Disclaimer: This is a work of fan-fiction based on the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane; no disrespect, undue claim, nor material profit is intended. Given the note on the discussion forum she personally provides about not discussing "story ideas" there and how there are other places to post fanfiction, I don't think she objects to its existence.

Welcome to Timeheart
by Alan Sauer and Persephone

It was very much like the best of her dreams had always been, only better. Brighter, and with more layers, and more beautiful than she ever could have imagined -- because she could never have borne light like this in her waking mind, and therefore could never have imagined it on her own in her dreams.

This was real.

It wasn't quite what she'd expected. But that wasn't really a surprise, was it?

She'd been here several times by now. Sometimes she'd seen her daughters there. Once she'd seen Kit. Once she'd met a star, or something like one, that laughed and said to call it Fred, and once she thought she'd seen a shark with black eyes.

Sometimes it had felt more real than others . . . no. It had always been real. Sometimes she had felt more real within it than others, and those mornings were never the best wakings, and worry prickled her just a bit as she realized she seemed to be more within it than ever before.

How soon would she know when she couldn't go back?

Light sang joy around her, and sorrow as well, but there was triumph there . . . . She knew she'd see her family again no matter what, she knew but even if she'd accepted it, she wasn't sure she'd ever be ready. Not really.

Betty Callahan swallowed as the light shaded through and around her and the lingering pain of being attached to her body dissolved. She'd told them she loved them before she went to sleep.

She supposed she would have to be ready now.

Something shifted, or she did, and she realized this was home.

Blazing light and mountains, love and song and presence all around her, almost touchable, almost overwhelming though she knew she'd been taken where she belonged . . ..

She began walking.

Not what she'd expected. Light, yes. It hadn't occurred to her that her first moments in heaven would seem so familiar, or that her first reaction would be pensive.

It came to her attention after some time that she was not only not alone, but there was someone there. Or something. A shadow, in all the brilliance, but a bright one. Apparently an oddly diffident one, as it waited silently until she turned and looked very hard at it.

This was very odd.

She recognized it, only not exactly; she was sure that this was the same being as the devil she'd met inside her own mind and told that Nita didn't have permission to bargain with it. She knew it . . . only . . . she hadn't expected to find it here, and there was a difference, and . . . there was what Dairine had told her of Ordeal, and what Kit had said that day . . ..

Well, she knew she belonged here, and if this one did too, then so it was. After several long thoughtful moments of regard, she said, "You aren't here looking for Job, are you?"

It shimmered into clarity as a handsome young man with reddish hair and an apologetic smile. "Actually, I like the one I have now. Pays well and has excellent benefits. Ah--welcome to Timeheart?"

She blinked, then made a face at the pun, then considered for a moment and asked with a very faint hint of returning the smile, "Why is that a question?"

"Because I'm still getting used to it myself. It's bigger than when I left."

Now that was an interesting concept. She rather liked the idea of having however long she wanted to think about it, actually. Only this was still an odd situation. "I don't think I was quite expecting to see you here." The start of the book of Job (and all dreadful puns related thereto) aside.

"Well, I haven't been. Not until . . . well, I ran the opposite of 'afoul' of your daughters. Do you know what it is they do?"

"Yes." She paused. "In a . . . general way. I think I've come to understand it better, lately." She studied him for another long moment, realizing that while she did see the form, she seemed to see the . . . mind, too. The soul? Truth. It was too bright here for lies, to each other or to oneself. As it should be. "You're . . . from after Dairine's Ordeal, aren't you. Redeemed. Even though the dark is still abroad."

"Not forever, though. Nita gave me the opening, Dairine let me take it . . . there's light at the end of the tunnel, now, even if it's a long way off. I'm sorry it didn't come sooner."

"They're good girls." Warm thought. She missed them, even here, and she suspected suddenly that he saw that, saw through her just as well or better as she'd seen . . . well. She also found she didn't mind. "I'd always liked that idea," she added meditatively, "that triumph would be so complete that even the devil would be brought back, though I wasn't sure for the longest time if I believed that would be quite how it worked. I suppose it didn't seem quite real, with nothing having obviously changed. It does now."

