Sunshine and Snow

Sunday, November 14th, 20
38


Andrew kept a careful eye on JenniAnn as she whirled around the ballroom, studying each table centerpiece and ensuring it was perfect.  The sight of her... the gold and silver tumble of her hair, the royal blue sheen of her gown... made the angel want to pull her to him and dance.  But there would be time for dancing later!

"Andrew?" she called.  

"Coming," he answered, approaching from the other side of the room.

"Can you please stand back a bit and tell me when this is centered?  It just looked a little off."

"Sure thing."

Andrew obediently moved to the appointed spot and watched as JenniAnn slid a heart-shaped photograph frame he had crafted.  From inside, two beaming young faces stared back at him.

"There.  It looks good there, Laja."

JenniAnn moved to Andrew's side and checked for herself.  She stared and she stared... and then she began to sob.

"Laja...  Oh, Laja..."  Andrew pulled her close, tucking her head beneath his chin, and softly swayed.

"I... I'm not... not ready...  He... he... he's my baby!"

Smiling, Andrew kissed her hair.

"And he's always gonna be your baby, Laja.  Our baby.  He's just also gonna be Evie's husband."

"But they... they're barely twenty!"

"Yes.  And, for you, that's very young to get married.  But, for most of history, it would have been completely acceptable.  That's around Yosef's age when he got married.  And even a few years older than when Maryam, Isolde, and Marco did.  And look at them!  They're still happy and in love all these hundreds of years later."

JenniAnn rested her cheek against the angel's chest and let out a shuddering sigh.

"And... I seem to remember a certain someone who, at the ripe old age of seventeen, was convinced she could love me and only me forever and ever and ever..."

"But that was..."

"Different?  How?"

"Well... because you're an angel and..."

"Yes, because an angel of death is a much safer partner than a sweet, little teacher's aide."

JenniAnn glared up at Andrew who only chuckled and kissed her forehead.

"My Laja...  Look, do I wish they were waiting a while?  Yes.  But they made some solid arguments for getting married now.  And, beyond that, this family knows better than most that you can't keep two people who love each other apart.  It was either this or they would have eloped to El-Chanan.  And I, for one, would have been very upset about not being present at my son's wedding."

"Yeah..." JenniAnn agreed.

"So... we are going to be happy.  We're gonna dance.  And then we're gonna send our little boy and his new bride off, knowing we love them both so very much and... maybe put in a good word for giving us another grandbaby in a year or two?"

"Andrew..."  The beginnings of a grin flickered on JenniAnn's face.

"Okay, okay...  So I'll leave that last part out.  But I'll be thinking it.  And then..."

"And then?"  

"You and I are gonna have this big, ol' castle to ourselves for the first time in a very long while.  And I have plans..."  Andrew waggled his eye brows.

"Ack!  Blah, blah, blah...."

Belle dramatically announced her presence by entering the ballroom, her ears covered.

JenniAnn laughed and pulled her "traumatized" daughter to her.

"My baby girl..."

Belle, wearing a sleeker dress in the same shade as her mother, gently rubbed her nose against JenniAnn's.

"Mama.  Avi wants to see you.  He's in his room."

"Oh... okay.  I'll go see what he needs.  Be back in a bit."

"K, Mama."

Once JenniAnn was gone, Belle smiled and approached her father.

"She's kinda a wreck, huh?"

"Afraid so."

Andrew twirled his daughter around.

"You look beautiful, Baby Girl.  Liam will be rendered speechless."

Belle blushed and hugged Andrew.

"Thanks, Daddy."

Andrew sighed.

"I don't think it'll be long before this ballroom sees another wedding reception...  I mean... not that it would have to be here."

"I... I'd like it to be here."  Belle's eyes misted and she stretched up to kiss her father's cheek.  "Save me a dance tonight, Daddy?"

Andrew's eyes welled and he nodded.

"I'll save you all the dances you want, Belle..."

Belle smiled.

"You're totally gonna be like mom is right now when I get married."

Andrew sniffled.

"Maybe..."

"Daddy..."  Belle once again wrapped her arms around her father.  "I'm always gonna be your little girl... your little elf."

Andrew sighed contentedly and kissed her hair.

"And I thank God for that."

*~*~*

JenniAnn knocked softly on Avi's closed bedroom door.

"Sweetie, it's Mama."

"Come in!" Avi called.

JenniAnn opened the door to find her son standing in front of his mirror, fooling around with his tie.

Avi smiled at her via the mirror.

"Help?" he requested.

"Of course."

JenniAnn approached and made quick work of the tie.  Then she stepped back to admire her son.

"Oh Avi...  You... you look so handsome."

"Thanks, Mama.  I was also hoping you'd brush out my hair?  I want it to be perfect.  No knots or tangles.  And then maybe tied up with this?"

JenniAnn took the royal blue, velvet ribbon from him and nodded.

"I think that would look very nice, sweetie.  Very regal."

"Thanks.  Evie told me she's always liked it when I wear a ponytail.  She says it makes me look like a fairytale prince."  Avi beamed.

"I agree with her."  JenniAnn waved to the bed.  

Just as he had so often as a child, Avi perched on the edge, kicking his legs as his mother settled behind him and began to brush.

As her son's beautiful, golden locks drifted through her fingers, JenniAnn's mind traveled back.  Back to the day she had first held his beautiful, tiny body and first glimpsed his sweet, unique face.

*~*~*

August 18th, 2018

Frowning, Andrew nuzzled his face into JenniAnn's hair.  It wasn't time to get up... he was so comfortable...

Then the meaning of the disruptive noise cleared his mental fog.

JenniAnn's cell phone was ringing...

Glancing over at his bedstand, Andrew saw it was 3:17 AM.  That couldn't be good...

"Mmm..."  JenniAnn moaned and burrowed her face into her pillow.  Then she went stiff.  "No..."

Andrew turned on his lamp while JenniAnn clamored for the phone.

"Father...  It... it's Father," she murmured, tears already welling.

Andrew bowed his head, unable to deny it.  For weeks, the elder Jacob had been largely bedridden.  Then, the week before, he'd suffered a catastrophic stroke.  He no longer spoke.  The left side of his face was distorted.  He mostly slept.  

For the past few days; Andrew, JenniAnn, Belle, and Violeta had all crammed into Shelby's chamber... which had once been JenniAnn's... so they could be nearby when the inevitable occurred.  But just the previous night, Vincent had sent the couple home, urging them to get some uninterrupted sleep... and some alone time.

And now it had happened.

Andrew was wondering who had taken Jacob Home when JenniAnn's voice interrupted his thoughts.

"Wait... what?  Who called?"

Andrew looked questioningly at JenniAnn who shrugged and put the phone on speaker.  A moment later, Catherine's shaking voice could be heard.

"His name's Darian.  I... I met him when I went to Ireland to spread Cora's ashes.  He's the caretaker of Lor's and Cora's old cabin.  He's Dr. McCarn's second cousin or maybe grand nephew...  I can't remember exactly.  Dr. McCarn, you know.  Lor's parents' friend."

"Yes, yes I remember.  But... why did he call?  And how's Father?" JenniAnn questioned.

"Father's the same.  And he called because... he has a baby."

JenniAnn shook her head.

"That's really wonderful for him but..."

"No, Psyche.  Not his baby.  He... he found a baby.  A... 'different sort of baby,' he said.  I'd left him my name and number... in case anything concerning Cora or Lor or his parents came up that Vincent might want to know about.  I didn't really think anything would but I figured maintaining a contact in Ireland would be good."

Andrew's eyes went wide.

A different sort of baby...

"I never told him about Vincent," Catherine continued.  "I mean... I told him that I'd married the son of the couple whose cabin he watched.  But I never mentioned Vincent being different.  He looked at me a little funny, though... like maybe McCarn had told him about Lor's condition.  But the main point of this all is... he wants me to come get the baby.  And I will, of course, but..."

"Father," JenniAnn murmured.

"Yes.  And I... I want to be here with Vincent and Jacob when it happens.  It... it's going to be so hard on them both.  And Devin... well, Devin's being Devin.  And I... I'm not sure I'm ready for it, either, but..."  Catherine was interrupted by a sob.  "Psyche, I know it's going to be hard for you, too, but..."

"I'll go.  I'll go get the baby," JenniAnn volunteered.

Andrew looked over at her then nodded.

"I'll go with her."

There was a shuffling sound on the other side of the line then Vincent's tired, cracking voice emerged.

"Thank you, Psyche, and thank you, Andrew.  We wouldn't ask except... he said the little one... he's not well.  Won't... won't eat..."  Vincent's voice cracked again.

Tears slid down JenniAnn's cheeks.  She was sure Vincent was thinking of the helpless baby... but also of Father.

"It... it's no problem.  We'll head your way now.  Figure out a flight..."

"I'll start looking now.  We'll pay, of course," Catherine assured.

JenniAnn opened her mouth to protest but Andrew gave her a look to silence her.  No one had the energy to argue over money right now.

"We'll be right there," Andrew assured.

"Thank you," Catherine responded.  "Thank you both so much."

"It... it's no problem.  See you soon.  Love to you both."

"I love you, Psyche.  And you, Andrew," Vincent replied.

"Our love to both of you.  We'll be right there," Andrew reiterated before ending the call.

For a few moments, Andrew and JenniAnn simply stared at each other.  Then Andrew leaped from the bed.

"I'll bring our suitcases up."

"Thank you.  I'll start getting things ready to pack and... the pets!"

"We'll ask Raquel and Nico and Isolde and Marco to take turns checking in.  I'm sure they'll do that.  And Violeta and Ivy will be around."

"Right.  Okay...  So... let's go."

For the next few minutes, the two ran around the castle, preparing for their last minute voyage.

*~*~*

When Andrew and JenniAnn arrived in Vincent's and Catherine's chamber, they found the latter in front of her computer with several browser windows open.  Vincent was perched in their rocking chair, a sleeping Belle in his arms.

"Is she all right?" JenniAnn asked as she approached and lightly touched Belle's forehead.

Vincent peered groggily up at his godchild and nodded.

"Just a nightmare."

"A-about Father?"

"In part, I think.  She dreamed I was sick."

"Poor love."  JenniAnn stooped to kiss first Belle's brow and then Vincent's. 

"I should have let you sleep.  The only nonstop flights aren't til this evening," Catherine lamented.

"And what about the others flights?" Andrew asked.

"Most of them wouldn't get you there much earlier.  And I don't want to risk you getting stuck any where.  And then... how are we going to get you back?  You... you can't just get on a plane with... with him."  Emotionally exhausted, Catherine began to sob.

Andrew squeezed her shoulder and then turned the laptop towards him.

