“Love allows understanding to dawn, and understanding is precious. Where you are understood, you are at home. Understanding nourishes belonging.
When you really feel understood, you feel free to release yourself into the trust and shelter of the other person's soul.”

~~John O'Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
Cupid and Psyche

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

The sound of running water roused JenniAnn from her slumber.  For a moment, she felt a mild panic.  Belle had lately become enthralled with faucets and, more than once, had overfilled a sink because "baby needs bath!"  Her parents would then spend several minutes mopping up the mess and tending to whichever waterlogged doll had fallen victim to the "bath." 

JenniAnn smiled as she thought of Andrew, sitting on the edge of the bath tub, hair dryer in hand, drying off a doll. 


Still groggy, JenniAnn turned to his empty side of the bed before sitting up, preparing to check on her daughter.  It was as she slid into her slippers that JenniAnn realized the running water was coming from further away.  And it wasn't the sound of a sink but a shower.  The knot that had been in JenniAnn's stomach seemed to drift further up, becoming an ache in her heart.

Typically, when Andrew returned from a late assignment, he was the beneficiary of God's "magic."  He'd show up clean and calm, often already in his pajamas... unless it was still early enough that they would dance in which case he'd retain his suit.  That he was in the shower signified less of a physical need to be clean than a psychological one.  Of course, there was a chance Andrew had gone to his workshop or checked on the animals in the barn and gotten sawdusty or muddy.  However, JenniAnn sensed that neither was the case that night.  Her beloved angel had seemed unusually quiet when he'd departed that morning.  He'd said little to her about his pending assignment, only that he'd be in Arkansas. 

JenniAnn was debating whether to open up her Kindle and look for news out of Arkansas when the shower stopped.  She decided she would give it five minutes and, if Andrew didn't come to her, then she would scour newspapers and, from there, determine whether or not she would go to him. 

Three minutes later, the decision was made for her.

Andrew startled when he stepped into the room and found JenniAnn sitting up in bed.

"Laja, everything okay?"

JenniAnn smiled up at him and nodded.

"Yes.  I'm so glad you're back, my love."

Andrew returned her smile and slid beneath the covers and into her embrace.

"I'm glad to be back," he whispered into her ear before kissing her temple.  "I hope I didn't wake you up."

JenniAnn shrugged and ran her hand through his damp hair.  She kissed his brow and drank in the scent of his sage shampoo. 

For his part, Andrew was trying to replace the remembered stench of chemicals, mustiness, and fear with the fragrances of JenniAnn's lavender oil and their bed sheets which she kept misted with rose water.


The angel of death caught the slightly shocked note in JenniAnn's voice and lifted his head from where he'd rested it over her heart.  Some color drained from his face when he realized his right hand was beneath her shirt, his index finger nearly touching her right breast.  Embarrassed, he quickly extricated his hand and sat primly on his side of the bed.

"Laja, I... umm...  I'm... sorry.  I don't know what..."

JenniAnn shook her head and lifted his chin, forcing him to look at her.

"Andrew, no.  It... it wasn't that.  It was..." 

Andrew's eyes fluttered when she reached up and brushed tears from his cheeks.  JenniAnn took his hands in hers.

"I could feel your hand shaking.  That was all.  It... it worried me.  They're still shaking."

The angel blinked back further tears as the woman brought each hand to her lips.

"Tell me?  Please?"

Andrew suddenly felt utter exhaustion.

"I... I'm tired, Laja."

He sounded so sad that JenniAnn couldn't stop herself from closing the distance he'd created.  She snuggled beside him and protectively wrapped an arm around his middle.

"Then rest, my love," she urged. 

"Laja...  I love you.  I..."  Andrew yawned.

JenniAnn gave him a squeeze. 

"I know.  I love you, too.  Tomorrow... we'll talk more tomorrow."

Andrew nodded.


As JenniAnn silently waited for the steady breathing that would tell her that Andrew was asleep, she prayed.  She asked Joshua to give her some insight into what was so distressing her beloved.  His answer came not in words but in a prickling sensation at her side, the same place where Andrew's hand had rested.  Her scar... 

Andrew's hand had been covering the remnants of Rex's violence. 

From that realization, it wasn't a stretch for JenniAnn to surmise what was plaguing Andrew.  Or at least part of it...  No doubt he'd seen a woman harmed and that sent his mind back to her own near-death experience.

"Oh, beloved..." JenniAnn cooed before tightening her embrace of the sleeping angel.

Despite her worries, JenniAnn felt a sudden peace and, accepting it, fell asleep herself.


Andrew, JenniAnn, Shelby, and Belle were joined by Max and Rose for breakfast.  The meal together had been planned, what was to follow had not been.

When Rose had called her friend-turned-mother-in-law to let her know that she and Max were on the way, she'd sensed something in JenniAnn's voice.  The older woman had insisted that she and Andrew were still eager to have the two come over and so they had.  Once they'd stepped inside Willowveil, Max had immediately picked up on the tension between his parents.  It was not a tension borne of anger or annoyance.  In fact, in between bites of raspberry crepe, Max noticed that his Maja and Dad seemed to be in near-constant physical contact.

Suddenly, a fork clattered to the dining room floor.

"Good gravy," Rose exclaimed.  "I'm all thumbs today.  I'll just go get a clean one.  And it looks like we could do with more orange juice.  Max, come help me in the kitchen."

"I can get the fork and orange juice," JenniAnn insisted as she started to stand.

"No, Maja," Max countered.  "You and Dad have done enough work this morning.  All Rose and I had to do was show up!  Relax."

"Thank you, sweetie."

"Sure thing."

Max and Rose smiled at the others before hurrying off to the kitchen.

"Something's definitely up with them."

"Yeah.  I think Shel's picked up on it, too.  She keeps looking at them and biting her lip," Max shared.

"Maybe we should take Shel and Belle to the zoo with us, give Andrew and JenniAnn some alone time together.  We could ask Violeta, too.  And maybe Sy and Ivy would want to tag along.  I know it's not exactly the date we had in mind but..."

"But I think it's a great idea," Max agreed.  "Besides, the zoo isn't exactly romantic."

Rose grinned.

"Apparently those two gorillas who just had a baby think otherwise," she teased.

Max laughed.

"True enough.  But it is fun to take in as a group."

"And I love how excited Belle gets."  Rose smiled as she imagined snuggling with her little niece as they rode the train around the zoo's grounds or took in an IMAX.

"Then it's just a matter of whether Maja and Dad have other plans for today."

"We can feel it out when we get back in there.  C'mon."

Max picked up the orange juice pitcher he'd refilled and followed his wife back to the dining room.

"There.  Much better!"  Rose brandished her clean fork and returned to her seat, patting Max's hand when he pushed in her chair.

"So what do you have planned for today, Dad?" Max asked as he refilled Andrew's glass.

"Thank you.  And I'm not sure.  I'm off today so maybe I'll do some woodworking, see if I can fill an order or two."

"Cool.  Well... if you two don't have anything planned with Bellaluna then Rose and I wondered if you might let us take her to the Z-O-O in Omaha today.  You, too, Shel.  And we'd ask Violeta, Ivy, and Sy."

"Aunt Vioyeta?" Belle queried, looking around.

"She's not here right now, baby girl," JenniAnn replied.  "But maybe you'll see her later."

"I'd love to go to the Z-O-O," Shelby eagerly accepted.  "Can we?"  She looked to Andrew and JenniAnn with pleading eyes.

"I have no objections."  Andrew smiled at Rose and Max.  "It's really nice of you to ask.  Seems like a good siblings-plus day out!  Laja?"

"Sure!  Thank you both." 

Both Max and Rose could see the relief on the woman's face as she smiled at them.


Max knelt beside Belle's chair.

"Hey there, Bellaluna.  What do you say to going to the zoo with Shel, Aunt Rose, and me?"

"Zoo!" Belle screeched.  "Zoo!"  She launched herself off her chair and into Max's arms.  "I yove the zoo.  I yove the animuhs and the train and the..."

As the little girl went off on a litany, the others at the table smiled and laughed.  Rose sent a text to Violeta and soon plans were solidified. 

Grateful for the impending alone time, Andrew and JenniAnn briefly linked hands before they joined the others in finishing their breakfast.


After seeing their kids, Ivy, and Sy through the portal and off to the zoo, Andrew and JenniAnn returned to their room.  Wanting to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, they settled onto the cushions they kept on the balcony.

Andrew smiled when JenniAnn hugged his arm and nuzzled his shoulder.

Every so often, he still felt a wave of surprise when she was so near.  It was sometimes hard to reconcile the woman beside him, the woman who he'd built a life with, and the teenager he'd once known and loved as a sort of little sister-type.  Back then, he'd wanted to protect her just as he still wanted to protect most humans.  But, over time, that had changed.  Whereas once he'd prayed that, if it ever came to it, God would let him shield her from a stray bullet or push her away from an out-of-control car or get between her and a would-be assailant, now Andrew longed to protect JenniAnn's psyche, too.  He felt responsible for her in a way he didn't for his assignments.  He wanted to be there to brush away tears when she was sad and hold her close when she trembled after a nightmare.  But JenniAnn wasn't content to be always on the receiving end of his protective nature.  When he'd tried to keep her there, it always ended badly: weeks without speaking, a doomed romance with Eliot, and once she had even thrown a literal book at him, so great was her frustration at being kept outside.  She seemed always to have seen them as equals with neither more nor less responsible than the other.  And, of course, she was right.

Now Andrew realized that, after they'd finally exited the wilderness of their early years together, they had transcended the distinction between human and angel in other ways.  Here he was, an aging immortal with children.  And, more and more often, JenniAnn played the part of his angel: reminding him that he was loved, comforting him, and protecting him. 

In that moment, laying on the balcony and looking up at the spring day sky, Andrew thought he felt something akin to what some of his assignments felt... the ones who shirked away and wouldn't meet his gaze.  In the glow of his angel, Andrew felt ashamed. 

"I love you," JenniAnn murmured into his ear before beginning a trail of kisses along Andrew's jaw line.  "God loves you," she added when she'd reached his other ear.

After she kissed his lips, JenniAnn stopped and peered down at Andrew.  He wasn't kissing her back.  And now he was looking away from her. 

"Andrew, look at me," JenniAnn demanded.

Obediently, the angel looked up to face her.  Framed by the sun, JenniAnn seemed to be actually glowing.  Andrew quietly groaned.  He would have turned away but JenniAnn was cradling his face in her hands.

"Where you go..." she prodded.

"I go," Andrew finished.

"I go," JenniAnn echoed.  "Where did you go yesterday?  And please don't just say Arkansas."

"I... Laja, I was with a man on... on death row.  I was... at his execution."

Tears filled JenniAnn's eyes.

"Oh love..."

Andrew wrapped his arms around the woman when she sunk back down beside him.

"Was... was he innocent?" she asked.

Andrew shook his head.


The answer surprised JenniAnn.  She knew Andrew viewed the death penalty with distaste.  He seemed to consider it to be an imperfect "solution" with potential to do more harm than good.  Still, a guilty man dying for his crimes didn't seem like it should arouse the same sort of grief that often accompanied assignments in which a person was brutally murdered, assaulted, or raped.  For all her quibbling with the Catholic Church, JenniAnn had stood with them in opposition to the death penalty for decades, going so far as to sign a "Do Not Execute for Me" card in high school.  Even at that, she felt no where near the same sadness when she heard of a confessed murderer being executed as she did when she read about their victims.  The victims... maybe she/he/them were why Andrew was so upset.  Maybe he hadn't known about them when he'd been given his assignment with the murderer.  Or maybe he had...  And, maybe, as her intuition had told her, the victim had been a woman.

"A-and his victim... victims?" she asked.

"I don't know many details... I don't want to know details...  What I do know is that he kidnapped a woman and then raped and killed her."

JenniAnn shuddered.

"So you weren't assigned to her back then?"


"It must have been so hard for you to be there... supporting the man, in a manner," JenniAnn guessed, trying to get to the bottom of Andrew's angst.

"It always is," the angel confessed.  "But I know that they're God's children, too.  No one deserves to die alone."

JenniAnn frowned.  She'd heard Andrew speak those words before, countless times... but never like that.  It sounded as if he was reading them from a script he didn't particularly like.  There was no passion, no emotion.

"Was he not receptive to what you had to say?" she inquired.

"Sort of.  Mostly.  He's with Joshua now, in his own limbo.  Sorting things out."

"It sounds like you did your job very well then.  No doubt the man had a very complicated, very difficult life with much more baggage than you could help him with in mere hours.  You aren't upset that he didn't go directly Home, are you?"

"No.  He's where he needs to be," Andrew replied.

"Yes.  He is."

JenniAnn decided to try a different tactic.

"You've mentioned before how uneasy you feel on death row and... and especially in the death chamber... how clinical and surreal it all is.  It's bound to get to anyone, my love.  No wonder you're shaken."

"I... I'm not shaken," Andrew protested.  "Or at least..."  He dragged his hand through his hair. 

"Tell me, please," JenniAnn pleaded.  "I... I can tell that, whatever it is, it's going to eat at you until..."

"Her husband was there... the victim's... Madeline's husband.  And... and I found myself looking at him through the glass.  The... the pain on his face, in his eyes.  From the file, I knew that he'd asked for the death penalty.  And... Laja... as... as I looked at him, I felt like..."

"Like what, beloved?" JenniAnn coaxed after several moments of silence.

With tears in his eyes, Andrew looked into JenniAnn's concerned ones.

"I don't want to disappoint you," he murmured, stroking her cheek.

"Even if you disappointed me, I would love you no less."

Andrew managed a half-smile.  It was the perfect, truthful answer.  He drew in a deep breath to steady himself before continuing.

"During those types of assignments... and I've been involved in many of them... I always feel for the families.  Both the victims' and the killers' families."

"Of course you do.  My lovely and compassionate Andrew..."

The angel of death drew some strength from the kiss she planted on his forehead.

"And, even when I don't agree, I've sympathized with the survivors who want the person who terrorized their loved one dead.  But today... for... for the first time... when, for a brief moment, the pain in the husband's eyes gave way to wrath and vengeance... I... it was like... like I felt it, too.  And I realized that if... if Rex had killed you... I... I would have... felt the same.  Maybe even... wanted the same."

Andrew looked away when he finished speaking. 

JenniAnn bowed her head, now truly understanding Joshua's answer and how it tied to her own nocturnal conclusions.

