stars so clearly."

Tori looks up and shrugs. "I've never been to space, and I'm not likely to ever be in space. Ganado is as close as I'll get, even if I wanted to climb the world's tallest mountain... everything looks better when you're in Ganado."

Paul looks at her. "Yeah. That's what Mom says, too." Then he looks at his guardian Spirit. "Thank you, Elk. I'm glad you're here." He can feel the trickle of energy from Mother in the soles of his feet.

A few minutes later, both Tori and Em turn at the same time, looking behind Paul. Em's growl is sub-vocalized; Paul merely feels it as a vibration of qi. He turns around and stands beside his cousin.

"Deputy Walking Eagle."

"Guardian Zosia."

"There is working of magic here. Do you think that wise so close to our village?"

Tori looks at Paul. "You were doing magic?"

Paul looks at the elderly woman whose voice sounds like that of a much younger woman, then he looks at Tori.

"I didn't think so. But..." He shrugs, gathering yet another data point on how different this world is from their own, and looks at the elderly woman again. "If that's what it felt like, then I apologize for... upsetting you, I guess."

Zosia chuckles. "Are you so young that you cannot even say what you have done... this thing for which you must apologize?"

Paul nods. "Oh, definitely. Especially when it comes to anything other people call magic. I know... energy. Magic? Nope." He shakes his head. "Not a thing."

"And yet you spoke to our Mother."

Paul furrows his brows. "You mean asking Mother for help? Well, yes... I did. But that's..." He looks at Tori, then Em. He is definitely out of his depth here. And he really wishes his Mom were here because she'd probably understand what the heck is going on.

"Usually, I gather energy by dancing one of the Taiji forms," he says to Zosia. "But after binding my sister, I was pretty depleted and just asked politely instead. Mom says that's okay, as long as I'm polite about it. And don't do it all the time."

"Hmm. Interesting. It was the binding that called out to the community. How is it that you can do that, and yet not know it is a powerful magic?"

Paul hesitates. Although they are still within the Nation's borders, the old woman looks a lot more like pictures he had seen more than a century ago of Leon's grandmother, Marie. Still... Tori doesn't seem the least bit alarmed; in fact, she looks slightly amused. And Em is just watching the show. He glances back at his sister and Vin. She's still cowering on the ground and poor Vin... Gods, he feels sorry for Vin right now. It looks like Cory has gotten back into the car.

"It's my Curse... mastering the beasts. My sister is a Shapeshifter and is a little nuts right now. She needs to have a conversation with her husband." Paul sighs, turning back to Zosia. "She wants to run away. I won't let her."

"And you think you have this right? To keep her from running away?"


Zosia studies him for long minutes. Having been scrutinized by his mother, his father, Aunt Lin, and Uncle Charles, Paul merely waits.

Finally, she asks, "Why?"

He nods. Good question. He's wondering the same thing... sort of.

"We are leaving the Nation. If my sister cannot be the warrior she is meant to be on this mission, then our mother and our aunt will send her back to Ganado. This will cause distress for her husband, although I suspect he would not argue the decision much."

"At all," Em says simply.

Again Paul shrugs. "All right. At all. But my sister would be in Ganado, and I'm not certain that would be on our route before returning home."

The old woman grins. "You have made some interesting new friends, Tori. Tell me... where did you find them?"

Tori barely smiles. "Ganado."

"At the Shaman's hogan, yes?"


"And yet..." Zosia looks at Em more closely, then nods before looking at Paul's face again. "And yet, you are not from Ganado."


"You are not even from the Nation. Not this Nation."

"Not exactly, no."

"Hmm. It is no wonder, then, that you do not know magic when you see it."

"Begging the Guardian's pardon, and I'm not trying to be a smart aleck because that's usually my Mom's job, but I can see the energy. I just use a different language. And..."

"Yes?" Zosia cuts him off. "Yes, you see the magic?" She holds out a weathered hand, palm up. "What do you see?"

Paul's eyes widen. "I see a ball of energy, and if my Mom were holding a ball that size, I'd start running because she'd lob it at my head."

Em barely stifles a snort. If Aunt Andi were going to toss a qi bolt at Paul, he couldn't outrun it.

Zosia's gaze fastens on her. "You, young cousin... do you see what he sees?"

Em shakes her head.

"And you know damn well I don't, Zosia," Tori adds.

"Hmm." She lowers her arm to her side again and nods. "What ails your sister that you must bind her?"

Paul sighs. Not with relief; he doesn't really think the old woman will zap him like Mom would. He just isn't sure how to explain Maria's problem. Okay, that isn't true either. It's just... well, he really doesn't understand why Maria has the problem in the first place.

"She's got low self esteem, mostly. And a lot of the connections she's used to feeling just... aren't there anymore." At least he does understand the loss of the connections.

"Interesting. Well, let us see to her. Perhaps there will be no need to send her back to Ganado with Deputy Lopez."

Tori laughs. "You're going to torture him, aren't you, Zosia?"

"He tortures himself, Tori. I do nothing but exist." Zosia shrugs and starts back down the hill toward Vin and Maria.

"Well, I guess that means no more stargazing tonight, kids. At least, not until Zosia has poked and prodded your sister, Paul." Tori grins at him. "Or has stared at her for an hour. I can never tell what the brujas are going to do." She starts down the hill after Zosia.

"Damn, I wish Mom was here," Paul mutters.

"You think this old woman is a threat?" Em asks.

Paul shakes his head. "No. I think she probably can do some of the same kind of stuff my Mom does. Mom would call it meridian work. Who knows what magic users would call it? But I know that idiot sister of mine needs something... and it's not anything I can do, it's not anything Vin can do." He shrugs as he and Em start after Tori. "I think if Mom wasn't so pissed off at our siblings, she might have looked harder at Maria and... maybe would have been able to do something about her... issues."