"There's still a portal in London.  We haven't used it in a long time but it's there.  I just... I don't know how we'd get the baby from... what's the name of the town?"

"Ballycork."

"From Ballycork to, say, Liverpool.  Once we figure that out, I could drive from Liverpool to London," Andrew suggested.

"But what if you get stopped?" Catherine questioned.

JenniAnn approached and looked at the screen, trying to find a solution. 

"Are we even sure the baby looks like Vincent?  I mean what if all he meant was the baby has a cleft lip or Down's syndrome or..."

Catherine shook her head.

"He said the baby looked like he was part kitten," she whispered.

JenniAnn frowned.  That settled that... 

"Well, I could just keep him tucked against me," she offered.  "Shield his face, ya know.  Andrew's a wonderful driver.  So I doubt we'd get pulled over."

"But what if there's a terrorist attack around there and security is tight?  What if they have road blocks with check points?  They wouldn't just let you clutch an unexamined bundle, Psyche!  And Andrew can't drive from Ireland to the U.K.  Ireland's an island!" an exasperated Catherine pointed out.  "And... and you don't know how people will react.  Maybe they'll be kind.  Maybe they'll stay quiet.  Or... or maybe..."  Catherine lowered her voice.  "They'll want to turn that poor baby into a science experiment..."

JenniAnn cringed, remembering what she'd been told about an awful time when Vincent had been abducted by a scientist.

Andrew rubbed at his temples.  They'd all had only scarce amounts of sleep over the past week.  He and JenniAnn were barely able to plan meals... let alone international trips with an enigmatic baby.

JenniAnn began to feel panicked when she had a brainstorm.

"Josef!  We should ask Josef.  FS has some private planes.  He needs them sometimes for missions.  Maybe..."

Andrew nodded eagerly.

"Yes, that's right!  Marco's even mentioned to me that he learned how to fly because of that.  What time is it?"

"4:25," Catherine reported.

"I doubt he'll be up.  But maybe..."  Andrew pulled out his phone and sent a text message asking Josef to call as soon as he was up. 

In only a few moments, the phone rang.

"Hey," Josef greeted. 

"Hey.  I didn't expect to hear from you so soon, Josef."

The man sighed.

"Daisy had a nightmare, unfortunately.  She's fine now.  But I couldn't get back to sleep.  So what's going on?"

"I'm sorry to hear that.  And I hope you can get back to sleep soon but... I have a huge favor to ask."

In a rush of words, Andrew relayed the information about the mystery baby to the former vampire.

"Wow..."

"Yeah.  Wow..." Andrew agreed.

"So this cabin is basically in the middle of no where?" Josef queried.  "I can't say that I've heard of Ballycork."

"It was last time Catherine visited.  So, yeah, I think so."

"So I probably couldn't get a plane in there.  But... I have contacts among the Irish government.  I could get an FS van there.  If at any point you get pulled over, the driver can show documentation and the police will just wave him or her along.  It happens all the time.  I have a jet that we use for missions in and around the UK.  I could get it to Dublin.  The van could get you to Dublin and from there... it'd probably be a little less than six hours to get you back to New York."

"That... that's got to be hundreds of thousands of dollars," JenniAnn lamented.

"Was that JenniAnn?" Josef asked.

"Yeah," Andrew verified.  "But actually... we wouldn't have to do that.  If we take the portal to London and then back, we'd just need to take the van from Ballycork to Dublin and then maybe a plane from Dublin to London?"

"I can do it," Josef assured.  "Don't think about the money."

"But..." JenniAnn protested. 

"Listen, if it'll make you feel any better, I'll send a few of my guys along," Josef offered.  "It's almost time to switch up my teams, anyway.  They get restless if they're in one place for too long.  We would have done this in a couple weeks' time, anyway.  The plane's in Amsterdam right now.  So we'll get those guys, move them to Dublin, take the Dublin crowd to London with you, drop you all off, and return to Amsterdam with the London set.  I can tell those crews to be on alert for a move.  Once I hear that you're ready to go, I'll get the guys picked up in Amsterdam and we'll set this all in motion.  They're all former vampires.  They won't think anything about the baby being different.  Let me do this.  Please."

Catherine, Vincent, Andrew, and JenniAnn all looked at each other.

"I'm cured...  I have a beautiful little girl.  I'm engaged to a wonderful woman.  I... I've met God," Josef continued.  "All of that because you stuck by me even when I was a sulky, self-involved vampire.  I want to do this.  Besides, I got into this business to help people.  Let me help this baby."

Andrew nodded.

"We will.  Thank you, Josef.  So much."

"You're welcome.  I really am glad to do this.  You're okay getting to Ireland?" 

"Thank you so much for this, Josef," JenniAnn echoed Andrew's sentiment.  "And yes.  We're looking at commercial flights.  Although... it occurs to me that if we take the portal to London, we'd just need to fly from there to Dublin and then Andrew could drive the rest of the way to Ballycork.  It would take a lot less time."

"There you go!" Josef encouraged. 

Catherine drew in and let out a deep breath, calming herself. 

"That does help..."

For the first time since the call from Darian, Catherine smiled.

"Look, here's one from 8:45 to 10:05 this morning... our time, I mean.  It would be around 2:00 there.  And there are seats left!  And I can get you a car for pick-up in Dublin!"

Andrew squeezed the woman's shoulder.

"Sounds like a plan.  Laja?"

"Uh huh."

"You're sure you want to do this, Psyche?" Vincent called.

JenniAnn approached him and gripped his hand.

"I do.  I just... I... I think I should go see Father before I leave."

Vincent's eyes welled and he nodded.

"Yes, I think so.  Catherine, could you please take Belle once you're finished there?"

"Of course."

Catherine finished ordering the tickets and booking the car then gently took Belle from her Appa.

For a moment, the girl stirred.

"Appa..."

"It's okay, sweet Belle.  I need to go do something but I'll be back.  Amma has you for now."

Belle wearily smiled at Catherine before nuzzling against her.

"Amma..."

"I'm here, sweetie."  Catherine settled into the rocking chair and peered down at her sleepy grandbaby. 

Walking away, JenniAnn's eyes filled as she heard Catherine begin to sing.

‚ÄúSleep my pretty one. Rest now my pretty one.  Close your eyes the day is nearly done..."

*~*~*

Upon entering Father's chamber; Andrew, Vincent, and JenniAnn found Devin sound asleep in a chair pulled near to Jacob's bed.

Trying not the disturb him, JenniAnn approached from the other side and knelt beside the old man's bed.

"Father...  It... it's Psyche.  I just wanted to come see you because... cause Andrew and I need to go away for a little bit.  Catherine... she got a call.  From Ireland, actually.  There's a little baby... a baby like Vincent.  So Andrew and I are going to go get him.  And bring him back here.  So... so he can have a... a good life like... like the one you gave to Vincent."

Devin had begun to stir at the sound of JenniAnn's voice but roused quickly when the import of her words hit him.  He stared in amazement at his brother who nodded.

Andrew knelt beside JenniAnn.

"We'll take good care of him until we bring him back here, Jacob.  Where I know he'll be welcomed with open arms and open hearts.  Because that's the sort of world you built here in the Tunnels... a world that we're all so grateful to have... whether we live here or are simply blessed to be able to visit it."

JenniAnn nodded.

"And... and I'm so grateful that you encouraged Vincent to adopt me and... even when that didn't work out... to... to keep me in his life.  Because I... I don't know who I would be without him.  Without this place...  Teaching here... being among you all... it brings me such, such joy, Father.  And it... it helped me to go onto... to help build my own world... a world of compassion and creativity and love.  Like your world."

JenniAnn rested her head on the mattress and began to weep.  She wept over Father's impending death but also the knowledge that, with his passing, Vincent would become the patriarch.  He and his generation would be the next to break her heart.  She understood why Belle had had a nightmare.

Andrew gently stroked JenniAnn's back until she sat back up and clasped Father's hand.

"I love you, Father.  And, selfishly, I hope I can see you when I come back but... if not... my heart will be breaking for all of us.  For Vincent and Devin especially...  But I will be happy for you.  You... you'll be with Joshua and with Maryam a-nd... with your wife... your mother...  You have so much to look forward to, Father.  B-but... how we... we will miss you..."

Shakily, JenniAnn rose and kissed the old man's forehead.

"Un-until next time, Father," she murmured before hurrying into Vincent's embrace.

Andrew leaned in close and tenderly squeezed the man's hand.

"Fear not, Jacob.  There is so much life waiting for you...  We love you.  God loves you even... even more."

Devin smiled at the angel.

"Thank you, Andrew."

The angel nodded.

"It's the truth."

Devin brushed at some tears and gave a nod.

"You would know," he teased.  "And now... explain all this to me, please?  I go to sleep for no more than three hours and... there's a baby?!?"

While Andrew explained the situation to Devin, JenniAnn and Vincent stepped into the hallway.

"I... I want to go get the baby.  I really do.  B-but... I... I don't want to leave you, Vincent.  This... it's... so... so hard.  And for you..."

Vincent smoothed some hair behind her ears and offered a calming smile.

"I know, Psyche.  It is tremendously hard.  But... this is the way of things.  Father has spent years preparing me for this time.  It doesn't make it easy... but it makes it bearable.  And... I will know that, when it's over, there will be a precious, new, little life on the other side."

"But what... what if... if he's sick or... or I can't get him to eat or..."

Vincent pulled his godchild close.

"I have faith in you, Psyche.  I know you and Andrew will try the very best you can.  We have to place the rest of it in God's hands.  That's His baby waiting for you and He loves him."

JenniAnn nodded.

"Yeah..."

Vincent sighed.

"It is so... moving.  This happening at the same time as Father is... is dying."

"Uh huh..."

"I don't believe that God would dangle this hope in front of us during a time of sorrow only to take it away," Vincent opined.  "The baby will be fine, Psyche.  I believe that."

"Then I... I believe it, too."  JenniAnn offered Vincent a timid smile.

"Thank you for doing this, Psyche."

"I want to.  I have to admit... I always thought you had to have been pretty adorable as a baby.  Mary says you were."

Vincent chuckled.

"Mary is quite biased."

"Father said you were 'a handsome baby.'"

"He's biased, too."

"But I think they were probably right.  In any case, I'm sure this baby is adorable."

Vincent smiled.

"I'm sure you'll think so."

"And I'll be right."

"Right about what?" Andrew asked as he joined them in the hallway.

"That the baby will be adorable," JenniAnn informed.

"Oh definitely," Andrew concurred.

Smiling at them both, Vincent put to rest what worries he had about them going.

