Issue 2: Searching

She waits for mother and son to finish their conversation, watching with... envy? She doesn't really know. Maybe? Although Rene did say Maddie had stayed home when Leon was young; that could explain their dynamic. Their easy and clearly loving relationship is a testament to her parenting skills. Despite Pablo's assurances that they will manage perfectly well, given what their jobs are... Well, she has her doubts. And serious doubts, too. She had flippantly asked how they would find a babysitter at the last minute should some big bad thing show up in the area. But in all honesty, Ninja had been serious. Andrea... at the time, she had thought Ninja was being ridiculous.

Damn, I'm going to send myself down in the dumps again.

The prospect of being one of Denver's Supers had been a whole lot more straightforward when she had believed it was impossible to get pregnant... okay, stay pregnant.

She shakes herself out of her maudlin reverie as she follows Maddie up the stairs.

"We actually have a couple of decent coffee houses here in town. The one in my neighborhood roasts their own, and even have some of their own proprietary blends that are kick-ass. I get my organic free trade hazelnut from an online shop. And if my best friend doesn't stop stealing it, I'm going to have to start buying it in bulk," she says with a chuckle.

"Need me to help with anything?"

"There are mugs in the cupboard there," Madeline says as she pulls out a bag of rough ground coffee and a percolator from the box. There are a couple of sealed bags of beans along with two grinders... one electric and one hand crank.

"There's no creamer, but I do have sugar if you want it."

"Oh, black is fine," Andrea says as she takes two mugs from the cabinet. She opens the drawer that seems most logical to store kitchen towels. She is pleased to discover Madeline Jacobs agrees with her on where such things belong. She takes the second towel in the short stack and wipes the dust from the mugs.

Madeline lets the water run a bit before filling the blue coffee kettle. "What do you do when you aren't being Ninja?"

Placing the mugs on the counter, she looks at Maddie with a smile as says, "Would you believe me if I told you I'm a librarian?"

"Why wouldn't I?" she responds with a smile of her own. "Ninety percent of the world's population does not have the kind of background that I do. Even when I was quote unquote normal, I still didn't fit in with the average idea of normal."

Andi chuckles. "It does cause a bit of cognitive dissonance for a few people. Not that many people know, of course, but I do have a couple of cousins who shake their heads." She shrugs. "Until recently, I spent a lot of time trying to pretend to be normal."

"My situation affords me the ability to come and go as I please for the most part." Madeline finished getting the coffee started. That does make things easier. Public or school librarian?"

"Public... I thought it would offer the most diversity and the most challenges. I imagine it would be fairly easy to get bored with a career choice and then resent it if it had no challenges."

Andrea pauses, staring down at the counter. She still hasn't heard anything from Pablo on his progress. Shouldn't she have heard something by now? She doesn't really know, and maybe he's not supposed to share some of that stuff. But she's the Protector of the Unfortunates.

Damn it. She wishes... well, she not sure what she wishes. She just has the sense that she should be working right now. There's too much bad shit coming down the pike to play around anymore. It's already started. The first salvo was launched Friday night.

"I have to admit I feel a little guilty standing around having coffee when I've still got two men missing." She looks up, fully in Ninja working mode. The Librarian is taking a back seat for now. The wise-cracking and deadly serious Protector of her people in on duty. "I'd really like to find them before they wind up dead and crucified to an overpass like Sally was."

She can hear it in her own voice, although maybe it's only her enhanced hearing coupled with the Librarian's compassion. She doesn't think that's true, though. The hint of desperation and the currents of anger are really there. Perhaps the only thing someone else might not catch at first is the overtone of Woe Be Unto Them.

Madeline stills her movements and looks over, her eyes going completely cold and calculating... downright mercenary one might say. "What kind of help do you need? I have the best tracker on the planet. If we wouldn't be stepping on any toes..."

It doesn't take more than a cursory examination of the other woman's aura for the local Super to know how utterly serious she is.

Ninja raises an eyebrow as she nods slightly to her. "I was wondering if you and Rene had been military or freelancers. I think your offer answers that question. But if your tracker can follow a trail I lost after a few blocks for Ben and about a mile for Dick... I'll say not just yes, but hell yes to that kind of help!"

"Rene was a Legionnaire. I was freelance." As Maddie pulls out her phone, she says, "If Logan can't, no one can."

She takes a deep breath, gripping her lower lip between her teeth as she exhales. Then Ninja nods.

"Then I hope he can. As for toes, well..." She shrugs as she smiles nonchalantly. "The murder case is tied to the missing persons case, and the homicide detective is running the show. He's the best homicide detective in Denver, and probably the best in the metroplex as Denver has more homicides per year than the surrounding counties."

She pauses, a sly grin crossing her face.

"He's also my husband."

Madeline dials quickly but apparently gets a busy tone, so she goes to the door and looks out. "Leon, ask your dad to come up. Tell him it's business."

There's a muffled "All right, Mom" from out on the porch.

She comes back in and sets the fire going under the percolator.

"Are there any personal effects that have their scent?" she asks as she kneels beside one of the kitchen cabinets. She opens the door, takes out a couple of pieces of kitchen equipment then raises a false bottom and removes a set of keys.

"We'd have to fetch personal effects," the other woman says.

She pulls one of the phones from the inner pockets of her vest, then hits a speed dial. She waits as it rings; after the third ring, he picks up.

"Garcia, it's Ninja. I need a uniform to meet me at Ben Grimm's house, get me inside. I've got access to a better tracker than I'll ever be... need a personal effect. I'll need the same for Dick Walters' halfway house if it's been locked up."

She listens to his response; her expression reflects his concern. The melded soul business she and Pablo have is powerful Magic. Of course, that thought is nothing new. She does what she can to send him reassurance.

"Okay, that's good. We'll swing by the halfway house first. Then we'll head over to Ben's place."

There's another pause, this time for a question. Or rather, two questions.

"This is one of those times I'm going to ask you to trust me. If I can answer the question later, I will. And hang on for the answer to the other one."

She rests the cell phone against her collarbone as she looks at Maddie. "He needs an ETA at Ben's place to dispatch a uniform. How fast can you move, and are you willing to risk the possibility of pissing off the State Police by exceeding the speed limit by a considerable margin on I-70?"

Madeline has a slight grin on her face by the end of the question.

"Speed limits don't concern me but the Humvee isn't built for speed. The bikes in storage are faster... except they haven't been ridden since before we left. Unless you want me to ride bitch."

Ninja nods toward front of the building. "The Sportster's a one-person bike; and with the mods I've made... Not a good idea. Rode about a mile with Garcia behind me..." She rolls her eyes.

"Like my Ducati back home," the other woman says with a hint of a smile.

"What if...?" Ninja considers distances and speeds, then nods slowly. "If Logan just needs a personal artifact, and doesn't need to start at last known location, I can swing by Dick's halfway house, pick up one of his shirts, then meet you and the uniform at Ben's place.

"Would that work?"

"It'll take him about twenty minutes to get up here," Madeline notes. "That will give me enough time to give the bikes a once over. Are the last known locations on both of them fairly close in area? And how old is the trail?"

Andi shakes her head. "Not really. Well, I guess it depends on what you consider fairly close. Ben was last seen leaving the Commerce Pride office, presumably heading home about two and a half miles away. He's a bicyclist, and would have been on his bike, which hasn't been found.

"Dick was last seen at the halfway house, where he spends most of his time. That's about eight miles away from Commerce Pride, as the crow flies."

She puts the phone back to her ear. "I'm going to say about forty-five minutes, but I'll give you a call back when I have a more definite time." She listens for a moment, then nods. "Sure, that'll work." She hesitates a second or two. "Anything on Sally yet?" This time she listens for a longer stretch of time, and finally sighs. "Yeah, I know. And tell the Captain I appreciate it. Thanks, Garcia."

She disconnects and tucks the phone back in her pocket.

"Both Sally and Ben disappeared last Wednesday; the folks at the halfway house don't necessarily have the best memories or sense of time, so we're not sure if Dick disappeared on Wednesday or Thursday.

"Sally was murdered on Friday.

"So four or five days for Dick, five days for Ben."

Maddie offers Ninja her phone. "Address where we're meeting you." She looks up as a shadow darkens the doorway.

"Dad's on his way."

The local Super takes the phone and enters Ben's home address in the GPS app as Madeline speaks to Leon.

There's a brief softening as she says, "Thanks, angel. Going to need your help with Em and Vin. Dad and I have some work to do."

"Sure, Mom. Okay," Leon says, his answer quiet and serious. He knows something is up.

Maddie turns her attention back to Ninja, once more deadly and serious. "If you need to give DPD names, tell them Black Wolf and Wolverine."

As Ninja hands the phone back, she also raises and eyebrow.

"Even I've heard of Wolverine, which is saying something, as sometimes I think I've lived under a rock most of my life." She nods, however. "That explains his fascinating aura... energy signature."

"That is saying something considering he lived completely off the grid for the fifteen years prior to us meeting ten years ago." Madeline pauses, remembering something. "Unless it came down through your family history. He has been around for a while."

"Not so much family history as..." How does she explain something that was only slightly more than a whisper that traveled through the Nations? Not just the Diné, but all the Nations? "...a rumor, a legend among all the Native People of North America." She smiles slightly. "It's whispered that his is Wolf Spirit itself come to live among the People. The fact that Deer named you a member of the Tódích'íi'nii clan, whose protector is the Wolf, would give some people only more reason to continue spreading the tale. If they knew what happened here today, of course... and I can't imagine any reason I'd need to tell anyone."

Madeline nods slowly as she considers. "That makes sense actually, considering. He's from Canada and lived off the land for a long time.

"As for me being the Wolf... it's almost odd. I chose from the native animals from my new home country. We have no wolves in Suriname... but it was... fitting."

"Well, there's only a slim chance DPD will officially ask for names. I've been working this gig for just over nine years now and..." She shakes her head and frowns. "No, I don't think Captain Sanchez has ever questioned any of my requests, or the methods by which I get information. And even though Garcia has been Andrea's friend for about eleven years and has known for nine of those years that I go out and get things done, it's only been the past three months that he's actually known about Ninja.

"Despite that slightly large surprise," she says with a bemused look, "he still asked me to marry him less than two weeks later."

Ninja shrugs. "So if he has any questions, they'll be on the unofficial side of things."

"Fair enough. In any case, if they do, you have names to use. I'll be carrying in case anyone has itchy trigger fingers. I may not stay dead, but it still hurts like a bitch, the coming back more than the dying part."

Ninja nods and seems to barely refrain from rolling her eyes. "We've got a lot of itchy trigger fingers out there, and the sad thing is that the vast majority of them belong to the citizenry. I don't need to worry about law enforcement in the metroplex... and I'm not stupid enough to pass through Colorado Springs at anything under ninety miles an hour.

"And yeah, the itching from accelerated healing is a fucking bitch and a half!"

She glances at the young man standing nearby with a very non-apologetic smile. "Pardon my Navajo."

Leon shrugs at her apology with a half smile. It isn't anything he hasn't heard before.

"When you had Leon show us the conversations, Rene said the Thing was on that plane and trying to come through again, right?"

When she turns back to Maddie, she is very serious once again. "Yes. From what he's said, from what Quetzalcoatl said, that... Thing or Shadow or Darkness is awfully damn close to breaking into this plane.


"In my front yard."

She pauses, her eyes hard and angry.

"But to get from there to here, it's going to need help. THAT is what I find most worrisome."

Madeline turns the fire off under the percolator and pours the coffee. Thoughts swim through her head as she does so.

"It's had help before, and the SOB is still out there somewhere. And the whole anti-mutant thing is right up his alley."

There is a tension in her shoulders and a simmering burn of anger in her whole being.

"And he's well-funded. You have to be to disappear the way he did. With any luck, these Aryans are garden variety amateurs and not connected with him. Nonetheless, I'll need to warn Leon's Dean. We've faced it before, and he has the kids to think of."

Ninja shakes her head. "The Brotherhood are garden variety thugs. From what Garcia says, the Knighthood are considerably more organized... to say nothing of being just pure evil."

She clenches her jaws tightly for a minute. "I can attest to that," she says finally. "The coroner said they carved the circled swastika in Sally's chest while she was still alive. They carved deeply. Then they hung her on the bridge guard rail.

"She bled to death."

She works to keep her anger and grief in check.

Madeline's eyes shutter at the description of the torture as she pulls in and wraps a shell around herself. Her son does not need to know the details.

"Garcia was still in Patrol when the Aryan Knighthood was pushed out of Denver last time. Captain Sanchez... then Detective Sanchez... was part of the task force that routed them."

"I've done battle with their kind before, more than once, and so has Logan."

Leon has been standing there listening to everything and now interjects, "I'm not going back, Mom."

"Yes, you are, Leon. And you're taking Em and Vin with you. The Professor will need your help if anyone goes after the school again."


"No. No argument. Not on this."

Her tone brooks no disagreement or discussion. His shoulders sag. He wants to stay and help.

The dark-haired woman looks at Leon as he talks with his mother. The qi of his aura shows how desperately he wants to stay and help, how much it means to him to prove himself.

"I don't want you in my city, Leon." Denver's Protector doesn't say it with a hard tone, but the words fall harshly on young ears nevertheless. "You aren't trained for this, and would be a liability. If these people found out about you and your brother and your sister, if they even had a hint that there is a family of mutants up here... well, I know your mom and dad would protect you. But a lot of innocent people would get killed in the process, and I won't stand for that.

"Reality sucks, kid, and I'm sorry about that. I really am. But you and your siblings need to get the hell out of town."

"I'll call the Professor," he says.

"Thank you. And you're helping by keeping your sister and brother safe," his mother tells him, knitting her brow. "Ask him to come out in the Blackbird.

"Andi, we need an open field or space, preferably out of public view. Or space at the airport if you can arrange it... just long enough for a touchdown and pick up."

She pulls her work phone out again and dials manually this time. When the Sheriff answers, she says, "It's Ninja. Need a favor, and this is going to go over better coming from you. Got a Blackbird heading out here from back East. Would you warn the nice people at Mother Cabrini's it will be landing behind the main building... and taking off almost right away?"

She smiles tightly as she listens to his response. "No, it hasn't taken off yet, but it won't be long. I assume it will be traveling at top speed. Yes, it has to do with Lin, and no... you don't want to know."

There is another nod as he responds. "Thanks, Sheriff."

Hanging up and tucking the phone away, Ninja pulls out the other phone she carries. It only dials one number — for now — and when the voice on the other end answers, she doesn't bother with pleasantries, since that phone is all about business.

"I wanted to let you know we have a couple of out-of-towners visiting and helping me with this Aryan Knighthood thing."

Ninja listens to the response, then nods.

"Thanks, Perry... and no. It's your day off. I don't think we'll need the assist, so stick with your plans for the day. I just didn't want you caught unawares, or wind up catching grief from your sponsors. Lay all that at my feet... I'm the pain in the ass nonconformist."

She laughs at his response. "Yeah, you just keep thinking that, my friend."

His closing remarks return her to sobriety, however. "I'm not doing this for Utopia, Peregrine. I'm doing it because these are my people. I've already failed one of them. I can't let the other two down. And if you could convince the people at Utopia of that, I'd appreciate it, Perry. Thanks, buddy."

She disconnects and repockets her spy phone.

"There's a fairly flat space behind the Mother Cabrini Shrine downhill a bit. Driving at posted speeds, which I'd recommend at this point, it will take ten to fifteen minutes to get there. Joe's going to clear it with the Powers That Be down there. There aren't likely to be any visitors this early in the day at this time of year. So the only people around will be the usual employees and volunteers... again, this time of day and this time of year, probably no more than a handful of people."

Leon does not quite pout or any of those normal teenage tantrum things. He does have to visibly refrain himself from disagreeing. To cover it, he opens his phone and dials the person he said he would call.

"Hi, Professor," he says, he tone subdued. "Mom wants you to come get Em and Vin and me... Yes, sir. She's right here."

He holds the phone out to his mother, who takes it and puts it to her ear.

"Charles... yes, that's right. There are things going on out here... Not this way... Yes, talk to you in a bit."

She disconnects the line and hands it back to Leon. Whatever she was going to say next is forestalled by the rumble of an engine coming up the drive.

"Away from the door, Leon," she orders.

He moves without thinking. People do when Madeline uses that particular tone. She goes to the window and looks out without moving the curtains. After a moment she relaxes then heads outside. The other Humvee is pulling to a stop as she goes down the stairs. Logan gets out, his eyes hooded and suspicious.

Ninja had heard the SUV before the sound of the engine could have been heard by the others, remaining relaxed. She does shift her stance a little, however. Always be ready to move in any direction... one of Doshu Ueshiba's first instructions.

Watching Maddie's reaction to the sound, and Leon's instantaneous obedience... it reinforces some of the things Rene told her. She's even more determined to keep this Shadow from this plane.


"Ninja needs our help. Charles is coming to collect the kids."

"But Moooom," the twins begin to whine.

Logan turns and growls and both go silent.

If the situation were not serious, Ninja would have been able to smile at the twins' reaction to the feral admonishment they get from their father. But this situation is too serious for her usual flippant smart ass attitude. Even she knows where to draw that line. Most of the time... but definitely this time.

"Bad?" Logan asks.

"Bad," Madeline answers with a nod. "A couple of guys gone missing, need help with the tracking. Trail's about a week old."

"Personal effects?"

"Being arranged. There's a Mother Cabrini shrine down the hill where the Bird will land. Will you take them down?"

"Of course," he pauses. "You okay?"

"Yeah. I'll tell you about it later."

She stops and tilts her head as if listening. "Charles is on his way. ETA... thirty minutes."

"All right, kids, load up," he says.

Em and Vin keep their mumbling to a soft sound as they dejectedly climb back in the vehicle. Leon comes over with a torn expression. Finally he hugs Madeline hard.

"Be careful, Mom. I love you."

She returns his hug, "Love you too, angel. Look after them for us."

He climbs into the front passenger seat, and Logan gives her a quick kiss before getting back in himself. She watches as the Humvee backs down the drive until it was out of sight.

Andrea watches the family, and feels a tugging on her heart that she's felt so frequently, too frequently when watching other parents with their children. Her heart wants that, what they have. But knowing how many dangers are out there to take parents away from children... knowing that what she and Pablo do make them some of the ones standing between those things and other people... it makes her heart almost seize up in fear for any child they bring into this world.

Yet it has been foretold that they will be parents.

Did she dare try to circumvent the prophecy of her cousin? Or should she simply try to trust the Spirits... trust her husband... trust herself... that all will turn out well?

And she watches Maddie watching her family.

Trust. She decides that she will trust.

"Andi, could use a hand here," Madeline says as she heads towards the back property.

"Sure thing, Maddie," she says, following the other woman toward the back of the property.

"So Leon can do the same thing Rene does, but I see the sort of... unusual patterns of energy around Emelia and Vincent that the rest of you have. I'm almost afraid to ask what they can do, given who their father is, but I'm nosy." She pauses, then corrects herself. "No, I guess I just want to know how worried I should be for them."

Madeline pauses in her trek to let Andi catch up and considers how to best answer the question.

"To say that I would not be here if it were not for them would not be an exaggeration. Officially, technically, I am not a mutant or gifted or affected by the Virus... but apparently there is something about me that likes mutant DNA..." A quick smirk crosses her face, and she qualifies, "At a cellular level.

"According to Charles, mutant children do not normally exhibit any powers until they hit puberty. Leon began manifesting after Rene was declared dead. The twins..."

Now she does stop and turns to Ninja.

"I had been pregnant exactly one week when their healing factor brought me back to life. And the real kicker is that I appeared to be six weeks pregnant. My gestational period was forty days. And before you ask, Leon's was normal...

"As for what else they can do... how much do you really know of their father? Fact versus rumor and conjecture."

"Forty days...?" Doing the math in her head was not the problem. Wrapping her mind around going through a pregnancy seven times faster than usual was the thing her mind was... just not wanting to touch.

Andi finally shakes her head. "I don't know what parts of the legends... the whispers and rumors... are true and what are outrageous exaggerations and what could be minimized to the point that people might actually believe them.

"So it's probably safest to say the only facts I know are those I've learned since meeting him. He has lived a long time, longer than Normal humans live... possibly longer than Chen Qingzhou believes I will live.

"There is a wildness thinly covered with a film of civilization; that wildness isn't evident unless you look closely... or look for quite some time. So to say that he is fiercely protective of his... pack... would not be inaccurate, I think."

She smiles crookedly. "I could say a few other things about him, but those things have nothing to do with him being Wolverine... they have to do with him being a father and... partner."

The tendrils of his qi extending towards his family look different than anyone else's she's ever seen. But love is love.

Madeline nods and continues walking.

"He was born in 1893. He believes a childhood trauma brought the manifestation of one of his... gifts... early. I say believes because his memories prior to twenty five years ago are spotty at best."

"So, the stories of having lived for seven generations are a bit of an exaggeration," Andi says, almost to herself. "He's not even as old as I'll be if I have the luxury of dying peacefully in my sleep."

Madeline takes a deep breath and thinks some more.

"Em has inherited that particular gift, which manifested this past year. She has claws that come out of her knuckles. And she's showing signs of being an empath. Vin... so far it is just latent telepathy. And there's the real rub. Logan's a feral, that wildness you mentioned. He can certainly talk to animals, not like you do, but they know he's the Alpha. He has no 'pathic powers of any kind.

"So where do they get it from when, in every other recorded case of mutancy passing to children, it comes from the father?"

Andi can't really address the question of mutant abilities and their lineage. She supposes that she's been pretty ethnocentric in focusing on the genetic damage that causes various gifts to manifest in the People. But that little factoid surprises... well, probably the Andrea part of her. Apparently, whoever was gathering those statistics was ignoring — yet again — the people who resided on this continent before the White Man came. Because as far as she knew, as far as any of the little bits of data her youngest cousin has been gathering pointed out...

The Curse passes from either father or mother among the People. Sometimes it depends on the specific mutation — a few of them are definitely linked to either the X or the Y chromosome. But in Tommy's case... if his gift for telepathy didn't come from the Yazzie side of the family — from his mother — where did it come from? Uncle Leon has a large family that has traditionally lived out near Andi's mother's family. In other words, as far from all the bad shit the White Men brought as was possible to get and still be inside the borders of the Nation.

And of all the people in Uncle Leon's family — from his grandparents down to his great-nieces and great-nephews — Tommy is the only person touched by the Curse.

Yeah, Andi is more than a little skeptical about Maddie's data. But now probably isn't the time to get into it.

Madeline snorts as she comes to the door and grasps one edge of the old synthetic burlap covering and tugs. After a showering of dirt, leaves and other small debris it slides aside exposing a pair of large metal doors with a combination lock worthy of a bank vault.

"And then there's Leon. That thing he does with the recreating a scene, he's been able to do that since he was four. The telepathy started a few years later. Once my children are trained and grown into their powers, all three will be formidable, but now... now they are vulnerable...

"And there are bastards out there who wouldn't blink at the thought of using or hurting a child."

Her tone on the last sentence is nearly dead, the voice of experience, personal experience.

Madeline's last statement causes her aura to flare red for an instant, then blacken. Andrea has seen that sort of thing before. Twice. In Normals.

"I am aware that there are..." She can't really use the word 'people' because the filth who do that do not deserve to be called human. "...individuals who are as you describe," she says softly as she lays a hand lightly on Maddie's shoulder. "A damn sight too many of them as far as I'm concerned," she says with a hard edge.

Those with blackened auras... the other two, she'd held them as they cried, held them until light began returning to their auras, held them until someone who knew how to help broken psyches heal had arrived. She had held them only after she had made sure the monsters that had hurt them were unequivocally dead. She had only wished she could have found the monsters before they had hurt those children.

Of course, they were much younger than Maddie is. A hand on her shoulder is all she can give now.

"I have encountered two, and put them down like rabid dogs. I hope whoever harmed you also met the end of their days... unnaturally."

"They tried to break my spirit and only succeeded in breaking my mind. And yes, they met their ends much earlier and violently than they expected. Rene cleaned up my... mess."

In counterpoint to the emptiness in Madeline's voice, Andi's echoes with tightly controlled rage.

"No children get hurt on my watch.

"I will give my life to keep bastards like that away from children."

Madeline begins working the combination. By the time she is done, she has soothed away the madness... or has locked it up tight.

There are a series of clicks in the big doors, and she pulls them open to reveal another set with a keyed lock. She pulls the keys she had taken from the false bottom of the kitchen cabinet from her pocket and inserts two keys but pauses before turning them.

She looks back to Andi. "I was Leon's age. Because of the regen, I no longer have the physical scars..."

Then she turns the keys and pulls open the doors to reveal a pair of Harleys on a bike trailer sitting in front of an arsenal worthy of a small army.

"Jocelyn was about the twins' age." Ninja isn't especially proud of what she had done to the young girl's step-father and step-uncles. But they had deserved the end they got.

"Theo was... five, six?" Again, she doesn't take pride in the way she had dispatched his parents.

Of course, none of the bodies will ever be found.

"Neither of them will ever quite be right again. It's been six years and Theo still can't — or won't — speak. It's been four years for Jocelyn, and she... well, there has yet to be anyone who she'll even look at besides me."

Ninja regards the other woman for a moment. She's not sure she has the right to ask a favor of this magnitude, but in this persona, she's not exactly shy. And nothing ventured, nothing gained.

"Rene said you fight the madness everyday. If you have a free afternoon after we take care of business, and before you and your family need to be on the road again, I'll ask if you'd considered talking to them. As one survivor to another.

"I will understand if you'd rather not."

"He would know. I'd have never found my way clear if it hadn't been for him. I'll consider it. That's all I can promise. My coping mechanisms are... not for everybody. I might do more harm than good."

She nods in response to Madeline's answer. "If all you can do is say, 'I have been there and survived'... Well, even that small kindness might help." If she thinks she can help Jocelyn or Theo, that would be a blessing for them. If, as she says, her ways might harm them more... then so be it.

Theo is one of the children David works with, so ripples through the qi of the universe touch so many, and then manage to return and return again. She didn't save Theo from his hell soon enough... and though she knows David never speaks the boy's name, he does tell Bobby about the heartbreak of not being able to coax the child to speak... Bobby, that gentle and kind soul, in turn cries on Andi's shoulder. And she cries, too. Because she didn't save Theo soon enough.

Madeline flips a switch and a series of caged work lights come on brightening up the interior to a depth of forty feet. The sides are lined with shelving and racks and weapons of every imaginable type.

When the doors opened and Ninja surveys the... well, what else can she call it but an armory?

"By all the gods of all the peoples, I'm damn glad no one ever found this!"

"This is just a small cache. Our parents both survived occupied territories during World War II. Paranoia's in our blood."

Madeline takes keys down from inside an open box then steps up on the trailer and unlatches the ties.

"Can you roll that bike out?" she asks as she began pushing one down the ramp.

Looking at the 'small cache' of weapons, Andi shakes her head and mutters, "Probably a good thing paranoia dies down after a few generations, or the White Man would be the ones living on reservations."

"That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing," Madeline remarks. "Colonization hurt a lot of indigenous peoples the world over."

