Typically, Joshua's stories get put here on the Author's Cut simply because I know not every TBAA viewer and quite possibly not every JABB newsletter recipient is Christian.  However, due to some of the plot elements of "The Keeper's Story," I had to make that a newsletter.  Well, at least I felt I had to.  And the fact that I had nothing else to send probably contributed...  So I didn't do everything I wanted to with that story. Thus, this story kinda delves more into Joshua's side of things: his motivations, his emotions, his hopes, etc.  It also solves the problem of Joshua dropping a pretty big surprise on Andrew in "Keeper."  It just made sense to me that Joshua would return, knowing Andrew would have questions and concerns after having some time to think things over.  Originally, I wasn't going to put this anywhere and instead just use it as a brainstorming piece.  But then I was afraid I'd lose it.  Or just nitpick at it.  So the writing is not as crisp as I'd like.  It was more about getting ideas and feelings down.  Oh and I had some stuff leftover from "Abide With Me" concerning Andrew and Joshua that I feel was better addressed with some space of time having passed.  For example, I think Joshua would never have brought up the Crucifixion while Andrew was in the hospital trying to recover.  That just seems thoughtless.  Yet, I felt Andrew really needed to know how that informed Joshua's actions.  So now he does.
Asking the Answer

Andrew had grown used to returning to Serendipity to find the place neither empty nor quiet.  It wasn't unusual to come across Lady Beth stashing food in his refrigerator, Yva leaving chocolate, Rose and Max setting up lighthearted pranks, C.J. and the horses galloping around as they waited, or JenniAnn keeping house.  However, none of the girls' efforts on his behalf usually involved the racket the angel of death heard upon entering his house the Tuesday after Easter.  Someone was in his kitchen and they definitely were not cooking or cleaning.

Curious, Andrew hurried to the room.  He froze in the entryway and smiled at the scene before him. 

Joshua was bent over the kitchen table, taking an electric sander to the bottom of a detached cabinet door.

The angel moved to stand beside the carpenter and waited patiently as he continued his work.

After a few more runs, Joshua turned the sander off then clapped Andrew on the back.  "Hi."

"Hi.  Uh, thanks for planing that.  I always meant to but..."

"Boss keeps you busy.  I get it."  Joshua grinned before moving to reattach the door.  "It was fun.  It's a good thing power tools didn't exist 2,000 years ago.  I might never have left the carpentry gig behind.
  The real last temptation of Christ: a 15 amp 7 and a fourth inch circular saw."

Andrew smirked.  "I'm thinking not even a power tool would have kept you in Nazareth."

"No, not even a power tool," Joshua agreed.  "Hey, you want to hold this in place while I screw the hinges back in?"

"Sure."  Andrew crouched down and watched, studying the man's hands as he worked.  All that they'd done, all that they'd created and those hands were at work repairing his kitchen cabinet.  Joshua would never cease to be a marvel.

Once he'd set down the screwdriver, Joshua swung the door a few times.  "No more sticking!  It's as good as new.  Well, except for this.  But this stays."  He brushed his fingers over crooked lines of green ink intermingled with a blue scribble on the surface of the wood. 

Andrew smiled tenderly.  "Shelby's contribution.  She was only three when she stole a couple of JenniAnn's markers and did that."

"It's supposed to be you."

The angel squinted.  "Really?"

"See, these are your arms.  Your legs.  You'd been reading to her earlier.  So this is the book.  And this part in the wood where the grain's lighter?  She thought that looked like your smile," Joshua explained.

Andrew looked with new appreciation at the child's drawing.  "Thanks for telling me."  He smiled at the image then looked quizzically at his guest.  "Joshua, I'm really glad you're here.  I always am.  But..."

"Why?"  Joshua chuckled as he began to sweep up the wood shavings.

"Let me..."  Andrew reached for the broom.

The man snatched it away.  "No.  My mother and father taught me to pick up my own messes."  He grinned at the angel.  "So there."

The angel laughed and held up his hands in surrender.  "All right, all right.  How about some tea?  And Lady Beth brought over a red velvet silk pie..." he tantalized.

