The two Spirits Who Were Once Men sprawled in the grass of the clearing. They were both desperately trying to ignore Cat. The poor thing seemed to be having an anxiety attack. Neither of them had a watch, but they couldn't have teased Billie for all that much time. But they were a little afraid to ask her how long Andi, Logan and the kids had been gone.

Billie, for her part, sat in a chair not too far away... but not all that close either. There was just something about this whole situation that didn't want to fit into the physics that was her extraordinary mind. Also, there was only so much juvenile teasing she could take at her age.

Suddenly, Pablo sat up.


In less than the blink of an eye, Rene was standing.

"Yes. Absolutely!"

And then he disappeared. Cat continued to pace, but more slowly, coming in ever tighter spirals toward Pablo.

"You know, I see what you're doing, Cat. If you pounce on me, I'll have Andi pull your tail when she gets back."

"You would not do such a thing, Pablo. Nor would the Warrior give in to your request should you ask."

Pablo sighed. "Well, you're right about that. But stop circling around me like I'm your next meal."

"I am making you nervous. Yes. I know."

"No. Actually, you're making me dizzy."

Cat sat down near Pablo's feet.

"Tell me."

"Yes, please do share what's going," Billie chimed in. "I'm not sure what's going on here, but the lot of you are making me a little crazy."

"We can only be making you crazy if you were sane to begin with, and I don't think any of us are sane." Pablo seemed so... well, rational when he said that.

Cat reached out a paw to touch Pablo's leg. "Tell me... please?"

Pablo smiled and reached out to scratch Cat's neck. "Can you hang on just a few more seconds until Rene gets back with the whole crew so I don't need to explain it more than once?"

Cat curled up beside him, but kept its whirling rainbow eyes on his face.

"I will wait."

"What are we waiting for?" Billie asked.

As if on cue, Rene returned and shook his head. It wasn't so much an indication of disbelief, although it most certainly was that. Because it was accompanied by an instant of eye rolling, Billie at least had a clue that something was slightly amiss.

Pablo, on the other hand, got the full force of Rene's feelings. Those included frustration, annoyance, and no small amount of anger.

Pablo stood up and Cat began winding its way between his feet, and then Rene's. It also started becoming more agitated again.

"Oh, let me guess, Brother! They need to participate in a No Humans Allowed conclave to decide if the Human Spirits are insane."

Although Pablo smiled and stood casually with arms crossed, anyone who knew him would be able to tell he was a hair's breadth away from furious.

Rene merely shrugged, though he wasn't the least bit happy either. "They say there's nothing they can do, so there's nothing they will do."

Pablo sighed. "You know, I expect that from Eagle. Even after all these years, that one is still miffed at my lovely wife. But Fox has always been... I don't know... ready for a rumble?"

Again, Rene shrugged. "To be honest, I don't think they believed me."

Cat stopped its pacing and slashed at Pablo's leg.

"Stop talking about my Siblings. Talk about my Warrior."

Pablo looked down at the Spirit feline, then back at Rene. "None of them are going to show up?"

"None of them," Rene confirmed, shaking his head.

"I'm not above throwing this chair at you, Mr. Garcia," Billie added. She looked like she might actually do it, too.

Pablo threw his hands up in the air and stalked several paces away from both the small Spirit and his ex-student. Well, she hadn't been his student as much as she'd been Vincent's. He'd only taught marksmanship. He'd been damn good, right up until the day he died. Or fell asleep and forgot to wake up? He could never actually remember, and he had never wanted to ask Andi.

He turned back to the others, his arms crossed defiantly this time.

"I know I heard her, Rene."

"I believe you, Brother. I don't know exactly what I sensed, but it definitely had Andi's signature."

Cat took a step closer to Pablo.

"Oh, stop it, Cat!" he said. "I swear, sometimes you're as bad as my wife."

The Spirit stopped, blinked, and sat down.

"Thank you," it said.

Pablo just stared at it, but Rene chuckled. "I don't think Pablo meant that as a compliment, little furry one."

"Chair. Your head." Billie stood up, though given the aching in her bones, the threat was probably an empty one.

"I felt Andi. It was... Well, it seemed like she was no farther away than the portal she — or Paul — opened," Pablo said, point to the spot only a few meters away. "And I swear I heard her say my name."

"Well, I believe you, Pablo... but I'm going to ask before Cat pretends to shred your legs... What about Maddie? Logan? The kids?"

Pablo relaxed. "I didn't so much get a sense of them, as much as I got a sense that Andi was with them and feeling... well, great. Surprisingly great." He does sound confused by that.

