Issue 9: Into the Future

Rene is gone by the time Andi gets out of the shower, although Pablo still looks worried.

"Are you sure you're okay, Andi? You scared me there."

She traces her fingers along the sides of his face and jawline, inspecting every millimeter of that beautiful face. Finally, she rests her hands on his shoulders and looks into those dark eyes so full of compassion.

"I promise I'm fine, Pablo. We — the Pentad — have a little bit of work to do so that Maddie and I can find a balance with this nonsense of our dying affecting the other one so much. But I'm fine. We'll be fine.

"Today, we're going to hear our friend sing with his chorus, and we're going to put up with the Human Tsunami fretting all the way through the concert. And then I thought we'd go out to dinner with Maddie and Logan and the twins plus the Human Tsunami and Saint David. How does that sound?"

He takes a moment to look at her face — the detective trying to spot a lie told by a suspect. She's surprisingly not the least bit upset by it. He nods then pulls her closer and holds her for what seems like an eternity.

"You are my highest priority, love. You and... and our children."

She feels his hold on her get even tighter.

"Tell me that wasn't a dream, Andi. Are you really pregnant?"

She smiles as she rests her head on his chest. She can hear his heart beating, she can feel the qi flowing through them, around them, spiraling between them.

"I am, Pablo. It wasn't a dream. I'm even going to call Maddie's friend — who is the wife of one of Ninja's contacts, the top cop in Jeffco — and ask her to be our midwife. I think that scares me the most."

He chuckles and she can feel the subtle vibrations of his chest.

"You're beginning to empathize with my situation then?"

"Mmm. I'm not sure the situations are parallel, but I can find enough similar points on the axes to make some comparisons."

"Is that Librarian Speak for yes?"

She giggles. "Probably more Computer Nerd Speak, but yes."

"Oh, good. I'd hate to think I'd fallen into another dimension where talk like that was considered normal."

She shudders. "I've had my fill of other dimensions, thank you. I'd like to stick with just this one for a while."

As much as Andi would like to just stand here all day with her husband, there are a few things she needs to accomplish before they head up to Arvada for Harmony's concert. So she reluctantly steps back and nods toward the bathroom.

"Your turn. Go now, or we'll be stuck in the bedroom all day," she says with a mischievous grin.

"And what would be so terrible about that?" he asks with a waggle of eyebrows.

"The Human Tsunami."

"Oh. Right."

"Exactly. Go. I'll throw something together for breakfast. You might get a peanut butter and egg pizza."


"I know," she agrees, wrinkling her nose in disgust. "I don't even know why I said that. It sounds thoroughly disgusting. Even worse than frozen Hot Pockets."

"I'm just going to go take a shower now and hope the Andrea I know and love will be here when I get out. That would be the one who has a relatively normal taste in foods, despite the frozen pea thing."

"Yeah... I'm hoping that Andrea will be here, too."

She can't deny that she takes a moment to admire the view as he walks away, but she dresses quickly. She checks for messages on all the phones. And then she heads out to the kitchen for coffee. Ah, the divine magic of programmable coffee makers!

As she takes her first sip of what she and Pablo refer to as Maddie's Heavenly Coffee, she opens the fridge to see if she can find any inspiration there. She supposes omelets and toast would work. And juice — they have juice. As she takes a second sip of coffee, she is once again ever so thankful for her excellent reflexes, for there comes not a tap, tap, tapping on her back door but a thunderous pounding.

She sighs and then sets the mug down on the counter.

She loves Bobbie. But sometimes...?

Sometimes, she would swear that the boy lives just to drive her insane.

She opens the back door to see her best friend standing there with arms laden with containers of food.

"Bobby, what the...?"

"Just let me set this stuff down, Andi. I'll probably have to bring more over later, but I tried to carry as much as I could in one trip."

She opens the door wider and lets him in. There have to be at least a dozen plastic containers stacked like Jenga pieces on top of his largest serving platter... which, by the way, can hold a thirty pound turkey with room to spare.

"What in the world is going on, Bobby?"

"Oh, I just did a little baking," he says as though this is the most reasonable thing in the world.

She's used to Bobby coming over bearing gifts of food. But this is more than he makes for most of his parties.

"The chorus is having a bake sale at intermission of both shows, and I offered to bake some stuff. David said I made too much."

Andi blinks. If he baked this much... and there's more at home... and what's left at home is too much...

"Good gods, Bobby, how much baking have you been doing?"

He's doing a damn good job of avoiding eye contact as he moves containers from his platter to her counter.

"Well, I made about twenty dozen cookies of seven or eight varieties. I lost count of the cupcakes. And then there are the coffee cakes, but David said they were a bit much for the bake sale, so you get a few and... and..."

Andi walks over to him and stops his almost frantic movements by grabbing one wrist. She's discovered over the years that his hands almost always need to be moving in tandem — immobilize one, and the other usually just stops where it is. He's considerably more upset than usual because his other hand keeps on moving containers onto the counter. She sighs, reaches over and grabs his other wrist, too.

Turning him toward her, she remembers to speak softly... like she would to a spooked animal or one of the homeless folks, or one of the Monks up in Commerce City.

"Bobby? Sweetie, tell me what's going on. I've never seen you like this."

He would rather look at her bare feet than her face.

"Aren't your feet cold?"

"Not really. Not yet, anyway."

He looks up in a panic. "I interrupted you! Oh my God, Andi, I'm sorry!"

His qi is a hot mess. Dear gods, and Andi thought she was an emotional wreck! She moves just fast enough that he can't escape the hug she wraps him in.

"Bobby, you did no such thing. I was just drinking coffee and trying to figure out what to make for breakfast."

He's trembling worse than an abused dog.

"I forgot to go to the grocery store yesterday, so I was probably going to make some Whatever's In The Fridge omelets. What's going on, Bobby?" she asks again. "You know you can tell me, right?"

He hesitates a moment before almost reluctantly wrapping his arms around her waist and returning the hug.

"I'm messing up, Andi. I'm going to lose him. What will I do if he leaves me?"

The poor guy is close to tears.

"Bobby... ah, sweetie. You've been under so much stress, and I haven't been a very good friend, have I? David's not going anywhere, hon."

He starts crying... at least it's quietly and not hysterically. All she can do is hold him and rub his back. She had no idea he was this insecure. Well, yes, she knew he was insecure. But she didn't realize it was this bad.

"So you overcompensated by filling your entire house with baked goods?" she guesses.

He nods against her shoulder. Hmm. She's going to have to change shirts, that's for sure.

"You're not going to believe me when I tell you he's mad crazy in love with you, are you?"

He shakes his head and continues crying.

That's when Pablo walks into the kitchen, his feet also bare. Bobby doesn't stand a chance of hearing him. Pablo's detective eyes take in the scene and Andi smiles weakly at him over Bobby's head. He smiles back, but warmly and confidently.

"Wow," he says, sounding almost reverent. "Bobby decided to open a second shop in our kitchen? Oooh, what in here?" He lifts the lid partially off one of the containers. "Chocolate chip cookies! Oh, please tell me these are all for me!"

Andi giggles and Bobby lifts his head, then tries to escape her grasp. Even Sweet Librarian Andi would manage to hang onto her distressed best friend... so he's not going anywhere.

"No," Bobby says dejectedly, rather than his usual snappish and half offended tone. "You have to share."

"Oh. Well, there seems to be enough. I suppose I can manage." Pablo closes the container and pours himself some coffee. "Okay, I'll be honest. This is more than I can eat in a week. So you must be opening up a shop in here, Bobby."

Bobby goes back to crying quietly on Andi's shoulder.

"Bobby baked a few things for the chorus bake sale and got a little carried away."

He's terrified, Pablito... convinced, absolutely convinced, that David is going to leave him.

"Well, more for us? Except... wow. Just wow. This is like... I don't know... my birthday or something!" He finishes removing the last few plastic containers from the serving platter.

Anything I can do to help?

"Is this cinnamon crumb coffee cake?! It IS my birthday! Did you see this, Andi? Now you won't need to make peanut butter and egg pizza for breakfast!"

He looks so bright and happy that Andi did not see that coming at her.

"EWWW!" she and Bobby say at the same time, although she is definitely more enthusiastic about her disgust.

I'm not sure that helped, but I guess it didn't hurt.

She steers Bobby over to the table and sits him down.

"Would you pour a mug of coffee for Bobby, Pablo?"

"Sure thing, dear."

As he fetches another mug of coffee, Andi sits down next to Bobby, preventing his escape.

Pablo puts a mug of coffee in front of Bobby and then tops Andi's off and hands it to her. She appreciates the aroma and the warmth for a couple of seconds, then takes a sip. As she sets the mug down, she notes that Pablo is doing his best to ignore the two of them at the table, while at the same time paying very close attention to Bobby. She looks at her best friend. She doesn't think she's ever — in all the years she's known him — seen him look so damn miserable.

"Bobby? Talk to me, sweetie. What's going on?"

Bobby shrugs half-heartedly and mumbles, "I think David's cheating on me."

Thank the Gods, Buddhas and Spirits that Pablo has done so much undercover work! He's in the role of Supportive Spouse and Friend at the moment and can actually pretend he didn't hear what Bobby said, what with being busy cutting up the coffee cake and setting it on plates.

And Andi? She just stares at Bobby.

"My friend, I am not going to pull any punches here. You are out of your ever-lovin' mind." She points toward the living room. "It would be just as likely for George Takei to transport down into my living room as it would be for David to be cheating on you."

He glances up, sighs wistfully, then looks back at the mug of coffee. "It's not hazelnut."

Pablo sets down a napkin and fork for each of them. "Nope, it's something special from Madeline's family. Try it, Bobby. It's great."

"Okay. It's still not hazelnut, though."

Andi slaps the back of his head. Lightly. This time.

"Andi!! You hit me!" Bobby says, rubbing the back of his head and staring at her.

"Did not."

"Yes, you did!"

At least he's showing a little emotion now, which is better than Despondent Bobby. Andi can't decide which version of Bobby she likes least... Insane Zombie Bobby or Despondent Bobby.

"Nope. I Gibbs slapped you. There's a big difference. Oh, thank you, dear," she says to Pablo as she takes the plate of coffee cake he offers her. He sets another plate in front of Bobby, fetches the third plate and his mug of coffee, then slides into the seat across from them.

"No, you hit me, Andi! I can't believe you hit me!"

"Oh, pish! It was a love tap at best, and besides... it was a Gibbs slap. Mmm. Mark Harmon."

Pablo laughs. "Is Gibbs back to being your favorite, or is it Abby this week?"

She grins back at him. "Now, Pablo... you know Gibbs and Abby are always going to be tied. The question is who's next in line?"

She raises her eyebrows at him before cutting off a piece of the coffee cake with her fork and transferring it to her awaiting taste buds.

"It's always a toss-up between Ducky and your nerd crush on McGee. It's a safe bet that I'm always going to like Ziva best."

"What are you two talking about? Pablo! Andi hit me!"

"NCIS... it's on Tuesday nights. It's excellent. And Andi gave you a Gibbs slap. That's different from hitting you." He, too, takes a bite of the coffee cake. "Mmm!" He pauses to chew and swallow. "This is perfect, Bobby! Just the right amount of cinnamon... don't you think so, Andi?"

She nods. "Oh, absolutely. This has got to be the best tweak to your recipe to date."

"Are you guys not paying attention here? Andi hit me!"

Absolutely single-focused on a minor detail... more than a little agitated... if I didn't know he was nuts, I would think he had been drinking. And then I would haul his bony ass to the drunk tank, Pablo says to her as they calmly eat coffee cake.

"So, we're really looking forward to Harmony's concert this afternoon," she says to Bobby. "I guess you're going to both of them, but David kept asking over and over and over which performance we were going to attend. He's such a goof. Anyway, how about if the two of you come out for a light dinner between performances and you can meet Maddie and Logan and the twins?"

Bobby stares at her as she picks up her mug of coffee and takes a sip.

"Oh, so it's like that. You're just going to pretend nothing happened."

She rolls her eyes at him. "Sweetie, you are blowing this so out of proportion that any second now it's going to be bigger than the Convention Center. You said something so incredibly ridiculous about your most beloved, I bopped you... that's all there is to the story, dear."

Is his lip quivering? I love you with every atom of my being, Andrea my beloved. But I don't think I can sit through an episode of Sobbing Gay Man.

Andi sighs. That's all she can do, really. What she wants to do is give Pablo a scathing glare, perhaps even a Ninja stare. Great. Now she's rhyming.

Pablito, don't. There's something more than just Bobby's general paranoia and propensity for over the top theatrics when he's stressed out. I'm worried.

She sets the mug down again and puts an arm around Bobby's shoulders. "Honestly, Bobby... I didn't mean to make you more upset." She gives him a hug, and he closes his eyes as he rests his head on her shoulder. "Why don't you tell me about it?"

I'm sorry, Andi. I still don't have a good baseline on what's normal and what's not normal for the Human Tsunami.

She gives Pablo a hint of a smile.

I know. Sometimes I'm not sure I have a good grasp on what's normal for my loon of a best friend. I hate to have to do it, but I think I need to do more than just a surface scan.

"I'm scared, Andi," Bobby says, "I feel like he's pulling away. Most of the time, it feels like I can hardly even breathe. I'm losing him!" He turns slightly — there really isn't a lot of room in her breakfast nook for much more than that — and latches onto her as though she's his lifeline. His aura is pulsating with fear.

"Okay, hon... I believe that you believe it. I've never seen you so upset. Ever." She hugs him, then pats his back so she can rest her hand over his zhong dan tian. "You've always been there for me, Bobby, so it's my turn to be here for you. You can talk about it if you want, or you can just sit and let me hold you. We can stay like this until that naughty man who's got you so upset comes to break down the door looking for you."

"Don't try to make me laugh, Andi. Cheering me up isn't going to work."

"I wasn't actually trying to make you laugh. But I'll be quiet now."

He's quiet for quite a while, but that's fine. It gives Andi the chance to do as thorough a scan on him as she's been doing on herself lately. And she doesn't need to split her attention either.

"Would you feel more comfortable if I went into the other room, Bobby?" Pablo asks softly. "You and Andi have a history... I'm not really a part of that."

She looks at Pablo for an instant, clearly puzzled.

Don't worry... I know what I'm doing. He smiles slightly.

Bobby shakes his head against Andi's shoulder.

"You've been Andi's friend longer than I have, Pablo," he mumbles. "It's okay if you stay."

Andi can feel him trying to gather his courage, and she can see the knots and blockages along his meridians that are causing many of his problems. Good grief, if her friends don't stop hanging onto their pain and grief, they're all going to wind up with heart attacks! At the very least.

"He's been gone more and more lately, Andi," Bobby mutters. "I know he has a hard job. And I know the holidays make it worse. It's the chorus that..."

She just gives her friend a squeeze. She knows that Pablo will remember all his words. Right now, she needs to delve into his problems of the past that are causing the present to wreck him.

It's all right there in his heart. It's not the sudden, agonizing pain Pablo had that was a result of Rosalia's death, Juan's death. Bobby's pain is the slow chipping away at his confidence that his family's desertion caused. She can't do anything about that... not any more than she could heal Pablo's heart. She's always known that Bobby felt betrayed by his family. Most of the time, he's so good at hiding it, but there have been enough times he let small things slip out. It isn't hard to see that they hurt him badly. And yet, there's something else there about his family that he's still hiding... very, very deeply.

"It's normal for him to spend extra time rehearsing for solos or ensemble numbers. You know that, Andi. But this cycle..." Bobby almost seems to be vibrating with all his fear, although she knows it's really just her heightened senses.

She hears the tinkling of bells, high pitched and perfectly tuned.

Okay, it could also be the fact that Mother is still trying to give her the energy of the entire planet.

"He says it's just an extra hard solo he has, but I just don't feel like it's the truth, Andi!"

I don't know what David is up to, Pablo, but it's not the extra time spent singing that's bothering Bobby. Not exactly. It's just triggering old fears; he's been dumped more than once. She doesn't need to look at her Husband to know he's in full detective mode at the moment. It's something David isn't saying that's resonating with Bobby's hurt that his family caused. Whatever is going on here... well, it's as bad for him as it was for you to be holding in all your grief about Rosalia and Juan. It's affecting his lungs, too, not just his heart, but... well, I'm worried.

"What is it that feels off, Bobby?" Pablo asks, again speaking softly... almost as if he's trying not to spook a beaten animal. Andi suspects that might not be far from the truth metaphorically. "I'm a pretty good detective. Maybe if you tell us about it, something will click, hmm?"

Bobby clutches at Andi more desperately and tries to laugh.

"Andi says you're the best detective in Denver."

"Well, you know our Andi... the sweet librarian thinks the very best of everyone."

This time, she does spare him a glance... one that includes a bit of eye rolling.

"That's why we all love her so much, Pablo." Bobby is quiet again, and her scan isn't showing anything more than the pain of tightly held memories. "But... well... I'm not sure exactly what it is that scares me. Maybe just that he's spending so much more time with the chorus."

He lifts his head and looks at Andi.

"Andi, he's never had to work so hard on a solo before. I think he's seeing someone in the chorus. He's going to leave me."

"Bobby..." She searches his face and only sees his pain, his unwavering belief that David is cheating on him. "Bobby, maybe this is is really hard piece of music. They do exist, you know."

"But Andi..." He finally looks her in the eyes, and his fear seems to roll over her and swirl around them like waves and eddies in the ocean. "...he always tells me about his music. He won't even tell me what song it is that's so hard. I'm not a horrible singer. I've helped him before. But this time..." His lips press together tightly. He's trying not to break down. He's working harder than he ever has to hold in every tiny speck of emotion he has. "...this time, he's just shutting me out."

She moves her hands to the sides of his face. At the very least, Andi can give him the tiniest bit of energy to help calm his racing thoughts.

"Sweetie, I know you're scared. Even a blind person could see it. As Pablo said, I see the best in everyone, and I see how good the two of you are together."

Bobby latches onto her wrists and tries — weakly — to pull her hands away from him. "Andi, you have Pablo. You don't understand."

She shakes her hand and smiles sadly. "Oh, Bobby...

"Tell me... what do you see when you look at Pablo and me?"

Bobby blinks; he stops tugging on her wrists and moves his hands to her shoulders. She can see the tears forming in his eyes again, yet he's not going to cry.

"I see the most beautiful love I've ever seen," he whispers.

Andi smiles at him and lets her hands fall to his shoulders as she looks at Pablo.

"Me too." She can see the Bond so clearly between them. She can see how their qi leaps and spirals between them. More than any of them in the Pentad, she can see the energetic manifestation of their unique family... she can literally see the love.

Pablo's smile is so... well, it's the thing that most caught her attention when they first met. He has the most amazing smile. Denise's was fabulous, too. Andi loves her family, but if she's honest, the only person in the family who has a smile even close to the wonder of her Husband's is her Dad. Mama... well, Mama's smiles are on another level entirely.

Well, then, of course, there are Rene's smiles... those, too, are a whole other category altogether!

She looks back at Bobby. "Want to know what I see when I look at you and David?"

He closes his eyes tightly and shakes his head.

"Oh. Too bad!" she says cheerfully. "I'm going to tell you anyway... because you're a nincompoop.

"Bobby, what you see between Pablo and me is the same thing I see between you and David. It's the real deal, dork."

"If anyone cares about a detective's opinion, it's pretty damn obvious to me, too," Pablo agrees.

When Bobby opens his eyes, Andi sees so much pain there that she's glad to be sitting down. It still feels like she's being... she's not sure... maybe trying to stand her ground in the middle of a tornado?

{Daughter! Daughter!}

Last night's odd dream had helped her to feel so much calmer and more grounded... at least, it did up until a few seconds ago. At the moment, she's still a little worried about starting to glow with the amount of energy that Mother is trying to give her. She's only vaguely aware that Pablo has leaned across the table to take her hand from Bobby's shoulder and hold it gently in his. She's less aware of — she might actually be imagining it — Pablo taking Bobby's hand from her shoulder.

But the tornado has vanished.

Darling, you still need a grounding wire.

She blinks as Bobby turns to look at Pablo, very surprised to find that Pablo is holding one of his hands.

Ah... yeah. Mother and I need to work some of this out. And I need shields... well, I guess that's what they're called.

Pablo looks at Andi and Bobby with an expression of mild amusement; his gaze settles on Bobby, who is still staring at his hand in Pablo's grasp.

{Daughter... love} {Son... clever}

She manages not to grin at that. Yes, Mother. Father's son is very clever.

Pablo's eyebrow twitches as his eyes flicker to Andi, and then back to Bobby.

You're talking to the planet about me, which I have on good authority — yours, by the way — is something you can't do.

Maybe. And stop trying to make me giggle.

She can hear the footsteps on the driveway that no one else would be able to hear.

Maybe? Uh huh. Right. How's your best friend doing?

Slightly calmer, I think. David's about to...

David knocks on the door and then walks right in.

"There you are! I was starting to get worried, Bobby." He comes around the corner, takes in their admittedly unusual tableau, and grins as he slides into the seat beside Pablo. "A séance! That sounds like fun, but I thought they'd be spookier than this."

He rather neatly separates Andi's hand from Pablo's — although he can only manage it, of course, because both of them are willing to play whatever game he seems to be playing this morning.

Andi rolls her eyes at him. Pablo stares at his hand now being held by the Human Tsunami's boyfriend. Andi has a pretty good idea what Pablo is thinking and it almost makes her burst out laughing.

"David, you just wanted an excuse to finally come in here and hold hands with Pablo!"

She's very proud of herself for managing not to even snicker. Or giggle. Or anything.

David sighs and releases both of their hands. "You're too smart, Andi. It didn't even take you a minute to figure that one out. Darn."

Pablo Gibbs slaps him.

David rubs the back of his head as he looks first at Andi and then at Pablo. Finally, he looks at Bobby, and she can see his whole being light up as brightly as a halogen headlight.

"Oh, my God, I don't even understand what's going on here," Bobby practically whines. "First Andi hits me, and now Pablo's hitting you?"

David reaches across the table to take Bobby's hand. "I know dear. We need to escape from these crazy heterosexual people. Who knows what they'll do next?" He pauses, becoming more serious. "You been working so hard with us on the setup for the concert, Bobby. Did you want to take the morning off and come in with Andi and Pablo?"

He glances at Andi. "You guys wouldn't mind, would you?"

She doesn't even get a chance to say anything before Bobby interjects, "Is that what you want?"

She doesn't think she's ever seen David so sad.

"Oh, my dear, wonderful Bobby..."

He looks at his beloved with such intensity that Pablo has to turn away. Andi lowers her eyes, but she can't avoid the maelstrom of qi that's caused by their emotions.

"You know I want you to come with me, but I know you've also said you're exhausted and totally stressed out. I want whatever is best for you." He smiles with eyes twinkling and charm that almost rivals Rene's.

Bobby looks at Andi.


She looks up and meets his eyes. She can't believe how much pain she still sees there.

"Yes, Bobby?"

"If I decided to go later, with you and Pablo, would you mind? Much?"

She refuses to take her eyes from his, although the connection he shares with David flares brightly, almost demanding her attention.

"If you're so tired that you need more sleep... Well, with everything you have going on, I can understand how exhausted you must be. No, I don't mind in the least if you want to ride with us."