"Or maybe not."

"Right. And knowing Maria, she'd probably let a perfect stranger help her before anyone in the family."

"She's an idiot."

"I know. Unfortunately, she's our idiot."

Guardian Zosia waggles her fingers at Deputy Lopez as she walks by the Tribal Police vehicle. Cory just closes his eyes tightly. She stops in front of the car and looks at Vin for a moment before nodding to herself. Then she looks at Maria. For the first time, she registers some surprise. She turns and looks at Paul.

"You are One-Soul."

Paul nods almost reluctantly. "We are."

"She is elder?"

For a second, he misunderstands... until he remembers that, in this world, folks like Em and Uncle Logan and Tori are Cousin Kin. Not Elders.

"She is."

"Ah. I see." Zosia turns back to look at Maria.

Vin almost goes into a more protective mode, except only Cory seems even the least bit upset by the old woman. If his sister isn't on high alert...

"Zosia, perhaps I should introduce you to the players in the drama," Tori says with a lightness in her voice.

"Children are children." She points at Paul and then Maria. "Siblings." She points at Vin and Em. "Siblings."

"Zosia, you're the most stubborn non-Kin I've ever met!"

"Not really," Paul mutters. "You've met our mothers."

Zosia laughs. "I think I would like these mothers of yours, children. Very well, Tori."

Gesturing to Paul and Maria, she says, "Paul and Maria Yazzie-Garcia."

"Of Ts'ah Yisk'idnii, born for Naakaii Dine'é," Paul adds helpfully.

Tori nods and gestures to Em and Vin, "Emelia Howlett and Vincent Xavier."

"Of Ts'ah Yisk'idnii, born for Diyin Dine'é," Em adds.

"Diyin Dine'é?" Zosia stares at Tori.

"The Kin have a different status in their lands."


"Kids, this is Guardian Zosia, the senior Bruja at the village here."

The old woman steps closer to Maria and crouches down. "So. You are feeling sorry for yourself, despite having a fine husband. Despite having good health. Ha. My granddaughter's granddaughter has more sense. Why are you whining and wailing? Why have you forced your brother to do this thing he did not want to do? Are you so foolish that you wish to spend the rest of your days in Ganado? Oh, yes, it is a lovely place. But not meant for the likes of you, I would think, yes?"

Maria has barely taken in anything going on around her. The more she tries to shift to a less painful form, the more her human form hurts. She's just screwing everything up again. And now this old woman is questioning her? Who gave her the right?

"Yes, I see you. You never should have been the eldest. I can see this. It is what you believe, isn't it, child?" Zosia shakes her head. "Hmm."

She turns to look at Paul. "Releasing the binding will cause less disturbance to my village, is this true?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Then do so."

Paul looks at his sister's angry expression, at Zosia's confident one. "Em? Keep your brother from doing anything really stupid, okay?"

His answer is only another snort from her.

Well, he doesn't expect anything more than that anyway. Sometimes, his cousin is as loquacious has her Dad. Letting go of the binding is as simple as letting out a sigh. It has the added benefit of not draining a good chunk of his own energy, too.

Maria notices the instant the binding is gone and gathers her own energy to shift... except that old woman is pushing her down! How can she be doing that??

"Stop that!" Zosia says to Maria. "I see you. Perhaps you would act like an adult for a moment, yes?"

Zosia shakes her head, then looks up at Vin. "Husband, sit beside your wife. Do not touch. Not yet."

Vin struggles with himself for a moment — husband, squad leader... which role will help Maria more? The old woman said husband, but that hasn't helped much since they arrived here.

"Just do it, Vin," Paul says. He sounds tired and desperate to Vin's ears.

He nods to Paul and kneels beside his wife opposite the old woman.

"Now what?"

"Impatient one, hmm."

When Zosia looks at Vin, he has the sense of... something inexplicable, or at least something that only Aunt Andi would understand. It doesn't make him feel any better about this. But if his sister isn't objecting, then maybe this is the best thing for Maria.

Zosia looks up at Paul and Em. "Brother by head, young Kin cousin between men. Hmm. Tori will watch."

Tori snorts. "Yes, and Tori already notes the presence of Mia and two others."

"Good, good. Felipe and Lalo. You are very perceptive, Tori. Lalo hides well."

"I'm older than the lot of you combined, Zosia," Tori says with a quiet laugh. "And since you're all related, it isn't hard to find them. Lalo is your husband?"

"Indeed. You should visit more often."

"Maybe when I get back from Walkabout."

Paul kneels near Maria's head, ignoring the glare she directs at him. Em hesitates, however. It goes against her instincts not to keep a watchful eye out for hostiles.

"We're safe here, cousin," Tori practically sub-vocalizes. "Help Zosia help Maria, Em."

Not for the first time since leaving the diner, Em wishes Mom, Dad and Aunt Andi hadn't gone off on some crazy side trip. It's almost a certainty that her mother's particular brand of mild mayhem will ensue, with Aunt Andi egging her mother on and Dad... well, it depends on the mayhem. He'll either join right in or watch with amusement. She crouches down between Paul and Vin, simply watching the old woman.

"Hmm. Eldest, too, but properly so. Good, good."

Zosia seems to study Maria; Maria becomes more agitated by the scrutiny.

"Brother, hand on sister's forehead, please." When Paul reaches out and rests his fingers on Maria's forehead, Zosia nods. "Ah, I see what you did! Interesting. But that is a better game for whole souls. Hmm. Yes, interesting. Now, first the shields." She nods again, then looks at the three others around Maria. "Brother and Kin cousin... very good shields, very good teacher. Husband... unusual shields, yes. Effective... good for you, indeed. Now, child..." She looks down at Maria again. "Very bad shields. Why is that? Brother and Kin cousin have excellent shields, taught by same teachers, so it looks to me. Where are your shields, youngling?"