She rolls the bike out and looks it over. An old model, but the best money would have bought at the time. Andi suspects the mods to these are as obvious as the mods to her own. In other words, to find them, she will have to look hard.

"What's your top speed for these?"

Madeline gets the one bike out to a level surface in front of the bunker and parks it, then returns for a tool box and a gas can.

"Speedometer maxes at one forty. Joe clocked us at one sixty. Might be able to get a bit more, but the roads here are shit. I'd get up from a wipeout, but it wouldn't be pleasant."

She checks all the connections, reconnecting some of them, then adds gas and a bit of clear liquid to the one tank.

"I hit two twenty on the Ducati just messing around on the Autoroutes."

Andi's eyes light up like a kid's in a candy store, as the saying goes. "Two twenty? Wow!" She suspects she's also grinning like an idiot.

"I can hit one seventy five for short stretches, and my usual cruising speed on the the highway is one fifty. Of course, there are roads I won't take over ninety, and in the mountain passes I don't go much over the posted speed. Those switchbacks are hell.

"But even on our shitty roads, we ought to be able to make it out to Grimm's place inside the window I gave Garcia... even stopping at the halfway house first."

Madeline grins. "An advantage of living in Europe. Out on the highways they don't care how fast you go, and if you screw up they'll send a guy with a dustpan to sweep up the remains."

She inserts the key and primes it, and her grin becomes devilish.

"And these aren't exactly meant for sneaking up on people."

The engine roars to life as she turns the key, shaking more debris loose from above. A couple of twists to rev the engine, then she lets it settle down into a rumbling idle.

Andrea chuckles. "Nope, definitely not the stealth model."

Madeline moves to check the second bike. "These were meant for fun not work, but..." she offers with a shrug. The grin falls away, and the light dims a little. "We never did get to take that road trip."

Just as quickly, she shrugs it off and cranks up the other bike, revving it into a roar then letting it idle.

A tug of sadness pulls at Andi's heart, a gentle reminder that the Eastern philosophy of living in the moment is the only way to live... for all we ever really have is this moment.

"You know," she says quietly, "you can still take that road trip. After this mess with the Shadow is cleaned up."

"Maybe," Madeline admits with a half smile. "Maybe once all three are the school. Logan and I could use the time to ourselves. The Asiatic blades are in the back on the right. Have at."

While Maddie works on the second bike, Andi goes into the bunker to take a look at the swords. The tian po she had mentioned yesterday is among the collection, as well as a dozen or so other edged weapons. They are all in perfect condition, if one discounts the thin layer of dust. Most are of Japanese origin, from the two-handed nodachi down to the set of tanto knives. What looks like an authentic kai gunto, the World War II naval officers' sword, gets a raised eyebrow. Of the Chinese weapons, the hook sword is the most dangerous looking, and even more difficult to master than the jian. There are a number of dao styles, and while Grandmaster Chen insisted that she learn the use of the weapon, Andi sees it as a strictly Chen Shi or Chen Style weapon. The jian, on the other hand, can be used with both Chen and Yang forms. In fact, many of the staff forms can easily be adapted to the jian.

Unfortunately — or perhaps fortunately — Maddie's collection doesn't include a jian. The tain po comes closest, but she had never felt as comfortable using the sword as — essentially — an edged staff.

On her way out of the bunker to check on Maddie's progress with the bike, she takes a cursory glance at all the other weapons. While edged weapons or even the crossbows finding their way into the hands of the criminal element of the metroplex would put them in more danger of hurting themselves — not something that would make her especially sad — the guns would be really bad.

Really, really bad.

So she's much happier that no one ever managed to get into this stash now that she knows what's in here.

With both bikes running, Madeline returns the tool box to the shed. She pulls a foot locker out from under the bottom shelf on the left and opens it. From that, she pulls black fatigues with all the accoutrements, a double shoulder holster and a utility belt with an empty sheath. She changes quickly and slips on the shoulder holster.

From another box comes a pair of Glock 17s, ammunition, and extra speed loading clips.

"Will you grab a tanto and a tian po from the back for me?" she asks as she checks and readies her weapons.

She works quickly and efficiently and gives the impression that she can do this work in pitch black if need be.

After fetching the requested weapons, Andi presents them to Madeline hilt first, as is proper.

She accepts the weapons, the tanto sliding into the sheath at her hip and the tian po being slung across her back. She pulls on a roomy leather jacket that gives her access to all her weapons.

"How anal are they about helmet laws here?"

Andi snickers at her question. She can't help it... it's an involuntary reflex.

"They're so anal that the second most common type of ticket written in this state is for bikers not wearing helmets... number one being speeding, of course. What our politicians continually fail to realize is that there are way too many free spirits — Normals, every one of them — who think that the helmet law infringes on their right to kill themselves." She shakes her head and smiles. "Or they're crafty as foxes and count on the revenue.

"I wear my helmet when I'm out during the day, mostly to keep my nosy best friend neighbor from doing the math. Or if I put the tag on that's registered to Andrea Yazzie.

"We'll be riding too fast on the route I have planned for the law to catch us anyway," she adds with a shrug. "Well, not while we're on city streets, but DPD knows better than to get in my way."

She sighs. "Good thing we're not heading into Arapahoe County. Those lunatics try to catch me just to prove their cruisers are faster than my bike." She shakes her head again while rolling her eyes.

"Good. I like to feel the wind in my hair."

Madeline grabs up her discarded clothes and drops them across the seat of one of the bikes.

"Sure there's nothing in here that strikes your fancy?" she asks as she begins to swing one door closed.

Andi shakes her head. "One weapon is probably all I need to carry, considering that my qi blasts are more deadly in close quarters than a short blade and more accurate than a gun outside the range of my staff." She pauses, then shrugs. "More accurate for me; I haven't had a lot of practice with a gun."

"Old habits die hard," Madeline says.

The other woman nods. "And then there's the fact that the State of Colorado considers me — well, Andrea — a concealed weapon simply because I hold the highest ranks in two martial arts." She chuckles. "That's actually pretty funny."

Madeline hits the lights and swings the other door shut, relocking them, then steps back and shuts the outer doors. The combination lock automatically re-engages.

"So you have to have a license for yourself?" She shakes her head at the insanity as she tugs the covering back in place.

"Yep. They call it a registration, but essentially it's a permit to carry a concealed weapon. It pissed me off at first... but now I just laugh."

"Makes me glad my folk don't much care as long as the job gets done."

"Bizarrely, it varies from state to state. Colorado only requires black belts to register; in Illinois, it's brown belt and up; and Arizona doesn't give a damn."

"Can you ride that one back up? Logan should be back shortly. Charles just touched down." Madeline straddles the one beside her and taps up the kickstand.

Andi straddles the other bike and flips up the kickstand, then gives Maddie a puzzled look.

"This Charles must be one hell of a telepath. I may need to become less impressed with my cousin's talents."

"He is. He's the one that confirmed Rene was still alive, that protected me from the Thing. Plus, we have a link, kind of like a phone tap but in my mind."

Ninja shakes her head. "I don't know if I'd want a phone tap in my head, even with my husband. Though I see where it might come in handy at times."

"It came in handy when I thought I was going crazier than I already am. Normally an ocean separates us, and he likes to make sure I'm all right. He worries."

She nods. She understands worry. And she understands that others worry about her sometimes; quite often, they worry a lot — and not only because of her job as Denver's Protector. "It's good to have friends like that," is all she says.

Madeline revs the the engine once more, and the wheels spit dirt as she speeds up the small slope to park in front of the cabin, then spins and slides to a stop... just for fun.

Andi watches Maddie fly up the hill and have a bit of fun with the spin stop. She follows almost as quickly but elects to stop more sedately.

Then she chuckles to herself. Ah, what can she say? Racing is her thing... something Sergeant Markensen takes advantage of just a little too often for his own continued good health.

As Ninja joins her up top, she has one of the Glocks out and pointing down the drive at a swath of dust being kicked up. It is not the other Humvee. The driver must have seen the danger because the vehicle comes to a quick stop.

A Latin accented female voice calls out, "You invited me, cabrona!"

She reholsters the gun. "Sorry, Mitch. The shit's happening again. Come on up. Park anywhere."

This is another military grade vehicle that rolls up, and its size dwarfs the Humvee. The woman that jumps from the cab has a rolling saunter as she approaches. "Anything I can help with?"

"Nope, just keep the home fires burning. That's Ninja. Ninja, Mitch."

She can see that her way of talking first, beating the crap out of people second is the antithesis of Maddie's shoot first, ask questions later if anyone survives method. Both have their place. In fact, when non-drugged-confused morons show up at Charlie's, Ninja does tend to crack heads first and ask them why they're so damn stupid second. Well, if they're still conscious. Sometimes they're not. Okay, usually they're not.

And Maddie sure does have some interesting friends.

"Hiya, Mitch. Nice to meet you."

She drops the kickstand, shuts down the bike and dismounts, listening for the sound of the second Humvee. It ought to be coming up any minute. She wants to get this hunt on the road.

Yeah, she's a little anxious. But she likes Dick... and even though Ben's an agitator and kind of a pain in the ass sometimes, his heart's in the right place even if his brain isn't.

Madeline tosses the Humvee keys to Mitch who deftly plucks them from the air. "Ninja," the Latina says by way of greeting.

"Got some things to take care of before the load up," Madeline tells the newcomer. "Not sure how long we're gonna be. You covered?"

"Yeah, girlfriend, I'm flush. I'll just enjoy the scenery."

"I'll be in touch then."

Mitch flashes a grin. "Tease."

The other Humvee rumbles up and pulls off to the side. Logan pockets the keys as he gets out. "Mitch."


Mitch makes a point of watching Logan's backside as he walks by her to Madeline. Madeline just shakes her head and chuckles. Ignoring both, Logan's eyes take in Madeline's change of clothes.

"Hunt?" he asks as he rolled his shoulders.

"Find, then hunt," she answers. "The other bike's yours. Should take your weight."

He gives a nod at that and goes to the other hog. The suspension complains when he settles onto it, the seat sinking down considerably more than a man of his size should cause. He starts it up and gives another nod.

"Ready when you are, Ninja," Madeline says.

Ninja pulls out a phone as she walks to her bike and hits the first speed dial.

"We're on the move," she says when Pablo answers. "Walters' place first, then Grimm's. ETA at Grimm's is twenty to thirty minutes. That still good for your schedule?" She nods as she straddles her bike. "Great. Warn Patrol I've got two hogs with me, friendlies. We're just going to outrun the State Police."

She laughs at his comment. "You worry too much, Garcia. Ninja out."

She disconnects and pockets the phone, then starts up the bike and get them on the road. Once they get to pavement, she opens it up and very definitely exceeds the speed limit down Colorow Road, although not by as much as she might if she weren't concerned about scaring the crap out of any tourists that might be heading up to or down from the Nature Center.

Once they get on I-70, however, she pushes it to about one twenty-five all the way to 6th Avenue, where they need to drop to about a hundred because of traffic. She can hear the louder, older Harleys behind her, weaving in and out of traffic. Traffic tightens up around Osage... the usual place, so she slows them down to about seventy-five and spends most of the time on the shoulder. She suspects they might have given an old man in a hat a heart attack as they pass him at the turn onto Kalamath. It's only a block up on Kalamath going sixty, then a right onto 5th where she slows down since Dick's halfway house is before the end of the block.

As she pulls up in front, she sees curtains moving in the left building and white hair above a wrinkled face peeking out. Shutting down her bike, she dismounts and says to Maddie as she and Logan pull up beside her, "Let me calm the natives, then you can do your thing, Logan."

She and her partner park side by side in near unison. At Ninja's request, they both give a nod. Logan swings a leg over and shifts to sit sideways on the seat while they wait. Madeline dismounts entirely and stands by him. His arm slips casually around her to rest a hand on her hip.

As Ninja negotiates their way in, she gives Logan a run down of the situation with the missing men and what happened to the woman. His brows lower, and his eyes darken. One hand flexes dangerously, but his weapons remain sheathed.

As she walks up to the steps, Ninja smiles and waves to the figure in the window.

"Hey, Ginny," she calls to the woman in the house. "Can you come to the door so I can talk to you?"

The white frizz-topped head shakes vigorously. Nothing unexpected in that. Ginny is on the edge of the line where she's allowed to live outside a facility for mentally handicapped.

"Please, Ginny? We're trying to find Dick. I know how much he helps you. You could help him now by letting my friend look at his room. Would you do that for Dick, Ginny?"

It's hard for her to work it out, the business about helping Dick, but she finally moves to the door and opens it a crack.

"I can help Dick?" she asks timidly. Ginny is probably about forty, but looks closer to sixty. She's afraid of her own shadow, but Ninja has been coming by at least once a week for the past five years, so she knows the Super. And Ninja knows that she still makes the other woman nervous, a little, but as far as she's able, Ginny trusts Ninja.

"Yeah, Ginny, you really can," Ninja reassures her. "My friend? He's really, really, really good at finding people."

"But he has to come inside?" Not only is her voice shaking, so is she.

"Yeah, he does, sweetie. But you could go in your room until he goes away. Would that make you feel better?"

She nods as vigorously as she had shaken her head before.

"Okay, so why don't you unlatch the chain there, and I'll make sure he stays outside until you're in your room?"

She looks at Ninja with nearly vacant, yet childlike eyes. "You promise, Ninja? Promise?"

"Yes, Ginny. I promise."

"Pinky swear?"

"Yes, Ginny, I'll even pinky swear."

Ginny closes the door enough to unlatch the chain that wouldn't keep anyone out who was really determined to get in... but it gives Ginny security. Then she opens the door again and sticks her fisted hand out, pinky finger curled out. Ninja hooks her little finger around Ginny's for a second, which the older woman takes as a solemn vow; she then scuttles off to her room towards the rear of the house.

Ninja motions Maddie and Logan to come in, then walks down the short hallway to stand outside Dick's room. This also puts her in the position to be between Logan and Ginny, something that is entirely for Ginny's benefit. She has a feeling Logan could tear her to shreds if he thought it was necessary; she's damn glad that man is on her side.

When her new friends enter the building, she hooks her thumb towards the doorway beside her.

Madeline chooses to stay by the outer doorway, her eyes searching the surrounding area and watching any people that might be about. Logan is on the hunt and moves like a stalking predator. He enters the room and prowls about, noting everything and sniffing the air.

"Tell me about the trail," he says to Ninja.

"Not much to tell. I could follow his life energy up Lipan..." She points in the direction of the small alley-like street that borders the west side of the property. " the end where it meets Colfax. Too many people up there, and his lines got lost in the tangle of everyone else's. Almost as if they know how I track."

She pauses, pulling in the memories of how the qi had looked and felt.

"He was terrified. There were two other lines of qi that paralleled his... two people with him. I didn't recognize either, but I would if I encounter them again. They have qi I associate with people without morals or a conscience, or those so dedicated to a cause that they're little more than sheep. Dangerous sheep, in this case.

"Given that there was no discernible difference in qi characteristics in the mile or so up to Colfax, I'd surmise they were in a vehicle. No way to tell what type, though panels vans are the least conspicuous vehicles in this area."

Logan's nostrils expand as he sniffs twice more then follows only something he can detect. He pads down the hallway to a restroom and back again then goes outside and prowls around the house. He stops by the exit to the alley Ninja had indicated and squats down. Madeline had kept her distance, but now comes over as he scratches at the ground with a finger. She says nothing, only waits.

"Hard rubber soles, non-conductive.

"Urine and blood from..." His head tilts briefly indicating the house behind him.

He stands and moves forward slowly, casting about with his senses. He stops about halfway across the alley.

"Feet left the ground here."

He crouches again.

This time Madeline turns and looks for Ninja. "Don't see too many vehicles about. Common for folk to park here in the alley?"

From the foot of the steps, Ninja waggles one hand. "Depends. Most places around here have lots, as you can see. The UCC Ministry across Lipan, though..." She points to the small storefront church just beyond Logan. "...helps support Dick's efforts; they get visitors at all hours, but it's pretty random."

She can feel the anger rising up again, and she's not sure she's successful keeping the emotion from flaring in her eyes.

"So a strange vehicle parked out here wouldn't be seen as an unusual event."

Madeline nods, her mouth pressing into a hard, thin line, and looks back at Logan who is standing up. There is a small shake of his head.

"Saliva?" she asks.

He nods.

Madeline translates the Logan speak.

"Whoever took him was wearing cop shoes or combat boots. He pissed himself at some point, and they hit him, probably in the face, enough that he spat blood. He was definitely loaded into a vehicle here and there's too much normal stoppage to tell if the residues are from that one or another.

"We should head to the other site."

Logan chuffs, and Madeline nods.

All of that makes sense. If they were dealing with the Brotherhood, Ninja wouldn't rule out the involvement of dirty cops. She doesn't know enough about the Knighthood; rectifying that will take a conversation with Sanchez.

She nods as she walks to her bike, waving to Ginny's head in the window and holding up a crooked pinky finger.

This time, Madeline walks over to Ninja and softly says, "After that we should take a look at the crime scene as well."

When Maddie suggests heading over to the crime scene, Ninja stops dead in her tracks and looks at her for a moment. Just breathing. Not thinking, not feeling. Finally... finally she nods. "If it will help," she says, even more softly. She will have time to weave a shell around her heart this time; there's at least that advantage.

They have to pass under 6th on Lipan, go up to 7th and back over to Kalamath to get onto the westbound lanes of 6th Avenue. Many people claim the city planners had a perfectly logical for making so many one-way streets in Denver; it seems like they outnumber the two-way streets by a factor of four to one. Some people have always suspected their logic was drug-induced.

But once in the westbound lanes of 6th, it takes only a minute or two to reach I-25, where she ramps it up to one twenty-five again, slowing to eighty on the ramp to eastbound I-70, then back up over one hundred for the nearly two miles to the Steele Street exit.

Once on city streets again, Ninja doesn't go much over the limit since they're riding through residential neighborhoods at this point. Pulling up in front of Ben's pale yellow house, she sees one of Denver's motorcycle patrol officers waiting outside, leaning on her bike. Ninja stops beside her, although the cop doesn't look up from the tap-tap-tapping she's doing on her mobile device.

"Been waiting long, Kowalczyk?"

"About twenty minutes, but I finished three reports," the officer says, continuing to type. "Nope, four." She closes the case on the device and tucks it into the hard case saddlebag on the bike. Then she looks up at Ninja's companions. "Why Ninja... you have an entourage!" she says with a touch of humor.

"I don't think that's the word I'd use," Ninja replies, eyebrows raised.

"Normally, I wouldn't either," Kowalczyk admits. "But it's the word of the day on the roommate's calendar. So what's what here?"

"Need to get inside. My new friend here..." She nods toward Logan. " a tracker. Might be able to pick up something about Grimm."

Kowalczyk pulls a key from her pocket. "Then let's get moving," she says, opening the chain link gate at the end of the walkway. "Pisses me off when one of the people on my beat go missing."

Kowalczyk is the cop Andi suspect Pablo wanted her to become. Like Andi, she's got a couple of black belts — Aikido and Karate for her — and is always being underestimated by idiot drunks. Slender and of average height, she looks absolutely and utterly friendly, even with her short spiky very yellow hair... maybe especially with that hair. She tends to get the domestic violence calls because the violent persons don't believe she's any kind of threat to them until she's got them on the ground and cuffed.

She unlocks and opens the door, entering before the others, ever watchful.

"Trust no one, right?" she says as she moves towards the back of the house.

"Don't bother, Kowalczyk. There's no one here," Ninja says.

"Spoilsport," the policewoman mutters.

The Super just shakes her head and gestures to Logan and Maddie.

"Have at it..."

It is a near repeat of the scene at the halfway house with both the parking and the entering of the house. Logan stops at the officer, his nostrils flare, but says nothing. After a pause there, he prowls the house, inspecting every room. This scenting takes longer as other people have been here, and he is categorizing the differences.

"Interesting tracker you have there, Ninja," Kowalczyk whispers from across the room after Logan picks up her scent. Having worked with her a time or two, Kowalczyk knows damn well the Super can hear her. Ninja just gives her a look, however; she shrugs and stands down. Kowalczyk's here just to be present; they all know it's Ninja's show to run.

Once again Madeline stands at the doorway inspecting the neighborhood. She had been the world over, and there is always a common thread between the neighborhoods and villages of the 'less fortunate'. She takes another step inside, a frown on her face.

"I need a map of the area with the pertinent areas marked. The homes of the three, their last known locations and daily routes. These three were targeted not only because of the ease of access to them but because of who they know."

She pauses, her head shifting as she takes in the cop from behind her Raybans.

"I'm sure DPD has worked their analysis, but they've probably never worked a snatch and grab from the inside."

"No problem on the map," Ninja says. "But while ease of access might be true for Grimm and Walters, that's not the case for Sally Banner."

She looks out the doorway Maddie had abandoned, looking at Ben's small front yard, the street, the houses across the street. Because Sally is in the mix, there's something very, very ugly happening with this case.

"Sally was an Unfortunate who could never pass for a Normal like Ben could. In the nine years I've been going up to Commerce City and getting to know the people out here, Sally left the Unfortunate ghetto once.

"Once, Wolf."

She turns to look at the other woman.

"That says the person who grabbed her was someone either trusted enough or official enough to convince her to leave... and to convince the very protective people around her to let her leave."

She pauses, lips tightening, before being able to continue.

"Sally only trusted one person from outside the Commerce City community that much, and you're looking at her. So we're looking for someone official, and not petty ante official at the city or county level.

"We're talking at least State... possibly Feds or military."

State... Feds... military...

Of the three suggestions, it's the last one that's potentially the most problematic. Madeline's stance is still casual and relaxed but there was a new thread of tension in the room. Logan has come back out into the main room as Ninja says the last. That same tension is in him, noted only by the flexing of his hands. She takes her glasses off for the first time and meets his eyes. Between them, there is a deep abiding anger and hatred.

Kowalczyk shifts uncomfortably when the tension in the room grows, and Ninja shoots her another look.

She pulls her sunglasses from her uniform pocket as she walks towards the front door, stopping when she comes abreast of the Super.

"There are things going on here that are above my pay grade," she says simply. "I'm going to check the perimeter." She slips the glasses on and walks out, then crosses the yard to lean against the chain link fence.

Ninja turns back to Maddie and Logan.

It's Madeline that speaks to what is between them.

"If it is him, we shut him down for good this time. No porting help, no slush funds to secret him away with nary a slap on the hand, no political posturing and empty apologies. We hunt him down and cut the head from the snake."

He gives an affirming nod and growl.

The blaze of fury is banked but still there as she expands the statements for Ninja's benefit.

"Don't know this state as well as I used to, but with the connections we have, subtle inquiries can be made. At the Fed level, there's a Congresswoman I know who can help. Her oldest son was one of my students, and she was instrumental in shit-canning the mutant registration act and getting equal rights passed. She would also know who is still being a dick about it.

"If it is military or even paramilitary... in conjunction with that other Thing... we will have our work cut out for us. On the off chance that the one we know is behind this... That son of a bitch has been at this for a good long time, and he has had wealthy backers, including the US government for a time. He was actually fairly highly placed within their black ops organization.

"And what's been done so far, as bad as it is, is relatively minor compared to what he is capable of."

Ninja watches them both as Maddie talks, noting well the anger they still hold. "So the first question, then, is who's in charge here? Is this the Aryan Knighthood flexing its muscles after being gone for so long... and they just happen to have some cops and military and even intelligence personnel in their organization? It's not something I'd dismiss out of hand.

"Or is it the one who worked with this Thing before... Stryker? That's who Rene was talking about, right? Is he manipulating the Knighthood for his own purposes?"

She looks between the two of them. Outwardly, they look calm enough... Maddie more so than Logan, but she suspects Logan at his most lethargic would still seem slightly on edge... that feralness Maddie had spoken of.

Their auras, though? Oh, yes, they hide their rage better than anyone else she's ever met. Of course, she suspects she hasn't met anyone with as much cause for rage as these two before, either. Even Pablo — with his wife and son's murder, with Denise's murder — had only a small portion of the rage they rightfully carry. But it's there, saturating their auras.

"And to know which scenario is more probable, or if they are equally possible, we need more information on the Aryan Knighthood."

"That is the million dollar question," Madeline agrees. "Who, precisely, is running the show? Who is really the man behind the curtain? The first scenario is not easily dismissed, no, and, quite frankly, for your sake and the sake of your town, that's the one we hope it is."

Logan growls at the name. It is low and dangerous, and sets one's hair on end. Madeline barely suppresses her own answering growl.

"Yeah, that's who Rene meant. And if it is him, I'm very glad to have our children away from here."

Looking at Logan, she says, "If you have everything you need here, we can go... over to the bridge."

Another meeting of the eyes, and she has the next step.

"To the bridge we go."

Their anger is a palpable thing now. And from the few tales Rene told her, she gets it. Totally. Yep, unlike Maddie she can die. It takes a whole lot more effort to kill her than the average citizen of this fair state, but it can happen.

But see... the thing is, if that son of a bitch shows up in HER town, and manages to take her out? She's taking that motherfucker out with her.

Great. Now they've all got their buttons pushed here. And to look at them, they're just calm people having a bit of a discussion.

Oh, and a bonus round! Now that she's riled up, they can go visit the site where a friend of hers was brutally murdered!

Logan precedes them out of the house. Madeline slips her glasses back on but holds back with Ninja.

Andrea stops to take a deep cleansing breath as Logan walks out the door. And another when Maddie holds back. Good things, both breaths.

"The best way to find out more is from one of them directly," Madeline says quietly. "If there's anyone in particular you can point us to or a common hangout of theirs, we'll handle that part. And, no, you don't want to know."

Ninja merely raises an eyebrow to the last comment. "If this was the Brotherhood, I could give you a dozen addresses... although they're all down in Colorado Springs. But we're dealing with the Knighthood, and until Friday I had no idea they even existed." She motions to Kowalczyk to lock up as she and Maddie walk towards their bikes. "For you two to question suspects, we need more info on this group. And I only know one man in Denver who knows more about them than their name."

"When this part is done, I'd like to talk to that man... if it's possible."

Kowalczyk comes back down the walk and carefully closes the gate behind her. "Need anything else from me, Ninja?"

She shakes her head. "Thanks, Kowalczyk. We got everything we could."

The officer looks between Logan and Maddie, then back at Ninja. "Listen, you know I keep my eyes and ears open, and my mouth shut. But sometimes there are times to speak up. There are a few assholes not taking this incident as seriously as I'd expect." She pauses. "Officially and among the vast majority of the rank and file, this was a heinous crime. There are some who don't think it was either heinous or a crime."

Ninja regards the patrol officer for a moment.

"You feel comfortable sharing names?"

She hesitates. "I don't know. Might not be safe. Career-wise, I mean. As far as physical safety, I got people who watch my back, and can kick major ass."

Then Madeline goes to her bike. Logan's is already running. Before straddling her ride, she reaches over and brushes her fingers across his knuckles. There is another brief exchange between them, once again only with their eyes.

If the cop gives up other cops, Madeline is determined that they and not Ninja will handle it. If they make themselves unwelcome, so be it. It would not be the first time she has been barred entry to a place... not that it ever stops her of course.