He considers that for a moment, then apparently decides that she actually is being honest with him. Ignoring David, he turns to Pablo and asks him the same question.

Pablo takes more time to consider the question and to give Bobby an answer.

"Despite the fact that you've tried to drive me out of what little mind I have left, I can relate to feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. So, sure. My answer is the same as Andi's... you're more than welcome to ride with us."

Bobby isn't as adept at figuring Pablo out, but he eventually nods his acceptance of his best friend's Husband's response. He looks at Andi again.

"Andi, do you think I'm exhausted and overwhelmed and whatever else Mr. McNair might be thinking about me?" he asks sharply. "Don't you dare lie to me, Andrea Yazzie!"

Calling David Mr. McNair is almost a punch in the gut to her; she can't imagine how much it hurts David. But she turns and wraps her arms around her best friend.

"Bobby, you know I wouldn't lie to you," she says softly. "And yes, I think you're overwhelmed by the idea of Christmas dinner with David's family, and I think you're exhausted from all the work you've been doing. I've been worried about you." Then she lowers her voice even more, whispering so only Bobby can hear. "And I think you love David so much that you're terrified he doesn't love you just as much. Big secret, just between you and me? I see the way he looks at you. It's as real as what Pablo and I have."

She pulls back a bit, leaving her hands on his shoulders. He hesitates. He wants to believe, and he's too afraid to believe.

"I swear to all the Gods, the Buddhas, and Great Spirit, Bobby."

He sniffs and then nudges her. "Then why are you in my way, Andi? Can't you see I need to get dressed to go with David to his concert?"

She chuckles as she gets up and lets him out of the breakfast nook. He heads straight for the door.

"It will only take me a few minutes to get ready!"

He practically runs out the door and across the driveway.

Pablo is looking at the door with bemusement and shaking his head. David has slipped out of the breakfast nook to stand in front of Andi and places his hands on her shoulders just as she had done to Bobby only a few moments ago.

"I don't know what you just did, Andi, but thank you." He kisses her cheek, waves to Pablo, and heads for the back door. He's halfway out the door when he turns and says, "Oh. I have a little surprise planned for Bobby during the concert. If you have any of those smelling salts left, Pablo, you should probably bring them."

They're left alone then... Andi staring at the back door and Pablo getting up so he can wrap her in a hug. She leans back against him and closes her eyes.

"Any idea what that was all about? David's surprise, I mean."

"No clue. I seem to be getting better at figuring out things I shouldn't know, but that one? Yeah, I think we'd need to ask Talia. And I'm not calling my cousin."

She sighs as his hug tightens.

"I'm really looking forward to the day when a couple of bambinos are the only insanity in my life."

Pablo chuckles. "You know that's never going to happen, right? The part about them being the only insanity, I mean."

She sighs again, heavily and theatrically. She might have picked that up from Moira.

"A girl needs her fantasies, you know."

Wisely, Pablo says nothing.

They arrive at the performing arts center a few hours later before Madeline and Logan and the twins. Sometimes, lately, Andi has been feeling as though she's fortunate to make it anywhere on time. She blames Pablo for that. And then he happily accepts the blame. But they did manage to get out of the house not too long after she insisted, and they were also lucky that traffic was very light. It's not as though she could ride her bike up here while he flew... although that would have been quite amusing.

Well, to her anyway.

Mr. Professor McNair sits at the will-call table and smiles broadly when he sees them.

"Andrea! Oh, you can't imagine how happy we are that you're here!"

"Uh oh," she says. "It's Bobby, right?"

He just nods, then picks up the envelope with their names on it.

"I've four extra tickets here for your friends. I can hold them if the two of you want to go in and see if you can make any sense out of what that poor boy is saying."

Pablo shakes his head. "Oh, no! I'll just wait out here for our friends. I don't get paid enough to deal with Bobby at his worst!"

Mr. Professor McNair frowns. "This is his worst? I thought his worst was... well, weeks ago."

Andi sighs. "I've never seen him this bad, Professor Greg. I have to admit that even I don't understand half of what he's talking about." She looks at Pablo, giving him the stink eye. "And you're a traitor. Aren't you supposed to be at my side through thick and thin, richer and poorer, good times and bad times?"

"Yep. After the twenty seventh. Until then, I'm staying as far away from your best friend as I can. He's scaring me."

She sighs again and shakes her head this time. "I don't think that was part of our agreement, but since Bobby is a complete mess at the moment... Well, I'll give you a pass. Just this once." She looks back at Mr. Professor McNair and takes the tickets he's holding out for them. "Bobby's been babbling on about some crazy stuff. Individually, all the words make perfect sense. But he sure as shootin' isn't."

She looks over at the side room where some of the volunteers are setting up for the bake sale they're going to have at intermission. "Even David is more upset than usual." Her brows draw together as she looks back at the Professor. "He said something odd as the two of them were leaving our place this morning. Something about remembering to bring smelling salts. Do you know what's going on?"

He shakes his head. "Not really. I know he's doing a... well, not exactly a solo. Called it a featured singer, I think. He's going to be doing something for the encore, but all he told his mother was that he's trying to make a point that family is family is family." The Professor shrugs. "I wish I knew what was going on in my boy's head. It might help you calm that lovely man of his down. But I don't have the answer."

Andi nods and hands five of the six tickets to Pablo. "Fine. I'll go find Bobby and see if I need to use my Kung Fu hands on him."

Pablo chuckles. "And I'll just wait right here and watch from safety. Oh, and to see where you're sitting so we can find you when Madeline and her family arrives."

"Oh, no need for the latter, Pablo," Professor Greg says. "David gave us all assigned seats. You and your friends are with Bobby in the first two rows on the left of this aisle here." He points to the door into the auditorium that's closest to them. "His mother and I are on the other aisle." He chuckles. "At least for the encore. Amanda is going to be backstage most of the show helping with costume changes and the little problems that always seem to come up."

Andi takes a deep breath. She can feel Bobby's agitation from out here in the lobby. She absolutely needs to do something about that before Em gets here. That would probably be worse on her nerves than the little bit of Fox's magic she uses as camouflage. She just can't decide if it would be easier and less tiring to wrap a bubble around Bobby... or Emelia.

Huh. Well, now there's a thought.

As she gives Pablo a hug and a kiss on the cheek before entering the lion's den, she whispers, "Find out from Maddie, Logan, Em how well she can block Bobby's crazy? Let me know before you head in, okay?"

He looks into her eyes — they're just a couple of young people in love — and nods almost imperceptibly.

You have a plan?

I have thoughts. Need more information to make an actual plan.

She smiles and reluctantly turns and heads into the auditorium. It feels like she's wading through hip-deep water as she walks down the aisle. She knows it's just her reluctance to have this conversation... confrontation... interaction with Bobby. That doesn't keep her feet from dragging.

It's nice to see the chorus has a fairly good crowd for an afternoon performance, though. Maybe they heard that Mr. Bonkers was providing the majority of the baked goods for the sale. On the other hand, Harmony does have a significant following. And who doesn't love a good holiday concert?

For all that she has lead weights attached to her feet — figuratively, of course — Andi reaches the front of the auditorium much too quickly. Bobby is sitting in the first seat on the aisle, in the very first row. She wonders if that's his assigned seat. Hmm. The way he's been acting lately, if David told him to sit there, he wouldn't be. She takes the seat next to him.

He's just staring at the stage. He's either doing a damn good job of pretending she doesn't exist or he's about to slide around the bend into Crazyville. Unfortunately, Andi knows it's the latter.

"Hey, Bobby. I saw them setting up the bake sale. Did you make your lemon bars? I sure hope so. I have a taste for one."


"My, how articulate!" she says, putting an arm around his shoulders. "Unfortunately, that was obviously one of the languages I don't speak. I couldn't tell if that was a yes or a no."

Bobby finally turns his head to look at her. He looks as though he's going to burst into tears.

"You don't need to try cheering me up, Andi. There's no point."

Oh, boy.

"Oh, yeah, there definitely is. I don't want to sit next to Mr. Morose of Twenty Twelve for the entire concert." She gives him a hug.

And she starts wrapping qi around him. She doesn't care if Em is already a pro at shielding... she's doing this for the good of the entire audience.

"Where's Pablo? Why isn't he here?" Wow. Aren't we snippy today?

"Because he's waiting in the lobby for our friends to get here," Andi says calmly. "I told you I was bringing Maddie and her family. Well, I guess I can understand if you forgot. You've been busy and have had a lot on your mind. It's okay. But maybe you could cheer up just a teensy bit? You don't want to be Mr. Grumpy around a couple of ten year olds, do you? Wait. That's not a question. You don't." She gives him some puppy dog eyes and bats her eyelashes at him.

He just stares at her.

"What did you just do with your face?"

It's no problem not smiling at that, despite the fact that she normally would.

"What do you mean? I didn't do anything with my face."

"Yes, you did," he insists. "If I didn't know better, I would say you batted your eyelashes at me."

Oh good! He's starting to come out of it! Three cheers for insanity, folks.

"Well, it's a good thing you know better, huh? What a crazy thought! Me... batting my eyelashes!"

And she does it again.

"Oh, my God!" He turns slightly in his seat toward Andi. "You did it again. Who are you, and what have you done with my friend Andrea?" He actually manages a smile.

And she chuckles.

"Would you believe I've been taking acting classes?"

"Sweetie, if you've been taking acting classes, you've been wasting your money!" He seems to be most of the way back to normal.

Andi wonders how much qi she can wrap around him before he notices anything.

And no, Mother... that's not a request for Everything!

Even indoors, Andi can hear Mother's laughter.

"Okay, just kidding about the classes. But I got you out of the grumpies."

He shakes his head. "I swear, Andrea, I just don't know what's gotten into you lately. You haven't been acting like yourself since... well, since you got laid off."

"I can't imagine what you could even be talking about, Bobby," she says with a genuinely puzzled tone of voice. She pauses a beat. "Hey! Did you hear I'm getting married? In less than three weeks?"

Finally, he laughs.

"Fine, dear. I'm sure that would explain just about everything."

Andi smiles at her best friend. "Just about, Bobby." She moves her arm so it's wrapped around his arm, then rests her head on his shoulder. "You probably wouldn't believe me if I told you I'm a little freaked out."

"Andrea!" He twists even more so he can hug her. "Why didn't you tell me? You should have told me! How can I help you, sweetie? Should we pack Pablo up in a box for a week? Is he working your nerves?"

She laughs. Sometimes, her dear, wonderful friend is just too predictable. Give him someone else's problems to worry over and he'll temporarily forget all about his own.

"No, silly. Don't you dare take him away from me! And you're squashing me again." He loosens up on the hug, but until she knows he's not going to blast poor Em back out to Golden with his insanity, she's just fine with maintaining contact with him.

Hey, love... our family is here. Do you have Bobby under control? Madeline says Em will freak out and flee the building if he's not.

I can't tell how many layers of qi I have wrapped around him, but Mother keeps laughing. If Em can make it down here without feeling like the inside of her head is itching — or whatever way it feels to her — then she should be okay.

"You'll tell me if anything is wrong, won't you, Andi?"

Ah, poor Bobby.

"Maybe that's the problem, Bobby. Everything is so right that it seems... I don't know... weird."

He gives her one of his I told you so looks. Rolling her eyes at him gives her the excuse to notice Pablo coming down the aisle with Vin acting the part of hero worshipper today. She turns to watch the two of them followed by Maddie, Logan, and Em.

There's a saying about a person's face being wreathed in smiles. Yeah. That.

How's Em, Maddie?

Her Sister and Brother both exchange a look with their daughter; all three of them nod.

She's fine. More focused on what she considers ridiculous behavior on her brother's part.

She does manage to refrain from giggling. And Bobby notices her smile, so he turns to look up the aisle.

I won't mention anything about the mountain lions, in that case.

"Oooh, is that her? And her husband? Oh my, isn't he just the second most gorgeous man I've ever seen!"

Now Andrea does laugh as they both stand. "You keep your naughty thoughts inside your head, Bobby Tompkins. Madeline can hurt you a hundred times worse than I ever could."

"Hi, Aunt Andi! Tio Pablo said I could sit next to him!"

She smiles at both Vin and Pablo. It's hard to tell who's more excited by the prospect, but she thinks Pablo is edging Vin out by a few watts.

"That's great, Vin," she says with a grin of her own.

Holding Bobby's hand — although she's fairly certain the shell she's woven around him is strong enough now that Mother has decided to watch it, too — Andrea introduce him to her family.

"Bobby, this is Madeline Jacobs and her Mate, Logan. The bundle of excitement here with Pablo is Vincent, and his twin sister Emelia is with her mom.

"Family..." She gives Bobby a big hug and hangs on for another moment. "...this is my best friend, neighbor and coffee thief, Bobby Tompkins."

She'll say one thing for Bobby... he can get his shit together in a nanosecond when he's not freaking out about anything having to do with David or David's family. He shakes hands with both Maddie and Logan and looks at the children with the happiest smile Andi has seen from him in weeks.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Madeline... Logan... Vincent... Emelia. Andi told us some very tall tales about you, Madeline." He looks at Andi with a very scolding expression. "She barely even mentioned the rest of you!"

Maddie is in her down-to-earth, ordinary person role today — no elegant socialite, no deadly mercenary turned super hero — just wife, mother, and friend. Logan is... well, Logan.

"Well, gosh, I think it might have had something to do with your boyfriend fainting. Or something."

Bobby sighs dramatically. "Andi, your storytelling is getting out of hand."

Behind her, Pablo snickers.

"If I understand correctly from the conversations I overheard her cousins having," Maddie says with a touch of humor in her voice, "her storytelling skills are woefully lacking."

Pablo puts a hand on Bobby's shoulder. "Bobby, she comes from an entire Nation of storytellers."

As Bobby eyes her and she smiles innocently, Andi remarks to Maddie and Logan, Oh, they've gotten much better. Just ask Rene!

"You come from a family of storytellers, Andi?" He clearly doesn't believe her, as his eyebrows are threatening to crawl to the top of his head.

"Why don't I know these things? Andrea?" He looks at her sternly.

For her part, Andi crosses one arm over her midsection and taps her chin with her other hand. "Hmm. Well, it might have something to do with the fact that you spent so much time playing matchmaker that you weren't paying enough attention when I was telling you about Navajo oral histories. Maybe." Then she grins and pokes his shoulder. Yep, that shield is holding rather well. "Brat.

"Now, sit, sit. I hope you remembered we're going out to dinner after the show with everyone."

"But David has another show later!"

She chuckles. "I know. We'll go to Red Robin, which isn't too far away. And there won't be enough time for you to drive us all to madness!" Andi smiles sweetly and kisses his cheek. "Sit down, Bobby... I need to hug my Sister."

She has to hug her Brother, too, of course. And her niece. Pablo is being pelted with questions from Vin. Pablo is certainly in sync with the Pentad today; he looks up at Logan in the instant Andi senses Logan about to tell Vin to settle down. Pablo shakes his head slightly and smiles. She looks from Husband to Brother and smiles herself as she hugs Maddie. "Pablo loves it," she whispers, "and I have a feeling Vin will settle down as quickly for Pablo as he will for his Dad. I've wrapped Bobby up tightly, but let me know if Em starts feeling uncomfortable."

She nods. You know I will, Sister. You're much more... peaceful today.

As they settle into their seats, Andi can't help but smile.

I had a good dream last night. I need to share it with the Pentad... well, I think it would be easier if Rene does, but yes, I feel more peaceful.

While waiting for the concert to start, conversations roll and flow through the group. When Andi mentions Bobby's bakery and some of his best creations, she could swear both children's eyes widen with what is clearly avarice. He can't hear Logan's soft chuff of a warning, of course, but Bobby beams at his friend's praise... and definitely likes to see the looks of anticipation on anyone's face for his culinary delights. The man knows his work will not only live up to everyone's expectations but almost always exceed them.

"There better be lemon bars out there," Andi whispers to him as the lights dim in the auditorium.

The title of the concert is Home for the Holidays, and includes a wonderful collection of holiday songs as well as songs that celebrate family and friendship. The quartet that David had been working on is one of the most beautiful arrangements of O Holy Night that Andi has ever heard. Bobby is beaming proudly as the quartet gets a standing ovation. She squeezes his hand and whispers, "Even you have to admit that was worth losing him one night a week to a straight boy and two lesbians."

At intermission, somehow the twins and Pablo manage to convince Maddie and Logan that they'll go off to the bake sale. With other children, Andi would probably admonish Pablo to make sure he doesn't let them ruin their dinners. All she does, however, is remind him that she must have a lemon bar!

She's twisted in her seat to watch Pablo and the children. He makes it look so easy... that whole interacting with children thing. Outside of her comfort zone at the library, she has a lot less confidence than he projects. She supposes that it's fairly normal for first-time mothers to question their ability to be good moms.

She guesses that something on her face — or in the odd bond she and Maddie have — gives a hint of her worry because she feels something akin to I know from Maddie.

Andi looks at her Sister and smiles. I'm okay. I'm actually feeling normal for a change, I think. You know... Oh, my gods, what am I getting myself into? I have no clue how to be a parent. They're going to be hellions and I can't crack them over the head until they're grown. You know... things like that.

Madeline exchanges an amused look with Logan but before she can say anything, Bobby jumps as though startled.

Andi turns to give him a stink eye, but then she sees Mr. Professor McNair heading in their direction. Well, that would explain that.

"Well, son," he says to Bobby, "do you think all that work David put in on the quartet was worth it?"

Bobby looks at him and does his fish imitation. Andi laughs and stands up. "Have you learned Bobby-speak yet? The gist of the face contortions, in this case, is 'heck yes.' There are a lot of other nuances there, however."

David's dad laughs. "Part of which would be, 'I wish you wouldn't sneak up on me like that'?"

She grins. "So you do understand him." She pats Bobby on the head... mostly to verify that the qi bubble is still strong and secure. "Pablo is off with the youngsters, but I'd like you to meet my friends..." She turns to Maddie and Logan, not the least surprised to find them standing as well. "...Madeline and Logan. Guys, this is David's dad, Professor Greg."

As he shakes hands with her Sister and Brother, Mr. Professor McNair said, "It's a delight to meet you. I think David might have mentioned you, but he was babbling as badly as Bobby usually does. And you can drop the 'Professor' if you'd like. I have no idea why Andrea adds that."

Andi grins at him. "Because I'm idiosyncratic." Then she shrugs. "It sounds good... trips off the tongue."

He shakes his head. "I understand that your library job dried up," he says with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. "I'm sorry to hear about that, but... that means you'll have time to join the chorus come January!"

"Eep?" She blinks a few times. "Ah, no... no! I'm not joining until after Mr. Fish Face here does, and I'm not joining without Pablo who says it's not ever going to happen. I'm safe." She looks down at Bobby. "Right? I'm safe. You haven't gone and joined, have you?"

He looks up, rather vacant-eyed. "Huh?"

"Okay. Good. Just checking."

Mr. Professor McNair laughs. "David almost has him roped in. You might be in danger."

"Nope. Pablo will save me!" Andi grins.

He chuckles as he turns back to Maddie and Logan. "I hope you won't skedaddle out of here too quickly after the concert. David tells me you're all going out to dinner after the show, but I'd like to introduce you to Mrs. Professor McNair as Bobby likes to call her. We're always thrilled to meet any of David and Bobby's friends." He looks at Bobby and shakes his head. "You're just one big basket of nerves, aren't you, son?"

"I probably would have put it differently," Andi says, looking at her best friend.

Bobby is still looking at Andi and around the auditorium with a rather vacant expression as David's father takes his leave and heads up the aisle. Once the man is out of sight, surrounded by people returning to their seats, he blinks and looks at her.

"Did you say something, Andi?"

"Nope. Well, yes. You're not really going to join the chorus, are you?"

He has the good sense to look slightly embarrassed. "Maybe."

She gasps and pretends to clutch at her heart. "NO! Say it's not so, Bobby!"

He grins at her theatrics. "Well, David is very persuasive, you know."

Andi stares at him with wide eyes, looking at Maddie and Logan — who find it more than just a little amusing — and back at Bobby.

Pablo and the twins return just then, and he hands Andi her lemon bar.

"Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope!"

"Mama, the sign said not to bring food into the auditorium," Em began.

"But Tio Pablo said Aunt Andi needed to stay with her friend Bobby, so the usher told him it was fine to bring Aunt Andi her lemon bar," Vin concluded.

"We would have followed the rules, but the usher said it would be okay for us to come in with Tio Pablo," Em assures her parents.

"But he did say we need to be very, very careful," Vin adds, nodding.

"And of course, we will be very careful," Em says, looking at her brother... who just smiles.

Pablo smiles, too, although it's more at the two of them just being a couple of well-behaved ten year olds. Then he looks at his Wife.

"The Rebel Alliance needs help? How may I be of service, your Highness?"

Bobby looks at Pablo with approval before leaning over and whispering, "I see you're training him well. I hope you made sure he knows that Han shot first."

Andi looks at Bobby with a feigned look of shock. "Of course! What do you take me for, you Sith traitor, you?" She takes Pablo's hand as he sits next to her, Vin hurrying to take his place on Pablo's other side.

"Bobby is nearly ready to cave to that evil man's demands that he join the chorus! You need to save me!" She tries to look desperate and miserable, but it's not easy when she's acting this silly. At least, Em is smiling at her antics.

Pablo pretends to glare at Bobby. "I would have thought you made of sterner stuff, good sir! But no matter... where my Lady Andrea goes, I will go. And my Lady Andrea cannot venture to the lands I have sworn to avoid." He drops the Noble Knight affectation and laughs. "Bobby, you know Andi and I are a team act. You just tell David he has no hope of winning us over to the Singing in Public side."

Then he looks at her, serious but not overly so, as he is mindful of the young people. They do tend to find adult displays of affection beyond the pale, although he does seem to understand that his new niece and nephew are not ordinary youngsters.

"Wither thou goest, and all that."

I may need to speak to my Husband about failing to report the degree to which the two of you have lost your minds.

Andi looks at Maddie, who is trying not to laugh.

"If you'd like, I'll add you to the package deal," she say sweetly to Maddie.

"I really do worry about you, Sister," Maddie says mildly. "Not only will Hell freeze over before I sing in public, but I will have kicked the prince out and be running the place myself."

Andi grins and reaches back to pat her Sister's hand.

"That's perfect! Absolutely and utterly perfect!"

The lights flicker to let folks know the show will resume momentarily.

She looks at Bobby again, smiling serenely. "Feel free to have the most wonderful time singing, my friend. While the tenor section sounds fine to me, I'm sure you'll have fun sharing all this with David. Just be sure to tell David he doesn't need to continue nagging me."

Bobby looks at her for a moment, then the other members of her family in turn. Finally, he shakes his head. "I really think you need to find another job soon, Andi. You might be going a little crazy." He nods to Pablo. "You tell her, Pablo."

Her dear Husband chuckles. "What's that saying about the pot calling the kettle black, Bobby?"

The fact that the house lights dim and the stage lights brighten again does not stop Bobby from getting in the last word.

"I'm not kidding, Andi. You've been acting very odd lately."

Pablo rests his arm along the back of her seat with his hand lightly on her shoulder. Andi smiles and thinks about how very much she loves him.

And I love you, too, dearest Wife.