Maria is starting to get angry. Really angry. She isn't a youngling! Well, maybe next to Tori, but this old woman isn't much more than a century old. She can sense that much. And the nonsense about shields? What's that all about? She's neither an empath nor a telepath nor an energy worker. She doesn't understand half of what Mom has been talking about when she goes on and on about the shields that apparently Paul and Em had learned perfectly. Of course, they had. Always trying to prove they're better than her.

Zosia shakes her head yet again. "Brother, who taught you this?"

"Our Mom did. She learned some of it in China after her Curse manifested; before we were born, she learned more from a Celtic priestess... of Danu, I think she said. So it's a combination of direct qi manipulation and imagery to support it. She, um... she did teach both of us. And Em, too. Vin learned mostly from the Professor because their gifts are the same."

"Some of Aunt Andi's suggestions enhanced the Professor's works," Vin says quietly. Then he smiles slightly. "Knowing how Aunt Andi created her shields still didn't let the Professor past them unless she invited him in. Your Mom's pretty scary, Paul."

"Hmm. So sister did not pay attention? Sister did not think it was important? No wonder sister suffers. Tsk."

"Can you help, Guardian Zosia?" Paul tries to keep his emotions well-ordered because it's just something he did around Em; it's considerate. Still, he's spent the majority of this life worrying about Maria and her issues.

"It is something to be discovered. I offer help, but this angry girl does not want help. Angry girl believes she can do well enough on her own, then discovers she cannot. But will not allow any help, even when knowing help is needed."

She studies Maria and then Paul. "Hmm. Same parents, same home, same family. Same soul, same influence. So, what is different, hmm? Oh, yes, yes. Same lessons to learn every time, and always failing. So! New lesson, yes? Or new teacher, yes?"

Maria glares at the old woman. She can't seem to say any of the words she'd like to get out. But her eyes definitely show her growing rage.

"Hmm. So, husband... hand on leg. Yes, yes... very good. Kin cousin, hand on shoulder, please? Ah, yes. Very easy now to see connections. Three souls, four persons... three is stable, four is not. Hmm. So, one problem, then the other."

For Paul, able to sense and see qi, a bright light seems to hang above them. Their guardian Spirits appear and circle them... Elk stands behind Paul; Spider perches on Em's shoulder; Panther sits beside Vin; Deer stands across from him on one side of Zosia; Raven stands on the Guardian's other side.

Then time seems to stand still... for all of them. They all have the sense that Zosia is talking to Maria, but they can't quite hear nor can't they understand the conversation.

Can you stop being angry long enough to watch how I weave these shields around you?

With Deer standing there, Maria feels... not great, but at least better.

I suppose.

Hmm. Stubborn. It is a simple weave; warp and weft. But not threads, no. Filaments of magic, what your brother calls energy, qi. You have enough talent for seeing and sensing, tasting and touching, that it will be simple to unravel when you return to the world where you touch so many lives. Can you see how I do this?


And you see, you understand how to undo it when you wish?


And do you believe you can do this yourself if you had the desire to do so?

Maria pauses for what seems like several minutes.

I'm not sure.

Hmm. And so we have come to your second problem, yes? Your unworthiness. You chose to be Firstborn. You shirk your responsibilities as Firstborn.

Paul was supposed to be born first. Not me.

Then why did you fight him for the right? You cannot lie to me, not in this place of Magic. You wanted this honor. Why do you deny it?

I don't remember that. He's always the oldest. I don't know what responsibilities you're talking about.

Oh, so you did not choose to remember the Universal Oneness before coming into this life? It is in your very cells. Why do you lie to me about not remembering? Why do you pretend to forget what it means to be Firstborn?

I really don't know what you're talking about!!

Hmm. So you say. The Firstborn is the leader or the scholar or the warrior or perhaps another role. It is whichever is most needed in that generation, in that family. You are the healer. I see that you feel it is not an important skill or a skill well-suited to this journey you take here. But the healer will be needed.

I don't see how that's possible or, if it is, how it's useful.

Do not act like a child with me. If you know the mission of this band with whom you travel, then with some deep thought and perhaps an honest request for help and information, you will see what I see.

Then why not just tell me?

Because you are Firstborn! It is your duty to seek! And do not argue further on the matter... you fought for this right, and now you are obligated to accept the responsibilities.

And if I don't?

You will die. Your brother will die. Your husband will die. Not the short deaths known by the Kin, but the true death known by mortals.

But why? Why would my death mean Paul's and Vin's, too?

You are so foolish for one who has lived as long as you have in the family of your birth. Your brother will die because you are one Soul. You should remember that each time you do this splitting — so that you may travel with your Soulmates more comfortably — when one of you dies so does the other. And you have formed a bond with the Soul of your husband; it will have the same effect.

Maria is quiet... and confused.

I... still don't understand what I'm doing wrong.

Everything. Nothing. You are equal to your Soulmates; you are neither less nor more. Stop pretending you have no knowledge. Stop pretending you have no skills. Stop pretending that you are a child. Stop pretending that you need protection. Will you do this?

I'll try.

No. Will you or will you not do these things I say you must do?

For a very long time, or so it seems to Maria, she ponders the question. Except... well, she doesn't really have a choice, does she? If she gets Vin killed, Em — or whoever Em will be in another life — will never speak to her again. Ever. And she doesn't really want to die. She still feels pretty useless, but if this old woman is right, there is probably something she's supposed to be able to do with her healing that will help. She feels Deer's presence and... and feels so loved that she wonders why she doubted herself. She probably will slip back into old habits, but maybe... maybe she can figure out how to short circuit the downward spiral. Oh, right. Ask for help.

Okay. Yes. I will.

Hmm. Good.

Time begins again as Zosia lifts her hand from Maria's chest. "Stay, wait. There is another thing." She looks at Raven. "Four... I do not like this number. Will you add one without adding one?" The giant bird tilts its head, then nods.