The angel of death reflected on the many times he and JenniAnn had discussed how his closeness with her and his love for their children was making him into a better angel.  He'd believed it.  Now, for the first time, it seemed to him that he'd allowed those same bonds to make him less of one... less moral in JenniAnn's eyes even.  Andrew felt even worse when he thought of Joshua.  JenniAnn's top argument against the death penalty had always been that it was better to let a thousand guilty people live than to let one innocent be executed.  They both knew an innocent who had been executed...  And they knew He wasn't the only one.  That Andrew would even briefly consider embracing the same flawed system...

JenniAnn sat up and stretched an arm across Andrew, allowing her hair to serve as a canopy around his head.  With her free hand, she stroked his face, neck, and upper chest.  After a few moments, she felt him begin to relax. 

"First of all, most of my family back home is for the death penalty.  That doesn't mean that I love or respect them any less.  So even if you were..."  JenniAnn leaned down and whispered.  "I wouldn't kick you out of my bed."

Andrew couldn't help but chuckle upon seeing the gleam in his Laja's eyes.

"Second, I really don't think what you felt is that terrible.  I think even the most ardent death penalty opponent might have an initial reaction of pure wrath and even bloodlust if a loved one was harmed.  You may be close to perfect, beloved, but you're not perfect.  Therefore, you're not entirely free from experiencing... let's say baser emotions.  Don't you think I had some fairly nasty fantasies when those... monsters... in Afghanistan had you?  A-and even once you were back.  When... when I saw how thin a-and bruised and..."

Andrew pulled JenniAnn onto him and secured his arms around her when she began to weep.  He closed his eyes and toyed with her hair as her tears dampened his shirt.

JenniAnn was eventually calmed by the steady beat of Andrew's heart.  She smiled when he thumbed her tears away.

"What I wanted to say... thirdly and finally... was that... that I don't think we ever fully dealt with what happened... I mean... not just between the two of us.  The only counseling we went to was largely for Max's benefit.  And I know I kept some things to myself during those sessions, not wanting to upset him even more.  I'm sure you did, too."

"Yeah...  I did," Andrew verified.  "When we went to North Carolina... our talk on the night of your birthday... that helped me.  So much, Laja."  He kissed her temples.  "But I... I guess, at the time, I didn't know how it would follow me... how it would impact me during assignments."

"And neither did I."  JenniAnn laid back down and tucked her head beneath Andrew's chin.  "I am sorry that it all came up during this last assignment... and that I couldn't be with you when it did.  Not that I would have wanted to be... there..."

Andrew tightened his embrace.

"I wouldn't want you there.  Terrible place.  I..."

The angel was cut off by a yawn.

"I'm glad you were here," he finished.  "Safe and sound."

"Yes... only a bit lonesome.  Maybe we should take a nap," JenniAnn suggested.  "You came home so late and then Belle woke us up early and so..." 

"A nap sounds nice," Andrew agreed.  "Out here?"

"Mmm hmm," JenniAnn responded, already snuggling closer.

"Sleep well, my Laja."

"You too, my love."

In only a few minutes, both the angel and the woman were dozing.  A dove alighted on a nearby branch and watched over them.


Monday, April 24th

The next two days were so frenzied that Andrew and JenniAnn hardly had any time to talk alone.  Ivy and Violeta had signed up for a spring break service trip and JenniAnn had spent much of the weekend helping them pack and prepare.  Andrew had jetted all over the world, completing a series of brief and, blessedly, easy assignments.  Through it all, Belle had entered yet another clingy phase and was her mother's near-constant shadow, leaving her side only during her daddy's brief sojourns back home.  On Monday night, Andrew at last found himself looking ahead to a few days of rest.  But first he had a promise to keep.

"I going with Daddy?" Belle asked as JenniAnn brushed and braided her hair.


"You goin'?"

"No, baby.  This is a daddy and daughter date."  JenniAnn kissed the girl's cheek.  "You get daddy all to yourself."

Belle grinned but, a moment later, she whipped her head around and peered at her mommy.

"What 'bout you, Mama?"

JenniAnn hugged her little one.

"Don't you worry about me.  Appa Vincent's coming to see me."

"Mama and Appa date?"

JenniAnn laughed.

"Something like that.  Now let's hurry and get your hair done.  Daddy will be here soon."

Belle let out a little shriek of joy and then turned back around so JenniAnn could finish with her hair.  They were just getting the final barrette placed when there was a knock on Belle's door.

"Any body home?" Andrew called.

Belle giggled, ran to the door, threw it open, and hugged her father's legs.

"There's my little elf!"  Andrew pulled her into his arms and covered her face and hair in kisses, causing Belle's giggles to start up again.  When she settled down, the angel caught JenniAnn's gaze and smiled.  "And my elven queen."

JenniAnn approached and accepted his kiss as Belle cooed.

"Oooh...  Again!"

Slightly self-conscious but amused, Andrew and JenniAnn complied.

"Pretty Mama and Daddy..." Belle murmured, nuzzling them both. 

"Sweet, pretty baby girl," JenniAnn replied, taking Belle into her arms.  "Give Mama a good bye kiss?"

Belle gave her mother a noisy smack on each cheek then wiggled to be let down.

"My purse!"

JenniAnn sat the child down and, when Belle ran off in search of her bag, she turned to Andrew and squeezed his hand.

"How ya holding up, my love?"

Andrew brought her hand to his lips.

"Good.  How are things here?  And with you?"

"Also good.  I asked Vincent to come over for dinner since Catherine's at Joe's campaign party."

Andrew was visibly relieved.

"Good.  I didn't like the idea of leaving you here but..."

JenniAnn shook her head.

"Belle needs to spend some alone time with her daddy, too.  And, for that matter, I need some alone time with my god-daddy.  Besides, Belle will likely be nodding off by 9:00.  We'll have some time to ourselves."

"Mmm hmm," Andrew agreed, linking his hands at the small of JenniAnn's back and pulling her closer.

For a brief moment, JenniAnn allowed herself to relax against him and rest her hand over his heart.  

"Got purse!" Belle cried.

Andrew and JenniAnn pulled away from each other and smiled at their beaming daughter.

"Then off we go!" Andrew replied with enthusiasm equal to the girl's. 

Belle took her father's hand and began to drag him towards the door.

"Bye, Belle!  Bye, Andrew!  I love you both!"

"Love you, Mama!"

"I love you, Laja," Andrew called, chuckling as Belle continued to pull him.  "See you in a couple hours."

JenniAnn caught the kiss that Andrew blew to her and sent one back.  She smiled as father and daughter disappeared down the stairs and began their "date."

Now she had her own to prepare for.


While Andrew got to walk around Manhattan with an energetic, purple sparkles-clad toddler princess; Vincent was spending the evening with a yoga pants and tunic wearing, sluggish Psyche on Willowveil's front porch.  He wouldn't have had it any other way.  If only she would eat...

"Psyche, you are two minutes away from me cutting up that slice of pizza and feeding it to you choo-choo style," he only partially jested.

JenniAnn snapped out of her reverie and smiled.

"Sorry...  I invite you over here and then I'm a total space cadet."

"No need to apologize.  I'm enjoying being with you, Psyche."  Vincent reached across the bistro-style table and squeezed her right hand.  "But I am concerned.  You hardly ate at lunch today, either.  And you seemed... distracted at class."

Alarmed, JenniAnn met Vincent's concerned gaze.

"Do you think the children noticed?"

"No.  I doubt Kemara or Owen did, either.  I believe I only did because I've known you since you were small."

JenniAnn's face softened as Vincent's eyes did.  She took a large bite of pizza to appease him and then abandoned her chair in favor of the bench he was sitting on.

Vincent wrapped his arms around his godchild and kissed the top of her head.

"Tell me?" he whispered.

With a sniffle and nod, JenniAnn began.  She told her beloved teacher and cousin about Andrew's assignment on death row and all it had dredged up.  She also told him what she hadn't yet been able to tell Andrew.

"Sometimes I... I just feel so... responsible.  I mean... what if I hadn't, well, pursued him like I did?  I mean I'm glad I did... so glad... because if I hadn't then... then we wouldn't have our kids but... but, then again, maybe we would.  Maybe I've made him... too close?  I mean what if we'd been anam caras more like... well, like Adam and Kylie?"

"I doubt you would have been fulfilled by that relationship, Psyche."

JenniAnn's face flushed briefly.


"And I would guess, based on his happiness in your current relationship, Andrew would not have been, either.  Perhaps he would have remained content longer than you would have... but not forever."

Vincent gave the girl a soft, reassuring squeeze before continuing.

"As I said earlier, I've known you since you were small.  I watched you clap gleefully when I told you stories ending with true love's kiss.  And do you remember how distressed you were over Catherine and me not sharing a room when you first came back to us?"


"You were too little to know then about, well..."

JenniAnn patted Vincent's hand.

"Yes, I was.  I thought grown-ups just snuggled together and kissed at night.  Maybe told each other bedtime stories."

Vincent smiled.

"And you would have been sorry for me to miss out on that?" he checked.

JenniAnn nodded.

"I would have been sorry for you to have missed out, Psyche.  I think it was a good part of why I was so hesitant about Andrew at first.  If I had known you could have the life with him that you do... I would have worried far less."

Vincent took a few silent moments to look out at the darkening sky and collect himself before continuing.

"When you were shot, Andrew was more hurt because of how close you two had become.  But think of this, sweet Psyche: In those moments... in... in that alley... and as I walked back home... I thought... I thought the pain of seeing my little Psyche like that would kill me.  But then you recovered...  Every time you came Below, every time I visited you here... with every hug and kiss and word... I healed a little more.  Our bond made my pain greater that day and in the aftermath... but it also made my joy greater.  I know Andrew feels the same.  Psyche, accepting the pain and the joy... that's what it means to love and be loved by a human whether they be your child, parent, friend, lover, or, yes, your anam cara."

JenniAnn remained silent, letting her godfather's words sink in. 

"That's true," she finally murmured.  "And... and being around you helped me heal, too.  And being with Andrew..."  She sighed, remembering the first night back in their own bed.  She'd been so happy to be back in her beloved's arms.  Again she blushed.

"I know," Vincent acknowledged, saving her from saying any more.  After allowing her to remember for a few more moments, he resumed speaking.  "Psyche, there's something else I want to tell you about those days... something Catherine and I struggled over whether to tell you or not.  I think... now... she would agree with me that it's time."

Alarmed, JenniAnn sat up so she could look into Vincent's eyes.

"What is it?"

Vincent smiled, heartened by the childish gesture, when she wrapped her fingers around one of his.  He sighed and made his confession.

"We were both... traumatized.  I spoke truthfully when I said that seeing you helped me to heal.  Catherine, too.  But... the memories..."

"I... I'm sure it was awful."

"Yes.  So... we started seeing Libby Howell."

JenniAnn startled when she recognized the name of one of the Tunnel Helpers.  Libby was a psychiatrist.

"She helped us a great deal, not only in confronting our own emotions but also helping us to help each other.  Perhaps you and Andrew could consider some counseling?" Vincent suggested.

"I... I had no idea that you and Catherine were... were struggling so much.  I..."

Vincent embraced his goddaughter tightly.

"And we didn't want you to know... not then.  You needed to focus on regaining your strength and helping your own children.  I'm only telling you now because I think seeking some outside help would be very beneficial.  Psyche, I want you to know that you can always come to me, you can talk to me about anything.  But I know you won't... not about everything.  All children hide things from their parents... godparents.  Some privacy is necessary.  I know that very well.  I think a counselor would be an ideal solution... or at least part of the solution to what you and Andrew are facing right now."

"Yes...  I think you're right.  Andrew and I both kinda brought it up.  But... who?  I mean I like Libby a lot but Andrew hardly knows her so that doesn't seem right.  And Amber-Marie has so much on her plate.  Plus, this isn't really her area of expertise.  I... I wish it could be Joshua but..."  A tear trickled down JenniAnn's cheek.  "I... I feel like we've left the Gospels and now are well into Acts.  And he's gonna be around less..."

Vincent again hugged JenniAnn.

"Maybe so.  But he's always here.  I think in this case, however, Joshua knows that you and Andrew need to speak to someone else.  Just because you know he knows and understands all, that doesn't mean it would be easy to express everything you're feeling to his face."

JenniAnn bowed her head and considered Vincent's words.  She thought of how hesitant Andrew had been even to tell her about his feelings towards the man on death row.  No doubt he would have struggled to say the same aloud to Joshua.

"Right again," the woman replied with a wavering smile.

"Pray on it, Psyche.  I know you and Andrew will find the person God means for you to find.  Let's pray about it right now.  And then... you need to eat more."

JenniAnn laughed as Vincent waved to her still-full plate.  She nodded and then took his hands as he led them in prayer.


When Andrew and Belle arrived back at the castle, the little girl was already asleep in her father's arms.  Along with JenniAnn, Andrew tucked Belle into her bed.

"You actually wore her out," JenniAnn whispered as they gazed down at their daughter.

Andrew responded with a soft chuckle.

"I think it's more accurate to say NYC wore her out.  She was so dazzled by everything.  It takes energy to get so excited!"

"I guess we haven't had her in the city at night much, have we?"

Andrew shook his head.  The truth was that, other than going to familiar locations, they hadn't spent much time in New York City at all.

JenniAnn gently stroked the angel's back.

"You look tired... and I know I'm tired.  Shall we get ready for bed?"

Andrew gave her a mute smile and nod.  They each kissed Belle then went off to their own rooms to wash up and change before reuniting.

Following bedtime prayers, the two settled into bed.

"So everything went well?" JenniAnn checked.

"Oh yeah.  We had a great time.  The only issue was that, at a point when I was carrying Belle, some lady commented that she looked old enough to walk on her own and I shouldn't coddle her."  Andrew rolled his eyes and laughed when he saw JenniAnn was doing the same.  "I didn't dignify it with a response so I don't think Belle noticed."

"Good.  It's not like you had a vice grip on her and she wanted down.  She just has those especially cuddly moods... and there's nothing wrong with that."  JenniAnn hugged Andrew's arm.  "I happen to like cuddliness."

Andrew kissed her forehead.

"Me too."  He began to run a hand through JenniAnn's tresses.  "And how was dinner with Vincent?"

"Really nice.  He, umm, thinks we should find a counselor.  He told me that him and Catherine started seeing one after... after it happened."

"Really?  Who did they see?"

"A Helper.  Her name is Libby.  She's a real sweetheart but I'm not sure I'd feel comfy seeing her.  I mean I remember her from when I was little and, well, I'm not sure I want to talk about... intimate things... with someone who remembers when I was barely out of diapers."

Andrew smiled.

"Understandable.  I think we should pray for direction."

"That's what Vincent said, too."  JenniAnn beamed.  "I always thought that part of the reason I love you is because you're so much like him in some ways."