*~*~*

An hour later; Max, Rose, and baby Landon had come Below.  They were gathered in Shelby's chamber where Violeta and Belle had already congregated, ready to say good bye to Andrew and JenniAnn.

"When will you be back?" Violeta questioned.

"Just as soon as the baby seems strong enough to travel," Andrew replied.

"Our baby?" Belle asked, hands clasped hopefully.

"This is Appa's and Amma's baby," JenniAnn clarified.  "But we'll see him all the time."

Belle let out a little sigh but smiled.

"Okay."

"What if... if Father..."  Shelby's voice cut off and she bowed her head.

JenniAnn hugged her.

"Andrew and I said our good byes earlier this morning... just in case.  I'm so, so sorry that we won't be able to be here for you and for everyone if... if he goes Home while we're gone but..."

"The baby needs you," Shelby reasoned.

Max squeezed her shoulder.

"Rose and I are here, Shel.  You let us know if there's anything you need.  Any time.  Night or day."

"Trust me, one or both of us will be up," Rose shared, wearily smiling down at Landon who was in his grandpa's arms.

"Thank you, Max and Rose."  JenniAnn embraced them both then moved to Andrew's side and gently caressed Landon's hair.  "This is gonna be the longest Gamma and Grampy will have gone without seeing you, sweet pea."

"We can do video chat," Max promised.  "And the time difference probably won't even matter much.  All four of us will be up at odd hours."

Andrew carefully transferred Landon to JenniAnn and embraced Max.

"Good point.  And we'll do that.  Thanks for keeping an eye on your sisters while we're gone.  Call if you need anything."

"We'll do that... but we'll be fine," Max assured.  "And I'm glad you're both finally getting to Ireland... even if not quite in the way or for the reason you imagined."

"We likely won't be doing any sight-seeing.  But it will be nice to be there.  Catherine said the area around the cabin is gorgeous."  JenniAnn smiled at the idea, her nerves calming as she swayed with her grandson.

"I stay with Appa and Amma and Shelby?" Belle checked.

Andrew nodded.

"And Aunt Violeta will take you back home every day to visit the animals.  And then we'll be back before you know it."

"With our baby!"

"With the baby, yes," Andrew gently corrected.  "Give Daddy one more hug?"

Belle happily complied.  Her sisters and brother soon followed suit.

After returning Landon to his mother, JenniAnn began another round of hugs and then took Andrew's hand.

"I guess we should be going so we have time to get through security."

Andrew nodded and grabbed their bags.

"We'll be back soon.  Love you all!" he called as he headed to the corridor.

"So, so much," JenniAnn added.  "And... and we will see you all very, very soon."

"Love you, Mama and Daddy!"

"Love you guys!"

"We'll miss you!"

"Don't worry about us!"

"Love you lots, Andrew and JenniAnn!"

Once in the corridor, JenniAnn let out a sigh.

"Not used to leaving them behind..." she murmured.

Andrew patted her back.

"It won't be for long at all.  The time will fly, I think.  Or we'll both be so tired that it'll all just blur together."

JenniAnn laughed.

"I remember those days...  Sweet, little Belle..."

As they neared the portal, Vincent loomed ahead.  Spotting them, he hurried forward to help Andrew with their bags.

"Thank you, again.  This means so much.  I know Catherine would have gone but..."

JenniAnn stretched up to kiss his cheek.

"She belongs here with you.  And as Max pointed out... Andrew and I will be getting to Ireland like we always wanted."

The angel of death nodded.

"While it's not exactly a vacation, I'll look forward to JenniAnn seeing all that beautiful green...  Her homeland."

"Our homeland."  JenniAnn squeezed Vincent's hands.  "I'll take lots of pictures in and around your parents' cabin."

"Thank you, Psyche."  Vincent embraced her tightly.  "I will see you soon.  My love to you both."

"And ours to you," JenniAnn murmured.  She rested a hand on Vincent's cheek.  "I'll be praying for you, for Father, for everyone."

"And I for you and Andrew... for the baby."

After Andrew and Vincent exchanged a quick hug, the angel and woman joined hands and disappeared into the portal.

*~*~*

Andrew was glad that JenniAnn had napped on the plane.  She was awake for the entire drive from Dublin to Ballycork, oohing and aahing over each new sight.  He was tempted to take a more scenic route but knew they needed to get to the baby as soon as possible.  When Catherine had called Darian to update him, the man had been near-frantic with news that the infant was still barely eating.  Worse yet, his wails had died down.  His energy was waning.

The closer they got to Ballycork, the more nervous JenniAnn became. 

"What if... if something's happened since Catherine spoke to Darian?"

"She gave him our phone numbers, Laja.  I'm sure he would have called."

"To... to go so long without eating...  A whole day...  At least.  That's too much for... for one so... so little."

Andrew reached over to squeeze her knee.

"And soon he'll be with family.  I'm sure Darian has been a good caregiver.  But there's a difference between obligation and love.  The baby will know when he's being loved."

"I hope so..."

For the next half hour, JenniAnn was largely silent, praying for her family back in New York and for the baby.

"If these directions are right, the cabin should be just up ahead," Andrew announced a little after 6:00 in the evening.

"Good."

Sure enough, once they were past a copse of trees, a little cabin came into view. 

JenniAnn referenced the photograph on her phone, one Catherine had taken during her previous visit.

"That's it!" she cried.

Andrew parked the car and had barely shut it off before JenniAnn was unbuckling her seat belt and opening the door.  Andrew caught up with her at the door of the cabin.

JenniAnn knocked politely.

"Who is it?" a male voice called.

"My name is JenniAnn Chandler and I'm here with Andrew Darcy.  My cousin, Catherine Chandler, sent us."

A small panel on the door slid and the man's eyes appeared.  He looked them both over then closed the panel and unlocked the door.

"Thank God...  I was so pleased when your cousin told me she had family that would be able to reach us soon.  He's over here, poor chap."

JenniAnn anxiously followed Darian to a corner of the cabin where a wooden cradle sat.  The eerie stillness unnerved her.

"He just fell asleep," Darian informed.  "I tried again to feed him but... no such luck.  I had to leave him earlier.  Ran to the store to buy every design of nipple I could but..."  He frowned and shook his head.  "I think it's the way his lip is.  Makes it difficult for 'im.  I was afraid that, when I returned, I'd find 'im dead in his cradle.  But he's a fighter, this one."

JenniAnn knelt by the cradle and peered down at its precious occupant.

"Wow..." Andrew murmured as he stood over them, admiring the baby.  "He... he does look like Vincent."

JenniAnn nodded and lifted the baby to her breasts.  He let out a quiet whining noise but didn't move.

"Hello there," she greeted.  "Oh sweet, little one..." 

Andrew and Darian watched as JenniAnn moved towards a couch.  She laid the baby down and unswadled him.

"Oh... look at you," she cooed.  "Look at those perfect little toes and little fingers..."  JenniAnn caressed each downy digit.   "And your poor little tummy...  We're gonna get that filled up, sweetheart.  Yes, we will."

"Is she... one of them?" Darian asked Andrew quietly.

"One of what?"

"Whatever the baby is."

"The baby is human.  He just has a genetic condition.  But, no, JenniAnn isn't part of that bloodline.  The baby's... cousin... great uncle... whatever he is... is her cousin by marriage and godfather," Andrew explained. 

Darian shook his head.

"This is all...  I thought my uncle was daft..."

Before the man could offer further explanation for this statement, JenniAnn called out.

"Andrew, please come here."

The angel moved to her side.

"Yes, Laja?"

"I... need privacy, please," she requested.  "I mean... you can stay but..."  She cocked her head towards Darian.  "I want to see if the baby will latch onto my breast.  Maybe that would be easier than a bottle for him.  Mary was Vincent's wet nurse so..."

Andrew knelt down beside JenniAnn and brought her hand to his lips.

"Laja... Mary had also given birth not long before.  You... you're not lactating," he pointed out gently, sure that the lack of sleep was making her loopy.

"I know that!  Of course, I know that," she defended.  "But... they have those nursing systems for adoptive mothers.   If he'll latch, you could run to a store and get me one.  We... we have to try."

"Of course."  Andrew kissed her hair.  "I'll be right back, Laja."

Praying that JenniAnn's idea would pan out, Andrew returned to their host.

"She wants to try breastfeeding him," he related.

Darian's face turned red.

"Oh well... then... I'll just be outside."

"Thank you."  Andrew smiled at the man then returned to JenniAnn's side.

"Could you hold him while I get ready?" she requested.

"Of course."

Andrew snuggled the baby close to him, marveling at how light he was.  He was sure Belle had once been this small but it seemed so long ago...

"Hi there, baby boy.  You're just a little peanut!" he gushed. 

"He is a little peanut," JenniAnn agreed.  "We can call him that til he has a name."

"Little peanut..." Andrew repeated, bending to nuzzle his nose against the baby's.  The action caused the infant's eyes to flutter open.

"Laja!"

Her shirt half unbuttoned, JenniAnn spun around.

"What?!"

"His eyes..."

JenniAnn peered over Andrew's shoulder and smiled down at the baby.

"Like Joshua's eyes," she recognized.  "Brown and gold.  Like Lor's eyes, too, actually.  I wonder who you are, little peanut?"

The baby's head tilted slightly into her touch.

"That's a good sign," Andrew mused.

"Hope so."

JenniAnn removed her shirt and bra then held her arms out.

Andrew returned the baby to her and looked on, hopeful but hesitant.

"I'm afraid I don't have anything to drink... but if you just try, I promise we'll get some yummy milk into you, peanut."

JenniAnn sat down on the couch and snuggled the infant close.  With a shaking hand, she stroked his cheek.  Suddenly, she giggled.

"That feels so weird!  But... he's doing it!  He's trying to suckle!"

Andrew grinned.

"That's great!  So... what do I need to get?"

"There are a couple brand names... neither of which I remember because, well, I didn't actually think I'd need them.  But if you text Portia, she'll be able to tell you everything you need.  And... thank you.  I know it's kind of an awkward thing for a guy to have to buy but..."

Andrew shook his head and kissed JenniAnn's forehead.

"Don't even think about that."  He withdrew his phone and sent a text.  "So can you tell me, generally, what this even looks like?"

"It'll have a bottle and plastic tubing.  And we'll need medical tape.  Not sure that'll come with so please get some.  Basically, I'll just tape the tubes onto... I guess whatever breast he prefers... or maybe both, I can't remember... anyway, they'll end right at the nipple.  And then... he has to do the rest.  Hopefully."  JenniAnn stroked the boy's soft, blonde tufted hair.

"Got it.  I'll go ask Darian how to get to the nearest what?  Drug store?  Baby store?"