Horse will assist.

"Hmm. Good. I thank you, friend." She looks once more at the four younger ones... apparently younger ones. "Five is better than four. So Horse will walk with you on this journey... with all of you, with each of you."

And then she looks at Paul. "You will remember for next time that this is foolish, yes?"

He smiles sheepishly. "Yes, ma'am. I-We tend to get a little excited, though, when traveling through life with my-our friends."

"Yes. I see this. But you will remember that a triangle is more stable than a square, please, if you are remembering All That Is."

Paul nods.

"Hmm. And you..." Zosia looks at Maria. "I believe you have something to share?"

Maria closes her eyes for a few seconds, takes a deep breath, then sits up and turns so she can face her brother and cousins.

"I'm sorry. For everything. I promised Guardian Zosia that I would remember my responsibilities and to act like a proper grown-up. I promise you guys, too. But I might need some help from time to time." She looks at her twin. "You've borne the brunt of it, and I'm really sorry I pissed you off so much."

Paul shrugs. "If you get your shit together, I can forgive you."

Maria looks at Em. "This one is on both me and Vin, but I'll apologize for my part in being so stupid about love. I know that was hard for you. You're one of my best friends ever, and you deserved better from me."

Then she looks at Vin and just smiles for a few seconds. "I love you."

Finally, she looks at Guardian Zosia once more. "Thank you. I..." She presses her lips together and takes a cleansing breath. "Thank you so much."

Vin returns her smile. "I love you, too."

Em raises a brow at Maria. "I will deal with my brother. As for you, apology accepted. Just know if you don't remember to ask for help, you won't have to wait for our moms to get back to get your ass kicked. I'll be happy to do it for you."

"Em," Vin begins.

"Don't even start with me, Vincent. You and I will have a chat later. An ass kicking could be in store for you as well."

You two should apologize to Tori as well before mom gets back if you know what's good for you.

Vin's jaw tightens at his sister's rebuke. He nods in understanding. He's as culpable in this as Maria, he knows that.

She directs her attention to the bruja. "Merci beaucoup, Zosia."

"Your thanks are welcome, eldest one." Then Zosia stares at Em for twenty, thirty, sixty seconds.

Through all of it, Tori watches with an air of amusement, her arms crossed and one eyebrow raised as she, in turn, eyes Zosia. Paul watches the three of them — Em, Tori, and the bruja — his eyes darting from one to the next and then beyond and around them, over and over. Because neither Em nor Tori seems especially concerned, he isn't either. Em has had even more practice being under Aunt Lin's steely gaze than he ever had... and Zosia isn't anywhere near as intimidating as his Aunt could be. Still, he remains on watch... it's his job.

Maria, on the other hand, doesn't quite understand what's going on. Again. Still? She's actually surprised when Paul reaches over and flicks the side of her head. When she glances at him, she can see he isn't even looking at her! She starts to say something but feels a similar ping inside her head.

Good grief, Maria, you need to learn to be in the moment without getting so fucking agitated, her brother says. Just chill, okay?

"Hmm. I see you Eldest Soul," Zosia says to Em. "This thing that worries you? It is a thing you have chosen. And yet, you worry." The woman laughs in a way that makes it seem like she's laughing with Em, certainly not at her. "You have played a game with yourself, and now you are bored. Yes, yes. So many years pass! Hmm, yes, and then even the best game will no longer be fun, yes?"

Zosia nods. "I see you. Yes, yes. You seek, you search. You will find. Not here, no, certainly not here." Tilting her head, she regards Em for a moment longer before smiling. "I see the magic between the worlds, yes? He of the Split One-Soul manipulates that magic. Hmm. Yes. Not as powerfully as the mother, no, of course not. I see what you seek. I do not know which world you will find that which you seek. I do not know when. Hmm, but you know When does not match When between the worlds. Yes, yes." This time, she nods once, emphatically. "You will find. Keep playing your game."

The bruja stands easily and regards the four of them again. "Hmm. Much reminding." She points at Em and then Paul. "The Ones Who Remind." Then Zosia points at Maria and Vin. "The Ones Who Must Remember."

Then she abruptly turns back to Tori. "So. Walkabout. Hmm."

Maria glances at Paul. What was that about with Em?

He raises an eyebrow at her as he stands. Em's business, obviously.

But you know what she's talking about, she responds as she reaches for Vin's hand.

Doesn't matter. It's Em's business.

Meanwhile, Tori laughs at Zosia's comment. "You know damn well it's more than that, Zosia." Then she sobers as she looks toward the east. "Keep the wards strong, Guardian. We're going to be poking at the nests of hornets and wasps if I understand their mothers correctly."

"Hmm. We will do as you say. And you, Tori Walking Eagle, return to us when the time is right."

Tori nods and watches as the Guardian and her family disappear back into the night. The folks with that kind of magic have always intrigued her, but it makes her miss Lelani — her sister has spent so much more time with them. Finally, she shakes her head and turns toward the youngsters.

"Well, saddle up. I have a feeling we're going to get to the rendezvous long before your folks, but I know Cory's lovely wife will appreciate it if he's home when she wakes up."

Em waits until the other deputy gets out so she can get in then slides to the center seat once more. Vin rejoins his wife and brother-in-law in the back seat. Are you sure you're okay? he asks Maria.

Tori just watches the four of them climb back in the car, Em once again acting as a buffer between the two deputies. She looks at Cory before starting the vehicle and grins at him.

"Zosia likes you, Cory. You, too, Cousin." She starts up the car, puts it into gear, and starts back toward the main road. "She only gives out enigmatic advice like that to folks she likes."

"I get enough weirdness like that from Aunt Andi. Thanks."

Tori merely smiles. "Maybe spending a few hours with your Aunt would give Cory here more of an appreciation for Zosia and her family.