Andrew's smile softened.

"I take that as a very high compliment."

"You should."

JenniAnn leaned in for a kiss and then, with their tiredness returning, the two drifted off to sleep while asking Joshua for guidance.


Tuesday, April 25th

The following evening, the Dyelanders and Friends hosted a group from El-Chanan.  While the two communities had an "open portal policy" with each other, they also tried to have organized events to welcome folks who didn't feel right simply popping in.  The current group of 56 was among the largest to attend and Andrew, Adam, and Arthur were kept busy manning the grills where they cooked burgers and brats supplied by Adam and vegetable skewers courtesy of the Romanos.  With Vincent and Catherine keeping Belle amused, JenniAnn remained near Andrew, slapping slices of cheese on the burgers when directed to.  It wasn't lost on Adam and Arthur that the two seemed unusually clingy.  While the Friends weren't ones for gossip, they were quick to pick up on potential problems and quietly start a prayer chain for the impacted party.  It was Rose who had sent out the call for prayers for her in-laws.  Though they couldn't tell what plagued the couple, the elder angel of death and Arthur could see why the young woman had been so concerned. 

At odd moments, Andrew would seem to withdraw into his own mind, staring off into the crowd of party goers or down at the grill.  It would fall to JenniAnn to nudge him if a burger began to blacken.  Not that she wasn't also spacing out at times...

"So how have assignments been, Andrew?" Adam queried after handing a platter of burgers off to Kylie.

"Pretty good.  I went to Paris yesterday.  Only for the afternoon but it was nice."

"That's great!  I'm surprised he hasn't run away with you to ol' Paris, JenniAnn," Adam teased.

The woman laughed.

"Maybe some day.  Right now we'd both rather spend what vacation money we have on something that includes Belle.  And I don't think she's quite ready for Paris."

"Besides, when Belle is old enough for us to take a Mama and Daddy-only trip, first stop is Ireland," Andrew insisted, winking at JenniAnn.

Beaming, she nodded.

"He promised me that.  Because as much as he loves Paris..."

"I've been there.  She's not been to Ireland so... only seems right."

"Smart man," Arthur joked.

"Good man," JenniAnn murmured.

Adam and Arthur saw the levity drain from the other two's faces.  The way they peered at each other made the men feel invasive for being there.

However, whatever silent messages Andrew and JenniAnn were sending to each other were interrupted when Behnam approached.

"Looking delicious," he complimented as he studied the grills. 

Andrew roused and smiled at his friend.

"I hope so.  If you end up with a burnt one, blame me.  Adam and Arthur have been much more attentive."

"Oh, I'm sure they will all be wonderful.  And when they're done... I was wondering if I could visit with you, Andrew and JenniAnn?"

"I can take over there," Edward, who had overheard, volunteered.  "Andrew, you deserve a break, anyway."

"Are you sure?"

"Definitely.  Go on."

Andrew handed his glove and spatula over to Edward, patted him on the back in thanks, and turned back to Behnam.

"Where to?"

"By your carpentry shop, please."

"Then to my carpentry shop we go," Andrew agreed as JenniAnn gave an eager nod.

Looking after the three as they left, Adam shook his head.

"Something really is up with those two."

"If I didn't know better, I'd think maybe JenniAnn was pregnant," Arthur admitted.  "Andrew seems more than usually protective."

Adam nearly choked on the sip of ginger ale he'd taken. 

"Well, we know that's not it!" he sputtered.

Edward slapped the angel of death on the back until he was better.

"You don't think she's sick, do you?" he hesitantly ventured.

The three stared at each other until, finally, Adam shook his head.

"No, I don't think so."  He waved towards where Vincent was pushing both Belle and Omar on swings.  "Vincent seems fine.  I'm sure JenniAnn would have told him and then it would show.  Vincent's not the most stoic person, after all."

"True," Arthur and Edward replied in relieved unison.

"All couples have things they need to work out sometimes... I know Monica and I have.  So why would Andrew and JenniAnn be any different?  Maybe they're just going through a bump in the road."

Adam smiled and nodded.

"That's probably it.  And they'll figure it out.  They always do."

"So I've heard."  Edward laughed as he thought of some of the stories he had heard about Andrew and JenniAnn.  "Is it true he was her prom date?  Didn't that look a little... troubling?"

With a laugh, Adam shrugged.

"JenniAnn tells people that but it's not exactly true.  See, back then..."

Amused, Arthur and Edward listened as Adam told the tale of his friends' quirky history of a prom dress, football, and awkwardness.


When Andrew, JenniAnn, and Behnam reached the carpentry shop, Salma was waiting for them.

"Salma!"  JenniAnn hurried to the younger woman and embraced her.

"I didn't realize you were here!" Andrew exclaimed as he hugged Salma.

Salma smiled and nodded.

"I came with Sister Isobel.  She's been wanting to see Asteriana but is a bit shy so I said I would... what is it?  Break the ice?"

"Yes, exactly," JenniAnn assured.  "That's very kind of you!  Where is Sister Isobel now?"

"With Isra.  They've met numerous times and Sister is very fond of Isra and the little ones.  So... that gave me an opportunity to hear what it is you have to say, sweet brother."  Salma squeezed Behnam's hand.

"And I appreciate it.  Very much.  All of you.  Perhaps we could sit?" Behnam suggested.

The trio nodded and situated themselves around a picnic table that Andrew had made.

"Is something wrong?" Andrew asked, his brow furrowing with concern.

"Oh no.  Well, nothing new.  You see..."  Behnam turned to his right and left, ensuring they were alone.  "It seems that yesterday, while I was at the library, Daisy came over to visit Aiyla.  After helping Isra to bake some cookies, they settled down to The Little Mermaid.  After the movie was over, Daisy and Aiyla began to chatter about weddings.  This prompted Aiyla to ask Isra to see our wedding photograph."

"Oh..." Salma and JenniAnn murmured.

"It seems they expected us to have a whole album like so many of their aunts and uncles do.  Isra distracted them with our family photo album but I could tell, as she retold this to me, that it made her sad.  Even if we did have a wedding album..."  Behnam sighed.  "Who wants to look at pictures of two angry, frightened teenagers?"

"I'm so sorry, Behnam."  Andrew reached across the table and patted the man's hands.

"Thank you.  I felt badly about it all night... I even had a nightmare about our wedding."

Salma hugged her brother-in-law's arm.

"Your wedding may have been a nightmare," she agreed.  "But Isra tells me that life with you... it has been a dream."

Behnam responded with a blush and a smile.

"I... I would say the same of my life with her.  But... she deserves better than she got so...  So this morning, I had an idea.  Please tell me if you think it's stupid.  I thought I would propose to Isra and... and give her the wedding that she deserves."

"That both of you deserve!" JenniAnn blurted out.  "I love that idea!"

"I do, too!  It would make me so happy to be at your wedding!" Salma gushed.

Andrew chuckled.

"I hope those reactions put to rest any worries you had that your plan is stupid, Behnam.  I think it's great.  Isra will be thrilled.  And your kids!"

"Oh...  They'll be so excited!" Salma agreed.

"And so cute all dressed up!" JenniAnn added. 

With that, the two women were off and running with wedding ideas and plans for a bridal shower.

Amused, Andrew and Behnam looked at each other.

"Would you... be my best man?" the latter asked.

The angel of death's eyes welled and he clasped Behnam's hands.

"It would be my honor, Behnam.  An absolute honor."

"Oh!" Salma exclaimed, grabbing Behnam's arm.  "There was a wedding in the Sisters' chapel last month and Reuel read the most beautiful poem.  It reminded me of you and Isra.  I'll have to ask him what it was..."

As Salma relayed what she could remember of the poem to Behnam, Andrew and JenniAnn both momentarily froze.  It was as if a shock went through them as Salma spoke one word: Reuel.

Reuel would be their counselor.


Wednesday, April 26th

The following morning, as she readied herself and Belle for a day in the Tunnels, JenniAnn heard the chime of her cell phone.

"Okay, now where did I leave..."

Andrew picked the phone up off of JenniAnn's bed-stand and handed it to her before taking over as Belle's hair stylist.

"Thanks, love.  Oh... weird..."

Andrew's right eye brow lifted.

"It's Reuel, I think," JenniAnn explained before answering.  "Hello?"

"Greetings, JenniAnn, and good morning!  And... is Andrew there?"

"Umm, yeah.  Good morning to you, too.  I'll put you on speaker."


"Good morning, Reuel," Andrew called.

"Morning, Reuel!" Belle echoed.

The angel chuckled.

"It is a very good morning.  And congratulations are in order!  Happy anniversary, Andrew and JenniAnn!"

The two smiled at each other, recalling Joshua's blessing three years before.

"And a happy baptism anniversary to Belle and a blessed Promotion Day to you all," Reuel continued.

JenniAnn laughed.

"You've memorized our calendar?"

"Nearly so."

With a chuckle, Andrew moved nearer to the phone.

"Thanks, Reuel.  It means a lot that you remembered."

"Yes, it really, really does," JenniAnn added as she pulled Belle to her so she could finish buttoning her dress.

"You're very welcome.  I know this time of day is busy for you but I wanted to be sure and catch you before you set off for the day.  The Father told me that you're wanting to talk to me."

"Only if you're will..."

Reuel cut Andrew off.

"Of course I'm willing, my friends!  It would be an honor.  I'm sure you'll want to spend today celebrating so how about tomorrow around 4:00?"

JenniAnn looked to Andrew whose calendar was much less predictable than her own.  He gave a nod and, when she nodded back, he spoke for them both.

"Tomorrow at 4:00 would be great.  Thank you so much.  Should we..."

The faint sound of a doorbell interrupted.

"Oh dear.  It's Eleora and Cody.  Poor girl's been battling morning sickness and insists I brew Maryam's tea better that anyone else.  I better go.  Meet me at my place tomorrow?"

"Your place tomorrow at 4:00," JenniAnn agreed.  "Tell Eleora we're praying she feels better soon!"

"Will do!  Until tomorrow..."

"Thanks, Reuel!" Andrew called before they heard Eleora and Cody enter and the call ended.

"Well... that was easy," JenniAnn remarked.  She and Andrew had spent the previous night pondering how to approach Reuel.

"Very."  Andrew hugged her.  "And it's proof that our thinking was right.  This is what God wants."

"Yes," JenniAnn echoed.

"What God want?"

Andrew knelt down in front of his daughter.

"For us all to be happy and feel completely loved."

Belle arched her back, stared up at the ceiling, and stretched her arms out.

"I feel loved!" she bellowed.

JenniAnn tickled the little girl as she scooped her up.

"I'm very, very glad of that.  And I know God is, too.  Now how about we go have some Froot Loops in Joshua's honor?"


Belle ran into her room, alerted the dogs with a cry of "Froot Loops!" and then was bounding into the hallway and towards the stairs.

Andrew looped his arms around JenniAnn's middle.

"Thank you for doing this," he murmured.  "I know it's not you who usually causes the... communication problems."

JenniAnn buried her face in the angel's shirt for a moment then peered up at him.

"We're in this together, neither more nor less responsible," she insisted.

Touched, Andrew kissed her forehead.

"I think tomorrow will be very, very good for us... but I'm looking forward to tonight, too.  I wonder what it will bring..."  JenniAnn batted her eye lashes.

Andrew chuckled and shook his head.  He and JenniAnn had decided to alternate years planning their anniversary celebration and she'd proven to be very snoopy during his years.

"I'm not telling.  You're just going to have to trust me, Laja."

"Okay..."  JenniAnn sighed then gave Andrew a mischievous smile.  She stretched up to kiss his cheek then darted off.  "Last one to the kitchen does dishes!"

"Hey!  You got a head start!"

"You have longer legs!" JenniAnn's departing voice answered.

Laughing, the angel of death took out after her, already sure the dishes would be his.


After getting Belle settled in with her Grandma Allison and Grandpa Robert for the night, Andrew and JenniAnn returned, alone, to Willowveil.

"So..." Andrew started as he took JenniAnn's jacket from her and hung it up.

The woman clasped his hands.

"So... what are we doing?"

"You'll see..."  Andrew started to pull her towards the stairs.

"Can I just have a few minutes to change into something a little more romantic?" JenniAnn requested, wrinkling her nose at the shapeless fleece tunic and wooly legging that were perfect for the Tunnels but decidedly not suited to an anniversary celebration.

"Oh, sure.  Actually... I'll do the same."

"Thanks.  So should I dress for a night out or... in?"

Andrew considered the question.

"Well... let's just say that we're not leaving the premises."

JenniAnn gave him a quizzical look, causing the angel to chuckle.

"Okay... so are we talking for your eyes only or... company?"

"My eyes only," Andrew replied with a flirtatious wink.

JenniAnn laughed.

"So yoga pants and a baggy top it is!"

For the briefest moment, disappointment flickered on Andrew's face.

JenniAnn embraced him and, standing on tip toe, whispered into his ear.

"Your aestheticism is showing.  But fear not!  I have far better apparel in mind.  Meet me outside the chapel in fifteen minutes?"

Andrew brought her right hand to his lips.

"Yes, ma'am."

Giggling, JenniAnn ran off to get ready for their evening.


A few minutes later, Andrew was waiting outside the chapel when he heard JenniAnn's bedroom door open and close.  After another moment, she rounded the corner and smiled at him.

Andrew's eyes misted.  She'd put on the same dress as three years before when Joshua had blessed their union.


JenniAnn ran into his outstretched arms.

"You make me feel under-dressed," the angel kidded, burying his face in her hair.

"No.  You know I'm all about the jeans and plaid look.  And this..."

Andrew chuckled when she rested her hand over his upper chest where he'd neglected a few buttons.

"I do know.  You look beautiful."

"And you look super handsome."

They smiled, shared a brief kiss, and then entered the chapel.  The two walked down the aisle, hand in hand, then stopped in front of Owen's portrait of Joshua.  They each lit a candle on either side of it then knelt.

JenniAnn squeezed Andrew's hand, indicating for him to start.

"Father... Joshua... we want to thank You for bringing us together and keeping us together.  Through the good times and... and the really bad times, You were there.  And... and we'll be forever grateful for that... and for our wonderful kids and the best friends anyone could ever ask for and for... for giving us time with You.  Thank You for letting me see my Laja fall even more deeply in love with You.  May... may I always be deserving of the gift you've given me in... in her."

"You are, my love," JenniAnn whispered into the angel's ear before resuming the prayer.  "My Lord... my Joshua... please guide us in the days to come... and in all days... and help us to grow in love and wisdom.  Lead us to help each other, please, and everyone You've brought into our lives and will in the future.  Thank You for Andrew... my beloved anam cara, a wonderful father to our children, and... and a man after Your own heart."