"Either probably.  Whatever is closest.  I think he's really... really hungry."

Andrew grimaced, suspecting that JenniAnn was in some amount of discomfort.

"Okay.  I'll be back as soon as I can."

JenniAnn tilted her face up for a kiss and then smiled after Andrew as he fled the cabin. 

She returned her attention to the baby.

"I really am sorry there's nothing in there," she apologized.  "If I would have known you were coming... I would have seen to that.  And maybe, eventually, I can feed you properly.  That's possible, you know.  I looked into it with my little girl but..."  JenniAnn shrugged.  "She was fine with bottles.  And I wanted her Daddy... that's Andrew who just left... to be able to feed her.  But we're gonna do anything we have to do to get you well, little mister.  Because we're family.  And that's what families do."

Once again, the baby opened his eyes and stared up at JenniAnn.

*~*~*

It was nearly 8:00 by the time Andrew returned to the cabin with Darian.  Despite his discomfort, the man had been a good sport about driving Andrew around in search of a nursing system.  Unfortunately, the small, local drug store didn't have any.  And so a forty five minute drive to a larger city had become necessary.  But there, with help from Portia via the phone, Andrew had selected a nursing system, tape, formula, various necessities, and assorted items meant to lessen the discomfort for JenniAnn.  He'd ignored the questioning looks from clerks and giggling from the check-out girl.  He knew he looked strange... a lone man stocking up on nursing supplies... but none of that mattered to Andrew.  It was all worth it when he saw the relieved look on JenniAnn's face when he walked through the door.

"Thank God!" she exclaimed.  "I was beginning to worry that you had to go really far away to find one."

"About forty five minutes is all.  Less on the way back...  Darian's a bit of a speed demon."  Andrew grinned and began to unload the bags.

"Where is Darian?  Did I scare him off?"

Andrew shook his head.

"No.  He's just exhausted and decided to turn in.  I think he lives in the other cabin.  Vincent's grandparents', I'm assuming."

"I feel bad that I barely acknowledged him.  I just..."  JenniAnn sighed as she admired the baby.  "I saw him and..."

Andrew smiled.

"I'm sure he understands, Laja.  Now..."  He removed the nursing system from the packaging.  "I should probably wash the bottle and tubing first, huh?"

"Yes, please.  I hope there's running water."

"You haven't tried?"

JenniAnn blushed.

"I didn't want to put him down."

"I understand."

Andrew tried the faucet.

"And it works!"

"Hallelujah!"

Andrew grabbed the dish soap he'd bought and soon had the system washed and dried.

"You ready?" he checked.

JenniAnn nodded.

"Now, Portia says you're going to have to let me help you.  Especially when you're tired.  So you just tell me what you want me to do."

"This time around, maybe just hold him while I get everything situated?"

"Sure."

Andrew happily took the baby from her.  Maybe it was his imagination but he already looked healthier, a bit more vibrant.

After some trial and error, JenniAnn felt she had the tubes correctly placed and the formula properly mixed. 

"Okay, I'm ready."

"Okay..."  Andrew returned the baby to her. 

"Pray he figures it out," she pleaded.

"Already praying."

Neither Andrew nor JenniAnn spoke or even breathed until the latter smiled.

"He's doing it...  he's nursing.  Look at his little cheeks go."

Andrew sat beside JenniAnn and smiled.  Within a few minutes, it was even more obvious that the baby was taking in milk.  The amount in the bottle had noticeably lessened.

"Can you call Catherine?" JenniAnn requested.  "Tell everyone he's drinking?"

"Of course."

Andrew stepped into what he assumed was Lor's and Cora's bedroom in case the connection was bad and he'd have to raise his voice.  He dialed and it had barely rung when Catherine picked up. 

"How is he?" she asked breathlessly.

"He's drinking!" Andrew relayed, the joy obvious in his voice.

"Thank God!" Vincent called.

"How'd you get him to eat?" Catherine questioned.

Andrew was stumped for a moment.  He'd figured Portia would have told them.  Then again... she was a doctor who valued confidentiality.

"Well... JenniAnn's nursing him."

"But..."

"With a nursing system," Andrew explained.  "She realized that because of how his mouth is shaped, he was struggling with bottles so..."

"Please thank her for me," a clearly emotional Vincent requested.

"Of course.  She's happy to do it.  We're both so relieved.  When we came... he was pretty lifeless.  Catatonic, I suppose is the better word.  But even before he ate, just from spending a couple hours being held by JenniAnn, he seemed to have rallied."

"That's so wonderful.  Oh, I'm so thankful!" Catherine cheered.

"Me too."

Andrew poked his head into the other room and saw JenniAnn smiling serenely at the baby.

"How's Jacob?" he asked upon returning to the bedroom.

"No change," Catherine reported.

"And the kids?"

"Max and Rose went back home.  Violeta took Belle to Willowveil for a couple hours before dinner.  They're back now, having a sleepover in Shel's chamber.  Belle keeps asking when the baby is coming."

Andrew chuckled.

"I had a feeling that would be an issue."

"Andrew!"

"Hold on, Laja's calling."

Andrew returned to the main room.

"What is it?"

"Could you make another bottle?  He's about out.  Poor thing is making up for lost time."

Andrew smiled and nodded.

"Of course."

"Is that still Catherine and Vincent?" JenniAnn asked.

"Yeah.  Do you want to say hi?" 

When JenniAnn nodded, he set the phone beside her.

"Hi!" she greeted.  "Oh... he's so precious!"

"We can't wait to see him, Psyche," Vincent replied.  "Thank you... for all you're doing."

"Did you tell them?" JenniAnn whispered to Andrew.

"They asked how you were feeding him so..."

JenniAnn shrugged.  She didn't want Catherine and Vincent to feel more indebted but they'd find out eventually.

"It's no problem at all.  It's... kinda awesome really.  Anyway, we can send you a photo a bit later if you think that's safe?"

"Let's at least wait until you're in the FS van, okay?" Catherine suggested.  "As much as I want to see him... I don't want to risk an unsecure connection."

"True...  But we can turn off the internet and cloud connection on one of our phones and take photos to show later," JenniAnn suggested.

"That's a great idea," Andrew agreed as he prepped a second bottle.

"Oh... hold on, little peanut.  Andrew's getting you more," JenniAnn assured when the baby began to fuss.  "I know...  You're just so hungry, aren't you?  You just wanna be a big, strong boy, huh?"

"What color are his eyes, Psyche?" Catherine asked once her cousin had the baby happily situated again.

"Brown and gold.  They remind me of Joshua's and Lor's.  They're so beautiful."

"Have you been able to find out anything about how he came to be?" Vincent inquired.

"Not yet.  Darian offered to tell me during our car ride," Andrew relayed.  "But I said we could wait until tomorrow when JenniAnn could be with us.  Plus... I think his nerves are a bit frayed.  I did learn he's unmarried, childless... so having to spend time as the sole caregiver to a baby?  That's a lot to take on.  He said a few times how relieved he is that we're here.  He also apologized to you, Catherine.  He was at such a breaking point when he called that it wasn't until later that it occurred to him it was the middle of the night for you."

"Oh... I hope you told him not to feel bad about that."

"Definitely.  I assured him that the whole family was glad to have known as soon as possible."

"I'm just so glad I connected with him while I was there.  I don't want to think about what would have happened if..."  Catherine's voice trailed off.

"He's safe now," JenniAnn murmured before returning her attention to her tiny charge.  "Aren't you, baby boy?  So safe!"

Andrew smiled to himself.  It was obvious who JenniAnn's ideal conversation partner was for the moment.

The same thought came to Vincent and Catherine.

"We won't keep you any longer.  I know it's getting late there.  But call, of course, if anything changes," Vincent urged.

"And... you do the same?" JenniAnn requested.

"We will, Psyche.  I promise.  I hope you get some sleep tonight.  All three of you," Catherine wished.

"We'll try!" Andrew promised.  "Take care!  Give our love to everyone!"

"Love you!" JenniAnn added.

"We love you, too," Vincent responded.  "Good night, Psyche, Andrew, and... little peanut?"

JenniAnn and Andrew smiled at the sound of Vincent chuckling before he ended the call.

"They both sounded good, I thought," Andrew observed.

"Tired but yes.  And... I think our peanut is getting tired, too.  He's slowing down."

"You got a lot into him, though.  That's great, Laja."  Andrew kissed her hair.  "You're amazing."

"Anyone would have done it."  JenniAnn stroked the boy's cheek.  "He is so sweet..."

"He is," Andrew murmured in agreement.

"Sing to us?" JenniAnn requested.

"Sure."  Andrew cleared his throat and began.  "'Tender shepherd, tender shepherd, let me help you count your sheep...'"

*~*~*

August 19th, 2018

Andrew was confused when he first woke up.  Then he remembered he was in Lor's and Cora's bedroom in Ireland.  And that noise... that was the baby crying.  Again.

"Okay... coming..." JenniAnn whispered as she began to wake up. 

Andrew checked his pocket watch.

3:34 AM

The baby appeared to be on a two hour feeding schedule.  JenniAnn had gotten up with him at around 11:00 and then again shortly after 1:00. 

"Laja, you just stay put this time.  I'll get everything ready."

"But the tubes..." JenniAnn murmured in between yawns.

"I'll get them."

Andrew rose and picked the baby up from his cradle.

JenniAnn smiled sleepily as he handed him to her.

The angel shuffled into the main room and gathered the tubing and tape and prepared the bottle.  In a few minutes, he returned with them and found JenniAnn with her eyes closed as she snuggled the child.

"Okay, here we go."

He looped the bottle around her neck.

"Do you want me to, umm, do the tubes?"

"You don't have to.  I know it's weird.  Here, I'll..." JenniAnn yawned again.

"I'm fine as long as you're fine."

"I'm fine."

"Okay."

As JenniAnn relaxed, Andrew carefully taped the tubes in place.

"I'm glad you've seen them before," JenniAnn mused.  "This would be a weird debut."

Andrew chuckled.

"I wonder if they're gonna get bigger now...  Ya know... if milk comes in.  I hate buying bras..."

Andrew continued to laugh.

"Laja, I think you've gone loopy."

"I'm sleepy... but he's so cute."

"Almost done.  You try to rest.  I'll keep watch."

"Mmm kay."

As JenniAnn dozed and nursed, Andrew kept a close eye on her and the baby.  He was pleased to see the little guy was eating quite enthusiastically. 

The bottle was nearly drained when an offensive smell filled the air.

"Well, then!" Andrew exclaimed. 

"Mmm?"  JenniAnn wrinkled her nose.  "Oh..."

"I'll take care of it," Andrew volunteered.

