The portal closed silently, yet Pablo imagined he could hear a faint pop as a shudder ran through his body. This feeling that ripped through his heart wasn't exactly making this the best day of his life, either. Or his afterlife. Or whatever.

He dropped to the ground and stretched out, pillowing his head on folded hands. He just stared up at the sky, watching a few wispy clouds float slowly toward the treetops for several minutes until Rene stood above him.

"You okay, man?"

"Nope. Definitely the opposite of okay, Rene. I never thought I'd have to feel like this again, and I can't say that I like it."

His Brother sat down next to him. "Sorry. It sucks. There's not much we can do but wait."

"I know." Pablo watched a squirrel attempt a leap from one branch to another, fail, and manage to catch itself on a lower branch. Squirrels seemed to be klutzes on every planet. "I just thought with Andi I wouldn't have to go through the hell I went through when Rosalia and Juan were killed, when Denise was taken off life support, you know? I guess the only difference is that I know Andi and the rest of the family will be back soon enough. That doesn't keep me from feeling like shit, though."

"I know. I'm not going to be an asshole and tell you it gets any better."

"Good. I wouldn't believe you anyway."

Cat walked across his chest to sit beside Rene. "I do not like this. Why did Madeline not return? Why did all of the corporeal members of your family leave?"

Pablo turned his head to look at his fellow Spirit. "Really, Cat? After all this time, you really need to ask that?"

Cat stared for longer that a cat should, even given that cats were champions of staring, then blinked and nodded. "I do."

Pablo sighed and looked at the sky again. "Obviously, there's something going on in that universe that she and Andi think they can fix. Why do they think they can fix all the problems in the world, Rene?"

His Brother laughed, although it was with very little humor. "Because usually they can, Pablo. Not always by themselves, hence the accompaniment of the rest of the family, but if that universe has a problem Maddie thinks needs solving, my money's on her."

Billie hesitantly walked from the other side of the clearing and stood above the two of them. "I really wish someone would tell me what's going on."

Rene, you want to fetch the young lady a chair while I try to explain... or would you rather try to explain while I fetch her a chair?

Rene's answer was to disappear.

"That's what I thought," Pablo muttered. "He'll be back in a sec with a chair for you, Billie. How's the leg?"

"I'll live. For a while longer, anyway. But thanks for asking, Mr. Garcia."

"You're just never going to get over that, are you? I've been a ghost for thirty years and you still can't call me Pablo?"

"No, sir. Sorry."

He shook his head and sighed. "Fine, fine. You might as well ask whatever questions you have. Rene and I will try to answer them, but knowing you and your brain, half of them will have to wait until Andi and Paul get back."

Rene returned with one of the deck chairs from the lodge and set it beside the scientist. "There you go, Billie. Have a seat." He smiled — a charming smile that could have been trademarked as easily as Ninja's wicked I'm gonna whup your ass smile — and sat down himself on the other side of his Brother.

"Thank you." She eased herself gratefully into the chair. There was a damn good reason she spent almost every day of her life on ships or space stations. And it had nothing to do with the fact that Mrs. Jacobs asked her to watch the Conduit or keep track of the military's research into opening portals. Each day that passed seemed to wear more and more on her body, and gravity was hell. "I guess my first question would be how did Mrs. Jacobs wind up in another universe?"

"Yeah, that would be a question you'd have to ask Andi. She has theories, and I don't think a lack of time was the only reason she wasn't willing to share them." Pablo shifted his eyes to look at his former student. "They're probably fairly crazy."

"To you," Billie amended.

"Oh, without a doubt. But she tends to mix the meta into the physics an awful lot, so there's a fair chance they'll sound crazy to you, too."


"I'm just warning you."

"You don't know how Ms. Yazzie and Paul create the portals, do you?"

"Not a freakin' clue," Pablo says with a hint of a smile. "It's easier to see the qi movements now that I'm all Spiritual, but I don't have any idea how they're doing it."

Billie was quiet for a long time. Pablo and Rene didn't have anything to say that hadn't already been said. Cat just paced.

Finally, Billie spoke again... quietly, hesitantly, almost fearfully. "What's it like being dead?"

Pablo turned to look at her and studied her for a moment.

"I don't know, Billie," he said softly. "I think Rene and I are stuck at the terminal waiting for our flight to wherever we're supposed to go when folks die. Andi and Madeline have indefinitely delayed our departure until they can get here... and go with us."

"Oh. I guess I was just wondering if it was... difficult."

Pablo shrugged. "I fell asleep one night... and without the Bond I have with Andi, I suppose I would have just drifted off to wherever I'd go. I don't know if it would have been any kind of a big deal or anything. Being stuck at the terminal was... I don't know... uneasy at first. Until I got the hang of it. Now? It's kind of nice. Rene had it way worse than I did when he died."