The two said the remainder of their praises and petitions silently then, knowing the other was done based on a squeeze of the hand, they spoke in unison.

"We love You.  Amen."

Andrew helped JenniAnn to her feet and, after gazing at the portrait of Joshua for a few moments more, they extinguished the candles and left the chapel.

"That was lovely," JenniAnn murmured.

"It was," Andrew agreed before reaching into his pocket.  "And now..."

JenniAnn laughed when she saw he'd nabbed one of her scarves and was folding it.

"A blindfold?  Should I be scared?"

"Don't you trust me?" the angel asked, waggling his eye brows.

With a giggle, JenniAnn nodded.

"You know I do.  All right..."  She closed her eyes and remained still as Andrew tied the scarf in place.

"No peeking."

"No peeking," JenniAnn agreed.


JenniAnn shrieked with glee when Andrew scooped her up.

"What are you doing?" she asked as he began to carry her.  "Are you going to carry me over a threshold?  Gloria would flip if..."

"Huh.  I suppose I am.  But think more... protecting the lady from evil spirits tradition and less... capturing the bride from a neighboring kingdom tradition."

"Apropos.  You've definitely done the former.  And we're in the elevator..."

"Yeah, sorry.  I didn't trust myself on the stairs with such a precious burden."


The elevator beeped as they reached their destination. 

"Almost there," Andrew whispered as he resumed walking.


JenniAnn suddenly felt a dip in the temperature and assorted fragrances wafted towards her, both floral and appetizing. 


"Okay, I'm going to set you down now."

Andrew gently did so then carefully undid the blindfold.

"Open your eyes," he whispered into JenniAnn's ear.

Doing so, JenniAnn was met with an enchanting scene.  Andrew had put up an elaborately carved bed in the conservatory which was decorated with twinkle lights, votives, and paper lanterns shaped like stars.  There was a matching table with two place settings and a smaller end table on which rested their trusty old CD player and a stack of albums. 

"Love..." JenniAnn gripped Andrew's hand and stepped towards the bed, tracing a pattern of ivy and roses on the headboard.  There were other symbols, too, each with significance to their relationship. 

"It... it's beautiful."

"I'm so glad you like it.  I'll set the frame up with our bed tomorrow but for tonight...  I thought it might be nice to sleep under the stars."

JenniAnn peered up through the room's glass ceiling and nodded before burying her face in Andrew's chest.

"It's perfect...  You're... lovely.  Andrew..."

Andrew bowed his head to accept her kiss then placed his own on her forehead and temples.

"Anything for my elven queen," he responded huskily before pulling JenniAnn towards the table. 

"Crepes...  Yummy." 

Andrew pulled her chair out and, after stealing another kiss, JenniAnn sat down.

"Virgin sangria for the lady?" he asked.

"Yes, please."

Andrew produced two glasses filled with fruit and a chilled bottle.

"Thank you.  Andrew, this all...  It's beautiful.  Truly."

The angel of death sat down and reached across the small table for JenniAnn's hand.

"I just...  I wanted to give you an escape... for a night from... everything."

"I don't want to escape anything if it involves you.  But... I will cherish this night, my love."

Andrew brought her hand to his lips.

"I cherish every moment with you, Laja."

Unable to restrain herself, JenniAnn abandoned her chair and perched on Andrew's knee.

"'I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine,'" she recited as she stroked some hair behind the angel's ear.

"Forever..."  Andrew rested his forehead against hers and held JenniAnn for a few moments longer before they resumed their meal.


Andrew's and JenniAnn's dinner was peppered with both laughter and tears as they spoke about their shared history, their loved ones, and their hopes for the future.  Following a dessert of sorbet and chocolate, they moved onto dancing before, reluctantly, parting long enough to prepare for bed.  Sleep was not long in coming once they'd reunited in their bed beneath the moon and stars.  Snuggled together, they drifted off after whispered prayers and "I love yous." 


"I love this song..." JenniAnn sighed as the CD track changed.  "I was so glad when I learned it was about falling in love... not becoming an apostate."

Andrew chuckled and pulled her closer as they danced.

"Yeah.  'Losing my religion' is an old Southern expression.  It means getting pushed to the verge or something like that."

"Love can definitely feel like that..."

"Does it now?"

"No.  Not now.  Not now that we're more settled.  Not now when I can do this."

Andrew smiled when JenniAnn kissed him.

"I agree.  But still..."

"Good song."

Andrew nodded.

The two swayed together until the chorus arrived at which point Andrew spun JenniAnn away from him.  He smiled as she twirled away.  She was on her way back to him when a series of pops resounded and the glass walls began to shatter.

"Laja!" Andrew screamed, racing toward her.

JenniAnn stared at him in horror then dropped to the ground.

Reaching her, Andrew draped his body over hers, trying to shield her.

"I have you...  Laja, I have you..." he whispered.

When the cacophony ceased, leaving only the song, the angel eased himself up. 

"Stay down, Laja.  Let me..."  Andrew's voice left him when he looked down and saw the blood spreading across JenniAnn's top.  He next noticed that she was staring up at him blindly.

"No!  Laja, no...  No..." he wailed as he felt for a heartbeat, a pulse... anything that could give him hope. 

"Laja!  Wake up!  I'm not... I'm not... no..."

Andrew tried to breath life back into her but there was only silence save his sobs and the song that had, just moments before, brought them joy.

"I thought that I heard you laughing.
I thought that I heard you sing.
I think I thought I saw you try.

But that was just a dream, try, cry, why, try...
That was just a dream, just a dream, just a dream...


A sudden bang woke JenniAnn up.  Then came a moment of panic when she found her movement inhibited and felt as if there was a great weight on her chest.  But clarity... and worry... came swiftly.

Andrew was on top of her, sobbing.

"No...  Laja, no..." he moaned.

"Andrew..." she whispered.  "Andrew, love... wake up."


"My love... you're dreaming.  Andrew, wake..."

JenniAnn could just barely see the angel's face contort in anguish.  She decided she needed to be more forceful.  Wrestling her arms out from under him, she buried her hands in his hair and gave a tug.

The momentary pain did the trick and Andrew roused.

"I'm sorry.  I didn't know what else to do.  I was worried and..."

"Laja..."  Andrew breathed a sigh of relief and dotted her face with kisses.  Then, realizing where he was, he froze and rolled off her.  "Sorry...  I..."

"It's okay."  JenniAnn rubbed his scalp where she'd pulled then cupped his face.  "I... I didn't mind but... but you seemed... tortured."

"It was a really terrible nightmare.  Let me hold you?"

"Of course, my love."

Andrew sighed when JenniAnn nuzzled against his chest.  She kissed his shoulder when his arms wrapped around her.

"We... we were dancing and then... then I heard gunshots and the glass started shattering and you..." 

JenniAnn felt Andrew shake his head against her hair.

"I got shot?" she guessed.


"Oh love..." 

"I... I was right there and still... still I couldn't... save you."

"Andrew...  I... I know I can't take that pain away from you.  And I really, really hope that Reuel can help us with that.  But please know that right now... right now I feel completely and utterly safe.  I always, always feel safe with you."

"I..."  Andrew drew in and let out a deep breath.  "I'm glad for that, Laja.  I am."

The two were quiet for a few moments, drawing strength and peace from each other.

When she felt that Andrew had settled down somewhat, JenniAnn spoke hesitantly.

"There actually was a bang...  It woke me up."

Andrew shot up.

"I'll go look around."

"Not without..."  JenniAnn stopped when she saw the panic on the angel's face.  "I'll wait here," she finished meekly.

Andrew grabbed a flashlight that they kept stashed in the conservatory and peered around the room.  Seeing nothing, he stepped out onto the castle's roof.

Unable to see the angel, JenniAnn followed the flashlight beam as it danced around the shingles and stone.  Finally, it seemed to land on the floor.

"It's a bat," Andrew shouted.  "I think it flew into the glass."

Throwing on her robe and slippers, JenniAnn ran out onto the roof.

"Oh no..." 

Andrew set down the flashlight and enclosed JenniAnn in his embrace.

"I'm sorry, Laja."

The woman glanced over at the tiny, still form.

"It... it's so little."

Even though he couldn't see in the dim light, Andrew knew JenniAnn's eyes were welling.  She'd loved bats ever since Vincent had taken her to see them fly through caverns when she was little.  The angel sighed in frustration.  First he'd ruined her sleep with a night terror and now there was a dead, possibly baby, bat...

Andrew lifted his eyes to the stars and made a plea.  Once he'd received his answer, he stroked JenniAnn's back. 

"Let me go look at it, Laja.  Okay?"

"O-okay," JenniAnn sniffled.

Andrew gave her a squeeze then knelt beside the fallen bat.  He gently lifted the body and cradled it in his hands. 

"Arise..." Joshua's voice whispered to Andrew.

"Arise," the angel repeated.

The bat jolted, gave a squeak, and tumbled out of Andrew's hands.  It crawled over to JenniAnn who was in awe.

"I'll be right back."

Andrew returned to the conservatory and grabbed some of the fruit they hadn't used for their sangria.  He brought it to JenniAnn.

"I think she needs a little energy boost before she goes along her way."

Eagerly accepting the berries and grapes, JenniAnn knelt and fed the little creature. 

"She's so cute..." she murmured. 

"She is," Andrew echoed, more taken by the image of JenniAnn tending to the bat than the bat herself.

After a few moments, the bat chirped and seemed to nod.

JenniAnn giggled.

"You're welcome.  We'll leave the rest of the fruit here in case you want a snack later.  Just... fly slow next time and watch out for the glass, okay?"

With a final chirp, the bat skittered away and took off.

JenniAnn rose and went to Andrew, wrapping her arms around his middle.

"Thank you."  She looked up at the stars.  "And thank You."

"You're welcome," the angel murmured, burying his face in her hair.

When Andrew pulled away to caress her face, JenniAnn could still see the remnants of his nightmare in the soft lines around and between his eyes.  A moment later, she was in his arms and he was taking her back to their bower.  She noticed that, as they crossed the threshold back into the conservatory, he closed his eyes, seemingly in prayer.  Being an angel, Andrew couldn't possibly be superstitious.  However, JenniAnn knew he had a proper respect for symbols and rites.  Earlier in the night, his carrying her had simply been a means of conveying her blindfolded self.  Now it was something else: a promise made manifest.

"I'll stand between you and all who try to hurt you.  Forever."

JenniAnn sniffled, knowing it was a promise he couldn't keep.  Worse yet, he knew it.  And that was exactly what had brought them to this juncture... hours away from seeing a counselor.

Andrew gently returned JenniAnn to their bed.

"I think maybe I'll stay up for a bit," he explained as he brought the sheet and blanket up to her chest.

"Andrew... no," JenniAnn protested.  "Everything's fine.  Please... just... cuddle with me?"

Unable to resist her plea, the angel nodded and slipped beneath the covers.

JenniAnn wasted no time in trying to put him at ease.  Her face hovered over his as she framed his face in soft kisses while rubbing his right temple in an attempt to knead away the tension there.  After a few minutes, she slipped to his other side and repeated the same actions, this time massaging his left temple.  The whole time, her lavender-scented tresses surrounded Andrew's head like a canopy.

Catching her yawn, Andrew pressed a gentle hand to her back and eased her down so her head rested on his chest.  He nuzzled her hair as he began to trace her spine then fingered each vertebra like a worry bead.

"We'll be okay," he whispered.

JenniAnn nodded against his chest and tried to keep from crying.  Her mood had dipped and old questions and worries began to drift through her mind.

"Why are you torturing him?  You know you'll have to leave him someday."

"He was content before you.  Why did you give him a life that he can't keep?"

"His nightmares were centuries apart before you.  Now?  A regular thing.  Good job there!"

An all too familiar sense of deja vu mixed with queasiness overtook JenniAnn.  In her last moment of consciousness, she buried her face in Andrew's shirt.

A few seconds later, she was back but felt drained by the seizure.  Andrew was still stroking her back and softly humming.  "In Your Eyes," she thought.  He let out a contented sigh and JenniAnn decided not to tell him about her seizure.  Maybe tomorrow... or later today, depending on what time it was, she concluded.

Grabbing a fistful of Andrew's t-shirt, JenniAnn closed her eyes and drifted into an uneasy sleep.


Thursday, April 27th

Andrew woke to a view of the sunrise, all purples and pinks, that was so beautiful he was tempted to wake JenniAnn.  He resisted the urge, though.  She had been fitful during the night and needed the rest. 

After shifting slightly so he could better see her face, Andrew studied her.  He hoped it wasn't his nightmare that had ruined her sleep but, suspecting it might have been, he frowned.  Then again, he countered, she might only have been chilly.  At one point during the night, he'd felt her shaking and roused to find her arms gathered up near her chest.  He'd readjusted their blankets and tightened his hold of her, hoping to warm her.  She'd stilled then... at least for a while. 

Andrew checked his pocket watch which he'd looped around his side of the head board the previous night. 


Knowing that there was no rush to rise, Andrew slipped into one of his contemplative moods.  Every so often, he could step back from the mundanities of his life and be awed by it. 

He'd just celebrated his anniversary... with a woman.

He had kids... five, actually.

He'd kissed and been kissed.

He no longer slept alone.

Granted, as an angel, Andrew knew he was meant to bring comfort and, sometimes, safety.  He supposed it had only been a matter of time before he'd find himself in bed with JenniAnn, likely consoling her in her grief or reassuring her after a fright, stroking her back and whispering soothing words.

But that wasn't how it had happened at all.

Andrew closed his eyes as he remembered the night in JenniAnn's chamber... now Shelby's... when she had comforted him after Chava had finished her story.  He could almost feel her hand in his as she'd led him to her bed.  She had tended to his grief and fear.  He'd been the one drawing strength from her nearness, her softness, and her warmth.

He'd wanted to believe it wouldn't be the last time. 

Andrew thanked God that it hadn't been. 


That afternoon, Andrew was in a much better mood than he'd expected to be as they headed to Reuel's.  He glanced over at JenniAnn for whom the charms of El-Chanan hadn't yet worn off.  She was taking everything in, occasionally remarking on a beautiful stained glass window or stunning architecture. 

After admiring a regal fountain, JenniAnn leaned against Andrew and whispered.

"Everyone is so nice but... why do I feel like we're being stared at?"

The angel chuckled.

"Probably because we are.  I imagine we're something like living history to them.  They were founded by pairs of angel-human anam caras and, for some of them, we may be the first pair they've seen."

"Huh.  Yeah, that makes sense."