"You can cut the rot out of a tree, but it will still take time for good wood to grow. Linear time, that is." He waved a hand at the brilliant landscape. "This was just a promise for a long time; now it's a promise fulfilled I sometimes wonder how it will play out, from a linear perspective--if eventually everything will be loved, and so find itself here."

"Everything is loved, from what I've always believed."

"Yes, but they don't know it. Speaking from experience, being loved and accepting love are very different."

"Ahh. Yes, that would make sense." She tilted her head. "It's good to have you . . . back, if that's the right way to put it. Understated, I'm sure."

"Thank you. Although it's strange to hear, considering that by the most convenient definitions of 'back' and 'me,' one might not expect us to be on friendly terms." He smiled. "Unless I'm due for another lecture."

She laughed, for the first time in quite a while without her lungs misbehaving. Possibly because she didn't have to have them anymore? "I was actually just thinking that this was a good deal more civil than the last time I met you in person. From my own linear perspective, anyway."

"That's the Callahan influence, I suspect." He grinned. "You'll find your daughters are rather well-known here. And Kit, of course."

"I think . . . I've been here before, with them, or very close to here. In dreams." She sat down cross-legged on the slope and just looked at things for a moment, then back at him. "And I don't get the impression you're in need of lectures, now."

"I wouldn't be surprised. Wizards visit, sometimes. And you've been . . . very close, for a while." He smiled. "I try not to be."

"Well, not to be rude, but you were after my daughter at the time; you deserved it."

"Not rude at all; I deserved every word. Actually quite enjoyed watching it."

"Now that sounds odd."

"That's the thing about nonlinearity. I was very impressed."

"Er . . . thank you?"

"You're not angry, then?"

She stopped to think about that. "I was very angry right then. Obviously. Now? . . .I think so. Some. I wasn't ready; I knew better than to make my life about not dying, but that doesn't mean I wanted to die, no matter how lovely this place is. . . .But not angry, exactly, at you, now, if you see what I mean. There doesn't seem to be any point, and after all . . . who am I to dispute your welcome, and what would it make of me?"

The Power nodded. "Fair, and perhaps more than I deserve . . . but then, what of this place isn't?"

"Well, that part's a fair question from me too, after all."

"Sending the Lone Power packing does tend to be good for the karma," he replied dryly.

"Hm. So does knowing when to stop, I suppose?"

"Two seconds after I came up with the idea in the first place, would be favorite."

She'd meant letting the glede go, but that was certainly a good point. "I suppose so, though I confess to having been thinking on a smaller scale, yet."

"Ah. Well, yes, that as well. I suppose I didn't think you seriously believed you don't belong here."

"Hmm. I don't -- I've always believed I'd be . . . home . . . after dying, and I can feel it; I know I belong here. Just not that I earned it, or could have. A gift -- love -- accepted, rather, as you said before." She paused. "Can't you? Feel it, that is."

"Yes." His voice was rough. "But I know I didn't earn it. The whole universe would be like this, but for me."

Now there was another thing she hadn't been expecting. She thought for a moment and then remarked, "Well, that goes to show nobody's really beyond hope, doesn't it?"

"That's what they tell me. I'm still new at that part of it."

"What? Hoping?"

"Yeah. That was the point, after all, or one of them."

"And I wonder whether another was that in addition to people who didn't believe in impossibility, you needed someone who'd grown up with stories where it's getting back the lost ones that causes the most fuss," she said softly.

The Power's lips twitched. "She did hare off after Darth Vader specifically. Ah, the hazards of careless naming."

"Oh dear. Well, she did practically eat, sleep, and breathe those movies for a while."

"I'm hardly about to complain about the result."

Betty grinned. She'd had a fit at the time, of course, but she'd also had time to make peace with her daughters' . . . pursuits by now. In concept, if not in detail. "I wouldn't think so, if it got you home."

"Well, things didn't start going really downhill until she stopped the expansion of the Universe and paralyzed me with light until she could give me a good talking-to. Somehow I hadn't been expecting that one."

There was a long pause. "Stopped the expansion of the universe. I'd have thought there would be inertia problems."