"Great Spirit could tell you where you'd go, you know," Cat said as it continued to pace.

"Yeah, if my kids made any sense, they could tell me, too," Pablo replied, rolling his eyes.

"They make perfect sense," Cat said airily.

Pablo looked at Rene and sighed. "Do you ever get the feeling you're the kid just grasping basic math but got dumped in an advanced calculus class? I love my kids dearly, but they're not quite right."

"Of course they're not," Rene replied. "What kind of crazy person decides to remember stuff from before they were even born? Deliberately and consciously makes that decision? I love your kids, too, Pablo... but they're nuts."

"Thanks for the validation, Brother. But you know... as much as Andi complains about their nonsense, I think she understands it all better than she'll let on."

Cat stopped its pacing, walked over to Pablo and stepped up onto his chest.

"Oof! Damn it, Cat! Do you really have to do that? You look like a nice healthy ten pound cat... is it really necessary to act like you're a twenty pound bag of cat food?"

Cat stared down at Pablo's face. "You become complacent when you're not frequently reminded that the realm of the Spirits is different that what you remember from the realm of physical beings. And yes... the Warrior understands far better than she allows her children to believe."

"Great. Maybe I'll ask her about it when they get back. She's only crazy half the time." Pablo looked over at Rene. "Generally when she's hanging out with your wife."

"Pablo, you keep trying to blame Maddie for Andi's behaviors that you consider unorthodox," Rene said before sighing. "I had the pleasure of meeting Ninja before you did, my friend. And as I keep telling you, from the first time I met her, I would have sworn Ninja and Maddie were sisters. Or at the very least best friends."

"Yeah, but Andi didn't start acting like Madeline until after they met, so I still say it's her fault."

Rene leaned forward and flicked a finger against the side of Pablo's head.

"Ow! What was that for?"

"Mostly because I can't Gibbs slap you when you're lying down like that. But also because you seem to conveniently ignore the fact that Andrea integrated her personalities a whole month... maybe six weeks... before she ever met Maddie. Are you telling me that Andi never once in that time was the slightest bit snarky or more... well, like Ninja... in all that time?"

"It was a hundred and fifty years ago, Rene! Plus some!"

"Evasions, old man. Be honest."

Cat reinforced the suggestion by swatting Pablo's nose.

"OW! God damn it, Cat, stop it!"

He looked at Rene. "In all honesty, despite whatever Andi might or might not have said in those... let's call it six weeks, the first hint I had that her personalities really had been integrated was when that rogue cop came to our house to kill us. I had thought at the time that she'd just gone into Ninja working mode. But later that day, after we all had lunch together while we were helping ferry the folks back to Commerce City, I had time to think about it. Working with Ninja that day as Peacekeeper made me realize that Andi had not, in fact, been in Ninja mode that morning. Because full out Ninja still has enough differences from just plain Andi that I can tell when she's working... and when she's not.

"Since that had been only a few days after Andi met Madeline, I had attributed her behavior that morning to having been corrupted by your wife... and not her personality integration."

Rene nodded. "So are you ready to drop the bullshit?"

Pablo shook his head and grinned. "Nope. The bullshit is a hell of a lot more fun."

Rene sighed and raised his eyes upward, almost as if to ask, Why me? "You know, I think Andi corrupted you more than my wife ever managed to corrupt yours."

"But, Rene... isn't that what wives are supposed to do to their husbands?" Pablo quipped, but then asked more seriously, "Can you honestly say that meeting and marrying Madeline didn't change your whole life? If we're really honest about it — and not goofing around like I usually do — all five of us had our lives fundamentally changed by knowing and loving the other four. It's what makes the Pentad so powerful."

"I like you better when you're goofing off, Pablo. It takes my mind off how much I'm missing them."

Pablo just leveled his dark eyes on his Brother for a long, silent moment. "We're getting back to how much this fucking hurts, mi hermano."

Billie cleared her throat. "Maybe we could talk about something else?"

In an instant, a mischievous twinkle sparked in Pablo's eyes... to be mirrored in Rene's. They both looked at their corporeal guest.

"So, Billie..." Pablo started, "maybe you could explain to a guy who graduated from high school in 1995 and has been been solving murders and fighting crime since then how the Conduits work."

She stared at him. "But... you... I..." She blinked several times. "Mr. Garcia, you need to understand advanced mathematics and physics!"

"What? Algebra Two isn't advanced enough? I was good at that!"

"No, Brother," Rene added helpfully, "I think she means the scary stuff that happens after Calculus."

Pablo looked at Rene, frowning thoughtfully. "I don't think I ever even took Trig." His expression brightened. "I remember Geometry class though! There were shapes and stuff about proving theorems... or something." He turned back to Billie.

"Is that enough math?" he asked innocently.

Billie just looked appalled.

© Kelly Naylor