"But that's good, isn't it?" Billie asked. If Vincent and Ms. Yazzie didn't get back soon and explain all this... this... nonsense to her, she was going to wind up with a headache to go along with the agony of being in full gravity.

Pablo nodded slowly. "I think so. Well, as far as Andi's concerned, absolutely. I don't know how she's managing to do... well, whatever she's doing, but yes. It's a good sign that I can feel her, that I can hear her. It's a good sign that Rene can sense her just a little." He sighed and ran his hands through his hair in a very human gesture. "I'm just going to keep believing she'll be able to establish a better link to us... that we'll be able to feel Madeline and Logan, too. Eventually."

Rene nodded. "Your wife is scary, Brother. I've been saying that for over a century, and I'll probably be saying it until we manage to pass on."

"I'm not going to disagree with you, Rene." Pablo smiled. "Scariest woman I ever met. Sometimes she scares me more than your wife. But in different ways."

"Well, of course. My wife would only mop up the floor with you. Your wife would probably mop up the floor with you by making you believe she'd mop up the floor with you."

"Nah, she's not that good."

"Yes, she is."

Both men stared at Cat.

"You're not exactly the reassuring type, are you, Cat?" Pablo asked.

"You're just figuring this out, Brother?"

"I never said I was the sharpest knife in the drawer, my friend."

"True. It's better not to claim to be something you're not."

Pablo just grinned at Rene before turning to Billie. "How long has it been since they left? No, wait... how long has it been since the portal closed?"

She looked puzzled, then looked at her chrono. "About fifteen minutes... do you want to know to the second?"

"Nope. Generalities are fine for dullards like me."

"So why does the time matter?" Rene asked.

"Just verifying that Andi's theory of... whatever she calls the relationships between dimensions... was probably accurate. There's no easy formula to figure out how much time has passed in that universe compared to the amount of time that's passed here. It was... what? Maybe an hour or so between the time Madeline disappeared and the time the troops gathered to open the lookie see portal?"

"Was it that short? Seemed like it took the kids forever to get here."

Pablo shook his head. "Couldn't have been much longer. Logan was being a real jerk about trying to die, and even Andi couldn't have kept him alive if Maria hadn't gotten here as fast as she did. Besides, they had Math Head there to push them through the Conduit."

Rene looked at Billie and nodded. "I guess you're right," he said, then looked at Pablo again. "And Maddie said she'd been in-country for three weeks?"

"Something like that. And it couldn't have been more than twenty minutes for everyone to suit up and open the big portal, right? And it had been a whole day for Madeline."

"Yeah, that was pretty odd."

"Well, it's been only about fifteen minutes since they left, and I got the sense that another day has passed for all of them."

"Oh, come on, Pablo! Now you're just splitting hairs. Fifteen minutes, twenty minutes... this whole trans-dimensional thing isn't an exact science, even for your wife!"

"Sure, I'll grant you that, Rene. But here's the weird part... I felt her, faintly, and heard her say my name. But then I felt her a lot more strongly no more than a couple of seconds after that, but I got the sense that at least an hour had passed for her. Maybe as much as two."

"Ow. That doesn't seem straightforward at all. You're right. Maybe there isn't a formula." Then he grinned devilishly. "We could dare the Math Head to do it."

Pablo grinned. "Sure. But then what would we do with her if her head exploded? And how would we explain it to Madeline and Vin?"

"Well, there's that, true." Rene considered the situation for a moment. "We could lie."

"With my wife being a walking lie detector?" Pablo exclaimed. "Are you out of your mind?"

"Darn. I keep forgetting about that."

"Well, you can be excused, I suppose. After all, you didn't live with us while we raised two hooligans." Pablo shook his head. "Maria... she wasn't so bad. Once she figured out lying was only going to get her caught, she mostly stopped.

"But Paul? Good God, I think he studied that whole qi manipulation thing so intensely just to see if he could find a way to manipulate his aura." Pablo paused, a grin spreading across his face again as the remembered a few choice incidents. "I couldn't keep up with any of that. And my sisters kept telling me, 'The best you can do is stay one step ahead of them, Pablo' whenever I'd ask them how they managed to raise so many kids and stay relatively sane. Andi? She was always way more than a step ahead of Paul." He chuckled. "He was probably in his thirties by the time he figured out his mother was not a step, not a mile, but probably an entire county ahead of him."

He smiled fondly and sighed. "Those kids must have given me ninety percent of my gray hairs, but they're good kids."