"Well, she was working with the software version of the Manual, so possibly the automatic error-correction kicked in. Alternately, she just told it not to have inertia problems."

"Must've been a really good talking-to."

"She takes after her mother. Also she called me a spud."

"Somehow, incongruous as that sounds, I'm not surprised. And thank you. I rather think hers was more effective though."

"Oh, I don't know. I'm not sure the reflections can accept that gift now that I have. Paradox problems."

"Does it still count as a paradox if you're nonlinear, then?" she asked with interest. "And does that mean you remember all of what they did and will do, or . . . am I asking questions that don't actually make sense?"

"I think it's one of those things best explained by tossing a stone into a pond, or possibly using a rubber sheet and weights, I'm not sure. I'm not them, exactly . . . but then again I am. They did not used to be finite, but are now, because I exist. It's very irregular."

"It sounds extremely confusing, but I shall assume you know what you're talking about. Perhaps I can ask again when I'm better used to dealing with more than three dimensions."

"Possibly I'll be better used to explaining in more than three dimensions by then. Or not; I've been thinking of spending some time on Earth chasing my worse halves."

"I'd have thought you would be used to discussing several dimensions at once. . . .Can you do that?"

"I haven't exactly discussed anything in a very long time. And I don't know. I suppose I should probably ask first."

"Might not hurt. You have rather a reputation as a talker, though."

"That wasn't discussion, or explanation, it was . . . seduction, or attempted, most of the time. The nickname wasn't kidding."

"Which one? Father of Lies?"

"Lone Power."

"Ah. I'm sorry; I'm still not used to that one."

"Well, it's mostly a wizard thing. The other is accurate enough."

"Well, living with two wizards . . . or two and a half, as often as Kit was over there . . . ."

"But they were hiding it for part of the time, and you were much more familiar with other names for longer."

"That's true. . . .It's interesting. Of all of them I ever heard, just about the least . . . hostile was the one used by people dedicated to the opposition."

"Well, they talked to my family more often than I did."

"And they were plotting to get you back. I see."

He smiled wryly. "And it depends on the perspective. 'Lone Power' was the one name I could never really take pride in, because it always reminded me that I was alone."

"Which I gather you'd grown rather sick of. Neatly chosen, then."

"They're very clever."

"And determined, apparently."

"Oh, very much so. It used to be amazingly frustrating."

She chuckled. "Relatives frequently are, in my experience, but it's also generally worth it."

"So I'm finding."

"Good." A slight pause. "Do you mind if I ask just what Dairine did say to you? The explanation ran somewhat on the confusing side, and involved the interesting announcement that Athena and Michael the Archangel are the same person."

"They are. Also Prometheus and Lugh Samildinach. And until recently, Nita's local Advisory's pet parrot. My sister has a strange sense of humor." He paused. "And Dairine . . . told me what I couldn't tell myself, that I wanted the light back. And cried for me. It doesn't sound as impressive as it was."

She remembered the parrot. Of course, most of what she remembered about Peach prior to the news that she had been a Power, angel, goddess, or whatever term one wanted to use for it was that Tom and Carl had spent a good deal of time arguing with her about swiping food. " . . .I don't know. Dairine doesn't cry that often." She smiled briefly. "But how long had it been since someone wept for you alone? That you knew about?"

"They hadn't, ever. That I knew of. My sister told me it wasn't the first time, but perhaps it was the first time I was able to listen."

"Or that somebody held you still long enough you had to?" He'd said paralyzed, after all.

"That too. You don't get people playing with physical laws on quite that large a scale every day."

"Just as well, I'd think, though certainly worth it that time." She tilted her head. "Was that what it took? Realizing you did want to go back?"

"And my sister to tell me that I was wanted. Not even needed, although that too -- but that they wanted me, not my power, not just the opportunity to mend the universe. But I couldn't have believed that without Dairine there first -- she chose, knowing me, knowing everything I've done to hurt and kill since the beginning of time, to see me as someone worthy of love. It was . . . the strangest feeling."