The baby fussed as Andrew picked him up.

"I know... I know.  Just let me get you cleaned up before we all pass out."  Andrew kissed the baby's forehead then hurried with him into main room where the couch would serve as a makeshift changing table.

The angel grimaced as he pulled the diaper away.

"First one?" he guessed.  "Well... it's a winner!" 

The baby bellowed when the cold wipes made contact with his skin.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry.  I didn't think to get a warmer.  Things will be better when we get home, I promise.  We just have to wing it for a few days."

Soon Andrew had him all cleaned up and settled back down.  When he returned to the bedroom, JenniAnn was fast asleep.  Since the baby wasn't fussing, Andrew settled back into bed and continued to hold him.

"That's better, huh?  Can we see if we can give Ma... Psyche a little break?"  Andrew's cheeks flushed when he realized what he'd almost said.  "Your cousin sure loves you," he covered. 

The baby responded with an adorable squeak.

Andrew chuckled.

"You're a pretty lovable little guy, you know that?"  He kissed the baby's hair.  "I wonder where you came from, little peanut?  Maybe we can start to figure it out tomorrow.  One thing I do know... God made you exactly as you are.  He made this cute, little nose.  And those beautiful eyes.  And these fuzzy-wuzzy little fingers...  And God loves you... every little bit of you.  So much."

The baby opened his eyes and seemed to peer directly into Andrew's.  It stole the angel's breath away for a moment.  He thought, briefly, of his tree back in Willowveil...  Of the night, a year earlier, when he'd broken his own bird off the nest...  The night he and JenniAnn had found the baby bird tucked beneath it.

Andrew shook his head.

No...  This baby wasn't his and Laja's.  This was Vincent's baby.  They'd only come as a favor.

But Andrew wished the child in his arms was his to keep.

*~*~*

Andrew and JenniAnn were enjoying a quick breakfast when there was a knock on the cabin door.

"It's me.  Darian."

Andrew rose and flung the door open.

"G'morning, Darian!  How are you this morning?"

The man sighed with contentment.

"Wonderful.  It felt good to get some sleep.  And how's the wee one?"

JenniAnn gestured to the cradle that was at her feet.

"Sleeping peacefully.  He's eaten what... six times now, Andrew?"

"Could be seven.  I lost count.  Come see."

Darian followed Andrew to the cradle and beamed.

"Look at him!  He's finally got some color in him.  What a difference a day has made!  And you, of course."  He glanced up at JenniAnn.  "I'm glad you were able to, ah, feed him."

JenniAnn returned his smile.

"Thanks.  Me too.  Coffee?  Doughnut?"

"I'd love some coffee, please."

"Coming right up."  Andrew poured some into a mug.  "Creamer or sugar?  I hope it was okay that we helped ourselves to what we could find."

"Just black.  And of course it is.  I try to keep the cabin stocked with some necessities.  I rent it out on that site.  What do you call it..."

"Airbnb?" JenniAnn guessed.

"That's the one!  Thank God I didn't have a visitor in here this week."

"About that..."  Andrew waved for Darian to take a seat at the table and placed the mug in front of him.  "If you don't mind my asking... how did you come to be here?  And how did you get a hold of the baby?"

Darian took a sip of his coffee before beginning.

"How much do you know of the people who lived here before?  Your godfather's people, I suppose it would be," he said to JenniAnn.

"Well...  I know my godfather's... Vincent's... parents were named Lor and Cora.  I actually met Cora in the weeks before she passed.  They lived here.  And Lor's adoptive parents, Siobhan and Declan Cleary, lived in the other cabin.  I believe the one you live in?"

Darian nodded.

"And I know they had a friend, Dr. McCarn, who saw to Lor's health.  He's your..."

"Great uncle," Darian replied.  "On my Ma's side."

"Cool.  That's about all we know," JenniAnn finished.

"Well...  My uncle Galvin and Declan Cleary were boyhood friends.  Both self-made men, you might say.  Came from nothing.  Siobhan, on the other hand, was born into a wealthy family.  It was quite the scandal when she eloped with Declan.  But he was a good man, already a beloved preacher when they met.  I think the public pressure eventually got to Siobhan's parents and they forgave the couple.  A good thing, too.  Her parents died not long after their reunion and left everything to Siobhan.  And that was also a good thing.  It wasn't many months later that they found Lor on their doorstep.  They used that inheritance to buy this land and my cabin... a private place where their boy could grow up in safety.  This cabin came later.  This is all coming from my uncle.  I wasn't there, of course."

Andrew and JenniAnn nodded.

"So Lor grew up, met Cora, married... I trust you know all that?"

"We do, yes," Andrew confirmed.

"But here's something you probably don't know...  Something Cora may not have even known.  But, then again, it was only conjecture on my uncle's part."

"What's that?" JenniAnn prodded, leaning closer.

Darian frowned.

"It's about when Lor was killed.  What do you know about that?"

"We know that Lor and Cora were out riding... that they saw a man beating a little boy and his mother.  Lor tried to defend them... and the man shot him," JenniAnn recounted.

"Aye.  But that wasn't just any woman and her boy... at least my uncle didn't think it was.  But first I have to explain Fr. McMultry."

"Fr. McMultry?" Andrew asked, eyebrow raised.  Cora had never mentioned him.

"A parish priest from around here.  Woulda been active when I was a boy.  Good man... a little too fond of his drink, though.  A woman in the village had just died.  Her name was Maureen Blake.  She'd been very active with the church.  Quite a loss, really.  A bunch of the men gathered at the pub after her funeral... including Fr. McMultry.  All of em got plastered.  Father started blathering on about his last confession with Maureen.  Said she'd wept for her baby.  And she had a son.  He was there at the pub.  But that's not who she meant.  Father says Maureen told him the baby wasn't right.  Looked like he was one of the fay.  Furry-like.  Like a cat, even.  She'd left him on the doorstep of a church.  Of course, everyone's telling Father that it's the drink talking, he doesn't know what he's on about.  But Maureen's son, Aengus, goes real quiet.  Let's Father finish his story.  Then he tells em all that he saw a man once... a man like a lion.  He'd saved him and Maureen from his abusive father.  But then... the father shot the man.  And Aengus remembered his mother weeping and wailing something fierce.  My uncle thought Lor was that boy... Maureen's son."

"But... but then... so... so Lor died... unwittingly protecting his mother and her son?" an aghast JenniAnn checked.

Darian nodded.

"That was what my uncle believed when he heard all this.  But there's more to it...  Maureen wasn't married when Aengus was born.  So there was always suspicion that his father wasn't really his father.  And here's the thing about Aengus... he was completely normal looking.  A hulk of a man.  But normal-looking.  Incredibly strong, though...  So rumor started that whatever Maureen's lost baby was... Aengus was that, too.  Even if it didn't show."

JenniAnn peered down at the sleeping baby before returning her attention to Darian.

"Does this Aengus still have family in the area?"

"Yes.  He and his wife had a son, William.  William, in turn, has three children.  The oldest, Neil, is around twenty.  Then there's Lauren, fourteen or so, and Emilene who is ten, give or take a year.  I'm not close with the family so I'm not positive on the ages," Darian explained.  "My guess would be that little one is Neil's son or... whomever fathered Lor and, potentially Aengus, had other children....  It's that latter possibility that brought me here."

"How so?" Andrew inquired.

"You have to understand that my uncle was devastated when Lor died.  And when word reached him and the Clearys that Cora had lost their child...  It was terribly difficult for them all.  So when the rumors began after Maureen died... Uncle Galvin latched onto them.  He had to believe some piece of Lor was still out there... and that he might need a safe space.  I think part of it was that Galvin and his wife could never have children.  Lor was the closest he had to a son.  He loved all us nieces and nephews, of course.  And I was his favorite."  Darian smiled proudly.  "But he loved that boy.  To be honest, I thought the whole thing was crazy until Thursday when I found that little fellow on the doorstep of this very cabin."  Darian waved to the sleeping baby.

"This is all... it's amazing," Andrew opined.  "But I don't understand... how did the baby come to be here?  Nothing in the rumors is linked to here."

"Not directly," Darian agreed.  "But this is a small town with lots of gossip.  And there was gossip aplenty when Siobhan and Declan disappeared into the night.  It wasn't long after Fr. McMultry's and Aengus' drunken admissions that someone realized that the Clearys had disappeared right around the same time that Maureen said she'd left her son on a church doorstop.  By then, the Clearys were dead so no one could ask them.  So in the absence of either confirmation or denial... the two rumors were permanently linked together.  The Clearys had taken to the wilderness to raise Maureen's misshapen child.  The rare case when an urban legend proves to be true, I suppose."

"But how did people know the Clearys lived here since they kept to themselves?" JenniAnn questioned.  "Or... wait... I guess I remember Cora saying Declan and Siobhan sometimes went into the village.  She went with them even."

"Yes, exactly," Darian confirmed.  "They'd get supplies and sell Lor's carvings.  After he died, they came into the city even more often.  They reconnected with some old friends, even inviting them to stay here on occasion.  It is very peaceful and beautiful."

"It is..." JenniAnn agreed.  "And I'm glad to know... and my godfather will be glad to know... that his grandparents found happiness again.  And I take it they left the property to your uncle when they died?"

Darian nodded.

"And him to me in time.   Before he died, he told me about his time with the Clearys, about how it all related to the village lore... and he asked me to keep an eye out.  I was always a solitary sort so the 'mission' suited me well.  I only started renting this cabin out because I needed the money for upkeep.  I feel badly, though...  I was having a lie-in on Thursday and didn't get up and around until suppertime.  That's when I heard the boy crying.  I pray he wasn't out here for long... alone, hungry."

JenniAnn reached down to stroke the baby's hair.

"You couldn't have known.  Especially if you didn't believe all the rumors."

"I didn't... not until I found him."  Darian smiled at the child.  "It really is like night and day.  I couldn't make him content no matter what I did."

"You tried your best," Andrew comforted.  "No one's in a good mood when they're starving."

"And I certainly couldn't do what you can, miss."  Darian smiled shyly at JenniAnn.

"I know you did everything you could, Darian.  And it's just JenniAnn, please."

"Thanks, JenniAnn."

The baby let out a squawk.

"Speaking of...  I think he's ready to eat again.  If you gentlemen will excuse me..."  JenniAnn smiled and lifted the baby into her arms.

"I'll start mixing a bottle, Laja."

"Thank you!" JenniAnn called before closing the bedroom door behind her.

As Andrew prepped the bottle, he continued to chat with Darian.

"So where do you think the baby came from?" he queried.

Darian sighed and bit his lip in thought.