Ninja nods. "Tell you what... you think about it. You can trust Sanchez and Garcia in Homicide. After you've given it some thought and you want to make a phone call... or drop in for a visit... just tell them you have some names for me."

Kowalczyk nods slowly. "Okay. You trust them, I'll trust them. But I still need to think about this. It's not an easy thing to snitch on your brothers in blue."

"I get it. Now go... get out of here." She waves Kowalczyk off with a smile... working hard at being the usual smart ass Ninja everyone is used to.

She gets on her bike and starts it up, but waits until she sees Kowalczyk pass under I-70 before heading around the corner, westbound on 47th Avenue. Now, one would think that it would be an easy and direct ride over to the 47th Avenue bridge. It's just over a mile west. But no... there's very little that easy and direct in this town. To be fair, the rail lines and rail yards were here long before Denver annexed most of what's now the City and County of Denver. And how many bridges do you want to build over the South Platte, anyway?

So instead of going directly up 47th Avenue, they head west to York Street, then south on York to 46th where they ride under I-70 to High Street... if High Street didn't loop and get lost on both sides of I-70, then continue on 46th until it curves near the Coliseum to become 44th Street.

What kind of drunken sot designed this mess, anyway?

A right under I-70, where 46th Avenue becomes 44th Street, is the turnoff for 47th Avenue. They're under I-70 for a few hundred feet with the Coliseum on their left and the National Western Stock Show complex on the right... just past the complex, 47th slips out from under I-70 again; they pass under a set of railroad tracks, pass Packing House Road — guess what used to be down there? — also known as National Western Drive... i.e., the back entrance to the complex.

That's when she slows down. A lot. Just past this curve is the bridge, and she creeps up on it at no more than twenty miles an hour, and stops at the joint where road becomes bridge. Not quite halfway down on the left, there is still a ribbon of crime scene tape fluttering from the guard rail.

She motions Maddie and Logan to go ahead.

"I've seen all I need to see. Let me know if you need anything."

Madeline and Logan had followed Ninja through the streets and when she stops, so does Madeline, just long enough to reach out and give her shoulder a squeeze. Like Rene's "I'm sorry," it is a show of support and solidarity and condolences.

She has lost friends over the years. It comes with the territory. And while she mourns those, it did not hurt nearly as much as the loss of the friends and the children they had watched over being murdered in their beds.

Logan is stalking back and forth on the bridge by the time she pulls her bike up next to his. Even from a distance his agitation is evident. Madeline waits with the bikes. He stalks over, and they have a brief conversation. Madeline gives him a nod and rides back up to where Ninja waits.

"Wolverine says there's a least one scent in common between here and the halfway house."

Ninja is sitting with one foot on the ground, the other leg bent in front of her on the seat. She figures she probably looks like a loon petting an invisible cat in her lap.

It's actually her crazy flying thing. Despite Raven's desire to drive her crazy at times, there are other times — like these — when her guardian Spirit does try very hard to understand the foibles of humans, and this particular human specifically. It's pressed itself close, wings wrapped around her torso, and head tucked under her chin. She can't even find it in herself to be annoyed that it's cooing.

As Maddie approaches, she hugs it gently.

Thank you.

I will stay close.

She simply nods, both to Raven's statement and Maddie's.

"Makes sense that there wouldn't be a connection at Grimm's place," she says softly. "DPD is pretty sure he was grabbed on his way home; probably along 48th where it's commercial on one side. He'd have been heading home early enough that it would be unlikely people would be home from work yet on the residential side." She glances over at Logan. "If he thinks it's worth riding over there... well, my time is your time."

"This man that knows about that Knighthood, it would be really helpful for him to share what he knows. A copy of the case file, mainly the scene photos, would be helpful too, along with that map. I'll call a contact, see if they can't dig up any info.

"We're staying at The Golden, suite twelve."

"Sure... let me see about getting that set up."

Ninja pulls out her phone again, and needs to scroll through her contacts to find the number before dialing. When the phone at the other end is answered, she says, "Captain, it's Ninja. I have a favor to ask."

His short answer elicits a bit of a smile.

"Don't be so quick to offer when you don't know what I need," she says, with at least a smile in her voice. "I have some friends visiting from out of town, and we're taking a look at Garcia's case from a different perspective. They're wondering if you might be available a little later so they can pick your brain about the organization that appears to be responsible in this case."

He pauses for quite some time. There's no way to know what he's thinking, but reminiscing about the task force from a decade and more ago would not be an unreasonable conjecture. Still, when he speaks, it's the same answer.

"Thank you. Would you mind meeting us at The Golden at five?"

She nods minutely at his response, but sighs at his question.

"I'd like that, but I also have a research task, and if you've got someone you trust enough to run this, I'm all for it. I've heard some things through the grapevine, and wonder if you — or Garcia, rather — can find out circumspectly how many people employed by DPD are in any way associated with either the Aryan Brotherhood or Knighthood. While I would like to believe in the integrity of every person in DPD, I am also entirely too aware of the vagaries of human nature. Names, while I understand to be confidential information, would be of immeasurable help."

His answer is both a little surprising to her, and disturbing at the same time.

"Then we'll see you at five... suite twelve."

She disconnects and slips the phone back in her pocket, and takes a moment to recenter herself.

"He'll bring all the files he has."

The other information... it makes her really wonder about Rodrigo Sanchez. On top of everything else he's managed to do, the strings he's managed to pull... she has moments when he makes her think he's actually the police commissioner hiding out as the head of Homicide.

"He's already been keeping tabs on everyone he suspects of having ties to the Brotherhood; he'll bring that, too. Garcia will massage the data and see if anything pops for the Knighthood. Apparently, crossover would be... well, not quite impossible, but the caliber of recruits for each organization would be like comparing..."

She takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly, and shrugs as she tries to find an appropriate analogy.

" comparing, say, the London Philharmonic to a high school orchestra, I suppose."

Logan rides up while Ninja is on the phone. Madeline pulls her own phone out and sends a text off.

The news that the one in the know is not only willing to meet them but has access to all the files... well, that places him up pretty high and also says he is well aware of the potential shit storm that is coming down.

And to the last... it's something she knows a bit about.

"Even so, the lower level is a proving ground of sorts. The professionals keep a weather eye on them. You get your standard grade knuckleheads for the most part, but every once in a while someone worthy of your time and talent turns up. You make contact, you woo them away, then you mold them into one of your own and add one more soldier you can trust to your cadre.

"Unfortunately, there's a certain grade of zealot that follows the same principles. And, quite frankly, I would rather deal with a merc. Them you can talk sense into because they're usually just in it for the payday. Zealots have to be put down or neutered. Preferably the later because the former can turn them into martyrs."

She sighs and nods at Maddie's assessment of the various unsavory organizations she finds in her rounds. The woman isn't wrong. Unfortunately.

"Sure, you'll find the occasional prodigy who goes right from freshman music class to playing with a philharmonic orchestra. I get that. But I have to think if Sanchez is paranoid and smart enough to track those with ties to the Brotherhood, he's smart enough to extrapolate who has the potential to rise to the big leagues. I don't doubt he's having Garcia do the number crunching simply to verify what he suspects and maybe catch anything he's missed."

"I think I'm going to like this Sanchez."

Ninja manages a real smile. "He's a good man. He's... well, I probably couldn't do my job, this job, without his help."

She stares off towards the middle of the bridge for several minutes.

"Unfortunately, in my travels I don't come across the mercenary types," she says finally, probably sounding as subdued as she feels. "They're either idiots trying to stir up some trouble just for the fun of it... or they're on a mission from god."

"As for mercenary types, hang around with us long enough and that will change quick, but, yeah, zealots are a right pain in the ass."

She turns to look at Maddie again. "If you've got a quick and easy way of neutering the Kill Everyone For Jesus crowd, I'd like to know about it. Until neutering is a viable alternative, I have to beat the shit out of them and have my law enforcement friends cart their sorry asses off to a cushy prison cell. They're like cockroaches. And a lifetime of brainwashing into thinking everyone who isn't part of their particular cult is unworthy to breathe the same air their particular version of god gave to them makes extermination a hell of a lot easier than neutering."

Am I angry? Well, will you look at that! I guess I am.

She's also damn tired of cockroaches acting like they're at the top of the food chain.

"I do know a quick and easy way. Unfortunately it comes with a lot of collateral damage. I hate collateral damage."

Ninja nods. "Yeah... not a fan of it myself."

"We should go over to his office, walk the route this guy took at least. Sounds like it's a fairly high traffic area so any scent could be muddled," Madeline says, not wanting to get the other woman's hopes up.

"Is there an eatery along there or shops? Someplace Grimm stopped on a semi regular basis at least?"

The other woman shakes her head. "Nothing outside the Commerce City compound. There are some places he could have stopped before the main gate, but everything outside is either industrial or the type of commercial place most people don't visit regularly... let alone a cyclist."

"We'll still take a look. I'm curious to see what kind of surveillance is in the area, and Wolverine can do his thing."

She pauses as a pocket buzzes and she pulls out her phone. She glances at the message then presses a part of the screen and holds it up to her ear.

"Need you to work your magic... Aryan Knighthood, start with Denver, Colorado, work your way out... Yeah, also need to know if there are any connections to that General... Don't worry, you'll get paid even if I get my ass shot off... Inbox... Right. Later."

She tucks the phone away and looks back at Ninja.

"Okay, let's get this show on the road."

Ninja nods, straddles her bike again and starts it up, then they retrace their route back toward Ben's house. Instead of turning on Clayton, they continue on 48th up to Vasquez Boulevard. While it's possible to take either of the frontage roads north, neither goes much farther than 52nd... there are railroad tracks and Sand Creek to cross. Northbound, it's easiest to just stay on the highway. On the way back, they can take the frontage road from 52nd to 48th on the off chance Ben chose that route.

Even going the speed limit, it only takes about five minutes to reach the blockade under I-270 that separates the rest of Adams County from the walled ghetto of Commerce City. Anyone not heading into Commerce City has already left Vasquez, either at 56th Avenue or onto I-270 itself.

After waving to Just Dave, Ninja looks at Maddie and Logan. "Do you want to head all the way to his office? It's in the same building as the administrative offices — an old school, I guess. I should talk to Hank while I'm up here anyway."

That is not a meeting she's looking forward to at all.

"We should cover it all just in case. You never know when or where you might find something."

Madeline once again takes a good look at her surroundings. It does remind her of the catacombs except there she knows people and they know her. This is Ninja's territory and it is her lead to take.

"Best place to park the bikes? We want to do this on foot."

"I usually leave mine right here, but with everything that's going on... on the other side of the line, inside the city limits might be best."

She had heard that there used to be dozens of roads into Commerce City, that it once measured over twenty-five square miles, that there was a time it wasn't surrounded by a four foot thick, twenty foot high concrete wall.

Now there are four entrances to the town most of the Unfortunates of Colorado call home: two on Quebec Parkway, one at 56th Avenue and the other at 72nd Avenue; one at Colorado Boulevard and 72nd Avenue; and the main entrance at Vasquez Boulevard under I-270. While the other three gates are kept closed at all times — unless someone has a darn good reason for coming or going through them — the main entry hasn't been closed in over two decades. Well, except for their annual testing and maintenance.

In fact, it's hard to tell there's a gate there at all. Ninja has never been present for one of their tests, but apparently it just rises up out of the pavement right under the highway, snugly using the highway itself as part of the barrier. All four of the entrance and exit ramps to the highway had been removed about the same time they walled off the enclave; the wall rises up along the highway and the only glimpse travelers see of Commerce City is the moment they pass over Vasquez, through a chain link fence topped by razor wire. Well... sometimes the fence is topped by razor wire. One of the fine citizens of Commerce City likes to remove it from time to time. Something about being "yummy and crunchy." Ninja didn't actually want to know anything more.

About ten years ago, they had also installed a roll-up style gate along the outer edge of the overpass. That one is occasionally closed when there isn't anyone available to watch the entrance. It gets tested more often — about once a month — but only during the day as some of the Commerce City residents find it disturbing. It does look like horizontal bars held together with wires; Ninja understands how that would be... distasteful to some people. She certainly isn't a fan.

And of course, the enclave is just under two square miles in area now, the parts of Commerce City not walled offer having been absorbed by Thornton, Westminster and Northfield.

She releases the brake and coasts over to the booth where Just Dave sits watching them. They call it a toll booth, though no tolls are ever collected, because to call it a guard shack would be to admit that they're prisoners, albeit ones who police themselves. The fact of the matter is... well, they are prisoners up here.

"Morning, JD," Ninja says to the twenty something dark haired, blue eyed young man. "These are my friends Black Wolf and Wolverine. We're going to leave our bikes here and walk over to chat with Hank about a few things."

His head wobbles as he looks at Maddie and Logan for a moment.


"Yes, JD. They're like me."

Okay. I told Hank you're on your way. The bikes will be safe here.

"Thanks, JD."

She pulls her bike out of the way, against the median rise beyond the booth, motioning Maddie and Logan to pull over beside her. She pulls her staff out of its holster as she dismounts; she won't need it — unless some of the children want to watch her run through a form with it. Kids always seem fascinated by that, whether it's the children of Commerce City or the children of Denver watching her in Washington Park. It's more that people expect to see her with it.

Their unspoken synchronization and division of tasks says volumes to anyone who might be paying attention. From the visits at the various scenes to the riding through the city, it's patently clear that Madeline and Logan are a team. From the very beginning in the forested valley below the dam at Alkalai Lake, they had worked flawlessly together even though his vocal communications had been rudimentary at best. Sometime, when they come across stuff like this, which is fortunately much more rare than often, he regresses back to that state of near total feralness.

The thought that Stryker could be active again, up to his old tricks again... that cuts to the quick of both of them. Everything had been taken from Wolverine, even his memory. Madeline had lost the love of her life, another husband, students and more friends than she cared to count... all in the space of week. She had nearly lost her son as well.

And then she had read through the files Freak had taken from their computers before she blew the place all to hell. She had offered the information to Wolverine, and he had declined, although bits and pieces did come back. Like the name he used, Logan, one he had used before... some of the things he had done in his life.

She was in her office looking over the latest figures when he came in, a pained expression on his face. She stood up and came around her desk, concerned.


"Logan," he said.

"You've been remembering things," she did not ask.

He nodded in answer anyway. "Things I've done..."

"You're very good at what you do," she told him gently.

"What I do isn't very nice," he said, dejected.

She had stroked his face. "Neither is what I do, Logan."

He had not believed her, of course, despite their auspicious beginnings, not until later when some... competitors... hurt some of her people. Then he got to see the cold, calculating and ruthless person she could be. All she had said to his somewhat surprised look was, "What I do isn't very nice either."

She supposes the threat of Stryker's return has made them both regress somewhat.

Now they are in the camp of Unfortunates, a section of city walled off and segregated from the regular populace "for their own protection." The sight of it makes her frown and Wolverine growl a bit. Neither of them appreciates cages of any kind. They park their bikes besides Ninja's, and follow her in toward the Mayor's office.

As they walk up the highway that's essentially an overly wide sidewalk, Ninja tells them about some of the enclave residents, starting with JD.

"Just Dave was born without vocal cords and with some rudimentary telepathic ability. According to Hank, who's raised him from the day his birth parents dropped him off here when he was three days old, his mother heard his crying in her head. Freaked her out, and when his father began hearing the cries when he was two days old, they decided they didn't want to raise a freak."

She snorts.

"Freak... it's no wonder he insists on being called Just Dave, refusing any acknowledgment of his birth parents. Anyway, like any other child he had to be taught how to talk. Hank and his wife took him in because they can't have children... Josie was born without a uterus, something her parents didn't know about until she hit puberty but never started menstruating. Took her to the doctor... and dropped her off at the gates right after the doctor told them." She shakes her head. "I don't understand how you can raise a child for fifteen years and then toss her away like yesterday's trash because of a something that might not even have anything to do with mutancy." She sighs and shakes her head again.

"Anyway, Hank has some minor telepathic skill, so as it turns out, he and Josie were good people to take JD in. JD's telepathic skill isn't all that great either, but it's a little unusual. He can't talk to anyone unless he touches them first... and the first few conversations he'll want to hold your hand, or rest a hand on your shoulder until he makes some sort of connection... recognizes your mental voice maybe. His range is about what an ordinary person would have speaking. We're about far enough away now that even if he 'yelled' we wouldn't hear him. Well, I might, but who knows? Never seemed like anything we needed to test out.

"The exception seems to be Hank, and my guess is that's because Hank raised him and has some telepathic ability."

As they walk up Vasquez, people wave... and she waves back. Some of them are — in some people's estimations — horribly deformed. Whatever. They're happy people. They smile. They laugh. They have this thing about them that makes them shunned by society at large, but they don't care... much, anyway... and they just go about living happy lives. Her heart tightens up, because that was the sort of person Sally was. She just lived her life trying to share all her happiness with everyone else.

About a mile up, at 60th Avenue, there's a huge lot where an old shopping mall — or maybe two, as it straddles 60th Avenue — used to be. The stores are homes now; some of them very large communal residences. The parking lots are gone, replaced by a community garden. Actually, given the size of the parking lots, it's more like a community farm.

There are daytime people and there are nighttime people in Commerce City. For the nighttime people, the daylight — even on the cloudiest, most overcast day — is just too much for their eyes; there is too much happening during the day and it overloads all their senses; some of them are just scared.

The daytime people are the same sort of folks you'll find out and about any day, anywhere. Some of them, as she has noted frequently, are not as pleasant to look at as some folks might like. Others, like Hank and his Josie, are indistinguishable from the Normals outside the walls. Or even the Normals inside the walls, for there certainly are Normals here, as well. Some are the children, and even grandchildren, of Unfortunates. Some are just social outcasts, some are the homeless from Denver and Boulder who heard a home of sorts could be had for a little bit of work, some have been disaffected or rebellious teens thinking they were making some kind of statement by living up here.

Yes, Commerce City welcomes outsiders... cautiously. Ninja, for all her disinterest in the existence of Supers, has certainly heard the stories about other enclaves of Unfortunates around the country where crime is the norm. Not here. The crime rate in Commerce City isn't zero by any means, but it's lower than the City and County of Denver. Major crimes, violent crimes... those are the ones with the lowest numbers, because the penalty is stiff: banishment. Some have risked it, and have been shown to the main gates and told not to return.

Banishment is a public event; the person being banished is walked down Vasquez by family or friends or just the Council, followed by as many of the residents as can make the mile-long walk. And then the residents stop at the I-270 underpass, forming a human wall... a symbolic gesture to indicate the enclave is now closed to the criminal. Twice someone from the Council has asked that she escort the criminal to the Greyhound station. These people have a hard time involving law enforcement, but on the other hand, they really don't want criminals anywhere near them. She would have turned those two people over to the Adams County Sheriff's Office, but she wasn't about to break a promise to the residents of Commerce City.

It's interesting to note that the people who commit the worst crimes — the crimes that carry the sentence of banishment — are the people who are either Normal or can pass for Normal.

And there are people who call the disfigured ones monsters?

Walking up 60th is like being part of a parade. By the time they reach the connector road between the two farms and residential communities, it seems every child in Commerce City is following them and crowding around them... though they do give Maddie and Logan — newcomers — much more space than they give Ninja. Considering that she has one riding her shoulders — that would be Monica, who climbs up her back almost too fast even for her reflexes — and another on one hip — that's Jeffrey, who just loves to be held — the amount of space they give her is very small, indeed.

As Ninja tells them about how Just Dave came to be here, Madeline's frown becomes a grim line of anger, and Wolverine glowers. His adoptive mother's treatment at the hands of her own parents only serves to infuriate them further. It would probably have grown worse if it were not for the increasingly large gathering of children that follow along with them.

It remind Madeline of the first time they had walked the catacombs. Many Unfortunates in Paris still do not trust her fully, although there are a few. To them she still smells, or stinks rather, like a Normal. Logan, however, had been accepted from the first. Their relationship gave her some street cred with them. There are even a couple who will call her directly when there is trouble. The physician at the clinic that serves the Unfortunate community is one. He is not a Mutant or Unfortunate himself, but has more compassion than anyone she has ever met. It was after meeting him that the House of Beauvoir began making anonymous monetary donations to the clinic. She suspects he knows, but he will never risk either his benefactor or his clients with a public statement.

Ninja does watch Matt carefully as he paces Logan; Matt's a 'Shifter like her cousin Billy. Unlike Billy, however, Matt has had some very basic ability from a young age... possibly birth. The story, which rings true given what she knows of the unbearably self-important and obscenely wealthy people in certain areas around Denver, says that Matt was born with an extra finger on each hand. And apparently his parents had planned to have the unnecessary appendages removed before Matt started kindergarten. And, again as the story goes, Matt overheard them and just... made the fingers go away. If the then four year old Matt had left it at that, he might still be living in a grand mansion instead of in living in the boys' dormitory in the old Wal-Mart. But his kindergarten had Show And Tell day early on... and little Matt showed his classmates and his horrified teacher how he could make his fingers grow back. The other children weren't yet indoctrinated to the credo that "different is bad" and were utterly fascinated. But the screaming teacher obviously gave them a clue that something was wrong, even if they didn't know what it was.

Shortly thereafter, Commerce City had a new resident. He's about twelve now and has been experimenting — with careful supervision — and only seems to be able to do partial shifts. He'll manage dog legs and a tail or bird wings, but hasn't been able to manage a full shift. His foster parents keep reassuring him that puberty is when his body will probably be able to manage it, but he's at that age where he wants it all now. After inspecting Logan on the walk up 60th, he runs up to Ninja as they reach the old school district building that houses the administrative offices of Commerce City, as well as Ben's office at Commerce Pride.

Logan is back to being Logan, chuffing playfully at the one boy who follows him like a curious pup. Leon had taken to him as well. Children are never afraid of him. Madeline smiles briefly at the memory, but the mass of children also reminds her of the school and all those young lives cut short. Although he still plays with the shifter, he is also aware of the change in Madeline and reaches to entwine his fingers with hers. She gives his hand a squeeze. She will need more than a hand holding later.

Ninja has managed to convince Monica to slide down to the ground and is just putting Jeffrey down when Matt sidles up and whispers, "Wolf."

"Wolverine," she corrects him, watching Jeffrey run after some of the older children.

He shifts his right forearm into an excellent wolf's leg and paw. "Wolf," he repeats, pointing to Logan.

Ninja smiles and shakes her head. "Wolf," she says, patting his arm... er, paw. "Wolverine," she says, pointing to Logan.

Matt looks puzzled, and looks between his shifted arm and Logan several times. "But he smells like a wolf."

She shrugs. "I don't know what to tell you, Matt. Different is different." She takes his wolf paw in her hands, and inspects it. "You're doing really well. This is as good as my cousin does!"

"Yeah, but he can change his whole self!" he whines. It's just a little bit of a whine.

"And how old was he when he could even try to shift?"


"Fifteen," she says, giving the twelve year old a hug. "And it took him more than a year to perfect his first shape."

He hands his head, shameful. "I know. I'm sorry, Ninja."

A finger under his chin, she lifts his head up. "Matt. No shame. Hold your head up like a person of worth."

He gives her a tiny smile, but does hold his head up, meeting her eyes. There's still that tinge of frustration to his aura, and she just shakes her head as she smiles fondly at him.

"Matt, every youngster your age out there in the world beyond these walls is feeling the same way you're feeling. Trying to figure out how to make that leap from boy to man, or from girl to woman. It's easier for some people, harder for others... and that's the truth for Normals and for Unfortunates. That's the truth for the rich and poor. It was true for me, just like it's true for you now. Anyone who tells you that these are the best years of your life and to just relax and enjoy them is either dipping into the still a little too much or doesn't remember that far back in time."

That gets a smile from him.

She ruffles his hair. "Look at all the people around you who managed to survive. Remember the few who didn't. Then look in here..." She taps him lightly over his heart. "...and know — really know — that you're going to be one of the survivors."

For a second, he is the young man trying hard to be mature... then he is just a kid hugging her fiercely around her waist, one arm and one wolf paw crossing behind her. It's a quick hug, almost as if he's embarrassed by his actions.

She chuckles softly. "Am I going to have to lecture you again, Matt?"

He shrugs as he grins. "Probably. I'm still mostly a kid, after all."

She rolls her eyes. "Go. Off with you, scamp! I have work — that horrible thing that's the bane of grownups' lives — to do!"

She looks at Maddie as they enter the building. "I'm a part time guidance counselor, too, I suppose. As you can imagine, it's hard to get good teachers and counselors up here. Surprisingly, or maybe not, Doctors Without Borders always makes sure we have good doctors and nurses."

The look Madeline gives Ninja at the counselor explanation is bittersweet. "You have more patience than I do. I didn't even last a year as a teacher."

She smiles and shrugs at Maddie's assessment of her level of patience. "I grew up in Japan and China. Patience isn't a virtue there... it's a way of life. And I do need patience on my day job, too. Besides..." Ninja's smile is also a little bittersweet. "...I like kids."

Hank's office, the Mayor's Office, is the first door on the right as they enter the building. He doesn't stand on ceremony, and doesn't have a secretary. If the door is closed, he's in a meeting. If the door is open, everyone is welcome to drop in. Nevertheless, she knocks on the open door as she stands in the doorway.

"Got a few minutes, Hank?"

He looks up from the document he's writing, the emotions crossing his face clearly and too easy to read — worry, fear, dread.

"It's about Sally, isn't it?"

Ninja just nods.

He waves them in and stands as he motions for them to take seats, despite the fact that he knows darn well Ninja will sit not down while working. The man's a gentleman, that's the truth. She motions towards the door with her head, so Maddie or Logan will close it after them.

"Hank, these are my friends Black Wolf and Wolverine."

She turns back to Maddie and Logan. "Hank Taylor, current mayor of Commerce City."

Seeing Hank after all the children, however... there's something about him that reminds Madeline of Bruno. He put his ass on the line for she and hers without a second thought. She wonders how he is doing.

"Hank," she says by way of greeting.

So does Logan as he leans against the door he had closed.

Ninja looks at Hank, not able to find the words. Finally, she shakes her head, and manages to speak past the lump in her throat.

"The Aryan Knighthood is back."

He drops heavily into his chair, and covers his face with his hands, elbows planted on his desk.


She's never heard Hank swear, or even raise his voice, in all the years she's known him. But he's got reason to swear. He was around during the Knighthood's last reign of terror.

He looks up, tears already rolling down into his beard. "Tell me."


She takes a deep breath, trying hard to remember that she's working... that she's trying to save two men from the same fate that befell Sally. Maybe Hank can handle hearing it, maybe he can't. But Ninja can't tell it more than the one time she already has.

"The coroner will release her on Thursday or Friday. I will make sure she comes home here."

"Why, Ninja? Why would anyone want to hurt Sally, of all people?"

She just shakes her head. She doesn't have an answer, other than some people are simply worse than animals, and should be put down for the good of the whole human race.

Madeline understands completely why Ninja does not want to tell the story again. And the rhetorical question comes, the one that never has a good answer because one does not exist, ever. And she cannot help the cynical answer that slips from her lips.