Cory looks at Em and then leans forward so he can look at Tori. "Okay, I'm not playing poker with either one of you, and that sounded like a threat, Walking Eagle." He does smile, however. "I'm sure your aunt is absolutely lovely, Em."

From the back seat, Paul snickers. "The two aren't mutually exclusive, you know. Mom can be utterly charming and thoroughly delightful — although I'll grant that's not usually the case when she's working as Ninja. But whether she's in uniform or out of uniform, she's a magnet for weird." He shrugs. "She used to blame Maria and me, but to be honest? No matter what soul decided to inhabit the body of her child... dad's child, she still would have gone through the upheaval that kickstarted the explosion of her powers."

Cory looks over his shoulder at the young man. "I hope you know you sound as bad as the brujas."

Paul shrugs. "I'm more like my mom than my sister is. And sure, we did give her some grief. But getting pregnant after everything that led up to that moment was the catalyst for everything that followed — not who I am, not who Maria is. Em's right. My mom has lived in a weird metaphysical place for most of her life. Mostly, we're used to it and accept it. Sometimes, as Em mentioned, she can be a bit much."

He smiles serenely. "Dad likes to blame everything about Ninja on Aunt Lin. Mom likes to blame the Magnet for Weird phenomenon on my sister and me. Aunt Lin laughs at Dad. I just roll my eyes at Mom. Maria lets it get to her, but maybe now she'll stop," he says, shifting his eyes to his sister for a moment before leaning forward to rest his arms on the back of the front seat again.

"Don't worry, Deputy Lopez. If there's anyone who could smack Mom out of the metaphysical back into reality, it's going to be Tori here. Uncle Logan could smack her, but I've never met anyone so easygoing in all my life. Aunt Lin tries — and sometimes succeeds — but Mom is still faster than her Sister. Tori, though?" He nods. "At least as fast as Uncle Logan — meaning faster than Mom — with less patience."

Cory sighs and shakes his head. "I'm not sure that's very reassuring, Paul. You're going out into the Free Lands. It's not a place for fun and games."

"I get that. And for Mom, her version of weird and her unorthodox methods are anything but a game. As long as Maria keeps her head screwed on properly, we'll be fine." He reaches around to squeeze Cory's door-side shoulder. "Tori is part of the Wolf Pack for this mission. And we haven't lost anyone on a mission since I was old enough to join."

Em snorts at Cory's assessment of Aunt Andi. She, herself, has never claimed to understand the metaphysical mumbo jumbo and has taken her mother's approach, more or less. She just tunes out when Aunt Andi goes on one of her rambling tangents. Mom will pay attention for a time, generally with a long-suffering stare.

"The Pack has never lost anyone on a mission," Em corrects Paul. "That's because we are family and have exceptional and unique skills. As dad would say: we're very good at what we do."

"Okay, ever," Paul says, nodding to Em. "But we are very good at what we do, Cory — even Mom and her metaphysical mumbo jumbo, even my ditzy sister. You can't run with the Pack if you're not damn good at what you do. You can't run with the Pack if you're not family... or at least worthy of being adopted into the family."

He smiles. "We don't actually do that, the whole adoption thing, I mean. Mom really annoyed some of the Spirits when she formally adopted Aunt Lin. Maria and I hadn't been conceived yet so I-We can remember—"

Cory closes his eyes and groans; Paul pats his shoulder. Em is a nanosecond away from smacking him.

"Sorry. I have the capacity to out-weird even Mom, but really try to reign it in for Em's sake. Sorry."

"That explains a lot," his sister mutters, causing Paul to grin cheerfully.

"The ditz hates it even though she agreed to do things the way we did. As a dutiful brother, I tease her mercilessly. Anyway, I was talking about Aunt Lin's adoption. I remember the brouhaha as an observer. Mom and Cat were masterful in snagging Aunt Lin into the family! Cat might have had an agenda — fine, Cat very likely did have an agenda — but Mom was running on instinct. She'd barely hit thirty, and her instincts were wickedly sharp even then."

"Tio Pablo tells a different story," Em remarks.

"Of course he does!" Paul laughs. "That's the one that starts off 'Once upon a time, Madeline rolled, flew, or teleported into town to corrupt my sweet innocent Librarian.' The details change to fit whatever Mom is doing that doesn't match his idea of the person she was at twenty or twenty one. You have to admit that my dad is a pretty funny guy."

Throughout all of this, Maria leans against Vin's shoulder.

I'm not entirely sure about anything right now, Vin. But I think I'm mostly okay.

She's silent for a few minutes as she listens to her brother's explanation of their mother and her powers.

Paul's right... about Mom, I mean. I honestly believed we were to blame for the acceleration of her powers. But now? I don't know... it's as if I can finally accept his theory when I never could before. Mom's been blaming us since before we were born. Paul's been trying to tell me she has as much tunnel vision as Dad. I guess, well, maybe I did take all that guilt in and let it define who I was.

And now I need to let it go and redefine myself.

She sighs softly. This is a hell of a time for a soul quest.

Vin hugs Maria closer. Maybe you should talk to my mom about guilt. She had a lot of it when Em and I were little. Debilitating amounts sometimes.

Paul rests his chin on his arm, ensuring that he has to peek through his cousin's tresses. It's a rare treat. One of his earliest memories of This Life and finally getting to spend time with her and Vin is falling asleep in her lap — he can't have been more than two or three — patting the wild mane of her hair and whispering, Fierce Emmy. Fierce, fierce. Maybe that was when he began to realize how Maria's and his gifts had started to split and cement in the individuals they had become. It had been years before he could articulate it to anyone other than Mom. Still, Em and her dad — and even Aunt Lin to some extent — have always been more comforting to him than they ever will be to Maria. True, Em and Maria have become good friends over the decades. True, Uncle Logan is every bit as gentle as Dad was when they were babies. True, Aunt Lin's Madness has become a weapon in her arsenal instead of something that might have destroyed everyone around her. But it's the wildness, the Feral parts of them that whisper "family" to the Beastmaster.