Betty couldn't have helped beaming if she'd tried. Good for Dairine, however strange it must have been for her too. Of course, clearly she hadn't been the only one . . . . "Dairine's always been much softer-hearted than she wanted to admit," she murmured. "But love's not so much a question of worthiness, is it? Understanding, maybe," she added thoughtfully, "but not always that either."

"I don't know. You know more about love than I do; I'm just saying what it felt like."

"I guess I . . . thought you'd remember, from before you ever left, once you came back." She smiled, then realized a bit to her own surprise that she'd reached up to pat his shoulder. "And I shouldn't have quibbled with the wording; it does mean valuing someone, too, after all."

"It's hard to remember, after I tried so hard to forget for so long. And I don't mind, exactly -- it's nice to learn all over again."

"With rather celebratory teachers, I gather. I'm sorry. I interrupted, I think."

"Not at all. I have time, after all. Linear and otherwise. And I wanted to meet you."

"Hmm? I meant the explanation." She blinked. "And, on account of my daughters or our, ah, last meeting from my perspective, or something else?"

"All of the above, to varying degrees. I wanted to meet Nita and Dairine's mother, and I wanted to meet you, and I suppose I needed someone to talk to."

"I'd think you'd have quite a few options for that last one, but nothing wrong with being efficient, and I certainly don't mind. So . . . here I am. Obviously."

"Someone I wasn't related to. I didn't mean to interrupt your first moments here, though."

"Oh, that's not a problem. I was a bit surprised, I suppose."

"Heh. That's certainly understandable."

"But I certainly don't mind."

"Thank you. I would have understood if you hadn't cared to listen to the inventor of death whine on about self-esteem issues."

Betty laughed. "Complimenting my daughters wasn't a bad start, and if you'd actually sounded whiny I probably would have said something. I think."

"Well, I used to be known for telling people what they wanted to hear." The Power smiled wryly. "You and Dairine and Nita seem to have the knack of telling people what they need to hear, which I think is much more useful."

"I'm a mother, I had to learn it."

"That, and last-ditch defense against any odds?" He chuckled. "Something my sister said."

"Oh, naturally. Did she?"

"When describing her plan to win me back. Which reminds me -- did Dairine mention that technically you're the grandmother of an entire planet?"

" . . .Something like that. Or the robots on it, at any rate . . . . I was, you might imagine, somewhat overwhelmed."

"You can be proud of them, too; they're the only race of beings to reject my gift out of hand. Also the highest per capita wizard population. Nothing but the best for Dairine's children, apparently." He grinned.

"Actually, come to think of it, I got slightly lost on this point -- what, exactly, was going on with the idea of stopping time?"

"They were attempting to do away with entropy after the fact. Idealistic, but flawed reasoning, and . . . well, they were being encouraged. Stop time, nothing wears out anymore."

"But nothing else happens either? Very nice use of the passive voice, by the way. Encouraged personally -- I think she said you were inhabiting the one she'd called Logo?"

"Yes. Or, rather -- presenting my argument through that one. I wasn't really inhabiting it any more than I was any of the others. I'm not proud of it."

"I didn't think you would be now."

"Seemed like a bit of a smack about the passive voice. I should own up, I realize, it's just . . . remembering the things I said makes me feel rather sick."

"Well," she pointed out, despite the oddity of the situation, "that's probably a good thing, considering what they were."

"It's very hard sometimes reconciling the person I am with the person I was. I'm not sure I would have cried for me."

She wasn't sure if she would either; she wasn't sure if Dairine would have been able to later, say . . . now. "Maybe not. But there were those who did. And one you noticed." He looked incongruously younger when he was worried, which seemed backwards.

"That's true. I'm just . . . I feel like I should understand why."

"Well . . . I'm not sure if I could have done it either, really. But I do seem to recall recently telling Nita to apologize promptly in an argument, whether you're right or wrong. Perhaps you could ask Dairine?" Softly, "Perhaps it was as simple -- and as difficult -- as realizing that you were miserable and finding that reason enough for tears, with or without the insistence on taking it out on everybody else."

The Power chuckled. "That makes a great deal of sense, I think. And I can see where she learned that capacity for understanding."

" . . .I hope I contributed. Dairine always wanted to understand everything."

"I'm sure you did -- by encouragement, if nothing else. Although I think this conversation might test her."