"Because some people are right sick bastards that don't deserve to breathe the same air the rest of us do. If you really want the details, I can tell you them, but the plain fact of the matter is, the bastards wanted her to suffer before she died.

"We aren't from around these parts, and you've got no reason to trust us, but we've offered our help to stop this in it's tracks. Wolverine and I have had some... experience... with assholes like this. We've checked out the other places involved and would like to poke around in here a bit too, see if we can't come up with anything... if you don't mind?"

As Maddie speaks to Hank, Ninja watches him carefully. He flinches at Maddie's words; Ninja knows telling him the whole truth of what was done to Sally is a really bad idea.

He waves her words about trust away like a buzzing fly circling around his face.

"No, no... if Ninja calls you friends, then you're friends to us as well." A puzzled look crosses his features. "But Sally rarely came by here. She spent most of her time over at the soup kitchen, or in the park working with the children."

He looks between Maddie and Ninja.

"Old Mama told me Ben's missing, too, Hank. And so is Dick Walters who runs the Trinity Halfway House."

He slumps in his chair.

"I was hoping something had just come up for Ben. He's not here every single day... he has some family in the area... he's not the kind of guy to check in regularly..." Looking older than she's ever seen him, Hank shakes his head. "And what connection does Walters have? He's a Normal, the vast majority of the people passing through his facility are Normals. He doesn't turn our people away, but..." He shakes his head again, looking bewildered. "He's never even come up here, as far as I know. Are you sure there's a connection?"

Ninja glances back at Logan, then meet Maddie's eyes before answering Hank.

"Between Dick and Sally, yes. At least one person was at both... locations. We're looking for a connection to Ben from the same people."

He nods. "Yes, yes... look wherever you need to look. Ben is a pain in the ass sometimes, but he's not a bad person. I don't know Dick Walters, but I've heard good things about him." He looks at each of them in turn, then says to Ninja, "You'll keep me posted, won't you?"

She returns his nod. "Absolutely." She starts to turn, but remember one other thing.

"Missy Harden... how is she doing? Her father worries."

Hank finally has a reason to brighten and return to his usual good humor.

"Oh, lord above, that girl has been a godsend! She's so smart, and loves teaching more than anything, I think." He smiles fondly. "Tell her father he can be very proud of his daughter, that she's doing exceptionally well. Tell him he's always welcome to visit."

She's happy to have something to smile about this afternoon. "Transportation might be a problem for him, but I'll let him know. And arrange something for him, if necessary.

"Thanks for your time, Hank. I'll take a walk around town, catch up with folks after we check out Ben's office."

He stands again... a gentleman, as she said... before speaking. "Thanks for coming up here, Ninja. I'll gather folks tonight, talk to them.

"Black Wolf, Wolverine... thank you for any help you can provide. Know that you have the gratitude of our people here.

"Now... go, go!" he says genially, as he shoos them out, back to his easygoing, father figure manners. "Letters don't write themselves, you know!"

Checking over Ben's office doesn't seem to give any further clues if the looks Maddie and Logan exchange are any indication. Still, the effort had to be made.

As they make they way back over 60th towards Vasquez, with the intention to eventually get to the main entry, Monica climbs up her back again, giggling the whole time. This time, however, she flips the girl over her shoulder and cradles the child in her arms. It's a damn good thing that Ninja is stronger than she looks, because for a spindly and gangly looking little girl, Monica has a lot of mass. The Super whispers in the child's ear that she'll be staying in town for an extra hour or two, then sends her off to spread the word to all the kids to meet at Pioneer Park. At least they avoid the parade on their way out of town!

As they near the booth, she notes that JD has been replaced by Jocko. Ninja grins as she motions Maddie and Logan to the side at the same moment Jocko sees her and comes... well, not exactly out of the booth as his size won't allow him to get in. He just comes toward Ninja. She stands her ground as he moves towards her as fast as his size and bulk will allow... he needs to cover about thirty five yards, so manages to get up to an average speed run. He won't win any races, but he's definitely moving faster than a decently fast walk. The two of them are both grinning like ninnies.

Just before he's close enough to grab her, she crouches down. His momentum keeps him going, so instead of grabbing her in a bear hug, he's gripping nothing but air... and she's standing up to flip him over her back and send him flying. He lands with a thud... and a roar of laughter.

"Oh! New move!" he exclaims as he regains his feet. "Good one, Ninja! I like that one!" He strolls back in her direction, smiling happily. "And new friends, too. Okay for Jocko to say hello?"

She chuckles. "Not today, Jocko. Maybe next time, huh? These are Black Wolf and Wolverine." She nods towards the ogre-like giant standing beside her now. "This is Jocko. His greetings are... ah... exuberant." She looks back up at Jocko. "They're helping me with some things, but if they have time to visit before going home, maybe they'll let you say hello in your way, okay?"

He looks a little sad, but nods. "Okay, Ninja. This time I say hello in Ninja way." He turns to Maddie and Logan, attempts a bow — he really doesn't bend very well in the middle — and says, "Hello, friends of Ninja. I am happy to meet you." Then he looks at her for reassurance that he greeted them properly.

She pats his arm. "Great job, Jocko. I'll chat with you a little later, okay? I promised the kids I'd visit with them for a while."

He nods solemnly. "Okay, Ninja." He lumbers back to the booth and she shakes her head, although she can't help smiling at the overly enthusiastic gentle giant.

Walking over to Maddie and Logan where they wait by the bikes, she notices that she's somehow managed to tear yet another shirt. She sighs as she looks at the half inch long hole on the forearm of the shirt. "Maybe that damn ballistic polymer isn't such a bad idea after all," she mumbles.

"If you take Vasquez down to 52nd," she says to them, "you can jog over to the Frontage Road, which will take you all the way back down to 48th." She's worried, and she knows that she's worried. Given the geography, whoever grabbed Ben would have almost had to do it along that stretch... if he was taken on his way home from work. And all signs pointed to that. "You can swing back onto Vasquez to get to I-70."

She looks between them, but her gaze settles on Logan.

"Thank you."

So much more could be said, but it's really not necessary. Like Rene's "Sorry" and Maddie's mere touch on her shoulder, this simple phrase says more than just the two words mean to most people.

"I'll see you guys in a few hours."

# # #

Madeline tosses her keys on the table as she enters the room. It has been one hell of a day so far — from her reunion with Rene to the investigation that she and Logan are helping Ninja with. She crosses the room to the wet bar and opens the bottle of whiskey. As she drinks straight from the bottle, she hears Logan's keys land next to her own. A moment later, his hand is on the small of her back. She hands him the bottle, and he drinks from it, too, then offers it back to her.

She turns to face him as she takes it back. Where she had shuttered away all her emotions before, they now show in her eyes and face: the burning anger that will likely never go away, the fear for their children, the horror of what had been done to the woman so close to some things she herself had experienced. She takes another swig then says, "I need a shower."

"A swim is better," he says.

The corner of her mouth quirks up. "Yeah."

They pass the bottle back and forth as they shed their clothes and head for the shower. He pulls out the towels and robes as she start the water running. Madeline steps into the glass enclosure first and stands under the water. Logan silently watches as warm water flattens her hair and runs in rivulets down her smooth skin. She opens her eyes and looks at him curiously. He joins her then, tilts his head in inquiry and says, "I've forgotten so much. Teach me."

The corners of her mouth lift in a small smile. He always knows just what she needs. Then, like she had all those years before, she presses her lips to his and entwines one leg around him. Soon enough he has her pinned against the wall, and they are shaking the rafters. They take full advantage of all the children being away, and the fact that her stamina now matches his.

They eventually manage to move from the shower to the bed and now lay curled up with each other in a tangle of limbs, their strenuous passions having soothed their aching psyches and roiling emotions. She nuzzles his cheek then reaches across him for the water bottle on the nightstand. He nibbles at her collarbone as she does so.

"Already?" she asks with a laugh.

"Yes," he says then pulled her back down for a kiss.

She kisses him soundly but breaks it off early with a grin, "Still thirsty."

He nibbles her earlobe as she quenches her thirst. When she recaps the bottle, he asks, "What happened this morning?"

Still holding the water, she shifts and turns so that they are still entwined but face to face.

"I saw Rene. We both did, Leon and I."

His brows lower in puzzlement and concern. "It didn't make you sad?"

"I was at first. When we first got there I swore I could feel him, and I was right. Andi was there and said to me 'He never meant to leave you, Maddie'."


"Ninja... Andi's her regular name. Those words though... it's what he's said to me nearly every time I'd seen him after... Anyway, one of her gifts is the ability to see the Spirits of her people... and others, including Rene."

"She is of the Nations?"

"Yes, the Navajo."

Logan nods as if more makes sense to him now. "She had conversations with him?"

"Yes, and they — she and the Spirits — helped him move from one place to another. He is one of the Guardian Spirits now, more precisely he is my Guardian Spirit."

He touches fingertips to her breastbone. "And the pain, it is less now?"

"Yes," she says with a nod. "Much less."

He reaches up with those same fingers to caress her cheek.

"Good," he says then lapses into a silence, eyes dropping away from hers.

She can see there is something else there that he wants to say. "Logan?"

"And us?"

"What about us? We are still us. That hasn't changed. Hasn't that been plain today?" she asks, knowing that in this instance there is more to it. "He wants to meet you. You and the twins."

His eyes are dark and shuttered and he says, "If you were my Mate..."

"Logan, I am your Mate," she tells him without hesitation.

And in that one committing statement, she changes everything that is between them. It is something he has never expected from her, although he will admit to having wanted it. The shadow clears from his expression, and he takes her face in his hands and tenderly kisses her.

"My Madeline," he says, a note of wonder there. "My Mate."

Ninja's Spirits have worked much magic this day.

Where earlier they had been near to rutting animals, their lovemaking now is gentle and precious and something to be savored. He holds her close after they finish and buries his face in her neck. She feels dampness there and tightens her arms about him, whispering, "I love you, Logan. My Mate."

They settle into each other's warmth and stay that way until nature calls. It is then that she sees the clock.

"Crap. They'll be here in a half hour. Just barely enough time to clean up and order up some food."

"You shower. I'll order," he tells her.

"All right," she says.

By the time five o'clock rolls around, they have both cleaned up, coffee is brewing and food will soon be arriving. They both dress in jeans, hers topped by a form-fitting black sweater and his by a flannel shirt. She has slipped on the shoulder holster again but leaves the tian po aside. While they wait the last few minutes, she checks in with Mitch, then Charles.

# # #

Ninja doesn't often get the chance to spend an hour or so with the children when she comes up to Commerce City. Part of that is the fact that the vast majority of her visits are late at night. Part of it is just the nature of her job... as Ninja, she doesn't have the freedom to just be. And she can't exactly come up here as Andrea. Well, she could... but she would have to go through the whole "getting to trust you" process all over again. And there are a lot of people up here who would figure out the Ninja / Andrea connection all too quickly.

But today she has some extra time. True, she could head back to Denver and change her shirt and grab a snack. But the tear is close enough to the wrist that just folding the sleeves up a couple of times will hide it. If she decides it's that important. In the grand scheme of things... it's not.

She heads over to the park where nearly every child who lives up here has gathered. They insist, of course, on watching her run through her staff forms. Even the most agitated of the children sit calmly, watching wide-eyed with smiles on their faces.

Working with the qi flows in the area, she washes them all with qi. As she re-energizes herself, she also gives them whatever they need to clear any blocked meridians they might have. Children in general are usually fairly clear... these children are no different.

After running through the staff forms, she sets the staff down to run through the graceful Yang 48 form; a couple of the older children jump up to join her. Celeste, in particular, seems to have a natural affinity for Taiji and the Yang style in particular. If she had more regular and frequent lessons, she might have the potential to reach close to Master status. She smiles at the girl as she follows along. It's clear that the youngster has been practicing diligently... it shows in her form.

I will have to make more time to come up here to work with her.

After the Taiji, she sits down and they gather close, jostling one another to get as close to her as possible. It's always the same. There's a definite pecking order among them, and those who are the leaders ensure that those who need more comfort, those who often find themselves on the edge of groups are settled near her, up front. Now it's Story Time.

She doesn't carry books with her, of course. But many of the books she reads to the children at the library, the favorites that are requested over and over, she has memorized from telling them so many times. In addition to those stories, there are the tales of her People... and the stories of the Japanese and Chinese people, stories she learned while living in those lands.

Too soon for any of them, however, it's time for her to head back to Golden for their meeting with Captain Sanchez. She says goodbye to each child individually; acknowledgment is just as important for these children as any child who lives outside the walls of this enclave.

As she walks slowly back toward the entrance and her bike, she pulls out the third phone she carries and speed dials Pablo.

"Garcia," he answers, sounding tired and frustrated.

"Hi, love. I was going to ask how you're doing, but I think I get enough of an idea from your voice."

"Andrea!" His weariness falls completely out of his voice. "Where are you? Are you finally home now?"

"No, I'm still up in Commerce City. I'm on my way back out to Jefferson County for a meeting with your boss and my new friends."

"Shouldn't you be using your other phone then?" she can hear a touch of humor, which is good.

"The other phone is for having discussions with Detective Garcia. This phone is for telling my husband how much I love him," she says, unable to keep a smile from her face.

And she can hear the smile in his voice as he responds, although he speaks more softly. He is, after all, sitting among his fellow detectives. "I love you, Andi. I miss you."

"I miss you, too, love. It's not as bad as those two days between Flagstaff and Bobby's party, but I feel like we're two ships passing in the night." She sighs ever so slightly. "Will you be working late again tonight?"

He sighs as well. "I hope not, but I don't really know yet. We still don't have much to go on at this point."

"I should call you back with the other phone to tell you this, but I'm not going to. You can pretend I did, okay? I have verification that at least one person was at the crime scene and the spot outside Dick's place where he was grabbed. I don't know about Ben yet."

He hesitates. "What kind of verification?" he asks, sounding a little suspicious. She has to wonder where that's coming from.

"One of my new friends is a tracker."

Again, there's a hesitation. "Will it hold up in court if we find the bastard?"

She sighs. "I don't know, Pablo. You know I still don't quite understand where that line is. That's why I do what I do... and you do what you do." They've had countless discussions on the finer points of the law, and she always winds up frustrated because she's really more interested in doing what's right... and sometimes the right thing isn't quite the legal thing. Shocking, isn't it? "Your boss will probably know. Or he'll definitely know who to ask."

She slows her walk even further. "I'm getting close to the gate, and will be on the move and back to work. But I love you, husband. I miss you."

"Let's both try to get home tonight, Andi. We need time together." She can hear the slight tremor of desperation in his voice, she feels the tug of his need in her meridians, in her heart.

"I wholeheartedly agree. I'll call you when I'm on my way home."

"I'll do the same. Love you, Andrea."

She ends the call reluctantly, but as she's coming up to the gate, this is not the conversation she wants to be having. It would be fine for Ninja to be having a conversation with Detective Garcia; Andrea having a conversation with Pablo isn't quite right. She tucks the phone back into her pocket and leans against her bike for a moment, staring down the road.

Jocko edges away from the booth, looking concerned. "Ninja okay?"

She gives him a wan smile. "I'm mostly okay, Jocko. Even Ninjas get sad and tired sometimes."

"Want to throw Jocko across road again?" he asks hopefully.

She laughs. "No, Jocko. But thanks for the offer. That certainly cheered me right up!"

His craggy face breaks into a broad grin. "Happy Jocko can cheer Ninja! Ninja always nice to Jocko!"

"Well, of course I am! Jocko is a nice person!"

He ducks his head; he probably would have blushed if his complexion allowed for it. She straddles her bike and starts it up, all the while watching him with a smile. He's big, he's a bit on the clumsy side, he doesn't realize his strength is exponentially greater than just about everyone else's around him. Well, he didn't understand that... now she thinks he truly does, and she thinks that's part of the reason he's so delighted when she visits, because he knows he doesn't need to be hyper vigilant about his strength around her. Yes, he does hurt her sometimes. But it's a small price to pay, at least in her book, to allow a person to relax and let down their guard on occasion.

"Ninja knows Missy?" he asks finally, still looking at the ground.

"Sure I do! And her mom and dad, too. Her dad is real happy that you're looking out for her."

"Missy good person. Teaching Jocko to read."

"Jocko! That's fantastic!" Oh, how can she not be utterly delighted by that? Specifically, how can the librarian in her not be utterly delighted? "I'll have to bring you your very own book next time I come up here. What are you reading now?"

"Red Badge of Courage. Missy says it's important book."

She nods. That's a traditional book to include in a course of American authors. It's considered a high school level book, so that gives her a big clue that not only is Jocko a lot smarter than people think he is, but Missy really is a good teacher. "Do you like it? I remember when I read that one... it was pretty good."

"It's hard, but Missy says Jocko can do it, and Missy never lies, so Jocko will work hard to finish."

"Well, Ninja says you can do it, too. So I know you will do your very best." She needs to find a way to get more books up here. There has to be a roundabout way for Ninja to find out about the library's discards. Andrea could mention it to her fiancé's boss, who just happens to know the Supers of Denver.

She eases the bike away from the median and gets ready to head off.

"I'll bring you a funny book, Jocko!"

"Okay, Ninja! Bye!"

As she heads back out to Golden, she can't help but wonder about the evil that exists among humans. She's studied history. She knows that humans have always been the most cruel of any species on this planet. Some say that it's humans' ability to control urges and instincts that separates them from animals, others say it's humans' capacity for rational thought.

Not that she disagrees with those theories, but she'd probably put forth the theory that only humans have the capacity to be so incredibly cruel for no reason other that "you are not me" or, more broadly, "you are not like me."

It's really depressing sometimes.

She arrives at The Golden about ten minutes before five, and doesn't see Captain Sanchez in the delightfully rustic lobby. The desk person takes one look at her and immediately begins inspecting something extremely fascinating on the desk in front of her. That cheers her up after all her depressing thoughts and she very nearly giggles.

She sees the concierge from the corner of her eye and she manages, with great difficulty she would add, not to break out into a huge grin when he hurries over.

"May I help you, Miss?"

"No thank you. I'm waiting for someone."

He looks decidedly uncomfortable. She not sure if it's the outfit, but the staff really puts him over the edge of nervousness.

"Ah, perhaps you'd care to wait for your party in the bar? Or the dining room?"

"No, no... that's fine. I'm not meeting a party, just one person."

"I... I... mean..." he stammers, "ah, maybe you could wait, ah, elsewhere?"

She frowns... or maybe it's a bit of a pout. "But if I'm elsewhere when I said I'd be here, how is he possibly supposed to find me?"

"Ah, yes... well, um... perhaps I could just, well... you know, ah, keep a watch for him?"

"But I don't have a watch for him, I'm just supposed to be meeting him here."

"I... but... I..."

She hears a somewhat familiar chuckle behind her.

"I see the stories of you are substantially true, Ninja."

She turns to look at the Captain, smiling charmingly. "If the stories are about my captivating personality, Captain, I'm sure every one of them is true."

"I was actually referring to the stories about you being a wise ass."

She nods and smiles brilliantly. "Oh, I'm sure every one of those are true, as well." She notes the two bankers' boxes on small hand cart he'd been pulling behind him. "And you brought presents!" She looks back at his weathered face, trying hard not to laugh because the concierge is still nervously hovering. "I'm sure all the stories I've heard about you are absolutely true, as well!

"Shall we go visit my friends?"

"Oh! Who are you seeing?" the concierge asks anxiously. "I'll announce you, if you'll, ah, tell me who you are. Please?"

"Don't worry," she says to him, "my friends are expecting us. No need to call ahead," she says over her shoulder as she walks towards the elevator and presses the button.

Sanchez is still chuckling. "I'm Captain Rodrigo Sanchez, head of Denver Homicide. That..." He nods in her direction as he walks towards the elevator. " Ninja."

The elevator dings as the concierge turns a whiter shade of pale. She holds the door so Sanchez can get the cart on the elevator, then steps inside and presses the button for the appropriate floor.

"You terrorized that poor man," he says mildly.

"Nah, I was just funnin' with him. He'll be fine. I think the staff mesmerized him."

He shakes his head, but continues smiling. "Are you always like this?"

"Do you mean are you going to have to worry about your best detective and his sanity?" She chuckles. "No. I'm only like this when I wear the braids."

"I'm relieved," he says dryly.

The elevator reaches their floor and the door opens. Holding the door open again, she says, "I figured you might be."

They walk down the short hallway to Suite 12, and she knocks on the door.

Madeline puts down her coffee, kisses Logan and goes to the door. She is much more relaxed than she had been earlier when she swings it open.

"Ninja," she greets the other woman with a smile. "Captain Sanchez I presume?

"Please come in."

Ninja looks at Maddie as the door opens... and nearly stops dead in her tracks, which of course would cause a pile up on the highway. So she steps into the room sideways, so she can keep watching.

Oh boy...

"Oh... right...

"Captain Sanchez... Black Wolf and Wolverine."

Slowly, oh, so slowly, her head turns, moves up, moves down as she follows the weaving of qi, bright as... heh... well, nearly as bright as that incident she and Pablo caused up at Lookout Mountain. Her smile grows ever more joyous as she follows the threads. By the time the weaving reaches the opposite end, she finds herself looking right at Logan.

"Hot diggity! You two got married!"

Her brows draw together, as she notices the most unusual shading she's ever seen.


She closes her eyes to look at the qi patterns; much too much distraction with the outer sight to really see the subtle threads that wrap around the tapestry they've created. But yes... yes, she recognizes that energy signature.

Sanchez looks at the three of them. He then watches Ninja — she can feel his eyes almost boring a hole in her side — with a raised eyebrow as she watches the qi flows... flows that he can't see.

She opens her eyes and look between Maddie and Logan with wonder.

"He's protecting you both now...

"AND he's protecting your relationship."

She's pretty sure she's well on her way to convincing Sanchez that she's a loon.

"And do you always do this?" he asks.

She manages to tear herself away from the sight of the tapestry created from Logan's, Maddie's and Rene's qi and look at him. "Yeah, I always see the qi of... well, everything alive. I just try not to mention it when I'm in my mild mannered librarian secret identity."

"I should worry now?"

"Nah. Pablo's cool with it."

He folds his arms and leans back against the door, just waiting.

Ninja looks between Maddie and Logan again, wide-eyed and speechless.

Closing the door, Madeline grins. "That's as good a word as any I suppose. And that sounds like something Rene would do. You made this possible, you and your People's Spirits."

Madeline returns to Logan's side and sits beside him, taking his hand in hers.

"I wasn't able to take that final step until today. And Wolverine would never ask it of me, not after all we've both been through."

"We are now, officially, Mates."

Ninja grins. "Well, that's just a fabulous ray of sunshine in this shit storm. I feel like I should throw you a party, but that's not one of my super powers."

Sanchez snorts.

"Hey, what would you..." she says as she turns to look at him.

Of course, then she pauses.

"Right. You've known Pablo for years. He tattles."

She looks back at Maddie and Logan, then shrugs. "Parties are my best friend's super power."

"A party? Oh no, I don't know about that."

Logan makes a little noise, and she looks over at him. "Are you sure?"

He nods.

"He thinks it's a great idea," she says, holding up her hand, "But... not until we're through here. The kids would never forgive us if they weren't here for it and neither would a couple of our friends."

She stops and looks at Ninja. "His super power, eh? He wouldn't be fabulous, would he?"

Sanchez chortles this time. "I heard about the last party Tompkins threw. He was catatonic for three days?"

"He was not!" she protests. "Just... dazed and confused. For a couple of days."

"Uh huh."

She just waves a dismissive hand at him.

"Bobby is beyond fabulous, he's utterly devastated he can't plan the entire wedding, and he deserved every bit of... well, whatever he got at his last party."

"I've heard Garcia's version," Sanchez says with smile. "But don't you think it was a little cruel?"

She considers his question very carefully, for at least thirty seconds, remembering every single time Bobby nagged her or lectured her or pushed her at Pablo. She shakes her head slowly.

"No... we were actually going for full-out cardiac arrest, and all we got was dazed and confused with a little incoherent babbling." She smiles her Ninja smile, which isn't anything close to being as nice as her Andrea smile. "I'd say we weren't cruel enough."

"Remind me to keep my daughters away from you. They're enough of a handful already."

Madeline can't help but laugh. She had met many fabulous gentlemen since taking the reins from Marie. Heck, there was one in particular who had inadvertently helped her design her "costume."

"Trust me, Captain, daughters only get worse. I should know, I was one once.

"And before any parties get planned, would either of you like coffee? Food should be here shortly if you'd rather wait until after it arrives."

"I'd love some coffee, thanks," Ninja says. "It has no more effect on me than alcohol, but at least I have managed to acquire a taste for it."

Sanchez makes some sort of noise that's part groan and part sigh; it almost sounds as if Maddie has offered to show him the holy grail. Or Holy Grail, which — come to think of it — might not be the Captain's sort of movie.

"I'm working on about six hours sleep in the past forty eight, so yes, please!" he says. "The higher the octane, the better."

"We only serve leaded around here. Decaf is about as useful as non-alcoholic beer, and I do remember the days when both had an effect."

She rises and pours coffee, in mugs... not proper coffee cups. As she hands them out, she says, "When I took over my mother-in-law's business I nearly gave the secretary a stroke that first day when I insisted on using a mug for drinking coffee and not a proper cup and saucer."

She also refills hers and Logan's. There is a brief touch of their fingers and a exchange of glances.

"Enjoy," she tells them as she raises her cup to them. "This comes from my family's plantation."

"Drinking coffee from a mug is the norm in my world. Had I not met Rene before meeting you, I'm not sure I would have even known how to talk to someone who lives in a world where cups and saucers are the norm, someone whose family owns a coffee plantation."

She takes a sip of the coffee and spends a moment appreciating the flavor. She doesn't consider the fact that her body tends to simply neutralize anything that isn't required for optimal functioning a super power. From other people's descriptions of the effects of alcohol and coffee, she sometimes consider it a nuisance. On the other hand, she can eat and drink anything and concentrate on flavor without having to think about whether or not she'll have some sort of allergic reaction from it.

And the fact that she hasn't been sick since the Curse took her nearly twenty years ago... well, she knows that's a darn good thing.

"Delicious! Is it Indonesian?"

She tilts her head to look at Maddie, giving her a half smile.

"Close. It is a cross breed of Indonesian and Surinamese varieties. It was my father's crowning glory of his peacetime pursuits. He was very proud of the plantation, having built it up from nothing."

She smiles.

"Rene charmed you, too, did he? He was very good at that. He had a lifetime of practice. But like me, we left the fancy world and words behind when we were working... well, not all the time. But both of us were more comfortable in the less 'civilized' areas where there was less pressure to, I guess you could say, perform.

"But for our family's sake we made the sacrifices.

"And our children, all of them, will learn to do the same."

That gets a grumble from Logan. She raises an eyebrow at him. "I'm not asking you to do it, am I?"

There is a serious look between them both before they both chuckle.

"You know, if we let her friend arrange this party, you may have to dress up... just a little."

She turns back to Ninja and Sanchez, a devilish twinkle in her eye. "Personally, I think he'd look smashing in a tux, but he doesn't seem to care."

There is a ripple of a chuckle in the energy in the room.