"Or maybe they just like looking at beautiful Nebraskans."

JenniAnn gave Andrew the side eye.

"Oh, yeah, I'm sure that's it," she scoffed.

"Well, Adam and Henry do think I traded up," Andrew reminded with a wink.

"Brothers always tease their brothers about being romantic charity cases," JenniAnn shot back.  "Doesn't mean it's true."

Andrew halted and reached for JenniAnn's hand.

"Laja, I was just joking around.  I mean... I do think you're beautiful.  And you're from Nebraska so..."

JenniAnn's face flushed and she stroked the angel's cheek. 

"Thank you.  And I'm sorry.  I'm just groggy and not feeling particularly beautiful, I guess."

"Are you sick?"  Andrew rested a hand on her forehead.  "We could reschedule if..."

"No, I think I just needed more sleep.  That's all."

"I'm sorry that I woke you up last night.  That couldn't have helped."

JenniAnn gave an adamant shake of her head.

"I'm not sorry.  If you hadn't the bat likely would have died.  And it was awfully amazing seeing you resurrect her, even though I know it was really Joshua's power."

"It was.  But, yeah, it was a pretty cool feeling."  Andrew circled an arm around the woman's waist and kissed her hair.  "Are you sure you're okay to meet with Reuel?"

"Yeah."  JenniAnn nodded.  "I want us both to feel better about... everything."

"Me too."

Andrew squeezed JenniAnn's hip lightly before they continued on in companionable silence.


From his office, Reuel watched the pair approach with inquisitiveness.  To his surprise, Andrew seemed quite calm.  JenniAnn, on the other hand, appeared nervous.  He filed these thoughts away before hurrying to set out scones and some tea.  The last thing he did before going to the door was light some lavender incense.  It always soothed him and he hoped it would do the same for his guests.

"Welcome!  Andrew.  JenniAnn," the principality greeted, embracing each as he welcomed them into his home. 

As the couple stepped in, a furry face peeked around the corner of a bookshelf.  JenniAnn spotted it first.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, pointing.

Reuel turned to see what she was gaping at and laughed. 

"Oh him...  That's Val Jean.  He's a Fennec fox.  We were having a festival a few months back and found him stealing bits of our potluck.  We realized he had a broken leg and, by the time it was fixed, he'd been out of the wild for too long.  He still has a bit of a limp, too."  Reuel bent down and held out a treat. 

Andrew and JenniAnn watched as Val Jean ambled forward and accepted the offering before rolling onto his back.

Reuel smiled as he stroked the fox's belly.

"They can be a lot like dogs... although not necessarily fond of dogs."

"I didn't even know you had a pet!" JenniAnn exclaimed, reaching out before thinking better of it and drawing her hand back.

"It's all right," Reuel encouraged.  "He enjoys attention.  I don't think it's so much that he's domesticated as that he likes being fussed over.  He'll likely join us for our session if that's all right?"

"Definitely," Andrew assented as he joined JenniAnn in petting Val Jean.

"Wonderful.  We'll just have to watch him with the scones.  They aren't good for him and he knows where to go for his food."

"Scones?" JenniAnn checked.

"Don't most psychologists offer their clients treats?"

Andrew chuckled and shook his head.

"No, not in my experience."

Reuel shrugged.

"They do here.  I suppose maybe it's because the ancient hospitality code is still quite well established here."

"I think it's lovely," JenniAnn complimented.  "And we really do appreciate this, Reuel.  I'm sure you have other things you could be..."

Reuel raised a hand to cut her off.

"Not at all.  This is exactly what I'm meant to be doing." 

Andrew clapped his fellow angel on the back.

"Still, we're grateful."

"And I'm honored," Reuel countered as he waved them into his office.

Both Andrew and JenniAnn were immediately impressed by the assortment of artifacts and art lining the shelves of Reuel's office. 

The elder angel took the opportunity to pour tea for them.

"I'd be happy to answer any questions you'd like... after we discuss what brought us here," Reuel offered.

Taking the hint that their counselor was going to keep them on task, Andrew and JenniAnn settled into the couch across from the armchair that Reuel, and Val Jean, had claimed.

"So, Andrew, the Father mentioned that you had some concerns following your last assignment?" Reuel began.

Andrew dragged his hand through his hair.

"Wow... right to the chase."

"I find it's best.  Less opportunity for nerves to build."

"Good point.  Umm, yeah.  I was assigned to a man on death row.  He had... he'd raped and murdered a woman.  Her husband was there, witnessing the execution.  And as I looked at him... I suddenly felt like if... if Rex had killed JenniAnn..."  He drew in and let out a ragged breath then smiled wanly at JenniAnn when she began to stroke his arm.  "Maybe I'd have wanted him executed, too.  Maybe even... wanted to do it myself."

"I see."

"And that upset him because he felt like, for the first time really, our relationship... our life together... it had made him somehow... less good?" JenniAnn tried.

Andrew nodded.

"And he knows I'm against the death penalty so he thought I'd be disappointed."

"Were you?" Reuel questioned.

JenniAnn shook her head.

"Most of my family back home is for the death penalty.  And I don't really think Andrew even is.  But supposing he was... I'd still love him."

"And so would God," Reuel reminded.

Andrew let out a sigh and nodded.

"Tell me, Andrew, have you gone to visit Rex in jail?"

"Once.  Max wanted to see him.  I mostly just stood there... for moral support."

"And I take it you didn't attempt to kill the man?"

JenniAnn let out an awkward laugh.  The very idea was absurd.

"Well, no..."

"And when you were with your assignment, did you push the executioner out of the way and take matters into your own hands?"

"Obviously not."

"And let's say, God forbid, Rex escaped."

Both Andrew and JenniAnn bristled.

"And you happened to find him.  God grants you the power to keep him captive until the police arrive.  But a gallows just happens to be near by...  Would you use it?"

Andrew's answer was less quick in coming but firm when it did.

"No...  I guess I couldn't.  I mean... he's still Max's father.  That's a lot to put on Max...  And Laja..."  Andrew peered over at her with teary eyes.  "I couldn't do that to you.  It... it would be a betrayal... to your beliefs... and to my respect and love for you."

"Love..."  JenniAnn began to caress his face.

Reuel politely focused on Val Jean as the two exchanged brief kisses.  When he sensed they'd finished, he returned his attention to them.

"Good.  Only a few moments and we've already made progress!  But I know it's sometimes two steps forward and one step back.  And you two experienced something harrowing... attempted murder, attacks by demons.  Good, strong people crumble under much less.  So why don't we take a broader look back at those days?" Reuel suggested.

"Sure," Andrew agreed.

"I think we should," JenniAnn consented with a nod.

Reuel looked up to smile encouragingly at the woman but noted something in her face and in her eyes.  Andrew was kissing her hand and had missed it.

Anxiety?  Fear?  Maybe a touch of shame?

As he had upon first noticing the two outside his house, Reuel filed his impressions away for later examination, knowing it was too soon to comment.

"Which one of you would like to start?" he inquired.

"I... I guess I will," JenniAnn volunteered.

"Very good."

In the two hours that followed, Reuel listened patiently and attentively as Andrew and JenniAnn recalled the events of June 2015.


Thursday, May 4th

In the week that followed their first visit, Andrew and JenniAnn had managed two more sessions with Reuel.  It was after the third that, for the first time, Reuel gave the two "homework" to complete before returning.  That very evening, after they'd gotten Belle to bed, Andrew and JenniAnn retired to their room and shifted their focus to the questions that the principality wanted them to answer.

"'Name one thing that you love about your partner that they may not know about,'" Andrew read.

JenniAnn chewed on her lip as she thought.

"That's tough...  We're both pretty good about doling out the compliments.  Kinda feels like there's not a lot that's positive that gets left unsaid."

"Maybe that's the point," Andrew surmised.  "Because the next question is 'Name one thing that you dislike about your partner or a time your partner upset you that they may not know about.'"

An uncomfortable exchange of looks revealed that, for both, this answer was much more quick in coming to them.

"Let's just try to answer the first one first," JenniAnn encouraged.

"All right," Andrew agreed.  "Do you want to go first or..."

"I just thought of one!" JenniAnn announced.

"Well, then..."

JenniAnn giggled at the eager, though slightly anxious look on Andrew's face.

"I love how, sometimes, when we're going out, you ask what color I'm gonna wear cause you want to coordinate.  I'm not sure if you just think it looks more stylish or if you like looking like a pair but, either way, it's very sweet."

Andrew's face settled into an easy smile. 

"A little of column A, a lot of column B." 

"Aww..."  JenniAnn squeezed his hand.  "Now your turn."

"I love that you're so careful not to hurt others... even when the other is a bug.  Or, yes, even a snake.  Every time you insist on taking a bug outside instead of swatting it... I think you're pretty darn adorable," Andrew complimented.


"I also love when you call me that."

JenniAnn linked her arms around the angel's neck and pulled him nearer, planting a first kiss on his jaw line.

Andrew drank in the scent of her hair, newly washed and smelling of lavender. 

"Are you trying to seduce me, Ms. Chandler?" he kidded as she continued to kiss him.

JenniAnn giggled.

"Yep... well, as much as one asexual can seduce another, I suppose.  And I really need to watch that movie some day."

"You do.  It's a classic.  But we'll have to schedule it for after Belle goes to bed."

"Definitely.  And now..."

"Back to our homework."

JenniAnn nodded and then the two stared at each other for a few awkward moments.

"You're pretty darn near perfect," JenniAnn murmured.

"But..." Andrew prodded.

"But I guess... and maybe it's just in my head but... I wish you'd take some time for yourself.  Hang out with Adam, Henry, and Eli, maybe.  I mean..."  JenniAnn stroked the angel's face.  "I treasure the time you spend with the kids and me but..."  She bowed her head.  "Sometimes I feel a bit like Yoko Ono.  And it's not that any of the guys make me feel that way.  But I can remember when you three... then four... used to go play pool or take in a game or whatnot.  And that hasn't happened in quite a long time.  And I feel bad about that."

"Laja, you shouldn't feel bad about that.  But you're right.  I do need to make more of an effort.  Because I do miss hanging out with the guys.  It's just... sometimes hard to leave my girls," Andrew confessed, glancing over at the door to Belle's nursery.

"Yeah...  And I love having you around.  Still..."

"It's a good point.  And it's a point taken.  I'll call the guys tomorrow and schedule something."  Andrew kissed the woman's forehead.  "Thank you."

"Welcome.  Now... your turn."

Andrew dragged a hand through his hair.

"Ugh.  It's really bad, huh?"

The angel of death adamantly shook his head.

"Nothing about you could be really bad, Laja," he countered.  "It's just..."

JenniAnn drew in a deep breath, steeling herself.

Not wanting to cause her a moment's more worry, Andrew let his words out in a rush.

"I wish you didn't make digs at your own body or be so self-conscious about it.  I appreciate that you're very careful not to be critical around the girls but... you should be more attentive to your own feelings.  It can't help you to hear yourself make those comments.  And... and it hurts me to hear them."

Tears welled in JenniAnn's eyes.

"But... but you can't really know how... how it feels.  I mean... you're like... like some sorta Adonis and I'm just..."

"A Botticelli," Andrew interrupted.

In surprise, JenniAnn cocked her head.

Andrew took the opportunity to soldier on.

"A priceless, classic work of art... called into being by a Master Artist.  Curves and... and softness where curves and softness should be.  Breasts and belly that our baby girl snuggled against... drawing warmth and comfort after being left in... in the cold.  And she's cuddled against them... against you... so often since."

JenniAnn drew in a sharp breath when Andrew placed a hand over her middle.

"And I happen to like snuggling against them, too.  And... and I feel proud to be with you when we go out and so... blessed... always.  So just... just please try," the angel pleaded.  A smile played on his lips when he saw her eyes had gone dewy and dreamy.

"Uh huh..." she agreed with a nod before Andrew kissed her.

After JenniAnn had returned the kiss, the angel rested his forehead against hers.



"You remember when you told me about UAT?"

His anam cara grinned.

"Unresolved Affectionate Tension."

"Yeah.  That's it."

"What about it?"

"Dance with me?  Because I'm definitely feeling that," Andrew requested, waggling his eye brows.

"Most definitely," JenniAnn eagerly accepted.

Andrew cued up some music and then pulled her to him, starting their slow waltz.



"I'll try."

Andrew nuzzled JenniAnn's hair.

"Thank you."


Monday, May 8th

After JenniAnn had returned from classes Below and Andrew from a brief assignment in New Mexico, the pair headed to El-Chanan where they again sat down with Reuel, tea, and a plate of scones.

The trio had been talking for half an hour when Reuel gently steered their conversation into difficult territory.

"Andrew, I'm still sensing some... guilt, I think... on your part.  Does that ring true to you?"

The angel of death, uncharacteristically nervous, shot fleeting looks at Reuel and JenniAnn before resting his eyes on his hands.

"Yeah.  I guess."

JenniAnn opened her mouth to protest but, sensing this, Reuel cut her off.

"Why do you feel guilty?"

"Because... well, I... I guess because there have been so many other times when... when God let me help Laja.  But this one time... the time when it truly mattered... I wasn't there.  More than that... I had no idea that she... she..."

Andrew's voice cracked and he tried to choke back a sob.

"Love... no," JenniAnn cooed.

The elder angel sat for a few moments, patient and silent, to allow JenniAnn to comfort her beloved.  When she had settled on simply stroking Andrew's back, Reuel again spoke.

"Andrew, how would you feel if God allowed JenniAnn to sense, maybe even see, all the trials... all the pain... all the frustration that you experience during assignments?"

Andrew gaped at Reuel.

"I... I would try to accept it because... because I know God knows best but... I would hate it.  To do that to her...  Have... have her know that was happening and to be able to do nothing?"

The angel of death shook his head.

"No.  I would never want that."  He peered over at JenniAnn.  "I know sometimes you've wished for that... maybe even prayed for it... even experienced it for brief interludes.  But as a regular thing?"

Andrew gave another shake of his head and brought the woman's hand to his lips.


"Understandable," Reuel assured.  "Now... JenniAnn, would you have wanted Andrew there that day?  Seeing your fear, your pain... but unable to do anything?"

JenniAnn tipped Andrew's drooping chin up so she could see into his eyes.

"No, I wouldn't have."

"But... I... I could have at least held you... comforted you..."

A flush came to JenniAnn's cheeks and it was her turn to bow her head.

"Yes...  You could have but... Vincent did."  She let out a shaky sigh.  "Andrew, I love you.  And I love that we've become so close.  I love that... that we share a home... share..."

Reuel silently smiled when JenniAnn, suddenly shy, lowered her voice.