"Hmm. It is just a bit odd, isn't it?"

"It could probably be stranger. I'm not immediately sure how, but in an infinite Universe, nearly anything's possible."

She laughed again, and noticed yet again that it felt good to laugh. "Well, it certainly isn't quite what I was expecting. . . .But it is a very good welcome."

"Well, I thought it was the least I could do. And it turned out well, for me, too--I suppose two teenage daughters prepared you to be a good counselor."

"Which would be the unexpected part, as it never occurred to me it might be a needed function here, somehow. --Seriously, I'm glad if I . . . helped."

"It probably isn't, usually. I'm just very strange. And you have."

"Good. Even if I do have the feeling it's your own family you really *do* need to be talking to, mostly . . . ." She grinned slightly. "Well, I suppose we probably are after a fashion, but on rather wildly different levels."

"Not that different. As my sister is fond of saying, we were not made to be less than equals in the One."

She grinned. "There is that. I think I like your sister -- although for some reason, even now it seems very incongruous to realize that was who the parrot was who kept stealing out of my stir-fry."

"I think I mentioned her sense of humor? She refuses to say whether or not Peach existed prior to becoming an incarnation; I suspect not, myself."

"Is she by any chance responsible for the fishpond?"

"Fishpond?"

"I'm told," she said, "that Tom and Carl now have a pond with koi who dispense advice in the form of haiku."

"Aah. No, I think that's just normal wizardly pet behavior."

Betty contemplated that for a moment and then deadpanned, "What a fascinating choice of adjectives."

The Power grinned. "Well, the 'wizardly' modifies the 'normal.' At least those are just fish--if you'd ever given Nita or Dairine a kitten it probably would have turned into a wizardly partner."

"That would explain why Kit's dog showed up in my mind, wouldn't it?"

"Not quite the same thing, but yes. Dogs aren't wizards as often, for whatever reason . . . my sister, again, seems to have done much of the spreading wizardry, and perhaps she was expressing a preference, I don't know. But as a general rule, wizards' pets go strange."

"What about birds? Besides her, I mean."

"Well, she actually wasn't that unusual, apart from being a Power in her spare time. Birds tend toward the prophetic."

"And the phrase 'a little bird told me' suddenly is revealed to have a whole other meaning from what I realized. Apparently so do fish, unless that's residual."

"I think it might just be those fish. Haven't made a study of it. Maybe I will, though."

"Is it in the Manual?" she half-joked, then paused. "I suppose you wouldn't need that, though . . .?"

"There's nothing specific, just a warning not to be surprised." He grinned again. "And no, not particularly. Editing privileges, even. One of the first things I asked for; I'm very good with the Speech."

She put up her eyebrows. "And yet not used to explaining or discussing things?"

"Knowing the words and finding the right ones are two different things. I'm better at argument than conversation."

"Ahh." A slight grin. "Seems to me you're doing fine with conversation at the moment."

"Yes, and someday they may even take me out in public. You're easy to talk to."

"Thank you, I try." She hesitated. "Would I be out of line to ask who isn't?"

"No one in particular . . . of themselves, anyway; they've all been more than welcoming. But it's an adjustment."

"I thought it probably wasn't intentional, specific or not . . . . I suppose being welcomed is rather an adjustment itself, at that."

"It's like I've died and gone to Heaven," he deadpanned.

She covered her eyes briefly with a mock groan; interestingly, the gesture didn't seem to prevent her from seeing anything. "'O Death, where is thy victory?' -- Someone ought to mention your sense of humor."

"Well, I'm getting more laughs out of it lately."

"That isn't surprising. At least you haven't bitten me."

"Well, no, I'm civilized. Unlike my sister, I take it?"

"Altercations over the stir-fry," she explained.

"Aah. She hasn't bitten me yet."

"I will venture to guess that you haven't whacked her with a spoon, either."

"Well, no. Although I would have given much to see you do it."

"I can't recommend using a spoon."

"I've only really seen her at a loss for words once. And then, not for very long. So I can't say I'm surprised the spoons didn't work."

Betty looked at him curiously. "When was that?"