"Mea culpa, Rene," she says, waving her hand in the air. "This is your payback for me always wearing fatigues when we weren't in France."

"Bobby would think he'd died and gone to heaven if he had the opportunity to organize a gala where tuxedos and evening gowns were the required attire. And in my other life, I could easily be convinced to wear something extravagantly fancy."

"Hmmm. I might have to keep that in mind. It could be nice to have a different influence on one of the events. Could put the whole industry on its ear... again."

Looking again at Maddie, Ninja says, "Give Bobby a theme, and you'll be amazed. I always am." She rolls her eyes. "Being a serious affair, he might have the sense to know games should not be part of the agenda — especially Truth or Dare — but it never hurts to reinforce the message."

She smiles at Maddie. "And I'm not sure I'd say that I was charmed by your Rene, although I don't doubt he was — and will continue to be — a thoroughly charming individual."

She takes another sip of the marvelous coffee, then shakes her head, looking more serious for a moment. How can she not, given the gravity of Rene's plight when they first met?

"It was his torment, his deep concern and love for you that won me over. I could all too easily envision myself or Pablo in his situation. Given my regenerative abilities, and the very nature of my qi powers extending my lifetime far beyond what is natural, it would more than likely be Pablo trapped between life and death because of the bond we'd forged."

As Ninja speaks of why she was drawn to Rene, Madeline's hand tightens on Logan's. He had instinctively known the agony she was in despite the new lives of their children. The hormonal flux of pregnancy had not helped matters. In that, it's likely a good thing that the gestation had been so accelerated.

Andi manages a crooked grin.

"Pablo's ancestral pest — whom I would not consider a proper guardian Spirit at all — nearly caused our bond to be broken when he sent Pablo off to a dimension he used as a prison for... well, really bad things. Not quite as bad as this Shadow Thing that threatens us now, but not far from it, I think. Possibly cousins. Because time moves differently in those places, Pablo spend three years..."

She takes a deep breath, then lets it out slowly.

"From what he's told me, and it's by no means everything, he spent three years in Hell. I spent a day and a half in a coma. And I believed with every fiber of my being that I had died and also been relegated to some version of the Christian Hell." She shakes her head, then looks down into the mug of coffee. "The ancestral pest ensured that Pablo didn't die there... at least not permanently. He did die, over and over and over until he learned the lessons he was sent there to learn. But Quetzalcoatl brought him back to life every time. He died in terrible ways; when he returned, his body was so scarred that I still can't think of this creature his ancestors called a god without loathing. Was it necessary? Quetzalcoatl seems to believe so, that it will be vital for Pablo to be at my side using his powers when we fight the Shadow.

"But he returned, I woke from my coma, and we were nearly strangers. I could barely feel the deep affection of friendship I'd formed in the past eleven years. Not feeling that was like a physical pain for me. The bond we'd formed as lovers not quite three weeks prior was the thinnest thread... so fragile, so close to being torn apart completely by one wrong word, by one wrong move.

"I felt like I was walking through a minefield with all my senses deadened, towards something I wasn't even sure was worth the journey."

She manages a flicker of a smile, although she doesn't look up. If she does, she knows the tears will fall. If the tears begin, she doesn't know if they'll stop. Yes, all is well now. But memories hold emotions for her. It's true for everyone, yes. But for her, the emotions never diminish as they do for most people.

"When I started on this path as Protector of Denver's unprotected, I made a conscious decision to separate Andrea from Ninja. Over the course of nine years, it became an unconscious habit. And if I had bothered to think about the consequences, I would have realized that another decade or two down the road, I'd have a bona fide DSM IV diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder. All well and good for the people of Denver, but I was going to wind up being a hot mess.

"Pablo and I did manage to traverse the minefield, we did manage to rebuild the bonds that had been shredded almost to the point of breaking. But..."

She looks up, first at Maddie, then Logan. She knows her eyes are glowing slightly, because they do that now when her emotions are this close to the surface... since their bond was made into something more. And for that reason, she does not look at Sanchez.

"But I was very angry... furious... enraged... by what Quetzalcoatl had done. So in reforging our bond, I used my power to pull qi from the Mother herself into that bond. I'm fairly certain there was some Aztec magic that Pablo brought to the mix. It had some interesting side effects. It healed Pablo's scars, the external ones anyway, completely... every single one of them. It melded our qi in such a way that it's identical. That would be like saying our fingerprints and DNA and retinal scans are identical. Impossible... yet true. It merged my two disparate personalities back into one... and that's had some interesting consequences. It tied our souls and fates together, so I no longer have to worry about living two or three lifetimes beyond him with a shattered heart, and possibly a shattered psyche. We don't really know if my longevity will affect him, extending his life... or if I'll simply be able to follow him in death when it's time for him to go."

She snorts.

"He's so damn pig headed. He still argues with me about that. 'The people of Denver will still need you,' he'll say." She shakes her head, roll her eyes. "He just doesn't get that I'll be so fucked up I'll be of no use to the people of Denver."

Madeline nods in sympathy, the tale so close to her own... their own... in so many ways. And as the touch and nearness of Logan comforts her, so does Rene's spirit. She can feel him there, wrapping her in his love and care.

"I know a bit about torment and torture. I probably don't need to say this, but when it haunts his dreams, and it will, just hold him, tell him that he's safe and that you love him. The psyche may never heal completely, but the things left behind become more bearable as the years pass."

She blinks a few times to clear the emotion, the glow, from her eyes, nodding at Maddie's advice. "My cousin the Shaman said essentially the same thing.

"We both have our nightmares and do take Tommy's advice quite seriously," Andi says softly. Then she smiles... reflective, amused, and — for those who can recognize it, as the people in this room can — loving. "Despite people's opinions to the contrary..." She gives the Captain the same look she has given Bobby a thousand times over the past five years. "...neither of us was ready to share those burdens until the moment we were ready."

Sanchez coughs softly. "I'm sorry, Andrea. I had no idea just how hard that experience was for you and Pablo." He pauses a moment. "Okay, to be honest, I really didn't want to know."

"And it's okay, Chief. I don't think many people could ever understand unless they've gone through something like what we went through." She smiles slightly. "To paraphrase a Joss Whedon tune, we walked through the fire, we were caught in the fire to the point of no return; we let it burn." She chuckles softly. "Don't many mythologies speak of rewards heroes receive from venturing to the underworld and returning to the world of humans? I won't say our rewards outweigh the pain, but they are equal to it. Our bond ties our souls and lives and fates together, which is a comfort to me you can't imagine, although I think M... my friend here..." she nods towards Maddie. "...certainly can.

"And having identical qi means..." She pauses for another deep breath. "It means that where once it was impossible for me to have children, it's now something that might be possible. That I do think you can understand."

Though Pablo was still working patrol when his wife and son were murdered, it's a piece of information in his file... and a story that floats through DPD, especially among the officers dealing with the worse of the city's gangs. But more than a piece of information in a file is the understanding the Captain has for those who work for him. A line of words in a file added to his knowledge of his top detective equals a nod and a smile.

"That I can understand, yes. And may you be so blessed."

Madeline smiles a little at the mention of children.

"The doctors said I would never have children because of the damage; there would be too much scarring once I finished healing. My mother cried more about it even if she tried not to let it show. It wasn't a concern for me until later, but Rene had known from the start. We were determined to live our lives to the fullest. Then when our boy happened, no one was more shocked than we were. And now we have have two more. And I no longer have the physical scars of my earlier years. Life is funny that way."

It's true that miracles do happen. They certainly did for Maddie and Rene, giving them their Leon. They happened again for Maddie with Logan, giving them Emelia and Vincent. And miracles happened for her, not just in meeting Pablo... but the whole chain of events that led up to the moment their qi blended into something new and different for the both of them. Talia foresaw the results of that blending; Andi hopes with all her heart that her cousin didn't see what it would take for that to occur.

Sanchez eyes all of them as he drinks from his mug. Then he says, "This Shadow you spoke of... I understand making preparations, some of which have turned my best detective into another Super. But I don't see the connection between it and the Aryan Knighthood.

"And I wouldn't be here with my files if there wasn't one, would I?"

Madeline is about to answer the Captain when there is a knock at the door and a young voice calls out "Room Service." She glances to her Mate who briefly cocks his head then nods. She slips on a jacket to hide the guns. There is no need to traumatize the hotel employees.

She opens the door to see two young men there with laden food carts. She steps back and waves them in, directing them to the kitchen area. All told it takes them a good five minutes to place everything, and she sends them off with a hearty tip.

When room service has come and gone, after setting up their meal, Andi is delighted — and not the least bit surprised — by the abundance of protein.

"Why don't we start with dinner and I can start at the beginning of our tale and why we think there's a connection?" Madeline asks, gesturing toward the dining table.

Once everyone is settled, Andi says, "While I think I understand the Knighthood's connection, based on the conversations I had with Rene, I'm not sure where Stryker fits in the picture... unless he's bankrolling them." She glances at Sanchez, then back to Maddie. "Since I was barely back in the States the last time this Thing tried to come through to our plane, I think starting at the beginning would be helpful."

"There's quite a bit of history to go through so we could be here awhile.

"Now, Captain, as to your question, I'm going to have to go back a few years. While I will be speaking of things Wolverine has lived through, he doesn't remember most of it. And I'll get to the why of that in the telling, as well.

"Much of this information is from personal files kept by the man we suspect is involved. His ability to gather detailed, accurate and nigh complete intelligence is... frightening. As someone who has worked in a field where intelligence gathering is a necessity, I can tell you that accurate and complete data is almost impossible to come by, even with a person on the inside, whether they be deep cover or turncoat."

She pauses to chew a bite and drink some water as she considers where the real beginning might be.

"Mutants, those born differently like Wolverine here as opposed to those affected by the Virus, have been around a lot longer than most people realize. There are records and stories and even myths that go back thousands of years. Ninja, when we spoke earlier about the children and you mentioned a story about someone being around for seven generations, I would say it would be more accurate to consider it in a family context. He was not the first mutant in his family, but the third preceded by a father and older brother who were also mutants. It was theorized that it may even have gone further back than that. But even if you consider only the current and immediately previous generation of his family, we can go back probably about 300 years give or take. Going that far back in the wilds of this land, there are only the oral stories of the indigenous peoples to rely upon."

She gives Andi a meaningful glance and allows another pause as all that information sinks in.

"Somehow a man named William Stryker figured a lot of this out and discreetly recruited those with special abilities to his 'cause' through the years. At first it was seemingly above board, helping out the 'good guys' supposedly win their wars, not that Korea and Vietnam were won by any stretch of the imagination.

"Back in the late 70s, he took his group of special people to look for a particular kind of meteorite. The events of that outing led Wolverine to part ways with them. Stryker did not stop though. He found the rock he wanted. Several years passed and he managed to convince Wolverine to come back. It involved the deaths of several of his former team members and his woman at the time, who was of the Blackfoot."

When Maddie speaks of the death of Wolverine's Blackfoot mate, Andi glance briefly at Logan as she begins weaving the qi hard and tight around herself. She knows things are only going to get worse from here.

"Stryker performed his experiment of bonding adamantium to Wolverine's skeleton, and it was a great success...right up until Wolverine heard the truth. In the resulting fighting and chaos, Stryker put an adamantium bullet in Wolverine's head. Because of his healing factor, it didn't kill him, but it did swiss cheese his memory. Wolverine managed to escape from the facility then live off the surrounding land for the next 15 years until he and I met. That was ten years ago.

"I'm going to back us up a little now and switch focus to how my deceased husband and I became involved. Sixteen years ago my husband and I moved into the area looking for a fresh start for our new family. Those first four and half years we were fairly successful at it. Rene still had work to do and the travel that went with it. We had a system set up where he would contact me, usually by phone, at predetermined intervals. He was on his way back when there was a terrible car accident. He was declared dead at the scene. The thing is, he wasn't dead. He wasn't even in that car.

"You see, Rene was a mutant as well. His gifts were by no means as strong as Wolverine's, but strong enough where it counted. He and I were linked, mentally, in a bond we formed while he talked me through a medically induced coma when I was fifteen. In all the years we had been together, there was only one time when that bond became so faint I almost couldn't feel it, and he had nearly died that time. So when I felt the bond break, I believed that he was dead. I believed it in my heart and soul. Our son felt it break, too, even though he was only four.

"Over the next few months, while I grieved and our son's gifts became more evident, Rene would come to me. I had been fairly certain it was all in my head, a byproduct of the heartache. If it hadn't been for our son, I doubt I would be sitting here right now. I know of a million ways to die or be killed and one of them would have worked sooner or later. But our boy needed me, and with his gifts, he needed more than me. I did my research and took him to a school in Westchester that specialized in dealing with gifted children.

"We found a new home there, and overall, things seemed good, except for the visits which now started to happen during my waking hours. It was after one of those visits, one in which Rene was being tortured, that we discovered the truth that he was still alive... and first saw the Thing. If it hadn't been for my friend, who is a powerful telepath in his own right, It probably would have gotten me as well. It's hard to say what might have happened if It had, but it undoubtedly would not have been good.

"Back to Rene though. It turned out the car accident had been a masterfully executed cover for a snatch and grab. The mental bond between us was broken. And even if that did not convince me, the DNA and dental comparison tests also confirmed that it was indeed Rene."

This time she looks directly at Sanchez.

"And the only way that could happen was if the ME was involved, or the lab results were falsified. I happen to know it was the later. The ME was above reproach and approach.

"Still, though, that's quite of pull, considering the tests were done by Denver's central crime lab. And who orchestrated all of this but one William Stryker. And then there's the why...

"Stryker looks at mutants one of two ways. If he can't control them, they must be eliminated. Through a serum derived from a 'pathic mutant's blood, he managed to control many mutants, including Rene and the one that tried to kill the US President ten years ago. You might recall that a Congresswoman was also injured in the attack. Her oldest son was at that gifted school as well. The Dean asked that I escort him to Bethesda to his mother's bedside. While we were gone, the school was attacked by commandos who murdered most of the teachers and student population in their beds. Some, those considered potentially valuable, were kidnapped and taken to a hidden base."

Even though Ninja had heard Rene's side of the story already, hearing it again... well, if she breaks her jaw clenching it so hard, it will heal fast enough. It occurs to her that it's this sort of thing that used to have no effect on her when in her Ninja persona; on the other hand, in her Andrea person, she would spend at least three days afterward without sleep and practicing Taiji as she wept. She wonders if this is an improvement. In a lot of ways, she's really not convinced it is.

Of course, what's done... is done. There's no way to undo it.

But hearing Maddie tell of the massacre at the school... oh, that very nearly undoes her. She stands and walks to the nearest wall where she can lean while still paying close attention to Maddie's words. At the same time, she reaches for Mother Earth, her strength and steadiness. It's not as immediate and powerful a connection as it would be if she were standing upon Her broad back, but the slow infusion of qi will be fine.

"Apparently they also took the time to take a head count and figure out who was there at the school. That was when the Secret Service tried to arrest the Congresswoman's son. We got out, and we ran. And then... and then I screwed up. I tried to get a hold of the other adults at the school. No one answered until Stryker answered the Dean's line. He implied he had my son, and I knew he had my husband, and I made bargain with the devil. The boy I was escorting for my own with the caveat that we be brought in together.

"Then I was granted an audience with the madman himself and his cronies. As part of the deal, I was being flown back to civilization from the base. When I was being escorted to the chopper, those guarding me were attacked. Not one to forgo a lucky break, I took out the remaining one. Wolverine and I spent the next few days together. He had never been beyond the valley, and I had a desperate need to get back in there and make things right. We scouted and watched patrols and made plans, except they were waiting for us.

"One of the people captured was the Dean. They tried to make him talk by torturing me, but as torturers go, these guys were amateurs. Then the base physician showed up with some surprising news. With his help, I effected an escape. When we got out of there, I didn't go far but set up shop in a biker's basement and called in some favors. We went in to get our people out, the Dean, Rene, the students that had been taken, Wolverine too, and to put the place out of business.

"Many died that day, Rene among them, but we got the Dean out, got the students out, but Stryker got away. He was supposed to go to a secret trial. Odd that it never happened and he simply vanished into the woodwork. Even my tracers haven't been able to turn over the rock he's under, and that takes a hell of a lot of funding.

"The thing you need to know about him is his mission in life is to either control or kill every mutant on the planet, and now that there are other abilities showing up since the Virus... he's definitely going to have a lot of backing again even if it isn't openly like it was before. You might be thinking that this whole business was done a little openly for someone who went to ground the way he did. And maybe it's true that he isn't involved, but if I were you I wouldn't want to risk it."

Her food sits before her, gone cold in the telling. Madeline doesn't even notice, having had to tamp down on the rage and anger that threaten to boil over just to finish the stories. Now she looks from Andi to Sanchez.


It's impossible to eat while Maddie shares her story... at least not beyond the point of talking about Rene's staged death. One can't eat when one's jaws are clamped as tightly shut as hers are. She only nods at the information about the Nations' legends of Wolverine being substantially true, if taken in context of his family.

By the time Maddie finishes her... yes, let's call it a briefing... she's in full-on Ninja mode, and not the one that tries to talk homophobic skinheads out of picking on the gay boys. No, this is the Ninja that blasts qi in the face of assholes who pick on little old ladies. This is the blast first, ask questions if there's anything left to answer them Ninja.

In other words, pissed off Ninja.

Well, picking on children — any defenseless people — will do that to her.

"Stryker. A mutant himself? Or a withered old man?

"Not that it matters in the long run, because he needs to be eliminated in either case. But it would dictate avenues to pursue in planning said elimination."

"Stryker is man, but a zealot. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I would rather deal with a mercenary over a zealot any day. Mercenaries can be reasoned with since their own hide is more important to them than any cause. As to how much of a zealot he is, the 'path he used for the control serum was his own lobotomized son."

The fucker used his own SON?!?

This has Ninja momentarily, but completely, speechless.

Sanchez looks at her, starts to say something... He's a cop. She doesn't doubt that he recognizes the look on her face, especially on his people who have also seen combat. He just doesn't expect to see it on a librarian. Except, she isn't a librarian at the moment, and he obviously thinks better of saying anything. He looks back at Maddie.

"Unless I'm adding two and two and coming up with five, it sounds like the Knighthood is acting as his ground troops, picking up mutants Stryker can use in another assault. Dumping those who won't be useful. It ties in well with their agenda of cleansing the human race."

"Yes, Captain, that was my first instinct as well. Rene had already told Ninja the Thing was coming, and he would recognize it. It was in his head for year."

Although his voice is calm enough, Ninja can hear the undercurrent of anger. He's a good cop, and murders like this — senseless and motivated by hatred and prejudice — piss him off as much as she's pissed off, because they're the worst.

"So do we pick off the ground troops first to protect our people? Or go right for Stryker?" she asks. She pauses for a cleansing breath. "I have a lot of people to protect. I have limited resources. I'd be happy enough to pick up every member of the Knighthood AND the Brotherhood, and leave them to the tender mercies of Black Wolf and Wolverine."

She looks at Sanchez.

"Now, I understand that might not mesh well with the limits placed upon the fine men and women in law enforcement in the State of Colorado, the Counties of Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Douglas and Jefferson, and the City and County of Denver. It's a discussion I've had on several occasions with Detective Garcia.

"However, I've been told I'm not a very nice person when I get like this, and Detective Garcia will need to get used to that."

Ninja looks again between Logan and Maddie, her eyes meeting Maddie's, and holding her gaze before she speaks again.

"Recommendations? You have more experience, and more... varied... experience."

"Firstly, protect your people. Get them to close ranks but not that gate we passed. That would just give them a killing ground. The tactics we used last time are not going to work here. It was an isolated and hidden facility. The only reason we found ways in is because I had good people with me, and as good as they were, we only had a fifty percent survival rate. That's a hell of a lot lower than what I am accustomed too. We'd come out with injured many times but deaths were rare. On the other hand, we were going up against hundred to one odds and only eight of us were professionals.

"I don't know your people, Captain, but I have to assume that like any big PD, there are likely a few rotten apples. Some may be open about it but don't push it enough to risk their jobs. Others can be duped. I understand there are a few you have suspicions of. If we could lay it all out and see how they are connected, even minutely, that could point us in the right direction. And I'm going to ask you to let me share this information with a contact of mine. He's a Black Hat. He's the one who got me all of Stryker's files before I blew the place to hell and back.

"He's also had tripwires and mousetraps out there for specific keywords relating to Stryker, his various programs and members of my family. It's been radio silence for ten years. The son of a bitch went deep under.

"One other thing, Captain, if there is anyone who you think might have information we could use, I could probably persuade them to share it."

"If you want the residents of Commerce City, who are not legally allowed to leave Commerce City without permission from the State of Colorado, to vacate Commerce City..." Ninja just shook her head and waved a hand to brush away the inconvenience of the law.

"Well, fuck the legalities. If you can find a way to move people covertly, I can find places for them. Most of the places won't be hidden. They might be, but not if these people of Stryker's can track Unfortunates. Of course, it's easier for them to scatter like mice from Five Points and the other neighborhoods where Unfortunates congregate."

She considers logistics for a moment, then looks at Sanchez. "If you get your friends in Narcotics to clear out the crack houses in Five Points, that should make enough of a difference to at least give them walls, roofs and floors."

Ninja goes back to considering the Unfortunates. "I can talk to Old Mama and ask her to find temporary homes for people in Five Points. But there are Unfortunates all over the city... spread out all over the metroplex, really, although I'm probably the only person who knows where all the small, unauthorized enclaves are."

She lets out a harsh, humorless bark of a laugh.

"Well, that makes me feel really safe," She says with a hint of her trademark — okay, it's not trademarked, but it should be — humor.

"The gentleman I called to come get the kids might be able to help. As for covertly, remember the convoy we're supposed to be taking through the area? People notice the vehicles and nothing else. So that's a possibility."

"If I remember correctly, you are not the only one in your family to have Gifts. Anyone on a rez should be safe enough. It's those who have somewhat assimilated the white man's ways who will need to be extra vigilant."

Ninja nods, while keeping the Diné woman within from flinching at the word rez. Some of the People of the many Nations used the word almost proudly, but it wasn't something Andrea could do.

"The Intertribal Council has... well, some ability to watch those outside the their lands. My uncle tried to explain it and my eyes glazed over. But I'll give him a call." Andi thinks for a moment about the People she know in and around Denver. She hasn't met any that pinged as Cursed, but it would be better to think cautiously, wouldn't it? "I'll give the local Hopi Shaman a call, too. I'm going to pray this is localized to the Denver area and we can eliminate the threat quickly. Elder Dehiya can get word out nationally and Ha'atathli Humatewa can notify anyone local he think might be at risk."

She pauses and regards Maddie, hiding everything she's thinking and feeling.

In fact, she regards Maddie for enough time to make it uncomfortable for the average person.

"Sanchez, Garcia and Peregrine are the only three people in Colorado who know both of my identities. None of them would voluntarily share that information. But involuntarily?"

This is a woman who has been through hell and come out the other side. The parts she's leaving unspoken, the worry she has for her friends and family if anyone ever makes the connection between Ninja and Andrea Yazzie, are things she think Maddie will have thought of before the words are completely out of her mouth.

Sanchez looks between them and nods gravely. "I don't know Peregrine that well, but I do know Garcia will die before giving you up. Voluntarily."

"Oh, no no..." she interrupts him. "There'll be no dying for Garcia, I still need him to help me beat back this Shadow! Oh, and I need the bridegroom at my wedding."

That elicits a brief smile from Sanchez before becoming serious again. "I'm only human, ladies. I can move my family out of state, but... I am a liability if it comes to that."

Now she stands and looks at Andi directly, deadly serious.

"I don't know Garcia, but I know what's between the two of you. Trust me when I tell you that anyone, anyone can be broken. The SOB had files on me back to my birth, and there is only one way he could have gotten the information or even where to go look for it. That is from Rene, and if you ask anyone who knew us they would tell you without a shadow of a doubt that he would die before he gave me up. Undoubtedly, Stryker will have some sort of telepath at his disposal. If a telepath wants in your head, most people are not prepared to resist."

"You think I don't know that, Wolf?" Ninja asks, calmly and rationally. But then she shook her head, looking at Logan and Sanchez before giving her attention back to Maddie.

"I don't think the vital thing anyone really understands about the bond Pablo and I have — including Pablo himself — is that on the energetic level, we are One," Andi says softly to Maddie. "Our bond changed when I used my powers in reforging it. Before he went through the hell of Quetzalcoatl's prison dimension, our bond was like yours and your husband's, like yours and and your Mate's.

"I'm not being overly dramatic when I say that breaking Garcia would break me.

"And I'm being utterly serious when I say Garcia's death would mean mine, as well."

Her eyes flicker to Sanchez again before locking once more with Maddie's. "So, all levity aside, if Quetzalcoatl is right and I'm to take point fighting this thing, Garcia cannot be allowed to die, nor can he be put in a position where Stryker's people can get their hands or minds on him. As a cop, that's going to piss him off.

"I just hope, as the other half of the team that is to stand in the maw of the portal when it opens, he understands how important his safety is."

On impulse, Madeline takes up Ninja's hands. Every word she says is echoed in feeling by Logan.

"Then you need to impress upon him the utter importance of that fact. Logan and I can take the hits so if that's what we need to do, that's what we will do. And when it comes to that bastard, we're both after considerably more than a pound of flesh. We aim to give him a personal escort to the depths of whatever hell we can find."

Logan growls his assent and — oddly, unreasonably — they even hear Rene say, Yes, we do. He will never touch our family again.

Andi's eyes are clear and bright as she squeezes Maddie's hands.

"If I have to beat the crap out of him to get some sense through that thick head of his, I will. And when you escort that fucker to hell, I'll hold the door open until you get your collective asses back out again."

"Let me know if you need help. The men can certainly be thick headed about such things."

A snort of derision came from Logan and, surprising to the librarian, Sanchez as well. Madeline determinedly ignores them both.

"And you should be prepared to be holding that door open for a while. We want to make absolutely sure he cannot come back. I'll do more than hamstring the bastard this time."

Sanchez looks as though he might say something... again. And decides not to... again. Finally, he nods to the boxes by door.

"Regarding the rotten apples, my files contain a list of names. Two lists, really. The first is a list of people I know are bad. The second... just suspicions. You're welcome to the files." He raises an eyebrow at Madeline. "I suspect they're safer with you than in the vault downtown. As for anyone else..."

His face is hardened, and Ninja can hear an edge of anger in his voice and see a touch of fear that looks like it's buried so far in his unconscious that he hasn't realized there's a need for fear. Yet.

"We had an eight man task force ten years ago. I'm the only one still with DPD." He gives Maddie a hard look. "Two men died in the line, three pensioned out, one drank himself out of the job and died from cirrhosis and kidney failure three years ago, the last ate his gun a year ago. Of the three pensioners, two had fatal strokes and the other a heart attack. The task force files mysteriously disappeared two years after the case was closed. Those..." He nods to the boxes he'd brought. "...are my personal notes and files."

Ninja sees the qi patterns formed by his words, and his anger is woven in through it all... meaning he suspects what she sees. None of the deaths, nor the missing files, were accidents. The fact that his fear hasn't reached a conscious level raises him a whole lot higher in her opinion.