"So when we say we're going to get Tori back to the Nation when we're done, the only thing you have to worry about is how much time she spends visiting all the Kin between here and wherever we wind up—"

"New York," Maria mumbles.

Paul gives her a side eye and continues, "—and how many new friends she makes along the way."

Maria tries to ignore Paul. She tries not to think about the game he's playing right now — putting the deputy at ease by spinning yarns. If she does stop to think about it, she'll realize that Paul is doing exactly what Dad would be doing right now, and then probably start feeling useless again because her brother is like the best of both their parents. By inference, that makes her like the... well, clearly not the best of them.

Instead, she snuggles closer to Vin and contemplates what he's said. Does she really feel guilty? Yes, but also maybe. Sort of? It's more complicated than words can convey. Em would probably get it, but she's pissed her cousin off enough to last a decade. Maybe the trick is just to stop spinning in circles inside her own mind? Huh. Zosia had said something like that, hadn't she?

She looks up at Vin and smiles slightly.

Maybe I just need to talk to everyone more when I start going to that stupid place. I know Paul and Em are going to kick my ass if I don't stop my spirals. My mom will crack me over the head with her stick, and your mom will just punch me in the head or something. Uncle Logan will ignore me, which you'd think would be fine... except it's almost as bad as Dad ignoring me. It hurts. Probably because I respect him and love him so much.

She pauses and bites her lip.

I can count on you to call me out before I get so awful that everyone else wants to chuck me through a portal, right, love?

A few hours later, Tori slows the SUV as the crew approaches the small longhouse at the Zuni border crossing, coming to a complete stop in front of it. Tori looks in the rearview mirror and says, "I don't want to hear a single word from any of you. No sighs. No whimpers." She turns her head and looks directly at Paul. "And especially no snickering."

Vin and Maria nod their asset, presumably Em responds silently; Paul hesitates a second or two before nodding as well. "Yes, ma'am. You're in charge."

"I hope that wasn't sarcasm, buster."

For the first time since arriving in this world, it's easy to see the warrior aspect of Paul Garcia-Yazzie. "No. The war zone starts here. I'm acknowledging your authority. Aunt Lin leads the Wolf Pack; Vin might be in charge of the X-Men but he doesn't run with the Pack nearly as much as Em and I do. You have more intel on this world than we do. So, until Black Wolf returns, you're in charge, and I'll follow your orders."

She narrows her eyes and looks at him suspiciously. However, before she can say anything else, Cory speaks up.

"Tori, let it go. You'll be in charge of these reprobates for... what? A couple of hours? The entire Tribal Police Force and the surrounding Nations all know your opinion about being in charge of anything, and the newcomers don't. Seems to me like Em and Paul, at least, have their shit together and besides..." He points to the shack where a flickering light has just come on. "...looks like Gregor's up."

Tori rolls her eyes at her fellow deputy but then cranks down her window.

"Tori! What are you doing out here waking up an old man in the middle of the night?" he asks with a smile.

She grins back at him. "As if you didn't already know, my friend. And just because you look older than me does not give you leave to pretend to be an old man."

Gregor laughs and ignores her jibe. "Maybe so, but it's nice to hear stories from their source." He looks past her to Em and then Cory. "Greetings, Cousin... Cory. Didn't expect to see you for weeks, Deputy. But it's good to have you visiting early. I expected the rest of you a couple of hours ago, though."

"Oh, we took a bit of a break to look at the stars and terrify Cory one last time," Tori says.

Gregor slaps his knee and laughs even harder. "Ah, good one! Visiting the brujas, then, eh? I'm surprised that great-granddaughter of mine didn't get here before you did with that story. But the cub that's wandering through the forests is pretty interesting. Remember trains, Tori? Yep, from what Eli says, it's like watching a train wreck." He cants his head to the side. "Although he claims that Jean Marie compared the lad to a horror movie."

Tori chuckles. "Your sister always did have a peculiar sense of humor."

"Very true," he agrees. "So... how long are you staying? Long enough for tea, I hope."

"Tori and the younger folks have time for visiting," Cory says, "but I need to get back to Juana."

Gregor nods then raps on the driver's door. "Well, if Eli relayed a halfway accurate message, you'll need a place to stay while waiting for your friends. Any idea how long they'll be?"

Tori looks at each of the four youngsters; the three in the back shake their heads.

"Less than twenty four hours," Em says. "If it's more than that, they're in trouble."

The border guard nods. "You can camp over on the old pasture. You won't have to worry much about weather unless you'll be sticking around through the day. We might get some clouds around mid-day, maybe some gusts of wind." He shrugs and spreads his arms wide. "Or we might not! That's the beauty of our weather over here — it likes to surprise us!"

Tori chuckles. "Or you have some weather workers who like to pester you, Gregor."

"Nah, the closest weather workers I know of are up in the Comanche lands. That's too far away."

"If you say so, my friend." She glances over at Cory then nods once more to Gregor. "Let me get the youngsters and our gear out of the car, and I'll come back for that tea."

Gregor taps on the door once again and smiles. "It's a plan, Cousin!"

Tori's good mood remains as she drives the SUV along the exit to the county highway, then down about a quarter mile to the dirt road leading to an ancient farm. After turning around so that the car is facing back toward the road, she puts the car in park.

"All right, kids, let's get our stuff out of here so Cory can have his vehicle back."

Cory merely rolls his eyes and sighs. Everyone knows that the vehicles all belonged to the Tribal Police. By assigning ownership to him, even in a joking way, Tori is once again reaffirming that her ties to the police department are severed.

"You'll be back," he mumbles as he climbs out of the SUV.