"Share a bed.  But... I... I was Vincent's little Psyche before I was your Laja.  And... and in those moments, when I was scared, when a real monster had... had come... I wanted one of the people who had banished my childhood fears and imagined monsters.  And I... I didn't want you to see me like that, Andrew.  I mean... I didn't want Vincent to, either.  Or Catherine but... but somehow it was at least a little easier with them."  Tears began to fall freely down JenniAnn's cheeks.

"Laja..." Andrew's own face was wet and his eyes were bright with unfallen fears.  "Laja, come closer," he requested, his voice husky.

"I should check on Val Jean," Reuel announced before hastily leaving the room.

JenniAnn settled onto the angel of death's left knee and rested her forehead against his.

"My love, I... I know you'll see shootings a-and self-inflicted gunshot wounds in... in the years ahead.  I hate that but I know it's so.  And... and I don't want to be in your head like... like that.  I don't want memories of that alley popping up when... when I know you'll already be heartbroken and trying to focus on those left behind.  And also..."

"And also?" Andrew echoed as he searched JenniAnn's pink face.

"I didn't want you thinking of me like that when... when, well, when we're being romantic.  It would, ya know, kill the mood and that wasn't a concern with Vincent."

"Ah..."  Andrew realized that such an idea had never occurred to him.  But it made perfect sense. 

"And, most of all... I don't want you to remember me like that in the years to come when..."


"When I'm dead."

Andrew cradled the woman's face in his hands, the tips of his fingers buried in her hair.

"You'll never be dead... not really."

JenniAnn gave him a soft smile.

"I know.  But I won't be with you like I am right now and... and I think that's a lot why I..."

Reuel tapped lightly on his door.

"Shall I return or would you prefer more time?" he called.

JenniAnn again blushed and, despite his tears, Andrew gave her a sheepish smile.  He released her and she settled back onto the loveseat's cushion.

"Come in, please," Andrew responded.

"We're sorry that we, umm, made you feel booted from your own..."

The angel held up his hand and beamed.

"Nonsense.  I'm quite glad it happened... not only because I believe you two needed some alone time but also because I found Val Jean helping himself to a bag of cookies.  Thankfully, he hadn't yet managed to down more than a handful... errr, pawful... when I found him."

"Is he okay?  Where is he?" JenniAnn queried with concern.

"He's unharmed... maybe a bit energized by the sugar.  I gave him a new toy.  He should be content for a few minutes, at least.  Now... where were we?"

JenniAnn drew in a deep breath and slowly exhaled.

"I was just telling Andrew why I'm glad that Vincent was with me and... not him."

Reuel reclaimed his seat.

"And why is that?"

After again making eye contact with the angel of death, JenniAnn continued.

"Because... one day... Vincent and I will both be in Heaven.  And we'll never, ever have to leave unless we want to and God okays it.  We'll be at peace... lasting peace... and those memories won't be able to hurt either of us.  But... you could very well still be coming to Earth... here... Dyeland...  And... and those memories will be able to hurt you then.  I... I think that's why... why..."

Andrew wrapped an arm around her shoulders and took her hand in his free one.

"Tell me, Laja.  It's okay.  Please just let go of whatever..."

"That's why I haven't been leaving Dyeland much except with a group or to go Below and... and why I don't go poking around New York or... or even Omaha much any more.  I...  Love, I saw what the shooting did to you.  I saw how Nen and Tzila used it against you.  I don't want to risk getting hurt and... and then hurting you just for a trip to a museum or... or to go thrift store hopping."

"Oh, Laja..."  Andrew embraced her tightly as she sobbed.

Reuel gave his fellow angel a sympathetic smile but remained silent until JenniAnn was subdued.

"Thank you, JenniAnn.  That was very brave of you to let that out.  Andrew, how does that make you feel?"

JenniAnn closed her eyes and took several calming breaths as Andrew thumbed the tears from her face.  When she opened her eyes, he responded.

"It makes me feel loved and cared for but...  Laja, I never wanted to make your life... well, less.  In the early days, that meant not wanting you to miss out on romance... sex... kids.  But you... and God... over and over again... helped me to see that you weren't missing any of those things.  But this... this is different.  I don't want you giving up things you enjoy just because there's a small, impossible to predict chance that you could be harmed.  Would I be enthused by the possibility of you taking up, say, NASCAR racing?  No."

JenniAnn laughed when the angel grimaced.

"But we're not talking about that level of risk.  Bad things... they happen every day.  And the thought of another person hurting you..."  Andrew shook his head.  "I can't stand it.  But I also can't stand the idea of you passing things up for my sake.  Okay?"

After seeing the earnestness in Andrew's eyes and face, JenniAnn nodded.

"Okay.  I agree to not limit myself on the off-chance that I might get hurt if..."

"If?" Andrew and Reuel asked in unison.

"If you agree to not worry about some perfectly natural emotional reaction making me love or respect you less.  Deal?"

Andrew grinned and shook then squeezed JenniAnn's proffered hand.

"Deal, Laja."

"Thank you."

"Well done!" Reuel complimented.  "I think you two have made wonderful progress!  I also think you reached a real milestone today.  However, I would like to see you both at least once more.  I know sometimes when we have a little time to think things over, other thoughts and concerns arise so... how's Thursday at 3:00 for you two?"

Andrew and JenniAnn checked the calendars on their phones before nodding.

"Looks perfect," Andrew accepted.  "We'll see you then, Reuel, but first..."

"We wondered if you'd like to join us for dinner?" JenniAnn invited.  "You've spoiled us with all the tea and sweets.  We owe you."

"We're making both sweet and savory crepes," Andrew tantalized.

The principality laughed.

"How could I say no to that?  Yes, please.  I'd love to join you."

"How about 6:30?" Andrew checked.

"6:30 it is.  Until then..."  Reuel took their hands in his.  "Enjoy your time together."

"We will.  And you enjoy your time with Val Jean."  JenniAnn laughed as she waved to the door where the fox was poking his head in.

When Reuel whistled, the little fellow pranced over to him.

"That I will.  Say 'good bye,' Val Jean."

The couple laughed when the fox gave a little bark, bidding them adieu.


Thursday, May 18th

"So... since Behnam's and Isra's wedding is coming up, I decided to go shopping for a gift.  By myself.  In New York," JenniAnn told Andrew and Reuel during their next session.  "I went to Lily's Loot and, to be honest, didn't wander too far from it but... it's a start, right?"

Andrew squeezed the woman's shoulders and Reuel gave her a warm smile.

"I think it's an excellent start, JenniAnn.  How did you feel during your shopping trip?"

"Pretty good.  Maybe a little nervous at points.  I mean... I guess, aside from concerns for Andrew, what happened made me kinda anxious," JenniAnn confessed.

"Which is completely understandable, Laja," Andrew affirmed.

"It is," Reuel agreed.  "And if the anxiety becomes too much, I hope you know that there's no shame in taking medication.  It's no different from taking medication for your seizures."

"Oh, I know," JenniAnn assured.  "And... yeah, anti-anxiety meds would probably be a good idea.  I'll talk to Portia about that.  She'd actually recommended it before but..."  She shrugged.  "I mostly felt fine."

Yet again, Reuel saw something in JenniAnn's too-big smile and body language that gave him pause.  He thought Andrew, too, had noticed it.

"You deserve to feel more than 'mostly fine,' Laja," the angel of death gently urged.

"Andrew's right.  It's perfectly natural that Rex's assault would..."

JenniAnn's head snapped up from where she'd rested it on Andrew's shoulder.  Her eyes blazed as they met Reuel's.

"Who told you about that?" she demanded.  "He said he wouldn't tell anyone!"

Andrew and Reuel looked from the woman to each other in confusion.

"JenniAnn, I was there.  In the hospital with the others when..."  Reuel shook his head, deciding to try a different tactic.  "We all know that Rex shot you.  That... it's why you're here."

JenniAnn gasped and buried her face in her hands.  Then, suddenly, she was on her feet, scrambling for her purse, and headed to the hallway.

"I... I have to go."

"Laja... what..."

Before Andrew could say anymore, JenniAnn had left.  The angel of death looked to Reuel with confusion and embarrassment.


"Go."  The principality squeezed the younger angel's shoulder.  "Take care of your lady."

With a nod, Andrew fled the room.

Reuel sighed when he heard the front door open and close for a second time.  He peered up at the ceiling.

"Father...  Yeshua...  What have I done?  What did I say?" he questioned.

"You said what you were meant to say," an invisible Joshua comforted.  "Be at peace."

"They need the peace more than I do, I think."

"Pray for them, Reuel."

"I will, my Lord."

Closing his eyes, Reuel began to pray.  He felt a warm glow surround him... God's soothing presence... and asked for the same peace to surround Andrew and JenniAnn.



Andrew caught hold of JenniAnn just as she was running past Eleora's and Cody's house.

"Laja, what is..."

When he turned her around, Andrew saw the blank stare on her face that typified a seizure. 

"Laja..." he murmured, gathering her into his arms and swaying slightly.

"A-andrew..." her voice croaked after a few moments.

"I'm right here.  Let's get you home."

JenniAnn nodded and, meek and tired, allowed the angel to lead her back to the portal. 

Once they were in Dyeland, Andrew noticed that JenniAnn was a bit wobbly and disoriented.

"Laja, how about you let me carry you to our room?" he suggested.

With a silent nod, JenniAnn acquiesced.

Once she was in his arms, Andrew smiled down at his anam cara only to have her shut her eyes and turn her face towards his shoulder.

Something was clearly very, very wrong.

Andrew was grateful that Ivy and Violeta had Belle.  Barring an animal emergency, he'd be able to focus entirely on JenniAnn. 

"I want to take a shower," JenniAnn blurted out as soon as Andrew set her down in their room.

"Laja... I don't know.  You just had a seizure and..."

"I'm taking a shower.  You can sit and watch if you must," she snapped.

Andrew's hurt feelings were immediately evident on his face.

Stung by her own words and her beloved's expression, JenniAnn began to sob.

"I... I... don't know what... what's wrong... with... me..."

Seeing JenniAnn begin to teeter and huff and puff as if struggling for breath, Andrew again seized her.

"Laja...  Deep breaths, Laja...  I'm here, my Laja.  I... I won't leave you.  It'll pass soon.  I love you...  I love you...  I love you."

After a few minutes, the woman calmed.  In fact, she was nearly catatonic.

Andrew smoothed some hair behind her ears.

"Laja, how about I run a nice, warm bubble bath for you.  And... only if you want... I'll sit with you and I'll make sure there are enough bubbles so, you know..."

In spite of her unease, a smile played at the corners of JenniAnn's mouth.  She nodded.

"Okay.  Good!  So you just sit right here and... and I'll go do that."

After ensuring that JenniAnn was calm and comfortably situated on their settee, Andrew stepped into her bathroom.  His gaze traveled over the various potions and powders and salts she kept there.  He wasn't one for bubble baths so, uncertainly, he turned on the tap and poured half a bottle of lavender scented bubble bath into the pooling water.  It didn't take long for the bubbly water to threaten to overflow.  After draining it a bit, Andrew returned to the bedroom.

"It's ready."

"Thank you."

JenniAnn grabbed a robe and stepped past Andrew and into the bathroom.  After a few moments and the sound of splashing, she called.

"You can come in... if you want."

"Do you want me to?" the angel checked through the cracked door.


Andrew grabbed a padded stool and, a bit shyly, re-entered the bathroom.   Once seated, he gave JenniAnn a soft smile.

With only her head visible above the generous amount of bubbles, JenniAnn returned his smile before peering into the soapy rainbow surrounding her.

"I... I'm sorry that I acted like that.  Just now, snapping at you.  And with Reuel."

"It's okay, Laja.  I'm sure Reuel understands that this is very sensitive territory."

"But it was sposed to be our last session.  We were sposed to be past the... sensitive territory."

"Laja, I don't really think we get past what happened.  We just learn to stop it from tormenting us... then learn to integrate it into our lives."

Andrew could see that JenniAnn was struggling with whether or not to say something further.  There would be time for that.  Right now he just had to keep her as calm as possible in the hopes of preventing another seizure.

"We'll talk about this more when you're out.  For right now, just try to relax, Laja.  Please.  Would you like me to read to you?"

"Yes, please."

"Okay, I'll be right back."

Andrew fetched a book of poems and, settling back down, opened to a random page.

"How about a little Victor Hugo?"


"Okay...  'The Genesis Of The Butterfly' by Victor Hugo.  'The dawn is smiling on the dew that covers/ The tearful roses; lo, the little lovers/ That kiss the buds, and all the flutterings/ In jasmine bloom, and privet, of white wings,/ That go and come, and fly, and peep and hide,/ With muffled music, murmured far and wide.'"

After several more poems, JenniAnn's bubbles were beginning to decrease and Andrew's voice was growing hoarse.

"You can stop now.  I'm done."

Andrew looked up from the pages he was flipping through.

"Okay.  I'll step out while you dry off."


Taking the book and stool with him, Andrew left the bathroom, kicking the door closed behind him.

He'd barely had time to pace the circumference of the room when JenniAnn emerged in her robe and slippers.  After giving Andrew a wan smile, she sat down in front of her vanity and began to unpin her hair.

"Let me?" Andrew offered. 

"If you want."

"I do."

Not wanting Andrew to have to crouch behind her, JenniAnn grabbed her brush and moved to the bed.

Andrew wasted no time in settling behind her.  He began to carefully remove bobby pins and then gently brushed the long tresses.

"You've gotten really good at this."

"Belle's given me lots of practice.  This... this is different, though."

"Uh huh..."  JenniAnn closed her eyes as Andrew brushed some hair to the side and lightly kissed the back of her neck.  After he'd continued for a couple of minutes, JenniAnn began to softly cry.

"Laja..." Andrew murmured.  He sat down the brush and pulled her close.

"I... I'm such a hypocrite," JenniAnn moaned.

Andrew cupped her chin.

"What would make you say that?"

"I...  Andrew...  I... I've been hiding something from you.  And... and if I hadn't blown it at Reuel's, I... I woulda kept hiding it.  So many times I asked... begged you... to... to tell me what was wrong and then... then I couldn't give you the same... same... honesty that... that..."

Tears pooled in Andrew's eyes and he began to feel sick.  Still, he kept JenniAnn in his embrace.

"Do you... want to tell me now?" he asked.

JenniAnn nodded against his chest where she'd buried her face.

"Then tell me.  Please, Laja."

"When... in... in the alley... when Rex had me... he... he used his free hand to... to..."  JenniAnn let out a shuddering breath. 

"I'm here, Laja.  He can't hurt you now," Andrew consoled.