"You've been lucky, it would seem," she says quietly.

He looks back at her. "One thing is that I'm lucky. Always have been."

She looks at him oddly. "Garcia said the same thing when he was in Flagstaff with me."

He shrugs. "It's a cop thing. Something we all say from time to time... those us of of a certain caliber, anyway."

At Sanchez's talk of luck, she can't help but let out a bit of a laugh. "Don't knock luck. I know a boy who's passive mutant power was luck, the good kind. Got him out of world of trouble, prevented folk from getting dead, and made my guilt a whole lot less.

"Ninja, I don't know what it takes out of you to do that portal thing, but it could be very helpful to have Rene in on the conversation completely. He was there, under its influence, yet still trying to fight it."

She nods, then turns to Maddie. "Opening a portal in here would be difficult. I think I'd need to be closer to Mother Ear..."

At that moment, Raven comes flying straight at her head, cawing loudly.

"By the Gods, Buddhas and Spirits," Ninja says as she holds up an arm to protect her face while ducking down, "what the FUCK is wrong with you, Raven? Why, why, why do I get the psychotic guardian Spirit?!"

"From what I understand of them, you're the only one capable of dealing with this version of Raven," says Rene with a chuckle, as he steps out of nothingness into the room.

"It's not funny, Rene Jacobs. And I'm not really dealing with this crazy flying thing very well!"

"Yes. You really are, actually." He just smiles before turning to Maddie.

"You called, my dear?"

Her face lights up as Rene arrives in the room. "Been listening on my conversations again, have you?"

"Kind of my job now being your Guardian Angel and all," he says with that crooked grin. "I have to know when I'm needed."

"You'll always be needed," she tells him.

She has to stop and blink away tears of relief. It was only been this morning that the rents in their souls and hearts had been mended.

"There is someone I want you to meet." She leads him back to where Logan now stands. And since Andi had already mentioned his full name, she uses their names, "Rene Jacobs, Logan. Logan, Rene Jacobs."

The men face each other. Logan is taciturn under the best of circumstances. And Rene, well, he had met Wolverine before but it certainly had not been under the best of circumstances.

"Logan," Rene begins, "I am sorry for what was done to you, what I did, for my part in it."

Logan shakes his head, no apologies are necessary. His healing factor had not allowed the serum to work on him.

Rene nods in understanding. "And I want to thank for what for you've done for Maddie and our son. You've been a good father to him, and that means more than I can say."

"He's a good boy. As for Madeline, I love her."

"She does have that effect on people."

"She does."

"Okay, you two," Madeline interrupts with a blush, "that's quite enough. We have work to do."

"Slave driver," Rene jokes.

"She is," Logan agrees.

She gives them each a look which only causes them to chuckle.

"Oh, good heavens," she says, then turns back to Sanchez. "Captain Sanchez, this is my husband, Rene Jacobs. Rene, Captain Sanchez of the Denver PD."

Rene raises an eyebrow at her. "You sure are getting cozy with law enforcement lately. That's so unlike you."

He addresses Sanchez then with the offer of a handshake. "A pleasure to meet you, Captain. I wish it were under more auspicious circumstances."

When Raven flies at her head, Sanchez had looked decidedly worried... after all, no one wants their resident Super Hero going nuts, do they? But the look on his face when Rene simply appears is totally a Kodak moment. Or, in this day and age, a pull your phone out and snap a shot off moment, which isn't nearly as poetic and easy to say.

He stands when Maddie introduces Rene. "I'd like to say it's a pleasure, Mr. Jacobs," he says dryly as he shakes Rene's hand, "but people appearing out of thin air will take some getting used to before I say anything about the situation is a pleasure."

Still standing to the side, annoyed with Raven who is now floating upside down and peering at Logan, Ninja says, even more dryly. "You get used it, mostly. Just be glad you're not Diné and that your ancestral pest decided Garcia was his Chosen One instead of you."

She rolls her eyes.

"Crazy flying things," she mumbles to herself.

Sanchez's reaction provides enough levity to reduce some of the tension reverberating through the air. Rene offers a smile.

"Stick around these two long enough," he says, indicating both Maddie and Andi, "and you will certainly see things that will make your head spin."

Andi pauses, looking over at Raven. It's still inspecting Logan from it's upside down position. "Stop it, Raven, and be serious for a minute." It chirps, drops to the floor with a thud only she can hear... well, she doesn't know for certain; maybe Rene can hear it now, too. Then it waddles over to stand at her feet, looking up at her and purring.

She takes a deep breath, and shakes her head slightly.

"As I was trying to say before being interrupted by a crazy flying thing, if we can push Stryker through to Quetzalcoatl's prison dimension, he has neither the skills Garcia has nor the protection of the warden. I don't expect he'd survive long. And his death would be... excruciating and not instantaneous."

She looks down at Raven.

"Is it possible to open that specific portal when the time is right?"

I miss my buddy.

"I know you miss your buddy. That doesn't answer my question."

It would be easier for my buddy to open the door from the other side. But you could do it, with help.

"How much help?"

It pointed to everyone in the room except Sanchez. And the Chosen One, of course. Maybe someone else, too. But I don't know who yet.

"Someone of the People? Or someone else?"

It spreads its wings wide in a shrug. I don't know yet. Maybe one of our People. Maybe not.

She nods, then looks at the Jacobs... pack? "If Quetzalcoatl doesn't open the portal from the other side, we can do from here... the four of us, plus Garcia and maybe one other."

She looks down at Raven again. "Do you know where Quetzalcoatl is?"

Oh yes! He just won't come visit here because you're angry with him. Raven pecks her foot several times before she can move it.

"Ow! Stop that, or I'll be angry with you!"

It floats upside down in front of her face now, giggling like an idiot. But I won't go away and leave you, Little One, our Warrior!

"More's the pity," she mutters. "Fine," she says with exasperation. "Go tell your buddy I'm not that angry with him anymore now that his Chosen One is feeling better, and our bond is repaired. He can come back if he promises not to be a pompous ass about everything."

Raven spins dizzily in place for a moment, then begins zipping all over the room, bouncing off walls, ceiling, floor, furniture, people... all the while chanting in a sing song voice, My buddy can come back! I get to see my buddy! My buddy can come back! I get to see my buddy!

She notices Rene trying hard to keep from snickering through her exchange with Raven. She puts her hands on her hips and looks at him, perhaps a bit archly... perhaps more than a bit. "And I'm sure I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about regarding being able to deal with that lunatic. Nothing I do makes anyone's head spin even a tenth as much as Raven!

"And I think you're here to add to the discussion of finding and eliminating the slime known as William Stryker... not to mock me as I'm being tormented by my guardian Spirit."

She harrumphs for good measure.

Rene's hand does not move and Madeline feels his laughter throughout Ninja's conversation with her Raven.

He returns the arched eyebrow, a smirk playing around the corners of his mouth.

"If you say so."

Then he pats Madeline's shoulder. "And I believe this is my wife's usual. I understand she made a very stirring speech the last go round."

Madeline turns and just looks at him. Only the dead could have told him. Vince had died crossing the dam, Kali in the tunnels. The only one who could have and would have...

"Vincent?" she asks, an almost unnoticeable tremor in her voice.

"I'm sorry, love. I should have thought," he says, reaching out to caress her cheek. "Yes, Vincent. And before you take yourself down that road again, he knew he might not make it out. He told you as much himself."

"I went to see his mother after," she begins, pausing to swallow a lump in her throat. "Did he tell you he gave her that photo taken of the three of us in Bolivia? She knew who I was the moment she opened the door..."

The look he gives her is bittersweet. "No. He left that out. There was not a lot of time, not for him. But he was at peace. He did ask that I keep an extra eye on you for him."

"Of course he did. Did you see anyone else?"

"No. Just him."

She nods.

"You did good, Maddie. Considering what you were up against and who, all of you did real good... but especially you. And I know the losses lay heaviest on you, and that is what makes you a good leader. It always has. You'd never send someone to do what you weren't willing to take on yourself."

"I let the madness take over again."

"Only until the rats were exterminated. I don't consider that a bad thing. Everyone there was complicit. They all knew what was going on. They stood up to be counted with the enemy."

"And our enemy now?"

"I doubt you'll find anyone like Doc Greene among them."

"Extreme prejudice?"

He gives an affirming nod. "Extreme prejudice."

She returns to the table and drinks the remainder of her wine in a single swallow. Logan refills it without a word.

Sanchez remains stoically silent, but the cop in him — the good cop, the honest cop, the decent man — winces slightly at the term extreme prejudice.

As for Ninja? It's not the work she does, but she doesn't have a problem supporting those who do it, when it's necessary. And for this fucker Stryker... it's beyond necessary.

"Is there any way you or any of your new friends can figure out where, what or who the connection is on this side of things?" Madeline asks Rene.

At Maddie's final words, Raven screams. It's a blood curdling scream of terror, and Ninja covers her ears despite the fact that she knows it will do no good. It's not her ears hearing the sounds, it's being fed directly into her brain. Even Rene seems to wince. Its wings are wrapped tightly around her legs, and Raven is actually trembling.

She sinks to the floor cross legged, and pulls the Spirit into her lap. It wraps its wings around her torso as she wraps her arms around its shoulders. It continues to alternately squeal in fear or whimper in what sounds like pain.

She looks up at Maddie.

"The short answer is hell no."

She waits until Raven has mostly stopped shaking before continuing.

"Think of the various planes, the qualities of the plains, as a spectrum. At the end of the spectrum where my People's Spirits live and where Rene now lives, it is close to white. There are planes with Beings more pure, and I met one once, but it's very rare for any of them to interact with us on what I'll call the human plane. And the Spirits from the plane Rene now lives interact — for the most part — only with the People of the Nations and the Aboriginal People of Australia.

"On the other end of the spectrum..."

Raven is trembling again, so she strokes the feathers on its head as she would a scared child. She can see its fuzzy reflection in the brass implements and decorations at the fireplace...


She can see its reflections?

"You're letting everyone see you?"

Raven just nods its head and she sighs.

"At the other end is the Thing you fought before... the Shadow Quetzalcoatl warned us about."

Raven continues to whimper.

"It was only a question, my Raven Spirit. It was not a request to do such a thing."

It looks up at her, eyes wide and filled with tears. Oh, crap. Birds don't cry!


"Yes. Really."

Raven looks at Maddie, twisting its head like an Owl to do so.

She's scary.

"Yes. She needs to be, to do her job."

If it were not such a god—awful serious as fuck situation, Madeline might have laughed at her being able to scare a Spirit. As it is, she has turned in her chair at the feeling from Rene. She sees the giant Raven tucking itself into Ninja's lap. She knows fear when she sees it. Logan's rumble confirms that he can smell it.

She meets the Raven's eyes when it looks at her.

"I have survived the evil that man can do," she tells it. "My parents and my mother-in-law did as well. It gives me a peculiar perspective on things. It also tends to make me an unforgiving cunt. All I can say to that is better her than the one ruled by madness. At least the former prefers surgical precision."

It looks back at Andi. My buddy could do the things she asks about. Maybe. I think so.

"I think so, too. Maybe. Can you find him? Can you bring him here?"

Raven nods its head.

She gives it an exasperated look. "Will you go find him and bring him here, please?"

It grins a grin that looked creepy on the Cheshire Cat, and looks even worse on a bird.


"If you would, please. Yes."

Raven leaps up and starts flying around the room again, except this time when it tries to bounce off a wall, it is substantial enough that the wall stops it, and it slides down the wall to the floor like a boneless bag of feathers.

Facepalm... Ninja.


"Ya think?" she says without looking up.

From the corner of her eye, Andi can see its reflection fade from the brass.

I'm going to go find my buddy!! We'll be back in a time period I don't understand!!

She looks up in time to see it swoop through the room one last time, then fly up through the ceiling.

"And people wonder why I'm a little crazy sometimes," she mutters as she stands up again and leans against the wall.

Madeline notes with a sardonic look that the Spirit seems to pull itself together, mostly, before it accidentally rams itself into a solid surface. Then it fades from sight.

Sanchez looks at Ninja with an expression something akin to sympathy. "So that was the guardian Spirit you were speaking to earlier?"

"Yep. Want it?"

He shakes his head. "No, no. No, thank you. I don't think it would do my sanity my good."

She snorts. "Just wait until you meet Garcia's... ancestral pest. He's even worse.

"Raven's off to fetch Quetzalcoatl, who might be able to get us the intel we need."

At the name of the Spirit, Madeline tilts her head. "The Aztec deity?" Then she looks at Sanchez, considers his name and the name of Ninja's husband... assuming where their families originated, it makes sense.

"Interesting friends you have there," she says to Andrea.

Andrea shrugs as she faces Maddie. "The Aztecs saw him as a deity, although he claims he's not. Energetically, he's similar to my People's Spirits, if he wasn't bullshitting me when he claimed I saw his true form. The difference is that he deals in the darker magics, making him closer on the scale to this Thing, this Shadow."

She thinks back to the night she and Pablo reforged their bond. He had used his ancestral magic then, too.

"They practiced human sacrifice, which is what bound Quetzalcoatl to the Aztecs as their protector. Blood magic is powerful. It's something Garcia learned in that other dimension, although being a fairly rational twenty first century person, he understandably has misgivings about using it. It's... something that I believe he see as crossing a line a good cop shouldn't cross.

"I have to believe every lesson he learned there will be needed in this fight. He won't like it, but he'll get over it. Eventually."

Madeline's attention returns to Ninja. "The other thing I would really like to know is if there is a way to flat out destroy this Thing."

Ninja shakes her head. "I don't know. The ancestral pest just said a Shadow comes. Then it actually quoted Bradbury at me: Something Wicked This Way Comes. That Garcia is to stand at my side during the dark days ahead." She pauses, trying to remember what else the pest had said. "He said I was the fist. That there are others, the Shadow comes for all of us, but I am destined to stand first against the Shadow."

She shakes her head. "I don't know if standing against it means just beating it back... sealing it in its pen for all eternity... or obliterating it.

"Personally, I'm all for stuffing Stryker down its throat and tossing in the supernatural version of C4 after it, slamming the door shut and letting the place melt." And then she sighs. "Unfortunately, I don't think it will be that simple."

The information on Quetzalcoatl does not surprise Madeline. Her birth country is a land of many peoples and cultures. And she and Rene had seen many things in their former professions that took them to parts of the world most people had no idea about.

"Destined?" she asks with a raised eyebrow and a snort.

There's no all powerful force controlling my destiny...

Rene clears his throat and asks of Madeline, "No fate but what we make?"

"No fate but what we make," she confirms then looks back to Andi. "And you will not stand alone. I am familiar with The Way of The Fist. You don't counter then strike. Your strike is the counter.

"As for simple... nothing ever is.

"But we have stared into the abyss without flinching when it stared back, all three of us."

Ninja shrugs at Maddie's snort, Rene's comment and her confirmation of it.

"I don't disagree. I don't buy the whole 'this is your destiny' thing either. But if this Thing is breaking through in my front yard threatening my people and my city... Well, maybe it's not destiny, but I certainly have an obligation to stand and fight. As Garcia often like to point out, it may only be a matter of semantics.

"I had never planned on standing alone, knowing Garcia would be at my side. Having others there, as well..."

Her smile is even more grim than the Captain's.

"I think we all stand a better chance of coming out of the encounter alive and sane." She looks between Rene and Maddie. "Well, as alive and as sane as we are at the moment. So if you want to call it destiny or obligation, I'm standing to face it.

"Thankfully... not alone."

She pauses, recalling her teachings... all of them.

"Even in Taijiquan, but especially in Chen Shi Taijiquan, very often the parry and counter strike are a single motion, moving in on an opponent rather than the more expected dance away. I understand the concept very well, Wolf," she says with a less grim and more wry smile.

The other woman returns Ninja's wry smile. "Good."

Madeline looks now at Sanchez. "My apologies, Captain. European law enforcement has similar sensibilities. I try to stay within their boundaries when lending a hand, but in cases like this, the threat is too great, not only to your population but also to our immediate family, which include a fifteen year old and two ten year olds. We will do everything in our power to ensure they never have to face the things we did.

"We have seen the evil that men do, and we are particularly qualified to stand between them and those they seek to harm."

Logan and Rene are both nodding at her words, grim determination written across both their faces. Beneath the table, Logan's hands flex, and she hears the unmistakable snikt of his claws extending.

"And, yes, this is personal."

The Captain drains the glass of wine beside his plate, and regards Maddie steadily.

"I'm not going to argue the finer points of the law with a mother trying to protect her children, or one of the few people in this part of the state with the ability and determination to protect the people of my city," he says with brief glance at Ninja. "Just know there are things I can do, and there are things I cannot do. I've provided you with my all my files; I cannot be part of anything that will give certain civil servants the ammunition they need to finally force me out of DPD."

"You know too many people, Chief," Ninja says softly. "I don't know how you manage the things you do, and still keep my identity a secret, but thank you for both. Seems like for every friend you've made, you've made an enemy... or at least caused a higher level of distrust than would be considered normal." She shrugs. "They're threatened. I get that; I see it enough in other agencies. So, anytime you think we're getting too close to a line, none of us will be offended if you just up and walk out."

She shakes her head, laughs humorously.

"Why do you think I spent nine years talking in circles to Garcia as Andrea about problems in the city that needed... solutions? There are lines he can't cross that I can... though technically I shouldn't. What you don't know can't be held against you in a court of law."

Madeline meets Sanchez's gaze.

"You have given us the intel we asked for. As for actual plans, that will wait until we have had a chance to peruse all of it. And those we will not share with anyone in law enforcement at any level. It is a line I have learned to walk over the last few years. You will have plausible deniability.

"Besides that, plans rarely survive the first encounter."

Sanchez nods. "The lack of a plan's survivability is why I prefer cleaning up after people rather than working the SWAT unit. Their plans always seem to go to shit," he says with a grim smile.

"That's because you can't plan for every eventuality. You have to be flexible, and you can't have glory hounds. The tactical teams seem to have not enough of the former and entirely too much of the later," she says to Sanchez's comment on SWAT.

"That doesn't really concern me. We'll survive even if we get worse."

It is at that moment Raven returns, and presses itself against Ninja's legs again.

I found my buddy!!

That is self evident by the fact that Quetzalcoatl is flitting from person to person... inspecting them? Trying to figure out who or what they are?

With that pest, who can know?

"Yes. I see," she says dryly.

The Aztec demi-god floats in front of Sanchez longer than the others, although she must admit that Rene seems to truly fascinate him.

"You are of my People," he says to Sanchez, clearly startling the Captain.

The disembodied voice gives Logan cause to stand, his claws still extended.

Rene shakes his head and explains, "It's the other spirit."

At that, the six blades slowly recede back into his hands.

Madeline had seen Rene's eyes tracking it and had expected something. Hands had made an aborted movement towards weapons that would have no effect.

After inspecting Sanchez, Andrea notes that Quetzalcoatl's reflection is visible in the room's polished surfaces as the serpent continues to look from one person to another. She snorts.

"Oh, show yourself to one and all NOW! You couldn't be bothered to show yourself to Pablo... oh, no! You had to drive me crazy with your ridiculous antics."

Quetzalcoatl flits over to her in the blink of an eye and stares at her.

"My Chosen One needed to learn how to see me. Where is he, Night Walker?"

Ninja tilts her head a bit and glares back at the serpent.

"I see you've forgotten our little agreement about names, little buddy. And Pablo is working. Doing his job. Trying to find bad people who killed a good person."

Wups. Ninja's getting angry.

"A good person who was my friend," she says rather harshly; even she would admit to that. "Bad people who have kidnapped other decent people of his city, of my city."

She continues to glare at the winged serpent.

"My friends..." She gestures to Maddie, Logan and Rene. "...have generously offered to help fight the coming Shadow, which — if you've been paying any sort of attention — seems to be on its way here rather shortly. They've fought the Shadow — the Thing as they call it — in the past, and owe it a rematch. It killed a lot of their friends," she manages to say between clenched teeth, "and I'd like very much to circumvent a repeat performance."

The serpent continues to stare and says nothing for several long minutes.

"Oh, and there's a human that apparently aided it in the past, is quite likely still very much alive, and would — no doubt — be delighted to aid it once again," she says, breaking the silence but not the staring contest she and Quetzalcoatl seem to be having. "Said human seems to be controlling the actions of others — these very bad people for whom Pablo searches as we speak — so, I would be delighted to end the existence of all the aforementioned entities... from the Shadow, to the despicable human who has no regard for any life he can't control, to the sheep-like humans he does control."

Finally, the serpent hisses out a laugh.

"You have become more bloodthirsty in my absence, Night Walker."

"I have, asshole... no small thanks to you."

Do you have to be mean to my buddy?

She looks down at Raven. "Not my fault your buddy is a scaly little flying jerk. I'd think you'd have better taste in friends, but... you're clearly not right in the head. Which seems to be perfectly appropriate for a person such as myself who is also clearly not right in the head." She looks back up at Quetzalcoatl. "I could have sworn you promised not to call me by that name, which I find less than complimentary. Granted, a being of your age might have some issues with remembering things... your version of senility, I suppose."

"And you have not become any more pleasant or respectful, have you... Night Walker?"

She grins her not so very nice Ninja grin.

"Ah, but I have... at least to everyone but you... little buddy."

He hisses as he came within centimeters of her face. She doesn't flinch; she just stares at him placidly with her not so very nice Ninja smile.

"Why have you called me forth, in the presence of these who are not of my People? It is my Chosen One whose responsibility it is to call me... not his Mate's," he says in a tone Andi would swear is derisive.

"Oh! And who was it what woke little buddy wuddy from his sleepy poo in the first place? Wait! Don't tell me! I know the answer to this one!

"It was your Chosen One's Mate!

"Although, I rather prefer the term wife, if you don't mind too terribly much."

Sanchez clears his throat and looks more than a little confused. "I... thought the wedding was in December."

She looks past the ancestral pest to the Captain.

"Well, yes. The legal ceremony will be in December, but according to the ancient traditions of my People and in the eyes of my People's Spirits, we're already married. It's... a little complicated."

Sanchez just shakes his head and mumbles to himself. Too bad she has such excellent hearing. Poor Pablo indeed! She would be willing to say poor Pablo is rather pleased by the arrangement as it stands, although now is probably not the right time to get into that discussion.

She looks at the damned pest again.

"There are questions on the table... so to speak. The most important one being... is there a way to destroy this Shadow?

"My instincts tell me there might be, however, it would probably have disastrous consequences across all planes of existence. Therefore, barring that, is there a way to keep the Shadow within its own realm for all eternity?"

Quetzalcoatl backs off a bit, looking at the others around the room again, before focusing on Ninja once more.

"Your instincts are correct, Night Walker..."

"Will you fucking stop calling me that?!?" she interrupts, rather more loudly than she had planned. Raven whimpers.

Please, please, please stop calling the Warrior that, my friend! Oh please! You remember how angry she gets!

"There! You see? Even your friend wants you to stop... calling... me... that."

The serpent just stares, then continues as if there was no interruption at all.

" that destroying the Shadow would unbalance the forces of the universe. It has always been my intention that you and my Chosen One seal that world off. For an eternity? No. That is not possible. That best you can hope for is to seal it away for..." He pauses as though trying to calculate. "...for nearly the same amount of time your people have been walking upright on this world."

She huffs out a breath of frustration. "Great. Make me do the figuring then, hmm? Fine. Homo erectus... was... Pleistocene era? That one anthropology class was a long time ago. But, if I remember correctly... there's no guarantee of that, of course... you're talking something on the order of a million and a half years. Which..." She shrugs. " quite a long time, really. I certainly won't be around then."

She looks at Maddie and Logan.

"How about you?

"And do you have any other questions for the pest?"

They did not have the... relationship... with this flying serpent that Ninja does and watches with curiosity. Logan sniffs at the air, trying to catch a scent of it even though it is spirit and not true substance. There is something about it that speaks to Madeline's madness and seems to court it. She takes a moment to force back that part of her, her Hyde. Her Mates, both of them, come to stand on either side of her, offering the grounding she might need.

The Thing cannot be killed or destroyed. That will have dire consequences for everyone and everything, but it could be shut away for a good long time. And, by the time it returned, she and Logan should have already moved on from this world.

She looks to the side, to Logan and sees him still trying to catch a scent, and it gives her an even better idea than the question she had before.

"It must leave a mark or taint on those on this side of things that it deals with. Is there a way to recognize it for those of us in this world? Scent it and track it as it were?"

Quetzalcoatl moves from staring at Ninja to staring at Maddie in an instant. He flicks his tongue out, tasting the skin on her cheek, then does the same to Logan. He stops in front of Rene, and simply hisses.

He stares for a moment longer, then he's in front of Ninja's face again.

Then he moves back, floating above the Captain's head.

"You both know its stench. You only need to remember it to track it."

"That one does not belong on this plane!" He hisses again in Rene's direction.

"And why the hell not? If you and Raven and the other Spirits can be on this plane, surely Rene should be allowed the same freedom."

"He is human. He died. He belongs in the world of the dead."

She rolls her eyes and sighs, then look at Rene with a shrug. He, however, seems to have a bit of a smirk on his face, that devilish man.

Ah, I knew there were likely an abundance of reasons for liking him!

Madeline's eyes narrow dangerously and Logan growls when it ... tastes ... them. Before either can say a word though, the Spirit begins throwing a tantrum worthy of a toddler when it faces Rene.

But to say her Rene belonged in that place of torment...that shuts the madness right down to be replaced by righteous anger. Both men recognize the change in her for what it is and step away.

"He and... Wolf have the same sort of bond Pablo and I had. When he died, he couldn't cross to the world of the dead because of that bond, you ninny." Andrea is at least trying to be somewhat reasonable. Quetzalcoatl is acting more erratic than usual; getting angrier at the pest isn't going to help.

Beady little snake eyes can't really squint, but Quetzalcoatl seems to be doing a fairly good job of trying.

"Then how did he get from the world of his ancestors' Spirits to the world of your ancestors' Spirits?" he asks suspiciously.

Ninja looks at him like he's a complete moron... which, in some ways, he totally is... as she slides away from the wall to put her fists on her hips. She finding that it's really hard to move, however, when you have a big black bird using you as a security blanket. Or whatever.

"First of all, he wasn't in the world of his ancestors' Spirits. Not any of them."

As she explains how she and Wolf helped Rene, Andi gestures expansively for Quetzalcoatl's benefits... as though she was telling a story to young children at Story Time, in fact.

"I opened the door to where he was.

"Wolf and I opened the door to my People's Spirits' world.

"He left where he was.

"I severed the ties to that place and closed the door.

"He was accepted by my People's Spirits, and became one of them."

Quetzalcoatl screams. "No! No, that's not right. He should have stayed where he belonged!"

"Actually, he belongs with his wife. This is just the next best thing."

The serpent seems really upset by it all, spinning frantically in place above where the Captain had been sitting during dinner. Now, Sanchez moves closer to her as the ancestral pest continues his tantrum at a higher level.

"Is... it? He? Always like this?" Sanchez asks.