"I feel like if a lion-man was roaming around, there would be reports.  But if, say, one existed... or a lion-woman, for that matter... and they had a mate... why abandon their child?  And if, God forbid, the conception happened during a rape... well, abortion is legal here now.  Though, I suppose, still hard to come by.  But I think that's all beside the point.  I think Aengus was Lor's brother.  And since you say it's a genetic condition... that family's likely been carrying it the whole time.  So... Neil no doubt got himself a girlfriend... they weren't careful... and along comes your... what did you call him?"

"Little peanut," Andrew filled in with a fond smile.

"Yes.  Along comes the little peanut.  Young parents... don't know what to do... so they follow the legend and leave their baby here."

Andrew finished preparing the bottle.

"That makes sense...  Sad, though."  The angel frowned.  "But if you'll excuse me for just a moment...  Let me get this into JenniAnn and the baby and I'll be back."

"Of course."

When Andrew returned, he and Darian picked up their conversation.

"If you're right...  I feel sorry for the girl."  Andrew frowned.  "Assuming she's the same age as this Neil, she'd be a teenager, maybe a bit older."

"And a pregnant, unwed teenager has reason enough to be frightened without giving birth to, well...  He's cute as a button but..."

"I know what you mean."  Andrew sighed and dragged his hand through his hair.

"JenniAnn's godfather...  Catherine's husband...  Lor's son... how does he manage?" Darian asked.

"Vincent?" Andrew smiled.  "He manages very well.  Although he's having a hard time just now.  The man who adopted him is dying."

"Catherine mentioned that.  And I was very sorry to hear it though it made me curious.  How did Vincent come to be adopted?"

"Well..."  Andrew sat back down at the table.  "When Cora left baby Vincent outside the hospital, planning to come right back for him, he was found by a friend of Jacob's...  Jacob being Vincent's father.  Jacob had started a community of generous, dedicated, idealistic people... all living in the tunnels beneath Manhattan."

"Well, I'll be..."  Darian shook his head in wonder.

"Vincent was raised there... well-loved and valued for who he is.  When Jacob passes, Vincent will become the patriarch of the Tunnels."

"And you're bringing the baby to him and Catherine?" Darian checked.

For a moment, Andrew's face clouded but, when he met Darian's gaze, he smiled and nodded.

"We are, yes."

"But he...  I mean... he and Catherine must be older than I am and I have to admit... that little one wiped me out," Darian reported.

"They'll have lots of help," Andrew assured.  "And they have another son.  He's almost eleven.  I know he'll be a big help."

"Hmm...  Well, that's good.  And Vincent... he's healthy?"

"Very healthy.  He has an amazing immune system.  Here's hoping that's part of the condition and the baby has inherited it."

"From your lips to God's ears," Darian toasted before taking another sip of his coffee.

"Amen!" Andrew replied with a smile.

*~*~*

August 21st, 2018

As Andrew put away the dinner dishes, he kept an eye on JenniAnn.  She was sitting in the corner of the room, rocking the baby and humming quietly.  They were the picture of contentment.

At three different times, Andrew had watched JenniAnn fall in love.  The first time had been with him...  He'd denied it, at first.  It was only a crush.  But a point had come when he could no longer deny her feelings for him... or his for her.  Belle had been next.  That love had been undeniable, unshakeable from its beginning.  And so it remained.  Finally, there was Joshua.  Andrew had looked on as JenniAnn had grappled with her infatuation with him.  He'd had to remain silent... hadn't been able to tell her who Joshua was.  But JenniAnn had found the truth out for herself and her love and adoration for her Savior had grown, strengthening all the love she felt.

Andrew knew she was in love again.  But, this time, the object of her affections wasn't hers to keep.  Tears stung his eyes as he thought of it. 

And she wasn't alone...  In four days' time, the infant had captured his heart.  Just the night before, JenniAnn had awoken to find herself staring at Andrew's feet.  He'd been so eager to simply gaze upon the baby that he'd flipped around.  Andrew didn't know how long he'd simply stared at the sleeping baby... nor for how long JenniAnn had joined him in it.

It would only get worse the longer they waited...

"Laja?"

"Hmm?"

Andrew pulled a chair next to hers.

"I was thinking that tomorrow maybe one of us could run into town.  Kemara's birthday is Friday and I think she'd appreciate something from Ireland.  And then Raquel's and Nico's anniversary is Sunday.  Maybe we could get something for them."

"Good idea!" JenniAnn encouraged.

"And... maybe we could call Josef... ask if we could leave on Thursday."

JenniAnn stopped rocking.

"But it's still so soon," she protested.

"But he's doing so well, Laja.  You know, if he'd been born in a hospital, he probably would have been released by now."

JenniAnn's hold on the baby remained gentle but strengthened.

"But..."

She had no further protest to make.

Andrew rested his forehead against hers.

"Sweet Laja...  It... it's not going to get any easier.  Only... only harder."

JenniAnn let out a sob.

"I... I know.  But I... I want him."

"I know."  Andrew caressed her cheek.  "And I... I do, too.  And we can see him every day but..."

"It... it won't be the same," JenniAnn murmured.

"I know."

"I... I just really want-wanted a-another baby..."

Tears streamed down Andrew's cheeks, matching JenniAnn's.

"I know... my Laja.  I... I did, too.  And maybe... maybe one's still out there for us but..."

Andrew let out a ragged sigh when the baby wrapped his tiny fingers around one of the angel's.

"But this baby belongs to... to Vincent and Catherine," he finished.

JenniAnn nodded as she continued to cry.

"I... I'm so sorry, Laja."

"I... I'm sorry for you, too, my love."

"The... the good thing is... he... he'll be so, so loved."

"Uh huh...  Andrew?"

"Hmm?"

"Can we move to the bed a-and can you just... hold us for a little while?"

Andrew managed a smile and nodded.

"Of course, Laja."

He helped JenniAnn to her feet and then the three moved to the bedroom.  JenniAnn laid down first then Andrew spooned around her, peering over her head at the tiny bundle they wished could be their son.

*~*~*

Thursday, August 23rd, 2018

Andrew, JenniAnn, and Darian sat at the table in Cora's and Lor's cabin.  The baby was swaddled and ready to go as he slept in the carrier Andrew had purchased the previous day during his visit into town. 

"Please keep me in the loop," Darian requested.  "I'd love to hear how the little fellow gets on.  I suppose photos might be risky.  But letters, emails, calls..."

"Of course!" Andrew vowed.  "And maybe we can figure out a way to get you pictures.  And if you're ever in New York..."

"Or Omaha, Nebraska or L.A.," JenniAnn chimed in.

"Let us know," Andrew finished.  "We'd love to see you again, Darian."

"Likewise.  And I hope you'll let me know if you're ever back in Ireland."

"We'll do that.  I hope to bring JenniAnn back sometime for a proper vacation."  Andrew smiled at JenniAnn who, upon noticing, gave him a forced smile.

"I hope you do!  And I'll be sure to let you know if I hear anything else that might be relevant to Vincent or the baby."

"We'd appreciate that."  JenniAnn's smile brightened as she reached across the table for the man's hand.  "We appreciate all that you've done.  More than we can ever say."

Andrew nodded.

"We truly have no words.  But we did want to give you a token of our gratitude."

The angel reached under the table to produce a gift bag.

Darian's face flushed.

"Well, no...  You shouldn't have...  It was an honor, truly.  I don't need..."  He removed the gift from the bag and laughed with delight.

Andrew smiled.

"I saw you admiring mine so JenniAnn and I thought you might like to have one for yourself."

Darian beamed as he held a silver pocket watch with a Celtic cross engraved on the front. 

"I love it!  Truly!  Ah, and there's an engraving..."

Darian's eyes misted as he read the words.

"'To save a life is to save the world.'"

"It's adapted from the Talmud," JenniAnn explained as she lifted the baby out of his carrier.  "We couldn't think of anything more perfect.  Because you did save this little life, Darian." 

"Thank you... so very much.  Do you think... could I hold him once more?" the man requested.

"Of course you can!"  JenniAnn passed the baby to Darian and smiled.

"Let's get a photo," Andrew suggested.  "A keepsake.  His face is pretty well obscured."

"Okay.  I'd like that!"

Andrew withdrew his phone and took one photo of Darian smiling at the child and another of him smiling at the camera. 

"I sent them off to you."

"I just felt my phone vibrate.  Thank you."

A horn honked from outside the cabin.

JenniAnn hurried to the window.

"It's them.  I see the van with the FS logo."

Darian rose and brought the baby to JenniAnn.

"Have a good life, little one.  Fill it with love.  I'm sure you will.  God be with you." 

JenniAnn's eyes filled as Darian kissed the baby's forehead.

"Thank you again... for everything."

"It was my pleasure, JenniAnn.  Safe travels.  Let me know when you three are safely home, please."

"We'll do that."  Andrew moved their suitcases to the door then hugged Darian.  "Thank you.  So much.  We'll never forget you... and we will keep in touch."

"I appreciate that.  God bless you both.  And your family."

"God bless you, too!" JenniAnn replied, squeezing the man's hand.

There was a rap at the door.

"It's Quinlan Rosier," a man's voice shouted.  "I'm here with Freedom's Sanctuary... sent by Mr. Kostan."

Andrew opened the door and smiled at the newcomer.

"Hi.  My name's Andrew.  This is JenniAnn, Darian, and, of course, the baby.  We appreciate you coming to get us."

"My pleasure.  Always nice to do something a bit out of the ordinary."  Quinlan waved at JenniAnn and Darian.  "All four of you coming?"

Darian shook his head.

"I'm staying here.  I hope you don't run into any trouble on the road."

"We shouldn't," Quinlan assured.  "Are you ready?"

JenniAnn nodded and followed Quinlan to the van.  Andrew and Darian trailed them with the suitcases.

"Let me help you, Miss," Quinlan offered JenniAnn his arm upon opening the back of the van. 

"Thank you."

As he helped her into the van, Quinlan caught sight of the baby.

"Extraordinary, little chap."  The man grinned.  "Quite cute."   

JenniAnn returned his smile.

"Thank you.  I think so, too."

Andrew slid their suitcases into place then climbed into the van himself before taking the baby from JenniAnn and strapping him into the seat.

"Are we ready then?" Quinlan checked when all three of his passengers were buckled it.

"Yep, think so," Andrew replied as JenniAnn nodded.

"All right then..."

Andrew and JenniAnn gave a final wave to Darian before Quinlan closed the doors. 

JenniAnn let out a sigh and sunk against her seat.

"Almost home..." she murmured sadly.

Andrew knew what she was thinking.

Almost time to hand the baby over...