The second half of the concert is every bit as good as the first, both musically and theatrically. The chorus has certainly outdone themselves this year! John Rutter himself would be proud to hear their rendition of his Angel's Carol and their performance of Somewhere in My Memory is rich and full and just plain beautiful. They play up the hilarity in Coming Out for Christmas and a half dozen of the chorus members come out in front of the chorus to dance during Hanerot Halalu. It might have started out as a traditional dance, but as the song gets faster and faster, they just get flat out silly by the end of the song.

After the last song and the usual thanks all around, the director takes center stage to address the audience. Ooh! Something new and different! He gestures for everyone to take their seats again.

"From time to time, as those of you who've attended many of our concerts know, we'll sing one of our more popular songs as an encore. And you'll also know that if we were going to do an encore, we would have done so after our last number. However, we had a special request from one of our members to include a particular song as our encore. Additionally, the song needed to be sung after the rigmarole of thank yous and speeches. This song fits so perfectly with our message of family and togetherness that it didn't take much to twist anyone's arm... especially since most of us were more than a little unhappy that it got cut from the main program to make room for some newer songs.

"There are as many types of families as human hearts can imagine. In the chorus, there are people who grew up in typical nuclear families, extended families, blended families and single parent families. As we've grown, as we've learned that our birth families might not be as accepting of us as we need, some of us create new kinds of families. And even when our family is as loving and accepting as our featured artist's family, we can still create our own chosen families. This song is for all of us who have ever chosen our family... whether from necessity or simply from the love in our hearts."

As the chorus begins singing, it's obvious that David's warm baritone is being highlighted. It becomes more evident when David steps down from the risers.

Chosen Family
(as sung by the Capital Pride Singers of Albany, NY)

The human spirit runs deep, the joys and the sorrows we share are the same.
Too many hearts are asleep, the vows that are broken too many to name.
Love is the prize that we win when unity comes from within.

When our lives meet and combine, around us is woven a magic unseen
Connecting spirit and mind, a measure for spanning the distance between.
Here then I make you my own and offer my heart as your home.

Andi can tell David is singing this song especially for Bobby. It doesn't take a genius or anyone with super powers to know he was the one that requested it. But it touches her heart to see that he's also including her and Pablo in his chosen family. She wraps her chosen family in a cocoon of love-filled qi. She knows that the Pentad feels her love differently than Em and Vin do, and she has to hold back the tears when she hears Em whisper very softly, "I love you too, Aunt Andi."

You are my chosen family now. We'll live our lives together in love.
My chosen family now, sharing the joy that we're dreaming of.
I hold your hand and you hold mine.
As hearts come together and paths intertwine,
Take my life as my vow, love will guide us somehow...
For you are my chosen family now.

When David starts down the stairs from the stage into the auditorium proper, Bobby starts freaking out. Even if she didn't have her unique ability to see and feel the qi, Andi still knows the man well enough. It doesn't matter that David is looking at his parents as he crosses the front of the auditorium. She wraps an arm around Bobby's shoulders, making sure the shield of qi is still strong and tight. He might be slightly crazier inside that shell, but the rest of the people in the auditorium are going to be fine.

"Hey, settle down, Bobby," she whispers close to his ear. "Or I'll call Martha Stewart." She smiles the typical Andi smile he's come to know as her expression of love and exasperation. He smiles sheepishly in return.

When separate hearts become one, a new understanding of love comes alive,
A journey brave has begun, a garden is planted where passions can thrive.
Wander that garden with me and see what the journey may be.

You are my chosen family now. We'll live our lives together in love.
My chosen family now, sharing the joy that we're dreaming of.
I hold your hand and you hold mine.
As hearts come together and paths intertwine,
Take my life as my vow, love will guide us somehow...
For you are my chosen family now.

There isn't much more Andi can do when David continues across the front of the auditorium to stand in front of them. She sends only the impression of a question to Maddie. In response, she returns reassurance.

If you dared to take your attention from your friend, you'd see Em is entranced.

And she sounds fairly amused by it, too.

If life is the dance that our hearts undertake then love is the magical music we make in our souls!

You are my chosen family now. We'll live our lives together in love.
My chosen family now, sharing the joy that we're dreaming of.
I hold your hand and you hold mine.
As hearts come together and paths intertwine,
Take my life as my vow, love will guide us somehow...
For you are my chosen family,
For you are my chosen family now.

David sings the last chorus just for Bobby... as if they are the only two people in the auditorium, in the world. David's love for Bobby is a brilliant light show... one that Andi didn't expect. And one that at least Em feels if her soft gasp is any indication.

When the chorus lets the last chord fade the director doesn't lower his arms, however, to indicate the song is over. It's almost as though it's merely another few measures of rest, and they'll start singing again.

Andi knows that's the end of the song because she's heard them sing it many times, yet the accompanist continues playing. And then the chorus begins softly humming when the director cues them in again.

She sees David's plan unfolding an instant before he begins his execution. And she understands now why he told Pablo to bring the smelling salts.

Oh boy.

David gets down on one knee in front of Bobby and takes one hand in his.

Ut oh.

He's not only NOT putting the microphone down, he hasn't bothered to turn it off. Oh, wait. Yeah, he meant that.

"Robert Jeffrey Tompkins, you are my chosen family. You are the greatest joy of my life. Will you marry me?"

Andi will forever swear that everyone in the entire auditorium was holding their breath at that moment. Except her. She has to keep breathing, and breathing, and breathing because until she knows how Bobby is going to react, this shield she has constructed is going to stay right where it is. Oh, the hell with that. This shield is staying right where it is. Period.

But she feels Pablo's hand in hers. And she feels the love weaving through the Pentad.

You were right, Sister. That man is wicked.

Andi is sure Rene showed up at some point... why is she only registering it now?

Never mind that. Pay attention to poor freaking out Bobby.

Bobby just looks at David, his eyes growing wider and wider. He can't even move enough to bring his hands up to his mouth like he usually does when he's highly emotional. Tears star forming in his eyes. David sets the microphone down beside him — having turned it off at some point — and takes both of Bobby's hands in his. And then he just waits patiently for the man he loves to answer.

At this moment, Andi isn't concerned about Bobby. With an auditorium full of people literally and figuratively sitting on the edges of their seats, she is worried about Em.

And she's only a little surprised to find her niece's arms wrapping around her as she turns in her seat to look at Em. Andi crosses her arms over Em's and wraps her in love.

"I've got you, Em," she say as she begins weaving a quick shield of qi around her. Right now, for this, she really doesn't mind that Mother wants to help.

Em relaxes almost instantly, although she's still plenty tense. Andi knows Em's hearing is as good as hers — possibly even better — so she practically sub-vocalize when she speak to her.

"Let me know if this gets too weird, okay? It's not like Fox's magic, but the energy source is the same. If you have a problem, we can get you out to the lobby."

She feels the tiny shake of Em's head against her neck. "Better."

She pauses to take a breath, and sometimes two, between her phrases and thoughts. It's almost as if she's trying to figure things out.

Welcome to the club, kiddo!

"Strange." Just one word, but it opens the windows of so many possibilities.

"But not bad strange." She seems a little surprised by that. Andi is relieved.

"Like Papa, almost. But not."

Andi is confused, but what else is new? Still, she smiles. "Don't think too hard about it, then. Just be safe, sweetheart."


Oh, worried does not even come close to what Maddie is conveying in her mental voice.

Well, I think we're both a little weirded out by whatever I'm doing. But it seems to be helping. I think. Em says it's better. But strange.

You should see the look on Logan's face. No. Maybe you shouldn't. Maddie pauses. I don't know what you're doing, Sister, but we both feel like whatever it is you're doing is almost a threat. No. Not quite that. Now she sounds frustrated, just a bit. But it's raising our hackles, and that generally doesn't bode well.

I'm sorry, Sister mine. I'm just wrapping her in the same sort of shield I wrapped around Bobby. But even I feel there's something more to it. It's more than just Mother trying to give me the energy of the whole planet. Again, I think I'm going to blame those two, although I don't see how it can possibly be relevant. What's Bobby doing, by the way?

Just staring, I think. That's David, I assume. He's smiling beatifically. If I'd never seen an Angel or the Spirits, I would probably say that's what he looks like right now.

"I can almost hear you talk to Mama," Em says so very quietly. "She and Papa are scared of whatever you're doing that feels like... like something Papa feels like."

"Well, they're worried, anyway... maybe not so much scared. I wish I knew what it is that's different from wrapping you up in a bubble of protection and doing the same thing for Bobby. Maybe because you're an Elder... a Feral... like your Papa? I don't know, hon. Sometimes I feel like a dope."

Em breathes against Andi's neck. "Maybe. I think..." She sighs quietly. "I don't know. But I feel better, even if it feels... strange. But different strange from last night's strange."

"Are you scared or worried like your folks are? Or just trying to figure out the weirdness?"

"I'm not scared of you, Aunt Andi," she says in almost a normal tone of voice, albeit a very quiet one. There's an adamant, clear subtext that implies Aunt Andi might be totally bananas for even considering the possibility. "It's... Well, it's sort of a familiar thing, but maybe it's just strange and weird because I'm pretty sure I shouldn't feel this kind of familiar thing from you. Because it... almost, not really, feels like Papa." She pauses again, and Andi can almost hear the gears cranking away in her head. Figuratively, of course.

With a sidelong look, she takes a peek at Bobby. Well, Bobby's back, really. She can see David much better and see what Maddie meant. He is exuding love.

She realizes only a few seconds have passed because the chorus has only hummed another couple of bars of the song.

Andi? What's going on with Em? Vin's a little worried, but he says she's mostly okay. That might be his protective brother act, but he did say whatever you're doing for Em is really helping. Because, if I understand what he's saying — and God knows it's likely that I don't — you short-circuited, sort of, the... Or maybe it's a compulsion? You know what? It's possible he's speaking Swahili. What are you doing?

Besides shielding her, I don't really know, Pablo. It's nothing conscious. I just hope the Human Tsunami stops dithering so we can get out of here.

Em giggles so softly that Andi isn't sure even Logan could hear her... and he's hovering as much as a person can while not getting out of his seat.

"Human Tsunami... that sounds funny."

"So you can hear me talking to Tio Pablo but only almost hear me talking to your Mama? That's interesting."

"I think it's because Vin is hugging Tio Pablo. Did you know Oncle Rene is here, too?"

"I do. He said David is a very wicked man."

"But he wouldn't know I would get all freaked out by all the people. He's not really wicked."

It's all Andi can do to keep from laughing. Instead, she just squeezes Em's arms tighter. "He kind of is... just trust me on that. But how did you know Rene was here? He even sneaked up on me."

She shrugs without shrugging. "I can feel him... well, not him exactly, but the feelings of him. He loves Mama. And..." Em seems to be struggling over how to explain something. "...and I don't think I can even explain it in French.

"But I like him. He's very nice."

"I like him, too. He's a good person."

Finally, finally Andi sees Bobby nod to David. It seems like he's moving in slow motion, but that could just be her perceptions being really out of whack at the moment. Em hugs her just a little bit tighter as David stands up, pulls Bobby out of his seat and seems to wrap himself around her best friend. She hears and sees and feels the qi of their bond snap into perfect alignment with senses that don't really exist.

Wow... so that's what she and Pablo, the whole Pentad, look like from outside of themselves.

Meanwhile, the auditorium is going wild. Em hops or crawls or slides or maybe just teleports over the back of the seat where Bobby had been sitting. She's in Andi's lap so fast that her Aunt doesn't think anyone except her parents really grok what she did. Not that anyone is watching a ten year old girl when they have David and Bobby to watch. The hubbub does give Maddie and Logan the excuse to stand and lean over their Sister's shoulders to check on their daughter.

Andi has a feeling that she would be in a universe of danger at the moment if the Pentad didn't exist, if Logan didn't trust this Bond between the five of them. Rene is insubstantial between the two of them; she has the sense that he's keeping them steady.

Logan growls what she thinks is a question to Em. But honestly? The only reason Andi would even guess that it's a question is because Maddie and Rene both seem to be sitting on the edge of anticipation waiting for a response from Em. She can say that the sound she makes isn't like anything she's ever heard before, although it sounds like a combination of purr and growl and a thoroughly alien language. But it does seem to be an answer, and the right one, too. Maddie relaxes more than Logan does, but Andi has a feeling that neither of them is going to feel exactly calm while they're all surrounded by hundreds of people pounding out thundering waves of happiness and joy. And the actual sound hasn't even started to get ridiculous yet.

Come to think of it, all these hundreds of people are getting on Andi's nerves, too.

Of course. Of course, the instant she becomes aware of that, Mother wants to share even more of her energy with Andi.

She almost wants to laugh.

Especially when Em squeaks or maybe squeals — softly, true. But it's still a sound of surprise, even though it's tempered with the feelings and colors of delight.

"What was that?!"

Andi sighs and while she's doing that, she stands up as well. It seems everyone in the auditorium is. Why not her, too, right?

It is a damn good thing that she's a hell of a lot stronger than she looks. Em weighs... well, not considerably, but very definitely more than she looks like she should weight. She probably should have remembered that from the visit out to New Mexico, but... well, she didn't. She probably does look or maybe feel surprised by it because, in an instant, Pablo's hand is on her elbow, steadying her. She doesn't really need to be steadied. But he's a gentleman.

Em just hangs on, wrapping her legs around Andi's waist and resting her head on Andi's shoulder. She reminds Andi a little bit of Monica and Jeffrey at the moment. She gets the sense that her niece is peeking through her hair at her folks, though.

"That was just Mother Earth giving me even more energy to block out all the people who are trying to get on my nerves. Too bad it's because of that, because they're getting kind of loud now and there isn't much Mother can do about that."

"It tickled!"

Andi chuckles. "Yeah, sometimes it does. The qi feels different depending on what I'm doing and how much of it I'm using."

"You... you see feelings? Like I feel them? Because you feel like you're looking at something really pretty. What does Oncle Rene look like when I can only feel him?"

"Em, I would absolutely love to chat with you about this... as much as you want." Andi is smiling, she's happy... but she really, really wants to get out of this auditorium. "I think our first order of business is to get the heck out here, yes?"

"You really don't mind me asking you all kinds of questions? We were at Leon's school and some of the other kids didn't want to talk about the things they could do. And even some of the teachers were... ah, re...ti...cent? But Professor Xavier said he'd be happy to answer our questions. Hey, did you know there's a boy from Denver there?"

Andi laughs and hugs her. "No, I don't mind at all. Reticent is an excellent word. The Professor is a kind and gracious man. And yes... Matthew is one of my friends. Well, I guess maybe not friend since he's only a little older than you and I'm a grown up. But I know him. He's only had partial powers for his whole life and it's frustrating for him. Did he tell you he's a Shapeshifter?"

Em nods. "He did sound a little frustrated, but he said the Professor was helping him understand how his gift works so he could use it better when it call comes in. Like wisdom teeth?"

Andi looks for a path from where they are to... well, anywhere that isn't here. Mrs. Professor McNair — who, along with her husband, has enveloped David and Bobby in a beautiful hug — notices her darting eyes. She comes around the other side of the two young lovers while keeping a hand on Bobby's arm.

"If you go up onto the stage and duck behind the curtains, it won't be hard to find the side exit, Andrea." As she speaks, she has a twinkle in her eyes and joy is lighting her features. "I'd love to meet your friends, but I think that can wait a bit. You get yourselves outside. Greg and I will hustle the boys out so you can still have time for dinner."

"I'm Emelia. Mama and my big brother used to live in Colorado."

Andi looks at her with surprise. "Hey, I thought you were the quiet, shy one!"

"Oh. I guess I forgot, Aunt Andi," she says so innocently that Aunt Andi can't really trust her. She is her mother's daughter, after all.

"Uh huh."

Mrs. Professor McNair laughs. "It's nice to meet you, Emelia. I'm Amanda. Maybe we'll get a chance to talk later."

Andi just nods. "Thanks, Professor Amanda."

She turns to see Pablo nodding, although Vin doesn't seem to want to go anywhere without his sister. Good enough. Andi looks at Maddie and Logan... and Rene. Although in Photoshop terms, she'd say he was only at about ten percent opacity.

We can head out the side door if we go backstage, she says to Maddie. And shouldn't you be completely insubstantial, dear Spirit Brother?

He does look startled. I am!

Oh, crap.

And Mother laughs.

"Fine. Shall we get this circus away from the rest of the circus?" Andi looks at Pablo, who looks at Vin. The youngster nods and takes Pablo's hand.

Well, doesn't that just make Pablo light up like a halogen light bulb? Oh, hell yes! He's so far beyond the Christmas tree stage of lighting up that it's not even funny anymore.

Andi follows Pablo and Vin, not even bother to say anything to Bobby and David. It's not like they would hear her anyway. Although her parents are behind them faster than ordinary people would be, Em continues to hang onto Andi. In fact, she clings pretty tightly.

"Gack... choke... breathe! Gack, gack!"

Em giggles. "I wasn't squishing you that hard, Aunt Andi!"

Pablo finds the door easily enough, opens it to the beautiful sunny Colorado afternoon, and they all get outside without incident. Em releases her grip on Andi — both arms and legs — and slides gracefully to the ground. Maddie tosses Andi's jacket at her head as she and Logan rush to their daughter.

"You're welcome," Andi says, her voice muffled by the fact that her jacket is on her head.

"I'm fine, Mama!"

She feels Pablo take her jacket and sees Maddie and Logan worrying over Em. Maybe they wouldn't look worried to ordinary eyes, but qi doesn't lie. Logan says something in that alien language of the Elders.

"Really, Papa. I promise!"

I don't suppose you want to know what you did?

Andi looks at Rene, who seems even more substantial now that they're outside.

No. Maybe. But no. And are you still completely insubstantial?

I am. I find it disturbing that you can see me. He pauses. On second thought, I don't find it all that disturbing because the bizarre seems to be normal around you. However, my new Siblings would find it more than a little disturbing, so I don't think I'll mention it to them.

Pablo wraps an arm around her waist. "You're glowing again," he whispers.

"It's Mother's fault!" Andi says to both him and Rene.

Are you sure you don't want me to tell you what you did? You might find it interesting.

She wiggles from Pablo's embrace and crouches down so she can place her hands flat on the sidewalk. She has a feeling that the fact she's not on clear, plain earth isn't going to matter much anymore... not since Mother seems to be able to feed her all of her not inconsiderable energy right through buildings.

Thank you, Mother. It was very kind of you to help.

{Daughter... love love love}

I love you, too, Mother. But you're going to get me in big trouble someday.

Mother just laughs. Andi sighs. When she stands up, she just leans her head on Pablo's shoulder and wraps one arm around his waist.

Maddie has lost most, but not all, of the worry flowing through her qi. While Logan's stance is relaxed, a hand on his daughter's shoulder, his qi is...

Really, really weird. Well, yes, sure... his qi is different from most people's because he's an Elder. And there's that little bit of worry still lingering, too. But there's something else...

Hell, if Andi didn't know better, she'd think it was fear.

It is, you idiot, Rene says with exasperation. Now will you let me tell you what you did?

She looks from Logan to Rene, then at Em, who seems perfectly content. She hugs Pablo tighter.

Is it something I can control?

Rene studies her while Pablo and Maddie look at her with slightly confused expressions. Vin and Em are chatting about something, and Logan is still focused on Em.

I... suspect not. Not now, anyway.

"Then no, Rene. I don't want to know. Because then I'll be just as scared as Logan is."

Said Elder looks up sharply at Andi and growls. She doesn't know exactly what he said, but she knows a warning when she hears one. Maddie puts a hand on Logan's arm and says, "Will it ease Logan's mind to know whatever Andi doesn't want to know, Rene?"

"Oncle Rene is here?" Vin asks. Em nods.

Rene sighs as he becomes substantial. "It's possible. If I felt that Andi was threatening Leon..."

"I never would!" she interrupts him, and he glares at her.

"You really have no clue, Andi. We all love you very much, but you have no clue."

Andi looks at his eyes for a moment, then closes hers against the pain she sees there. "Yes, I do, Rene. I have more clues than I want right now. I don't need any more. Not now."

Pablo hugs her tightly, and she can sense his confusion.

"Fine." She gets the sense that he's turned back to Maddie and Logan. "If the Magnet for Weird over there actually does have a clue or two about what's going on, then I think I can fairly safely say — without revealing information a certain stubborn person would rather not know — that Logan's mind might be eased. I know mine would be, for the most part."

See? This is why Andi doesn't want to know.

She can see the qi swirling around them, even though she'd rather not. While Logan might be harder to read than most people, he's a hell of a lot easier to read since they formed the Pentad. So many conflicting and intersecting lines of discordant colors! And every single one of them lances right through her. Well, no... she supposes that wouldn't be putting it in the best terms. It's more as if every bit of discordance is attached to her.

Well, hell... that's easy enough to fix, right? Okay, perhaps not as easily as it would have been if David hadn't dropped his bombshell, but she's clever!

She takes a deep breath, opens her eyes to see her sister, both Brothers, and her Husband looking at her. Oddly.

She raises her head from Pablo's shoulder and shakes her head. "You know, I never used to be this transparent."

"Well, you do seem to be giving off the vibes of a person about to do something crazy," Pablo says.

"No, this is just me working through the mess of qi that's floating around this group. It makes sense that all of you would feel it because it's really messy." Andi sighs. "But here's the solution, okay?"

First she looks at Pablo. "Vin was about two seconds away from asking if you and I could ride with them to the restaurant." She points out several strands of qi that no one else can see besides her. "Here and here and here is how I know that. Maddie and Logan want to know what Rene has to say." She just looks around at the whole group of them. "Well, that's everywhere and is obvious anyway. If I weren't the one that caused Logan to be as upset as he is, Maddie would counter with having the twins ride with us..." She points to a spot close to Maddie's shoulder. "...and admonish you to drive carefully. However, that's not an option." She merely looks at Logan and shrugs.

"But if I ride with the Human Tsunami and the Saint..." She searches for the qi that she knows represents each of them, then nods. "...that will solve the problems out there, and I'll have the excuse of extricating those two from their horde of adoring admirers."

The twins look expectant... the adults, skeptical.

"No, seriously. If someone doesn't go back in there and literally drag them out, they will be right where they are until it's time for David to get ready for his second show. David's parents are absolutely failing at getting them out of there."

Pablo just looks at Andi for a moment, then looks at Rene. "Before you even ask... no. Not used to it, not sure it will happen." Then he looks at Maddie and Logan. "I don't mind taking the kids in my car, and I will consider myself duly admonished." He smiles his charmingly boyish smile. "I am considerably safer behind the wheel of a car than my beloved is on her motorcycle. Even when she's trying to follow the rules."

Andi hugs him, grabs her jacket from him, and just looks at the rest of her Family for a moment.

"I am truly sorry for upsetting you," she says to Logan and Maddie... but mostly Logan. "I love you all so much." She finds that she needs to pause for a moment. She's starting to feel weepy. She's going to blame those two for that, too.

"I'll meet you at Red Robin."

And then she turns to go back inside.

"Is she always that bossy?" Rene asks as the door closes behind Andi.

Pablo shakes his head. "She didn't use to be. I'm blaming that on you, too, Madeline." But he says it with a smile.

"Come on, kiddos... how about we talk about something more interesting than Weird Aunt Andi and Crazy Grown Up Stuff? I know Vincent likes police work and Emelia likes big cats. Tell me what else you guys like."