"No," she says, slightly puzzled and concerned. "I've never seen behavior quite like this.

"Yo, Q. What the fuck, man? You need to chill out; you're getting a little freaky here."

The pest blinks back in front of her face. She's getting a bit tired of that.

"He should be in the place of the dead!!"

Ninja sighs and rubs her forehead before looking at the snaky annoyance again.

"When Pablo and I formed the bond that allowed him to see you," she says, speaking as though speaking to a semi-bright child, "it also meant that neither of us could cross to the plane of the dead without the other.

"Those two..." she says, pointing at Maddie and Rene, "have the same kind of bond."

As the discussion between the serpent and Ninja continue, Madeline's ire grows and her men move farther away, taking Sanchez with him.

Logan, mostly quiet up until this point, explains to the DPD man, "Hell hath no fury."

Their woman has moved so that the offending Spirit is within a step and bracketed between herself and Ninja. Where Ninja's anger gives off tremors, Madeline's is cold and diamond hard.

Ninja lets that information sink into Quetzalcoatl's mind for a moment... not that anything seems capable of soaking into that frenzied snake brain. And she thought bird brains were bad!

"Would you expect your Chosen One to spend two or three or possibly four lifetimes in an unpleasant place? Perhaps as unpleasant..." Here her voice regains its edge of anger, and she finds herself talking with teeth clenched again. " that place you sent him that nearly killed us both, nearly drove us mad, nearly broke our marriage bond?"

She glares at the serpent with undisguised anger.

"You made me very... very... anngggrryyy... when you did that, you fucking asshole.

"And so... when I saw Rene in a place that looked like somewhere my Pablo would very likely have wound up..."

She presses her lips together and breathes deeply with flared nostrils.

"...there was no... way... I was going to let him... stay there."

She swallows hard, and then realizes there are tears on her cheeks.

"And if you don't like... the fact... that I did everything... in my power to heal... him and his wife, then you... can just... go...







Quetzalcoatl hisses at her again. "My Chosen One's fate is not your concern, Night Walker."

She is vibrating with anger, doing every calming breathing exercise she knows to keep from channeling a bolt of qi through that... that...

Raven launches itself in the air and grabs Quetzalcoatl by the tail, then lands with the serpent by the hearth, where it proceeds to fling the ancestral pest from side to side, thumping it against one side of the hearth and then the other, all the while screaming — inside Andi's brain, anyway — Idiot! Idiot! Idiot! Idiot! Idiot! Idiot! Idiot! Idiot!

The somewhat comical display at least gives Andrea the chance to calm down a little... enough that the buildup of qi is painful, but there's no longer a danger to Sanchez or the building.

She looks at Sanchez, and he needs no encouragement other than a pointed finger to move as far away from the wild eyed crazy woman as possible, to stay with the group of far more dangerous individuals. She runs through a quick Chen 18 form; not the way she practices it, but the way it's used in battle. It's enough to settle her qi, and store it in her xia dan tien. Then she looks at Raven, still flinging Quetzalcoatl back and forth.

"You can stop now, Raven."

And Raven does stop. In the middle of an upswing... letting go of the serpent, who then flies across the room to slam into the far wall, and slides down the wall to the floor. Raven launches itself in the air again and lands at her feet to wrap its wings around her legs.

I apologize for my buddy, Little One. So sorry, so sorry!

"No, my Raven Spirit. You cannot apologize for the insult Quetzalcoatl gave me. Only Quetzalcoatl can erase that insult."

From the floor on the other side of the room, Quetzalcoatl says, "Why would the fate of my Chosen One be of concern to you, Night Walker?"


"Why indeed. That's a fine question to ask, and one you should have asked before you insulted me. And my husband."

She takes another cleansing breath as Raven hugs more tightly.

"I'm sure in your senility, you've forgotten that I said your banishment of Pablo to your prison dimension nearly killed both of us, nearly drove us insane, nearly broke the bond that you — originally — thought was so fucking important.

"But don't worry, asshole. We fixed the problem. We reforged our bond, and now we are truly One. Our fates are tied together for eternity. THAT would be why the fate of my husband is of some concern to me. Unlike Rene and his wife, Pablo and I cannot be separated by death.

"If he dies, I die.

"If I live, he lives.

"We used our powers to reforge that which you very nearly tore apart."

She pauses, taking another deep breath.

"Do you understand what I am saying, you old fool?"

Quetzalcoatl flutters up from the floor and stays well out of her reach — and Raven's — as he stares at her.

"No. No..." He shakes his little serpent head. "What I see is not possible. What you seem to have done is NOT POSSIBLE!"

She snorts.

"Not possible?


"Are you sure?

"Have you ever given those powers to anyone else, who then married a Cursed Warrior of the Diné?"

She chuffs out a hard near laugh.

"You have no... idea... what... you have done."


The letter comes out as almost a bark, a way Madeline has of speaking that instantly garners attention from everyone. Rene had always called it her command voice, and now crosses his arms to watch to watch the fun, twisted sense of humor that he has.

The little arrow shaped head twists towards her in surprise.

"Rene did not belong in that place, and you have no right to say he did seeing that you do not even realize he is also of 'your people'. His abuela is from a little place called Uxpanapa. She took el nombre de su esposo when they married. As for claiming what is and isn't possible, push me further and see what his Rangda can do.

"As for the stench of that Thing, we know the physical world. We cannot see the other unless your kind makes their presence known here. The Shadow has not done that, not out in the waking world... but only in dreams made possible by another."

Quetzalcoatl has now been given the very clear message that — while once the people he protected considered him a god — the women in this room are proving him to be less clever than he thought.

Less omnipotent.

Less omniscient.

Less... less... less.

Having heard Logan's comment, Ninja says quietly, "It would appear that you have thoroughly and callously infuriated two Warriors from cultures you cannot begin to understand.

"Not just two Warriors, Quetzalcoatl, but two women. Two wives.

"You have no concept of what you have brought about... you have no way to fathom the things you set into motion."

Maddie's icy calm is actually a balm for the raging fire inside her.

Is that what we are, she and I? Ice and Fire?

"The original question has been asked, and I'll ask it again... for your answer was no answer at all."

Her fingers flex... similar to what she's seen Logan do... but rather than claws, she has talons. Talons are fine implements for snatching up snakes in the grass.

"Can the Shadow be tracked? Can those who have been touched by the Shadow be tracked? Can those who have not been touched by the Shadow itself, but only touched by those touched by the Shadow, be tracked?

"There are over two thousand mutants in the Denver metroplex. Every one of them is a target, is a potential weapon for the Shadow. Those not deemed worthy of being a weapon will merely be discarded.

"As my friend was," she says with a sharp blade of anger than cuts so cleanly that an arm can lie in the snow before the brain realizes the limb is missing.

"In addition to the mutants, to the Unfortunates, there are close to three million innocent people in the counties I protect.

"How do we stop the holocaust before it can even begin?"

She pauses and glances at Sanchez before turning her attention back to the serpent.

"I take that back. The holocaust has already begun. Which, if you'll recall," she spits out, "is why your Chosen One is not here, but working to keep other people from dying."

She narrows her eyes and stares at Quetzalcoatl.

"Just what is your agenda, Quetzalcoatl? What is it that you care so much about that you engineered the creation of another Super in Denver?

"Pablo was not born a mutant any more than our Black Wolf here was.

"But now, he is another person with unusual abilities, like the three of us in this room, who would be quite the tasty snack for the Shadow.

"Do you comprehend that I will give my life... to save... the man I love? Can something like you even begin to comprehend that level of loyalty and devotion?

"And has that tiny reptilian brain of yours grasped the fact that my death means his death, as well? Oh, yes, yes... you've shown me your true form. And that has no more ability to comprehend human emotions than a serpent does!"

Quetzalcoatl has the good grace to look befuddled.

Well. One point for our side.

Except... shouldn't they all be on the same side? Didn't Pablo say that, while he didn't trust Quetzalcoatl, the serpent was fighting against the Shadow? That Quetzalcoatl had imprisoned all manner of beasts, and humans, in his prison dimension... just to keep the Shadow from our world?

The serpent blinks, turning in a circle so it can look at her and Maddie both. Ninja senses it's very uncomfortable to be between them.

That pleases her.

"You can track those whom the Shadow has touched," he says, "for you know the scent of the one you believe to be working with it. You may not know that you know this scent; but you do."

It's hard to read Logan, certainly harder to read him than either Rene or Maddie, but his qi does not seem to be that of a satisfied individual. She really don't think he likes Quetzalcoatl's answer.

She can't blame him. She doesn't like Quetzalcoatl's answer.

And at yet another non-answer, there are two growls. One is deep and guttural and feral and originates from Logan. The other is less guttural, higher pitched but just as feral and comes from Madeline. Both are frustrated and dangerous.

Rene just shakes his head.

"This is no backwater," he explains, knowing the others would not. "No in-country jungle or plateau or desert. There are too many people here to track in that manner. A scent is muddied and obliterated in less than a day."

"The Shadow itself... can its presence in our world be tracked?" Ninja asks. "Can it even exist here, partially? Or will the first knowing of it be when the portal opens and it stretches its jaws to devour our world?"

Besides being uncomfortably caught between the two Warrior women, the serpent seems baffled both by Rene's presence and the new bond Ninja has forged with Pablo.

"No. No, the Shadow cannot come to this world in small pieces," he says, almost absently. "Once it could, but no longer. That much, I was able to do."

He moves slightly closer to Ninja, and Raven caws softly. A warning.

A warning Quetzalcoatl heeds.

"How did you do what you did?" he hisses. "It is not possible."

She rolls her eyes again. She sighs. She even shakes her head.

"You have a one track mind here, little buddy. We're trying to save the world, and you're interested in how we performed our magic. Don't you think that... maybe... just maybe... your priorities are a little screwed up?"

He's becoming agitated again. And Ninja is trying not to think about all the ways she could shred him into tiny little pieces. She's very, very aware that Maddie's tian po is across the room. Of course, Quetzalcoatl can't be killed. More's the pity.

"Fine. If it will get you to focus a little better, I'll tell you.

"Not that it's any of your business."

She crosses her arms and stares at him.

"I'm sure you recall how we formed our bond in the first place, yes? So there's no need to go into all that in mixed company. However, we used the same method to repair the bond.

"Except I used my power to move the energy, the qi, through our bodies, through Mother Earth and Father Sky... to give the impurities left in his heart and soul to Mother Earth, who has an incredible capacity for healing, and for accepting the pain of Her children when we are willing to give it up.

"And then Pablo used some of the magic he learned in your world.

"The blood magic."

It's almost comical the way Quetzalcoatl's eyes seem to become bigger than his head. It's an illusion, she's sure, but still...

"That's... that's binding magic."

"Well, duh!"

"Do you know what you've done?" The doddering old fool of a snake is finally catching on. Maybe.

"Yes. We have melded our qi, our souls, our fates. We are bound together for all eternity." She shakes her head again. "Sheesh. Didn't I just tell you that a few minutes ago?"

"But humans should not use that sort of powerful magic!"

Ninja shrugs. "So? According to some, I'm not human. And thanks to you and your meddling, neither is Pablo anymore. I don't see the problem."

At Quetzalcoatl's protestation of Andi and Pablo's magic use, Madeline snorts. "No point in having and knowing how to use a weapon if you don't have the stones to use it."

And to her, that is precisely what their magic is, a weapon to be used to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

He still looks very confused and concerned and obsessed with the topic of her bond with her husband.

"Listen. Get your mind back in the game. We need to track those touched by the Shadow."

She had an idea earlier, before the ancestral pest took himself — and her — off on an irrelevant tangent. She looks at at Logan, not wanting to ask him to do this... but knowing he's the best tracker she's not only ever met, but ever heard of...

"Wolverine... would you be willing to go to Quetzalcoatl's prison world to get a scent of people and... things... contaminated by the Shadow? People who hold the Shadow within them?"

Quetzalcoatl starts sputtering about... Well, she doesn't really know, because she's not paying much attention to him. She just snaps her fingers in his directions to shut him up.

"Let the man answer the questions, Q. Then you can have your turn again," Ninja says, never taking her eyes from Logan's face.

Madeline's jaw clamps tight at Andi's question to Logan. If it's possible, it makes the most sense and will give them the greatest edge. She already knows his answer without even hearing it, and she knows she will be the one left behind waiting... again. If it were not for the children, she would go with him. They are the only reason she would stay here. Andi's talk of the state she was in while Pablo was gone...

Madeline has already been down that path once. Logan had been the one who had kept her sane. Now...


I will be right by your side.

She turns to look at Logan, to let him know that she knows and will not disagree. All this she says with only a look.

Logan meets her gaze and chuffs, an affectionate sound, then looks to Ninja. "Yes."

Through clenched teeth, Madeline adds, "We need every edge we can get."

Andi watches Maddie in the moment it takes Logan to make his decision, understanding all too well how Logan's journey could affect her. She has the advantage of being prepared. She has the advantage that Logan only needs to spend as much time in that world as it takes to get the scent of the Shadow. She has the advantage that Logan is so much more capable than Pablo at defending himself.

And she has Rene.

And her, too, if she can be of any help at all.

She nods to Logan, then turns to Quetzalcoatl.

If a snake could froth at the mouth, this one would be frothing. It takes no special skill to see that this is one demi-god who is totally losing his shit. He's barely holding onto the serpent form; Ninja can see the occasional flash of his true form as he spins crazily in front of her.

"NO! No, he is not allowed there! He is not of my People! He has no business there!"

That's it. She has had all she's going to take from this sanctimonious prick this evening.

She lifts one foot and places it back on the floor in a very precise position and angle relative to her torso... lifting it no more than an inch and angling it out no more than five degrees. As her arms uncross, she does the same with her other foot.

"You will, Quetzalcoatl, because I — the Wife of your Chosen One, the bearer of the soul and heart and energy we share, the Mother of any children he might see to adulthood — demand it."

Quetzalcoatl is becoming either enraged or insane. Or both. She supposes with something from another dimension, it could be hard to tell.

"NO!" he repeats.

She stares at him for several seconds, then looks at the Jacobs Pack. Ice tempering her Fire. Good.

Raven meeps questioningly, sounding a little worried. She looks down at it.

"How long was I unconscious before you were able to find my mind?"

A very long time, my Little One. I could not reach you until your Beloved returned.

She nods as she pulls one of the phones from her pocket. Ninja's phone. She presses the first speed dial, and before he can even say anything, she says, "Sit down. Put your head down. Close your eyes. You're going to feel queasy for a few minutes. Do it now." No need to tell him his ancestral pest is about to get a beating. Then she hangs up and puts the phone back in her pocket, and looks down at Raven again.

"You're either going to be part of this, or you're not. Decide now. But where you're standing at the moment is a dangerous place to be."

Raven squawks and waddles over to stand just behind her, almost between her feet. Part of this, then. As she closes her eyes and raises her hands to the level of her zhong dan t'ien — palms facing one another several inches apart, arms and shoulders creating a circle, everything relaxed, so relaxed — she begins the circular breathing and the qi circulation... pulling qi from below, from Mother Earth, pulling qi and power softly and gently from Pablo into her xia dan t'ien on the inhale... pulling qi from above, from Father Sky, returning love and qi through the zhong dan t'ien to Pablo on the exhale. Pablo becomes part of the metaphysical circle, as does Raven when it rests the tips of its wings against her ankle bones. With every inhale her hands move farther apart, with every exhale she can see the ribbons of qi that define her body growing brighter and brighter.

To Raven, to Rene, to Quetzalcoatl... it is obvious something is happening beyond a simple Qigong exercise. For Maddie, Logan, Sanchez... Well, she doesn't think that there's any way for them to see, to know what she's doing. Even for those who can see, they have no idea what she's doing, as she senses puzzlement and, from Quetzalcoatl, distrust.

Once her hands are as far apart as possible and still able to maintain the circular aspect of body and arms — well beyond shoulder width, truly at the point of "hugging the tree," and a rather large tree, at that — she opens her eyes, which are glowing now with a golden light similar to the green glow of Pablo's when he is caught up in his powers. The loose strands of her hair flutter as if in a gentle breeze. She looks directly at Quetzalcoatl. She suspects it's the glowing eyes that causes the serpent to become utterly still, although it could also be the power of wind that she's borrowing from Pablo, too.

She's fairly certain he knows this is not a good sign.

He may even be coming to the realization that she wasn't kidding when she said that she and Pablo are One.

She flicks her palms outward then makes a scooping motion with her fingers, throwing a net of qi over the serpent, then quickly brings her hands together in prayer position to close the net.

Quetzalcoatl is royally pissed off and fluctuates between his serpent form and the colorful energy being he is in his own dimension.

"You cannot do this, Night Walker! Release me!" he screams.

"And yet, it seems I have done this, O Quetzalcoatl, once god to my Soulmate's people.

"You claim to be a foe of the Shadow, yet you refuse to allow one who tracks better than any human access to the scent of that which must be tracked.

"I question your motives, Quetzalcoatl. And I call you a liar."

Once again, the serpent stills and remains in its chosen form for this world. He hisses angrily at her.

Like I give a shit.

"You should not be able to do this!"

She moves her hands down a fraction of an inch, tightening the net.

"I can't begin to tell you how tired I am of your constant and repetitive refrains of you can't and you shouldn't and, oh... let's not forget you're not worthy," she says softly. "I'm a big believer in their being multiple answers and solutions to any given problem.

"However, right now, in your case, Little Buddy... it's very black and white. You are either with us, or you are against us. There are no impartial bystanders in this fight... not at this level. Not when we're talking about Super Heroes and mutants and energy beings from other dimensions.

"Now, I'm going to ask you again, very nicely... despite the rising anger I have...

"Will you take Wolverine to your prison dimension for a period of time long enough for him to adequately obtain the scent of that which we hunt, and not one moment longer...

"Or will you continue to be an obstructionist and a sanctimonious prick by denying us tools we can use in this fight?"

She lowers her hands another centimeter.



Quetzalcoatl glares at her for long seconds, before finally hissing at her again.

"You have made your point, Night Walker. Release me, and I will guide him."

She smiles that oh so nasty Ninja smile.

"Swear it on the life of your Chosen One and all his descendants that you will do as I have asked: take Wolverine to your prison dimension, and return him here the moment he indicates he is ready to return."

Quetzalcoatl hisses again.

"I so swear."

Ninja smiles sweetly. "See? That wasn't so hard, was it?"

She spreads her arms wide as she drops to one knee on the floor, keeping her eyes on Quetzalcoatl as she releases him from the net. Had Raven not flopped to the floor like a rag doll, she'd be sitting rather uncomfortably — for both of them — on its head. She sends energy to Pablo, and bleeds off the rest of her excess qi through the building — fortunately an old, old building made of natural materials like brick and stone — to Mother Earth.

She looks at Maddie. "You should sit down."

Then at Rene. "Hold her close, as I know you will."

She stands and pulls out her phone again, hitting the speed dial.

"How are you?" She sighs with relief. "Just having an argument with your ancestral pest, nothing to worry about." She shakes her head. "No... no, I don't think so. I believe he's rather miffed at the both of us at the moment. We'll talk later." And then she smiles at his final words. "I love you, too."

She closes the connection and puts the phone back in her pocket, then looks at Logan.

"Whenever you're ready, Wolverine."

While Ninja has her showdown with her Husband-Mate's Spirit guide — whatever it is that she is doing that makes Madeline's hair stand on end — Madeline has eyes only for Logan. She is not worried that he will be injured or killed, but she does know that what is between them now will be strained. She is apprehensive, more about how she might react than anything else. Her bond with him literally goes to a genetic level, his DNA having bonded with hers via their children. It is on an instinctive, animalistic level that baffles those that understand exponentially more about mutancy and genetics than she could ever hope to...

She knows their bond has changed again, has evolved into something more. The change is new, untried, untested. As similar as it is to her bond with Rene, it is different enough to leave many questions. She carefully and precisely removes her double shoulder holster with its twin nines and offers it to Sanchez.

"It's better if I'm not armed."

She vividly remembers the carnage she had caused after Rene died and Stryker had been taken from her grasp. She had run out of ammunition long before she had run out of rage and madness. Blood had run in rivers before she used what Vincent taught her to bring the dam down. She had not fully come back to herself until five year old Leon's arms had been about her neck, and he had complained about the muck she was covered in.

Sanchez takes the weapons and places himself as far away as possible, heeding the multiple warnings in the tone.

Logan crosses to her, and they embrace long and hard. He buries his face in her hair and neck, filling his nostrils with her scent, imprinting it once again in his mind.

She turns her head into his neck and does the same then whispers, "Don't be gone long, Mate."

"Be back before you know it, Mate," he gruffly returns.

"You'd better be."

They kiss then, loving and tender, and part with difficulty. As he approaches the flying serpent, she sinks to the floor into a meditative pose. There is no predicting what part of her will surface when he crosses over, and it is best to start in the calmest place possible. As she begins the breathing part of it, Rene kneels behind her and places his hands on her shoulders. She gets to that place of calm water, looks up at Logan and gives him a single nod.

Logan tilts his head as he inspects the serpent once again. "I'm ready."

All Andi remembers of her existence when Pablo made his journey to that other place is the vividness of his back as he had walked out the door; the echoing thunder of the sound as it closed; the fall from standing to... the eternity of a belief that she was dead so deep that it took another eternity to convince her that she had only been in a coma; the return from death to know her husband as a stranger.

She reaches out instinctively for Pablo's essence and find him beside her, surrounding her, filling her.

Her momentary panic... stilled, eliminated, forgotten.

She doesn't know how Quetzalcoatl had transported Pablo, but as she stands opposite the spot where Maddie sits in meditation, she knows she is about to learn.

It is as simple as blinking.

One instant the serpent hangs in the air and Logan stands facing him.

The next instant, both are gone.

Andi drops to the floor in a fighting kneeling posture in front of Maddie, hoping that all she will need to do in the short time Logan is gone is meditate.

She catches Maddie's eyes, seeing the madness that could easily overtake her. Palms up on her thighs — a defensive posture for her, a meditative posture for anyone else — she whispers, "Stay with us, Maddie."

It happens in less than a heartbeat, the transfer from one place to another. The atmosphere alone of this other place sets off every instinctive warning Logan has. His hackles raised, he rumbles out a growl and extends his claws. Then it begins...

Even in the meditative pose, Maddie's entire body tenses in the beginnings of a fight or flight response. Her eyes remain open but she sees nothing around her. Her hands curl into fists and the veins jump with her quickened pulse. She growls low in her throat and snarls, then suddenly pitches backwards in something akin to a seizure.

Rene catches her and holds her, using himself as both cushion and shield. He wears a frown on his handsome face, and it is painfully clear he is trying to reach her...

I'm here, Maddie... Stay with me, stay in control... Maddie? Can you hear me, Maddie? ... Maddie? Maddie?!

Then a thread of thought so very faint he almost does not catch it, the words forced out with difficulty...

Just... keep... talking...

Her mouth opens but no sound comes out. Rene, however, flinches, his eyes squeezing shut tightly as he holds her twitching body. Watching closely, her movements are not random but rather telepathic in the way a fighter's are, signaling strikes and counters. She fights whatever Logan fights on that other plane.

Andi watches Maddie and Rene, instinctively knowing that a foreign touch could prove more than just excruciatingly painful to all of them. So she watches helplessly as Maddie seems to fight along with Logan, watch as Rene does his best to keep Maddie from harming herself, but mostly she watches the qi.

She can see Maddie's connection to Logan, and because of it — when she looks slightly to her left — she can just barely see Logan through the veil between the worlds. Except... except there is no portal here to see through. It's like watching an old movie through the film of a gauze curtain.

She sees the things Pablo had described — the car-sized multi-legged creatures, the humanoids that seem to ooze the filth of the Shadow, the small misshapen things that might once have been creatures from our world — and other things more terrifying that he never spoke of, still refuses to this day to speak of. She sees Logan fighting, slashing with those frightful claws of his, all the while breathing in the scent of the place and the scent of the inhabitants. One of the humanoids — one who looks enough like the one who returned to their world with Pablo that it makes her gasp — tries to jump on Logan's back, teeth bared and clearly aiming for his neck.

But Logan's reflexes are faster than Pablo's will ever be. He rolls to the side, slashing as he does so — cutting the skanky slut to ribbons — and continues his roll so the pieces drop to the ground rather than on him. The spiders are more slow moving, but they're moving towards him nonetheless. Another humanoid rushes him as he leaps to his feet; that one is met with a fist under his chin. The fact that Wolverine's claws are extended makes a simple jaw breaking punch into instant death as adamantium claws pierce the humanoid's brain.

That seems to give the inhabitants pause. This one, they recognize, is not prey but predator... more dangerous than even they are. They begin slinking off, to find something or someone easier to kill.

Then Madeline is still, and Rene lets out the breath he has been holding. Touching her mind he had seen what she saw, felt what she felt.

He looks over her to Andi. "They'll be back soon."

What he adds next he cannot explain, either why he says it or how he knows it. "Their bond is Primal."

When Rene speaks, she turns back to him with glowing eyes, almost hissing before she realizes where she is. Her lao gong points burn with pain. She hopes Pablo's don't.

"Yes. I know."

The denizens of that realm give him more than respectful space now that he has cut through quite a few of their number. He stands ready for another attack. He is not even breathing hard and seems to almost relish the combat. But no more come forward to risk his wrath or his skill or the reach of his deadly claws.

"I have it," he announces.

He cocks his head as if listening to a question no one can hear but him. The answer that comes from him is one he has said times innumerable...

"I'm very good at what I do..."

"And what I do isn't very nice," is spoken by two voices.

Logan and Quetzalcoatl return while the Wolverine is mid-sentence. Madeline's voice holds the same timber as his as she speaks in unison with him. It is a sentiment that is absolutely true of both of them.

Rene helps her sit up, then stand. She rolls her shoulders then cracks her neck as the combat fueled adrenaline dies down from her system, the blood lust receding much more slowly.

"That was some shit," she comments to no one in particular.

The stuff of nightmares to some, she supposes. In her mind they pale in comparison to her own nightmares, but perhaps that is what makes her able to stare in the abyss without flinching.

Logan takes the two steps needed to come face to face with her. They eye each other as if sizing each other up. She grimaces and speaks first, challenge in her tone, "You have the stink of that place on you."

He gives a chuff, leans in a touch and sniffs at her, then responds, "If you are willing, I would have the stench off of me."

The challenge falls away from her posture.

"Mate," she says, relieved.

"Mate," he echoes.

They hug, holding on as the Primal part of them return to the background and the more "civilized" part comes to the fore. It is a few long minutes before either speaks again.

"We have what we need," she finally says.

Then she holds out a hand towards the police captain. "I'll take those back now, thank you."

Sanchez brings them over, and she manages to slip them on without losing contact with Logan.

Ninja stands the moment Quetzalcoatl and Wolverine blink back into existence, the qi disbursing throughout her body as she no longer feels an attack is imminent.

"Yeah, some shit," she mutters as she stares at Quetzalcoatl. "No wonder Pablo still has nightmares."

Logan does, indeed, stink of that place. It is the same stench Pablo's hitchhiker had, and the smell causes a tendril of worry to reach out towards her husband. The tendril is met with confusion, and reassurance. And love.