"It's simple algebra and it wouldn't make my head explode," Billie said disdainfully. "But there are too many variables involving not only the portals, but your relationships with Mrs. Jacobs and Ms. Yazzie."

The two men looked at one another.

"Do you know what she's talking about?" Pablo asked Rene.

"I haven't a clue. Andi and Paul are the experts on the portals," Rene replied.

"Right, I know that. I meant the part about our beautiful wives."

Rene shook his head. "No. Maybe she's jealous?"

Pablo looked at Billie. "Are you jealous?"

She stared at both of them, wondering if death made a person insane. The problem was that Mr. Garcia had always been a little goofy.

"No! I meant that the relationships among and between you, both of you, and Mrs. Jacobs, Mr. Logan and Ms. Yazzie are unusual and could account for some of the variance in the perception of time."

Pablo looked at Rene and shrugged. Rene looked at Pablo and shrugged.

"Nope," Pablo said, "she's not making any sense. Do you think we should ignore her?"

"Probably for the best, at this point."


"Yeah, Pablo?"

"Did you just feel like maybe Andi was trying to talk to us? Or was it just me?"

Rene was quiet for a few minutes, then looked at Pablo with an expression of frustration. "I don't know. It's hard to tell if it's wishful thinking or if I can almost sense her. Shouldn't you have the stronger connection to her anyway?"

"There was I time I would have said absolutely, but her qi powers make everything so unpredictable." Pablo sighed. "There's something about them that wove through the Pentad and made sure that every connection each of us has to the other four was exactly the same strength. Maybe the quality... nah, that's not even the right word... the composition of the connection, maybe? Yeah, I'm going to go with that. The composition of the connections are all different, but the strength of those connections are the same."

Rene stared at Pablo. "You're starting to talk like her. You know... like when she starts trying to explain all her metaphysical mumbo jumbo, and we only understand every eighth word or so?"

Pablo turned his head to look at Rene. "I think I was grasping every fifth or sixth word by the time I died," he said, grinning his always boyish grin. "But I can compare it to something really old school that we both understand. Just look at it like each of us is on a different radio frequency. Obviously, I have the salsa station. You have the all romance all the time station."

"I'd smack you if I wasn't so comfortable over here."

"Really? You're going to deny it with the gift you contribute to our parties?"

"I'm not going to deny it, I'm just going to smack you."

"Yeah, okay. Whatever. My point, Mr. Sexy, is that your connection to Andi ought to be as strong as mine... it's just different."

"So maybe it wasn't wishful thinking?"

"That's kind of what I'm hoping."

Billie just stared at the two of them for a minute before struggling to her feet.

"I'm going to be a basket case like the two of you if I don't get away from your insanity. I'll be in the Blackbird. The seat are more comfortable there anyway."

She headed off toward the ship as the two Spirits exchanged a glance.

"Hey, Billie," Pablo called out, "We could carry you if you'd like."

"If either of you come near me, I'll kill you," she called back without turning around.

After a moment, Pablo merely said, "Huh."

"Something on your mind there, Brother?"

"Yeah. I was just wondering how she thought she could kill us if we're already dead."

"Think I should go ask her?"

"Nah, it can wait until she calms down."

More time passes for the Spirits. Rene and Pablo recline on the ground; Cat sits and stares at the point where the portal had been opened.

"I'm not gonna lie to you, Pablo... I'm worried. It's been an hour, and they're not back yet. Given how fast time moves there compared to here, they should have been back by now."

"Andi said not to worry unless they were gone a whole day. Also, how do you know it's been an hour?"

Rene dangles an object above him.

"Why do you have Andi's chrono?"

"Because I wanted to keep track of time. She left it on the table in the cabin. Finder's keepers and all that."

Pablo sits up and looks at Rene. "You did not find it. You specifically went looking for it and took it."

"Fine. I did. And that's why I'm worried. It's been an hour."

"And I'll repeat... Andi said not to worry."

"Pablo, your wife is a crazy woman."

"And yours isn't?"

"Oh, she's even crazier, trust me. But that's not the point. Time and synchronization... that's the point, my friend. Maybe we shouldn't have teased Billie so much. I'd like to know how this time slip between universes is possible when it doesn't happen between dimensions. Time flows differently in every dimension, but it's always a constant in relationship to the other dimensions."

"Has anyone ever told you that you worry too much?"

"No, I don't think so."

"Consider yourself told, then. And stop trying to freak me out, or I'll have to punch you in the head."

"You can try."

Cat looked between the two of them, hissed, and disappeared.

"Oh, the same to you!"



"Shut up."

Rene would have retorted, except for the fact that Pablo had stood up and stopped paying attention to him. In fact, it looked an awful lot like Pablo was listening to someone.