He holds out a hand to each child and smiles at their parents. He doesn't have the skills Andi has, but he is a damn good police detective. He can see just a hint of worry, and only because he expects to see it.

"We'll be fine. It will work out."

Madeline has that look — the one her children know well... and her husbands, too — the one that said, This is not over. Still, she knows Em is in no danger and that Rene will explain things if he knows what's good for him. And Rene always knows what's good for him. She rumbles at Logan, who nods and rumbles in return.

As they head for the rented SUV, she hands the keys off to Logan and heads for the passenger side. Once they are moving, she turns in her seat to look her Husband in the eye.


At that, Rene tells them what he knows... and lets his wife fill the rest in on her own.

"So it's not unlike my getting the healing gift. I suppose that's a little comforting. The part where she didn't even know what she was doing, though? Not so much. One more thing to get a handle on before it all blows up in our faces."

She puts a hand on Logan's arm. "We both intellectually know Andi would never intentionally hurt the kids, but our Feral sides don't. I don't suppose the Spirits are going to be any help?"

Rene shakes his head.

"Probably need to go straight to the top," Logan suggests.

"Probably. Maybe Em and Vin should spend a bit more time with their older brother..."

"Might be a good idea."

And that is all the private conversation they have the time for, as Logan is pulling into the Red Robin's parking lot. Pablo and the kids are already there. Em runs up and hugs her parents and rumbles at them.

Pablo leans against the car as he watches the kids fly to their parents like little magnets. The detective sees less worry in the parents than they'd had before the drive over... but there is still some worry he can sense through the Bond of the Pentad.

He figures he'll... coax whatever information Andi has from her before asking Rene what's going on. He owes Andi that much, and more.

Madeline gives Logan a lopsided smile over Em's head. Their daughter certainly has her father's instincts. Vin sidles up and slides his hand into their mother's as Em entwines her fingers with their father's fingers.

Rene quietly chuckles and says, I'm going to go check in on Leon. Au revoir.

Au revoir, Oncle Rene, the twins reply.

Oui, au revoir, Oncle, Madeline says with a wink.

As Rene is saying goodbye, Pablo just sketches him a jaunty salute.

"I think Andi and the mischief makers are just pulling out of the parking lot," he says to Madeline and Logan, "so it shouldn't be more than a few minutes." Then he gets the oddest look on his face.

"What the heck is skoodilypooping... and why would she tell the crazy men not to do it?"

# # #

Andrea walks back into the building wondering why she feels such dread.

Is she going to have to blame everything on those two?

Probably. She has a damn good idea what's going on. She just can't handle knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that — in addition to invading her dreams and screwing up her hormones so much that even her healing factor doesn't know what to do — those two are sharing their future Curses with her.

She leans against the wall for a minute to compose herself, a task made more difficult by the fact that she's already trying to plot out ways to get even with them.

Damn it, Andi, pull yourself together!

Ha! And she had doubts before about being a good mother! Here she is planning ways to torment them. She believes that she's going to use a whole lot of mortification. Kids hate that.

Okay, she came in here to fetch Bobby and David. She can do this. Damn, she really needs to just grab the time it's going to take to create the shields Red showed her. It was easy in Red's weird dimension. Here... well, she can wrap her normal qi shield around herself. She should be fine. Right?

Since she backstage, she decides she's going to be bold. Instead of heading down the stairs at the side of the stage, she just walks across the stage and stands with the toes of her boots at the edge. If she had her staff — damn it, it's in Pablo's car — she could tap either one of the boys with it. But alas and alack! Theatrics must be used instead.

"Mr. Tompkins! Mr. McNair! Your presence is demanded immediately for dinner!"

The Professors McNair chuckle as they look up at Andi, as do David and Bobby's friends. The two of them turn around and stare at her, however. It's as if she didn't tell them only a few minutes ago that they're going to dinner.

She swears they're both a couple of airheads.

"Report to the side of the stage," Andi says, pointing to the exit, "or I will make the two of you my personal mosh pit."

David recovers first and grins up at her. "Andi, do you even know what a mosh pit is?"

She crosses her arms and attempts to look highly offended. "I am a librarian, sir! I know many esoteric things."

He laughs. "Then you'll know that two people do not a mosh pit make."

She shrugs. "Whatever. I'll just fall on you and squish you then."

Bobby seems to be coming out of his fog, too.

"Andi, I really do worry about you," he says. "You're talking crazy again."

She crouches down at the edge of the stage. People below her are looking up nervously. Huh. It's not like she's going to fall.

"Am not, Bobby, you're just a space cadet. Well, fine," she says with a grin, "you're probably a full commander by now."

David chuckles when Bobby starts sputtering again. "We're going to dinner with Andi and her friends, remember?" He looks up at her. "Is Pablo waiting outside? Should we drive with you, or take two cars?"

Almost everyone has wandered away except for David's parents and a couple of chorus support folks.

Andi straightens enough to hop from the stage to the floor. Yeah, okay... 'hop' probably isn't the right when it's a six foot drop. She does cause Bobby to gasp, which give her more happiness than it probably should. Given his recent behavior — which has been fueling her increasing insanity — she doesn't really feel bad about it. She just looks at him and shakes her head.

"Master Chen had me jumping from rooftops. When I was fourteen. I was a novice! Sheesh, Bobby!"

Turning to David, she says, "Pablo's gone ahead with the kids, giving Maddie and her darling some time alone. I'm just here to get you moving out to your car. And to hitch a ride."

David looks toward the back of the auditorium where there are still quite a few people milling about. "We would have to run the gauntlet." He smiles at Bobby. "Everyone is so happy."

Mrs. Professor McNair reaches into one of the many pockets of her jacket and pulls out a set of keys. "Here, Andi. Take our car. Greg and I packed some sandwiches because we have a lot to do between the shows. It's the blue Altima just outside the door you snuck out earlier."

"Thank you, Professor Amanda," Andi says, taking the keys. Then she looks at Bobby and David as she tucks the keys into her jeans pocket. She grabs one of Bobby's wrists and one of David's wrists, turns around so each of them has an arm over her shoulder and starts walking. Not fast enough or forcefully enough that they have any clue that she's stronger than they believe she is, of course.

"Come along, boys! Andi is starving!" David is chuckling again and from the amount of confusion in Bobby qi, she would guess that he's dragging Bobby along with him as he allows her to pull him toward the door.

They manage to make it all the way outside before Bobby jumps on the worry train again.

"Andi, I don't understand what's gotten into you lately. You've been acting so strange!"

She raises an eyebrow at him as she pulls the keys from her pocket, then presses the automatic door unlock on the key fob. She walks over to the car and opens the driver's door. The two of them are still standing where she let their hands drop.

She sighs.

"Okay, let me break it down for you, Bobby...

"In the past... oh, let's call it four and a half months, Pablo and I changed the nature of our relationship. He moved in with me. We decided we would get married.

"I met some new friends, which has been lovely. I got laid off from my job, which has not been quite as charming.

"You have been a mental case.

"I'm getting married in nineteen days."

Andi stares at him, and then glances at David for some support. He just shrugs.


"NINETEEN DAYS, Bobby!! I also haven't had anything to eat except sugar and carbohydrates all day and I need protein. Now will the two of you get in the damn car? Please?"

She suspects that it's the fact that Bobby is so shocked by her swearing that causes him to quick step over to the car. David follows somewhat more sedately, but with his longer legs arrives in time to open one of the back doors for Bobby. He goes around to the other side and slides into the backseat with Bobby as Andi gets in the driver's seat.

As she starts up the car, she looks in the rearview mirror. "No skoodilypooping back there. You save that stuff for when you get home."

Bobby starts to say something as she puts the car in gear and heads out of the parking lot.

"Just let it go, dear," David whispers. "I'll explain later."

Andi refrains from smiling. She's glad somebody remembers the non-zero number of times she's geeked out about the Vlogbrothers.

Unfortunately, the Red Robin is less than a quarter mile away. That's great when her biggest concern had been getting David back to the Performing Arts Center in time for his second show. It's not so great when she feels like...

No, no, no! Stop thinking, Andi! Or... or think about the nice Irish priestess and the Hogan you built in her dimension.

She wants that safe space here. Now. But it's going to have to wait... until tomorrow, anyway. Or maybe even longer. She refrains from sighing.

She pulls into the lot and parks in front of Pablo's car. He smiles at her as he walks toward the Professors McNair's car.

Relax, beloved Wife. You're tenser than you were during that little dust-up you and Madeline caused over Halloween!

She smiles as she turns off the car.

Distract those two, will you? I want a minute with Maddie and Logan.

Your wish is my command, my lady, he says with a chuckle as he pretends to be a valet and opens David's door for him.

Andi sneaks out of the front seat while Bobby and David have their attention on Pablo, pocketing the keys as she walks toward Maddie, Logan, and the twins.

Maybe, if this were not her family, Andi might stop well out of reach of what she knows Logan's claws to be.

But this is her family, whom she loves with all her heart.

She smiles at Em and Vin, a real smile. They deserve that.

Then Andi looks at their parents, first Maddie and then Logan.

Whatever theory Rene laid out for you is... probably spot on. It's hard enough inside my own head to contemplate the fact that... that my children are sharing their Curses with me, and ones that are not vital to anyone's continued existence. I am not ready to have that verified. Not yet, not today. Gods, so much to say and so little time. But I am so very sorry that I... worried you, frightened you, upset you, angered you. I love all of you. You know that.

Again, she looks back at Maddie, meeting her eyes for a moment. Then she looks at Logan, meeting his eyes as well.

"Forgive Andi?"

Although she doesn't say the word, her voice and heart say, Please.

Madeline is the first to respond as Logan's hackles haven't quite gone all the way down yet. She steps forward and pulls Andi into a tight embrace and says in her ear, "Don't ever do that again without warning us."

"You two are beyond incorrigible," Pablo says when both of the mad men are out of the car. He glances at Andi; she's worried and nearly terrified about something he doesn't quite understand. But as their Sister's arms wrap around her, he can feel his wife's anxiety beginning to ease.

"It's all part of our charm, Pablo," David says.

When he looks back at the two of them arm in arm, David winks at him. He is obligated to respond with the expected rolling of the eyes.

Bobby slaps his most beloved lightly on the arm. "I'm marrying you, David. You can stop flirting with the nice straight boy now."

David sighs as he looks with love at Bobby. "I wish I could, dear. But poor Pablo has come to expect it. He'd be utterly devastated if I stopped." His bright smile elicits a somewhat less brilliant one from Bobby, but at least it's a smile.

It's all Pablo can do to not snicker at the two of them.

At first, all Andi can do is nod against Maddie's neck as she wraps her arms around her Sister. There's an instant, a moment of knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that the lunatic babblings of those two are true... that the Irish Priestess and her brother are right.

"Never," she whispers.

Logan hears, of course, and grunts his seconding and agreement. Finally, however, he too steps forward, his arms going around both Madeline and Andi. There's still an underlying sense of fear for his cub and the protective instinct it raises in him, but he is a man in control of his beast. He breathes them in deeply, scenting both Mate and Sister. He knows no harm was intended, only protection, but the feeling had triggered a deeper unconscious response to a memory long forgotten by his mind if not his heart.

"If must do, say first."

When Logan wraps his arms around both of them, Andi can feel his lingering... primal instinct to protect his child. She can only give both of them her love.

"Promise say first. Hope no need to ever do."

The feel of another also enveloping them flows around them and, with it, Rene's strength and love and understanding.

As Logan wraps his arms around Madeline and Andi, Pablo leans back against the car with his arms folded. He can see the tableau closer to the entrance; Bobby and David can't.

"I'm sure Andi can console him," Bobby responds.

Rene wraps his love around them all and brings Pablo into the circle of their hearts... into the love, regret, forgiveness, love, eternal love.

David happens to glance at him then and assumes the smile on his face, the glow of love, is directed at Andi.

"You're absolutely right, dear. Perhaps it would be best to gradually stop the flirting." He looks at Bobby. "Andi would never forgive us if we send her sexy man into shock."

Pablo can feel the release of... He's not exactly sure. It's as though he's floating with the Pentad one second and standing back on earth the next. He has been, however, aware of the conversation going on around him.

Although no more than a few seconds pass, Andi feels as though they spend whatever time they need in the No Time place... re-balancing what she had knocked askew.

She smiles at her family, she can feel Pablo smiling behind her. If she's so protective of Em that her parents worry, maybe she can manage this parenting thing.

It is Madeline and Logan's offspring who bring them back to this plane.

"Mom?" Em asks, "can we go in now? I'm starving."

"Me too," Vin adds.

Madeline chuckles as do Logan and Rene as they slowly disengage.

"Guess we best go feed the heathens before they waste away to nothing," Madeline says then looks over towards Brother and their friends. "Pablito, shepherd the love birds over will you? The twins are famished."

As Maddie calls Pablo over, Andi mentions to Maddie. "Um, Em wants to chat about... well, maybe not weird stuff. How the stuff I do is related to her empathy... like that. But, um, only if you don't have a problem with it. And good gods, not today!"

"Nah," Pablo says to the Human Tsunami and Tarnished Saint as Madeline looks over at him. "She'd just hurt you with her Kung Fu hands." He smiles at Madeline and nods, then pushes himself off the car.

"Come along, children. Let's see if you can behave better than a couple of ten year olds. Personally, I have my doubts."

Andrea looks at Pablo, who's got a firm grip on Bobby's elbow and is practically dragging him over. He rolls his eyes when he sees her turn around.

Mr. Lunatic here seems to think the love of his life is going to faint dead at Madeline's feet. Would you slap him around, please?

She grins a Ninja grin. I thought we were trying to give him a stroke or a coronary... not blunt force trauma to the head. But yes, dear. I'll deal with my idiot best friend.

Andi lets go of Maddie's hand to take the few steps forward to wiggle her way between David and Bobby, putting an arm around each one's waist.

"Behave, Bobby," she whispers, "or it's going to be Kung Fu Hands for lunch for you." Fortunately for everyone involved, he doesn't have the chance to say anything before she's making introductions.

"Well, let's see... we've already met the crazy man coffee thief," she says as she continues to look at Bobby. Then she looks up at David. "These are my friends Madeline and Logan, and their children Emelia and Vincent." She looks at her Sister and Brother... and smile. "Family, this is David McNair, baritone extraordinaire — I just made that one up — and the man brave enough to spend the rest of his life with Bobby."

David doesn't faint. David doesn't freak out. David is absolutely and perfectly normal. Well, for David. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Madeline... Logan," he says as he reaches out to shake their hands. "I promised Andi to be my usual charming self and not act like my dear, flighty Bobby." Then he looks at Em and Vin. "Holy Hannah, you two! I've never seen kids behave so well at one of these concerts! I just hope it's because you were enjoying yourselves and not because Bobby was freaking you out. He does that sometimes."

Then he nudges Andi with his hip. "Speaking of Bobby... get away from my man, Andi! You have your own. I swear, a person would think you haven't seen him in years!"

She laughs, gets out from between David and Bobby, and takes Pablo's hand.

"Food sounds like an outstanding idea."

Madeline smiles and shakes David's hand, as does Logan with a set of hellos.

"The music was great," Vin pipes up.

Em nods emphatically.

"It was lovely," Madeline says, a knowing smile playing about her lips. The man is a showman and a performer and he is maintaining his composure.

"And, yes, food is a good idea. Come along... into the restaurant with all of you."

Andrea feels calmer now that the Pentad is... yeah, balanced again. The serenity she felt this morning has returned and she can smile as she watches Maddie herd her family into the restaurant. She grins at Bobby and David following them.

When David said he wasn't going go all fanboy over Maddie, he wasn't kidding! He's so thrilled that Bobby agreed to marry him that Maddie seems to have been demoted to Ordinary Human.

Pablo squeezes her hand as they bring up the rear of this little platoon.

"You're looking better," he whispers.

She nods. "Feeling better, too."

"Am I ever going to find out what the hell went on?"

"Uh huh. But not over lunch." She looks at him and grins. "We might want to cause debilitating health issues for the Human Tsunami, but it's not fair to the folks in the restaurant to do it in public."

He chortles. "You have a point."

Once they're all seated at one of the large round tables, Andi gives Bobby and David her very best stink eye.

"Do you two swear to behave yourselves?"

Bobby sniffs and pretends to be offended. Well, maybe he's pretending. "Andi, I have no idea what you're talking about. You are really acting strangely lately."

David chuckles and he hugs Bobby. "Yes, Ms. Yazzie. We'll behave... even though we no longer fear excessive fines when going to the library."

Pablo grins. "But that just means you need to have more fear of the Kung Fu hands!"

David shrugs and continues to smile. "Andi is too sweet to hurt us."

Bobby nods. "That's true. Even when she's behaving oddly, she's the sweetest woman I've ever met."

Said woman raises both eyebrows. They are clearly choosing to discount the Luau Party and the Story of Madeline Jacobs incidents. Or they have selective amnesia. She exchanges a look with Pablo, who merely shrugs.

Okay then...

The hostess had given Vin and Em the children's menus, which are usually fine for most kids. Andi passes her menu across the table to them. "Grown up folks get a better selection," she says, "and larger portions for starving people."

The conversation revolves around food and the concert until the waiter comes to take their order. After he comes back with their drinks, Andi looks at Bobby.

"I know you've been working really hard on the reception, and you've been so busy at work and making all those fantastic treats for today's bake sales..." She waits until he sets his glass of soda back on the table. "...but have you given any thought to the party I mentioned for Madeline's older son?"

He exchanges a glance with David, then they both look at her with confusion.

"We thought you were just playing another joke on us, Andi," David says.

She bites her lip and looks at Pablo. He shrugs again. She can see Rene standing behind Maddie and Logan... and he looks like he's ready to burst out laughing already.

Oh, shut up, Jacobs! she says to him, preemptively.

Then she looks at her best friend and his fiancé. "Um, if I wasn't joking, would you have another meltdown?"

"Another meltdown?" Bobby looks at her with worry.

"We don't know what you're talking about, Andi," David deadpans. At least he's not in denial. "There's no reason for either of us to have a meltdown." He looks at Pablo. "You need to be taking better care of our Andi, Pablo. We can't be looking out for her all the time, you know."

Rene is snickering.

Pablo puts his arm around Andi and nods to David. "Well, you have to understand, guys, that we're both getting married soon and we might be just a little overwhelmed with happiness."

Good gods, have you been taking lessons from Rene? Andi asks him.

No, my darling wife. I've been taking lessons from Ninja.

Oh. Well, that's okay then.

Bobby and David nod knowingly to one another before David responds. "You do have a point, Pablo. But Andi, dear," he says as he looks at her, "you really shouldn't be worrying about us. Just take care of yourself and that absolutely adorable man of yours."

She smiles the perfectly sweet Andrea the Librarian smile. "But David... Bobby is my best friend! And you're going to be his husband! Of course, I'm going to be concerned about you. I love you guys!"

Don't you think you're laying it on a bit thick?

Didn't I tell you to hush up, Rene?

"But I'll try not to worry too much. And I wasn't kidding about the party."

Bobby remains utterly clueless — which, quite frankly, is a much better Bobby that over-the-top freaked out Bobby. David, on the other hand, blinks and takes several long seconds to process what she had just said.

"Ah..." When Bobby turns to him, his worry ramping up again, David squeezes his shoulder. "I'm fine, dear. Just trying to think things through."

Bobby is mollified, but Andi gets one of David's stink eyes.


Pablo barely keeps himself from laughing, and she just smiles.

"Maddie, I'm not sure I mentioned enough details for these two charmers to remember the party you want to have for Leon." Andi looks at Madeline, noting that Rene is acting like this is the best show he's seen in quite a while.

I really can catch your Husband when he goes all insubstantial like he is. I don't know why he keeps forgetting that. He didn't like it when I zapped him before.

"Maybe you could fill in the details for them. Bobby is a super genius at parties."

Pablo nods. "And I have it on good authority that he can outclass the best of the best," he says, glancing at David. "Heck, if David's not exaggerating too much, even a royal coronation would be a breeze."

Bobby waves his hand dismissively in Pablo's directions. "Please! After planning the coronation of drag queens, actual royalty would be too easy."

"Well, it isn't exactly a coronation, but it is a very special occasion," Madeline begins.

"Our oldest boy turns sixteen in February, and I'd like to do something special for him. It will need to be in France as his grandmother isn't well enough to travel very far. While my secrétaire extraordinaire Chantel offered to arrange something, she has enough on her hands with my schedule. Although, if it makes you feel any better, he is a sort of royalty — at least among the fashion world — as the presumed Heir to the House of Beauvoir.

"I expect the paparazzi will make an appearance to see if he's anything like his father was at that age, so there will be some security of a necessity."

I see that eyebrow, Jacobs. Don't try to pull that innocent act with me. I know better, intimately.

"Some specially chosen media will be allowed to attend as well as house photographers and PR people.

"A much smaller and non-public soiree will also happen stateside, but I will need to speak with the dean of his school first."

"Oooooh!!" Bobby draws it out to at least ten syllables. "Paparazzi!"

"Hey. That's not a good thing, Bobby!" Andi gives him a look that he's come to know well. It's something beyond a mere stink eye. It implies that she thinks he needs to be sedated.

David grins.

"I give up." Andi turns to look at Pablo.


"Nothing. I just can't look at those two right now."

Are you okay? Pablo sounds a little worried.

Yeah. I think. They're reminding me of the demented duo of Spirits. And don't remind me that your Ancestral Annoyance wasn't technically a Spirit.

"Andi..." Bobby starts.

"I'll take care of Andi, Bobby," Pablo says as he gives her a hug and squeezes her shoulder before waving off Bobby's concern. "You plan some parties."

He's in heaven, you know.

Yeah, I know. And I swear that I'm happy for him! It's just... good grief!

Pablo smiles. He doesn't mind watching them, and Andi is happy enough to tune them out for a few minutes. It's considerably more interesting to watch her family observe her friends. Maddie and Rene are more amused than anything while Logan looks mildly interested. There's a hint of wariness to his energy, but she supposes that's understandable. The twins...

Oh, dear... the twins! She doesn't doubt they've met all manner of interesting people in their short lives, both Normal and Cursed. But there really isn't anyone quite like Bobby. At least, Andi hopes for the world's sake that there isn't anyone else on the planet like Bobby. Em and Vin seem fascinated by his particular brand of eccentricity.

"...elegant and sophisticated..."

Andi takes a sip of her drink and settles more fully into the peace she felt this morning. She feels... Well, it doesn't quite make sense, but she feels as though all she would need to do is slip into the No Time place that Taiji brings her in order to snap the shields into place that Moira taught her to build. She has all the building blocks. But would it really be that easy? She supposes the only way to find out is to try it. Clearly not here.

"...but I think I'd want to know more about Leon's fellow students before trying to figure out the sort of party that would work at his school."

"Oh, they're really nice!" says Vin.

"And we met one of the kids who's from Colorado!" adds Em.

"He's twelve, though..."

"And some of them are older than Leon..."

"But not by a lot..."

"We might be going there too..."

They both glance at their parents.

"When Mama and Papa decide it's the right time," Vin concludes as his sister nods.

Bobby blinks at the two of them and Andi chuckles.