As Sanchez hands Maddie's guns back to her, Andi looks at him... the glow in her eyes dying down.

"You should probably go now," she says.

He hesitates for a moment. "You're sure?"

She nods. "Plausible deniability, remember?"

A brief smile cracks his features. "Mind if I send Garcia to the next party?"

She returns the smile. "You had the necessary files."

"Next time, I'll know better, politely decline your invitation and send them with him," he says.

She shrugs. "Probably wise, although I think tonight's show would have upset him a bit much." She glares at Quetzalcoatl.

"Any message I should pass along when I get back to the station?" Sanchez has his hand on the doorknob, ready to leave.

She looks at the Captain again, considering. Finally, she shakes her head almost imperceptibly. Some things are not the stuff messages are made of.

"Just that I hope we both manage to make it home tonight at a reasonable hour," she says, the Super Hero put on the shelf for a moment, the wife clearly evident.

He opens the door. "I'll do what I can from my end to make sure that happens." And then he was through the door, closing it softly behind him.

She looks at the door for a moment, wishing — just for an instant — that she was going home now, to her husband, to her heart, to the other half of her soul. She turns, however, looking at Maddie... Rene... Logan. Then her eyes fasten on Quetzalcoatl.

"Is this one needed here any longer?" she asks.

Logan, Madeline, Rene... the three of them have closed ranks without thought or communication. She is the common link between the two men, and so she holds the center position. They each have an arm around her, and she has her arms around them. They have connections of spirit, soul, heart and mind. Together they form a triumvirate, one that offer unwavering support to those who stand with them. To those who stand against them, they are the wall upon which the enemy will dash themselves.

In response to Ninja's question, they all shake their heads and answer in unison, "No."

At the unison declaration that Quetzalcoatl's presence is no longer needed, she gives him a snarl of a grin and he blinks out of sight.

I'm going to hang out with my buddy!

She looks down at Raven and shrugs.

"Sure, go have fun. Just don't destroy anything or come back to drive me crazy tonight." She pauses for a second. "Unless it's an emergency."

Raven launches itself into the air, spins dizzily with happiness for a few seconds, then becomes insubstantial before flying through the wall and out into the night.

Once the serpent is gone, Madeline clears her throat. "Going through these files is going to take a while, Andi. You don't need to stay unless you want to."

"As I told Garcia the other night, investigation isn't exactly my thing. And this is slightly outside the realm of research a librarian might come across."

She takes up her staff from where she had leaned it against the wall earlier.

"While I suspect your methods may be of great interest to part of my personality, the kinder and gentler part of me should probably be taken home and tucked into bed, preferably with her husband," she says with a smile.

She looks at the three of them, individually and as a unit.

"I can't thank you enough for your help. I'll see you in about twelve hours."

Then she slips out the door before anything more can be said. Her emotions are far too close to the surface at the moment, and a lengthy round of Thank you. No, thank you. No, really... thank you! would just about do her in.

Rather than taking the elevator, she walks down the stairs, pulling Andi's phone out of her pocket and speed dialing. Damn, she has too many phones!

"Garcia." He sounds tired. Close to exhaustion.

"I'm out of work, heading home. Come home now?"

"I'd love to, Andi, but there's just so much still to do." Make that right on the brink of exhaustion.

"Captain Sanchez is on his way back to the station, and he will — if I read him right — order you to go home. Leave him a note, get your butt out of there, and meet me at home." She pauses as she reaches the bottom of the stairwell, and leans against the wall with her eyes closed.

"The paperwork will still be there tomorrow.

"You need food, you need sleep, you need a chance to reconnect with your Beloved. Your Beloved needs the same.

"Meet me at home?"

She can hear his sigh, the sound of papers shuffling, and another sigh.

"Okay. Do we have anything in the house to eat?"

"Besides Bobby's sugar laden offerings? Not much. I'll order pizza when I get home. That okay?"

He chuckles. "That'll be perfect. And if you're ordering from Angelo's, a large house salad would be great, too."

She smiles. "Of course I am... and of course I will. I'll see you soon, husband. I love you."

"I love you, too, Andi."

She slips the phone back in her pocket after they disconnect, takes a deep breath and heads out into the lobby. There's a different person at the desk, but the concierge notices her and scrambles off to an office somewhere, while she laughs.

Heading out into the cool Colorado night, she looks up at the beauty of the stars and smiles. There was never any question that she would allow the Shadow to destroy this. She is truly thankful to have the help of three more Supers; especially these three.

Because it's still early enough for Bobby and David to be up and about, she pulls her jacket from one of the saddlebags and slips it on, then zips it up as a good cycle citizen would. After putting the staff in its holster, she puts her helmet on and tucks the braids down the back of her jacket so they can't be seen.

Fifteen minutes later, she's pulling into her garage, and looking forward to a quiet — well, perhaps not completely quiet — evening with Pablo.

# # #

There is a long moment of quiet after the door closes behind Ninja, the only sound in the room the rhythmic breathing of three people drawing breath as one even if one of them no longer has the need to draw breath.

"What an odd place that was," Madeline says, her voice quiet. "Primeval. Half expected dinosaurs the way it felt."

"Did you see all of it?" Logan asks.

"Yes. Like I was there inside your skin with you, riding behind your eyes. Rene?"

"Oui, I saw everything as well, though more removed. That thing with all the teeth that went for the back of your neck? It likes to use those."

There is a tremor from Rene that runs through their bond. He brings forth the image for them both to see.

He is on his knees, blindfolded and arms bound behind his back. He is shaking his head, plainly refusing to do whatever they are demanding of him. Someone forces his head forward and injects something into the back of his neck. Then there is a whisper in his ear that Madeline is looking for him, trying to find him, call to her...

"Maddie? Maddie, where are you?"

"Rene?" he hears her call back.

Then there is searing agony as one of those things fastens on to him. Although he could not see with his eyes, he knew what it was.

He cries out her name, "Maddie! Help me!"

"I'm coming, Rene!"

There is more but he stops it there. That is all that is needed.

"That was the night It came after me," she states, "the night Charles knew for certain you were still alive."


And almost as if he was summoned by the thought, Charles is there in her mind.

Madeline? Is everything all right? The children have been worried.

Although he has not directly touched either of their minds before, both men recognize his "voice," their bond right now allow them to hear him through her.

Yes, Charles, for the moment it is, she answers him, but we have reason to believe Stryker is up to his old tricks again here in Denver, along with his... friend... from the other place, the Thing that was helping him control the mutants.

Are you sure, Madeline? he near demands, then there is puzzlement from him. Is that Rene there with you? And... Logan?

Yes, Charles, very sure. And, yes.


It's complicated. I'll attempt to explain it later. But please, just keep the children safe. Logan and I will do what we need to here, as will Rene. We will call in the morning via video if that's all right with you.

Yes, of course.

There is a mental throat clearing from Rene. Do you mind if I stop in, sir?

There is understandable hesitation from Charles as he refocuses on the part of the mind trio that is Rene. Sorry, son, just had to be sure. Of course. You will be visiting Leon I take it?

No need to apologize. I understand and appreciate it. Yes, Leon, but I would like to look in on Emelia and Vincent as well. Probably be best with you and Leon in the room.

Certainly. When do you expect to do this?

I am aiming for tomorrow morning, though time gets a little funny for me sometimes.

Very good. Come see me first.

There is a feeling of embarrassment or perhaps guilt from Rene as he asks, Is your office in the same location?


I will see you soon then.

Soon... I will take my leave of you now. Remember, Madeline, I'm just a call away.

I remember, Charles. We will speak with you in the morning. Good night.

Good night.

His mind touch fades from them. Reluctantly, they break their physical contact with one another and become mostly individual beings again.

"Now the tedious part," she says as she looks over at the boxes of files.

"You don't really mean to read all of them tonight do you?" Rene asks.

"No, but I mean to scan them in and upload them to the data repository Freak set up for me. He's waiting to set his talents to work on them. Thankfully, I also have that OCR program he tweaked to actually work properly. Of course, I'll flag anything that catches my eye, but I'll leave the data mining to the experts."

Logan goes to the in-room safe and opens it, pulling out her electronics and setting them on the table.

"You don't have to stay for this either, you know," she tells Rene.

He smiles knowingly. "You'll get caught up and have to be shoehorned out of your chair, but I'm fairly sure Logan can manage that without me."

"I can," Logan agrees. "And I will."

There is a shared laugh at that.

Rene caresses her cheek, hugs her then kisses her forehead. "I'll be seeing you, Maddie."

"See you, Rene."

He turns and gives her Mate a jaunty salute. "Logan."


Then he is gone, and it is just the two of them again.

"Is the wine gone?" she asks as she goes to the computer and boots it up.

"Yeah. Whiskey?"

"Sounds perfect."

He brings over a highball of straight whiskey then one of the banker's boxes. She is connecting the small high speed scanner as he does so.

"Thank you, love," she says, taking a sip.

"I'm going to grab a shower while you get started."

She tilts her head at him curiously. "You wouldn't rather go for a run?"

He shakes his head. "Don't want to be that far from you."

She smiles. "Don't want you to either."

Then she kisses him. "After these are done, I'll help you get the rest of that stink off."

He grins at that. "I'll hold you to that."

"You'd better."

She grazes from the food still left and continues to drink as she gets the files input into her system. Overall, it is a fairly quick process between the scanner and the voice recognition. Of course, these are not off the shelf products, but things customized for her use. She is an eighth of the way through the first box when Logan returns from his shower.

He also sits at the table, taking the opportunity to take in more protein and the whiskey. He leaves the room briefly to get more from the bar directly while Madeline continues to work. In all, it takes about three hours to get everything scanned in and then uploaded to the secure repository. Once it is there, she calls Freak.

"It's all there and ready for your magic, my man."

"Anything in particular you're looking for?" comes his nasally voice.

"We have reason to believe Stryker's pulling the strings."

There is silence from the other end. Freak got his nickname for a number of reasons, most of which would make the average person somewhat uncomfortable. But there are lines even he will not cross. And Stryker had willfully crossed all of them while justifying it in the worst possible way. This time when he speaks there is a hard edge to his voice.

"I'll cross reference with the other data and see if there's anything new in the traps. I'll call you when I have anything."

"Thanks, man."

"And, Madeline?"


"This one's on the house. I'll be calling."

With that he disconnects.

She gets the files put back in the boxes and shuts down her equipment, then drains the most recent glass. She drops her head forward then, closes her eyes and rubs at her temples with a long sigh. Logan comes over and starts rubbing her shoulders.

"Anything?" he asks.

"Lots and nothing. There is something there, but I can't quite find the true common denominator..."

"Maybe you just need to sleep on it."


"Come to bed then. You still need to help me with the rest of that stink."

Stilling his hands with her own, she tilts her head back to look at him and smiles. "Yeah, I do don't I?"

He leans down and kisses her...

# # #

Andrea goes through her usual coming home rituals — doffing the Ninja outfit and the braids, making sure everything is put away in the proper places — before placing the call to Angelo's. She opts for two medium pizzas: Pablo's favorite for him, heavy protein for her — extra sausage, some salami, some beef, and extra cheese — plus two salads and an order of their cheesy garlic bread. She remembers eating breakfast... she has no recollection of lunch, and dinner was interrupted by... well... stuff.

Pablo's timing and the Angelo's delivery gal's timing are perfect; Pablo comes through the back door just as she's opening the front door, so he buttons his jacket rather than take it off — delivery people do tend to get a little nervous around guns — and carries the various boxes and bags to the kitchen while she pays for the order and tips the driver.

"Were you planning on feeding an army tonight, dear?" he calls out as she closes and locks the front door.

She chuckles. "No. But I think I skipped lunch, dinner got interrupted and I did a lot of work today. I have a serious need for protein," she says as she helps unpack dinner, sets out plates and flatware on the table, and fills a couple of large glasses with water.

Before sitting down, however, she wraps her arms around him and rests her head on his chest. Hearing his heartbeat, feeling their qi swirling through them and enveloping them, feeling his arms around her... it all makes her feel safe and warm. She knows it's an illusion — the safety, that is — but she's grateful for her momentary illusion nonetheless. After a kiss that causes her heart to race, she says, "I think we'd better eat dinner, husband, before it becomes breakfast."

His smoldering and hungry look nearly does her in — again — but she wasn't kidding when she had said she needed to load up on protein. Woman cannot live on qi alone! She pulls away, reluctantly, and sits down at the table.

Dinner is a quiet, soothing, peaceful time... a time to feel like two ordinary people, if only for the time it takes to fuel their bodies. As expected, there is plenty of food left over for breakfast. Despite what Bobby might believe, a muffin and some coffee is not a sufficient breakfast. Well, okay, it might be sufficient for a librarian. But this is most assuredly not a week for librarian work.

Pablo and Andi have reached the point of working in concert here in the kitchen, which is an amazing task given the size of her kitchen, so cleaning up and putting leftovers away takes little time and hardly any effort. He catches her around the waist as she puts the last of the pizza in the fridge and nuzzles her neck.

"I'm still hungry," he whispers before his teeth lightly catch her earlobe, sending shivers through her whole body.

"You should have eaten all your pizza," she manages to say as his lips travel down her neck. It's very hard to speak or think or... well... right... think when he does that. She feels herself being lifted in his arms, those lips once again finding hers. They're lost for a while... who knows how long? He has the ability to make time stop more thoroughly than even her Taiji practice.

"I was saving room for dessert," he says, as he unerringly walks then to the bedroom, his eyes never leaving hers.

She smiles, her heart so very full of love. "Good thing I saved room, too." Right now, she can't even conceive of a time, and instant, without Pablo in her life.

Later... much later... they lie curled around one another, and she feels a restlessness in his qi that doesn't belong after such a perfect evening.

"Talk to me, love," she whispers.

There is no longer any surprise when she seems to know how he's feeling almost at the same moment he's figuring it out himself. He just runs his fingers through her hair; it's something that seems to soothe him as much as it relaxes her.

"What's been going on the last few days, Andi?" he asks, voice tinged with worry and a bit of fear.

She closes her eyes again and sighs. "Where do I begin?" she asks quietly.

That's the question. Just where does her involvement in this tale begin? With Rene, she supposes.

"A couple of weeks back, when I was up past Lookout Mountain dealing with those blasted mountain lions — who, by the way, have been purposefully tripping the prox alarms just so I'd come up and play with them! — I encountered..."

Yes, do tell, Andi. Just what was it that you encountered?

"Well, an anomaly of sorts. It was up near the Jacobs' cabin; I was practicing to while away the time, to stay warm, to store some energy after sending the first cat back up the mountain. All of a sudden, Raven was there telling me to Sing, and going on about someone being trapped. So I Sang, and opened a portal.

"Turns out the owner of the place... well, the husband... was stuck in some other dimension. Wanted to warn his wife about something bad that was coming along."

She snuggles closer, needing desperately to be held, because her damn Curse doesn't let memories just fade away as they should. It doesn't let memories soften in the least bit. Every single one is as bright and crisp as the day the memory was formed. Rene's pain just makes her want to hold Pablo tightly, so tightly, and never let go.

"I'm just going to make a really long story very short. Rene Jacobs had been used as a weapon by this Shadow your ancestral pest foretold about ten years ago or so. He died in the fight against it then, but because he had the same sort of bond with his wife that we had before... before you went off on your adventure with Quetzalcoatl, he couldn't actually cross to the realm of the dead."

She takes a deep, shuddering breath. Ah, how hard it is to speak of this!

"Just as you would not be able to cross to the realm of the dead without me."

She lets her fingers brush against the side of his face, almost as if she needs the assurance he will always be with her... despite knowing, knowing with utter certainty that they will never be parted. Not in life. Not in death. Not even by death.

"He wanted to warn me, he wanted me to warn his wife, that the Thing — as they called it — was returning, was coming ever closer to our world, that it was sniffing about in the dimension he found himself trapped in. I had two separate conversations with him that night, but since we already knew this thing was coming, I didn't think it was worth mentioning that I had a conversation with... well, not quite a ghost... and that I'd promised to alert his wife if possible, and to let him know when I knew she'd be returning to the area.

"Since she and her little boy left the day Rene was kidnapped and an auto accident made to look like it was him killed, I had no way of knowing when — or even if — she'd return.

"But here's the thing... sometimes, briefly, he'd be able to still find his wife from the dimension he was in. Time flows differently there and all that, yes. But..."

No. Some things even Pablo — Peacekeeper, our newest Super — should not know without Maddie's consent.

"...but I think he was in a slightly bad place — nothing like the place your ancestral pest sent you — but bad enough that he had to watch his back, and couldn't watch his wife all the time.

"Raven and I were pretty sure we could get him to move to the realm of my People's Spirits... if my People's Spirits were willing to accept him, and if his wife was part of the... Dance? Yes, I guess it would be a Dance."

She shrugs.

"I promised him I'd try. If his wife ever came to town.

"Then on Thursday, I met with the top cop in Jefferson County... you remember that... and he let me know Mrs. Jacobs was going to be out here to clear out their cabin and... ah... munitions bunker out back.

"Friday night..."

She's silent for a long time, dealing with those damn memories that are always sharp and crisp. Pablo just holds her tightly, and words can't describe how much she appreciates that simple act of kindness.

"Friday night I spoke to him again, Rene I mean. Told him that his wife would be in town. Oh gods, Pablo! If you could have seen his face... such a beacon of light and hope.

"But he said the Thing uses mutant haters as its tools in this world." She shivers, not from cold but from a visceral fear. "The reemergence of the Knighthood is a bad sign."

She takes another deep, cleansing breath.

"Lunch with the Sheriff and the Jacobs family on Sunday, as you'll recall. Then Monday..."

She blinks.

"Damn, is that only today?"

He kisses her forehead. "Yes, love. Not for very much longer, but today is still Monday."

She shakes her head slightly. "Sometimes I wish I knew more swear words. Or... really, that your sweet librarian was more comfortable using them, for your fierce Warrior knows enough in several languages to peel paint from walls, as the saying goes." She chuckles softly. "Today's been one hell of a long week, Pablo!"

He brushes his lips across her cheek. "Everyone at the station is a little panicked about the return of the Knighthood, even if they have no feeling for... your friend, Sally. But we don't have anything, anything at all to go on."

She turns her head to meet his lips, a soft and gentle kiss before tucking her head against his shoulder again.

"We may have something for you soon. Let me finish my story though before you ask questions, okay?"

His fingers lightly trace a path down her side to her hip. "Okay," he says, in that tone of voice that means maybe... perhaps... if I don't distract you beyond all reason.

"Pablo..." she says with an edge of humorous warning in her voice.

He just chuckles, but moves his hand slightly so it's not likely to be as much of a distraction.

"Today... ah, so much I can't really share because it's not my place to share, but with Raven's help and the help of Rene's wife, I did manage to free Rene from the world he had been flung into when he... didn't quite die... into the world of my People's Spirits. They welcomed him, all of them. I think it's because he has such a good heart. But there was a very tear-filled reunion with father, mother and son. Ah, Pablo..." She can only sigh and smile as a tear or two of joy escapes. She wipes away the tears, then continues.

"I think I mentioned Madeline's — Mrs. Jacob's — new partner, spouse, significant other is a tracker. Well, I told her about Sally. And Ben and Dick. And, long story short, he was able to get a positive link between Sally and Dick. I'm assuming we'll turn up a connection with Ben, too."

Again, she's quiet for a few minutes. Pablo takes to running his fingers through her hair again. This, THIS is why her hair should be long and loose and free! Some people need drugs to calm themselves... she only needs her husband to run his fingers through her hair.

"We went up to Commerce City, partly to see if Wolverine could catch Ben's scent along with the ones who grabbed him... partly so I could tell Hank about Sally..."

Another breath. Another pause.

"He's old enough, he remembers when the Knighthood was active before. He's scared and worried for his people, and rightly so. But... but Madeline has a plan. Of sorts. I think."

She lets out a short laugh.

"It's a wacky, half-baked plan and I'm not even going to tell you about it, because it's crazy."

Then she smiles in the dark.

"I spent some time with the kids up there, though. They're all so... so much like ordinary, normal children, Pablo. They love to watch me practice. They love to hear me tell stories. They're just kids, just ordinary kids. And about a quarter of them were just dumped there by quote Normal unquote parents who didn't want the stigma of a child who wasn't perfect in their eyes.

"I'm not surprised there are groups who think Supers or mutants or Unfortunates or whatever you want to call us are the next evolution of the human race, and the Normals are a dying breed. I don't agree with them either, but... I'm not really surprised."

She sighs and breathes a few times.

"Had a nice chat with Jocko. You really need to come up there with me one of these nights, or days, to meet the folks. I need to introduce Peregrine around, too. Remember Jethon from Five Points who was worried about his daughter up there? She's doing really, really well... and has taken on the challenge of teaching Jocko to read. He's already at the high school level, which is more than I can say for some of the college students I see coming through the library!

"Anyway, after that... and thanks for taking the time to chat with me, beloved, sometimes just hearing your voice makes my day better. To be honest, that's been true for years.

"After that, I headed back out to Golden for the dinner meeting, which..."

She inhales... holds her breath... lets it out in a rush.

"...was a bit intense.

"A conversation on previous activities of the Thing or Shadow, and the man who fronted for it last time around. Seems to be the same guy again, although we don't have proof. Yet. Madeline's got her intel network sifting through the data Sanchez brought out.

"Looks like the Knighthood could be his foot soldiers, however... as much as they think they're at the top of the food chain.

"Explanation of what went down ten years ago when Maddie and the others faced off against this Thing."

She can feel her jaw tightening again, and she knows the waves of anger are washing over Pablo, too. She can feel the reverberation in their qi.

"That bad, love?" he asks softly.

"So much worse than that, Pablo. So much worse." She swallows hard and takes another cleansing breath. She realizes that she's been doing that a lot. "Madeline used the term 'extreme prejudice' in relation to eliminating this threat. I know there are things you can't do, things that are beyond the law. And while I may not always hold myself to the same standards, and while I will go beyond the law when I see a need, I only take a short step. What Madeline... well, like your Captain, it's best that you not know. Even I don't want to know much of it; only to the point where I can help. However, I completely agree that this threat must be eliminated, with extreme prejudice if necessary."

She pauses, then raises her face to his. Even in the dimness, she can see his eyes so clearly, she can see the worry there, the fear. She slides a hand behind his neck and pull him close for a kiss... long and sweet and full of life and need.

"I love you, husband. Nothing, in this world or beyond it, will ever separate us."


She places a finger against his lips. "Shhhh... I need to finish.

"These people... they can break anyone, beloved. So you must not allow yourself to be in a position where you come under their radar. You must stay safe."

"Andrea..." he says, a touch of machismo, but more frustration and anger, in his voice.

"No. Listen to me. Remember what that serpent of yours said... that you would be at my side when we face the Shadow. If you are not at my side, it means neither of us can face the Shadow and all is lost. For so your fate goes, so too does mine.

"And we MUST stand against the Shadow. We will not be alone. Madeline has promised her aid and the aid of her Mates. She and her team can take the hits better than either of us.

"But you and I... WE MUST STAND."

"Hear my words. Understand them."

She can feel the tension in him, and she waits for him to truly hear, to truly understand.

Finally he says, very softly, "I hear your words, wife. I understand them."

She smiles softly in the dark and kisses him again.


"Now they all wanted to know if it was possible to track the Shadow, the ones it controls, even ones that might be only peripherally touched or touched by degrees of separation.

"So Raven went to fetch your ancestral pest so we could question him..."


Again, she puts a finger over his lips.

"We'll be awake all night if you keep interrupting, darling," she says with a bit of a chuckle.

"Now, needless to say, your ancestral pest was not at all pleased. Like I cared. And, like the sneaky little snake that he is, it took quite a bit of repeated questioning before we could get any answer out of him.

"Then Wolverine wanted to get a scent of this Shadow. I suggested that Quetzalcoatl take him to that place... where he sent you. Wolverine is, shall we say, well suited for survival in that place? Quetzalcoatl, of course, threw a hissy fit.

"Also, ahhh, he... wasn't... um, very happy with the way we, ah, reforged our bond. But... I figure that's not really any of his business anyway. Kind of personal, you know?

"But he did finally agree to take Wolverine there. Weird. It was as if Madeline was right there with him. And I could see it all as though through a portal, but there wasn't a portal there. And it was a misty image."

She holds him tighter.

"But I could see well enough, love. I could see all the things you faced. Logan faced them for mere moments... and you lived in that hell..."

She has to take several deep breaths.

"...for three... years."

She can't help but let a sob escape.

"Oh, my beloved, I'm so sorry! I should have..."

Now it is his turn to shush her as he lays light kisses on her forehead.

"Hush, love. What's done is done. We are together again. And nothing can separate us, right?"

She is only able to nod.

"Then no regrets. We're stronger now, both of us. And I think that's what Quetzalcoatl meant to have happen, even if he doesn't care for our methods."

She can feel his smile. She feels the swirling qi flowing through both of them, feel the love that cannot be broken.

"So... what happened next?"

She smiles. How can she not? It's like Story Hour at the library... or telling stories to the children in Commerce City. Pause the story at the right time, and they all want to know what happens next. And her family says she can't tell stories!

"Wolverine returned. With the scent of the Shadow. Now... he can track it in our world.

"Beyond that, Madeline is just going through the Captain's files tonight and sending the information to her data analyst. I'll be going back up there tomorrow. But for now... it is just time for the two people on their honeymoon to... be on their honeymoon for a change."

"I couldn't agree more," he says, hands straying once again across her body and lips touching hers.

# # #

When the next morning rolls around, the stink is certainly off of Logan, to be replaced by a scent they both enjoy and add to as the sun brightens the sky. They stay in the cushiony comfort of the bed as they discuss the plans for the day.

"We need to secure those files but there isn't enough room in the safe," Madeline says as she pillows her head on his shoulder.

"One of the Humvees?"

"Still too accessible, though we should have one of them down here. I was thinking the bunker up at the cabin."

"Will need one to get them up there."

"Yeah, I'll buzz Mitch, get her to pick us and the boxes up."

"We should have breakfast first. Tank up for the day."


They order breakfast up then get out of bed. They are showered and dressed by the time it arrives; the room service person takes away the dishes from the night before. She calls Mitch as they eat and asks her to pick them up. She laughs when they tell her where they were staying. She is practically down the hall.

Minutes later they roll out in the Humvee, file boxes tucked in the back, and return to the cabin. It does not take long to secure the papers in the bunker and Madeline pulls out a couple more blades. The nice thing about steel is that it never has to be reloaded. That does not mean she doesn't take more ammo and autoloaders.

Mitch raises an eyebrow. "Going to war?"

"Maybe. Probably."

"Not inviting me?"

"I need you standing by with transport for folk who might need medical attention ASAP."

"So you want an ambulance?"

"Just keep the Humvee. A gauntlet run might be necessary."

"Roger that."

That settled and the files secured, Madeline calls Ninja.

# # #

Later... much later... it's not the sound of the jays that wakes her, but the phone.



Which phone?


THAT phone.

She grabs it off the nightstand and presses Talk.


© Kelly Naylor and Ividia Kt