Joshua's eyes lit up.  "Now that I won't turn down.  And to answer your question: that's why I'm here.  To answer your questions." 

Andrew turned back from the stove.  "You did answer my questions, Joshua.  Sunday morning."

"Only some.  I know there were more."  Joshua got to his feet and set his hand on the angel's arm.  "Andrew, questioning isn't a sign of a lack of trust or faith.  Questioning is good.  Talking is very good."

"I... I know."  Andrew smiled sheepishly.  "Well, I'm learning."

"You are."  A proud smile spread across Joshua's face. 

Once the tea was ready and the pie sliced, Andrew and Joshua moved to the sun room.  For a few minutes they sat in companionable silence punctuated by compliments to Lady Beth's culinary prowess.  Then Andrew spoke.

"I... well, Joshua, I've been wondering lately... I mean you know that I love your visits.  I do.  But I can't help wondering... years would go by between your visits to me, like this, while I was on assignments or here in Dyeland.  And that... that was fine.  I always saw you when I was Home.  Now, since November, this is the fourth time you've been around.  I guess I'm wondering..."  Andrew sipped his tea then set it down.  "Does that mean something?"

Joshua nodded.  He reached over to set his hand on Andrew's, stilling the restless fingers that had been fidgeting with a stray thread on his chair.  "It does but it's not anything to worry about.  Andrew, when you decided to stay in Afghanistan with Max, in human form, because you wanted to be there with him every painful, lonely minute... I was so proud.  Dad was so proud.  I had assignments of yours from centuries ago telling me how proud they were.  But when you made that decision to experience it all as Max did..."  Joshua's eyes welled.  "Andrew, that was the longest we've gone without talking like this in nearly 2,000 years.  I missed those talks.  But now we can talk and so... here I am."

Andrew looked to Joshua with a trembling smile.  "I thought about you and the Father both so often and I... I missed those talks, too.  But in my better moments, I did sense you.  I even thought... the dreams.  With Laja.  I know you made them happen.  But I don't know how much of that was you."

"A promise was made to you and to JenniAnn and that promise needed to be kept.  She prayed to help you in any way she could, you prayed that your friends would not grieve your absence too deeply.  The dreams were also how those prayers were answered," Joshua confirmed.

Andrew took in a deep, calming breath before proceeding.  "Thank you for that.  I did also wonder...  Joshua, when I saw Laja in those dreams... I saw her exactly as she was at the time.  Well, clothed instead of in pajamas.  But everything else down to the fact that Rose had curled her hair and that she'd gotten that tattoo... I saw that.  But when she saw me... she said sometimes I seemed agitated and tired but never bruised or increasingly thin.  I figured you wanted to protect her, to keep her from knowing..."

"I wanted to protect you both."

The angel was struck by the quiet response offered in a voice thick with emotion.

"No one deserves to see someone they love tortured," Joshua murmured.  "No one.  And to watch your loved ones cope with that..." 

Andrew stared at the bowed head of his Master.  No further explanation was necessary.  The angel of death knew.  He stood and began to pace as he thought.  On one terrible day, those Joshua loved had seen him tortured, taunted, broken, and struggling to breath with lungs that were being crushed by the weight of his own dying body.  And Joshua had seen the grief on their faces.  Immobile and unable to comfort them, he had felt his own pain compounded by witnessing theirs.  It was a pain beyond any Andrew had ever felt, beyond anything he could imagine.  Joshua had spared him and JenniAnn from a similar fate.

Joshua continued.  "On Earth, in all the mortal realms, there must always be free will.  And the destruction that free will sometimes brings about... I can't hide it.  I can't always protect people from it if humanity is to remain free.  But in my countries... on my island of kudzu and stars... I could protect my children there.  So I did."  The carpenter at last raised his head and smiled at the angel then stood to embrace him.

Overwhelmed both by the ancient memories and the new revelation, Andrew rested his head on Joshua's shoulder.  When finally he was able to speak, he rewarded the man with a teary smile.  "Thank you for that.  I-I couldn't have borne Laja seeing that.  I can't wait for her to meet you, even though she won't know it's you.  I can't wait for any of them to.  But..."

"But?" Joshua prompted gently when Andrew's smile faltered again.