"Just figure junior high through high school," she says, smiling at the twins, "and you'll be pretty close." Then she turns to Bobby and David. "And they're a bunch of genius kids on top of it."

David nods while Bobby gets a faraway look in his eye for a moment. "A costume party?" he asks tentatively.


"Oh, who doesn't love dressing up, Andi?" Pablo asks.

"What? Besides you and me?"

He laughs. "Touché. But I do remember — vaguely — when I was that age, when my sisters were that age. Heck, those three still haven't grown out of the desire to dress up!"

She squeezes his hand and smiles. "I know. I love how your Momma describes their tizzies about finding the perfect dresses for the wedding."

"See? So some sort of dressing up might work." He looks over at Bobby for a second. "Well, within reason."

Bobby sniffs, but David pats his shoulder soothingly. "Pablo, Pablo, Pablo," David says, shaking his head and smiling at Andrea's beloved.

"Yes, David. I know you said Bobby can behave. I'm still scarred from his last party. And poor Andi..." He tsks and shakes his head.

David grins and shakes a finger at Pablo. "You're becoming quite a wicked man, Pablo. And you're trying to corrupt our dear, sweet Andrea."

She will not burst out laughing. She will not.

"I really have no idea what you're talking about David," Pablo says innocently.

Oh my gods, stop! I'm trying to behave myself in public, my dear.

Pablo looks at her with a twinkle in his eyes, then leans over to kiss her nose. There. That should keep you from falling off your chair with laughter.

Thank you, dear. I love you.

Pablo looks at Madeline, smiling broadly. "Theme parties are his specialty. I suggest you veto the Hawaiian Luau one, however. Maybe ask..." He looks at Andi with a raised eyebrow. "Charles, right?" She nods and Pablo looks back at Madeline. "...ask Charles what he thinks the students might like. Seems like there's a pretty wide age range so they could be all over the place." He pauses again, head tilted and a smile on his face. "My sisters have always liked historical costumes. For some reason, they're fascinated by the antebellum South and ancient Egypt." He shrugs. "I always got outvoted when I wanted to go all wild, wild west."

"Harrumph. I'd vote against the wild, wild west, too." Andi makes a face at him and doesn't quite stick out her tongue.

"Yes, dear," he says with a smile. "Because you'd look better as Pocahontas!"

She gives him a stink eye, then turns to Maddie. "I'll break his legs later. While Bobby can't be trusted to behave himself when he's trying to play matchmaker for his best friend, I'd trust him to do the right thing for Leon and his classmates."

Maddie's smile might be considered wry but there is still warmth in it.

"The Paris occasion first. S'il vous plait. Would it help to plan if you were actually in Paris? It can easily be arranged assuming you..." She pauses to look from Bobby to David and back again. "...both have passports already."

She raises an eyebrow in question at them.

Both Bobby and David nod. They don't often get to travel — part of it's financial, but most of it is David's job. However, when they do travel, they want to see exotic locations. Andi smiles. Half the time, she gets the impression that one of Bobby's greatest joys is having an "exotic" best friend and neighbor. And that is beyond weird because she doesn't think she's the least bit exotic.

"It probably would help, at least, when you're putting together the final touches," David says to Bobby.

Bobby considers the possibility as the waitstaff bring out trays of food. Then he gets distracted by the adult portions that are placed in front the twins, his eyes wide with disbelief.

"Growth spurts," Andi says, pulling his attention from Em and Vin... but with the unfortunate side effect of drawing attention to a larger portion of food on her plate than he generally sees her eat.

"And what's your excuse?" he asks suspiciously. Oh, the theories he could create!

"I haven't eaten all day! Well, except for a teeny, tiny piece of coffee cake for breakfast and a single, lonely lemon bar at intermission. Even ex-librarians need to eat protein every once in a while, you know."

He looks ready to start another of his diatribes about her eating habits, but Pablo intervenes this time.

"Gosh, Bobby, if you and David go to France right after the wedding, then Andi and I can lock ourselves in our house and have our honeymoon right here in Denver!"

He looks so innocent and enthusiastic about the idea that Andi almost laughs. But she looks at him with the same level of innocence, although the sweet and shy librarian wouldn't look quite that enthusiastic.

Isn't that what we've been doing for months already?

Yep. We could keep it up for years.

No, we couldn't. Crime won't stop just because we'd like a proper honeymoon. Maybe we should go to Suriname like Maddie suggested.

"Pablo! You can't just stay home on your honeymoon!" Bobby looks positively indignant and David just chuckles. "Well, they can't. What if some terrible crime happens and you need to go solve it?"

Andi barely refrains from giggling. "Bobby's right, dear. I trust your Captain Sanchez not to call you, but I'm not sure I trust you..." She lightly pokes his arm with a finger. " keep your nose out of your fellow detectives' business."

Pablo grins and leans over to kiss her cheek. "Guilty as charged, your honor."

"So where are you going?" David asks.

She shrugs. "Too many choices." She looks at Maddie, and her smile loses all traces of frivolity and teasing... leaving only the love. "Maddie said we could come to Paris, which would be lovely as we didn't see much of it when we were out there last month. Or to Suriname, where her family has property." Then she looks at Pablo. "I'd like to go to Mexico and see the lands of Pablo's ancestors..."

"And as far as I'm concerned, my ancestors are from Los Angeles," Pablo says. I have no desire to run into any more of my ancestral gods.

She rolls her eyes at him. "You're silly." Except about the part where you don't want to meet more of the Aztec deities. I'm totally on board with that idea. Let's not go to Mexico.

"I'd like to tour the Navajo Nation," Pablo says, looking back at Bobby and David, "but Andi says that wouldn't take very long and would probably make me cry."

She shrugs. "My family isn't quite an anomaly, but I don't know how I manage not to cry myself when I go out there to visit my family. David, what's the worst poverty you've ever seen?"

He looks at her, more than a little puzzled, then looks around the table. "I don't know, Andi. Around here? Probably some pockets on the west side, a few places out in Aurora, Five Points, probably the ghetto of Unfortunates up north if rumors I've heard are true."

She shakes her head, but Pablo manages to speak when she can't.

"I lived out on the west side before moving in with Andi. I've patrolled Five Points. I've heard about the community up north. Folks might not have as much as we do, but they manage to do a lot with very little."

"You can't do much with absolutely nothing, David. So many people don't even have electricity and running water... and it's not just the Navajo. It's most of the..." Andrea shakes her head. This is supposed to be a nice, friendly meal where Andi isn't going to risk her eyes shining with Aztec magic because she's so angry. She smiles wanly. "Don't get me started, okay? As much as I'd love to show Pablo my home — all of it — we'll wait."

David regards her with an intensity she rarely sees in him.

"Go to Paris."

She smiles at him... and then she snickers.

"Uh huh. And have you and Bobby stalking us while we're on our honeymoon?"

David laughs. "Andi darling, I'm sure Paris is big enough for a lovely heterosexual couple on their honeymoon and a couple of fabulous party planning gay men. We'd never even see one another!"

She looks at Pablo, then glances at Maddie and Logan. Then she smiles and looks back at Pablo.

You know what will happen, don't you? I'll get sucked into Black Wolf's world.

He reaches around to hug her. "I think it's a great idea. Now... eat your lunch. You're too thin."

The twins plow into their food, although not with wild abandon. They still have table manners. Chewing and swallowing do not preclude them from listening. As the destination discussion seems to conclude, Em looks at the adults around the table stopping lastly on her parents.

"Are you going to be going on your honeymoon, too, Mama?" she asks. "You and Papa haven't had the chance. Maybe you could talk to Oncle Charles and we could stay there..."

"But Paris is where we live, Em," Vin says. "Sounds like they're supposed to go somewhere where they don't live."

"Like here?"

"I don't know. Mom kind of technically lives here too since she still has the cabin. Same for Suriname."

Madeline's eyebrow raises during the exchange between her children and she gives an amused look to her Mate. Rene's chuckle can also be heard.

"Are you two trying to get rid of us?" she asks them.

Em doesn't quite roll her eyes. "Of course not! Just, it's not like you had a chance to do any of that since you made it official. Aren't you kind of supposed to?"

Then Vin pipes in with, "Where did you and On... Leon's dad go?"

"Southeast Asia, the Indonesian archipelagos, and the South Pacific," she answers smoothly.

"Is there any place you haven't been you want to go?" Em asks.

"Not particularly."

"What about you, Papa?" Vin asks next.

Logan simply shakes his head.

Em and Vin look at each other and shrug, and then say in unison. "Might as well be at home then."

Madeline can't help her chuckle. "Is that your final decision?"

"Well, it makes sense to us," Vin says.

"What do you think, darlin'?" Madeline asks Logan.

"Fine by me, darlin'," he drawls.

With a grin, she looks at Andi and Pablo. "I guess it's settled then. Paris it is. We could go down to Marseilles and see that harbor I told you about."

Andi is fairly certain she is enjoying the twins' conversion more than either Pablo or Bobby are. The latter looks almost appalled. Her husband looks... no, just his qi feels terrified.

David is entranced. And that makes sense — he loves kids. Unfortunately, he so very rarely meets any who haven't been traumatized.

She smiles at Maddie and then looks at Pablo. "Still think a baseball team is a good idea? And no, any children we have will not be precious, perfect angels. They will be just as precocious as Em and Vin, with their cousins as shining examples."

There's a little too much Ninja peeking out when he looks at her and swallows hard. "Um..."

"That's one of the reasons I love you so much, Pablo Garcia! You are so eloquently articulate," she says with a smile.

Then she looks at David and Bobby, nudging David's arm. "See if you can get him to close his mouth. Mama and Tita would be asking if he was trying to catch some flies for more protein." David chuckles, she giggles, and Bobby looks at her with that confused look he gets when the real world doesn't match anything he's ever seen on television.

"Bobby, they're very smart and the school system in France is better than ours. Don't be so surprised, silly."

But then she looks at the two mischief makers... Aunt Andi and Ninja are both regarding them with interest as she eats a steak fry. And finally, she nods.

Wife, you're getting spookier with each passing day.

Oh, maybe. But I'm not being driven insane by Raven and Quetzalcoatl. I know my powers are growing, pretty sure it has to do with the Pentad, and I understand the ninny Spirits can't really help me with this. She looks at him and has to remind herself not to get lost in his eyes. She smiles at him before turning to Maddie.

"You may as well warn Charles. Your two hellions told him so much about Charles and their brother's school that Billy has already bought his plane tickets to go visit. If Charles could use a teacher who can not only design and program elegant databases, but can interrogate other people's databases at least as well as Detective Garcia here can interrogate suspects..." Andi chuckles. "Well, I think Billy would volunteer to teach there, thanks to these two."

She tilts her head toward Maddie's children, but then pauses and shakes her head. "And yes, he could probably fill that job opening your friend has... but no, I think he's too... hmm..."

I can't say he's too nice or kind-hearted or innocent to take over Freak's job... Perhaps just that he doesn't have the level of ruthlessness to do that job.

She shrugs. Then she glances over Maddie's shoulder at Rene before meeting her Sister's eyes again.

"I will absolutely warn Charles. And having Billy there...well, he could help look after the technical security measures there and is probably better suited to be on-site than their creator. As for my friend, he'll find someone eventually."

Bobby's reaction was amusing as well.

"If he reacts this way to the twins, wait until he meets Leon," Madeline comments. "He was their age when he insisted he go to Charles' school."

Then she spares a look for her children, who are about to pounce on that statement. "And, no, you may not use that as an argument. You will be there full time soon enough."

"I would love to see that harbor... we would love to see it," she says, taking Pablo's hand. "Your description of it is so peaceful and beautiful." Andi sighs; it's a sigh of peace and serenity. When she cuts her eyes over to the Human Tsunami for a moment, they are — she's sure — full of mischief when her gaze returns to her Sister.

"And the party planner extraordinaire won't find us there, either."

"It is a beautiful place. Perhaps we should even stop in and visit Marie and Jeremiah."

Then another thought comes to her. "We could even drive over to Monaco. It's less than a hundred and fifty kilometers away. Shouldn't take more than hour to get there. Marie still has a couple of Rene's old cars in the garage."

Logan rumbles a question. She smiles and nods.

"Bobby, David, do you two have any hotel preferences or should I just have my secretary make the arrangements for you? I tell you what, I will have Chantel contact you and see what might suit your tastes. She can make all the arrangements. The woman is a marvel. She will also be able to give you any information you would need regarding those who need to be invited. Does that work for you?"

Bobby blinks a few times. Andy knows that look. Something just knocked the poor guy's brain loose and he's looking for it. Figuratively, of course. David chuckles again.

"It does seem to be the most reasonable thing to do, Madeline," he says easily.

She's only a little surprised that the two of them are acting so very normal and so very much like themselves. Maybe she should have just trusted her friends to be exactly who and what they are. Oh right. Except for the very tiny fact that Bobby has been an absolutely lunatic lately... to the point that one of Denver's Supers had to haul him out of Charlie's. Yep. That's what's keeping her surprised.

"You have that work thing on the seventh," Bobby manages to say as he returns to his new reality.

David nods and smiles at him. "I know. I'd love to avoid it and being in Paris would be the best excuse ever, wouldn't it?"

Bobby sighs as he rolls his eyes. "Of course it would! And then your boss would get all snippy at you when you got back, and I'd never hear the end of it. I swear, David, sometimes you're as bad as Pablo when it comes to avoiding functions!"

"Hey, there, buddy," Pablo says with a moderate attempt at not laughing, "you keep me out of your little domestic dispute over there."

While Bobby gives Pablo one of his I don't understand you people looks, David laughs again. "I am not as bad as Pablo, and you know it. Getting engaged to our Andrea is the only reason he was at your Thanksgiving dinner this year. I only avoid the annual After the Holidays Office Thing They Call a Party."

"Oh, stop it, you two," Andi says as she grins at them. "Or I'm going to lock the both of you in a tiny room with Em and Vin, and let them talk your ears off." Which, as she's picturing it, is hilarious.

"It would be Vin more than me," Em comments.

Vin is going to protest on principal but shrugs. "Yes, probably."

Bobby rolls his eyes again, knowing it's an empty threat. David knows it, too, but somehow she doesn't think he'd mind all that much.

"Why, Andrea!" he says, pretending to be shocked. "I think you're becoming evil!"

She just barely manages not to giggle. "Nope. Just taking lessons from my husband to be on how to deal with crazy people."

Liar. I'm the one who's taking lessons from Ninja.

Oh, potato, potahto.


Andi can't contain the giggle that produces.

"Andi, are you on drugs?" Bobby asks suspiciously.

"Yep. It's this new thing called 'happiness'. Hey, did you hear I'm getting married in a couple of weeks."

David laughs and after a couple of seconds, Bobby smiles knowingly. "I told you Pablo was right for you," he says with a self-satisfied smirk.

And she doesn't even care.

Bobby looks at Maddie and nods. "That would be very gracious of you, Madeline. I'm not going to let David off the hook for his work event so any time after the seventh would be fine. I look forward to speaking with your secretary." He gives David a side eye look — and it would appear Andi is not the only one learning to be evil — and remarks to his beloved, "I'm happy to go with you to your office party, you know."

David barely stifles his groan. "Yes, dear. Under the condition that you behave yourself this year."

"Ooh!" Andi looks at them both with wide eyes and more than a little acting ability. "What did Bobby do last year? Why didn't I hear the story of the scandal? David! You've been holding out on me!"

This, of course, gives Pablo the opportunity to chuckle at David's slightly panicked look as Bobby and his wife prepare to tag team him.

"I haven't, Andi! I swear!" David looks at Pablo and then at Andi. "I'm sure I told you about it."

She shakes her head. "Nope. I would have remembered. Bobby's antics are very important to remember... it keeps my coffee safe from those thieving little fingers of his."

"Hmm. Well, you have a point there. Still, it wasn't that big a deal. He just spent half the evening telling the catering company what they were doing wrong."

"Pfft. That's boring." And then she pretends to pout.

David pats her shoulder in an attempt to console her. "I'd share with you, Andi, if there was anything useful you could use to keep your coffee safe."

She thinks that's when he remembers the incident at Charlie's.

"Well, anything that wouldn't cause Bobby to kill me in my sleep."

She raises an eyebrow at the two of them. "Intrigue! You are holding out on me! I might be a delicate librarian, but I'm a smart one. And I know my best friend." She grins at them. "Come on. What did he do that you're afraid to tell me?"

Bobby actually looks embarrassed and David glances at the children. "Later?"

Andi pretends to think about it. It's not something that little ears shouldn't hear, and it's hysterically funny in retrospect... at least to her. Still, it could lead to quite a lengthy discussion of Bobby's various idiosyncrasies.

"Fine. Later."

Madeline smiles.

"So the ninth? Does that work for you? Two weeks to start and whatever back and forth you need to do to pull it all together. I'll call Chantel on Monday. Admittedly it isn't a lot of time since his birthday is February fourth, but Andi says party planning is your super power."

Then she looks at Andi. "We'll be driving up to meet Jenny's family for the new year, then we'll be taking the kids back to school. You two are welcome to join us or head straight to Paris. You'd have the house mostly to yourselves. Bernard will be around of course. Let me know what you want to do."

David nods in response to Maddie's question, as it would appear Bobby has gone into his Party Planning Zone for a minute. However, and unfortunately, he comes out again after a few seconds.

"Ooh, Andi, if you ever have a daughter, Chantel would be a beautiful name!"

Andi stares at Bobby like the lunatic he is.


She doesn't even say it with exasperation. Bobby is insane. Bobby clearly hasn't paid much attention to huge swaths of information that she's shared about her family.

And David merely pats Bobby on the head.

She rolls her eyes as Bobby looks from David to Andi and back to David. "What did I say now?"

"I don't think it's what you said, dear. I think it's what you haven't heard Andi say about her family that's the problem. How about we adopt a little girl and name her Chantel, hmm?"

Bobby looks confused, and Andi feels entirely too pleased by that. Nah. Not too pleased. There's no such thing.

"But now that Mr. Adorably Clueless has brought up the topic, what would you name your hypothetical children?" David asks. And it's in that ever so rational way of egging people on, too. As Rene had noted earlier, the man is fairly wicked.

"Obviously, Pablo Junior for a boy," Bobby says.

"No!" Pablo and Andi say simultaneously.

"Well, excuse me!" Bobby says. He's pretending to be offended... but he's still crazy enough that he doesn't need to pretend very hard.

"Just to spite you, Bobby," she says, smiling Andrea the Sweet Librarian's smile, "I'm going to name them Thing One and Thing Two!"

This gets the desired effect from Bobby... he shuts up. Pablo, on the other hand...

"I really think Lorax would make a great name, too."

When she looks at him, his expression is completely serious. And his qi is nearly boiling over with laughter.

"You really don't need to encourage them, you know," she says calmly, and gracing him with Andrea the Librarian's sweet smile, as well.


Yep. Oops.

Then Andi turns to Maddie. "Most of the family is leaving on the 29th or the 30th, but Jason and Nicole were planning to stay through most of the week. I think they're planning on heading back to Chicago on the third or fourth. I think their friend — well, Justin's friend — is staying that long, too.

"And I didn't manage to extract from Mama whether Billy is heading back to Yah-Ta-Hey before going to New York, or if he was planning to fly out from Denver. If he's smart, he will fly out from Denver. With Billy... you never know."

It might sound like a complaint, but it isn't. Billy is Billy, and one just naturally loves Billy. She will admit that she's grinning.

"I could probably trust my brother, my someday to be sister in law, and my brother's friend not to destroy Denver or my house if we drove up to meet Jenny's family... I have no so such illusions about my cousin."

"So... we bring Billy with us," Pablo suggests.

She looks at him... and tries not to think he's jumped on the crazy train, too.

"Do you really want to subject Jenny's folks — whom I'm sure are very nice people — to Billy? Are you sure you want to subject the state of Wyoming to Billy?"

Pablo considers it for an entire second. "It will be good for Billy. And you'll be there to smack him around with your Kung Fu hands if he misbehaves."

She looks around the table. The twins are so thrilled with the mere idea of having Billy that close for that long that Andi is absolutely shocked that they're sitting still. And Logan isn't even giving Pablo one of those Elder looks of his. In fact, aside from Bobby and David's confusion about what possible issues her cousin might have, she seems to be the only one with any reservations. So she shrugs.

"Okay. I'll ask Mama what his plans are." She still shakes her head, though.

"You might want to make sure Jenny's folks are prepared for an onslaught of that magnitude, Maddie," she says to her Sister.

"But it seems rude to leave Justin and Nicole and Chris all on their own! They're staying those few extra days so they could visit with us, Pablo!"

"Oh, so bring them along, too! If Madeline and Logan are going to be driving to New York, they'll go right through Chicago!"

"WHAT?! Have you completely lost all sanity, Pablo?" Andi closes her eyes, finds that calm place inside and sighs. "You've lost your mind. I get it. It's fine... we are getting married in a few weeks after all..."

"Nineteen days! Not that I'm counting."

She smiles. Nineteen days. Wow!

"That is still an insane idea."

"No, it's not. Tell her, Madeline... the more, the merrier, right?"

She opens her eyes and Ninja looks at Pablo. "That better not be a metaphor for children, buster."

He smiles, but just a bit wickedly. "No, ma'am, Ms. Yazzie, ma'am. No metaphors for us cops, you know. A few similes, perhaps. An allegory or two... but no metaphors."

"Do you even know what an allegory is?"

He laughs. "Not a clue. Just a word I remember hearing in English class... which you know I slept through. I can only speak like an intelligent person because of Rosalia."

"Well, blessed be her name," Andi says with a loving smile.

"And I still say it's a great idea to just drag everyone along with us."

"On our honeymoon."

"Sure. Family, remember?" He looks over at Maddie. "What do you think, Madeline?"

Madeline and Logan share a look. This time, Logan answers.

"We were going to rent an RV for the drive up. Can always make it two if one would be too crowded."

"Leon and Jenny will be flying back to the school from there," Madeline adds. "I can make arrangements for anyone else needing flights. Knowing that area, charter flights will probably be necessary anyway."

Em and Vin are grinning.

Andi raises an eyebrow at Logan's response.

Rene is laughing.

And the expressions on the twins' faces...

Aw, hell. She sighs.

"Okay. I'll talk to Justin and Mama tomorrow." She grins at Em and Vin, then shakes her head. "I really feel sorry for the state of Wyoming!

"And depending on when you're heading back down here to return your RV — or RVs — we might get back in time to hustle Justin, Nicole, and Chris off to DIA," she says to Maddie. "It's probably better for them than charter flights."

Pablo drapes an arm across her shoulders and leans over to kiss her temple. "Flying commercial is better than flying a charter? What world are you living in, Andi?"

"The same one I was living in before I met Maddie, Mr. Smarty Pants. That would be the world my brother and his girlfriend are living in, too. Well, Nicole's family has more money than we do, but just like Maddie, they're really very down to earth people... or so Justin says. And I trust his judgment. Besides, I'm not sure they're charter flight wealthy." She smiles as she scoots her chair a little closer to his. "And if Chris isn't used to taking charter flights — and really, how many people are? Well, he could just plain freak out. We can't have that, now can we?" She looks up at him and almost gets lost again. But she manages to hang onto her train of thought. "Justin said he's doing fine, but I could tell my brother's worried. A little. Let's be good to him, okay?"