Tori pretends not to hear him as she gets out of the car, eyeing Vin and Maria as they exit. Paul has already climbed out the other side and is heading toward the back of the SUV with Em and Cory.

"Have you two found your balance?" Tori asks. Although she addresses the question to both of them, her eyes remain on Maria.

The younger woman hesitates before shrugging. "Not quite, but..." She looks at Vin and smiles. "...we're close."

Tori nods. Although the continued chaos Maria is experiencing makes her the weak link on the team, at least the youngster can admit she still has work to do. Even better, she no longer looks like someone who should have been left in the care of the People.

"Okay. Work fast on getting your shit together. I'll need to get some intel from Gregor's people, but I expect our travels should be uneventful through the rest of New Mexico and across the Texas panhandle. However, once we cross outside the wards, no one is going to have time for babysitting. Even though I'll heal right up, I don't fancy dying because of stupidity. Got it?"

Maria nods. "Yes. I..." She stops herself from continuing and merely nods once more. "Got it."

Tori returns the nod, then waves them off before going through the front and back seats as though the car is a crime scene, making sure nothing is left behind. She manages to find two thermoses — one is definitely Ryan Benally's; the other looks suspiciously like Hatathli Yazzie's favorite thermos. She'll send them back in the general direction of Ganado, probably filled with some of Gregor's tea for Cory and Juana.

Between the six of them, it takes very little time to clear out all their gear and stack it neatly beside the dirt road. It's the first time Tori is able to truly appreciate the number of weapons these folks from another universe possess — and their elders likely have plenty more with them in Jimmy's truck. She smiles inwardly. They might survive this adventure after all.

"Do whatever it is you do to relax," she tells the four young warriors. "Lopez! Let's get us some tea!"

They had all learned the same lesson at their respective parents' knees — rest when you have the chance. Em and Paul get as far away from the two lovebirds as possible before settling down with their backs against a couple of Tori's crates. There isn't anything they need to say; they've worked together so much over the years that silence is second nature.

Maria and Vin stroll hand in hand toward the far northeast section of the old farm where remnants of a corral still stand. Barely.

"Are you sure you're okay?" Vin asks.

"Pretty sure." She smiles at him. "Right this minute, I'm fine. I'm happy. And I know that our siblings will kick my ass if I don't stay this way — even if you won't." Maria chuckles. "Your sister is scarier than you are, love."

He returns her smile. "I'd be more worried about your brother if I were you," he says. "Sure, Em could knock you unconscious in less time than it would take me to get between the two of you. But Paul..." He just shakes his head.

Maria's smile fades slightly. "I deserved that, I guess. He's never..." She looks back in her brother's direction for a moment. "Well, he's never actually had to keep me from shifting before, so he's never done it. I think that was as much of a kick in the ass as I'd get from our moms."

"No, I suspect you'd get more of a thrashing from them," Vin says wryly.

"Sure. Physically. I just mean that, well, Paul gave me more of a kick to my emotional center rather than my head. Or ass," she adds as one corner of her mouth quirks up.

"Ah! You're saying that after a hundred and fifty years, your brother finally beat you up."

"Something like that, yeah."

Vin chuckles again. "I love you with all my heart, Maria, but I'm surprised it took him that long."

She shrugs. "Well, I'm sure my mother would have her wacky theories that would all culminate in her Gibbs slapping us again for tormenting her when she was pregnant."

Vin wraps his arms around her as he leans against one of the few remaining sturdy posts. "Let's just enjoy these last few hours or minutes of peace, my lovely wife."

She smiles and closes her eyes as she allows herself to be engulfed in love. Vin is right — they should just spend every moment they have until their folks get back being quietly together. Who knows when they'll have another chance like this?

Paul smiles as he leans against the crate, one shoulder barely touching Em's.

Something making you happy, Beastmaster? Em asks.

Just all the Shapeshifters in the area. 'Shifters who aren't my sister have interesting... He shrugs slightly. Selves, I guess.

I trust you're not going to get close enough with that gift of yours that they'll notice you.

Yep, I've always been the sensible, trustworthy one.

He feels her move, and when he shifts his position slightly and opens his eyes, he's staring right into hers.

"You're demented," she says succinctly. "You've been a daredevil your entire life."

"Yeah. So? That always seemed sensible to me."

She looks at him without blinking for several seconds before she finally smiles. "Well, at least you're trustworthy."

He chuckles and looks up at the stars. "Also a sensible trait."

Maria stiffens in Vin's arms as she jerks her head up and looks to the north.


"Gods damn it, Mother! What the hell have you done now?"

"Hon, what's going on?" Vin sounds... almost sounds worried.

"How the hell should I know?" she asks, exasperation practically wafting around her like a cloud. "My mother's gone and done something, but what?" She pulls away from him and sighs heavily. "There are definitely more people that I can..." She starts pacing and waving her arms around. "I don't know... sense, find, whatever it is that I do with this minor gift that knocked me way off kilter when we got here."

"Maria..." Now he definitely does sound worried.

She glances over her shoulder at him. "I'm fine. Or I'll be fine. It's worse than when babies are born to the family. That's like..." She practically growls in frustration. "It like a couple of minutes of barely noticeable vibrations along my meridians. This? I think this is what a panic attack feels like."

Paul jumps up and looks in the direction his sister and Vin had gone. He can see her pacing back and forth.

"Do I need to go kick her in the head?" Em asks, making the assumption that it's Maria causing Paul's less than serene posture.

"No. I think she's actually trying to hold it together. But I don't think I've ever seen her this, well, agitated. Not even when she was learning to shift."

Em shrugs. "She had Cousin Billy for a teacher. He was the best. Why would she be agitated?"

He looks down at her and chuffs out something that resembles a laugh. "You realize that there's a picture of you in the dictionary next to the word 'pragmatic,' right?"