*~*~*

Vincent's tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable.  His mind was racing...

Father was still clinging to life... but barely.  He'd stopped eating within the last few days.  And he hadn't drunk anything the day before... 

His father's impending death had sent Vincent on several journeys back through his memories, some desired, some unwanted. 

Father had given him the best life he could.  Vincent was sure of that. 

But what if he'd had other options?

What was it like for Lor to grow up in Ireland?  Wandering the woods?  Kissed daily by the sun?

Vincent sat up and stared at the crib that had been moved into his and Catherine's chamber.  It had been his crib...  Psyche's... Jacob's... Belle's... 

Vincent thought of his granddaughter.  She was so very excited to welcome the baby home!  Despite attempts to correct her, she seemed convinced that the baby was hers.

Vincent smiled as he thought of the times he'd visited Belle at Willowveil.  He thought of her romping around the yard, playing in the stable with Yonah, Mary, Silly, and all the furry friends who had followed.  There she was in her snowsuit... making snow angels and building snow people.

A child deserved such freedom...

A child deserved the sun, the moon, the stars, the grass, the trees...

Vincent swallowed the lump in his throat and turned towards Catherine.  He gave her shoulder a gentle shake.

"Vincent... hmm..."  Catherine's eyes shot open.  "Father..."

Vincent shook his head.

"No.  No... there's no change when last I checked on him but... Catherine, I have to talk to you."

*~*~*

Andrew, JenniAnn, and the baby stepped through the portal at a little after 9:00, New York time.

The couple were silent as they made their way to the main hub.  The baby made soft noises, alerting JenniAnn's to his growing hunger.  She could feel him nuzzling against her breasts.

"We're almost there, little peanut.  I... I'll feed you soon.  But first... we... we... need to introduce you to your Papa and Mama."

Andrew winced when he heard JenniAnn's voice seize.  He circled an arm around her waist, supporting her the rest of the way.

Owen was the first to greet them.

"Psyche!  Andrew!  I'm so glad you're back!  Let me see...  Oh my God."  A smile stretched across the man's face as he took in the baby.  "He's adorable!"

JenniAnn returned her friend's smile and nodded.

"And so, so sweet."  She sighed.  "How is... is Father?"

The smile faded from Owen's face.

"It has to be a matter of hours.  He's not taking in any fluids."

"Is everyone in his chamber?" Andrew checked.

Owen shook his head.

"They were.  But Catherine and Vincent went to their chamber when they heard you were here.  They'd like to meet with you there.  I said I'd come along to greet you but I think I'm going to go back to Father's chamber now."

"Okay.  I'm sure we'll see you there soon, O." 

"See you soon, Psyche, Andrew."

"See you soon, Owen," Andrew called, waving as he followed JenniAnn to her cousins' chamber.

In only a few moments, they were standing outside the chamber door.  JenniAnn's resolve began to leave her.  She whimpered and snuggled the little one.

"Laja..."

"I... I know..."

JenniAnn closed her eyes and kissed the baby's hair.  Her eyes were still closed when Vincent opened the chamber door.

"Psyche... Andrew...  I'm so glad..."

JenniAnn thrust the baby out towards Vincent.

The man was so taken by the wriggling bundle that he didn't at first notice his godchild's strange demeanor.

Vincent smiled as he admired the sweet, little creature in his arms.  Catherine approached and peered around his shoulder.

"Oh...  So sweet..." she cooed.

JenniAnn turned into Andrew's chest, trying to stifle a sob.

Alarmed, Vincent looked up and saw Andrew with his arms around a shaking JenniAnn, softly swaying with her.

"Psyche..."  Vincent handed the baby off to Catherine and approached the couple.  "Psyche..." he repeated, resting a hand on her back.  "Oh, my sweet Psyche...  No, don't cry..."

"I... I'm fine.  Jus-just tired..." her muffled voice replied.

Vincent cursed himself for not realizing sooner what had happened.  But his mind had been so scattered...

"Psyche...  Andrew...  Catherine and I have talked and... we are going to love that little boy with all ours hearts."

Catherine approached.

"But we're going to love him as our grandson."

Andrew gaped at the woman who gave him a tearful nod.

JenniAnn turned around to face her godfather who pulled her to him.

"I'm sixty three years old, Psyche.  I can't be the active, energetic father that I would like to be.  And more than that..."  Vincent rested a hand on the baby's head.  "I want this little one to grow up in the sunlight.  I want him to feel a warm breeze play at the hairs on the back of his neck.  I want him to be able to run around his yard... climb trees... jump in puddles.  To see sunlight glistening off pristine snow...  And I know you and Andrew would let him visit... just as you let all the children visit.  But I want him to know it's his sun, his breeze, his yard...  And I know that... that he will have parents who will love him with every breath in their bodies.  Just as... as I was loved growing up."

"He... he's ours?" JenniAnn checked, peering up at her godfather.

Vincent cupped her chin.

"My darling Psyche... he's been yours this whole time.  I'm sorry I didn't see it before.  I'm sorry I didn't save you and Andrew the pain..."

"We didn't see it," Catherine corrected.  "We were both just so emotionally and physically exhausted.  We didn't question that we would take him in."  Catherine paused to nuzzle the baby's hair.  "But Vincent's right.  He deserves to have all those things.  He will always, always have a home, a sanctuary here.  Just as you do.  But this isn't his home.  And, frankly..."  She sighed.  "This week has proven that Vincent and I don't have weeks of sleepless nights in us.  We're too old to be parents... but just the right age to be grandparents again."

Catherine held the baby back out to JenniAnn who beamed as she took him back.

"Thank you...  Thank you both so much.  I..."  JenniAnn peered up at Andrew.  "We... we love him so much all ready."

Vincent smiled.

"He's your baby bird."

"He is!" Andrew exclaimed.  Laughing, he hugged both Vincent and Catherine tightly.  "Thank you... from the bottom of my heart... I... thank you."

"You're very welcome.  Although I don't think he was really ever ours to give," Vincent opined.  He cocked his head as he looked at JenniAnn and the baby then chuckled.  "I think he's quite clear on who his mother is."

JenniAnn giggled.

"He's, umm, trying to suckle through my shirt."

"Let's get you sat down and him fed," Catherine encouraged, taking JenniAnn by the arm.

"And then... do you think I could introduce him to... to Father?"

Vincent stroked JenniAnn's back and nodded.

"I think Father would like that very much."

"Andrew, you sit, too," Catherine directed.  "I can get the bottle ready."

Sensing this was non-negotiable, Andrew sat down beside JenniAnn.

"I'm going to go check in on Father," Vincent excused himself.  "And let everyone know you're both safely back.  With your son," he added with a smile.

"Our son..." Andrew echoed as he took the baby from JenniAnn.

"Our beautiful boy," she added.  "You know... we have to name him now."

"Hmm...  Do you have anything in mind?"

"Actually... yes."  JenniAnn peered into the angel's eyes.  "I'd like to name him Andrew Vincent and call him Avi."

Andrew's face flushed with pride.

"Avi...  I like that.  Andrew Vincent Chandler-Darcy."

"I think it sounds nice.  Kinda regal.  But Avi suits him better.  At least for now."

"Avi..." Andrew cooed at the baby.

JenniAnn smiled when Avi gave a little squeak, hopefully of approval.  She finished getting herself ready to nurse and, after Catherine had given her the bottle, she took Avi from his father.

"Time to eat, sweet Avi," JenniAnn encouraged as she cuddled him against her skin.

Catherine smiled.

"Avi?" she checked.

JenniAnn nodded.

"Andrew Vincent, formally."

Catherine's eyes filled.

"Vincent will be so pleased and honored.  He is so precious..."

JenniAnn met her cousin's eyes.

"You... you're sure you're okay with this?"

"Oh yes."  Catherine nodded.  "I have to admit... it was something of a relief when Vincent asked me what I thought about you and Andrew adopting him.  We would have done what we had to... with love, of course.  But it was hard enough, at points, when Jacob was a baby.  And that was eleven years ago.  The way I hear it, Vincent was an energetic, athletic little fellow.  If little Avi here takes after him at all... he deserves parents who can keep up with him.  And besides... everything Vincent said about the sun... the moon.  You know, he actually remembers the first time he saw the moon.  That... it isn't right.  Avi deserves to grow up with sunshine, moonshine, fields and forests.  They shouldn't be an event.  They should just be... well, life."

"We'll make sure they are," Andrew vowed.

"Good.  And I'll make sure Amma spoils him rotten," Catherine teased as she tweaked Avi's little, bouncing feet.

*~*~*

For as many people as it held, Father's chamber was eerily quiet. 

JenniAnn's eyes welled as soon as she crossed the threshold with Andrew behind her, his hand rested protectively on the small of her back.

Tear-stained faces turned and smiled as JenniAnn approached with baby Avi.  People parted so she could move to the old man's side.

"Father...  It's Psyche.  I'm back.  And I brought someone for you to meet."

Carefully, with help from Vincent, JenniAnn settled Avi onto Father's chest.

"His name is... is Avi.  Andrew Vincent," JenniAnn introduced.  She looked up at Vincent who squeezed her hand and smiled, proud and moved.

Avi gave a little cry and Father's eyes, which had been only slits, blinked open.

"V-Vincent..." he repeated.  Father struggled to sit up and was helped by Devin and Vincent.  His eyes alighted on the wriggling bundle and he laughed.  "Vincent...  Look at that little nose.  Mary, come look at his little nose.  Isn't he adorable?"

The elderly woman rose from her chair and peered down at Avi.

"Yes, Father...  He... he's adorable."

JenniAnn looked up at Andrew, questioningly.

The angel of death searched the room, looking for another angel and, seeing none, wondered if the task of taking Jacob Home would be his.

"Devin!  Come see your little brother!"  Father chuckled as he smoothed back Avi's hair.  "Handsome baby..."

Hesitant, Devin approached and leaned closer.

"He... he's amazing, Father.  The... the perfect brother."

At Catherine's side, Vincent began to sob.  This introduction had never really happened.  Father hadn't admitted that Devin was his son until he was well into adulthood. 

"My boys..."  Father ruffled Devin's hair and squeezed the baby's hand.

"What... what's going on?" JenniAnn asked Andrew.

At that moment, Andrew saw a figure standing at the back of the crowd.

Maryam...  She smiled at Andrew then turned her attention back to Father.

"He... he's dying, Laja.  This... he's going over his life.  And I think... I think he's gone back to when he was happiest."

"My beautiful boys..." Father gushed.  Then his smile began to fade.

"Devin, I'm suddenly very tired.  Mary, could you please take Vincent?"

"Of... of course, Father," Mary agreed though it was JenniAnn who scooped Avi up.