"Andi?" Pablo whispered.

A moment later he smiled and said, "You always have ideas. And sometimes they're not always crazy."

"Excuse me?" Rene said. "I think we agreed that our wives are the crazy ones."

Pablo waved a hand at Rene and strained to listen... to something.

"Don't take this the wrong way, Andi, but I'm not the genius you are. I don't see how it's going to help. And knock it off, Rene," he said, looking at his Brother who had tossed a couple of pebbles at Pablo's back. "I'm not going crazy. Or crazier."

"So you say. I see you talking to yourself and pretending it's your wife." Rene stood up... well, blinked from a prone position to a standing one in an instant.

I can hear her, so stop goofing off. That's my job, anyway.

Rene just smiled with faux innocence and shrugged.

After another moment, Pablo glanced in the direction Billie had stormed off.

Uh oh.

"What?" Rene asked.

"Nothing!" Pablo said, look back at... nothing. Then he shook his head. "We were just teasing her."

Glancing back toward the ship, he shrugged. "Probably? And my daughter? My daughter is sensible. Just like her father."

Rene burst out laughing. "I don't think you're going to get away with that one, Brother mine." He looked at the same nothing Pablo seemed to be looking at. "If that really is Andi and not you losing your mind, ask her about Maddie."

Pablo raised an eyebrow.

"It's been a long time since I haven't been able to watch over her."

Pablo nodded; he understood. "Rene wants to know how Madeline is doing."

His expression was one of frustration with a light sheen of confusion when he looked at Rene again.

"She says we need to go there and she'll explain everything. Or as much as we can understand."

Rene looked at Pablo with equal parts suspicious and confusion.

"Oh, do tell... where is this place? What is this place? It obviously can't be part of that universe they're in." He looked at the spot where Pablo believed he heard Andi and then back to Pablo. "I have a feeling I don't want to know the answer, but you're going to need to tell me anyway."

Pablo sighed. "Honestly? I haven't a clue. But Moira and Padraig call it the Overworld. Great Spirit calls it a crossroads of some sort."

"Not helpful, Garcia."

"Of course it isn't!" Pablo responded as he threw his hands up in the air. "It's a plane of existence — not exactly a dimension, definitely not a universe. Moira has all kinds of things to say about it, and can probably explain it better than Andi can."

"Right. For the moment, I'll assume you're fairly sane, aside from talking about people who don't exist," Rene said. "You've been to this place?"

Pablo nodded.

"And those of us who are Spirits can get there?"

"The Spirits can't... but we can."

Rene counted to ten in Diné Bizaad, butchering the language as artfully as Andi destroyed French.

Pablo sighed. "We used to be human. Some rules don't apply to us."

"Pablo, you're annoying the hell out of me. I have half a mind to track down Cat to see where it went. And then stay there."

"You only have half a mind," Pablo muttered under his breath before addressing the empty space where the portal had been.

"Um... I think I can figure out how to get there. I just fall into our Bond and follow it to wherever you are, right? But, um, how do I get Rene there?" He paused a moment. "He is..."

Pablo chuckled. "The all romance all the time station..." He turned and looked at Rene. "Can you feel your connection to Andi? She says she can sense you." He tried to glare at Rene and failed. "She said you were about to Gibbs slap me."

"Who? Me?" Rene smiled the smile of a guilty man. "Never!"

"Yeah, whatever. Can you feel Andi?"

Rene appeared to be inwardly searching for something and not finding it. On a whim, he rested a hand on Pablo's shoulder, and then practically fell over in shock and surprise.


"So you can?"

"Only when I had my hand on your shoulder, oui."

Pablo grinned. "Fantastic! Uh... Well, yeah. but only if he's got his hand on my shoulder."

He motioned to Rene to place his hand back on his shoulder. Because he was prepared this time, Rene grinned as well... and decided to play to the audience.

"Andi? Andi, is that you?" And he snickered at her response.

"You ready, Brother? It's probably one of the easier trips you'll make."

Rene tucked his arm around Pablo's. If the two of them didn't look so ridiculous, an unsuspecting person might think they were a couple of young lovers, one of whom was attempting to convince the other to go for a stroll. Pablo looked at Rene's arm.

"Well, Andi said to keep a good grip on your arm."

Pablo looked at Rene's face then, saw the mischievousness in his eyes, and adjusted his own arm accordingly. Then he patted Rene's arm with his other hand.

"Just follow your connection to Andi. It's like flitting back to the Spirits' plane."

© Kelly Naylor