"What happened?" Bobby asks with only a small tremor of panic in his voice.

Andi turns to him and switches to Story Time mode. It's hard not to grin, but she perseveres.

"Chris was really, really sick a couple of months ago... he came down with the flu that was going around in Chicago at the time." It's not at all difficult to look concerned. Had she known about it beforehand, she would have been scared to death for Justin and Nicole. "A lot of folks actually died, and I guess Chris' roommates were scared he was going to die, too. But his mom's a nurse and made sure to look in on him every day. And he's got great roommates. Well, that's what my brother says. He only met Miranda, but it sounds like Brad is pretty cool, too. Anyway, he was just getting back on his feet when his family had a big crisis at Thanksgiving."

Bobby's eyes are wide and David pulls him close. Andi has only mentioned to Maddie that Chris was affected by the Virus and is coming out here on Justin's suggestion. Her brother... Well, one just has to love him. If he thinks being around their family will help his friend, who is she to second guess him?

"It turns out Chris' sister was dating a real... jerk." She's sure Em and Vin have heard worse than anything she might have said, but Bobby isn't used to the Sweet Librarian having a potty mouth. "Manipulative and abusive. He was super obnoxious to Chris and his folks and tried to get Claire to leave their parents' house even before dinner! But the whole family supported her when she stood up to the creep. Sounds like Chris has a family as awesome as ours, even if it is tiny in comparison. Anyway, I guess Claire's friends had already begun planning to get her away from the creep, but Chris has still been worried about her. You know how those stalker guys can be! Really scary! But since their folks are taking a cruise over the holidays... and Claire's friends are taking her off to some undisclosed location... Justin thought it would be relaxing for Chris to spend the holidays with us."

She laughs as she looks around the table, her gaze settling on Pablo's smiling face.

"I don't know how relaxing a bazillion people are going to be, but Chris won't be alone... and he'll be away from all the stress that built up in Chicago. Oooh, did I tell you I gave him the room we reserved for your friend Carlos?"

"Yes, dear," he says, ignoring the snickering Rene. "It's a little unnerving to know he has family in the area. Will he try harder to lure me away to San Diego? Or will he back off because now he has an excuse to visit here? Knowing him, we'll never get the truth out of him."

"Why not?" Andi asks oh so innocently. "Just ask. Never mind. I'll ask!"

Oh, don't worry, dear Sister... I'm not going to lure Pablo anywhere that the rest of you aren't being lured as well.

Pablo makes some sort of strangulated sound that could be interpreted as a laugh of disbelief.

Damn it, Rene!

Spirit Brother just laughs.

"That's really nice of you, Andi... but..." Bobby is getting upset again. "But your honeymoon. You and Pablo should be going off somewhere together. Alone."

She looks at her best friend and smiles.

"Bobby, sweetie... Pablo and I have the rest of our lives to go off places together and be alone. We hardly ever get to see so many of our family members, and certainly not all gathered together. And you know how I feel about family. I miss my little brother. We've spent so much of our lives apart. If it means Pablo and I have to rearrange the time we spend alone together somewhere romantic, that's really fine. Honest."


Pablo just shakes his head. "She's serious about this, Bobby. And so am I. According to her family's traditions, I'm the one marrying into her family... not the other way around. I'd like the chance to get to know my brother-in-law better. And the woman he's going to marry someday if the conversations between him and Andi are any indication. And if they're bringing along one of their friends? That's great!"


"Bobby," David says gently. "Pablo had the chance to get to know us, didn't he?"

"Well... yes."

"And we're like family to Andi. So he should get to know this Justin, who actually is family. And if we're like family to Andi, how do you know Chris isn't like family to Justin?"

"Oh. Well. Still... we wouldn't keep Andi and Pablo from going on their honeymoon!"

Andi rolls her eyes. "Bobby, you're impossible. If you thought it would serve one of your nefarious purposes, you'd throw a party to keep us here."

"I am throwing you a party," he said half offended and half haughty.

"Yes, you are. And thank you, oh most wonderful Drama Queen Party Planner. But there will be no drama at this party, right?" She smiles as she remembers his last party... and ignores the fact that she and Pablo had caused the actual drama. It had still been Bobby's fault.

"I didn't..." He stops when David nudges him in the ribs. "No. No drama. That wouldn't be tasteful." He looks down at the table. "I want it to be perfect for you, Andi."

Andi exchanges a look with David. More than most of us, Bobby has reasons to feel alone and lonely at this time of year.

"Bobby." She waits until he looks up. "Just having everyone we love most in the world gathering to celebrate with us makes it perfect. And I know it will be special, and wonderful, and a day we'll remember all our lives... because you're doing the planning. I wouldn't trust just anyone, you know."

She waits and smiles. Oh, how often have the two of them danced this little dance? And for how many different reasons? Finally, he nods and returns her smile.

"I'll try to stop worrying so much, Andi, but... well..."

"I know. You love me and I'm the sister you should have had instead of the ones you got. Well, Mama is going to love you just as much as I do. I promise." Then she looks at David.

"How soon do you two need to head back to the performing arts center?"

David glances at the large clock on the wall. "Probably about five or ten minutes. Are you going to quit worrying about Andi and Pablo, Bobby? Come on, please? They're more stubborn than you are. They're just going to do what they want anyway. You'll drive yourself crazy trying to convince them not to do something they've already decided to do."

Pablo nods. "Your man speaks wisdom. Of course, we might be willing to listen to your reasoning a little more closely if he'd stop flirting with me." He grins at David.

"Oh, now that can never happen! You are one fine looking heterosexual man, Pablo."

David doesn't even notice that the twins are rolling their eyes, but Pablo does. He nods to them. "Yeah, and he's tame today."

Andi giggles. "And you don't even turn bright red anymore."

Pablo laughs. "Well, it helps that I figured out he's not serious."

"How can you be so sure?" David asks, waggling his eyebrows. It's Bobby's turn for more eye rolling.

"Because I'm sure," Andi says smugly.

David sighs. "Well, when you're right... you're right." Then he brightens again. "I don't think dessert is a good idea for either of us, but you guys stay and have some cheesecake or... ooh, the mega chocolate killer thing on our behalf."

"I've had my fair share of sugar for the day, but the rest of you go ahead. Or we could head out, too. Get dessert to go?" She looks over at Maddie and Logan. "I'd invite you all over to our place for coffee, except..." Her eyes shift to the twins for an instant. "...I think your hellions would be so bored they'd probably find a way to climb up onto the roof."

She looks directly at them, grinning as she shakes a finger in their direction. "That is not a dare, and there will be no roof-climbing. Not until you learn how to patch roofs, anyway."

Still smiling, she gives her attention back to their parents. "Your call, of course."

I do want to tell you about the dream I had last night, and I think I can entice at least one of the cats to come down near the cabin to keep the twins distracted.

Madeline and Logan lean into each other as the talk of the after wedding plans continue. The twins polish off whatever food is left on the table, with permission of course.

They rumble softly at each other, eyes watching their Sister and Brother, faces lined with amusement as the conversation comes to its inevitable conclusion.

"My coffee is better," she says smugly, though warmly. "You come up to the cabin and bring sweets."

Andi laughs. Despite the day's overabundance of drama, despite the conversation about her dream that must be had... she is relieved that she can laugh and that the laughter comes from a place of peace and joy.

"Oh, yes... your coffee is definitely better than anything we have around here..."

"Does that mean I can steal your hazelnut again?" Bobby interrupts.

"I'm still guarding it," Pablo says, "so... no."

She shakes her head. "...despite my continued fondness for the hazelnut. The meager stash you gave me — and I know it wasn't actually meager — definitely won't last the evening with four people drinking it. But at least the Philistine over here seemed unimpressed..."

"I have no idea what you're talking about, Andi!" Bobby interrupts. Again.

Andi leans back to watch the lobs he and Pablo exchange... to snicker... to roll her eyes and grin at Maddie.

"Oh, so you weren't at our kitchen table this morning being a Drama Llama about the fact that the coffee wasn't hazelnut?" Pablo asks.

"Of course not."

"Right." Pablo nods. "I do remember seeing you there, and I do remember you almost whining about the lack of hazelnut."

Bobby looks as though he's about to say something, but David leans over and whispers softly to Bobby. Only the fact that she's sitting so close to them lets Andi hear David say, Quit while you're ahead, dear.

"So Madeline's Super Secret Blend, as this goof..." She tilts her head toward Pablo. "...calls it, will probably be safe enough from my thieving best friend. The fact remains that you're entirely correct."

Their waiter arrives then to ask about desserts. He assures them that even the ice cream desserts would be packaged well enough to make it home... providing home isn't Laramie. Well, or even Fort Collins. Fine, even Aurora would be pushing things. Andi suspect he might have a second job at one of the local theater companies because it's a well-played routine. However, Pablo apparently feels confident enough to order one of each item on the dessert menu... except the donuts. He has a very set worldview that donuts are breakfast food. He's been this way for as long as she's known him. She thinks Deb might have asked him once if he was really a police officer — he offered to write her a ticket for her Physicsmobile to prove it.

And then she smiles as he starts insisting that he can certainly pay for dessert if Maddie is going to pay for dinner. She's sure the show will be as amusing as the waiter's act... but she does know how it will end.

Andi ignores the whole thing and turns to David and Bobby. "I'll walk you out to your car. I know you need to get back. It could take several whole minutes for them to finish this act."

She looks at Pablo and Maddie, grins and shakes her head, then says to Elder Brother and Spirit Brother, "I'll be out front."

Bobby is still not completely settled to his normal level of lunacy, but getting some food has helped. She has the feeling he won't be back to whatever passes for normal until after the party for Leon. At least after the wedding, it should be a slightly more bearable kind of crazy... especially if they don't see each other for several weeks.

"Thank you," she says to David as she links her arm with his.

He looks at Bobby and then at her. "For what, Andi?"

"For not geeking out about Maddie being... you know... famous in the world of high fashion."

His smile lights up his face nearly as brightly as Bobby's presence does. "She's so down to earth and... and just a normal person with kids and a husband. I even managed to mostly forget that she runs the House of Beauvoir." The three of them walk out into the December afternoon. "You have really great friends, Andi."

She turns so she can hug them both; they're all in a tight little bundle. "I know! And you're both a couple of those really great friends." She releases them and taps Bobby on the chest. "And you're going to behave yourself, right?"


"No, really, Bobby," she says seriously. "You've been so wound up lately, and I understand about the holidays and all. Really. But you're worse this year than, well, ever."

He doesn't say anything for a few seconds, then looks down at their feet. "I know."

"Bobby." She waits... and waits a little longer, smiling when he looks up at her again. He's trying not to show all the pain he thinks he needs to hold inside. "Oh, Bobby! Someday, you're going to realize that those people who won't admit you're their son or brother did you a big favor. They left all this room for the rest of us, your real family to jump into your heart and stay there!"

He smiles sadly. "My brain knows you're right, Andi, by my heart..."

Andrea rests her hand over his heart. "Like the rest of us, your heart is stupid sometimes. I know. Am I going to have to nag constantly? Hmm?"

"Probably," David says.

"Traitor." But Bobby is smiling as he says it, a real smile. And, at least at this moment, he monumentally happy.

"Okay, get out her here, you two!" she says, handing the car keys to David.

They pay no attention to her as they head toward the car... and that's exactly the way it should be.

As she watches them drive off, standing off to the side of the entrance, Andi is again struck by the peace she feels. She knows if she goes out on patrol tonight, there's a fair chance she'll come across a miscreant or two. Or more. She promised Dennison she'd meet with him and his folks when they come to town. From the anxiety he exudes, she's going to guess that's not going to be a good time. And she's getting married in nineteen days!

She realizes that the land time she felt this peaceful — the last time Andrea Yazzie felt this peaceful — was in her last few days with Grandmaster Chen.

Dang. And here she thought she was going to have to visit him to regain some portion of that peace. Who knew that dreaming about a Starfleet Captain could have the same effect?

Maddie and Logan exit the restaurant preceded by the twins, who are imitating Mexican jumping beans. Rene is insubstantial, but she can sense his presence.

Maddie's grin isn't quite of the shit-eating variety, but Andi knows her Sister got her way... and Pablo doesn't know it yet.

"I have got to see his expression when he figures out you duped him," she says to Maddie. "What did you tell him that makes him think he's going to pay for the desserts?"

"I told him he was more than welcome to believe he could pay for the desserts," Madeline says.

It was all in the delivery, Rene says.

Andi chuckles. "Well, we won't be too far behind you, I don't think. If your hellions want to take a hike by starlight with the cats, they'll want to dress a little warmer. We'll at leave give them a chance to grab sweaters and jackets."

After a last glance and a wicked grin toward the lobby restaurant, Madeline follows Logan and the twins toward their SUV and Andi goes back inside to wait with Pablo.

He looks up from the menu he seems to be attempting to memorize — a ridiculous notion, as they've both had it memorized for ages. His smile makes her heart beat a little faster and she returns his smile — like calling to like.

"How's Bobby doing?"

"Better, I think, at least temporarily. It will be a couple of months before he's back to his version of normal, but at least most of what's going on now is probably just the usual holidays and family crap he puts himself through." She sighs. "What David did this afternoon? That's going to make a big difference, I think. And if Bobby would just let himself believe David's folks love him as a son..."

Pablo looks skeptical. "Will he? Can he?"

Andi nods. "Eventually. Maybe not this week or this month... but eventually. The Professors McNair are very persuasive."

"I'll take your word for it. Are we going to survive the insanity?"

Andi is saved from answering by the hostess arriving with a good-sized, well-insulated bag. "Garcia?"

Pablo reaches for his wallet as he turns. "That's me. What do I owe you?"

The hostess hands him the bag and gives him an odd look. "Ms. Jacobs already paid for it."

Andi snickers. Pablo looks at her... looks at the hostess... and then pretends to glare at Andi. Then he sighs, turns back to the hostess and gives her a charming smile. "Thank you. I must have misunderstood her."

"Oh, it happens more often than you'd think," she says brightly. "Have a lovely evening, and come again soon!"

"I could have sworn she said I could buy the desserts," Pablo grumbles as they walk toward the doors.

"Really?" Andi opens the door simply by turning to face him and walking backward. "You thought the woman who's insisting on giving me a stipend for doing something I do for my own peace of mind and as part of my job for Jeffco was going to let you pay for dessert?"

Pablo sighs with resignation. "I guess when you put it that way..."


As they walk toward his car, he wraps his free arm around his Wife's waist.

"Are you really okay, Andi? It's been kind of a weird day. I could feel something of what was going on in the theater, and Rene was really upset with you."

"They all were upset, love. And..." Andi pauses as they reach the car, turning into his arms, wrapping both of her arms around him and resting her head on his chest. "They were right to be worried... Maddie and Logan. And, well..." She sighs as he sets the bag on top of the car and just holds her. "I don't want to hear what Rene has to say because I'm pretty sure I know what he wants to say. I want to pretend, just for a little while longer, that what I know to be true... isn't really true."

"Oh, Andi! Is it that terrible?"

He sounds so worried.

"No. I don't know. I mean... I guess not. It's just..." She looks up at his face and she tries to smile. Maybe she even manages a little one. "Master Chen and his wife said I was the most powerful person with this... gift? Anyway, the most powerful master of qi they have ever known. Even the most powerful master in their legends... going back hundreds, perhaps a thousand years. About once every twenty or thirty years, someone will come along who needs training, although since the Virus was developed, more people are..." Andi holds her breath for a moment; this is not easy for her to talk about. "...more people are being affected strongly by this... this Curse and most of them are dying before they can be helped."

She closes her eyes, seeing the ever-present qi all around them. She can understand how people would essentially burn themselves out when the Curse hit them — even people who understand the flow of qi through the body. If it hadn't been for her family...

She'd rather not think about that. She opens her eyes and looks into Pablo's eyes again, shrugging lightly.

"Many, many more people are being affected with the milder forms of my Curse. If it's a mutation, it usually comes on slowly — like it did for Colonel Masterson — so slowly that people barely notice when it locks into place. Masterson said he just thought it was his allergies acting up. Like pretty much all cases of a Virus outbreak, it takes hold and just seems like a mild to moderate case of the flu. But in either case, it turns into nothing more than a heightened sense of intuition.

"I knew when I left China that I... I had a great responsibility. I tried to ignore it... or at least hold it at bay... while I played at being a regular college student. But then..." She shrugs. He knows what she doesn't need to say. Neither of them will ever forget Denise.

"But you took up the staff, as you call it. You have protected people for years, Andi, and I never really wanted to know that part of you." He frowns a bit. "I guess that's not true. Not really. I was afraid to know that part of you. But we're passed that now."

She nods. And this time, she manages a real smile. "Yes. We're getting married in nineteen days — not that anyone is counting — and we have a Bond that allows us to work together, and a greater one that allows us to work with Maddie and Logan and Rene to keep this world as safe as possible from any nasty little surprises that beings like those Aztec demigods might try to throw at us. Or horrible people like Ji-Ji and Stryker and the scum Maddie has to deal with in Europe.

"I'm just..."

He searches her face, then kisses her softly. "Scared again?"

Andrea nods. "My powers are... I think yesterday I would have said they were out of control. Now, they're just... I guess maybe overwhelming would come close. Except, you know, not really. There are so many new things that don't make sense."

Pablo shakes his head and smiles wryly. "You're confused. And you're making me even more confused. I'm just a dumb cop..." He jumps when Andi jabs his ribs.

"Stop it, Pablo. Sometimes, that's a funny joke. Mostly, though... it's about as funny as your obsession with a baseball team of children."

"Deflection. That's what David called it. I guess I still compare myself to Rosalia in some ways. She really was so much smarter than I am."

"Maybe. In some ways, maybe the same ways I am... in book learning. Maybe. But, love..." She reaches up and traces her fingers along his jawline. "You've got an instinct for doing what you do that just amazes me. You're not a dumb cop, Pablo. You're a brilliant cop."

He shrugs, embarrassed. "I love that you believe it. And you're going to help me believe it. Eventually."

"Damn straight." She grins at him. "And don't worry about being confused. If I'm confused, how could anyone else make sense of all this? But I'm starting to figure things out, I think. I have a feeling that some of the Spirits are not going to be thrilled, I don't believe I'm going to make Tommy very pleased at all, but... well, actually, there's a thing Maddie and I need to do that's not going to make ANYONE happy, but we'll all be better for it."

"Dare I ask what you're talking about?"

"Sure. But I really only want to explain my dream once. Can you wait until we get out to the cabin? I think I can get the big cats to keep the twins occupied long enough to... well, I guess maybe it would work best if Rene just showed you guys everything. He's not as powerful as his son... I can see that. But with the power the Pentad has, I think among just the five of us, he'll be as strong as Leon. Maybe stronger. And he's considerably more mature — most of the time — so he'll be better at controlling it."

"You're worrying me again."

Andi shakes her head. "No, no... I don't think there's anything to be worried about. Moira and Padraig, Moira's Lady, Great Spirit... they all were so... confident. And I managed to do something in my dream that a priestess with many years of training behind her was actually impressed. So..." She smiles as she pats his cheek. "No. Let's not worry."

Pablo laughs. "You're talking about people you dreamed about as though they're real... and I'm not supposed to worry? My love, if you hadn't snuck Great Spirit in the list, I'd have to give David a call."

She pauses, tilting her head as she considers that.

"Okay, you're right. That does sound a little crazier than my usual crazy. And I think that proves my point." She nods decisively. "Crazy is the new normal!"

He shakes his head, takes the bag of sweets from the roof of the car and hands them to Andi. "Life is definitely never going to be boring with you, Andrea." He unlocks the car and opens the door for her.

She's had years to get used to this gentlemanly gesture of his... and it still feels strange. But in a really good way. She watches him walk around the car as she reaches over to open his door for him. She doesn't do that often — open his door, that is — because she gets a lecture nearly every single time about how a proper lady isn't required to do anything except enjoy the comfort of her knight's chariot.

Today, he just shakes his head at her and sighs. "You're a smart ass, you know that, Ms. Yazzie?"

"Yes, Detective. I know." She giggles as she sets the bag between her feet and buckles her seatbelt.

The drive out to Maddie's cabin... Maddie and Rene's cabin... Maddie and Rene and Logan and the kids' cabin... is calm and quiet. It's a beautiful day; the sun is just beginning to set and the shadows of the mountains seem more crisp than usual. Andi knows that's her imagination. But the world does seem different today.

She knows it's simply the fact that she is different today. But most of the fear and worries that have been plaguing her since before Maddie and Logan came to town — since she and Pablo reforged their Bond — have disappeared.

That reminds her... she should give Hank a call to see how Ben is doing. Tomorrow is soon enough for that. Or even Monday!

It's not full dark when Pablo pulls his car up next to the Humvee in the Jacobs' driveway. They haven't been here long; Andi can still hear the faint ticking of the car's engine as it cools. The twins are waiting on the porch, doing their best to maintain enough calm to at least stay on the porch. They're both grinning with delight, however. And no wonder!

Naughty Cat is lounging on the roof of the cabin. Although on a pitched roof, Andi isn't sure how the cat manages to give the impression of "lounging."

"Aunt Andi! Look!"

"I see." She grins as she hands the bag to Pablo when he opens her door. She leans on the car and looks at the tawny mountain lion.

"I see you Naughty Cat."

I see you, Head Talker. The small ones fear me less than they should.

They fear you as much as they should — no more and no less. They are small ones who understand the nature of those who live on the mountain. They are small ones under my protection.

As she walks toward the cabin, Andi notes with possibly more amusement than she normally would that both Em and the cat are quivering with excitement. While contained, their qi is moving faster than Vincent's is. Yet, he's not afraid either. Good.

You will protect the small ones as you would your own if I leave them in your care?

You are doing such a thing, Head Talker?

I am doing such a thing. The People of the House and I must speak of things that might alarm the small ones unnecessarily. The girl is well acquainted with being among those of the lands and mountains. The boy child is still learning to know as much as his sister but is not as clumsy and fearful as any you have ever seen.

The cat jumps down and pads to Andi's side, looking up at her and then over at the twins, who have remained on the porch.

I will watch them and care for them as if they were my own. My sisters will help.

Andi reaches down and scratches behind the big cat's ears.

"Thank you, my friend." She looks at the twins. "Grab your jackets..." They've snatched them off the railing and have them half on before she even finishes. "...and pay attention to her. This won't be like your romp yesterday when you wore them out. It's not that hard to see at night when you know where you're going, but they know the mountain better than you, right?" She looks at Em specifically. "You know how far you can go and still hear your dad call. Don't go farther than that, okay?" Andi gestures for the children to follow Naughty Cat as she bounds off. "One or both of her sisters will meet you just beyond the trees there.

"Have fun! Be careful, silly ones... Ninja doesn't want to work tonight doing search and rescue."

Although they grin at her, Em does give her an eye roll — which, from her, Andi totally deserves. The cats will watch both of them and Em will watch out for her brother. And they're good kids; they won't go farther than Em can hear if Logan calls.

As she watches them run off, she feels a wave of emotions roll over her. She shakes her head and takes a deep breath, then heads into the cabin where Pablo is laying out the contents of the bag on the kitchen counter. The smell of coffee is already being to permeate the air.