Father smiled at the baby then squeezed Devin's hand. 

"Let your old man get some rest, son?  I'll see you in the morning."

"Yes...  In... in the morning, Father."  Devin smiled through his tears then leaned forward and kissed his father's forehead.  He and Vincent helped the dying man get comfortable and, soon, he was asleep.

The assembly of Tunnel-dwellers kept vigil for nearly half an hour when Father's breath grew ragged.

"Grandpa..." Jacob wailed before crawling into the bed and snuggling against his namesake.

Weeping, Devin and Vincent each rested a hand over Father's.

"Maryam..." Father murmured after a few minutes.  "M-mother..."  His eyes opened wide and he beamed.  "Mother..."

There were several seconds of silence and then Devin laid his hand against his father's chest.  His hand drifted up to his neck.

"He... he's gone."

As he sobbed, Vincent gently closed Father's eyes.

Jacob leaped off the bed and clung to his parents, sobbing. 

Weeping echoed throughout the chamber.

As tears blinded her, JenniAnn held Avi close and turned into Andrew's waiting arms.

Silently, she vowed to Father that she would cherish her special boy as much as he'd cherished his.

*~*~*

Sunday, November 14th, 2038

"Mama... are you crying already?" Avi asked as he craned his neck to look back at his mother.

JenniAnn sniffled and wiped at her eyes.

"Maybe..."

Avi twisted around and hugged her tightly.

"Mama...  I love you.  And I'm always gonna love you.  And... I'm always gonna be your little boy."

"Your father already told me that," JenniAnn confessed with a guilty smile.

"And Dad's right, like, 98% of the time."

JenniAnn laughed.

"I'd be interested to know what you include in the 2%."

Avi grinned.

"Oh, baby..."  JenniAnn sighed and stroked her son's face.  For a moment, she felt a sob re-form in her throat as she imagined the tiny brow and cheeks and nose she'd first kissed.

Avi kissed her forehead.

"Evie and I aren't going far, Mama.  Just over to the Mystical Mountains.  We'll be over all the time.  Probably more often than you and Dad will want."

JenniAnn shook her head.

"Not possible."

"We'll see..."  Avi rested his forehead against hers.  "Just remember, Mama.  You were the first woman I ever loved.  And I'll never stop loving you."

"Oh, Avi... baby..."  JenniAnn clung to him.  "I... I love you, too.  So much... my baby boy."

A light knock on the door sounded.

"Who is it?" Avi asked.

"Me."

"Come in, Dad."

Andrew poked his head in.  He smiled wryly when he saw the state JenniAnn was in.

"Just wanted to let you know your grandparents have arrived.  And Siobhan and Darian."

"Okay.  Thanks, Dad.  We're almost done here and then we'll be down."

JenniAnn swiped at her eyes and nodded.

"Yes... almost ready."

"Great.  I'll tell them you'll be down soon."

"Thanks, Dad!"

Once Andrew had closed the door, Avi smiled at JenniAnn.

"You gonna be okay?"

JenniAnn nodded.

"Yeah...  Sorry...  I just..."

"It's okay, Mama."

"Now I've mussed your hair...  Here..."  JenniAnn motioned for Avi to turn around and soon had his hair perfectly styled again.

Avi rose and examined himself in his mirror.

"So?"

"You look incredible, sweetie.  Like... like a fairy tale prince."

"Seems right.  Belle used to tell me that you and Daddy were a fairy tale prince and princess."

JenniAnn laughed.

"Yeah...  We never could quite convince her that just because we lived in a castle didn't mean we were magical or royalty."

"I've found that when your father's an angel, your view on reality is maybe a little skewed," Avi teased.

"Fair enough," JenniAnn admitted with a laugh.

Avi offered her his arm.

"Ready?" he checked.

JenniAnn sucked in a deep breath, slowly let it out, and then nodded.

"Ready."

Avi escorted his mother back to the ballroom where all six of his grandparents were waiting along with Darian and his birth mother.

While JenniAnn returned to Andrew's side, Avi hugged each of his grandparents warmly.

"I'm so glad you made it, Darian!" he remarked as he embraced the man.

"Wouldn't have missed this for anything, young man!" Darian gushed.

"Vonnie..."  Avi greeted his birth mother with a kiss on the cheek.

"Oh Avi...  You look so dashing!"

"Thanks!  You look beautiful.  I hope it's not too cold outside for all you ladies in your beautiful gowns.  Not that we'll be out there for long."

"We'll be just fine," Belle assured.  "We have our very stylish wraps and such."

"Yes, very stylish," Avi agreed with a laugh, yanking at the tablecloth his sister had wrapped around herself.  He sucked in a deep breath then turned to his father.  "Time, please?"

"A quarter til 11:00.  Do you want to head over?"

"Yes, please."

"Let me check outside first!" Belle shouted.  "I want to make sure Evie's not out there taking photos with her bridesmaids or something!"

"Wouldn't you be with her if she was, dear?" Raquel asked. 

"Oh right...  We're doing that later.  But let me check anyway."

Belle fled the ballroom.

"Anyone wanna bet against me that she saw Liam out the window?" Avi offered.

Vincent chuckled and waved his cane at the boy.

"Watch yourself, young man.  You're a fine one to make jokes about young love."

Avi grinned.

"Good point, Appa."

Belle came running into the room... with Liam a few steps behind her.

"Coast is clear!  Let's go!  Let's get my baby brother hitched!  Then I can be the baby again."  Belle smiled sweetly at her parents.

Andrew hugged her and laughed.

"You'll always be our baby.  Both of you.  But yes... let's go."

The three young people filed out first with the older set behind them.

"Beautiful day," Vincent commented.  "Sun shining..."

"Look how it makes the snow glisten..." Catherine murmured.

Andrew and JenniAnn smiled at each other...  They'd given their boy sunlight and snow... and God had ensured he had both on his wedding day.

*~*~*

Fifteen minutes later, Avi stood at the end of the aisle of the Dyeland Chapel.  Fr. Mike and Fr. Kyle stood on either side of him, beaming.

"You ready, Avi?" Fr. Kyle checked.  "Ana-Maria just gave me the sign that your bride's ready."

Smiling nervously, Avi nodded mutely.

"Ready," he choked out.

"Wonderful!"  Fr. Mike gave a sign to Tess who was at the piano.

She began to play Pachelbel's Canon as the groomsmen and bridesmaids entered... Liam and Belle bringing up the rear.  Avi smiled at seeing his sister's and cousin's happiness.  And then the music shifted and Omar moved to stand beside Tess and her piano.

Avi smiled proudly, still touched that his shy cousin had been willing to sing on his wedding day.

"'It's always in the back of your mind,
when everything is dark, still something shines.
One chilly afternoon, you drew the blind...
The earth was frozen,
ice upon the water.
All at once you saw her...
There in the winter light..."

Avi's breath caught in his throat when Evie appeared at the end of the aisle, immaculate in her shimmering gown with her veil floating around her like a halo.  Her mother and Joshua walked on either side of her, both brimming with pride.  But Avi had eyes only for her.

"'Then the light came bouncin' up, from stony ground.
And deep within the earth you heard the sound.
Breakin' like a rock, you grew profound.

The earth was frozen,
ice upon the water.
All at once you saw her...
There in the winter light...
There in the winter light...
There in the winter light...
Making everything look beautiful.'"

The bridal procession reached the end of the aisle and Joshua carefully lifted Evie's veil.  He kissed each of her cheeks and, once her mother had done the same, took Evie's hand and joined it to Avi's.

"I'm so happy..." Joshua murmured.  "I love you both so much and I'm so pleased that you've come to love each other so much."

"Thank you, Joshua," Avi replied, taking his gaze off Evie only just long enough to smile at Joshua.

With a chuckle, the carpenter nodded and escorted Evie's mother to her seat.

"Hi," Evie whispered.

"Hi," Avi echoed.

"We're getting married."

"Yup."  Avi gave his bride a goofy grin.

Evie giggled and blushed then, with her soon-to-be husband, turned towards the priests.

Fr. Mike smiled out at the gathering of loved ones and spoke.

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to witness the joining of this man, Avi, and this woman, Evie, in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony..."

*~*~*

After the ceremony, the crowd followed the beaming and giddy newlyweds down a lighted path to Willowveil.  They'd only made it halfway when a snowball was lobbed through the air, hitting Liam square in the middle of the back. 

"Hey!" he shouted.

And then he noticed a selection of his younger cousins looking guilty.

Smiling, Belle scooped up some snow, formed it into a ball, and handed it to her boyfriend.

"Snowball fight!" she yelled before running into the yard.

Avi turned to Evie and shook his head.

"I should have known.  Sorry.  I..."

Evie giggled and shook her head.

"It's fine!  C'mon!"

Avi laughed and followed his wife.  They hid behind a pile of shoveled snow and began stockpiling ammunition.

Standing beside Andrew, JenniAnn shook her head.

"Still think they were mature enough to get married?" she mused.

Andrew chuckled.

"Yeah.  I do...  I mean... look who's out there."

JenniAnn laughed when she spotted Joshua, left arm filled with snow balls, dodging between bushes.

"Oh God..."

"Yup."

Still giggling, JenniAnn's gaze traveled to her son and Evie, popping up and throwing snowballs at their cousins and friends.

"Yeah...  You're right.  Look at them..." 

Andrew and JenniAnn looked on, smiling, as Avi and Evie paused their fight long enough to steal a kiss.

Suddenly, both Andrew and JenniAnn were nearly bowled over.

"Come play!" Violeta encouraged, yanking on JenniAnn's arm.

"No fun just standing here!" Shelby added.

"You're out-numbered, Maja and Dad."  Max smiled just before leading Rose, Landon, and Amelia onto the battleground.  "Come on!"

Andrew and JenniAnn looked at each other, shrugged, and relented.

From their place of safety on Willowveil's porch, Vincent and Catherine looked on, hands clasped.  They laughed as they watched the antics of their Psyche and her family.

"You made the right choice," Catherine murmured.

"Hmm?"

"About Avi.  All those years ago.  Just look at them..."

Vincent smiled and nodded as he watched Avi burst out from behind his shield just in time to save his mother from being pelted by Owen and Graham.

"Seems so," Vincent humbly replied, his eyes alight with joy.

The End


Works Cited:
Catherine's lullaby from Beauty and the Beast
"Tender Shepherd" from Peter Pan
The Talmud- To save a life is to save the world.
Pachelbel's Canon
"Winter Light" by Tim Finn

Author's Note: No, I didn't just space Avi being reunited with his birth mother.  I'm just saving the how and when of that for Christmas.  :-)

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