She grins. "Maybe so, but my folks have their pictures on the Wiki page."

"I suppose I should go see what her problem is this time."

Em waves him off as she settles back against the crate. "Well, she's your sister. Let me know if you need me to sit on her."

Paul sighs as he walks toward Maria and Vin. He only gets about halfway across the field before Maria shifts and takes to the air. He senses the distinct signature of a peregrine falcon.


"So, Binny," he says as he nears his cousin, "how'd you manage to piss off my sister so fast? I would have thought all your cow eye mushiness would have given us a week's buffer. At least."

Vin glances at Paul and shakes his head before looking back at the sky where Maria is still gaining altitude.

"If I understand even half of what she was saying before she suddenly took off, we have your mother to blame for this."

"Really? What happened?"

"No idea, other than it tapped into the finding people aspect of her gifts," Vin says. "She said it felt like what she imagined a panic attack to feel like."

"She's had panic attacks, Vin. If this is worse than a panic attack..." Paul looks up and unerringly finds his sister. "Well, that would explain the form. Dive bombing some poor unsuspecting rabbit at over two hundred miles an hour should burn off some of that anxiety."

Vin turns to stare at Paul. "Two hundred..."

Paul can't be sure, but if he had ever heard this much worry in Vin's voice, it had been a very, very long time ago.

"Yep." He points to the speck in the predawn sky that even he can't see. "Peregrine falcon. Fastest bird on the planet — at least in a dive. Don't worry, it's one of her favorites. She has nearly perfect control over all the bird forms... and absolutely perfect control with the peregrine. And a few others."

Paul is hoping that if he keeps talking, maybe Vin won't worry so much.

"Besides, I'm here. I won't let her splat onto the ground!"


He turns to look at his cousin again. "Vin, this is what she does. You know that. How many times have you seen her shift? What the hell is the matter with you, man?"

Vin doesn't say anything; he just watches the sky.

Paul shrugs and looks up again himself. Maria is just about to start her dive back to earth. He reaches out and lightly touches her mind; she growls at him in frustration. Well. Now, that is a good sign. Growling means that she's as much Maria as she is Falcon. Frustration means she probably won't aim for him if he hitches a ride as she dives.

It's a little bit like the long drop of a rollercoaster — only a hell of a lot faster.

When Vin looks at his cousin, Paul is grinning. At least he isn't imitating his aunt's evil grin, which means Maria will probably be okay. He hopes.

Paul pulls back just before Maria Falcon snatches up a stray chunk of wood and shifts to a larger bird — this time a golden eagle — and carries the old fence post out to the road near the gate and drops it there.

Her brother chuckles. "Oooh, she's pissed," he says to Vin as his sister wings back for another slat. "At least it's just wood. She used to drop piles of rocks in people's driveways when she was a teenager."

"I vaguely remember that," Vin murmurs.

Tori steps out of the longhouse with Gregor to see the falcon's dive and the beginning of the eagle's methodical rearrangement of items out near the mini-camp.

Gregor laughs. "If you hadn't said otherwise, I'd have pegged that one as a youngling just learning her skills."

Tori sighs. "I think I'll have her mother and aunt beat her senseless when they get here."

"Oh, don't bother. Let the child have her fun," he replies. "As long most of it gets back close to where it started, it doesn't matter."

"I think that's more a temper tantrum than fun, Gregor."

He shrugs. "She's not hurting anything. The other 'Shifters think it's funny. And they're impressed with the falcon's dive." He pats Tori's shoulder. "No harm, no foul."

She shakes her head. "I suppose I should find out what's gotten her so riled up." Then she turns to Gregor with a smile. "You still going to be alive when I roll back into the People's lands, old man?"

"It's my plan." He holds out a hand, they grasp forearms and hug. "Just don't spend more than a few decades out there on your Walkabout. I might get bored and move to the mountains."

She laughs and picks up the cloth bag of provisions he had insisted on giving her, slinging it over her shoulder as she strides across the road.

"I have family in the Nation, Gregor. I won't be more than a decade!"

She avoids the two young men and the insane Shifter, finally setting the bag down on the ground beside Em.

"Want to tell me what the hell is going on, Cousin?" she asks as Maria shifts to some form of medium-sized canine and starts tearing across the field as if she's being followed by all the demons of hell.

Em doesn't even open her eyes, although she tilts her head slightly.

"Aunt Andi did something crazy. That's not unusual. Whatever it was riled Maria up. That is unusual. If Paul is to be believed, she's working out... something."

The younger Cousin Kin opens her eyes and looks at Tori with a half-smile. "We may or may not need to sit on her. Paul recommends that we just let her wear herself out until our folks get here."

Tori watches Maria for a few minutes, hands on her hips, before finally shaking her head. She pulls an apple from the bag as she sits down.

"Help yourself, by the way," she says, gesturing to the bag. "It's all fresh fruit, so it won't last more than a few days." She raises an eyebrow as Maria streaks by. "Damn, she's fast."

"She is. She still herds goats, sheep, cattle, wild horses, bison." Em picks an orange from the sack and begins meticulously peeling it. "Not as much as she did in her forties and fifties, but there are fewer ranches out near Aunt Andi than there used to be."

"Huh." Tori doesn't say anything else until she's finished her apple — everything but the stem. "You know, most 'Shifters wear themselves out before they've gone through less than half the number of shifts your cousin has gone through."

Em shrugs. "Paul's probably helping her."

Maria takes to the air again, although it does look like she's straining to get airborne.

"Huh, that's a new one," Em notes. "Well, not one I've seen before."

Tori blinks. "Well, I don't know how those birds have fared in your universe, but in this one, the California condor has been extinct for over two hundred years."

"Really? Well, you'd have to ask Aunt Andi, but I think it's just listed as Vulnerable these days. In our world."

© Kelly Naylor and ividia kt