"You said I would be directing a production of Jesus Christ Superstar and you... you're going to take the lead.  You're going to play yourself, Joshua!  You're going to relive that last week... those... the last hours.  I don't...  Joshua, I don't like thinking about seeing you up on that cross.  Not again.  I know it won't be real this time.  I know that.  But... you're obviously going to be in earthly form and it won't be comfortable and..."  The angel of death shook his head vigorously, trying to dismiss the thoughts that plagued him.

Joshua gently lifted Andrew's chin.  "I'll be fine, Andrew.  I promise.  And you'll be fine, too.  During the show, JenniAnn will be sitting to your right and Max to your left.  Your friends will be all around you.  You'll be surrounded by love." 

The angel looked into Joshua's eyes, comforted by the resolve and peace there.

"JenniAnn doesn't know that you saw me die but she suspects," Joshua continued.  "She'll fret about it to the others. 
So if you get upset, they'll all understand and they'll be there for you."

Andrew mustered a smile both bemused and sad.  "You're the one that's going to be... that was... on the cross and you're only talking about me.  What about... about you?"

"Andrew, I'll feel the love of every person in that theatre and the love of everyone who has ever loved me.  And I'll be with our Father.  It won't be like before.  I won't feel forsaken.  And I will know that a party and lots of hugs and kisses await me when that curtain comes down."  Joshua beamed.  "I know it will be trying and difficult.  But I know it'll be worth it.  There will be someone in that audience who needs to see it."

The angel of death looked up in surprise.  "Someone here?"

"No.  Someone you'll meet then.  I would have died for any one of you.  You know that.  And if pretending to die again is what this one needs... it's what I'll do.  And remember, Andrew, that scene is only a small part of the time we'll have together.  All of us.  For thirteen years I have watched over every Christmas and Halloween and Valentine's and Passover and birthday and anniversary and 'just because' party and every quiet evening spent together and every energetic morning coffee break.  It's brought me such joy to watch the relationships here grow.  Does it really surprise you that I might just like to share in one or two of those parties, maybe a few quiet evenings and morning coffees?"

Andrew sighed happily.  "No.  It doesn't surprise me at all.  I only wish it wasn't a year away."

"It'll be here before you know it," Joshua assured.  His gaze grew more intense though no less tender as he again took the angel's hand in his.  "The coming year will bring its challenges but also many, many blessings and opportunities to grow closer to those you hold dear.  Andrew, I have an assignment planned for you.  It will be a difficult one but you won't face it alone.  Your friends will be with you just as they have so often before."

Completely trusting Joshua even as his words caused some concern, Andrew nodded.

"You'll be close by them.  Your friends.  This won't be like Afghanistan.  There will be no separation... unless you choose it," Joshua vowed.  "Your compassion and your love and your bravery are needed by someone... someone you don't know but who thinks they know you."

"I will do everything I can for them," the angel promised.

"I know you will."  Joshua glanced over to a box that had appeared on the table.  "Andrew, I won't be with you like this... face to face.. when that assignment starts.  But I want you to have this with you for it and in the meantime."  He pushed the box nearer to the angel.

Curious, Andrew took the box and opened it.  He ran his fingers over the contents.  "These aren't mine.  Are these..."

"My kippah and tallit.  I want you to have them with you for when the time comes that you'll need them." 

Awed, the angel of death stared up at the man.  "Joshua, I... I'm honored.  Thank you." 

"You're welcome."  Smiling, Joshua affectionately squeezed the angel's hand before rising to his feet.  "I know you have plans with Max and Rose so I'm going to leave you to those.  Just one more thing..."

Andrew rose to walk Joshua to the door... or wherever he intended to leave from.  "What's that?"

"They're going to give you jelly beans.  Avoid the brown ones.  They aren't chocolate flavored.  Think dirt."  His eyes sparkling with amusement, Joshua disappeared.

After staring for a few moments at the empty space and basking in the love and warmth that still enveloped him, Andrew returned to his kitchen.  Reverently, he put on the yamulke and prayer shawl and prayed to his Creator, praising Him and asking Him for the strength to face what was to come.

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