She looks around and realizes that... that she feels as much at home here as she does in her own house. Despite having watched over the place for all these years, she never expected to be... exactly here, feeling this way.

She looks at Rene, who is helping Pablo make sure everything survived the trip.

"Brother... I neglected to apologize for refusing to hear you."

He looks up and a hint of exasperation shadows his expression. And he doesn't say anything for a moment or two.

"I accept your apology, under the condition that you'll listen to me."

Andi bites her lip. She nods slowly.

"I think... I think if you will share my dream with our Siblings the way, on that first day with Maddie, Leon shared the conversations you and I had, they will know all the things I learned." She smiles wanly. "And you will know that I already understand most of the things you want to say."

Rene gives Andi and long, measuring stare.

"This is that thing you said she'd want to see, isn't it?"

She barely shrugs as an answer to Rene.

It is obvious that he doesn't really expect a response as he ushers everyone toward the living room portion of the interior of the cabin. Pablo has the presence of mind to put the desserts in the freezer and refrigerator, as the case warrants. Andi isn't sure how long this will take, but she's pretty sure it will be long enough for the ice cream to melt. At least... Well, yes... probably.

They arrange themselves around the coffee table and before the fireplace.

"I think..." Rene starts, and then glances at Madeline. "I think it will work best with a physical connection."

He holds out a hand to his Wife and his Sister, watches them also take up the hands of their Mate and Husband, respectively.

Andi takes Rene's hand at the same moment Maddie does, and a weird overlay of memories hits her unexpectedly. Is she too attuned to them? No... no, it's necessary to be One through this task. Pablo takes her other hand, squeezing it. Reassurance? For her? For him? She looks into his eyes and sees strength and power, love and, yes, reassurance.

"Close the loop."

Andi gives Pablo a half smile as he reaches his other hand out to Logan. Logan holds out his hand to Pablo; hands grasp, and they are One.

"All right, here goes nothing..."

He might be a tad bit nervous. He really has never tried this with anybody other than his Maddie before, and that had been instinctive and born from a desire to help. Leon's gift is so much stronger than his, as well as different. Although, there was that time before he had crossed over when he had shown Maddie and Leon to Andi...

Rene said close the loop but it's definitely more like closing an electrical circuit. Andi can feel it. The immense power... flowing throw all of them. Tonight... tonight, she knows how to stay grounded. Just having that thought is enough to feel Mother holding her steady, holding her — all of them, for they are One — in safety as their bodies sit around a table and their minds travel elsewhere.

And so it is that the Pentad comes to see Moira, her Lady, and the very interesting conversation the Priestess and the Warrior had in Andi's so-called dream. During the showing, there is the feeling of quiet gasps, remembered and shared pain, hands hold onto each other a little more tightly.

Reliving her dream is nearly as real as it was the first time around. Andi smiles as she watches herself meeting Moira again, the conversation with her Lady, the antics of her brother and the beauty of her shields. And the Warrior's heart feels just as shattered after watching her conversation with Great Spirit. Oh, how she does not want that pain coloring her soul! She watches, from outside herself, as she creates the hogan of her shields. She can feel the part of the Pentad that is Pablo squeeze their hands when he, too, recognizes the police badge above the entry to the hogan. They miss her so much! She was their friend, their sister, their... their reason for living some days. Oh, how they miss her!

But there is so much love here! Denise's love is always with them because they remember her. And Pablo laughs, too, when he sees the book of Physics jokes. A memory of Deb's sticker-covered car floats through the consciousness they all share.

It is hard to say goodbye again to Captain Moira, and once more Andi hopes she can meet the red-haired Priestess again someday.

Me, too... It is one last thought from Pablo before they open their eyes again.

When it is finished, Madeline only has eyes for Andi. Although those eyes shimmer with tears, there is another look in them, a most determined look.

She and Maddie lock eyes. Oh yes, there are tears, but there is so much determination. No matter how many times they have fallen, they have always stood up again. Even when the fall was into the darkest depths and standing up again seemed to be the hardest thing to do... they have always stood up again... all of them.

"No, I absolutely do not like it," Madeline says. "And the children cannot be here."

"No. They can't."


She squeezes Pablo's hand.

"Yes, Pablito, it's something Maddie and I must do. And yes, it will hurt."

Naughty Cat?

How does she know that very little time has passed here in the cabin, out there in the trees and beyond, in the city she protects? It's almost as if they had slipped into a pocket dimension that had allowed no time to pass in their reality. And yet... don't dreams that seem to last hours and days sometimes flash by in mere seconds or minutes?

Head Talker! We have not yet reached my sister's den. Do not tell us to return now!

I will not tell you that, then. The rest she whispers out loud for the benefit of the others. Her eyes never leave Maddie's. "You and your sister will keep the young ones away until I call for them, please."

Do not call soon! Much more play is needed. We like the small ones... especially the girl child! They are wonderful kits.

"Cubs, you silly cat. They are cubs. And thank you."

Ha ha! Head Talker is confused! It is my sister who is the silly one!

Andi nods to Maddie. "The cats will keep them occupied long enough."

And then she reluctantly lets go of Pablo's hand, Rene's hand... she tries to remember that she's supposed to breathe as she stands up and holds her hands out to Maddie.

Breathe, Andi... just breathe.

"Andi, are you..."

"Yes, Pablo, I'm sure." She isn't sure her whisper is loud enough for him to hear, but it must be... she feels the pain already through their Bond.

Andi hasn't dared to look at anything other than Maddie's face.

"I don't want to do this." But she must. They must. Great Spirit said the two of them must go to Her. And while it might be possible for Andi to find Great Spirit in her dreams, she isn't sure Maddie can. Not yet, not alone. That isn't what Great Spirit meant anyway.

No. None of them likes this at all.

"There's only one way I know to do this quickly." Even to her own ears, her voice sounds like a combination of croaking and squeaking. She clenches her jaws so tightly that she has to wonder if she'll break a tooth. She knows that she won't, but still... She closes her eyes, surprised to find no tears left to shed. She manages to swallow her fear, and opens her eyes, shifting them to Logan's face.

"Unless you know another way, Brother?"

"Andi! No!"

Pablo, my beloved... please... it must be done. For everyone's sake. For everyone's safety.

Madeline's mouth is set in a thin line, her lips pressed tightly together. All this and her mind has already worked through part of it.

"You know," she says dryly as she takes up Andi's hands, "this planned dying bit is getting old even for me."

"You sit down and get settled... wherever that is, that Overworld and call Rene to you or take him with you, whatever works better."

She lets go of one of Andi's hands and reaches for Pablo. "You'll have to be out here, keeping an eye on things, and an ear out if the cubs should need anything."

Letting them both go, she now turns to her Mate. "We should do this where we won't have to clean up too much or explain the blood on the floor or my clothes to the cubs."

He nods with a not so pleased grunt. He understands both what is necessary and the pain it will cause him, but he is pragmatic and has always done what has been needed. "Shower."

Her expression becomes sardonic now as she returns her attention to her sister. "And people say my ideas are bat shit crazy. You take Rene with you. Him I can find, instinctively. Logan's going to have to keep me down long enough for us to do... Now I'm assuming you know what or at least how to do what is that needs doing. When we're done, Rene can come back and get him to let me up."

"You carrying, Pablo? Just in case."

Without waiting for an answer, she jumps to the next piece. "It may have to be a double, Mate... brain and heart. One is always a little behind the other.

"Go, do your thing, Sister. Go with her, mijn liefde. I'll find you. I always do."

Pablo looks away from all of them, staring into the dark recesses of the fireplace. It's his only answer to Maddie.

Andi shakes her head and looks sadly at her Sister.

"He is; it's required. But you don't understand, Maddie. I don't know how to get there.

"We need to go to Her. I have been there twice. The first time, we were all there. The second time, I was dead. In my dream, She came to me."

She looks at Pablo again, she sees the agony reflected on his face even in profile. Pain lances her heart as surely as the bullet did in the Garden of the Gods and she grips Maddie's hands again, more tightly this time, as she turns back to her.

"Pablo knows. It's why he doesn't want me to do this."

She releases Maddie's hands and kneels between her and Rene, resting a hand on his shoulder. "Can you follow me, my Brother? Great Spirit was sure Maddie could find her way there, but if you helped... pointed the way..."

Andi glances at Pablo, pain continuing to tear at her. It takes her a moment to realize it's her Husband's pain — mostly. She looks back at Rene.

"Maddie and I must do this alone, together. Please..."

Her throat is so tight, she's not sure how she's going to get breath into her lungs. She certainly can't speak.

Please be with Pablo while we're gone. He shouldn't be alone.

She holds his memories, and she has her own. She knows the things his sister told her. Andi is afraid his memories will crush him, all the while knowing they won't. She thinks this will be hardest on him... and she worries.

Madeline's head tilts and her eyes narrow dangerously.

"Then you need to sit your ass down and try," she bites out, clearly unhappy. "Try, at least, before... before we have more on that side than this."

Her eyes shift to Rene then. "The Spirits say only Eagle goes to talk to Her. It doesn't mean they can't, just that they won't. I think you should try to get there.

"Go. Try."

"Oui," her husband replies simply, before vanishing.

Andi just holds herself still. And quiet. And keeps that damn smart ass mouth of hers shut.

That's not easy.


She doesn't want to look at Pablo. But she owes it to him, doesn't she? She feels oddly alone... well, no, maybe isolated is how she feels as she kneels across the table from Pablo. Her hands are folded over her dan tian and she turns slightly to look at her Husband.

The irony is not lost on her that she looks as though she's trying to protect her children.

Hell, right now, she thinks she trusts them more than she trusts herself.


"Do you really have to..."


She didn't mean that to come out as sharply or as quickly or as... as perhaps unkindly as it sounds like it does to her ears.

"No," she says more softly. "We don't have to do this. But don't you remember the delightful time we had in Colorado Springs? I'm really trying not to be an asshole right now, Pablo, but Maddie is bloody pissed off and it's kind of hard at the moment to block that out."

His eyes flash with anger of his own for an instant. She might have missed it if she didn't know it was simmering beneath the surface.

"She's not the only one, you know."

She just looks at him.

Shut up, shut up, shut up... just don't say one word, Ninja.

Instead, she closes her eyes.

First of all, why is it so hard to block out Maddie's anger? Oh, maybe just the fact that they're all angry? Except... it's not her anger, not Andrea's anger. It's theirs. That's weird. Okay, maybe not. But she's pretty sure it means something.

And secondly, how the hell is she supposed to find Great Spirit if she doesn't know how to find Her in the first place? The tinkling of bells is not a sound that gives her comfort at the moment.

Don't laugh at me, Mother. I can't bear it right now.

Great. She's starting to get pissed off at the freaking planet.

{Daughters... love} {Daughters... know} {Daughters... love} {Daughters... remember} {Daughters... love trust love}

Fine. Great Spirit implied it. Those two implied it. And Mother just pretty much flat out told her. At least, she thinks so.

"Andi. Look at me."

She shakes her head.

"It's not the same as when you went to Quetzalcoatl's world. Great Spirit promised that you and Logan and Rene would not suffer for what Maddie and I need to do. It will hurt, but of course it would hurt. But She promised you would not suffer. What else do you want me to say, Pablo?"

There is a pause, and when he speaks again, there's more hurt in his voice than she's heard in a long time.

"Just look at me, Andi."

She doesn't want to. She definitely won't want to do this if she looks in those eyes.

Screw it. She's supposed to trust two amorphous blobs that claim to be her children? She's supposed to trust the One who has watched gods and goddesses and demigods and great heroes come into existence and die out again? She's supposed to trust a planet that wants to turn her into a nuclear power plant? She's supposed to trust...


She's supposed to trust her circle. Great Spirit's Sister said that. Her imaginary friend, Moira, said that.

Gods, she is so fucked up.

She opens her eyes and meets Pablo's. For all the hurt in his voice, there is only love and trust in his eyes.

"I don't want you to do this. And I know it's something you need to do. If Madre Maria says we will not collapse from the agony, who am I to doubt Her?"

She raises an eyebrow. Suddenly trusting the Holy Ones of one's faith after more than half a lifetime of not trusting the Holy Ones of one's faith is a little suspicious. But Pablo is a detective and ought to be able to figure that one out. Eventually.

"Miriam is Great Spirit's daughter."

Pablo blinks. "Are you arguing theology with me?"

She shakes her head. "I'm waiting for Rene to get back. I'm trying not to freak out. And I'm just stating a fact."

Figure out how to get to Great Spirit? Pfft. Dying will do it. It's as instinctive for her as reaching for Rene is for Maddie.

And if Great Spirit... no, wait. Great Spirit implied — and there's an awful lot of that going on here in this situation, so Andi wonders why she's not as pissed off, all on her own, as Maddie is — that Maddie would be able to find Great Spirit. But Andi would bet that Maddie needs to believe that.

Well, maybe Rene can convince her. Andi isn't sure there's anything she can say or do or conjure up that will help. Is there? Hell, for all she knows, maybe Rene is supposed to help her!

Why was this a good idea again? Oh, right. It isn't!

Then why the hell are they even considering this? Right... right. A feedback loop of some sort, a wacky metaphysical anomaly — right in line with her magnetism for being weird, that's for sure — and either of them getting dead will cause problems. Issues. Possibly even catastrophic problems and issues.

Why the hell didn't she come with a user's manual or, at least, a technical manual for dealing with the bizarre shit that is her life?

Fire and ice... isn't it weird that today their roles are reversed? For all that she's outwardly her usual hard and cold, angry self, Maddie's aura is a bright beacon of anger. And Andi feels like the icy cold water of a mountain river. Not numb... oh, hell, no. But weirdly calm. And that's definitely not Ninja's idiom.

But it might be the sweet Librarian's idiom.


Apparently, she and Pablo are going to have a staring contest while they wait for Rene.

Okay. Andi is just going to kneel here and wonder why the only Spirit in the vicinity is Cat... and Cat is with Em. What the actual fuck is going on with the lot of them?

Ah, screw it. Maybe they'll stay away and she can pretend to be normal. Ha. That's a good one... normal.

She doesn't even have a chance to sigh over that particular regret when Rene pops back into their plane.

It's okay, though, because Andi has the answer she needs.

# # #

Rene does as his wife had bid him do, leaving the physical plane and going to the realm of the Spirits. Once in that plane of existence, he pauses to look around. The other Spirits are conspicuous in their absence, even Cat. He supposes he will have to wing it. With a shrug and a self-deprecating grin, he closes his eyes to operate on instinct.

Maddie is depending on him, and he will not let her down.

He briefly considers what he might need to do, then just determines to be where She is.

"Bon jour, Madame," he greets Her.

Like Andi's dreams, Rene finds himself in what appears to be a thick fog. Her presence can be felt all around him, and the sense of puzzled interest is very strong.

Slowly, the Great Spirit's realm solidifies into a room. It is not, certainly, a room Andi would have expected, although Madeline might find it ordinary. It's a large conference room, very modern, very elegant; one entire wall is glass overlooking a cityscape with water beyond. Rene is on the far side of the room, near the door.

A woman in a business suit, dark hair coiled at the nape of her neck, stands with her hands clasped loosely behind her as she looks out the window.

"I didn't expect you, Rene," she says without turning around. "I see that your Madeline doesn't believe she can find me on her own."

Great Spirit turns her head and smiles at him and then, with a tilt of her head, gestures for him to join her at the window.

"Many of my children live here in this city, but Andrea worries most about her brother," she says, turning back to the view outside the window. Then she chuckles. "Both of those girls worry too much, but what are we to do? It is their fears and their loves and all that they are that allows us to love them so much."

She is quiet for a moment, a smile playing across her lips.

"You are audacious, aren't you, dear one? I can only imagine Eagle's ire when he discovers you have found my home on your own." The Woman glances at Rene long enough to wink at him before going back to surveying the world. "The Beneficent Ones are not immune to jealousy.

"But speak of what troubles you, child. We have Time."

He answers first with a shrug, followed by his charming smile as he approaches a city view with which he is not familiar.

"I've certainly never been accused of being shy," he tells her with a light chuckle. "Jealousy is such a human emotion.

"That is at the heart of what troubles me. If this thing Andi believes is true, they both need to come to you together and... realign whatever it is that it is out of joint.

"Beyond that, my worries are those of a husband, a father, a brother."

He turns towards Her then, head tilting, eyes curious.

"And if Andi doesn't believe she consciously can find you on her own, why would Maddie? She's known you for far less time in this life, although I do believe that is why she asked me to try to find you or find my way to you. Her heart and soul know how to find mine, in death at least. I do believe she is trying to avoid that this time around, at the moment anyway."

She smiles and regards him more directly.

"You remind me of my Grandson in some ways," she says finally. "And jealousy? Oh, yes. It's quite human."

She grins slyly, a very human expression.

"Where do you think humans learned it, dear Rene? You met one of the Aztec kindred and I hope you will not have a need to meet the Nordic cousins or, even worse, the Grecian cousins. We are not perfect, either."

But she nods gravely at his concerns, sighing as she looks back out the window.

"Andrea understood the messages and lessons from her journey to the Teaching Realm. It's rare for any of my children to reach that far anymore, even the shamans. I knew she had the potential, and I still found myself surprised that she grasped that potential so soon, and was even able to reach a realm so far away that the distance would boggle a human mind. And that it was her children who pointed to the misalignment, as you might call it..."

The Woman shakes her head in what seems to be amazement, even as she watches something out in the lake.

"You have already told her Beloved that the Spirits worry, but I wonder if you — once having been human — can understand their concern. I sense that even they do not understand their own concerns, causing them to avoid her as much as possible. Well, the fact that she is with child also disturbs them a great deal.

"But you are, as you say, a husband and a father and a brother. So perhaps you do understand what they cannot quite grasp."

She is still and quiet, simply watching the silent city below until a green-clad figure climbs from the water and sits on the southern breakwater of Monroe Harbor. Then she smiles as Dolphin bobs up behind the figure, dancing on the water as dolphins often do. "If I were to have as petty a heart as the Aztec kindred, I would say that one down there is less my child than you are the Aztecs' child. She does not know me, although she has some memories that her mother's grandfather was of the Nēhiyaw, the Cree. And yet, when she became who she is, Dolphin chose to watch over her nonetheless. For all their faults, they do try their best.

"The pattern is grand, my child, for that one, who is guided and guarded by Dolphin, is now connected to one who calls Andrea's brother a friend."

She turns to him again. "Andrea and Madeline stand in the center of something so vast that even the Beneficent Spirits cannot see it. You and your Brothers hold them and, most importantly, love and trust them. This pattern crosses multiple realms, and that has never happened before."

The Woman smiles and takes one of Rene's hands in both of hers.

"It is true that Andrea cannot find me consciously. But her instinct is true, and she is able to find me in dreams, in the little deaths of love, and in true death. I think if you were to ask her, she would tell you that she trusts that instinct.

"Madeline has spent most of her life with a shattered soul. Did you and Andrea not help her find that lost piece, and did you not both help her become whole again? Her soul will always hunger for yours, for you truly are her Guardian Angel and her Beloved. And although her soul may still ache, it is no longer shattered. It is that lost Child who instinctively knows how to follow Andrea to me, even if the Child herself does not know how to find me yet. Andrea knows.

"Perhaps you only need to remind her of this, yes?"

She squeezes his hand gently, her eyes crinkling with a smile that is radiant with love.

"And perhaps you should stay grounded with your Brothers, yes?

"Love is so easy for all of you. Today, for this task, you must — all five of you — allow yourselves to trust completely."

While continuing to hold his hand with one of hers, she rests the other gently along the side of his face.

"You are all so precious to me. Do you truly believe I would ask of you anything that would harm this Beauty you have created?"

Rene offers another shrug and a return smile.

"My belief does not allay any worry. The only way worry ceases is when love ceases, and that is not going to happen. I will, however, deliver your message to Andi. I hope you'll forgive any rephrasing, my Lady."

She simply smiles and studies him for a moment more.

"There are loves that last a moment and there are loves that remain for all eternity. So few are blessed by the latter. And it is true that worry often accompanies such love."

And then Great Spirit chuckles. "I have watched you, Rene, among the Beneficent Ones. Even those that first had doubts have been won over by your charm."

She turns to look back out at the city and the waters beyond it.

"They worry, too. They fear the Warrior... I believe you can sense it better than they themselves do. What Andrea and Pablo created caused them confusion, although Raven had been able to convey some of the rituals of the Aztec kin that had been lost to them when communication between the realms had been severed. What you and Madeline and Logan added to their power is not something they have ever seen."

She glances at him for a second, then looks out the window to the south.

"The lack of balance that Andrea has felt these few weeks has resonated through the entire realm of the Beneficent Spirits. I suspect you have not been affected precisely because you are a husband and a father." Her reflection in the window smiles... perhaps sadly, or perhaps simply enigmatically. "They do not understand the power of creation that a woman holds. This power, combined with the power Andrea already possesses..."

When she turns back to him, her smile is more than a little mischievous. "You may need to explain to them what often comes with the particular magic you brought from the Human realm. Although they have watched the People for eons, the creation of life if still baffling.

"I do not ask you to set aside your worry. Only their safe return to the Human realm after visiting me will allow you to set that aside. I do understand that, my dear one." She hugs him — mother, grandmother, dearest friend trying to comfort a hurt that can't truly be comforted, but unwilling to not try. "Phrase my message as you will, my child. And you are always welcome to visit. Especially when Raven becomes particularly... attentive to you, yes?"

She steps back, and the room begins to fade... more to a mist this time than a fog. Then the mist becomes the peculiar reality of the human world he has come to know when he is completely insubstantial.

And despite being insubstantial, Andi's eyes unerringly turn to him.

Madeline turns to her Husband as well, knowing his presence. He fades in as he looks from Sister to Wife and back again. But it is his Brothers he addresses.

"Logan, Pablo, let's move the furniture back."

As they start with the couch, he moves towards their women and takes up a hand from each of them.

"She called me audacious," he tells them with a chuckle. "This time, I blame you, Maddie, but at least She didn't say incorrigible."

Madeline smiles. Incorrigible he is, and she wouldn't have it any other way. She begins to ask a question but he shakes his head in the negative.

"Un moment. Once we have a clear enough space for the five of us to be seated in a variation of our circle..."

It's all Andi can do to even maintain a facade of calm. Pablo keeps glancing at her as he and Logan begin moving the furniture. She knows... she knows what she and Maddie need to do. Rene seems to have other ideas, however. With her hand in his, she knows this with as much certainty as she's known anything. It's frightening and it's reassuring — maybe — that Rene sees a better option than she's seen.

It is only a bit longer. The sofa, love seat and tables are readily moved back. Rene guides Andrea and Madeline to sit in the center, facing each other, knees touching.

"You two must make the journey," he tells them, adding, "Not yet, Sister," to forestall any questions.

"Logan, Pablo and I will ground you, be your tether and offer the strength of our love."

He directs Logan to sit behind Madeline and Pablo behind Andi. He seats himself at the side of Madeline and Andi, his knees just brushing the outside of their thighs.

But clearing the space, sitting together like this now... the only thing keeping Andi here in this room is the knowledge that she and Maddie need to repair whatever is broken. That, and Pablo's arms around her waist. And yet, as always, when the Pentad is connected like this, she feels... Whole? Complete? Well, calm, at least. She'll take that as a win.