"Rex... he... he groped my... my breasts while... while he had me."

Flashes of memories returned to Andrew: JenniAnn sleeping with her arms wrapped tightly around her chest, a minor breakdown the previous winter after she'd taken Shelby shopping for her first real bra, the return of negative body talk, and more.  It all made horrible sense to the angel now.

"Oh Laja...  My beloved Laja..."

"I... I was just so shocked and disgusted and... and... if I'd been able to pull myself together then... then maybe I could have gotten away and... and none of this... none of... of..."

Andrew pulled away and cradled JenniAnn's face so she had to look at him.

"No.  Don't... don't do that to yourself, Laja.  You were terrified... understandably so.  And we don't know that he wouldn't have shot you anyway.  Maybe even... fatally.  But let's not even think about that right now.  Laja, I am so, so sorry that happened to you.  So sorry..."

"I... I should have told you before..."

"Yes.  Maybe.  But Laja... this is different.  The things I've struggled to tell you... they haven't been so personal.  I... I wasn't harmed in the same way.  I wish I had known earlier.  I wish I could have supported you through it from... from the moment you woke up in the hospital.  But I don't blame you.  Not at all.  I... I could never hold this against you."

Touched by his words, JenniAnn still wasn't willing to let herself off the hook.

"I... I planned to tell you so many times but... but I always talked myself out of it.  Either I was too moody and didn't want to make it worse or... or we were so happy that... that I didn't want to feel anything but that happiness and love.  But at... at odd moments... and in... in nightmares... it's... it's like I can still feel him squeezing and... and stroking them... me... and... and I just want to throw up and..."

Andrew didn't know what to say.  He prayed for words to take away her pain but none came.  All he could do was hold her and whisper his love to her.  As he did, more memories came to him.

Late February 2013... Max discovering that his Maja was Psyche, the young woman who had once been kind to him during a period when his father had treated him only with impatience and negligence.  Then later that evening when they were once again alone...  JenniAnn had told him, swearing him to secrecy, about how Rex had leered at her and she'd felt as if he was undressing her in his mind.  About how he'd offered her a ride home and how his grin had told her how that would have ended if she'd accepted his offer.

The angel's memories fast forwarded to the trial.  JenniAnn preparing to testify...  She'd layered three sweaters and he'd been worried that she'd succumb to heat exhaustion on the stand.  Now her decision made a heartbreaking sense.

Then he and Max visiting Rex in jail...  The man... monster... saying that he wished he could apologize to JenniAnn in person.  Andrew knew now that all he'd wanted to do was re-traumatize her with his leering.  

JenniAnn's fingers caressing his face roused Andrew from his pained reminiscences.    Through his tears, he smiled gently at her.

"My Laja..."

JenniAnn closed her eyes as the angel kissed her brow.

"I... I really did want to tell you," she stressed again.  "Please... please don't think it was anything you did or didn't do."

"I know, Laja.  I know," Andrew averred.

JenniAnn stared off into their room, lost in thought.

"When we were spending so much time at the Chrysalis, I even convinced myself it was no big deal.  I mean... I wasn't raped.  I wasn't forced into prostitution.  I wasn't molested by someone I loved.  So what right..."

"Laja, stop," Andrew ordered, his voice still gentle but commanding.


"But you were hurt.  You were assaulted... by... by a man who then tried his best to kill you.  Laja... you could have died!"  Andrew drew in and let out a deep breath.  JenniAnn needed him.  It wasn't the time for him to slip back into his own angst. 


He gripped her hand and brought it to rest over his heart before he peered intently at her.

"You don't get to rank pain and suffering, Laja.  You don't make a habit of doing it with others so why with yourself?  Please... don't."

JenniAnn nodded.  He was right.  After all, if it had happened to any of her friends, she knew she wouldn't have said "Oh... well, you were just fondled."  No, she would have comforted them, cried with them.  Just like Andrew wanted to right then...

"I suppose, deep down, I was embarrassed and ashamed.  I know...  I know it wasn't my fault.  I know the sin was his.  But... still.  No one's ever touched me like that.  Eliot and I never got to that point and then you...  I suppose, on some level, I just hated thinking that the only person who ever drew pleasure from my breasts was so... awful and... and it was forced and..."

Andrew tightened his embrace.

"I can see how you would feel that way, Laja.  I really can.  But I can tell you that's absolutely not true.  I mean...  It was awful... and forced on you.  That's true.  But the other part...  I meant what I said last week about your body.  I may not draw pleasure in the way a human man might.  But... I do."

JenniAnn's cheeks flushed slightly but she smiled.

"That's good.  And I know I probably complicated things more than they needed to be... even before Rex... by being so... prudish, I spose, at times.  There was really no excuse... especially post-Joshua.  I know it wasn't coming from him."

"No," Andrew agreed.  "Speaking of Joshua," he began with some hesitation.


"Earlier... with Reuel... when you said he said he wouldn't tell... was he Joshua?"

Remembering her outburst, JenniAnn again blushed.

"Yeah.  We talked about it when I was with him on the island.  I asked him if he was going to tell you and he promised me that he wouldn't tell anyone.  That was for me to do if I wanted..."  She sighed.  "I'm just so used to everyone saying 'When Rex shot...' or 'When Rex attacked you...'  So when Reuel said 'assaulted'... I wasn't thinking clearly and panicked... thinking he knew about the... fondling.  But I'm sure he didn't."

"I'm sure, too.  Joshua wouldn't break a promise."



"What, love?"

"A few weeks ago... when I came back from Arkansas and we were in bed and my hand went under your shirt... did that prompt any flashbacks?"

JenniAnn moved out of Andrew's arms only so she could embrace him.

"Oh, love...  No!  Not at all.  I mean... it was your hand... your touch."  She brought his right hand to her lips.  "I was so concerned for you that I didn't even think of him... of what happened...  Well, not until it occurred to me that you were feeling for my scar.  Weren't you?"

The angel of death nodded.

"It's been a long time since you've seen it."

"I know it's awkward for you to..."

"It shouldn't be," JenniAnn interrupted.  "Not with you.  Never... never with you.  I... I should have done this a long time ago."

Just as she had nearly two years before while they'd been vacationing in North Carolina, JenniAnn undid the top of her robe.  Unlike the night in the cabin, she didn't have a camisole underneath it.

"Laja..." Andrew murmured as she brought his hand to her side. 

"My love..." JenniAnn responded, resting her head on the angel's shoulder as he traced the fine, white scar.

"Laja..." Andrew repeated as his hands ventured to her back.

"I'm fine, love," she encouraged.

"You're beautiful, sweet Laja..."

"So are..." 

JenniAnn cut herself off when Andrew abruptly pulled away.  Her confusion turned to giggling when he began to scramble for the buttons of his shirt. 

"You know I like to coordinate our outfits," he teased once the shirt was flung onto a nearby chair.  "Just seemed fair."

"Very fair... and very studly," JenniAnn complimented before moving back into Andrew's waiting arms. 

"You're okay?" he checked.

"Very okay.  You?"

"I'm okay," Andrew agreed, kissing the top of her head.

JenniAnn sighed as the angel again traced her scar.

"It looks really good," he affirmed.  He let out his own contented sigh when JenniAnn snuggled closer, resting her head on his shoulder, her hand resting over his heart, her skin against his.  His joking aside, this was why he'd cast off his shirt.  If she was going to be vulnerable, so was he.  If JenniAnn was going to let him draw comfort from her bare skin, she would have the same.

"The seizure's taking its toll.  I'm suddenly really tired," JenniAnn admitted.

"I'll stay with you."

"Thank you, my love."

"Always, my Laja."

"Always..." JenniAnn repeated drowsily before drifting to sleep.

Though his own eye lids were growing heavy, Andrew remained lucid long enough to thank God for the woman whose heart beat so near to his. 


Nearly an hour later, Andrew blinked awake and let out a sigh.  It only took a moment for his contentment to turn into confusion.  The familiar sensation of JenniAnn snuggled against him felt... different.  It took another moment for the angel to recall how he'd come to be shirtless and, more astonishingly, how she had.

The visit with Reuel...

Laja's revelation...

And then a new sort of clarity and closeness...

Tears pricked Andrew's eyes as he thought of what JenniAnn had faced... without him.  There had been an additional layer of terror when she had been in Rex's grasp and that grieved Andrew... but not as much as knowing she'd carried the memories and the emotions, also without him, for two years.  He had spoken truthfully.  He couldn't be angry at her, couldn't blame her.  He trusted in her assurances that there had been nothing he had done or could have done to have made her revelation easier.  All his love, all their years together couldn't erase the eons of victim-blaming and shame that, even though she disagreed heartily, still lurked in her psyche. 

Andrew couldn't forgive Rex for what he'd done... not yet.  And he would never forget.  He wouldn't forget how the man's assault had reawakened JenniAnn's body image issues.  He wouldn't forget the nights of disturbed sleep which he only now fully understood.  And he wouldn't forget the horror and embarrassment on her face as she'd fled him and Reuel.

But here JenniAnn was... sleeping peacefully in his arms. 

From Rex's evil, God had blessed them with so much goodness.

JenniAnn and Violeta had become much more like mother and daughter since the ordeal.  Max had become even more doting.  Andrew wasn't sure if he and Rose would have made such an effort to remain present at Willowveil if not for the shooting.  For that matter, Andrew couldn't be sure that Shelby's increasingly frequent sleepovers were the result of her fondness for her baby sister.  Shelby adored Belle, of course, but she nearly shadowed JenniAnn on the mornings she made breakfast while Belle remained in dreamland.

Andrew smiled as he thought of all the laughter and, yes, even the unwelcome but no less adorable wake-up calls at 5:00 in the morning when Belle and Shelby were simply too hungry to sleep longer. 

The angel's brow furrowed as he considered how they might handle such goings on in light of this new development between him and JenniAnn... assuming it ever happened again.  As pleasant as it was, that would be her call.  Not his.

He didn't have long to think on it when JenniAnn began to rouse. 

"Laja..." he greeted, stroking her hair.

"What..."  JenniAnn abruptly sat up and blinked.  Like Andrew, it only took a moment for her to recall how she... and he... had come to be shirtless. 

Andrew watched her in tense silence, hoping she didn't regret either her words or her actions.  His worry was blessedly brief.

"Andrew..."  JenniAnn murmured his name before sinking back against him.

After kissing her hair, Andrew spoke.

"How are you feeling, Laja?"

JenniAnn didn't move, she remained snuggled against him with her head tucked beneath his chin.

"Still a little... wobbly.  Probably will be so for another day or two thanks to the seizure.  As for the rest... I feel better.  You are..."  JenniAnn sat up.  "Beautiful.  And I don't just mean... this."

Andrew chuckled when she waved at his torso.

"You're beautiful yourself.  And I mean your soul, your spirit... but also this."  He waved back at her.

Blushing but clearly pleased, JenniAnn teased him.

"Still think I look like a Botticelli?"

"Like Venus herself."

JenniAnn wrinkled her nose.

"Don't say that.  Venus was Cupid's mom.  I'm not your mother!  Even if I do sometimes feel like it when you forget what a hamper is."

"Hey, I've been getting better!"

Laughing, JenniAnn returned to Andrew's side and hugged his arm.

"I know.  You definitely have."  She gave him a peck on the cheek then grew serious.  "This is okay, isn't it?  I mean... we haven't, umm, crossed a line?"

Andrew pulled her close.

"Of course, it's fine.  Ya know, Joshua isn't exactly a prude."

"True...  But guys being shirtless is different."

"Because humans have made it different throughout time.  Lemme ask you something, when I was created, do you think I popped into existence wearing jeans and flannel?"

"No!  But I figured... I dunno... a white robe or..."

"Were you born wearing a white robe?"

"Well, no..."

"Neither was I.  None of us were...  well, except those rare occurrences like Gloria whose birth was witnessed by someone other than God."

"Huh..."  JenniAnn considered this.  It made sense, of course.  But it seemed so... weird.

"God's not ashamed of what He creates, Laja.  Of course, He's also very pleased by human creation and expression: clothes included."

JenniAnn's cheeks flushed as a thought came to her.

"What is it?" Andrew prompted.

"It's just, well, I was wondering...  So do you only wear clothes because you're around us humans or..."

Andrew chuckled.

"I wear clothes because, yes, I would probably be arrested if I didn't.  But, more than that, I like the feel of them and the protection they offer.  In Heaven, I don't have to worry about mosquito bites or sunburn or cracked skin.  In the mortal worlds, I do.  Trust me, when I lived over at Serendipity, I wasn't wandering around au natural.  There's also the sentimental angle.  Memories are wrapped up in clothing."

"Yes... they are."  JenniAnn recalled the times she and Andrew had weeded through their wardrobes, preparing to donate unused items.  They both had articles of the other's clothing that they hated to part with. 

"And there are clothes in Heaven, too.  Solely for the sentimental and creative reasons," Andrew continued before bringing JenniAnn's hand to his lips.  "The bottom line is you're my Laja, my anam cara, no matter what you wear or don't wear.  I just want you to be comfortable, Laja, and I want you to see yourself as God does... as His beloved, treasured creation."

JenniAnn rested her ear over the angel's heart and closed her eyes, replaying his words and letting the steady beat lull her as she thought.  The idea that Rex had attempted to kill her still made her feel like ice was running through her veins.  But it was also impersonal.  Rex would have grabbed anyone who he felt was keeping him from his ex-wife, man or woman.  The groping, though...  It had felt personal.  She'd felt like a thing.  Something used to give him a rush or a sense of power or gratification.  She'd felt like an object all those years ago, too, when she'd first met Max and thus been introduced to his sleazy father.  But little Max had steadied her.  His forlorn, pleading eyes had spoken to her, soul to soul, heart to heart.  Now Andrew... his true father... was doing the same.

Heaving a sigh, JenniAnn shifted so she could meet the angel's gaze.

"I won't pretend that everything will magically be fixed with me.  But I do promise you that I will try, very hard, to always remember that.  And I know you'll remind me when I need you to."

Andrew nodded. 

"Because I... I do believe it, Andrew, my love.  I do.  It's just sometimes... sometimes it gets driven out of my head by... by things that happen or that I hear... or remember."

"I know, Laja.  I do," Andrew consoled as he cradled her face.

"I'll try to remember this moment...  Because... cause... you have made me feel like a masterpiece... a Botticelli."

With tears in his eyes, the angel smiled.

"You are truly my Cupid... beautiful and so nearly perfect... come from Heaven.  But, unlike him, I... I know you'll never leave me."

"Never," Andrew murmured.  "Unlike Cupid's mother, my Parent very much wants me here... with you."