The Power smiled sardonically. "Guess."

" . . .Either when you left, or when you came back."

"When I left. I think she'd been practicing the speech she gave when I was coming back."

"I suppose she had more of a chance to."

"Well, yeah. You know, I invented the surprise gift, there, too. I never get credit for that."

" . . .If you're referring to death, I'm not exactly surprised, and if you aren't, I think you just lost me."

"I should probably work on my sense of humor."

"If that's your idea of a gag gift . . . ." She grinned. "Probably."

"Hey, I was pretty young, by certain perspectives. I didn't know any better. And nobody'd done gag gifts yet. Humor is much more complicated than planetary motion, you know."

"Well, while I'll grant that mortal children are also exhausting, I considerably prefer them over the past few months. Some of us are not amused." Well, not at that. She had to admit the conversation was entertaining.

"Well, no. I said I needed to work on my sense of humor. And it's not as if you'll never see them again . . . actually, considering visits to Timeheart are a fairly standard wizarding attaboy, you'll probably see your daughters all the time."

" . . .I have been here in dreams a lot for a while." She stared out over the landscape and watched a mountain range shade gently into a forest. "Sometimes with one of them."

"Sometimes, when it's . . . lingering . . . They'll bring people here, just for short stretches at first, to make the transition easier. Or at least less abrupt."

"Very . . . considerate." She smiled wryly. "I suppose it worked. One moment I was thinking that waking up wasn't going to be easy this time, and the next I realized I wasn't going to." A pause. "Though I suppose this is more awake, really."

The Power smiled. "I remember . . . it was a philosopher arguing with--I think it was a bishop. Possibly just another philosopher. The bishop or whoever it was argued that reality was simply our perception of it--that we couldn't know what was actually real. The philosopher kicked a stone with his foot."

"I remember that story. I believe I thought that was an unusually practical philosopher." She grinned, then trailed a hand through the air, which sparkled and flickered with hints of things she suspected she'd learn to see eventually. "There seems to be . . . more to everything, here. Or, more than I can perceive, anyway."

"Well, yes, but that's true of everywhere. Everyone sees things a little differently."

"I suppose." She eyed him with sudden mischief. "And I should probably refrain from asking you about dancing on the head of a pin . . . ."

"One, but only if the dance is a gavotte." The Power grinned. "I've been reading quite a bit lately."

She blinked slowly at him. "More than I have. I gather that reference was from my home planet, but beyond that . . . ."

"Ah. It was sort of a humorous take on the Apocalypse. The only angel who knew how to dance could only dance the gavotte. Demons, if I remember correctly, could all dance, but without any rhythm whatsoever. Sorry to be confusing, I find nonlinearity leaves me with quite a bit of leisure time."

"I never quite pictured the gavotte as a one-person dance. That must have been very awkward."

"Well, I think that was part of the joke."

"I thought it probably was. As for the rest, personally, I'm not sure it counts as dancing without rhythm."

"You'd know better than I would. I haven't been Shiva in quite a long time."

Betty looked long and thoughtfully at the ground before her feet, which was at the moment spreading out unusually flat and sleek as if in invitation; through the grass she could see something that looked like a polished floor, with stars deep within it. "Shiva, hm?" She stood up slowly, without tendons or joints or muscles protesting, and the floor shimmered more distinctly as if to reassure her it wouldn't trip her up. "Should I not suggest you join me, then?"

The Power blinked, and smiled, and rose to his feet as well. "I don' t dance destruction anymore, but that was only half the measure even then."

"In that case I will."

It certainly wasn't destruction that either of them danced, though Betty would have been astonished if anyone had tried telling her it was creation; it was every ballet she'd ever loved and everything she'd loved about dancing except perhaps the audience, and she couldn't tell for sure that there was none. She had no idea how to guess or plan what the Power was likely to do next, but it didn't seem to matter; and when she stopped it had nothing to do with being tired -- though she ended up breathless from laughing over the fact that there was no quarreling over what to do, and with whom.

Betty found afterward that she still missed her family and hurt for their missing her, welling quietly through the joy that was there anyway like part of breathing.

She also found that she no longer needed the darkness to see stars.