"Dear Sister, you opened a portal for me to journey from where I was to where I am now. Through your talents, you made possible the mending of two hearts and two souls and the completion of a bond. It was not something you thought about, it was something you simply did, because it was the right thing to do, yes? It was that same instinct that lead you to adopt Maddie into your clan. Trust your instincts and trust yourself. You can do this. Where you lead, Maddie can follow. Her instinct will guide her to you."

"Maddie, mon amour, it is the instinct of your youngest self that knows this path."

Rene's words have an overlay of... of an energy signature Andi hasn't seen in over a decade. Although he speaks of the truth he knows, the truth he has witnessed since that first night he spoke to her on this mountain, she can see the echoes of Grandmaster Chen's words... something he had said over and over and over.

Don't think. Just be. Just do.

She nods and holds out her hands to Maddie. She almost can't see her Sister through the tears that start well up. So much love is here in this room! It's not Rene's magic... it's love. Just hearts reaching out and saying, You are as precious as I. We are family, we are love.

"Rene's way is softer, but it might be... a more roundabout route." Andi smiles at her Sister. "But he's right. I do trust my instincts, even though I'm not sure what we're doing. Just hold my hand, Little Sister, and we'll be fine."

The part of her brain that rebels at calling Maddie Little Sister is banished as being too literal and hide-bound for the task at hand. She suppresses a giggle as she closes her eyes. Putting her brain in time out is silly. Ooh, shouldn't she do that more often? Maybe.

As Andi breathes, she relaxes. Maddie is not as relaxed, but...

Yes, that's it. She is so focused, so practical. She has instincts, too, that are honed to get a job done. It isn't rash madness that puts her between danger and others. It's not crazy that she walks up to the enemy's front door... it's an instinct that it's exactly the right thing to do.

Andi's instincts and Maddie's instincts seem like lunacy to others, even to themselves sometimes. Well, Andi does know that she thought Maddie was crazy to just walk in on Stryker. And despite Maddie's willingness to follow Ninja's lead in rescuing Rene, it was love and desperation that overruled her skepticism that day.

She takes another breath, relaxing against Pablo's chest. She can trust him to hold her.

Trust me, Maddie...

Andi knows that Logan is as steady a rock, as sure a touchstone for Maddie as Pablo is for her.

It is almost as simple as stepping across a threshold...

Although both women appear to be in trances, perhaps even asleep, they go where their men cannot follow.

At first, Andi sees the same fog that had been a part of her strangest dream. Is this the same malleable place where she met the flame-haired priestess? It feels the same. Without conscious thought, without volition, scenes of places all around the world form... dissolve... and form into something else. She's not going to pretend this is all okay, but...


"We're remembering... this is good. Well, it feels right."

Memory after memory float by them and Andrea holds tight to her Sister's hand. She recognizes some as her own memories, and she recognizes others as Maddie's. Each of them, all of them are places of happiness. Finally, however, the Overworld, as Moira called it, solidifies into a scene that belongs to neither of their memories. It's green and clean, trees are in their autumn glory — red and orange and yellow, green and gold. It's almost like City Park, but it's not City Park.

"Andrea, my dear, you mustn't try calling your friend Moira to this place. She has barely woken from the last visit she made."

But... I didn't... no, no, no. Don't start thinking about why or how, Andi. Just go with the flow.

She turns toward Great Spirit, who will always look like Great Spirit... even when she's dressed in the same sort of clothes ordinary human wear. It just seems, she doesn't know, weird to see Her in jeans.

"I had to borrow this memory from your brother, dear. You tried very hard to get to Ireland. But what you must do cannot be done in my Sister's realm."

She hugs them both and then rests a hand on Maddie's shoulder.

"Your Rene is as unique as you, dear Daughter. Andrea knew the easiest and fastest way to reach me, which would have resulted in a task more quickly accomplished. Yet he came to me — something his new Siblings rarely dare to do — to show me his heart."

She looks at Andrea again. "And pushed you to find a new solution. Now you cannot replicate the reunification Moira and Padraig achieved, as both of you are very much alive. A new path must be found, one unique to the two of you." She smiles so beautifully before turning back to Maddie.

"This task is not something that can be achieved through the practicalities of the world you know so well." Great Spirit gives Maddie a thoughtful look. "Perhaps your dear Rene knew better than he realized the task he asks of you when he advocated for this path. It will require you to remember how to be playful... childishly so. It is something your Beloved believes you can do.

"Do you believe, my dear Madeline?"

Andi looks at her Sister and squeezes her hand. "I promised I'd teach you, remember? And I bet we could find a playground."

Instinct, instinct, instinct...

Madeline does not let go of Andi's hands, but she does look around.

"A playground?" she repeats.

Her younger self is reticent in this unfamiliar space which leads her to suggest, "Maybe one from my memories?"

She glances up at Her but not for long. The Javanese grandmother is overlaid with a woman dressed much like they are.

"You say you collect memories, Sister. Help me find these, playing on the beaches of Paramaribo. I played there as a child even up into my teen years..."

She pauses as a realization comes to her. "I haven't been back since... since before that day I was taken."

She hadn't thought about her first fifteen years since those days in the hospital when she had asked Oom Alois if his guards could come in and visit with her. She had lost the friends she had then. Some had been kept away by their parents, and others just disappeared of their own volition. It likely had not helped that she had been in the hospital so long that she did not return to school. Her education had been completed by private tutors.

"When I was seven," Madeline suggests.

Andi looks at Maddie and squeezes her hand.

"Paramaribo... seven..." She smiles. Oh, how beautiful! Not at all like the beach in Japan, but just as beautiful and just as happy.

Seven... when Maddie was seven...

She glances at Great Spirit, who just smiles and nods. Okay, then.

Closing her eyes, Andi looks at Maddie's memory again. It feels as though Mother is here in this place, which doesn't surprise her as much as Moira seemed to think it should. She feels a tingling on her bare feet as she feels a warm breeze of Father's love, infused with an ocean scent, drift around them. Her toes are already curling in the warm sand. Happy sand!

She opens her eyes and gasps softly. There are people on the beach! Andi supposes that's... that's okay. It's Maddie's memory and she spent a lot of time here, right? There would be people in her memories. But one little girl in a group of children is waving to Maddie, calling her over to them.

Something about her is so familiar. Why?

Hózhó, Warrior. All will become clear.

Andi nods, mostly to herself, really. She knows it's important to keep hold of Maddie's hand. That much she does know. Just about everything else, however? Oh, it's just another day in the World of Weird for Andrea.

She looks at Maddie and smiles, though. "Are they your friends? Do you want to play?"

The children are busily building a sand castle or, more precisely, a full keep at the water's edge. The sun shines brightly and warmly here. The sand is brilliant white and is complemented by the dazzling turquoise of the water. Madeline sighs happily.

The people are a mix of locals and tourists. Parents and caregivers watch from a distance but the atmosphere is relaxed.

Little Linja returns the girl's wave with a big smile then nods emphatically and says, "She's my new best friend. I met her the other day."

"Come on," she says tugging Andi's hand and starting to run towards them.

She laughs at Maddie's... no. Linja? Right. She laughs at her Sister's younger self's exuberance. Andi remembers being seven! That's when Justin was born, and maybe it was the happiest year of her childhood. She's more than delighted to be tugged along by Sister.

"What's your new friend's name, Linja? I like making new friends, too. I bet you have even more friends than I do." Well, Linja has more friends than seven year old Andi did, she thinks.

She's supposed to just be going with the flow here, but Sister's new best friend... Andi doesn't know why but she feels odd when she looks at her. Not worried, not the least bit concerned. The girl gives off the light and energy of someone who can't wait to hug her friend.

Oh well. Her life is weird, and she is the Supreme Magnet of Weird. Why wouldn't a friend from Maddie's childhood send shivers down her spine? Right. Just go with the flow, accept the weird.

She is so impressed by the sand fortress, though.

"Anna," Linja answers without slowing down. "She's from..."

Her nose wrinkles as she concentrates on remembering. "Mexico. She's from Mexico. Lots of people from different places come here."

And as they get closer, her smile grows. Anna runs over to meet them.

"Hola, Anna!" Lin greets. "This is Andi!"

"Hola, Lin!" Anna replies and gives Linja a hug. "Hola, Andi! Where are you from? I'm from Mexico. Lin lives here."

"Hola, Anna! Where am I from? Maybe all over? I think. Well, I was born in New Mexico, but we moved to Japan when I was five. I'm just visiting here, too. I'm a citizen of the US and the Navajo Nation!"

Andi plasters her free hand over her mouth. Okay, she knows she talks a lot, but this...? She's pretty sure she was not as much of a babbler as this when she was seven. Oh... wait. She thinks she remembers that she was for a while after Justin was born.

"Sorry," she whispers through splayed fingers. "Mama had a baby a few months ago, and I'm still kind of excited to have a baby brother."

"Navajo!" exclaims Anna. "We're practically cousins!" she adds with a giggle.

"A baby brother? That's neat. I don't have any brothers or sisters."

Lin shakes her head. "Me neither. Mama can't have any more babies she said. You guys want to play in the water?"

Andi giggles, too. And it feels okay to let go of Maddie's hand... to just be in this beautiful place with her and her friends.

"Kind of related, I guess. My grandma Rose knows more about being related to everyone than I do. And it's really neat having a brother! I hope I keep liking him even when I grow up. My friends at school say their big brothers and sisters get all weird and different."

She shrugs. What does it matter, right? She knows there has never been a moment in her life when she didn't love her brother absolutely. So...

"Water! I hardly ever get to play in the water! I have to go to school all the time. Except when I sleep." Oddly, that doesn't even sound like a complaint... possibly because even at the time, when it did seem like she was going to one school or the other all the time, she enjoyed it all.

She curls her toes into the sand again, and she feels Mother... her reassurance. Part of her is the Warrior, part of her is a little seven year old girl.

Both Anna and Lin look at Andi kind of funny.

"All the time?" Lin asks. "Well, Nenek says we are always learning anyway so I guess... And my class goes to the beach sometimes, sometimes to the jungle."

Andi shrugs again. "Seems like all the time. I go to the dojo early and then classes at the school on the base. And then more learning at the dojo after school. And Mama and Daddy say it's good to learn Japanese because we're living in their home, so I have extra language classes, too. That's a nice thing, though, isn't it?" Ah, how she smiles at the memories. "Some of the soldiers' families think it's silly, but all the soldiers I met think it's good. I only met a few of them, though. But Doshu says Mama and Daddy understand how to be good guests. And they make sure I learn to speak Navajo, too."

Andi looks back toward a group of grown ups and Great Spirit smiles and waves. She has the same feeling she did those long years ago when Mama and Dad took them on an outing, and she would venture away from them either by herself, or with Justin, or with a friend from the base or from school. It's so comfortable.

Then she looks at the other two girls. "I read stories about mermaids. Do you think they're real? I bet they'd like this water... it's so pretty!"

At the question about mermaids, both Anna and Lin giggle and shake their heads.

"It would be neat if there were," says Lin.

"The jellies in my ocean sometimes look like mermaids, but they aren't very nice. They are pretty, though, especially the ones that glow at night."

The water is so clear that it's hard to tell how deep it is. It is also bathtub warm. And being in a bay, the waves get no more than a couple of inches high.

Andi dips her foot in the tiny waves coming up on the beach... almost in an imitation of Cat playing on Maddie's holodeck when they were in Paris.

"I've seen pictures of those jellies! They do look pretty, but Daddy says they're awful mean and to stay away from them. Daddy and Mama are engineers, and they're really smart. I think I'd like to be an engineer, too. Or teach Aikido like Doshu does. Or maybe be a nurse like grandma Rose and help people in Navajo country."

She shrugs again, then splashes the water a little harder... then laughs. "I did it again, huh? Private Adam says I just like to share all the stuff I learned, he says it's interesting. He gets to go home to Wisconsin soon, but Mama and Daddy say the people around the base need lots of help building things, so we're going to stay for a while. Private Adam says it snows a lot in Wisconsin! I don't think I'd like that!"

She nods at this sight, this beach of Maddie's memory. "I think this might be the prettiest place I've ever been!"

"All my language classes are in school," Lin tells them. "We learn Dutch, English, Spanish and French. And Nenek only talks in Indonesian."

"We only learn Spanish in school," Anna adds, then returns to the jellies talk. "They are. That's why we can't go in the water much at home. Sometimes the littlest ones come in real close. Papa said they hurt worse than the big ones."

Listening, Lin gets a mischievous look before quickly leaning down and splashing water at both Anna and Andi, a splash big enough to get both mostly wet. Then she giggles.

"Let's play!" she says as she wades into deeper water.

Andi squeals as the mischievous younger version of Sister splashes her, then laughs. Madeline's children get more than just half of their genetics from her.

"Come on, Anna!" Andi says, grinning at the other girl. As she brushes Anna's arm as she moves toward Maddie, Andi feels a shock — something like static electricity. Anna doesn't seem to notice, but...

Andi turns and looks back at Great Spirit, just one of many parents on the beach watching the children. She's sitting on the sand, arms tucked around her legs and a beautiful and peaceful smile on her face.

Just play, my child. Have no worries.

Andi looks at Maddie again and dives — clumsily, true — after her. Just because she spent her first five years in a desert, doesn't mean she doesn't know how to swim! Albuquerque has a bunch of public pools!

No worries, then...

She gets close enough to Maddie to give her a taste of her medicine. Now she's plenty wet! Ha!

Anna watches and laughs as Lin jumps away from Andi's approaching form with another squeal of laughter, then she is in on the chase too.

She gets there in time to splash as Lin is sending another spray of water over Andi. Lin has gone from giggles to full laughter and is having the best time.

Back in the cabin, Rene sees a smile spread across Madeline's face with a nearly mirrored look for Andi.

"All is well, gentlemen," he tells his brothers.

Now... just because seven year old Andi is playing with her Sister, that doesn't mean she can't use tricks she learned a few years later. Especially since her dear, sweet, wonderful brother used them on her when he was five. While Sister's attention is on Anna, Andi slips under the water and tickles the backs of Lin's knees.

Of course, one does run the risk in that particular maneuver of being suddenly used as a chair.

Well, it's a risk she'll take. She thinks she should still be faster than Maddie in this place.

Lin gives a giggling yelp and leaps backward, only briefly using Andi for a chair before toppling over and under the water. She quickly rights herself and comes up both sputtering and laughing.

Her eyebrows are high on her face. "That's how it is?"

And she goes into full tickle attack mode.

She grins at Sister... it doesn't have the effect of a Ninja grin, not on a child and especially not on the child Andrea was. But the feeling is there.

Aikido is a wonderful art... like Taiji, it can be martial, it can be meditative, it can be more graceful than ballet. And for the child she was — two years into her training to become the youngest person the reach the highest rank in the art ever — escaping Sister's grasp is as easy as pie.

She's laughing even as they square off again.

"Oooh, Linja, Linja... you remind me of some very fun people I know at home!"

But from the corner of her eye, she can see Anna looking... odd. She's just standing there, looking confused.

"Anna, are you okay?"

Anna sort of focuses on Andi's voice but shakes her head. Andi moves as fast as she can to reach her...

You know, I don't remember it being this difficult to move quickly even in water. Of course, I massed a lot less at seven than I do now.

She gets behind Anna and wraps her arms around the other girl's chest. There's that damn jolt of electricity again. She doesn't dare look around for Great Spirit. But she does look at Anna's meridians and feels as though an icy hand is reaching into her heart. She wonders if Anna's parents even know about her heart defect.

"Lin, help me! We need to get Anna out of the water!"

But before Sister can reach them, a man is beside the two girls, scooping Anna into his arms. The love on his face is almost blinding.

"Gracias, querido niña, for saving my Anna. Her heart..."

Anna looks pale, but... but maybe they can fix the defect, right? Oh, fuck. It's 1964 or maybe 1965. Maybe they can't.

Andi reaches out a hand to her Sister.

"Will she be okay?"

The man shrugs, but he still smiles. "The doctors, they do not know. If we can go to a famous place in America they tell us about, maybe. Her Mama and I, we ask God to help her. And we love her, so there is healing in that."

Andi blinks, and then looks at Great Spirit. She stands among the others who are watching, a tear rolling down her cheek. Then Andi wraps an arm around her Sister.

"I will ask... God and Buddha for her to have peace." Then she attempts a smile and regards the man.

"Lin? Andi?" Anna's voice is barely above a whisper. "I'm sorry I can't play longer. I'll come back tomorrow. We'll be friends forever, Lin. And you, too, Andi."

As Anna's father carries her toward the beach, Andi just shakes her head. She doesn't understand.

And then, all the people who had been around them mist away. She didn't do that. She looks at Great Spirit. She hates that look on her face... the one that says, You have all the pieces to the puzzle, Andi, you just need to put them together. Mama and Tita give her that look all the time, too.

"That wasn't nice!" Andi yells at Her.

"But you knew it would not be an easy task, dear daughters. You experienced joy, and that was good. It was necessary. And you, in particular, my Warrior, needed to know Anna."

Andrea pouts and crosses her arms. She's just going to be a stubborn, obnoxious brat and not say anything. Because if she does say anything, she isn't sure if she's going to get angry... or start crying.

Madeline shakes her head in confusion.

"I never saw Anna again, but I didn't think much of it. People being there for a bit in the summer and not after that ever again was common. It was a tourist destination. Although, of all the friends I made, she was the one that left the most impact."

Andi can't take her eyes from Great Spirit, even as she shakes her head, even as the tears finally fall.

"Human bodies are frail, dear Andrea. Some things cannot be healed." She steps closer, wipes the tears from Andi's face. "I know you questioned how someone so much older than you could have this connection... how Madeline could possibly complete your soul. You only asked in your heart, but you know I see there, too."

"The world... everything would be different..."

"Perhaps not everything. But enough, yes."

She can feel her eyes blaze with anger. "Just enough! Just..."

It's as though Andrea can actually see dominoes falling. The first knocks over the second, and around the room the tiles fall.


Madeline tilts her head as she looks to her Sister. "It's funny how close your names are. Anna. Andrea. Almost like you are an echo of her."

She turns to Maddie then. What if, what if, what if...?

"Because I am." It's hardly a whisper.

What if?

Oh, fuck that shit! They have this life now, and despite every bad thing that has happened to either of them, they are here now. This is the reality to live. Andi wraps her Sister in her arms, holding tightly. She isn't sure what they're supposed to do now; she just knows she can't let go of Maddie.

"Despite what your children told you, it's rare for a soul to split. As my Sister told Padraig, it's not a thing that should happen. And yet..."

They both feel the wave of compassion as Great Spirit shrugs.

"...and yet, there are times when it does happen. It is such a difficult thing to see; only Cousin Odin has the True Sight to see it."

"Well, I don't know how we're supposed to fix this since neither one of us is dead! At least Padraig was dead."

And then She laughs. She laughs!

"Oh, Andrea," Great Spirit says as she envelops them in a hug of her own. "Sometimes you are very literal. I merely said that you must both come to me, that you should leave your Beloved men in the human realm. Your audacious Brother, your Sister's Husband prodded you to find a way that would not involve anyone dying."

Andi thinks she can relax. A little. Enough that she won't feel like Insane Andi in need of a tie-dyed jacket that ties funny in the back.

"Anna died."

"It was inevitable since the day she was born, and yet she lived to see her twenty first birthday. She was surrounded by love. Her life was not easy, but she remembered that summer always. She walked on peacefully, and her last thought was of a dark-haired, green-eyed girl from her childhood."

She can tell that Great Spirit has turned her attention to Maddie now. "She asked after you often. And after they heard of your attack, her family lied outright to her. Knowing the truth would have killed her as surely as any weapon. Anna knew something was off because she had this connection with you that Andrea now has. More lies, simple tales of unsatisfactory school achievements... unfaithful loves.

"Come, Andrea... look at me, dear child."

She releases Maddie and looks up, but keeps one hand twined in Maddie's.

"Anna lived an easier life than you have, Warrior. Would your Sister's life have been different had they formed the friendship your soul yearns for? Yes. Would Madeline have been happier?" Great Spirit shakes her head. "Quite doubtful. Would the two of you — with help from Rene and Logan, and so many others — have done what Quetzalcoatl warned you that you must do? No."

She looks at Maddie again.

"You are the side of the coin — so to speak — that only needs to know how this connection will be tactically advantageous, yes? Andrea is the side that understands the how of it..."

"No, I don't really."

She just smiles. "You do. You just don't know you do. Why is it that you have a Circle around you, my child? Think on it.

"To answer the question that the Beneficent Ones could not fully explain, the best analogy would perhaps be one part of a body sending a message to another part. You would have known that Andrea had been shot in the heart and that she had died... but only the emotional pain that flows through your Circle would find you, not the physical pain."

She studies Andi again. "You will, no doubt, learn the how and the why of this connection in your own way. I will tell you three things, however.

"The Beneficent Ones find the topic unnerving because it is something they do not have the ability to understand." A smile flashes over her features for a moment. "There are some who will try solely because they are drawn to the five of you... Cat, Bear, and Coyote especially. Fox and Cobra and Opossum simply like you, Warrior. They enjoy your company.

"Second, do not believe everything your children tell you about this phenomenon. Whether as a single person or two, they have been vexing their parents for more lifetimes than you would want to know. They have good instincts, but they do not know everything.

"And lastly, should you decide to visit this place again to speak with my Sister's Priestess, know that she will never lie to you, she will never mislead you... either of you. She will speak as much truth as she knows."

And then She holds her hands out to each of them.

"Madeline has already done this... Child and Woman and Madness are one. Andrea has already done this... Wife and Warrior are one. Three and Two again become Five Who are One. And the Spirits wonder why I find so much delight in all of you!"

"I'm still confused. Right. Because I think too much." Andi looks at Maddie. It doesn't matter now confused she is. They need to do this, for the safety of everyone around them. "Okay."

She squeezes Maddie's hand and places her other one in Great Spirit's... Maddie mirrors her.

"Be whole, my dear daughters."

They feel submerged in a lake of love — warm, comforting and comfortable, and utterly at peace; complete and whole. They close their eyes and sigh.

Madeline is just suddenly present in her own body again. She feels Logan at her back, Rene at her side and Andi in front of her. She looks at Rene as she opens her eyes and offers him a smile and a nod.

"I hope you'll forgive me, Sister, if I slip and call you Anna now."

Andi smiles before opening her eyes, possibly because the love and strength of the Pentad is such a blessing beyond the feeling of being — as impossible as it would have seemed only a few hours ago — more balanced than she's ever felt in her life. She's pretty sure those two are still going to make every effort to drive her crazy, but she even feels like she can walk the sword's edge of parenthood.


When she does open her eyes and look at her Sister, she chuckles.

"That might be the only time I'd call you Lin without even thinking about it."

Then she reaches out to take one of Rene's hands.

"Thank you, dear Brother. If you hadn't been so... thoroughly and wonderfully yourself, my heart's question could not have been answered and I wouldn't have been able to share part of a joyous day with my Sister."

Finally, she looks up at Pablo. "Suriname. I think we'll go to Suriname for our honeymoon."

Madeline's smile becomes considerably wider. "I will call Hank to ready the house, but not until morning."

"For now, I think we should have some coffee and dessert," she says, briefly leaning forward to brush her lips across Andi's before rising to her feet.

© Kelly Naylor and ividia kt