"Yes...  Thank God."  JenniAnn peered over at a photograph of Joshua with his arms around them both.  He looked so happy, so proud.

With a reluctant sigh, JenniAnn turned to the prosaic. 

"What time is it?"

Andrew consulted his pocket watch.


"And Belle's not due back til 6:00?"

"Mmm hmm."

"Hold me for a little while longer?" JenniAnn requested.

"With pleasure," Andrew agreed, kissing her brow as he gathered her into his embrace.

Drowsy but not wanting to go back to sleep, JenniAnn listened silently as the angel hummed and softly swayed them both.  Mentally, she put the words to the notes.

"There's a life inside of me that I can feel again.
It's the only thing that takes me where I've never been.
I don't care if I lost everything that I have known.
It don't matter where I lay my head tonight.
Your arms feel like home... Feel like home."

Saturday, May 27th

As he stood beside Behnam in a gazebo in front of Willowveil, Andrew leaned slightly forward, enough to look at JenniAnn as she stood on Isra's side.  None too happy to be out of her mother's arms during the wedding ceremony, Aurora had settled on being swayed and soothed by her Aunt JenniAnn, only a few feet from her parents.  Feeling the angel's gaze, JenniAnn smiled over the baby's head at Andrew.  She stifled a giggle when he glanced above them. 

The morning of Isra's and Behnam's wedding had dawned stormy and steamy, leading to fears that the ceremony would have to be moved into Willowveil's ballroom.  With guests coming from El-Chanan, there were too many people to cram into the chapel.  But the ballroom, lovely as it was, simply wasn't as romantic as the grounds surrounding the castle.  And so Andrew and JenniAnn had gone to Joshua's room to plead... and soon after the storm had turned into a gentle rain which cooled everything down before giving way to a gorgeous, sunny day.  And so it was that Isra's and Behnam's dream wedding had commenced.

"Behnam, do you take Isra to be your wife, to love and to cherish?  To live, in faith, with her?  To love her as God loves her, unconditionally and completely?" Vincent asked.

"I do," a teary Behnam promised as he clasped his wife's hands and stared into her own pooling eyes.

Vincent directed his attention to the bride.

"Isra, do you take Behnam to be your husband, to love and to cherish?  To live, in faith, with him?  To love him as God loves him, unconditionally and completely?"

Isra was overcome with emotion: love for her husband, gratitude for the dream he was making coming true for her, happiness at having her children, sister, and so many beloved friends witnessing this blissful moment.

Aiyla, standing next to her Aunt Salma, pushed forward.

"Say yes, Mommy," she whispered.

This sent laughter through the crowd of witnesses. 

Sheepishly, Isra laughed and nodded.

"Yes, yes.  I do.  Of course, I do," she gushed.

Behnam beamed and squeezed her hands.

"Wonderful!" Vincent smiled at them both.  "Then, in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, I declare Behnam and Isra to be husband and wife... again."

The crowd erupted as Behnam and Isra kissed eagerly. 

When the din of well-wishes began to quiet down, Vincent spoke.

"Now I ask that you all be seated as we listen to a poem recited by our friend, Reuel."

Isra and Behnam were escorted to a lavishly carved wooden bench where they were quickly joined by Aiyla, Omar, and Aurora.  The others took their seats among the folding chairs that had been set up for the occasion.

Andrew took JenniAnn's hand as soon as she'd returned from handing Aurora off to Isra.

"It's been so lovely," JenniAnn whispered as they waited for Reuel to claim the spot vacated by Vincent who had joined Catherine.

The angel nodded.  "They're so happy.  I'm, uh, glad we offered to take the kids tonight."

JenniAnn giggled as she cast another glance at the amorous "newlyweds."

"Most definitely."

They stopped speaking when Reuel had opened his book and beamed out at the crowd.

"This is a poem that I have read at many, many weddings in El-Chanan.  It's my pleasure to share it with you now, Isra and Behnam, and with all your guests.  Now...  [i carry your heart with me (i carry it in] by e. e. cummings."

"i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)"

Andrew closed his eyes, meditating on the words.  In the days since that fateful visit to Reuel's office, he and JenniAnn had gently and patiently continued to work out their emotions connected to Rex's attack.  The words of the poem perfectly echoed the peace that the angel of death had come to.  He'd been with JenniAnn in that alley... in her heart.  And so she would be with him in the centuries to come, her love living on through him, touching all those who God sent him to.

"                                  i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you"

JenniAnn squeezed Andrew's hand tightly as she replayed the words in her mind: "i fear no fate (for you are my fate)."  She had feared being taken from Andrew, leaving him with the sensation of being halved as he went from assignment to assignment, century to century.  In that moment, she felt foolish for giving into such fear.  Yes, he might sometimes feel the pain of her death but they had been destined from all time.  They'd been there, in the mind of God, before He had created the sun and the moon.  Their hearts had been joined in prehistory and they would be joined, still, in the future.

Andrew opened his eyes at the same instant that JenniAnn looked away from Reuel.  They stared at each other, silently willing words of love back and forth.

"here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)"

Unseen, standing behind Isra and Behnam with a scarred hand on each of their shoulders, the One who carried all that is and was and would be smiled.  He gazed lovingly down at the second-time newlyweds and their brood then turned his gaze upon Andrew and JenniAnn.  The way they looked, he knew only their love for Isra and Behnam, combined with common courtesy, kept them from running off to their room with their CD player and makeshift dance floor and lovingly crafted headboard.

The love and pride Joshua had for both couples shone from his face.  One had triumphed over a forced marriage and the outbreak of war, the other over a violent attack and the interference of demons.  And still here they were... together, carrying and caring for their beloved's heart. 

Joshua couldn't help but chuckle when, after Reuel had finished the poem, those in the crowd began to rise and push forward to extend their well wishes to the happy couple... and yet Andrew and JenniAnn still appeared to be in their own little world. 

Joshua decided he would wait a few minutes longer before materializing.  He didn't want to steal the spotlight from Isra and Behnam.  Brunch would be a good time. 

After placing a kiss on each of their heads, Joshua moved away from the Al-Mitras.  He crouched in front of the now murmuring Andrew and JenniAnn.

"So... I'm going to stay at Willowveil tonight," he told them even though they couldn't hear him.  "Because someone needs to watch the kids.  Preferably someone not currently making googly eyes."  After another laugh, Joshua grew serious as he peered at them.  "I am so proud of you both.  And I love you so.  I'll see you soon."  He kissed each of their foreheads.

JenniAnn roused from her and Andrew's shared reverie and reached up to her brow.  She laughed when she saw Andrew had done the same.

"I felt like... a butterfly had flapped its wings against me or something," the angel exclaimed.

"Ha!  Really?  Me too!" JenniAnn agreed.  "How odd that..."

Andrew was looking past her, mouth slightly agape.

Craning her neck, JenniAnn saw something white and shimmering... a butterfly... and it was flying towards the castle where the wedding brunch would be served.

"Joshua," they both said in unison.

"Joshua?  Here?  Where?" Salma, who had overhead, questioned as she frantically looked around.

Soon the entire group was buzzing.

"Joshua's here?"

"Now?  I don't see..."


Everyone turned to Liam who was pointing towards one of the ballroom's windows.

Sure enough, a tanned, bearded face was grinning out at them.

As eager as everyone was to see their Lord, the crowd parted to allow the bride and groom to greet him first. 

"Congratulations!" Joshua cheered when Isra and Behnam rushed into the ballroom.

"You are here!" Isra gushed.  "I mean...  We knew you would be here but... Joshua!"  The woman pulled him close.

"Thank you.  Thank you for coming like this," Behnam added.  "You have made a perfect day even more perfect."

"I try," Joshua downplayed, again kissing both bride and groom on their cheeks.  "I wanted to come celebrate with you... and I figured I might as well stay over tonight to watch the kids."  Before kneeling down to embrace the throng of little ones who were sure to come running, Joshua cast a quick, knowing look at Andrew and JenniAnn.

While the carpenter's proclamation set off a round of cheers from all the children, Andrew and JenniAnn had a quieter but no less joyful reaction.

"So I guess we have a night to ourselves," the angel of death mused quietly before bringing JenniAnn's right hand to his lips.

"So it would seem...  I wonder what we'll do with it?"

"I imagine we'll figure something out," Andrew replied with a wink.

After a giggle from JenniAnn, the two went to the kitchen, hand in hand, to retrieve the wedding cake so the festivities could begin.


That evening while Joshua sang lullabies and told stories to the mini-Friends, Andrew and JenniAnn took to their room.  In spite of their many rounds around the dance floor during Isra's and Behnam's reception, the two found they still had the energy and desire to share a waltz or two in the privacy of their bedroom.

"Isra and Behnam were so cute!" JenniAnn reminisced, letting out a giggle when Andrew spontaneously dipped her.

"They were.  And clearly in seventh heaven.  And Salma when Joshua asked her to dance..."  Andrew smiled softly at the memory.

"Aww, yeah.  Ya know, the whole 'bride of Christ' thing used to weird me out but I look at soon-to-be Sister Salma and it just seems right."

"It does.  And how about Max and Rose?  That boy's got some solid moves!"

"Takes after his old man, I guess," JenniAnn teased. 

"Maybe so.  Although his mother is quite the dancer, too."  Andrew beamed and nuzzled JenniAnn's hair.

"Such a sweet boy...." JenniAnn murmured.

Andrew thought he detected a melancholy note in her voice and stopped dancing.

"Laja, you okay?"

JenniAnn nodded and squeezed his hand then led him to their settee.  When the angel sat, she took her place on his knee. 

"I am.  It was just... as I was watching Max and Rose looking so dreamy and perfectly in love... I just...  I don't want anything to ever dampen that.  I... I don't want Max to ever find out about... about what happened."

Andrew cupped JenniAnn's chin and gently raised her bowed head.

"I would never tell him, Laja.  And you know Joshua and Reuel wouldn't."

"I do know.  But things have a funny way of getting out.  Like... like if somehow someone overheard us talking or... or...  God forbid, Rex said something."

Andrew frowned.  It wasn't outside the realm of possibility.

"If that happened, we would talk to Max together," he consoled.  "And, with God, we would comfort and heal him together."  Resting his forehead against JenniAnn's and peering into her eyes, Andrew continued.  "I would be with you both.  I promise."

"I know you would, my love."  JenniAnn gave him a tender kiss.  "And... you're right.  We would comfort and heal him.  I know because... because you did that for me."

"And you have, so often, for me."

 After snuggling nearer for a few moments, JenniAnn let out a sigh of longing.

"What do you want to do now, Laja?  Do you want to dance some more or get into bed or..."

"Actually...  I was thinking about the leftover cake.  And ice cream.  And chocolate covered strawberries," JenniAnn confessed.

Andrew chuckled.

"Well, I certainly have no objections to making a trip down to the kitchen."

JenniAnn reached into his pocket and checked his watch.

"It is after 9:00... a little late for sweets but..."  She shrugged.  "I'm left to understand that if I get a bit curvier that maybe wouldn't be awful..."

Andrew grinned.

"Not at all awful."

JenniAnn rose and went to fetch her robe.  Then, once Andrew had done the same, they snuck down to the kitchen and loaded up a plate.

Once they had returned to their room, the two settled into bed with the plate between them.

As they reminisced and indulged, Andrew studied JenniAnn.  There was a new lightness and sense of ease about her.  The presence of the sweets alone was testament to a renewed comfort in her own skin. 

She was not alone in having changed.

In the nearly two weeks since JenniAnn's revelation, Andrew had been sent on several far-flung assignments.  Some had brought all that JenniAnn had suffered to mind.  But Andrew hadn't felt the suffocating sense of guilt that had plagued him in recent years.  He had been with her when she'd truly wanted and needed him.  And that was enough.  That was good.  That was God's will.

Andrew roused from his musings when JenniAnn brushed at his face.

"You had a bit of frosting on your face."

"Oh, thanks."

"No prob..."

A sudden rattling of their balcony door cut JenniAnn off.

"What could that..."

"I'll go look."

Andrew rose and shuffled across the room.  Once he reached the door, he laughed.

"Laja, you better come over here.  And bring a couple of the strawberries... less chocolate the better."

Curious, JenniAnn did what she was told.  She yelped with glee when Andrew opened the door to reveal a small bat hanging off one of their patio chairs.

"She came back!" JenniAnn squealed.  "At least I think that's her."

"Probably so.  She knew we'd feed her."

JenniAnn handed Andrew a berry and they each held one near the bat who eagerly took bites from each of them.  When she'd had her fill, she chirped, flew a couple of loops in front of them, and took off.

As they watched her, JenniAnn looped her arms around Andrew's middle and thought back to their first meeting with the little pup.  It occurred to her how like the bat she was.  With Joshua's help, Andrew had restored her.  When she had felt pulled down to the earth and paralyzed by violence, Andrew had helped her rise and soar again.

He was and would always be her Cupid, her bringer of love and light.  And she would be his Psyche who treasured his mind and soul.

Forever and ever.

The End

Author's Note:
Part of the reason this took so long for me to finish (beyond the usual busyness and crazed dogs) was my own prudishness.  Like JenniAnn, I basically had to be "C.S. Lewised" into my senses.  Back when I first wrote "Shadowlands," I had intended for Rex's attack on JenniAnn to be more violent and violating.  However, that story ended up waaay more complicated than I intended what with El-Chanan and a whole Great Flood backstory.  I didn't feel like I had enough time or energy to give the emotional toll of sexual harassment and assault the attention that it deserved.  And then the #metoo movement happened.  Unlike JenniAnn, I haven't been physically assaulted.  However, like most women, I've experienced the leers and inappropriate remarks.  Reading the many stories to come out of #metoo, I needed a way to safely rage and work through some feelings.  So this is it. 

It also gave me a chance to delve more deeply into Andrew's psyche.  I still really like what I did with "Shadowlands" but with all the many threads of the story, I didn't feel like I had enough time to really dwell on how an angel who is meant to be with people when they're facing death would cope with not being present for someone he's so close to.  So now I feel better on that front... for now.  :-)  ~Jenni (2-18-18)

Works Cited:
The myth of Cupid and Psyche
Ruth 1
Disney's The Little Mermaid
1 Samuel 13:14,Acts 13:22 KJV
Song of Songs 6:3
"Losing My Religion" by REM
"In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
The Graduate

"The Genesis Of The Butterfly" by Victor Hugo
The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli
Genesis 50:20
"Your Arms Feel Like Home" by 3 Doors Down
"[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]" by e.e. cummings
Special note: The discussion of nudity and clothing in Heaven was largely inspired by C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce.

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